I've always been keen to try out new things, things that will improve my thinking and approach to my teaching. I don't mind being pushed outside my comfort zone, but when I became an eFellow I was tossed into a tumultuous wave that first struck me with fear, but then excited me. It was a voyage of discovery like no other. Now that I'm near the end of this fantastic journey (which is really like a beginning), I thought I'd share some of these things with others. I'd love others to reap the benefits I have gained through the eFellow experience.
A 2011 eFellow and digital mentor, Sonya van Schaijik, encouraged me to apply to be a CORE Education eFellow, and I am very grateful for that spark which lit a fire in my professional development and practice. From the moment I received the Inspector Gadget style self destructing top secret email, “I need to speak to you urgently, don’t tell anyone…”, from John Fenaughty on the drive back from a fishing trip to the Ruakituri, I was in disbelief (mainly because I had been off the grid for a few days, and was a bit confused about the reality of the situation). There have been 80 eFellows to date, and I feel extremely privileged to be part of an alumni that includes many influential and prolific members of New Zealand education.
At the time, I didn’t really know what I was in for, so hopefully this post will help paint a bit of a picture for anyone interested in the journey of a CORE Education eFellow. The original eFellow model was quite different, where a whole year was allocated and funded by the Ministry of Education to support teacher enquiry. In 2014, the eFellows met for three-day workshops in the regional centers of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and finally the culmination of the experience will be in Rotorua, where we share our findings at the ULearn education conference.
Being from Gisborne, and confronted with the barriers of expensive travel and time away from school, I haven’t really had much of a chance to take part in any extensive professional learning other than the brilliant virtual PD through webinars on the VLN. I haven’t been to ULearn, or any of the other conferences, so I welcomed every minute with open arms, and was determined to gain as much as possible from each trip. From every experience I aimed to learn or try something new that would benefit the everyday teaching and learning in my class, as well as challenge my thoughts about education.
At the newly opened Hobsonville Point Secondary school we looked into how NCEA could be adapted, and I decided to embark on ‘curriculum hacking’ with my level 2 PE students.
Mark Osborne inspired us through looking at whole-school change and where we could be heading — this trip influenced the focus of my enquiry around agency in a traditional school.
In Christchurch we went to the amazing Breen’s intermediate, and the principal Brian Price showed us around. I was especially interested in the task-based values programme — Brian was kind enough to share it with me, and I have adapted it to fit into our Tu Tane programme about growing good men. I feel this has really changed the way that our students have interacted with us this year, as well as the shift of learners leading their learning.
We also had the privilege of a session with Derek Wenmoth, which was brilliant as he was one of the original catalysts for my interest in learner agency.
In Wellington Karen Melhuish Spencer and Chrissie Butler talked to us about inclusive education and challenged us to change the lenses through which we viewed schools and asked us lots of questions about ‘should’ we be using technology in schools.
At each point John and Louise Taylor brought different perspectives to our enquiry and points to pause and reflect on, as well as ideas that would project to new understanding and lines of enquiry — they have been thoughtful, caring and brilliant mentors that have had a huge impact on all of us.
The fellowship aims to provide inspired transformational practice through enquiry, but has also been transformational by allowing us to be surrounded by inspirational people. The 2014 eFellows are a fantastically unique group of people who couldn’t be more different in some respects, however, we all have an undying passion to make a difference to the learners we see in front of us each day.
When we are together it feels as if it is a form of collective therapy — a place where we can talk without the constraints of knowing anyone who has a connection or a link to our schools, with people who are still interested in education and hearing about what it is like. The key is that much of the deficit theorising about students — a natural and human part of teaching — is removed. We don’t know any of each other’s students, which often gets in the way of many deep and meaningful conversations about schools and learning.
The journey provided us with inspiration and motivation at the start of the year, and the time and guidance towards the end — a carefully constructed pathway upon which each of us could lay down our own route and individual experiences.
After feeling like we were well and truly dropped in the deep end in Auckland, I felt like I was on an undulating wave of confusion with tension between ideas, and riding towards a huge heap of jagged rocks on the shore. But being able to connect and share with the group let me feel like I was on the right wave, and re-affirmed the thoughts I had.
I am almost at the end of the journey, and it has been a wonderful experience that I will never forget, and feel so privileged to be a part of. It has allowed me to grow, to recognise that there are other people like myself, people in the flesh. It is the conversations, connections, and challenges overcome that will never flow away once the fellowship year is over.
5 Tips for future eFellows
- Tie up any loose ends from school before you leave. It’s like being on a stag/hen weekend; you want to let your hair down and don’t need to worry about what is happening back home — you will return to school with a severe knowledge hangover!
- Work out an effective way to take notes. I used a good old moleskine notebook and pen, but integrated it with Evernote by scanning a digital copy, and adding tags. I also used the recording function on Evernote to capture the presentations and talks we were part of. There are other apps that will do the same job though.
- Take pictures. Your experience will be completely different to the next person walking around the school with you — certain things will catch your eye and mean something to you, so take those personal shots. It is also a good way to back up whiteboard notes and ideas in shared workshops.
- Establish good sleeping habits.Your mind will be so full of ideas it will be hard to sleep. After having a couple of restless nights during the first experience made it hard in the day to concentrate and make the most of it. Have some backup Valerian root from the health shop to help you sleep, or you could go for something stronger from the doctor.
- Embrace the whole experience. Challenge yourself and the other eFellows. Between you there will be a vast amount of collective knowledge, so utilise this, and build on the experience together!