Tuesday, 21 July 2020

The Next Adventure

Isn’t it funny how things work out! I started this year knowing exactly what I was going to do. I spent the Christmas break planning, applying for the next step and early in 2020 had secured a position to make it happen …and then COVID-19 hit!

Late 2019, I made the decision to look at changing the direction of my career. I had spent 19 years at St Paul's, the only school I had taught at since graduating. It had given me some wonderful opportunities, but it was the right time in my life to make a change. I wanted an adventure. I wanted to travel and I wanted to learn something new. I had applied for numerous International jobs and I was lucky enough to secure a Design position at a very good International school in Beijing where I was going to teach in the International Baccalaureate space. I resigned from St Paul's, leaving enough time to enjoy some down time before taking up this new role. I was very excited at the prospect of a new school, teaching new curriculum and living in a new country.

COVID-19 was already around when I accepted the new position and I was well aware of it. But as the weeks and months went on the wretched virus wasn’t going away and overseas travel restrictions were locked in place. Add to that the political tensions and my dreams of adventure were fast slipping away. I won’t bore you with the details but the situation at the school in Beijing had been affected by COVID-19. Like the rest of the world, they were feeling the effects. They were very transparent and open about the situation and offered me a chance to get out if I didn’t feel comfortable. After considerable thought and talking to lots of people, I took this option with the thought that perhaps now is not the time. Back to square one!

I’m really fortunate in life that I’m not driven by money. I’m certainly not rich and I don’t consider myself frugal, but I am comfortable in my financial position. So, as I approached this next phase in my life, I kept reminding myself that I have time on my side and that there are people in a worse position than me. I decided to approach this next step as an opportunity to explore my options. This situation was not a problem, but an opportunity!

I started this by reaching out to friends, colleagues and fellow education professionals to let them know where I was at. To my great surprise, within 48hrs I had signed a contract to teach in term 4 and a week later, here I am sitting on a plane writing this blog.

I am on my way to Adelaide to stay a night before flying to Alice Springs tomorrow and then driving 5 hours south to Yulara. For the next 10 weeks I am going to be teaching at a school that has 3 campuses spread out over 500kms. The school has a total of 70 students across the 3 campuses and was set up to educate Anunga children. To these students, English is a second language. They regularly don’t attend school and all are on individual learning plans. Yulara, the biggest of the 3 towns, has some basic shops. The other 2 towns I will be driving to each week, are only accessible by dirt roads and I have to take my own supplies and a satellite phone.

I know I created my own luck by being proactive. However, as a teacher and in particular a design teacher, I think I have also developed the ability to be flexible, adaptable and look at situations with a different mindset than I once had.

Am I excited about the next 10weeks? You bet I am! This year I wanted to have an adventure. I wanted to travel and I wanted to learn something new …and that is exactly what I’m going to get!

Isn’t it funny how things work out!

Monday, 18 November 2019

Global Challenges and who will solve them?

 This semester I have been working on a unit on sustainability with my year 5 classes. Their challenge has been ‘How can we become more responsible users of plastic as a community?’ I’ve learnt a lot about this topic through preparing resources for these classes and from what the kids have discovered and shared. But in a round-about way it has also led me to reflect on my teaching practice.

Last week I attended the 2019 EduTECH Conference. I was really lucky to be able to attend to learn from connect and share with so many amazing educators. I was also lucky and grateful that the conference was held in Singapore. Food and eating is very important in the Singaporean culture. There is so much variety and everywhere you look, there are restaurants, cafes, Hawker stalls or street food. So as you do in Singapore …I ate out a lot!

One thing I noticed about eating out so much is the amount of single-use plastic Singaporeans use and it made me think about my year 5 classes and the problem I challenged them with. It made me think about how authentic it would be to challenge them with how Singapore could reduce their plastic use. At this point, I have to say I’m not having a go at Singapore or accusing them of overusing plastics. I’m sure it’s something they’ve been thinking about and working on, long before I started this blog. After all, they are an island and don’t have near as much space for landfill or issues associated with disposing of plastics.

However, it got me thinking about global issues of the future and how kids in my classes today are going to be faced with solving them. It got me reflecting on whether I am doing all I can to prepare them to face these big challenges and what could I do better. It got me thinking about what is required to prepare kids for this. And the results of my musings are:

Mindsets – Nothing good can occur without the right frame of mind. Emotional intelligence needs to be something all teachers are developing in students, not just for life beyond school, but for their learning in school also. Students need to have the attitude to understand the difference between failure and failing. The ability to value and build on mistakes. Afterall, some of the greatest inventions the world has seen came from failures. Teachers need to be careful in modelling these mindsets in class. Things like praising effort rather than just talent. Highlighting and celebrating failures. Being vulnerable enough to admit their own failures. Pointing out that there are more ways than one to get an answer and constantly encouraging students to aim for progress rather than perfection. 

Collaboration – I have been listening to an audio book by Shane Snow called Dream Teams. He discusses the benefits of working as a team. Using each member of the team’s unique backgrounds, cultures, experience or point of view as a way of not just solving problems or creating solutions but to provide a variety of methods and options. The big issues of the future such as global warming, lack of water, medical breakthroughs are going to require teams of people collaborating to create solutions. Teams that are going to be able to value others’ ideas and contributions as well as their own and build on these. Individuals who will be able to compromise and sacrifice their ideas for the benefit of getting the best result. Teams that accept diversity and are able to collaborate globally. Teachers need to provide learning experiences where students can connect with a variety of people. Opportunities for students to collaborate and develop communication and teamwork.     

Provide authentic learning experiences – By providing authentic learning experiences, students will not just develop a sense of, ‘I can do this’ but will also understand ‘why’ they are learning this way. These learning experiences need to provide students with opportunity to collaborate with others. Perhaps other students or teachers outside of their classroom or experts in the required area. Opportunities where students get to empathise with consumers or those affected and get to experience things from a different point of view. To experience a world outside of their own. Opportunities where students can develop confidence and understanding of the importance of a growth mindset. Opportunities where students can be empowered by working on problems, with people, like in life beyond school.

Even the oldest students I teach are 6-7 years away from graduating school. What will their world look like in 2026? One thing I do know is that the world around us will continually change and, as a teacher, I need to change with it. I need to have the mindset to keep developing my practice. I have to collaborate with others to do this and I have to bring my authentic experiences, like observing the world around me (like in Singapore) into my classes.

Will my students be prepared? I’m counting on it…

Friday, 16 August 2019

The Power of Connections

The Power of Connections

It’s our Winter break here in Australia and it’s great to slow down and relax a little after what was another busy semester. We have three weeks break. The first week, I did very little. I really made some time for me, to take my mind off school work. However, this second week is what I want to write about and before you pre-empt me, I haven’t thrown myself back into work. I’ve done something much more valuable.

Building relationships with students is really important. There’s been lots researched and written about that topic from people more qualified than me. But as a teacher you need to build relationships or connections with others outside your classroom to support your Teaching and Learning and growth as an educator. After what was a busy semester, and knowing there’s another busy semester ahead, I’d decided that I needed to spend this break wisely. I wanted to refresh but also to prepare myself for the remainder of the year and I decided to draw on my connections to help me.

Nineteen years ago, I began my teaching career. In my very first semester I was asked to go on a school camp under the guidance of an experienced Teacher. Nineteen years on and that lady is no longer a colleague, but she is a valued family friend, long time mentor and still edits my writing, including this blog! So, I thought it only natural to go to her as my first point of call. I love talking 'teaching' with her. She challenges me, encourages me, doesn’t always tell me what I want to hear, but most importantly, she brings out the best in me. This was a valuable start to using these holidays wisely.

These holidays I had also accepted an invitation to have an informal chat with an educational organisation about how I use Twitter as a resource. I really value Twitter as a resource, particularly to connect with other educators so this was a double whammy. I could share what I’d learnt and what I value about my Twitter PLN(personal learning network) but also make further connections with more people in the field of education.

I had also planned to catch up with a young guy I was fortunate to meet in the last calendar year. This young man is doing things in education that has taken me nearly twenty years to attempt. He is an entrepreneur and an inspiration to anyone who has had the fortune to cross paths with him. Catching up with him is inspiring, motivating and always kickstarts the drive within me to keep working hard for my students. Not just to match the wonderful things he is doing, but to challenge my students to develop into people with the same values, mindsets and beliefs that he has.

I mentioned Twitter earlier. I have a great twitter PLN with whom I share, connect, learn and grow. One of these twitter friends asked me to host a twitter chat this month. Of course, I said yes, and I have spent some time thinking about a topic I’d like to present, share with and get inspiration from. I have thoroughly enjoyed planning the questions for this chat. It’s been like planning PD for myself and I’m really looking forward to discussing this with the twitter sphere. 

I wanted to share this with you to give you all pause for thought. It is so easy to become bogged down by the day to day challenges. I wanted to share just how easy it is to renew the spirit when you put yourself first for a change. Firstly, I took time for myself to relax and refresh. That was needed! I then caught up with my long-term mentor to reflect on what was semester one. I then had the informal meeting with the educational organisation. This was affirming to share what I am doing and how I am doing it. It also added to my educational connections. Meeting the young entrepreneur has, as always, inspired me. Already my mind is bubbling with new ideas and of course my twitter PLN. The opportunity to host the upcoming Twitter chat has given me something to pin point that I’d like to improve on in a relaxed but very pointed way.

I still have one week of holidays to go and I have some work to do. I have to plan new units and think about the how and why I can make great learning experiences for my students. But heading into next week, I feel like I’m ready. I have a friend who does triathlons. With his training he tapers off in the weeks leading into the event to best prepare himself. I feel like I’m doing that with this break. Not quite at the starting line but setting myself up to be the best I can be. After teaching nearly twenty years I am still learning how to do things better - how to teach better, how to keep improving and how to prepare better. Teaching can seem a lonely profession at times, but I couldn’t do it without support and relationships from people around me. My colleagues, friends, mentors, inspiration and my PLN. Teaching isn’t a solo sport, it’s a team sport and I am very grateful to my team, my connections!

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Anything is Possible!

I love teaching Pre-Prep. The excitement the children bring to class every day is motivating and inspiring. The way they yell out, ‘Mr Hill!’ when I walk in the room or the eager faces that light up when they see me, always brings a smile to my face. I am lucky enough to teach two lessons a week as a specialist Design Teacher and these lessons are the highlight of my week. The ideas they have, the playfulness in their learning, and their natural wonderment at the world brings joy to my teaching. However, my favourite part about teaching Pre preps is the ‘anything is possible’ attitude they have. They are fearless!

This term the children had an idea for a project and as a learning community, we turned it from an idea to reality!

One of the youngest boys (only 3yrs old) races BMX. His Mum was showing me pictures and videos of him racing and I was telling one of the Prep Teachers about this and she made the comment, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the kids could bring in their bikes one day?’ That’s all it took to get me started searching for that day.

On the last day of Semester 2 each year, the school holds an U8’s day - a day for the PP-2 students, teachers and parents to celebrate their learning. There are stalls for Face Painting, decorating biscuits, games and activities, music, dancing and each year level sets up an activity. My mind went straight to an U8’s bike track.

I challenged the Pre-Preps with the question, ‘Could we design and build a bike track for U8’s day?’ Needless to say, the challenge was enthusiastically accepted. We invited the little BMX rider to talk to the class about racing his bike. His Dad came with him and together they showed us their bikes and equipment and talked about how they race especially the rules and safety associated with it.

Using the Design Thinking model, I started to engage the kids in understanding what a bike track is. What does it need? How we could make it? The kids came up with lots of ideas including stop signs, traffic lights, cement to ride on, ducks, clouds and rainbows, a gate so people wouldn’t walk on the track and a lolly pop person. The kids were firmly set on making it safe. Clearly the talk from the little BMX rider and his Dad had sunk in.

One of the first challenges was to find a place to build it, so we went for a walk around the area that U8’s day is positioned to show the kids the options. Adjacent to this area is the Prep Playground. A fenced off area, with a gate that the kids decided was perfect! The next problem was how to get an aerial photo of this area so the kids could draw some ideas? Again, I challenged the kids. Once again full of imagination and fearlessness they came up with a heap of clever ideas -  ‘We could get a really tall ladder’; ‘We could climb a tree’; ‘We could stand on the Chapel roof’ or my favourite -  ‘We could get a plane to fly over and take the photo’ …and that’s exactly what we did!

We had a year 10 student (Jack) bring in his drone and take an aerial photo for us. This was very exciting for the Pre-Preps and something they all wanted to fly! We printed the picture that Jack took in A2. I cut out a lot of ‘Jig Saw like’ pieces on the laser cutter for the kids to prototype shapes and designs for the track. In hindsight this was a missed opportunity to show the kids how the laser cutter works, but we were running short on time. The kids loved prototyping with these pieces and, like all good designers, they showed their ideas to their peers and asked for feedback.

It was time to get on with the other parts for the bike track. The Pre Prep class visited the Possibility Hub for a morning and with the help of some extra teachers and some parents, the kids explored materials to build their traffic lights and their give way and stop signs. We had also decided we needed an air pump station and petrol station. It was a busy but productive and fun morning. Over the following weeks we finished the Petrol station, signs, ducks, clouds and rainbows. 

The day before U8’s day, it was time to mark out the track. We had lots of rope and used the aerial photo we had taken to shape the rope to match the picture. Again, we asked Jack if he could bring in his drone to take a look from the sky and get the design just right. When everyone was finally happy that the prototype was similar to the ropes marking the track, I asked the groundsman, Lindsey, to mark it. Lindsey showed the children his line marker and explained how he uses it and what he uses it for. We set up the signs, the petrol station, air pump, ducks, clouds, rainbows and safety signs. The track was ready!

When Under 8s day arrived I was a little overwhelmed by the volume of bikes that arrived at school. We had around 100 kids bring in their bikes, scooters and trikes. They just kept coming!

I’ve said often on this blog that I love working at a PP- 12 school, and today was another example of why that is. The older kids turned up in droves to blow up balloons, set up streamers and help out. They literally lined up to be the lolly pop person, the petrol pumper and the air pump operator. The little kids loved playing with the older kids and it was great to witness. This was an amazing exercise in a school community coming together to create something wonderful. 

By opening time, I was very grateful for the extra helpers. We had to limit the amount of riders on track so it was all hands on deck. Sometimes we had kids and parents 20 deep waiting for a turn. Parent feedback was amazing. They were telling me that their kids were calling it ‘Bike track day’. One parent told me her son was awake at 4:30am and asked her if they could go to school yet. 

This was a really fun project to bring to fruition. It was great to let the kids imagination run wild and turn that into reality.
However, the learning that went with this was authentic and meaningful. These kids were motivated, persistent in their quest to build this. Kids learnt about working with others and about the importance of sharing their ideas and the value of seeking feedback on those ideas. They problem solved in every aspect of this project. They learnt the power of collaboration and drawing on others expertise. They learnt about being flexible, agile thinkers, how to deal with ambiguity and being willing to take a risk or get something wrong. But, most importantly they learnt how powerful imagination can be.

 I said earlier I love teaching these kids. I have never felt so creative or had so many ideas. Their attitudes, imagination and creativity is rubbing off on me. Its no coincidence that I see this in them and now feel like I am re-discovering these traits in myself also. I think we can all learn something from these 4yr olds. With the right attitude -  Anything is possible!