This year I was fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft Partners in Learning Conference in Auckland, New Zealand. I was awarded the Innovative Teacher of the Year award for Victoria and joined innovative educators and school leaders from 19 countries in the Asia Pacific region. The two hundred strong delegates from as far as Brunei and Sri Lanka attended the forum to learn, share and connect with educators from our region. The conference opened with a Maori welcome followed by several key plenary sessions – all with a common theme of stressing the importance of technology in assisting with 21st century learning and teaching.
This forum provided opportunities for educators and school leaders to engage in reflective conversations about existing practices and explore innovative approaches to new ones which empower students to not only manage their own learning and development paths but also to develop communities which work together across boundaries to address global issues. Highlights of the forum included teachers sharing their innovative teaching practices, professional development workshops for educators and school leaders, technology immersion sessions and visits to Auckland schools.
The forum created amazing opportunities for me to build my professional learning network. I learnt from and shared with with educators and school leaders locally, including Tony Bryant and Amanda Prosser from Silverton Primary School in Victoria and Lis Turner and Kellie Hunter from Waggrakine Public School in Geraldton, WA. I also strengthened connections with the innovative teacher award winners from all states and territories of Australia- ACT-Peter Smythe from Gungahlin College, ACT; NSW – Alice Leung, Merrylands High School; NT – Gayle Purdue, Bees Creek Primary School; QLD – Stephen Baskerville, Kirwan State High School; SA – Jim Edson, Charles Campbell Secondary School; TAS – Michelle Cresdee, Punchbowl Primary School and WA – Kellie Hunter, Waggrakine Public School
I was fortunate enough to visit Botany Downs College in Auckland and would recommend a visit there to anyone wishing to be inspired by how good government schools can be. I built connections with teachers all through the Asia Pacific region and heard first-hand about some inspiring projects that are happening in Asian countries. My PLN is now boosted by many new colleagues in particular Edalyn from Indonesia, Rakeesh from NZ, Haslin from Malaysia and Haslin and Linh from Malaysia. All these people have inspired and broadened my pedagogical base.
Since the Asia Pacific forum I have been reflecting on the importance of the role of ‘teacher as change agent’ and the quote from Tony Bryant “In order to transform schools successfully, educators need to navigate the difficult space between letting go of old patterns and grabbing on to new ones.” (Deal, 1990).
Dave Faulkner talked about being M.A.D (Making A Difference). He reinforced the idea that great technologies don’t make you innovative; it is the action of using the innovation to make a real difference that makes you an innovator. Innovations only make a difference if they are adopted and actioned by teachers and make a difference with students. In order to cater for the 21st century learner we need to inspire, equip, support and connect. He also reminded us of the famous quote by stated by John Dewey in the 1920’s , “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, then we rob our children of tomorrow”
We worked in collaborative groups to address the question “How might 21st Century technologies enable, develop and improve these 21st Century skills for more powerful learning?”. We clarified understandings and developed our team approach, undertook collaborative enquiry and shared the results by making a video which each group shared with the forum. Joan Dalton reminded us that “…each person’s voice is important to the team.” With many languages being spoken in each team this was sometimes an effort but innovative educators found ways to make this possible.
This skills we need to building in our students to equip them for life and work in the 21st century are knowledge building, self- regulation and assessment, collaboration, skilled communication, problem-solving and innovation, ICT skills and global awareness. In many of the sessions we discussed how to get school wide improvement in all these areas. Michael Fullen said in 2010 that ‘…the degree to which the principal participates as a learner in helping teachers to figure out how to get classroom and school wide improvement” is the one finding that stands out in time as more powerful than any other. At this forum teachers and school leaders worked together in focussing on strategies for school wide improvement.
Finally, to quote from Joan Dalton again, “In this forum we have a unique opportunity and a challenge to learn with and from each other”. I would encourage all teachers to take up the challenge and accept every opportunity to learn from and with each other.