The face-to-face sessions during the first 16 weeks were likely the most challenging for me during the first sixteen weeks. However participating in these alongside colleagues I work with made it meaningful and relevant. I was put back in the pit many times when it came to the digital tools we were encouraged to investigate; this at times became frustrating as many evenings the time limit we were under didn’t allow me to solve my problems. I found these sessions challenging also because I am a bit of an introvert (albeit an extroverted one) and the expectation to open up and share thoughts and ideas to people I didn’t know was uncomfortable. It was also interesting to observe the personalities of participants during the collaborative tasks; those who naturally took over, those who believed in shared decision-making, those who lacked the confidence to think their idea was worthy, and those who just went with the flow! It reinforced the nature of a class of learners; there will be this same variety in our classrooms. How do we ensure all voices are heard and we are practicing inclusivity?
Reflecting on my learning journey has been a major part of my practice for the last four and half years since starting on my Post Graduate study and my blog in 2012. Thinking back, wow was I in the pit of learning. I remember spending hours trying to figure out how to add a link to a word, how to insert an image or video, how to work out what widgets were and so many more conventions of blogs which were completely foreign to me. The reflection component of Mindlab was the part I found easy and enjoyable.
Being a critical reflector requires the uncovering of the nature of the forces that inhibit and constrain us as teachers (Smyth, 2001). Critical reflection infuses action into the discourse about teaching and schooling. I strongly believe reflection on its own is insufficient; it must be accompanied by action. Critical reflection involves asking questions about assumptions and practices which we have taken for granted, forming alternative hypotheses, and then actually ‘testing’ the hypotheses in the classroom. In relation to the Practicing Teacher Criteria in e-learning 4, 5, 6, 8, and 12 are at the forefront of what I do because my learners are my main stakeholders.
Criteria number 7 (promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive environment) is the one which I have been developing through Mindlab. This being mainly due to the my change in teaching situation. We moved into an Innovative Learning Environment (ILE) at the start of 2017. After 22 years carrying out my practice in a single room on my own I now found myself in collaboration with a co-teacher as well as two other teachers on the other side. Our biggest learning has been around the collaboration required around everything we do. It was important we all had a similar vision and understood fully the pedagogical change which this ILE was all about. Study with Mindlab has reinforced much of what I had already studied through my post Graduate Diploma in Education (Teaching and Learning).
What Mindlab has done is encourage me to look at myself as an educator and realise that I am a leader. I am convinced now that leaders do not need titles. I found the leadership component of Mindlab really interesting and much of what I learnt through this module opened my eyes to leadership styles. Understanding my own leadership style has given me a sense of peace and pride too.
Although I believe my role as initiator of #NZreadaloud is one of transformation, it is my pedagogical leadership which is what I am proud of. I have been leading and guiding the teaching and learning process for myself and colleagues over the last four years. This has not required a title or extra money but just a desire to provide the very best for the learners in my care. Teacher leadership is different to administrative or managerial roles as it moves away from top-down, hierarchical practices towards practices of shared decision making, teamwork and community building.
I have come to realise that some of my thinking is out of kilter with that of colleagues and prevailing paradigms but very much aligned to the kaupapa of what Mindlab is all about. Mindlab has connected me with others who think differently and it is comforting to know I am not so much of a lone nut as I thought!
My next goal is to pass my Mixed Methods Research paper this year in preparation for the last paper in order to achieve my Masters in Education (Teaching and Learning) in 2018.
I was also chuffed to have been awarded some funding through the Ministry’s Grass Roots Ideas Initiative to look into the effectiveness of #NZreadaloud. This research will take place over Term’s 2 & 3 this year.
Finally we are working on a Teacher Led Innovation Fund Application to get some funding which will allow the four of us in our ILE to inquire into the use of Story Hui as a way to gather a learners narrative of their successes. We are working alongside Liz Stevenson and Anne Kenneally for this.
Smyth, J. (2001) Critical politics of teachers’ work: An Australian perspective. New York: Peter Lang.