What Did I Learn?

As we come toward the end of the school year in Australia, it’s time to sit back, relax and reflect on key moments and learnings from the year.

Connections and relationships make or break your leadership

Enough said! It’s possible to fall into a trap of maintaining quality relationships with people above you in the hierarchy whilst ignoring those lower in the org chart. This can only lead to problems. It’s not about being popular – it is all about respect and valuing the contributions of everyone in your organisation.

It’s not sneaky, it’s strategic…

My principal (@DarwinRose11) is a shrewd operator and a great inspiration to me. On a number of occasions I have observed her strategic thinking come to the fore. It was on one of those occasions that I commented that she was being sneaky. Her response, “I’m not being sneaky; I’m being strategic!” This has resonated with me throughout the year and has influenced me in a number of situations dealing with challenging issues within my team.

Doing what is right is often the hardest thing to do…

We are often faced with challenging situations that add significantly to our workload and can often take people away from their core business. I have been involved in performance support for a colleague that was not meeting expectations. The easiest option would be to ignore the person’s issues and support them to move to another workplace. But… can you sleep at night with this decision? Leaders need to be willing to do that hard yards and stand up for ‘good’. That can impact on your ability to undertake your normal responsibilities and be detrimental to work-life balance. It’s also the right thing to do. Poor performance in schools impacts the entire community. It is also a matter of perception. If your team do not believe that you are going to address inadequate performance or inappropriate behaviours then you are likely to be seen as a leader who can be walked all over, manipulated or ignored.

Look after yourself…

Sounds like common sense but too often we push our bodies (and minds) beyond their limits all in the name of work. This year I contracted Shingles as a direct result on intense stress. Admittedly, my family has been through the process of building our first home this year, but this was not the major stressor in my life. It was my job. I didn’t want to let people down. I wanted to be seen as strong and resilient, particularly because many of my colleagues were visibly struggling with the pressures that resulted from some big incidents. I ignored all of the warning signs because my principal was surviving and I believed that I could too. I didn’t. For anyone who has had Shingles, you will remember the excruciating pain and debilitating nature of the disease. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. Since recovering, my wife has been my guardian angel, helping me to realise when I am overdoing things and when I need to take a rest.

Never, ever build a house and start a new job at the same time…

It’s really easy to take on too much in our lives. In addition to the above, I have grieved the loss of my grandmother (97 years old!) this year. She has always been my biggest supporter and believed in me. Sadly she didn’t ever get to see our house finished.

Your children are only young once…

I have missed all of my children’s school events, performances and celebrations this year because I was too focused on work. In fact, my only engagement with their schooling has been to attend a meeting with the principal when my son was getting himself into some trouble. Things have changed in the last few weeks. I am very excited to be going to see my daughter perform a song & dance act with her pre-school class tomorrow. It will be fun and work will survive without me.

As leaders, we can often take our work life a little too seriously. Life goes on if you miss a meeting. We have to look after our own wellbeing if we are serious about the wellbeing of our teams. There are times when we have to put in the extra hours to see something through to completion but this should not be the norm. Go home. Spend time with your family or just relax by your self. Enjoy these moments because there will be times when you have to take on the big issues. And always keep learning…

Where For Art Thou Mojo?

My ‘get up and go’ seems have done just that… and it has taken my teaching mojo with it.

Over the last few weeks life’s events have taken their toll on my wellbeing. I worked myself into the ground (physically) to finish the painting and flooring in our new house so that we could move in during school holidays. I then returned to work completely exhausted and was reminded of my role as a leader when I had to forgo my usual teaching role to support a colleague. School camp came and went and I discovered that the common cold that I had been denying was actually Shingles. Some extended time away from work coincided with a change in personnel and the beginning of a fantastic, new co-teaching arrangement at school. Then my beloved Granny (who lived on the other side of the world in Wales) passed away last weekend at the ripe age of 97.

In between these events I have tried to maintain enthusiasm for my work. There are so many great things happening at our school right now. Genius Hour is up and running for all of our year 7 students. This has been a big mission for me this year. Our ICT Strategic Plan is taking shape and I see exciting times ahead for our school community. We are about to host visitors from an interstate school. Yet something is missing – my spark! I know it’s still in me. I just need to find it and bring it back to the fore.

There is so much going on. Maybe that is a part of it. My Principal regularly encourages us to focus on a few things and do them well. I’m not very good at it. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I tend to take on too many things which, when combined with my penchant for procrastination, can leave me overloaded. I certainly feel stretched – like trying to share that last small piece of dessert with the whole family.

Most of all, I’m worried about my students. I took on a role of science/maths teacher at the start of the year despite a clear lack of experience and knowledge of teaching science. I am a neophyte teacher all over again. I’m learning new content each weekend to take into the week ahead. My teaching strategies are basic and I’m stuck in a cycle of trying to gain some control over what is happening in my classroom. Fake it til you make it!

It was always going to be a challenging year for me having left a long term, office-based role to return to teaching. The new Australian Curriculum was introduced to schools since my last teaching job. My previous role was heavily focused on the ICT General Capability with limited exposure to the content of the Learning Areas. It’s been a baptism of fire, having been thrown teaching maths/science after the beginning of the school year. I’ve been chasing my tail ever since. At the heart of it all, I still don’t know if I want to teach science. At which point in time do you emphasise your own wishes ahead of the needs of an organisation?


A little over two years ago I began a new job, tasked with establishing a Technology Learning Centre to support teachers to effectively use technologies in teaching and learning practices. It was to be a three year project with significant initial funding to kickstart the initiative. I was given 6 weeks to turn a (very well equipped) room into a space that was inviting and to develop a set of professional learning programs that would cater for the diverse needs of teachers and overcome barriers of distance and isolation.

6 weeks later we opened the doors for our first series of professional learning events. They were well received by teachers who gave up time in their holidays to attend full day events. There were certainly a few issues in those early days including power outages, water outages and the pleasant background sounds of jackhammers tearing through concrete in the adjoining schools. Yet positive stories spread quickly throughout the department and many more teachers have taken the opportunity to learn and develop through our programs.

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Enjoying Professional Learning at the Technology Learning Centre

Two years on and we have hosted over 200 face-to-face and online professional learning events.

Sadly a decision has recently been made to close the centre as there has been a shift in focus and funding priorities. This came as a quite a shock to me and the broader education community. In a matter of days, the project has ended and I have moved to a new role.

Rather than focus on the disappointment, I have decided to reflect on some great successes and experiences from the last two years…

  • So many teachers are doing great things in their classrooms as a result of learning during our many events.
  • iPads are being used effectively in many schools and classrooms.
  • Technology is well and truly part the education agenda in our schools.
  • I have travelled to some amazing, isolated places in the Northern Territory.
  • My knowledge, skills and abilities as a professional learning facilitator have developed considerably.

24 Hours of Free Ideas

A few week ago we had a FedEx day at our workplace. The basic premise of this type of day is to have a 24 hour focus on innovation and creativity. A worthy ideal, but I am wondering why we need a dedicated day to innovate. Surely innovation is ongoing. Surely innovation can happen at any time.

Working in teams and/or individually we brainstormed, created, imagined, played, challenged – all with the same goal of coming up with inspiring new ideas or projects to provide quality professional learning for teachers. The sharing session was an amazing afternoon. I was blown away by the breadth and depth of thinking that had taken place. Loads of great ideas were shared. I left work totally inspired. In my mind I had seen the creative force of our team come to the fore and present a range of ideas to implementation. The day was concluded with a bit of a “We’ll get back to you” response from senior management but still my enthusiasm was there.

About 6 weeks on and nothing has happened. I’m back to wondering why we needed a dedicated day to innovate…

How Do We Really Learn to Use Technology?

I recently facilitated a workshop that introduced participants to the basic functions of iPads. (The workshop was called “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPads and we have offered it at least twice per term this year). This is the only workshop that I run that does not focus on education and pedagogy – it is purely a ‘how-to’ session aimed at people who have never touched an iDevice. Interestingly, discussion usually turns toward education and ideas for using iPads in the classroom.

Most participants in these workshops arrive with a skeptical attitude and a general reluctance to engage with, or use technology for teaching and learning. However, these workshops are characterised by excited participants exclaiming about the simplicity of the iPad and the many possibilities of use in a classroom environment. I particularly enjoy watching adults behave like 5 year olds when playing with the camera and photo booth app. It’s fantastic. All of a sudden, adults transform into fun-loving participants without fear of shame or embarrassment. This is really exciting. It’s also what is often missing when reluctant technology users undertake ICT-focused professional learning.

In the midst of this workshop I noticed one of the participants refusing to touch the iPad and focusing on writing copious amounts of notes in a possible attempt to transcribe the entire 2 hour workshop. Always curious about people’s learning styles, I approached the person and encouraged them to take the iPad in their hands and actually try doing some of the things they were writing about. Reluctantly this person briefly picked up the iPad, turned it in her hands, tried twice to swipe to unlock, and then slammed it to the desk in front of her. She then launched into a diatribe (complete with numerous f bombs) that the afternoon had been a complete waste of her time and that she had not learnt anything about iPads.

This got me thinking…

What is the best way to learn to use a technology that is new to us? Do our default learning preferences impact on our ability to engage? (Plus the obvious question – what could I have done differently so that this person could have had a more positive experience in my workshop?)

I have no doubt in my mind that the best way to learn to use any new technology is through a hands-on process. Engaging with technology is not a passive process – it is something that you have to do. New technology can be such an abstract concept for most people. In the case of iPads (or any other touch screen device), if a person has never interacted with this type of technology their only reference will be from ‘traditional computers’. The technologies are quite different so new learners do not have a valid point of reference for beginning their learning. Therefore, this participant was not going to learn by writing notes; she was essentially writing about an abstract concept without any background understanding.

People may learn (or retain information) by writing about it but this won’t happen without a concrete frame of reference when learning about technology. In other words, you have to do it to learn it.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by langwitches

In reflecting on this experience, I need also consider the person’s attitude toward learning. Reluctant users of technology often expect professional learning to be something of a magic wand – they will turn up, spend 2 hours listening and leave with newfound skills and knowledge. The participant certainly came with that mindset. There is no magic wand for any type of learning. No matter our learning preferences, in the end we need to apply ourselves and dedicate time to learning new concepts, ideas or skills. This is definitely the case for learning technology.

Whilst there is no set method for learning to use and integrate technology in education, there are some basic points to consider about learners.

  • They need to see a purpose and believe it
  • They need to have time to touch, explore and experiment in a hands-on environment.
  • An open-minded approach toward learning is necessary.
  • Fear of technologies will inhibit learning.
  • Learning takes time.

The Disconnected Educator

For the past week I have been heavily involved in the School Sport Australia Football (Soccer) Championships. It has been a really enjoyable time spent outside in the blazing Darwin sun. Unfortunately I have had much time for connecting with my pln through social media. (plus I have been extremely tired at the end of each day!) So it has been 7 days without even glancing at Twitter, Google Reader or Facebook.

Whilst busy I didn’t notice what I was missing, but over the last 36 hours I have felt the urge to read and connect once again. I really missed reading all the great experiences of bloggers from around the world. I missed sharing ideas and resources. I missed the excitement of discovering new resources on Twitter. I missed the conversations at any time of the day or night. I missed the ongoing professional learning. I missed connecting.

The best part of all of this is that I did miss being a connected educator.

So many educators are yet to realise the benefits of social media. They don’t know what they’re missing.

New Experiences

I went fishing today.

It’s something of a milestone achievement in the eyes of my close friends and family! Fair skin and tropical sunlight are not compatible so I usually avoid outdoor pursuits that last longer than a couple of hours. But sometimes a friendship is cause to leave one’s comfort zone.

So I did just that… and I’m still alive to tell the story.

I was a novice today. This was my fourth experience of fishing in my life – and my first involved scooping fish out of shallow water with my hands! Fortunately I had an effective teacher…

My teacher showed me, guided me, laughed with me and led me. I received regular feedback. My learning journey was a narrative, made relevant through shared and sharing experiences. Learning was experiential – improved due to feedback. Multiple assessment standards were discussed. Questions were encouraged and answered. My teacher was passionate.

I enjoyed myself. I learned new things

… and I caught a fish

Not quite a fish