Thursday, March 3, 2011


As I write this I am sitting in the international departure lounge at Auckland airport. In about 30 minutes I’ll be boarding a 12 hour flight to Singapore. I’m feeling really privileged and a bit excited. The people at duty free (I love duty free!!! Must be the ‘Price’ in me) were surprised to find that I am to return again on Monday. Traveling for about 15 hours, one way, to spend three days on the other side of the planet does I guess seem slightly unusual. But for me, right now, it seems just about right. I wouldn’t really want to be away from the family for longer than that, and I’m going for work - man I have a great job! When this opportunity was originally offered to me, I was honoured to be asked, but also slightly apprehensive about whether it should be, and could be possible. After a short time thinking about it, I was rung by the New Zealand point of contact and asked for an answer “will you be joining us or not?”. At that stage I didn’t feel I’d discussed it and thought through implications enough with others, so gave what would be the easiest response. “No”. In saying no, I wouldn’t have to think about further organisation, or have to spend time away from family or school. Part of me was also concerned with what others may think - is this me as a leader in the school off on a junket when everyone else is at school doing the hard yards???
Immediately after giving my “no” decision and getting off the phone, I felt a sense of disappointment. This would have been a great opportunity - the conference (or leadership summit as it is being termed) is featuring some thinkers and ideas that I feel ready to explore. The questions posed connected with me. The fact that everything apart from the flights was to be payed for was also to be a bonus. At that point, it was time to drive to the supermarket to meet my wife and daughter to get a few essentials. When I got there, my wife could see something was troubling me. Upon explaining that I’d just been called about heading to Singapore for the Leadership Summit, but had said no, as I wasn’t prepared for it, but part of me was now regretting the decision, she told me I was an egg. After a quick chat, I was back on the phone, backing out of my no and turning it into a ‘yes’.
As mentioned, this Leadership Summit has a certain appeal to it that I’ve not felt for a while. Having been presented with some amazing professional learning opportunities in my career, I find myself now quite fussy with what may be on offer. I also find that I am challenged and engage in great learning with colleagues at school. Last night I enjoyed some wonderful professional dialogue with a team of teachers as part of our literacy staff meeting. We questioned practice, shared examples of powerful learning and challenged ourselves to explore further methods for engaging our learners. Focussed reflective questioning drew out deeper thinking in our group, and will hopefully result in growth in practice. I found it stimulating and engaging professional learning, and it’s right at our fingertips within our own learning community. So, if I am to travel a long distance, be away from family, and the school is supporting me in this, then it had better be good - it had better be worth it. I know I have a big stake to play in that - as the old saying goes ‘you get out of something what you put into it’, but also, it helps if there is a hook or a connection through the content being explored. Often that hook or connection can be missing, and you find yourself switching off, or not engaging. There are a few things about this Summit that already have me hooked.
The first of these involves the presenters. I am particularly interested in a session that is to involve a reverse mentoring approach being lead by Dan Pink. In this session, students who have earlier presented their challenge based learning projects will be lead in a moderated panel discussion to help us to understand what motivates these children to learn. This session has a byline of ‘where the learners are the teachers and the teachers are the learners’. I think that we have so much we can learn from our students - particularly if we empower them as thinkers. It reminds me of a learning time with our student think tank a few years ago. One where some of the students were empowered to think and share and had the courage to challenge and question some of practices in schools. The term intra-curricular was born and cemented in me - with the philosophy to support it (but that’s another entry in itself). Those 9 and 10 year old presented me with a rich learning experience - I’m hoping I’ll have learning from the students at the leadership summit will also provide such richness. I think we should never underestimate children and what we can learn from them. I think all too often we shut things down through needing to maintain order or systems, or feeling that some of the challenges that they present us with is to hard for us to cope with. Maybe I’m being too harsh and unrealistic with this thinking - I’ll be interested to reflect on this thinking at the conclusion of the Summit. Another aspect of interest is a presentation and workshop session on learning spaces. Recently, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about environments for learning. Part of this is based around the rebuilding work we are going through at school. It has opened my eyes and mind more to possibilities for our spaces. I have a picture in my mind of how I could see our learning environment developing. I wish I was an artist and could paint a concept plan picture, but art never really was a strength, so I’ll just have to try and use words to describe some aspects of it.
I see an environment based on the principles of personalised and differentiated learning. Spaces that make the most of the outdoors as well as the in (indoor outdoor flow is how they describe it in real estate I think). Learners are engaged. Leading their own learning and using a variety of medium and media to engage in what they are learning. Mobile technologies are being utilised effectively, and teachers are providing meaningful feedback, feedforward or deliberate acts of teaching to help connect learners with new ideas and concepts. There are specialist spaces available to allow deep rigorous learning whether it be in the arts, PE, with literacy, maths or in developmental social spaces. Learners are engaging with others of different age and stage and a real sense of community and belonging can be felt. Parents are made to feel welcome and offer their skills and time where they can to also mentor or lead groups of children (i.e the gardening group, cooking group, building group etc). The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is being lived - more so than I see it is now anyway.
I’ll keep thinking on this picture over the next three days... and no doubt beyond. I just hope the focus at the Summit is ‘learning’ spaces and not ‘technology’ spaces. It’s so much more than just computers or ipads.
The first speaker at the Summit is Simon Sinek whose presentation is entitled ‘Start With The Why’. This again connects with thinking and approaches for us as a school. The first sentence in the brief says - “Sinek is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them”. It goes on to say that “Simon will relate the WHY? to education: when students are inspired to do the things that inspire them, they optimise their learning”. I feel inspired already. Re-engaging with and challenging my personal vision for learning should start with the WHY I think, so might help drive some thinking in that direction.
So, as you can see, I think I’m in for some great days of learning. I’m hoping to take notes and apply them directly to my blog as I go. Essentially if you can read this, you can share some of my learning and experiences (should you wish to), and keep the learning conversations alive.
I’m also excited about visiting a country I’ve never been to before and enjoying some of what it has to offer. I’m hoping to go for a run through the botanic gardens in the morning to clear out the travel cobwebs, and then do a bit of exploring. The Summit starts tomorrow night and then we’ll be heading home again on Sunday. I arrive back in NZ on Monday afternoon, and get the opportunity for more duty free. I love duty free.
Well done if you’ve managed to read all this. As you will have guessed, I have time on my hands in the plane. All entries won’t be this long or involved. However, I have found I have enjoyed doing this writing... maybe there is something in that research that says boys can find it motivating to blog...
Enough for now, it’s time for me to listen to an audio book of Dan Pinks ‘Drive’.
Have a great Friday and enjoy the weekend.

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