It may seem that I have dropped off the planet since my last post, but I am still here.
In 2015, I quit a job that I had loved for a quarter of a century in order to follow a dream to learn more about New Zealand’s modern learning movement. I was especially keen to understand how they are designing new learning spaces and curriculum to implement Key Competencies outlined in their National Curriculum.
It has been an incredible journey, which started with a speaking engagement at the amazing 2015 ULearn conference in Auckland, NZ. I took that opportunity to visit as many schools and makerspaces throughout NZ, as possible. My intention was to write along the way and document what I was learning. I quickly gave up that plan for two reasons.
I was relying on social media and my professional learning network (PLN) to determine which classrooms or schools to visit. This turned out to be extremely effective and I was able to visit an array of learning environments. Some were entire schools or makerspaces committed to change. Just as often, I visited the classrooms of teachers who were working, against the odds, to make a difference for their students. In those cases, they found ways to do their work with or without the support of administrators and colleagues. The challenges they faced included economically disadvantaged funding, lack of space and obstacles created by NZ’s National Standards. Say what… National STANDARDS?? I will have to save that one for another post.
The point is, I realized that the same social media that made it possible to find these teachers also held the potential to put them at risk of professional reprisal if I wrote about specific problems they faced. Better to create some distance and write about their experiences in general terms, which I can now do.
The second reason I decided to pull back from writing is that I quickly learned that my visits were raising more questions about modern learning than they were answering. How could I, as a guest in this country, presume to write about something I knew so little about? If I jumped in and started blogging, it would be entirely from the bias of my cultural perspective. I came here to learn and I was asking questions that apparently did not have easy answers.
Stepping back from the self-imposed obligation to blog created space for me to observe, listen and learn. This is a critical cornerstone of John Hunter’s work. He states that when we fill up students’ time with all of the things we think they should know, we deprive them of the empty space they need to grapple with problems, think deeply and truly learn. It’s a concept I’ve been committed to giving my students. I didn’t realize it is just as important for my own professional growth and development.
I took notes along the way and plan to unpack the lessons learned when I return to the States.
I was offered a job at one of New Zealand’s premiere modern learning schools. I returned to the States, applied for my New Zealand teaching certificate and work visa (no small feat). With the help of wonderful friends and family, I packed up my life in New Jersey and put it into storage (a monumental feat).
I arrived in Wellington on Friday, April 29th, 2016 and started my new job 3 days later! It turned out that the pre-move preparations were simply a warm-up for the mountain of work I was about to climb.
Fast forward >>> The job didn’t work out. It ended up being a bad fit for both me and my employer. My health took a hit and I ended up on medical leave. I won’t lie, it was a precarious time for me. Ya know that scene in ‘The Unexpected Journey” where Bilbo is traversing the mountain and the stone giants are fighting? Yah, that’s exactly what it felt like!
I found myself at one of those critical crossroads in life… the one where everything falls apart and you are not sure of your next steps. Thanks to the support of friends, I was able to navigate through that treacherous span of my journey.
What’s on the horizon?
A new job for the upcoming school year. I’m confident this position will be a much better fit for my unique set of talents.
Staying in Wellington. I’m grateful as I have made some wonderful friends here. Besides, I’ve grown quite fond this quirky little city.
Reconnecting with my PLN. After a long hiatus, I’m baaaaack!
Returning to blogging. It’s time to unpack some of the lessons learned over the last 16 months.
With summer at hand, I look forward to my sister’s visit and some relaxing days ahead. What a year it has been! I came here to ‘follow the learning’ and have learned heaps while here. It’s definitely been a most unexpected journey… one that I look forward to continuing.