Last year, while visiting New Zealand, a dream was born to teach in a Modern Learning Environment (MLE) school.
Peggy Sheehy and I visited the Hobsonville Point Secondary School. It was immediately evident that there was something extraordinary about this space, the faculty and the students. A cheerfully dressed gentleman greeted us, introduced himself as Maurie Abraham, and offered to show us around. Maurie explained the school philosophy. He admitted they didn't have all the answers about the best ways to design curricula for the modern student, but they were willing to experiment, fail and try again until they figured it out. Awesome!!
Maurie invited us to interview students, which we did. As we engaged in those conversations, Maurie quietly stepped away so the students could talk freely. I was incredibly impressed by the respect for the students that this gesture implied.
It was quite a bit later into the tour when I asked Maurie what he taught in the school. He informed us he was the principal. He enlisted some self-deprecating humor and pointed out that his team was responsible for everything we saw. I was struck both by his casual confidence and lack of ego. Maurie's pride was evident when he spoke of students, staff and parents working together to build something special. He talked to us about HPSS's vision and how they carefully recruited faculty with a deep desire to create change. Maurie explained that passion alone was not enough. He emphasized the importance of creating a safe space for faculty to thrive in experimental conditions. I was impressed when he spoke about the importance of making a safe space for faculty to take risks, fail and iterate.
As Peggy and I visited with students and faculty and observed classes, it was evident that what Maurie was showing us wasn't some marketing ploy; it was the real deal! One of the day's highlights was visiting with faculty during their weekly after-school tea to mark the end of the week. The faculty was genuine and generous. They freely and honestly shared their perspectives about building a new kind of school and made inquiries about our jobs and philosophy.
It was great to meet Deputy Principal Claire Amos. When she read on Twitter that we were in Auckland and wanted to learn more about NZ schools, she invited us to visit HPSS.
We also met Specialized Learning Leader Steve Mouldey, a self-proclaimed "curriculum hacker" who is as geeky about pedagogy as I am! I'm crossing my fingers that both Claire and Steve will make it to SXSW next year to share the incredible innovation that is taking place at HHPS with a US audience.
We met many incredible teachers during our visit, including a young learning coach, Danielle Myburgh, who was organizing the first #edchatNZ Unconference. in NZ. Impressive!
As I visited with the faculty, I recall thinking I would do almost anything to work with a team like theirs. It seemed incredible to work with an entire faculty tasked with the creative challenge of constructing new kinds of learning opportunities relevant to today's students.
Two weeks later, Peggy and I returned to Hobsonville Point Secondary School to attend Danielle Myburgh's unconference. Of course, it wasn't really 'her' conference; it was the collective efforts of many in the #edchatNZ and HPSS communities that made it happen. However, I was impressed that a young teacher had the agency, confidence and support to lead such an ambitious project. It speaks to the supportive environment in which she works.
The calibre of conversations that took place at the unconference floored me!! It was becoming crystal clear that something extraordinary was happening in New Zealand! They are re-imagining learning, the learner, and what it means to be a teacher. That is interesting to me since I have repeatedly received praise for the way I teach but admonished that it is not scalable. Yet, there is a will to do this nationally in New Zealand.
I started to allow myself to dream. Was it possible for a teacher like me to teach at a Modern Learning school in New Zealand? I was encouraged by some of my New Zealand colleagues that it was a possibility, given my pedagogical philosophy and practice.
I returned to the States with my first tattoo and a new dream.
Within the first few weeks of resuming my old position, I knew I was ready for a new challenge. If I wanted to continue to grow as an educator, it was time to move on.
So, after 25 years of service at The Elisabeth Morrow School, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue new challenges in New Zealand. It was a difficult decision as I loved EMS. It was where I learned my craft from an exceptional faculty and learned to become a mentor myself. Most importantly, it had historically been a school where teachers were trusted and allowed to create original curricula that explored new ways to keep learning relevant. But, as with all good things, there comes a time when things change.
I won't lie; leaving a long-loved school has not been easy. As a new school year starts here in the States, I am mourning the loss of a community that was instrumental in shaping me as a teacher. I already miss the students and colleagues. However, I understand growth does not come without loss. That's a hard truth that I'm feeling now. So I let that sadness wash over me as I try to clear space for the possibilities in front of me.
Do I have a teaching job lined up in New Zealand? Not yet. The operative word is: yet. I'm giving it my all as I seek a position for 2016.
Next week, I leave for a three-month tour of New Zealand. While there, I will explore possible job opportunities. I will visit schools focused on creating modern learning cultures and blog about the fantastic innovations I discover in NZ. The highlight of my visit will be leading workshops and delivering a spotlight session at the ULearn Conference and Permission to Play.
I'm unsure what lies ahead, but I'm open to all possibilities. I look forward to what I will learn as I follow the learning to New Zealand!
Thanks to Becky Hare, Tara Fagan, and the WONDERFUL folks at CORE Education for all of the help they gave Peggy and me during our visit last year. They graciously helped us visit schools and learn about the National Curriculum. They even invited us to contribute to the conversation through EdTalks!
Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei ~Maori Proverb
Translation: Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain