While it may seem that I have dropped off the planet since my last post, I am still here in New Zealand.
In 2015, I quit a job that I had loved for nearly twenty-five years to follow a dream to learn about New Zealand's modern learning movement. I was especially keen to understand how they design new learning spaces and curricula to implement the Key Competencies outlined in their National Curriculum.
It has been an incredible journey!
It started with a speaking engagement at the 2015 ULearn Conference in Auckland. I spent the next two months travelling through New Zealand and visiting schools and makerspaces.
I visited an array of learning spaces working to modernise education. Sometimes they were entire schools, sometimes makerspaces. I also visited single classrooms where teachers worked against the odds to make a difference for their students. In those cases, teachers found ways to do their work without the support of administrators and colleagues. The challenges they faced included poor funding, lack of space and obstacles created by New Zealand's National Standards. Say what? National STANDARDS?? Yes, National Standards. While surprised, I learned that even New Zealand is susceptible to changes driven by the political climate. It was both optimistic and naive of me to think otherwise.
My visits raised more questions about modern learning than they answered. While I had intended to write about my tour in real-time, I soon realised it was a presumptuous goal. Trying to record what I didn't understand would be fragmented and perhaps arrogant. I came here to learn, and the questions I was asking had no easy answers.
Stepping back from my self-imposed goal to record my observations liberated me. It created space for me to observe, listen and learn. These are the cornerstones 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'm committed to giving my students. I now realise it's just as crucial for my own professional growth and development.
I took notes along the way and planned to unpack the lessons learned in future posts.
So, what happened?
I was offered a job at one of New Zealand's premier modern learning schools. I returned to the States and 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 task).
I arrived in Wellington on Friday, April 29, 2016, and started my new job three days later! The pre-move preparations to move to New Zealand were simply a warm-up for the mountain of work I was about to climb.
Fast forward ->->-> That first job didn't work out. It ended up being a terrible fit for both my employer and me. I learned that you could have a modern learning environment but still follow a standards-driven pedagogy. I tried to adapt to their system because I was here to learn. However, the harder I worked to do so, the more I felt I betrayed my own teaching principles. My health took a hit, and I ended up on medical leave. I won't lie; it was a precarious time for me. Do you recall the stone giants scene in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? It felt like that!
I found myself at one of those critical crossroads in life, the ones that feel like everything is falling apart. I prepared for the possibility of returning to the US. Thanks to my friends' support, I navigated through that treacherous span of my New Zealand journey.
What's on the horizon?
I have a new job for the upcoming school year. In my interview, Principal Anela Lowe asked me if I could create a curriculum of 'Awe and Wonder'. That's my kind of challenge and indicates that I have finally landed in the right space for me.
I'm grateful to be staying in Wellington, as I have made wonderful friends. Besides, I've grown quite fond of this quirky, windy little city.
I intend to reconnect with my PLN after a long hiatus. It's time to unpack and share those lessons learned over the last 16 months.
With summer at hand, I look forward to my sister's visit and some relaxing days. What a year it has been! I came here to 'follow the learning', and I have learned heaps so far. It's definitely been a most unexpected journey, one that I look forward to continuing.