Changes in Practice

As a high school student, I learned that in moments of unease or discomfort great learning happens. As an adult learner I have come to understand this as when we are challenged, critiqued, and taken out of our safe spaces, we learn the most about our values, assumptions, and selves. In critical reflective practice, this space is where new knowledge and understanding is developed.

Key Changes in my Practice

Criterion 4: Demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice (Te Kete Ipurangi, n.d.)

This course has encouraged me to push myself professionally, by being active in my learning and the development of my practice. This is presented in my participation in professional discussions with others in the Google + MindLab community, but also on  Twitter by using #edchat. I feel now that I can confidently seek out other professionals online who are engaged with the same professional struggles as myself, to work together to find solutions.

Criterion 12: Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their professional practice (Te Kete Ipurangi, n.d.)

Throughout this course I have been required to critically engage with evidence and professional literature, something that had not been made explicit in my previous year of teaching. The important advantage here for me was having access to a wide range of peer-reviewed articles and research that only comes with being a university student. This is something that I believe needs to change, as we are required as teachers to respond to research, but are only given very limited access to it. Another reason this is important to my practice, is that I could see how in my school we were using “data and evidence” collected within the school and departments, but missing the bigger picture by not linking them to professional literature.

My biggest struggles became my biggest achievements.

Completing my GradDip Teaching (Secondary) was when I first thought of attempting a masters degree. At the time though, I felt that I would benefit from actual teaching experience, and more life experience. This year I am PRT2 and I began my MindLab journey in March. I hadn’t considered doing more study at this point in my career, but the opportunity arose, I was encouraged by many colleagues who have gone through  it, and being in a fixed term position meant it was now or never. As I had no expectations of this course, I was pleasantly surprised. My assumed strengths ended up being the parts I could still improve, and my biggest struggles became my biggest achievements – further proving my beliefs around learning. Next year I will be on a full teaching load and so I will be taking another break from studying. However, this year has confirmed for me my desire to challenge myself further and pursue a masters in the next five years.

Ēhara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini.

Professional Context; Crossing Boundaries

It is not specified within the Visual Arts Curriculum which techniques, processes, or mediums students must use to communicate meaning. High schools are already taking this opportunity to encourage art students to develop ideas through a range of artistic disciplines (sculpture, design, photography, painting, printmaking). Looking outside of the arts however, there are limited opportunities within high schools to combine practices between subjects. This is mostly determined by school timetabling, traditional approaches to education, and instructional (as opposed to transformational) principal leadership (Hallinger, 2003Hipkins, 2010Marks & Printy, 2003).

Now more than ever, our students need the opportunity in school to gain 21 Century Skills.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is an approach to learning that would help our students gain skills that will support them in their future endeavours, an outcome that any educator can support. However, business NZ education manager Carrie Murdoch says that not all schools offer teachers the time needed to work with students to design coherent programs to suit each students’ needs. (November 4, 2017) She also identifies that “increasingly in work you need multi-disciplinary, multiple fields of knowledge to tackle particular problems.” Now more than ever, our students need the opportunity in school to gain 21 Century Skills such as collaboration, skilled communication, and real-world problem-solving & innovation.

Richard Wells asks in his recent blog post: who is going to start the conversation about how schooling is not relevant or appropriate in 2017? He argues that high schools are not ready to “transform from being based on routine to being based on embracing change and adaptation” (Wells, 2017). Even though I am one small voice (of many), I will rise to his challenge and push against the boundaries within the system in which I teach. I have therefore identified the potential interdisciplinary connection between myself and Tautai.

The common purpose here for us will be to further connect current high school students to real-world artists’ challenges. By sharing current experiences from working artists, and university art students, our current high school students can start to think about the bigger pictures. Working artists do more than create beautiful work, they often comment on social, political, and economic issues in our community. A big advantage of this collaboration will be the overwhelming representation of Māori and Pasifika artists working with Tautai. This is important considering that the vast majority of our students also identify as Māori and Pasifika, and this representation will help our students visualize their potential successes in this field. We will need to collaborate mostly online which works well for our intense timetables (on both sides), and the online relationship opens access to these uncommon connections. However, without ongoing personal visits on either side, this relationship could become impersonal and also comes with the possible risk of miscommunication between stakeholders.

There are other avenues for potentially crossing boundaries within my school however, the school currently has a plan to establish some form of cross-curricular study for a few year 9 classes in 2018. I feel that to try to attempt something similar on a smaller scale outside of that initiative could be counter-intuitive to what the school is attempting.

Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi.

Professional Online Social Networks

My previous professional experiences have taught me to keep my professional and my personal life separate. As many social media sites are inherently personal, I never actively considered using it professionally. However, having attended the Google Summit in Auckland earlier this year, nearing the end of my MindLab course, and being encouraged to use sites such as Google+ and this blog, I have challenged myself to reconsider why I thought I needed to keep social media out of my classroom, and my work space. For this blog post, there are important differences to acknowledge between social media and social networking. I understand them to be the communication style, goals, and content of the sites. Pete Schauer unpacks them and more in his post from June, 2015.

My initial assumptions about using social media in the classroom were based on my own experiences of casual online environments that are prone to misunderstanding and lead to negative experiences. When I was working towards my teaching diploma my cohort created a Facebook page where we could discuss assignments and share resources and work to develop each other. It got quite nasty when I disagreed with a fellow classmate about our lecturer and our learning. I believe that the lack of body language and tone of voice in online discussions lead to some pretty big miscommunication between us which only left me with a surety that this approach was not the best way to develop myself professionally.

It’s important that we use social networking to transform our teaching practice and our learners’ experiences.

As many of my students use social media in their everyday lives, my hesitations are that by bringing it into the classroom, they will experience it similarly to myself. I have also struggled to find value or purpose in integrating it into my practical subject. What I now realize is that I am able to impact and to some extent control their interactions online, and after viewing Jia Jia Fei’s TEDx talk called Art in the Age of Instagram, I can see a reason to. Fei predicts that the digitization of art will completely change the physical object by de-materializing it and turning it into a social object – “one completely defined by the conversations happening around it rather than the experience of the art itself”. It’s important that we use social networking to transform our teaching practice and our learners’ experiences, and by leaping in head first into an online art network, I can make the learning relevant to my students’ future experiences.

As I have experienced both, I find that there are many crossovers for how teacher’s professional practice, and students’ artistic practice can be improved and developed by using social networking sites. Melhuish, 2013, describes social networking’s ability to allow members to “pursue their own goals towards their own outcomes using differentiated pathways” (p. 41), which means each student is able to get valuable feedback on artworks that they make, in order to develop their ideas and their artistic practice. This wider access to feedback would give students direct and personal access to the contemporary art world, where they can discuss their practice, ask questions, and be challenged by other high school art students, university art students, or even established artists themselves – across the nation and the world.

Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi.

Influence of Law and Ethics

Due to the technological advances made in recent decades, ‘today’s teachers are frequently confronted by ethical choices in situations that did not arise, or were relatively unproblematic for their counterparts 30 years ago’ (Hall, 2001, p. 1), like the potential issues around social media and other online relationships. New online fields  are expanding faster than we can create professional boundaries for them.

What are the potential ethical dilemmas that I could face by ‘friending’ my colleagues?

As a recently trained teacher, our ethics lectures and tutorials covered a decent chunk of digital safety for teachers. It was emphasised that as we will become registered professionals, that society would hold different expectations of us – even in our private lives. Following this, I changed my social media accounts to private, deleted any posts that might be deemed ‘inappropriate’, and even went as far to cipher my last name. This added another layer of protection to my digital self, meaning only people who I shared my digital name with would be able to add me as their friend. So far this has been successful, in two years I have only received one request from a past student, and one from a current student. Both of these students found my accounts through my digital connections to colleagues, which makes me ask – what are the potential ethical dilemmas that I could face by ‘friending’ my colleagues?

Similar to the issue faced in this video, there is the possibility that one of my colleagues could post something on social media that conflicts with the Code of Ethics that New Zealand teachers must uphold. It asks us to demonstrate a “high standard of professional behaviour and integrity” (p. 10). If what was posted negatively affected students or staff at the school, or whānau of the school, I would feel bound by the code to act – as my understanding of it prioritises the wellbeing of students and whānau over the individual teacher. This would be confronting for me, as while I believe it to be the right decision, acting on it would be difficult as this person would still be considered a friend to me as I don’t digitally ‘friend’ anyone who I wouldn’t see outside of school. However, I am committed to my role as a professional, and with the support of the Code of Ethics I would act appropriately to contribute to “a professional culture that supports and upholds this Code” (p. 10). As most of my colleagues would also uphold the code, I will need to consider my actions online so as not to put myself in any undesirable situations – even something as casual as being tagged in an inappropriate post by a non-teaching friend could become dismantling to my career.

He maha nga kaupapa kei roto i tēnei āhuatanga hai whakaarotanga.


Indigenous Knowledge and Culturally Responsive Practice

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP) is not just knowing the cultural or ethic backgrounds of your students and tokenising aspects of them into your practice. Bishop in Edtalks (2012) explains that CRP challenges and rejects deficit thinking that reduces a cultural group to a stereotype. He emphasises that this pedagogy creates “caring and learning relationships”, where relationships are paramount to the educational performance of a learner. Gay (2001, p. 106) defines CRP as “using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.” This can sometimes mean being in the learner’s seat yourself – a difficult position to adapt for some teachers as it is easy to get comfortable being the fountain of knowledge. For me CRP is knowing who my students are, taking the time to understand their beliefs and values, and how that affects their learning in our classroom. It is about caring for them as culturally located individuals, and caring for their learning.

To support my reflection on how my school’s practice has been informed by indigenous knowledge and culturally responsive pedagogy, I have selected the following questions that have been adapted from the Pasifika: Participation, Engagement, Achievement (PEA) tool.

How does the school curriculum and resources reflect content from a variety of cultures and ethnic groups?

Within my department, our Visual Art curriculum offers students the opportunity to let their culture and ethnicity inform their learning. For example, in Level 1 Visual Art students focus on the genre of self-portraiture over the duration of a large body of work. This means that they have the opportunity to generate ideas around their identity through visual language. The second part of this course allows students to choose their own methods of making art, which means they can bring their own cultural art-making techniques to their work to further develop ideas in their work. This is supported by studying Artist Models from various cultures and ethnic groups. For me, this reflects the  first element of the Effective Teaching Profile – ‘Manaakitanga’. From the viewpoint of my students, it would be interesting to see if they felt the same, and how they felt about this opportunity to use their culture to inform their work. However, I’ve noticed that many of my students this year did not venture far from traditional painting methods during the latter part of the course. This signals to me that perhaps I have not given enough examples of how they can bring their own perspectives and experiences to their work – a gap that I will work to improve.

How does the school use achievement information and involve families in planning, and monitoring progress and achievement?

There are a few approaches that my school uses to involve whānau in the above areas. Every term we have achievement evenings to celebrate student successes, and twice a year we have Parent Teacher Student Conferences to inform whānau of each students’ progress and achievement. I question however, how the school involves families in planning as there is an unspoken pressure from the community for the school to make curriculum decisions that are ‘best’ for the learner. This may be because schools are still based on an outdated Western model, while our community is predominantly Pasifika and Māori. So there is this underlying assumption that the school has the key to a more successful life for their children, and so a huge amount of trust is placed in the school to do so. You could take the experience of Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu in her 2017 TED Talk where she identifies how education was made an abstraction to her, to understand why our community might feel this way. What we need to do to improve is to collectively gather student, whānau, and teacher voice to co-construct an approach that is more involved, connected, and reliant on each other to better reflect the needs of today’s learners. We will need to inform families about the value in changing the system, to gain their support and involvement.

Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi.

Broader Professional Context

While there are many relevant trends influencing NZ education, and specifically my practice, the most immediate for me, is that of the increasing inclusion of digital technologies in the classroom and the divisions between winners and losers that this creates (National Intelligence Council, 2017). What makes this so relevant is that the Ministry of Education (MoE) has announced that next year digital technologies will be formally integrated into the curriculum as a strand of the technology learning area (Ministry of Education, 2016). If you’ve read my previous post, you will be familiar with my school’s low socioeconomic context, and our plans to improve students’ digital literacy skills through a 1:1 student to device initiative. As educators we have the potential to influence the outcomes for our most disadvantaged learners, as the skills and competencies we can provide will be a powerful tool to reduce inequity (OECD, 2016).

The MoE needs to consider more than just making digital learning available in the curriculum, as current students will leave school with basic information and communication technologies (ICT) skills that do not meet the requirements of the already changing workforce. This includes the immediate threat of automation, artificial intelligence, and other unknown technologies that will fill jobs up and down the socioeconomic ladder (National Intelligence Council, 2017). I just want to point out that this has already started. The job that I had when I was fifteen is now a self-checkout at your local supermarket.

“Many [whānau] will struggle to accept the changes that need to be made within schools”

I believe it is important as educators, and members of our surrounding communities to inform whānau and students how technology will potentially change their futures. It is crucial to include whānau in this as they support students’ progress in education, and many of them will struggle to accept the changes that need to be made within schools, without support in understanding why. This is made obvious in this episode of What Next – S01E01, a New Zealand tv series that discusses our what future could look like in 2037, where they ask “Could a robot do your job better than you?” and about 62% of viewers respond with “No”. The problem here is that we don’t have the time to think about problems until they are already impacting us, or even worse, we are afraid of the threat that new technologies bring.

Many of my students are looking at careers where they may be lucky to get a decade of work in these areas without 21st Century Skills and a more in-depth understanding of ICT’s role in the workplace future. It is our responsibility to our community to change how we deliver our curriculum to support the gaining of these 21 Century Skills, to allow them the chance to cope with the speed in which their worlds will change. This could be done through a cross-curricular approach to learning like inquiry projects. Supported with the 21CLD Learning Activity Rubrics, this approach could potentially be quite successful.

Kua takoto te manuka.

Professional Context

Where I am currently teaching is a Decile 2 high school in South Auckland with roughly 1500 students. We have a very high Pasifika and Māori demographic, which reflects the community in which we are situated. The socio-economic status (SES) of our community is reflected in our Decile rating which informs our school culture, as “school culture is influenced by the school’s pupils and their social class background” (Stoll, 1998). For our students, the school’s culture has a large influence on who they will become, as a study shows that students from lower socio-economic backgrounds generally have less career-related self-efficacy when it comes to vocational aspirations (American Psychological Association, n.d.). These influences take on added significance for teachers of high school students when student identities and values shift during adolescence (Stoll, 1998).

Our school culture is also influenced by the vision of the school. Ours is focused on teachers’ and students’ attitudes and organisation, which is about creating and maintaining a positive school culture. The school is striving for a positive environment where staff, students and parents feel safe, welcome and respected, and this is manifested in our many initiatives. We are a PB4L school, a part of The Starpath Project, a part of our local Community of Learning, and teacher’s professional development is focused on Equity, Literacy, and Innovation in the classroom. However, at times it can be a little confusing as to which initiative we should be focusing on, as due to the various pressures in the job, it is difficult to work on all of these at once.

My professional environment is established each year at new schools as I work in fixed-term contracts trying to gain full registration. This disjointed introduction to a profession, specifically where I am working to establish a professional practice, is one of the more influential aspects of my professional environment that informs my teaching practice. I establish wonderful professional relationships with staff and students, only to miss out developing them in subsequent years.

“By 2018 we are hoping to be a 1:1 device to student school”

An issue related to our SES is that of student attendance. A target for our school this year is a 90% attendance rate in the junior school (which we are currently very close to meeting). However, as our students get into their senior years, their attendance decreases. This reflects the Ministry’s data collected on attendance which drops off significantly after students reach Year 11. Unfortunately our school’s overall attendance also reflects that of other Decile 2 schools, and those of Māori and Pasifika learners, of which both lower than the national averages (MoE, 2016). The impact that this has on my teaching practice can be substantial. I work with my seniors who spend the year producing large bodies of artwork, and if their attendance is low and they are missing work, they can lose a minimum of 12 credits for their external folios, which can feel hopeless. I try to combat this outcome by hosting late nights to support the students in the later stages of the year. This has been successful for some, but – similar to classes – it only works if the students attend.

In order to combat some of the issues around being a low SES school, we have become a leading digital school in New Zealand through use of Google for Schools and Chromebooks. By 2018 we are hoping to be a 1:1 device to student school, which will hopefully set our students up with greater digital fluency and technological understandings for their futures. Alongside my school’s approach, the MindLab course has also extended my integration of technologies into my Art classroom – which has been enjoyably challenging.

Tangata ako ana i te whare, te turanga ki te marae, tau ana.

Defining my Practice

When I first started reading Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Treyner’s Communities of Practice, I assumed that mine would be the department that I work in. What I came to realise is that as a department, we do not meet the three characteristics of domain, community, and practice that define a Community of Practice (CoP). Even though we all share a passion for the success of our students, we do not all have a strong passion for what we do within the school context. My next guess would have been the school’s attempted CoPs, by creating Professional Learning Groups of about twelve teachers. However, my group does not meet these characteristics defined by Wenger-Treyner as we do not have a mutual level of engagement, and there is no real sense of belonging. To improve this, I could become a leader in this group, someone who inspires the group to be invested by being enthusiastic about and relevant to their interests. Luckily, I am also a part of a group of other second year teachers at my school with whom I meet at least twice a term.

Our domain of interest, as beginning teachers, is that we have a shared commitment to developing and improving our practice, with the specific short-term goal of becoming fully registered teachers, which unites us. At our bi-termly meetings we share our experiences in order to help each other build our repertoires, and our Mentoring Teacher leads us through tasks that we work on together to add to this skill set. Recently, we completed peer observations with a focus on literacy strategies used in our classrooms, and gained valuable feedback from each other. This has also lead to some small scale cross-curricular collaboration. Throughout the year we have supported and challenged each other, and this is a CoP that I actively contribute to. When we are not meeting in person, we are working in our Google Classroom where we can quickly share valuable research and experiences.

“There is a significant positive impact on beginning teachers who participate”

Within this CoP, I am the only teacher to have done my first year at a different school. Because of this, I can sometimes feel like an outsider due to lacking similar knowledge, but it is also an advantage as I can share experiences that are different to those of my peers, which contributes to their learning. I am also able to share my learning that I am gaining from the MindLab course. For me, it is important to maximise my use of this CoP as studies have shown that there is a significant positive impact on beginning teachers who participate in an induction process (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011) of which this CoP is a result. I came in to this profession to make change, and I am still dreaming of large scale impact over a period of time. This can only happen if I take advantage of all opportunities to learn myself.

I hope that this CoP will continue to support me for the remainder of the school year, and in to next year if I am offered a permanent position. While there are advantages to moving around each year – like gaining a range of different experiences – I am ready to know what it’s like to stay put and extend these professional relationships that I have made.

He waka eke noa.