Saturday, 28 March 2015

First Blog Post for Mindlab: Applied Practice Assignment 1

Please note that the next half dozen or so blogs are evidence for an assessment so are written in perhaps a more formal style than would be natural for me....... Nevertheless the "opinions are my own" and I have attributed the work of others accordingly - hopefully 100% of the time!

A bit about me....

I’m Katriona Main. My background is in the fashion industry here in NZ and previously in the UK. In the 'rag trade' I had various roles; part of a design team, production, quality control, promotion and tertiary education for a private organisation (PTE). Over the years I have had a number of formal and informal teaching/facilitating roles including community education computing.
Currently I am in my 5th year of  being a teacher (and learner) at Albany Senior High School; a modern learning environment on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s a decile 10 school catering for years 11, 12 and 13. We have open learning spaces, no bells and teachers are called by the first names, even Barbara Cavanagh, our principle. The school philosophy is that we (the teacher and students) are on the journey together, side-by-side, and that building positive respectful relationships and knowing the students is the key to enhancing learning. 

This year I am teaching Product Design (mostly textiles yet incorporating multi-materials) which is a composite class of Y11, 12 & 13 students and Social Anthropology. These learning environments are both communities of practice. The Product Design class has an emphasis on collaboration, co-construction and peer teaching using a Design Thinking mindset.  I’m also embracing 21st Century learning ( I  soooo dislike this term) or (as I prefer) "the 4C's" - Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication. I believe in modelling what we expect of our students - taking risks to try something new. It might be AMAZING. "Feel the fear and do it anyway!"

These learning environments are just two of the communities of practice that I operate within. Ettiene Wenger defines a community of practice as a group of people who intentionally share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Wenger also suggests that a community of practice has a shared domain of interest which implies commitment and shared competences that distinguishes members from others. Such communities value collective competence and that the group can learn from each other. This definition describes the "product design" learning environment where year 11, 12 & 13 students collaborate, peer teach and co-construct their learning. The students' shared interest is to develop skills and knowledge in the area of product design. They are working together to each make a garment as part of a class fashion collection which represents them. This started from a “How might we develop a fashion collection that represents us?” question which students brainstormed together using a series of design thinking activities and ended up with "How might we develop a collection that is classy yet comfortable, is black with a "pop" of colour and suitable for teens to wear to a launch party at a rooftop venue in Auckland?"

Wenger describes community of practice members as engaging in joint activities such as 
  • problem-solving (which occurs over time and with sustained interactions)
  • seeking experiences
  • sharing/reusing assets
  •  co-ordination
  • having synergy
  • visiting places
  • documenting
  • mapping knowledge
  • identifying gaps
  • discussions
  • helping each other and 
  • sharing information
  • a shared repertoire of resources, experiences, stories and tools 
The above can be used to describes the class learning environment. As an example, students this week have been  attempting new practical skills and I observed students helping each other work through problems and challenges together.  

These attributes can also be used to describe other Communities of Practice that I am involved in for my professional learning such as the Team Leaders group, our Professional Inquiry group and ASHS staff. (Hodgkinson & Hodgkinson) suggest that teachers can be seen to belong to several over-lapping communities of practice; the teaching profession, the school where they work, the community of fellow specialists in a particular subject, and so on and that there are overlapping interactions. Wenger has a similar view  and  that  in education, communities of practice are increasingly used for professional development, but they also offer a fresh perspective on learning and education.

There might be an overlap of physical space but also the knowledge and skills gained in one community of practice will overlap into other communities of practice one is involved in. For example, team leaders have been working on developing a shared understanding of Professional Inquiry (inquiry cycle) which can then be shared when collaborating with learning community teams to help build their Professional Inquiry.Given the rise of social media for professional development it can now possible to collaborate and form Communities of Practice with other educators around the world. For example, #dtk12 on twitter.

I've recently been exploring the concept of "Whanaungatangawhich is all about relationships, a shared experience and sense of belonging with rights and obligations and strengthening each member of the group. To me this embraces the characteristics of Communities of Practice that Wenger and Lave describe. Whanaungatanga also incorporates the notion of knowing my students  not only as learners but also as people; their cultural heritage, their interests and their strengths. This goes for all students. Perhaps, this concept  is more appropriate for our New Zealand learning context.

As a teacher it is essential to equip students with a range of attributes and dispositions, skills and knowledge so they can positively contribute to society and lead successful lives beyond school. The rate of change in the modern world is so rapid that we don’t know what jobs there will be in the future but we do know that CEO’s of leading companies are looking for employees or grads that are able to communicate, collaborate, be creative and critical thinkers. 

My role as a teacher is to ensure that the student is at the centre of their learning and that they know what they are learning and why. In order for this to happen it is essential to plan and prepare a space and a safe environment which fosters trusting relationships so learning and risk taking/ failure; "fail early, fail often" (IDEO) can occur.

CORE VALUES articulated at ASHS through it’s organisational culture, policies and ethics can be best summed up through our school vision


This is supported by a range of statements, the most poignant for me is 

“It’s not if you are bright, it’s HOW you are bright” 

The school also values respectful student-teacher relationships entwined with the concept of AKO; to learn and to teach as a reciprocal act as "we (learner and teacher) are on the learning journey together”.  There is an open door policy at all levels. The Senior Leadership Team have an open plan office and the door is always open. As a staff we are encouraged to be lifelong learners. For example, we have 1 hour a week set aside for Professional Inquiry.

The school values are found on the school website and the policies a and procedures are readily available on the school intranet and wiki spaces.

The legal, regulatory and professional requirements in the field of Secondary Education in New Zealand are:-
  • A clean police record
  • Relevant Q's eg degree in specialist field and post grad dip in secondary teaching
  • 2 years as a provisionally registered teacher
  • Registration to Teachers Council
  • Renewal of Teaching Certificate every 3 years to maintain currency. Must meet a set of RTC (Registered Teaching Criteria)
  • Expectation to maintain currency through professional development. Life long learners.
Overarching this is the commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi being a bicultural country in governance and in educational terms valuing Maori learners as Maori.

I have two roles at ASHS; Specialist Subject teacher – Product Design (textiles) and Social Anthropology (new in 2015) and Team Leader, a role unique to ASHS.  This role is to lead a team of teachers from different specialist areas within an open plan learning space/community and provides an opportunity to build leadership skills and be a “leader of learning" through building capacity of the team members. Each team varies considerably as every teacher is at a different stage of their teaching journey with hugely differing skills sets. 

What next?
  • Continue to be future focussed and be a lifelong learner
  • Continue to build collaborative and digital learning environments. Link in, where possible with teachers/learners in other countries as well as in NZ.
  • Keep exploring Design Thinking in educational contexts not just the classroom but with colleagues too. Why? To discover innovative ways to approach teaching and learning through finding and solving “the right” problem. This is a possible research topic for Masters.
  • Build more of an online presence through becoming a weekly blogger and tweeter. This will require me to plan times in the week to tweet and hook into professional networks such as #dtk12. 
  • Continue to be a leader in the learning environment but also to take the ideas out of the classroom and into other environments such professional networks, other schools, within technology/product design but also across other subject areas and ultimately removing those subject silos!
Digitally sharing experiences via professional networks (such as this blog) is a great way to communicate with other educators around the world. However, it does bring into consideration the importance of maintaining a distinction between personal and professional interactions on social media. I generally use a “psudeonym” for educational online interactions. The information contained in the "guidelines for bloggers" by Susan M. Heathfield is generally common sense in respect for people’s privacy and business confidentiality. It does however, serve as reminder that a blogger must :-
  • not use trademarks and logos unless authorised
  • be respectful about colleagues
  • that the author is legally liable for any derogatory comments, misrepresentation or copyright issues.
  • write professionally, accurately and knowledgably.
 To guard against  some of these issues it is advisable for bloggers to state that the “opinions are their own”.  Additionally, something to be particularly aware of as a teacher is to honour the privacy of others and not to breach any requests for student privacy when uploading photos of class activities to a digital or social media network. 
Having a digital profile will become increasingly important for professionals so it is important to always be aware of people’s privacy include ourselves. 

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