Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Value of Sharing- Karyn Gray

Im still on holiday, and Im trying desperately to cling on to that for another week but twitter won’t quite let me. Yes, I could turn it off, but then this small voice in my head says I might miss something so I cant quite bring myself to do it.

Three things I've read in the last few days have had a real effect on me.

The first, interestingly was an article in a women magazine about Antonia Prebble and impostor syndrome. I haven't read such a magazine for ages, but was sitting in an airport lounge and they were there so I picked one up. I love watching programmes with Antonia Prebble in them and to read about her explaining how she always felt that someone would come along and tel her that what she was doing wasn't really that great struck a nerve. I spent a lot of my earlier years of teaching justifying what I was doing in a classroom to management and leaders who were suspicious of my quest to provide personalised programmes and to integrate real world knowledge with classroom learning, way before those things became more acceptable practice. And I think that suspicion I lived with has followed me into leadership. I have real conviction in what we are doing in our classrooms and our school, but Ive always lived with that small nagging doubt that maybe someone would come along and tell me I was completely wrong.

The second and third things that I read were blogposts from some of my edu-heroes. Ive been admiring-mostly from afar- the work that Hobsonville Point Secondary School has been doing over the last two years- mostly by following their blogging and tweeting and a post from Claire Amos, followed by one from Sally Hart really got me thinking this week.

Claire wrote about building a plane while trying to fly it. 

I know that feeling so well. Four years ago, we too started a new school with a difference. We had a full roll from Day 1. We had to meet the needs of 5 years olds and we had to cater for senior students and NCEA qualifications from Day 1. We really were also flying the plane and building it at the same time. As a leader, it was both exciting and terrifying to not have all those procedures and practices defined. Some people classified us as disorganised. We never were. We’ve always had a vision and been working towards that, and we didn't have, or actually want, the power of long held traditions and “thats the way we do things” to fall back on when things went wrong, which meant we had to be reactive and truly personalise our response to situations when things did happen.

Sally wrote about what the school valued. It was so exciting to read this post about what they celebrated with their students at the end of the year.

I think the language we use to describe things in schools has a lot of power. I’ve often been referred to as a “hippy” because of that belief. Four years ago when I said we weren't holding a prize giving but a Celebration of Annual Achievements, I got a fair amount of flak. When we refused to do things like top of class awards and instead gave awards focused on school values, when we chose the things that we thought were especially important to our school philosophy- Contribution to leadership, Excellence in digital literacy, Excellence in independent learning  for our major awards rather than the traditional awards, we got a fair amount of feedback indicating some of our colleagues out in edu-land thought we weren't really a “real school.” When we decided to give a supreme award- based on a number of criteria- quality learning but also values and contribution to the school and we did that for every year group rather than a school dux award, we found a lot of people again thought that was because we couldn't rather than chose not to. 

So to read about a school I have such respect for doing something very similar was really affirming. I guess that impostor syndrome thing has sat in the background of my mind, alongside dealing with that continual feedback you do get back from others about you not being “real” when you don't do things the way schools always have. To know you are not alone in the quest to search for different ways to do things that meet the needs of learners in the world they now live in, reduces the power of those quiet "impostor voices" in your mind.

Reading these posts this week has reminded me of the power of non geographic learning communities and the value they hold for us all. Im really glad I didn't turn off twitter and miss them. 

The power of networks like twitter and in reading blogs from other educators is well documented but for those of us working and teaching and leading in remote corners of the country the ability to share in the learning that comes from other bigger schools in bigger centres is vital to our continuing to grow and challenge ourselves.

It’s also reminded me that perhaps continuing to tell the story of our journey as a school has value alongside the stories of schools like Hobsonville, and the others doing such exciting groundbreaking learning throughout New Zealand. 

So, Claire, I’m going to join you in your quest and write a blog post each week in an attempt to clarify some of my thinking and share the next step of our journey with others.

Hopefully, just like I have gained so much from reading blogposts from the staff at Hobsonville Point Secondary School someone out there may also be interested in following along with the next steps in our journey.

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