Monday, 30 November 2015

Breaking Limits Open One Word 2015 Reflection Tara O'Neill

 Like many Educators I work within certain limits.  Curriculum limits, school wide limits, parental limits and often limits set in my own mind as to the way things have always been done.  Mostly I don’t question those limits because I am not aware they are there.  Sometimes, I pretend they are not there because they are scary and I don’t want to be pushed outside my comfort zone.

Up until this year, where my one word has been limit, I have experienced the safe side of limit. As someone who often finds myself outside of personal limits set to keep me safe from burnout, I came to realize that limits have another side.  Professionally, acknowledging limits has enabled me to move beyond them, to explore and develop new practice.  Not for my sake, but for my students.  In pursuit of excellence breaking limits is all about learning.

Professional Limits

I ended 2014 by writing about the exciting journey of play ahead for 2015

I am pleased to say it has been successful.  Learning has become explosive, captivating, enabling learning but not in the way I expected.

I am learning a whole new way of teaching, a whole new pedagogy.  It feels like my brain has been removed and put back a different way.  I see teaching and learning in a totally different light.  

Keys to changing practice

1.  Release to inquire into new ways of teaching and learning given by my Principal.  Thanks Karyn Grey because without your leadership, I wouldn’t have even ventured out of my limits.  Being in a school where breaking limits is encouraged and highly regarded an environment is created, which embraces change and new ideas. 

2. Owning the journey and the learning. I wasn’t copying anyone else.  When I began the journey I didn’t know anyone trialing what I was about to do.  I did some professional reading as time allowed, and had so much fun trying different ideas in the learning community. I used courage to redefine and challenge old practice acting as a limit and change my teaching practice.   I wrote a blog earlier in the year ( about this discovery.   
My professional learning hasn’t cost loads of money.  A fraction of the cost of what I pay to do Postgrad learning.  It has cost my time and effort and I have had to take risks.

3.  Connecting with other professionals through technology at a grass root level.   I went to my first Educamp in Palmerston North.  I took a chance.  I decided I wanted to share my short journey into play-based learning.  To my surprise I got to share.  There I sat sharing with 20 other educators.  At the end of an hour, we hadn’t finished the discussion so I suggested I start a facebook page.

Which I did a week later. That was August.  And to my surprise it took off.  I spent my evenings sitting on facebook sharing practice. I called it Learning Through Play. Online I met two researchers, Sarah Aiono and Keryn Davis, experienced in play based learning. They linked me in to some significant research.   I met Linda Cheer from The Forest School an experienced educator in play-based learning.  I met Early Childhood Educators who totally got where I was coming from and could further my practice and I met other Primary Teachers further down the track and some interested beyond belief in starting play based classrooms.  The page is now sitting at just over 650 people all within 4 months.  More important than the numbers is the fact we are an active online learning community.  Different people post and loads of helpful conversations are had.  The Learning Through Play Facebook Group has provided a place where educators at different places on the journey can share and get feedback and response to what they need in the moment.

Early on in the Learning through Play facebook page we decided we wanted to meet in person.  I talked with Karyn Grey and decided the facebook community would hold an Unconference. An unconference encapsulates authentic learning. Participant driven professional gathering. The 'un' refers to the fact there is no top-down organisation. Self-authorized learning, the experts are amongst us.  I opened up the idea and two Kindergarten teachers from Hineomoa Kindergarten in Taupo offered to host the event.  We set a date for October.  What a success.  It was very very useful. We had 20 educators (one skyped in) from 6 different cities in North Island, two different sectors ECE and Primary and Deciles ranging from 1 to 10.  Powerful. 

4.  Connecting with different sectors locally.  I have appreciated making connections with other local New Entrant Teachers who meet once a term in Gisborne.  Sharing practice and hearing others experiences is always helpful. Start connecting where you are.

Not being afraid to ask for help has led to another hugely valuable learning stream. David Spraggs and Christine Taare from the Kindergarten Association have been very supportive and helpful.  David has come several times to visit me at school and spent time discussing learning through play.  The other valuable resource has been REAP who also have connections in the community.  Being invited to as a Keynote speaker at the Tairawhiti Early Childhood Symposium has enabled me to give back and make further connections. Finally, the Pre-school next door to my school have provided a layer of relationship bringing context into learning that has enabled significant progress towards transition to school.
Asking questions from other practioners from different sectors and deciles has been significant to my changing practice.  I have experienced engagement and flow at a whole different level.  I understand how learning isn’t primarily about knowledge but about being able to ask the right questions and finding the right people.

This has been the most significant year for my professional practice.  Like a snowball it rolls gathering pace. It has enabled me to learn quickly in a way I have never experienced.   I have broke limits of past thinking, I have redefined what teaching and learning means for me and the students I teach. I have redefined my own professional learning journey. This time I see limits as my friend.   

What about you?  How can you fast track your professional learning?  What questions do you have to ask? What relationships can you form?  What platforms – facebook, twitter, educamp, ignite can you explore?   Take a risk, share with someone. 

B-A-L-A-N-C-E A One Word 2015 Reflection



At the end of 2014, just when I thought life was beginning to settle down a bit, I gained a ministry scholarship for a post grad diploma in specialist teaching.  Life as I knew it was about to disappear.  I really had no idea what to expect, and to be honest; I was naïve about the amount of time it would involve. As well as teaching, I’m part of the leadership team and also SENCO for years one to eight, so, I worked about 50 hours a week.

At the beginning of the year, we moved onto our new campus and team taught with a new group of people in our learning communities. Our team had 75 students, six teachers and one teacher aide.  It was hectic. Then, for reasons unrelated to school, I had to go to Wellington for a few weeks. This was extremely stressful, but made easier through the support of colleagues, friends and family. By the middle of the year, my studies were floundering.  I felt that I was losing control, and I felt that I might end up with a big bill if I dropped out of my studies.  The pressure was building.

By the time September rolled around, I was feeling the strain.  I had resisted talking to my university advisors, because I was beginning to question my own competency. However, there came a point where I had to.  Of course as soon as I did I wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier.  They were wonderful, understanding and supportive.  They suggested plans to help me get through it all.  One idea, which I initially fought, was to only complete one paper in 2015.  However, this turned out to be a life (mind, body and soul) saver. Hence, my one word goal for 2015 ‘balance’.

I look back at 2015 and am very thankful for the team I worked with.  They supported me by just getting on with it.  When I was away in Wellington on leave, they sent texts, emails and packages to support my family and me. I can’t express enough how this impacted on my well being. When you have a small family, it’s hard to share the load. I will always be grateful.  But how was I going to get some balance in my life in 2015?

I have learnt to ask for help, ask for advice, let other people do things and let some things go.  I work smarter, not longer.  Our team has found better ways to communicate, so I don’t have to be at school quite as much.   I introduced a study night at school for staff who were studying.  I have started taking the time to walk again.  I think carefully about what needs to be done and what can wait, or can be missed altogether. 

So, does my life feel more balanced?  Do I feel more in control? Have I achieved my goal this year? I will answer that with another question, what is balance and do I need to be in control all of the time?  I think the key was to become more mindful of what’s going on for me and act accordingly.

Saying No- a teacher aide reflections on her one word for 2015.

WHAIA- a teacher reflection on the One Word for 2015


There’s a box that was given to me at the beginning of the year. I was meant to write my ONE WORD on it and over the year, collect things to show my personal and professional journey for 2015.

While others coloured and wrote on their boxes I decided not to do anything with mine. That’s not me. I like clean lines and edges and space, and I find there’s simple beauty in the plainness of something; its Unaffectedness. The wood that connects you to nature, the texture that’s smooth to the touch; and the sound that creates rhythm. I took the box home and it’s been there, all year, waiting quietly. So now I get to reflect on what I have done this year to enhance my personal and professional journey.

My word was WHAIA, to pursue. It is taken from the whakatauki:

Whaia te iti kahurangi, ki te tuohu koe me he maunga teitei.

Pursue the heights of excellence, and should you fail let it be to a lofty mountain.

In other words, go hard and if you don’t succeed don’t let it be from lack of trying.

So this year, I picked up the challenge of committing to further study. I applied to do the Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Learning (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered through MindLab here in Gisborne.

Each Wednesday teachers from schools throughout the Tairāwhiti met from 4-8pm to learn the latest developments happening in digital and collaborative learning and how they can be applied in practice. I have a newfound respect for teachers who study, teach fulltime and have a household to run. It hasn’t been easy returning to study and assignment deadlines while still planning my lessons and teaching. Even now, I have a lit review due while I’m trying to finish reports. I feel an extension coming on…

Even so, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the latest technologies and have taken what I’ve learned back into my classroom. It shapes my discussion with colleagues and as I quote leadership theories to my team teaching mate, she quietly nods as if she’s receiving sage information. Thank you, Megan for not rolling your eyes or telling me to shut-up!

My personal focus this year has been around finding a balance between school and home life. When I started teaching in 2011, I spent every weekend at school. I ate “school”, slept “school” and dreamt “school”. I was the teacher that went home late most nights, only to be the first back on site the next morning.

I’ve learned that my class will not fall apart if I’m not there. My students will cope if I’m sick and that it is possible to have a life outside of school. And sometimes it’s okay to go home early and if I get up at 7am; I will still get to school on time! And best of all, it’s okay to have a holiday during the school holidays!

I love being a teacher. Why would I want to do anything else?