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. 

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