"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

~Neale Donald Walsch~

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Feeling the buzz

You know when you are part of something exciting or new there is a real buzz in the air or 'feeling the vibe'.
Image by bigstockphotos.com
It's a strange sensation and not one I feel very often. I felt it at the first Teach Meet in Sydney I went to. (I was actually really nervous because I didn't know anyone and I wasn't sure what to do.) I felt it at TEDxSydney this year and totally felt like a fish out of water amongst all the young Gen Y city folk. I have felt it at staff development days when I am hanging of every word of the presenter and constantly thinking about how it relates to my teaching. I love the anticipation of knowing that I will have been part of something that improves my life for the better. I often feel this when I attend church conferences too. However it doesn't have to be a spiritual thing it can just be a moment of sheer joy and anticipation as to what is to come. The unknown can sometimes seem daunting but not always.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
This week I have been involved in enrollments at TAFE. Last week week we said goodbye to all our students who had completed their six month course. It was such a celebration of their hard work and even more rewarding was seeing many of them having confidence in themselves and having clear pathways as to what would be their next step for employment or further educational opportunities that would give them greater opportunities in the long term for employment and job satisfaction. This week was totally different. There were students standing around unsure of where they should be. Quiet students hanging back not wanting to reveal too much and some students really revving up and rearing to go. Some of our students from the previous term have decided to continue on with us and go on to harder courses because they felt they had some momentum in learning and wanted to keep going while they still had the drive. There are a real mix of people who come to TAFE and everyone who comes has a different path they need to take. 

Optimism is something I try to have lots of. I don't always succeed but often there is a real sense of optimism when students start something with the yearning desire to get through and succeed. TAFE has taught me that it doesn't matter how old you you can still learn and keep learning. I have had students in their 60s who are changing their careers. It's wonderful to see that there is no discrimination when it comes to learning. No one can tell you to stop learning. I relish the fact that life is a learning curve and I am always excited to learn something new particularly from my students. On the last day of term one of my classes  had a 'teach the teacher' day. It was great to be surprised by the different variety of knowledge and skills that my students possess. I have never and will never consider myself to be the font of all knowledge on my own subject area because quite frankly I just can't be. Knowledge and information is always changing and I am looking forward to next semester and the surprises that await for me. I am teaching on 3 courses I have never taught on before and I am a little overwhelmed by how much preparation I will need to do in the holidays but I feel like a dog with a bone. I can't wait to just get in and start programming. 

I am feeling the buzz of teaching something new that I love, History. (I love teaching History most of all) I also get to jump in and join the learning journey with my students. I am teaching Google Apps as well this term and was so excited to have the opportunity to share with others my love of technology. 
Image by bigstockphotos.com

I wish all my teaching pals a safe and happy school holidays and hope I can share with many of you at our next Central Coast Teach Meet!

Until next week,

Sunday, 15 June 2014

When learning becomes super fun

A friend of mine who owns a wonderful book shop, The Book Bazaar in Umina recently took a pic of one of
her window displays in which she drew the viewers eyes to Enid Blyton's, The Magic Faraway Tree series. These were some of my favorite stories growing up. When I read these stories as a child I was with Joe and Beth, Fanny and Dick (I have noticed in the new versions they changed the names of Fanny and Dick) and all the other characters. I was one of the kids. I couldn't wait to get up to the part in the story when they went up the Faraway Tree and peeked through the clouds to see what land was at the top. I loved the different folk that lived in the Faraway Tree and those who would come visit it when their land was at the top. I wanted Silky the most beautiful fairy I could imagine to be my best friend. Moon Face was one of my favorite characters and I would dream about trying one of his delicious gooey honey flavored pop cakes. One of the most wonderful things about these stories was that in my imagination the scene was perfect and the pictures in my head were clear and wonderful. So engaged was I in the text that 25 years later I feel like I am writing about an old friend. I went on scary and dangerous adventures as well as indulging my imagination in the Land of Sweets. These stories made me read deeper and deeper into the text and I tasted every morsel of imaginative delight as I read from cover to cover.

One great thing about the internet is that you can get some wonderful and creative teaching ideas from others. Just as Enid Blyton stirred my imagination as a child I know that there are teachers who are recreating places and adventures right in their own classrooms. There may be some of you that feel that Harry Potter or The Magic Treehouse series are some examples where students can immerse themselves in the land of make believe. I know some teachers whose students are so engaged in what they are doing that they don't hear the bell or keep talking about the lesson via social media sometimes days after it happened. Your imagination is a learning muscle just like any other learning muscle. It needs to be flexed and used every now and then. 

In this day and age technology has become, for some teachers the thorn in their side, whilst for others they are too busy playing maths in Minecraft with their students to notice that other teachers have no clue what
 they are up to and can only see them wasting time and resources playing video games. We can't have every lesson playing games but there is much to be said about learning when it is fun. There are some that think video games are a cop out to students using their imaginations but I think there can be a balance struck. There are so many apps that students can use to create their own video games and movies which display their knowledge and understanding of a topic or concept that allows them to not only learn experentially but enables learning to be super fun. 

My son went to Super Nova in Sydney today and met one of his childhood heroes Stan Lee. (The creator of Marvel comics.) He was telling me about this creative place where people were dressed up and thoroughly immersed in the world of make believe. There were people from all generations there and clearly make believe doesn't just stop when we leave our childhood. Some of the world's most amazing theme parks, architecture, art and engineering all require that space in our brains where our imaginations are probed. So clearly learning can be super fun and I hope that our students can develop life long learning through engaging in super fun learning from time to time in our classes. 

Until next week,

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cross curriculum sharing

Over the last month I have attended some professional development training through TAFE that was specifically targeted at inspiring us as teachers to reflect upon our teaching practices and philosophies. Yesterday marked the last day and so it has been on my mind in the last 24 hours. The best way I find to get these thoughts sorted is to blog. Yeah for blogging!!

These sessions covered teaching and learning styles, classroom management, lesson preparation and delivery, feedback, validation and  challenges our students face through discrimination, stereotypes and disabilities and the struggles that our international students have to contend with each and every day. It was quite refreshing to hear how teachers were able to facilitate learning where there seemed to be many barriers. It was wonderful to hear about students who are making an impact in our communities and below is a story of a student who truly inspired me.

Through cross curriculum sharing I have begun to think with a new perspective about the teaching and learning experiences in my classroom and how they are going to impact my students when they engage in work and employment once they leave my course and how their learning experiences will impact their life and others in their lives. Any sort of learning is never wasted and even on our worst days we can learn from our life experiences. Often it is in these difficult experiences that we learn the most. We often don't know as teachers when our students will apply what they have learnt in class or with whom.

It's easy to stay in our own teaching discipline to work hard at what we know but I have rediscovered that the learning experience is much broader than that for our students and drawing on experiences and stories from a range of educational and work disciplines allows the students to make greater connections, be more resourceful and reflective.

So can I encourage you to go and ask a colleague what they are teaching in their classroom and share a story or two. Whilst I am thinking in this vein I am currently in the throws of organising the next Central Coast Teach Meet. If you do live on the Central Coast then please come along. Make sure you register and please consider sharing what's working in your school/ TAFE college or University that might inspire others to think beyond their normal range of experience.

Until next week,

Monday, 9 June 2014

Do we trust teachers?

A good friend of mine posted this image on her Facebook page the other day and it really got me thinking. Has there really been such a paradigm shift in the thinking of parents in relation to how their little darlings are 'performing' at school. Being a parent myself there are certainly the 'over achieving' parents who will do anything to make sure their little treasure is coming first however do we by and large really trust teachers to fully educate our children?

Image by bigstockphotos.com
This thinking led me to a conversation with one of my classes this week about school reports. All of the students in the class who were parents (which was about 90%) felt that they would like someone to sit down and explain the school reports because there was so much education jargon that they really didn't understand how their child was really doing. They really felt that school reports were not in plain English. Perhaps it is these confusing reports that are really putting pressure on teachers to try and explain to parents what their student can and can't do?

It seems as though on the world stage Australia's are excelling in many areas. Science, Arts, Medicine, Innovation, technology, Agriculture yet we often hear in the media that we need more teacher training because it must be the teachers to blame for the supposedly bad school results. I find all this very confusing and conflicting and it is hard to know what to believe.

It is hardly fair of parents who have unrealistic expectations of their child and take no responsibility for their child's education outside of school hours to blame the teachers for their poor results. Perhaps it's a generational thing. Maybe kids these days spend too much time on technology and don't do the extra study and reading that previous generations did?

There is a bigger problem here though I think. In generations past teachers were rev erred and admired.
There has definitely been a shift in thinking in subsequent decades. There have been many reported cases of child abuse in both public and private schools. There have been schools and individual teachers sued because of poor school results and of course don't forget the overly scrutinised NAPLAN results that have left genuinely great schools and teachers feeling vulnerable by the lack of trust of parents in the community.

It's a real shame and I don't know how to solve the problem but I wish parents would take on board a team mentality. Children and adult learner's alike need to be in a learning partnership so that all partied have the opportunity to succeed.
During the week I watched Sugata Mitra talk about his dream for a school in the cloud. Perhaps this is where education is going in the future?

Until next week,