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Reflective Practice

Initially, signing up to Mindlab seemed like a massive adventure, I had known staff who had raved about their experiences in the course and I was looking forward to the possibilities of future learning pathways – unfortunately, life got in the way.

The course, although demanding, really encouraged collaboration. Yet less than a quarter of the way into the programme I accepted a position at another school and suddenly – with conflicting timetables and an increased workload – the possibility of collaborating on assessments went out the door. Consequently, the adventure quickly became a massive grind as I struggled to complete activities on time while performing professionally within my new position.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the group activities that were presented in the class based part of the course. In each of these activities I was paired with different groups of staff and it really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and relationships. This early collaboration around new and inventive IT (though largely irrelevant in a university entrance course), did show me the benefits of collaborative learning and the strength of digital tools as a part of the assessment practice.

The Ministry’s Practicing Teaching Criterea (PTC), number 7: ‘Promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive learning environment,’ encourages teaches to implement collaborative learning pathways within their classes. Vygotsky (1978), emphasised that increased intellectual success could be attained through collaborative mediums and it would seem rudimental that teachers include collaboration in their own classrooms. Mindlab has clearly shown this intellectual gain to be the case, and has been instrumental in helping me address my own weaknesses in delivering collaborative learning.

https://eduwells.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/kcs-before-tech-eduwells.png

Osterman, & Kottkamp, (1993) note that reflective practice is a key aspect of personal development in a teachers’ pedagogy and forces us to address our own shortcomings. Indeed, when the experience is problematic, it is most likely to ‘lead to behavioural change.’ In this case, I was forced to look at the implementation of collaborative activities within my own class: why was I not achieving the desired results? what were the shortcomings of my programmes? how could I more effectively engage students in the learning process? and, what could I do myself to improve my own delivery of collaborative learning elements?

Peers within the Mindlab class experience some success after collaborating to build a robotic arm.

These questions led me on a path that helped to address Criteria 12 of the PTC: “Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their [sic] professional practice.” During the online component of Mindlab, I undertook research into flipped classroom practice with a view of better enabling collaborative activities within my own teaching. My work on the literature review quickly identified issues with my own understanding of group dynamics and the implementation of a student led classroom with a facilitating teacher. I quickly discovered that my scaffolding of group work needed a lot more detail, and I had to train my students in collaborative aspects, rather than just expecting them to have a basic collaborative tool kit.

Consequently, my future goal is to really hone the delivery of collaborative elements of my learning programmes. In this fashion, I intend to take greater control of group dynamics and how I assign different people to groups. I also realise that early on in the process, I need to more intensively model, clarify, and guide students through areas of group responsibility. Lastly, I need to improve student accountability to ensure that all students within a group are actively contributing.

Ultimately, Mindlab – despite its frustrations – will undoubtedly create change in my professional practice. Going forward, my biggest goal next to collaborative learning, is to investigate better ways of assessing students and using collaborative forms of summative assessment in NCEA.

Exiting times are ahead!

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from http://www.itslifejimbutnotasweknowit.org.uk/files.

Vygotsky , L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Social Media in the Classroom

Sharples, et.al. (2016) note that “social media can bring learning to life by summoning up different times, spaces, characters and possibilities. They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.”

Within my classes, I have been working hard to create lessons that embrace modern technologies that the students can engage with and create meaningful learning. Some of these technologies include media creation tools such as video making software, and the use of social media platforms.

Due to some recent study, I have quickly realised that I have not been using social media to its full potential. Instead, the social media I have used has been in an administrative capacity and has only just touched the surface of its potential.

Firstly, I have used Facebook as a means of creating class groups where I can create online conversations and remind students of deadlines. In terms of creating benefits within the learning of my students, it is something that is very difficult to measure. I know that articles and information that have been posted on the site has received likes and the odd comment from students, but as a lot of the information is classified as extra reading, I am unsure if the students are actually reading them or just hitting the ‘like’ button to give the illusion of them working.

I know that some students make use of the extra readings, as references or allusions to them often appear in their writing or discussion, but for the most part, this evidence is anecdotal and I need to develop a better system of assessing student engagement in the readings. One possibility would be to include the tool EdPuzzle in my readings. EdPuzzle as a tool allows you to set questions and analyse who is engaging with the text and how successful their comprehension of that text is. Although EdPuzzle isn’t strictly a social media platform, when used within a Facebook group as a tool within a tool, it will give a much clearer indication of student learning than the Facebook platform alone.

Recording and editing a YouTube video for publication and peer critique.

One challenge that I initiated this term, and am still awaiting the final submission on, is a documentary styled video assessment on the First Crusade. The students have been working on this with the knowledge that it will be published on YouTube and shared amongst the class for comments. The class will then be encouraged to comment on each other’s videos, and provide feedback and advice. This discussion will also form a part of their assessment. In this way, I hope that YouTube will become a place where ‘meaningful dialogue’ (Bolstad, Gilbert, McDowall, Bull, Boyd, & Hipkins, 2012) can occur.

Ethically, there are a huge range of problems that are created with the use of social media. From my own standing, I must weigh up what students can see of me, and also how I interact with them to protect my own credibility (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). In this way, I have a separate Facebook account through which I interact with students. The student pages that I am linked to also have other teachers as members so that we can all read and see what is going on.

Students working on creating a documentary in class. Jesus’ ascension perhaps?

On YouTube, there are also questions around student visibility, parental consent, and harm from social media bullying. With the current class project, when the students upload their work, they will do so through my own teaching account that is operated in a safe mode that is undiscoverable on the YouTube search engine. In this way, only by sharing the link can people have access to the videos. I have also emailed all the parents asking their permission to have their students publish something online. Finally the students also have a choices, with camera shy students opting to work on the script writing and research part of the project while more extroverted students have chosen to be the public face of the video.

Going forward, I would like to be able to create links with similar classes around New Zealand and ultimately the world. In this way, the students could get feedback on their projects from a range of other students, and in the same way, provide advice to the learning peers elsewhere. This would contribute to a shared culture of learning and innovation that is without borders (Melhuish, 2013) and one, that I hope, will lead to a deeper and more fulfilling learning experience.

Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education (NZ). Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/109317/994_Future-oriented-07062012.pdf

Mazer, J. P., Murphy, R. E., & Simonds, C. J. (2007). I’ll see you on “Facebook”: The effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate. Communication Education, 56(1), 1-17.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved on 05 May, 2015 from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/8482/thesis.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from http://proxima.iet.open.ac.uk/public/innovating_pedagogy_2016.pdf

 

 

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Identifying an ethical dilemma

As a teacher engaged in pastoral care, one of the most pressing ethical issues we face is the student use of social media outside school hours. By and large, the majority of student actions on social media are not concerning, but frequently, issues addressed among teens via their devices would often lead to isolated issues of bullying and harassment. This can often spill over into the school environment with parents expecting the school to deal with the issues among their child’s peer groups.

licensed under creative commons

This ultimately raises a number of questions for a school’s pastoral team: who is responsible for a student’s use of media outside school hours, and what role – if any – does the school play in mitigating the fallout caused by the abuse of social media?

In my school, there is no written formal policy on the misuse of social media outside of school hours, but staff take it upon themselves to identify and mitigate any instances of social media misuse, even if it was occurring outside of school hours. The school does this for a number of reasons. Firstly, as teachers we were/are committed to protect the wellbeing of the learner (Education Council, Code of Ethics). We acknowledged that the students who were involved in these social media instances were disengaged within the class and that their concerns could sometimes accelerate into physical confrontations.

Secondly, as a school we were/are responsible for promoting and protecting the principles of human rights, and social justice. Integral to this is the right for a student to feel safe at school. In this guise, we also had a responsibility to engage in relationships with ‘families and whānau that are professional and respectful’ (Education Council, Code of Ethics). Because many parents were not aware of their student’s use of social media, we felt it important that they understood the intricacies of what was occurring and how to deal with the issue from home.

To illustrate our procedures around instances of social media misuse, a potential example of it, alongside its rectification will be discussed:

Student A (the instigator), made a disparaging meme about Student B and then shared that meme on Snapchat among other members of the class. Two of the students who received the meme, C and D, then used the screen shot function on their devices and saved the image. They then distributed the image around more friends, including students from other schools. The following day, Student B is made aware of the meme by one of his/her friends and is left upset and angry. At recess, there is a confrontation between the students.

Stakeholders Issues and Concerns
Student A Created a meme that victimised Student B. The student is liable under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 because he/she used a form of electronic communication that contravened principle 5 of the act: ‘A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.’
Student B Had a meme posted publically about themselves without their knowledge or permission. He/she is upset and feels undermined by the peer group. He/she feels victimised and embarrassed. Student is concerned that this may hang around and negatively impact on their online identity (Henderson, 2014) Student does not want to be at school.
Student C and Student D Thought the meme was funny and sent it onto a wider peer group. Their actions also constitute a breach of the Harmful Digital Communitcations Act 2015.
Peers within school Many saw the meme and did not pass it on. Most thought it was funny, but did not think anything more about it. Their perception of Student B remains unchanged, most think more negatively about Student A. They are concerned that he/she might target them.
Peers outside of school Same as above.
Parents of student A Surprised that their child has been accused of online bullying. Worried that there could be police intervention. Worried that the police may hold them responsible as their student created the meme at home on the family server.
Parents of student B Angry that Student A created the meme and shared it. Want Student A held accountable. Wants the school to exercise its maximum authority.
Parents of students C and D Like the parents of Student A, they are worried about potential criminal proceedings, but feel that their children had a much smaller part to play. Want the issue to go away.
School staff Would like the situation dealt with effectively and quickly. Worried that the online component might bring the school into disrepute, especially if it is picked up by the media. Concerned that all the students’ involved need to be given a fair and equitable say in proceedings.

Solutions:

A restorative conference would be called between the immediately affected families. Restorative practice works in well with my school’s Catholic charism as it requires all parties to become involved in the discipline process. Using the school’s policy of care for the individual and its links to restorative practice, the lead pastoral team would define the issues, acknowledge all those involved and their roles, reflect openly on the effects of the behaviours and finally, agree on consequences.

Licensed under creative commons.

Although the school would not seek any criminal proceedings, we would insist on the attendance of the school’s partnership Police Officer to add formality to the proceedings and emphasise the criminal nature of the bullying. The school would also arrange the meeting so that the parents of the affected children could attend so as to support their students, and to express their views and give them full engagement in the process. Having parents attend the full proceedings is important as it helps to mitigate any unforeseen disciplinary problems that a family might instigate such as the example illustrated by Hall (2001, p.2-3).

Ultimately, the school would be geared towards addressing the imbalances caused in the relationships by the offending and the restoration of all parties back into the class environment.

To address the wider group of students exposed to the incident, the school would employ the New Zealand Police to address the students at an assembly and brief them on what constitutes online harassment, how to avoid it, and what potential penalties there are.

In this way, the school would meet all its ethical responsibilities of ensuring that the students are safe and that the wider whanau groups had an adequate input into the proceedings.

Education Council. (2017). Our Code of Standards: code of professional responsibility and standards for the teaching profession. Retrieved from: https://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Our%20Code%20Our%20Standards%20web%20booklet%20FINAL.pdf

Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. Paper presented at the IIPE Conference, Brisbane. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Developing-leaders/What-Ought-I-to-Do-All-Things-Considered-An-Approach-to-the-Exploration-of-Ethical-Problems-by-Teachers

Henderson, M., Auld, G., & Johnson, N. F. (2014). Ethics of Teaching with Social Media. Paper presented at the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.719.2437&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology – Safe and responsible use in schools. Retrieved from http://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/School/Managing-and-supporting-students/DigitalTechnologySafeAndResponsibleUseInSchs.pdf

New Zealand Government. (2015). Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. New Zealand Legislation. Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved from: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2015/0063/latest/whole.html#DLM5711867

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Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness in my practice

Having moved to New Zealand as a twelve year old, my initial dealings with Māori people were not positive. When I arrived in Hawkes Bay in the early 1990s, Māori made up a large amount of the unskilled and uneducated work force and this had led to the ghettoisation of some Māori communities within residential pockets. These communities exhibited high amounts of crime and problems associated with low socio-economic conditions. Because of this, within the Pakeha community, there was an entrenched notion of an ‘us and them’ system of segregation. Needless to say, as a weedy and unconfident young boy, this led me to develop an unnecessary and irrational fear of Māori.

In terms of a Mauri model of cultural awareness – adapted from Potahu, 2011 – this placed me firmly within the Mauri Moe (death) state of Māori cultural awareness. I had little to no appreciation of Māori culture, and apart from some familiarity with the All Black’s haka, I had no idea of what it meant to be Māori.  Fortunately, this changed as I entered a high school where Te Reo Māori was a compulsory subject in forms three and four (years 9 and 10). It was here that I entered the Mauri Moe (sleep state) of cultural awareness.

Here at my new school I was introduced to simple tikanga Māori and learnt basic protocols. Little did I know, but the seeds were being sown to help enable me to further explore tikanga. Under the tutelage of Paul Blake, I discovered mihi, haka, and a love for hangi. I also experienced my first tangi after the loss of a school friend. Yet, although I wasn’t proficient in Māori customs by any means, the roots had begun to form.

From Mauri Moe, to Mauri Oho, my tertiary years fostered a great period of proactive pursuit of knowledge around Māori history and art. Here at university, I studied papers on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the historical interactions between the early British Crown and Māori iwi. I also studied Maori art and culture which developed a deeper appreciation for Māori customs.

The carving demonstrates the integration of Christian, and in particular Roman Catholic, beliefs with a Māori world view. The carver has suggested the concept of the Virgin Mother of God by placing a full facial moko (tattoo) on the face of Mary. In doing so, he has likened her to an Ariki Tapairu – the firstborn female in a family of high rank. Ariki Tapairu were invested with special tapu (sacredness). They weren’t allowed to marry or be touched by men, and their full moko signified their status.

Finally, within my own context, I believe that I am openly moving towards the Mauri Ora stage, though I am not quite there yet. Experiences with the He Kakano programme, marae visits, and frequent attendance at powhiri have enabled me to better understand Māori practice and customs. However, I firmly believe that full Mauri Ora can only occur with language acquisition and this is a step that may be too difficult. In the meanwhile, I try to actively engage with the relatively few Māori within my classes and try to weave their cultural histories into my lessons. I also seek their advice on certain aspects of lessons and use this to guide my classroom reflections.

In terms of my school’s practice of engaging Māori and enabling staff and students to engage with Māori, a number of steps have been taken. Firstly, at the school-wide level, the start of each week always begins with a karakia in Reo Māori. When planning for events (building openings, blessings, mass, etc), we try and incorporate local hapu customs. For example, after the death of a student, we invited the local kaumatua in to bless the buildings and remove the tapu associated with the deceased student’s mauri. The school’s Māori language teacher also wrote a waiata oriori to help the students to sing about the school’s cultural history. Finally, the year 9 retreat is built around a terms worth of education around personal identity in a New Zealand context (biculturalism and links to Tangatawhenua) which culminates in a day and overnight stay at the local marae.

Within my own pedagogy, as a religious studies teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to weave biblical narratives with Māori cultural stories and understandings to better enable Māori voice within my earning activities. For example, in one learning activity, we might analyse the creation myths of both the Māori and the Hebrew Old Testament to search for the greater meanings behind the stories. We also look at myths around figures such as Maui and compare his exploits to those of the biblical figures of Joshua, Sampson and such like. In this way we can create bridges of understanding between the cultures that enable not just Māori students, but also Pakeha students to engage with the topics.

Lastly, I discuss the roles of faith and the importance of Māori spirituality. It is essential to acknowledge that Māori adopted Christianity and it was not something that was forced upon them. When Samuel Marsden was invited to New Zealand by Ruatara of Nga Puhi, it was with Māori consent (Parsonson, 1990). Indeed, with Maori vastly outnumbering Europeans at the time, if the Māori had disagreed with the proselytising of their people, the early missionaries would not have had much success. Using the Māori expressions of religion and art fostered by the Pai Mārire, Kīngitanga, and Ringatū movements, we are able to investigate the expressions of Christianity through a Māori lens. This strategy leads to more engagement with the Māori community and a better sense of hauora among the Māori students at school. It also allows me to foster more student focused agency (Gutschlag, 2007) to identify areas of improvement within my own teaching as Māori students feel more comfortable approaching me within their own Māori context.

Gutschlag, A.(2007). Some implications of the Te Kotahitanga model of teacher positioning. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, 4(1), 3-10. Retrieved from http://www.teacherswork.ac.nz/journal/volume4_issue1/gutschlag.pdf

Parsonson. G. S. (1990). ‘Marsden, Samuel’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, and updated online in May, 2013. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m16/marsden-samuel

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/v…

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Current issues in my professional context

“The special character of the school is highly evident in values and practices that relate to respect, excellence and service. A wide range of opportunities and experiences for students encourages participation in activities at and beyond the school. Reflected across all areas of the school is a culture of high expectations for achievement. This is contributing to very successful outcomes for students.” – Education Review Office

Villa Maria College is a state integrated girl’s secondary school catering to years 7-13. It has a student population of just over 800 students. The school, being a Catholic College and not subject to the standard zoning, draws students from across the greater Christchurch region. Despite or because of this, the college is a decile 9 school. The decile rating system is determined by analysing household income, the occupations of the parents, household crowding, the educational qualifications of the household, and finally, whether or not the parents of the students receive any income support (Ministry of Education). This decile rating places Villa Maria’s students within the top 20% of New Zealand families with high socio-economic backgrounds.

The College’s year 13 students after assisting their brother college raise money for a sick teen during a variety show.

Stoll (1998), notes that a school’s culture is greatly influenced by the social backgrounds of the students in attendance. This is obvious at Villa Maria where a predominantly professional parent community places a great deal of emphasis on the academic achievement of their daughters. The result of this is that Villa Maria had 88.5% of its year 13 students achieve NCEA Level 3 in 2016, well above the national average of 53.9% (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Likewise, the teaching staff at Villa Maria also reflect this drive for academic excellence, with teachers putting in long hours at the College and often running extra tutorials after school hours or during their meal times to better enable student success.

This academic excellence is as strongly ingrained within the college community as the school’s special character. At the core of the special character are the attributes of the school’s Mercy tradition:

  • Education that is grounded in the Gospel
  • Respect for the dignity, worth and potential of every human being
  • Concern for the poor and the disadvantaged
  • Concern for justice

These values, embodied by the schools motto of ‘empowering each young woman to determine her potential, live gospel values, confidently embrace life-long learning and as a Mercy Woman be inspired to make a difference’ (Villa Maria College) was recognised by the school’s Special Character Community Report which noted that ‘The nurturing, support and care for individuals within the college and in the wider community is a strength of the college’ (Catholic Education Office, 2015).

Student’s working with the local special needs community to throw an afternoon tea.

Because of the very academic and culturally strong traditions of the school. There is a large amount of expectation placed upon both staff and students by the culture of the school. This can lead to stressful situations and high levels of anxiety within the school community. Fortunately, the school has sought to manage these in a variety of ways.

Firstly, among staff, the principal has strongly encouraged the development of a staff wellbeing committee. This committee, headed by the school’s counsellor, provides regular advice and feedback to staff through one a week staff briefings. The school’s senior management is also quick to offer staff any external help if it detects any form of extra strain on the staff. Secondly, the school has a strong social committee who organise staff drinks and afternoon tea every Friday. This provides an opportunity for staff to distress and have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around work. Finally, the school is notorious for the amount of staff morning teas that are regularly catered. These shared meals enable staff to regularly come together and relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Likewise, the school’s pastoral team works very hard to ensure that the students’ hauora is looked after. Vertical Group teachers work alongside house deans to provide extra support where needed. The school’s councellor also works alongside a public nurse and health expert who come into the school once a week to see student’s by appointment. Finally, the school works closely with the Christchurch Health School to deliver options for students whose health may otherwise prevent them from attending the college.

At a more whanau based level, the school and caregiver community work closely alongside each other. This takes the form of regular correspondence between the teachers and caregivers via fortnightly grades assessing student engagement. The school also strongly encourages both teachers and the parent community to contact each other if there are any concerns. The school’s leadership team has also worked hard to implement student mentoring (Ako Time) for 2017. This will enable even greater pastoral care of the students and strengthen the ties between the college and the parental community.

Catholic Education Office. (2015). Villa Maria College. Special Character Community Report. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.villa.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/SC-2015-Report.pdf

Education Review Office. (2013). Villa Maria College. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.ero.govt.nz/review-reports/villa-maria-college-06-06-2013/

Ministry of Education. School Deciles. Ministryofeducation.govt.nz. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from:  https://www.education.govt.nz/school/running-a-school/resourcing/operational-funding/school-decile-ratings/#How

Ministry of Education. (2017). Villa Maria College – NCEA level 3. Education Counts. Retrieved 2 September from: http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/find-school/school/qualifications/ue-standard?school=326&district=60&region=13

Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture

Villa Maria College. About Us. Retrieved 2 September, 2017 from: http://www.villa.school.nz/

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My Communities of Practice

Teaching at its heart, has traditionally been a task undertaken by an individual professional in front of a class of learners. This system of teaching enabled the education of a workforce that best fitted the routines established in the workhouses of the industrial revolution.

However, in the last decade, there have been major shifts within the profession. Suddenly, no man was an island, and collaboration and team development began to improve and re-shape the way education and teaching has been traditionally done. These changes are forcing educators to discover new identities and those identities have formed a ‘crucial aspect of learning in organisations’ (Know, 2009). This search for identity has lead to the formation of professional communities that rely on peer to peer interaction to change teaching and learning culture across the board.

The benefits of peer-to-peer collaboration cannot be understated. I am almost positive that I have yet to come up with an original thought in the classroom, but because I have surrounded myself with more intelligent and experimental peers, my classroom delivery has developed in leaps and bounds. Moreover, as competent as I think I have become, new experiences with peers serve to continually broaden my horizons. Etienne Wenger (Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, 2000) explains that we develop competencies within our own workplaces that often aren’t challenged until we experience something new elsewhere. Suddenly, this new exchange of ideas opens our eyes and we suddenly bring that newly discovered dynamic back to our original peer group.

In this manner, communities of practice, or more aptly, areas where I can steal great ideas from great teachers, have been a boon to my pedagogy. Cambridge, Kaplan and Suter (2005) acknowledge that community practice allows professionals to connect, interact, and share resources and pedagogical practice.  The aim of this blog is to address some of these communities within the context of my own specialist areas.

As the current Director of Religious Studies at a Catholic Girls’ College, I am responsible for the special character of my college and ensuring that the students are exposed to leadership opportunities throughout their time at school. As a member of the school’s senior leadership team, I am also responsible for providing input on the future direction of the school. These positions have enabled membership in a range of communities of practice:

The Religious Studies Teachers’ Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (RSTAANZ *cough, cough*)

Despite its ridiculous acronym (seriously, what is it with education and bad acronyms?), the RSTAANZ aims to provide a range of resources to directly aid and assist teachers of religious studies across denominations and across the country. While in its infancy, the site has already been successful in promoting a lot of discussion on twitter and has also linked me with other professionals throughout New Zealand.

The New Zealand Directors of Religious Studies

This organisation runs an annual conference that includes keynote speakers, workshops and best practice seminars. Being exclusively focused on the delivery of Religious Education means that the content of the conference is directly applicable to my classroom practice. The networking opportunities made available at this seminar are also invaluable to me.

The Catholic Education Office (CEO) 

Having recently expanded to create a specialist secondary advisor, the CEO has worked hard within Canterbury to run specialist workshops to aid professional development across the board. Meetings are regularly convened among the Catholic Community of Learning where participants hear and see a range of techniques implemented across the various Catholic schools, both primary and secondary. This has the benefit of creating an environment where educators are free to share ideas and demonstrate aspects of their teaching that they are particularly proud of. Developmentally, I have found this organisation extremely rewarding as it has enabled me to learn from professionals who have vast experience in their respective areas and I have implemented a range of their ideas and resources directly into my own practice.

The New Zealand Flipped Learning Community

Having recently undertaken a post-graduate course in applied practice, I joined the flipped learning community to continue to expand my ability to provide technology-assisted learning tasks. This community, though relatively small, is extremely welcoming and its members are quick to share resources and advice. It operates through a blog site, occasional meetings in Christchurch, and through twitter where links to resources are often shared.

RE CHAT NZ

The hashtag #rechatnz has been promoted on twitter to encourage online collaboration between religious studies teachers. The twitter site allows teachers to be reflective in a community environment where shallow 140 character thoughts can be picked up by other teachers who may link the original question or statement to articles that may be of assistance.

The Catholic Community of Learning, Christchurch

The COL schools were originally signposted in 2014 but didn’t come into effect until recently. The goals of the COL are to work among all the contributing Catholic schools to:

  • Focus on the principle of the Common Good for all students by creating conditions which allow every person to reach fulfillment – academically, socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • Work in partnership with students, parents, whānau and Parish to achieve our vision.
  • Provide learning environments that engage students.
  • Be culturally responsive to our bi-cultural heritage and the ethnic diversity of our school communities.

Faculty and Staff

Lastly, within my own faculty I am blessed to have a Head of Faculty who is experimental and a highly skilled practitioner of Microsoft enabled technologies within the classroom. She is very open to experimentation and is happy for staff to make mistakes in their search for better classroom practice. Accompanying the HoF, are a range of staff who, while being very hard working and professional, are still yet to embrace student centred learning. With the introduction of extended learning times, these teachers have struggled to maintain their chalk and talk teaching styles and are in need of professional development in these areas. With a supportive HoF and a leadership team determined to bring the college into the 21st Century, it will be interesting to see how these staff members are managed going forward.

References:

Cambridge,  D.,  Kaplan,  S.  & Suter,  V.  (2005). Community of practice design guide: A step by Step Guide for designing & cultivating. Retrieved  from:  https://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/NLI0531.pdf

Knox, B. (2009, December 4).Cultivating Communities of Practice: Making Them Grow.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhMPRZnRFkk

Wenger, E.(2000).Communities of practice and social learning systems.Organization,7(2), 225-246