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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Time to Reflect

Wow! What a ride! 

The ride to which I refer has been my year as an efellow14.  There were moments I got to be a passenger, challenged by the sharp turns in the track as we had our minds turned inside out. At other moments I was in the drivers seat - first with the 'L' plates on, later picking up speed and gaining my restricted license. Now I am barrelling along with my full license, looking for the momentum to keep going so that I do not end up changing down a gear. That would be a backward step.

Reflecting back on the year I have had ideas in relation to my peers, colleagues and practice - not to mention myself - challenged, changed or endorsed, and been exposed to some new ways of thinking that fit as comfortably as my favourite old slippers.

Auckland was our first Master class stop - our first chance to all be in one place and get to know each other. Dr John Fenaughty, one of our amazing facilitators, had found a beautiful spot at the foot of the Waitakeri Ranges. In hindsight the fact that we had little cellphone reception and no wifi was probably a blessing in disguise. It gave us the chance to get to know each other, chatting around the brazier - artfully dodging the smoke - and really beginning to think about the journey ahead of us. 

It was here I had my major breakthrough. Coming into my efellowship year I knew I was wanting to work out how to get the teachers not on board with eLearning to give it a try in their classes. Along came Dr Louise Taylor who has been the second of our amazing facilitators, Freire's 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' and a quote that made 'how' become 'why'. 

It was also our first experience of having the brain jam-packed with so much new 'stuff' requiring reflection that sleep was elusive. Our time in Auckland involved school visits, time to discuss these with each other and our facilitators, meeting past eFellows and a very memorable session with Mark Osborne who included some pretty artistic drawing across the modern timetable he shared.  This moment, I feel, was the moment when we were longer in awe of each other, but laughing as a group of colleagues.  That laughter would see us through much during our times together.

Our homework as we departed Auckland was to begin the planning phase of our projects against the framework that had been suggested by our two research experienced facilitators.  Skype time with Louise challenged us to ensure we had thought of all angles and whether we were doing anything transformative - in that 5% area where we make the difference that others do not think of.  Where Louise was enthused by my thinking at this stage it took sharing at our next master class before I was convinced.

Christchurch, CORE's home-base, was the venue for this. Again we had some pretty inspirational school visits, time with Pauline Scanlon and Derek Wenmoth, as well as the mind explosion that comes with the time together and the master class focus sessions. Again sleep eluded us in the early hours of the morning - not helped by a decided lack of heat after midnight in our accommodation. 

This time the lack of sleep followed me into the mornings after we had met. There was so much to take in, reflect on and either store for use later or fit into the current consciousness of my practice and what I was trying to encourage from others. 

Both venues so far had generated comments of it looking like fun - the photos posted to Twitter and Facebook were usually of us eating out and having fun. This was also time to allow our stomachs to fill while our minds settled as we had often had a visit or speaker just before them. Black Betty's Cafe next to the CORE office in Christchurch proved the ideal place to complete paired discussions and have a caffeine fix at the same time. Thanks must go to Ben who shared his discovery of Jane Gilbert's future focus work, of which I too am now a fan, during one of these activities.

Having a chance to listen to each other's project abstracts, provide feedback and ask questions was also a great time to get a fix on where we were heading. I was worried at this point that Anne and I were covering the same 5%. Did I need to change tact? My decision in the end was 'no' which, as it turned out, was the correct choice. Anne and I had complementary projects by the time we reached ULearn14's presentation phase.

Our homework this time was to gather the data we needed from the questions we had posed in our abstracts. The biggest challenge this posed for me was trying to fit it in with the full time jobs of mothering and teaching, but fit it in I did. I discovered some pretty amazing reasons why my colleagues were struggling with the blending of elearning.  I also discovered an awesome app that made my discussions easy to record and easy to break down into the parts I needed to analyse. Audionote has become my best research assistant to date.

Wellington - and, yes, it was windy and wet at times.  So much so that we watched from the safety of the CORE office on Thorndon Quay as  thunder and lightning raged around us and the hardy people on the street had their umbrellas blown inside out. 

Inside-out is what Chrissie Butler and Karen Melhuish-Spencer continued to turn our minds. I will never visit a school again and look through my lens alone. For that I am in-debted to them. Time at an amazing book-a-bach right on Raumati Beach proved to be the ideal location for data analysis. Each of us could be found hard at work looking into what we had gathered to date, whether we needed to refine our data and, most importantly, had we answered our questions.

This was broken with walks on the beach, an awesome night in, rather than dining out, with a great Thai takeaway, music and an impromptu group discussion around the fire about the validity and robustness of research with John. The sunrise as we ate breakfast each morning certainly stimulated our spirits each day.  Our last morning allowed us the privilege of enjoying not one but three vivid rainbows over the sea that seemed to be reaching for Kapiti Island. This was not enough to stop the sleeplessness continuing. How do you fit so much new 'stuff' into your brain and sleep peacefully?

As we parted ways again we had the job of creating our presentation about the research to date for ULearn14 as our homework. Skype time with Louise allowed me a chance to plan and think more fully about the how and what to include. All the fellows but Tim and I headed to Hamilton at the beginning of the holidays for another face to face ahead of ULearn14.

As Ulearn14 raced toward us I know I was excited about the coming week together, but mourning what was then the end of our organised time together. My presentation was well laid out - in my head! The Sunday night before flying to Rotorua (that flight is a whole blog on its own) I was struggling to decide whether packing or presentation was my priority. Tweeting amongst ourselves had become tradition on the eve of our master class gatherings. It turns out Twitter demonstrated I wasn't the only one struggling with which priority was indeed winning.

After a late and rather wild arrival into Rotorua, we settled into our awesome accommodation on the banks of Lake Rotorua and the Waiteti Stream ready to be challenged by Deana Thomas, Manu Faaea-Semeatu and each other. Practicing our presentations, giving each other feedback and making changes as needed was the order of the day on Tuesday - as well as our first taste of not quite making it to the workshops we were booked in for. 

Wednesday was the day we could go for it and attend what we had booked for.  I was pleased with my choice to attend the Design Thinking workshops - thanks Connie.  As evening drew in and the ULearners were heading into Rotorua for dinner our little band of learners headed up the stairs to be welcomed fully into the eFellow fold. This was made extra special because we were marking the tenth year of the eFellows programme.  A usually small dinner was somewhat larger as this birthday in eFellow history was marked and celebrated.

Turns out we were in for some surprises. John and Louise had created a yearbook with their reflections and our abstracts contained within. An awesomely sweet and treasured gesture. Badges to mark the eFellows learning were announced for us with the year on and a general one for the eFellows before us. It also turns out our wee angel in the background, Shannon Vulu, had been very busy with John. Cake that was gluten free created in the badge design was up for dessert. Delicious does not begin to describe it!

Making this evening extra special was my lovely husband making the trip to share it with me. Thursday was the day of return and we had planned that he would leave as we headed to ULearn. However John, in his lovely well-meaning way, suggested that the visitors pass would allow my husband to stay and see my presentation. As if there was not enough to be nervous about....

I really need to re-watch Dr Katie Novak's keynote when I am not excitedly anxious about presenting my findings and wondering at the change in order for presenting this year's eFellows. 

My presentation went well - the room was jam-packed to the point that neither John nor Louise could squeeze in to watch it. Thank you to those of you who filled that room. I felt validated in the topic I chose and continue to work on. Watch this space for further information.

Thursday night was rather glam as we all made our way to the living area of the house in our 20's gear. We were ready, but the taxi companies in Rotorua were barely managing.  The 40 minute wait past our booked time led to a wee party in the driveway, missing the official photographer as we came in and a bit of a blight on our night. Aware that most of us had EDtalks to complete on Friday morning we could not quite let our hair down completely.

Friday was another day of not making it to the things we had booked - I was prepping for my EDtalk instead of being at my first workshop and we all need to watch the final keynote as we missed it while having our farewell lunch. Tears, laughter, gifts and memory lane were all part of that lunch. Our time as a team with purpose was ending.  Or was it?

Marnel - thank you so much for your friendship, Twitter know- how and indomitable positive attitude. You have so much to be proud of with the work you do. 
Anne - thank you for the experiences you shared, the introduction to new apps and gadgets as well as the lens change that you bring to a discussion.
Tim - the source of know-how for Google, the passion with which you explore ways to change and mold education so it is a better learning space is still awe-inspiring when I see it in action. Thank you for sharing so openly.
Ben - thank you for the discussions we had around Math, elearning and your project in general. Your ability to create something from nothing on a 3-D printer is amazing as is your outside the box thinking.
Rowan - thank you for the friendship, laughter, openness, sharing and rebellious spirit you have. You too have an amazing passion for creating life long learners. I especially love your creativity and the persistence in making things better for your students. 
Bec - thank you for the comradery, friendship, laughter, sharing and challenge to thinking you provide. I love the passion you have for education as it should be in this century. Over the fence and 'let's just park that for a moment' will never be forgotten!
John and Louise - I have thanked you both separately via emails. Those words still stand.

I will never forget the confidence in myself I have gained on this journey, the changes you have rendered in me, the faith I now have that my ideas have value, that I really am seeking the future for our most important asset, the learners, and that what I think is the best for my learners is only going to expand as I learn more myself. Thank you all for the courage and preparation I have received through our time together for my next big adventure into Post Grad study next year.

eFellows14 for life! Thanks to all involved in changing me for the most amazing ride my brain and professional learning have ever been on. Now, to keep the pedal to the metal and this ride in top gear....


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