The buffet is emptied, the dropped feathers from the gala dinner have been swept up and the delegates have left uLearn14 which, if you have anything to do with education on social media, will have swamped your feeds over the last few days.
It’s a riotous mixture of TED-esque keynotes from experts flown in from around the world, traders offering the latest gadgets most schools can only dream of, and workshops where teachers share what’s happening in their classrooms, schools, and communities. It’s exhausting, inspiring and infuriating.
The overwhelming realisation from the conference is just how dedicated to teaching the delegates were. Roughly 1700 of us, mainly from the primary sector, giving up three days of hard-earned holiday time to travel hundreds of miles to talk shop almost solidly. One delegate I spoke to had crowdfunded her ticket (which were not cheap I can tell you) so that she could come.
All the talk was of how to change how we teach so that all our students can learn better. Twitter was absolutely astounding during the keynotes, as hundreds of professionals listened to the speaker whilst hotly debating the presentation in real time. It was a glorious example of what I imagine most parents like to think their kids’ teachers are. Computer literate, innovative, questioning, keen to improve on what they do, driven by the need for kids to learn, not for boxes to be ticked.
As a high school teacher I was blown away by what’s happening in the primary sector. It’s easy to become seduced into thinking that the “real” or “hard” learning is happening at the top end, when in actual fact the work done with kids as young as five is groundbreaking. The challenge even went out to us from @chrisclaynz at MindLab, that even though we have NCEA, why are we teaching year 9 and 10 as though they have exams? There was a lot for me to take away, a lot to think about and work on.
It amazes me that there is so much out there for teachers at all levels. The Virtual Learning Network, Pond, Mindlab, to name just three. Ways for teachers to share, connect, collaborate. There was a well-attended workshop on how to sneakily fit in professional development into your spare time, which should speak volumes for the dedication of our teachers. It truly feels like we’re in the midst of a silent revolution in education.
It’s infuriating to me though, that despite all the innovative ideas that I saw, all the challenges to change up how we teach and encourage learning, that the people who needed to really see that weren’t in the room. The ministers who think that teachers are entrenched in how they’ve always done things and care more for “long holidays and high pay” (ha!) than creating a better learning environment weren’t listening to the hot debate on twitter over whether Universal Design for Learning represents a breakthrough in teaching or if it’s just the NZC and differentiation in a new hat, or the discussions about how to shoehorn 30 kids into an IT lab that has 10 working computers.
The people who cling to the notion that the only way to assess understanding is three hours of sitting in silence, handwriting a regurgitation of facts, weren’t there to hear about how social media is linking classrooms around the world, about teachers using crowdsourcing to buy 3D printers and teaching programming and stuff that you just can’t package up into Achieved, Merit, Excellence. The teachers weren’t all bright young things in high-decile, well-resourced schools, or parachuting in from charter schools or TeachFirst, they represented a cross section of every type of teacher and school that exists in our country and we are hungry to develop, to improve, to do better for our kids.
It would be wonderful if that dedication was recognised, instead of ignored in the face of more national standards and suggestions that we are letting our kids down (thanks, Hekia!). uLearn gave us a glimpse of what education would look like if teachers were at the helm, not banished below decks. Imagine what we could do if we could chart our own course.
~ by Roz S-P. Follow Roz on Twitter here.