Monthly Archives: February 2016

Crossing Boundaries

Professional Connections

Our education system faces major change. Interdisciplinary practice will play a major role in the complexity of these changes. The ability to collaborate across disciplines and cultures will be essential as we work together to find solutions to new problems and to build new understandings.

Having the opportunity to work across departments in our schools can be very valuable as we learn to remove the silos of understanding embedded particularly well in our high schools. We must work hard to feel comfortable with change, to respons to change with a growth-mindset. Growing up in a multi-cultural environment means that many of us are asked to move between environments, developing an awareness of our own abilities to change at a young age.

As adults, we become more aware of the importance of our connectedness across these environments as our networks grow more and more complex. Entering the interdisciplinary world of education, we can draw connections we had previously not seen. We might also begin to wonder about, and to value, the spaces in-between.

Crossing_Boundaries_My_Professional_Connection_Map (1)

Goals and Connections

Iwi are potentially a very powerful professional connection. The importance of this is evident in a facilitators role as we move from school to school needing to develop relationships within an unnaturally short timeframe. Iwi affiliations can help us to access people and organisations for support, and to find connections with new groups of people with which to engage in critical professional conversations.

We might also take a keen interest in the development potential of online professional learning networks. These network connections can lead to new opportunities, strengthening these could continue to open doors. The sheer vastness of online networks means that there was always someone there to be challenged by and to challenge in return. When we find value in our online professional learning networks the potential for new knowledge and improvement is limitless.

A Tribe Learning to Survive

Defining a Community of Practice

Wenger’s work on communities of practice makes the intreging statement ‘a tribe learning to survive’. In this we are reminded of the importance of good grammar as we considere the possibilities that different puntucation might lead t in this situation.

There is something appealing about the idea of a thinking of a community of practice as ‘a tribe learning to survive’ through change and circumstance. But, we might appreciate even more the implications of adding one small comma. ‘A tribe, learning to survive’, suggesting that survival is dependant on learning, that learning is a neccessity to the survival of a tribe.

“Communities of practice: A tribe, learning to survive” Adapted from Wegner (2015).

All in Good Time

In the post ‘Leadership in Complexity‘ we discusses the many insights shared during a local professional learning and development (PLD) day hosting Jennifer Garvey-Berger. As ‘her tribe’ explored the demands of leadership in complex environments there were regular themes that arose. One of the most predominant was the concept of time. Members of the tribe felt that they had so much to do, that they were not completing tasks to the best of thier abilities because of time contraints.

How might a ‘tribe’ in the traditional sense approach this issue? Images of Māui slowing the sun come to mind.

Thanks to Māui, from Māori legend, we now had 24 hours in the day. How is  it that Māui and his brothers relished in the idea of a 24 hour day, while we proclaim it is not enough. One explanation would be that it is all relative, compare to a 4 hour day, 24 hours was excessive. But, could there be another ‘trick’ that Māui, the trickster, held up his sleave?

Individually, we all have 24 hours in a day – true. But, collectively depending on the number of persons in your tribe there may be hundreds and thousands of hours at the tribes disposal. ‘Working harder, not smarter’ is the key here.

With a united vision and common goals, communities of practice can work collaboratively and in support of each other to reach agreed outcomes much more efficiently. One way a tribe has of doing this is through digitally shared resources and forum discussions.

The Challenge of Change

In the practice of educational leadership there is a constant challenge of change. The complex school and learning systems we work within are pulled to and fro by research and reports, outcomes and goals. The community of practice braving these stormy seas faces an unpredictable future and thus must hold fast to their fellow tribesmen in attempt to stay afloat.

For as long as we can remember, systems have shown, perhaps perplexingly, a resistance to change. But, we can be inspired by the notion that change is the only constant in the universe. Jenifer Garvey-Berger asks us to consider the difference between ‘resistance’ and ‘resilience’. Both are the ability to hold your ground under situations of difficulty. But we tend to call this resilience when we like it and resistance when we don’t (Jennifer Garvey-Berger, 2016). Both of these are acting through the same force but percieved very differently.

When we are conciously aware of our perceptions we can start to understand our misconceptions. This is where again, the tribe can help. Through critical discussion of our challenges with change and the consideration of perspectives outside of our own we can move to understand the intricacies of our challenges and find solutions previously unseen.

Hitting a Moving Target

In the practice of teaching and learning we are forever faced with a moving target. In the education system that target is moving away at a pace more rapid that our current system can keep up with. The education is at one of those cricital moments where a ‘dip into complexity’ is neccessary for survival (Jennifer Garvey-Berger, 2016).

While changes are evident and shifts are being made, we are was conciously aware of scale. Sitting with fellow tribesman as they discuss these issues of change we propose that the movement is not significant enough. All good intentions aside, perhaps the small shifts allowed people to feel that they had done thier part? In this case, do many members of our tribe feel that they are no longer responsable for making the larger jumps needed?

Significant shift in the way our education system operates is needed. How should we go about creating this shift? We may not have the answers yet but with a tribe such as ours we know we will learn, to survive.


Good Grammar. [Image]. Source:
Gossage, Peter. (2009). How Maui slowed the Sun [Video]. Retrieved 24 February 2016, from (2015). Introduction to communities of practice | Wenger-Trayner. Retrieved from

Mirror Mirror

A Response to ‘Reflecting on Reflective practice’ (Linda Finlay, 2008)

During our teacher training we are often asked to be thinking about thinking. However, when developing an analytical mindset some of us develop a tendancy to overthink moments in time. The small details of conversations can go round and round in our heads, theorising about the way in which our words may have been misinterpreted, attempting to interpret for ourselves the tiny nuances of our numerous daily encounters. That was of course before the teacher workload!

every cloud has a silver lining

As teachers, we no longer had the luxury of obsessive thoughts. ‘Thinking time’ is a precious commodity to be used efficiently and with purpose.

We have all heard the cries of busy teachers, over worked and always on the job. But, if  we are optomistic we can easily find our silver lining. No longer having time to ‘sweat the small stuff’ can unburden us in quite a life changing way. We are enbled to continue to be analytical and draw on our reflective natures, but in a way that actually affects positive change. Instead of dwelling on the negative and feeling helpless in its shadow, we can learn to consider the extensive research and models of reflective pratice. This means putting our inquiring minds at ease as what we once considered failures now present as learning opportunities.

Linda Finlay (2008) draws on extensive research and numerous models to explore the difficulties of reflective practice, both conceptually and practically.

The New Zealand Teaching as Inquiry cycle can be considered alongside her description of Schon’s idea of reflection-on-action. In practice the artistry of teaching in New Zealand draws also on Schon’s idea of reflection-in-action as more and more we need to be flexible and responsive to the changing demands of education in a complex environment.



The Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) Cycle can be a topic of controversy in our schools. As facilitators working across schools we see extreme variation in the implementation and embedding of TAI. This  is mirrored in Finlay’s sentiments around the complex and difficult application of reflective practice for many institutions. Finlay poses the question, ‘How should models of reflection be used and it what context’?

This leads us to consider her how we might use the TAI model in a more fluid and responsive way. Drawing on the work of Finlay and Gough (2003), we can consider how each component of the continuum from ‘Reflection’ to ‘Critical Reflection’ to ‘Reflexivity’ might apply for different persons at different places and in different moments of time or practice.

As descibed in the post ‘Key Competencies & Me‘, I had been working on the development of my own key competencies of ‘Participating and Contributing’ and ‘Relating to Others’. Finding appeal in the ‘social critique’ and ‘ironic reconstruction’ layers of Finlay’s (2003) model and using a marae framework, I have developed a model examining the practicalities of ‘reflection’ alongside collaborative and transformative ‘critical reflection’ with the overarching goal of ‘reflexivity’ grounded a context I can own and realate to.

Marae Model of Reflection

Each type of reflective practice shown would be drawn on dependant on the need of the individual or institution. The tools and ways of reflecting are symbolised as support for these practices in their representation as paepae, amo, maihi and tekoteko. The concept of the wharenui helps to remind us that everything we do is culturally embedded and that a consideration of social justice is importatnt in all professional practice.



Finlay, L. (2009) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL. Retrieved from
Keep Calm and Carry On [Image] Retrieved 21 February 2016, from
Teaching as Inquiry [Image]  Retrieved 21 February 2016, from

Key Competencies & Me

A Focus for Change

In the beginning weeks of The Mind Lab by Unitec’s Postgraduate Certification in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning), we are asked to think about the New Zealand Curriculum’s Key Competencies (KCs). Using a Google Form each cohort considers which KCs they see as strengths and pinpoint those they would like to develop over the next 32-weeks of the course.

‘Thinking’ was the KS that I decided I identified with most. In a leadership sense, I perceived that my strengths in creativity and thinking outside the box helped to spark enthusiasm and positivity in others. In my practice, I tried to always be consciously aware of the metacognition involved in learning and considered how I might use this to lead a particular innovation or idea in a way that was respectful to teacher learners and helped them to make their own connections with the innovation.

When asked to reflect critically on strengths of practice, I decided to make a shift of focus toward designing learning experiences that focussed outside my own personal strengths. Up until this time, I had felt an inert lean in my teaching, toward activities of a ‘thinking’ focus. However, in order to facilitate the growth of well-balanced learners, it is important to focus on the area of relative stillness in our own personal growth – for me, this was ‘Participating and Contributing’ and ‘Relating to Others’.

“Exposing our weaknesses can be painful. This process takes effort. We must learn to feel comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing.” Renee Raroa

Key Changes in Practice

  1. Seek knowledge: I quickly realised that I did not have all the answers on this one. Colleagues, mentors, family, friends, students and professional learning networks play a big part in helping to evolve practice.
  2. Feel the fear and do it anyway: Deciding to make a conscious decision to jump into those situations where we feel less confident participating. Adopting the ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality means that the doors to possibility are opened.
  3. Relationships! Relationships!: Feeling part of a community and being connected to students, colleagues, whānau can make or break one’s ability to contribute. Feeling valued can be key to helping unlock our ability to participate and contribute.

So, what do we do when developing an action plan to reach these goals? Look for the unseen – those areas of our practice that we usually are not attentive to. Then ask questions. What were the needs of the community we want to connect with, participate in and relate to? What strengths can we draw on to find value in ourselves first?

Digital technologies

Digital Technologies. This was one skill that infiltrated every learning area, however, the confidence of many teachers with this was very low. I had realised the power of online and collaborative learning through distance teacher training. I was by no means an expert, but, I had recently experienced firsthand the change in mindset needed to make that fearless leap into the unknowns that can accompany using digital technologies for teaching and learning.

Recognising the vulnerabilities that were present in myself and that there were different strengths and weaknesses for teachers at every level, helped me to make connections with my colleagues as fellow learners. I soon found myself an e-leader within my school. The next challenge was to take up an opportunity to become a facilitator of Learning with Digital Technologies for CORE Education. One year later I reflect on my target KC’s –  ‘Participating and Contributing’ and ‘Relating to Others’. In my new role working across schools in Te Tairawhiti and beyond, I am relating to a whole range of new persons and personalities as I participate and support change.

“It is by working on our weaknesses that we experience the most profound growth.” Renee Raroa (2016).


New Zealand Government. (2016). About / Key competencies / Kia ora – NZ Curriculum Online. Retrieved 21 February 2016, from

Digital & Collaborative Learning

The Mind Lab by Unitec Postgraduate Certification in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning)

This professional learning opportunity is an innovate blend of face-to-face and online study grounded in practice, allowing educators to gain a recognised qualification while continuing in full-time employment.

Go Local

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At the end of 2014, after nearly one whole year as a classroom teacher, I had found an interest and enthusiasm for teaching in a collaborative and digital way. An email from my principal alerted me to the an upcoming professional learning and development (PLD) opportunity which sounded too-fitting-to-be-true. In a wide-eyed, ‘newbie’ fashion I jumped at the mention of local PLD and set about exploring. The following review is a snapshot into the last 28 weeks of The Mind Lab by Unitec’s Postgraduate Certification in Applied Practice (Digital & Collaborative Learning) experience.

Two Stages

The programme is divided into two stages, each of 16 weeks.

Stage 1

This first half of the course truly ‘walked the talk’. Delivering a range of materials via its online portal, providing the opportunity for challenging discussion in face-to-face sessions, and leading the critical reflection of current classroom and leadership practices through assessment tasks and activities. This stage was very engaging. The material was fresh and relevant including all the ‘hot topics’ of current educational theory. Perhaps, most beneficial of all was the opportunity to discuss these issues with fellow educators of our region, making connections and gaining a deeper insight into the culture of our local education scene.

The Mind Lab Answer Garden Topics

Stage 2

The second half of the course was carried out through the online portal. The content was relevant and discussion forums stimulated thoughtful discussion. However, it was vital that participants were diligent. Staying up-to-date with readings and assignments, on top of a busy teacher workload, does present some challenges. Face-to-face sessions were essential for survival.

Assessments & Workflow

Assessment tasks were grounded in practice and the regular contact times encouraged critical discussion and collaboration. However, the workload is quite substantial on top of a full-time teaching load. While assignments were enjoyable, completion of these can feel frustratingly limited by the time constraints of a busy teacher schedule if attention is not paid to planning and strategy.

The assessment process was robust and high expectations set the standard for deep thinking. If I could do it again, I would try to be more disciplined in getting my tasks completed early for review and reflection well before submission. I would also choose to collaborate on more assignments although this usually took more time, sharing led to increased learning and creation of new knowledge.

If I could do it again, I would try to be more disciplined in getting my tasks completed early for review and reflection well before submission. But, hindsight is 20:20. I would also choose to collaborate on more assignments – as while this usually took more time, sharing led to increased learning and creation of new knowledge.

Who is this PLD for?

Anyone looking to build on their teaching practice through 21st-century teaching pedagogies and the use of technologies to deepen learning should seriously consider enrollment. But also, anyone looking to take a refreshing look at their own practice and the wider education frameworks we  are operating within would enjoy this course. Delivered in a fun and friendly manner responsive to the learners of each cohort. A time committment is required and good time-management is a neccessity. Importantly, this course also helps educators to develop thier local perspective as they collaborate with other teachers and leaders from across the education sector.

Five stars


The Mind Lab by Unitec. (2016). The Mind Lab – Programme Overview. Retrieved 7 February 2016, from