The Learning@School conference held in Rotorua is over for another year, and as I tended to things around my home today after the week away, I spent time reflecting on what a wonderful event it was. With over 1300 delegates, including a significant number of principals attending with groups of their staff, it was no mean feat to organise – but that it was, thanks in to small measure to the tremendous skill and ability of Gwenny Davis and Sherry Crisp.
I was recalling today how ten years ago, when the ICT PD programme was beginning in New Zealand, I was a part of the very first conference that was held, and at that time we struggled to think of even a dozen NZ teachers who might be able to run to sorts of workshops we were after. Ten years later the conference boasts over 300 teacher-led workshops, plus a variety of un-conference events and informal gatherings – a wonderful testament to the success and effectiveness of this programme.
A significant moment in the conference for me was being a part of a smaller group discussion between the Minister of Education, Ann Tolley, and several principals. As I listened to these principals speak with passion and professional eloquence, three important things emerged from what they said:
- Over the last ten years the ICT PD programme in NZ has provided the catalyst for both schools and individuals to become engaged not simply with ICTs, but in a whole new way of operating as a professional – through collaboration, between and among schools, and, through the use of emerging Web2.0 technologies, between and among individual teachers with similar interests and/or concerns. Several of the principals spoke of the importance of the development of and participation in communities of practice for themselves and their staff as a key strategy for sustaining change in their schools.
The three year period of involvement in the programme has be an undeniable strength, providing time for personal development to occur, and school development to take root. But transformational change takes even more time than just three years, and it is important that careful planning is done to ensure that the the momentum that is begun in schools during the 3-year contract is sustained and maintained.
The annual conferences are regarded as an essential part of the overall professional development programme for these schools, providing an opportunity to be inspired and form professional networks that wouldn’t otherwise occur, and also a forum for returning delegates to grow professionally as they volunteer to run workshops for their peers, sharing from their own experiences what they have learned and done.
While the aspirational goals we have for improving student learning outcomes and preparing students for life in a digitally-enabled world must always be paramount, we mustn’t forget that teachers are also being constantly bombarded by the introduction of new technologies and the ‘ecological’ impact they have on what happens in classrooms, schools and in students’ lives. In recognising this we mustn’t fall into the trap of thinking that any teacher, by participating in a 3-year ICT PD programme, is somehow then “innoculated”, and will not need any further PD in this area. The onslaught is relentless, and we must recognise this in terms of the policy and support we provide for ongoing teacher professional development – not only in terms of ICT, but in the much wider sense of preparing teachers to operate effectively as professionals in the 21st century. As one delegate remarked to me, “it’s all very well having aspirations for 21st century learners, but it’ll never happen if we keep the system full of 20th century teachers!”
Learning@School demonstrated to me that this group of teachers at least, are well down the track and succeeding at being 21st century teachers. My hope is that through the experience of the conference, and the ongoing support of the professional networks they’ve established, they’ll succeed in igniting that interest back in their schools and communities.