This map shows my connections within my professional community at Elm Park School. The many professional and personal connections I have made over the years through my teaching journey (and am still making) have shaped, and continue to shape, the teacher I have become. By collaborating, sharing, discussing, observing and reflecting with these connections, I have learnt, developed and grown as a teacher and leader, however there is always more to learn and strive towards.
The notion of interdisciplinarity as outlined by Mathison and Freeman (1997) is that by bringing two or more disciplines consciously together, we can enhance "critical thinking skills and in-depth content"(p.12) in student learning. However the professional connections and experiences I have had over my teaching career have led me further that this, towards an intergative approach where, as Mathison and Freeman (1997) state, the "students' and teachers' concerns and ideas, transcends the disciplines in a search for coherence and meaning, and is built through daily negotiations and interactions" (p.12). More on this follows...
In my Professonal Connections Map I have identified 5 main groups of connections:
1. Students in R28/29
A colleague and I started a lone MLE in our otherwise predominantly traditional pedagogy based school. We have incorporated a Student Directed Learning (SDL) programme in our classroom this year moving towards what Mathison and Freeman (1997) refer to as an "integrative curriculum"(p.20), going beyond the interdisciplinary model. This has been a challenging process that only came about after being inspired by, learning from and watching other teachers and education professionals embark on this learning path. The students in our class, and my colleague, have been inspiring for me and taught me as much as I have taught them.
There have been many benefits and challenges working in this integrated way.
- The students in our class have become more empowered and independent in their learning. They are learning how to manage themselves and their learning. They are motivated and eager to engage in learning.
- Collaboration amongst teachers and students has led to deeper thinking and engagement in the learning. Students are getting better at problem solving and taking risks.
- Students are making more connections with each other and the wider community, be it on-line (other schools, blogs etc) or within our local community.
- Students are able to learn at their own pace and at their own level. They support and scaffold each other in their learning.
- Learning is relevant to the students' worlds, thier problems and needs and what is important to them, therefore they are more engaged and it makes the learning more meaningful to them.
- This approach has been a huge shift for both teachers and students in terms of mindsets towards teaching and learning. As a teacher it was a challenging for me to let go of the locus of control to a large extent and give it over to the students. In turn they found it difficult to adjust from being largely dependent on being told what to do and when, to being independent, having to think laterally and being responsible for their own learning. They have been so used to being "spoon-fed" to a certain extent, many felt very challenged taking control of their own learning.
- Being the only class in the school doing this type of teaching and learning has led to some misunderstanding from colleagues.
- Some students with learning and behaviour issues have struggled in this enviroment and this has led to an adjustment in the programme for these students and teacher-directed support.
2. Staff at EPS
The staff at EPS have a huge range of personal and professional experiences to learn from, and share, with each other. These connections and wealth of experience are invaluable in terms of learning from each other, sharing resources, ideas, information, approaches and strengths. We all have our strengths and by combining these strengths and collaborating, we are able to provide students with a greater range of views and information to enable a broader understanding for our students (Mathison and Freeman, p.19).
3. Local Community
We are very connected to our local community through a number of different programmes and initiatives, including free school programmes at our local art gallery, Te Tuhi, the Koanga Festival (an annual Kapa Haka event in the East Auckland area), Walking School Bus and YouthTown Sports programme to name a few. By taking advantage of these programmes and initiatives we are able to enrich the learning for our students and provide experiences they may otherwise not have access to.
At EPS we have used the strengths and experiences of teachers in our school to produce reading and writing progressions for both teachers and students to use to guide their learning. These are working documents that are currently under review as we strive to ensure that they are relevant and applicable in accordamce with the current NZ Curriculum and National Standards.
Assessment for Learning (AFoL) is also an expectation in our school and we have had much PD on this with experienced teachers modelling and scaffolding less experiences teachers in the practice.
5. On-line Communities
I have found on-line communities to be a major source of inspiration and motivation that have hugely shaped who I am as a teacher. It is from these connections, and those of fellow teachers from other schools, locally and internationally, who have provided me with a pathway towards the SDL learning programmes that my colleague and I have incorporated in our classroom. There is a massivie wealth of information in the on-line world for educators. By establishing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, Facebook, VLN, Google Hangouts etc, I have gained invaluable information and advice to inform me of current pedagogy and educational themes.
In conclusion, being connected, and having a Professional Learning Network, whether it is on-line, within your school, community etc is an essential part of being an effective teacher. By connecting and collaborating with colleagues and educational professionals, we are ensuring we maintain our status as a teaching "profession". It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure we keep up to date with current pegagogies, and practices to enable our students become life-long learners and responsible citizens in the 21st century.