Reflections from ULearn 2015

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In the last week of the recent school holidays I, along with 5 other secondary staff, attended ULearn15. This annual conference, hosted by Core Education, is arguably the preeminent IT in education conference in New Zealand. This year it was held once again in Auckland – although I must admit to being excited at the possibility of it returning to Christchurch once a suitable post-earthquake venue is finally built!

uLearn15 aimed to allow its delegates to connect, collaborate, and innovate and make a difference by exploring:

  • Re-imagining Learners and Learning / Te whakaako
  • Re-imagining Teacher Practice / Te pūtoi ako
  • Re-imagining Leaders and Leadership / Te mahi rangatira

The clear thematic structure of the conference proved to be a very powerful aspect of ULearn, as it enable more clarification of the exact content of breakouts, and also allowed delegates to focus on one particular area of interest, if they wished.

THREE ENGAGING KEYNOTES:

A feature of uLearn is always the engaging Keynote speakers, and this year we were treated to three extremely engaging keynote presentations.

The first was the American educator, Grant Lichtman. In his speech Grant outlined his vision around generating a positive capacity for change within education. Of particular interest to me was his challenge to ask if your school is Dynamic, Adaptive, Permeable and Creative. The underlying aim of such an educational institution must be knowledge creation. Grant acknowledged that this journey will require all educators to break through the fear and inertia to change, saying that it is

“harder to change if we have been going well in the past. Change is Hard, but not in schools – its uncomfortable” .

A final resource that Grant referred to is the Stairway of Successful innovation. I found this resource particularly interesting as it allowed me to reflect on the changes that I am leading here at school and allowed me to reflect on the success of their implementation.

stair

The second keynote speaker was Dr Ann Lieberman from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. During her long, and distinguished career Dr Lieberman has developed a particular interest in Teacher Leadership and the role that teachers play in implementing and driving change within their schools. A focus of her talk was the success gained by the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program in Ontario, Canada. Dr Lieberman identified the successes that this program had enjoyed, particularly the professional value that was generated within the teaching fraternity. She was also keen to pint out the role that all teachers must play in leadership within their schools. She noted that

“conflict within change does not have to be destructive. Conflict can be constructive”

manaiakalaniThe final keynote address of the conference was particularly inspiring. Pat Snedden, the Chair of Manaiakalani Education Trust, took delegates on a journey describing the origins, current successes and future of this important trust which aims to improve educational outcomes for children in some of New Zealand’s most socio-economically disadvantaged communities. I had previously heard the story of this trust – but this presentation gave me a fuller understanding of the outstanding work that this group has done, and importantly their plans to help children in similar circumstances around New Zealand to enjoy the benefits accrued by this simply inspiring Trust.

BREAKING OUT:

The most crucial element of a delegates enjoyment and learning from a conference such as this, is the range of breakouts that you attend. This year I made a conscious effort to be on-the-ball regarding the opening of breakouts – to ensure that I got all my top choices, which I did.

Across the three days I attended 7 different Breakout sessions. All of these sessions were extremely well organised, interesting, and relevant to both my role here at St Andrew’s College, and the future direction of education in New Zealand.

One particularly interesting session was presented by Westley Field, an Australian educator. He initially reflected on the importance for a school to have a clear school-wide pedagogy; one that all staff can buy into. He continued, to speak about the importance of student well-being as a catalyst for academic success, and the implications that this has for schools.

“Resilience can be changed, and taught. Socratic questioning can be incorporated as a way to ensure that students are building resilience. This improvement must be happening constantly.”

One of the highlights of my conference was Mark Osborne giving an extremely interesting seminar around leading change in schools, leadership vs management, and the importance of preparing people for change.  He also gave some clear strategies that should be considered in dynamic organisations such as schools. I particularly like the question

“what is the opportunity cost of NOT changing”

The session was particularly useful for me as a colleague, Ms Yuill-Proctor, was also in attendance. She remarks that she particularly enjoyed:

“looking at 1st order change and 2nd order change. How to make the transition from 2nd order change into 1st order change smoother.”

To read more about Ms Yuill-Proctor’s experiences at ULearn, check out her blog.

IMPACT OF THE CONFERENCE:

pirate

Part of the St Andrew’s College delegation enjoying some important social time at the uLearn Dinner.

Attending ULearn is always extremely interesting and worthwhile; I was very impressed with ULearn15. After three years of non-attendance, I was glad to see that the conference appears to be re-energised, and this has definitely rubbed off on me. All attendees from our school found it an extremely engaging and motivating three days.

Moving forward I have learnt a great deal about managing change within my job, and more importantly, supporting staff to engage more proactively with this process of change.

As usual uLearn was heavily tweeted by delegates – feel free to follow me.  To catch up on the conference, check out archive tweets from @uLearnNZ or #ulearn15.

 

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