Coming Out as a 21st Century Learner & Educator

So this is my coming out story. Not everyone will be pleased to hear this story but I imagine the ones who come across this blog will be able to relate and those that are scared of my story won’t come across this anyway as they may not have discovered ‘Web 2.0’.

I must admit I have been dabbling for a few years and truthfully this is who I am deep down. It’s not an easy life I have chosen and I have had come challenging conversations with friends and colleagues who do not agree 100% with the path I have chosen. I have tried things here and there to see what worked and I often wondered why others weren’t always on board with the way I wanted to be. Sometimes I have told people what I am trying and some say it’s OK, they don’t have a problem…but not in their classroom. It’s not a ‘traditional’ path or journey that I am on but I think this is the right thing for me at this time.

I have chosen the path towards becoming an innovative teaching practitioner and am lucky enough to be working in an innovative learning environment. I have the opportunity to teach collaboratively with integrated learning areas where between 2 & 4 subjects are taught as one seamless learning vehicle. We call one of our learning vehicles ‘Connected’, which is the traditional core subjects together to give learners a real world view of how subjects come together once you get outside of the school gates. In recent conversations I have had with secondary and tertiary educators regarding innovative ways of engaging young learners have often taken a turn for the worst. It always begins with listening to how my kura is challenging the status quo and they agree and accept that this is a good thing encouraging learners to embrace the key competencies, problem solve, analyse information and come to their own conclusion that this is a good way forward.

What am I teaching that is so offensive to some teachers?

Using the concept of ‘movement’ we are currently teaching learners the connections between performing arts, social sciences, maths, English and science.  I have explained this to many teachers in across all sectors of education from primary through to tertiary. In one situation the person listened, then thought, then freaked out and back-pedalled. The conversation finished with “But sometimes you just need to sit them down and give them content”. Well of course this might happen from time to time but surely we can move forward being the keepers of knowledge. Learners should get to decide their learning journey at some point.

Throughout my professional career I haven’t felt that I quite fit, I recall a discussion around differentiation in the classroom. I didn’t understand what it was and why people were struggling to implement this in their teaching. I queried this with a fellow Arts teacher and realised this is what we did all day everyday and I didn’t think there was any other way. Surely making sure each learner is treated as the individual they are and the learning programme should be able to engage them at any level and they should feel success. I call it the “Yes!” moment, the time when the learner does a fist pump in the air when they succeed in learning. Don’t all learners deserve this when learning? If not we may as well bring out the dunce hat.dunce


What do we want for our learners in 2017?

Bottom line we want them to develop critical thinking skills for the 21st Century. In many schools teachers complain about the lack of ownership by learners for accessing information. If learners don’t find it in the first 2-3 Google hits they give up.  Therefore don’t we want learners to be able to dig a bit deeper than surface learning? Through analysing, reasoning and evaluating learners can use these skills across many different content areas. If we content dump and teach to the test we cannot get high level reasoning skills or questioning that is needed to develop critical thinkers.

Reinventing the wheel in classrooms across the world is common place through collaboration across learning clusters, Communities of Learning, subject associations is commonplace. Collaboration is a critical skill that exists within learning areas so why not school wide? Applying higher levels of thinking to real world situations is a necessary skill. Teachers do it already, let’s allow learner the same privilege.

Making league tables look good does not equal analyse and evaluate. I recently developed a new course for year 9 learners where they had to go through the design thinking process to create and carry out a social action. The end result, they researched and found out where the need was, however when it came to carrying out the social action things did not go to plan. Epic fail some would say…or did they learn how to plan, collaborate, speak with members of local social service providers. I wrestled with myself as I wanted to ‘save’ them and make sure the social actions they planned happened, but I held off so that they could see the personal learning that took place and not what I had orchestrated. On completion of the course they problem solvedreflected, made real world applications and realised that you can still learn from your mistakes.

Critical thinking is essential to empowering learners to be the master of their destiny.

We are masters of our universe, kings and queens of our classrooms and it is challenging what we know and how we have always been. We have all been students in the classroom from Year 1 -13, some of us even continued into tertiary education. My family are OK with my life choice at this stage, they don’t get it, they have their own experiences of how life was for them at school and how it has always been. They listen but we don’t talk about it too much. It almost seems too painful for them, like I am dismissing all of their educational experiences. Were their experiences wrong? I had the same schooling and still turned out this way. Am I wrong now? Do I have the spirit to live this life. I read online and in books about how it can be, I’ve seen lots in real life and I think united we stand. But as we challenge everything that people ever thought about education we must expect that as somewhat pioneers there will be some resistance.

So coming out as a 21st century educator and learner within my circle of life has been tough. I keep things I am doing in my kura to myself alot, not a secret but a knowing that I am on the right path for me. I cannot change anyone to my way of being unless they want to. Just because they hang out with me they won’t catch it…some might but it was always in them, it’s not down to me. But if I can demonstrate how it can be then I am sure more people would be open to talking about it with me.

The year is 2017, you have a smartphone, cars are electric and you can be assessed on sustainability as part of NCEA. These kids need our help so let’s open the real world to them and empower them to keep this ball of fire alive.

I’m out as a 21st learner and I’m proud!


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