Marica's meanderings

Monday, December 27, 2004

Steep learning curve

Today my husband Lynsey, my son Damian and I drove to Wanganui to visit my mother-in-law. These three hour car trips have been turning out to be productive planning sessions for me. I now always get into the car with pen and paper in my bag, ready to record the ideas which seem to spew forth while I am stationary and unable to do anything else. Ironically I still haven't found a piece of technology which works more effectively for me in these situations than pen and paper does.

On this drive I discussed my plans with Lynsey for creating a website to help me manage all the information I am gathering and as a vehicle for sharing this information with others. Since attending the Australian Flexible Learning Leaders Sharing Workshop in Sydney I have been thinking a lot about what my final FLLinNZ "product" will be. How do I classify a product in terms of a professional development opportunity? People have already commented on my professional and personal growth in these past months. Is this a product or should it be something more tangible?

Two things I had thought about doing early on in my planning was to develop a website and to establish a blog. So far I have worked on the latter. Now it is time for the website to be created and this process began on State Highway 1 heading north! As I reflected on the content I wanted to include in my site I started thinking about a name for it. Lynsey suggested I should get a domain name and I thought it was a great idea but had no idea idea what I had to do. I was told the first thing I had to come up with were some names I liked. After considering many options (it was a long trip!) I came up with the idea of "ako.net". As soon as I said the words I knew this was it and nothing else would be acceptable. The "ako" links to the Maori word for teaching and learning. I love this holistic concept and I also felt it reflected me - the teacher and the lifelong learner. The "net" goes without saying - it links to the internet but also with the fishing concept where you gather together fish or in my case information and then share the catch with others in the community.

Ako.net was already real to me and all afternoon I kept thinking about whether the name was already in use by someone else. I had to wait ...

A thing created is loved before it exists.
Charles Dickens


Later in the evening when I was back home I learnt all about registering a domain name. I was gutted to find "ako.net" was taken. After considering a number of different options I tried adding "nz" to my name and bingo - this domain name was available. I was elated. I registered my domain for five years, and now if you enter the URL http://www.ako.net.nz you will get to a page that says: You have reached the future website of ako.net.nz. Stage One completed.

Now I am investigating web hosting. This learning curve seems to get steeper all the time.



Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The strip in Freo

This morning I headed off for my first FLLinNZ visit while here in Perth. The day started with me needing to navigate my way to Ginos, a famous cafe on 'the strip’ in Freo where I was being met by Mary Aquino, a 2004 Australian Flexible Learning Leader. It turns out that Freo is the common abbreviation for Freemantle. Mary decided we would meet here because I was staying closeby and then she could take me to her institute, the Leederville Campus of Central TAFE. As for the strip – well it turns out this is the cappuccino/eating strip!

As has been typical since my arrival in Perth my family were appalled at the thought of me using public transport so my aunt drove me into Freemantle to meet Mary. By the way this attitude seems to be a common Perth reaction when you mention public transport. I have to admit I don’t understand this as from what I can see Perth seems to be amazingly well serviced with public transport - whole sections of the motorway are completing dedicated for buses and the train lines/stations seem to be positioned down the middle of the motorways as well. I am assured new arrivals to Perth have a different attitude though. Perth is a growing Australian city and there is evidence of this everywhere especially in the suburbs with all the building going on.

One thing I have still not got used to since I have been here is the huge amount of space available. As far as your eye can see it is basically flat and most of the time the sky is blue without a cloud in sight. This land however is incredibly dry and everything looks like it could do with a good watering. The green of the plants is nowhere near as vivid as in New Zealand.

Mary has been investigating how emotional intelligence (EI) competencies can be integrated into staff professional development. After meeting with her I now wish I could stay on in Perth and do some of the interesting courses she has completed this year on EI. I am however enrolled to complete a short course at the University of Auckland on this topic next April. I am also interested in the role EI plays in leadership.

I heard a now familiar message from Mary with regard to effective professional development models – en masse compulsory targeted training for staff doesn’t work. The impact of such training is minimal on changing a teacher’s actual practice. Mary operates on what she refers to as an infection model which is centred on the concept of Positive Deviance. Positive Deviance has its foundations in nutrition research however this model is now being successfully applied in professional development within educational settings.

Basically Positive Deviance is about identifying examples of teachers within the immediate environment that demonstrate good practice. Many of these people tend to be the early adopters of innovation who get stuck in and experiment while others are still debating the pros and cons or put it in the too hard basket and don’t want to know. Within the positive deviance model you would use the good practitioners to promote change by “stealth and infection”. The way Mary has put this into practice is to work with staff on a project only basis. They come to her and not the other way around. These people then go back and become what others commonly refer to as the champions. As human beings when we see or hear of something good happening we want a bit of the action as well and so other staff then think "I could do this too" and so the ripple effect starts to work.

I also saw an interesting online showcase entitled “Small Steps in Cyberspace” which hosted examples of good online teaching practice currently being used by some staff. This is a concept I have now seen in use in a number of institutions. This is accessible on the institute’s intranet. It is set up to inspire other staff to take a small step themselves in their own teaching. Mary also described a Learning Technology Mentoring System that was currently in place. Next year she hopes to establish a Mentoring Programme for staff which incorporates EI concepts. In order to be an effective learner-centred teacher, the teacher needs to feel good about themselves and not feel as though they are being put down which is often the case. Mary has learnt a very simple technique to help staff with this known as “Checking In” – you ask yourself three simple questions: What am I feeling? Why am I feeling this? What if anything do I need to do about it?

I will definitely be keeping in touch with Mary and I am looking forward to hearing her presentation at the Sharing Workshop in Sydney. Mary and I share a common interest in the needs of the teacher and how these can be best addressed in a way that isn’t threatening or scary. The importance of EI is very undervalued or completely non-existent in many professional development models. By the way here is an interesting blog site if you want to find out more about this method of communication.