Marica's meanderings

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Trees can teach us a thing or two

A colleague of mine is undertaking a PhD research project on using metacognitive strategies to support professionals in health and education disciplines to develop electronic portfolios. I have agreed to participate in the pilot of this research and at present, on top of everything else, I am undergoing a facilitated process whereby I am developing an electronic portfolio.

There are copious links to discussions on e-portfolios. Stephen Downes comments:

I have mixed feelings about e-portfolios. In one sense, personal portfolios would be very useful. But tying them specifically to learning, and specifically to educational institutions, makes the same mistake as was made in learning object metadata - it assumes that the educational sphere is separate from everything else in life. An e-portfolio should be a part of a life-portfolio, and the educational content only a small part of it.

Final FLLinNZ presentation workshop in Hamilton, New Zealand, June 2005.The aim of my portfolio is to provide an example of how the creation of a digital story can be used within a professional development context to demonstrate learning crystallised through reflective practice. I am going to use my digital story I created for my final Flexible Learning leaders in New Zealand (FLLinNZ) presentation to demonstrate my development as a leader, learner and teacher during my year as a FLLinNZ.

My digital story is entitled Getting to the heart of it. Unfortunately I can't make it available online because it is a huge file. One of things I still need to learn is how to compress digital movies. I have decided I will present my electronic portfolio on a DVD but I hope to adapt parts of it to place on my website which I am still developing.

As a part of my portfolio development I started thinking about my teaching philosophy. I decided to go back and have a look at what I wrote when I did my secondary school teacher training. We were asked to use a metaphor to describe ourselves as a teacher. I thought I would share what I wrote with you:

I find it very difficult to describe myself as a teacher using a static image, as I have done earlier in the year. A lot of the metaphors that come to mind are limited in that they don't allow for growth. To me teaching is very much a journey. It involves a process which shapes and moulds you as time goes by. The good, the bad, the fun, the hard work ... all contribute to me as a teacher.


A young developing tree.
I like the metaphor of describing my journey as teacher to that of a growing tree in a forest. This tree is firmly established with a solid root system yet it is still vulnerable to the forces of nature. My tree has become very lush over this year. Lots of new growth has occurred while old bits have been discarded to nourish the ground below. Nothing is wasted - it all has purpose and contributes to the splendour of the tree which stands solidly in the forest. This tree nurtures all sorts of life. It supports and encourages new growth while at the same time adding to its unique character with the passing of time as people, animals and plants come and go. My tree is never static because it has to change with the times and learn to adapt to the different seasons and other challenges before it. At the same time my tree is not alone either. It is surrounded by other trees which might be the same variety, or might not, but each is unique in their formation and development. The important thing is that together we can provide support for one another. As time passes a further ring is added to the bark of my tree to indicate growth and development.

This is me as a teacher so far. I bring me as I am today but with all that passing time has taught me. Teaching, in this formal sense, is a new branch in my life which has only started developing this year while at the same time it has grown and become well established. The rest of my tree is supporting this new branch so that it will grow and develop even further with the passage of time. Similarly I have grown as a person this year, as well as professionally as a teacher. New branches will develop, new buds will grow but the tree is always growing bigger and stronger and supporting more and more life. Nature is so splendid.

It is interesting looking back. This metaphor must be something that I think about a lot in my sub-conscious. As I look back on the photos I have taken over the past year trees feature a lot. I was particularly taken by this tree in the grounds of The University of Western Australia in Perth while attending last years Ascilite conference.

Tree in the grounds of The University of Western Australia, Perth.
Have a I evolved in my practice? Do I connect with this splendid example of a tree? So many things have changed yet my core principles and beliefs are still there. This tree is an example of one of many magnificent trees on this stunning campus. As I walked around I felt like I was somewhere where many others had been before. I felt special, important and peaceful as I sought out the shade beneath the tree's outstretched arms. Those arms were huge.

Would I add anything different now - I am older and wiser.Intertwining growth. My teaching branches have definitely grown and many new ones have developed. My tree is older, however, the excitement of new growth never abates for me.New growth Technology plays a bigger part in my life now so how does this affect my tree - actually it doesn't - it is just a part of the environment my tree now lives in. It adapts just as it has done since the beginning of time - that is why it still exists because of its ability to adapt to its surroundings.

It is amazing what grows on Sydney's waterfront.
Imagine my surprise when a friend showed me a book she had purchased while on a visit to the US entitled Advice from a tree. This little book is so beautiful. I have ordered a copy for myself and I can't wait to receive it.


Stand tall and proud

As we celebrate the beauty of nature and human nature, we are energised by all of the good present in life. Yes, thousands of things are going right at this very moment! Your True Nature, Inc. is here as a breath of fresh air, a reminder to reconnect with the flow and ease of life. We share with you inspiration and information--reminders to value your own strength, to treasure your well being and to celebrate your good fortune.
Reach . . . grow . . . imagine . . . succeed!
In other words . . . Be your best . . . forget the rest!

Your True Nature e-zine

There is something I will need to reflect on further though: How does the role of facilitator, as opposed to teacher, fit my metaphor? As we make the move to online learning the traditional role of teacher is no longer applicable. The focus of the learning and teaching environment has changed. I believe this change is happening across all sectors of education. Many young kids now know more than their teachers about certain things. What are we now - facilitators of learning, mentors in the learning process or something else? All of these new roles require new skills. How best do we acquire these skills? This is something I have been investigating for the past year and am continuing to do so.

How do I be the best I can be - for both myself and my learners (whoever they may be)? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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