Professional learning communities

I have the privilege in my work to be able to both facilitate and participate in a number of online communities of practice (CoP). It’s a great opportunity to learn from others as well as share my own experiences and what I have come across. Like many online communities, sometimes they seem to rocket along and at other times they appear to be rather quiet. This has got me thinking about the online communities I’m a part of and question what it is that brings people to them and engage in them.

I have been given the opportunity this year to undertake some research and have decided to focus it (broadly) on what fosters engagement or participation of educators in online communities of practice (particularly in the communities in which I facilitate). While still very much in the development phases, I would like to come away with a better understanding of where educators are accessing their professional learning from and why. It is also an opportunity for me to find out and hopefully trial different strategies to increase participation in the communities within which I facilitate.

I feel like my thoughts are still quite a jumble, which I think is okay at this stage. As I’m going through the process of thinking around why I want to undertake this research and just doing some general wondering around the topic, I’ve realised how the whole thing kind of aligns with the research I did for my MEd on online student engagement. While there are definitely differences (I’m working with adults rather than middle-school students; participation in the CoPs is completely voluntary), there are also similarities. For example, we still have those that are visibly active and those that are often called lurkers (I prefer the term ‘listener’ myself). We don’t know what impact is being had on those who don’t contribute but could still be reading/learning from the community. It’s also not clear how deep the engagement is going. For example, someone might be reading and commenting, but there is no impact back into their classroom. Understanding this could be useful in determining steps to encourage greater participation.

The expertise and knowledge held with an online CoP can be incredibly vast. Yet, it appears sometimes that we like to hold on to our own knowledge, or perhaps we don’t feel like what we have to share is worthwhile to others. Other times, looking at the various communities, it can appear like we’re just after a quick fix, or something to get us by, eg. “Does anyone have a resource/unit on…”. I’m not saying this is an issue. It is simply an observation. I’ve got quite a few other questions and thoughts at this stage as well, but won’t list them all here.

If you’ve read this far – well done on making it through my jumble of thoughts. Hopefully as the year progresses and I get further into my research things will start to become much clearer. I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of what is going on in the online CoPs and further develop my facilitation skills as a result. I’ll try to remember to share my progress here as well.

Anxious no more


I don’t have time to do anything else! I don’t have time to craft, or to do things for me. I have too much homework to do.

These are the words of my daughter. She has just turned 15. She is in Year 11 doing NCEA level 1. She is intelligent. She already has a couple of excellences under her belt. But she is stressed. She is anxious.

This post is a few days late for the March #EdBlogNZ challenge. The challenge is to write about your dream school. I had done a bit of thinking and thought it was going to be about all the amazing things I would like to see in a school, but as a parent, watching my children go through school, I’m seeing their stress levels increase. It’s not good.

So in my dream school, right at this point in time, while I would like all sorts of technology and opportunities for the students within it, I would first and foremost like to see a school that truly values the health and wellbeing of their students. I’m not saying these schools are not out there, or even that any school doesn’t value this, but sometimes it appears school work, teacher expectations or qualifications take precedent.

Both of my eldest children are feeling exceptional pressure from school at the moment. Miss 15, as described above, and Mr 10 who is in Year 7. Miss 15 has actually recently blogged about Anxiety in the classroom. It’s worth a read.

Yes, education is important, but as a parent I have to put the wellbeing of my children first – and that means before school, before qualifications, and yes, even before teacher expectations.

I don’t have any amazing ideas for how to reduce anxiety of students at school, but I do believe that raising awareness about this issue is important. I do believe that some educators (myself included) just have not really considered it, or if we have, we still have to get through all this work with our classes before the end of the year, and therefore do not know how to manage it.

Perhaps this is something we can all consider for now. After all,

He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people, it is people, it is people.

IEP – Where is the individual?

This post is a reflection on the IEP (individual education plan) meeting I attended for my son recently. I don’t mean any of this as a criticism of the school, but simply as observations and a reflection from my perspective as a parent (and yes, as an educator).

The first thing was (and to be honest, I thought of this before the meeting), where was my son’s invitation to attend the meeting? Surely, if we’re looking at his education plan then he should be involved – especially by Year 7. He may or may not have much to contribute, but he should be given the opportunity. I did actually ask him if he would like to attend, but as he was already home, sick, he decided he’d rather stay in the warm house! If he had already been at school, I might have asked for him to attend. I really think it’s important that the child attend these meetings to bring the focus back to learning rather than what will the teachers do all the time. The child then also knows what is going on and was a part of the decision making. As it turned out it was more about “this is what we want for him” and “this is what we (the school) will do to make it happen”.

The second thing was that as the parent, I felt that I should have been invited to speak first. This was possibly just an oversight, but I do believe the parent (if not the child) should be invited to speak first in this type of meeting. The reason I feel this way is that otherwise the school staff drive the conversation and concerns of the family get relegated to the end rather than brought out at the start.

Thirdly, education jargon needs to go. Yes you’re in a room full of educators, but most parents are not. Not everyone understands what a stanine is or what “5b” means in relation to asTTle. I did, but they didn’t know I was in education until I pointed it out later on.

Interestingly, my son had his goal-setting interview the day before the IEP meeting. I would have thought, therefore, that his goals would have been a part of his IEP. But this was not the case. It seemed to me to be more focused on what the teachers would do. Yes, it was to help raise his achievement in various aspects and support him, but there was no onus on him to do anything.

Finally, don’t rush. An IEP meeting is not one that you should rush through. These are important decisions being made about the future of a child. As a teacher, it might not be the only child you need to consider, but for the parent in the room, right then, their child is the most important person on the planet. Rushing can make it feel like you don’t want to be there or that the meeting is just a bit more of a bother for you.

No comment

monkey-987886_640I’ve just read a post on a blog that has comments switched off. I noticed this particularly because the topic was one that could cause some questions, debate or discussion.

This made me wonder why someone wouldn’t want comments on their blog posts. I came up with these:

  1. I’m worried that comments could be offensive or cause arguments.
  2. What I’ve said is final/right. It shouldn’t be questioned; there is no room for debate.
  3. I want to tell you what I think but I don’t want to hear your opinion.
  4. I’m too scared that someone might disagree with me.

To me, out of these, the first one is a fair concern, however, you’ve always got the option of moderating comments.

If numbers 2-4 are the reasons, then you’re not willing to be questioned, challenged, or to learn.

If you want to speak with authority, then you need to show you’re willing to back up your argument by allowing for questions and discussion, and be willing to hear alternative points of view.

Image in the public domain

A delightful way to teach kids about computers

I really enjoyed this TEDx talk by Linda Liukas. In it she shares her passion for coding, including how she realised she has been coding her whole life through, for example, learning the patterns of a language or learning to knit.

She says that we need…

to not see computers as mechanical and lonely and boring and magic, to see them as things that they can tinker and turn around and twist, and so forth.


The kids of today, they tap, swipe and pinch their way through the world. But unless we give them tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers instead of creators.

We often hear in education that we need to be creators and not consumers of technology. That means that we need to give our students opportunities to be creative and not just do the same kind of stuff all the time. Our students need the chance to think. They need to be questioned to help stretch their thinking. They need to be given the tools and support to make some of their dreams and ideas become a reality.

Programming gives me this amazing power to build my whole little universe with its own rules and paradigms and practices. Create something out of nothing with the pure power of logic.

The quiet learner

This post is part of the #EdBlogNZ 2016 Challenge for the bonus Leap Day challenge. The challenge was to “stretch yourself and create an audio or video post about a passion of yours”.

I have focused on being an introvert and a learner. My audio recording is below and beneath this is a transcript of the recording.





introverts uniteIn a group I can feel isolated. I can feel alone.

Sometimes I can feel more alone in a group than when I’m on my own.

Words wash around me, over me, through me.

I might have something good to say. Something relevant to the conversation. But it’s too late. I didn’t speak up in time. The time has passed. The conversation has moved on.

I might be questioned on the topic. I had something to say, but now I’ve been put on the spot. My mind is blank. My thought has gone. And now I feel even more alone. People are waiting for a response and I have no words to speak.

Talk with me one on one. Give me time to think and to process and we can have an in-depth conversation. Don’t bother with small talk though, I can’t keep that up. I’ll answer your questions about the weather or about what I do. But they will be short and to the point.

Engage me with my passions and I can talk with you. In fact, I might not shut up.

You see, I’m an introvert. I value my own thoughts and my own space. I don’t need to be alone, but I don’t need constant attention.

When I was at school, I hated being put on the spot by my teachers. I might know the answer or be able to respond, but as soon as my name was called, it was gone. My stomach would start to churn. My face would go red. I appeared as if I didn’t know anything. It was unfair.

Yet, I found myself doing this as a teacher.


Because I hadn’t understood my own personality. I hadn’t understood my introversion.

I despised group activities as a student. If it was only with one other person, I could manage. But with a larger group I felt my voice could not be heard.

However, I found my way with working online. Put me in a collaborative doc, and I can contribute. My voice can be heard. Throw me into a fast-paced Twitter stream and I will love every moment. I’m in a crowded online space yet physically I’m on my own. I am happy, I am learning, I am contributing and I’m engaged.


Image source: Joe Wolf, Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0

Breaking down the walls

2016-02-27 12.18.40I spent today at EducampWelly. It was about 5 hours of educators having the opportunity to share and discuss all things education – what’s on top for them. I always love these events because you see the real passion of teachers come out, especially since they have made the decision themselves to use up one day in their weekend to continue to grow and develop for the benefit of their students… our children!

The thing that stood out to me is how in so many ways at the moment, schools are trying to break down walls.

  • Breaking down walls of their classroom (sometimes literally) and reimagining what learning is, how, where and when it can take place.
  • Breaking down the school fence/gate and getting out into the community; encouraging two-way communication and engagement between what goes on inside the school and outside it.
  • Breaking down the silos of subject teaching – integrating more across subjects (particularly at secondary) and reimagining assessment.
  • Breaking down the barriers between the various sectors; realising that all sectors can have something to offer to all others – early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary.

That last one was the big one for me today. It was so good to see a range of educators from across the sectors.

Let’s keep breaking down the walls and continue to engage, discuss and learn from one another.

Learning spaces

This post has been written as part of the 2016 #EdBlogNZ Challenge for February which encourages participants to share a virtual tour of their learning space.

My own learning spaces

As I’m not currently teaching, I don’t have a classroom or learning space for my own students, however I do have my own personal learning spaces and this has made me think about what I find suitable for my own learning needs.

my workspace

In my “office” at home, which is really just a small corner of my bedroom, I have set up my desk, and a ridiculous number of devices and monitors. Okay… I’m sure some others have more, and to be honest I don’t always use them all at once. But this works for me. Yes, it’s my workspace, but I also do a lot of learning here as a part of my job.

2016-02-17 19.34.43

While my job sometimes takes me to work in various locations, I do have another space that I have used for both work and specifically learning. It’s a place that I find peaceful, calming and generally relaxing. I sit in my car and work/study with a view across the Wellington harbour. Even on an evening like today’s which is overcast, with a slight breeze (not even a Wellington breeze!), I can enjoy it.

What draws me to my learning spaces?

I’ve always liked my work or learning spaces to be as uncluttered as possible. I think I’m probably a little anal about this actually as I would often procrastinate when I was studying by tidying up my desk (although it honestly did help as I was able to calm down and focus more with the clutter gone)… And… I don’t know why I’m sharing this one… When I’m watching TV I can’t stand there being any mess around or anything visual that might distract me after a slight glance at it. Again, I tidy up the space and make sure none of the white backing on the curtains are showing (including the ones behind me because once I know…)

Actually I do know why I shared that. I have seen so many classrooms that are just full of clutter, whether it be stuff or colour. For me, this is distracting. I know it’s not the case for everyone, but there will definitely be some of our students who also find it distracting or possibly even over-stimulating.

Overall, I like the spaces in which I’m working/learning to be open and peaceful, with not too much noise or distraction.

What do my children like in their learning spaces?

I thought I’d ask my children what they prefer in their learning spaces/classrooms. I’ve got 5 of them, so I figured this was a reasonable sample size. 😉

Miss14 (Year 11) – prefers to lie on the floor; doesn’t like lots of people in one space; prefers an open space but not a big space; likes some things on wall but only if relevant; when lots of posters/student work on wall and/or with lots of colour, it can be distracting.

Mr10 (Year 7) – prefers to learn inside, at home; inside at a desk (at school); quiet space; computers; not lots of stuff like books – take up too much space; doesn’t like lots of clutter – too hard to work with and too hard to find stuff (low vision); lots of colour can be distracting.

Mr9 (Year 5) – prefers quiet, not many people around (personal space), likes sitting at a desk.

Mr7 (Year 4) – likes a lot of colour, quiet, sitting on a cushion.

Miss6 (Year 2) – likes lots of stuff around, teacher, not much stuff on the wall (also low vision), quiet, at desk.

Every teacher needs to consider their learning space and the students they have at that moment. Not all people can cope with a lot of stuff around. It can be visually exhausting or distracting. Some like music playing, others can’t focus with it. Some like sitting at a desk, others like sitting under desks, on a cushion, lying on the floor. It’s exciting to see more and more schools and teachers creating flexible learning spaces for their learners.

The weight of the world [A very personal post]

I’ve been considering writing a post like this for some time. It’s very personal to me. It’s not specifically about education, but I believe it’s relevant for us all.


I’m living with depression. Not mine, but it’s in my house and has been affecting my life for about the past 2 years. After noticing that my wife was struggling to get things done, and was struggling to cope around people, retreating into herself, I wondered if she had depression.

A trip to the doctor. Diagnosis: Depression.

[Read a blog post from my wife about her experience, and a related poem she has written]

Medication prescribed. Assumption correct. All good right? Uh… No.

This is not the first time for her. She had depression as a teenager (before I knew her), but I had seen her go through both ante- and post-natal depression, including at one point at the same time! So I knew a little bit about the signs, but had never seen anything like this.

She was low.

Very low.

And there seemed to be nothing I could do about it.

Why? Because I didn’t understand what was going on for her. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a feeling for her. She didn’t just feel sad or down.  It wasn’t something she could control. I couldn’t just get her gifts or do things for her, or to help her, to make her feel better about life. She would smile and appreciate what I was doing but she was still depressed and was still spiralling down further into the pit of depression.

She tried to explain to me what she was going through. I didn’t understand. She explained in other ways and while I kind of started to understand cognitively, I have not been through it myself, I don’t really understand so cannot fully empathise with her.

I learnt to give her space. That’s what she always wanted. Space from me, space from the kids, space from the whole world. She was happiest on her own, reading on her iPad or phone.

But she wasn’t happy. She was escaping. And it wasn’t people she was escaping, although that’s how it appeared. She was escaping herself and what was going on in her head.

It took me a long time to realise that. I often felt neglected. Rejected at times. From my perspective she didn’t want me around. She didn’t want the kids around. Our teenage daughter felt the same. She knew Mum was going through depression but she couldn’t help her and often felt pushed away. This has created a stronger bond between me and my daughter while I’ve tried to support her (and our other kids) through it. A positive out of quite a negative experience. The younger kids don’t really know what’s going on but there has at times had to be some careful stepping in from me to safeguard them. Not from anything dangerous, but also from the feeling of being pushed away.

My wife loves us all incredibly. There has never been any doubt. But sometimes it was hard to see. She went to huge efforts at times to show her love to us, which unfortunately cost her at times as she was then so exhausted from the effort that she ended up very low for the next few days. She tried to hide what she was going through and just keep living her life as best she could but when she did, she dropped lower and lower.

In the meantime, my teenage daughter has also been diagnosed with mild depression and was not in a good state for a while. I now have two people to support who have been diagnosed with depression. Two people who needed to feel loved, safe and secure.

The battle with depression in our house has included:

  • Isolation and loneliness for both those with and those without depression
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Suicidal thoughts / cutting
  • Lots of tears
  • Misunderstandings
  • Difficult relationships
  • A rollercoaster of emotions

It can be frightening for all involved. There are often more questions than answers.

What can I do? How can I help? Why are they so low? Why can’t they just switch it off? Why are they trying to hide it from me when I just want to help and support them? Why can’t I help them?

It’s heartbreaking to watch loved ones suffer this way and not be able to step in to help or fix it.

The weight of the world is on those suffering with depression, but in many ways it’s also on those loved ones trying to support them.

The good news?

My wife is currently much stronger than she has been in the past 2 years. Through lots of talking, discussion and tears from both her and I, we realised, only about 4-5 months ago, that one thing that wasn’t helping her was the constant feeling of not accomplishing anything during the day. She felt like she was doing so much but she could see no results from it. Nothing was quite getting completed.

The result of our discussions? A daily tasks list and a reward scheme. It seemed a bit odd to be setting this up for an adult, but what this has meant is that she has a clear plan of what needs to be accomplished every day and she doesn’t jump from one thing to the next and not finish anything. Her reward? Time out on her own. This is the thing she needs most to then be able to interact with people again, including her own family. She gets this anyway, but she appreciates being able to bank up her rewards and take a full day out if/when she needs it. Since setting this up, she has on the whole been doing much better. She’s happier with life overall and spending more time with and around people. Her medication has been changed and the dosage reduced.

I’m not trying to say that this is a magic bullet. We have other support mechanisms in place, but having this structure has contributed to helping my wife over the past few months and is now also helping my daughter (she’s trialling it).

My wife started studying again last year and is achieving well. She still has her ups and downs and we still have difficulties that we work through as best we can when they arise. It’s been a long road and continues to be one, but there seems to be a way up and out of this pit for us.

1 in every 6 New Zealanders will experience serious depression at some stage in their life.

If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from depression, get help:

Image in the public domain.


EdBlogNZAfter getting the #EdBlogNZ 2016 Challenge set up with one blogging challenge a month, I’ve waited until the very last day of January to write my first post. The main reason for this is because I was hit with pneumonia just before the New Year and was laid up for much of the month. Not exactly the break I was hoping for.

This though has given me a chance to do a bit of thinking about this year and to consider the word that I want to define my year. My #oneword2016.

After spending so much time in bed throughout January and having my plans for my break turn to custard I really want to make the most of the rest of my year. I want to LIVE!


To live this year I want to:

  • Step out of my comfort zone and take responsible risks. A few things have slowed me down a little over the last couple of years and this has meant I’ve become a bit tentative around some things. I really want this to change.
  • Learn and put my learning into place. One of my goals is to learn some basic Te Reo M?ori and have enrolled in a course as part of my PD. I’m looking forward to taking part in this. I’m also looking forward to the other learning that’s coming up.
  • Stretch myself in my writing both for work and my blogging. I don’t really know what this will look like yet but I want to take my writing to another level.
  • Spend more quality time with my kids. Yes, I know it’s a bit cliche but after losing several weeks during January where I had plans to do so much with them, I want to make sure they don’t miss out the rest of the year.

It’s time for me to LIVE!