Regional Cluster: Tekapo Retreat, Day One

Today is the first day of our three day retreat with the project teachers in the regional cluster.  We have had a real increase in numbers this year as new teachers have put up their hand to have a go in the last year with funding.  This is great, because it provides a much better representation of all the schools across the two clusters (WestNet and CantaNet).  So we have around 30 teachers attending in total which is probably the perfect number.  Great atmosphere, plenty of opportunity for collaboration, but not too many to confuse things.

This retreat is probably the most important face to face event of the three years so far, because it is going to lay the foundation for  this year and beyond.  That last point really highlights a key focus for this year – sustainability

Icebreaker

One of our teachers volunteered to lead a 30 minute icebreaker activity which was recorded and I have embedded below.  Lots of fun and a great way to start the retreat.  And of course winning was totally secondary to participation (says the man whose group failed miserably).

Presentation: The purpose of the year and the retreat

Trevor and I did something we tend to avoid which was a ten minute presentation.  We felt it was really necessary to reflect on the past two years and really lay down a vision for the future and by doing so provide a focus for the next three days.  The key theme was “Networked Schooling”, as it was in the leadership event last year.  This term seems to nicely encapsulate the key goals of the project right from day one: blended learning, collaboration, communities of practice across schools, school change, system wide change.  Of course what our vision is and what others think it is can be quite different so I really see it as a way of suggesting what could be possible, rather than an agreed direction.  That comes later when working with school leadership (with our project teachers).

Preparing for the UC course

Professor Niki Davis of the University of Canterbury has been a key partner through this project and this was her opportunity to negotiate the look of the UC course with the teachers.  The UC course formed the backbone of the project in the first year and it will do so again this year.  While quite structured  in year one, this year the course is very flexible.  Basically teachers will work together on a special topic related to blended learning.  So this provides a lot of scope to follow real interest areas and allows the course to integrate with what teachers are already doing.

Panel Discussion

After Niki finished we had an hour long panel discussion on Networked Schooling hosted using the “hangout” option in Google+.  Basically it is a very easy to use web conference option that is an extremely useful aspect to Google+.  Our panel members included Niki Davis, Robin Ohia, Warren Hall (our National Facilitator) and Hazel Owen.  While a bit glitchy (especially at Hazel’s end) the internet worked surprisingly well and we managed to get some interesting thoughts shared from all.  Here is a link to some notes.  It was at this point that I felt the teachers had been talked at for a little too long.  It might have better to use the panel discussion to break up more work based time later on, but hey, the teachers pretty much had two and a half days where there was very little talking them so the balance was right.

Planning institutional review and special topic

In the afternoon the teachers worked in groups planning their institutional review and special topic.  What is very apparent is that the teachers are now so comfortable with each other that they move into quite focused team work with very few problems.

Unconference

The final part of day one was focused on a favourite of mine – the unconference.  This is basically the opposite of a conference.  Mark Osborne explains it well,

What is an unconference?
It’s a participant-driven event. Rather than inviting people to attend a conference where everything has been decided by others in advance (the speakers, the content, the timetable, the spaces etc.) an unconference emerges out of the strengths and interests of the people who attend. If you want to lead a session, you write it up and people attend. It sounds a bit chaotic, but works brilliantly.

It is a great way for teachers to share expertise and what was heartening is that it wasn’t entirely tool focused.  A good finish to a successful first day.

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