A reflection on learning: educators as risk-takers

My first feeling at around 9pm on Saturday 12th October was one of relief – I’d just taken part in my first online conference and had delivered a one-hour presentation on the need for collaboration to ensure that teaching and learning is transdisciplinary.  I had been invited to present at the RSCON4 conference less than a month earlier and without the support of people like Edna and Jay (thank you to both of you!) I would never have accepted that initial invitation.  In fact there were several times during the last three weeks when I regretted my initial impulsiveness.  Me – a risk-taker?  Courageous?  Nonsense, I thought – foolhardy more like it.  I have never thought of myself as being tech-savvy (unlike my technically-minded colleagues like Jason Graham for whom an online conference comes completely naturally!) and I couldn’t believe what I had landed myself into.

Several of the learner profile attributes sprang to mind in the lead-up to the presentation.  The first review of the IB learner profile was completed in July 2013; adjustments have been made to the descriptors, and there is a new statement of intent and a new visual representation.  The descriptors now use first-person plural pronouns (“we” and “our”) to highlight the inclusive nature of the IB programmes, call attention to the importance of collaboration within learning communities (students, families, teachers, school leaders and others), and reflect the IB’s learner-centred, social-constructivist philosophy of education.  Learner profile descriptors also now include explicit reference to PYP attitudes.

According to IB Standard A Practice 4, schools need to develop and promote ‘international-mindedness and all attributes of the IB learner profile across the school community’.  My involvement in this conference highlighted the importance of collaboration within learning communities and between learning communities separated by distance, and even by time (the logistics in organising a conference across several time zones must have been mind-boggling).  It also gave me the opportunity to model various learner profile attributes for our school community.  If we expect our students to be inquirers and risk-takers, we need to model this for them and grab opportunities as they arise (even if inside we’re feeling somewhat frightened!).  In a school, when it comes to the learner profile, we’re all in it together and there’s no getting away with shirking one’s responsibility to embrace learning technology and continue one’s journey of lifelong learning.

So how was I an inquirer?  I certainly nurtured my curiosity and developed skills for inquiry as I learnt to use Blackboard Collaborate.  I knew I had to show independence in my learning but I also had to learn with others, people I had never met and also our wonderful IT technician (thanks Pak Ade!).  I can’t say that I always learnt with enthusiasm (there were a few frustrations along the way) but most of the time I did manage to retain my enthusiasm and kept smiling when we had to sort out the audio, and work out how to share my slides.  I was a thinker when I analysed the different tools on Blackboard Collaborate and used creative thinking skills when trying out some of the different options.   I was certainly a communicator in that I had to express myself in a different way and to an audience I had never met.  I was open-minded in my willingness to grow from the experience and to admit that while I had many years’ experience of teacher education and running workshops, I was a complete novice when it came to online conferences.  I was a risk-taker when I approached the uncertainty of online presenting with determination (with ‘forethought’ might be taking it a bit too far); I worked independently and also cooperatively to explore this innovative way of reaching out to other educators.  I was certainly determined to be resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges! And finally I was reflective.  I thought I understood my strengths (an ability to present something to a group of educators) and also my weaknesses (unfamiliarity with this online platform) in order to support my learning and personal development.

I noticed a few things while preparing for the conference.  I deliberately kept my slideshow simple.  I used only PowerPoint slides with no images, animations or effects.  I didn’t use any special fonts or visual elements as I knew that with participants from over 100 countries bandwidth would be an issue.  This meant that my text-heavy slideshow looked really boring!  I suddenly had lots of empathy for students who want to add fancy fonts and animations to their presentations while coping with teachers who keep telling them to focus on content and not on graphics.

I also realised that learning happens most effectively you believe in its importance and when there is a genuine need to learn something new, i.e. it is authentic.  There’s nothing like curiosity about a tool you have to master in order to present something to drive your learning forward; and you learn something at the point of need – ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ learning.

The PYP encompasses social, physical, and emotional needs in addition to academic development.  Successful inquiry-based projects engage our emotions and at all stages of the inquiry cycle students are encouraged to ask themselves questions such as: How am I feeling?  How are my feelings about my inquiry likely to change?  What am I feeling now at this point?  How do I feel about my audience’s response?  How have my feelings changed?  I have sometimes asked students to complete graphs to track their feelings throughout an inquiry and recognise their need to discuss their emotions.  If teachers at my school asked about the conference, I was not interested in talking about the content of my presentation.  I only wanted to talk about my emotions and I wanted them to ask me how I was feeling!  I wasn’t at all worried about the content – that was the easy bit – it was my feelings towards the presentation that I was grappling with. This all made me empathise with students who are confused about both the content and the means of presentation.  We maybe need to do more to acknowledge any conflicting emotions and to help our students deal effectively with them.

Yesterday I read the post of ‘lanafleiszig’ on Inquire Within and completely empathized – tension certainly does lead to learning!

A big thank you to Julie, my very patient moderator who was drinking her early morning coffee in Missouri, America while for me in Indonesia, a 12 hour time zone away, it was 8pm at night and dark outside.  As Julie says on her Twitter profile: ‘It’s all about the learning…’!  Thank you and well done to Shelley, Steve, Clive, Carole, Sue, Chiew and all the other people without whose commitment and amazing efforts RSCON could not have gone ahead.  I’m now wondering what my next inquiry will look like…

About marycollins21

Mother of three daughters and one son; grandmother of one. PYP teacher at Xiamen International School, China. I am a member of IBEN (IB Educator Network) and love my role as PYP workshop leader. As well as being passionate about inquiry and all things that enhance student learning, I enjoy reading, salsa and swimming.
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4 Responses to A reflection on learning: educators as risk-takers

  1. Lana says:

    I completely relate to everything in your post Mary. Well done! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one out there feeling so out of my depth. I’m glad we came out the other end feeling grateful for the experience. I guess it’s all about growth and often this requires effort and an element of ‘hard’. Thanks so much for sharing.


  2. Thank you, Lana! Your reply has also reminded me of the PYP attitude I forgot to mention in my post – appreciation. I’m glad that for both of us the effort and hard work was all worth it – as you said, we are now grateful for the experience!


  3. Pingback: Psychology | Taking risks | Mike10613's Blog

  4. whatedsaid says:

    I’m glad that you found the ordeal worthwhile, as you have much to share and it’s worthwhile getting your voice out there!


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