Supportive Learning Environments

Critically analyse issues of socio-economic factors, school culture and professional environments in relation to practice.

Around the time of the new New Zealand Curriculum being introduced I attempted to rewrite my pedagogy and through my exploration stumbled across the Ministry of Education’s (2007) Effective Pedagogy. The paragraph that stood out most was around ‘creating a supportive learning environment’ (p.34) as it identified a holistic view towards education. This has been the foundation to my practice and it is through this lens that I critique and analyse my own teaching and learning.

“Students learn best when they feel accepted, when they enjoy positive relationships with their fellow students and teachers, and when they are able to be active, visible members of the learning community” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.34).

During the NZ Curriculum change, the school I worked at went on an exploration and conscious effort to develop their culture, looking deeply and exposing their hidden curriculum. This experience became the foundation learning around building group culture and climate for me. In the Academy for SELinSchools (2015) video, Warner states “the school culture and climate is very important… Ideally it needs to be its own climate but it needs to be a positive climate. It’s one that makes every student feel a part of it. The culture is something that runs more deeply. It’s how that school does things. What are its values? What kinds of traditions? How do people treat each other?” I spend the first term of every school year dedicated to developing this. We look into our identity and work on building mutual trust, respect and honesty. I incorporate aspects of ako and tuakana/teina models so students have an understanding that they can draw from each others strengths to support them in their learning. I focus on leadership and lifelong learning around the Key Competencies, 21st Century Learning skills, and individual learning outcomes. This sets us on the path as a successful classroom community for the rest of the year.

Effective teachers foster positive relationships within environments that are caring, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and cohesive. They also build good relationships with the wider school community working with parents and caregivers as key partners who have unique knowledge of their children and countless opportunities to advance their children’s learning” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.34).

Interacting with the wider school community people have varying views on the idea of ‘school’ based on their own previous experiences. Gargiulo (2014) research into engagement and academic success of students from low socio-economic status supports these views. Of particular interest is his research into Dr Ruby K. Payne’s work regarding the hidden curriculum and rules discussing how education is developed and implemented by middle class society. He states “… an educated and qualified teacher is less likely to understand the perspective of a child from an impoverished background” (Gargiulo, 2014, p.4).
I would class myself as this stereotype and it got me thinking about the importance of knowing my own identity and how this can be a strength as well as a barrier regarding my perceptions, but, also, how my identity can be perceived by others. Fostering positive relationships is achieved through the ‘informal’ and my current school does this well. We have regular whanāu nights where we have barbecues with various activities and games. Through these evenings we can break down stereotypes to create the partnerships necessary for student learning.

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 9.46.33 PM

Students, Teachers & Whānau playing Big Ball Soccer – Image: Emma McFadyen

“Effective teachers attend to the cultural and linguistic diversity of all their students. The classroom culture exists within and alongside many other cultures, including the cultures of the wider school and the local community, the students’ peer culture, and the teachers’ professional culture” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p.34).

The most successful environments I’ve been involved in have been the ones where there has been by-in from all areas. During a TED-Ed talk (2013), Wilson states “to build a culture of success you need to have a vision… you need to have unity… a coming together, a collaboration, a vision of one person is just that… and there has to be empowerment”  Working overseas, I was part of a collaborative team. We all had buy-in to our vision and this is what kept us strong as we worked out the details of getting to know each other professionally, which was hard as it was an international space and we came from different parts of the globe. Once we had achieved this we developed a wonderful synergy and the culture we had built among ourselves had a ripple effect. We were able to draw on the outer environments bringing teachers from our secondary school sector, specialists, whanāu, and local community experts to engage and support our students in their learning. This empowered everyone involved creating a sense of achievement and strengthened relationships to build stronger learning opportunities for students.

To ensure students feel successful in learning it is vital as an effective teachers to be conscious of creating supportive environments which incorporate a holistic view towards education.

by 2 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

References

Academy for SELinSchools. (2015, April 28). What is School Culture and Climate? [Video] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-_NvhlcusQ

Gargiulo, S. (2014). Principal sabbatical report. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Leadership-development/Professional-information/Principals-sabbatical-reports/Report-archives-for-2007-2014/Secondary-award-recipients-2014/Gargiulo-Salvatore

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1-13. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media Limited.

TED-Ed. (2013, Jun 21). Building a culture of success. [Video] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_8Bjz-OCD8&t=144s

 

 

Practice within a Community

“Critically define my practice.

When reading Wengers (2000) Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, it reminds me of an opportunity which had a profound influence on me. It gave me a sense of belonging and shaped my teaching practice.

ReGen

ReGeneration Banner – Image: Emma McFadyen

I was invited to attend an event which was the beginning of a community of practice. The group were young changemakers who fostered the purpose of taking “collective action on addressing the challenges that young people face at a personal and global level” (Matheson, n.d.).

The way this community and social learning system (Wengers, 2000) influenced my practice can be identifed by three key areas:

  • Community
  • Domain
  • Practice

(Knox, 2009)

Community
Before attending the ReGeneration event and creating a community, I had felt isolated in my beliefs and philosophy. I had tried to initiate discussions and projects within my current communities without much success. When meeting the group of people that would become ReGeneration and forming relationships, I felt a sense of belonging which developed my confidence and I attempted challenges knowing I was supported through the community. The journey helped to form and consolidate my personal identity and I was able to articulate why I chose to be a fellow change-maker and the reasons for the preferred field I worked in to achieve this change.

This personal growth contributed to the collective growth of the community as we were all learning about ourselves together in an organic process, which strengthened our community’s vision. This concept is supported by Wegner (2000) who says our identity is crucial to social learning systems for three reasons.

  • Identities combine competence and experience into a way of knowing.
  • Our ability to deal productively with boundaries depends on our ability to engage and suspend our identities.
  • Our identities are the living vessels in which communities and boundaries become realised as an experience of the world.

(Wengers, 2000, p.239)

Domain
With a few initiative under the concept of ReGeneration. The convenor looked at how to expand the group of young leaders to drive the project. This lead to a series of smaller gatherings which formed the ReGeneration Collective. As a group of core members, we engaged in shared inquiry and the key issues (Knox, 2009) that we saw in our individual communities, which weaved common threads between us and could be addressed collectively. This dialogue and shared inquiry process gave me an insight into how people in different fields addressed change. An example being the design thinking model being shared with me by a member with industrial design experience. I was able to utilise this knowledge and understanding to influence and inform my own classroom practice.
Being part of this dialogue within ReGeneration enabled me to see how my jigsaw piece might fit into the bigger picture puzzle and where my impact could be of the greatest benefit. “In most organisations, members of communities of practice contribute their competencies by participating in cross-functioning projects and teams that combine the knowledge of multiple practices to get something done” (Wegner, 2000, p.237).

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 10.02.59 PM

ReGeneration Collective – Image: Billy Matheson

Practice
Wegner (2000) states that when a community of practice is designing itself it should look at the following areas.

  • Events
  • Leadership
  • Connectivity
  • Membership
  • Projects
  • Artifacts

Evidence of these areas can be found on the ReGeneration website.

FullSizeRender (12)

Collection of work by ReGeneration – Image: Emma McFadyen

Being a contributor to building this collective body of knowledge has given me a variety of tools, life skills and resources to draw on. Rather than isolating myself to the classroom, I see my practice being able to foster cross-organisational networks to address change and deepen individual and collective impact (Support Centre Media, 2017). I continue on this path to see the areas and ways I can achieve this.

 

The people involved in the ReGeneration project decided to complete the journey in 2013. However, what was created and fostered within this community of practice impacted greatly on the individuals involved. Aspects of ReGeneration continue on through their actions and projects.

by 2This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

References

Knox, B. (2009, December 4). Cultivating Communities of Practice: Making Them Grow.[Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhMPRZnRFkk

Matheson, B. (n.d.). ReGeneration. Retrieved from
http://www.regeneration.org.nz/contact-us

Splashroom Media. (2012, January 29). Emma McFadyen . Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/35828556

Support Centre Media. (2017, February 7). Practice Area: Communities of Practice [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rWESR6Q2R4

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization. 7(2), 225-246. Retrieved from
http://journals.sagepub.com.libproxy.unitec.ac.nz/doi/abs/10.1177/135050840072002

 

Ako, Flow and Skate Parks

FullSizeRender

I got hooked on surfing while in Sri Lanka and living in landlocked Suzhou, my only alternative was to learn to skateboard. During that time I got to know the brilliant #SkatePal and we quickly bonded over our love for the sport.

One evening I received an invitation from #SkatePal, via his mum, inviting me along to the Skate Park. I perceived skate parks to be a selective place where the alternative, slightly rebellious hung out. Considering my skill level and age I felt intimidated. However, #SkatePal was a regular face in the skate-community, and if he invited me then I had, at least, street-cred among the seven year olds.

#SkatePal’s dad gave us a lift on his e-bike and waved us off as we walked over to a planter box and discussed tactics.

Looking around, the skate park was busy. A roller blade crew had shown up and for a while seemed to dominate the scene. #SkatePal was happy to weave around them and take advantage of the ramps and half-pipe when he could. I moved to a space where there was less action and fumbled around on a RipStik. I soon developed onlookers as a Western girl learning to use a RipStik is not a normal occurrence in China. #Rores happened to be at the skate park that day (thirteen year old Aussie I got to know while travelling around the Hunan province with his family). Seeing me struggle, he came over and gave me a few tips and I was away swivelling various components of my body to stay balanced as I glided along the concrete. A few claps and snaps ensued from my fan club.

I chilled out back at base (planter-box) #SkatePal and I had established before and watched #SkatePal. He was observing to see how #Rores was mastering a kickflip, which he then tried to copy. #Rores, himself, was observing the older and more experienced skaters’ kickflips to improve his own. Around the corner a Japanese skater group were teaching young kids, about four or five years old, to carve and rotate. Later, a sound system was set up and music blasted while the more experienced skaters started to perform their tricks. There was definitely a supportive community vibe welcoming of everyone which dispelled by previous impressions of skateparks.IMG_6173

I became fascinated with skate culture and looked into various research papers to see who else had explored these concepts.

I discovered a vast array of how skate culture has influenced aspects of education involving:

  • Flow phenomenon and intrinsic motivation
  • Arts expression
  • Inclusion and diversity
  • Video documentation to improve/enhance performance in Physical Education
  • Citizenship Education relating to community consultation and urban design
  • Skate films to engage/ enhance students in STEM subjects

And if I had the time to investigate further I would have found more.

However, my interest in skate culture involves the process of ako. The learning that was happening at the skatepark, which I observed, was multi-levelled and layered and involved a range of ages and skills being shared in a positive and supportive environment. It was highly motivating for all participants and it challenged individuals to be creative and innovative with their tricks. I wondered how we could use these environments more in our schools. Focusing on student interests to build strong, diverse, social and emotional learning communities, with opportunities to develop individual and group leadership.

We do this to an extent by providing opportunities with technology, productions, dance and sports groups, but I’m sure there are ways we can do this better.  Listening to Rodney Mullen’s talk, Freestyle and Street Skating are a combination of the creative process, breaking through barriers of disbelief, shared vision, and supportive teams which can bring a skater’s learning into the flow phenomena. How do we use these ideas as educators to hook students into learning?

Thinking I was going to leave this inquiry as a blog post I was about to move on… Recently, I visited a school and they spoke about a student inquiry which resulted in allowing an unused space to become a skate area and are now looking at including rails and ramps.  Knowing the school is open to this type of development and student learning I accepted a job and I look forward to observing, participating, and contributing in how the skate-park process evolves and develops into other areas of learning within the school.