Learning Life-long : Reflections

Learning on the move and adding value to others learning is clearly defined in the work of Straker Translations – Grant Straker leads a business that everyday adds value to life-long learning around the world. (His business was highlighted in the New Zealand Weekend Herald on May 20 2017 and suddenly I was made aware of how strongly lifelong learning has been accelerated by the power of software and fast fibre interactions.

Straker Translations employs translators and accelerates their work using software that learns to carry out many of the translations and make them ready for the human hand to tidy up and check for accuracy.

As a result they are a world wide business with major headquarters in Auckland and Barcelona.

Grant Straker’s path to Straker Translation sums up what self-managed life long learning is like. The Herald quotes his qualifications as a self-taught computer programmer, certificate in engineering, “school of hard knocks”. His work has included being a British Paratrooper, truck driver, and pub-band guitar player. His hobbies are listed as Welding, building stuff, fishing and mucking around in boats.In other words his learning path was not a tidy linear one and we could suggest this varied and divergent set of experiences have made his life-long learning development a successful process.

Straker’s success seems to be the result of strong desire to be independent and get on with learning and doing. He left school at 15 without any real qualifications but at 19 through his own efforts gained entry to an aircraft apprenticeship – his father gave him a set of books and Straker taught himself to pass the entry test – an experience he says set him up for confident self-managed learning – “just figure it out yourself”

This brief summary of a successful business learning path is not unique and there are many New Zealanders who have followed similar paths.

However I wonder if we are too glib about the skills and ways life-long learning evolves. School goals quite rightly focus on the need for life-long learning but perhaps we are not clear about how individuals develop and maintain learning paths that enhance their own and others lives.

In Straker’s case motivated independent effort and grit must surely have been powerful forces. Recognising opportunities and doing something about pursuing them must have been in his DNA. Not accepting the status quo and grasping the technological accelerators as they became available were built in to his way of being as well. Sharing his vision with many others and engaging them in fruitful translation regardless of their location are of great importance.

These capacities have been applied across three decades as he has aimed high.

How do our educators make a life-long learning habit work? For themselves and as a goal for others?

How well are educators able to apply the accelerators for learning now available?

I have comfortably believed that we educators had life-long learning well under control until the other night I was at an investment seminar where an expert offered his wisdom about our New Zealand economy.

He made the assertion that in New Zealand the productivity of labour (this includes our teachers) is not likely to grow at the rate of many other nations because the drag of central government and local government bureaucracy will not be able to adapt and adjust quickly enough to allow our labour force to get on with the job.

In other words in the case of Life-long Learning the drag effect of central government policy making and adjusting policy and process will keep getting in the road of educators’ life-long learning.

Put simply in our small nation it is very easy for governments to assume and want to control and direct education. I think the investment expert was correct when I consider my own learning experiences.

My experiences followed a typical secondary teacher’s path where the dictates of the system drove my learning.

  • During the first ten years of teaching my focus was very much on learning how to teach in the classroom – course content and ways to impart it being most important.
  • This ten year pattern merged into learning about how to lead other teachers into being more effective in classroom teaching
  • Around year fifteen my learning became more focussed on school systems and organisation and gradually expanded into school vision and strategy combined with empowering teachers to grow beyond classroom teaching.
  • During the nineties despite the “self-managed dream of 1989” I was engaged in school leadership that constantly sought to meet The Education Review Office’s (ERO’s) requirements, adapted to the central demands of New Curriculum and stepped into the centrally directed National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) and its many iterations.
  • Even from teaching year thirty to year forty I was heavily engaged in learning to add technological accelerators to all of the above under the direction and planning of the Ministry of Education.
  • However 2007 with the i-Phone and the explosion of IT accelerators since, has altered the shape and means for life-long learning.  Now retired from the active secondary world I see little sign of teachers being free to engage in learning on the educational things that really matter to them.

During the period 1970-2007 the power of in-service training was embedded in controlled programmes and with the benefit of advisers and outside resources being sent in to “fix and change teaching and learning practice” . Prior to 1989 Ministry of Education Inspectors even directly controlled membership and the focus of in-service courses and programmes – even to the extent of applications needing to be posted in at least three weeks ahead!

Independent learning still occurred but teachers by and large were treated like a sheep in being directed to learn as the system required. A huge difficulty with this approach lies in the way the New Zealand system is controlled from the centre and educators  were rarely able to flourish in meeting their own school learning needs as individuals or as strengtheners of their school communities.

Even now in 2017 the ease of control from the centre means that the most supported learning for educators must meet the expectations of policy and direction – funding to meet the political targets of the moment being all important in teacher professional learning.

A consequence of this approach means I/we tended to wait for guidance from above in the education system. I can well remember going to a “course” to learn how to use an Overhead Projector – right down to how to make the sheets and store them.

Similarly as each iteration of the New Zealand Curriculum has emerged we have been dutifully led along the new paths they have offered – even when given the opportunity to have local curriculum for our schools we worried that this might not fit with the overall New Zealand way.

The school model of competition and survival of the biggest has a powerful impact on independent teacher learning. If learning will consolidate the roll or even grow it the learning is fine.

I am sure this does not encourage diversity and adaptability in a nation where our smallness means news travels fast and errors and mistakes are too often seen as weakness. Despite the fact that mistakes are powerful forces for learning and essential in school and community growth – it is all too rare for schools to applaud mistakes on their own part or their students part. Our 2500 schools are a very small group so it should be easy to share diversity yet perhaps the opposite is happening.

Does the hierarchical model for professional learning applied across New Zealand Education impact on individual teachers? In my experience it does. Our schools meet the expectation of the direction imposed by government funding and schools are inclined to focus on a style of professional learning where there is a school pattern and not much chance for individuals to explore their passions and needs.

Even the current Communities of Learning (CoLs) retain the hierarchy as the best means to develop and enhance school progress. (The MOE being top of the pyramid.)

If being busy is life-long learning the New Zealand teacher is at the top of the learning class. However all too often policy expectations squeeze the life out of reflection and consequently our of independent thought and learning action. (Thank goodness Twitter acts as a shorthand support for life-long learning!)

I wonder if teachers’ life long learning would be enhanced if another view of leadership were to emerge. Instead of people being seen to be the leaders of teachers’ professional learning we acknowledge what has always been true and is now even more so in the post-2007 era of life-long learning.

The leader of life-long learning in school and out of school, for groups and for individuals is the “shared force of engaged learning”.

This shared learning force is made up from a complex mix of grit and determination, adaptability, co-operation, collaboration and self-belief spread across the school community with students, all staff and whanau playing their part in leading.

A shared learning force in a school or business is found in learning leadership distributed at every level and every corner of the place even when no one is looking! It is the interaction within individual heads and bounces out to the rest of the group and extends anywhere that questions will led learners.

The “shared force of engaged learning” stretches into every possible dimension of human interest – how does it do this? In successful school shows and performances life-long learning habits grow and develop as groups, sometimes made up of dozens of individuals each bring their learning to the stage and then add to it as they engage in the adrenalin charge of joyfully making the show work. Engaged and sustained effort becomes embedded.

New schools often capture this sort of charge as they set out on a blank canvas and this learning for life will stay with many teachers throughout their careers.

Sometimes past students will meet their teachers and reflect about pivotal moments where the teacher altered their view of the world through the “shared force of engaged learning”. A simple example I found out 25 years after the incident where a second year high school student completed a task in the 1970s – I scored her work 11/10 on the grounds she had succeeded beyond the highest level of performance. (She kept that piece of written work and no doubt reflected upon it once or twice as she pursued her life-long learning to become a principal.) Did her life-long get an acceleration through that 10/11? It seems so as she recounted the incident 25 years later.

Life-long Learning does not operate at intense levels all the time. It ebbs and flows and even goes of at a tangent depending on the triggers of acceleration or deceleration. Lets hope our political masters recognise we need diversity of thought and action as our bi-cultural nation grows into its multi-cultural future!

Will we, in future, enjoy life-long learning that fits our personal, school and community needs?

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About rogersvlle

Thinking about learning leaders and adding the internet and Its elements to their working worlds.
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