Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 4

Karen Spencer: Beyond the echo chamber – The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession


Karen was probably a really sensible keynote to end uLearn on. After a couple of days of being exposed to numerous ideas, Karen spoke about ‘so what now’? What happens when you get back to your school?

It is so easy to get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of events such as uLearn. Being surrounded by motivated professionals (it was the school holidays after all!) and without facing the barriers of your school environment, it is easy to get creative about the changes you’ll make or get swept up in the latest educational fad. But Karen reminded us to pause and take a step back before implementing the next big idea.

Ways to do this are:

  1. Find the urgency. What are the most important things for our learners? Any changes should be focused on creating desired outcomes for our students. Choose the most important initiatives and make sure they are sustainable. Too often we fall into the trap of trying too many new things at once.
  2. See the story behind the data. Data gives us a picture, but it is not the whole picture. Talk to students and ask them for their stories – understand why the data says what it says. Consider the viewpoints of all learners and ensure planned changes are going to help them.
  3. Be able to embrace discomfort. Acknowledge that people see different things in the data and student stories – there is no one correct interpretation. Look for ways to hear diverse views and have biases challenged. Learn from those who think differently. Work to avoid the dangers of being in an echo chamber.

Unsurprisingly, this was my favourite idea of Karen’s:


This is the attitude I try to have towards changes I make in the library. Want to make a change? Just do it. And if it doesn’t work? Stop doing it. Be prepared to fail, and be prepared to walk away from an initiative that is not working. Remembering that the focus should always be on students and their learning – not staff ego!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I have a great PLN, but am in serious danger of being in an echo chamber – find some diverse viewpoints quickly!
  • I need to get some student feedback and stories – remember non-library users as well

Some links and follow ups:


What I think about when I’m running: uLearn edition


It seemed rude to travel all the way to Rotorua for uLearn16 and not spend some time exploring the Redwoods. So with a full brain on Thursday afternoon, I snuck off to enjoy some “fresh” air and some world-famous-in-New-Zealand trails. Here’s what I thought about while I was out there.

  1. The 11.5km Tokorangi Pa track should be totally doable before dark.
  2. Follow the purple arrows – how easy is that?
  3. Hmm, maybe going off-road after all this rain wasn’t such a good idea…
  4. Mud is fun!
  5. Man, there is a lot of up.
  6. The other people on this trail are so polite!
  7. This is awesome. I can see why people get addicted to trail running.
  8. This trail is really clearly marked.
  9. Yay, finally some down!
  10. Whoa, nearly ended up in a big mud puddle there.
  11. Hmm, which fork in this path should I follow?
  12. Where are you now, purple arrows?
  13. This doesn’t look much of a path.
  14. I’ll go back and follow the other one.
  15. This looks like even less of a path…
  16. I’ve come a long way down now, I can’t be bothered going all the way back up.
  17. Hmm…this looks like a dry creek bed…
  18. Yep, this is definitely no longer a path.
  19. I wonder where the path is?
  20. I’ve tried retracing my steps but all the mountain bike tracks have confused me.
  21. I am surrounded by hills and trees and can’t see any landmarks, paths or people.
  22. Good one.
  23. Oh, now you’re going to start raining?!
  24. Okay, think.
  25. Nope, no cell phone signal.
  26. Better keep moving to keep warm.
  27. I’m going to be one of those people on the news that is mocked for not being prepared.
  28. Why did you leave your jacket and hat in the car?
  29. And why didn’t you tell anyone where you were going?
  30. Or when to expect you back?
  31. Amateur.
  32. Someone should notice I’m missing in about 24 hours.
  33. I’ve been out here over an hour. I wonder how long I can keep going?
  34. It feels like it’s starting to get dark…
  35. Is that a road?
  36. Yes!
  37. Okay, roads have to lead somewhere.
  38. I should go up the hill so I can get my bearings again.
  39. Hey! A purple arrow! I’m saved!
  40. Of course it’s pointing back down the hill…
  41. Right this feels more like it.
  42. I wonder how far I’ve actually gone.
  43. Up again?
  44. Ooh, look, another runner! I must be close to civilisation again.
  45. A tarseal road!
  46. Where have the purple arrows gone again?
  47. How do I get on the other side of this fence.
  48. Wah! I just want to get back to the car!
  49. OMG, it’s the carpark!! Hooray!!
  50. Thanks for the adventure, Redwoods.


(For my more usual running thoughts see this post here.)

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 3

Michael Fullan: Early lessons from implementing New Pedagogies for Deep Learning


Michael Fullan continued the theme, common among the keynote speakers, of student-centred education. And in particular, the idea of transforming pedagogies to tap into the incredible reservoir of children’s creativity.

Michael talked about how humans are innately wired to: connect, create and help humanity. This was tied in with the idea of millennials gravitating towards good. And they do this not because they’re altruistic, but because that is what it is to be human. It was nice to hear of this positive aspect of millennials, as they generally get a bit of bashing (particularly, it must be said, from baby boomers). And made me think back to John Couch’s keynote and the fact that we don’t use student-power to solve community problems.

Perhaps most excitingly, NPDL helps those most disaffected with current education systems. It does this because it: connects with the real world by providing relevance, is congruent with native values, has a culture of high expectation, builds relationships on trust, increases efficacy and optimism, and provides support for students who don’t have much. Like the other keynote messages, this doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. Coming from the primary sector, I feel like there is a lot of this going on already in their classrooms, and it saddens and frustrates me that there seems to be little or no educational innovation happening in my environment. We seem to be bound by NCEA, becoming slaves to it, rather than making it work for our students.


Because we don’t need better leaders. Leaders are not the solution, better citizens are.

One of the things that made this keynote more interesting is that Minister Parata was sitting in the front row as it was delivered. And she was watching on Twitter as those listening reacted to messages that seemed incongruent with current education policy. Points such as: bad strategies for whole system change are accountability and standards (and evidence proves this!), and focus on long-term success rather than units of work (which is not was NCEA encourages).

Again I left a keynote address thinking that we need some brave leadership in more secondary schools so that we can do our best by all our students. The “tail” of NZ education tells us that the current system is not working for 20% of our kids, and in particular our Māori and Pasifika students. Something needs to change so that these young people can reach their full potential.

The session did end on a hopeful note. Michael encouraged leadership from the middle. That is, to exploit policy from the top but add to it to make it work for you. This, in turn, leads the top to learn from the middle. Let’s get exploiting!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I’m not sure yet…need to keep thinking

Some links and follow ups:

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 2

John Couch: New dimensions in learning


John’s keynote was built upon Simon Sinek’s golden circle concept: the WHY of things. This resonated quite strongly with me, not least because I am always questioning my own practice in an effort to get rid of unnecessary tasks. But also because both education and technology can be quickly consumed by the latest fad, without much thinking about whether it will improve teaching and learning or not.

John talked about having a clear vision as this is what drives mission. However, he was quick to point out that visions should be aspirational, while missions are measurable. Throwing creativity at a problem, rather than money, appealed to the number 8 wire mentality. But I think this also has bigger implications in an educational context. Why are we not harnessing student creativity to solve community or school problems?



Joi Ito’s ‘learning over education’ was referenced. If we think about this in terms of our students we have to cede some of our power and control. If students are engaged they will learn, so it is up to us to put them at the centre of things – otherwise why do we exist? If schools aren’t about the students what are they about? Students’ curiosity-fueled exploration creates knowledge – where do we see this? Especially in a traditional secondary context?

John made the point that education will not change from the top down (despite the Minister’s best attempts) and as technology becomes more freely available, it will become a disrupter and help change come from the bottom. While we may see technology as a tool (and I am guilty of saying this all the time), to our students it is an environment. Are we recognising this and meeting them where they are at?

Lastly, John talked about educators providing access to content. If this is all they are doing they will become obsolete, it is essential that educators are providing context for the content. This will need to see teachers change their role to become co-learners, and this is okay – in the age of the internet, no student expects an adult to be the font of all knowledge. Instead we need to see a symbiotic relationship in learning between teacher, student and community.

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • in terms of my role on our ICT steering committee, I need to be asking WHY
  • the school library policy manual still needs to be updated – what is our vision? what do we aspire to?

Some links and follow ups:

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 1

This was my first uLearn and I suspect I’ll be processing the experience for many weeks. However, I thought I’d get a few thoughts down before things get lost in the daily minutiae when school starts back again tomorrow!

Larry Rosenstock: It’s time to change the subject


A saying that is suitable for life – not just carpentry!

Larry spoke about his school, High Tech High, and the project-based learning approach that they use.

It’s funny (and not in a humorous way) that despite the rapid change that is going on in the rest of society, schools continue to operate in the same way they have for centuries. And this is true of secondary schools in particular.

The school day is still segmented into random times, learning is divided into subjects, and these subjects are given a hierarchical importance. Value continues to be placed most highly on English, mathematics, and science, despite the fact that our students are heading out into a vastly different labour force to the one that schools were originally designed to cater for.

Add to this New Zealand’s NCEA requirements, where learning is separated down even further into artificial and discrete units, and it’s no wonder students may have difficulty applying what they know across curriculum areas and into different contexts.

A key point I got from Larry is that we create false dichotomies in education: projects don’t have to be maths or art, they can be maths and art. Similarly, it doesn’t have to be a student-driven curriculum versus exam based, it can be both. We will need some brave school leadership (and this may have to be prompted from below) that can see learning that puts the student at the centre can still produce the required* NCEA results.

*required by students, parents, schools and the Ministry.


John Dewey – still making sense after all this time

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I will definitely stop talking to students about when they are out in “the real world” – they’re already in it!
  • I will look for ways for teachers to collaborate and get cross-curricular links happening – the English and Earth & Space Science information literacy standards seem ripe for this
  • I will champion those subjects deemed lower down in the education hierarchy

Some links and follow ups:


Interesting reading this week:


Interesting Reading by Gyula Kardos,shared on Wikimedia Commons as a public domain work of art

We Are Terrible At Data Literacy. And this is now having a terrifying impact on world politics! Once again, education is touted as being the answer to this problem. But this is a slow way to deal with something that is happening now. I don’t know what a more direct solution is (but surely journalism should hold some accountability too) so I’m going to hide my head in the sand. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

New report on family engagement in public libraries. A project that investigated the ways in which public libraries engage with libraries. Some interesting implications for school libraries and the ways in which we engage with our communities. (Shared by Sally Pewhairangi on Twitter.)

Reading in 2016 – digital vs print, the ultimate smackdown! Yes! To all this, yes! Please let’s not have the either / or debate anymore. It should always be “and”; as Kay rightly says, with purpose, pedagogy and learning objectives driving choices. Thanks, Kay, for articulating so well what many of us in Libraryland think! (Shared by Helen Stower on Twitter.)

Research: Yes, Being Helpful Is Tiring. Possibly explains why I finished Term 3 so exhausted! I like that it has tips for those that ask for help, as well as those who are helpers. Now, I’m off for a restorative nap. (Shared by Tim Kong on Twitter.)