Life-long learning: from theory to practice

Issue: Volume 94, Number 7

Posted: 4 May 2015
Reference #: 1H9cqy

Applications open in late April for the 2016 round of TeachNZ-administered teacher study awards. In the first article of a series, Education Gazette asks two secondary award recipients to tell us about the ways in which a study award helped them to become more effective educators.

The expression ‘teachers are learners at heart’ is one of the key tenets of modern education thinking, espousing the idea that as students grow into the world of their future, so should teachers continue to add to their knowledge of practice that can best help young people meet that future with confidence. Grabbing the chance to refresh your professional knowledge, take some time out to complete a qualification, take first steps toward a different curriculum area, or investigate a research theme of interest can be an invigorating and renewing experience, as our two profile teachers can attest.

Three types of assistance are available through TeachNZ, to help you toward your goals:

Study awards: provide paid study leave to complete part-time or full-time study in an educational priority area. The length of study leave awarded is based on your proposed study.

Sabbaticals: give teachers and principals the opportunity to spend three, five, or 10 weeks completing a professional learning activity, and a chance for reflection and rejuvenation.

Study support grants: are available to secondary and area school teachers and provide the opportunity to undertake study and/or research while continuing to teach. Each grant provides 0.16 time allowance (or approximately four hours a week) and a contribution of $500 towards your course fees.

These three categories of assistance break down into nearly 20 individual awards, tailored to meet common requirements of teachers intending to study.

Most types of teachers can apply, from senior managers to principals, teachers, and other ancillary staff such as guidance counsellors and reading tutors.

Pauline Cowens: Secondary Principals’ Sabbatical

A keen interest in leadership practice at a future-oriented school was the impetus for Pauline Cowens’ decision, as principal of Tauranga Girls’ College, to apply for a principal’s sabbatical.

The sabbatical was just the thing she needed to further explore this topic of interest and its practical application in a future-focused school environment.

The benefits gained from her sabbatical have gone well beyond the exploration of cutting-edge theory for Pauline. Aside from the learning she was exposed to in the field of digital learning, she says it was gratifying to receive affirmation of her practice from peers and tutors alike. The networking opportunities she experienced have strengthened her links to other principals, both from schools that she can immediately relate to, and from some that might have seemed quite different previously. The access to research she was able to get was also a significant component, says Pauline.

Pauline says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a sabbatical to anyone in the education profession. For her, the biggest reason is the opportunity to step back from the day-to-day detail and demands of her busy school, and look beyond to the big picture, something her busy lifestyle doesn’t afford her time to do.

“Absolutely, it’s a time to engage with big picture thinking, to network with others, and to consider your own school and your own practice from a distant lens. As a principal, I was able to consider the context of other schools, to both compare and contrast their experience with my own.

“Reflection time was a big thing for me; both on where I have come from in my time as principal, and to take stock of where I’m headed. I think also that my absence from school helped to strengthen others in coping without me, which builds capacity within senior and middle leadership.”

What advice do you have for teachers and principals applying for a 2016 sabbatical?

“Ask yourself: ‘which ‘big question’ bugs me the most?’ or ‘what is my school’s biggest future need?’ Consult on that with others within and outside your school, (including board of trustees, staff, and students), which becomes a useful exercise in itself.

“Do some online and other research on where and how you might answer that question. Aim for something that stretches your thinking and challenges your current practice.

“There is nothing that compares in professional learning with the impact of time out to network with other principals and school systems. Your absence from school will empower senior leadership to step up and have their own principal experience. You will return to a school where someone else has walked in your shoes, and that is an added bonus when implementing changes that your sabbatical inspires.”

Joan Atley: Secondary Teachers’ Study Award

Joan Atley received her second study award in 2014, after receiving a study support grant the previous year. Her principal suggested she look into the study award programme, so she could focus on completing her postgraduate Diploma in Education (Counselling and Guidance), and postgraduate Certificate in Education.

Joan says that after years of teaching and working with school students and schools she has developed a greater appreciation of the work that counsellors do in supporting student achievement during vulnerable periods in their lives. This awareness has influenced her desire to train in this area and, together with her teaching experience, support young people experiencing difficulties to realise their educational aspirations.

“It was lots of things really [that led to an interest in counselling.] Firstly, I’ve had some amazing experiences with a couple of people over the years, who’ve made a huge difference to my life.

“With the kids, it’s seeing how many of them are struggling and are in pain. Some of these young people just don’t really know what to do, and don’t always have the relationships with people in their own lives that can help. Often it’s just that the people in their lives who love them dearly just don’t know how to help.

“Our young people often act tough and cool, like nothing’s a problem, but teenagers are trying to find who they are and where they fit in the world. Sometimes they just need a bit of a hand to work it out for themselves.”

Joan did much work in counselling theory, particularly exploring such themes as culture in counselling, family and couples counselling, and understanding learners with behavioural difficulties. She has also completed two research papers.

Joan is working as a trainee guidance counsellor as part of her study, providing one-on-one and group support at Dunedin’s Bayfield High School.

Of the study awards and associated commitment Joan says: “Any major change in one’s life requires some time to reflect on the ramifications of our choices”, she says – “something the time away from school helped with. Professionally, this has opened up a whole new career, and given me an opportunity to challenge myself and fulfil a long-held dream of working in the counselling field.”

Joan is a great example of an experienced teacher who’s not afraid to embrace fantastic learning opportunities and further develop and grow her career in education through the study awards programme. With support from her school and the study awards, Joan has been able to design a clear learning pathway that began with her gaining postgraduate diploma qualifications with distinction, and she is now completing her master’s degree in counselling studies. Joan reports that she is excited by the prospect of making an even greater contribution to the educational success of young people who might just need that extra support once she completes her studies.

“Personally, it has led to an enormous growth of knowledge, understanding of myself, and a realisation of how much is possible if you commit yourself to a course of action, obtain good support and stay focused. The future is looking very positive,” Joan enthuses, and we wish her well in this next chapter of her journey.

What advice do you have for teachers looking at applying for a study award?

“I would absolutely recommend a study award to other teachers and principals. We are in the business of learning, and we advocate life-long learning.

“Role modelling that attitude by challenging ourselves has got to be a good idea. No matter what you study, you will learn and the process itself leads to growth. Any school will benefit from a staff member having study leave, because they will return with new knowledge, insights, enthusiasm and energy.

“If you have started a course of study, done well and want to continue, apply for an award. I was very doubtful about applying, thinking I wouldn’t meet the standard. However, I gained a study support grant in 2013, which gave me time away from class to study, then a full year’s study award in 2014. It has changed my life!

“These awards speak louder than any words of the commitment to education, learning, and the value of teachers to our society. They are generous and potentially life changing. If you are interested in developing your knowledge and abilities, applying is quite straightforward, and the benefits are enormous. Go for it!”

More information

More information about 2016 Study Awards, Sabbaticals and Study Support Grants(external link) is available.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:45 pm, 4 May 2015

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