Festivals of Education: a legacy of conversation

Issue: Volume 93, Number 7

Posted: 5 May 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctP

The aim of the recent Festivals of Education, held in late March this year, was to provide an opportunity for the education profession and communities to come together in celebration and conversation. Two of the Festivals’ key organisers say the reality exceeded their expectations.

Across the three separate Festivals of Education in our main centres – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – approximately 30,000 people attended, including an enviable roster of international guest speakers, panel members, Kiwi educators, performers, parents and other members of the public.

Chris Sullivan of Cognition Education was responsible for the overall organisation of the Festivals, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. He says that the events were never intended to be a one-off education expo: one of the goals of the project was to prompt a conversation of celebration around the great things happening in education, and to ensure that the resulting collaborations and connections continue to be nurtured now that all the fuss has died down.

Planning the Festivals around the themes of Collaboration, Innovation, Celebration, and Cohesion provided an opportunity to look for, find, and share the excellent things that are going on within education in New Zealand. There is a section on the Festival website called ‘Festival Stories’ that helps to demonstrate examples of excellence and foster conversations within the profession and the wider community.

“Taken all together, what that [the outstanding attendance] means to me is there is an appetite for a positive and affirming discussion about education and the difference it makes to young people. It also demonstrates that there is a space for the public sector, the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the philanthropic sector to come together and to collaborate, to seek common solutions, and to unite around common causes. That was the most pleasing thing for me.”

The Festivals brought the education profession and the community together where they could see and explore a range of education possibilities in meaningful ways to that community. Part of that meant having a different focus in each of the three locations – such as export education and youth in Auckland, rebuild and revitalisation in Christchurch and the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Wellington. Each Festival covered aspects of education in all age brackets, from ECE through schooling, to tertiary, and on to post-education and career possibilities.

The Festivals also provided an opportunity to showcase the very best of New Zealand education excellence to delegations from countries attending the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. The Ministry of Education worked in partnership with Cognition Education on the outcomes of the Festivals. They also participated in them, along with Education Agencies, to provide an interactive view of the New Zealand education system to Festival attendees.

Barbara Ala’alatoa, principal at Sylvia Park School, was a key organiser of the Festivals programme. She says that although she considers the events to be an unqualified success, she sees them as merely a glimmer of what can be achieved in terms of showcasing quality education practice. She says also that it’s particularly pleasing that all areas of the profession were represented strongly, which complemented a great showing from members of the public.

“We had a series of chat rooms that we hosted, with each involving panel discussion. Throughout all of these, we had a real cross-section of people from the community and the profession. It’s been interesting for us to see how some of these networks are being created through this kind of semi-formal discussion – and to think how this would relate to the development of communities of practice, for example.

“It’s great to see people in the profession and outside it connecting in ways that are a bit different. For example, it was fantastic to be able to involve the public in the chat room sessions. One of the goals was getting everybody talking about education - because of course education is everyone’s right and responsibility.”

Though Chris and Barbara had high expectations, both were pleasantly surprised at the level of buy-in from so many who gave their time and effort to make it a success. A highlight for Chris overall was the quality of commitment from the teachers and school leaders who made sure that the public and other members of the profession were treated to some spectacular cultural performances.

“The extent to which teachers and school leaders voluntarily gave of their time and their energy to participate in the day was a highlight. So many schools helped make the Festivals successful; whether it was leading a session or organising their performance group, or just bringing their class down for the day. The private sector got involved as well, and it’s great to realise that those companies who gave generously see education as something that we all need to contribute to.”

When asked to give an example of this cross-community collaboration that particularly impressed him, Chris points to the public Pasifika art project. Five schools volunteered their time, their teachers, and their students to create a massive collaborative art installation, led by some of New Zealand’s leading artists who gave their time and mentorship. Several private companies got involved in donating things like paint and other resources.

The range and professionalism of the cultural performances were a highlight for Barbara.

“All of the performances I saw would be completely at home on any stage. It’s hard to point to highlights without diminishing the other groups, but I was really blown away by ‘Kahurangi’, the Auckland Girls Grammar kapa haka group and St Paul’s Samoan group. There were flash mobs from Year 1 Auckland University dance students and marimba groups from Target Road and Mairangi Bay primary schools. The level of professionalism really amazed me.”

Education is also about making sure that as a profession we stay focused on providing the best possible future for our young people. Making sure we continually challenge assumptions and avoid resting on success formed part of the basis of a confronting talk by our very own John Hattie, outspoken academic and commentator. Barbara says the talk was typically Hattie-esque in its challenge to educators.

“He talked about the politics of distraction; his message was very clear, about what we’re all in education for. He encouraged everybody to try to stay clear about what makes a difference in education. He pulled absolutely no punches when members of the audience raised objections to his line of reasoning! Lots of the symposiums were challenging, it wasn’t just ‘look how amazing we are’,” Barbara says.

In the end, says Barbara, the Festivals could not be called a success unless the conversations that were kicked off over the weekend continued – and continued with the community and not just among teachers.

“For example, we convened a youth summit in Auckland on the Friday, and about 290 students took part, representing approximately 20 schools. The young people formed teams, and have taken on ideas and questions for projects that they’re going to pursue. Some great stuff came out of youth summit discussions – for example, one group is going back to their school to put forward a case for teaching te reo Māori within their learning community.

“These young people have been given tools and mentors to work with to help them achieve the things they’re passionate about. The whole point of the Festivals of Education was to start conversations, and we want to make sure that the legacy of these Festivals continues.”

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:12 AM, 5 May 2014

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