Pedagogical speed

Issue: Volume 94, Number 16

Posted: 7 September 2015
Reference #: 1H9cuS

Schools within the Burnside Learning Community Cluster (BLCC) didn’t want their interactions to follow the traditional conference model, preferring to maximise their sharing time together rather than just passively absorb information from the lectern. This has led to what the BLCC calls ‘pedagogical speed dating’: short bursts of expertise sharing, meaning that everyone gets to give and take. BLCC teachers talk about their process in organising and executing the ‘unconference’, as well as some of the discussion that took place.

On Monday 6 July, St. Andrew’s College Prep School played host to 150 educators attending the Burnside Learning Community Cluster ‘unconference’. Unlike a regular conference, the purpose of these unconferences is to get educators together to talk, build relationships and share knowledge; recognising that successful collaboration between educators is the best kind of professional development (hence the ‘un’ part of unconference).

Pedagogical speed dating

During our 2014 unconference Michael Deaker coined the phrase ‘pedagogical speed dating’ to describe what we were doing. This is a great analogy for many of the activities of the day: educators shared their expertise and knowledge in short bursts with lots of colleagues, many of whom they had never previously met.

‘Pedagogical speed dating’ sessions are kept short at 45 minutes, meaning there’s many more different sessions in a day than we could otherwise squeeze in. That means that attendees can go to the sessions that interest them, and it means that we can cover a wider range of topics: more attendees are able to lead sessions, and share knowledge in whatever topic they have expertise in.

These sessions, while led to begin with, have a big open forum component. We do this to encourage sharing, as opposed to a regular conference in which one speaker is telling the audience what they think they need to know. There’s also the fact that by virtue of the number of sessions during a day, audiences are kept smaller: we’ve found that more people are keen to put their hand up and contribute when they’re part of a smaller group in which discussion is encouraged.

We also conduct our unconference according to our speed dating model so as not to overwhelm people: we don’t want to inundate an audience – many of whom are completely new to a particular topic – with more information than they can handle, and to walk away thinking, ‘where do I start?!’ We want people to go away and do their own digging, if they’ve been inspired, rather than force them to sit through something they’ve realised they’re ‘just not that into.’

Amanda Barrett, a teacher at St. Patricks School, sums up:

“In 2014, I led a blogging session, which I know a lot about, and went straight from there to a Google Docs session. I was able to share what I know, and then build on that and get related tools 45 minutes later!”

Freedom to choose

Funded by the Ministry of Education (utilising the Joint School Initiative Funding (JSIF) and the innovation funding component of the Greater Christchurch Education Renewal Programme (GCERP), our annual unconferences are organised by a small team from various schools in the Burnside cluster, facilitated by cluster coordinator Paul Sibson. The organisation process begins by canvassing schools in the cluster and brainstorming with colleagues on themes they are interested in, sessions they would like to lead or contribute to, and current workplace issues. A website is then created, and people are able to log in and view the various sessions, creating their own relevant timetable for the day. This way participants can make the most of their precious time, choosing sessions that will benefit them. As an educator, it’s a great feeling knowing you have a forum to share your strengths and experience, as well as being able to ask others for advice and help, taking away ideas and resources.

Those attending BLCC unconferences enjoy the freedom of being able to choose sessions that are relevant and interesting to their teaching careers. For example, at this year’s unconference, many appreciated the chance to see a modern learning environment in action, as demonstrated and discussed by staff from St. Andrew’s College.

Breaking the mould

While we do try to break the traditional conference mould where possible, we do still enjoy listening to key note speakers share their expertise. First up this year was Cheryl Doig, a ‘leadership futurist’, who is involved with the United Nations’ strategic plan for international schools. In her speech Cheryl talked about the vastly different post-school world facing students today. To illustrate this idea, she told the gathering that in October 2015 there will be an office block built in Dubai entirely by 3D printer. This method of construction will make for considerable savings in materials and time, and seems likely to become the future of construction; meaning that an entire employment field is destined to change drastically, with as yet undreamed-of roles becoming important.

Cheryl made the point that we all know that the world is changing, so we need to think about what exactly we should be preparing our children for. How we work is changing rapidly, so how we educate needs to change as well. It’s not about the institution, but how we conduct our lives as educators.

Cheryl talked about future-focused learning, and how we must be open to retaining the values and experience of our past, while at the same time embracing change. She spoke of the need to be strong as educators and keep looking outwards in how we keep up with what’s happening in education and employment around the world, which will help to push our schools and our teachers forward. As educators we have to be continually looking out for signals and trends, balancing the past and future with the immediate needs of our students. Participants at Cheryl’s session were challenged to think about what they could take away from our conference that could encourage an atmosphere of lifelong learning at our schools.

Discussion abounds

There were more than 50 different sessions throughout the day, with many specialists leading discussion, including:

  • Dorothy Wilson (Ministry of Education) talking about ‘universal design for learning’.
  • Gaylene Price (ESOL/literacy advisor) talking about ‘creating a pathway of progress for priority learners in writing’.
  • Speakers from EAP Services talking about ‘building resilience to stress and work/life balance’.
  • RTLBs (Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour) talking about ‘accessing support for students with special needs, dyslexia and dyspraxia’.
  • Some amazing students from Fendalton School and St. Andrew’s College gave the adults a technology lesson.
  • Occupational therapist Justine Aldous, talking about ‘sensory integration in the classroom’.
  • Special educators from Allenvale School, sharing advice and guidance around Positive Behaviour Support(external link) and Supporting Students with Special Learning Needs(external link)
  • A member of the Canterbury Deaf Society ran sessions on basic New Zealand Sign Language.
  • Gary Endacott, Attitude People’s Choice Award winner of 2013, spoke about the ways we can support young people with disabilities.
  • Teachers, RTLBs, teacher aides and support staff made the most of our unconference day, popping in and out of various sessions, learning and contributing as they went along—a colleague mentioned she was impressed by so many teachers wanting to improve themselves for the sake of the children they teach. The mixing of teachers from all levels of education and the high level of professionalism and expertise on show was really encouraging.

Rosie Sorensen from St. Patrick’s School, Byndwr, commented that she found the RTLB session on dyslexia very informative and came away with some great resources to use in class. The Growth Mindset session was also popular, containing some excellent follow-up from a previous professional development seminar held in Christchurch earlier on this year.

Another well-attended session focused on something that’s certainly being talked about in education a lot in this country at the moment: the all-important transition from early learning to primary school. Nineteen teachers from three schools and four early childhood centres participated in this group discussion.

The general consensus was that early childhood education (ECE) centres and schools need – and want – to build close, two-way relationships. ECE centres need new entrant teachers to visit their future students, and experience their early childhood environment, making connections with the children they will soon be teaching. There are, of course, existing transition programmes out there, which are about building great working relationships between all parties. St. Andrew’s College shared details of their great seven-week transition programme, which involves seven ECE visits.

Universal feedback from participants seemed to be that everyone got a lot out of the BLCC unconference, and enjoyed making new connections with others in the same field. The Burnside Learning Community Cluster is an amazing group, achieving things as a collective for the benefit of all our staff and students. We aim to hold another successful unconference in 2016.

To view the keynote speech(external link)

BY BLCC team
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Posted: 9:17 PM, 7 September 2015

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