During the holiday period I was fortunate enough to attend an Education Summit in Adelaide. I always find conferences inspirational and this one certainly was. This was a different sort of conference as it brought together the leadership of schools from across Australia and New Zealand that have been recognised as Apple Distinguished Schools. The conference was not at all about products, which we were all using in various configurations. The focus was clearly and coherently on our common interest of education / pedagogy.
One of the things I realise when I mix with other educators, leading change and innovation, is that there are some truly extraordinary people doing some truly exceptional things. These meetings and collaborative opportunities help to feed our vision. I often walk away realising that there is much, much more to do. This conference was no exception. Here assembled were many schools with mature dynamic 1:1 learning programs. Educators with clear vision and deep understanding of teaching and learning. They were representing schools whose teachers have been empowered through powerful professional learning commitments and where students are using technology as a natural part of their school life. The schools gathered were eclectic from across a wide spectrum of systems. This I think always enriches a conference because the models, challenges and solutions expressed are so diverse. There is always something new and unexpected and brilliant. There are perceptions and perspectives which always challenge our own narrow point of view.
Through a series of workshops, we explored Five Best Practices relating to visionary leadership, innovative learning & teaching, ongoing professional learning, compelling evidence of success and flexible learning environments. Each of the workshops encouraged us to look at ourselves objectively and to interact with the other educators. While we might consider that we are making great strides in integrating technology, taking this time to reflect and learn from the experience of others was really beneficial. It fed directly to vision and brings clarity to future planning. It was all about connection and self appraisal.
The Five Best Practices concept is really worth a close look. It extends on criteria going beyond the Distinguished classification, looking at how schools can aspire to achieve Exemplary and Transformative descriptions.
Clearly we are on a continuum and being able to better articulate where we are on that continuum is essential to future planning e.g. while we are integrating and creating impressive workflows are we creating truly authentic learning experiences? How can we become more focussed on providing personalised opportunities for our students? How can we do better in providing formative feedback to teachers? How can we reinvent our learning spaces to really match the needs of students?
Materials and resources were all provided efficiently via iTunes U and we were pointed towards many of the great resources being produced by educators and available in the iTunes U Library. Of course the evolution of iTunes U with 3.0 has revolutionised the possibilities as it is now possible to provide direct feedback to students. https://www.apple.com/au/education/ipad/itunes-u/
A great highlight, for me, was speaker Tim Jarvis who provided compelling insights into leadership in extreme circumstances. He spoke about Shackleton’s Expedition to the Antarctic and about his own expedition to retrace the impossible Shackleton journey. It certainly put our own struggles into perspective. Here I have to add that intertwined with this extraordinary tale was a deeper message about global warming and the subsequent environmental issues. Here is Challenge Based Learning in the extreme. You can learn more about Tim Jarvis’s journey here: http://www.timjarvis.org/speaking/video/
Another highlight speaker, educator Craig Smith, impressed with his passion and commitment to improving learning experiences of Autistic students. His creative use of technology to improve outcomes was inspired e.g. Using Minecraft to create digital representations.