Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.
When first invited to the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam a number of emotions raced through my mind - excitement, anticipation, joy, curiosity, anxiety, and then, yes I admit it, fear. What would be expected at such as institute? Would I have to present something? What on Earth could I possibly contribute that would be new or interesting? Why me?
When you envision an educational institute about teaching and technology, you might imagine a room full of teachers being taught by a knowledgeable expert on how to best use a particular tool in the classroom. Well, I quickly realized that this is not what the ADE Institute would entail. Instead we were put into the role of 21st century students and formed an authentic learning community ~ coming together to collaborate and create. We were encouraged to leave our comfort zones and explore in unfamiliar ways; learning about each other, the tools we were using, our environment and ourselves throughout the experience. It’s not that easy to collaborate with people you do not know; to cooperate and let go of how you would plan to approach a task. The achievement or product that was created at the end of the day does not come close to capturing all that was learned. In fact, I believe it was the least important thing. When I transpose these feelings to what occurs in my classroom, I have a much greater appreciation of what my students encounter on a regular basis. I also have some pedagogical questions about my practice. How can I help students to capture what they have learned about themselves, about the nature of collaboration and cooperation? Am I doing enough to shift the emphasis away from the product and put it squarely on the process? How can I support student innovation and creation? Do I give them the freedom to learn? Do I give them the time to reflect on this process?
I now know that I need to become more focused as an educator. What do I believe? What is important? How will I share this with others? While I have gone through exercises that are similar, I’ve never been afforded so much time to really consider these questions in a guided and supported fashion. The idea of creating the ‘brand of me’ was intimidating at first; I’m a teacher not a PR person. Yet working through this process and developing a focus was an incredibly valuable experience. Sometimes as a teacher you feel a pressure to try so many things, it is easy to lose sight of what is important to you. I have reconnected with my values and passion and these will continue to drive the choices I make and the explorations I undertake.
I really had no idea I would (or could!) grow so much professionally in such a short period of time. What a privilege it was to be surrounded by innovative and articulate ADEs; all of them ‘out of the box’ thinkers who were passionate about learning and teaching. Every single person I met had a story to share and I came away richer from each encounter. And now to reflect upon the experience, it is difficult to know where to start. This institute was about learning, about making connections, about exploring what we do and who we are, but it was more than the sum of these parts; it was a call to action.
As an ADE I want to consider my next steps as an author, an advisor, an ambassador, and as an advocate. I feel more capable now to tackle my professional blog (yes - this one) and am making a commitment to its development. I am grateful that I will have a focus for this space and hope that through this continued reflection and connection with others I will become a more innovative educator. I feel more confident in my ability to share what I believe to be important or worthwhile and more at ease in celebrating my mistakes as learning. Thus liberated, I am committed to exploring how to facilitate a change from the traditional constructs of schools to places that foster creative thought, ethical reasoning and celebrate learning.
Lastly, I must thank the many people who made this incredible ADE Institute experience possible. Adrian and Melissa – your attention to detail and thoughtful approach to planning for our time in HCMC was amazing. From the venue, to the activities and even the restaurant choices made this a time to remember. To all of the members of the advisory board – your guidance and assurance were invaluable ~ letting me know that, I, too belonged here. To our keynote speakers, Rebecca Stokely, who created a team out of a group of strangers through her warmth and humour; Joseph Linaschke, whose stories and art have motivated me to try and make pictures for myself and with my students; and Chai Yee Wei, who made me see that anything is possible when you are focused and doing what you love. Lastly, to every member of the ADE class of 2011, thank you for your openness; sharing in your creativity and passion has been an inspiration.