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#EC17 - Be bold.

Imagine you’re head-down, legs-up, knees-deep into turbulent Term 3, and you’ve been invited to zoom interstate to this enticingly mysterious event called EduChange.

You find out that there’ll be speakers from around the world (more importantly, Australia) - from Finland to San Diego, to Brisbane, and a bunch of places in between - some of the frontrunners of innovation in Education will be gathering in the one spot for an epic free two-day event.

You take a breath, visualise a quick montage of the term that’s just been, and realise that there’s no better way to make sense of what you’ve done and what you’re keen to achieve than to immerse yourself in some prime education-centred collective brain power.

Naturally, I said yes!

Here’s a run-down of my journey (because EC isn’t a conference, it’s about curating your own learning journey) over the two days:

Day 1

I pulled up to the stunning Royal Exhibition Centre, and glanced over the food trucks parked out front and what seemed like a conveniently-placed acoustic-guitar-playing busker pleasantly strumming away beside the grand entrance. I thought, this is: a) not your regular teachers conference, b) not going to be two days of me mostly sitting and listening to someone, and c) going to be interesting to navigate through the buzz words and pretty shiny things that come with the latest “education solutions”.

The day started off with great energy and acknowledgement of country from Selena Uibo, an ex-teacher from the Northern Territory who fostered change at a local level by starting an op-shop called Second Chance with her students and community at her school in Numbulwar to raise funds that the government weren’t providing. What better message to start this event dedicated to making waves in Education at a time when progressive and innovative approaches are so often met with resistance, than this:
Just as I was keen to hear more about how Selena overcame these obstacles, and her journey to now becoming a Labor MP in the Arnhem electorate, her time was up! Luckily you can read a bit more about her change-making journey here.

At EduChange, all the speakers are given 10 minutes on the Main Stage to speak about their “passion project” and how they came to achieve it. Which doesn’t seem that long at all, but made for a delightful flow of different personalities, goals and experiences on stage, with just the right amount of information and inspiration. If you wanted to find out more, you could find that person at a smaller, more interactive session at some point later in the day.

The call for determination and action in the name of change continued to ramp up with the passionate Principal Peter Hutton from Tempelstowe College. The school was seen as “basket case on the verge of closing” until Peter, his students and his team began tackling key underlying problems honestly and head-on. Their focus on becoming experts in personalised learning has resulted in giving students 100% control over their learning experience from over 150 electives.

A few of my favourite points of his were:

  • The issue in our schools isn’t our teachers, but the system that teachers are going into
  • These problems aren’t going to be solved by throwing money or technology at them
  • We need to prepare students for the future and give them opportunities to develop self-management skills
  • With reference to the Melbourne Declaration, 2008: How are we tracking with these goals? Particularly, that “successful learners [should be able to] develop their capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning.
  • Education doesn’t need reform, it needs a revolution

Where to next? After seeing the change-making power of student and teacher voice, Peter is now calling everyone aboard the Education Revolution to empower schools around Australia. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in knowing more about or contributing to, click here.

Next speaker, JP Cleary, from the NT Learning Commission and Casuarina Public School, shared his experiences from leading system-wide innovations through amplifying his students’ voices and taking on “real time student feedback” to meet issues like absenteeism and disengagement head on. My favourite quote:" My students know more about their learning than I do."

JP’s approach has uniquely highlighted the power of co-designing learning. And what does that mean? Considering that students know more about their learning, JP and his team curated learning experiences where students collected and presented their own data. This approach led to greater ownership of learning, and motivation for finding learning solutions, one of which was a primary to high school transition program created by students for students. Read/hear more about JP’s journey here.

Natalie See and her team at Hilltop Road Public School are champions of community and parent engagement in their student’s learning. They’ve broken down the unspoken barriers between parents and the classroom, and have embraced the impact that parents’ learning has on that of their children. One fantastic initiative among many to come from this focus is the school’s Ready, Set, Go program which support parents and children as they transition into school life.

It’s a genuine and beautiful acknowledgement of the trials that parents and children face as they transition into the structure of formal schooling. Aside from this, the school also focuses on community engagement, a home reading program and adult learning, all of which has a direct impact on students’ learning, motivation and their understanding of community and purpose.

After finally being able to pry myself away from the incredible speakers at the Main Stage, I headed over to the ACTIVATE sessions. These are 20-30 minute workshops with over 40 teachers sharing stories or exhibitors sharing ideas/demoing products. They also happen to be divided up by these fantastic recyclable cardboard dividers/mini amphitheatres!

Amongst the ACTIVATE sessions was Schoolhouse's Brett Rolfe, who was showing in real time what it looks like to tap into the collective genius at EC. At his Curriculum Hack, he took ideas from our PEN members and visitors on FB and Twitter (@schoolhouse_au & @ProgEduNet) for a wonderful, thrilling and intriguing interdisciplinary unit/project/inquiry question etc. for Year 7-10 students, got everyone at EC to jump in and make it grow like crazy, then mapped out the design process for turning these fantastic, whacky ideas into actual plans for the classroom. Download the fruits of everyone's brain power here!

Back to the Main Stage at the end of the day, I missed out on a few speakers that I was hoping to see like Laura McBain from High Tech High, but still got to hear great talks/interviews from Lyndon Galea (EatUp), Lucy Clark (Author of Beautiful Failures - encouraging schools to rethink success and the pressures we place on students - Favourite quote: “We need to stop teaching kids how to cope with pressure and instead, work on reducing the pressure”), and Marcus Veerman (Playground Ideas).

My final favourite session of the day, that I only managed to catch the last bits of, was Georgie Green at the Little Scientists space. Georgie is a science teacher and she's extremely passionate about engaging all students, especially girls, in STEM. She received a grant from Education Changemakers to create science program in partnership with Ballarat Environment Network, called Blue Devils, after an indigenous plant growing in town. Read more about Georgie’s great work here.

Day 2

With a coffee and/or bircher muesli in hand, the teachers flocked back to the Main Stage to kick off the last day of speakers and workshops!

First up was Lasse Leponiemi from HundrED, a Finnish organisation whose mission is to help the best innovations in Education spread around the world. Last year, they sought out the best 100 innovations from Finland, and this year they’re searching around the globe. Next week, on October 4, they’ll be revealing their map of top 100 innovations, along with more detailed information about implementing them, here.

Lasse also gave us an overview of Finland’s approach to understanding progressive and innovative practices in Education through ‘The Diamond’, which appears to have been updated since this talk last year. There’s a stronger emphasis on leadership as being the catalyst for change, not just principals as leaders, but teachers as leaders as well.

Next up were LaTrobe Valley Flexible Learning, who’ve made a world of difference for secondary students who’ve fallen out of the mainstream education system. LaTrobe helps students reintegrate into available education options through personalised learning plans with one-on-one mentorship from nearby colleges and community groups. Read more about their transformation here.

Stephy Salazar, founder of #PSTchat, shared her experiences of challenging the restrictive and sometimes dismissive attitudes that teachers often face at the start of their career. She saw the need for a strong network to support these teachers, and started the #PSTchat on Twitter for pre-service and beginning teachers. Her message is, “I’ll always have your back.” From watching her connect with her #newteachertribe today, which collaboratively created their mission statement and actions to support new teachers, you can see that she genuinely means it.

The following speaker, Steve Brophy, is quite the technology and learning extraordinaire. He’s the Director of ICT & eLearning at Ivanhoe Grammar School, was awarded Outstanding Leader of the Year from Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria this year, and in line with his advocacy for student leadership and digital learning, his and his Year 7 students used 3D printers to make prosthetics for those in need. Read more about this fantastic feat of innovation here. Check out his talk on the EduChange podcast, as well as the Design&Play podcast which he co-hosts.

Kate Barbat, from Ravenswood School for Girls, was next on stage to demonstrate how innovation can start from somewhere as small as the palm of your hand. She noticed that the students at her school were spending recess and lunchtimes engrossed with their hand-held devices, with headphones in, barely interacting with each other. Instead of doing the traditional thing, and nagging at the girls, she made a short movie of her observations during break time. Kate worked with the kids to find a solution to get them to embrace the time outdoors, allow themselves to be immersed in unstructured play and foster important real time connections with their peers. With that, Kate created Look Up Lunchtime.

By this point, it was safe to say that I was going to spend most of my day just rooted to the Main Stage and around the Campfire listening to more of these fascinating, practical stories of real change in education.

The next person on stage was Justin Matthys, Chief Nerd (great name!) at Maths Pathway, personally one of my favourite groups at EduChange. Justin took us through his exasperation at how Maths is currently being taught. He walked with us through the pain we’ve of all felt when being told that “reporting is the single most important element in education”. He frankly pointed out the problematic system of prioritising reporting and assessment above actual learning. It’s from here that Justin and Maths Pathway are working to flip the system and ensure that students come first. Read more about the journey here.

One of the most beautiful moments of the two days was when Ashanti Branch from the Ever Forward Club shared the stories behind his documentary The Mask You Live In. Ashanti works with underserved and at-risk young men of colour to overcome deep-seated emotional and social issues which hinder their ability to engage with learning. Through the Ever Forward Club, students identify and reconcile the differences between characteristics they publicly present and what lies behind “the mask”. Read more about Ashanti’s crucial work, and how you can participate in the #100kMasks Challenge here.

I took the rest of the day to wander through the Edupreneur space, chatting to and trying to destroy wooden towers with balloons and liquid nitrogen with the fabulous people (including Holly Kershaw) from Fizzics, and having a gander at some intriguing education solutions on show.

By the end of the two days, I certainly didn’t get to listen to or check out everyone/everything that I had intended to (including the people from Music Industry College) but thankfully, the wonderful EduChangemakers will be making all the keynotes from the two days available on their podcast for free. Check it out here! For more on Education Changemakers and their dedication to teacher-led innovation, click here.

Back home in Sydney, my brain is still buzzing from all the information and inspiration of EduChange. If there’s one simple message I took with me to bring back to the classroom, it’s: Be bold.

Want to know more about EC17? Were you at EC17 and wanted to share your highlights? Drop us a line!

Mae Tadena

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