Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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Which Way Next?

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Weeman working out which way in Whinlatter. 

As hiring season begins for international schools, it is really starting to sink in that this will be our seventh and final year at CA and in Japan.

This conversation is happening all over the world right now as international educators decide if they will renew their contracts or stay on longer. In our cross-culture family, the search for a new adventure it is part of our DNA.

It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

We really love Japan and all it has to offer families. The school is great and I’m proud of being a small part of its journey in recent years.

There’s so much we’ll miss, but the timing feels right as a family and professionally. At the crossroads between admin and the classroom, I can see paths heading in different directions.

So which way next? 


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Bath MA International Education: A Review

This year I successfully completed my MA Education (International Education) programme through the University of Bath. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to others in international schools, and I’ll be back in the summer for graduation. Here’s a wee review. 

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Why Bath? 

In 2011, after eight years in Indonesia and on the way to Japan, I decided to study further. I felt I had enough practical experience to be starting to dig into academics and although my PGCE from Exeter had MA credit, this had timed-out and it was back to the start. I was looking for a well-regarded UK programme that would be challenging and rewarding and was intrigued by the development of the IB Teacher Award. I wanted “International Education” in the title of my Masters degree, wanted somewhere within reach of home and was drawn to the department as a particularly strong example of international education research. I definitely made the right choices.

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Overview & Pacing

With five ‘taught’ units (30 credits, 5,000 word assignment) and one dissertation (15,000 words), and a time limit of five years, you can work at a reasonable pace alongside real life*. As I was completing the programme for personal and professional learning (and not for external forces), I took the full time allowed. This gave me time to think, process and make good use of the library for research and for professional uses. I found that I was most effective when blocking out periods of time for research and writing, rather than trying to do a little each week – with work and family this would have split my mind too many ways to be efficient.

*The last five years have included: moving countries, significantly changing roles, taking on a bit too much, family (I started when my kids were 4 and a newborn) and travel. I rarely felt over-stressed by the MA, though there were some crunch times. 

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My Units

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My weekend view.

I liked the balance provided by these options. As a new returnee to academic writing, I opted for the familiar Assessment as a first unit, though in hindsight it limited my choices later in the programme; I would also have liked to take Leading and Managing Educational Innovation for my role, and probably should have started with EIC to set the foundation for the pathway. Where my first assignments (Assesssment, Curriculum) were concerned with MYP: Next Chapter developments (pre-2014), ULL gave me a great focus on inquiry and the rest (EIC, RME, Dissertation) formed a thread on what it means to be an international school. The flexibility of the programme allowed for clear personal coherence.

Essential Units: Research Methods in Education, Dissertation

Int. Ed.  Pathway Essential Unit: Education in an International Context

Core Units: Understanding Learners & Learning

Optional Units:  Curriculum Studies, Assessment

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Teaching & Assessment Model

I can’t stand the required-participation model of some online courses, where you have to log on frequently and ‘contribute’ your comment to a discussion board and where grading tends towards compliance over quality. I much preferred the Bath MA model, with a good set of resources provided on the course Moodle and Wiki pages, some assignment prompts to get you going and then six months to produce a well-researched piece of writing. For most of the units, I negotiated a research question of personal interest with my tutor, providing motivation to power through and produce something of worth. Tutors provide decent feedback on a draft of your work and tend to be very personable and supportive. I did like the academic rigour of the assessment rubric, and once I tuned into what was required, I found the research to be stimulating and the writing enjoyable. Though I can see where the assessment bands describe success, I’ll still never fully understand where the percentages come from – but I think this is a university-wide system rather than the Department of Education. It certainly made for some lively discussion on the last day of the Assessment summer school ;>

Although I was initially drawn to the IB Teacher Award** element of the programme, I abandoned this as I found that their reflective questions pulled my writing in a more personal descriptive direction that seemed at odds with the critical analysis of theory and literature required by the higher-level assessment descriptors, and I simply struggled to get both done in 5,000 words. I might revisit the IBTA if a portfolio model becomes available.

**Now the IB Educator Certificate

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Summer Schools

Summer 2011, between Indonesia and Japan, I attended summer school for my first unit, Assessment. I’m super-glad I did as a way to get to know other students, faculty and the beautiful city of Bath. Fresh off the train at Bath Spa, I was looking for the bus to the university when I overheard an obvious reunion of classmates at Pizza Express. We’re still friends. Attendees at the summer schools come from all types of schools, but it was great to bond with others in similar positions and with diverse interests. The taught course at summer school gives a good foundation for the unit and a head-start on the assignment. In two subsequent summers, I attended the university for a week during summer school, but did not register for the class – instead I used the time to research in the library, write and get tutor support. For me, this was the ideal balance as I needed to make the most of time away from family with significant headway on the assignment.

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Faculty

If you read anything about international education, you will soon enough come across the Department of Education at the University of Bath: it is a brains trust of international education researchers and publications, and being able to work with and get feedback from them was a huge draw. To a person, from tutors to support staff, the Department are lovely, supportive and highly knowledgable. I really feel like my learning has been enhanced by their expertise and support, and I hope to keep contact with them in the future.

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Advice

If you’re keen, go for it. There are times when I overthought the task at hand and wished I’d got stuck in sooner. I found it helped to protect time from family and work (weekends or holidays), rather than try to do it during work weeks. “Tune in” to sample dissertations through the MA wiki. Keep in contact with your tutor and get drafts in early. Go old-school and print the important articles; it helps to highlight, annotate and gave me valuable time in the sun, off the screens. Write on issues of personal significance – the motivation helps, and I loved being able to connect a thread between assignments and the dissertation. Attend a couple of summer sessions, if only to meet people, use the library and feel like a student again. Write, write, write, then cut, cut, cut; writing to reach the word limit will tend towards fluff, but cutting words makes the writing more focused. Use a citation manager with discipline – my favourite by a mile is Paperpile for GoogleDocs.

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Personal Reflections

I’m sad that this is over and am really missing the library access, but to be honest I’m not missing the added load. Life and work are beyond busy right now, and it’s great to be done. There’s not much I’d have done differently, except maybe rearrange some units. Had it been available (and had I been able to afford the time and loss of income), I’d have loved to take the new pathway in International Education and Globalisation. Although I would love to continue to the doctorate level, I’m not sure that now is the right time as my kids are growing up way too fast. I’m certainly not keen on paying for it, but might keep my eyes open for future opportunities. The research has been useful in my professional roles and I am happy to have had some work published in IS Magazine as a result of the assignments.

Thank-you to the Department of Education at the University of Bath, in particular to Mary, Elisabeth and Kath for being awesome. I am looking forward to seeing friends and tutors again at graduation in the summer and of course visiting beautiful Bath one more time… this time with my family.

 


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Aspiring to the Life we Live (or, Why we only post the good stuff)

I quite like social media. I like sharing photos on Flickr and moments on Instagram. I like sharing learning on my blogs and Twitter and family stuff on Facebook. I like the little connections (and reconnections) that come out of a comment or a “hey we’ve been there too” coincidence. My media are journals for different audiences, though mostly for myself.

But I tend to only share the good stuff.

Because when days are long, work piles up, patience frays and bodies fail, it’s reassuring to see what we’re working towards and who we’re doing it for. To me, it’s like a protective mental health strategy; being prone to worrying and anxiety, my timeline is a reflection on the positive, a force to push the stresses or concerns from valuable mindspace.

Of course, it didn’t (or did?) help when I read that we only have 940 weekends with our kids. Time and childhoods pass so quickly. Finding the balance between building a good life for our kids and enjoying it with them is tough. When I look back on these years, I don’t want to see voids of time where “Daddy was too busy to…“. So I’ll take the snaps and share the smiles.

The images of the good times will survive the fog of the slog.

 


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Live Fully Now

I included this short clip, built on a short piece of a talk by philosopher Alan Watts, in my #GAFESummit session, Ready, Steady, Flow. There was some quiet contemplation (expected) and some tears (unexpected).

It had been doing the rounds on Twitter, and I felt it captured some of my feelings about education and the anxiety we can face as we “get them ready for XYZ.” It becomes all too easy to suck the joy out of learning, to focus on the grades, to get caught on the treadmill. We risk losing our creativity and spark in the process.

At the same time, we hear so much about ‘shift happens‘ and educating students for the future, for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ and trying to play crystal-balls about what knowledge and skills the big innovators want in their workforce. We can’t do that; we’re probably wasting our time if we try. But we can educate the kids we have now, with the knowledge we have now, the tools and research that we have now so that they’ll become “better” people nowand for the future.

What if, by making all of us love learning now, we can make our students balanced, motivated inquirers ready for what the future throws at them?

There’s a name for that job.

Teachers. 

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As a parent I watch it and worry – am I making the most of my own kids’ childhoods? Am I helping make memories that they will love? Am I living in the ‘now’ with them? Do I have the right career-life balance?

I’ve seen this video many times. Each time it gets me.


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The Dropped Knee

When I realised that I was dropping my knee on the pop-up, I was mortified.

Anya charging

Anya charging

Becoming an occasional surfer, a weekend warrior (at best), I had lost fitness and skill. We were on a family surf break; Anya was getting lessons from a pro, I was trying to get some waves. I was trying out long-boarding for the first time, expecting it to be easy, but finding that some bad habits had formed. They were hard to undo. I was taking advantage of the forgiving nature of the bigger board with a sloppier technique, when what I really needed was to drop weight, build fitness and be more disciplined in practice. It was like being a beginner again, getting some rides, moving forwards, but nowhere close to my potential.

It would have been easy to carry on as it was. So many of us do.

Getting my stoke back.

Getting my stoke back.

I took Anya’s shorter board in tiny surf, knowing that I’d get no decent rides. There was no forgiveness in the rockier stick, no way to cover up for poor technique. I had to pop-up properly and stay up – then get immediately get off again and paddle back out. For an hour or more I looked like a kook, playing on a board that was too small for the conditions and falling over again and again. When I did make it, a local instructor gave me the thumbs-up, thinking I was a true beginner. Embarrassing.

The next day, I took the longboard back out the main reef. By going back to basics, being critical of my own technique and swallowing my pride I had made some important improvements. By the time tide dropped, my arms were tired, my neck was stiff, but I had my stoke back. Then it was time to go home.

I think now I’m a longboard convert, my shortboard days behind. Roll on the spring.

Daddy & Daughter

Daddy & Daughter

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A different type of drop-knee, this one beautiful. 

These two clips, from the McTavish “Dedicated to the Craft” series are really lovely. The first, a profile of Byron Bay legend Ray Gleave, showing off real grace and a lovely drop-knee cutback, is a personal motivation. If life is like that in 21 years, I’ll be happy. The second showcases a young boy and his older sister: their relationship with each other and the ocean something I hope for in my own kids.

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Finally, here’s our surf break video. Anya’s still rocking, and Happy Surfing Okinawa was brilliant.