I recently returned from a truly wonderful trip to the uLead Summit of Education Leadership in the beautiful town of Banff, Canada. This annual event is one of the highest rated education leadership conferences in the world and it was my privilege both to attend and to present a workshop to delegates (I spoke on the topic of building relational competence in a school amongst staff and how this can impact student outcomes).
Some of the top minds in education research and leadership presented keynote addresses and there was opportunity to attend workshops presented by school leaders and researchers from all over the world.
This was an incredible opportunity to learn from the latest research and thinking in education. I was certainly not disappointed! Each keynote speaker’s address contained enough information to keep delegates busy for hours in discussion and debate. What made this event even more worthwhile was the deliberate setting out of the plenary venue with round tables. Each keynote speaker incorporated time for discussion into the presentation which gave us time to hear others’ opinions, insights and learning. The new professional friendships are an invaluable part of growing in our practice and thought-leadership.
Twitter was also a key part of the conference experience. For many years Twitter has been the go-to social channel for education conferences and has certainly become a major source of resources, links and ideas for my professional learning. The hashtag for the conference was #ulead16 and delegates were reminded regularly to add to the repository of tweets as the conference continued. I believe that most South African teachers and principals simply do not know the power of this online tool in their professional learning – what a pity!
Two key themes emerged from the keynote speakers:
- Teachers worldwide are under increasing pressure brought on through the forced implementation of government policies, the breakdown of families, increasing expectations from parents as well as increased emotional trauma and mental illness in children.
- Teachers need to be engaged in ongoing professional development and in redesigning the learning experience for their pupils if they are to meet the changing needs of our pupils.
A highlight for me was meeting Dr William Rankin, Director of Learning at Apple Inc. at an unscheduled dinner. He was pleased to hear about our iPad 1:1 initiative and wanted to know more about our implementation. As the person responsible for the world’s first Apple 1:1 school initiative, he was certainly someone whose opinion I was interested in! I was very pleased to have his endorsement of our strategy and to hear that many of the hurdles we have faced are common throughout the world and that we have approached these with best practice. He has invited me to contact him with any further questions as we continue integrating iPads into our pupils’ learning experiences.
Two ministers of education were also present. Mr David Eggen, Minister of Education for Alberta, Canada and Mr Adrian Piccoli, Minister of Education for New South Wales, Australia were part of a panel discussing education reform. These two gentlemen were most impressive in both their understanding of the reality of education in their contexts but also in their understanding of the reality of teaching as a profession. They showed respect for the professionalism of teachers and were brutally honest about the shortcomings of governments, including their own, to deal with an ever-changing education landscape. They also showed a deep understanding of research into learning and teacher professional development. Those teachers and schools working under the leadership of these gentlemen are indeed fortunate.
Spending time with high calibre education leaders and the opportunity to explore the magnificent Canadian Rockies surrounding Banff was food for my soul – both professionally and personally. I have come back more determined than ever to ensure that Elkanah House Primary School continues on the path we have set to become a truly world-class school which provides dynamic, focused and effective learning experiences for our pupils. This will require some assumptions about education to be set aside by both parents and teachers. It will need focus, determination and a clear vision. All of this falls beautifully in line with the broader vision for Elkanah House as a community of learning from the first day in preschool until the final day for our Grade 12s.
We live in an exciting but challenging time for education. The temptation is simply to let school continue as it is. We are, after all, offering a great education to our pupils. However we will slide down the slope of mediocrity and inefficacy if we do not continue to learn and implement this learning in our classrooms. Our school is committed to continuing to develop our teachers and classroom practice for better learning outcomes. What an exciting place to be!
Resource: A compilation of some of the hundred of tweets from the conference – arranged by keynote speaker (also includes a book list) –
written by: Arthur Preston