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Karen Spencer Keynote: Beyond the echo chamber: The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession

Submitted by tessa.gray@core... on Mon, 2016-10-10 09:28

Karen Spencer

Karen Spencer keynote: Beyond the echo chamber: The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession (Transforming professional practice / Te panoni i te mahi kia angitu)

Karen set the scene by acknowledging the power of collegial sharing and networking online and off, at uLearn16. She then challenged us to think so what now? What will we do when we go back to school?  Some initial ideas tying together understandings about professional learning in 2016 and beyond included:

  • Praxis – the space between theory, research, evidence and effective practice - a space we all work in. Karen illustrated this with imagery of weaving the aho and whenu together.
  • Being an educator today is to yearn to be a better educator than we were last week – getting better at what we do is part of our DNA. Professional learning is not an extra thing on the plate, it is the plate. 
  • Professional learning today is around grassroots, community driven, school-based professional learning driven by ourselves. Hearing other people’s stories is increasingly important. Karen asks, is the keynote is dead?
  • It all comes down to us. What has emerged from John Hattie’s latest collated research (effect sized data) is a new number #1. The greatest influence is us and teacher beliefs.

Karen teacher beliefs

Networked learning where anyone can connect and share ideas with each other, whether your face to face or online is a powerful catalyst for change. The challenge is to understand the value - from the way we are connecting and how we are connecting, so that we’re not just receiving messages in a filter or an echo chamber. We might better strive for more complex conversations that have realized value - added value to the experiences and outcomes for our students. We might then talk to our students to see if this has created value for them. 

Karen also invited us to consider to hold the line, and take the time to consider what our community and students need most and then consider the approach that would best meet those needs.

Key concepts for consideration:

  1. Find the urgency
  2. See the story behind the data
  3. Embrace discomfort

Because teachers are wanting to effect change and do the best for their students, teachers may also be quick to respond to problems and have an urgency to solve those problems by finding quick solutions. Karen urged us to spend our time on things that are most urgent, otherwise precious time and attention can get diluted in current trends. Our role is to understand what is most valuable for our students and address those needs, so Karen invited us to plan carefully before we introduce anything, hold our ideas lightly and pause before we leap into the next cycle of change.

Karen hold ideas lightly slide

Global competency for an inclusive world 2030 has signaled the very competencies we find in NZC, TMOA and Te Whāriki. Karen reminded us that if we're looking for the guidance for changes to make for/with our students, then our own curriculum documents are pretty good. Karen went on to address the three key concepts.

1. Find the urgency

Every school has a vision for learning and every single part of our school systems is designed to lead to an outcome that reflects that vision for our learners. Any new changes or strategies should be designed to change the desired outcome for learners. For some, change has been ad-hoc and not systematic, and in some cases, we’ve designed learning for our students that has created barriers and excluded groups of students. 

2. See the story behind the data

Karen encouraged us to looking at the data and see what this is saying, but more importantly go looking behind the data and look to our young people and ask them for their stories. When we do genuinely ask for feedback (in ways ways that work for them and keep them safe), plan what we’re going to do that is going to help not hinder. In doing so, we need to consider the viewpoint of all learners.

Ministry of Education's My World My View

3. Be able to embrace discomfort

As teachers we need to be ready to embrace discomfort, and acknowledge that our colleagues see different things in data and students stories. We need to seek diversity, but do this systematically. We should find out who sees things differently from the way we do, and learn from them - to challenge our biases, so we can look fairly and objectively at student learning and not end up in an echo chamber. Karen challenged us to deliberately design ways to hear diverse views, to help people check the assumptions that are driving their actions and to apply John Cussack’s rule to keep the fear off the set

In summary

  1. Find the urgency
  2. Actively seek students stories 
  3. Walk around your information together, what do you see?
  4. Resist 'solutionitis' look at what is likely to make the difference
  5. Agree on your strong signals before you test and trial

Karen summarized by sharing a quote by Paulo Freire, Education doesn’t change the world. Education changes people. People change the world and people who can change the world were sitting in the auditorium.

Also see notes from shared Google doc @

Tessa Gray, CORE Education Ltd.

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