Letting Go

The Curator

Having a background in museums, I’m well familiar with the term “curate”. In a museum sense, the curator is the subject specialist and chief story-teller. By the end of the 1980s, the museum community was finally questioning its role as gatekeeper and chief filterer of information.  In countries such as mine, Aotearoa New Zealand, or in the United States or Canada for example, some of the major collections came from First Nations. The question had to be asked: WHO was doing the storytelling here? From who’s perspective? I well remember once, when hosting a school party in the Whanganui Regional Museum where I worked, a young boy from the Whanganui River pulling his teacher’s sleeve and asking why “that woman” (me) was telling him the story of a celebrated waka (canoe) from his river. I wasn’t from there. What could I possibly tell him?

Image from Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon an Schuster edition 1963

Image from “Teacher” by Sylvia Ashton-Warner Simon and Schuster edition 1963

He had a point. He wanted his stories to be told to him by his people. The curatorship needed to be handed back to the participants of the story. In my defence, I knew the stories because they had been handed to me to tell. But he wasn’t to know that. He just saw a white woman telling him about his tribe’s canoe.

The story-tellers of the classroom

The focus of the story-telling has changed in the classroom too. Or at least we are aware of the need for it to change to promote learner autonomy, learning ownership, motivation etc. etc.  My first encounter of it was in the book “Teacher” by Sylvia Ashton Warner who, the 1960s in the remote and empoverished settlements up the Whanganui River of Aotearoa New Zealand, used the approach of using the children’s own stories to construct reading and writing material.  It struck me at our Digital ELT conference (LTSIG IATEFL) in Dublin earlier this month that we are doing it, slowly, but I found myself wanting to know more about the sociology of sharing.

In Amin Neghavati’s presentation, I was interested in how his learners took to sharing learning and co-assessing work on their shared space autonomously and with little intervention or leading from the course tutors. I asked him whether he felt that it was a reflection of their culture, to be so open and generous, and to share learning like that. He replied that it was a cultural aspect of his Malaysian learners and it came naturally to them to be open and participative.

In my presentation I had talked about Māori, farming and settler communities and my own cultural context of learning, where community shared knowledge and co-created their learning and learning spaces, so I was naturally interested to hear talk of this at the conference. Russell Stannard in his presentation, reflected a lot on his growing awareness of the place of autonomy in his classroom and how he needed to change as a teacher. He admitted that he didn’t have the answers but was reflecting on the issue as it unfolded around him.

Agile and autonomous learners are what we need our students to be now. Not in the future, now. I couldn’t help but reflect on a class of teachers I have presently, and their habit-driven approach to learning. Our project together is to come to a point where they can deliver a CLIL programme and feel confident in the classroom. They look to me to turn the light on, and tell them the golden formula. I am finding I am having to work hard to unlock lost flexibility in those joints, pour on the good oil and massage brains back into life and ignite passion. I feel heavy under the weight of it all. It took them a month to sign up to my Edmodo class, and still, my weekly conversations there are with myself. In the classroom, my tired, paperwork-saturated teachers just don’t want to have to think. They want someone to give them a CLIL coursebook. Job done.

The question that came out of the conference for me was not only how to harness, co-curate and recycle/maximise all that informal learning taking place on online learning spaces such as Edmodo, but also how to motivate learners to move from being dormant to active participators in their own learning and engaging with these spaces.

In ELT, I am increasingly aware of the privileged, or particularly IT-savvy culture we move in as teachers. Our learners are not necessarily participants in this. How can we move learners from habits of passivity to activity when passivity or hierarchical frameworks form part of a local character and culture? How can a learner engage online with me and other teaching practitioners when their PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) consist of their mother, who was a teacher and their colleagues in an under-resourced school? What is Social Learning when a learner uses nothing much more than Whatsapp to organise the weekend. And as for EdTech…

And above all, who am I?

Maybe I shouldn’t be forcing my learners into anything. I should respect the input of a retired teacher mum as a learning source. If I’m talking about control being handed to the learner, perhaps what we curate together will not take the shape I envisaged at all.

And that is the next chapter.


Presentation from Digital ELT Ireland STSIG IATEFL Dublin 2015

Arbor Day at Rata School New Zealand 1894

Making Learning in a Binary Landscape

“Arbor Day at Rata School 1st August 1894” Original image held in archives at

I rather like this photo, a small rural school community planting trees to commemorate Arbor Day in a vast deforested landscape. Today Rata is a busy New Zealand farming community. All the kids that attend that school will have access to tablets, the school will have WIFI, a great library, interactive white boards, projectors, google classroom, google earth, and links to other classrooms on the other side of the world. The community in general has more information at their fingertips in a week than the children in this photo possibly had in their lifetime. But has the process of effective learning vastly changed? Can we learn a few things from the past to apply to the present and orientate our decision making for the future?

The creation of an elearning project

When my colleague and I decided to collaborate to create an online teacher training course, the best tool I found in my toolbox to combat this scenario wasn’t technological. It was the old learning.

This Saturday at the Digital ELT Conference in Dublin, I am excited to be presenting a talk about learning and building an online course.


  1. A cultural context of learning: looking briefly at Aotearoa New Zealand Māori concepts and the need for agile learning among European settlers.
  2. Hearing from my family about our farming community in Aotearoa New Zealand and how it learns.
  3. A comparison with then and the sociology of community today and the impact of mobility and new community on learning.
  4. Our experience so far of making materials for an online environment.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there and some great chinwags. Also to watch the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday night – tips on the right pub will be appreciated! Kia kaha kapa Ō-Pango! Go All Blacks! 

Walking backwards into the future, looking at the past.

Our early connections influence how we engage later in life.

Where we come from is what roots us. It’s the road map we use for life, and to which, if we’re smart, we’ll keep adding to with streets and neighbourhoods as we grow.

Looking towards Apiti, Central North Island New Zealand

Part of my cultural and learning inheritance: Looking towards Apiti, Central North Island New Zealand

We have a saying at home, that we walk backwards into the future. Learning is changing, our communities are changing, but some essential elements remain true and timeless. It’ about harnessing new landscapes to facilitate learning, not being over-run by them and looking after our inheritance.  #DigELT2015

%d bloggers like this: