Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a teacher and leader of digital learning, working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 2 class using iPads to engage and motivate learners and improve student achievement. This blog documents my teaching journey and my learning processes with iPads in the classroom. I've proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and last year a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sharing my MDTA experiences

Earlier this term I was asked by the University of Auckland (Faculty of Education & Social Work) if I would speak about my experiences in the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy at a dinner they titled "Leading Learning, Changing Lives."  I was extremely honoured to be asked, particularly because I really value the introduction to my teaching career that MDTA and can't speak highly enough of the opportunities I've had as a result.

The dinner occurred late last week, and was an extremely enjoyable evening.  As well as speaking myself I really enjoyed hearing about other initiatives and innovative projects that the Faculty of Education & Social Work is involved in.

As is always the case when speaking, there is always more to say than time permits - three minutes goes very fast and I found myself cutting pieces from my speech in order to meet the brief.   I'm choosing to share my speech on my blog as both a record of the amazing evening I was invited to be part of, but also so it has the opportunity to be read by a wider audience as I'm proud to have been one of the ten beginning teachers accepted into the MDTA program.

For the last three years I’ve been teaching at Pt England School, a decile one school in Glen Innes, Auckland with a population of mainly maori and pasifika students. Pt England School is one of 13 schools in the Manaiakalani Cluster which came about in 2007 as these schools sought to find ways to engage learners and the whole community in their learning, in a hope to better the educational outcomes for our tamariki. For those of you in the audience who may not be familiar with some of the issues in our NZ education system, we have a very long under-achieving tail. How our children perform is heavily dependent on their socio-economic status. 

Fortunately, there are success stories, and I’m here to share the success of the Manaiakalani Schools in partnership with the University of Auckland. The schools in the Manaiakalani Cluster have moved to become digital learning environments, with all learners from Year 4 up having a Chromebook which they use to drive their own learning, and share this with the world. 

In 2013 I was accepted as one of ten beginning teachers to join the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy. This never before opportunity was a joint venture between Auckland University, Manaiakalani and Google allowing first year teachers to teach using digital tools – to ensure the most optimal outcomes. Digital tools in and of themselves will not help children learn; it is the way that their teachers use these tools that makes a difference. One of the most exciting things is that this is a new field, and we are still learning about the best practice. The MDTA placed me to team teach with a mentor teacher who had over 16 years teaching experience. My mentor teacher, Michelle, and I were also tasked with being one of two classes piloting the use of 1:1 iPads with our New Entrant learners. 

While we were teaching, Michelle and I also completed postgraduate study through the University of Auckland, focused on Accelerating Learning particularly for Maori and Pasifika learners. This highly innovative post-graduate model allowed Michelle and I to study together and gain advanced post-graduate teaching qualifications which were highly relevant to what was going on in our classrooms. 

More often than not, learners enter our school significantly below where higher decile learners would enter the schooling system. The innovations Michelle and I put into place, in combination with the unique learning situation of our class having two teachers enabled us to accelerate learning and produce whole class reading results where almost all our learners achieved the New Zealand standard after one year at school. This is remarkable and had not previously occurred at Pt England School in the last 30 years. 

In my second year of teaching, with my own class of New Entrants, I supported the school wide and cluster wide move in the junior classes to 1:1 iPads, assisting with professional development which Michelle and I had used in my first year. The most rewarding part is being able to use the knowledge that I gained in the MDTA school-wide, and across the communities of schools. I’m not just impacting my own class. 

I’m absolutely committed to teaching and feel privileged to have had such a supportive introduction to my teaching career. But most of all I’m thankful on behalf of the learners I teach. The philosophy of Manaiakalani and our close partnership with the Faculty of Education and Social Work, has made a difference to their lives and is enabling them to reach their full potential - that is why I love going to work each day.

More information about the MDTA can be found here.

This article which was published earlier this week gives an insight into the Manaiakalani Cluster.

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