Our adventures with Akoranga o Naenae to date have not been without their challenges. We are a group of positive people, and we have a strong leadership base from which to draw support. But with any new idea, hiccups are discovered along the way, and we are no exception to the rule. I'm going to outline for you the challenges that Natasha, Kelly, and I see as the most significant so far.
Firstly, our most predominant challenge: time.The initial set up of AoN took a massive amount of time. Luckily, none of us are work-shy! We worked together for quite a few days throughout the summer holidays, and felt like we'd only made a wee dent. It was a genius suggestion made last year by one of our principals, Jo Buckley, that AoN not start until part way through Term One, with me and Kelly released on Fridays up to that point to continue planning and preparing.
Considering that meant two teachers working a full day each for four Fridays, and we were still only just ready - you can see that we needed that time! Natasha, Kelly, and I also met weekly in the first few weeks of Term One, and with increasing frequency in the lead up to our first day. We just about needed our sleeping bags at school!
This setting up right from the beginning will not have to happen again, but nonetheless, it took its toll.
The amount of time we take to plan and prepare for each Friday session is large. This is not because we have enforced a severe planning regimen or insisted on an unworkable structure; it is because we have wonderful, intelligent, in-depth discussions about our decisions. We talk through the nitty gritty of our activities, resources, presentation styles, management techniques, feedback opportunities, clarity of purpose, etc etc etc. Although the time spent on this adds to our 'challenges' list, it is also highly valued by each of us. It gives us amazing professional development opportunities - we learn so much from each other. And, even more importantly, it ensures that what we do with our AoN kids is as fun, useful and as effective as possible.
For me and Natasha, this time commitment comes on top of running a class. For Kelly, it comes on top of running a family and teaching part time. Either way, it is an enormous ask. From my perspective, I'm finding it a difficult juggling act. I spend three days a week in my class, so I want to ensure that those three days are perfect. I also need to work with the (wonderful) teachers who are working in my classroom on the other two days, to be sure that that time is used productively, as well. The work I expect of myself to be the best teacher I can is at least a 60 hour a week job. Adding AoN on top of that - it's a lot! The way I have made that work is to keep the two things separate in my mind, and practically. I know that on Fridays I only think about AoN. In the weekends, I have a set time to work on school stuff, and a set time to work on AoN stuff. The other saving grace I have is that the AoN workload is split between the three of us. The support from Natasha and Kelly has kept me sane, and has ensured that all of us are ready each Friday, regardless of whatever else is going on.
Our next challenge is making Akoranga o Naenae relevant to our whanau, students, and teachers/principals at our network schools. We are not, and do not want to be seen as a stand alone initiative. We want to communicate with stakeholders, to share our progress, and to have our learning spread far and wide. We want to build on what others are doing in their classes and at home. Doing this without inundating principals, teachers, and whanau with emails and phone calls is a tricky balancing act but we know it is vital to make those links if true impact is to be made.
This leads onto our third challenge: communication. We have email addresses for all teachers and principals, and see this as a sensible way to communicate with busy people. However, all it takes is one email to be missed, or to be actioned but not answered, and we are left wondering - do we need to email again? Will that be annoying or useful? Should we find another way to communicate? Bearing in mind we have 48 kids, so at least 48 whanau members, 20 teachers, and 6 principals - whatever we use to communicate has to be manageable.
Another challenge at AoN has been the students themselves. We have found it a fine line to walk to establish relationships with children we see once a week. We didn't want to know too much about the kids before we started, to avoid pre-conceived ideas. Now that we have met most of them four times (whanau night + 3 weeks of AoN), we feel like we want to know about them as people, and as learners. We need this information to make the best learning opportunities from their time with us, and to help us to relate to them in a genuine way when things are tricky. We're still working on this one. Monitoring of positive and not-so-positive behaviour, and recognising this with the kids is helping us to establish an effective way of working.
Lastly, we are challenged by the fact that some others don't yet share our belief that focusing on Active Learning will make a difference to the learning of our kids. We whole-heartedly believe it. The research we have to back us up shows that this is the case. So, how do we pass on the message to those who don't yet believe? How do we show those who might be able to support us financially? Perhaps they'll be 'the proof is in the pudding' kind of people? If that's the case - bring on the end of Term Two! We'll show 'em!