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At some point in the last three years, I stopped being a teacher who accessed professional learning from time to time and rarely due to my somewhat remote setting, and became a teacher who's teaching spaces became sites of continuous professional learning and inquiry. 'Teaching' and 'learning about teaching' blurred, then all teaching became inquiry...


  • writing courses and assignments became instructional design
  • internalised reflection became socio-cognitive and shared
  • I realised my student-centred teaching approach wasn't really
  • my collegial interactions expanded beyond the limits of geographic location
  • I became fascinated with assessment for learning and formative assessment, and even more than before, external assessment in its existing paradigm makes me want to scream
  • my students found authenticity in their learning by participating in and co-constructing my inquiry and research efforts with me
  • every aspect of education became 'fair game' for questioning
  • I discovered and owned emergent design as my educational practice
  • I became obsessed with Knowledge Building Communities theory
  • learner agency and the centrality of the notion of 'improvable ideas' rather than 'tasks' became super important
  • my super organised and successful teaching practice became a mess (in a good way, though it didn't always feel good, and surprisingly for me, students remained successful)
  • I became really excited about my future as an educator
  • I discovered my creativity
  • I became a courageous educator (mostly - work in progress)
  • I discovered my own agency as a teacher, and realised that in a twentieth century environment, teacher agency is as controlled and limited as student agency is

The combined opportunities of targeted mentoring in the virtual professional learning and development three year programme; becoming a practitioner researcher in a small TLRI funded team investigating Knowledge Building Communities in secondary schools; and my school allowing me to engage and participate in these opportunities... projected me onto an unexpected path.  

This all happened because I asked an inquiry question that has brought me so much more than I bargained for... 'how do I teach an online class effectively, and in a way that is engaging for students?'. I discovered teaching principles and technologies that destablised and exposed my twentieth century education practices, and bridged and supported my shift to twenty first century education.

My secret inquiry, the one where I ask myself if I'm good enough, if its worth the effort, if  I can cope with another year, if being an educator is my 'thing', is getting an answer too.

I want to figure out how to share this, so that other teachers can take this journey of transformation too... not the 'Breaking Bad' teacher transformation, the other one... hehe

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Comment by Madeline Campbell on July 8, 2014 at 22:04

Hi Hazel,

Some attempts at briefly answering your questions:

1. There wasn't a single, time-based tipping point, though I made a commitment - for example - term 2 of 2012 was for me to try and implement Knowledge Building Communities and Knowledge Forum software, and after that, in 2013, I committed to implementation of KBC and KF for the entire year. This commitment was very super well supported by 2 communities of practice, the KBC research project leaders and participants, and the VPLD mentoring programme (excellent wrap-around support) - so i was well invested with both my students and colleagues, no 'chickening out', and stuck with it despite it being hard, because of the support and encouragement.

2. Student remained successful because of the strength of the pedagogy of Knowledge Building, which is established on a set of 12 principles, and focused on improvable ideas and community diversity and ownership, rather than tasks completed by individuals... this means that when I 'stepped back' into a new teaching role, students were scaffolded and supported by the pedagogy of KBC. There was however a brief and noticeable 'dip' or 'space' - I stuck fast to my new role as 'thinking coach' and didn't step back into the 'space' I'd left, students adapted and after a little nervousness, mostly relished the opportunity to be in charge of content... they had the Knowledge Forum database where they shared ideas, and quickly became dependent of each others shared ideas to gauge progress and understanding, rather than looking to me, the teacher. for the 'correct answer'. Students also had early  and immediate examples of how KBC works in their favour, which was motivating.

3. I need to blog about my thoughts on what 20th century education does to teacher agency... the more I think about it, the more I see that 20th century Western education structures and systems leave teachers mainly disempowered (though we work hard and get really exhausted fighting this invisible 'hegemony'), and that compliance, reaction, and deficit thinking are deeply embedded... I imagine I've said something provocative, here, but will work on a blog post to tease these thoughts out...

Comment by Hazel Owen on July 7, 2014 at 15:23

Inspirational, Madeline!! I have just finished reading and responding to Leigh's post What can Secondary Teachers do differently. In the comment I left I asked if there were a narrative, or scenario of what that can 'look, smell, and feel like'...and here is one fabulous example. Thank you :-)

I also had three questions:

  1. Was there a tipping point where you 'changed your practice', or was it gradual, or was it a series of changes over time?
  2. I was really struck when you wrote: "my super organised and successful teaching practice became a mess (in a good way, though it didn't always feel good, and surprisingly for me, students remained successful)". Why do you feel that students remained successful?
  3. You also write "teacher agency is as controlled and limited as student agency is" - what do you feel is the key to freeing up teachers, while also maintaining a process that helps ensure students are learning?

Thanks for your super posts - I always enjoy reading them :-)

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