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Embracing Change: A Personal Journey

My journey took a fascinating twist when I ventured into the realm of adult education. This opportunity allowed me to continue my lifelong passion for teaching, albeit in a new setting – this time with adults. Here, I found myself guiding individuals on their path to self-discovery and helping them build the confidence to become who they truly aspired to be. It was a role that felt like I was in my element. However, as I stepped into the adult classroom, I began to recognise the profound importance of embracing change and challenging established norms. This realisation set the stage for a remarkable personal journey through the evolving landscape of education. This platform was very clearly laid in my classroom teaching days.

Challenges in the Classroom

In my second year of teaching I was incredibly challenged with a bottom streamed class of 11/12 year olds within a low social economic community. The curriculum offered some guidance, but I needed to think creatively to make a real impact. The question that kept haunting me was: What approach should I take? It was clear that I needed to think outside the square to truly make an impact.

My inclination to challenge the norm, a trait inherited from my father, led me to embrace change. Despite being in an institution where deviation from established norms was discouraged, I believed that worthwhile ideas deserved consideration.

Formulating Your Approach

I quickly learnt that embracing change in the classroom required me to build a compelling case for my unconventional methods. This meant backing my ideas with sound reasoning and unwavering belief in their greater good. Sometimes, I had to take bold steps, fully aware of potential consequences. It wasn't always easy or certain, but I knew it was the right path.

In the classic movie "To Sir, with Love," Sidney Poitier's character, a dedicated teacher, transformed the lives of his students, much like I aimed to do in my own classroom. Just as in the film, my students faced challenges, coming from troubled backgrounds marked by broken families, alcoholism, violence, and poverty.

Like the protagonist, I realised that traditional teaching methods wouldn't suffice. I needed to be an inspirational figure, a source of hope for these young souls lost in the shadows of self-doubt. I approached the headmaster, who thankfully was open to innovative ideas. I told him that if these kids were to derive any value from their time at school, things needed to change. Learning wasn't going to happen solely within the classroom walls.

My plan involved visiting each student's home, delving into their backgrounds and challenges. It was a daunting prospect, especially with some families having questionable affiliations. Nevertheless, I was determined to develop deeper ties with my students and my commitment to change in education didn't end with home visits.

I believed in experiential learning beyond textbooks. We went on field trips, including train rides to Wellington City and Pukekura Bay where we learned about real-world experiences – real life mathematics, science, history and all those other curriculum areas. We went yachting in the harbour (I had a 12 foot Cherub I had built) after practising in the school pool. And those trips required careful planning, fundraising, and parental involvement.

The Power of Maori Culture

As many of the children in my class at that time were Maori this led me to the Maori community, often burdened by overrepresentation in jails and societal challenges. However, I discovered their resilient family values and culture, inspiring me to integrate these values into my teaching.

In my classroom, there was no such thing as a "normal" day, given the unique backgrounds of our students. Instead of shying away from these differences, we embraced them. We acknowledged the uniqueness of our students' lives and made it an integral part of our learning experience.

Our acceptance of diversity often led to something extraordinary. One such instance - I owned a lot of band gear, amplifiers, microphones, guitars and drums which I introduced into our classroom, so we formed a band that quickly became the heart of the school. In recognition of our contributions to the school's culture, our school band received an award that year.

Through those engagements, the parents realised that I wasn't just a teacher but also someone who deeply cared about their kids. It was an opportunity to show them that I had the time, energy, and dedication to be not just an educator but a mentor and a friend. My goal had always been to provide others with experiences like those that had impacted my own life. I wanted them to undergo a transformation that would enable them to see the world from a different perspective. What became evident was that real learning comes from within; it is the individual who takes control of their learning journey.

This realisation marked a profound moment in my teaching career, one that continues to shape my approach to education to this day.

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