These Walls Bring Us Together

Attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institutes at the end of each academic year is my time to reflect on the year of teaching and recharge for another year of learning. A global gathering of innovative educators who share vision and values for learning that are similar to mine. These global gatherings for reflection and collaboration are more important now than ever before. An education based institute attended by almost 400 educators representing 37 countries makes for an empowering experience. Coming together in one place in a unique opportunity to learn across cultures and boundaries. The walls of the ADE Institutes don’t divide us; they unite us as one community.

Often in education, barriers are put up in teaching and divisions are made when debating what is the best way to learn. These kinds of walls can slow down innovation and creativity in the teaching community, which impacts on the children we teach. The children that nobody else knows, but us, their class teachers.

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At Institute, we might be inside the walls of a conference, but these walls don’t divide us. They bring us together and become a think tank for creativity, for what is possible when we stand united as a community of innovative educators. The Apple Distinguished Educator community came together again in Austin, Texas, to build teaching ideas and strengthen confidence to try something new that will make a change to learning. With this courage and opportunity to be creative, we evaluate our practice, refine it and make it the best it can be, without any walls dividing us. I gain the confidence to share my work, my ideas and my vision to lead the charge for change in my school and the educators I connect with.

This year’s Institute was themed around Everyone Can Create. A simple statement but a complex idea behind it. Everyone can create, and everyone should be creating. Teachers, students, adults, children. Everyone. Everyone should be encouraged to create, because creating is in our DNA. It’s our personality, it’s our identity and it’s how we move forward and make a difference, together. Creativity should be at the heart of education, because it is creativity that solves problems, builds good communicators and makes the world not only a more interesting place to live, but a more successful place to live.

Everyone Can Create.

In the earlier days of the Institute, these questions were a chance to pause for thought and they framed discussions amongst our peer groups:

  • How can everyone create?
  • What can everyone create?
  • Where can everyone become a creator? 

This year I may not have blogged that much, but I have been writing in other places, sharing my story, and I’ve certainly been on the road a lot talking to hundreds of early years educators. What I’ve learned this year, is that the early years community in England are a creative bunch who are dedicated to a curriculum and best practice that many feel like is being stamped out. There’s anxiety amongst the early years community right now about what might happen to the curriculum, but there’s also a fire and there’s a fight.

Enabling Environments.

When I speak to early years educators, I hang everything on the theme of Enabling Environments. Out of the whole early years curriculum, this is what matters most to me. Enabling Environments is our change agent, it’s how we evaluate our teaching and learning, it’s how we know we are doing the right thing for the children we see every day in our classrooms. It’s more than a best practice, it’s a principle for learning. And we know, if we stick to this principle for learning, we will be providing the absolute best opportunities for our children, not just their learning, but their creativity.

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I shared these themes, including Enabling Environments, and the principles behind them with a group of Apple Distinguished Educators from across the world, teachers of all different aged students. They agreed that Enabling Environments is a principle that allows us to be creative and for children to create freely.

Our current early years curriculum says that we have to provide children with access to ‘stimulating and relevant resources’. That we have to facilitate ‘rich learning opportunities’. And we should allow our environment to ‘support exploration’. These are not qualities for good learning, these are qualities needed to be creative. Even if this is taken away from the next curriculum publication, this principle will stand with me for the rest of my career. It’s a philosophy for good learning and it cannot be denied or censored.

Stimulating, Rich Learning and Exploration.

It doesn’t matter what age you teach, or where you classroom is. If you allow for these elements to shine through your teaching then the students you work with will be allowed to be creative. Imagine if every teacher planned from this principle, what kind of learning would be taking place in classrooms across the world?

In terms of learning technology, what better model is there to evaluate its effective use and impact? Enabling Environments is an efficient way to help us make decisions about when to use technology and how useful it is in enhancing learning. I’ve written about this in a special issue of Nursery World magazine discussing the potential curriculum change.

Video. Photography. Drawing. Music.

At Institute, we put film, photography, drawing and music as 4 possible outlets of creativity for teaching and learning. We explored the new Everyone Can Create curriculum from Apple and shared ways we already use these outlets in authentic learning examples. With Kristi Meeuwse and Jason Milner, I looked how we use these outlets with younger children.

The three of us often share the bigger projects that we facilitate for our young learners, such as One Best Photo or Stories of a Lifetime, and quite often other early years educators see this, are inspired and willing, but struggle to recreate such rich learning opportunities because the exploration of photography has not been fully supported throughout the year. To help enable these explorations for richer learning opportunities, we set out to write 4 simple guides for early learning educators to show how to progress the skills of:

  • video making
  • photography
  • music composition
  • and drawing

Each book is a simple guide that explains what can be done at the beginning, middle and end of the academic year with young students so that they can engage in a creative project at the end of the year, such as One Best Photo.

The ‘Young Children Can Create’ Series.

In the many journals and conferences I have contributed to this year, my argument for using technology in early years has been to promote creation skills to counteract the consumption of technology at home. If we don’t teach creation skills, how are children ever going to learn to create with technology? They won’t! It will be ignored. They will continue to consume pictures, images, videos and music on their devices at home. The Young Children Can Create series of books we wrote are designed to enable creativity with iPad in your setting, based on the principles of Enabling Environments.

You can download each guide now, for free, from the Apple Bookstore:

The Rich Potential of Children’s Photography

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The Rich Potential of Children’s Video.

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The Rich Potential of Children’s Drawing.

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The Rich Potential of Children’s Music Making.

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These Walls Bring Us Together.

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We wrote these guides within the walls of the Apple Distinguished Educators Institute, in a place where we can connect, create and collaborate. We are three teachers from 3 corners of the world: England, Australia and America. Inside the walls of the ADE Institute we are able to create to make a difference, so that beyond those walls, the communities of educators that we support back home can knock down their walls and try something new with their young children, so that they too can create and make the most of photography, video, drawing and music with their devices.

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