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July 2013

 

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JUDE BARBACK looks at the different ways New Zealand teachers abroad are staying in touch with other Kiwi teachers and what’s happening with education back home.

‘I’m looking into how NZ teachers teaching abroad keep in touch with what’s happening with NZ education? Please get in touch if you can help.

My message, sent via @EdReviewNZ, was sent more experimentally than expectantly into the Twitterverse. So it was to my great surprise to see my insignificant little tweet receive four retweets and a direct response within ten minutes. My half-hearted test to see whether social media really does play a part in connecting educators was proven.

Education Review, or @EdReviewNZ, at the time of writing has a meagre following of 250. I specify ‘time of writing’ because no doubt by the time this article is published we will have a following of Justin Bieber proportions. Until then, we must remain one of the minnows of the Twitter world.

But that’s the thing about Twitter and other forms of social media. You can be as connected and involved as you like. And while many resolutely shun it, many others are finding it hugely helpful in sharing ideas, learning from others’ experiences, and generally being connected to others with shared interests.

Our need to retain friendships and connect with old ties has not weakened with the increasing ease to flit around the world. Many New Zealand teachers abroad are finding social media tools invaluable for keeping in touch with what is happening back home with education policies, their old school, curriculum changes, teaching practices, and so on.

 

Microblogging and blogging

Social media takes many different guises – Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, and Pinterest are now part of our vocabulary. However, Twitter is a different bird completely, allowing just 140 characters per message, forcing tweeters to be pithy. The need for brevity allows people more back-and-forth conversation, to make your point and then ‘listen’ to others, rather than have a long-winded rant, a common alternative for many social media users.

Perhaps it is for this reason that many New Zealand teachers have taken to Twitter, and in particular #edchatNZ, a Twitter forum aimed at giving New Zealand teachers the chance to discuss relevant issues. While the popular hashtag is increasingly used for regular sharing and motivation, its main function is the live Twitter chat that takes place every other Thursday at 8.30pm, allowing teachers to discuss topics which have received the most votes.

#edchatNZ was launched in October last year and has snowballed, as Twitter has a way of doing. Danielle Myburgh (or @MissDSciTeacher) recently shared in PPTA News that it has helped to knock down some of the barriers between secondary and primary school. “We are learning some great things from each other,” she says.

The forum is actually transcending national boundaries as well, with Kiwi teachers from around the world taking part and joining the discussion about issues that are still relevant to them. They may simply wish to keep a grip on what is happening back home, or they may wish to continue their professional development through a Kiwi lens, or it may even help thwart some homesickness by keeping in touch.

“At any time of the day, we can log on to find someone, somewhere, who will help us solve a problem, offer a new perspective, or share their great ideas. I literally have a world of teachers supporting me, 24 hours a day – and for a busy teacher, the fact that we are doing this in 140 character snippets or less is even better,” says Myburgh.

A student spin-off to #edchatNZ has now emerged: #kidsedchatNZ, in which students from schools across New Zealand connect with each other, sharing what they have learned.

Twitter is often referred to as a ‘microblogging’ site, and while it is ideal for quick exchanges, sharing links and thoughts as they crop up, many prefer its parent, the blog. Blogging continues to be popular; a blog is more like a public online diary, in which a person’s extended musings can be shared with the masses.

Like #edchatNZ, blogging is a medium that has quickly been picked up by students. Idle web surfers could quite easily find themselves engrossed in the student blogs from Pt England school, for example.

Many teachers and classrooms keep blogs, allowing them to record their learning experiences and share them with others. Many teachers abroad do so as a way of remembering and sharing their experiences, too.

 

News and informal networks

Of course, forums and social networking are not for everyone, and many rely on more low-key ways to stay in touch. The New Zealand Herald and Stuff websites appear to be popular with many Kiwis abroad for keeping in touch with what is happening with education news.

And many simply stay in contact with former colleagues or people they studied with as a means of staying connected.

Cameron Andrew, a Kiwi teaching in London, says he doesn’t bother much with forums and more formal social media avenues. “To be perfectly honest, the only thing I really do is stay in touch with friends back in New Zealand and hear how they are getting on. They will share anything that’s going on in the education system if I ask.”

Andrew says his focus right now is more on his current teaching role, rather than what is happening back home. “I haven’t really thought about what’s going on back in New Zealand. I’ll probably be back into teaching in New Zealand next year but have decided I’ll wait until I’m home before I worry about jobs,” he says.

However, it appears many Kiwi teachers abroad do like to keep an eye on the job market back home. Statistics show that in 2011, the Education Gazette website, on which teaching jobs are advertised, had over 53,000 visits from the United Kingdom, over 28,000 from Australia, and over 19,000 from the

United States with thousands from South Africa, Canada, India, United Arab Emirates, Philippines and Fiji as well.

The Gazette also provides curriculum updates and relevant information for New Zealand teachers, making it a popular site for those abroad with intentions of returning.

 

Professional development from afar

Social media can play a part in a teacher’s professional development; #edchatNZ is described as teachers ‘taking their professional development into their own hands’. The added advantage for teachers teaching abroad is that it eliminates location as a barrier.

However, Teachers Council doesn’t recognise professional development efforts of New Zealand teachers employed overseas. The Council considers recency of teaching experience completed in New Zealand when considering whether or not a teacher is able to maintain full registration. All teachers seeking to maintain full registration need to have completed satisfactory recent teaching experience and have been appraised against the Registered Teacher Criteria. ‘Satisfactory recent teaching experience’ is defined in the Education Act 1989 as teaching completed in New Zealand and the Registered Teacher Criteria describes the criteria for quality teaching in New Zealand.

Teachers Council confirm that teachers who have previously been fully registered but do not meet the satisfactory recent teaching requirement can reapply for registration in another category, subject to confirmation. This category indicates that the holder is an experienced teacher, but for valid reasons, has not recently been appraised as meeting the Registered Teacher Criteria.

Yet, many New Zealand teachers currently abroad with a view to returning at some stage find that regardless of their current Teachers Council registration status, it is often in their best interests to keep in touch with what is happening back home. Keeping an eye on curriculum changes, job market fluctuations, educational policies, and what’s going on at their old school can sometimes help ease the reverse culture shock of coming back.