Friday, December 23, 2011

The Graduate

Two years of hard slog came to fruition last week when I graduated from The University of Melbourne with a Masters of School Leadership.

A lot of time has passed between my first spate of tertiary education and this one and the graduation caused me to reflect on the differences between those two experiences.

When I finished at the same uni over 30 years ago, I didn't attend my graduation. I was very young and had lots of things to do that at the time seemed far more important to me. This time I have a far greater appreciation of the value of further education and while the lure of the floppy Ph D hat is something I may consider after I retire, I know I may not get the opportunity to stretch my thinking in this way again for a long time.

First time around I chose teaching because the government of the day offered me free tuition, a generous weekly allowance and a guaranteed job on the completion of my diploma. I had no idea whether teaching was the career for me at that stage, it was simply a means to an end. This time, still armed with a scholarship, albeit a half fee one, I have had to make huge sacrifices of my time, my money and my energy to get through the course. With a husband studying his Masters at the same time, family life has been limited and our little boy has had to make some sacrifices too. This time though, I know that I love teaching and so the decision to improve my own qualifications is more relevant and connected to my everyday life.

Throughout my first stint at uni I was a firm believer that 'Ps got degrees' and I fulfilled that requirement in a spectacularly insignificant way. This time I got an HD for each and every assignment and subject. Since I set really high expectations for the kids I teach, there was no way I was going to lower them for myself! Continuing to achieving those marks added pressure to what I was doing but it also gave me a goal and provided the motivation to balance my procrastitory nature.

Back in the 70s I met some nice people on my course and we spent a fair bit of time at PAs (the pub across the road). Occasionally we would work on an assignment together but mostly we just drank a lot!
This time we occasionally called in to PAs after lectures but the drink vs collaboration ratio was reversed. Now I have a much greater appreciation of networking and the opportunity to get together with other like minded, progressive, positive thinking educators was one of the best outcomes of the whole experience. The support of my cohort of fellow students has been amazing. I have made new friends of all ages and I'm looking forward to an ongoing sharing of ideas with them.

The return to academia, especially the demands of academic reading and writing, was difficult. I remember reading the prescribed chapter for our first assignment. By nature an avid and voracious reader, I got to the end of that chapter and realised I hadn't understood a single word of it. It took me three readings to feel like I actually had a handle on the philosophical work of Jane Roland Martin. Now I skim read similar texts and assimilate the understandings as I go. I find my conversation pretentiously littered with words like pedagogy and paradox and empirical. I have learnt to accurately and precisely reference my work in APA style ( although I have not gotten over my hatred of this time consuming convention). I struggled through the 1000 words of our first written reflection. Last month when I went to submit my final action research report, it took three weeks of editing to prune it to 7500 words!

Educational researchers who were previously just names to me were bought to life during our intensives as we were presented with a veritable smorgasbord of educational crusaders like Alma Harris, Patrick Duignan and John Hattie. I was inspired and entertained and awed by them. There were so many 'ah ha' moments that I filled four Smiggle notebooks.

What now that the Masters has been mastered? Well, we've bought a caravan to fill in the weekends that have been soaked up with study for the past two years. It's time to devote some time to the education of our son and there's no place better to do that the on the road exploring the countryside. I hope that what I've learnt about myself and about leadership has equipped me to achieve better outcomes for the students and teachers in my school. I know that I've learnt personal lessons about perseverance and positive thinking that will stand me in good stead for the rest of my life.

Somewhere down the track I think there's a doctorate in me but I think I'll encourage to Geoff struggle through his first. I quite fancy the vision of myself as an eccentric and studious old lady. For now, I intend to continue my research into social media in education because it's a fascinating and ever evolving topic. Sooner rather than later I hope to have the confidence to share it with a broader audience.

After that, who knows? What I do know is that I will always be seeking new ways to stretch and challenge my mind. Once ignited, the thirst for knowledge is unquenchable!