Early Learning Conference 2018



The changing face of education – Early Learning in the 21st century

Early Learning hosted a very successful two-day conference on Tuesday 19 and Wednesday 20 June which was live streamed to our broader Abbotsleigh community. The conference was opened by the Headmistress, Mrs Megan Krimmer and a Welcome to Country was conducted by Darug elder, Mr Chris Tobin who set the tone for the delegates to be open and reflective about the changing face of education in the 21st century. More than 80 delegates attended from as far afield as Canberra in the ACT, the Illawarra region in the south and The Hunter Valley in the north.

We were fortunate to bring together both leading national and international thinkers who provoked and inspired conversation around the major forces shaping teaching and learning in the 21st century. 

Keynote speaker Alise Shafer Ivey (pictured above), the founding and executive director of the Pedagogical Institute of Los Angeles, retired founding director of the Evergreen Community School and a recent speaker at TEDx Sunset Park, questioned the intersection of curriculum and teaching and suggested that finding the balance is difficult and often elusive, sometimes dangerous and ever subjective. She questioned how schools can foster thinking that recognises and embraces the great complexities of life. She advocates that we need to create citizens who can look at things from different perspectives thereby creating a culture of doubting and believing and asked the delegates 'Could perspective be the most essential tool of education?' 

Dr Alma Fleet challenged us to think and collaborate about good teaching and question whether it is contextually based. She also spoke about recognising the rights of children as active participants within the educational community and the implications for decision making and as such, there was deep discussion with a focus on learning dispositions, the promotion of empathy and the pursuit of socially just practice.

Dr Kristy Goodwin provided the participants with research based information about how technology is changing the ways children learn and develop (including their sleep, attention spans, play, language skills, physical development, relationships and even their nutrition). The research she has conducted certainly supported the notion that technology is changing the way that children's brains are developing, but that rather than being alarmist, she advocated moderation. She also shared how early childhood educators can compensate and cater for children's changing learning preferences within the classroom context. Kristy acknowledged that while technology is here to stay, adults need to assist children in creating a balanced relationship with technology. Adults need to consider good role modelling of technology for children so that good habits are developed early. Kristy likened parents and early childhood educators as being 'brain architects' as 90% of neural pathways are made in the first five years. It is therefore important to strengthen and stimulate these pathways in the early years to maximise brain development.

Dr Cathie Harrison shared inspiration and provocations from her 2017 study tour throughout Scandinavia. She shared ways of engaging with young children that enabled their spirits to flourish and nurture a deep respect for the natural world. She co-constructed with participants a discourse of early learning for our local context that foregrounds the wellbeing of children, relationships of care and compassion and the sustainability of the planet. Cathie believes that for children to be the creative thinkers of the future, they need to have the opportunity to engage in 'mind wandering mode'.

The conference was an opportunity for early learning educators to reflect on practice and for some, perhaps a new way of being. What was evident from all the speakers is that children need time to foster complexity in thinking in order to develop desirable habits of mind. 

'What kind of learning lasts beyond a given year that we can grab hold of to guide our vision [of education]? I contend that what stays with us from our education are patterns: patterns of behaviour, patterns of thinking, patterns of interaction … Through our patterns of behaviour, thinking and interaction, we show what we are made of as thinkers and learners … [I]ntelligent performance is not just an exercise of ability. It is more dispositional in nature in that we must activate our abilities and set them into motion.' (Ritchhart, 2002, p 7)



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