Sunday, June 26, 2016

Professional Interdisciplinary Connections

A snapshot of the busy life of a school leader!
Via Coggle 

As I was putting together the Coggle brainstorm of my interdisciplinary connections above, I confess I stopped 'mind dumping' once the page started to get super busy, figuring the reader would 'get the picture'.  It is quite tiring to look at that dump of information above and know there are parts of my day as a leader missing and it is merely a snap shot of the important disciplines that impact on my day.  On a positive note, much of it links and interweaves together.  In this respect, the various areas I juggle as a leader, and the interconnection of the curriculum for teachers, is not that dissimilar.  

As a classroom teacher, I taught in an integrative manner - and when I see negotiated and personalised classrooms now, as it seems the push for Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) has made it 'popular', I am reminded of the way my own classroom ran.  Tapping into my students interests, facilitating in-depth discussions and guiding inquiry (Mathieson, S. & Freeman, M. 1977) whilst integrating curriculum seemed like a logical way to manage workload and capitalise on the motivation of my students.   As a teacher, I never ran a structured, 'traditional' classroom - I always felt that if that approach 'bored' me, then what on earth was it doing to my students.  This kind of programme relies heavily on student voice, choice and agency.  I am a strong supporter of this kind of classroom, because I know first hand what the benefits are, and over a number of year, found work arounds for the issues that might arise.  Concerns such as 'watering down curriculum areas' whilst valid, were overcome with good planning and an in-depth knowledge of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC)!  I made sure I had systems in place to ensure I had not just coverage, but depth of learning, and assessment strategies that uncovered areas of weakness.  

It would be fair to say that, as a leader, my teaching methodology has had a strong influence on my leadership.  To be integrative, you need to be a 'big picture' person.  This is helpful as a leader, as it allows me to be able to see how all the threads of the National Administrative Guidelines  (NAGs) - including Curriculum, Personnel, Finance, Property, Self Review and Health and Safety weave together to form the cloak that is education.   I was particularly struck with the idea of how innovation happens though 'mashups' and 'remixing' (Wiley, D. 2001), and being an 'idea match maker', because a big part of my job as leader is either finding new ways to rehash an existing structure or supporting others to find new pathways.  I was the same as a classroom teacher.  It is the fusion of disciplines that present teachers and leaders with opportunities - assuming we are brave enough to look at and observe them.  

Two Potential Connections:

On the left of my map there is a green 'stem' that highlights two potential connections.  One is a professional development need I have identified for myself and the other is a 'next step'  for our school.  

1. My Masters

Doing the postgrad work with Mindlab has been fabulous.  I see it as my next step to complete my Masters.  Doing this is interdisciplinary because it will impact on all that I do - professionally and personally.  The area I want to work on is Coaching, in particular how it might facilitate and support Communities of Learning and collaboration with teachers.  Working on this will cross over into all aspects of the map above, from Curriculum to leadership development.  The benefits of that will be significant because it has the ability to help me innovate systems and structures, the data I uncover will be useful in that it will help with progressing our schools journey with coaching forward (Wiley, D, 2001).   To have the mandate to focus on an area that I am passionate about has the additional benefit of keeping me engaged!  The biggest challenge will be fitting it into an already packed schedule (If we just look at this week alone, I am facing at least 12 -14 hour days each day, onsite - and it does not count the time I will devote to Mindlab, Family or the things I do for school outside 'onsite' time.  It is not a complaint, but it is something to be wary of.   

2.  ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) 

This is another BIG goal that will sit across all aspects of the mind map above.  Working with a team to design what an ILE looks like at our place is a highly collaborative process that will impact all areas of our school and my work.  Already, we have teachers who are innovating and exploring areas of innovative practice within their single cell settings.  IT is timely to now look at what a physical change might look like.  There are considerations for everyone to everything from budgets, property, Curriculum, staffing and leadership to Governance, self review and community engagement.  One of the concerns is making sure that everyone is on board, and communication is high level, and that we have a place for all voices.  Most importantly that we action the voice so that the process is not only collaborative but transformative.  There would be little point of progressing with this if all that resulted was a change in building but the pedagogy didn't match!  The benefits of setting up a collaborative ILE with a committed and interested team is that we will be exploring interdisciplinary learning within an authentic context, which will foster critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and strengthen communication skills  (Lacoe Edu, 2014) - all skills that teachers will also transfer to model and use within the classroom teaching environment.  

Finally, seeing ones teaching, learning and/or leadership through a interdisciplinary lens is a perfect way to navigate the magnitude of the NZC and the NAGs.  More importantly, to be an interdisciplinary teacher/leader means you can customise and personalise (Wiley, D. 2001) the educational journey for not only your own professional development but the learning experience for your students.   This in turn has the potential to ease workload issues, grow innovation in education in an organic way and really meet the needs of our students in ways that engage and provide them with ownership.  The reality is, our world is interdisciplinary - very little that we do is isolated or not connected to something else, so why would we teach or lead in a compartmentalised, segregated way?  

Let the fusion begin! 

 Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach - Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI, 7(26), 76-81. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education (2016).  National Administration Guidelines (NAGs). Retrieved from:

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from This review of literature of interdisciplinary studies can help you explore more about the interdisciplinary approach used by teachers in their class.

Source: TEDx Talks (2001, April 6). TEDxBYU - David Wiley - An Interdisciplinary Path to Innovation. [video file].Retrieved from

Source: Lacoe Edu (2014, Oct 24) Interdisciplinary Learning [video file]. Retrieved from


  1. Hey Steph, I am disappointed, envious or possible happy that your Coggle is so much larger than mine! The benefits of being a principal I guess. It sounds like ILE within your school has some good momentum already. How are you planning to develop the spaces? Are there any of your classrooms that could lose a wall or are you envisaging a new build at some point? I know you can be innovative in a single cell but it is definitely an advantage in a new larger open space. Our new classroom was opened last week and it seems enormous. The children seem particularly sold on the 'sound proof' breakout rooms. Tomorrow night's task is to have our first parents evening in the new space to show them how the areas work and exhibit some of the student led timetabling. It seems that 90% of the parents who have been round the new build are thrilled with it but there will always be those challenging ones. Having seen your single cell classes it would be great to visit again in a years time to see how your physical spaces and collaborative practices have changed as a result of Mindlab and ILEs. I also would love to complete my masters too but at this point it is just too much. I can't imagine it without a sabbatical - I simply don't have the hours in the day and I need my sleep. I can't believe our Mindlab journey is over! We must catch up later in the year for gossip and updates. Nga mihi Robyn

    1. Kia Ora Robyn, it's hard to believe our journey is nearly over! We should talk masters and see what that journey looks like! (Partners in crime??)
      I'm going to have to come out and visit your new space! I'm a bit jealous you have one.
      In terms of our place, it will depend on whose keen to explore it, but there's quite a few options - smart thinking would utilize the amazing library space we have and the hall (when it's leaky issues are sorted) because they can be extensions of your space. I'm hoping the team that takes it on are the innovations team - it's perfectly up their alley!! I would like them to start with blank page, blue sky thinking! It's quite exciting. (It's also going to be fiscally dependent - I'm not sure what we've got to play with yet!!

      Re the coggle - I had to stop creating! It's only that size because I stopped! But if you think of your current role, it's just as diverse - that's the thing about leadership - our work tends to reach across all aspects of a school.
      We most def need to have a catch up! Exciting times ahead!! (Now to go find your post!)

  2. Thanks so much for this! Your own journey has helped me understand the purpose of this particular post as well as the connections to my own journey particularly around providing a more inviting, collaborative environment for my students. Nga mihi :)

  3. Thanks so much for this! Your own journey has helped me understand the purpose of this particular post as well as the connections to my own journey particularly around providing a more inviting, collaborative environment for my students. Nga mihi :)

  4. Thanks so much for this! Your own journey has helped me understand the purpose of this particular post as well as the connections to my own journey particularly around providing a more inviting, collaborative environment for my students. Nga mihi :)

  5. Thank you Alex - I appreciate your comments. Sometimes to see our connections we just need to cast the net a little wider - it is surprising how far the net can go sometimes!! So much of what we do links on a large scale! Easy to miss if you are busy doing the 'doing'!.