Ten teachers from the OKC area along with two professors from the University of Central Oklahoma begin the adventure of a lifetime. Our goals are to:
So join us on our adventure!
Our day began at 4:30 AM with the customary 2 hour check in for an international flight. We finally boarded for a short 2 and a half hour flight to Los Angeles. Upon our arrival we were greeted with sunshine, warm temperatures, and a fourteen hour layover! We decided to use the time here in the City of Angels to explore it by tour bus. Our journey took us to the end of Route 66 and the Santa Monica Pier, to the affluent areas of Bel Air and Beverly Hills where we did a little window shopping on Rodeo Drive, and to the Farmers Market for a delicious lunch. We ended our tour by visiting the world famous Hollywood sign and taking in the beautiful view of the LA skyline. During our travels, we had the opportunity to visit with a lovely couple from Canada. They were very interested in our program and shared with us their concerns about education in Canada. We also spent time visiting with a young man from Holland who on a gap year traveling the world on his own.
We just got our boarding call, and we are off again. This next leg will take us thirteen hours and a trip across the International Date Line to our destination. More to come...
After 30 hours of travel, we have finally arrived at our destination! We were warmly greeted by Dr. Haxton's Aunt Janine and Uncle Ross at the airport. We then traveled to One Tree Hill perched high on an extinct volcano overlooking the city of Auckland. (It is important to note that the namesake tree no longer exists due to a political protest.) We also visited a beautiful rose garden and park down near the harbor. For the rest of our afternoon, the group dined and explored the city.
We weary travelers next made our way to the All Season "hotel." We were informed that the accommodations would be small, but we were unprepared for the lack of space and amenities. For many of us, this was the first time to find a shower, toilet, and sink in a four foot square space. Air conditioning was a small window and a two foot wide door leading to a "balcony." Despite its small nature, the room provided us with what we needed most, a place to rest.
Tomorrow we head to Hamilton, home to the University of Waikato...
Today started with a scenic two hour drive from Auckland to Hamilton. Things are a bit different here in New Zealand. It has taken us a little getting use to driving and walking on the left side of the road; however, we do enjoy listening to the way people talk here.
Once we arrived at the University, we took part in a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony that involved songs and the pressing of noses. When asked to speak on behalf of our group, Dr. Haxton expressed our gratitude for their hospitality. We were then invited to sing our song which was an impromptu, off-key version of "Oklahoma" which delighted our hosts. We then enjoyed lunch and conversation before participating in an interactive Maori lesson to introduce us to their culture. This was followed by two sessions with University officials giving us an overview of New Zealand's educational system.
P.S. We had a definite upgrade in our accommodations:-)
Today we returned to the University of Waikato to discuss the development of their masters of educational leadership program. The first session was led by Michele Morrison who explained how an organic approach was used in the development of the program twelve years ago. It is based on two papers (courses): Issues & Perspectives and Organizational Development.
After a traditional morning tea, we began our second session with Professor Christopher Branson who addressed Kiwi Leadership for Principals. He introduced this session with a comparison of New Zealand and Oklahoma educational structures and the role of the principal. There was a focus on the alignment of leadership theories and the influence of Maori culture on the qualities of school leaders.
We ended our day with a trip to Raglan on the Tasman Sea where members of the group chose to surf, relax, or walk along the beautiful black sand beaches.
Today we had the opportunity to hear from actual administrators in the New Zealand schools. The first speaker, Marcus Freke, Principal of Vardon Primary School, shared his personal educational leadership pathway. Mr. Freke gave us background information about the New Zealand school system, as well as the issues facing New Zealand school principals.
After morning tea, we heard more fascinating personal stories from educational leaders about their pathways and aspirations. One speaker that struck a particular chord with me was Caroline Gill from St. Peter's Private School. She is a dance and drama instructor currently in the educational leadership program. She really focused on the importance of the arts in student learning which is reminiscent of the A+ Initiative that my school uses to incorporate the arts into the curriculum creating authentic learning opportunities for students. We also heard from Donella Cobb, a Professional Studies Lecturer and Bex Clements, Deputy Principal of Hinuera School. Several of our speakers spoke about their OEs (overseas experiences) which have assisted them in gaining a more global perspective.
The final speaker of the day was Dr. Rachel McNae who took leadership in a slightly different direction. Her perspective on leadership dealt with fostering student leaders in the schools. She took us through an exercise in which we came up with ways we see, hear, and feel student leadership in our own schools. Then working together, we organized those ideas into meaningful groupings, but not without quite a bit of discussion.
Tomorrow is our last day in Hamilton, and we will spend the morning visiting schools here in town.
Today was our final day in Hamilton. We split up into three different groups and traveled to area schools: Berkley Middle School, Newstead Country School, and Silverdale Normal School. There we had opportunities to visit and interact with administrators, teachers, and students. It is interesting to note that all the schools had a set morning tea time that was observed by all students and teachers. Another interesting thing to note is that shoes are optional here; even in the schools. We reconvened for lunch at the university where we shared our experiences.
After lunch, we took part in a poroporoaki which is a Maori farewell ceremony. Each person expressed their gratitude for the time we shared together. The ceremony ended with an encore performance of "Oklahoma" and the presentation of a traditional monetary gift. Additional gifts representing Oklahoma were presented to our gracious hosts. Later that evening a BBQ dinner was held in our honor and final farewells were exchanged.
Next up...Waitomo Caves and Rotorua.
We departed Hamilton this morning and headed southwest to Waitomo. Waitomo translates to "water hole" which is an appropriate description of the area with its large number of limestone caves situated in a lush green mountainous area.
Waitomo is host to the world famous glowworm caves. Our group was presented with two ways to explore the caves: black water tubing or a walking tour. The more adventurous members opted for the tubing, while the others chose a relaxing walk through native bush and past picturesque waterfalls.
Afterwards, we began a scenic drive northeast to Rotorua. Along the way, we experienced what it means to be an American in a foreign country when we inadvertently put unleaded gasoline in a diesel engine. Once we got the van siphoned and refueled we were on the road again.
Tomorrow we will explore what Rotorua has to offer...
Happy St. Patrick's Day from Rotorua! There is a lot of evidence of the holiday here from green hats, boas, hair, and even full body paint. As this was our first fully free weekend, we enjoyed a bit of a sleep in, did a little shopping, and relaxed for the better part of the day.
In the afternoon our intrepid leader took us to a favorite attraction, Skyline Gondola and Luge. There we enjoyed a panoramic view of Rotorua and the lake from the top of a mountain. Once at the top we donned helmets, climbed into a luge, and sped down the mountain at 30 mph. A few of the group braved the sky swing which pulled them to the top of the mountain and dropped them out over the valley.
Afterwards, we walked into town for a nice dinner, live music, and dancing at the Pig and Whistle.
Tomorrow, more from Rotorua - home of geysers, mud pools, and hot springs...
Our last day in Rotura was a day of rest. It was a beautiful Sunday here and several of us chose to visit the living geothermal Maori village of Whakarewarewa. There we received a history lesson on the Maori culture of the past and the present. The village consisted of twenty-five families who rely on the geothermal activity of the village for their livelihood. We learned the hotter pools were used for cooking, and the overflow was cooled and used for communal bathing. We had an opportunity to sample corn cooked in a geothermal pool. It was the best ear of corn ever! We also witnessed the eruption of two geysers: the Pohutu and the Prince of Wales.
We took a stroll in the afternoon and found that the geothermal pools exist all over town including neighborhoods and the lake area. The smell of sulfur permeates every inch of the town and can be overwhelming at times.
We had a few people who spent a relaxing afternoon at the Polynesian Spa enjoying mud wraps and the geothermal pools. Others toured the town of Rotorua by helicopter.
Tomorrow we head to Middle Earth in search of Hobbits....
Today, we left Rotorua with its hot springs and geysers behind and headed towards Taurango. On the way, just outside the town of Matamata is the Alexander farm. This 1250 acre working sheep farm with its beautiful rolling countryside became home to Tolkien's Middle-Earth when it was discovered by Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema in 1998.
Despite it being a chilly rainy day, spirits were high as we prepared to walk in the footsteps of Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf. Our tour of Hobbiton began at the Shires Rest where we boarded a bus and traveled through the countryside to the Shire. Once there, we were able to walk around the Shire visiting various sites including Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. Across the pond, we saw the pub, stables, and market. We even strolled across the Party Field and stood beneath the Party Tree. The time we spent in Hobbiton was amazing. It was like the place truly existed and was not merely a movie set. After leaving the Shire, we had the opportunity to fee some of the sheep and lambs back at the Shires Rest. It was a truly magical experience!
Tomorrow, it is back to work...
This morning we attended a professional development session for student teachers from the University of Waikato Tauranga campus at Tahatai Coast School. We were warmly greeted with Roger and Hammerstein's version of "Oklahoma." Imagine our surprise! As future administrators, we learned about New Zealand school structures and what potential teachers here face when applying for positions. The session wrapped with a Q & A between the administrators and the teacher candidates. The Oklahoma group toured the school before lunch and we finished out our day at Tahatai with a round table discussion with Principal Griggs and Deputy Principal Bell.
We then decided to take advantage of what we thought was a break in the rainy weather. Several of us decided to climb to the summit of Mount Maunganui (Mauao). Despite a monsoon-type rain, we were treated to spectacular views of the coastline from the summit. After the return trip down the mountain, a few of us ventured down to the beach where we dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean. In the words of George Costanza, "the sea was angry that day, my friend." This was due in large part to an intense weather system in this part of the world.
Tomorrow, the group will divide up with three of us returning to Tahatai Coast School, three will head to Welcome Bay School, and four are reporting to Otumoetai Intermediate School where we will spend two days in the classrooms.
We had an opportunity to observe in the schools today. It was a great feeling being back in the classroom and interacting with students again. Geographically speaking, Oklahoma and New Zealand couldn't be more different, but when it comes to education there were more similarities than we realized. Concerns over standards, assessments, and student issues are universal and dominate NZ news just like home. The children of New Zealand are no different than American children. They learn, play, and make choices both good and bad. The subtle differences we noted were a more relaxed learning environment, collaboration among the students , and the mutual respect shown between staff and students. The larger differences came in the form of scheduling morning teas, longer lunch times that involved the whole school, and no cafeteria seating.
While many of us observed in traditional classrooms, a couple of us got to participate in a completely digital classroom with each student having their own laptop. These students known as Year 5 and 6 here were the equivalent of our fourth graders back home. It was amazing to see the creativity demonstrated by the students and their willingness to share what they have learned with the "ladies with the funny accents."
There was no site seeing today. We experienced a torrential downpour and Oklahoma-type winds this afternoon and evening. After trying to wait it out, we finally decided to brave the elements to enjoy dinner at a recommended eatery.
Tomorrow, it is back to our assigned schools for more observations...
Yesterday was our last day in the schools. We spent the day in classrooms, shadowing administrators, or just wandering the grounds and gathering new ideas. A few of us had an opportunity to meet a of representative from the Ministry of Education over lunch. We shared a discussion of how both countries work with special needs students which was interesting for all parties. We also had an opportunity to meet a visiting principal from Alberta, Canada who is on leave while working on her doctoral program. She has been traveling the world looking at schools and the effects of the physical environment on student learning.
We have found this to be a very productive learning experience, and we take away with us a new appreciation for our own education system along with a slightly wider global perspective than we brought with us. As we prepare leave, we take with us a new found knowledge, a renewed sense of purpose in our teaching, a respect for the New Zealand culture, and a collaborative network of administrators and teachers.
We want to extend grateful hearts to all the people we met and work with over the last two weeks. It was an incredible experience that none of us will ever forget. We say E noho ra to our new friends, but we know that it is not a final good-bye but a farewell until meet again.
We have finally reached the end of our adventure. It should take us about 22 more hours to reach OKC. We have had a wonderful time, met many great people along the way, and enjoyed beautiful sights. It is the hopes of many us to someday return down under to Kiwi country. In the meantime, we have our memories and experiences to share with family, friends, and colleagues.