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19 Oct, 2020 - 6 min read

Building resilient futures


On paper Jane Bloxham’s journey to her Master of Contemporary Education (MCE) looks seamless, transformational and a perfect example of leadership and impact. In reality, it is a very squiggly line filled with pivots, uncertainty and blind trust in following passion.

Mostly, it is a story of breaking barriers, of keeping real outcomes in sight, and not accepting no as an answer. 

Jane is Head of Technology at Mana College in Porirua. She immigrated to New Zealand from England in 1999. Sadly, her years of experience in textiles and teaching tech were not recognised as equivalence when it came to teaching in New Zealand. Jane was told that she was not allowed to teach secondary school.

“Basically I had to go back to go forward when I was told that I could not teach in secondary school. I bristled a bit at that and thought ‘you’re not going to stop me doing this’ so I got a teacher’s training scholarship and went and trained as a secondary teacher. I felt I had to prove that I could do this.”

Having always been passionate about learning, Jane completed The Mind Lab’s Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning (DCL) and was immediately inspired to move on to our Master of Contemporary Education (MCE).

“Doing the Masters was a real challenge for me,” explains Jane, “I was desperate to continue learning after DCL but it was impossible without a scholarship and I was not expecting to get one. Why would they give someone of my age a scholarship? I had much less of a career span than younger people. But I had no other option so I went for it, and got it – my second scholarship through TeachNZ.”

The next obstacle surfaced almost immediately: while applying for a scholarship and MCE, Jane was also applying for her current position at Mana College.

“I cheekily went for the interview and then said ‘I’d love the job but could I have a year off to do my Masters?’"

A compromise was reached and Jane went into the school one day a week for the first year while she studied.

The panic set in almost immediately: what to focus on in terms of the change project? Jane saw two significant needs in the school, one was to create pathways for students to enter the job market and the other was developing digital skills amongst the teaching staff. 

Always practical, Jane decided to focus her Masters practice change on teaching the teachers in computational thinking. In her view, teachers cannot support students in this hugely important area if they do not have the relevant skills to teach them. Already deeply invested in delivering computational thinking, Jane went to bed one night and had a realisation that changed the course of her journey entirely.

“I had finished Level 8, I had my collaborative team around me, I was deep, deep into my project, and I woke up in the middle of the night and realised that I could not deliver on my change strategy. It was too big. It was not tenable for me to be able to follow through.” 

After a sleepless night, all Jane knew was that her Masters project in delivering computational change to teachers was over. She decided to give herself a pause to reset and focussed on the practicalities of her school work.

All this time, alongside her academic Master's project, a practical, building project was being created at her school. 

“Our principal, John Murdoch, is a visionary and he was looking to create a construction school within Mana College. As Head of Technology, I got involved in admin and the planning and funding applications. We didn’t get funding but John, a fellow barrier breaker, decided to make it happen no matter what. In my planning, on a very optimistic timeline, I estimated that we could start a house by July 2020. In reality, with the unbelievable support of parents and businesses in the community, we started on our first house in February 2020 and as we speak, it has been completed, sold and is being moved to its site at the end of September 2020.”

Jane’s whole demeanour changes at this point, her passion and love for the project, the school and the students literally pours out of her. It is thrilling to witness. 

“It is incredible to see school kids, Y11 and Y12’s, go from schoolboys in uniform to tradies. The biggest thing that I loved to see is when they were all trying to do the measurements for the layout of the house and they were all doing Pythag. They squared the building. Now they know how important maths is – you could see the light bulb going on – ‘I’ve got it now’. School makes sense, maths makes sense in the real world and most importantly, we are giving these boys skills for life; they can get a job after this.”

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The projection for 2021 is not one, but two builds. From 15 students altogether in 2020, the strategy for 2021 is for 15 Y11’s and 15 Y12’s to build and 15 Y13’s to project manage.

“We want to address the very real community needs of mouldy and damp houses; the long waiting list of people needing housing and the awful stats on school leavers not in education or employment. We are looking at creating almost an independent building school within our school that includes maths and literacy. The idea is to write a programme for a three year school apprenticeship. Imagine leaving school as a qualified builder!”

Currently, Jane is working through how her Masters project change fits in all of this, with the support of the MCE team. Herbert Thomas, our Postgraduate Director, weighs in with his insight.

“From an MCE perspective, the shift from computational thinking to the building project in Jane's work is symptomatic of one of the most powerful moments in the MCE candidate journey, namely the transition from student to master of their own practice. This is really the point at which the training wheels come off and the candidates become masters of their own learning journey.”

As I talk to more and more Masters students, I get a deeper understanding of the ripples of transformation that this programme sets in motion. Students, take their first steps with an idea of doing something very “smart’, very academic, very cerebral – it is a Masters after all – and one by one, the aha moment – the pivot – happens and they end up doing something very personal and very practical, something that they had been doing as a passion project all along. 

Jane expands on this; “we have the academic pathway that we think we should follow but  the engagement, the attendance, the authentic learning is all about what these kids do in reality; how they can survive and provide.”

It is humbling and incredibly heartwarming to hear and record these stories.

Jane ends with, “They're such beautiful kids, every day there’s another lightbulb, another kid that blossoms. It is a privilege to be a part of this. School should never be a place that you just come to, you should really want to be here. The icing on the cake is that I’ve been learning with them, I’m doing it with them. I'm living the change with them.”

Thank you Jane.  

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