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My Journey Through Formal Education

This is a post for my Global Citizenship Diploma (more information here) for the element Academic Excellence.

Four long years ago, at the start of 2015, I started a long and arduous journey into post graduate studies. This was a huge undertaking for me and I don’t think I knew all the way back then how significant this would be or how much work would be required.

If we rewind all the way back to 2001, I started to blaze my own trail when I became the first in the Norris family to finish high school. This wasn’t a hugely significant achievement for me at the time, because it was something that everyone around me was expecting; my family, friends and teachers. But a few weeks later, the next achievement occurred which was much less likely and wasn’t an expectation at all, more like a personal hope or dream, I was accepted into university! Once again, a first for my family.

I studied a Bachelor of Teaching specialising in primary/elementary education at The University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, which was about 20 kilometers from where I grew up. I can’t pretend that getting my bachelor’s degree was effortless. It was quite a shock for me because in high school, learning came easy to me, whereas in a higher educational institution, academic expectations were much higher. This was where I realised the limitations of simply being engaged in learning, I now had to work for it, having to commit time and effort to it and apply myself to the required course material. But that extra effort, time and deeper thought needed now I was at university set me up for my future career and further studies.

High school graduation with my best mates, 2001

I toiled away at the three year degree, working multiple jobs, pretty much full time while living at home and slotting in study around my work commitments. The course concluded with my final teaching placement. It was an extremely positive learning experience for me, I developed as an educator while also receiving some very good feedback from my supervising teacher on how to improve and refine my practise. The school was so impressed with my abilities that they invited me back the follow week to start substitute teaching, days after I had finished the final module of my bachelor’s degree.

The three year Bachelor of Teaching degree that I finished had a fourth year master’s program, but acceptance into this program was by invitation only from the Faculty of Education staff. Deep down, I wanted to continue to the fourth year of study so that I could obtain my Master’s of Education, partly because I still had a love for learning and I was also starting to work out how to be successful at university after a rocky start. But unfortunately, I was not offered a position to continue. I received my bachelor’s degree, but not being offered a place in the Master’s program was the first time in my whole life that I had not been accepted into a course I wanted to be a part of, which hurt a little and knocked me down a peg or two. The fact I was not accepted to study for a master’s degree stuck with me and fuelled me to be the best teacher I could be, as a way to show the university that I really was capable of postgraduate education.

Graduation from Wollongong University with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), 2004

Looking back, it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. A few weeks later, at the start of 2005, I got my first full time teaching role with an extremely bright and cheerful Year 1 class, at Mt. Terry Primary School, the school I completed my final practicum at and started to substitute teach at. Being in the classroom, teaching and interacting with students was where I thrived, where as writing academic papers and reading textbooks wasn’t really what I enjoyed, especially only being 21 years old.

Over the following years, I taught a range of year levels and subjects, in three different continents, while continuing to refine my pedagogy more and more each year and increasingly drawing on the theoretical knowledge from my bachelor’s degree as the years went on.

Fast forward to Germany circa 2015, 10 years after starting my first full time teaching role and I was ready for a new challenge in my career. I decided to look at different master’s programs around the world to see if there were any that looked interesting. I was hoping to find something in the field of educational technology leadership. My search continued on and off for a long time for a course I liked, until one day I stumbled upon the Master’s of Information and Communication Technology in Education at Charles Sturt University. This course, as you could infer from the name, was focused on technology in education, but it also had modules on leadership in education, so on a whim, I decided to apply. Little did I know that four years later, I would have read hundreds, if not thousands of academic papers and studies, watched hundreds of hours of video content, written tens of thousands of words in reports and essays and formally reflected time and time again. If I knew how much work was required, I doubt I would have started it in the first place. But my determination and drive kept me going, (along with the knowledge of how much money I would have wasted if I walked away without a degree). I also kept thinking back to 2004 when I was told I was not cut out for postgraduate studies, this setback motivated me enough to prove everyone wrong. Now having the maturity (being 32 when I started a master’s degree, as opposed to being 22 when I originally wanted to start a master’s degree) and teaching experience really helped me to put what I learned in my post graduate studies in context. I could add the new knowledge and skills of my already developed understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, which made the learning so more relevant and meaningful than it would of with the minimal teaching experience I had back in 2004.

At the end of 2018, I had to finish the final assignment of the final module of my master’s degree. I had received some excellent marks throughout the course, with the exception of one mistake in one course right at the start of my degree, which brought down my grade point average considerably. So I worked hard to get the best marks possible so I could bump up my grade point average. I proofread my work for days, editing and rewriting multiple sections over and over again. I trawled through the assignment descriptions and expectations (the assignment description for my final assignment was 2000 words in itself!) to make sure I met all of the expectations. I listened to the video description of the task multiple times as well, clarifying anything I didn’t understand in the course forum. I finally submitted the 3,500 word report and cross my fingers.

A bit over three weeks later, I received feedback and the grade on my final assignment. I got 51 out of 60 (85%), which bumped my grade point average up to 6.0 out of 7.0. Doing so well on my final assignment, raised my GPA, which in turn allowed me to graduate from the degree with distinction. At my graduation ceremony, I was the only student in my course that graduated with distinction, which really helped me put into context the level of academic excellence I was able to achieve.

Master’s graduation with my parents, sister, niece and nephew, 2018

Thinking back to 2004, if I would have been able to enroll in the Master’s program at Wollongong University, I doubt I would have come close to graduation with distinction and as mentioned above, I would not have had the framework to apply new knowledge to without years of teaching experience. Being in my early thirties also allowed me the maturity to take my education much more seriously than what I would have in my early twenties. I know “hindsight is 20/20”, but having the rejection in 2004, helped to push me as a professional, as I felt I always had something to prove. It helped me to continually strive to be better and do better and gave me the ability to not only be the first Norris to graduate high school or receive a bachelor’s degree, but to become the first Norris to graduate from a Master’s degree and do so with distinction.

The Global Citizenship Diploma

Last year I was invited along to a meeting about the Global Citizenship Diploma (GCD). I had no idea what it was and I was sceptical that it was adding even more work onto our busy students schedules. However, after attending the meeting, with GCD coordinators and those involved in the GCD from around the world, I was really sold on the idea, what is stands for and how it goes about asking it’s students to demonstrate their international mindedness.

The GCD defines a global citizen as:

A person who conducts their daily life with a commitment to understanding others; who makes decisions with an awareness of how they affect communities locally and globally; and who advocates and holds themselves accountable for social and environmental sustainability.

As such, I would hope that all international schools strive for their students (and their teachers) to be described in this way. Students show their proficiency towards becoming global citizens by reflecting on the amazing experiences they already have in their current education, such as the outdoor education adventure trips they take part in, the opportunities they have to serve a community, their public communication experiences and so much more. The different elements that students need to demonstrate experience in and the different levels of recognition for the GCD can be found in the one page doc here. In order for students to demonstrate an understanding of an element, students are expected to reflect on a deep level on their learning in a public digital portfolio which can be shared with high education institutions, others schools or anyone else interested in getting to know the students and their education a little better. This reflection is a great way for the students to explicitly learn how demonstrate metacognition, deep thoughts and a great understanding of oneself.

This year, I have been on a team of five teachers as a GCD coach for one class in Year 10 and one class in Year 11. Our goal is to have all students, by the end of the Year 11, complete a Global Citizenship Certificate and hopefully inspire them to take a shot at getting a full diploma in their final two years of school (the differences between a certificate and diploma can be found on the GCD one page doc). As a result, all of the coaches have agreed to also get their Global Citizenship Certificate, so over the coming months, expect more content from me on a range of different GCD elements.