Education Leaders Forum 2017 LIFE PASSAGES   & LEARNING PATHS was held on 23 & 24 August at the Millennium Hotel in Rotorua.

ELF17  was about making a positive difference to young people and their communities by understanding key developmental and environmental factors in their journey from infancy to adulthood and making timely interventions when necessary.

It picked up on the Dunedin and other New Zealand longitudinal developmental studies and the intersection with fast changing environmental factors, with a focus on rapid changes in how people learn and work and how to help unlock their learning and earning potential.

The 2017 forum was aimed at education leaders and aspiring leaders from across the learning spectrum from early childhood to post-tertiary and also at those engaged in social welfare, health and justice who are interested in cross sector collaboration in order to improve outcomes for young people as they navigate life passages of infancy, early childhood, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.

Cross-sector approach

“A number of studies… have shown that the most creative groups are those that include the greatest variety of  perspective and experience.”  Oliver Moody

Why am I? Why are they?

“The excellence of the teacher is to identify the difference in talents of students”.  Roman Scholar Quintilian

Why are young people like they are at each life passage? What can we do so they can do better at each transitional stage?

ELF17 was about making a positive difference to individuals and their communities by understanding life shaping developmental and environmental factors and path changers in the journey from infancy to adulthood in the years 0-25 years, during which the brain matures, and acting on the need for timely interventions for those at risk to get them back on track.

Key research input

The forum picked up on the 45+ years old Dunedin Longitudinal Study. Pioneered by Dr Phil Silva, the University of Otago’s Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study examines the progressive results of ongoing research into the lives of 1,000 New Zealanders born 46 years ago in Dunedin.

Other relevant research came from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 39 year study founded by Professor David Fergusson of a birth cohort of 1,265 children born in the Christchurch region in mid-1977; and the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand, which is keeping tabs on the growth and development of initially 6,000+ children from a variety of ethnicities. The study aims to improve the lives of their generation and answer the fundamental question: What makes us who we are?

Making a positive difference for children

“If we get it right with everyone’s kids-if they are healthy, well educated, and ready to give something back to the world-then we get it right with everything.'”  Peter Rugg

ELF17 had a strong strand relevant to the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.  It was also highly relevant to learners at all levels, including the highly gifted, in terms of unlocking their potential.

As well as developmental themes, ELF17 picked up on the fast changing environment, especially in terms of rapidly evolving learning places and work spaces, and the implications for educators in terms of enhancing teaching and learning and strengthening connections with parents, employers and communities.

Speakers from different sectors were asked to explain how “we together” can help influence the choice of individual learner pathways for the better and how we can draw on support networks if intervention is needed at different stages in life and family development, particularly in the dimensions of health and social development.

While early childhood years are crucial for facilitating the development of healthy and engaged adults who become lifelong learners there are other key life passages, not the least of which is adolescence, where timely intervention can make a huge difference.  This can come from the personal coaching of an interested and inspiring teacher or the support of another sympathetic adult, often outside the immediate family circle.

Environmental Factors 
“Scientists are increasingly realising that intelligence is less about sheer genetic luck than we tend to think. According to the latest review of the evidence, around 40% of what distinguishes the brainiacs from the blockheads in adulthood is environmental. “    14/06/17

Whether we like it or not, our daily habits have a powerful impact on our brains, shaping their structures and changing the way we think, as demonstrated by a growing body of evidence in respect to neural plasticity. In terms of learning by creating and developing new neural pathways through regular stimulation and practice, we may prefer to use the term  “ regular reinforcement”  rather than the pejorative “rote” learning  and use analogies like learning the piano.  We may also be more open to reflect on the importance of the home environment and the key role of an interested adult(s) in encouraging good learning practices.

Better learning and earning trajectories
Hope is necessary. It is a necessary concept. What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope?”  Michele Obama

It is important to give children hope, as demonstrated in Dr Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology work. Better learning trajectories and better work pathways, based on the appreciation of individual talents and passions,  and helping learners set personalised goals add up to better life choices and outcomes and help to break the cycle of material and cultural poverty.




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