Alumni Retreat 2017 Reflection

Voices - 12 May 2017

A reflection of the very first Teach First NZ Alumni Retreat, by alumni and for alumni, which kicked off on April 28th 2017 - the last Friday of the school holidays. 

The genesis for the retreat came from brainstorming discussions and Lance Cash (C15) putting his hand up to make it happen. Joined by Ruby Hale (C13), Sophie Barr (C15), Hannah Betts (C16) and Hannah Lees (C13), the organising group polled alumni for ideal retreat features and set to work inviting speakers, timetabling sessions, and securing an aspirational accommodation spot. Set at Vaughan Park Retreat Centre overlooking Te Oneroa Long Bay, attendees came looking to be refreshed, re-invigorated, re-connected, and re-inspired. Alumni and participants from C13 to C16 as well as a few international guests from some of our global network partners brought their characteristically high levels of intellectual engagement and social justice aroha to the sessions. Ruby Hale (C13) set the tone by sharing Antonio Gramsci’s call that we must be pessimists of the intellect but optimists of the will.

Nicole Siew (C13) spoke of the perspective jlt she gained from the provocative speaker sessions at the retreat: “I think for me, being in teaching for the fifth year, I had became focused on the students in front of me and making sure they succeed rather than always looking up at the bigger picture. I liked how the retreat extended my focus from the normal day to day of teaching.” She went further to reflect that rather than experiencing paralysis, consideration of structural issues helped her to identify what changes can be made: “although economic structures exist - and we as teachers can't completely change this ourselves - it was uplifting to feel that teachers can move students up or that we can have generational change.” This lined up with our first guest speaker, Alison Jones, who memorably exclaimed that, “we are but a flea on the bum of the economic system. Don’t burn out because you think you are charged with changing the whole course. There can be small gains. Indeed, we all need to be motivated by optimism that we can make local change.”

Abuzz with the shared connections and unifying commitment to tackling educational inequality, it was the first time for many alumni to be in the same space with with their peers from other cohorts. With a varied lineup of speakers, panels, mealtime discussions, alumni sharing time, comparative conversations with guests from the Teach For All network, a walk on the beach - we had it all. There was also a great sense of initiative and leadership, with Jono Wieland (C14) reflecting that, “I'm so proud of what felt like our first real foray out of the nest - we are still Teach First NZ, but we're charting our own path that feels authentic and energised.”

Nadeen Papali’i (C13) reflected on the community-building factor of the retreat, sharing that, “I was blown away at how well 'threaded' our views and passions were about education and inequality - we really do speak like we were from one family. Having gained a lot from alumni sharing over the weekend, I came away excited because we were all living out our beliefs in the things we do. The retreat helped me to see the bigger picture that we are all a part of. It is only going to keep growing.”

Many of our alumni remain in the classroom, with some already in positions of curricular and pastoral school leadership. Others have moved into policy research and further study following their service in schools. The Teach First NZ Alumni network is young, yet latent with possibility. If we can keep up our relationships and support each other in our varied work then we hope to have an increasing impact. We’ve already demonstrated a commitment to each other through wholehearted participation in this retreat and, as Nadeen says, it is only going to keep growing.



Vaughan Spurdle, Tracey Pile, Keringawai Evans-Larkin, and Emma Howden present to their alumni peers and international guests (including Mai Chutidamrongpan from Teach For Thailand, pictured far left).

A relaxed lunch at the beachfront reserve.

A memorable session from Michelle Johansson and members of Southside Rise opened up the space for talented young scholars and performers to share their obstacles and achievements. Michelle reminded us that “for young brown scholars it’s about polycultural capital.”

Lance Cash, Ruby Knight, Lindsey Bailey (Teach For All), Jonathan Weiland, and Nadeen Papali’i discuss ideas for future alumni initiatives.