Karla Dunn: Reflections from Washington

Voices - 31 March 2016

Karla Dunn, from our Alumni community and 2014 cohort, recently represented New Zealand at Teach For All's annual global Alumni Conference. Here are her reflections. 

A week out from boarding the plane to Washington DC, to attend the annual Teach First Alumni conference, I began to question just what I was getting myself into; the snow was getting deeper there by the day! It made me wonder who decided to have a conference in the middle of an American winter anyway. Perhaps I was just a bit disappointed that I was sacrificing New Zealand’s summer days. In amongst all of this seemingly ungratefulness of the amazing opportunity I had been presented with, it dawned on me just how fitting it is having this conference in Washington DC, it is America’s home of unity after all.

Arriving at the conference, I did not truly know what it meant to be an alumni and I soon learnt I was not alone. Alumni representatives from around the world were thrown together to share, collaborate, and challenge each other’s ideas. The alumni attendees spanned the spectrum from the very fresh, like me, to the seasoned pros. As a result the conversations were rife and lively, inspirational and comforting. Irrespective of experience, culture or background we were all united by one thing, to work toward the mission, that one day a child’s educational success, will not be defined by their socio-economic background.

With such a hefty mission ahead, and it being so widespread around the globe, it would be easy to become disheartened. But in a space of unity, I saw empowerment. Knowing this is not an easy task helps prepare for the mountain in front, but facing it with allies makes the climb easier. To add to this we heard from a multitude of alumni that had already started paving the way in their communities, which made the challenge seem more within reach. We had role models!

It has been hard to process such rich information, and a month on I am still not sure if I have fully internalised it all. However, for now the ideas that resonate with me are as follows: Strong and invested alumni evolve from valued participants. Participants’ ideas matter and each and every one needs to have a space to share. The moment they feel insignificant, you have lost them, maybe for good, just like a student in a classroom. Leading on from this is knowing what participants, and therefore alumni, want to really achieve toward the mission and this is not fixed. For some it may not even be known at the end of the programme. Hence, establishing proactive pathways that adapt to the alumni and their ever changing needs, and aligning experts to seek knowledge from provides insight to the possibilities and support to follow through with ideas. Lastly, maintaining genuine connections beyond the two year programme. We live in a superficially connected world, but the connections need to go deeper and be individualised, not generic.

Since completing the programme, I have had an annoying niggle in the back of my mind – I should be doing more – and for now I have quietened it. For now, teaching is exactly what I want to do and it is exactly where I am most beneficial. But that niggle will return, in fact since the conference it is back louder than before. Not because I have lost my love of teaching, but because I feel empowered to do more, to be challenged and reach more individuals than what I can within the walls of my classroom. The intricacies of it all are unknown but ideas are brewing and an understanding of the likely skills and connections I will need to make it all happen are being mulled over on a daily basis. I will do more, but for now I am a teacher and I love it.

From where I see it, Teach First NZ has just been gifted a portion of a jigsaw – educational inequity. We all know what we are trying to achieve within our country, for our tamariki and our future, but we are yet to unpack the box. We are yet to see the puzzle pieces and know how they fit together. Until then, until we work together in unity connecting together like puzzle pieces to build something bigger than ourselves, the journey remains just a vision. We need to make it a reality, we need to become united.