Profile: Wilj Dekkers, Head of Innovation and Information Services and Digital Technology Teacher, St Andrew’s College

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Can you give us some background on your career in teaching?

I have been a teacher for 22 years, starting at a small bilingual school in Mangere Auckland.  Over the years I became interested in Educational Technology, taking on roles related to coordinating ICT and eLearning.  In my early career I stepped outside the classroom for a time and worked as an ICT facilitator as part of a cluster of schools in Auckland.

My wife and I took a break from our New Zealand careers and worked in the UK for a decade; first in Nottingham, followed by managing a Pre-Prep and Middle School for seven years at an independent school in Surrey.

We returned to New Zealand in 2013, settled in Christchurch, and I began teaching in the Preparatory School at St Andrew’s College the following year.

Over the past few years my role has developed into what it is now; in my innovation role I am given the opportunity to work with staff and students across the College.

 

Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in teaching and technology?

Like many, I had a teacher in my own youth whose encouragement and example led me towards this profession.  It was never about technology though; it was always about learning.  Through having an inspirational teacher, who used the tools at hand well, I learned to do the same.  The technology at our disposal today is only as good as the teachers who make the most of it for the right reasons.

 

You recently won an ISNZ Honours Award for Service to Innovation and Technology. Can you tell us about the development of The Green Library and Innovation Centre, and your work on the Digital Technology curriculum for St Andrew’s?

The Green Library and Innovation Centre has become a hub for students and parents; a space which celebrates our love of reading and learning; it will continue to evolve, being seen as a place for experimentation with new forms of educational technologies for students across the College, both in the Preparatory and Secondary Schools. 

The centre incorporates learning spaces which are not attached to, but part of a refurbished Library.  New zones have been developed for students where they may learn privately and alone or in collaborative group zones.

The library space provides a learning hub for students of all ages.  Teaching and learning zones have been developed in conjunction with both the Preparatory and Secondary Future Problem Solving groups.  These students formed a cross section of age groups and collaborated with our architect to design a learning hub by the students, for the students.

In recent years we began incorporating aspects of the draft Technology Curriculum.  Through our Preparatory School, teachers have received training to upskill their use of tools such as robotics – but more importantly they are developing a better understanding that the new Digitech curriculum can help to refine students’ approaches to problem solving.  In the Secondary School I am currently team teaching with an outstanding teacher, ensuring that all Year 9 students receive the opportunities provided by the new curriculum.  We focus on an approach to computational thinking which is about developing a set of skills allowing students to break a large problem down into parts, making each part easier to solve, to look for patterns and repetition and create algorithms to help solve the big picture problem.  By approaching a problem in this way, if applicable, students may then harness the technology at their fingertips to help them.  We want our students to be creators of, not just users of technology.

 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety still surprises me.  Every day is different.  For example, my morning started with setting up a VR display for the Secondary School library which will allow students to experience a spacewalk – this forms part of the display associated with the Apollo moon landing 50th anniversary.  Later today I will prepare a lesson that will be used by Year 9 to experience the Ngā Motu world in Minecraft for te wiki o te reo Māori.  My own Digital Technology class will share their app design concepts today and I am meeting with their parents after school to discuss the amazing progress their children have made.  Between these structured times, I get to check in with Preparatory teachers and their outstanding student projects.

 

What do you most want to achieve in your role?

My goal is to work myself out of a job.  To know that when I eventually move into a new role, I do so because the staff and students are running programmes of work that are self-sustaining.  I look forward to the day when senior students are mentoring their younger counterparts in robotics and a student-led Innovation Council oversees various projects running within the College.

 

What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?

For me, the support and opportunity to develop as an educator has been outstanding.  St Andrew’s College has trusted me to lead the development of The Green Library and Innovation Centre and resource the facility in a way which will benefit students and the wider community for many years to come.  I believe, in our case, that working in an independent school also provides us with a strong whānau aspect to the school.  In my current Year 11 tutor group is a student I first taught when he was 10 years old in Year 6. As he has grown through the school, so has our relationship with his family.

 

What are your thoughts on the benefits of independent schooling for students?

I believe it comes down to opportunities.  Being a co-educational independent school, students have access to excellent facilities, resourcing and staffing.  With our eye on the future we still provide a value-based education for the students.  The co-educational aspect of the College provides boys, girls, young men and women with a balanced, healthy start to their lives ahead.