Search for eResources by keyword
The unexpected journey of a National Award-winning teacher

Have you ever met a teacher and thought to yourself, ‘I wonder, what inspired their journey? What do they do differently, and what can I learn from them?’ These questions are key to become extraordinary in your teaching career. On my journey, I have had the privilege of meeting educational leaders that have shaped my perspectives and drive towards enabling fun and memorable teaching and learning experiences – for both myself and my learners.

My journey to Deputy Chief Education Specialist (DCES) has been an unexpected adventure specialising in the integration of technology in the classroom. This 10-year devotion has led me to spearhead the redefinition of the teacher professional development programme for technology-enhanced teaching and learning across the Western Cape province working at the provincial office of Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in the eLearning directorate.

As each of us has a story to share, mine started in 1998 in Bloemfontein, when computers were introduced at my primary school. I still remember, we as children were excited to learn about the functionality of this new ‘box and screen’. Internet was a futuristic term that most of us couldn’t grasp anyway. In the early phases of technology awareness in education, the focus often was on hardware with the assumption that technology will revolutionize education. Today we know that it isn’t entirely true. So much more than the physical environment is needed for change, as the change within us drives transformation.

In 2010, I was appointed at my alma mater primary school as the new Grade 1 teacher and soon became known for my controversial methods and teaching style, in comparison to the existing practice at our school. Having a large classroom with all-one-could-ask-for (tables, chairs, a black board, stationary, books and a teacher-computer with internet access), it was more than I expected as a first-year teacher. But something was missing…

I soon realized that using technology opens the mind of a learner to connect with the content and ask more questions. I realized that their learning was no longer limited to the available books and materials I prepared. I had to be prepared to go beyond what I planned to allow for learner voice and choice.  Beginning to explore different technologies that would support my curriculum content, I realised that technology made learning easier as learners were active and interested. But to enjoy its innovative affordances, it required me to adjust my teaching strategies, my classroom layout and my own role and position in the classroom. I soon learned to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

At that stage my school was not ready for transformation and therefore I started staff development sessions at neighbouring schools to showcase educational tools which I used to modify practice. This allowed me the platform to share and gain confidence as a speaker and trainer. My classroom was my safe zone and I claimed my teacher autonomy, possibly to the frustration of others, but definitely to the benefit of my learners.

Dreaming Big

A mentor challenged me with the words 'if your dreams don’t scare you it is not big enough'. So, in 2012, then teaching Grade 3’s, I designed a project for my class called Tjok IDEAS which incorporated different technologies for 30 different learner-inspired projects to be completed over the course of the year. This differentiated project-based strategy used the ITL research (2011) as a base to incorporate 21st-century learning design. I was awarded as Change Agent and national runner-up for the 2012 Microsoft Innovator Awards. That year, the Motheo district office in the Free State nominated me for the National Teaching Awards (NTA) in the category Excellent use of ICT-enhanced teaching and learning. I took the opportunity and succeeded in taking the first position nationally in my respective category.

Since then, I was approached by various industry leads for public engagement, ICT trainer opportunities, and even three co-authorships with Van Schaik Publishers on the integration of technology in primary schools particularly. I was also selected to become part of the national team for developing Foundation Phase standardised papers working with a team of 50 other teachers, representative of all 11 official languages. Throughout my teaching journey, I realised that it is the connections outside of the workplace that impacted my professional trajectory most. You become the average of the people you surround yourself with. Hence, I needed to be part of a network of extra-ordinary people.

That year I obtained my Honors degree in School Management and Leadership while continuing lecturing part-time at the University of the Free State in Life Orientation: Dance, Early Childhood Development, Foundation Phase Mathematics and ICT Skills development. For the next few years, I continued to inspire, plan and lead transformation in my school to increase classroom technology and ICT enhanced teaching and learning practice. I got involved in various research projects of which one was on the transformational pathways of two primary schools in the adoption of technology. I also participated as lead peer coach at my school in collaboration with the University of the Free State.

I started January 2017 as an office-based educator in my new role as Senior Education Specialist: eLearning at Free State Department of Education. Here, I had the opportunity to extend my sphere of influence and assist in the transformation of different schools across the province. Suddenly, I was a computer lab manager at head office and provincial eLearning coordinator. I enjoyed the new development in my career as my instructional design, strategic planning, and public speaking skills were put to the test. In 2018, I enrolled for an online master’s degree in ICT in Education at the University of Johannesburg.

As a promise to myself, I continued to intentionally expand my comfort zones, and with 2019 crowning my 10th year in Education, I moved to Cape Town for the next stretch of my journey as an educational thought leader. November 2018, I drove to Cape Town for the first time and took a position as Deputy Chief Education Specialist at WCED. Here I was responsible for special projects which included the exploration of self-directed learning, VR technology, differentiated learning, and coding, and robotics. I continued to develop as a mentor, conference speaker, and content and policy developer in response to the fourth industrial revolution.

Understanding that change is a journey that everyone is not ready to venture into, makes me passionate about the developmental journeys of teachers. With the realities of remote teaching and learning, coding and robotics, and many other topics surfacing, I was inspired to take a new position as DCES: Capacity Building in 2020 and submitted my research dissertation on the demystification of coding in online teacher professional development initiatives.

Thinking back on my journey from Foundation phase teacher to DCES: eLearning, I want to challenge all teachers to undergo the 21st-century learning design course; to design innovative learning experiences for learners; and to plan collaboration, social and self-motivated learning experiences. Fun is just a click away!


In Education

Anita Van Vuuren

Deputy Chief Education Specialist

eLearning: Capacity Building