October 17

Who me? No, I’m just a worm!

Just a worm

Just a worm

Over the past 18 months, I’ve spoken at a few conferences. Last year, I was approached to do the keynote address at the University of Queensland Cyberschool Seminar. The organisers had heard the amazing Megan Townes speak about social media at a different conference, and she wasn’t able to do theirs, but recommended they contact me to see if I’d be interested. Just over a month ago, I delivered the keynote address at WATL’s annual conference, after being asked to fill in because their original speaker had to cancel. I’ve always made excuses for these …  along the lines of “oh, I wasn’t their first choice, they only asked me because they couldn’t find anyone better” … you know, imposter syndrome. And it’s been easy to get away with that, in my own head at least. Because I’m just a worm, right? A passionate worm, admittedly, and one who loves to share the story of her library and her ventures in social media, but a worm nonetheless.

Today, though, I lost the whole “oh, they couldn’t get anyone else” excuse. Because today, I spoke at the NSW Public Schools Libraries for Future Learners (#L4FL16) conference, and this was one I had to submit an EOI for.

Why was this a big deal? Because I hate speaking in public. Not like I hate Vegemite (which is in Amanda Palmer proportions, in case you’re wondering), but detest it with every fiber of my being. In the lead up to having to present something, I get stomach pains and nausea, so much so that at 6am before my keynote in Dubbo, I was seriously contemplating whether I needed to go to hospital because I decided this couldn’t JUST be nerves, I had to be getting really sick. When I’m actually presenting, it rarely gets better. My legs shake. My voice wavers, my face flushes, and I get increasingly tense as the time goes on. The slightest mis-step in my presentation throws me, and I mentally abuse myself for the rest of the session, and those three seconds are my takeaway – not the many comments of praise from participants afterwards. I remember the missed paragraph, the poorly described slide, the stumble over the statistics.

I could easily have not submitted the EOI for #L4FL16, and just gone along as a participant. There were some fantastic sessions on offer – many of which I couldn’t attend as I was running my own. But I’ve always said, to my students, and to my daughters, that it’s ok to do the scary thing. Whenever my students complain about having to do a speech task, I empathise with them, and tell them about my own experiences. Whenever my daughters start stressing out about needing to deliver a presentation at school, I remind them that I know exactly how they feel, and that I’ve survived every single speech I’ve had to deliver. And whenever I start to think that I need to go to hospital because I must be being consumed by some vicious new alien superbug, I remind myself that this is just your anxiety, Rodgers, and it’s not going to kill you, just keep breathing!

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Will Kostakis, fellow WATL keynote and allround great guy.

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Ngaire Booth, WATL friend find.

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Presenting at WATL, featuring the coolest skirt ever.

 

So, today was a big deal for me. I presented, through nerves of jello. I got some great feedback – not only from the people who I knew in the room, but from strangers who weren’t compelled to say nice things to me, but who came out of their way to find me during our post-conference drinks, and chat with me about my presentation. Their thoughtful and inspired reactions made me realise that I do, in fact, do a great job – through my stress and my nerves, my passion for our library story comes through. I’m incredibly proud of that. I’m really grateful to the wonderful people who’ve given me the opportunity to share my story, and to those who have taken my story and ideas on board. There’s nothing quite like hearing from someone later on who has sat through one of your presentations, who lets you know how they’ve applied some of the stuff you have talked about. Or when someone gets inspired by something small in your presentation, and it turns into a fantastic collaboration of ideas.

Mostly, though, above all of that, I’m immensely thankful for my wonderful friends and family, who can tell when I’m about to do something scary, and who love and support me through all of that stress. To the people who mentor me, and who remind me that I’ll be fine. To the ones who listen to me hypothesise about what could go wrong, and dwell on how crappy I’m going to feel, and who just gently love me through all that. I’m reminded, at times like this, that I -have- anxiety, I -deal with- anxiety. It’s not who I am, it’s just a little part of me that is NOT going to win, or stop me from doing what I’m passionate about. It’s getting easier to come to terms with that, and to accept that yes, I am just a worm, but that doesn’t mean I’m insignificant. I’ve got awesome stories to share, and those stories matter.

 

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Deb Hogg, longtime edufriend

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Townesy – my rockstar.

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Marianne Grasso – uni colleague, online sympathiser, and IRL friend

April 26

Resourcing the Curriculum – Annotated resource list

Annotated Resource List – Assignment 1, Resourcing the Curriculum

Britannica Online (2016). “Native American” Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://school.eb.com.au/levels/high/article/117303

THis resource is available through subscription to Britannica Online, and was selected after conducting a search on the database. Providing age and stage appropriate texts for students is one of the key requirements of the school’s Reading2Learn program. One of the core benefits of this resource is the opportunity to adjust the reading level of the text, depending on the skills and abilities of the class, whilst still ensuring that the information is stage appropriate. This is particularly useful for those classes that have a higher proportion of LBOTE students, as the lower reading level texts can be used to support students’ initial understanding of and engagement with the material, and then the higher reading level texts can be used to model more complex writing and text types.

Curriculum Support (n.d.). “Campfire -Stories”. http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/secondary/languages/languages/aboriginal/campfire/stories/index.htm Accessed 10 April 2016.

Campfire Stories in an interactive website, which presents a series of interviews from Aboriginal elders and community members, organised by local area. This resource was located via search on Curriculum Support. The website is simple to operate, and provides a number of first person accounts of indigenous experiences.One of the key benefits of this resource is its accessibility – both in terms of its availability to students, and the ease of understanding of the material. Given that it is a freely available site, there is no cost for use, which makes it an attractive option.

As a teaching resource, it has enormous benefits, as it is linked to specific syllabus outcomes, and provides a range of teaching notes and suggestions for activities, and relevant links to quality teaching elements. The resource has academic and cultural integrity, and is an appropriate medium to present first-person interviews, so that students are able to hear indigenous experiences from those who have experienced them. This provides students with greater opportunities to develop their understanding of individual experiences, which is an essential element of the Depth Study.

 

Kohen, J.L. (2009). Daruganora: Darug country – the place and the people. Revised Edition. Two volumes. Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation, Blacktown.

This resource was initially located via a search on SCIS for the keyword “Darug”, after a request by the teacher for resources which provided specific information relating to the Aboriginal land on which Evans High School is situated. The text located on SCIS was a 2006 edition (SCIS number 1324880), but further research located a revised edition of the text, which has updated primary sources and maps.

The key benefits of this resource against Hughes-Hassell and Mancall’s selection criteria (2005) are its authority, and the comparison with other works. The author is well respected in the local indigenous community, and the resource demonstrated a strong understanding of local indigenous history. Whilst there are numerous texts available which present useful information about Indigenous Australian history, there is little available which examines the history of the land and people with a focus on distinct Aboriginal regions. Whilst the presentation of the information may be relatively unengaging for students, it provides a depth and breadth of local indigenous history that would be of outstanding benefit as a teaching resource.

Laguna Bay (2011). Family anthology. Oxford University Press, Melbourne Australia.

Family anthology is part of the Yarning Strong series, which presents aboriginal stories and culture in engaging and informative ways. Texts in this series are used regularly at Evans High School library, and as such is included in this resources list through personal recommendation.

The physical and aesthetic quality of the text warrants its inclusion in the collection, as it presents both the fiction and non-fiction text elements in a vibrant, engaging fashion, which are appealing to a teenage audience. The other key criteria that sets this text apart is its appropriateness for learners. The content is accurate and informative, and presented in a variety of text types, in language that would be accessible for students from diverse language backgrounds. Other texts in this series would also help support the Indigenous cultures program, particularly in regards to the development of a sense of empathy for indigenous experiences, both as a society and as individuals.

NSW Board of Studies (2016). “Teaching heritage: Indigenous timeline.” http://www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/section03/timeindig.php Accessed 10 April 2016.

The Indigenous Timeline resource from the Board of Studies site was sourced via recommendation from a colleague, as a site which they have found useful in presenting an outline of major points of contact between Indigenous society and British colonisers. The accessibility of this text, as a freely available website published by a reputable source, is a key criteria for its inclusion in the collection. The accuracy of the information presented is another feature which recommends it.

An element of the Indigenous timeline for teachers to be aware of is the cultural bias of the information presented. Whilst it presents a chronological background of Indigenous history, this is largely focused around Indigenous interactions with colonising and white cultures. This is a feature worth discussing with students, and allows for an examination of the nature of cultural bias in historical representations.

Pascoe, B (2012). The little red yellow black book : an introduction to indigenous Australia. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra.

The little yellow red black book: an introduction to indigenous Australia was included in this collection after reading a number of reviews, including those featured on IndigenousX (n.d.) and Goodreads (n.d.) It’s clear writing style makes it accessible to a wide range of readers, and ensures that it will be a valuable resource for both native English speakers, and the wide range of LBOTE students that are students of Evans High School. Its brevity (at only 140 total) also makes it an accessible text, as it is presents a breadth of information, without significant depth. There are a range of additional resources and research pathways provided within the text for readers to further explore issues as needed, which makes text an excellent entrypoint into many Indigenous issues.

The key features of this resource that warrant its inclusion in this list relate to the comprehensive and culturally sensitive way that it presents an inclusive view of Aboriginal history, over 60,000 years. It effectively weaves a historical overview with personal experience, and provides a clear overview of a range of cultural protocols and ethical issues for non-Indigenous people.

Perkins, R, and Dale, D. (2008) First Australians. http://aso.gov.au/titles/series/first-australians/ Accessed 6 April 2016

This resource was discovered as a recommendation from a colleague on a HSIE facebook teachers’ discussion group, and has been added to the Stage 4 program as an essential teaching resource for the unit of work. Whilst all episodes are useful for the teaching of Indigenous History, the first three episodes are particularly relevant for the syllabus elements relating to early British contact with Aboriginals. The documentary is well presented, and provides an engaging and authentic indigenous voice to segments of Australian history which have been traditionally told from a white-centric point of view. As such, this resource is particularly strong in the selection criteria of accuracy, treatment and authority.

The documentary episodes are extremely successful in presenting Indigenous history in a culturally relevant way. They employ oral storytelling traditions, which are an important part of indigenous history, should be incorporated in an understanding of Indigenous culture (NSW Board of Studies, n.d.) There are a wide range of authentic primary and secondary historical sources used throughout the documentary, which reinforces the value of this resource as part of a strong teaching and learning program for the HSIE Indigenous Society Depth Study.

Smith, K (2010) Nari nawi : Aboriginal odysseys. Rosenberg Publishing, Dural NSW.

Nari nawi was sourced via a search on Trove, focussing on early contact Indigenous experiences. This resource was produced to accompany the Nari Nawi : Aboriginal odysseys exhibition held at the State Library of NSW, and there are a number of resources available to support the printed text. These include a gallery of the rare images featured in the State Library collection (ABC, 2010) and the Indigenous voices collection at the State Library (outlined in Thorpe and Byrne, 2014).

This resource is particularly useful in assisting students with an understanding of one of the core components of the depth study, which requires students to describe and assess the life of ONE Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individual in contact with the British colonisers” (NSW BOSTES, 2016a). Nari nawi presents a variety of primary and secondary sources relating to the experiences of an individual Aboriginal person in the years soon after colonisation, and provides a distinctly Indigenous representation of a period of history that is typically portrayed from the perspective of the colonisers. As such, the treatment of the historical period, and the appropriateness of the material for an Indigenous Cultures unit, make this a worthwhile addition to the collection.

Wheatley, N. (2008) My place. Walker Books, Newtown.

ABC (2009) My place: Episode 23 1778 Waruwi

ABC (2010) My place. http://www.abc.net.au/abc3/myplace/

The picture book, My place, by Nadia Wheatley, creates an engaging fictional narrative about the history of a single house/tree, which features as part of the oral history of the children living in this place in ten year gaps, leading back to the year of colonisation. When used by itself as a resource, the map and key features of the text allow for an engaging illustration of the changing nature of a community’s relationship with the land on which they live. The text accurately represents immigration patterns and historical events through the lives of the child narrators, and this provides opportunities to examine the ways in which fictional and factual texts differ.

The award winning TV series based on My place, produced by the ABC, and in particular Episode 23, would also be a useful resource to support teaching and learning in this unit. This episode represents the experiences of an Aboriginal girl during the year of colonisation, in which she encounters unfamiliar animals and situations. The skillful filming and characterisation of these encounters allows for the development of a strong sense of empathy, and creates an engaging portrayal of a potential scenario involving an Indigenous individual with colonisers, supporting one of the key requirements of the syllabus for this Depth study. The website which supports the TV series provides students with additional opportunities to engage and interact with the content and concepts of the show.

These three resources were included as a result of a scootle search, combined with personal recommendation. Whilst they are fictional in nature, I believe that they are worthy inclusions in a resource list supporting an Indigenous cultures unit because of their potential benefits for students in developing a sense of empathy for the experiences of Indigenous people of a similar age to them, and for the opportunity to develop a stronger understanding of the role of storytelling and the oral tradition in a modern context.

References

ABC Radio National (2010) Nari nawi : Aboriginal odysseys. Radio National: Awaye!

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/mari-nawi-aboriginal-odysseys/3670716

Evans High School (2015a) HSIE Scope and Sequence document. Evans High School HSIE Faculty, Blacktown

Evans High School (2015b) HSIE Indigenous cultures program. Evans High School HSIE Faculty, Blacktown

Evans High School (2016a) Annual School Report 2015. Retrieved from http://www.evans-h.schools.nsw.edu.au/our-school/annual-school-report

Evans High School (2016b) Library management plan. Evans High School Library, Blacktown.

Goodreads (n.d.) The little yellow red black book: an introduction to Indigenous Australia. Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7764388-the-little-red-yellow-black-book?from_new_nav=true&ac=1&from_search=true

Hughes-Hassell,S. & Mancall, J.C. (2005). Selecting Resources for Learning. In Collection management for youth: Responding to the needs of learnersi (pp.33-51) Chicago: American Library Association.

NSW BOSTES. (2016a). History K–10 : Stage 4 : Depth Study 6: Expanding Contacts. Syllabus.bostes.nsw.edu.au. Retrieved 25 April 2016, from http://syllabus.bostes.nsw.edu.au/hsie/history-k10/content/1044/

NSW, BOSTES. (2016b). History K–10 : Learning across the curriculum. Syllabus.bostes.nsw.edu.au. Retrieved 25 April 2016, from http://syllabus.bostes.nsw.edu.au/hsie/history-k10/learning-across-the-curriculum/

NSW Board of Studies (n.d.) Teaching heritage: Oral history. http://www.teachingheritage.nsw.edu.au/section04/

Pridham, K. (n.d.) The Little Red Yellow Black Book. IndigenousX: Showcasing & Celebrating Indigenous Diversity. http://indigenousx.com.au/indigenousx-review-lrybb/#.Vx6gzHF97nA

Thorpe, K, and Byrne, A (2014).” Indigenous voices in the State Library of NSW” Library History Forum, SLNSW, 18-­­19 November 2014. Retrieved from http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/alhf2014_kirstenthorpe_alexbyrne.pdf

October 16

The Teacher Librarian and the Principal – A Modern Fairy Tale

ETL401 OLJ Blog Task 3

In the castle of books there lived a teacher librarian. She battled dangers unknown, and hardships unnumbered. Surrounded by foes of information and enemies of enlightenment, she endeavoured to impact the village around her with her wonder of words and her love of learning, but she couldn’t battle the hordes alone. She needed a fairy godmother.

Sounds dramatic huh? But really, it’s a challenge that teacher librarians face every day. The TL role can be isolating, and often we operate in a vacuum, surrounded by colleagues with little understanding of the role that we perform (Oberg, 2006, 14). It is in this context, then, that support from above becomes vital if the TL is to be empowered to exert influence on the learning culture of school.

Many studies have shown how important principal support is in facilitating the effectiveness of the TL and, as such, the library.  Farmer describes the principal as the “chief catalyst for collaboration”, responsible for establishing the vision of the school, and facilitating the curriculum that is offered (2007, p56). With the principal playing such a vital role in the learning culture of the school, then, it is imperative that the role of the library and the TL in this learning culture are both recognised as important by the principal, and thus afforded the support that will allow them to flourish.

Hartzell argues that the quality school library program relies on a librarian, and that no great library can be run without a passionate teacher librarian who brings their own stamp into the space (2009). Whilst this may be true, without a school leader who supports the TL, who collaborates with them on their vision for the space, who encourages them to dream big, and who supports both through their words and actions the professionalism and importance of the TL in the life of the school.

It is unfortunate, then, that literature shows that many principals don’t fully understand the role of the media specialist. Morris and Packard discuss the lack of recognition of principals for the importance of the TL in supporting the instructional process and contributing to student learning (2007, p36). By recognising the positive impacts that the TL and library can have on student achievement, and by modelling an atmosphere of recognition of the powerful role of the TL in the learning environment of the school, the engaged principal can facilitate an atmosphere of collaboration and communication between teaching staff and the TL which is vital to ensure that the full potential of the library as a centre for learning is realised (Morris, 2007, p23).

My experience in this fairy tale has been profoundly influenced by my own experiences with a supportive and empowering principal. With a bias towards yes, and a philosophy which encourages innovation and collaboration, my principal has inspired me to think big in my vision for what our library could look like, and how it, and indeed I, can influence the learning culture of the school. It’s a wonderful working relationship to be a part of, which contributes positively to the culture of our engaging library, and models for other staff the importance of the library in the narrative of our school.

References

Farmer, L. (2007). Principals: Catalysts for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 56-65.

Hartzell, G. (2009). Librarian-proof libraries? Guest rant by Gary Hartzell. http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2009/8/25/librarian-proof-libraries-guest-rant-by-gary-hartzell.html

Oberg, D. (2006). Developing the respect and support of school administrators. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 13-18. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/224879111?accountid=10344

Morris, B. J., & Packard, A. (2007). The Principal’s Support of Classroom Teacher-Media Specialist Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide,13(1), 36-55.

Morris, B. J. (2007). Principal Support for Collaboration. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 23-24.

October 7

A STEEP learning curve – the Library Landscape

I’ve found the varied discussions of others’ school library contexts interesting – it’s like peering through the Playschool windows into other worlds! It has also helped me focus my attention on the strengths of my own context at Evans High School, and allowed me to take stock of what our opportunities are for development in the future.

So, my STEEP analysis of the library@Evans!

Social: in previous years, the library was massively under-utilised, with students only coming in to use a power point if their phones needed charging, or escape from the rain or heat. There were many behaviour referrals as a result of negative incidents taking place in the library during break times, and seniors rarely used the space during free or study periods.
When I took over at the start of 2014, we implemented many changes to the space. As a result, the library is now used very differently. Students gather during break times to play games, read, sit quietly in one of the soft comfortable spaces around the building, or hang out with their friends. There is a lot of positive interaction going on, as students collaborate on building worlds in minecraft or clash of clans, play card games or chess, watch movies, or chat. There is a committed group of students who are running a “library warriors” group, organising library displays and activities, and contributing ideas about future directions of the library.
Our school library caters to the mainstream high school (coed 7-12), an intensive English centre with a fluctuating population of a wide range of cultures and backgrounds, and an autism unit. One of the key strengths of the library socially is that it provides a nurturing safe space for this diverse community to interact with each other, and build some positive connections.
Staff are also more actively involved in the library, with CAPA staff working with classes to create works that can be featured in our gallery spaces. Other staff frequently visit to help students with study or research both in break times and senior study periods, and engage with students by playing cards or chatting about what’s happening. It’s a vibrant, lovely, wonderful space to spend my days!

Technological: our previous principal was focused on making our library a technology centre, and created three computer labs in the building which take up a huge amount of the floor space. We have three labs which each have 24 computers and a data projector, and DER wifi throughout the building.
We are about to add mobile devices to our technology arsenal, with 10 laptops and 20 iPads being available for student use, as well as a trial of a number of different ereader and tablet devices.
Our BYOD/BYOT policy is about to be implemented, which will mean that students will be able to bring their own devices in and connect to the school wifi. As we have just lost our DER TSO position, much of the management of this program will be done in the library, and by me as both TL and technology team member.
The recent departure of our DER TSO position has meant that there have been changes in the way that school-supplied technology is supported in our school. (All students from Yr10-12 have a DER laptop, with IEC students able to borrow one from the school pool of laptops during their enrolment). As this position was previously located in the library, there is a natural inclination amongst students to continue to see the library as their support hub for technology issues.

Economic: In recent years, the library budget has been minimal. As my position in the library is a trial, it was also supported with an increase in budget from both the high school and IEC, and support for additional technology purchases for the library from the Technology Team based on my support of ongoing ICT initiatives in the school. There has also been allowance made for additional funds across the school for beautification projects, which has led to a pool of money being made available for painting and new library supplies.

Environmental: Our school has a strong focus on recycling, and the library has a number of paper recycling bins around. Our SRC runs an aluminium can recycling program, and the library is a central focus of that, with dedicated can recycling bins at the front door. We are developing a “freecycling” policy, which encourages students to think about ways to be environmentally friendly in their disposal of unwanted items – is there some way it could be reused or repurposed, or rehomed to someone who may be able to make use of it? We are also holding an art competition in Term 4 where artworks and sculptures will be only able to be produced with books that have been weeded from our library collection, and will be included as part of a gallery wall which is going to feature a shelf unit constructed from old encyclopaedias. Much of the soft furnishing which has recently been added to the library (couches, cushions, etc) has been sourced from donations from our school community, both saving it from landfill and creating an awareness of the benefits of giving things new homes, rather than purchasing new.

Political: This for me is the really interesting one. There are a number of office spaces in the library which are being used by individuals, and the space is then not available for the wider community. Changes in the library are being resisted, because of personal politics, and personal agendas about maintaining space which is seen as “theirs”. There is some resistance to change from the supervising library Head Teacher as well, who was responsible for overseeing the previous librarian, and perhaps feels that the change in position reflects poorly on her management of the library in previous years. It’s a minefield, but there is also a lot of support from the senior exec, as well as from teachers who have seen the changes that have happened so far, and are excited for what might come in the future.

February 12

2014 – a new challenge!

So, last year passed in a blur, and I barely had time to breathe, let alone blog! In a nutshell, in case you were wondering, my wonderful year group faced the challenges of their HSC year, dealt with formal and graduation, HSC marking, moving, coordinating our school anniversary celebrations, and then all that other stuff that goes along with life – you know, teaching, taxiing children around, etc. It was full on, and I felt an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment at the close of the year, but also a sense of bewilderment too.

I’ve been a year advisor almost as long as I’ve been a teacher. How do I “do” work without that role? Without that connection with the welfare of students? I did, in a fit of madness, put my hand up for a fill in YA roll at the end of the year, but thankfully it was given to someone else … which left me feeling a bit flat, to be honest, but was probably for the best! Because, not long after that I was approached by the boss and asked if I’d be interested in running our Library this year. Me, in charge of a building full of books? Is that a rhetorical question? My head was buzzing with the possibilities, but also I was concerned about leaving my classroom, which I adore. So, a few conversations ensued, and I negotiated holding on to one of my classes – the yr12 advanced group, who I started teaching last year for Premin and I adore.

So, this is my new home. It doesn’t look like this now – a few changes, which aren’t dramatic enough for me yet, but others are noticing the difference already, so that’s a good sign I guess.

 

Library - before
Library – before

I know what I want this place to feel like – I loved the library when I was growing up, it was my sanctuary. I want people to be able to walk in the doors and feel a sense of warmth, and connection. I want them to fall in love with the culture of books, and be open to the idea of trying something new, and meeting someone special between those pages. I want them to get excited about unfamiliar stories, and embrace old favourites like friends. And I only have 10 more months to accomplish this. That’s not too big a feat, now, is it?

So, I’m posting this, and will be tweeting and facebooking the crap out of the link, to ask for your help. Did/ do you like going to the library? What makes it a special adventure for you? What would help your children develop a love for the space?Do you have an idea about what’s already on my VERY long to-do list – we are painting, and making it visually a bit more appealing. New posters, artwork displays which incorporate stories from the diverse range of cultures that make up our wonderful school community. There’s a couch downstairs now, with a few cushions, and I’ll be adding another couch soon, plus a whole lot more cushions for that giant staired seating area. Fingers crossed for some new furniture, and that drab office space is well on the way to being converted into a senior study room, complete with student designed and painted murals. (Keep an eye out in a couple of weeks for photos of that, it’s going to be awesome!)I’ve got a list of games and books the kids have requested. We’re thinking about options for lunchtime activities – probably on a fortnightly basis. Whovian Society, where we watch an episode of our favourite Doctor and perhaps enjoy???? fish fingers and custard. Minecraft Mondays. Gaming challenges. Reading circle.So, that’s my challenge for the year – any ideas on what I can do to make it a bit more fantabulous and amazeballs? I’d love to hear them!

Step 1 - a bit of a cosmetic lift.
Step 1 – a bit of a cosmetic lift.
December 15

On leaving school.

My reflections on leaving school. It is the moment that society expects all students look forward to, right? And it’s the moment that kids routinely talk about as their goal, their desire … “I can’t wait till school is finished.” “I can’t wait to get out of this place.” How often, though, do we hear people talk about how they didn’t realise how good it was at school until they left?

I had to sign one student out yesterday, and another came to tell me he’s leaving too, will be visiting me with his paperwork on Monday. I’m thrilled for them – they are both heading into apprenticeships that they are really interested in. Neither of them are particularly keen students, highly motivated academic types … They’ve both had their fair share of issues throughout the years. The first is in my yr10 boys class – a group of fantastic, entertaining, enthusiastic and highly engaging young men, who just don’t happen to be entertained or engaged much by schoolwork. It’s been a struggle to build connections with them, but I have persevered, and tried different things, because I believe these kids are the ones who really need good, connected and relevant teaching more so than all the so-called “good kids”. He has always struck me as the kind of kid who has amazing potential, but he was more comfortable being a clown. He’s grown so much this year, really taking on board a lot of what people have invested in him, and whilst I was thrilled he’s got the job he wants, part of me mourns the loss of him in my class. Part of me would love to see where he could be if he started to believe in his own mind, and really committed to seeing how he could go at school. Not that I think his apprenticeship isn’t of extraordinary value, you know … It’s just bittersweet. I would have loved to see him sink his teeth into some of the texts we’d have looked at next year. But kudos to him.

The other one has me crying, and I don’t know how I’m going to cope when I sign his leavers form on Monday. He is in my year group, and I don’t know how many times people have come to me tearing their hair out in frustration. He has such an engaging personality, and I’ve worried about him so much, but this year, again, he’s really grown into the leader I saw in him the very first time I met him. For the first time since he’s been at our school, he attended presentation night this week, not only to receive an academic award for first place in a course, but to help with a presentation from one of our community partners. The look of pride on his face was hard to miss. He has been wanting this job for a while now, and has been working towards it all year, and I’m glad it came after this week, so he’s leaving on a high note, with a sense of achievement, and the culmination of an increasingly positive experience of school this year. I’m beyond proud of him, and was busting with excitement when he told me he had his job, but I can’t imagine my year group without him. He has just stepped up so much this year, and has been a joy to work with, both at school and on our camp. I’m not wearing mascara to school on Monday.

These reflections on leaving school have prompted me to think about my own experiences this year. My own feelings about this place I spend so much of my life, and which consumes so much more of my time when I’m not there! It’s difficult sometimes, what we do as teachers. The politics. The bureaucracy. The stress. The pressure. But all of that is worth it, if we can be a part of these kinds of “leaving school” experiences for our most disenfranchised, our most at-risk. I’m more proud of that than any Band 6. I love my job.

December 10

Serious Fun

Education is serious business. It’s about moulding and shaping young minds. Imparting wisdom, developing the fundamental skills they are going to need – reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. The struggle of getting though content, meeting outcomes, and managing student behaviour. Test results rule, and it’s all about measurable growth. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t necessarily disagree with most of the above, but I don’t think it’s just limited to that. The role that engagement, true engagement, plays in education is powerful – not just “my students are engaged in the learning in my classroom because they focus on their work all lesson”. I think we can learn a lot from gaming in this regard – I’ve blogged about this before, especially after my experiences at the PLANE Festival of Learning in their Permission to Play strand. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of play, and what we learn from failure in games, so I’ve been experimenting this term with a couple of my classes. It’s been a lot of fun!!

My year 7 class rock. They are a lot of fun, and we have had some great experiences this year as we’ve worked through some interesting topics. This term, we’ve been setting up our faculty iPads, and this class have been our guinea pigs. They’ve been very patient, and given lots of great feedback about how they could be useful in class. They were all obsessed with installing games though, and who could blame them? It was the first thing I did when I got mine!! So, after a couple of solid weeks of working on puppet pals, and creating a film of the play we have been studying in class, I got them to do a creative writing task. I told them we we doing an empathy task – I’d give them some characters, and they had to write some blog entries for me that fully explored the feeling and emotions of the character they picked. Then, I put this picture on the board.

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They thought I was joking. “Nah, really Miss, what are we doing?” When I eventually convinced them that I was serious, though, they got to work. We talked about the back story behind Angry Birds, and the narrative that underpins it. We brainstormed the different points of view that the birds or the pigs might have … Why would the pigs feel the need to steal eggs? What about the little pig who didn’t really want to get involved, but was pressured into it? What makes people willing to die for the cause – those birds must know it’s not going to end well for them!! There was some wonderful, completely unexpected cross-KLA chat about historical links to kamikaze pilots and Hitler youth, and lots of parallels drawn between the behaviours of the birds and pigs, and peer pressure and bullying behaviours. The diary entries they wrote after this were AMAZING – some powerful, some strongly emotional, and often very very funny … they really got into it, and produced some sustained significant pieces of creative writing!

This wasn’t the real fun though. The real fun was the lesson that followed this insanely cool creative writing task. We had an Angry Birds challenge. 16 iPads, 28 students, and an hour long frenzy to see who could get the highest score on a level of Angry Birds. They shared tips. They problem solved. They showed persistence and perseverance. They even helped out their principal who popped up to check out the fun!! Angry Birds Star Wars on my IWB was a sight to see, and even though they were competing with each other for the coveted iTunes cards that were on offer for the top 3 scores, the cooperation and communication was awesome. This was serious fun!!

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I certainly wouldn’t do this every week, but it’s certainly worth thinking about … Is my classroom fun? And is it fun for the right reasons? We certainly can’t just make our classes open slather gaming, but some intelligent design of activities to build some real engagement isn’t a bad thing!!

NOTE: If you are thinking about implementing an Angry Birds challenge in your classroom, I have a few pieces of advice.
1. Check that the class next door is not doing an assessment task.
2. Find out the chocolate of choice of the teacher in the classroom next door.
3. Make sure the iPads are fully charged – the child whose iPad dies as they are about to hit 110,000 points will never forgive you when their device dies!!

So, that’s one of my episodes of serious fun for the term … I’d love to hear about what you have been doing in your class that’s made you laugh!

December 9

I can see it …

Can you see it? The end, I mean. The end of what has been, for me, one of the most difficult terms of my teaching career. For many reasons, I’m struggling right now. Some personal, some professional, but really all of these reasons are impacting the way I feel about my job.

I love teaching. LOVE it. It is really what defines me, more than almost anything else in my life. And I always said that when I stopped loving it, it would probably be time to think about doing something else. For most of this term, though, I’ve been feeling sick about going to work. I’ve spent more time on the verge of tears (if not actually IN tears) than I have feeling positive and happy about what I’m doing. So, is it time to move on? Is it time to pull the plug, and say enough is enough?

I’ve asked myself that question more than a few times – and my husband has raised it too! It has kept me up at nights, and I think the thought of pulling the plug has made me feel even more nauseous. So I’ve been reevaluating my roles. My role as teacher at my school. My other roles – year advisor, school promotions officer, technology team member, 2IC of my faculty, and others that are not so easy to define but still take up a significant amount of time. My role as a role model, and a colleague, and a friend, and a wife and mother. And I’ve been a bit blown away.

Sometimes you are so much in the middle of something, that you can’t really see the significance of it. There are so many metaphors about that – can’t see the forest for the trees, etc etc – and they sound cliched for a reason. I’ve been trying to stand back from this and taken in the bigger picture, to try and learn something from what I’m going through right now, rather than just trying to ride it out. And I think I’m starting to get my head around it.

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So much of what has been stressing me has been out of my control. Actions of other people, mostly … Their thoughts and opinions about me, and about what I do. Their judgements about my roles. Their perception that I’m not good enough, skilled enough, worthy enough. If I was one of my students, I’d offer them some wonderful advice right now. I’d tell them that if these negatives were coming from someone they admire and respect, it might be worth listening to, but if they aren’t, then they’re not. I’d tell them that people who try and bring other people down are often doing so because they feel badly about themselves, and they are trying to attack what is bright, and beautiful, and successful around them. I’d tell them that they are amazing, and they are so much more than their fears and uncertainties. I’d tell them that these challenges are what test you so that you can figure out what is really important. I’d tell them all this and more. So why can’t I tell it to myself?

Luckily, it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t able to tell myself all those things. After holding my hand, and lending me a thoughtful ear, or comforting shoulder, I’ve heard all these wonderful pieces of advice and more from the wonderful people around me. I’m starting to listen to them … After all, they are the people I respect, both personally and professionally, and their opinions matter to me. My principal. My head teacher. My wonderful colleagues and friends from my own faculty, as well as others. My husband, and my very wise kids. These people rock – the best PLN a girl could ask for!

So what does all that mean for me? I love teaching. Have I mentioned that already? If so, it’s worth mentioning again. And I love what I’m involved in at my school at the moment. There are so many things that I’m working on, both in my classroom and out of it, and I believe passionately in the value and importance every one of them. I think it’s really time, though, that I started evaluating what I can realistically do myself, and get my head around the whole “it’s ok to say no” thing. I also need to get a handle on what is my job, and what isn’t … Delegation is NOT the enemy, apparently!! (Not sure if I actually believe that one yet, but we are working on the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy on this one!) And I’m definitely working on letting go of the bitterness over being treated unfairly. Sometimes people won’t like me. Sometimes they will say things that are unkind and untrue. I can’t control that, but I CAN control my reactions to it. I’m not going to let my involvement in things that I love, and believe in, be impacted by that. What I do matters. As teachers, what WE do matters. I believe in it, and I believe in my ability to do it well, to make a difference, and to impact the lives of others. I can see it now … still a little hazy, still hurting, but slowly healing. They may not read this post, but there are some wonderful people who are responsible for helping me through the past few weeks, and you should know who you are. Thankyou!!

So I can see it. The holidays. The importance of taking care of me tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. The value of making the most of what I have, and where I am. And the fact that I do enough, feel enough, AM ENOUGH, no matter what anyone else thinks about me. I hope you know that about you too!!

December 4

The day I lost it.

I’m pretty level-headed, usually. I get comments a lot, from one class in particular, that I always have a smile on my face. In fact, they will do a countdown if I’m not smiling, to see how many seconds I can last (usually, as soon as I realise what they are doing,I start laughing, so they rarely get above 3!!) The whole “don’t smile before Easter” thing doesn’t work in my classroom – let’s face it, I can’t even make it till the end of roll call most days! It’s one of the things I’m proud of about the way I interact with students in my classroom – I’m fair, I’m reasonable, and I don’t do the whole ‘teach by fear and intimidation’ thing that works for some people. I talk with them. I listen. Most days, we have a fairly positive and productive air of communication in my class.

Today was not one of those days. Well, not last period, especially. And it’s not because something big or dramatic happened. Not at all. It’s more the cumulative effect of lots of little things, both personally and professionally, that added up to me being on my last straw when I walked in to year 7 after lunch. I held it together for a few minutes, but then a particularly difficult kid, who I work really hard with, completely ignored me when I asked him to grab a book for reading. Then, he walked away. I know, tough right? No swearing, no fighting, no throwing of chairs …. Just a little mild ignorance. And I lost it. Yelled at them all to “sit down, stop talking, and just read already, for goodness sake we’ve only been doing this all year you think you’d have it by now!!” And I cried. Whilst they sat there reading totally silently, for probably the first time all year, I sobbed silent tears of frustration. Tears of disappointment in myself, of anguish that I’d let myself be one of those teachers I always said I NEVER wanted to be. In fact, I have tears streaming down my cheeks now as I’m writing about it.

As they read, or at least did a fantastic job of pretending they were, I could see the shock on some of their faces. I sat there, crying, breathing, and wondering how on earth I got to that point over something so relatively minor, when everyday events that are often much worse don’t seem to faze me. And I can only imagine what they were thinking. What they were feeling. What they were saying to themselves about that stranger who had just roared at them from the front of the room. And to be honest, that just made me cry a bit more. You know those people who look adorable when they cry? Dewy eyes, slightly rosy cheeks, sweet and lovely that you just want to hug? I’m not one of those. Bullfrog puffy eyes and blotchy skin, that’s me. Like the poor kids hadn’t suffered enough, they have 45 more minutes to put up with that.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. The only thing that seemed reasonable in the circumstance. I apologised. I apologised for taking out on them all the things that were not their fault. I apologised for letting whatever is stressing me outside our classroom impact on what is supposed to be a safe place for them. I apologised that I had ended their day with anger, and tears, and getting to see me at what is quite possibly my worst. I apologised unreservedly. No mention of the couple of little comments and actions from a couple of students that had pushed me over the edge. No justification as to why it was even just a little bit ok. I apologised, and then I cried a little more.

And then they smiled. Not because they were happy I was crying again, but because, I suspect, they had their safe place back. Their comments and actions over the rest of the lesson were telling.
“I’ve never seen you like that before Miss, you made 10 whole minutes without smiling. I wanted to cry for you.”
“Miss check out the dragon I’m doing in art. What do you think of the scales? Every cool story needs a good dragon huh.”
“Hey miss, want a tissue? You can keep it, I don’t want it back.”
The boy who just stood next to me, moved a bit of paper on the desk in front of me, said “hey”, then sat back down with a wistful grin on his face.
The girl who kept avoiding eye contact with me, but was constantly looking at me out of the corner of her eye, and then walked the whole way around the room just so she could walk past my desk and say “see you tomorrow Miss, hope you have a better afternoon.”
The notes written on my mini dry-erase boards … “English rocks” “Rodgers 😃” “We love you Miss!!!”

So, how am I feeling now? I’m exhausted. I’m frustrated and angry at myself, that I let things that really have no relation to what I do in my classroom impact on what I’ve worked really hard to establish as a positive, supportive and great space to be. All it took was about 13 seconds of a raised voice to undo all that. Thank goodness it wasn’t permanent, and I’m trying to console myself with the idea that perhaps my vulnerability, my apology, and my attempts to make amends may have been the modelling that some of them may have needed when they are dealing with some stressful and difficult situations of their own. But right now, that isn’t making me feel any better about it. I’m going to finish this post, then go and soak in a bath, and not look at anything at all work related for the rest of the night. Nope, not even my emails. I have a PD session tomorrow – I’m very glad I don’t have my yr7 class on my timetable, I’d hate for them to think that I didn’t come in because of what happened today. And when I go back on Thursday, to a fairly exhausting and stressful day, I’m going to remind myself to breathe. I’m going to remind myself of what is important to me, and what I value about what I do. I’m going to try and remember to be as kind to myself as I am to others. I don’t know that I deserve it, especially after today, but I think I need it … and maybe that’s the same thing?

This song is going to be my mantra … “Keep your head above water, and don’t forget to breathe.” I hope you are breathing ok too. Take care of you, you’re worth it.

November 4

Building connections

I love my year group. My role as year advisor is one of the things I’m most proud of in my current position at my school. I’ve been working with these kids since they were in year 6, tiny little things by comparison to the almost-adults who tower over me now, visiting our school for taster lessons and orientation day, and they are such a huge part of my everyday experiences at Evans.

It’s the nature of every school that there are changes. Students leave. Students arrive. We have an Intensive English Centre at our school, which has a frequently changing student population, and pretty much every year our year group has gained new members from the IEC, as well as all the usual comings and goings. One of the challenges for any year advisor is to build a sense of connection amongst your student group. In a school like ours, that poses some extra challenges. This year in particular, as they face the prospect of HSC, Vocational training, figuring out where the future is likely to take them, and negotiating all the complexities of senior study, looming adulthood, driving, drinking, relationships … it’s a lot for them to get their heads around, and it’s a lot for ME to get my head around!

So, how can we support them? We are running a new program this year. Called Planning My Future, it’s 2 periods a week, working on social skills, study skills, drug and alcohol education, and a whole lot more stuff to support them in whatever they are dealing with, personally and academically. It’s going pretty well … some problems, as to be expected with a new program, but we are getting there, and we’ve made some solid progress on implementing a sustainable whole-school program to support our students.

As well as this, we have bigger picture events – like our camp, which I posted about a few weeks ago. One of the amazing outcomes for me from camp has been the increased connections between the kids since they’ve come back. They are really supporting each other, and I’m proud of the way they have each others’ backs.

We have the remainder of the term to keep working though our PMF program. This term, we developed a series of electives for the kids to be a part of. We have some participating in a mural project, where they are designing and painting an artwork to support out school’s PBL focus. Some are doing a mentoring program, and they will be working with one of our year 7 classes to build connections. We have a group who are working with teachers who are on Stage 5 sport, providing coaching and management support for the staff, and helping the stage 5 students get engaged in sport. And we have some who are doing a workshop on “Positive Thinking.” Varied topics, yes, but all with the same focus. We want all students, regardless of the group they are participating in, to have an increased sense of their own capacity to make a positive difference in their world.

I’m after a “Keynote” event to support all this. Someone, or something, to present at a year meeting, to tie it all together. To focus on the choices we make in our lives, and the importance of making positive ones. Any ideas? Hit me with your best speakers!! I know, it’s not a lot of notice … I want something that we can do before the end of the year. That’s the problem with working on a program that is flexible and meets the needs of your year group as they come up – it doesn’t always fit in with my OCD desire to forward plan, and know what is going on!!

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If you’ve done something wonderful in this area, too, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for stopping by!