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!!


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

October 20

Dean Groom and Bron Stuckey …

Don’t just wonder about the future … Create it.

The first three minutes of this keynote have just blown my mind. Really. Exactly what I needed to hear this morning I think.

So, I was too busy thinking about this keynote to make notes. Really awesome. And I agree with Dean – awesome stuff should be allowed in classrooms because it’s awesome. End of story.
I want to be both a unicorn, AND the best person I can be … Is that so wrong? 🙂

I love Bron’s idea that teachers are heroes. The metaphor of the hero’s journey is a really interesting one, and how it applies to our role as teachers. So, that’s part one of my reflection on Day 2 Keynote …. Stay tuned for more on this, though, as I know it’s going to be rolling around in my head for a very long time!!


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October 18

Happy camper.

I don’t know if I’ve posted about this before on here, but I’m a year advisor. I’ve been with my year group since they were in yr6, and we were doing transition activities. My year group are now in year 11, just starting their HSC year. Up until this year we haven’t had camps at my school for as long as I have been there. Our new principal, however, was really open to the idea of running some. So, after a lot of organisation, this week we headed off to Vision Valley. Three days of Crossroads activities, canoeing, abseiling, getting to know each other and basically having an amazing time with this fantastic group of young people.

I’m a bit of a stress head. The words “control freak” have been thrown about occasionally. I can’t even begin to tell you my stress levels over the past few weeks, as things have fallen into place for this camp, sometimes not the way I would expect them to. But it was all totally worth it. I’m now in evaluation mode, and as I look back at the past few days there are a couple of things that have come out of this camp that really struck me as amazing.

Teenagers will surprise you.
I like to think that I know my year group pretty well. I take my role as year advisor very seriously, and I spend a lot of time getting to know my students. This week, though, I found myself on a number of occasions looking at them in amazement. One kid, a bit of a rat bag at school but very likeable, held everyone captivated around the campfire with an impromptu Bear Grylls impersonation. The quietest girl in the group, usually found with her nose buried in a book, shocked everyone dancing away at the disco, and taking every opportunity to talk to people she usually wouldn’t look twice at. Yet another usually difficult boy told me that his favourite part of camp was “when we did that letter writing thing where we said nice stuff about each other. I never knew people thought about me like that and it was awesome to read what everyone wrote.” I was expecting him to say he loved the abseiling. 45 kids, some of whom I had expected to not be interested in coming, all working together, willingly building connections with people outside their friendship groups, and taking risks. Being supportive of each other. Encouraging others on, and being totally amazing!

Colleagues will surprise you.
I was so lucky to have four amazing colleagues come along on camp with me. I was also equally privileged to have many colleagues back at school supporting us by covering classes, an managing so many other things to make sure that everything ran smoothly. I work with some amazing people, so I was expecting them to help out, but I was not expecting the level at which they would offer their support. I was completely blown away by their commitment to supporting me and building connections with the students on camp. I don’t usually delegate (did I mention control freak?) but last week I realised that there was no way I was going to get everything done that I wanted to. So, against all my better judgement, I sent an email asking for the people coming on camp to organise an activity each. In my head I was making contingency plans – not because I expected them to fail but just because letting go of control is not easy for me and I needed to know that everything would be sorted. They surprised me – not because the activities were planned, but because they were planned with such thoughtfulness and attention to detail with regards to my camp goals that I don’t think I could have done them in a better myself. Usually, in the back of my head I’m thinking about how I would have done it, but it was so gratifying to be able to sit back and watch other people run something and be okay with it – more than that, to be proud of it. It was a very surprising and unexpectedly wonderful experience for me, and something I’m going to keep reminding myself of in the future. I think it’s a lesson I need to learn.

I will surprise me.
I can be okay with not being in control of everything. I’m a bit terrified of heights… Okay a lot terrified of heights. When booking team activities, I was tempted to book in a “leap of faith” activity, but chickened out when I realised that I couldn’t ask students to do something I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself. Instead, I booked an activity called “zip line and power fan”, which I envisaged was something like a flying fox. I figured I could probably cope with that. When we arrived at the activity, I discovered that the zip line part was a flying fox activity, but the power fan was quite different. It involved climbing to the top of a power pole, then jumping off as your descent was controlled by some kind of winch. Just looking at it made me nauseous. It was the last thing that I wanted to do. But I’d spent the past two days encouraging my students to step out of their comfort zones, and to try something new… I couldn’t not do it myself. It was the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. I bawled my eyes out pretty much the whole time… The video taken by another one of the teachers is not very flattering at all. Why do people never cry in real life like they do in the movies? But I did it, to my utter surprise. I still don’t think I’m over the terror, but the comments from my students and from my colleagues has made me very glad, and incredibly proud that I took that step off the edge. Yet another lesson I think I need to learn.

I feel like, through the course of this camp, I have learnt more then the students who were supposed to benefit from it. I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about our profession – that we get to demonstrate that learning is lifelong, and that it’s not just something that we impart, but that is something that is a part of us. Thank you, year 11, I will never forget this week!

August 21

In the end, only kindness matters ….

Today was a wonderful day. Not because I taught any amazingly brilliant classes – sadly, not sure they qualified for that today!!!! Not because of the weather – froze my not insignificant butt off in my classroom today, despite the appearance of the sun!!!! It was a wonderful day because of how terrible yesterday was.
I had a class that was, shall we say, difficult. It’s not unusual for this class – all boys, challenging behaviours, and high levels of disengagement with school. Yesterday, it was windy, they were grumpy, and we struggled to get through the lesson. I kept breathing, held my temper, and continued to be polite and encouraging to them, despite the fact that really, the last thing I felt like doing was being kind and generous to teenage boys who thought I was the devil. 60 minutes later, and I walked out of my room with a big sigh of relief.
I had them this morning, and was half-expecting a repeat performance. I was pleasantly surprised though, when one of my students walked in early (which almost NEVER happens!!!!!) and came up to me to apologise.

“Sorry for being rude to you yesterday Miss, I had the shits about something else, and you were still really nice even though I was horrible to you. Yeah, sorry about that.”

Not only was it surprising, but it really made me think. Sometimes, we get so caught up in doing all the daily management at schools, the referrals for negative behaviour, the paperwork, the running around, and the politics of schools, that we forget about the important things. The little things. The things that are going to make a difference in the lives of the students we are there for. Yesterday, the important thing was not all the other running around I had to do …. It was the decision I made to take another breath, count to 10, smile at the kid who was set on making my life miserable for no apparent reason, and just get through the lesson with a minimal amount of tension.

The title for this post is from a Jewel song. (I’d embed it, but I’m on the iPad and don’t know how to do that on the app – is it even possible?????) it’s been going through my head all day, s I’ve been thinking about the little things we do that make a difference. What has yours been this week?

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August 19

Testing app posting!

So, today I have a pile of stuff to do. I have marking, planning, housework, washing, and shopping to get through. What am I doing instead, you ask? (or you would ask if anyone was reading this??) I’m app shopping. I just downloaded iview – Doctor Who on my phone? Yes please!!! – and after a post on yammer from a colleague, thought I’d check out the edublogs app. That’s what I’m posting from, just to check it out!!

June 25

Almost there ….

I feel like every teacher I talk to at the moment is feeling the same way I am. Flat. Exhausted. Fighting off the sickness that has been threatening them for weeks, and is bound to take up part of their holidays. And, like me, they have a mountain of work to get done in these remaining days of first semester (someone posted in one of my networks last night about how many centimetres of paper they had to work through – I’m too scared to measure mine!) As school promotions officer at my school, I am responsible for putting together our once-a-term newsletter, and if it’s not finished and published by Friday, I know I’ll end up tinkering with it for most of the holidays …. call it OCD, call it perfectionism, whatever it is, I suffer from it, and I need a break! So, I’m trying to convince myself of this …

I don’t know how successful I’m going to be, but I’m trying to give myself a break. To not get caught up in the things that I can’t control, and to stress about how it could be if only I had the time, or the resources, or the info supplied by others that I needed when I needed it ….. sometimes, Tamara, you just need to get over it, suck it up princess, and do it!!!

So, Friday. Buzz day. It’s going to be done, and I’m going to have a relatively work free holiday …. or at least, a holiday unencumbered by stressing about our newsletter, I’m sure I’ll have something else to obsess over, I’m good like that!!

So what’s your aim before holidays kick in? Good luck with it, may the force be with you!!

June 17

The Hills are alive ….

I recently attended my first TeachMeet. If you don’t know what they are, it’s worth checking them out – great professional development and dialogue with colleagues from all walks of life! At the Hills Teachmeet, we had beginning teachers, teachers in training, primary, secondary, head teachers, LOTE, English, Maths, deputies and principals, from public and private systems. We also had people presenting via SKYPE, one from their loungeroom in regional NSW, one from the side of the lake near his house in Victoria, and one from overseas somewhere! It was a great experience to be a part of, even through my terror.

Why terror? Well, I’m totally comfortable talking in front of my classroom. I can cope at staff meetings at school. But put me in front of an assembly with parents, or a group of people I don’t know, and my knees start to shake. I volunteered to do a PK session (20 slides, 20 seconds each) about my experiences teaching Gaming to my yr9 boys class last year, and I think I was lucky it was something I was passionate about, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it through!

It was a few weeks ago now, but I’ve been flat out with reports, so I’m only just now getting around to sharing this here, as promised to some tweeps at the time. You can view the slideshare of my presentation, and underneath it I’ve pasted my notes about each slide. They are pretty reflective of what I said about each one ….. not word for word though, as I embraced the PK philosophy, and just talked!

  1. My experience with trialling a unit of Game study with a yr 9 class I taught last year. Some successes, some challenges for the future.
  2. Boys class – 16 students, varied backgrounds, wide range of issues which have the potential to impact their learning. History of a distinct lack of engagement, particularly in English!
  3. This is what we have to cover in English –content, literacy, grammar, skills … it’s full on, and it’s often a very text-focussed course – often the biggest concession that is made to meet the needs of the students is picking a novel which has masculine themes if you’ve got a lot of boys in your class.
  4. Surveyed the class at the beginning of the year – and this is what they thought. English is rubbish. Lots of boring books. What’s the point? One student told me that “teachers think they can try and make it interesting, but I don’t know why they bother. English sucks”.
  5. I spoke to my HT, the principal, a lot of people around who were starting to look at gaming in schools, but there wasn’t really anything that FIT what I wanted to do… small sections of games used to illustrate a class topic, for example. But nothing holistic. When I told my class that in T3 we’d be working in our Interactive gaming room, which is usually just used for sports or drama, they were over the moon.
  6. They thought we’d be doing this all the time. A whole term of playing games? They were psyched, and started planning what games they’d bring in, if we had enough controllers, and whether they’d be able to play online or not.
  7. The reality was quite different. We spent the first 4 weeks of the term doing some solid in depth research. We looked at the background of the gaming industry, and their target audience. We studied ads for games, and looked at how they targeted that audience.
  8. These low literacy, low interest, low engagement kids got very familiar with these terms, and more. Before they picked up a controller in class, they were able to talk about stock characters, symbolism, and narrative threads.
  9. Our equipment in the gaming room – 3 wii consoles, 1 ps3, 4 networked pcs, 2 nitendo dsi’s and 2 PSP’s. Most students spent more time on the wii’s and PC’s, with almost no use of the stand-alone handheld consoles.
  10. These were our texts for the term. The class suggested games that would be appropriate based on our research, and also limitations of ratings. They were dying to play COD, but were satisfied with lego starwars and age of empires as suitably violence laden substitutes.
  11. So what were the benefits? There was a marked increase in the level of positive cooperation in class. The boys had to negotiate who was playing on which console when, what games were being used, who would work with who. It helped build cohesion in a difficult group.
  12. We got to deal effectively with a wide range of cross curricular outcomes – particularly HSIE and PDHPE. Incidental conversations about what Alice Leung was doing with Need for Speed in her science class led to some great discussions about what games applied to other subjects.
  13. It was important that this group recognised that what they were doing was significant! The emphasis on the rigourous academic study at the beginning of the term helped emphasise that this was serious stuff – as did my head teacher’s occasional input, when she’d pop in and say “wow, I can’t believe you are doing archetypes with this class, I’m not even attempting that with mine until next year!” It really helped to build their belief in their own capacity.
  14. They were the experts. I didn’t know how to unlock easter eggs on these games, or find the hidden levels. Mostly, I’d tell them “this is what I want us to be able to do” and they’d sort out what we needed, and how we’d accomplish that. It was certainly a challenging thing in some respects – to walk into a lesson and not really know what was going to happen – but letting the boys have the reigns worked fairly well.
  15. Biggest success was that they were empowered – they saw themselves as able to achieve, and it removed many of those barriers that they saw in front of them previously. When faced with a test at the end of the unit, they were excited, because they actually knew something about what was being assessed – and it was meaningful learning!
  16. EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES – improvement across the class in almost all cases, above the rate of improvement for the year group.
  17. Feedback from students was, not surprisingly, fairly positive. 🙂
  18. Maybe not 100%, but there was certainly an increase in attendance for this class, which continued after the unit was finished, into our Shakespeare unit in the following term. Not all teachers were happy about these kids showing up more – but it was certainly working for me!!
  19. Negatives – initial perception by other staff that this was a bludge, and that it was just a way to kill time and keep them entertained. Perceptions by other students that “Rodgers’ class are just playing games, it’s not fair!” were also difficult to address without them seeing what we were actually doing.
  20. It was almost too big a unit to try and manage in just one term – when I do this again, I’ll be looking at ways to limit it a bit, so it’s not bigger than Ben Hur. Limiting of the games studied, through consultation with class.
  21. I would so do this again – and I will be!
  22. Contact details.

Sorry about the “dot point” notes – next time, I’ll work out a way to share this more effectively. But there you go – my PK session from the Hills Teachmeet, about gaming in English!

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June 13

Six years.

It’s been six years since I started working at my current school. I got a phone call 2 weeks before the end of term 1 2006 offering me a position, and after finding out where on earth Evans was, I said yes. I was doing some casual work at the time, after turning down a full-time position at the school I was previously part-time at, because I didn’t really want to be working full time until my youngest child started school. Circumstances changed, though, and we’d just decided that I should start looking for something full time, but relatively close to home …. this job was perfect!!

So, six years on, and what have I learnt? A lot. I’ve learnt that I’m a much better teacher than I thought I was.

I’ve discovered that in DO like the idea of being a head teacher. I said, which I first started teaching, that I wanted to be in a classroom, not in executive meetings, but the opportunities I’ve had over the past few years have shown me that I could do HT … and, in fact, that I want to. I’m still clarifying whether for me, that’s going to be English, or in a Welfare role, both of which have their attractions for me, but it’s definitely something that’s on my radar.

I’ve learnt that it’s ok to say no. That sometimes, I really SHOULD say no!! I’m a chronic people pleaser, and that often results in me doing way too much for other people, and not nearly enough for myself. So, I’m practicing …. and sometimes, feeling completely ok about saying “no, I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that!!” (I’m still very likely to find a way to help, though, coz that’s just how I roll!!)

I’ve learnt that I’m more capable than I give myself credit for, and that my doubts? Sometimes they are useful. I’m giving less creedence to the “you suck” side of my self-doubt, but paying attention to what they are telling me, because sometimes, my own insecurities about something will help me discover what I need to get better at. Sometimes they help me go in a direction I never dreamed possible!! Sometimes they are just bogus crap, so I ignore those ones …. but you know, it’s all about discernement.

Most importantly, I think for me, anyway …. I’ve discovered that teaching IS ME. It’s not just something I’m doing because I don’t have the time to go back to uni and do my PhD (yes, I still want to do it ….. no, not giving up my career to!) The reason I get so pissed when people have a go at teachers and their holidays? It’s because I have ENORMOUS pride in my profession. I think we rock, and I’m proud to be a part of such an amazing industry. I love what I do, and I love where I do it. So, six years? I’ve probably got another 18 months in me here, before I start thinking about moving on …. but it will be done with a lot of tears! I’m not ready to go yet, though – there’s still a lot I want to do in this incarnation of Rodgers’ Room!

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June 30

On being connected ….

confusedI’ve been thinking over the past week, since coming back from Unconference, about what “being connected” means to me. Both personally and professionally. This post is really motivated by 2 pechakucha presentations by members of my PLN, presented on the first day of unconference during our lunch break. The first, by Clarinda Brown, was a reflection on her 12 months, how her life has changed, and what’s important to her now that wasn’t a year ago. The second, by Pip Cleaves, was about the notion of 21st century learning, and a key line from her presentation struck me – “We shouldn’t be talking about 21st century skills, we’re 11 years into it. They are just skills.” (I think I’ve paraphrased Pip a little there, but that was the gist of it!!)

I was talking to my principal yesterday, who is new to our school, and the discussion got onto the topic of what’s working, and what has changed since she arrived. And that, too, led me to thinking about what’s changed for me in my professional life.

So, what has changed? For me, the MAJOR difference in my experiences and skills as a teacher is directly attributed to the expansion of my PLN. This time last year, I had very few connections to other professionals outside the boundaries of my own school. Over the 2nd half of last year, I ventured onto Yammer (which we are saying goodbye to today) and then Twitter, and the professional dialogue that opened up to me was mindblowing. I’ve always been the kind of person who has loved to share with others, but had little opportunity to do that outside the walls of my staffroom. Now, the possibilities to network, to share ideas, to get feedback … they are almost limitless, and they are expanding almost every day, as new people get added to my list!

Personally, I’ve always been a social media junkie … I love facebook. I’m a pop-culture freak. And I think that we as educators are doing our students a great disservice if we don’t recognise the role that social media plays in their lives. I also think that as an English teacher, social media can be ENORMOUSLY useful. I’ve had discussions about the groups and “like” features on facebook to help illustrate the concepts behind our Belonging Area of Study for the HSC. The opportunity to discuss modality, tone, methods of communication, characterisation …. I can’t even tell you how beneficial facebook is to me as a point of reference for students! I believe that social media, of which facebook is a part, is something that will be filling the landscape of communication in an ever-increasing way, and as a KLA which fundamentally deals with communication, we need to prepare ourselves, and our classrooms, to deal with this effectively, or we run the risk of being left behind, and teaching 20th century skills to a 21st century clientele.

phone boxSo, social media in schools? Yep, I’m a fan. My school is one of the first that I know of in NSW to be creating a social media presence. We’ve set up a twitter feed, and a facebook page. We’re working on a school youtube channel. And we’re moving towards a more regular email newsletter update about what’s going on around our school. A few other schools are doing this too, and it’s great to be able to chat to people I know in twitter about our experiences with this – and, I must say, it’s kind of cool when people approach me to ask how I did this, or what we have done there …. I don’t often consider myself an “expert” on anything!! lol

How’s it working? A lot more successfully than I’d envisaged, actually! There is a lot of negativity in mainstream media about facebook in schools, and it’s potential for cyberbullying, stalking, etc. I get that. I don’t think, however, that’s a reason to dismiss it completely – I think it’s an opportunity for us to engage with our students over these issues, to better prepare them to be “21st Century communicators”. We did little to no advertisement of our school facebook page, and about 2 months after it launched, we have over 2oo people “liking” the page. In the beginning most of our likers were my friends, who I asked to like it so we could claim our page name, but the balance has definitely shifted – most of our followers now are students and parents, and it’s been an effective tool to share information with them, as well as get some feedback, and start some discussions.

Problems? Yep, we’ve had a few. What’s surprising to me is how few we’ve had!! We’ve deleted only 3 comments – one because I accidently posted twice, one because some inappropriate language slipped by the FB filters, and one that was a spam post from a US homework help site. That’s it!! Given the clientele of the page, and the negative hype surrounding facebook in schools, I would have expected a lot more.

Benefits? Well, I’ve already mentioned the increased communication with our school community. The main benefit for me has been in my classroom discussions with students. I’m a year advisor, and with my cohort this term in Study Skills lessons, we’ve been looking at Cybersafety and Digital Citizenship. The interactions I have with them through the school facebook page have given me the opportunity to talk in real terms with them about these issues, and it’s been a really positive experience.

I feel like this post has jumped about a bit, but that’s ok … I’m not really expecting this will be anything more than a bit of a reflection for me on my place in this digital world!! If you’re reading it, though, I’d love to hear what you think, either about your personal digital presence, or the place of social media in schools. Thanks for popping by!

June 19

Gotta Share!!!


Last minute unconf prep. (Anyone who knows me irl knows why the “last minute” thing is NOT a surprise!!) And of course, things are going wrong again  – this time with my stupid head!! I’m pumping drugs (of the legal kind) big time in order to fend of this impending headache (I refuse to call it the M word because I do NOT have time for a migraine at the moment!!) Plus, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my registration in the sessions for the next 2 days, then went to upload it to google docs to share with other attendees, but it’s not working …. arggghh again! So, if anyone has any great ideas, that require minimal effort from me, I’d be happy to hear them, otherwise I’m all out of options for it. You can download the file from here if you’d like to use it – it’s a simple “choose from the list” set up. Click the arrow next to each discussion or microlearning session, select what you’ve registered for, and then type in anything else you’ve got planned, and save it on your desktop to help you keep on track throughout the 2 days.

UNCONF Activity_Schedule

One of the awesome things about the leadup to unconf has been the sms updates. The latest one we received had me laughing, and my daughters stole my phone so they could watch it. Check it out – it’s very cool!

Improv Anywhere – Gotta Share!!