For SMC : #YourEdustory Weeks 9-11

The complication of a badly broken wrist and an operation to fix it has certainly contributed to my lack of weekly #YourEdustory posts over the last few weeks. I have, however, been reflecting on my responses to these questions from the last three weeks, just not in writing.

Put together a design brief for a new learning space

How do you infect students with a passion for learning

How do you empower student voice in your classroom or school

As stated on the #YourEdustory home page “Reflection makes us stronger, wiser, and more precise. In our journey to understand ourselves as educators, we should continually reflect about what we believe in, what has worked well, and also what has failed miserably in our classrooms.”

My reflections on these three questions kept leading me back to one point, actually one person – who I shall refer to as SMC. Therefore this week I have chosen to reflect on SMC and what I have learnt from her.

Every now and then in life, someone crosses your path who makes a difference, challenges your thinking and leaves a lasting impression. For me, SMC was and is one of those people.

The length of time she worked with us was far too short, however the impact of her work will go on for sometime. She expanded our horizons and introduced us to what is possible when ………

  • you are fearless,
  • intelligent,
  • ask how we can make it work, rather than say why it won’t
  • and have a natural instinct for focusing on heutagogy.

SMC is one of the world’s special people. I am a better educator for the oportunity to work with her. Not because she taught me things I didn’t know (though she did some of that) , rather because she just seemed to know the right time and place to drop in a pearl of wisdom, an idea, a challenge, something that took me down a new path, exploring a new concept or trialling a different way. And she shared in the excitement, the fun and the opportunity to get ‘nerdy’ that this learning involved. That’s how you infect people with your passion for learning.

SMC has an innate belief in the capacity of others to achieve. All learning, whether it was students, staff or parents was approached from that belief – ‘you can do it, of course you can.’ She would just know which piece of advice to deliver, or drop in the next idea, tool or way of doing something at just the right moment. She provided the scaffold that empowered others to take ownership, move forward and find their own paths to achievement.

Working with SMC, extended my thinking around learning environments. She had an instinctive understanding of the links between physical and virtual environments and the interdependency between them. She knew that in this day and age you can’t have one without the other and when designing learning environments, both physical and virtual spaces have to be included in the process, not considered as add-ons or extras.

SMC did all this with grace, humour, a passion for life, and persistence in an educational environment that doesn’t always manage change well, cope with difference or having their way of doing things challenged.

For many years to come when faced with a challenge, a difficult question, a new situation or the next educational breakthrough, I suspect I will find myself asking ‘What would SMC say, do or think?’

And of course I will ask her! She is now an integral part of my PLN (Professional and Personal Learning Network).

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My defining moment OR why I decided to become a teacher.

Considering this year is 41 years since I first started at Burwood Teachers College,  (Burwood SCV, as it was called in those days) it was a small challenge to remember back before then and identify the defining moment when I decided to become a teacher.

However I do know, there are a couple of very important females in my early life who influenced me greatly and have a lot to answer for.

I thank Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables fame and Jo Marsh of Little Women fame who between them, fuelled my desire to be a teacher. It was reading about Anne’s adventures as a teacher in Anne of Avonlea and Jo’s adventures in Little Men and Jo’s Boys, that sealed my fate.

It was the relationships they developed with their young charges, the care and concern they showed them and the time and energy they invested in their growth that captured my attention and caused me to want to become part of this great profession.

A decision to this day I have never regretted. For that Anne and Jo, I thank you.

AnneOfAvonlea jos boys

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Why I do what I do

First, I had to ask myself WHAT I do? 
I do many things, I teach, I counsel, I support, I organise, I listen, I juggle (metaphorically), I question, I share, I discuss, I problem solve and sometimes I problem find …… and I do all of these things within an education environment. I have toyed over the years with leaving education, however have never taken this idea any further, because nothing gives me the satisfaction that turning up to my school each day gives me. I have been fortunate and could say that about the nine schools I have worked in over my long career.
So WHY do I teach? 
Because I think I might love learning more than anything else in the world. I often say that I spent the first 30 years of my life waiting for the Internet to arrive, because this has become such a rich source of my learning, since I was first introduced to its possibilities in the early nineties. I have learnt in so many ways, reading, viewing, participating, creating, co-constructing, arguing, writing, searching, researching, surfing, exploring. And learning with and alongside others; students and teachers, support staff, parents and colleagues both face to face and virtually, continues to expand my horizons every day.
And being in education means I am continually surrounded by learning, which is why I get out of bed each day excited by what the day brings.
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Learning is ….

I wrote my #YourEdustory week 4, ‘Learning is ….’ blog post last weekend, however didn’t get around to publishing it.

THEN …. I went on school camp this week and completely rewrote the whole post.

Camp was full of learning, by both the students and the adults attending. I spent the week observing the students and adults, including myself, LEARN. I observed them learn to do things, learn new things, learn about each other and learn from each.

So here is ‘Learning is …..’  Take Two

Learning takes place anywhere, any time in any environment when people are ….
– open to possibilities,
– have a need to know,
– use what they know,
– absorb the expertise of others,
– watch, listen, copy, practice,
– feel encouraged and supported to try,
– fail, fall down, and try again,
and do all this with a sense of joy, excitement and wonder at their achievements.

And none of the learning that took place this week, happened in a classroom, in a school, using paper, pen, books or digital technologies (though it could have). However it did need relationships, connections and communication.

Learning is getting to the end of the day and knowing more, understanding more or being able to do more, than you could at the start of the day!

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Every ‘lone nut’ needs someone like me.

When I first read this week’s #YourEdustory topic; “What is the best thing you do in your school?” I felt very uncomfortable about answering. I’m not sure if it is a teacher thing, an Australian thing or a me thing; to not naturally and comfortably talk about what you are good at.

Yet I knew the answer straight away, so why shouldn’t I answer.

The best thing I do ….. is provide the logical thinking, the organisation, the practicalities, the hard work …… that enable the innovative ideas of others to happen! I am not necessarily the most creative, the big picture thinker, the innovator; however I do know a great idea when I see, hear or read about one and I can help make it happen. I bring a calm, consistent, logical, practical, make things happen approach to my role as a school leader.

And I will happily spend as many hours as you need discussing your ideas, trialling them, reflecting on them, refining them and working with you to make them work.

This is one of the many things I love about my job.

And just in case you haven’t seen the ‘lone nut’, view it here.



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Principals I have known

The Week 3 #YourEdustory question is ‘How are you, or is your approach, different than your favorite teacher?’ I have really struggled to answer this question. Upon reflection, it wasn’t because I didn’t have favourite teachers, rather that it wasn’t relating to me at this stage of my career. So I decided to reflect on leadership instead (not that teachers aren’t leaders) and create my own question.

Over my teaching career, I have worked with at least 15 Principals and a number of Assistant (Deputy, Vice) Principals.  What have I learnt from all of these school leaders? 

In no particular order:

  • Trust the professionalism of your staff, don’t micro manage and provide the right conditions to try things; say ‘yes’ followed by ‘how’ rather than ‘no’.
  • Take the time to know the students, parents and teachers you work with everyday and build real relationships. Value those relationships. People know when you are faking.
  • Invest time talking to the staff at your school, know them, know what they value and ask them what they think! And really listen.
  • The school community forgives lots of things, if you are visible, personable and interested in the whole child and their families.
  • Sometimes the job is hard, the decisions are tough and the more you try to sugar coat things the worse they become. And if you do nothing it always comes back to bite you!
  • You can’t fill somebody else’s shoes, you have to wear/find your own.
  • Teachers really appreciate it when you support them with the challenging students and parents.
  • Being a great classroom teacher, doesn’t necessarily mean you will automatically be a great school administrator – you have to work at it.
  • Even if you have the greatest education vision in the world, if you can’t communicate it effectively to the masses, it won’t be accepted.
  • It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, you have to know when your time is up. If you stay too long, things start to fall apart.
  • Expect lots, have high expectations of yourself, celebrate successes, learn from the not so successful and be inspired by your staff every single day.

Please feel free to add to the list … from school leaders you have known.


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This week’s #YourEdustory topis is ‘How will you make the world a better place?’

I am always very challenged by questions such as this …. making the world a better place is a big ask? However I can contribute to improving my corner of the world.

I recently read Grant Wiggins A Post from Paris. He was reflecting on the importance of ‘understanding‘ particularly in relation to recent events in France.

Our only hope in facing this crisis is to better understand why people think and act as they do – whether we like or detest what they do. No good comes from dismissing them as ‘evil’ and ending all thought in our moral smugness.’

The importance of understanding where people are coming from, rather than making judgements based on my own middle class values, is integral to who I am as an educator. And the longer I have been in education the more important this has become.

To understand, one has to be prepared to listen and to respect. To understand is one of my values, however it doesn’t mean I have to agrEe.

Throughout this year I will continue to work with students, parents, fellow educators to promote ‘understanding’. After all, when we understand why someone thinks or acts they way they do, we can work with them rather than against them.

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One word ….

The first weekly challenge for Share#YourEdustory is to come up with one word for 2015 that will inspire my work.
I initially thought this was going to be really difficulty, however it was surprisingly easy. Reflecting on why I joined the challenge and what I hope to achieve this year, both professionally and personally, the word to inspire was very obvious ….
COMMUNITY – I read many definitions, however really like the one that defines a community as a unified body of people. You don’t have to be in agreement to be unified, however you do need to have shared goals and purpose.
Why community?
At a school level we want to be a community that recognises, appreciates and celebrates our differences as well as our similarities. We want to be a community that supports and challenges each other and a community that gives as well as takes. We want a community that  is willing to ask why, willing to understand other’s points of view and willing to reflect on individual and collective contributions and expectations. And we want a community that values the work we do as educators. My role at my school throughout 2015 will be closely linked to these very big expectations.
At a broader educational level, I want to more consistently contribute to the global education community and grow my connections within and beyond my current PLN. All to often I get caught up in the daily grind of school administration and find I end up taking from my PLN, without making a consistent effort to give back and contribute. My first step is to join this weekly blogging challenge, and commit to at least taking the time to comment on other’s reflections. I also want to take the reflection and thinking that I do all the time out of my head and share it with the wider community.
On a personal level, I want to find time to become more involved in my community, to step outside of education and contribute to the community in other ways. I’m not sure what this will look like yet.
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#Your (my) Edustory

Whilst on holidays last week, I came across tweets from two educators I respect and admire @ccoffa and @hbailie about a new global blogging challenge, Share#youredustory A weekly blog post focused on sharing our work as educators. I own a blog, which I use sporadically and having many other unpublished posts in my head … I wondered if this was something for me.

What really got me interested, was the following reason for WHY we should be blogging.

We need to not only reflect for ourselves, but also to show the community what teaching and learning is all about. After all, if we don’t tell our stories, somebody else will.

This has given me the why that may just inspire me to stick to this challenge, though I am not convinced I will maintain a weekly post. If we want the community to value our work as educators we have to value what we do enough, to tell our stories, listen to other stories and expose ourselves to opportunties for robust and healthy discussion. @corisel talks about the idea of ‘being worthy of trust’ in a recent blog post, which expands on the idea of sharing our practice … and being competent, reliable and honest.

So here is to a year of telling my story.



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My 5Ps of Conferences

I spent time and money to attend an education conference during these holidays. I attended with a group of friends, passionate educators from different sectors and states, all who I initially made online connections with, before I met face to face. My takeaways from this conference were perhaps not what I had expected.

Due to the many experiences of this conference, I have had cause to reflect on why I choose to attend conferences. And I have come up with my criteria for conference sessions.

My 5Ps of conferences…..

Provoking : I want presenters to provoke my thinking, deeply and powerfully, or to add significantly to my body of knowledge. I want to add to what I know, be challenged by what I know and walk away a richer and better educator for the experience. And I want to talk about it.

Pondering : I want to be left with thoughts, ideas and experiences that resonate with me long after I leave. I want to still be processing ideas, days, weeks even months later.  

Pedagogy : Unless I have chosen to attend a conference or sessions that are advertised as specifically tool based, I want the pedagogy to be VISIBLE. We don’t engage our learners because something is fun, we engage our learners because what we are doing in the classroom is challenging, significant and relevant, and that’s what makes it fun. So share with me, talk to me about the learning behind it, why the experience was fun for your students, what made it challenging, significant and relevant. Thats what I want to know. I want to see beyond the smoke and mirrors.

Passion : I want to be enthused by the passion of the speakers, I want to believe that they believe in what they are doing, I want to share in their excitement and knowledge. I don’t want to be read to, talked at or fall asleep. 

Personal Stories : I want to know why presenters have chosen to share their work, I want to hear their stories, their successes and their challenges. I want to feel that they care enough about their audience to make an investment in and commit to what they are doing. 

Conversations before, during and after sessions are critical to my definition of a great conference. Conversations that challenge my thinking, bring new perspectives, question ideas and add to my learning. Conversations that acknowledge the ‘brains trust’ – the shared knowledge in the room. Having many qualities of an introvert, I generally choose to engage in these conversations with people I know, or have been introduced too. Choosing to talk to people I don’t know can be way to stressful, however I do appreciate opportunities that enable conversations and connections to be made.

During the most recent conference I attended, I found choosing sessions a challenge. I wanted be made to think, to learn from others, to engage in conversation, to ask questions and to leave still processing ideas. Sometimes I sat in a session, thinking I’d made the wrong choice. I was struggling to find my takeaways. That doesn’t mean that others didn’t have takeaways but I didn’t. Some or all of the Ps were missing for me. And reading the tweet stream I really wished I was in other sessions. I wonder how we can go about solving this issue?

Generally conferences are predictable, there is a format that is followed. Start the day with a keynote, then a series of workshops or presentations. I wonder if others like me, would be interested in hearing a short snippet of all the sessions on offer in a timeslot – before they made their choice. So often a written précis doesn’t convey a true picture. Surely in this day and age – a video with 2 minutes of each presenter could be available, to assist with session selection.

This tweet from @enrite, reflects my thinking and partly contributed to the writing of this post, along with a challenge from @ccoffa.

#acec2014 to quote Gary Stager, “engage me or enrage me”. That means feed my head, give me why, give me big ideas; provoke me to think.

I would be interested to know what others think.

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