Category Archives: Effective Teaching

Connecting in the Valley

Most schools in Australia would consider themselves to be a part of a network, and the 7 Department of Education schools in the Fitzroy Valley are no different. However, unlike schools in towns or cities the distance between schools is rather large:

(Tech footnote #1: The excellent ‘My Maps’ feature on Google Maps was used to knock this up; I love the new custom icon feature on show here, too!)

Understandably, with such large distances involved you can imagine that it’s not often that teachers in the Valley get a chance to meet face to face. Additionally, when you consider that two of these schools are ‘1+1’ schools (just 1 principal and 1 teacher) and another two are ‘1+3’ there’s a definite need for teachers to be able to meet and converse, both from a professional and a social perspective.

With this in mind, I was keen to put the possibility of a Valley-wide common school development day on the agenda when the 7 Valley principals met at our Kimberley Senior Leadership Team conference in October last year. It was quickly established that there was an appetite for the proposal, and after a few teleconferences, many group emails and plenty of behind-the-scenes hard work the 2016 Valley Big Event came to fruition!

Valley Big Event Poster

(Tech footnote #2: The Google app Fotor makes creating posters like this child’s play, even if the creator (me) made a mistake with one of the dates…)

We were able to use some of our network funding allocation from regional office to pay for charter flights for the folk at Wananami and accommodation for the four schools more than 30km from town. All schools committed to the two days, with the Saturday being billed as ‘trade off in one day’ – those in WA DoE schools will know what this means. And then we were able to secure an outstanding and diverse range of presenters, including Diana Rigg from PLD resources and John from Big Picture Education Australia whose programs are widespread throughout the primary and secondary settings in the Valley, respectively.

So how did it all go? It was absolutely fantastic! We’re all Stronger Smarter schools up here and we’d all do variations of a ‘Check-in’ before we meet with our staffs. This was the first one I’d ever done with 90 odd people at once though:

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Then it was into 2 days of concurrent sessions tailored to the needs of each phase of learning. This was strategic, as it enabled, say, all of the lower primary teachers to be together to discuss their practice and build connections with those teaching the same level in the other schools. We were even able to secure the excellent Office of Aboriginal Education team to present the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework professional learning to our Valley AIEOs, saving them an 800km (or more) round trip to Broome for the sessions scheduled by central office. And of course the teachers and school staff located in the communities out of town enjoyed the chance to have a drink and a dance with their colleagues at the social event on the Friday night.

The plan is to make this an annual event, and if the teacher feedback is anything to go on then we’d be crazy to shelve it after just this year. Here are a few of pics of the PL sessions in action – enjoy!

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TeachMeet National Strategy Forum

During Term 2 I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the TeachMeet National Strategy Forum, held at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. A crew of 20 educators, from all over Australia representing a range of school contexts, came together to discuss what TeachMeets are and where they should be going.   photo 1The take-away messages?

  • TeachMeets are SUSTAINABLE
  • TeachMeets are VALUABLE
  • There are SENSATIONAL educators working with our kids all over Australia
  • It’s OK to be a starfish (rather than a spider)!

Check out the .pdf below for the analysis of the forum, as provided by Social Ventures Australia:

TeachMeet_PL workshop_FINAL_140612_

Just as an aside, it’d be safe to say that Sydney (population 4.6 million) and Kununurra (7000) have little in common. For example, there must be at least a dozen ‘Golden Arches’  in the Sydney CBD alone; From Kununurra it’s a 500 km drive across a state border if you want a Happy Meal. (Not a bad thing, by the way.) One of the Sydney teachers described his 55 minute daily commute to school as ‘reasonable’; Mine spans the entire breadth of the town I live in and takes 6 minutes. Finally, I’m not sure Kununurra puts on a light show like this either, which the lovely folks at Vivid Sydney did during my stay:

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Kimberley Kids – A Contextual Conundrum

Recently I was asked to present at a TeachMeet in Perth via the internet. Here’s my offering, which is an attempt to explain teaching and working in the Kimberley. I hope you enjoy it:

Here’s the film clip I refer to at the end, created by the kids of Kununurra alongside the fabulous crew at Indigenous Hip Hop Projects. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty spectacular:

Deadly Writing!

The young bloke pictured below’s name is Jimmy (well, it’s not really, but let’s go with a fictitious name for now).

Jimmy is in Year 4 at Kununurra DHS. When Jimmy was in Year 3, he barely wrote a word, and when he did it was virtually illegible. He was always a happy enough kid, but he never really engaged with any teachers, education assistants or AIEO’s.

He does now.

Jimmy’s been working closely with Miss Mel, who’s an EA in the Year 4 area. Miss Mel’s got a great relationship with lots of our kids, and Jimmy’s one such student who will do anything to please her – including 2 full pages of neat writing patterns when he may have settled for 3 or 4 scribbled words last year. On Monday he put his head down and practised his word and letter combinations for a solid 20 minutes, taking care to make sure each one was formed neatly and correctly.

Miss Mel and Jimmy then came to visit me so he could show off his neat work. I told him how genuinely impressed and happy I was to see his work, and then stuck a shiny sticker on his shirt. Jimmy then said, ‘How ’bout a smelly pencil?’ I told Jimmy that smelly pencils don’t come that easily, but I’d do a deal with him. He was allowed to pick one that I’d then blu-tac to my wall. If he came back at the end of the week with a whole week’s worth of good writing, the pencil would be his. We sealed the deal with a handshake and he went on his way.

A week went by and then today Jimmy came bounding up to the office to show me his work. You could barely wipe the smile off his face (in fact, the only time he stopped smiling was to get his photo taken, as many of our indigenous kids tend to do), and Miss Mel was just as proud of him too. I took the pencil down and gave it to him. He immediately removed the cap and took a big, satisfied whiff of cotton candy to celebrate his achievement. And Miss Mel and I couldn’t have been prouder!

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Keith Moon? Tommy Lee? Behaviour Management?

Here’s the best thing that happened to me today:

I’ve got this young bloke in my sub school, for now let’s call him Mike (not his real name). Mike’s in Year 4. Mike is well known to all staff and students at school, mainly for his high behavioural needs. You see, Mike doesn’t have a lot of boundaries in his life outside of school. Subsequently, when Mike attends he can be quite a handful with his behaviour. Even though our paths cross regularly (as Mike’s individual behaviour management plan dictates) and I usually have to be the bad cop, I like Mike and I’m pretty sure Mike likes me too.

Mike’s not too keen on specialist subjects. Since we only have Art/Phys Ed/Music/Library once a week it’s difficult for the teachers of those subjects to build rapport with Mike. As a result, I’m often called to lend a hand during those lessons if Mike’s behaviour has escalated to the point where it’s impossible for the teacher to deliver his/her lesson to the 23 other kids in Mike’s class. When you factor in that today was the first day back following two weeks of school holidays (largely unstructured for Mike), I wasn’t surprised at all to receive a message saying that Mike wasn’t too keen on doing the right thing during Music in Period 4.

When I caught up with Mike just outside the Music room he had just yelled and swore at the teacher and kicked a wheelie bin over. He’d also decided to take his shirt off and was rather agitated about the whole experience of being in Music. Mike probably thought he was going to get a serve from me or taken to the office or whatever. Instead I got out my phone and asked him if he’d ever seen a 1.32m barra. I then showed him a pic of one (caught by another young bloke and a mate of mine on the holidays) and then we talked for a bit. I told him I had a go at catching mud crabs during the holidays; He told me he got a turtle and a salmon when he was out bush; I showed him a picture of a 5 metre salt-water croc we saw on a tour boat; He told me that it was really only little and that he’d hunted (and caught, apparently!) much bigger before. 

After a little while, I suggested we have a go at going back into Music. He said that he’d like to. So he put his shirt back on and we went in to the Music room. The Music teacher, realising that Mike probably wasn’t going to join in the recorder ensemble, asked if we’d like to play the electronic drums for a while. We said yes. And then for the next 20 minutes Mike bashed out a whole heap of beats, and released a fair bit of tension at the same time. I took a Vine of him, shared hear as a manually looped YouTube clip. Mike was pretty happy with the results when I showed him: Afterwards we did two pages of his CVC words English workbook, which was more work than he’d done in the 3 hours before Music. Then I went back to admin duties and he went to lunch.

Making connections, winning over, building rapport. Whatever your terminology for it, I experienced a bit of it with Mike today. Relationships are everything in this job – Without them, the prospect of education for kids like Mike barely exists. Even with the exponential growth in the use of ICT in schools, it’s the people-type skills that are important as ever.

And just in case you wanted to see the 1.32m barra (aka ‘horsefish’) or the 5m salty (Brutus the Croc from Adelaide River, NT), here they are…

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Oh, I don’t know, I’ll choose C!

Each day I come across a variety of education-related websites, videos, infographics, texts and blogs which get me thinking about my role in education both in the present and the future. On occasion, something will jump out and hit the mark perfectly, like the video below.

Created by a Year 8 teacher in the US, Why We Need Common Core: “I choose C.” will have all teachers who watch it reflecting on their practice, and asking themselves what are truly the important elements of a student’s education. For those unaware, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is essentially the American equivalent to our own recently implemented Australian Curriculum. As you’d expect, both systems have a heavy emphasis on 21st century learning, but I love this sentence which is straight out of the Common Core’s mission statement:

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Upon watching the video you’ll understand what it means.

BTW, this video was created with the excellent but recently-closed xtranormal.com. If you like the look of it and you’re thinking, ‘I could make a video like that to transform some content I’m teaching’, then check out goanimate.com. If you’re keen to get your younger students making their own vids, ABCYA Animate is a great option too.

Thanks to ICT principal whiz @Stephen_H for sharing the vid in the first place via Twitter.

Wouldn’t we all love to be in this guy’s class!

Roald Dahl concluded his children’s novel – Danny the Champion of the World – by telling us that what children want, and deserve, are parents who are sparky. I’d suggest that Dahl’s decree could be extended to another group of people who have the ability to shape the lives of today’s youth – teachers. When one thinks back to their favourite teacher, sparky would likely be among the adjectives used to describe them.

Which brings me to this clip I came across the other day. An obviously creative and talented educator who delivers the hook to this lesson perfectly. If we teachers find this inspirational, imagine the effect on the students. Sparky indeed!