Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Kimberley: A small big place

Here’s the physical area of the Kimberley, the breathtaking northernmost region of Western Australia where I’ve lived and worked for the last 6-and-a-bit years, courtesy of Google:

Here are a few other well-known jurisdictions for comparison:

Although the place is vast, it’s also rather small in terms of the degrees of separation amongst it’s inhabitants, as I was reminded last Friday.

Each year the Clontarf Foundation host a Year 11 and 12 senior leaders camp in Broome. Senior school students from Kununurra, Halls Creek, Derby and Fitzroy Crossing join their peers in Broome as the boys get ready to work towards their education goals for the year. One of the elements of the camp is for the guys to do some volunteer work, and each year we’re very happy to host one of the groups at Broome North PS.

As I greeted this year’s bunch in the front office I noticed we had boys from a couple of the places I’ve previously worked in the Kimberley. To the lad in the Kununurra shirt I asked, ‘Which footy team do you play for back home?’ to which he gave me a one word answer, ‘Crows’. I followed with something like, ‘Ah, the best team! That’s who I played for when I lived there’ to which he instantly replied, ‘Yeah, I know you!’. Naturally, young adults at 17 look very different to when they were kids at 11, so I started racking my brain to try and recall who this fella was. I was then fortunate to get his surname correct before he filled me in with the first name. We’ll go with the pseudonym Frankie here.

After walking the boys down to the Year 1/2 area so they could help our kids with some Science activities, I realised just who Frankie was. I recalled helping out at footy training each week with the Clontarf crew when he was a Year 5/6 student. I then remembered that Frankie’s actually made an appearance in this very blog before! Here’s the picture of him proudly holding a very large barra as an 11 year old in a post from October, 2013:

And here’s Frankie as a young man now, helping out in Science class:

While the boys were working I printed the barra photo ready to show Frankie. When they came back through the office I made sure to first ask him which of his uncles and brothers are still playing footy for the Crows. (The photo at the end of this post, taken prior to the 2013 grand final, has some of the most talented guys I’ve ever played footy with. Most are family for Frankie.) I then pulled out the barra photo, and instantly got a quiet smile and a nod of ‘wow’. The other lads were pretty keen to have a look, and then dish out kudos in the form of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ for such a great catch. Frankie, eyes fixed on the pic, said quietly, ‘That was my first ever big barra’ and then didn’t to be asked twice when I asked if he wanted to keep the copy.

I love that connections made with kids and families 6 years ago still hold currency today. It’s a great reminder for all of us as educators that the moments of interaction in the short term can mean plenty to others in the long term, even without us knowing it. And you just never know when a previous student will walk through the door, even from 1000km away!

Planning the Journey

Last year we published our school’s 2018-2020 Business Plan. Whilst we were really pleased with the final product, it dawned on me that most people would have no idea of how a plan like this comes about. Does the principal lock himself in the office and write it alone? Is it as simple as cut and pasting from a centrally provided template? Does one merely get a marketing company to put it together?

Hopefully you guessed that the answer is indeed ‘no’ to the above questions. In the case of Broome North PS, staff spent the best part of four months engaging in facilitated sessions to ensure what we produced was ours. Along the way I had some slides to keep us on track, and I thought that collating them into one place might be a useful way of documenting the process. Once we had all of the words together (here’s the original Google Doc), we shared it and a folder of photos with a publisher. After a week or so of proofing and tweaking, voila! Business plan complete.

(May I suggest that if you’re looking for some one to bring your own plans to life, Craig at Gumption is demonstrably a wizard!)

Below are the aforementioned slides; I’d love your feedback/comments on them and/or the completed plan if you feel that way inclined.

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Spot the Difference

Differentiation is nothing new for teachers. Clearly, the days of pitching your teaching to the middle ability level of your class alone are long gone. However, I thought I’d shared these two anonymised work samples from a recent Year 3-6 spelling placement test our students completed. Sample A shows a student who’s at one end of our range. It was pleasing for us that they got the initial consonant sound for the first word, because we’ve done a lot of work with them on this as part of their individualised plan. Sample B is a up the other end of the spectrum, and shows a student who has a mastery of phonemic and morphographic spelling that far exceeds most adults (one just has to peruse the comments on any social media site to be confident this is true).

Catering for both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between, is what we expect our teachers to do. That’s a complex job that requires a high level of expertise in lesson delivery, instructional language and classroom management to pull it off. It’s why teachers that routinely pull it off are superheroes!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the student responsible for Sample B is a in a year level below the one who completed Sample A.

Sample A
Sample B

Back on the Blog Train

So a fair few things have happened since I was last here, the most significant of which was a move of schools (I’ve updated the current and previous school sections so you can see where I am now). The main question, I suppose, regarding firing the blog back up is why? The answer: inspiration + time = action!

The inspiration, unbeknownst to him I’m sure, came courtesy of a gentleman by the name of Mark Pegrum. In Term 4 last year I worked through the sixth unit of my Master of School Leadership, titled Integrating Technology and Pedagogy. Mark did an expert job facilitating the unit, and used his fantastic website to organise all of the content into one place. I suppose you could say I had a bit of website envy, so decided that if I get back on the blog train I may be able use this site to also keep relevant links, readings and resources all in one online spot.

The time component was meant to come over the recent school holidays, but I’m pleased to report that I managed to completely switch off from work related tasks for a solid four weeks of the break. The subsequent two were then spent resuming planning for the 2019 school year. Now we’re into the second week of the term, I figured if I didn’t pick it up now it would sit on the shelf for another year, so here we are!

Until next time, here’s a pic of one of the places we got to over those aforementioned school holidays. Bonus points for anyone who knows where in Australia this is…

Teach remote and change lives

The WA Department of Education recently put together this video in an attempt to capture what it’s like to work in a remote school like the one I’m in at Bayulu. I’d say they’ve done a pretty good job!

On the Move!

I’m not sure how to write this without it sounding like a press release, so here’s a bunch of dot points that attempt to explain what’s going on:

– I’ve been offered and have accepted the principal’s position at Bayulu Remote Community School for 2015. Subsequently, Robyn, the kids and I are getting ready to move house and continue our up-north adventure!

– Bayulu is a Level 4 school just out of Fitzroy Crossing (FX) in the Kimberley region of WA. I will be working with a team comprising 8 teachers, 6 support staff and 1 deputy principal to best meet the needs of the school’s 120 primary-aged students.

– We will be living in FX, the town of 1200 residents that acts as the administrative hub for the Fitzroy Valley’s 5000 mostly indigenous residents. As ‘townies’, we’ll have easy access to a supermarket, rec centre, swimming pool, child care, and, most importantly, reliable internet! Broome and her direct air route to Perth are a little more than 3 hours away along the blacktop. With no gravel tracks or charter flights required to get in and out, we certainly won’t be too disconnected, at least not compared to the majority of Remote Teaching Service schools in WA. If you’ve never been to FX (and I’m assuming you haven’t) then watch this and you’ll see that although it’s not exactly a thriving metropolis, it’s not all that bad.

– All of Bayulu’s students are indigenous… well… that is until we enrol my young fella! With how much he loves his footy and fishing he’s going to fit right in, even if it wouldn’t appear so if solely based on skin complexion.

– There is a need at school and community level in Bayulu to have the new principal commence during this calendar year, which means our furniture and effects are being lifted *gulp* next Thursday! I envision this coming weekend only involving tasks associated with moving house (can’t wait to mow that lawn and clean those air conditioner filters!)

– I’ve had a particularly rewarding 2 years at Kununurra in my DP role, both personally and professionally. I feel like I’ve started riding the steep learning curve that accompanies the transition from teacher to administrator and, at the very least, I haven’t fallen off quite yet! I’ve been fortunate to have some outstanding mentors along the way, none more so than my current boss Mr Rod Baker. If I can manage to have anywhere near the impact Rod’s had throughout his storied educative career I’ll come away feeling like I’ve achieved success!

– Fortunately, I’ve also learned some quintessential Kimberley man-skills during my time in KNX: how to throw a cast-net; how to catch barra; how to hunt geese and bush turkey; how to catch cherabin and cook them on the fire. Crucial knowledge to hold when you’ll be living on the mighty Fitzroy River! I feel it’s these life experiences that make teaching and working in the bush a richer experience when compared to the city, and I say that as someone who will ultimately settle back in the big smoke after 4 or 5 years away.

– I’ll be spending much of the holidays back down south with my head in policy and procedural documents, some of which I know reasonably well and others I’ve had no need to look at yet.  If you want to have a yarn about acronyms such as EYLF, NQS, ALS, PALL+, ACER, EAL/D, FASD or SDWK then I’ll be worth a chat!

So we’re one week away from the next chapter of our lives. Obviously, I’m excited and very grateful for the opportunity. I can’t wait to get down there, roll the sleeves up and get stuck in!

Musings on a new beginning in the bush

So, many of you reading this will be aware that at the start of this year I took up my first non-metro job in education, a deputy gig in Kununurra, Western Australia. Well, two months has passed and Easter has given me time to reflect on the things I’ve done/seen/experienced.

The first thing I’ve found is that schools are schools. Whether you teach at a leafy green Independent in the city, or in a remote indigenous community beyond the beaten track, good educators will utilise the same tools to influence student achievement. Things like quality feedback, instructional quality and effective classroom management are going to lead to enhanced student outcomes regardless of the bells and whistles at a school’s disposal. The thing that is altered, depending on the context, is how these tools are employed by the educator. To this end, the teacher who can channel their inner chameleon and adapt to the nuances that accompany a change in context are going to be successful no matter where they work. For example, the way I need to build rapport and make connections with my students in Kununurra, a town of 7000-ish with a high indigenous population, goes beyond the time we spend between the first and last bell of each school day. Among other things, it includes early morning footy training, having a yarn at the local shops or park, and going for a swim on the weekend:

Hidden Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secondly, what’s the next most important thing one can do? Listen! I like it when people think I’m knowledgeable about something to do with my profession – Australian Curriculum, working with difficult students, whatever. But when you’re the new kid on the block, local know-how can trump all of that quick smart. Play your cards wrong by trying to force a facade that you can’t back up and you’re toast. Some of the best bits of information I’ve learned about my new school and community have come from asking questions and listening to the front office ladies, the local librarian, AIEOs, our Art teacher, even a local cattle station owner! Treating all with a high degree of respect and listening to their take on the key issues that affect the school before diving in with a know-it-all attitude, to my way of thinking, can only be a good thing.

Thirdly, you’d be crazy not to get involved with as much as you can in the community. Trivia nights at the local, cricket and footy training, playgroup and Music classes for the kids, and netball for wife have all helped us integrate into this community that we’ve chosen to be a part of. We now find ourselves stopping and chatting to the parents and students whenever we pass them in the street or see them down at the river. We go to all the BBQ’s and kids’ play dates that we can. We pack up the 4WD and go exploring with different crew most weekends (and find fab places like the one below). Making the most of your time in your new place rather than putting your head in the sand and focusing on work alone will lead to a far richer experience, trust me!

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Lastly, when it comes to fishing for barramundi, listen to the word around town as to who are the local fishing guns. Then, if on the off chance an aforementioned-local-gun invites you out with them one night, do exactly as they say. If you do all of this, you may fluke a metre-plus fish on your first fishing adventure (Just in time for Good Friday, too!)

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