A Week in the Life of…

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So I thought I’d share my week with anyone who cares to read this. The purpose? More cleansing and cathartic than anything else, though I guess it also serves to highlight the busy life of school leaders everywhere. I’ve always believed I’ve had the capacity to do a lot of things at once, but this past week certainly tested that resolve. As you can see, I’m attempting to juggle a heap of balls at the moment which, I think, are all still in the air. Barely. Obviously the remote location of my school makes a week like this a bit more challenging than it might be for someone based in a main centre, but I’m certainly not whinging about that at all – it just makes for a richer experience that I’ve now come out on the other side.

Before going any further, I need to point out one important fact: The school staff at Bayulu School are absolutely amazing! My confidence in their capacity is the sole reason being involved in multiple projects whilst leading a school is possible. I wouldn’t swap them for anyone else!

So what did I get up to? As you can see from the clip of my calendar above, a fair bit…

Monday was the start of our Artist in Residence programme with Theatre Kimberley. This will run for four weeks, with each class, dedicating between 30 and 60 minutes to this per day. During the programme to children learn circus skills, core strength and self esteem in a safe and secure environment. The culmination occurs in Week 11 when the students perform on the big stage, incorporating the elements of circus into traditional Gooniyandi and Walmajarri stories. As you can see below, the kids love it, and the lead artist, Catherine Daniel, is sensational at what she does!

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On Tuesday I hosted our Regional Executive Director (and my boss) Mr Greg Robson. Greg’s based in Broome, but gets out to the Fitzroy Valley to check in with all the Department of Ed school at least once a semester. Typically, we’ll spend the first hour or so having a yarn about how the school’s tracking, and how I’m going in my role. Then we’ll do classroom visits throughout the school, doing informal observations as well as talking to students, teachers and support staff members. I must point out that in every class we went into we saw effective instructional strategies being employed and happy, engaged students – the teachers and our AIEOs could not have been any better!

After saying goodbye to Greg, I had a couple of hours to do some ‘normal’ principal-type tasks before travelling to Perth. This commute initially involves leaving school at 1:30 and driving 410km, arriving in Broome at 5:30. After catching up on a few emails, I boarded the Flying Kangaroo to arrive in Perth at 9:20.  When I checked in at the hotel it was just after 10:00pm. (Yep: that’s 8-and-a-half hours in transit!)

After a decent sleep (props to the Mantra on Murray for the comfy bed) it was time for a run around the block. I quite enjoy the ‘me time’ aspect of a morning trot and although I’m no Moneghetti my running shoes always make the cut when I’m travelling. There’s a bit more to look at when running through the city and along the Swan River when compared to Great Northern Highway through Fitzroy, too!Screenshot_2015-06-13-19-06-57Wednesday’s engagement was at the Department’s Institute for Professional Learning. Earlier in the year I was asked if I’d like to participate in a working group looking into the future of school leadership in WA; and I didn’t need much time to say yes! Given that 49% of the Department’s current 800-odd principals will hit retirement age between now and 2020 it’s crucial that there’s a plan in place to ensure there is a quality school leader in every Department school. The working party’s job was to examine the identification and selection of school leaders, and the professional learning opportunities available to them. We did this via the process known as Change2, expertly facilitated by the fantastic duo of Melinda Webb and Renae Hill (@renaehill). With the 9 members of the party coming from varied backgrounds (rural vs metro; primary vs secondary; early career vs later career) it ensured that a wide range of perspectives were offered during the process, which involved four face-to-face meetings and lots of online collaboration spread over 2 months. It was an absolute privilege to be involved with this and I count myself extremely fortunate to have been included. Now we’re all waiting to see what happens when our fearless leaders, Greg Smith and Jenny Hirsch, take our ideas and present to the Department’s steering committee. Big shout-outs to all those involved: the aforementioned crew plus Blake Ingersole (@blakei24), Bhav Singh (@BhavneetSingh12), Mia Lennox (@mimilen1), Peter Holcz, Nicole Hanna and Luke Chapman.

PhotoGrid_1433918603652After we wound up at the IPL a few of us headed straight across to Crown to catch the tail end of Day 1 of the annual WAPPA conference. Although I couldn’t attend the conference proper due to everything else going on this week, it was great to be able to get to catch up and meet plenty of outstanding school leaders, such as @eduexchange, @burgo_123, @wappa53, @MattOsborne1 and @Algus3 who are doing fantastic jobs at various levels throughout our system.

The lowlight of my week was the alarm blaring at 4:15am on Thursday morning to ensure I made it to the airport for a 5am check-in to get to Broome by 8:30am. After a post-breakfast nap on the plane I was feeling significantly better and ready for the highlight of my week: to reconnect with a very special group of people! As soon as I entered the room I felt at home with my brothers and sisters from the 2015 Kimberley Stronger Smarter Leadership Program. Earlier in the term we spent a week philosophising How We Are Together and how we can build High-Expectation Relationships with our indigenous students and staff. This day was for us all to check in and see how we were going with our respective workplace leadership challenges and our personal learning journeys. Thanks to our 3 facilitators for the program: Toby (@tobyadams80), Ben (@BCW2047) and Mish – you guys are absolute legends! And if you’re reading this and you ever get the chance to go to SS, do it – it’s bloody amazing!

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(It feels right that I should pump up the Broome Camp School at this point, too – an amazing venue for a camp of any sort!)

Friday was then meeting day: I started with breakfast at 7am with Madeline Morison from the Positive Schools and Classroom Engagement team at Statewide Services. We’re hoping to get Madeline up to do some whole-school professional learning around increasing student engagement using more refined instructional strategies. Then it was straight to Roebuck Primary School to catch up with principal Kelvin Shem to share my thoughts on ICT planning. It’s certainly a two-way street with Kelvin as even though computers and tech was foremost on the agenda I always leave knowing a lot more about the school leadership game than I did prior, as we talk through everything from policy to staffing processes to whole school strategic planning. One thing I said must’ve stuck, though, as my ramblings about the benefits of Twitter had instant results (see @shem_kelvin)! Finally it was off to the Kimberley Regional Education Office to talk finance with our school registrar, Michelle. As a remote school we don’t have the same luxury that 98% of WA schools have – a registrar who works at the same site as the principal! Subsequently, Michelle and I talk on the phone just about every day to ensure the school’s finances are under control. Given I was in Broome, it was a great opportunity to sit at the same computer and look at the same docs at the same time like most school admin teams can.

By then it was 2:30pm so it was off to Office National to pick up the school’s new printer/scanner/photocopier and then it was back on the 400km road back to Fitzroy, just in time to tuck the kids into bed. For any parent who travels for work, you’ll know how special this is even after just a few days away.

Although incredibly hectic I enjoyed the week immensely, however, now I’m back I’m looking forward to spending 100% of my time in my school for the rest of this term and most of next one. Now it’s back to proofreading student reports and sorting out our salaries and cash budgets for Term 3, but I’m happy to spare you the details about all that!

Cheers,

L

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!

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:

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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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The (Very, Very) Big Wet!

People who know me (including all the students who have ever been in a class of mine) know that I’m a nerd for numbers. Well, here are 3:

221, 352, 361.

These figures represent the total amount of rain, to the nearest millimetre, that fell during the winter months (June, July and August) of 2013 in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, respectively. Here’s another number:

478

Like the aforementioned trio, this number also represents millimetres of rainfall – this time for Kununurra Lakeside, where I happen to live. However, even though it’s substantially bigger than the other 3, this measurement wasn’t accumulated over 3 months. Or 1 month. Or, for that matter, even a single fortnight or a week.

It’s for 48 hours.

To be precise, the 48 hours from about 9pm last Wednesday night, through to the same time on Friday. Locals say they’ve never seen so much water in such a short period of time. One of our bus drivers, Keith, reckoned it was the most water he’d seen in his 45 years in town. Mr Teddy Carlton, an elder of the Miriuwung Gajerrong people, said he’d seen nothing like it in the last 50 years.

Needless to say, the town and the school copped an absolute drenching! I’d suggest that any day you can jump in a kayak and paddle down one of the main streets is a particularly wet one:

 

 

 

 

 

And when the roads look like this it’s easy to understand why attendance at school on the Friday was as low as it’s been in my time here:

Barringtonia

 

 

 

 

 

For those who did make it to school, they got to see a lovely river running straight through the school yard:

And just in case the SD iPhone footage was a bit grainy for your liking, here’s some stuff that was shot a wee bit more professionally that’ll show how much water was around the place:

Needless to say, the amount of water though the town and the school caused a few headaches on Friday, not least of which was the encroaching water level lapping at the doors to blocks of the school. Fortunately, due to a swiftly executed action plan, we were able to ensure the movement of parents and children from lunch until home time was as organised as possible. Our front office staff coped amazingly well with a deluge of parent and community enquires, and we were able to get all children home, including those who’s route was cut off by water up to 1m high.

School was more or less back to normal today, apart from a bit of surface water around the place and a fair few kids missing. A decent proportion of our students come from communities outside of town, and with names like Crossing Falls, Molly Springs, Emu Creek and Cockatoo Creek you can probably guess that with all the water around the place those communities are still cut off from town. As the water recedes, we should get our full compliment of kids back into classrooms. Until then, all eyes remain on the BOM radar, because if that current tropical low that’s been hanging around the Territory comes our way, we might be getting seriously wet all over again!

(And for those of you who, like me until last year, hadn’t left the city to have a crack at a teaching stint in rural Australia, it’s episodes like this that richen one’s experiences – both the school and life varieties!)

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.

Twipps for Tweechers….

…aka Twitter tips for teachers.

I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again here – the beast of all networking tools (social, professional or both, as desired) is the most powerful way that us teachers can connect to others across the world. Mantras of teachers past such as ‘My classroom is my island’ and ‘You have to attend PD in person to learn anything new’ no longer apply.

Still, when I try to softly explain the benefits of being involved in such as vast professional network, many of my colleagues will tell me ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘I don’t get all those @ and # symbols’. Well, a fine fellow from edudemic.com, Jeff Dunn, has created this infographic to help you along.

(And once you’ve signed up for an account, you could start following @edudemic to receive little morsels of goodness, just like this one, daily!)

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