In October, an ISTE group came to visit Debney Meadows PS as part of their Australia tour, whilst also attending the ACEC2012 Conference in Perth. We were lucky to have the group visit us at school and allow our children to showcase their learning so enthusiastically. Ellen, Director of Technology at The Cathedral School, one of the group members has collated her photos and passed them on to us to enjoy.
Visiting Debney Meadows Primary was one of the highlights of the study tour. I so appreciate the time it took you to prepare for our visit and for you, your students, and your teachers to so warmly share your special school with us.
Thank you Ellen for generously taking the time to put this video together.
Each year I stop to reflect on the year that’s been. This year has been one of finishing and consolidating. It’s quite a different feel to what I have felt in my other recent years. Its calmer, quieter and not as hectic. Or is that just because I’m getting older, my children have grown up, or that I have fallen into myself and my work?
I think we all go through peaks and troughs which is what makes our lives and work interesting. My last six years have been fairly crazy, moving from a grade 5 teacher, to a leading teacher, then an Ultranet coach, an Assistant Principal and now a Principal for the last 18 months. With so many moves my mind has been expanded and challenged. My experience has been broadened and my awareness of the systemic nature of education heightened.
I also began and finished my Masters in School Leadership in the last two years. A worthwhile, yet exhausting time, which has helped to glue my varied experiences of my career. Looking deeply into the complexities of school education, the contradictions and the competing priorities has oddly enough grounded me to my current role and work. I feel a sense of belonging.
I know 2013 will hold a few surprises for me, as all years do, but my feet feel planted and my mind calm. A few new projects will spice up the learning again with a partnership with Centre for Cultural Partnerships and with the Intercultural Understanding Project. I also have a bigger role with the ICTEV as Vice President and Conference Chair, with the conference being aptly themed and named “IT Takes a Village”. My journey to 2013 has certainly involved a village of colleagues, friends and mentors.
Happy New Year to my fellow educators and may 2013 be everything you want it to be.
I’m a sucker for knowing the story behind things. Whether it is a biography about a famous person, a film about an event in history or an interview with an artist. I think as humans we want to make sense of things in the world, especially when they are just off centre with the norm. We want to put the pieces together in a way that fit and are plausible. It’s the stuff that refuses to fit or to make sense that leaves us thinking.
So what does this mean about who we are? As learners?
Today I watched a video that Sir Ken Robinson posted on Twitter called Behind the TEDTalk 2010. I found it incredibly refreshing to see and hear the stories of the speakers leading up to the Ted Talk. It was moving and empowering to see what happens and goes through the mind of the speakers before they stand up on stage to deliver their talk. The strength that Raghava KK gains from his family is heart warming as he shares with us his conversations with his parents.
As learners we don’t often get to share the stuff that goes on before the ‘real’ stuff is shared. This is a shame. It’s the insights or the behind the scenes work and thinking that probably takes the most time, the most effort and the most conviction. As I type now, I am in the process of putting together my action research project for my Masters in School Leadership. And today, I have spent most of my day thinking and reflecting. Perhaps some might call this procrastination. But for me I am still trying to make sense of stuff; where I fit with this research, what is relevant and worth sharing, what the purpose really is.
How often do we allow our students this time to wonder about where they fit in the picture of education? To wonder about their learning?
My research is around the power of story: how story is the form that helps to put the pieces together, connects us with the various parts and allows us to make meaning of it all. It is compelling hearing, reading and watching stories. It is also compelling being able to tell them. But what is the story? What if the story is still not clear? And all the parts have not yet emerged?
My research will be written and I know the story is still not complete, but I think another a little piece of sense making may have happened today.
It’s Friday night. Another busy week has just passed. A school council meeting, a trip down to the year 5/6 camp at Cottage by the Sea, a careers excursion to the costume department at the Arts Centre, a research circle for Play for Life and preparation for a local community festival this Sunday. This is just a sample of some of the things I do as a principal along with the usual admin, finance, communications and interactions.
The role of a principal in many ways feels like a parent. As a parent you look after your kids, their education, the rest of the family, your home, your garden, the bills, the shopping, the problems, the illnesses, the special events. As principal, you look after the kids and staff, the curriculum, the building, the grounds, the finances, the resources, the problems, the health and wellbeing, the special events and overall culture. Some days are good and things go smoothly, other times you need to give just a little more to overcome the hurdles or to juggle all the demands.
By Friday night I am pooped. Not pooped in a way that is worn down, but pooped in a way that requires time to stop and reflect. There are so many aspects to education, schooling and leadership that the quality time to reflect can be hijacked. Yet thinking time for me is key to good leadership. Without it the work can become reactionary and short lived.
Recently I took 3 weeks long service leave and travelled to Vietnam. It was a crucial time for me as it allowed me to purposefully stop and replenish. I did not need to think about the day to day of school life. My mind could be clear and uncluttered and ready for the next phase.
My principal role is certainly unfolding and I take my hat off to the men and women who have been in the role for much longer periods of time. I am constantly learning new things, building up my repertoire, adding to my skill set and realising that the more I learn, the less I know. The list is growing and can sometimes feel overwhelming. The hours creep into the nights, the weekends and the holidays.
But all of it is worth it and … I’m feeling more and more like a principal.
Sustaining relationships and friendships over time takes effort. This weekend I am having lunch with six other women who were my friends way back in primary school and secondary school. That’s pretty amazing, since that was a long time ago! We don’t always see each other, and sometimes one of us may be temporarily on ‘leave’ for a variety of reasons – work, health, family and the like. But, we know where we are and we know we will be back. It is a connection that we will take through our life journey.
In my work life, I have many colleagues and friends with whom I connect in a professional context. These connections, just like my group of friends from school, needs to be nurtured and effort is needed to sustain them. Since 2008 I have been part of a growing professional (personal) learning network (PLN). Recently, I attended two workshops organised by the State Library of Victoria with Alec Couros and Will Richardson, on learning networks. I was lucky to be invited to both sessions and to find that there were so many of the people who I knew and had connected with through my online networks since 2008. You can follow further conversations on Twitter with #plnlead and #vicpln.
The networks, over time have grown, strengthened and taken on a new purpose. What seemed to be a network to learn from and share ideas and resources, has now matured and become one that can influence and shape education. The dialogues have become deeper and the reflection more evident. Sharing resources and links is still important, but what can be achieved through ‘voice’ is really something worth tuning into.
In 2008 I wrote a blog post about The Power of the PLN, and also Learning in a Networked World, and presented at local conferences. Here is one I did in 2009. You will see mention to Alec Couros and Will Richardson, as well some local talent too!
The great thing about being connected through social media is that you can go back to previous ‘likes’. While scrolling through my timeline, I spotted a video that captured my interest once again. It is a video that architect Randall Fielding demonstrates the connection between where and how students learn in the 21st century.
As an architect, and someone who did not enjoy school himself, he talks about the school building needing to be a place that stimulates and excites the senses. The old style buildings, he explains were designed along the factory model. High windows to limit children from looking outside in order not to be distracted and walls for classrooms. Many did not factor in sunlight and the use of space to innovate and create. So how do we cater innovation and creativity today? Not all schools are lucky to have new buildings as part of the BER. Mine being one of them. However, my current school does have wide open spaces, a carry over from the 1970s designs.
Fielding taps into the idea of networking through the design of spaces. He describes the spaces as allowing for cross fertilization of ideas and stimulation of the senses and that the students needs to feel safe within these spaces. It’s interesting to note that the use of social-media has provided many students and educators the means to connect and share ideas. The senses are aroused through many forms of media and interest is piqued through an interplay of dialogue, photo sharing and self directed learning.
Fielding describes the learning environment as the second curriculum; the silent curriculum in the background. It needs to be permeable so that learning and the sharing of ideas can happen within and out of the building.
My blog is a means for me to tell my story, to reflect on what I have learnt, heard or experienced. It helps me to build meaning through my writing and links to multi-media, such as images and video clips. It is a place where I can pull things together and a place where I can open myself up to criticism and be completely vulnerable. It has become a part of the way I do my work!
In looking more closely at my work as a leader, I see a greater need to be a storyteller. It humanizers the work and builds connections – well that is what I think it does! I am currently in the process of looking more deeply into the power of story for our school and trying to see how this may help to build connectedness and a deeper sense of pride and belonging.
In a Twitter search for ‘storytelling’ I came across this infographic. It is created with business in mind, however, I believe it also applies to school leadership quite well.
With my my third semester of my Masters of School Leadership started, my mind is now back into full reflective and thinking mode. Not that it wasn’t before, but once again the readings and discussions related to my studies have helped to bring things together.
There are many things happening in my workplace; my school. It is a fabulous setting that creates a sense of agency and commitment for those who work in it. We have a number of organisations that support the school and help to bring about a sense of belonging and identity for our students.
The Song Room (TSR) is one of them. TSR is an truly dedicated organisation in developing voice and passion through the music and the arts. Our students work with one of their teaching artists, Zoe, each week to perform and co-create music and lyrics that have particular relevance to them. They learn beat, rhythm and story telling through music. We even have our first school band this year.
Our students have performed publicly often with TSR and will again on April 3rd for the book launch of Transforming Education Through the Arts co-authored by Prof Brian Caldwell and Dr Tanya Vaughan. I am very much looking forward to attending the special day.
Western Edge Youth Arts (WEYA) is yet another organisation that we work with in our school, particularly with our year 4 – 6s. Again, another passionate team that inspire and lead our students in performances. Dave, the director at WEYA, sees the potential in our students and helps to build about a strong sense of story through drama.
A small group of our 5/6 students will be performing alongside adults in Zamunda on Monday 2nd April at the Flemington Community Centre. The weekly rehearsals have been a big hit for our older students who haven’t minded missing out on their lunchtimes.
With so much creativity and imagination in our place, we have a lot to offer our students. Their connection to their school and community is strengthened through these organisations who work so hard to reach the needs of kids and families.
For me, as a principal, I am overwhelmed and thrilled with the knowledge that I have such wonderful organisations and people to work with. My own beliefs about creativity and imagination in education are well supported. My research into story and the affective and cognitive engagement of students is virtually brought to life with these supporters.
I can’t imagine being in a school where creativity was not valued.
It’s been nearly a decade since I first started exploring the importance of emotions in teaching and learning. For me there have been mixed messages. That students need to be resilient, that teachers and leaders need to keep calm at all times, that teachers are too emotional and that is why we are not a profession!!
I’m not sure about other educators, but to try to educate and to try to learn without emotion…for me…seems a bit odd. My emotions teach me a lot and I should not play them down. They teach when I need to rethink a problem, when to try a new approach, and when to go forward. They guide my thinking and help me make sense of the multitude of skills and tasks we need to balance.
Last week I shared a video from Edutopia about social and emotional intelligence. The video dates back to 2001 yet still rings true for the needs of our children. As educators we teach our students if they cannot read and if they cannot tie their shoe laces. But we also need to teach them how to get along, resolve playground issues and use their emotions in productive ways.
The video was used as a ‘hook’ to generate discussion and thinking about how we can support our students further.
Today it has been four years since I first started my blog, “More Than Just Knowing Stuff”. The title was chosen to reflect my philosophy of education, that is, that it is more than just knowing a whole heap of stuff, but rather being able to learn, grow, reflect, experience, challenge thinking and collaborate. It was about the deeper emotions of learning and the fulfillment you feel when you are really immersed in something, whether it is something you love or something that challenges you and makes you wonder.