My new blog

I have begun a new blog for my new school St Albans Heights Primary School.  It sits alongside the website and builds upon the weekly news and events of the school.  The audience is the school community and any other visitors.  Please take a look and share a comment or two. 


1 comment Posted in  leadership ,learning June 8, 2014

A new chapter…

MP900398819My latest chapter in my career takes me to a school in the western suburbs of Victoria.  It’s a wonderful school that has a lot to offer the community and plenty of character.  It’s been described as a hidden gem by some of my colleagues.  And I have to agree.

My staff are all incredibly dedicated and work to create an excellent learning environment and program for the children.  The students are keen to learn and are from diverse backgrounds.

Learning is important to me, not just for my students but for me as well.  Taking the next step and building upon my knowledge and skills is high on my agenda.  I like to think that I am improving and bettering myself as a leader with each new step.

Listening to others and experiencing different environments is key to developing wisdom in the job.  Seeking deeper understanding of people and peoples creates a more thoughtful approach to developing a learning community.  I have been privileged to have worked in a number of unique and different school environments and with various communities.

I have begun a new principal blog for my new school, St Albans Heights PS called SAHPS Principal Blog.

1 comment Posted in  learning  Tagged:  , , , , , May 23, 2014

Saying goodbye to DMPS


goodbyeAfter 2 years and 10 months it was time to say goodbye to my first school as a principal.  Whilst I was excited to have been appointed the new principal of St Albans Heights Primary School, it was incredibly sad to leave Debney Meadows Primary School.

Over my career I have had a few moves and promotions.  With each   move it has been a mixture of excitement, nervousness and sadness.  And this move was no different…but it was my first school as a principal and that made it special.

cardWhilst I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before I left, I was able to return for the school assembly in the first week of term 2.  It was great to see the kids, families and staff again and to give my heartfelt thanks and goodbyes.  I was spoilt with lovely cards, flowers and gifts, which I was able to take with me to my new school.  And all the while I managed to hold back my tears.

A wonderful chapter has closed for me but I know DMPS will still be a big part of my professional journey and the making of me as a principal.

Add comment Posted in  leadership  Tagged:  , , , , , May 21, 2014

Saying goodbye…soon!

1:00pm on Thursday 20th March I receive a phone call.  In fact I have already missed a few calls from this number on my mobile.  I have been participating in a course at Bastow with two of my teachers so I have not been able to take the call earlier.  When I do get a moment at lunchtime, I find out I have been offered a principal position at St Albans Heights Primary School.  At the same time the excitement builds so does the realization that this means I say goodbye to the Debney Meadows Primary School community.

I wander back to my two colleagues and break the news!  Lunch is just about over so we head back upstairs to resume our course; Leading Assessment for Teaching.  We are all a bit distracted at this stage and we decide I should go back to school to break the news to the rest of the staff.  The next day I am booked in for a Septoplasty to help me breathe better so this is my last afternoon in the school before the end of term.

office 1

Saying goodbye has been hard, but also tricky as I have not been able to see everyone whilst on leave.  I have written a letter for the newsletter and an email for my staff who were not there on my last day.  So this week I will visit my ‘old’ school and say goodbye in person at assembly.

I better take tissues with me!

Add comment Posted in  leadership April 21, 2014

Learning with iPads at DMPS

When the dream becomes the reality…

It was back in July 2011 when I first started at Debney Meadows as the new principal with the dream to enable our students and enhance their opportunities to learn within a local and global context.  My dream was to provide technology for each of the preps and to help them develop 21st Century skills to elevate their full potential as learners.

HelenOtway PRIM PRIN 004[1]

Our students are inherently curious.  They bring with them a sense of wonder and awe.  By providing our students access to mobile technologies we can help them achieve some of their dreams. The iPads are not just a gimmick or used to replace traditional learning, but rather a window to a larger world of knowing, doing and being.  They help them learn new concepts, consolidate understandings, and make connections with prior knowledge.  They are not just mere consumers but in fact, producers of knowledge and content.  They read, write and create records of their learning progress and use these to reflect and build upon their achievement.

Who is part of the program?
2011 – Year Preps
2012 – Year Prep to Year 1
2013 – Year Prep to Year 2
2014 – Year Prep to Year 3
2015 – Year Prep to Year 4

We decided to capture our first steps with the help of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) and created a video that followed our journey from our Prep transition program in 2011 to mid year 2012.

We have grown considerably since then, and we are currently in our fourth cohort of preps with their new teacher, Felicity Purcell.

How to find out more…
You can contact the school to find out more information.  If you are a teacher or a parent we invite you to come and have a look at what we do in the school.  Our students and teachers would be very happy to spend some time with you.

Debney Meadows PS website

DEECD iPads for Learning Showcase

1 comment Posted in  ICT ,learning ,pedagogy  Tagged:  , , , , , , , , January 11, 2014

Intercultural Understanding

Our school is wonderfully diverse and rich with backgrounds and experiences.  We can learn a lot from others and understand our own cultural identity and perspectives as a result. We have 13 different languages spoken in the school by our families:

English, Spanish, Bosnian, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Hakka, Oromo, Somali, Amharic, Tigrinya, and other non-defined African languages. (from CASES21 data).

In 2013 my school, Debney Meadows PS, joined a pilot project to explore Intercultural Understanding in our schools a little better, what facilitates it and what impedes it for our students and school community, and what we can do to make a difference.

We are working with a host of wonderful experts and researchers, including Prof Christine Halse (DU), Prof. Fethi Mansouri (DU), A/Prof. Colin Arrowsmith (RMIT), A/Prof. Julianne Moss (DU), A/Prof. Yin Paradies (DU), Dr. Ruth Arber (DU), Dr. Claire Charles (DU), Dr. Anne Cloonan (DU), Dr. Nida Denson (UWS), Dr. Sarah Ohi, Dr. Jo O’Mara (DU), Dr. Naomi Priest (Melbourne). Our school is working closely with Gary Shaw from DEECD and Brandi Fox, our research partner.

ACARA describe the importance of Intercultural Understanding in the new Australian Curriculum by saying:

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop intercultural understanding as they learn to value their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. They come to understand how personal, group and national identities are shaped, and the variable and changing nature of culture. The capability involves students in learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect.

Our school was asked to share what we have been doing as a result of the work to date.  We presented our summary to the other seven schools in the project late November 2013 at DEECD.  I took with me two of my teachers, Felicity (Yr4) and Lucas (Yr5/6) and a parent, Halima.  Together we shared our story from multiple viewpoints.

Here it is here:

Debney Meadows – Intercultural Understanding Project from Helen Otway
In 2014 we will continue to share our findings and ongoing questions.

Add comment Posted in  21st Century Skills ,leadership ,learning ,pedagogy  Tagged:  , , , , , , , , January 10, 2014

Storytelling – an intercultural experience

My 2 years of my Masters of School Leadership were focused on developing a sense of identity and belonging for our students and families in the school.  I read and learnt about the power of story and how it can connect people.  How it can be used to orient our emotions and understanding about events and circumstances.  Kieran Egan in Imaginative Approach to Teaching (2005) says,

“Stories are instruments for orienting human emotions to their content.  That is, stories do not just convey information about events and characters, nor do stories just convey information in ways to engage our emotions; stories orient, or shape, our emotions to the events or the characters in a particular way – they tell us how to feel about their contents,” (p.10)

So when The Centre for Cultural Partnerships approached me to work with our school on a project; Many Voices – Many Cultures, I was thrilled to be offered the support of a storyteller Shahin Shafaei, also a skilled film maker.

His work with our Year 5/6 students was impressive.  He built a sense of belonging and identity with them at the beginning through team work activities.  He set out to create “a safe container” for them to express themselves.  These are his words. This took a few weeks and was not rushed.  Once the students were able to talk about their stories, he was able to get them to write them down.

Three stories were chosen to be retold though video and edited with iMovie.  Each of the stories told of the struggles and complexities of being a child and wanting to fit in.  One was told by a boy, Hussein, which was filmed by the girls in the class, another was told by a girl, Fadila, and filmed by the boys, and the last film was told by another female student,Madina,  but re-enacted through animation with all students participating.

Here they are here:

I KISSED MY MUM by Hussein

NEW SCHOOL by Fadila


Thank you to Shahin and to the Centre for Cultural Partnerships for making this a memorable and important part of the school year and experience.

Shahin and I shared our story about the work and the project with other educators at the ICTEV State Conference.  It can be seen here:

Feel free to let me know which film resonates with you or if you would like to know more about this work.


Add comment Posted in  21st Century Skills ,ICT ,learning ,literacy  Tagged:  , , , , , , , , , , January 9, 2014

“Getting” the students!

After a big year, you look back and wonder what achievements have been made.  This time I hadn’t quite got to the end of the year and I was surprised by a lovely message from one of my students.  It was her final year in the school, Year 6, and her class was writing special messages for their graduation day.

LetterI was lucky to receive this beautiful message:

It made my day to say the least :-)

“Getting kids” is important. It’s not easy and often we make assumptions based on our own experiences or perceptions.  Getting the kids means we can also look beyond our own expectations and listen for understanding from their point of view.

As I said, not always easy.  But the pay offs are great.

Thank you for the kind words and I too will miss the 2013 graduating Year 6.


Add comment Posted in  leadership ,learning  Tagged:  , , , , , January 9, 2014

Back to the Future

It’s been a year since I was here … In fact my last entry was on 5/1/13.  So that’s just over a year!  So why so long?

After much reflection about this I have come up with a few possible reasons…

  • In 2011 and 2012 I was studying for my Masters in School Leadership.  It was wonderful opportunity to be back studying, since I hadn’t been to uni since the mid 80s when I completed my B.Ed.   So two years of studying, being reflective, reading, responding, writing, and lots of it, may have had an impact on my blog writing and reflecting.
  • I was updating the school blog and many of my thoughts were going there.
  • 2013 was a huge year for applying and implementing (in some cases bedding down) a lot of my thinking into action at my school. Some of these included team teaching, shared planning, personalised learning, data driven intervention, shared data analysis, independent and team action plans around a problem of practice, 360 staff reviews and feedback. Of course I didn’t do these on my own, but worked with my leadership team and staff to accomplish many of these strategies for school improvement.
  • I had a brand new leadership team – a Learning and Teaching Coach, Student Wellbeing Advocate, and Business Manager.  Roles and responsibilities were being tweaked and molded and our work as a School Improvement Team was taking on momentum.
  • And I was spending more time with my husband on the weekends and evenings, after the two years of my study.  Bike riding and swimming, and lots of day trips were in order :-) With this was a good dose of much needed health and wellbeing.

There may be other reasons, but I’m not going to let that hold me back from adding this new post.

I’ve also been thinking about what I can blog about again, and it didn’t take me too long to realise that I have lots and lots to add and share.

So now it back to the future – thinking back to act forward.

Add comment Posted in  leadership ,learning January 8, 2014

When ISTE came to visit…

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.

Debney Meadows Primary School from Ellen Baru on Vimeo.

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.

This has also been posted to the DMPS blog.

Add comment Posted in  ICT ,leadership ,Professional Learning  Tagged:  , , , , , , , , , , , January 5, 2013

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A blog by Helen Otway

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I began this blog in 2007 as a teacher. Since then I have become a principal and have continued to use this space as my reflective blog. You can also find me on LinkedIn and Twitter @helenotway
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