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.

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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

Add 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

2012 reflection

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.

Add comment Posted in  leadership ,learning  Tagged:  , , , , , , , December 31, 2012

The story behind the stories

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.

Behind the TEDTalk 2010 from m ss ng p eces on Vimeo.

Add comment Posted in  21st Century Skills ,leadership ,learning  Tagged:  , , , , , , September 28, 2012

Feeling like a principal

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.


2 comments Posted in  leadership ,learning  Tagged:  , , , , , August 31, 2012

Sustainable networks!

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!

Online Professional Learning Networks from helenotway


Add comment Posted in  leadership ,learning ,Professional Learning ,Web2.0  Tagged:  , , , , , , July 27, 2012

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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 http://www.linkedin.com/pub/helen-otway/3a/37a/539 and Twitter @helenotway
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