May 8

On authors and anxiety

I’ve survived my first term of my new job. More importantly, I survived my first school holidays without actually having a holiday. So how’s it going?

Corporate life is very different to being in a classroom – or indeed, a library, which is where I thought I’d be this year. I’m working longer hours in the office. I’m getting my head around all the additional requirements of being in a role with higher levels of scrutiny. I’m learning the joys of corporate writing – briefings are far less fun than poetry! But I’m loving it, and all the wonderful opportunities that come along with my new role are just blowing my book-loving mind.

Anxiety monster hits on a train

Anxiety Monster

Take, for instance, last week. I spent a good chunk of the week at the Sydney Writer’s Festival events at Riverside Theatres Parramatta, where we’d organised some fantastic author interviews backstage with presenters who were part of the Primary and Secondary Schools Days during the week, and AllDayYA on the weekend. I love talking to authors, it’s one of my favourite things. But this experience had me in a maelstrom of anxiety-ridden agony – quite literally, I mean. Sitting on the train on my way in for my first interview, my stomach felt like some Alien-esque creature was trying to escape. I’m familiar with this phenomena – my old friend, come to try and remind me that I’m not good enough, that this is scary and terrifying and I should run away as fast as I can. I talked about it in relation to a conference presentation where it hit me so hard I thought I needed to go to hospital here. What I’m discovering is that my body doesn’t differentiate between good risk and scary risk. My Friendly Anxiety Monster sees risk, and sends my system into red alert. It was NOT a pretty sight. Messy, snotty tears on the train. Sorry, fellow Mountains line commuters on Friday morning.

But thankfully I was expecting it. I spent the train trip talking to my partner, who reminded me that my fear and my anxiety is one of my superpowers. And I reminded myself of the lessons learnt from a wonderful book by an author I was, in fact, heading to interview (see my review of the book here). So I breathed, in and out. I put one foot in front of the other. I spoke my truth – I told the fantastic authors I was chatting to that I was, in fact, dealing with tremendous anxiety, and I did not let it stop me nor define me.

So, that’s the anxiety part of my week. The authors? Well, that was far more pleasant. Throughout our time at SWF, we got to formally interview 10 wonderful authors, and chat to a great many more backstage. Particular highlights for me were Jesse Andrews, who was my first interview, and who helped me settle into the whole process with a minimal amount of stress; Shaun Tan, who was a joy to chat to, so insightful and willing to share; Kirsty Eagar, who I must confess to not having read before, but I’m rectifying that now – what a gem!; and Chris Riddell. Sigh. I’m still floating on a cloud of sheer delight from the experience of getting to chat to Chris on multiple occasions about his work, his views on why children’s books can change the world, what it’s like working with Neil, and a hundred and one other things that just made my soul happy. Oooh, and Nicki Greenberg! So inspiring to hear about her labour of love on some of my favourite graphic novels. I didn’t interview AF Harrold, but he was my favourite new discovery from SWF2018, both as a personality and a creator. Witnessing a wonderful interview with Morris Gleitzman, and getting to see my niece shine as she recorded a Q&A with her favourite authors, was another highlight. Ditto for Katrina Nannestad, whose work I was only passingly familiar with as I’m far more a YA girl than a middle school reader, but such a lovely soul with real insight into the writing process. Oooh, and Patrick Ness, who I mentioned earlier – to get to chat to him about how his book had made a real difference in my life, and who took the time to personalise the giant pile of books I took for him to sign. And, and … well, you get the idea. Lots of authors. Lots of fangirling. Lots of joy.

Chris Riddell draws me something pretty. I’m in heaven.

Katrina Nannestad

AF Harrold

AF Harrold

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness

Morris Gleitzman

 

Shaun Tan

Kirsty Eagar

Kirsty Eagar

 

 

 

 

 

Jesse Andrews

Nicki Greenberg

Nicki Greenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love my job. I love the opportunities that it provides me to do what I love, and to help provide opportunities for students and schools to connect with authors and their work. And I love that, as I get more experienced at dealing with my Friendly Anxiety Monster, we get to go through these experiences together. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to a point where it doesn’t impact me, but I’m ok with that, I guess. Because, this is a lifetime journey. My Friendly Anxiety Monster and I will be spending a lot of time together. And like any relationship, you’ve got to learn how to live together. He’s not going anywhere, so we’ll figure this out. Because the alternative is that I don’t get to chat to Chris Riddell and others of his ilk. And that, dear reader, is completely unacceptable.

Happy reading,
Tamara

 

P.S. If you’re interested in reading a much more eloquently written piece on living with anxiety, check out this article by Will Wheaton. I read it just after the above event. I wish I’d read it before. It’s great. It describes in all its glorious messiness the joys of living with “the tag team champions of the World Wrestling With Mental Illness Federation” Anxiety and Depression.

January 8

New job? Yes please!!!

It’s been no secret that 2017 was a difficult year for me. I finished my masters, and then found myself a Teacher Librarian without a library. Many tears, many interviews, and many sleepless nights ensued, as I wondered what I was supposed to be doing with my life, and with each “thanks for your application but …” phone call, I became less sure about where I was headed.
Now, though, I know what 2018 holds for me. I’ll be surrounded by books, which is a scenario that thrills me no end. I’ll be working with teacher librarians and teachers to support them as they implement the Premier’s Reading Challenge in their schools. I’ll be working on projects to help support students develop their love of reading. And I’ll be learning the 1001 other things that this role entails that I have no idea about yet, but I’m sure I’ll pick up along the way.
My deepest thanks to those on my team who had my back through the hard times, who reminded me that we’re in this together, and that something better was coming. You know who you are, and I’m so grateful for you all. Much love.
Hi, I’m Tamara, and I’m the new NSW Premier’s Challenge Officer. I’ve got incredibly impressive shoes to fill, thanks to the wonderful work of Yvette Poshoglian over the past few years, but I’m so excited for the challenge. 

October 16

Not sure if Imposter Syndrome, or actual Imposter

So, it’s been a rough year in Teacher Land for me. Since my last post, I’ve had 2 staffroom changes, multiple class changes, much stress, and many tears. But it hasn’t been all bad. I’ve gotten to do some great stuff with my year 7 tech class, playing … ahem … teaching them about robotics and going through the process of designing a maze and coding programs in order for their little robots to complete the labyrinth. I’ve taught Coraline – ALL THE GAIMAN!!! I’ve explored some fantastic new ways to engage students using technology, and played with Google Apps, O365, shared notebooks, and a whole lot of other great activities that have reminded me about why I love teaching. But I still missed the library.

People kept reassuring me it would be ok. “A library position will come up soon”, they’d say. “The right library for you will come along.” And for ages I just gritted my teeth and smiled. Because I’d found that one, and now it was someone else’s. Eventually though, the pain lessened. I started to get excited about the opportunity to make my mark on a new library, and spread my wings in a new school. The clincher was when one of my year 7 kids mentioned his birthday, and I realised that I’ve been at Evans for as long as he’s been alive. Perhaps everyone is right. It really -is- time for a change.

So I started keeping an eye out on the job ads. Some started to appear, but in the back of my head there was that niggly little annoying voice, questioning whether I’m as good as everyone seems to think I am. My confidence in my TL abilities had taken a bit of a beating. But I continued, because dammit I want to be in a library. It’s what I’m meant to be doing. It’s where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve always struggled with Imposter Syndrome. I frequently make excuses for my success, and I have always been fearful that someone will expose me for the fraud I assume I am. Not quite qualified enough. Not nearly experienced enough. Not -something- enough. It’s a fear that dogs me whenever I present at conferences and workshops, a crippling anxiety that has, in the past, seen me convinced that my appendix were about to burst and was seconds away from calling an ambulance … but no, once my keynote presentation was done, the anxiety diminished, and I realised that it was in fact just my terror tearing my insides apart.

So today, I faced something that I would have previously considered terrifying on a massive scale. I had a job interview. One for a position I really want, in a school I really really REALLY want to work in. My application was excellent, I was as prepared as I could possibly be for the interview, and I headed off this morning feeling a little anxious. But that was it. A few nerves. No crippling pain. No panic-stricken hyperventilation. No terror that they’d ask me something that I felt completely incapable of answering. Just some totally understandable nerves.

I’m not quite sure how that happened. How I got past my Imposter Syndrome. I think it was the combination of a few things, to be honest. The constant reassurances of my wonderful partner, who can tell when I’m getting inside my own head and knows just what to say to me to ease me through it. The opportunity to contribute to some wonderful professional dialogue at a conference recently and realise that my voice, my stories, my ideas were valued not because I was on stage so people had to listen to me, but because people actually respected my opinions and experiences. The colleagues who read my application, reassured me that it was good, and shared their confidence in me. The seemingly small but incredibly valuable pieces of advice from old friends and new that helped me recognise and embrace some of my own confidence, my belief in myself, and my belief in my own strength. If you haven’t watched it yet, check out the TED Talk below on how your body language can impact how you feel – Wonder Woman pose, y’all! Whatever it was, it felt good. To walk out the door after the interview feeling like I not only had done a great job articulating why I’m the best person for the job, but actually believing it.

I don’t know how it went yet. And it’ll be a couple of weeks before I can share the news on this position even if it’s mine. But in many ways, that won’t really be the celebratory outcome for this event. I’m celebrating a win over anxiety. I’m staking a claim to some freedom from fear. I’m sure it’ll rear its ugly head again – we’ve got a good relationship going on. But for today, my anxiety was my bitch. I’m no-one’s imposter. And it feels good. It feels really good.

 

December 21

My Christmas Report Card.

I’m never really good at evaluating my own impact. Today in our Staff Development session, we looked at reflection and feedback, and as I was listening to different groups share their ideas, I was thinking about my year. I was thinking about the year I’ve had, and the the year I thought I would have 12 months ago. And I was wondering, how would I give myself feedback on the year that was?
I love Christmas … I’m such a fan of giving, of making people happy, and sharing joy. For me, the absolute bliss of receiving is never the gifts I get (although this year I got some super-cool presents from the wonderful people I work with!!) I LOVE reading what people have written in their cards to me. So for my “2012 Report Card” I’ve pulled my Christmas card comments from my wonderful colleagues. Their feedback about my role in their lives this year has been something of a revelation to me … I think I need to get a bit better at consciously reflecting on my impact, rather than just bouncing along day to day, trying to do the best I can and often feeling like I’m not quite getting there!!

So in the words of some wonderful people … My year.

– such and amazing person, professional and friend.
– an inspiration.
– dedicated professional and wonderful colleague.
– thankyou for your unwavering support and friendship. You always have my back, preempt my needs and just step in.
– an outstanding support and consummate professional.
– I watch with admiration the enormous work you have done – we need more teachers like you!
– an educator who strives to improve her practice and who sees the ‘big picture’. We are richer for having you with us!
– the most giving, sharing colleague it’s been my privilege to work with. I’m blown away by how generous you are with your time and talents, always focusing on what is in the best interests of our students.
– the most supportive teacher I’ve ever had. Can I be in your class next year? I’ll bring chocolates every day!
– because of you, I know I could do anything with my life. Because of you, I’m going to be a teacher.
– always act like you love me, even when I know that yesterday you probably wanted to choke me. I’m pretty naught sometimes, but you don’t make a big thing out of it – thanks for that miss! (well not love but you know … )
– you have inspired me to believe that I my influence is not defined by my title, but by my actions. Your actions reflect your passionate commitment to education, and I’m so grateful.
– Hey miss. I don’t hate english as much as I did and I’m even putting those things in my shorter words so you don’t have a meltdown and go off your head at me about why punctuation matters. Happy?

I’m humbled and overwhelmed by these lovely words, and the many that were spoken to me as well, as we said goodbye for another year. It’s a lovely way to end what has been a difficult year for me, both personally and professionally – to focus on the positive impacts I have had. To think about the many wonderful achievements I have made, and the difference that I make in the lives of other people. That’s why I love my job, and I wouldn’t do anything else!!

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December 10

Serious Fun

Education is serious business. It’s about moulding and shaping young minds. Imparting wisdom, developing the fundamental skills they are going to need – reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. The struggle of getting though content, meeting outcomes, and managing student behaviour. Test results rule, and it’s all about measurable growth. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t necessarily disagree with most of the above, but I don’t think it’s just limited to that. The role that engagement, true engagement, plays in education is powerful – not just “my students are engaged in the learning in my classroom because they focus on their work all lesson”. I think we can learn a lot from gaming in this regard – I’ve blogged about this before, especially after my experiences at the PLANE Festival of Learning in their Permission to Play strand. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of play, and what we learn from failure in games, so I’ve been experimenting this term with a couple of my classes. It’s been a lot of fun!!

My year 7 class rock. They are a lot of fun, and we have had some great experiences this year as we’ve worked through some interesting topics. This term, we’ve been setting up our faculty iPads, and this class have been our guinea pigs. They’ve been very patient, and given lots of great feedback about how they could be useful in class. They were all obsessed with installing games though, and who could blame them? It was the first thing I did when I got mine!! So, after a couple of solid weeks of working on puppet pals, and creating a film of the play we have been studying in class, I got them to do a creative writing task. I told them we we doing an empathy task – I’d give them some characters, and they had to write some blog entries for me that fully explored the feeling and emotions of the character they picked. Then, I put this picture on the board.

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They thought I was joking. “Nah, really Miss, what are we doing?” When I eventually convinced them that I was serious, though, they got to work. We talked about the back story behind Angry Birds, and the narrative that underpins it. We brainstormed the different points of view that the birds or the pigs might have … Why would the pigs feel the need to steal eggs? What about the little pig who didn’t really want to get involved, but was pressured into it? What makes people willing to die for the cause – those birds must know it’s not going to end well for them!! There was some wonderful, completely unexpected cross-KLA chat about historical links to kamikaze pilots and Hitler youth, and lots of parallels drawn between the behaviours of the birds and pigs, and peer pressure and bullying behaviours. The diary entries they wrote after this were AMAZING – some powerful, some strongly emotional, and often very very funny … they really got into it, and produced some sustained significant pieces of creative writing!

This wasn’t the real fun though. The real fun was the lesson that followed this insanely cool creative writing task. We had an Angry Birds challenge. 16 iPads, 28 students, and an hour long frenzy to see who could get the highest score on a level of Angry Birds. They shared tips. They problem solved. They showed persistence and perseverance. They even helped out their principal who popped up to check out the fun!! Angry Birds Star Wars on my IWB was a sight to see, and even though they were competing with each other for the coveted iTunes cards that were on offer for the top 3 scores, the cooperation and communication was awesome. This was serious fun!!

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I certainly wouldn’t do this every week, but it’s certainly worth thinking about … Is my classroom fun? And is it fun for the right reasons? We certainly can’t just make our classes open slather gaming, but some intelligent design of activities to build some real engagement isn’t a bad thing!!

NOTE: If you are thinking about implementing an Angry Birds challenge in your classroom, I have a few pieces of advice.
1. Check that the class next door is not doing an assessment task.
2. Find out the chocolate of choice of the teacher in the classroom next door.
3. Make sure the iPads are fully charged – the child whose iPad dies as they are about to hit 110,000 points will never forgive you when their device dies!!

So, that’s one of my episodes of serious fun for the term … I’d love to hear about what you have been doing in your class that’s made you laugh!

December 9

I can see it …

Can you see it? The end, I mean. The end of what has been, for me, one of the most difficult terms of my teaching career. For many reasons, I’m struggling right now. Some personal, some professional, but really all of these reasons are impacting the way I feel about my job.

I love teaching. LOVE it. It is really what defines me, more than almost anything else in my life. And I always said that when I stopped loving it, it would probably be time to think about doing something else. For most of this term, though, I’ve been feeling sick about going to work. I’ve spent more time on the verge of tears (if not actually IN tears) than I have feeling positive and happy about what I’m doing. So, is it time to move on? Is it time to pull the plug, and say enough is enough?

I’ve asked myself that question more than a few times – and my husband has raised it too! It has kept me up at nights, and I think the thought of pulling the plug has made me feel even more nauseous. So I’ve been reevaluating my roles. My role as teacher at my school. My other roles – year advisor, school promotions officer, technology team member, 2IC of my faculty, and others that are not so easy to define but still take up a significant amount of time. My role as a role model, and a colleague, and a friend, and a wife and mother. And I’ve been a bit blown away.

Sometimes you are so much in the middle of something, that you can’t really see the significance of it. There are so many metaphors about that – can’t see the forest for the trees, etc etc – and they sound cliched for a reason. I’ve been trying to stand back from this and taken in the bigger picture, to try and learn something from what I’m going through right now, rather than just trying to ride it out. And I think I’m starting to get my head around it.

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So much of what has been stressing me has been out of my control. Actions of other people, mostly … Their thoughts and opinions about me, and about what I do. Their judgements about my roles. Their perception that I’m not good enough, skilled enough, worthy enough. If I was one of my students, I’d offer them some wonderful advice right now. I’d tell them that if these negatives were coming from someone they admire and respect, it might be worth listening to, but if they aren’t, then they’re not. I’d tell them that people who try and bring other people down are often doing so because they feel badly about themselves, and they are trying to attack what is bright, and beautiful, and successful around them. I’d tell them that they are amazing, and they are so much more than their fears and uncertainties. I’d tell them that these challenges are what test you so that you can figure out what is really important. I’d tell them all this and more. So why can’t I tell it to myself?

Luckily, it doesn’t matter that I wasn’t able to tell myself all those things. After holding my hand, and lending me a thoughtful ear, or comforting shoulder, I’ve heard all these wonderful pieces of advice and more from the wonderful people around me. I’m starting to listen to them … After all, they are the people I respect, both personally and professionally, and their opinions matter to me. My principal. My head teacher. My wonderful colleagues and friends from my own faculty, as well as others. My husband, and my very wise kids. These people rock – the best PLN a girl could ask for!

So what does all that mean for me? I love teaching. Have I mentioned that already? If so, it’s worth mentioning again. And I love what I’m involved in at my school at the moment. There are so many things that I’m working on, both in my classroom and out of it, and I believe passionately in the value and importance every one of them. I think it’s really time, though, that I started evaluating what I can realistically do myself, and get my head around the whole “it’s ok to say no” thing. I also need to get a handle on what is my job, and what isn’t … Delegation is NOT the enemy, apparently!! (Not sure if I actually believe that one yet, but we are working on the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy on this one!) And I’m definitely working on letting go of the bitterness over being treated unfairly. Sometimes people won’t like me. Sometimes they will say things that are unkind and untrue. I can’t control that, but I CAN control my reactions to it. I’m not going to let my involvement in things that I love, and believe in, be impacted by that. What I do matters. As teachers, what WE do matters. I believe in it, and I believe in my ability to do it well, to make a difference, and to impact the lives of others. I can see it now … still a little hazy, still hurting, but slowly healing. They may not read this post, but there are some wonderful people who are responsible for helping me through the past few weeks, and you should know who you are. Thankyou!!

So I can see it. The holidays. The importance of taking care of me tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. The value of making the most of what I have, and where I am. And the fact that I do enough, feel enough, AM ENOUGH, no matter what anyone else thinks about me. I hope you know that about you too!!

December 4

The day I lost it.

I’m pretty level-headed, usually. I get comments a lot, from one class in particular, that I always have a smile on my face. In fact, they will do a countdown if I’m not smiling, to see how many seconds I can last (usually, as soon as I realise what they are doing,I start laughing, so they rarely get above 3!!) The whole “don’t smile before Easter” thing doesn’t work in my classroom – let’s face it, I can’t even make it till the end of roll call most days! It’s one of the things I’m proud of about the way I interact with students in my classroom – I’m fair, I’m reasonable, and I don’t do the whole ‘teach by fear and intimidation’ thing that works for some people. I talk with them. I listen. Most days, we have a fairly positive and productive air of communication in my class.

Today was not one of those days. Well, not last period, especially. And it’s not because something big or dramatic happened. Not at all. It’s more the cumulative effect of lots of little things, both personally and professionally, that added up to me being on my last straw when I walked in to year 7 after lunch. I held it together for a few minutes, but then a particularly difficult kid, who I work really hard with, completely ignored me when I asked him to grab a book for reading. Then, he walked away. I know, tough right? No swearing, no fighting, no throwing of chairs …. Just a little mild ignorance. And I lost it. Yelled at them all to “sit down, stop talking, and just read already, for goodness sake we’ve only been doing this all year you think you’d have it by now!!” And I cried. Whilst they sat there reading totally silently, for probably the first time all year, I sobbed silent tears of frustration. Tears of disappointment in myself, of anguish that I’d let myself be one of those teachers I always said I NEVER wanted to be. In fact, I have tears streaming down my cheeks now as I’m writing about it.

As they read, or at least did a fantastic job of pretending they were, I could see the shock on some of their faces. I sat there, crying, breathing, and wondering how on earth I got to that point over something so relatively minor, when everyday events that are often much worse don’t seem to faze me. And I can only imagine what they were thinking. What they were feeling. What they were saying to themselves about that stranger who had just roared at them from the front of the room. And to be honest, that just made me cry a bit more. You know those people who look adorable when they cry? Dewy eyes, slightly rosy cheeks, sweet and lovely that you just want to hug? I’m not one of those. Bullfrog puffy eyes and blotchy skin, that’s me. Like the poor kids hadn’t suffered enough, they have 45 more minutes to put up with that.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. The only thing that seemed reasonable in the circumstance. I apologised. I apologised for taking out on them all the things that were not their fault. I apologised for letting whatever is stressing me outside our classroom impact on what is supposed to be a safe place for them. I apologised that I had ended their day with anger, and tears, and getting to see me at what is quite possibly my worst. I apologised unreservedly. No mention of the couple of little comments and actions from a couple of students that had pushed me over the edge. No justification as to why it was even just a little bit ok. I apologised, and then I cried a little more.

And then they smiled. Not because they were happy I was crying again, but because, I suspect, they had their safe place back. Their comments and actions over the rest of the lesson were telling.
“I’ve never seen you like that before Miss, you made 10 whole minutes without smiling. I wanted to cry for you.”
“Miss check out the dragon I’m doing in art. What do you think of the scales? Every cool story needs a good dragon huh.”
“Hey miss, want a tissue? You can keep it, I don’t want it back.”
The boy who just stood next to me, moved a bit of paper on the desk in front of me, said “hey”, then sat back down with a wistful grin on his face.
The girl who kept avoiding eye contact with me, but was constantly looking at me out of the corner of her eye, and then walked the whole way around the room just so she could walk past my desk and say “see you tomorrow Miss, hope you have a better afternoon.”
The notes written on my mini dry-erase boards … “English rocks” “Rodgers 😃” “We love you Miss!!!”

So, how am I feeling now? I’m exhausted. I’m frustrated and angry at myself, that I let things that really have no relation to what I do in my classroom impact on what I’ve worked really hard to establish as a positive, supportive and great space to be. All it took was about 13 seconds of a raised voice to undo all that. Thank goodness it wasn’t permanent, and I’m trying to console myself with the idea that perhaps my vulnerability, my apology, and my attempts to make amends may have been the modelling that some of them may have needed when they are dealing with some stressful and difficult situations of their own. But right now, that isn’t making me feel any better about it. I’m going to finish this post, then go and soak in a bath, and not look at anything at all work related for the rest of the night. Nope, not even my emails. I have a PD session tomorrow – I’m very glad I don’t have my yr7 class on my timetable, I’d hate for them to think that I didn’t come in because of what happened today. And when I go back on Thursday, to a fairly exhausting and stressful day, I’m going to remind myself to breathe. I’m going to remind myself of what is important to me, and what I value about what I do. I’m going to try and remember to be as kind to myself as I am to others. I don’t know that I deserve it, especially after today, but I think I need it … and maybe that’s the same thing?

This song is going to be my mantra … “Keep your head above water, and don’t forget to breathe.” I hope you are breathing ok too. Take care of you, you’re worth it.

November 4

Building connections

I love my year group. My role as year advisor is one of the things I’m most proud of in my current position at my school. I’ve been working with these kids since they were in year 6, tiny little things by comparison to the almost-adults who tower over me now, visiting our school for taster lessons and orientation day, and they are such a huge part of my everyday experiences at Evans.

It’s the nature of every school that there are changes. Students leave. Students arrive. We have an Intensive English Centre at our school, which has a frequently changing student population, and pretty much every year our year group has gained new members from the IEC, as well as all the usual comings and goings. One of the challenges for any year advisor is to build a sense of connection amongst your student group. In a school like ours, that poses some extra challenges. This year in particular, as they face the prospect of HSC, Vocational training, figuring out where the future is likely to take them, and negotiating all the complexities of senior study, looming adulthood, driving, drinking, relationships … it’s a lot for them to get their heads around, and it’s a lot for ME to get my head around!

So, how can we support them? We are running a new program this year. Called Planning My Future, it’s 2 periods a week, working on social skills, study skills, drug and alcohol education, and a whole lot more stuff to support them in whatever they are dealing with, personally and academically. It’s going pretty well … some problems, as to be expected with a new program, but we are getting there, and we’ve made some solid progress on implementing a sustainable whole-school program to support our students.

As well as this, we have bigger picture events – like our camp, which I posted about a few weeks ago. One of the amazing outcomes for me from camp has been the increased connections between the kids since they’ve come back. They are really supporting each other, and I’m proud of the way they have each others’ backs.

We have the remainder of the term to keep working though our PMF program. This term, we developed a series of electives for the kids to be a part of. We have some participating in a mural project, where they are designing and painting an artwork to support out school’s PBL focus. Some are doing a mentoring program, and they will be working with one of our year 7 classes to build connections. We have a group who are working with teachers who are on Stage 5 sport, providing coaching and management support for the staff, and helping the stage 5 students get engaged in sport. And we have some who are doing a workshop on “Positive Thinking.” Varied topics, yes, but all with the same focus. We want all students, regardless of the group they are participating in, to have an increased sense of their own capacity to make a positive difference in their world.

I’m after a “Keynote” event to support all this. Someone, or something, to present at a year meeting, to tie it all together. To focus on the choices we make in our lives, and the importance of making positive ones. Any ideas? Hit me with your best speakers!! I know, it’s not a lot of notice … I want something that we can do before the end of the year. That’s the problem with working on a program that is flexible and meets the needs of your year group as they come up – it doesn’t always fit in with my OCD desire to forward plan, and know what is going on!!

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If you’ve done something wonderful in this area, too, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for stopping by!

October 21

A wild ride …. Failure, OK, and Risk.

It’s Sunday night. The past week has been an amazing adventure for me. This time a week ago, I was putting the finishing touches on my camp, and stressing out big time about what was likely to go wrong, what I’d forgotten to do, what I was missing … you get the idea. Stress head. Three days of wondrousness with my year group, with a few emotional ups and downs (did I mentioning jumped of a power pole? Insane!!!) and I was home for a day, before heading to the PLANE festival of learning. I’ve blogged about some of the fantasticness that was the festival, and I feel like I haven’t fully captured it. My head is still spinning from everything I saw and heard. I’m still a bit star-struck about some of my edu-idols that I got to hang out with, and some newbies that have been added to that list.

FAILURE
There are a couple of main ideas that I have taken away with me from the festival. The first is the idea of failure, and how we value it in gaming, how we learn from it, and use it as a form of constant and instant assessment, but in education it’s just an end. We fail, we move on, and we don’t revisit, or retry, of figure out what it is we need to do to do better next time. It’s something that’s been frustrating me personally as we look at our assessment strategies in our faculty, as I feel like a lot of what we do is one off, not effectively embedded as part of everything that we do. I want students who are resilient – don’t we all? Not because their grades will look better, although that is a lovely side-effect, but because it will help them become better workers, better thinkers, better problem-solvers, better friends, better people. Heck, it’ll help ME be all those things!! I’m not sure how to deal with this, but I’m pulling together some of the ideas that I heard at the festival, and looking at how they fit in with what I want to do with some of my classes. I’m sure it’s going to be something I’ll be blogging about more in the future. My main motivators in my musings on this idea we Peggy Sheehy, who gave an insightful and thought-provoking presentation on World of Warcraft in her teaching, and Dean Groom, who never fails to get the cogs spinning in my mind.

O.K.
The second is the idea of well-being. What is it? How do we build it? Is ok really enough, or should we be committed to something more? There are some great conference doodles which capture some of these ideas – if I get a chance, I’ll pop on the computer later and add in a link to them, as its not quite working properly on the iPad. If you don’t see them here, then chances are I didn’t get around to it! The idea, though, is that we focus so much on making sure that people are ok, then we move on, that we never get to the point of making sure they are flourishing. I don’t want to be ok with just ok, and lately it feels like that’s what I’ve been striving for. I wouldn’t be ok with that in the mental and emotional health of my year group, or my children – why should I be ok with it in my own?
If you are interested in hearing more about this from someone eminently more qualified to talk about it in eloquent terms, rather than my cryptic ramblings, check out the PLANE Leadmeet coming up on Tuesday night, and Dan Haesler’s blog. I took his advice, and took a bit of time to myself today … Lovely. Need to do it more often.

RISK
The third idea that I have taken to heart is that of risk. Dr Sarah Howard present a keynote on Friday afternoon about risk – how important it is, and how we need to nurture it in ourselves and our colleagues, if we have any hope of seeing it flourish in our students. I truly believe we need to develop in our students a desire to step outside their comfort zones, and to take educated risks in their own learning. How can we do that, though, if we keep doing the same thing in our teaching practice because we think it works, or because we are worried what might happen if worry something that doesn’t work? Back to that idea of failure again.

I mentioned the other day about my big risk on camp. My terrifying, I still can’t believe I did it but I’m starting to be a little bit proud of myself, step off the top of a power pole. And I remember the boy in my group, who was firmly committed to the idea of staying on the ground, but after I bawled my way to the top and back down again, with no comment started putting on a harness. That’s what it’s about, right? Demonstrating what you want to see. we do it with text types, we do it with mathematical equations. Let’s start doing it with risk. Let’s start doing it with well-being. Let’s start doing it with failure.

Hopefully this link works … It’s a slightly dodgy video of me, and it’s seriously unattractive at the end, but I’m kind of ok with that. What are you going to do this week that’s risky?

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October 20

Quest Atlantis

I went to Dr Bron Stuckey‘s session on Quest Atlantis before lunch. I’m only blogging about it now because 1. I’m now feeling a bit more awake after a delicious lunch, and 2. I was so focused on what she was talking about that I completely forgot to write anything when I was in there!

If you haven’t seen QA, you really should check it out. I have already signed up for a teacher account, and am waiting semi-patiently for Bron to get a chance to approve it. It’s an amazing virtual world environment with a huge range of quests available for students to complete.

I LOVE that there is a strong focus on digital citizenship and social justice. I truly believe we can’t teach about digital citizenship without actually using digital tools … It’s like trying to learn how to swim without ever going in the water. I love that there is a strong monitoring of the chat, which then provides opportunities for authentic conversations with students about how you interact online. I love that the quests provide authentic learning, around meaningful ideas and content, which encourage students to work collaboratively and on higher-order problem solving skills.

I have a bit of a fan-girl crush on Bron …. I totally admire her passion, her commitment to meaningful and authentic learning, and her willingness to share her knowledge with others. What has been wonderful about this festival for me has been the opportunity to be surrounded by so many passionate committed educators. Totally loving her work, and looking forward to exploring the wonderful world of Quest Atlantis!!

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Cool things about QA from a teacher perspective include the fact that it is free – YAY!!!! The wonderful people at QA will also provide teachers with training to support you in your use of QA with your students. As a teacher, you have the ability to lock or unlock quests for your students, so that they can only access them as you want them to. As a parent, you can know that your children are protected, as only verified teachers are able to access the virtual world with students (until they verify that you’re a teacher, you will be able to see other teachers, but not students.)

I’m so excited by the possibilities, particularly of the persuasive writing quest that Bron showed us. I love the blending of literacy, social justice, science ethics, etc etc – the possibilities are almost limitless. I’m already planning in my head how I’m going to use it, and I’m not even fully registered yet!

Do you use QA? What do you think about it?

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