Exciting times ahead

Now I know that all English teachers have no doubt begun to look at the new Stage 6 Syllabus and are thinking about ways they may program for year 11 in 2018. I must admit that programming is one of my favourite things to do, as is working with other teachers who are as excited about programming as I am!

The system of schools that I work in, has come up with a great plan to get teachers from across the system, working collaboratively to write programs which will benefit the entire system of schools. I am so pleased to be part of a system that allows for such opportunities.

The group of teachers that am working with, will create a program around the Reading to Write. On the NESA page it states… ‘Reading to Write (will) develop students’ skills to respond to texts and refine their writing.’ This is a mandatory module to be studied first, by students in year 11.

Will look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas as the project progresses.

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One of those days…

It is interesting how changes in the weather can affect the way that students behave. Today’s inclement weather and the almighty downpour happened right at lunchtime whilst I was on playground duty. Picture it: students sitting under trees, students playing volleyball, students eating, singing, laughing… doing all the things that they usually do during any given lunchtime. The menacing clouds give way to the downpour and deluge. Students scramble for shelter (well the sensible ones do) and others decide it would be a good time to run around in the rain, their uniforms becoming soaked.
It’s probably an opportune time to mention that immediately after lunch, they would be attending an Ash Wednesday liturgy – which marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. So, attending a liturgy – a whole school liturgy in a sopping wet uniform was not the best idea. Multiply that by about 20 students and it spells disaster.
So whilst another colleague and I hurriedly usher these students out of the rain, we get incredibly wet as well. Not ideal at all.
It was during the liturgy that I was listening to the reflection about forgiveness and what I could do to prepare for Easter. Well, at this point I was thinking about how I would like to be dry and how I would like to put every single student who disobeyed my colleague and I, on some sort of detention. I guess while listening to the sermon, the beautiful prayers and reflections that I had a change of heart. I figured that in the scheme of things – yes, the behaviour of some students was disrespectful, but it was not characteristic of all students. Some of the students who have since scored a detention tomorrow are the same students who tend to find trouble. They’re also the ones who rarely have their books for class. They are the ones who will try to break every single rule. Almost every single lesson. One such student today did all of those things, but she also did something which completely blew my mind. She put up her hand and answered two of the discussion questions clearly and to the point. She had shown engagement in what we were doing in class. I’ve always told her that I will never give up on her, and right after I had confiscated her phone and spoken to her about her headphones and speaking out of turn, she answers questions. Something she hasn’t done all term. She smiled and I smiled. It was as though the preceding hell in the playground didn’t happen.  It reminded me of that great Socrates quote, which I think sums up the best and most difficult part of being a teacher. “Those who are hardest to love need it the most.” For my mind, it’s reaching out to those students that is the most challenging yet most rewarding part of being a teacher.

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Aren’t We All Writers?

‘Aren’t we all writers?’I was asked this question only today in class. One of my students quite innocently asked the question in response to me getting them to think a little more about the concept of writing and how we approach writing, in this case, writing from the perspective of a character – I said in reply, “if you think that being able to pen some words on a page qualifies you as a writer, then I suppose you’re right, we are.” I let her think about it for a minute. I then asked her, so does that mean that everyone who has ever held a paintbrush or an instrument… does that make them an artist or a musician? She quickly told me in no uncertain terms- No! I asked her why, if I applied her logic from the writers comment, then surely because I pick up the odd paintbrush or belt out some scales and some tunes on a piano – then that must qualify me as an artist or a musician.
At this point, the students were almost out of their seats. Many arguing that no, just because I knew how to use a paintbrush or play scales, didn’t make me an artist or a musician. A couple of the students in the Philosophy class went a little further and talked about how it takes skill and experience and understanding the world to be a writer, artist or a musician. The debate ensued and we decided as a class, that artists, musicians and writers see the world differently. It’s why they are so good at what they do. They have the ability to capture something about the human experience that resonates with their respective audiences.
Amazing how all this stemmed from a conversation about a short piece of writing I had set for them a week ago and had since marked and was about to return to them.
I always tell my students they are writers and that they need to approach each task as a writer. I always assumed they knew what that meant but I feel that they know what it means. So today, after returning their work, I let them sit with their responses and reflect on the process of writing. Many admitted it wasn’t their best work and that they didn’t really try. Yes, the marks reflected their comments, as did my comments and feedback.
It’s interesting how when you preface a lesson with a question about writing, the varied responses. I told them that as writers, they have a responsibility to be the best that they can be, learning the craft and practising and never thinking that near enough is good enough. Every single word on the page is there for a reason. When you craft a character or are writing from the perspective of a character, you need to respect them. Respect their context and what they contribute to the narrative as a whole.

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Four weeks in…

Can you believe that the first four weeks of term one are over and in a week’s time, half the term will be over! I honestly can’t believe how quickly time has flown! This term has been so busy and when I read the blog posts of other esteemed colleagues, I can see that their terms have been the same.

The busy nature of term one seems to be replicated through the whole year. I remember when I first started teaching, that term one was the busiest, along with term three because of the HSC and term 4 wasn’t too bad. Funnily enough, term 2 didn’t get much of a mention. Fast forward to this year, my 18th year of teaching and it seems that there is no let up in any term. The year is incredibly busy. The whole year. No wonder young teachers are burning out so quickly!

Four weeks in and I am getting to know my students and they are getting to know me! I have returned letters to them, in reply to the letters that they wrote to me. I really feel that the lost art of letter writing is something that could see a resurgence. My students loved writing to me, but more importantly, just loved their letters. Four weeks in and I can see them at moments in the lesson where they have got their letters out to read. I’m really touched that they have kept them and that they have continually referred to them at moments in their day.

Four weeks in and the newest member of our department is settling in brilliantly. She has been creating a lot of good resources and sharing her experiences in the classroom and asking for advice. I have tried to lessen the impact of administrivia for my staff by refining processes. I have noticed that when administration is lessened, creativity and work actually improves.

Four weeks in and we have a new syllabus. Finally! Next term I will be working in a Senior College so my focus will be taken away from my current students for a term. I am busily reading and re-reading documents, taking it in as much as I can. I am looking forward to some new challenges, even if it is for a term.

At present my year 10 students are studying ‘The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne and they love it. He has such a good way of telling a story and I love what he has done with the narrative voice. It has provided a good topic for discussion in class. My  year 9 students are doing an advertising unit. My year 7 Launch class are settling in – learning about the school, learning about all the wonderful people who can help them to be the best learners they can be, as well as learning about learning… so they can have the best start to high school and be the best learners they can be.

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A new syllabus… new possibilities

So today has brought about a new English syllabus for Stage 6 – our year 11 and 12 students. Much has been captured in the media about these changes. Some of the more incredible headlines ‘mark a return to Shakespeare.’ I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but Shakespeare never left the syllabus. He never left the junior school just as he hasn’t left the HSC. His spirit lives on in his tragedies. Mostly his tragedies. I love Shakespeare – an incredibly intriguing man who wrote countless plays and sonnets – many of which are studied in schools today.

I am interested to discover what is considered to be ‘quality literature.’ I am pleased there will be greater focus on writing. I have found that in spite of the complex and sophisticated ideas that are often discussed in English classes, some of it comes at the expense of teaching writing.

I am, by nature, someone who sees these challenges as new opportunities to learn. Opportunities to reflect on my teaching practice and see what needs to be changed or refined.

I will reflect a little more once I have had an opportunity to read the variety of documents about the new syllabus and assessment.

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Hey 2017! Great to be here!

When I think of all the new beginnings, the overwhelming sense of anticipation for the new school year and the sleepless nights in the lead up to ‘the first day’ I think that this year’s beginning has been a great one. A big call given this will be my 18th year of teaching. That’s 18 new beginnings and I can assure you, well more than 18 sleepless nights. I don’t know about you, but for me, the anticipation and the lead up to the new school year fills me with excitement and a sense of nervousness. Great excitement for the potential and the great opportunities that the year holds. Nervousness because I always get a little nervous flutter of butterflies. The pressure to begin well. The pressure to have everything as it should be.

This year has begun well. I feel that my faculty are working really well together. They are such  generous, creative, hard working and intelligent teachers. I have already had a number of students come and tell me about how much they enjoy their lessons. It’s always a good feeling to know when things are going right. Particularly in teaching, given the only time the profession is mentioned in the news, is generally as the scapegoat for all of society’s ills or to capture a few cheap, quick ratings by some shock jocks who should know better.

I have some great initiatives I would like to implement at school. I guess it is what I like about being at a school for a few years. The first year is really getting to know the students, staff, parents and discovering the culture and idiosyncrasies. The second year is about consolidating what you did in the first year -whether it be the changes made to policy, assessment and programs etc. The second year for me was very much about building on the gains made in the first year. This year, my third year is about refining the focus. Trying new things and and also getting a little more creative and innovative. I think the third year is a good time to mix it up a bit. Not for the sake of changing things – there’s no sense in changing things for the sake of change, rather, making sure that what we are doing is relevant to the needs of the students in our classroom this year.

In any case, I think 2017 has begun in a positive way. The optimism is there as are all the good intentions in the world. Staff, students and parents all seem happy. I’m looking forward to sharing the year’s journey. I plan on being a better blogger. It was one of my resolutions. 2017…we’ve got this.

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Mixing it up in the classroom

A little while ago, I posted about the new building works taking place at school. I was particularly excited about the new classrooms that our students (and in particular the classrooms that my department) will enjoy.

In the time that has passed, I have met with key staff members who will teach in those rooms and have given them the opportunity to choose furniture that will compliment their pedagogy and create opportunities for learning in diverse ways.

Something that I really wanted to achieve, was to empower my staff in key decisions. I invited those teachers into discussions about the rooms, how they will use the space and then allowed them to select the furniture based on their pedagogy. I am so pleased to say that each of the rooms will look entirely different to the other. They may also look different from day to day as each teacher really wanted furniture to provide greater flexibility in the way students were grouped and the type of learning spaces that could be created.

After sitting with our wonderful Leader of Pedagogy, I decided to really challenge myself. I have ordered lots of different furniture and broken up spaces with soft furniture, so effectively I can create different nooks. I can’t wait to get into the room, to take some photos so I can share just how this will enhance the pedagogy in my classroom.

In order to prepare my staff and students for what will be a huge change, I am putting together some pd. Much of the pd is based on research but also my own personal experiences of teaching in a range of flexible learning spaces.  For the students I am going to survey them, to get them to design a great learning space. I believe that with in our new building, we can create a lot of different types of spaces that will appeal to a greater diversity of learners.

I have decided to present at a symposium on authentic learning, with a really talented colleague. It will involve a focus on our pedagogy in the learning spaces in order to meet the diverse needs of our learners, challenging them to be the best students they can be.


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