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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Moving into a new space…

I have just had the immense privilege of touring our new College building. This building will house a few English classrooms. Wonderful spaces with oh so much potential. There’s a green room, a performance space, lots of open spaces, natural lighting and water views. I don’t really think there is much more that a teacher could want!

These new spaces will continue to transform learning. Transform the learning of staff and the learning of students. These new spaces will redefine what is and isn’t possible in the classroom. Essentially, these new spaces will recontextualise teaching and learning in the best possible way.

At present, we are teaching in demountables. Demountables at the end of the school. So disconnected from the rest of the community that you could be forgiven for thinking we are in another place. The lovely views of the boats bobbing on the bay are great compensation, but I must admit I do miss the closeness of being near other classes, the energy that comes from being in close proximity to other students and teachers.

The new building will house a range of KLA’s which will make it a lot easier to connect and to create. Connecting and creating are important skills that our students need to be great citizens of the world. Making connections between knowledge studied in different disciplines and creating something with that knowledge is certainly a great skill.

One of my goals this year is to continue to refine our pedagogy so we meet the needs of each and every one of our students. The benefits of a new learning space that promotes flexibility and imagination are imperative and critical in this process. Improving the self-efficacy of students as learners, as well as the self-efficacy of teachers in spaces that redefine and challenge the boundaries of a traditional classroom are essentially my goals this year. I look forward to capturing these experiences and reflecting on them.


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Letters of Introduction

I really love the first English lesson of the year. The anticipation and expectation that fills the room is palatable. Watching the quiet (mostly) students sitting and waiting to hear what I have to say, all the while making assumptions about the kind of teacher I will be and the kind of student they will be.

I find that this is probably the only time of the year that they are at their quietest selves. There’s a lot to internalise and make sense. My expectations of them are made clear in this lesson. They know what it takes to be a good English student and they know that a positive presence in the classroom will create a learning environment that is conducive to great learning for all.

After telling them a little about myself and my hopes and goals for the year, I take the opportunity to tell them that I want to get to know about them. About their goals for English and their expectations of me and what they want me to do in order to help them achieve their goals.

They are invited to write a letter to me. They can tell me a little or a lot about themselves. They do need to include what excites them about studying English, what makes them nervous about studying English, their strengths, likes and areas for improvement. So tonight, after having a lesson with three of my four classes, I am slowly reading through each letter, taking in the words of each student. I have told them that I will write a letter in response. If they have taken the time to write to me, it only seems appropriate that I reply to their letter.

I have long maintained that teaching is as much about establishing great relationships than it is about content. I have found that my students learn best when they relate well to me. They like positive feedback but they also like constructive criticism. They understand that mistakes are welcomed and there are no such things as stupid or dumb questions. They also understand that I am often more interested in their questions than in the answers. I have said all of this to them today and as I read over their letters, it is so pleasing to read their excitement and enthusiasm for learning.

I will reply to each student and will use the letters to discover ways I can tailor the content and activities to meet their needs. I want to broaden their experiences of literature given a number of students have indicated they want to discover the classics. I have also discovered that a number of students want to broaden their vocabulary or ‘read the whole novel for the first time.’

Letter writing can be a cathartic activity. Letter writing may not be as popular a form of communication as it was only years ago, but my students certainly enjoyed the opportunity to express their thoughts and I know they are anticipating a reply.




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My word for 2016 is TIME

I love this time of year. It’s been a month since I was at school and the rush to finish the school term and the busy week of Christmas is a distant memory. We’ve been on a short but relaxing holiday away. Renovations are talking shape at our place and everybody is relaxed, happy and healthy. It’s a time when I can read a little more and later into the night. A time to reflect on the year that was and on the year that will be and I am not alone. In fact, my reader is filled with some truly inspiring posts by some esteemed educators who have been thinking and reflecting on the year that was and the goals they wish to achieve this year. A number of words are repeated throughout these posts but the word repeated most is balance. Balance. It’s the one goal that is repeatedly set by teachers the world over. How do we balance our work with family responsibilities? I’ve decided that my word for 2016 is time. I need to focus on how I use time. I am not a time waster by any means but I feel that if I am going to achieve any of my goals, it will come down to time. I have always seen time as some sort of enemy. Time would steal moments of rest, of peace, of happiness. At times it would linger (particularly playground duty or exam supervision) but for 2016 I have decided to rush less. I think my frenetic approach to time, of feeling like I am governed by the passing of each minute, has led to unnecessary angst. I think that better preparation (of lunches, of breakfasts, of dinners) and more careful reflection will lead to better balance and greater productivity. My goal is to use my time efficiently so I can achieve more and have greater balance in my life. I hope everyone who has set a goal for the year is able to create a path so they can achieve it.  Continue reading

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Inspiring a love of poetry

In my year 8 class, we have been studying poetry this term. Some classics and some contemporary poems. Throughout the unit, students have been given opportunities to perform poetry, respond to poetry and to write their own poetry.

We have spent some time reading poetry that captures the beauty and majesty of nature. Students have considered how poets use techniques to create vivid, arresting imagery and evoke emotions. In order to give it an authentic quality, we have spent time listening to poets read their works. We have also performed poetry.

In the last week, our class has created an anthology of poetry and they’ve performed and recorded a reading of their own poetry. We used GarageBand to record the files and they’ve uploaded them to their English folder.

They have also created their own digital inspiration board, collating all the beautiful photographs, paintings, imagery, words, quotes, poems, proverbs, psalms etc that inspires them to live a wonderful, happy and creative life. In getting them to create a digital inspiration board, bringing together the many facets of the unit, they are learning how literature and art can inspire them to live a wonderful, creative and happy life.

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