A Whole New World Of…

At the work Christmas Party in 2013, after reflecting on the year that was (over some mineral water with fresh lime) I remember a number of colleagues talking about how my life would change with a baby, about how I wouldn’t want to return as Curriculum Coordinator and how I wouldn’t want to work full time. I have blogged a little about this in the past so I wont cover that topic again, only to say that 2014 flew by in what now seems like the blink of an eye (though settling a newborn to sleep at 3am, in the middle of Winter, didn’t seem to fly by at all) and at the start of the 2015 school year, I find myself at a new school, in a new role (English Coordinator) and of course, my most treasured role as a mother to a healthy, happy baby.

2015 has begun really well. The new school is going really well in so many ways. The staff are professional and friendly. The students are generally interested in their learning. My baby is settling in quite well to daycare and I have a supportive husband, so the transition to returning to work has been made a lot easier. I’m not at all certain that I have the work – life balance right just yet, but I am certainly not letting the small stuff get in the way of quality afternoons with my baby.

I believe that 2015 will provide me with a whole new world of experiences and challenges. Already some of the challenges I’ve faced in the workplace are a considerable number of students who just hate reading. Students who wont pick up a book and read. They wont pick up anything and read. I have a number of reluctant learners and one of my projects is to get to understand them better so that they can become engaged in their own learning. I am researching a number of ways that I can do this, because it seems that some of my strategies that have worked in the past, don’t seem to be working as well this time. The saddest part is that they are only in year 8 and are already so disengaged. I suspect it comes down to their self perception as learners. I think a number of them have ‘got by’ and a number of them have very low self-esteem and self confidence. I don’t know that I can address all of it, but I’m certainly going to do my best to help engage them, so they can value themselves as individuals, as learners.

I’ve also joined a department at the time of the implementation of the new English Syllabus in NSW. This is indeed a very exciting time and I find myself thinking of ways to engage with the new syllabus. I am going to do some work on programming, assessment and unpacking the syllabus with my staff. All the things I absolutely loved doing when I used to be an English Coordinator. All the things I rarely had an opportunity to do when I was a Curriculum Coordinator.

I have reflected on what it was like to come home after work, before having a baby. I would get home around 6:45pm every night. I would go to the gym, have dinner and then work for 3 hours. I would spend hour after hour each weekend, planning, preparing and just researching and reflecting. I guess my work life balance before baby wasn’t particularly great either. Coming home after a day’s work in 2015 means taking my baby to the park to play on the swings and other play equipment with other children and then meeting all of his needs before a story and bedtime. It also means prepping everything for the next day, so that the morning runs as smooth as possible, I still spend some time working in the evening and at weekends, but I must admit, I use my time much more efficiently at work. I have also found that by having five lessons of one hour each, per day, rather than six lessons of 53 minutes a day, has really made a huge difference. It means there are one or two days where I may have an hour of non face-to-face teaching time, but other days where I have two hours of non face-to-face teaching time and in these hour blocks, I get a lot of work done. I always used to wonder how the mothers managed to do everything on time and fit it all in to their busy schedules. Time management and working efficiently – something I thought I was good at, but this is a whole new world.

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It’s time to publicly thank the mentors who walk the walk.

Ask any teacher in a school they love, in a role they relish about where they see themselves in five or so years time and they will often tell you that they see themselves exactly where they are. Who could blame them? After all, knowing that your students enjoy learning and willingly come to class, complete their work and achieve solid results is the gratification teachers generally enjoy and often come to take for granted. Ask a middle manager in the same school, the same question and chances are they will also envisage that they will remain at the school, for in addition to the great students, they have generally worked hard to establish a cohesive, collaborative and efficient department.
There are very few heads of department who willingly decide to leave their role and take on a role in a school that poses new challenges and different needs. Those who do, often seek out a similar or better performing schools, hoping to carve a niche for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it’s a rarity that someone will find fulfilment by leaving a high performing school to a school that holds great promise and potential, but is working hard on school improvement and changing the culture and expectation of students and their colleagues. In short, the idea of leaving a place that works like clockwork, to a place where you can draw on your philosophy of education to implement new and exciting ways of teaching and learning does not hold great appeal for the majority of educators in middle management. This is largely because it takes so much time and energy and because results are so public. The intense pressure is felt by subject coordinators, particularly English Coordinators because their results are public. The number of Band 6’s attained in English are published each year in the paper. The NAPLAN literacy results are often the domain of the English department and of course we know these results form a big part of the MySchools Website, which we also know, a lot of potential parents check out, well before they come to an Open Day or set foot in the school. The role of English Coordinator (and the same can be said for the Maths Coordinator) is so much more public.
The reason that I have outlined some of the challenges of the English Coordinator is to highlight something fantastic that one of my closest friends and mentors has decided to do. Early on when I started out as an English Coordinator, this woman was the first person at a Network Meeting for English Coordinators at our region, to introduce herself to me and immediately offer me her number and any assistance I may require. I remember feeling at ease after meeting her and at the same time, thinking I don’t even know what I don’t know, so what will I possibly ring and ask her! It didn’t take long to establish a great working relationship and friendship with her. We worked collaboratively, writing HSC programs and sharing them between our two schools. I learnt so much through her actions and her words. She treated everyone with dignity. She was so creative and dynamic, I remember thinking how much I wanted to be like that for my staff and I was so proud that I found my way and was able to be the creative, energetic leader of my department.

Today I have found out that this wonderful, creative, energetic and inspiring educational leader has decided to take on another role at another school. She is heading off to be English Coordinator at an all boys’ school, a school that has seen enormous changes in leadership over the past couple of years. It is a school that desperately needed change and is now well and truly on the way to achieving great things for their students. When I spoke to my friend, I initially thought she was going to tell me that she was going to be Head of Curriculum or Assistant Principal at another school (because I always imagined that would be her career path) but she told me that she was going to be English Coordinator at a school that was going through a lot of change. She spoke positively about the challenges she will face and the ideas she had for meeting the needs of her staff and students. The energy, enthusiasm and creativity she has is balanced by her keen intellect and common sense approach. I thought long and hard last night about how lucky her new staff will be to have her as a leader. When I think of her unwavering support, encouragement and generosity, I am confounded by how much energy she has for her work, but also her family. She has shown me that it is possible to balance your passion for work and your passion for your family. She has shown me that it augurs well to be generous and share your resources and ideas, because it serves to improve teaching practice and ultimately student outcomes (I think Hattie did some research that also showed effective teaching practice has a huge impact on student performance). She has shown me that the depths of a teacher’s heart run deep. To want to step into the same role in a different school, with all the expectations and anticipation for success must be both thrilling and a touch overwhelming. If anyone can find the best in her colleagues and her students it is Mosh Mavrakis. Mosh is a great mentor because she is someone who has seized the opportunity to transform the learning of students and staff in need. Reminded me of dear Robin Williams’ role as Mr John Keating when he says to his boys ‘Carpe. Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” No doubt your mantra to inspire your boys in 2015. All the best dear friend in your new venture in 2015. I cannot think of anyone else who could take on such a challenge with the love, passion and dedication that you have for teaching and learning. You are a human dynamite and your colleagues and students will know that soon enough! I can imagine that as the news filters through your school, there will be a real sense of sadness and loss, because you have done outstanding things at your current school. You’ve etched a path for success that has been well trodden. I wish you every success.
Thank you for being the mentor I needed in 2008 as a new coordinator and again in 2014 as a new mother. You’ve inspired me in so many ways and I know for a fact you’ve inspired many a Coordinator in the Inner West Region. I look forward to hearing about your experiences in 2015. Enjoy the last few weeks of term, allowing your colleagues and students to farewell you and thank you for all that you have done.

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In gratitude for friends who tell it like it is…

For those who know me well, know that I have agonised long and hard about returning to full time work in 2015. In fact, reading a number of blog posts by teachers also on maternity leave, contemplating how they are going to balance work and family life, resonated quite strongly with me. For starters, I resigned an executive position that I enjoyed, at a school that I loved, so that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice either work or home life. Following that decision, I was going to return to that school as a full time English teacher. I have held a leadership role in schools for the last 7 years, so returning to a full time teaching role was going to create some new challenges for me, but I felt that it would be better for creating a work/life balance, because ultimately, I could do a lot of prep and marking while my baby was sleeping.
No sooner had I made this decision that I had begun feeling rather anxious about leaving my baby. Would he cope being away from me, day after day? Would he thrive in a childcare environment? Would they attend to his needs? Would be be cuddled if he was sad? Such questions had never entered my thoughts prior to having a baby. In fact, prior to having a baby I was quite confidently telling everyone that I would be returning to my executive role and everything will be business as usual. I was affronted that a number of people were just as confidently telling me that I wouldn’t want to do the role once my baby was born. In fact, I never thought I would be one of those people, the person who would easily give up a great position, something I had worked so hard to achieve, so quickly.
It’s amazing how very quickly your priorities change once you have children. As cliched as it sounds, it is so very true. I had no idea. No idea. No. Idea.
I was contemplating just one more year of leave. Just one more year with my baby boy. I was determined that one more year would allow me more of an opportunity to prepare him for the world. It would allow me greater opportunities to share his milestones. I rationalised that he would be just that little less vulnerable. I then began to think that giving up a full time job and working casual until he was at school was probably a better decision. In the space of a night, I had all but said goodbye to a career that I loved and had worked so hard to develop.
It was then that I had a conversation with a friend that changed it all.
In her way, her honest and forthright manner, proceeded to tell me a number of home truths, not least of which, that not returning to work was not a good idea. Ultimately my baby will grow and have his own life and forge his own identity. Where will I be then? She reminded me that I had worked long and hard to get to where I was and that I could offer my baby a lot by being an example to him. I must admit I was a bit taken aback. After all, I loved being at home with my baby. I loved spending all this time with him. Nobody knew him better than me and therefore there was no way that anyone else could meet his needs. As I began to listen to my arguments I realised she was right. She was right. As much as I love staying at home with my baby, there will come a time when he will go to preschool and then school. How will I fill my days? More fundamental was my self efficacy and identity as a teacher. I love teaching and would miss it terribly. It was that conversation, back in about June that made me realise that I needed to return to work for my family. I have been successful in finding a middle management role closer to home. I am looking forward to being an English Coordinator again.
I share this post in the hope that other new mothers who are probably struggling with similar thoughts and emotions, realise they aren’t alone. I think my friend really helped me. In telling it like it is, she enabled me to see that if I had decided not to return to full time work, I probably wouldn’t return at all. It doesn’t make me selfish in any way. In fact I will be able to provide richer experiences for my baby. The opportunity for him to develop his interests and skills at day care will be exciting.
So, Mosh, thank you. As a working mother you are a source of strength and inspiration. You always have been to me, but this is a newfound respect and admiration for helping me to snap out of my bubble. You’re right and I thank you.

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First impressions…

Tomorrow I am going to meet my new department and the current Head of English. She is retiring at the end of the year and I will be replacing her. From all accounts, she is well-liked, highly respected and has forged a cohesive department. There will no doubt be a great deal of sadness to see her leave and no doubt a little apprehension on the part of the staff who remain, which is normal. Changing schools is not really a big deal for me. This will be my sixth school. I’m someone who likes a challenge and who likes change. I find that it keeps things interesting and keeps me on my toes.
I am sure they will be waiting in anticipation to meet the new person. No doubt they will want to know if the status quo will remain, etc. There will be time for all of that discussion next year.
I’m looking forward to putting faces to names, learning a bit about how the department has been run and most of all, getting an insight into the curriculum for 2015, so I can do some planning. I’ve never taught the same unit in the same way, twice. It will be good to think about the kind of impression I wish to leave on them, before I begin next year. I do know that first impressions are lasting. I am someone who is incredibly passionate about teaching and learning, particularly English, so hopefully that comes across in our first meeting.
Not having worked in schools all year (maternity leave) I am looking forward to tomorrow, albeit a little sad that this year is quickly coming to a close and time with my little boy, at home, having fun will take a different form next year.

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New Beginnings

It’s taken a lot of thinking and reflecting but I’ve made the decision to reduce my commitments from being a member of the College executive at my current school and I’ve accepted a position as English Coordinator (subject head) at another school for 2015.

I made this decision because I want to estabIlish a better work life balance, particularly now that I have a baby boy. I didn’t want to relinquish a leadership role because I love leading learning and if the truth be known, I really loved being an English Coordinator. I’m looking forward to leading a department again, in a new school in 2015.

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Long, long time between blog posts

Well it has indeed been a long, long time between blog posts. In fact, I hadn’t really thought much about this blog in the last few months. I’ve been busy learning all about what it means to be a parent. I have a gorgeous baby boy who is really a great teacher. I get a lot of things right, but when I don’t, he is generally patient in letting me know when I haven’t got it right, though when I miss those cues, he is rather vocal in letting me know when it’s all wrong. Thankfully, those times are less frequent. I was prompted to write this post after reading a rather eloquent blog post by Alice Leung http://aliceleung.net/2014/10/17/babies-and-school-how-to-find-balance/ and I encourage you to read it. She talks about the need to find a balance once she returns to work next year after having spent this year with her new baby. I found there were so many similarities in terms of how she defined herself as a teacher and the amount of time and energy she had invested in the role. She talks about how much she loves her new role and the need to find a balance between work and home life. I think that is something worthy of discussion and I certainly don’t hold the answers. For me, having a child has given my life so much meaning and a different sense of purpose. I love my son and want to spend so much time with him, but as a wise friend pointed out, he will be at school soon enough and forging his own identity. So returning to work is a good move for me. I will no doubt be hanging off the words of all of the mothers who balance work with family. I will also begin to blog a little more frequently, because even though I haven’t been blogging, I haven’t stopped thinking about teaching and learning. I’ve realised that as motherhood is a most important and inherent part of me, so too is teaching.

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… An Early Education

As I await the birth of my first born, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the kind of education I would like him to have. If I had my way, I’d create my own school and get all the wonderful teachers I’ve come to know and respect through my own teaching career and on twitter, to teach him. Given that his schooling us still some way off, I have been giving more thought to his early education. I’ve always believed that parents have a primary role to play in the education of their child. It’s a responsibility that my husband and I are really looking forward to fulfilling.

I’m in a great position where I don’t have to return to work this year, so I am going to enjoy the time with my son. I’ve been thinking about all of the experiences I’d love to share with him, as well as my hopes for him. Something that we both sincerely hope he enjoys is a love of reading. My husband and I both love to read, so if there is some predisposed gene attributed to reading, then he will have a great chance at developing it! In any case, I have just recently discovered the local libraries in my area. I’m really lucky that we live near so many libraries. I’ve generally kept going to the library that I lived near, a couple of years ago as it’s only a ten minute drive from home, but there are at least four libraries closer to my house and I’m beginning to branch out and discover what they have to offer. I was really pleased to learn that there are story time and rhyme sessions for babies and separate activities for toddlers. I’m so impressed that these are offered at the local libraries and can’t wait to take my son along to these events! I’ve already started buying picture books for his book collection and can’t wait for my husband and I to begin reading to him.

I’ve had some time to think about reading, literature and children and was really pleased to read a post on that wonderful site,
Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings
Essentially, the post is a series of letters, written by some of the most esteemed cultural icons of the past, to the children of Troy, Michigan, regarding the opening of their public library. Here is a link to the post: Letters To The Children Of Troy

Each writer details the wonderful, imaginative and transformative experience that reading literature entails! It left me feeling energised and feeling so lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful public libraries!

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