Friday, September 11, 2015

Shuffle Time

Netball has always been my game. As a kid I played tennis and hockey and basketball (very badly) but netball was the sport that I loved and have continued to be involved with throughout my life. I love the camaraderie of netball and the strategy of moving the ball from one corridor and one third to another. I love that the boundaries of each position mean no one individual can dominate (although I’ve seen a few centres try). Because of the designated playing areas, there’s no room for ball hogs and clever team work out plays individual brilliance, almost every time.
I love the aerodynamic fitness required and the way the momentum, and therefore the score of the game can change in a heartbeat.

We were a step ahead of the pleated skirts at Caramut
I love netball because it’s a thinker’s game. As the great Joyce Brown often said, 80% of what goes on in netball happens above the shoulders and that suits me just fine because my brain has always worked better than my legs!

When I was a kid we used to play here in town in an ad hoc sort of competition, run, I suppose, by our mothers, on Saturday mornings. We designed and made our own team outfits that we then teamed with our gym boots or Dunlop volleys. Nobody strapped their ankles or their knees and surprisingly I don’t remember any serious injuries. Mind you, looking back at the photos I think glamour may have been more important to us than speed, so maybe we just ran slowly!  

Guess what this team was called - The Zippers! Ha ha ha

As a teacher you always get dobbed in to be the coach of things and so apart from my many years on court, I’ve also spent a lot of time on the sidelines trying to get the best out of other players, usually kids. To be honest I think I’m too dithery to be a great coach. I get way too caught up in the game and my desire to be kind always overwhelms my ability to make tough decisions but I love it and I really enjoy the chance to work with kids outside the classroom environment.

I started coaching kids when Woorndoo entered the Mininera League nearly 30 years ago. Having had no netball competition in our previous league, we started from scratch and I coached all 5 teams, from U/14 Reserves through to A Grade. They were long days and we didn’t win many games in any grade for the first few years. Gradually though, thanks to the netballing dynasties of Mahnckes, Leskes, Milwards, Muirs, Bourchiers and Barrs we built to be a pretty powerful netball force and even though I’m not out at Woorndoo anymore I love following their continued success.
2004 13/U Premiers
My own daughters were born playing netball.  From the time she could walk, Jaime refused to leave home on Saturdays without her netball bib on. Sophie, quite literally, was almost born on the court given that I was at netball training 12 hours before she was born and back on the court 3 weeks afterwards. I think they’ve both been at netball training every Thursday night of every winter of their lives. And, thanks to their skill at the game I’ve been fortunate enough to watch them play netball right up to national level. I still get a thrill every time I watch my girls play.
That's Jaime in the C
Soph's first game

I stopped playing netball at 47 when the length of time taken to get over a game started to overlap with the time needed to prepare for one and apart from a couple of coaching stints with Nth Warrnambool teams I thought I was ready to be a netball spectator rather than a participant. Then I had a delegation from the Mortlake Junior Sharks with a request that I take on some junior development work with them. Taine was ready to start playing junior footy and the request came accompanied with  wine by some lovely people, so I thought, why not?
When the Sharks win, we shuffle!
Getting a successful junior program running is never easy. The first few years are always hard and it takes a special sort of resilience to front up every week knowing that you’re going to get thrashed. When I had my first season with the Junior Sharks I jokingly referred to it as my netball penance; having had so many successful years at Woorndoo, it seemed only fair that I see the other side of the coaching coin again.  However, it has been no hardship to work with this club or these girls. The club is run brilliantly, by people who really care about providing sporting opportunities for kids in our town. The girls are good listeners. They work hard and (mostly) they, and their parents, are really nice to each other and to me. When I started coaching this group 3 years ago, they were tiny little 10 and 11 yr olds, much too small for the 13/U competition but full of eagerness to learn and the grit to manage being walloped every Saturday. We set short term goals in the first season – let’s get beaten by less in the 2nd round than we did in the first; longer term in the 2nd year – let’s win more games than we lose and then this year – let’s make the finals.

Remarkably, that’s just what they did. Now they’re the big girls of the comp, finishing 2nd on the ladder with just 2 losses for the season.
And tomorrow, the Mortlake Junior Sharks 13/U team will play in the Warrnambool and District Grand Final. This is a BIG deal because it’s the first time the Mortlake Junior Sharks have had a netball team in the finals.  
Saahhh exciting!!

I’m writing this blog piece to fill in the time before bed because I’m nearly as excited as the kids. I couldn’t care what the result is tomorrow (although OF COURSE I hope we win). The important thing is we made it to the very last game of the year. We set goals and ticked them all off.  Everyone is better at the game than they were at the start of the year. I've been overwhelmed by the number of well wishes we've received and the number of supporters willing to turn up so early to watch and cheer. Our club and our town has a team to be proud of and everyone is enjoying being part of it. 

And next Saturday I don’t have to get up at 7am to get to the netball!!!

Shuffle on Sharkies.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Goodbye my friend

My Dear Friend,

Today we stood rocking your great grandsons under the peppercorn tree outside the Woorndoo church while I listened to my girls deliver the eulogy at your funeral. I have never felt more connected to you than at that moment. In their words, your grand daughters captured beautifully the essence that was you and I felt comforted by the warmth of our shared pride in them.

The minister made a remark about a door being opened and remarkably the door of the church suddenly did just that. Some may have found that eerie but I wasn't surprised. I felt your presence keenly. You were just letting everyone know you're still in charge!

You were my oldest friend, a stable influence in my life since I was a little girl. Our relationship existed on many levels at different times. You were my mother's friend, my friend's mother, my mother in law, my ex mother in law, my children's grandmother but always, my friend.

I was a little bit scared of you as a child. It took me awhile to realise that your bark was worse than your bite. From my cosseted, only-child perspective, your rules were tough but I learnt to live with them because I loved being part of your big, rambunctious family. I loved the bickering and horse play and shared chores. I loved the routine of it; poached eggs for breakfast and a teaspoon of tea for each person and one for the pot.

When I married your son I became a bona fide member of the family and our relationship took a new turn. As a young farmer's wife I was in awe of your ability to manage a household, cook 3 meals a day and smoko for 6 or 8 or 10 or more without raising a sweat, all the while keeping the bench tops sparkling and the floors clean enough to eat off. In hindsight I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to put up with my messiness when I moved into your pristine former home.

We shared many cups of tea and the occasional glass of sherry during the long, lonely Summer harvests. I learnt how to keep the house cool in the heat, to be thrifty with water, how to cook mutton in 57 different ways and to never leave the fly wire open. I learned that the key to cleanliness is that shoes MUST ALWAYS be removed at the door and I discovered that if you really want something done, you should do it yourself. I watched you chop the heads off chickens, kill snakes and knock holes in the wall. We learnt to respect each other's strengths. We shared secrets and played cards and laughed a lot.

And then I became a mother myself and you, a doting but no nonsense grandmother. You never once tried to interfere with my bumbling parenting (though I'm sure you felt like it!) Instead you praised me and gave me the confidence I needed to do a good job. When my own mum died, you cleaned my house, cooked all the food for the wake, looked after Jaime and cradled me like a baby until I had the strength to look after myself again.

As your brother said to me today, "With Leila, you were either in, or out." I was lucky enough to be 'in' and stayed that way even when I broke your heart. Divorce may have seen me 'unfriended' by lots of people, but not by you. While you hated my decision, you understood it. Our family ties wavered but our friendship stood firm. Your decision to keep me 'in' allowed my new family and my old family to blend together. You gave my girls the gift of unity, never forcing them to choose between their parents. You were happy to 'rouse' my new husband and son just the way you roused your own. Today your new daughter in law took my hand at the cemetery and we said goodbye to you together. If that's not testament to your ability to bring people together, nothing is.

We disagreed about politics, religion, technology and feminism and whether or not lipstick was mandatory when leaving the house! You were black and white while I always live in the grey but we agreed on the things that count most; love and loyalty. I'm sad that we won't be able to share any more conversations, but I'm happy for you that you're no longer stuck in that little room waiting to move on. I know your energy still exists; I saw it today in the faces of all your gorgeous grown up grandchildren and your ever increasing brood of great grand children.

Thank you for being my friend.

Love, Ann(e) xxx

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

28 Days of Writing 3 - My ideal school

I'm cheating a bit today because it's been a very long day and I'm totally devoid of creativity so I'm basing this post on some multi media I already have saved.

Last year a couple of my colleagues and I participated in the Bastow course, Leading Schools in the Digital Age. I really enjoyed the course because, unlike a lot of the PD available these days, it concentrated on the pedagogy of 21st C teaching rather than the hardware.

We spent 13 weeks developing a school ICT change plan and spreading our own, individual digital wings to explore the possibilities of teaching and leading in this 'new' age. The program was run by a very slick team from @dk2_econfidence who provided us with mentoring and exposed us to the ideas of some amazing world experts, including a keynote from one of my 'internet heroes' +Alec Couros .

Anyway, one of the activities we had to complete was a 60 sec movie about our ideal school. There were several criteria that I won't bore you with but the concept really got me thinking about what is important in schools these days and when we were finished we were pretty confident that our school is well on the way to the 'ideals' we strive for.

Opportunities : Despite being out the back of beyond our kids have lots of opportunities that contribute to their success later on and probably the greatest opportunity we provide is the ability to be successful while remaining in our own, wonderful country community.

United: Our small size means we have to get along. Team work is imperative for staff and students.

Resourceful: By necessity! Our teachers, parents and students are incredibly resourceful in solving the tyrannies of distance and funding.

Interesting: Curiosity is a keystone of our curriculum. We want to grow thinkers, not followers.

Dramatic: Our Performing Arts program is second to none.

Exciting: There's certainly never a dull moment.

Adventurous: School trips to Japan and New Zealand, surf camps, cycling camps, historical re enactment camps, personal development programs, we have an adventure to suit everyone.

Leadership: At our school, it's an action, not just a badge.

Successful: The success of our students after school, in all walks of life, is testament to the success of our ideals.

Connected: We've been at the forefront of tech integration since the turn of the century. A BYOD program allows 1:1 access and connectedness for all. If we can't provide it in person we can source it online. Our school community is connected in person and via any number of social media and online programs.

Helpful: I hope so. Knowing our community so closely allows help to happen when and where it's needed.

Organised: Well, mostly!

Open Doors: Come, in, look around, join in.

Life long learners: We expect our staff to continue the learning journey with our students and we hope that our kids will leave school with a thirst for learning that will nourish them throughout their lives.

And so, that's OUR IDEAL SCHOOL - and yes, the old acrostic is still the primary teacher's best stand by activity ;-)

Monday, February 2, 2015

#28 Days of Writing 2 - The Magic Triangle

Day2 of my 28 day, 28 minute writing challenge.

Much is made of the importance of the relationship between a teacher and their students. John Hattie rates it right near the top of his 138 factors that influence student improvement. All good teachers understand that knowing your students and having a positive working relationship with them is vital if learning is going to take place.

But the relationship between student and teacher is not a linear one, it's triangular and at the apex is the child's parents. It's very difficult ( although not impossible) to foster a positive relationship with the child unless the parent is part of the team.

As a young teacher I would never have survived without the support of the parents in the small rural schools I taught in. Many times I was saved by mums or dads coming in to fix equipment (sometimes my car), to listen to reading or accompany excursions or share their expertise with the kids. At Woorndoo I even had a couple of mums who made me lunch! They embraced me in their communities and afforded me a respect that their children noticed and emulated. In these tight triangles everyone thrived.

These days we still have great parent support and I really value the great relationships I've built with parents, particularly through the Performing Arts and camps. Generally, parents are extremely supportive of our teachers and grateful for extra effort we put in. When kids see their teachers and parents working together they know that everyone is on the same team.

I feel I have been pretty lucky in having a generally positive relationship with the parents of my students but there have been exceptions. I've been sworn at often and spat upon rarely and twice I've had chairs thrown at me. I've taken abusive phone calls during dinner on Sunday nights and on a couple of occasions angry parents have turned up on my front door. On one occasion I was so terrified by a threat that I wet my pants in fear.

These irrational behaviours are thankfully very rare and as I've grown older I've become better at dealing with them and with recognizing the sort of situations that might escalate them. I understand that many of these reactions are triggered by uncertainty or anger or disappointment or the frustration of listening to a one sided perception from an upset child. I've always felt very sad for the children of these parents. Inevitably the kids are left confused, worried and embarrassed, long after the parents' angst has gone.

Even more insidious though are the 'devaluing' conversations about teachers that sometimes take place at home or in public or on social media, in front of the children. It's pretty hard for kids to respect their teachers if they think that mum and dad do not. If students are going to perform at their peak, they need to believe that their teachers are skilled at what they do. Little ears are quick to pick up on critical comments and disenchantment is contagious. I get that sometimes parents don't agree with our decisions but I wish that they would have those conversations in private, child free zones. Most issues can be clarified through honest discussion and even when they can't, we can agree to disagree.

Take the time to know your child's teachers; they are people, just like you. Attend parent teacher interviews, read the notes that are sent home, communicate often, by whatever medium suits you. If something about school bothers you, ask questions. Don't take everything your child says verbatim ( I promise we don't believe EVERYTHING they say about you). Offer assistance for extra curricula activities or at the very least, show support for the teachers who provide them. Be a presence in your child's education, all the way through school, even when they say they don't want you to. They will reap the benefit later.

The optimal space for learning is where school, student and family are all on the same page. At the end of the day we are all working toward exactly the same goal - happy, healthy, well educated children.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

#28 Days of Writing - Day 1

I love a new challenge and given that I've broken my elbow and had to give up on some of the more physical challenges I'd planned for the start of the year, and because I feel bad for not taking on a Feb Fast (I'm great at taking on new things, not so good at giving up established habits), the idea of establishing a writing routine by writing for 28 minutes, every day for 28 days, is an appealing one.

I'm hoping that this challenge will embed a reflective writing routine that will help me to overcome the procrastination and fear of mediocrity that usually sabotages my blog posts. I'm also hoping I can use this as a modeling exercise for my students, showing them that it is possible in everyone's busy day to find time for reflection and writing.

What will I write about? Like the rest of my blog, these pieces will be about my experience, as a person and a teacher. Growing older is a privilege and I welcome the opportunity to share the triumphs and tragedies that have shaped my life. Through sharing we connect with others and our own learning can be passed on and become part of the fabric of someone else's life story. It's the closest to immortality we can get.

Teaching consumes most of my life and so it is the basis for most of my experiences. I've been teaching all my working life and - with time out for child rearing- this will be my 30 somethingth year at the chalkface.

Contrary to romantic fiction, as a kid I had no burning desire to be a teacher, no yearning to mould young lives or become the font of all wisdom. I wanted to leave school in year 11 and become a dental nurse but (thankfully), the teacher I asked for a reference told the dental hospital that I would make a crap dental nurse; that I should finish yr 12 and go to university. Back in the 70's, country girls who wanted to go to university and then come home and marry their boyfriends only had two choices, nursing or teaching. University was free in those days (thanks Gough Whitlam), and better still there was a shortage of teachers so the government offered studentships to high achieving HSC students who were willing to sign up to the Department and teach anywhere in Victoria for 3 years after their training. The studentship paid enough to house and feed me in the city and that was a good enough reason- along with the fact that in those days nurses had to wear very dowdy uniforms and silly hats- for me to pack my bags and head off to Melbourne Teacher's College.

Luckily for me, I fell in love with teaching on my first placement, a Prep class in Nth Melbourne and I never looked back. I love schools. They have their own aura, their own smell, their own energy.

These days I share my time between teaching, curriculum development and student welfare but it's the classroom time that I really love. Being able to influence the development of young people is an amazing opportunity and watching learning happen is an astounding experience, one that I never get tired of.

Of course, its not all beer and skittles but my timer is on 22 minutes and there's no way I'm hitting the publish button without some basic proof reading, so that's a post for another day!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Happy Straya Day

We went to an Australia Day ceremony this morning. It was the real deal; flags, face tattoos and Mike Brady, ( in person), singing 'Up there Cazaly'! There was a Lion's Club BBQ and an older citizen playing the piano accordion.

But best of all there were the Moyne Shire Australia Day awards and we were there to see one of our students receive the 2015 Young Citizen award.

Charmie is one of those kids who makes a teacher's life worthwhile. At the end of the day what every teacher wants to do is make a difference to the world and while we may not be able to do that ourselves, we can have an influence on young people who might.

We first met Charmarelle McCarroll when she was 10 and a student in our year 5 class. Geoff declared her name to have too many double letters, so we called her Bruce! In an early sign of tenacity and resilience, she embraced the nickname and answered to it throughout the three years she spent in our teaching unit. Even then you could tell Charm was destined for success. Bright and inquisitive, she was a 'hands up' kid, quick to challenge her own and others' thinking, brave enough to make the odd mistake if it meant learning something new.

In year 8 we lost sight of Bruce for awhile. As is often the case with teenagers, she tried out her alter ego, the less successful version. She rebelled against her own intelligence and tried lots of strategies to 'fit in'. One of those included not speaking to us (I believe for fear she might have to acknowledge she was running just a wee bit off the rails). However, one of the great aspects of P-12 schooling is knowing your students before they turn into terrible teens, so we knew not to give up on her. We knew the real Charmarelle was hiding behind the mask so we enticed her out with the offer of a place in Geoff's VCE Drama class, even though she was only in year 9. It was an inspired move because she embraced the subject and never looked back.

In year 10, Charm completed unit 3/4 Drama, a subject usually undertaken in year 12 and one that includes one of the most difficult VCE assessment tasks, the 7 minute solo. For her solo, Charm researched the genocide in Rwanda and constructed a performance that reflected the desperation and terror of that regime and compared it to the similarly violent crimes of Joseph Kony. The performance earned her an A+ and an elite invitation to audition for Top Acts. I think it was during the solo research period that Charmarelle's humanitarian future was confirmed.

She joined the Moyne Shire My PlaYce project and began working on projects to assist the youth in our area. These included plans for the skatepark, the Battle of the Bands and Freeza. She also became part of the school leadership team, taking on the role of Communications Captain before assuming the School Captain's role in Year 12. At the end of year 11 she paid her way to the Philippines as part of the Alternative to Schoolies Program and helped to build a school in a remote village.

By the time she started Yr 12, Charm had already racked up an impressive start to her ATAR by completing 3 subjects early. With room to spare in her timetable she agreed to become my 'guinea pig' by taking on a brand new subject called the Extended Investigation. Mostly the domain of the high end independent and select entry schools who had previously had a chance to trial the subject, this presented a new and terrifying but exciting challenge for both of us. The subject requires students to complete a research thesis, similar to those undertaken in under grad uni subjects, including an ethics submission and an oral defence. At an info day in Melbourne we heard of a student who had investigated the notion of peace on the Gaza Strip by flying to Israel to interview the Defence Minister and another who had investigated immigration patterns by interviewing the past 7 Australia Immigration Ministers. We were encouraged to enrol at the State Library and to subscribe to costly research publications. With international airfares, political connections and long day trips to Melbourne out of the question it seemed like a fairly uneven playing field but Charmarelle was undaunted by this inequity. She wanted her study to make a difference and chose the local aged care facility for her field research and Google Scholar for the literature search. Applying for shire funding, she sourced a set of iPads and with the Yr 8-10 Advance class in tow, set out to teach the residents how to use social media to stay connected to their lives beyond the walls of the facility. The score for her thesis became insignificant compared to her desire to improve the lives of the local senior citizens.

With the written thesis due in early September, tragedy struck. Charmarelle's father went missing. A couple of weeks later, just before the Swot Vac period, sadly he was found dead. While the world as she knew it dissolved around her, this kid stood strong. She delivered the eulogy at her dad's funeral, kept serving coffee to keep herself financially viable, came to terms with the demons that threatened to knock her over and refused to give in. She handed in her thesis, (you can read it here if you want), sat all her exams and continued to work toward a brighter future. That she achieved an outstanding ATAR of 93.05 and became dux of her class was almost unbelievable for most people but not for me.

Charmarelle embodies everything that Australia Day should be about. She is living proof that hard work pays and that country kids can achieve great things. In a school that values persistence and 'all roundedness', she has thrived. Naturally athletic she's shone at swimming, athletics and netball. Unable to hold a singing note, she's nevertheless commanded the stage and played every important character role in every year's school musical. She has become an accomplished public speaker through debating and leadership opportunities. She has been bullied by people who couldn't cope with her tall poppiness and her lack of tolerance for fools, but with the knowledge that she will soon leave them in her wake, their words have been water off a duck's back. She has allowed her desire to succeed overcome the desire to conform.

Not everyone likes the 'DeManser' style of teaching - the immediate feedback, tell it like it is, refuse to accept mediocracy method- but Charmarelle has embraced it. Outside of school I believe she has sought out and accepted the same approach from her netball coaches, her employers, her family and her mentors at leadership camps. Today when she accepted her award and acknowledged the part Mortlake College had played in her success, my heart swelled with pride. When she thanked me by name, I cried.

Congratulations again Charmie-Macharelle-Charmarelle-Bruce. I can't wait to hear where the next episode leads you.