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!