Falling before the finish line


Teaching is a lot like a marathon. It takes training, planning and preparation. I have been pretty good at this over the years. I have developed some excellent strategies. I have tried to train my mind (meditation) and my body (diet and exercise). I have been meticulous in my planning to avoid leaving everything until the last minute. I have prepared units of work well in advance to lessen the load. I have put in place restrictions so that my work life did not take too much of a toll on my personal life and I have found myself some excellent coaches to help me along the way. Even with all this in place, I was always completely spent at the end of the year having given the marathon my all but I always finished the race and made it with a good time.

This year I returned to school after 2 years in an admin position. I started my marathon without too much thought. I just fell into the groove of previous years. I did not recognise that I had forgotten the micro-skills I had developed from running consecutive marathons. I had forgotten my routines, processes and practices. The syllabus had changed while I was away so my programs didn’t quite fit. I was teaching a senior subject I hadn’t taught for a very long time. This put my planning and preparation off. I had forgotten the importance of my exercise, diet and meditation training and these were the first things to go when the time pressures hit.

I then took on a relieving role and said yes to whole lot of extra things. The stuff that I really enjoy, the stuff that feeds my inner edunerd  and I continued to teach. In essence, I added a another half marathon to my marathon and agreed to wear a weight belt and army pack. So I worked harder for longer and let all the important training, planning and preparation stuff fall away.

I was struggling, but I was up and I was running and I looked like I had it all under control. I could see the finish line and although tiring I thought I could still make it. But while race security’s back was turned some unstable members of the crowd jumped the fence and blindsided me on the track.


Injured just short of the end of term, I did not make the finish line.\

Why do teachers do this? I know it’s not just me. I have seen others take on more and more. I have seen our systems place more and more on us. I have seen society create more and more work for us. We keep making our marathon longer and adding to the load we must carry as we run it.

If I can’t shorten my race, this is how I will be lessening my load:

  • My number 1 priority will be family and friends.
  • I have written a list of goals I wish to achieve. I will refer to these often to remind myself of what I have chosen to focus on.
  • When asked to do extra stuff I will refer to my list and make a decision about whether it fits into my goals.
  • When taking on something extra, I will ask what I should stop doing or negotiate time to do the extra stuff in.
  • I will set reasonable limits on my time for doing school work at home. If it doesn’t get done, it is not because I can’t, it is because it is not humanly possible.
  • I have designated time in the holidays that will be for school preparation and I will only work during this time and relax and not think about it when it is not.
  • In my holiday work time I will prepare for as much of term 1 as I can.
  • I will meditate, exercise and eat well as a priority.
  • I will have fun teaching to remind myself why I love my job.

I hope your marathon year was not as turbulent as mine. Please take time to rest and recuperate these holidays. I plan on it being a PB race in 2017 and if you stumble, I hope there is someone there to help you over the finish line.



I’ve had a crap week

This week has been a hard slog at work. The type of week that makes you question your career choices and your ability to do or cope with the job. 

There are a number of professions that get to see people at their best and worse – police, nurses, teachers – to name a few. Those who work in the triage areas of these fields often cop the brunt of the bad & not so much of the good. We see people pushed to their limits physically and mentally who are so overwhelmed by their situation that they have little regard for those trying to help them.

When constantly faced with this it is very easy to become focused on the bad and allow it to overwhelm you. So I want to say a huge thank you to the people at work (students & colleagues) and at marking who reminded me of the good – in me, in what I do and in others.

#OzEduBookChat: Making Every Lesson Count

Before we start our first #OzEduBookChat, I wanted to give a little background.  This idea had been swirling around in my brain for some time.  I like to read an education based book each school holidays.  I have the time and greater brain space to devote to it.  If anything piques my interest I have time to plan how I might implement it in my classroom. I also think by talking. I’m not good at letting ideas float around in my brain – there’s not much room up there. I need to write or speak about them to fully integrate ideas or form articulate higher order concepts.

I put it out there on Twitter and Karen Graham (@CSPS) Alice Leung (@aliceleung) and Rebecca Hepworth (@bechep2) encouraged my delusion idea and #OzEduBookChat. So our first holiday book chat is Making Every Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Teaching and Learning by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby.

Disclosure: none of us have any association with the authors or the publishers and chose and paid for our copy of the book because we want to read it.

The questions are as follows:

Here is the Storify link for the chat.


Does reporting to parents really have to be so onerous?

For the past month I have been posting pictures on my social media accounts of myself doing work on the weekends. I have been calling it mark-report-check-repeat and using the #TeacherLife hashtag. 

This week, a non-teacher follower asked me me why I was doing this and if I liked my job. The answer is, I love my job. I didn’t think I was being negative in my posts. I was just trying to be factual. I was trying to make the non-teachers in my life aware of the work load.

I was trying to allow others to appreciate the efforts we go to. In term 2, I can work 60 to 70 hours per week. I consider the mid-semester break to be time in lieu rather than a holiday.

But her comment got me thinking. For some time, I have been asking myself if this level of work is necessary? The workload around reporting has definitely increased. My school reports from the 70’s and 80’s have nowhere near the level of detail that current school reports do.

My kindergarten report had 2 semesters on 1 page, A5 size.

My Year 11 Semester 2 report was a 1 page A4 document.  My maths teacher didn’t even write a comment.

The reports I am currently proof reading for Year 11 have an A4 page for each subject but are they any more meaningful than the reports from the past? Has anyone measured the impact of this increased work load and detail in reports on student outcomes?

My hypothesis is that teaching and learning suffers during reporting times. Teacher stress levels increase and student anxiety increases as everyone tries to fit in some summative assessment during this period.

Don’t get me wrong, communicating with parents and carers is a vital part of being a teacher, but does it have to be this onerous?

Trying to embed some simple formative assessment into my practice

I have been employing some formative assessment strategies this year after reading Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan William and watching The School Experiment. More specifically, the no hands-up classroom and individual whiteboards. I chose these because they were simple, practical ideas that I could trial then suggest to the faculty as an introduction to formative assessment.

The no hands-up has been an overwhelming success. I have written names on paddle-pop sticks (I’m Australian, we don’t call them ice lolly or craft sticks) and have a cup for each class. Questions are asked of students as their names are randomly drawn from the cup. If students don’t know the answer they are given thinking time and asked to give their best guess, even if they don’t know the answer. I then circle back to them after we have heard a few answers to check what their answer would be after listening to others.  I am using them with a Year 8, 9, 10 and 11 class and it works equally as well with all of these age ranges.

This has had a moderate impact on the engagement of my students. Most (still working on the 1%) are now actively listening so they can at least give some part of an answer and all are now comfortable with the idea of being not quite correct (there is no wrong answer) and resigned to the fact that they will be called on and may as well stop, pause and think.  This is still accompanied by the occasional mumbled answers and reddened faces but I now do not hear, “I don’t know.” If I forget the sticks, they remind me. Those students who always put their hands up, didn’t like it at first. They like answering questions and being correct.  I now say things like, “I acknowledge you know the answer but its someone else’s turn.”  This has satisfied them somewhat.

I had also bought some small individual whiteboards. I used them early in Term 1 with some success but at the time, they weren’t as useful as the sticks. I don’t have my own classroom and so carrying them from room to room was problematic. My osteopath suggested that unless I wanted to fund her next overseas holiday, I should stop.  So they have not been as extensively used as the sticks.  Until this week. Its reporting time, and time for some summative assessment. The whiteboards came out in an attempt to mix things up and make revision a little bit more interesting.  And it worked like a dream.

The first class I used them with were my Year 10’s, a mixed ability group of students with varying degrees of classroom engagement.  Due to time constraints I was just going to give them a past paper to complete. Boring. But then I remembered the whiteboards. I asked students to write their answer to the exam questions on the whiteboards and then hold up their answer.  This allowed me to give instant feedback and allowed students to adjust their answer immediately.  I then used the sticks to ask students how they derived their answers. To my delight, the whole class engaged in this activity. I think because it was a bit of fun and non-threatening. I corrected some misconceptions, did a little bit of whole class redirection and reminders and saw my students have a few light bulb moments along the way. I had a pre-service teacher observing my lesson and he was so impressed by its success that by the time the lesson had finished, he’d sourced his own set of whiteboards on Ebay and was ready to order a set.

Today, I used the same principle with my Year 8’s with a greater degree of success. While I won’t be using the whiteboards every lesson, I will be using them more.  The opportunity for instant feedback in a non-threatening way over-rides the pain of schlepping them around the school.  I now need to work on being better organised so that my questions allow me to monitor misconceptions and misunderstandings so I can adjust or revisit during my teaching.  Maybe I do need to finish that Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching online course from Future Learn.

My most memorable learning experience and the questions that has raised.

I am currently part of a Leadership Development Initiative in which I need to lead a project or process in my school plan.  The leadership process needs to be linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.  My project is about leading the implementation of project based learning in my school and Community of Schools. There are 5 references to research-based learning at Lead level of the Standards so I have bee doing some research on Project Based Learning and let’s just say, they educational research jury is still out. But the contradictions got me thinking, particularly after I watched a video shared by Bianca Hewes who introduced me to Project Based Learning several years ago through the generous sharing of her work and expertise through her blog and social media.

Bianca shared Innovative Teaching and Learning:  Lessons from High Tech High’s Founding Principal.

At 6:47 Larry Rosenstock  discusses How We Learn. He talks about an exercise he has done called with large groups of people called, The Most Memorable Learning Experience Exercise.

In these exercises Rosenstock asks participants to write down the 2 most memorable learning experiences from their high school years. They are then asked to discuss their answers in a group and come up with the the key characteristics that defined these learning experiences to be shared with everyone.

From his experiences, he is certain that the group will come up with the following characteristics: It was a project, it involved community, it included a fear of failure and recognition of success, it had a mentor and a public display of work.

Rosenstock then respectfully asks if these are the components of our most memorable learning experiences, are we providing these to our students?

So this made me think of my most memorable learning experiences and to be honest, the learning experience that defined my future career choices had nothing to do with anything I did at school.

Yes, it was the Curiosity Show. My experience in Science at a Queensland  High School, in Years 7 to 10, was not great. We were only allowed in a laboratory once a fortnight. The Curiosity Show was my link to practical science. This was in spite of my high school experience. These learning experiences were purely project based, inquiry-based and self-directed. I did the experiments at home because my interest was piqued.

As teachers, we can not under-estimate the value of personal interest projects to stimulate curiosity and build a love of learning in our students. It is what inspired me to pursue a career in science education.

My reading about project based learning, educational research, effect sizes and what this suggests about what works and what doesn’t has just begun but has created some big questions for me. Hattie suggest that this type of learning has little or no effect size. The linking of educational activities to short-term outcomes does not sit comfortably with me and I think it is because of the Curiosity Show. My learning was problem-based, inquiry based and 100% student centred but according to articles like this, those things have no impact. I understand that I am 1 person and Hattie’s work is a meta-analysis but my engagement in this TV show and trying to replicate the puzzles and projects created a life long learner and an enthusiastic Science Teacher but it made no difference to anything that was measured at school because it was not measured and I don’t think it could have been in the short term.

As a teacher and school leader, how do I balance my need to encourage those things that I see as important but cannot be or are difficult to measure in the short term with the need to justify what I do in a classroom with the widely accepted research? How do innovative teachers develop new ideas if they have to justify what they do in terms of what has already been done? My research and reading continues.


There is no going back, there is only now and forward from here

This week has been a difficult one. I am back at the school I have been at since 2008 but I have been relieving for 2 years in a non-school based position. Everyone warned me that going back would be hard. I was prepared but this week things caught up with me.

Everything is so familiar but nothing is the same. The familiar lulled me into a false sense of security. A small, burning ember of impotency has been glowing, hidden below the surface since I returned to school. A small gust of inefficacy and the embers were well alight.

I am a head teacher and have a wonderful faculty to lead they are the familiar and they are family. Accepting and supportive of each other in that dysfunctional camaraderie borne from shared battles, extreme stress and human suffering (teaching). However, the school has changed and I have come to the realisation that I do not know where I fit in it anymore. I know the fine detail of my classroom and faculty but I no longer understand the big picture of the school.

I had prepared myself to feel this way. I had been warned. I believed I would not let it phase me. But this week has been hard work personally. There was a funeral for a woman my age whose anxieties and demons were so overwhelming that she could see no way out other than ending her own life. There is the worsening of my husband’s degenerative illness. Add a bit of insomnia and a lot of pain from a twisted shoulder and sore neck with one or two setbacks at work and in my classroom and I was questioning my decision to not take the non-school based position for three more years.

Then it was time for Friday last period. The last opportunity for learning in the week and my year 8 science class seeing it as anything else. A sense of dread had descended over me.

I have introduced mindfulness meditation with all my classes to begin and end the week. Year 8 came in after lunch.  It was hot, they were bothered and I was sad and deflated.

“It’s Friday, time for a meditation.”

They cheered and I could have cried.

In that moment I knew that I have to let go of the past, stop worrying about the future and just be in the present. I acknowledged my thoughts and fears and watched them float by like clouds in the sky.  Thank you Smiling Minds. Thank you Year 8.

There is no going back, there is only now and forward from here.