Education Nation | The Great Debate

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

In the build up to Education Nation (#EduNationAu), The Great Debate, a showdown about public versus private education, was billed as one of the headline acts for the event, featuring two speakers who typically take opposing views. Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) was arguing for the side of public education against Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia) who was, of course, arguing for the side of private education.

As promised on Twitter, I have recorded and included here the full audio of the debate. The only editing done to it was to bring the audio levels roughly into alignment as some sections, particularly during the questions from the floor, were rather quiet in the recording.

The Great Debate was structured as follows:

  • Opening remarks from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Five minutes of rebuttal from Dr. Zyngier followed by Dr. Donnelly.
  • Question and Answer which were asked in a turn-about fashion to Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly:
    • Two questions submitted prior to the event
    • Questions from the floor.


Dr. Zyngier opened by talking about the negativity towards public schooling being a product which began with the Fraser Government in the 1960s, who introduced public funding for private schools, creating a sense of entitlement and privilege for the few and is an anti-democratic notion. Public funding of private education has continued since then and has resulted in a constant expansion of the private education sector.

Dr. Zyngier then invoked Joe Hockey, currently the Australian Ambassador the United States, who, as Treasurer in 2014, was quoted in the media as saying…everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun…” but, in fact, the public funding private education is about to outstrip public funding of public education vis-a-vis the funding per student amount.

david-zyngier_education-nation-2016-sydney-400hThis constant growth in public funding of private education has, Dr. Zyngier argued, resulted in a growing perception of private schools as being better and played a role in the residualisation of public schools. There is now a growing disparity between funding and this should be seen and felt as a national shame as there are significant consequences for our children. There is a widening disparity in resourcing for students at different ends of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale.

The priority for the Government should be full public funding for public education to help ameliorate the lottery of birth which resulted in parents having a choice, however, the choice was only available if parents could afford the choice. Stephen Dinham (OAM) was then quoted as having said that “It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons.” Rresidualisation feeds further residualisation, was the message I was hearing at this point.

Dr. Zyngier at this point changed tack, asking the audience who had flown on a long-haul flight overseas, and who had travelled by economy class, business class or first class. There were fewer hands up for the higher classes of course, and Dr. Zyngier made the analogy that as those who choose to fly in business or first class do not expect those in economy class to subsidise their flight, why should those who choose to send their children to a private school expect the rest of us to subsidise that choice. I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a business and education is an investment in the future.

jamie-dorrington_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a profit-based business and education is, or should be seen as, an investment in the future. It also seems a stretch to me to argue this point, particularly given that, as Jamie Dorrington, the Rethinking Reform MC remarked, that the airlines would likely argue that the upper-class prices, in fact, subsidise the economy class prices.

Dr. Zyngier argued that this is in fact what does happen in Australia, with public funding of private schools acting as a subsidy for the lifestyle choice of the parents and that we have the highest level of privatisation of education in the OECD. Dr. Zyngier continued by pointing out that countries in the OECD such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though they have privatised education institutions, and perhaps some of the most well-known educational institutions in the world, do not give any public funds to those private education institutes whatsoever.

In closing, Dr. Zyngier made two points; firstly, he noted that Australia has been reported by the OECD as having very high student achievement results as well as significantly different learning achievements between the students at either end of the SES scale, which should be concerning to us all.Secondly, and his final point, we need to come to an agreement about what it means to have a public education system, which, to me, sounds like a national conversation about the purpose and goals of education. Maybe I am just hearing what I want to hear, though.

kevin-donnelly_education-nation-2016-sydney-400h-400x300At this point, Dr. Donnelly took the podium to make his arguments and opened by listing off the adjectives typically used to describe, including misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist and proceeded to share some of his background with the audience, revealing that he grew up in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, as a child with a father who was a member of the Communist Party, whilst he and his brother were members of the Eureka Youth Movement, which he indicated was the Youth Communist Party, and that he had “…a good Catholic mother” which resulted in, as I can only imagine, some interesting discussions at home. He then commented that he did not want to be antagonistic or vitriolic today, which, I daresay, caused some disappointment amongst the audience

Dr. Donnelly then spoke about how Australia has a tripartite education system and that this arrangement has had consensus from the major parties for some years now, and he quoted then Minister for Education Julia Gillard as saying that “…I am committed to parents’ rights to choose the school that is best for their child.”

Dr. Donnelly, remarkably, called Gonski funding a myth and said that needs-based funding had been around a number of years, which generated a number of raised eyebrows in the room. He went on to comment that the ten-year period from 1998 saw a significantly large increase in enrolments in the private education system, and that those enrollments were predominantly in the low-fee paying schools, and that while this voting with their feet movement had slowed down since 2008, the Catholic and Independent education systems received little overall funding in the 2012/2013 budget from the Government.Additionally, argued Dr. Donnelly, high-profile schools such as Kings and Melbourne Grammar are, in fact, outliers in regards to the education fees and resourcing. and that the Australian Education Union

The Australian Education Union should be arguing, commented Dr. Donnelly, not necessarily against the stances of the parties regarding the Gonski funding model, but against those states who did not ever sign off on it. He continued by noting that Julia Gillard, then Minister for Education, signed off on twenty-seven different agreements with various state education bodies, which means that there are at least twenty-seven different funding models in place.

Dr. Donnelly then broached the argument from critics of private education that private schools only get the good kids, or those with high academic ability, and discussed research that demonstrates that the SES status of a student’s family only contributes approximately fifteen to eighteen percent of the academic variance and that the Government has spent billions of additional dollars on education without seeing the expected growth in learning outcomes. He also argues that the public selective schools, selective for academic or sporting or any other reason, are a contributor to the residualisation of public schooling, but that they do not get mentioned, with private education being an easy target

A paper by the OECD which Professor Geoff Masters (@GMasterACER), CEO of ACER (@ACEReduAu), quoted in a recent paper which indicates that Australia is second only to Denmark in regards to intergenerational mobility and that another OECD report from 2008 ranked Australia as one of the most socially mobile countries.

Dr. Donnelly closed out his opening arguments by calling for a move away from the acrimonious debate and to look at high-performing schooling systems and ask what works there that might work for us in Australia, with a move towards a decentralised education structure with increased school autonomy and choice to create the flexibility and diversity in our schools to encourage schools to be innovative.

Retrieved from on 11 June 2016.


At this point, Jamie Dorrington asked Dr. Zyngier for his rebuttal comments, however, I will leave the rebuttal from both Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly, as well as the questions from the floor, for you to listen to, as I would like to explore what we have already heard in a bit more depth.

From conversations with a few people in the room after The Great Debate, there was a feeling that no-one was actually going to change their mind based on any arguments presented today, and that there were going to be a large number of Donnelly-haters and people in the room who would support Dr. Zyngier purely based on what Dr. Donnelly has previously written and said in the media, and who would not actually be interested in hearing what he was saying. I have also heard that someone was told by their Principal they would not be given permission to attend Education Nation purely because Dr. Donnelly would be speaking.

Irrespective of what you think of Dr. Donnelly, this sort of closed-mindedness is not healthy for education debate in Australia. That sort of thinking creates an echo-chamber, where you hear only what you want to hear which creates a stagnant environment and does our students a disservice. Dr. Donnelly (and Dr. Zyngier, for that matter) made some very sensible comments today.

  • We need to move this divisive debate.
  • There are greater areas of importance to learning outcomes that we can address far more productively.
  • Parents have a right to choose the school for their child based on any range of reasons.
  • Public selective schools play a role in residualisation

I do not advocate, let me make it clear, for all of Dr. Donnelly’s views. Personally, I am still working out what my own views are on a range of topics related to education, and trying to work out who I am as an educator and where I fit in the scheme of things. This means that whilst I have made my mind up about some areas, I am open to hearing ideas from all quarters. I engaged in the Twitter conversation that was going on during The Great Debate (you can actually my laptop keys at one point in the audio!) and the reactions I was seeing were a range of adjectives between positive and negative, but I saw some that attacked the man and not the argument which is shameful and contributes nothing.

Dr. Zyngier, as I mentioned, also made some great points in his argument.

  • We need to reach an agreement as a nation about what it means to have a public education system, which sounds, to my ears, like he was on the same page as Dr. Donnelly.
  • Residualisation feeds residualisation
  • The focus of Government education funding should be public education.

Both men threw out numbers, statistics and made references to research with no citations provided. Neither man changed anyone’s mind. The debate, though interesting, and generating a lot of interest, contributed nothing to the overall debate about education in this country. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Donnelly when he said that “we need to move on from this debate and its acrimonious nature.” The discussions about the impact of a child’s SES background depends on which research you read, is what I drew from that facet of this argument.

We need to move on, there are important issues that need to be addressed.

Education Nation | Day One Session Four | Teresa Deshon

We often use words like loyal, respectful, wise, steadfast etc. with our Grandparents, but not, it seems with today’s generation.”
Teresa Deshon

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

The fourth and final session for day one of the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation was rather full, as it contained both the Rethinking Reform and the Digital Dimension streams. Teresa Deshon opened the session by speaking about People of Character – Your Best Self which was a focus on the pastoral curriculum that often appears to be ignored or subsumed by the focus on the academic curriculum and what that looks like at Kilvington Grammar. Teresa began with a series of back in my day… sayings and then related that it often appears as if the character traits and virtues which were taken for granted in generations gone by, resilience, steadfastness, loyalty, persistence etc. appear to be largely missing in the current school-bound generation. This, Teresa commented, was played out in (uncited) OECD data where Australia appears in the top third of many welfare concern issues tracked.


There are significant issues facing parents in the current age and it feels like, for many teachers, that more and more of what was traditionally the domain of the parent is becoming the domain of the teacher. This has led, Teresa contends, to an increase in the need for socio-emotional skills teaching at schools. Teresa related to the audience the RULER program from Yale University which is utilised in her own school as part of the wider Character Initiative which focuses on explicitly teaching character traits and socio-emotional skills.Capture

Teresa spoke about how there are three climate types and that all three play a significant role at Kilvington grammar and that students are able to utilise to three climates to be their best self. Within the Character Initiative, the focus is on helping students from Kindergarten to Year Six set goals based upon the character trait being explicitly taught that term, whilst in Year Seven to Twelve students, they set the goals based on the character traits, complete quizzes to measure the engagement, understanding, and appreciation of the character traits whilst engaging in an analysis of the character trait as it is portrayed throughout various types of media including news, books, and movies.


Teresa also noted that in Years Nine and Ten, students had the choice of undertaking the ethical leadership elective subject which focuses on three areas:

  1. Sustainability, resourcefulness and lateral thinking,
  2. Diversity/Celebrating and Respecting Difference, and
  3. Values in Action

It was here that Teresa made a brief reference to a flipped curriculum, and even showed a stock flipped class graphic, however, the terminology was being used in a context that was not flipped learning. Teresa was actually referring to the flip made from focusing on the academic curriculum to the pastoral curriculum as opposed to flipped learning of the type I have written about previously.

Teresa’s presentation timeslot was brief and it went by very fast. There was not, for me, any particular takeaways from the session. There were no tools or strategies talked about in depth that could be applied, but anecdotal discussion of how a program was working in a particular context. The move from focusing on the academics to the pastoral side of things intrigues me, especially when you consider that the academics do still need to be attended to, however, I do agree that the pastoral issues need to be addressed. Teresa’s opening point, about the shift of pastoral concerns being from a parental burden to a teacher burden, is an issue, and I think it goes back to the need to establish the purposes and goals of education, and whether it should include pastoral issues, or whether they need to be the domain of the parent (which is in itself another debate).

As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback you care to offer in the comments below or over on Twitter.

Education Nation | Day One Session Three | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.

They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently, the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it being very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students.

IMG_1780We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.

The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.

They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.


The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.

They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.

CaptureThe school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.

Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.

The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.


In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch,  which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.


One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.

At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.

  • Safety and basic needs need to be met – relationship to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • The ability to take appropriate risks.
  • Opportunities to try, experiment, fail and reflect.
  • The ability to drive their own learning.
  • Hopeful of the future.

Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.


The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.

They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.

We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.

Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”

I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.

As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can find the consolidated list here.

Education Nation | Day One Session One – Professor Geoff Masters

We need to point out that there is much to celebrate about Australian Schools.”
-Professor Geoff Masters

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

The opening keynote for Education Nation in the Rethinking Reform stream by Brett Salakas was a very interesting and engaging start with some very interesting and valid points raised. Brett commented to me during lunch that it was very daunting being the first speaker at a new conference, and having Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) sitting front and center for the presentation amplified that.

Professor Masters’ was speaking to the title of Addressing the Five Key Challenges in School Education that Matter to You and ostensibly, he was going to be focusing on five areas. The first area that Professor Masters addressed was the declining  PISA results, both relative and in real terms, of Australian students. This, he indicated, has been a trend that has been identifiable since 2000 and.

Photo from Professor Masters’ presentation showing the twelve-year trend (2000-2012) in Australian PISA test results.

The mathematics results are particularly disturbing, with a significant, sharp drop year on year for each iteration of PISA from 2000 to 2012. Professor Masters commented, though it may have been stating the obvious, that we need to arrest and reverse this downward trend in results. Additionally, there is a growing disparity in schools creating a situation wherein it is becoming more and more important which school students attend. Someone failed conference etiquette and asked a question mid-presentation about where the variation lies and Professor Masters acknowledged that the total variance in results can be broken into differences between schools (twenty percent) and differences within schools (eighty percent).

Photo from Professor Masters’ presentation showing the year on year decline of Australian students for the twelve-year period 2000 to 2012. Germany ‘s year on year growth is shown to provide a counterpoint.

Disturbingly, there is also a growing number of students who are not meeting the minimum standards; fourteen percent are not meeting the reading minimum standards, twenty percent are not meeting the mathematics minimum standards. In comparison, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Korea’s rates are between three and nine percent. The point was made that not only are our results falling year on year; but that the gap between our results and the countries around us is growing each year as they continue to improve.

Professor Masters then dived into some Census data which indicates that one in five students are currently developmentally vulnerable due to being locked into a trajectory of long-term low achievement. I, unfortunately, was not quick enough to snap the photo, or write down the specific context, however, so I would appreciate confirmation or clarification if someone did note it down (I have reached out to Professor Masters on Twitter and am awaiting confirmation), but my memory is that the likelihood of someone being the one in five student varies depending on Indigenous status, gender and socio-economic status (SES).

For Indigenous students, they have (if my memory of the context in which the figures were provided is correct) a 42.1% of being the one in five, which is just over double that of a non-Indigenous student, who has a 20.8% chance. The gender data shows that males have a 28.5% chance of being the one in five compared to females with a 15.1% chance whilst SES status plays a role as well. A low-SES student has a 32.6% chance of being the one in five student which is in stark contrast to their high-SES counterparts, who have a 15.5% chance. Professor Masters noted that this data has not historically been collected and so we are unable to identify the long-term historical trends, but that those factors will bear watching over future iterations of the census.

Statistics that Professor Masters showed us indicating the relationships between the ATAR score-bands (<50, 50-60, 60-70 etc) and the percentage of Year twelve offers made in Science (blue), Engineering (green) and Education (red).

The next issue raised was the status of the teaching profession, wherein it is now a less attractive career option, and the distribution of offers to Year Twelve students in relation to their ATAR attainment. Masters’ graph shows that for Science and Engineering degrees, offers are typically made at the upper end of the achievement scale, whilst for education, they are being made, typically, in the low to mid-range achievement bands. Professor Masters noted that in those countries regarded as having high-quality education systems vis-a-vis their performance in PISA, they have typically put in place policies to help them draw teachers from the upper bands of academic achievement and that we need to take steps here in Australia to arrest the current downward spiral of where we draw our pre-service teachers from academically. This sounds like a laudable goal, however, as I have indicated previously, Pasi Sahlberg writes that there is very little discernible relationship between the academic achievement of a student and their eventual efficacy as a teacher.

We should, perhaps, be focusing on addressing the long-term decline in the number of students electing to undertake the hard subjects such as Physics, Advanced Mathematics and Advanced English and Engineering. It was at this point that Professor Masters made a comment, the underlying concept of which, has been a common thread in each of the sessions across the various event streams and the Twitter conversations.

Is it time we rethink, entirely, the structure of curriculum?”

I want to hold the exploration of the underlying thought to a separate article, as it is a thread which makes the entire Education Nation experience, for me, a cohesive one, however he included, in that comment, a further questioning of the way in which education, especially in the secondary education sector, is restrained to silos, with subject areas being held separate, and in many schools have individual staffrooms and faculty areas, and rarely, it seems from the outside, collaborate on planning, assessment or teaching and learning. Professor Masters told the room that by the time a child is in Year Three, the top ten percent of students, academically, are approximately five years ahead vis-a-vis learning outcomes.

My over-the-back-fence-neighbour works in Early Childhood and we have had some conversations about the need for more work in the pre-Kindergarten area to identify and work with those children who have learning difficulties to ensure that when they start Kindergarten, they have the best possible chance of achieving learning outcomes, which was a sentiment that Professor Masters closed his presentation by speaking about and agreeing with.

At this point, the MC, Simon Dorrington, opened things up to questions from the floor, which were, unfortunately, rather long-winded and convoluted comments, rather than short and to the point questions. Simon closed out the session by adding to Professor Masters’ argument that we need to regain the time in the teaching day that has been lost to the extra-curricular and what he termed support activities, many of which should be the responsibility of the parents, something I personally agree with.

The first session, consisting of Brett Salakas’ and Professor Masters’ presentations, was a great launchpad for the Rethinking Reform stream of the conference. There was a lot of head-nodding going on throughout both presentations, and a level of excitement slowly developing. I would very much like to hear from you if you were also in the room for either presentation and your perspectives and thoughts on them. As always, though, thank you for reading. The next article will cover morning tea and my experiences and thoughts on The Playground.

Creating Lifelong Learners

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Attributed to 
Maya Angelou

In my previous article, I began to write about the classroom ecology and digressed into talking about one of the programs that my teaching partner for this year, Mrs. W, and I have put into place, the classroom economy. In this article, which I am writing on Monday morning, with the sound of a leaf blower out in the playground and cars rushing past on the main road the only accompaniment, I want to talk about instilling a love of learning and ask that you think about how it is that you instill a love of learning in your students. One of the reasons why I teach was the two fantastic teachers I had when I was in Year Five and Year Six at West Tamworth PS. Mr. Davies and Mr. Hawkins were vastly different characters, yet both managed to impress upon me a love of learning.

In Year Five, I had Mr. Davies, short of stature, thinning hair, glasses and a love of challenging us with logic puzzles, including us playing, as a class group, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? on the class computer. I have no recollection of any particular skill or knowledge which he imparted to us in that year, however, I do remember feeling privileged, that I had been allowed to leave the class for portions of time to go to the school library and research (which likely meant copy from the encyclopaedia) Ancient Egypt, a topic with which I had discovered a fascination for at some unknown point in time prior.

While I was, most likely, merely copying information from the encyclopaedia, I was doing so with the feeling that I had to do it well, and that I had to collect as much information as I could to justify Mr Davies’ decision to allow me this opportunity. I did not want to disappoint him, which resulted in my typing up many pages of text, systematically copied and painstakingly re-typed and then printed out at school. I distinctly recall being asked by Mr Davies what I had discovered so far about Ancient Egypt and being an excited nine-year-old boy, promptly rattled off a string of facts, much of which I suspect I did not truly understand at that point in time.

Whether Mr Davies choice to allow me such unfettered, and in my memory, relatively unaccountable access to the library during class time was good pedagogy I do not think I could answer due to my own bias about the subject. However, it did instill a sense of excitement with learning, which was sustained and repeated on many occasions that year as I learned more and more, as I elected to do Ancient History throughout my HSC years, and which, even to this day, I still feel when I become consumed within a new topic which interests me, and that love and excitement for learning is something that I would sincerely like to impart to my own students this year.

Achieving this will be difficult, however, I am confident that by being excited or passionate and appropriately animated while I am teaching, that by encouraging my students to take calculated risks, trusting in the supportive environment of our classroom, that my students will take their own steps towards becoming excited about learning.

How do you create excitement in your own students about learning?

TeachMeet: Teaching for Thinking

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
– Attributed to Aristotle

Earlier in the year I attended a TeachMeet about Teaching for Thinking, or Teaching Philosophy in Schools at St Leo’s Catholic College, Wahroonga. The event was a very interesting one, with lots of challenging ideas about education and how we teach children to think. As always, I wrote a series of review articles, which you can find linked to below:

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Part Three
  4. Part Four

Another Teaching for Thinking TeachMeet has been organised, to be held on Sunday, 29th November from 1300 to 1600 at Wyvern House Preparatory School in Stanmore.

From the invitational flyer:

The teachmeet will be an introductory platform for passionate and interested educators and leaders from a range of schools across Sydney to share their experiences, expertise, vision and learn from one another. Topics for discussion will include: Critical and Creative Thinking; Philosophy in the classroom; and Tools of inquiry The afternoon will include five presenters, a Q&A session, followed by an open forum/panel discussion. The teachmeet will also be a great opportunity to start a broader dialogue about teaching for thinking and build professional networks.

Speakers include Emeritus Professor Phil Cam,  President of Philosophy in Schools NSW from the University of New South Wales speaking under the title Because and Therefore;  Dr Britta Jensen an English and French teacher from Marist College North Shore speaking under the title Fostering a thinking disposition in our students; Mr Dan Smith Deputy Principal at Leichhardt Public School speaking under the title Bringing philosophy into school – 10 years of experience; Ms Sally Parker, a Science Teacher from Moriah College speaking under the title Stimulus material, Concept games and Questioning tools for the Science classroom; and Ms Ksenia Filatov, English and Philosophy Teacher at St Leo’s Catholic College speaking under Teaching and Applied Philosophy elective course for years 9-10.

To attend, please RSVP through this google form by Thursday 26th November.

The moments that remind you why you teach.

“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Attributed to Alexander the Great

Recently I wrote an article talking about the issue of teacher work-life balance, and my current lack thereof. It has generated some interesting discussions and I have had some helpful conversations with members of my PLN who have reached out, for which I am grateful. It seems that the conversations I have had face-to-face where it has been indicated that the hours I keep currently are somewhat normal have been somewhat supported by conversations on Twitter.

A conversation with one Tweacher indicated they kept similarish hours to myself vis-a-vis time spent at school but allowed a longer break between the end of the school day and resuming work at home, and with more frequent breaks over the weekend when working at home. Another Tweacher noted that for them, involvement with professional associations and Twitter allowed them to blend their social life with their educational life, acknowledging that  they were unsure if this constituted having a work-life balance.

When I first began this blog, I wrote about why I teach and why I joined the teaching profession in a time when there is intense scrutiny of men professing a desire to work with children and men are seemingly avoiding the teaching profession. In my own Initial Teacher Education (ITE) cohort, there were perhaps only ten of us out of around one hundred and fifty.

Despite how I was feeling in general, I was still excited to be in the classroom. I have some great things going on with my students, particularly my Stage Three classes and this morning reinforced that. I had one of my Stage Three classes, and we have been learning about the Cornell note-taking strategy. To be able to take good quality notes is a very handy skill and something that I wish I had had in high school, or even in my first two years at university.


I was open about that, as well. I showed them some of my notes from a first-year course and we talked about what was wrong with them and why those notes were not as helpful as they could be. We then talked about the projects that they had completed that year with their classroom teacher and the research they did as part of that and how having useful notes would have made things easier.

I have been really proud of the way they have engaged with the learning process for this topic. We have spent a considerable amount of time practicing using the strategy and are now at the point where it is time to wrap the unit up with a summative assessment task.

Part of my professional development recently has included conversations about student choice, prompted, I think, by a comment that Jon Bergmann made during one of his keynotes at FlipConAus recently when he asked the audience “Why do we make our students demonstrate what they learned by making them take a test?”

I had heard something similar previously, though I cannot recall where, and I decided to try it out. So I had a conversation with each of my Stage Three classes and asked them “what do you want to do to demonstrate to me that you know how to use and can use the Cornell note-taking strategy on your own?” We discussed that, and then I asked them “what does success look like in your chosen strategy?” which prompted a conversation about what would be expected in each method that demonstrates understanding. The students loved it and were genuinely engaged with the process of developing their assignments.

It was a “so this is why I teach” moment for me. The students were genuinely engaged, poring through the notes they had taken as we learned about Cornell note-taking together to help them put together their own demonstration. Some of my students were filming a video where they explained it and then demonstrated how it was used, some of my students chose to take some notes on a self-chosen topic and submit those with annotations, and some have chosen to put together a powerpoint presentation. There was creation, there was analysing, there was collaboration, group work, individual work, peer support as one of a more advanced students worked closely with a student who required some additional support, going through the same steps that I would have to support the students. I was cheering inside.

I told the students this during the session-end reflections. I also asked them how they felt about being able to direct their own learning in this way and as a whole group, they felt empowered to own their learning and show off what they actually knew in different ways, rather than in the same way as everyone else.

It was a great morning.

Then things returned to Earth and I ended up wandering down to our Deputy Principal’s office and asking her for some advice on an incident, which in and of itself, was very minor, but which in the larger picture of the students involved could merely be a stepping stone to something larger.

The afternoon was much better, I had another Stage Three class, who are one session away from finishing the current unit of work, after which I have said we will explore green screen technology using VeeScope Live.

Oh, the roller coaster of teaching! I wonder if students are truly aware of their impact on us, as teachers.

Gratitude Challenge – Day Five

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.”
– Attributed to Zig Ziglar

The theme for day five of the gratitude challenge is a teacher, presumably one that has strong positive memories associated with them, and for me there is are two clear standouts, Mr Davies, my Year Five teacher and Mr Hawkins, my Year Six teacher. Mr Davies was a quiet man, according to my memories, yet he dominated that room and pushed each of us to challenge our supposed limits. He was the teacher who saw that I had a passion for, at the time, Ancient Egypt, and he allowed me to pursue that, doing copious amounts of research, which at that point meant rewriting the encyclopedia entries on the various Pharaohs and other cultural information about the subject, into the sole computer in the class.

He was a teacher that I wish I had been more appreciative of at the time, and told him how appreciative I was. I do not actually recall any particular skills or concepts that I learned, that were explicitly taught, other than to be sure to read everything before doing anything. But I do remember that he allowed us to play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago as a class, challenging us to keep records of what we learned and piece all the evidence together, that he encouraged us to pursue our interests, that he was able to get me onto the Year Five excursion to Point Wolstoncroft when my family, at that point, was not able to afford it, that he encouraged me to read books that challenged me.

Mr Hawkins on the other hand was a big man, physically (in my memories at least), and had a big voice to match it. He ran the classroom with strength and achieved similar results and made us all feel as if he cared about what was going on, challenging us to try new things, to persevere and to aim for the stars.

Those two teachers are a strong part of the reason of why I wanted to enter the teaching profession, and my memories of their teaching styles, though quite different, plays a role in how I aim to be as a teacher, something which is represented explicitly in my Teaching Philosophy. I wish I had told them both at the time how much I appreciated their efforts on my behalf, and how I grateful I was, and am, for the influence on my life.

Halfway Home and Teacher’s Programs

“Once you’re halfway home, you know that you can probably get the rest of the way there.
-Attributed to Janis Ian

Today is Wednesday of Week Five which means we are halfway through the current term, and that many teachers are silently cheering that they are now on the homeward stretch. There is no small amount of tiredness and fatigue this term, as many teachers find themselves staggering under the burdens laid upon them by all of the additional extras that are currently the expected norm in the teaching profession. The after school meetings, the various clubs and groups that run during lunchtimes, the various intra- and inter-school competitions all take valuable time from a teacher’s day and add varying levels of stress and work to a teacher’s already busy and crowded timetable.

Personally, I am find myself alternating between incredibly tired and worn out and strongly motivated and energetic. On the one hand I am really happy with the progress that some of my students have made this term, particularly in infants, where we have been focusing on some fundamental computer skills, particularly typing skills. The self-efficacy that various students are showing now when compared to the beginning of term two, or even the beginning of term three, is vastly improved.

In stark contrast with that, I feel like, in many ways, I am taking two steps backwards for every one I take forwards. I feel like I have not achieved anything this term, and this is backed up when I look at my program. However, I have spent a significant amount of time working on some fundamental computer skills which I identified as lacking in my primary students, and have needed to devote a significant amount of time to working on those skills, as they are part of the foundation of digital literacy. In that frame of mind, I feel like it has been a valuable investment in time for the long-term result, which I likely will not see, particularly for my Stage Three students.

it is a reminder of the oft-quoted remark by German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke, which is that “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy” which can be converted, I believe, into “no teacher’s program survives the term unchanged.” There are also a large number of interruptions in the coming weeks, with Book Week (which I do in fact enjoy and have already organised my costume for the book parade), the zone athletics carnival, Infants athletics carnival, Father’s Day stalls, and the swim program for Year Two and Three students which spreads across two weeks.

Looking at what is left to cover in my program this term and comparing that to the amount of teaching time I will have access to with the various interruptions, I do not think that I can complete my program for this term without sacrificing the attainment of conceptual understanding and deep learning by my students, a compromise I do not want to make. This program was also my first, and I was aware going into it that I was perhaps biting off more than I could chew in regards to what I set out to achieve. I do need to sit down and update my program with the various changes that I have made, and notes of what did and did not work in various portions of the program.

I would very much like to hear how you manage your program and keep it up to date with what changes and modifications you have had to make, both impromptu and planned.

Review: Teaching for Thinking Forum (Part Two)

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
– Attributed to Albert Einstein

I like to open each of my blog posts, where appropriate, when I type it at the desktop computer (as opposed to the iPad) with a quote that is somehow relevant to the topic of that particular article. Today’s quote is, I believe, particularly fitting as the topic of this article is the presentation titled  Why and How might schools build cultures of thinking? by Simon Brooks from Masada College as delivered at Thursday’s Teaching for Thinking Forum (#T4TConf) hosted by St. Leo’s Catholic College. If you have not read the introductory review article from that conference, I would recommend you do so by clicking here.

Simon opened his presentation with the statement, and I am paraphrasing here, that:

“…learning is the product of thinking, and that for those teachers who hold that they are unable to take on new educational fads, such as allowing their students time to genuinely think and reflect about their learning because “…we have to get through all the content…” then it has to be asked, what does getting through the content look like?

This was a very interesting statement, as it is one that I have heard numerous times throughout my undergraduate degree from lecturers and tutors at university and from many teachers with whom I interacted whilst on various professional placements. I have found that this statement is elicited by teachers being advised that they need to undertake a particular professional development activity, or in relation to the use of technology in the classroom .

Simon then led us into the first of his four focuses, a poem. Specifically, The Schoolboy, by the poet William Blake.

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the sky-lark sings with me.
O! what sweet company.

But to go to school in a summer morn,
O! it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn.
The little ones spend the day,
In sighing and dismay.

Ah! then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour,
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learnings bower,
Worn thro’ with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy,
Sit in a cage and sing.
How can a child when fears annoy.
But droop his tender wing.
And forget his youthful spring.

O! father & mother. if buds are nip’d,
And blossoms blown away,
And if the tender plants are strip’d
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay.

How shall the summer arise in joy.
Or the summer fruits appear.
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy
Or bless the mellowing year.
When the blasts of winter appear.

Simon prefaced his reading of this poem by very briefly introducing us to the thinking routine known as the four C’s with the side-note that we would be returning to it reading through Blake’s words. The four C’s is a thinking routine that can be deployed in any context and which encourages the user to think critically.

Specifically, the four C’s consists of the following thinking prompts:

  • Connections: What connections do you make between the poem and today’s Teaching for Thinking Forum?
  • Challenge: What ideas, positions or assumptions in this poem do you want to challenge or argue with?
  • Concepts: What are the key concepts or ideas in this poem that you think are important and worth holding on to?
  • Changes: What changes in attitudes, thinking or action are suggested by the poem, either for you or others?

My initial connection was with the third-to-last stanza, and it took me to the very structure of education and its relationship with the origins of education in the industrial revolution, a topic that was covered extensively during my initial teacher education, and the dichotomous relationship that is shared between early-childhood and primary education structures, and indeed, between primary and secondary education structures  and then following on, between secondary and tertiary education structures. Focusing on the first, the structure of early-childhood education (or my understanding thereof at least, I am sure that my readers involved in that sector will disabuse me of any misconceptions) is that learning is largely play-based and more free-form than it is structured. Upon arrival at ‘big school,’ we expect students to stand in two straight lines, adhere to rigid structures administered by bells, eat when they are allowed to, go to the bathroom during specific breaks, sit at their desks in chairs and utilise pencils, all in ways that would be as alien to them as the concepts of neurological surgery would be to me.

The obvious challenge from this connection, then, is why is education structured in such a way? Why, two hundred years after the industrial revolution have there been so few changes to the way in which we structure our children’s education? Why is the assumption that all students should be grouped by age still prevalent, other than convenience? The key idea from this is that education, or rather, schooling, is something to be abhored and avoided in favour of the summer morn’ and that changes need to be made, effectively, to change this mindset.

“Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective as well as individual, thinking is valued, visible, and actively promoted as part of the regular, day-to-day experience of all the group’s members.”
-Simon Brooks

This exercise started the audience along the pathway of thinking, and of questioning what they were reading, and Simon lead on from this by posing that there are a total of eight cultural forces, that are  entirely unavoidable, that impact upon our thinking and that a culture of thinking is apparent when all eight forces are aligned and directed towards encouraging and appreciating thinking.  These eight forces have been identified by Ron Ritchart in his 2002 publication Intellectual Character and can be directed towards thinking as indicated below:

Excerpted from ROn Ritchart's 2002 publication - Intellectual Character
Excerpted from ROn Ritchart’s 2002 publication – Intellectual Character
Returning to the notion of there being no time for thinking because “…we need to get through all the content…”  SImon made the point that it is in the time of thinking and reflecting that the richness of understanding develops, and further posited that our classrooms walls be used not just to show off students’ completed works, but their in-progress works, to demonstrate, and to empower our students to think of thinking as being an on-going process, a tool for them to deploy, rather than being the goal for them to achieve.

Simon continued by introducing us to six contiguous key principles for a culture of thinking, which are expanded in an article by Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins.

  1. Learning is a product of thinking.
  2. Good thinking is not just a skill, but is also a disposition.
    1. I believe that this goes back to the saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. We can provide students with the skills, but if they are not disposed to use them, a disposition which can be encouraged, then it is unlikely that the skills will be deployed.
  3. The development of thinking skills is a social endeavour.
    1. This statement is powerful, and I believe, very true. Without the skills for thinking, our students are increasingly likely to become adults who do not possess the ability to discern bias, to determine fact from fiction, who fall for scams.
  4. The culture of thinking needs to be the default setting for classroom teachers.
    1. Students can tell when a teacher is faking it. If we are going to create a culture of thinking, we need to embody it, and to do so authentically.
  5. Fostering thinking means making thinking visible.
    1. To foster thinking, we need to model thinking. This could potentially include explicit out-loud thinking or the use of the meta-language of thinking, but making thinking visible will make it real and enable our students to engage with it more easily than if it is merely an abstract tool that we talk about  rather than use.
  6. For a classroom to have a culture of thinking, the school needs to have a culture of thinking for the teachers.
    1. I have found that teachers are often predisposed to engaging with a new concept, idea, technology, process when they see authentic engagement coming from the leaders within the school, whether this be the executive team, or a classroom teacher who is acknowledged as being a leader among their colleagues. If the leadership provides a culture of thinking for their teachers to operate within, this culture then permeates all facets of the school, including the daily classroom operations.

A comment that Simon made on a number of occasions throughout the night, and I think one that is fitting with which to close out this article is that a culture of thinking is not something you do. Simon related that he often hears teachers say to him that they are “….doing this culture of thinking thing” and Simon responds that you do not do a culture of thinking, you are and you have a culture of thinking.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read, and I would very much like to hear from my readers in regards to where the four C’s took them after reading The Schoolboy by William Blake, and strategies that have been used in your school or classroom to create a culture of thinking.


Ritchhart, R. (2002), Intellectual Character: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Get It, San Francisco, California, United States, Jon Wiley & Sons.

Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. (2008). Making Thinkin Visible. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57-61