Hearts on the line everyday

Disclaimer: the following is a brief discussion about mental health for teachers.

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

When Jane is in your office telling you that her parents are divorcing and they don’t have time for her and she’s failed her math exam but can’t tell her parents because they’ll take away the only things in life giving her joy…

When Sam is looking to you for advice because his friends and peers are making fun of the fact that when he speaks to them as their Student Representative he uses hand gestures, and rather than focusing on his words, they focus on his hands…

When Anna is 100% engaged in class and contributes insightful and thoughtful comments in discussions but when it comes to assessment she simply doesn’t try and accepts her punishment because “she’s used to it…”

When Tim has spoken to you every day for 6 months about his mum having cancer and you can see that he desperately needs help but doesn’t know whom to speak to so he unloads on you and you don’t know how to help and you try and you try but it takes all your energy away and you can’t give anything more…

Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.

These stories are fictional, but they are based on events that teachers all over the world deal with daily. These types of events are the reason that I tell people going into teaching that it is the best job in the world and also the hardest. What I have learned is that we teachers, with our hearts on the line every day, cannot shoulder every burden that our students have. We also need to reach out for help and seek guidance in dealing with these burdens. Obviously we keep in mind student protection procedures and confidences, but by speaking with colleagues we can sort out our feelings, work out what we can do to help our students, and continue to support them, all the while protecting our hearts.

Sometimes it means stepping back and letting someone higher up in leadership or counselors take over with managing a student’s needs. Sometimes it’s talking to parents, or mediating conversations between peers. Either way we can always do something but we don’t have to be everything. We all have different roles to play and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are humans with emotional needs too. We cannot take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So, when you have given everything that you can to your students, and you’re barely holding it together because you’ve taken hit after hit to your heart and you can’t imagine feeling anything more than despair, and desperation to continue trying to help them? It might be time to reach out to your colleagues and seek help. Talk to someone, get strategies, and protect your heart so that you can continue to put it on the line every day.


The power of language

It’s no secret that words have power. My good friend Lynette Noni has based a whole series on not only the power of words, but the power of our intention behind the words. (First in the series is called Whisper and it is set to be released on May 1st 2018, get excited!) However, as much as I would love to discuss the power of words when we use them to talk to or about people or places, today I am more interested in a slightly more education based discussion. I want to talk about the power of the language we use when teaching, and how we can either promote or demote certain subjects just by saying an off-hand comment!

I am a geography teacher. I love what I do and I love what I teach. I try to make my lessons as authentic, engaging, and filled with opportunities as much as possible. I know I still have a fair way to go but I am getting better every single lesson.

When I started teaching at Mount Alvernia College I was thrown into the world of girl’s education. I never had any aspirations to teach in a girls school and when I stood in front of my first class, I really struggled – despite being a young woman myself! I quickly discovered that I needed to change my language.

Girls are predisposed to thinking “I can’t do that.” There’s no point arguing about it, it’s ingrained in us from the very beginning of our existence. In my first couple of weeks I would often hear myself saying to the girls “I could never do maths, I just didn’t get it.” I’d say the same sort of things about science too, and I quickly realised that not only was I undermining the girls’ confidence, but also the subjects that my colleagues had been working so hard to encourage girls to engage with. It hit me then, I NEEDED to change my language. Not only to make sure I wasn’t undermining my colleagues or my girls, but also to change my own ideas about what I thought I was capable of achieving. In short, since I changed the way I talked to myself about the possibility of me learning some scientific facts, or relearning some maths skills, I have become more open to these subjects AND I have found that I have a much better capacity to understand them – JUST FROM CHANGING THE LANGUAGE I USED!

My next realisation came when I was teaching a year 9 geography class just yesterday. We were looking at a choropleth map of Australia that showed the average rainfall in January across the country. We ended up having a discussion about North Queensland and why it would have more rainfall than South Australia. One of the girls ended up asking if it had something to do with the humidity and I was a little shocked to realised that they were struggling to make the connections between humidity and precipitation – the water cycle that they spent so much time learning in year 7 and then touched on again in year 8 – and it got me thinking. Do they truly not remember this important piece of information OR is it because we weren’t in a science classroom that they weren’t able to make the connection?

Again, I realised that I would need to change my language. I started to wonder if I needed to use terminology from their science classes in my geography classes so that they could connect the dots themselves? I got really excited by the possibilities this would open up – I have never been more excited about broadening my scientific knowledge than I have in the past 24 hours! I’ve spoken to the Learning Area Advisor for Science and a couple of the science teachers to see if there was potential for cross curriculum collaboration (I know, it’s an old concept but for the first time I’ve actually thought it to be possible) and I was even more excited to learn that they were VERY interested in working with me on getting this up and running! I’ve even had an invitation to attend a year 9 science excursion on Monday next week and I’m going to do all I can to be involved.

I’ve gone from someone that thought “science wasn’t my thing” to “science is something that I want to learn so much more about!” I know that I have a long way to go and that I will be limited by time when it comes to just how much I’ll be able to achieve. However, if I can get this excited over the possibility of learning more about science and implementing it in my geography classes, I hope that my passion will inspire the girls too. I hope that they will be able to make the connections between what we’re doing and what they’ve learned in other classes themselves. The ultimate goal in teaching (in my humble opinion) is to create authentic learning experiences, and the research shows that clear connections between subjects helps with that, so that’s what I’m hoping to work towards. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be able to turn maths into something that is “definitely my thing” and feel more confident in including that terminology in my classes too!

One final little mention about the Science Department at my school. THEY ARE AWESOME. In a girls school it’s really important to have strong female role models, and our science department is majority female; we even have a female physics teacher! (I’ve been told that this is an amazing thing as there aren’t many.) Not only are they awesome teachers with a great range of knowledge, but they are passionate about what they teach and are willing to include me in their teaching and learning, me who is someone that quite possibly would have been their idea of a nightmare student – you know the type, lots of potential but just lazy because “science wasn’t their thing.” Not only have they been welcoming, but they have also been enthusiastic and full of great ideas. I can’t wait to see where this goes!


Feedback: How “wearing hats” can teach us to be more helpful in our feedback.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about my Learning and Teaching Goals for 2017, but I found this really interesting article and thought I’d share!

On Monday this week I received a weekly newsletter email from MindShift, and one of the articles was called “Developing Students’ Ability to Give and Take Effective Feedback.” At first, I was sceptical because how often have we received articles from subscription services and discovered that they are fairly useless, but this one turned out to be pretty helpful. I was intrigued by how the teacher featured in this article, Emerie Lukas, has developed a culture of student to student feedback in her class based on the “Six Thinking Hats” by Edward De Bono.

The basis of De Bono’s approach to feedback, is that participants are required to give feedback while wearing different hats, and then giving feedback that is appropriate to that type of hat. Lukas has recently begun training her colleagues in using the hat system, and suggests using the first three regularly, and the remaining three only when applicable. The hats are broken it down to:

  1. Yellow hat = positive feedback
  2. Black hat = specific feedback that points out not reaching a goal
  3. Green hat = suggestions for improvement
  4. Red hat = “a breath of fresh air” or a new perspective
  5. Blue hat = ability to identify the skill that is being developed
  6. White hat = taking a look at the bigger picture, something that’s been noticed but is neither positive or negative, only interesting.

I found the idea of getting students to try and give specific feedback an interesting concept, and I think the idea of “putting on a hat” will help them step into that role. I’m not sure when I will get the chance to trial this strategy this year, but I am definitely putting it in bank for next year!


Geek-A-Thon Wrap-up!

Some Context:

I have wanted to do a sleep over in the iCentre since February 2016, and on the 8th of September this year I finally got to do it! I have been working on celebrating all things Geek with our students this year through the Geek Girl program, the goal being:

To encourage girls to embrace their talents and creativity in a safe environment, as well as exposing them to industry professionals, broadening their views on what they’re capable of, and assisting them to reach their full potential.

geek girl logo

It’s been a fantastic year so far with fashionistas, illustrators, and animators coming in to share their experiences, as well as the process they go through each time they create something new.

For those girls that regularly attending these Geek Girl sessions, we wanted to give them the opportunity to really “Geek Out” so I combined my dream of sleeping over in the iCentre with a 24 hour Geek Out event and Geek-A-Thon was born.


Geek-A-Thon will be the culminating event of the Geek Girls program run by Krystal Gagen, Linda Clark, and Emma Maya, and hosted by the iCentre. The event will be invitational and focus on celebrating the success and experiences of the students that have participated in Geek Girl events throughout the year. The event will be a 24 hour event that will include guest speakers, opportunities for girls to share their “geekiness,” and for them to learn new skills and expand their thinking.

Geek-A-Thon Program:

  • Introduction at 3:30pm Friday – explanation of rules and plan for the 24 hours
  • Geek Out!
    • Computer circuit boards used to create sounds/lights that can change using the buttons or shaking them depending on the programming
    • Piper Raspberry Pi Computer Kit computer built by students during lunch breaks following blue prints – once built, had to finish it off by playing the game and learning how to wire the remaining buttons
  • Escape Room Challenge – Rebel Revolt (ongoing throughout the 24 hours)
  • Drones
    • Played with motion sensor drones + remote controlled drones
    • Design your own drone challenge
  • Dinner and free dancing
  • Sharing of drone designs
  • Geek Out*!
    • Makeup tutorial
    • Drawing tutorial
    • Swing dance tutorial – learning the Shim Sham from Ms Maya
  • Sphero races
  • Movie and hot chocolates
  • Bed time by 2am!
  • Breakfast and free dancing
  • Geek Out!
    • Public speaking tutorial
    • Music showcase
      • Guitar sing-a-long
      • Cello recital
  • 3D Printing with Steph Piper of PIPER3DP
  • Lunch and movie
  • Pickup by 3:30pm Saturday!

*Geek Out sessions designed for students to share the geeky thing that they are particularly passionate about.


This event was everything I wanted it to be and more. It was so nice to see students from different year levels working together to explore the possibilities of technology, have in depth discussions about the process of creating or using something new, and have lots of fun along the way. Every student that attended Geek-A-Thon walked away with new ideas, thoughts, and questions, and all said they had lots of fun and were begging to do it again next year. The most beautiful thing about the event, in my opinion, was watching the relationships between our Geek Girls grow stronger and the sense of community  that was established was really special.

A big thank you to my colleagues Linda Clark and Emma Maya for you support throughout Geek Girls, and to Helen Stower for enabling me to try these sorts of events.

Photo Gallery on iCentre Website



In Awe

On Tuesday night this week the iCentre hosted a Celebration and Signing Party for Lynette Noni’s 3rd book, Draekora and it was a FANTASTIC evening. We had approximately 90 people attend, and our Launch Committee girls represented themselves and the college extremely well; we are very proud of their efforts! However, this is not a post about the event (I might write one of those later) but rather a post about a conversation I had with a parent during the evening and some observations I have made about my wonderful students over the year so far.

Basically, I am in awe of the young women that I get to work with.

A few things have lead me to wanting to write about this:

  • The conversation I had with the mother – we were talking about her daughter and how she does her own thing and doesn’t care what others think. We were specifically talking about how at a recent school event her daughter was the only student dancing to the band that was playing and she was having a great time.
  • Remembering the reenactment of the new Beauty and the Beasts “Gaston” scene that the Launch Committee girls treated me to while we were setting up – it was the most entertaining thing I have seen in a while and they did it with such a care-free “I don’t care who’s watching” attitude. (For those that don’t know the scene, watch the video, you won’t be disappointed!)

  • A video that came up on my social media feeds this week of a young boy that does ballet – he gets teased for it but still wants to tell other boys that doing ballet is fun and quite challenging. (Again, if you haven’t seen it, you should! It warmed my heart.)

These three things had me thinking: “what is it about these young women that I work with that gives them this care-free, I-don’t-care-who-sees attitude?”

To answer this I compared my experiences here at Mt A to my previous co-ed school experiences, and I have got to say on that alone I have noticed that the girls here are far more willing and free to be themselves then I have experienced anywhere else. I then got to wondering if that was because:

  • We’re a girls school and they’re not worried about making a fool of themselves in front of boys.
  • We have a great sense of community.
  • We are a school based on relationships and those relationships allow the girls to feel safe.

Or perhaps it is a combination of all of the above. As far as I am concerned, I am so fortunate to be able to work with these brilliant young women, to watch them develop into the adult women they will become and to know that the experiences we give them here are part of that.

In short, I don’t think I ever felt this free when I was growing up and attending school, its not something I experienced until I become a 3rd year university student or later. To see these girls participating in so much and having so much fun while they do it is incredible and just one of the many reasons as to why I LOVE my job.


When realisation hits… We are lucky!

As part of my role as Teacher Librarian, I teach 2 geography classes: a year 9 class and a year 10 class. I absolutely love this. It means that I am still in the classroom every day, and I get to form really good relationships – something I think I’d miss out on if I didn’t have a class that was my own. Fellow educators, you know what I mean…

I was recently able to invite a refugee from Afghanistan into my classroom to share her story. She has been working in our kitchens as part of her TAFE studies and offered to visit classes in her last few weeks here. Having her visit was one of the best decisions I have made this year. To protect her identity, I am going to refer to her as Sam.

Sam’s story has a happy ending, she is here in Australia, she is safe, and she has a bright future. The beginning of her story however, is quite an emotional rollercoaster and an eye opener. Despite her history, Sam wanted my girls to understand that she loves Afghanistan and that her people are a happy, peace loving people. She shared not only her story, but the story of her people as well.

Here is a quick recap of Sam’s story:

Sam lost her parents when she was very young. She went to live with her uncles in the country side. When she was 12 years old she was told she had to marry an older man. She refused and was physically abused by her uncle. After a number of reconstructive surgeries she recovered and returned home from hospital, only to be forced into another engagement. At age 13 and 2 days before her wedding, she escaped to Pakistan with her aunt and cousins. After some time, they shared their story with the United Nations, and ended up being accepted as refugees to Australia. Sam now has plans to complete her English course at TAFE, and to follow that up with a social worker degree. Her end goal is to go to university.

At the end of Sam’s presentation, both my classes sat there in stunned silence, not quite sure what to say. After a few minutes of thinking, they asked some great questions and Sam very kindly answered them all. Once Sam had gone, my year 9s erupted into conversation, mostly focusing on “how can these things still be happening?!” and “imagine if that happened here!” The discussion my 9s had around the issue was interesting, and allowed us to discuss a whole range of things, least of all how lucky we are.

The reaction of my 10s was even more touching. After Sam left, my most vocal student looked me straight in the eyes and said “Ms, is it possible to adopt a refugee? I don’t know if I want to have my own kids now, or give a child like Sam a better life. Maybe I could do both?” I was floored. The discussion that followed was so heartfelt and compassionate. We talked about a whole range of things. It was such a great opportunity to discuss human rights and what they mean for us and people that have a story like Sam’s. It was one of those lessons where I walked out feeling so proud of my students, and amazed at their capacity to love and ability to envision a brighter future.

I wanted to document this experience and to share it with you all. This was such a simple lesson to deliver, but one that I will remember. In this day and age I feel it is important to raise awareness among our students about what is going on in the big wide world – lessons like these are just some of the ways in which we can prepare them to become global citizens and inspire them to think beyond themselves and their world.

Image attribution: Michael Cote. Earth at Night. (CC BY 2.0)


Constantly surprised

My students are constantly surprising me, and it’s a great thing. I am about to embark upon some shameless boasting about how talented these girls are – you have been warned!

I found out the other day that I have a few students that have written whole or parts of books on the website, Wattpad. This meant of course, that I had to create an account to be able to follow and read those stories. I also found out that another of my students collaborates with other girls here at school to regularly publish posts on a fashion blog they all contribute to. They now have over 500 followers and have been approached by companies to write posts with their products showcased in them. It was at then that I realised how amazing these students are and how fortunate I am to know them. I might also add that these students are all in year 7! So where am I going with this?

Well, according to the Australian Curriculum ICT General Capabilities it is essential that students learn to use…

“ICT effectively and appropriately to access, create and communicate information and ideas, solve problems and work collaboratively in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school. ICT capability involves students learning to make the most of the digital technologies available to them, adapting to new ways of doing things as technologies evolve and limiting the risks to themselves and others in a digital environment” (ACARA, 2010).

It is essential that we teach young people how to connect globally with unknown collaborators in a public space safely. I particularly like the emphasis placed upon “their lives beyond school” and “learning to make the most” whilst “limiting the risks.” It is clear to me that many of my students are currently doing this and doing it rather successfully!


Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability – Introduction – The Australian Curriculum v8.2. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability/introduction/introduction