Take Outs: Day 2 Evidence-based teaching summit 2016

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

University of Bologna by Laurentius de Voltolina c.1350

Take a close look at the medieval painting above what do you notice?

Has anything changed in classrooms today? Of course yes there are no devices, I’m speaking mostly about engagement – 24:1, only 6 paying any attention, the rest seem disengaged, with more than one having a little snooze.

Now how about this one?

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11

Ron Canuel (CEA) opened Day 2 of proceedings giving us insights into the research done at CEA. He says that much of education has been hijacked by others and that it is indeed time we took it back. We certainly all know (I hope) that standarised tests do not lead to improvement in the educational outcomes of students, however, they do benefit real estate agents! According to Canuel – everyone wants to live in a catchment area of what is considered a ‘good’ school (and no I’m not elaborating).

Oh and the second painting above? Well, Ron mentioned something that really struck a chord with me, he said that education change should look like the Renaissance with a lot more emphasis on all subjects. School of Athens is how I imagine a classroom should be, collaboration, thinking, genius, excitement, movement, passion, reflection, ordered chaos —–> can you hear it?

26% & rising...kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

26% & rising…kids who are not dealing with school recommended reading from Daffydd Wiesner-Ellix (CBD Strategic)

My next take out is about teacher quality. There is no measure for an effective teacher (Gary Marks, ACU). A teacher who may be effective in one classroom may not be in a different one let alone in another school. So where is the teaching profession heading? Tania Aspland (AITSL) argued that we could easily devise a how-to manual becoming an expert teacher the same as one might consult a how-to manual on becoming an expert golfer or tennis player. The first chapter in this manual would, of course, be OBSERVATION and the STANDARDS provide us with something against which to measure our progress. So, where can we make the greatest impact in the context of our place and time (Neil Barker, DET) in schools? Can educators, as Susannah Emery (Curtin University) asks, be ‘quest givers’ given the strong attachment our current students have towards gaming? Perhaps the Teaching & Learning Toolkit presented by Tanya Vaughan might just assist us in making the greatest impact happen in our classrooms, where they belong.

The highlight of the summit for me was meeting and sitting next to David Mitchell, Adjunct Professor (College of Educational Studies and Leadership), University of Canterbury, NZ. He delivered the final keynote address. Of course, while chatting at the table over the two days, I did all the talking about my research before it dawned on me just who he was – for those who don’t know his research is in diverse needs of students and inclusion and if you follow my blog you would know that my PhD is in special needs!!!! I spent the night after the first day of the conference reading up on Dr. Mitchell and got my hands on an online copy of his book. I have since read a number of journal articles and will hold true to emailing him to discuss his research, ask questions and gain first-hand insights as I journey through my PhD.

Dr. Mitchell also commented on my note-taking so here I place the sketchnote I completed as he spoke…now I would have added so much more but I really enjoyed just listening. I think I’ve got enough for you to get the picture of just how much wisdom this man has offered me especially as I continue my PhD. I secretly hope too, that Dr. Mitchell might read this post one day and see it for himself for I was not confident to show him on the day.

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell's keynote

Sketchnote -Dr. Mitchell’s keynote


Question: Can Principals significantly influence learning in their schools? (Helal & Coelli, 2016)

Fact: 24% of ALL students and 40% of those who are disadvantaged are at risk of reading failure in Australian primary schools. The explicit teaching of literacy covering the BIG5 may assist (Kerry Hempenstall – Case Study presentation).


One more thing – Whilst Radmila Harding was a little apprehensive about being the very last speaker of the conference and wondered if there would be anyone left to hear her presentation I have to say it was engaging, and well I’m also going to say … FUN! There were hands-on activities and videos to make us laugh… and so it ended… happily. The take home message not only from Radmila’s presentation but I think from the whole conference:

Let’s work collaboratively to build a team that won’t fall down so all may benefit and grow in their experience and journey of learning and living.

And yes there were enough people left who enjoyed it right to the end.

End of Day 2

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 1 – EBT reflection

Gelatophobia – the fear of being laughed at

furrowed brow

Furrowed brow to an Aspie with a love of numbers = 11! Nothing more.


I spent 5 hours in a big room on Friday with about 200 other guests listening to Tony Attwood talk about “Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders. It felt like 30 mins. He is a very engaging speaker, with lots of wonderful real life stories and anecdotes collected over the last 30 years of working in the industry. Sue Larkey also spoke prior to each session – mostly it was a sales pitch but her introductory comments set the scene and revealed just how she does ‘get’ ASD kids.

I think there are many of us who ‘get’ them too! Part of knowing and understanding these kids is innate. There is a large component – that of empathy – the key to understanding and forming any sort of relationship with an Aspie. I often remind participants in my workshops that we need to walk in their shoes in order to understand where children, ALL children, are coming from. But you know -there’s more to it.

No two ASD kids are the same. There is not one strategy that works everytime. There is however, one thing that Sue Larkey reiterated yesterday that stuck with me. We must teach our ASD kids social skills as this is what will assist their survival out in the big wide world of society’s service industry. At school we often talk about preparing our students for what will come – but really what is that? What is coming? How will we know when it gets here?

campersASD -Aspies are “nature’s natural worriers” (Attwood), they have a different way of thinking that doesn’t include anything social. An Aspie, as Tony explained, is “someone who has found something in life more interesting than socialising.” And so we have to make exceptions.

Aspies don’t know unless you tell them. That said, one of the major challenges for Aspies is auditory processing. To remember means that Aspies have to experience it first hand. So how do we tell them? More importantly, how do they tell us?

One of the activities we were asked to do stands out. Tony asked that we work with a partner -one closed their eyes while the other was shown a slide and then asked to communicate the message without words.

The first was quite simple really, although my partner totally missed it as she put her cup down and had to play Chinese whispers with the lady two seats down from us!!

These are not word for word but the idea remains

I want my green shoes

The second was a little harder

Will you be here tomorrow?

The third even more

Where is my hat?

And last

There’s someone at the door to see you.

Give it a go with someone – it is really quite a difficult task but this is the frustration in communicating that Aspies deal with day in day out, not to mention our own frustrations in not undertsanding and the patience it takes to really get to know them as individuals.

no routine

via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed


via Caroline Kee / Via BuzzFeed

Processing time is an important element and one that causes much anxiety. Aspies need more time to process because they need to process the social, linguistic AND cognitive aspects of the communication. Many mainstream students already have the social and lingusitic skills and only need concentrate on the cognitive. Tony gave a detailed explanation of the functioning amygdala in ASD kids. We are all aware that the amygdala is the fight or flight compartment of the brain. It is connected to the sensory system and in ASDs it is enlarged and hyper-reactive because it doesn’t connect and warn the frontal lobe as in other non ASDs and so it leads to an ‘over-reaction’. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being calm, 10 being melt down, ASDs go immediately to 8 or 9 in these fight or flight situations.

One of my favourite lines of the day was “They are the last to know they are going to cry.” This really resonated with me. Tony explained how Aspies are not consciously aware of their feelings. While we receive signals through facial expressions and body language Aspie are not aware of these signals. This leads us to assume they lack empathy. This is not an accurate assumption as Tony continued…

The 3 forms of empathy are cognitive, emotional and compassionate. Cognitive is to know, to respond, to read signals such as those we take for granted through facial expressions. An Aspie fails to read these and so they get a bad wrap -but these are the same kids who give up their pocket money to help others. The emotional form, to feel, is revealed by our Aspies through their reactions -they react more explosively but don’t know it. Tony compared it a little to a cactus -the prickly exterior that protects the soft subtle insides. He spoke about a heart rate monitor in the form of ‘hip’ wrist watch that can monitor to ensure they see it coming – or at least- we can! The final form of empathy -compassion – the ability to respond and repair when for example someone is crying is revealed through what works for the Aspie in question, not necessarily for the person with the issue. Aspies don’t lack empathy, they just express it in a way that would make sense to them -so for example walking away from a sobing parent is what they would want someone to do for them when they are crying.

They don’t lack empathy -we lack understanding.


Ain Eineziz











There is soooooo much more I could write -but enough for now

Something to watch:

Oh just one more – The real ratio of Aspie boys to girls is 2:1. Girls are diagnosed later because they are much better at coping socially so they fly under the radar. They cope and camouflage through observation and imitation. Diagnosis comes during their teen years.

Thanks for reading 🙂

What’s special about special ed?

Learning Support Officers (LSOs) come to mind – but they can’t and shouldn’t be doing it on their own.

There is so much confusion as to the role and responsibilities of teachers and LSOs. Obviously this is an area very close to my heart and at the very core of my PhD research.

The role of Learning Support Officer

The main role of a Learning Support Officer (LSO) is to assist students on an individual or group basis in specific learning needs under the direction of a teacher who is ultimately responsible for the design, implementation and evaluation of education programs and related services (CECV 2014). It is not the role of the LSO to withdraw students who misbehave or who don’t seem to understand the learning required. The teacher is responsible for all students in the class and for optimal learning environments to be created and sustained; they must have all members present and willing to participate in the environment. The teacher’s role is to make that happen by learning about, and teaching the students for whom they are responsible and in the case where there are students who present with disability an extra effort is required to work collaboratively with the LSO in order to make that classroom a cohesive and functional optimal learning environment for all. After all, it is not about the content, it’s about the students, it’s about how they learn and it’s about how the teacher can make that happen. Begin where they are, challenge them, support them and show them where they could be. Believe.


Teachers play a key role in facilitating the effectiveness of the Learning Support Officer (LSO) and their capacity to enhance student learning. To enable this, flexibility, communication, collaboration and clear direction is required from the teacher.

Unfortunately there are few training programs or research data to identify skills and knowledge required to successfully establish and maintain a healthy relationship between teacher and LSO that leads to optimal learning opportunities for students with disabilities.

Optimal learning environments support students’ natural desire to learn where learning becomes both playful and challenging. Optimal learning environments need to be developmentally appropriate and encourage positive social behaviours as well as reflecting intelligence (Lackney 1999, Linton et al, 2014). Standards should be raised to a level where they can be achieved with some effort and as students succeed the level is raised a little more and the procedure continues until the final goal is reached (Sileo & van Garderen 2010). Once this happens then new goals are set. A student’s efficacy, i.e. personal belief in their ability to succeed, has been identified as an effective predictor of learning and therefore we must set learning goals that allow them to be successful but not without effort (Shernoff et al 2014).

Cooperation, communication and collaboration between teachers and support staff can foster optimal learning environments for all students but especially for students with disabilities. Student engagement is highest when concentration, interest and enjoyment are stimulated simultaneously. The most effective way to collide these in the classroom is by taking the time to get to know each one of your students. It is imperative that one knows what their students like, what their strengths are, and most importantly, to know their abilities and this can only be done by first establishing a relationship. Once they are hooked, the content learning will come (Burgess 2012, Solarz 2015).

There is evidence that a lack of time and uncertainty as to individual roles and responsibilities, (Bourke 2008, Rutherford 2011, Fisher & Pleasants 2012, Butt 2014), that seems to be preventing the formation of successful working partnerships between teachers and support staff for the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. However, it is imperative that we make time to talk learning, rather than other administrative matters, that can be covered in an email or document sent to all.

The Effective Practices Framework for Learning Support Officers (CECV , 2014) lists seven desirable competencies for teachers supervising the work of LSOs (p. 17).



I encourage you to take each of the seven desirable competencies and work through them one by one in establishing collaborative and communicative work relations (AISTL 2015) in order to create optimal learning environments for all students and most especially for those with disabilities.


Thanks for reading 🙂


Australia. Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2015). The essential guide to professional learning: Collaboration. Melbourne: AISTL.

Bourke, P. (2008). The experiences of teacher aides who support students with disabilities and learning difficulties: A phenomenological study. Queensland University of Technology.

Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate. Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Butt, R. (2014). The changing role of teacher assistants – where being a ‘mum’ is not enough. (Doctor of Philosophy), University of Canberra, Canberra.

Fisher, M., & Pleasants, S.L. (2012). Roles, responsibilities, and concerns of paraeducators: Findings from statewide survey. Remedial and Special Education, 33(5), 287-297.

Lackney, J.A. (1999). Why optimal learning environments matter. Paper presented at the Alaska Chapter of the Council of Educational Facility, Anchorage, AK.

Linton, D.L., Farmer, J.K., & Peterson, E. (2014). Is peer interaction necessary for optimal active learning? CBE – Life Sciences Education, 13, 243-252. doi: 10.1187/cbe.13-10-0201

Rutherford, G. (2011). “Doing right by”: Teacher aides, students with disabilities, and relational social justice. Harvard Educational Review, 81(1), 95-119.

Shernoff, D.J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow in schools revisited. Cultivating engaged learners and optimal learning environments. In M. Furlong, J., R. Gilman & S. E. Huebner (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 211-226). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Sileo, J.M., & van Garderen, D. (2010). Creating optimal opportunities to learn mathematics: Blending co-teaching structures with research-based practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(3), 14-21.

Solarz, P. (2015). Learn like a pirate. Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed. San Diego C.A.: Dave Burgess Consulting Inc.

Victoria. Catholic Education Commission of Victoria. (2014). Effective practices framework for learning support officers. Melbourne: CECV.

1/2 a dozen new acronyms for the ATAR

It’s ATAR season! The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank received by every student who sat their final exams this year. It’s also what we sometimes term the silly season. So here’s my take on the ATAR…6 other acronyms we could use…

silly season

1. ATAR: Apprehensively Tested And Ranked

We’ve all heard it before; “your ATAR doesn’t define you”, but for those students who last month sat the VCE and HSC exams in order to get an ATAR in the hope of securing a university offer; it does define them if only for a few short days. Last week all those students received their ATAR, their rank and file within the system that will make or break their next step. It’s a pity that many are so distraught by it all and I’m not just talking about those who get what is defined as a low ATAR. I’ve seen emotion drench them, consume them at the moment that text message arrives or the moment they log into that screen to see that number. Some will cheer, some will scream with glee, many others will cry mainly from relief that finally they know their magic number. Twelve or thirteen years of teaching and learning for this one moment in time; will it matter in 12 months, 5 years or 10? I daresay, it won’t even matter tomorrow. The day the universities make their offers, then it will matter for a minute as once again we log into those screens to see what they will allow us to study, as if they know what’s best.

2. ATAR: A Thorny Achievement Ranking

No matter what the ATAR in essence it is a RANK. Students are ranked in comparison to what other students achieved. Some will be pulled up others will be stretched down, some on the high, others on the low because quite simply that bell curve needs to be just right!Bell-Curve

3. ATAR: Ability To Acknowledge Rank?

 I really need students to understand that the ATAR is a RANK not a reflection of their ability. It all depends on where everyone else is ranked and in that you have no control.


4. ATAR: Acknowledge The Awesome Results!

 Instead, reflect on your hard work – well if you truly did do the hard work that is. If not then you pretty much deserved what you ranked – I’m pulling no punches here. So, if you did work to the best of your ability then use this experience as a ‘growth’ mindset activity. Learn from this and get out there and triumph! You can watch more about mindset here.

5. ATAR: Announce Triumph, Accommodate Reality

 I decided that this article reflects what I need to say here;


 6. ATAR: A Terrific Achievement; Really…

 Considering we teachers spend so much time planning and facilitating the most interesting classes we can conjure up, well most of us do; it’s no wonder we manage to keep students in school a lot longer. We try to offer lots of different pathways to suit individual needs right up until that last-minute when reality demands that anyone thinking about going onto university must sit exams in every subject in order to gain an ATAR  – a RANK – so that universities can decide who they will and will not allow into their institutions to complete further studies – as if a rank could possibly reflect the true abilities, passions and convictions of a 17-18 year old student. As if a rank could accurately predict what this young person will become, will achieve and will contribute to society over their lifetime. And anyway, for years now we have been telling them that they will not be ‘a career __________ ‘(fill in this blank yourself), but rather, change their career path a multitude of times. In my opinion, it’s no use ranking them because in many cases they will get the undergraduate degree, then in 3-5 years they will once again rethink where they’d like to go next. These students think in nanoseconds, jump from one thing to another, like video games and their thirst for the now, right NOW. In fact, we need to treat this rank as a stepping-stone. What would I like to do next? What am I passionate about?

To all students out there; don’t let that RANK stop you, you worked hard now get out there and make a difference! AND, don’t forget we’ll be right behind you when you need support and encouragement – even if you don’t ask for it!


See you out in the real world!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Who’s your awesome teacher?

VeniceAsk any teacher why they became one and the most common response is that they once had an awesome teacher that made them want to become an educator themselves. Mine was Zacher a wonderful art teacher who made me want to learn about how art came about, about egyptians and greeks and romans and romanesque and gothic and renaissance and baroque and then some. I can still see clearly in my mind the wonderful notebooks she put together and the very special times we spent huddled around the art tables going through the history as she told stories of what had happened and invited us to contribute, to question and to seek our own responses. I still have my essays, hand written on foolscap lined paper. More importantly, I never forgot those learning sessions and to this day I teach, I learn and I question. I also make art – not in any common studio form such as painting and ceramics like I did in university but I think and do art works – differently. I have a collection of diaries, for examples, one each for my adventures overseas. In them I poured out my thoughts and feelings, I described my adventures, I drew and I tore paper and images and pasted them in. Then I drew over the top and even used water colour pencils something I had dismissed due to my experiences in that same university. You see I don’t particularly like rules, nor do I think that there are always ‘right’ answers. I approach everything through a visual, emotional perspective. Some might say that that, is why I get into trouble! And that’s true I get emotionally attached and then it hurts when things don’t work out. At the same time that’s okay too, because I like capturing those moments when you’re suddenly struck by a new thought and take the risk regardless.

As an educator, I value uppermost the importance of relationships. I suspect that the teachers mentioned by my colleagueArt educators have this gift to connect with their students in many ways. These are the teachers that become the ‘awesomes’. They seem to be always the ones that make the effort, that give a damn about how and who you really are. They’re not superficial, they really do want to know. They are also the same ones who do everything in their power and then some, to allow you to succeed. They take opportunities to connect with you. They seek your learning preference and find out what you like and then they ingeniously combine and blend, mingle, amalgamate, and intermix them strategically within the content to get you hooked – all of us – hooked into learning.

So, if you get one message from this post it’s that tomorrow when you get to school you make an extra effort to connect with that kid who always gets away. I recommend 5 simple things to get you started:

1. Make eye contact and smile 🙂

2. Greet them individually by name

3. Notice something they do well and let them know about it

4. Tell them what you like to do and why.

5. Ask them what they like to do and why.

I’d love to hear what you do to form your learning relationships with students.

Thanks for reading 🙂