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 🙂

Learning like a-maze & Musing_01

As you know from my last post, I officially started a PhD a month ago. In that time I have read so much that I think my compreadeyes are going to fall out because my brain is exploding. My neck hurts because it feels like I’m carrying around so much information, much of which I’m not sure I’ll need any time soon and some of it I don’t really understand to be quite frank. But I have to read in order to be able to write! In the last month I have had two meetings with my supervisors, via Skype  for one of them as she lives interstate- ahh the beauty and advantage of technology. I have to admit that I’ve spent much of my time reading off the screen – actually that’s probably why my eyes feel like they are going to pop out. I love reading other people’s blogs and am now officially a twitter addict! I can’t help it. My newest adventure has to be chats. I’ve got alarms on my phone to remind me when to log in, although a number of them go off at the wrong time, since I can’t quite get the time zones correct so I find myself coming into the chat room a day ahead or one behind or in the middle or, well, one wasn’t happening for another week! I use tweetchat to log in as it’s easier than trying to follow and respond on twitter. What is a tweetchat I’ve learned so much over the last month through both twitter and many blogs, not to mention the 10 books I have stacked in front of me and the 20 or so journal articles neatly filed horizontally to my left!

There are many individuals out there researching, one of my favs is reading PhD Talk Blog and the Thesis Whisperer. Don’t feel you have to click on these, I only like them cause they’re relevant for me at the moment – oh wait – what a nifty idea how about we teach our students stuff that’s relevant or if we have to teach something that’s not find a way to make it relevant – sorry lost my head for a moment – that’ll be the teacher in me. I still do that too, teach I mean, and love it. CRT work while a little scarce at the moment-  since there are Yr 12 teachers around with no official classes on- is still important to me. I love being in the classroom and using all the strategies I ‘preach’ about in my consultancy work. You see I walk the talk not just talk it.

FAnyhow, back to the topic at hand – easily distracted – and those who know me will be ‘LOLing‘ right now – the PhD was the topic. Reading up on the philosophical questions is where I began. That was my homework after our first ‘official’ meet. I was told to ‘problematise’ everything. Why is my topic worth researching? What am I going to contribute to existing knowledge? I needed to engage in the current debate, find out what others are saying. What kind of researcher am I going to be? Look at the different research approaches, ontology vs epistemology, constructivist, interpretivist etc. Am I going to be an ethnography, or will I be investigating phenomenology? “Put your toe in the water for grounded theory, see how you feel about it.” Getting the picture? Now do you understand why my brain is exploding? Don’t get me wrong. It’s a ‘good’ thing. I am really enjoying it. The learning I have done over the last few weeks is simply a-mazing – literally, it does feel like being lost in a maze but knowing that along the way there will be little clues and rewards and that eventually you’ll find your way into the middle where there will be a portkey to safely land you where you need to be – not like Harry but in a place where everything will feel like it was all worth it.grass_maze

portkeySo here it is after a month, I have done lots of reading in order to be informed enough to have the courage not only to write but to actually share what I write with my supervisors! That first Musing_01 as I called it was really scary to send. I had all these terrible thoughts of them feeding back that I might as well forget this research idea, that I haven’t got what it takes, that well maybe you should reconsider…happily they didn’t.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Beginning what could potentially be an eight year journey…

phd-symbolsLast Wednesday, October 1, 2014 was the official start date for my PhD. Of course it wasn’t the date I started doing research. I have been preparing for this all my life. Actually as I was thinking of a title to head up this latest blog I was catapulted back into Year 6, 1976. I don’t mind revealing my age, you see I’m ecstatic to have reached my 50th year because it marked a milestone and not only because it happened to be the big five o, but because it meant that I made it past 49 which is the age my mother was when she lost her life to bowel cancer. It seems apt that I be starting this PhD in her honour really as she didn’t get the same opportunities I’ve had and that this has become another ‘thing’ I’m going to do for me first, but also for her. This journey is personal.

But back to the Year 6 thing. One of my most vivid memories in Grade 6 was losing a point on a spelling test because I misspelt the word beginning – double g instead of double n – I can still see the paper in front of me. I remember this because it was attached to an emotion – one of feeling helpless but not because I didn’t get full marks but because I had cut my leg quite badly a few days before and had stitches which meant I was unable to get around as well. I never, ever misspelt the word again. I believe that some of the best learning happens when we become emotionally or personally related to what it is we are learning. It has to be relatable or nothing happens – well something does happen actually – we remember long enough to regurgitate for an exam and then it’s gone.

This research is relatable – in fact it relates to a very important part of my memory and attitude to teaching and learning. I do this because I will never forget what it felt like to not understand what other people were talking about. I do it because when I was little I could not communicate with others – well actually no that’s not true. I could communicate but only in Italian. I still don’t understand why that nurse in the hospital did not ‘get’ that I was cold and wanted another blanket. I was five, I spoke italian BUT I also made hand gestures, I had goosebumps – I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just give me another blanket. As a first generation Australian born to migrant parents, I was made to feel stupid simply because I didn’t speak or understand English. I couldn’t read it either but that’s another story.

I am very committed, due to my own experiences, in ensuring all students have every opportunity to learn and that it is our moral obligation to find out how they learn and then facilitate the learning using strategies that support these preferences. Once students have experienced success then it is our duty to extend and challenge them to use a variety of strategies in order to further develop their learning repertoire.

Last year I completed a Post Grad in Educational Research  – in preparation for this PhD. This was a really positive experience and helped cement the idea that I could take this on. I had already made the decision to quit from my full-time teaching and leadership position the year before to take up consultancy full time and so I was definitely up for the challenge. There were 10 of us in that unit with 2 lecturers over seeing the project. I learnt a lot during those sessions over the first six months and then went into the actual research side of things during the second half of the year. My paper that explored the nature of the relationship between teachers and teacher aides (Education Support Staff) focussed on a case study of one very large Catholic co-educational college.

I thoroughly enjoyed the process and spent many hours transcribing and analysing the data I’d collected through one-on-one interviews and focus groups. I’m actually now in the middle of preparing an article with the assistance of my supervisor, in the hope that I can get it published. I kind of meandered onto my blog, I think, as a way of taking a break from the academic side of things and just doing another of the things I really enjoy (besides cooking and scribbling & drawing into my diary) and that which gives me time to think – reflecting on this journey.

My PhD is an extension of the small scale research I described above. My intention is to conduct a much larger study extending it into other Catholic secondary schools across the four Victorian diocese. I also intend to add student voice to this study by conducting interviews with students who have special needs as well as their teachers and education support staff. So if you are reading this and teach in a Catholic secondary school in Victoria yours might be one of the schools I target!

P1090380I’m very much looking forward to getting out into the field and meeting with participants, although that realistically won’t be for some time yet – what with all the hoops we have to jump through first including ethics approval from the university, permission from CECV, all four Catholic Education Offices and the principals of the schools we decide to include. But, I’m still really excited about the prospect. This will be another learning experience for me and I hope that I can contribute something back to the education community that will ultimately enhance the learning journey of all our students. And so it begins…

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 🙂

What do we teach for?

Last week I got to hear Charles Fadel speak on 21st Century education. I really enjoyed listening to what he had to say. He has one of those accents that really soothes and you kind of ‘get hooked’ in before you know it. There were many things he said that resonated with me and that I really and truly believe are very important at this time. I was chuffed to hear him say things that I have been trying to say for ages, though not as eloquently as he did the other day. Along with Fadel we also heard comment from the Principal of Haileybury and the Head of Mathematics at John Monash. Between them and the audience there were many comments I thought worthy of publishing below:

  • Alvin-Toffer-on-21st-century-learningFuturists describe the world as VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous
  • to be successful in the 21st Century one will not need knowledge as much as they will need skills and character attributes
  • “Assessments are not a bad thing,” says Fadel, “bad assessments are stupid. How and what we measure makes a difference.”
  • The ATAR score is the brick wall of education
  • Humanities and Arts is what makes your life worth living!
  • Core subjects get you a job BUT the Arts get you through it!
  • STEM could become STEAM with the addition of the ARTS!
  • Let’s get rid of AusVELS and introduce a superVUCA curriculum!
  • It’s not enough to just depend on what kids know about technology, we must be their moral and ethical guides.
  • There is a need to break down the resistance to allow kids to be creative in maths. Sadly the VCE Maths study guides are full of content and allow very little scope for creativity.
  • Take the risk. Teach kids creativity and thinking and they will ‘get’ the knowledge regardless.
  • Teach kids to ask questions.
  • Teach kids to SYNTHESISE as they already know how to ‘get’ knowledge but how to bring it all together and make sense of it? That is what they need to learn.
  • We are not working fast enough to get kids ready for the 21st Century world!

21st CenturyAnd then there are these questions, some others asked, some are mine.  I’ll leave them with you to reflect upon- feel free to respond below…

  1.     What do we teach for?
  2.     Are we adequately preparing our kids for this world?
  3.     Why does there seem to be a disconnect between employers and educators?
  4.     WHAT should students learn?
  5.     What will we do with all this computer power?

Fadel ended with this: “We as teachers are sitting in the driver’s seat – make it happen! Seriously.”

Smart is cool!

Thanks for reading 🙂