Back to the blog…

I started this school year writing a blog post reflecting on what happened at school each day. I stopped when all the shit with the plague happened (which is bizarre because history will tell us that is the only period worth remembering). Well, I’m always one to go against what is expected, and so now that all the shit has started to settle (well, school is resuming as – storta – normal next week at least anyway) I’ve decided to come back here to continue with my reflections. Lucky you, huh?

The thing I wanna write about now is one anxiety I have about next Monday (when students return full time and normal timetabling resumes). It’s not about getting COVID-19. It’s actually about workload. What does that tell you about the teaching profession when you’re more worried about burnout than a potentially fatal, highly contagious virus that’s shut down the world? It tells you that teaching is deadly. Even if you take that last sentence figuratively, when you’re a teacher it consumes your life, which means you really have no other life separate from it. It is a sort of living death. That sounds all very Yeatsian, but what I’m trying to say is that even though lock-down and teaching remotely were really hard for a range of reasons, I actually felt alive and relaxed for the first time in a while. OK, so maybe I’m just talking about the last two weeks, and maybe I’m just talking about my own experience at my school, but that’s OK cos I’m not claiming to be talking on behalf of anyone else here. I am being honest. The last two weeks (where only year 12 have been on campus full time, and juniors one day per week) have been fantastic. Juniors have been asynchronous except for one period per week (not necessarily the in-school period). It’s just freed up so much time to get all the other teachery work done. I’ve managed to give meaningful and regular feedback on work, keep track of where each student is with their learning, write programs, plan high quality lessons, write reports, do HT admin stuff (too boring to list) all within school time! I’ve even been able to go to the toilet when I need to, and eat lunch at lunch time! I’ve been able to attend staff, faculty and executive meetings from home – sometimes listening to the feed whilst making dinner! When the work day is done, I’m finished. No working after-hours or on the weekend. Basically, I felt human and alive – not a teacher robot.

Next week won’t be like that. Next week we will return to the old timetable. Next week the bell times will go back as they were. It’s all going to come crashing back – all the reasons why I’ve contemplated leaving teaching. To be honest, during all of this crisis, I haven’t once thought about quitting. I spent a lot of time angry and hurt, but I never once thought I’d quit. It’s weird, because prior to it all I thought about quitting often. Like easily once a week. So what does this say about the job? I was speaking to a colleague yesterday and she echoed my concerns. We share an anxiety bond, and like me she admitted she was less anxious about the virus and more anxious about the return to the intensity of our teacher workload. We shared the positives of the last two weeks, and our new appreciation for how a reduced face-to-face teaching load really can improve teaching and learning. It could keep more teachers in the profession.

As a Fed Rep, that’s the thing I’m going to be fighting for. We need more teachers so we can reduce teaching loads and improve the lives of our teachers, and our students. We can say it’s up to individual schools to innovate in the post-COVID world, but it shouldn’t be an individual case thing – it should be a centralised decision so all teachers benefit.


Forgetting and then freaking out…

It’s been almost a month since I’ve written anything here on this blog. Why? Because it’s been a weird, weird month and I’ve not had the drive to document the weirdness. I’m too lazy to check the calendar and see when it was that we were told students were returning for one day per week on 11th May, but I do know it was the first Tuesday in the school holidays (what a misnomer that term is!). I know that after the announcement from Mark Scott via live stream, all the shit we had left hit the fan. We were four days into our relief time from the chaos of the end of term, and we were thrown into the fray again. I spent four hours with my boss at school that day, and then many hours together virtually and online as we prepared (a fucking brilliant plan that totally worked) to bring our kids back one day a week.

The new date that looms before me is 25th May. At some point this week we are going to be told by our (premier/media/secretary of education – same entity, right?) that all students will return as of Monday next week. I feel weirdly ambivalent about it. What difference does it make now? After all of the hard work, the planning, the complete transformation of how we operate as a school within a ridiculously tiny amount of time, well, it amounts (as usual for we teachers) to nothing really and we will just keep pushing to do as we are told. Honestly, that’s what it feels like. Like I’m a tiny ant at the foot of a giant just waiting for the inevitable kick that will launch me into my next unknown world of ‘OK, we go this’ (which has become a bit of a mantra for teachers since term resumed – what else can we do?) before shuffling my way back to the giant to await the next kick. You know?

Anyway, right now for me things seem fairly normal as I’m going into work physically every day. I’m writing reports like usual (well, when I write my year 12 reports that are due today, haha) and I’m marking lots of year 12 work. I’m teaching year 12 every lesson like ‘normal’ too – I got lucky and have a double room so we’re all together. Only one student was at home last week, and I had all my lessons written for online anyway. That student will be back this week. I taught year 11 philosophy at school as well – that was lovely. No, nothing has changed (despite all the edu gurus claiming it would), I haven’t ‘stuck to the new mode’. I’m just teaching like I always did and enjoying it.

So for me, that slip back into normal is probably the most worrying today. Why? Well, either today or some time this week we will find out kids are coming back full time. I’m the teacher who ALWAYS forgets to mark her roll. I mean, always. I’ll never move further up the ranks in the teacher career progression because I simply can’t do admin that disinterests me. In fact, I mostly can’t do anything that disinterests me. Yes, I’m a child. So how does that relate to kids returning? Basically, I’m just going to forget that COVID-19 ever happened (is happening?). I will feel horribly anxious each afternoon when I realise that I’ve gone through the whole school day and forgotten to keep my distance from students and colleagues. I will forget to wash my hands as often as a should, and I will forget to use hand sanitiser too. I’ll forget to wipe down keyboards and light-switches and the computer mouse and the desk. I know I will because I can’t even remember to mark a roll, or to check homework, or to hand out notes (you know the ones where people ask you to do them a favour and you say yes but then you forget?). Once I get into the classroom my entire focus is on the lesson and my class. That’s it.

That makes me scared. Yeah, the infection rate is really low in Australia, so we should feel relatively safe. But only last week a school closed because of cases. We’re meant to act like we have it, and like everyone else we come into contact with has it too. The problem is, I know that once I’m in the zone at school I won’t act like that.

I can’t remember why I wanted to write something today. To procrastinate from writing my year 12 reports? Quite possibly. I think it really was to just try and capture that dual feeling of ‘oh shit/I’m OK’. It’s hard to express, but there you have it. I tried.

Here’s to future me forgetting and then freaking out.

We are hurt.

In the space of three days (in the middle of a pandemic which was swiftly closing down our country) teachers calmly and creatively shifted our focus from learning at school to learning from home. It was truly remarkable. For the remaining two weeks of term we ensured continuity of learning for all of the young people in our care, all whilst coordinating additional cleaning, rotating rosters, revised assessment and reporting schedules, reimagining pedagogy for the upcoming term and managing our own personal lives in the context of a global crisis. We did this without complaint. We did not strike when we were refused pupil free days at the end of term. We did what was asked of us, and now in the holidays as we try to recuperate and prepare for an uncertain term, our professionalism and our commitment to the education of our students has been questioned publicly by our prime minister, our premier, our minister for education. We are hurt. It is a hurt that stems from not being trusted, and it is a hurt that will cause long term harm to our profession. The impact of this hurt won’t be visible during this crisis, but it will be afterwards when we have no more reserves to draw upon.

Nothing to see here, just a teacher tweeting during a pandemic

On the 6th of February, I tweeted that I was giving Twitter up. If I’m honest, Twitter had been shitting me for quite some time. I guess my tweet sums up why?

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 7.39.00 am

For the following month and a bit, I kept away from Twitter, and spent much more time here writing (almost) daily reflections of what was happening in my classroom. It was actually really enjoyable, and helped me focus more on my practice, and what my role as an executive meant in the day-to-day motions of school. I found that I didn’t miss Twitter. Not even a tiny bit. Over ten years in that space, I had gathered many people who are now friends (some I’ve never met in person, and as an introvert that’s fine with me), these friends were with me still on Instagram or Facebook. TBH, I actually kicked FB for a few weeks too – Instagram stories became my rant space, much to the dismay of ex-students who had once thought it amusing to follow their teacher, lol.

Well, it all changed when COVID-19 started to become real. It made me realise that I needed Twitter again. Firstly, to see how other schools were responding to the crisis, and secondly as a public space to share my experiences and concerns. I started here, writing the post Could compassion and compliance prove our undoing? and trying to articulate my frustration with the delay in closing schools, and the main reasons I felt that we wouldn’t. It’s interesting that today, whilst anxiously waiting for the Premier’s announcement about schools for Term 2, I have decided to write this post to document the last month for my future self. It’s the same conundrum we had when I wrote that first post about COVID-19. The PM just yesterday appealed to those two qualities so abundant in teachers – compassion and compliance – to try and lure us back into the classroom even though it is not safe, and the pandemic continues to rage its way around the world. Just before returning to Twitter, I wrote another post in anticipation of backlash about PBL and distance learning from certain quarters: Can we still do Project Based Learning at home? Yes we can!  My return to Twitter came that same day, with a tweet about gin and two of my favourite authors – Orwell and Fitzgerald.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.04.35 am

But, here was the important one, admitting that I was coming back to what I had chosen to quit. It has turned out to be, for the most part, a good decision. 

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.18.36 am

I needed to be (virtually) with a community of people who understood how I was feeling, but more importantly I needed to be connected to clever, capable, resilient and generous people – and that’s who my PLN are when the shit hits the fan. My mate Kelli this reinvigoration of eduTwitter in her vlog, here.  

What happens when you tweet a lot each day? Well, for me it means I don’t write on my blog as much. It also means that I basically have a public diary of my thoughts and experiences – and given that we are living through history right now (pretty sure this pandemic will be taught in schools one day), I figure that’s kinda cool. My tweets are never very interesting but for me they have captured a particularly crazy time in my life and I want to record here, in a place easy to access,  at least the tweet that I know I will want to remember – and maybe some grandchildren one day will enjoy reading them? Unless WordPress dies and takes this blog with it? Haha. Warning: No need to keep reading from here, lulz.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.22.39 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.22.47 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.22.20 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.24.48 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.25.41 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.27.08 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.51.03 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.27.44 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.28.40 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.31.12 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.33.47 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.32.58 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.34.47 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.35.26 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.36.18 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.36.59 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.37.42 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.38.16 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.38.47 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.39.21 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.40.06 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.40.50 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.41.28 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.42.17 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.43.11 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.43.46 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.44.29 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.45.31 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.46.31 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.47.47 am

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 8.48.33 am

Some ‘lesson recipes’ for maintaining quality teaching and learning from home

I don’t know if that title is very good… I’m not happy with it but I’m tired and so I’m just gonna leave it. Because I am tired, I am also just going to copy an email I sent to my executive colleagues to accompany these ‘recipes’. Why are they ‘recipes’? Well, on the Wednesday of the ‘first week of the rest of our crazy year’ (Wednesday, Week 9) one of my year 11 Philosophy students asked me if I could help teachers with a ‘lesson recipe’ to ensure that there is some consistency between classes. Each teacher was writing up their lessons in different ways and students were struggling to follow the instructions or understand expectations. That evening I wrote my first ‘recipe’ which was just a scaffold for how to post lessons to an online learning platform – really basic. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 7.42.25 pm

Anyway, during a meeting in the ‘war room’ with the senior executive they recommended that I create some more specific ‘recipes’ for different types of lessons. I love a challenge, so I rose to it (I think) and as you read in my last post, I spent a few days planning before coming upon a final model (again, thanks Kelli for suggesting this four part model). Here’s where I copy the email text, lol. What I’ve created is a blended Learning From Home model for our teachers and students. The idea is that we take our excellent face-to-face teaching practice (both its diversity and structure) and modify it for the Learning From Home context. It features four types of lessons – synchronous (individual and collaborative), asynchronous individual, asynchronous device-free and asynchronous creative/collaborative which teachers can rotate through over a week or a cycle.  (This is the bit Kelli McGraw helped me with – deciding which four to include!) It is not meant to be prescriptive, just a template to support planning of lessons. Teachers who choose to use it can fill in the template for the four lessons and it can be shared with students on the beginning of the week/fortnight. Some teachers might just be interested in the suggestions for how to run collaborative work online which can be found in the link in the ‘asynchronous creative/collaborative’.

Anyway, I’m all about sharing, so here is the model – the feedback from my peers has been really encouraging. Yay!

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 7.36.39 pm

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 7.36.47 pm

Here is a link to a PDF of the docs above. Here is a link to the doc with the overview of the online collaborative activities.

Please, please comment on this blog post and let me know if these help, or how you might use them, or if you have some tips or suggestions. We are all learning together!

What did day nine of our new education mode look like for me?

I’m going to try to be more diligent with daily entries into this blog. I don’t know if I’ll write on the weekends or in the holidays, as I foresee them being incredibly boring, but who knows? Maybe one of my grandchildren will look back and read this to better understand the great plague of 2020? Unlikely, but writing feels good to me most days, so I’ll just do it even if it’s for myself.

Yesterday was the first day of the third week of our new education mode – basically for me that just means online teaching and learning. I think I’ve said it in previous posts, but I work in an affluent area (hell, it’s been on the news the last four days because people over here refuse to stop going to the beach) and at an academic selective school. This means that I have students with access to technology, safe family homes, and also they are eager to continue learning even in this new mode. That makes my context pretty unique, so what I’m writing here isn’t to tell everyone else how to teach in this new mode – to be honest, I don’t think I know how to do it that well just yet. I’m literally making it up as I go along, and trying my hardest to read as much as I can so as that I’m informed and inspired. Yesterday as I sat in my bedroom office (literally a chair and desk I stole from work shoved up against my built-in wardrobe), I found myself on Twitter ‘researching’ instead of brainstorming some lesson plan models for online teaching to share with my colleagues. Being on Twitter can sometimes be counterproductive, but sometimes gems come across your feed. Here are the two that I found which made my planning and thinking much clearer:

Kathleen Morris tweeted (way back on the 8th of March) a comprehensive (but actually really useful and clear) list of resources for teaching online. I know there are a LOT of these around at the moment (nothing like a plague for some easy Internet points) but this one is actually good. Here’s the link:

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 7.00.20 am

Key take-aways for me were using Google slides for daily lesson plans – there is a link to a free template in the post; tips for video conferencing; device free lessons; and the tip for using the same Google spreadsheet when gathering learning data (like exit slips and quizzes) on Google Forms.

The second gem was a tweet from Annabel Astbury. She retweets a post from AITSL, and it actually has some really useful tips for online teaching. I like it because it’s research-based tips – I’m big on balancing practitioner experience and research stuff where possible, although (rightly or wrongly) I will always privilege the former over the latter.  Here is the link: You need to scroll down to ‘Advice for teachers delivering content online’.

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 7.02.49 am

Key take-aways for me: the information about the integrated model of online/distance education, illustrated in the awesome diagram seen below (Adapted from Picciano, 2017, p182). I also liked the reminder that learning “there are three forms of interaction widely recognised as crucial to program development and delivery – student-content, student-student, student-teacher (Simonson, Schlosser, & Orellana, 2011)”. As teachers we KNOW this stuff, but we can forget it when we are stressed and tired. I liked this post for its brevity and clarity – what we all need these days.

I spent some time in the afternoon chatting via Twitter message and then on the phone (OMG, real voices!) with my always amazing and inspiring friend Kelli McGraw. She helped me really pare down my original ideas for models for teachers, and we came up with something that I am super happy with. I’m going to present it to staff today via email (we don’t have whole staff meetings anymore unless they are in Zoom, and I don’t want to butt in to my boss’s talk) and based on their feedback, I’ll post it up here tomorrow hopefully.

Oh, I also managed to ‘teach’ three classes yesterday as well. Zoom call with my awesome year 12 class – first one for us as they’ve been on StuVac since school has been in this new mode (can’t say closed cos they’re not technically closed, are they?). Zoom call with year 9 Praxis iii finalising their fantasy world ideas, and an asynchronous lesson for year 10 ILP – they are ‘independent’ after all. Day finished with a faculty meeting Hangout call which was fun as we all showed each other our pets, lol. Bring on another day!

What does working from home look like?

This week I’ve been working from home. My principal, like so many other public school principals, has had to make big decisions on her own to protect her staff. At the end of last week, it was decided that we move to a rotating roster for staff. Until this week, all teachers were at school unless they were in the ‘vulnerable’ category. Our rotating roster is probably the same as other schools – each faculty needs to have a representative at school each day, otherwise you can work from home. That means that we are all working from home most days of the week, and come into work at least one day. I chose Fridays to come into work because that is my biggest teaching day. That’s today. I’m feeling both anxious and excited – I know none of my colleagues are sick with COVID-19, but the virus is scary and just being out in public makes me uncomfortable.

(So, the above paragraph was written on Friday morning before school. It is now Saturday morning and I am lying in bed unable to get back to sleep after my cat, Nola, woke me up at 6.05am. May as well finish this blog post now, haha!)

School was actually really great. The day went super fast – much faster than the working from home days! I guess it’s all the ‘getting ready’ stuff in the morning, and then the drive to work – you’re just ‘doing’ more so you have less time to just sit around. Once I got to work I noticed that my office tables has been cleaned really well – that extra cleaning has come into effect at my school finally! I went down to the front office to see if they could arrange for a book to be sent to a student – she couldn’t come in to pick it up (understandably) so I said I would get it posted. We haven’t posted anything out to students as all of ours have access to devices, meaning all work is done online. When I was chatting to the SASS staff they asked me about the PL I was running periods 1 and 2 – they wanted to learn how to use GSuite, specifically Hangouts. We chatted about the difference between Zoom and Hangouts and they decided the latter would be much easier for their less tech confident colleagues, and they agreed to come to the PL. I also caught up with my DP to confirm her would run the Zoom PL in period 2 – until Tuesday I was team Hangouts (so easy, please give it back to us DoE) and haven’t tried Zoom but my DP was team Zoom already so had a couple of weeks experience up his sleeve.

I headed over to the (sadly empty) library and set up the computer and projector. I also grabbed a portable whiteboard from another space. I hadn’t planned anything for the PL, I just wanted to be responsive to what my colleagues needed to know. Once everyone arrived (about 10 people – most staff were working from home and the session was optional), I asked them what they wanted to know and listed them on the whiteboard. We had: Hangouts (for adult live video only, don’t panic!), file management, recording audio over a slideshow, giving feedback to individual students, and the difference between My Drive and Shared Drives. It was a really fun session, where I just logged into my G Drive and showed them how I manage files and communicate with students via comments, how to use suggestions instead of editing a doc, and how to link different types of files to a lesson overview doc. I finished with the Hangouts tutorial and the SASS staff were happy. (Funny thing is afterwards when I went to see them in the front office later they realised that hardly any of them have webcams, lol – audio only will be fine!). My DP did a great job teaching us how to zoom (my son told me we’re all zoomers now, which made me laugh). Features I really like are breakout rooms, whiteboard and co-hosting. The controls are great – mute all will be useful!

Period 3 I set up and asynchronous lesson for my year 10 ILP – they are super independent. I told them to message me on Edmodo if they had questions, and I only got one the whole lesson. I went asynchronous for this lesson because I had a meeting with my boss about our plans moving forward. It turns out she had a lot of phone calls, so I spent the lesson finalising some other admin I had. Period 4 would normally be Praxis iii, but I asked two of my very keen students to run the lesson for me – we are up to the stage where we are allocating artefacts/products to each event in our world’s history and then allocating students to create them. I trusted these two students as they had already taken a lead role in designing the world – their peers look up to them. I (finally) had the meeting with my boss and DP (other DP was home unwell – not COVID-19). When I got back from the meeting it realised that my Praxis iii class had run a Hangout themselves and fully organised the allocation of artefacts and responsibilities. Legends!

The meeting with my boss and DP was (as always) super productive and we are very happy with our game plan for next week. I’m not gonna write it up here because I haven’t checked with my boss that it’s OK, and some of the details haven’t been explained to my staff yet. I will hopefully be able to write it up on Monday. I’ve just been super apprehensive to share our Learning From Home strategy publicly because my context is unique – academic selective public school on the Northern Beaches – and I don’t want people to bag me out and say how fortunate I am and how unrealistic it unviable our approach is for other schools. I understand that – context is everything. I don’t want to be attacked for where I work and where I live, so I’ve been a bit quiet when it comes to sharing what we have been doing. Let me know if you think I still should share, and will if there is interest.

Anyway, the title of this post is misleading because I ended up writing about a school day, not working from home. It’s probably because working from home is really boring. My colleagues give me energy – not as much as my students do, but definitely more than I have just sitting at home uploading work to an online classroom. Like everyone on social media has observed, when you work from home the days feel really, really long. After the banning of Hangouts early on Tuesday morning, I had a tantrum and refused to do any video conferencing with my students. It sucked. I basically just set work and told them I was online if they had any questions. The only class that was busy was year 7 – they just don’t read instructions and ask 1000 questions. This is an experience shared by my colleagues, so we have come up with a solution for Term 2 which I am excited about (but again not sharing yet, sorry). I know I’ll be zooming with everyone else next week – I miss interacting with my students in real time, so even if they have cameras off just having a chance to talk and joke will make each day much better.

Sorry this post is all over the shop, haha. I finally brought home a desk and chair from work yesterday, so I will be able to work more efficiently and not break my neck next week! I had spent four days sitting on my lounge with my laptop propped on a pillow on my lap. Not ideal. My neck hated me! So that’s my hot tip – don’t sit on the lounge and work even if it sounds like fun, it’s not in the end.

I’m going to try to get back into blogging every day – how funny that I started doing that this year and then COVID-19 hit and I didn’t document the craziest two weeks of my career! To be honest, I literally couldn’t. There was no time. Right now as I think about it, was it two weeks of craziness or just one? Was it last week we were at school? With kids? Bloody heck. I’ve lost all sense of a timeline of the past two weeks… I wish I had documented it now. Oh well! It’s probably all over Twitter.