Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ Category

So ….. is hoodwinking our kids into believing that the tooth fairy is real the right kind of thing to do?  Or should we instead be helping them learn to distinguish fantasy from reality?

Never thought about it?

I hadn’t either – not until I listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about the tooth fairy on the The Late Late Show with James Corden.

Imagine how easily we could apply this kind of logic to so much of what we teach our students!

It’s a little mind-boggling – no?!


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More than a couple of years ago I came across a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College.

An extract of his speech “This is water” has been coupled with graphics and is overlaid with David Foster Wallace reading his speech.  Intended as advice to graduating students stepping out into the world, Foster Wallace’s asks us to consider an alternate meaning to the banality and mundanity of everyday life.

Each of us he contends has to choose how to live our life.  Working on auto pilot, we can become bogged down by the boredom of routine and its inherent petty frustration.  If I am the centre of the world, my expectation is that my needs and feelings should determine the world’s priorities, he says.  If, however, we can learn how to think and pay attention to details and to perceive our world through the eyes of others, we will learn to enjoy the options life has to offer.  Looking beyond ourselves and the tiny details of daily life will, he suggests, make us more compassionate and reap rewards that will enable us to live a more fulfilling life.

The gift of being educated is understanding how to think.  Deciding what has meaning and what doesn’t is, he says, real freedom.

Take a few minutes to consider his words:

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Last week I was flipping through some notes I’d made when I attended the CBCA conference back in May this year.

While I blogged about this conference soon after, one talk, which really piqued my interest at the time, has remained in the back of my mind.  A panel discussion by eminent authors Mark Norman, Carole Wilkinson and Claire Saxby addressed the topic:

Has the Internet killed Non-Fiction or Created Myriad Possibilities?

My notes, taken on the day, best elucidate a difficult issue facing today’s authors of non-fiction books:

When addressing the question of whether or not the Internet is killing Non-Fiction books, Mark led the discussion by saying that for upper primary and older students, his books cannot compete with the Internet.  Facts viewed visually on YouTube, he said, outstrip interest in reading books.  Instead, he concluded, the Internet and Non-Fiction books create pathways to each other.   Carole and Claire echoed this sentiment saying that older readers shy away from reading about the kinds of facts they present in their books.   They are, they admitted, dependent on an audience such as us to introduce young people to their books and implored CBCA to find ways to bridge the gap between Non-Fiction writers and teachers so that these books are used more.   Imploring our help to ‘market their books’ to school students they were open to any ideas.

With a conference audience almost exclusively comprised of teacher librarians, we represented a wide range of schools from across the country.  It would have been ideal if we’d had some time to collectively respond to this issue, but unfortunately, we didn’t.

As I watch an end of year culling of the book collection in the senior school library in which I work, I am reminded yet again how little our non-fiction collection is being used by our year 9-12 library patrons.  As reflected in this amusing parody which I saw some years ago, the reasons may be quite simple:

Is it really that non-fiction books are nothing more than antiquated tools not suited to today’s tech-savvy high school students?  Or is it that teachers and teacher librarians no longer direct students to non-fiction books as a valued source of information?

With fascinating facts and inspirational photography, the books created by these authors provide a wealth of information from which readers can learn so much.  Yet each of the authors on this panel intimated that today they restrict their writing to the primary school age market.

So the question remains:

Should teacher librarians be culling or retaining non-fiction books in senior school libraries?

Are there pros and cons to be considered?  Or are the benefits of exposing students to a wide range of resources too obvious to state?

While debate on this issue can probably extend for a very long time, numerous ways to assist the authors of non-fiction books to market their books to senior students spring to mind:

  • Focus books:  Use non-fiction books as a springboard for discussion around a specific topic.  Having a pile of non-fiction books on hand to inspire and generate discussion can be very powerful.  Students could work in pairs or small groups to discover information from non-fiction books.
  • Competitions:  Give students a set time to list 10 facts about a specific topic by looking through a range of non-fiction books that are brought into the classroom or library.  In the process of locating the facts, students can be incidentally taught how to scan tables of contents, the index, chapter heading and sub-headings to quickly locate information.  Reading literacy will enjoy a real plus from such activities.
  • Author visits:  Invite the authors of non-fiction books to speak.  Presentations focused on not just the content of their book, but how the author went about researching and then compiling facts into their books can be both enlightening and informative.  As an added bonus, have authors discuss the process of getting their book published and how the book cover was selected – both fascinating aspects.
  • Book clubs: Vary the traditional notion of a book club by having students meet and discuss non-fiction books which address focus topics.  With students free to explore topics of interest, provide a forum in which they share their passion with others, then sit back and see students inspire each other.
  • Book launch:  Interest and excitement about new releases can become a powerful way to ‘sell’ non-fiction books in a class, year level, school or school community.  Contact publishers to find out which non fiction books are about to hit the market and volunteer to hold the launch at your school.  Inspire enthusiasm among faculty heads to get involved and have their students participate:  science students could stage experiments described; art students could demonstrate skills outlined; drama students could dramatize portions of the text.  The range of possible ideas by which senior school students can be involved in a book launch are endless.
  • Book fair:  Hold a book fair which has a specific focus on non-fiction books.  Try restricting the book fair to a specific theme by selecting just one subject or be game and aim to create a book shop within the walls of the library in which a wide range of subjects are showcased.  To ensure success and excitement are maximized, invite a local book shop to partner with you.  Be sure to set terms and conditions that ensure the book shop oversees the set up and sale of books.  Publicize the event widely.
  • Assignment requirements:  An assignment which requires students to use a wide range of resources, including non-fiction books, will ensure that students are encouraged to read widely.  Teacher librarians are an invaluable resource for subject teachers to help design class assignments incorporating ‘must include’ references.
  • Resource lists:  Teacher librarians proactively create resource lists for specific topics studied across a range of subjects offered in secondary schools.  By incorporating both hard copy and digital resources, it is easy to encourage students to explore the valuable non-fiction collection held in the school library.
  • Create links:  Library sessions teaching students how to scan webpages can be linked to the layout used in non-fiction books: chapter headings, topic heading and sub topic headings.  By creating links between digital and hard copy resources, teacher librarians will be assisting students to become independent lifelong learners who develop skills that they will use in further study and future employment.
  • Create pathways: Instead of allowing non-fiction books to compete with YouTube videos, encourage students to find links between these resources.  For example, present students with a selection of non-fiction books and then have them find a video which discusses the same topic.  Taking the use of YouTube videos to a new level by having students turn on the ‘subtitles’ can become a way of teaching them how to take notes which they can later use in the writing of an essay or assignment.  Creating pathways between the Internet and non-fiction books, as suggested by Mark Norman at the CBCA conference, can turn into a powerful learning tool.

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I was talking to a work colleague the other day, at least she was a work colleague until she quit at the end of last year.

She was back in our school working as a CRT (a casual relief teacher) for the week, filling in for someone who was on leave.  As we chatted about this, that and the other, I was hanging out to ask her the one question uppermost in my mind: why was she working here as a CRT rather than taking up a teaching position in another school?  After all, she’s only in her early to mid 40’s, way too young to quit I’d have thought.

Fortunately I was relieved of the need to ask.  In between sharing what she was doing with herself nowadays, she told me in no uncertain terms that she was not in the slightest bit interested in finding another teaching position because she was ‘over it’.

For a moment that seemed to drag on for eternity, I was stunned and lost for words.

Sad ….. real sad ….. I thought to myself.  How come someone so young was standing there telling me that she was ‘over it’ when she had only worked in education for just ten years.   It didn’t seem possible or real.

Then later in the same week, I found myself lamenting with a male member of staff the number of older teachers who had given notice that they were retiring at the end of the year.  Another imminent exodus of experienced teachers.

Thinking while talking, I found myself contemplating the difference in the two conversations.  What a difference it is to have teachers retiring vs those who quit because they are ‘over it’.

Yes, I know.  It is said that most graduate teachers only stay in education between 5 and 8 years which must seem like forever when compared to the average university/college graduate who is likely to have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives which translates to maybe 3 or 4 years in the one job!

It’s a worry – and a concern.

The investment in the education of university/college graduates is enormous. The cost, time and energy invested by students to gain their teaching degree is high and is easily equivalent to the investment made by society/government in the provision of teacher education programs.

It’s almost inconceivable, but unfortunately is quite real, that students in our schools can and are constantly exposed to new and inexperienced teachers throughout their school days.

While it can be rightly argued that many of those ‘experienced’ teachers retiring may have stayed in the job for a few years too long, the end result equates to a significant loss of a wealth of teaching experience.

But returning to thoughts about my work colleague who quit after just ten years in the profession, the question ‘why’ keeps nagging at me.  Our chat informed me that she loves kids, teaching and sharing knowledge of her teaching subjects.  The bottom line for her was the demands of all the other things that she had to do.  It was these tasks, she admitted, which tipped her over the edge and made her realize that she was no longer enjoying ‘teaching’.

There’s little need to list all these other duties and demands on teachers as for those of us working in education, we are all too familiar with the list which unbelievably seems to grow year by year.   Besides, in a previous post Passion vs Process I list the countless number of responsibilities and duties that regularly impinge on a teacher’s daily/weekly working life.  As I re-read and contemplate the list I wrote some four years ago, I’m struck yet again by the incredible demands teachers have to endure if they want to keep their job!  Coming across an article published in The Conversation on this issue, I was struck by this comment comparing the Finish and Australian education scene:

In the Finnish system, early-career teachers are trained well and then, crucially, supported to try new things in the classroom.

In Australian classrooms, the high level of administrative demands, teaching loads, pastoral care and extra curricula activities leaves too little time for collaboration and innovation.

It’s a sad fact that unless you work in education, you just don’t know how hard it can be.

Much has been written about the high attrition levels of teachers in our schools which is said to run between 30%-50% – an astoundingly high figure.   Rebecca Vukovic in an article published in HQ a year ago: Early career educators are resigning from their jobs at an alarming rate writes convincingly of the problem as she quotes numerous researchers one of whom claims that “early career exit from teaching has reached epidemic proportions and appears intractable.”


So what can be done to retain teachers who love kids and teaching/sharing their knowledge?  One recent article I read aptly concludes:

provide the right working conditions for early career teachers to thrive; and strive to integrate all the elements it takes to educate a child.” (ABC News: We can’t afford to ignore the teacher exodus February 4, 2016)

Many of the articles I’ve read over recent times seem to skirt around the real issues that are causing burnout and high attrition rates among new graduate teachers.  Solutions to combat the situation however don’t seem to be as plentiful.

It’s time.  Schools need to start addressing the issue!

  • support new teachers with experienced mentors who have been taught how to mentor
  • involve teacher training academics who have developed a rapport during the teacher training years in the employing schools to support new teachers in their first couple of years of teaching
  • ensure ongoing professional learning is relevant and inspirational so that engagement with lifelong learning becomes an integral part of the job
  • limit the number of additional duties a new teacher has to complete in a day/week for the first couple of years of their employment
  • re-think yard duty and before/after school duty so that new teachers can take this time to recharge their batteries prior to the next lesson
  • monitor workloads so that fewer teaching hours for first year graduates are gradually increased so as to guard against burnout
  • control the amount of paperwork required of first year graduates so that they are not overwhelmed by the enormity of the job from day one
  • welcome graduate teachers into our staff rooms to ensure feelings of loneliness and inadequacy do not set in
  • value the ideas, thoughts and knowledge of graduate teachers as they have much to offer, share and teach experienced teachers
  • praise of graduate teachers’ achievement and contribution to the class, year level, department and/or school should be liberal and sincere to help boost confidence and self worth
  • salary incentives with appealing incremental increases should be available to entice and encourage graduate teachers to stay in the job
  • job security in the form of permanent rather than casual teaching positions should be plentifully available to graduate teachers

It was a few years ago that I wrote a concluding paragraph on a post which discussed the value of teachers in schools.  My thoughts from then apply equally to the way we need to value our graduate teachers.

It’s incumbent on school administrations to constantly express their appreciation of their teaching staff, to laud them and ensure they know they are of value in the day to day running of the school and the overall achievements and recognition for which the school strives.  Schools that treat their teachers well are sure to reap the dividends! (NovaNews: Teachers – A school’s greatest asset! February 19, 2012)

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Common Sense MediaI recently came across the Common Sense Media website and discovered all kinds of valuable info which can easily be slotted into lessons or displayed in a library on a loop to promote cyber awareness.

While there’s a wealth of valuable information to explore on this site, these two short and sharp videos speak volumes.  There quick and colourful format will ensure that their message is absorbed by young students.

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I feel privileged to have been able to attend this year’s CBCA Conference held in Sydney (20-21 May 2016).  Jam packed with inspirational speakers addressing the conference theme Myriad Possibilities, it was truly awesome to mingle with authors, illustrators, publishers and teacCBCA 2016 Conferenceher librarians and to be inspired on the topic of reading and books for young people.

The thought that went into the conference organization ensured that a range of issues related to books and reading for and with young people were tackled from virtually every angle possible: the reader, the writer, the illustrator, the publisher and everything in between!  With only two concurrent sessions held on the first day, it was enlightening to listen to the range of keynote and panel sessions that filled the two very full days of the conference. By incorporating the conference theme “Myriad Possibilities” into each session, aspects of books and reading were teased out and analyzed in a depth not often enjoyed at a conference of this nature:

Read: Myriad Possibilities
Picture Books: Myriad Possibilities
Myriad Possibilities in Creating Children’s Picture Books
Has the Internet killed Non Fiction or Created Myriad Possibilities?
Myriad Possibilities to Hook Young Readers
Myriad Possibilities for YA Readers
Myriad Possibilities for a Better World

Underpinning the conference was an emphasis on the incredible life altering and enhancing impact that reading has on young people.  Speaker after speaker mentioned the empathy building power of books, highlighting the ways in which readers are able to learn and experience how people relate to each other and to situations in which they find themselves, simply by slipping into the shoes of a story’s characters. These opportunities arise in all forms of literature for young people – picture story books, graphic novels, films, poetry and young adult fiction.

There was also a significant focus on the serious intentions of authors and illustrators in the creation of their books.   Themes explored were many and varied, but standouts were recent publications by Carole Wilkinson (Atmospheric) and Jeannie Baker (The Circle) who in totally different ways tackle the complex topic of climate change and nature, teaching our young about the impact of change at one point in the world and its’ ripple on effect to other far away locations across the world thereby developing a consciousness of the environment and how we each play a part in ensuring its sanctity.

Politics didn’t escape the attention of many of the presenters either.  Recent remarks by the Australian Federal Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who in highly publicized statements has slated the value of refugees coming to Australia, were highlighted by a number of presenters who have written novels that grapple with the refugee experience and making our world a better place: Deb Abela (Teresa), Sarah Ayoub (Hate is such a strong word) and Nadia Wheatley (Flight) to name just a few.  Their words were passionate and in some cases primal as they begged readers to indulge in the empathy of the stories they have written and in the process develop a greater sense of compassion as they move through life in our world.

Another political push, made several times by various authors, related to the Australian Federal Government’s proposed change to laws regarding Parallel Import Regulations.  Delegates to the conference were urged to address their concerns by contacting the Australian Government Productivity Commission.

A fascinating focus of the conference was discussions and presentations about Picture Books.   So often regarded as books for only the young, authors and illustrators spoke about the complexity involved in writing the text and creating the illustrations for books that hold far more meaning than appears on the surface. The incredible depth of research that goes into the creation of picture story books and the intense collaboration required between author and illustrator is very impressive. Speaking in pairs, authors and illustrators shared with us the incredibly complex detail involved in creating a meaningful expression that upholds the author’s intentions.  Although it is hard to single out one presentation from another, Susan Gervay and Anna Pignataro stole the show as they described the painstaking process of writing and illustrating their two philosophical books: Ships in the Field and Elephants have Wings.  While the first picture story book unequivocally highlights the right of everyone to have a nationality, the second book re-visions the timeless parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant.

Forcing conference delegates to consider whether or not the Internet is killing non-fiction books was an unexpected opportunity to contemplate this issue.  Hearing that many authors are now pitching their work to a younger age group, mostly middle school, was a sad reminder of where and how schools students today are locating information. Addressing the topic, Mark Norman commented that for upper primary and older students, his books cannot compete with the Internet.  Facts viewed visually on YouTube, he said, outstrip interest in reading books.  Instead, he concluded, the Internet and non-fiction books must create pathways to each other.  Other panellists in this session implored teacher librarians to help create a groundswell of interest in non-fiction books and to create opportunities for authors to address students in schools.

Captivating and thought provoking sessions presented by over 30 speakers, all of whom have a passionate connection to children’s literature, has left me thinking deeply about all that is around to offer our students.  A number of times I wished that I could transplant the speakers into our school library so that the students could listen to the stories behind the stories they read.  The very full two day conference was an intense exposure to incredibly though provoking topics and at its end, a large number of books have been added to my never ending pile of ‘must reads’.

I am left feeling very fortunate to have had the opportunity to immerse myself in all that was offered by attendance at the 2016 CBCA Conference.

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It was a long time ago that I shared the message here on NovaNews which was given to me by one of my first professors – Dr Leo Murphy:

Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is.  Treat a man as he could be, and he will grow to be that man.”

Back then, I never dreamed that his words would have such a huge and long lasting impact on my professional and personal approach to education and learning.  Both in and out of the classroom, I hold dear to the principal that success breeds more success and that achievement feeds into continued achievement and growth.  I have always believed that a positive, warm and non threatening environment in the classroom in which risk taking is encouraged are important ingredients to nurture lifelong learning skills.   I also believe that the same holds true to successfully encourage teachers to pursue their own lifelong learning and wrote a series of articles in Educational Technology Solutions in 2015 actively promoting this concept. (See Articles 1-5 ETS listed in the side panel here on NovaNews under the Favourite Posts tab)

Written in my very early days of blogging, I really summed up my own philosophy well when I wrote:

Providing our students with tools to develop as lifelong learners must be paramount in our approach to teaching.   Providing our students with opportunities and situations in which they can safely and confidently develop knowledge and skills should be equally paramount in our approach to teaching.  As I have eluded to in past blog posts, risk taking in a safe and secure environment is a wonderful way to learn.   Establishing a level playing field, in which we recognize that teachers and students are able to learn much from each other is also equally valuable.   But establishing expectations that our students can become whoever it is they wish, is really a focus that has dominated my approach to teaching.   Instilling confidence in our students that they are able to learn and achieve at a level well beyond their present level is a gift that I strongly believe is of the utmost importance in an approach to teaching.”

Not long after, I encapsulated my philosophy to learning into a graphic:

Learning begets learning inc C

So coming across a TED video by Carol Dweck, a  world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, titled “The power of believing that you can improve!” vindicated my educational philosophy.  Reporting on researched based evidence in terms she describes as

the power of yet vs the power of not yet”

Dweck forcefully presents the argument for motivating ways in which to engage, challenge and inspire our students to grow and succeed.  Throwing up rhetorical  questions for us to ponder, Dweck questions how we are raising our children:

  • Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting A’s?
  • Are we raising kids who don’t know how to dream big dreams? 
  • And are we raising kids who need constant validation of their success?

Dweck talks about building bridges:

  • praise kids, not for their talent but for the process they adopt to engage: their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement – traits which will develop hardy and resilient kids

Dweck speaks clearly and forcefully.  Take 10 minutes to listen to her advice and the research evidence she has in abundance to support that advice!

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