Lessons from the middle of Australia…


So 4 kids in a motorhome…whose crazy idea was that ūüôā

Well it has certainly been an “adventure”…a word we began to mistrust every time we heard it discussed as part of the next element of our holiday…

I thought I would take an opportunity to share a couple of stories about some places we visited and the lessons that they taught me and I hope have had an impact on my children.¬† After all it is our children who may have the opportunity to right some wrongs and promote the positive messages we heard or saw along the way. Plus share a couple of photos…

I wanted to talk about a couple of places we visited and some impressions of the things we saw, the people we spoke to and also the sense of the history of the place.  For the point of this article I will just talk about Woomera and Coober Pedy in South Australia and Katherine Gorge and Kakadu in the Northern Territory.



Not a lot to say about this place…really just a spot on a map that is famous for it’s missile and rocket testing.¬† Mostly by the British and later the Americans.¬† The town has a park and a museum filled with rockets and missiles.¬† Only military staff and families work in this town.¬† Huge parts on the map around Woomera listed as no access zones around the town.¬† Lots of talk in the museums about all the great work of the various military forces and scientists etc…what was missing…not a lot of talk about the local indigenous population, nuclear testing or the effects of the environment and the traditional owners of the land.¬† It was sad to see but I guess a lesson to be learned.



Like this piece of junk from a movie set (Pitch Black with Vin Diesel)¬† the town is littered with lots of broken bits of old cars, mining equipment and other random junk.¬† The whole area is made up of holes in the ground where many people come to make their fortune mining for opals.¬† It is a little sad what we do to our country in some places in search of wealth.¬† Though the locals seem to love it…definitely a quirky place.¬† We heard lots of other stories in our “adventures” about some of the crazy things early settlers did in some places in order to make their wealth.¬† One story of an early sheep farmer who brought 120000 sheep to Wilpena Pound (Flinders Ranges SA) and in two years turned it from a lush landscape into a desert.¬† It was good to see that it is now on the mend as a National Park.



I taught in Katherine 20 years ago in my second year of teaching.  It was like the wild west to a young man from Brisbane even after doing a year in Alice Springs.  I like many city kids could not believe the state of behaviour and conditions of and for indigenous Australians and though as a child witnessing a lot of that casual racism within my own family and being ashamed of it at the time it was easy to fall into thinking about these stereotypes and feeling they were justified.

20 years on there are still big problems with alcoholism and racism in our country and it is on show in central Australia, however, we did have an opportunity to listen to a number of indigenous and non-indigenous tour guides and park rangers who gave me hope for the future of this country.

One young man who was our tour guide for the Katherine Gorge was indigenous but not from the Katherine area (he was from the Whitsundays).¬† He decided as it was his last week running the tour that he would alter his tour information.¬† He spoke of the local traditional owners and the great things that they were doing in the area to manage this beautiful place.¬† He told of their struggles and the history of the place.¬† One fact that had an impact was that it only became illegal to kill and Aboriginal person in 1960.¬† He talked of the destruction of the area and the effect on the local people in a little over a 90 year period (NT history of “colonisation” was a lot later than other parts of Australia).¬† He talked of the impact that a decision made in another part of the country depicted in the Paul Kelly song:

had a positive impact in Katherine and the traditional owners were able to fight for their land back.  In one of the greatest acts of forgiveness I have heard about the traditional owners decided to share their lands, despite everything that had happened to them, and openly encourage non-indigenous Australians and others to visit and share their culture.  Like a number of other indigenous Australian speakers I heard on this holiday he spoke with a pride and a confidence that I had not seen previously in this part of Australia and in other parts of Queensland that I have visited.



Lots of crocodiles (salt water crocodiles)…don’t put your hand out of the boat…ever…

a very beautiful part of the country…despite the crocs


Again stories from tour guides and park rangers spoke of the skills of the traditional owners in managing the land.  Lots of information that puts some of our curriculum into perspective when it comes to learning about indigenous culture.  A culture that managed the land for tens of thousands of years and of a people who speak often 4 or more languages.  Their languages are part of their culture and the words tell a story about the objects they are describing that teach you about how to survive and the laws of their people.  It was fascinating.

All in all it was great trip…I am glad to be back though and I will end this post by sharing some photos that show how beautiful our country is and we should all be proud of it.







Learning is Misunderstood


I have recently been reading Make it Stick The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger and McDaniel and it has some interesting insights into learning that I thought I would share.

Chapter 1: Learning is Misunderstood

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not.¬† When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.
  • Rereading text and massed practice of a skill or new knowledge are by far the preferred study strategies of learners of all stripes, but they’re also the least productive. By massed practice we mean the single-minded, rapid-fire repetition of something you’re trying to burn into memory, the “practice-practice-practice” of conventional wisdom.
  • For true mastery or durability these strategies (rereading and massed practice)¬†are largely a waste of time.
  • Retrieval practice – recalling facts or concepts or events from memory – is a¬†more effective learning strategy than review by rereading.
  • Simple quiz after reading a text or hearing a lecture produces better learning and remembering than rereading the text or reviewing lecture notes.
  • Periodic practice arrests forgetting, strengthens retrieval routes, and is essential for hanging onto the knowledge you want to gain.¬† Space out practice at a task and get a little rusty between sessions, or you interleave the practice of two or more subjects, retrieval is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.
  • Try to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning, even when errors are made in the attempt. (Pre-assessment and inquiry based learning)
  • The popular notion that you learn better when you receive instruction in a form consistent with your preferred learning style, for example as an auditory or visual learner, is not supported by the empirical research.
  • In virtually all areas of learning, you build better mastery when you use testing as a tool to identify and bring up your areas of weakness. (check ins and feedback)
  • New learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.
  • Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.
  • People who learn to extract the key ideas from new material and organise them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery.
  • Many people believe that their intellectual ability is hard-wired from birth, and that failure to meet a learning challenge is an indictment of their native ability.¬† But every time you learning something new, you change the brain – the residue of your experiences is stored. (Growth Mindset)
  • Learning is stronger when it matters, when the abstract is made concrete and personal.
  • If rereading is largely ineffective, why do students favour it? Rising familiarity with a text and fluency in reading it can create the illusion of mastery.

Creativity is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein

One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply РRobert Sternberg



The Design Thinking School

Design Thinking can be a powerful vehicle for deeper learning of content, more divergent thinking and building the thinking skills capacity of learners. Key to the process’s success in learning, is that it provides the platform for learners to become problem finders. At a time when design thinking tends to come across as “shop” class and post-it notes, NoTosh have spent four years developing medium- and long-term professional development programmes with schools around the world, which marry design and education research with classroom practices that work in any part of curriculum. We’ve seen schools increase student engagement, content coverage and attainment thanks to the challenging way we frame design thinking and formative assessment, together, as a vehicle for creative and robust learning.


2017 will bring new challenges with changes to curriculum.  Ideally I would like to see us get to a place where we can challenge our children with an appropriate level of academic rigour but also provide them an opportunity to explore  their creative and technological skills.


Notosh is a company that works with schools and other organisations to promote learning and design thinking.


This might be a dream at this stage but as they say… “Aim ever higher”


Expectations & Autonomy


I understand that our jobs are all a balancing act.¬† We juggle expectations from ourselves, our own lives and families, our students, our parent community, the school and our department.¬† I don’t think we have the balance right yet and it is something we are constantly working towards by reviewing systems and trying to filter down to what is important.¬† I can only speak for school and will not begin to try and review¬†how everyone manages their busy lives.¬† I wanted to take the time in this blog to clarify my expectations and where they come from and also to see how my personal belief in Teacher autonomy can still work in this current era of high expectations, accountability and departmental overarching guidelines.¬† I don’t have all the answers and that’s why I ask everyone to work in teams to try and get to the core of our business.


Without motivation we find our jobs very difficult and we see on a daily basis that motivation can drive our students to achieve or the lack of¬†it hold them back.¬† I have shared the work of Dan Pink with respect to “Drive” in the past.

This along with other work looks at why we are motivated to do our work.  And we are all motivated by different things.  As a Teacher (or Principal) you are motivated by:

  1. Autonomy Рyou want to get on with your job as you see fit.  You want to have a say and control over how you teach and implement the other elements of your profession. Sometimes the guidelines and expectations restrict your own creativity.  Prescribed curriculum and pacing can be frustrating.
  2. Mastery – you seek novelty and challenge and may become bored easily without that challenge.¬† You seek feedback and you look for innovation.¬† Readily try new strategies, techniques and resources.¬† Can be frustrated when things don’t work out the way you had envisaged or hoped.
  3. Purpose РYou need to understand the vision and mission in order to be motivated.  You need to understand an initiative in order to accept and move forward.  You have high expectations for your students and you are interested in what is best for them.  You prefer big picture conversations and can be frustrated by conversations about minutia.
  4. Belonging – You seek feedback, interaction and engagement.¬† You are interesting in forging relationships and work well in teams.¬† You are able to reach even the most difficult of students.¬† Your instructional decisions are based on “who” rather than “what” or “why”.¬† You share resources and ideas with your colleagues though can be a little socially awkward.

We’re a complex bunch ūüôā

It is probably not as cut and dry as that and we are a combination of all of these.¬† However, we tend to have a go to behaviour.¬† The complexity is bringing that all together as a team, complying with expectations¬†and working towards a common goal.¬† Sometimes I find my job is a case of filtering out the “rubbish” and getting on with what works for our kids. If it was only that easy.¬† So where do my expectations come from how do we make that work for everyone.

Research & Data


Feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.


High Impact Strategies

The metropolitan region have a number of high impact strategies that can be found on their edStudio page.


It is also linked to a number of targets for literacy and numeracy.  This is where the accountability comes from and this is what my Lead Principal will always talk to me about.  And this is the struggle for those of us who like our autonomy.

Data that drives our agenda


This is the data that gives the region the most drama…while our ICSEA is 92 and in the light green category of Upper Quartile expectation (compared to similar schools).¬† We are performing in the mid upper quartile or mid lower quartile across the board in year 3 and 5.¬† We all know there are a number of contributing factors and trust me it is not something I lay awake at night thinking about :).¬† It is just something to be mindful of when you question some of the decisions we make around our programs and our planning and coaching strategies.

Planning, Teaching, Assessment and Professional Learning

Our Teaching & Learning Cycle outlines our process and embeds our other priorities.  My expectation would be that we use this opportunity to plan together and discuss the individual needs of our students as an important part of our professional learning.  It is a way for us to maintain some consistency around expectations though I would hope that this process has enough flexibility to meet your needs.  The autonomy can come in the way you deliver your program but remember those involved are using their experience, expertise and research in helping you to deliver a program that meets the needs of all your students.  I would hope that you all would readily engage in this process as it also shapes our other resourcing including teacher aide time and extra staffing.


When I came to Payne Road I made a decision that we would use the C2C resources particularly the assessment tasks.¬† I know this is not popular because it can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to the quality of those tasks and the time it takes to deliver that assessment.¬† My belief is that it is important that we deliver the rigor of the Australian Curriculum and at the moment the C2C resources are there to help us do that.¬† From some interesting conversations at the Data Literacy day for Metropolitan Band 7 School Leadership teams we reviewed elements of the Australian Curriculum and the intent of those standards as a “C” standard.¬† If we had the time it would be good to develop some new assessment tasks but at the moment we are all very busy and we will work with what we have.

Reading to Learn and Learning to Read are our current strategies for English and we are still refining.  This is our attempt to balance our program (recommendation from the Full School Review) without throwing out everything we have invested in to this point.

Mathematics will probably become part of our review work in 2017 and beyond.

One final word

It is my intention that we approach this work as a team.¬† I will continue to seek your feedback but you must remember we can’t approach all the work within your personal style or motivation (or mine)¬†as the key approach.¬† There will be challenges and we won’t always agree on the processes in¬†place but I would hope that we can discuss these as professionals.¬† Remember the ultimate goal is to improve student learning and in the process build our own capacity to meet these needs.

Thanks for your efforts and I hope your day is not too much of this:



Learning 2 Read


So we have planned for this as part of our “balanced literacy program”.¬† It will look different in different parts of our school in line with our gradual release literacy program.¬† Guided Reading is a key strategy within this process as we support individual learners.¬† Thought I would share some resources:



The PRSS Framework


You can check this out at: https://team.oneportal.deta.qld.gov.au/sites/prdss/framework/default.aspx

So you are all busily working on elements of our areas of concern from the Full School Review (along with report cards).  I have had a number of conversations with multiple staff about elements of Teaching & Learning and I had come to the realisation that elements of our Pedagogical Framework could also be found in our Teaching & Learning Cycle at: https://team.oneportal.deta.qld.gov.au/sites/prdss/teachlearn/default.aspx

I was doing some re-arranging of sections on the TeamSite as more information was coming from the different groups and as our leadership team had been discussing other elements of our curriculum.¬† I thought it would be good to capture this work and have it form our Pedagogical Framework.¬† Once I started I realised that this wasn’t all about teaching and also reflected other work we do or will do to ensure the students are achieving and that you also feel that your professional learning needs are met…

So, sometime later I have what you will see on the TeamSite in the PRSS Framework section.¬† It is¬†a work in progress and your ideas are contributing to it’s development.¬† Again I don’t think it will all magically fall into place because I make a pretty picture…but I am confident we are heading in the right direction.¬† The rest of the TeamSite reflects these broader sections but they will evolve as we put more elements together.

Once again thanks for all your efforts.

Pedagogical Framework @ Payne Road State School


During the Full School Review a number of recommendations were made with respect to curriculum.  As you know these recommendations came from your feedback and also a review of documents we had at the school.  One particular reference was made to the Pedagogical Framework:

‚ÄúCollaboratively review the school‚Äôs pedagogical framework and establish clearly understood expectations in relation to school-wide pedagogical practices.‚ÄĚ

PRSS Full School Review 2016 ‚Äď Effective Pedagogy Practices Improvement Strategies

I have heard on good authority that the process of reviewing the framework has happened every year with every new Principal and I didn’t want to put you all through that again, particularly if there would be¬†no practical document or process developed from this review.¬† I thought I would give you some of the background and requirements from the department around Pedagogical Frameworks.¬† There is a bit of research material as well.¬† Like a lot of schools Payne Road has chosen a variation of the Dimensions of Teaching & Learning.¬† A number of documents have been created that outline what that means and I believe you have been through a process where you looked at elements of this draft document:


It is pretty comprehensive and in depth.  I summarised the elements in the diagram above (because you know I like pictures) and I think that I would try and build something that spells out the elements and simplify where you go to find out more information.  I think it is also important to align it with work that you have all been doing in the various PLCs and working parties.  I think this is something that I can put together with feedback from groups or individuals without taking up a lot of your valuable time in meetings and outside of school.  Ideally I would like it to be simple to follow and give new Teachers to the school a guide of where to start when organising their class and their professional practice.

Below is the requirements of this document and also some resources:

Expectations from the Department of Education and Training

Schools will implement a research-validated pedagogical framework that:

1.Describes the schools values and beliefs about teaching and learning that respond to the local context and the levels of student achievement;

2.Outlines processes for professional learning and instructional leadership to support consistent whole-school pedagogical practices, to monitor and increase the sustained impact of those practices on every student’s achievement;

3.Details procedures, practices and strategies ‚Äď for teaching, differentiating, monitoring, assessing, moderating ‚Äď that reflect school values and support student improvement;

4.Reflects the following core systemic principles:

  • Student-centred planning
  • High expectations
  • Alignment of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment
  • Evidence-based decision making
  • Targeted and scaffolded instruction
  • Safe, supportive, connected and inclusive learning environments


Pedagogical Framework – Learning Place

Online Tool for reviewing the different types of frameworks

I don’t think it would be beneficial to change our current model (again perhaps) but to clarify some elements to let you know what that means for your practice.¬† We have been building elements and I think these would all form parts of this one page document.

If I put my Teacher hat on for 5 minutes I think that if I was new to a school I would want to know these things:

  • What are our planning processes;
  • Is there a consistent or desired¬†approach to delivering the curriculum;
  • What curriculum am I delivering specifically;
  • What data do I collect to support my practice;
  • How do I support the diverse needs of my kids (and who can help me to do that);
  • How do I engage in my own learning to improve my practice

So what am I missing?…Don’t be shy.¬† If you have some pressing ideas about what this document should contain or what it could do without please respond to this article.¬†Or even if you want to discuss it in some¬†specific format…Your feedback is valuable and we need all perspectives.¬† If you don’t want to post directly to this blog please feel free to email me.¬† If the overwhelming response is to have more time to discuss in a staff meeting I can make that time happen.

Putting Faces on the Data


You may have seen this book…once or twice ūüôā I believe it was given to all the Principals in Team 7 (Band 7 schools who work with Jeff Geise as the Lead Principal).¬† It is a book we often refer to in meetings with our Team 7 Principal colleagues and elements of the book have been implemented across all these schools (not to mention other schools across the country)¬† You will see elements of it in the work we do from time to time and obviously so key terms you would be familiar with from processes that have already been implemented or discussed.¬† A key element of this work is the 14 parameters which are¬†a set of improvement areas that set apart high performing schools from other schools.

The explanation for better performance in our view lies in more carefully focused attention to the details in each of 14 improvement areas, or what we call the 14 parameters (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009). It turned out, as we have found time and again, that it is not mere acceptance or endorsement of an idea or practice that counts but rather engaging in the actions that cause implementation.

When I first came to Payne Road I did a bit of mapping of areas that these 14 parameters sit within the National School Improvement Tool.  I had put down some of the activities you were all doing and also what I thought needed to be done but I think that would have changed since then with the full school review.  This alignment of the NSIT and the 14 parameters is below:


I have also included a video below of Lyn Sharratt talking about the case management process.