Conformity and creativity? A challenge for new educators

In many industries there are often times of great ‘change’ and upheaval. Unfortunately, education is rarely one of those.

While systems of schools often respond to various needs or pressures in their country or community, the way we teach children has not ‘radically’ altered in the past century. This understanding is used by many popular ‘heroes’ of education, such as Sir Ken Robinson, as a platform to call for substantial reform.

There are compelling arguments both for reforms and for a continuation of traditions. Different research in education will point to various solutions and can be frustrating to read as a new educator. This is mostly due to the dubious nature of some research and the question of ‘can this work in my school context’.

From what I’ve read and experienced this year, it is clear that there are some standard practices that work well for many, while others stop children from learning in a way that works for them. Ultimately, systems don’t have the funding to completely differentiate for every child.

However, this is where the challenge for new educators begins.

Before starting teaching, I had read many inspiring books, stories and examples of innovative teaching. I’d visited a number of charter schools and ones in Australia who were doing something ‘special’. I was excited.

I was then faced with the reality of teaching in a high school. The various and ever-changing pressures from departments, school executive, other teachers, parents, and of course, the students. It was confusing and confronting.

Many of the exciting ideas faded away for a while as I adjusted to the school environment. But now, they are back and some of the frustrations I’ve had with teaching and schooling have fuelled a desire to embark upon a ‘revolution’ that Robinson calls for.

But… is that the best idea?

The question I have been asking myself is: how ‘revolutionary’ should teachers really be when teaching in a standardised system? If I start letting students complete elaborate creative tasks, drop all tests and respond to every student in an individual way, will they miss out on preparing for the standardised assessment used to determine their entrance into university?

I’m currently teaching Year 9 and 10 students in the ACT public system where students attend high school from Y7-10 and then transition to ‘college’. Colleges are separate Y11 & 12 schools with university-like feel to them. No uniform, attendance only required when classes are on and a highly independent learning experience.

I love to constantly trial and test many of the interesting ideas I’ve read in blogs, books and websites. However, I also have a responsibility to be preparing students to do well in college.

I say to my students that I love all of their dreams, what ever they are. I think it’s incredible that they all have different ideas and aspirations. But what I want for them is: that by the time they finish schooling in the ACT, they will be able to choose what ever it is they want to do. That their choices won’t be limited by their decisions during school, or by a system that didn’t work for them.

To live this out, I believe it is important to start with good relationships and then be responsive to students’ needs. However, while doing this, it is important for teachers to be honest with themselves, and with the students.

Yes, if you work hard, there are many pathways to success. Look at Gates, DeGeneres and Branson. However, there is a set way of doing things in education. While in the system, we can’t forget where we are.

I want to be an experimenter and an explorer. I want to challenge students perceptions of what is right and wrong, and enable them to always think for themselves. However, I also want to make sure they can do incredibly well in our system, to be able to walk into a standardised test with confidence, write great essays and of course, speak well.

Does the system rule how we teach, or does out teaching shape the system…? This is the challenge. How can we challenge the system, use new methods and be responsive to our students needs, while ensuring they can succeed within it.

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Using discussions to engage students in learning

I mostly groan when I remember some of the tutorial discussions I was required to attend at university. While some created a thirst for knowledge**, it felt like others were slowly destroying my brain cells.

I recall small rooms filled with tired or overzealous undergraduates, lead on a ‘journey of discovery’ by a tired PhD candidate. Generally there was a journal article or textbook chapter to read for the week. However, blank copies of unread writing lay bare for all to see… if they were even present.

For the poor tutor, extracting conversation out of some students was like a mother asking her despondent child ‘what happened at school today?’ For a few select students, a fountain of new knowledge came out. For most, it was an hour of cruel and unusual punishment they would much rather skipped.

I saw a few consistent problems with these discussions.
1) Many students were not prepared for discussions due to not completing set reading – myself included!
2) There was often no explanation of what makes a ‘good’ tutorial. Rules were rarely established; and because students could clearly opt out of discussions by refusing to contribute, engagement was low.
3) Each student engaged in the tutorial discussion in a different way. Some saw them as an opportunity to practice their debating skills while others mostly observed or simply stated an opinion.

After this experience, I was generally concerned about the ability of my own students to have such a discussion. What would happen? Would it become a heated argument? Would students just sit their in silence?

Well, last week I found out.

After honing some of my facilitation skills in the classroom over the past six months, I decided to trial ‘socratic seminar‘ with my Year 9 and 10 students. I was taught this discussion method by a particularly brilliant Deakin University academic Julie Dyer. It allows classes to discuss a particular question in a tutorial style format, responding to a text.

A topical civics example could be politicians’ entitlements. The teacher would ask students to read some news articles or opinion pieces, then have them participate in a 30 minute discussion on ‘what expenses should taxpayers subsidise for our politicians?’

During a socratic seminar, half the class participates in a discussion facilitated by a fellow classmate. The facilitators job is to ensure everyone contributes and helps to guide the conversation. The other half observe, each partnering with someone in the discussion to mark them on their participation. All students self assess and provide feedback to each other as a group at the end.

For the two classes, students in Year 9 discussed ‘What was the most significant change that occurred during the Industrial Revolution’ and Year 10 looked at the statement ‘Businesses should be allowed to scale pay rates for workers aged 14-20’.

I gave both classes only a short period of time to prepare for the discussion, challenging them to think quickly and engage how they could. This made sure they were all jumping into the deep-end of learning, but allowed them to have stimulus so they could contribute even a small amount.

Students were asked to value all opinions and to see that no answer was necessarily right or wrong within a discussion. I said that my hope was for them to gain a greater insight and learn more through hearing all views, like the Jedi Council…

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I was astounded at the participation rate. In all three of my classes, every student was engaged. While those observing were clearly not as stimulated, they still sat, listened, took notes and marked their partner on their progress throughout the discussion. For those participating, the early silence turned quickly into a highly engaged discussion.

Putting students into an environment where they were unprepared was also beneficial. At the end of the lesson, the class identified all of the key ingredients to a good discussion and noted that they all wanted more time to prepare. Their conversations were far from perfect, but the learning was there. Many students also agreed that next time they should be doing some reading at home to make sure they were ready.

Watching students share their own ideas, hear others and challenge each other was remarkable. I sat back and never had to speak, only walking around the room encouraging the markers to maintain their focus and keeping note on the whiteboard of how many times each person had participated.

It might not be rocket science, but it certainly felt like it. It is a genuine struggle to create an activity that is engaging for all students, but this did it!

All three classes have asked for us to do more of these in the future and I look forward to seeing them share ideas and challenge each other in a positive way.

I haven’t smiled this much all year.

‘Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.’ – Margaret Mead.

** I should pay tribute to some of the great tutors and lecturers I had while at ANU. Of particular note: Helen Keane, John Warhurst, Alistair Grieg, Adrian Bazbauers and Adel Abdel Ghafar.

Working towards project based learning

With reporting season nearly finished, I have been reflecting on what I wanted to achieve myself this semester, and how I might fare if I received a report card on my teaching.

As a new educator, I have been focusing on getting the basics right: working on my classroom management, instruction and engagement with students. It has been a constant minefield of different ideas, perspectives and challenges but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Flashback to May last year, I was in Washington D.C. and wrote about my experience seeing some incredible project based learning in action at Two Rivers Public Charter School. It made me excited about teaching and was one of the final experiences that ensured I would apply for Teach for Australia.

While looking at ‘enquiry based learning’, ‘project based learning’ and ‘scenario based learning’ all helps, I think at the core there needs to be an achievable project. I believe classes where students: have choice, participate in ‘action learning’, and create something to be celebrated at the end, give students the best chance to soak up rich learning and develop lasting skills.

With this belief, I often feel that I’m not delivering content in a way that I myself would enjoy as a student. I want to be listening to what students want and incorporating that into interesting projects that deliver the curriculum in a way that is engaging. Big ask, but it is an aim I believe all teachers should have. While my skills are improving, I hope to give my students more freedom and choice in the classroom next semester.

This term, I started to test a few ideas, giving students small projects, scenarios and tasks for one, two or three lessons. While they had mixed results, scenarios have been the most interesting and successful from my perspective.

For the ‘scenario lessons’, I provided each student with a ‘real life’ challenge that they needed to solve. I gave them a brief context, explaining who they were and the decisions they needed to make. I then listed a series of outcomes they must meet by the end of the lesson along with steps they could take if they get stuck.

Students are given a simple task to ensure their minds are placed into the scenario setting, then choose how to complete the remainder of the outcomes. Usually in pairs, students would progress at a different pace and achieve different learning along the way, but need to answer a few key questions by the end of the lesson.

During the lessons, some students required little to no help, while others needed consistent reassurance and support. However, almost all students were engaged, learning and participated in a way they felt comfortable with. They were also pushed to answer all the questions, but in a way where they could choose how to manage this.

At the end, students had to present their solution to the class, building speaking confidence and showcasing the different ideas that were developed. Each presentation was clapped and supported with energy in the room.

In other lessons, I organised computer access and gave out individual research projects to complete by the end of two-three lessons. The focus was to develop literacy, asking students to research different questions and answer in the form of a paragraph, Facebook post, tweet or graphic. Once completed they would show a friend for editing then email me with a digital copy of the assignment upon completion as evidence.

These lessons were particularly useful for ensuring I deliver differentiation properly. It ensured that students who need extra support, an additional push or a specific task could easily be provided with opportunities tailored to their learning requirements.

Next semester, I aim to continue to develop these skills by observing a range of primary school and college (Y11-12) classes to see how they use projects to deliver content to students. This should provide me with a few interesting ideas to try out in my own classroom.

In particular, I am excited about working with my new Year 10 Business and Global Studies class on term-long projects that build their skills. While I am a long way from delivering high-level project based learning in my classes, I am glad to be working at a school that encourages new teachers to collaborate with colleagues and constantly challenge themselves.

Reduce assessment stress with laughter

When I was in high school, I always hated class tests. I found them restrictive, they made me stressed and I mostly felt that I couldn’t do my best. Assignments allowed me to be at least a little creative and, as in the real world, seek and receive help when needed.

I had a particular dislike for maths (sorry maths teachers) as it always seemed to take me a little longer than everyone else to complete equations. I remember also the incredibly boring scenarios that would be given to us where ‘Joe Bloggs’ would buy some apples from ‘John Smith’.

Despite how I loathed them, I do recognise that tests are practical and a legitimate form of assessment. While testing and examinations are an regular part of summative assessment in schools, they don’t need to be so dry and boring.

At my current school we have end of term tests for our Studies of Society and the Environment units. Fortunately, teachers are allowed to write their own questions and differentiate for students with particular learning needs.

This year, I decided to try and make my tests more relatable and enjoyable for students. While some sections will always be dull, I tried to ‘spice things up’ with a dose of lame humour.

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The aim was to make sure that the students would laugh or smile. While this isn’t a normal occurrence in tests, and can be a little distracting, I thought it was worth it to try and reduce ‘test stress’.

Ridiculous additional answers for multiple choice questions, scenarios involving Gotham City, Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran and additional silly questions were all included.

My Year 7 students all let me know how incredibly lame I am after reading this question that was based on a class joke.

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While it might seem like a daft idea, it did make the kids laugh or groan, the jokes were incredibly lame after all. However, at least I know that during an hour of hell for many students, there was a little enjoyment. After all, what’s the world without a bit of fun.

I’ve also tried to make assignments more enjoyable too focusing on small projects that are constantly becoming more practical. While my Year 9’s have recently been writing a report for our SOSE faculty on a natural disaster, I gave the Year 7’s an imaginary $2000 to design an exclusive two day party for themselves and 9 friends.

This weekend I have been reading about their exciting (and expensive) plans. Trips to Sydney, jumping castles in family backyards, scuba-diving, and a hired chef and magician at a penthouse room at the Hyatt! I hope their parents don’t complain about the inflated party expectations…

Assessment is tough, it should be. We should have high expectations and standards for our kids and they should aim to meet them. But it shouldn’t always be boring, and it has to be flexible!

Most of my students complain about all of their assessment. However, I hope that they can bare mine and, perhaps, even manage a smile or two along the way.

Bringing community into the classroom

One of my aims as a teacher is to bring the community into the classroom – exposing students to the many different types of careers and activities they could participate in. In doing this, I hope to give them something to prepare for and a strong reason to engage in their education.

This year at Melrose High, I have begun to turn this aim into a reality, testing out what community engagement is possible. This post highlights three key examples, guest speakers, regular classroom volunteers and structured programs with community organisations.

Through my role as a classroom teacher of SOSE (history, geography, business and civics), I have organised a range of friends as guest speakers for Year 7 and Year 9 students. From a Colonel with the Australian Army, to the owner of a local start-up, or a volunteer with the NSW SES – each speaker has had a positive impact on the class.

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Students are most interested and engaged in subjects that they can see are relevant. Guest speakers help to make this real world connection to what we are learning in the classroom. They provide different perspectives and even a bit of inspiration for some students.

While not everyone in the class ‘lights up’ for the speakers, at the end of each presentation I always see a small group of students excitedly asking questions and wondering if they could do something similar when they finish school. For me, this makes the organisation worth while.

Seeing the positive reactions to guest speakers lead me to reconnect with organisations like ANU Debating, Oaktree Foundation, UN Youth and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and to ask them to come into my classroom. The energy and ‘buzz’ in a room when young volunteers come in to facilitate a lesson is amazing.

While I am still working out how to consistently arrange guest speakers to fit within the SOSE curriculum, I’m excited by the possibilities I have see already.

I have also also been working with the organisation I founded, Raising Hope Education Foundation, to develop and assess a new initiative this term called ‘classroom mentoring’. This program recruits university students to volunteer with a teacher 1-2 hours each week over the course of a year.

In four schools, these volunteers are working alongside teachers like me to provide additional support for students who need it. They have facilitated workshops, helped students with assignments, assisted with lab work in science, enabled teachers to demonstrate conversations in French and added some colour and diversity to the classroom.

This is another example of how the community can support our students to succeed.

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Alongside this, it has been exciting to be able to help organise a mentoring program with local university students through Raising Hope. I’ve seen the direct benefits for many of my Year 9 and 10 students who participate in the program.

The opportunity to regularly catch up with a mentor who is a similar age is genuinely appreciated by the students. Many have told me how useful they have found it planning for their future and just getting general life advice from someone who is friendly and is there as a volunteer just to help them.

While this post highlights some examples of how the community can support their local school, there are many more that I hope to explore. All it takes is passionate educators with the time to engage with those who are already eager to support what we do.

Showing your team colours builds student rapport

Despite the disbelief of most of my Year 7 students, I too attended high school. While it sometimes feels like eons ago, I still remember, and am inspired by, the remarkable connection that some of my of the teachers had with their students.

Before starting teaching this year, I spent time reflecting on the good teachers I had during my own schooling. I couldn’t help thinking of Mr Wiseman. His love and passion for sport helped him to connect with students, particularly during State of Origin time.

Mr Wiseman was one of those all-round ‘top blokes’. He could make a kid laugh, maintain order and discipline and enjoy friendly banter in the school playground.

One of my fond memories from Year 8 was when he and some other teachers organised a weekend excursion for students to see our local Raiders play his beloved Broncos. This was one of the first times I remember attending a footy game and I loved it, despite my team loosing to his northerners (similar to this weekend!)

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Building strong and positive relationships with students is perhaps the most important part of teaching pedagogy, in my opinion. It’s not fool proof, but I’ve seen that getting to know your students well and showing them that you’re a real person too can help in the classroom. Particularly with those students who didn’t want to be there at the start of the year or still don’t now.

Sometimes you just need a little ‘in’ to help make that happen.

This year, I decided that I’d test if ‘showing your colours’ would help with building student rapport. While I am not the biggest sports fan in the world, I do enjoy watching or listening to a game on the weekend and have a scarf from each of my teams. While I got to know many of the kids teams in Term 1, I didn’t spend too much time telling them mine.

Term 2 in Canberra gets pretty chilly, so it was definitely time to break out those scarves. Every day I wear a different one from a team I support. Raiders, Brumbies, Swans and even the Washington Wizards (Bullets) from my time in the U.S.

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I was surprised with the results. When wearing the scarves while on duty or walking to class, students would always come up and tell me my teams sucked… were awesome or something in between. We’d end up having some friendly banter about who’s team was better, higher on the ladder or had won more premierships or seasons recently.

Our school is a big one, over 750 students, and getting to know kids in the year groups I don’t teach is hard. At the end of Week 5 I can say that ‘showing my team colours’ in the school has helped to build relationships with dozens of students I would have never spoken to. I know many of the kids teams and I often end Fridays with some of the kids yelling ‘we’re gonna smash the Swans tomorrow, Sir’ or ‘carn the Raiders’.

It might not seem like much, but a love of sport runs through the veins of most Aussies, including our kids. While I love to sit and discuss my passion for art and culture with some of the kids who draw or paint at lunch time, it’s important to use the different parts of who you are engage with all students in the school.

Overall, I’m very glad to be following the lead of a teacher I had years ago and sharing my love of different sports teams with the kids. Cheers to Mr Wiseman for being a great teacher!

Creating opportunities for students to love school

A few years ago, a Huffington Post article by David Allyn started with the headline ‘Can students love school? Yes, if schools love students.’ From my experience, while this is absolutely true, we must also provide opportunities for students to create their own reasons for ‘loving’ their school.

Many students at my school who are athletic and enjoy sport, love coming to school for the opportunity to participate in AFL, rugby, hockey, NRL or other team sports. Some of them form their own training teams supported by our staff. I enjoy the banter I have with students who follow the different codes, as I wear my team scarfs proudly around the school playground (particularly after a winning weekend!)

However, not all students enjoy activities like sport or the arts, and find sanctuaries around the school for other pursuits they love.

Recently I supervised a group of year 7 students who were not participating in NAPLAN. I asked them to decide amongst themselves what they wanted to do with this time. They started reading in the library but quickly voted to watch a movie in my classroom.

After deciding on a film, we went up and I put on Finding Nemo. Many of the students had not been to my classroom before and were excited to see and read my comic book collection (thanks for the help Impact). When the bell rang, some of them asked if they could do this again sometime with their other friends who love comics.

I thought this was a great opportunity for them to work on a little project. I asked the students to think about doing this as a regular activity, getting a group of other students together and watching films once a week.

A few days later a small group of ten year 7’s approached me and asked if it would be ok to have ‘Comic Club’ every Thursday lunchtime, and watch some of the latest Marvel movies or read comics. I wrote them up a note for their parents to sign letting them watch the films and with the notes returned, the club was formed.

So this week they had their first ‘Comic Club’, planning what movies to see during the year and spending the rest of the time watching ‘Star Wars Rebels’. They decided they would watch Guardians of the Galaxy first, and then Captain America. I’m hoping to persuade them to watch some of the classics too.

As a new educator who loves superheroes, I was excited to see a group of year 7 students joining together to organise a safe place for them to enjoy something they love. Some of them said it was nice to be able to escape the playground with their friends, others simply enjoyed the fact they were doing something they loved.

On Friday, many of the students said to me they had ‘the most awesomest time’ and it was ‘the best day ever’. They genuinely appreciated the opportunity to share in something they all love together at school, asking if this could continue until they finish in Year 10. Apparently I’m now not allowed to leave.

Allowing students to have the opportunity to lead and create their own group meant they were able to take ownership of a school activity as their own. While creating safe and supportive classrooms is important, providing extra curricular opportunities for students to meet together and do things they love helps to create a more positive school environment.

I hope I get more opportunities to help my students love our school.

My first term as a teacher

After a particularly hard class during my first term of teaching, one of my older students said ‘Sir, why do you even bother?’ It was one of the more raw questions I have been asked and one I hoped I wouldn’t receive only a few weeks into teaching.

When I decided to teach, I had this image of myself as someone who’s desire to help students to learn and follow their passions would be evident through my teaching. I believe actions should speak louder than words and I thought that the way I treated students would ensure they knew why I was there.

While Term 1 has been made up of good, average and bad days, I have walked into my school every day with the knowledge that I’m there to make a difference. I explain to my students that at the end of Year 12, I want them to be able to choose what ever they want to do. The choice is theirs to make, but I don’t want their choices to be limited because I allowed them to disengage in my classroom. I try to support this mantra with action in my classes.

A few weeks later another student in the playground came up to me and said ‘thanks for being so nice to me’, then quickly ran off to play with their friends. This student had been one of the more difficult in my classes, but getting to know them had helped turn their behaviour around.

The two anecdotes from student interactions above sum up my experience as a first term teacher.

It has been a journey of confusion, full of questions and frustrating answers. It has also been one that has shown me that empathy and understanding must be at the heart of everything we do in schools.

Those first ten weeks were a huge learning journey filled with questions of ‘why’. Why we teach, why do students learn, why do we have tests, and why do we structure education in the way that we do? It has been frustrating, humbling, inspiring and full of ego-crushing blows from particularly witty students.

Discipline, classroom management and giving a students a reason to want to be in my classroom have been the most challenging aspects of. I know my many, many lessons from Term 1 will help to make Term 2 a better experience for my students.

Teaching is far more challenging, rewarding and interesting than I had ever imagined. Responsibility is omnipresent and the pressures faced by staff are incredible but there is constant gratification. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life right now and am grateful for the opportunity to teach with a wise and supportive staff team at Melrose High School.

The highlight from this term has been getting to know students outside the classroom through the Year 7 Camp and working as one of the school’s SRC coordinators. Seeing students organising events, speaking at assembly, sharing ideas on how to improve the school or working on projects reminds me how important it is to focus on teaching students skills in our classrooms.

As Helen Hayes once said, ‘The expert in anything was once a beginner’, and the remnants of my ego that lay scattered on the floor of my classroom are proof that ‘Mr Duggan’ has a lot to learn. Thank you to all the people who have helped me over the past few months with advice and support.

While I know that it will take many years to become a quality teacher, I hope that in the future my students won’t have to ask why I bother and through my actions, will know how much I genuinely care.

Eggcellent Opportunity to Educate on Empathy

This morning I followed tradition and enjoyed the delicious taste of chocolate to celebrate Easter. Over the past few weeks though, I couldn’t help but think that the true ‘meaning’ of Easter was perhaps lost amongst this commercialised chocolaty experience.

I was lucky enough to have a few surprises this morning, full of Marvel’s Avengers. As much as I enjoy kinder chocolate & Marvel, the real superheroes today are those helping others – practicing servant leadership.

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While Easter is celebrated by many around the world, it did occur to me that regardless of how you feel about the idea of Jesus as a ‘saviour’, his story does present an opportunity to both reflect and educate young people about empathy. As Jesus said, Matthew 7:12 ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’ The infinite compassion, empathy and love that is displayed in the stories from his life is a call to action.

The concept of servant leadership is much discussed in literature, as is empathy, but only limited attention is given to these concepts in schools. While initiatives like ‘Start Empathy’ from Ashoka, and others, provide new platforms to support schools, more work is needed.

Easter and other religious occasions present schools and families with an opportunity to educate our children about empathy and love for other people. Rather than shying away from religious celebrations, schools should support students to understand what they are about – not to indoctrinate, but to inform. This should not be limited to Christian celebrations, but should be part of a broader cultural education in our schools on the various celebrations of religions.

While many have no faith, the history of our world is defined by those of various religious inclinations and this should not be ignored. The message here is that the focus of this education should be on the beautiful messages that come out of these celebrations, not conversion or indoctrination.

Volunteering doesn’t just happen, it occurs because people have had the opportunity to reflect and understand their role in a ‘community’, and after gaining empathy. While some are far more empathetic than others from an early age, experiences and education can teach people how to understand what another person is experiencing from their perspective or ‘place themselves in another’s shoes’.

Today I spent time reflecting on the activities I participated in that helped me to learn empathy. While school gave me a few select opportunities, my work with a Labor Member of Parliament exposed me to so many incredible volunteers in my community supporting many in need. It was these experiences that inspired me to begin volunteering myself and coordinating activities for others to volunteer too with Raising Hope Education Foundation.

I hope that schools begin to have a more structured approach to empathy education. While this post has suggested one idea, volunteering opportunities and experiences in the community can highlight to students the privilege they have and the capacity they have to help.

Programs from World Vision, Oaktree and others to great work showcasing international causes, it’s also important for students to learn that there is a need for help in their own backyard. I would like to see localised opportunities for students to volunteer in school time, supported by organisations in our community.

While this would take considerable effort, the opportunities for quality project-based learning and learning-by-doing are incredible. Happy Easter to all those who read my blog, I hope that today presents you with an opportunity to reflect on how you serve your own community too.

Learning Through Theatre

Many years ago I had the great pleasure of experiencing the true magnificence of Geoffrey Rush as his royal highness in ‘Exit The King’. His portrayal of a dying monarch at the Belvoir Street Theatre was once of the first times I had opportunity to go and enjoy the theatre.

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A small group from school had traveled to Sydney on an arts excursion. While the trip itself was a memorable learning experience, the play gave me a unique opportunity to learn about death, power and relationships.

Recently I have been teaching Year 9 History. We spent the last few weeks immesing ourselves in the knowledge of the harrowing experiences Australian soliders faced in World War I, focusing on Gallipoli.

Students in my class often tell me they would enjoy learning far more from film or television but found it difficult to engage with ‘Gallipoli’ featuring a young Mel Gibson. Perhaps it was the 1980’s soundtrack… I have suggested they watch the recent television series.

This week I was lucky enough to attend ‘Black Diggers’ at the Canberra Theatre. An incredible performance by some remarkable actors brought to life the experience of Indigenous Australian soldiers during the war.

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‘Black Diggers’ focused on the struggle they faced with their family, the terrible treatment at home, their desire to enlist and fight and their hope things would change upon their return. We know over 1,000 Indigenous Australians enlisted and fought, reviving no change in their treatment after the war.

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I have encouraged students to try and see the peformance while it is here in Canberra. I explained that it is an incredible opportunity to learn through Theatre as I did during school. I wish I had managed to arrange a formal excursion to ensure they had this opportunity.

Australia has a long way to go with reconciliation and I only hope this play and others in the future will have the capacity to spark a change in the understanding many have of the darker side in our history.

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the VI, Act 2, Lord Saye “And seeing ignorance is the curse of God, Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”