Vision for the future
31 March 2020
ASHLEIGH LEAVER, Aveley Secondary College, WA
REWARD FOR EFFORT
New graduate Ashleigh Leaver, 21, hasn’t had much time to reflect since securing a permanent full-time role teaching home economics in her hometown of Perth.
“I feel so guilty telling people I got this permanent position. It’s pretty unheard of for a grad to get that straight out of uni. I'm lucky with the opportunities I’ve been presented with, but I also worked hard throughout last year.”
Leaver spent the summer holidays preparing to teach a new home economics program for the Year 9s.
She is the only teacher in the subject at Aveley Secondary College and worked there on a temporary contract last term.
“It will be great to have input into what we teach to our new group of students.
“I had to do the budget for this year, too. We’re a new school and the home economics department was only half fitted out with equipment. They didn’t teach me how to do budgeting in my university degree, though,” she says.
For the final year of her teaching degree at Edith Cowan University last year, she completed her main practicum
at Rossmoyne Senior High. That led to temporary work and meant she spent most of the year teaching off-campus. Leaver turned down a part-time contract because her uni advised her to aim higher.
The interview for Aveley was quite competitive. “The interview panel liked how I researched the school and explained how my skills and qualifications could link into the school plan and goals. They’re a STEM school so I talked about my science minor,” she says.
FOCUS ON SKILLS
That means while the school teaches the usual spread of subjects, STEM features in all subjects to boost students’ 21st-century problem- solving skills. Leaver got creative with her Year 7 textiles class last year – students made their own designs in LED light circuits on T-shirts.
“Yes, some students do think of textiles as a bludge subject, but I tried to show how the project was relevant to them. I asked them, What’s an interest you have, something you’d like to wear on your t-shirt? By not giving them a set design, they were more engaged.”
She also had a breakthrough with two students who were “notoriously disengaged” and regularly suspended.
“For a couple of weeks, I wasn’t really getting through to them with the sketching task.
“So, I thought let’s make them
in plasticine. As soon as they had something in their hands, they got the work done. I’ve had no more problems with them. It was a different way of getting the content across.”
FINDING A BALANCE
Leaver has already completed one of the four modules every WA graduate teacher needs to do in their first
two years. This face-to-face training covers behaviour management, dealing with conflict, communicating with parents and more.
“You can’t turn off as a home economics teacher. I have to be on my feet because there are so many safety concerns.”
Her key goal in teaching Years 7, 8 and 9 students is to tackle her tendency for overthinking what she can do to improve her teaching.
“I need to learn how to switch off; that school is for school and when I go home, sure I’ll do some work, but I need a home life as well. I might just do social netball. I like to cook at home and I have plenty of friends, so I want to make sure I have a social life.”
PHOEBE MORRIS, Camira State School, QLD
A FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS
Phoebe Morris, 25, has notched up three years of teaching primary and early high schools in Central Queensland. This year, she takes on a year 6 class at Camira State School in Ipswich, her home town.
Morris taught some of her students when she was a Year 5 teacher at the school last year – her first there.
“It’s pretty cool to have some of the same kids this year. My teaching philosophy is that there’s no learning unless you have built relationships with the kids and they feel comfortable and supported in the classroom. Building those was my highlight last year,” she says.
PROGRAMS OF COLLABORATION
Teachers from each stage collaboratively write the literacy, English and maths programs. Explicit instruction is one of the school’s signature pedagogies for what they call their literacy block.
“As much as the literacy block has been good, it was challenging to funnel everything I knew into the structure that my new school wanted us to deliver in literacy and English. I had support from really experienced colleagues to help me wrap my head around it.”
SPECIALISING ALLOWS MORE FOCUS
Morris says the school has specialist creative arts, PE, and STEM teachers.
“During the students’ STEM time, we have the opportunity to do some intervention with students who need more support. That, and being able to concentrate on literacy and numeracy, has been a really positive change for me.”
She’s keen to keep engaging her students. “I want to be able to see a huge development in their learning from term 1 to term 4 in Year 6,” she says.
Morris has achieved teaching proficiency. She did the paperwork once she’d completed 200 days of teaching, saying the process was “very simple”.
She keeps a work-life balance by making sure she knows her roles and responsibilities as a teacher. “Beyond that, I carefully consider if I have the time to take it on. I don’t want to miss out on experiences. It’s about working smarter not harder.”
Morris is a Queensland Teachers’ Union representative and was chuffed to be involved in the union’s “really fantastic work” in dealing with gender equality, part-time work, shared parental leave and a pay increase.
Last year she played competitive AFL and, despite only training for about an hour a week, was also a part of the Australian women’s roller derby team that scored a silver medal in Spain last July.
And her advice for new educators?
“Make sure you make time for yourself to do the things that you love because it comes through with the kids. My students love hearing me tell them about someone I tackled [at an AFL game] on the weekend or an awesome bruise from taekwondo.” [She’s a black belt].
“Use that to build relationships with kids to show you have your own life so they can connect with that.”
COLIN KIEL, Alekarenge School, NT
PATH TO LEADERSHIP
Colin Kiel, 30, had ruled out a teaching career because he saw how hard his father worked as a principal.
Kiel’s first job out of school was in marketing and then he studied fire technology. Later, a role as a school assistant sparked an interest in teaching and he left Melbourne to study in Ballarat.
Now he’s settling into a new role he began in early 2019 at the helm of the very remote Alekarenge School in the Northern Territory, four hour’s drive north of Alice Springs.
“I knew pretty early that I wanted to work in senior leadership in teaching. When I was studying at uni I was told schools were desperate for male teachers in primary.
“But, when I got to my final year, we were told ‘a third of you won’t get a job next year’. I was thrown by that.”
Kiel missed out on permanent roles in his home state and didn’t want to do casual and relief teaching.
“I wanted my own class to have that opportunity to work with a group of kids and see my impact. So, I went online applying to schools in the territory, had a chat with the principal at Alekarenge and two days later I was driving there,” he says.
In the six years since arriving in the NT, Kiel has temped for Alice Springs regional schools and volunteered for extra roles, earmarking him for leadership.
As a graduate teacher, his passion and training in the visible learning technique, led him to become the school’s coach. He later acted as a principal many times and values the mentoring he received from managers Lynette English and Paula Ridge.
“I remember my first class. The students wouldn’t sit down. They’d been through three teachers in four weeks and later, at home, I fell asleep with my shoes still on. It took a long time to help them see I wasn’t going anywhere,” he recalls of the Transition-Grade 1 class.
“My family gave education a high priority. I’m dyslexic and overcame it with hard work and great teachers. I understand the struggle some students might have.”
Now as Alekarenge’s principal he can set his own vision. The school has removed an old building, plans to upgrade the preschool area, and set up an ICT hub.
“I manage by walking around including into classes four times a day and in the playground. I’m never too busy for the kids, staff or community. If they need me, I’d rather miss a report due date to help them. It’s important they’re feeling heard.
“The workload on principals is massive and I’ve learned not to stress about those deadlines quite as much. When I started, I worked to 10pm, but I’m much better at life balance now,” says Kiel.
He plans to roll out the NT-wide literacy program, Reading Write, at Alekarenge and boost student attendance, which fluctuates among the school’s 110 P-9 students.
BY MARGARET PATON
This articles was originally published in The Australian Educator, Spring 2019