Back to school


10 September 2020


A stitch in time

High school textiles and home economics teacher Ashleigh Leaver says she had a “massive breakthrough” with her Year 7 sewing class.

“I helped these kids love sewing,” she says, and that was after she had to change her plan for them to make iPad cases.

“When they came back to school after the COVID-19 shutdown, we didn’t have much time, so instead they made emojis on key chains. They used a stencil to cut pieces of yellow felt, stuffed and sewed them up, adding hearts, eyes or faces.”

Many students hooked them onto their backpacks, which was “good promotion” for the next group of Year 7 students entering her class.

Another highlight was making sewing “rock” for a Year 7 student who she thought might be a challenge to engage.

“He was amazing on the sewing machine and would quietly come in at lunchtime so his mates wouldn’t know. He made two emoji keyrings in the time his peers made one. He even made a simple pin cushion, embroidering it with love hearts to give to his girlfriend. It was really sweet,” she says.

Flexible and responsive

Leaver has had to revamp her teaching program in other ways, too. She had been taking a Year 9 unit for a teacher who was on leave and returning in 2021.

“A lot of the teaching material wasn’t working for this particular group of students, and I knew they needed to be motivated to learn.

“The content was very technology-based, but not all of my students had iPads. So, I had to change the plan as we went. That was my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moment: that I should change things if they’re not working.”

Meanwhile, in her home economics classes, she’s been extra vigilant about hygiene in response to the lessons of COVID-19.

“I check students’ dishes to make sure they’re thoroughly dry, and I don’t let them leave the room until they put things away properly.”

A driving force

In term three, Leaver will start her postponed after-school academy for students experiencing disadvantage.

“Another teacher and I are keen to run an art/home-economics fusion academy. Like a crafty academy. We’ll do some crochet and wearable art.”

Leaver says she is happy that things are returning to normal.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, it was hard to maintain my passion for teaching. I think it has been hard for everyone to keep up their energy when you feel as though the world is falling down around you.

“But I knew I was lucky, and I still had a job to look forward to going back to.”



Phoebe Morris has been taking on extra professional development to support the learning of a new Year 6 student in her class.

The student, who is on the autism spectrum, needs support to improve his learning and social skills, and Morris has gained some helpful advice from the head of inclusive education at her school.

“It’s been a big learning curve to figure out what works and to find strategies to help him be successful,” she says.

“I set him some tasks and, when he completes them, he has some reward time with a friend. The skills he’s developing are patience, turn-taking, and resilience.

“Some of the other students have been on board with that and are volunteering their time to work with him and help him with social skills.”

In term three, Morris is keen to take on further professional development and trial ways to increase students’ peer teaching for inclusive education. She says she’ll also need to work on her students’ collaboration, teamwork and resilience skills to help them cope with the demands of high school next year.


The COVID-19 shutdown changed perspectives for many teachers, and Morris says she has tweaked her way of teaching since her school reopened.

“I’ve been trying more partner and small-group work to facilitate students’ social relationships because some of them found it tough dealing with the social isolation for five weeks.

“I realise how much the kids make your class. Without them physically there, you don’t see their full personalities and hear their funny stories. It was a different relationship online.

“Building relationships with my students has formed the basis of my behaviour management strategy, and it’s good to have them back,” Morris says.

She described the shutdown and the experience of teaching children of essential workers face-to-face as a “big adventure”. But, she says, it’s back to business as usual.

“When COVID-19 first hit, nearly every other day the prime minister and premier would make some change. The union was good at keeping us up to date.”

Outside of school, Morris has been recharging by heading away on road trips, and roller-skating at a local rink with her partner.

She has also been visiting a local reserve for some stand-up paddle-boarding and kayaking with her siblings.

“I play AFL, too, and we’ve gone back to training, but we still have to social distance. Taekwondo isn’t back on yet because it was indoors, but life is slowly returning to normal.”



Northern Territory’s Colin Kiel has been supporting a Year 7 to 9 teacher who was running classes remotely from Perth through, and even after, the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We’ve had to be really flexible, creative, and delicate in the way we’ve managed this situation,” Kiel says.

The teacher, who needed to be based in Perth for personal reasons, teaches all of the key learning areas and uses Skype to run her classes. She emails the school office each morning to print students’ worksheets and her day includes a release from face-to-face teaching and her breaks.


The school had lifted its attendance rates earlier in the year, but after the COVID-19 shutdown sometimes just seven students came to class.

“We’re meant to have about 80 kids, so that was tough. Those kids who turned up wanted to be here, learn, and be part of what we were doing. When you have kids turning up despite the odds, it’s easy to be passionate,” he says.

In mid-year, the school earned $100,000 from the education department due to increasing student attendance rates. That was spent hiring two new teachers, who started in term two.

“We’ll have a relief teacher for the first time in three years so our educators can have more release from face-to-face teaching to do planning and other administration-related work,” says Kiel. He promoted the vacancies widely, but ended up recruiting via Facebook.

“I encourage people to keep thinking about applying to teach in the Northern Territory. The department of education is willing to pay for new recruits who are required to isolate and for moving costs.”

Kiel is also investing in the school’s ICT hub. He’ll buy a drone and has $15,000 to spend on technology training for his staff. They’ll use the drone to film the community visiting on an open day.

By then, he’ll be a real local: in term three, Kiel’s wife and infant daughter will relocate from Alice Springs to a house close to the school, so he’ll no longer need to make the seven-hour return drive to see them on the weekends.

By Margaret Patton

This article was originally published in The Australian Educator, Spring 2020