Emma Bruce provides a special education teacher’s insight on working with students with a disability. . .
As teachers of all students in many varied settings, we have a responsibility to meet the individual needs of each of those students. This responsibility, however, does not fall on our shoulders alone.
As teachers are the everyday point of contact between students and their education, it can often feel that we shoulder the immense weight of this responsibility ourselves. It is understandable to feel that way, especially when one is looking into the eyes of a student who needs support. It is time to consider, however, that it is not just students who need support to ensure that their needs are met. Support for students does not end at the classroom door. Supported students means supported teachers.
1. Teaching students with disability – A meaningful experience
The importance of a high-quality education for any student cannot be overstated. For those with disability it can (among other important provisions and developments): provide opportunities to develop fundamental life skills; build important social connections; and to learn, and express, self-determination. The key to this is the provision of meaningful learning experiences and support that allows our students to engage fully with those learning experiences.
As a teacher of any student, but particularly in the case of teaching students with disability, it is important to consider how their whole learning environment enables them to fully participate in all aspects of learning. This does not mean that a teacher of students with disability, therefore, becomes wholly responsible for that learning environment. That would be impossible. There are, however, actions that we can take as their most readily available point of contact.
As a teacher of students with disability, I consider this an immense responsibility and an immense privilege. My practice has improved through the development of my capacity to ensure that my content delivery and instruction caters to the needs of these students. In doing this, I hold the belief that my small steps will lead to those students taking much larger positive steps in their lives. So, while I focus on making their learning experiences meaningful to them, the experience of teaching these amazing people is also immensely meaningful for me.
2. Meet them where they are – Personalised Learning, Collaboration and Positive Relationships
At the heart of the provision of meaningful learning experiences for our students is the knowledge of what our students need to fully engage with their learning. A clear understanding of learning adjustments, or environmental accommodations, that can be made to support a student with disability engaging with their learning on the same basis as students without disability is imperative. Of equal importance is an understanding of our students as individuals with varying interests and aspirations.
Teachers equipped with knowledge of a student’s disability and potential strategies to support them are more able to encourage meaningful engagement with learning activities. Teachers equipped with this knowledge and an understanding of their students’ interests will be able to respond more readily to opportunities for the provision of richer learning experiences. A combination of both will open the door, and provide opportunities, for these students to express themselves, build relationships and engage more wholly with their learning.
In many cases, these opportunities may not present themselves unless they are actively sought and encouraged. For example, I once knew a student who was assessed as needing support to learn to communicate choices. It was believed that this student was unable to do so independently. That student’s teacher spoke with their parents, who shared the student’s love for a popular character in a children’s movie. The teacher incorporated objects and images that represented that character into some of the student’s activities throughout the day. The student began to independently display choice-making behaviours and to engage with learning activities focussing on particular augmented communication strategies in order to communicate those choices. Once the student was able to use these skills in activities that included the popular character, they began to generalise these skills to communicate their needs and wants during other activities. The door was opened, and that student flourished.
In light of the need to understand these students as individuals, it is important to collaborate with those who have significant knowledge and understanding of them as individuals. While we as teachers have an important role to play in their development at school, we can gain a wealth of knowledge from those who interact with them beyond the classroom. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, 19921via the Disability Standards for Education, 20052 there is a legislated requirement to consult the student, or their associates, before making an adjustment3 to assist the student . Often this will be the student’s parent(s)/carer(s)/family but may also involve other agencies and/or professionals supporting the student.
Embracing and facilitating opportunities for effective and meaningful collaboration on the pathway taken by a student with disability in their learning is a mutually valuable undertaking. Such effective collaboration can improve the student’s learning and engagement; positively impact on our practice as teachers; as well as support the well-being of the student’s family (through the establishment of positive working relationships between the school and home).
The NSW Education Standards Authority( NESA) has helpful information on students with disability. It is especially useful for those seeking to better understand the collaborative planning approach to supporting students with disability.
3. Don’t do it alone – access expertise and resources, and build collegial links
Meeting the needs of a student with disability can be a complex and challenging task. Simultaneously meeting the varied needs of multiple students with disability can be much more so. The responsibility for this, however, does not sit squarely on the shoulders of the classroom teacher. It is important for teachers to know where to turn for support and further information.
Who to contact:
Those listed below may be available in your school. Contact details of those who work outside of the school can be found on the Department portal.
The Department has information available on the roles of many of those available to support here
Supervisors – Your supervisor is often your first port of call for matters to do with classroom management and professional development. This includes matters to do with the support of students with disability in your classroom. They can provide advice and liaise with other appropriate support staff. This includes the Principal, LaSTs, LST, SLSOs, School Counsellors, Assistant Principals Learning and Support (APLaS) and/or Learning Wellbeing Advisors (LWAs)/ Learning Wellbeing Officers (LWOs) as needed within the specific circumstances.
Learning and Support Teachers (LaSTs) – a role description is available from the Department here. While LaSTs’ roles vary to meet the varying needs of their schools, the role description clearly outlines the expectations on how that role is to be fulfilled to support students with disability and their teachers. It is important to note that, according to this role description, provided by the Department, “In undertaking their work the Learning and Support Teacher will not be used to provide relief for teachers/executive or to establish a separate class.”
Your Principal – Your Principal has a vested interest in supporting Students with Disability (SWD) in the school. They can provide advice and liaise with other appropriate support staff. This includes the Principal, LaSTs, LST, SLSOs, School counsellors, APLaS and/or LWAs/LWOs as needed within the specific circumstances.
The Learning and Support Team (LST) – The composition of LSTs varies in schools depending on the local needs of the school. Often, they will include the Principal, School Counsellors (if available) and LaSTs. The role of the LST is to support SWD by facilitating whole-school approaches to improving their engagement and learning outcomes, coordinating planning processes and developing collaborative partnerships with the school, parents and wider school community.
Other colleagues – Teaching is a collaborative profession, and our colleagues can provide a wealth of information and support. I have often said that some of my best professional learning occurred in the staffroom via conversations with my colleagues. If you are comfortable doing so, reach out to your colleagues for advice.
Local and/or relevant specialist teachers (such as English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) teachers as well as those in specialist settings). Reaching out to these teachers will help to extend your network and build collegial links outside of your school.
School Learning Support Officers (SLSOs) – Their role is to support teachers, while working under their direction and supervision, to implement programs that support SWD. They often provide assistance with school routines, classroom activities and the care of students.
Assistant Principal Learning and Support (APLaS) – A role description is available from the Department here.
School Support contacts –Can be contacted by your school, to provide the following:
Learning and Wellbeing Coordinator (LWC) – Coordination of services, programs and initiatives supporting students with diverse needs, including those with disability
Learning and Wellbeing Advisors (LWA) – Engages with local schools to plan and implement strategies to support student wellbeing, including those with disability.
Learning and Wellbeing Officers (LWO) – Point of contact for Principals and schools for wellbeing matters.
School Counsellors (if available)
Consider accessing resources to further enhance your understanding
Resources, policies and procedures available in the Department portal, especially those relating to student wellbeing, education of students with disability and Work Health and Safety
Resources and professional development opportunities provided by NSW Teachers Federation through the Federation Library, Trade Union Training (TUT) and the Centre for Professional Learning (CPL). These courses also provide ample opportunity to extend your networks as mentioned above.
Click the links below for information on each section of the Federation’s website. Members will need to log in to access the links. Further information can be found in the Knowledge Centre of the Member Portal.
4. Enjoy it – reflect on your practice and learn alongside your students
While teaching students with disability can be challenging, and meeting their needs can be complex, it can also be one of the most rewarding endeavours you can undertake as a teacher.
In my ten years as a teacher at a School for Specific Purposes (SSP), I considered it a personal and professional privilege to learn so much alongside the individuals I taught and the colleagues with whom I worked.
At every social event there would come the question “What do you do?” I was always proud to say that I teach students with disabilities. The reactions of different people to that answer were often thought provoking. The ones I would receive most often were protestations of “That’s so wonderful, I could never do that,” “You must be so patient,” “It must be so difficult.”
At the beginning of my career, I would often just accept these responses and move the conversation on. There was something that just didn’t sit quite right with that, but I was unsure of what it was. Once I realised, I began to respond differently. I wanted to flip the narrative of those conversations from “it takes a great teacher to teach students with disability” to “teaching my students makes me a better teacher.” Because it did.
The processes, strategies and systems that are needed in order to meet the needs of students with disability will challenge you in ways that you cannot foresee. It requires honest reflection on your approaches to education, guided by an understanding of the student as an individual, and implemented within the broader scope of the whole class, the whole school and the public education system. Part of this reflection will require an understanding of your role within that system, your ability to change it or, when necessary, work within it. It is also important to recognise your ability to combine your knowledge and practice with the resources available to you (including support from outside the classroom door) and to bring everything together for each moment that is so vitally important for each student. While there is undeniable complexity in meeting the needs of these students, there is also substantial joy in helping them to achieve their goals.
In developing your ability to cater for the needs of students with disability, you will simultaneously build your capacity to meet the needs of all students in your charge, in whichever setting type you find yourself. The strategies and practices that help students with disability are of immense value to all students.
1. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is federal legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in Australia. The DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person in many areas of public life including employment, education, housing and accessing public places.
2 The Disability Standards for Education 2005 (DSE) outlines the obligations of education providers, such as the Department of Education, under the DDA. The main premise of the DSE is to ensure that students with disability are able to access and participate in education on the same basis as students without disability
3 An adjustment is defined in section 3.3 of the DSE as a measure or action (or group of measures or actions) taken by an education provider that has the effect of assisting a student with a disability:
(i) in relation to an admission or enrolment — to apply for the admission or enrolment; and
(ii) in relation to a course or program — to participate in the course or program; and
(iii) in relation to facilities or services — to use the facilities or services; on the same basis as a student without a disability, and includes an aid, a facility, or a service that the student requires because of his or her disability;
Emma Bruce was elected as a NSW Teachers Federation Organiser in September, 2022. As part of this role, she is also the Officer with carriage of matters related to students with disability.
Emma is a teacher of students with disability who began teaching in 2011 in Western Sydney, predominately at a large SSP where she has taught for 10 years. She has held the roles of Federation Representative, Women’s Contact and Assistant Principal. She was a Councillor and Special Education Contact of the Parramatta Teachers Association.
Emma was a Federation Project Officer and Relief Officer prior to her election as City Organiser in 2022.
Catherine Myson-Foehner provides a guide to the new Mathematics Syllabus K-6…
The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change
Education is evolving rapidly, driven by a strong faith in the ‘magic’ of research. Inside the classroom we keenly feel this maelstrom, with seemingly constant changes to not only what students learn, but how, why and where they learn. In 2023, all NSW primary teachers are either trialing, or implementing, the reformed mathematics syllabus. Being given a new road map to your job in any field of work is a stressful and confusing time. It takes energy because things that ran on automatic pilot now demand attention to detail and thoughtful interaction. And change takes from teachers that one resource which is always in shortest supply – time. As teachers, we have a broad set of mandated goals. We must improve student achievement, but also take the lead in tackling social problems such as poverty, inequality, complex fast-paced change and fragile mental health. The new tasks thrust upon us require new approaches, new understandings, and above all, a closer relation between practice, research and theory.
And therein lies the story of our new syllabus.
Why change the syllabus?
There are three main drivers of syllabus reform.
Firstly, we are failing to meet our own national education goals. In 2019, Education ministers agreed on a vision of education for all young Australians under the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration (Education Council, 2019). The first goal is: ‘The Australian education system promotes excellence and equity.’ This means a commitment to ‘provide all young Australians with access to high-quality education that is inclusive and free from any form of discrimination’ (Education Council, 2019). And yet in our schools and classrooms, academic achievement is still tied to wealth, to gender, to indigeneity. By Year 9, students from the lowest quartile of socioeconomic advantage are roughly 3 years behind students from the highest quartile. And startlingly, for each 25% of wealth and social capital, you lose a year in mathematical achievement. Moreover, how is it possible that in 2021 the gender gap in Year 3 NAPLAN numeracy was the widest yet of any test in favour of boys at 2.52 months? (Thomas, 2021)
Secondly, the NSW Curriculum review (Department of Education NSW, 2022)voiced concern that Australian students’ level of mathematical achievement appears to be in decline. Analysis of PISA data suggested that Australian students have slipped from being some of the highest performers in mathematics to being near the OECD average. Reforming the curriculum was seen as essential step in ensuring all students are challenged and engaged to maximise their individual capabilities and potential.
Thirdly, and crucially for us as teachers, a major driver of syllabus change was our own feedback to the NSW Curriculum Review – that the curriculum ‘contains too much clutter, with not enough time to focus on deep learning’
These three factors, contextualized by the fast pace of educational and social change, brought about an inevitable reform to our curriculum. It is essential we reflect on the ‘why’ of the reform as we implement these changes because, as teachers, its success rests in our hands. The syllabus always was, and always will be, the basis for all teaching and learning programs. Until it is enacted in our classrooms, the attempts to support higher achievement, to untie educational destiny from socio-economic status, gender and indigeneity, and to (eventually) reduce our workload, will fail. We are mandated to carry out the reform and we can use it to illuminate possibilities for the way mathematics is taught and learnt in our classrooms.
The key changes
The structure and content of the syllabus was adapted to reflect current evidence on what makes good teaching and learning. The key changes are:
clearer, more explicit outcomes for what students are to know, understand and do,
more deliberate and careful sequencing of content K -6 with a reduction of content and repetition, and a focus on connecting knowledge
greater emphasis on mathematical reasoning, with one overarching Working mathematically outcome K-6
increased opportunity for students to apply their knowledge.
The syllabus now sits in a purpose-built, digital portal. Online links provide continuously updated resources such as teaching advice, vocabulary guides, assessment resources, and content examples. This framework of support is essential viewing because it provides context and support for teaching and learning. A resource tab provides tailored support such as work samples, professional learning opportunities, and parent/carer guides.
Explicit goals for what students are to know, understand and do.
To make it easier to identify what students need to know, the Mathematics K-10 syllabus has been streamlined and the content described in simpler, more precise language. Stage statements have been removed, reflecting the fact that content within a stage of learning represents what students ‘typically’ know, do and understand. The change acknowledges that students can have different learning trajectories and teachers are best placed to make decisions on student learning goals.
Syllabus content remains organised into three conceptual areas: ‘Number and algebra’, ‘Measurement and geometry’ (previously ‘Measurement and space’) and ‘Statistics and probability’. There are clearer expectations for students’ developmental progression in relation to foundational concepts such as place value, additive and multiplicative relations, and fractions. Focus areas have been renamed to make the learning content more explicit. For example, in K-2, Addition and Subtraction has been replaced with ‘Combining and separating quantities’, moving to ‘Additive relations’ in Years 3-6. This shifts the focus from treating addition and subtraction as two separate mathematical processes to examining the relationship between them. Similarly, Multiplication and Division is now ‘Forming groups’ in K-2, moving to ‘Multiplicative relations’ in Years 3-6.
Each focus area is also accompanied by teaching advice to assist with programming and lesson design. The advice covers aspects such as possible misconceptions, developmental progression, and interrelationships with other mathematical concepts. To clarify teaching and learning goals, appropriate content points have drop downs which provide unambiguous examples.
Student goal setting is supported through a tight integration of assessment resources. The K-2 syllabus has key progression point tasks in Representing number, Combining and separating quantities and Forming groups. To provide a direct link between observable behaviours and syllabus outcomes, National Numeracy Learning Progression V3(ACARA, 2020) are tagged to syllabus content from K-10. Teaching advice supports the development of assessment tasks by helping teachers understand where students are on the trajectory of learning. Linked assessment resources provide a range of strategies to monitor student progress and identify areas where additional support may be needed. Underlining a strong focus on equitable outcomes, sample access points are integrated for students with complex disabilities who are working towards Early Stage 1 outcomes.
The content is more deliberately sequenced and connected.
The new syllabus draws on contemporary research to redesign the way we identify, introduce and progress key concepts. Content within, and across, focus areas has been realigned and sequenced to improve the progression of learning and build stronger schemas of understanding. Purposeful connections have replaced isolated repetition. For example, in Measurement and geometry, content relating to time and mass now fall together under Non-spatial measure, emphasising the different conceptual approach required to measure things we can’t see or touch. Volume now falls under Three-dimensional spatial structure as a natural connection to how we describe and quantify objects.
Many of the changes reflect that ‘skills and knowledge for focus areas often develop in an interrelated manner and can be addressed in parallel’(NESA, 2022). For example, patterning is a basic mathematical skill that enables students to sequence, see order and make predictions. It underpins all mathematical relationships from the memorisation of the counting sequence to spatial thinking and geometry. Being able to identify the repetition of a unit is the basis of multiplicative thinking. Therefore, it just makes sense to liberate ‘Patterns and Algebra’ from its isolated outcome in the 2012 syllabus and entwine it in all focus areas.
Fractions are another (particularly striking and important) example of how making connections explicit can drive changes to the way we teach, and students learn. We know that almost all students find fractions challenging, and almost all teachers find fractions challenging to teach. Research suggests ‘a student’s proficiency with fractions is directly related to the conceptual and procedural interweaving they make over a long period of time’ (Australian Government Department of Education, 2022).
To support this, the ‘Fractions and Decimals’ outcome from the previous syllabus has gone from K-2, and fractional understanding is woven into Forming groups and Geometric measure. The emphasis is on conceptual understanding of the whole, and its relationship to the parts, rather than on fractions as a number. Of the three different fraction models – linear (partitioning a length or line), area (partitioning whole shapes or areas) and discreet (partitioning a collection) – the area model is the most challenging. The parts must be equal (‘exactly equal’), and students must understand that a shape or object has many different attributes and that only some of them contribute to the measurement of area (for instance – not colour, not orientation, not position). K-2 students are slowly building their ability to estimate and compare area by superimposing shapes, using indirect comparison and, finally, by using grid overlays. Introducing fractions through halves and quarters of shapes assumes students already have a deep understanding of this challenging concept. Indeed, the typical objects we halve (apples, pizzas, leaves, playdough) are often not halves in terms of their mass or volume, and only ‘about half’ in terms of their size. We are inadvertently contributing to the misconception that one out of two pieces is a half, rather than focusing on the equality of the parts and their relationship to the whole.
The new syllabus, therefore, introduces halves through collections when forming groups, and half (and about half) of lengths in Geometric measure. Students are then introduced to the focus area Partitioned fractions (or fractions as parts of things) in Stage 2, in preparation for representing quantity fractions (or fractions as numbers) in Stage 3.
All of these changes are framed by an increased focus on reasoning. Opportunities for students to reason are tagged to relevant content, and teachers are supported to engage students in mathematical reasoning activities through linked teaching advice. Research suggests that ‘children’s mathematical reasoning might be the mediator between social background and children’s mathematics’ (Nunes et al, 2009). If we are serious about closing the equity gaps in mathematical achievement, this is the place to start.
The focus on reasoning informs the move to a single, overarching Working mathematically outcome. It emphasises the interrelationship of the processes that make up working mathematically – understanding and fluency, problem solving, reasoning, and communicating through mathematical language and models. When teachers feel pressured,they often revert to more traditional teaching methods which don’t address mathematical reasoning. It seems like a more efficient way of getting through the content. Yet having students listen to, share, and make sense of their classmates’ reasoning is vital to building and maintaining a focus on mathematical understanding. For example,learning multiplication facts by rote can be helpful but many students are never able to recall them all accurately. In a classroom where reasoning and communicating is expected, students have to clarify and organise their thinking about the multiplicative relations underlying fact families. This helps them identify important mathematical connections and build fluency through understanding. That most incorrectly remembered multiplication fact, 6 x 8, can then be accessed or checked through more familiar facts such as (6 x 4) + (6 x 4), or (7 x 6) + (1 x 6).
There is no shortage of support for teachers to engage with the new syllabus. NESA has an online learning portal, NESA Learning, which deals with all aspects of the new curriculum. The NSW Department of Education has a wide range of professional development opportunities, as well as on-demand support through Statewide staffrooms and Curriculum networks. A complete set of sample units for Mathematics K-2 Syllabus can be downloaded from the Universal Resource Hub. A selection of sample units for Stage 2 and Stage 3 are also available, with the rest being released in a phased manner into 2024.
However, after all the professional learning is done and all the resources are downloaded, the most important thing will be those discussions in stage meetings, in the staffroom, in classroom doorways and at student desks. It is here that we, as teachers, will really begin to ‘work mathematically’, exploring, connecting, choosing, applying, reasoning, and communicating newly acquired syllabus content knowledge, reflecting on our beliefs about successful teaching practices and illuminating our own way forward. The best advice I have? A cut and paste from Jenny Williams’ and Mary-Ellen Betts’ words of wisdom for teacher approaching a previous ‘new syllabus’ in 2014: “Open the syllabus and read it.”
Catherine Myson-Foehner has held classroom teacher and executive roles in NSW schools. She is currently employed by the NSW Department of Education as a Teaching and Learning Officer within the Educational Standards Directorate. She assists in the development, implementation and evaluation of innovative approaches to planning, programming and assessment for primary mathematics teachers.
Catherine has a strong educational interest in curriculum development and its impact on student equity. She worked on the K-2 and 3-6 writing teams for the K-10 Mathematics syllabus and delivers professional learning for teachers on syllabus implementation, including workshops at the Centre for Professional learning.
Professor Tony Loughland and Professor Mary Ryan explain why teacher collective efficacy is a vital part of their professional learning and how its use influences students’ learning and development…
Do Not Try This Alone
When Tony and Mary started their teaching careers last century there were many lone ranger teachers in the schools where they worked. These lone rangers were often very good practitioners who preferred to work their magic in their own classroom. You didn’t often see them in the staffroom but their students were happy, the parents did not complain and the school executive were generally of the view that “if it ain’t broke it don’t need fixing”.
There were also teachers and executive staff back then who were very generous in the sharing of their practical wisdom. This generosity was much appreciated by Tony who struggled to teach students with English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) backgrounds in inner city Sydney, especially given he had just completed six semesters of enthusiastic and expert teaching of the whole language model of teaching English K-6 in his pre-service education degree.
The collegiality of these colleagues extended to observing them in class, team teaching, sharing programs and resources, affirmation of our small wins as novice teachers and generally making us feel like we might succeed at this profession one day. Their collegiality gave us an enhanced sense of our efficacy as an individual teacher and promulgated a general sense of collective efficacy that we can teach these students well in our school.
There is strong support in the research literature that students thrive when teachers have a positive sense of their self-efficacy as individual teachers as well as a strong sense of their collective efficacy as a stage, faculty, team and school. We argue in this paper that the motivational sources of collective teacher efficacy provide a useful framework for the development and evaluation of professional learning programs at the school level.
The Compelling Evidence for Pursuing Collective Teacher Efficacy
Teachers’ sense of their collective efficacy is the second most important school-based influence on student outcomes. It has an effect size of 1.57 on student achievement according to Hattie’s synthesis of 1200 meta-analyses relating to influences on student achievement (Hattie, 2015). An effect size of this magnitude demands the attention of school leaders and researchers invested in teacher professional learning, “Given the link between collective efficacy and student achievement, understanding collective efficacy in and of itself is a worthy endeavour” (Berebitsky & Salloum, 2017, p.2). This study sought to develop an in-depth understanding of the antecedents of teacher collective efficacy in their professional learning.
Collective efficacy is an extension of the construct of self-efficacy from the broader theoretical framework of social cognition. Collective efficacy is defined as “the extent to which people believe they can work together effectively to accomplish their shared goals” (Maddux & Gosselin, 2012, p.214). Social cognition assumes reciprocal causality exists between a person and their environment, “people respond cognitively, emotionally, and behaviourally to environmental events. Also, through cognition people can exercise control over their own behaviour, which then influences not only the environment but also their cognitive, emotional, and biological states” (Maddux & Gosselin, 2012, p.199). This reciprocal causality has positive implications for teacher collective efficacy as it creates a virtuous cycle of improvement where enhanced collective efficacy contributes to student achievement which then further strengthens collective efficacy (Goddard et al., 2000).
The motivational sources of teacher collective efficacy are mastery and vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and affective states.1Teacher collective efficacy is also enhanced by a team’s ability to analyse the task ahead and make a judgment on their current level of competency to complete the task. All these characteristics represent what is regarded in the literature as effective teacher professional learning. However, teacher collective efficacy has not been commonly associated with a theory of action for teacher professional learning as it has been predominately employed as an outcome measure of the health of a school’s collective culture.
We contend that the measurable construct of teacher collective efficacy can be used as a design framework for professional learning programs as well as being an evaluative measure of its effectiveness. We acknowledge that the question of whether teacher collective efficacy is a necessary antecedent condition for effective professional learning, or a consequence of these programs remains open. We suspect that there might be reciprocal causation between teacher collective efficacy and effective professional learning where the presence of both enhances the other.
The Importance of a Professional Learning Collective
This last section of the paper examines the confluence between the motivational sources of teacher collective efficacy and the principles of effective teacher professional learning (see Table 1 below)
Sources of Teacher Collective Efficacy
Principles of Effective Teacher Professional Learning
Collaborative. Iterative. Focus on teachers’ work
Collaborative. Focus on teachers’ work
Table 1 Collective efficacy, principles and design of teacher professional learning (Loughland & Ryan, 2022, p.345)
What is missing in the hypothesised model in table 1 is an explication of the processes that create the conditions for effective collaboration. One influence on effective collaboration and learning relates to time constraint and leadership support (Park & So, 2014). We have another clue to this missing piece of the puzzle in the finding that the density of networks is more important than centrality in professional learning networks (Berebitsky & Salloum, 2017). Furthermore, the density of networks is significantly related to collective efficacy in schools (Berebitsky & Salloum, 2017). This suggests that more opportunities should be provided for purposeful learning interactions between teachers as depicted in the principles of teacher professional learning in Table 1. This suggests that effective teacher professional learning needs to involve more interaction between teachers than top-down delivery approaches that may be better suited to compulsory compliance training. We know that time for professional learning in schools may be limited so school leaders must make informed decisions on what model of professional learning to adopt in their school.
The literature strongly suggests that a model of school-based, interactive teacher professional learning that focuses on teachers’ work in the classroom is the most effective (Kennedy, 2016). In this model, outside help in the form of academics and experienced practitioners in the system, is introduced if and when they are needed.
We suspect that the arguments we have presented in this paper are not earth-shattering revelations for the readers. The principles of effective teacher professional learning are now well established in the literature. The challenge that remains is one of implementation.
The challenges we identify here are very real to many teachers who are reading this article. There is the serious challenge of finding time for meaningful professional learning in the hectic schedules of schools. There is the conflation between the legislative requirements of compulsory compliance training and the real opportunities for professional growth afforded by effective teacher professional learning. There is the pervasive legacy of the cargo cult model of professional learning where the external consultant, the latest edu-guru, the international keynoter, or the social media superstar are regarded as experts and saviours. Valuable professional learning time is spent listening to them instead of engaging with your colleague next door on meaningful pedagogical discussion on how your students’ learning may be enhanced tomorrow, next week and next term.
Our own post-graduate university courses at the Masters and Higher Degree Research levels are also not exempt from our criticism. Our MEd and EdD programs need to be more adaptive and responsive so that they might produce educators with the scholarly and practical wisdom that they can use to provide the best possible conditions for student success in the schools and systems where they work.
None of these challenges are insurmountable but they require school and system leaders to build cultures of professional learning in schools that create a sense of collective teacher efficacy among their staff. Surely that is not too much to ask in an institution whose core business is learning?
1Mastery experiences are those that focus on developing instructional skills and capabilities. The important goal of improving student outcomes in wellbeing and achievement is at the forefront. Vicarious experiences are those whereby teachers and leaders learn from each other. Social persuasion involves a shared sense of purpose and vision, and a collaborative eﬀort to achieve those goals. Aﬀective states are the social-emotional aspects that underpin eﬀective relationships, including trust, respect and dialogic approaches that value all voices and contributions. A positive relationship between these motivational constructs and collaborative professional learning has been found (Durksen et al. 2017).
NB- Sections of this text have been taken from Tony and Mary’s published journal article (Loughland & Ryan, 2022) that can be found here https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2020.1711801 (available to access through an academic institution or paid download)
Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. K., & Hoy, A. W. (2000). Collective teacher efficacy: Its meaning, measure, and impact on student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 479-507. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312037002479
Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79-91. https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000021
Loughland, T., & Ryan, M. (2022). Beyond the measures: the antecedents of teacher collective efficacy in professional learning. Professional Development in Education, 48(2), 343-352. https://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2020.1711801
Maddux, J. E., & Gosselin, J. T. (2012). Self-Efficacy. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of Self and Identity. Second Edition (Second ed., pp. 198-224). The Guildford Press.
Park, M., & So, K. (2014). Opportunities and Challenges for Teacher Professional Development: A Case of Collaborative Learning Community in South Korea. International education studies, 7(7), 96-108.
Tony Loughland is an Associate Professor and Deputy Head of School (Research) in the School of Education at the University of New South Wales.
Tony is an experienced educator who likes to think that theory should be the plaything of practice. He agrees with Marx’s assertion that philosophy should be used to not only interpret the world but to try to change it. Tony subscribes to Marx as he believes this orientation towards research is vital in a world threatened by anthropocentric climate change. Tony is currently leading projects on using AI for citizens’ informed participation in urban development, the provision of staffing for rural and remote areas in NSW and on Graduate Ready Schools.
Mary Ryan is Professor and Executive Dean of Education and Arts at Australian Catholic University. Her research is in the areas of writing pedagogy and assessment, teachers’ work in, and preparation for, diverse classrooms, reflexive learning and practice, and reflective writing. She was formerly a primary teacher and lecturer in literacy and English and has an extensive record of program development in universities and professional learning for teachers. Her funded research projects are in the areas of classroom writing and preparing teachers to teach for diversity to break the cycle of disadvantage.
Michelle Leonard and Margie Moore give us an insight into a regional focused choir and arts organisation designed to give our students access to multi arts programs . . .
Moorambilla Voices (Moorambilla) is more than a choir. It was founded in 2006 with the aim of creating a regional choir of excellence that encompasses regional children and youth. Moorambilla Voices has expanded to include dance, Japanese Taiko drumming, lantern making and visual art.
It is a regionally focussed arts organisation that seeks to empower children and youth to think big, dream widely and connect to Country1 and their communities. Moorambilla does this through an exceptional annual multi-arts program of workshops, cultural immersions, artistic commissions, residential camps, tours, recordings, performances and more recently an award-winning online learning platform, ‘Moorambilla Magic Modules’
Moorambilla fosters team cooperation through group performance: in choirs, Japanese Taiko drumming groups and dance, which develops general cooperative ability, confidence and leadership skills. Like our rivers in flood – our creative capacity is powerful, breathtaking and immense.
includes voice, dance, drumming and visual arts;
is a universal access program with equality of access for all.
unrelentingly pursues excellence in artistic expression, pedagogically informed learning and performance.
supports children’s mental well-being, resilience and self-esteem.
celebrates and incorporates the Indigenous languages and worldview of regional Australia through consultation and collaboration.
develops social capital through teamwork, community inclusion and group capacity building.
Moorambilla’s commitment to, and connection with, living culture in regional NSW is vital to empower participants and audiences to initiate conversations at every level that encourage and celebrate inclusion and respect. Raising cultural awareness, recognition and respect is at the heart of what we have done since 2006. The use of Indigenous languages in the songs that are performed and the telling of the stories through dance, singing and drumming facilitates this cultural communication and links directly to the broader community agendas of promoting knowledge and learnings of our shared cultural history in an empowering and life affirming way. Our Indigenous elders, community leaders and student participants are vital to the success of the program and, as Elders and leaders from the regional communities share their themes and stories with the artists, they collectively weave them through our yearly program, so we all grow and learn cultural competency year on year on year. Ongoing conversations and support for the Moorambilla program come from the Gamilaraay, Yuwaalaraay, Wiradjuri, Wailwan, Ngiyampaa and Ngemba nations.
Moorambilla prides itself on engaging children from the remote regional area of NSW. We operate regardless of the background or financial circumstances of our participants. Many children on remote properties, and from small towns, are disadvantaged and lack opportunities to engage with creative arts. Rural and remote Australia hosts many areas of disadvantage, with Australia’s lowest levels of income, education and employment. This coincides with high levels of Aboriginality and cultural disconnection and poorer chances of advancement.
Schools in the region lack resources in terms of learning aids, instruments, computers, appropriate buildings and access to consistent internet services. It is common for schools’ internet service to be unreliable; this was exacerbated during the recent floods and mouse plagues (e.g., mice ate through cables to white boards and other electrical equipment). Staff turnover at all levels in the educational system is high and many children move from community to community resulting in disjointed educational exposure- exacerbated during COVID-19, and beyond.
Moorambilla strongly believes that everyone, particularly in a regional or remote part of Australia, should not be limited by education, aspirations or belief in their capacity to live a life rich in opportunities. Moorambilla Voices has a well-developed and focussed planned approach to delivering its program. This ensures Moorambilla continues to contribute to a brighter, and more inclusive, future for our regional communities and the wider Australian arts ecology. It has made the incredible commitment, over seventeen years, to ensuring the pillars of excellence equity and opportunity are upheld and is the longest serving arts organisation in one third of the state.
MOORAMBILLA AND MUSIC AS A CATALYST FOR CHANGE
Evidence demonstrates the clear benefits of music and artistic education programs in breaking children free of disadvantage. Many recent studies confirm the significant value of carefully planned and well taught music/arts programs in all education and their developmental advantages for young people:
Music improves self-confidence, self-expression and fosters creativity. It is a powerful tool in fostering health and well-being(Hallam, 2010).
Music develops neural pathways and enhances brain function. Music stimulates incomparable development of a child’s brain and leads to improved concentration and memory abilities(George & Coch, 2011)
Music promotes teamwork and collaboration. Children are brought to the highest levels of group participation requiring intense commitment, highly developed skills in coordination and a highly evolved sense of musicality and expressiveness(Schellenberg & Mankarious 2012)
Involvement in arts practice can help children develop an understanding of, and respect for, real and fundamental cultural awareness (Bloomfield & Childs 2013)
Dance supports student learning through student engagement, critical and creative thinking, and student self-concept (Fegley, 2010)
Participation in group drumming can lead to significant improvements in multiple domains of social-emotional behaviour. This sustainable intervention can foster positive youth development (Ho, Tsao, Bloch & Zeltzer 2011)
Over the past 20 years, multiple studies (Saunders, 2019; Lorenza, 2018; Meiners, 2017; Winner, Goldstein & Vincent-Lacrin, 2013; Bryce, Mendelovits, Beavis, McQueen & Adams, 2004; Fiske 1999) in Australia and elsewhere have demonstrated better personal and educational performance by those involved in the arts and music. These outcomes include measures such as national school results, student well-being, attendance, reduced need for school discipline or exclusion and better self-control.
ARTISTIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL FRAMEWORK FOR MOORAMBILLA VOICES
Moorambilla, in Gamilaroi language, means ‘place of deep fresh water’. This image of ancient rock art represents the physical manifestation of the Brewarrina Fish Traps2. These are one of the oldest man-made structures in the world. The image is a mark on Country and represents our core program’s geographical footprint in Western New South Wales, Australia. It is a visual symbol of excellence manifest. It represents cooperation, innovation, transference of culture and knowledge, creativity and collaboration, as well as ethical and economic sustainability through aquaculture. This image was adopted in 2018 as the visual representation of our core program and, as such, sits at the heart of what we do.
We recognise that water connects us all to each other – water is vital for human survival. The analogy of the Brewarrina fish traps allows us to connect the economic, cultural and creative importance of water to all Australians. Within this analogy, we have interconnecting slip streams in the Moorambilla Voices flow, which lead either a fish or fingerling to leadership opportunities.
Our core program was established in the state of NSW, Australia. Our fish fingerlings3 swim through, in and out of this, as part of the ensembles of:
Birralii (Year 3 mixed group);
Mirray, primary girls(ages 8-12);
Birray, primary boys(ages 8-12)
and grow into the MAXed-OUT youth company (ages 12-18).
The program starts with skills development workshops, based around music and dance, in schools through which participants are selected, not auditioned. Candidates are selected in workshops for the annual program based on natural ability and tenacity. For many the defining feature is their strong desire to positively contribute to the ensemble.
Our Moorambilla Voices program grows from fingerlings, at various stages of development, swimming through the bends in the flow radiating from our core program. As they swim through this structure, they tour, perform, increase in skill and knowledge, and potentially create new bends in the river (contributing to the wider arts ecology as alumni and associate artists).
Candidates and professional artists engage with, and find their own flow in, the system. Because of the transient nature of our candidates and artists, they will enter into this system at various points in their educational life cycle. This sophisticated structure is fluid enough to support change as the child or artist grows.
Moorambilla enables individuals to enter the slipstream or the natural flow in our program through our core ensemble program, or as an associate or featured artist, volunteer or audience member. Artists show our candidates career flow in action and the capacity for creative fluidity. Their connection to the program does not have to be linear; it can happen within the individual’s creative journey and life cycle.
Our program supports a mentoring framework across all our associated art forms. The engagement of composers, choreographers, visual artists and performers of the highest calibre supports our fingerlings to grow.
As cultural sector leaders, we reference this framework through our online, spoken and written word to support and nurture the creative flow of this program within the wider arts ecology. All artists, volunteers and candidates make a commitment to shared cultural understanding through singing, language art and dance, guided by cultural immersion on Country. Furthermore, we make an artistic commitment to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate our shared understanding of marks on Country from fingerling to fully grown fish.
A COVID SILVER LINING – MOORAMBILLA MAGIC MODULES
Moorambilla Voices is an organisation that seeks to empower children and youth to think big, dream widely and connect to Country and their communities. More recently, to support this aim, Moorambilla Voices has created a Nationally award-winning online learning platform – Moorambilla Magic Modules – click here
These modules won the award for the APRA AMCOS National best educational program 2022.
COVID-19, floods, mice and Moorambilla Magic Modules
In early 2020 the world changed. At the end of March 2020, it became clear that the normal mode of delivery for the program was about to undergo significant change due to the emerging restrictions unfolding for COVID-19 risk mitigation.
By April 2020, Moorambilla Voices made the decisive and empowering decision to support all of its associated artists and create pedagogically sequential 20–30 minute modules in consultation with the Artistic Director. Twenty-nine artists were eventually employed to create these modules as the backbone of the 2020/21 program. Artists were paired with an educator so there was industry knowledge coupled with curriculum expertise, and so that the pedagogy is embedded in the content created.
These modules subsequently connected our established and emerging artists to our regional children and their communities, offering skills, humour, hope and a sense of connection at a time when the arts ecology felt like it was fraying beyond repair.
Each module showcases the specialised artistry, integrity and immense capacity of the individual artist delivered in a way that was engaging, sequential, empowering and palatable for regional children and youth already experiencing isolation, lack of resources and opportunity before COVID-19.
In March 2020 floodwaters were swiftly moving across the region that had until that point been a dust bowl; in April 2021 the same region experienced the might of a mouse plague and then floods again in 2021 and 2022, yet still the resilience and commitment to creativity and connection has been maintained by our communities and the Moorambilla team.
Now all of the Moorambilla Magic Modules (157) have been mapped to the NSW syllabuses (music and dance), as well as visual arts, drama, and PE syllabuses to further support their use in the classroom. Now regional educators who have the will but not the skill to engage with the creative arts, can engage in professional development at school with a sequential empowering resource, of which 42% of the content is First Nations led, created or consulted and where every artist has an understanding and connection to the region.
The Moorambilla Magic Modules demonstrate in a tangible way that we have the knowledge and experience in the arts industry to develop and provide online curriculum content for schools.
Connection to current Syllabuses
Existing evidence, underpinning the Moorambilla modules, supports the clear benefits of artistic education programs in helping students develop better self-confidence and self-efficacy.
These modules are based on direct instruction and are designed to create the maximum level of engagement in students4. They integrate educational theories and practical approaches for differentiated teaching to challenge and cater for the needs of all learners5.
These modules represent a collection of resources (strategies, techniques, processes, ideas, tools, digital technologies/ICT) that support participation and engagement for all learners in arts-based classroom experiences6. They use a range of verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to manage learning, participation and engagement7.
Evidence shows that arts learning promotes teamwork and collaboration. We focus on collaborative tasks which require intense commitment and promote the development of coordination and expressiveness.8
Each module is built on differentiated teaching pedagogies embedded in the design of their structure, content and delivery. The Dance modules employ explicit instruction using imagery, descriptions and metaphors to ‘feel/experience’ the movement9. The music modules are presented sequentially through embodied learning starting with a simple phrase reinforced cumulatively10. The modules use sequential and scaffolded learning taking the children from the known to the unknown, providing a firm foundation which is built on, so the students feel supported as they develop their knowledge and skills.
The modules support student learning through student engagement, reflection, critical and creative thinking, and improving students’ sense of self-concept.11
Development of the Modules
Interactive video modules were developed for primary and secondary students, covering and mapped to the NSW Educational Standards Authority’s creative arts syllabus. They include song, dance, art, craft, taiko drumming, photography, drama, literacy and Indigenous culture. They are distributed across three learning stages and five curriculum categories:
Music & Singing
Visual Arts & Drama
Percussion & Rhythm
Total Modules for each stage
2 (early primary)
3 (late primary/early secondary)
Some modules overlap categories, and several can apply to more than one learning stage.
Subjects and artistic presenters are shown in Appendix 1. Top national performers and mentors have been used throughout. Singing coaches include previous members of the Song Company (Anna Fraser, Hannah Fraser and Andrew O’Connor). Taikoz artists explain taiko and general percussion (Anton Lock, Kerry Joyce and Sophie Unsen), Modules have been created by some of Australia’s top dance educators and performers (Jacob Williams, Courtney Scheu, Tai Savage) and many well-known Indigenous artists (Frank Wright, Amy Flannery, Neville Williams-Boney). All of these workshops feature Australian music composed by well-known Australian composers – Kevin Barker, Alice Chance, Andrew Howes, Elena Kats-Chernin, Elizabeth Jigalin, Josephine Gibson, Riley Lee, Christine Pan and Oscar Sweeney and more.
All modules are activity-based – there is no listening without doing. All demonstrate a level of energy matching that of the students.
Click here for 2020 Module Highlights Video (4m28s):
In June 2021, Michelle Leonard, Moorambilla Voices Artistic Director, met with school executives for initial interest consultations around utilising this resource, potential barriers and how to overcome them.
The modules were pilot tested through workshops delivered at schools located in Dubbo and Gulargambone, providing the opportunity for Moorambilla to evaluate the modules’ efficacy as a learning tool and their further market potential. The learnings gained from these evaluations were used to fine-tune the development of the modules being created at the time.
This cycle of testing and review will continue over time, as we work with the schools while we are still developing modules so that we can apply feedback in real time.
They are going to be very useful to teachers because the modules are so well designed by professionals who have done it all before. Brad Haling, teacher Gulargambone Central school.
Gulargambone Central School has used the modules the way Moorambilla anticipated:
Other teachers contacted by Moorambilla have reviewed the modules, with strong positive results.
The modules are an exciting and dynamic online program that have made an enormous difference to my teaching of the Creative Arts. The students have enjoyed the diverse lessons and have made a great connection to country. The units are easy to follow and enjoyable to teach, especially for teachers with no experience of dance or music.Kate Harper, Balranald Central School
All modules developed to date through the Moorambilla Magic Modules are sequential in nature. Skills are taught, reinforced, built upon and extended throughout each individual module as well as each set of modules.
Most modules begin with a warm-up and end with a cool down exercise. Each module’s activities move from simple to more complex activities, carefully scaffolded so that the students experience success by the end of each module. This may be the performance of a First Nations’ sitting down dance (taught through direct instruction) that teaches each movement in context and reinforces each movement phrase along the way; or the drawing of a First Nations animal or fish using the x-ray drawing technique carefully explained and demonstrated bit by bit; or the performance of a complex percussion or taiko drumming pattern learned cumulatively phrase by phrase through speech, movement and imitation.
Most of the modules are in sets of 3, 6 or 12 modules, with each module building on the one before, so that by the end of the sequence students have built a strong skill set in that particular arts area and experienced creative, joyful and successful learning experiences.
In order to establish the relevance of the modules for busy teachers and students in schools Moorambilla Voices has ‘mapped’ the modules to the detailed Outcomes and Objectives of the NSW Syllabuses for primary and secondary schools. The maps contain:
a summary of what is in the modules (as a lesson plan)
how it relates to the areas of skill and knowledge development for each subject,
an outline of the outcomes and objectives covered in the lesson.
These are supplemented by:
links to more information and
fun ideas for extending the students engagement and for giving teachers extra material to build on.
This mapping process provides a crucial link between the classroom and the modules that makes them more meaningful and relevant. It also breaks down the educator’s time barrier administratively to their inclusion.
Many of the artistic projects featured in our 2021 Magic Modules were featured in a live context during our 2022 camps and gala concert. Perhaps most importantly, the 2021 Magic Modules provided the means to continue our strong engagement and relationships with regional NSW school teachers and students, ensuring the success of Moorambilla’s 2022 life-changing, in-person multi-disciplinary arts programs.
The exceptional standard of the Moorambilla Magic Modules has been recognised nationally, being awarded the 2021 APRA / AMCOS National award for Excellence in Music Education.
Moorambilla is enjoying its seventeenth year celebrating the pursuit of artistic excellence, the energy of collaboration, the creation of new music, the sheer joy of singing, dancing, drumming and making art together in this rich and vibrant program. This is acknowledged by the achievement of many national awards over a number of years. We are thrilled to be an important part of the national conversation around identity and excellence.
Click herefor more information on the choirs, the candidates and our program please see the attachments – 2022 and 2019 concert programs and flyers.
When Aboriginal people use the English word ‘Country’ it is meant in a special way. For Aboriginal people culture, nature and land are all linked. Aboriginal communities have a cultural connection to the land, which is based on each community’s distinct culture, traditions and laws.
Country takes in everything within the landscape – landforms, waters, air, trees, rocks, plants, animals, foods, medicines, minerals, stories and special places. Community connections include cultural practices, knowledge, songs, stories and art, as well as all people: past, present and future. People have custodial responsibilities to care for their Country, to ensure that it continues in proper order and provides physical sustenance and spiritual nourishment. These custodial relationships may determine who can speak for particular Country.
These concepts are central to Aboriginal spirituality and continue to contribute to Aboriginal identity. Aboriginal communities associate natural resources with the use and benefit of traditional foods and medicines, caring for the land, passing on cultural knowledge and strengthening social bonds.
2 The Brewarrina Fishtraps, or as they are traditionally known Baiame’s Ngunnhu, are a complex network of river stones arranged to form ponds and channels that catch fish as they travel downstream. Known as one of the oldest human-made structures in the world, the traps are located in the Barwon River on the outskirts of Brewarrina.
3 Fingerling – A young fish, especially one less than a year old and about the size of a human finger
4 Smithrim, K., & Upitis, R. (2005). Learning through the Arts: Lessons of Engagement. Canadian Journal of Education, 28(1/2), 109-127.
7 Dinham, J. (2019). Delivering Authentic Arts Education. Melbourne, AUSTRALIA, Cengage
Bryce, J., Mendelovits, J., Beavis, A., McQueen, J., & Adams, I. (2004). Evaluation of school-based arts education programmes in Australian schools. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research.
8 Hallam, S. (2010) The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people, International Journal of Music Education, 28 (3), 269-289
9 Hattie, J., (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge
10 Juntunen, Marja-Leena. (2005). Exploring and learning music through embodied experiences, “Music and Development – Challenges for Music Education”, The First European Conference on Developmental Psychology of Music Proceedings. 273-276.
Michelle Leonard, OAM Michelle Leonard is the Founder, Artistic Director and Conductor of Moorambilla Voices. Michelle is widely sought after as a choral clinician on Australian repertoire and appears regularly as a guest speaker, adjudicator and workshop facilitator. Michelle was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for Services to the Community and Performing Arts in 2017, 2018 the Sydney University Alumni of the year award for services to the Arts and in 2019 was named in the Financial Review’s top 100 most influential women. In 2021 Michelle led the rehearsal nationally for the ABC Classic choir.
Margie Moore, OAM, Arts and Education consultant Margie has extensive experience as an arts, education and music educator and administrator. She has had successful careers as a teacher, music consultant, lecturer in arts education and managing the highly regarded Sydney Symphony Education Program. She offers consultancy to a range of arts organisations in Australia and the UK. Margie has been on the board of Moorambilla Voices since 2010 and has held executive positions in both the NSW and National Orff Schulwerk Associations.
Anissa Jones explores the importance and practicalities of including Cultural Awareness and Cultural Safety in all TAFE courses. She discusses how to support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students to feel safe and part of the TAFE community . . .
Vocational Education for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students should never be a challenge – for our students or teachers. We need to empower our mob to be the best they can be, whilst maintaining their connections to culture, community and language. It can’t just be in the Aboriginal Studies space where this is found.
It starts with reviewing current practices in the delivery of Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses and how we can move away from the Westernised way of thinking in order to teach a more holistic approach that supports our students. How can teachers be best equipped to support their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students?
We need to move away from the outdated assessment models that do not cater for the needs of our students. This involves taking a deeper dive into how they learn and why before we assess whether they can. We need to look at ways of knowing, being and doing, as well as providing a culturally safe learning space either online, or face to face, before any successful learning can occur.
Sometimes it’s as simple as that……listening.
Teaching at TAFE can be filled with mountains of compliance, taking time away from the learning. It can also be a place where Culturally Safe practices are absent. When we do take the time to be present in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spaces, listening and learning can take place.
Too often we are asked to complete training that is merely a tick-box with no thought on the practices behind it. There must be a real focus on Cultural Practices, Cultural Knowledge and respect. These can’t be taught via a Moodle.
Currently the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment Education (TAE40116) does not contain a unit on First Nations andragogy. It is merely a footnote in the Language, Literacy and Numeracy (TAELLN411) unit of competency.
How can we make change when it isn’t included in the fundamental training course required to be TAFE Teachers?
To make an impact, we need to start with education.
Training should be provided to all teaching staff in Cultural Awareness and Cultural Safety. These are two separate things that can have an impact on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander staff and students in various ways.
Cultural Awareness – shows respect for the culture with whom one is working, which can aid people working with these communities to build better relationships and be more effective in their work.( ANU, 2023)1
Cultural Safety – is about creating an environment that is safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.( Vic Health, 2023) 2
But we really should be aiming for Cultural Capability – basically it’s ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’.
Cultural capability refers to the skills, knowledge, behaviours and systems that are required to plan, support, improve and deliver services in a culturally respectful and appropriate manner. (QLD Health, 2022) 3
TAFE NSW has designed and developed a Course in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Cultural Education (known as ACEP) to provide training in Aboriginal andragogy – Aboriginal Ways of Knowing, Being or Doing. To maintain cultural integrity in delivery, trainers must be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
To deliver the Aboriginal Cultural Education Program (ACEP), you must be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Currently there are approximately 130 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander teachers in TAFE NSW. However, this training is vital to support the wellbeing and Cultural Safety of staff and students.
The need across the nation to employ more Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander trainers and assessors is important. Having programs where pay to train is offered to niche industry skills areas could be a viable solution. Hopefully, a program can be developed for Aboriginal Language Teachers to build capacity across the state.
When writing curriculum for Training packages and accredited qualifications for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander People, the need to engage, consult and co-design with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Subject Matter Experts (SME) is vital for the cultural safety of the training. This will ensure language discourse is centred around such practices and allow Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples to have a greater impact in the delivery. From this, Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) will be able to offer a qualification that is fit for purpose and provides all important Culturally Safe components. In order for all stakeholder to achieve their goals, the place of learning must be friendly and inviting for all.
It is important to provide Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students with a Culturally Safe learning environment within the Certificate IV in Training and Education (TAE). The length of time, the onerous assessments and the lack of Cultural Safety continue to push Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students out of the course. Even with the new changes coming in, there is little to no expectation that a TAFE teacher is required to have completed one unit on Aboriginal Studies, unlike our school based colleagues.
Recently South Australia Training and Skills Minister Blair Boyer made the push to address racism in the Responsible Service of Alcohol Training Packages, which had been renewed in 2021 with this clause still in it. This change was long overdue but highlights the trauma that can occur from stereotyping Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Federal assessment requirements for the RSA certification, required for workers to serve alcohol in public settings, state that participants must learn about the “impact of excessive drinking” on local neighbourhoods, premises, staff, customers and “particular types of customers who are at heightened risk” – with the first group on that list being “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”4(Guardian, 2023)
So what can I do?
You can complete a Cultural Safety audit at your campus or workplace.
Victoria Legal Aid has a Cultural Safety Reflection Tool that you can use like a WHS audit. You can access it here
You can undertake Cultural Awareness and Cultural Safety training in your state or territory.
You can start by engaging with your local Aboriginal Community.
Things to remember:
Follow Cultural Protocols – go with respect and be prepared to just listen.
Understand the difference between a Traditional Owner/Custodian and/or Elder and a Community Elder.
Traditional Owners/Custodians and Elders live on Country. They are from the Nation and/or Language dialect of the lands on which they live and work.
Community Elders live away from their Country but are seen as respected members of the Community.
Understand that our ways of knowing, being and doing are very different from Western Civilisation. Aboriginal Community members may not get back to you as quickly as you would like.
Be prepared to learn.
Be careful of the use of deficit speech such as ‘Closing the Gap’ – this requires Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples to meet the bare minimum of Westernised Education.
So what does a Culturally Safe classroom look like?
Inclusion of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander perspectives, history and knowledge into your classroom practice.
Awareness of Sorry Business, Cultural Responsibilities and Roles which may cause a student or staff member to be away for long periods of time and to make adjustments to their workload.
Acknowledgment to Country and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flags are clearly seen on TAFE Campuses.
Have signs of Aboriginal Culture around your room or campus (e.g., artwork, books, seating, resources)
Invite Community members into your classrooms as guest speakers/co-teachers – It is important to ensure they are remunerated accordingly for their time and their knowledge.
Be open to learning and change. Listen to your students and make the appropriate changes based upon their needs.
Be aware that English may be a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language for your student/s. They may speak their language/s, Creole, Pidgin or Aboriginal English as well as English. They might require a translator or additional support, just as you would for other EAL/D student.
Be transparent and if you make a mistake; apologise. Once an Aboriginal person’s trust is gone, it can be very hard to get back.
Does this already exist in VET?
Nationally accredited courses like Indigenous Policing Our Way Delivery (IPROWD), Diploma of Aboriginal Studies and Aboriginal Languages provide Culturally Safe environments for students. The curriculum is tailored to the students, the teachers are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, an Aboriginal Student Support Officer (ASSO) is attached to the class and Cultural knowledge is shared in a communal way, not teacher-student but as a Community. There is no hierarchy in Aboriginal Education.
They are the exception to the rule as most staff and students are not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. This does not diminish the great work Teachers at TAFE do, but it does show that when Aboriginal Education is at the forefront of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander’s learning journey, great things happen.
Anissa Jones is currently at TAFE NSW. She is the Accredited Course Specialist and Teacher based in Cootamundra. She is a proud Boorooberongal Dharug woman from the Richmond area in New South Wales.
Anissa has taught for over twenty years in both the ACT and NSW in a variety of roles ranging from preschool to university. Whilst in the ACT, Anissa was an assistant RTO Manager of a small RTO based across several secondary schools primarily in the Tuggeranong area, managing compliance, professional development and training. After completing the MILE program in 2022, Anissa began teaching Dharug Dhalang at TAFE NSW in Certificate I to Dharug Community members and teachers, with Certificate II starting mid-year.
Currently Anissa holds the position of TAFE TA Executive Member for NSWTF and is the NSW TAFE representative on Yalukit Yulendj – the AEU’s Executive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers and most recently presented at TAFE Directors Australia on Aboriginal Pathways in VET.
Mary Schmidt guides us through the history of the Federation Library that this year celebrated its centenary. She shares with us her knowledge of the items in the Treasures collection held by our library . . .
HISTORY OF THE TEACHERS FEDERATION LIBRARY
The Teachers Federation Library has a key role in supporting the work of the union. It has an established role in supporting the union’s campaigning on industrial and equity issues; the professional learning of members, and an emerging role in preserving the union’s cultural and heritage artefacts (NSW Teachers Federation, 2008, p. 51).
How the library was founded is a fascinating story and involves generosity, the dedication of many, and sustained support from the union and its members.
Origins of library 1890s
The foundation collection of the library belonged to a school inspector with the NSW Department of Public Instruction, David Cooper. For more than a decade (1890-1901) he was a district inspector in Goulburn. (“Tragic Death of Mr. D.J. Cooper, M.A.,” 1909). Library folklore, handed down over the last century, is that he travelled by horse and buggy visiting schools in the Goulburn district and always had some volumes from his personal collection of literature, history and professional learning resources to lend to isolated teachers.
David Cooper died suddenly while giving a speech at Fort Street School on November 12, 1909. He was 61 years of age (“Obituary: Sudden Death,” 1909).
David John Cooper was very highly regarded. At the unveiling of a monument to his memory at Waverley Cemetery on 12 November 1910, exactly one year after his death, the Under-Secretary for Education Mr. Peter Board, praised the late Principal Senior Inspector’s achievements, particularly his organization of the technical education system in NSW and the founding of the teachers’ library (“The Late Mr. D. J. Cooper,” 1910).
The Teachers Federation acquires Cooper Library
In May 1910, the Public School Teachers’ Association of New South Wales accepted the offer of the Cooper collection, from the Western and North-western Inspectorial Associations, on condition that the library be called “The Cooper Library” (“A Teachers’ Library,” 1910; “Teachers Association,” 1910).
The Public School Teachers’ Association of NSW was a founding Association of the New South Wales Public School Teachers’ Federation (Mitchell, 1975, p. 45). When the Teachers Federation was formed in 1918, the collection was transferred to the Federation. Consideration was given to the “installation of the Cooper Library, already the Federation property”, at a meeting of the Teachers’ Institute Sub-Committee in September 1920 (Berman, 1920, p. 296).
At the time of the Sub-committee’s deliberations in 1920, the Cooper Library was at Sydney Girls’ High School. The library was open on Friday evenings for books to be borrowed (“The Cooper Library,” 1910) but in 1921, when that school relocated from the Castlereagh Street premises, to its current location in Moore Park “the Committee directed the removal of the Cooper Library therefrom to the Federation Office” (“Teachers’ Institute Committee: Report to Council,” 1921, p. 15).
Official opening 1922
The Cooper Library, as the Teachers Federation Library was originally known, was officially opened on the 24February 1922 at the Federation rooms (“A Pleasant Evening at the Cooper Library,” 1922),
12 O’Connell Street, Sydney (“Cooper Library,” 1922).
At the official opening, the chairman of the Library Committee, Mr. P. Bennett, presided in the unavoidable absence of Mr. Dash, the President. There were many distinguished guests. The Assistant Under-Secretary for Education Mr. Smith promoted the virtues of books and bookmen and pointed out that it was not sufficient for a good library to have books on the shelves to be looked at, they must be “well thumbed.” Mr. Inspector Finney echoed this sentiment stating that books “were nothing to him, but valuable only where they brought out and improved the mind and character of the individual who read them.” (“A Pleasant Evening at the Cooper Library”, 1922, p. 8).
To add to the festivities, Fisher Library at the University of Sydney, loaned a number of exhibits, including facsimiles of the Book of Kells and the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.
The late Mr Cooper was represented by two of his sons and a daughter, the last of whom declared the Library open (“A Pleasant Evening at the Cooper Library”, 1922, p. 8).
Growth of the library
The collection of the Cooper Library transferred to the Teachers Federation numbered some 300 volumes (Taylor, 1922). The first accession register lists the titles transferred, principally, history, English literature, philosophy and education texts (N.S.W.P.S.T.F. Cooper Library Accession Book: 1 – 10,000, n.d.).
The union applied considerable resources to get the books of the Cooper Library into the hands of teachers. From the beginning there were regular features in Education: The Official Organ of the New South Wales Public School Teachers’ Federation listing the books and journals available from the library. The July and August 1922 issues published a list of the library’s holdings (“Author List of Books in the Cooper Library”, 1922, July 15; August 15).
The Cooper Library rules and regulations for 1922 included provision for a postal service. Federation paid the outwards postage, with the return postage paid by the borrower. The loan period was 14 days for city-based members. Country members could request an additional 14 days. There was a fine of one penny a day for each day a book was overdue (Bennett, 1922).
In August 1931, the Federation’s Executive made a special grant of £100 to build up a collection of Australiana. The collection numbered 6,000 volumes (Hancock, 1931). The move to O’Brien House, Young Street, Sydney, about October 1931, benefited the library, with new shelving and extras such as a clock and a carpet (Hastings, 1968).
In 1933, the Federation published a printed catalogue of the books and journals held by the library (Taylor, 1933) some 7,000 titles. Members could purchase this catalogue for 2 shillings at the counter (“Library Catalogue,” 1934).
“Federation has been forced to move five times owing to the growing pains of the Cooper Library,” claimed General Secretary Bill Hendry at the 1935 Annual Conference. The library had 8,420 books, (“Observations,” 1936, p. 102) having grown from 675 books in June 1922 (“Cooper Library: Report,” 1923).
In 1936 the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia made a gift of £100 worth of books in recognition of teachers’ services with school banking. This support continued for many years, well into the 1970s (“Gift to Cooper Library,” 1936). In 1968 a special grant of $2,000.00 was made by the Bank to commemorate the Federation’s move to Sussex Street (Hastings, 1968). In later years, the books purchased with these funds had an elaborate book plate.
1938 marked the completion of the Federation’s own building in Phillip Street, Sydney (“NSW Public School Teachers’ Federation,”1938, p. 7). The library was located at the rear portion of the 7th floor (“Federation House,” 1939).
Folklore handed down by former library staff, is that in the Phillip Street building, there were separate reading rooms for men and women. Early plans for a Teachers Building published in Education in September 1920, includes “as an irreducible minimum by way of conveniences, a Reading Room and Library; a common room for women members with retiring room; a smoke room extended into a billiard room with retiring room” (presumably for men), which lends substance to this (Berman, 1920, p. 296).
At the New South Wales Public School Teachers’ Federation Annual Conference, held in December 1940, Miss Bocking of the Girls’ Mistresses Association, moved, and it was agreed to, that the name of the library be changed to Teachers’ Federation Library (“General Business,” 1941, p. 94), in recognition of its growth from small beginnings to become a significant part of the Federation’s activities (Hastings, 1968).
The Teachers Federation moved to 300 Sussex Street, Sydney in 1967, with a spacious library on the 2nd floor (NSW Teachers’ Federation, 1967, p. 4). The library occupied two-thirds of the second floor, adjacent to a lounge and reading room area. The photographer Max Dupain photographed the occasion (“Federation House,” 1967).
In the thirty years before the Federation’s move to Sussex Street, the library’s book stock increased to over 23,000 volumes, writes Valmai Hastings, Librarian (Hastings, 1968).
From the 1970s through to the mid-1980s the Promotion Reading List, advertised in the library column of the Federation’s journal, Education, and prepared by the library, was sought after by members. This publication listed texts which would assist members preparing for assessment for promotion.
In the 1960s and 1970s through its postal service, and by acquiring relevant texts, the library supported members who were upgrading their teaching qualifications, by studying externally at university. (“Federation Library,” 1979).
From the mid-1970s, the focus of the library gradually expanded to include support for the industrial and campaigning work of the union, as well as professional learning for members (Schmidt & Stanish, 2001; Fitzgerald, 2011, pp. 196-197; Doran, 2019, p. 280).
The NSWTF headquarters moved to Mary Street, Surry Hills in December 1998 (NSW Teachers Federation, 1999, p. 11) and the library’s location in close proximity to the Federation’s Centre for Professional Learning assists the library in understanding member’s professional learning needs and in delivering relevant services.
The library in 2022 has a stock of 14,500 physical items, mostly books (NSW Teachers Federation, 2022, p. 65).
Several prominent librarians have held the position of Librarian at the NSW Teachers Federation. The position was hotly contested from the very start. Among the librarians are:
A. Vernon Taylor, Librarian 1921-1933; 1935-1941
The Executive chose Mr. A. Vernon Taylor from Fisher Library, at the University of Sydney, as the first Librarian. Vernon Taylor was born on the Isle of Man and served as a Private in the A.I.F. in France during the First World War from 1916-1918. Under the A.I.F. Education Scheme, he attended a course in cataloguing at the Central Public Library, Portsmouth, prior to demobilisation. He was employed as a Librarian at Fisher Library, University of Sydney from 1920-1939 (University of Sydney, 2021). When the part-time appointment was announced at Council on 5 November 1921, some members opposed the appointment of an outsider (“Council Meeting,” 1921a, p. 18). The Assistants’ Association was disappointed that Mr. H.J. Munro, who had managed the collection in an honorary capacity for 8 years was overlooked by an applicant who was neither a Federation member nor a teacher (S.E.H., 1921).
At the Council meeting of 3 December 1921, Mr. Bendeich, of the Assistants’ Association moved “that the appointment be reviewed, a month’s notice given, and fresh applications be called.” Following a “heated discussion” the motion was lost after the President, Mr. Dash, stated that Council had authorised the Library Committee to make the appointment (“Council Meeting,” 1921b, p. 27).
The annual salary was £52, and initially Mr Taylor was required to attend each Friday from 7.30 pm until 9 pm and to undertake other duties as directed (“New South Wales Public School Teachers’ Federation,” 1921). By 1929, the Assistant Librarian, Miss Synnott attended all day until 5pm, and Mr Taylor, who was also employed at Fisher Library at the University of Sydney, attended the Cooper Library at 42 Bridge Street, every evening until 9 pm and on every Saturday morning (Acorn, 1929, p. 243).
But Librarian Taylor’s troubles were not over.
In 1933 Mr Taylor was given notice that his engagement with the Federation would be terminated (“N.S.W.P.S. Teachers’ Federation,” 1933, p. 36).
There were protests from the Isolated Teachers’ Association, the Assistants’ Association, the Cookery Teachers’ Association, the Infants’ Mistresses Association, and the Women Assistant Teachers’ Association, to no avail. The General Secretary advised that the termination of Mr. Taylor’s engagement had been carefully considered by the Executive and Council and was part of the reorganisation of the Federation office. (“N.S.W.P.S. Teachers’ Federation,” 1933, p. 39).
Wilma Radford (1912-2005), Librarian 1933-1935
From 56 applicants, the Executive and the President of the Library Committee chose Miss Wilma Radford, 21 years of age (a former university lecturer of mine) as the next Librarian at an annual salary of £200. She was employed from September 1933 (“N.S.W.P.S. Teachers’ Federation,” 1933, p. 36), and her resignation was accepted by the Council in April 1935 (“N.S.W. Teachers’ Federation: Council Meeting,” 1935, p. 227).
Miss Radford had a distinguished career. One of her many achievements was in 1968 when she was appointed Professor of Librarianship at the University of NSW, the first chair of librarianship in Australia (Jones & Radford, 2005).
Miss Wallace, the assistant librarian managed the library until Mr. Taylor’s reappointment (“Minutes of Executive Meeting,” 1935, p. 323). At the May 1935 Council meeting, it was moved by Mr. Murray, seconded by Miss Rose, and carried by 34 votes to 13 that the matter be referred back to Executive (who had endorsed the employment of another librarian), with a recommendation that Mr. Taylor be appointed (“Minutes of Adjourned Council Meeting,” 1935).
Librarian A. Vernon Taylor retired on 30 June 1941, (New South Wales Teachers’ Federation,1941) and a great debt is owed to him for his organisation of, and dedication to, the library.
Eric Richard (Dick) Edwards, Librarian 1941-1945
In 1937 the position of Assistant Librarian was advertised. The position was open only to male applicants 17-25 years of age. (“Positions Vacant,” 1937). Mr. Eric Richard (Dick) Edwards was appointed. (“Minutes of Council Meeting,” 1937, p. 432). From the pages of the Federation’s journal, Education, in which he is referred to as the Librarian from October 1941, it is apparent that he succeeded Mr. Taylor. He relinquished the Librarian position in October 1945, to setup in business (NSW Public School Teachers’ Federation, 1945, p. 20).
With a friend, Rod Shaw, he established, while still at the Federation, Barn on the Hill Press in 1939. This was re-named Edwards & Shaw in 1945. Both a printery and publisher, Edwards & Shaw’s customers included publishers, universities, architects, designers, artists, art galleries, the NSW Teachers’ Federation, and the NSW Teachers’ Federation Health Society (Stein, 1996). In 1994, Dick Edwards was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the Australian printing and publishing industry.
Dorothy Peake, Librarian 1954-1956
In the succeeding years a number of librarians were appointed, including Miss Dorothy Peake, who judging by the pages of Education, held the position for two years 1954-1956. Like Wilma Radford, she later became a prominent figure in Australian librarianship, becoming the foundation University Librarian of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and a pioneer in implementing automated systems and electronic networking of Australian Libraries (Maguire & Schmidmaier, 2015).
You will notice, at the end of this article, that Mary makes only a one sentence comment about her time as Federation Librarian. This is not enough acknowledgement for someone who has dedicated over forty years’ service to the Federation Library.
Hence the addendum below (written by Graeme Smart, Federation’s DeputyLibrarian):
Mary Schmidt, Librarian 1975-present
Mary completed her Graduate Diploma in Librarianship at the University of NSW in 1973. After relatively short spells at the UNSW Law Library and Sydney Teachers College, she became Federation Librarian in 1975, succeeding Miss Valmai Hastings. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she already had a connection with the library; one of her lecturers in 1973 had been Professor Wilma Radford, the Federation Librarian 40 years earlier, between 1933 and 1935.
Library staff numbers have varied over the years, but in Mary’s early years, she was supported by a library technician and two library assistants; since 2015, the staff has comprised a Librarian (Mary) and a Deputy Librarian. From the mid-1980s, when her children were born, until 1999, Mary job-shared the Librarian position, after which she resumed the role full time.
Mary’s time at the Federation has coincided with the emergence of computer technology, which has transformed the storage and dissemination of information. Reflecting this change, the library has shifted its focus, becoming an information and research service in addition to performing its traditional role as a lender of books (NSW Teachers Federation, 1993, p. 77).
Mary has responded to the rapidity of change in the provision of library services in the twenty-first century with indefatigable enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. She is always looking to improve the relevance and quality of the library collection and ensuring that the information needs of Federation Officers, members and staff are met in a timely and appropriate fashion. At the same time, she has never lost sight of the importance of the union’s history and has overseen the preservation of a great variety of artefacts (banners, posters, photographs, documents, etc). But these are not hidden away; many are digitised and can be viewed on the library catalogue, and some are always on display in the library. Their accessibility ensures that the union’s history lives.
Although Mary would be the first to observe that the librarians, like the Federation itself, work in union, it cannot be denied that her own contribution to the Teachers Federation Library has been immeasurable – truly, a notable librarian.
OTHER TEACHER UNION LIBRARIES
Teacher union libraries were established in other Australian states.
1922 NSW Teachers Federation
It appears that the Cooper Library in 1922 was the first teacher union library established in Australia. If NSW was not the first, it was certainly a leader.
1924 State School Teachers’ Union (Tasmania)
The Daily Telegraph (Launceston) on 31.10.1924, reported that at a meeting of the Executive of the State School Teachers Union, “It was decided to institute a circulating library which would be available to members throughout the state” (“School Teachers’ Union,” 1924).
1929 South Australian Public Teachers’ Union
The Advertiser reported on 23 August 1929 that the “South Australian Public Teachers’ Union has established a fine library” and there are 500 volumes on the shelves (“Teachers’ Union Library,” 1929).
1938 Queensland Teachers’ Union
The Queensland Teachers’ Union officially opened its library on 1 July 1938.
Two officers from the Queensland Teachers’ Union visited the Teachers’ Federation Cooper Library in 1934 to assess its suitability as a model for a library for Queensland teachers. Their initial report back to the Queensland Teachers Union was that it was too expensive, particularly the postal service, but eventually in 1938 the Queensland Teachers Union did establish a library for members, which included a postal service (Spaull & Sullivan, 1989, p. 206).
To commemorate the Federation Library’s centenary in February this year, a special Friday Forum, Treasures, was held (on Friday, 18February 2022 at Teachers Federation House) in order to display many of the Federation’s precious cultural and heritage artefacts. Volunteer guides, drawn from Federation Officers and staff, assisted visitors to find their way and with interpreting the heritage artefacts.
A growth area of the library’s work is the conservation, preservation and celebration of the union’s cultural and heritage artefacts. There are now nearly 600 Treasures, including badges, banners, medals, pictures, posters, objects and sculptures in the library’s Artworks Collection.
The library has a collection of over 300 posters in the Artworks Collection, stored archivally in plan cabinets. As display is inherently damaging to fragile originals, fine art reproductions, made from digitised originals, are provided for display throughout Federation House at Mary Street, Surry Hills, and in regional offices.
The library has a collection of over 30 historic NSW Teachers Federation banners. Rolled storage, on archival cylinders, is used to protect the larger banners. Smaller banners are stored flat in plan cabinets.
For the NSW Teachers Federation centenary in 2018, 14 bannerettes, made of silk, were created to highlight the historic sectional Associations, that once comprised the Federation.
The NSW Public School Cookery Teachers Association, which predated the Federation, being founded in 1912, was very active. The Association produced several successful cookery and domestic science books for pupils in public schools and assisted with raising funds for the war effort, Red Cross and other charitable institutions. The teachers involved also provided food for invalids during the 1919 influenza pandemic (“N.S.W. Public School Cookery Teachers’ Association,” 1919).
The library has many historic volumes, and still has books from the original Cooper collection (N.S.W.P.S.T.F. Cooper Library Accession Book: 1-10,000, n.d.). Many of the older books are quite worn and were rebound to extend their life, which lessens their value in dollar terms and their intrinsic value as artefacts. However, the founders of the library could take satisfaction in that the books that were in their care are ‘well thumbed’ as they intended.
The first book listed in the library’s accession register from the Cooper collection is a Primer of logic, by Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones, published London, 1905. The early librarians were thorough in their record keeping and this book is noted as missing in 1940, and not seen since.
However, the second book accessioned, The story of my life, by Helen Keller, published London, 1906, is still part of the library collection. Born in Alabama in the United States of America, Helen Keller was deaf, blind and mute at an early age and overcame these adversities to become a special educator and authored a number of works. This book includes several quality black and white plates, photographs of her as a child, and later with Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain. The stamp of the Cooper Library is on the title page and the volume is notated ‘No. 2” inside the front cover (Keller, 1906).
The library is fortunate to have several texts from the early 20th century by, and about, the work of Maria Montessori, a pioneer in the development of early childhood education. Her reforms are still instructive today and sought by Federation members. The Montessori principles and practice: A book for parents and teachers by E. P. Culverwell, 2nd edition, published London, in 1914, has many charming black and white plates featuring children, with captions such as “Putting the chair down quietly” (Culverwell, 1914, p. 225)
Sir Henry Parkes
Of all the historic volumes held by the library one of the most appreciated is Fifty years in the making of Australian history by Sir Henry Parkes, five times Premier of NSW between 1872 and 1891. The book was published in London by Longmans, Green in 1892 (Parkes, 1892).
This book is significant as it contains The Tenterfield Oration, seen as the first appeal to the public rather than politicians for a federation of Australian states.
Also in this book, Henry Parkes outlines the struggles to achieve the passing of the Public Instruction Act of 1880 through the NSW Parliament, an Act which established the Department of Public Instruction, and made for compulsory education for children 6-14 years.
Researchers and historians are aided by having an eBook version freely available from the University of Sydneyi minus the portraits, and a digital facsimile, with portraits, from the National Library of Australiaii but there is something compelling and inspirational in having the original text.
All of these texts are available for viewing in the library.
The library works to preserve the union’s cultural heritage through the TROVE partnership with the National Library of Australia. In 2017, with the assistance of the State Library of NSW, the library commenced digitisation of the Federation’s publication, Education, which has been in publication since 1919. The archive from 1919 – 2019 is available on TROVE, the National Library of Australia’s platform for digital resources. This preserves this unique and fragile resource, brings it to an international audience, and makes accessible the rich history contained within its pages (Education, 1919-).
In 2019, five grandsons and one great-great-grandson of Ebenezer Dash, the Federation’s second President, donated a collection of photographs, illuminated addresses, letters, scrap books and other items that belonged to Ebenezer Dash. These items which date from 1892, are on permanent display in the Dash Archive in the library (Coomber, 2019).
Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
In 2013, Susie Preston, the daughter of the Federation’s former President, Dr Eric Pearson, donated her father’s Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, awarded (posthumously) to Dr. Eric Pearson, in 1977, for service to the trade union movement. (Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal, 1977)
Federation members and members of the general public have shown trust in the Federation and the library to care for and appreciate their precious artefacts. Perhaps it’s not just the artefacts that comprise the Treasure, but also the trust transferred with them.
Mary Schmidt has been the Federation’s Librarian since 1975.
My thanks to Mr. Graeme Smart, the Federation’s Deputy Librarian, for extensive research support.
Keller, H. (1906). The story of my life: With her letters (1887-1901) and a supplementary account of her education, including passages from the reports and letters of her teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan by John Albert Macy. Hodder & Stoughton.
NSW Public School Teachers’ Federation. (1938). Annual report and agenda paper.
NSW Public School Teachers’ Federation. (1941, June 7). Report of Library Investigation Committee to Council on Saturday 7th June 1941. NSW Teachers Federation Documents collection (No. 502), Sydney, NSW.
NSW Public School Teachers’ Federation. (1945). Annual report.
Spaull, A. & Sullivan, M. (1989). A history of the Queensland Teachers Union. Allen & Unwin.
Stein, H. (1996). From the Barn on the Hill to Edwards & Shaw: 1939-1983: The story of two young men who built a master printery and publishing house that became a major influence on printing and book design in Australia. State Library of New south Wales Press.
In 2007 the Executive of the Federation confirmed the library’s role in supporting the work of the Federation, assisting in recruitment of new members, supporting the professional development needs of members, and conserving and preserving the cultural and heritage artefacts of the union (NSW Teachers Federation, 2008, p. 51).
Since 2013 the library’s Web based Libero catalogue has enabled members anywhere to discover the library’s resources and make a request online for resources to be posted to them. In a way this is nothing new. In 1933, the library’s catalogue was made available to members throughout the state in printed form. Using current technology, the catalogue is delivered to members online, the commitment to member professional learning continues.
Members can have resources posted to them at no cost. If members need assistance with returning resources to the library, pre-paid mail satchels are provided for returning borrowed items.
Recommendations for purchase
Members can also make recommendations for purchase of new resources, not held by the library. Professional learning resources are expensive, and this service, where members can access the resources they need, without any cost to them, offers great support for members’ professional learning.
Members can discover the library’s resources through the online Libero catalogue. Another convenient way for members to discover the library’s resources is by using the library’s Hot Topics guides. These short guides, lead members to the most popular and up-to-date resources on professional learning themes. The library currently maintains nearly 90 Hot Topics, which are available to members both online and in print form.
After refurbishment of the 1st floor in 2017 the library is now situated in close proximity to colleagues from the Centre for Professional Learning (CPL) which provides for a synergy between library and professional learning activities. Hot Topics on relevant themes and class sets of resources are provided to support members attending Centre for Professional Learning courses.
The library works closely with the Aboriginal Education Coordinator, the Women’s Coordinator, the Multicultural Officer, and the Trade Union Training Officer to develop collections of relevant resources and focused Hot Topics guides to support members attending their training programs and events.
Library tours and briefings on library services, are provided to members participating in training, targeted to their interests. This also provides the library with the opportunity to meet and interact with active Federation members and learn directly about their interests and information needs.
Support for Councilors
The library provides a specific service for Councilors attending the Federation’s Saturday Council meetings. The library is open, and a Library Bulletin of new resources is distributed to delegates. Many delegates are from country areas, distant from any library. Access to the library for professional reasons, for Federation business, or recreation, is a valuable opportunity.
Members may visit the library for relaxation or study. A comfortable lounge area is provided, as well as computers, WiFi and study areas. Members may book the library meeting room at no cost.
The library premises are open to members throughout the year, including during vacations. The library opens from 9 am – 5 pm Monday to Friday. The library also opens on the Saturdays when the Federation Council meets, from 9 am – 1.30 pm.
Mary Schmidt is the Federation’s librarian.
Mary completed a Bachelor of arts Degree at the University of Queensland in 1972, followed by a Graduate Diploma of Librarianship at the University of NSW in 1973.
Having worked in the University of NSW Law Library while a student, and after graduation at Sydney Teachers College, Mary commenced work at the NSW Teachers Federation in 1975, International Women’s Year, an inspiring time to begin work with one of Australia’s leading trade unions.
Highlights include: the expansion of the library’s services to include support for the union’s industrial and campaigning work, as well as providing professional learning resources for members; the publication of the library’s online catalogue in 2013; digitisation of the Federation’s journal, Education, in partnership with the National Library of Australia, for the Federation’s centenary in 2018. Currently, the archive from 1919-2019 is available on TROVE.
Professor Megan Watkins and Professor Greg Noble present a research-based examination of the complexities involved in working with students of refugee backgrounds in our schools. They discuss why it is both inherently difficult and necessary for NSW public school teachers to strive to meet the needs of these students and their families . . .
In mid-2021, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated the total number of refugees world-wide was 27.1 million (Refugee Council of Australia, 2022). This number has risen dramatically in recent years due to the increasing number and intensity of conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia, forcing many to flee their homelands and seek safety elsewhere. Many of these refugees are under 18 years old, and many are unaccompanied minors. While Australia’s proportion of this number is relatively low, thousands of young refugees (Refugee Council of Australia, 2017) enter Australia each year on humanitarian visas and face the daunting prospect of beginning school in their newfound home with limited or no English, limited or no literacy in their first language, disrupted or no previous schooling, and the scars of trauma resulting from the experiences of war, the death of loved ones, poverty and protracted periods of displacement in refugee camps and/or one or more countries of transit (Yak, 2016). Once settled, many may be under pressure to earn an income or to help other members of their family, which affects their attendance and progress at school (Refugee Council of Australia, 2016). In addition to contending with these difficulties, issues around gender, faith and racism may affect their capacity to ‘fit in’ (Yak, 2016).
The New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education (DoE) now records that there are more than 11,000 students of refugee backgrounds in NSW schools (NSW DoE, 2020). While many of these students are located in metropolitan Sydney, in particular in the western and south-western suburbs, there is an increasing number settling in regional areas, posing considerable challenges for schools and their communities to ensure that these students’ complex needs are met. Schools are often the first point of contact with wider Australian society for young refugees, so how schools position and serve them has enormous consequences (Uptin et al., 2013).
Various community, government and non-government organisations have provided considerable assistance to schools, but a number of studies suggest that not only is far more needed (Sidhu et al., 2011; Block et al., 2014), but that further research is required to gauge refugee students’ experiences of schooling and whether current practice is addressing their needs and those of teachers (Ferfolja and Vickers, 2010).
In 2019, the NSW Teachers Federation commissioned researchers at Western Sydney University to undertake such a study to help fill this gap and to yield data to inform how they may best support teachers working in these complex environments. The report, It’s Complex! Working with Students of Refugee Backgrounds and their Families in New South Wales Schools, (Watkins, M., Noble, G., & Wong, A. ,2019) is the product of this research. Its title, drawn from a comment made by one of the teacher participants, reflects not only the complex needs of refugee students and their families but the inherent complexity of meeting these needs often within schools already grappling with the challenges of socio-economic disadvantage, increasing cultural and linguistic diversity and students with physical and intellectual disabilities. Meeting the needs of students of refugee backgrounds is undertaken alongside those of other students, making the task for teachers a complex one indeed.
It’s Complex aimed to capture this complexity. The research informing the report included interviews and focus groups with executive staff and teachers, students with and without refugee backgrounds and the parents or carers of students of refugee backgrounds in ten public schools. These schools included primary schools, high schools and Intensive English Centres (IECs) in Sydney and regional locations in NSW, with high and low populations of students of refugee backgrounds and varying numbers of students with a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE) amongst their broader populations. The study also involved observations in classrooms, playgrounds and at school community events. In addition to school-derived data, interviews were also held with relevant personnel in organisations supporting refugee students and their families.
The study examined the challenges faced by school communities as a result of their increasing number of students of refugee backgrounds. It looked at the educational and broader needs of these students; the programs in place to support them within schools; the links between educational experiences and other aspects of the settlement process and the social contexts in which settlement occurs; the consequences for teacher workloads and their professional capacities; and a range of other issues. This article provides a broad overview of the project’s key findings with a link here to the full report for more detailed examination of these from the perspectives of each of the various informant groups that participated in the study.
One of thekey findings of the research was that the needs of students of refugee backgrounds are not simply the pragmatic requirements of educational performance, these students also have complex linguistic, social, cultural, psychological and economic needs. In discussion with principals and other senior executive across the 10 project schools, the area of greatest need identified was that of welfare, not only ensuring students were fed, housed and felt safe but that there was support for those who experienced psychological trauma as, without addressing this, it was considered difficult for students’ educational needs to be met. Yet these respondents also stressed the highly individualised nature of these students’ needs with one teacher remarking: ‘all refugee students struggle but struggle in different ways. We have very capable students, students that have, you know, not as much capacity to learn as others. And some are very bright – a full range of learners’.
While not news to school executive and teachers, the research revealed how schools aremuch more than educational institutions. This may have always been the case, but with increasing and diversifying refugee intakes, they have become complex sites of refugee and community support, with greater expectations and challenges. As one principal commented: ‘I guess we are kind of, we have almost become a community centre, and this is something that I find quite challenging … So, we get a lot of requests that are far removed from our brief as a school’. Schools, therefore, are grappling with a range of issues that result from these greater expectations: teacher workload, professional learning, funding issues, interagency coordination and community liaison.
The research also found that there were uneven levels of expertise and support across schools, both by region and by type, and related to school and community contexts, and individual teacher’s experiences. There are schools, such as IECs, which are set up well to meet these challenges, developing significant banks of expertise and resources, and there are schools which, by dint of their location and demographics, are not well set-up nor well-funded.
Many teachers are providing additional support beyond the classroom in terms of arranging homework clubs, extra work, support services, community liaison, etc, creating increased and intensified workloads which have stressful consequences for work-life balance and some teachers’ mental health. Many teachers are providing this extra support but with varying degrees of experience and expertise. Many do not have English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) qualifications, for example, exacerbating the stressful circumstances in which they are working. Many are also finding themselves in classrooms with an increasing complexity of student populations, posing challenges for classroom teaching.
This was matched with very uneven levels of understanding in schools – amongst teachers, non-refugee students and the wider community – of the complex experiences and challenges faced by students of refugee backgrounds. Staff in schools often struggled to ‘get the right balance’ between addressing the pastoral, the academic and the socio-cultural needs of students of refugee backgrounds with huge implications for these students’ learning. One executive staff member reflected on the problem of an overemphasis on the pastoral:
“I think that when we are dealing with our students one-on-one and we start to hear and get to know them more and hear the history of where they have come from and their trauma, there can be a bit of a tendency to make excuses for them not improving academically and as strongly as they could and … I am going to use the word ’pity’, like there can be an element not from all teachers but from some teachers.”
An executive member at another school suggested such an approach raised questions about the nature of wellbeing itself: ‘So, it is striking that balance between wellbeing as welfare and wellbeing as self-esteem and achievement’.
As a consequence, students of refugee backgrounds have very varied educational experiences: some are settling well, and some are not ‘fitting in’. While most value the efforts undertaken at their schools, as do their parents and carers, many are also suffering from a lack of support. These students are also faced with the dilemma of in\visibility: they often stand out – for various reasons – but their needs are often ‘invisible’, and they can fall through cracks in the system. Many students recounted the enormous challenges of English language and literacy acquisition and often felt underprepared for their educational experiences. Many students continued to experience enormous problems in the transition from IECs to high school and there appeared little progress in addressing these issues, despite being well documented in previous research (Hammond, 2014).
Many students of refugee backgrounds reported the ongoing incidence of racism, though this is not always acknowledged by staff in schools. This racism varied in scale and type from microaggressions of other students avoiding contact and making veiled derogatory comments, to forms of structural racism often resulting from well-intentioned programs that actually reinforced these students’ lack of belonging. In one example of the former, in a school with a predominantly Anglo-Australian student population attended by a small number of refugee students of African backgrounds, a teacher referred to students making racist taunts in the form of ‘back door kind of comments’. The teacher explained how students would say: ‘So, they are asking for a black pen, like they will disguise the racism and emphasise certain things like, “Can I have a black pen?” or something like that. Whereas I shut that down immediately’.
While schools provided various forms of assistance, many continued to struggle with developing and sustaining productive relations with parents of refugee backgrounds and their wider communities.
The work of Refugee Support Leaders (RSLs), a temporary measure introduced in response to the arrival of large numbers of Syrian refugees in 2016, proved increasingly important in many schools and their broader communities. RSLs took up roles in the wake of the loss of the NSW Department of Education Multicultural Education/EAL/D consultants that occurred in 2012, a loss which has been detrimental for many schools. A pleasing development, following the publication of It’s Complex, and because of the NSW Teachers Federation’s advocacy, has been the appointment of EAL/D Leader roles seemingly filling the void of the previous Multicultural Education/EAL/D consultants. These are much needed positions which, it is hoped, are ongoing, supporting schools in meeting the EAL/D needs of not only refugee students, but the many students who require specialist EAL/D teaching.
Finally, while much work has been done to address issues around the coordination of governmental and non-governmental agencies in the area of refugee settlement, this has not always been embedded well in daily practice in schools. For this work to be consolidated and extended we must enable multiple, critical conversations – between the Department, support organisations and schools; between teachers, students, parents/carers and their wider communities – around students’ educational, pastoral and social needs, and the capacities of schools to address them. Failure to facilitate such dialogue will threaten the stability of life that students of refugee backgrounds and their families so urgently need.
A useful starting point will be looking at the full report, which can be found at:
If you are interested in applying to the It’s Complex: Working with students of refugee backgrounds in NSW public schools professional learning course run by the Centre for Professional Learning, please click here.
Block, K., Cross, S., Riggs, E. and Gibbs, L. (2014). Supporting schools to create an inclusive environment for refugee students. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 18(12), 1337-1355.
Ferfolja, T. and Vickers, M. (2010). Supporting refugee students in school education in Greater Western Sydney. Critical Studies in Education, 51(2), 149-162.
Hammond, J. (2014). The transition of refugee students from Intensive English Centres to mainstream high schools: Current practices and future possibilities. Sydney: NSW Department of Education and Communities.
New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education (DoE)(2020) Supporting Refugee Students https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/curriculum/multicultural-education/refugee-students-in-schools.
Sidhu, R., Taylor, S. and Christie, P. (2011). Schooling and Refugees: Engaging with the complex trajectories of globalisation. Global Studies of Childhood, 1(2), 92-103.
Uptin, J., Wright, J. and Harwood, V. (2013). ‘It felt like I was black dot on white paper’: examining young former refugees’ experience of entering Australian high schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 40(1), 125-137.
Megan Watkins is Professor in the School of Education at Western Sydney University. Her research interests lie in the cultural analysis of education exploring the impact of cultural diversity on schooling and the ways in which different cultural practices can engender divergent habits and dispositions to learning. Megan began her career as an English/History teacher working in high schools in Western Sydney. Her most recent book is Doing Diversity Differently in a Culturally Complex World: Critical Perspectives on Multicultural Education (Bloomsbury, 2021) with Greg Noble.
Greg Noble is Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. Greg has been involved in research in multiculturalism and education for thirty years. His interests have centred around the relations between youth, ethnicity, gender and schooling, as well as aspects of curriculum and pedagogy in multicultural education. He also has broader research interests in issues of migration, ethnic communities and intercultural relations. He has published eleven books, including: Doing Diversity Differently in a Culturally Complex World (2021) and Disposed to Learn (2013), both with Megan Watkins, and Cultures of Schooling (1990).
Dr Lorri Beveridge, Michael Murray and Hannah Gillard explore the high gravitas and practicalities of raising awareness of intersex, sexuality and gender diverse people in the primary classroom through teaching LGBTIQ literature.1 Teaching students LGBTIQ texts can better address students’ academic and emotional needs…
SETTING THE SCENE
The scene is a Year 6 classroom. The lesson is a novella study of a text dealing with racism,
(Pascoe, 2016). Increasingly, deep and significant class discussions are sprouting and intertwining, making the text come alive, resulting in high student engagement, that oftentimes occurs when teachers draw on quality texts in the teaching of English. Defined by Ewing, Callow and Rushton (2016, p103), quality texts are those that engage students and teachers alike, are rich in language and imagery, multi-layered and evoke a range of different communities and responses. Conversations about quality texts allow children to dive into rabbit-holes, to engage in complex and nuanced conversations they might not be exposed to inside and/or outside school, yet are so crucially important to their young lives. These conversations help children to make sense of their world in an open way, as they explore issues dialogically through the eyes of characters in texts, fostering positive wellbeing, at a safe distance. Mrs Whitlam narrates the struggles of an adolescent girl, tussling against covert racism in her daily life. The teacher in the Year 6 classroom steers the class to strengthen meaning through the complex interplay of context, narrative and character. One eloquent class member contributes at length regarding a particularly relevant aspect of the text. To encourage continuation of the important conversation string, the teacher reflects to the class, “She said, …”.
The student promptly responds, “I am a boy”, in a matter-of-fact way. Surprisingly, there is no reaction from the class. The teacher apologises profusely and moves the lesson right along. The above narrative is a real-life example of a teacher feeling under-confident and underprepared to correctly address transgender and gender diverse students in the classroom. In this paper, we argue that teaching quality LGBTIQ literature can open up an exploratory and open space for students and teachers to learn about intersex identities, and sexuality and gender diversity. Teaching these modes of diversity through literature means intersex identities and gender and sexuality diversity can be explored in a way that involves all students (those within and outside LGBTIQ communities) so that LGBTIQ students don’t feel singled out and confronted in the classroom due to questions or speculations about their difference. Teaching LGBTIQ texts can help make school a safer environment for LGBTIQ students, as well as their friends and family more broadly.
Why primary schools should support LGBTIQ students and address intersex identities, and sexuality and gender diversity
It is a reasonable expectation that LGBTIQ positive content is provided to children so they feel supported, and also so they can envision sexuality and gender diversity, for instance, as positive potentialities for themselves.
A related reason to teach LGBTIQ literature is the confronting, unacceptable and possibly all-too-familiar narrative of a child being misgendered in a classroom, which is a timely reminder to educators to reflect on how we support transgender and gender diverse students and their families. We may not be providing these students with the attention they require, and deserve, to set them up for success at school. The idiomatic expression, “viva la difference”, attributed to the French resistance movement (Vernet, 1992), encourages us to celebrate difference and diversity. Yet academic research ubiquitously points the finger at insensitive education systems, including a lack of LGBTIQ support, failure to recognise transgender identity, bullying and victimisation. These are widely regarded as contributing factors to spiralling youth suicide rates (Gorse, 2020; Lee & Wong, 2020; Turban & Ehrensaft, 2017).
Paediatric gender diversity is a burgeoning area of research (Ehrensaft, 2020; Ristori & Steensma, 2017; Henderson, 2016). Young children who are transgender or gender diverse also suffer from anxiety, depression and suicidality. A recent Canadian parent-report study (MacMullin, 2020) found that 9.1% of 6-12 year olds who expressed gender non-conformity had attempted suicide or self-harm. What is particularly notable in Australia is the marked scarcity of data on suicide and mental health for young people who are Indigenous and LGBTIQ (Henningham, 2021 p14; Rhodes and Byrne, 2021 p34). Scholar Mandy Henningham says this requires further research to recognise the impact of factors like intergenerational trauma and institutionalised racism on health outcomes for LGBTIQ and Indigenous young people (Henningham, 2021 p14). In recognising the poorer health outcomes for many LGBTIQ young people (and the need for more research), we as educators can assist LGBTIQ children and their families by creating inclusive school communities underpinned by values such as respect, acceptance (as opposed to tolerance) and honesty.
In failing to address the learning and wellbeing needs of LGBTIQ students, we are espousing a particular, mostly unintended, point of view, relegating our LGBTIQ students to the null curriculum, often referred to as the hidden curriculum (Kazeemi et al, 2020; Banja, 2020; Eisner, 1994). Schools socialise students in ways that are viewed as educationally significant, including shared values, images and beliefs (Eisner, 1994). The null curriculum is that which is not taught at school, important due to its conspiracy of silence. Pedagogy around intersex people, and those who are gender and sexuality diverse may indeed be regarded as part of the null curriculum. LGBTIQ diversity may be an uncomfortable subject for many educators to address. The null curriculum implies that being heterosexual and ‘cisgender’ (a term meaning not transgender) is normal and being LGBTIQ is abnormal. Promoting awareness of sexuality and gender diversity reduces anti-LGBTIQ stereotypes, bullying and violence against LGBTIQ students.
Mel Smith (2020) argues that public schools are fundamentally, and necessarily, inclusive and have a particular responsibility to recognise and represent the diversity of their communities in the ways they plan and execute schooling. This responsibility does not begin in high school. According to Smith, ‘the need to also incorporate LGBTIQ inclusive topics in the curriculum in primary schools is highlighted by the fact that at least half same sex attracted young people realise their attraction while in primary school (Hiller et al., 2013), and that there are often rainbow families that are not recognised, or acknowledged, in the stories that are read or the content that is covered in class’.
Practical ways primary schools can support LGBTIQ students and address LGBTIQ diversity
It takes a village to raise a child, according to an African proverb. Similarly, it takes a whole community to support LGBTIQ students in schools. We can collectively create inclusive school communities by focusing on a number of key strategies:
Neither endorse nor empower heteronormativity2 or gender stereotyping3. Create spaces for discussion about being intersex, and gender and sexuality diverse. Encourage class conversations about LGBTIQ issues in ways that students can connect with, for example, relations with family. This can be achieved by making conscious decisions about what stories to read to children, setting up classrooms and school routines free of gender constraints, including enabling students to wear the school uniform they want. If teachers fail to discuss intersex identities, and sexuality and gender diversity, many students will go unsupported and find fitting in socially at school challenging. A culture of care and inclusion is necessary for successful school performance.
Explore LGBTIQ matters with young children in a safe, familiar space by reading books that reflect different family compositions, including LGBTIQ families, exploring classroom resources from a human rights perspective. In doing so, students learn that all families are special and to value diversity in our society. Students and their families have a right to see themselves reflected in books and other resources used in classrooms.
Ensure staff are well-informed and have access to, and opportunities to discuss, research-based articles about bullying, and LGBTIQ students. Professional learning provides teachers with methods to intervene and de-escalate threatening situations. Teachers need to know they will be supported because teaching content on intersex identities, and gender and sexuality diversity, is regarded as controversial by some sectors in society. That said, some students and families do not identify with the nuclear family and deserve to read about families similar to their own. Teachers need to know that they have the support of school leaders when intervening in challenging situations. Together, teachers and school leaders play an important role in challenging phobias against LGBTQ people and bullying in schools, providing support to our LGBTIQ students and their families.
Address issues of phobia against LGBTIQ students as a high priority. There is staff agreement that inappropriate language will not be tolerated, and staff will intervene to protect students from bullying and homophobia. Leadership attitudes are identified as the most influential factor in keeping LGBTIQ students safe at school. School leaders contribute to moral purpose in their schools and the wider community.
Seek feedback from openly LGBTIQ students as to whether they feel safe at school. Interview parents, counsellors, psychologists and students themselves as to how to support LGBTQ students and what assistance they require to succeed at school. (DeJean & Sapp, 2017; Dewitt, 2012).
In addition to the points raised above, we make two other important suggestions about how primary schools can be more LGBTIQ inclusive. Firstly, when developing curriculum for LGBTIQ topics and when teaching this content, teachers and education departments should be aware that there are often specialist groups and resources that should be consulted in relation to different parts of LGBTIQ communities. This is important given the distinctiveness of identities and issues faced in intersex, and gender and sexuality diverse communities. Finding out which groups and resources to consult can be facilitated by online searches, reading LGBTIQ media, attending LGBTIQ events as well as consulting with LGBTIQ groups and community members. The importance of consulting specific communities when teaching and developing curriculum is emphasised by intersex activists in the Darlington Statement- a document published by intersex activists in 2017. Here, they, ‘call on education and awareness providers to develop content with intersex-led organisations and promote delivery by intersex people’ (p8). Notably, Intersex Human Rights Australia (2021) and Intersex Peer Support Australia (n.d.) are both specialist intersex groups in the Australian context that provide things like resources, information and support regarding intersex identities. Teachers and education departments being consultative, and recognising the specificity of experiences in LGBTIQ communities, is a practical way they can make primary schools more LGBTIQ inclusive.
Secondly, to make primary schools more LGBTIQ friendly, primary educators should include content that recognises the way LGBTIQ identities intersect and overlap with multiple forms of minoritised difference – for instance, being a young person who is part of LGBTIQ and Indigenous communities in Australia (Rhodes and Bryne 2021, p30). Research by David Rhodes and Matt Byrne shows a lack of attention is paid to being LGBTIQ and Indigenous in the education of primary teachers and students in Australia. Given the specificity of being part of both LGBTIQ and Indigenous communities, and the importance of educating children about Indigenous histories and cultures, teaching children about the particularities of LGBTIQ and Indigenous experiences is crucial. Understandably, Rhodes and Byrne note this practice should be backed by the inclusion of non-tokenistic content covering the intersection of LGBTIQ and Indigenous experiences in the tertiary courses for primary teaching. In addition to this, they argue for, inter alia, the amendment of school and education department policies to speak to this intersection (Rhodes and Byrne 2021, pp37-38). One cost of not educating students about LGBTIQ and Indigenous identities is the potential siloing of minoritised difference, which can perpetuate the idea that being LGBTIQ and Indigenous, for instance, are mutually exclusive4. Writers who are part of LGBTIQ and Indigenous communities, like Maddee Clark and Mandy Henningham, have identified this stereotype as a serious issue (Clark 2014 quoted in Henningham 2019, pp101-102; Clark 2014 quoted in Henningham 2021, p12). For instance, drawing on the work of Maddee Clark, Henningham highlights the way Clark was questioned about the very existence of people who were both LGBTIQ and Indigenous (Clark 2014 quoted in Henningham 2021, p12). When teaching about LGBTIQ experiences at the primary level, education should be inclusive of the way gender and sexuality diversity, for instance, intersect with cultural and racial difference, to reflect the realities of young people’s lives.
The NSW PDHPE curriculum (NESA, 2019) addresses LGBTIQ students indirectly. Outcome PDe-1 – 5-1 relates to characteristics that make us similar and different, and how we manage personal challenges as they arise. PDe-1 – 5-2 relates to feeling safe and strategies to support self and others. Following on from here, PDe-6 – 5-6 deals with the importance of context in health and wellbeing. Similarly, PDe-7 – 5-7 describes actions that promote health, safety and wellbeing. In these COVID times, there has been a particular focus on student wellbeing, which coheres with addressing gender diversity at school.
The NSW English curriculum (NESA, 2012, 2019) also provides space for teachers to address issues of gender diversity in the classroom. Objective D, in particular, states that students will develop knowledge, understanding and skills in order to ‘express themselves and their relationships with others and their world’. The outcome for Stage 1 (Years 1-2) that occupies Objective D, EN1-11D, requires that a student ‘responds to and composes a range of texts about familiar aspects of the world and their own experiences’, including of course the LGBTIQ student’s own experience of family. By Stage 2 (Years 3-4), the equivalent outcome, EN2-11D, extends this challenge to composing and responding to texts ‘that express viewpoints of the world similar to and different from their own’, indicating that by this stage students could be exposed, through texts, to experiences of gender that might be different to their own. For Stage 3 (Years 5-6), EN3-8D requires that a student considers how ‘different viewpoints of their world, including aspects of culture, are represented in texts’. Gender diversity, an essential aspect of culture, falls neatly into the gamut of ‘different viewpoints’, but this outcome is a reminder that in English it is not gender diversity itself which is the focus but rather how gender diversity is represented in texts. Concepts endorsed in the English conceptual framework (NSW DoE & ETA, 2017), co-developed by the English Teachers Association NSW and the NSW Department of Education that support a focus on gender diversity, include narrative, character, context, representation, perspective, and point of view. Clearly the study of English in primary school provides rich opportunities for students to learn about gender diversity in relation to themselves, each other, and the world at large.
Even the new skills-oriented K-2 English syllabus (NESA, 2021), recently released but not due for mandatory implementation until 2023, recognises the diversity of learners in the classroom and requires that students ‘identify aspects of their own world represented in texts’ (Early Stage 1) and ‘identify representations of groups and cultures in a range of texts’ (Stage 1). The rationale of the English K-2 syllabus (2021) states ‘students are to engage with Australian diversity by exploring a range of texts … and a range of linguistic, cultural and social perspectives’ (NESA, p9). By engaging with diverse literature, students feel empowered to express their identities, broadening their perspectives and world views.
Significantly, all curriculum documents in NSW schools (e.g. NESA, 2019) contain learning across the curriculum content, including cross-curriculum priorities, and general capabilities, areas that are embedded in all key learning areas, identified as essential learning for all students. Teaching students about LGBTIQ diversity in the primary classroom is supported, identified and incorporated by the following learning across the curriculum content. The icons below are visual symbols that identify the particular content embedded across the various syllabi:
Cross curriculum priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
General capabilities of critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding, intercultural understanding and personal and social capability
Additionally, other learning across the curriculum area of difference and diversity
The cross-curriculum priorities and capabilities, identified above, exemplify the high gravitas of learning about LGBTIQ diversity in primary classrooms. They are identified throughout our syllabus documents as important learning for all students.
Texts that address LGBTIQ diversity and ideas for their use in the primary classroom
Books hook us in, and it is our challenge as educators to ensure that “the right book falls into the right hands” (Old Souls Book Club, 2021). Age-appropriate books, that depict LGBTIQ characters and families woven into their storylines, expose students to the diversity of the real world. Similarly, texts that empower students to stand up for themselves and others help children to learn coping skills that assist them in dealing with situations of homophobia and bullying. Quality literature provides a safe space to expose students to LGBTIQ related topics, which some might regard as controversial, in thought-provoking ways. Schools can play an important role in countering anti-LGBTIQ sentiment and lead the way towards a better world for everyone.
Reading a great book and identifying with its characters is an enjoyable and powerful means of opening up conversational spaces with students. Many of the texts traditionally used in classrooms contain heterosexual and cisgender characters and images. LGBTIQ students do not see themselves or their families reflected in these texts. By drawing on texts that include LGBTIQ characters and non-traditional family structures, these students see mirrors of themselves. Characters are more relatable to them. Teachers are promoting self-acceptance in gender diverse students, and increased awareness in all students, curbing anti-LGBTIQ stereotypes and reducing bullying and violence against LGBTIQ students.
Appendix 1 below lists a wide range of texts for primary-aged children that address gender, sexuality and family diversity, including suggested links to the NSW curriculum, particularly English. It also provides an overview for teachers to assist them in selecting texts that address the wellbeing needs of students in their classrooms. These texts could form the basis of English units, focusing on concepts of narrative, character, context, theme and representation, perspective or point of view. Outcomes and content from other subjects, especially PDHPE, could be incorporated into these units. Note that while PDHPE curriculum fails to directly address issues related LGBTIQ experiences, there is enough scope in this syllabus to justify the inclusion of content that might promote learning for all students in relation to LGBTIQ diversity.
The books listed in Appendix 1 are but some of the vibrant LGBTIQ young people’s literature available, and we encourage teachers to be on the lookout for other age appropriate LGBTIQ texts they could teach. We encourage teachers to stay attuned for primary school texts that feature intersex identities, and that speak to the intersection between Indigenous and LGBTIQ experiences in Australia, so that students who occupy these identities can see themselves represented and feel included.
Whilst not a primary school text, we would like to highlight the recently released book The Boy from The Mish by Gary Lonesborough by Gary Lonesborough (2021) for exploring the intersection of Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ communities.
The book is a queer Indigenous novel for readers 14 and up about a 17-year-old exploring his identity in a rural community of Australia. Finding and teaching texts that speak to the diversity of LGBTIQ experiences is crucial so that students and teachers can appreciate the heterogeneity of LGBTIQ communities.
As can be seen through the narrative of the child being misgendered by a teacher at the beginning of this paper, it is crucial there is greater awareness and understanding of LGBTIQ issues within primary classrooms. Teaching students LGBTIQ literature, such as the texts that we have included in our appendix, in an accepting way creates an open, explorative space where children and teachers can be educated about intersex identities, and gender and sexuality diversity. As stated, we recommend teachers stay on the lookout for texts that address the multiplicity of LGBTIQ experiences – for instance, being Indigenous and sexuality and gender diverse. Teaching LGBTIQ texts is particularly important given the way LGBTIQ literature has been described as being part of the ‘null’ or ‘hidden’ curriculum’ in schools. The invisibility of the diversity of LGBTIQ experiences can perpetuate heteronormative biases in teaching, which can result in children being unaware that being a part of the LGBTIQ community is a positive potentiality for them – one life course amongst many that is legitimate and that they can be proud of. Providing students with the opportunity to explore LGBTIQ experiences in an open, explorative way through texts is a positive move in the direction towards promoting better health and wellbeing outcomes for LGBTIQ students and teachers.
While this paper explores the power of literature to educate about LGBTIQ experiences, it is one change amongst many that could occur to make primary schools more LGBTIQ inclusive. For instance, we have discussed the importance of consulting with intersex communities regarding the development of educational curriculum relevant to that community. Additionally, education scholars David Rhodes and Matt Byrne have highlighted an array of opportunities for improving the primary school experience for teachers and students who are part of both Indigenous and LGBTIQ communities (Rhodes and Byrne 2021). This includes embedding teaching about the intersection of these identities in the university education of primary school teachers, and the modification of school and education department policies to recognise the experiences of those who are LGBTIQ and Indigenous (Rhodes and Byrne 2021, p.38-39). Doing so would improve pedagogy and encourage the celebration of ‘diversity in all its forms’ (Rhodes and Byrne, 2021 p.38).
‘LGBTIQ+’ is an acronym that popularly stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and more (signified through the ‘+’). The ‘+’ is intended to be inclusive of gender and sexuality diverse identities not explicitly or fully represented by the letters ‘LGBTIQ’.
Heteronormativity refers to the belief that heterosexuality, along with other dominant identities like being cisgender, are the default, preferred, or normal modes of being
Gender stereotyping is the propensity to evaluate people on the basis of their perceived gender
Numerous writers have explored how sexuality and gender diversity is something that has existed in Indigenous cultures in Australia since before colonisation (for instance, see Moon 2020; Riggs & Toone, 2017 quoted in Henningham 2019, p.103). Texts such as Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives. Life Stories and Essays by First Nations People of Australia (2015), edited by Dino Hodge, is an important anthology that explores contemporary Indigenous, queer and trans experiences.
Carr, J. & Rumback, B. (2015). Be Who You Are. Bloomington, Indiana: Authorhouse.
Suitable S1, S2. PDe-1 identify who they are PD1-1 describe characteristics that make us similar / different PD2-1 explore strategies to manage physical, social, and emotiona change English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-OCL-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01
A child is born into the wrong body – one that doesn’t match the gender the child feels inside. Assigned male at birth, the child is described as having a “girl brain”. This book is designed to educate readers about gender diverse and transgender children.
Walton, J. & McPherson, D. (2016). Introducing Teddy: a gentle story about gender and friendship. London, UK: Bloomsbury.
Suitable ES1, S1. Useful text to discuss complex issues. The bear is the main character who is exploring gender identity in the text. Useful to act out and facilitate class discussion. English K-2 (2021):ENE, EN1-OLC-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01
The main character is a teddy whose outside does not match what’s felt on the inside. A story about being true to self, friendship and acceptance. “Wear whatever makes you happy” is the main message of the text.
Gonzalas, M. (2014). Call Me Tree. Llamame arbol. San Francisco, CAL: Children’s Book Press.
Suitable ES1, S1. Multicultural text. English/Spanish vocabulary. Useful for teaching figurative language including metaphor, simile, personification. Also rhetorical questions. English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-CWT-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01
The text figuratively describes a child growing from a seed, like a tree. “A seed, a tree, free to be me”. The inspiring text encourages readers to reach for their dreams and accept themselves for who they are.
Ewert, M. & Ray, R. (2008). 10,000 Dresses. NY: Seven Stories Press.
Suitable S1, S2; possibly S3. The changing use of personal pronouns when referring to transgender and gender diverse people. English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-CWT-01 English K-6 (2012): EN2-9B; EN3-6B.
Bailey is assigned male at birth but wishes to wear dresses-something others have told him boys can’t do. Bailey struggles when her family won’t accept her gender and dress preferences. She finally finds a friend who helps her feel confident in pursuing her dream to wear dresses and express her true identity.
Valentine, J. & Schmidt, L. (2004). The Daddy Machine. Boston, Mass: Alyson Wonderland Publishers.
Suitable S1, S2; possibly S3. A useful text to teach code and convention including punctuation, speech marks, sentence complexity. English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-CWT-01 English K-6 (2012): EN2-9B; EN3-6B.
Two siblings with two mums long for a father. They make a daddy machine out of junk materials and make many more daddies than they bargain for. How do they solve their problem? An extremely funny text.
Parr, T. (2010). The Family Book. NY: Hachette Book Group.
ES1, S1. Identifying words describing diverse families e.g. “Some families have two mums and two dads”. English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-VOCAB-01; ENE, EN1-OLC-01.
There are different kinds of families. Bright, fluoro colours characterise the illustrations in this simple text. The book has multiple layers of meaning. A lot of information is inferred in few words. It is a useful text to discuss family diversity with young children.
Arnold, E.K. & Davick, L. (2019). What Riley wore. NY: Beach Lane books.
ES1, S1. Vocabulary- building word banks from illustrations. Discussion questions: How is Riley different? How does this make others feel in the text? How does it make you feel? English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-VOCAB-01; ENE, EN1-OLC-01.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” the reader ponders throughout the text. Riley replies, “Today I’m a firefighter and a dancer and a monster hunter and a…”. Riley dresses according to how they are feeling, irrespective of gender expectations. The message of the text is, “We are all unique and important. It doesn’t matter whether we are a boy or a girl”. This text is a celebration of difference.
Gale, H. & Song, M. (2019). Ho’Onani Hula Warrior. NY: Tundra Books.
ES1, S1, S2. Multicultural text. Links to History syllabus: share heritage stories (ES1) investigate changes in family life (S1) identify traces of the past in the present (S2). English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-OLC-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01; ENE, EN1-VOCAB-01. English K-6 (2012): EN2-9B; EN2-10C.
The protagonist doesn’t see herself as a boy or a girl, but occupies “a place in the middle”. She queries gender stereotypes and triumphs in a contemporary setting relevant to students today. The story is consistent with “Mahu” people in Hawaiian culture, who embrace both male and female traits. The theme of the text is “show respect for all people”.
Willhoite, M. (1991). Daddy’s Roommate. Boston, Mass: Alyson Wonderland Books.
ES1, S1. Large, colourful illustrations which lend themselves to teaching visual literacy. Discussion questions: What is happening in the pictures? What stands out? Why? -What feelings are portrayed in the illustrations? How do you know? English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-OLC-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01.
A social story which opens a communicative space about divorce and a child’s growing understanding of homosexual love. “Being gay is one more form of love” and “Love is the best kind of happiness” are the main messages of the text.
Parr, T. (2010). The Daddy Book. NY: Hachette Book Group.
ES1, S1. Sentence building describing the diversity (and similarities) of fathers e.g. “My/ your daddy has…”. English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-OLC-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01; ENE, EN1-CWT-01.
This book is about fathers who do different things with their children. Bright, fluoro colours in illustrations. Simple text. Multiple layers of meaning. A lot inferred in few words. The theme of the text is celebrating family diversity.
Richardson, J., Parnell, P. & Cole, H. (2005). And Tango Makes Three. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Suitable S1, S2. Discussion: Do the two daddy penguins act the same way as other penguin parents? How are they the same/ different? English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-VOCAB-01 ENE, EN1-SPELL-01 prefixes, suffixes compound words ENE, EN1-UARL-01.
This is a true story of two male chinstrap penguins who live at the Central Park Zoo, NY, and raise a penguin chick together. It raises questions about heterosexuality/homosexuality in the animal kingdom and how this might relate to humans. New vocabulary: carousel, cotton top tamarin, ice rink, red panda bear.
Newman, L. & Cornell, L. (2015). Heather Has Two Mummies. London: Walker Books.
Suitable ES1. Starting School English K-2 (2021): ENE, EN1-OLC-01; ENE, EN1-UARL-01; ENE, EN1-CWT-01. CAe3MVA makes artworks… to communicate ideas; CAe-4IVA explores how artworks and the artwork of others communicate ideas.
A useful discussion starter about starting school and learning about other peoples’ families. The setting of the text is a family consisting of two mums and a 5-year-old child who is starting school. At kindergarten, the children paint their families as an introduction to a lesson about family diversity. The main focus of the text is that each family is special, and the common link is that families love each other.
Savage, S. & Fisher, F. (2017). Are You a Boy or a Girl? London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Suitable S1, S2. English K-2 (2021): EN1-OLC-01; EN1-UARL-01; EN1-CWT-01. Use background knowledge of a topic to make inferences about the ideas in a text. Identify text connectives, cohesive links in text. English K-6 (2012): EN2-11D. Responds to/ composes texts expressing views similar to/ different from own.
A child called Tiny likes to dress up and does not conform to gender norms. Children at their new school keep asking them whether they are a boy or a girl. Tiny avoids the question, as they do not identify as either a boy or a girl. A useful text to introduce the topic of gender diversity with young children. Discussion: Why does it matter if Tiny is a boy or a girl? Why do you think Buster tries to bully Tiny? How do you know this?
Donaldson, J. & Scheffler, A. (2004). The Gruffalo’s Child. London: Macmillan.
Suitable ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021): EN1-OLC-01; EN1-UARL-01; EN1-CWT-01.ENE, EN1-PHOKW-01;ENE, EN-REFLU-01. ENE, EN1-RECOM-01. Identifying rhyme, rhythm in text. Word families, vowel digraphs. Punctuation including question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks, direct speech. Opportunities to make meaning through drama. Creating story map to sequence activities in text. Building noun groups, verb groups. Narrative structure is also something to discuss.
Donaldson’s widely popular, ubiquitous texts contain witty, rhythmic verses, instantly familiar to children and parents alike. The setting of The Gruffalo’s Child, a sequel to the award-winning text, The Gruffalo (1999, 2019) is a single parent Gruffalo family in the deep, dark wood. It is unclear whether the child is male or female, and the author embellishes on this in Miller (2020). Key discussion questions: Who looks after the Gruffalo’s child? Did you wonder about the gender of the Gruffalo’s child? If so, why? If not, why not? Do you think the child’s gender matters?
Hegarty, P. & Wheatcroft, R. (2017). We are Family. London: Caterpillar Books.
Suitable S1, S2 English K-2 (2021): EN1-OLC-01; EN1-UARL-01; EN1-CWT-01; EN1-PRINT-01. Visual literacy – following story maps in text. Recording student responses and captioning illustrations in text. Identifying contractions, rhyme, figurative language, nouns, verb groups.
A simple text that elaborates on the diversity of families. The book celebrates family similarities and differences. The story in this text is descriptive, presented in rhyming couplets, with no clear storyline. However, the illustrations are multifarious and lend themselves well to modelled, guided and independent writing activities (EN1-7B, EN2-7B).
Green, B. & Zobel, A. (2020). Who’s Your Real Mum? Brunswick, Vic: Scribble.
Suitable ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021): ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-CWT-01; ENE,1-PRINT-01. Modelled, guided and independent writing activity. Students write a text in Q&A format.
An imaginative text. Elvie has two mums. Both mums are equally important to Elvie. She compares her mums to superheroes. Her friend asks, “Who is your real mum?” The text is in a Q&A format. She tries to make her friend understand that both mums are equally important to her. Beautiful illustrations make effective use of colour – yellows/browns for reality, blues for imagination.
Bell, D. & Colpoys, A. (2017). Under the Love Umbrella. London: Scribble.
Suitable ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021): ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-RECOM-01. Use comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning. Discussion: What does “Under the Love Umbrella” mean? Who do you love? Why?
A text of rhyming couplets which describes a parent’s over-arching love for their child. Familiar situations of sorrow, fear and danger are outlined, including being scared of the dark, bad dreams, frightening dogs, broken toys, arguments with friends, feeling shy, and having no friends. The text is a segue into class discussions about significant people in children’s families and how they help them… Who do you love? Why?
Beer, S. (2018). LOVE makes a family. Richmond, Victoria: Little Hare Books.
Suitable ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021) ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-CWT-01; ENE,1-PRINT-01. Code and convention focus.: Understands how sentence punctuation is used to enhance meaning and fluency. Focus on figurative language e.g. “lending a hand”.
A colourful text about family diversity. There are few words in this book. The words describe happy family situations to unpack and discuss with the class. The illustrations depict the diversity of families. Discuss, “What is happening in the pictures?”
Keegan, L.J. & Stapleton, M. (2019). Things in the Sea are touching me! Gosford, NSW: Scholastic.
Suitable ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021) ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-RECOM-01; ENE,1-CWT-01 Understands how text structure contributes to the meaning of texts, text organisation, narrative structure. Make a story map to visually represent the story. Sentence complexity. Phonics.ENE,1-PHOKW-01 e.g. see, me.
A child with two mums participates in a family outing to the beach. The child is scared of the water and her two mums comfort her and explain each of the sources of her fear. A story told with humour and warmth through a child’s eyes.
Shirvington, J. & Robertson, C. (2020). Just the Way We Are. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books. HarperCollins.
Targets ES1, S1. English K-2 (2021): ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; EN1-REFLU-01. Draw on an increasing range of skills to read, view and comprehend a range of texts on increasingly challenging topics.
The text deals with family diversity, racial diversity and inclusion. The main characters are children from different racial backgrounds who describe their families from their particular points of view. This text is useful for students to see children like themselves in quality children’s literature, in an engaging narrative format. It describes the inclusive, collaborative lived experience of children growing up in diverse families, through children’s eyes.
Wild, M. & Rossell, J. (2020). Pink. Sydney, NSW: HarperCollins.
Targets ES1. Publisher recommendation is for 2-5 years. English K-2 (2021): ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-RECOM-01.ENE,1-CWT-01 Recognises linking words in texts, responds to shared reading for enjoyment and pleasure. Compose texts using pictures and graphics to support their choice of words. Make connections between text and own life, retells story in sequence, identify main idea. Explore how words and pictures work together to make meaning.
The main message of this text is one of self-acceptance. The main character, Pink, is born into a family of green dinosaurs. She struggles to fit in, but her difference finally saves her and her friends. This text is the second collaboration between literary heavyweights Wild and Rossell. The first, Bog Trotter (2015), encourages children to challenge themselves to try new things. The colours in Pink comprise vibrant pinks and greens. The textures and luminosity of the illustrations make the characters come alive. This text lends itself to class discussions about how we are the same, yet different, and how difference should be viewed as a strength.
Stuart, S. (2020). My Shadow is Pink. Dandenong, Victoria: Larrikin House.
ES1, S1. That said, I have discussed the important themes of equality, self- acceptance, diversity and gender identity in this text with adults- so possibly suitable for all ages. English K-2 (2021): ENE,1-OLC-01; ENE,1-UARL-01; ENE,1-RECOM-01. Discuss how that students may have different responses to a text, explore the different contribution of words and images to meaning in stories. Share feelings and thoughts about the events and characters in text.
This text is a rhyming narrative. It is about a boy who likes to dress in female clothing yet feels ashamed when his peers at school laugh at him. The author, Scott Stuart reported on his website that he wrote the story for his young son, who, on beginning school, was bullied for dressing up like Elsa, from the movie, Frozen. Through this text, Stuart aims to raise awareness of gender identity and diversity, in doing so broadening society’s narrow view of masculinity. He aims to affirm to his child, and all children; “You are loved. Exactly as you are”.
Walliams, D. & Blake, Q. (2008, 2018). The Boy in the Dress. London: HarperCollins.
This text suitable S3. EN3-2A: Engage personally with texts, experiment and use aspects of composing that enhance learning and enjoyment, present a point of view about particular literary texts using appropriate metalanguage and reflecting on the viewpoints of others. EN3-3A Understand, interpret and experiment with literary devices; summarise a text and evaluate the intended message or theme.
A children’s book written by David Walliams, a comedian well-known for the television series, Little Britain (his first), and illustrated by Quentin Blake, well known illustrator of the Roald Dahl books. The text uses humour to explore children wearing clothes not normatively associated with their cisgender, their assigned gender at birth. Dennis, a 12 year old boy, enjoys football and fashion. His parents are divorced, and he lives with his father and brother, who do not tolerate or understand Dennis’s need to dress up in girls’ clothing. He is an ordinary boy, who lives in an ordinary town, with an unusual hobby. A humorous narrative which elicits interesting class discussions about the serious topic of gender stereotyping with pre and adolescent students.
Texts that address gender and family diversity in the classroom.
Henderson, B. (2016). Building fires: Taking a critical stance on how we view gender in early childhood education through teacher research. In Voices of Practitioners; Washington volume (Vol. 11, Issue 1, pp. 25–29).https://issuu.com/naeyc/docs/vop_for_web_fall_2016/32
Henningham, M. (2019). Still here, still queer, still invisible. In T. Jones (Ed.), Bent Street 3: Australian LGBTIQA+ Arts, Writing and Ideas 2019 (pp. 98–105). Clouds of Magellan.
Henningham, Mandy. (2021). Blak, bi+ and borderlands: An autoethnography on multiplicities of Indigenous queer identities using borderland theory. Social Inclusion, 9(2), 7–17. https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i2.3821
Kazemi, S., Ashraf, H., Motallebzadeh, K., & Zeraatpishe, M. (2020). Development and validation of a null curriculum questionnaire focusing on 21st century skills using the Rasch model. Cogent Education, 7(1), 1736849. https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186x.2020.1736849
Lee, C. S., & Wong, Y. J. (2020). Racial/ethnic and gender differences in the antecedents of youth suicide. Cultural diversity & ethnic minority psychology, 26(4), 532–543. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000326
Lonesborough, G. (2021). The boy from the mish. A&U Children’s.
MacMullin, L. N., Aitken, M., Nabbijohn, A. N., & VanderLaan, D. P. (2020). Self-harm and suicidality in gender-nonconforming children: A Canadian community-based parent-report study. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 7(1), 76–90. https://doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000353
Rhodes, D., & Byrne, M. (2021). Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ issues in primary Initial Teacher Education programs. Social Inclusion, 9(2), 30–41. https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v9i2.3822
Turban, J. L., & Ehrensaft, D. (2017). Research Review: Gender identity in youth: treatment paradigms and controversies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 59(12), 1228–1243. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12833
Dr Lorraine (Lorri) Beveridge is a sessional academic and independent consultant. She has published articles on aspects of teaching subject English in primary schools. Her doctoral research area is the impact and sustainability of collaborative teacher professional learning.
Michael Murray is a former English teacher, head teacher and chief education officer, and working as an independent consultant in English and literacy K-12.
Lorri and Michael share a website that provides resources for teachers in subject English: https://primaryenglish.education/. Their shared passion is teaching the big ideas of English through the vehicle of quality texts.
Hannah Gillard is a non-binary academic in the final stages of their PhD at the University of Sydney. Hannah’s doctoral research area is LGBTQ+ diversity in the workplace.
Abby Saleh explains why accreditation at Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher (HALT) level is something that expert teachers consider and gives some practical advice to those teachers who are seeking such accreditation.
‘I do not need a fancy bit of paper to tell me that I’m a great teacher’, is the rhetoric used by those who are disgruntled by the rigour and complexity of the higher levels accreditation process in NSW. The fact is, in essence, that’s completely true.
Great teachers are very easily identifiable: for their passion and skill exudes. Indeed, there are vast numbers of highly expert practitioners throughout the NSW education system who do not need, nor require, the official recognition of achieving the Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher (HALT) accreditation status to maximise their impact. Their reputations precede them. Based on my personal experience, however, the recognition of the HALT accreditation status does further empower some to reap greater benefits for their students and colleagues. It has been my experience that the process of achieving HALT accreditation, and the benefits associated with it, far outweigh the perceived burdens of the process, and overwhelmingly helps schools, teachers and students. The process and benefits further empower teachers to continue to lead and build the capacity and efficacy of colleagues within their schools, networks, and the system in general. After all, is it not the moral purpose of teachers to impact positively on the lives of as many students as possible?
HALT accreditation is all about recognising and esteeming exceptional teachers. It is a cross-sectoral, consistent, valid and reliable appraisal of teacher expertise which is strengthened by the use of external assessors and moderation by NESA. HALT accreditation aims to ensure that there are structures in place for teachers who excel, to be identified, without needing to leave the classroom, and be renumerated for their expertise. It creates a career pathway in which teachers can reach the heights of the profession without necessarily seeking promotion. It validates teacher practice, consequently increasing self-efficacy and confidence. It raises the status of teachers. It positions teachers as lead learners – those who demonstrate that learning is never finished and is an ongoing process of discovery, evaluation and reflection and those who produce the right environment for others to grow and learn. This is evidenced by the Gonski report Through Growth to Achievement (2018) which found that “Certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead levels of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers recognises and promotes the development of collaborative learning professionals who strive to continually reflect upon and improve their practice and that of their colleagues. Such acknowledgement can play a key role in keeping excellent teachers working with students and helping to improve colleagues’ pedagogical practices”.
As an accredited HALT, I have observed and experienced first-hand how the process (and subsequent certification) empowers teachers to maximise learning outcomes for students in their immediate classroom. This is because it facilitates engagement in a personalised, self-paced and authentic process to deeply reflect on, and refine, practice. It also expands a teacher’s sphere of influence, so that the beneficiaries of their expertise extend across grades, schools and even into the wider education community. As teachers, there is no greater feeling than knowing that one’s hard work is having a positive impact on students’ learning and wellbeing outcomes beyond their immediate classroom.
The HALT accreditation process is often regarded as a powerful means of professional development (few accredited HALTs would disagree). Engaging in the process plunges one into a deep cycle of authentic self-reflection upon one’s practice against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) in an effort to evidence and align one’s practice to either the Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher stage of the APST. In doing so, candidates are also well positioned to identify areas to refine, which is why the APST make an excellent reflection tool. For instance, when collecting evidence for accreditation, a candidate may notice that they are unable to illustrate a particular standard descriptor. Accordingly, the candidate may take deliberate actions to ensure that that missing aspect is evident in their practice.
HALT accreditation is all about practice and impact. Engaging in the process refines teachers’ capacity to measure their impact. John Hattie’s Visible Learning Mindframes (2014) posits that effective teachers regularly evaluate their impact on student learning and view the extent of that impact as reflective of the power of their teaching. They see assessment as informing impact and next steps.
Once a teacher’s practice has been recognised (a recognition which is portable across sectors and states) their confidence and credibility is raised. They become sort after by their colleagues, and the wider education community, because there is little doubt about their professionalism and expertise. They are afforded opportunities to represent the profession on a multitude of platforms (as I have been fortunate to have experienced). Accreditation is not about the accolades; it is about the satisfaction that one feels when one’s work and expertise are validated and acknowledged. Accreditation expands teachers’ spheres of influence.
Thus, in order to maintain a high standard of candidature it stands to reason that the process must be rigorous, multifaceted and complex.
So how does one know if one is HALT material? The answer lies in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST or the Standards). If ‘language’ is a system of communication used by a particular country or community, then the APST is the language of teachers, for they articulate the behaviours and practice that teachers need to demonstrate across the four distinct teaching career stages (Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead). They act as a guide to illustrate how teacher expertise is developed. They provide a common vernacular to better understand, and share, what makes an excellent teacher and leader. The Standards are the vehicle which ensures consistent, fair and accountable performance and accreditation processes for all teachers, no matter which stage of their career they are in. But, most importantly, the APST direct and steer the direction of teacher and educational leader professional growth and development.
It is very important to distinguish between an expert teacher (one whose practice aligns with the higher levels of the APST – HALTs) and an experienced teacher. The most important difference is impact! Expert teachers impact student learning and well-being outcomes, this is not always the case for experienced teachers. Expert teachers present content in more engaging ways applying evidence-based strategies and sharing these with colleagues. They maintain high expectations of themselves and of their students. They view student growth as a reflection of their teaching. Expert teachers are lifelong learners. They recognise that teaching is not a constrained skill. They not only model and lead best practice, but also regularly refine their own practice. They create engaging and inspiring learning environments for their students and colleagues. Overall, it is important to note that teachers may be ‘expert’ without being highly experienced, but experience does not always equate to expertise.
So, what exactly is required to become a certified Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher? Firstly, it is important to note that HALT accreditation is a voluntary process and that it is not a promotion. It is a recognition of expertise for those who seek it. In NSW, the process requires candidates to submit a series of current documentary evidence which demonstrates their practice and impact in each of the thirty-seven standard descriptors at the chosen career stage of the APST. Candidates must also identify referees to attest to their claims and be observed by colleagues and school leaders, as well as an external assessor assigned by NESA. Those seeking Lead level accreditation must also design and deliver a six month ‘Lead Project’ which is aligned to school priorities. It should also be noted that there is no hierarchy in the Higher levels of Accreditation. Both the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher levels are considered ‘Higher Levels’. The difference lies in the sphere of influence that a teacher’s practice exhibits.
Clearly, the accreditation process is thorough and multifaceted. Aspiring HALTs will encounter enablers and barriers in pursuing higher levels accreditation. The first, and most important, enabler is commitment to the process. Once a candidate starts to truly understand the benefits of accreditation and decides to pursue it, they need to commit whole heartedly to it. Setting time bound goals and milestones and celebrating small steps and achievements is an effective strategy.
Another enabler is the principal/director and/or leadership team. It would be ideal to have the support of school leaders, at least their emotional support. They can play a pivotal role in ‘clearing the path’ and reducing the impact of potential barriers. Having an accreditation mentor, or critical friend, would greatly boost chances of success. Buddying up with another person pursuing accreditation would be of immense benefit. It would be highly beneficial for candidates to attach themselves to an accreditation network (there are many around now) and to reach out to personnel (such as Department of Education [DoE] Teacher Quality Advisors or NESA teacher accreditation officers) to answer questions (and there will be many) or provide feedback/ feedforward.
One must maintain a positive mindset and remember that the submission is a persuasive piece which leaves no doubt about one’s practice at one’s chosen career stage. Candidates must regularly seek opportunities to demonstrate their skills, not just because they are pursuing accreditation, but because that is what leaders do.
Naturally, just as there are enablers to pursuing and achieving HALT accreditation, there are also potential barriers or challenges.
The most pertinent is time! Teaching is already a time-consuming career which absorbs unnatural percentages of the day. HALT accreditation requires candidates to gather, collate and annotate evidence of practice as part of a submission. This is obviously added work that teachers must complete and, in a time-poor profession such as teaching, this is indeed a barrier. In saying that, teachers working at the HALT level should find it relatively easy to gather evidence, as the standards and their descriptors should be reflected in their day-to-day practice. It then becomes just a matter of organising and annotating the evidence and complying with other aspects of the accreditation process (such as observations and referees).
Just as principals/ school leaders can be enablers, they may also be blockers, potentially unsupportive of a candidate’s aspirations due to their limited knowledge of the process or professional conflict.
Another barrier is poor knowledge of the process and what constitutes expertise. Aspiring HALTs may find it difficult to gather evidence which is linked to specific subject areas (such as the various literacy/numeracy standard descriptors). And the barrier which can be the most crippling – self-doubt!
MY TOP 10 ENABLING TIPS INCLUDE
Be immersed in the Standards. Candidates need to be very intimately familiar with each of the standard descriptors. Unpack the verbs and enact them. Use their language.
Become familiar with the accreditation policies and procedures (NESA and DoE).
Seek a buddy or support person. They will act as a critical friend, giving advice and feedback (especially if they have been accredited at the higher levels themselves). They may also support in reading and editing annotations.
Talk to colleagues about the accreditation journey, it need not, and should not, be a secret, as they will be attesting to your expertise.
Set time limits, goals and milestones.
Don’t be shy to ask questions.
Back up work. Use a cloud-based storage to ensure work is not lost and kept safe.
Use tracking and monitoring tools and documents to ensure all standard descriptors are covered and the various requirements have been met.
Regularly refer to the Evidence Guides and other support materials. And finally…
Reflect, reflect, and reflect even more!
Clearly, HALT accreditation has great benefits for teachers and the whole school community. Only time will reveal the reasons (if any) why passionate, inspired, expert teachers should not seek higher levels accreditation.
Department of Education and Training. (2018). Through growth to achievement: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Commonwealth of Australia 2018.
Hattie, J. (2011). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.
Hattie, J., & Zierer, K. (2018). 10 mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success. Routledge.
Abby Saleh is a NESA Accredited Highly Accomplished Teacher currently working as Deputy Principal Instructional Leader at Fairfield Public School. As a former refugee and proud product of public education, Abby has over 20 years’ experience working with low socio-economic communities and is passionate about building teacher capacity to support CALD students and their families. Her mantra is “Never Stop Learning”. To learn more about the process of accreditation at the higher levels, see Abby Saleh’s article in this edition of the Journal of Professional Learning.
Lila Mularczyk, Melinda Haskett, Emma Mansfield, Maurie Mulheron, Belinda Giudice, Abby Saleh and Karen Graham share their insights into how schools can draw on the expertise of their HALTs, along with creating connections to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, to build the capacity of their teachers and to create a standard -based teaching and learning culture. . .
Teaching is an ever-evolving profession. The skill of teaching will never be a constrained skill. This is why it is pertinent for school leaders to continuously build teacher capacity when driving improvement.
“To be a world-leading education system, Australia needs to better encourage, support, and recognise teaching expertise. Growing the pool of expert teachers in Australia is critical to creating an education system that strives to support every student’s individual learning growth through tailored teaching practices.”
(Hattie 2009. Gonski 2.0 Through Growth to Achievement, March 2018)
“High performing countries deliberately organise the sharing of expertise within and across schools so that the system becomes even more effective”. Empowered Educators, How High Performing Systems Shape Teaching Quality Around the World
(Linda Darling Hammond et al March 2017).
Leaders and teachers need to understand the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST or Standards) (NESA, 2018) in action, acknowledge the industrial frame and support and embed practice that enables the demonstration of impacting teaching practice collaboratively, within and across classrooms, school, and system.
“In recent years, Australian teachers have become increasingly concerned that the status of the profession is under constant challenge. Of course, these concerns are shared with teachers elsewhere. While teachers themselves have strong and resilient beliefs in the complexity and importance of the work they do, there are others, generally external to the profession and in positions of influence, with a deficit view.
In the absence of objective benchmarks that reflect authentic professional practice, solutions have been offered in many jurisdictions that are antagonistic towards teachers as well as being unsuccessful. These include performance pay schemes, the employment of people without teaching qualifications, the spread of the Teach for America franchise, and punitive accountability regimes that are, more often than not, based on testing data…
…But the first question that needed to be answered was: what makes teaching a profession? The answer to that question needed to reflect the authentic practice of teachers and those understandings shared across the profession. In short, a common language needed to be created that could articulate the complexities of the daily practices of a qualified, competent teacher, from those beginning their career through to those that hold educational leadership positions in schools.”
(Alegounarias, & Mulheron 2018)
THE AUSTRALIAN PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS: BENEFITS OF ACCREDITATION AT THE TEACHER, SCHOOL, AND SYSTEM LEVEL
The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) clearly describe the practices of teachers at the varying levels of expertise, from Graduate to Proficient and onto the higher levels of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher levels. Expert teachers in the Australian context, are those teachers demonstrating practices as described in the higher levels of the APSTs.
The standards define what effective teaching looks like, how it displays in the classroom, and how it improves student learning. The standards give the teaching profession a shared language about teaching practice – what we know as teachers, what we do, what we believe in and what we value about teaching.
They are also a framework and common language to communicate with others – school leaders, teacher educators, professional associations, parents/ carers, and the public – they are a public statement attesting to the professionalism of teachers.
Considering that ‘language’ is a system of communication it is appropriate to view the standards as being the language of teachers. The standards:
Provide a common understanding and language about best- practice teaching
Describe expertise level and provide a continuum of capabilities
Articulate the skills needed by teachers to teach and lead effectively
Guide the direction of your professional growth.
The Standards are excellent tool for teacher reflection (one of the most critical traits of an effective teacher). The lexical patterns within the Standards clearly demonstrate the gradual development of teacher expertise. Verbs such as ‘support’ and ‘lead’ colleagues appear regularly at the higher levels. Whereas verbs such as ‘demonstrate’ are almost exclusive to the graduate level. This focus on the main verbs of each of the standard descriptors assists teachers in engaging in deep reflection upon their practice and also supports school leaders in identifying and supporting aspiring leaders and potential HALTs.
At the individual level, the Standards enable us, as teachers, to plan, practise, reflect on, and refine our teaching practice.
We use them to monitor our ongoing growth and development as professionals, and the associated classroom practice, capabilities, and expertise.
When teachers become accredited, or certified, the benefits extend beyond the achievement of that certification.
The greatest impact on school communities happens when school leaders work effectively with Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs) and support them to share their expertise.
Accreditation lifts the professional status of teachers. The higher level of accreditation offers a pathway for excellent teachers to grow in their self-efficacy and in their careers.
Findings from the HALT Census and further research demonstrate that higher teacher accreditation can enrich the quality of teaching by recognising expert teachers and increasing their confidence AND allowing teachers to understand the impact of their instructional practices on learners and colleagues
By offering flexible pathways for professional development that encourage HALTs to lead from within the classroom AND creating a high-quality professional learning experience that is rigorous, self-reflective, sustained and job-embedded, accreditation acknowledges expert teachers within the wider community AND provides opportunities for teachers to network and collaborate with other expert practitioners.
In addition to benefiting the teachers themselves, having a certified HALT in a school contributes to an increased culture of learning amongst staff and enables quality teaching to impact across the school and all learners.
When a teacher reflects against the Standards and completes certification, they are validating their skills and capabilities as a teacher who positively impacts their students’ learning and their colleagues’ practice.
When HALTs collaborate with others, mentor, and coach colleagues they are lifting teaching quality across the school, network, and system.
The outcome is that all teachers are engaged in cycles of high-quality professional learning and growth for the benefit of students and their school.
HALT certification can play a key role in raising the professional status of teaching, particularly in the eyes of the community.
“National Teacher certification provides an opportunity for school leaders to develop staff and improve student outcomes through a process that is largely externally managed, and teacher led. Certified teachers are esteemed to become the next instructional leaders. By mentoring and empowering colleagues, they are well placed to improve outcomes for all.”
EXPERT (HALT) TEACHERS
Are leaders, contributors and advocates for high quality teaching and learning
Contribute to an increasing professional status of the teaching profession
Have an opportunity to impact learning for students, of HALTs and their colleagues
Build opportunities for networking, sharing expertise and leading others
Facilitate leadership related to classroom practice
Facilitate leadership career pathways for colleagues
Refocus and identify teaching and learning as an acknowledged and valued priority
Contribute to the critical mass of teaching and learning leaders and to quality on-going professional learning (AITSL 2021)
Improve student outcomes.
Remember it is not a position, it is a portable recognition of expertise.
DEVELOPING TEACHING CAPACITY THROUGH THE AUSTRALIAN PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS
Teachers demonstrate their professional practice at varying levels. These demonstrable behaviours are articulated within the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (NESA, 2018) as well Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leaders Classroom Practice Continuum (AITSL 2018).
Standard Descriptor 6.1.4 of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers states that teachers working at the lead levels of accreditation ‘use comprehensive knowledge of the Australian professional Standards for Teachers to plan and lead the development of professional learning policies and programs that address the professional learning needs of colleagues and pre-service teachers’ (NESA,2018)
Standard Descriptor 6.1.1 (APST, 2018) states that teachers working at the graduate level of accreditation ‘demonstrate an understanding of the role of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers in identifying professional learning needs.’
This same descriptor lies in the focus area of “Identify and plan professional learning” which identifies the continuum in which teachers operate and the need to differentiate the learning opportunities for our teachers.
The APSTs provide a map of a teacher’s career paths from initial teacher training, induction, and early experience through to the heights of the profession. It is important to note that the number of years of teaching does not necessarily equate to expertise in teaching. AITSL’s classroom continuum (AITSL, 2018) identifies what an expert teacher looks like in the classroom. Expert teachers in the Australian Context are those teachers demonstrating practice as described in the higher levels of accreditation within the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST, 2018). Utilising both the APST and AITSL Classroom Continuum, teachers and school leaders are able to identify their current level of expertise in the classroom as well as plan for further professional learning opportunities in continuing to develop their teaching expertise.
LEADING CHANGE THROUGH EMBEDDING APSTS AND CREATING A STANDARDS-BASED CULTURE
One of the most frequent questions that is asked about accreditation at the higher levels is how the process can be embedded within the everyday practices of a school and is not seen to be extra work for our teachers (Cole, 2022). We know that there are many teachers across the state who are consistently demonstrating the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher standards of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APSTs) (AITSL, 2011) as part of their everyday practices. While teachers and leaders are interested in undertaking, or supporting the process, they are mindful of engaging in a process which will increase their workload (Audit Office of NSW ,2019).
To counter this, and to support teachers to gain accreditation at higher levels as part of their existing roles, school leaders can work collaboratively to develop a culture where staff are able to gather evidence and demonstrate their practice, related to the Standards, through existing initiatives, milestones and programs running throughout the school (NESA, 2018). Key practical ideas to do this can include:
Aligning the school’s Strategic Improvement Plan with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2011).
Embedding relevant professional learning into everyday practices
Providing differentiated professional learning opportunities for all teachers regardless of their career stages
Creating an evidence-based school culture
This not only provides individuals with the opportunity to gather evidence as part of their existing workload but also ensures that there are greater opportunities for collaboration and sharing of expertise.
Many schools have put in structures that both support teachers aiming for accreditation at higher levels and build capacity for all teachers. As one example, Macarthur Girls High School has embedded the structure (outlined above) and, in doing so, has supported teachers to achieve, as part of their everyday role, Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Accreditation.
UNDERSTANDING THE SCHOOL LEADERS’ ROLE IN CERTIFICATION PROCESS
Pre-assessment: recognise expert teachers in schools and encourage them to consider certification.
Stage 1: applicant to complete their portfolio of evidence and provide a referee representative.
Stage 2: be involved in a professional discussion with the external assessor during the site visit.
LEVERAGE THE EXPERTISE OF HALTS IN SCHOOL
School leaders can:
Create roles through formal and informal modes – HALTs can support beginning and pre-service teachers to use the Standards and reflect on their practice
Allocate time and resources – this can enable nationally certified teachers to lead projects, (for example on developing instructional leadership capacity in others) and present back to staff
Initiate inter-school collaboration: by establishing links with other schools, nationally certified teachers can grow networks and clusters to drive improved student outcomes. This could have a focus on a particular subject or effective pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning.
This case study is applicable to primary and high school contexts and aims to develop a mind-set shift in school improvement.
Prairiewood High School highlights collaborative processes that align faculty and whole school portfolios, structures, and organisation with the APST in order to achieve capacity growth and to enrich programs, leadership and school leadership capacity and succession planning.
This case study highlights the significant changes at Prairiewood High School from 2018 after a complete change over in substantive senior executive staff. A new Principal was appointed mid-2018, and from October 2018 to present, four substantive Deputy Principals’ have been appointed (one Above Centrally Identified Position – ACIP). There has been a negotiated restructure in terms of school operations and portfolios at the senior executive level. The school now has two HT Teaching and Learning, and the school has appointed new Head Teacher positions (Administration, Mathematics, PDHPE and TAS).
This case study highlights the approach the school is currently undergoing in terms of empowering School Leaders and Teachers to drive practice and capacity.
Step 1 Gathering information
Collect information on the existing systems and processes that drive school improvement at your school? What currently occurring is aligned to the Standards? (Suggestion that it informs Situational Analysis planning for the SIP)
Step 2 Gaining feedback on the information gathered & communicate your vision
We established we needed:
Clarity around roles and responsibilities
Clearer vision of purpose – a movement from compliance to school improvement
A deliberate focus on embedding the Standards (Principal, APTS) and integrating the School Excellence Framework into practice
Capacity building and succession planning focus
A planned and coordinated approach to leadership and school operations
As a result, we gained feedback through asking the following questions:
What role statements need to be developed?
Name at least two school processes or structures that are working well. What makes them effective processes?
Name two, or more, aspects of school operations needing clarification, fine-tuning or enhancement.
What whole school teams should we have?
Are there any short -term project teams we could run?
What would you like to go and see in action in other schools?
School leadership teams will need to create an approach based on the information gathered and the problem(s) identified.
Step 3 Agreed upon catalyst of change
In leading this process, the senior executive’s aim was to collaborate with the executive to re-align roles and responsibilities to the Australian Professional Standard for Teachers. The NSW Department of Education (DoE) School Excellence Framework (SEF) (2017) has also underpinned this process. This has set the framework to empower school leaders and teachers to drive practice and capacity.
Step 4 Setting the scene
The Executive mapped the leadership portfolios that relate to the APST, and role descriptors have been developed that reflect the cohesion of portfolios between curriculum and non-curriculum Head Teachers. This showed how we all work effectively in a school
Step 5 Effective organisational practices supporting TAL (joining the dots)
Once we collaborated on this process, we found some disconnect between the roles of the Senior Executive and Executive and other school operations and structures. We then identified the specific structures, systems and processes that were going to drive continuous improvement in our context.
Questions that support this process included:
What are the key staffing positions that support Teaching and Learning (TAL) at your school?
What teams need to exist to support school organisation to impact on TAL?
What is the purpose/vision of the various teams? How effectively do you use the SEF and APST to embed a culture of continuous improvement?
Is there alignment of school policies and procedures?
This has enabled a strategic, deep, and purposeful alignment of systems and practices that ensure teaching and learning remain our core (and valued) priority.
Getting the best from your teachers: A principals’ guide to national teacher certification
Certification documentary evidence supplement: Lead Teachers
Teacher Self-Assessment Tool (useful as an indicator of readiness for HALT)
My Induction app (to use with beginning teachers)
Centre for Professional Learning course: Enabling School Leaders is currently a one-day program, with additional 5 morning sessions delving deeply into aspects of the process and work. There is opportunity for participants to nominate content. Each session builds on previous deliveries, and each operate as a stand-alone participatory presentation. Expert educators inform all sessions, underpinned by policy and practicality. Topics are tailored for School Leaders, aspiring HALT’s, for colleagues considering HALT and for aspirant leaders. Evaluations have been exceptional. The program(s) will be scheduled again in 2022. Please look on the NSW Teachers’ Federation Centre of Professional Learning (CPL) website for dates and other programs.
Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Lin Goodwin, A., Hammerness, K., Low, E. L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M., & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world. Jossey-Bass.
Department of Education and Training. (2018). Through growth to achievement: Report of the review to achieve educational excellence in Australian schools. Commonwealth of Australia 2018.
Lila Mularczyk’s commitment to education was recognised by being honoured with the Order of Australia Medal (OAM). Lila has been contributing to public education for 40 years. She currently is undertaking a portfolio of work including leading or participating on multiple National and State Education Boards and Reference Groups and projects (including, PEF, ACE, UTS, UNSW, NSWTF and CPL.) tertiary professional experience officer, coach and mentor, UNSW Gonski Institute, State and Vice Chair ACE, supporting HALT’s, tertiary lecturer, work in and for schools, research, contract work, critical friend, innovation projects etc.
Prior, Lila was the Director, Secondary Education, at the Department of Education. Immediately prior to this, Lila was President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council (SPC) from 2012 to 2016. As President and as a school Principal, Lila represented Public Education around Australia, and frequently globally, at conferences over many years. Lila was Principal at Merrylands High School for 15 years until 2016.
Maurie Mulheron was President of the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) from 2012 after 34 years as a public-school teacher and principal. He held that position until January 2020 leading the union’s many campaigns. Maurie represented the NSWTF on the Federal Executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) for twenty years. From 2015-2020, he was Deputy Federal President of the AEU. Maurie was active in Education International’s Global Response Network which coordinated international opposition to the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education. Maurie is currently the Director of the Centre for Public Education Research (CPER).
Melinda Haskett is a national certified Highly Accomplished teacher and has taught in Southwest Sydney high schools for almost 15 years. For the past 5 years she has been working at the system level for the NSW Department of Education providing strategic advice and executive support on a range of reforms and initiatives. Melinda is currently working with the Department’s COVID Taskforce.
Melinda is a strong advocate for national certification, is a founding member of the AITSL HALT Steering Committee and in 2018 led the first ever HALT Forum for certified Department teachers in NSW. She is a member of the NESA, Moderation and Consistency Committee and contributes to a range of reports, panels and professional learning events around the role of certification in building the status of the teaching profession.
Emma Mansfield is Deputy Principal at Macarthur Girls High School and relieved as Principal for a substantial amount of time. She is currently working as Leader, School Excellence in the NSW Department of Education. Throughout her career, Emma has worked in a range of different teaching and leadership roles both within schools and across the national and state education systems. Since gaining Lead accreditation in 2017, Emma has been a passionate advocate for the certification process. She has extensive experience in supporting teachers to undertake the process of accreditation and in promoting how school leaders can use this process to improve teacher quality and enhance school improvement. She has been heavily involved in a range of system wide initiatives as well as formal and informal mentoring programs at a school, network and system level. Emma regularly contributes to the wider dialogue surrounding accreditation at numerous events including the International Forum for Teacher Regulatory Authorities, and ACEL National Conference.
Belinda Giudice displays a deep commitment to public education. She began her career at Merrylands High School and was Co-Principal there from 2012-2015. She has been the Principal of Canterbury Boys High School and is the current Principal of Prairiewood High School. Belinda has presented at state and national levels in the areas of: Quality Teaching, Leadership, and Student Wellbeing. Belinda displays a passion not to accept the status quo and to make structural improvements that lead to real and required change. She has received numerous education awards including: an NSW Australian College of Educational Leadership Award, an NSW Quality Teaching Award, a Public Education Foundation Secretary’s Award for Excellent Service, a New South Wales Secondary Deputy Principals Association (NSWSDPA) Fellowship and is a NSWSDPA Life Member. Belinda is a visionary leader who is passionate about contributing to the education community.
Karen Graham has been teaching and leading in south west Sydney for the past 19 years. For the past 3 years, she has been a relieving Deputy Principal and Instructional Leader at Blairmount Public School. Karen was accredited as a Highly Accomplished Teacher in 2017 and believes that accreditation at Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher is a great way to recognise and promote the expertise of our teaching profession.
Abby Saleh is a NESA Accredited Highly Accomplished Teacher currently working as Deputy Principal Instructional Leader at Fairfield Public School. As a former refugee and proud product of public education, Abby has over 20 years’ experience working with low socio-economic communities and is passionate about building teacher capacity to support CALD students and their families. Her mantra is “Never Stop Learning”. To learn more about the process of accreditation at the higher levels, see Abby Saleh’s article in this edition of the Journal of Professional Learning.