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Workload, tipping points and sustainable work-life balance: The OH&S challenges for educators

Australia has a significant mental health issue, and many schools as workplaces are unfortunately part of the problem not the solution, writes Phil Riley. The workload of Australian principals is rapidly approaching a tipping point, beyond which the job will become unsustainable. Many may feel they have already reached it. If principals’ work is becoming unsustainable then so is teachers’ work. The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey has pointed out some of the reasons why . But let’s start this discussion with some recent evidence, both good and bad, that gives some context to the issues. • Mental health threats are an educators’ most common occupational risk. • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) calculated that the cost of not addressing mental health issues in Australian workplaces amounts to $10.9 billion in annually: two Gonski’s every year! • As educators make up the largest professional workforce in the country they represent a significant proportion of the $10.9 billion. • Safe Work Australia reported, “The number of compensation claims for mental disorders lodged due to work-related mental stress substantially underestimates the size of the problem.” The reason for this is because in many industries, probably including most education settings, putting in a claim risks career suicide. So sensible people don’t do it. They may be suffering but they are not stupid. • PwC found workers compensation claims represent just over 1% of the $10.9 billion! • So employers suggesting that 2-3% reductions in successful workers compensation claims against education employers are evidence that things are improving is misinformed. It is a distraction from the very real issues facing educators. • Far more troubling evidence than the relatively static workers compensation claims comes from the Teachers Health Fund, the industry health insurer. In November, 2014, the CEO, Brad Joyce, reported “the need for mental health services from members almost doubled over the past five years.” The evidence of problems is clear. Australia has a significant mental health issue, and many schools, as workplaces are unfortunately part of the problem not the solution. On all dimensions of health and wellbeing principals score significantly lower than the general population on all positive dimensions and significantly higher on all negative dimensions. While there is no data yet on Australian teachers’ scores on the same dimensions, similar studies conducted suggest that there is no reason to suggest they would score much differently from principals. You would probably like some good news now. Well there is some. PwC found that every “dollar spent on effective workplace mental health actions may generate $2.30 in benefits the organisation”1. So addressing the issues is a no-brainer. Doing so will free up significant levels of funding that could go to schools for educational purposes: a win-win scenario. But what to do? The Australian Psychological Society has been working on this and released an important report in 2013. The Psychologically Healthy Workplace has six basic conditions that have to be met. As you read through them see if you can judge how well your workplace setting measures up. If you see shortfalls, what might be done to address them successfully? Supportive leadership • Perceived organisational support. The key word here is “perceived”. When employees perceive they are supported positive benefit for all follows. If they don’t perceive it, there are two potential issues: a) There may not be adequate support, or b) There may not be adequate communication about the support that is being provided but not being perceived. • Supervisory support is concrete and specific. It shows the employee that their work is noticed, and valued by the organisation leaders. Relational and technical support provide employees with the feeling of security that enables them to back their own judgement knowing they have a place to retreat to if they overstretch. • Supportive leadership that is neither over-directive or laissez-faire. This is tricky in a school situation as all educators are all leaders of students, perhaps also teaching teams as well as followers in the organisation. So how they are treated is likely to be how they treat others. Everyone has a more senior person to report to, including the principal. • Emotional intelligence. Made popular by Dan Goleman 20 years ago, this goes directly to reading others and “walking in their shoes”. When leaders are trying to understand both the impact of their leadership and “how the troops are travelling” benefit for all ensues. • Empathy, relates to emotional intelligence. Leaders need both to really be effective. When they are employees are more able to roll with the punches of a demanding job such as teaching • Roll-modelling, is what educators do all the time. • Delegation. In psychologically health workplaces delegation is a structured way to help the organisation function, not just giving people you don’t like, jobs you would rather not do. In unhealthy work environments, delegation often comes with either criticism of the task, or lack of support/resources to complete the task successfully. • Proactive management of at-risk staff (for teachers read at-risk students). Basically everyone is watching how you handle those difficult relationships: watching to see if the actors’ dignity remains and that decisions are based on careful judgements made in everyone’s best interests. Employee engagement • The extent to which you feel involved in your job, have a say in what should happen, and some control over what actually happens. • Much of employee engagement rests on the alignment between personal and organisational views and values. Increasing accountability and prescription in education has produced a values tension for many veteran teachers who began their careers under very different value systems to now. The result has been increased attrition from teaching in the USA as veteran teachers disengage from the work. Role clarity • Understand work objectives, and their links to individual and organisational objectives. • Clear guidance about expected roles and how these translate to actual behaviours associated with the job. For example, does everyone in your work setting know how the goals of the organisation translate into daily action, or are they supposed to work that out for themselves? Learning, development and growth opportunities • Access to appropriate professional development, with opportunities to expand knowledge, skills and abilities and apply competencies gained. Appraisal and recognition • Appropriate rewards for contribution to the workplace. This does not mean performance pay. Teaching is a collaborative exercise and performance pay tends to induce competition between employees for limited resources, rather than promote collaboration toward long-term organisational goals. • Recognition of achievement of professional and personal milestones • Quality of performance assessment and feedback. Australia is well known in the organisational literature for not providing good feedback to employees. Our culture of “the tall poppy” means we tend to avoid rather than point out obvious success, and feel uncomfortable pointing out obvious under performance, because we don’t like to be seen as “dobbers”. So for Australian managers the easiest thing to do is provide little or no feedback, making performance reviews more of a time-wasting exercise than true provocations toward growth and identifying real opportunities to support employee growth. Work-life balance • Acknowledgement of employee’s responsibilities and lives outside work. • Provides help to manage these multiple demands. Benefits of a psychologically healthy workplace A psychologically healthy workplace fosters employee health and well-being while enhancing organisational performance, thereby benefiting both employees and the organisation. Benefits to employees • Increased job satisfaction; • Higher morale; • Better physical and mental health; • Enhanced motivation; and, • Improved ability to manage stress. Benefits to the organisation • Improved quality, performance and productivity; • Reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover; • Fewer accidents and injuries; • Better able to attract and retain top-quality employees; • Improved customer service and satisfaction; and, • Lower healthcare costs. What can individuals do? School education will always be an intense job emotionally because education workers deal with parents’ most precious hopes and deepest fears, wrapped up in the futures of their children. No amount of resourcing will change that. So it is important to recognise that educators’ occupational risks are more likely psychological. In particular, the risk is burnout. The American Psychological Association has a comprehensive website that outlines the differences between stress and burnout. The main causes are work-related, but there are also lifestyle issues, and personality traits contribute too. You will note that many of the symptoms listed below are the opposite of the components of a psychologically healthy workplace. Work-related causes of burnout • Feeling like you have little or no control over your work; • Lack of recognition or rewards for good work; • Unclear or overly demanding job expectations; • Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging; and, • Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment. Lifestyle causes of burnout • Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing; • Being expected to be too many things to too many people; • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others; • Not getting enough sleep; and, • Lack of close, supportive relationships. Personality traits can contribute to burnout • Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough; • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world; • The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others; and, • High-achieving, Type A personality. The signs and symptoms of burnout fall into three categories. They are a good checklist to use for yourself and your colleagues. It is important to remember that burnout is the number one occupational risk for educators and should not be seen as a failure if it happens. It is common. It is also good to remember that burnout is a gradual process. This signs are subtle at first, but get easier to recognise with time. Early detection means it is easier to deal with because the symptoms are less severe. Physical signs and symptoms of burnout • Feeling tired and drained most of the time; • Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot; • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches; and, • Change in appetite or sleep habits. Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout • Sense of failure and self-doubt; • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated; • Detachment, feeling alone in the world; • Loss of motivation; • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook; and, • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout • Withdrawing from responsibilities; • Isolating yourself from others; • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done; • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope; • Taking out your frustrations on others; and, • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early. Burnout prevention tips • Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least 15 minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you. • Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands. • Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do. • Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email. • Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work. • Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress can help you regain your balance. If we do not change what we do from day to day we should not achieve different occupational health outcomes. This means changing work habits: (re)evaluating work practices, keeping the important ones, but letting go of the unimportant. “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” It is time for all educators to act individually and collectively to change work practices that contribute to burnout. By looking after their own health, they will also be looking after the profession. The children of Australia will be the beneficiaries.   Philip Riley, PhD, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Principal Researcher, Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, ACU Philip.riley@principalhealth.org Philip.riley@acu.edu.au Phil Riley, a former school principal, spent 16 years in schools before moving the tertiary sector. He researches the overlapping space of psychology, education and leadership. Phil has produced more than 150 publications and peer reviewed conference presentations and been awarded over $6 million in research funding. In 2010 Phil was recognised by Monash University with an inaugural Monash Researcher Accelerator award, which funded the first two years of The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey. He has since won the Dean’s award for Excellence by an Early Career Researcher, and the award for Excellence in Innovation and External Collaboration, at Monash in 2011. He moved to ACU in 2014. References [1] www.principalhealth.org [2]PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia. http://www.headsup.org.au/creating-a-mentally-healthy-workplace/the-business-case [3]Safe Work Australia [4]Teachers Health Fund CEO Brad Joyce (Nov, 2014) [5] http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/2014/december/phwp/ [6]Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, Inc. [7]Noddings, N. (2007). When school reform goes wrong. New York: Teachers College Press. [8] Henry, A. (2005). Leadership revelations – An Australian perspective: Reflections from outstanding leaders. North Ryde: CCH Australia [9] http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/creatingahealthyworkplace/benefits/ [10] http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm [11] Warren Buffet distilled the words of Samuel Johnson to come up with this quote. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/07/13/chains-of-habit/ health-web]]>

Workload, tipping points and sustainable work-life balance: The OH&S challenges for educators

Australia has a significant mental health issue, and many schools as workplaces are unfortunately part of the problem not the solution, writes Phil Riley.

The workload of Australian principals is rapidly approaching a tipping point, beyond which the job will become unsustainable. Many may feel they have already reached it. If principals’ work is becoming unsustainable then so is teachers’ work. The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey has pointed out some of the reasons why . But let’s start this discussion with some recent evidence, both good and bad, that gives some context to the issues.

• Mental health threats are an educators’ most common occupational risk.
• PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) calculated that the cost of not addressing mental health issues in Australian workplaces amounts to $10.9 billion in annually: two Gonski’s every year!
• As educators make up the largest professional workforce in the country they represent a significant proportion of the $10.9 billion.
• Safe Work Australia reported, “The number of compensation claims for mental disorders lodged due to work-related mental stress substantially underestimates the size of the problem.” The reason for this is because in many industries, probably including most education settings, putting in a claim risks career suicide. So sensible people don’t do it. They may be suffering but they are not stupid.
• PwC found workers compensation claims represent just over 1% of the $10.9 billion!
• So employers suggesting that 2-3% reductions in successful workers compensation claims against education employers are evidence that things are improving is misinformed. It is a distraction from the very real issues facing educators.
• Far more troubling evidence than the relatively static workers compensation claims comes from the Teachers Health Fund, the industry health insurer. In November, 2014, the CEO, Brad Joyce, reported “the need for mental health services from members almost doubled over the past five years.”

The evidence of problems is clear. Australia has a significant mental health issue, and many schools, as workplaces are unfortunately part of the problem not the solution. On all dimensions of health and wellbeing principals score significantly lower than the general population on all positive dimensions and significantly higher on all negative dimensions. While there is no data yet on Australian teachers’ scores on the same dimensions, similar studies conducted suggest that there is no reason to suggest they would score much differently from principals.

You would probably like some good news now. Well there is some. PwC found that every “dollar spent on effective workplace mental health actions may generate $2.30 in benefits the organisation”1. So addressing the issues is a no-brainer. Doing so will free up significant levels of funding that could go to schools for educational purposes: a win-win scenario. But what to do? The Australian Psychological Society has been working on this and released an important report in 2013.

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace has six basic conditions that have to be met. As you read through them see if you can judge how well your workplace setting measures up. If you see shortfalls, what might be done to address them successfully?

Supportive leadership

• Perceived organisational support. The key word here is “perceived”. When employees perceive they are supported positive benefit for all follows. If they don’t perceive it, there are two potential issues: a) There may not be adequate support, or b) There may not be adequate communication about the support that is being provided but not being perceived.
• Supervisory support is concrete and specific. It shows the employee that their work is noticed, and valued by the organisation leaders. Relational and technical support provide employees with the feeling of security that enables them to back their own judgement knowing they have a place to retreat to if they overstretch.
• Supportive leadership that is neither over-directive or laissez-faire. This is tricky in a school situation as all educators are all leaders of students, perhaps also teaching teams as well as followers in the organisation. So how they are treated is likely to be how they treat others. Everyone has a more senior person to report to, including the principal.
• Emotional intelligence. Made popular by Dan Goleman 20 years ago, this goes directly to reading others and “walking in their shoes”. When leaders are trying to understand both the impact of their leadership and “how the troops are travelling” benefit for all ensues.
• Empathy, relates to emotional intelligence. Leaders need both to really be effective. When they are employees are more able to roll with the punches of a demanding job such as teaching
• Roll-modelling, is what educators do all the time.
• Delegation. In psychologically health workplaces delegation is a structured way to help the organisation function, not just giving people you don’t like, jobs you would rather not do. In unhealthy work environments, delegation often comes with either criticism of the task, or lack of support/resources to complete the task successfully.
• Proactive management of at-risk staff (for teachers read at-risk students). Basically everyone is watching how you handle those difficult relationships: watching to see if the actors’ dignity remains and that decisions are based on careful judgements made in everyone’s best interests.

Employee engagement

• The extent to which you feel involved in your job, have a say in what should happen, and some control over what actually happens.
• Much of employee engagement rests on the alignment between personal and organisational views and values. Increasing accountability and prescription in education has produced a values tension for many veteran teachers who began their careers under very different value systems to now. The result has been increased attrition from teaching in the USA as veteran teachers disengage from the work.

Role clarity

• Understand work objectives, and their links to individual and organisational objectives.
• Clear guidance about expected roles and how these translate to actual behaviours associated with the job. For example, does everyone in your work setting know how the goals of the organisation translate into daily action, or are they supposed to work that out for themselves?

Learning, development and growth opportunities

• Access to appropriate professional development, with opportunities to expand knowledge, skills and abilities and apply competencies gained.

Appraisal and recognition

• Appropriate rewards for contribution to the workplace. This does not mean performance pay. Teaching is a collaborative exercise and performance pay tends to induce competition between employees for limited resources, rather than promote collaboration toward long-term organisational goals.
• Recognition of achievement of professional and personal milestones
• Quality of performance assessment and feedback. Australia is well known in the organisational literature for not providing good feedback to employees. Our culture of “the tall poppy” means we tend to avoid rather than point out obvious success, and feel uncomfortable pointing out obvious under performance, because we don’t like to be seen as “dobbers”. So for Australian managers the easiest thing to do is provide little or no feedback, making performance reviews more of a time-wasting exercise than true provocations toward growth and identifying real opportunities to support employee growth.

Work-life balance

• Acknowledgement of employee’s responsibilities and lives outside work.
• Provides help to manage these multiple demands.

Benefits of a psychologically healthy workplace

A psychologically healthy workplace fosters employee health and well-being while enhancing organisational performance, thereby benefiting both employees and the organisation.

Benefits to employees
• Increased job satisfaction;
• Higher morale;
• Better physical and mental health;
• Enhanced motivation; and,
• Improved ability to manage stress.

Benefits to the organisation
• Improved quality, performance and productivity;
• Reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover;
• Fewer accidents and injuries;
• Better able to attract and retain top-quality employees;
• Improved customer service and satisfaction; and,
• Lower healthcare costs.

What can individuals do?

School education will always be an intense job emotionally because education workers deal with parents’ most precious hopes and deepest fears, wrapped up in the futures of their children. No amount of resourcing will change that. So it is important to recognise that educators’ occupational risks are more likely psychological. In particular, the risk is burnout. The American Psychological Association has a comprehensive website that outlines the differences between stress and burnout. The main causes are work-related, but there are also lifestyle issues, and personality traits contribute too. You will note that many of the symptoms listed below are the opposite of the components of a psychologically healthy workplace.

Work-related causes of burnout

• Feeling like you have little or no control over your work;
• Lack of recognition or rewards for good work;
• Unclear or overly demanding job expectations;
• Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging; and,
• Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment.

Lifestyle causes of burnout

• Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing;
• Being expected to be too many things to too many people;
• Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others;
• Not getting enough sleep; and,
• Lack of close, supportive relationships.

Personality traits can contribute to burnout

• Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough;
• Pessimistic view of yourself and the world;
• The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others; and,
• High-achieving, Type A personality.

The signs and symptoms of burnout fall into three categories. They are a good checklist to use for yourself and your colleagues. It is important to remember that burnout is the number one occupational risk for educators and should not be seen as a failure if it happens. It is common. It is also good to remember that burnout is a gradual process. This signs are subtle at first, but get easier to recognise with time. Early detection means it is easier to deal with because the symptoms are less severe.

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout

• Feeling tired and drained most of the time;
• Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot;
• Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches; and,
• Change in appetite or sleep habits.

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout

• Sense of failure and self-doubt;
• Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated;
• Detachment, feeling alone in the world;
• Loss of motivation;
• Increasingly cynical and negative outlook; and,
• Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout

• Withdrawing from responsibilities;
• Isolating yourself from others;
• Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done;
• Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope;
• Taking out your frustrations on others; and,
• Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early.

Burnout prevention tips

• Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend at least 15 minutes meditating, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
• Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. When you eat right, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy and resilience to deal with life’s hassles and demands.
• Set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things that you truly want to do.
• Take a daily break from technology. Set a time each day when you completely disconnect. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email.
• Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work.
• Learn how to manage stress. When you’re on the road to burnout, you may feel helpless. But you have a lot more control over stress than you may think. Learning how to manage stress can help you regain your balance.

If we do not change what we do from day to day we should not achieve different occupational health outcomes. This means changing work habits: (re)evaluating work practices, keeping the important ones, but letting go of the unimportant. “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” It is time for all educators to act individually and collectively to change work practices that contribute to burnout. By looking after their own health, they will also be looking after the profession. The children of Australia will be the beneficiaries.

 

Philip Riley, PhD, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
Principal Researcher, Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey
Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, ACU
Philip.riley@principalhealth.org
Philip.riley@acu.edu.au

Phil Riley, a former school principal, spent 16 years in schools before moving the tertiary sector. He researches the overlapping space of psychology, education and leadership. Phil has produced more than 150 publications and peer reviewed conference presentations and been awarded over $6 million in research funding. In 2010 Phil was recognised by Monash University with an inaugural Monash Researcher Accelerator award, which funded the first two years of The Australian Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey. He has since won the Dean’s award for Excellence by an Early Career Researcher, and the award for Excellence in Innovation and External Collaboration, at Monash in 2011. He moved to ACU in 2014.

References

[1] www.principalhealth.org

[2]PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia. http://www.headsup.org.au/creating-a-mentally-healthy-workplace/the-business-case

[3]Safe Work Australia

[4]Teachers Health Fund CEO Brad Joyce (Nov, 2014)

[5] http://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/2014/december/phwp/

[6]Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, Inc.

[7]Noddings, N. (2007). When school reform goes wrong. New York: Teachers College Press.

[8] Henry, A. (2005). Leadership revelations – An Australian perspective: Reflections from outstanding leaders. North Ryde: CCH Australia

[9] http://www.apaexcellence.org/resources/creatingahealthyworkplace/benefits/

[10] http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm

[11] Warren Buffet distilled the words of Samuel Johnson to come up with this quote. http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/07/13/chains-of-habit/

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Leaders in Positive Education

Western Australia’s North Woodvale Primary School are leaders in Positive Education which stems from Martin Seligman’s research that brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best practice and teaching. It encourages individuals, schools and communities to flourish. Rachael Robertson reports.

North Woodvale has adopted the Kids Matter Framework and utilises the School Drug Education and Road Safety (SDERA) resources to implement resilience education for all years (K-6).

You might be asking- why implement Positive Education in primary school? Well, I learnt that suicide is the leading cause of death for young Australians between the ages of 15-24. I also found that mental health difficulties will affect approximately 1 in 7 Australian primary school children. 1 in 7! With around 50% of mental health difficulties occurring before the age of 14, North Woodvale realised that we have the opportunity to make a difference by building positive mental health at a primary school level.

The Australian Curriculum General Capabilities for self-management found that if students are taught how to be resilient, they find it easier to manage themselves, relate to others, develop a sense of self-worth, resolve conflict and feel positive about themselves and the world around them.

North Woodvale created a Positive Education committee at the end of 2014. Our committee is diverse. It consists of administration, teachers, education assistants and a parent representative. I am the team leader of this committee and am passionate and excited about this initiative. We strive to give children the knowledge to deal with challenging of difficult situations. We want to equip them with the skills to be able to deal with struggles they may come across now, or later in life.

Design competition

At the beginning of 2015, I decided to run a new marketing campaign for Positive Education. I ran a design competition to create the school banner. After deliberating with the team, the slogan- ‘Think Happy, Be Happy’ was selected. Students were asked to create a poster that would reflect the statement making it relevant to them at North Woodvale. Student response was overwhelming with over 80 students submitting a poster. I used a Variety grant to print the design onto a banner. Due to the overwhelming response from students, the committee decided to select the best 5 illustrations and print them onto postcards and magnets that students could send to family and friends.

Grow Your Mind Day

I had the opportunity to work collaboratively with the staff and students from Geelong Grammar (GG) in a session titled – a living library of Positive Education in Action at the annual Positive Schools Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference. While covering key concepts such as mindfulness, gratitude and resilience, GG also shared the success of an annual ‘Grow Your Mind Day’. The day offered a range of activities focusing on student’s wellbeing. I was so inspired, I devised a plan and took it to my wonderful committee. The date was set for the end of term 3 and the planning and organising process has commenced. Teachers selected and were responsible for one activity on the day as students and parents moved around to different stations. The P & C association organised a lovely morning tea for the parents that attended.

The activities were fun, engaging and taught students the skills to deal with challenging situations. Activities ranged from creating mindful glitter jars in junior primary where students counted their breaths while the glitter dropped to the bottom, to positive chalk drawing, to creating flour filled stress balls in upper primary. I used a $250 grant from the West Australian Association for Mental Health enabling us to purchase resources for the day. We invited the fitness programs Aspire Kids and Crossfit Kids to come and conduct a whole school fitness session. Healthy body, healthy mind!

I contacted the West Coast Eagles and Perth Wildcats requesting players to come to come along as sports players are role models for students. They sent Rowan Powell from West Coast and Damian Martin and Jarrod Kenny from the Wildcats, who not only engaged students, staff and parents; they were motivational, discussing the hardships and joy of being a professional sports player.

We had an amazing atmosphere at our school as Channel 9’s ‘The Today Show’ came in the morning to present the weather.

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Corwin opens Melbourne office

 

Corwin Australia hosts launch event at new CBD location on 6 October 2015.

Corwin has announced its next phase of growth in the Australian education landscape with a launch event at its new Melbourne location on 6 October.

Educators and Corwin partners were invited to the Queen Street facility for the official opening hosted by Corwin Australia’s Managing Director Brad Rosairo. Included was a welcoming ceremony from Wurundjeri elder, Bill Nicholson.

“Welcome, greetings and good day to all of you here,” said ‘Uncle Bill’, in his native Woiwurrung. “When you go somewhere for the first time you should feel welcome, and we Wurundjeri have a whole ceremony for that.”

Pointing towards the Yarra River nine stories below, Bill explained to event guests that the new office sits beside the Wurundjeri people’s connection to earth.

“So how do we do a welcome to country?” asked Bill. “We have a gathering like this one, and if you respect the land we will welcome you. By inviting me here tonight I feel like Corwin are respecting my people.”

Following a toast by Brad Rosairo and a didgeridoo performance, Corwin President, Mike Soules, who travelled from the United States for the opening, thanked Bill and the rest of the attendees.

“Five years ago I was asked what I wanted to contribute to education and I said, perpetuity,” said Mike. “Now I believe that with the team that we have in Australia, which has been together for such a short time and yet has achieved so much, we are on the way.”

Mike told the crowd he was excited to be raising the voice that Corwin had been shouting in North America.

“I know that it is sometimes daunting but we are in the most exciting work in the world,” said Mike. “But the answers are in the classroom and the answers are in this room.”

Mike said Corwin honours the partners it has already connected with in Australia and is looking forward to spreading the Visible Learning message. Mike said the new office reinforces Corwin’s commitment to its role of exclusive provider of the Visible Learningplus programs in Australia.

“We are confident with the work we are doing and we are confident we are working with the best people,” said Mike. “We are changing lives and this is another huge milestone – it is very exciting.”

Melbourne University Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning research is now the world’s largest evidence base on what actually works best in schools to improve learning. Visible Learningplus is used by school systems around the world to examine their impact on student achievement and create innovation in the learning environment. Corwin is the exclusive provider of Visible Learningplus professional learning in Australia.

Cognition Consultant for Culture Counts, Laurayne Tafa, finished off the official proceedings by presenting Brad and Corwin with a koha (gift).

Laurayne explains that the progamme Culture Counts plus Relationships-based Learning is the work of Emeritus Professor Russell Bishop of sound theoretical basis, its well-conceptualized model of teacher professional development, and its positive impact on Māori (Indigenous) student outcomes.

“I am a New Zealander but we do a lot of work in Northern Territory with schools that have embraced the Culture Counts programme,” said Laurayne. “Our program rejects deficit theorizing around indigenous and minoritised learners in favour of a more agentic, strength based teaching model.”

Laurayne said the gift, or koha, was a poster depicting a hongi, a traditional Māori greeting. The hongi picture features people connecting (breathing life ) by pressing their noses together.
“Tonight’s opening symbolises our (Cognitions’) partnership with Corwin, and our partnership, like the work that we do, is done in the spirit of care and honesty,” said Laurayne. “It will be nice to walk in here next time and see the koha hanging proudly on the wall.”

Corwin finished the opening proceedings with a rooftop barbeque looking out over Melbourne city.

For further details contact Corwin (03) 8612 2000 or visit www.corwinaustralia.com.au

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Year 12 exams are not the only door to a great future

 

More than 220,000 students go through their year 12 exams each year, in what can be the most stressful time of their schooling years. Many feel like there is only one path to their future; when in reality there are many different options, opportunities and career paths.

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Promoting academic excellence through digital learning

 

Pedagogical understanding of the reasons for student-centred tasks that allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding in contemporary ways is at the heart of digital learning, writes Philip Callil.

Schools in societies around the world are grappling with change bought about by the new opportunities afforded by digital technologies. While schools around Australia have been quick to embrace mobile devices for learning, it’s fair to say that not all teachers are convinced of the efficacy and benefits of digital learning. We know that for professional learning to make a difference to daily practice in the classroom, teachers need to have more than just skill development. Pedagogical understanding of the reasons for student-centred tasks that allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding in contemporary ways is at the heart of digital learning.

Yarra Valley Grammar is a co-educational independent school of 1200 students from K-12 on the outskirts of Melbourne overlooking the Yarra Valley. Our journey in transforming our curriculum is one of evolution rather than revolution. Our academic focus is preparing our students for the VCE years and the school is committed to this with a number of strategies designed to enhance student outcomes at the senior level. From an ICT perspective, Years 10-12 have a BYOD program while students in the Middle School and Years 5-6 participate in a one-to-one iPad program. Students are permitted to bring mobile phones to school but are restricted by minimum specifications from using phones as their sole device. Our internet pipe is a 500mb link and wireless coverage is strong throughout the school. After a devastating fire on the first day of school three years ago, in which a third of the school was lost, a new Mathematics and Science building was opened by the Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove and the Anglican Primate of Australia, Archbishop Most Reverend Dr Philip Freier, in February. The new building is a state of the art learning space that is technology rich with multiple digital panels in many rooms and hearing augmentation in all rooms.

Clearly we have the technology – but how does technology translate into improved student learning? Yarra Valley Grammar has had an iPad program in place for three years now. Like all schools that have iPads, our challenge is to extend what we do with iPads from consumption, word processing and research to the creation of original student work. As media theorist Marshall McLuhan put it, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror; we walk backwards into the future.” Creating with iPads may be one way to implement change in the direction of student learning to make it more active and less passive but if seen in isolation, it is not enough and unlikely to make a change if not accompanied by a deep understanding of the need to change. Such a vision for academic excellence through digital learning is one that will allow curriculum teams to meet the challenges of today and the next few years without walking backwards into the future.

The diagram outlines six components that contribute to a vision for digital learning. All are equally valid and no less legitimate than the others and cannot be seen in isolation. This provides a framework of a three to five year plan for evolving the curriculum to prepare students for a future where the only guarantee is one of rapid change caused by technology.

At Yarra Valley Grammar, our Vision Statement for the use of digital learning heads our three year ICT Strategic Plan. This plan sits underneath our five year 2015-2020 Teaching and Learning Plan which is available on the school website. While the Teacher and Learning Plan provides certainty in our direction, our IT Strategic Plan can only forecast plans for the next three years to allow for changes in educational technology.

Our focus this year is to promote collaboration and problem solving at both the teacher level and through the curriculum. Our challenge is to work collaboratively on matters related to learning in order to promote creativity and engagement. A Future Foundation survey of 3500 employees in companies in the UK, France and Germany, Japan and the USA found an 81% correlation between collaboration and innovation. Teachers have not necessarily always valued sharing and schools have traditionally fostered cultures of containment sometimes at the expense of collaboration in order to preserve hierarchy. We know that good schools with strong resilient cultures collaborate to stay on top, have skilled practitioners who are generous with others, share knowledge and skills freely, think big and embrace calculated risk to welcome positive curriculum change to ultimately benefit their students.

Collaboration in the classroom means student-centred work that allows students to study in different sized groups to solve real life problems. Learning space design can either facilitate this or actively discourage this. Think of your own school – are the classrooms teacher-focused spaces in rows or student-centred rooms in clusters or pods? Are there breakout spaces that are used regularly? Can the desks be easily reconfigured? Is there one panel or multiple digital panels for group work? By shifting the culture of student passivity to a culture of student empowerment and action, students have more ownership in their learning. It also moves the use of digital devices from consumption to creation. As Kohn (1999) wrote in the The Schools Our Children Deserve, “When interest appears, achievement usually follows.” A 2013 Australian study reported in the British Educational Research Journal found that children’s interest and engagement in school influences their prospects of educational and occupational success 20 years later, over and above their academic attainment and socioeconomic background. The more children felt connected to their school community and felt engaged, rather than bored, the greater their likelihood of achieving a higher educational qualification and going on to a professional or managerial career.

In the Year 9 English course I teach in, our focus this term is to promote choice and creativity in the current unit of work by varying the options available for students to demonstrate their understanding. The unit of work is a text study on Lord of the Flies. Assessment tasks are weighted 60-40 with formative assessment making up the former while a timed class based written response is the latter mark. Formative assessment incorporates 15 marks for note taking (using Google Docs for teacher access) and three assessment tasks worth 15 marks each. Students have 12 possible questions to answer with one question to be chosen from setting, characters and themes. Ten apps have been identified as promoting multi-modal literacies in shaping students responses through the use of video, images, audio and text. These apps are categorised from easy (e.g. Book Creator) to medium (e.g. Binumi video editing) to advanced (e.g. Touchcast Studio).

Varying assessment options allows students to participate in decision making to personalise their learning. While a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach standardises learning, personalising learning for students allows students to take more ownership and responsibility for their learning. We believe that by shifting the culture of student passivity to a culture of student empowerment and action, students will have more ownership in their learning. It also moves the use of the iPad from consumption to creation. Using digital learning to allow choice is a key way to tap into the engagement of how students like to learn. Our premise in this unit of work is that digital learning assessment that is well structured is likely to lead to greater understanding and higher achievement. This is also a considered response to the SAMR [Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition] model in that students’ tasks are moving out of substitution and augmentation to modification and, in one or two of the more advanced apps, tipping into the redefinition classification where digital learning allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable (e.g. augmented reality using Aurasma). Our goal for this unit of work is to provide a template for other year levels and subjects to follow. While it still follows a traditional approach to subject-based learning, the more opportunities students have across primary classes and the middle school to use digital learning to promote creativity and engagement, the less technical obstacles will be experienced as familiarity leads to proficiency. The role as teachers becomes even more central in that students need guidance in the framing of their responses to ensure that originality and depth is encouraged rather than superficiality and shallowness that can often characterise the use of technology.

The above unit is one strategy we are focusing on to encourage creativity and engagement through the use of digital learning. A number of key teachers identified for their ability to innovate and push the boundaries though their use of digital learning have been asked to join a group to examine how apps for creating can be promoted across the curriculum. The same list of apps is also being trialled in our Gifted and Talented program for Years 7 and 8 students. Our professional learning day this term will continue the focus on familiarising teachers with the apps discussed above. Through these strategies, our goal is to heighten awareness of the need to keep pushing towards a student centred curriculum where students have multi modal choices to make about the way they engage in their learning.

In this article collaboration, creativity and engagement have been discussed with illustrations of how Yarra Valley Grammar is meeting the opportunities afforded in a technology rich school. The next two articles in this series will focus on learning management and teaching methods and assessment and accountability to move towards an achievable vision of academic excellence through digital learning.

Philip Callil is the director of IT and eLearning at Yarra Valley Grammar School.

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