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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.


Get flying

Spring has sprung and what better way to get your students moving again after winter than indoor skydiving!

Indoor skydiving is an activity adored by the masses and now iFLY Indoor Skydiving located in Penrith (NSW) and the Gold Coast (opening soon) has a fantastic School Education Programme perfect for school excursions. Not only will students participate in a programme that explores subjects like physics, mathematics and fitness but they will also experience the thrill of learning how to fly. It can be difficult to inspire students coming out of winter hibernation but iFLY can provide the edge you need to get them excited. The unique programme is tailored to the learning capabilities of both primary and secondary students and no flying experience is needed! iFLY’s education programme includes safety training, a curriculum aligned education presentation by iFLY’s very own educator with all course materials supplied, video of your group flying and two flights each! Move both your students’ body and mind in an environment that isn’t like any other this Spring at iFLY. Visit for more information.


Creating the ‘High Possibility School’

Research on exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology enhanced learning led to the development of the High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) framework. Arguments for the creation of High Possibility Schools builds capacity in school leaders and teachers to create empowering learning places for all students right now and into the future.

Dr Jane Hunter, an early career researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at the University of Western Sydney was intrigued by the challenge of how teachers effectively embed technologies into learning. To fill a noted gap in the research literatures, in what is known about knowledge of technology integration in practice from teachers’ perspectives, Dr Hunter began her research of four exemplary teachers’ knowledge of technology integration in the classrooms of six to 16 year olds in NSW public schools. The research outcomes led to the development of the HPC framework.

The HPC framework stems from a need for robust theory drawn from research to underpin technology integration in learning in education contexts – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge or TPACK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). What emerged from the data collection and analysis was that exemplary teachers conceived their knowledge of technology around five conceptions: theory, creativity, public learning, life preparation and contextual accommodations. Within each of these five conceptions are multiple themes of teaching practices and student learning processes that align with what young people require for their education futures. Hard planning, project-based learning and opportunities for production, listening to student voice and getting into flow, inform these conceptions. Teachers who actively use these pedagogical markers are defining a new game of school in K-12 settings. In essence schools can create HPC for all students and many of the HPC conceptions are present in teachers’ practices right now. However, teachers’ actions when embedding technology must go further.

Dr Jane Hunter will keynote at the Future Leaders conference from 3-4 March 2016 at the Australian Technology Park, Sydney as part of the National FutureSchools Expo. Her session will distinguish some powerful examples based on evidence in NSW schools, and reveal that it is possible to re-imagine K-12 classrooms within current education constraints and uncertainties.


Principals should be ‘bold, creative and courageous’



South Australian-based school principal and recent leadership category winner of the SA Excellence in Public Education Awards, Olivia O’Neill, says despite the challenges of being a principal in the 21st Century principals should focus on the creativity of the job and enjoy it.

With 11 years as principal of one of South Australia’s best performing schools, Brighton Secondary School, and more than 40 years of experience in secondary schools in Queensland and South Australia, O’Neill told Education Matters the award win is more a testament to the leaders she works with.

“It’s very nice to be personally recognised because you work hard, you put in the hours and you keep working on a continuous improvement plan but really I think it’s more testament to the leaders that I work with,” she said.  “It’s about the good people that you recruit to do the job, so I did accept award on behalf of the ‘principal team’, as we call them. We don’t call them Admin in our school because no one ever says Admin warmly do they?”

As a winner of the leadership category O’Neill has been given the opportunity to undertake a short course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has chosen the course entitled ‘Leadership: an Evolving Vision’.

“The course is about building succession and building as leadership because my key issue is you can work very hard with a team and then someone new comes in and it gets unravelled because it’s not deep in the culture,” O’Neill explained. “So I think it’s really important for a school like Brighton that when new leadership comes in it values what’s really deep in the culture.

“Yes, definitely be on a continuous improvement plan, however don’t throw out what was working well at the school before. You find when people come in they just chuck out what the previous administration did just for the sake of it and while it’s important to acknowledge that yes, things might change, but you have to know what’s deep in the culture – and so I’d like to learn more about that.”

O’Neill says staying up-to-date with technology and its role in education is one of the big challenges for today’s principals.

“It’s about understanding how students think and learn now, and those skills of 21st Century Learning are more the soft skills rather than the hard skills,” O’Neill said. “You know, those skills of communication and problem solving and independent learning.  So the challenge is ensuring that you actually are developing independent learners who can learn anywhere anytime and who are motivated to learn. I think that is a big challenge given the fact that now students have so much independence in their own lifestyle through the technology – how to engage them with learning is the challenge.”

To help develop independent learning skills in its students, Brighton Secondary School has introduced ‘flipped learning’ where students watch instructional videos at home and do the typical homework in class. The term ‘flipped’ is used to refer to the reversal of the traditional homework therefore direct instruction is not conducted in large groups, but rather individually through teacher-created videos.

At Brighton all students have an Apple MacBook Pro and O’Neill says the students can independently watch their teacher’s instruction video at home, and with the pre-learning at the lower level done the teacher can do the higher order thinking work during class time with the students.

“It’s about skilling the teachers in professional development,” O’Neill said. “Professional learning is very important and I think one of the things that’s helped us is flipping the classroom so we’ve done a lot of work in that area, developed a teacher film studio, recruited a digital coach who’s very skilled in it and doing continuous work in teacher learning communities of three people to support each other, to learn how to film those lessons that are the lower order skills of remembering and understanding to allow more time in class with the teacher to do the higher order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

“Flipped learning has been a major move in the right direction to encouraging students to be independent and find out themselves, do the work.  There are issues around that with what happens when they don’t do the work or what happens when they don’t do their homework ordinarily and so we work through that as well.”

O’Neill believes the creativity that principals can have in leading educational change, the capacity to be creative and see the outcomes and rewards in students being successful and becoming independent learners makes the job of a principal trump others.

“It’s a wonderful job to be creative and strategic, it’s a wonderful job where you can actually effect change and you can make a difference,” she said. “It’s a difference for teachers and their profession, it’s a difference for students and their future, it’s a difference for the world.

“All jobs are tough these days but I think this job gives us the opportunity for a lot of our own joy in seeing an idea come through to fruition because you can actually see it enacted across a whole range of students and their lives. So I would say to other principals ‘be bold, be courageous, be creative and enjoy the job.’”


Healthy teachers and principals – the lifeblood of our schools



Jo Mason, Director of Innovations and Professional Learning at the Principals Australia Institute, spoke to Education Matters magazine’s Kathryn Edwards about the importance of harnessing teacher and principal health and wellbeing in our schools, encouraging positive relationships and how principals can best deal with greater autonomy.
In what ways is principal and teacher wellbeing critical to student wellbeing?

I believe it’s like a domino effect where the culture and the energy and the enthusiasm of all of the groups are interdependent. So when one group has good health and wellbeing it tends to flow on, and it flows on both ways, but mainly in a principal to teacher to student direction. It is quite capable of flowing the other way of course, if kids aren’t feeling good you can certainly tell – and it’s not only about that it’s about the empathy and understanding that it’s really in wellbeing. So we’re talking about health and wellbeing and its wider sense. We’re talking about not only physical health, but we’re talking probably more about social and emotional health and wellbeing – and that’s why empathy and understanding comes into it. So if principals and teachers have health and wellbeing themselves and they also have talked about it in a conscious way, and just haven’t accepted it exists, then they’re likely to understand that some students come to school perhaps needing the school to bolster their health and wellbeing in some way. Perhaps all students need to have their health and wellbeing sustained through school at the very least. Principals and teachers also understand that an organisation where everyone’s feeling good about themselves, being there and working with one another is basically going to be more productive. So I think that’s the point I’d really like to make there – that it’s a conscious intention that’s coming from each group and so people are aware of the nature of health and wellbeing and their options and possibilities rather than just assuming it’s already in place, because it may not be for some people.

What’s some of the notable work going on in schools in regards to harnessing principal and teacher wellbeing?

With the principal and teacher wellbeing there’s a lot of work going on, if I can start at the other end, on student health and wellbeing. There are some big Federal Government programs and in an interesting way, because principals and teachers are really focused on student outcomes, having programs that focus on student health and wellbeing inevitably flows over to teachers and principals. First of all principals make a conscious decision to do it since they understand the relationship, and therefore it starts the domino effect or the circular effect happening in the school – even if it wasn’t happening there before. The second thing is that when teachers are teaching something naturally they think about it and quite often, if not all the time, they have a think about where they’re placed in the relation to the topic they are teaching. So in the early days of [mental health initiative for secondary schools] Mind Matters it’s interesting to note that to start with we thought we were engaged with teachers in only talking about students. Student health and wellbeing was our major target outcome. In the early days of face-to-face professional development, we thought of teachers as the professional communicators. What we then started to understand was that in engaging in discussions about students on this particular subject matter, teachers also reflected on their own health and wellbeing. And in a lot of cases they picked up and applied ideas and thoughts because many teachers over the years have never thought in terms of their own health and wellbeing. Increasingly they are now but that was something that we noticed as we went further on with this project. So the same has happened with principals to some extent, sometimes they think, “oh yes that’s a great idea” and they don’t engage with it as an individual or professional. But if they do engage with health and wellbeing many of them have started to reflect on it in their professional life. That’s where most people have begun because all of our efforts have tended to be focused on students. Over the last couple of years however, people have now started to think about a teacher’s health and wellbeing as a separate topic on its own. And this has been a more extensive than the general occupational health and safety focus which every organisation in education looks at. The focus has included taking into account the nature of teaching and the teaching environment, and the changes, and therefore that we need to attend to these aspects specifically. Many teachers are also engaging with students who have a greater range of needs and this puts more pressure on teaching and on people’s responsiveness to students. If you don’t have a mechanism to renew your enthusiasm or at least sustain it and keep it going, then over time your organisational capacity will diminish – and the same is true for principals and teachers personal capacity to keep pace with educational change.

Now there are not a lot of programs that are really focused on teachers alone mainly because money is short, and many people also feel slightly nervous about focusing only on teachers or only on principals’ health and wellbeing. The Principals Australia Institute is one of few organisations that offers it in the educational field and that’s because we’re outside the employment relationship so this doesn’t have any industrial or employment connotations, if I can put it that way. We also try and link it up with student wellbeing because they are interrelated. We’ve had to work backwards in a sense from student wellbeing to our own personal understanding of health and wellbeing before but now we’re trying to get people to understand and think about principal wellbeing particularly in a time of principal and school autonomy directly – and understand it’s not self-indulgent and it’s not a waste of money. We need to be focusing on students. As long as we keep this outcome in mind any support for our own professional health and wellbeing will flow through to better support for students.

How can principals best deal with the greater autonomy placed on them these days?

First of all there are different concepts of autonomy operating in Australia and in different states. Some people have complete autonomy already, or at least close to it, andthis includes independent schools and they operate often with a board. And so even when you have an autonomous situation you always have to pay attention to the needs or the accountability in some way. For example you’re always accountable to the community to a certain extent if you’re in a remote community school. Those people who are looking at autonomy that are currently within systems and sectors will find the autonomy is going to be measured in some way. With autonomy there will be some aspects that the principal can operate with, in a much wider sphere than they have in the past, but there’ll also be some leadership areas which they will still have restrictions or requirements. So autonomy is a little bit of a loaded term in some ways – it may mean different things in different locations. But if you’re going to address autonomy it’s a bit like when any job changes, first of all you have to have a sense of what the change is going to be for you. For a lot of people who’ve operated in a system or sector, this is really a brand new ballgame isn’t it?

So you need to know what you’re actually going to be accountable for as a leader. And about what levers or what things you can influence or use to reach that accountably requirement. Because sometimes you’re given a lot of accountability but the number of systems that you can use is actually a bit limited because the system or sector still expects you to meet a set of requirements. You also need to understand as a leader that when you’re placed out there just a little bit further from being in the system in a traditional sense, there are going to be some other factors that might impact on your ability to reach your accountabilities. That means that you personally as a leader have a new balance within the job and you need to be aware of what that is now. If you have a new bargain or balance for your job you actually have a new job. So you then have to have a think about how are you going to approach that new job. If you’re in a system or sector it may be because some aspects have been taken care of in the past even though you might not like the way it was done then, this new capacity actually frees you up, let’s say to do a bit more in the teaching and learning area or in the personnel selection. If that system or sector support is no longer there and you’re expected to do it, you have to have a think about how that will make your job different. It may mean that you might have less time to do perhaps an area that you really love. Let’s say it’s professional development or it might be having lots of contact with parents, because the leadership role has expanded and the balance has changed. It may mean that you have to also negotiate with your leadership team and change their job, because there will be a flow down or a flow across effect. So because jobs are so important in the modern world, and teaching, I think is so much a job that depends on people’s passion and energy means the wellbeing link is really closely there in the autonomy sense. As a leader you have a huge opportunity here because you are freed up – which is both interesting or slightly frightening sometimes. At the same time you might have the capacity to do more in health and wellbeing than you’ve ever done before, and to orientate the school, to meet the needs of the kids even more than you do now.

So autonomy is a mixed bag. Once you’ve defined what it is, be clear about what it means and what it means to you personally, but at the same time have a think about what it might mean for health and wellbeing. It could be that you stop being in the middle of a hierarchy ‘sandwich’, which causes a lot of health and wellbeing difficulties for principals, and you may in fact have a lot more capacity to take action rather than being a bit frustrated. So that’s one of the great gifts of it. On the other hand you might be asked to be accountable to a whole lot of factors, but you’re still constrained by how much you can move around to meet that accountability.

Are you able to shed light on what ways principals can best encourage student-teacher relationships to flourish at their school?

First of all obviously you need to believe that they’re critical. I would say that 100% of principals do believe that. But I think you actually need to continually acknowledge that this issue is important and the reason for that is because there’s so many resources, materials and frameworks, all sorts of things that people have to focus on in their role as teachers. And they’re out there demanding attention, mostly content-based, and while the resources are fantastic, at the same time people can get drowned in those and lose sight of the essence of for getting it all operating is in fact relationships. The second thing I think is principals need to communicate is as students will learn if they have a sense of belonging and this is engendered by an adult who’s at the school who cares about kids, who encourages them and supports them to achieve what they want to do. So the principal needs to get that message out there and they need to enable everything that’s going to give that sense of belonging to be put in place. And they need to do that by emphasising certain sorts of teaching and learning approaches that are relational rather than totally driven by content. They need to give people confidence to work on relationships first as a basis for achieving all of the other things that we have to achieve, and I think that that’s probably the most important thing. If you’ve got good relationships, you know the belonging and the stability and the connection which brings attendance, by far the most important thing, and the teachers managing teacher-student relationships but also student-student relationships. If it’s working, old or young in a safe place in all senses of the word then you optimise learning. Because children have the ability to examine things calmly and they’re also going to want to have their choices validated so therefore they extend themselves and so it goes on. So it optimises the learning in the schools and all principals understand that.

Looking at the impact of the parents and the wider community, how can principals best encourage positive relationships between themselves, the parents and the school community?

I’ve seen quite a lot of this happening across the board and it’s terrific. Let’s take health and wellbeing which is what we’re talking about now at the moment, and I’ve seen a lot of people use this topic as a way they open up a dialogue very early about student health and wellbeing and then, student health and wellbeing and the school as well as parent health and wellbeing, they have positive conversations with people very early on and it’s about something obviously we all care about. They talk about its connections to learning and then they gain common ground on it and then they talk about, and if things go wrong, contact us. I seriously think that that this almost is the way that you approach working with parents. You need involvement, having parents and schools working together is the best possible thing for kids. But strangely it’s also really good for principals and teachers. I think working in isolation or “working at odds with what’s happening at home” is a really difficult position to be in for everybody particularly the child, but certainly for people at the school. So if you can talk early and make opportunities to do that, get common ground and then have a method to talk about it if things go a little bit awry, that’s the way to have that. Working with the community on positive things early on, which includes health and wellbeing, is one way of operating. I’ve seen schools and communities come together on the very big issues, and another key topic of course is learning. But one thing I do know is that principals and teachers are really quite sensitive to community views on schools and staff flourish when someone gives them a compliment that’s due to them because of their hard work. They really need that positive feedback so we should create opportunities for people to have this feedback. On the other hand we also have to accept that a lot of people perhaps might not have caught up with some of the changes in education so we have to provide a lot more information in a way that people can actually access it.

Obviously the focus is a lot on the system at the school level, but what can principals do to help take care of themselves?

One of the things is, principals are often, sort of left on their own or they have a sense that they are on their own in relation to health and wellbeing. This is mainly because I guess a lot of systems are focussing on so much and education is not over funded, let’s put it that way! So if I was able to I’d say that while we need to balance organisational requirements to look after teachers and principals and other staff, because there are other staff working at schools, in terms of what you can do personally there’s a great deal. I did a lot of work for Mind Matters on staff health and wellbeing, and I covered around 20 or 30 thousand people by myself and the team. I’ve also talked to about 800 principals and leaders across Australia, but mainly in NSW, about what you can do as an individual. The first thing is I guess if you can stop for a moment and consider it and think about what their beliefs in relation to health and wellbeing are. I mean many people have never even considered that they have to support their health and wellbeing. Because the job is changing people need to recognise that just with the passage of time, but also with the changes that are occurring, that they may need to do this much more consciously perhaps than they have in the past. And some of our belief systems, you know the fact that they’ll recover from stress by the next morning or, say to themselves “yes that was deeply distressing but I’ll get over it”, need to be examined. I mean some of these matters tend to accumulate over time and so we’re talking to people about getting together collegially and having some structures to talk about sustainability and recovery and not just exchanging stories or, having a bit of a complaining session and saying what a tough day it is, but instead really examining things and coming out with positive ideas about going forward. And that’s quite difficult for principals; it’s about making some time for it. The other key point is to take care of ourselves in a range of ways, for example we believe that the physical aspect of health and wellbeing is really important to professionals who work in a knowledge industry and who work as managers. Quite often we find that principals and teachers are talking about intellectual things and if they’re involved in very good strong relationships, very emotional things, but they also need to have a sense of their own physical health and wellbeing. So Principals Australia Institute really believes the physical side of health and wellbeing, and also the social aspects are as important as anything else.

So, Principals Australia Institute has developed a model that also includes the physical as well as community and altruistic aspects. These aspects are really important to get back in touch with as professionals because otherwise people get overloaded with work and they can lose their way. We’re talking to people about, if you look after yourself more physically, you’ve got all that energy, and so then how can you motivate yourself to take care of yourself? Because a lot of these people are very smart but they still don’t do exercise for example. It’s all about making some choices and understanding that perhaps choosing physical health and wellbeing will enable them to enjoy the job more.

The other thing we’re talking about besides collegial action, is to get people to consider getting in touch with what’s really important to them in the job. Finding ways talk and express about some of the difficulties because they come across some pretty tough situations as a profession, and that includes journals and protocols for proper professional discussion. Some of the latest research that’s coming through is about mindfulness and ensuring that you’ve got good strong social networks that are outside work that can act as a nice balance in life. Mindfulness really is enabling people just to move and take a break, instead of going from one big crisis and then you’ve got another meeting, it’s enabling you to find ways just to let the stress and the build-up go for a moment so that you’re able to operate really well and to come out of the day still feeling that you want to go back the next day.

We need to also ensure that you’ve got a strong team who works with you. So we’ve been also talking to people about ensuring that that’s helping as well. And those things do make a difference to people.

I think being a principal is similar in terms of health and working risk as other high-level stress occupations like the police. These are service industries and quite often we’re really working as hard as we all can but we have to understand that some of the events that we’re hearing about or we’re witnessing or we’re dealing with, have a huge impact on us personally. So we do need to think about this stuff, it’s a very important topic for the future of education and to attract people to it. That’s why Principals Australia Institute is doing work on graduate teachers and we’re talking to them right from the beginning of their career about looking after health and wellbeing. Some of the people I’m talking to are saying they’re really worried that new professionals in education have this strong sense of doing as much as they can for kids but they’re not sustaining themselves and they haven’t got a sustainable method of operating in the job.

I do think that for students, teachers and the other staff at school who are not teachers but who perform important jobs, principals, and the community, if you’re doing health and wellbeing you need a slightly different focus on each. But you do need to relate to them all because in one school community certainly, these approaches need to have congruency. A principal might have a greater sense of isolation perhaps, I don’t know than other people or a greater sense of accountability. I also think that we need to discuss it more, not as an industrial issue but from a positive sense about how we can address this. We have very intelligent people in education I believe, and I think this is bigger than the occupational health and safety perspective, it’s about the nature of the way that we do teaching and learning in Australia. We don’t do it from worksheets and from rote we do it on the basis of what’s happening between people. Learning is a social thing and we need to acknowledge that it doesn’t occur in isolation it occurs as a whole societal thing really – and this is why the relationship of learning and health and wellbeing is really important.


Jo Mason is the Director of Innovations and Professional Learning for Principals Australia Institute.

Jo currently undertakes PAI professional development and services including online services for school systems, professional associations, individual schools and other organisations in the area of leadership, whole workplace health and wellbeing, child protection curriculum, leading curriculum and staff professional development, change and performance management. Jo works across education and the private sector.

PAI is the professions own provider of professional development and runs a number of major national schools programs on diversity, community participation, health promotion and international and national leadership in Australia.



Self-nourishing acts for teachers



As teachers, we spend our days nurturing others without much time left over for ourselves – particularly if we have our own children to care for when we get home after a busy day. I’m urging you to try the practice of scheduling in self-nourishing acts throughout your week (or even every day!) that nurture your physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. I first heard of this term many years ago in the book Positive Energy by Judith Orloff MD, however it is only this year that I have written a list of my own self-nourishing acts and begun to schedule these into my week. Scheduling is key here because if you don’t plan the week you want, you’ll get the one you’re given.

Self-nourishing acts (SNAs) are activities that help you to recalibrate, relax and renew your energy – to purely experience pleasure in your life. Because of the pleasure derived from SNAs they calm the nervous system and quieten stress response hormones. They can lift your mood and give you a more positive outlook – particularly if you are stuck in the daily grind of travel to work, work all day, travel home from work, make dinner for the family, put kids to bed and sit in front of the TV (or stay up doing school work). Then repeat.

It’s important that when you participate in an SNA that you savour the pleasure of it – with all of your senses. This will truly keep you in the present moment experience of it. Don’t rush through it, worrying about what you need to get done – let it sink in.

My own list of SNAs is as follows:

  • Reading in the hammock (or just laying);
  • Meditating;
  • A long yoga session at home or on the beach;
  • Yoga Nidra;
  • A hot bath with a face mask;
  • Massage (even self-massage can be nourishing – though I prefer someone else to do it!);
  • A cup of chai on my back deck with some dark choccy macadamias (and my dogs);
  • Time with a friend without our kids;
  • Surfing before work;
  • Paddle-boarding or bushwalking; and,
  • Listening to calming or uplifting music.

Some of these are rare treats but others I schedule in regularly and they cost nothing. Importantly, as you can see, most involve time alone (particularly vital if you spend all day with a class of children and go home to your own children). They are things I love to do and know that I feel good after. I truly value them and they make me feel more alive – bringing me back to my centre and re-energised.

Your list of SNAs may look very different as different things nourish different people. We are not energised by the same things but I would recommend some time in nature as part of your list. Once you devise your list and begin to schedule them in, really take note of how your body and spirit respond. Maybe something that starts off on your list (something that you think you love to do) might need removing after you notice your reaction to it – maybe it actually drains you.

I encourage you to start your list of SNAs for the new school term. Stick the list on the fridge and tick next to each one when you participate in it to keep track of how often you are nourishing yourself with things you love to do.

Emma Waters is a primary school teacher of 13 years currently working in the Catholic system in the Diocese of Lismore and formerly in the Broken Bay Diocese in Sydney. She is a mother and a long time yoga practitioner (having studied for several months in India in her twenties), surfer and meditation student. Emma is passionate about healthy living and finding life balance within the teaching profession – which is always a work in progress. She believes in the healing power of nature and the necessity of stillness every day for students and teachers alike. Emma is the creator of and providing resources for calm and clarity in the classroom.