It’s important to reflect on our “why”!

In doing work around equity in schools or using data wise improvement processes to build greater equity (LIFE OPPORTUNITIES) its important we found to know thy why.

A “why” may have a beginning – something that we reflected on that started our journey but it’s not a static thing – it keeps evolving as we grow in understanding – or it does in my opinion.

I have presented my “why” at several forums over the past few years – using pictures from my past and encouraging other educators to do the same in their school or team.

It’s no surprise then that the latest TV advertisement from Telstra attracted my attention. It may be of some use in this work.

Please share your thoughts.

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Teachers look at phonics anew after training

NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students. Picture: Kerris Berrington

A recent article in the Australian Newspaper raised two points on the teaching of reading skills in schools:

  • States in Australia are increasing testing the phonic skills of students

“NSW this week became the second state after South Australia to introduce compulsory phonics screening for Year 1 students, and will also ensure phonics becomes a key component of early reading instruction from next year.”

  • Teacher beliefs are still strong about the need to teach meaning cue

“training did not substantially alter the views of participants who believed that meaning cues, rather than phonics knowledge, should be emphasised during children’s early experiences with reading.”

Rather than engage in the whole phonics vs whole language or meaning based debate on teaching reading I think both approaches or rather sets of skills are needed by students to effectively read in the 21st century. Most teachers do! Rather the issue for teachers might be time. Time in the curriculum to effectively teach both sets of cues.

There are 25 instruction hrs in a school week and the curriculum is expected to be taught in 80% of that time (20 hrs) allowing 20% for local priorities (5 hrs). In the Years F-2 where most phonic reading skills are expected to be learned you teach 10 hrs of English and the standard 5 hrs of Maths. Then you have the other weekly mandates: Physical Education / Sport 2 hrs, Science 1.5 hrs and Languages (expected is 90 min but reality is 1 hr). I haven’t yet added in Arts (1.5 hrs reality is 2 hrs in most schools which I suppose is the local priority????), Humanities (2 hrs) and Health 0.5 hrs. What is left is 1 hr a week in which we fit library skills, technology, weekly assemblies and I could add more. I won’t add in if there are additional needs: e.g. speech therapy or counselling.

Then of course there is the unaccounted for time – marking the attendance rolls, collecting student expenses and permission notes, changing home reading texts or books, dealing with playground disputes, correcting homework with students (lets not set so much) travelling time between classes etc….. . As a Principal I used to work hard on reducing these unaccounted for times but its an ongoing issue.

I know its an age old debate which has spurred other debates that include extending the school instructional day (9am – 5.00 pm some suggest). Principals and teachers are creative when it comes to juggling hrs in a school day – thank goodness.

So in summary if a teacher needs to take an extra hour a week teaching English and not so much Humanities or a little less Science lets not be so judgemental and leave them to their professional judgement.

I’ll jump off my hobby horse now.

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Can we see through the looking glass into an alternative world?

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice is playing with her white kittens when she ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. Climbing up onto the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-hung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world.

Well I feel a little like Alice when speaking to teachers in training on placement during the current COVID restrictions where they are not allowed on site and have to prepare and teach lessons to students online. It’s like peeking into many alternative worlds depending upon the mentor teacher IT skills, the resources the school provide both before and during the restrictions, the learning environment of the adult and the student and the way the mentor teacher views their role as an online educator.

This post is not meant to be a critical analysis of the difference between classrooms or subject teachers or between the schools they work in or indeed criticism of teachers in general. I believe the great majority of teachers have the best intentions. It’s rather a reflection on what teachers in training and students are doing in this space of remote or online learning.

Let’s get the “battle” stories for want of a better term out first so that we can concentrate on ways we may seek to improve the current state. Yes I’ve heard of remote classrooms where there is no direct teaching via some portal (Google Meets, Webex or Zoom) just Power Points to follow. I’ve heard of the pandemonium in remote classrooms without online norms exisiting or being reinforced (e.g. muting or turning on the camera). I’ve heard of assignments being set with little or no teacher feedback or correction and teacher environments that have competing noises (try renovations next door) or like Alice, have kittens wandering through.

I’ve heard of 5-8 year olds having to log in several times a morning to join different “rooms” for group instruction and older students typing irrelevant stuff in the chat space and distracting others.

So what do I advise my teachers in training to do?

For those teachers in training in their last placements of their final year – persist and finish – valuing well being is important – and to reflect on what their blended environments classrooms in the future might look like. The schooling world in general should and again I believe is reflecting upon this. If some change do not occur we doom ourselves and our students to repeat the same lessons at least over the next 2 years of COVID

I have worked with some schools and teachers who, like Alice, started to see and play with alternative spaces prior to the COVID restrictions. Perhaps as Winston Churchill said “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

For this post I’m going to concentrate on Reading F-8 examples. I’m going to assume that every teacher has a responsibility to teach reading skills, it’s just that some teachers do more explicitly and more often than others (usually classroom or english/humanities based teachers). The second assumption is that those teachers teaching reading frequently and explicitly use a variety of strategies (e.g. shared reading, modelled reading, guided reading, reciprocal reading, book club or socratic circles). Another assumption is that levelled texts will be used at some point as well as texts designed for reciprocal or book club strategies. I think there are other assumptions as well e.g. that word study (including phonics) mergers between reading and writing but I won’t go on except to say after reading this is my blog followers want some support on those matters just let me know.

Lastly this list of resources is not a complete endorsement of the pedagogy that may lie behind the programs – for that analysis (PLUS/DELTA) is another matter which I’m also happy to discuss.

So two years ago I worked as a curriculum coach at a school and we looked into some blended learning environments (face to face with multiple sets of texts and digital texts used on ipads and computers). Yes home reading still existed in the early years. However both in the classroom and at home digital texts (sometimes the same texts) were used as a teaching and learning tool. These texts had followup tasks , games and quizzes for students to complete to reinforce certain skills and often extend students particularly around comprehension strategies. They allowed teachers to set up the program and match texts to students whilst allowing some measure of free choice. Most of the programs enabled teachers to track progress as well. We tried many of the programs below keeping some and leaving others.

When remote learning started teachers continued to teach face to face with texts and students continued tasks, quizzes just this time at home. So I encourage you to have a browse from the links below – some are still offering 6 months free trials.

ABC Reading Eggs Learn to Read Program for Kids
LiteracyPlanet Logo

Sunshine Books Australia

Fountas and Pinnell
pearson english portal
Key Links Digital

So I don’t think we are yet in an alternative world like Alice experienced and perhaps this is just part of that transition process.

There are others publishers and no I don’t receive any commission for mentioning these sites. Happy hunting.

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Parents want more than jobs out of education for their children.

Image thanks to

The Australian Newspaper features an article by Chris Mitchell “Parents want education system to prep kids for jobs, not political activism”. In the article he makes a number of claims and offers solutions which I think need a response. Mitchell’s claims include:

  • Journalists are left of centre and rely on the leftist social media like Twitter to form views that most of us disagree with (citing ABC journalists visible disappointment on TV at Aust Prime Minister Morrison’s election as an example of leftist journalism) as we continue to vote right of centre politicans like Trump.
  • That leftist academics (citing two media personalities) support Islamic State actions like the tipping of statues
  • Social activists, like a former Victorian premier Joan Kirner, control the curriculum in schools with the result that young protestors have little nuanced understanding of historical figures (e.g. Churchill who also defeated Hilter’s Holocaust ambitions).
  • His solutions include: teachers being trained at colleges not universities where they rather learn theories of knowledge, teachers insisting on class discipline, academic class steaming and valuing winners.

Journalism is a form of writing that tells people about things that really happened, but that they might not have known about already.” It has a responsibility to explore the background and pose questions around what we see, read and hear. If that exploration and questioning provokes discussion and debate I would think that is a good thing. When journalists don’t fulfil these expectations we don’t get nuanced understandings of things like his second point of academics in the press supporting Islamic State actions. People on both sides of debates have tore down and defaced statues throughout history and I would add to our detriment as it doesn’t allow us to measure our progress or otherwise, for one thing.

Whenever I taught history, and that was for many years, I used differing thinking tools to explore e.g. famous people and to try and understand in those times circumstances around people’s actions and then apply these to ourselves so that we may discover our biases and prejudices.

However, his solutions seem either simplistic or a possible reliving of his past for some of them didn’t work or had a negative impact on learning (academic streaming) and are at best simplistic for discipline starts in the home and through parent teacher cooperation not in isolation at the school. Discipline it seems is what everyone wants as long as it doesn’t happen to my child or perhaps that’s my biases for as a principal of over 20 years I was constantly having to prepare like a lawyer for discipline meetings with parents.

As for valuing winners perhaps Chris needs to reflect a little more on valuing people and their successes and efforts rather than the suggested “winners and losers” idea.

Hold on! Chris you started a discussion that makes you a journalist.

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What does back at school look like?


As schools in Victoria resume face to face teaching over the next 2 weeks there might be a temptation for a period of testing to see where students are up to, what gaps may have occurred and know what to teach next. While some of this is entirely appropriate I would hasten slowly for a few reasons.

  • relationships – relationships – relationships. Dare I say it a fourth time. We do not know the effects of remote learning some of which may be positive and we may want to capture those. This is a time for both reflection and reunion.
  • Connected to the temptation to test or I would suggest over test is the upcoming student mid year reports. I believe parents will be relieved that students are back at school and that a new school normal has been established. Perhaps even a new normal student report?
  • I would suggest that we need to value the time of remote learning and record some of these achievements in 1/2 year reports. This can be done in simply ways like students learning to remotely connect – using passwords (seesaw, zoom, mathletics etc..), some sites like Mathletics or reading eggs have data on tasks completed and possible outcomes achieved – you may want to continue to use these sites in the classroom as well or for homework.
  • Finally there may be a need to test for what to teach next – accept that there may be “gaps” in student learning but these may be backfilled by tasks that move students forward. In relation to gaps just how important are these for example: are they connected to the big ideas in Maths or have future skills required. Is the content that critical? Just a question.

My wondering is more connected to the learning pits each child / student experienced and capturing and recording that data.

Remember the New Zealand schooling experience post earth quake where end of year student outcomes improved

I’d be interested to know what teachers think.

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Teaching has 4 Seasons

During this Covid 19 isolation period I have been catching up on my reading and I came across an article in the ASCD Education Update (Oct 2019) titled “Teaching Comes in Seasons”.

The author Chase Mielke talked about the careers of teachers coming in 4 seasons:

  • Season 1 Culture Shock: the first 3 years of a teachers career filled with idealism yet confronted with pragmatism and amateurism mixed with ambition.
  • Season 2 Development: now knowing administration trying to figure out not only what to teach but who you are as a teacher – 4th and 5th years
  • Season 3 Pathfinding: in your sixth+ year and trying to be great at everything and the realisation that you can’t therefore giving yourself permission to find the few things that you want to do well and thereby cultivating your passion.
  • Season 4 Pace yourself (now in your 10th + year) and now not being immune to burnout having mastered certain elements of teaching conserve energy without sacrificing quality.

Now I like the image of 4 seasons and love the four violin concertos by Vivaldi called the 4 seasons I’m not sure that his seasons matched my career. P.S. You might enjoy listening to Vivaldi as you read on:

  • Season 1 Culture Shock (as described by Chase) was similar to mine however in the 70’s and 80’s we were encouraged to apply for differing schools which I did (6 schools over 15 years). Every time you went to a different school it was another culture shock for at least 6 – 12 months.
  • Season 2 for me was was a combination of Chase’s Development and Pathfinding as I decided I needed more professional learning and went back to University. You see, as I discovered my passion, (teaching English well) I embarked on changing my teaching practice, which was a challenge for some colleagues, particularly as I was promoted during this 10 year period to a type of Master Teacher who in-serviced other teachers. Eventually I ended up in a resource centre (a place that held all the “best or most knowledgeable” teachers of English, Maths etc..)
  • Season 3 didn’t revolve around pacing myself it was the season of school leadership for I first became an Assistant Principal and then over the next 28 years a Principal in 3 different communities. It was a constant series of culture shocks – development and pathfinding – as I sought to find and redefine my leadership with others. Yes I went back to University again and again both here in Australia and overseas in Boston. I never quite got to pacing myself , well perhaps in my last 18 months, which then lead onto
  • Season 4 transitioning to other work as I retired from the teaching service and took up other leadership and teaching both in Universities (Deakin – teaching training, Harvard – coach accreditation in Data Wise for schools around the world) and in individual schools and networks. This was more my reflective period – listening to others, asking questions and making suggestions based on their data and culture.

My wondering on this analogue of careers over 4 seasons is that do we have more than 4 seasons and are they overlapping. Still it’s an interesting exercise to do. If you feel inclined I’d be interested in hearing about your “seasons”.

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Lilydale High School

During November I worked with the leadership team at Lilydale High School on collaboration.

Some of the resources we used:

Lilydale HS Meeting Rolling Agenda.docx

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Use differing Genre in teaching Reading and Writing

This reminds me of the work of Debbie Miller “Reading for Meaning”
I love this bulletin board which can be used to stimulate both reading and writing.

I’ve posted these two images from the work of Cass a reading specialist after recent discussions about the growing effects of NAPLAN particularly on writing. It seems the genre we teach is narrowing to narrative (what sort of narrative I ask), persuasive and an occasional non fiction text.

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Effect Size: using Hattie’s work

In my ‘using data wisely’ work around Victoria I’m asked about calculating Hattie’s effect sizes. There are several good sites that show you how, here are some.

From Visible Learning

In the interests of perspective here I have included a colleagues of Hattie’s, Peter DeWitt’s column on effect size and several criticisms of Hattie’s work.

In short he suggests using effect size to calculate the effect of your current work before launching off into simply adopting some of his high leverage strategies.

I would add you also need to determine the level of fidelity (implementation level) there is to your current work as well. What everyone seeks, of course is high fidelity / high effect but if you get low effect be sure to check your implementation level first before taking something else on.

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How to determine zones of proximal development.

In my “using data wisely” work with Principals and teachers I’m sometimes sometimes how to look at a data set and calculate zones of proximal development. This clip featuring Patrick Griffin from Melbourne University I think answers that question.

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Student Reports: Are they worth the time and cost?

During May I visited a number of schools and invariably teachers spoke to me about starting their student reports which were due in 4-5 weeks time to parents. It seemed a long time in the prepare phase but then as a retired Principal I knew better.

Lots of questions come to mind when talking about student reports but the one I’m posing is:

Are they worth the cost in their current form?

A brief history for some perspective.

Teachers have produced student reports for over 150 years in Australia. Reports came in many guises, some with just marks expressed as letters (A,B,C,D) or percentages (95%), some with tick the box type comments others with extensive commentary. Reports formats and content varied depending on school type (independent or public schools), from school to school and from teacher to teacher within the same school.

In 2005 the Federal Government mandated a set format for student reports as part of a funding package to schools. There was some evidence that parents in general were dissatisfied with student reports. Some 14 years later are they any better?

A recent article in Teacher Magazine looked at teacher comments and their effects on parent understanding of student progress. While the authors concluded that teacher comments were valuable to parents they left the final opinion to an ACER report due out soon.

My question came after I recent rereading of ‘Meeting Wise‘ a Harvard Press publication. In ‘Meeting Wise’ the authors posed the question about the cost and value of meetings in schools.

Mine is a similar question but on student reports – what’s the cost and are we getting value?


Teachers can be fearful of making a “wrong” judgement in case its questioned by school administration or worse still parents:

One result is that teachers administer additional summative tests near the end of a semester.

The cost of these standardised tests can range from $1 to $9 per test depending upon the school purchasing arrangements and computer network facility (pen/paper costs more than computer generated test). Some State Governments provide free online assessments. Then there’s the teacher time to mark and grade the tests.

So let’s be conservative and say 2 tests per student at $4 a test total $8, teacher grading time at 10 minutes per test times is $18. The summary pre report cost so far is $26 per student report.

Now the teacher time to compile all the data from tests, graded student work samples and notes on learning conversations, time to aggregate and record judgement against curriculum outcomes, and then write comments on performance. For a primary school teacher they generally spent 90 minutes per report which costs about $72.

In lots of primary and secondary schools the principal class officers review and edit student reports for appropriate teacher style and consistency. This on average is about 15 minutes per report which costs about $25 per report.

So the total cost per report about $123. This might not seem unreasonable if we could measure their value in the school and home contexts .

It’s here the waters get muddy.

Before moving away from cost from an industry perspective, schools with 600+ ,as was my last school, the cost per year for student reports would often exceed $145,000. This is a significant sum and similar amounts in school budgets are usually required to be substantiated, evaluated and reported on to school boards.

Teacher Unions for years have been pushing for additional administration time for teachers to amongst other things produce these reports. For a primary teacher with 22.5 hrs contact hours plus non negotiable duties like yard supervision it meant finding an additional 12.5 hrs per week for 4 weeks. As a retired Principal I know we tried to provide some time by having meeting free weeks and provided additional some administrative release time however it was still insufficient. Consequently teachers took the work home to do at night and on weekends.

This is not news for teachers.

Please note that I have not added the additional cost associated with preparing for and attending parent teacher interviews which often follow student reports.

Yet the parent report card on the usefulness of student reports is still out.

If you argue that parents and teachers form a partnership in the education of their children what actions might a parent expect of themselves as a result of reading their child’s report? You might conjecture that the information provided in student reports enables the parent to feel better connected to the school and teacher and that connectedness is an enabler for improved student learning. If so, we could measure that through parent surveys and focus groups. Is this the value we are seeking?

I’m going to suggest there might be an invisible cost to all this time and money going on the current format of student reports, that of student learning.

When teachers are spending all their time over the ‘reporting season’ producing these reports what is happening to their normal duties that include:

  • attending team meetings to plan a differentiated curriculum
  • teacher time to prepare lessons that engage and motivate student to learn, inclusive of stated learning intentions and success criteria
  • time to restore one’s energy so that teachers can calmly support un settled students or resolve behavioural disputes.

My intent is not to castigate teachers but simple to say that something has to give and it’s often the latter generally invisible costs to parents.

What if teachers said out aloud:

  • I want to inform you of progress and next steps but gradings with all their unintended consequences can so often get in the way of that conversation.
  • I want to inform you of progress and next steps but writing lengthy slabs of text about 6 months of learning costs me time away form teaching.
  • I want to inform you of progress and achievement but I want to assess to know what the next steps of learning for your child are, not as summative confirmation to justify a grade.
  • I want to inform you of progress but not be judged as a person or an failed educator when I let you know your child hits a few road bumps in the journey of learning
  • I want to inform you of progress on the few key improvement goals we set, not on all the activities involved in learning.

Then perhaps we can have a sensible dialogue, one that doesn’t take away time from the valuable teaching and caring, one that then provides the basis for a short summary of our conversation and not this standardised grade based and I would add consumer orientated view of schooling.

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Yarra – Darebin Network of Schools

Hi everyone,

This post has the requested resources from our day together and some snapshots to remember the highlights:

De-identified Primary School Data Inventory 2016 – 2018

DW Minutes sample

The Five WHY’s protocol.

Compass Points (survey monkey)

























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Maribyrnong Network of School Leaders

Hosts of our Network Day

Maribyrnong College with its sports academy

This post is to follow-up our network day on the first 2 steps of Data Wise.

We spoke about answering the WHY question when change is being advocated – as we are about to advocate for change in collaboration in schools and the use of data in a more formative sense to shape our curriculum and instruction. Simon Sinek spoke about the WHY and school leaders indicated a need to view and use his work, hence the clip below:

The second request from the network was to see a Victorian school data inventory and initiative inventory. This is a work in progress so please return to this site in about a week for that artefact.




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Inferencing in the early years

This week I’m writing about inferencing.

It’s nearly 5 months into the Australian academic year for our Foundation to Year 2 students and teachers have built Reading Workshops where students build sufficient reading stamina for guided groups to run, where learning intentions are clear and understandable, where schema particularly text to self, text to text connections have been a focus, where predictive skills have been a focus alongside rhyme, letter identification and phonics (initial consonant sounds). So in summary the team has covered a great deal in Reading and now alongside consolidation of current work and continued work now in phonics (complete the 44 sounds, blending and segmenting) it was time to consider what other comprehension skills the data suggested our students needed and inferencing was next.

Narrative stories are the focus of our genre studies and inferring characters’ intentions and feelings seems a natural progression. Fountas and Pinnell in the Year 1 and 2 (p 133) suggest talking about pictures to show an interpretation of a problem can be effective before we talk about characters’ feelings. As students’ progress, they start to discuss evidence to support their inference. Eventually students might be able to infer and talk about characters’ feelings, motives and attribute and the causes for these, perhaps even cause and effect.

I observed a teacher in training recently use this photo to promote student inferencing talk. She scaffolds the students with some sentences starters and got the following:

I can infer that it’s a hot day because the photo shows ice cream has melted.

Other possible photos to use might include:






During these sessions we might build some anchor charts about inferencing.

I was referred to a blog post that explains the difference between prediction and inferencing, which I believe confuses many children.






















We may then be ready to use these skills as we model inferencing on picture fiction texts. Two good texts are – but I’m sure my readers can find many others (including fables for years 2-6 which are perfect for inferring the morale of stories).












If you can add anything to the post please do so.

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Lesson Transitions

Image result for deakin school of education

About 9 months ago I started working as a casual academic for Deakin University, Faculty of Education, in Victoria. Students are placed in schools for at least 80 days, depending upon their course. They work along students and experienced teachers and my role is one of professional support to both student and teacher.

It’s within this role that I began to appreciate that my role is often like a bridge where I connect the University’s course based on answering the why questions of education with the practical how questions in teaching. Of course this is a simple dichotomy that masks the many aspects of learning at university but useful I feel in this context.

So why this post?

Well in the past 9 months similar questions are being raised by “teachers in training” and I thought some useful bridge type links might be useful.

The links connect David Sousa work on connecting brain research with teaching.

In planning lessons or episodes, as some call them, teachers in training often don’t recognise that it’s when students move from one phase of the lesson to the next (transitions) that learning is affected.

I’ve focused on transitions before primary (mini-lessons) and recency (summaries or reflections) blocks  as transitions when not intentionally planned might lead to:

I’ve seen whole groups of students move at once (pictured above) and others in managed groups. I’ve seen some transitions between the mini lesson and the practice task take 15 minutes (is it any wonder why some students forget the instructions) and others take 1 minute.

There is no one way for students to transition – there are many and the reasons vary. But some general tips might be useful.


Please remember effect transitions are ones that are also practiced, in some cases daily in term 1 as we build effective learning communities in classrooms.

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