Creating, imagining, innovating a (brave) new world

Sometimes I look at situations and think, “I can see a possibility”. Even as a small child, I remember feeling inspired by Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stating:

My older, better-read self is now able to credit Arthur O’Shaughnessy with coming up with this little bit of brilliance and not Roald Dahl. But the sentiment rings true today in my professional life, too.

For 3 days last week, the year 7 students were involved in creating their own world – a series of 12 countries, each with their own Head of State, Cabinet members and culture. Students created flags, a national food, a national game, a national costume, websites, tourism campaigns, exchanged currency and organised State visits. It was something of a social experiment too – students were allocated to new groups outside of their usual classes, under the guidance of ‘mentor’ staff. Certainly, Tuckman’s theory of the stages of group formation were certainly on display as students established their roles, worked on their various tasks and met deadlines.

What the students learned:

  • We all have skills and talents to offer to the team and each contribution is vital to the overall success of the team
  • When we work outside our comfort zone, we begin to understand our capabilities even more
  • Working in teams is challenging and requires enormous cooperation and compromise
  • It’s OK to make mistakes along the way

What I learned:

  • Teachers are grumpy and difficult to deal with at the end of the year
  • Energised students energise tired teachers
  • Doing things properly takes time, support, thought and preparation
  • This is why I love teaching!


Images Source: via Danielle on Pinterest


Applications… Managing Impulsivity

For the last few weeks, I have been considering what I want to get out of the next few years of my teaching career and where my current skills might take me.  Usually, I believe in jumping in head-first and tend to live and work by the belief that you “do it once, do it right!”  But in this situation I get the feeling that I’ve come to something of a cross-road – potentially a defining moment for the future direction of my career.

When teachers ask students to “manage” their impulsivity, what are we in fact asking of them?  For me, this sort of recommendation has become something that I bring out in a student’s report when they need to recognise that thinking before acting usually produces a more positive result. But perhaps there is a time and place for being impulsive?

Early today, I was at a meeting with a group of others who similarly jump at opportunities when they present themselves.  Our meeting began with the presentation of this quote from Steve Jobs, in which we celebrates the “crazy ones” around us who are daring (or persistent?) enough to take risks and be different.

Source: via Alex on Pinterest

Which got me thinking about those students in my classes who I sometimes feel could do with a little more managing of their impulsivity.  How often do I try to fit a square peg in a round hole in my classroom?  How might our experiences of schooling affect whether or not we are brave enough later in life to be a “rebel”? How can I help my students to see the world differently, today and in the future?

So in this instance, I have considered myself crazy enough to change the world but have just taken a little time to act upon it.  I’m proud of being one of the “crazy ones” and I hope that in sharing this with my students, they too will be able to see things differently.


This is the third in a series of blogs that I intend to write in 2012 using Art Costa’s Habits of Mind as my framework.  Hopefully there will be many more to follow.  Watch this space…


LOTEHAT #3… Learning Continuously!

Despite acknowledging 2012 as the year of the “NO!”, I am currently embarking on the LOTEHAT #3 Project for accomplished language teachers.  The word “accomplished” makes me giggle, as there are quite simply day when I feel as though I am wearing my L-plates and nothing seems to go right!  I hope that this feeling will one day be diminished but in the meantime, so much of what I do in the classroom surprises me and excites me.

As part of this project, I have decided to investigate the way in which students are responding to a gestured approach to language learning that we have implemented this year.  Dissatisfied with the old school textbook-centred approach, we have decided to through out our old curriculum in favour of an approach that is kinaesthetic, dynamic and communicative.  And thus far, it is working beautifully.




1:1 – The beginning… Responding with wonderment and awe

This year marks the beginning of my involvement in the implementation of the 1:1 program in my school.  We have chosen to go with Macbooks, which have already been trialled in 2011 with our year 10 cohort.

This year, the roll-out extended to year 7 and as a year 7 teacher, I knew that my enthusiasm for the Macs would be instrumental in the success that my students would experience with their new ‘instruments’ in the classroom.  Despite my reservations about the readiness of our school’s infrastructure to cope with the increasing demands of so many users, I am excited to rethink teaching, learning and assessment.  I am ready and willing to change and adapt my classroom practice in response to the presence of these ‘instruments’ in our school.


Our school is big on Art Costa’s Habits of Mind (see the HOM website for more info) and in just a few weeks, I have already begun to notice how quickly these apply to the students use of their Macbooks.  The main disposition I have seen in action thus far is students “Responding with wonderment and awe” at the capabilities of this tool.  They are learning by DOING, solving problems independently and cooperatively.  Each day, they are amazed by the products they can create and the learning they can convey to me, each other and their families.

Our eLearning Leader recently commented that working with the year 7 students is incredible as a teacher, because they are just begging to be engaged in the classroom.  Perhaps even more powerful than that, is the knowledge that they are actively engaging with each other both inside and outside of the classroom.  I have begun using edmodo too, in my desire to provide them with a platform for communication that is far-reaching and inclusive.  Has it been successful?  Absolutely!  Despite my initial impressions of edmodo as merely an ‘educational rip off of facebook,’ I have been excited to see students posing questions and responding to each other, even if much of the banter is about organisational matters like homework!

So I suppose in some respects, it has not been only the students who are responding with wonderment and awe at the possibilities that have been created by the introduction of 1:1 macbooks in our classrooms.  I, too, am amazed at the effect it is already having on teaching and learning.


This is the first of a series of blogs that I intend to write in 2012 using Costa’s Habits of Mind as my framework.  Hopefully there will be many more to follow.  Watch this space…

A blogging journey with young creative writers

Something I have wanted to do since beginning my role as co-ordinator of an integrated English/Humanities course this year,  was to offer opportunities to extend students’ learning beyond the classroom. My pet project has been to create opportunities for enthusiastic writers to develop their craft with the support of their peers and staff.  Our first group was quiet and intellectual – perhaps the result of asking staff to identify their “Top 10%”?  We followed The Age newspaper’s Ultimate Story competition and students were able to submit their own final chapter for judging.  Unbelievably, one of our students was successful; her story was recognised as one of the top 20!

This term, the approach as been slightly different.  Keen to extend the reach of the group, this time students have been targeted for their passion for writing and not just their academic prowess.  We meet weekly on a Thursday lunchtime in a computer lab and some girls have even approached me asking to “join” the group.  The difference in the dynamic of the group has been remarkable.  Inspired by Henrietta Miller’s idea of the Blogger’s Café we have created our own lunchtime meetings where we eat, write and share with each other.  However, in doing so, I have realised that I have been neglecting my own writing.  Each week as I read the girls’ reflections, I have a slight feeling of guilt that I have not been working on my own writer’s craft as much as they have.  So with holidays only a few weeks away, I am resolved to get writing when I have the luxury of time on my hands… can someone please hold me to that?

Why note visit our page if you have a moment and leave some comments for the girls in the meantime?



De-privatising teaching and learning

Early in my career, I was part of the 2nd Culture of Thinking conference at Bialik College.  This was my first experience of PL that actually involved spending the day in an active school rather than sitting in a lecture theatre or university-style tutorial room.  I loved visiting the prep classroom – sitting on tiny chairs and observing the surrounds, and hearing the teacher speak about how she has implemented the thinking routines of the Visible Thinking Project at Harvard.  What further resonated with me was the final presentation of the conference, which called for teachers to “de-privatise” what we do on a daily basis.

I have now attended part 2 of Prof John Hattie’s workshops on Visible Learning (Visible Thinking, Visible Learning… are we beginning to see something of a pattern emerging here?) and am further resolved to throw open the doors of my classroom to encourage transparency, accountability and sharing of knowledge. Last term I encouraged my team to ‘shadow’ each other in their classrooms.  The concept was simple – select a colleague who has skills that you would like to see in action or learn, then attend one of their classes.  Whether staff observed, team-taught or participated as a student was not the point – what was key was opening our doors, letting go of any fear of being judged and embracing the fact that we too are on a life-long journey of learning.  The response was not as positive as I might have hoped.  Only three of the eight of us on the team decided to do anything about their own professional learning as members of a team.  Disappointed, unsupported, disenfranchised – these words do not even begin to explain how I have been feeling as both a leader and member of this group.

So with renewed enthusiasm and conviction, I have returned from Hattie’s workshop determined to find ways to improve my own classroom practice  even if my colleagues are not ready/prepared to get onboard.  This began yesterday when I set up the students at the beginning of the lesson to complete 70 minutes of learning that was self-directed.  A range of group-work and individual learning activities that had them engaging with each other, reflecting on their learning and deciding where to go from there.  Granted, these are features of the Literature Circles program we are working with this term but it was great to be able to sit and listen to the students talk to each other about what they have read, thought, questioned.  I was able to watch the dynamics of the group at work, who participated and who didn’t, which groups contained students with already well-developed collaborative skills, who took their thinking deeper to ask philosophical questions compared to those who focused on surface level knowledge.  It was fascinating!

The next step for me is to set up a Flip camera in the room during my lessons.  I going to use it to look back at my teaching and the learning that takes place during a typical lesson with both my year 7 and 11 classes.  I know they will look different but hope that creating an “observational classroom” will enable me to become a more empowering, influential and knowledgeable teacher, with the goal of one day becoming what Hattie calls an “expert teacher”.

Holiday homework from Hattie

Earlier in the year, the Head of Curriculum encouraged the Head of English and I to attend a series of workshops run by John Hattie, looking at data use for improving teaching and learning.  I would usually be a bit cynical about the true value of numerical data to inform my knowledge of my students’ capabilities but was assured that Hattie was a wonderful presenter with some great ideas.  So, along I went.

As a beginning LOTE teacher working in a P-12 context, I was most lucky to be exposed to a program that demanded that assessment be both ongoing and summative.  Students in my classes where accustomed to seeing me with my chronicle open or with observation sheets in my hands as we worked.  Particularly with my primary classes, discussions about improvement and mastery of skill level was the norm.  What I am not yet as proficient in, however, is the analysis of data from a numerical point of view.  Enter, Prof. John Hattie and his work on what makes a difference to student learning.

Hence, the holiday homework I have set for myself.  Hattie’s workshops, run in conjunction with the CEO Melbourne have prompted me to do some ‘real’ analysis of student achievement in my classroom.  A simple technique he suggested was to ensure that at the beginning of every unit of work, students complete a ‘pre-test’ so that the teacher is aware of their previous knowledge and misconceptions.  Students then complete a ‘post test’ at the unit’s conclusion.  What is of interest to me as a teacher, should be the improvement that students are able to make.  Whilst this itself doesn’t sound like anything spectacularly revolutionary, what is terrific, is that Hattie gives a numerical value to the improvement that we should expect to see from every student.  He calls this “effect size”.

My year 7 students have currently been working on a unit of work on Ancient Egypt.  For many of them, it is the first time that they have formally explored the notion of History as a discipline, so I was not at all surprised to learn that their actual historical skills were lacking at the beginning of the unit.  This week, I have taken a look at the post test that students completed during the final lesson of term 3.  Many were excited by the learning they had done in a mere five weeks and were proud of their achievements.  In his workshop, Hattie encouraged us to pop these two sets of results into a spreadsheet to determine the effect size experienced by each student, as a measure of the effectiveness of their learning.  I did this over coffee and brunch with two of my colleagues and was bursting with pride at my students’ progress.  It seems 24 out of my 25 students had experienced an effect size equal to or greater than Hattie’s magic 0.4.  I am not sure what happened to the other one, but at least now I know that she needs me to revisit the concepts seen last term to ensure that she is not left behind.

 Click here for more information about Prof John Hattie’s work on effect sizes


A big day outside of the classroom

I spent today with 20 wonderful students competing at Gymnastics Victoria’s Inter-School Gymnastics competition and will do the same tomorrow and Friday this week.  What an amazing opportunity to get to know a group of students in a sporting arena! Since beginning my life as a teacher, I have thrown myself whole-heartedly into the co-curricular programs of the schools in which I have worked.  House events, Music, Performing Arts, Public Speaking, Debating, Drama and Gymnastics – I have been involved with them all.  And what I love most is seeing kids that I know in the classroom excel outside of it.  Or even better, getting to know fantastic young women whom I would have otherwise had nothing to do with in the classroom context.

In spite of all of the great aspects of being heavily involved in the life of a school, I am beginning to question whether this is really such a sustainable way to live.  Teaching was never meant to be a 9-5 job, that’s for sure.  But even the great Dolly Parton told us that “It’s enough to drive you crazy it you let it.”  Not that I am going crazy, by any means.  But it did get me talking to my colleague, fellow coach and good mate, Nerida, about whether or not what we do defines us.  Am I what I do?  Or does what I do define who I am?

Without becoming too philosophical on a Wednesday evening, if I am defined by what I currently do, then I am quickly becoming a French-speaking, assessment correcting, gymnastics-coaching tap dancer.  But clearly there’s a whole lot more to me than that.  So for today, I think I’ve convinced Nez that what we do is because of who we are.  I teach because I care.  And I do so many things outside of the classroom because I value the relationships I am building with my students and my fellow colleagues.  Not bad for a days work!



2011 has been a period of change for me professionally – I left a fantastic position in a independent girls’ P-12 school and have gone back to my roots.  Flattered by the prospect of a Principal wanting me to be a part of their school, I have returned to my ‘alma mater’ and have set about establishing my professional identity.  A lot has changed since I graduated – the staff, the buildings and some of the philosophy behind what we do.  With a new Principal at the helm, I could not think of a better time to move forward in my career by going back to where it all began.

I do not regret the decision to move on at all.  Whilst your first school will probably always hold a special place in your heart, the move has made me appreciate my previous employer and colleagues in ways I wasn’t able to when I was a part of that community.  For one, the incredible people that I worked with.  How I miss the cynical banter over a coffee at Tre Fontaine, the trust that they showed in me in spite of my age and inexperience and the shared passion for our students and our teaching.  Let’s face it – the Staff Association functions and biennial conference weren’t bad either!




A little about me

The daughter of two passionate but over-worked teachers, I should have known better than to embark on a career in the teaching profession.   For the past three years I have been discovering that my interest lies in girls’ education.  I am currently exploring the possibilities of curriculum based leadership, however, in doing so, I’ve come to realise that I am equally motivated to explore pastoral-based opportunities that may arise in the future.

I enjoy most aspects of my job.  I love working with young people and the excitement of not knowing what the day will hold is possibly what enables me to get out of bed each morning excited about what the day will hold.  More than that, I love learning something new each day with my students.  I teach VCE French and am the leader of a team of teachers responsible for the implementation of an integrated English and Humanities unit for year 7’s.

This year, I’ve been developing my PLN through twitter (follow me @cathspurritt) and am constantly inspired by the fact that there are other teachers all over the world who love the business of teaching and learning as much as I do.