Teaching – Sailing & Navigating Through Change

This year I began teaching at a new school. I have just finished my first term. This is the first time in my career as a teacher that I have moved on from a school. I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to reflect on this “transition” as I have called it.

Preparing to Set Sail

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I feel I have been living this transition for some months now. It was late last year that I had to make the decision to accept an offer of moving to a new school.

I was ready to move on. In terms of the goals I had set for myself, of which most were Drama orientated, I felt I had achieved all that I could. I’d started a Drama Club, put on several Drama productions, produced the first musical at the school in many years, entered the kids into Drama festivals, competitions, sent them off to camps and auditions and just generally improved the profile of Drama within the school to something that now resembled respect. There was a solid foundation that someone new could come in and do something with.

Admittedly I was also a little burnt out and really wanted to focus on my classroom practice. Yes, I had survived the tumultuous first three years of being a new teacher but so much of those first few years had seen me focus on things outside the classroom that I felt as though the quality of my teaching had suffered at times.

My school was an absolute culture shock with its challenging students and constant loneliness due to my being the only Drama teacher in the school. I chose to swim rather than sink however, searching for every possible positive opportunity I could. I joined committees, became the Peer Mediation Co-ordinator and Year Adviser which, aside from every Drama thing I have achieved, is probably my biggest achievement and the most rewarding thing I have done as a teacher to date. I learnt about PLN’s and the power of Twitter and blogging and from there my teaching world opened and it was time to look for a new experience. I wasn’t an island any more. I had built a small raft and I wanted to try it out.

I had grown personally as well, outgrowing some things and growing into others. I became much more confident and comfortable in myself and who I was, no longer anxious, stressed and flighty.

Life however, takes you on its own path. Most things are beyond your control so I wasn’t sure when or what my next opportunity was going to be. I put a tentative plan into place and was happily working towards that. Of course, that is when life throws you its curve balls and forces you to make difficult decisions.

It was the most difficult decision I had had to make in some time due to, what seemed at the time, as really crummy timing.

To a degree there is still a part of me that feels enormous guilt at leaving some of my students behind, particularly my year group. I’m an emotional person. I became incredibly attached to them. Honestly, I felt somewhat mother-like and I had never experienced such appreciation from people whom I had shown genuine care for who weren’t my family or friends. It was overwhelming. My final term was bittersweet and very emotional for everyone, staff and students. Some of my most treasured memories that I will hold dear will certainly be from that time. I went from hating this school to struggling to leave. I never would have expected that in a million years when I started.

Sailing the High Seas

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I was familiar with my new school, having gotten to know some of the staff from the faculty through TeachMeet’s. One is now a very dear friend. Having a person to support me through this time made it a lot easier but also I was just much more confident in general because I now had experience under my belt. I knew what questions to ask, I knew that it would take time to get settled so I was patient with myself. Starting at the beginning of the year was also a massive plus! It’s amazing how much more structured school orientation programs for new staff have become.

I was most nervous about my senior classes. Having been in the school system a long time, they knew how to push buttons and also to let you know, very honestly I might add, as to what they expected from you. They wouldn’t let up until they thought I had earnt it either!

It was difficult not to make comparisons early on, something I was very conscious of, and still am because I didn’t want it to seem that my previous school was any better or worse than where I was now.

Treading Water

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I still feel as though I am settling. The transition is ongoing and will be for a while yet. I am in a bit of a lull on my raft. It doesn’t quite know which direction to go in because the wind hasn’t picked up yet. This does frustrate me because I am quite “gung-ho” when it comes to my work. I like to get in there and get my teeth stuck into things. I’d say my job forms a significant part of my identity and that without it I am lost.

In saying that too though, it has been good to reflect and to take time to think about where I want to go with things in terms of my teaching.

To be honest, I really don’t know. To a degree I don’t miss all the extra responsibilities and absolutely love being able to focus solely on my classroom practice. In the same breath, I do get bored easily.  It also seems, although most teachers won’t say it openly, it is expected that you take on something additional to that of your classroom responsibilities which I don’t mind doing, I just don’t know what to do. I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already done because I’ve done it. If you catch my drift.

The vastness of the ocean in front of me with no markers, no islands in sight, makes me uneasy. What do I look out for? Or do I just wait for the wind to carry me where ever? Part of the latter intrigues me but my controlling nature makes me want to have a larger degree of influence on my raft’s direction.

Yet, that’s life isn’t it? I don’t know where I am going with this whole teaching thing but I’m on my way to a new island and the unknown adventure is a little exciting but mostly completely nerve-racking. Everyone wants a little certainty right? At this stage I feel certain of nothing but I’m learning to sit quietly on my raft with that uncertainty by my side, getting better acquainted and trying to navigate this vast ocean together.

Photo Credit: Fiji 2014 by karlao

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TeachMeet Drama

I’m so excited to announce that I have organised the first TeachMeet Drama. Thursday 17th May, 4pm.

Please click here to be taken to the TeachMeet Wiki to sign up.

It was one of my goals for this year and I am so glad I have achieved it.

If you are not sure what a TeachMeet is you should definitely come along. TeachMeet is free professional learning run by teachers just like you and me. TeachMeets can be any size and can be held anywhere. Most of them have time allocated to chat with other teachers but they also run “Pecha Kucha’s” which are either 7 or 2 minutes long. To learn more about TeachMeet’s click here.

At our first TeachMeet Drama I’m shaking things up a bit and not having the Pecha Kucha’s but rather some “focus groups” which will be informal chats in groups about a topic to do with Drama teaching. If you are keen to present however we would absolutely love to have you.

It will be wonderful to meet new Drama Teachers from all sectors and grades.

Spread the word to all your colleagues even if you are not a Drama Teacher. Hope to see you all there.

The Key to Teaching

On Friday I attended the Teach Meet World Record Attempt at Australian Technology Park. I’ve blogged about Teach Meet before and will continue to do so because the concept is a simple, yet brilliant one. Networking and TPL all for the tiny price of: your time. For a teacher who has spent many years in isolation, not connecting with others and expanding her ideas, Teach Meet has been a breath of fresh air for me. I presented my first 2 minute Pecha-Kucha last October and I was asked to present again on Friday.

My presentation is in two parts: the powerpoint presentation that I didn’t actually end up showing on the night and a very rough transcript of what I said.

Before I launch in to what I actually said (I can’t quite believe I remember it all) I have to establish a bit of a context. I had a prop as part of my presentation. A silver box with a mystery gift inside. Read below and see if you can guess what it is…the mystery will be revealed at the end of the post.

Today I’m here to talk to you about the most amazing birthday gift that I have bought for Mr Alex W, who we saw doing the conga line earlier. I’ve known Alex for about six months. I met him at a Teach Meet and since then we have been conversing quite regularly over Twitter about all manner of things but mostly how to be a better teacher.

Alex is one of the most infectious, enthusiastic people that I know and I wanted to get him something to show him my appreciation. But I didn’t want to get him something kitsch like a mug, chocolates or a card. I wanted to get him something that showed him what education meant to me.

So off I went to Westfield, trawling the shops, feeling rather despondent because I couldn’t find anything that I liked. Then I came across this one shop and this one item…and it, ladies and gentleman, is what is in this box.

Now I want you to see if you can guess what I have bought Alex. So feel free at any time during my presentation, once you think you know what it is, to come up and have a look. Be careful though, it’s a little moody, so be nice.

As I looked at this gift I realised, not only is this gift the best birthday present. This gift is going to change the way Alex thinks about teaching forever. Not only the way Alex thinks, but the way all teachers think. So I had to share this at a Teach Meet right?

Anyway, this gift, links in perfectly with what I think education means to me right now. The other part of which is my keys. Literally, yes, because it opens the hundreds of doors to the classrooms I work in every day of every year, but also metaphorically. These keys, are the strategies that I have collected over the years and have up my sleeve to pull out magically when I need to. Some of the keys are new, some are old, some are pretty, some are patterned. These keys unlock the doors, the minds of the students in my classroom. Unlock their creativity, their potential, their ambition and desire to discover the amazing people they will one day become.

So it is important that I try every key, in every lock, in every possible way, every day to ensure my students are on their way to realising this.

The only way these keys can work though, is if you use what is in the box up here on stage, ladies and gentleman. So by now, you may have guessed what I bought Alex for his birthday, but if you haven’t please feel free to find me, or Alex now seeing as it is his gift, to take a look.

Thank you.

What’s your teaching philosophy? Has it changed over the years? I know mine has. Comments appreciated.

For more information on Teach Meet: visit their website or join the wiki.

Image Credit:

Keymaster (HDR), seanmcgrath, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0),

The Key to Teaching, @whartonag, Used with Permission.

Why Every Drama Teacher Should Try Twitter in 2012

Hands up if you’ve had the thought that Twitter is totally pointless? You know the one where you think to yourself, “why do people insist on telling everyone what they had for dinner?” We have all had that thought. Rightly so. There are people out there who tweet about dinner. Maybe even post a photo or perhaps link to a YouTube clip showing them preparing the meal. You think I’m joking.

I was a sceptic too. I thought, “How much social media does one person need?” It all seemed a bit too much and a little too hard to add another thing to my list of sites to surf when I got home from work of an afternoon. I was immune to swimming in the deep end of the pool on my own trying to keep my head above water, desperately needing to connect with others about my teaching but not knowing how.

But every web tool has a purpose if used in the appropriate way to get what you need. It ain’t called social media for nothing. What can this word “social” imply? Is it just to tweet about what you’re having for dinner or can it be something more?

That is why now I am a huge Twitter advocate. In January last year I participated in an Edublogs.org free Teacher Professional Development course.  It was called the “Kick Start Your Blogging” Teacher Challenge and it was showing teachers over four weeks how to create a blog and use it either as a personal Professional Learning Network (PLN) or as a class blog.The tutorials are still available and if you have not considered blogging before either personally or with your class I highly recommend this website. The tutorials are simple and easy to follow.

In the final weeks of the challenge we looked at building readership and one of the ways suggested was Twitter.

The advice I remember taking was sign-up and start with spending no more than 5 minutes a day on there. So that’s what I did.

Initially I tweeted to some of the other Teacher Challenge participants. Slowly I found links about Drama and bravely shared them using bit.ly to make them short links and therefore easier to tweet (tweets are only 140 characters long). Maybe someone would find what I had to share interesing?

Soon I built up the courage to respond to other teachers tweets. I started following a lot of teachers from all teaching areas as well as primary and high school teachers both in Australia and abroad. Eventually I struck up some friendships. Friendships that have become real life, face-to-face friendships, void of any psycho tendencies. True.

Teaching can be incredibly isolating. Particularly if you are the only teacher in your school teaching your subject. Or perhaps you are first year out or teaching out of faculty. We have our support networks within school but sometimes the day is so frantic you have barely had time to scratch yourself let alone sit down and discuss any ideas you may have or get resources and support from your colleagues. Twitter for me has become an added support system. It has provided me with inspiration, encouragement, support, as well as links to some excellent resources and discussions. About everything to do with education. I learnt about the TeachMeet project through Twitter and it has been another fabulous support network and resource that I encourage all private and public sector teachers to consider becoming a part of.

Whilst the Drama Teacher contingent is growing on Twitter it is still rather small and it would be wonderful to see more of us connecting.

So if you’re looking for a larger support network, new ideas for your teaching and learning practice then Twitter may be for you. Do the same thing I did: sign-up, log on for 5 mins a day and PLAY! Fail, tweet about your dinner and see what comes of it. You may be surprised by what you find.

My drama teaching has felt more invigorated and inspired since finding a larger support network. The collegiality and friendships I have formed through Twitter mean a lot to me.I don’t know what I was doing living in an isolation bubble for so long.

An Introduction to Twitter can be found here.

If you are already a Drama Teacher on Twitter and I have not connected with you I would love to.  Find me at my handle @karlao_dtn.

Share your thoughts with me in the comments. They are appreciated.

Image Credit:Tiny birds in my hand.. / Ilse / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Teachers Are Awesome. You Are Awesome. Keep Being Awesome.

I’ve been having a bit of a rough trot at school lately and am trying to channel all the resilience I’ve got.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge Glee fan and tonight this episode just happened to be on. It came at a good time. I thought I would share it with my network of readers.

I’m thankful that I now have a network of people who can support me when I’m finding it a bit tough. I’m also proud of the fact that I’m out there and admitting I’m finding it tough which is something that I find really hard to do but with the support of my PLN the tougher teaching moments don’t seem so hard.

So thank you.

Teachers are awesome. You are awesome. Keep being awesome.

Reflections on TeachMeet Sydney

I did something spontaneous recently. I signed up to the TeachMeet Sydney wiki and signed myself up to attend TeachMeet Sydney on Tuesday 6th September.

Since participating in the Kick Start Your Blogging Challenge back in January as part of the free Professional Learning Edublogs provides users, I have connected with many teachers through Twitter. I was unaware at that point that they actually have TeachMeets all around NSW! TeachMeet Sydney was an opportunity to meet many of the people I had connected with over Twitter for the first time…

…and I’m so glad I did 🙂

TeachMeet has a really great format: two blocks of three 7 minute presentations and two 2 minute presentations about anything teaching related. The presentations are streamed over the internet and can be followed on Twitter using the hashtag #tmsydney.

These presentations aim to connect participants with new ideas to use in their classroom. The great part is that at the end of the presentations there is an informal time in which participants can just connect and chat with each other about their schools and their ideas.

I was a little apprehensive at first I must admit but I have to say I’ve not met a more welcoming bunch of people in such a long time. The best part about it is putting faces to the names and tweets you see each night online. It was kind of like meeting long lost friends who are just incredibly accepting and supportive of what you do.

Since creating a PLN and connecting with other teachers worldwide on Twitter I have felt better supported and positive about the work that I do in the classroom each day. It stimulates my creativity, gives me hope and makes me feel valued.

If you’re feeling isolated in your school or are simply looking for a network of teachers to connect with I strongly recommend Twitter and attending a TeachMeet meeting near you.

Go HERE to find out more about TeachMeet in your local area.

For some fabulous educators to connect with, try some of these great people I met on Tuesday: @EduSum, @townesy77, @7Mrsjames, @whartonag, @Poska, @cpaterso, @henriettaMi, @betchaboy, @ajep, @mylescarrick, @FionaR_B, @malynmawby