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New Voice Scholars: Perspectives

Transforming Education

“The New Voice Scholarship is a fabulous opportunity for skilled and motivated educators to be recognised by their peers. ACEL is committed to giving-back to the profession, through the provision of world-class learning opportunities for up-and-coming leaders, and we are thrilled to welcome the 2017 Scholarship winners into the ACEL network.

There is also opportunity to have their voices heard through ACEL Publications and at events. All winners of the New Voice Scholarships were invited to write for the special issues of Perspectives, where they consider the following topic, with no limitations or directions, If you were able to transform education (given a metaphorical magic wand), what would you do?

These perspectives are, like our New Voice Scholars contexts, diverse and inspiring. I hope these articles challenge and inspire you to reflect further.”

Aasha Murthy, CEO ACEL

Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Head of Middle School
The Hutchins School, TAS

Letting off STEAM

A parent rang me, “My son will be late to school, he has locked himself in the bathroom.”

I asked, “Is he ok?”

Parent: “Yes, he is playing an online computer game and says he can’t leave the game yet. So, he won’t come out.”

Me: “Turn your Wi-Fi off, he will come out then.”

Parent: “I can’t do that; he will be furious at me.”

As I look out my office window and into a History class, I see 26 students inanely staring into their laptop screens. Each slowly scrolling through Google images in the mild hope that they may come across a picture vaguely relevant enough to copy and paste into their assignment. Hardly inspiring learning that’s worth coming to school for. Maybe I should tell the parent to leave her son in the bathroom.

Something is not adding up here. We are supposed to be inspiring a generation to become masters of technology but it seems the technology is starting to master us. We had all the best intentions. We designed inquiry, project-based learning tasks which could be cleverly scaffolded and differentiated. Then we built an online platform that could be used to complete, submit, assess and report on these tasks. It all sounds wonderful and innovative but in reality, the learning that is taking place is hardly inspiring.

My favourite class as a child was a Year 10 elective on U.S. History. Mr Gill, an American exchange teacher, would sit on the corner of his desk each lesson, and speaking in the first person, tell stories of Columbus, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. We were captivated.

Laptops and devices appear to be ruining the History class, just as iPads are killing dinner table conversation and online networking is destroying social skills. We need to find a technological balance, a point where our students gain the technical skills needed for the 21st century, but without losing the all-important joy of learning.

The ‘21st Century skills’ are neatly packaged by the acronym ‘STEAM’. The advanced use of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics to innovate and create. But in our haste to embrace these skills our schools have accidently taken a wrong turn.

STEM or STEAM is not about adding technology to what we were already doing. In fact, technology only makes up one fifth of STEAM. At the heart of STEAM is designing solutions to real world problems using creative thinking. Using technology exists only at the end of the STEAM journey when students use computer code to act out their carefully designed algorithms. Thankfully at no stage does it involve a Google image and a Word document.

As teachers, our classes are sacred places where we are given the privilege of inspiring the next generation. As soon as we put a screen between us and the students, we have lost them. We cannot control what happens at home, we just hope it doesn’t involve locked bathroom doors and online games. We can, however, control what happens in our classes, we can give them a reprieve from the online world, a haven from buzzing Snapchat messages and Twitter feeds. We can provide a sanctuary from technology where wonderful discussions and interactions take place. A place where stories are told and questions are asked. All the time having confidence that through being creative, thinking critically and solving complex problems, the skills of STEAM are being taught. Technology needs to exist but sparingly and with a purpose, algorithms can be designed, code can be written and robots programmed but other than that let’s try to keep the laptops and phones in the locker and begin to re-take our classrooms.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Education Officer (Learning Technology)  
Catholic Schools Office (Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle), NSW 

Re-imagining Teaching (and Learning) with Technology

When presenting at the NSW Education Symposium in 2016, I started with a provocation, that “technology makes no direct difference to current measures of learning”. I was, at the time, referring to the OECD report Students, Computers, and Learning – Making the Connection (2015) in which Andreas Schielcher notes in his forward that there were “no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in information and communication technology for education”. Unsurprisingly, Australia is one of those countries.

This reality has led many to question whether we are overinvested in technology in schools. As we see increasing amounts spent on 1:1 device programs, enabling infrastructure, and now the great data movement, we see little tangible impact on current measures of student outcomes. This has led many to question the place of technology in the classroom, as we saw in the media in early 2016 (SMH 1/4/16; The Australian 26/03/16).

This is an important interrogation, however it needs to go further than just question the current value of technology in the classroom. In fact, it has been routinely argued that we need to completely re-think and re-imagine teaching and learning with technology. This is a difficult task given the rate of change in technology, but a necessary one.

Firstly, we need to understand that we’ve added significant volume of new technology into classrooms and haven’t correspondingly added the professional development and training. In addition to the knowledge of and around technology, contemporary technology has presented a range of social, emotional, and physical challenges. Whilst there has been an attempt to address this from a curriculum perspective at the national level, it is disappointing that states like NSW still believe that we can simply ‘embed’ technology into classrooms where teachers and students are generally similarly ill-equipped. Likewise, we must recognise the impact that adding all this into schools has on the existing and often over-crowded curriculum.

Secondly, we’ve also assumed that technology is here to improve current practice. In 1992 Seymour Papert, arguably the father of educational technology, wrote the following:

Thinking about the future of education demands a labour of the imagination. The prevalent literal-minded, “what you see is what you get” approach measuring the effectiveness of computers in learning by the achievements in present-day classrooms makes it certain that tomorrow will always be the prisoner of yesterday… It is more like attaching a jet engine to an old-fashioned wagon to see whether it will help the horses. Most probably it would frighten the animals and shake the wagon to pieces, “proving” that jet technology is actually harmful to the enhancement of transportation.

Dewey (1916) puts it more succinctly: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday then we rob our children of tomorrow”. Technology can do far more than just simply replace the current teaching practices and processes. We’ve created a “misconstrued relationship between teachers and technology” (Zhao, 2016). Instead, Zhao and others suggest teachers should relinquish some of their teaching responsibilities to technology and shift their energy to do things that technology cannot do like teach, make a difference, and improve student outcomes. Zhao (2016) suggests we shouldn’t send a human to do a machine’s job, and I would suggest the opposite is also true.

If we can undertake Papert’s “labour of the imagination” and re-imagine teaching and learning with technology, we might be able to realise some of the investment we’ve made in that technology. This will mean recognising that technology in and of itself will not deliver change without substantial and sustained professional development and training. Further, that current technology is unlikely to make a substantial difference to skills like literacy and numeracy, but might be making a difference to those so called “soft skills” of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. It is also realising that technology literacy and use is a skill in and of itself. Further, it will also require educators to reposition technology so it is in a complementary rather than adversarial relationship with teachers. Importantly, it is also about building models of teaching and learning with technology that are “for practice, in practice and of practice” (Hunter, 2015). It is only through this labour that “the real contributions ICT can make to teaching and learning … [will be] fully realised and exploited” (Schiecher, 2015).


Bita, N. (2016) ‘Computers in class ‘a scandalous waste’: Sydney Grammar head’, The Australian, 26 March 2016.

Bagshaw, E. (2016) ‘The reality is that technology is doing more harm than good in our schools’ says education chief’, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2016.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan

OECD (2015) Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. Paris: OECD. Retrieved September 1, 2017 from

Papert, S. (1992) The Children’s Machine. USA: Harper Collins.

Zhao, Y., Zhang, G., Jing, J. & Qui, W. (2016) Never Send a Human to Do a Machine′s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes. London: Corwin.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Doctoral Candidate/Teacher Educator/Middle Leader 
The University of Sydney/St Catherine’s School Waverley, NSW

The magic of leading transformative pedagogy

‘A wand that isn’t a wand is just a stick.’ Nanny Plum.

In securing the future of education in Australia, have we reached a point of quiet, conceived crisis over standards and accountability? Political and bureaucratic leaders fantasise about waving a magic wand to instantly set the strategic direction for teachers and school leaders (Biesta, 2015; Marks & McCulla, 2016). Imagine a magic wand that would translate evidence-based decisions about curriculum, policy and pedagogy that are most beneficial to students into practice. Perhaps in the absence of magic, leaders and teachers are left with a stick of narrow accountability (Lingard, Thomson & Sellar, 2016; Marks & McCulla, 2016). I believe that there is still pedagogical magic in schools, well-articulated in Graduate Standard 1 from the AITSL Australian Professional Standards for Teachers: Know students and how they learn.

Teachers aspire to be pedagogical magicians. I believe that when teachers lead pedagogy, they bring magic into teaching and learning as they translate the curriculum for their students through creativity and a deep understanding of individual student needs in their classrooms (Smith & Lovat, 2003). Parents and students are both aware when teachers know students and how they learn. School leaders have the indirect capacity to enable or constrain the magic (Robinson, Lloyd & Rowe, 2008).

Pedagogy is the magic of education. A British animated television series involving Nanny Plum shows her using a magic wand to create wonderful learning adventures in Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. While the elves work hard they really are only keeping students busy. The magic is missing because the elves have neglected to take the time to know their students and how they learn, and why (Biesta, 2015). Nanny Plum encourages individual student fairies at elf school to disrupt ‘real’ learning with creativity, fantasy and fun.

Students demonstrate creativity in different ways and decide for themselves what is creative (Kaufman & Baer, 2012; Jeffrey & Craft, 2009). Magical learning is character building as curriculum connects with imagination and self (Craft, 2003; Biesta, 2015; Mockler & Groundwater-Smith, 2013). The creativity connects the fairies’ hearts deeply with learning as they take dangerous risks with enjoyment.

The simplicity of Standard 1 requires no ordinary wand held in the hand of a transformative educator. Knowing students and how they learn invites the values and attributes of an intuitive, strategic, inventive, creative, collaborative and communicative teacher. Multiple demands on teachers frequently existing within practices in the school culture such as curriculum pressures, timetabling, communication, and even leadership practices can enable or constrain knowing students and how they learn. Artist Vincent Van Gogh lamented, how difficult it is to be simple. Knowing students takes time, and practices including questioning techniques, personalised learning, inquiry, metacognitive strategies, assessment for learning practices, and the effective use of data (Hattie, 2015; Hess, 2009). Students gain an increased understanding of their capacity, or their own magic, through a diverse rather than a narrow curriculum, that explores numerous skills and aspects of their social, emotional and spiritual development in creative and imaginative ways (Biesta, 2015). A narrow curriculum is a stick.

Educational magic comes alive when pedagogical leaders support the co-creation of shared pedagogy in dynamic learning communities (Hallinger, 2007; Pettit, 2010). Pedagogical magic is driven by praxis, or morally formed action about how and why teaching and learning is conducted (Kemmis et al, 2014; Smagorinsky, 2010). There is no quick fix. Waving one magic wand may deny teachers and students the very learning opportunities that the process of shared professional learning and reflection create. It may just be a stick. Teachers need to solve problems of practice together through educational inquiry. They may reach consensus about pedagogical approaches or agree to disagree (Alexander, 2008; Schiro, 2013, Mockler & Groundwater-Smith, 2009). Distributing the pedagogical magic into the hands of all teachers and students would set a transformative strategic direction in every learning community.

If the moral purpose of education is to benefit students, we need to examine critically the practical elements that enable and constrain creativity and learning in schools. If every teacher and every student is able to wave their own pedagogical wand to know students, and how and why they learn, we shall transform education.

References (2017). Teacher Standards. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Aug. 2017].

Alexander, R. (2008). Essays on Pedagogy. London: Routledge.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (2107). Nickelodeon UK

Biesta, G. (2015). What is Education For? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), pp.75-87.

Craft, A. (2003). The limits to creativity in Education: Dilemmas for the Educator. British Journal of Educational Studies, 51(2), pp.113-127.

Hallinger, P. (2007). Research on the practice of instructional and transformational leadership: Retrospect and prospect. ACEL Monograph Series, 40(7), pp.2-6.

Hattie, J. (2015). What works best in education: The politics of collaborative expertise. London: Pearson.

Hess, F. (2008-9). The New Stupid. Educational Leadership, 66(4), pp.12-17.

Jeffrey, R. & Craft, A. (2009). The Universalisation of Creativity. In A. Craft, R. Jeffrey and M. Liebling (Eds). Creativity and Education. London: Continuum

Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (2014). Changing Practices, Changing Education. Springer: Wagga Wagga, Australia: Springer.

Smagorinsky, P. (2010). The Culture of Learning to Teach: The self-perpetuating cycle of conservative schooling, Teacher Education Quarterly, 37(2), pp.19-31.

Kaufman, J.C., & Baer, J. 2012 Beyond New and Appropriate and who decides what is creative? Creativity Research Journal. 24(1), pp.83-91.

Lingard, B., Thomson, P. , & Sellar, S. (2016). National Testing in Schools, An Australian Assessment. Oxon: Routledge.

Marks, W. & McCulla, N. (2016). Australia: Halfway to anywhere. In D. Fink (Ed.) Trust and Verify; The real keys to school improvement. UCL:IOE Press

Mockler, N. and Groundwater-Smith, S. (2013). Participative research with children and young people in schools: Adumbration or full voice? European Council for Educational Research Conference, 2013, Istanbul.

Mockler, N. and Groundwater-Smith, S. (2009). Seeking the unwelcome truths: Action learning beyond celebration. Pedagogy in Practice Conference, Newcastle.

Pettit, P. (2010). From data-informed to data-led? School leadership within the context of external testing. Leading & Managing, 16(2), pp.90-107.

Robinson, V.M.J., Lloyd, C.A. & Rowe, K.J., (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: An analysis of the Differential Effects of Leadership Types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(5), pp.635-674.

Schiro, M.S. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Smith, D. & Lovat, T. (2003). Curriculum: Action on Reflection. Sydney, NSW: Social Science Press.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Executive Teacher
The Woden School, ACT

The ‘Why’ of Education

In this data-driven, evidence-based world, being asked to write my opinion about what I would change in education has been both an exciting and challenging task. Mark Twain famously claimed that, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” My response reflects on the ‘why’ of education and seeks to secure a future based not so much on what will or may change, but what we can reasonably predict will not change.

Exploring a student’s unique strengths, extending and scaffolding them as they learn is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher. If we want Australia to be a society of people who are confident, creative, capable, resourceful and resilient then this needs to be reflected in our education system. As identified in the Australian Curriculum, 21st century learners need more than key learning areas to thrive post-school. However, the current assessment and reporting mechanisms place significant value on specific key learning areas implying they are the purpose of education. For the education system to truly prepare our students for life after school, we need to find a balance between personal wellbeing and progress.

Wish 1: Assessment and reporting - no more A-E grades

The focus on standardised testing and the A-E grading of students has not produced an education system with improved student outcomes. Comparison and competition between peers at school and through social media does not help young people flourish. For many students, comparison and competition creates an environment that is counterproductive to learning and wellbeing. Similarly, the competition and comparison between teachers, schools and education systems does not help educators to be confident, creative, capable, resourceful and resilient.

What has not changed in education is the importance of students having positive relationships, that they are motivated and determined to achieve, and that they feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach their goals. To secure the future of education, it is important to make learning more personalised and meaningful.

Wish 2: Student coaching

Three-way interviews, parent-teacher-student, have been used in various schools over the years. However, I would adopt a model in which the teacher takes on a mentoring/coaching role, working collaboratively with the parent and student to define and support student outcomes. This approach is holistic, striving to build a relationship between school and home and maintaining balance between the academic, physical, spiritual, social/emotional and mental progress of the student.

The purpose is for the student to be at the centre, reflecting on the areas where they are going well, what they enjoy, identifying strengths and growth areas, and setting short and long-term goals. Through coaching, students will cultivate a support network and over the years develop the emotional intelligence to reflect on their wellbeing and progress. They set goals that are relevant to them and develop essential skills for adult life beyond school.

Wish 3: Project-based learning

To make learning more meaningful, project-based learning provides the environment for students to connect with the curriculum across all key learning areas and capabilities. As part of the coaching model, students identify a real-life problem then work either individually or with a team to find solutions to the problem. Thus, the cycle of personal goal setting, project-based learning and reflection become the assessment and reporting.

A focus on developing the balance between wellbeing and progress that is the pathway to meaningful life-long learning may be the answer to the ‘why’ of education.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Koorie Education Manager
Department of Education and Training, VIC

If I had a metaphorical wand, what would I do to transform education?

Transformation is no easy task, irrespective of the urgency or political agenda relating to educational outcomes for any organisation or public sector. Particularly when the change relies on the people themselves in those settings to become the change. The historical and longstanding disparity between Aboriginal* and non-Aboriginal educational outcomes requires a major effort to transform the existing results to the acceptable and appropriate standard. The need for systemic change to support and improve cultural responsiveness in education will be the fundamental catalyst to effect any real improvement to increase outcomes and to create sustainability in inclusive delivery of educational services. As an education collective, we should not strive for less.

Why is the past so important?

Clear barriers to access and participation in early years, education and post compulsory services has been identified through a myriad of research to ascertain under-representation of Aboriginal people within a universal education service system. A range of inhibiting factors and studies show a continued high incidence of real or systemic racism experienced by Aboriginal people in the education sector compared to non-Aboriginal people (Vic Health, 2013). This can profoundly affect access, engagement and attribute to the contemporary trauma-related attitudes by Aboriginal people toward their lack of engagement with the education system and may have an entrenched effect from a historical view. The evidence of these effects may continue as reflected in current education achievement data nationally and at a local level.

Empowered leaders and transformers

Creating change begins with responsible leadership and inclusive practice across all levels of education to reflect on how responsive we are to the education needs of Aboriginal people and communities. Our ability to create social change is within our own jurisdiction of educational responsibility by simply building personal knowledge and understanding about the contemporary issues experienced by Aboriginal people today. Stronger investment in those who will be the greatest influence to create educational success will be in classrooms and learning settings where cultural responsiveness and understanding will be the catalyst for change for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Equally important, a culturally responsive education environment will be the foundation to building a culture of respect and trust. The change proxy will be the mutual understanding of the issues facing Aboriginal people and the engagement barriers for non-Aboriginal people. This may encourage dispelling the myths of perceived low expectations, tokenism and stereotypes of Aboriginal people and create a common ground to strengthen culturally responsive best practices.

Toward our future

Building system capability for change includes a collective voice in the way we do business with the people it affects most, particularly for improved educational results. This principle should be encouraged at the highest level of government to create sustainable Aboriginal education policy to the school level when developing an Individual Education Plan for an Aboriginal student in the classroom. A consultative partnership approach can strengthen relationships, collaborative decision-making based on localised or individual needs and collective accountability in working toward success in educational opportunities (Marrung, 2016).

The vision to reach the best educational outcomes for Aboriginal people lies within the commitment and dedication of all educational leaders everywhere, irrespective of level.


* The term ‘Aboriginal’ in this document includes Torres Strait Islanders

Vic Health 2013, Mental Health Impacts of Racial Discrimination in Victorian Koorie Communities (LEAD-Vic Health) Survey Results 2013,Victorian Government, Melbourne, accessed 1 September 2017

Department of Education and Training 2017, Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan, 2016 - 2026, Victorian Government, Melbourne, accessed 1 September 2017

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Science and Digital Technologies Specialist Teacher
West Beechboro Primary School, WA

Teachers matter: Let’s alter the narrative

I’m sure most of us had a childhood dream. Perhaps it was to be a super hero, a rock star, or an astronaut. My dream was to be a teacher; it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. I had always considered teaching to be the perfect career choice for me, and I imagine my seven-year-old self would be astounded to know that I didn’t originally pursue this dream.

I know precisely why I didn’t become a teacher earlier. I listened to the voices of peers, teachers, family members and society that repeatedly implored, “Why would you go into teaching? You did too well at school to end up a teacher.” The reality was, if you performed well academically, you were expected to pursue seemingly more challenging careers rather than waste your talents, skills and abilities in teaching. Perplexed, I listened to those voices and studied Occupational Therapy, solely due to the fact that my results allowed me to, not because it was my dream. Perhaps I too was convinced teaching was just a career for those who couldn’t do any better.

Years later, I finally stopped listening to those voices and followed my childhood dream – a decision I have not regretted for the briefest moment. I love teaching. I am immensely passionate about making a positive impact on the lives of young children. However, if I had that metaphorical wand, I would wholeheartedly wish for teaching to be perceived in our society as a valued career choice – one held in esteem, and that teachers would be highly regarded by students, families and society in general. It bewilders me how, in 2017, we still hear “Oh, you’re ‘just’ a teacher”, and that the narrative to students who do well academically is still “Oh, you’re so good at science/maths you should be a doctor/engineer/physicist.”

How often do we encourage our students’ dreams to become teachers? In particular, students who perform well academically. My son, who attends an academically selective high school, knows of only one student who has even considered becoming a teacher. “You don’t go to our school to become a teacher.” I have had parents of young children discuss their desired future career choices for their child with me – this has never been teaching. I sat next to a man on a plane who, before he knew of my profession, told me how disappointed he was that his intelligent daughter chose to become a teacher. Similarly, my daughter was recently advised by her teacher that she should be a doctor because she “has the brains” for it. Yet I implore her, and others like her, to ignore the voices; to discover their passions and follow their dreams, especially if that happens to be teaching. The catch phrase “Those who can’t do, teach” may be an old one, but it’s deeply entrenched in our society. We must alter this perception and challenge that cliché so we perceive that “Those who can do, teach”.

Sunny Varkey (2013) highlighted the declining status of teachers in many countries, creating the Global Teacher Status Index and Global Teacher Prize in an effort to ensure teachers are treated with equal regard as other highly-skilled professionals. He suggested that when there is a lack of respect for teachers, students don’t listen to them, parents don’t support messages coming home from school, and most significantly, new graduates disregard teaching as a profession. Additionally, when recent PISA (Schleicher, cited in Bagshaw 2016) and NAPLAN results indicated the decline of the education system in Australia, the teachers (and teaching quality) were primarily blamed. Is it possible that the issue is far greater than poor teacher quality, falling back to society and how we view those who choose to be teachers; even the fact that we discourage the best potential talented teaching candidates from pursuing this career?

Schleicher (cited in Bagshaw 2016) highlighted that high-achieving education systems, like that of Finland’s, have selective teacher training with high entry requirements, with teachers requiring Masters degrees, and priority given to ongoing teacher development. Furthermore, teachers are esteemed, graduates compete for teaching jobs and their country’s academic results benefit. It’s unlikely people ever say, “Oh, you’re ‘just’ a teacher” there. Imagine if the seven-year-old students in Australia who dream of becoming a teacher didn’t get discouraged because they’re deemed too smart for it, but instead received encouragement. Varkey (2013) proposed that the greatest positive transformation to education occurs when we recruit the finest candidates into our profession. Let’s use that wand so that teenagers, who are passionate about becoming a teacher don’t get told, “Oh, you don’t want to be ‘just’ a teacher.” Imagine if high-achieving students left high school to compete to get into teaching degrees; if teachers were paid on scales similar to other highly-skilled professionals and were celebrated in the way we celebrated actors, athletes, doctors and astronauts? Imagine if we invested in increasing the quality of our teacher training and ongoing professional learning of our teachers.

Let’s raise the standards and alter the narrative. Let’s celebrate and acknowledge the incredible teachers we have for the amazingly positive impact they make each day, and do our part to nurture, train and support the passionate, dedicated and intelligent teachers of the future. Wand, or no wand, the change starts with us.


Bagshaw, E 2016, ‘OECD education chief Andreas Schleicher blasts Australia’s education system’ Available from [15 March 2016]

Varkey, S, 2013, Valuing teachers is about more than their salaries, World Education Blog. Available from [14 October 2013]

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Technology Innovation Coordinator
Shenton College, WA 

If I had a metaphorical wand, what would I do to transform education?

At the risk of entirely misunderstanding the question, I would propose to you that entertaining the idea of a metaphorical wand in education is – to my mind, at least – a thoroughly dangerous one.

When we reflect on the (presumably magical) wand, what comes to mind? My own thinking gravitates towards instantaneous, painless fixes, the capacity to grant unrealistic wishes and a tendency towards ‘one size fits all’-style solutions. There can be little doubt that the concept of the wand is an attractive one to educators and school leaders, both in its simplicity and its promise to quickly and tidily address the complex challenges we face every day in our schools.

Historically, education has been battered by wands of various descriptions – and accordingly, the examples that come to mind will be unique to the historical context of the individual educator or school leader. In my most recent school context, I held a teacher leader role where I was responsible for building staff capacity around the meaningful integration of ICT to improve teaching and learning. To extend the metaphor, it is worth noting in this instance that the wand I had been nominated to wield didn’t necessarily have the best reputation in the magic store, and could arguably be held at least partly responsible for casting a few undesirable spells in recent times.

A key component of leading this work was deconstructing the idea of ICT as a metaphorical wand with staff and students – there was a nexus between the promise of this particular wand and how that promise was translating into the school’s current reality. Bridging that gap was ultimately achieved through building relationships characterised by trust, respect and a willingness to talk honestly about the wand that wasn’t working. Those relationships laid the foundations for conversations where we could begin to weave what I think of as the real magic in schools – exciting opportunities to reimagine what ICT could look like in the contemporary classroom, clearer expectations of what ICT might truly offer us in terms of improvement in classroom practice and, critically, the chance to restore the faith of teachers who had been frustrated by their initial experiences.

It is important to note in the example I’ve referenced above that this change was the result of a collaborative effort – an honest coaching conversation between educators. As a result, I am reluctant to address the question in relation to the focus on what ‘I’ would do. At the heart of a successful school leadership philosophy is the understanding that the transformational change we are looking for is never going to be achieved through the efforts of a single individual, no matter how talented they might happen to be. As educators and school leaders, we know that the complexities associated with leading a school demand – and deserve – solutions that are developed in the spirit of collaboration and consultation, in the spirit of ‘we.’

It is widely accepted that the quality of our questions constitutes a critical element of our teaching practice. Respectfully, I cannot help but wonder – is there a better question that we ought to be asking of ourselves, particularly when we consider the vital importance of securing the future of education?

It is my contention that transformative change in education will not be brought about by a metaphorical wand, but that is not to suggest that magical things don’t happen in schools – they most certainly do. The truth is, the real magic happens when we surrender our wands, seek to better understand each other and recognise that we all have an important role to play in the conversations that will bring about the collective transformation of the Australian education system.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

ICT Learning & Teaching Leader
St. Mark’s Primary School, VIC 

Be wise enough not to be reckless, but brave enough to take great risks.” - Frank Warren

I’m sure that most teachers and leaders would agree that one of the most powerful gifts that we can give our students is to foster and develop the positive connotations around failure, effort, persistence and having a growth mindset.

I’m sure that they would also agree that if students are not making mistakes and learning from them, they’re not developing as they should be.

I would argue that if you are not making mistakes as a teacher and learning from them, you are not developing as you should be either. I would also argue that if you are not willing to take risks as a leader of a school community, the likelihood of the school maintaining relevance in a modern world remains very slim.

Modern students are encouraged to take risks in their learning. As teachers and leaders, we should be encouraging ourselves to do the same. If we are not failing and learning from these failures, we really need to be asking ourselves if we are daring to be audacious at all.

If we are serious about providing the best possible education for our students, we need to face the reality that the traditional schooling that we have inherited is inadequate. If we want to change the way our classrooms and schools operate, then we must put the expectation upon ourselves to dare to do things differently, better and more deliberately. Progressive change in our schools goes against the traditional notion of schooling where educators teach masses of content in an orderly and easily digestible way that is ultimately measured on a report card or a test score. We can avoid the ‘same old, same old’ if we decide it is time for us to embrace change and approach our professional practice with a willingness to innovate, try new technologies and pedagogies, and constantly reflect upon and improve students’ classroom experiences.

Organisations and schools are facing times of dramatic change, reflective of the world around us. Therefore, the school community and individual teachers need to be comfortable with the constant questioning of and reflecting on current practices. As creatures of comfort, we tend to find the familiarity of daily practice comforting and predictable. A new process, idea or organisational change becomes a very threat to that because it is in opposition to what we know and expect.

The human brain is hardwired to keep us safe, the consequence of which is to be habitually averse to change. We tend to stick to tried and tested units of work rather than embrace new methods. We wouldn’t want to look silly in front of our students if that new gadget or gizmo didn’t behave on the day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the mess or chaos that might ensue if we gave a bit more freedom and autonomy to students in the classroom.

The reality of change is that it is both hard and uncomfortable. Another simple truth is that you are likely to get resistance when you try something new.

We plead with our students to take risks in their academic work, yet many adults in our system seem to stay frozen in time, rarely changing their classroom structure, embracing a new technology, reimagining a lesson plan, or redesigning school systems and processes. Even when we have the best intentions, sometimes we fall back on what is easy, known or comfortable for us. Change is hard, it has to be, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth doing at all. But change is also an opportunity. If we embrace this mindset, we are more likely to see better results.

In every single school day, we have the freedom to make choices, but we make up things to be afraid of. We struggle with the tension of change initiatives when there is the possibility that they might just work, but we also realise that they might not work. We invent threats, we seek out things that could go wrong, all so we can avoid the fear of failure. In the end, we push ourselves away from the opportunities right in front of us.

An open mindset to learning should be visible and accepted by all stakeholders of a school community. We have to let go of our ego, and embrace a learner attitude rather than an expert attitude. Otherwise, leaders won’t want to show weakness in front of their teachers, and teachers won’t want to show weakness in front of students and parents.

What would our young people gain from us, if we did a better job at showing that we are all learners?

If students are to take risks, then their teachers must create an environment to take risks. It’s up to the leaders to grow a culture to take those risks.

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Dean of Teaching and Learning Innovation
Ormiston College, QLD 

Leadership actions matter: It begins with you!

Recent years have brought a crescendo of support for today’s schools to facilitate the development of new skillsets and mindsets that will enable students to thrive amidst the changes and challenges of the 21st Century. The most forward-thinking schools will continually assess the opportunities that emerging technologies bring to the process of teaching and learning.

While some schools embrace and lead the adoption of future focussed pedagogies and improved learning through technology, others struggle to achieve any real traction in their schools.

How can school leaders best transform school-wide initiatives to effectively lead improvement and drive innovation in a rapidly changing era?

Leadership actions matter.

If we truly are to respond to the shift required in education in the 21st Century, then the fundamental C.U.L.T.U.R.E of a school must also change. In the most responsive and relevant schools, several characteristics continually emerge as the key for reimaging the learning process to ensure that students are future ready.

Create opportunities for sharing and showcasing of work

In a rapidly changing world, teachers require the opportunities to connect, share, reflect and learn from each other. It is important that schools are nurturing an environment that values and promotes the continuous sharing and showcasing of best practice. This includes encouraging staff to share and showcase work via digital and physical spaces such as online forums, informal sharing of initiatives during face to face meetings, connecting with the wider community using social media, and encouraging professional learning communities so that teachers can collaboratively work together in areas of interest.

Use resources wisely

The most innovative school leaders know that investing in professional development is just as important as selecting the right technology to use in a school. Therefore, it is important that school leaders align their physical, organisational and technology resources to the school’s strategic priorities. This requires some creative thought as to how to allocate resources to help to develop, sustain, and drive meaningful innovation. Early investment is crucial in ensuring that teachers are provided with the essential knowledge, skills and support to continuously evaluate and improve teaching and learning programs that advance student learning, creativity and innovation, in and beyond the classroom.

Lead by example

To expect teachers to do what school leaders are not doing themselves will be a barrier to driving innovation and transformation in schools. School leaders need to ensure that they are modelling the change they wish to see. This is achieved by their rhetoric matching their actions. Rather than imposing change, it is essential that school leaders are setting an example via their own practice. When teachers see leaders working side by side, displaying enthusiasm and optimism to work together in creating future directions for the school, and facing the same challenges during times of uncertainty, it illustrates that it is a shared endeavour, and encourages others to embrace and support the change.

Think big but start small

Creating a shared vision is an essential for any organisation as it provides a strong driving force for ongoing and systemic practice development; however, the most difficult aspect is moving past the visioning stage by articulating measurable goals and resulting outcomes. Developing a school strategic plan with long-term and short-term goals will provide a detailed roadmap of how a school will achieve their priorities. The key is to think big, but start small; articulating achievable actions that will ensure the shared vision is turned into reality.

Uncover potential

A leader’s strength can also be the greatest weakness. It is a complex and changing world, a leader can’t be an expert at everything. Uncovering potential within a school empowers staff to unleash their talents and become leaders themselves. By empowering teachers at all levels across the school to make decisions and solve problems, school leaders can build on their key strengths and shared expertise to bring about sustainable school improvement.

Recognise achievement

It is important to celebrate and showcase the success of a school by recognising the achievements of teachers as leaders in the field of innovative 21st century teaching and learning. Celebrating individual and collective success will continue to motivate and empower teachers to try new practices, lead initiatives and take risks.

Eliminate the excuses

Developing the skill sets and mindset that will see students cope well with the changing nature of work and life will require teachers to continually adapt methods and practice to respond to these changes. For this to happen, school leaders need to eliminate the excuses of why something can’t be accomplished. Just as we know that our students are individuals who learn at different rates and in diverse ways, so do our teachers. To cater for the range of learning styles, it is important to provide differentiated professional learning programs to ensure that all teachers are empowered to be resourceful, flexible, creative and innovative.

The world is in the age of the digital disruption. If we truly want students to be future ready and cope well with the ongoing disruptions of the 21st Century, then we need to dramatically shift our processes so we are responsive and relevant to the needs of society and the workforce.

Leadership actions matter. It begins with you!

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Senior Teacher
Lajamanu School, NT 

A great start for ALL Children

The first five years

Early years experiences are critical to the development of a child. Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through stimulation. This stimulation provides the building blocks for learning throughout life. By the age of three, a child’s brain will have reached almost 90 percent of its adult size.

The development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including relationships, experiences and environment. Just as positive experiences can assist with healthy brain development, children’s experiences with maltreatment, such as abuse and neglect, can have negative effects on the brain’s development. There is evidence that abuse and neglect results in altered brain functioning, including changes to the structural, chemical, emotional and behavioral functions of the brain (Shonkoff 2012).

Sadly, many Australian children are exposed to chaotic environments during this time. According to the 2015 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC 2015), one in five Australian children start school vulnerable in their social, emotional or cognitive development and will fail to catch up. The data also suggested that where children live can have an impact on their development. While only 21 per cent of children living in major cities were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domains, the percentage of developmentally vulnerable children living in very remote areas was more than double at 47 per cent. Furthermore, socio-economic status also suggested impact on children’s development. Almost one in three children in the most disadvantaged communities were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain. This is in contrast to children living in areas not experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, where only one in six children were developmentally vulnerable on one or more domain.

As educators in Australia, how can we address this issue? If the most influential period of brain development is before a child turns three, and the child isn’t entering the education system until they turn five.

Family as First Teachers

Originally a program to support remote Indigenous families and communities, the Family as First Teachers (FaFT) program is now expanding into urban sites across the Northern Territory. The FaFT program aims to improve lifelong education, health and wellbeing for young children prior to school entry, as well as their families. This is done by establishing parent engagement in early education, building the capacity of families to support healthy development of young children, and collaborating with partner agencies and services in the community.

The FaFT program utilises the Abecedarian Approach Australia (3A). 3A is a set of evidence-based strategies that have been proven to maximise children’s learning outcomes by enriching and enhancing adult and child interactions. The Abecedarian Approach was designed and continues to focus on intervention for children who begin life ‘at risk’ due to social and biological factors. With over 40 years of randomised trials, internationally and in Australia, 3A has demonstrated effectiveness in promoting positive and long-lasting changes in children’s life outcomes (Ramey, Sparling & Ramey, 2012).

What would I do to transform education?

My wish for education in Australia is for all students to have the best possible start to their education. For schools in low socio-economic areas, all over Australia, to adopt a family-orientated early learning program in their school, such as the Family as First Teachers program. This program would deliver targeted early learning support for children (0-3) that encourages positive relationships with children and their families, so that they are committed to learning together, whilst offering a transitioning pathway for families into the school community. This program would collaborate with other agencies and services in its community, to offer additional support to families, such as community health workers, social workers, etc. Lastly, this program would offer a safe, nurturing environment for families to come to seek help, guidance and support.


Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) 2015, Australian Early Development Census national report 2015 (A snapshot of early childhood development in Australia), Canberra

Ramey, C.T. Sparling, J., & Ramey, S.L 2012, Abecedarian: The Ideas, the Approach, and the Findings, Los Altos

Shonkoff, J. P 2012, The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Assistant Principal-Literacy Coach
Lilydale District School, TAS 

Below is a letter that the Department of Education might have written to me.

Dear Miss Venter,

Thank you for your letter identifying your concerns about a deficit from the 21st century toolkit issued to beginning teachers by the Department of Education.

Your letter has brought to our attention that graduates do not appear to have been issued with the complete 21st century learning toolkit – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. It appears that the trauma-informed practice component, so vital to the beginning teacher in 2017 has been omitted from the kit. We are deeply sorry and we would like to apologise. This metaphorical wand has been issued as we have come to realise that the 21st century classroom needs a little extra something. The capabilities of the wand and the need for it, will become evident from the research that we have cited below.

We understand that in 2008, you accepted a teaching position at what would be considered ‘a challenging school’, and that you didn’t realise that no-one wanted to teach there. We were shocked when we heard people saying: ‘Why would you want to teach at St Elsewhere’s, there’s no hope for those kids.’ We were touched by your concern that your colleagues were not adequately prepared for the complexities of trauma that your students were facing. On behalf of the Department of Education, I would like to honour your commitment to supporting your young students and their parents at St Elsewhere School.

The Wand for Trauma-Informed Practice

It has become more apparent that many of our current learners are severely impacted by trauma. The Australian Institute of Family Studies’ statistics show total notifications for childhood abuse in Australia for 2011-2012 was 252,962 and in 2015-2016 was 355,935 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017a).

We have included for your interest, an excerpt from Tobin’s (2016) research which supports your observations and recommendations.

Children who experience trauma may show varying signs of short-term distress as they try to cope with the experience, for example, sadness, anger, anxiety, disengagement, poor concentration or sleep problems (p. 2). Unfortunately, traumatised children may feel teachers do not understand their needs and school supports after trauma exposure may decline over time (Dyregrov, 2004), although research suggests that effects of trauma exposure may be long lasting. Alisic (2011) notes that research to date has rarely considered the role of the teacher and school in promoting resilience after trauma exposure. However, many key developmental pathways affected by trauma exposure can also be supported within schools to help children re-establish self-regulatory capacities and healthy development (p. 11).

We note that you have completed a Master of Counselling, specialising in child and adolescent grief, loss and trauma before starting at St Elsewhere and we are interested to know how you feel that it has helped you. You mentioned in your letter that your grief and trauma studies informed your teaching practice and helped you to make connections with traumatised children who other teaching colleagues found difficult to understand.

In her research, Tobin (2016, p. 11) writes that:

Trauma-informed emotional and behavioural responses may make it challenging for teachers to respond positively and predictably to traumatised children (Downey, 2007). The development of positive attachment may be helped through a teacher’s ‘unconditional positive regard’ for a child (Brunzell, Waters, & Stokes, 2015), warmth and expressing joy in a child’s accomplishments (Cole et al., 2005). As many traumatised children experience difficulties in school functioning and may have poor self-concept, it is important for traumatised children to feel that teachers and schools consistently care about and appreciate them, regardless of how well they perform in school (Dods, 2013).

We realise that dealing with grief and trauma is a vital skillset which is missing from the university curriculum. Facilitating teachers to view children’s behaviours through a ‘trauma-sensitive lens’ will enable educators to respond in a manner that promotes resilience and recovery (Craig, p. 28). In order to secure the future of education, we feel the trauma- informed practice wand is an integral component of teacher practice until professional learning in this key area catches up.

Yours sincerely,
Department of Education

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Posted October 16, 2017 by Nerisha Harilal

Senior Teacher
NT Department of Education, NT 

If I had a metaphorical magic wand, I would use it to grant educators a power. A power to see into the future, the future for which we are preparing our students for.

In the context of the current world, where uncertainty seems to sit behind every corner, how can we prepare our students for the future whilst in the midst of a ‘transformation’ that is not yet complete?

As an educator, currently completing a research project on collaborative STEM learning, I’ve explored publications on the future of education. A recent report on innovation and creativity within the national workforce found that despite Australia’s ambitions, the country is not producing enough students skilled in STEM (The House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, 2017). This apparent hard slog to drive innovation is not unique in Australia, as other nations report on developing innovation, creativity and future work skills. Skills such as transdisciplinary subject knowledge, design mindset and virtual collaboration (Future Work Skills 2020, Institute for the Future, 2011).

The Future Work Skills 2020 report discussed ten skills for the future workforce. These skills were identified as ‘critical for success due to drivers of change shaping our landscapes’ (Institute for the Future, 2011). Most often as educators we are told we need to embrace new ideas but does our curriculum and education system allow for a truly open embrace? If we are to listen to many recommendations, we need to immerse our students in collaborative environments and allow them to perform whilst using the aforementioned skills. As teachers our value has shifted from providing content to providing rich experiences, which allow students to practice these skills. We provide feedback to support their progress in required and targeted areas. The Curriculum’s General Capabilities are a treasure to springboard into project-based learning, but with subject specific curriculum demands, detailed and vast content to cover, students with a variety of needs as well as assessment and reporting requirements, all these rich experiences have the potential to get lost.

All this uncertainty raised questions. How can I be a better teacher? How can I prepare my students for an unknown future? My colleague referred me to a YouTube video: ‘Becoming a Better Teacher’ by Mariappan Jawaharlal (posted May 22, 2016). Many of his points resonated with my value set and his cumulating point, I think, may be the beginning to answering my question. ‘Don’t take your students on a bus ride. Go on a bike ride.’ He emphasises the importance of being engaged WITH your students and the power of the question: ‘What do you think?’ In my opinion, this is a valuable strategy when not knowing what the future holds. Teachers should be present as learners, or as Mariappan puts it, ‘Go on a bike ride.’

Along my journey, STEM learning and self-organised environments have been the sights explored. It has demonstrated that learning can occur independent of teaching, as students have made new discoveries without direction of content. Rather than a content focus, I have led a process of discovery, encouraging open conversation and collaboration. Without community and collaboration, I have no doubt that this journey would have taken a wrong turn. In today’s world, content is easily ‘Googled’. The skills to understand that content, the knowledge of how to judge the information, how to work with it and create from it is what gives me purpose. Because of the road bumps on my journey, I have questioned the purpose of education. I believe that we are at a point where education needs to be questioned and changed to suit the transforming world. In 1877, J.R. Buchanan stated, “Education should be a preparation for life and should be like the life to which it prepares.” (Barlow, 1967). Back then, factories needed workers, and being prepared meant following directions, doing what your boss tells you, and keeping your mouth shut. Is this the current working world? No. We are in it now, facing change on a global level, that of ‘extraordinary technological change’. Technology and innovation are the buzz words threaded into all current agenda, but it is the community, collaboration and connection with others which enables students to make sense of the information and judge it on an appropriate moral set. In the current technological revolution, I believe we need to consider how we can immerse our students in technology to strengthen community and not distance them from it.

In my opinion, we have the building blocks to foster future work skills. I know many exceptional leading teachers and they are the ones already on a bike ride, some have never got off from the last round. If we want to drive innovation we need to allow students to be immersed in it. As teachers, we need to be present and working with students as part of collaborative learning and lead with a focus on outcomes, which aim to develop students who are rich in future work skills and become connected and collaborative learners. I began with writing about wanting the power to see the future, but this is unrealistic, unachievable and to be honest a little unnerving. What we do have control over is how we lead in the present for an unforeseen future. So then, I would not use my wand to see the future, but to have every educator embark on a bike ride. Are you coming?

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