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Distinguished Educators

Year in Review 2019

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I was told recently that every year seems to fly by faster because as we age each one represents a smaller and smaller proportion of our total life. I really think that makes sense, but true or not, the challenge is always to fill the days with moments that matter.

With that in mind, this year I had a bit of a shift in focus.

Since Facebook has acted as a kind of diary for me of late, I thought I would use some of my posts to share the year’s professional highlights.


That’s right…it’s a new school!

Hello McAuley College! It was a big decision to take up a new position, but the opportunity to work with a new school was too good to pass up. That’s right, a brand new school! Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the exciting (and massive) undertaking that is writing new programs, building community and developing culture has been very rewarding. It’s fairly unusual to have such freedom and support to develop entirely new programs, lesson by lesson, and the focus on the individual students has been a big part of a deeply fulfilling year.

Currently our college serves 150 students across Years 7 to 9, and we are filling levels as new cohorts enrol though Year 7 in the years ahead. This is also a regional area of Queensland, filling a need in a rural community of Australia. The warmth from the families here and the significant challenge that comes with building a new school have drawn in some outstanding, passionate educators.


McAuley Milestones

There have been many inaugural moments at McAuley College this year, so much to do as every endeavour is a first. A few projects stand out for me through one of the most action-packed, certainly impactful, years of teaching I have experienced.

Writing a brand new course and offering our first STEAM class to Year 8… full classes for next year across 7, 8 9 and 10 after sharing their projects in a STEAM Fair blew minds! Most of the school will be a part of this program thanks to the vision of leadership in this space.

eSports is up and running, and don’t they love it! Over half of the school population participated in some game-based learning experiences in break times, and our competitive team held their own against much bigger and more established schools. We’ve even see positive results in school attendance with some students who may find attending school on a particular day difficult. Considering the 20 minute lunchtime investment of time in eSports can lead to a return of 300 minutes in time spent in class lessons on that day, this is clearly a powerful initiative.

Creative Cube Club has been established as a space where creative projects, student-led project and cross-curricular activities can flourish. We ran digital drawing classes, makerspace activities, robotics workshops, AR Artmaking, etc.

And then there was the Archibull Prize…


Sharing the Learning

Working with teachers and students has presented me with some exciting challenges in some very special places throughout 2019.

Here come the stats…

I have had the privilege of working directly with more than 4400 children in 2019, some as young as three years old. This is my 17th year of teaching, and aside from my own Year 7-9 classes, this year these kids represent every year level in school. How awesome is that!

This year I delivered 46 workshops designed for 15-150 adult participants in a whole variety of locations from schools, libraries, art galleries, kindergartens, universities and conferences. If you’re reading this blog you’ll know I am really passionate about these opportunities to share practice and to work closely with educators and students.

It’s harder to estimate the numbers in keynote presentations, but I’m thinking I’ve been live in front of about 21,000 people throughout the year, and who know across the web events and podcasts I’ve been jumping into. What a privellage to share

In every setting I have learned so many valuable lessons that I’ve shared with others, from the smallest chat with a young learner, a classroom observation or a strategic conversation with a principal, ideas grow that are useful in my own classroom, in my wider school context, to a colleague in the Ukraine, a university student in France looking for data, etc. This kind of shared experience, collaboration and community is how we will move education forward.


Terrific Travels

As usual, I spent a significant amount of time in the air, and as always I am reminded that Australia is just SO far away from just about everywhere! Those long flights included a journey over to the USA, Canada, New Zealand and a heap of adventures interstate. Although I only started tracking my travels for since things ramped up in the last four years, this post marks the end of the decade and looking at the image below I can’t believe where teaching has taken me.


Exceptional Events

I’m finding myself increasingly supported to deliver opportunities to facilitate important conversations about the value of creativity, the arts, and desperately needed plans for an educational experience for all children that responds to the needs of the whole person in diverse settings. This year I’ve been happy to support some really great conferences and events to help change happen. Here’s a few highlights.

Keynoting Day Two of EduTECH, the biggest education technology conference in the southern hemisphere was pretty amazing for a few reasons. I’ve talked about the lack of dialogue from practicing teachers on the keynote circuit for a long time, so this was a big win for my colleagues as far as I was concerned. Sharing practice and positive stories, wins in education, with real resources sitting behind them, felt like progress. The massive machine that is EduTECH was, as usual, a force too be reckoned with, but to be honest, even three years ago if you’d told me that a presentation about arts learning would kick off this gig, I’d have laughed. I owe so much to my wonderful school, colleagues near and far, and the online community that support me me to share what I believe is an incredibly important message for our children.

In April had an amazing journey to the Surrey School District in Canada to work with their energetic edu-community and students. This team is really making a dent through positive leadership and a focus on supporting the creative implementation of the curriculum.

After leading lessons and professional learning for staff in three schools on this tour I was also fortunate enough to be treated to some incredible Canadian hospitality. For this Gold Coaster, the snow was magical, and I believe I found the Hunt Family Christmas Tree!

In New Zealand I worked with the most enthusiastic teachers I think I’ve ever met. The Bromley School has been deeply thoughtful about their approach to pedagogy, with all teachers engaged in continuous professional learning. I first met this team when the school leadership brought the entire staff to TECHpalooza in 2018, and they’ve continued to interact with my work across their curriculum since. It was a very rewarding time to spend with them on site, getting hands-on with the lesson planning, modelling tools and techniques, pushing the pedagogies.

I was so pleased to be invited back to the The Big Arts Day for BCE in Brisbane, and what a well-run, authentic learning opportunity it always is. This was my third time supporting the conference, but my first as a member of the organisation which made it extra special.

I can’t get over to every conference I am invited to this year, but sharing is caring, so there has been a lot more livestreaming and recording of sessions for me recently. Virgil Con was a highlight in this space – check out the link below if you want to access some great workshops from the amazing Virgil team. Watch in your own time… for free.

I am always pleased to be able to support teachers and students in regional areas – Australia is such a big place that there are many very under-resourced schools and communities. There were some great trips out west and up north which were particularly rewarding. Also visits to some big schools and big cities…

The Apple Distinguished Educator Institute for the Asia Pacific Region brought together an amazing community for teachers to share their expertise and experience. Reaching out to colleagues in this team is always possible online, but there is just nothing like being able to access their wealth of knowledge face to face. An opportunity to share a presentation about the importance of arts learning experiences through the creative technology programs at McAuley College and across the globe was a highlight of the week.

Conferences everywhere…

And then there was ISTE. It was my fifth time flying over to the biggest edtech event in the world, The International Society of Tech enology in Education’s National Conference this time in Philadelphia. Once again, all my creative workshops were full, which really speaks to the popularity of hands-on arts learning in the classroom.

One of the things I appreciate about this conference is the feedback from participants that comes to you afterwards. I work enormously hard to craft presentations, so it’s important to me to understand what is really resonating with the educators who are choosing to jump into my room, especially when they have literally hundreds of choice at an event of this epic size. I was so please to see full marks for all my sessions, but based on the feedback I really do wish there was more learning on offer that supports genuine creativity. I know that teachers working in the arts are looking for more opportunities at technology events, and these teachers have a lot to offer the edtech community.

At ISTE I also had a great time working with other Apple Distinguished Educators, presenting in the ADE Playground, and delivering a creativity set with ‘The Dream Team’ once again. Christine Klynen and Kurt Klynen have worked hard to design a comprehensive program for teachers using mobile devices in classrooms through an increasingly creative series of resources at ISTE over the past few years. You can dig into their latest creations here. ISTE was a blur with podcasts, interviews, photowalks and PLN meet ups. And then there was this very special moment…


Articles, Interviews, Podcasts and Publications

There are only so many hours in the day, even when you sacrifice a lot of potential sleeping time to fit in as much as you can! Somehow I am still (just) managing to answer every email I receive, and I’m always trying to get the balance right when it comes to creative output. Workshops and keynotes take days and days to shape and hone, so I am more and more careful about considering where I invest my energy. In sharing beyond my own classroom this year I have spent less time blogging and more time exploring broader audiences and trying to extend the ideas I think are important. Some of the highlights in this capacity have been hosting the #AussieED and #whatisschool twitter chat with great teams, writing articles for Arts Queensland, articles in The Educator, running workshops in galleries, judging a film festival in South Africa and New Zealand, and there’s time working on a position with the Gold Coast City Art Gallery Education Reference Committee.


Super Stuff!

I have enjoyed some very precious time with friends and colleagues, old and new, in my travels this year, sharing ideas across continents and contexts with so many inspirational people.

The joys of travelling have really made for some classic moments once again this year. I missed seeing a bear in Canada, but I did the 10 km in the Vancouver ‘Sun Run’ as it snowed! I sampled a lobster roll in Boston I’ll never forget (!), and finally made it to Harvard and MIT. I learned the joy of Corn Hole, doubled down on my passion for ice hockey and baseball, and saw Rowan Atkinson at an airport. I went from 43 degrees celcius in my classroom at school, got on a plane and arrived to 2 degrees at the next destination! I now know that in New Zealand they sound the tsunami warning siren as a test on the day they move to daylight savings.

And I discovered that in some cultures, this is considered coffee…


Great Galleries

For me, one of the great joys of this trans-continental teaching and learning is the opportunity to explore the artwork. Some of my favourite moments included the street art and murals in the heart of Christchurch, ground zero in the area devastated by the earthquakes.

I also loved exploring the indigenous works in Vancouver, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Triennial at GOMA in Brisbane Australia was once again spectacular, as were Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Finally…Your Support

I’ve been so grateful to be asked to contribute to many initiatives and events, and to share my ideas and those from other educators across the globe with you continues to inspire me.

I also know how much work goes into getting a professional learning day off the ground, and how many hours are spent organising a conference, so thank you to all those people behind the scenes who are making it happen. It’s hard work, but it is so worth it, because sharing our knowledge and experiences can create change.

I am already well down the pathway for planning a very exciting 2020, including trips to Hong Kong, Finland and the USA once again. There’s some other big announcements coming early in the year. If you are keen to connect with me, let’s do it soon!

Apart from that, I think all that’s left to do is to wish you a wonderful, creative new year.

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