Grade 6 Leadership Day

Self-discipline, independence and resilience were some of the qualities of leadership I hadn’t really considered before. Fionn (Grade 6)

This week Andrew Wood invited me to attend the Grade 6 Leadership Day which has been running at KPS for almost ten years now. The day starts with a guest speaker who introduces some concepts of leadership, and the students then divide into groups and undertake five different workshops each focusing on an aspect of leadership. A team bonding BBQ lunch breaks up the day, and everyone has a chance to reflect on what they’ve learnt at the end. The workshops are facilitated by Senior and Grade 6 staff and a parent volunteer.

I talked to Jacki Hopkins who coordinates the day about its aims and objectives.

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We want to inspire the students to step up now that they’re in Grade 6. They’re becoming role models for the younger kids, and we’re asking them to stand up for themselves – and sometime to stand up to their peers – and that’s a big ask. Today is about helping them make the right choices and giving them the skills and confidence they need to do that.

It’s also about giving them some practical experience. For example, a group of students was involved in the planning and organising of the day. They wrote letters to local shopkeepers asking for support and then took those letters and delivered them personally. It’s about building confidence and independence. They go from being top of the pecking order at primary school to the bottom of the heap at high school and that’s a difficult transition.

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We’re also trying to instil some sense of responsibility and maturity; it’s not just about being in Grade 6 and being the oldest and telling everyone else what to do; that’s not leadership. We make this a big event and stress its importance to try to get the message across that we’re serious and this is important.

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The aim of the lunch time BBQ is a little like what we tried to do with Team 4 last year; it’s about respecting and supporting each other, having a sense of team culture, rather than the individual. It’s the first step to preventing bullying.

The guests speaker of the day was Chris Johnson, former AFL player who is now involved in the AFL’s Indigenous development program.  Chris talked to a very attentive group about values, and making sure you get yours right and then stick to them.

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He asked the kids to list some important qualities in a leader: honesty, kindness and caring, good sportsmanship, respect, being able to listen and accept new ideas, and being proud of your achievements.

You may be a good footy player, said Chris, but you need to be a good person first. Then you can be a good leader.

He asked the kids to call out the names of good leaders they knew: Ricky Ponting, Jim Stynes, Barack Obama, Jeff Kennett, Winston Churchill, Peter Garrett (any women, I wondered? Oh, yes, Julia Gillard. Excellent).

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Chris talked about the importance of role-models; of finding someone to look up to and learning from them. In his case it was his father who was his first and most important role model.

And finally he answered lots of questions from a very eager audience.

Chris was engaging, thoughtful and funny; I reckon the kids were inspired, because I certainly was.

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After Chris’s talk the students divided into their groups and went off for their workshops: Organisation with Mr Archibald, Responsibility with Ms Grace, Public Speaking with Shelley Ware, Contributing with Andrew Wood and Culture with parent volunteer Chris Power.

I checked in with Chris Power at the end of the day. I run these sessions for big corporates, she said, looking ever so slightly exhausted, but five lots of Grade 6s and I’ve had it!

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We talked about culture, Chris explained, which I defined as ‘the way we do things around here’ and that every group, whether it’s a sports team or a grade, has its own culture which can be negative or positive.

I asked the students to remember back to when they were in Prep and had Grade 6 Buddies. And if those Buddies had asked them to jump, what would they have done? They got it.

It’s funny, they said they remembered their Buddies as bigger, physically, than they are now, but I assured them they weren’t an especially small group of Grade 6s!  

Then we worked on identifying their ideal culture for KPS and talked about how they would make that happen. They handled these concepts really well and lots of them were able to think about these questions in quite a complex way.

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At the end of the day Jacki asked the kids for their highlights: I liked brainstorming things we could do for the school; I liked thinking about culture; about how people look at the school and how they see us; I never knew there was so much to do when you organised an event; I liked coming up with creative ideas – for new clubs or special days.

And the last word went to Fionn in response to Jacki’s question about the qualities that make a good leader. Self-discipline, independence and resilience, he said, were some of the qualities of leadership I hadn’t really considered before.

By the time the bell went for the end of the day everyone looked exhausted, but the kids were buzzing with everything they’d learnt.

You hear a lot in the media these days about the lack of values in our state schools. Well, I certainly saw many great values being modelled and taught today.

It was a great day; a huge effort by the staff (and volunteer parent) and a fantastic experience for our kids. Thank you.

Jacqui Tomlins

 

Luckily for me it’s also called work!

My son has never quite recovered from the sheer delight that was his Prep year. To be honest, it’s been an uphill battle since then. I suspect he will graduate from high school having had many great teachers, but none who will quite live up to his first. That was five grades ago now and for this weeks’ blog I caught up with our Very First Prep Teacher, Phoebe Taylor.

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What are some of the particular challenges of teaching Prep? What did you most enjoy about it?

I spent the first three years of my teaching careers as a Prep teacher and I absolutely loved it! It is the most rewarding level I have taught so far. The students make a remarkable amount of progress in just a single year and you get to play a role in that.

Most students learn to read and write for the first time right before your very eyes! They are like a sponge and soak up everything around them. Plus it’s always helpful that they think you are the best singer, dancer, actor and comedian they have ever seen!

It wasn’t until I taught other grades that I realised how challenging the Prep year is. Not only are you trying to give the students the best possible start to their schooling life but you are also trying to make it a seamless transition for families as well; you’re trying keep parents informed about what we do at school and why we do it.

Probably the hardest thing about teaching Prep is trying to listen to all the great stories, experiences and things the students want to share…….all 20 at the same time!!!

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What was your school experience and how did you end up being a teacher?

I grew up in country Victoria beginning my schooling at a state school in Castlemaine. I later went to High School in Bendigo where I experienced schooling life in the private system.
I completed my four year bachelor degree of teaching at Melbourne University. I was then lucky enough to begin my teaching career at KPS in 2006 as a graduate teacher. I always thought I’d want to be a Grade 6 teacher as I had a very influential Grade 6 teacher in Primary School. There are things about my teaching style now that I still model from her!

You’ve just returned from overseas, from teaching in the UK, in London? That must have been interesting? Challenging?

I enjoyed my time teaching in the UK and am thankful for the opportunity to do so. I began by being a casual relief teacher which came with its own challenges. Firstly, where is the school and how on earth am I meant to get there before the bell rings? Navigating the tube, buses and various maps proved difficult at the best of times.

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The next challenge was trying to learn up to 30 different names very quickly. Every school does things differently and I hated not knowing when and where things would happen. It was a steep learning curve and it made me realise how much I like routine and being organised.

I was only a relief teacher for a brief period before teaching full time at an International School. I had a Year 3 class with 20 students and a full time teaching assistant. The students were from every continent of the world, most were Japanese.

The school had a huge emphasis on its English Additional Language program as for many students this was their first experience speaking English. I learnt some basic words in many different languages during the year.

I was amazed at the experiences these worldly students would bring to class. Many of them had lived in two or three countries already, usually travelling for their parents’ work. Every day was like celebrating Cultural Diversity Day and it helped make for a very rich learning environment! I absolutely loved it!!

What are the good things for you about teaching in a school like KPS? Are there any particular challenges or rewards?

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The students of course! The students at KPS are wonderful and are very willing to learn new things and face new challenge. I was excited about coming back to KPS after my UK experience to teach the students again. They really are a joy to teach and they teach me a lot along the way too!

Since my return the Year 4s have taught me all about the new iPads and what it means to be a member of ‘Team 4’. The grade 6s explained how the new leadership teams structure works. The Year 1s taught me how to dance like a real dancer! The Year 5s have shown me how to be curious and develop strategies for investigating ideas.

I love working at KPS because it is a very supportive working environment. The staff get to work collaboratively as a team and share a collective responsibility for the students. I’m lucky to have such knowledgeable, experienced and passionate colleagues to work with.

I love the community feel of KPS. There are always parents who put their hand up to help out in classrooms, working bees, fundraisers and on excursions. It’s great to feel supported by parents in programs that we implement at school.

Thanks to the students, staff and community this is a place I enjoying coming to. Luckily for me it’s also called work!

If the school got a big windfall, how would you spend it?

I would continue to upgrade ICT equipment in the school, and hold training sessions for students, teachers and families on how to best to use this ICT equipment to support learning.

I’d install an underground car park for all the staff and parents with a ‘drop off’ section for safe and easy arrival at school. I would include a space in the underground car park for our three new 56 seater buses! These will be used to transport the students to and from sporting events, excursions, camps and other curricular activities. This would enable us to keep costs down and use the saved money for numeracy & literacy resources. And I’d buy some seriously drought tolerant grass for our oval so that it is green all year round!

Thanks, Phoebe. It’s great to have you back at KPS and I hope you enjoy this year with your new Grade 2s.

Jacqui Tomlins

Small moments and big rewards

Those who educate children well are more to be honoured than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.

Aristotle

Whether you agree with Aristotle or not, pretty much everyone acknowledges that it’s the teachers who make a school.  Kew Primary currently has 29 classroom and specialist teachers who between them teach grades Prep to 6, PE, Art, French, Performing Arts, Library, Reading Recovery, Literacy Support, English as an Additional Language, and who provide support to students with special needs.

They range from the young and enthusiastic to the more mature and experienced (and still enthusiastic!) Our longest serving teachers are Ali Duffy and Faye Rodgers who have been with the school 20 years. (Faye still has her very first lesson plan, hand-written in beautiful copperplate script, but that’s a story for another time).

The Department of Education groups teachers into three different bands: Graduate, Accomplished and Expert and at Kew we have teachers from all categories with most in the Expert band where teachers have at least 10 years’ experience.

Our staff comes from the city and the country, from Victoria and interstate, and from a range of different cultural backgrounds including: Italian, English, Aboriginal, Greek, Maori, Irish and New Zealander.

This week the KPS Blog decided we wanted to find out a little more about our teachers and so we sent our roving reporter, Nikki McConnen to talk to her son’s Grade 2 teacher, Clio Williams.

Hi Clio, why did you decide to become a primary school teacher?

I was a swimming teacher for eight years, teaching babies through to adults. I loved teaching primary-age children. I came to teaching through a post grad course at Deakin University. My grandmothers on both sides, and aunts on both sides, were teachers so it may be in the blood!

You’ve been teaching at Kew Primary for a few years now, but prior to that we knew you as a very popular relief teacher for our performing arts classes. Do you have a performance background?

I did dance and drama at university. I love performing and have done numerous shows at the Melbourne Fringe, the Writer’s Festival and other Melbourne events.

You’re also part of the school’s ICT Team – what does that entail?

We implemented an iPad program for years 3 – 6, and have regular ‘Tekkie Brekkies’ for staff. I find new apps, and work with staff if any problems or issues arise.

What do you like about Kew Primary?

I love the enthusiasm of the children. I have taught most of the juniors now and they are so keen to learn and improve their skills that they make my job easy. The staff is innovative, enthusiastic and supportive, which has meant that I raise the bar higher for my own practice. I love teaching in an open classroom; it’s a great way to work. Parents and guardians are willing to help out in the classroom, even at the last minute and this strengthens the connection between home and school. I don’t want to teach in isolation; I believe it’s a partnership.

Did you have a favourite or influential teacher when you were a kid?

I had many favourite teachers, I loved them all, but I was a bit of a teacher’s pet! I had a really influential Politics and SOSE teacher. She spurred me on to read ‘Animal Farm’, ‘1984’ and other books that radically changed my teenage world view. She shaped my subject choices at VCE and university.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job? And what is the most frustrating?

I find the most rewarding moments are often the smallest – an offhand comment that sparks a whole class discussion, or a child’s interest that unites the classroom – they’re moments I love. And the smiles I see when they are learning something satisfying.

I get frustrated, like most people do, with ‘to do’ lists that get bigger the closer you get to weekend! (Oh, and meetings that drag on.) My biggest frustration is when I have days where I don’t feel I’ve made a difference.

If the school got a sudden windfall what would you spend it on?

If the school got a sudden windfall I would spend it on more teachers! You can never have enough in a school. I would also get iPads in the junior school area, and apple TVs in every room, finish the kitchen garden…and maybe French ‘research trips’ for the staff!

What’s your all-time favourite book?

So many! I love the children’s book ‘The Ordinary Princess’, and my ‘Cook’s Companion’ by Stephanie Alexander – and anything written by Terry Prattchet.

And what’s your perfect holiday?

A quiet, peaceful place with gorgeous views. People, if I want a chat, and books if I want solitude. Somewhere with family.

And to finish, tell us one thing that we don’t know about you.

I’m a closet Chris De Burgh fan!

Thanks Clio.

Next year we are hoping to talk to more of the people with whom our kids spend much of their day.

Thanks for listening.

Jacqui Tomlins and Nikki McConnen