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Guest Post: ‘Christopher Pyne, equity goals, and the p-word’

This week a former student of mine posted a link to a piece she had written for the University of Sydney student newspaper, Honi Soit. I read the story (feeling proud, impressed, and agreeing with her the whole time), and quickly asked if she would mind if I reposted the article here as a guest post on my blog.

Lauren checked with Honi, and Honi were fine with it (thanks editors!). Which makes me happy, because I think this story about the systematic exclusion of disadvantaged students from university is an important one to tell. As a ‘first in family’ university student from Sydney’s Southwest, I too have experienced the cultural and financial barriers to university success.

So here, with kind permission from the author, Lauren Pearce, and the original publisher, Honi Soit, is the article…

Christopher Pyne, equity goals, and the p-word

Lauren Pearce thinks those advocating to keep USYD “prestigious” often do little more than lock out the disadvantaged

by Lauren Pearce, published by Honi Soit on October 15, 2013.

I’m going to drop the p-word: prestigious. There’s really nothing wrong with that word. The only real issue is if you keep applying the word to yourself, justly or otherwise. Then you start to look like another p-word: pretentious.

On Thursday, 10 October Tony Abbott emerged in Melbourne to assure reporters the university reforms that Christopher Pyne announced earlier were to be put on a back-burner. These changes would mean a cap on university places as opposed to the “demand-driven system” currently in place and the axing of equity goals that encourage students from low-SES backgrounds to enroll, a move that Pyne stated would ensure quality but which had been criticised by the NTEU as detrimental to students from low-SES backgrounds and regional students.

Read the rest of this entry »



The cost of preparing for class

Each year before school goes back, teachers can be found out and about in stationery and bargain basement stores, stocking up on materials for the coming term or semester.

New diaries, pens, highlighters, stickers, desk organisers, poster cardboard, and more.

For most school teachers around Australia the first day back was a week ago, but being a university lecturer, my classes don’t start until the last week in February. This gives me a few more weeks up my sleeve to get to the shops and buy some new items to refresh my wall displays and writing workshop materials.

(By the way, awhile ago I read an article that said teachers, on average, spend about $350 per year on classroom supplies that aren’t provided by the school. Isn’t that heaps!! Did anyone see that article? I can’t find it again now…)

$10 spend
One thing I have to top up every semester is my store of paper and card that students use to make visual poetry in English Curriculum tutorials:
These can be picked up cheaply at most Bargain stores, Reject Shops etc. I got mine on sale in Kmart, which I guess means they’d be in Big W etc as well.

I’m thankful that I have access to most basic supplies for teaching at uni – plain paper, lead pencils, glue sticks and scissors are there for the ordering and taking. I still have to buy my own special stuff – black textas, wall fastenings, posters and craft paper – but in my public school teaching days, we weren’t even allowed to take spare A4 paper out of the cupboard for class! You also got just 4 whiteboard markers at the start of the year, and you had to make em last…

Gonski that!

$5 spend
Because I teach older students, you would think that most could be relied on to bring their own books and pens to class. Not so!

The $5 spend on spare books and pens for students that turn up to class without these things in week one is a habit that most teachers of disadvantaged students pick up in their career. I am no exception, and I can attest that even at university, some students are doing it financially tough.

(I can just hear the TV ad voiceover: “For just 32 cents, one of these exercise books will get a disorganised student off to the right start for a whole year…”)

I picked these up at Woolies on an impulse buy – I know 48 page exercise books can be picked up elsewhere for as little as 9 cents a book though.

What do you regularly buy for your classroom?
I won’t be rude and ask people to confirm or deny whether they think they spend the average $350 a year on their class. Partly because I can’t even be sure that figure is right…but also because I’d rather know WHAT you choose to spend on.

How about it – are you a crafty practitioner? Or perhaps your annual spend went toward a personal data projector, or other tecchy toys for your class. Did you have to pay to subscribe to a website for them to use? Do you personally shell out to get their assignments printed in the library?

And if not…why not?

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Storify – ACARA Senior English subject drafts #ozengchat

On 19th June I shared the role of leader/discussant with @vivimat in the 8.30-9.30pm Tuesday #ozengchat stream that takes place on Twitter.

The topic: the draft Senior English subjects proposed by ACARA.

You can check out the ‘Storify’ made by Vivian to see all of the tweets from the discussion that night collected in one place:

If you haven’t yet found where to download the draft curriculum documents from, here is the URL:

Consultation on these documents ends on 20th July, 2012 (THAT’S SOON!) You can contact your professional association to ask if you can add comments to their response, or lodge your own response at the ACARA consultation website: (you will need to register first).

Some interesting comments made during the #ozengchat were:

  • That an ‘English Literature’ (EL) course would flow nicely into university study
  • That the EL course did not look significantly more difficult than the ‘English’ (E) course
  • That the assumption is that in NSW, the current Standard course aligns with ‘English’ while the current Advanced course aligns with ‘English Literature’ – but this is not at all the case
  • That bridging the gap between Year 10 and Year 11 & 12 needs a stronger focus
  • That the proposal to organise Senior English into semester-long units seems to align with what currently happens in Western Australia…but we’re not sure where else (?)
  • That the local state/territory bodies would still be responsible for assessment and examination; i.e. many did not realise that the NSW BOS would still be responsible for setting the HSC reading list
  • That English Studies as exists in NSW (non-ATAR course) filled a big gap – the hope is that ‘Essential English’ (EE) turns out to be like English Studies (or English Communication, a similar course in QLD)
  • That English would likely remain mandatory in NSW, and people wondered why it was not so in other states/territories

There is so much more to talk about when it comes to the proposed Senior English subjects!

I hope to have a new post up soon with some of my personal thoughts about the drafts. In the meantime, if you’ve been thinking about (or wondering about) the curriculum ACARA has proposed, drop a comment here – let’s chat about it!

[View the story "#ozengchat for June 19th 2012" on Storify]

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Guest Post: ‘I Have A Dream that the HSC Will End’

  • Post to celebrate completion of my PhD: CHECK.
  • Post with an update on my upcoming conference papers: CHECK.

So…where to next?

As fate had it, this decision was made for me, with the arrival of a piece of student writing in my inbox.

The author of the piece is a recently graduated HSC student, one whom I had the pleasure of teaching year 8 English, and coaching for debating :)  This is him counting down the days until the end of his exams:

I invite you to read his work (below), which he has given me permission to reproduce (along with his picture) in this post.  Oriniginally published as a Facebook post on October 28th, it is a re-writing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, which has been adapted to make a satirical commentary on the HSC.  It comes with a mild language warning (c’mon; it’s satire!), and is a brilliant example of a ‘textual intervention’.

I’m very proud to feature it here  as my first ‘guest post’!:


I Have A Dream that the HSC Will End

By B. Wylie

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our state.

Two score years ago, an a*shole bureaucrat, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, created the Higher School Certificate. This momentous decree came as a great source of pain and suffering to millions of NSW students who were about to be seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a sorrowful dusk which signalled the beginning of their long night of academic captivity.

But fourty four years later, the student still is not free. Fourty four years later, the life of the student is still sadly crippled by the manacles of standardised testing and the chains of rankings. Fourty four years later, the student lives on a lonely island of studying in the midst of a vast ocean of facebook updates. Fourty four years later, the student is still languished in the rooms of NSW high schools and finds himself an exile in his own class. And so we’ve come here today to dramatise a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to this facebook note to cash a check. Read the rest of this entry »

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Did you just realise you don’t know what the Gonski Review is?


Catch up on the story so farthe Gonski schools funding review has been through all of the boring phases, and we are now in the throws of watching various stakeholders campaign during these LAST CHANCE weeks for submission of public responses to the review.

Angelo Gavrielatos provides an excellent summary (from the AEU perspective) here:

And if, like me, you find it hard to find any information about how to submit a response online (funny that…) here is the link to the page you need:

The panel invited submissions on the issues reflected in the Emerging Issues Paper between
16 December 2010 and 31 March 2011. This submission process has now closed.

A Paper on Commissioned Research will also be released on 31 August 2011, along with four research reports.  Submissions will be accepted until 30 September 2011.

Please note that all public submissions to the review panel will close on 30 September 2011.

The panel will release further details of its work through panel communiqués as the review progresses. Register online to have announcements and communiqués sent to you by email.

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Premier’s Reading Challenge QLD

I used to be on the book selection panel for the PRC in New South Wales…great to see it so well participated in in Queensland as well.

I wonder if I can get some posters for it sent to me to put up at Uni?  It’s a shame – so many great programs like this get passed over by teachers each year who just don’t get reminded of the dates!

The Premier’s Reading Challenge is on again and the aim for 2011 is to top 75,000 student participants.

Children from Prep to Year 7 are encouraged to pick up a book and get reading between May 9 and August 27, with all who complete the challenge receiving a signed certificate by the Premier.

Schools can register online until May 27. Last year, 71,000 students completed the challenge, reading more than one million books.

The challenge for students from Prep to Year 2 is to read or experience 20 books, Years 3 and 4 to read 20 books and Years 5 to 7 to read 15 books between May 9 and August 26.

Guidelines, registration details and booklists are available on the Premier’s Reading Challenge website.



The HSC again. and again.

In NSW yesterday Year 12 school leavers got their HSC results back.  And again, we reflect.

so-and-so got x amount of Band 6s this year…should I teach more like them?

my kids didn’t go as well as they had hoped…did I fail them?

there were some great successes at our school…what pressures will this bring next year?

The dizzying heights…the devastating lows.

I’m sure this post / these tweets should have some ‘IMHO’s peppered through them, but stuff it – the HSC is an evil device.

I’m so proud of every HSC student who got through the year, and was beyond excited for my ex-students who got the results they sought (I always will be).  Motivation, goals, mastery, achievement, I believe in them all.  But the HSC provides them too sparingly, for students and their teachers.

And now it’s time for recovery. again.

Congratulations one and all – bring on 2011…

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HSC English

For anyone wondering how Year 12 HSC students in NSW feel about high stakes external exams as a measure of their learning in English this year:

Sorry, I can’t confirm which school it came from…

(PS: Good luck studying for Paper 2 my dears!)

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Collaborating with the Boss

My budding questions around how power operates in social networks and how networking constructs our identity are still on my mind.

I suggested in one post that the reality of using social media (“If you’re going to be a big boy and swim, and benefit from, these waters you have to be able to take it.”) means that teachers, who are often not in positions of power, need to be mindful of how they construct their identity online, and stop being naive about the ‘glorious, open sharing’ promised by social media being consequence-free.

These ideas were not met well by some.   I suspect that such comments sound like an attack on ‘the boss class’.  But this is an exact example of the very thing I’m talking about.  It’s hard to discuss online practices without taking it personally if you think you are being criticised, because we invest our identities in what we do and say online.

So, I tried to take my thinking in a different direction, and came up with some generative ideas about how school leaders can better support teacher change by more specifically ‘diagnosing’ the reasons for resistance.  People liked this.  I liked this.  And it’s a line of thinking that I know I’ll follow up.

But it doesn’t really speak to the original issue.

That’s why I’ve gone for a nice, clear, provocative title for this post.  And I hope people will not take it personally (as so many people in my PLN are bosses!) when I say that there are real problems with inviting staff collaboration if you don’t have a plan for how to cope with dissent.

We can say that we ‘encourage dissent’ until the cows come home.  We can say that disagreement is generative.  Sometimes these things hold true.

But what support structures, what strategies, need to be in place for this to succeed, for all involved? (<– this is the generative part that I hope people will think about and engage with)

And what are the costs of making your identity known online if you are a dissenter?

When I write online, I do so in good faith – in the spirit of sharing my ideas and resources.  I’d like to think I’m open to criticism, and change.  But can someone like the NSWDET Director General afford to do so?  Surely not – he is limited in what he can share because of his role, and so it should be.  What about a school principal?  As the most powerful ambassador for their school, there are limitations on what they can say too.  What about classroom teachers?  They are incredibly vulnerable to misinterpretation and misrepresentation, and as the lowest on the professional pecking order, the easiest to impose consequences on.

Please don’t misunderstand this post as undermining social networks – that’s not what I’m trying to do.  And please don’t take the absence of all the usual ‘good news’ stories about how developing an online PLN increases professional development and sense of contentedness as a sign that I don’t fully support all of the wonderful work that is going on out there on Twitter, Yammer etc.

But I think we need to come clean about the need to tighten up our approach to professional discussion in the online world.

Because at the end of the day, if you are a ‘boss’ and you ask people to share ideas and collaborate with you (online or in real life), you are giving up some of your power.  And things are going to get complicated if/when you find yourself having to reign that in.

NB: anonymous comments are welcome.


Reframing Change

  • Why do some people embrace change quickly, while others are slower to make changes to their practices or perspectives?
  • What comfort (and convenience) is there in sticking with the known, the familiar, the expected?
  • Can leaders of change persuade people who are slow, and even resistant to change, through enthusiasm alone?
  • Is it enough to lead by example?

I want to suggest that, as educational leaders, if we want to help people come to terms with change and embrace it, then we need to recognise and validate their desire to stick with ‘the known’.  Roger Pryor’s latest post makes some excellent points about ‘leading from behind’ and developing the leadership capacity of others.  I think this is one of the significant hurdles – just as we find in our classrooms it is sometimes necessary to hang back while the students discover things for themselves, people can be empowered by discovering their capacity to change.  Recognising that people are resisting change because they feel disempowered helps us to employ methods that give power back.  This is a win-win solution.

But what other barriers are there to change that could similarly be ‘diagnosed’ and therefore turned around?

When a teacher tells me that they don’t want to use any online teaching tools because they are ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’, one reaction I feel is frustration.  Does this teacher think that I don’t get tired?  That I am not busy??  I manage to find time to change my practice because I see it as a high priority.

The problem with this line of thinking is twofold.  Firstly, I’m expecting someone else to have the same energy levels as me, without really questioning whether they do.  Secondly, I’m asking someone to accept a shift to online teaching as a priority, when perhaps their professional priorities lie elsewhere.  Perhaps they are really struggling with face-to-face classroom management.  Perhaps they are consumed by essay marking.

So, one way forward is to find ways to align our priorities.

By this I don’t mean that other teachers should change their priorities to match mine!  But, I might set aside my initial frustration to consider ways in which I can create professional learning that satisfies both of our priorities.  One teacher I worked with gained confidence in marking essays after I showed her how to use track changes and commenting in Word…this also served the purpose of increasing her confidence with technology.  Our priorities were aligned!

However is it also possible that sometimes, just sometimes, we are expecting too much?  We also need to recognise that people only have so much energy to give.

Another way forward then, is to find ways of giving people the energy to change.

Teacher burnout is an increasingly widespread phenomenon.  And yet, when I expect others to adopt new practices on the grounds that ‘I was able to do it’, I am refusing to validate them as a human being outside of the world of work.  This might fly in the corporate world, but in the education system I would like to think this is outside of our philosophical remit.

One way that I generate energy to learn more about technology and the online world is to engage in digital practices that nourish me, personally.  For me it’s sharing my (budding) artwork, making digital collages, reading with my Kindle, and connecting with friends in a purely social capacity via Facebook.  I get professional nourishment from a lot of places too, but I’m not talking about that.

For some people getting a thirst for technology comes when they make their first Skype call, or make photo albums on iPhoto.  For many people, the social connection provided by Facebook has been the big thing to ‘draw them in’ and increase their digital literacy (one of the reasons why, although Facebook has turned evil, I have a real problem with the tech elite bagging it out unreservedly).

Fun generates energy.  Fun lures people into engagement.

So, if the diagnosis is a lack of energy, it might be worthwhile exploring how to restore people’s capacity to engage through play.

These are just a couple of example that I have been forming up. Aligning (not replacing) priorities, and restoring energy through fun and play.

As we continue to make new inroads with people who have typically resisted change, I really believe it is time to develop more sophisticated models than ‘lead by example’.  That was phase one. Now we are getting a critical mass of people out there willing to lead by example…where can we move to next to stimulate change and support the changers?



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