This year has certainly been an interesting year for education across the globe. Here in Australia, the impact of COVID-19 has varied from state to state, with the full extent of impact not yet being realised. Last month, the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced a plan to implement additional support within schools by offering the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program for students who have fallen behind due to remote learning.
The NSW Department of Education will assist schools to identify students requiring this support and employ a selection of teachers to execute the program, which is set to be culminating in the form of intensive small group instruction within the school setting. The teachers will be selected from submitted expressions of interest and encompass a range of educational backgrounds and current work statuses; including casual teachers who were impacted by a lack of work during remote learning. Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell explained, “We know that learning for many students stagnated during the pandemic and tuition in small groups will help re-engage or students in their schooling.” Whilst it is encouraging that the far-reaching impact of remote learning practices on vulnerable children is recognised, it will be interesting to see how equitable this program is in its availability to those who need it the most and how that will inevitably be determined. Either way, any support and additional funding for the education system in order to support the learning of our future generations is a welcome announcement.
The scheme is set to be available to all school sectors and commence in Term 1, 2021.
As featured in: District Gazette - December 2020
Gratitude is cultivated through sharing appreciation and giving back to society. From experience working in the area of education, it is imperative that sight is not lost of our purpose and intentions, despite the unrelenting distraction of policy and procedure. Of course, this could also be said for most business entities. Why do we do what we do? Have we lost sight of our purpose, or are we nourishing ourselves with joy and fulfilment through giving back and achieving success? Whichever way we measure such a diversely defined state of success will determine our ability to express gratitude. In some respects, this sounds very complicated; however, in reality can be quite simple. Kindness is free. And showing it to others has profound benefits for those receiving and giving.
Being kind, especially in the face of hardship or adversity, can be difficult. It takes strength of character to continue to give attention and warmth towards those who may express aversion towards acts of kindness. Children (and adults for that matter), who challenge those who show them kindness, are usually the children who need the most compassion. They are the underdogs, the struggling, the confused, the ones who do not feel worthy. They may be suffering in silence or have been failed by those around them. Questions around motivation or expectations fly around in their minds and they may question the sincerity of one’s actions. Children are impressionable from such an early age. Those working with children have an opportunity to build the self-esteem and confidence of a child, or break it.
What we say to others must be sincere and intentional, but more importantly the way we act and model behaviours is critical for our future generation to continue to cultivate gratitude and appreciation to all with no strings attached. Gratitude and kindness are not earned. Everyone has a right to experience the kindness of others and when they feel grateful enough, they may have the tools and inclination to pay it forward. This is the hope for the future and we can get there together if we start with ourselves.
As featured in: Brave Magazine - Oct/Nov 2020.
It is unquestionably a massive time of uncertainty in the world right now. It is not often in Australia that the education system gets a shake-up, but that is exactly what is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools in New South Wales have been thrust into the world of online learning and the technological challenges that ensue. Staff have had to adapt and learn to use unfamiliar programs and students have, at times, struggled with access and developing the skills necessary to access the curriculum via this platform.
The pandemic has forced schools to re-evaluate the core values of education and review what is being taught. This is evident in the announcement by the NSW Education Standards Authority that school sectors will have the authority to decide which syllabus outcomes and content they teach and assess for Kindergarten to Year 10 in 2020. This means that schools will have free reign to determine which parts of the curriculum are most important in their local contexts and to only teach and report on those outcomes. For a system which is often described as having a crowded curriculum, this could actually be a silver lining within this whole crisis. For years, teachers have been expressing their concerns that the basics of education are becoming lost within a curriculum full of ‘extras’, a problem which has resulted in many students missing out on a solid basic foundation to learning due to rushing through content.
It is understandable that many parents are fearful that their children are missing out on a quality education due to online learning, learning from home and the educational program not addressing all outcomes and content of the syllabuses, but could this be just the shake-up the system needs in our post-modern globalised society? We are about to find out.
As first term draws to an end, many families have settled into a good routine for home and school. It is often at this time over the school holidays, that we can take a breather and reset after a busy couple of months. How do we manage time for rest and enjoyment without losing the solid routine that we have worked so hard to get right? Balance and moderation are crucial.
Children need a break from the expectations of school, particularly those children who struggle to ‘keep it together’ all day at school. Often those children are also the ones who don’t cope well with change so it can be difficult. Keeping some things consistent, like bedtime and meal times, can be a fabulous way of maintaining balance. Giving children some autonomy during the day to pick and choose which activities they do at what time, provides some independence they do not normally get at school. If you choose to have a total break from routine and relax eating habits and bedtimes over the holidays, try to make sure that a few days before school goes back that you bring it back to the school routine so that the transition back to term two is smooth. It’s all about balance.
At school, most children are fairly active and after school sports and activities usually exemplify that during term time. As some sports and activities don’t run during the holidays, encourage your child to keep active but to also have rest. It is okay to spend a day chilling out watching movies – it’s just not healthy if it is every day for two weeks. Going for a walk or bike ride or playing outside on the trampoline are great ways to get moving. Moderation in all areas will help to keep balance in order to settle back into the term after the short break.
When it comes to a positive home-school relationship, regular and constructive communication is the key. At the beginning of every school year it is difficult to navigate the right time and place to discuss your child’s learning and by the time ‘meet the teacher’ or initial parent teacher interviews come around, many parents are overwhelmed and unsure what to ask their child’s teacher. Sometimes this results in the teacher doing all the talking or the parent asking about one thing and forgetting to ask about the ten other things they were not sure about. Detailed questions are great if you have them, but what if you don’t really have any specific concerns? What do you ask when you get the opportunity to talk to your child’s teacher one-to-one?
Here are five important questions to ask your child’s teacher when you meet with them:
1. Is my child experiencing any difficulties (socially, emotionally, academically or physically) in your opinion?
2. How are my child’s individual learning needs being catered for within the classroom setting?
3. Are there any ways that I can provide additional support the school and my child’s learning?
4. What is the best way to contact you should I need to discuss my child?
5. Is my child doing the best they can do?
These direct and simple questions are not meant to be in any way an attack on the teacher or school, so obviously the tone in which they are asked is also important, but they are questions which allow an open flow of information and a relationship built on partnership for a common goal – a happy, thriving child at school.
As featured in: District Gazette - March '20
Reading is a fundamental skill that involves interpreting and comprehending written words. At school, the main focus for children is to learn to read, then as children get older, the focus shifts on reading to learn. Amongst all this learning, sometimes the love of reading gets sidelined, or perhaps the spark of joy fails to ignite. It is difficult to love reading when you struggle to interpret meaning. It is also difficult to love reading when you only see it as a chore or task to be completed. It is proactive to be diligent in encouraging your child to love reading from a young age.
In order to foster a love of reading, it is important to build positive experiences around reading. One way to do this is to simply read books to your child whilst they listen or follow along with their eyes. This can be done in short bursts to build up the ability to sustain attention, and gradually move to longer session, perhaps when the story in quite engaging or the attention span develops. Another way to build a positive experience is to let you child read whatever interests them. They don’t need to be reading a novel, they could read a comic, magazine, newspaper, website, blog or information book. Make reading fun by letting them have control over what they read – the library is a great place for this as there are so many books available and it costs you nothing to join.
The greatest way to foster a love of reading is to share your love of reading with your child. Let them see you reading a book, or if you are reading an article or post on your phone (even if it is social media) tell your child you are reading. Explain how you enjoy reading and how it makes you feel to be able to learn something new or to use your imagination.
Remember: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald.
As featured: Glenmore Gazette - Feb '20 & Oran Park Gazette - Feb '20
The Christmas school holidays can sometimes feel like they go on forever, and it’s not just the parents that feel that way. Many children feel unease as the structure of school life is taken away for anywhere from five to seven weeks starting in December. When you think about it, that’s actually a long time to have an unpredictable routine – it is no wonder parents are frequently pulling their hair out by mid-January. The best way to combat this frustration for everyone is to create a balanced holiday.
Firstly, try to schedule in some physical activity each day. Whether it is an early walk down by the river, a bike ride around the Regatta Centre or even just an afternoon swim in the pool or game of cricket in the backyard. Get the kids moving and burning some energy. These activities are cost effective and fun do to with friends.
Secondly, give your children ‘pyjama days’. Let them laze around doing absolutely nothing or whatever they want one or two days a week. The holidays are as much for rest and rejuvenation as they are a break from school. Hire some books or movies from the Library for free or let them play on their video games uninterrupted. Maybe even do some baking and enjoy eating the end result.
Lastly, and this is an important one, visit family and friends. Set up play dates or go to the park for a picnic. If you are working, see if your child can spend some time with a friend or if you’re home, offer for your child to invite a friend over. It is not as scary as it sounds, in fact often children will be less ‘bored’ if they have someone to hang out with that is not their sibling.
As the school year draws to a close next month, anxiety about the following year can start to kick in for some children and parents. Which teacher? Who’s class? Which friends? The uncertainty and fear of the unknown can be overwhelming and therefore the school holidays over Christmas can be quite uncomfortable for some. Some might say that it is ‘tough luck’; this is just a part of life and kids need to learn to adapt to change. Whilst this is correct in some respects, children (especially those with additional needs such as anxiety disorders and Autism) still need support through this time and guidance in managing their feelings.
From a schooling perspective, children should be given the opportunity to visit the area of the school they will be in, become familiar with the staff on that grade and be kept with at least one friend moving forward. This is obviously in an ideal world and it is noted that whilst these practises are attempted at most schools to some degree, it is not guaranteed and changes may occur. Due to the unpredictable nature of staffing, especially in schools with fluctuation of numbers, last minute change can be unavoidable. It is for this reason that parental support around change is paramount.
As parents, you can have discussions around feelings and different scenarios. Validate your child’s feelings but be mindful that you do not create more anxiety; be guided by your child’s responses and assure them that whatever happens, the school and you care about them being safe and happy at school and you will work together to ensure that they feel that way. If your child exhibits strong feelings of worry it could also be beneficial to chat to the School Counsellor or Stage Coordinator/Assistant Principal about your child’s transition.
Throughout the year schools take a number of opportunities to connect with families and share progress of the student. One such way is through Parent-Teacher Interviews, sometimes also referred to as Parent-Teacher Conferences. Most schools will hold interviews once or twice a year and they are often held around the time half-yearly and yearly reports are sent out.
Parent-Teacher Interviews can be a bit daunting for those parents who feel unsure of what to expect or what questions to ask, but the chance to get feedback, solidify home-school partnerships, and to be able to provide insight that would otherwise not be given is invaluable.
To make the most out of interviews, you should aim to do the following three things:
1. Be positive and confident - teachers and schools genuinely want the best for your child, just as you do. A positive partnership between home and school is proven to increase student achievement and well-being.
2. Prepare any questions you have – no question is too small, big or silly. If you have any concerns it is much better to address them upfront rather than worry or feel like your child’s needs are not being met in some way. Some general questions you may like to ask are: Does my child seem to be struggling in any area? How can I best support my child’s learning? Is my child at the expected level for his/her age? Can you tell me about my child’s behaviour in class and the playground?
3. Listen carefully to the teacher’s observations and keep an open mind – children can behave in a different way in alternate environments so you may get feedback that you do not expect. Share your thoughts from your perspective and keep the lines of communication open beyond the interview.
The question of whether you should get tutoring for your child is not able to be answered with a stock response. Not every child will benefit from tutoring and certainly not from some styles; however, many children thrive with tutoring as it can provide the key to confidence and ‘fill in the gaps’ within their learning. Often the term tutoring is used interchangeably with coaching. Whilst this is widely accepted, coaching generally refers to repetitive or drill learning with the intention of gaining achievement in a particular test or assessment, whereas tutoring is more remedial and focused on bridging a gap in learning.
Tutoring is also great for students who enjoy learning and want to extend their thinking laterally, especially in Mathematics. If your child is struggling with confidence in a particular area then tutoring is definitely something you should consider. If your child seems to really be struggling academically at school then tutoring can make a positive impact; however, it is important to look at other factors first before taking the tutoring route. Speak to your child’s teacher about specific difficulties and whether the school can address them adequately. Some specific difficulties are best treated by an occupational therapist (OT), a psychologist, speech therapist or doctor. If these needs are not addressed tutoring can often be appear ineffective.
Depending on where you access your tutoring, you can expect different approaches. Large franchises can have set programs they implement and smaller businesses or individuals may offer personalised services based on the individual needs of the student. Some tutoring companies only offer group programs whilst others provide a one-to-one service. Most students flourish with personalised instruction in a one-to-one setting with a tutor who is knowledgeable and experienced but this will generally incur a higher cost than tutoring in a small group led by a university student. When choosing a tutor, think about which approach suits your child best and be sure to ask questions. Tutoring should be a collaboration towards meeting your child’s individual needs.
Sara Drebber is an educational consultant, teacher, writer and mother of three.