“I find kids respond best when you are your most authentic self”

I initially studied Law and Economics after completing my HSC but the lure of traveling the world proved strong so I flew overseas after 2 years once I’d completed my Economics degree.

Q1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I initially studied Law and Economics after completing my HSC but the lure of traveling the world proved strong so I flew overseas after 2 years once I’d completed my Economics degree. A decade later, my long-held dream of driving across the Nullarbor took me to Perth to live. An old friend recommended studying as a productive way of spending my planned year in the wild west so I enrolled in a Diploma of Education at Murdoch University. I was initially drawn to teaching because of its portability, I could take it almost anywhere in the world. 

I’ve been teaching since 2005, initially as a casual teacher in various schools in Sydney’s Inner West. After traveling overseas for 2006 I returned to teach Year 4 in regional NSW for 2007. Teaching casually in the Inner West in 2008 led me to my current permanent position where I have taught Year 4, numerous years on Year 1 and the positions of EAL/D and Learning Support Teacher when I worked part time whilst on maternity leave. In 2019 I had the incredible opportunity to live and work in BC, Canada for the year on a teacher exchange where I taught Year 5. This year I am loving teaching Year 1.

I love kids; love hanging out with them, being silly with them, making them laugh. I love sharing my passion for literature, the structure of the English language and patterns and the way maths works. I love being able to be myself in my job as I find kids respond best when you are your most authentic self.

During Sydney’s lockdown last year I was privy to my daughter’s learning. I noticed some gaps so undertook extensive testing which resulted in a diagnosis of dyslexia and dysgraphia. I am currently in the process of assessing her for ADHD.

Q2. Starting a new year can be a nervous time for kids and a busy time for teachers. From your perspective, what information should parents give to the teacher before their child starts in a new class?

The more information that a parent can provide to a parent in terms of professional reports and assessments, the better informed the teacher will be of individual needs and requirements. I would recommend emailing the teacher to introduce yourself and give a brief outline of your child’s learning, behavioural and social needs or diagnosis and attaching any professional reports. Ask for a face to face meeting with the teacher in the first couple of weeks to meet and discuss your child’s needs with the teacher. Make sure to let the teacher know what does and doesn’t work well, any triggers your child has etc.

Q3. Some parents and carers don’t find out that their child requires additional support until they are in school and the expectations placed on that child outweigh their ability to meet them. How much training or information do you get from the department/school around identification of students with possible behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions?

There is no mandatory formal teacher training for students with additional needs. Individual schools will conduct whole school professional development training if it’s deemed beneficial to the whole staff. Otherwise it really is up to the individual teacher to undertake their own research and training. The quality of the training is variable. I have undertaken some that are very informative and beneficial and others that I left with no greater understanding and knowledge than I have before. Any good teacher will do their own research on any conditions that they believe or have been told their student’s have.

Q4. How can parents work with teachers to get the best result for their children?

Undeniably, parents are in the best position to understand their children. Parents should provide as much information as early as possible to the classroom teacher and the Learning and Support Team so that a plan can be put in place to best cater for the student. Any formal reports by educational psychologists, speech pathologists, paediatricians or occupational therapists should be sent to classroom teachers at the beginning of the year and followed up with a face to face meeting. Parents need to communicate any changes in terms of diagnosis or medication, behavioural additionally any changes to home life that might have an impact on the student.

Q5. Many children with behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions have difficulty learning in traditional environments. What kinds of things have you implemented in your classrooms that you think have a positive impact?

The learning environment makes such a difference to the individual success of children with additional needs. My main aim is to create an environment that every child feels safe, where they belong and that they enjoy being in. I use a lot of soft lighting with fairy lights, old fashion yellow light lamps and try to minimise the usage of overhead fluorescent lights. 

I also understand that all kids learn differently and have different needs when they are processing information or trying to master a new skill. Hence there are various seating/ learning position options in my room. I have wobble chairs, round cushions, a cosy lounge area with lots of pillows and soft toys. There are also little nooks where you can sit by yourself facing away from the classroom. I have an essential oil air diffuser with lavender and use meditative music during work time. 

Two students in my present class that have additional needs, both have quiet spaces in our classroom where they have time out when they need. Their space has items that soothe them including drawing, putty, soft toys etc and photos.

Q6. Can you explain what is an IEP/ILP  (individual education/learning plan) and how it is used by parents and teachers?

A Personalise Learning and Support Plan (PLSP) has replaced IEP/ILPs as a specific, targeted plan that are designed to give students to become as independent as possible. They are written by the classroom teacher in consultation and collaboration with the school’s Learning and Support Team and the parents. They outline goals which focus on student achievement and high expectations. Students who are identified as having additional educational needs such as an identified learning issue, a health issue or Indigenous are required to have a PLSP which is reviewed every semester. Teachers will brief the next year’s teacher on the specifics of a student’s PLSP.  All staff have access to individual student’s PSLPs via the Learning and Support files on the Google drive.

Q7. Teaching a class with more than twenty kids who have different needs and skill levels requires a lot of continuous hard work. What would you like parents to know about what happens in the background?

Teaching is quite different from other jobs as it is so invested. It is all about relationships, you need to love each of your students for the learning and teaching process to succeed.

I don’t think parents fully grasp how invested in their child, teachers are.  Additionally, your job is never ‘done’. For the entire year, I am constantly thinking about how to best provide for ‘my kids’. You wake up at 2am in the morning stressed about why *Jake knows his single sounds but can’t blend them together to form a word. It really is all encompassing. 

Teachers spend hours upon hours developing learning resources, researching best practices and setting up learning opportunities for their students. Teachers are also required to undertake hours and hours of professional development and training every year. 

Administration demands on teachers continue to increase every year. This ultimately takes time away from focusing on teaching students. 

Q8. Thinking more broadly, what are your thoughts on how behaviour is managed at your school?

My school follows a Restorative Justice Framework for relationship and behaviour management. The restorative justice theory focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishment. 

When something goes wrong, either between students or with a teacher and a student, a conversation takes place. 

Both sides are asked the same questions-

What happened and what were you thinking at the time?

What have you thought about since?

Who has been affected by what happened? How do you think they’ve been affected?

What about this has been the hardest for you?

What do you think needs to be done to make things as right as possible?

As students are taught this framework from Kindergarten, it becomes a way of communicating and solving issues that facilitate student communication when things go wrong.

I believe for the most part this system works well. It can fall short when students repeatedly behave inappropriately without regard for others and do not change their behaviour. However, I believe that it is the best behaviour management approach that I have encountered in my experience.

Q9. If you were all powerful, what changes would you make in schools? Feel free to be aspirational, we can all dream!

Increased funding to ensure that teachers have a teacher’s aide who have a Duty of Care and can take small groups or facilitate the classroom teacher to take small focus groups

Smaller classroom sizes to enable teachers to have more one on one time with individual students

The Science of Reading theories to be implemented in all Australian schools

Functional outdoor learning classroom options

Larger, well-resourced classrooms

A full time school counsellor dedicated to every school instead of 1 counsellor to 1300 students

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