This morning, I came across this article which made me furious for a number of reasons: 

It was not the whole private vs public thing that I was most angry at – it was that once again, I was reading articles valuing schools based on numbers. Deceitful numbers. Numbers that don’t tell the whole story. Numbers that shouldn’t be used to value anything or anyone. 

I did not become a teacher to pump out high ATARs. Call me crazy, but I have never met a teacher whose sole purpose was to create a class of 99.95 students. If that happened one day, I would be a proud teacher of course, but not of myself – I would be proud of the students. 

That day has not come yet and guess what? I am still proud of my students. 

As a teacher in a senior secondary school, I have the privilege of teaching both students who want an ATAR and students who don’t. Students who don’t want an ATAR doesn’t concern me as much as students who want an ATAR but have no idea why or what for. 

Students who don’t want an ATAR usually make this decision with career advisors, parents/carers and tend to have some plan in place (ASBA, etc) to help achieve employment when they graduate. 

On the other hand, students who want an ATAR but don’t know what to do with it have grown up thinking a high ATAR is the key to success in life, the equivalent of an IQ test and/or the way to make their parents proud of them. 

Articles like the one above only perpetuates this pressure and myth.

Seeing students when they receive their ATARs at the end of the year is always bittersweet for me. 
There are a lot of happy faces but there are also a lot of disappointed faces. Faces of students who started off getting Ds and eventually worked their way up to Bs, students who had been carers, living out of home, worked two jobs to support the family, etc. These faces of students who did not get the ATAR that they wanted to get into a course they had applied for, due to a whole heap of reasons that the ATAR doesn’t tell you. These faces that tear up because they think their chances of a bright future is now ripped from them and/or fear their parent’s reaction.

Fact 1: Uni is not for everybody. 

Fact 2: Not everybody will get into, or be successful at uni for various reasons.

Fact 3: Some may not be ready for tertiary studies until they are older

Fact 4: Not everybody who is capable of succeeding at university goes to university.

Where on earth are the studies that look into supporting these students and following their successes? 

Where are the studies about schools that thrive in ensuring that their students grow up to be resilient, determined, driven and well-adjusted global citizens regardless of their ATAR score at the end of Yr 12?

I became a teacher to foster a love of learning in my students, to build their resilience and help them feel connected. 

Measure that.

One of the reasons I have been MIA from the blog this year is because I had taken 24 students overseas to 6 countries and 9 cities around Europe for three weeks with two other teachers.

Our first stop was London, where we got the opportunity to visit many museums and tourist hotspots such as the Natural History Museum, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre where we participated in a Romeo and Juliet workshop run by one of the actors at the Globe! We also visited the Warner Bros Studios where we spent three hours on the set of Harry Potter and marvelled at the costumes, special effects, models and props from the film series. In the evenings, we got the opportunity to see Matilda and Once the Musical on the West End. Many Whovians were particularly excited at the chance to meet Arthur Darvill after Once The Musical as we got his autograph, a photo and a little dance with the talented actor/musician!

Next stop was Amsterdam where we headed straight to the beautiful Keukenhof Gardens and had a delightful bike ride near a clog factory and windmill. The next day, some students went to Delft to see how the beautiful Royal Delft pottery is made while others when to Nemo, the Science Centre in Amsterdam, and a tour of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. In the afternoon, we all met up at the Rijkmuseum for some more art culture. On our last day at Amsterdam, we went on  boat cruise along the canals before visiting the sombre Anne Frank’s House.

That night we caught an overnight train to Munich which was an exciting experience! When we arrived in Munich, we got given a tour of the centre of town and tasted the local delicacy of a “schmalznudel” for breakfast! We then went on a tour of the Olympia stadium where there was a Sparta Challenge event and we watched participants jump over a fire to the finish line! After the stadium tour, we found ourselves at BMW World, looking at the latest auto-technology at BMW! In the afternoon, we visited the Nymphenburg castle and its hunting house. In the afternoon, some students went to the Pinakothek museums to immerse themselves with the art galleries on offer in Munich while others relaxed in a community park and played various games like hacky sack and leapfrog! On our last day of Munich, we visited Dachau, which was the first concentration camp that was used as a model for others during World War II. It was a sobering experience seeing the conditions and learning about the treatment of those detained.

Our next stop was Salzburg in Austria, where we went on a Sound of Music tour, visiting the key film locations from the movie and re-enacting some of the most memorable scenes! We also visited Mozart’s birthplace and the incredible Hohensalzburg Castle, which was built 937 years ago!

Before we knew it, we said “so long, farewell” to Austria and departed for an Italian adventure starting with a day in Verona, checking out ‘Juliet’s balcony’ on our way to La Spezia. We had a relaxing day in Cinque Terre, visiting the five colourful villages along the coastline andwe watched the gorgeous sun set against the backdrop of a picturesque endless sea. Soon, we were off again, this time to Florence! No visit to Florence is complete without a visit to the Duomo and the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s magnificent David sculpture made out of marble! Being Easter, it was only appropriate to have an Easter Egg Hunt at the Boboli Gardens! On our last day in Florence, some students went to Pisa and took creative photographs with the Leaning Tower, while others stayed in Florence and watched the amazing fireworks display to celebrate Easter Sunday! That afternoon, we boarded our flight to our last European destination – PARIS! The flight was particularly special to one of the students, who celebrated her 16th birthday that day by joining the pilots in the cockpit for the landing into Paris! I was lucky to accompany her to the cockpit and meet the pilots since I was the one who sneakily informed them of her birthday.

Despite only having only two full days in Paris, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Lourve, shopping along Champs Elysee and seeing the Arc De Triomphe, going up the Eiffel Tower, exploring MontMarte and Sacre-Coeur, a river cruise along the Seine, a tour of the Palace of Versailles, a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, a visit to Notre Dame and sought refuge from the rain at Shakespeare & Co, where many students fell in love with the books and the ambience of the shop (which one of our musical prodigy students contributed to with his piano solo upstairs!).

It’s quite amazing to reflect back on all the things we saw and did in only just three weeks!

To help us remember, I had set up a Facebook page: to share our experiences with friends, families and the community.

I also made videos during the trip so that families could see that their children were doing well and were having a ball! We got a lot of positive feedback from the families when we got back about the constant photo and video updates!

The videos can be found here (for some unknown reason, a few of them can only be viewed on a desktop or laptop):






The trip took place on the last week of Term 1 and most of the Easter school holidays, so I only had 3 days at home before Term 2 started again. When talking to friends and even colleagues about the trip (before and after), they say something about how it’s a holiday for me and the other teachers and how good we had it.

I suppose the term ‘holiday’ mean different things to different people.

A ‘holiday’ doesn’t usually involve being away from family and friends, and instead be responsible for 24 teenagers for three weeks halfway around the world. Did I enjoy myself? Yes. Did I feel fortunate to be a part of the trip? Of course. Although it wasn’t really anything to do with fortune or luck – my colleagues and I had been planning this excursion for over a year with many late nights, mountains of paperwork, playing waiting games with travel services, negotiating prices and maintaining regular communication with students and their families. We were not just teachers – we were accountants, travel agents, tour guides, nurses, counsellors, security guards, photographers, public relations officers, event managers, researchers and many other roles. 

Was it worth it? Absolutely! I loved seeing the students’ eyes widen with awe and disbelief at each museum, palace and gallery, watching new friendships being formed, and making links between what they had learnt in classrooms to what is now right in front of them. The joy I felt wasn’t so much from knowing that I was in a beautiful foreign country, but from watching these students absorb everything around them.

That’s the magic I want to capture and take back to the classroom. 

For quite some time, I’ve been tossing up the idea of asking my Yr 12 Personality and Abnormal Psychology students to create a blog where they reflect on what they have learnt in our Psychology classes.

Last week, I took the plunge and I have not looked back since!

After getting the OK from the powers that be, I made this Blogging Guidelines document which I went through with my students in class and I set up a blog with a post explaining why I wanted them to blog and the benefits of it.

We discussed digital citizenship, and I made it very clear that nobody is to reveal their real names or include any photos/videos which may reveal their identity. Firstly, there is the obvious privacy issue from the Department. Secondly, I felt that many of my students would feel much more comfortable blogging if they knew they would be anonymous to their classmates. Therefore, I am the only one who knows whose blog belongs to whom. 

After going through the guidelines and talking about expectations, every student created a blog account and many started writing their first post immediately. 

The reflections I have been reading have blown my mind. 

* One student wrote about how he/she amazed herself in being able to carry out a conversation at a family BBQ today about various case studies he/she learnt about in Psychology over the past year.

* Another student spent some time thinking about to what degree (if any) does a person’s preference for various things indicate particular personality traits

* This student is just bubbling with ideas and writes with such wit and sass!

* As for this student, the curiosity and engagement he/she has is so impressive – yet I would never would have known in class because the student isn’t as extroverted as others to voice his/her thoughts!

There are several more which are as equally impressive and if these posts don’t give you faith in the future generation I don’t know what will.

The students have since started following each other’s blog as I have them the links to the blogs and they have been commenting on each other’s post without knowing who had written it, which can be a big self-esteem boost for the writer!

Please feel free to reply with a comment for any of the above linked posts! I’m sure they would get a great thrill from it knowing that their voice is being heard from outside our class!

I’m not sure if anyone can tell… but I am SO VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS!!!!!!!

At the start of each year, I always do a letter writing activity with my new classes as a way to get to know them better and faster.

I also find that it helps me to remember new names, as it is so much easier when there is a story (or in this case, a letter) behind the name.

I usually start the activity by giving them a letter I had written, introducing myself and telling them a bit about my interests. By opening up to my students in a letter, to show them that I am indeed a human being, they usually feel a lot more comfortable writing back with their own personality injected into the tone of their writing.

To give the students some direction in what to include in their letter, I give them the following points to consider:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 9.20.51 am

I collect the letters at the end of the lesson and then take my time reading them throughout the day.

I write a short response to each student’s letter, highlighting things we may have in common or things that I want to know more about, and give them the responses in the next lesson.

This does take hours and hours, but the look on their faces the next day is always worth it. Sometimes a student ask if they can write a reply to my reply!

From this activity, I get a pretty good picture of a few things:

1) My student’s personality and interests
2) My student’s goals/plans (if any)
3) My student’s strengths and weaknesses
4) How my student prefers to learn
5) The student’s literacy level
6) Whether handwriting would be an issue

I can then use this information to direct my teaching from Day 1.

It is so important that all students have at least one teacher they feel comfortable approaching at school to keep them motivated in school, and this activity has always been my way of trying to build rapport with my students as soon as possible so that I can be that teacher if need be.

Sometimes, it feels like it was just yesterday that I was doing my HSC… and then I wake up to reality and realise that it was 13 years ago. However, some things never change.

It was doing the HSC in 2001 when I understood the importance of sharing and connecting with others. 
Going to a high school in a small country town where there were 64 students in my year had its strengths, but the main weakness for me was that I felt as though I was in a small bubble with no idea of how my work and progress compared to Yr 12 students in other towns and cities. 

I was one of the earlier adopters of Internet in town at that stage with my revolutionary dial-up modem, and I remember using yahoo to search for HSC related resources.
It wasn’t long before I came across two websites: (which no longer exists) and (found an archived page)

Hscboardz was a forum where Yr 12 students around NSW could post questions and answers about various subjects, which quickly turned into a support network for each other. Fatmuscle was a site created by a generous Yr 12 student, Ian Keong, who hosted various resources, notes, etc for other Yr 12 students. 

Reading essays from students who were attending schools like Barker, James Ruse, St George Girls, etc opened my eyes and it hit me pretty hard that I was just a very small fish in a very big sea. I spent hours, firstly on the HSCboardz, and then on ICQ chatting to a few of the HSCboardz regulars.

Fast forward to 2002, when I got accepted to UNSW, I had to move five hours away knowing virtually noone but my sisters in Sydney. To celebrate the end of Yr 12, the HSCboardz regulars organised a meet-up, so that we could all finally meet each other in person. I remember feeling quite anxious about it because of the horror stories I’d hear about meeting people from the internet. I figured that since it was a group meeting, and I had a pretty good background on most of the people going, it would be safe. 

I am so glad that I did, otherwise, I would not have made friends with Ian, who introduced me to a whole new group of friends when I first moved to Sydney – most of whom I still hang out with regularly.

A couple of years after the HSC, Ian and three other friends (James, Mark and Tim) created what is now – a one stop shop for Yr 12 students to support, teach and learn from each other. It has taken a life of its own since they first created it and as a teacher now, I think it is great to see so many Yr 12 students supporting each other and sharing instead of being viciously competitive. 

Over a decade later, here I am as a teacher, still using the internet and social media like Twitter to share and connect with other educators. Would I have been so comfortable and open to using social media and connect with other educators if I had never used HSCBoardz? Probably not, although I would like to think that it would have just taken a little longer to warm up to the experience.

Just like the days of being a HSC student, I have connected with so many people outside of my school. Yesterday, I got the chance to meet Eddie Woo whilst he was in town for a conference. I had a great time drinking my banana, honey and cinnamon milkshake and doing a bit of shop talk with him. I’m constantly grateful for the wonders of technology, the internet (even ICQ… RIP) for their role in bringing such inspiring, wonderful people in my life. 


Like many others, I tend to reflect at the end of each year on how I had spent the previous 12 months. I think about key experiences, both the good and the bad, and what I have learnt from them. 

For me, 2013 will be etched in my mind as the year I discovered the true meaning of Twitter. 

I signed up to Twitter back in 2009 to follow some celebrities and then forgot all about it. It wasn’t until March 2013, that I decided to create the @PositiveSchool account and started to see the true value of its power as a professional learning tool.

I started by following educators who were following the @PositiveSchool account, and then following a number of the “who to follow” suggestions that Twitter had kindly recommended to me. 

All of the sudden, I was coming across phrases like “Project Based Learning”, “SOLO Taxonomy”, “Genius Hour”, “Flipped Classrooms” so much in my feed, that they became a part of my vocabulary and interests too. 

Then came my first twitter chat, which was #teacherwellbeingchat. At that point, I decided that I no longer wanted to sit idly by and read people’s opinions and resources – I wanted to share my own thoughts with others too!

It did not take long before I got hooked on connecting with hundreds of educators from around the world, exchanging ideas and resources. 

If the Ghost of Christmas Past decided to visit me and show me all the things I would have missed out on if I didn’t go on Twitter this year, the list would include:

1) Hosting #EduTweetOz
2) Visiting (and visitors from) Merrylands East Public School and Merrylands High
3) Going to two TeachMeets in Canberra and one in Sydney
4) Going to the #ACTLearn Engaging Leaders Conference and meeting the incredible George Couros
5) Meeting Ben Duggan and getting involved with the Raising Hope Education Foundation
6) Taking students to the Q&A special with former Prime Minister Gillard
7) Allowing my students to interact and interview the actors from the West End production of A Clockwork Orange 
8) Widening my PLN by hundreds and developing some awesome friendships along the way
9) Starting this blog!

I was really excited when the brilliant teacher-librarian at my school emailed the staff the following news at the end of the school year:

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013

Always interesting to see the results of the survey by Jane Hart’s Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (C4LPT) – as voted by 500+ learning professionals from 48 countries.

1. Twitter
2. Google Drive/Docs
3. YouTube
4. Google Search
5. PowerPoint
6. Evernote
7. Dropbox
8. WordPress
9. Facebook
10. Google +

Twitter retained #1 for the 5th year running. Pinterest jumped 14 places to #22. Coursera (MOOC platform) was a new addition at #38.

Analysis: “

I have been trying to persuade many of my colleagues to engage and participate in developing their own PLN on Twitter and now I have the research to back it up! 

It is now 2014, and I look forward to the many more learning opportunities that my Twitter PLN will offer. 

Without further ado, I would like to send a big shoutout my PLN – thank you for motivating me, supporting me and teaching me. 

As some famous magical beings once said:

Because I knew you, I have been changed for good…

Last night, my school held its annual graduation ceremony for our Yr 12 students.

Hands down, it was the best one I had been to for a couple of reasons:

1) The musical performances were all phenomenal. Sometimes it is too easy to fall into the trap of being stuck in your own faculty (that is, if your faculty is not in Arts!) and miss seeing the creative talents of the students. Last night allowed all staff and students to really appreciate the incredible talent we had this year. The standing ovation for a student who is a classical singer and who performed “Anthem” was indicative of the high calibre of the students.

2) The main reason why this graduation will forever be stamped in my mind is because of a particular student who I consider one of the most inspirational people I have met. Soraj lost both his legs to a cluster mine when he was just nine years old and had been wheelchair bound since.
When he first enrolled at my school, he wrote a short column in our school newsletter introducing himself and sharing with the public how he came to be a double above the knee amputee.

Over the course of three years, he was able to complete his Yr 12 certificate with us while his family and friends were still in Afghanistan.

Soraj would often come into Emglish classes studying the Kite Runner and tell the students his story. When I was teaching resilience as part of my Positive Psychology unit, he was more than happy to be a guest speaker for my class and tell us how he kept persevering and fighting for himself and his education when his society wouldn’t.

Just after a year into his enrolment, our then Principal decided to look into the possibility of prosthetic legs for Soraj as it is much more difficult for above the knee amputees. When doctors confirmed that it could be done and gave estimates of the costs for the legs and therapy, the entire school community got together and made it happen.
Community organisations donated money, the Positive Psych class ran a trivia night that raised over $9000, the head teacher of Science and PE raised over $10,000 doing 100 Burpees everyday for 100 days and then an epic 1000 Burpees in under two hours! Another teacher raised a lot of money taking orders and cooking curry lunches each week for staff. In every school event, there were always a way to donate to the cause!

I remember vividly when I asked Soraj what he would like to put on the Trivia Night poster, he suggested “Fundraising for a boy who wants to walk to his mother”.

Soraj throughout the entire experience was so humbled and grateful. He never asked for help, but he had touched so many of the staff and students that we all wanted the same goal – for Soraj to walk across the stage and collect his Yr 12 Certificate.

Which brings me to last night, at the Canberra Centre, when I had the privilege of being onstage with the best view in the house to watched this magnificent young man, walk onstage to a standing ovation and collect the certificate that meant so much to him.

Scottie, who did the Burpees, recorded the moment and uploaded on his 100 Burpees Facebook page here:

Once in a while, you come across a person who teaches you, inspires you and who you will never ever forget.
It is even more amazing when that person is a student.