Thanks to NSW schools have a 9 week term, the first week of the holidays for NSW teachers happened to be the last week of teaching before the holidays in ACT. Which means that the last week of the ACT holidays was Week 1 of Term 4 in NSW!

I seized this opportunity to invite NSW teachers to visit Canberra and have a look around my school if they wish and asked some schools in Sydney if I could visit their grounds!

I had the honour of taking Merrylands East Public School (MEPS) Principal, John Goh on a tour around my school on the Monday and then Alice Leung and Michael Lin from Merrylands High School (MHS) on the Thursday. I found that I learnt a lot about my own school as I walked around and visited classrooms with my guests! It’s amazing how easy it can be to take your work environment for granted when you don’t take the time to truly explore and talk to other staff about the projects they are coordinating! So many staff can easily fly under the radar with the outstanding work they are doing with their class because of how humble and modest they are!

A fortnight later, I went to visit MHS and MEPS on the Wednesday and Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt on the Thursday.

Merrylands High:

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The school had a great vibe, and brought back a lot of fond memories of when I taught in a 7-12 school. I was fortunate enough to sit in and observe one of Alice’s lessons with her Yr 8 Science class that just became a BYOD class. I was blown away at how independent they all were in their task of creating a multimedia experiment report on an experiment they had performed the previous day. The students were all on task and engaged in playing around with multimedia templates, working collaboratively in typing up the report, taking photos of the experiment set up and editing the photos for enhancement. Talk about digital natives! It’s a huge testament to Alice, who structured the lesson really well and gave clear instructions on the mini whiteboard in the classroom and also on their class weebly page.

The school itself has a lot of really nice personal touches. I really liked the mural showing the multiculturalism of the school and how the staff transformed the standard library chair into something a lot more funky!

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I also loved the number and the size of display boards in the classroom! The visual of the exam revision is something that I am definitely taking away with me back to my own classroom!

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Using the display board for revision

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Using the display board to show photos of student activities and work!

I also love the displays in the science classroom of various models coming from the ceiling! It brings a lot more colour and fun to the environment!

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Last but not least, Alice told me about a wonderful initiative that the Merrylands staff have done, which is having a Staff Book Exchange where staff put books in the bookcase below for others to read if they wish.
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Next stop was Merrylands East Primary School:
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I met John in the meeting room at the front office and instantly fell in love with the whiteboard painted wall that had a neat outline of what the school was all about – the pedagogy, the goals, the values, the purpose.IMG_5482

As I walked around the classrooms, I felt like I was in Disneyland! I loved the wide open spaces where more than one class can learn in the same space at the same time. Not to mention the awesome whiteboard tables that students can write their ideas on!
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John told me about the empty room policy where chairs are put aside as default and only taken out when the students need them. Speaking of chairs and furniture, it’s not exactly your stock standard four legged plastic chair either… words cannot expressed how elated I was when I sat in the stiletto chair!
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I am pleased to say that the outdoors looked just as spectacular as the indoors! MEPS has this superb greenhouse and a strong commitment to sustainability, from installing solar panels to farming chickens and rabbits and using their manure to fertilise the plants! The fruit and vegetables that are grown are given to the families of the students, which I think is brilliant in making the school ultimately one big family in itself. John had also shown me the room that is used by families to meet and socialise, often cooking and sharing recipes with one another. It’s such a great way to allow the families to become more actively involved with the school community!
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I was fortunate enough to visit on the day that the Yr 2 students held their MEPS Markets project, masterminded by teachers, Ashleigh Catanzariti and Lee Hewes. It was project based learning at its finest! I strongly urge you to check out their page and their blog to be wow-ed at the high quality of work and engagement that will forever transform your vision of what 7 and 8 yr olds can do if given the chance!
The market was a huge success – I am purely judging this from the buzz, excitement and positive vibe from the selling, buying and eating of the food that the students grew and made themselves.

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Then there is the beautiful Japanese garden that was obviously built with a lot of love and care, with beautiful goldfish living in the pond for years. A nice, serene place for calmness and wellbeing!
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Last but not least, John showed me the Canteen and the Hall. I don’t drink coffee, but I can still appreciate the coffee machine imported from Italy! As for the hall, John and I may or may not have had a little disco fun with the disco ball that caught my eye…
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All in all, I think this display from the 4/5K classroom pretty much sums up what I thought about MEPS! I learnt so much about space (indoors and outdoors), community involvement, 21st Century learning and the amazing things that can be done with a strong, passionate team of staff who all share the same pedagogy.
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The next day, I visited a school that an old uni friend of mine, Michael Thai, teach at: Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt

He first gave me a tour of the staff room, which was one huge space with rows of teacher’s desks because ALL teaching staff are in there together! It was the first time I had ever seen such a staffroom! It seemed to work well and I can imagine it would be a lot easier to collaborate with other teachers across faculties with such a setup!
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Next he showed me the library, which had a lot of different learning spaces for different purposes (e.g. quiet area, group work, seminar presentation). I’m a big fan of modular furniture!
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Then, Michael showed me around the VET areas which were first class! The woodwork room, welding area, auto room and the hairdressing salon were immaculate and I love how each room is filled with natural light!
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Another area that I loved was the hospitality area. The commercial kitchen that the students use is amazing. The students cook and sell the food through their cafe, La Cova, where I bought a slushie, a chicken caesar wrap and the BEST fruit salad I’ve ever had for a BARGAIN!
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I was also able to sit in and observe Colin Newell’s Legal Studies class which was really interesting. The students were hanging off his every word as he described various cases with the perfect mix of legal terminology and colloquialism.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the grandfather of a brilliant ex-student of mine, who just happened to be an English teacher at Loyola! It was one of those wonderful ‘it’s-a-small-world’ coincidences!

I had only planned to visit Loyola for a couple of hours, but I ended up spending half the day there just chatting to a lot of the staff!

Even though I visited three VERY different schools (a public high school, an unconventional (in the coolest possible way) public primary school and a Catholic Senior High school), they all had one thing in common:

They all had committed staff who are overtly passionate about teaching and sharing!

I left feeling prouder than ever to be a teacher and even more inspired to keep learning from others!

A huge thank you to Alice, John, and Michael for hosting me over those two days and all of the amazing teachers I met during this time!

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