Reflections on 2020

Bushfires. Pandemic. Lockdowns. Remote Learning 1.0 and 2.0. What a year it has been. Before the door closes for some rest and recovery, time now for some reflections on the experience of this year and the implications for the future.

The context for this reflection is my work as Assistant Principal for Curriculum at Wodonga Senior Secondary College, a school of approximately 820 students in regional Victoria with a significant degree of educational disadvantage. It has been a huge year for our school community, with myriad challenges, however we come to the end of the year with much cause for celebration and gratitude.

The concluding remarks to my article on Learning in Lockdown in Teacher Magazine in June of this year remain just as true now:

The resilience, determination and capability of teachers has been strongly underscored during this time. As too has the value that students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, place on their learning, and their ability to take responsibility for their learning. This experience has also highlighted the central role that schools fulfill in providing a learning community that supports students to meet the full range of their needs. And finally, it has highlighted the critical role of processes, structures and leadership in ensuring success in challenging times.

So what have we learnt from this experience?

The professional work of the teaching profession is valuable

Surely this isn’t a controversial statement, yet often the professionalism and capacity of teachers (and schools) is diminished in political, media and community discourse. This year there was no hesitation in considering education an essential service. Our work has been more visible to the wider community. Learning from home has given parents and carers a box seat in their child’s learning experiences and the exceptional support provided by educators. Initial feedback suggests that this has led to a much greater appreciation of and respect for our work.

Will this fade in time? Only if we allow it to and we must not. When our professional work is respected we are in a much better position to form partnerships with parents and carers that support every student to succeed. To this end we all have a role to play in owning our professionalism; being bold enough to share more openly our specialised knowledge and expertise (without downplaying or oversimplifying it); and brave enough to open our classrooms and practices up to parents and carers (without fear of others observing minor faults, errors, or things that just didn’t work). In a sense, owning our own role as dedicated and effective learners.

As leaders, schools and systems this experience also begs the question of how we can do better in valuing the work of educators. Whilst the answers will vary, for me the following are key: demonstrating professional trust; supporting professional risk taking and growth; and enabling greater flexibility and work-life balance.

All students are capable of taking responsibility for their learning with appropriate supports.

This year we had a unique opportunity to test a hypothesis on a large scale. Within the curriculum leadership at my school we have long believed that despite significant educational disadvantage all of our students are fundamentally capable of taking responsibility for their learning when supported appropriately.

The efforts of our students this year overwhelmingly support this hypothesis. They chose to turn up for online learning, with attendance figures matching and at times exceeding that for on site learning. Time and time again they expressed their gratitude for being able to continue to learn. And regardless of the continually changing situation and the many challenges that arose, they persisted.

Moving forward, this experience has doubled our resolve to continue the work we have started in recent years to support our students to develop their meta-cognition and self-regulation. This lies at the heart of their literacy as reflected in the framework we have developed this year, and is critical for their ability to make the most of their opportunities in the world.

The WSSC Literacy Framework

Schools play a vital role in supporting the balanced picture of student needs.

An early step we took in response to the pandemic was to acknowledge the broader role that schools fulfil for students and to develop a complete and balanced picture of student needs. This is not news, but putting this front and centre in our work this year has been critical to our success.

The WSSC Balanced Picture of Student Needs

This work has allowed us to better support our students as a whole person; given leadership a clear tool for reflection; and provided teachers with clear and explicit permission to dedicate time and effort beyond academic outcomes. As a result, we will continue to use this to guide our work into the future.

Processes, structures and leadership matter. Especially so in challenging times.

The relative ease with which our school has dealt with the many challenges of this year reflects not only the work of 2020, but also many years of largely behind the scenes focus on processes, structures and systems. Having these supports in place allowed us to rapidly respond to all of the unpredictable changes that arose.

This is of course also a reminder that leadership matters. Not just in making effective and timely decisions, as much as that was a huge part of this year. But also in leading with trust, authenticity and empathy.

What did that look like for us? Acknowledging the challenges as real and very unprecedented. Working with staff to find solutions and address issues as they arose. Openly appreciating the dedicated efforts of staff. Focusing on what we did know, and what we could control, and modelling this for staff and students alike. Checking in individually with staff on a regular basis.

And what might this experience point to in our future.

Was 2020 a once off, or a preview of future disruption?

There is certainly a palpable desire within the community to return to some kind of normal. But is that likely. To me, this quote from Jim Collins is powerful.

If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.

Jim Collins in Entrepreneurship 2.0 via Brene Brown

And some of the coming disruptions are at least broadly predictable. The impacts of global heating are increasingly being felt around the world and our action remains vastly inadequate. This will lead to many and varied disruptions in the lives of the students of today. Inequality and injustice, both past and present, are front and centre in many societies around the world and cannot simply be wished away or solved by a minor political change. The reckoning with this will also dominate our future.

Is that all a bit bleak after a challenging year? Perhaps, but it also makes it crystal clear that the vital skill set of the future is not about being a ‘digital native’ or ‘knowledge worker’ but rather about coping with change and adapting. The good news is that humans are wired for change. Our brains are malleable and incredibly capable. And we thrive and find meaning when faced with challenge, in particular when we respond as a community.

There is space in the curriculum and the system for innovation.

Some good news. There is plenty of opportunity within school curricula and systems for innovation to address the challenges ahead.

This is particularly true in Victoria where we have a very open and flexible curriculum structure and schools have a large degree of autonomy in their operation. However, both of those things have been true for some time and most schools remain quite traditional in their approach. So the challenge is to take the lessons of this year and the opportunity now to make change.

For us, in the short term, this will involve redoubling our efforts to work with teachers, students and families to develop meta-cognition and self-regulation. Added to this, teachers will be supported to continue to focus on transferable skills over content knowledge, which was a key strategy that emerged organically during remote learning. And timely formative assessment to enable rapid triage and intervention will be supported to remain as effective as it has been this year.

In the medium term it is time to revisit some of our structures and processes. We significantly shifted our weekly schedule during Remote Learning and there was a very positive response across our learning community to the introduction of Independent Learning time. The next step for 2021 is to work out what making the best parts of this structure a permanent part of our on site learning program.

Similarly we are also exploring a range of options to increase our use of blended learning, both within regular programs, and also with the potential to expand and offer new courses that better meet the needs of students that may not be well served by face to face teaching at all times.

Towards the longer term there are bigger questions, not necessarily for one school alone to answer, but questions that we must address as leaders, innovators and systems. How can we shift our structures to better support students to develop the skills required to thrive in a disrupted world? What would a school look like if it had well-being at its heart? How can we ensure every young person finds opportunity and belonging in education? I look forward to finding out!


[RE]LEARN Festival – Wellbeing at the heart of learning communities

It was an absolutely privilege to present a Firestarter Talk at the recent LearnLife [RE]LEARN Festival. You can catch the video of it below.


Lockdown Leadership: Balancing the full picture of student needs

Looking forward to presenting as part of the Educational Data Talks Lessons From Lockdown online conference on Thursday 10 September. Sharing the experience of remote learning at Wodonga Senior Secondary College.

I’ll post the slides here and would welcome any comments or questions from attendees.


New STAV Website

A long time in the making, pleased to be part of creating and launching the new website of the Science Teachers Association of Victoria (STAV)


STAV STEM & LabTech Online Conference

Very pleased to launch the inaugural STAV STEM & LabTech Online Conference. A huge achievement by all involved to bring this innovate new event to fruition in challenging times.


Teacher Magazine: Learning in Lockdown

Excited to have my recent contribution published in ACER’s Teacher Magazine.


Webinar: Fostering Student Wellbeing

Looking forward to being on the panel at the upcoming Evidence 4 Learning webinar on Fostering Student Wellbeing.

Update: Available on YouTube here


Continuous Learning Toolkit

Great to see our continuous learning model featured in the School for Tomorrow Continuous Learning Toolkit Volume II: Leading through Crisis.

The quote from me:

Wodonga Senior Secondary College recognises and values the complete picture of student needs. We care deeply about all our students and work in partnership with them to ensure they all have every opportunity to succeed.


PEARLS: Metacognition

Reflecting on two outstanding days of professional learning on metacognition and self-regulation as part of the PEARLs project presented by Evidence 4 Learning and the Science of Learning Research Centre. The guidance report from Evidence 4 Learning is an excellent resource and we look forward to implementing at Wodonga Senior Secondary College. Greatly appreciate of the scholarship that allowed us to take a team of five to this professional learning.

Key Problems

The three key problems identified:

1. Students get stuck (in the learning pit) and do not have the strategies or language.

2. Staff and students are not all explicitly aware of metacognitive strategies.

3. Outcomes are lower across the board due to lowmetacognition (achievement, retention, pathways).

Hopeful Outcomes

The three hopeful outcomes from this work:

1. Students can articulate where they are at with their learning, making an informed decision of what to do next (and articulating that) – students usingmetacognitive self talk

2. Staff and students share a commonunderstanding of and language for metacognition

3. Outcomes across the board (achievement, retention, pathways) will improve

Professional Development

How do heavy things fly?

STAV Physics Conference, 14 February 2020 – Session B5 How do heavy things fly – making the most of this option study .


Powerpoint slides

Questions, Comments, Feedback – Padlet


Prof Pilot Videos – succint, quite simple and accurate, engaging

VCAA Advice to Teachers – good examples of possible activities

Vic Physics page on Flight

Text – Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators – useful teacher reference

Text – Fundamentals of Flight by Shevell – useful teacher reference


Jacaranda Physics 1 and 2

Textbooks are published. Even better this time with my name on the front!!


Site redevelopment

A quick note that this site is under complete overhaul at the moment. Some older content may not be visible for a few weeks.


Physics Karaoke

qrcode.33635015Sharing teacher developed online resources.


Presented Professional Development

STEM in the new VCE Physics Study Design

Presented at the Vic Physics and STAV Physics Conference at Monash University on Friday February 19, 2016.

Presentation slides in PDF format


Textbook has arrived!

Officially an author of a real live textbook (part thereof) that is sitting on my desk!!


Presented Professional Development

STEM in the new VCE Science Study Designs

Presented at the STAV and Quantum Victoria ICT-STEM Conference on August 28, 2015.

Presented Professional Development

VCAA VCE Physics Study Design Implementation Briefings

I had the privilege of presenting some implementation briefings for the new VCAA VCE Physics Study Design (for 2016 to 2021) during early 2015. The video is available on the VCAA Vimeo Channel.

Presented Professional Development

STAV AIP Physics Conference 2015

The following is a page set aside for resources from my presentations at the STAV AIP VCE Physics Conference held at Monash University in February 2015. I will also use this page to collect useful resources that I come across from sessions that I attend.

A22 – Workshop Unit 1 Physics in 2016

B14 – Flipping Physics!

Padlet wall – for backchannel discussion, asking questions, posting ideas, adding reflections before/during/after the presentation

Presentation slides (PDF) – slides used in the presentation, including links within to useful resources

Year 10 AAP

Hexaflexagon Fun

Thanks to Twitter and YouTube, I recently came to watch Vi Hart’s videos on hexaflexagons (her YouTube channel has some fascinating maths in it wrapped up in some very engaging and creative videos!).

A great idea for my Year 10 Maths class. Hence the essential question for the next lesson…


And some flexagation fun ensued!

If you haven’t made one, give it a try! I found this tutorial helpful as it didn’t rely on any templates, just some logical folds.

Now I just need to get some burritos and make a hex flex mex for lunch!

Presented Professional Development

SchoolsTechOZ: Flipped Learning in STEM

Presentation slides

Presented Professional Development

SchoolsTechOZ: ICT in Maths & Science

Presentation slides

Back channel for introductions, comments, questions, feedback

Presented Professional Development

AIP & STAV Physics Conference: Engaging students online

On Friday 14 February 2014 I presented a session on Engaging students through online interactions with Steve Draper at the AIP/STAV Physics Conference in Melbourne. The presentation and related resources are below.

Padlet wall for questions, comments and feedback

Presentation Slide (PDF)

Presented Professional Development

STAVCON Presentation: Flipped Learning

On Thursday 28 November2013 I presented a session on Flipped Learning at STAVCON in Melbourne. The presentation and related resources are below.

Questions and Suggestions – a backchannel to leave any questions or suggestions that you think of during the presentation (Padlet)

Presentation slides

Reflection – what will you try in your teaching practice (Padlet)

Feedback – provide feedback on the presentation (PollEV)

If you enjoyed the session and are going to give flipped learning a go in your classes, please get in touch and let me know how it went.

Presented Professional Development

STAV ICT-STEM Presentation: Flipped Learning

On Friday 30 August 2013 I presented a session on Flipped Learning at the STAV ICT-STEM conference. The presentation and related resources are below.

Presentation slides (Google Drive)

Feedback (PollEV)

If you enjoyed the session and are going to give flipped learning a go in your classes, please get in touch and let me know how it went.