The importance of time out for Professional Development

This blog is titled ‘Teaching as Learning’ for a reason. I adamantly subscribe to the view that to be an effective teacher, one must also be an effective learner.

Yet, in conversations with colleagues, I notice that teachers often find a tension between their need for on-going professional development, and the fact that it takes them out of the classroom “too much.” This concern is completely understandable, but I do not believe it is completely true.

A range of professional development opportunities have come my way over the last few years, many of which have taken me out of the classroom for one or two days per term – sometimes more. This year will be no different. I am very fortunate to work for a leadership team who are supportive of this and happy to accommodate the fact that I will be away on certain days each term, because ultimately the school and – most importantly – the students benefit from involvement in these programs.

This is, of course, a huge commitment for any teacher, and there is always the worry that we are doing our students a disservice. However, I would argue that we are doing our students a disservice if we don’t take the time out occasionally to engage in training that is relevant and meaningful, and fits in with the direction that the school is taking in its approach to teaching and learning. Time spent out on such courses enhances the quality of our teaching when we are in the classroom. It improves our ability to support colleagues in their own teaching and professional learning, and it improves our own self-efficacyThe YouTube clip below from AITSL illustrates perfectly the idea that everybody involved in the school community thrives when there is a culture of learning, an important part of which is the modeling of learning by the teachers themselves!

It is crucial, however, that teachers take responsibility for their own professional learning. We cannot expect opportunities to simply fall into our laps if we do not seek them out and pursue clear, defined professional goals. The AITSL National Professional Standards for Teachers provide an incredibly useful framework for on-going self-evaluation and reflection, identifying areas of need for professional development, and goal setting.

And, just for a giggle from one of my favourite comic strips to finish off:

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What do South Australian pre-service and graduate teachers really need?

I would really like to know precisely who determines which courses must be completed by pre-service teachers and what those courses should contain.

I ponder this for a reason. Too regularly throughout the first four years of my career have I questioned, “Why was I not taught this at uni?” Friends who are also teachers have expressed that they have felt the same way.

I experienced a wide range of teaching styles at uni, from some amazing lecturers and tutors to some who weren’t quite as up there. I learnt a lot about big ideas like teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds, about the importance of relationships in education, about involving parents and families, about SACSA, SACE and even a couple of nods towards what would become the Australian Curriculum. I learnt to write elaborate lesson plans and unit plans that ticked all the boxes according to the relevant policies and frameworks.

But very rarely was I taught the HOW of teaching. Of course, we looked at educational theory both in terms of methodology and classroom management, but my university program did not prepare me for the nitty-gritty of what I teach and the medium through which I teach it: language.

Which brings me to the question: given that we were bombarded with the principle of “Literacy and numeracy are everybody’s responsibility”, why was I not adequately taught how to teach literacy and numeracy in my subject area?

Friends who attended other universities tell me that they had “Literacy” courses, but even those courses didn’t go quite far enough.

So how can we expect pre-service and graduate teachers of ANY subject area to teach literacy and numeracy effectively if they are not equipped with the skills to do so? How can we expect explicit teaching of language features in subjects other than English if teachers do not have the linguistic knowledge? (At this point, I would like to qualify my point by saying that I do not assert that teachers do not know their subject area. What I mean is, do they know how to explicitly teach the language and language features associated with that discipline?)

In the past few years I have immersed myself in Language and Literacy PD (and by Language, I am not referring to my role as a LOTE teacher, but as an English teacher) and it has made me a hundred times more effective in my role. Yet, I cannot shake the feeling that due to a lack of skills in teaching literacy in my first year of teaching, I let my students down. If I had known then a small fraction of what I know now, their learning and approach to the subject might have been different. I majored in English at uni – I can only imagine how non-English trained English teachers might feel when faced with meeting the Language Strand requirements of the Australian Curriculum. It would be like putting me in front of a Maths class!

The skills for teaching literacy and numeracy are something that I feel passionately about being more effectively integrated into pre-service teacher training and on-going graduate teacher professional development. I wonder, what else do pre-service and graduate teachers really need? According to the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, approximately 30% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years.

What can be done better at university and in the earliest years of their career to prevent this? What do those teachers require?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

New year, new role

I feel like I’ve been neglecting my little bit of cyberspace for some time, but the extended break has been much needed.

I have started this year fresh, excited about my dual role as both a classroom and an EAL teacher. The last two years have seen many hours of Professional Development through Catholic Education SA, culminating in a fantastic opportunity for a close colleague and myself to take on the EAL role halfway through last year. This year, my colleague and friend moved on to another fantastic opportunity and I found myself taking on the remainder of the EAL load. Whilst this was, at first daunting – given that I was taking the responsibility for a job that we had enjoyed sharing – the opportunities that the role opens up for my own learning and teaching are becoming increasingly clear. I provide in-class support for EAL students and their teachers, and in just a couple of weeks of visiting classes, I have learnt so much about EAL and my own teaching in general. More to come in later posts…

My responsibilities (at least for the first part of this year) also include data collection for Catholic Education SA, which will involve even further engagement with and accountability to the DECD Language and Literacy Levels.

In my own teaching area of LOTE, I am extremely conscious that the Australian Curriculum for Italian is on its way – progress is slow, but it is coming. This will require further responsibilities in our faculty to review our programs and ensure that our teaching and learning meet the requirements.

So, my focus for my blog this year will be on my work in EAL whilst I am in the role, and the development of the Australian Curriculum for Languages. I’m looking forward to a busy and exciting year, with all the positive challenges that it may bring. Happy 2014 all!


Melissa Phillips:

Our students’ thoughts and reflections on Pompeii…

Originally posted on Cardijn College in Italia:

Today we went to Pompeii. We drove for an hour from Sorrento to get to Pompeii.
Once we got to Pompeii we did some shopping for trinkets and tops. We made friends with some of the market owners until it was time to head off to the tour. When we arrived we were greeted by our tour guide, who took us through the Pompeii ruins. It was good to hear about the stories behind the buildings, and surprising to hear the amount of details that were known. It was interesting to see all the left over artefacts like the pots made for wine and the flour grinders similar to the ones we use today. It was a surprising realisation to see just how alike everyday life in the town Pompeii is to modern times. It was also very interesting to see body casts of the people who died and see…

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Buon giorno, Roma!

Melissa Phillips:

Our first views of Rome!

Originally posted on Cardijn College in Italia:

We arrived safely in Rome today. It was hard to stay awake given the time difference and the lack of sleep achieved on the plane, but we kept ourselves busy with a walk around the city’s historical centre. We visited the monument for Vittorio Emanuele II, walked past the Roman Forums and visited the Trevi Fountain. We also made sure to throw coins into the fountain to ensure our future return to Rome!



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Leg 1 – Adelaide to Dubai

Melissa Phillips:

Below is a reblog of our students’ first post on their study tour to Italy!

Originally posted on Cardijn College in Italia:

We left Adelaide Monday night with mixed emotions, both excited and nervous. Saying goodbye to family was challenging and sad and it has been a weird and different experience being in a new place without any family. In Dubai now feeling relieved to be back on the ground. Another 6 hours of flying and we will be in Italy!

Bonnie, Maddi and Emma


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Off on an Italian adventure

This afternoon I finished my marking and reports, then set my out of office reply in preparation for heading off on a study tour to Italy next week.

Two colleagues and I are accompanying 14 students from Year 10 and 11 on this exciting opportunity. There is much excitement, and I think – to be honest – a few nerves as well!

I have had many conversations with the three delightful girls from my Year 11 class who will be going on the trip, and while at first I found some of their questions a little strange, it did force me to cast my mind back to when I was their age and preparing to embark on a two month exchange.

The excited anticipation, coupled with the anxiety of being so far away from home and family and in a country in whose language they are not yet fluent, makes for a mixture of emotions.

But they will learn quickly. They will experience things, sights, foods, and people they have never encountered before. They will learn from and with each other. They will forge close friendships.

It will be something that sticks with them for a life time.

And so I look forward to seeing their excitement and wonder in many of the same places that I displayed the same emotions nine years ago. You can follow our adventures and their reactions and reflections on their blog:

Why an international study tour?

I’m creating this post a few days before I embark on a two and a half week study tour with a group of Year 10 and Year 11 Italian students. As the Year 11 Italian teacher, I was fortunate enough to be invited along with the Year 10 Italian teacher and our Deputy Principal.

As my list of ‘things-to-do’ gets shorter and shorter, I havenow got a bit of time to get excited and start doing some reflection in anticipation of the trip. So I thought to myself…why are we doing this?

Here is my response:

Expressing Evaluation through Nominalisation – a Powtoon

I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus this month – but for good reason! I am frantically getting work completed early in preparation for a 17 day study trip to Italy with fourteen of our wonderful Year 10 and 11 students. Anticipation is building, and there are just a few more assignments, exams, reports and administrative jobs to complete.

One of the tasks I set myself this weekend was the completion of an assignment for a course I am participating in through Catholic Education South Australia. This course explores the DECD Language and Literacy Levels for EAL learners at the secondary level, focusing on noun groups and nominalisations, passive voice and sentence structure, foregrounding and evaluative language. Since I wil be absent for the final module on evaluation, the presenter suggested the creation of a multimodal presentation. Below is the finished product, created on the fabulous ICT tool Powtoon.

The work is based on Beverly Derewianka’s A New Grammar Companion for Teachers, and Working Grammar by Sally Humphrey, Kristina Love and Louise Droga.

ASFLA Conference 2013 – Day 3

THE ASFLA Conference 2013 wrapped up yesterday with the final key note speakers and presenters presenting their research papers and workshops.

Pauline Jones opened proceedings with her key note address “Learning to teach grammar: orchestral moves and virtuoso moments.” She posed the question: How will teachers enact the Knowledge about Language strand of the Australian Curriculum: English? Jones explored the relationship between teacher’s knowledge about language and their curriculum and pedagogic expertise. She used a case study of primary school teachers to investigate how they enact functionally oriented grammar in their pedagogy through multimodal exchanges. An analysis of these exchanges show that in their teaching of functional grammar, the teachers in this case study follow the process outlined in the diagram below. They complete each step multimodally through the actions identified in red above each phase of the cycle.


photo (13)

This is a cycle which I recognise from my work with Reading to Learn, however Pauline’s session prompted thinking about how that could be further embedded in my teaching in a secondary context.

The first workshop following the key note address explored how Reading to Learn is being implemented in a Danish English as a Foreign Language class. Susanne Karen Jacobsen and Anne Kryger Larsen explained how Anne, a classroom teacher of English was implementing Reading to Learn in her class to improve students’ reading and writing skills in the target language. This was particularly interesting for me as it is something that I am also working on implementing in my Italian classes. Whilst Anne is still in the early phases of the project, the results that she presented from her English class reflected some of the positive outcomes I have also noticed in my Italian students. I was particularly impressed at the level of text that she had her language students working with, which is food for thought about what kinds of texts I could be bringing into my Italian lessons. Discussion after the workshop with Peter Mickan from the University of Adelaide raised many questions about current practice in secondary LOTE classrooms, but also possible solutions that I would like to try in my own language classes.

Britt Johansson’s session immediately after morning tea was also particularly inspiring. Britt has been working on a long-term project in her school in Knutby, Sweden, to close the gap between linguistically and culturally diverse students. Pauline Gibbon’s work on SFL is the foundation of her approach and she has been training teachers in incorporating functional linguistics in their pedagogy. The results have been excellent, with a continual increase in students’ result in national tests affirming that they are on the right track with their literacy program. The greatest lesson Britt’s workshop held for me is that changes such as these are long term projects. Britt has been working on these changes in pedagogy for the benefit of the students at her school since 2003 and it is ongoing. Things do not change overnight.

Kristina Love and Carmel Sandiford from the Australian Catholic University then presented the initial findings of a project which tracked the metalinguistic development of teachers and their students as the teachers undertook professional development based on Halliday’s principles of ‘using grammar to think with.” Teachers were interviewed about an initial persuasive text that students were required to write, before undergoing the training. They were then interviewed again after students wrote a second text that had been taught using SFL. One of the teachers was an early career educator, whilst the other had significant teaching experience. Subjects’ metalinguistic development was mapped against their previous interview and results were positive, demonstrating improvement in knowledge and understanding both of the teachers and the students.

The final workshop of the day for me was Damon Thomas’s presentation “Persuasive writing genres from two theoretical perspectives.” A PhD candidate from the University of Tasmania, Damon explored why so many students reported having difficulty with the persuasive writing component of the 2013 NAPLAN test. He did this by outlining the persuasive writing in schools is grounded in two language theories which complement each other. Firstly, Classical Rhetoric divides persuasive language into judicial discourse, epideictic discourse and deliberative discourse. On the other hand, school-based persuasive genres are often taught from the SFL lens of analytical exposition, horatory exposition and discussion. We can see elements of judicial, epideictic and deliberative discourse within any of the SFL models. Damon suggests that the reason students struggled in 2013, was because they had been prepared for the traditional persuasive text prompt such as “Homework should be banned in schools. Do you agree/disagree?” which focuses more on deliberative discourse. However, this year’s prompt of “Choose someone who you believe is a hero and explain why you think they are so,” called for students to draw more on the epideictic discourse, the function of which is to praise. This was a fascinating and practical workshop, which did also demonstrate that SFL can work with complementary theories of language to improve students’ (and teachers’) understanding of language.

The conference was an intensive but incredibly rewarding four days of professional learning. I certainly leave Melbourne with many questions answered, and even more raised about how we can use approaches to SFL in practical ways in the classroom to improve student literacy and general learning outcomes. As Britt Johansson demonstrated, it is a long journey, but it is for the benefit of our students’ learning. And isn’t that why most of us are here?

Cardijn College in Italia

Keeping you updated on our Italian adventures!

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Learning about learning collaboratively


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Learning about learning collaboratively


A place for me to stretch my thinking and begin linking old thinking with new learning.

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