Teach, Learn, Live Podcast: Jessie Eberhardt

Illustration of Tim Bullard and Jessie Eberhardt from Penguin District School for the Teach, Learn, Live podcast

Tim Bullard: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Teach Learn Live podcast. I’m your host, Tim Bullard, Secretary of the Department of Education in Tasmania.

Tim Bullard: [00:00:10] Through this podcast, we’re going to shed some light on how we’re connecting students and young people to succeed every day in our classrooms. We’ve got teachers working hard to inspire our learners. And I see great school leaders making a real difference in many people’s lives. Join me as we get to know more great teachers, curious learners and inspiring families and communities who teach, learn and live in Tasmania.

Tim Bullard: [00:00:42] On this week’s episode of the Teach Learn podcast, I’m talking with Jessie Eberhardt. Jessie started her teaching career 10 years ago at Montello Primary School in Tasmania’s north west. She has a wealth of teaching and leadership experience in early learning and is currently part of the leadership team at Penguin District School. Jessie is also launching into learning coordinator at the school. Welcome, Jessie, to the Teach, Learn, Live podcast.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:01:07] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Tim Bullard: [00:01:09] So you’re at Penguin District School. Can you tell me a bit about Penguin District School? What makes it unique?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:01:16] I think for Penguin it’s the location. So, we certainly have a beautiful outlook from up here. And I think being a one school town, our community involvement and community connection is really strong.

Tim Bullard: [00:01:31] I also have to add that probably some of the best catering from students that I’ve ever eaten. Definitely a great array when I was up there last night. You obviously have a focus, as and AST in the early years, just for people who don’t know what that term means. Can you describe what the early years covers?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:01:50] So basically, I’m the leader for the Kinder to grade two. So that means that I work with the teachers and the TA’s and the students in that part of the school. We look at how we learn together, talking about planning, teaching, assessing, but also just building relationships.

Tim Bullard: [00:02:08] And as someone who obviously works in a primary school, what do you see that’s different between an approach from Kinder to Year 2, too, where you put your effort and what you might say if you’re in a grade five or six classroom?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:02:22] That’s a good question. I think the difference. I mean, there’s lots of similarities. It’s probably easier to talk about what’s similar. But being down with the kinder to grade two, there’s a lot of connection with family, I think. I work with the birth to grade two, actually I’m the Launching into Learning co-ordinator as well. So, I think typically there’s more family involvement in that age group. So, working very closely with families on building the strengths of the children, building that into how we teach and learn in those years, I think definitely the content is different as well.

Tim Bullard: [00:02:55] And what about the approach to learning, more play based?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:02:59] Definitely more play based. So, we’re at the moment involved in our refocused teaching and learning initiative. We’ve been involved for over three years now. So, we’re really looking at the way that way that we set up our environment for the students in that space. Really allowing them to play, to explore, to discover, to have time together, to build those skills that they need for the future. But just letting them be in that space as well and knowing that as teachers in the early years, we consider ourselves as facilitators of learning. So, lots of observing and lots of listening and allowing what we hear to be embedded into, how we teach and how we assess.

Tim Bullard: [00:03:39] So really leveraging off the natural curiosity of children.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:03:44] Absolutely. Definitely. One of one of the biggest drives and motivators for me as an educator of early years, is children’s openness to learn about their world. So, they’re so naturally curious. There’s so much wonder. They develop these theories about the world around them and they’re just ready to explore that.

Tim Bullard: [00:04:04] And so is that what drew you to the early years? Because you could have obviously taken your career in any direction that you wanted and you’ve ended up in a very senior role in a school with a particular focus from kinder to two, what was your motivator?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:04:20] I didn’t quite know what I wanted to be when I was young, but there were always little kids around me from when I was a teenager. And we’d go on family holidays and, you know, we’d be out on a boat being tourists and there would always be a little group of children that I was entertaining or talking to. And I did lots of babysitting and, you know, so I was always around young children and found that really calming for me. And so, when it came to really making that decision, I think that influenced that heavily.

Tim Bullard: [00:04:53] And having made that decision. What skills did you particularly need to, or have you had to continue to develop to make sure that you really are able to to lead with knowledge and integrity in the early space.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:05:07] One of the biggest things for me, I think, is that notion of continually learning. So, I don’t ever preach that I know everything. Or that my way is better than anyone else’s way. We’re definitely all in this together, I think. One of the one of the ways that I work is about co-construction. So, I make it my job to be always researching and always reading and always looking for other practices that I can bring into my own practice and then sharing that with others.

Tim Bullard: [00:05:37] I think you can see in the data in a Tasmanian context that we actually punch above our weight nationally in those early years of school. What do you see going on that’s adding to that success? That gives us that dynamic advantage?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:05:54] I think contextually, being an island state and maybe it’s around population, maybe it’s around opportunities. I definitely think that our Launching into Learning program is helping that as well, being a Tasmanian state initiative. We have a real focus on making sure that children have the best start to life before they start school. And we have so many supports and so many services that are aimed at helping those families and working with children in that age group, especially that birth to four age group, knowing that whatever we do in that stage in our life is really going to set us up for success in the future.

Tim Bullard: [00:06:36] I think that that’s a really interesting observation of yours. And I also think it’s something that we’ve come to take for granted, that as a department we do start well before age four, first day in kinder. And what really strikes me as I go around other states and territories is that that isn’t the culture, that it isn’t the culture that school and the role of Education Departments starts much earlier. So, I think that that’s a really interesting observation of yours. You’ve talked a couple of times already about Launching into Learning. Do you want to just explain for those people that might not be aware of that program what it involves?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:07:15] Yeah. So, Launching into Learning or we call it LiL is a birth to four initiative. So, all Tasmanian schools run some sort of LiL program. And I think the strength of LiL is the context. That doesn’t have to look a certain way. I can give you some examples of what it looks like in Penguin. So, we have three different programs that run weekly. So, we have a music session, a playgroup session and a play gym session. So, all of those things are focused on building skills with children and families together in a really playful, open environment. So, I think the real foundation of LiL is around building relationships with families and really building their capacity and and letting them know that they are their child’s first teacher. And we value that. I think that the benefit of coming to Lil is really developing that relationship with school and the faces that you might see around school really early. So that for some of our families who might feel really anxious about starting school, they’ve got that context already so that they can feel a bit more empowered when it’s time to come to school. So, I also do some outreach as well. So, for some of our really vulnerable families who might find access really tricky, you know, I can go out and visit them. We have nature playgroup. We have Bush playgroup, beach playgroup, pop up playgroup. I think the real joy of it is knowing that it’s in our hands and it’s contextual to Penguin and for our families. So, knowing what our families need is really important. But basically, it’s around building skills for families and children in that birth of four area.

Tim Bullard: [00:08:51] One of the things that we’re exploring throughout this podcast is that idea of partnerships. Needing to partner with parents, with external organisations, with other service providers to support and grow our learners. And I’ve heard already from you, families mentioned a couple of times. What are the key things to building strong relationships with families as their child’s first teacher, but also to build their confidence and empower them to get actually involved in their child’s learning?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:09:22] I think one of the things and it does start down in that birth to four space is around the setting up multiple access points. So, it might be that they come to some of our LiL programs at school or they come to some of our programs outside of school. I think getting out there and letting people know who we are and where we are and what we stand for is important. And that’s a part of my role in LiL and LIFT as well, learning and families together. I think really keeping those lines of communication open and having multiple pathways for families. We definitely base a lot of what we do here on our relationships with families because we know that that engagement will be higher with our students if they know that their families are really backing them and vice versa. So, I think, you know, we have our all of our K to six families working through SeeSaw so platform where we can share information with our families more readily rather than just a newsletter and a Facebook page. So, it’s a bit more personalised for our students. You know, I think it was definitely highlighted during the time of COVID-19 where we were offline and we weren’t we were online sorry, and we weren’t seeing our students and our families. And we made it a real priority to to make sure that we were contacting our families and just checking in. How are you going? Is there anything you need help with? And doing that quite regularly to just show them that we were really thinking about how they’re going in that time and knowing that we are there to support them in any way that they might need.

Tim Bullard: [00:10:50] So effectively COVID-19 was totally flipping the model, wasn’t it? We went from wanting families to be involved in their child’s learning, to supporting families, to deliver their child’s learning. What skills or capabilities did staff in the early years at Penguin have to bring to that.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:11:10] Yeah, look, it was really an interesting time. We’ve worked quite a lot in the past few years around collaborating with colleagues to deliver our teaching and learning. And because we’d already built that foundation, we were able to really quickly adapt to the changing situations and use that as our strengths. So, we came together really quickly in teams to develop a plan for what we were going to do. We were all really open to what was going to happen and to sharing our pedagogies, sharing our practices, sharing our spaces. To really make it the best opportunity for those families staying at home.

Tim Bullard: [00:11:52] And do you think that families found it a positive experience or a stressful experience? Or a mix?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:11:58] Let me ask about to say that it was definitely a mix. And like I was saying before, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. I think one of the things we really tried to focus on was less is more. We didn’t want to overwhelm families because they were working at home. They might have had multiple children at trying to access learning of multiple ages. They might have had families losing jobs. You know, it’s a really stressful time, so less was more for us. We were really trying to focus on spending time together as a family. Getting outdoors as much as they could. Using the things that they had around the home to try and assist with their learning and really just to deepen their understanding that that we valued any time that they could spend together. And not to dismiss anything that they know that they might have felt was a struggle to really embrace that and use that.

Tim Bullard: [00:12:49] Obviously, primary schools have been back for quite a few weeks now, and it would be easy just to revert to business as usual, to what school looked like in the first half of term one. What have you tried to hold on to or keep that’s come out of COVID as you’ve transitioned children back onto site?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:13:08] There’s probably a couple of parts to that. We discussed quite in length around what happened during that time that we didn’t want to let go of. And a lot of what the staff were saying was around collaboration. So, they really valued having time to be together, to plan together, to deliver together. So, we’ve really looked at the timetabling, and our spaces, and how we can use that to move forward. You know, teaching is definitely not something that we should ever have to do alone. We shouldn’t be isolated in that at all. So, it’s really exciting to see a lot of what we were doing in that time continuing and that conversation around how that can continue. But also, it was around making sure that when those children did come back that there were there was time for them to reflect. That we weren’t just going to skim over what happened. You know, it was really important in their lives, especially for some in the early years, who are used to having playdates here and park days there and birthday parties. And there was none of that.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:14:08] So we really tried to value and to let them know that we valued what they were thinking around what just happened. But also giving them time to be together and to reconnect because some of those children hadn’t seen any other children in nine weeks to 10 weeks. You know, that’s a really long time. So, it was tricky coming back, being in a classroom, a noisy classroom with lots of people they hadn’t seen before, you know, for a really long time was really tricky. So especially in the early years, we talked a lot about time for play and frequency of play. You know, not talking about the intentions of this play or, you know, what their learning goals, where it was more around just being.

Tim Bullard: [00:14:45] And very important, having direct contact, as I do with small children. I have, as I said to you, a child who is seven. Absolutely, the social aspects, one of the biggest losses during COVID that I think so very timely to allow that that reconnection. You’ve talked previously around refocussing teaching and learning as an initiative of the department and you’ve spoken about Penguin as a refocusing teaching and learning site? Do you want to explain what that initiative involves and why it’s really important?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:15:18] Yeah, so Refocussing Teaching and Learning Initiative is around looking at some of the practice that happens in the early classroom and refocusing it. So, at Penguin in particular, we have been we’ve moved through a few different models. So, there’s looking through the lens of environment, the lens of plan enquiry’s, the lens of relationships, the lens of documentation and listening. So, there’s some areas there that that you that you’re able to choose as a school to focus your early years practice on, so early on in the piece. We looked at our environments and really discussed the impact of the environment on our teaching and on our learning. We audited, you know, some of our classrooms.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:16:04] Are they conducive to constructing learning together? Do they have multiple access points? Are we catering for all the different domains of development? All the way down to, is our colour scheme helping some of our students or can it be a hindrance? So, you know, there was some painting that happened because we did have some really bright spaces that we didn’t value as assisting children to learn in a really calm way. So, we’ve had a big focus on environment. We’ve moved through looking at, and at the moment, we’re looking at documentation. So, it really provides a focus for us for our team meetings. But it’s also a bit of an overarching lens in how we work. So, in anything that we’re doing in our classrooms and all the planning, the teaching, the assessing, the collaboration. We’re thinking at the moment about the lens of documenting. So, what are we documenting about how students are learning? What are we seeing them do? What are we going to do about that? How we’re going to move these students forward? How do we include student voice in our planning? How do we make sure that the children see that what they say is valued by us and we are using that to create a learning pathway? So, we’ve really drawn quite heavily on people like Kath Murdock, Claire Wardon to really address some of the practices that are happening in our spaces and to make those really conducive for learning. So, we looked at the Education Act change in how children should be learning from developmentally appropriate framework, being the early years learning framework and the Australian curriculum, but also that children should be learning in an inquiry-based way.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:17:51] So, you know, we’re working together in any moment that we can, to talk about what that looks like for us here at Penguin. What that looks like for our students. It’s just given us a real, authentic learning experience, I think, for us as teachers.

Tim Bullard: [00:18:08] There’s a couple of points that you’ve raised that I’m really interested in. The first is around inquiry. What is that exactly?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:18:16] Good question. Personally, my beliefs are that inquiry is a stance. It’s a way of seeing. It’s a way of listening. It’s a way of working. We’re all enquirers. And children, especially birth to four. But I think, you know, birth till the day that we die, really, we are all inquirers. That’s the way that we learn. We ask questions when we don’t know something. We work out how we’re going to find that out. So really, inquiry for us here at Penguin is around building on the prior knowledge of the students, using the questions and the interest that the students have to teach them some skills that they can use when they’re going through their schooling life.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:19:01] We’re talking about teaching them the skills of collaboration, of research, communication, how to self-manage. And irrelevant of content, those skills can be taken with them and built upon in the further years to come. So, for us here, you know, inquiry is about asking questions. It’s about listening to wonderings, and it’s about facilitating a journey forward in their learning.

Tim Bullard: [00:19:26] So you talked about the importance of the environment in supporting learning and always involved in the development of the first tranche of child and family centres in around 2010. And one of the things that became really clear was that the architecture, size, scale, layout of the building, could really support children to engage in learning and to support them in their learning. I know that Penguin District School is undergoing a 20-million-dollar redevelopment where the primary and secondary sites are going to be brought together. What opportunities do you see in that redevelopment for supporting children in the early years?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:20:06] So many. It’s a really exciting time for us and we’ve tried really hard to involve as many people as we can in this process. It’s going to be great to see our two campuses joined and the opportunities for what that brings. I think for some of our younger children, the opportunity to be in a space where their siblings might be. Some of them have children in the high school. And even for some of our children who have siblings in the primary upper area, just to bring that together, I think is really exciting. But also, the ability for us to use some of our facilities. We’ve got so much happening in the secondary area that that we’re trying really hard at the moment to connect with, and we are connecting really well. But the physical distance is an issue. It’s not far. We know it’s not far. But when we’re thinking about transition times for children and making that as seamless as we can, you know, we can’t avoid that. So, there’s so many exciting things that that’s going to bring for us. Not only with the students, but for collaborating with the teachers as well. Connecting that space, one opportunity for families that their access point being one place for them to come and talk with multiple people around if they’ve got multiple children. So, we’re pretty excited.

Tim Bullard: [00:21:30] I know, too, from what I’ve seen at places like St. Helens District School, the interaction between the older children and the very young children is just fantastic to see in break times. So, the way that they are interacting, mentoring, looking after each other. And I think that sense of collaboration you’ve spoken about, but also that sense of community can be really driven by having the school together and cohesive.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:21:56] And we’ve definitely talked a lot about how we can create a space that is a hub for our community. You know, if you think about it really deeply. The majority of the children from this town come here every day and the families are here every day. They’re bumping into each other. They’re socialising together in this space. And how exciting for that to all be able to be facilitated through that one campus.

Tim Bullard: [00:22:24] A great, great opportunity. We’re really interested in this Teach Learn Live podcast around what compels great teachers like you to stay in Tasmania. To be on the north west coast. To not be drawn to jobs interstate or overseas. What’s motivated you to be a teacher on the north west coast of Tasmania?

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:22:46] Family. I think, is number one for me. Being here, being raised. I was raised in Smithton. I spent time in Launceston during my training and then have come straight back to the coast. I think we have such a unique space here on our little island and our relationships here with people are different than the way they are on the mainland. Our life is slower. Our environment is cleaner. It’s just a beautiful place to be. And I’m especially raising children here and knowing that, you know, they’re getting the best of everything.

Tim Bullard: [00:23:19] Absolutely. Jessie, thanks so much for your time today. I’ve really enjoyed hearing about your role and more about Penguin District School, so thanks so much.

Jessie Eberhardt: [00:23:29] Thanks, Tim.

Tim Bullard: [00:23:38] I hope that you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast to hear more about those people who teach, learn and live in Tasmania. Join us at www.education.tas gov.au/podcast. Or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Why not subscribe so that you can keep up to date with what we’re doing? Or if you have a story about an inspiring teacher or student. Email us at teachlearnlive@education.tas.gov.au