Teach, Learn, Live Podcast: Lyndon Riggall

Illustrated image of Tim Bullard and Lyndon Riggall, Teacher, Launceston College for the Teach, Learn, Live Podcast

[00:00:02] Tim Bullard 

Welcome to the Teach Learn Live podcast. I’m your host, Tim Bullard Secretary of the Department of Education in Tasmania. Through this podcast, we’re going to shed some light on how we 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. 

[00:00:41] Students 

Teach. Learn. Live. Tasmania! [giggles] 

[00:00:43] Tim Bullard  

Today, I’m talking with Lyndon Riggall, one of our great teachers from Launceston College in Tasmania’s North. Lyndon was educated in the Tasmanian public school system, attending Riverside Primary, Riverside High, and then Launceston College. While completing an arts degree at the University of Tasmania, where he majored in creative writing, Lyndon was Artist in Residence at St Helens District School on Tasmania’s East Coast and that was when he was bitten by the teaching bug and enrolled in the Master of Teaching. As part of his Masters of Teaching, Lyndon was awarded a scholarship to become part of the Department’s Teacher Intern Placement Program, which supports final year teachers to develop quality teaching practice while still studying. 

[00:01:27] Lyndon’s currently in his second year of teaching and is teaching Level Two English and Level Three English and Writing. He’s not only one of our great beginning teachers in his own time he also continues to write and receive international acclaim for his work. In 2019, Lyndon published his first picture book, Becoming Ellie, alongside illustrator Graeme Whittle.  

Welcome Lyndon. 

[00:01:49] Lyndon Riggall 

Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:01:51] Tim Bullard 

Lyndon, you did a Masters of Teaching, and I understand that you participated in the Department’s Teacher Intern Placement Program. Can you tell us what being in that program was like? 

[00:02:04] Lyndon Riggall 

Yeah, absolutely. So the Teacher Intern Placement Program occurs in your final year of study. So for me, that was the second year of my Masters of Teaching and so it’s a placement with a school in which you gradually develop your skills in order to work in that school alongside the final year of your study. 

So essentially, for the first half of 2017, for me, for the first half of that year, I was working alongside other teachers with some assigned time in my timetable to work on my university assignments as well. Then from the middle point is the opportunity to register for a limited authority to teach and actually kind of step out of the nest and try at some classes for yourself, which is what happened with me here at Launceston College. So in the second half of the year, I actually took over some of the classes that I’ve been working with. And look, I can’t express strongly enough how beneficial that was for me in terms of, you know, the very deep and rich content that we study at College, which is quite challenging to get your head around and so to be able to do that alongside another teacher and alongside the cost that they’re teaching, but also just to have that practical experience every day, whether it was in small doses or big justice on particular days, but to be here in a school while I was learning all of that stuff, just it just put the practical and the theoretical together in a way that I found so valuable for both of them. 

[00:03:42] Tim Bullard 

And so you obviously continued in a position at Launceston College once you had finished your study. How did you feel you then started your role compared to people who were then just coming fresh out of uni? What was the sort of difference, do you think, from your counterparts who had just started and hadn’t had an internship? 

[00:04:04] Lyndon Riggall 

So one of the big challenges when you start at a school is the building of relationships. And obviously we talk about the student teacher relationship. But of course, there’s also the colleague relationship. There’s the relationship with senior staff and there’s all of those little relationships with attendants and administration people. And that stuff takes a long time to get your head around and to know who to ask, particularly in a school as big as this one, want to know who to ask for, what you need and where to get what you need. And to be honest, I have a lot of sympathy for someone who’s also leaping into their first day of teaching when they do all of that. I mean, I can’t stress enough how lucky I was at the start of my first full year here, as a full time teacher to be out of work in just with my case in my hands, to be able to survive on a photocopier and start running things off straight away, but also to have that familiarity with the people around me, whether they were students from the previous year, whether they were colleagues that I’d worked with you before. It’s confidence, really. It’s just confidence that was built slowly over time rather than kind of taking a leap in and, you know, building a landing on the way down. 

[00:05:22] Tim Bullard 

So you obviously came into teaching after you’ve done an arts degree, I understand. And so you didn’t do a Bachelor of Education. You moved on to a Masters. What inspired you to think? Well, actually, maybe teaching’s a pathway after you’d finished your primary degree. 

[00:05:41] Lyndon Riggall 

Yeah, it’s a funny story. My parents always knew that I was a teacher in the way that some people do and I think many of my teachers along the line knew that I was a teacher and I resisted that for a really long time. And the reason that I resisted it was because I desperately wanted to be a writer. And that was the love that was fostered in me for literature and the written word was, I think in hindsight, partly a love of that educational process. But I definitely saw it as a love of the text itself and wanting to produce something like that. And I was terribly afraid of that old maxim, you know, that those that can’t do, teach and I always saw teaching as Plan B. It took a long time for me to realize that that wasn’t the case. And in fact, it took me some time working. I worked as an assistant to Victoria Madden, who’s the writer of the Kettering Incident and the Gloaming, and I actually spent more than a year, you know, most days with her following her process and seeing what she did and the amazing work that she did but it’s very isolating work. I remember that there was a day when I just stopped and realized, hold on, teaching is not plan B. Teaching is actually what I really want to do. And so I, I try to strike a balance now between those two worlds and I write every day before I come to school. But for me, those two occupations feed each other. And if you had to ask me to lose one of them, I don’t know which one I would pick because teaching is so deeply now, you know, even after the short time, it’s so ingrained in my identity and who I feel that I am in and need to be. 

[00:07:30] Tim Bullard 

Well, it’s interesting. You came to it a lot faster than me because I, like you, was told I’d be a good teacher and whilst I never actually achieved that as a qualification, it took me 20 years to end up in education, which is probably where I should have started my career back in the 90s. So anyway, it just shows you can end up where you where you need to be eventually.  

You obviously get up every day with a passion for teaching and a love of it. That’s really clear from what you were telling me. But what has teaching taught you? 

[00:08:02] Lyndon Riggall 

I, I tell you what, one of the things that I’m learning is that the complicated nature of teaching was never something that I appreciated as a student. And so one of the big the big shocks for me was that was that students don’t come to school in an equal playing field. 

They have different needs and they have different levels that they’re at. And I can remember when I was a students, you know, and I used to get my work back, obviously, I was always striving for the best marks I could possibly get. And I would see the students who were striving for the best marks they could possibly get. And I sort of thought that everyone in the room was in that sort of region, you know, really pushing for those top marks. But now I have such a deep appreciation for the students that are really striving to get a pass mark, the students that are really striving just to climb a little bit above that. And of course, all of those factors at home, in the schoolyard, on social media, all of the things that are influencing and challenging them all the time and the privilege, but also the great concern, that a teacher has to deal with all of that, you know, that you become this chameleon, that that needs to work out what individual students need at any moment and you need to keep them all in your head. And that’s like a game of guess who you say, all these little faces. And you have to think about their identities and what they all need and I, I don’t think as a student, except for a very, very empathetic student, I think that a student often sees all of that stuff that’s going on behind the stage of the teaching profession. You know, all of that, all of the extra work and consideration that that just hums in the back of your mind, you know, not just at school, but even when you go home. 

[00:09:50] Tim Bullard 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, because as you know, one of our goals is around engagement and we, when we were at school, just took being engaged as a given. You know, if you’re engaged, that was great. Some teachers didn’t engage you so much, but you didn’t actually think about the magic that was going on in the background, as you say, to make that happen.  

[00:10:13] Lyndon Riggall 

Well, even to think that, you know, to think that all of those little interactions around you are entirely different to the interaction that you have with your teacher. I mean, I think it’s amazing the way that my colleagues change based on what their students need and sometimes that’s academic, sometimes it’s social, sometimes it’s emotional. But they’re always trying to develop something, I guess is the key and you’re not always aware of what that thing that’s being developed is until you look back on it.  

[00:10:42] Tim Bullard 

 So talking about that. Can you tell me about a teacher or teachers that inspired you as a student? 

[00:10:49] Lyndon Riggall 

 Yeah. So, look, I, I came through I came through Riverside Primary and Riverside High and then onto Launceston College. And it was really at Riverside High where I started to develop my love of English and I can I can point to specific teachers such as Jenny O’Shannessy and Tim Russell, and they could see, and now I recognise that they could see something in me and that they were always pushing me to just go that little bit further. 

You know, the sorts of teachers that when you’re an English loving student, just to put books in your hand and say, take as long as you want, but bring it actually when you finish, I’ll give you another one. Here at LC, I’m really fortunate in that my favourite teacher, Jill Pitt, is now my colleague and has followed my journey the whole way through. But, you know, every day I’m reminded not just of what she did for me, but also what I see her doing for her students now and it’s a great little boost every day to think, ‘I just want to be a little bit more like her’ and to be able to watch her and now to be on the other side of the desk, but to try and pick out strategies that I know work because it worked for me. 

[00:12:04] Tim Bullard 

So I, too, am a riverside highboy. And Tim Russell was one of my teachers. Oh, fantastic. And also a very inspiring one all those years ago. And in fact, one of the reflections that I have about Mr. Russell was that he gave me some very firm advice at the end of grade eight, where I totally bombed out in English, which was – you can do a lot better than that, you need to try harder. And that stayed with me. And I did just on that fairly blunt conversation, which I think was at exactly the right time, it was what I needed to hear. 

[00:12:41] Lyndon Riggall 

I think Tim is one of those teachers who who, you know, as I was just talking about, knows that the thing that, you know, I think it’s really interesting that you say that because for me, I can remember really clearly every time I would hand him a piece of work, he would say, don’t you think this needs a bigger audience? You know, I don’t think that I’m too small an audience for this project or what you’ve been working on. And obviously, that influenced my desire to be a writer. Because I started see that audience and I started to post things online and that’s when that’s when that started to unfold for me. So we are very lucky to have it.  

[00:13:20] Tim Bullard 

I consider myself incredibly fortunate because I’ve based a career now basically on writing and writing well. So like you, I, I see him as a real it’s a real inspiration in that.  

Now, obviously, as we’re doing this podcast, we’re still in the midst of COVID, although yesterday all high schools went back and that completed our return to school. I’m really interested in the challenges that you think that COVID has set for teachers and students, especially in senior secondary, but also in opportunities that you’ve seen come out of that. 

[00:13:57] Lyndon Riggall 

So the COVID-19 period has been a really big challenge for me and I will be honest and say that they have been days, particularly towards the end of term one, to where I was concerned about my ability to manage it. And that was really because, you know, I’m now in my third year at the school because of the internship but my second year of full time teaching. I very much felt in those first five weeks that I had my handle on everything, you know, that this year was going to be the year where I really started to just lay the foundations and really get to know my students and perfect the things that I had previously only been developing. And then the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. But what has been amazing has been watching my colleagues and the way that my department leads, Kirsty Wilson and Libby Williams, the way that we have all managed it, I think has opened up a lot of opportunities. 

It’s been challenging for students who have who have had to learn some self-discipline when it comes to these studies and to learn to ask for help. It’s also opened up, I think, for some of the students who maybe have found a level of comfort in that online space where we’ve been discussing and dealing with things that maybe they can step up in a way that they were only developing slowly in the classroom. But also the evolution of our use of these online tools and the evolution of the way that we mark things, the way that we teach things has been really beautiful to see, actually. And I don’t know a single teacher here who’s not going to take something for – whether it’s making YouTube videos, whether it’s making assessments online through canvas – I think there’s something for every teacher to take away that ironically, it took something quite drastic for us to stop and develop those skills, whereas it’s so easy to kind of put that evolution aside.  

But the only other thing I’d say on that subject is that, you know, obviously as a teacher in senior secondary, we’ve had some students here on campus and some students working at home. But for me, the students who were attending school were students who really needed school for a whole bunch of reasons. And I feel so privileged to have been able to work with some of the less engaged, less disciplined and motivated students and to really unpack, you know, often years of resistance by having that time with them. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to do that. Obviously, COVID is not something that anyone would wish, you know, on the education system or on anyone out in the community. But I think that we face those challenges beautifully and like with all teaching, we find a way to learn and we find a way to build those relationships. And we continue to do that through that period and continue to do it now. 

[00:17:06] Tim Bullard 

I think one of my reflections is that two of our core values of courage and growth absolutely have come to the fore. And we’ve seen it demonstrated right across the agency in every single setting, both in our staff and in our learners. And that’s just been really inspirational. And I think that the reflections that you have, have been echoed right across the state in all different contexts and different settings.  

I’m actually really interested about you and living in Tasmania because you’ve obviously made a decision that you have already said your aspiration as a writer that could have taken you anywhere in the world, but you are living and teaching in Tasmania. Why have you made that choice? 

[00:17:51] Lyndon Riggall 

Look, I just think Tasmania is a really exciting place to be, particularly in the times that we live in at the moment. I think that I wanted to give back to the community that fostered me is absolutely one of my motivations in choosing where I, you know, choosing where I approached to teach and choosing the community that I decided to live in. But I do think that Tasmania artistically and educationally is in a really exciting place right now. And I think that we as a state have so much that’s unique about us that is worth sharing and so from the standpoint of a writer and from the standpoint of a teacher one of my great goals is to explore Tasmanian stories and to, you know, rather than going and taking the world for myself, is to bring the world to Tasmania and to bring Tasmania to the world. And a lot of students that I worked with previously hadn’t really considered that Tasmanian voices were even something that existed, let alone something that mattered. But there is so much so much beautiful stuff and so many beautiful places to explore that, I think, one of my great joys of being a teacher is to share a place that I love with students who are living in it. 

[00:19:22] Tim Bullard 

You’ve reflected throughout this podcast on your sort of competing loves of teaching and writing and at various points. People might think actually they were in competition and mutually exclusive. But it’s really exciting that you have actually become an author and published a book Becoming Ellie, at the end of 2019. Can you talk a little bit about your journey writing that book and also about the book itself? 

[00:19:51] Lyndon Riggall 

Yeah. So becoming Ellie is a collaboration between myself and a friend of mine, Graeme Whittle, who’s an artist. 

And it’s interesting because I know, as I mentioned, I, I write every day. And that’s one of the things that that I made a deal with myself about when I became a teacher was that that would be something of my daily practice and routine. And I think that that’s really important because as teachers, we’re also models and as a writing teacher, I want my students to write every day and one of my greatest advantages in encouraging them to do that is I can say I do it myself. I can be honest about that.  

But Graeme approached me with a project which is a picture book for children about greyhounds. And at the time, I just I just expressed that I would I would love to have a go at a text for him. And we talked about, you know, for me, a picture book needs to have, you know, through education is something I’m very familiar with, a picture book needs to have a strong underline message. That was my first challenge, was that I didn’t want to engage with the project if I thought it was just it quite literally a pet project about it, you know, about a dog that he was familiar with. And then I started to discover this idea about the nature of life and the pace of life and how we constantly strive to go faster and faster, which is very much emblematic in a greyhound, and that we need to eventually learn to slow down. And once I had the thread of that, I started to get excited about it. But most importantly, Graeme was always working behind the scenes. So while I was teaching, he was continuing with the art. He was having discussions with publishers for both of us. And so suddenly I found myself at the end of my first year of full-time teaching about to launch a picture book which was not in my plan at all. But at the same time, I feel really proud of it. 

I think to return to your comments at the start of this question, I think it’s really important to recognise that when we have these passions in life as teachers and that don’t need to be competing. And I’ve never thought about myself as one thing or another. And I know, you know, because particularly I write for children primarily. I know that my work feeds my teaching and my teaching feeds my writing work as well. And one of the most beautiful things for me was going to my writing class, showing them drafts of this book and getting their feedback. Being able to announce to them, you know, I was in the middle of teaching that class when the email popped up on my screen to say that it had been accepted by the publisher and I got to share that news with them. And of course, we launched it here at Launceston College. So Vicki, our principal, was kind enough to allow me to launch in a place that obviously is very formative to my writing life and experience. And so I don’t know if there are lines between these two worlds for me. They are so blurred. They are so blurred, but I feel so lucky that I don’t have to choose. And no one has ever asked me to choose that they’re very comfortable with me sharing those two sides of myself and seeing that as beneficial, rather than detrimental. 

[00:23:16] Tim Bullard 

So I think you’ve already spoken about it not being a pet project of people that read the book  will eee, there’s a bit of a pun in there. But you’ve chosen children’s picture books as a medium. As a parent, I know that when they’re really well written, like your book, they communicate at a whole different level to the adults that are reading them. Is that what inspires you to use this as a medium?  

[00:23:42] Lyndon Riggall 

Yeah, look, the simple reality is that, I mean, I write all sorts of things. But Graeme is an amazing artist and a very experienced artist. I just could not turn down the opportunity to work with him. So that’s really how the idea developed. But, you know, I’ve been a judge for the Children’s Book Council of Australia. So there was it was a year, nearly a decade ago now where I read every children’s book published in Australia in that calendar year and you do see what people look for in books and what schools look for in picture books, and parents look for in picture books. And you see the spectrum from the very, very best to, you know, some stuff that you think, oh, dear, I can’t believe that this got published. But I knew you know, I think that as a writer, one of my strengths is that I know books well and I have good taste and so the next step there is just to work out how to make your text, the sort of text that you would like. As I mentioned before, embedding that deeper meaning in there was really important to me. But what was really interesting was that it was really important to Graeme. And we talked a lot about the interface between text and image and one of the things I love about the book is that I always point out to people is that the images are telling a story that the text doesn’t mention. And there were parts of, you know, because I’ll be honest, I’m an over writer, I don’t think I am when I write, but people tell me that I’m an over writer. 

It’s one of the first things that we did was we actually stripped a lot out of the text because we realised that the images were telling that story in their own way and that I didn’t need to provide a literal meaning for that. So that’s one thing I certainly encourage people to do in the book, is spend some time with the pictures and see if you can track through some of the elements that are carrying through the pictures as well and of course, one of the pictures I sneak into the background, you should also look out for a little version of me, if you know what I look like.  

[00:25:45] Tim Bullard 

I’m going to go back and have a forensic look at it now Lyndon.  

You’ve had some great reflections on your intern year and being an early career teacher and you’ve talked to us around and living in Tassie and what’s kept you here. 

If I’m in year 12 and I’m thinking about a career path. What would you say to me about going into teaching? 

[00:26:11] Lyndon Riggall 

You know, it’s interesting because now that we’re starting to reach the midpoint of this year, I’m actually starting to have some of those conversations with my students and knowing the transition that occurred for me and knowing the journey that my life has taken and the teachers that inspired me, I think that one of the most beautiful compliments you can ever get as a teacher is when a student comes and tells you, I thinking of being a teacher, you know, do you have any advice for me or thoughts for me? And look, the main thing that I would say is this you. You have to love your students and you have to be really interested in other people. And I think most teachers, you know, when Tim Russell was talking to you, teachers see those students that really engage not just with the people around them, but with the room, and that want to draw people in, and I think that’s a really beautiful quality to have. And I can remember from the first year of university when I was doing my Masters, the first textbooks that we opened, the first page, first line, it said before you consider being a teacher, you should seriously ask yourself whether you like children. And I think that’s my first piece of advice as I go – do you actually like the people around you? Do you like children? Do you like working with them? – But the main thing for me is that from the first day that I set foot again in this college as an intern from that first day, I’ve never struggled to get out of bed in the morning. And the reason that I don’t struggle is because I know that every day is going to surprise me. I know that every day something will make me laugh. Yeah, days are challenging. But every day something, someone will make me laugh. And I know that what I’m doing is important. And I never for a second doubt the value of my job and what it can do for people. And the simple reason for that is that I know what it’s done for me. And I wish that we could all say that about better at our jobs. I know that lots of people in different professions can say that about their jobs. But for me, the thing that I’m looking for is that if you love a subject, if you have a passion for a subject, if you have a passion for students, and if you are the sort of person who wakes up and thinks I want to do something good in the world, then I just think teaching is the most wonderful job that you could have. 

[00:28:32] Tim Bullard 

Lyndon you’ve been an absolute inspiration and thank you so much for your time. I feel very fortunate that we have early career teachers such as you in our system. It’s been a great conversation. Thank you very much. 

[00:28:45] Lyndon Riggall 

Well, thank you so much, Tim. And, you know, I felt really supported by the department through this whole process. So I feel lucky. I feel lucky as well. 

[00:29:03] Tim Bullard 

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  

Kids Voices 

Teach. Learn. Live. Tasmania! [giggles]