Teach, Learn, Live Podcast: Season Finale

Illustration of Tim Bullard for the season finale episode of the Teach Learn Live podcast

Tim Bullard: [00:00:02] Welcome to 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 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] Before we start our conversation today, I would like to acknowledge the Tasmanian Aboriginal people who have been caring for and educating their children and young people here on this island for tens of thousands of years. I pay my respects to elders past and present and to all the Aboriginal community members who work in our child and family centres, our schools, our libraries and our business units. And I acknowledge our Aboriginal learners right across the state who will be the strong community members and leaders of tomorrow.

Tim Bullard: [00:01:13] In November 2020, the whole Department of Education came together virtually from right across the state for Extraordinary: A Celebration of Collaboration. Where we spent time celebrating how we supported our learners throughout covid. Today’s podcast is an excerpt from that celebration.

Rob Williams: [00:01:36] Please welcome the choir and their performance of ‘I can see clearly now’.

Choir: [00:01:47] {choir singing ‘I can see clearly now’}

Tim Bullard: [00:02:25] What an entrance to our final podcast for 2020.

Tim Bullard: [00:02:29] When Johnny Nash first released that song 50 years ago, the world was also having a hard time. It was 1972 and we had the Vietnam War and Watergate, conflict in Ireland and the IRA, and tragic deaths at the Munich Olympics, supposed to be the cheerful games. We know that every year brings its own blend of the rain and the rainbows, and sometimes when we’re really lucky, some moments of full on sunshine. But this year was different, I think.

Tim Bullard: [00:03:00] COVID-19 is right here with us in our community, it affects everyone and for a while there, it completely transformed our day to day. At times, the technical and the emotional challenges felt all encompassing. I’m not sure how you felt, but for me there was sunshine. Even in our darkest days. I felt like something cracked open in us. And as we looked to each other for guidance and support, we truly saw ourselves as one team.

Tim Bullard: [00:03:31] From King Island to Dover, Bicheno to Queenstown. We became Team Education.

Tim Bullard: [00:03:38] We also truly understood why we exist as individuals, as teams and as a department to support more learners, to learn more every single day, no matter what. I know we’re an organisation that loves to learn as embodied by our value of growth. But we also know from the work of people like Carol Dweck that a growth mindset requires us to move away from mastery, knowing how to do things and move to accepting that we don’t have the answers yet. In an organisation that holds the hopes and aspirations, the future of our learners, real people in its hands, admitting that we don’t know yet can feel very confronting. Let’s hear from some staff, parents and students as they reflect on the year and everything that COVID has thrown at us.

Video speakers: [00:04:41] I was really worried that it would go on forever. There was no time frame, nobody knew how long it was going to last and how big it was going to impact in Tasmania or anywhere.

Video speakers: [00:04:55] Grade 10 year, you know, have all this planned. And especially because I got onto the SRC and I was worried. I thought and if it really does get here, it’s it’s going to be bad.

Video speakers: [00:05:10] And I thought it would get done. It just seemed to unreal to actually spread a little cold Tasmania.

Video speakers: [00:05:16] And then we started seeing a drop off of kids actually coming to school.

Video speakers: [00:05:21] I think the first time that it really came to my sphere of consciousness as a parent of a child in school was when they started talking about children as super spreaders.

Video speakers: [00:05:34] So I think I definitely underestimated the impact that it would have on our sort of small community.

Video speakers: [00:05:40] I was worried, though. That was part of me that was very worried.

Video speakers: [00:05:43] I think at first it was fairly scary for everyone. And I think that was because of the unknown. That people were hearing lots of things on the media and they didn’t really know where the schools would go ahead or what type of work they would be doing or not. And they were also caring for the students. So I think that was sort of the initial reaction.

Video speakers: [00:06:07] Yes. So we had to think about, OK, what’s school going to look like from here on in?

Video speakers: [00:06:14] And my anxiety perhaps rubbed off onto my two boys are in grade five and grade two. They could hear that COVID was around and was something to be aware of and possibly frightened of. They weren’t sleeping at night. They were very concerned about what the future looked like for them. So it was an interesting time and everything was changing so rapidly.

Video speakers: [00:06:40] So from the school improvement perspective, we knew pretty quickly that there was a likelihood that we’d need to move online with learning. And so our focus had to change from our work, which is quite strategic around school improvement planning, for example, to the more immediate.

Video speakers: [00:07:01] The first thing we did, we said as a senior group of staff we trust you. So we said to our staff, wherever you’re working, wherever the remote working is happening for you, we actually trust that you’re going to do the right thing. And they did.

Video speakers: [00:07:18] We just didn’t expect that that’s what it was going to be like. And it was a bit of a shock and a surprise. And we did leave our doors open until the very last minute. We thought, no, we can manage, we can manage. And then it was no, we were all closing.

Video speakers: [00:07:30] And then it’s been the outbreak hit here and it was instant dread because I just knew that it was going to last a while.

Video speakers: [00:07:43] And I think that we all went through a bit of grief because this is so much of what we do. What do we do when there’s no people and what do we do when there’s no children? So we had to take a moment of pause and reflect on it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad and shocked because what’s happening in the world is sad and shocking and we’re allowed to react to that in that way.

Video speakers: [00:08:07] A lot of students were really anxious and had a lot of questions. And I the asking all these questions and we couldn’t we didn’t have the answers. So, you know, we sort of were searching for answers that we didn’t have, which is really challenging.

Video speakers: [00:08:21] A number of my students are medically vulnerable so they went home straight away. And my students have issues with change.

Video speakers: [00:08:27] The cleaners have been amazing. Not only did they step up and respond to the changes in, you know, regulations on what your cleaning product to use and how to use it almost changed hour to hour without complaint created that sense of this is a safe place to come to for our staff.

Video speakers: [00:08:44] It was just a really different time. Obviously, this thing doesn’t sort of happen every day.

Video speakers: [00:08:50] So obviously I was never taught in a pandemic before.

Video speakers: [00:08:53] We limited the space. We closed most of the classrooms.

Video speakers: [00:08:56] Teachers were great, like honestly, to be posed with that problem overnight virtually. And to have to change the way we worked within a week or a couple of weeks seemed like an unimaginable task. But our teachers around the state stepped up and made that happen, which I think shows the professionalism of our staff.

Video speakers: [00:09:21] We did a lot of work around how do we ensure that children in our community are still having access to high quality early education?

Video speakers: [00:09:29] Our main goal was to try and minimize the impact of this situation on our children’s education.

Video speakers: [00:09:37] You know, it sort of brings to the front of mind very quickly what’s essential.

Video speakers: [00:09:41] From that moment of really slowing down, coming together, working out that we really trusted each other and trusted what advice we were getting from that moment. We were we were calm.

Video speakers: [00:09:52] I think the covid-19 response really did set up for collaboration as the only and the best mechanism for getting work done.

Video speakers: [00:10:02] But from school, the messages that I was getting as a parent and I was getting through the principal and that my child was saying was that, you know, everything’s under control and the Department of Health and the Department of Education were coordinating and that everyone knew what to do.

Video speakers: [00:10:23] Staying active, staying connected is a really good way to stay positive, particularly in a time of uncertainty. So for us, that connection online, through the seesaw, through the online platform was good so the kids could see there was normality.

Video speakers: [00:10:39] Some of our VET programs I think were most at risk because of their programs have a considerable degree of work placement.

Video speakers: [00:10:48] So we had a SRC group that tried to make students feel connected to the school, even though they weren’t physically and they ran an online talent quest.

Video speakers: [00:10:59] As a group, came up with 50 ideas of things that you can do in your isolation holidays. And we each did five videos showing what that thing was.

Video speakers: [00:11:12] With that talent quest there was also the online trivia night, which we had around two hundred and forty families enter. So that was really good that people could be at home and they could sit around with their family, complete the quiz night, get some instant feedback and just give people a bit of a positive. through that COVID time that we were still connected with the school.

Video speakers: [00:11:35] And with PE, I filmed a lot of our morning fitness challenges and regular PE classes so the kids can have some normality.

Video speakers: [00:11:43] Yeah, well, one of our TAs does aerobics in Norfolk. So she did aerobics classes with the staff when the kids weren’t here. So we were out on the ashpelt doing aerobic classes to keep us fit and active, which was great.

Video speakers: [00:11:57] Across the state of Tasmania, was amazing to be able to convert particular programs into the digital platforms which we exist on, whether it’s websites, social media, YouTube or so on and so forth.

Video speakers: [00:12:08] With growing isolation I think in the context of COVID, that focus on wellbeing became more and more paramount for us as a school improvement team, because we’re always working with our leaders from a wellbeing perspective. But we really had to ramp it up.

Video speakers: [00:12:26] And boy, that brought to the front of mind for all how important school is in that role of being really supportive of our students across all their needs, not just their learning needs.

Video speakers: [00:12:40] So from an HR perspective, I guess that’s what helped. The the resources that were put in place to enable us to to hire more EFAs was  just such a great idea at the time.

Video speakers: [00:12:51] Anybody that really needed to have support could always come in and get it, because we realised that there were a lot of families who would be doing it tough. So our doors were open to them at any time.

Video speakers: [00:13:03] Where I thought was fantastic is at the school very quickly provided a range of options for children. So you could use online resources, you could use paper resources, you could use a combination, you could come to school, you could be at school full time. So there was a real sense that all the learners had an option.

Video speakers: [00:13:20] And that was just phenomenal. Just everyone pitching in to see to learn more and then share that learning with everyone so people could smoothly integrate Canvas, either at home or here at school. It was amazing.

Video speakers: [00:13:34] Yeah, I could still communicate with my teachers. It wasn’t as full of an experience, but I still enjoyed it.

Video speakers: [00:13:40] Just the environment at school was kind of a bit lonely at home. I didn’t have any friends to chat to. Just waking up and getting ready for school was what I kind of miss as well.

Video speakers: [00:13:51] When Term 2 came back in, there was nothing too. I like whether you’re at home or at school. You were getting like you had access to the same sources and subjects and that.

Video speakers: [00:14:04] Community really stepped up. It wasn’t just about how do our staff step up, it was how do we all step up together so that if somebody over here was not okay, they weren’t left alone. They were they were helped in that space.

Video speakers: [00:14:33] Communication and the leadership was fabulous, and that goes to within the department and also within our schools. I think our principals did an amazing job.

Video speakers: [00:14:45] So we’ve changed our practices. And we’ve we’ve decided, you know, now there’s a real opportunity with collaboration and we no longer have to focus on perfection where we really need to focus on value.

Video speakers: [00:14:59] What I’ve learned is to to be creative and to to be flexible in your thinking about how to actually approach things.

Video speakers: [00:15:07] The amount of learning done in a two week period to do learning at home was a huge complement for the teachers at this school and every other school.

Video speakers: [00:15:18] Every day, there was a challenge, every day there was uncertainty and remains uncertainty. But what we’ve taken through these times has been you can still focus on that student wellbeing, on student learning, with playfulness and positivity.

Video speakers: [00:15:33] Overall, I think people have understood that technology is more than a tool. That it is actually there and can enable and enhance learning.

Video speakers: [00:15:46] Being back at school is a relief for me. Being back at school means that I can talk to my friends, do all my responsibilities, and I just get on with a regular day. It’s quite relieving and it makes me feel much calmer than I was when I was working at home.

Video speakers: [00:16:03] People really saw that it’s possible and and with great benefits to use the technology to differentiate the different learners need.

Video speakers: [00:16:14] And I really wanted to get a message out to the community that we’re coming back stronger. What we have learned through this is making us a better teaching team, and we’re better able to reach more of the students and meet their needs when they come back to school.

Video speakers: [00:16:29] We’ve had some parent feedback on the whole, it’s been really pleasing that the parents were really respectful of the fact that we’ve had to upskill very, very quickly. And they’ve noted that their students have engaged with us through Canvas very, very well.

Video speakers: [00:16:45] I think change is so important for our own growth, and I think that’s something that I’d like to take away from this and really instil in the kids as well in order for them to build resilience.

Video speakers: [00:16:59] But our staff is fully committed and that this was the great thing that came out of COVID for us, we are just so passionate about the kids that we taught that they were very giving of their time. And I know they put in lots of hours of their time to make it work.

Video speakers: [00:17:12] Challenged us, but also enabled us to achieve outcomes around student learning and how the system was able to support student learning. And schools were able to feel confident with going forward, with student learning in ways that we hadn’t seen before.

Video speakers: [00:17:29] Well things have pretty much gone back to normal. I mean, you came back, you’re finally able to be around people again. You know, you had yourr friend groups back together. We managed to get back on track. And we got to do things that we loved and we go to be with the people that, you know, we care about.

Video speakers: [00:17:43] To me, it’s actually broken. It’s broken. The false narrative that you must be feel the traditional physical work place to achieve outcomes.

Video speakers: [00:17:52] It was an opportunity to reframe a whole community’s thinking around the early years.

Video speakers: [00:17:58] We’ve shown what we can achieve when we all have that common goal.

Video speakers: [00:18:03] They were just so happy to come in and see people around, to see faces. To see faces smiling was something that was regularly said to me.

Video speakers: [00:18:10] It fast tracked, I think, a cultural shift that we’ve probably wanted to make for a little while.

Video speakers: [00:18:17] I’ve come back. I’m on top of everything. It feels good to be back and it was amazing coming back to see my friends after that long period of time. It’s just I’ve made a lot of new friends as well, which is really good.

Video speakers: [00:18:30] And our admin staff are just phenomenal to welcome people and answer any questions.

Video speakers: [00:18:35] Coming back was really an improvement. And getting to see teachers again, you doubt that you would ever be so happy to see them.

Video speakers: [00:18:45] And students that would normally with a head up and speak in class, were contributing online really in an exceptional way to the online discussion. So we learn a lot around sometimes the modes we’re work in, silence some  kids in advantage others. And so that was a really good learning process as well.

Video speakers: [00:19:01] When all else fails, teachers will chip in and will face up to those challenges and overcome the challenges. And with everybody working together, we can all put in and think of ways forward.

Video speakers: [00:19:15] I suppose maybe the biggest thing that I’ve learnt about teaching in a pandemic is to embrace change.

Tim Bullard: [00:19:29] Descriptions I heard in those excerpts were feelings of anxiety, dread, grief and shock. Natural human emotions to be expected in times of uncertainty. But what inspired me most was to see us all recognise those feelings. Then take a deep breath, embrace a growth mindset and step into the challenge.

Tim Bullard: [00:19:53] Change is what we need to grow, and so is challenge.

Tim Bullard: [00:19:57] Oprah would ask what is this here to teach you?

Tim Bullard: [00:20:01] And personally, I think there are quite a few things that we have learned. There’s a lot about wellbeing, of us and our learners and how bringing our whole selves to work and to learning, feeling safe and supported, not just respecting each other, but taking real care of each other, is where we find our power to reach our aspirations.

Tim Bullard: [00:20:22] And there’s also something for me around not aiming for perfection. A, it doesn’t work for us. And B, it gets in the way of actually achieving what matters. We need to model our value of courage, test things and learn along the way. Testing things in the real world, then asking if they work and making them better together.

Tim Bullard: [00:20:42] And finally, the power of our value of aspiration. To help us hold true to our ultimate objective of supporting more learners to learn more. Even if our journey to get there changes course.

Tim Bullard: [00:20:55] I’ll not forget the absolute conviction on the faces of everyone who came together to make sure that our learners were not just safe, but still inspired and supported to be connected, resilient, creative and curious thinkers. Safety wasn’t the bar. Safety was the foundation. And we came together to make sure learners could still learn and have a sense of wellbeing that enabled them to learn.

Tim Bullard: [00:21:20] In 2020, we knew that our learners deserved more than a year reduced to surviving COVID. We knew that a year’s worth of growth was not a thing to be wasted.

Tim Bullard: [00:21:30] We knew that the future just doesn’t have to unfold on its own, that we can unfold with the future. And the way that we, our team came together across the state together to make sure that that happened for our learners was extraordinary. It was not an accident. We did that.

Tim Bullard: [00:21:49] So I want to put this to you right now. Two big questions. No frills, no insert the standard lines here. Just space to consider and to make a decision for ourselves as the Department of Education, each of us as a part of one big team for learning.

Tim Bullard: [00:22:08] Given what we’ve learnt from COVID, where now do we want to be in education. And who do we need to be now in order to make that happen?

Tim Bullard: [00:22:18] Thanks for this year of learning together in the most incredible and inspiring way. I trust you and I trust us, our staff, our learners and our families absolutely to come back stronger from this. And I’m excited to be here right with you as we do.

Tim Bullard: [00:22:43] I hope that you’ve enjoyed the first season of the Teach, Learn Live podcast. And as we enter the summer holidays, I hope you all have plans to rest, relax and rejuvenate. We’ll be back in 2021 with more stories about those people who teach, learn and live in Tasmania. But in the meantime, head to our website at wwww.education.tas.gov.au/podcast to listen to all of season one. Or you can find us on all of the podcast hosting platforms as well.

Tim Bullard: [00:23:15] Have a safe and happy Christmas and we’ll see you in 2021.