Learning in the Philippines

I was fortunate to join an Education Exchange to the Philippines recently through Rotary International. I joined four other South Australian educators for a month of vocational and cultural exchange where we explored the Philippines Education system in order build both countries’ understandings of effective educational systems and practices. This involved meetings, visits, observations and discussions across the full spectrum of educational providers from early education to higher education in both the public and private sector. Our team also provided a number of workshops for groups of teachers and students around English language learning and effective teaching pedagogies with a focus on dialogue for learning.

Our group blog recounts our experiences each day and tries to provide an insight into the Philippines education system as well as a number of commendable Rotary projects aimed at improving the lives of children and families within the “depressed and disadvantaged” areas of the District (a phrase we heard used by many over there to describe low socio-economic areas).

At every school we visited, we were humbled by the dedication of the teachers.

As is the case in many countries, teaching is not a particularly attractive profession in the Philippines with a teacher’s wage only slightly surpassing the countries minimum national wage. Class sizes are huge. As in, ridiculously large – many of the public elementary schools have on average 70 students in each classroom with one teacher. In the large schools (some we visited had 10 000 students), the only way the school can service the communities population is to run in shifts, 3 shifts a day for around 3-4 hours.  Meaning potentially an elementary teacher could see and be responsible for around 200 children a day. To sustain this and continue to smile, as every teacher seemed to, calls for unwavering dedication and motivation to make a better future for the lives of your students. A quality that humbled us every day, in every educational service we entered.

I was fortunate to meet two teachers called ‘Teacher Heart’ and ‘Teacher Honey’ at a school within a housing re-settlement area for “informal settlers”. We spent time talking and sharing our work contexts, the challenges we face and our vision for our students. They were amazed and touched, as the short snippet below shows, to hear that many of the challenges they face are the same as what we face in my work context and similar contexts. For example, attendance issues, health and nutrition problems and low parental support and engagement.

As summer vacation was about to begin, I asked Teacher Heart what her vacation would entail, in my mind, imagining her returning to her family in their home town for some well deserved R & R. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when she explained how they run summer school reading classes for the non-readers in the community. They do this voluntarily and explained it as their “community service”. This experience stopped me in my tracks. I imagined asking our teachers (or in fact, being asked myself) to stay back in Mimili (the remote community I work in) to run extra classes over summer. While I believe my colleagues and I are all passionate and hard-working teachers, I know there is little chance of that happening. Talk about living a life of service. Teacher Heart and Teacher Honey are both examples of the dedication and passion we saw throughout the Philippines. They truly amazed me.

Meeting them both and every other teacher we were fortunate to spend time with reminded me of why I believe teaching is the most important profession in the world. Furthermore, teaching requires the most outstanding people the world has to offer; people who are self-less, passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic for a brighter future. My belief in this was always strong but after meeting so many teachers here who epitomise these characteristics every day, I feel renewed to return to Australia and channel their passion for the start of our second school Term in the outback.

In this video, Teacher Heart speaks about “teachers having to be committed in doing our work to really help the children”. All of the teachers we met certainly do this. NB: at the 1.25 minute mark, the teachers sing us a blessing.


You were made to be awesome

This has to be the best video I have seen. Everything I believe about how we should live our lives is summed up perfectly in this pep talk. I love it. Have a watch below:

I don’t think it needs much unpacking. The messages are clear. Some of my favourite lines:

“Create something that will make the world awesome” 

“We can make every day better for each other…We are all on the same team”

“We were made to be awesome”

“It’s every bodies duty to give the world a reason to dance”


and, if you still needed inspiration to live an amazing life…

“You’ve got air coming through your nose people…you’ve got a heart beat…that means its time to do something!”


Can it get any simpler? We’re alive, we live in this extraordinary world and we can do so much – there’s no time to waste – get to it :-)



Noticing and sharing our wins

I had some wonderful days at school this week. They came at just the right time after a couple of very challenging weeks with my class. Having these positive experiences absolutely makes me a better colleague around my peers and a better teacher and carer for my students. These awesome days still had their trying times throughout, but at the end of the day it was the small wins that had me still smiling and feeling positive for what tomorrow would bring.

When the challenges of a day far outweigh the positives you experience, it is easy to ignore or in fact, not really notice them at all. It’s easy to succumb to feelings of frustration and deflation. In such complex environments, this can be common practice, particularly when you hold high expectations for yourself.

One night earlier this week, I came across this blog post, 9 habits of super positive people by @marcandangel. I highly recommend you have a look.

They start by saying that “life is full of positive experiences. Notice them”. I think that noticing requires sustained effort to be aware of and reflective about what you are experiencing. Often in our hectic daily lives as teachers, noticing the positive experiences in a crazy day when you are facing significant ongoing challenges is difficult. Sometimes it is easier to walk into the staff room at the end of the day and say “gee that was a hard day, guess what happened…” and if this is a common thread across your school, much time can be spent debriefing on the negative experiences of the day. While having the space and support to do this is very important for our wellbeing, I think we need to be sharing our wins for the day equally if not more so.

No matter how small they are, we must notice and share what went well, what made us smile, what made our students smile, what we felt proud of or what our students showed pride in that day. Articulating these wins fills our space with positivity – it puts them out there for others to smile at and delight in. It shares with your peers what is possible and what could happen tomorrow. It reminds us of why we are here and reignites our passion and commitment to build on these successes the following day. Instead of leaving school that day with burdened shoulders, we can leave with hope for a positive tomorrow because these wins exist and they will happen again. Indeed, it will make habit number 1 that much easier ~ wake up every morning with the idea that something wonderful is possible today.

I loved reading Kathryn Trask‘s post ‘Savouring the Small Moments’ where she shares the experiences that week which warmed her heart. What a wonderful way to celebrate the positive moments from the week.

Our staff room now has a space to share our wins. It has been lovely seeing staff sharing and celebrating with each other.


Sharing the positives


Are you noticing the positive experiences that fill your day? How are you sharing them?

Importantly, how are your students sharing their successes?

I’d love to hear from you.

My Theory of Change

I feel very fortunate to be involved in a leadership program working towards ending educational disadvantage in Australian communities. The aim of the program is to inspire, equip and support teachers to lead positive change in their schools and communities. I highly recommend checking the program out and connecting with the Changemakers team; Dave and Aaron.

Since beginning the program 4 months ago, I have struggled to find clarity around what it is I hope to change. We were asked to identify what we find unacceptable in our teaching context. I found it easy to answer this when phrased as “what keeps you up at night?”. Below are some of my initial thoughts:

  • It is unacceptable that students are disengaged from and uncommitted to education – that students don’t love learning
  • It is unacceptable that year 4 students cannot read or write in Pitjantjatjara (their own, 1st language) or in English
  • It is unacceptable that  students behaviour significantly impacts on each others opportunities and ability to learn
  • It is unacceptable that there is minimal family involvement, presence and support in the school
  • It is unacceptable that the basic needs of some students are not being met at home

From this point, I identified an end goal, what it is I wish for. Thankfully, four awesome educators from my school and our neighbouring school are also involved in this program so we were able to collaboratively discuss, debate and define an end goal together.

At work with amazing educators @erinmcquade, @loukaparry, @laurencwaller & Hayley

Our end goal

I then thought about what, in my opinion and experience, needs to happen to reach this point. I have outlined these ideas below. Still big  ideas that need more thought, input, discussion and reflection. But I wanted to put it out there as my initial thought processes so that I can see how they progress over time.

I do realise that achievement of these goals will be impacted by a multitude of factors, many of which are completely out of my control as an educator. These factors are consistent across many low socio-economic environments and include, from my observations, family and cultural obligations, generational unemployment and welfare dependency resulting in minimal motivation to work or aspire to a positive future, substance abuse, domestic violence, poor health, child neglect, abuse and poverty. It would be easy to succumb to these real challenges and at times, it takes every ounce of energy we have as educators in challenging contexts to keep going.

But wanting to see my students experience a future where they have fair and equal access to anything they want in the world, despite the challenges they face, is what inspires me to continue working towards creating positive change for my students and their families to come.

What’s your word today?

With the ‘taking action’ mindset I’m running with at the moment, I have been thinking about purpose a lot. I understand that action without purpose is meaningless so these thoughts have been at the forefront of my mind ~ what is my purpose as an educator and the purpose of the school in our community and context?

I was fortunate to spend time with Robyn Moore recently, a truly inspiring and beautiful Australian woman. She encourages people to choose an empowering word and BE that word (or series of words) for the day. In doing so, you make the act of being that word your purpose for the day by allowing it to shape your every action. Having purpose to your actions in a day will result in that day being not only more productive, but also more meaningful and fulfilling.

When I heard Robyn talk about this, she was opening a conference I had helped to organise for 130 educators from across my District. Listening to Robyn unpack these ideas, after a mad few weeks of organisation, helped to focus my thoughts around the purpose of the conference. One of the aims we had hoped to achieve was to provide the time and space for teachers from 9 schools across our District (which spans over 100,000 square kilometres) to connect with each other in person and build the network of support we need when teaching in such a challenging context. I realised that if my actions were to achieve this aim, I would need to be present in all of the interactions I would have with others during the next two days.

I think that when a lot is going on and your attention is stretched between a range of different things happening in a day, you are constantly thinking about the next thing you need to do to get through the day successfully. As a result, you end up never being fully present in the interactions you are having at that moment. I knew it would be easy to ask “so how has your Term been so far?” and only half listen to the answer, instead thinking about logistics like whether I had everything ready for the next presenter or whether lunch would be ready in time for the break. Instead, I tried to be present.

Today I have been thinking about what my word will be tomorrow when I wake up and enter the new week. I particularly like the idea of using this word to shape each of my interactions during the day – interactions with my colleagues, with my students and with their families.

I think my word tomorrow will be mindful.

We have a lot happening here, as is the case in all schools I’m sure. Tomorrow 100 teenagers from a visiting school will arrive for a week, more than doubling our student numbers.

So tomorrow I will be mindful – I will be mindful that these visiting students have travelled a long way (1,200km) and will likely be overwhelmed by their first experience in an small, remote community. Likewise, my students may be overwhelmed by such an influx of city students. I will answer questions and share my understandings but more importantly, I will support my students to share their knowledge. I will learn from our observations and the conversations we will have. I will interact with purpose and thought and I hope that by doing so, my actions will support and value everyone I interact with tomorrow. I will be mindful. That’s the aim.

What will your word be?

Starting action

The idea of writing my own blog has been rattling around in my head for over a year now. I’m an avid reader of blogs, a consumer instead of a producer. I regularly read and see blog posts about the importance of blogging for educators. Here are a few that I’ve re-read on many occasions and all confirm the benefits of blogging as a reflective tool.

As I found these posts again, I noticed they were all written sometime in 2011. I read them in 2011 and saved them in diigo to re-read, thinking they’d kick me into creating my own. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have saved any from this year – I’m thinking maybe I’ve stopped reading any posts that look like they’ll reaffirm the power of blogging and as a result, remind me again that I’m yet to act on my intention.

But I heard something recently and it seems to be the push I needed. I am involved in the Education Changemaker program and the idea that

intentions without actions are worthless

was explored and really hit me. I have the intentions (to create a blog, to do this with my students, to do that with staff … the list goes on and on) and I think about these intentions constantly but I’m not taking it any further – I’m not acting. Aaron and Dave also encouraged us to

don’t worry, be crappy

So – here goes. This push comes at a great time. My learning over the past few weeks has been exponential. Crazy. So much is happening here. So much learning. So much thinking.

It’s time to start reflecting. 

I hope that by spending time reflecting and writing about my experiences, my thoughts, my challenges and my new understandings, I will continue to improve as an educator. Having this space to record and reflect, I believe, will help move my intentions to actions.

I hope, as Steve Wheeler said in 2011, blogging will raise my game.