Sunday, 11 October 2020

COVID -19 (Part 5) Surfing the Second Wave during the Longest Lockdown in the World

Coronavirus Update

As the rest of Australia began to recover from the impact of the pandemic, community transmission in Victoria increased dramatically and on August 2 we moved to Stage 4 lockdown. On August 5 we reached our peak of over 700 new cases. Fortunately, after months of extreme lockdown which included an 8pm curfew, compulsory face mask wearing and an inability to travel further than 5 kilometers from home, on October 3 there were only 8 new cases.  Melbournians wait in anticipation for October 19 when the debilitating Stage 4 restrictions should be eased to enable people to return to work and inject much needed hope and life into the economy. Importantly, the delicate emotional wellbeing of those with elevated levels of stress and anxiety caused by physical distancing, isolation and job loss during lockdown will receive a much needed boost. Sadly, there have also been 805 deaths in Victoria, with many families losing loved ones, especially the elderly. We continue to keep all families in our thoughts and prayers.

Australians are recognised for their resilience and optimism and adhere with determination to the core value of supporting each other to get through the most challenging of times. Just as a surfer repeatedly gets back onto their board, we refuse to be wiped out by the second wave.

Flexible Learning and the Second Wave
In the previous two posts, I shared the proposed changes we made to remote learning based on feedback from all stakeholders and the Flexible Learning guidelines and expectations going forward. That was early in July, when we we were reeling from the shock of 288 coronavirus cases. Little did we know at the time that due to the dramatic increase of coronavirus cases, our renewed Flexible Learning practices would continue for the full 10 weeks of Term 3 and the first week of Term 4. We eagerly await the return to onsite learning for all primary school children on October 12.
I described my experiences with remote learning during the first lockdown as running on the Covid Treadmill. This is definitely not the case as we come to the end of the current lockdown. 
We finished Term 3 with passion, energy and profound belief in the quality of the Flexible Learning programme offered across the school. Our Term 3 second wave experience more closely aligns with surfing ; catching a pipeline, skilfully guiding the nose of the surfboard through the barrel of the gigantic wave whilst balancing with ease and confidence as the wave carries you safely to land on the shore.

Amidst the many challenges of the Stage 4 lockdown restrictions, we are extremely satisfied that the combined efforts of students, staff and parents enabled all learners to achieve to the best of their ability. Student interaction weekly reports from staff developed during the course of the term to include a record of parent communications and online social opportunities for different year levels. We received numerous emails of thanks from the parents and are grateful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback shared with us all. Feedback included:

" ...We appreciate the teachers have gone above and beyond to support us and the kids.." Prep and Yr 2 parent
"..A big thank you to the wonderful staff at St Patrick's...they keep the kids busy whilst providing regular positive feedback..." Y
ear 3 parent
" so energised and happy to log on each morning..the home schooling has been a great experience because of how well prepared and energising you were each day." Yr 6 parent
"..Thank you for your commitment, support and care..I am certainly seeing growth, resilience and maturity...thank you for the key role you are playing..." Yr 6 parent
"..we are loving your work in the school assemblies absolutely fantastic to watch. Shows so much passion for what you do thank you.." Yr 1 parent
'' .. thank you for all your great flourishing under your direction and support..." Yr 5 parents
".. we really appreciate the time you take to review each piece of work, the feedback and messages you write back... feel connected, stay accountable and be motivated..." Yr 4 parent
"..can I once again thank you and your team for the selfless and supportive way in which you have helped us. .. we appreciate everything you are doing to support our children..."

Our student SRC leaders represent their classes and they met with me via Zoom on a weekly basis during term 3. We created some wellbeing videos to share with the community. The focus on wellbeing with tips to encourage us to express our gratitude and remain positive were ideas that came directly from the students. The video below is a reflection of the highlights of Flexible Learning for the students from Year 1 - 6.
You can access further videos by the Semester 2 SRC leaders at these links -


Virtual Assemblies continued to evolve and feedback from families in relation to the "transformations" seemed to give everyone a much needed lift. At this point in time we have uploaded and shared 15 virtual assembly videos. Below is one of the videos that included a senior leadership sing along and bloopers too! 

Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, holding tight to our core values with faith filled hearts is enabling our community to thrive.

As we continue to ride the second wave with passion and purpose, the  emphasis on faith and wellbeing is regenerating the hearts and minds of the community.

Family engagement is strengthening, staff capacity is surging and student agency is flourishing; further deepening the culture of inquiry, "the archaeological dig" that was part of our school wide review in 2019. 

Underpinning all of this is the realisation that we are actioning our long term goals as articulated in the School Improvement Plan 2020-2023. We are living out our vision to ensure learners leave our school self - motivated to make a positive impact on their world.

Seven months of lockdown hasn't deterred us..... imagine what we will all achieve together post lockdown. 

  • To our SRC students and young leaders for their contribution to the SRC and virtual assembly videos
  • To our hard working staff who responded to the challenge to "raise the bar" and make Flexible Learning truly count for every learner
  • To our students and parents who continue to work together, give and receive feedback and keep learning despite the unique challenges that we are all experiencing in these "unprecedented" times.

Friday, 17 July 2020

COVID -19 (Part 4) From Home Learning to Flexible Learning

In light of increasing pandemic cases due to community transmission, the Victorian premier gifted all school staff with five student free days to prepare for Phase 2 of remote learning. Each and every staff member at #stpatsmbna fully participated in reviewing feedback (see previous post) and redesigning a Flexible Learning program with a number of key changes for our community. 
At our school, we are committed to teaching a consistent high-quality and engaging curriculum with one to one and small group student support, a focused wellbeing program, opportunities for enrichment and extension and access to specialist expertise. 
Every student is unique. In the coming weeks, we believe we will support every student to flourish during this next phase of remote learning.
Staff maintain social distance and work in triads to review practices

All staff presented and shared their knowledge, research and tips for improving remote learning practise

Key Changes to Home Learning

"We value rich, regular and quality feedback.." St Pat's Shared Vision
Teachers have a reputation for actively seeking feedback on their practices and making adjustments for continual improvement. Some of the key changes that we have made include:
  • Home Learning will now be referred to as Flexible Learning
We will now refer to the learning that takes place as Flexible Learning. Based on feedback, we have made a number of changes to our Flexible Learning program and this time around we will all be more flexible.  Flexible Learning can take place in your homes or at school. Either way, the staff, students and families are making adjustments to learning and in doing so are being extremely flexible. The ability to make adjustments and be flexible is a valuable life skill.
The Home Learning tabs on the #stpatsmbna Learning Community Site have been renamed to Flexible Learning.
  • Children will be expected to wear their school uniform both at school and at home for Flexible Learning.
This time, we wish to ensure we treat everyone fairly and show that we are all serious about learning onsite at school or offsite at home. All children will wear their school uniform for Flexible Learning.
  • Specialist classes have been moved to one full day to allow for continuity of class teaching on other days.
Specialist teachers will be available on that day. However, class teachers will still take the daily Zoom roll call. The children can wear their sports uniform on the Specialist day.
  • Times removed from the Flexible Learning planner to accommodate flexibility for families. 
The suggested maximum time will be listed for each Flexible Learning activity instead of expecting families to complete an activity at a set time. The two 40 minute morning and lunchtime breaks will reflect the timing of breaks onsite at school.
  • Teachers availability has increased (see the Expectations of Teachers below)
  • Extra small group sessions and 1:1 or 1:2 sessions will take place (see below)
  • Wellbeing and Catholic Identity times have been prioritised
Dedicated wellbeing teaching focus sessions are planned into the Flexible Learning program along with opportunities to develop our Catholic identity.

Core Values

Our school Core Values guide our behaviours. In order to be open and honest about how we can all support our children fairly, the following expectations for teachers, students and parents will contribute to the success of Flexible Learning @stpatsmbna

Flexible Learning Guidelines & Expectations for staff, students and parents
Expectations of teachers
Face to face interactions and availability
  • Classroom teacher is accessible 9 -1.30 every day (except student/teacher break times - 2 x 40 mins). Afternoons will be for teachers to ring parents / respond to emails / provide feedback to students.
  • Every child is involved in a whole class Zoom every day and a small group instructional session at least once a week.
  • Needs based 1: 1 or 2: 1 sessions will occur with the teacher (parents will be notified in line with child safe requirements)
  • Zoom sessions on the Specialist day will be limited to a 10 minute roll call.
  • Emails to teachers will be responded to between 8am and 5pm Monday-Friday.
Teaching Instructions
  • Teachers will upload the weekly Flexible Learning plan to the Learning Community Site by 2pm every Friday
  • Teachers will upload at least one spelling video each week, plus one teacher directed maths and one literacy/reading/writing video or Screencastify each week.
  • Instructional time will be kept short and concise (7-10 mins).
  • Where possible, teachers will use slides to break down tasks. Students can reference videos or slides multiple times to reinforce strategies, concepts or skills.
  • One day each week will be a specialist focus day
Feedback to students
  • Timely and specific feedback will be provided to every student twice a week. This will be specific to success criteria. One for literacy, one for maths.
  • Fortnightly specific feedback to students around specialist areas from specialist teachers
  • Link to assessment rubric provided prior to teaching where applicable.
Expectations of students
At Home and Onsite
Students will:
  • Wear their school uniforms each school day unless it is their birthday or have won a casual clothes award
  • Be expected to be “in class” and present at roll call or parents will be notified immediately.
  • Be notified when their weekly group and 1:1 or 1:2 meetings will be and are expected to participate.
  • Have their videos on and their full name displayed when in Zoom sessions.
  • Wear headphones whenever possible to minimise background noise, as appropriate.
  • Follow the ICT User Agreement.
  • Only engage in the chat or drawing functions on Zoom when directed.
  • Follow year level guidelines of work to be submitted each day.
  • Contact specialist teachers via email for any questions regarding those subject areas.
As well as the above points, onsite students will:
  • Bring resources needed for onsite learning, such as headphones, pencil cases, sheets from take-home packs, chromebooks fully charged (Years 4-6).
  • Stay at home if they are unwell.
 Expectations of Parents
Parents will:
  • Arrange for students' names to appear when logging into Zoom meetings.
  • Arrange a learning space that is suitable for learning (minimal background noise).
  • Ensure children are wearing school uniforms and are ready for learning.
  • Support our Core Values of being respectful and positive in their interactions with children, school staff and other parents. Any concerns should be raised directly with the school.
  • Understand that emails to teachers will be responded in a timely manner between 8am and 5pm Monday-Friday. At times, teachers will be involved in Zoom meetings or onsite Flexible Learning and planning sessions.
  • Check emails and Flexischools announcements daily to ensure you are receiving necessary communications.
  • Understand that the learning program delivered onsite will be the same as the learning program delivered to students undertaking remote learning.
  • Keep their children home from onsite Flexible Learning if they are unwell.
"The knowledge is in the room"
We are truly blessed at St Pat's with a talented and dedicated team of staff.
During the week, the staff shared presentations around the programs we currently provide and will continue to offer during Term 3. These include:

  • Fine motor skill program
  • Oral language program
  • Innovations in IT eg Screencastify, video modelling
  • Supporting students with language disorders
  • Extending tasks for our highly able students
  • Differentiated spelling programs
  • Personalised Learning Plans and adjustments for students for Term 3
  • Assisting parents to read with their child 
  • Classroom Feedback 
  • To Know, Worship and Love online RE resource
  • Wellbeing practices to alleviate student anxiety
  • F-2 Maths - Place Value research and findings to support multiplicative thinking and the importance of place value in the early years

"Our teachers are excellent, dedicated teachers and our children benefit from the interaction with them...  My hope is that what was untried, but has now been tested, may be improved for everyone’s benefit. We are all in this together, as the sign on the front fence says, and it is my sincere hope that we can learn from the trial of Term 2 to make Term 3 a more positive experience for ALL our children and families " St Pat's Parent

At our school, we are committed to teaching a consistent high-quality and engaging curriculum with one to one and small group student support, a focused wellbeing program, opportunities for enrichment and extension and access to specialist expertise. 
Every student is unique. 
In the coming weeks, we believe we will support every student to flourish as we transition from Home Learning to Flexible Learning.

To the staff from #stpatsmbna for their commitment to developing a Flexible Learning program and a willingness to share their gifts and talents with each other and our children

Sunday, 12 July 2020

COVID -19 (Part 3) Responding to Feedback and Rising to the Challenge of the Second Wave

On July 8, a second phase of Stage 3 lockdown restrictions were implemented for 6 weeks in Melbourne. School holidays due to finish on July 13 were extended for our primary school students until July 20. During this time, all staff were expected to return to school for five student free days to review teaching plans and prepare for the potential of remote learning for Term 3.

On July 10, Victoria recorded 288 coronavirus cases, its highest number of cases to date.

Just as the daily coronavirus cases have risen, the staff of St Pat's will rise to the challenge and support our students and community to flourish during this second wave of coronavirus.

Time for Action
The day after the new restrictions were announced, I met with two of my school leaders at school for several hours to begin to draft plans for our student free week. We had to prepare for the potential of remote learning (as I write this post on the eve of our return to school, the Victorian premier has confirmed home learning will commence from July 20). This time, we have the opportunity to learn through our experiences during Term 2 and make positive changes based on feedback from staff, students and parents. Two days later, on the last day of the school holidays, we met again for several hours to ensure that we were fully prepared for the student free week.

"We value rich, regular and quality feedback.." St Pat's Shared Vision
Teachers have a reputation for actively seeking feedback on their practices and making adjustments for continual improvement.

Whilst running up a sharp incline on the COVID treadmill (see previous post) we responded to feedback, adapted and improved our home learning practices last term. This time we have the benefit of learning from our experiences and making the most of five student free days to refine and improve our practices further.

If any of our students or parents expected our teachers to automatically follow the Term 2 pattern of remote learning practices, then they will be pleasantly surprised. Naturally, some aspects will remain the same but other elements will be adjusted so that we can offer a better programme.

Why? Because that's exactly what expert teachers do with their teaching all the time.

"We identify needs ... and build professional capacity and capability... to ensure our students will be engaged and motivated." (St Pat's Shared Vision).
Based on the feedback from students and parents (see below), some of the adjustments will include a review of:
  • the frequency of small group and whole group Zoom meetings and teacher interactions
  • the modelling of explicit teaching concepts and strategies
  • the presentation of the learning template and access on the Community Learning Site
  • the inclusion of extra wellbeing opportunities 
  • the focus on our Catholic identity and opportunities for social justice connections
  • the gathering of assessment data to inform further teaching. 
Ultimately, we wish to develop guidelines to ensure consistent home learning practices for all year levels across the school. The improvements we make will be utilised for both offsite and onsite learning practices going forward.

Student Feedback
Fortunately, at the end of Term 2, I met with some of our students to capture their responses to the pros and cons of Home Learning.
SRC # 7 End of Term 2 Feedback
In this video, the #stpatsmbna SRC reps share their views on the pros and cons of Home Learning and the best part about being back at school.

Parent Feedback. 
Do you wish to offer any further feedback ? 
During the Term 2 home learning phase, we continually invited parents to share their feedback via telephone conversations and email. Here is some of the feedback. If parents wish to offer further feedback, please email

Just wanted to send a note to say thank you for the time you take to send ...a recorded message on Seesaw for his work completed. It’s really appreciated during these times which I’m sure you are extra busy (Year 3 parent).
I'm sure you are both super busy today preparing for a return to onsite learning but I just wanted to send you both a quick email to say thank you for all your hard work over the last month and a half.
The take home packs you prepared were so organised and well thought out, it certainly made for a more efficient and smoother at home learning experience for all involved. The class zooms were a real highlight -the boys looked forward to seeing you and their friends each morning .
We always talk about what a fab choice we made in selecting St Pats as our school and our experience over the last few weeks has only served to reinforce that! (Year 1 parent)

I just wanted to drop a quick email so say a huge thank you for all the support, encouragement and patience given to the students (and parents!) whilst learning from home. The continued all round support and guidance especially from the teachers has been outstanding, a credit to their teaching skills (Year 3, Year 6 parent)

I was just watching the video from the SRC reps. They did a great job. Well done.
We have been very impressed with .. during these challenging times. I've been listening into the zoom calls and ... been brilliant. Very pleased overall with the home learning. For two full time workers it's actually worked better than we expected. (Year 1 parent)

Thanks for your email and reaching out. This weeks (W2) more structured home-learning has been working well for ... He’s definitely found it more challenging and there is more work for him to complete. A big improvement from last week. I think next weeks detailed planner will also work well for him. Is it possible to email the planners out when they become available? We don’t have Google chrome so it’s not easy to print out and format from the Home Learning site (Year 6 parent).

Given the stage 3 restrictions announced today I was hoping you could give some thought to having the teachers at St Pats available more often throughout the school day in Term 3 in a more structured way ( Year 2, Year 6 parent)

I would hope to see more interaction throughout the day from the teachers. A morning check in to set up the day is great, but I know that further check-ins, group learning or email contact with required response in a limited time frame would be extremely beneficial... perhaps a solution to this problem is for the teachers to be checking in more frequently with the students. Our teachers are excellent, dedicated teachers and our children benefit from the interaction with them. (Year 4, Year 6 parent)

What will the staff do during the 5 student free days ?
During the week, the staff will reflect and respond to feedback (see above), review and redesign learning plans, film instructional teaching videos, prepare resource packs, arrange the distribution of resources and readjust teaching plans to prepare for the potential of remote learning. We will also prepare to loan chrome book devices if required, issue the expression of interest forms for onsite learning for families of essential workers and vulnerable children.

Amidst all of this, we will continue to hold tight to our  St Pat's Core Values, in particular, these two:

We are all in this together and will continue to work to meet the needs of each of our students to provide the best opportunity for everyone to improve both with their learning and with their wellbeing during these challenging times. We understand that each and every one of our families has their own unique set of challenges and we will do our utmost to support all of you as we rise to the challenge of this second wave.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

COVID-19 Part 2 (18 May - 5 July 2020 ) Turning Point: Transition back to school & the COVID Treadmill

After 6 weeks of Home Learning, it was time to prepare to welcome back our community

The Victorian Government announced that Monday May 25 would be a staff closure day where all staff are expected to return to work onsite. Initially, the Foundation, Year 1 and Year 2 students would recommence school on Tuesday May 26 followed two weeks later, by the Year 3, 4, 5 and 6 students. After 6 weeks of working full time onsite at school, with a supportive team of staff, whilst most staff and students were based at home, it was time to welcome back all of the staff and the junior students.

It was during that final week, the sixth week of remote home learning, that Mary Wilson, Schools That Deliver Network facilitator contacted me from New Zealand.
We set up a Zoom meeting on Friday 22 May. My meeting with Mary, gave me a chance to reflect on how to make the most of the staff closure day and prepare for the transition back to school.
19 May 2020

Dear Jenny

....The world has certainly changed in the last two months and life will be changed going forward.  Hopefully we can put all the great things we learned during lockdown into our ’new normal’.

How are you going in Melbourne?  Are schools back as yet?  Our NZ schools went back for all children yesterday and there was about an 80% attendance across the country.

What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a leader during this unique experience?  What has each of your staff learned about themselves?  What about the students?  The families?  What are you planning to do with all that learning? ........

Ngā mihi mahana
Mary Wilson 

21 May 2020

Hi Mary,

......Yes, what an experience we are having ! Thank goodness for our core values. I started a blog piece weeks ago but not much time at the moment to finish it.....
Finally on Monday, all staff will come together onsite for a closure day (we haven't seen 80% of staff face to face since March) and then our Foundation, 1 & 2 children officially return on Tuesday. Yeah !!
Are you free to Zoom tomorrow Mary ?

Following the Zoom meeting with Mary, I went on to prepare for the closure day and ensured that I maximised our staff time together. 
Here are the slides from the day.

Staff reflections

What are you most proud of ? Summary of key responses from staff:
  • The way we (staff and students) adapted to change and kept on top of all of the work
  • Focussing on the positives especially the positive feedback from students and parents
  • Ability to up skill as needed and use technology as a great learning tool
  • The calm reassuring and supportive atmosphere we created for our families 
What have you learned about yourself during this time ? Summary of key responses from staff:
  • I value relationships with family and friends
  • Persevering with challenges is rewarding
  • Change can be stressful but by keeping calm we can adapt 
  • Positivity, perseverance, patience and confidence are valuable life skills
What do you want to hold onto going forward ? Summary of key responses from staff:
  • keep a more balanced lifestyle, switch off and prioritise exercise and walks
  • being flexible and creative with technology as a teaching tool
  • maintaining calm under pressure and letting unimportant tasks go
  • keep the team spirit alive and continue to support one another
Staff working in the school hall to maintain social distancing
Bringing the whole staff back together for the first time in 8 weeks called for a celebration. We organised a delicious morning tea and lunch to show our appreciation for the staff. Due to social distancing and hygiene practises, we set up the hall as our meeting room for the day as sadly we could no longer use the staffroom as a gathering place.
Sandra and Kellie used gloves and tongs to serve staff for health and safety
COVID -19 Staff Wellbeing Bags
How do you show your staff how much you appreciate them, especially when there are about 40 of them ? This called for some staff well being bags, in fact extra special COVID -19 wellbeing bags. Inside the bags were:
a face mask; hand sanitiser; hand cream; Coffee voucher ; lollies ; chips ; rubber gloves and a beautiful sunflower to brighten their day
After I presented the staff with their bags, the staff presented me with a beautiful card and gift too. It certainly wasn't necessary but gave me time to stop and reflect.
COVID Treadmill Reflection
I can liken the past few months to exercising on a treadmill with very little control of the speed. Let's call it the COVID treadmill.

Once you turn on the treadmill, you choose the walking speed. Generally, you gradually increase  your pace and gain momentum whilst balancing on the running belt.

The speed of our COVID treadmill increased rapidly. We had to support each other to stay on the running belt as we quickly learnt to adapt to new and unfamiliar online teaching expectations. Some of us were fitter than others and could maintain a fast walk or a jog but none of us could sustain a running pace. We were coached by colleagues and learnt to create videos and improvise when Zoom meetings failed due to poor internet connections. When gentle inclines became hills, we had to learn to pace ourselves.

As time went on we became fitter than we had ever been. Our new found fitness will hold us in good stead for any future treadmill challenges.
The principal on the Covid treadmill !
I can't express how excited I was to have all of the staff back together at school.  Reconnecting with each other and being physically present after a couple of months of communicating online was energising. Planning the get together, ensuring there was the right balance of showering staff with appreciation and gently preparing for the safe transition back to school for the children as well as
providing reflection time by slowing down and pausing the treadmill of change.
Student Reflections
Survival Tips #4 Home Learning Reflections After  6 Weeks (29 May)
SRC share the ways that they have improved with their learning and organisational skills during Home Learning. How have you improved ?
SRC Survival Tips #5 Coming back to School (5 June)
Remote learning has come to an end. In this video, the SRC students share what they are looking forward to when they return to school.
SRC #6 Safety Tips at School (4 June)
The SRC students onsite prepared this video with some helpful safety tips for all of the children at school.
Our children were very happy to return to school. Staggered start and finish times and different entry points all contributed to the COVID -19 safety protocols.

St Patrick's Murrumbeena Virtual Assembly #6
It's the beginning of Term 3 2020. Find out about the weekly awards, nude food and the special guest award presenter !
Virtual assembly #6 was prepared at the end of Term 2 in readiness for Term 3. Our assembly videos improved over time and the whole school watched the videos on a Monday morning. I enjoyed dropping into classes to present the awards.

During the last week of Term 2 Victorian coronavirus cases began to increase and 50 to 60 of our students were absent each day.

7 weeks later (July 5)
As I write this post during the school holidays, Victoria is labelled as a "Covid hotpsot" 38 Melbourne suburbs are in lockdown including 9 public housing towers with the potential of more suburbs being closed. Other states are on alert across Australia. It looks like there might need to be a COVID -19 Part 3 post. This time we will be fit and ready to step back onto the COVID treadmill.

  • To Mary Wilson from the Schools That Deliver Team for an uplifting coaching conversation just before the 8 weeks came to an end
  • To our SRC students and Year 6 leaders for their contribution to the SRC and assembly videos
  • To Sandra and Kellie in the front office who helped to source and prepare the staff well being bags
  • To our wonderful staff who presented me with a beautiful card and gift
  • To our students and parents who keenly supported the transition back to school 

Sunday, 17 May 2020

COVID-19 Part 1 (22 March - 17 May 2020) Fallen bicycles, Shortness of Breath & Remote Learning

It's about 8 weeks to the day on the 22 March when:
  • the Victorian premier announced that schools will finish Term 1 earlier than expected due to coronavirus State of Emergency restrictions
  • I lifted a fallen bicycle in the bike shed at school and sprained my chest. This action resulted in shortness of breath. With the growing anxiety around coronavirus, caring colleagues advised me to take a trip to the doctor. Fortunately the shortness of breath was only an outcome of the sprain and a reaction to some very strong hand sanitizer.
Corona virus scare in the bike shed
8 weeks later:
  • Victorians can emerge from their isolation cocoon to visit friends and family – with a maximum gathering of up to ten outdoors and up to five visitors in homes.
  • Our school families have completed 5 weeks of remote "home" learning from our school Learning Community Site. Here is an extract from Community Update #1
Remote Schooling / Home Learning Frequently Asked Questions 
Term 2 Community Update #1 ; Preparing for Home Learning - 5 Key Messages
As mentioned in previous updates, the staff have been working hard to support parents and families to make the transition to Home Learning for Term 2. All updates will be published here as newsletters this term. This means you can go back and access them easily. 
Go to this link and read Brooke's story - Home Learning ; One Parent Shares their Story
Frequently Asked Questions and Supervised Onsite Expectations
I have prepared a list of 15 Frequently Asked Questions FAQ in response to parent questions.
You can open the Shamrock update newsletters on any device
  • Our staff have become digitally flexible and learnt to teach in ways they would never have imagined "pre COVID -19". They supported each other to create instructional videos like this one from our Foundation team.
Prep Making Words Instructional Video
The #stpatsmbna Prep teachers prepared this video for the children during remote learning. Look out for special guest appearances from Tia and our principal Jenny Hawkins.
  • Myself and 5 other staff have been working full time for 5 weeks onsite at school with the support of part time staff, supervising the 25-30 children of essential workers at school whilst 80% of families and our staff have taught and learnt in their homes.
  • Zoom, the online video conference platform became the main form of communication for staff and student meetings, including staff wellbeing groups
  • staff regularly telephoned parents and responded to emails. The home learning parent partnership was strengthened. Parents and carers developed a deeper understanding of the impact of dedicated teaching staff . This became evident through parent responses to the staff video "We're all in this together".
Staff Video (7 May)"We're all in this together" at St Pat's Murrrumbeena
St Pat's school staff and local community members (guest appearances include Citizen & 3 Little Bakers celebrities! ) come together to let school families know - "We miss you and can't wait until we are all back together soon @ #stpatsmbna "

  • The SRC (Student Representative Council) videos provided an opportunity for our students to support the school community during the pandemic lockdown. The SRC students elected from Year 1 through to Year 6 provide a student voice and take on the role for a semester. I met with the students on a weekly bases via Zoom during their Home Learning lunch break and we began to create a series of videos. Here are some of the videos.

SRC Survival Tips #1 
The SRC focus in their first video is on our school core value - We are positive. The students offer our community survival tips for Home Learning and positive ways to survive these challenging times.
                                          Tips for the SRC as we prepare our second video
SRC Survival Tips #2 Stay fit and healthy
The SRC share some tips for staying fit and healthy with your family during Home Learning.

SRC Survival Tips #3 Indoor Activities 
SRC share some tips for fun games to play with your family. Stay safe and keep well.
  • We developed our first Virtual Assembly #1 to share weekly awards and connect with the children and families. Here is the first one. I received a lovely message from a grandparent after an award recipient shared the video with them. Something to think about for the future, especially as a way to include family members who aren't able to attend assemblies

Virtual Assembly #1
We are all proud of the way our children, staff, parents and carers have flourished during #stpatsmbna Home Learning. Find out who received awards for demonstrating the core value of being positive. Listen to the SRC students share the ways that they have improved while learning at home.

Reflection on COVID -19 imposed change
For the first time, everyone across the world had to adjust their lives and change their way of living to stay safe from  COVID -19. We were all in a similar position and nobody had experienced these particular challenges before.
Our default is to avoid change. We feel safe when we are in control of the known; familiar routines and environment.
Images of patients on respirators overseas and increasing deaths with no vaccine are confronting.
When we lose control, it can lead to anxiety and fear, especially when the health and well being of loved ones is compromised.
COVID -19 is an example of a necessary change imposed on each and every one of us.
Imposed change is extremely challenging. We have very little warning, not much time to prepare for what seems like the relinquishing of control.

Change2flourish is and always will be a constant reminder that we have to believe there is a silver lining associated with all change.

When the going gets tough, our core values and beliefs, the essence of a familiar way of being can help us get through.

As a school leader and teacher, others are looking to us to help them navigate the choppy seas. I had to dig deep during this period to focus on two of our school core values in particular - we are positive and we support each other.
Every minute of every day in those 8 weeks, revealed new challenges. My motto was to take one day at a time. Meeting via Zoom with the SRC students and creating positive video messages to share with the community, the support of a tremendous team of staff and the love and care of family and friends contributed to not only surviving these 8 weeks but learning to change2flourish during this "unprecedented time".

  • To the staff of St Patrick's who rose to the challenge and showed that teaching is truly a vocation and that no mountains are too high
  • To the parents and carers of our children who despite hardship and challenges within their only work and family lives, supported their children with the home learning activities on the Learning Community Site
  • To Bill Martin and John Edwards from the Schools That Deliver Team for emailing a thought provoking article on dealing with thunderbolts with a reminder to hold tight to our vision and our core values.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Home Learning ; One Parent Shares their Story

Faith, hope and innovation at our school were key themes of my previous post. Please place your faith and hope in our innovative staff as we are assure all families that our children will flourish with Home Learning this term. Let's focus on the core values our children live out at school as we support each other with a positive mindset at home.

On Sunday 22nd March, the Victorian Premier announced that schools would close early, almost a week before Term 1 was officially due to end. The global COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding. Every few days new restrictions were introduced until home isolation became the norm for most of us.

Fortunately, at the end of Term 1, our teachers had prepared and uploaded Term 2 Home Learning resources on our Learning Community Site. We wanted to be ready in case school wouldn't resume. At that stage, little did we comprehend the full meaning of the national "Stay Home and Stay Safe" slogan.

On Tuesday 7th April, just before Easter, we were officially told that schools would remain closed for Term 2. Immediately our staff responded. We held a Zoom leadership meeting and began to review and prepare detailed plans to ensure a smooth and supportive transition for our community to Home Learning.

In the interim, I received a number of emails from parents with questions, concerns and worries over and above the COVID-19 challenges already impacting families. To support parents and hopefully allay any anxiety, I responded with a Frequently Asked Questions FAQ tab on the Learning Community Site. Our staff have indeed been working hard behind the scenes. You can access a preview of the detailed daily planner which includes time to share tasks with the teacher and extension opportunities at this link. 

Amidst these communications, I received an Easter blessing. It was an encouraging message of hope in the form of an email from a parent, Brooke, who trialled our Home Learning resources with her children during the holidays. Brooke was happy for me to share her story to help encourage and support other parents. Brooke is a mother of two children, Evie in Year 3 and Chloe in Prep. Just as Brooke said to her daughters.. "this will look and feel different to school", we cannot and do not intend for you to replicate school learning at home but together we can create a supportive Home Learning environment that works for your family.

Here is Brooke's story..

I made sure that the girls are aware that we are continuing to do their schoolwork daily, but that it will look and feel different to their classrooms. It’s sub-structured, so I ensure that we still go for a walk or a quick bike ride. I utilise Cosmic Kids for yoga classes, and I know there are other resources to keep the kids active inside when its wet and cold. I also incorporate learning, so they aren’t even aware they are learning i.e. cooking, getting them to get the specific ingredients, use their maths skills etc…… or I may make up a scavenger hunt out in the backyard and they need to tick off their items from their list.

The night prior, I set all of us up for the following day. I will go through what they have completed and what needs to be actioned and make an outline for the next day. I make sure that Evie incorporates reading every day and she completes her daily diary after she has read. She will spend 20-30 mins reading and may do this over 2 parts of the day.  She is organised. We have her weekly spelling words so each day she writes these into her book and practices and on Friday I do a spelling and dictation test with her. Evie is also attentive and makes time each day for her writing. I normally get Evie to complete these tasks when I am working one on one with Chloe, as I know she is more than capable and completes these successfully. Chloe, who obviously in Prep needs support, especially in terms of reading and understanding words, phonics and pronunciation.

We have been working on the year level documents provided on the school Learning Community Site which provide good guidance. As Evie is self-sufficient and motivated she can complete her maths tasks, and when Chloe is working on something independently, I will then sit with Evie and we go through this. We identify if she didn’t understand anything, work through and then correct her work. Besides writing and maths, some days we allocate the other tasks such as narrative writing which Evie did a great job on. She drafted this, we discussed it and when she was happy, she wrote it into her book.

I am also allowing them time to be creative. They make up stories together and they both love drawing and colouring so I give them that opportunity and it breaks up the day for all of us. I have been using FUSE and they have good resources. I think keeping the children involved too is important as they can then take ownership. I know Evie would specify if there was something, she wanted to work on i.e. history work etc. For the Youtube clips they both watched these together and again it's just making the time to do this.  I ask them questions afterwards to gauge their understanding.

In terms of Chloe, Reading Eggs has been fantastic, she is really doing well on that. I am encouraging her to continue with this. She completes Reading Eggs and Sunshine Online daily for 30-60 mins per day and she is very keen which is positive. We have utilised Top Marks for her maths and again I follow up in everyday discussions to get her thinking. For me, the biggest concern with a Prep is ensuring they can read, so I am working hard on this, and trying to put things in place to help such as Reading Eggs. I am working on Chloe's understanding of phonic and the chunking of words, so we break them apart. I have printed Oxford wordlists and specific words that I have turned into my own cue cards/flash cards and daily I focus on 5-10 words and we go through these, pronouncing them, sounding them out so she actually understands them and then do a mini test at the end of it to gauge where she is at.

We read daily, and I was hoping we may be able to get some readers from school. She finished her scrapbook and loved this. I have other similar worksheets and books that she also completes. I encourage writing, she writes the alphabet fully for me, and is learning how to space out her letters and put them on a line. Chloe also writes the days of the week and she practices her name. I am just getting her to feel confident with her writing and again understanding her letters and words.

Other adhoc things I incorporate – puzzles, they love memory games, play – using their imagination, keeping them active, helping around the house, cooking etc.

Personally, I have found knowing what you want to achieve for the day makes it easier, as I then know what one child can do whilst I am focussing on the other. I break up the work spaces too giving them variety. Some days we are all on the dining table, other days they are working on the kitchen bench or I have one in the other lounge room where I can see reading and then focussing on the other so that both get the attention they need.

What do the girls think of Home Learning ?
Evie shares, “Despite missing being at school and seeing all of my friends I am enjoying being at home and learning with my Mum & sister. It’s a different type of learning, but we are making the most of it and Mum is making it enjoyable for us both”.
Chloe said, “I miss my friends, but I am trying to learn how to read and keep doing my work. Mum helps me with writing, and I love Reading Eggs and Sunshine Online!” 

Brooke said to me, "I can understand that there are many parents feeling anxious about the term, it’s not always easy juggling it, but having the guidance we have been given via yourself and the teachers, and so many great resources out there it alleviates some of the stress."

Thanks to Brooke for sharing her story and photos of her family in action.

Every home setting will naturally be unique to the family living there. You will be able to support your children's learning in a way that works for your family. Please understand that our experienced and approachable staff will be with you all of the way and we know that a strong parent school partnership supported by our core values will enable all of us to adapt to this new way of learning and change2flourish.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Rome, Review, Regeneration leads to Faith, Hope and Innovation

Two incredibly deep and rich experiences in 2019 contributed to the regeneration of a leadership model enabling authentic growth of shared capability across our school in 2020.
Principals from across Melbourne connect at the Trevi Fountain
The first experience was a sponsored, residential formation program in Italy entitled Educating Head, Heart and Hands made available through a partnership between Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) and Australian Catholic University (ACU). The intensive residential programme was taught through ACU's postgraduate unit Catholic Education - Mission, Culture and Spirituality. After three weeks of lectures, workshops and excursions to places of religious significance including an audience with Pope Francis, I attempted to capture my reflection in several ways. I presented a slideshow of photos and gifted artefacts to the staff, board and the children at my school. Yet, this was all at a superficial level. I remained dissatisfied with my efforts.
Eight months later, I realise that the breadth and depth of the Rome immersive learning experience was boundless.
The powerful experience still lingers within my very being and is subconsciously influencing my thoughts, decisions, interactions and dialogue with colleagues, family and friends.
Here is a brief snapshot of statements that reflect my experience in Rome:
  • Rome oozes Catholicity from every nook and cranny 
  • Rome is a vibrant city where social actions abound
  • Frescoes from the past tell stories that bring rich Catholic and interfaith traditions to life today
  • The Vatican offices shared strong messages about the need for an educational revolution focused on humanity (Global Compact on Education)
  • Encyclical "Laudato Si" is more than caring for the environment but about caring for the sacred dignity of humanity.
  • "Education is a matter of the heart.." St John Bosco
  • Be positive and celebrate our Catholic faith. Celebrate all of the good that Catholics from the past have done and Catholics from the present are doing now.
  • Celebrate the faith-filled God that is welcoming, forgiving and loving, not condescending or judging.
Wise words from CEM leaders during the post-program session continue to resound within my head, heart and hands: "tap into something rich and deep"; "it's a well to draw upon"; "our system will be richer for the experience" (Sharkey, Fumei & Lennon, 2019).

Immediately after Rome, I was immersed into the second experience, our four yearly school review. We were fortunate to be able to choose the style of the review. We chose a Specific Focus Review as a specialised challenge for improvement in specific, focused areas emanating from rigorous, evidence-based self-reflection.
The review was an authentic, deep inquiry into school wide practices led by an independent reviewer in conjunction with CEM. You can read about the review process at this link. As the review was a true inquiry, the outcome was unexpected, yet aligned with our school vision and core values and made perfect sense. You can read the full review report prepared by Mary Wilson, the Lead Reviewer at this link.
An outcome of the review was that staff developed a totally different leadership model to trial as a "practice field" for 2020. The process of developing this model and the way it is still evolving in practice is innovative for our unique school community. The model is inherently underpinned by the message from Rome:
We are all responsible together as teachers and leaders in our school to carry out the message from Vatican II - the mission of the Church ; to enable the full flourishing of humanity.

For the past two years, staff professional learning with the Schools That Deliver Network, is enabling our community to flourish. Every staff member has en equal voice in all decisions within our school. At the same time, we make space and time for every individual to share their gifts and talents and contribute to bringing our school wide shared vision to life not excluding students and parents.
For example:
  • "We seek opportunities for social justice connections.." Student-driven initiatives such as Hayden's Helping Hands led by the Palmer family is an outreach action from the heart.  
  • "St Patrick's school taps into the expertise and initiatives of our parents.." numerous parents are contributing their skills to workgroups including: Child Safety; Occupational Health and Safety; Inclusion and Diversity; Grants; Education ; Parents and Friends

Using a "Schools That Deliver mindset" where every voice is heard, staff reflected on the recommendations from the review (the "archaeological dig") and a new leadership model that encourages everyone to take ownership and contribute collectively emerged.
At the staff Consultative Meeting in October 2019, based on the review data, it was clear that school wide traditional Positions of Leadership (POL) needed to be revisited and recontextualised to align with the review outcomes and school vision narrative. The Consultative Committee agreed that the Leadership Team (8 teachers representative of all areas across the school) would work together and use the review data and staff voice collated from two post review staff meetings to develop a team based POL model. The outcome is a team based approach to growing leadership capacity and capability across our staff.

The team based approach is a shift from silos of learning led by independent leaders to collaborative learning teams. Every staff member is part of an equitable team and together take responsibility within three areas agreed on by staff: Faith and Community; Faith, Wellbeing and Diversity; Faith and Curriculum. 
Just as all schools include Child Safety on every meeting agenda, we agreed to include the word "faith" in all of our teams. We want to ensure that the Catholicity of our school is kept at the forefront of all that we do.
The first sentence of our shared school vision states: St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do. Our new School Improvement Plan reflects this innovative approach. Once a week after school, two POL leaders from within each team work alongside staff to achieve the annual actions developed by teams from the School Improvement Plan.

Four years ago, little did I know that the words inscribed on a thoughtful gift from a colleague; "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a for a future "(Jeremiah 29:11) would inspire our whole school community.

The gift is the centrepiece of the meeting table in my office and has remained in view for those gathering around the table for numerous meetings over the past three years.
When our 2020 Leadership Team met before the new school year began, the theme of hope emerged in light of a summer of devastating bushfires and ongoing challenges for colleagues, family members and friends and the more recent Coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic.
As a principal representative on the Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals (VACPSP) conference committee, all members agreed that the theme for the 2021 conference will be Hope - Hope for now and whatever lies ahead. I was pleased to be able to share aspects of my Rome experience to underpin my contribution in supporting the hope theme for the VACPSP conference.

We have commenced 2020 with a renewed focus on who we are as teachers and leaders in a Catholic school today within a plural context. We have hope for our community and each other.

We are hopeful that our planned approach to build staff capability will "create autonomy for staff to drive innovation for things that matter to them " (Edwards 2018). Being innovative is not about jumping in at the deep end and trying the latest fad. Innovation means "stretching our learning and going beyond what we already know ; moving beyond the safety of competence" ( Edwards 2018). Innovation is about being purposeful about understanding the needs of a context and taking brave actions for improvement based on an in depth analysis of data.
The focus of the 2018 Schools That Deliver Conference was a powerful Innovation Model designed by Edwards and Witten-Hannah. You can read my reflection at this link and watch the short video I created. The Innovation Model has a proven record of delivering significant results in business, sporting and educational institutions.
Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model
I can liken our regeneration and recontextualisation experience to the Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model:
  • Phase One of Innovation: The Understanding Phase The strong, deep and effective self-review process led by Mary Wilson, enabled us to deeply understand our needs with the one resounding recommendation that came for all parties: To embrace, embed and embody in all we do.... "St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do".
  • Phase Two of Innovation: The Design Phase The post review engagement activities with staff and leadership enabled an opportunity to present multiple solutions and identify the strongest leadership model to test in 2020.
  • Phase Three of Innovation: The Implementation Phase The team leadership model is now being tested as a practice field for 2020 and six weeks into the school year response from staff so far include: "We are all learning together";"Authentic staff voice is guiding our decisions";"We are all hands on now, problem solving together. We are no longer reliant on one person's knowledge"; "We have to remind each other of the Senge mental models we follow as a staff - "slower is faster" and "less is more"; "the knowledge is in the room".
  • Phase Four of Innovation: The Refine Phase Weekly cadence review meetings focus on feedback and invite rich, open and honest dialogue enabling ongoing refinement of the model.
As recommended in our review report: "Teachers and leaders are all taking responsibility with the powerful voice of classroom practitioners guiding the pace, peeling back complex layers and aiming to do less and do it well, enabling the Catholic identity to authentically underpin all that we do at St Patrick's."
Pope Francis reminds us that he is still learning. We are all learning and we are responsible for deepening our faith together. Our diversity is a gift and contributes to our ability to enrich the head, hearts and minds of each other and the diversity of our community. We are fortunate to work in a system that allows freedom to innovate and places trust in school leaders to understand the unique needs of their school communities.
Purposeful and continuous iterations of our leadership model will contribute to the regeneration and growth of shared capability across our school and provide agency for our community to flourish.

Catholic Education Melbourne for sponsoring the Educating, Head, Hearts and Hands formation program for Principals and Leaders 2019.
Dr Paul Sharkey, Paul Fumei and Chris Lennon (wise CEM leaders quoted above).
Professor Sr Peta Goldburg rsm (LIC), Professor Br David Hall fms and Fr Anthony Casamento csma from ACU & CUA Campus Garibaldi 28, Rome
Mary Wilson from BATS Your vision your future
William Martin, John Edwards, Mary Wilson, Teresa Edwards from Schools That Deliver
Annie Nelson, Principal, St Mary's Gore, New Zealand (thank you for your gift of hope x)

Research for the above blogpost began in 2019 during a time when Rome was untouched by COVID-19. Today, on the 26th March 2020, only two weeks after publishing this post, Italy and many countries around the world including Australia and New Zealand have gone into lock down to enable humanity to survive the fatal virus. I recently read that although silence abounds in the deserted streets of Rome, the church bells continue to ring out. With heartfelt prayers for healthcare workers and essential service personnel at the forefront of this pandemic may we hold tight to the sacred dignity of humanity with a profound sense of hope and a renewed future.

I wish to acknowledge Laura Kelly Fanucci, the author of this poem published on 18 March 2020:

When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store, Conversations with neighbours, 
A crowded theatre, Friday night out, The taste of communion
A routine checkup, The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend, The stadium roaring
Each deep breath, A boring Tuesday,
Life itself.
When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people 
we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be and may we stay that way — better for each other because of the worst.