In our last episode for 2021, Michelle Green chats with Mike Broadstock about the year that’s gone and the year ahead, Natalie Moutafis talks with education expert Rod Soper about the ways parents can help prepare their kids for starting school, and Year 12 Tintern Grammar student Emma Jones reads us her poem about childhood, Father and Daughter.
Note: isPodcast is produced for listening and is designed to be heard. We encourage you to listen to the audio, as it includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. While every care is taken, our transcripts may contain errors.
Hi, everyone, and welcome to isPodcast: a show for schools and the wider community, brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria. I'm Shane Green. In this episode, Natalie Moutafis explores what parents can do to help support their kids starting school. She gets valuable advice from Rod Soper an expert in the field, but first Mike Broadstock speaks with Michelle Green, chief executive of ISV about the year that's been, and the year ahead.
Hi, Michelle. Welcome back to isPodcast.
Thank you, Mike and fancy it being almost the end of the year.
Yeah. I had a look at your end of year blog from last year, and you wrote, cautiously, about stepping back into the new normal and hoping we were emerging from the worst of the pandemic. And it hasn't quite turned out that way.
No, and here we are. We cautiously thought that there might be a few short lockdowns last year when we went back into our offices and back into our lives and we did have some short sharp lockdowns, but then of course, in Victoria and New South Wales, we've had long, much longer lockdowns. And I think we're all truly over it, but is it someone who said, ‘I am done with COVID, but it's not done with me’. And I think we're all feeling that right now.
Well, at the moment students are going back to school and staff are returning to the office.
Yes, indeed. And it's beautiful to see the sun shining. So, everything seems much better when the sun's shining. What is interesting to me, though, is that we spent a lot of time, particularly last year and over the break last year, talking about resilience. And, I know many people were focusing on the resilience of our young people, of our teachers, principals and others.
Hasn't it been a joy to see that we are putting a lot of this resilience training into practice? So, if ever we wanted to work out how our training was going with young people around their resilience, we've had a living, breathing example, and we know there've been really good things that we've been doing, but we also know that there's some stretch goals for us going into the future.
So, we're going to continue focusing on wellbeing over the next year?
Oh yes. And certainly, ISV has been extremely fortunate. We brought to Australia a program that came out of Stanford University, called Wayfinder. And what it's about - is it's about students working through, to work out what their life's purpose is. The Wayfinder program's been running throughout our schools. And I know that many more people are taking it up again this year. What it does is it steps students through an understanding of not just what is inside them, but also what is outside that they need to prepare for.
So Wayfinder’s been great, and we will be continuing to focus on that this year, along with some of our other programs, of course, which look to build resilience and look to build people's understanding of where they fit in the world.
And we have a Wayfinder's style program for teachers as well. Is that right?
Yes, we do. It's called Making Meaning for Educator Wellbeing and it's a very strong program. The whole idea is for teachers to be able to deliver this, not for ISV to come from the outside, but for it to be delivered in the classroom and across the schools. We do have training for teachers which encourages them to have a look at their life's purpose and the way it is that they are responding to challenges in their own lives, within the classroom, but also beyond. So, it is a very exciting program, and it links in so well with some of the other projects that we have, the Feuerstein program, the Great Books program, and others.
You’re in constant touch with our school principals and their chairs and boards. And I know that our education ambassadors have been working closely with them as well. How have they been responding to COVID? What have they been telling you?
I think the thing to know is that like the rest of us, they are exhausted. There have been so many changes that people just feel that they will do their very, very best up until a holiday break, but that's how they are.
They need support, but they've been getting support from their communities by and large. I think also principals are looking to the future. How is it that they might manage in what we are calling the new COVID normal, but actually, how is it that governments will respond and how is that schools are going to respond, based on government responses? So, I think principals are cautiously optimistic, but they are nervous.
The issue for us too, is that governing bodies have to use different metrics. I've been speaking to the chairs of some of our governing bodies. Usually at this time of the year, governing bodies will be looking at what it is that the staff and the school has achieved during the last 12 months, they'll be looking at their strategic plans.
And one of the things that I've been saying is this is an emergent situation and principals and school leaders have been having to make decisions very, very quickly in an emergent area. And so, when we look at our strategic plans, we need to understand that everything may not have been ticked off in the way that it was ticked off in the past, but so much else has been delivered.
Governing bodies should not be looking at themselves and feeling that they're not doing the right thing, and neither should principals. Really, we've done a lot this year. And we need to recognise that sometimes the world looks different from the way that we plan.
Do you feel like your, or our, relationship with schools have changed over the last 18 months?
I think it's become more so: it's yes and more so. ISV members have always relied on our organisation to give them some guidance, to link with governments, to talk them through what is happening in real time. So, they've always done that, but it's yes and more so. We have had to step into a couple of extra areas.
Given that we know that what's coming, in a way, through our discussions with government and with the other sectors, we, for example, were able to very quickly negotiate a deal with a supplier for air purifiers. We were able to very quickly go to a Melbourne University professor and say ‘please, can you do a video for us that will inform our schools about transmission via droplet infection?’ We were able then to go and have a look at rapid antigen tests to make sure that our schools were able to purchase them as they needed.
That's been an unusual thing for ISV. It's not something that we've always done before, but it was needed. We knew that people were going to schools and offering them all sorts of special deals on air purifiers, et cetera. And that the schools were having to pay perhaps over the odds in a time of scarcity.
So, I think the schools have appreciated that. I know that they have, and we've shared that information with our colleagues in other states to help all schools. So, ISV, throughout it all, has been doing the same things that we always did. So, we've been doing teacher training and leadership training and discussions with principals about all sorts of things. So, our relationship has slightly changed, but as I say changed, but just become more so.
It's funny that we're all heading back to school and we're all heading back into the office just at the time when we're getting a chance to take a break. But I think we need to recharge.
Yes. I think we do. And it was interesting for me because we've been able to have some of our principals together. We weren't able to see them very often during the school year, but we've had some of them together over the last couple of weeks and to see how much energy people get from being together, that in their shared experience, there is not only something to learn, but there is all so a particular energy.
So, I wondered how people would go having to go back into the office, knowing, or going back to school, knowing that there was only three or four weeks, but I can see now that the energy that people get from being together, the planning that people are able to do, the reflection about where their school is going, what's happening to them, where the students are going. They're very powerful things in person. So, it's wonderful that we’re able to do that, even as you say, limp toward the end of the year.
Any plans for yourself?
Like everybody else, I'm hoping to have a good break. Whatever happens, I know, or I hope that the sun will shine and that we'll be able to get some fresh air and think about the year to come.
Thanks for joining us yet again on isPodcast, Michelle.
Thank you, Mike. And I hope that you have a good break as well.
Starting school can be both an exciting and uncertain time for all involved – children and parents. Natalie spoke with Rod Soper about a just released book, First Year at School, Essential Tips for Parents and Carers brought to us by Early Childhood Australia and the Australian Primary Principals Association. Rod has more than 20 years’ experience in education as a teacher, head of school and more recently director of Thinkers.inq, an early years school in Sydney. He shares some valuable advice on supporting children beginning their first year of school.
Hi Rod. Thanks for joining isPodcast.
Hi there. How are you going?
I'm well, thank you. Now, the reason we are talking today is because through Early Childhood Australia and the Australian Primary Principals Association, a revised addition of the book First Year at School, Essential Tips for Parents and Carers has come out and you’re one of the co-authors on this updated version.
Now this topic is very close to my heart because I have a kindy kid who's transitioning to prep next year. So, I'm doing all the reading and finding out all the information that I can to help our little guy. So, when I came across this book through ISV, I was really interested. So, I'm very keen to get some of your tips and tricks, which I'm sure other first time school parents would be also keen to get.
But I know when I was reading the book, it was saying that you really should start preparing 12 months prior to starting school. Can you tell me a little bit more about this timeline?
It is such a big transition, prior to school setting, young children, they might be you know in a long daycare, there might be in a family daycare, there might be in a preschool setting. It's not all that often that it's five days a week, full days.
No, well, I know my son's not full time, he's close to it, but he's not. And I know lots of other children at our early years centre are not. So, I can just imagine this transition from, two and above days a week to this five days; and they're not as long as some kids are in long daycare, but if you haven't gone to long daycare, or if you're only going one or two days a week, that's a massive change to your routine.
Yes. And you're only four, five, or maybe six. Do you know what I mean?
It's super young. And while we know they've got bucketloads of energy, they also don't pull back and go, ‘Right. I've got just hold out for the day. Don't peak too early.’ It's just go, go, go. From the minute they're up and running.
So, there's definitely the confidence piece. And for me, the big thing is around being able to do lots of things on your own, particularly in the year prior to school, going to school. Whether they're four or five, they really need to be doing things independently.
You've got to remember that it's often 1 to 25, maybe 1 to 20, could even be 1 to 30. One teacher and all those other children. So, you've really got to have your wits about you, got to have those capacities to go: ‘Oh, I'm a bit stuck. What should I do?’ rather than just stopping and then looking around and going, ‘Right. Okay. The end’.
Because we know that they actually need those skills. Now, can they have those skills? Absolutely. But they do take a bit of time to develop. And I think they're one of those things that we often see they move from not being able to get dressed independently to being able to do that. I mean, that's a wonderful example. So, if you know your child's already starting to do that, great. Can they put on a jumper? Can they put on their shoes? They certainly have the capacity to tie their shoe laces. They might choose not to.
I was going to say, I know they can do it, but there's being able to do it and wanting to do it.
That's right. That's right.
But I think it's that understanding and discussion with your child to be able to really help them to understand how important it is that they can do some of these things, whether it's buttons and zippers and all those things. And of course, we take some of that for granted, like ’Oh, well’.
It's all part of being connected at school because they're watching their friends, and I think it's a wonderful way to encourage them to say, when you're at school, your friends are going to be able to do this, you can do it with them and get on and go and play.
You're not going to be being bothered by having to wait for someone to come and do this for you because you can do it. So, it's changing the focus from, ‘I can't really be bothered’ to, ‘oh wow, if I learn this, this is going to really help me to have a much more fun time with my friends in the playground and at recess and lunch.’
And you don't want to get left behind if you're still putting your shoes on or waiting for the teacher to do it. Your friends are already out in the play area.
You don’t want to miss out kind of thing.
That's right. And we are exactly the same as adults, it's got nothing to do with age. I think often people ask me about literacy and numeracy. Should they be able to read, should they be able to write, all that stuff? And I always say, ‘One of the best things you can do is just make it known to them about letters and sounds’ and things like that. Because so much, I often say, ‘It's nearly 90, if not more per cent of their day experiencing literacy’.
And so, taking that year before to just have some fun and first of all, the letters of their names, not talking about writing, just recognizing: ‘Oh, look Mum, there's a...’ (if their name’s Rod!) ‘… Look there's an R or there's an R’. And you're like, ‘Oh yeah, awesome!’. And on the cereal pack or on the street side, ‘Oh, there's...’ They just start to recognise the shapes and the forms of letters.
And it's just because what you want them to be able to do when they come home from school in the first couple of weeks go, ‘Oh, we're doing this. We had to learn about R today Mum. I already know it.’ And you're like, ‘Yes, that's best answer I could ever get from you.’
Because it's just that familiar connection to it. Their brain synapses are on a thousand trillion a second, their brain is ready for all this stuff. Often parents say, ‘Oh, well, we don't want to get it wrong. The literacy stuff.’ And I said, ‘Well, we are a digitally immersed culture now.’ So, there's a wonderful, wonderful app that's been put together by Macquarie University and also in collaboration with ABC, it's called Reading Eggs. And you may or may not have heard about it.
Yes. I'm across that one.
It just gives all that really fundamental, basic stuff. So, you are like, ‘Oh, what sound does that letter make?’ Reading Eggs will help and that sort of stuff, but don't worry about writing it, but the fact that they can recognise some of those letters. Do they have to? Absolutely not. But if they can, it's a winner- winner and their brains are ready for it. And if it's fun and you are sitting there and you're just having a bit of a giggle with them and you're laughing and they point it out and it's spontaneous and it's part of a game and all that sort of stuff, then it is just natural learning from the most significant people in their lives. So that when they get to school, and the teachers are: ‘Let's talk about this. And they're like, ‘Oh yeah, I already know that’.
Giving that bit of confidence too.
And I know that I spoke to some of my colleagues at ISV who are in the early years space when I was doing an article for The Parents' Website earlier this year, again, talking about starting school.
And they made a point of mentioning that the reading and the writing and the literacy and the numeracy. Yes, it's as you say, it's important that they've got an understanding of it, but some parents out there have this belief that children should be able to read and write to a degree before they start school. When in fact that's what they should learn by the end of their first year of school.
You're absolutely right. But the funniest thing is, most of them, if you are reading with them every night and they've got favourite stories, most of them are already hitting the reading mark, because we've got to remember that the brain will see a shape, which is just basically the letters on the page. And we don't go, ‘Oh, we're going to read the word read.’ We don't go, ‘Oh, no, that's an R and then an E.’ We don't do it like that. Now we just go, ‘Oh, that's read.’ We see that word and we just know it.
And very interesting, some research that's been done at Cambridge University about the fact that the shape of words, particularly that the beginning and the end is incredibly interesting in terms of how quickly we’re able to remember and have that recall of words.
And I think the other piece of puzzle that there's an amazing piece of research, Australian research, that actually says if parents read or carers read in the years prior to school, they actually can have their children five or six months ahead of everybody else who hasn't had a bedtime story every night.
That's how that relates, it's two things, relationship number one, and that you are demonstrating your passion and your love for literacy and literature by reading the story. But the second thing is, it's the fact that you keep doing it, keep doing it. And I don't know about your little guy, but does he have a favourite story?
Yeah, he has lots of favourite stories, but the funny thing is we can read a book, we go to the library most weeks just to add to the collection and I can read the book once and he remembers it and he's recalling the words off the page and knows where they fall on each part of the book. And it just blows my mind. And I'm like, ‘I know it's just a memory thing, but how do you remember this when we've never had this book before?’
Yeah. Because he's loving it, because you love it. That relationship piece, it just is. And I think the second thing is he is reading. I mean, by the definition of reading, he is already doing it. No, he can't decode yet – ‘decode’ is just simply to be able to pull the letters apart, remember what sounds they make and then put it back together again to know what the word says – but he's already reading because he's remembering all that stuff.
And so many parents go, ‘My child should be reading.’
I'm like, ‘Well, can they tell you their favourite story?’
And they go, ‘Yep.’
Well, they're already doing it. They're already loving it. They're already getting the concepts. And they're doing that because those parents are just in there loving it and getting excited and mixing them up.
Read the words wrong I always say! And then you want your child to go, ‘Yeah. Okay. What are you doing? That doesn’t make sense! Are you sure? Are you sure? Like, yes, I'm sure!’
And it's all the emergent reading. It's literacy, literacy, literacy. So, I think to those parents that are putting themselves under the pressure of saying they need to be able to read prior to school. I think you need to cut yourself a little bit of slack and if you've been reading and your children are already showing interest in literature and literacy, then they're already well and truly on the pathway to success.
And for those people out there that go, ‘My child is not interested in it at all.’
You know what? The biggest advantage that they've got is their high passionate interest levels. So just read and find stuff about stuff they want to know about, around topics they want to know about.
I had a little guy who was not interested in reading at all but talk to him about dragons. They don't even exist, but he knows more about dragons than you know the back of your hand type thing. But he wasn't interested in a book, to read it. But as soon as you say, ‘oh, let's read the book.’ ‘No, but I want to find out about dragons.’
Well, the next thing you know, using all that pre-emergent reading discovery questions: ‘Oh, what about this? What's that?’ Next thing you know, he was saying, ‘Oh, that's exactly what that's written there.’ And all of a sudden, it just clicked for him. And he was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ And now he just loves books.
So, what else? Aside from literacy, would you recommend parents address or consider for that transition?
That big piece around being social. And that's an interesting one given COVID that we're dealing with, being able to make a friend, keep a friend, how to restore friendship when things don't go our way, that's a big one.
You don't need to have the same age friends to be able to do this and to do the prep work. There's a couple of families who they're still a bit on the nervous side of things about getting back out in the community, for all sorts of different reasons.
And it's about teaching your children through what we often call social play, where you set up a situation where you add a story or a scenario and you work through it. And then I often say to parents, ‘One of the things you could do is ask them about what they think school's going to be like, and let them be the teacher’, and then you'll get to see what they're like or what they think school is like.
Or you have a play, you create a scenario at home, and you be the protagonist and you be the one that is a bit annoying or a bit of a pain in the scenario. As you watch your child start to negotiate that, you don't let them accelerate into going crazy about it, but just stop and say: ‘Okay, so if we’re stuck here, what are some options? What could we do? Who can help us? How can you help yourself?’ Those sorts of things.
And when it's in a game and through play, our synapses are firing, the left side of the brain is working with the right side of the brain. Our nervous system is creating memory pathways and all those sorts of things. And so that's when we start to learn that behaviour that we can use in the middle of a tricky situation.
So, I always say that social thing. How to introduce yourself: ‘Hi, I'm Rod.’ That type of thing, some children don't even know how to do that, but it's an important thing, particularly to meet new friends. But what happens when the game changes or if you like, the stress is added, so what do we do? How do we maintain ourselves? Or self-regulate through that? That's incredibly important.
If you're seeing your child having really big emotions, nothing wrong with having big emotions, they're real, they're present, but it's really important. How do we work with them to bring them back to normal? And there's some amazing resources out there.
One of the ones that I often direct parents to is The Mehrit Centre and it's put together by Dr. Stuart Shanker. And he's got a wonderful website, just dedicated to parents to give tips and tricks on how to help with managing big emotions.
Oh, we'll find that link and link to it in the show notes. Because that sounds really interesting.
Yeah, it's fantastic. His work around self-regulation is just such a delight and seeing behaviour as thinking, it's really important. So rather than seeing it as misbehaviour, for example, your child is showing you through this big emotion where they're up to, what they can and cannot do, the fact that they've got to the end of their tether, and they don't have any resources to bring themselves down.
It's tough doing that as an adult when we're super angry, right? So, imagine what it's like being a four-year-old, who's just having a crack at this for the first time, outside of the family home.
So, this is why this stuff is so important from that year leading up to school. If you'd come to Thinkers.inq, we'd be doing it from the moment you walked in the door, because for me, it's so important to have that skill stretched and then stretched again and stretched again for them to grow and grow and grow, because that mastery around that is vital and it's across the lifespan thing and it won't fail them from the first year of school to the last year of school, whether that's high school or whether that's tertiary education or whether it's post graduate studies. It's the same stuff.
Now, my other question is the book's about the first year at school.
So, during that first year, parents obviously play a vital part as do the teachers.
From your perspective as having been in that teaching and head of school position, what can parents do to help teachers in that first year?
The first thing is, that is super, super important, that if you've got any concerns about your child, to reach out to the teacher in the first couple of weeks, make a time and just sit down and share your insights.
You are the one, parents are the ones that know their child the most intimately. And to share that insight with the teacher is so valuable. Don't just go to them and say, ‘oh, can I just catch you? I just want to tell you a few things about my child.’ No, no, no, no, because that conversation: A) it's not respectful to the teacher's time, but more importantly, it's not respectful to the child.
We take dedicated time to talk about really, really important things across all aspects of our life. And this is one of those times that is so important. So, make that dedicated time, sit down, tell a story, bring some notes, bring a story, tell them about their journey.
Tell them about the things that are on your heart and give that teacher the insight to be an equally powerful influencer in your child's life, rather than them having to play a guessing game or catch up, because remember your child is one of between 20 and 30 children.
So, anything that you can do is really helpful, make that time and honour their role as the teacher and share that journey in a time when both of you have set your focus aside to just be a focusing on your child and then just that caring and concern, I think that's number one.
I think the second one then is just remember that your child will come home with stories from a five-year-old perspective. If you hear a story, reach out to the teacher and just say, ‘Look, my child came home today and said that they played with no one. They know no one, they've got no friends at all. Could you just clarify the situation for me?’
And they'll say, ‘Well, this is what happened. This is who they were playing with. This is what they were doing. They were busy all day. They were hanging out with these guys.’
‘Amazing. Thank you.’
And then you can go back and say, ‘Oh, I heard you were playing on the equipment today with Joe and Dave.’
And they go, ‘Oh yeah, that's right.’
And you're like, ‘Yes, that's not what you said.’
So that partnership working together.
With the school, the teacher and remembering that they are five-year-olds or four-year-olds.
Yeah. I think that's the other thing is, be one of those parents that seeks first be before being overwhelmed by what is often a five-year old's version of a complex situation.
That's a wonderful way to think of it.
It's not that their perspective's not right. It's their perspective and their truth, but there's obviously just, there's more pieces to the puzzle.
There's something missing at times. Yeah.
Oh, there often is. Yeah.
Yeah. What we'll do is we'll link to the book in our show notes. That's The First Year at School: Essential Tips for Parents and Carers, which you've given us some wonderful gems. Thank you very much.
I know my mummy heart is feeling much more relaxed about sending my big kindy kid off to prep next year. So, I'm sure I'm not going to be alone. There's going to be other parents out there who are going to feel a little bit more relaxed and much more confident in sending their kids off to big school. So, thanks, Rod, for joining us today.
Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Well, that's it for this episode of isPodcast. Before we sign off for 2021, I'm joined by Natalie and Mike. It's been another big year in so many ways. And of course, we also launched isPodcast.
Yeah. It's been a great opportunity for us: a year or a couple of years where we've been looking to connect with our schools in new ways. And isPodcast has been a great way of doing that – to explore what's happening in schools, what's coming up and it's been wonderful talking to all the different people on the show.
Certainly, because we covered so many different issues and topics, things from consent, why handwriting matters, supporting our kids in lockdown, even over-parenting. We'd love to know what you want to hear more of. So, send us an email and let us know what you want.
And finally, thanks to everyone who's joined us this year. It's been wonderful making this program for you. And we look forward to joining you again in Term one, next year.
We'll leave you with a winning poem from our student poetry competition, Emma Jones, a year 12 student at Tintern Grammar, won the year's 11 – 12 category for her poem, Father and Daughter. The judges said it was an utterly gorgeous sensory journey through childhood, with a stunning collection of images.
My gentle father
with what must’ve taken extraordinary patience,
used to turn the pages of the book,
one by one.
The curved edges of his voice,
smoothed away by years
of living in southern England,
used to drift me to sleep.
The elocution that is so distinctively his.
Every rise and fall of his tone
made my eyelids
drop a little further.
Sometimes when he was away
we would make recordings of his voice,
so that I could listen
and miss him just a little less.
The audio occasionally
interrupted, with a giggle
or a question I thought was clever,
from when I couldn’t keep quiet any longer.
He didn’t mind when I interrupted,
and he still doesn’t now.
That infinite patience
Eventually our voices started to alternate
as I began to string
then whole words together.
‘Read it again Emsly’ he used to say.
Over and over,
the same little books with pretty little storylines
that had fairies and heroes and talking animals.
‘Now read it backwards, word for word’.
Over and over,
back and forth,
until my words were as smooth as his.
Gruelling as his methods were,
I am grudgingly grateful,
for it is clearly an essential skill
to be able to recite ‘The Three Little Pigs’ backwards.
My gentle father
still calls me Emsly.
A nickname intertwined
with memories of his colourful words
staining the ceiling above me
into intricate patterns
of endless adventures.
isPodcast is brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria, it's produced and recorded by Greg Lawrence and Duncan McLean and presented by Michael Broadstock, Shane Green and me Natalie Moutafis. Our podcast theme was composed and performed by Duncan McLean. You can find transcripts of our shows with links to what we've discussed at podcast.iseducation.com.au.