Michael Broadstock talks with Kieren Noonan about how ISV is helping teachers and school leaders reignite and reimagine education, Shane Green talks with Gabrielle Wang about how she came to be Australian Children’s Laureate, and former St Michael’s Grammar student Joshua Sun plays Rachmaninoff’s Piano Prelude in C-sharp minor.
Timestamps for this episode's content
Shane talks with Gabrielle Wang about being Australian Childen’s Laureate: 0:45
Mike talks to Kieren Noonan about Reignite: 17:02
Joshua Sun plays Rachmaninoff’s Piano Prelude in C-sharp minor 25:56
Links to what we discussed
Hi everyone. And welcome back to isPodcast, ISV’s show for schools and the wider community. I'm Natalie Moutafis.
In today’s episode, Michael Broadstock talks with Kieren Noonan about ISV’s partnership with education giants such as Harvard’s Project Zero, and how they are helping teachers and school leaders reignite and reimagine education. But first, Shane Green talks with Gabrielle Wang – who never imagined she would be a writer – about how she came to be Australian Children’s Laureate – and why she will be encouraging children to ‘imagine a story’.
Gabriel Wang, welcome to isPodcast.
Thank you so much, Shane.
Now firstly, congratulations.
Thank you. Yes, it's a great thrill and honour to be Australian Children's Laureate for 2022-23.
You've said that being the Australian Children's Laureate is your greatest honour, even though you've written and illustrated more than 20 books and won many awards. What does it mean to you?
For one thing, it's a recognition of my body of work. And it is an honour because you slave away in your studio by yourself for many years and all of a sudden ... I mean, even though I do a lot of festivals and school visits, etc, etc, but all of a sudden, you're recognised by your peers and by the industry professionals and nominated. And you go, ‘Whoa!’ Because it was such a surprise, I suppose for me, that's why it's such an honour. And also, to represent ... to talk about the things that are really important to me, which is imagination.
So, my theme is ‘Imagine a story’. I'm going to encourage children to use their imaginations and exercise them by reading stories, writing stories and drawing stories. Because they're all the things that I do, and I think one thing is that drawing is something that all kids can do.
Everybody can do it when they're two, three, four years old. And then something happens, unless they are encouraged to keep drawing, something happens throughout their schooling. Even in grade five and grade six and then all the way through high school and into adulthood and people go, ‘Well, I can't draw.’
And I have the honour to be able to tell children, tell teachers, parents, caregivers about encouraging children also to read diverse books by diverse authors. I mean, stories are incredible because it's the only form of art where you can actually get inside the head of the character. You can't do it when you're watching a movie, or when you're watching a play, or when you’re looking at a work of art. And so, it's a wonderful vehicle for teaching empathy in children.
Gabrielle, your own story I think is really very interesting. You never imagined becoming a writer.
No, no. I had no idea. I was quite good at drawing at school, and I wanted to be an artist all the way through school. Primary school, high school, I knew I wanted to do art. I had no idea that I could write a story. I wasn't good at schoolwork. Didn't get good results. Failed Year 12 English. Had never written anything. It was such a surprise to get into what I'm doing now.
I repeated Year 12, because I had to get Year 12 to get into university, and passed second time around. And then I was a graphic designer for a number of years, went travelling, lived in China, looking for my roots, which is another story as well. And then had children.
And when my children were about ... I think eight and ten years old … I had this profound dream. And I think dreams are really important, because they come from deep in the subconscious, or – you know, I write about magical realism – they come from another place, who knows? And I had this dream one night, and I don't know if you want me to go through it?
I'd love to hear about the dream. It sounds fascinating.
(laughs) Okay. Well, before that particular night that I had the dream, I felt that there was something big going to happen. I had no idea what it was. I just felt this incredible ... It was like a great big freight train coming towards me. And it was getting closer and closer. And I thought I was going to invent something. Something practical like post-it notes, or something as good as that. And so, every night I'd go to bed and I'd say maybe in the morning I'll wake up and I'll know, and I'll have invented something during the night. And then I can start producing it or doing whatever I had to do for it.
But it was a dream that I had. And in the dream, my parents and I and my brothers and sisters, we lived on top of a shop when I was young. And downstairs was my parent's shop, upstairs was our living quarters. And in the dream, I was eight years old. And on either side of this narrow staircase that led from the shop dwelling to the floor of the shop there were these grownups on either side, and I didn't know who they were, but just lined each side of this narrow staircase.
And as I was walking down, they were all patting me on the back and saying, ‘Go out into the light, go out into the light.’ And down below there was a rectangle, which was the doorway of the shop. And there was bright sunlight outside. So, it was really brightly lit up. Lots of people walking by, all going in the same direction.
And so I walked down and joined this crowd of people, and the feeling was of great joy and great ceremony and excitement. And as I was walking with this crowd of people, all of a sudden in the front of the procession, this huge Chinese dragon raised its head. And I suddenly realised that I was, and all the people in the parade were, part of the body of this huge Chinese dragon. And then I woke up.
And that dream was so significant, because Chinese people called themselves the people of the dragon. Chinese dragons, as opposed to Western dragons, are all good. They bring rain, and they bring good luck, and in the olden days they were the symbol of the emperor.
And it was almost like ... because in my childhood I totally rejected being Chinese. Everybody around me were white faces. I grew up in grew up in Melbourne in a very white suburb. The re were very few Chinese families in Melbourne at that stage when I was growing up in the '50s and '60s. And I was the only Asian kid in ... Not just Chinese, but Asian kid in my whole school. And so, I felt very ... I felt as though I didn't belong in Australia. I also felt like I didn't belong in China as well. And having this dream, I realised, okay, I'm in Australia. I can embrace both cultures.
So, the next day when I woke up, I started writing the dream down. I wrote about what my parents sold in the shop, which were all these little Chinese arts and crafts, which my father had imported from China. And also other things, like my mother would string cultured pearled necklaces together and sell those. And my father would do picture framing for people. It was sort of a hodgepodge of things that my father and mother did in the shop. And I started writing about the things that they sold in the shop. And as I wrote, it became a short story.
Well, a story. And it became a story about a fictional character called Bonnie who was given a box of magical pastels. And with these pastels she could draw this amazing garden outside the shop she lived in. Because when I was young, when we lived in the shop, I used to use chalk and draw on the footpath outside the garden. So, it was sort of semi-autobiographical. And also this girl called Bonnie hated being Chinese, just like I used to.
So, I wrote the story, didn't know what to do with it. And I didn't even know that it was for children, which it was. In the end it was for children. Had no idea because I'd never written before, but I was so surprised and so proud of myself, because as I said, I was really bad at writing, at literature and writing English before that.
And so, I put the story away, but I'd always wanted to write a picture book So the following year. I took a subject at Holmesglen TAFE given by a wonderful writer and teacher called Hazel Edwards and some people ... Obviously you know, Shane.
I do know Hazel, yes.
Yes. And she was a wonderful teacher, and people who might not have heard of Hazel, she wrote the iconic Australian book called There's a Hippopotamus on My Roof Eating Cake. And so, in the first six months, the first semester, we worked on how to present a picture book to the publisher, because I had had a number of picture books rejected before that. So, I wanted to get some hints about how to do that.
So, that was good. And then the second semester, she said, ‘Well, okay, when you come back from the holidays, we're going to do a junior novel.’ And I thought, ‘No, I can't write. That's just not what I want. That's not what I came for.’ So, I thought, because I only paid for one subject. I didn't pay for the whole of the writing, editing course. I just thought, ‘No, I won't come back.’
And then I went home, and I thought, in order to progress and in order to become better at anything, we need to make huge leaps and take on big challenges. And this was a big challenge for me, because I was going to enter a class where I thought that I could not write.
And these were all students who were part of the editing and writing course at Holmesglen, and they were all there because they could write. And I was going to pull out this short story from my bottom draw and I was going to work on that every week.
And that's what I did. So, I just sort of took a big, deep breath. Because it was a constructive criticism in the class. We had to read each chapter that we wrote, read it out in class all the other students. And lo and behold, by the end of the semester, by the end of the year, Hazel said: ‘This book that you've been working on is good enough to be published’.
And I thought, ‘Wow, that's incredible.’ I mean, by taking that big leap and that big challenge and forgetting about all my insecurities, this is where it led me. And so, it wasn't as easy as that, because then Hazel said, ‘Okay, send it to my agent. And I will write to her first and let her know that I've got this student in class and I think that her book is good enough to be published.’
So, she wrote to her agent and her agent just wrote me back a form letter which said ‘No, not interested.’ Then Hazel said, ‘Okay, send it to my publisher.’ She worded up her publisher, I sent it to her publisher, I also got a rejection. I got many rejections for that book. Maybe eight or nine rejections.
And then I mean, each rejection, it's chipping away a bit of your heart, as all authors know. And it's a rite of passage to be rejected before you get accepted by somebody. So, in the end I thought, ‘Look, there's one publisher that I haven't sent my work to, because they're huge. And what would they want with a person they'd never heard of before?’ So, Hazel happened to be in a festival. She happened to be sitting next to the children's publisher at Penguin called Julie Watts.
So, then Hazel told me to send it to Julie. And I sent the story to her, and she connected with that story. She was the only one out of all those people who connected with that story and saw potential in it. And so, yay for Julie Watts, I love her, and Hazel. Forever since I've been published by Penguin because they believed in that first book, and it's called The Garden of Empress Cassia.
And that was about 20 books ago.
And that was 20 books ago. And 20 years. That's its 20th anniversary this year.
That's a great story of perseverance and sticking with it, I think. And I know that's a really important message, I suppose, for young readers, and especially those who may be finding reading hard.
That's right, absolutely – I am, still, a really slow reader. I find reading difficult. And so, what's been a game changer for me are audio books. And so, as the Australian Children's Laureate, that's something that I thought was really important for children to have access to books who also find it difficult to read.
And so, Belinda, who is an audio book company, and through Borrow Box, which is the app that they have, children can – who belong to a library, a local library – can download books for free.
Do you have some overarching advice for young readers?
Definitely find books and genres that they like to read. There'll be a favourite author, read all those author's books. If they have a series, read all their series. I mean that's the main thing, to read something that you're interested in.
And I know that there are a lot of children who like to read non-fiction books, and that's great, too, because that’s also helping your reading. But I also think that getting into stories, fictional stories, you can learn so much. I mean, you can learn so much from reading non-fiction, but you can also learn so much from reading fiction. And I encourage parents – and teachers – to read aloud to their children and to the students.
I know that there are a number of teachers in schools, or a number of schools who use my books as class texts. Which means that they don't just have reading circles and the children there read in their own time; the teacher chooses a book and reads a couple of chapters a day. And that is a really great thing, because for one thing, for example, in my books, the majority of my protagonists are female. And it's especially good if the teacher is reading the book out to a class full of co-ed kids.
Usually the case is, and this is really unfortunate, that a boy will not pick up a book where there is a girl on the front cover. Even though they might love the story if they'd listened to it or read it, but it's like a no-no. Whereas girls will pick up books with boys on the front cover.
One school told me – it was a boy's Independent school – that with the Our Australian Girl books (historical fiction books that Penguin put out) what they do is they cover the books in brown paper. It's unfortunate, but it's the only way they can get their boys to pick it up. And maybe the boy is ashamed of being seen with a book with a girl on the cover. This is just how it is.
And I know from the feedback I get, by having the teacher read the book out in class, everybody just is dying for the next chapter. Because if you have page turners especially too, and adventure stories. And here you have boys who are getting inside the head of a girl, which is wonderful – to see how they feel, and to see how they see the world – and so both children who find reading difficult can listen to a story being read by their teacher, plus all genders can be inside the head of that character.
Gabrielle, I think it's going to be an exciting and inspiring two years ahead. Thanks for joining us on isPodcast.
My pleasure, Shane. Thank you for having me.
The last couple of years have seen a real shift in education. Teachers needed to change how they teach and reconsider how they support and engage with their students. They needed to take a fresh look at the world they're preparing their students for. It's been challenging, to say the least. Kieren Noonan, as Head of ISV's innovation and learning team, I imagine you've been doing a fair bit of thinking about these challenges as well.
Hi, Mike. Thanks so much for the opportunity to have a chat with you today. Yes, you could say that. The innovation design lab for learning and my colleagues really have been given a lot of thought to how we create opportunities for educators as learners to really think about how they can foster learning and opportunities for learning in a different way given the complexity that we've all faced in the last two years.
And as we prepare students for a complex contemporary world that they're going into, and there's lots of challenges, but there's also lots of opportunities and lots of hope. I think we all have a deep sense of hope as educators as we prepare students for the world that they're going to inhabit and take over from us.
We've got you on the program to have a chat about Reignite. Can you tell us more about the program? I mean, how do you go about inspiring, refreshing, and reinvigorating teachers and school leaders after the last two years we’ve had?
Well, I think what the two years has given us really is an opportunity to pause and reflect and also rethink what we do as educators and as schools. We really all have inherited a schooling system that probably, in truth, has to adapt and change to be more fit for purpose. And COVID as such, has given us that opportunity to do just that.
And of course, one of the most amazing things that we've been preparing for and been given the opportunity as educators and professionals is to really rethink education and reinvigorate it. My colleagues at ISV, and obviously our global partners – we are working very closely with Dr. Flossie Chua from Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education –we've been given this opportunity to reinvigorate and rethink and help shape new ideas and provide provocations for educators through our new Reignite series.
So, you're helping teachers re-energise after the pandemic and helping schools reboot education. It sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.
Well, it's a big challenge (laughs) and certainly one we're up for. It's really about providing cutting edge academics who've been researching in pivotal areas of education so that we're able to give light to their research, their ideas, and then creating learning experiences through the Reignite series. Which enables educators to share ideas, their own personal stories, and really engage in learning groups that will enable them to learn from and with each other. But through really structured Project Zero and ISV provocations and protocols.
ISV has invited some leading thinkers to help spark these conversations, like Project Zero. Who else can we expect to hear from?
We're really pleased that we work so closely and proud of our relationship with Flossie Chua, David Perkins, and their colleagues at Project Zero, but what we've been able to do is co-design a learning experience that will string through to 2023.
And we're really proud and pleased to announce that Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang from the University of Southern California, who will be talking about social emotional self-awareness and culture and the implications for learning development in schools. And then we finish our last fireside chat with Professor Sandra Milligan from the University of Melbourne who be helping us explore key lessons from the pandemic and how schools can really future-proof students to thrive in an uncertain complex world.
The prompt – or the spark – for our first session came from Amy Johnson, a Year 10 student at Strathcona Grammar. Let's have a listen to some of what she had to say.
(fades in) Reignite series, where we’re exploring the ideas of the future of education. Teaching students to be curious is most important to me. I want students to be encouraged to learn how we learn best.
So, it was important to you to have a student voice be part of the program.
It sure was. And we really thought quite deeply about how we can involve students in this Reignite series, because as the saying goes: "Nothing about us without us." So, we really wanted to make sure that student voice and student agency was a part of what we were creating and then the threads from what they were experiencing and what they wanted us to focus on as educators really helped us to design what the learning would look like throughout the series – and who might be the potential speakers that we could engage to really spark ideas and promote these discussions amongst teachers throughout Victoria and Australia and across the world, hopefully.
So, in Amy's spark video, she talks about curiosity and learning how they learn best. When you look at the speakers within the Reignite series, you can see that they align with these threads that are going to come through in the student voice.
So, we are not just listening to these students and saying, "Well, that's great. Thanks very much for your idea, but we'll go off in this direction." We really want to make sure that we honour what they're saying and provide the opportunity for us as educators to focus on their needs and what they want from their education.
And teaching curiosity and focusing on how students learn best, really is pivotal to adapting and creating learners and students for a world that's complex with a skill set that they're going to need to be able to deal with that. It's so important. We are really pleased that we've got a number of students who are forming a student panel. They really have given us the impetus to take this idea of a Reignite series and being able to reinvigorate and come up with new ideas ourselves through the provocations and the learning that takes place from the global speakers that we've been able to engage.
ISV runs some really transformative professional learning programs. And occasionally I'll sit at the back of a seminar and absorb what I can. I'm always amazed at the collegial conversations between teachers from totally different schools. Will participants at these sessions be able to spark off each other in the same way?
They sure will. So, I've mentioned very briefly before that we are really keen on making sure that educators that participate in the Reignite series learn from and with each other. So, it's not really just about being put in front of these amazing global speakers. It's about what you do with that information and that learning. How do you translate that into your own context, your own complex school systems that you work within and make sure that you take that learning away and you do something with it? You turn that learning into an action in your school.
What we are really proud of is the capability and the opportunity that educators will have throughout this series to participate in learning groups and really form close relationships within those. And participate in provocations and protocols that enable them to dive deeper into the learning and the ideas. But learning groups that are very intentional and very relational is the focus of the learning group.
So, it's not about just coming to discuss, what did you hear? What did you like? It's really participating in a protocol that enables them to dive deeper and really challenge each other and challenge each other's thinking. So that's a real key component of the Reignite series and one that we're very proud of.
Sounds great. How can our educators and school leaders get involved?
It's really easy. We have a landing page on our website, which is, is.vic.edu.au/reignite . And you can find all the information there about the series, the Reignite series, who our speakers are. You can see the latest sparks video from our students, and you can also register for the whole series, all the fireside chats, or you can register for each individual one. But it'd be great to see as many people come along as possible.
I hope so. I'll put a link to that in the show description as well. Thanks for joining us, Kieren.
Thanks, Mike. You're very welcome.
And that’s it for this episode of isPodcast! We’re going to leave you with Joshua Sun’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Prelude in C-sharp minor, from St Michael’s Grammar School’s 2021 Virtuoso Solo Performance Concert.
isPodcast is brought to you by Independent Schools Victoria and is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Google podcasts. It’s presented by Michael Broadstock, Shane Green, and me, Natalie Moutafis. Our podcast theme was composed and performed by Duncan MacLean. You can find transcripts of our shows with links to what we've discussed, at podcast.iseducation.com.au .
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.