Tough Training

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today’s visit, our last in Berlin, took us to a gymnasium in Kreuzberg, Leibniz Schule.  840 students attend this all day (which includes after school extra subjects and care for those who want it) school which has a 30% intake of German as a second language.  Students at this school are tracked from year 6 as they choose the more academic stream and work towards the Arbitur giving them access to university education.

Outside the school

Leibniz School has a focus on 5 pillars of languages, maths, music and arts, method curriculum ( teaching about organisation and management of learning) and civil learning.  The students who spoke to us from year 11 were very proud of their languages program and from listening to the fluent english speaking of the students it is obviously successful.  Students have the opportunity to be taught in English or French, giving them even more fluency.

As I saw in the Copenhagen schools, student activism is strong, although it appears to be more like what I have seen in Australia with students painting murals in the school buildings to brighten the environment.  They also attend the year 7 camp, as mentors, which runs for a week at the beginning of gymnasium to get to know each other and learn skills in time management and organisation.

Recently the school had worked with an educational initiative Mehr Als Lernen, translated to ‘More than Learning.’  Throughout this process the students worked with the organisation to implement more student activism.  This included having students workshop with teachers on how they felt the classes should be taught. Martine, the teacher in the room said it was a great initiative and the teachers learnt a lot from the experience although many did not take on board what was learned.

It is evident here that students have a lot more civic learning where each year they learn political science.  As the election has just taken place in Germany many of the students I have spoken to are very aware of politics and the policies of the different parties.  In fact at this school they had organised an internal vote.  Over a few weeks students learned about the different policies each party had and then voted according to their own preference.  As youth in Germany can not vote until the age of 18 (although the Länder or State elections allow people to vote from 16 upwards) it was not counted but they were able to compare how the student population voted compared to their electorate.  Here in Kruezberg the electorate is the only elected Green seat, like the Melbourne City electorate and the school voting also reflected this. After our recent election in Australia I have been thinking about the lack of education when it comes to our political system and believe this system in Germany is something Australian schools should be thinking about more.

We also had an opportunity to talk to some trainee teachers who were in the room.  Many of these teachers were in their late 20s and had already completed their Bachelor of Arts and a 2 year Master degree to become a teacher.  They were currently completing their 2 year teacher training time in schools, which they work at 40% of the standard wage.  As part of this practice the trainee teachers attend weekly seminars with teacher trainers, focussing on their schools and developing further their theoretical understandings.  They seem well supported and create a network in other graduate teachers, with the support of their training supervisor.

Talking to trainee teachers

Graduating students are allocated a school and it is a luck of the draw which location and school type you get. Speaking to one trainee teacher she had been allocated one of the toughest schools in Berlin, which was part of the new pilot school program, Gemeinschaftsschule, where students are not tracked into an integrated school or a gymnasium but all students attend the same school from first grade to 12th grade with the option of getting A levels or taking a more vocational strand. This school was chosen as a pilot school due to its difficult past.  It is well known in Berlin after the staff walked off the job in 2006 due to terrible working conditions and fear for their safety.

It was interesting to hear a trainee teacher talk about the positives to the tracking system as it wasn’t fair for the brighter students nor for the less academic students who didn’t get the extra help they needed.  Once again the idea of tracking students into more vocational and academic streams has positives I had neglected to see, and am not yet convinced of, the repercussions for students later in their learning career or lives. Obviously for Berlin they are making large changes to their education system and I am expecting their will be many changes to come in the next few years as they seem to be aligning more with the British/Australian system of inclusion.



Recently Julia Gillard, Australia’s Prime Minister, launched a competition to find the country’s best teacher.  She asked people to share memories of their favourite teacher on her Facebook page, unfortunately preventing any student under the age 13 from sharing their favourite teacher.

As much as I love the idea of us talking about educators in a positive way, it seems to be quite contrived and once again it implies that educators in Australia need a competition to bring them to a reputable level.  In fact I can’t think of any other profession where the Prime Minister needed to step in and save their image with a competition.

An indication of this is the fact that the article discussing the launch of the competition also linked to an education survey on teacher quality.  A survey deliberately set to show how inept teachers are with questions such as; ‘Have you ever noticed incorrect spelling and grammar from your child’s teacher?’ or ‘ Have you noticed child’s teacher using apostrophes or American spelling?’

I quite often talk about my teachers in conversations.  Whether with friends in a bar, around the table at a family event or with students I teach.  I don’t have an ulterior motive.  I talk about them because they impacted on me in one way or another and I want to share those great experiences.

Over the years I’ve had many teachers who’ve influenced me but if I was asked to choose one I think I would have to go with Ms Mackay.  She was my grade 5 teacher and I always admired her for her beautiful skirts with matching shoes but there was more to Ms Mackay than that! She allowed me to learn. She set up the opportunities for me to be curious.  She cared about learning!

I still remember the afternoon when we started science.  Never before had I done science, well not that I could remember. We turned sugar into carbon.  Well Ms Mackay did.  There was a classroom of wide-eyed 10 year olds with curiosity bursting from their smiles. If this was my only memory of learning I would be happy and I hope the students I have taught over the years have memories about learning they keep with them.

That’s me next to Ms Clarke in the bottom left!

On the flip side to this I also love how teachers remember their students.  Earlier this year I received an email from my Prep (first year of school) teacher.  After 30 years Ms Clarke came across my name when she was doing some PD in her school on the Ultranet and sent me an email.  It really showed how my life had come full circle from being inspired by teachers like Ms Clarke to be a teacher and now she was congratulating me on the work I had done in education!

I agree we should appreciate the care, time and the little part of themselves that teachers give to the students they teach. But not in a competition. And not by continually trying to ‘fix’ education.



My Google Dream

I have dreamt for a long time of being able to visit Googleplex (Google headquarters) and often think of all that I could do if I could just pick the brain of the ‘Google-atics’ that work there!

Although not quite the same, you can imagine me jumping for joy when I heard that Google would be holding a Teacher Academy right here in Australia.

So why Google Teacher Academy?

Google has endless possibilities in the classroom and I only use a few of their products such as google docs, maps and reader.  Of course I use the search engine too!  I think I use the word google as a verb at least once a day!  But I want to know more!  I see so many wonderful by-products from Google and I would love to have the opportunity to use it even more in the classroom.  And to add to that I would then be able to share what I have learnt with others.

The application has been sitting on my to do list for some time now as I really wanted to do it right.  As Murphy’s Law would have it though, they have changed the date from March to April, meaning I will be overseas at that time.  But in my ‘glass half full mind’ I thought of what I had accomplished by doing it today.  I have been able to spend time reflecting on my ICT practice and think about what I do well.  Not always an easy task for me.

So why should they choose me?

I am a lifelong learner: Although my ICT journey is only at the beginning I feel like I have come a long way already.  I have realised that I love to learn and will always look to learn something new.

I am a glass half full person: I am very proud to say that I am a person who looks on the up side of everything (see above).  When a situation looks bad I always look for the good side.  That means that I can always be positive about change and act as a change agent.

I can do it: I often hear people say ‘I can’t do that.  I don’t know how’  I am certainly not one of them!  I am much more a ‘Can you help me to do that’ or I go home and find out myself, through research.

What now?

Well, I have decided this evening to apply for the academy and work my travel plans around it.  That’s what you have to do to make dreams happen!

Check out my 1 minute video which accompanies my application: Classroom Innovation