Tuesday 18th December 2018

November Notes #5. 2018.125.

November Notes #5. 2018.125.

I went to a million (give or take) in-service courses as a teacher/principal.

I think they are called “professional learning” now and I also know they “count” towards accreditation each year.

I also devised and delivered many as both a teacher and University tutor and Adult Educator.

So what is this about in relation to my final November notes?

It’s how my personal development was & is enhanced by having cancer.

I am aware I have written at some length about the processes I have learned behaviour-wise and they are here, on the page “Denyse and Her Cancer Story”.

What I will do now is write about my changes in behaviour and attitude and how this can be linked to my cancer diagnosis. To make it easier and for me to see the changes, it will be in photos.

  • I gained independence
  • I became much less anxious and fearful following my diagnosis and subsequent BIG surgery
  • I tried new things with greater ease than ever before
  • I knew that to follow the processes and trust in the professionals, I would be OK.
  • I sometimes had to challenge the negative voice inside that wanted it all “done and now”
  • I found calm in more ways than I realised: particularly by going outside, into nature and doing art.

And then more:

  • As I already knew from the experiences of ‘exposure therapy’ the more I did the more I could do with increased confidence
  • Things do not occur linearly nor with ease and of course there were (still are at times) so tears that spill over and some worries
  • What is different now is how quickly I recover and re-group
  • It feels so much better for me to be a calmer person who is less afraid to travel, meet up with friends old and new and see greater times ahead
  • I can also put the “cancer voice” back in its box with relative ease by using my thinking strategies well.
  • I no longer try to ‘case manage’ anyone else’s behaviour.
  • I accept with great assurance that not only am I doing the best I can, so are most people
  • I am much more likely now to reach out a hand in friendship and care rather than recoil because of the anxiety and fear based on social engagements and effects of IBS.

And this is why and how having cancer helped me grow. It is a learning process of course. However, I am loving how my life is now and what I have gained back from this past 18 months living with a cancer diagnosis.

There is such a phenomenon called Post-Traumatic Growth. Article can be found here.

This resonates with me:

Types of personal growth

People may experience different types of change while coping with cancer, including:

  • Improved relations with others. Living with cancer may increase feelings of closeness or intimacy with family or friends. It may make it easier to connect with others who have had a traumatic event.
  • New life experiences. Having cancer may change your priorities, causing you to make different life choices. You may be motivated to make a career change, overcome a fear, or fulfil a life goal.
  • A greater appreciation for life. A cancer survivor may have an increased regard for life’s value or a new sense of vulnerability to death. This awareness may help you appreciate the world in new ways.
  • A sense of personal strength. Living with cancer can help you develop increased mental strength and a sense of empowerment. You can be proud of what you have accomplished.
  • Spiritual development. Some people living with cancer find they gain an increased interest in practicing religion or adding spiritual depth to their daily lives.

Having post-traumatic growth does not mean that you have completely overcome the stress and other feelings about having cancer. Growth and suffering can happen at the same time. In fact, most people who report post-traumatic growth also report having struggles. A person may grow in one area of their life and not another, or in a number of areas at different times.

I have been incredibly fortunate of course to have the surgeries and treatments and I never downplay cancer but as an educator I know what it has taught me and continues to teach me.

Have you had experiences that have changed part of your life and your outlook?

Please share!

Denyse.

Joining in with Leanne for Lovin Life linky here.

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Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Dear Readers,

This is the seventh instalment in Telling My Story. I hope that you are enjoying the blasts from my pasts. I am finding your comments very supportive. This chapter takes us through the beginning of  two years, namely, 1976-1977. You might consider what you were doing then or even if you were alive. I know! It IS over 4o years ago. Are you ready?

But first, let me remind you….I started telling this story almost 2 years ago. Then there was a slight long break while I dealt with the matter of oral cancer. By the few times I wrote though I was smile-added back again!

Photo (#1) For Telling My Story.

Photo (#2) post major cancer surgeries.

Photo #3 for Telling My Story. Post Upper Teeth Prosthesis.

A Teaching Career Means a Move or Three.

By the end of 1975, my clever husband had earned what was called “First List” in the then promotion systems of N.S.W. Department of Education and along with starting a part-time degree, HE was on his way, up the career ladder and I was more than happy to support him as I needed to. This meant the following….

He was offered an Acting Principal’s position in one of the most remote schools in New South Wales. By remote, I mean very and would still be regard that way. Here’s where it gets interesting and would not be part of a job-ad these days. He found out about the vacancy in this school via the travelling N.S.W. Teachers’ Federation Organiser who said “why don’t you take up the offer to go and see it?”. We thought, ‘why not?’. I was happy(ish) teaching, our daughter was now 4 and we could make a change BUT I was still longing for a second child. More about that later.

He Went, He Saw, He Said “We will take it”.

We were ambitious but also professionally-centred and once my husband had driven the many miles to this school, stayed with the then-teaching team, and driven home again to our little one teacher-school and home, he said “let’s do it”. By WE I should add, the pre-requisite that there be a married couple take the two jobs on offer. Teaching Principal and Classroom Teacher. That was because of the extreme isolation and only one place to comfortably live. I saw photos of the place and loved the idea of the new challenge. Our daughter, though under school starting age, would be able to come to school as there was a pre-school year attached to the school which was part of the Principal’s responsibilty.

Special School Indeed.

This school, a two-storey building, had a library underneath and shelter for play, a toilet and shower block and a flat in the school grounds for visitor accommodation. Across the sandy playground was the School Residence, up on stilts too with a garage and laundry underneath. The previous husband and wife teaching team had added in the window air conditioners to the school and to the residence. It was needed. Back of Bourke this is!

The student population, aged from 4 years to around 12 years was, in the majority, from the Aboriginal community which was located on the banks of the Culgoa River, some walking distance from the school. There were ‘white kids too’ including our daughter, the children of the local land lessee and the son of the shopkeeper (one shop which stocked limited supplies but was also the telephone exchange).

Adventures BEFORE Starting School.

By adventures, I really mean ADVENTURES. So, between us, we had organised the movement of our furniture to the new school and house – some 6-8 hours drive from where we had lived. We went back from Mum and Dad’s in Sydney to oversee the packing up and then we followed them in late January 1976 for our belongings would arrive, and we unpacked in the HEAT and went back to Sydney…only a 12 hour drive…which we did in one stint this time. A small respire time in Sydney, then with a very packed station wagon – 4WD were only farm-type jeeps then and we got a new Ford Wagon because we were going to a remote place and needed to have one of the more commonly known vehicles “just in case” (and there was one of those!).

With our daughter safely sat between us with a proper seatbelt harness, and a very, very full wagon, we took off for Dubbo. First stop and where we were most welcomed by the District Inspector (who would be a visitor from time to time) and his family to have a meal and stayed in a motel. All good! Not really. You see, we are talking many decades ago, no mobile phones and so communication was by radio announcements and talking to locals about road conditions. We were due to go to the school via a series of dirt roads after coming off the main road to Bourke…until we knew there had been heavy rains and flooding was expected. My husband got the news to “take the detour via Warren and you should get in to your place”. OK…I admit I had no idea it was a wee bit troubling that this was necessary. Packed (even more!) with some fresh food and more groceries…we got to the school and residence…after a MUCH longer drive and pretty wet conditions.

But WAIT…there is MORE.

So this school of ours was located away from the Culgoa River on a flat tract of land..in fact is all flat. The house and school were on a dirt road (heck everything was dirt) and the Aboriginal camp was next to the river. Just up the road from us was the store and over the road was a tennis court, an airstrip and further over, by the river, on the other side of the bridge over the Culgoa, was the land leased by the family who would give us both support and grief!

The rains came…and came and never left. The River was already flooding from the rains in nearby Queensland (only 14 miles away) and we were in for a LONG stay. School starting day came and two students turned up. Our daughter and the boy whose parents ran the shop. We began the day at school but due to the conditions came back to our place, and the mum of the boy said “if anyone calls from the Dept I will put them through to your place.” The system was helpful as it was a party line but certainly there was no privacy AND the phones only operated 9.00 am – 9.00 pm.

STUCK in the MUD.

Isolation is a new environment but with lots of advice and help from the locals was made better. In fact, we got school started once the pouring rain stopped and the lessee of the property collected the kids from the camp to bring them to school. His own kids and wife had left when they knew the floods would be arriving and went down south. We did not have them come to our school until Term 2. In the end, we got to know the support services very well. The Doctor in the nearest town who had never met us, could consult on the phone when we had a couple of health issues, the Chemist in the town would fill the scripts AND I could also ring the small town grocery store to order food and all of what we could get would be flown to us via the RAAF helicopter or a RAAF carrier plane. Other times, the supplies might land via a large drop off by the helicopter. The store got its supplies which helped us and the Aboriginal community. Sometimes too, someone may be taken to hospital that way.

In the initial days of the flood, we had no power for a few days BUT fortunately keeping the freezer closed and packed meant no food spoilage. We had a portable gas stove for a meal or two. And, the man who had the tractor had us to his house once a week for a cooked meal. He had more options on his property. He would come and get us in the tractor (see my husband in the second shot, with the friendly farmer, walking ahead to check levels and ditches and then on this occasion it was for us to see what things looked like along the way.

In the first photo this is the road to the school and our house is obscured by the school is in the distance. To the left of the photo, out of sight, is the airstrip and tennis courts.

THIS LASTED FOR TEN WEEKS.

In some ways it was one heck of a learning journey and in others it was very very tiresome. It was the very poor condition of the dirt roads because tractors and 4WD had left tracks and bad scarring on the road so no regular vehicle like ours could go anywhere. Somewhere in this time, my parents who had been very concerned about the situation drove up to Moree and chartered a small plane to come and visit us. The air strip had dried out. It was the roads that were impassable. Armed with all the makings of a fresh baked dinner and more my brave Mum and Dad hopped in the little Cessna and came for the weekend. They flew back the same way but with lots of love and hugs from their much-adored granddaughter. 

GETTING OUT.

I admit I became very stir-crazy and whilst it has been a term and a half of learning much about a new community I was determined, somehow to get to town for wait for it…Easter Eggs! How could our daughter miss the Easter Bunny? So one Saturday, our friend with his tractor, went before us, and gave us newbies to this situation, guidance on where to go to avoid being stuck and eventually we were on a better dirt road to town. We got back OK too.

HIGHLIGHTS and LOWLIGHTS and NO LIGHTS!

Just writing about the transition to the place, then what we went through personally and professionally means I am going to write more about the stay (and it WAS only for two years!) in point form:

  • The second term meant a more settled life. Well, in terms of the weather it was. My husband, who was both teaching principal and my supervisor meant “we” had some interesting and challenging conversation about teaching. You see he had not ever taught with another staff member, I had, and my temperament is totally opposite to his. We sorted this with roles and responsibilities (as every school should!) and subject area responsibilities and his work toward his next promotion, called List Two, was what he needed to achieve within his  stay at the school.

 

  • This was achieved by him and his classroom and school management was policy-central and all very much in keeping with educational standards then, and with the District Inspector (friendly man from Dubbo) staying with us too, it was good to know he had succeeded.

 

  • The unfortunate side of such isolation related to both social matters and health matters. My husband became ill for a number of reasons and was even hospitalised for some time and in the meanwhile I was relieving as Principal (and a worried wife!) and the N.S.W. Department of Education sent a replacement teacher from Bourke (almost 2 hours away) to stay and help out.

 

  • We also did our best to mix with the local and wider community, playing social tennis (the afternoon teas were amazing!) and getting together for meals. However, we would always be, as in many country settings “blow ins”.

 

  • Our daughter was socially isolated but as an only child she was quite content with play and reading at home by herself. We did have one young student board with us for a while to be company and to help our daughter too. That same family had our daughter stay when we went to Dubbo for a weekend.

 

  • Getting OUT was important. School terms were up to 3 x 13 or even some 14/15 week terms. We needed the break and so on the last Friday of term, our car would be packed and ready. I must add, that IF any rain fell, we would be delayed. Because of the road conditions.

 

  • The District Inspector allowed us an early Friday finish mid-term so we could drive to Dubbo (6 hours away) and shop and have respite for the weekend.

 

  • On one of those occasions, in Winter, it was meant to be that  we chose a Ford in the year we left Sydney. As we drove along stone filled road, we would get chips on the windscreen but even worse, as we found one almost dark afternoon getting back onto the BITUMEN at Coolabah, our lights were shot. The garage was still open. Yay. He had replacement bulbs. Yay. MY husband installed them. Yay. BUT, our daughter aged 5 was growing worse from a virus and her temperature was high. NO!

 

  • The next town east was Nyngan and we called into the hospital. She was given something to help and we drove through the Dubbo with great relief. Next day, with her health on our minds, we had a doctor call and she got meds. I also “needed” to go shopping and she had a particular wish to have some new sneakers. I got them. What a weekend. Grocery shopping was done too but I chose parcel pick up. THEN at 11.50 a.m. I remembered shops closed on Saturdays and not open till Monday. One ‘fast’ drive to Coles and I loaded them up.
  • The school was a hub for health professionals from Sydney and other places with specialist teams and most would arrive by air. Some came in 4 WD convoys. The professionals would examine anyone including us and in that time we had the late Dr Fred Hollows arrive with his then girlfriend, Gaby, in the team to check everyone’s eyes. We needed to have food at the ready and I often entertained thanks to cooking multiple dishes and freezing them along with my now-regular little cakes.

 

  • I also travelled to Brewarrina to see an Obstetrician who, upon hearing my story of tests done previously declared I would never have another child. See more about that here. It was such a definite and firm view, I mourned what was not going to happen and gave away all of my baby things to the Aboriginal community.

 

  • ABC TV did a story about folks living where we did and we, along with the children in the school were part of that program as were the locals from far and wide.

 

  • We had a grant from Disadvantaged Schools Program which funded the students from the school aged 7 and over, along with family carers and us to fly to Sydney, stay in lodgings in Kings Cross and experience places like Manly beach and the Zoo. Our daughter came with us but stayed with my parents and met up with us back in Manly.

 

  • But….this place got to us in some ways,  particularly access to health services for us both. We announced that at the end of the two years minimum we would be transferring back to Sydney as we hoped to find our first house and have our daughter attend school with more kids than 25.

This news was not taken well by SOME of the community but many also understood our motives. We left the school, and the area on the last Friday of term and with relief, when we got to the bitumen, this (then) 28 year old wife, mother and teacher sighed with relief.

What next?

Stay tuned: Chapter Eight soon.

Denyse.

Joining Kylie for I Blog On Tuesdays here and Sue & Leanne here for Midlife Share The Love linky on Wednesdays.

 

 

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Observations in October #4. 2018.110.

Observations in October #4. 2018.110.

     Honouring Teachers – World Teachers’ Day – 26 October 2018.

In October, usually around the beginning of the month, it is World Teachers’ Day. This event is celebrated  annually world wide and came as a result of a United Nations declaration. Because we in Australia are often on a school holiday break when the rest of the world celebrates, the last Friday in October is set aside for honouring, appreciating and celebrating teachers.

Teachers may be those working in classrooms, they maybe those helping others become teachers at University, some may still be at school themselves but know they want to be a teacher. There are those in leadership roles at schools, within the systems of education and at the training level.

Each person would be honoured if the community in general, not only parents and kids in schools, celebrated and appreciated teachers!

 

World Teachers’ Day in Australia Date in the current year: October 26, 2018

All Australian teachers have a special holiday, that is known as World Teachers’ Day. It’s celebrated on the last Friday in October and it doesn’t coincide with actual World Teachers’ Day.

International holiday of World Teacher’s Day was established by UNESCO on October 5, 1994 and since then it’s annually celebrated on this day in many countries around the world. However, many countries also have their National Teachers’ Days or move World Day to another day, as it was made in Australia. The thing is that Australian schools go on a holiday at this time in October, that’s why the holiday is celebrated on the last Friday in October. If it coincides with Halloween, the festive events may be postponed to November.

Every year the NeiTA Foundation (National Excellence in Teaching Awards) and ASG (Australian Scholarships Group) announce the national teaching recipients of the ASG Community Merit Awards on this day. All teachers and members of school government are encouraged to participate in the events, that are organized across Australia. All willing participants have to register and wait for confirmation and official invitation.

https://anydayguide.com/calendar/3115

I want to thank teachers who helped guide me (and inspire me to become a teacher) in classrooms from Gwynneville P.S. to Balgowlah Heights P.S. and onto Manly Girls High School. Thanks especially to Mr Parker from G.P.S.(in this photo) and Mr Duffy (Yr 5 at B.H.P.S.) and those who recognised my strengths at M.G.H.S. Miss Lyon is one stand out.

Then, as regular readers know, I went on to train and become a K-6 teacher, ending up as a school principal and there is more about that here and here.

And when I retired ‘the first time’ as I had to resign, I literally had to fight for my service medal via a series of letters. My career should not have finished that way but it did. Thanks to staff shortage and my work overload. In the end, I got my medallion of service….and it has the wrong date on it. Sigh. I KNOW the right one though! I would always recommend teachers join the Union. It helped me in many ways when my employer and superannuation fund did not.

My list of schools where I taught is here:

 

  1. Barraba Central School. 1970
  2. Fairfax Public School. 1971-1972.
  3. Hillston Central School. 1973-1975.
  4. Weilmoringle Public School. 1976-1977.
  5. Cherrybrook Public School. Term 1 1978.
  6. Jasper Road Public School. Term 2 1978 – part 1982.
  7. Acting Promotion to: Seven Hills West Public School. Part 1982. (Assistant Principal – teaching)
  8. Promotion to: Walters Road Public School. 1983-1984. (Executive Teacher – teaching)
  9. Promotion to: Seven Hills West Public School. 1985-1987. (Assistant Principal – teaching)
  10. Promotion to: Shalvey Public School. 1988-1998.  (Deputy Principal – non-teaching) (Acting Principal): part 1994
  11. Acting Promotion to: Rooty Hill Public School. Terms 3 & 4 1998. (Principal – non-teaching)
  12. Promotion to: Richmond Public School. (Principal) *first retirement: 2003.
  13. Kellyville Ridge Public School. Part-time teacher: Release From Face to Face & English as a Second Language. 2004-2006.
  14. Hebersham Public School. Part-time teacher. English as a Second Language. Terms 1 & 2. 2007
  15. Kellyville Ridge Public School. Part-time teacher. English as a Second Language. Terms 3 & 4 2007 until end 2009. *retirement from schools 2010 although I continued working in them as a University  Advisor/Tutor until end 2014.

I want to thank all of those teachers who have taught my children and grandchildren. Several come to mind who had lasting good influences on them. I also want to thank my colleagues, some of whom are no longer with us, but I know that all of my work and social life in schools has been enhanced by so many great and caring staff members. I remain a connected person in education: I follow colleagues on twitter, have been part of #teachmeets, and get updates from my membership of the Retired Primary Principals Association of N.S.W.

Finally, of course, I want to pay tribute to the thousands of children who passed through the classrooms and playgrounds where I worked. Some of course are old enough to be grandparents!

Have you thanked any teachers lately?

Are you a teacher who feels you are appreciated in your community?

Tell me more about how it is for you!

Denyse.

Joining in with Leanne for Lovin’ Life Linky here. Happy Thursday everyone.

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Students Need School Libraries. 2018.109.

Students Need School Libraries. 2018.109.

I can’t think that anyone might disagree with the statement:

Students Need School Libraries.

When I mentioned this campaign to assist more of the community to know WHY there even needs to be a campaign, these followers commented on my instagram account:

I loved our library at primary school. Our librarian was rad.

In grade 6, my classroom was opposite the library, best spot in the school!

I was lucky enough to experience amazing school libraries as a kid; they were my havens from bullying and re-charge stations for us introverts.

My kids’ school library is unstaffed and they only go in there once a week.

Looking at high schools recently was an eye-opener too – one school had a traditional library, one a ‘decentralised’ library, one no library at all. They are so undervalued.

Yet, this is now a growing campaign Australia-wide, all areas of schooling, to ensure that schools retain not only libraries for their students but have trained teachers in charge AND…the biggest of all, value the centre, the Library as the entry point of learning and loving all books and reading.

In the late 1980s when NSW Public School K-6 teachers were allocated 2 hours release from face to face teaching…”the allowance of one hour” was to be taken by the teacher-librarian.

It may not have included any lessons about libraries nor having books read. Or borrowing.

I was a principal who had to similarly act in the early years of 2000s and I know that conflicted with my professional and personal views on the value of a school library to students.

The thing about education run by politicians and some bureaucrats is that they “look for how to save money” and…”oh, well, school libraries aren’t that important are they?”

YES. THEY. ARE.

So, my story.

I have always loved reading. See my post here. I also knew I wanted to be a K-6 teacher thanks to the encouragement of my year 5 teacher who went on to become the teacher-librarian. For a few of my teen years, I toyed with the idea of being a librarian instead of teaching, but glad I chose the role I did. Mind you, when I was post-principal years, I got to do some relief teacher-librarian work in a modern school and loved it. Especially reading to the kids. Of all ages!

My daughter’s story.

She began reading at around 3-4 years of age. We did not ‘teach’ her as such but she was immersed in language – written and spoken, along with books once she was born. A somewhat reluctant entry to teaching, she found her feet with classes in Primary School (3-6) and loved her involvement in sporting programs. Over the years, her teacher-life shifted gears when she was offered the chance to be a teacher-librarian for a couple of years at her then school and she relished it. I am not sure the weekends spent at school were always relished but thanks to that success, another opportunity came her way.

A big one. To start a new school’s library. She applied for this and was accepted. Into a brand new (then in 2015) school in Sydney’s north west. She got to buy the first books, set up the physical library and start all the ‘back end’ stuff that takes forever…accessioning, covering and more, whilst getting ready to welcome the new students to the new school. I visited her back then, and it was a joy to see her in her element and some of “my old resources and furniture” in a place where it belonged. I know the school library has changed significantly since then, but considering this only happened within 2 months of school opening (for the first intake of students!) I think it is awesome. No Mum bias.

But, to retain the position, this single mum of 4, had to comply with another requirement. THIS is the reason why it is so important to have properly trained and experienced teacher-librarians. She needed to have a Masters of Education (Teacher/Librarianship) within two years. That, my friends, is a big ask, with some leave from the role to guide her family through some of life’s transitions and some health hurdles to overcome, with an extension granted, she DID achieve this….and she is here, last December, at her graduation. (proud mum moment: she is wearing the same M.Ed cloak I wore for my graduation at Charles Sturt University some decades before!)

From the site: Students Need School Libraries.

Here is what the campaign outlines as its purpose via sample newsletters to parents which is why I am using it here.

 Students Need School Libraries

  • Did you know… that your school library supports your child to engage with a diverse range of books to extend their imagination and develop a lifelong love of reading?
  • Did you know… that school libraries are responsive and collaborative learning spaces that provide students with access to a wide range of resources that are relevant and appropriate to their learning needs?
  • Did you know… that school libraries support your child to reach their potential by teaching them how to become capable researchers and to navigate the world of online information and fake news?
  • Did you know… that teacher librarians hold specialised qualifications as both a teacher and a librarian? Quality library staff are trained to support keen and reluctant, successful and struggling learners.

Students need school libraries. If you are keen to ensure that EVERY child in Australia has access to a quality school library, check out the information available at https://studentsneedschoollibraries.org.au

 

 

Some familiar faces put their words in to the campaign.

What can you, my readers, do?

Support the campaign via your social media options.

https://www.facebook.com/StudentsNeedSchoolLibraries/

https://twitter.com/NeedSchoolLibs

https://www.instagram.com/studentsneedschoollibraries/

Use the hashtag: #studentsneedschoollibraries

Re-tweet (and re-tweet with comment when you see the hashtag on twitter

On Instagram, make your messages of  support too, because they will attract more people to learn of the campaign.

But above all, if you can, do all within your areas of influence to ensure that:

Students Have The Access to School Libraries along with Trained Teaching Personnel.

Thank you, from one very passionate educator, mother, grandmother…that’s me!

Denyse.

Joining with Kylie here on Tuesday for I Blog On Tuesday and On Wednesday I link up here for Midlife Share The Love with Sue and Leanne.

 

 

 

 

 

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September Stories. #4. 2018.98.

September Stories. #4. 2018.98.

I am glad the September Stories series is coming to an end today. Whilst I really had no idea it would be the subject of 4 weekly posts, I know that I needed to share the story and with more detail than I ever had. Here is the first one, the second in the series and last week’s.

After My Doctor’s Visit on 5 September 2002.

  • My G.P. had known me for almost 20 years and she knew of the many challenges I had managed in my life apart from the responsibilities of leading a school. Her diagnosis of ‘overwork’ in my role as a principal resulted in anxiety and depression and that it was, in her professional opinion a Workplace Accident.
  • Armed with the first of so many doctor’s certificates, I called my ‘boss’ at District Office and told him “I was not to return to school for the foreseeable future and that it would be best (according to my G.P.) that the school doesn’t contact me”. All contact with me could be from him.
  • This felt both liberating and strange. My role at that school was over. I had left, never to return. I needed and got some supportive care at home and with friends and family although my reluctance to share the news was because of the shame I felt at not completing the job I was given.

The Rest of 2002.

  • This was months of to-ing and fro-ing between people who needed to assess my state of health and people who wanted me to return to work.
  • It did not matter, it seemed, that I was so traumatised by potentially being in a school setting again I had to gear myself up even to pick up a grandchild from a school playground, because they, representatives of my employer, wanted me to tick the boxes and return to work of some kind within the NSW Dept of Education.
  • I was in such fear of any kind of contact from my school and any of my colleagues that I stayed secluded at home as much as possible.
  • I attended mandatory meetings, I tried over time to explain to my boss “how I cannot envisage returning” because he thought it would be something I could do. This was the big stumbling block for me as a someone who was trapped in her fear based on my experiences.
  • Many many phone calls, attendance at Return to Work meetings, doctors’ (including a psychiatrist) visits and therapy with a psychologist actually helped little as they cemented the fact in my mind that “I had failed” even though now, I can see the “system failed me”.

Early 2003 and a settlement (of sorts).

  • I did not want my school community to suffer any more disruptions as I had so I volunteered to relinquish my position as its principal. By this stage too, I had some kind messages, cards and flowers from some of my colleagues but nothing from those who had made the original plan to confront me.
  • I was offered a place to work from in the District Office but my shame was still high and it might have been a place where my colleagues would see me. Oh, and only ONE colleague actually did contact me after my incident.
  • Had I been in the old State Superannuation system, I could have medically retired based on my situation. But, as “luck” would have it, I chose to be out of it as a newly married woman, not re-entering a different and newer one till 1985.
  • We still had a mortgage. We needed my income and work cover payments were not able to keep up the payments. I had NO choice other than to resign and seek a partial disability ruling to access my lump sum of superannuation.
  • This story is long, traumatic and not going to be told, but in the end NSW Teachers Federation lawyers took up my case and my money was paid. Mortgage paid out.

2003 into 2004. 

  • Whilst there was relief personally I was only in my early 50s and I needed to be active and re-gain some of my lost confidence. I did this through some art classes, being more confident to visit my granddaughter at school and even travelled to Queensland for a holiday with my husband.
  • People who retire from teaching (and leave by resignation as I was forced to do) usually get ‘an approval to teach’ and I had one and it meant I could consider venturing back into teaching of some kind. I actually missed it.
  • My G.P. and a psychiatrist for the Department and one for workcover all agreed that I was fit to return to teaching but not to an executive role and to work part-time would be ideal.
  • I was fine about this and happy to shed being on workcover…because of its demands. I know it is much worse now, but I seriously thought then, as I do now, that unless you have been affected mentally and emotionally by a workplace you would NOT be forcing people back to work until they knew they were ready.

Always a teacher!

I was ready. May 2004 onwards!

  • Like most things in life, you know when you know and my husband noticed that I was ready to teach a little before I did. I liked that. I gathered some details together with a view to sending them to former principal colleagues who I felt comfortable with but this was not necessary.
  • A simple visit to a friend in her brand new school (5 minutes from home) saw me raise the topic of “do you need a teacher…” and her response was “yes, 2 days a week, want it?” Yes. I began as a Release From Face to Face teacher then and into the ensuing years, I became the school’s first English as a Second Language teacher, even going to Uni part-time to gain T.E.S.O.L qualifications.
  • I was a happy teacher until about 2009 when grandparenting responsibilities called me more and I was fine to officially retire on my terms 26.1.2010. 40 years minus one day since I had begun.

My Teacher’s Certificate

And now.

  • I am pleased to tell the story.
  • I believe now, based on my experience learned in recent years via anxiety and a cancer diagnosis that I would have the skills to return to school even though it was a confrontation I would need to deal with.
  • Nevertheless, I keep an eye on those I know and love who are continuing to teach and lead in schools and see that not much has changed. In fact 24/7 access is more the case as this means parents and schools can be connected.
  • I am pleased to read though, that schools are putting in place policies to ensure that teachers are NOT contactable 24 hours a day and I would hope principals would lead by example.

Thank you for your interest in this story. I know from your comments that schools are not the only placed where work can make someone sick.

Take care of yourselves everyone. I know I could have done that better if I had the skills I now possess.

Denyse.

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

P.S. I am meeting Leanne next week! How exciting.

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September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

This is the third story telling some aspects of what it was like for me as a K-6 School Principal in a medium-sized New South Wales public school from 1999 until the beginning of 2003.

The first story is here and the second here for those who want to understand “how I got to the day I never went back as principal in September 2002.”

What was different in the beginning of the 2002 school year?

It was my fourth year as principal. Naturally much changes within the education system and in schools themselves. Families may move on due to work changes, sometimes those families are not replaced by new ones so a school population can begin heading downwards.

School staff (teacher and executive staff) may need to take leave for reasons of: family needs, maternity and long service leave as well as sick leave.

The other change heralding 2002 was the need to upgrades of maintenance (big cost jobs) to the school as it was one that was first occupied in the 1940s. Back in 2002 it was up to the principal to make the contacts with contracted companies to get in suppliers who could quote for major works. Then the principal, with enough funds in the school account, could give a project a green light. I was trained to teach but there I was, like all principals still, being a site manager and a financial manager as well as HR manager. Sigh.

Systemic Changes.

More and more, I noted as did my principal colleagues that schools were being expected (rightly too) to ensure that Codes of Conduct for staff were not only understood and agreed upon by them but if behavioural issues arose, then the principal would be the first person to begin making an action plan when the code was violated.

There always had been the mandatory notification to the Department back then called Family and Community Services where if a child was deemed by a mandatory reporter (all school staff are) to be ‘at risk’ then a first notification was to be made by telephone. This saw me, often waiting for a person to answer, locked into a phone call because of issues which may look trivial on the outside but may be clues to more. One such event could be repeatedly coming to school with no food. Other times it could be the child letting her/his teacher know that a parent may be unwell or even violent and it was never our role to investigate but we did need to reassure the child, then make the reports. Over the years I have sat in with a child in my role as a support person (if the child requested that from me) and it is heart-aching to be witness.

Our system, the N.S.W. Department of Education, was updating its role in terms of staff compliance and behaviour. This was nothing new and in fact teachers have had annual reviews in a conversation form for decades. Since I left teaching, this has become a joint venture between the schools and the overseeing body of school governance. Returning to my principal days. IF there was a reported incident told to me by a student, parent or staff member where a staff member’s behaviour (spoken, actions or in written form) was not within the Code of Conduct (signed off annually as part of mandatory training) then the principal had to act upon it. I dealt with the Officers from the Conduct Unit first who listened to what had been reported to me and then I was given advice that it could be managed at school level (guess by whom?) or it could be escalated, with the staff member’s knowledge to a higher authority. I had to do this on one occasion and the fallout for me came later. The temporary staff member who brought along a permanent staff member as a support person as the complaint was told to her from my account given to me was aghast at the inference. In fact, there was nothing I had done wrong at all….but remember way back “your role will be to bring this school into the next century” comment by MY boss…this matter was a prime example of how staff thought they could still behave but it was not compliant with the Code of Conduct.

And, Everyone Who Was An Executive Member of the School Went on Leave.

Not at all related to the above in two instances: one was to have a baby and the other because of longevity of service took her rightful allocation of leave…both for the remainder of 2002. But wait, there was one more. Yes, this person ‘broke me’ in so many subtle then obvious ways. And whilst I cannot say much, the continued leave based on medical certificates over and over did cause alarm for the parents of that class as it did me because the year had started well but then, as it was expected of me that this Assistant Principal would perform other executive duties (as do all teaching executive) this person refused and did not return after many months. Oh, yes, one day there was a return, after hours to access my office and computer telling the only person on site, the cleaner, that “I” had given him permission. Following that, he was disciplined and placed in a different school.

How Did That Affect Me?

In some ways it was a relief but in many more, as we geared up for the mid year reports, parent-teacher interviews and then Education  Week along with concerts and fund raisers, it was the beginning of my end. Sadly I did not see it for sometime. I kept on working even harder. Yes. I was doing the roles of the appointed executive who were on leave. I know that I did have three teachers put their hands up to do the relieving roles but without the experience and knowledge beyond their classroom teaching, I was giving more and more of myself to duties that were not mine. I was even writing reports for a class teacher with little experience. I will say now that I know I was over-doing things but I could see no way out. I was under pressure to perform well for the school’s sake and also to answer to my ‘bosses.’ My lovely boss actually retired at the end of Term One (sadly) and he was replaced by someone I knew well but was nothing like the people-person my old boss was.

Schools have a culture of their own. I can now walk into a school and get a feeling of how things are. In my school, as Winter took hold I know that my mood was also one of worry and concern. That was for the school and its staffing into the next year. When school populations decrease in the NSW public system, the principal will be asked to nominate a teacher to leave. In the majority of cases, teachers are very comfortable in their current school and rarely does anyone volunteer. So then it becomes a matter of ‘asking’ and ‘hoping’. The staff were getting the idea that with the school’s drop in population, which occurred when the Special Needs unit was disbanded and there was a reduction of families moving to the area, that “I” had something to do with the reduction. I was told this by telephone on the night (4th September 2002) I heard staff were arranging a delegation to my office the next day. They were going to tell me it was my manner with parents that was the cause. This may have had one essence of truth after I was threatened by a violent father who I had to get removed from the grounds, but generally I had a suppotive P&C and was a principal who was active and even did playground duty. But people like someone to blame. Of course, and that was me.

The Night I Was Told.

Before I go on, I was feeling emotions of overwhelm from the role. I remember with clarity coming back from yet another principals’ meeting where they was MORE that we needed to take responsibility for. I wondered how I could possibly manage more. In the meantime, I became probably hyper vigilant after another meeting about my responsibilities for Work Health and Safety. The school was OLD in many parts and I knew that there was much that did not comply, so I contacted my properties’ manager (the centralised one, not a personal one!) and for a fee, he came out and condemned or ok-ed parts I was concerned about. One such area was deemed so risky I had to tape it off before demolition and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the teachers who had been there forever. I could not take a trick. I stood for what was right because that is who I am. I knew I needed to have a timeout but it happened to be an official one to attend a meeting for a day and then a personal one to accompany my husband to a vital medical appointment.

Schools: I love them. But I Could Not Return To Mine.

Two days away from school…..then I was rung the night before I was to return. Wednesday 4th September. By one of my relieving Executive who I always thought was both compassionate and brave to tell me that some staff were getting a delegation ready along with a Teachers Federation Organiser to meet with me to discuss their issues. Initially I listened with interest and then with surprise/shock at what was apparently my fault: declining numbers, meaning one of them would be asked to transfer. Once I had talked (and been upset a bit) with her, I had successive phone calls from the remaining two relieving executive and it was then I said “I will be speaking to…(my boss) in the morning and will not be returning to school until I have”. They implored me not to but I had the sense not to act upon a threat like this.

I broke. I broke down. I was ill. I couldn’t contact my boss: left a message that I would be going to my GP in the morning.

That would be the start of pretty horrible days but also some days of relief and release. Yet, nothing ever has helped me get over the fact that I loved being a principal but one day I never went back.

There was so much shame in me for that and it has almost all faded now some 16 years later.

It’s been hard to learn THIS….

Next and last story will be about, sadly, how poorly my then employer treated me, but how my own return to wellness was all because of my inner capacity aided by a loving husband, a supportive family and friends network along with..some years later, an inclusive blogging community.

Thank you for your kind words having read these stories. I have not told them in as much detail for many years but I am glad I could have the chance again.

It really helps to write our stories! That is why I blog!

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

 

 

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September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

September Stories. #2. 2018.92.

When I began this series last week and ended with...to be continued, I know that was a disappointment to some readers and also could have been seen as a way to have you come back to read more. In some ways it was but in reality it is because, as I wrote, I realised the length of the September Story about being a principal needed more space.

I also did not realise until this week, that the day for publication of September Story #2 is R U OK Day. In the past, I have blogged about R U OK day using the R U OK guidelines and always hoping that if any reader needed help, they could find it by asking or calling below. In keeping with being honest, I will admit I could not tell my employer or fellow professionals I was NOT OK. I shared that with my husband and my G.P.

So, keeping that in mind, here is some background I wrote some time ago to get me started…again!

 

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

My story, as a K-6 teacher, English as a Second Language teacher assistant principal, deputy principal, relieving principal, principal, begins…here.

As I trawl back in my memory bank to unlock the story of mine. It’s no-one else, yet it was about more than me.

The day I never returned to my school as its principal.

Etched into my mind, my psyche and my whole body.

Thursday 5.9.2002.

But that is not where the story starts.

In one way it starts here:

The evening of Wednesday 4.9.2002 was when I knew. I knew that my emotional health was broken to the point of never being able to return to:

  • the school I had led for almost 4 years
  • the position of principal I had been appointed to from January 1999

Why?

That is where I need to take a breath…and let out the sigh and say ‘it is not an easy story to tell….and an even harder one for me to relate…but I will.’

First Year as a Principal.

I was busy learning about the school and the fact that the person I replaced had actually died the previous term without anyone at the school having access to school keys, passwords and the like made it more difficult. The school was a medium sized (around 450 kids from K-6) one with added Unit for Students with Special Learning Needs and an Autism Satellite class. Within the stream of classes there were two “OC” groups: Year 5 of 30 students and Year 6. These students gained their place at the school via competitive examinations the year before.

The school culture was, as my boss told me, one I would need to lead into the 21st century and I knew that but I also knew to hasten slowly on some changes whilst making some practical ones quickly. The previous principal, sadly departed, had been there for quite some time, shared very little in terms of financial goals for the school but, as a local which I was not, whatever he had done was acceptable. One big ticket item that happened under his leadership was a sports area which catered for a number of court-based sports.

One of my first spends was blinds. In a school with a second storey and in a very hot/cold place in outer Sydney, some respite from the sun and to make activities such as work via a whiteboard or screen effective this was vital. Once done it gave the school, from the inside and out, a better appearance for the community.

The school was fully staffed with each role filled: 2 Assistant Principals (teaching) 2 Executive Teachers (teaching). There was a group of speciality teachers: for Gifted and Talented students, Special Needs – Intellectual, English as a Second Language, Computer and Technology, Special Learning in Mainstream. I had been familiar with leading each of those roles in my previous schools with three  ‘new’ to me

  • having the O.C. classes
  • overseeing the use of the school’s facilities with an outside the NSW Dept of Ed jurisdiction
  • supervising a Special Needs Unit of 3 staff within the school

I like to think, looking back from 2018, that I did all I could to both understand, accept and get upskilled quickly to enable me, the educational leader of the school, to best meet the needs of those students, also considering the skills of their teachers and to see that the parents of the students knew the children’s needs were paramount.

That of course, was also integral to my oversight and management of the remainder of the school in the mainstream classes.

There were computers for my work and communication via emails did not arrive for a few years. It was a telephone, fax and mail school and being on the outskirts of Sydney the communication and responses were not as frequent as the suburbs of Sydney.

The year went well with ME being the major learner of course. I was the ONLY new staff member but I also had to ensure that MY leadership goals were part of the new school’s as well. There was a lot of policy discussion which was mostly related to why there were none where I was used to having these done. Like I have said before, I was there to make change but I also needed to handle matters carefully.

This year I turned 50 and on the staff was another person my age and I recall a joint celebration with two cakes. We did socialise somewhat during the school term with a restaurant meal or something similar with ataff. We had regular morning teas and I promoted collegiality and support for all staff.

My executive staff were good but two of them sought promotion – one to a country school, the other to a city school and of course I was pleased for them professionally when their  work was rewarded with what they sought. I recall an incident which was a critical one as it demonstrated a lack of foresight, organisation and care from one of the senior staff. This related to a student being announced at the final year assembly as Vice-Captain, when in fact, she was to be a prefect, and another student was the Vice-Captain. In an embarrassing time for the student, her family and the senior staff I had to interrupt the announcement with the correct person’s name. From that time, I was aware of more loopholes within the school’s management. Policies for example. In a first for this executive staff, there needed to be a written policy on the how, what and why of student leadership nominations, voting and results. From my side, it looked quite poorly scrutinised and certainly that family of the student who was incorrectly announced as vice-captain continued to let me know of their upset long after that incident. No apology in the world was good enough.

Onward into 2000 & beyond.

There were some staff changes into this year of the Sydney Olympics and I had to call panels of parent representative, school representative and one other teacher to enable me to interview, by merit selection, 2 people to replace those who had been promoted. More on this in the third post next week.

The education communities in and near Sydney loved the fact that this was the year of the Sydney Olympics and we even had an extra week off school in September 2000 for all of the available transport (buses mostly) to be geared to getting people to and from Olympic venues. A person who had carried a torch in part of the area near the school brought it to us and we all got to hold it. We had special days and the vibe was good. We even made our Staff Photo that year based on Sports and the Olympics.

I had some lovely people working at the school in administration and I know my mantra (from my boss) of keeping on heading into this famous 21st century was embraced but it remained a load on me as the school leader both administratively and educationally. There were courses in finance and human resources to attend and of course ones to train us further in Child Protection.

This became even more important as time went on, and I recall sitting at yet another training course thinking “I am responsible for all of this yet I have no control over it”. It was quite a  watershed moment for me.

I loved the role even so. I felt I brought action and innovation to the school and lifted its place in educational areas. I may not have been a local in a very conservative area but I did my best to keep open and good relationships with the local community, my Parent groups and the community of schools nearby.

At home, I know I really never switched off. The laptop came home with me. Newsletters written by me on the weekend. There was no email or other communications like that until 2002 so everything was done and then printed off for the families each fortnight. I improved more of the external appearance with signage and keeping areas safer by removal of damaged play equipment. I had a General Assistant 3 days a week and because of the size of the school grounds, he spent most of his time on a mower.

I had to organise school repairs and more via private contractors and be savvy enough to know how to ask for quotes and then to see how the school might benefit and when to get those happening in a child-free time. I would be phoned at home in school holidays about staffing and maintenance and there was/is not a time-off for school principals.

Next Time: Story 3.

What happened in the lead up to my emotional health breakdown.

I have written only some of what it is like to be a school principal. Despite the fact, as above “one day, I never went back” I loved the role. However, now in this age of social media and 24/7 connections, I do not believe I could perform the role without cost to my mental health.

Therefore I honour R U OK Day and this message below is for those who might be part of a conversation and not sure what to do.

I wish I had known that I could have admitted to a colleague or my boss how hard things got for me in mid 2002 but I could not. Not until I broke down at home on 4.9.2002.

Denyse.

 

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

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September Stories. #1. 2018.89.

September Stories. #1. 2018.89.

I’ve enjoyed writing Thursday posts on a theme. There has been the  Just For July series and the Appreciation in August one just finished. I did give a lot of consideration to what September might be, and with the chance to tell stories in a more detailed form, here is the first! September Stories. I hope YOU enjoy too. Denyse.

Sixteen Years Ago.

But first:

I really enjoyed being a K-6 School Principal. I had waited till my late 40s to decide to ‘take the plunge’ and actively seek a principal’s role in a K-6 school in Sydney’s west.

Having been a relieving Principal in a school where I had been a Deputy Principal I knew that I did not want to apply for that role as I had been at that school for almost 10 years.

This was a much longer period than I usually stayed in one school and family reasons were part of this but I knew that to lead that school was fraught with trying to placate factions and being in conflict ethically with the old-fashioned and out-moded forms of discipline.

In the lead up to the end of the 1990s I was asked to relieve as a Principal is a larger school within the Western Sydney environment I knew well. This school already had a leadership team including Deputy Principals but it was the wish of the out-going (Long Service Leave first!) Principal that someone from out of the school be appointed. That was me.

What a baptism of fire this was!

Whilst I knew the general area, I was not knowledgable at all about the make-up of the student population – which was well into the 600s. I was to lead that school for Terms 3 and 4 when a principal would be appointed. There were special needs classes, there were children of high needs (intellectual and behavioural) in mainstream classes. Fortunately, it came with a non-teaching Deputy, who helped bring me up to speed with every new challenge including:

  • chasing a boy who was ready to jump the low fence and run onto the road. He stopped. In the playground.
  • finding another boy climbing to the roof of a building to escape the problem he had being in class.
  • having a mother of a girl scream at me over the desk “what are YOU going to DO ABOUT this, YOU”RE the PRINCIPAL”

“I really do not want to be a Principal” I said after a very hectic Term 3 leading into Term 4…but then again..

” the old death bed regret” popped into my mind.

Did I want to think I should have given the principalship a go but I did not?”

Answer: NO.

Further Reasons!

As the last Term progressed, unless I did decide to start applying for Principal’s roles, I had this ultimatum delivered.

As a Deputy Principal who had needed to leave her original school (the 10 year one) because the school student population  was slowing and there was no longer a DP position, I had to accept any position as a DP and guess where I was appointed: to the school where I was currently Relieving Principal. 

Oh. No, I thought that was untenable and also once I knew who the new boss would be in the following year my hand was forced – in a way. So it was out with the application templates and late nights writing and honing these to match K-6 School Principals roles that I might fit.

It All Takes Time.

Back then, applications for Principal  were sent into the District Office for the Superintendent to look over with his/her panel of selectors. These were a parent from the school which was seeking a new principal, a staff member from that school, a principal of similar status as the role on offer and the Superintendent. If the application met with the panel’s approval, professional referees (nominated on the application) were called, and then if the panel thought they wanted to know more then the applicant was invited to a formal interview.

I went through this process over some weeks for a total of four times and got to interview but not the role. I was also still leading a school! I did get positive and helpful feedback particularly by one District Superintendent By the second last week of Term 4 I thought I was not going to get a Principal’s job but that was not true and within 2 days of school ending for Term 4, I was offered and I accepted the role of K-6 Principal in my own right.

Appointed As Principal.

The District Superintendent rang me to offer the position and of course I accepted it. Being so close to the end of the year, I could not visit the school until close to the end of the January holidays.

The words that rang in my ear, and were written to me by the District Superintendent echoed…and not nearly as much as in future years.

“Denyse, you have to bring this school into the next century and I know you are the one to do it. It won’t be easy and it will have challenges but you are the right fit for this”.

To Be Continued.

Next week, I will outline the story, in more detail about the meaning of Sixteen Years Ago.

Denyse.

Linking up with Leanne here for Lovin’ Life on Thursdays.

 

 

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