Emily Keeling: PYP teacher in Melbourne

This week’s host, Emily Keeling teaches in a government school in Melbourne. She tweets as @pogonophileMelb


Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

Graduating from a theatre degree I was feeling disillusioned an unsure of which path to take next. I knew that if I ever took the teaching route I would need to be really certain as I have never believed in entering into the teaching profession half-heartedly.

I moved interstate from Launceston to Melbourne after graduating and experienced life as an independent young adult. But three years in the financial world had sapped my enthusiasm so I headed off to South Korea to find out if teaching was for me. I taught in an English academy where my students were of pre-school age through to adolescents.

Without a doubt, my time in South Korea reinforced my passion for education and helping others. I knew that teaching was for me but I wanted to be the best I could be. Upon my return to Australia I worked for a charity for six months and enrolled in the Masters of Teaching at the University of Melbourne in 2009.

Since graduating I have worked at a Government school in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne. The school is a credited IB school that offers the Primary Years Program (PYP). In my first year I taught grade 3/4. Now I am teaching for my third year in the 5/6 level. This year I’m taking on a coordinator role for the kitchen garden and in my first year in 5/6 I was team teaching for the first time.

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?

Twitter has proven invaluable for my teaching. It is a platform for connecting with other educators where we can share ideas, insights, resources or even to simply vent. Equally, I have been fortunate enough to work with caring and experienced teachers who have become my unofficial mentors. These individuals have continually taken the time to guide me and acknowledge the work I put into my teaching. I admire these teachers for their hard work and value what they have been able to share with me. I encourage all teachers to seek out mentors in their learning community.

The PYP aims to develop students who are active global citizens. The units of inquiry that we plan are rich with local and global issues and often the issues that we explore are initiated by the students themselves. When the students are invested in their learning the classroom is a fun, dynamic and inspiring place to be.

At our school we develop units that leave room for student-driven action. The grade 6 students prepare and present an exhibition that is a culmination of their learning throughout their school life. This exhibition assesses the students skills, attitudes, conceptual understanding, knowledge and the action they take in response to their learning. In 2013 our exhibition was an inquiry into ‘Who We Are’ as a community. We explored what it means to have a sense of community. One student inquired into the origins of ‘Neighbour Day’ and was moved by the story of the elderly woman who passed away without anyone realising for some time. As a response she organised a street party where her neighbours got together (some met for the first time).

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

The greatest reward for me has been the infectious enthusiasm that comes about from motivating students to ask significant questions and empowering them to take action. This can be action on local and global issues or action with regards to their own learning.

Another reward is belonging to a learning community of passionate and supportive staff. Everyone needs mentors and colleagues to bounce ideas off. Teachers require the self-awareness that we teach students to identify. Like our students, we continue to identify our strengths, limitations and passions. Schools are plentiful in the resources and experts for helping both teachers and students with achieving their goals. And if you feel like you’re at a dead-end, there’s always someone who can point you in the right direction.

Like any educator I have been disappointed by the ongoing vilification of teachers in the media and the negative perception of teachers perpetuated by the likes of politicians. It can be quite depressing picking up the newspaper in the morning. The constant comparisons and the naming and shaming are the types of behaviours that we do not expect from our students. Yet we’re supposed to be leading by example. So the challenge we face is to find some unity between educators, politicians and the various school sectors. Let’s start by acknowledging teachers for their hard work, successes and ingenuity.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

There are a few aspects that spring to mind when considering what changes I would make. Firstly if I ask myself what causes the greatest amount of stress and workload for teachers, it would have to be reports. The comments are invaluable and they provide parents with clear feedback on what their child has achieved as well as future directions for learning. As a primary school teacher I question the necessity for reporting on such a high number of learning criteria for ten and eleven year olds. I have not met one teacher who believes that this is realistic and beneficial to our students. Not only is the number of criteria overwhelming, but each one attracts a letter grade (A,B,C etc.). This system sends mixed messages to students and parents, who become fixated on the number of As scored for the semester. So firstly, I would simplify the reporting system.

Secondly, I would ensure that educational policy is based on substantiated research and not by the ‘gut feeling’ reactions that we’re currently seeing play out. In particular, I refer to the review of the Australian Curriculum. I am not opposed to a review of curriculum, but I believe this should be conducted by a cross section of educational professionals, not just a chosen few.

Finally, if we really want to nurture the future generations as problems solvers then we can’t shy way from inquiry based learning. If this approach to learning is valued by our leaders then parents in our educational community would look upon it with less cynicism and teachers would avoid the same conversations and justifications of teaching and learning year in and year out.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

EduTweetOz will continue to help us build our personal learning networks. It’s truly wonderful to be able to speak to educational professionals in a forum such as this. It also provides a source of inspiration and insight for new and emerging educators.

My hopes for this week are to help strengthen and develop networks in the Twitter teacher community. I also aim to share my knowledge and experiences and to offer a particular perspective on educational issues and philosophy.


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