Reconciliation Week 2014

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This week we’re joined by Susanne Bowles and Alex Shain, who work at Reconciliation Australia in the ‘Reconciliation in Schools’ program. They’ve got an amazing week lined up for EduTweetOz, stay tuned! For now, here’s their answers to our 5 questions.

This week, Susanne (SB) and Alex (AS) are sharing the handle and won’t, at any time, be in the same geographical place at the same time! For the first few days, Susanne is in Hawaii, Alex in Perth, then Susanne will be in Fiji, Alex in Sydney, then Susanne in Melbourne and Alex in Canberra!
Wish us luck!

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?
Susanne
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher.Growing up I loved learning and I enjoyed school. I was fortunate to have some really good teachers and I suppose watching them first-hand successfully engage their students and spark and nurture a love for learning must have given me the desire to aspire to be a teacher.
Over my 32 years in education I have held a number of roles including classroom teaching, specialist literacy support, Aboriginal consultancy and school leadership, project management of 0 – 4 school readiness programs, teacher/coordinator of primary extension and challenge programs for gifted and talented students…just to name a few.
My current role is working on Narragunnawali:Reconcilation in Schools at Reconciliation Australia. It’s an exciting program and plays an important role in assisting schools to promote respect and reconciliation. I am the National Senior Schools Officer. I moved from WA 3 months ago to take on this job.

Alex
As a 9 year old I can distinctly remember thinking I wanted to be a teacher ‘when I grew up’. I have had some great teachers, particularly at primary school and I’ve always tried to replicate the good things they did in the classroom but sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a student in a classroom.
I’m a primary school teacher and spent a couple of years in Tibooburra (outback NSW) teaching all primary year levels before heading to Sydney where I taught a year 1/2 composite class. I did some casual teaching in Sydney for a couple of terms before being given the opportunity to work in the NSW Department of Education leading a professional learning program called Live Life Well @ School. I did this job for about 3 or 4 years before being invited to Canberra to design a school-specific program for Reconciliation Australia.
I’ve been working at Reconciliation Australia for the last 18 months and think I have one of the greatest teaching jobs in the country!

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
Susanne
I am self motivated to be the best teacher I can be for my students.Our Australian children deserve to have teachers who are committed, passionate and emotionally smart. When my students, especially the ones with many challenges, turn up for school with a positive attitude and a readiness for learning, and then at the end of the day when I hear them excitedly recounting their day at school to their parents, are constant reminders of what drive me to love my work.

Alex
I am inspired by my family, friends and the great people I have worked and currently work with. So many people tell me “I’m lucky to have a job that is so meaningful” and this in itself is inspirational. That said, I love telling people that they could give up their big salaries and work as a teacher but of course the reality isn’t that simple. Most people couldn’t cut it for a day in a classroom!
At the moment I am motivated by the idea that I can influence thousands of schools across the country to make positive changes to how the whole school understands and respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and contributions to our national identity.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?
Susanne
Good educators today find themselves being more than classroom teachers. They not only have face to face teaching, but they also engage families to take active roles in their children’s education, they spend time with children who need extra attention before and after school, they mentor children and support them to socialise and interact positively with others, they liaise and collaborate with other professionals to make a difference for each child and they work really hard on all levels. This investment in time and energy is a challenge for some teachers but is very rewarding not only at an individual level but at a school level and at a national level. The ripple effect greatly contributes to the overall improvement in Australian health, social and well-being outcomes, and each individual teacher plays an important part in that.

Alex
The biggest reward for teachers is watching students grow and change as a direct result of your teaching. The challenge is to keep finding ways to engage students and to instill a lifelong desire to learn.
At the moment, in Australia, I think we are facing a challenge of how to continue the great work that has been done to try and start treating early childhood, primary and secondary school education as a truly national responsibility. The division of Government, Catholic and Independent sectors across the States and Territories is very often unnecessary and overly bureaucratic. As teachers, we need our systems and structures to operate in the same big-picture way we teach in our classrooms every day!

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?
Susanne
I would remind systems to consider the child first …always! To find ways to engage each child to learn, to cater for each child’s differences and unique needs, to acknowledge and promote their cultural identity, to teach children to be smart in the mind and heart.
Alex
I am doing it! I think teachers who have an inkling of interest in systemic change should put their energy and enthusiasm into working on large scale school-based programs. Diversity is important in education but there are too many non-teachers making decisions that are directly affecting Australian classrooms.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?
Susanne
I’m new to twitter and tweeting…but my participation this week is to open opportunities for discussion between Australian educators about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. Having just attended the 10th WIPCE here in Hawaii I am more enriched as an educator and would love to share some of the topics and messages from various Indigenous educators from around the world.

Alex
I am hoping that at the end of this week all the followers of EduTweetOz will have contributed to some great, national discussions around reconciliation. In particular, I hope we can all help each other to understand and respect more the importance of increasing understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures.

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