Learning activity: gratitude tree in two parts

Earlier this year (March) we made a gratitude tree as a class. We did the activity as part of our once a semester focus on gratitude. We always encourage the young people to reflect and be grateful but once a semester we have an explicit focus on it every day for a week. I found a big branch in the yard, a jar to put it in and cut out leaves for the kids to write on. The students wrote down things they were grateful for including staff, school, family, pets, food, their clothes….anything they could think of really.

In late October I decided we would add to the gratitude tree as part of our second semester “gratitude week” activity. In Australia, it’s Spring at this time of year so the students helped me cut out flowers and we did the same activity again but this time our tree positively bloomed!

Our junior students took this one step further and with the help of an artistically talented youth worker and student leader, they actually painted a gratitude tree in the courtyard! Students will use paint pens to add things they are grateful for to each leaf in the coming weeks.

Comfy teacher shoes – Frankie4

Note: this is not a sponsored post

As a teacher with back issues (bulging discs, compressed spine) and knee problems one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career is finding comfortable shoes that I can wear to work.

Initially, I started out with planet shoes around 10 years ago after I finally acknowledged wearing wafer thin flats just wasn’t a good option anymore. I was very loyal to the planet brand ankle boots and Tromp knee high boots in varying colours (around $129 – $199 AUD) and still own a few pairs.

I ran into a few issues though – firstly, the grippy sole on the bottom wears away quite fast and then I slip / slide all over the place. While the boots last quite well I found that for a brand that are fairly pricey their sandals and slip ons really don’t seem to last very long. This especially applies to their summer sandals which rarely last me more than one summer due to poor quality materials and stitching but retail for over $100 AUD.

In my current school I wear sneakers 90% of the time because we have a standardised uniform which is fairly relaxed. School polo or jumper, jeans and whatever shoes are comfy and let you chase after the students. After working my way through a few different brands of sneakers (Asics, planet, converse, Skechers) I found they were not working for me due to a lack of foot support. My back was hurting every day and my feet were also aching. A friend recommended Frankie4 and at first I was put off by the pricing. Then my stylist recommended them and again I flinched at the price. However, once these pretty silver babies went on special I committed to buying a pair of the Jackie’s for about $140 on sale.

They. Are. Game. Changers!

They come with multiple footbed and insert options so you can adjust the shoe to what works for you and the arch support is next level. I’ve actually never worn a sneaker like it. You can also insert your own orthotics if you have them as they are orthotic friendly.

After wearing them every day for a week and finding them to be comfortable, practical and very pretty…..I decided to fully commit and went to buy a full price pair ($219 AUD) of their TAMBO rich rose sneakers for both the gym and work. That was when I discovered the next bonus of this brand.

Discounts for teachers and nurses!

As a teacher, I was able to confirm a few details about my employment and then receive a 10% discount. Sweet.

Now to save up and buy MORE of their pretty shoes since trawling their website has revealed there are boots, heels, strappy summer sandals and MANY more sneaker options to look at.

Learning activity: teaching forgiveness in a writing lesson

Level of Blooms: Understanding, Applying, Creating and a little bit of evaluating

How I would use this strategy in the classroom:

Part 1: 5 mins

First we defined forgiveness and discussed that the purpose of forgiveness is not accepting an apology, it is consciously letting go of pain or hurt associated with an event or action. Students raised “forgive but don’t forget” and we also discussed this.

Part 2: 10 mins

Students looked at two real life examples and discussed them. One was Andy Lee and Wil Anderson’s recent podcast and the other was good ol’ Tay-tay versus Katy Perry.

Part 3: 25-30 mins

Students used one of the prompts below and wrote in their writing journals. The two prompts were offered as the first one was identified as a potential trigger for some of my students trauma so the second option was given as an alternative

Part 4:

Students had the option of sharing with the class (nobody did in this lesson – not a surprise with the topic) and I always read their journals after and give feedback. One young man who was unable to write about something outside of school so he wrote to me to ask for forgiveness for an issue we had the day before


  • Students were able to write to someone at school if they could not cope with the idea of writing to a family member or friend
  • Many of the students wanted to write about things they had done that were illegal eg illicit substance use or crime. My rule with this is always to encourage them to write what is true to them but to be mindful that any staff member could read it so what is written needs to be okay in that circumstance
  • Some students required prompts eg when I was xx I did xx which I regret. I regret this because xx. If I could do it again I would do xx differently because xx.
  • One student was unable to deal with the topic or any related writing around forgiveness at all. He became quite distressed even with very structured prompts. I ended up getting him to write questions down for me to answer – so still focusing on building relationships but without the pressure of writing about a specific topic

Classroom resource: image about what we can control

I believe this resource is for workplaces and being part of a work team but one of the things i am focusing on at the moment is some very basic values stuff – we have looked at resilience, forgiveness and I am hoping the next thing we look at links into adversity and facing challenges. I think a key part of that is giving young people with trauma the tools to identify what they can control and what they can’t.

I’ll post more about our forgiveness activity soon as it was an interesting experience to try and teach in a writing journal lesson!

Professional Learning: Australian career services seminar, Canberra

Location: Ian Potter Centre – Questacon (secret bunker)

Keynote: Technology and the innovation of work

Keynote – questacon

Pen disassembly activity – take apart cos brand pens and put back together, refine process, try again, map out process, try again, continue to reflect and refine. Focus on design thinking , systems thinking etc

Reference to article by Melanie Burgess https://muckrack.com/melanie-burgess-1/articles and conversation 20 Feb 2019 “choosing a career: these jobs won’t go out of style” http://theconversation.com/choosing-a-career-these-jobs-wont-go-out-of-style-111425


Workshop 1: Australian Railway Association

  • Melissa Sofield – Canberra metro operations (here on behalf of John Holland). There are CSO roles, need to be able to pass a basic medical (Criminal history not a barrier but will depend on role). They do employ people with additional needs eg Campbell with Autism. No age restrictions formally but will depend on role.
  • Operations and maintenance is a big focus, not just train drivers!
  • John Holland and UGL – work experience opportunity a possibility, need to explore more. Also have a focus on grad programs and women in construction. Refer to individual websites. Huge scope of roles – HR, finance, IT, construction, engineering
  • Some focus on use of ICT combined with people eg using drones to monitor, VR for promotion and visualising what next stage might look like

Workshop 2: Perform Australia

  • Elizabeth Avery Scott – Studios based out at Fyshwick
  • Thrive program: Not a registered school but do academic studies though QLD distance Ed school alongside intensive acting/performance program, 7-10 and 11-12 stream
  • Do vocational level programs eg 6 month cert 4 + level, 2 year adv dip. Costs are relatively high and there are no subsidies. Short after school programs on offer as well
  • Can do free acting workshops at schools – flyers collected
  • Do at times take WEX (usher roles) but mostly tried to sell us on after school programs

Workshop 3: AustCyber

  • One of six growth centres established by federal government – youngest, established 2017. Unique in that they are not industry specific, work across all industries
  • Mission is: Grow, educate, export cyber security
  • NICE framework defines roles in cyber security
  • CIT highly rated in ACT, very hands on and great entry level courses in ICT

Workshop 4: Good Education Group

Keynote: questacon design thinking session

Bunch of different materials eg balloons, bread clips, Alfoil,

  1. What are their properties
  2. What can you make or do with them
  3. Make some prototypes using random craft materials

Keynote: ARA rail careers

Light rail is more flexible, more energy efficient, better for liveability, more cost effective than heavy rail. Works well in urban environments

Work experience or employment opportunities relevant to our students

  • Questacon 5 day WEX program – bulk lot of students year 10, 11 and 12. Two streams: visitor programs and behind the scenes experience planning. Applications open May
  • Questacon student training program runs from March to August each year and its one n for night per week, only for year 11/12. Streams are science communication and investigating innovation (recognised R unit). Applications open in February
  • Questacon apprenticeship program in production team. Focused on electro technology and mechanical trades. Is at cert 2 and 3 level.
  • Casual gallery assistants, must be 16 years old and will be a focus on scientific communication and customer service
  • National invention convention 14-18 year olds in Jan each year. Focus is on young people not sure about science or innovation as a future career pathway
  • John Holland and UGL – work experience opportunity a possibility, need to explore more. Refer to individual websites
  • Canberra metro – will do work experience down the track, not currently available. Likely to be in for 2020. Can only do roles that are not safety accredited eg no driving. No age limit for work experience but may be based on four way agreement – cmet website
  • Canberra metro – will be exploring apprenticeships in the future (most likely 2020), not currently offering

Learning/relaxation activity: binary code bracelets

Level of Blooms: Understanding, Applying, Creating

How I would use this strategy in the classroom:

Today we learnt about binary code in our intro to ICT class and then spent 40 mins coding our names (or friends/relatives names) on to a handmade bracelet.

This was a great activity to allow disregulated students to have some quiet time and also keep everyone calm and focused. Initially we were only going to do it for the first half of the lesson but I decided to continue as students had a difficult day today and most were choosing to engage with this so I didn’t want to lose momentum. It also introduced the students to the beginnings of binary code which was not a concept most had come across before.

Step 1. We did some basic work on what binary code is and then looked at the binary alphabet. Students then worked out how to spell out their name, a friends name or a teachers name using the 1s and 0s.

Step 2: Students then identified which colour represented a 1, which one was a 0 and they also asked to include a gap one (which was a good opportunity to discuss why this wasn’t needed in real life!).

Step 3: they threaded the beads in order of the code on to the bracelet string

As you can see, the student below used indigenous colours which was deliberate and other students used all sorts of colour options

Activity cost: ikea beads $10, bracelet string $2 and that’s all!

Learning activity: kahoot quizzes

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this is some good info: https://kahoot.com/what-is-kahoot/


  • Very interactive and a great quiz option for you to rest your voice but still allow students to express their learning and understanding
  • Kids love the visual aspects and you can use film clips, pics and all sorts in the quiz questions
  • It rewards speed and accuracy – not just one or the other
  • Kids treat it like a reward and often seem to miss the part where they are still learning stuff!
  • Gives the quiet kids an opportunity to engage in a whole class quiz based activity where they may come out on top


  • You either need 1:1 or you need students to have access and be allowed their own devices. I’ve had great success with this in classrooms where 1:1 is available but found it more of a struggle when there is a mix of laptops, phones and people are sharing
  • If you want to use someone else’s or one of the generic ones CHECK IT FIRST! I’ve been caught out so many times with incorrect answers or questions not relevant to my topic
  • The nicknames will be the death of me. There’s only so many times someone can write “ilove420” or something genital based before I want to start banging my head on the wall. You can boot them out if they have rude ones but the downside is I often find myself booting the same student out over and over while everyone just waits….
  • Kids who are not ICT savvy or who have visual or cognitive processing issues will get very frustrated very fast – this is just not ideal for them and may reinforce feelings of inadequacy that are already an issue

Day 3: PESA 2019 National Wellbeing and Positive Education Conference

Day 3 of my first PESA conference is done and dusted, I think I can definitely say I would like to come back (pending funds) as it was a very worthwhile and engaging opportunity. I am leaving with a fire well and truly started to shape the positive education journey of my school. I am very grateful to all the schools who took part in the “colour your threads” positive education day which helped to fund my scholarship to attend this event.

7am – yoga (the bed is so comfy at least my neck and back aren’t sore like they usually are in hotels)

8am – breakfast and check out

9am – keynote speech 5 with Prof Lindsay Oades talking about wellbeing literacy and enabling students to thrive. Playing with language is an important part of wellbeing. Wellbeing literacy is how we control the use of wellbeing language (Oades & Johnston, 2017), how we communicate for and about wellbeing (Oades 2018), mindful language use for wellbeing (Oades, 2019).

Lindsay’s argument:

1. School education system is well placed to be a broad lever for generational change – actually better placed than the health system for population based wellbeing

2. The other pervasive lever is language which describes and shapes our realities

3. Therefore, developing literacy about and for wellbeing through the school system will lead to generational change

If your vocabulary is all negative language then your narrative will be built around this. People are then unable to project into the future and predict a positive narrative if vocabulary is limited. Language shapes reality. This is so true in a trauma framework as well.

Many of the population do not have the concept of wellbeing as including positive things, they only have the construct of wellbeing as being the absence of bad things eg illness, debt, sadness etc. Much of our current language is a residual of the negativity bias. Capability is what we can be and do, not what we have been and done. Wellbeing is a capability.

ACARA says there are 6 modes of communication, we should be communicating (about and for) wellbeing through all these modes:

  • Comprehending – listening reading viewing
  • Composing – speaking writing creating

Instead of being sucked into wellbeing interventions, focus on what students learn about wellbeing. This is a shift away from medical discourse to a teaching and learning discourse

10am – the final keynote (number 6) with Prof Lea Waters focusing on strengths based teaching to bring out the best in teachers and students

Lots of free resources with a parent focus: ww.strengthswitch.com

Recommended reads – childhood disrupted ($11.99 on kindle), the deepest well ($16.99 on kindle) and Lea’s latest book “the strength switch” ($4.99 on kindle). I bought all three!

Strength based approach is building up and maximising their character strengths, make the most of what they have first before addressing what is lacking/weak. Focus on what is right before focusing on challenges

Everyone has strengths – this is a deep and essential part of the philosophy. Research shows 50/50 nature and nurture for strength development. Our role as educators is to work with what is already there and help build on it, to unlock what is already there. It is not just to identify but also to help them continue to grow and develops – they need to see AND build them

All students have some of the 24 character strengths http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths. Other options include

– Physical strengths

– Intellectual strengths

– Emotional/heart strengths

Key strength approach beliefs:

  • It is teachable. It is a capability that can be developed
  • Can apply at any age group
  • Can use strength approach to enhance academic curriculum, it does not need to be its own program or curriculum

Student programs spill upwards to teacher wellbeing. Increase in engagement, work enjoyment, resilience and a renewed sense of vocation. Increase in positive feelings and reduced burn out and negative emotions

Key take away: Integration of strengths into ILPs and behaviour plans!

Morning tea – I managed to get all my booth stamps completed (I had to restart this morning as I managed to lose my exhibitor slip) and enter the draw to win….something? Not sure what!

11:30am – final workshop session on high impact teaching: starting with relationships was run by Nan Bahr from Southern Cross University who was extremely engaging! Nan started with a great interactive poll intro using another technology (PollEv) which I haven’t seen before. Added it to my teacher list.

Transactional approach to teaching and learning

We start with what do the need to learn and then we focus on how they will demonstrate it? How will we measure it? Then we move into the transactional approach of how will I teach it and how will they receive it?

Should this be our starting point….or should we start at the other end?

Self-respecting learning perspective

* Fred is happy with his efforts in maths, he likes maths and thinks he is a good learner in maths – this is self esteem

* Fred feels awkward when he tries to dance, doesn’t think he is a dancer but is okay with that – this is self concept

* Fred quite likes himself, is happy with who he is and his general worthiness and value as a person – this is self respect, this is built from moment ps of building self esteem and self concept

Piglets 4 noble steps to gaining self respect

1. Fearful – I can’t do it, I will fail, I am afraid. We recognise this in teaching as a lack of comfort and we support with scaffolding and building strategies for success

2. Pretence – pretending not to be afraid of continuing, acting out, demonstrating forced bravery or fraud behaviour, cover ups. Fake understanding and demonstration of learning

3. Self satisfaction – I know it seems easy, but not everyone could do it. So excited, proud. Happy with self, a good place to be but not enough – momentary.

4. Self respect – this is what we are after ultimately, the student has freed themselves from the teacher and has taken on board. Deep sense of who they are and what they are capable of. Prepared to face next challenge. The teacher may still be there but the student feels resilient and capable on their own

Teachers role is to develop student self respect. Students develop this in spirals within spirals, the teacher helps to juggle which step they are at within a spiral by knowing the learner. This means the relationships between student and teacher are key

Suggested hierarchy in classroom that values self respect

1. The relationship – between teacher and learner, needs to be productive

2. The learner – how do they learn, how do we need to respond to their needs

3. The learning – approach to curriculum and assessment

Key take away: meet the child where they are

12:20pm inspire sessions – I didn’t know what this was going in to it so I chose the beginner stream since that’s what I am when it comes to positive education….for now. It was a collection of different teachers sharing experiences they have had as beginners in Pos Ed programs or implementation efforts.

1. Sarah from Hutchins Primary shared her experience in teaching year 1s to engage in mindful practices for 5-15 mins three times a week, she found that their concentration improved from her observations and also from students self-assessments. They were also able to meditate for longer periods as time went on. She used apps like smiling minds, headspace, insight

2. Desley from Mt View HS runs a 5 in 15 using the 5 ways to wellbeing framework. Important to note that staff chose this framework over others. They liked it because of action words. They have created 15 min lesson at start of the day to check in and do short activities. Week 1-10 of term is focused on specific one eg connecting with brief snap shots on others eg one week giving, two weeks be active. This rotates through the year so they all get focus at different times. Her tips were rotating and variety gave lots of options for kids to engage, there also needs to be clear explanation of WHY for teachers and resources, scope and sequence etc need to be provided to minimise workload. They also linked to special days eg world autism day, poetry day, harmony week etc. Giving staff opportunity to feedback is very important on activities, structure, what worked and so on

3. Lisa from Healesville Sanctuary shared an activity they run that connects students to land and tech. We did an interactive moving action for a local Dreamtime story and then used iPad tech to locate the European name for a local landform.

4. Andrew from Loreto Nedlands Primary in WA talked about Wellness 60 as an activity for all staff to get involved. It’s not release, DOTT etc it’s literally time away from the school and demands of teaching. The principal and deputies take all of the kids in one go and they learn about character strengths etc in that time. Teachers have fed back they used the time to: nap, catch up with colleagues, get a coffee, watch TV, do family commitments, watch TV etc. Wellbeing framework is also embedded across the school

5. Nerida from discovery college (HongKong) shared about using character strengths to build a positive classroom. Talked about small things having a impact including leading with strengths and using these in all interactions. She also specifically names strengths as she sees them in the classroom. Post it notes to identify strengths visible in the classroom at the time, students can take post it notes home. Wellbeing wall for students to post notes with starting prompts. They can also post them in a post box for others . Dice to help students reflect on the day behind them and on the day ahead.

6. Samantha from Muswellbrook HS shared her schools transformation journey towards a positive education focus through where there’s a will. Pos Ed does not have to start with a budget, you can embed with minimal cost. Initial focus was on character strengths and it does take time. Samantha shared the schools journey through a year 7 student who took his own life and how the information about positive education and wellbeing helped the school move through it.

7. Sue and Emma from Geelong Grammar are from a school with more than 10 years of pos Ed, however the positive leadership coaching shift is relatively recent. They now have 9 coaches on staff who work together to develop a school wide positive shift in professional conversations. This included staff coaching senior students. I found this really interesting as we are currently in the very early stages of introducing a peer coaching model at our small school – although ours has no funding behind it and therefore no outside organisation to support implementation. This model was interesting as they had coaches across all levels of the school and the model was very solution focused – where are you now, where do you want to be, what have you done before, what can you do now, I’m impressed with…..

8. Jessica from Ringwood north primary school started their journey with their staff. Buy in and professional development was essential so they dedicated a year to staff growth and development. Schools last year said they regretted not collecting data before starting the initiative, so they made sure to collect data using the EPOCH model. They focused on learn it and live it first, now moving into teach it and embed it. This reinforces what other school leaders have also shared with me as being key to getting a framework up and running. They now celebrate achievements and positive things first and have a good focus on gratitude.

9. Melanie from St Andrews Anglican college and institute of learning shared a strategic planning process they used to introduce Pos Ed to the school and make it stick. Initial staff enthusiasm high after whole staff Pos Ed training but lack of interest from exec and splatter gun approach for initial intro meant staff became frustrated. What has worked well, what are we not prepared to let go of, other ideas from other schools, develop a school direction but also enable staff to explore passion projects etc, evidence based and data collection, what will we call it, how will we staff it

2:10pm – student panel: I only saw part of this as it was running a little late and I had to scoot off just before 3pm to make the only direct flight back to Canberra. However, it was great to hear the collective agreement from the young people that wellbeing was an essential part of their educational journey.

Today’s quote: using a strengths based approach is like searching for gold when you are already 100% sure there is something there to find, you know there will be a positive outcome (Lea Waters)

Today’s question/s: where to from here – what is the best way to move forward with this within my (somewhat unusual) school context? Do I start with strengths based or do I need to look at a framework like 5 ways or PERMA? What is the best way to start this movement within my school and most importantly to get ALL staff on board?

I think I’ll have to ponder all of this and then write another blog about what steps might be next for our school.