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and this is why we teach no. 2

June 8, 2019

I have been giving this Miss Year 10 choral hell. Basically, I want her in my Senior Concert Choir. She toured with me earlier this year, totally needs to audition, but absolutely refuses to.

I’ve forbidden her to quit choir, so for the past term and a half she’s been idling in 2nd gear in Grammarphones as a section leader, continuing to refuse to audition. Every time she has missed a rehearsal, even the legit ones, I’ve pinged home an email to her parents within the hour.

She hates me for that, but grudgingly goes along with it.

She is the most fabulous “jam with the radio” singer you can get, she finds harmonies where others flail aimlessly, and she’s sass on legs. She is FUN to have around, and quietly yet sassily lifts the morale of the people around her with her hilarious one-liners.

Imagine my surprise when I received this email from her. It came yesterday, but I refused to read it for fear that it was the official “I Am Allowed To Quit With Parental Support”, which would have totally pissed me off.

I cried. Then I read it again, and cried some more. 😭

the magic of magical people

November 12, 2017 1 Comment

Love this!


September 30, 2017

I labelled my Year 12s this week…!

year 12 survival kits 2017

September 30, 2017

And it starts…the making of the Year 12 Survival Kits for my Year 12 kiddies. This all started with when my Physics teacher in Year 12 gave us each a Mintie stuck to a Post-it note which read, “Good luck! But just in case, when nothing else works…!” And I’ve never forgotten that little burst of humour.

And so when I began teaching, I did the same for my very first class…a Mintie on a Post-it note, just to give that tiny nudge of encouragement.

And it’s grown into a tradition I love. Sharing with you all this year’s version. 🙂

The loot all over my living room rug! Laptop is so that I could Netflix while I assembled them. 😉

year 12 survival kits, class of 2016

October 3, 2016

I am making my Year 12 Survival Kits again…have a look at the carnage! 😉

Here it is all over the living room floor, in deconstructed state:


I am ridiculously excited to find Star Wars band-aids this year!


And my letter to my Year 12s, Class of 2016. A special, nerdy, intelligent, amazing, and inspiring crew. It’s been an honour to teach you all!



stress ball instructions…

March 15, 2015


I am about to go back into full-time work and could not be more nervous and excited and every conceivable emotion in between!

I will be running fast…but I cannot WAIT to be running fast in a school community and back in a Music classroom, full of the energy + teaching I totally love, even if I am going to feel like hugging a wine bottle at the end of each day.

It seemed like the opportune time to post this little gem of an idea I had when dealing with a couple of my past students…from the high-flyers who couldn’t contain their nerves to the kid who would enter the classroom by throwing a chair at me rather than a (sometimes cheery), “Hey Ms Kwok!”, I decided I would get creative on how I modelled a calm approach…and at about 2am one morning, thought of this.

Since then, for very special students, I have been handing out my (necessary) Internal Suspension Notices with a stress ball + these instructions….and relishing the perplexed looks of consternation as the student in question tried to figure out if I was serious, or if I’d lost it.

Stress Ball

As with everything you do as a teacher, you give out the very best example without entertaining the hope of it being returned then and there, but hopefully sometime in the future, where you may or may not see the effects.

This is one of my magic moments…an email last year from the student who once upon a time threw music stands by way of greeting in my classes.

He hadn’t figured out the way to express his frustration and fear at getting braces, thereby making his progress on his trumpet – his absolute passion and an integral part of his identity – a whole new challenge.

Hey Ms Kwok,

Just wanted to say thanks for all the support last year with my trumpet playing when I got the braces on, I really needed it. I still have your stress ball and it reminds me that I can handle these challenges. I‘m sorry I was a little shit, I was just so frustrated. Thank you for helping me see that I would get through this challenging time. And thank you for just being an all round grand teacher! I’m getting my braces off tomorrow and I had to let you know!

I hope you’re doing well. 

Yes, after reading that and getting teary and grinning like an idiot simultaneously, I believe I’m doing VERY well.

excellence vs. heart…which is more important?

March 6, 2015

how-you-made-them-feel“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

This made my heart glow and sink simultaneously…if it’s true, then why the bloody hell have I been working on these amazing lesson plans brimming with examples of scaffolding, differentiation of the curriculum in as many different ways as flavours of Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and student-directed learning up the wazoo, plus a couple of bells and whistles thrown in as well?

But then I realised this intellectual learning ran in parallel to the emotional connection with my students…my wanting to strive for excellence through modeling passion and pure love of my subject area worked in tandem with how I made my students feel in my class.

And was this true for my own learning experiences? Was how I felt more important than what I achieved?

I remember my most influential teachers…some were extraordinary teachers in every sense, and my knowledge base and passion for their area of expertise blossomed under their care. Some were not the best facilitators of learning, yet I loved their lessons, I loved their energy, I loved how I felt in their classrooms. Alive, seen, and valued. Some teachers were such rigidly disciplined “founts of knowledge” that I felt like I was going into The Black Hole of Joyless Learning every time I entered their classrooms…and this was, instinctively, definitely and absolutely, NOT the sort of teacher I wanted to be.

I thought about the three teachers who affected me the most during my school and university years…Miss Lori, my first piano teacher, Clemens Leske Senior, my high school piano teacher, and Rosemary Nairn, my mentor and artistic director while working for the Public Primary Schools Festival of Music. All of them so extraordinarily different. All of them so deeply embedded in my heart, in my words, in my actions, and in my very being as a teacher. Were they all extraordinary teachers? At various stages of learning, yes. Were they as fiercely committed to excellence as some of my top-notch teachers? No. I cannot thank Miss Lori or Clemens Leske Senior for my fabulous piano technique and ability to focus with Zen-like precision on my piano etudes…I had other teachers I have to thank for those skills. And therein lies the very wording and truth…that I “have” to thank, not “want” to thank…because I did not feel safe and secure, seen and valued all the time in their lessons.

These three teachers gave me the capacity to draw the best from the teachers I did not always feel safe with. And it’s important to say here that neither of these three wonderful people ever accepted anything less than the best that I could give at that exact moment in time, or that I always felt delightful in their lessons…I didn’t. I knew when I wasn’t making the cut, and I knew how it felt to disappoint them, and myself…but never at the expense of my self-worth. My actions, my learning, my music making and my performances were an innate part of me, but didn’t define me.

The wonderful, effervescent and kind Miss Lori…you walked into the room and every 5-year old under your care felt loved, even though there were fifteen of us in each Yamaha class. You saw us all, loved our quirks, asked us about the stickers on our school uniform, or the Band-Aids on our knees, you got ridiculously excited with us when we discovered our first F sharps and B flats. You gave me 15 minutes of private piano tuition after group lessons, knowing my parents couldn’t afford to pay you, for free, for a whole year. When my parents could afford to pay you back, you told them to put the money toward a proper piano for me rather than a keyboard. You made us all shine in our grubby and beautiful 5-year-old selves. I could have hugged you forever on my final lesson at Yamaha. Your generosity then makes me generous now.

The calm and loving Clemens Leske Senior…just as your name speaks of mercy and love, so are you in person. At my most angular, inconsistent and fiery, you saw me completely…for the raw and incomplete talent, for the deeply sensitive heart, for the technical difficulties I had to overcome, for the teenager I was, and person I was becoming. The gap in years could not have been wider, yet with one word you could direct my phrasing, expand my understanding of texture + colour, or explain the weight in the sound of a chord. Every lesson was magical…a crystalline world of sounds, colours and lines, and an unraveling of the heart and all defenses. Because you taught with care and love, I learnt the emotive power of my playing…and my piano playing became my own voice, not one that reflected you. Not once did you ever make me feel inadequate…or feel that it was your duty to “break me in”…you just let me grow in whatever way you could. I cried when I couldn’t have you as a teacher when I entered university.

And the playful, quick-witted and joyful Rosemary Nairn…I met you when you were 60 and I was 19…you used to joke that we were at opposite ends of the concession continuum for tickets, bus fares, and discounts meals. You would step on stage at the Festival Theatre and have 342 students sharing in your playful musical games, in your clever words…and somehow you made the most mundane bits of rehearsal hilarious, completely energised, a joyful sharing, or a witty little musical game. When I grew up into a real teacher, I told myself, I wanted to create the same joyful energy and momentum you created every day. You didn’t go overseas and to study a conducting degree. You didn’t do an honours recital in piano. Yet every skill you had in composition, arranging, piano playing, teaching, and choral conducting, you maximised…you were always learning, always curious, and always totally engrossed in the moment. Every kid completely believed you when you said that no question was too silly…and would have the courage to ask you. You never made anyone feel small…in fact, you made everyone feel special. You worked hard + expected excellence. But not at the cost of a person’s well-being.

I look at these three extraordinary teachers in my life and realise that Maya Angelo must be right. I will always strive for excellence…I will always want to see the potential realised in my students, my choirs, my ensembles…and myself. I will always want to hone and refine until I figure out where the perfect balance of joy and excellence lies.

Yet I realise my teaching mirrors the teaching of these three special people the most.

I want to make my students feel how they made me feel.

You were right, Maya.

Heart 1


recipe for living…!

February 28, 2015 2 Comments


Dear Soul,

I haven’t been thinking as fast as I should! My imagination has been asleep and I need to DREAM again and gather those dreams and throw them into the crisp morning air – wake them up and set them free! How long has it been since I’ve taken a chance? Taken a leap of faith and done something which has made my stomach flip? With common sense comes sensibility, both of which are highly valued and neither of which are productive to dreamers and do-ers. Nothing which lends itself to LIVING! Open my eyes and fill my soul again with the beating desire of challenge – of going the extra step to give someone joy or sympathy. Don’t travel the path which looks easiest – find a new one, one full of adventure and full of unspoken, undiscovered ideas and feelings. Find a pathway which is delightful as it is daring, one which requires a certain amount of strength and imagination.

CREATE! Don’t just reflect – make something more out of the puzzle pieces of reflection. Make a whole picture – something of use and service to the world. When you’ve been given a voice, don’t just whisper – sing in a million and one harmonies, otherwise you will not have used it properly.

THINK! Always think beyond the sphere and discover what makes a person laugh or cry – what affects them. The human race is so full of passion and wonderful examples of courage, if only we could make the time and space to NOTICE them and UNDERSTAND them better. Each person has something unique to contribute and the skills to write their own chapter – write SOMETHING. There is no-one else in the world exactly like you – no-one who speaks the same words with exactly the same thought behind them – and isn’t THAT extraordinary? However more loved the rest of the world appears to be, know and trust that the world needs your graciousness and good-humour more than you’ll ever realise. Somebody is counting on you to be you, somebody need you more than you’ll ever know and somebody wants you to be happy. There will always be someone who wants to know you and love you, to touch you, to treasure you and listen to your silent tears, to set you free but be your anchor – to keep you good. For someone – and if you’re lucky, for many “someones” – YOU are the person who makes the world make sense.

What a breath-taking, marvellous responsibility!

Appreciate. Truly appreciate the inexplicable, spontaneous acts of love. Sometimes beauty is hard, like the jagged edges of the coastline rocks, mellow like the twilight, fresh like the new grass or wise like the ripe heavy clouds of Autumn. Beauty has many faces, as does love.

So go out and paint with wide brush-strokes! Cover the world with your colours. Grab every possibility and bring them to life – who knows which will flourish and grow into life-long lessons? No-one can EVER take your spark and spirit away – not without your permission. And it would be a very great tragedy if you did not allow yourself to shine completely because of fear. This is what I hope for each day – this is how I want to live my life in joy and sorrow and hardship and delight; this is what I hope for the ones I love, this is what I hope for my students. On this awesome journey of discovery, I’ll run down the corridors of LIFE, kicking up the sands of imagination and knowledge and dare to dream with all my heart because that is how I’m built and this is what I understand best. So I hope I have the courage and grace to be the sort of dreamer who wakes often enough to make new and exciting realities – simply because I can!

September 2004

industrial cooking

February 9, 2015


Teachers…you KNOW this phenomenon. You KNOW this to be true!

life lessons from winnie-the-pooh

February 8, 2015

d4d2517a4d1ade860834c8190292619fThis is a beautiful collection of quotes selected + put together by Wallace Yovetich, first published on BookRiot on 4 September 2013.

I have always loved the wisdom of Pooh.


Your childhood is calling, it has some wisdom to share! Sometimes, when I go back and read old favorites, I’m surprised at how much good sense is packed into the books I read before I realized how important they were. The plots were always entertaining, but the life lessons lost on someone who had lived so very little life. Now that I am three decades in, quotes from childhood staples are surprisingly valid and poignant. Here are some of my favorites from A.A. Milne (creator of Winnie-the-Pooh and all of his friends).



Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”


“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”


“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”


“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”




“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”


“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”



“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”


“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”





“How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet

“You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”


“So perhaps the best thing to do is to stop writing Introductions and get on with the book.”