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The thing is, if you want a child to become more confident, you cannot say, “Just be more confident!” Yet how many of us as teachers are completely guilty of this? I find myself saying this to my students despite myself, with ill-founded best intentions to support and build them up in confidence.
So what do you do?
You make eye contact with them.
You catch them in a moment where they are doing the right thing and you celebrate it.
Use their name, and not just in vain. Because you are glad to see them.
Thank them for the times they have done something to the best of their ability.
You are playful with them.
You see and acknowledge things about them that they did not even realise themselves.
And you love them and value them for who they are, not what they will become, even if it’s your duty of care to pull them forward and draw this out of them. You love them exactly as they are.
And then their confidence will grow, sure and steady, and the tiniest thing will take, and spark, and flourish.
Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
“…but you persist in playing the greatest hits like some passive-aggressive Spotify playlist!” has to be one of the GREATEST quotes ever!
I clicked on this out of pure curiosity. I’m glad I did, as I came away with lots of snippets of information, having enjoyed it much more than I expected.
WOW, today. SUCH a huge example of the quote: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
This morning, I experienced that quote realised in full colour. Playing for a young man who has struggled long and hard throughout his schooling, supported by a small nation of staff, adults, family and friends, and undertaking modified Year 12 Solo Performance with me this year.
He was the pre-music for the whole school assembly, singing “Let It Be”, and quite simply brought the house down. The response was tear-worthy and unprecedented. My heart was beating out of my chest at the piano, and not from nerves. All of it was pure buoyancy and joy at the moment he was creating. 🌟
Thank you so much to the Pulteney community, teachers + students, who have been so open in their support of him this morning. He is walking around believing that Year 12 Solo Performance, and life in general, is possible.
I have to say, tutoring + accompanying for him is VERY much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Honest-to-God, you really DON’T know what you’re gonna get. It’s an exciting ride from beginning to end, and I think John Lennon + Paul McCartney would have gotten a laugh out of how many viable combinations of words you could get out of Verse 1 alone, when applied to the entire song, INCLUDING the instrumental interlude.
Isn’t it extraordinary that when we look back to our most influential teachers and mentors, they are the same age as when they taught us? That they have somehow remained suspended in mid-air and time, exactly as they were when we were 11 years old, or high school, or university?
What force granted us the means to stamp them into a moment of time? Shouldn’t we apply the same grace as they gave us, and allow them to grow as well?
I think of my most treasured mentors, who filled me with such confidence, love, and joy for my learning, and seemed so limitless and wise. I am 10, 15, 20 years older and in the middle of my own teaching career, and I have learned + fallen, failed and grown. I’ve changed; why should I think they haven’t?
Why shouldn’t I allow them greater wisdom, tenderness, and the passing of time?
It’s so easy to think of them as timeless, and limitless, but they are people on the same continuum, growing, changing, and being affected by life. It’s the same story I preach to all my students, and yet I catch myself forgetting to apply that insight and grace to my own teachers, parents, mentors.
No-one is limitless.
And when you allow that humanity, they become more scarily fragile and vulnerable, but all the more beautiful and touchable.
And I guess that’s the lesson I am teaching to my students as well; that as bright and as energised as I am, I, too, am not limitless. I am beautifully, touchably human.
You know that Autumn rain that is temperate, but not cold? That is not harsh, but is undeniably cool and soothing? One that makes the windows misty and grey, and the insides of houses and cafes seem warmer without even trying?
That is what I long for right now, and that is what is predicted for us in Adelaide this week. Beautiful Autumn rain.
The sort of rain that makes you long for pumpkin soup and woollen socks, to be wrapped up in cuddly large-knit throws, with hands cupped around a hot chocolate. Molten and dribbling cheese toasties. Baking.
On the couch in a nest of pillows, reading, or dreaming, or writing, or composing, or conversing, letting time draw longer and longer, deliciously, into the afternoon.
It’s the time of shedding leaves and shedding fears, embracing change. It’s a time of preparing for deep rest and reflection. A time to lay down foundations, slowly and methodically. There will be no green and promise right now, only gentle goodbyes.It’s the time where stocks and stews are made to nourish the soul, and the heart, where life still has a steady optimism and heartbeat before the real metamorphosis of winter begins. It’s transient, but not unbearable. It’s shifting, it’s changing, and it’s beautiful.
I love this rain, still welcoming to walk outside in, fresh and new, but pulling enough that you’ll want to be inside, dreaming. And if it’s constant, in steady slow blunt tears, there’s such a cleansing beauty to it.
It inspires and washes away, without harshness, like a person lit up internally by their work, glowing. It’s the focus that goes into creating. It’s simple and nourishing. It’s inspiring.
I love the safety and serenity of routine. It’s not the predictability I crave, but the idea that in this passage, I can change one variable and watch an infinite number of little nuances change afterward. How I choose to start my choral rehearsals even though there is a set routine; how I create a change in momentum when there is a framework.
The thing is, change shakes us up in the best way possible. Some of it can be self-inflicted, and some of it is as out-of-the-blue and unpredictable as they come. Either way, you need to adapt. Sit with the newness of it all, figure it out, ask for help, wonder, worry, celebrate, and play with the puzzle pieces. Without change, there is no new life. No new discoveries.
The tiniest change, such as smile and an extra word of conversation can change me, or positively affect my health, or change my attitude. The bigger changes, such as a loss, a death, a sadness, the passing of life and time, change of job, or living situation, the birth of a child, a new friendship…all of these add richness and complexity to the safety. The safety is charming and unashamedly safe. But change, with all its haphazardness, and sometime pure stealth and quietness, can take me by the sleeves of my well-worn jumper and pull me forward into living in the most unexpected, creative, and innovative ways.
Today, I’m looking back on all the little changes. And I am so happy for the monumental ways they have shaped my life.
Trust your struggle.
Trust your struggle, because without struggle, there is no grit against which softness can mellow, no darkness upon which light can shine, no marker for something more extraordinary.
Trust your struggle, because in those moments of adversity, you learn…my God, you learn more than you know, and sometimes it can take you years to understand the core of that gift. But you don’t think that, because at that exact moment, you are IN struggle.
Trust your struggle, because you find new corners of yourself, new ounces of strength, new colours.
Trust your struggle, it gives you the truest friends.
Trust your struggle, because you have the capacity to figure it out. You just don’t have to do it all at once.
Struggle with trust, love, and hope…we all of us are made for struggle, so that we may grow.
This is the speech I wrote for the New Teachers Induction Day in January this year, which was then edited for the opening credits of the whole school staff week at Pulteney Grammar.
The chance to write this speech + share my thoughts was wonderful, terrifying, and exhilarating. The best part of the whole experience was knowing that my best + most honest voice was coming through…because I could feel the butterflies every moment of delivering it! And somehow, it also felt like the most natural + joyful thing to do as well.
Here it is.
Pulteney Opening Credits: Week Zero 2016
Monday 25th January 2016
Welcome back everyone + Happy New Year to you all. I’m really glad to see you all.
So here I stand before you, the ultimate sucker. Because not only did I say “yes” to speaking at the New Staff Induction Day, I said “yes” to editing my speech + speaking this morning. And while on one hand I’m very honoured to be asked, I feel the overwhelming need to let everyone know that after this one, I am retiring from my speech-making career for 2016, there will be no trilogy, there are no plans to record, and I’m going to go back into the Music Centre to do that arm-waving thing I’m good at!
So what I was asked to do last Friday was recount my experiences last year as a new teacher. I said yes to this because Greg pulled this awesome ninja move at the end of last year in engineering my saying yes to speaking. I thought I was being conscientious in my emailing Greg + Nick to ask if I needed to be inducted. No response. Little did I know that when I showed my face at Student Reception, Greg would be there to say, “Hey Annie, no, you don’t need to be inducted, but we’d love you to speak!” Which was devastating, because I didn’t even get the chance to be excited about not being inducted…
….“No! Not fair! How did that happen?!”
But I knew also that I was happy to do so, because my arrival at Pulteney was somewhat unconventional, and less that a year later, I find myself completely at home in the Pulteney community, and happy to be here contributing.
As many of you know, I came from Brighton Secondary School, where I taught for 10 years, and then one year in Sydney teaching at the Conservatorium High School and working as the Composer-in-Residence for the Sydney Children’s Choir. As a brand new teacher, to have Brighton as your placement is unheard of. And to be there as a Music teacher, working in a Specialist Interest Music Department was extraordinary, and gave me my grounding + skills as a teacher. I left Brighton at the end of 2013 purely because I felt it was time to try something new. It was a decision that took 3 years to make, and was one of the hardest choices I’d ever made, because I could have happily stayed there until I was 70. I left on the best terms possible; very proud of what the Music team + I had achieved in quality of ensembles, core curriculum, and being innovative in music education. In 2014, I took a year’s leave without pay, and I accepted the offer to work with the Sydney Children’s Choir, and to teach at the Conservatorium High School. The year challenged + extended me in every way, particularly as a specialist music teacher and choral composer, and was the year of growth that I had looked for. I hoped to stay in Sydney for one more year, but the Con High School weren’t able to offer me full-time, so I returned to Adelaide at the end of 2014, decided to access 6 months’ worth of long service leave, work on my Master of Education + some composing commissions, and decide where I wanted to head next.
Interestingly, as much as I missed the Brighton community + teaching there, I knew that I wanted to look for a new place of work. I didn’t know what that was for a while…but when Day 1 of Term 1 2015 rolled around, I remember thinking, “Wow…and I’m not done with teaching yet. I absolutely want to be back in the classroom.” The job for Pulteney Grammar came up, and I went for it + won it.
That was my background before Pulteney, which is important that you know because when I arrived at Pulteney, I did so with a whole heap of my own expectations. What happened in 2015 was an unexpected and wonderful transformation of mindset for me. Coming into a school in Week 8 of Term 1, full-time, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’m used to running fast, but running fast, full-time, and being brand new as of Week 8, Term 1? That’s hard. I think the mental gymnastics was up there with air traffic control. I made a lot of mistakes that are funny now, but were stressful then. It was also the first time that I would be picking up SACE Stage I + II independently, and even though I’d taught several subjects within both courses, I had never been in charge of looking after EVERYTHING. I was picking up classes from Year 6 to 12 halfway through their learning and having to build a rapport, establish routines, and look after the music ensembles I assigned to me.
So I did something unusual for me; I gave myself permission to concentrate on only one thing; to teach good quality lessons. This is very different from how I normally approach the start of a school year. I would normally sign up for the extra-curricular activities, find a way to be with my tutor group outside of tutor group time, and start connecting with the community outside of music. But I was very aware of the responsibility I was picking up with Year 11 + 12, so I thought I needed to do things differently to allow myself the energy + headspace to do the best by them.
It’s extraordinary now to look back and remember giving myself that instruction because when I looked back over the year at the end of the 2015, the outcome could not have been more different to what I expected. I, initially, did nothing about embedding myself into the Pulteney community, and yet, it embedded itself around me. The first thing I noticed when I began teaching here was the strength of the community and how connected parents, staff, students, and wider public are to the school. Everyone wants you to feel like you have your place, and the staff – all of you – and students, made me feel so welcome. The students at Pulteney were a big deciding factor in my accepting my position this year, and the school feels like a healthy and innovative place to be.
My Year 11 and 12 students were a lesson in gratitude and transformation for me. I expected just to work; I didn’t expect them to invest so much of themselves in me in my first year. I also wanted to take them at their own value; I purposely didn’t want my previous teaching at Brighton to affect how they interacted with me, so I just showed up, prepared for my lessons, and taught. But I quickly found that they want to know you as a teacher + person, that they hunger for connection + excellence. And they are willing to take risks. I brought with me things that made perfect sense in my teaching practice; being recorded in a master class setting, performing in front of junior classes, and having to perform on a weekly basis. In hindsight, it would have been a lot to adapt to; but they did, and they trusted + leaned into my teaching. They began to ask what a merit student looked and sounded like, and how they could get there themselves. It was a transformative year of interaction + learning…for them, as well as me.
Coming from an established school and then having to start again is scary. I spent a lot of time asking random questions of whoever was unlucky enough to be walking by, just out of sheer desperation. I thought, well I’m going to milk this “new” label for as long as I can because at some point, they will expect me to know stuff. I loved learning and adapting at Pulteney because people want you to succeed and want to assist. I went through roughly and 8-week period where I would rock up every morning to the Senior School staffroom and let rip a whole tidal wave of questions, and someone would be there to answer them. I am sure that Mark, Ken, Irene + Jarvs must have deeply resented being early people to arrive at school, because they copped a lot of it. Staff + students who didn’t know me were coming by the Music Centre just to say hello. The only time I resented this was at parent-teacher interviews…you know how you have parents that just drop in and say, “I just thought I’d come by and say hello!” And in your head, you’re thinking, “That’s great! The words I least want to hear right now that I’m busting, starving, and completely incoherent!”
I’ve had some awesome moments of failure in my first term of teaching; and every time, I’ve felt supported in the response of all of you around me, regardless of how small the problem may have seemed. Probably one of the funniest moments is when I released a Year 8 Music Class out 20 minutes early, and they just all left with massive grins on their faces, all TWENTY FOUR of them!…I had the “OH, BUGGER” moment, flew across the basketball courts, chased them down, and finished the lesson in the middle quadrangle with rhythm games. This would all have been fine and my pride would have been completely intact, but of COURSE Malcolm walked by with a parent tour. So he did the long-distance arm-wave, and I did my best casual return wave, but I can just have imagined the explanation…”Yes, she’s one of the Music teachers. She’s new.” While I think I’m pretty resilient at looking stupid, knowing that I have this steadfast support has meant that I can breathe easier, there is less stress, and there is more self-care and room to grow.
I didn’t expect Pulteney to be all that I found it be and I came in with high expectations…I arrived with the willingness to work hard, and with an open mind. At the end of Term 3 when I had to make a decision between my existing permanency at Brighton, and permanency at Pulteney, it was the work of the community around me, and the slow change in mindset that allowed me to accept permanency at Pulteney, and be excited about the future I was investing in.
Thank you to all of you for 2015…you all had such a big effect. With some sadness, I realise I have to look like I know what I’m doing now!
All the very best to you all for 2016.
This is an article I wrote for the Pulteney Weekly Review, the first article I have written for the school.
“From The New Music Teacher…”
And silently in my head; And I hope you know what you guys have signed up for!
From The New Music Teacher: The Article [Text]
You know the opening credits of Mr Bean, where he lands in a new environment and then runs around trying to find his bearings, arms flailing, look of wide-eyed terror? That’s how I felt, and probably looked, in my first few weeks at Pulteney. Starting in Week 8 of Term 1 is a privilege that I would not wish on anyone, yet I could not have been more supported, welcomed, and whole-heartedly embraced by a community. With no time for opening credits or staff inductions, it was straight to business with music classes and ensembles from Year 6 to 12, a Year 11 pastoral care group, and all the concerts and events that came with these groups.
With each day came new discoveries, new faces, new understandings…and many, many failures in the name of learning. For example, in my second official week of teaching, I released my Year 8 Music class 20 minutes early, and then had to chase them through the school and finish the lesson in the middle of the quadrangle…as a parent tour group calmly walked passed…”Yes, I’m the new, OTHER, Music teacher…”
Now, in the middle of Term 3, on a pontoon after an epic few weeks of concerts and competitions, I take time to express my thanks and gratitude to the Pulteney community for welcoming me and supporting me through this year. The community spirit at Pulteney is so strong and secure that the moment I walked into my teaching role, I noticed it immediately…in the parent support groups, in the school events, and in the way other staff and students relate to one another. It’s a healthy and affirming environment to be.
I thank Kym Wilson and Ali O’Connell for their unwavering support of me, and constantly getting me up to speed; and the team of instrumental teachers for their limitless work and care that they pour into the music students, which allows them to flourish in the ensembles I direct. I thank the Pulteney staff for their whole-hearted support of me, with some even making the effort to visit me in the Music Centre to welcome me in those first few frantic weeks. I thank the leadership teams across the whole school, in Prep, Middle and Senior Schools, as I have the very unique responsibility of teaching across almost the entire cohort of students. With their compassion and deep understanding of their students, I have been able to build an understanding of my classes to be able to teach effectively, as I developed my own rapport with my classes.
Most of all, I thank the students I teach. I am overwhelmed with gratitude at how you have handled an unusual and sudden change of teacher. Here, I particularly acknowledge my Year 11 and 12 students, who have embraced me as a teacher and trusted me enough to lean into my teaching in their very important senior years of study, without question, just a genuine desire for excellence in learning.
The joy I have experienced working with you each day, getting to know your personalities, and making new musical discoveries has been truly wonderful for me. There is a genuine curiosity and desire to learn in our students, and I am privileged to be able to work with classes who are willing to take a risk, be innovative, and embrace new challenges.
I look forward to continuing to help you grow, musically, academically, and personally, in whatever way I am able.
With spots, stripes, and ridiculous amounts of colour!
Ms Annie Kwok