Whole-school sustainability planning and the Australian Curriculum

The whole-school approach to sustainability was recently shown to be the preferred method to embed Education for Sustainability in a systemic way in schools to facilitate sustainability learning across the Australian Curriculum. Read about the Education for Sustainability (EfS) and the Australian Curriculum federally funded project here:

The research also revealed that, whilst 92% of teachers consider sustainability an important concept for their students to learn, less than 20% of teachers know how to integrate sustainability into their teaching.

There are many opportunities in your school grounds to highlight EfS (Education for Sustainability) concepts, which encompass social, cultural, economic, personal as well as environmental sustainability, and provide a start for sustainability projects.

Staff at Wetland optimised

For example, a tour of the school grounds during an onsite workshop at Maitland Grossmann High School in the Hunter Valley, in July this year, surprised many of the teachers with the resources available at their fingertips for exploring EfS.This included remnant historical features from the original settlement of the school site, a constructed wetland, vistas of the Hunter River floodplain, an Aboriginal yarning circle, a Zen garden and food garden beds.


Projects in the school grounds can feed into subject outcomes and promote 21st century skills such as leadership, working in teams, social cohesion, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.

How do I get started with sustainability?

A great way to start on your school’s sustainability journey is to let the students take the initiative! If your school doesn’t have a green team, find some interested students and get them to survey other students and staff to find out where to start. For the survey template, sourced originally from the Sustainable Schools SA website (www.sustainableschools.sa.edu.au), click here

,Screen Shot attitudinal survey

Fnd some interested students and get them to map the school grounds to identify areas for a project to kickstart the process e.g. a biodiversity area

 by Sandra Nichols

More templates and resources are provided at the forthcoming course: Whole-school sustainability planning Friday 14 November

Visit www.educationforsustainability.com.au for ideas and resources on EfS and workshop testimonials.



Autism: Changing the Fabric of Education

Abandon girl

This year has been an interesting journey for me as an educator as I find my role to be increasingly one that is ‘teaching the teacher’. I came to this place by osmosis in a way as I sought to share more about autism awareness and how this knowledge can change the way a teacher teaches this unique student clientele.

I offer a number of courses on Autism Awareness and Using iPads in the Classroom Setting and I’ve been inspired by the passion and dedication by the many teachers who have taken these courses. Most have sought answers to the lack of knowledge they have on Autism and are desperate to make a difference to their students. Over the last two terms, I’ve felt excited and heartened that so many teachers not only want to make a difference, but want to ‘be’ that difference and have been open to make even the smallest change to help their students.

Autism is an increasing problem in education. The statistics in Australia are that 1 in 88 children are being born with Autism, which means in 15 years we are going to have 1 in 88 adults who will be on the Spectrum.  We have to as a community start thinking about the bigger picture and some significant changes need to occur as to how we approach this issue.

There is NO ‘one size fits all’ solution to the problem that is Autism. I think we need to spend less time on trying to finding a ‘cure’ and invest more energy into understanding the condition. There is a saying that “if you know one child who has Autism, you know one child who has Autism”.  So this tells us NO child is the same, therefore NO one therapy or intervention will work for every child.  However, what we do need as teachers is education, knowledge and awareness. Simply knowing how these children ‘think’ ; that they tend to be more visual, can instantly change the teaching dynamic. Knowing that many children on the Spectrum can’t look you in the eye because it is uncomfortable and even painful for them means that you won’t spend a huge amount of your teaching time insisting that your students look you in the eyes. Being aware that sitting to the side of a student on the Spectrum is far less intimidating than facing them can be the key that opens up trust and connection.

One thing I believe Autism teaches us is the nature of individualism and uniqueness. We just can’t put children in a box, irrespective of whether they have Autism OR if they are ‘neurotypical’.
All children learn differently. All children have different skills and abilities. All children have different interests. Some children will learn visually, some by doing, some verbally and some emotionally. Some children love Math and don’t like English; some love Science but don’t like Sport.  Doesn’t it make sense to create a differentiated curriculum to suit each child?

Does this idea make the job of the teacher harder?  Initially, yes. There will be more work and preparation to do, but ultimately if the child loves what they are learning, then behaviour problems will diminish, motivation will increase, concentration will improve and children will WANT to attend school.

The principle is the same for children on the Spectrum. Before I even consider a program for my students I need to spend some time observing, assessing and connecting. I need to understand how my student learns, what motivates them and what their sensory issues are. Each program needs to be uniquely and individually tailored to that child.

Parents with children on the Spectrum need our support. They need our understanding and they need our awareness. We owe children this!  Not only because of the benefits to them individually, but we owe it to them because as a community, we will be better off when we understand the importance and value of the Autism mind.

One of the greatest gifts I can give to parents is to ‘get it’. To understand what they are experiencing, to understand their child; and to see what they see in their child. I see parents’ faces light up when I recognize their children as more than just autistic. They often resolve to tears when I say “oh your child has the ability to achieve; we just have to find what motivates his desire to learn.”

 painted smiley on human fingers

Parents of children on the Spectrum are no longer willing to accept ‘less than’ education. Dr Tony Attwood, a well know expert on Asperger’s Syndrome said, “Parents of children on the Spectrum have a PHD in their child”. I find this to be profoundly true. They’ve also battled systems and authorities and have been constantly told to give up as their child will never achieve anything. Can you imagine how disheartening this must feel? Parents of students who have any kind of ‘disability’ are often the hardest to deal with because they’ve had to battle the hardest.  By the time that they get to school, they are in combat mode! Just letting them know you’re on their side will make a world of difference and YOU can’t just say it, you have to ‘be’ on their side. Parents after all want to be collaborators in their child’s education.

I view Autism through the eyes of potential and when I communicate this concept to parents I give them hope. Let’s make the path easier by supporting faster diagnosis methods, funding for support and therapies, and funding for community, education and professional awareness programs. In ten years we need these children to be shining with potential and productive, thriving members of society. Please watch this Ted Talk by Chris Varney. It is not only inspiring, but life changing for any educator.

by Karen Barley

“Taking education into the 21st Century”

Karen Barley is an internationally recognized educational consultant specializing in the needs of children with autism and their families. She has over 25 years of expertise as an educator, private one-on-one consultant, course developer and educational technology specialist.
Karen is especially successful connecting with children who have autism and creating behavioral, sensory and educational strategies that help children reach their full potential. Her highly personable style, combined with extensive research, knowledge and firsthand experience of the needs of children with autism, makes her extremely effective and innovative in tailoring individual solutions for families and their schools. Using new and existing approaches Karen integrates her pioneering work with iPad technology to create differentiated educational programs where children with autism can consistently experience success while learning.

In addition, Ms. Barley is an accomplished and engaging, sought after public speaker and teacher trainer. She has shared her significant insights and knowledge on such subjects as, Technology in Education, Technology and Autism, Autism Awareness, 21st Century Learning, Technology and Curriculum Development and other subjects in the United States, Australia and as a keynote guest speaker for international face to face and online conferences.



Know your stuff – the importance of depth of subject knowledge

Brainy School Kid Reading A Book


Today’s teacher is pulled in many directions – from the focus on teaching the curriculum, to results and endless paperwork.  Where is the time for keeping yourself up to date and developing a true depth of knowledge in your subject area?  And why should you bother?

Here is what some of our presenters think:

1.  Greater teacher confidence

Greater knowledge of your own subject area is generally linked with greater teacher confidence – and job satisfaction.   Dr Karen Lambert, Lecturer in PDHPE at The University of Sydney offers advice to teachers in the early years.  “Master your subject area and get even better at it.  Mastery is very important.  It is important to see you are good at your subject area.  And also to know you will get better and better as you go.”

2.  Better student engagement

“The world has changed.  The quality of what we teach and the way we teach needs to be different if we want to engage all our students,” says Anita Chin, maths teacher and consultant working in schools across Australia and New Zealand.

“What students value has changed…Knowing specialist content for your subject area and knowing your students [will help] to engage your students.”

3.  Improve student outcomes

Student outcomes will always benefit from teachers’ own depth of knowledge.  “In my experience,” notes Ken Webb, History and English HSC teacher and TTA presenter, “kids feel confident if their teacher knows what they are talking about.  There is no short cut – you need to read and research yourself.”

“If teachers don’t know the content in depth, in terms of developmental teaching sequencing, they can’t cater as well to the wide range of needs in any classroom,” says Anita Chin.

In the middle years, for example “…the challenge for high school teachers is that they need to know primary content and be able to go back [if students have gaps]…and ask how do I implement primary content in a high school content.”

How to achieve deeper subject knowledge

  1. Collaborate and draw on the knowledge around you.  There will be a wealth of knowledge in your own staffroom.
  2. Ensure that at least some of your professional development is centred on your own subject area, particularly for those teaching in secondary schools.
  3. Change your focus.  If you are doing too much of the hard classroom work yourself, is the balance right?  Can you work smarter not harder?


“The people who should be working hardest in any classroom are the students,” are Darryn Kruse’s wise words.   Darryn is the Principal of Williamstown High School, history teacher and expert in the area of the Inquiry Classroom.

“As a primary teacher – we don’t specialise but rather work across lots of areas so it is about connectivity.  It is about teaching literacy and numeracy within the context of say history.  So as primary teachers we need a deep understand of how things are connected… of how learning happens…Content is important but the pedagogy should come first,”  argues Jo Blannin, ICT specialist and primary teacher.

And finally, a message for leaders:  teachers need the time and space away from their classroom commitments in order to continually keep their subject knowledge up to date.  How about Ken Webb’s idea? Allow teachers to get out of the classroom for periods of time – perhaps in the form of a sabbatical in another school – so they can add significant value for themselves and other teachers.


To read more about these presenters and the courses they offer, visit their profile page on the TTA website: Darryn Kruse, Anita Chin, Ken Webb, Joanne Blannin, Kery O’Neill, Karen Lambert

TTA offers over 300 fully accredited, high quality practical professional development courses for teachers, delivered by over 200 experienced presenters across Australia via face to face or online.  www.tta.edu.au

Practical hands on strategies for science teachers.

With a passion for bioethics education Dr Siew Fong Yap had a dream to write a book that would assist teachers educating in the field of bio-ethical issues.

The new National Science curriculum provided her with an opportunity to develop an ebook that would assist science educators with practical hands on ideas for engaging with the strand “Science as a Human Endeavour“.

“I am passionate about highly effective teaching in the science classroom, especially in the area of biotechnology and bioethics.  “, says Dr Yap

Students are encouraged to think critically and make ethical decisions about the use of current technologies.

Teachers are provided with clear direction and frameworks with which to develop engaging lessons.

Click here to download the ebook Classroom Teaching Strategies in Bioethics education

Improving student outcomes (Part 2)

studentsWe asked 6 of our presenters, what they believe are the most important elements for improving student outcomes.  In the second part of this blog post, we here from our other 3 interviewees, all experienced classroom teachers and TTA presenters:


Ken Webb

Stage 6 teacher, Government and Independent schools in Modern, Ancient and Extension History. Senior marker for the NSW HSC, Member of the Independent Schools Examination Committee. Highly regarded author of History texts and Study Guides Australia wide.

In Stage 6, what has always worked for me is to focus on general planning and organisation.

For example, map out every lesson of the year.  Start by knowing exactly how many lessons you have in a year, the topics, number of lessons per topic, how many lessons will be personal research, how many will be video and so on.

You can also be spontaneous; but being anal about planning means that you can ensure variety in your teaching – and that helps kids.

And talk to people – share ideas…you will pick up great ideas – sometimes quite simple ones.


Anita Chin

Mathematics Consultant, K-8, across Australia and the USA.  Secondary teacher. Lecturer The University of Sydney.

For maths, the starting point is improving teachers’ knowledge of the content.

Student’s results will naturally improve if teachers better understand how the curriculum fits together across the years, because in any classroom students will span.

This is particularly evident in the middle years, where it is common for children’s learning to regress or appear that way, for example, with fractions and algebra.  In some Year 7 classrooms, only ½ the class will be learning at a Year 7 level.

Student outcomes could be improved if primary teachers had a better understanding of where students are coming from and going to – for example a year 5 teacher needs to know Year 3 and 4 content, as well as the content for Years 5,6 and 7.  Student outcomes would also be improved if secondary teachers had a better understanding of the Stage 2 and 3 curriculum.


Darryn Kruse

Principal and teacher at Williamstown High School, Victoria.  Teacher of history, social education and English Years 7 – 12.  Widely published author in the area of The Inquiry Classroom.  Experience teaching across Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and USA from Year 3 to university level.

  1. Understand individual learning goals for students
  2. Have a never-ending focus on growth; not merely completing tasks
  3. Ensure opportunities for students to discuss and throw out new ideas, to make mistakes and to take risks with learning in order to refine their ideas.  Mistakes are really good.  They are gateways to learning and growth if followed by reflection.
  4. Provide opportunities for students to reflect and synthesise new material, so they connect prior knowledge with new understandings


To read more about these presenters and the courses they offer, visit their profile page on the TTA website: Darryn Kruse, Anita Chin, Ken Webb

TTA offers ver 300 fully accredited, high quality practical professional development courses for teachers, delivered by over 200 experienced presenters across Australia via face to face or online.  www.tta.edu.au