As you are all well aware, we are seeing out the end of Term 3 in a continuation of Lockdown 6. As I begin my reflections this fortnight, I would like once again to acknowledge the genuine challenges which our students and staff continue to face, and to applaud their commitment. The "solutions focussed" approach which is consistently taken by both our staff and our students - especially our student leaders, who are trying to find ways to support their peers and maintain their spirit and enthusiasm - is a source of both pride and inspiration, and sets the bar for my own response to these trying times. Even on-campus learning is affected by end-of-term tiredness and stress in the final weeks of Term 3; finding ways to maintain momentum and to defeat the apathy which long-term remote learning tends to breed is an ongoing project in its own right, and I often find myself responding with significant (positive!) emotion to the contributions which so many members of our community make in this regard.
I encourage our students, and especially our senior students, to trust in their ability to make it through the last week or so of Term 3. The difficult days which we have already lived through provide evidence for our ability not just to survive in the face of adversity, but to triumph over it in ways both large (as when we manage the timely submission of a time-consuming project) and small (as when we muster the energy to choose a happy song and sing along to it so as to help ourselves feel better).
I am confident that all families will have been reading the emails and Teams messages distributed by Mr Page about the various recent announcements from the Premier, the DHHS and the DET. I won't repeat that material here, but I will just take a moment to remind our families about the prioritisation of vaccination appointments for students in Unit 4 subjects (i.e. students expecting to sit a VCAA examination in October/November).
For those who missed it last week, the Victorian Department of Health is hosting a second session of the live webinar for final year school students, their families and educators to provide information on COVID-19 vaccination. You can join the free webinar on Thursday 9 September, 6-7pm. Registration is via this link.
Topics covered include:
- Vaccines, development and safety
- Accessing and consenting to a vaccination
- How to book an appointment
- Q+A with the panel.
This event will be held via Microsoft Teams Live. For access information visit Attend a live event in Teams.
Modern society has, of course, benefited strongly from its past commitment to large scale vaccination. The fact that deaths in Australia due to serious infectious diseases like measles, polio and tuberculosis are almost unheard of is, in itself, a powerful reminder of the positive impact which public health programs of this sort - and vaccination programs in particular - can have on our quality of life and the health of those around us. This is quite apart from the fact that it is increasingly apparent that government policies aimed at reducing restrictions and shortening existing lockdowns are dependent on a high level of public commitment to vaccination. For both of these reasons, but mainly to ensure their health and the ongoing health of those with whom they interact, I join both the DHHS and the DET in encouraging our senior students to take advantage of this opportunity.
Reports and Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences (Online)
This year the Term 3 reports will be released via Compass at 9am on Friday 10th September. At the same time, bookings will open for the Term 3 Parent-Student-Conferences. These meetings will once again be held online, mainly via the Teams environment. Students will receive a call from their teacher/s at the time of their appointment, and will be encouraged to sit with their parent/s and have a three-way conversation about their progress and their next steps. Parents who anticipate that they will not be able to attend the PST Conferences via this mechanism are encouraged to contact me (email@example.com) to discuss alternative arrangements.
The focus on conversation is an important one. In designing our reports, the school realised that no report format will ever succeed in capturing all the nuances of each student's learning experience. Instead, they are designed to provide a snapshot that prompts conversations between the student and their teacher, the student and their parent/s, and the parent/s and the teacher.
These conversations should, like the reports themselves, celebrate the progress each student has made, and seek to identify the next steps which the student might make to further advance their understanding, skills and learning strategies. They are always part of a larger picture which includes an understanding of how the wellbeing of the student may also have had an impact on their ability to learn, and of the fact that remote learning places different barriers in the paths of learners than they encounter in an on-campus learning environment. This year, students have had to cope with a significant amount of remote learning, and I encourage them to take the opportunity presented by this reporting cycle to reflect on their achievements with some pride. The "sameness" of each day in lockdown can make it hard to see how far we have come and how many things we have actually achieved. This may be a good time to do an activity to provide some perspective on this - for example, I often suggest that Year 12 English students take a moment to read something they wrote at the start of Year 11 (or even Year 9). The contrast can be startling, and is always heartening!
Appointments for PST Conferences will be available at the following times:
- Thursday 16 September 1pm - 8:30pm
- Friday 17 September 9am - 2pm
Bookings will close at 2pm on Wednesday 15 September.
A small number of staff will be unavailable for some or all of the PST Conference period. Parents who wish to talk to these teachers are encouraged to email them directly via Compass, or to contact Ms Viv Horner (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that she can pass the request on. In this case, parents should expect some communication from the teacher involved during the first two weeks of Term 4.
Parents of Year 9 students who sat this year's NAPLAN tests can expect to receive their students' result soon; they were mailed out recently, and will arrive as soon as Australia Post can get them to you! As usual, overall our students did extremely well this year, and I would like to commend the staff at their previous schools as well as their families for helping them to achieve these outcomes.
There was some concern that the student outcomes in this and other forms of testing might be significantly lower this year due to the impact of the 2020 lockdowns, and it is certainly true that the NAPLAN results for 2021 will allow us to identify individual students whose skill base in either numeracy or literacy may have been affected in this way. A preliminary reflection on the school's results, however, shows a profile very similar indeed to that of previous years. Here, for example, is an early glimpse of the school's data for reading over the last five years, scaled against the nation and the state:
I hope that this gives both our students and their parents some confidence in the notion that they are not "behind" compared to some external scale of learning. In any event, such scales are of little use to the individual learner except in the event that they allow that learner to identify the next area in which they should put their effort, and give them a tool to measure the outcome of that effort.
Holidays and Year 12 Holiday Homework
The break between Terms 3 and 4 is an unusual one for our Unit 4 students, and especially for our Year 12s. As usual, our first advice in relation to the holiday break for all of our students is to recognise that their "job" at this time is to rest and rejuvenate themselves by focussing on "leisure and pleasure" over consecutive days. For our Year 12s, however, this does have to be balanced against the recognition that they will return to only two weeks of classes, followed by swot vac and the VCAA examination period.
For this reason, it can be useful for our Year 12 students to think of this break as a non-contact period rather than a holiday per se, and to put in place a deliberate study program (even if they have not tended to use one of these to date). The study timetable should have several days "off" built into it, preferably at the start of the break. It is vital that our students rest and recover from what has been, for some, a grueling term. In the second half of the holidays, though, they should heed their teachers' advice and do things like consolidating their notes and beginning their revision program, with a particular focus on identifying the areas where they lack understanding or need more practice. This will allow them to return to school in Term 4 with a very clear focus, and with a set of questions that they can ask their teachers when they return so as to ensure that they are working efficiently and effectively.
This entry from me has been very focussed on academic matters, but life at Nossal has not only been happening in its remote classrooms of late. As promised in our last newsletter, Nossal has recently celebrated Book Week with a series of very well-received presentations and workshops by authors, along with quizzes and competitions ranging from an opportunity to dress up to an opportunity to write creatively.
Book Week came after an equally successful Science Week, and led into Wellbeing Week which included a dedicated screen-free day and a serious of kahoots and activities (including online Zumba!) coordinated by our dedicated team of student Wellbeing Leaders and the supportive staff of our Wellbeing Team. This week, we are in the midst of two online celebrations: Languages Diversity Week and Nossal's Got Talent. We are also going to be treated to the annual Staff v Student Debate.
Both Diversity week and NGT are going strongly, and I would encourage our students to show some of the NGT entries to their parents. They are a heartening reminder of the great creative potential in our cohort, and of their willingness to share their talents with their peers for the benefit of all. I commend all of the students - and the dedicated staff working to facilitate them - who have contributed to helping Nossal maintain a sense of school life outside of the timetable and beyond the constraints of academic thinking.
As I noted in opening this reflection, this term has felt long and hard for all members of our community. I encourage you strongly to take whatever advantage you can during the upcoming holiday break to leave thoughts of school and schooling - whether as a student, a teacher, or a parent trying to support their children while working beside them - to one side and focus on enjoying the slowly warming weather and the slowly lengthening days.
Recognising the positive things in our lives and taking a moment to make gratitude an active part of our day can sometimes feel like another job, another act of will that you have to gather energy to make, but it is always worthwhile.
Personally, I find opportunities for gratitude in all sorts of very mundane things - hot water on tap, which gifts me with the magically healing properties of a warm shower, roads and transport options that allow me to drive to the edge of my 5km bubble so that I can maximise the time I spend exercising with someone I would otherwise not be able to see in person, the impulse to creativity and to share our creations that gives me a song to sing every morning. These are mine even in the midst of lockdown, and I'm glad that they are.
I hope that the last week or so of term, and the weeks of the break, are filled with things that it's easy for you to feel grateful for, and that the experience of that gratitude brings you joy.