Transcript of Episode 5

Music

Julia Brennan:
Hi, I’m Julia Brennan and I’m Creative Arts Advisor for K-6 across NSW and the department of schools. And today I’m speaking with Unity Taylor-Hill and she’s Principal at Anzac Park so we’ve got some lovely things we’ll be chatting about today. Just before we get started if you want to follow this podcast series remember to go to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au or if you’re not from the department you can also log in through Facebook or create your own SoundCloud account. So, let’s get started. Unity and I have known each other for a really long time, so it’s really nice to have you here today Unity.

Unity Taylor-Hill:
Thanks, Julia.

Julia:
We met a gazillion years ago as targeting grads out at South Coogee Public, those were the good old days and we were young and had a bit of a spring in our steps. And at the time we were both relatively new to teaching and had just finished university and we bonded over our mutual love of the arts and our united belief in the importance of the arts in the classroom. So, from then I found out a little bit about Unity and I’m sure she’ll fill us in a little bit more on that. But in her current role as Principal at Anzac Park she also embeds the arts and loves the arts and really promotes it in her school so we’ll find out a bit more about that today. But I bet many of us didn’t know that she was actually, I don’t know, maybe she still is quite an accomplished cellist and the arts really influenced her journey today. So, Unity do you want to tell us a little bit about how your arts education journey started?

Unity:
Yeah, thanks Julia. I think it was my cello playing that actually got me my targeted grad position at South Coogee. Our principal at the time had ticked the box for string ensemble and whilst I was told that I would never get a targeted grad position in the Eastern Suburbs, it was actually my string experience that got me that position that I was very fortunate to get at the time. So, it helped in so many different ways about employment within the department, one that helped me end up at South Coogee. Arts education has been and the arts in general is something that is really important to me and something that I think has come from the importance played on the arts and from my family. Musical instruments and learning a musical instrument was non-negotiable growing up. And I did go through the piano, the violin and finally settled on the cello. But also my mother was an artist and a writer as well so she would often have canvases going at home and would paint throughout her life. So, the role of the arts and the importance of arts really came from the home but also through my journey and education.

Julia:
Why do you see the arts as being important for our students in our school? I mean obviously Anzac Park you would have a big influence in the arts.

Unity:
I think the arts provide our students with that opportunity to understand the world and also understand the world from different perspectives. It also provides that opportunity for us to create and to express ourselves in ways that we can’t necessarily express our emotions and our feelings in other ways. We have a very diverse range of students at Anzac Park including a support unit for children on the autism spectrum and providing opportunities for students to be able to have that opportunity to express themselves but also understand through the arts is really crucial.

Julia:
Is it possible and I’m sure you’ve got teachers on your staff who don’t quite have the arts experience that you’ve had and we do see that hours of arts training are declining in our university sector. Is it possible for a teacher with limited experience to be able to teach the arts?

Unity:
Look, from my own experience I would say you know naturally music was something you know from a graduate teacher that I felt very confident in teaching although when teaching alongside you in music I always felt that I couldn’t quite keep up. But certainly for me as part of my university degree I majored in my final year in drama education with Robin Ewing out at Sydney Uni and having no experience in drama at all but spending that time in my final you know year of undergraduate study focusing on drama provided me with that understanding of the fact that you don’t have to be good at drama to see the worth and the value of teaching drama. And for me that understanding of the arts as a process rather than a product and that providing students with that opportunity to explore through drama and through the arts doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert yourself, it means that you’re on the journey with the student to find that new understanding. I certainly don’t feel as a teacher that I had a personal expertise in visual arts but it was always something that I enjoyed teaching. I don’t think that you need to have a personal expertise in the arts to teach it well. I think it has to do with the fact that I think it is very innate in humans to enjoy the arts and to express through the arts and I think we all hold that sense of the importance of learning through arts that you know we all have that capacity to be excited and learn and teach through those programs.

Julia:
Alright, so you’ve said something that’s really excited me in there. I didn’t realise how much drama you had had or how much drama experience you’d had. So, let’s rewind twenty one years. So, you’re a beginning teacher and you’d like to do some drama in your classroom, how do you go about it? Where do you start?

Unity:
For me it was understanding you know through quality picture books particularly was my way into really exploring drama and that idea of processed drama. You know I see teachers you know pick up the most amazing picture books and read the whole book to their class in one hit and I think there are so many lost moments within rich picture books to provide you know opportunities to explore you know point of view and to explore perspective and to explore narrative through you know different drama activities. It was …

Julia:
… changing and talking about the different perspective role playing …

Unity:
Yeah, things like you know hot seating or things like tapping into a character where they are.

Julia:
So, as in putting that perspective in your line as your …

Unity:
Absolutely and trying to understand the characters’ motives and what they’ve done and understand provide such a richer understanding. You know at Anzac Park we are really keen on making sure we’re teaching those 21st century capabilities and that idea of critical thinking and understanding you know through particularly through drama and the art forms, that development of critical thinking through some of those techniques is absolutely hand in hand.

Julia:
You mentioned hot seating, we might just explain that for say a beginner teacher who has never heard that. What did you mean in that situation?

Unity:
So, hot seating is a drama technique that where students take on one of the characters in a book and then the class or as a teacher are asked questions as the child takes on that character. So, you know a child can be you know one of the characters from a book, you know like the Dad pig in Piggy book is a really great example. You know understanding motivation through interviewing a student and asking them to take on that character and understand.

Julia:
So, you were the Dad and I might say something like why did you do that to Mum today? Or something along those lines.

Unity:
That’s right and you know the student can try and justify those choices that the father you know Daddy pig has made through understanding through that technique.

Julia:
Beautiful, thanks Unity for explaining that, it’s important. Look, you’ve been a principal in quite a few schools now and had some really important influential roles over the years, how have you managed to keep the arts as something important to you?

Unity:
For me the arts is a really important part of education and I think you know our role as educators is to prepare you know and prepare our children to be successful in life and I think that the arts is a really important part in that. So, in creating the whole child and wanting to you know the whole wellbeing of a child, you know the arts is a really important part of that whole child development.

Julia:
You mentioned your 21st century skills and those the 4Cs. How does that sort of fit in with what you’re talking about?

Unity:
Look I think you know recently we saw the CESE paper released regarding you know critical and creative thinking skills and you know that research is showing us that you know you can teach children to be more creative and you can teach them to be more critical. But the research is saying that it needs to be done within a context and it needs to be done within content. And I think the arts is everything natural way to explore those 21st century capabilities and an awesome forum for that.

Julia:
So, look a lot of people are absolutely fascinated by the Anzac Park model. Talk to us about what a day in the life of the arts would be at Anzac Park. What does it look like? How do you deal with the arts at Anzac Park?

Unity:
Yeah, so for those of you who aren’t aware of Anzac Park we are a new school that opened in 2016 and we have a really clear vision in that we want to make sure that that we’re utilising and embedding evidence based practices in our teaching and learning but also making sure we’re preparing our students for life in the 21st century. So, we have five what we call drivers as part of our vision for learning. And one of those drivers is what we call creating connectors and that is that we have a conceptual inquiry approach to our teaching and learning. As part of that this year we have launched what we’ve called the eight big questions scope and sequence. All of the syllabus outcomes and content in the key learning areas of English, geography, history, science and the arts and PDHPE now with the new syllabus are brought under eight big questions. So, the students explore through a conceptual lens those big questions and work through those different key learning areas and understanding. So, an example of that is you know our students at the moment are exploring how do we know? As their big question this term. They’re looking at how do we know through a geographical lens of place and space and exploring through that concept but how do we know through the arts has been a really exciting question for our students to embark on? An example of that is tonight our Stage 3 students are holding their first Vivid evening where all of the students in Year 5 and 6 are creating light installations that respond to that question, how do we know? So, when I went around yesterday and spoke to our Stage 3 students I said how does your artwork explore that question how do we know? And some of the students had responded in creating an artwork using lights, how do we know? We know through nature and we know through the natural world. We have students saying how do we know? We know through research and we know through our memories and have created artworks exploring some of those concepts of how do we know? My favourite artwork was when I saw some boys and they had created a whole lot of boxes with they’ve put fluro spray paint and all these different lights. It’s a very big, life size kind of boxes and I said ‘Well boys, tell me how do we know?’ And they said ‘Well, we know because the neurons in our brains can communicate the outside world in and that communication is how we know’. So, the buildings had represented the brain and how we communicate and the lights were how the neurons in our brain connect. So, we’re seeing very deep. So, we’re seeing you know eleven year old boys exploring some of those big questions that are really exciting way to explore the arts by opening up some of those big questions and allowing the arts to provide a forum for those children to be able to explore them.

Julia:
How fantastic is the whole Vivid light show full stop? It’s such a magical way of moving forward with the arts. It’s incredible.

Unity:
Yeah and I think having that audience for their work is really important as well. So, we have a big community evening this evening where you know parents can come and share and develop that deeper understanding of that big question and appreciate the understanding that the students have developed.

Julia:
People out there probably like me have got a million questions about this, so how long has this process been going for?

Unity:
So, each term they have a big question, so this has been part of the big question for Term 3. For next term, you know it’s around story. And so we’re seeing our teachers at the moment getting ready to explore narrative and story through dance and through music. So, being able to utilise technology particularly we utilise programs such as garage band for our students to be able to create music. But you know I know that our students will be composing their own music based on their own stories next term using garage band but then creating their own dance music video using green screen to provide a dance that goes with the music that they’ve composed.

Julia:
In saying that I’m just going to throw a little plug in here because in the Vocal Ease More resource that came out last year we’ve actually now got a digital unit in there about how to create your own music video clips. How do you actually resource this sort of project that you’re talking about in terms of I’m imagining with the Vivid light show that you’ve got a bit of expense in gathering together equipment and things like that? How could people go about doing that if they wanted to?

Unity:
Look, a lot of the materials that the students are using are recycled materials. So, as I said you know our boys with their neuron buildings how to utilise cardboard boxes and found materials. But then we have also dedicated you know our budget and our parents have supported you know that the budget in these programs. So, I think it is important for school communities and for schools to be prioritising the arts and making sure that they’re well-funded so that programs can be you know operate.

Julia:
Look, my next question to you is going to be around the fact that we have got quite an old syllabus for the creative arts and how do you keep the flame alive? I don’t think I need to ask that, you’ve just answered that already. It’s so exciting. What happened in Term 1 and 2?

Unity:
I’ll go back to your question around the old and the new syllabus. I think what stays true with the old syllabus is the fact that you know that idea of organising sound, that idea of it making and appreciating you know are really timeless ways of looking through the arts. And whilst it has been around since you and I started teaching, it’s certainly is one that can be applied well, you know into new ways of programming and thinking about how you know the parts can fit together.

Julia:
Alright, well Unity another thing that’s really fascinated me is a lot of principals and teachers are struggling with making a start in the arts. You’ve given us some great ways of doing that, do you have any advice particularly for the principals out there who are thinking I don’t know how to get into this space, I don’t know how to promote the arts further in my school, some of my teachers are struggling with the arts or I’ve got various other constraints and I’m feeling a lot of other external pressures. Can you give them any advice on how to get this journey going?

Unity:
I think for me the arts needs to be seen as not an add on program but actually central to the work that we do and it actually enriches our programs rather than needs to be added on as additional to our programs. We do have, you know at Anzac Park like many schools you know extracurricular programs in the arts and the passion that our teachers show in the arts as we did as young teachers contributing to school communities through leading choirs and string ensembles in my case but you know the teachers that we see coming in with a background in the arts and allowing those teachers to be able to bring that expertise that they have into their programs I think is really special and helps build that you know sense of the importance of the arts but also seeing how the arts can be embedded within our programs. So, you know that idea of you know how did we become to be or our big questions of how do we know? You know how can we explore that through the arts as we do all the other you know key learning areas?

Julia:
It’s a really powerful message.

Unity:
Rather than we need to stop now and do the arts. It doesn’t work like that, it’s actually a wonderful you know vehicle for exploring you know …

Julia:
I made this point before that we don’t exist in silos so I’m not quite sure why we teach like that.

Unity:
Yeah, absolutely and you know I’ve seen over my years in education you know the role that even having opportunities for our students to engage in and how life changing it can be for a child and how rich it is for a child to be involved in a life performance and something that they you know get so much from but also. You know we recently took our students to the Contemporary Art Museum in Sydney and opportunities for students to engage in art and particularly contemporary art you know rather than you know thinking that art forms can look very different, that we’re not always just talking about painting that we can express ourselves through film and through music and through installation as art forms I think is really rich. And I think those programs that we have on offer through you know our local art galleries or through our local programs or even you know we have at Anzac some grandparents in kindergarten who play the piano accordion and often you know can come in and play, just those opportunities for sharing.

Julia:
How special is that for those little, early Stage 1 people to see their grandparents in their classroom teaching their friends something?

Unity:
Yeah, absolutely.

Julia:
It’s magical, yeah. It’s also too about exposing the students to something they may not necessarily get in their normal life but I’ve said that before too a lot of people shy away from things that don’t make them feel comfortable but I think it’s about giving the children those opportunities and allowing them to see what’s out there, not restrict them in any way. Something you said in there though was that the teachers along the way bringing their expertise. What if they don’t have any? They’ve had very limited exposure to the arts, how do we help them? Surely, you must have some teachers who’ve had to have their hand held along that journey.

Unity:
Yeah, absolutely. I think what is you know special for us is you know I think it’s important you know we all as teachers have different skills that we bring into the classroom and that we bring into our school community to enrich that community and it maybe through sport or it maybe through the arts or it maybe through Lego robotics experts at Anzac. So, you know we all have something that we bring that contributes and you know through things like collaborative programming and shared programming. You know we use you know our Google Drive to have those collaborative programs where teachers can add and share ideas and evaluations of programs to support teachers that may not feel confident with the arts. But for us at Anzac we also co-teach. So, for us co-teaching provides a really great opportunity for developing professional development in understanding.

Julia:
So, putting a teacher with lots of experience with someone maybe who’s a little less experienced.

Unity:
I have an example you know that I can think of where I have actually a graduate teacher so someone in their first year of teaching who has an expertise in the visual arts co-teaching with a teacher who brings a lot of expertise through the sport and through technology and to see those teachers working together and supporting each other. You know we see you know a very young teacher being able to contribute a lot to the school community through that expertise in visual arts and being able to recognise that whilst he is early in his career in teaching, he’s still able to make a strong contribution to those programs.

Julia:
… For him so that would make a difference.

Unity:
Yeah and building the capacity of those you know in the team.

Julia:
That’s brilliant. Look, you really answered the final question that I have for you but I’d just like to go back one more little step and see if we can just re-enforce this one more time. So, I think a lot of teachers feel so much pressure in terms of assessment and standardised testing, and the curriculum you know progressions and other strategic goals along the way. So many time pressures and we’ve still got to ensure that the arts are taught, what advice can you give to those teachers out there – principals, schools that might be struggling with all these pressures and feel like they’re trapped in that vice to get out there and make the arts part of their school?

Unity:
I think living the arts you know through the programs I think you know we need to ensure that the arts and you know we keep the integrity of the arts as something to be taught in itself but you know the capacity for the arts to be taught in conjunction with you know other aspects. You know as I said it’s not an add on, it’s actually central and particularly for our students in being able to communicate and express you know through the arts you know we go back to that early example around the role of drama in teaching you know critical understanding, you know through English. You know we see being able to explore. You know I think you know drama blends itself beautifully to many aspects of the PDH syllabus and understanding stereotypes and the role that we play in managing those relationships. You know we see you know so many different ways that the arts can be brought in as part of enriching those opportunities for students and not something that needs to be as I said segregated but something that is brought into that.

Julia:
As enhancing the journey along the way.

Unity:
Absolutely.

Julia:
Well, look thank you so much for your time, Unity, it’s been a while and I’m really glad that you could find time to come and have a yarn with us today, so it was really nice to hear all about your experiences and particularly what you’re up to now. So, thank you so much. And everybody out there if you enjoyed listening to today’s podcast and you’d like to hear more, make sure that you follow this podcast series by going to soundcloud.com/primarycurriculum all one word and clicking on the orange follow button and you can log in with your @education.nsw.gov.au account or else create your own account or sign in through Facebook. It’s been lovely talking to you today and we’ll talk again soon.

Music

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