Transcript of Creative arts in rural and remote NSW

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the podcast (24:39).

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Secondary Learners Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education.

As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played around New South Wales. Their art, storytelling, music and dance, along with all First Nations People, hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders, past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.

Alex – Hello and welcome to the creative cast podcast series. My name is Alex Papasavvas and I'm a Creative Arts Curriculum Officer with the New South Wales Department of Education. The topic for today's Think Tank episode is creative arts in rural and remote schools and I'll be joined by two creative arts teachers from the central west region of the state. Tasma Crosswell from Ardlethan Central School and Claire Ryan from Molong Central School.

Jackie – We interrupt this podcast for a very special announcement. The Creative Arts Curriculum Team announce our Creative Casting Call. This initiative provides two exciting ways that you and your students can get involved in our podcasts and earn some much needed funds for your creative arts faculty budget.

First, compose our podcast music. Compose some music we could use for the intro and outro for our podcast next term. The best composition will be used in our podcast next term and win your school a $2,000 grant for creative arts.

The second is design next term's promotional tile. Our podcast theme for next term is where to from here. The best tile will be used for our where to from here podcasts next term and also win your school a $2,000 grant for creative arts. Find the full brief in the Creative Arts Statewide Staffroom. Entries for next term close on the last day of term three with the winning composition and tile to be featured and credited in term four’s podcasts. This initiative is only available to New South Wales Department of Education schools 2021.

Alex – Before we get into our discussion today, I'd like to give some context to a couple of the issues and initiatives will be talking about regarding rural and remote education in New South Wales public schools in particular as they relate to creative arts teachers. Country towns in New South Wales are often pretty small with small schools and pretty far from neighbouring towns. So, when we're talking about central schools and small schools, picture and enrolment of 300 students or less. In our K-12 Central schools this enrolment figure includes primary and secondary students and sometimes even preschool. This is obviously a much smaller school population than you'd expect in a metropolitan school or at a school in a larger town or regional centre, which I'll loosely define as an area with a high enough population to require more than one high school.

So, at a small school that might only have one or 200 students enrolled across 7-12, this can present a few issues that affect the school's capacity to offer senior subjects. If you only have 20 students going to Stage 6 classes, some of those classes are going to have to be pretty small, below the threshold some larger schools might use to decide whether or not to run a subject. One solution to this issue is the rural access program which was set up to enable a more diverse offering for senior students in small rural schools. There are a handful of different access programs across the state which are based on geographical networks of schools in neighbouring towns that come together to collaborate on their Stage 6 subject offerings. I've taught in the Wilvandee access program which includes Wilcannia, Ivanhoe and Menindee central schools and also the Lachlan access program which included Condobolin High school and Lake Cargelligo, Tullibigeal and Ungarie Central schools. The way these programs work is that Stage 6 subjects are delivered across the access program rather than through individual schools. Each Stage 6 subject will be taught by a coordinating teacher who is experienced in the subject and is responsible for programming, assessment, and some lesson delivery and supported by cooperating teachers across the network who use the coordinating teachers programming to deliver the course in their own schools. Usually there will be a videoconference component where the coordinating teacher will deliver a few lessons per fortnight to all students in that subject. And then the cooperating teachers support their students at their home schools to engage with the course content. So, it's an effective way to build teacher networks and experience across geographically isolated areas as well as to ensure that students able to engage with subjects like visual arts that might otherwise not have enough enrolments to run. Access programs also ensure that students have the benefit of an experienced specialist teacher, and also to make sure that in situations where teachers might be less experienced or isolated or teaching out of their subject area, that those teachers are able to benefit from the experience of the coordinating teacher.

The rural learning exchange is a new pilot program that operates on a similar model providing a network for schools to tap into with experienced subject coordinators who work collaboratively with local teachers to build a common learning sequence and assessments. Currently, the rural learning exchange is in effect for rural and remote schools to sign up for standard English, standard mathematics, agriculture and biology, but is about to be expanded to include other subjects including visual arts.

My guests today, Tasma and Claire are respectively the Creative Arts facilitator and the Visual Arts Coordinator for the Rural Learning Exchange. Tasma and Claire, thank you so much for joining me today. I'd like to start by asking you both to tell us a little bit about your teaching background and also your schools, as we might have a few listeners that haven't heard of Ardlethan or Molong before or might not even be aware that a lot of country towns in New South Wales are serviced by central schools which are K to 12 learning environments and often really central institutions in the local community. Tasma, I would ask you to start us off.

Tasma – I'm a visual arts teacher at Ardlethan Central School. Ardlethan is out near Griffith Narrandera, Leeton, Wagga. We’re basically an hour from everywhere. I've been teaching here for 34 years. I'm currently the Creative Arts Facilitator for the Rural Learning Exchange.

Alex – Great thanks Tasma. How about you, Claire?

Claire – Look, I'm visual arts teacher at Molong Central School, which is about 30 Km's west of Orange. Molong Central’s a fantastic school of approximately 500 kids, K to 12. Look, ironically, started my teaching career on the remote TIs Thursday Island as a backpacker in 99 when I fell in love with teaching. When we emigrated back to Australia in 2008, I was really excited to obtain a permanent position here at Molong.

Alex – Thanks Tasma and Claire. Now you both mentioned that you're involved in a relatively new initiative called the Rural Learning Exchange, which I understand is about to be expanded to support teachers to deliver creative arts subjects in rural and remote areas. Could you both explain your current role a little more and what the Rural Learning Exchange aims to do.

Tasma – The Rural Learning Exchange offers support for schools and teachers teaching Stage 6. It offers programs, scope and sequences, unit of work, resources, professional learning. My primary role though, is to encourage staff to join the Rural Learning Exchange. That way you can keep informed of events, training, changes within your role and it just forms a prime location for resources. Within my role, I provide art, music, drama and dance teachers with news and items in particular to their subject.

Alex – That sounds great, thanks. How about you Claire? What's your role in the Rural Learning Exchange?

Claire – Alex, my new role is Visual Arts Subject Coordinator for the Rural Learning Exchange. I will be mentoring, coordinating and supporting visual arts teachers in rural and remote schools, I guess wrapping them in a virtual faculty offering collaboration, professional dialogue, up skilling them if and when necessary. And just being there as a sounding board. The aim of the Rural Learning Exchange is that this process of collaboration helps the students to, I'm going to quote one of our leaders on this, “see over the Levee bank and past the silos.” So, I'm super excited to actually get my teeth into this next term and really connect and support the teachers in those rural and remote schools. I guess give back to the profession, to them, their students. However, I must add that this are really is a pilot program. So hopefully Tasma and I will be part of its success into the future.

Alex – All right, thanks Claire. I love that quote about over the levee and beyond the silos. And look, this is a subject that's quite close to my heart. I spent the first few years of my teaching career in relatively remote central schools that were supported by these smaller access program networks where you've got maybe three or four schools coming together and having access to a professional network of other visual art teachers. Early in my career, despite being pretty isolated as often the sole visual arts teacher in a central school, that was really, really helpful for me. So, I'll ask now, what do you both see as some of the opportunities and challenges that are unique to rural and remote teaching.

Claire – Look, you have the opportunity to run your own race, write your own programs, order your own supplies, have the art room exactly how you want to. No one else is going to be in there except you. I've found that to be fantastic. But obviously it's harder to take students to the galleries in Sydney and Canberra. However, I've learned to connect and engage with regional galleries such as Cowra, Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo. They will tailor make experiences for your students and they do have amazing collections and exhibitions. You're also a part of the town. You're the art expert in the town. So, use your knowledge and skill to add to the town. I decided to promote the arts and founded smarts, which was the Spring Molong Arts Festival. We successfully launched this biennale in 2008. However, we're just waiting for COVID to end so we can have our next event.

Alex – Just a quick shout out to some of my favourite regional galleries at Broken Hill, Griffith and here in Albury, MAMA, the Murray Art Museum Albury, a really fantastic resource for visual arts. If you're in a regional area, you probably have a regional gallery, that would be a great spot to check out. Tasma, what do you see is some of the opportunities and challenges in rural and remote teaching?

Tasma – Firstly, you're alone in your faculty. The chances of another art teacher being within 100km radius is slim to none. But I found that exciting. It meant that I could make my own programs, following the department guidelines, involving the interest of our students involved. Be involved in community events, doing up set designs for the local drama club, displays for the community shows and transforming a country hall into a beautiful gala debutante ball. This event was one of my first opportunities to work with students for the community and the community welcomes you not only as a resource, but as someone of interest to extend their artistic needs and thoughts. Community events are valuable involvement as again, suppliers, helpers and experience. They donate so much to the art room. Not only magazines and containers, but I've had loads of hessian materials. One woman emptied her entire craft supplies into the school. So that was just wonderful. So, you receive a lot as well as giving back to the community.

Alex – Yeah. And I think that's such an important feature of working in a small town. You do become such a central part of the community. I'll ask now what advice do you have for visual arts or creative arts teachers in rural and remote settings, especially in some of these smaller, in central schools where as you say, you might be the only visual art teacher, you might be the only visual art teacher within 100ks.

Claire – Look, if you are the only visual arts teacher use the amazing online world to connect with others. The statewide staffroom is a great resource, offers a great dialogue and wonderful resources. Where possible engage in professional learning as this is a great way to network and make supportive friends. I've also found that connecting with the community like Tasma just said is amazing that the wealth of knowledge and skill within it. Once you start asking around it's phenomenal. We regularly get photographers, welders, sculptors into school to support students and myself. I guess, don't be afraid to ask for help and speak to your principal about the possibility of joining the Rural Learning Exchange Visual Arts Faculty.

Alex – Thanks Claire, and I would echo your call for teachers to join us in the Creative Arts Statewide Staff Room where we've got a wealth of resources and experienced teachers just waiting for people to reach out and ask for help which were always very happy to provide. What are your thoughts on teachers managing the situation of being the only art teacher Tasma?

Tasma – Getting involved in the community still is the main thing that you could do. There's always something happening. There's so much that you can become involved with and in return, gaining the resources, you also gain helpers. Teaching knitting to a large class was one of the prerequisites that the primary staff had and we were able to call in lots of parents to help out with that. Also link with other faculties in your school and from them, the other teachers, other faculties, you gain a lot too. They have ideas that you can use in your classroom.

Alex – Thanks to Tasma, and you've just reminded me of some of their really fun times I had taking primary RFF classes as the visual art teacher in central schools. What a great way to engage with a more broad range of students than just the ones that you get through into your visual art classrooms. So, on a more general note, I'll ask, what advice do you have for teachers in practical subjects like VA who are doing virtual teaching either in an access program, distance education or teachers at the moment who are locked down and running their classes online?

Claire – We are lucky we are creative people, so we do tend to think outside the box. Use the technology to grow creativity. Keep lessons structured. Don't overload the students with too much content, chunk information concepts into bite size sections. Use the fantastic virtual tours to take students all over the world. Don't try and be an expert with all the technology at once. Try new collaborative tools steadily as you go along and look after your own wellbeing. Plan your day, your brakes, when you'll start, when you'll stop because it can become very consuming.

Alex – Yeah, I think it's really important to make sure that you do have structure in your own work day as a teacher and definitely make sure to include some breaks in that. What do you think Tasma?

Tasma – Also make use of all the platforms that are available and don't be scared to try and learn new things like Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Adobe Connect. There's so much that you can do just like teaching in your room on these platforms to own it, make it yours, set up stages for yourself. Play games like Kahoot and explore PowerPoints. Don't just talk to the pictures, offer Youtube clips, get the students to draw on the works by offering them control, highlight their answers, their descriptions, their evidence and they'll enjoy it just as much as you.

Alex – Some really good ideas there. Thank you. And I’ll just build on that by reminding teachers that if you are looking for resources or ideas, the Creative Arts Curriculum Team have really expanded what's on offer on our website in 2021. So, if you haven't looked at that for a while, we'll put a link in the show notes and definitely encourage you to check out some of the newer resources that we have on offer.

I mentioned earlier that I had previously taught in Wilcannia and I want to highlight one of our recent resource releases that relates to that area. Mapping Memory – Badger Bates is a visual arts resource for Stage 4 which takes a fairly in depth look at Badger Bates’ artwork, Mission Mob Bend Mob, Wilcannia 1950s. As part of the activities in the unit students engage with some of the Aboriginal history of the local area in Wilcannia. The first time I started using this artwork in my classroom was while I was teaching there and I think it's a good example of a way to bring in local content into a teaching unit. The feature artwork, Mission Mob Bend Mob is a stylised, historical map of the local area that highlights some of the key points of interest from the artist's personal and cultural history as a Barkindji man and students in that area resonated with this local content because it was really familiar to them. What I found when I moved to other schools in rural New South Wales is that there are Barkindji students there too and Aboriginal students from other language backgrounds like Wiradjuri students still resonated pretty strongly with this kind of localized content because some of the key themes and art making techniques were also relevant to them. So, do check out our resource offering for visual arts as well as PDM, music, dance and drama.

I'll also mention that the digital learning selector on the Department of Education website has a lot of ideas and scaffolds for activities as well as a list of digital learning applications and programs that you might not have heard of or used before. So definitely check that out too if you're needing something a little bit more in your virtual classroom.

Finally, the Creative Arts Statewide Staff Room provides a really great opportunity for New South Wales Department of Education teachers to connect with each other and with our curriculum officers and advisers. It's a place to exchange ideas and to get subject specific support. We’ll put a sign-up link in the show notes and I'll also mention one of our current initiatives called Creative Arts Connect, which we hold a couple of times a term. It's an informal open meeting for teachers to join and get advice or support from our officers and advisers as well as other teachers.

So, my last question to my guests, what would you say to teachers considering a move to a rural or remote school, Claire?

Claire – Look, as I said earlier, I arrived in Australia in 2008 and quickly learned about the list and how I would be at the bottom of that list and would be teaching casual for the next 20 years in the on the coast. I remember panicking with two very small children thinking you know I really should have researched the whole education employment process in Australia and also thinking that I didn't want to necessarily wait on the coast for 20 years for someone to retire. The job at Molong came up and I applied for a merit selection and was successful and the community took my family and I in and have given us an amazing place to not only raise our children, but provided me within a fantastic career and we just gained lifelong friendships. Real remote communities are amazing places. I've certainly grown as a teacher, have been given opportunities across the whole school, which I may not have had in a larger school in the metropolitan area. Things like actually being asked to lead other teachers when you're relatively new, formative assessment or having to step out of your comfort zone and teach areas that you're not that confident in, which really, really does make you consider how your teaching and the pedagogy of teaching. I remember when I first arrived, I had to teach a sewing class and I'd never used a sewing machine in my entire life. So luckily there was an amazing LSO who stepped in and I said, look Mrs Dougmore will now teach and I will just learn to sew, being really honest with the kids. It's been a journey, definitely a journey for myself, my family and I would definitely encourage anyone to take up a role in a rural or remote school. It really is a fantastic opportunity.

Alex – Yes. And I think a lot of teachers in smaller schools have had that experience of being asked to step out of their comfort zone and maybe cover classes or even teach a whole class outside of their subject area. Myself, I've had to go at a bit of science, a bit of a tech, but I do think that it really makes you reflect on your teaching practice and consider, you know? Well, I felt like I got better very quickly in my first couple of years in rural remote schools and a lot of that was because I was being forced to step out of my comfort zone, not just as a visual art teacher, but also as a fresh graduate. Suddenly, hundreds of kilometres from the place I consider home. Tasma, keen for your thoughts on this one.

Tasma – You will learn a lot more in a rural school than a huge faculty school. You'll be given so many opportunities on a day to day basis to step outside your visual arts room and become involved in the larger part of the school by writing the school magazine, putting it together, get to do those sort of things. Heading the wellbeing team. I was on the wellbeing team as the girls supervisor for 30 years and you get to explore a whole different field with the students doing that. Leading reviews, being an acting or becoming an actual head teacher role very quickly in the rural schools. I even got to be acting principal for a day, which was an experience and a half. So many promotion positions that call for experience now and you'll have it within your first few years because a rural school where staff are limited in number, someone has to step up and more often than not, it's you

Alex – I would just like to echo some of that and say that for my own part, starting to step into student welfare roles was really rewarding for my part.

I would say just go for it. Once you realize that there's life beyond Sydney, you may never want to go back. And if you've been in some very small towns and moved to a larger regional centre like Albury can feel a lot like going back to the city.

Thank you so much Tasma and Claire for sharing your knowledge and experience today. The advice you've given has just been absolutely wonderful and so valuable. I'm sure many creative arts teachers will learn a lot from hearing your advice. Thanks again.

Jackie – This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team of Secondary Learners, Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by joining our statewide staff room through the link in the show notes or email our Creative Arts Curriculum Advisor, Cathryn Horvat at creativearts7-12@det.nsw.edu.au. The music for this podcast was composed by Alex Manton and audio production by Jason King.

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