Activation Podcast – Episode No. 1

We sat down with Chris from Springfield Central State High School. He’s currently doing this and that and is a teacher/student/person who did/ran the course.

Listen to our chat recorded on May 28th 2020, or read the full transcript below:

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Nicole: Have you ever wondered what Activate looks, feels and sounds like in the classroom? Are you curious about the successes and potential sinkholes for teachers and students? Welcome to Activation: Future Anything Activate in Action. Here we sit down with our Activate Alumni, educators just like you, who have delivered the Future Anything Activate program in previous years. We unpack the changes, challenges and choices they have made to contextualise the program for their young people. Grab a cup of your favourite liquid and settle in as we dive into Activate in Action.

Nicole: Good afternoon everybody! Well, it’s afternoon as we’re recording it might not be afternoon as you are listening. It is my great pleasure to introduce the next Activate teacher that we’re going to chat to: Chris from Springfield Central State High and what I am so interested to talk to this year is that Chris and his school have been back to back winners in our Future Anything Program the last two years. So, I’m super curious to tap into, Chris, your sort of experiences and learnings and definitely dig into a couple of pieces of advice that you might have for our teachers who are embarking on the program this year. But, last day of school for term one, how are you feeling?

Chris: Yeah! It’s been an interesting term. I was just actually talking to a few of our new teachers, beginning teachers, and we were debriefing how this term is really unlike any term that most of us have ever experienced and, you know, education is always a constantly changing environment but with the uncertainty of what’s new we’re just learning a lot about, you know, ourselves and our profession and just coming together as teachers to support one another because that’s really all we can do with the unknown of what the future looks like.

Nicole: Yeah, and I’d love to ask about that so when, obviously we talk a lot about maybe the things that are a struggle or a challenge for educators at the moment, which there are many, is there a highlight that you can flag? Or a positive or a silver lining that’s perhaps coming out of some of the challenges that we’re facing as an education system?

Chris: Yeah, so, I think the main positive, for me, is just the collaboration and teamwork that has come together this week on our student free days. So, I’m a Head of Department at the school here and I manage Pedagogy across the school but also the Languages Faculty. I’ve seen our staff in the Languages particularly just come together and help create resources, bounce ideas off of each other, and what we’re seeing is the creation of lessons that I think are strengthened. Like when do we ever get a week to press pause and collaborate? Like that’s not normal. I think that’s one of the silver linings that’s come out of this week is that time as a team to dig deeper and change things. Because, like I said, we just don’t ever get explicit time to work together for this length of time anyway.

Nicole: Yeah totally. I would love to dig into, tell me a little bit about yourself and I guess how you came to be a part of the Future Anything Program at Springfield and I guess your journey with the program.

Chris: Yeah, so I started at Springfield at the end of 2016 as a Head of Department of Pedagogy and one of the ?? I was given was really bring those, I hate calling them 21st century skills but, you know, all those skills that we talk about in education that rarely we actually see in action particularly, entrepreneurial skills. So, I started creating my own subject because I thought as a leader in the school, rather than trying to initially work with others to enhance their own practice I wanted to show people what was possible. So, I started creating a subject in Year 9 called Enterprise, and it was around solving global issues. We were looking at an issue that’s close to my heart, deforestation in Indonesia and looking at how the students could collaborate partnerships and relationships that make meaningful changes in our world. We had paired up with an Orangutan rescue centre where the student’s end project was looking at, in essence, creating engagement tools for the Orangutans. So, they collaborated with Ben Goodall Institute and zoos to learn more about what would be required for those Orangutan centres. But, what it ended up being is, one of the teachers here at school, I was planning my next unit where we were going to do a Shark Tank Program, and another teacher here at school was like “oh, I know this individual, Nicole Dyson, and she’s running this really cool program and maybe it’s worth investigating”. So, for me, when I heard about what you were doing with Future Anything, that was sort of the direction we were heading in anyway, and I thought, rather than trying to do it on my own, this makes sense to connect with others. I think, for me, professionally, our students in our school, I’m glad we took that risk because the rewards have been quite outstanding for us.

Nicole: Cool, I’d love to dig into, maybe, some of the changes that you’ve seen from being part of the program, big or small, students, teachers, staff, school community. But when you talk about that risk and, I guess, potential rewards, what comes to mind as far as changes?

Chris: Well, I think, for me and my teaching, I was never one that really followed the rules anyway and when I talked with the principal really early on and said this is what I want to do, he said to me “well, where is this going to fit in the curriculum” and I said “can that be a problem for later? Can we just go down this track and see if it’s possible and then I’ll make the links to curriculum later?” I think I was quite lucky in that regard, in having the trust, from the admin above, who could see that vision of what I was wanting to encourage our students to do. And, I did find the connections in the curriculum, so we tried originally to marry what we were doing with the business curriculum, but we ended up going down the design aspects of the national curriculum. We don’t cover everything, no, but that’s where we kind of make our connections in the curriculum. I think within the school, initially it was kind of seen as, you know, Chris’ project Enterprise, but we had a bunch of teachers and community members come to our school’s first Shark Tank, which, as you’ll remember, we had to cancel and then reschedule, because my whole class revolted and said they don’t want to do it and they were afraid of getting up on a stage. But, we persisted, and our principal, teachers, all the individuals that came that night they said, you know, seeing those students standing up on the stage was the reason why they became teachers. It really inspired them to see what our young people were capable of because they said that was learning and that was really evident in what the students were able to do. Because a lot of our students that stood up on that stage and presented were students that our teachers might not have always had the most positive interactions within a classroom setting. And I think that’s another aspect of this program that I found really interesting, often the students that are disengaged in learning, this is a program that seems to really provide opportunities for those individuals to connect because they’re able to connect with something, a problem, an issue, something in their life story or someone close to them, that they think is worthwhile and yeah we’ve been quite fortunate to see that engagement factor in the program. Even some of our students who have won, you know, doing the Enterprise program, for some of them, this was the highest mark they’ve ever gotten in a school setting, in high school, was doing this Future Anything Program in the Enterprise class. We’ve also had the community coming to us, our last Shark Tank, my first one I kind of struggled getting judges. Our one last year, it wasn’t a struggle because the community have heard what we’re doing and, you know, I don’t want to say lined up but were really interested and eager to see how they could connect with us. I think, on top of that, we’ve also had the greater business support within our Springfield region so we were really lucky early on, when I was putting together our first Shark Tank and I just couldn’t think of anyone. I called Fire Station 101 in Ipswich which is basically an entrepreneurial hub where they run programs and spaces, accelerators for start-ups and I basically told them what we were doing and then I got connected to people, connections with the Ipswich city council who the led me to Springfield Chamber of Commerce so I guess one of my tips for people is this isn’t something that you have to do on your own, there’s lots of business and community members within your own school community and wider who are going to be keen to support and I think that was one of the biggest takeaways for me that first year is getting others involved. Yeah, I hope those bits are useful.

Nicole: Yeah, I’d like to dig into the Shark Tank the first year because I think that you pretty much had every educator’s nightmare come true.

Chris: For sure.

Nicole: Can you talk to what happened there? Because I think that coming out the other side was a big learning curve. Yeah, can you talk to that and what happened?

Chris: I guess one of the things was when we had run the Shark Tank the first year it was after the school holidays so our subject as it was had ended and we were asking the students to come back to then present. We had organised a meeting for the class to sit down and have a meeting with you to go through their pictures and I think it was five or ten minutes before you arrived at the school, one of the students came up to me and said “Sir, everyone’s asked me to talk to you, they’re not coming” and I was like “what do you mean they’re not coming?” and they said “yeah they’ve all decided that they don’t want to come”. So then I had you arrive at school and I’m like this is the situation that’s going on and I was embarrassed, I felt like I had failed as a teacher, I had never really experienced that before where I couldn’t motivate a group of young people. But what we did is that we rallied all the students and quickly learned that there were really only one or two negative voices. Once we had removed those negative voices things had kind of come back to fruition. Then I think, so we rescheduled the Shark Tank to give us a bit more time because the students were a bit anxious. The day before our pitches, one of the students came to me, Tanieka, who ended up winning the first year and told me that her partner decided she didn’t want to do it anymore and she was saying “I don’t want to pitch anymore” and “there’s other students, their pitches are way better, they’re going to win”. So yeah, there was a lot of debriefing with the students and really breaking down their anxieties and their fears and alleviating that. It was definitely a learning curve, the other times I’d run the program, I didn’t have those same issues and I think it was just learning and moving the Shark Tank before the school holidays and really making it clear from the onset what was expected and that there really was no opt out. So, whether the students present or not, they will be presenting some sort of information at that Shark Tank whether it’s a poster display board or their actual pitches. So, there was a lot of learning that came from that and yeah, I can clearly remember the look on your face, Nic, when you showed up to school and that classroom was empty because that was definitely not a highlight for me!

Nicole: Yeah, I was feeling for you in that moment, definitely. I think, because obviously you guys run it as a semester long Enterprise subject so what you’re referring to around the timeline for the Shark Tank is, running the showcase event in the same semester that the assessment task is. So, have you found that making that showcase event an explicit part of the assessment one of the secret ingredients to getting that engagement all the way through to the end?

Chris: Yeah, for sure. So, we make no ?? 13:33 ?? about it. I tell the students that’s the night they get their marks and I tell parents. So, you know, the first email out that term is here’s the task, here’s the day, and that’s when students are getting the marks. I think if you’re giving people ten weeks’ notice, there’s not that opportunity for them to go “oh, but I’m working” or “oh, I’ve got such and such on” which is one of those things the first time I ran it, which was all those excuses and things that happened. So, I think when you’re explicit about it to the parents as well, and give them all that information upfront, it just removes a lot of that grey area and possible avenues for people not to turn up. Of course, there are those situations where there is some sort of extenuating ?? 14:22 ?? and we do kind of run a draft in class and that’s where we pick who pitches on the night but there is still that expectation, by that day, that their work is finished, because that’s when they’re actually getting assessed. When they see that tangible, they see my mark, a lot of those excuses disappear.

Nicole: So, I think if I’m a teacher, listening one question that I might have is is it worth it? This whole showcase thing sounds like a lot of effort if kids are going to no show. What would you say around the value or the why around having a showcase event of some description at the conclusion of a program like this?

Chris: For me, it’s all about the students. I think the biggest takeaway for me in this whole program is seeing those students shine and particularly for students who don’t always get that opportunity to shine for whatever reason. If you talk to any educator who’s come and witnessed the Shark Tank or been a part of it, all the struggles, all the teeth-pulling, the hair-pulling, the tears and the meltdowns; it’s worth it. Because that’s why we become teachers, so that we can provide opportunities for students to shine and this is definitely one of those shine opportunities for them. I think all the teachers who are a part of this, you know, it’s a risk doing something different and other staff might wonder why you’re doing this but invite them along to that night because they’ll be quite?????15:57??? Quickly as to why you’re running a program like this.

Nicole: Yeah, so we’ve talked a lot about quite a few changes that you’ve seen from your point of view at the school from running the program. If you could pick one as, I guess, and I know you’ve got a few to choose, from but as something as you would categorise as a significant change maybe for an individual student or a team of students or your school community. Can you describe that change? What it was before and how it changed and then what it looked like afterwards for us?

Chris: There’s a few. I think the main one is, again, like I said previously, Year nine particularly, sometimes you have these types of students that don’t connect. Then what you have, is a lot of behaviour, a lot of negative teacher student interactions. Particularly in my context I’ve had those students in my Enterprise class who seems to be problematic for others in different curriculums they’re the ones that generally seem to shine. Does everybody always do their work all the time? No. But when they’re able to connect with the curriculum, we’re seeing students who, you know, are then standing up on that stage and owning their learning, in essence, because they’re proud of what they’ve created. Another thing I’ve seen and, I guess, my role of Pedagogy in the school and mentoring others is I’ve now seen some of our staff willing to take more risks and wanting to work with me more closely on developing project-based learning within their curriculum areas. So, I’ve worked one-on-one, particularly with a Geography teacher and an HPE teacher on bringing these entrepreneurial skills into their area and basically throwing out everything that they’d done previously and start fresh. So, in an ideal world, what do you want the students to do, to know, what experiences do you want them to have? That’s been really exciting for me, seeing this sort of ripple effect. You know, you start something, and you don’t really know where those ripples will go and the things they’ve created. Yes, it is a slow burn, it’s not something that’s happened overnight but, like I said before, we’re not getting community interested and now talking about potentially bringing outside entrepreneurs in our school once or twice a fortnight to mentor our students. We started with one student winning a Shark Tank a few years ago and now we have about six or seven different student groups throughout different stages of creating their own social enterprises. Yeah, and I think people are starting to awaken to that teaching isn’t about a curriculum document and what the National Curriculum says. It’s really about those experiences that we provide to students.

Nicole: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So, I know the question that’s probably waiting on everybody’s lips is, is there a secret to creating a winning team? Given that your school has had back to back winners, what’s the secret source, Chris? How have this solo entrepreneur in Tanieka and obviously your team from last year, Culture Hood. How do you get back to back winners?

Chris: I don’t know. Sorry to say that. I think really though the secret is that lived experience because, my first time running the program, I found it a little bit difficult sometimes pivoting the students. So, I’ll give you an example. The first time I ran the program I had two students who were Vietnamese refugees and then another student who just wanted to be in their group and I found it really hard to, kind of, break up that group, and I think it took you coming in to go “well look, this isn’t authentic, you don’t have that lived experience, you’re not in the group”. I was like “wow Nic is ruthless”, but sometimes it takes that to actually, you know, break up students when they’re not going to work well together, or they don’t have that shared vision. That’s something the teachers have to do and make an effort to do because you don’t really, like those cling-on students, that’s not really going to help the group. But, on top of that, I think really the main thing was I spent probably a whole week getting the students to dig into their family circumstances, situation, their own life, what’s lead up to this point to make you this student to make you this student sitting in this classroom now? That what a lot of guided writing. Giving the students a bunch of A3 pages and just talking about, you know, your Great-Grandparents, who are they? What do you know about them? What are some challenges that they’ve overcome? All the way up to people close to them and around them and then themselves. I think almost every single student who showcased in our Shark Tank, their business came from that effort. If it wasn’t their own stories or something they knew about someone, it was then going out and interviewing people who are close to them. Because, a lot of people you know have these incredible stories but sometimes we just don’t know because we haven’t asked. I think that’s probably one of the main winning recipes. It’s clear from the student’s pitches, the ones who’ve won, Tanieka and the students from Culture hood, there was that lived connection through the problem they were wanting to solve. I think that really resonated in their pitches.

Nicole: I know often we have this assumption by educators tapping into the program that it’s your most academic students or the most gifted speakers that will be the ones who win and I love watching the footage back of Tanieka and the Culture Hood team because, I mean, they were compelling pitches, but I wouldn’t say that speaking publicly would be something that they would put down as their top five skills and/or interests.

Chris: For sure. And I remember Brayden last year who did the Moving Meds pitch, his mum said to me, you turned my introverted son into a talker. He won’t stop. Because this program gave him a voice. I don’t know if people really realised, if you watch back the clip, he actually memorised his speech. He was petrified of talking in groups, but it just gave him that, you know, he was really connected to his issue because he had that lived experience with his grandfather passing away. You know, you turn this shy individual that wouldn’t talk to others and wouldn’t engage in class and raise their hand to talk, you saw that student come out of their shell. I think that’s the really exciting thing about this whole program is that you start to see that development of self-confidence within themselves. It wouldn’t have been possible if students were just copying down notes from a PowerPoint.

Nicole: I love Brayden’s story because obviously his pitch last year was magnetic and our Activate teachers can obviously check out that clip and re-watch it. What I find doubly amazing is that that day, I’d sat down with Brayden and completely reworked his draft so.

Chris: Oh, did you? I didn’t even know that!

Nicole: Yeah, so he’d come in for the day and we’d sat down to do a bit of workshopping the morning of the Grand Final and it must’ve been about 11am or 12pm and obviously the Grand Final kicks off at 5pm and I asked him how open he was to feedback and the young people know, I often give them a cool like “pick your Nando’s spice level” like do you want lemon and herb feedback which is me being super generous and kind or do you want the extra spicy which means I’m going to tell you everything that I think might help you put forward the best pitch possible. Typically, you’d think that kids would pick lemon and herb but they, without fail, always pick the extra spicy because they do want that feedback in a safe place. So, yeah, we cut up heaps of his pitch and rearranged the order of things and took stuff out and changed the slide deck up and then he had a matter of hours to re-pivot before he pitched that night. I think a lot of our educators worry that kids aren’t going to get there at the end, you know. What happens if I don’t have a pitch? In my experience, and I’m interested to hear from you, Chris, that when kids have the problem they care about and the solution they’re excited about, you’d be surprised how quickly they can pull something together.

Chris: For sure. My first year, if I’m being honest, I think I coddled the students a bit too much and provided them a lot of extra time in Homework Clubs and things like that, whereas, as time went on, I distanced myself more and more. You telling me the story now about Brayden, I didn’t even know that that had happened because I didn’t actually know what he was really going to be pitching on the last night. I hadn’t seen the slide-deck, I hadn’t seen him for his speech. But the students will show up and they will knock your socks off. We just have to, kind of, get out of the way and give them their opportunity to do so. They don’t want to stand up on the stage and embarrass themselves and, you know, they won’t because you have to have the confidence. They will get there and it doesn’t matter if you run the program in ten weeks, two weeks or three months. They’re all going to rush to the end. That is normal. That is really normal. They will get there.

Nicole: That’s totally true. We run some of our workshops in a day or a week or a term and I laugh because the last 20% is the last 20%, literally. And the last 10% of the program looks like the last 10%, regardless of the length of the program. But, I mean, to finish off, Chris, I’d love to hear from you. I think what’s interesting is like, you have a passion and an interested in Enterprise education and project-based learning from a Pedagogy point of view. You’ve run the program for two years and you’re obviously leading staff to run the program again this year. What key pieces of advice would you give to teachers who are teaching Activate for the first time? And can I throw a lens over the top of it and say, maybe some strategies, particularly some of the complexities for mixed delivery this year and the unknowns around education. What would be those key pieces of advice or roadmap that you’ll be putting forward for your staff and that maybe you would recommend or advocate that maybe others consider?

Chris: Yeah, I think in terms of where we’re heading, it’s an unknown for all of us. So, I think we just have to accept that, for once, we’re not the ones in control and I know for teachers that’s a bit hard. But I think that’s a part of this journey that we’re all on together is it is unknown. In terms of the program, my advice is to spend a lot of time in that Odyssey and the getting to know yourself and your world and those around you and who else thinks the problem matters because I think that’s what makes the rest of it, I don’t want to say easy, but once the students connect with an issue that resonates with them and they’re passionate about, the rest kind of falls into place. Sometimes, that’s something that happens really early, or, for some of our students, that’s something that happens the day before the pitch. To be honest, it doesn’t matter as long as they have that connection. They will figure it out. I guess, one of the other things too is, just making it clear for them how they, I guess, amplify their pitch by making those community connections or partnerships and that was something that they can’t do if they don’t have a clear understanding of their issue and their problem. That’s where I would spend my time. I would spend my time showing them pieces, like examples of other young people. There are heaps of resources in that online classroom that Nic and the Future Anything team have created. You’re not going to get through all of that in a term. Just pick a few pieces of Activation material for your students. Every year I pick different clips again. It doesn’t really matter you just have to show young people that it is possible. They’re not on their own. There are other young people out there across your community or across Australia or the world that are doing epic things. They just need to see that. I think once that connection is made for them, the motivation then comes behind that.

Nicole: Awesome. Chris, thank you so much for taking time on this final Friday of term one to share some of your experiences and expertise. Enjoy a very well-deserved holiday.

Chris: Yeah, same to everyone else listening out there. Thanks Nic.

Nicole: Thanks for listening to Activation. Do you want to know more about Future Anything Activate? Head to our website www.futureanything.com Or you can find us across all of the socials. We look forward to working with you to form the future, one youth-led idea at a time.

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