Inspired by the words of Elton John, Harry Pickett is “teaching the joy” of music.
Harry joined Teach For Australia’s Leadership Development Program after a 23-year career that included teaching music in low-socioeconomic schools in the United States. We are grateful to the Hansen Little Foundation for supporting Humanities, English, Arts and Literature teachers like Harry in the program’s Cohort 2023.
Harry said he applied for TFA’s program for two reasons: the quality of the Master of Teaching course through Australian Catholic University (ACU) and his passion for “opening up the joy of music, regardless of your background or financial status”.
“My philosophy is informed by a chance event that happened to me early on: playing piano for Elton John in a restaurant. Besides the bottle of Grange, he sent a note that said ‘keep playing the joy’ – so I keep playing and teaching the joy,” Harry said.
Harry is teaching music at Champion Bay Senior High School in Geraldton, Western Australia, while gaining his Master’s during our two-year program.
And there’s no doubt he has quickly brought joy to his music students – leading the introduction of a strings programme at the school. It was the first time some of his students had ever played the violin, because of the prohibitive costs.
Harry loaned students several of his own instruments (including a violin worth $20,000) while working to make a case for school funding.
“My students made a short video on what playing the stringed instrument meant to them and I took that to our Parents & Citizens Association who voted to unanimously to back the programme financially, purchasing four violins,” Harry said.
Embedding Aboriginal music and learning
Harry has also led multiple initiatives to introduce and embed Aboriginal music and Ways of Learning into the school’s curriculum – inspired by the Aboriginal Cultural Standards Framework that his TFA Teaching and Leadership Coach introduced to him.
Harry has since worked with the school’s Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AEIOs) to start teaching two units on Aboriginal Music and has created a pathway where Aboriginal students can join the schools’ Specialist Music Program playing traditional instruments.
“I am looking forward to a deepening and strengthening of our relationships and a music program that is inclusive of all our students,” he said.
Harry is also chairing a sub-committee comprising the school’s AEIOs and leadership staff to embed Aboriginal Ways of Learning in every class, in every learning area.
Supported to make an immediate impact
Harry has already made a significant impact during his short time at Champion Bay Senior High School – and he credits the support of his fellow TFA Associates, alongside the 1:1 coaching and mentoring provided though the program.
“I often envision my coaching and mentoring peers are taking this big old Brontosaurus for a walk in the park,” he laughs.
“My teacher education and experience is from the Jurassic period and with immense patience, wisdom and compassion, my mentors have been bringing me into the 21st Century. To sum up, they are patient, professional and deeply caring.
“The Cohort system of Associates really ticks a lot of boxes and TFA makes sure that we can make those deep personal connections with each other. We work together, laugh together and cry together in in the end we are all much stronger for it.”
Next year and beyond
Harry and his wife Marilyn relocated 500 kilometres north from Coodanup to Geraldton for the program – and have quickly embraced their new community.
“Every day I wake up and I am filled with hope and anticipation of what the new day will bring,” Harry said.
“As to beyond, well sorry, I have burned our packing boxes – we have found ‘our place’.”