Michele Turk is a senior teacher at Bradshaw Primary School in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. She started her career as a teacher before taking a ten year hiatus to work in marketing and communications. Eventually, Michele found her way back into the classroom with a renewed sense of purpose and was excited to share her passion for writing with her students. Michele has a total of twenty years experience as a teacher. In a surprising twist of fate, she accepted a teaching position at her own primary school. Michele was part of the first cohort to graduate from Bradshaw Primary School after it opened in 1974.
All Teach To Lead Fellows complete an Impact Initiative as part of the program. Can you tell us about yours?
My impact initiative focuses on improving writing at Bradshaw Primary School. It was born out of a small group of teachers working together in a collaborative learning team. We looked at how we could use rubrics to assess the writing of our students and what teaching strategies we could use to improve the quality of writing produced by our students.
How did you implement that goal at your school?
The implementation of my Impact Initiative was in two parts. Last year, I started my impact initiative by evaluating the skills and knowledge of the teachers at my school. I reviewed their understanding of the rubric and asked how other teachers felt about assessing different aspects of writing. As a collaborative learning team, we strengthened our understanding and practices in using rubrics. In the second year of my Impact Initiative, I conducted a staff survey which revealed that many teachers lacked confidence when it came to assessing and making judgments about their students’ written work. I assembled a group of teachers and we set the parameters around what we could do to improve teacher confidence when teaching and assessing writing. From a common assessment task, colleagues brought samples of writing to share. We used the NAPLAN marking criteria, unpacking all the elements of each criteria. Together we evaluated student work samples.
What results have you seen at your school since running these workshops?
The workshops enabled teachers to understand that assessing writing is complex. Writing is made up of ten skills that need to be explicitly taught and assessed. Teachers were empowered with the knowledge to confidently apply the NAPLAN marking criteria enabling them to identify the individual needs of each student. Another initiative that we’ve implemented as part of the broader goal is our “Celebrations of Writing Wall.” Students and teachers are encouraged to share their writing achievements which are proudly displayed in a public space within the school. Recognition and acknowledgment has fostered an enthusiasm for writing at our school.
How did you find out about Teach To Lead and why did you want to participate in this program?
My principal forwarded me some information about Teach To Lead. Initially, I was unsure about why he encouraged me to apply for this program, but he recognised the potential that I had. I ultimately trusted his judgment and submitted an application. I was both excited and nervous during this process, however, I enjoyed the diversity and rigour of the experience. I am delighted and grateful for this opportunity. I believe that being part of Teach To Lead has expedited the development of my leadership skills: I have learnt how to use my “soft skills” to build capacity in others. The session that really resonated with me in particular was on conversational capacity and the concept that we should be approaching conversations with both candor and curiosity. Teach to Lead has definitely impacted the way I work with my colleagues.
Why is growing teacher confidence in writing an important issue for you?
As a teacher, I’ve always had a passion for writing. I love teaching it! I like helping people explore the possibilities around self-expression through writing. I am motivated to help teachers find their passion and confidence when it comes to teaching writing skills. I enjoy being able to interrogate how we teach writing and what best practice is when we look at the process around teaching writing to our students.
What do you hope to achieve in future?
I’ve never been the type of person who has a five-year plan or anything like that, but I’ve always wanted to make a positive difference regardless of the role I am in. I want to work in an area where I have a genuine contribution to make, so in the next few years I hope to remain faithful to my values and continue to support the staff and students I work with.