Karratha-based teacher Lilli Morgan (Cohort 2018) visited Canberra as part of a Teach For Australia delegation in September 2019. There, she met with both the Minister for Education Dan Tehan and Opposition Education Spokesperson Tanya Plibersek, as well as Senators, MPs and staff from minor parties. This is her self-described ‘idealistic’ reflection of the trip, penned as she flew from Canberra to Perth en route to the Pilbara and her next day’s lessons.
I used to be like my Year 12 students when someone mentioned the word ‘politics’. I’d cringe, put my head on the desk and want to disengage. I would think of the shaming and blaming that goes on in political circles and the arguments over whose party is better that flashed on the TV screen during the nightly news and simply switch off. But after realising that politics affects us all at so many levels, I’ve learnt to engage, to try and understand it, and figure out who the hell is in charge. I still don’t really know, but I think I’m getting better.
As part of my Masters in Public Health I grew to love the idea of focusing on systems change, rather than targeting individuals to simply ‘make better choices’. If we can change the system so that it’s easier to make choices that lead to health and connection, why wouldn’t we? Instead we’ve got a system that is fostering disease and loneliness.
After a period of time focusing on global health I came back to the idea of education and the fact that nearly everyone goes to school. To me, this is the obvious access point to reaching the majority. This is how you influence society.
Having spent a bit of time working outside the system with Smiling Mind looking at mindfulness in schools, and now the last few years working in the system as a teacher in the Pilbara, WA, I feel like I’m starting to gain a bit more insight into how it all works.
In my mind, we have a crisis of the heart. Rates of depression, anxiety, addiction and domestic violence are sky high in Australia and people seem baffled by this. Every generation has their challenges, and I guess this is one of ours. Capitalism and consumerism have prioritised our materialistic needs over our psychological ones. The cultural message is ‘get good grades, get a good job and continue that economic growth at all costs so we can keep buying stuff that we throw in the bin’.
The good news though is that all of us have innate needs. Thankfully, those needs are not measured in money, or Gucci, or Prado. Instead, our innate needs are embedded in status, respect and connection. We want to feel connected, to feel valued, to feel secure, to feel like we are making a difference, and to have the autonomy to feel like we are good at something. I believe that if we can tap into this and reconnect people with their intrinsic values, then we can start to meet our real needs.
I want to see these values prioritised in our schools. I want to see values and ethics at the core of classroom discussions. I want there to be space in the curriculum to harness and encourage student voice. I want there to be teacher quality that prioritises the wellbeing of the students. I want there to be less focus on ATAR scores, and more focus on engagement. I want kids to leave school with a strong sense of self, where they feel ready for the world that awaits and that they are already shaping.
The world is changing, fast, and the skills that are valued more and more are the social and emotional ones. These need to be explicitly taught and practiced.
I was lucky enough to be part of a group of teachers from around Australia that went to Parliament House in Canberra and met with education representatives from the Coalition, Labor and minor parties. We went for them to hear our stories, to share our concerns, to understand the lived experiences of our students and communities. So, from Tassie to Shepparton, Melbourne and Karratha we told stories that matter. We spoke of student climate marches and crowded curriculums, passion for learning and the dangers of disengagement.
I could see the hearts of the politicians we met open as we all connected over the next generation. The political leaders we met want the system to be better just as much as we do. To sit around the table together and share this moment was magic; a real testament of hope that even among the chaos that is politics, among the power and the passion, the bluff and bravado, there are a lot of hearts beating in the right places.
But it takes courage to make big changes, and that needs to come from all levels – especially the top. So my challenge to you, at whatever level you’re at, is to stay informed, stay engaged, and keep standing up for what you believe in.
Your opinion matters, what you do matters; both in our nation’s classrooms and in the chambers of Australia’s Parliament.