Ambitious for meaningful change

Therese Turner-Jones, Head of English, Ascham School, has just been named among Australia’s Most Influential Educator 2022. The Educator speaks to Turner-Jones about impact her teaching is having at the school.


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Brett: [00:00:13] Hello and welcome to all of our viewers. My name is Brett Henebery, editor of The Educator. And joining me today is Therese Turner-Jones, who is head of English at Ascham School in Edgecliff, New South Wales. Last year, Therese was named an Excellence Award for Department Head of the Year at the Australian Education Awards and has just been named one of Australia's most influential educators. In 2020, Ascham was ranked first among all independent schools in New South Wales for its HSC results and fourth across all schools in 2021. Therese, a big congratulations to you on being named one of Australia's most influential educators. What does this award mean to you as a teacher?

Therese: [00:00:53] I think particularly as an English teacher and in New South Wales of course we have the mandatory course. We are the only one. And I think that it's really important from an English perspective where literacy of course is our focus, as well as teaching great works of literature and having students respond through writing. So that idea of reading and writing, the pairing of them is so significant. So to be named a very influential educator means the world to me because I'm very into building teacher capacity. That's actually teacher leadership is one of my key focuses that I've had since doing my Master's of Educational Leadership in 2014. So I am very much committed to excellence, and I'm very ambitious to make a difference with both staff, students, for parents, for the wider community. So this award means the world to me.

Brett: [00:01:55] Wonderful. And can you tell us a little bit about your educational philosophy and how this informs your approach to teaching English?

Therese: [00:02:03] I'm very excited to share that. Working at Ascham, I'm very I use the word privileged in many ways because we do teach through the Dalton plan and for many people who are actually watching and viewing the Dalton plan may be something that they don't really know much about. And we're celebrating we're celebrating 100 years of Dalton this year. So the Dalton plan means that we have three key approaches. And this, of course, influences my educational philosophy. So the three key approaches is that we have the assignment, which is what everybody learns from in a particular year group and assignments mean that they are also the key structures that they're actually going to respond to. We have the lesson where we deliver the assignment work and then we have the study. And the study is so exciting. And I think a particular area where in building relationships I have that wonderful input where I can have anybody within the classes I teach, spending their time within this study in a period allocation as we have and I can be helping, mentoring, working around the room, getting some of the girls within the room across year groups to also support other groups. So I think that that really reinforces my educational philosophy that I am committed to excellence, that I am ambitious to make a difference, and that I'm always in constant awe of what students bring to their study of English and English. Of course, as I said before, it's literature that really underpins everything that I do. So it's a very enriching experience and it's a very worthwhile experience.

Brett: [00:04:01] Just drawing back a little bit earlier on that really strong culture of support that model offers. That really is fantastic. I want to ask, what is your focus now going forward in 2022 and what advice would you like to give your fellow practitioners as they embark on on a new and hopefully less disruptive year in 2022?

Therese: [00:04:24] Yes, we would all like that less disruptive year, wouldn't we? So my focus in moving forward is definitely and I mentioned it before about literacy and I think that one of the key areas that I can really make a difference and make that that drive for excellence is not just in school systems. I know that's our focus as well, but there is a wider community issue, of course, with literacy and it's becoming more so and I think COVID and lockdown, etc. hasn't necessarily helped in that area. And I do think that it's a level of expertise. It's a level of community engagement, not just in schools. I mean, it begins in schools, but it's also an influence that I can have moving forward with this award. And the advice I think the greatest advice that I could provide to people who are within the profession and also considering coming into the profession and plus also to outside of the profession where I think we really are in a situation at the moment where we still have so many of the traits of lockdown still happening. There are still schools that are doing a hybrid model of remote learning as well as teaching face to face. So I think the most important advice is to keep positive the whole of point, the point that we need to work on connections. In fact, it's relationships. I know I mentioned that earlier because it's so key to the school I work in, as you said before, particularly with that approach of the study and also in the lesson itself. So I think that idea of having connection that we work on relationships and that we keep a very cheerful, I think cheerfulness is so important for wellbeing, optimistic, you know, that whole approach that we have to our learning and to ensure that educational settings are settings where people thrive. I think that's the most important thing that we can offer.

Brett: [00:06:39] Do you feel all of those things are on track this year at Ascham?

Therese: [00:06:43] I definitely do. I one of the, one of the key ways that I, I ensure the delivery of the lesson because the lesson as you can imagine, to make these studies available within the timetable, we also take part of what normally would be the lesson in covering our mandatory hours to make sure that we also cover the study. So the lessons become quite sacrosanct, if you like, and particularly in 40 minutes to deliver to a year 12 class the content. So what I actually I make sure that I'm building these resources all the time and I know that our students find great great benefit from is that I actually record everything is recorded for the year twelfths I record my lessons my staff if they're online, of course it's recorded. But I do have those resources and I know that the students find that wonderful because they can listen to that. It's like a university approach where they can actually follow up and hear their teacher. And so many times the students actually compliment on how the teacher's voice actually soothes. But actually it's the teacher's voice that makes them actually feel that they can achieve. And it's such a really good approach for wellbeing. And I think we are a school who has actually really made visible wellbeing part of our approach. It is very important right across the academic, pastoral and just everything that we offer within the school. And I think that it is a school where we really we ensure that everybody does thrive. And I think the efforts that we've made so far in 22, it hasn't been easy. 2022, I'm certain you've seen everything across media about it. It has been probably the hardest term for many people. I know that in my career, which is now 36 years, this has been probably one of the hardest terms because we're supporting school systems with illness, with loss, with grief with and often that lack of a sense of connection. So I think a school like Ascham and as I said before, celebrating 100 years of Dalton, which is very much a support network that's actually supporting our students for their individual needs and also making them great learners within the collective as well. So I feel very, very confident that we have, as you've said before, you've mentioned our HSC results. We are one of the high performing schools within New South Wales and particularly in English. I think that is so important, but that that's not my intent. That's just the product of what comes from helping people to thrive.

Brett: [00:09:51] Well Therese, you are certainly doing some wonderful work there and ask them. So thank you for sharing all of that with us and thank you and for putting us at the time to talk to us today. So congratulations again on on such as well-deserved award.

Therese: [00:10:08] Thank you Brett.

Brett: [00:10:09] Thanks Therese.