When did you know you wanted to be an educator?
I think I realised I wanted to be an educator quite late in the piece, in terms of my academic studies and interests. In some ways, I just “fell into” education which is a fortunate accident, really, because I discovered that I was good at it and had a real passion for it. This was triggered by working as a teacher’s aide in a primary school while I was finishing my Arts degree, majoring in literature and history – I loved the atmosphere of a school and admired the teachers and could see the impact that they had on kids’ lives...
I went on to study ... secondary teaching, completing a Diploma of Education focusing on English and Social Studies. Upon completion, I worked at an independent school in Melbourne’s northern suburbs teaching Years 11 and 12 history, English and Literature for just shy of ten years.
But your future was destined to be outside of the classroom?
I got to a stage in my school career that I realised that I didn’t want to be a school principal or a school administrator. I was really fortunate that my school environment encouraged staff to focus on professional development and to that end I began presenting at conferences and writing resources for teachers.
An opportunity arose at the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria, as Manager of their professional services ... [and] after a couple of years in that role I was appointed the Executive Director, which allowed me to really develop my skills and knowledge in the areas of management of not-for-profits, publishing and strategic development. I relished that role...
When the opportunity arose at the ABC, I certainly wasn’t looking for new challenges but a friend had seen the role advertised and, as a last minute decision, I decided to submit an application. The rest is history…
Your title is ‘Education, Head at the ABC’. What exactly does it involve?
Being responsible for leading and delivering on the education strategy means that my day can be very varied. I have a brilliant team of content producers who actually make the content strategy come to life, and being the person editorially responsible for that content, I have a close relationship with them as we iron out production issues, editorial matters or, as I am known to do, try new ideas.
Because ABC Splash was truly a “digital first” product for the corporation, not beholden to a broadcast schedule on either television or radio, it means that in the day to day operations of the website I can deal with all content divisions and technology divisions in addition to working with our content partners who range from government agencies to the galleries, libraries and museums sector.
There has been one day when my day has included signing a risk assessment of a live program featuring the exuberant Costa from Gardening Australia which involved “Children and live animals” – what could possibly go wrong? (I am pleased to say nothing did.)
What has driven you to your success?
This assumes that I am successful which is not a default that sits well with me, but knowing that what I am doing is helping and inspiring people through the work we do is my primary motivation.
I adore making great content for Australian students and teachers. For students, this is content that delights and inspires, is not condescending and challenges their thinking. The same hallmarks could be said of content that teachers use but it also has the relevant academic connections to the curriculum, is timely and relevant and easy to use. I am deeply gratified when we receive feedback on ABC Splash that it is seen as one of the best websites for Australian teachers and students.
Just over 2.3 million people used ABC Splash last year and we are on track towards three million by the end of this year. But it isn’t enough to rest on laurels and, for better or worse, I am driven by knowing that there is room for improvement – whether that’s personal or professional or instilling that sentiment into your team. That sentiment has driven me to try new things, be open to innovation and to adapt quickly.
What is a bit of advice that has really stuck with you?
My dad always told me to listen to people, it’s an important skill to have if you want to learn. Dad’s motivation to listen was to get new information or knowledge that he might not have otherwise had. I think he liked to think that one had to have a bit of humility knowing that they couldn’t know “everything”. But I think that listening fosters your ability to empathise which is essential in anyone’s personal or professional life.
How have funding cuts affected your area in recent years and are you encouraged that this government values ABC Splash and the important role the ABC plays in education?
I was originally appointed to help lead and implement the online education portal ABC Splash which was part of a series of digital productivity trials initiated by the federal government at the time. It was a very ambitious and, I am pleased to say, successful education project which saw thousands of clips from the ABC Archive digitised and mapped to the Australian Curriculum as well as the development of new content spanning everything from games, interactives, new video projects, live events and community building.
Both Mark Scott and Michelle Guthrie saw the importance of and impact that such education offerings by the ABC could have in the Australian education landscape. Despite funding for the ABC Splash pilot project formally ending in 2014, the ABC has continued to support the resource and its development. And that support, without calling upon additional funds from the government, has paid off with the audience continuing to grow steadily 24 per cent per year, but with additional funds we would be able to produce more content, like digital games and interactives, that requires significant investment.
I am encouraged and excited to be part of the ABC at a time of great change, where we are really looking at the way we organise ourselves that puts audiences at the centre delivering on our charter obligations to “Inform, educate and entertain”.
What are some digital education-related things happening at the ABC in the coming months/year that have you excited?
I think bringing all of the ABC schools education assets under one banner is going to be very exciting. Over the next few months we are developing some exciting new content using amazing production techniques that have not been used in education content before.
We are also developing a set of resources around media and news literacy, revitalising our ‘Learn English’ content and bringing together a range of STE(A)M related sources for teachers and students.
Over the past four years, we have really built a wonderful education community online and we want to continue to grow that community through great online activities that get students thinking critically and solving problems using a range of skills.
What level of involvement do you think the arts should have in the curriculum and why?
When I was a history teacher we used to quip that “history has it all!” meaning that you could teach the whole curriculum through a history lens, but in reality that probably wouldn’t work. There is no doubt that students should have the opportunity to engage with and learn from the arts and sciences but the foundations to this learning are literacy and numeracy skills. Without these basic skills, it is impossible to develop the critical, creative and disciplined-based literacies that will play an essential part in a child’s future career and their ability to be an active, informed citizen of the world.
Do I believe that the arts should be in the curriculum? Yes. Definitely. Do I think the arts are valued by those determining the makeup of the curriculum? Yes. But I also want my children to have the opportunity to be exposed to all parts of the curriculum in the hope that their own passions are ignited and that through those discipline lenses they are able to develop the skills they will need in their adult lives in work and leisure.
The fact remains, without dedicated principals, without passionate and highly skilled teachers who know their students and are masters of their discipline, then any “discipline” will suffer regardless of whether one thinks it is represented in the curriculum or not.
You’re appearing at Educhange in Melbourne in September – what will you be talking about?
I will be chairing a panel session – I love doing those types of sessions as you can really get to know more about the interviewee and unravel so many interesting stories. The team at Educhange really champion those educators who are really trying to change the system for better student achievement and engagement.
Moving forward where do you see career headed?
I definitely want to stay and develop my career in education and media both of which are a meeting point for my skills and the passions which drive me.
As a leader, I would like to be remembered as... resolute, ambitious, creative, considered and resilient - all underpinned by a good dose of humility.
A few non-education sector related people I really admire, are... great female artists like Kate Mulvany, Cate Blanchett and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Away from my work, to wind down, a few things I like to do, are... cooking, reading and spending time with my family. Oh and eating cheese. I really like cheese.
I’m given the opportunity to arrange a concert based on my own music tastes and can choose any three performers, living or dead. I’d book … Easy. Paul Kelly, Neil Finn and Freddie Mercury.
If I could swap jobs with one other person, it would be... Anna Wintour.
If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be.. surprised. I would never buy a ticket.
My friends would describe me as... I asked my friends and they all gave ‘humorous’ responses. But amongst that, two former colleagues described me as “Rebel General” and “Independent and inspirational” so I guess the truth is somewhere in between and I am fine with that.