Part 1: First Steps to New Thinking.

Think Different

This post is the first in a series of posts about my faculty’s journey toward implementing the NSW K-10 PDHPE syllabus, released earlier in 2018.

The aim of this series is twofold – blogging always helps me reflect on what I do, so it’s a therapy for me. The second reason is that should you read this and it gives you an idea on where to go on your journey, then I count that as a win.

It all started when we found out we had six months to implement the “new” syllabus in Years 7 & 9 at the beginning of the 2019 school year.

This caused a great deal of consternation, as most other subjects had been given 12 months to do the same job. Maybe it’s because (WARNING!! CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT AHEAD) PDHPE teachers get stuff done in half the time of other faculties?


As soon as I got my hands on the syllabus document, I dived in. And was struck by how hard it was to make sense of it. There seemed to be a lot of layers piled one on top of each other, making a very dense thing to come to grips with. Propositions, content strands, skill domains, content descriptors, advocacy for inquiry based learning and learning across the curriculum all combined to making it “fit” scopes and sequences, assessments and eventually units of work a heavy cognitive load. The more I tried to understand, the more confused I got. I wanted to believe!

I even asked to be connected with the team that wrote the syllabus, because to me there was a link missing between the concept and final product, and I hoped someone on the team could give me an insight that might reveal that key to me.  Unhelpfully, I was told that the identity of the team was confidential. Oh well.

I realised that old thinking (i.e trying to transpose the current syllabus over the new syllabus) was not going to work. This was going to need new thinking. New thinking was obviously what the new syllabus writing team possessed, but owing to the fact I couldn’t access their thinking (CONFIDENTIAL), I was going to have to train my own new thinking.

*Tip – working on it solo is not possible, and indicates a death stress wish.

With this in mind I took advantage of every group workshop I could – my Department of Education provided an opportunity to unpack the Propositions and the Syllabus. My local Head Teacher Network also arranged their own collaborative programming day, independent of any “official” professional learning session, so great was the perceived need for understanding and action. Even there, old thinking was the starting point, and much frustration was evident. It was there that it became obvious that cookie cutter, one size fits all programming wasn’t going to be a viable option. Context is everything. I always throw that into educational conversations, and it never made more sense than in this situation. Every school is different, as is every PDHPE faculty, as is every teacher. While the group came up with some promising leads, it wasn’t the complete solution some (well, me) was hoping it might be.

So it was about here I really started freaking out.

I mean, if I couldn’t understand it, or find a path through it, then how was I supposed to lead my faculty through it?

New thinking had to kick in. I had to find a way for it to make sense.

I went new traditional. I went new outside the square. I went wacky. Surprisingly, wacky produced a promising lead. One night I happened to be watching Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman in the movie The Fifth Element when my mind walked away and I went Classical Greek. The Four Elements (Earth, Water, Air and Fire) struck me as a way of organising the syllabus into chunks that connected directly to programming. It kinds works!  I’ll write about that path another time.

Anyway, we end up at today. Today we were given a day (our faculty was generously released by our school from our normal duties via a complex arrangement of in lieu lessons and casuals) (NO FUNDING FOR SYLLABUS PREPARATION TIME YET – I’m looking at you, DoE) and I led my faculty through a much shorter version of my frustrating story so far. Naturally, my faculty encountered the same cognitive load, the same puzzled looks, the same frustration. It’s going to be a slog, in the 4 MONTHS we have left, but we’ll get there. We have to.

The highlight of the day was connecting with Kelly Pfeiffer, a wonderfully giving Head Teacher (Teaching and Learning) at Dubbo School of Distance Education. Earlier in the year I had sought out recommendations from the Twittersphere and the PDHPE Facebook groups I belonged to for a Project Based Learning practitioner with a PDHPE background. Kelly was recommended and we started a conversation which has resulted in Kelly agreeing (if you’re reading this Kelly, I hope you are still agreeing) to coach us on using PBL as part of our new thinking. The faculty were hooked and I think this has given us some solid directions to pursue, including the skills based work we can include in our programmes that not only prepare the student for an effective PBL experience, but are the future proofing skills and talents we want our kids to leave school with and use in the worlds outside the gates.

So that’s it for now. I hope your journey in moving from old thinking to new thinking is successful. New thinking can be hard, especially when the inclination to stick with what you know, or what currently works for you, is a comfortable fall back position.  Look around and choose your resources carefully. Surrounding yourself with new thinkers makes it a whole lot easier.



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