Teachers and Authors

The first Mike Horsley Award recipient – Peter Stannard

In September 2019, the educational publishing community awarded the first Mike Horsley Award in memory of the man who established the EPAAs and inspired so many. The inaugural recipient is Queensland-based author, publisher and teacher, Peter Stannard of Firefly Education who we hear from below. 

Read Peter’s reflections on the progression of his career and some highlights, and also the thoughts of those in his team, showing the family man and leader behind all the great literacy and education work he has been involved with for forty-odd years. 

Peter Stannard with his trophy at the Educational Publishing Awards Australia 2019 – at The Arts Centre, Melbourne.

About Professor Mike Horsley

I first met Mike briefly in 2006 and then again at an Educational Publishing Awards ceremony in 2007 where we had a long conversation about why I should be actively involved in the APA. He was very keen to get home-grown Australian publishing companies involved in the APA. I then suggested that I come up to Noosa to chat with him since it’s only a 45 minute drive from the Firefly office. We spent a very fruitful couple of hours talking about teaching, schools and educational publishing beside the Noosa River at Noosaville where he lived. We had a number of these get-togethers on the river and during these times I got to understand his drive and passion to help kids learn.

Teaching and writing

After graduating in 1967, I became a science teacher at Noosa District State High School. Three years later I was appointed Head of Department (Science) at Aspley High School in Brisbane. During this time I submitted a manuscript for a series of science activity books to Macmillan Education. A week later I was signed up and then started the serious work of perfecting the manuscripts.

I worked as a Head of Department in two other schools over the next eighteen years, as well as writing and, at the start of 1989, I finally hung up my teaching hat to became a full-time writer.

The inspiration for my writing came from my style of teaching. I always believed that students need to be totally and actively involved in any lesson. They need to discuss, ask questions, clarify any uncertainties and be active in the classroom. The manuscripts of my science books reflected that style.

Over 43 years Macmillan Australia published more than 60 titles written by my co-author, Ken Williamson, and me. Notable titles include Exploring Science, Science Now, Science Alive, many editions of ScienceWorld and Secondary Science. In 1998 Ken and I received an award from Macmillan for 1 million copies sold.

Firefly Publishing

In 1988 my partner Ann and I and teaching colleague Lesley Englert established Firefly Productions, where we self-published school musicals.

Soon after, I recognised an opportunity to publish educational resources. In 1992 Firefly Education (initially Firefly Press) was born with the publication of literacy companion workbooks written by Lesley for a number of my science series.

Using my experience in the classroom, I wanted to publish materials that were different from those on the market. My vision was to publish educational materials that encouraged students to make connections between what they learned in class and their everyday lives. At the same time the resources needed to support busy teachers and be easy to use in the classroom. By creating resources that combined these principles, I hoped to foster a love of learning in Australian classrooms.

In the following years, I worked with several authors (who were also practising teachers) to publish resources such as Letters and Sounds, Jigsaw Maths and the well-known Sound Waves and iMaths series. Each of these series focused on the principles and pedagogical approach which originated in my classroom teaching experience.

The Firefly Team

Firefly Education has gone from strength to strength, publishing award-winning books and innovative online resources including Sound Waves, iMaths, Writing Time, Think Mentals, and the digital programs Think Mentals Digital Classroom and English Stars. These products were developed totally in our Buderim offices. Our talented team of writers, editors, designers, programmers, animators and artists collaborate closely to produce world-class educational resources. Then the dedicated marketing team and sales consultants offer our products to Australia and the world.

Our world of publishing has changed over the nearly 30 years we have been in operation. In the early days we published student workbooks and teacher resources. Ten years later we established our online presence, and now we have our own bespoke digital products fully developed in-house.

I feel very privileged to work with such talented people at Firefly. When other people of my age pull the pin on their careers, I feel excited about going to work and sharing the team’s progress in the development of products.

Peter Stannard: Beyond educational publishing 

written by the Firefly team

Peter’s impressive teaching career and contribution to the educational publishing industry is just a small part of what makes him the man he is. Peter’s magnetic enthusiasm for learning is evident in many aspects of his personal life. Here’s just a few insights into what shapes Peter Stannard. 

 

 

Family man 

Peter’s enthusiasm for education comes from a simple joy in helping children reach their full potential. So, it may come as no surprise that Peter and Ann are proud foster-parents. Over a period of 21 years, they welcomed four underprivileged teenagers into their lives. Now, alongside their three biological children, these family ties are as strong as ever.

Business mentor 

In 2014, Peter and Ann travelled to Bali and went on a botany tour in Ubud run by a young local woman named Dewi. Peter quickly formed a connection with Dewi, sharing her passion for science and plants. Over the next few days this friendship flourished as Peter and Ann enjoyed hearing about the local land and customs, and Dewi and partner Dhika enjoyed receiving business advice. These conversations sparked an informal
business mentorship.

True to their nature, Peter and Ann didn’t take this mentorship lightly, enlisting the talent of Firefly Education employees to enhance Dewi’s business. It culminated in a company-wide business development trip to Bali where over 40 Firefly Education staff were able to exchange skills and expertise with Dewi and her team.

A generous leader 

Peter has cultivated a truly positive and enriching environment for staff at Firefly Education. When you visit the head office, it’s immediately apparent that it’s a family-owned business. In fact, it’s not unusual to see a grandchild pop in on the school holidays. Peter has gone above and beyond to create an inclusive and collaborative environment at Firefly. There are daily morning teas, family fun days, AGM team-building adventures and the staff were even invited to Peter’s surprise very big ‘0’ birthday party!

‘I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Firefly for seven years with Peter and Annie at the helm. Our company culture is absolutely led from the top. Peter’s teaching insight, capacity for new ideas and his generosity in mentoring has made, and continues to make, the culture at Firefly Education truly innovative, creative and fun.’ – Carlee Driscoll, General Manager, Firefly Education
‘Having known Peter and Ann for more years than I can remember, I was lucky to observe the early years of Peter’s enormous talent and enthusiasm for his teaching evolve into the publishing company that is the “Firefly family” today. His everyday actions continue as an example of leadership, generosity and compassion to family, friends and colleagues.’ – Lee Lemon, Business Development Officer, Firefly Education

A very deserving recipient for the inaugural Mike Horsley Award. Congratulations Peter! Thanks for all the work you have done on the Schools and Educational Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers Association as well.

Agile and dynamic: independent educational publisher serving educators and students in new markets

Mizz De Zoysa-Lewis - MD Insight Publications

Mizz De Zoysa-Lewis is the Managing Director of Insight Publications – an independent educational publisher that specialises in resources for teaching English. Although traditionally focused on the Victorian market, the company recently launched its first dedicated resource for the Western Australian market. We spoke to De Zoysa-Lewis about the impetus for this interstate expansion and the values and goals that drive this small dynamic company.

“Insight Publications was founded by my mother-in-law and her partner many years ago. They were passionate about education and empowering young people across Australia and the globe. Initially a cottage industry operation, the business has grown significantly, especially over the last several years.”

De Zoysa-Lewis has been with Insight Publications for 16 years, having started working there when she was going through law school. “I loved what they did from the beginning. Seeing editors working on manuscripts and the marketing team reaching teachers in schools ignited a new passion for me.”

On completing her studies, De Zoysa-Lewis left Insight to work at a top-tier law firm for six months. But she found the experience unsatisfying: “My heart was back with Insight,” she says, and she soon returned to a full-time position with the company.

The change of career wasn’t without its challenges. “Even back then, publishing was not an easy industry to be in. It’s super competitive for Australian independent publishers and that hasn’t changed; however, I like that we all have a vision to empower educators.”

Relationship-building is a key aspect of the company’s day-to-day and one of the drivers behind its interstate expansion. “We have consolidated on so many years of experience. Our schools trust us to create the best possible English resources for their students. We have focused on building that trust in Victorian schools and recently we saw an opportunity to go across the Nullabor.”

The move was also inspired by the fact that De Zoysa-Lewis became aware of a spike in sales of Insight titles in WA. Although the books didn’t address all the curriculum requirements of WA English, it was clear that teachers found considerable value in them. “We saw there was a need for more tailored resources of this kind, so we wanted to act on that,” she says.

The team took time to thoroughly research and understand the WA curriculum. Year 12 English: Western Australia took two years to produce, from the initial idea to the release of the book. “We ran some focus groups and talked to educators as they’re the ones who stand in front of classrooms every day to teach the course,” says De Zoysa-Lewis. “Our titles are about serving the needs of students and educators and we wanted to tick the boxes for both of those audiences. That’s when things become highly accessible and engaging.”

The news that the company was creating a new, dedicated WA resource generated considerable excitement and anticipation among teachers. “They wanted us to get the book out as soon as possible! And that’s a nice kind of pressure to have.”

 

De Zoysa-Lewis says that the way in which the company created this resource demonstrates one of the best things about independent publishing in the educational space. “I say to my team that we are a bit like a speedboat. We can be really agile and change direction very quickly. So we were able to go ahead and develop this English title for the Year 12 Western Australian ATAR English course. We have now launched the book – we had a great launch event attended by many supportive WA teachers – and the reception has been overwhelming.”

 

Independent educational publishers in Australia are in a unique position, De Zoysa-Lewis says, because of the way in which their smaller size and greater flexibility allows them to service more schools, as well as provide resources to under resourced areas. “We’re a small team and yet our books are used in so many Victorian secondary schools. I’m proud to say we’re doing a great job. We’re successful enough to be able to grow and expand and that’s a great position to be in.”

Student-centered learning and empowering students to drive their own learning are concepts with popular currency. But De Zoysa-Lewis notes that the company has focused on such approaches from the time of its founding by her mother-in-law, and continues to do so. “I’m the daughter of a refugee, and when I came here at the age of seven, I had the privilege of knowing a lot of English. But so many students come to Australia and they’re struggling. Empowering students is something I think about all the time. Educational publishers share a role in helping students to develop those all-important language skills. Without that ability to communicate clearly, to write clearly and to express your thoughts, everything is so much harder.”

Over the years De Zoysa-Lewis has observed the increasing professionalisation of the educational publishing industry. She attributes this development in part to the pressure teachers are under to ensure their students are performing. “There’s improved transparency around what is taught and around student and school results, and that contributes to the pressure on teachers.”

One of the consequences of this is a growing emphasis on relationship-building between teachers and publishers. De Zoysa-Lewis says, “Obviously we can only help students by constantly engaging with the educators who are in front of students every day. It’s the only way we can know exactly what we can do to help teachers and students to achieve the best possible outcomes.”

Following their entry into the Western Australian market, Insight is excited about continuing to draw on its strengths as an independent Australian educational publisher to develop resources by cultivating meaningful relationships with educators and students across the country.

 

**Images courtesy of Insight Publications. Photos taken at the launch of Year 12 English: Western Australia.

1. Mizz De Zoysa-Lewis – Managing Director, Insight Publications. 

2. Adam Kealley, Trish Dowsett, Martin Guest and Maria White – Authors of Year 12 English: Western Australia text book.

3. Melanie Napthine and Robert Beardwood – Publishers at Insight Publications.

 

Science teacher on educational publishing with Tina Bean

Images of Cosmos Magazine covers

In this post, we interview secondary science teacher, Tina Bean, on the value of quality educational resources in the classroom. 

 

How long have you been a teacher and what inspired you to become one?

I have been a teacher for 10 years. I retrained to become a teacher because I wanted to give kids opportunities that I had never had. I enjoy working with teenagers in particular and I wanted those kids to be able to enjoy school and have a positive experience at school

What do you teaching and to what Grades?

I teach years 7-10 science and Senior Chemistry.

How often do you use published texts, learning resources and teacher guides for your classroom? Why do you choose to use them?

I use published resources frequently. I tend to use them to create my own resources in school that I adapt to my students. What I may use in one classroom I may not use in the other, even if I have two groups of students that in the same year. The resources that I use will depend upon what works best for the students, what I have the time to work through and work out how I will use them for my students and what level the resources are set at. Some resources are great for Gifted and Talented students but are not good for those who have learning difficulties or may be EAL/D students. I need to carefully go through each of my resources and figure out what will be best for which students.

I often choose resources that have different levels, simple over views and definition and then some work that I can give students that are working quickly through the resources and are enjoying science.

What features of an educational learning resource do you look out for? Why? 

I like my resources to have online support and little video’s included in the content that help to explain the resource. So I look for something where there may be a physical aspect for the content as well as an online platform that supports and expands on the content. I also like to be able to log in and see where my students are up to so that I can assess them and make sure that they are completing the content and understand the content. I want my educational resources to be colourful, high quality, durable and relevant to my students. I want my students to see themselves doing science not just an old fashioned notion of what a scientist is.

I work in science and it can be difficult to find experiments that will engage students. At the beginning of each year there will always be a group of students that ask if we can explode something. Obviously, that is not going to happen. However, I do want to have good quality practicals in my resources that I can work into my classes. Those practicals need to be clear, easy to implement, not require a lot of costly material and easy for students to understand. There also needs to be an understanding that neither the lab technician nor the teacher has a huge amount of time to set up really extensive practicals so any practicals need to be easy to manage and require small set up times.

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you in your planning and classroom?

It engages the students and helps them to see science in a visual way and to want to learn more about science. A high quality resource will facilitate my teaching. I will be able to set work from the resource or work with the resource to spark whole class conversations and learning.

When I am planning I want to know that my resources are aligned to the syllabus and that I don’t have to flip back and forwards to another part of the resource, or to another resource to figure out how the resource is aligned to the syllabus. However, I don’t want to have to work through a text book from beginning to end either. I want to be able to flip to the sections that are relevant to me and to my class and ignore those that are not.

Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What is it and talk us through what aspects of it really work for you and your students.  

I really like the Cosmos magazines and their sister site Stileapp.com I like being able to customise the work. I love the fact that the units are updated regularly and that they are often based on new articles that are coming through all the time. I like the platform. The platform allows me to look at what my students are doing and how well they are performing. It allows me to see where a student is struggling and where we need to focus more as a class. At the same time I can always change things up if I want to and add in more content or less content.

How do students respond to high quality learning resources in your experience? To what extent can a good resource shift how engaged a student can be? Have you witnessed this happening with a particular student?

Quality resources can help to keep low ability students engaged while at the same time helping to facilitate higher level students explore on their own. I have one particular student, as soon as I gave them access to one particular resource they just powered ahead and explored everything they could. They were so interested. Others kept on working through the work that I requested them to work through, but this one particular student sat there and worked through everything, he wanted more. This is a great response from a student and I was so pleased to have access to a resource that I could use to expand his horizons and to facilitate his interest.​

Interview with Keynote Speaker, educator and Reading Australia fellow Alex Wharton

Alex Wharton is one of two keynote speakers at this year’s Educational Publishing Awards. He is Head of Middle School at Carinya Christian School, Gunnedah. Prior to this current role which still includes significant classroom teaching, he has served as an English Teacher and Head Teacher of English for a combined total of 10 years. Alex has written extensively with regards to teaching and learning resources for subject English, and presented at local, state and national conferences for English Teachers. Alex is the Copyright Agency’s first Reading Australia Fellow for Teacher of English and Literacy. Alex aims to use this opportunity to share this unique professional learning opportunity with colleagues, knowing full well this experience will further transform his own daily teaching and leadership practices within the English classroom.

 

 

What first inspired you to embark on a career in education?

I was significantly impacted by the teachers I had in my senior years of high school. They modelled to me life-long learning, a passion for your craft, and love of subject. Being in education is a wonderful way to make a tangible difference to the lives of others around you.

Is that what keeps you there now you’ve had experience in the field?

Yes! Education is about bettering others. Everyday, we are still able to develop and model to others the power of education to change the world.

You’ve just been awarded the Reading Australia Fellow for Teaching and Literacy. Can you tell us a little bit about the project you will be embarking on and what led you to want to work in this area?

I am so honoured to have received the inaugural Reading Australia Fellowship for Teachers of English and Literacy. My Fellowship is titled The Missing Peace and it is a literary analysis of the Australian representation surrounding the First Nation and non-First Nation colonial experience. A consideration of the textual representations relating to the colonial experience, this Project aims to bring together narratives from a variety of different writers to significantly inform English teaching practice.

The Copyright Agency’s CEO Mr Adam Suckling has said, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures is a cross curriculum priority (also known as the CCP) in Australian schools, but teachers are often scrambling to find great resources to bring these perspectives to life.” 

So over the next twelve months, I am using the $15,000 funding to research the representation of the colonial experience in every state and territory in Australia. This involves conferences, museums, libraries, interviews, school visits, academic presentations, and in depth research into literature.

What do you anticipate might be an outcome of your research that may impact or be meaningful to the Australian educational publishing community? 

The notion of something being missing is a key motif which drives much of our greatest Australian literature. Yet, one can only be aware of something being missing, when the knowledge of what should be there, arises. The Missing Peace is a research based, Australian literary analysis project, which seeks to address the missing pieces (oh yes, word play!) in the professional knowledge of English teachers regarding Indigenous and non-Indigenous representations pertaining to the colonial experience.

Is there a gap in what educational publishers are producing to help with Indigenous literacy? Or are there publications that are hitting the spot in your observations? 

Author Ellen van Neerven has written some fantastic content on how teaching books by Indigenous authors has a huge impact on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Magabala Books – Australia’s oldest independent Indigenous publishing house – is doing some exceptional and exciting work in this space, and I am looking forward to meeting with them in coming months as part of my Reading Australia Fellowship.

To change tact now, when it comes to choosing educational resources for your school, what features do you look out for? Why?

I look for curriculum mapping and alignment, that the resource is both relevant and engaging to our student learning experience. I interrogate a text for its adaptability, for its usefulness and consider ways that it can bring about transformative learning experiences for the students in our care. 

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you for planning and in the classroom?

It is the trust and confidence that comes with using a high quality resource in my classroom. It enables me to use the resource as a vehicle to shape understanding, to build a positive learning experience, and to challenge thinking in ways which classrooms were designed for.

Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What is it and talk us through what aspects of it really work for you and your students.

The Copyright Agency’s Reading Australia resource suite is by far the most valuable to my work as an English Teacher. Reading Australia provides teaching resources for Australia’s greatest literature and it’s all mapped to the Australian Curriculum. It’s a resource made freely available to teachers, and written by teachers for their use in the classroom. I love that it offers quality Australian literature suggestions, accompanied by the most incredible collection of resources ranging from academic essays, to author podcasts, to units of work that I know I will love teaching and my students will love learning from. 

I think the world of the Australian education publishing sector makes an incredibly valuable contribution to our society. We are fortunate to have a sector who is committed to advancing the cause of education for the ultimate benefit of others – our students. 

 

The Educational Publishing Awards will be held 4 September 2019. Get your tickets here. 

IT and Mathematics teacher choice on educational publishing products, with Jeff Nicholson

Portrait of Jeff Nicholson

Portrait of Jeff NicholsonIn this post we interview IT and Mathematics teacher, Jeff Nicholson, on what aspects of educational resources he looks for to utilise in his classroom. 

How long have you been a teacher and what inspired you to become one?

I’ve been a secondary school teacher since 2005. I teach IT and Mathematics. Before that, I have predominantly (but not exclusively) worked in IT and that has often involved teaching colleagues how to use technology (especially in the 90s). I recall being asked (as a senior high school student) to teach the teachers at my school how to use a piece of software in the early 90s. I’ve also worked as a tutor at university teaching IT. Helping others learn technology has always been part of my life.

Where do you currently teach, what are you teaching and to what Grades?

I currently teach at a comprehensive government high school in Albury NSW. I have always worked in the public system, and have taught at a variety of schools from south-west Sydney to the western edge of NSW.

How often do you use published texts, learning resources and teacher guides for your classroom? Why do you choose to use them?

As a mathematics teacher, textbooks are invaluable as a reusable question bank resource. Even these days, repetition is a critical part of developing mathematical skills and fully worked solutions and examples underpin the teacher-assisted learning. By also providing alternative voices in how the material is explained, textbooks and other published material give the student the chance to explore other ways of understanding the same content.

What features of an educational learning resource do you look out for? Why?

As a technology-based teacher, I am particularly keen on digital resources. I don’t mind being required to own a physical copy in order to access the digital, although the time-limited subscription model to digital access is problematic. Being able to upload a task to Google Classroom (for internal use only, of course) can be very helpful. It is particularly useful for teachers to have an electronic copy they can access at home (for preparation of work). I’m always on the look-out for publishers who offer an electronic-only site licence arrangement at a reasonable price. In my technology classes, I would ideally like to be paperless and this would assist … but so far the options aren’t that good.

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you in your planning and classroom?

Flexibility and currency. Teachers are constantly trying to innovate, and this means being able to use textbooks, or electronic versions, or additional resources that can be on screen or printed. There is no single solution in this mixed-mode education era, and being adaptable is the most helpful. In technology, the world is changing quickly that if we’re to pay for a subscription model for a textbook then we should be seeing that text updated more often.

What resources do you really value and what aspects work for you and your students?

In Mathematics the texts that have differentiated learning – easy, medium and hard questions that are colour coded in the same exercise set – are invaluable for being able to give differentiated work to students in the same class without them directly being labelled as “dumb” or “smart”. In Technology there are often ‘core’ and ‘option’ strands so texts that assist the teacher in developing an integrated program are incredible. This is the thing: course ‘units’ in schools do not always match the textbook chapters (and certainly don’t match the order). Texts that have more, and more narrowly defined, topics (rather than a few broad categories) are easier to mix-and-match in a program and will be more appealing to teachers.

How do students respond to high quality learning resources in your experience? To what extent can a good resource shift how engaged a student can be? Have you witnessed this happening with a particular student?

In my subject area, it’s hard to find any pre-published resource that ‘engages’. Mathematics texts are useful and change a student’s engagement if it provides the right level of support at the right time. Examples on the page (interspersed with the question in the exercise) assist more than a series of examples three pages earlier. I have heard and seen students react against the latter sort of text after they’ve become used to the former: “where are the examples?” has been asked more than once when dealing with a less interlaced resource.