We spoke with Peter van Noorden, formerly of Oxford University Press, who was recently recognised for his service to the sector at the Educational Publishing Awards of Australia as 2020’s Mike Horsley Award recipient. Peter shared with us how he determines success in a learning resource, how he sees COVID-19 impacting the sector long-term, and what projects are keeping him going at the moment.
Congratulations on being selected as the second Mike Horsley Award recipient. Did you ever work with Professor Mike Horsley? What are your memories of him?
I worked with Mike on the APA Education Committee for many years. He was larger than life and bowled you over with his relentless positivity. He was so passionate about how educational resources could best deliver meaningful pedagogical principles and was working with the efficacy of our resources long before the term was formulated. To be given an award named in his honour is a real privilege.
You started out as a teacher (as many educational publishers and authors do.) Why did you make the shift to publishing?
All I ever wanted to be was an educator; and I have been lucky enough to be able to carve out a career in education – first as a teacher and then as a developer of learning materials.
Right from day one I have had a passion for student engagement. Teaching and learning are much easier and fulfilling if the students are engaged in what they are doing. The biggest compliment I ever received from a student was from a boy who said “Mr Van – that was almost interesting.” Developing engaging educational materials became my passion, and I wrote my first textbook, Living Geography, for Heinemann (now part of Pearson) in just my third year of teaching. In my ten years as a teacher I wrote six Geography and History textbooks, so a progression into educational publishing was natural for me.
How do you measure success in a resource?
For me, a successful educational resource is one where the student is looking at page 73 when they have been asked to go to page 24 – because they are engaged to do so. Really great educational resources like Science Quest (Jacaranda), Maths Plus (OUP) and PM Benchmark (Cengage) also give students confidence through a clear set of steps to follow that help them progress. These resources are still popular after more than 20 years in the market.
What was the sector like when you started making educational products? What were you focusing on when developing your first resources? How did that change over the years?
When I wrote my first textbook in the mid-eighties, colour was just being introduced as a factor to engage students. My complete focus was on student engagement, so my first Geography text had new chapters such as Stereotypes and Endangered Species – not the topics that were traditionally studied in Geography. Engagement has always been the key principle for me in developing new resources, as learning doesn’t begin until a student is engaged to learn. Over the years I’ve learned more about learning pedagogy and better ways to help students progress and gain confidence in what they are doing. I have been very lucky to work with some of the very best researchers, publishers and teachers in this regard. I have been privileged to attend educational conferences all over the world and work with many international publishers. I think Australia has the most sophisticated and engaging educational materials anywhere in the world.
Looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the educational sector, do you see educational publishers having changed forever? If so, in what ways?
COVID-19 has really thrust Educational publishing into the limelight. The value of really great resources is that they assist independent learning. Students have had less access to teachers over the last six months, so learning resources have needed to step up to the plate and provide clear learning paths for students. We know that in each year of school, the most advanced 10 per cent are about five to six years ahead of the least advanced 10 per cent, so educational resources need to find a way to help all students progress. I think ability progression is now the new Everest for governments, schools and educational publishers to conquer for independent learning to make some giant strides forward. The New South Wales Government are making some big moves in this direction.
What have you been working on since finishing up at OUP?
I found out pretty early that my true passion is in developing engaging and meaningful educational resources. Since leaving OUP in 2018 I have been studying educational magazines like How it Works, All About History and National Geographic. Magazines have to instantly call out to the reader to pick them up. I used many of the principles of engagement in magazines to write the new Good Humanities series with Matilda Education with two fabulous classroom practitioners. During COVID-19 lockdown over the last 6 months, I decided to sit down and write a new Science text based on ability progression. I’ve just finished the year 7 text and I’m starting on the year 8 text now. When I’ve perfected it, I’ll see if there is an educational publisher interested in developing it for the market.
What qualities do you see in people who work in educational publishing? Is it a career path you encourage others to walk down?
There are so many pathways for many different talents in educational publishing and so many great people to learn from. There are creative pathways such as writing and design to deliver the most engaging texts. Marketing, editing and software development need technical competence and flair to ensure a connection with the audience. Publishing and sales offer opportunities to connect in person with teachers and lecturers and work with them to develop solutions. Management pathways at many levels give the opportunity to foster the careers of others and develop teamwork and clarity of vision. I have been blessed to work with and learn from so many talented people in my career in educational publishing. The best advice I ever received was from my wonderful boss at Wiley – Peter Donoughue – who said, “Hire the best people and get the hell out of their way!”
We’ve been working on a booklet (soon to be released) that showcases the value of educational publishing in Australia. Given your experience, can you pinpoint the value of Australia’s educational publishing industry?
Educational publishing brings together experts to work with educators to develop engaging material for all students, written specifically for the curriculum and pitched directly at the audience.
Looking back on your career, do you have a highlight?
There were highlights every day I went to work. In the beginning it was all about developing engaging resources that students and teachers would love to use. In my latter years as a manager it was all about encouraging excellence and giving others room to experiment and progress. Now I’m back to resource development and learning all I can about ability progression. I am up early every morning working on new ideas and as passionate as ever to make a difference in student engagement and progress.
When Jane Doyle started teaching online to her kindergarten students in the early days of the pandemic, never did she think it would result in seeing intimate shots of the insides of their noses and throats as they became curious with webcam technology. “I never thought I might need to be an ear, nose and throat specialist!” Educator leadership was never an ambition of Jane’s either, but it came via chance and opportunity at every school she’s worked in across her 33 years in the Catholic primary education sector. Her current leadership role is as Coordinator of Training and Leadership for K-2 at Dominic College, in Glenorchy, Tasmania, where she oversees curriculum implementation and initiatives, resourcing and professional learning for teachers and students.
Jane is one of two award winning teachers speaking at the Educational Publisher Awards this year. She will share learnings as a teacher leader for Kinder to Year 2 educators and her thoughts on where educational publishers could position their offerings for “the new normal.” Below is a quick Q and A with Jane to get you acquainted prior to the EPAA event on 3 September.
Jane, how did things change for you when schools began closing down and transitioning to teaching online?
The biggest change for me was the realisation we needed to send all of our student’s stationery, books, and devices home so that we could continue to learn in the new term. I oversaw this for all of the K-2 classes. The immediate impact of the closing down of the school was a shock for us all because we actually didn’t think it would happen. Packing up our own resources and our classrooms for extra cleaning was surreal and hectic. Our parents were just as affected as we were.
The teaching staff worked onsite for the last four days of term, organising online lessons, timetables, resource packs to be photocopied and mailed home in case we didn’t have enough devices available. Then our thoughts turned to how we would need to recreate our classrooms while working from our homes.
During this time I was supervising the children of Essential workers and helped set up our Teacher Assistants to continue individual speech lessons, small group literacy and numeracy support lessons and ensure access to all of the online lessons.
This also was a time for improving teacher IT skills to ensure they were comfortable and competent in the online forum. Setting up my own learning space at home was not a focus at this point but I quickly realised I would need to do this to ensure I was ready for both of my roles at the beginning of Term 2!
You’ve said your greatest resource is your teachers, can you explain what that means to you?
This is a personal view, but it also correlates with the view of our College leadership. If our students have dynamic, skilled and happy teachers, learning will automatically occur. One of our founders, Don Bosco’s, greatest sayings is one we keep in the forefront of our minds: “It is not enough to love the young; they must know that they are loved.” This influences the way we engage with our students and flows into our approach to teaching and pastoral care at Dominic College.
How did you see your teachers respond to having to teach online all of a sudden? What did they most need from you?
The most important thing I could give my teachers in the lead up to remote learning was the confidence and reassurance that they could do it. We had a two week “holiday break” before the Term started, and I was available to them whenever they needed as I felt that a problem shared, is a problem halved. Most of my team continued to work throughout the holidays to ensure they were ready for the new term.
Towards the end of the first week of term, one of my most experienced team members suggested that we needed to meet for a social occasion. This made me aware that some teachers lived on their own and they were actually on their own while teaching and in downtime. This made me consider their health – mental and physical – and how we could connect to highlight they were not alone and that I was available for them if they needed me.
This became a valuable time because we shared as much as possible – especially resources found through our social platforms and networks.
I also supported them in becoming leaders within our team as well. Some of my team have more experience with online planning and with shortcuts that we could take, so our meetings became a collegiate approach to planning and problem solving when needed.
What aspects and features of teacher and student resources did you find really useful when transitioning to a digital classroom?
Some of the most useful resources needed to be accessible online. We now have an online reading program for Prep (Foundation) to Year Two. We also sourced an overseas Maths program because we were concerned that some of our students were missing out on vital practise time, which occurs naturally in the classroom.
Most of the classroom teachers took home hands-on resources from their classrooms to use in online lessons. We sent home small packs of resources with the children that included handwriting, alphabet and high frequency word charts; 10 frames, counters and dice and number cards; basic cards and resources that we could use for a variety of different games and activities in the home environment.
We already have some online resources for reading in Maths in Year 2 and have had these for several years. We introduced a couple of programs for Prep (Foundation) and Kinder to see if these would work in an online environment.
The main thing that teachers wanted with the activities was the ability for children to work at an instructional level and then at an enjoyment or practise level. The ability to use our online resources for guided reading was important to us but we had varying degrees of success. The main thing that we found useful was the ability to differentiate for our students using the same resource.
What did you find in transitioning to an online teaching that you were missing from resources available to you?
Apart from everyone having the same internet strength and connection! The main thing we found missing was the ability to give feedback straightaway and to examine everything that the students were doing as we normally do in the classroom; we needed to wait until they finished the activity before we could actually give feedback. There was also a large element of parent help in some of the activities and this meant that some work samples were not true indicators of student knowledge and understanding.
Video responses certainly helped but again some leading questions were often used to get the “right” answers. Parental understanding was sometimes different. To cater for this many teachers made videos of the same lesson with the children so the parents and students could watch it again. Some teachers also added extra instructions for the parents and other options for activities. The responses we viewed did not always show true evidence of understanding and needed to be repeated when we returned to face-to-face teaching at school. Many of our online and physical resources did not support the introduction of new learning.
How do you see the classroom changing in the long term, based on what you have learned in the Covid period?
There have been a large number of my teachers saying that they are now able to fully integrate technology in our classrooms because we have individual one-to-one devices for every student from Kinder to Year 10 (that’s nearly 1000 devices). Previously in the Early Years, we had 15 devices for each class, but these could be combined so everybody could have a one-to-one opportunity.
This now also provides an added dimension to our classroom planning and learning opportunities, where technology is can be a part of every lesson. We can continue to have small groups and provide the direct instruction needed. Early Years programs are enhanced because our students’ digital skills have improved. They are now able to create responses to activities instead of just using devices for play or practise.
A really positive result is the increased interaction we now have with our parents. For the first time our parents were tasked with actively “teaching” their children and keeping them engaged and up to date with classroom work.
What suggestions do you have for Australian educational publishers to prepare for the new opportunities in teaching?
The biggest change I foresee for Australian educational publishers is the storage, access 24/7 on each device and the variety available in this format.
It is a much cheaper option for us than buying large numbers of published book sets to use for guided reading, for individual writing, for home reading and for use in all curriculum areas. I think this is an area where publishers can consider focusing on.
Having a range of fiction and nonfiction stories available across all curriculum areas would be advantageous, particularly for the early years. I feel this is something that will be embraced by many teachers in all year levels.
I also think the addition of e-books and picture books based on the varying nationalities and cultures we now have in all Australian schools, would be well supported and a wonderful addition to our classroom libraries. We have many nationalities in our school and one of the greatest things that we can do is offer our children and their family’s opportunities to read in their first language and share these with children in our class.
Our LOTE language is Japanese and we recently purchased a large number of picture books from Japan during our annual visit to our sister school. These help our children learn to read and speak more fluently in Japanese purely for enjoyment and to extend our program from oral language experience to encompass all aspects of language in familiar picture books.
I think having technology as a resource in our classrooms means that there are many different ways that we can use the same book / resource because we can read it alone with a friend or as a whole group; we can listen to it and interact with the story as it is being read to us. I think the most important thing is having an interactive aspect to any of the books that are published in the future because encouraging our children to respond using technology is the best way that we can move forward especially now that we have such amazing technological capacity available to us.
To hear more insights from Jane Doyle, be sure to sign up for the online EPAA ceremony. Learn about the winners when they’re announced as a bonus!
Jane Doyle was recognised as the Australian Teacher of the Year by The Educator in 2018.
One of two keynote speakers for the online Educational Publishing Awards ceremony this year is a western Sydney humanities teacher who is the first Teacher Ambassador for the New South Wales Department of Education. Her students call her Ms Selva.
Yasodai Selvakumaran has been teaching at Rooty Hill High School for ten years where the student population spans more than 40 language backgrounds. Yasodai juggles classroom teaching with leadership positions, such as her current role as acting Head Teacher Mentor supporting and inducting beginner teachers. In the following interview Yasodai shares her experience transitioning teaching online, how she chooses topical and relevant learning resources for her students, and touches on where she is dedicating her energy to see change in the sector through greater stakeholder involvement.
What has it been like for your school and Covid? Have there been any blessings in disguise with the disruption to online learning?
Transitioning to teaching online during the pandemic highlighted just how important adaptability is in teaching. My colleagues and I learnt what worked and what didn’t work online quite rapidly at each phase. New lessons in the transition when we went to back to face-to-face learning were found too. My passion for teaching has become stronger despite the challenges. I’ve been energised by the pace of teacher collaboration which I’ve never seen before, and it’s on-going. From working with colleagues in my school to teacher forums online nationally and internationally, teachers are continuing to seek out professional learning and to support each other to do the best for students.
With the diversity of your student community, how do you go about selecting resources for your students? What are you ultimately looking for?
With the nature of Humanities teaching, I integrate contemporary events with texts that cover historical, sociological and anthropological content. I supplement published texts with relevant media links to create case studies reflective of what is current in the discipline. I sometimes adapt a planned lesson that morning, depending on what is in the news! Resources that link directly to the diversity of my students or present opportunities for a transnational historical link or cross-cultural study are particularly useful. Inquiry based suggestions in resources are fantastic as the nature of open-ended questions and debates spark new strategies and enables me to further personalise the learning and offer choice to my students. I also look for resources that cater for different levels of learning to help differentiate in the classroom.
What have you found to be most helpful in resources you have used or are using?
I always find it helpful when there is an overarching narrative that captures an explanation with engaging visuals, key terms and questions that are ‘chunked’ down appropriately and visually not too far from the sources and written text. (This is to deter students from flicking through multiple pages to find their ). I look for tasks that enable critical and creative thinking and enable the teacher to adapt tasks for the needs of their students. I also find it helpful when the curriculum links are clear to a range of case studies that link directly to outcomes and syllabus content.
Where would you like to see resources improving to be more reflective of your students? How do you see that being achieved?
I would like to see resources improving to include broader case studies and ‘untold’ stories that reflect the diversity in Australia today. I see this being achieved with broadening narratives to include more examples from a number of perspectives and backgrounds and context links to other parts of the world.This is crucial to develop empathy and broader worldviews. It also presents opportunities for more of our students to see themselves and reflect on experiences that they can relate to. I would also like resources to consider the various literacy levels of students to ensure that language is academic and the layout of texts are accessible, especially in the junior secondary years.
Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have presented two topical subject areas to draw from in your classes. How do you do incorporate fast emerging topics into your lesson plans when traditional resources may not be available to work from?
As an example, last term my colleagues in Society and Culture re-designed an assessment task for the Year 11 topic of Personal and Social Identity to consider the impact of COVID-19 this topic. Students were asked to publish a Time magazine type feature article that compared the impact of COVID-19 on personal and social identity in Australia with another culture or country of their own choosing. We then mapped lessons in class that included: “Language of the pandemic: public health or panic?” and teachers modelled writing that explored the impact COVID-19 had on our own lives for students to consider their own.
For my Year 12 Society and Culture class, I was teaching the topic of Hip hop as a focus study last term for Popular Culture. Black Lives Matter in the media enabled us to link and explore the power of protest songs today and throughout History. This term, I am teaching the topic of Social Inclusion and Social Exclusion and have programmed media case studies and academic journals that link directly to Black Lives Matter in the United States of America with the impact it is having around the world, including in Australia. Traditional resources still played a crucial role for background information, theoretical explanations, teaching key vocabulary and drawing links to historical, sociological and anthropological case studies.
You were a Global Teacher Prize finalist last year – big congrats! It’s been stated on the GTP website that you would like to, in the long term, “lead greater sharing of what teachers and schools are currently doing to work effectively with stakeholders, including governments, students, and parents.” Can you see educational publishers being added to this list of stakeholders? What benefits could you see with all stakeholders better working together?
Thank you so much. It was an incredible opportunity and I’m thankful for everything that has come since as well including the opportunity to speak at the Education Publishing Awards.
I absolutely see educational publishers being a part of this as a crucial link in connecting curriculum and pedagogy. Stakeholders working together in publishing can ensure that resources reflect current approaches in Education and current scholarship in disciplinary understandings.
Professor Lee Schulman speaks about “what counts as knowledge in a field and how things become known” when speaking on signature pedagogies. I believe the power of publishing is in fostering empathy, and individual and collective belonging and wellbeing, as we promote the knowledge, skills and dispositions our students need.
To hear more from Yasodai, be sure to tune into the Educational Publishing Awards when they screen on 3 September. Bookmark this page to tune in!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.