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.
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.
Lian Davies is an educator and leader with a passion for global educational systems and strategies focussing on student centred learning. Lian has worked in both Scottish and English schools in the UK, developing her leadership skills while navigating a new country and education system she became an Assistant Principal and Acting Principal in NZ in 2011. Lian moved to become Assistant Principal at Templestowe College in 2016. Continuing to develop an innovative model of education, Lian is now Principal at Whittlesea Secondary College. Lian was the winner of The Educator Rising Star Awards 2018.
Lian is one of two keynote speakers for the Educational Publishing Awards Australia in 2019. She shares her thoughts on educational products below.
What first inspired you to embark on a career in education? Is that what keeps you there today?
I first considered education when I was studying at university. I became part of a peer mentoring program for students who were in earlier years of our degree course. I realised how much I enjoyed helping others learn as well as how much more I understood the work through teaching it. I signed up for a post graduate teaching course after completing my honours degree and have never looked back. The pleasure of helping young people learn is a strong driver and I love to continue learning myself.
You’ve worked in a few countries. What differences have you observed about educational publishing products and purchasing them across these countries (if any)?
I have worked in Scotland, England, New Zealand and Australia. Each has its own educational systems but a common theme is the need for good quality resources to support educators in delivering engaging and challenging learning experiences for students. As the years have gone on what these resources might look like has gradually changed from the standard text book to more interactive materials. Australia and New Zealand have some strong publishers and materials that are used on both sides of the ditch and educators know they can rely on them for quality and supporting students to engage with the curriculum knowledge.
You are passionate about student-centred learning. For those who may not know what this is could you please explain it briefly?
Student centred learning is focussed on designing learning experiences that recognise and respond to the individual needs of each student. It is moving away from the previous methods of the teacher being the front and centre and all students following the lead.
Student centred educators and schools are working to understand and support student learning, rather than focusing on how best to teach or how to cover the curriculum.
We aim to actively create opportunities for families and communities to participate as equal partners in their children’s education and empower students to lead their own learning as much as possible.
How and where do you see this reflected in Australian learning resources (if at all)? What further knowledge needs to be shared to make learning resources for this model/approach? Or is this being done really well already?
Learning resources are starting to reflect this by providing a variety of media for our learners to engage with. An example would be a text book having a digital version or an audio version. I know a large number of my students who use text to speech software to support them in listening to books whilst studying. I have also seen interactive activities with some digital resources that engage our learners in a way they feel is interesting and stimulating. This shift to multiple media creates opportunities for learners to engage and experience learning differently.
Another thing you are dedicated to is about empowering students to take control of their own learning. How do learning resources help students feel empowered? Are resources helping towards this end?
As mentioned above by providing a variety of mixed media resources that students can engage with to suit their needs is a key to empowering our young people. In an age where we are understanding more around neurodiversity we want to be able to provide options for our students to engage with a range of quality materials. Flipped learning is a popular tool and allows young people to research, watch or engage with learning topics before they come into the classroom and explore these ideas further.
When it comes to choosing educational resources for your school, what features do you look out for? Why?
This can be a complex one as it depends on the subjects, the teams who are teaching and using the resources as well as the students themselves. The ability to cover key curriculum areas, whilst not limiting to only that information is often looked at. We want to support our learners to find key information but engage their thinking and learning to relevance in the real world. Engaging them through high quality diagrams, or online pictures often allows them to see things we may not have within the classroom environment. Having links to media they can look at engages our young digital natives into an environment they are familiar with and can learn from quickly.
Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What aspects of it really work for you, your staff and your students?
As a science educator I always appreciated the resources that considered not only the students with books and ebooks or apps, but also provided support notes for technicians or teachers to help with practical experiments and activities. Some of the resources had clearly spent a great deal of time considering all aspects of the learning outcomes and how to ensure everyone referring to the resources were best equipped to deliver this effectively.
Register to hear Lian Davies speak at the Educational Publishing Awards being held in Melbourne on 4 September 2019.
Brad Gobby and Rebecca Walker are the authors of Powers of Curriculum, a teacher education textbook that was highly commended at the 2018 Educational Publishing Awards. They spoke with us recently about their book, including how it makes a difference for both students and lecturers.
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Brad: I am senior lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. I taught in a number of secondary schools before moving into academia to research education policy and its effects on schools. I have a passion for encouraging service educators to see the bigger picture of education, like how it is shaped by forces beyond itself.
Rebecca: I am also a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. Before commencing in academia, I taught in secondary schools in Australia, city and regional areas, and overseas. My areas of interest are assessment, professional experience and online education. Encompassing all of my work is the advocacy and promotion of learning and teaching approaches that support and meet individual learner needs. I relish being able to make a positive contribution to education and the opportunity to make a difference to individuals’ learning.
What is your book Powers of Curriculum about?
Brad: Powers of Curriculum takes a sociological perspective to understanding teaching and learning in educational settings. It starts from the premise that formal education does not occur in a vacuum, and therefore the book explores historical, cultural and political aspects of Australian society that impact on curriculum, learners and teachers.
How does this resource improve educational outcomes for students?
Brad: Pre-service educators must understand the wider context of forces that shape formal education, whether that be early childhood education or formal schooling. Educators cannot adequately understand or go about their work if they do not engage with the social, cultural and political relations impacting on the education system and the lives of learners.
Rebecca: So, instead of treating educators as mere technicians of curriculum, we encourage educators to view themselves as intellectual workers. This means being equipped with the concepts, perspectives and capacity to critically interpret, interrogate and respond productively to those wider forces so as to make a positive difference to the lives of learners.
Brad: The book encourages readers to explore issues that impact on the lives of educators and learners, such as government policy, neoliberalism, poverty, cultural diversity, Indigenous education, popular culture and technology, gender norms and diverse sexualities. We want readers to connect their professional practice to an understanding of these wider forces which are often at play in education but also often ignored.
What difference does your resource make to lecturers?
Brad: We have been university educators for a while now so we appreciate what makes a useful learning resource. We used our experiences teaching in classrooms and online to create a textbook that is accessible to all readers, that carefully guides the reader through key issues, and illustrates its concepts and ideas through case studies that can be explored individually or in groups.
What was one of the highlights of writing Powers of Curriculum?
Brad: We were lucky enough to work with leading and emerging leaders in their fields. In writing their chapter, each contributor has drawn upon their expertise and their knowledge of leading edge research.
How does this resource approach the course material in a different way to others in the market?
Rebecca: This resource positions theory in an accessible and relatable manner making clear its alignment to practice. Reflective prompts, case studies and further reading provide readers with an opportunity to explore in more depth the theories and concepts presented.
Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Perspectives on Education by Brad Gobby, Rebecca Walker is published by Oxford University Press.
Calling all teachers, librarians and booksellers to rate your favourite educational publisher.
Now is your chance to tell us what you really think!
If you buy, sell or use textbooks or other educational resources, we want you to help decide this year’s Australian Primary and Secondary Publisher of the Year.
The Educational Publishing Awards Australia celebrate excellence and innovation in educational publishing, and who better to know which companies are doing this well than our partners in education: educators and booksellers.
Please complete this short survey to have your say about educational publishers. You will be asked to rate publishers on five areas: product quality, field services, company services, marketing and innovation. The survey should take no longer than 10 minutes. The survey closes on Friday 28 June 2019 at 11:59pm AEST.
As a thank you, you will automatically go into the draw to win a $500 David Jones gift card. Your chances of winning are up from last year with the additional two Australian Book Industry
Award prize packs (a pile of new books!) also up for grabs.
The survey will ask for your email address to ensure we only receive one response per person. However the survey data is completely anonymous. The awards are organised by the Australian Publishers Association and if you have any issues, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for completing the survey, providing our member valuable feedback, and helping us decide the Australian Primary and Secondary educational publishers of 2019.
The Australian Publishers Association
The Educational Publishing Awards Australia celebrate excellence and innovation in educational publishing. The event recognises publishers’ pursuit in creating cutting-edge, groundbreaking and pedagogically sound resources for teachers and students. The most coveted awards on the night are decided by the votes of our partners in education: educators, librarians and booksellers (that’s you!).
The Educational Publishing Awards will be held on Wednesday 4 September 2019 at the Pavilion, Arts Centre Melbourne. Proudly sponsored by the Copyright Agency.