Lilly Daly

Rural English teacher, Lilly Daly, shares insights from her time in the classroom.

“My students have reminded me to appreciate the small things in life. Even on the hardest days, my students will continue to find excitement and good in some of the funniest places, from finding a sharp pencil on the ground to having their favourite subject. Their enthusiasm always raises the morale of the classroom.”

Tell us a little bit about your childhood…

I was born in Cairns and spent my early years there. Our family spent most holidays camping and four-wheel-driving in remote areas. One of my favourite memories was taking a boat up Cobbold Gorge looking for crocodiles, I remember being mesmerised by the rock formations. I spent my later schooling years in Brisbane, where I attended Stuartholme for secondary school.

Tell us about why you both became a teacher.

I still remember the times I would teach my 3-year-old brother and teddies in my room, using textas and poster paper. I would then write out homework for him and would grade him on his writing. Other than a desire to teach from a young age (probably from the influence of Miss Honey from the movie Matilda), I have always been a very creative person and believe teaching is one of the most creative industries. I now enjoy planning engaging lessons and creating resources to inspire students to want to learn.

Was there anyone that inspired you to become a teacher, and what was it about them that inspired you?

Over the years I have had many wonderful teachers who have encouraged me to be the best I can be and inspired me with their patience, kindness, and support. My Year 4/5 teacher, Miss Donnelly, shaped the teacher I am today, with her compassionate heart and passion for hands-on learning.  In Miss Donnelly’s classes, we subtly learned to love learning, and I try to achieve this with my students.

What inspired you to work in a rural and remote setting?

At university, I was a part of the National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools (NEDTS) program, which focused on providing pre-service teachers with specific strategies to support students in low socio-economic regions. Through this program, my interest was piqued, and I was given the opportunity to complete a practicum in a rural community that had many diverse features. It was through this practicum that I developed a passion for teaching in rural and remote settings.

What have you learned from being in a small town? Some great memories you would like to share so far.

Living in a small town has been an excellent experience. You feel a part of a community – everything from walking into the local café and knowing most people to going to the races and having conversations with very different individuals contributes to the sense of community. I have a wonderful group of friends in Cunnamulla and have been on a lot of wonderful adventures that I could not have experienced elsewhere.

Tell me something you have learned from your students.

My students have reminded me to appreciate the small things in life. Even on the hardest days, my students will continue to find excitement and good in some of the funniest places, from finding a sharp pencil on the ground to having their favourite subject. Their enthusiasm always raises the morale of the classroom.

What is your favourite subject that you teach and what creative elements do you do to engage your students?

I love teaching English… and believe me, I never thought that I would be saying that. When planning I try to make the lesson context purposeful for my learners, so they better engage with the concept/skills being taught. I also incorporate group learning tasks in most lessons, so students can communicate and build their knowledge in a collaborative environment.

How do you foster individuality in students through learning?

I design many learning projects/tasks with open success criteria, so students can choose their topic and how they deliver their understanding. I think it is important to understand that just like teachers, students have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is important to allow students the opportunity to use their strengths on learning projects but be supported when facing a challenge.

What does a typical day look like for your schools today?

The only typical part of my day are the bell times and duties. If you were to walk into my classroom, most days you would see me facilitating collaborative learning conversations and activities, providing students with feedback and checking in with their understanding, and using a range of brain-breaks, technologies and visible learning strategies. At the end of most days, I re-set my classroom and often end up in the prep-room having a `debrief with a colleague

What is your funniest teaching story?

There has not been a day that has passed when our class hasn’t stopped laughing about one thing or another. My students are all stand-up comedians, but I have found our school camps to be filled with funny moments – from falling off surf boards to getting stuck on rock-climbing walls.

What are your tips for Early Career teachers coming to live in a rural and remote setting?

Just do it! Don’t be afraid to get involved in the community, reach out to the school community, and grow into the community at large.  My experience is that all rural and remote communities anticipate the ‘new’ teacher and the exciting and brave teaching skills they offer. Yes, it is often challenging but the support of the teaching community to sort out these small challenges is part of the experience. You grow as a teacher and human being.

Tell me three to five things you would want a student teacher to learn from you.

  1. Be true to yourself – each person has their strengths and weaknesses
  2. You aren’t meant to have all the answers/know everything – reach out for support!
  3. Prioritise building relationships
  4. Reflecting is so important – both professionally and personally.
  5. Relax and enjoy the experience, hold the memories.

How do you engage parents in your classroom? What is your favourite strategy to build relationships?

I believe that respect and open-communication are the basis of all productive parent-teacher relationships. It is important to keep them actively involved in their student’s progress academically and personally at school. I often catch parents at drop off/pick up to discuss positive growth of their child and if there has been an issue at school I definitely keep them in the know. At the end of the day, both the Parents and I want what is best for the student.

What do you do to unwind and relax? Is there a favourite place to go to unwind?

Every Saturday, a group of teachers go to the local café and perch up with a coffee and a delicious baked goodie or toasty. This weekly ritual is a great time to unwind from the week and just chat. I also love going out to the local river and watching the trees by the banks. There is something very calming about the river spot and I often find myself in awe of the Australian landscape.

Do you make time for self-care?

Yes – each night I spend time listening to music and having a dance party while I make dinner. “Dancing it out” is a great tool I use to move my body and disengage my brain from a busy day. I also make sure I have a positive morning routine which sets me up for the day.

What is on your list of loves (blogs, teaching resources, a book, Netflix/TV show, a song, an activity, a magazine)

I absolutely love Netflix and conversing with my colleagues and friends on the best watches (staffroom favourite). I love music and discovering new Australian artists and bands. I also enjoy scrolling through my teaching Instagram page and finding all sorts of amazing inspiration.

What benefits have you gotten out of doing the 1:1 Coaching program with Beyond the Classroom?

The program has really supported me to visualise my goals and develop attainable next steps and strategies to support my goals. Through the coaching program, I was also given mindful practices to try to support my well-being, in which I have definitely seen a personal improvement.

Finally, what is next for you?

Next year, I will be teaching in Cunnamulla and I am so excited to find out what class I will be teaching. I am also recently engaged, so I will be planning and preparing for our wedding.