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10,000 days of love: celebrating Phil Nanlohy, a dialogical educator June 21, 2017

Posted by Editor21C in Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education, Uncategorized.
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By Jorge Knijnik

Educate is to immerse of meaning everything we do (Paulo Freire)

On the evening of the 19th June, teacher educators and primary teachers gathered in Parramatta, in the heart of Western Sydney, to celebrate the career achievements of a teacher educator legend: Phil Nanlohy, one of the most generous academics to have ever worked in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.phil

Phil had chosen that day for his retirement festivities because it marked his 10,000th working day at the University. He was happy and thankful that he could stay for more than 27 years in the same work place: happy as he made so many great friends; and thankful because over all these years he was able to make an intensive and in-depth commitment to his passion for education.

Both retirees and current teacher educators, along with other teachers who were present at that celebration, were unanimous in recognising that Phil’s positive impact in primary education in New South Wales goes far beyond the university’s lecture theatres. His legacy can be seen in the lives of thousands of university students, whom he has supported to achieve their goals and to become current teachers across Western Sydney. Phil has been the role model of so many teachers who learned with him to be better educators in their everyday teaching practices.

This is one of Phil’s important lessons: that teachers are never ‘ready to teach’; that we all learn while teaching, but this learning only comes if teachers have the chance to permanently self-reflect on their practices and their pedagogies. Paulo Freire, the greatest educator, philosopher and social activist, would say that “nobody starts to be an educator on Tuesday at 4 pm; nobody is born as an educator, or even defined as an educator. We become educators, permanently, in practice and reflecting on our practice”. Accordingly, Phil has fought so many good pedagogical fights to support students to create practical and insightful tools that would help them to increase their self-reflective skills, augmenting their capacity to implement their teaching philosophies with their own students, and becoming better teachers.

All testimonies on that festive night were about how Phil had always put his students’ needs in front of his own necessities: his mission was to help his students to find their ways through the sometimes daunting academic context. So many of his students were the first in their families to ever go to a university; many times they did not have either the cultural support or the knowledge about what the academic life requirements were. So, Phil was always there to help them to solve their problems.

Phil’s “proud sons of a teacher” gave evidence of the many evenings and numerous weekends that he spent on preparing materials for his students. This careful planning had the aim of delivering authentic learning experiences to his students, as Phil firmly believes that every lesson should be immersed with social and cultural meaning, so his passion for education would flow to students as they make their way to their emancipation as educators and citizens. For Phil, this passion was clearly a two-way route: as student-teachers embedded themselves with the hunger for teaching, they simultaneously nurtured Phil’s own desire to keep looking for ways to be a better teacher-educator himself.

Phil’s enthusiasm for his shared practices with his students was visible. More than visible, one could feel this enthusiasm rolling along the campus’ corridors and teaching spaces. Phil was relentlessly looking for better ways to improve his communication with his students.

This is another valuable lesson of Phil’s pedagogies. He was always in a dialogical relationship with the students; in a Freirean sense, that means to be in the students’ world AND with the students’ world. According to Freire, it is in the dialogical process that teachers develop their critical consciousness about the world they and their students inhabit. Dialogue is an essential tool for teachers to become educators.

In a historical period when neoliberalism and individualism pervade our daily lives, seemingly aiming to destroy the bonds that ties us as communal beings; in these precarious times when intolerant political ideas have strongly emerged within our societies, Phil’s unselfishness teaches us that dialogue is one of the most important tools that educators can use to increase their students’ social conscience towards a fairer society.

Phil’s lessons, though, go beyond that. His generosity towards his students and colleagues were a true lesson of love. Love that, according to Paulo Freire, it is both the foundation of the dialogical process as “the dialogical process itself”. Love for the world and for human beings. Love and dialogue, not manipulation or paternalism. Love as an act of freedom that generates new acts of freedom.

Phil’s lessons of love towards his work, his students and the world will remain with all of us, his colleagues and former students. The 10,000 days owe which he disseminated his love for the teaching profession will certainly generate many other thousands of days of dialogue and love for education.

However, we will miss him and his generosity on a daily basis. Phil’s words during his celebrations showed that he is a truly Freirean educator. Very humbly, he said that all “these years have been gift. The friendships and the support given to me have let me work as the teacher I wanted to be. Thank you all for what you have allowed me to do”.

Phil’s Educator shoes will be very hard to fill.


Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Dr. Jorge Knijnik is a senior lecturer in  the School of Education at Western Sydney University. Jorge’s books on Gender, Sports and Education can be accessed here.

2015 in review January 1, 2016

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

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2012 in review January 6, 2013

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 34,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals

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2011 in review January 1, 2012

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.


Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 21,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at the Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

“I do Maths for fun…..what do you do?” October 16, 2011

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education, Uncategorized.
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from Karen McDaid

Karen McDaid reflects upon negative attitudes to mathematics which are all too common in our adult population, and on the need for new teachers to present positive messages about mathematics to the children they teach.

Recently, while attending a function, I was asked by a very charming lady what I did for a living. This is not an unusual way of initiating conversations with a new acquaintance, and for most people, it is a pleasant way of commencing a friendly discourse. However, the problem lies not in my response to the question… but in the questioner’s reaction to my response. When my new acquaintance discovered that I taught mathematics, the conversation rapidly developed a negative downturn….. ‘Oh, I hated maths at school…. I was never any good at it, just didn’t get it……  I couldn’t work out when I was ever going to use it in real life!’ My newly acquainted friend then proceeded to sympathise with my terrible plight as a teacher of the dreaded “M” word and endowed me with declarations of empathy and compassion. Unfortunately, this is an occurrence that I regularly experience and have resolved myself to accepting – that it is extraordinary to find someone who liked mathematics at school even amongst the education students that I currently teach and who will eventually be responsible for teaching and promoting mathematics to our next generations. In all honesty, I am a proud and passionate teacher, the fact that my favourite subject is mathematics is secondary, and I refuse to be embarrassed by my love for a discipline which is both pragmatic and intrinsically beautiful.

As a teacher in mathematics education I am keenly interested in the attitudes of my tertiary students (future primary school teachers) towards mathematics, mainly because it is my responsibility to encourage their commitment to learning and their success in a subject that some may feel anxious about. Each semester I begin my first lecture by asking the students to think about what their favourite subject was while they were at school; what was it about that subject that they loved? How did they feel when doing anything to do with that subject? I then ask them to discuss with the students next to them what their feelings about Mathematics are; this usually generates great murmurings around the lecture theatre, unfortunately not always positive. Hembree (1990) suggested that maths anxiety in pre-service teachers is higher than for any other subject major undertaken at university level and a more recent study conducted by Haylock (2001) concurred with these findings. Studies conducted by Bursal and Paznokas (2006) carried out with pre-service teachers who exhibited high levels of maths anxiety have shown that anxiety often transfers into the classroom, and show a link between their (in)ability to teach the subject with confidence. On the other hand the primary teachers whose attitudes were inclined more positively towards maths stated that this was due to positive teacher attitudes at the tertiary level and support and, encouragement to ask why and explore alternatives as well as realisation that mathematics can be useful and has a purpose.

I believe that personal judgments about mathematics arise from several issues. These include beliefs about the nature of mathematics; beliefs about the learning and teaching of mathematics; learning experiences as a mathematics student at school; parental attitudes towards mathematics and teacher preparation programs.  These often silent notions that have been developed over time are frequently linked with our school experiences and can guide our actions and our attitudes in a manner that can be productive or destructive. Although I’m not ancient, my own school experience was that of repetition, rote learning of tables and red ‘crosses’ or ‘ticks’ on a page full of formal algorithms. Not forgetting the individual, quiet work where speaking to another student meant you were rewarded with a hundred totally unproductive lines like ‘I must not speak in class’. It wasn’t until high school that I found my passion for mathematics. Miss Gallen in Year 11 ignited and fostered my inquisitive nature and changed my belief that mathematics is a specialised domain and only those that are clever at mathematics can succeed.

During discussions in tutorial groups students often say that that success or failure in mathematics is attributable to a person’s ability and that effort has little effect on accomplishments, when in actual fact I consider that the opposite is the case. It may be that it is a person’s perception about their mathematical abilities and not their actual ability that stops them being risk takers and learners in mathematics. I tell my students that Novak Djokovic didn’t get to be the number one tennis player in the world by watching Wimbledon; he became good because he practised and to be good at mathematics requires practise, not just question after question but practise in thinking mathematically. But no matter what I might say, unfortunately for many prospective primary school teachers their negative memory of school mathematics may have created a cycle of anxiety which can influence their attitudes towards mathematics at tertiary level. My fear is that these high levels of anxiety towards mathematics may be inadvertently passed on to their students when they begin teaching. On the other hand, teachers who exhibit a positive attitude, have good content knowledge and use sound pedagogical practices are more likely to foster a positive attitude towards mathematics in their primary school students.

As a teacher I see myself as an educational guide, a motivator, mentor and hopefully someone who can encourage our pre-service teachers to develop a positive attitude towards mathematics and mathematics teaching. I consider the role of a teacher to be an incredibly important responsibility and I firmly believe that my attitude, passion and love of mathematics can have a profound effect on the students that I teach. With this in mind, I remind myself of the lady that I met who had such a negative view of mathematics and I wonder whether any of her teachers had exhibited a positive attitude or whether they had simply taught the procedures and expected her to ‘get it’. For our future teachers, they should become ambassadors of mathematics, constantly extolling its beauty and creativity, and while I encourage them to promote it in their roles as future teachers, I must also remind myself to promote this beautiful subject with the people that I meet instead of being mildly embarrassed about my love of mathematics when in company.

References:   Bursal, M. & Paznokas, L. (2006). Mathematics anxiety and preservice elementary teachers’ confidence to teach mathematics and science. School Science and Mathematics 106(4) 173-80.   Haylock, D. (2001). Mathematics explained for primary teachers London: Paul Chapman.   Hembree, R. (1990). The nature, effects and relief of mathematics anxiety. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21, 33-4.

Karen McDaid is a Lecturer in mathematics education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She teaches in our Master of Teaching (Primary) program.

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