It has been a very busy couple of weeks for me and although not managing to write my post did lead to various personal guilt issues, I was gratified that several people noticed and asked why I had failed them in this respect. Having thought that my mum and sister were the only people who actually read it, it was pleasing to learn that this is not the case.

My recent trip to Melbourne was for an immersive two-day conference with Jewish Studies colleagues from Carmel and all over the country. We attended workshops and mini lectures on topics as diverse as “Student voice in Jewish Education”, “Why Hebrew? A way to clarify our goals for Hebrew education” and “Antisemitism today: What do we know? What do we need to know?”

It was excellent to be able to catch up with people we knew, meet other educators and deeply consider various issues. These were both strategic (such as developing a mission statement which articulates the thinking behind teaching Hebrew and helps parents and students understand its importance) and immediately practical (classroom teaching strategies and ideas to make learning effective and engaging). Since our return, Morah Benn has already facilitated an after school professional learning opportunity for Primary School staff. We teachers who had attended the conference led our colleagues in activities which involved sharing some of the teaching strategies we had learnt at the conference - an exemplary way to share learning and diversify practice.

After the conference, I took two days to visit Jewish day schools in Melbourne and Sydney, which was a fascinating and enlightening experience. I have always struggled to love Melbourne. I have friends who rave about the eating and shopping opportunities, but I find its public transport system disappointing, and Perth always seems sunnier and warmer and less full of traffic and people. Sydney, however, was beautiful - sunny and bright and somehow cleaner. I even managed a lovely sunrise wander on Bondi beach, which was sadly far smaller than it appears on Bondi Rescue and lacked any lifeguard action at that time of the morning.

But of course, the aim of my trip was to visit schools, not analyse buses and beaches. I found that educators on the eastern seaboard are generous colleagues, and I met many principals and rabbis happy to share with me their thinking around the issues that they deal with as educational leaders.

It was heartening and reassuring to find that many Jewish day schools across Australia face similar considerations including how to cater for the different members of their communities, both academically and in terms of levels of observance (although this is more pronounced for us, as the sole Jewish school in Perth). They, too, struggle with issues such as how to ensure healthy enrolments of students, how to squeeze as much learning as possible into limited curriculum time and how best to provide authentic learning opportunities for their students.

Despite the continued winter weather, it was lovely to be back in Perth. The recent evening during which I was privileged to listen to Morah Gunders-Hunt’s Year 12 Hebrew speakers presenting their speeches was brilliant and reflected an impressive level of effort. I have adopted the practice of noting down the few words that I recognise (to make myself feel I am getting somewhere and learning something) and then a few new, unrecognised ones which I then ask a friendly Hebrew speaker to translate for me and which I add to my vocabulary book. I fear I shall be a hundred and long since retired from Carmel School before I reach a functional level of Ivrit, but I hope it sets a good example for the students and I am certainly enjoying the challenge.

The athletics carnivals for both High School and Primary School students were great fun. Never before have I experienced school sporting events with such an impressive rate of student participation. The fun that was evident on the day and the wonderful way in which our students took part, led others, supported their peers, celebrated wins and dealt with losses, reflected an unusual level of sportsmanship. It was very special. Very Carmel, in fact.

Thank you to all the students who have participated in these events and to the many staff who contribute their time and expertise to make all these opportunities possible. This is what makes Carmel a special place to learn.

Shabbat shalom.

Julie Harris