Meet Penny Verdich
In dedicating over 40 years of her life to all areas of education, Penny Verdich has contributed immensely to levelling the global playing field in education & centres equity at the heart of her craft.
Who is Penny? What was your journey towards The LBW Trust?
I've been in education for all of my career, so 43 years. I started teaching a very long time ago and I was a primary teacher, and then I became the primary principal. I've always been really passionate about education. I come from a very long line of teachers and principals and I was always involved in public education. I'm very passionate about equity in education, so the fit of The LBW Trust in terms of the Education Director was a pretty good one. When I retired from being a principal I started working in educational consultancy - particularly what we call ‘coaching and education’. It’s helping teachers and school leaders to have better conversations so that they can coach the people they work with to achieve their potential. That's actually been a lovely thing as well because it's fitted in with some of the work that I've done with The LBW Trust. Apart from that, I'm passionate about family and art - I'm also an artist and I've just had the first exhibition.
You can keep up to date with Penny’s art through her Instagram: penny.verdich
Why did you become a teacher?
One of the reasons I became a teacher was because my father was a school principal. I went to the high school that dad taught at, he taught me English most senior years of high school, which was actually pretty good because he was a great teacher. Another [reason] was that we had lots of friends who were teachers, and they had that moral purpose around teaching. They were good people, they were interesting. My family was quite intellectual, mind you we liked sport as much as anything intellectual, but there was a very strong emphasis on education so it was always a really important thing in our lives. My parents came from a very humble background so I think that speaks to the equity of the time that I grew up. In that era everyone could go to university for free because of Gough Whitlam. My parents had both gone to university, and my mother was a scientist - education was always something that was just, it wasn't taken for granted. It was really important.
Why do you think education is important?
As I said, I'm really passionate about equity. I think that that's one thing that drew me to The LBW Trust. I was particularly drawn to the tertiary and vocational training as well, because lots of organisations support early school education. I think the reason I'm passionate about equity is because we've got less equity today in education then we've had since probably the 1960s. Even though it's talked about a lot, socio-economic status actually determines the education that you'll receive. I'm passionate about this notion of levelling the playing field, giving everyone the best chance that they can, and shining a light on the benefits of education. You know, getting to know the people we work with in other countries, hearing their stories - that's the connection. When I think about my teaching career, one of the things that some people don't get about teaching is that teaching can be the most enormous fun. Teaching is all about people. It's all about relationships. It's that connection that I think is really important too.
Would you be able to speak to how you're involved in The LBW Trust and what you do?
I’m the Education Director on the Board, and that means that I have oversight of the projects that we support. If someone applies for a certain project, we then work out our agreement with that project, make sure that the project fits with our criteria of The Trust, and then liaising with the charity to bring them on board. I don't always do that personally, [as] we have different people on the Education Committee and each of us is responsible for different projects. I have overall responsibility for keeping an eye on everything and making sure we have annual reports.
One of the things we're trying to do is to create relationships, where helpful between our project partners. For example, we've got Anita Coates helping to set up Facebook Workplace. We're having a Zoom Seminar for projects that are interested in alumni tracking, and back in May, we had a Zoom Conference for all our partners. It was a bit chaotic, and wasn't exactly the easiest Zoom to run in the world but we connected with and got to know everyone. We’re always looking for ways that we can engage well with our partners, and make sure that the projects we support are a really good fit for The LBW Trust.
One of the lovely things about being the Education Director is that I've actually been to Tanzania and Kenya three years in a row. I've worked with the So They Can team in Tanzania, teaching teachers how to coach each other. Grace and Delfina who are on the team in Tanzania use these sort of ways to have coaching conversations with their teachers, so that the teachers then can work with each other to improve their teaching. That’s probably about the coolest thing that's happened out of my involvement with The LBW Trust. I think it's my combination of experiences between my worlds of being a teacher and working in this area of coaching and education, that have given me an even deeper commitment, I think, to The LBW Trust, because I've really witnessed firsthand the power of the work that we do.
The theme for World Teacher's Day 2021 from UNESCO is 'Teachers at the heart of education recovery.' How do you think we can better support teachers, whether that be here in Australia or around the world, in the continuing their work on the frontline?
Over the last 30-35 years, the professionalism of teachers has been doubted, it's been down-played, it's been ‘Oh, anyone can do this.’ Everyone's an expert, because everyone went to school, so everyone thinks they can do it. We need to restore that notion of professionalism in teaching. There’s lots of different ways that can happen. Teachers need to be given much more professional learning time than [what they currently have] at the end of the day. Dealing with up to 30 kids in a classroom all day, that's a primary school reality, with two hours of relief face-to-face teaching a week. I think that's a very important way of putting teachers back at the centre of it. They're good people, they want to do the best job that they possibly can, but there's not enough time given for professional learning. Teachers have got to learn about a new syllabus or how to handle a difficult kid. We need a shift from ‘You'll do it from 5pm to 7pm,’ because unless you've been in the classroom, I think there is this misunderstanding. I’d like to put a whole lot of CEOs in the classroom with 10 year olds for the day, and they’d come out of it going ‘Oh, you’re joking!’ …or 14 year olds – probably worse! We can talk about income, and all of those sorts of things, but I think it's professionalism, where the actual learning of teachers is treated as something really important. It's got to be ongoing, and we've got to be given a time to continually improve our craft, 'cause it’s a hard job.
Do you have a favourite or most inspirational teacher?
My favourite primary school teacher was Mr. Barney, I had him in Grade 5. I loved him because he loved art and I think he introduced me to it, and he was funny. My most inspirational teacher, apart from dad - he used to come in reciting great passages out of King Lear [which] was pretty impressive – is my history teacher called Mr. Quinn who I had in senior years. He's the one who really gave me a passion for history, which is what I essentially studied at university. It's the teachers who know their stuff, have amazing interpersonal skills, are absolutely passionate about the people they teach as individuals and have a great sense of humour. I had lots of great teachers, these are just a couple of them.
Do you have any specific educational experiences that stand out to you?
I remember in when I was in probably Year 11 or 12 my geography teacher took us on an excursion to the Snowy Mountains because I grew up in Canberra. I learned all about glaciers and I remember just thinking that it was fantastic. It was freezing cold but it was incredibly impressive. It didn't have to be very exciting those days, it wasn’t like you went overseas on a school excursion in the 1970s. But I think it's the passion of the teacher.
[The excursion] was not exciting but it was Mr. Fisher, he was pretty cool.
Any final thoughts?
Essentially what we do [at The LBW Trust] is support organisations to support people, like So They Can, & Heartland, to do their job. We need people to support us so that we can support the people in our projects, who are working so hard to kind of improve their lives and their families through getting an education. That's it in a nutshell, really.