By day, Gregg Savage is Head of Special Education Services (H.O.S.E.S.) at a Queensland State School, by night he turns his masterful talent for storytelling into short stories for children. Gregg is currently challenging himself to create, write, edit and publish a story each day for 365 days. In this interview he shares some of his career experiences as an educator as well as some insights into his creative work.
This is one of a series of posts about Careers for Teaching.
How did you get to where you are now?
An argument broke out in the compact disc distribution warehouse where I was working. The frustration of the event stayed with me until 5:00pm and, on the drive home, I listened with envy to the journalists covering the horrific events of the second Iraq War. I wanted more out of life. So, I went home and applied to enrol at the Queensland University of Technology. The plan was to complete one year of an education degree and then switch courses to journalism. The university took a chance on me and, by the end of my first lecture on teaching literacy, I no longer wanted to be a journalist; I wanted to be a teacher. Since then, I have had the pleasure of teaching two year five classes and a year two class before completing two small-school principal gigs and five years as Head of Special Education at a Queensland state school.
Why do you do what you do?
Witnessing the impact powerful story tellers such as Margaret Wild and Shan Tan have on the students – as well as my partner Rachel’s three awesome children – I started telling stories of my own. I thought it might be a decent idea to document the stories so, one night, I fired up a website and typed one out. I then did the same thing the next night with a different story. The kids at home and, consequently, a few of the students at school jumped on the website and read the stories which I thought was really cool. So, I wrote another story the night after that and the night after that. I have now written a unique story every day for the past 200 days and uploaded them to my website, dailytales.com.au. Over 200 people a day are accessing the stories and I regularly receive motivating messages from countries including India, Singapore and South Africa. Teachers have incorporated my stories into their unit plans and I regularly get to debrief about the previous nights’ story with the students where I work.
What has been one of the highlights of your career?
During 2018 I have dedicated myself to my family, exercise, work and writing. Productivity and time management have become a second hobby and I couldn’t be happier. The students with significant disabilities are enjoying tremendous success at my work (not without its challenges…), I have discovered the joys of bike riding, become part of a beautiful family and, I can now claim my website to be an “Award Winning Blog” having won Best Newcomer at a recent blogger’s award conference in London. I am far from satisfied, but I cannot argue the point that 2018 has been a highlight for me in every sense of the word.
What were some of the problems you faced?
Learning to take ownership over my time and conducting productive, realistic self-reflection continue to be my biggest challenges. I am not a principal. I wanted to be a principal, but, I had to be realistic and admit that it is not a role I am designed to do. I have found my niche in my role as Head of Special Education. This role demands daily reflection: What is working? What can we do without? What does a successful day look like for the students and teachers? Was today a successful day? These questions cannot be answered in isolation, so creating a successful team and engaging in meaningful team communication are challenges embedded into the role. When I first became a step-parent, I thought I had to be doing things with the children all of the time. The children and Rachel have since taught me about the joys of simply spending time together; maybe reading a book, telling stories, playing a board game or enjoying a meal together. Then, at the end of the day, there is the creative challenge of having to think of a unique plot for a story, then type it out, edit it and publish it on to the website. I engage in writing activities prior to thinking of a story to avoid even entertaining the idea of writer’s block and I use productivity apps (built around the Pomodoro Technique) to keep me on track and getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
If there was one thing you could change in education what would it be?
Increase the dignity of the teaching profession. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done with an increased pay rate (though, that would certainly help), but requires that school leaders give teachers a louder voice in their day-to-day operations. If teaching is the profession, then the professionals are in the classroom. When too many outside forces have their say into what happens during a student’s 200 days in the classroom, the result is a fragmented message, relentless interruptions and an undignified working environment.
What would be the top three things someone should know if they are considering doing what you have done?
- Consider all aspects of your wellbeing when prioritising your time: Physical, financial, occupational, psychological, and social / family. Write down your priorities (do it with another person if you prefer) and implement a monitoring system to review how much time you dedicate to each of them. There’s a reason we use the same verbs for time as we do for money (spend, waste, make, save…): Your time is valuable so spend it wisely.
- All career paths in education take time to develop, so don’t be in a hurry to get promoted or it can happen too fast and you will find yourself drowning within a short space of time. Queensland is a vast state, so the constant shuffling and reshuffling of staff means that there are plenty of opportunities to be promoted. Remember your values and priorities and take the opportunities when you are ready.
- Your enthusiasm for the teaching profession is allowed to wax and wane. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling, but also know that there are a lot of internal and external supports out there as well. Always come back to your priorities and connect with individuals who can assist you, whether you are in the education system or looking for a change.
What would you suggest as the best way to get started?
The role of Head of Special Education focusses on building the confidence of teachers to teach students with significant disabilities. Lifting teacher confidence requires you to have a sound knowledge about how to operate an inclusive teaching environment. It also requires you to have the interpersonal skills to work with teachers in demanding situations as you both grow together as professionals. Start in the classroom. Study, experiment with research-based strategies and reflect on what was successful and why.
As for blogging: Find a niche that you are passionate about and start writing. It will take a considerable number of years to build something great. Deconstruct those in your niche who are successful and try and emulate those elements that appeal that you can apply to your situation. Engage in productive reflection, and you will gradually build your own voice and your own audience.
If you had one secret to tell others what would it be?
Be honest: Honest about your feelings towards teaching; honest about what is working and not working and honest about how you want to spend your time versus how you may be spending your time.
You can find Gregg at:
- Website: dailytales.com.au
- Facebook: facebook.com/greggsavagedailytales
- Twitter: twitter.com/greggsavage
- Email Subscription [Have a unique story delivered daily]: eepurl.com/djHdK1