Profile: Sandie Waddel, Senior College Science Teacher, Pinehurst School

Can you give us some background on your career in teaching?

I have taught in a variety of schools in Auckland for over 25 years at Secondary level. The schools have varied in their ethos, decile rating and curriculum. I have taught a range of subjects including Science, Technology and Mathematics. I have been teaching at Pinehurst School for 23 years.


This year, you achieved a PhD in Science Education – can you tell us about what that involved?

I have always been interested in continuing to research new ways to help my students, as I believe teachers should continue to upgrade their knowledge with professional development and keep abreast of new technologies, strategies and concepts that aid in teaching. I completed my PhD last year and graduated this year in Perth at Curtin University.

I decided to investigate whether students were more likely to pursue Science at higher levels of education, using differentiated programs of work as the basis of the layered activities which incorporated ICT; Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s taxonomy. The numbers taking Science to higher levels is on the decrease and I wanted to see if there is a way to turn the tide.

Once I found my gap in the research I proceeded to design how I was going to do this, what instruments I would use and who would be my target group. Research throughout the process was ongoing as you always had to keep abreast of the latest material.

Differentiation has always been a passion for me and finding new ways of achieving this has been an exciting journey. I have enjoyed finding out about the Layered Curriculum and aim to continue using this approach in my teaching. Even experienced teachers need to learn new things, thus the journey continues for me even if my thesis is complete.


Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way to a career in science education?

My grandfather always wanted to be a teacher, but Teacher’s College had to close due to the depression in the 1930’s. He was never able to complete his training and had a tough life working as a farm hand. He was my greatest inspiration to become a teacher, so I could complete the journey that he began. My own experience with my teachers at school when I was growing up also set me on my way to be a teacher. This was a career I always wanted to pursue from the time I started school as I wanted to pass on this positive experience to other students.


How would you describe Pinehurst School?

Pinehurst School is a great place to be, with students starting school at 5 and continuing to the College up to Year 13. The kids are fantastic, my colleagues are excellent and our class sizes are small. We have lovely park like grounds with excellent facilities. Our school offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities, both sporting and cultural, as well as providing many leadership opportunities. Our students appreciate the advantages they are getting and will often give back to the community. Many regularly and enthusiastically volunteer their time to help others less fortunate.


What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the students as they are a fantastic group of people. It is great working with students who are motivated and keen to learn. I also enjoy the challenge of working with a wide range of students who differ in their readiness for learning. My colleagues are all caring people who are interested in getting to know their students. This makes for a wonderful working environment where learning happens.


What do you most want to achieve in your role?

I want all students to have a positive experience at school and get the most out of their time there. Differentiation should be a philosophy – a way of thinking about teaching and learning. I would like to see every class use differentiation in their approach as every student has the right to a good education that suits their learning styles and interests.


What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?

Working in an independent school is challenging and rewarding, enabling your own growth both personally and professionally. Learning starts as soon as the students get through the door, so discipline is not an issue. We have the resources to ensure great facilities and excellent staff. Parents are also committed to their student’s academic development and appreciate the support given to their children. Teachers are facilitators in their students' learning, and students are encouraged to be independent learners and problem solvers as well as great collaborators.


What are your thoughts on the benefits of independent schooling for students?

Independent schooling for students is a definite benefit. Small class sizes, a caring environment, teachers who have a passion for teaching and students who want to learn all mean that learning can happen. Teachers go out of their way to tutor students and provide support for them both in and out of the classroom. Students can work to the best of their ability and have enriched academic opportunities as well as more opportunities for leadership in a safe environment. Independent schools draw from many communities, offering an inclusive, multi-cultural environment enabling students to work in a diverse society.