Premier’s Study Tour

Sydney (Aust) – Halifax – Sydney (Can) – Montreal – Toronto – New York

Background Story

My name is Fiona Steel and I am a teacher with the NSW Department of Education & Training. I currently coordinate a unique Educational (DET), Social (Children’s Hospital at Westmead) and Cultural (Art Gallery of NSW) Visual Arts partnership program for K-10 school students named Operation Art.

I received a 2008 Premiers ABN AMRO Creative Arts Teaching Scholarship which is allowing me to travel to Canada (Halifax, Sydney, Montreal and Toronto) and the USA (New York and New Haven) to observe other partnership programs that offer stimulating and responsive learning experiences in galleries, hospitals and schools for students and teachers.  I will observe original projects that are building bridges between community institutions (schools and hospitals) and collaborative art makers (galleries and artists) and through discussion with their coordinators, teachers and participants, I hope to open up opportunities to exchange successful ideas which will assist each of our programs to develop further.

My Work

It was the late 70’s and we were all looking forward to a brave new world. I was counting down the days to 1984 when I started my teaching life in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Like many others, I was bursting with idealistic enthusiasm and confident in my abilities to apply De Bono’s concepts for teaching creative thinking to a new generation. I believed that if Orwell was going to be in any way correct then our youth needed to be taught to think for themselves, to always question and to be given the tools and thereby the confidence to adapt and solve upcoming problems.

But mostly, my aim was to inspire them to enjoy artistic creativity and to think creatively, to enjoy the processes and to be excited about new challenges that lay ahead.

By the end of my first week of teaching I had decided that survival at any cost was my new criterion in this unfamiliar world of eight year olds. These sweet, endearing, little angels saw my hand of friendship as a tasty morsel to be snacked on before they joyfully devoured the rest of me. These marauding little despots treated my attempts to empower them with reasoning and responsible decision making skills, with the innocent unknowing of a behemoth crushing a tiny insect that has crossed its path.

 By the end of my first year of teaching I had learned the bribery skills of a seasoned bootlegger during the height of prohibition. I would give these underage autocrats something we both wanted to do once they had completed a morning of tiresome syllabus objectives… I gave them art. Yes, visual arts!! Painting, drawing, mixed media, printmaking and sculpture!

We didn’t label it work… it was called fun and only the best were allowed to participate. It was an honour, a thrill and indeed a privilege on any day for each student to be allowed to pick up a paint brush or draw with a dipped stick in ink. While each erstwhile errant believed they were not doing an honest days work, I very quickly learned how to teach all other required curriculum subjects through visual arts.  


Rewardingly, there were two very important discoveries:

1. The choices these children made about which tool to use, what lines to draw, what shape to cut and onto what surface to apply… gave them confidence to make choices at other times in all other subjects.

2. When they began to understand that the idea that started in their mind didn’t always transfer easily to a material or surface then they adapted their approach, changed the tool, experimented with new techniques, observed mistakes, restarted and sometimes even tried something new learning from each seesawing step… giving them confidence to develop their thinking skills and to sometimes even do that laterally. How creative!

By the time I went off to start my own family a few years later, my idealistic enthusiasm had rekindled. I had discovered how to survive daily teaching and I had learned to teach my students to be artistic creatively but most importantly, I had also taught some of them to think creatively.

My Family


I would like to gratefully  thank my family for their love and support as I begin my journey to quench this never ending thirst for new ideas to improve something I so strongly believe is important… education through the arts. Rob’s patience, Nick’s strength of faith, Prue’s genuineness and Max’s enthusiasm for life are all immeasurable and inspiring to me.

Thank You!

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