Kelsi Davis Brings the Eras Tour to the Classroom

Santa Maria College recently launched the Santa Swifties Society, offering students a platform to come together and discuss their mutual admiration for pop icon Taylor Swift. Among its organisers is new English teacher, Kelsi Davis. In this blog, Kelsi graciously shares her career journey, passion for the pop star, and her innovative approach to engaging students through pop culture.

When did you realise that you wanted to become a teacher?

I realised quite young that I wanted to become a teacher. My biggest influence was the teachers I had myself. My primary school teachers instilled a love of learning and knowledge, encouraged me to follow my interests and supported me through challenging times. I knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Prior to Santa Maria College, where were you teaching?

My first year of teaching, I returned to my old high school, which was Mandurah Catholic College. I then took on what I thought would be a 12-month position at Corpus Christi College and ended up staying for 10 years. During that time, I took on a number of different roles, such as House Coordinator, Acting Head of Year, as well as directing several college musical productions. In 2023, I took a year of leave, and in that time, I did some work for SCSA, moderation marking for other schools and spent a term at Leeming Senior High School. It was towards the end of last year that the opportunity to come work at Santa Maria presented itself and I was excited to take on a new challenge.

What subjects do you teach, and what do you love about these subjects?

At Santa Maria College I am teaching English, but I am also a qualified Drama teacher. I love these subjects for different reasons. To me, English is about teaching students how to unpack the world they live in, that every piece of information they take in is created with a purpose or a message, and that we need to learn to be critical to decide what information sits with our values and what doesn’t. I love Drama for a similar reason. I think it challenges us to think about our values and what is important to us, but I also love that, for many students, it is a creative outlet, an area where they can succeed or show their talent in a way that may not fit a standard classroom.

What inspired you to adorn your Homeroom with Taylor Swift memorabilia?

Coming into an all-girls school after spending my entire career and schooling in co-ed schools, I decided now was my chance to lean into my Swiftie side! It was also a good touchstone to get to know my students. I had been at my previous school for 10 years, so I had taught students for multiple years in a row. In some instances, I taught all the siblings in families and followed different homerooms through from Year 7 to graduation, so I was very visible and known around the school, but coming into Santa Maria, I was an unknown. It was important to me to build some connections with my students quickly by sharing with them who I was as a person. I was also coming into the role of a Year 7 Homeroom teacher and knew that starting secondary schooling can be an anxious time. Taylor Swift speaks so well about common girlhood experiences. She writes about her anxieties, trying to fit in and please others, overcoming challenges, finding her place in her world, problems with friends and relationships, all things that are universal experiences and something my Year 7s may be worried about starting high school.

Do you believe integrating pop culture figures like Taylor Swift enhances student engagement? If so, how?

100%. Integrating pop culture, such as Taylor Swift, into the classroom has a dual impact. Firstly, it fosters psychological safety and builds connections with students, showing them that my classroom is a safe space for self-expression and allowing me to build connections through common interests. Last year, I commenced postgraduate studies in behaviour, wellbeing, and resilience, and one consistent finding emerged amidst conflicting educational research: students thrive when they feel connected, valued, and have positive relationships at school. PISA data, which is collected from over 50 countries, showed that students who feel a sense of belonging in their school environment achieved, on average, 23 points higher in reading literacy than those who didn’t. So, while sharing my passion for music and Taylor Swift may seem light-hearted, its academic impact on students can be profound. Secondly, from a curriculum standpoint, integrating familiar cultural references meets students at their level of interest and prior knowledge. Even if students are not fans of Taylor Swift, they are familiar with her work and the impact she is having on the social zeitgeist right now and can draw connections between her work and the content we are doing in class. Often, students will look at poetry or complex metaphors and think, “I have no idea what that means”, but when I bring in a Swift song, they can all identify the feeling and meaning she is trying to create. Presenting them with a sonnet or Shakespearean play can be overwhelming, but if I can show them that they already understand (and even enjoy) complex texts that utilise the same types of language, metaphors, and literary devices, it helps to make these texts much more approachable.

Could you provide examples of specific pop culture references or figures you have integrated into your lesson plan?

I will often pull examples from popular culture to build connections to prior knowledge when introducing new units of work. I use Swift’s discography as an introduction to poetry because the similarities between her writing and that of many of those who are considered the ‘the greats’ of poetry and literature are abundant. Many students claim they ‘don’t like poetry’ but will recite a song word for word full of the same devices and imagery as a sonnet or ballad. As well as Taylor, I’ve used music from artists like Childish Gambino and Hilltop Hoods, reality TV shows to explain the concept of schadenfreude when teaching The Hunger Games, utilised Meyne Wyatt’s Q & A monologue as an examination piece, to name a few. In my Homeroom, I have taken key lyrics from Taylor’s songs to use as affirmations in my Homeroom which connect with our pastoral care focus and positive education. Sometimes, it is the students themselves who will bring something or someone up in class in discussion that connects to the work. A great example is when a snippet of Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech became a trending audio on Tiktok a couple of years ago. It became a great touchstone to introduce students to that speech and the social impact it had not only at the time but continues to have today.

Are you yourself a big Swiftie? If so, what is your favourite Era?

I am an unashamedly massive Swiftie. I think it’s important to show the students that you should lean into your passions, and not be afraid to like what you like, whether or not it’s ‘cool’ or anyone else you know likes it. Word spread quickly after the first few days of Term 1 that Year 7 de la Hoyde was the ‘Taylor Swift Homeroom’. Ironically, I was one of those people who, early on in Taylor’s career, dismissed her work as just shallow pop songs, but it was one of her biggest pop songs, ‘Shake it Off’, that converted me. The lyrics contain such a clever satirical comment about how Taylor, and on a wider scale, women are spoken about and criticised in the media. For that reason, I would have to say 1989 is my favourite era. It was the album that converted me, and it also helps that it’s the year I was born.

Did you get to go to the Era’s Tour, and if so, what was it like?

I flew to Sydney for Night 2 of the Era’s Tour, and it was one of the best nights of my life. It will be one of those core memories that when I am 90 and in a nursing home, I will tell everyone how lucky I was to go. The concert itself was spectacular. She performed for over three hours and touched on over 15 years of her career, but even more impactful was the incredibly inclusive and safe space her concert was. I can think of few experiences in life that have allowed people, especially women and girls, to fearlessly and unashamedly embrace interests that are often ridiculed, and I think the Era’s Tour is just one of a range of events representing a turning tide in which women are able to celebrate what brings them joy.

We extend our gratitude to Kelsi for generously sharing her remarkable story and unwavering commitment to the learning and overall welfare of her students.

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