WHEN THE CLOCK RESETS TO ZERO

One of the organisational contexts that has been precious over the years, is a belief in the fact that institutions should progress in an onward and upward direction. “Steady state” development has always been important. It is confirmed as a practice if what has gone before is accepted and built upon by those new to organisations. The idea that succession in office should require the successor to dump as baggage the organisational culture he or she inherited in order to start all over, is anathema.

The best organisations are those that build, accepting what has driven the particular institution to date and moving it along. There will be some changes, including practices that might be deemed redundant. By and large however, it will be a case of incoming leadership accepting existing culture and building on existing mores. Modification, refinement, revision and extension come to mind as drivers of this precept.

Suspect organisations or those that have their credence called to mind, are those in which leadership changes are generally or always accompanied by the dumping of inherited culture in order to ‘start over’. Leaders who practice this philosophy seem to be uncomfortable with other than their own ideas and perceptions. They contextualise the organisation they have inherited as threatening, until the vestiges of development occurring under previous leaders are expunged. This means ‘wiping the slate clean’ and pretending that ‘what is’ (inherited culture) ‘never was’ because it is peremptorily wiped out.

Metaphorically, that assigns everything built up over time to the waste paper bin. If organisations are build from the foundation up, its a case of big time demolition and the reduction of what has been to a pile of rubble. Leaders who are comfortable with only this operational style are not satisfied until the very foundations on which the organisation was built, are gone.

Expunging School History

Schools are organisations. The application of this principle, (tear down to build up) to schools and school communities can, in my opinion, be extremely destructive. While it might identify the Principal or Leadership Group as the sole owners of what ultimately comes to hallmark the school, damage done in ‘evolving toward’ and reaching this point can be destructive to the extreme. Organisational history and school history are wiped out; what remains are cultural scars.

Leadership so styled flies in the face of logic. It is generated by a false belief that in order for the new leader or leadership group to feel safe and comfortable within the school, its past must be dimmed until it vanishes into a never remembered past – a past that fades until fully shrouded by the ‘never was’ mantle.

Genesis 1:1 – In and Back to The Beginning

There used to be criticisms levelled about leadership changes in remote area Northern Territory schools. It was of concern that Aboriginal Schools were destabilised by the fact that incoming leaders assigned existing policies to the WPB as the first step in ‘starting all over again’. The fact that schools were always at Genesis 1:1 ‘in the beginning’ meant that little accumulative progress was made.

There used to be an advertisement on television talking about the propensity for people to take ‘two steps forward and one step back’. With Indigenous Education it became more a case of ‘one step forward and two steps backward’. This was largely the result of incoming leaders and staff members not accepting the authenticity of pre-built culture developed by those who had come, contributed, then gone.

When this happens in school contexts, the clock resets to zero and the organisation is forced to start over. The cycle of recommencement is not confined to Indigenous Schools. It happens elsewhere. It happens far too often and the happening has a deleterious impact on schools and their supporting communities.

Starting Over

There is a saying “If there is no problem, why fix it?” The answer to this question lies in an innate belief that people contemporary to organisations feel impelled to individualise the institution in order to leave upon it their mark and their stamp. They don’t want their contribution to be in any way diluted. In a school context this means incoming Principals and leadership teams don’t want what they have to offer, to be coloured or tempered by what has gone before. Rather than accepting and building upon organisational history the preference is to dump inherited culture and ideology, therefore starting over again.

Why?

It seems there is a lack of logic to an approach that discounts organisational development, attempting to return (its) time and historical clock to zero. Nevertheless it happens and not infrequently. One probably never quite knows why, so contemplation has to be somewhat conjectural.

The Question of Personal Security

Perhaps the most significant reason new leaders attempt to shed the ‘old’ and ‘established’ school practices is their desire to make a mark that is not seen to be influenced by what has gone before and therefore been inherited.

There may be concerns by new leaders they cannot get on while historical residue remains. They desire to put distance between themselves and the organisation’s past feeling that until and unless they do, they will be minimally acknowledged. They don’t want to be compared to past leaders lest that comparison shows them up in a poor light. The best thing to do therefore is to promote a ‘fade out’ of what has happened in past years. “I can’t get on while memories of your involvement linger in the background’ may apply. That being the case the ‘new’ incumbent’s aim is to “put distance” between herself or himself and past leaders.

This worry may be aggravated by the new leader or leadership group feeling uncertain or insecure in the new position. The need to ‘prove oneself’ may come from inner motivation: It may also be that the new leader has been told she or he needs to take the school in a certain direction.

The incoming leader may have been told things about the school are wrong and need to be put to rights. The need to be a ‘fixer’ has certainly been put on incoming principals appointed to various schools in the Northern Territory over the years. Unless the Principal lives up to the expectation… ! The consequence may be less than palatable.

These matters go to the heart of personal security. Often it seems those new to principalship suffer from feelings of insecurity. This is likely to be exacerbated if the Principal is taking up appointment in an interstate or intra-territory location.

Elements Impacting on ‘Person Security’ Issues

The issue of security – with its close links to personal well-being is impacted by further considerations.

1. The fact that the Principal occupies (in the NT) a non-permanent position with the maximum temporary appointment being a four year contract, adds to anxiety and can create feelings of personal disequilibrium. The Principal becomes a creature anxious to please and therefore a person who is very conscious indeed, of superordinate expectations.

2. The loading down onto schools of Government expectations with accompanying accountability and compliance requirements may make new leaders anxious to show their worth by doing it their way – where their way has close alignment to systemic policy.

3. There may be a belief held by the incoming leader that the previous incumbent will somehow continue to impose upon and influence matters at the school. It could be a case of ‘gone but not really’. This means that in terms of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) Analysis, the previous Principal and leadership group are regarded as threatening the newly appointed leader.

This being the case, the new leader will take every opportunity possible to distance her or his predecessor from the school. There is a certain worry about new leadership being compared and contrasted with the past; this can be felt as a threat by the new leader, particularly if the previous leader was in place for a substantial period of time and during that time had built up a respect base of appreciation within the school community.

An astute leader new to a school community will carefully assess that past and aim to engage her or his predecessor in a way that enhances opportunity and builds strength for the incoming leadership team.

There is danger that if the incoming leader and leadership team predetermine the outgoing leader to be a threat, this concern may become a reality. It is not hard to imagine that if the outgoing leader perceives herself or himself to be regarded as ‘alien’, this too may become a reality. No-one who has made a sincere commitment to an organisation for a long period of time appreciates being tossed aside and regarded as distasteful. It would take a noble person indeed, to ‘suck this up’ without reacting. Incoming leaders need to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

4. It follows that new leadership may suggest that what is inherited is inferior or sub-standard. That justifies statements such as “drastic remedial action is necessary” and “things will get worse before they get better” – implying that if those within the school have been comfortable in working within an inferior environment, they will be given a good shake as the new leadership groups takes the school toward betterment.

Wise leaders take their time to carefully assess inherited environments before initiating wholesale change. While they may wish to change the way schools are branded, this needs to be done with care. Good inherited organisational practice deserves to be maintained, not tossed aside.

5. Plagiarism is an interesting juxtapositional point that comes into the equation of new leadership, particularly in Northern Territory schools. There are rapid population shifts within the Territory. It is not unusual for schools to have a turnover of one third to one half of the school student population every twelve months to two years.

With this being the case, incoming school leaders can allow processes and practices to lapse for a period of time, then re-introducing them as new ideas after twelve months or two years. This is accepted as healthy change by a client group who, not familiar with the way it was, considers these changes to be new rather than ongoing. This could apply to school assessments, reporting to parents, school marketing, methods of newsletter circulation and so on. Far from being new, these approaches are back to the past; however they are claimed as being new ideas. Undeserved credit is given to leaders for what is tantamount to recycling.

‘New’ initiatives and approaches are new to those who come later, but not to those who have been there all along. In other words, what is ‘new’ is really old hat.

Concluding Thoughts

No -one denies that school leaders (and leaders of other organisations) need to be given a fair go. Pragmatic people rejoice with leaders for and in their management and administrative successes. Those who don’t are sadly negative or inherently jealous.

However, when incoming leaders in turn deny what has gone before, wanting to minimise memories of previous leadership contribution and distance their predecessors from the current and contemporary organisation, a similar negative applies. The one is hardly better than the other.

Some leaders from the past may want to ‘push in’, being reluctant to let go. Others are more than willing to relinquish but can stay connected in a positive context as resource people.

It is behoven on school leaders to be careful lest their actions lead to negativity and generate bitter waters and bad feeling for and within their organisations.

Henry Gray

Both a Student and Lecturer

I have been both a student and a lecturer with the Northern Territory University and then the Charles Darwin University.

When we first came to Darwin in 1987 I connected with the university by developing a unit titled Sociocultural Foundations. The unit was about helping preservice teachers to understand the elements of community of which they needed to be aware both when on teaching practice and when graduating as teachers in our schools.

The unit lasted the whole academic year. It involved teachers across a number of preservice years. I was involved as a lecturer and the organiser of tutorial sessions.

The program was totally on campus, there being no such thing as online course alternatives at that stage.

I was also involved with the university as a student completing two masters programs; a Master in Educational Studies and later a Master in International Management program.

Again, both these courses were on campus.

I discovered that there are some significant advantages to working in this mode (on campus totally): However, those advantages did not emerge until I again worked at the Charles Darwin University from 2012.

By that time, online teaching albeit in its infancy was starting to emerge as an alternative. The work I did was with students both at the campus and by extension.

I was disappointed in the online model. It seemed to me that people who were studying at distance well less committed and more prone to overlook course requirements. Further, the faculty hierarchy seemed happy to excuse those who did not fulfil commitments beyond compulsory assignments submitted and exams undertaken (where applicable – and they were very minimal).

Teacher preparation is largely about groupship. That is teachers in training working together, sharing ideas, and being a group of persons together. The online model does not promote these essentials.

I don’t believe people preparing to teach can adequately complete units if they are working singly and in isolation from others.

Online modelling may help universities when it comes to the bottom line financially. It seems that if fees are paid and work minimally done, then students fulfil requirements. I found that working with online students created difficulties for quite a number who were quite borderline students. However, anyone I may have recommended to repeat a unit or not to pass the course was eventually conceded. That was the decision of those to whom I was responsible.

Online learning may have become more refined since my involvement. It would need to have changed to become a viable tertiary alternative.

WHAT IS ISOLATION

Those living and working in remote communities in the 2020’s do not understand isolation and what it means.

Most remote communities these days have access to telephone communications and the internet. Services can be irregular at times but they are there. Phone conversations, FaceTime and Zoom are available, keeping those providing remote area service with personal and professional contact opportunitie

Fax machines have been available in some places while email means that the speed of written communication has overcome the isolation and delays of snail mail as the only option for the transmission of correspondence.

My first teaching appointment was to Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1970, an Aboriginal community over five hundred of kilometres from the nearest town . A mail and supply truck came once every six weeks. We had to rely on outback radio overseen by the mission nursing station for transmission of messages. That was weather permitting and provided there was room on the schedule for our communications.

How would outback teachers cope these days?

“FEES” … A DIRTY WORD

Use of the word ‘fees’ when requesting monetary support for government schools from parents or primary caregivers, was outlawed over a decade ago. Until that time schools, when requesting extra support to assist in covering cost ts for educational extras, did not have to be so careful when wording this request.

This change was necessary because of the connotations linked to ‘the word’. Asking for a fee was seen as a compulsory demand. Public education was promoted as being free, so using ‘the word’ when requesting extra monetary support was not appropriate. At the time, both the government and the education department went to great lengths to ensure schools did not make any reference to fees. This was so off-putting and of such concern to some school leaders, that money contributed to support programs, was refunded to parents.

The issue was eventually clarified with the following statement under ‘Fees and contributions’ on the Education Department website. “Tuition for the standard curriculum program is provided free to all students in government schools.

There are three areas where you may be requested to make a contribution:

Educational items

Optional extra items

Voluntary contributions.”

A further statement clarifies the issue of voluntary contributions. “You may be asked to make a financial contribution or donation to your child’s school for a specific purpose. You are not obliged to contribute.” (Bolding mine)

The department and schools considered the embarrassment when inability to pay arose. “If you are unable to contribute to optional extra items because of financial hardship you should arrange a confidential talk with the school principal. Confidentiality, privacy and dignity will always be maintained.”

The NT Government’s Back to School Payment Scheme of $150 per child each year, helps with defraying some of the costs parents face. In particular, the vouchers can be be used to offset the cost of book packs and school uniforms.

There has always been some angst about educational costs.

Populist thinking is that in government schools, everything should be provided, with education being totally free for parents. Without parental contributions, many of the extra programs that add to extending educational opportunity would not happen.

Explaining how voluntary contributions will be used and what extras they will provide always helps. Some schools produce an information statement for parents, explaining how contributions will support these extra programs.

This helps counter misunderstandings about the way donated money is used. Without doubt, the provision of quality education is enhanced by these contributions.

ON LINE COMMUNICATION IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION

Googling the ‘Department of Education NT’ brings up a home page with links to an absolute plethora of information about education in the NT. Literally, everything anyone might want to know about education in the NT is there. It is possible to spend many hours online learning a great deal about what has happened and what is planned for education.

Online exploration leads to information about individual schools the length and breadth of the Territory. In most cases, information is reasonably up to date, providing a quite excellent picture of the attributes, characteristics and accomplishments of each school.

Sadly, this departmental and schools picture is hidden from the NT community at large, because in order to find out about what our system and its schools have to offer, it is necessary to go online. That method of discovery and exploration is not countenanced by everyone. There is also the issue of convenience and the fact that people have to program time to sit down and discover what NT Education is about. The ‘richness’ of public education in the NT remains largely undiscovered.

The NT Department of Education has a Media and Marketing Section, with part of its function being to add to online information about the system and its schools. This is done quite diligently and information is generally current. However, the question is one of whether this reaches people for whom it is intended.

The reality is that many people do not go online when seeking particulars. They prefer more old fashioned and traditional methods of contact which includes print media. For this reason, publishing good news stories and sharing educational outcomes in a more traditional manner, should not be overlooked. While there are occasional good news stories in print media, on television and radio, they are few and far between.

It would be apparent to readers of NT newspapers that the largest percentage of good news stories and coverage of system and school outcomes is from education’s private sector. Part of this is due to requirements that government schools must clear media releases through the Education Department before release. While clearance to comment on policy issues is a must, I don’t believe that school principals should be precluded from sharing good news stories about school and student successes. Having to follow vetting and clearance processes takes time and by then good news is old news.

There is a place for websites and online sharing but the use of more traditional media for the purpose of sharing, should not be discounted.

MEDIA INFLUENCES YOUTH

From time to time the issue of media influence on shaping the values of young people comes up for discussion.

It is often asserted that what young people see, hear and experience has no influence on the shaping of their attitudes and values. People are scoffed at if they suggest otherwise. Researchers and others connected with empirical study assert that young people know that games are for amusement. Therefore, playing these games will have no impact upon their lives.

I believe that to be totally wrong. Many young people immerse themselves for hours on end, day after day, week after week in playing these games. Common sense suggests this has to impact on their thinking and attitudes.

Young people may become so totally absorbed in this “escape from reality“ that it becomes their reality.

While some of these amusements are quite benign, many of the more popular ones are about murder, massacre, slaughter, and macabre behaviours. It stands to reason that young people (and those who are not so young) who become totally immersed in these activities will be influenced by their addiction.

The fact that so many young people these days are “I“ and “me” people who do not think about others, may well be a result of exposure to online gaming. Lack of manners, slack, disrespectful speech, the inability to focus on real life tasks in school and elsewhere, disinclination toward real life activities all point toward cyberspace influence. The key characters in online games generally behave in a way that promotes heroism through bullying, harassment and other negative behaviour. Can we wonder at this bravado and these attitudes rubbing off on the impressionable minds of youthful gamers?

Common sense suggests that the antisocial behaviour of many young people has its genesis in their indulgent online activities. When cyberspace completely absorbs the minds and the attention of users, something has to give!

One of the most recent games is “fortnite”, which focuses on extremely negative social behaviour. Game changes and modifications always seem to focus on negatives, rather than social decency.

I believe it imperative for parents to be aware of the online games their children are playing. They would be wise to monitor the classification of these activities and the length of time spent in online indulgence.

Without doubt, the games children play impacts on their thinking, attitudes and behaviour. That can have negative consequences. It may result in them making poor decisions that impact upon their lives and their futures.

PARENTS PRIORITY SHOULD BE THEIR CHILDREN

The best love and care children can have, is that offered by parents. Too often this is disregarded and overlooked.

There is a belief that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A Sunday Territorian article ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’. (April 2, 2017) touched on a truth that in these modern times is too easily discounted. Study authors Stacey Fox and Anna Olsen from the Australian National University found that, ” reaching out to children, talking with them and helping them with their homework matters more than income or background.”

This realisation was one of the revelations of this family focussed study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

It seems that work preoccupation can distance parents from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave home early and arrive home late. They are often placed in vacation care during school holidays because their parents are at work.

Many parents are both preoccupied with and wearied by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen at the weekend, there is a need to manage domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In this context it can become easy for children to again be overlooked. Their need for family closeness and attention may be misunderstood by parents.

According to Fox and Olsen, “children … benefit when their parents provide a positive environment for homework and play a role in school activities.” Primary school children particularly, like their parents identifying with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting extra-curricular school activities is a highlight for their children.

According to the study, children really welcome and greatly value the first hand connection of parents with their educational development. In terms of hands on parenting, “the aspects which appear to matter most include high expectations and aspirations for children, shared reading between children and parents and family conversation.” (Fox and Olsen)

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate independence and dampen the decision making potential of their offspring. However, when parents are there for children, engaging with them, nurture and love are to the fore. And it is these attributes in parents their children want and need.

COURSES AND EDUCATION FOR PARLIAMENTARY STAFFERS?

It seems a lot of people in parliament, particularly staffers, have lead unreal lives.

Many have been privileged in terms of their upbringing, choice of school, tertiary educational opportunities and preparation for political life by their associations.

Has this meant they are incapable of living in the real world and behaving as they should in the real world? Are their lives based on totally artificial constructs of behaviour and expectation? Are they responsible for creating the noxiousness pervading the parliamentary precinct and escaping like a poisonous gas into the wider world of awareness?

These people do not need education and to suggest they do is a cop out! They need to grow up, act responsibly and realise their belief the world fixates around them, was something taught as untrue from their early childhood school years.

They do not need ‘education’ on social behaviour. They need to apply common sense principles to life, living and interaction with others. They need to grow up or be fired.

NATIONALISATION WOULD ENHANCE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION

In some respects, education in Australia has been about the cart being put before the horse. That has occurred in part because the predominate focus of Australian Primary and Secondary education has been at State and Territory level. It is only in comparatively recent times that education has taken on a more national look.

History contributed to Australian Education becoming fractured and developing along state and territory lines.

In a vast country challenged until comparatively recently by communication and distance issues, this organisation was the only real possibility. But there have also been parochial constraints. In the mid 1980’s, attempts to develop a national curriculum were thwarted by State and Territory authorities who did not want to pass educational control to a national body.

For education to take on a truly national outlook, there are three requirements. In the first instance, there needs to be a curriculum framework that embraces the whole of Australia. Secondly, teacher education should lead to national teacher registration. This would allow portability for teachers wanting to move schools across state and territory boundaries. Finally, a national curriculum should be nationally assessed.

The order in which these priorities have been considered is not logical. The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in 2008. NAPLAN assesses all Australian students in Years 3,5,7, and 9 for literacy and numeracy competence. Yet it was introduced as a nationwide measure of accountability, while States and Territories still held responsibly for their own curriculum delivery. Having a national curriculum prior to national assessment would have made more sense.

While we are now a fair way down the road toward universal curriculum, State and Territory authorities seem reluctant to fully embrace the concept. We contrast interestingly with many countries which have had a national curriculum for decades. It could well be that tested competencies in Australia are below comparative international standards because our curriculum has been so divided. Although State and Territory education authorities are coming together on the issue, national curriculum in many respects has a long way to go.

A third consideration ought to be the introduction of a National Teacher Registration Authority. At the moment Teacher Registration Boards (TRB’s) have State and Territory jurisdiction. A teacher wanting to move interstate has to be approved by that state’s registration board. A national board would streamline this process.

State and Territory boundaries limit educational effectiveness and are a barrier to Australia-wide outcomes. Nationalisation would introduce efficiencies and promote quality outcomes.

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

Caring for school environments is the duty of all users. If care is not taken, classrooms, walkways, toilets and school yards can quickly become littered and grubby. Most schools emphasise the need for students to properly dispose of rubbish. There are rubbish bins inside classrooms and buildings and strategically located around school, in toilets as well as communal areas.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for schools to maintain a clean, litter free appearance. A drive past some schools, particularly late in the afternoon, reveals a scatter of paper, plastic cups and other rubbish. A proliferation of rubbish detracts from the grounds appearance, giving the impression that all students are litterers. That is true only of of a minority.

Awareness of the need for classroom organisation and tidiness should be part of student development. In many classrooms there is a roster, assigning students to specific tasks. They might include the following:

• Cleaning whiteboards

• Delivering and collecting notes from the office

• Taking lunch orders to the canteen

• Collecting lunch orders from the canteen

• Tidying shelves and classroom storage areas

• Giving out and collecting work books

• Collecting recyclable materials.

All students take responsibility for:

• Tidy desks and personal storage areas

• Stacking their chairs at the end of the day

• Disposing of food scraps and their own rubbish into bins

• Putting litter into outside bins

• Personal hygiene including toilet flushing and hand washing

• Using classroom bins rather than floors for pencil shavings and scraps of paper.

Some would argue that attitudes of cleanliness and tidiness should be automatic. However, recognising effort and rewarding enterprise can help reinforce personal and civic attitudes. Recognition of class responsibility for care and maintenance of school appearance might include the following:

• The awarding at assembly of a mascot that ‘visits’ the tidiest classroom until the next assembly.

• Recognition of the class that looks after the verandahs and public areas adjacent.

• Giving small rewards to children caught ‘doing something good’ when it comes to environmental care.

• Presenting class or principal’s certificates to classes and children who always do the right thing when it comes to school and classroom appearance.

Schools have cleaning contracts. Contractors attend to daily and weekly cleaning together with a ‘spring clean’ during each long holiday period. However, it is up to students and those using the school to look after and take pride in their facilities. Along the way, habits of cleanliness and tidiness that should last a lifetime, are reinforced.