THE REALITY OF COVID-19

The realities of COVID-19 are certainly being brought home to roost to us all. The Victorian situation impresses or should impress upon everybody the fact that nobody anywhere is safe from the intrusion of this deadly virus. Precautions are necessary. Physical distancing, hand washing and aspects of personal hygiene and awareness should be a part of our daily lives. That must be the case into the foreseeable future.

There is no room for complacency! It’s complacency and indeed stupidity that have gotten Victoria into the situation that is now occupies – as the Covid capital and Covid state of Australia.

Slack and unbelievably bad behaviour within the hotel quarantine situation – that is the looking after of returned Australians in quarantine – kicked the resurgence off in a big way.

The other major infraction that flew in the face of common sense were family gatherings associated with a Moslem school. I don’t accept that these gatherings were in ignorance. Families would have known about the threat of the coronavirus from their children who attended the school. Neither do I accept that language barriers stood firmly in the way of understanding because awareness was everywhere! Misunderstanding based on language is often used an excuse for avoiding responsibility.

Daniel Andrews has been forgiving and is still very accommodating of people who have contributed to the resurgence of this virus.

Suffice it to say that a minority of Victorians have impacted upon the lives of every Victorian because they don’t care to consider others and because they were prepared to put themselves in their personal needs (including Aaron selfishness) ahead of community and everybody else.

The continuing weakness in Victorian government management of COVID-19 is that everything is or appears to be largely advisory and not absolutely compulsory in terms of behavioural requirements put upon people. I think that this COVID-19 is going to become a lot worse in Victoria and there is a fair chance that it will impact the rest of Australia.

Am I worried; you bet I am and particularly as Northern Territory borders reopen on 17 July. I don’t believe that all the monitoring the world is going to keep COVID-19 away once our borders open up. And you have to know that I hope I am proved wrong!

SCHOOL ATMOSPHERE IS PRECIOUS BUT FRAGILE

Schools are perhaps the most scrutinised of all institutions. Teachers and staff are always under a magnifying glass held by parents, members of the community, employers, social welfare groups and government departments. Examination of schools and teachers by registration boards and performance management units is constant. Processes by which schools and staff administer education are being constantly updated and applied. Curriculum priorities are forever being altered. ‘Compliance’ and ‘accountability’ seem to be the most important key words within school action and teacher performance plans.

Government demands are poured upon educators. Expectations, many of them constantly changing, cascade upon schools like torrential rain. These pressures can become quite destabilising.

This is especially the case in situations where principals and leadership teams feel that everything demanded of schools by the system (and of the system in turn by Government), has to be instantly grasped and wedged into practice. Knee jerk reactions cause inner disquiet for staff who are often reluctant to change practices without justification, but are pressured to make and justify those changes anyway.

Before change is put into place, school staff, council and community members should have the chance to fully understand new policy and direction. ‘Making haste slowly’ is wise but difficult when government gives little time for response.

Constant change in educational direction does little to positively enhance the way those working within schools feel about what they are doing. Staff become ‘focussed by worry’. Is what they are doing, good enough? Teachers may maintain brave faces but beneath the surface suffer from self doubt. This in turn leads to discontent and unhappiness.

Positive Atmosphere A Must

It is essential that school principals and leadership teams offer reassurance and build confidence within their teaching and support staff groups. This does not mean lowering standards, but acknowledging and appreciating staff effort. Making that appreciation public can help through sharing the efforts of teachers with the wider community.

Well-being cannot be bought as a material resource. Neither can it be lassoed, harnessed or tied down. The ‘feel’ of a school is an intangible quality that generates from within. It is a product of the professional relationships developed by those within the organisation. School atmosphere, which grows from the tone and harmony within is precious. That feeling can also be lost if positive recognition and appreciation of staff is discounted or not considered important.

It is up to Principals and leadership teams to ensure that positive atmosphere, precious yet fragile, is built and maintained. It is easy to lose the feeling of positivism, so necessary if an organisation is to grow and thrive on the basis of its human spirit.

I recommend the wisdom of building spirit within our schools. It will add to feelings of staff satisfaction and well-being. Stability and happiness within school workplaces, embracing staff, students and community, will be the end result.

INDIGENOUS EDUCATION ON THE UP – YES OR NO

On November 28 2014, one of the best ever conferences on Indigenous Education was held at the Darwin Convention Centre. It had to do with Indigenous Leadership in schools and the contribution being made to education by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Staff. Over 200 people, the majority being Indigenous Australians attended the conference. Fifty organisations, mostly school representatives from government and private schools were involved. While those attending were from all over Australia, there was a strong focus on Northern Territory schools and NT educational outcomes.

The conference was organised by the Centre for School Leadership at Charles Darwin University and the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education. Conference highlights included demonstrations of indigenous cultural learning by students from constantly thwarted by chronic teacher turnover. There are over 100 remote schools in the NT and by no means do they all deserve the ‘too hard’ tag. For instance, Elliot School 750 kilometres south of Darwin has close to 90% school attendance. The principal has been at the school for 4 years and all classroom teachers from this year will be staying on in 2015. The conference confirmed that other remote schools are improving in these areas.

Several presenters attested that Indigenous educational success and progress in our remote and urban schools depends on relationships between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal staff. If they work ‘together as one’ students respond positively to learning opportunities. Of course care and empathy needs to be inclusive of students. Successful schools also engage with community.

Those successful and progressive schools identified during the conference have high standards and expectations. They engage with and support students toward positive personal attainment. Importantly, there is no disconnection between staff and students.

More than NAP

Our educational system tends to accept that the National Assessment Program (NAP) is the only yardstick by which educational success can be measured. That is because the Federal Government says so. Friday’s conference confirmed that there is much more to building student confidence and competence than NAP alone. Care and commitment go far deeper than preparing students for formal testing. Had senior departmental people and politicans attended the conference, they would have found this to be the case.

In the NT, 44% of our students are indigenous. More and more of them attend urban schools and they are the backbone of rural and remote schools. The conference confirmed Indigenous education is working and delivering outcomes, largely because of relationships building between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous staff. Relations between staff, students and community are also helping to build positive educational results. The conference was one of substance and uplift.

Time has moved on but key issues remain. We ought to watch with interest for further growth, development and educational fulfilment in this area.

SCHOOL COMMUNITIES SHOULD CELEBRATE

There is so much required of teachers, school leaders and schools that it can be hard at times to lift our heads above the parapet and smell the roses. There never ever seems to be enough time in the day, week, term or semester to complete all that needs doing. Young or old, new or experienced, teachers tend to be tired and exhausted. Added to that is the frustration of seemingly never ever completing all the tasks that need to be undertaken. The more one does, the more there seems left to do.

This can settle an air of despondency upon schools, taking from the positive atmosphere that should embrace our centres of teaching and learning. It manifests in there being less smiling between people, with lightness of spirit being absent. It can also happen that anxiety and academic focus reduces the quality of empathetic care which should be part of the school.

There are challenges about teaching but the work we do is not only essential; it should also be rewarding. Part of that joy comes from celebrating the accomplishments of students within individual classes and throughout the whole school.

Individual Student and Class Level Celebrations

* Offering recognitions for subject accomplishment by individuals, groups and the whole class. This might include notes on work, project sheets and so on. Stickers from both teacher and Principal reinforce pride children feel in tasks that are well done.

* Recognising efforts of children in extra-curricular activities (i.e. sport).

* Celebrating birthdays.

* Culmination of units of study by having a rounding activity (i.e. presentation) to which parents of children are invited.

* Reflecting positively within class the success of assembly items presented to the whole school.

* Celebrating the success of class ventures, for instance the growing of vegetables, the planting of a special tree, success in earning the school conduct or behaviour or class cleanliness award presented weekly or periodically by the unit leader or school principal.

* Placing stories of individual accomplishment or class success in the school newsletter onto the class link to the school’s website.

* Arranging through the school’s leadership team for media coverage of a quality presentation, practical project outcome, excursion success or similar.

* Arranging visits by parents to class to share the learning of children with them.

* Notes of congratulation about individual student success and accomplishment to parents. This is outside the formal reporting process.

* A personalising touch is to ask the school principal to consider writing notes of congratulation to students or classes who have cause to celebrate successful outcomes

Nothing succeeds like success. To recognise and reward student effort helps cement within children a keen desire to keep doing their very best. Tp appreciate and praise genuine effort and quality outcome is an invaluable intrinsic motivating strategy.

Celebrations at School Level

There is much that can be done to celebrate success at the whole school level. Success is a quality that can help bind the school community with a sense of togetherness which is both precious and scarce. Preoccupation with obligatory tasks and bending in response to system demands can mean that success and celebrations are overlooked. There is just no time to stop and rejoice together in accomplishments; but there should be!

Some suggestions for commemorating special outcomes and events follow.

* Consider having plaques created to mark areas of significance around the school yard that recognise people who have contributed. If the school has a caretaker, a plaque that personalises their abode is an example. Should someone create or donate a lovely garden area, an appreciative plaque naming the garden in their honour might be considered. If someone has been connected with the school for a long time, an honorary plaque or similar might mark their contribution.

* Honour boards to commemorate academic accomplishment, citizenship, musical prowess, house success into perpetuity in competitions and similar, are wonderful markers of school history. Students, growing into adults, will come back years later to revisit their successes marked on honour boards. Organisations and past school associates are often happy to sponsor the cost of boards and their annual engraving.

* Whole of school photographs taken annually and placed on walls for all to see, are wonderfully recall school history and participation of students. Present students like to visit the area where photos are mounted to see themselves as they pass up the grades and through the years. Secondary school students enjoy revisiting their primary school, to ‘remember’ themselves as they were. Years on, adults share a similar joy in viewing their past and remember the times of their childhood. Photos are great mementos.

Similarly, photos of staff and student representative councillors over the years bring with them positive reflections of past remembrances. These mementos live on for years, enabling schools to revisit their history. If schools ‘build on traditions’ this is a way of showing those who have involved with the school over time to the present day.

* Hold regular whole school assemblies which allow classes to share items with other classes, parents and invited persons.

* Over the years, school students as individuals and teams representing the school win trophies which are held by the school. Some schools choose to put trophies in boxes or cabinets to gather dust. Others have display cabinets which let visitors know about success in sport, arts and cultural events and in other activities. To have cups, shields and other artefacts on display sets an example to current students. It also sends a positive message to parents who come to enrol students.

* Celebrate school anniversaries. Holding school community events to celebrate schools turning 10, 15, 21, 30, 40 or 50 years of age makes an indelible imprint on present and past students. Anniversaries bring the school and community ‘together as one’.

* The completion and opening of new facilities is a great reason to celebrate the school. Upgrading the event to event filled gala day status can add to the specialness of the occasion. Media might be invited to attend and a print supplement in the local newspaper is possible. The striking of commemorative plaques to be permanently displayed adds an enduring touch.

* Media plays an important part in displaying schools. Using media to sell good news stories emanating from its students, classes and the organisation as a whole

affords a sense of pride in attainments. To share outcomes through media, print, TV or radio was something that I found stood schools and community in good stead.

Advising media of upcoming events, therefore using it promotionally is a good way of getting the message out. That goes a long way toward ensuring success through attendance.

* An extension of media, is to organise for the inclusion of supplements celebrating school anniversaries in local newspapers. These days supplements do not come cheaply, but can be underwritten by sponsors who carry congratulatory advertisements within the insert.

* Holding special assemblies for the presentation of key awards is a great school celebrating strategy. University of New South Wales certificate earners in Maths, Language, Computer Studies, Science and other subjects can be presented to those earning credits, distinction and high distinction awards in front of the whole school. It is a great idea to invite parents and relations of students to share in this celebration. A media story is possible.

* Holding an end of year awards presentation day or evening is a great way of culminating the school year. This can go down and include all primary school children from Transition upwards. Awards might recognise academic outcomes, effort and citizenship at each class level. Then the idea of primary awards for star students and stand-out seniors might be a part of the priogram. Having presenters of awards include key community members can add to the flavour of the evening.

Some schools ask that people or businesses within the community sponsor awards which they are invited to present during the awards program. The event is a great way of celebrating the year that is drawing to a close. It also builds anticipation toward a return to school after the long holiday break.

* A school yearbook, in print, on DVD format or available in both formats, offers an indelible memory of the year that has been. Yearbooks are great mementos. Again, costs can be defrayed through the offer of sponsorship opportunities to local families, businesses and notary public persons.

* Publicly recognising staff for contributions offered, awards received and so on is a way of offering intrinsic appreciation for enterprise and copmmitment. Quality staff members add great blessing to their schools. To show appreciation is a reciprocal action.

* Inviting key departmental personnel, notary publics and others to visit helps make the school known beyond its boundary fences. Having senior students accompany visitors around the school adds to the occasion for visitors value the chance to appreciate schools through the eyes and interpretation of students. This helps reinforce the fact that ‘schools are for students’.

Conclusion

The suggestions contained in this vignette are suggestions. There are many bother ways of celebrating and I have included only a selection. It is important that celebration is part of the school psyche. That is a way of building spirit and developing positive school atmosphere.

QUIZ KIDS TO EXPAND HORIZONS

Nothing beats good old fashioned quizzes as engaging time fillers. Quizzes also have relevance to general knowledge and understanding. They can be related to subjects being studied, to skills development and to general knowledge – to name but a few options. One of the best topics has to do ‘the world around’ in terms of constructs within the local environment. Topics that come to mind within this genre include:

1. School Source

* Features in and around the school and its grounds.

* Identification of teachers who are teaching in particular units or rooms; call it ‘location, location’.

* Roles filled by people within the school. “Who is our principal? Who is our Janitor? Who is our canteen manageress?” and similar questions.

* For older students, chronological recall of who has been in the school and their capacities in times past.

* Historical events embracing the school including anniversaries. (It may be that a quiz of this nature is given ‘on notice’ allowing students a day or a few days to visit the historical archive of the school in the library/resource centre to study material from which questions may be drawn.

* Quiz material is embedded within literature and can be part of the study relating to science, SOCE, mathematics, music and other school subjects.

2. Community Context

* ‘ What’s where’ and similar questions relating to the local shopping centre or a nearby major shopping complex.

* Questions about road names, parks, sporting facilities, churches, natural or man-made landmarks, street names, bus routes and so on that apply to the location or suburb.

3. Territory Context

In similar vein, questions about the Territory or State in terms of landmarks, topographical features, tourist destinations, notary public people, parliamentary make-up, mining, agricultural pursuits, industries, parliamentary details and do on can be source material for quizzes. There can be a link to local and extended excursions with students being made aware of the fact that quizzing will be part of the follow-up program.

4. Australian Context

Included might be questions about federal parliament, names of State and Territory capitals, features of major cities (i.e. Sydney’s ‘coat hanger’ and opera house), methods of travel to reach these places, attractions within cities, states and territories, weather and climate, celebrations (i.e. Australia Day, Anzac Day),sporting events (i.e. Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race, football codes, Territory players in Australian sporting teams), topographical features, naturally occurring phenomena (i.e. droughts, floods, bush-fires,weather disturbances), and so on. The list of source material is endless.

5. Process

The important thing is to construct quizzes according to the age, background and comprehension of students. However, quizzes which start within the confidence zone of known and understood issues can extend to enable children to explore, through quizzing, areas of new knowledge and understanding.

It seems that there is a surprising lack of general knowledge these days. Many adults let alone children have no grasp of what might be termed ‘general knowledge. Quizzing is one way of helping to develop this base of understanding.

When conducting quizzes between groups, watch that the exercise does not become a ‘free-for-all’ with children, having no consideration for others, calling out answers in loud, drowning tones. It has to be ‘hands up’ or a variation of that methodology. With arms, avoid the distraction that goes with frantically waving extensions. Still, rather than wildly gesturing arms should be acknowledged. Set the protocol ground rules before commencing the exercise.

6. Quiz examples

I will include a couple of examples of quiz construction in this vignette. However, quiz questions can be pulled straight from one’s head. Groups within the class can play in competition with each other. The context may be a ‘girls versus boys’ approach or any other arrangement that comes to mind. If as sometimes happens, a teacher has to take temporary responsibility for another class, it may be that the quiz is between the two classes, or a number of children selected as representatives from each class.

7. Variations

There are lots of variations to traditional oral quizzes that can be stimulating, engaging and exciting. I may write of these in the future.

Happy quizzing.

Henry Gray

Frog Hopping or Deep Learning

There is a lot of shallowness within education. We go over the top on data that all too often measures superficial outcomes. Testing, measurement and assessment are tools used to hold teachers accountable. When formal accountability and systemic assessment are upheld as having paragon status, too little attention is paid to deep learning priorities and needs.

From time to time the issue of deep learning is discussed, but one wonders whether it is understood.

Depth understanding is an outcome of teaching that penetrates deeply into the waters of learning, instilling concepts, values and those important qualities on which human development is founded. That approach takes time and cannot be confirmed by immediate assessment. Frog hopping is about leaping unthinkingly from one fashionable and highly visible learning initiative to the next. Its focus is following innovations, trends and the latest educational ideas for no other reason than they are new. It is the show business side of education, often promoted by developers and marketers of brand new materials.

Educational focus is too often about gurus who fashion curriculum and shape learning trends. System leaders are encouraged to adopt new trends, because design can be alluring. They want to be seen as ‘in sync’ with the latest trend. Gurus lead and systems follow. Schools, classroom teachers and students are in the vanguard.

Frog hopping, that is blindly following trends, is tantamount to being lead by the nose. There is a need for change and development. However, change for changes sake leads to destabilisation within schools. Shallow, superficial learning ought not to be the norm. We need deep teaching and reflective holistic learning outcomes.

Denying depth learning

Learning should be academically focussed. Students need cognitive development. Curriculum requirements are wide ranging, constantly changing and increasingly demanding in terms of challenges placed on teachers. Teachers confirm they don’t have time to adequately cover the syllabus brief. Teaching strategies that tend to skim the surface rather than encouraging deep learning become normative. There is just no time to explore concepts in depth.

Downloading

Schools and their staff members are constantly bombarded with mandates requiring countless initiatives to be absorbed into school curriculum. When seen not to be jumping in response to these demands, school leaders and teachers cop heaps including major media shellacking. Shortcomings are laid squarely at the school door and on staff shoulders.

The proliferation of short-term and rapidly offered initiatives, together with the lack of opportunity for deep learning leads me to believe that a great deal of ‘curriculum initiative’ comes about because politicans, academics and others regard schools as experimental and testing fields. Schools become a repository for the trialling of bright ideas. No wonder teachers come to regard themselves and their students as guinea pigs. In the interest of students and a viable educational future, this philosophy must be abandoned and deep learning opportunity reinstated.

CHILDREN NEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

A prime focus of education is planning towards meeting the future needs of children. Preparing children and young people to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders is a key educational commission. This should be a shared responsibility involving parents on the home front and teachers in our schools. Taking advantage of learning opportunities is also a responsibility resting on the shoulders of students. Parents and teachers offer development and educational opportunities for children but cannot do the learning for them.

In a world of educational pressures and global confusion, it is important to be careful and responsible in planning learning opportunities. Part of this is to offer a stable and understandable environment. The opportunity to ‘grow through play’ and the way in which children learn to understand the wider world are both important.

Play

The importance of play and social interaction children have with each other is sometimes discounted. Abundant research confirms that children learn about the world through play. This along with other stimuli supports their social, emotional and moral/spiritual growth. Young people can be and often are exposed to the pressures of academics too early in life. Making haste slowly and ensuring these other elements are taken into account, supports the stable development of young people. Pressuring children academically might produce ‘high fliers’. However, confidence and maturity come from socialising and play, without which children can be left in isolation. Playing together is one way children begin to understand one another and the world into which they are growing.

Unease

In these troubled times children’s self confidence needs to be supported by parents and teachers. Distressing events, particularly terrorist attacks, climatic catastrophes and other disasters have an unsettling effect on everyone. This is particularly the case for children who can and do become distressed by such events. Trying to shield young people from these events or attempting to brush them off, will only heighten their anxieties. Awareness of terrifying events creates distress which “… may be shown in all sorts of ways. This can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, bed wetting, becoming … snappy or withdrawn or not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Parry and Oldfield, ‘How to talk to children about terrorism’ The Conversation, 27/5/17)

Children need the confidence and understanding that grows from play and they need reassurance about the good things in a world into which they are growing. It’s up to adults to see that both these needs are met.

EDUCATIONAL POINTS TO PONDER

It is a great shame that more and more, the development of very young children is vested in care institutions. Parents who should be the primary caregivers for their children are less and less responsible for their upbringing. This leaves children light on for family love and nurturing, deficits that will leave them emotionally insecure.

I often wonder why some parents have children. Is it to do with fashion or do they genuinely want to be parents?

If the latter, many parents have difficulty in understanding or accepting the responsibilities that should go with parenthood. They want children’s but then pass them to childcare agencies, often for many hours each day.

Small wonder then of many of these children grow up feeling unwanted and unloved. What a shame that this should be the case.

WE HAVE JUST BEGUN WITH COVID-19

I am concerned that we in Australia are going to confront major COVID-19 outbreak the like of which we have not yet seen. The lack of ability on the part of people to take a long term attitude on control measures is leading me toward this thinking. There are a number of factors causing me to think in this unfortunate manner.

* Quarantine fatigue is breaking the resistance of people to countering C-19.

* More and more people are breaching physical distancing rules. It has been proven unequivocally that distancing (along with hand cleanliness) are the best deterents to contacting C-19.

* Return to the normal supply of alcohol and other relaxants will play out in a way that mitigates against physical distancing.

* Crowds flocking to pubs, clubs, beaches, rallies, parks cinemas and elsewhere will bring people into a closeness that will spread C-19 through social contract.

* The optionality of testing as a requirement for those in quarantine and lock down areas will mean cases occurring because of vtest avoidance.

*Foolish statements about safety of airline travel (compared to bus, train and ferry travel restrictions) guarantees a spear of the virus among airline travellers.

* A continuing return of overseas travellers into quarantine situations is bringing cases into Australia.

* The number of cases in schools, businesses and elsewhere will spike: Victoria’s revisitation to C-19 is only the start.

*Thinking that C-19 is short term is unfortunate. This affliction is going to be with us into the foreseeable future.

* I’d prognosticate that the opening of travel around Australia will generate dollars and bequeath C-19 cases.

* It can be forecast that when C-19 gets into remote communities (and there is a 99% chance it will), C-19 will take off in a major way.

Am I worried? You bet I am.

THANKS FOR 50 YEARS -NOW TAKE THE SACK

I just just heard an astounding item of news on the radio. It’s so gobsmacking, I had to stop to express my thoughts for a blog entry.

The person concerned has worked in the aeronautical engineering industry for 50 years. At the present moment he is/was working for Jetstar.

Jetstar along with Qantas is downsizing its workforce. This gentleman received a message of a phone in and called the number.

He was greeted by 2 1/2 minute message which had been pre-recorded. It let him know that after 50 years his services were no longer required; he was being dismissed along with a good number of other people.

No ‘by your leave; , ‘I beg your pardon’ or anything else – just a pre-recorded, impersonal message giving him the flick.

As a person who worked for over 40 years with people in another context, I could not but think “how rude, how callous, and just how bloody awful.”

How was it possible that a person who is given half a century to an industry can be so offhandedly dismissed! Where is the world heading when faithful service rendered for so long, counts for so little!

What is the world coming to when such impersonality and indifference dominates in the manner a company leaders contact employees in such a dismissive manner.