A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

This article was published in the NT Sun on February 2018.

 

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.

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A ‘NO GO’.

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on February 13 2018. I would welcome reader feedback on my position. This reflection takes account of my experiences with mobile phones in schools while a school principal.

 

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A NO GO

The issue of mobile phones and students accessing them while at school has again come to the fore. The issue has become more critical because of self harm and suicides apparently motivated by the receipt of macabre messages.

Cruel messages and heartless pictures have a deleterious impact on the well-being of many students. From anecdotal evidence it seems that the impact of these messages on younger students is particularly pronounced.

We hear of students misusing their telephones during the school day to send such messages. They are also being used to “steal” photographs of others which can then be shared online. There are also stories of older students (in both primary and secondary schools) using their mobile phones during recess and lunch periods to share pornography between themselves and with younger students.

That this sort of thing is happening in schools is mind-boggling! The suggestion that it’s okay for students at school during the school day to access mobile phones when ever they want, is beyond all common sense.

We are also learning that very young students have their own devices which they are able to freely use, seemingly, whenever they wish

The latest scenario is that federal and state politicians suggesting that students should not be able to use mobile phones at school during the school day. This should not even be a point of debate. Students should not have phones and free access to the use at school during the school day. That used to be the way it was. If there has been a relaxation of the “no phone“ rule, it needs to be immediately reinstated.

Children and students bringing phones to school should be required to hand them to the front office or to a teacher for minding until home time. It would be better in the altogether for parents to resist pressures from children to supply them with “phones without operating rules”.

There are mobile phone options available which can be programmed to limit incoming and outgoing calls to pre-set numbers. The use of a limited device should be sufficient to enable necessary contact between parents and their children.

While some schools require students to bring their own devices to assist in study programs, these are usually laptops and iPads, which lend themselves to better control and monitoring. To continue unfettered phone use at school will continue the bullying and harassment trends which should not be a part of school culture.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE FAMILY DEBT

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’  a free community paper that is also inserted into the ‘NT News’ every Tuesday.   It was published on February 6 2018.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE DEBT

There is no such thing as a ‘free’ education. This has always been the case for students enrolled in private schools. However this also applies to parents of children attending government schools. Educational costs rise year on year and no families are exempt.

The average cost of schooling is rising far more quickly than reflected by the Australian cost price index. The NT News (Back -to-school trap Warning to parents racking up debt 24/1/18) confirmed that text books, stationery, shoes, uniforms and laptops are among items set to cost families over 40% more than last year. “For a typical family, that’s $829 per year.” (NT News above).

The article cautions about the dangers of buy-now-pay-later schemes which could add to the debt burdens already confronting families. According to the NT News (above) these instalment plan options are being used by around 30% of parents. A better option might be to save a weekly or monthly instalment so money is there to pay for requisites when this outlay becomes due. This would help families to avoid the stress of suddenly having to find money to cover return to school expenditure.

The issue of school costs for parents is partially defrayed by the NT Government providing back-to-school vouchers worth $150 for each child. These vouchers are sent to the schools where children are enrolled, rather than being given directly to parents. The vouchers can be used to help cover back to school expenses. While they don’t meet all costs, the vouchers go a long way towards reducing the amount owed by parents. In addition, the NT Government supports students with two $100 vouchers (one for semester one and the second for semester two) to help defray sporting costs. Many sports programs are organised by schools and the voucher offset is a saving to parents.

The costs of providing technology for students has added a great deal to family bills. Some schools ask families to purchase laptops or iPads for students. Others offer rental or leasing options. Regardless of the method, the outlay is significant. The NT News article quote suggests that school related technology costs will add an average of $260 to the education bill for each child this year. Maybe voucher assistance to help defray this expense for parents could be considered by the government.

Education is a major cost item. Parents and families might consider building this into a savings programs that can be sourced to meet bills and other school contributions.

STRESS NEEDS TO BE MANAGED

This was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on 30 January 2018.

 

 

STRESS NEEDS TO BE MANAGED

Teaching is a very stressful job. A great deal of that is due to the increasing demands placed on schools and teachers.

Whenever issues of community concern are raised, schools and staff are expected to be fixers. The most recent example of this is the expectation that schools will take the issue of cyberbullying on board and immediately fix the problem.

This will add to a requirement that on the first day of every semester, principals have to inservice all staff on the subject of any inappropriate conduct they might see happening to any child they teach. All staff and those connected with schools have to sign a disclaimer that they have been inserviced and understand their responsibilities to report any and all concerns about student well-being.

These requirements add to educational expectations held for schools and teachers. Curriculum requirements are being constantly broadened and deepened. Content is regularly tweaked and modified to include changes and this also comes with the need for school staff inservice. Professional development is occupying more and more time for teachers either before or after teaching time. Periods of weekend and holiday time are increasingly taken up by compulsory professional development requirements.

A drive past most schools early on most mornings, after hours, during weekends and at holiday times confirms that many teachers and support staff seem to spend almost more time at work than at home. This may be necessary in order for staff to meet obligations, but it distorts life and work balance.

There have been significant educational developments in the Territory since self government in 1978. While some changes have been excellent, others have been insufficiently considered. One of the major and ongoing issues has been an exponential increase in workload levels for school leaders, teachers and support staff.

This overload is due to the fact that advice offered during the 1980’s was ignored. We were told by an experienced educator, Jim Spinks, that our system and schools were in danger of being overwhelmed if we simply added things into curriculum requirements and dumped on teachers. Spinks said that order to achieve educational balance, we also needed to drop some requirements off school agendas.

The school year should be one where balance is considered. If not, teacher stress and lack of wellbeing will continue to be major issues.

 

BULLYING IS ALL TOO COMMONPLACE

 

BULLYING IS ALL TOO COMMONPLACE

The consequences of bullying behaviour have played out in the saddest possible way. The passing of Amy Everett, a 14 year old girl from Katherine, again highlights an issue that continues to press upon modern society. In Australia, suicide is the major cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14. While there may be a number of factors contributing to this sad loss of young lives, bullying and harassment, has without doubt, become the number one contributor.

The online access people have can encourage bullying. While face-to-face bullying has been a traditional tactic of harassment, the coming of cyberspace communication has added an exponential element to the problem. Bullying, much of it sharp, vicious and aiming for maximum hurt, has become a 24/7 occupation. Keyboard bullies can get at anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Amy Everett’s passing is the most recent case of a phenomenon that is ending the life from far too many people, especially young people. And it is happening all too often.

The ‘Courier Mail’, in covering the Amy Everett story (January 11) intimated that online bullying can be taking place without parents having a real understanding of what might be happening. Clearly there is a need for children and young people to be protected from online savagery. The following sound advice was offered to parents and those responsible for children.

“ 1. Regularly talk with them (children) about technology and their online activity.
2. Put filters in place and set security levels to high restrictions.
3. Make sure their passwords are changed regularly and kept private even from friends.
4. Many children don’t want to talk about online bullying for fear they will have their social media access taken away. Assure them this won’t happen.” (Courier Mail April 11, 2018)

Many very young children have access to social media platforms and can be reached by unscrupulous persons. Michael Carr-Gregg an eminent child psychologist, believes that 60% to 70% of primary school aged children are on social media and this should be discouraged.

It is suggested that social media companies should not allow children under the age of 12 to use their platforms and this should be enforced.

Children, along with everyone else, can and should be encouraged to eliminate vicious and hurtful online bullying. Young people should be taught to bar access to their accounts by those seeking to harm them through vicious words and vile statements.

COMES THE 2018 SCHOOL YEAR

This column was published in the NT Suns on January 16, 2018. It is my first column for the year.

THE SCHOOL YEAR AHEAD

 

The school holiday period will soon be over. Students are preparing themselves for the 2018 school year. Many children will begin their preschool and early childhood years. Those who have graduated from primary school will be moving to the middle years (junior secondary) educational phase. Middle school graduates begin the final stage of formal schooling, going to year 10 in the senior secondary area. Finally, many of those who have completed year twelve will move to higher level training or study.

Moving up the grades, through the years and transitioning from one level of education to the next, is a process enabling students to build on what has gone before. ‘Building’ from one year to the next is important and happens if students have a positive approach to work and learning tasks. While support from parents, caregivers, teachers and support staff is important, self help is critical.

 

There are several misunderstandings that need to be dispelled.

The first is a belief, too commonly held, that the early years of education are not particularly important. If little children don’t do well, it doesn’t really matter. They can catch up later, when they are older and more inclined towards school.

A second myth is that of children feeling their learning is for others. They go to school for the benefit of their parents and teachers. Students need to know their learning is for their benefit.

A third misconception is that all children are inclined learners, wanting to do their best. Shortfalls in learning outcomes therefore are not their fault but due to poor teaching. That is not true. In the same way as one can lead a horse to water but not make it drink, learning opportunities can be rejected by students.

An unfortunate belief is one held by some Territorians (and particularly newcomers to the Territory) that our system, because of its smallness and distance from the rest of Australia, is somehow inferior. That is not the case. We have schools in the NT as good as those anywhere in Australia.

 

Focus on student development and traits children need to succeed should be a prime focus.

We would do well to reflect on traits identified by Hiliary Wince in her book “Backbone: How to Build the Character Your Child Needs to Succeed” (Endeavour Press). Wince urges parents and teachers to encourage the following characteristics within children:
Resilience, Self-Discipline, Honesty, Courage, Kindness, The ability to love and appreciate life.

I hope the educational year ahead is one leading to satisfaction, fulfilment and joy for students, parents and teachers.

 

 

 

WINDING DOWN

This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on December 5 2017

 

WINDING DOWN

 

At this time of every school year, realisations dawn and reflections begin.

One of the key realisations as a teacher is that the 40 week school year has all but passed and you wonder why time has gone by so quickly. This is an issue also confronting students who need to be time conscious for the whole year. Putting off assignments and delaying the completing of work can lead to gaps in learning and progress. That does not augur well for exams and final assessments.

Another realisation is that during the year, distractions can make it hard to stay on track with what needs to be covered by teaching programs. Unplanned events and activities can creep into school calendars, overturning planned events. Staff absence through illness or leave can impact upon schools and classes. For young children particularly, the quality of rapport that builds between teacher and students helps them feel good about school and learning. Staff disruptions can be unsettling.

There is always a need to be careful that extras making up the frills of a school day and week, do not displace the time required for learning the basics. Time given to key subjects should be somewhat sacrosanct. Deflection away from core learning can happen and should be avoided.

A key realisation has to be that of all professions, teaching is the most scrutinised. Everyone wants to have a say about what goes on in schools. This might be formal, coming from directives on priorities from administrators. It might be the setting of school agendas by school councils or management groups. Media often magnifies what experts and interest groups feel should and should not be promoted or taught in schools and classrooms. Part of this is realising that everyone from system managers to interest groups, believe that schools should be responsible for filling a pseudo parenting role. Sadly this is due in some cases to families either not having the knowledge or not being interested in fulfilling their role in bringing up children.

Teachers and school leaders have come to realise that more and more is being heaped on schools, with compulsory curriculum requirements expanding like Topsy. Rarely are things dropped from school agendas in order to accomodate the add ons. Where does it all end?

It is almost time for teachers to draw breath and reflect on the school year that is about to end. There will be a lot for them to think about.