WHAT A LOAD OF OLD ROPE – The Fallacies and Pitfalls of NT

What a Load of Old Rope

Once upon a time in the late 1980s, Principals responded to an invitation that they consider becoming contracted. On offer would be dollars, a car and a context of importance. One could even negotiate a mobile phone.

Salary offers seemed huge in terms of quantum leap. Contracts would recognise the importance of “Principalship” and recompense accordingly. These employment agreements with enhanced remuneration would be four years long – what a stretch into the future!!!

Beware the Hidden Agenda

But, with the carrot came non-negotiable positions. Contract Principals would unhinge from the public service with no fall-back position. “Temporary” employees would face “the end-game”: Contracts would be up for renewal — BUT ….

Principal’s cars were not add-ons but leasebacks with salary contribution paying the lease — with “free” fuel card. It was the card that sold the option.

“Temporary Contract Principal’s employer benefits” were paid by employee contributions. So we as temporary officers pay the employer’s contribution to our superannuation: no longer salary plus super but salary minus super. The plus super came from the employer for those who are permanently employed but the super contribution designated as the employer contribution having to come from the employee was really a take! Mind you, it was said that this came as a salary sacrifice item so therefore it was supposed to be good!!

Holidays away!!! Twelve weeks (six on leave and six on stand down) now reduced to five weeks.

It is required that we contracted ones attend compulsory leadership forums and other programs to which we are called. How independent have we become? Temporary employees with no fallback position on contract end-dates?!?

Maybe, we looked from the viewpoint of it being a “good faith thing” believing that relativities would be maintained and that the benefits allegedly negotiated would always remain unaltered. That has not proven to be the case. The relativities between Principals and Assistant Principals in terms of salary parity have narrowed with the obligations by Principals on contract remaining and being increased. Isn’t that all about doing more for less?

There have been changes by stealth: they are radical and un-negotiated. The major one has been the reduction of four-year contracts to 2 years +2 on extension after a substantial review. The parameters around which the review is based are very extensive indeed.

Reassurances on this vexed question are sometimes offered. Are they genuine or pyrrhic? Principal deperchment (potshoting the officer from the tree branch) and positional challenge are alive and well. What principals (temporary employees) feel is insecurity. Keeping a watch over the shoulder becomes a common practice.

There have been a number of instances in the Territory where Principals have been told that they formally satisfied Performance Management criteria, only to be shot down a short time later over matters touted as being about their incompetence or inability.

In Western Australia (and I would believe elsewhere) those in Principals positions retain permanency and a guaranteed baseline salary with extra performance being recognised by Higher Duty or allowance payments. This recognises the jobs they do but from the viewpoint of assured future positional opportunity. What they have is a fallback position which is about substantive, permanent occupancy. When accepting promotions they don’t have to resign permanent Public Sector positions.

In the Northern Territory, those accepting Contract Principal positions are offered two pieces of paper. The first is one by which they are resigned from permanency with the Northern Territory Public Service. The second is their signature on a temporary contract offer.

I believe in hindsight that Northern Territory Principals were geese to “go contract” under such parlous and non-guaranteed circumstances. Yet those who initially engaged probably felt okay because negative consequences (noncontract renewal) would take a fair while to evolve! That’s my theory and I believe that those who involved in the beginning were happy. Others in smaller schools then wanted contracts. Some got them. We have in the wash-up, negotiated and accepted pyrrhic and one-sided outcomes.

With the passing of time, relativities have changed and contractual benefits have been eroded. “Shrinkage” means that the quantum between salaries paid to contract officers versus others has lessened. Further, permanent Public Service people have an award different to that applying to contract persons. Theirs tends to be superior to our award.

Often the contract award is the lesser award in terms of salary quantum and percentage gain. For example Executive Contract Principals at the lower end of contract opportunity (ECP1A) now get less in real terms than Assistant Principals Level Five (ST5) when one factors in the “employer benefit” obligation and holiday entitlements factors. The former position is responsible for the employer’s superannuation contribution and also has an entitlement to seven weeks less leave per year, with the gross salary quotients between the two positions being only around $20,000.

It is true to say that the extrinsic factors of benefit between contract and permanent positions have lessened. At the same time intrinsic rewards (feelings of job satisfaction) have hardly increased.

The Fear Factor

Maybe, Principals were never “Dare to be Daniels”. Maybe they should have spoken out more about issues over the years. However, I can recall when Principals were far more confident when it came to articulating viewpoints genuinely, openly and honestly than is the case these days. Without the shadow of doubt (coming from the observations of an older principal) my colleagues these days speak two languages more frequently than they ever did before.

There is the language of Principals spoken “above the table”. That is a conversation taking place in public forums and around the ears of superordinates. That is the language Principals feel those who hold power in high places want to hear. It is usually about agreement with propositions and acquiescence toward viewpoints that are developed in a downwards direction onto the system from places on a high. In my opinion and based on observation, that is not necessarily a genuine language because it is not the way people really think. It is simply what they think their bosses want to hear.

There is the language of Principals spoken “below the table”. That is conversation which takes place when Principals are speaking privately to each other and is qualified by the fact that some don’t have confidence in others not to “report back to higher authority”. This impediment aside, it is the language school leaders speak that reflects the genuine concerns they feel.

It is true to say that part of the “fear” Principals feel grows from a perception of bullying coming down from above. Part of the dump is about the fact schools become the repository of every bright idea that anybody connected with education has ever had: Bright ideas go nowhere unless they are piloted or trialed – so enter the school.

We need new ideas and developing strategies. Schools also need to be steady state places offering students and teachers predictability. Too much change for the sake of change destabilises organisations and creates disequilibrium. That is a dilemma that confronts schools, with Principals and School Leaders often being a reluctant party, not because they want to but because they have to. School Principals receive e-mails that start off with … “congratulations! Your school has been chosen to participate in … “and the message goes on to talk about something of a new, unknown, untried and untested nature.

When one goes into the background about the reason behind such messages, the discovery is made that people on high and people who are higher again, have made the arrangement for this “school opportunity” to take place. Forget about prior consultation with the school and forget about agreements being reached with the school before formalization of the “opportunity”: That rarely happens! Only occasionally, are schools offered a small carrot by way of a payment of two or three hundred dollars for the time, energy, effort and commitment that will be made by staff to the project.

Principals and Educational Leaders all too often sit on the end of this educational process. Small wonder, that many of us in our schools metaphorically type our children as being guinea pigs, vessels used to test this experimentation. We rarely get to understand the benefits of these “ideas” to the creators. Feedback is scarce. However, it would not surprise me at all to learn about Masters Degrees and Doctorates emanating from these practices. Rarely, does the school gain any benefit from what has happened and quite often (in fact more often than not) you don’t hear anything about the outcomes of the study in which you have been “engaged”.

In this context principals and teachers don’t want for nothing to change, because if that were the case stagnation would quickly follow. However, there does need to be dialogue and meaningful engagement around ideas that are being floated when consideration of the way forward is under the microscope.


While the above and below table conversations have been part of the Principal Psychology for many years, there now seems to be a magnification around this double conversational practice brought on by a perception of Principals becoming a Bullied Class. School Leaders are more and more being told how it will be, that is the way it will be, that’s why you will do it, these are the outcomes you will cause to happen and so on. There is often not much conversation about any of this — rather, command and demand filtering down from above through e-mail (rather than by conversational) awareness. My belief is that School Leaders find this to be a very de-humanising approach to information dissemination.

Temporary positioning, lack of permanent status and those insecurities outlined above are exacerbated by systemic tendency to command by whip-cracking.

In this context principals feel that trustfulness is departing and formal accountability requirements are magnified. This is hardly a context that will build toward a healthy educational system.

Concluding Thoughts

I know that it is easy to look at the past through “rose coloured glasses”. There is always a danger that as one looks back one will see things in hindsight more positively than issues were viewed at the time they were contemporary. To this end people rely a little on memory and hope that perception (how one feels things were at the time) doesn’t obfuscate fact (how things were at that time).

Nevertheless, it often seems that we go in circles coming back to a starting point going round, and coming back to where we started from in the first place. I have read that if in terms of the journey one traverses in a way that causes him or her to come back to where they started, that they are actually lost. I wonder sometimes if we haven’t become more than a little lost within our system. We revisit many things, models of operation we have been to and over through and around before — before coming back to where we started!

In the Northern Territory, our revisitation to regionalisation as an operational model is on the third occasion of return since the 1970s. The systems within regionalisation that did not work before are not really being looked at as we re-approach the model.
The major issue has always been the willingness of people who are regionalised to live within the region they are serving. Then, there is the issue of travel costs and invariably budgets are quickly exceeded. Then come statements to the effect of support being offered from the distance rather than being provided on the ground.

There may be an advantage in regionalisation this time round from the viewpoint of distance provision because of technological advances and communication online making separated contact more meaningful than in the past. However, this is largely untried and has yet to be assessed.

What hasn’t changed in my opinion is any lessening of the divide between schools and the corporate sector of our Department. In educational terms there continue to be “two worlds”. That separation is in part a result of systemic dysfunction arising from the way which things have evolved over the years. The concerns raised above while perceptual and anecdotal are not singularized to me alone. While good things do happen educationally with fine Territorian’s developing up the grades and through the years, these underpinning antecedents are diminuting and system weakening.

Henry Gray


What Some Children Think

The vast majority of educators are very earnest people. They want what is best for children and are committed to quality educational outcomes. Educational technology has evolved hugely, particularly in recent years. We have come a long way in a very short time.

When I commenced my teaching career over 40 years ago, it was blackboard and chalk, supported in a limited way by Fordigraph spirit duplicated sheets. Then came the manually operated ‘Gestetner’, an ink-based machine. You would roneo off increased numbers sheets of paper that gained an impression from a waxed original cut by typewriter or stencil tools and then reproduced for student use. The coarse paper used would often smudge and carry ink runs which blurred the text. The worst part of this ‘technology’ was the potential you had to muck up the stencil while it was being prepared. There was this pink correction fluid that could be brushed on in the stencil so that it could be made over but any mistake always seemed to show through. Things looked up somewhat when the ‘Gestetner’ could be plugged into a power point – that was, if you had power.

I can remember seeing my first computer attached to industry during 1982 in the administrative office of a progressive mining company. It occupied a huge room and had miniscule capacity in today’s terms.

From a school’s viewpoint, shares went up in the mid-80s when we received, at my primary school, a limited number of ‘Boroughs’ units with CBASS software. At the same time, schoolchildren were beginning to have access to Alpha computers, then Commodore 64s. The first Apples arrived a little later.

By that time (1987), I was in a new school, Karama in Darwin’s northern suburbs. Coles introduced an ‘Apples for Computers’ program where, over a number of months, the value of dockets confirming goods purchased could be swapped for Apple computers. Many, many schools enthusiastically entered into the drive for dockets so computers could be purchased. Apple computers were small, heavy and very expensive. Printers and accessory equipment were also costly.

We have certainly come a long way in the last 30 years. Technologies supporting learning have grown and multiplied. Access and availability have increased exponentially, aided by a significant plunge in operational costs from the viewpoint of purchase, maintenance and online access.

We can say that computer technology ‘is everywhere, everywhere!’ It becomes the case of question, balance and wise use.

At my school, Leanyer School, in Darwin, we have certainly benefited from computer and other technological developments. Rather than writing a paper from the viewpoint of somebody who started with nothing, technologically, who has become a principal well and truly supported by, I wanted to gain an understanding from a group of students in year six (11 years of age and rising to 12 years) about what they thought. So I posed to them a number of questions. They were under the general heading of ‘computers in schools’.

The questions
What do you like about computers in schools, and as a part of education?
What subjects are best supported by computers? Why?
What subjects if any are not helped by computers?
What might our school and our world be like if there were no computers?
What would be the thing you would least like to change about our computer use at Leanyer?
What would be the things you would most like to change about computer use at Leanyer?
What do you like most about the internet?
What do you like least about the internet?
Pretend I (Henry Gray, school principal at Leanyer) have never used a computer and do not know what a computer is or what it can do. Write me a short piece of explanatory text so I can begin to understand this technology.
Frame of reference
This group of students is well immersed when it comes to technology, technological appreciation and understanding. Many have wide ranging access to computer at home. Their learning at school is supported by computer access with enhancing technological immersion through Smart board use and by access to other technological devices.

Prior to the exercise, the group and I engaged in a short conversation and I told them that I would like to use their responses to inform a paper I was doing for an online conference. We discussed online conferencing so they fully understood with this paper was going. I also told them when the paper was published, I would give them access to it – and that will happen. I will also share with their parents and caregivers. Naturally, children will be identified by first name only when quoted.

In talking with the children prior to their completing the questionnaire, I explained to them that often adults talk about education for children and that sometimes the notion of educational discussion with children doesn’t happen as fully as it might. (It is easy to leave younger children out of the loop when it comes to inputs they can make and ideas they

What do you like about computers in schools and as a part of education?
I like it that computers can help you learn will find places on maps. They are good to use so you can stay in contact with your friends. They are also good fun.’ (Manoli)

‘Computers are good for typing up school projects.’ (Riley)

‘I think that would because there was something we needed to know but could not find it in a book (we would find it). It is a faster way to find information on things.’ (Sahara)

‘What I like is that you can use computer for writing and for doing little assignments (particularly writing questions to help groups in discussion) for an example our Tournament of Minds team.’ (Jenny)

‘I think computer is good in helping us to learn that if we talk to strangers we do not tell them our names.’ (James)
‘For some people it makes things a lot easier to learn.’ (Bailey)
‘I think computers as a part of our school are great for projects and research and if we need information for homework.’ (Chloe)
‘I like a computer for education because it helps me write faster.’ (Hamish)
‘I like computers because they help you search some of your work and school you don’t know.’ (Klein)
‘I like that computers can help in research and learning.’ (Liam)
‘I like computers in schools for our education because they help us do many more things quickly. Computers are good for reports, writing and many other things.’ (Paris)
‘I like that if you need information on the subject can just go onto the Internet and look it up.’ (Nikitas)
‘… I can look unknown information learned more about people, things and (testing) animals of the past.’ (Erin)
‘It is easier takes less time to type; it is quicker and easier to search for things.’ (Jaylee)
‘I like the games on computers that really make you think.’ (Chelsea)
‘I like computers at school because you can do Internet searches.’ (Drew)
‘Computers offer an easier way to research school work. Help us in many different ways to get things completed.’ (Jemma)
‘It is much easier finding out things on the Internet than using books.’ (Karla)
‘Computers are like a shoulder to lean on for schools. They help you find out things you don’t know. Computers teach you things including how to use them.’ (Claudia)
‘Some games on the computer help us strategise our ways.’ (Cayne)
‘Working searching (for information) and typing together with fun activities make computer worthwhile.’ (Evita)
‘I like computers in education because they can help students learn.’ (Yasmin)
What subjects are best supported by computers? Why?
‘Maths has because it can lead to online understanding (through extension). Plus in schools you can play games like ‘Braintastic’ and ‘Targeting Maths’.’ (Manoli)
‘I think writing is the best use for computers because you can go fast.’ (Riley)
‘Library if you need to look for: to read to the class. Maybe science to find out things.’ (Sahara)
‘Literacy including writing and sometimes maths.’ (Jenny)
‘Writing because some people have trouble with handwriting.’ (Bailey)
‘Maybe history because there’s a lot of information about famous people in the past and other countries.’ (Chloe)
‘Maths and history are best supported by computer because of the speed and ease in finding things out.’ (Klein)
‘Writing essays because it would take too long to write by hand.’ (Liam)
‘Typing, power point and essays.’ (Paris)
‘The computer is good for Maths because there are maths games online that help you learn while having fun.’ (Nikitas)
‘Reading. Reading information is the core part of computers. Reading also improves language and people learn new names and words.’ (Erin)
‘Maths and spelling. You can search for words, go to maths games and calculate on the computer.’ (Jaylee)
‘I think all of them because they can be found on the computer or the Internet. You can test your brain without getting embarrassed in front of everyone.’ (Chelsea)
‘Any type of research subject.’ (Jemma)
‘I think ‘Theme’ is the best area for support because you can type information.’ (Drew)
‘Theme study.’ (Claudia)
‘History because the internet can help (ours understand) and also assist with writing reports on the subject.’ (Yazmin)
What subjects, if any, are not helped by computers?

‘Physical education because computers can’t help you to stay healthy.’ (Manoli)
‘(In my opinion) maths.’ (Riley)
Art or physical education because PE is where you do something active. Art is where you draw or paint or something (creative) like that.’ (Sahara)
‘Your ability to know how to read.’ (Jenny)
‘I think internet helps with all subjects.’ (Chloe)
‘Music. Computers can’t help people … about music and notes.’ (Klein)
‘The subjects not helped by computers are physical education, art, maths and DIPL (Doorways into Practical Literacy).’ (Paris)
‘Spelling. I think that the computer doesn’t help with spelling because when people are talking to someone else on the computer they abbreviate … and use slang words.’ (Nikitas)
‘None.’ (Erin)
‘Handwriting, because on the computer you can only type. ‘(Jaylee)
‘DIPL (Doorways into Practical Literacy) is not good to have supported by computer because it has spell-check (meaning that you don’t learn words as you might).’ (Drew)
‘The subject that is not helped at all is art because it is something you do yourself. If you use a computer to do it, you have no right to call it a masterpiece.’ (Claudia)
‘Maths because there are calculators on some computers and it would be better for students to work problems mentally.’ (Yazmin)
What might our school and our world be like if there were no computers?
‘We wouldn’t have medicines to help us get better or be as smart or find pictures or videos to help us with work.’ (Manoli)
‘There would be lots more (use of) pencils and paper with lots of trees getting cut down so they wouldn’t be as many trees left. It would be harder to (do) research.’ (Riley)
‘May be a little hard to find things. Plus we would waste paper because the teacher would have to write a lot down.’ (Sahara)
‘It would be pretty hard because if you had to do a long assignment it would mean more writing and longer time.’ (Jenny)
‘I think our world would still be quite normal because we may have never known what the computer was and what it did.’ (Chloe)
‘All schools and the world would be reading more books, doing more drawing, writing and painting. People would be more active and talking.’ (Klein)
‘We would have to find all the information for projects from books. We would also have to use typewriters instead of Microsoft word.’ (Liam)
‘Well the world be the same. It would just be a little bit harder to store information kits and talk to people in other places around the world.’ (Nikitas)
‘Very slow and we wouldn’t have the ability to learn much about technology and how to use it at schools. We would be able to be smart about researching in books.’ (Erin)
‘It would probably be a boring school and we would waste our time because of searching for things in books and taking a long time to find information in the right book.’ (Jaylee)
‘As children’s/adults wouldn’t be as educated but also the world would be a lot safer because people could not find out information about you on the net.’ (Jemma)
‘We would be living in a cut-back life because mostly everything is controlled by computers. Mankind is putting our lives to the computers and to take it away with the terrible -but we are humans so we would fix it like building a bridge again.’ (Claudia)
‘Things would not be updated and you wouldn’t know if something was to happen straight away. As well, we wouldn’t have as much fun because games we play will not be there.’
‘People like computers would be bored because they would have to do something else. People would not be able to do their work properly. People may not be able to go to other countries because computers and printers have to be used (for booking and travel arrangements).’ (Evita)
‘If the school and our world did not have computers it would be harder for students to learn. For the rest of the people it would be hard to check on email or write stories or a column. It would be really hard (without computer).’ (Yazmin)
What would be the thing you would least like to change about our computer use at Leanyer?
‘Targeting maths because we will be less exact.’ (Manoli)
‘Nothing.’ (Riley)
‘Not being allowed to use the computers at lunchtime.’ (Sahara)
‘For all primary children to have the right to use computers nearly every day.’ (Jenny)
‘Not too sure about that yet.’ (Chloe)
‘The internet and the educational games.’ (Klein)
‘Nothing. I think we’ve got a perfect computer system.’ (Liam)
‘When you least want to change is the internet going away.’ (Paris)
‘The educational games that are on offer to us.’ (Nikitas)
‘Nothing. I like (our) computers how they are.’ (Erin)
‘That they are free for anyone to use at any time during school hours.’ (Jemma)
‘I would least like to change our password control.’ (Claudia)
‘Targeting maths on the computer is both fun and educational. I would like that to stay.’ (Cayne)
‘The thing I would least like to change would be internet access because it helps us finding information.
What would you most like to change about computer use at Leanyer?
‘(I would like) safer internet access.’ (Manoli)
‘I would really like a change to the website blocking (policy).’ (Riley)
‘Being allowed on the internet at lunchtime (not rostered) with no past being required to go onto the internet.’ (Sahara)
‘Access and understanding for little kids so they can learn more.’ (Jenny)
‘The internet is still a little slow at the moment on some computers and some of the computers keep freezing.’ (Chloe)
‘Can we could have a music site?’ (Liam)
‘Nothing. I think these computers how they are.’ (Erin)
‘I would most like to change the speed of things so that files open more quickly.’ (Jaylee)
‘Not all websites should be blocked.’ (Jemma)
‘I think we should get more computers for classes to use maybe four or five more per class.’ (Drew)
‘Basically the type of computers we have. (Brand name) is old and not updated meaning computers are slow most of the time.’ (Cayne)
What do you like most about the internet?
‘I like the Internet because it has games, email, MSN and Facebook.’ (Riley)
‘That it helps you find things out faster than a book (search).’ (Sahara)
‘Games and things we need for homework and assignments.’ (Jenny)
‘It is so easy to learn things from.’ (Bailey)
‘You get to play games search for information you need.’ (Chloe)
‘I like internet because you can search of anything you want including games, fun websites and much more.’ (Klein)
‘The thing I like most about the internet is when we do projects and I can look up the information.’ (Paris)
‘I like that you can have fun while learning, get information and (that you can) talk to people somewhere else.’ (Nikitas)
‘That it doesn’t take half an hour to load a page you want.’ (Erin)
‘I like searching answers to questions and playing games that are on the Internet.’ (Jaylee)
‘It’s an easier way to talk to your close friends and it helps a lot with schoolwork.’ (Jemma)
“I like using the Internet for my work”. (Drew)
‘The best thing …about Internet is its ability to hold all that information including Facebook.’ (Karla)
‘I like to do things on the computers including games like fun brain, typing tournament and others that are educational.’ (Claudia)
‘Exploring it because it is good to find out new things.’ (Yazmin)
What do you like least about the internet?
‘The thing I don’t like about the Internet are all the viruses.’ (Riley)
‘That sometimes if you look something up like ‘monkeys’ it goes do something totally different.’ (Sahara)
‘Improper things and that’s about all.’ (Jenny)
‘Sometimes people post things that can be dangerous.’ (Chloe)
‘The thing I don’t like about internet is that it takes too long to load.’ (Hamish)
‘I don’t like people making websites that are inappropriate for children.’ (Klein)
‘Wikipedia because people lie on that site.’ (Liam)
‘The thing I like least about the internet is when it doesn’t have the right information.’ (Paris)
‘I don’t like that people can get into your personal account and change information on the internet.’ (Nikitas)
‘What I least like about the internet is the Wikipedia. No one gives way some information, most of it isn’t true and people can edit it and write more false things.’ (Erin)
“How it sometimes takes ages to open pages and that it stores pages that have viruses.’ (Jaylee)
‘I like everything about the Internet but not when people bully you online – but I don’t listen to them.’ (Chelsea)
‘It’s not very safe (not as safe) as it should be.’ (Jemma)
‘I don’t like the internet because if you post something everyone sees what you say.’ (Drew)
‘The thing I like least about the internet is how people can put up false facts.’ (Karla)
‘When you look up something and get rubbish information.’ (Claudia)
‘That people can listen to your conversations and barge into them, for example when I and my friend are having a conversation and it is interrupted.’ (Cayne)
Pretend I (Henry Gray, the school principal at Leanyer) have never used a computer and do not know what a computer is what it can do. Write me a short explanatory text so I can begin to understand this technology.
‘First, I will show you how to use the computer and the basics. I would help if (you) didn’t get it right the first time.’ (Riley)
‘A computer is a box face we can look at things faster than in a book. You can download and tighten things including work. You can play games, go on Facebook. You can Google which is a fast way to find something.’ (Sahara)
‘It’s a technology; it helps you understand things and tells you stuff you may not have heard of, it may help you in life and for you to know better. It also provides you with Word documents to type on.’ (Jenny)
‘The computer is like an encyclopedia but has much more information. You can type in what you are trying to find and there would be lots of options you can choose from. Sometimes you have to be careful what you do on the Internet because it can be quite dangerous.’ (Chloe)
‘I would show you how to log on the computer and help you find things. I would help you know how to write on the computer. Then I would show you how to save so that you don’t have to start all over again. Finally, I would show you how to log off.’ (Hamish)
‘A computer has a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and a mouse, keyboard and lastly a monitor. Computers can help you search some of your project and help with homework and other work.’ (Klein)
‘A computer has a hard drive can be used for many things such as looking up information or for doing homework. It has a keyboard ordered to type upon like a typewriter and a mouse for clicking through files.’ (Liam)
‘A computer is a device you can use when you need information, pictures, writing and lots more. Computers are handy because they are there when you need them.’ (Paris)
‘A computer as a technological learning tool that can help you with lots of school requirements. It is … great … that you can play games and chat to friends and family.’ (Nikitas)
‘A computer is a smart, rectangular box. It contains a high source of technology and is built in a complicated way. There is another box which contains the wires and power bits. Attached to the power box is a keyboard. The keyboard is a set of buttons that have the alphabet, numbers (to 9) and other smart functions. Another thing is called a ‘mouse’. A mouse lets you click on buttons on the box screen. That is a computer.’ (Erin)
‘It is an easy technology and you will get a hold of it after a while.’ (Jaylee)
‘Computer can do nearly anything. It is easier to find things on computer. It is one of the best things ever made (refrigerators and electricity are better).’ (Chelsea)
‘You can research all types of different things as well as do some work. You are able to listen to music, talk to friends, discover celebrities, watch movies go on all sorts of websites … and obviously many other things like drawing, taking pictures and so on.’ (Jemma)
‘A computer is a machine that is supposed to make life easier. It is a machine that brings enjoyment and surprises to all.’ (Claudia)
‘The computer is a device that people use for knowledge, fun, talking and humour. It has a square shaped mirror that shows questions and problems you can answer. You can use when you want to talk with friends.’ (Cayne)
Some concluding thoughts
One of the things children spoke and wrote about as being of concern was the fact that inappropriate websites can come up. When Googling, quite by accident, might come the emergence of what one student said were ‘rude websites’. Our school and our Department of Education and Training have very active surveillance programs to ensure inappropriate sites are barred. This is something to work on constantly.

One student commented on concern about the interfering with images that may be up on sites owned by people. She said to change other people’s property is ‘… very rude and I don’t like it’.

Another student suggested that we should be a little bit more thoughtful when considering games we do and don’t block. Some games of educational value are blocked and to have access would ‘… make you think and use your brain’. ‘Not all websites should be blocked’ from another student suggests we need to discuss with children what sites are blocked and why blockages are programmed.

Our policies on sites and access are in the interests of children but we do need to make sure they understand why some sites are off-limits. Additional information carefully communicated will have positive educational benefits and make children aware the responsibilities they have in relation to their online behaviour. Survey responses this point (about blockage) came through on quite a few occasions.

One of the points coming through was that if we had to resort to paper and pencil because there were no computers, the loss of trees because of conversion to paper would increase the level of forest loss.

Most children appreciate the opportunity to talk with friends with many of them having conversations around the globe. I don’t think we realise at times just how much part of communications computer has become.

A theme (probably a wish) expressed by the majority of children was that the internet should be more available for games. Definitely, many children believe that games online add to living opportunities. It becomes a question of balance and education toward that end is something we need to take into account.

While the internet is appreciated, children abhor misuse. That feeling came through from most students. People changing and interfering with things they had no right to touch was anathema.

I want to thank students who shared with me because their perceptions are both informing and enlightening. If anything, this opportunity reinforced the fact that we need to take account of what children have to say and the ideas that they have as we shape things and go forward together. It’s the going forward together that is important. From that grows understanding, awareness shared empathy and organisational synergy.

Above all, and importantly, while technology is enriching and providing extended learning opportunities, I would hope that the notion of holistic education is always there. It’s the academic, social, emotional and moral/spiritual aspects of development that make up the whole person. I hope the technology and its use in our schools supports that but doesn’t diminish nor minimise those characteristics, traits and personality domains that are ever so important to us being both individuals and a collective of people together.


I am the past Principal of Leanyer School, in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. I was Principal of that school for 20 years from 1992 until 2011. Now retired I am an educator of some 43 years standing, over 40 as a School Education Leader.



In this day and age the increasing complexities that fit around education, deny or overlook two vital criteria: ‘simplicity’ and ‘focus’. I believe that we need to keep education simple in terms of message clarity and focused in terms of it honing in on key learning and developmental needs of young people. ‘Keep it simple’ and ‘keep it focused’ need to be absolute priorities.

Too often in these modern times, we can’t see the wood for the trees. Embedded within the Northern Territory Curriculum Framework there are eight key learning principles to which teacher attention is drawn. Those learning principles should underpin everything taught in terms of planning, preparation, teaching then testing, measurement and data analysis leading toward follow-up. What happens, however, is that these key learning strategies and focus principles are set to one side with people being invited to explore, explore and explore further a veritable cybernet forest, like unto all the rainforests of the world rolled into one!

The area, depth and density of resource and support materials is absolutely mind-boggling – there is also a huge amount of reduplication or, at best, a minor alteration from one precept or suggestion to another revealed to educators trawling through this infinite resource selection. The exercise of travelling the resource internet trial in the sky is inordinately time-consuming. Quite often, the journey reveals little more and offers little more than teachers already have in resource compilations that may be more readily and more simplistically available.

A point I sometimes suggest to people is that when they begin to surf the web looking for resources, they record time started and time finished. They will find quite often that an absolute time fortune has been spent in searching for resources. Time committed is goes well beyond the value of what they download. (In terms of downloading, a supplementary issue can be that what is brought onto the hard drive desktop for use is not really understood anyway! This helps to create a sad differential between what a teacher program looks like and how useful and relevant it really is from the viewpoint of statements into teaching translation.)

However, trawl educators do, because imprinted into the mind of every teacher is the absolute imperative that he or she will give of their absolute best, to bring children out the other end of the teaching / learning journey fitted up to satisfy testing criteria set around the data gathering strategies on which systems are built.

I worry that teachers are often frightened that what they do in terms of teaching will not be good enough. It seems they feel the weight of superordinacy, believing people are looking down upon them ready to pounce, criticise and condemn if things are not good enough. They tend to rejoice little and worry a lot about whether they’re contribution is appreciated or otherwise. This means that they become super self-critical and very rarely take time to rejoice and celebrate their teaching successes.

This first point needs urgent correction! I often urge on teachers the fact that they need to rejoice in the good things they are doing, trying my best to convince them that they aredoing good things. Leanyer is the teaching school developing preservice teachers who work with us in our classrooms supported by mentor teachers and a Professional Learning Leader (PLL). A document we have developed and urge our preservice teachers to follow is one suggesting simple evaluation of outcomes taking into account celebrations as well as points for further consideration. I can offer it to anyone contacting me athenry.gray@ntschools.net.

In Australia we have the Melbourne Declaration of Education developed a number of years ago. In the very first part of the declaration is a statement exhorting teachers to be holistic in their approach to teaching and learning processes. While academics are stressed, so, too, are the social, emotional and moral spiritual aspects of development. This declaration follows on earlier statements of principle and intent.

It seems to me that we are then urged to prioritize our attention away from this position and toward the point of recognising far more limited aspects of development as having priority.

In particular, the focus is on literacy and numeracy. In Australia we have what might be termed ‘Four May Days each year’, coinciding with nation-wide testing of children in years three, five, seven and nine in literacy and numeracy. Tests are taken three days with a catch up day being allowed for children and students who have missed out on sitting tests on the days designated. Data comes back to schools, universally evaluating them on the outcomes of these tests. That information goes on to the ACARA managed ‘My Schools’ website, which records for public digestion information relating to outcomes for children in all Australian schools.

From there, media picks up on schools that are well below average to well above average across the spectrum of tests and years. They then produce colourful tables showing schools from very deep pink (well below average) to very deep green (well above average); some newspapers delight or have delighted in talking about “Seas of Red” allowing readers to draw a personal metaphor about what often seems to be the more occasional ‘Oasis of green’.

While the freneticism around online publication of what amounts to an Australian League Table has declined a little from sensationalistic launch, focus most certainly remains firmly fixed on the importance of teaching, strategies and data collection leading toward the annual NAPLAN program.

Four ‘May Days’ each year
With this focus in place, everyone and everything tends toward preparing students to sit the tests each May. Then comes a rather nervous and anxious period of wait, for results to come through in preliminary then final form. As the results are uplifted onto school websites the analysis begins, including evaluation of areas in which children have done well and study of domains needing further work.

The public scrutiny tends to come later. Results are released to parents of children in schools where tests are sat, with data distributed to parents looking at their child or children by comparison to the school, State or Territory, and Australian averages for competency in each area tested.

After completion of the test cycle, people tend to sit back and relax for a while before beginning the ‘girding up’ process toward tests to take place the following year. In Australia, we are now into the business of comparing the progress that children in years nine, seven, and five made compared to their results were not initially sat tests in year three, five, or seven. Again, this comparison embraces schools and systems.

The emphasis and the ownership of this program, vested in the Australian Government which drives the program is an absolute universal system priority.

This paper is not a forum piece in which further discussion of NAP testing should take place. Rather, I am seeking to show that macro determined programs coming from the Australian Government can and does have the effect of taking us away from a focus that aligns with holistic development and the preparation of children for the whole of life. ‘If literacy and numeracy challenges are satisfied than the educational job is done’, seems to be an underpinning paradigm.

A local focus
At my school, Leanyer, and Darwin’s northern suburbs we most certainly believe in and focus on literacy, numeracy and other key academic areas. However the social, emotional and moral spiritual emphases that should be in place, are taken into firm account. I want to offer a couple of illustrations.

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to welcome into school leadership for 2012 our house captains and vice captains together with our student representative council members who had been elected to office. We had an altogether significant ceremony of induction which took place in the nearby Apostolic Church Hall.

(We were not able to use our own school assembly area because it was being redeveloped under the Building Education Revolution Program, an Australian Government initiative on capital works extension.) At this ceremony elected children were welcomed into school student leadership in a very dignified and formal manner.

I sat and reflected, feeling sad that these sorts of programs are so often undervalued and undersold as being almost meaningless by those whose focus seems to be about more narrowly defined aspects of teaching, strategies and data.

More recently and toward the end of term three we had a brilliant night at our school, attended by well over 1000 people. The focus of the night centered around the Expressive Arts, engaging all our children from preschool to year 6in dancing, singing and playing to reflect ‘Dancing through the ages’. I was ever so proud of our children, my staff and our community and particularly moved by the fact that the whole night, including the MC role was in the hands of children – done by children, with children for children. Not once during the evening did anything remotely related to purist academics come into the frame. (Application of learning and translation toward audience most certainly did.)

Again, I felt sad that in this day and age ‘learning in the hands of students is often dismissive of this type and level of engagement. I wondered how appreciative those in high Australian Government places might be of a program like this – or whether indeed they would see it as being relevant! (It is important to add that on the night our Northern Territory Government Chief Minister and the leader of the Country Liberal Party Opposition were both in attendance and I believe understood and appreciated just how relevant and meaningful these practical manifestations by children and students happen to be.)

The ‘LSRW’ factor
‘Learning in the hands of students’ is often just that! It’s about putting into the hands of children technologically developed gizmos that enable them to communicate ‘by finger’, engaging in everything from games and internet study to the transmission and receipt of messages . . . and so on. The onus and emphasis is more and more on technology and less and less on skills that used to be considered important.

What doesn’t happen when learning is placed ‘into’ the hands of students, is taking into account of the need for children and students to be listeners, speakers, readers, and writers. The ‘LSRW’ factor is missing!

I state this without apology, as reference to the old-fashioned way. Communication skills in a very primary sense of need and confidence building are, these days, sadly muted: The interfacing of people with each other is becoming remote. The sending of texts, e-mails and, more recently, Facebook engagement, Twitter entry and other device-supported communication has taken the place of old-fashioned listening and speaking. Increasingly, reading and writing are also being committed to the technological domain. We have entered the world of the e-book; in some American states handwriting texts are no longer prescribed, with tablets being the new way forward.

I am personally saddened by the fact that education for children seems to be distancing itself from primary communication skills. The ability of people (young and old) to look each other in the eye, speak up with confidence and to listen with uninterrupted cognition is nearing extinction. If young people are to develop skills and confidence in communication then I advocate a return to the era in which these primary communication skills were considered paramount.

I am not for one minute suggesting that there is no place for technology in promoting learning opportunities for children. What has to be avoided is the situation where technological takeover depersonalises both communication and teaching-learning contexts. In schools these days huge amounts of learning originate online, generated through the computer via the Smart board then outreaching to students. Teachers meantime busy themselves in rubric recording of data that offers comment on the perceptions of what children are learning. This is hardly about teaching and learning in a primary context of engagement.

Concluding thought
In our age of modern education, it is of concern that tools which can support teaching and learning are taking over. Resources in cyberspace surely should be no more than just that – resources – to be drawn on carefully and possibly scarcely. We can overdo it on the research and downloads, particularly when so much of what’s out there is essentially reduplicative of what has gone before. The tools we use for data access and to facilitate teaching can be enriching but again should not be replacing that idiom of relationship contact which develops between children and teachers during prime learning time.

Learning in the hands of students should not focus on downloading material to be placed through technological devices, quite literally, into the hands of children. Surely learning in the hands of students should be reminiscent of and carefully reflective about development and preparation of young people for the whole of life. Part of this is a need for them to be in command of support devices with teachers ensuring the ‘human side’ of education does not sell out to technological trappings.

‘Keeping it simple’ and ‘keeping it focused’ has served us well in the past; these precepts should not be discarded in the 21st century.

Mr Henry Gray is the immediate past annd now retired Principal of Leanyer School, in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. He was Principal of Leanyer School for 20 years (1992-2011) are retired after 42 years in education, nearly 40 as a school principal in WA and the NT.



Without doubt, the notion of global entrepreneurialship and the communications technologies supporting our access to our 21st ‘conversational space-age is engaging us all to a greater and greater extent. Our capacities to communicate have come a long, long way in a very short space of time.

One of the things that hugely impresses me is the fact that so many young people of tender years are well and truly ‘first’ in experimental and experiential terms with using technology to further communications, to engage in the establishment of quite sophisticated networks and to act and interact with each other at levels, ranging from next door and across the street to around the world on a 24/7 basis.

One of the things as a member of the older generation that I don’t understand is how much the younger generation does understand when it comes to technology and the use of devices. My grandchildren at the ages of seven, six and five know a lot more about gadgetry, its use and manipulation than I do! I am often in a context of being taught new things by these teachers well over half a century younger than me.

It doesn’t stop at the family level. In the school context, the children know so much and can show me so much that I was in awe of their basic knowledge. Children of tender years are ‘veteran class’ when it comes to their capacity to use technology. They produce quite sophisticated product with classroom assignments and are more savvy by far than me in the area of cyberspace engagement. I sometimes thought my school was one of several hundred bubbling technocrats with the capacity to do marvelous things in the area of entrepreneurialship and the creation of linkages that bind the world through the knowledge they had and were developing in the technological field.

My role was and that of teachers in all of this, is to take account of the need to temper and to direct the efforts and the energies of children to a point of reasonableness in this domain. There was an article in the Australian in 1996 that talked about the need for teachers and educators to develop and retain perspective in an age of unfolding and burgeoning technology. The article, written by (from memory) Heather Gabriel, suggested that teachers ought not to compete with children in that domain of understanding how to use information and communication technologies. Children who were being born and brought up in this age would always be smarter than their elders when it came to the acquisition of basic technological knowledge. The article suggested that teachers should consider themselves in metaphorical terms to be captains of the ship’s, responsible for guiding their class in ship like during the 40 or so school weeks of each year.

The wise teacher would set the agenda and use children with skills in the capacity of ‘crew members’ to aid and abet the ‘SS Class’ in making it safely to port. So it wasn’t a case of unbridled uncontrolled access to technology but rather the shaping of programs with appropriate technological support in order to achieve desired endpoints and outcomes.

This analogy has stood by me for many years and is one used in thinking about the place in the context of technology. I wouldn’t want to children and young people to be entrepreneurial if that is all about unbridled and ill-considered use of the technology. It’s so easy these days of children to become ‘one track’.

There are children and unfortunately many of them who spend countless hours whiling away time that connects them, through technology, to the wider world in cyberspace context. Is that real life: Or can it be life that’s taken from a real context and placed into what becomes an artificiality of escapism?

In Australia, there are a number of advertisements on television that talk about what constitutes life. Those advertisements invariably caution that too much time spent innocent entry way is anathema. “Life” is upheld as needing activity as well as passivity. The connotation is that sometimes spent engaging around technology and activities of a nonphysical nature is fine but that needs to be balanced with time spent in active engagement. It’s all about balance.

For me, this parallel has expression within the context of this topic. It’s fine for children and young people to have the capacity to engage through cyberspace connections but also necessary that life has local vitality and engagement that focuses on the senses as well as through the fingers onto a keyboard. My reading about technological gurus and those with extreme dedication to online and cyberspace communication suggests there are limitations in the direct communicative and social capacities many of these people exhibit.

Don’t overlook the ‘basics’

I believe there are two worlds: the real world in which we physically live and the technological world that resides in cyberspace. Simply put, around our planet is this endless space into which we launch on which we receive. It is instantaneous, but disengaging of people in direct physical terms. We ‘go global’ from desks, lounges, kitchen tables, the front porch, our cars, internet cafes – and all that in a way that consumes hours of our time without us having to physically move an inch!

We talk without opening our mouths. We identify respondents without engaging in eye contact. We reveal our inner selves thoughts without supporting our comments with a physical presence that confirms the emotion behind our expression. We communicate to others into the environment without having an awareness of that environment based on our presence and therefore not confirmed by our senses. In this context people young and old are removed from the real world, preferring one that is artificial.

Of course, there are issues at times of people feeling not confident when it comes to first hand communication. Information Communication Technology offers both a palliative and a panacea. It’s important that people have the opportunity to communicate and share; adeptness at managing one’s self in the cyberspace world is important. However, there is a question of balance and total substitution of traditional communicative methods with their replacement by the ‘new way forward’ offered by technology creates an imbalance of another kind.

Original thought

Over-reliance on communication technologies and a predisposition to prefer cyberspace can lead to a point of where the viewpoint of others become owned by those who are online and out there. It’s so easy to see what others write, then taking their words and owning them. With communication and discourse it’s ever so important and original thought prevail and be shared.

The thoughts of others can influence thinking but nobody should ever allow what they believe think and feel to be totally substituted. If this happens undue influence prevails, with people becoming hesitant, unsure and not at all positive about going forward on the strength and courage of their own convictions. With this comes the danger of plagiarism subsuming creativity: submergence of one’s beliefs and thoughts to those of others is both sad and dangerous. In terms of entrepreneurialship and engagement, this is something that needs to be thoroughly understood and avoided.

A place for everything

When I was a little boy my Mother used to say to me, ‘Henry, in life there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place’. Back then, modern technologies hadn’t been invented but what she advised fits the times in which we live.

We need to make sure that the perspective and the focus that these technologies bring to our world don’t push to one side those many other important priorities we need to consider in developing and educating children. Technology and its outreach, the ability of children and young people to communicate online has its place – but it isn’t the ‘end all and be all’ of what should be in life’s world. It is a part but not the whole!

It would be easy to laud and envy communications tools and to unduly encourage the concept of linkage that brings to young people the capacity to link in a global instantaneous context with everyone everywhere at any time. However, that would do little to support the balance and the development young people need and should be offered.

I hope that technologies and opportunities that are provided never ever take from the fact that children, young people and even we ‘old ones’ need to be firstly people and secondly persons using tools that support but don’t take over when it comes to setting agendas, communicating and interacting. May it be that technologies supporting linkages and communications opportunities are always the slave but never a master.Personality is a wonderful quality that individualises everyone, young and old alike. It should never be traded and never be lost.

Henry Gray
Retired Principal



Educational organisation within schools is many things to many people. Principals and school leadership teams are motivated and inspired by many different stimuli. The elements and influences which press upon schools are poured into a metaphoric funnel above each place of teaching and learning. Community, hierarchial and government clamor rain caqn come down like the cascade from the end of the funnel onto schools in almost waterfall proportions.

While Principals and leadership groups are able to take, analyse, synthesise and consider the way in which the school can and should accommodate demands from without, it is easy for a sense of proportion and a perspective on reality to become lost. The flood of seemingly insatiable demands heaped on schools can result in destabilisation and disequilibrium.

This is especially the case in situations where Principals and leadership teams feel that everything demanded of the school by the system (and of the system in turn by Government) has to be acceded and put into practice. These reactions, best described as knee jerk, cause an inner disquiet within staff who are often reluctant to change without justification, but are pressured to make and justify those changes anyway.

In metaphoric terms, schools that comply with demands so made, remind me of a frog hopping from lilly pad to lilly pad on a pond’s surface. Sooner or later the frog will miss in its parabolic leap from one pad to the next and do a dunk into the water. I believe we need, like a duck, to do a lot more deep diving to ascertain what rich life there is at the bottom of the pond. Too often we are urged and in turn urge our teachers, to skim the surface of learning without exploring issues with children and students.

Beneath the educational top soil, there are rich substrata of understandings that need to be explored. Too often that depth learning is overlooked. Educators know that depth learning is disregarded because of the imperative that we drive on, moving rapidly from one initiative to the next.

This approach is one that does little to positively enhance the way those working within schools feel about what they are doing. They become ‘focussed on worry’ and internalise feelings of discomfit about what and how they are doing. They can feel both disenfranchised and destabilised. They wonder whether they are valued and appreciated. While they may not talk about feelings of insecurrity in an ‘out there and to everyone’ way, their expressions of concern and disquiet are certainly expressed to trusted colleagues in an ‘under the table’ manner.

Teachers may maintain a brave face to what they are doing, but beneath the surface suffer from self doubt. This leads to them becoming professionals who overly naval gaze, generally in a very self critical manner. Teachers can and often do become professions who feel there is little about which to self-congratulate and rejoice.

Establishing Priorities and Building toward Positive Atmosphere

In this context and against this background it is essential that empathetic school principals and leadership teams offer reassurance and build confidence within their teaching and support staff cohorts. They need to help staff understand that ‘frog hopping’ is not essential and that ‘deep diving’ into learning, whereby children and students are offered the opportunity of holistic development is encouraged.

If this is to happen, Principals need to take account of two very important considerations.

* They need to act in a way that deflects as much downward pressure as possible away from staff. They need, as I have previously written ( ) to be like umbrellas, open to diffuse the torrent of government and systemic expectatiion, keeping change within reasonable boundaries. This will ensure that schools, students and staff are not overwhelmed by cascading waterfalls of macro-expectation. Principals and leadership groups need to maintain as much balance as possible within their schools. In spite of what system leaders may say, random acceptance and blind attempts at implementing every initiative will lead to confusion st school level.

Principals have to have the courage to say ‘no’ to changes which come at them giddyingly and often in a poorly considered manner.

* The second critically important consideration, largely dependent upon the ability of school Principals and leadership groups to be selective in terms of their acceptance of change invitation, is that of school tone, harmony and atmosphere.

The way a school feels is intangible. It cannot be bought as a material resource. Neither can it be lassoed, harnessed or tied down. The ‘feel’ of a school is an intangible and generates from within. It develops as a consequence of feeling generated among those within the organisation.

I often feel that the atmosphere of a school, which grows from the tone and harmony within, is best expressed as a weather may which superimposes on that school. When Principal at Leanyer School I had a rather clever member of my staff take an aerial photograph of ‘our place’ and photoshop a weather map over our campus. This I kept close for it was necessary for me to appreciate the ‘highs’ within our school. I also needed to take account of the ‘lows’, being aware of the fact we needed to make sure they were swiftly moving and not permanently affective of the people within our borders.

Learning about Atmosphere

My awareness of atmosphere did not come about by accident. In 1994 while at Leanyer, I was asked to act as our region’s Superintendent for a period of six months. At that time Leanyer was somewhat struggling when it came to material resources and that was a worry. Other schools seemed to have a lot more in material terms. Although not jealous, an inner aspiration was to be like better resourced schools.

During my tenure in the acting position. I visited each of our region’s schools, some on more than one occasion. I made contact with Principals and took every opportunity to go into classrooms meeting and talking with children and teachers. I also visited Leanyer School but as an ‘outsider’ not as someone presuming ‘insider awareness’. (I wasn’t there; someone else was acting as Principal and I needed to accord leadership space and respect).

The most critically important thing I learned during my time as Superintendent, was appreciation of organisational atmosphere. No matter how good schools looked, no matter how many material resources they held – if they did not ‘feel’ good, they were lacking quite decidedly.

Part of my learning was predicated by appreciation of Leanyer ‘from the outside in’. Having been Principal for two full years at the school before temporary promotion, I was used to viewing the school from the inside out. Opportunity to look at the school from a different perspective along with comparative opportunity, helped me appreciate the blessing and joy abounding within the school. It felt good! The atmosphere within was second no none!!

Organisational atmosphere is both precious and fragile. There is no guarantee that this intrinsic quality will remain constant. The way people within schools act and interact changes regularly.

Atmospheric Challenge

Within schools are three key groups of people – students, staff and parents. Watching overall is the wider community. Change of personnel and client is common with the arrival and departure of children and staff. Systemic demands and government priorities are hardly constant. This opens schools up as being organisations in a constant state of flux. Just as weather patters change, so too, do pervading atmospherics within schools. Those feeling on a positive ‘high’ today, may find that feeling of well-being eroded by something that unfolds tomorrow. Contrawise, circumstances causing feelings of despondency (‘low’ points) can be changed by circumstances, becoming ‘highs’.

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 learned a long time ago about the importance of atmosphere and recommend to readers that we all always work to build the spirit within our schools.

Henry Gray

December 2012


(Some Reflections of a ‘Yesterday’s Leader’)

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 particlar 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 leveled 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 advertisment 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 colored 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.


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 themsleves 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


It’s Time to Stop the Breast Beating

In terms of educators meeting learner needs, it is time for us to stop the self-flagellation and breast-beating that accompanies educational accountability. “Are schools and teachers meeting the needs of children and students” is a question that needs repositioning.

Rather than schools and educators being dumped with loads of accountability for educational inputs and outcomes, it’s time for quizzing to turn to children and their parents. Self responsibility on the part of students and their parents should be the challenge. Are we meeting the needs of learners needs to be looked at in terms of “are children and their primary caregivers doing their bit toward the development of our next generation”.

I once had a conversation with a Principal colleague who told me of a meeting with parents over their child who was particularly and negatively challenging his schools’ culture and ethos. The parents upbraided the Principal for his lack of care and concern. They demanded he and the school do more for the child. The principal offered a conditional response. He and the school would do better for the child for the eighth of the year the child spent at school, if the parents would commit a greater effort for the remaining seven eights of the year – the time he was in their care.

This story goes to the nub of the issue.Schools have a role to play in child and student development, a matter educators have never shirked. However, parents are the primary caregivers and over time the gradual off-loading and dumping of rearing responsibilities onto schools is misplaced and alarming.

The notion of school being a place where fizz has to be applied to every learning situation in an effort to engage learners is equally as galling. Schools need to be fun places and learning needs underpinning with enjoyable experiences. However, there are vital aspects of learning that are repetitious, mundane and focussed toward cognitive appeal. Not everything can be bubble and froth because learning is not about fizz but about substance.

Metaphorically, schools add the yeast added to the bread to make learning rise in the minds and souls of young people. That means biting onto key issues and chewing on the meat of learning opportunities.

The thought ‘best’ education has to be about froth and bubble in order to appeal to young people is a sad commentary on modernity. It also suggest that deep learning is unimportant.

Motivation and Inclination

There seems to be a belief held within society and certainly implied by Governments that all students are inclined learners. Nothing could be further from the truth. Deliberate disinclination is an ingrained element within the psyche of many children and students. Non-respondents may reject learning opportunities by passive resistance or by more belligerent defiance. All rejection is negative, confirming that while you can lead a horse to water you can’t make it drink.

If children come to school with attitudes of deliberate disinclination and defiance, it is hard to move them from negative to more positive attitudes without parental awareness and support. That is not always forthcoming and in fact parents often take the side of children, being in no way prepared to support the efforts of school staff.

It is behoven on children and students to recognise and accept responsibility for their actions. Educators are often too quick to excuse children and parents and too slow to recognise that the onus for change and development should be vested on the home as much as on the school front.

Sadly in this day and age, with parents compulsorily committed to work and earning, the upbringing and development of children, in almost total terms, is thrown at schools. I mean this quite literally because the social/government and system imperative plants this responsibility on and into schools. Many school educators feel they are being ‘commanded’ to bring children up. When societal failings become apparent, schools and their staff members are held up as being the major contributors to that failure. parents, prime carers and students themselves are home free.

That is totally wrong. The wrong people and institutions are be3ing blamed for shortcomings, when the responsibility belongs to those whop are excused.