These days, budget stringency and cost-cutting measures are front and centre for all organisations. Be it private industry or government enterprise, the issue of budget context is a primary conversational point. With the passing of time budgetary constraints become more and more stringent. Cost cutting and reprioritising expenditure is the order of the day.

In that context that I am somewhat bemused by an area in which logical and legitimate curtailment could be made, without reducing the effectiveness or efficiency of operations. In fact, the reverse may apply.

Meeting on-line

It is paradoxical that in an era of cost cutting and pruning, one domain which seems to be forever expanded and never curtailed, relates to travel and accommodation costs associated with meetings, conferences and gatherings. Without being too cynical, it seems to me that people within both government and private sectors take every opportunity possible to travel for the purpose of meetings and conference opportunities. Some meetings attended, last for very short periods of time but that doesn’t reduce travel costs. Anecdotal evidence about attendance at
intra-territory, interstate and overseas meetings is frequent. Whenever you ring wanting to talk to people at middle and upper level management within organisations, it seems that they are away from the Territory attending conferences or going to meetings.

Changes I would make

In my opinion there is absolutely no need for these constant gatherings. They are disruptive, detract from work function and add hugely to enterprise costs. One of the first changes I would make as a departmental head or person in charge of an employing organisation, would be to institute a program of meeting online through whichever of the technologies is most appropriate. It could be by teleconference, video-conferencing, Skype or some other cyberspace methodology. Meetings would be instantaneous. Within the framework of reasonableness, people could connect worldwide and engage in conversation of the subject under discussion. While socialisation and getting together are important, the issue of time utilisation and cost saving makes this method one that needs further exploration.

I became involved with Online Conferencing in the late 1990s. During the following years I attended many significant conferences that had world-wide connection. They were extremely well organised, followed carefully constructed timetables and operated on a 24/7 basis. Online discussion and later video linking helped make these connections relevant, focussed and timely. Importantly, as a school principal, I remained on duty at my workplace. At the same time I had the opportunity to extend my professional horizons by contributing online to conferences and professional gatherings.

Several years ago the Association of Northern Territory School Educational Leaders (ANTSEL) organised its Biennial Conference through online method. Conference contributors involved through video linkage, the sharing of papers, discussion threads on topics. This conference was one of the cheapest ever in terms of dollar cost and one of the most significant in terms of its organisational structure.

Setting Priorities

Gatherings of people are important. However they incur significant expenditure and involve regular absence from work. In the interests of better effectiveness and efficiency and better utilisation of budgets I strongly suggest that online alternatives of meeting and gathering through cyberspace links should be explored.

I suspect that airline companies, convention organisers and accommodation providers may not be particularly impressed by this alternative method of gathering. However, in the interests of budget setting and establishing careful expenditure priorities, I would encourage an examination of this alternative conferencing and meeting method.

Henry Gray


Some thoughts to share. When retired one has time to reflect and share. We need to keep education simple and not succumb to its confusion and unnecessary complexity.


Many years ago an educator whom we sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of Devolution (decentralisation of authority and its investment in schools), Mr Jim Spinks (now Dr Spinks) gave sound advice. He was at that time Principal of Roseberry School in Tasmania. He told principals at a conference that a grave mistake in modern times was to add so much onto schools in curriculum responsibility and accountability terms, that schools became overwhelmed. As things are seen as being priority needs and are added on, there needed to be a counterbalance with some elements being ‘dropped off’. That was the only way to maintain equilibrium within school contexts.

Sadly, no-one has heeded the ‘drop off’ bit of his advice. Schools, their principals and teachers are buried under expectation to the point of suffocation.

Obesity is often stated as leading to poor health in adults and young people. Similarly and obese and over-stuffed requirement load placed on schools can lead to organisational dysfunction. We need to ease the burden and reinstate the joy in education by dumping what is extraneous from school agendas.



Managing time is something we all feel we can do well … yer time often passes us by. This can and does happen when we plan lessons to be carried out during the day. It often happens that we get so pre-occupied (involved) with what we are teaching that we don’t realise time is slipping by at a rate of knots (speed). This means it can be time to start the next lesson before we have finished the one with which we are engaged.

If teachers and school leaders get too far behind, they become flummoxed (panicky) and what has been planned tends to break down. It is important to keep an eye on the clock. Pace – the introduction, development and the conclusions of lessons need tro be logical and sequenced. They need to be managed within the time time set and which would have been discussed with mentor teachers.

It is easy to over-run time. This can happen when too much time is spent on the earlier sections of lessons, meaning you are starve43ed of time at the back-end (toward the conclusion) of the lesson.

Part of time management is the need to ‘insist’ that children and students being taught, stop and move on when you ask them to undertake evolving (changing) tasks. Unless this happens, your lesson development gets lost; children are doing different things at different times and at individual pace, meaning you become unsure of how the lesson is fitting within the overall time plan. This is turn leads to internal tension and frustration. The anticipation of satisfaction (belief you will feel good about lesson outcomes) does not come to pass.

Keeping a handle on (being aware) of time is very important but easily overlooked.

There are some simple things teachers can do, in order to keep aware of time.

1. Have a very visible clock with clear numbers and hands (analogue) prominently displayed in the classroom and be aware of glancing at time periodically.

2. Write on the board a plan of the day where lessons are referenced Against start and finish times. You can have children operate as ‘time monitors’ or ‘reminders of time’ to you; this helps them as well as yourself in terms of time awareness. It certainly promotes the telling of time among children.

3. Use an egg timer or similar device which sets to the time you have available and then rings when time has or is about to expire. my suggestion would be that you set the timer to go off prior to the lesson finishing, in order to give wind-up time. If a lesson is 40 minutes in length, set the timer to sound 30 minutes after lesson commencement, which gives you ten minutes warning to lesson conclusion.

3. Use a similar device but one that is an ‘hour glass’ type device. these can be bought in various places and set up so the ‘sands of time’ run through the ‘hourglass’. You and students can look up from time to time and ‘visually’ see time elapsed and time remaining.

4. Have and use a stopwatch.

5. Use time monitors who check time on the wall clock or on personal watches and let you know howe things are going, from a time management viewpoint. (I would suggest rotating this duty because it can help all class members with time telling and reminding about the importance of time

Time in relation to lessons is important. We are all blessed with the same amount of time to use every day. Being wise about and aware of time is important for all teachers and educators.



One of the key points in my life was when in 1983 when I attended a leadership development program held for Principals in Darwin. By that time I had been an educator for quite a few years and was Principal at Nhulunbuy Primary School.

We were encouraged by Dr Colin Moyle, Director of the Victorian Institute of Educational Leadership to develop a focus or mission statement. This statement he suggested should be of 25 words or less. He suggested we think carefully about it as being a statement that would offer both vision and reality.

For me, the timing was exactly right. I had been an educator and school principal in both Western Australia and then the Northern Territory for a number of years. For quite some time I had wrestled (thought about) albeit subconsciously with the need for some ‘statement of direction’ that would act for me as both a motivation and a guiding principle.

It can be hard to define purpose and it seemed that Colin Moyle’s exhortation was a way of drilling down to what motivated us as leaders.

I gave a lot of sincere thought to developing a Mission Statement. It needed to be something that would stand by me motivationally and in guidance terms. There was sufficient time offered us by Dr Moyle to reflect before coming up with a response.

My reflections were sincere. I wanted my mission statement to reflect priorities, sincerity and the way I felt about what I was doing. It needed to consider my present situation and encapsulate feelings toward the future.

I developed the following as my statement of purpose:

* To fulfil and be fulfilled on organisational terms: Family, work, recreation.
* To acquit my responsibilities with integrity.
* To work with a smile in my heart.

These precepts embraced within 25 words have been my drivers (motivators and guiding statements) over the years . I had them printed on the reverse side of my business card. Although now technically retired, these precepts are still reminders, inspiring me to do my best at all times.

I commend to you the worthwhileness of developing a mission statement. It is something you will never regret.



There is certainly a need for principals and leaders new to school based leadership, to be nurtured, supported and given assistance when it comes to their adjustment into leadership roles.

It is not easy to be a school leader, particularly when one considers that expectations held for schools require the consideration and melding of many expectations. Support for Principals that leads toward the building of their confidence and assurance is both necessary and important. Over time, countless stories, albeit anecdotal, have done the rounds on the vulnerability school leaders feel in confronting issues. They want to make right decisions but feel there may be matters requiring consideration they have not taken into account, or simply overlooked.



The sad thing about many new educational initiatives is they are simply a revisitation to the past – to history once contemporary and long since forgotten. Along come a new set pf leaders and teachers who want to try on new things. So often they do that by going back to where systems have come from – and they do it without taking cognisance of past failures. They simply do not consider the past as they make it their future. And so often that future fails, often for the reasons that saw it fail in past times when it was contemporary. In the words of Peter, Paul and Mary, “when will they (we) ever learn”?



For many a year I have pondered the notion of ‘deperchment’. Deperchment is a process whereby principals and other organisational leaders, metaphorically, are like birds on a tree branch. ‘Up there’ looking down on the domains of their responsibilities, they become easy targets for those who would like to take pot shots at them, aiming to destabilise them for an array of reasons. It may be the leader is doing a poor job and seems to be cocooned from replacement by the system. It may be those within the system at all levels taking aim and not always for legitimate reasons. It may be a parent or community member winding up at the poor leader through system channels for perceived poor performance.

Deperchment as a potential end-point means leaders are often insecure, hesitant, and worriers about the target on their backs. Deperchment is anathema and a sad reality of leadership life.


For me, the best of all leadership outcomes over the years stemmed from being able to make a difference, a real difference for both staff and students. I used to get into some degree of difficulty at times with hierarchy for minimal or lagging compliance with commands and demands. That was often a structured response and one for which no apology was due. Being a ‘people principal’. Knowing and being known to staff and students really mattered. People development was (and still is) a key priority for me. I know it is for all of us but it is easy to get sucked into the maelstrom of organisational perspective – which can lead to diminishment of effort at the coalface.


These columns were written for the Suns Newspapers (Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield) in February and March 2014. Readers re welcome to use and quote but i would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns, in which papers they were published.



February 7 2014. was a significant day in Northern Territory Educational history. Last Friday the Draft Wilson Report titled ‘Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory’ was released. Importantly, this report is in “draft” form for a month and during that time feedback can be offered. The report maps what might well become the future way for Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory.


The report can be viewed online at the Department of Education website. A link on the left-hand side of the homepage ‘Indigenous Education Review’ goes to the report. A summary is offered along with links enabling the report to be downloaded by chapter or in full.

Many reports on Aboriginal Education have been prepared over the years. In my opinion this is the most significant since the Shimpo Report “A Social Process of Aboriginal Education”in 1976.

Nothing ever happened with the Shimpo Report! It was shelved to gather dust. I sincerely hope that will not be the fate of the Wilson Report, for it is (as Shimpo) a very significant statement.

Three Key Points

Three significant points growing from the report resonate :
* A recommendation for a major make-over in offering secondary education.
* A proposal to extinguish the bilingual approach to literacy teaching.
* A reaffirmation of the critical importance of child development and early years education.

The Indigenous Education Review

The Wilson Report confirms that indigenous children in remote and very remote places in the Territory do a whole lot worse educationally than indigenous children in similar places elsewhere in Australia. Interestingly, non- indigenous children in the remote and very remote areas of the NT are significantly higher level achievers in literacy and numeracy than their counterparts throughout the rest of Australia. (Report, page 33). This may be due in part to the great service offered by the Northern Territory Open Education Centre (NTOEC) and Katherine/ Alice Springs Schools of the Air, coupled with dedicated parental home-tutoring.

Report Elements

There are 37 recommendations for change in the report. Key areas covered by recommendations (lifted from powerpoint presentation text) follow.

1. Treat ‘bush’ and ‘town’ schools differently.
2. Develop a 10-year strategic plan for indigenous education.
3. Strengthen Families as First Teachers and preschools and focus on English.
4. Require bush primary schools to teach the foundations of English literacy.
5. Provide secondary education in towns, with residential accomodation for children.
6. Attendance focus on primary children and those attending three days a week.
7. Whole system approach to behaviour management and student well-being.

Other key points focus on developing community education plans, increasing indigenous teacher numbers and quality, and developing long term funding agreements with government.

The report is 161 pages long. Its thirteen chapters are supported by graphs and tables. Several appendices round out the document.

Draft Status

It is important to note that the report is in draft form. The website shows how the public can respond with comment and suggestion until Sunday March 9.

A series of public meetings have been programmed. Bruce Wilson the report’s creator, along with departmental officers will be at each meeting to discuss the report, field comments and answer questions. The Darwin/Palmerston meeting is scheduled for Wednesday February 26 2014. The venue will be the Brolga Room at the Novotel Atrium Hotel, The Esplanade in Darwin. The meeting will be from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm.

This is a very significant report. I would encourage people to read it, make submissions and attend the advertised meeting. It is especially important in my opinion that Indigenous Australians join in offering responses, attending the meeting and sharing their viewpoints.

This is a report we cannot afford to ignore




For reasons somewhat beyond ordinary comprehension, the issue of swimming lessons connected with the school curriculum has always been vexatious. Last week, Mrs Daphne Reed, president of the Darwin Royal Lifesaving Society confirmed this aspect of
swimming and water safely to be part of NT School Curriculum. She also confirmed that the program can be met through children being taken through ‘aquatic skills’ theory without practical lessons at the pool. It seems ludicrous to suggest that an important educational and safety need can be met without children so much as putting a toe in the water of a swimming pool.

In 2012, the Royal Lifesaving Society was reported to be launching an Australia-wide petition aimed toward swimming lessons and aquatic awareness being compulsory for all primary aged children. At that time Royal Lifesaving claimed only 4% of NT primary children could swim 50 metres or more. (David Wood, “Diving in to make kids waterproof”, NT News, October 23, 2012) I doubt there has been much of an improvement on that statistic.

There are many elements to the issue of teaching swimming; I believe from a school viewpoint, the following need to be taken into account.

* There ought to be a pre-supposition that school children are water confident. While many are, some beginning school have an absolute fear of water. That initial confidence should be instilled at home before the commencement of formal learning years and is often not the case.

* The lessons organised by schools have to take into account time of day and year. The Cancer Council recommends that children should not swim during the heat of the day. However terms two and three (the coolest periods of the year) are often considered too cold for water based lessons.

* During the weeks of swimming lessons, schools providing programs have to significantly change their normal school activities. More than the lesson, there is the getting ready (changing before and after), bus movement (to and from the pool) and counselling children about their application of sunscreen.

Horrendous Costs

One school located less than 3 km from the pool had to budget $14,000 in 2011 for transition to year three children to receive eight lessons over a fortnightly period. Bus transportation was a breathtaking cost item. The eight days of lessons involved four trips (two classes per trip) to and from the pool each day, a total of 64 bus movements from school to pool to school over the period. The cost for bus hire for the fortnight was over $5000, the rest related to other costs outlined.

Schools have limited capacity to fund swimming. Parents of children (certainly in the public school sector) generally contribute significantly. There can be issues of affordability. This means in some situations schools sponsor these children.


A significant number of children are not given parental permission to participate in swimming programs. When the issue is one of financial hardship for parents, schools do assist. When permission is declined by parents for other reasons, schools can do nothing other than make alternative arrangements for these children.

Swimming and water safety skills are necessities in today’s world. All children should have the chance to gain confidence in and enjoyment from water.

Government needs to come to the party in terms of cost contribution. If bussing costs were fully covered by grant, this would alleviate a significant portion of the program’s cost. This is not an issue schools can ‘fix’ by being hand-balled the problem. To be fully effective the program needs to involve all children. Providing swimming development is more than a school consideration. It is a system matter and should be a government priority.




The upbringing of children starts the day they are born. It has been stated that the first seven years of a child’s life are the most important. It is during this prime time that formation of attitudes and the shaping of children toward their ultimate destiny takes place. The Bible states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). That is very true and often overlooked.

Recently there was an interview on radio involving a parent and her three-year-old child. The journalist asked the child certain questions, to which he responded by making “farting” noises. When re-questioned, the child persisted with that response. Both parent and reporter laughed at what the child was doing. At the end of the interview the reporter made comment which indicated that the child’s response was somehow cute and quite alright.

If the same reporter and parent had been involved with the child when he was nine or 10, and if the child gave that response, it would have been greatly frowned upon as inappropriate and rude, not cute and becoming.

There is a tendency to overlook the needs young children have, when it comes to their upbringing. Telling children to use words “please” and “thank you” becomes constant and repetitious – so often it’s not done! Similarly, “excuse me” is not insisted upon, with young and older children simply pushing in to gain attention. If something doesn’t suit a child he or she will cry, throw tantrums, hit the adult, or react in a negative manner. Often this behaviour is not corrected and the child is allowed to persist with such reaction. Sometimes the child’s tantrums are responded to by the parent or adult giving in, letting the child have what he or she wants.

These allowances or indulgences simply concrete into young children the idea that demanding, selfish and intolerant behaviour is fine. As the child grows older and transitions toward young adulthood, those negative traits of character condoned during formative years, persist. Small wonder that young people grow up to feel comfortable as members of the ‘me’ generation, with self-centredness to the fore.

‘One Punch’ Attitudes

In recent times we have come to hear a great deal about “one punch” and “coward punch” incidents occurring within our community. Certainly alcohol and drugs Impact upon behaviour and cause people to act in an untoward and offensive manner . However, I wonder how many of these “one punch” protagonists were not corrected when very young children for exhibiting this kind of behaviour. Attitudes toward the use of alcohol and drugs are also formulated in the thinking of children as part of awareness they are offered during their formative years. Part of this comes from within schools but the social attitudes and values becoming a part of children’s make-up should largely be developed on the home front.


A great deal is talked about the partnership that exists between school and home when it comes to the upbringing of children. Children need to be part of that partnership from a very young age. They need to contribute to their own upbringing responding to the support and the advice given by parents and teachers. However, if adults don’t provide advice, they are not supporting children. Guidance is important. Children cannot be brought up by osmosis!

Precepts, principles and practices of good living need to be imparted by advice and modelling to children. If this support is not forthcoming, children are left to drift toward adulthood. Left to drift, children will become wayward and lost adults.

Key Task

The preparation of today’s children is of critical importance. We need to feel satisfaction and joy in the development of our youth. A great deal of breast-beating takes place when things go wrong for children, adolescents and young adults. How much of that happens because they have ‘switched off’ to growing up responsibly. And how much of their non caring attitudes grow from lack of empathy and care from adults who should support them? Home, school and young people themselves need to share the upbringing challenge.




A great deal is made of the need for children to be brought up on healthy, body building foods. The need for canteens to offer nutritious and balanced food and drink alternatives came to the fore in the late 1990’s. Until that point in time, very little was imposed by the Department. Neither it seems, was there a sustained interest in canteen food and nutrition by the community.

Historically, school canteens have operated in one of two ways:

* School councils have supplied premises on a leased basis to private operators, who look after day-to-day management. This includes the stocking of product and service to students. The lease is generally for a fixed period at an agreed lease price. School councils may charge extra for power and water used, or this may be built into the main lease agreement.

* School councils operate their canteens as small business enterprises, employing staff to carry out supply and service. They are responsible for canteen staff salaries and on-costs. Any profit from sales is returned to the school council as revenue raised.

With a growing awareness of lifestyle and health issues associated with food and drink, came changes to school canteen policies in the NT. Fears of children and adolescents expanding into overweight and unfit adults prompted the department to issue guidelines about what could be sold to students. Outlawed were soft drinks (high sugar content) and artificially flavoured milk products. Full milk was discouraged because of high fat content. Certain foods, including pies, were banned from sale for at least one day per week.

Action and Reaction

Initially, some schools were resentful that the department was getting into the issue of survelliance through the eyes of ‘food police’, departmental personnel with a background in health awareness. Some already doing the right thing by monitoring of the products sold, felt affronted. Others were concerned that profits, generally modest, would take a tumble. There was a great deal of angst and concern about the department shoehorning into the schools’ domain.

To their credit, the department’s health education officers offered guidance and support in a positive and non-confrontational manner. A great deal of research translated into guidelines showing schools how best they might meet requirements without compromising the business side of canteen operations. Support included regional meetings with principals, school council representatives and canteen managers. Visits to schools helped with understanding and interpretive requirements.

In 2014, the healthy food and drink policy for school canteens has become ingrained. Support can be sought by way of advisory visits. Additionally, there are suggestions on the Department of Education’s website under ‘food’ (search engine) that outline canteen, nutrition and healthy eating policies. Ideas for recipes are included together with suggestions on using school canteens for fundraising purposes.

Food policies in action have worked well for many school communities through revamped canteen programs. There is obviously appeal to young people about the attractiveness of fast foods through normal retail outlets. When the healthy foods policy for schools was first introduced, there was a fear canteen support would plummet. It was felt the appeal of retail fast food compared with tasteless canteen fare would negatively impact the latter. While it took a little time to adjust, school canteens for the most part are doing a great job, part of that being care about nutritional values and food understanding for students. They also continue to be operationally viable.

School canteens, in sync with health education programs, are doing their part when it comes to promoting fitter, healthier, food and drink conscious young Territorians.



These columns were published in the Suns Newspapers (Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield) in January and February 2014. Please feel free to use but acknowledgement of the Suns newspapers would be appreciated.


These columns were published in the Darwin/Palmerston/Litchfield ‘Suns’ on a weekly basis in January and February 2014. Readers are welcome to use them but I would ask you acknowledge the publishers, Suns Newspapers.


The school holiday period has all but passed. Students are preparing themselves for the 2014 school year. 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 key myths that need to be dispelled. While only loosely coupled, they can individually and collectively inflect upon the success of schooling.

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. That is not true and generally doesn’t happen. Critically important concept development, leading toward competency in literacy and numeracy are part of early learning. If those concepts are not covered with children during their formative years, they may begin a journey down Struggle Street which many never leave. Concepts and attitudes are part of early learning and cannot be overlooked.

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. If they don’t put effort into their studies and perform minimally, that somehow is an outcome impacting on others, not themselves. Impressing on students the need to take ownership of their learning as being for their benefit is important and necessary if they are to gain full educational benefit.

At times schools and teachers are criticised by those adhering to another myth. They believe all students 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 offered but declined. Deliberate disinclination toward learning is sadly, a fact of life. What students fail to accomplish in schooling terms can be due to their personal commitment. Support from parents and teachers is important but cannot supplant non-compliant attitudes manifest by children and students.

An unfortunate myth 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. In my opinion, that is not the case. New arrivals coming with this predisposition can set their children challenging educational hurdles because of parental antagonism toward our territory schools. Giving schools a chance and connecting with them through school council membership or volunteer involvement is a better option, largely because it gives people a chance to understand and contribute. If parents have negative attitudes toward our educational system, this will influence their student children.

Simple Success Messages

One of the dangers we face with education is unduly complicating its message. We become so focussed on process and structure that education’s true purpose and function becomes distorted. There is also a danger that education will shift from those it ought to benefit (our students) and focus instead on providers. It becomes a vehicle to promote career opportunity rather than providing for the needs of our younger generation.

To focus on child (and student) development should always be the prime educational purpose. Awareness of traits children need to succeed should always be a major 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.
Ability to love and appreciate life.

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




Looking, listening and speaking are often neglected literacy skills. While educationists, to some extent recognise and rue literacy loss among students, many do not place a high priority on these three literacy elements.

For the past several years and especially since NAPLAN became a major item on the annual education agenda, we have been told of the need for students to reinvent themselves in literacy terms. The focus is on reading and writing. How sad it is that the prime communications skills of looking, listening and speaking are not sufficiently a part of this recognition.

Learning by looking

As children grow into life ‘looking’ is an initial literacy skill. First and foremost, children as babies and young toddlers learn by looking. From that grows an awareness based on listening to parents and siblings. Speech is what happens as very young children begin to verbally copy and respond to circumstances by talking.

Communication skills evolve slowly. Literacy competence does not happen overnight but builds over the years. It never stops developing.
When children arrive at school learning too often focuses far too prematurely on reading and writing. While both reading and writing are important, the continued development of looking, listening and speaking is essential. Early learning leading toward formalised testing (remembering that NAPLAN testing first impacts in year three) with its prime focus on reading and writing makes it easy to overlook listening and speaking needs.

Key needs discounted.

Education at home and school should take prime account of the need for students to be taught the skills of listening and speaking. Sadly, this essential need is too often relegated and accorded only minor importance.

It is critically important that children be taught to listen. Without listening skills being carefully developed, students often fail to pause, think and respond on the basis of having thought through questions being asked. They tend to anticipate responses which can be incorrect because they have not listened with understanding. Another bad habit which develops can be children not hearing questions because they expect their teachers will repeat them a number of times before moving on to the next requirement. A common example is that of teachers repeating mental maths questions or spelling words over and over again. Parents at home and teachers in schools need to recognise how important it is that children learn to listen. For adults to model this as a skill to the younger generation, will help. ‘Do as I do’ is an ideal way of setting the example when it comes to the development of listening skills.

In the same way, it is important that adults model correct speech so children grow up learning by hearing and then copying correctly enunciated vocal patterns. There is nothing more important than young people learning by rote, when it comes to the basic elements of communication. The practice of correct speech and speaking is essential if we are to be clearly understood. It is also important that adults model elements of correct speech to young people, who observe and copy. We ought not overlook the need for speech to be careful and correct.

Eye contact

Eye contact is another neglected attribute. People tend to be very indirect when it comes to eye contact, often looking away from and avoiding their eyes engaging during conversation.

Failure to make eye contact can lead to hesitation and embarrassment between those listening and speaking to each other. That should not be the case. Confidence in communication, both listening and speaking, builds when those engaged in discourse look at each other. I believe the eyes to be the most powerful of all tools supporting conversation between people.


In our modern times, looking, listening and speaking often seem to be the lost arts of communication. They are very important observational, auditory and verbal elements of literacy. Revisitation and reinstatement of these essential skills needs to be part of the educational focus at home and school.



Northern Territory Education officially came of age in 1978. At that time responsibility for NT Education passed to the Northern Territory Government. Education was the first function to be managed locally.

Since 1978, educational priorities have grown, changed and developed. Over the years, earnest attempts have been made to shape education to best suit local needs. Those efforts have considered urban, town, rural and remote schools and students.

Efforts to identify educational needs and priorities have given rise to countless reports. The number of reports commissioned and developed since 1978, would fill the shelves of a large bookcase. For the purpose of this column, reports considered have more to do with management process and system direction than with specific curriculum issues.

Some reports have been vital and system shaping. One of the earliest was the Betty Watts and Jim Gallagher Report (written before 1978) which at that time was a bible, shaping Aboriginal Educational development. There were two reports prepared by Mitsuro Shimpo which looked at Indigenous Education and the need for interdepartmental cooperation across the Territory. Both were researched and written in 1978 and 1979. Shimpo travelled the length and breadth of the Territory in researching his reports. His findings were insightful but never implemented.

Reports shelved

Many, many reports containing recommendations for Indigenous Education were prepared in the following years. Most are long forgotten and many, like the Shimpo Reports, never saw the light of day. They were commissioned, researched, written, presented, sometimes tabled in the Legislative Assembly, then shelved. Rarely have they been enthusiastically accepted and implemented.

‘Education into the 1980’s’ and ‘Toward the 90’s : Tomorrow’s Future’ were two reports with implications for the whole system. The first, apart from Shimpo, was possibly the most widely consulted of all reports. ‘Education into the 1980’s’ sought opinion from practitioners in many schools and communities. Wider opinion was also canvassed. A green discussion paper evolved to become a white paper firstly in draft then confirmed status. Its validity was in large part due to the wide ranging consultation that took place. People knew what was going on.

Acceptance and change

Over the years since self government there have been a plethora of reports produced on every aspect of Northern Territory Education. Our system has been ‘analysed by dissection’ time and time again. Report recommendations have at best been partially implemented. In many cases nothing has changed. That has been especially the case when cost implications are considered. Change is generally not cheap. Over time, this disregard has coloured the opinions held by Territorians about the purpose, validity and relevance of reports.

Need for Reports

On many occasions, the raising of concerns is responded to by the announcement of a study that will lead to a report on matters under the spotlight. It somehow seems that studies of this nature are considered to be a panacea. Reports produced with suggested solutions are deemed sufficient. Without follow-up action, problems magnified by reports are compounded. School based educators and the community at large become cynical about process, follow up and outcome.


Educational priorities are constantly reflected upon and revisited. One focus point is the regionalisation and centralisation debate. Another has to do about supporting children with special learning needs for both challenged and enriched students. A major area dizzyingly revisited is the staffing formula for schools, with changes that are almost annual. Policies on Bilingual Education, Languages other than English and curriculum priorities have come, gone and in some cases, come again. Major and minor proposals for change mean education seems to be in a stage of constant flux.

Reports can be valuable as documents confirming research and making recommendations about the way forward. However their commissioning is not an end but a means to an end, that being toward system improvement. It is not appropriate for reports to be prepared, if their recommendations are not carefully considered. Reports cost in terms of time and money. Non-implementation shows a lack of respect for the researchers and amounts to a huge waste of human endeavour and financial resources. They need to be validated by follow-up action rather than building skepticism through disregard.




From time to time print and online articles emphasise the importance of workplace satisfaction and happiness. Some even address the need for work places to be fun places. Humour, laughter and light-heartedness are promoted as having tension relieving capacity. Inherent within this is a suggestion that not everything we do will be perfect and errors will be made. We need to have the ability to reflect on our mistakes and learn from them about how to improve and do things more successfully. An element of this ‘sitting back’ is the ability to reflect seriously but also light-heartedly because there is often a funny side to outcomes.

Confidence within

There is a need for those who share workplaces to ‘give and take’. We should welcome the evaluation of our efforts by others and be prepared to offer feedback to them as colleagues. It is important for well-being that people within organisations are able to share with each other. This includes the both receiving and giving of advice and appreciation.

Self Appreciation

One of the processes that can help in terms of self evaluation is for people to develop a regular self-evaluative précis, reflecting on the things they have done. Reflections could include the following:
* Key elements learned or developed.
* The strengths and positive qualities helping build one’s contribution.
* Things learned from personal efforts including what might be done differently and better
* Future considerations to be taken into account with forward planning.
A strong part of this should be self-appreciation. There are many things teachers do well.

Up against it

One of the most significant educational detractors is the level of criticism heaped on schools and teachers from within the community. Governments in justifying educational policies criticise schools and teachers. System administrators also point the finger at schools when things don’t work out as demanded. Teachers become frazzled and students jaded.

We all need to step back and take a deep breath. Rather than drowning schools under torrents of expectation, those creating agendas need to act more reasonably. ‘Overloading’ of classroom teachers and support staff through curriculum demands is all too frequent. There is only so much that can be accomplished during any given period. Teachers need time to breathe and along with students should have the chance to enjoy teaching and learning. “Take time to smell the roses” applies.

Governments, system administrators and the community need to appreciate teachers and school support staff. The joy of teaching felt by teachers and school based staff can and does quickly sour. It is little wonder that close to 50% of our teachers are gone from their chosen profession well within a decade of their commencement. While poor career advice may contribute to this exodus, by far the greater loss results from teacher disillusionment. The actuality fails to meet career expectations. Those departing often do so because to them, teaching is or has become a thankless occupation.

Interestingly, most who dump on teachers and schools would no more take their place than fly in the air!

For teachers and school support staff, genuine appreciation and thanks is rarely given. While World Teachers Day in October is one day each year, pressures on schools and staff members is constant. There are some minimalist teachers but they are a minority group. The vast majority go the extra mile then some, in their endeavour for students.

Let us appreciate school staff. It would be my hope for 2014 that it be for them a year of joy.


It seems as one gets older there is time for reflection. I hope these thoughts make sense.



I am sitting at my table in our house in Darwin (Australia) musing the fact that the way we are able to communicate online, via the web and 24/7 these days is absolutely wonderful. One day I will write a piece on the way communications have been enhanced since the olden days of trunk line phone calls and telegrams which cost an arm and a leg. How the world has changed and how wonderful it is that we as individuals can mix so freely, immediately and from a cost viewpoint, cheaply with each other. This site and others on Linked In provide wonderful sharing opportunities.


A caring and empathetic teacher makes all the difference. I am an old man, asnd remembner but two teachers from my youth – both caring and respectful, full of guidance and understanding. (A rare thing in the olden days). I credit both with helping to guide me to a life of educational service. I enjoyed my career and these days try to stay tuned and contribute in turn to others. Sadly, too many students anf dar too many educators walk away from schooling and education with sour tastes in their mouiths and phyyric memories etched indelibly into their minds.


So often changes to educational systems ‘sneak up’, with change coming through the back door. We do not know things have altered with priorities shifted, until previous practice has gone by the board. Things are decided without consultation and contribution by those at the coalface. Should it be done like that? Is change by stealth not dishonest?

‘Stealth change’ happens in a micro and macro context. At the smaller level of impact, changes within units and schools occur without the inout (to change) of those with an intimate stake and interest in the outcome. At a macro level, schools wake up to discover there have been changes to expectations leverage3d on them by the administrative support sections of departments. These systemic changes can be in the area of enrolments, curriculum, staffing rations, financial contributions and so on. Often the first schools know is by an email confirming the un-negotiated change. These are NOT good scenarios. Change by stealth should be a no, no!


Of all the professions in this world, education and teaching (the discipline and its management) are the most scrutinised. There is NO other profession attracting so much attention. How key and elemental to the world are both the task and its management.

Principals and leadership teams are constantly under the microscope. Gaze upon us in terms of what they do and action outcomes is constant.

Focus on teachers and support staff members is no less constant. The ‘glare’ of the spotlight us upon each and every one connected to our schooling systems.


It is great to be part of a communications community sharing thoughts and exchanging ideas on matters of educational issue. We are diverse and different people with individual backgrounds and viewpoints yet are able to communicate and exchange thoughts in a thinking, reflective, considered manner. Dare I say it, but the way we go about discourse and exchange sets a very good example to politicans and others. The other interesting point to consider is that our conversational chain goes round the world.


Although now retired but still active in educational matters, I share advice given to teachers. Same is shared with trainee teachers when I am involved with lecturing.

It was a case of ‘let the teacher beware’ and avoid the pitfalls.

1. Be malleable and persuadable but true to standards and principles.
2. Debate issues, rather than focussing on personality.
3. Take care with email traffic – written words cannot be rescinded.
4. Take care with speech that its impact is issues focussed not scarifying of personality.
5. Practice empathy but don’t lavish sympathy.
6. Don’t invite others to impart ownership of their monkeys to you; rather, help them with advice about how they might solve their own problems.


So much – too much – of what education is about is spoken and written in ‘gobbledegook’. The jargon we have is complicated, often meaningless when it comes to definition and hard to understand. Maybe jargon is a means of wrapping our profession in cotton-wool and protecting it and us from the public because they don’t understand. While the cotton wool to cocoon and cosset may be an aim, what it tends to do is make ‘us’ rather woolly. We need to be understood. From understanding comes appreciation.