These columns were published in the Suns Newspapers in September 2014. Readers are welcome to quote from or refer to these columns. Acknowledgement of the ‘Suns’ as the newspaper in which they are published would be appreciated.

SUN 59


When the Howard Government introduced the chaplaincy program a decade ago, it created a contentious initiative. A major concern is that of indoctrination. Members of school communities worry that chaplains may unduly influence children in a religious context. The program has recently received another funding stimulus from the Abbott Government.

For many NT primary schools the issue could be superfluous because religious instruction is part of the school program. Some primary schools have a short period of RI each week, others a three day program once a term. In these cases, clergy and laypeople work with children who belong to their particular faiths. Those not attending RI sessions, generally do busy or catch-up work under supervision. With the passing of years, more and more children are opting for the non-instructional use of that time. Is this time well spent or wasted?

While the present approach to RI may pass into history, the substitution of a chaplaincy program with its accompanying limitations is questionable. However the appointment of suitably qualified counsellors to engage with students around values, ethics and the building of character would meet a real need.

Confused World

We live in times where confusion reigns, Young people have their senses assailed by propaganda coming at them from many different sources including social media. Students and classes need quiet times and the chance for meaningful exchange with counsellors who can help, when it comes to establishing priorities and revisiting values. The need for ethics awareness and the building of honesty as key characteristics is often overlooked. It is true to say that in these modern times, many young people are disquieted about unfolding events. Class, group and individual conversations with counsellors would go a long way toward overcoming their concerns.

The chaplaincy concept is an Australian Government initiative. Funding is available to schools applying to join the program. A prime aim of the program was to build a values culture within schools. At the same time, limitations imposed upon chaplains meant this became an impossible task and the program has largely floundered.

Maybe the Federal Minister for Education, could consider discontinuing the chaplaincy program. Training of counsellors to work with students in schools could instead be implemented. Qualified counsellors are scarce on the ground. To include ‘counsellors’ as a specialist category in teacher training or re-training programs would help meet this dire need.

Australian and Territory schools would greatly benefit from the appointment of counsellors as school staff members. This initiative has been talked about for many years, but never actioned. Northern Territory needs were canvassed with the Education Minister Sid Sterling when the Martin Labor Government was in office . An attempt to go some way toward counsellor provision was made, but the program quickly evaporated.

Our students, especially primary children, have a desperate need for counselling guidance. Without counsellors a support vacuum continues to exist within our schools. Many of our needy students are left to flounder.

SUN 60


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

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

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

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

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

Positive Atmosphere A Must

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

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

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

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


NOTE: Readers are welcome to use this material, but acknowledgement of the Suns newspapers in which columns are published would be appreciated.


Homework is an issue that has been doing the educational rounds for decades. Some educators believe in homework while others would like to discount it altogether. Similarly, some parents appreciate homework while others would like it to be abolished. Those in favour of homework believe it reinforces and consolidates learning through extra practice at home. Opposition to homework comes from those who think ‘enough is enough’; that beyond the school day, children should be freed from learning tasks. Some parents and commentators suggest that homework is the teacher’s way of handing their responsibilities to parents.

I believe there is a place for homework, but it should never be offered as a substitute for teaching. Lessons taught at school can however, be consolidated and reinforced through follow-up tasks completed at home. Homework can be a link between home and school, in helping to keep parents informed of what their children are learning and how they are progressing. It is important that parents know assignments are set for children, rather than believing tasks are set for them to complete on behalf of children.

Primary students

For primary aged children reading, spelling list words and practicing their tables at home, reinforces basic learning needs. Rote methodology is a part of learning and homework set around basics, reinforces key understandings.

A comments sheet which can be signed off and commented upon by both parent and teacher, may be attached to these tasks. This simple communication helps keep parents aware of children’s academic development. Progress charts kept by some teachers remind students of their accomplishments. Homework should have relevance and meaning to children and parents. It must be more than busy work set by teachers.

Homework might ask for the completion of a research project or construction task. Requirements ought not be so complex or time consuming that parental intervention is needed to complete the exercise. When this happens, both children and parents become frustrated. Set homework tasks should be acknowledged, marked and outcomes recorded. If that doesn’t happen, children lose interest.

In some primary schools, outside school hours care programs offer homework support for attending children. This may include supervised after hours access to the school library. The City of Darwin Council also makes its library facilities available to children for homework support purposes.

The establishment of homework habits for younger students stands them in good stead for their later years of secondary and tertiary education. It builds within them confidence and independence, together with the knowledge that study at home is part of their educational contract.

What do children think?

Interestingly, the homework debate is between parents, practising teachers, school leadership teams and academics. No-one has bothered to ask school children and students what they think and feel about the issue. Students are the recipients of homework policies and it would be worthwhile to seek their opinions. I believe many would respond in a mature, forthcoming and supporting manner.


In recent weeks, Northern Territorians have read and heard a lot about Direct Instruction (DI) as the new and preferred method of teaching in remote schools. Education Minister Peter Chandler and Department of Education leaders have twice visited Cape York to learn how this model works. The program is being delivered by the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy (CYAAA), a part of Noel Pearson’s highly regarded Cape York Institute. DI has impressed Minister Chandler. It will be introduced as the preferred teaching method into many NT remote schools from the beginning of 2015.

We could be forgiven for thinking that direct instruction is an altogether new method, when that is far from the case. This approach to teaching and learning has always been a part of educational strategy. “Direct instruction is a general term for the explicit teaching of a skill-set using lectures or demonstrations of the material, rather than exploratory models such as inquiry-based learning.” (Wikipedia definition)

Terminology can confuse

The way in which elements of education are packaged can be confusing. One of the profession’s habits is that of constantly changing terminology and labelling. Old ideas and established practices are regularly re-badged to make it appear they are altogether new concepts. This may well be the case for direct instruction because this method of teaching is universally practised and eons old. Direct instruction methodology was one of the earliest to be recognised and applied in educational settings.

In our modern times, simple and effective educational methods have been supplanted by technological gadgetry that adds a bells and whistles approach to the discipline. Schools have been saturated by an infusion of computers,
smart boards, iPads and other devices. While students can gain knowledge and understanding from their use, it is altogether too easy for them to switch from education to entertainment. Some teachers may place too much reliance on computer generated learning rather than direct teaching.

DI Drives Practice

“The Direct instruction strategy is highly teacher-directed and is among the most commonly used. This strategy is effective for providing information or developing step-by-step skills. It also works well for introducing other teaching methods, or actively involving students in knowledge construction.” (Instructional strategies online, Saskatoon Public Schools)

Explicit teaching, lectures, drills, specific questioning, demonstration and the guiding of listening, reading, viewing and thinking are direct instructional practices.

A danger about direct instruction is that it can become monotonous and boring for students. Teaching through this method needs to be engaging, aimed at retaining student interest and attention. If it is all ‘listen to and watch me’ from a teaching viewpoint, students will mentally disconnect, lose concentration and zone out.

Education needs to have meaning and purpose. There is a huge responsibility invested in schools and teachers to ensure that happens. Direct instruction can be too easily supplanted by busywork activities that occupy students’ time without offering them focus and direction. Without meaning attached to learning, students will lose interest and avoid school. That may be part of the reason for the sudden resurgence of interest in direct instruction.