THE CLASSROOM CAPTAIN AND CREW
Technology with all its advances is better understood by children and young people than teachers. Students in terms of their intimate technological knowledge are often streets ahead of their instructors. teachers worry they can’t keep up.
In 1996, Heather Gabriel wrote in ‘The Australian’, that teachers should not stress out about this factor. She suggested that the classroom be like unto a ship, the teachers the captain and students like unto the crew. A good ship’s captain does not try and try to do everything. He or she delegates to the crew and oversees the totality of function to ensure the ship safely negotiates from the start to the end of its journey. Similarly, teachers can engage students to oversee aspects of the classroom’s technological challenge while ensuring that technology enhances learning outcomes. That to my way of thinking is an apt analogy.
SPELLING HAS BEEN ZAPPED
I weep for the way in which spelling has been discounted in this modern day and age. Too often the elements of word study are neglected and ‘anything goes’. Teacher too often do not know how to teach spelling and do not know how to spell themselves. Spelling. grammatical constructs, word usage and application including meaning are discounted. When I trained as a teacher in 1968 – 69, one of our ‘method’ units was the teaching of spelling. Furthermore, we were required to sit a test of 100 spelling words and were allowed one error. An error included writing the word, realising it was wrong and correcting that word. Failure required the test to be sat again and again and again. The test HAD to be passed before trainees graduated. Failure meant one did not graduate until such time as the test was mastered.
A far cry from then until now, when it often seems anything goes. Dear teachers of tomorrow, how I hope you will help reverse that trend by teaching spelling.
One of the sins of our profession and many others is claiming ‘ownership’ of ideas without sufficiently acknowledging the genesis of the initiative. So often something claimed as belonging to a person by that person, has its origins elsewhere. That applies to information gleaned from the web but also results from the claimant not sufficiently researching to determine whether her or his idea has been tried in another place and at an earlier time. As a long term educator, I can attest to that happening for me on quite a few occasions. Never did I protests loudly because if our children benefit, does it really matter where the idea was sourced. Nevertheless, one puts these things away in the back of one’s mind and it does impact upon the respect held for purloiners.
ALWAYS acknowledge your sources.
WHAT’S NEW IS OLD
New ideas and approaches tend to be pre-tried (or old) ideas that have been planned, implemented, tried and dropped for new ideas in the past. In reality, they never fade completely away but sit and wait until ‘new leaders’ in time come along and revisit the old, trotting them out as new initiatives and possibly the way to the future.
If only education was about ‘steady state’ instead of bouncing from one idea to the next to the next! With all these changes, many of them coming from people in high places and systems level, school leaders and staff are constantly persuaded (or required) to move with the times. At the end of this process are students, poor students. What must THEY think? Of course, they are never asked. Always question the need for change.
E-MAILS CAN BE TROUBLE
There are constant cases and incidents happening to remind of the fact that we need to be careful with email traffic. It is all too easy for an e-mail written with haste and without prior thought, to create problems for the writer. Never ever comment on people or personality issues within emails; discuss issues but not people, messages but not the character or reputation of the messengers. Be careful in responding to parental emails, because responses can be held against teachers and leaders who commit on issues relating to students. My suggestion (based on many years of experience) is to respond by telephone or by invited the parent in for a conversation. Emails are intended to save time in responding to qqueriies. Sometimes theycan be terribly counter-productive.
WORK SHOULD BE MARKED
It can be easy to set assignments for primary children and secondary students, then overlook the marking of what they produce. The freneticism of the school day (and week, month etc) makes for marking oversight. Without assessment, the work to students is not completed and finished, They are left hanging in the air. Should this omission become too frequent, the efforts put in by students will fall away sharply. To overlook marking is a demotivator for children and older students alike.
Students appreciate comments and you can’t go past stickers and small tangibles for primary school students. Self marking happens but personalising marking is so important.
TALKING WITH STUDENTS
One of the most important things about offering security to children is the way in which teachers speak “with” them. Often it’s a case of teachers talking “at” or “to” those they are teaching.
Teachers when dealing with each other in staffrooms or collaborative sessions or during professional development sessions, speak conversationally. They each feel comfortable with the other and. the conversation manifests in that manner.
When dealing with children however, teachers often lose the conversational element replacing it with what might be termed “command language”. The niceness of speech often dissipates and delivery takes on a quite harsh quality.
Metaphorically speaking teachers when dealing with each other are somewhat like motorcars which come along quietly from point a to point b. However, when relating to children those same teachers trade the cars for four wheel drive vehicles, lock them into 4×4 and then grate their way through conversation with children in a manner that can be far from pleasant. Language can be embracing or off putting. In order to draw children close in terms of comfort, qualities of conversation and vocalisation are important. There is no way the teachers will draw children in and toward them if their language is the push off in terms of its invitation.
DUMPING IS RUINING
One of the things educators musty avoid is the ‘rush’ put upon them by systems to cram more and more into the teaching space of each day and week. It seems that whenever anything, ANYTHING becomes urgent or imperative, itv is back on schools and teachers to fix the issue. Schools prima facie, became the repository of all social accountabilities. Teachers have to fix issues that go well and truly beyond the educational pale.
I believe we have to resist the issue of becoming the dumping ground for what governments and society feel need fixing. Authorities identify problems, toss them at schools to fix and wash their hands like Ponticus Pilot. “Another problem downloaded” one can hear them think. That is not the way it should work. Educators are accountable people but we are reduced if we accept the dumps that can smother teachers and schools. We need to know our boundaries.
GRADUATE TEACHERS, BE APPRECIATED
There is always an apprehension felt by graduate teachers who wonder how they will be welcomed as ‘neophytes’ by experienced staff and leaders of schools to which they are appointed. While many are pleasantly surprised by the welcome they receive and the support they are given, there are others whose worst fears are founded. It is important that teachers and leaders welcome new staff and avoid offering icy reception.
School leaders for the most part must also recognise their graduate teachers have been immersed in the latest of theoretical propositions, but not greatly in the practical aspects of classroom management and teaching. Allowing them to share their university gained expertise and offering mentoring to support practical needs is surely a wise way forward.
TRAIN TO USE TIME WISELY
Time is an element we should treat with respect. No more so than on the educational front. Too often it seems, meetings and other professional gatherings that add to the length of the school day are held simply because they are timetabled. If meetings are not necessary, why not cancel them. Teachers and school staff will appreciate the extra time generated and most will use it for other professional activities.
Neither should meetings drag on and on interminably. I believe that any presentation should not exceed twenty to twenty-five minutes. Presenters who go on and on lose their audience who are physically present but often mentally miles and miles away.
We all need to consider the importance and wise use of time. Train as teachers who are time conscious and time wise.
I believe it important that teachers in training take every opportunity to share with their peers. Collaboration is ever so important. It is strengthening and allows for tomorrow’s teachers to develop a real sense of collective. Importantly, sharing confirms that pre-service teachers are not on their own. Together they are preparing to participate in the most of important of all professions – guiding and shaping the futures of our young people.
EDUCATING TIME AWARENESS
When working with students it is important for school leaders and teachers to educate an awareness of time. When workshops are being held, when students are involve in project undertaking, make participants aware of time left on a graduated basis. Don’t leave it until the last minute before springing the need for quick wind-up and pack-up upon them. This approach panics participants be they students or staff members, sending them into a flurry and leaving the activity with them as a slight (or substantial) sour taste in the mouth.
When managing time as a facilitator or teacher, be empathetic not vitriolic.
NEVER PUSH FAMILY AWAY
A clear and distinct danger of the teaching and educational profession is that work priorities can push family responsibilities into the background. The amount of time spent at work, or working on work tasks at home can relegate family members. They may come to feel they are being taken for granted.
Family members will wear the tag of second class citizenship for only so long; many families have broken up because work commitments have devalued them, diluting and eroding what may well have been strong family values. Beyond their years at work, those who have surrendered families may well finish up as sad, lonely and unwanted perople. “No one on their death bed ever regretted not having spent more time at work”. (anon)
‘Family first’ should be the norm.
PREPARE FOR THIS TRUTH
As a long term educational practitioner in schools, it seems to me that those who look ‘at’ schools rather than being ‘in’ them, labour under a false belief. They perceive school as some sort of utopian environment in which all students thirst for knowledge and have a keen desire to learn. All that teachers have to do therefore, is teach. Little do they realise that the issue of discipline is a major stumbling block to this being an actuality.
For many teachers ion many schools in many parts of the world, MANAGING BEHAVIOUR is the key issue. Maybe a little teaching slips in on the side, but control of deliberately disinclined students who really don’t want to be there is a key stumbling block. Teachers have ways of adapting to meet this challenge, or at least minimising it’s thrust. But for administrators to believe there are no issues, or to know and not care is just so wrong. They need first hand exposure to classroom reality.
ASK FOR HELP
No matter who we are or where we sit in the educational structure, we should always, but ALWAYS ask if help is needed. Too often we sit, cogitate and stew over issues that seem to be insurmountable. We may think our status or efficiency will diminish in the eyes of superordinates, peers or subordinates if assistance is sought; In a sharing, caring and collaborative profession that should be far from the truth. As teachers and educators we need to be there for each other.
IT CAN BE LONELY
Unless we care for each other as colleagues, as lecturers toward students and teachers toward children, our profession can be very lonely. There is nothing worse than a sense of isolation that can imbue those within schools, universities or other educational environments. Teaching and learning at their best is about caring and sharing. To balkanise ourselves, isolate in boxes or to become captured within the silo of singular, unshared environment is anathema. The ‘personality’ of education is about how we relate to each other. May synergy (collective energy) underline our shared contributions to this the most significant of all professions.
HOMEWORK: BLESSING OR BANE?
Homework is an issue that has been doing the rounds of education for decades. There are educators who believe in homework’s importance, others who would like to discount it altogether. Similarly, some parents appreciate homework while others would like to see it given the big flick. Those in favour of homework believe it reinforces and consolidates learning through extra practice that happens away from school. 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 teaching responsibilities to parents. What do you think? Should homework policies be supported or discounted?
THE BUCK STOPS HERE
Be we teachers in training, teachers new or experienced, school leaders or those with system responsibilities, we should always be accountable for our actions. There is a tendency in life to say ‘who, me’ when it comes to accountability for actions. Shirking responsibilities for the outcome of our actions is a devious and unprofessional habit. To look for support and understanding is natural but to try and blame others for our actions is wrong. professional character and strength is built when we accept responsibility for our wrong decisions, apologise, try and put things to rights, then move on. We should never dump our decisions and actions on others; the blame game is wrong. The best example to set to children, students and those we lead, occurs when we own the outcomes of our actions. This builds self-respect and respect vested in us by others.
THE NEWEST STAFF KNOW THE MOST
One of my discoveries as an educator and member of various organisations, is that of realising that the most recent members of any group, purport to be the most knowledgeable about that organisation. They often reflect a ‘know itv all’ attitude to institutions they join. That may be a manifestation of insecurity or uncertainty on their part; they want to prove they are up to the mark! Nevertheless the ‘don’t tell me’ brush-off that can be given is irksome.
Some come believing they are saviours appointed to lead ‘their’ schools and workplaces forward, discounting and peremptorily dismissing what has gone before. If leaders, they tend to consign the history and traditions of their new organisation to the archives or waste bin. Many have the belief that those who were there before them are a threat and need to be shed as quickly as possible. ‘My way or the highway’ along with ‘you are on MY bus and if not, you are off it’ are approaches they move quickly to embed.
My hope would be that none of us ever experience such situations. Sadly, that hope is faint. We can however, ensure these sad, selfish characteristics are never a part of our professional make-up.
NEED FOR TEACHING METHOD WITHIN TRAINING
Should teaching methodology be part of teacher training or is it more important for preservice teachers to graduate with Bachelor and Masters level degrees with practical needs catching up later?
We seem to have entered an era wherein the training institute hands preservice teachers a degree. On graduation they enterv schools where, with careful coaching and mentoring, they are taught to teach – often by people with far less paper qualifications.
FRENETIC WORRY FOR NOTHING
It seems to me that educators are on the go and so immersed within the busy-work of our profession, there is no time to draw breath, relax and consider our accomplishments. There is little time for self-appreciation nor time for appreciating others, be they fellow educators or students with whom we might be working. So much of what we do is about administrivia that does little to support real educational effort. Justification is too often the order of the day and often to little avail. No sooner is one set of paperwork accountabilities and compliances completed than we have to move to the next. We stress out, and for what real purpose. There is a need re-position and re-set priorities so they focus on our children and students, not simply on justifying our position as occupational members.
TECHNOLOGY NOT A TEACHING SUBSTITUTE
It is important that technology in classrooms and schools should be appreciated. It is important that teachers and students share teaching and learning opportunities,where these are enhances by the use of technology and equipment available. However, technological tools should never be allowed to stand in the place of the teacher.
Can be all too easy for teachers to recycle from direct interface with students, preferring instead to establish communications with learners through software packages available to support learning. Using attachments like blackboard, Skype, Scootle, and a myriad of other learning aids can help when it comes to refining and extending student learning. These devices must be under the control of teachers and structured in the way they are used to support student learning. It can be all too easy for teachers to hand pass their role in student learning development to the point of becoming detached.
ARE CHILDREN LIKE GAS BOTTLES?
Some years ago, a group of Assistant Principals visited a gas works in Darwin. Their guide said that there was similarity between his job and theirs. His job was to oversee the return of empty gas bottles, their filling and redistribution for use within the community. He said teachers and school leaders had a similar task. They oversaw the arrival of new children starting school. Children as ‘new starters’ were like empty gas cylinders who had to be filled with knowledge and understanding as they progressed up the grades and through the years. They would leave school ‘full’ of knowledge and go forth to serve the community was his proposition.
That analogy gave me much food for thought. What do you think of such a comparison?
TWO KEY CONSIDERATIONS
As a principal over time, it seemed to me two things (among others) were important.
1. It was of critical importance to separate the personal from the professional in terms of relationships. I feel it impossible to be a good boss or empathic leader if those one os leading are one’s personal ‘buddy’ friends and mates. Separation can enhance respect and make leadership easier.
2. I felt it important to be a person who lead by doing and not by saying. Directing others without being prepared to go there oneself does little to enhance leadership. It is far more important to be respected than liked.
MISSION STATEMENT KEEPS ONE FOCUSSED
My mission statement grew from a leadership program conducted by dr Colin Moyle of Deakin University (Geelong, Victoria, Australia) in the early 1980’s. Dr Moyle in emphasising the importance of direction and surety of track through life challenged us each to develop a mission statement of 25 words or less. I gave this a lot of thought and developed the following:
To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode – family, work, recreation;
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity;
To work with a smile in my heart.
This statement is at the base of all my emails and on the reverse of my business card. it has for me been a reminder, guidance and a focus. Do others have statements of mission or purpose?
QUALITIES STUDENTS BRING TO SCHOOLS
Over many years I came to appreciate two fine student qualities. The one was the quality of imagination with which children and young people are imbued and blessed. The other was the simple, creative and often unique ways in which students tackled problems and arrived at solutions to issues. These were qualities that added to the contribution and impact that was offered by students elected by their peers to representative councils.
When talking with students, I used to urge upon them the fact they ought to work hard to retain their qualities of imagination into their adult years. When imagination diminishes, problems often grow to take on quite significant proportions. Similarly, my engagement with students was to urge upon them the fact they should always consider issues carefully but retain the personal confidence necessary too be significant problem solvers.
BE A ‘BOLD’ EDUCATOR
One of the sad transitions that has occurred over the past forty years has been the gradual turn of student performance issues back onto teachers. It used to be that genuine (real) non-effort on the part of students became a concern shared by teachers with parents. Together then would exhort students toward greater engagement. These days, the minimal outcomes achieved by students with such dispositions is blamed back onto teachers in an almost sole fashion. Teachers are hammered if children don’t achieve, notwithstanding the commitment of the child and the support of home. Teachers are handed few bouquets but are regularly clouted about their heads by figurative brickbats. Small wonder the joy of teaching is so short-lived and so full of dissolution for many classroom educators.
School leaders need to be affirmative, forthright, bold and adventuresome. We ought not to be so worried about preserving our future that we are frightened to have counter opinions. We do not have to agree with everything offered by superordinates. We should contribute to educational debate in a living ‘two way’ transactional manner. We ought not be people who respond with ‘how high’ when told to jump. often the command to leap comes from those who would not know and who have not been anywhere near schools for eons of time. We need to participate in healthy and robust educational debate, not being weakly acquiescent to the opinions or demands of others.