I do some part time work around Tertiary Education. I am a casually employed marker.  I’m beginning to become very worried about standards of assignments submitted by students for marking.


My own tertiary studies were completed through the 1980s and 1990s. The drift in requirements for assignment presentation that have evolved from then until now are a distinct worry. Universities have the codes of assignment presentation and students are asked to be familiar with those. However it seems that conformity doesn’t really matter. Some of the things that have caused me concern as a marker are indicated.

Glaring Issues

* Many students do not cite or use compulsory course reference texts.

* Some students do not tackle the whole assignment requirement. If there are three elements, they may only complete one or two of these requirements.

* Title pages are generally not provided.

* There is often evidence in one case of material being lifted from a source but not discussed in detail or particularised as required. There is a generalised response to a specific requirement.

* Students waffle on with narrative discourse when a table or rubric would offer greater meaning and clarity to argument.

* Students tend to write on the side of brevity. When a 1,500 to 2,000 word suggestion is offered, many seem to struggle to 1,000 words.

* Some students write in a way that presumes markers can read their minds or have background on issues that should be elaborated and explained. That presumption can mean that students too are vague about issues and the strategy is one that covers the issue.

* Matters of word usage, paper layout, typing text, paragraphing techniques and double spacing of text are either untaught or forgotten skills. Papers are very hard to read.

* Casual markers are employed on a per hour basis. It is generally expected that an assignment will take around 20 or 25 minutes to read and comment upon. The way in which papers are presented and the need to offer advice about deficits makes this an impossible task.

I wanted to write about this difficulty and share it on my blog. It is a real issue and one I find quite confounding. I wonder whether I should worry about these things or am I just whistling in the wind?



This week i have had the opportunity to participate in an International Growth Coaching program. Conducted by Grant O’Sullivan with a group of 32 participants, it was a full on participate two day program. This segment is the first of four, leading toward coaching competence.

Although officially a retired principal I remain connected with both the NT Department of Education and the Charles Darwin University. Coaching is a domain that has always been of interest and an area practised over the years.

This program offered an excellent synthesis of theory and practice. Methodology came to life through usage. The emphasis was on practising coaching method, with coach and coachee being offered feedback on their use an interpretation of the method. “Living learning” is all about putting theory into practice learning how it works.

This program reinforced to me that one is never too old to learn and to gain new knowledge. Gaining skills in coaching will also help me to fulfil the promise of giving back to the system that has given me a great deal the years. Certainly one is never too old to learn and neveer too old to give back to the development of others.


It worries me greatly that too many educators, especially school leaders, seemingly can’t wait until the day they retire. Cometh the day, they throw their hands into the air, figuratively or literally shout “hooray” and rush away, never to look back on what they have left.  They are just so glad that a career which  many have become burdensome, is behind them.

That to me is so sad.  How awful it must be for those who are soured to the extent of wanting distance between themselves and the years committed to the educational profession.

There have been challenging, indeed harrowing times for me during 40 plus years of service to education. Thankfully there have been great times and many celebrations to savour. In retirement I am glad to have give back opportunities to a profession that has offered me so much.  In my post career thinking, I set the bad times to one side and remember the many satisfiers that came my way.

Others have helped me; now it is my turn to support others by sharing  as those others shared their experiences with me. It is great to be in a give back period.





There are two kinds of personalities in this world. Regardless of what we do when we go these personality types are with us. There are the “sayers” and the “doers”.

I believe it is very important as educators to be people who earn the respect of others
by “living” the statements that we make in the positions that we uphold to others. It is all together too easy to be somebody who commands and ask other people to do things and to act in particular ways. That after all is a part of the teaching and development of others. However we need to be prepared to live by the precepts we espouse. Unless we adhere in our lives to the things we ask of others we will not earn their respect.

“Do as I do” is very important in the teacher – pupil relationship. If students know us as teachers who live by this principle their respect will be enhanced. This applies to every aspect of that relationship.

If we want children to be on time and say so, then we need to be on time ourselves. Everyone children to return promptly after recess and lunch, then we can’t avoid is teachers to be late ourselves. If we want children to wear hats out in the playground then as teachers we need to do the same. If we put it upon children to keep their desks and tidy tray is clean neat and tidy, then teachers’ tables and working benches should be kept the same way.

I don’t believe we should ask the children to maintain standards that we are not prepared to maintain ourselves. And example might be handwriting. If we ask children to take care when they’re writing in where books then we need to have the same set of standards that we maintain with written work. We might think the children don’t sense or understand what we’re doing but believe you me, they are very sharp and perceptive in that regard.

The principle extends to the way in which we approach our teaching tasks. The precepts or tenets under which we operate should not just be sets of empty words but reflective of vibrant teaching practices. In that way we earn the respect of our colleagues, the community and of course our students.

There may be occasions when we have to depart from the norm of usual operation. If that’s the case I believe it important that students and close colleagues understand why on the particular occasion the expected process can’t be followed.

Respect is a very important quality and in many ways the cement the binds those within an organisation together. It is a key value. If we earn the respect of others, self-respect also develops.


There is increasing focus within classrooms upon technology and its use to promote teaching and learning. One of the things of which we have to be careful is the technology doesn’t take over. Technological tools are servants to be used in the enhancement of what we offer our student groups. We should never allowed to take over and dominate. Technology is a good servant but can be a bad master.

For older teachers particularly but younger ones as well, technology can be confusing. There is so much to learn and keeping abreast of developments can be hard. There is also a tendency to keep things not fully understood at arm’s-length. The case in point for myself was reluctant to come to terms with Learnline, a critically important communications tool I needed to understand in order to work with external students at university. I got over that concern and learned to use the tool and now try and keep abreast of upgrades and enhancements.

I was always appreciative of the fact that smart boards and other devices came toward the end of my teaching career. Being nervous about using and applying technology is not wise but certainly exists.

In 1996, there was an article in ‘The Australian’ newspaper written fro memory by Heather Gabriel. This column suggested that teachers in classrooms avoid becoming petrified of technology. Rather than stressing over understanding, the writer suggested teachers regard themselves as captains and students as the crew of a ship. The purpose of any journey is to get from Point A to Point B. To achieve that, a ship’s captain employs the expertise of his or her crew and acts as the overall controller.

Similarly, children often know a lot more about the intricacies of technology than teachers. Delegating children to use that knowledge to manage the ‘mechanics of technology’ can help avoid glitches and facilitate smooth sailing. Keeping an eye on the way technology is being used helps avoid the shortfalls (wrong sites and so on) that can find their way onto computer screens.

This approach promotes a collaborative and shared classroom. And over time, teachers learn a lot from children about ‘what works’ on the technological front.

Try it, it works.


Within schools it sometimes happens that scheduled meetings have to be cancelled. Staff are advised they should use the time for inputting and recording of student data. The first call on teachers’ programmed release from face-to-face teaching, is the use of non-contact time for recording purposes.

Data is important. Student progress should be regularly recorded in order to confirm student outcomes and assist teachers in revising and forward planning their units of work.

Changing Focus

In recent years, there has been a lot more focus on data and formalised recording at system level than was the case in the past. However, in past times, good records were maintained within the vast majority of schools. It is a misnomer to suggest that nothing happened before national testing was introduced

Tests were developed and applied at school level. These days the emphasis is increasingly upon nationalised testing regimes . Results are used in part for comparison of schools within and between States and Territories.


National tests, standardised as they are, fail to recognise the individual and specific backgrounds of students in schools and their catchment areas. While databases have been prepared which examine the socio-economic factors within school communities, these are quite general and don’t take account of specific differences between people. Cultural differences, occupation, income, family educational background, housing affordability and geographic location impact on schools within their communities.

Refocusing education

One of the deleterious effects for schools forever being under the testing and assessment magnifying glass, is that the human side of development can be overlooked. Years ago a group of educators visited a gas bottle refilling business. The guide suggested children were like gas bottles. Empty cylinders were refilled, then sold. Similarly, children started school as “empty vessels” were filled up with knowledge on the way through and graduated from school “full” of understanding, ready to contribute to society.

This was a sad comparison. Children are complex individuals. Their development towards adulthood includes social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs along with literacy, numeracy and other academic outcomes. Over-focus on academic testing and data can detract from these wider developmental needs. The world needs articulate people who are confident communicators, intuitive thinkers and careful decision makers. Academics are part of education but by no means the whole of what should be offered.

What is and what should be

Educators talk about the need for holistic education. However, with funding attaching so critically to educational outcomes which are only academic, the priority naturally turns to literacy and numeracy. The key and often only focus of educators’ meetings is that of literacy and numeracy teaching, strategies and data.

Schools are achieving, but success often goes unacknowledged. Those working within our schools often feel deflated, becoming convinced they are failing in terms of building students toward desirable outcomes.

Education should not be laissez-faire. Neither should it be so data focused, concentrated within one narrow domain, as to overlook the importance of holistic development. Teachers, parents and community should be working in partnership with students, to prepare them for a fulsome entry into life’s world. Education for the whole of life goes well beyond narrow, academic, data confirmed outcomes.



The richest of rewards for veteran or retired educators is to be looked out and thanked by former pupils, now adults, for the positive impact ‘you’ had on their lives. That brings joy to the soul.

Our Territory’s first CEO Dr Jim Eedle told principals in the late 1970’s that ‘schools are for children’. Education was our prime purpose. How easy it is for systems to digress from that key goal.

Tertiary institutions preparing teachers for tomorrow’s classrooms should in my opinion keep the Eedle exhortation well and truly in mind. It is so easy to become side-tracked and lose focus. Graduate teachers have every right to be proud of their accomplishments and the piece of paper that confirms their graduation. If those graduates have a focus and ambition that is toward others, they are well on the way to fulfilling one of the most important professional callings. Ours is a call to service.

Some months ago I placeed a discussion on this site about TEACHER UNHAPPINESS. it dealt with the fact that teaching does not always live up to the expectations of teachers and for a number of system imposed reasons. While some may desire to leave the profession for lack of fulfilment, many cannot for a number of reasons. So they hang in until they can finally leave teaching and that with a sigh of relief. How sad for them and possibly for students they have been teaching.

The thread is now closed. It attrached close to 300 likes and 850 comments from all over the world. I wanted to thank all those who contributed their thoughts and to the weight of insights offered.

Our work especially for others, is what education is all about. But we should never allow our work to supplant our families, pushing them aside. Establishing careful priorities is ever so important.

To attend conferences costs time and money, It also takes people away from workplaces. Might it be possible for key conferences to have both physical and online attendance and contribution.

Leaders and teachers attending conferences should offer feedback to their colleagues. It can be too easy to avoid sharing conference objectives and outcomes with peers. Share the benefits with others.

A great deal of enriching exchange for me has been in face to face, e-mail or discussion board conversation with students. They have a lot to offer when it comes to exchange about issues. Hear them.





When they begin their training, preservice teachers are often asked to think about a philosophy, that is a personal belief position, underpinning why it is they have decided teaching is for them. Some people think that it’s a waste of time to develop a philosophy and that such reflection is not very important. They could not be more wrong.

Personal philosophy is the essence upon which a career builds. It’s really a foundation stone, THE foundation stone, where it all starts and from which one’s training and career evolve. It is the starting point to the teaching journey. It is therefore important for preservice teachers and those starting out to spend time developing a belief statement upon which their future bills.

That statement may be short and pertinent or somewhat longer. One of the best and most meaningful philosophies I ever read was that of a teacher from 30 years ago. Her philosophy, the first page of her work program, was simple yet significant. It was five words long, “Teaching is a kind of loving”. That summed up her attitude and her desire to be a person who was there for others. Most certainly others came before herself.

Others might have a statement that embraces a sense of mission. It’s not unusual for statements are philosophy to be defined as “mission statements”.

Many years ago when a relatively young principal, I was invited to attend a leadership development program. We were asked to develop a mission statement of 25 words or less. Until then i knew where i wanted to go but had never defined that in terms of ‘mission’.

I spent considerable time thinking and reflecting on my priorities as an educator, as a family man, and as a person in this world.

My mission statement, from 1983, has been with me since that time. I have it on the back of my card.

It reads:

“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 precept has been my guiding philosophy for the past 32 years and something I regularly reflect upon.

Please consider the importance of a defining philosophy or sense of purpose and mission.



Excursions can play a very important part in extending educational understandings for children. To study in classrooms and to learn in the traditional way and also through online all library extension is fine. If children can be taken out on visits to places being studied, that really helps. To “see” what one is being taught and to observe things as they happen in action reinforces and cements learning. Excursions can help make learning live.

There is a need to prepare children for excursions. Ideally, excursions should be the middle segment of the lesson or learning sequence. The initial elements of lessons lead into the excursion, with follow up after the excursion tying the venture into learning outcomes. All excursions should be relevant. There is at times a tendency for excursions to be stand alone affairs with disconnection from teaching.

Binding excursions into the text of learning is part of the warp and weft of the learning fabric. These activities have a meaningful part to play in teaching and learning. They can enrich the program and add value to educational outcomes.



These columns were published in the ‘Suns’ in April 2015



It seems that the thrust of education is toward developing opportunities for students to progress through the practise of technology supported learning . Devices from electronic smart boards to computers, iPads and other devices are front and centre. More and more schools are developing a “bring your open device” policy when it comes to technology. It seems that the children are increasingly immersed in technologically focused learning.

There is a place for technology in our schools. However if devices replace teachers it will be to the detriment of education. The best learning outcomes are achieved through direct interaction. When using computers and iPads, children can easily log out of learning and go onto some amusement or games application.

Approach to lessons and learning needs to be based on time and organisation. There needs to be a patterned and ordered approach to learning. Taking teachers out of the equation and replacing them with computer controlled programs, detracts from education.

The emphasis in the NT is toward Direct Instruction (DI). Concern about poor educational outcomes has lead to a revival of this instructional method. “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. DI is about close interaction of teachers with students to enhance teaching and learning opportunities. Computers and iPads by their very nature can put distance between students and teachers. If their use is not carefully managed they can become a distraction.

A very important part of teaching and learning is the way body language and facial expression impact on classroom outcomes. Teachers can sense confidence about what if being taught through student responses. Similarly, students can sense how their teachers feel about work being completed. Shared personal contact within classrooms is a very important part of learning. Computer based education does not allow students or teachers to appreciate body language or facial expressions.

Technology has its place in education as a support to learning. However classroom focus should be about interaction between teachers and students. Replacing teachers with computers will impact negatively on the quality of learning and educational outcomes.



Quality education is influenced by the relationships that develop between students, teachers and parents. There are two other groups who make great contributions to education within schools.
* School support staff who add value within administrative and classroom contexts.
* Volunteer people who give their time in support of schools.

The contribution made to their schools by volunteers can be easily overlooked. Parents and caregivers who are able to spare an hour or two here and there can be of great help in a number of ways. They might hear children read, help with changing readers, or be support people when teachers take classes on short excursions. One school last year had parents and school supporters come in to help with an oral reading program that took place each day.

There are many ways in which volunteers support their schools.
* Assistance in school libraries with cataloguing, shelving and covering books.
* Assisting schools with supervision on sports days or extended outings.
* Assistance with extended Territory and Interstate excursions and camps.
* Sewing programs to help with making costumes, making library bags, art/craft aprons and so on.
* Volunteering time to support fundraising ventures.
* Offering as volunteer school crossing monitors.
* Supporting school canteens through cooking or being on the serving roster.
These are a few of the ways in which parents and community members can support schools.

Where are the Volunteers?

Parental work commitments has reduced the potential pool of school volunteers. However, having parents give a little time to their school on rostered days off happens in some schools. Advertising for volunteers in newsletters or on websites may generate a positive response. Personally inviting parents to volunteer time or approaching residents in senior villages may help build a volunteer list.

Those who volunteer need to be cleared by a police check and also have to obtain an Ochre Card confirming their suitability to work with children. School councils sometimes elect to pay the costs of obtaining these clearances. People are able to support schools through volunteer service once these matters have been finalised.

Volunteers should not be taken for granted. Acknowledging them with certificates of appreciation, sponsored morning teas and other periodic tokens of recognition will help cement their relationships with schools. Invitations to school assemblies and concerts may help them feel included within schools. Those who give of their time and share their talents with schools are a valued group. Without their contribution, schools would be the poorer.


This is the fifth in series of snippets I hope will be handy as pointers, reminders or reflectors.



I think it is good for retirees, in retirement, to spend time in giving back to the profession. Supporting principals and staff in a coaching/mentoring context by being a critical colleague can help.


Educational systems discard retiring educators and those with experience of years at their peril. ‘Starting all over’ and ‘reinventing the wheel’ revisits past mistakes, disgarding lessons learned.


I don’t believe that we can over estimate the importance of teachers modelling for students. This goes for primary and secondary students.

In some contexts teaching is regarded as being a profession in which one group (teachers) tells the other group (students) what to do and how it should be done. This of course is rather simplistic definition of teaching and learning processes. It hardly examples the interaction and togetherness that ideally embraces teachers and pupils in teaching/learning contexts.

One of the very important aspects of the leadership offered by teachers is the modelling they do through their own personal example and conduct. Students being young look to and emulate teachers and others. An example of this is the children often tell the parents that particular viewpoint is right because it is what the teacher thinks, therefor it must be right.

Without being prescriptive in anyway, I believe that modelling extends to include the following:

Dress standards
Speech patterns and modelling – setting a bright example free speech and vocalisation.
Showing respect.
Handwriting, including in students books and on whiteboards.
Correct spelling and accuracy in word usage.

This list could go on, but I’m sure you get the drift. Teachers deal with the development of people. It’s as we do and how we are that is so important to those we teach and shape toward being the adults of tomorrow.


These days it is easy for teachers to become “captured” by the computers. They become “jailed” at their teachers table.

This happens because of the emphasis placed on darter collection and analysis. Everything comes back to data driven outcomes. That being the case it is all too easy for teachers to be so focused on data collection that the computer is a constant companion. Rather than moving around the classroom and working with children there is a tendency to be deskbound asking children to really deliver results so they can be input those into computer.

This in turn encourages  children to ‘one-way traffic’ from their desks to the teachers table. The teacher stays desk-bound.

It is necessary in my opinion the teachers of all students, particularly early childhood and primary children to be among them, moving from desk to desk.

Data of course it does have to be input but if that takes priority over the mechanical manifestations of teaching and working directly with students then something needs to change.

It is important that teachers be aware of and make “mind notes” of the amount of time they spend locked at their tables with their computers. That ought not to be the major percentage of time occupation.

I believe the children respect teachers who move among them. That movement is also necessary for teachers to get to know their pupils in the best possible way.

Teachers do have to spend time at their desks with their computers, but it should be reasonable and not overdone.

These days, manners are not practised by habit. Many children (and adults) are poorly mannered. It seems that a big percentage have never been taught the rudiments of good manners at home. Child care programs may try but their prime focus is on minding, not on teaching.

All too frequently children overlook ‘excuse me’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’. ‘i beg your pardon’ and so on. Although it gets monotonous, correcting students who overlook these essences of politeness and good manners is important. Commenting in a praising context to children who do remember to use these words and expressions can offer positive reinforcement.

One of the most frequent oversights occurs when children butt into a conversations being held by teachers with another student or students. That impetuosity certainly needs correction. Children need to appreciate the need to wait their turn when dealing with teachers.

Manners can be broached through appropriately constructed lessons. To involve students in situational role play where manners need to be practised can help. Periodic classroom discussions about manners and politeness might be useful.
The subject could be broached through a Socratic Discussion session.

Strategies to reinforce the need for good manners including reinforcement through daily classroom interaction should be part of teaching and learning strategy.  And that is for all classrooms, from pre-school to tertiary level.

The richest of rewards for veteran or retired educators is to be looked out and thanked by former pupils, now adults, for the positive impact ‘you’ had on their lives. That brings joy to the soul.


So important is handwriting that it needs to stand on its own.




There is a lot of debate these days about whether or not handwriting should be taught at school. In some countries, including Finland and the United States, handwriting has gone by the by. Rather than being taught how to use a pen, all students are given the opportunity to learn keyboard skills including touch typing.

While trying to understand why this change has occurred I would be the very last person to advocate that handwriting should become a skill of the past. Rather I believe that it should endure forever.

I am certainly not down on keyboards and computers. But for children to have both handwriting and keyboards is optimal. To become mono skilled with handwriting going out the door would be altogether wrong. There are many many occasions in life when handwriting is important and indeed the only written communications method available.

When teaching handwriting, the “3 P’s” rudiments immediately comes to mind. That has to do with the methodology of writing. It is about;
* pencil or pen hold
* paper position
* posture – the way we sit in order to write most effectively and comfortably.

Stressing these things over and over again until they become habitual is important.

Part of handwriting is teaching children how to hold a pen or pencil so that it is comfortable and their fingers and wrists don’t ache. Watching people write these days can be quite a torturous experience because of the way in which writing tools are held. It’s obvious from observation that many people have never been taught how to write. That is an absolute pity.

The size (diameter) of pencils and then transition from pencil to pen is a part of writing graduation. Initially pencils are thick and as children grow older with more dexterous finger management the diameter of the pencil become smaller. When a reasonable agree of writing skill has evolved, then is the time to move on to pans. That is usually around year four to year five. Children love graduation to pens and having pen licenses issued to them by teachers.

Lined size is a part of learning to write. The younger child the bigger the line. 1 inch lines (30mm) are generally the starting point going down to around 12 mm by the time children get to the end of middle and the commencement of the upper primary years. Handbooks and exercise books can be purchased where lines are divided into thirds. This helps children when it comes to tall letters (t, f,) and letters having tales (g, y q,). The dimensions associated with writing can be trained with children developing that discernment over time. Over time, the one third divisions can be left and children go to straight lines for their writing activities.

These days specific handwriting lessons are often not offered in class. Or it may be that there is a handwriting text where children simply open and copy what’s written for them. I believe that those texts are enhanced by use of a transcription book and also with teachers demonstrating letter formation, joins, words and so on the whiteboard. The idea of children learning by copying really helps when it comes to handwriting development.

The way paper or writing books are positioned helps when it comes to the slope of letters. Writing from left to right is part of this and can be difficult particularly for left-handed children. Left-handers tend to “drag” their arms across pages as they write from left to right meaning that dog ears and crumpled pages become the norm. Train children as they finish a line of writing to lift their arm going back to the start of the
And then working across the page from left to right that overcomes the shuffling of arm on paper that can occur if this is neglected.

Steadying the paper or page onto which writing is being done helps. For this purpose the spare hand can be used. So often it is seen propping up children’s heads as they write where that writing is the task of one hand alone. Rather than the spare hand being a head prop, metaphorically describe it as an anchor which holds the boat (paper or book) steady against the wall so that it doesn’t rock back off fourth, or similar. This will involve a lot of reminding and correction easily seen as being in need of remediation when teachers are walking around classrooms.

Support children with lessons as a transition from printing to writing script style. Linked script is part of this and it does take time to teach. Little and often is important and I would suggest a handwriting lessons every day.

Remember to comment on handwriting and praise the effort that students put in to the script. Be they printing or writing this praise will help.

Handwriting is so important. It needs to be revived not neglected.