MISSION STATEMENT

I was challenged to develop a statement of mission or purpose in 1983. Statements asked of us by Deakin University’s (Geelong Australia) Dr Colin Moyle asked that we develop a statement of 25 words of less which would be our precept and guide going forward. I spent a great deal of time in developing the following focus:

” To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode: Famiily, work, recreation;
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity;
To work with a smile in my heart.”

This guide is one I reflect upon regularly and have on the reverse side of my business card. It has been of great focussing value to me over the years. Do others have statements or mottos that reflect the principles shaping their actions? Would you be prepared to share?

TIDINESS STANDARDS ARE IMPORTANT

TIDINESS STANDARDS ARE IMPORTANT

School days are busy days. There are few spare moments available to consider and attend to matters not directly focused on teaching and learning. Tight timetabling means that teachers and their classes have very little time that is not devoted to predetermined activities.

Because of teaching and learning pressures, it can be easy to overlook fundamentals that contribute to character development and the establishment of good habits. Teaching and learning outcomes are important. However attention needs to be paid to appearance, tidiness and general order of classroom and school. Without these considerations poor work, study habits and civic attitudes can develop. Important priorities and personal habits can be discounted. Among the things that should be considered are the following.

• Desk tidiness should be encouraged. This includes desk surfaces and storage area for books and other items. Setting aside a few minutes every day or two to make sure students desks meet a standard pays dividends. It also ensures that children are quickly able to find things they need for upcoming lessons.
• Student lockers and bag recesses need periodic checking. All sorts of things from discarded clothing to rejected food items can finish up in these places.
• Many students eat lunch inside or just outside classrooms. If duty teachers check before lunch boxes are returned to bags or refrigerators, paper, plastic wrappers and fruit peel will go into the bin where it belongs. This may not seem like much, but it reinforces hygienic practices.
• Organising a “monitor roster” of students to take responsibility for keeping areas of classrooms and learning spaces tidy can work. This might include benches, ledges, library book displays, the floor, wet areas and so on. It’s not a case of cleaning up after others but reminding everyone of their need to contribute to classroom care.
• Spending a minute or so at the beginning of each break to make sure everything is off the floor and that desktops are tidy, establishes a good cleanliness habit for all children. Reminders may be necessary but with time and consistency good habits will develop.
• Common areas including toilets and the schoolyard, verandahs and the school library deserve care from everyone. Duty teachers, the school leadership team and indeed all staff should be part of this effort. General tidiness is also an area that might involve the Student Representative Council.

For tidy school programs to work well, all members of staff need to contribute. For instance, teachers’ tables and personal storage areas in classrooms and elsewhere should be kept in the way that sets an example to all students,

Tidiness is an attribute we all need. With it, generally comes personal organisation which helps the way in which school facilities are used and shared. Tidiness is a habit that will be useful throughout life.

DECISIONS SHOULD CONSIDER FUTURE IMPLICATIONS

Parents, caregivers, teachers, carers and the Government as our ultimate carer need to take into account how decisions will impact upon children. It often seems that social, economic, commercial and political decisions are made as short term fixes. Short term decisions do not always take into account the long term consequences which will play out for children into the future which is theirs rather than ours.

Too many decisions are based on short term but unsustainable benefits. We need to consider that short term gains can lead to long term pain.

A great deal of the discomfit we confront in 2015 probably has its origins in similar selfish decisions made in past years. Power can be used for good but if misused has deleterious consequences.

Decisions of today need to be made with reference to tomorrow.

LET THE CHILDREN PLAY

CHILDREN NEED MORE PLAY AT SCHOOL AND HOME

The way in which school children play at recess and lunch time has changed significantly over the years. Some of those changes are in the interest of common sense. Others have come about because of concerns that accidents at school might result in costly medical and litigation outlays.

Unduly rough play is discouraged when children are playing ball games, chasing games, and similar energy releasing activities. Climbing trees is out and there are rules about genteel behaviour when children are using playground equipment. Duty teachers are on hand to remind children of these and other rules.

School playgrounds have to conform to Occupational Health and Safety codes. Some playground equipment has been outlawed, including popular roller slides which were all the rage in the 1980’s and 1990’s. These have been replaced by standard plastic slides which have far less excitement and appeal to children. There are many other construction requirements which add costs for schools wanting to develop playground stations.
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A Real Need

Students need the opportunity to run around, let off steam and return to class reinvigorated, refreshed and ready for learning. However, if they find school yards too uninviting and games allowed too restrictive, they may choose sedentary playtime activities. The school library with its computers may offer new appeal. Or children may choose to sit, talk, play with hand-held toys or build their card sets rather than being physically active. Rather than returning to class in a re-energised way, they may feel let down and switched-off when confronting the afternoon’s class program.

There are some opportunities for children to join in weekend sporting activities, but many have little chance for physical play when away from school. Rather than being outside playing, they are inside with X-Boxes and computer games.

Outdoor play is necessary to help children build stamina and endurance. Being outdoors and playing in the fresh air has to be part of building healthy minds in healthy bodies. Many children live in apartments and have little outdoor opportunity. Others are domiciled in our newer suburbs with large houses and small often unenclosed yards. There are parks but these are often sun drenched. Parents also have security worries about children playing in these public parks independently and without supervision.

We are confronting a situation in which play and games opportunities for children are often too scarce. A lifestyle altogether too sedentary is emerging This is an area of childhood development and opportunity that needs correction.

This was published in the Suns Newspapers (NT) in May 2015

FUTURE SCHOOLS : BRIARS OR ROSES

Future schools: roses or briars?

During the 1970s and 80s, there was talk that future schools could become so technologically oriented, that teachers would become a ‘past profession’. I remember reading and hearing of ideologies that talked of home schooling, with computer focus being the way forward.  Gone would be schools as collaborative institutions housing aggregates of students and teachers for set times each day. I recall the notion of 24/7 education with that being about students tuning in as they wished. Going online at convenient times would be under the watchful eye of parents and carers for primary children and more independently of oversight for secondary aged students.

Schools were identified as places that promoted student dependence on teachers and timetables. This was seen as anathema in modern times. Technology was seen as superior, worthily and intelligently replacing teachers. The profession, in many forums, articles and conferences was trumpeted as heading toward redundancy.

Although not fully understood at that time, more recent technological developments, applied to this notion, would see students undertaking learning that is totally screen-based. Interaction with others would be controlled by online chat and links to progress engaged through a master program held in an overall server somewhere, to be doled out to children and students, when appropriate and applicable. The future of schooling would be increasingly about the physical separation of individuals engaged in the educational process.

Children need the opportunity to socialise and do things together.To my way of thinking, nothing could be more abhorrent than the idea of children being educated in some sort of isolated, balkanised state.  Be it at home with parental oversight and monitoring control or be it in some institutionalised setting, with students locked into learning carrels, that would be anathema.  It would be an approach that was locked into content focus, with little consideration being given to the human needs of the learners.  Children need the opportunity to socialise and do things together.

Isolation in learning contexts is something experienced by many children and students who live in the far-flung outback of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia. Students link for educational purposes through an increasingly enhanced technological focus. They are able to engage conversationally with their teacher and with each other online. They have video links and screen contact with each other.  However, they don’t have that physical and social connection that is offered to children learning in living classrooms and playing with each other during recess and lunch breaks.

For children who are physically isolated from learning peers, the highlights of the school year are camps and the brief periods of togetherness organised by the School of the Air.

I had a three-week totally technologically learning focus of sorts in the mid 1970s. We were on appointment to a remote Aboriginal community in Western Australia. It was a requirement that teachers appointed to this community, undertake a three-week intensive language learning course held at the Bentley Institute of Technology – now part of the Edith Cowan University. Learning consisted of many hours each day being spent in language learning carrels. These were enclosed and isolated from each other. There were 15 of us whose day consisted of brief introductions then a retreat into isolation. Sitting in those carrels, our program was controlled by an instructor who could listen in and communicate but usually only to bring learners back onto task. The ‘task’ was listening to the particular vernacular tongue being related from a master panel controlled by the instructor. The program was about listening to and imitating the dialect, in order to get intonation and pronunciation as spot on as possible. Some clarification was offered by the instructor but the bulk of communication was by way of pointing out better and correct ways of speaking the language.

At the end of the program, I graduated with a statement that included confirmation of the many hours I’d spent in this constructed learning environment. I had been part of a class that was ‘together’ in one room, ‘separated’ by soundproof learning booths. While we were accomplished in terms of learning outcomes, our development together as people learning in a shared environment was almost zero.

While outback schooling is less sterile than the constructed environment I have described, social contact is minimal, and by image projection, rather than in a living and ‘togetherness’ format.

My controlled learning experience and the limitations of online schooling convince me that future schooling and schools of the future, in-so-far as possible, should avoid constructions that would minimise teacher-student and student-student contact in a direct and living sense. While subject curriculum and learning content can be managed by children and students working on their own, important developments, a part of education and learning, simply cannot offer individuals the development they need, unless they are together in learning communities.

Education for the whole of life
At the risk of being typed an educational antediluvian, I would uphold, with vigour, the need to avoid departure from some very important and very traditional educational learning practices. I adhere to two belief positions.

… education … must support children in terms of their social, emotional and moral/spiritual development.Firstly, I believe that education should be ‘all round’. Certainly, it needs to provide for academic enhancement. However, equally importantly, it must support children in terms of their social, emotional and moral/spiritual development. I believe there is a distinct danger that modern education, enhanced by technological support, is amplifying the need for academic and skills development, while de-emphasising  the personal and social aspects of development that must be included, if education is to be all-rounded.

I advocate the need to always consider our students … as people.Secondly, I advocate the need to always consider our students, prime learners and tomorrow’s leaders, as people. It often seems to me that modern education is all about analysing and cauterising children, testing, measuring and evaluating them, almost in isolation to the personalities inherent within them. They become objects and artifacts rather than living, breathing human beings.

Many years ago, a manager with a gas company in Darwin told a group of assistant principals visiting his business that children were like gas bottles.  He said that gas bottles arrive empty, pass along a production line and emerge full and ready to go at the other. He said that children progressing through school were the same. They started school life as empty vessels. As they moved through the years and up the grades, they were filled with knowledge, emerging as useful citizens ready to contribute to life’s world.  At the time, I violently disagreed with this simplistic comparison because gas bottles are inanimate and capable of being manipulated. Children, on the other hand, are living, breathing entities with soul.

These days, I am not sure that we educators don’t consider children as gas bottles because so much humanity seems to be lacking in educational processes. It seems that depersonalisation has set in, that children are regarded as vessels to be filled in order to satisfy societal working needs. We carry out elaborate testing and measurement procedures in order to determine if they are up to scratch and ready to go forth in servitude to society. We tend to downplay and reduce to a secondary status, their rights, entitlements and developmental needs as people.

Education needs to revisit the soul
Alexandra Payne (editor) in an Australian Institute of Management publication Love@Work (1) identifies 10 characteristics that have come to manifest themselves in the workplace. She identifies joylessness, fear, dullness, dependency, insensitivity, mediocrity, discourtesy, lack of creativity, ambiguity and anxiety as characteristics rising to the fore.

‘What we are missing in today’s workplace and business is essentially about joy, humanity and love. The challenge is to infuse these elements … to create a holistic workplace. We need to overcome these ten detrimental characteristics that are too prevalent.’ (2)

John Reynolds, interviewing Love @ Work  editor Alexandra Payne, was told by Payne that, while in terms of refocusing business ‘… we’ve done a great job economically … people at work are … dried up and stressed out’ (3)  Payne indicates that holism needs revisiting because ‘in my view it’s the holistic sphere that really creates enduring quality and sustainability’. (4)

Education is charged with developing within young people, those qualities that are going to impact within them as adults in tomorrow’s world. There has been a major emphasis placed on fitting youth up to move into an economic and rationalist world.

I believe that this has desensitised many of those who are today’s leaders and contributors to business and industry.  Payne is suggesting revitalisation and reinvigoration that must come from within. For that to happen, education and future schooling has an important role to fill in revisiting the soul of education.

Conclusion
My concern is that too many children and students lack in terms of interpersonal skills and don’t have the capacities to be decent persons. Care for others is definitely distant, while self-promotion and self-indulgence come through as stand-out factors.Education needs to be for the whole of life and it needs to consider the inner person, along with societal needs. I think that we have taken many steps away from considering and regarding our students as people, including distancing ourselves from the need to educate in terms of social graces, deportment, oral communication, deference to others and the capacity to listen considerately to peers. We are bringing up generations who may well have ICT adeptness and self-awareness. My concern is that too many children and students lack in terms of interpersonal skills and don’t have the capacities to be decent persons. Care for others is definitely distant, while self-promotion and self-indulgence come through as stand-out factors.

Hope is a quality that is going out the door with many young people, according to a recent newspaper report commenting on a youth survey, believing this to be the last generation. Personal desperation and innate despondency are sadly apparent elements, with young people developing short-term attitudes based on their perception of the future.

These attitudes and the lack of character definition imbuing too many young people deserve focus. Instead, we fixate on academic outcomes, and orbit our attention around ICT, testing, measurement and some sort of misplaced self-justification.

Future schools and future schooling need to focus on rebuilding a quality social fabric, where the warp and weft are competent, confident, caring individuals.I want for futurist education to go back to the past. We need to regard children and students as people and to develop within them a sense of longevity, social awareness, conversational capacity listening acuity and personal pride.  We have lost too much. Educational focus and our prioritising methodologies are largely to blame. Future schools and future schooling need to focus on rebuilding a quality social fabric, where the warp and weft are competent, confident, caring individuals.

References
1. Payne, Alexandra (ed.), Love@ Work. 2006. Australian Institute of Management, Wiley. Sourced from John Reynolds ‘In search of more love, more joy, more humanity’ in Management today, Issue 28, September 2006, pp. 34-39 & 42.
2. op cit, p.35
3. Op cit p.34
4. Op cit.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SPEECH AND SPEAKING

SPEAK TO BE REMEMBERED Those most remembered as speakers are those who galvanise their audiences and engage with them. Don’t over talk. Twenty five minutes is tops. Engage the audience, involve them.
Always speak with conviction and sincerity. The audience can sense passion and speaker belief in his or her message by studying the presenter’s body language. Introduce, develop and conclude carefully.
I BELIEVE THE EYES TO BE THE MOST POWERFUL OF COMMUNICATIONS TOOLS. Speakers who are confident rove the audience, with his/her eyes canvassing the eyes of everyone in the listening group.

SPEAK FROM THE HEART. Never be a ‘veneer speaker’ whose polish belies his/her commitment to the subject. Be a person remembered by the audience for sincerity. Speak to, not ‘down’ to your listeners.
Speakers and presenters should aim to embrace the audience, drawing listeners toward him or her by the power of sincerely uttered words. This will being them ‘together as one’ in a sharing context.

Listen carefully to speakers and EVALUATE them for strengths and elements do presentation you feel they might do differently and better. The exercise helps you focus on message and messenger
DON’T OVERDO NOTES. They detract. Speakers generally know what they want to say. I recommend small cards that snug into the palm of the hand. List KEY WORDS as prompts for what you wany to say.

CONFIDENT SPEAKERS in an informal situation can go to pieces in formal situations. They pull down a blind in their minds which says ‘ uptight time’. Make sure the blind is never pulled down.
Make sure that topics have a beginning, middle and end. PLAN for presentations to establish, build and ebb to a telling and final conclusion. Balance within discourse is a key and essential need.

When presenting DON’T SHUFFLE. Movement is a part of gesture. Movement can be illustrative and points (of delivery) reinforcing. If movement is meangless stand in a relaxed but stationary manner.
SOME SPEAKERS GO ON AND ON FOREVER. What starts well goes downhill and the presenter loses it. I once heard that 24 minutes was the ideal time for any presentation where presenter owns the floor.
Presenters need to ensure that DRESS supports and enhances their podium status.The finest presentation in the world will be ruined if presenters do not respect audience by looking the part.
Speakers need to think about THANK YOU often offered at the end of a presentation. Realistically it is the audience who should be offering thanks to the presenter for his or her contribution.

Watch out for DISTRACTING GESTURES. Scratching parts of body while presenting needs avoiding. Don’t scratch nose, squint, overuse eyebrow wrinkle. Involuntary actions can be off-putting.
INJECT HUMOUR into speech, but AVOID LAUGHING at that humour. Humour engages and focuses audience groups. However, those same audiences can be off-put if speakers laugh at their own jokes.
‘AH’s’, ‘um ‘s’, ‘er’s’, and similar speech stumbles need to be avoided for the sake of fluency. Too many glitches may have the audience thinking you are unclear on your subject. Aim for ‘zero’.
Use notes as prompts, but try and avoid detailed reading. A speaker is more effective when speaking rather than being slavishly locked into notes. Notes can reduce the speaker’s confidence.
Consider vocalisation, the pitch, rhythm, intonation and vibrancy of voice. Live your message through your voice. Articulate carefully and correctly, and never come with a gabbling rush of words.

Messages delivered by presenters should be from the heart. Avoid (debates excepted) speaking on issues in which you have no belief. Avoid being a hypocritical presenter, a phyyric speaker.
When speaking, use POWERPOINT and props to support speech. Don’t read verbatim from power-points. KNOW your subject in case the power-point goes on the blink. Have a fallback position.

If an AUDIENCE MEMBER, take time to THANK presenters if you genuinely believe them to have delivered a quality message. Presenters value appreciation and with that constructive, skill honing advice.

If speaking to a paper, consider the speech first and distribution after. If audience members have the paper to hand while the presenter is presenting, they will focus on the paper, not the speaker.
‘AH’s’, ‘um’s’,’er’s’, and other speech glitches can happen unconsciously. Be aware and register them subconsciously as you speak. If aware, you can program them out of your speech. Try it – it works!
Using ‘metaphor’ and ‘anecdote’ to illustrate the point of discussion can be a very useful and identifying tool. “Likening phenomena unto…” using these illustrations identifies matter with audience members.

SCHOOL ATMOSPHERE – PRECIOUS BUT FRAGILE

SCHOOL ATMOSPHERE – PRECIOUS BUT FRAGILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing Priorities and Building toward Positive Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning about Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

Atmospheric Challenge

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

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

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

Henry Gray