GET ON THE FRONT FOOT

FRONT FOOT PLEASE

It is time, and overtime, for school based educators to get onto the front foot in response to matters within the arena of educational debate. For far too long, educators in schools from Principal to classroom teachers and support staff, have been reacting to pressures from above. ‘Above’ includes the supposed educational support area embraced within the overall systemic educational hierarchies. (This is often referred to as Educational ‘Carpetland’.)

For eons of time, those in schools have been beaten around the ears with demands, suggestions, requirements and imposed priorities coming from above. ‘Above’ ultimately is higher and more rarified than system carpetlands. The head office of every Australian State and Territory Educational System is under the command of its relevant Education Minister. Notwithstanding the things said about consultation and lip service paid to the idea that discourse precedes policy, it is true to say that a great deal of what is imposed on systems by governments is done in quite not-consultative and dictatorial fashion.

This means that a great deal of demand placed upon systems is done on the spur of the moment and without proper consideration of policy pros and cons.

It needs to be understood that State and Territory Governments in turn have demands placed upon them by the Australian Government. Hearsay and general awareness would suggest that most things happening in our schools are at Federal behest. This is because of compliance and accountability tags attached to money made available for educational initiatives. I believe while States and Territories espouse the merits of independence in decision making and priority setting, their capacities in this regard are very limited. Unless they do things ‘The Australian Government way’ and comply with the strings attached to monetary grants, funding can be partially of wholly withheld.

COAG AND MYCEETCHA

On the face of it, there should be opportunity for State and Territory Education Ministers and Chief Executive Officers to discuss matters relating to educational policy and development in a frank and reasonable manner. From what I understand, these conversations rarely happen. I have been told that the agenda for COAG along with discussion papers are often presented close to meeting times, giving little time for fair and proper consideration of the issues at hand.

As a long term school based educator who for many years wore the pointy end of decisions I have come to believe that the (Australian Government) Education Minister and Department of Education say “jump”: State and Territory counterparts respond with “how high”! Healthy educational debate rather than weak-kneed acquiescence to Commonwealth demand is necessary.

A still recent and massive example of this need relates to the Building Education Revolution program (BER) that poured billions of dollars into States and Territories for infrastructural development. While facilities were added to schools both private and Government, prescription about what could and couldn’t be constructed strictly curtailed the value of money for facilities in many individual circumstances. Many schools would have willingly used funds to supply human rather than material resources, in order to support teaching and learning programs. That option was not available.

ERRONEOUS EXPECTATION AND MISPLACED BELIEF

For years and years school based educators have been beaten up by government and by members of the public at large because of student under performance. The fact that students achieve less successfully than their overseas counterparts is an achievement shortfall laid squarely at the feet of educators.

(In rushing to this comparative judgement, it matters not that the socio-cultural and geo-topographical Australian context is wildly different to similar overseas contexts. Our multiculturalism and the vastness of our ‘wide brown land’ makes Australia a vastly different and uniquely individual place within which education has to be provided.)

It seems with the passing of time student competence and levels of achievement are declining. This is small wonder, when one considers the impacts upon society of changing preferences and pressures placed by an increasingly cosmopolitan and rapidly growing population. A further exaggeration impacting upon us is the sad fact that society in wealth terms is definitely two tier with the pauper class a growing group because of cost escalation.

It is time to stop being reactive and start being proactive in educational matters. We need to play a part in shaping educational priorities and futures.

HOW THE WORM TURNS

 

When students needed to lift their standards, teachers and parents used to work at encouraging students. Now it is a case of non-perfoermance being the teacher’s fault.

How the worm turns.

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.

UNIVERSITIES AND STUDENTS : SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES.

UNIVERSITIES AND STUDENTS : SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES.

Maybe some universities need to place more onus of responsibility on students. Attendance optionality at lectures, tutorials or at organised online sessions is anathema. Seems that some universities are happy to extract course fees for students than cut them so much slack there is no further obligation upon those students other than the completion of assignments or attendance at exams.

I am a part time lecturer and supporter of students at the CDU. I value my role with them and I know they appreciate their engagement with me. Importantly, we know each other as people. During sessions we are on the same plane together. I also have to mark assignments. Marking work submitted by ‘invisible and unknown’ students is a lot harder than knowing those whose work you are marking. Marking rubrics go some of the way but they don’t tell markers about student character.

I worry about students who enrol internally or externally in courses, then overlook course requirements. The university makes but the students who operate this way gain very little in terms of the learning collective. My role is with education. Education involves sharing. One of the skills encouraged with pre-service teachers is that they are able to developing collaborative skills. Relationships with peers, parents and students are important. If training in isolation is encouraged, little is being done to develop the togetherness aspect of what teaching is all about.

It is good to know students whose work you are marking. When you don’t know and have never met people whose work you are marking, both they and you are at some disadvantage.
My internal groups is not huge – 12 students tops. And yes, I would be very sure that we are on the same situational plane. I work in an old fashioned but effective way with students.

I have done online work with big numbers and make it my business to establiash an e-mail data base enabling me individual or collective contact. If they want a phone conversation, students can email or message and I’ll return calls and discuss issues. I also encourage students to network each other.

Over 40 plus years I have built considerable resource material and have most of it in electronic form. These resources I share with students on request or if I think a particular issue can be supported with materials I have to hand. My indexing system gives me fairly quick access to these materials.

I always ask students to feed back on practical experience (as pre-service teachers) in terms of both celebrations and challenges. I am writing a series of vignettes (70 to date) oriented toward providing students with ideas.

I have had much feedback from students appreciating this approach.

My other point is that lectures are not lectures. Our programs follow a structure and meet course requirements but it is all done conversationally. A three hour time period, with a break at the half way mark, quickly passes.

I would never claim to be conventional but that is not the major issue.

WOMEN ADD VALUE TO EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP

While written from the viewpoint of appreciating women as educational leaders and managers, my belief would be that they bring enrichment to all organisations.  We discount them to our clear and distinct disadvantage.

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THE VALUE OF WOMEN AS PRINCIPALS, KEY TEACHERS AND ORGANISATIONAL PARTICIPANTS.

In all forums with some minor header changes

Women are key players at all levels. I believe the following attributes to fit their character as ‘the invaluable group’.

1. Women are all seeing, all knowing and able to join in fifteen conversations at once.
2. Women are aware: They have 360 degree vision.
3. Women have clear goal orientation and crystal-like focus.
4. Women cut to the chase and don’t dither around the edges of issues.
5. Women are careful synthesisers and succinct summarisers of situations.
6. Women are adept at timetabling and planning; they are meticulous plan followers.
7. Women have awareness.
8. Women show empathy to those who are under the pump.
9. Women excel in engaging others in planning and organisation.
10. Women have excellent leadership and participative perspective. They are both on the organisational balcony with all-encompassing vision and on the dance floor with and among those engaged with endeavour.
11. Women make an extraordinary contribution in going forward.
12. Women contribute proactively to staff endeavour and leadership balance within schools and systems.

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Elaboration

1. WOMEN ARE AWARE OF THEIR SURROUNDS

Women are all seeing, all knowing and able to join in fifteen conversations at once. I mean this in a totally appreciative and complimentary context. The broad based awareness women have of their surrounding environment makes them the superior gender when it comes to awareness. They have, in my opinion, a panoramic appreciation of what is going on around them. Ladies read body language and more empathetically understand reactiions of others than do men. Not only can they contribute to a conversation in which they are participating; they also gain appreciation of the tenet of surrounding dialogue. These finely honed environmental skills add to their situational awareness. As a male leader, I was always wise in seeking feedback from female staff leaders on matters we were dealing, for this helped inform in a way that was beyond my own interpretative capacities.

2. 360 DEGREE VISION

Another quality vested in women and often lacking in men, is a capacity for 360 degree vision. The expresssion ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ fits because of the totality of awareness with which ladies are blessed. After a staff meeting involving 40 or 50 people, I always felt it wise to ask the women members of my leadership team for their feedback because the meeting elements I missed (body language, eye exression, non-verbal contact between people) they picked up. This enabled us to appreciate the meeting more fulsomly than would have been possible for me alone, or in conversation with another male. This is just another quality with which women are blessed and which mmen can fail to recognise.

3. FOCUS

From working with many women over the life of my teaching career I can vouchsafe for their clear goal orientation and crystal-like focus. Ladies, far more than men can divine a path that leads through from aims and objectives to goal outcomes. While there are always exceptions, I felt that women with whom I worked were less likely to be sidetracked by diversions than men. Their approach and priorities establishment helped me, in terms of reminding about the fact I needed to keep on time and on task. Oven many years, I was blessed to have some outstanding female members of the leadership groups which developed at my schools.

4. CUTTING TO THE CHASE

Women cut to the chase and don’t dither around the edges of issues. When confronted by tasks, they quickly align the best and most efficient way to get from task start to goal accomplishment. They do accept advice but are able to synthesise and sift valid suggestion from what might be extraneous. Women are less bogged down when it comes to dealing issues than many men. They are definitive in approach and get things done. While appreciating the contributions of those who approach shared tasks positively, they are not in the business of treating foolishness lightly. While valuing the contributions of some men within my operational sphere over the years, I knew that if something needed to be done quickly, efficiently, accurately and conclusively, it was best to delegate management and decision making to a woman.

5. SUMMARISERS AND SYNTHESISERS

It is common for women to be demeaned by men, who have them as garrulous and gossiping. This is entirely unfair and equally, incorrect. Both men and women are want to wax lyrical in social situations but when it comes to business and organisational propriety, women are far from idle chatterers. They are quick and adept at taking on board information about issues, summarising succinctly and drawing out the main points conversations confirm as needing attention. In my opinion, they do this better than men.

The capacity of ladies to synthesise and extrapolate to directions it would be wise to follow is well established. It is a fact that women have this capacity. To listen but then quickly work through to a point of where the organisation, based on information to dater, can go forward with confidence makes them people who contribute magnificently to organisations.

6. PLANNING AND TIMETABLING

Women are adept at timetabling and planning; they are meticulous plan followers. I believe they are far better at meeting deadlines than men who are in charge of organisations. Over the years I was blessed to work with ladies as members of leadership teams and had cause to thank many of them over the years for keeping me focussed and on track. Our leadership ‘mix’ always included men and women and without female contribution we would have been less effective leadership teams. Many was the time I had cause to thank the female cohort for reminding me of and insisting on the follow through of timelined obligations.

One of my smartest moves was to delegate (both task and decision making responsibilities) to ladies who were members of our leadership groups. They ensured that we managed in an ‘on time and on task way’. For mine, they come up trumps.

7. WOMEN HAVE AWARENESS

Women who lead have a 100% awareness of what is going on within and around their organisations. Their sixth sense, womanly intuition, enables them to know what is happening within the school, company or enterprise. They have a sense that keeps every aspect of their domain within their mind’s eye. Men’s awareness is less broad, less perceptive and far less acute.

Knowing their places of work so intimately enables female leaders monitor the performance of their teams. They are not nosy and intrusive, simply aware. I believe Gail Kelly, Westpac’s CEO demonstrates these leadership principles. so too, do many women who are involved within leadership teams. What blessings they bring to their workplaces.

OUR SHATTERED ECONOMY

This gets slightly away from my focus on education.  However, the consideration  of macro-issues (our economy is a macro issue) is important.  I confess to feeling pessimistic about the direction in which this country is heading and how it is managing the economy.

MY CONCERNS

*We have lost manufacturing industries to overseas destinations.
*We have a Fair Work Act that is strong on rhetoric but in many cases short on practical and sensible expediency.
*We have introduced massive red tape and bragged about the easing of paperwork accountabilities.
*We have sold residential property to overseas interests in such volume as to price Australians out of the housing market.
*We have sold and keep selling massive tracts of agricultural land to overses interests.
*We have agreed to free trade agreements which open Australian markets to foreign imports, tenders for goods supply and priority to overseas suppliers to the detriment of domestic interests.
*We have offered huge tax concessions to major industry in a way that almost lets them off the tax hook.
*We allow mining exploitation and business profits otherwise to generate benefit for overses companies and their foreign shareholder base.
*We borrow and spend $100,000,000 each day more than is generated by our domestic production.
*We endorse greater and greater percentages of our GDP being spent on offsetting interest accumulating on our government borrowings. We believe that major indebtednes is a wonderful thing.
*We discourage workers through increasing tax imposts..
*We think that salaries for CEO’s and Government Department Heads should be paid in their hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars each year.
*We are overgoverned to glory. We have too many layers of government.
*We pay retired politicans benefits that are generous to the point of being almost immoral.
I could go on.

No wonder we have a tattered economy and a fractured economic outlook. The future is bleak.

KEEP COMPUTER EDUCATION IN PERSPECTIVE

COMPUTER FOCUSSED LEARNING HAS ITS LIMITATIONS

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.
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VOLUNTEERS SUPPORT SCHOOLS BIG TIME

SUNS COLUMN 87

VOLUNTEERS FILL KEY ROLE IN SCHOOLS

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.