CONVERSATIONAL WRITINGS

THOUGHTS AND RESPONSES ON EDUCATIONAL THEMES .

These have been added to educational threads on ‘The Conversation’ from May to July 2015. They appear from last to first comment.

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July 30 … ‘Special’ Programs for ‘Different’ People

I hate manifestations of racism and vilification, but reaction when that happens for some groups is more significant than when it happens for others. As a person who has worked in many different situations including remote Aboriginal communities, I have always seen and determined people as ‘people’ regardless ofr race, colour and creed. One thing I did not like was the requirement that ‘special’ programs be put in place for ‘certain’ people, where those were watered down programs. The clear inference was that these students were not up to ‘proper’ work, so an expectation of poor performance was almost ingrained into the system. I got into some strife for refusing to indulge these programs.
July 22 … Bad language and school

Forgive me for being a wicked old past school principal, but I never countenanced the use of bad language by students in my schools. Neither did I accept disparaging comments toward children by teachers. How sinful of me not to allow the free flow of foul mouthed invective, disparaging comment and blasphemy. And now I will receive comment asking me to ‘define’ ‘foul mouth’, ‘disparaging’ and ‘blasphemy’. Goodness, I WAS a bad man for requiring the respectful use of language.

However, my schools were schools and not circuses where classroom teachers had to spend far too much time on managing poor behaviour and disciplinary issues.
July 15 … Lectures should live

Let lectures live by offering living and vibrant lectures. And turn lectures into conversations, exchanges between lecturers and students. There is a place for the Socratic Method within lecture halls. The lecture should not be offered from a ‘high horse’ position but by lecturers who engage with students.
June 30 … Schools (UK) must fix radicalising youth or cop it sweet.

What I detest is the fact that it is always down to schools to fix these kinds of issues. Put it on schools, principals and staff to wave the magic wand and overcome tendencies toward radicalisation. If it doesn’t work out, then look out educators. NEVER EVER ANYWHERE are parents and primary carers held to account for the behaviour of their children. Their gross abrogation of responsibility is excused and any thought of onus being put onthem waived away. It is time that blame was sheeted home to where it belongs, to the home and to the parents of these young people.

June 29 … Special needs students and school

I think you make a fair point Rachael. Since the mid nineties when inclusion became a part of the Special Education approach because of changes in educational approaches, there has been a rush to mainstreaming of special needs students. This in the NT has been supported by Student Services, the employment of school assistants and so on. While support for these students within special schools has diminished, the need for accomodation and meeting of needs has become an increasing part of general school focus.

I understannd the principles for this change and as a school principal worked within the system both before and following the changes in the 1990’s. For inclined and positively motivated cghildren with special needs, mainstreaming worked well enough. However, it did and still does ‘stretch’ teachers who have to cover ever wider ranging ability contexts within classrooms. The attention special needs students take, can diminish the time teachers have available to deal with the rest of the class. It is not uncommon for classes to accomodate two, three, four and sometimes more special needs students. Teacher ‘stretch’ adds to teacher fatigue.

While assistants are available to help with special needs children who are mainstreamed, they also have to be added to the responsibilities teachers have because of the need to consult, share planning, develop student improvement plans and so on.

When mainstreamed special needs students, by accident or intentionally are deliberately disinclined and oppositional learners, this adds hugely to the burdens faced by classroom teachers. Behavioural issues are increasingly a part of the special needs student characteristic. Discipline challenges and general disruption within classrooms can and does occur.

I have sometimes wondered whether at some stage, parents of children in a particular class of a particular scgool will take a class action against one of our educational systems because of the lack of teacher atention paid to their ‘normal’ children. I believe in mainstreaming but would argue that the special needs schools we have are bettter positioned to provide for special needs children and students than are mainstream primary and secondary schools.
June 26 … Play and playgrounds

This is a great and very timely article. As as ex-Principal of primary schools for four decades, it has saddened me that play has become so sterile. This has largely been forced by fear of litigation ahould things go wrong. However ‘controlled’ play takes from children the chance to make decisions, take risks, be emboldened and to simply enjoy themselves in the playground. Yes, care and common sense are needed but we don’t need safety standards and controlling regulations that go over the top and freeze the enjoyment and spontaneity in play.
June 21 … School Uniforms

Anne, critics are fine by me. Maybe you could trot out tyour evidence confirming that students of all ages like the notion of free range dress and it makes them better as students. My schools were always uniform based but NOT because I said so. School Councils and Student Representative Councils were the groups that on behalf of students and community wanted and controlled our uniform ideas. Uniform changes were overseen and managed by these groups and not by me.

My leadership method was not to sit and dictate and what happened within my schools and communities was based on collective and consensus based opinion. There were plenty of policy changes occurring on my watch that I personally did not approve but accepted as part of our consensus approach.

On uniforms. Within the NT, Education Department policy is for uniform in public schools from junior primary to senior secondary. As you would know, departments mirror governments and governments are influenced by the wider community.

I take umbrance at your third paragraph wich suggests me to be a liar. Not so and if you knew me you would know so.

Now your research based empirical evidence confirming that students in uniform are less happy, do less well and have fewer willingly given opinions than those who dress as they like, please.
June 18 … Teaching the Asian Way!

Always explore what might be superior alternatives of teaching and learning. But please do not turn our students into parrots that spit out facts without understanding. And please don’t regard students as empty gas bottles to be filled with facts as they move up the grades end through the years. Please consider the need for holistic education that takes account of academic, social, emotional and moral/spiritual development.

June 14 … Women as leaders

As a person who was a school principal for 40 years, many of them with the support of leadership teams, I can promise you that the contribution of women to our leadership cohort was enriching. Yes, men play a part but the perspective brought to our teams by women was invaluable. I always listened to what was offered in shared dialogue and was wise to do so. On many an occasion the ladies in our group pointed to ways of enlightenment. I was always acknowledged for being principal of successful schools; that was down to the contribution of our leadersbhip cohorts. The majority of those engaged within our shared leadership model were women and for that I will be forever thankful.

June 11 … NAPLAN

Listening around would convince many that education is NAPLAN. This test ties schools, principals, and teachers in knots. Real educational needs can be neglected as NAPLAN, for months on end, becomes the ‘be all and end all’ of education. Many students stress big time, and so do their teachers. In the words of Tom Chaplin they believe that’ your score is my score’ is what teachers are thinking as they reflect upon their students. NAPLAN is distorting education big time.
June 7 … The power of good university staff

I would hope that universities offer students a wonderful, enriching learning experience and development for which in later years they thank the tertiary institution(s) wherein they have studied. I thank the CDU O(at that stage the Northern Territory University) for the study and developmental opportunities afforded. As a part time staff person at the CDU I try to emulate the methodologies practised by those lecturers, tutors ande course coordinators I came to admire.
June 4 … ‘Principal for a Day’ initiative

I thought long and hard about writing this, fearing i might be pinged for
big-noting. However, I will take that risk.

In the second half of the 1980’s, as the principal of a large primary school and after conversartion with our Student Representative Council, we launched a program called ‘Principal for a Day’. Upper Primary students were eligible to apply to be me for the day. Selection was by an SRC drawn raffle. The selected sfrudent took oveer my role and my office for the day. I went one further and took the place of the swelected student in her or his classroom for the day. For both of us, trhat was complete with change of dress, lunch arrangements and everythhing else that went with the role change.

We conducted this program every year for many years.

I was generally told that the idea was silly as was I for coming iuip with such a scheme. However, it was a learning experience and I won’t go into that right now.

My point is that there is now a formal organisation which has introduced the ‘Principal for a Day’ concept on an Australia-wide annual basis. However, I don’t trhink they have gone as far as turning the principal into a student for the day.

The work of our program got out through print and television media, also fthrough our school newsletter.

During my time as a principal ‘silly old Henry’ either promoted or introduced several other initiatives which, covertly lampooned at the time, have become part of system practice.

I am not a coveter of recognition but a person who aimed to make a contribution to many aspects of education during my years in schools. That is reward sufficient.

May 31 … Students should be the ‘prime focus’ of universities

Education’s function should be focus on students. Students also need ot accept responsibility for their learning. ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’ applies as much to university education as primary and secondary educational outreach.

That said, universities need to have a focus on students and their prime function should be about teaching and engagement with their student populations. Maybe in their pursuance of research outcomes, students may at times become a neglected group.
May 27 … Technologically supported tertiary distance learning

A lot of these students won’t bother turning up for learning via technoology either. The onus of responsibility for outcomes is placed squarely on the shoulders of universities but what about a bit of accountability being placed on the students. Many students who fail or get scrape passes become upset and blame lecturers and course coordinators for their poor showing; their attitudes of indifference or being ‘too busy’ to meet their obligations means they construct their own destiny.

Technologically supported is learning is fine, but when not used by students for meaningful engagement is hardly a learning ally. Then to turn their dissapointment and recrimination back on universities! What gall! Those who fail to meet course commitments should be failed – end of story.
May 24 … Congratulation on starting down the Teacher Pathway

Allow me to wish all teacher graduates celebrated in this article the very best for fulfilling, satisfying and joyful careers. As an educator who graduated in 1969, I attest to a career that faced many challenges and enabled me to share in countless celebrations with peers, students, systems and communities. You have entered into a most significant, indeed a most influential career. My wish for you is that your career paths will be long and sartisfying.

Take it from me that the years pass by quickly. It sommetimes seems only yesterday when I graduated from (then) Teachers College.

In my retirement from full time schooling contexts I have begun to develop what might be helpful hints on practical classroom considerations and needs. Although set toward Australia and the Northern Territory where I live, they have context for all graduate and ongoing teachers everwhere. I call them ‘vignettes’. They are being progressively published on my blog at henrygrayblog.wordpress.com Feel free to visit and download those which might appeal. There is no cost attached because it seems that I should give back to a profession that has done so much for me.

Again, all the very best as you begin journeying along your chosen career path.
May 20 … Empirical studies delay corrective actions

Funny how empirical confirmation of issues takes so long to catch up with what is anecdotally known to exist around phenomena like this. Empirical studies buy time for those who know that what they are doing is wrong. These studies defer the day of reckoning.
May 18 … Teacher Training

There needs to be an upturn in attention to teacher training by all universities. Teachers, quite frankly, need to be taught to teach. Degree courses are devoid of units which include teaching methodology as a part of the program. Neither are pre-service teachers prepared for the practical understandings needed for their emergence into schools and commmunities as graduates.

The two and three year training programs from the olden days did far more to prepare teachers to teach than do four year degree courses these days. They were intense programs that delivered depth understanding in the key area of actually skilling people with those practical requisites and methodologies needed to be effective and efficient classroom practitioners. Practice teaching rounds were assessed in depth and there was no superficiality about delivery of training outcomes.

Every practical help was provided those who wanted to train. However, for those who could not deliver during training, the word ‘fail’ applied and they exited the course. It can be relatively easy to pass both a degree and get through the minimal practical training requirements: It is altogether much harder to actually teach.

Maths and science teacher training options

If aspirants are going to be attracted to train as maths and science teachers, there will need to be considered re-structuring around training programs. The appeal for pre-service teachers considering these domains may be blunted by the prospect of HECS indebtedness. Support through fees waiving may help. However, many considering teaching look at the degree of difficulty of options and go the easier programs. Others are ineligible for this training option because their Year 12 secondary graduation has been light on for maths and science units.
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