BE ON GUARD AND EVER PREPARED

In this age of litigation and blaming others for one’s own short-comings, it may be useful to consider the following.

PROGRAM CAREFULLY AND WITH REMEMBRANCE

There are some great things about teaching and I would never underestimate them for a minute. However, care and caution are also needed in order that what happens in the here and now is not revisited upon teachers and school leaders in future times.

One of the areas requiring careful consideration is that of programming and teaching. The problem is not one that relates to children and students who are willing learners but rather to those who are reluctant to non-compliant.

Cases increasinglyare being brought against educators by students from the past. They allege that their failure to learn had to do with poor and incomplete teaching. These cases can be visited years later. It can be very hard for teachers to refute allegations, even though they are faults, because evidence is not available to support their defence. To this end I strongly advocate that teachers keep a comprehensive detail of what they teach and the outcomes. In respect of students who are idle, lethargic and deliberately disinclined, keeping of notes specific to your efforts and their disinterest can be useful. If in times to come your efforts are taken to court, you then have refuting evidence. It can be quite easy to determine whether students fit into this category of being future threats to teachers.

In some parts of the world teachers and educators are now taking a professional indemnity insurance. That hasn’t gone anywhere in Australia just yet, being an insurance form still in its infancy. However my advice would be to “watch this space” and consider professional indemnity insurance when it becomes available. Premiums would be tax deductible and may well save heartache in the years to come. Sadly, the litigation all era is upon us and teaching is not exempted.

MORE ON FALSE ABUSE ALLEGATIONS

To someone who more or less suggested ‘so sad too bad’, that these things happen and it is just a fact of the matter. I take your points but there needs to be some change. ‘Guilty until you prove yourself innocent’ is wrong. To be abandoned by system supports as happened to the Victorian teacher is wrong. The detained records do help. If an allegation is made and you are a person who keeps careful detains of contacts and context, omission can well demonstrate that what is alleged did not happen. It is not a total panacea but it is certainly a help. It is an absolute travesty that false accusers can walk away free from the train wreck they create. With abuse reports now being flavour of the month (1600 in Victoria alone since all the inquiry processes started I am told) reports and allegations are growing in frequency and going further and further back in time.  There is a multiplier effect that must consider what happens in other states and territories. There has to come a point when the way in which children are contemporarily appreciated, meets a point of where it was acceptable for what is now seen as abuse, to be practised. If not, we will finish up back in the nineteenth century. False accusations that are deliberately inserted into the reporting system with character destroying intent held for the accused, are deliberate and wicked. The fact that this is dismissed as an accidental ‘aside’ is not good enough.  Too many lives belonging to good and innocent people have been trashed and this is not good enough. The fact there are two sides to every issue needs to be remembered and not so summartily dismissed.

A PLEA: BE A VISIBLE AND RECORD KEEPING EDUCATOR

BE VISIBLE AND KEEP DETAILED RECORDS

I offer this vignette in cautionary terms. Teaching is a profession that requires increasing vigilance in human relations on the part of teachers, school leaders and principals.

In recent years, the issue of child abuse has increasingly come to the fore. Lots of abuse issues, most of a historical nature, are being raised. Various Royal Commissions and Inquiries have highlighted the matter. I have heard that from Victorian inquiries, around 1,600 issues have been and are being followed up (July 2015).

Without doubt many of the allegations being brought against alleged perpetrators of past abuse, especially sexual abuse, are justified. However, there are instances when allegations are made with mischievous and malevolent intent.

The recent program on ABC “Four Corners”illustrates this point. A female teacher in Melbourne was accused of sexually interfering with two boys around 30 years ago. She was dragged through a messy court process, including being accused, found guilty, and jailed. The case was subsequently appealed and another grimy court process ensued. At the end, she was found not guilty of these crimes and acquitted. Her career, of course was absolutely ruined. The protagonists who had brought the case against her, two men in their early 30s (they had been boys of seven or eight at the time referred to in the allegation) have not to this point in time been charged with their own gross criminal conduct. The story’s inference is that they have simply shrugged it off! Significantly, the Victorian Department of Education, Teachers Union and Teachers Registration Authority appear to have offered no support to the teacher.

Allegations made against teachers presume guilt until the teacher proves his or her innocence.

I have sought advice on what recourse is available to people who are falsely accused of interference with children, particularly when cases are brought years and years later. The response I have received is that it is very unlikely prosecution will be brought against false complainants. The only recourse available to someone falsely accused and acquitted, is to seek redress through the civil court.

The purpose of this particular vignette is not to pursue issue of recompense. Rather, to strongly suggest educators keep a clear, detailed and time noted record of instances when they have been connected with students in counselling and developing them. Nothing beats a detailed diary. When moving schools, retiring or otherwise moving on, take these records with you (I would suggest a diary). Always keep them in accessible place. Under no circumstances destroy or discard those records.

If allegations are then brought, there is a clear record to show the date, time, place, and nature of the counselling. Often details brought by the complainant are fairly vague and being able to refute them with accurate data is if inestimable value.

There are one or two other points to keep in mind.

If counselling children, make sure that you do so in a space that has visibility from the outside. A room with a see-through window, a common area within, a learning module, or a location within a linear classroom close to an open door are suggested. In the circumstances it’s not a bad idea to write down the names of people who observed, or were in the “visible” proximity at the time.

If the classroom teacher, it is always useful and indeed recommended that you report matters of counselling and discipline to a senior or to the principal along with having kept a written record.

Those who have false accusations brought against them, regardless of outcomes, are never the same people again. I understand they look at life differently. Their outlook becomes tinged with suspicion. They wonder if they can never be part of trustful relationships again. This issue is one of growing consequence and something all educators need to take on board and carefully consider. Don’t live in fear but never think it can’t happen to you: It can.

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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SNIPPETS FOR EDUCATORS (9)

DON’T TAMPER WITH LITERACY AND NUMERACY INSTRUCTION
Listening, speaking reading and writing are essential communication skills. Use of technology often substitutes for live conversation. Texting and messaging have their place but ought not replace face-to-face speaking and listening. Correct sentence structure including the use of punctuation, word choice, intonation and clarity should be built into verbalisation. Children also need to clearly hear messages so they understand what has been said. Unclear speech and poor listening skills can develop from lack of practice and the substitution of keyboard communication. Reading from texts may be supplemented by electronic media but should never be supplanted by screen reading. Nothing beats books.

Keyboard skills and the ability to electronically produce written text adds to the student repertoire. This should never be at the expense of handwriting. Mastery of paper and pen communication is important, enabling the written word to be produced anywhere and at any time.

Technology supports education but in no way should it replace traditional literary and mathematical teaching and learning. Should that happen, students will be the losers.
IF IT’S ‘FREE’ IT’S BAD

Some say private education is good as parents have to pay to enrol their children. Public education is mediocre at best and best avoided because it is ‘free’. People tend to look down on free things.

LEARNING NEVER STOPS

From birth until death, education is an incremental and ongoing process. It never stops. Those who think they know it all do themselves a grave disservice because there are always new things to learn.

NEW AGE TECHNOLOGY CAN LIMIT LEARNING

So much about education has a “modern” and “new age” emphasis. A great deal of what happens educationally is driven by technology. Some believe that technology has supplanted the need for learning basics. Computers, iPads and other technologies have their place in supporting students. However, they should always be tools used to enhance assignment preparation and work requirements. If students rely on devices to provide spellchecking, grammatical correctness, accurate mathematical formulae and so on, they may meet learning requirements without understanding what they have done. This is especially the case when voiceover or on-screen directions advise students what to do next in reaching toward solutions and answers.

Cognitive understanding suffers when directed learning fails to provide pupils with the understanding of ‘why’ solutions and answers are correct. This reliance on technological assistance can start in primary school and extend all the way through to tertiary study. That takes away from students their ability to reason and think. Computers and iPads become a crutch on which they lean too heavily to help satisfy learning requirements. There can be nothing more dissatisfying for students, than not understanding solutions to questions that are solved by technology, rather than their own brain power.
KEEP STUDY REQUIREMENTS WITHIN PARAMETERS

Work life balance for all, including students, is important. Study, including homework, should not be so voluminous that is gives students little time for relaxing, reinvigorating and having fun.
OFFER PRAISE

As teachers and principals we need to work on catching students and staff doing something good so we can offer praise. Meaningful and sincere not shallow and trite compliments. Praise pays dividends.
STEADY STATE BEATS TRENDINESS

Curriculum priorities and teaching strategies are constantly changing. It is important to keep up with the times. Schools also need to offer predictability and steady state development to students.
PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS – THEIR NUMBER ONE CHALLENGE

From working with pre-service teachers, the issue of almost universal concern is that of classroom management and achieving as teachers in a context of dealing with respectful, motivated children.

PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS – THEIR NUMBER ONE CELEBRATION

From speaking with a lot of pre-service teachers, I believe the thing they celebrate most is being able to make a difference. They rejoice when children come to love learning and personal progress

OUR WORK SHOULD BE ENJOYABLE

From time to time print and online articles emphasise the importance of workplace satisfaction and happiness. Some even address the need for work places to be fun places. Humour, laughter and light-heartedness are promoted as having tension relieving capacity. Inherent within this is a suggestion that not everything we do will be perfect and errors will be made. We need to have the ability to reflect on our mistakes and learn from them about how to improve and do things more successfully. An element of this ‘sitting back’ is the ability to reflect seriously but also light-heartedly because there is often a funny side to outcomes.

CONFIDENCE WITHIN

There is a need for those who share workplaces to ‘give and take’. We should welcome the evaluation of our efforts by others and be prepared to offer feedback to them as colleagues. It is important for well-being that people within organisations are able to share with each other. This includes the both receiving and giving of advice and appreciation.

STICKABILITY

I really admire teachers and school staff members who have a deep, enduring and long term commitment to their roles as student educators and supporters.

Some use schools as trampolines – launching pads to greater glory. How wrong it is that some are selfishly motivated. I have nothing against upward mobility but if schools are ‘used’ by those who want to climb to the top regardless, those who get to the top may find a lack of respect held for them by those who were colleagues.

PRIORITY SETTING

It is over-the-top naval gazing and ‘paralysis by analysis’ that has become the major preoccupation with systems. Accountability is rampart and trust in teachers and their judgement discounted.

RECOGNISING MILESTONES

I always remembered student and staff birthdays with letters to students and cakes for members of staff. These remembrances paid dividends. They confirmed my appreciation for staff and students.
PAUSE AND REFLECT

At the end of each week, we should mark time. We need to pause, reflect on the week that has been, consider what we have done well and give thought to tasks confronting us in the week ahead.