RESPECT

Principals and teachers should aim to earn the respect of students and peers. Positional power is best if earned on the basis of respect rather than through pulling rank.

Make an aim one of catching peers, subordinates and students doing ‘something good’ so you can offer them praise. Be sincere and never trivialise thanks you offer, so it is seen to be meant.

ONLINE COMMUNICATION HAS ITS LIMITATIONS

While written with the Northern Territory in mind, the thoughts conveyed have traction in all situations where communication is important. Don’t overdo the technological alternatives or skip on primary communication opportunities.

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ONLINE COMMUNICATION HAS ITS LIMITS

The NT. Department of Education (DoE) has a website. It can be found by simply googling ‘NT Department of Education’. That brings up a home page with links to all current initiatives, policies and everything else that relates to education. All it takes is locating the home page, perusing links and going to the information sought. Opening some links will reveal others that either extend a particular topic or point to sub-links for further elaboration. There are options for online reading, or opening and printing documents for later study.

Nearly every school in the NT has a website. A great deal can be learnt about our schools by googling school names and following the links. Included on the websites of most schools is information about their interpretation of Departmental policies. Priorities, processes and procedures are included. So too, are details about financial health and NAPLAN test outcomes.

Most questions people have about educational matters have answers that can be quite easily found by going online. Notwithstanding this source of information, questions often remain unanswered. One reason may be that answers to queries are not satisfying.

On occasion, what is written may be in language that is hard to understand because of terminology, acronym usage or jargon. Things need to be written in a clear, understandable and friendly genre. This may help minimise confusion. A good example of clear written communication is that of general information included in the NT News ‘Back to School’ supplement (22 January). Included were details about term dates and the ‘Back to School’ Vouchers. There is often ambiguity within the community about dates, school funding and parental assistance schemes. Clear statements in print clarify things far more quickly than an invitation to go online and explore issues requiring answers.

Old Fashioned Contact

While the Internet can add a dimension to communication, I do not believe it should replace the more traditional methods schools use when making contact with parents and community. Neither should the Department rely solely on web based contact . It is wrong to assume that people will, automatically seek answers to their queries by going online.

Online communication options have their place. However, the web places parents, schools and the Department at distance from each other. Online communication is impersonal. I believe there is a place for print media and conversation to be part of the way we discuss education. Traditional school newsletters, memos and letters retain their value as methods of communicating. Using the telephone to make contact is far more personal than receiving email advice about issues.

Nothing takes the place of face-to-face conversation. That should always be a feature of the way we interact with each other.

LOST IN THE MAZE

Once upon a time it was relatively easy to get from an idea to its implementation. Committees were smaller and more focussed. Significant educational initiatives could be created, developed, piloted, implemented, evaluated refined and extended with a minimum of fuss. Those with a stake and interest were involved but parties to process were freer in number and more directly connected with the issue.

No longer are things so simple and straightforward, for education or in any other area of need. An idea goes through a diffusion of committee processes, to the point of where the original idea becomes totally distorted and even lost. We need a clearer, simpler and briefer process enabling ideas to be examined before implementation through trialling. From ‘beginning’ to ‘end’ used to be manageable. These days, initiatives that might work well become lost in a maze of babble and often go nowhere.

YOUNG CHILDREN NEED SPECIAL SKILLS – and Technology is not a panacea

We can overlook the rudiments of education so essential for the development of young children. It iOS important to guard against oversight or neglect.
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THE SKILLS YOUNG CHILDREN NEED

A recent media story confirmed that technology is being promoted as an essential and necessary learning tool. This should be a focus for younger and younger children. An Australian preschool was reported as requiring enrolled children to bring their own devices (BYOD) for use within their programs. The infusion of technology into learning has been moving down the grades and is now inserting itself into the earliest years of learning.

Australian curriculum authorities are recognising IT by inserting technological skills, including programming, into learning requirement for students from Year Five upward. I would suggest that in time, the formalisation of an IT curriculum will reach into Middle Primary and Early Childhood Years.

What really counts

This focus impacts upon children, their parents and teachers. Rather than young children being ‘IT ready’, it would be far better if they were prepared for life by greater attention to necessary but often discounted personal needs. Overlooking the foundational needs of development, means children beginning their formal education may have significant personal readiness deficits.

Many young children don’t understand the need to care for their belongings. Getting and using things, then putting them away is not practised. Toilet training, hand washing, nose blowing, rubbish disposal and other rudiments of living are still developing for many preschool and early childhood children. Home and childcare training in these practices is built upon at school. Emphasis upon personal development is a far more important priority than focusing on specialist IT skills.

Teaching children how to eat their school snacks and lunches has become the lot of teachers. This includes chewing food, not talking with full mouths and not spreading food and drink around tabletops or onto floors.

The teaching of social attributes and personal skills are often defined as prime ‘loco parentis’ teacher responsibilities. Desk tidiness, classroom cleanliness, use of bag lockers and other tidiness procedures are reinforced at school. However children commencing their school years should not be introduced to personal and social attributes of living for the first time. Teachers should be building on what has been started for children by parents at home and carers in child care centres.

The need for computer literacy and IT readiness are being put forward as necessities for children at increasingly younger ages. These skills will come with time and educational exposure. It is far better for children to commence school with personal readiness and social confidence.

EDUCATION HAS FOUNDING NEEDS – Walking must come first

This column was published in the Suns Newsapers in January 2016. Before putting structures into place for students of tender years, ensure basics. And DON’T take the fun and enjoyment out of the first years of schooling.

RUNNING DOES NOT COME FIRST
It seems that educational systems are continually being challenged on the subject of balance within the teaching and learning spectrum. The 2008 Melbourne Declaration on education was signed by all State and Territory Ministers of Education. The declaration’s preamble affirmed the importance of holistic education. Social, emotional and moral development of children were key elements of educational development. Academic development was not the sole educational focus.

There is a marked departure from this position. Children at increasingly younger ages, are being introduced to the academic world. A pilot program has introduced preschool children to a language other than English. This trial has been declared a success. It will be extended to other preschools in 2016. If successful, it could become Australia-wide from as early as 2017.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said teaching pre-schoolers another language has set a new standard. More than 1700 Australian pre-schoolers have learnt Japanese, Indonesian, French, Mandarin Chinese and Arabic as part of the trial. Minister Birmingham said “There is currently an evaluation process occurring and I will wait for that to conclude before making a final decision but pending a positive recommendation from this review I have every intention of rolling out the Early Learning Languages Australia application across the country in 2017.”

What’s next?

Minister Birmingham said based on the success of this trial and as part of the Innovation and Science Agenda the Turnbull Government would commit $6 million to the development of a similar STEM-(Science, Technology, English, Maths) focused application.

“Knowing that around 75 per cent of the fastest-growing industries require STEM-related skills, we want to work with Australia’s youngest minds to ensure they develop an interest in those fields.

Birmingham justified this computer and tablet based approach to Early Learning. “The skills and opportunities those children participating in these programmes receive are a perfect example of the Innovation Agenda that is at the heart of the Turnbull Government’s vision for Australia’s future.” (Source: Media release 12 January 2016)

One track

Developmentally, children have to crawl and walk before they can run. I believe we ought not disregard the Melbourne Declaration’s call for holistic development. Taking those who are little more than toddlers into early learning programs that quickly lead toward a point of pre-academic saturation is not wise. The developmental principles espoused in the Melbourne Declaration recognise and point toward the need for both character development and social competencies. Childhood occupies a few brief years and should be enjoyed. Forcing children into learning domains in a premature ‘high flying’ context can deny them the entitlement and joy of childhood.

Learning and understanding are important but it should all be in good time. Prematurely exposing children to learning before they have the maturity for conceptual understanding, could lead to disenchantment with education.

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE – The Challenge Remains in 2016

This paper was published in the Suns Newspapers in January 2016. School attendance remains a key issue in NT schools. I offer the idea of reward that will cost little and may turn the issue.

SCHOOL ATTENDANCE NEEDS REWARDING

A perennial educational issue in the NT (and I suspect elsewhere) is that of school attendance. Some believe the issue only impacts on Indigenous Education but that is far from being the case. Sporadic school attendance is a universal problem.

Punctuality goes hand in glove with attendance. Students who are continually late for school, do a disservice to themselves and to classmates. Teachers have to go over what has already been covered. Lateness along with absence contributes to lost learning.

For teachers and educators, there is double jeopardy about this situation. Unless children establish regular habits of school attendance, there will be substantial gaps in what they learn. Yet when these students perform poorly in standardised tests, the onus of responsibility is placed back on teachers and their schools.

School attendance was identified as a key issue in the 2014 Wilson Report on Indigenous Education. However, in terms of recommendations, the report intimated that children attending for 60% of the school week (three days out of five) were almost satisfying the attendance requirement. That is a far cry from what should be happening and will not help overcome learning deficits. A good education depends on constant school attendance.

Attendance is certainly an issue dear to the heart of the Australian Government. In recent years, close to $40 million has been spent or committed to employing school truancy officers, to boost school attendance in Australia’s remote communities. There are similar attendance challenges within our towns and cities.

Recognising Attendance

There are several key determinants to success at school. One is attendance. At the end of the 2015 school year, Gracie Ah Mat, one of Wagaman School’s students gained media attention (NT News 12 December 2015). Gracie earned her school’s ‘Deadly Attender’ Award, commemorating the fact that she had not missed one day’s school in four years. A rare achievement indeed.

Without doubt, there would be other students, probably a significant number, whose regular school attendance would be worthy of accolade. If they don’t do so already, schools might consider recognising students for excellent attendance and punctuality.

Some years ago, the NT Government devised a Chief Minister’s Literacy Award program. One student in each class in every school was recognised for literary excellence. This recognition helped promote the importance of literacy within our schools.

My suggestion would be that our Government consider a program which recognises and rewards the school attendance and punctuality of one child in each class of every school. Intrinsic appreciation costs little. However the development of any program that adds value and recognition to the habit of school attendance is priceless. It won’t cost $40 million and could be worth a try.

CAREFULLY CONSIDER E-MAIL USAGE

In today’s world, emailing has become possibly the most common form of written communication. Most people have email accounts and use emails prolifically. Schools and teachers have email accounts, often displayed on the school’s website.

Communication by email is encouraged, including contact between parents and teachers. Notwithstanding the ease with which email communication can be used, it is important consider a cautionary approach to its use. This is because emails are written documents and can be held against writers for years and years to come.

* If parents seek information about homework assignments and work due,
excursion information or similar, response is fine.

* If parents want information on school policy or are confused about particular
whole school policies or school matters, refer them to a member of the
leadership team and forward email sent and you reply to your senior.

* Under no circumstances offer parent value judgements about a child’s
character by email. Written statements can come back in future times to haunt
the writer.

* Be aware of the fact that emails can be used as documentation supporting
actions in courts, including custody battles between parents. To that end avoid
sending emails that ‘take sides’ or can be interpreted as supporting one parent
viewpoint or the other.

* Never promise by email that a child ‘will’ make certain progress by a particular
time or ‘will’ achieve particular outcomes. ‘Will’ is an absolute and confirms
that a particular attainment will be the result. Use ‘can’ or ‘could’ or similar
non-committing words. The onus is then on the child and not on the teacher to
take prime ownership of possible outcomes.

* It is wise to keep copies of emails sent too parents in a designated folder.
Trashing can be tempting but if a communications issue is raised to the
teacher at some future time, not having a record can be very unhelpful.

The above dot points could be extended and others added. Suffice it to say that the use of emails can be fraught with danger, a situation that all too many people find to their eternal sorrow. Stick to material issues and don’t enter into the realm of value judgements and character comment. Parents may send emails of this nature, asking to you comment on their perceptions. That invitation should be avoided because response means they may quote you and tie you to what is really their position.

Never ever write and send emails in the hear of the moment, while over-tired or while less inhibited than usual because of the use of alcohol. The reasons for this advice should be obvious.

If in doubt on the subject of email correspondence, check with a senior staff member. It is always better to be sure than sorry when dealing with email traffic.