SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY IS FRONT AND CENTRE

Published in the ‘Sun’ newspaper included in the NT News on April 26 2016
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SCHOOL ACCOUNTABILITY IS FRONT AND CENTRE

From time to time there is strong media inference that school educators are on Easy Street. The need for more accountability is advocated for principals and teachers. There is an inference that Education Departments do little in holding principals and teachers to account.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Individual principals go through regular performance management exercises. Their schools are also appraised, usually once every two years. Senior staff and teachers set annual developmental targets.

Assessment criteria for performance and school effectiveness are regularly updated to accommodate curriculum changes.

An upside of performance measurement is that peers are involved in the process. Principal performance takes account of staff and community perception. Principals realise that perceptions of their leadership are important to the department, school and parents.

School assessments involve a fellow principal and senior departmental officer. All staff, some students and members of the community are interviewed. An advantage of this model is that principals and teachers are able to share an understanding of leading and teaching.

Disadvantages

Preoccupation with assessment can mean that personal aspects of performance are always front and centre of thinking. This can lead to hesitancy in trying new ideas and expressing professional opinion. It may result in educators accepting what is handed down from above without discussion. Concerns about possible shortcomings or weaknesses of changes that have been imposed are let slide.

One of the pressures on school principals is that their jobs are temporary. Employment contracts are offered for no more than four years. If a contract is not renewed, they do not have a position to wh ich they can return in the public service. School leaders accepting contracts have to relinquish their permanency within the NT public service, becoming temporary employees.

Principals and teachers are assessed against standards developed by the Australian Institute for Teachers and School Leaders (AITSL). Beginning teachers must meet graduate standards. As teachers gain experience, standards expected become more detailed. Annual assessments and periodic reviews organised at a school level, are set against these expectations. Teaching quality and contribution to the corporate life of the school are taken into account. AITSL has a tool enabling teachers to collect evidence supporting their professional status. This can be accessed on a daily basis.

Any belief that school staff are free agents when dealing with educational matters is fallacious. School leaders and staff members are held to constant and rigorous account for personal performance and the effectiveness of their schools. Far from being overlooked, accountability is the number one issue for all educators.

SAY ‘THANK YOU’ AND MEAN IT

Saying ‘thank you’ and meaning it in this day and age has become a sad rarity. When I first commenced teaching in the 1970’s and in the years that followed, appreciation was common. This helped teachers feel good about what they were doing.

Don’t get me wrong. There was counselling, sometimes pointed, for mistakes and things that could have been better done. However, thanks given helped people keep a balance and perspective on what they were doing.

In our modern times, thanks is a lot scarcer. It seems that calls to accountable I litany are fare more common than used to be the cases. It is small wonder that teaching to many becomes a burden and they opt out.

System and school leaders need to take stock and consider returning to being people who show their appreciation for jobs done well. That extends to teachers in classrooms recognising student efforts and appreciating pupils.

CONSOLIDATED COMMENTS

Published is a consolidation of comments offered on LinkedIn and in other places.
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LINKED IN COMMENTS

As we draw toward the end of the school and academic year, we should take time to acknowledge students who have done well. I believe presentation assemblies, regardless of whether schools are primary, secondary or tertiary should be organised to give fellow students, staff, parents and community a chance to recognise and celebrate the successes of students.

We are often quick to point out the needs of children and students to improve performance or attitude. We can be equally as forthcoming in offering praise.

Recognition of students with certificates and maybe monetary or book award can be tailored to the level of students with whom we are engaged.

These celebrations as endpoints to academic periods leave children and students feeling both satisfied and fulfilled. These assemblies can also be an encourager and spur to those who, had they demonstrated greater commitment, could have also been recognised and rewarded.

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Teachers and educators are professionals together. Together we aim to do our responsible best toward educating and leading the next generation toward the future. There are at times glitches in our approach and methodology and some things we can do differently and better. Perhaps the major thing we need to do, is recognise that people are animate souls and deep thinkers.

That being the case, what we do makes an impression. What we do is often more important than what we say. Example counts.

School Principals are leaders. Teachers, to their students are also leaders. Authority is vested in leadership. Those charged with leading have ascribed or positional authority. Some use and rely on that positional power almost exclusively when cementing their positions.

There is a deeper and more subtle authority that grows from genuine respect held for those who lead. That is acquired authority. This respect based recognition is the superior authority because it is earned, not gifted by the position occupied.

Those who lead in a way that generates such respect are, in my opinion the better, more effective, more greatly appreciated and longer respected leaders. It is an option that, in my opinion, generates happiness and satisfaction for both leaders and those they lead.
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Getting the developmental balance right

Teachers and educators are right to accept responsibility for the matters of student development that come under their jurisdiction. The trouble is that more abd more of that developmental responsibility is being hand balled by Governments and by parents, to schools and educators. Educators in turn have been rather short-sighted, in seemingly inviting more and more responsibility for the upbringing and development of children and young people. That is like saying to parents and primary caregivers, “have you another monkey (responsibility) that I can own?”

I believe in holistic education, but not in parents flick passing their parental undertakings to schools. We are foolish in loading up with more and more. That acceptance of developmental burden is less and less appreciated and more and more expected. We therefore contribute to education being a thankless and burdensome profession.

Educational partnerships between home and school should be about cooperation and balance. The scales seem to be increasingly uneven, weighted against schools and staff.
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MOTTOS

Mottos can reveal a lot about any organisation. Allow me to share two.

My teachers training college had as its motto ‘Non Nobis Solum’, translating as ‘Not for ourselves alone’. This to me was an expression of teaching’s aim. We are there for others. For me as a student teacher and then as a new teacher going forward, it was a pointer about the perspective I would do well to embrace.

My last school as principal was at Leanyer in Darwin’s Northern Suburbs. Our motto, born in 1992, my first year of twenty in that place, grew from a need to express an ambition that needed reinforcement at that time. ‘Together as One’ became our motto. It’s application and remembrance did a lot to draw us together in oneness and unity of educational purpose.

It might sound simplistic, but mottos are important as statements underlining school organisation and ethos.
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HONORARY QUALIFICATIONS ARE ANATHEMA

One of the things grates on my soul, in. Australia at least, is the propensity of Universities to go in for awarding honorary doctorates and on occasion, honorary professorships, to politicans, sports personalities, defence force personnel and ‘noted’ members of the public. When these honorary honours are conferred, they are often accompanied by statements in the media announcing conferees as academics.

This is just not right. If flies in the face of logic which confers doctorates and high level accolades on the basis of research and serious study. If also offers a figurative ‘slap across the face’ to those whose qualifications are genuinely earned, often at considerable personal sacrifice and cost.

A particularly galling aspect of this recognition is that honorary qualifications are often conferred during graduation ceremonies, at which the ‘honorary’ awarded is highlighted well and truly above genuine graduates.

There are plenty of other accolades that can be offered to people who have done well and made contribution in political, defence, sporting and community domains. There is no need to dilute the purist notion of academe by conferral of honorary awards.

Or have I got the bull by the tail?
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‘THANKS’ SO OFTEN OVERLOOKED

Today I received a letter of thanks from the CEO of our Department of Education for a contribution made toward the shaping of our revamped Education Act in the NT. He is the type of person who acknowledges and appreciates the efforts of others. He would have taken the time to have letters prepared and personally signed to all contributors.

Received this letter made me feel intrinsically appreciated. It also reminded me of the fact that receiving expressions of thanks these days is far more rare than was once the case. It is so easy to brickbat people but bouquets are offered far more infrequently.

Returning to the practice of a ‘culture of appreciation’ would do a great deal to lift feelings of well-being and morale. Feelings of happiness and satisfaction are often in short supply. Re-building will lift organisations, in our case schools, and those within.
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THE JOY OF KNOWING YOU HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE

One of the joys of being an educator is to be reminded at times of successes that students experience and of the good things that come their way. Not of of that success relates to academics. There are social, emotional and moral/spiritual qualities that can and should grow and develop within students.

During my years as an educator I have worked with tens of thousands of students. Quite deliberately, I have never retained contact through social media. I don’t use social media accounts. However, if I read of successes they have had in later life, I will make an effort by to contract and congratulate them. That applies to successes coming the way of past students, right across the spectrum of contribution.

Often parents of past students will let me know, as we pass in the street or meet in shopping centres, about how their children are travelling. I always make it a point of passing on my regards and in most cases I remember these students. This would happen for me, in the relatively small city of Darwin, two or three times each week.

It fills me with joy when reading of successes of past students in the newspaper or via radio or television report.

One remembrance stands out. Years ago, I had in our school a student who was a very decent young man. However, he al;ways averted his eyes away when talking to others. On several occasions I invited him into my office and tutored him on the art of gaining confidence through eye contact. Years later, he came up to me in a Restaraunt, reminded me of his name (I hadn’t forgotten) and thanked me for taking the time to help him develop his eye contact skills. He was going places and was no we an aeronautical engineer. This is one anecdote but there are hundreds of others.

Not all outcomes have been rosy. Through my schools have passed thieves, burglars, rapists and murderers. I have also had the experience of having to cope with past students feeling so down on themselves that they have taken their own lives. So from time to time, I question myself as to whether I could have done anything during my time of association with them, that might have swayed them away from these courses of action.

It is our contribution to education now, that has its outcomes on the lives of people in years to come. And while unexpected it is nice be be thanked and appreciated by those whom you taught when those years do come.
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‘OUTSIDE IN’ AND ‘INSIDE OUT’ PERSPECTIVES

In retirement from full time work but as an educator who still makes peripheral contribution, I have discovered something very interesting.

When in full time work within schools, principals and their staff members are on the ‘inside’ looking ‘out’. New ideas, approaches, initiatives and priorities developed within the wider policy and planning domain, after some pre-consideration, are funnelled down on to schools to pilot, trial, implement and generally manage. New initiatives (so called) often come down in volume, meaning those in schools have very little time to think about what might be entailed before they have to wrangle them into place. It is this imperative that gives riser to the complaints of curriculum overcrowding and lack of time to work systematically and in a carefully managed context.

Schools are the end-point of these new educational directions . Implementation is often compulsory and has to be undertaken within a very limited time frame. The consequence of this methodology is that those in schools are case into reactive do mode. they have little time to consider the Genesis and the evolution of initiatives before they land on schools. Principals and staff members, along with school councils and communities of students and parents are discouraged by these pressures from giving genuine feedback. They have little time for talking because they are so busy doing.

The bigger picture

Once retired and with the pressure of day-to-day work lifted from one’s shoulders, the chance to consider proposed change takes on a different character. It becomes possible to view issues from the outside (the school) looking in rather than being inside the school looking out (at systems and government positions).

Being able to consider issues in a more dispassionate and less intimate weary does provide the chance for consideration and also for contribution to the shaping of policies and programs before they are down lined to schools. This can be done through contribution to working parties and accepting invitations to make submissions during discussion phases of change being considered. Some retirees joint committees considering policies at this level.

Walking away from education when retired does not afford this opportunity. For those who remain in touch, there can be a role to fill. Part of that giving back is considering how change impacted upon those within schools, from a first hand experience trial viewpoint. That can be an important perspective to include in discourse prior to ideas reaching school level.
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LISTENING – A NEED TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED

We hear lots about the need to focus on the four element of literacy, reading, writing, speaking and listening. They are all important.

Unfortunately, they are sometimes regarded in ‘cart before the horse’ terms of importance. Reading and writing are held to be the major players in this literacy quartet. Speaking and listening, ESPECIALLY LISTENING are discounted.

Listening should be considered the first and very foundational literacy skill. Certainly it is the quality that engages babies and very small children. In terms of acquisition, listening, speaking, reading and writing develop in that order. Certainly these literacy skills are developed in what becomes a melded or blended fashion. They complement and reinforce each other.

The onus placed on reading and writing, discounting listening and speaking as happens, contributes to poor listening skills. Cognition and comprehension are both impacted. Also discounted by non-listening attitudes can be respect for the opinions of others.

Speaking cogently, politely and correctly also needs re-engagement. Sloppy speech is not a quality of which the user can be proud. What is said and HOW it is said are important quality.

Correct speech and careful listening are literacy attributes can can and do build confidence in people. They should never ever be consigned to second class status.
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I wanted to wish everyone connected with this group all the very best for Christmas and the New Year. On January 1 each year, for many years, I have anticipated the months ahead and considered how far we had to go until year’s end. Suddenly we are looking back on the year that has been, and looking toward the next.

Thank you for the professional time we have shared during the year. The beauty of ‘LinkedIn’ is the 24/7 context of connection it offers. I am often sitting and talking, watching TV with one eye, or listening to the radio when engaging with ‘LinkedIn’.

I hope this hear has been one of success and fulfilment. And I hope the goals you set for 2016 will be satisfied.

All the very best.

Henry Gray
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I hope that 2016 can be the ‘Year of Common Sense’ for education. Research is important, so too are new initiatives. We ought also appreciate and continue to develop approaches and strategies that work well.

A worry for me is that too often, things that are working well, are tossed out simply because they have been around for a long time, AND WORKING WELL. I suspect there care times where teachers and school leaders who want something new because what they have is old hat and boring – no matter that what is in place works well and for the betterment of students. Is tossing aside proven my practice, really a common sense approach? Or is there a certain giddiness and excitement about new ideas that causes us to supplant practice without regard for the fact that this may work against the best interests of students?

May ‘common sense’ prevail in educational pursuits during 2016.
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WHO, WHAT, HOW, WHEN and WHERE

I graduated from teacher’s college in 1969, and commenced my teaching career in January 1970. From then until January 2012, I remained involved in full time educational commitment. Since retiring in January 2012, I have remained involved in education in different capacities. I retain affiliation with NT. Education through membership of several key groups and do some casual work at our university.

One of the nice things about a career is the fact that over the years, one can without trying remain in contact with an understanding of students from the past and their progress in life’s world.

Most of my years were as a School Principal. I have been Principal to many students who have done well in life and to hear about them and their progress from time to time is great within itself.

It hasn’t all been joy. Some have gone off the rails and finished up in detention for both minor and sadly, major offences. An almost sinister part of that is the fact that I knew this would be the way things might end for them. One gets to understand futurist indicators that are present in the lives of developing children and from very young ages. Sadly, that is the way it can be.

The joy bits and the celebrations of those who are on the positive side of the ledge remain. This year I have determined to keep a note of all feedback I receive from past students or their parents, about their progress pathways in life. I am using an A4 diary which has a month to each page as an opening to make notations. I thought that appreciating the lives of those who are coming behind might make for joyful recall.

I am suggesting this as an idea that might appeal to others.
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DON’T OVERLOOK APPRECIATING

Principals and school leaders have heavy responsibilities. One of the things they should never forget is to give credit whatever credit is due. Acknowledging the successes of staff and students should be part of this recognition. Too often, giving thanks and attributing successes to staff and congratulations to students for outcomes, can be overlooked because of work pressures.

Part of ‘smelling the roses’ for school leaders should be taking the time to look for the joy in education. The lightening of mood reflected by principals when this happens, helps build positive feelings within their schools. Staff and students like nothing better than to be appreciated. Intrinsic recognition form their leaders is returned tenfold in terms of ongoing effort that grows from them feeling good about positive recognition.
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RETIREMENT CAN BE A CONTRIBUTION ENABLER

One of the changes that has happened for me in retirement, has been the opportunity to spend more time thinking about policies that are ‘shaped above’ and downlined onto schools. Maybe, ‘dropped’ or ‘loaded’ might be better descriptors, for those in schools feel a great deal comes down from on high, often with minimal notice. New policies (the words ‘reforms’ and ‘initiatives’ are often used) require those within schools to accept and implement new priorities, processes and procedures. Those in schools often have little time to respond to suggestions with meaningful input to the shaping of new ways forward, because they are too busy receiving and implementing.

Time to reflect upon and respond to draft proposals for change, feeding back into the consideration loop, is often denied. New policies often have to be implemented ‘tomorrow if not yesterday’.

I often wish, nearly four years into retirement from full time work, that I had been able to consider policy propositions then, as I do now. Retirement can allow one to become more proactive in response to issues than is the cases when working full time. To this end, I encourage those who have retired or are retiring, to remain affiliated with education. Consider proposed policy changes and developing priorities and make an input to those groups charged with their development.

There is really no need to walk away from education on the day of retirement.
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ON RETIREMENT AND LONGEVITY

Congratulations Sue, on your longevity. I respectfully disagree with your thesis. Some survive the age and resilience thing and others don’t. A lot hangs on the resilience of teachers, the compliance of students and the support of the school administration. It also depends on your role. Full time classroom teachers are more prone to some of the issues to which I refer, than are coaching and mentoring teachers, skills sharing teachers, key teachers ansd so on.

Unfortunately too, sometimes people are TOLD they need to move on and the choice is not theirs alone. For this reason it is necessary to consider performance management through the eyes of others as

I always asked people for their feedback on my effectiveness as well as trying to keep a personal handle on my capacities and effectiveness.
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USE E-MAILS WISELY

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.
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FROM BEGINNING TO END

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.
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OUT OF JAIL

A lot of teachers and principals can and do enjoy their vocation and calling. However
many teachers and those working within our schools feel that being ‘sentenced to teach’ is somehow akin to a jail sentence. A sentence that can last for years and years and from which there is no parole prior to retirement. They are locked in because there is no career alternative. They cannot resign because of financial circumstances. And the profession is like a custodial sentence because of the way education has evolved to become an institution requiring compliance, accountability and justification. The joy has gone and changing parameters leave a bitter taste.

On the day of retirement, their last day, people walk. It’s bitter sweet. They resolve never to look back until they are far away from the years that have been.

How sad.
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MANAGING BEHAVIOUR

The control and discipline methods once available to teachers and educators were overbearing and harsh. Chastisement of both a verbal and physical nature was often cutting. Teachers were often very overbearing and students were used to being put down. The anticipation of ‘being corrected’ by punishment often sent shivers through children.

Things needed to change. Correction needed to be based on empathy and understanding. Matters requiring disciplinary treatment needed to be fleshed out, ion order that students were not dealt with incorrectly or unfairly.

Wrongs have largely been righted. However, teachers ion our modern times can be left in positions of vulnerability because they have so few corrective tools available to counteract poor behaviours. About the only thing teachers and school staff can do is talk to children about behaviour. This does not work with all students. They quickly sense that teachers have a limited repertoire of responses they can apply. That being the case, children can feel that they can continue with poor behaviour. They even ramp it up, which adds to the hurt and discomfit inflicted upon others.

Teachers have to have management tools they can use to control and counter negative behaviours. If these are not available, the qualities of teaching and learning can be ruined.

A happy medium is necessary. I believe in many cases we are still searching for the idealism that goes with happy, contented, harmonious and productive classrooms.
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PRESENTING AND SPEAKING IN PUBLIC

Many educators are required to present in public. That may be in every environment from staff meetings to convention centres. delivery may be to a few people or to hundreds attending conferences. Delivery at workshops comes into the equation. Included are interviews that may be on radio, television or on you tube and similar.

The way in which presenters deliver their messages often reveals alarming shortfalls in methodology. The way in which presenters speak often reveals shortfalls in their capacities. Gesture, body language, word choice, speech hesitations, and awareness of time are a few areas requiring education. There are many others.

It is said that beyond a presentation, 7% of audience recipients remember the speech content and often for short periods of time. On the other hand 42% of audience groups remember the manner and method of delivery and for substantial periods. It is the way in which presenters present, rather that what they say which makes key impact.

I believe that educators, from teachers through to principals and departmental CEO’S should consider speech and message delivery training. This might be through formal coursework, or through joining an organisation that promotes speaking and listening skills. Toastmasters and Rostrum comes to mind but there are other organisations including Zonta.

It is easy to discount the importance of speech delivery. This is an area that needs our attention.
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SCHOOLS ARE NOT THE PANACEA

This might sound like a cop-out but as a long term school educator, I am glad to be retired. The issues and essences of dealing with peripheral issues, yet issues central to student well-being are growing and expanding on schools in an overwhelming manner.

Bullying in all its forms is taking on the form of a gigantic cloud handing over all schools. The impact is on all students from primary through to tertiary levels.

School focus on academics is being increasing pushed to one side by social agendas. Educators are being battered by demands emanating vfrom government, systems, other social institutions and the community. They are supposed, through the efforts of their staff, to be the fixers of all ills. Schools and staff are being crushed by expectational pressures.

This is a matter that needs to be recognised and addressed.
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SCHOOLS ARE LIKE BALLOONS

Whenever there is a new idea about the obligation of society toward people, the first response is to make that an educational responsibility. The result of this practices is that over the years, obligations placed on education departments and schools have expanded exponentially.

I am minded of the fact that loading onto schools is a bit like a balloon being blown up, with expansion necessary but to accomodate a widening and deepening schools obligation toward students. If adding on is mindless and if the feeling is that ‘schools can cope’, something can give.

That will happen in different ways at different but times for different but people. But end points come.
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A QUESTION OF BALANCE

Spinks was the Practical Father of school devolution in Australia. He and Brian Caldwell did and still do a lot together on issues of school curriculum and development.

Spinks first came to the NT in the mid 1980’s when our system was considering devolving central authority.

His point was that in order to keep balance about schools, there needed to be dropping off from programs in order to reasonably to accommodate add ons.
Jim Spinks was Principal of Rosebery School in Tasmania when he first came to the NT.
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LIVING THE LIFE

May all young people olf the world be blessed and given the wisdom to discern the right pathways in life’s world. May those of us who are senior do the right thing by the example we set to following generations. This is one of the very important elements of awareness and need that should be part of the motivation and the psyche of all teachers. I include teachers in our schools and staff in our universities.

Teaching is an important part of the role we fill. Of equal importance has to be the example we set. What we do and the way we live validates or discredits the teaching messages we espouse.

My hope and wish is that all educators be remembered with appreciation and respect.
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LITERACY

That’s just it. Literacy needs to be taught, not assumed to somehow evolve into the psyche of our growing up young. Teaching is more than chance and absorption of understanding by osmosis.

If there was less emphasis on naval gazing and more emphasis on the essence of literacy, including more teaching and less pontificating about comparative methodology, childen might be a lot better off.
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FITTING IT ALL IN

It’s interesting to contemplate how much schools have to do, cover and undertake these days. A school day is five hours long. How is it to be done in terms of fitting in more and more and more and … ?

We need to get wise. Stop adding and adding AND ADDING to content. We need to drop things off. If we don’t curriculum content becomes back breaking and mind blowing staff. We finish up lost in a maze of priority suggestions and resources.

The school day is just over five hours long. Schools are not 24/7 operations.

Let’s get wise and learn to say NO to the incessant adding into our responsibility and accountability portfolios. Things need to be manageable for schools, teachers and students.
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HENRY’S PRAYER

May God bless all students and may they work their hardest to do their best, committing energy and effort to their studies. May all lecturers and all teachers be available to assist their students in every way they can, and not be so preoccupied with their open study and research regimes, they forget their student cohorts.

This is my prayer for tertiary education, but also for those who at lower levels of teaching and learning regime.
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NEEDED: A STEADY STATE

One of the things wrong with education is the constant chopping and changing of curriculum priorities and methodological preferences. No sooner is something introduced and implemented, often in a piloting manner, than change is on again. Nothing is bedded down before it is added to, subtracted from, replaced or just dumped.

Education is like a frog, hopping from one lilly pad of initiative to the next. There os often little connection between these initiatives. At best, linkage is hazy.

Rather than shallow exploration, education needs to embrace the metaphor of the duck, deep diving into the pool and exploring issues in depth and breadth terms. Educational practices should be more frequently consolidated and less frequently tossed aside in order to grab at some other approach.

We need progress and change. Equally, we need understanding and consolidation.
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PUBLIC EDUCATION IS GOOD EDUCATION

Forty plus years in public education absolutely convinces me of the fact that within public schools there is plenty of cream, rich cream, in terms of positive student outcomes. The majority of students are very decent and committed young people. It is sad that the minority who are otherwise inclined, colour perceptions held for all young people.

The put downs plonked on government schools is so unfortunate.

A counter measure should be that public schools take wevery possible opportunity to publicise positive programs and quality outcomes. Private schools and systems are masters of marketing. Public education should be similiarly portrayed. For some reason, government school principals and school councils are slow to realise the power of good publicity. This is something that needs to change.
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AT LAST: AN EARNED HONORARY DOCTORATE

Emeritus Professor Webster is a man of distinction who has made significant comment on issues of significance in South Africa. A professor at the University of the Witwatersrand he received an honorary qualification from another tertiary institution in South Africa for his contribution to development of positive social and cultural relations in South Africa. I read his paper published in ‘The Conversation’ with interest and got to thinking.

Professor Webster’s Honorary Doctorate has been well earned. He did not get it for winning a race, kicking a football, swinging a cricket bat or swimming in a pool. He did not get it for fighting a war or being a Politican.

It is a sincere and meaningful, not a trivial and meaningless qualification that devalues academe. Too many honorary qualifications are given to those who have in no way contributed on the academic front. That trivialises high level qualifications. Handing out honorary qualifications willy-nilly needs to stop.
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THE PRIME FOCUS

“Schools are for children.” “(School) structure should always serve (that) function.”
James Eedle Director of Education Northern Territory, Australia to Principals in Katherine NT circa 1979.
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BE AWARE OF HISTORY

Often we fail to take notice of educational history. It is either completely neglected or afforded a fleeting, non-comprehending gaze. As contemporaries and vthe we current crop of policy makers we move on.

From time to time, those who have been involved with education for decades will offer caution. They will advise that a particular program has nor worked in the past, offering reasons for its failure. Cautionary words are discounted, often nor being heard in the rush for change.

Much change is a revisitation to what has been trialled, applied in the past then abandoned because of its unworkability. Notwithstanding failures, such programs are likely to be picked up and introduced as new, beaut measures twenty or thirty years later – with similar results. This may apply decentralisation, boarding school education, and favoured leadership strategies.

Change is necessary but needs to be done in a way that recognises the strengths and challenges of that ‘change’ last time around.
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RE-BADGING IS A HUGE COST ITEM

Organisation’s from schools, to educational regions and districts and main head offices frequently get involved in changing names, mottos and logos. It might be felt that the logo needs updating with or through the impression of modern art.

Mottos can change. They might be key statements of ambition or intent at school, district or system level. The names of regions and departments change at regular intervals.

In the Northern Territory (Australia) we were initially the Department of Education. Then we became the Department of Employment, Education and Training, then the Department of Education and Children’s Services. Now we are back to being the Department of Education, but for how long no-one knows.

These changes happen everywhere. Stationers and sign writers do very well from the business that comes their way.

There are huge costs in changing labels, everything from stationery to major signage and a lot in between. It seems we would do well in education to look at re-prioritising money devoted to these changes. It would be far better it seems, for that money which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars (at the very least) to educating students in our schools and universities.
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CHANGE FOR CHANGE’S SAKE

Steady state progress and visible, understood movement from one learning context to the next is important. Knowing where they are going and what they are doing, builds confidence and assurance for teachers and students.

Change for change sake. – appraISAL TO….. TO…

RE-BADGING IS A HUGE COST ITEM

Organisation’s from schools, to educational regions and districts and main head offices frequently get involved in changing names, mottos and logos. It might be felt that the logo needs updating with or through the impression of modern art.

Mottos can change. They might be key statements of ambition or intent at school, district or system level. The names of regions and departments change at regular intervals.

In the Northern Territory (Australia) we were initially the Department of Education. Then we became the Department of Employment, Education and Training, then the Department of Education and Children’s Services. Now we are back to being the Department of Education, but for how long no-one knows.

These changes happen everywhere. Stationers and sign writers do very well from the business that comes their way.

There are huge costs in changing labels, everything from stationery to major signage and a lot in between. It seems we would do well in education to look at re-prioritising money devoted to these changes. It would be far better it seems, for that money which amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars (at the very least) to educating students in our schools and universities.

RELATIONSHIPS EDUCATION – PROCEED WITH CAUTION

There is a new curriculum trend developing in Australia. It needs careful consideration. Published in April 2016
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RELATIONSHIPS EDUCATION – PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Caution should be exercised when issues of curriculum change and add ons to school and teacher responsibility are being considered. Proposals that schools become responsible for a recent initiative, ‘Building Respectful Relations’ is a case in point. ‘Building Respectful Relations’ has been developed as a way in which children can become more aware of and empathetic toward preferences in personal relationships. The program proposes that students develop understanding and empathy toward those with gay, bisexual and transgender preferences. It is about anti-bullying and anti-discrimination.

Before proceeding, the Federal Government has moved to have the program examined by a committee. Building Respectful Relations could become a component added into the Australian Curriculum.

States and Territories should carry their own assessment of this program. The Victorian Government has already decided to embrace the initiative without waiting for any Federal Government recommendations. A curriculum approach has been authorised and may well be expanded. While schools have the right to accept and use materials wholly or in part, the program is already becoming ingrained in that state. Three units and handouts on the subject have been developed and are available online. They can be viewed by googling http://www.fuse.education.vic.gov.au and following the prompts.

In an editorial on April 15, ‘Children sexualised in school diversity programs’
The Australian cautioned that this program “…encourages adults to sexualise children and expose them to sexually explicit materials. Such behaviour violates common standards that protect children from premature sexualisation … .” The editorial adds “While high performing school systems in the Asia-Pacific focus on developing literacy, numeracy and memorisation, activists are dumbing down the Australia school curriculum. The children likeliest to suffer … are those from disadvantaged backgrounds whose parents lack the means to opt out of state schools.”

Volumes of letters to ‘The Australian’ in recent days, confirm deep concerns about this latest Victorian development. It is an initiative likely to impact on other systems, one that may well become included in the Australian Curriculum.

Introducing relationship complexities to children at too young an age is of major concern. Children need to have sufficient maturity and capacity to understand what is being presented. The intention that this program be part of the early childhood and preschool curriculum in Victoria is alarming.

Northern Territory parents and teachers need to keep a careful watch on what is happening elsewhere. At the very least, schools and individual teachers must have the option of accepting or rejecting this curriculum manoeuvre. We live in an age that abhors inappropriate conduct toward minors and intensely scrutinises the conduct of educators. If teachers, particularly males, have to work with this delicate and sensitive curriculum, it could open them up to unfair criticism and accusations of using inappropriate teaching material.

BE AWARE OF HISTORY

Often we fail to take notice of educational history. It is either completely neglected or afforded a fleeting, non-comprehending gaze. As contemporaries and vthe we current crop of policy makers we move on.

From time to time, those who have been involved with education for decades will offer caution. They will advise that a particular program has nor worked in the past, offering reasons for its failure. Cautionary words are discounted, often nor being heard in the rush for change.

Much change is a revisitation to what has been trialled, applied in the past then abandoned because of its unworkability. Notwithstanding failures, such programs are likely to be picked up and introduced as new, beaut measures twenty or thirty years later – with similar results. This may apply decentralisation, boarding school education, and favoured leadership strategies.

Change is necessary but needs to be done in a way that recognises the strengths and challenges of that ‘change’ last time around.

GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS DESPERATELY NEEDED

Published in the Suns in April 1976. This for me is the number one need in our schools, especially Primary Schools.
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GUIDANCE COUNSELLORS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED

There is a desperate need for guidance counsellors to be appointed as staff members in ALL our schools. Mental health and well-being issues confronting young people demand that our system look at this as a number one priority. There are counsellors in some NT secondary schools but their main role is in the area of career guidance and vocational support. Secondary schools also have school nurses to whom students can talk. However, for the most part they are more focussed on physical well-being and social issues rather than mental health matters. No counsellors are appointed as primary school staff members.

With scrutiny of school staffing numbers under constant review, it is hardly likely that the issue is going to be addressed. However ignoring the matter, is overlooking one of the deepest seated issues of student need.

With scrutiny of school staffing numbers under constant review, it is hardly likely that this going to be addressed. However ignoring the matter, is overlooking one of the deepest seated student student needs.

Needs Not Met

The issue is one that has always been problematic. In 2003, a group of principals from around the NT met with s Education Minister Syd Stirling and told him that the need for counselling support was the number one priority confronting Northern Territory schools. That assertion was based on a survey response. The department then advertised for Well Being Teachers (WBT’s) with counselling qualifications. These teachers were engaged to support each region and work with schools on a rotational basis.

Counselling priorities for some schools were partially met while other schools missed out altogether. It soon became apparent that a well being teacher with responsibility for up to 12 schools would simply tinker at the edges of student needs. There was insufficient time for personal counselling.

The well being teacher concept was temporary. Some positions never filled. Others were vacated as incumbents applied for and won other jobs and were not replaced. Within a relatively short period of time, the program became history.

Why Primary Schools?

Issues confronting children become apparentA from a very early age. Yet it is considered that counselling is not really necessary until students reach their secondary years. This position is so wrong. Problems confronting younger children can be deep seated and unsettling. To leave them untreated will impact on developing student behaviours and attitudes. Problems and concerns confronting them, becoming an ingrained part of behaviour and attitude. One in five young people are stressed and depressed and that percentage is growing all the time. It is far better that concerns are addressed and nipped in the bud before they become insurmountable. That will not happen unless and until counsellors are appointed as staff members in our schools. This need is long overdue.