SPEAK UP

As educators we are, in contemporary state and (as am I, retired) a huge group with diverse experience. I believe we too often ‘suck it up’ in terms of what comes down to us from on high. We are far too reactive, in a grudging and passive way, and insufficiently bold when it comes to being proactive professionals.

We need to speak out more often. We allow ourselves to be beaten around our professional ears in a sadly supplicatory manner. We need to be confident, bold and forthright, speaking out in confidence but with our utterances predicated on careful thinking. Too much happens we let happen through non-response.

We speak a language to each other ‘below the table’ out of the hearing of superordinates. We need to come of of the professional closet and reveal our thinking in a wider domain. We need to abandon fright and hesitation

VALUE and LEARN from EDUCATIONAL HISTORY

While based on the Northern Territory, there is a need for educational history to be appreciated and respected on a global basis.

EDUCATIONAL HISTORY SHOULD NOT BE DISREGARDED

One of the sad deficits confronting Northern Territory Education is the lack of recorded history. Very poor attention has been paid to recording past developments.

When appointed as the CEO of Northern Territory Education in 2009, Gary Barnes highlighted this issue. He said there was little documentation on system history to which he could refer. This limitation put him in a challenging position. He identified the lack of historical information as a major oversight.

Nothing happened before 1992

The Department of Education computerised many of it’s systems in 1992. Manually compiled records developed prior to that date are not readily accessible. Inquiry about earlier matters often go unanswered because nobody has access to requested information. It is not uncommon for long term and now retired educators, to be rung and asked if they can recall answers to historical questions. It is almost as if the foundational years of NT Education never happened.

A priority should be retrieval and electronic recording of what remains of NT educational history. Ideally, that project should embrace individual schools, educational regions and the system as a whole.

A way of starting might be to create a web page which invites people to input information either anecdotally or more formally. This could be periodically moderated and formatted.

Some Data

Some schools have better historical recall because of document preservation. School newsletters, yearbooks and school council documentation are three sources providing information about their past. A few have even compiled school histories. Parap School for example, celebrated its 50th anniversary with the release of a book which summarised its years of growth and development

However, there has been no concerted effort on the part of our system or most schools to compile a documented record about development.

This deprives newcomers the chance to appreciate the background of schools. It also means that principals and system leaders are “starting over” when it comes to considering future school and system direction. Changes made without considering history can lead to past mistakes, or poor policy decisions being revisited.

It is important to look ahead. However, awareness of the past should inform the future. Reflection can help avoid revisiting pitfalls at both school and system level. It is rather sad that public education in the NT, in looking forward, seems to discount what happened in the past. Our lack of recorded history needs to be addressed.

SCHOOLS NEED ‘JOY SEASONS’

JOY SEASON [IN THE NT]

The last weeks of Semesters offer students, teachers and school communities the chance to enjoy activities that can be overlooked. For many schools these weeks allow celebrations that go beyond academics. NAPLAN tests are over. Primary and secondary school students are about to enter a four week holiday break. This is a period that allows for some quiet reflection on the year to date. It provides a chance for students and staff to participate in some of the more non-academic but vital pursuits associated with school experiences. Activities that help build school spirit and camaraderie can include the following.

Major assemblies featuring class performances.
Dry season concerts, often held outside at night.
End of semester school discos.
Overseas exchanges with sister schools.
Intra school athletics carnivals .
Shared sporting and cultural activities between schools.
School community breakfasts.
Open days and school fetes.

The focus on academics and assessment programs, poses a danger that these respite times and activities can be put on the back-burner or overlooked altogether. Including these activities provides balance for students. They should be included in school calendars.

The social and emotional aspects of student development are supported by these and similar activities. They offer children a chance to relax and recognise non classroom abilities in each other.

Not wasted time

Some would reason there is no place in our schools for activities of this nature. Their argument is that each minute of every school day should be devoted to the academic aspects of school life. However, children and teachers are human. They need and deserve the chance to associate though activities designed to build school spirit. The importance of these shared opportunities cannot be overstated.

Building tone, harmony and atmosphere within schools is an enormous challenge. Visitors gain instant impressions about how the school feels. The spirit that exists within schools, grows from the synergy or collective energy developed within and between students and staff. It’s the association that comes from sharing happy times that builds toward the tone and atmosphere sensed by visitors and others. In turn, the reputation of schools is either positively or negatively judged by this feeling of comfort.

It is sharing collective times together that helps in building these perceptions. The “joy times” help create an everlastingly good impression about schools. That is appreciated by those within and appreciated by the community at large.

Note: While written for Norrthern territory conditions, this paper has applicability, through adaptation, to fit all scghools everywhere.

GIVING BACK

I am entering my fifth year since retiring as a full time educator and school principal. Experience grows upon us all. It’s incremental and in line with the number of years we have been working along with the classification of positions we have held. As experienced educators, we should consider coaching, mentoring and retaining an interest in our profession.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who saw their way clear to help us during the years of our development. The best way of honouring that debt is to give back in the same way, to those who follow bus into the educational profession.

To walk away without considering those coming behind is almost unprofessional. As educators, both present and past, we are members of a fraternity. Education is a giving profession. There is joy in giving back and supporting those following in our footsteps.

Do for others what was done for you.

KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE

STUDENT SAFETY A TOP PRIORITY

Our schools have a responsibility for students that goes well beyond teaching and learning. Issues of safety and security are front and centre for teachers and school leaders.

All schools have plans for managing emergency situations. Included are procedures for response to cyclones and fires. Some have lockdown procedures. Awareness of plans and the reason for their need is discussed with students. When children know why emergency plans are important, concerns about their existence are eliminated.

Things have changed

As we entered the 21st century, few of our schools were barricaded from the community by fences and gates. This has changed and to the point where most schools are behind barricades which discourage unlawful entry. Perimeter fences have become the norm. Many schools have second layers of tougher fencing encircling buildings and facilities.

Security systems have been installed in most schools during recent years. These are switched after hours, at weekends and holiday times to security firms, enabling a quick response in the event of break-ins. Schools are under survelliance on a 24/7 basis. In more and more schools, this form of security now includes monitoring by CCTV cameras and sophisticated survelliance devices.

Caretakers and janitors have responsibility for opening gates and buildings in the mornings, then locking them after hours. Arming and disarming security systems is part of their responsibility.

For the first time there were bomb scares in NT schools in recent months. Threats were handled professionally and maturely by schools and the Department. Importantly, there was no panic among students or staff. Responsible reporting and management minimised undue parental concern. This threat may now be the number one concern for schools.

Last week it was reported (James Tomkinson, The Conversation) that bomb threats during the second week of May, were directed at 85 schools in the UK and USA. He reported that ” the schools were evacuated, resulting in panic and disruption for staff and students.”

This type of threat seems to becoming more common-place. It is to the credit of our department and school councils that planning for the management of disruption and threat is an uppermost priority. Where possible, fire drills and other rehearsals are carried out. These familiarises all concerned with understanding of what needs to be done if emergencies arise.

Many schools now have SMS contact with parents, allowing group messages to be sent in the case of emergency. This also helps in the case of urgency contact with individual parents.

It would be foolish to suggest that mishaps and emergencies never occur. However, the safety and security precautions school have in place, together with their ability to make immediate contact with parents, should be reassuring.