TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING

Written for the Suns Newspaper column in  August 2016.  While this fits to the Northern Territory, the tenet of this column has wide applicability.

 

TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING
Teacher turnover and short term teaching appointments are regularly raised as issues in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory education is seen as being far more fluid and mobile than elsewhere in Australia.

While dissatisfaction plays a part in teacher resignation everywhere, there are local factors that come into contention. Chief among these is the considerable number of teachers who have been recruited to the Northern Territory on short-term contracts. This was seen as necessary to fill vacancies in remote and “difficult the staff” schools.

Just a few years ago, advertisements placed in the newspapers invited teachers to come to the Northern Territory to “try the place out”. Generous relocation expenses were offered, with paid southern return guaranteed after a relatively short period of time. Such offers created the impression that teachers are doing our system a favour by being here. The idea that minimal teaching effort would be good enough, became an issue.

Fortunately, this recruitment methodology appears to have been curtailed. However, there is heavy reliance on interstate and overseas teachers taking up vacancies in “out of town” areas. Part of this has to do with the lack of remote area appeal for those who undertake teacher training at the Charles Darwin University. Many preservice teachers are mature age persons with family commitments precluding them from working outside urban areas. Others are distance education trainees, preparing to teach in their home states. Unless and until we are able to reach a point of training a higher percentage of Territory grown teachers, turnover will continue to be an issue.

Training opportunities for Indigenous teachers are provided through the Batchelor Institute attached to the CDU. There have been many initiatives over the years aimed at graduating fully qualified Indigenous teachers. However self-sufficiency in teaching terms is still a work in progress.

A factor contributing to short term teaching careers is that of disappointment with what graduation offers. Many graduates are put off by system priorities . The requirement that they teach in a way that is so focussed on formal testing and assessment outcomes is off-putting. Their wish to teach holistically, seems to be at odds with prescribed system realities. The need to spend significant amounts of time on matters ranging from discipline to paperwork accountability are also disincentives. Both graduate and experienced teachers become disenchanted. That can and does lead them to resignation and the seeking of alternative careers.

Knowing about short term teaching issues is one thing. Fixing them, is another.

APOLOGISE

One of the sticking points about life and relationships both personal and professional, is to insist that ‘your’ viewpoint is the right viewpoint. To offer and incorrect statement or recommend an action that proves to be wrong is reluctantly followed by an apology.
Within school contexts, this can have atmosphere destroying and suspicion arousing outcomes.

For teachers, it can be all too easy to make mistakes. It may be the incorrect spelling of a word, the misunderstanding of roles played by children in some dispute, or getting it wrong when it comes to a particular fact being correct or incorrect. In these instances and others, to apologise to students for a mistake or misunderstanding is important. It models a correct social attitude to children and also earns respect from children and students.

STUDENTS HAVE FUTURES FEARS

Published in Suns Newspapers August 2016

OVERCOMING FEARS ABOUT THE FUTURE

Periodic survey results confirm that children and young people are filled with uncertainty about the world’s future. Apprehensions are fuelled by all too regular stories about death and destruction by wars and pestilence. How do children digest issues that range from the Syrian conflict and terrorism to the threat of the Zika virus.

We cannot hide news of what is happening in the world from young people. Nor should we attempt to do so. They are more aware of issues than we may realise. While political, environmental and social issues are not new, media technologies mean that microscopic reporting and instant feedback give more immediate insights than in past years. Many young people have access to social media through iPhones and other personal devices. What is happening in the world is brought to their awareness through applications on these devices. Their perceptions may well be confused.

Young people also talk with each other. They discuss issues and share information in the same way as adults. The use of social media offers a communications context but children also converse about what is happening in life’s world.

Children have deep seated concerns and wonder about the future. The ‘Raising Children’s Network’ (Google) has an abundance of entries, materials and reports on the subject of anxieties confronting children. Beth Arky, writing for ‘Understood’ (Google) identifies six common fears faced by young people. Central to these are the fear of personal failure and concerns about the future. It is important that parents and teachers discuss issues with their children at home and students in classes. Part of this should be careful inquiry to ask about things that might be on their minds.

Issues creating uncertainly and apprehension cannot be explained away. However, conversations that consider matters children find confronting can help alleviate the fear that compounds when people hide their feelings and sweat on matters of concern. Sharing conversation shows that no-one is alone when it comes to worrying about where our communities, the Territory, Australia and the world are heading. Discussions at home and school can help formulate coping strategies and management ideas.

‘Behind the News’ and similar programs can help young people understand issues. These programs also help inform discussion.

Anything that can be done to offer peace of mind for young people in these confused times is important to their feelings of well-being. Understanding matters now, may help them become future solution finders.

CONSIDER CHANGE CAREFULLY

Too often new, beaut ideas are grabbed and planted into schools in a faddish manner. This may satisfy romantically inclined educators but can reduce children in schools to being educational guinea pigs.

One of the things many educators find anathema is sticking with proven approaches. Methodology which is foundationally solid needs to be built upon in incremental terms. That guarantees that teaching and learning will go from strength to strength.

Sadly, the preference seems to be that of consigning what is working to the WPB. With that done, new beaut systems are brought in as replacement technology. It seems that educators get bored with ‘same old, same old’. They toss out good, proven and working programs to push new, innovative and largely untested practices onto schools and into classrooms.

While change is important, it should be both considered and incremental. Throwing the baby out with the bath water can create learning and knowledge vacuums. Neither should children and students in our schools and places of learning be treated as experimental control groups.

I believe it important for teachers in classrooms to carefully consider changes that might me made. Including students through discussion and pre-consideration should be part of the process.

TODAY’S CHILDREN ARE TOMORROW’S LEADERS

While written a decade ago and before retirement, this topic remains highly relevant. It is included in my blog for that reason.

Today’s children: tomorrow’s leaders

 
One of the conversations I have with children, particularly older children, is to reiterate my wish that tomorrow’s world will be in the hands of fine leaders. It is suggested to children that today’s leaders while having done some good things have a lot to learn about the best way forward in leadership terms. Without hiding reality, I discuss with them the things I believe today’s leaders do well and things that could be done better.

Understanding the world in which we live
It is necessary for children as they are pointed toward the future, to understand the world in which they live, so far as that is possible. It is also important they understand those traits and strengths of character that are going to be needed in order that leaders are fine and upstanding. To raise these subjects in conversation with children is not to ‘put the wood’ on people as individuals who are making a contribution to leadership in today’s world – rather to talk with them about those qualities and attributes that need to be inherent in people who are leaders.

As one grows older, one has the opportunity to sit back and study leadership philosophy and the way people have developed as leaders (part of this is self-reflection and studying one’s own philosophy in relation to leadership strategy). Coupled with should be a willingness to change and to do things differently.  In leadership terms, it is apparent this should be the case.) I think it appropriate to make some value judgments about the positives and negatives of leaders and leadership notwithstanding it is from a subjective viewpoint. Underpinning this is a personal belief that too often leaders act for individual and possibly sectional good rather than for the good of the society in an overall context. I would like to see in leaders unequivocal honesty, ethical and social responsibility. The qualities that tend to tarnish leadership are those attributes that hang on nepotism, favoritism and differentiation in treatment of people within society by way of their origins, ethnicity and their sociological backgrounds.

Student leadership at Leanyer School through the involvement of children as elected leaders has always firmly stressed the foregoing attributes. Our primary school has had a student council for the past 19 years. Additionally, we have very strong school houses promoting sport and other accomplishments   which are led by house captains and vice-captains. We have a fine history of student leadership, with many of our student leaders going on to great accomplishments in life. It isn’t the purpose of this paper to self promote in that context but rather to uphold those attributes that can be positively inherent in organisations supporting young people so they develop those leadership qualities and characteristics that will stand themselves and society in good stead. Should readers wish for more details about our programs, we are contactable through our website:http://www.schools.nt.edu.au/leanyer.

If people are compartmentalised by those in leadership positions, this leads to a fracturing of perceptions held by some within the wider social context toward others within the same environment. The ‘worth’ of people and the regard held for them should not be influenced by race, colour or creed.

The number one issue that needs to be instilled within students (who will become tomorrow’s leaders) is the fact that everybody is equal: part of this is an expectation that everyone will be recognised for the rights they have along with an expectation they will fulfill their responsibilities and obligations towards society.

Traditionalism should not be abrogated
I wonder as an educator whether we should be ‘challenging traditional ways of doing things to empower and build confidence in young people’ to the extent this seems to be happening. There are, in my opinion, real issues confronting students these days that go to the notion of both their thinking and their communications skills. We have a world that is hanging on technological devices and appears to be supplicating our mentality to this technology. Is this wise?

At the risk of being ‘stand-alone’ (and there is plenty of opposition to my position) I suggest that there need to be limits and boundaries set on the amount of exposure young people have to technological devices to ensure thinking and reasoning are not supplanted. Furthermore, the devotion that appears to be held for and toward devices is often an escape into fantasy and fiction. We talk about the fact technology is an aid to learning and conveniently overlook the amount of time children spend unproductively engaged in pursuing games and other entertainment offering instant gratification and little more. So it is a case of the children and young people who are going to be tomorrow’s leaders ‘tuning out and switching off’. While people engaged with children who are focused computer technology in classrooms would be quick to deny frivolous usage, the fact remains that great deal of engagement with technology is of a non-educational nature.

Old-fashioned listening and speaking
One of my beliefs regarding the development of young people toward their future destiny is that they need continued immersion in traditional learning processes, which equates to old-fashioned “chalk and talk”. Children need to become skilled communicators in a variety of contexts not just than having their fingers walk across keyboards. If they are to develop as leaders their leadership skills, in my opinion, will not manifest positively if they are about Facebook, Twitter and other non-face-to-face communication methodologies.

Children need to be developed as confident communicators able to speak face-to-face accurately, clearly, cogently, and politely. They also need to be careful listeners, able to hear and respond to viewpoints held by others. They need to develop skills that go to their consideration of messages rather than an attack upon messengers.

Possibly the most vital skill that young leaders and agents of change need to develop is that of ‘listening and speaking’.  Associated with this are elements of speech and speaking that including eye contact, careful vocalisation (pitch, rhythm, pronunciation and clarity) and gesture.

The aligned communication skills of reading and writing are equally important. While modernists de-emphasise the printed word and writing according to skills of the past (including grammar, punctuation, paragraphing and spelling), I do not believe for a moment that our present generation of students would in any way be ready to take on leadership positions in tomorrow’s world without these skills being part of their communications repertoire. The online conference paper circulated prior to this conference had as one of its points for consideration the notion of student voice being ‘… genuinely sought and honoured’. For this to happen I believe communications skills and capacities have to be of the highest order. Nobody is going to seek and value the oral or written word of people if their presentation is substandard. That is certainly not the thing upon which future leadership can be hinged. Without doubt, communication skills of young leaders and agents of change need to be of the highest order. To that end, retention and reinforcement of old-fashioned teaching pedagogy is paramount.

Leaders should consider others
A paramount skill young leaders as future change agents need to develop is that of empathy. Genuine leaders consider the needs of others: They put others before themselves.

The world is full of leaders whose leadership is perceived as being about smoothing the individual way of the leader and his or her close associates. While those who put themselves forward to fill leadership roles outline what they will do in socio-economic and political context, so often there seems to be non-delivery by those elected or chosen when it comes to delivery of outcomes. That is hardly surprising: In fact it is normative for promises to be made, then broken!

These days television and print advertising uphold the benefits and advantages of putting ‘me first’! Stories in the media are often about people who are ‘me, me, me’! In the sporting domain individualism is upheld as being paramount and teamship is often downplayed. In political and economic terms there is often a mad scramble for ascendancy with ranking and pecking order being a prime focus.

This I think is a sad commentary on what leadership is about. Historical stories include recognition of those leaders who have put others before themselves.  (Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln are three standout leaders in this regard.) However, there are myriads of leaders whose records if examined would confirm that ‘self’ definitely rated above ‘others’ in consideration terms. Similarly, in all areas of occupation we run into the same situation. While ambition is commendable, the willingness of leaders to lead for others in a selfless context is to be lauded. This does not mean that those who lead should be doormats but it does suggest leadership must have a genuine concern for the group being led.

Young people are impressionable and malleable.  Many will make fine leaders in the years to come. 

It would be nice to think we are working to develop them in a way that will lead to them being fulfilled as leaders through considered service to others. If we are able to develop young people in this direction then the world will be a better place for the contribution they make.

 

BUILDING DISRUPTS LEARNING

DISTRACTIONS CHALLENGE SCHOOL PROGRAMS

While written with the Northern Territory in mind, this paper, published in the ‘NT Sun’, has applicability to all systems everywhere.

Capital works projects and major physical changes to many territory schools are presently underway. In some, facilities are being replaced, extended or upgraded. Others have outdoor area and playground restrictions in place because irrigation systems are being modified or replaced. A drive around Darwin and Palmerston, reveals many schools with restriction barriers and cautionary signage because of disruption. Schools in regional centres are also being impacted by capital works programs.

During 2015 and this year, the NT Government funded building and capital works for many of our schools. There are two elements to this initiative. One is the enhancement of school infrastructure. The second is providing a continued livelihood for building and construction firms, to counter a looming downturn in this area of economic enterprise.

A perusal of tender documentation in the NT News over past months, confirms that many schools have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for infrastructure projects. A multitude of companies have won contracts for this work.

Timing work

Timing of construction works is always problematic. Principals, teachers, support staff and students in schools where physical upgrades are happening, deserve special recognition and commendation. Many Northern Territory school campuses are presently subject to major capital works modifications.

Closed off areas restrict play opportunities for students. Recreational activities have to be modified and available space is more restricted than usual. When these works are completed, grounds recovery and lawn regrowth time will still limit access for children.

Building extensions mean that in some cases, classes have to be relocated for significant periods of time. There are often dust problems to counter, while a barrage of noise associated with work has to be tolerated by both students and staff. When facilities are restricted, timetables may need to be altered and some programs significantly modified or cancelled altogether.

Those in schools which are being disrupted, deserve appreciation and plaudits. Staff and students can and do manage in spite of these major inconveniences. They work around construction issues, carrying on with teaching and learning programs. Their resilience and resolve are to be applauded.

While the present emphasis is on building improvements and facilities enhancement, what goes on within schools is the most important of all educational considerations. Allocating money for capital improvement is well and good. However, a higher priority for schools is the channeling of funds directed toward the employment and training of staff to meet student needs. What happens within classrooms to support children, is the essence of education. This is an area that remains as a challenging priority within our system.

‘BALKANISATION’ – AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

Balkanisation, that is working in seclusion and isolation from others is anathema. Education, of all the professions, is one in which caring and sharing count. Synergy, collective energy grows and flows from those who works together is a sharing context. This is a process that is enriching the for educators. It is one where the benefits flow through to students in our classes.

In a nutshell:

* Collaboration with like minded professionals is valuable and enriching.

* From collaboration grows synergy, the collective energy that is enhancing. It uplifts those who are working together in occupational fields.

* Those working in isolation can be left behind because collaboration is increasingly a strategy whereby we work to develop our professional ethos.

Those who become balkanised, become trapped in professional isolation. Avoid ‘balkanisation’ like the plague.