CART BEFORE THE HORSE IN LITERACY NOT THE WAY TO GO

CART BEFORE THE HORSE IN LITERACY

Literacy exponents extol the virtues of reading and writing. These two disciplines are paramount when the subject is being discussed. It seems that success and understanding in the literacy domain depends on the abilities of students to read and write. Certainly it is the reading and writing elements of literacy that are appealed to during the NAPLAN testing regime.

How sad it is that listening and speaking are often overlooked as important components of literacy. Listening is the first element that comes into play and from the first day a child is born. From listening comes learning, the ability to comprehend and think.

Similarly but at a slightly later stage, speech develops and with it comes communication based on oral exchange.

It is the listening and speaking elements of literacy that are too often put at nought, with the focus going to treading and writing in almost a premature manner.

In short, there are four quadrants to literacy, all developing at different times but all important in developing literacy for and in children. Let’s not discount the first and second quadrants, listening and speaking, but accord to them the importance they deserve.

Minimising the significance of listening and speaking and focussing only on reading and writing is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.

NAPLAN ONLINE WILL BE FRAUGHT

I’d be welling to bet pounds to peanut shells that the 2020 NAPLAN online program will be fraught with difficulties and challenges. Those challenges will manifest themselves during the peak time tests are being completed.

The pilots this year threw up a lot of difficult situations for trialling schools. Those difficulties were duplicated all over Australia. The ‘panacea’ of offering supplementary written tests for students who were fouled online was hardly a palatable alternative. Without doubt, many students would have thought of themselves as guinea pigs.

Silence NAPLAN was introduced in 2008, there have been pros and cons about the legitimacy and value of the testing regime. With the actual process of test administration via booklet and pencil reasonably settled, why was there a need to returned to the age of experimentation by going the online route. The need for mucking around with process does little to enhance the functionality of the tests.

I’ve heard that the online alternative will allow students to be given tests over a number of weeks rather than curtailment to the three May days that currently apply. Quite apart from the possibility of compromising the confidentiality of test questions, the agony of testing preoccupation will be stretched out over time for students and teachers.

And all this for what real gain other than playing around with students, their parents, schools and their teachers yet again.

THE PRACTICALITY VACUUM

The Practicality Vacuum

The most major blunder both historically and contemporarily in sending people to teach in remote communities, is a failure by authorities to equip them with the knowledge and understanding needed to handle altogether different living and working environments.

While some preparatory inservice may be offered, it is often by people within education departments who have had little or no experience of living and working in remote communities. The inservice usually has more to do with departmental expectation than covering issues to do with the personal and living needs of intending staff.

General Living Needs

* People going to remote communities need to know the status of local stores. What foods are sold, what clothes are carried, what other necessities are available for local purchase.

* Is the freight free perishable concession available to staff and their families.

* If so, in what condition do freight free perishables arrive in the community. Are goods home delivered or do they have to be collected from a community depot. Are staff notified when the goods arrive.

* Information about climatic conditions willassist in the choice of clothing, bedding and other household necessities.

* Are homes and the school on reticulated electricity, grid supplied power, or individual power generators. Is power 24/7 or limited. Are power outages frequent or irregular.

* Are local roads welcoming of conventional vehicles or is a four wheel drive unit necessary’

* Does the school have a vehicle and is it available to staff for business related or private use.

* The state of housing including available furniture, fittings and general condition of houses needs to be communicated. This includes knowledge of gardening and vegetable growing opportunities and the availability of water for irrigation.

* Is home (and school) maintenance the prerogative of the local community or are contractors flown in to handle these issues.

* In terms of communication, is internet available and reliable. Is there satellite coverage for communication and television. Are there costs to be borne by tenants or users for access.

* Be aware of banking and postal facilities. It can help to make contact with a preferred bank or credit society before leaving on appointment. In particular, check on the availability, reliability and cost of ATM services.

* Are homes secured by the use of crimsafe, door locking devices and CCTV in an ‘any’, ‘some’ or ‘none of these’ contexts.

* What is the community history in terms of break-ins to homes and school during the past five years. Has there been an increase or decrease in security breaches.

* Are homes and the school compound secured.

* Is the community ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ in terms of alcohol. Are there substance abuse issues.

* If the community is dry, are staff able to negotiate permits to bring in and consume alcohol in their own homes.

* Is there a police presence in the community. Is that a permanent or occasional presence. Is there a police station.

* Is there a health clinic and what are its operating hours. Do health Department staff include registered nurses and qualified Indigenous health professionals.

* Is there a resident or visiting doctor.

* Can counselling or psychological support services be engaged to meet needs of staff and school students if this is necessary.

* Is the community serviced by an all weather road and/or air access should medical evacuation be necessary.

Personnel

* Is there any pre-existing formal agreement that has been drawn up to cover the living and working expectations held by the community for staff. Does this include expectations held by teachers and other appointees for the way in which they will be regarded and treated within the community.

* Are there expectations held for or demands placed on teaching staff after hours and at weekends.

* Is it possible for staff to access town’s or regional centres during weekends by road or air. If by air, what are the costs associated with RPT (regular passenger transport) routes or airplane charter.

Other Essential Considerations

* Knowing HOW to teach is important. Will teachers be told if there is a better way of covering particular classroom issues. Do assistant teachers have the confidence to work with teachers in a team sense that covers this need.

* Teachers coming into communities need to understand the responsibility of modelling. History reveals that community leaders are keen for teachers to respect and to live according to their basic cultural precepts. To this end, the expectation is that teachers will live by their inherent cultural principles and not abrogate or water down these standards and expectations These things would include:

* Being time conscious and not cribbing on school day time expectations.

* Sticking to agreed school rules.

* Living by firm cultural principals of verbal respect and politeness.

* Speaking appropriately, using standard grammar and enunciation.

* Being a careful listener.

* Respecting Indigenous culture.

* Dress appropriately and respectfully; understand modest dress codes.

* Ensuring teachers have essentials before going to the community. Consider items like

* nail clippers,

* hair cutting scissors,

* sufficient comfortable clothing (serviceable and practical without being over the top fashion wear or ragged, torn and stained clothing),

* a good supply of underwear,

* hats,

* sunscreen,

* deodorants,

* insect repellent,

* shower accessories,

* items relating to personal hygiene,

* other personal essentials sufficient to meet basic needs.

* These will tide new staff over until they are able to ascertain the local availability of these and other essentials.

* Footwear, with a strong recommendation on practical, sturdy and protective shoes or light boots.

Practical Benefit Ideas

* Learning or knowing how to cook using tinned fruit and vegetables may well be an advantage. Tinned products are often more readily available than fresh produce. A concern about fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and meat can be its age and condition by the time it arrives in local stores.

* Knowing how to make bread, cook cakes and make biscuits can help.

* A frypan, bread making machine and croc pot are versatile and practical cooking aids.

* Having a contract person or business in a city or large regional town can help when it comes to organising necessities that may be in short supply or which become unavailable locally. With this would be an arrangement covering ordering and paying for goods.

Endpoint

These are some pointers that may well help those contemplating or preparing to work in remote communities. It is important for those going to teach in more remote schools to be well prepared for life and living in their new locations.

Henry Gray

September 13 2019

THE THIRD OF THREE LITTLE NAPLAN STORIES

STORY THREE: THE REWARDING PIZZA MAN

One year after NAPLAN details had been released, I had a visit from a man who owned a pizza shop. I knew him but not well. He wanted to shake my hand and in so doing, congratulated me on the stand-out success achieved by our year five NAPLAN cohort. They had ‘earned’ green bands for NAPLAN outcomes at the year five level. That compared more than favourably with many other schools where results were red banded.

The pizza man wanted to revealed our year five students with a pizza lunch.

I thanked him but declined the specifics of his offer. In doing that, I told him that all our students did their very best including children in classes not undertaking the tests. They worked hard to live our school motto ‘together as one’. We would be happy to take him up on his offer if it was available to all our students rather than a select group identified on the basis of test results. That was the arrangement put into place.

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FURPHIES ABOUT EXECUTIVE CONTRACTS FOR PRINCIPALS

What a Load of Old Rope

In the late 1980s, Principals participated in a discussion with the Public Service Commissioner about becoming contracted. On offer would be dollars, a car and the promise of executive importance.

Salary offers seemed huge in terms of quantum leap. Contracts would recognise the importance of “Principalship” and recompense the position accordingly. These employment agreements with enhanced remuneration would be four years long – which may have seemed like a stretch into the future!!!

But, with the invitation came non-negotiable positions. Contract Principals would unhinge from the public service with no fall-back position. They would be temporary employees facing the end-game when contracts came up for renewal. However, they felt reassured by conversations and believed that contract renewal might be almost automatic.

Principal’s cars were not add-ons but leasebacks with a salary contribution paying the lease but they came with “free” fuel card. It was the card that sold the option.

“Temporary Contract Principal’s employer benefits” were paid by employee contributions. So principals paid the employer’s contribution to their superannuation. It was no longer salary plus super but salary minus super. However this was touted as salary sacrifice so it was supposed to be good!!

Holiday entitlement changed. Twelve weeks (six on leave and six on stand down) was reduced to five before in more recent years being upgraded to six weeks of annual leave entitlement.

There have been changes by stealth: they are radical and un-negotiated. A major one from around 2006 on was the reduction of four-year contracts to 2 years +2 on extension after a substantial review. Principals performance management around which the review is based are very extensive.

There have been a number of instances in the Territory where Principals were told they formally satisfied Performance Management criteria, only to be shot down a short time later over matters touted as being about their incompetence or inability.

Elsewhere in Australia those in Principals positions retain permanency and a guaranteed baseline salary with extra performance being recognised by higher duty or allowance payments. This recognises the jobs they do but from the viewpoint of assured future positional opportunity. What they have is a fallback position which is about substantive, permanent occupancy. When accepting promotions they don’t have to resign permanent Public Sector positions.

In the Northern Territory, those accepting Executive Principal positions must resign from permanency with the Northern Territory Public Service.

I believe in hindsight that Northern Territory Principals were foolish to accept what are essentially non-guaranteed contracts..

With the passing of time, relativities have changed and contractual benefits have been eroded. “Shrinkage” means that the quantum between salaries paid to contract officers versus others has lessened. The extrinsic factors of benefit between contract and permanent positions have reduced. And at the same time intrinsic rewards (feelings of job satisfaction) have taken a deep dive.

The latest Gunner Government imposition was unheralded and a further attack upon any certainty principals feel about their employment. As temporary officers they have been placed under severe duress by the government’s edict that increments for executive contract holders will be frozen for three years. They have been ordered to sign away their entitlements to recognition as front line people working with students, staff and their communities on a daily basis.

Maybe, Principals are not “Dare to be Daniels”. Maybe they should have spoken out more about issues over the years and been more public in declaring their position on issues. (I can recall in the period prior to contracts becoming the norm that principals were far more confident when articulating their viewpoints on issues.) People on temporary contracts with no fallback position when they conclude, are hardly going to be robust when it comes to publicly countering declared and imposed government employment policy.

In the present bleak context it is to the credit of our Territory Principals and the NT Principals Association that they have taken a firm countering stance.

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THE SECOND OF THREE LITTLE NAPLAN STORIES

STORY TWO: THE FRUSTRATED STUDENT

Colin (not his actual name) was a Year Five student. He was send to my office with an exercise book sporting a severely crumpled and significantly torn page. With Colin and his book, came an accompanying note from his teacher. The class was practising persuasive text, a NAPLAN requirement at the time. With his class, had been practising day after day after day and he was fed up!

I sat down with Colin and his book and a dispenser of adhesive tape at my office conference table. While smoothing the page and refastening it into the book with tape, I spoke to Colin. It went like this:

“Colin, every year we have NAPLAN tests for year three and five students. We do some practice, especially for writing. You don’t like all the build-up to the tests. Guess what? Your teacher doesn’t like the tests, other students and teachers don’t like the tests and I don’t like the tests. A lot of people in the Education Department don’t like the tests. But Julia Gillard our Education Boss in the Australian Parliament and her boss Kevin Rudd the Prime Minister do like the tests. So we all have to suck it up and do the tests. That’s the way it is, so just do the tests like swallowing a medicine.”

Colin understood. There were no more tantrums and he kept ruffled feathers in check.

Students need to understand the issues that background these tests. My experience with Colin helped me understand that the issue of test ‘why’s and wherefores’ needed to be discussed with and understood by them. So the sharing of information including the reason for their existence, were things I discussed with students from there onwards.

THE FIRST OF THREE LITTLE NAPLAN STORIES

Over the next few days, I have three little NAPLAN stories to share. They come from my years as a school principal.

STORY NUMBER ONE: THE GURU GIVES ADVICE

All principals were called to a meeting, to view one of the endless PowerPoints that has been developed around all manner of educational issues. This one was on preparing students for NAPLAN testing. The presentation went through frame after frame after frame of test questions at particular levels. We were told how classroom teachers might tackle ‘teaching the test’ to students, with the material presented being based on past tests.

At the end of this long presentation the presenter who was an educational guru, told we principals to absolutely prioritise preparation for upcoming NAPLAN tests. Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 teachers needed to set aside all other learning and activities in order to focus on preparing students for tests. The presenter had the imprimatur of the Education CEO to gives us this advice. It was NAPLAN or bust.

I could take no more. I made an appointment to see the CEO and told him what we had been told about his advice. The CEO was not happy about what had been stated on his behalf. He came into our meeting at a later time and told us all to ignore the advice.

PRINCIPAL CONTRACT CONUNDRUMS

Following a review in 2018 of the Northern Territory’s rather parlous financial situation, there were a number of recommendations made on the issue of restoring some financial stability.

One of the suggestions was that the Executive Contracts of 620 Executive Offices employed by the Northern Territory Government should be modified so that salary increments of 2.5% per annum were not applied for the next three years (2019 to 2021).

The Chief Minister’s Department and Michael Gunner personally “required“ that executive contract holders sign a waiver endorsing their willingness to forego these increments for the period suggested. In doing this it was inferred that these people were not necessarily “frontline“ workers.

The Northern Territory Principals Association Contract Principals quite legitimately objected, on the grounds principals are indeed frontline workers and that’s what their positions are all about.

Chief Minister Gunner is adamant that those principals who do not sign (the majority) will have further contracts adjusted to reflect the fact that they did not sign up for the increment freeze. Any contracts negotiated will be at the 2019 salary level.

I personally congratulate Principals and our Association for taking the stand maintained. It’s true to say that they have been well and truly supported by the Australian Education Union (NT) Branch and the Council of Government Schools Organisation.

Part of this has been my appreciation of and admiration for the Association being quite public about the issue.

It will be interesting to see where this happens to finish for at the moment there is no conclusion to the issue. In making these bold “requirements” without negotiation I believe the present government is presuming that it will be re-elected for a further four year term in 2020. Recent polls suggest that there is no guarantee this will be the case.

If an alternative government is elected in just under 12 months time, I wonder whether or not the increments that have been frozen for people who signed the waiver will be reinstated. Further, will those who haven’t signed the waiver have future contracts penalised under a different government regime.

There is a lot of water to go under the bridge on this issue in the months ahead.

In writing this blog I declare my life membership of the Northern Territory Principals Association.

Henry Gray

September 8 2019

MANAGING THE SECOND ICEBERG

The one tenth (or percentage) of positively focused work and learning oriented, focused and motivated students who are visible as the pride of schools, do a great deal as ambassadors to support and indeed to lift the profile of those schools. These are the students who encourage enrolments from parents looking for the best educational opportunities for their children.

A rather sad juxtaposition however is that students whose negative profiles are hidden from view seem to be ignored, with their poor behavioural and social practices being swept under the carpet. Too often it seems those responsible for school administration and leadership do not want to take the issues created by negative behaviours “by the horns” seeking a resolution. Thus the poor behaviour and the negative influence of the students lives on and becomes ingrained is a part of the school culture. While the negatives are somewhat trousered from public view, they significantly impact on other students and teachers. There are a plethora of studies and reams of Facebook statements that attest to this reality.

Historically speaking matters of student discipline may have been too harshly managed. However, aberrant behaviours and their dysfunctional outcomes were not ignored. It is unfortunate that so often those in charge of schools do not want to know about behavioural challenges and negative

manifestations that are part of student profiles.

Anecdotal stories in their thousands abound of teachers who have to manage students, keeping an awareness of disciplinary need away from the leadership teams of the schools. If teachers cannot cope they are deemed to be poor, inept and often a nuisance to their superordinates.

this whole situation is threatening to rebound very very negatively upon schools all over Australia. Everywhere, if posts are to be believed and studies to be accepted, there are teachers looking for “out” when it comes to teaching.The exodus is already impacting upon our schools and it is going to become a departure of massive proportion in the near future.

There is a problem to be fixed and the onus for that fixing rests on individual school administrators and leaders. To leave it go will add to the growing problems that I have outlined.