It is all too easy these days for teachers to become disassociated from the classroom teaching space and somewhat “distant” from pupils in terms of the seating within. This has come about in part because of our preoccupation with computer and with the requirement that we are forever developing data to input, indicating student progress.

Unfortunately it can happen the teachers very rarely leave their tables because of attachment to this device. Communication with students across the classroom is by voice.

I believe it is important for teachers to be aware of the physical presence of the children and where those students are sitting.

As a person who sometimes worked at schools level with teachers on practice I followed the rule of drawing a map and over a period of time showing how, where, and when teachers moved around the classroom to contact students the desk level. This can be done in two ways. The first is to have a photograph of the classroom as it’s set up but without students at desks. On the face of that “blank” draw a line that tracks the route followed by teachers around the classroom over a period of say 20 minutes. The other method more simply is to draw an outline of the classroom including desk locations. In the same way track the teacher for a point in time indicating direction of movement by occasional arrows across the track path.

Student teachers always appreciated that feedback. It shows where they’ve been, how they’ve moved, which students have been contacted the most, which the least and so on. It also shows students in terms of the movement toward a teacher rather than allowing the teacher to circulate.

It is very important for teachers to spend time with each student and this is best done by getting away from the teachers table, leaving the computer, then moving around talking to students and seeing how their work at an individual or group level within classrooms is progressing.

The other great thing about this methodology is that it helps teachers to get to know students, to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses and to better understand the way they relate to each other with in the classroom. This awareness is very important and sadly often overlooked.


There is so much required of teachers, school leaders and schools that it can be hard at times to lift our heads above the parapet and smell the roses. There never ever seems to be enough time in the day, week, term or semester to complete all that needs doing. Young or old, new or experienced, teachers tend to be tired and exhausted. Added to that is the frustration of seemingly never ever completing all the tasks that need to be undertaken. The more one does, the more there seems left to do.

This can settle an air of despondency upon schools, taking from the positive atmosphere that should embrace our centres of teaching and learning. It manifests in there being less smiling between people, with lightness of spirit being absent. It can also happen that anxiety and academic focus reduces the quality of empathetic care which should be part of the school.

There are challenges about teaching but the work we do is not only essential; it should also be rewarding. Part of that joy comes from celebrating the accomplishments of students within individual classes and throughout the whole school.

Individual Student and Class Level Celebrations

* Offering recognitions for subject accomplishment by individuals, groups and the whole class. This might include notes on work, project sheets and so on. Stickers from both teacher and Principal reinforce pride children feel in tasks that are well done.

* Recognising efforts of children in extra-curricular activities (i.e. sport).

* Celebrating birthdays.

* Culmination of units of study by having a rounding activity (i.e. presentation) to which parents of children are invited.

* Reflecting positively within class the success of assembly items presented to the whole school.

* Celebrating the success of class ventures, for instance the growing of vegetables, the planting of a special tree, success in earning the school conduct or behaviour or class cleanliness award presented weekly or periodically by the unit leader or school principal.

* Placing stories of individual accomplishment or class success in the school newsletter onto the class link to the school’s website.

* Arranging through the school’s leadership team for media coverage of a quality presentation, practical project outcome, excursion success or similar.

* Arranging visits by parents to class to share the learning of children with them.

* Notes of congratulation about individual student success and accomplishment to parents. This is outside the formal reporting process.

* A personalising touch is to ask the school principal to consider writing notes of congratulation to students or classes who have cause to celebrate successful outcomes

Nothing succeeds like success. To recognise and reward student effort helps cement within children a keen desire to keep doing their very best. Tp appreciate and praise genuine effort and quality outcome is an invaluable intrinsic motivating strategy.

Celebrations at School Level

There is much that can be done to celebrate success at the whole school level. Success is a quality that can help bind the school community with a sense of togetherness which is both precious and scarce. Preoccupation with obligatory tasks and bending in response to system demands can mean that success and celebrations are overlooked. There is just no time to stop and rejoice together in accomplishments; but there should be!

Some suggestions for commemorating special outcomes and events follow.

* Consider having plaques created to mark areas of significance around the school yard that recognise people who have contributed. If the school has a caretaker, a plaque that personalises their abode is an example. Should someone create or donate a lovely garden area, an appreciative plaque naming the garden in their honour might be considered. If someone has been connected with the school for a long time, an honorary plaque or similar might mark their contribution.

* Honour boards to commemorate academic accomplishment, citizenship, musical prowess, house success into perpetuity in competitions and similar, are wonderful markers of school history. Students, growing into adults, will come back years later to revisit their successes marked on honour boards. Organisations and past school associates are often happy to sponsor the cost of boards and their annual engraving.

* Whole of school photographs taken annually and placed on walls for all to see, are wonderfully recall school history and participation of students. Present students like to visit the area where photos are mounted to see themselves as they pass up the grades and through the years. Secondary school students enjoy revisiting their primary school, to ‘remember’ themselves as they were. Years on, adults share a similar joy in viewing their past and remember the times of their childhood. Photos are great mementos.

Similarly, photos of staff and student representative councillors over the years bring with them positive reflections of past remembrances. These mementos live on for years, enabling schools to revisit their history. If schools ‘build on traditions’ this is a way of showing those who have involved with the school over time to the present day.

* Hold regular whole school assemblies which allow classes to share items with other classes, parents and invited persons.

* Over the years, school students as individuals and teams representing the school win trophies which are held by the school. Some schools choose to put trophies in boxes or cabinets to gather dust. Others have display cabinets which let visitors know about success in sport, arts and cultural events and in other activities. To have cups, shields and other artefacts on display sets an example to current students. It also sends a positive message to parents who come to enrol students.

* Celebrate school anniversaries. Holding school community events to celebrate schools turning 10, 15, 21, 30, 40 or 50 years of age makes an indelible imprint on present and past students. Anniversaries bring the school and community ‘together as one’.

* The completion and opening of new facilities is a great reason to celebrate the school. Upgrading the event to event filled gala day status can add to the specialness of the occasion. Media might be invited to attend and a print supplement in the local newspaper is possible. The striking of commemorative plaques to be permanently displayed adds an enduring touch.

* Media plays an important part in displaying schools. Using media to sell good news stories emanating from its students, classes and the organisation as a whole

affords a sense of pride in attainments. To share outcomes through media, print, TV or radio was something that I found stood schools and community in good stead.

Advising media of upcoming events, therefore using it promotionally is a good way of getting the message out. That goes a long way toward ensuring success through attendance.

* An extension of media, is to organise for the inclusion of supplements celebrating school anniversaries in local newspapers. These days supplements do not come cheaply, but can be underwritten by sponsors who carry congratulatory advertisements within the insert.

* Holding special assemblies for the presentation of key awards is a great school celebrating strategy. University of New South Wales certificate earners in Maths, Language, Computer Studies, Science and other subjects can be presented to those earning credits, distinction and high distinction awards in front of the whole school. It is a great idea to invite parents and relations of students to share in this celebration. A media story is possible.

* Holding an end of year awards presentation day or evening is a great way of culminating the school year. This can go down and include all primary school children from Transition upwards. Awards might recognise academic outcomes, effort and citizenship at each class level. Then the idea of primary awards for star students and stand-out seniors might be a part of the priogram. Having presenters of awards include key community members can add to the flavour of the evening.

Some schools ask that people or businesses within the community sponsor awards which they are invited to present during the awards program. The event is a great way of celebrating the year that is drawing to a close. It also builds anticipation toward a return to school after the long holiday break.

* A school yearbook, in print, on DVD format or available in both formats, offers an indelible memory of the year that has been. Yearbooks are great mementos. Again, costs can be defrayed through the offer of sponsorship opportunities to local families, businesses and notary public persons.

* Publicly recognising staff for contributions offered, awards received and so on is a way of offering intrinsic appreciation for enterprise and copmmitment. Quality staff members add great blessing to their schools. To show appreciation is a reciprocal action.

* Inviting key departmental personnel, notary publics and others to visit helps make the school known beyond its boundary fences. Having senior students accompany visitors around the school adds to the occasion for visitors value the chance to appreciate schools through the eyes and interpretation of students. This helps reinforce the fact that ‘schools are for students’.


The suggestions contained in this vignette are suggestions. There are many bother ways of celebrating and I have included only a selection. It is important that celebration is part of the school psyche. That is a way of building spirit and developing positive school atmosphere.

Henry Gray



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. The following examples illustrate my point.

1. Incorrect Instructions

On occasions, incorrect instructions might be given to students who are asked to complete an assignment or other piece of work. When the mistake is realised, or when it is pointed out by students or parents, an apology and correction earns respect. To discount the error is quite the reverse. If students complete work tasks based on instructional error, acceptance of the assignment rather than requiring resubmission is the better course of action.

2. Forgetting an event

The lives of teachers, classes and schools is both crowded and busy. In that context, upcoming events which require preparation, parental permission, the wearing of special clothing (i.e. swimming, costumes for an item being presented) or the need extra food because the class is going on an excursion can be forgotten. Sometimes it is too late to correct the matter so children miss out on the event or the excursion. Apologise for your mistake; don’t try to brush it over.

3. Failing to keep appointments

Appointments are made to be kept. Perchance you are not able to keep an appointment, for instance with a parent or student, make contact and apologise. Set up an alternative date and time.

4. Misjudgement

If misjudging a matter, apologise for the mistake. It can be easy to misjudge a situation involving student discipline, work completion and so on. If this happens and the mistake is yours. say so and apologise.

Teachers are models. This includes in behaviour and attitude. If something you do is wrong, say so, apologise and move on. That will be good modelling and leading by example. Apologising as necessary is part of role modelling.



All the very best for the upcoming school year to our teachers and support staff who are resuming duty for the upcoming school

year. And all the very best to those starting out on teaching careers in the NT. I hope the year goes well and that you all have cause to rejoice in your calling to the greatest of all professions.

Education Minister Uibo (NT News 22/1) is reported as saying that 32 executive contract principals signed up to the VOLUNTARY pay freeze. There was no ‘voluntary’ about it! It was demanded under duress that principals agree to the freeze – or else!


Make balanced decisions about educational appointments and teaching positions. Make sure that your awareness is balanced. There is a reality and responsibility about education that goes beyond romantic notions.


Education is often long on plans and short on action outcomes. We regularly see fantastic plans diagrammatically supported appearing on paper and on educational sites. But will plans work out?

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I have seen far too many plans, diagrams and theoretical depictions over the years which at the end of the day go nowhere in outcome terms. Nor do they effect any real or meaningful change.

That is not knocking concept creators but simply making the point that their work often fails in leading to logical does not change for practitioners in classrooms.

Pretty diagrams do not lead to meaningful action and positive outcomes by simple visual depiction.

Teachers are often asked to do more and more and more, with less and less and less appreciation.

Planners need to make sure that contact with teachers in classrooms is well and truly maintained.

Ensure that things are working out for them, for they are sorely burdened with a greater and greater onus of responsibility being foisted up on them. It is critical that the gap between schools and the support section of the department is narrowed. Relations between the two areas need to be symbiotic. Too often there is antagonistic and reluctant cooperation.


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 will assist 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.


*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,




*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.


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


As a long term (now retired) NT Educator, I don’t get it! Neither might the 32 executive contract principals who signed on to a wage freeze for three years because of government austerity.

There are plenty of examples of how the government, which jumped on executives several months ago to agree salary freezes or suffer the consequences, has continued to splash, splurge and waste money in the time following the imposition of that requirement.

None better than the purchase of TWO double page advertisements in recent days, letting the public know about a brand new school and back to school vouchers.

For what end one might ask. Gee, I have to wonder!


The new appointment for Alf Leonardi, the most influential person on the 2017 120 NT most powerful list is fully understandable. His appointment to a newly created executive position is a windfall for the Department of Education. Fast tracking him into this new position will enrich the executive group of this key department.

How about our university valuing and appreciating local students, people within the territory as well as appealing to International Students. Why are international students regarded as “cash cows” and saviours of the Northern Territory economy. They should be thought of as “people” rather than “moneybags”.

All the very best for the upcoming school year to our urban teachers and support staff who resume duty on Friday. (Rural staff have a few extra days to go). I hope the year goes well and that challenges become celebrations after they are met.


There is a lot of denial going on at the moment. The major area of denial is in the domain of climate and climate change. Hopefully that matter will move beyond debate to action and the sooner the better.

Within the educational domain there are also deniers and a deep field of denialism. One of these fields embraces language acquisition and skills necessary for the development of reading skills. “Phonics” versus “whole word analysis” is the case in point. It’s an important debate, because so many children these days are well and truly behind the eight ball when it comes to reading competencies. That’s not just in the area of formal testing comparison, is but also within the domain of intelligent understanding and comprehension of the written word and messages being conveyed through text.

As a retired school principal and a person who for the whole of my teaching career was very keen that students receive the best possible teaching approach for the acquisition of understanding of language, I found the following except from an article very empowering.

The paragraph is lifted from an article by Greg Sheridan written into “The Week and Australian Review” of January 11 and 12th 2020.

In a few short words it reinforced my belief in phonics is a superior method of word understanding and language acquisition..

This is what Sheridan wrote.

“At Christmas, Tatiana received a book from her great grandmother, my wife’s mother. It was a children’s fantasy story, not a picture book, and full of pretty tough words and even some anachronistic English expressions. Tatiana read it out loud like an ABC newsreader. I am astonished at her fluency. The odd word she didn’t know she sounded out very effectively. Phonics really works. Perhaps one word in 80 I finally had to help her with. Her reading is attributed to her school and to her parents, and of course to her own innate curiosity.”

While the study of whole words is interesting it is a part of the way in which children satisfy the curiosity, it’s the “root” of learning that is so important and can be satisfied only by phonetic study.

Points to ponder


The NT Government sports voucher scheme for urban and rural students offers tremendous support to parents needing support in defraying costs incurred by their participating children. It is to be hoped that the scheme, available to everyone, will be taken up by families. Children need activity that goes beyond keyboards and screens.

I cannot understand the exponentiality about the construction costs of new schools. In the early 1980’s four new primary schools including one in Alice Springs were built for a total of $16 million. These days one school sets government back for well over $30 million. How come? Is government being ripped off?

Kylie Lang’s column (NT News 13/1) is spot on in calling out a real and growing issue facing teachers – disinclined and thuggish students who are the offspring of recalcitrant and disinterested parents. We have many great students but the challenge of the growing negative cohort is threatening the essence of teaching and education.