READY FOR TEACHING BEYOND TRAINING?

Ready?

Ready for the classroom misbehaviour and the management of ill-disciplined children.

Ready?

Ready to teach children as young as five about the meaning of ‘consent’.

Ready?

Ready for the NAPLAN tests which for many are an annual educational abomination.

Ready?

Ready to deal with an increasing number of parents who have no respect for education and educators.

Ready?

Ready to be weighed down by a curriculum to which elements are added and added without anything ever being deleted.

Ready?

Ready for endless exercises in professional development, which often seem to be purposeless and trite – indeed after hours time filling exercises.

Ready?

Ready for hours and hours and hours of educational input where teaching is more about data collection for systemic justification than it is for children.

Ready?

Ready for a career that so many teachers find to be disappointing and fruitless and so disenchanting that up to 70% of those graduating from pre-service into our schools, leave within five years.

Ready?

Never ready for what education is becoming.

LACK OF COMMUNICATION IS HISTORY

OUTBACK SCHOOLS ARE NO LONGER ISOLATED

Back in the early 1980s, Borroloola School was on the outback radio scheduled conducted by the Nhununbuy Regional Education Office.

The radio aerial was not very firmly attached into the ground. A horse kicked it over.

That meant for a period of time direct radio communication from the regional office was impossible.

At the time I was principal of Angurugu School on Groote Eylandt.

For some weeks, messages from Nhulunbuy to Borroloola and vice versa had to be relayed through Angurugu.

Eventually the aerial was permanently fixed into the ground and direct communication was restored.

Such was life back then and back then was not all that long ago. Communication has marched on at a rate of knots; isolation from the world is no longer a part of Outback and remote areas service.

WOMEN – APPRECIATED COLLEAGUES

I was blessed to have the chance to work with many female educators over 40 plus years. I hope I never bullied any of them. I tried to be supportive of all my staff, female and male, and tried to avoid thought and practice differentiation that went to gender: They were all professionals, all teachers. Included were senior teachers, assistant principals and finance administrators.

I tried to model my leadership style on the concentric practice approach. That is an Asian model that recognises position but does not stand on traditional hierarchical principles that have huge separation between superordinates and subordinates.

I published several papers on the subject of concentric management and my examination of the model elicited some interesting responses. The model was one that helped me in understanding all colleagues and work associates. Over the years, my workplaces were enriched by all those with whom I worked, women and men alike.

REJECTING COVID EDUCATION AT OUR PERIL

COVID AROUND THE CORNER

NO-ONE can afford to take Covid 19 less than seriously.

Too often and more frequently, we are being foolish over cautions with Covid.

Here in Australia our community is taking tremendous risks with its almost laissre faire attitude to Covid. The majority are treating physical distancing, hand washing and locational conformation through QR coding as a joke.

There are outbreaks happening from time to time in quarantine hotels and the number of repatriated people with infections is not insignificant.

Winter is coming on in Australia. We have gatherings of up to 40,000 at football matches and outdoor activities which advocate separation of people, only to have this advice ignored.

The free availability of alcohol is also diluting cautions that should be in place and practiced.

It is only a matter of time until the virus breaks out again, somewhere in Australia. And that possibility is not helped by the fact that government and authority have the slackers attitude to vaccination that can be imagined. Government is playing a game of “she’ll be right”.

For how long??

EDUCATED BY CANBERRA

THANK YOU CANBERRA

Many years ago, in the late 1970’s, I went to a summer workshop at the Canberra University. It was the best program I had ever attended for it taught me about the use of Socratic Discussion in dialogue. The presenter was Dr Nancy Letts, a ‘practitioner academic’ from one of the New York universities. Her husband (partner these days) was an engineer connected with the quality control of water in the Hudson River.

I went to a bookshop in Manuka and bought a print. It was titled “The First Supper” and exemplified the role of both Indigenous Women and women as a whole. It was based on Christ’s “Last Supper” with His disciples prior to the crucifixion. I had it framed and it occupied a special place in my office at work for many years.

Maybe I could send a copy of that print to the PM at the House on the Hill at this time for it had a relevance that has for too long been neglected.

It did stimulate a paper I wrote and that was published by the Australian and Pacific Islands Women’s Jubilee Conference in 1982. As a person who already had more than a decade of experience working in remote communities to that point in time, I wrote on the subject of why Aboriginal society (from a none-Aboriginal point of view) would be better if matriarchial governance was to replace patriarchial oversight.

So I have Canberra to thank for those insights and perceptions.

16/4/2021

WHEN THE CLOCK RESETS TO ZERO

One of the organisational contexts that has been precious over the years, is a belief in the fact that institutions should progress in an onward and upward direction. “Steady state” development has always been important. It is confirmed as a practice if what has gone before is accepted and built upon by those new to organisations. The idea that succession in office should require the successor to dump as baggage the organisational culture he or she inherited in order to start all over, is anathema.

The best organisations are those that build, accepting what has driven the particular institution to date and moving it along. There will be some changes, including practices that might be deemed redundant. By and large however, it will be a case of incoming leadership accepting existing culture and building on existing mores. Modification, refinement, revision and extension come to mind as drivers of this precept.

Suspect organisations or those that have their credence called to mind, are those in which leadership changes are generally or always accompanied by the dumping of inherited culture in order to ‘start over’. Leaders who practice this philosophy seem to be uncomfortable with other than their own ideas and perceptions. They contextualise the organisation they have inherited as threatening, until the vestiges of development occurring under previous leaders are expunged. This means ‘wiping the slate clean’ and pretending that ‘what is’ (inherited culture) ‘never was’ because it is peremptorily wiped out.

Metaphorically, that assigns everything built up over time to the waste paper bin. If organisations are build from the foundation up, its a case of big time demolition and the reduction of what has been to a pile of rubble. Leaders who are comfortable with only this operational style are not satisfied until the very foundations on which the organisation was built, are gone.

Expunging School History

Schools are organisations. The application of this principle, (tear down to build up) to schools and school communities can, in my opinion, be extremely destructive. While it might identify the Principal or Leadership Group as the sole owners of what ultimately comes to hallmark the school, damage done in ‘evolving toward’ and reaching this point can be destructive to the extreme. Organisational history and school history are wiped out; what remains are cultural scars.

Leadership so styled flies in the face of logic. It is generated by a false belief that in order for the new leader or leadership group to feel safe and comfortable within the school, its past must be dimmed until it vanishes into a never remembered past – a past that fades until fully shrouded by the ‘never was’ mantle.

Genesis 1:1 – In and Back to The Beginning

There used to be criticisms levelled about leadership changes in remote area Northern Territory schools. It was of concern that Aboriginal Schools were destabilised by the fact that incoming leaders assigned existing policies to the WPB as the first step in ‘starting all over again’. The fact that schools were always at Genesis 1:1 ‘in the beginning’ meant that little accumulative progress was made.

There used to be an advertisement on television talking about the propensity for people to take ‘two steps forward and one step back’. With Indigenous Education it became more a case of ‘one step forward and two steps backward’. This was largely the result of incoming leaders and staff members not accepting the authenticity of pre-built culture developed by those who had come, contributed, then gone.

When this happens in school contexts, the clock resets to zero and the organisation is forced to start over. The cycle of recommencement is not confined to Indigenous Schools. It happens elsewhere. It happens far too often and the happening has a deleterious impact on schools and their supporting communities.

Starting Over

There is a saying “If there is no problem, why fix it?” The answer to this question lies in an innate belief that people contemporary to organisations feel impelled to individualise the institution in order to leave upon it their mark and their stamp. They don’t want their contribution to be in any way diluted. In a school context this means incoming Principals and leadership teams don’t want what they have to offer, to be coloured or tempered by what has gone before. Rather than accepting and building upon organisational history the preference is to dump inherited culture and ideology, therefore starting over again.

Why?

It seems there is a lack of logic to an approach that discounts organisational development, attempting to return (its) time and historical clock to zero. Nevertheless it happens and not infrequently. One probably never quite knows why, so contemplation has to be somewhat conjectural.

The Question of Personal Security

Perhaps the most significant reason new leaders attempt to shed the ‘old’ and ‘established’ school practices is their desire to make a mark that is not seen to be influenced by what has gone before and therefore been inherited.

There may be concerns by new leaders they cannot get on while historical residue remains. They desire to put distance between themselves and the organisation’s past feeling that until and unless they do, they will be minimally acknowledged. They don’t want to be compared to past leaders lest that comparison shows them up in a poor light. The best thing to do therefore is to promote a ‘fade out’ of what has happened in past years. “I can’t get on while memories of your involvement linger in the background’ may apply. That being the case the ‘new’ incumbent’s aim is to “put distance” between herself or himself and past leaders.

This worry may be aggravated by the new leader or leadership group feeling uncertain or insecure in the new position. The need to ‘prove oneself’ may come from inner motivation: It may also be that the new leader has been told she or he needs to take the school in a certain direction.

The incoming leader may have been told things about the school are wrong and need to be put to rights. The need to be a ‘fixer’ has certainly been put on incoming principals appointed to various schools in the Northern Territory over the years. Unless the Principal lives up to the expectation… ! The consequence may be less than palatable.

These matters go to the heart of personal security. Often it seems those new to principalship suffer from feelings of insecurity. This is likely to be exacerbated if the Principal is taking up appointment in an interstate or intra-territory location.

Elements Impacting on ‘Person Security’ Issues

The issue of security – with its close links to personal well-being is impacted by further considerations.

1. The fact that the Principal occupies (in the NT) a non-permanent position with the maximum temporary appointment being a four year contract, adds to anxiety and can create feelings of personal disequilibrium. The Principal becomes a creature anxious to please and therefore a person who is very conscious indeed, of superordinate expectations.

2. The loading down onto schools of Government expectations with accompanying accountability and compliance requirements may make new leaders anxious to show their worth by doing it their way – where their way has close alignment to systemic policy.

3. There may be a belief held by the incoming leader that the previous incumbent will somehow continue to impose upon and influence matters at the school. It could be a case of ‘gone but not really’. This means that in terms of SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) Analysis, the previous Principal and leadership group are regarded as threatening the newly appointed leader.

This being the case, the new leader will take every opportunity possible to distance her or his predecessor from the school. There is a certain worry about new leadership being compared and contrasted with the past; this can be felt as a threat by the new leader, particularly if the previous leader was in place for a substantial period of time and during that time had built up a respect base of appreciation within the school community.

An astute leader new to a school community will carefully assess that past and aim to engage her or his predecessor in a way that enhances opportunity and builds strength for the incoming leadership team.

There is danger that if the incoming leader and leadership team predetermine the outgoing leader to be a threat, this concern may become a reality. It is not hard to imagine that if the outgoing leader perceives herself or himself to be regarded as ‘alien’, this too may become a reality. No-one who has made a sincere commitment to an organisation for a long period of time appreciates being tossed aside and regarded as distasteful. It would take a noble person indeed, to ‘suck this up’ without reacting. Incoming leaders need to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

4. It follows that new leadership may suggest that what is inherited is inferior or sub-standard. That justifies statements such as “drastic remedial action is necessary” and “things will get worse before they get better” – implying that if those within the school have been comfortable in working within an inferior environment, they will be given a good shake as the new leadership groups takes the school toward betterment.

Wise leaders take their time to carefully assess inherited environments before initiating wholesale change. While they may wish to change the way schools are branded, this needs to be done with care. Good inherited organisational practice deserves to be maintained, not tossed aside.

5. Plagiarism is an interesting juxtapositional point that comes into the equation of new leadership, particularly in Northern Territory schools. There are rapid population shifts within the Territory. It is not unusual for schools to have a turnover of one third to one half of the school student population every twelve months to two years.

With this being the case, incoming school leaders can allow processes and practices to lapse for a period of time, then re-introducing them as new ideas after twelve months or two years. This is accepted as healthy change by a client group who, not familiar with the way it was, considers these changes to be new rather than ongoing. This could apply to school assessments, reporting to parents, school marketing, methods of newsletter circulation and so on. Far from being new, these approaches are back to the past; however they are claimed as being new ideas. Undeserved credit is given to leaders for what is tantamount to recycling.

‘New’ initiatives and approaches are new to those who come later, but not to those who have been there all along. In other words, what is ‘new’ is really old hat.

Concluding Thoughts

No -one denies that school leaders (and leaders of other organisations) need to be given a fair go. Pragmatic people rejoice with leaders for and in their management and administrative successes. Those who don’t are sadly negative or inherently jealous.

However, when incoming leaders in turn deny what has gone before, wanting to minimise memories of previous leadership contribution and distance their predecessors from the current and contemporary organisation, a similar negative applies. The one is hardly better than the other.

Some leaders from the past may want to ‘push in’, being reluctant to let go. Others are more than willing to relinquish but can stay connected in a positive context as resource people.

It is behoven on school leaders to be careful lest their actions lead to negativity and generate bitter waters and bad feeling for and within their organisations.

Henry Gray

Both a Student and Lecturer

I have been both a student and a lecturer with the Northern Territory University and then the Charles Darwin University.

When we first came to Darwin in 1987 I connected with the university by developing a unit titled Sociocultural Foundations. The unit was about helping preservice teachers to understand the elements of community of which they needed to be aware both when on teaching practice and when graduating as teachers in our schools.

The unit lasted the whole academic year. It involved teachers across a number of preservice years. I was involved as a lecturer and the organiser of tutorial sessions.

The program was totally on campus, there being no such thing as online course alternatives at that stage.

I was also involved with the university as a student completing two masters programs; a Master in Educational Studies and later a Master in International Management program.

Again, both these courses were on campus.

I discovered that there are some significant advantages to working in this mode (on campus totally): However, those advantages did not emerge until I again worked at the Charles Darwin University from 2012.

By that time, online teaching albeit in its infancy was starting to emerge as an alternative. The work I did was with students both at the campus and by extension.

I was disappointed in the online model. It seemed to me that people who were studying at distance well less committed and more prone to overlook course requirements. Further, the faculty hierarchy seemed happy to excuse those who did not fulfil commitments beyond compulsory assignments submitted and exams undertaken (where applicable – and they were very minimal).

Teacher preparation is largely about groupship. That is teachers in training working together, sharing ideas, and being a group of persons together. The online model does not promote these essentials.

I don’t believe people preparing to teach can adequately complete units if they are working singly and in isolation from others.

Online modelling may help universities when it comes to the bottom line financially. It seems that if fees are paid and work minimally done, then students fulfil requirements. I found that working with online students created difficulties for quite a number who were quite borderline students. However, anyone I may have recommended to repeat a unit or not to pass the course was eventually conceded. That was the decision of those to whom I was responsible.

Online learning may have become more refined since my involvement. It would need to have changed to become a viable tertiary alternative.

WHAT IS ISOLATION

Those living and working in remote communities in the 2020’s do not understand isolation and what it means.

Most remote communities these days have access to telephone communications and the internet. Services can be irregular at times but they are there. Phone conversations, FaceTime and Zoom are available, keeping those providing remote area service with personal and professional contact opportunitie

Fax machines have been available in some places while email means that the speed of written communication has overcome the isolation and delays of snail mail as the only option for the transmission of correspondence.

My first teaching appointment was to Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1970, an Aboriginal community over five hundred of kilometres from the nearest town . A mail and supply truck came once every six weeks. We had to rely on outback radio overseen by the mission nursing station for transmission of messages. That was weather permitting and provided there was room on the schedule for our communications.

How would outback teachers cope these days?

“FEES” … A DIRTY WORD

Use of the word ‘fees’ when requesting monetary support for government schools from parents or primary caregivers, was outlawed over a decade ago. Until that time schools, when requesting extra support to assist in covering cost ts for educational extras, did not have to be so careful when wording this request.

This change was necessary because of the connotations linked to ‘the word’. Asking for a fee was seen as a compulsory demand. Public education was promoted as being free, so using ‘the word’ when requesting extra monetary support was not appropriate. At the time, both the government and the education department went to great lengths to ensure schools did not make any reference to fees. This was so off-putting and of such concern to some school leaders, that money contributed to support programs, was refunded to parents.

The issue was eventually clarified with the following statement under ‘Fees and contributions’ on the Education Department website. “Tuition for the standard curriculum program is provided free to all students in government schools.

There are three areas where you may be requested to make a contribution:

Educational items

Optional extra items

Voluntary contributions.”

A further statement clarifies the issue of voluntary contributions. “You may be asked to make a financial contribution or donation to your child’s school for a specific purpose. You are not obliged to contribute.” (Bolding mine)

The department and schools considered the embarrassment when inability to pay arose. “If you are unable to contribute to optional extra items because of financial hardship you should arrange a confidential talk with the school principal. Confidentiality, privacy and dignity will always be maintained.”

The NT Government’s Back to School Payment Scheme of $150 per child each year, helps with defraying some of the costs parents face. In particular, the vouchers can be be used to offset the cost of book packs and school uniforms.

There has always been some angst about educational costs.

Populist thinking is that in government schools, everything should be provided, with education being totally free for parents. Without parental contributions, many of the extra programs that add to extending educational opportunity would not happen.

Explaining how voluntary contributions will be used and what extras they will provide always helps. Some schools produce an information statement for parents, explaining how contributions will support these extra programs.

This helps counter misunderstandings about the way donated money is used. Without doubt, the provision of quality education is enhanced by these contributions.

ON LINE COMMUNICATION IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION

Googling the ‘Department of Education NT’ brings up a home page with links to an absolute plethora of information about education in the NT. Literally, everything anyone might want to know about education in the NT is there. It is possible to spend many hours online learning a great deal about what has happened and what is planned for education.

Online exploration leads to information about individual schools the length and breadth of the Territory. In most cases, information is reasonably up to date, providing a quite excellent picture of the attributes, characteristics and accomplishments of each school.

Sadly, this departmental and schools picture is hidden from the NT community at large, because in order to find out about what our system and its schools have to offer, it is necessary to go online. That method of discovery and exploration is not countenanced by everyone. There is also the issue of convenience and the fact that people have to program time to sit down and discover what NT Education is about. The ‘richness’ of public education in the NT remains largely undiscovered.

The NT Department of Education has a Media and Marketing Section, with part of its function being to add to online information about the system and its schools. This is done quite diligently and information is generally current. However, the question is one of whether this reaches people for whom it is intended.

The reality is that many people do not go online when seeking particulars. They prefer more old fashioned and traditional methods of contact which includes print media. For this reason, publishing good news stories and sharing educational outcomes in a more traditional manner, should not be overlooked. While there are occasional good news stories in print media, on television and radio, they are few and far between.

It would be apparent to readers of NT newspapers that the largest percentage of good news stories and coverage of system and school outcomes is from education’s private sector. Part of this is due to requirements that government schools must clear media releases through the Education Department before release. While clearance to comment on policy issues is a must, I don’t believe that school principals should be precluded from sharing good news stories about school and student successes. Having to follow vetting and clearance processes takes time and by then good news is old news.

There is a place for websites and online sharing but the use of more traditional media for the purpose of sharing, should not be discounted.