About pooroldhenry

I was a long term Northern Territory (NT) Educator, commencing my teaching career in WA in 1970. We came to the NT in July 1975 and worked in remote, town then urban communities. My tenure in the NT was at Numbulwar School (1975- 1978), Angurugu Community School on Groote Eylandt (1979-1982), Nhulunbuy Primary School (1983-1986), then Karama School (1987-1991) and lastly Leanyer School (1992 until retiring in January 2012). I filled the position of school principal from 1977 until my retirement. My career started at Warburton Ranges in WA as a teacher in 1970 then as headmaster in 1974. My major focus on and belief in education is that it develop children and students holistically, preparing them for the whole of life. Educational partnerships involving staff, students, community and department have always been important. I am a Fellow and Lifetime Member of the Council of Education Leaders, a Life Member of the Association of School Education Leaders (recently rebranded as the Northern Territory Principals Association) and was awarded the Commonwealth Centenary Medal for contribution to education. A member of Toastmasters International I am an Advanced Toastmaster Gold (ATMG). I hold a number of degrees and remain actively interested in and contributive to education. A highlight of my 'recent' life (from 2011 until 2016) was contributing to Teacher Education at Charles Darwin University. This has involved marking, tutoring and lecturing in a part time capacity. I was also involved with our Department of Education (NT) as a member of the Principals Reference Group (2012 until 2016) and have worked with others on the establishment of a Principals Coaching and Mentoring program. From 2014, I was the Education Minister's Nominee on the NT Board of Studies until its reconstitution in July 2016. Prior to retirement from full time work I represented the Education Department on the Board (2009 - 2011). I was working in support of students enrolled with the School of Education at CDU from 2012 until 2017. I enjoyed the chance to give back to the profession which over many years has done much for me. From July 2013 until the end of June 2019, I wrote a weekly column about educational matters for the Darwin/Palmerston /Litchfield 'Suns' Newspapers and then the rebranded 'Suns Newspaper' with Territory-wide circulation. This newspaper ceased publication in June 2019. I occasionally write for other papers and am a contributor to professional magazines and online discussion about educational matters. Included were regular contributions to the Australian Council of Education's 'e-Teaching' and 'e-Leading' publications, which ceased as communications organs in December 2017. I hold retired member's status with the Australian Education Union (NT), contributing occasionally to union publications. I am presently working on developing a series of vignettes, aimed at providing information that pre-service and beginning teachers may find useful. They are oriented toward assisting with an understanding of practices that may assist meet professional and teaching needs. To date, 89 of these have been completed. I contribute to general conversations and various groups on ‘Linked In’ and am also a contributor to ‘The Conversation’. I have a blog site at henrygrayblog.wordpress.com and invite you to access it at any time should you so wish. Henry Gray February 28 2020


There is one problem and one main problem only that underpins indigenous education. It’s that of school attendance.

I have been connected directly and indirectly with remote education (both as a school principal and an interested follower in retirement) and can tell you that non-attendance, disrupted schooling and “gapped” education is an issue of a half century or longer. It is the most enduring problem confronting indigenous education.

It stands to reason that with so much missed education, particularly in early years when key learning takes place, that aboriginal students are not going to succeed either within their communities or if they’re taken away into boarding contexts.

The problem can be fixed but people won’t bother. Take it from me that I had success in overcoming issues of school attendance.

For years I was principal of Angurugu School on Groote Eylandt and we overcame the problem; Angurugu now has the worst record for school attendance of any indigenous school in Australia. It’s not alone for chronic non-attendance is a problem everywhere but is one that educational systems will not confront.



These days it is easy for teachers to become “captured” by the computers. They become “jailed” at their teachers table.

This happens because of the emphasis placed on darter collection and analysis. Everything comes back to data driven outcomes. That being the case it is all too easy for teachers to be so focused on data collection that the computer is a constant companion. Rather than moving around the classroom and working with children there is a tendency to be deskbound asking children to really deliver results so they can be input those into computer.

This in turn encourages children to ‘one-way traffic’ from their desks to the teachers table. The teacher stays desk-bound.

It is necessary in my opinion the teachers of all students, particularly early childhood and primary children to be among them, moving from desk to desk.

Data of course it does have to be input but if that takes priority over the mechanical manifestations of teaching and working directly with students then something needs to change.

It is important that teachers be aware of and make “mind notes” of the amount of time they spend locked at their tables with their computers. That ought not to be the major percentage of time occupation.

I believe the children respect teachers who move among them. That movement is also necessary for teachers to get to know their pupils in the best possible way.

Teachers do have to spend time at their desks with their computers, but it should be reasonable and not overdone


Teacher needs in terms of planning, preparation, recording and data inputting, along with other benefits have come a long way since pen and paper, then later typewriters were the only available recording tools. Without doubt, computer and iPad options have been enhancing for teachers in terms of these functions.

With the emphasis these days focussed as it is on data and recording, there is a tendency for teachers to become desk-bound and screen-focussed, inserting data and results onto their electronic records. That is fine, but we ought not forget the importance of moving around the classroom engaging with students. That personal contact is important and can easily become lost because of screen fixation.

Another ‘beware point’ is to watch that children are not engaged in activities that offer ‘filler’ time for teachers for data and recording purposes. Silent reading is an example. There needs to be a focus about sustained silent reading (SSR), an activities outcome. It ought not be a period of time that is provided simply to facilitate administration.

Be conscious of the need to move around the classroom between, among and engaging with students. Children value contact and appreciate teachers who take interest in them individually as well as class collectively.



Singing is one of those things children love doing. It is also something many teachers feel concerned about, when it comes to personal vocalising adventure. For some reason or other, many teachers are reluctant to engage in signing with children at classroom level. In many schools these days, music programs are vested in singing and instrumental teachers. The domain is one into which classroom teachers, even those of early childhood children, rarely engage. That may be because of self-consciousness, embarrassment or because they genuinely believe they have no musical talent.

Singing is something I enjoyed with children in many different school settings, in grades at all levels and in all kinds of schools.

I don’t profess to be an expert in musical terms, but enjoyment should be the key to singing. Holding a tune helps, but for most if that does not come naturally, it can be cultivated.

Having fun with singing helps. Singing for enjoyment ought to be considered, especially as singing is confidence building for children. I believe that to sing can also build teacher confidence. The exercise is one that promotes vocal projection, facial expression, and correct word usage. Listening skills are enhanced because singers have to listen out for each other.

Some of the songs I taught children years ago, they still remember years later and as adults. I have had that feedback. Children I know from more recent years remind me of songs taught.

Memory building

Without doubt, learning the lyrics and music that goes with singing, helps when it comes to memory building. Songs stay with people for years, sometimes a lifetime, after the learning. The stimulation of memory is important because the ability to memorise is one of the characteristics with which we have been blessed.

Part of the appeal to memory is that of challenging children to learn the rudiments of the song as quickly as possible. When I was a primary school student back in the 1950’s, we used to have singing lessons to our schools broadcast over the radio. Lessons were weekly for 30 or 45 minutes. Once the song we were learning was introduced, the singing teacher would drag the learning out over several weeks. We poor children would back up phrase by phrase, line by line and verse by verse for what seemed an eternity. The enjoyment of singing became entangled within this torturous learning process. When teaching singing, be smart about methodology.


Singing can be linked with other elements of the curriculum, especially Social and Cultural Education. Attached is an example to illustrate.

Musical Appreciation

‘Linking’ similarly applies when it comes to musical appreciation. Music and instrumental appreciation is helpful when it comes to studying countries, cultures and people of the world. Musical appreciation is a strategy that helps us better understand and appreciate Indigenous Australians.

Creative appeal.

Children are asked to use their imaginations to create stories, write poems, manufacture art/craft pieces and to carry out scientific experiments. This may extend to electives studies, speech preparation and other activities. There is no reason why children, even very young children, can’t be encouraged to create and teach (under guidance) their own songs.

Singing is a great activity, one I recommend.


Attachment: Brumby Jack


See the dust cloud on the plain,

Hear the sound like falling rain,

Flashing hooves and heads held high,

As the wild bush brumbies gallop by.


*Here comes Brumby Jack,

Bringing the horses down the track,

Hear his come as he wheels them around,

He keeps them together safe and sound.

There’s Stumpy, Billy. Silver Dan,

Pickles, Jim and Pelican,

He has a name for everyone,

And when he calls they come at a run.


He loves his wild bush friends so well,

Many a farming man can tell,

He’ll never eat or go to bed,

Until he’s sure they’ve all been fed.


Froim the mountain side to the distant plain,

Here, there and back again,

They roam the country wild and free,

‘Cause that’s the way they want to be.


Conversation and Discussion Points – a few

Discussion points about wild horses and why – origins.

*Location, location – where found.

* Property and farm damage.

*Use of horses and how domesticated horses could escape, breed and create brumby herds.

*’Life of a horse’.

*Persuasive argument on pro’s and cons of horse rearing, breeding, use and so on.

* Word study ; ‘wheel’, ‘roam’, ‘plain’ and so on.


At the risk of sounding too old fashioned, I extol the virtues of story telling. These days, with the advent and use of smart-boards and connecting devices, teachers often use audio-visual technology when it comes to story telling and story readings. The possible reluctance that teachers may feel about telling stories to children is not new. When I was a primary school student in the 1950’s, we used to have ‘Junior Listener’ stories broadcast to us by radio. For half an hour or so we would sit at our desks in rural Western Australia and listen to the story of the week being read to us by a presenter in Perth. Memory fades with time but I cannot remember our teachers being much into story telling. We were read to from time to time. However in those days, books were not attractively presented or full of colourful illustrations to be shared with children.

Teachers should not feel reluctant about telling or reading stories to children. Sadly, the skill of story telling is becoming a lost art. I always gained great satisfaction from being able to share stories with students from Transition to Year Seven. I believe that teachers of older students can fashion their delivery of material in a way that transmits it to students in story form. Story provided ‘setting’ and helps place the context of message into a feasible environment. It helps students understand the application of theoretical contexts.

To tell stories with and to children is to engage with them in a primary conversational context. Stories told with animation and conviction, with supporting gesture and eye contact, engage children and switch them on in a way that draws them close to the message being conveyed.


Some of the positives of story telling are as follows:

* The quality, meaning and context of language, word usage and meaning can be followed up by discussion during ‘conversational pauses’ within the story or at its end when the story is being reviewed.

* Questioning to test listening helps to build the notions of concentration and listening. To have ‘mini quizzes’ where there is some sort of contestation build within the group (for instance, girls versus boys, contest between class groups and so on) adds to student focus and engagement. This strategy discourages students ‘switching off’ and mentally wandering off into the distance.

* Having students work on ‘prediction. and ‘forecast’ by sharing their thoughts about where the story will head and how it will conclude can be an interesting and testing strategy. This approach helps develop the skills of logic and reasoning within thinking.

* Language study is enhanced. Asking children the meanings of words and words within context is an example. Similies and antonyms can be developed as a part word studies. The possibilities are endless.

* Some texts which share stories are written in the ‘language of yesteryear’. There are two volumes that come to mind, being ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ and stories by Hans Christian Anderson. These stories not only introduce children to a vast array of very colourful old fashioned words that have been superseded by the idiom of modern language. They are also set in social situations of the past, largely replaced by the social attitudes and disposition of today. These stories lend to wonderful exploration of word development and a comparison of historical and contemporary social mores. They help with developing understanding of what has changed and why behaviours once acceptable have been replaced.

* The appeal of stories to imagination and ‘the mind’s eye’ is such that art growing or flowing from story presentation can be colourful and creative. If the story is one drawn from history, asking children to think of clothing, transport, buildings and other artefacts from the past can help with differentiation and clarify understanding.

* A great way of treating longer stories, is to serialise (or mini–series) them, with ‘to be continued’ as part of the understanding. That is a great way of helping children anticipate what may happen. A good story being well told can also be a motivator. Continuation can be applied as a reward for effort and endeavour.


* Make sure when telling stories that you use clear, expressive language. Take the part with language variations of the characters you are describing.

* Engage children by asking them to respond by being characters in the story. Have them thing about and describe the characters, moods and attitudes of those around whom the story is centred.

* Have children act or visit the story or parts thereof through dramatic expression. Drama is a subject very rarely considered these days.

* As a story teller, make eye contact with the group. Vocal expression is important including pitch, rhythm and other elements of speech.

Concluding thought

I could go on about story telling. A good story told well, will be remembered for a long time. I still have people, now in their late teens and adult years, tell me they remember my story telling and how much they enjoyed stories I told.

It is a sad fact of life that adults tend to lose the capacity to imagine as they get older. To engage in story telling is to keep the imagination of the story teller alive and flourishing. As a school principal, I used to talk with children about the importance of imagination and imaginative thought. To tell stories has helped keep me in touch with this advice.



As a profession, teaching is at its most viable when members respect and support each other in a fully collaborative manner. The joys and challenges of teaching should never belong to those who remain in isolation from each other.

A strength of teacher education is the encouragement offered trainees to link with each other in discussion groups either in person or by discussion boards on Learnline . Observation confirms the help those preparing to teach can help each other on matters varying from assignment tasks to practice teaching rounds. Carrying quality communications habits into teaching beyond graduation is wise.

There is a misnomer that to share matters of challenge is a sign of weakness. That is far from the case. Those raising issues often find that colleagues are having similar issues or have developed strategies that help with mastery of similar difficulties. A problem shared is a problem halved.

Many universities have developed or are establishing alumni groups. Keeping in touch with colleagues through the university post graduation offers professional sharing opportunities.

Sharing through professional associations is recommended. There are maths, science, literacy associations among a host of others. Belonging to associations enables members to keep abreast of trends. Opportunities for personal professional development along with contributing to others through group membership is enriching.

I would recommend a consideration of joining ‘LinkedIn’. This site enables members to build up a global contact base with like minded people. Members can join specific interest groups, sharing global ideas.

Maintaining contact with the graduating peer group is another way of keeping in touch. Whatever the preference, keep in touch with others because that helps support both individual and collective strength.



There is deep and abiding interest in matters of an educational nature. Increasingly print, radio, and television coverage refer to educational issues. Some people pay little attention to what is being reported about education because they feel it to be inconsequential. There is also a belief that what is reported, misconstrues facts. That to some extent may be the case; however it is important to be aware of the way education is trending within the community.

Retaining information about education can be useful. There are various ways and means of doing this, but it works best if collation is organised regularly (almost on a daily basis).

Newspaper items can be clipped and pasted in a loose leaf file, indexed book, or similar. Indexation is important as it allows you to quickly refer to things you may need to recall.

Photographing news clippings using an iPhone or iPad, saving them to your pictures file, then creating an album for clippings is another method that works well.

Scanning clippings and saving them onto USB stick is a method that works well. Again, indexing the USB file helps. It may be that you choose categories to index under, rather than an “A” to “Z”approach.

Clippings files can be backed up on iCloud or otherwise saved onto computer or USB.

From experience, the use of newspaper clippings when it comes to social and cultural education, cruising for general knowledge, for stimulating discussion in class, are but three ways in which they can be of use. Clippings can also be used to stimulate the content of debates, the writing of persuasive arguments for older students and so on.

Awareness of issues can stimulate professional discourse including helping to shape the way in which members of staff develop collaborative programming to support teaching in schools.

I believe teachers would find a study of media and the establishment of a clippings file useful and worthwhile.


Information that NAPLAN faces the axe in an educational testing overhaul (Weekend Australian 29,30 August) is very good news. Replacing NAPLAN with with a less subjective, more appropriate and relevant approach to measuring student progress will gladden the hearts of educators, students and their parents alike.

While many educational challenges have been foisted on students and teachers by the impact of COVID-19, postponing NAPLAN this year was the one bright spot. This irrelevant and in reality, purposeless testing program should never be resumed.

Introduced in 2008, the same year that the Melbourne Declaration proposed a holistic approach to education, NAPLAN immediately challenged the intention of that declaration’s authenticity. The social, emotional and moral/spiritual aspect of the Melbourne decision were set at naught by a test focussed on a narrow academic band, at specific year levels.

NAPLAN was supposed to be a comparative measure of student accomplishment at a particular point in time each year. Instead, it became the ‘b’ all and ‘end’ all of education everywhere around Australia. Months were devoted to readying students for the test and countless weeks spent afterward in anticipating then dissecting results. Rather than facilitating education, NAPLAN became its most major distractor.

May this debilitating testing regime never again see the light of day.



It is pleasing that the number of suspensions in NT schools overall as reported in the NT News (27/8) have reduced in the past twelve months. If this is indicative of students exercising greater personal constraint and consideration of others, that is a good thing. It would be counterproductive however, if the decline in suspensions is being achieved because schools are now accepting behaviours that were previously deemed to be unacceptable.



It is sad this year that there has been a procession of students into and out of schools, from learning at school to learning at home and never knowing whether tomorrow or next week is going to see them in one place or the other.

That’s especially the case in Victoria and increasingly in New South Wales with schools been closed for deep cleaning after a person here or there has contracted coronavirus.

Although the education systems in both the states and periodically in some of the other states as well have tried hard to cope, there have been issues which will impact upon learning outcomes during 2020.

The Northern Territory has been well blessed because of minimal schooling disruption. This comparatively uninterrupted schooling opportunity should see our students well-placed for outcomes achievement.

One thing not seen however is the way in which COVID-19 has played upon the minds of students everywhere and at all levels of schooling. In the same way as adults have been preoccupied with the virus so to have students in the way they think about the issue. This has been an unfortunate year for Australian students and indeed students everywhere around the world.