This column was published in the NT Suns on January 16, 2018. It is my first column for the year.



The school holiday period will soon be over. Students are preparing themselves for the 2018 school year. Many children will begin their preschool and early childhood years. Those who have graduated from primary school will be moving to the middle years (junior secondary) educational phase. Middle school graduates begin the final stage of formal schooling, going to year 10 in the senior secondary area. Finally, many of those who have completed year twelve will move to higher level training or study.

Moving up the grades, through the years and transitioning from one level of education to the next, is a process enabling students to build on what has gone before. ‘Building’ from one year to the next is important and happens if students have a positive approach to work and learning tasks. While support from parents, caregivers, teachers and support staff is important, self help is critical.


There are several misunderstandings that need to be dispelled.

The first is a belief, too commonly held, that the early years of education are not particularly important. If little children don’t do well, it doesn’t really matter. They can catch up later, when they are older and more inclined towards school.

A second myth is that of children feeling their learning is for others. They go to school for the benefit of their parents and teachers. Students need to know their learning is for their benefit.

A third misconception is that all children are inclined learners, wanting to do their best. Shortfalls in learning outcomes therefore are not their fault but due to poor teaching. That is not true. In the same way as one can lead a horse to water but not make it drink, learning opportunities can be rejected by students.

An unfortunate belief is one held by some Territorians (and particularly newcomers to the Territory) that our system, because of its smallness and distance from the rest of Australia, is somehow inferior. That is not the case. We have schools in the NT as good as those anywhere in Australia.


Focus on student development and traits children need to succeed should be a prime focus.

We would do well to reflect on traits identified by Hiliary Wince in her book “Backbone: How to Build the Character Your Child Needs to Succeed” (Endeavour Press). Wince urges parents and teachers to encourage the following characteristics within children:
Resilience, Self-Discipline, Honesty, Courage, Kindness, The ability to love and appreciate life.

I hope the educational year ahead is one leading to satisfaction, fulfilment and joy for students, parents and teachers.





This paper was published in the NT Suns in May 2017


Public servants in the NT have a number of benefits attached to their employment. Included are superannuation and leave entitlements. Teachers and those working in schools often commence as supply or relief staff. In most instances superannuation and leave needs are recognised and built into the terms and conditions of their employment. Because of portability, these benefits transfer with them as they move from one school to another.

Over time, those involved with education are usually offered permanent status. Each year, three weeks of sick leave are added to the entitlement of each staff member. This leave accumulates year on year.

Health and family issues (for instance illness of family members) mean that some people need to quite regularly access their leave entitlements. However, there are many who use very little of their leave. It is not unusual for those who have been working for many years to have accumulations of up to 100 weeks of sick leave, that can be used if necessary.

When retiring or resigning from the public service, accumulated annual leave is cashed out to those who are departing. Long service leave that has built up, is generally included in the employee’s final pay package. Depending on circumstances which include the employee’s age, superannuation is either preserved or paid out.

For government employees, unused sick leave is not included in this package. I know of people who have retired or left employment with up to and over 100 weeks of sick leave credits. When they retire this entitlement is forfeited.

Because this leave provision will be lost upon retirement people may think about taking leave they would not usually consider. This would reduce sick leave benefits before employees leave the work force. It would force schools to employ relief staff or short term contract teachers. That would impact on school budgets and children in some classes, the latter because of teacher change.

It may be time to change the way in which sick leave provisions are treated. Paying a percentage of accumulated leave on a pro-rata basis would be fair and equitable. It would also reward those who have judiciously managed their sick leave.
The payment of a day’s salary for every week of accumulated sick leave would be my suggestion. A retiree with 60 weeks of leave would receive a payment equivalent to 60 days of final salary.

This would offer fair and equitable recognition to all those who have been prudent in managing sick leave.


Published in the NT Suns in April 2017.


The best love and care that children can have, is that which is offered by parents. Too often this is overlooked. Some believe that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A recent Sunday Territorian article (April 2) touched what might be a raw nerve. ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’ is so true. A study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) focussed on this truth.

Study authors Stacey Fox and Anna Olsen from the Australian National University found that ” reaching out to children, talking with them and helping them with their homework matters more than income or background.”

In these modern times, the need for parents to work, too often distances them from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave early and arrive home late. They are often placed in vacation care during school holidays because their parents are at work. Many parents are both preoccupied with and made tired by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen on the weekend, there is a need to attend to domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In these contexts it can become easy for children to become somewhat overlooked. They may also be misunderstood by parents.

According to Fox and Olsen, “children … benefit when their parents provide a positive environment for homework and play a role in school activities.” They want their parents around, wishing to identify with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting their children’s extra-curricular school activities is a part of what their children want.

According to the study, children really welcome and greatly value the first hand connection of parents with their educational development. In terms of hands on parenting, “the aspects which appear to matter most include high expectations and aspirations for children, shared reading between children and parents and family conversation.”

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate the independence and dampen the decision making potential of their offspring. However, when parents are there for children, engaging with them, nurture and love are to the fore. And it is these attributes in parents that their children want and need.



Published in NT Suns in March 2017



Sometimes educational ideas appear to lack common sense. Thoughts about change are based on whims and the sudden revelation of ‘good ideas’. When these utterances are made by important people and key decision makers, they cannot really be ignored. In my opinion, an example of policy being made on the run is Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham having decided that it’s important for all Australian preschool children to learn Japanese.

Pronouncing Japanese as ‘the’ language to be learned ignores the fact that some schools have chosen to learn an indigenous dialect or to prioritise Indonesian, Mandarin or some other language.

This initiative overlooks an important language need. Our children must become well-versed in the understanding and use of English. Superimposing other languages, particularly in early schooling years can detract from this “homegrown” language need. The time and attention that is devoted to studying a foreign language is the time and attention that should be given to mastery of our mother tongue.

The English Language involves more than just speaking. There is listening, interpretation, comprehension and understanding, along with reading and writing. The way in which Australian young people understand and use our basic language, suggests that these elements are often lacking. NAPLAN tests certainly confirm these deficits.

There is no guarantee of any permanent and ongoing immersion of children in the study of Japanese or other foreign languages. Spur of the moment initiatives often fade quickly. This new alternative language approach is likely to be dropped as suddenly as it was introduced. This often leaves language learners in limbo because there is no follow-through. In turn, this could give rise to cynical attitudes toward a study of languages other than English alternative language study.

For Japanese to succeed as a second language, study opportunity would need to be continued through primary and into secondary school. That would need to happen around the Territory and Australia. There is little likelihood that this will happen.

Many employers are concerned about language and literacy deficits among young people. They say that young people have very poor communication skills, cannot write, cannot hold an intelligent conversation and often don’t understand what’s going on because of poor literacy.

Surely, this fix needs to come from within the educational system. The earlier children begin to have a sound understanding and working knowledge of the English language and its use, the better. Putting that off and substituting a language other than English may be unwise.



This column, published in the NT Suns in March 2017, focuses on the NT.  However, in my opinion, there is a NEED FORV THE APPOINTMENT OF A COUNSELLOR to the staff of every school.


With the frenetic pace of educational issues and priorities, we tend to overlook the fact that schools are about people. Students with aims, ambitions, positive and negative feelings, commit each day to their schools. This relationship begins when children commence preschool or attendance at early learning centres. It continues through primary and middle school years. Schools are centres of important educational, social and developmental opportunities.

Along the way, there are personal challenges and setbacks. Some are of a fairly minor nature, while others have a far greater and deeper impact upon students, staff and the school community. However, it seems the need for counselling support is on the increase. It is at such times that the human face of education is of critical importance. The most recent NT tragedy was the untimely deaths of two students from Darwin High School. Their passing is having an impact upon school students and staff that is being recognised through counselling and other support services. While the essence of education is about student academics and personal development, our department is there to support those in need during times of sorrow. Counsellors offer emotional and moral support. They never quite know when counselling support will be required, so readiness to offer assistance is important.

In a wider Territory context the Department of Education at central and regional level supports those in schools impacted by death, injury or mishap of students and staff. The need for this support may be within our city schools, and those in larger towns or smaller and more remote communities.

There are a number of circumstances within schools that can cause deep distress for students, staff and in some cases parents of school children. One of the most common is bullying in its various forms. Online bullying with harsh verbals and embarrassing photographs is the most insidious and least understood method of causing hurt. It is important that these circumstances come to light, with perpetrators being called to account and victims being given support.

The need for school based counselling is on the increase. Education departments may need to consider the appointment of support counsellors in schools on a one to one basis. Counselling needs are growing; support needs to be timely and immediate.


This column was published in ‘The Suns on 20 December 2016.


School is out for another year and the holidays are here. The immediate aftermath of the school year is a time when principals, teachers, support staff, students and parents have a chance to reflect on the year. During the past few weeks award nights and presentation assemblies have taken place. There have been graduations for students moving from primary to secondary and from senior secondary to tertiary level education. These are important milestones for students.

At this time of the year it is good to celebrate both individually and collectively. Northern Territory educators could afford to do this because of this and see a commitment they have to the educational tasks they are undertaking.

One of the major challenges faced by schools is that of of of offering “steady state” educational development, when educational systems seem to be always changing priorities. Very rarely during the course of the year is They’re good public city about education. Inevitably, students in Australia are compared with each other in terms of NAPLAN performance. They are also regularly compared with overseas students. For the most part it’s the negatives that get an airing. The way publicity comes across, gives the impression that most of our students are years and years behind their peers in countries with whom they are compared. This in turn leads to negative commentary about the quality about teachers.

While there are points of difference between Australian students and their overseas counterparts, the majority of our students are doing well. Comparisons need to be kept in perspective. Our students may be adrift in terms of some academic comparison. However, these “points of difference” are often fairly minimal.

The plus side of education for our schools is the concentration on holistic education and the development of personality and character within young people.
Our teachers are generally caring, concerned and empathetic. They consider students as people. They don’t regard them as being empty vessels into which knowledge has to be poured.

Reflections need to be positive as well as considering ongoing challenges. Of course it’s the time for those who could do better to reflect upon what they can do differently. No student should be satisfied with doing less than their best.

The 2017 school year will be here soon enough. Congratulations to our students and educators for all they have accomplished during 2016. Enjoy a great Christmas and New Year.


When one begins teaching it’s hard to predict how long a career will be and where it might lead you.

In formal, full time teaching terms my career spanned just on 43 years (beyond graduation).

Without doubt the greatest joy for me is catching up with past students and having conversations with them about the milestones they have reached in life. It is this catching up that makes life as an educator, one of quite regular rejoicement.

Sadly, there have been among those i have taught, a few who have gone off the rails. Thieves, perpetrators of assault, rapists and murderers have been past members of schools with which I have associated. But for every one person who has slipped, there are a thousand who have done well and who are making a quality contribution to life.

I mourn the few who have failed and wish them repentance and recovery. And I rejoice in the many who have brought blessing and joy to others,m to the world, and into their own fulfilled lives.



The last weeks of Semesters offer students, teachers and school communities the chance to enjoy activities that can be overlooked. For many schools these weeks allow celebrations that go beyond academics. NAPLAN tests are over. Primary and secondary school students are about to enter a four week holiday break. This is a period that allows for some quiet reflection on the year to date. It provides a chance for students and staff to participate in some of the more non-academic but vital pursuits associated with school experiences. Activities that help build school spirit and camaraderie can include the following.

Major assemblies featuring class performances.
Dry season concerts, often held outside at night.
End of semester school discos.
Overseas exchanges with sister schools.
Intra school athletics carnivals .
Shared sporting and cultural activities between schools.
School community breakfasts.
Open days and school fetes.

The focus on academics and assessment programs, poses a danger that these respite times and activities can be put on the back-burner or overlooked altogether. Including these activities provides balance for students. They should be included in school calendars.

The social and emotional aspects of student development are supported by these and similar activities. They offer children a chance to relax and recognise non classroom abilities in each other.

Not wasted time

Some would reason there is no place in our schools for activities of this nature. Their argument is that each minute of every school day should be devoted to the academic aspects of school life. However, children and teachers are human. They need and deserve the chance to associate though activities designed to build school spirit. The importance of these shared opportunities cannot be overstated.

Building tone, harmony and atmosphere within schools is an enormous challenge. Visitors gain instant impressions about how the school feels. The spirit that exists within schools, grows from the synergy or collective energy developed within and between students and staff. It’s the association that comes from sharing happy times that builds toward the tone and atmosphere sensed by visitors and others. In turn, the reputation of schools is either positively or negatively judged by this feeling of comfort.

It is sharing collective times together that helps in building these perceptions. The “joy times” help create an everlastingly good impression about schools. That is appreciated by those within and appreciated by the community at large.

Note: While written for Norrthern territory conditions, this paper has applicability, through adaptation, to fit all scghools everywhere.


Published in May 2016


This morning, all Northern Territory students in years three, five, seven, and nine, begin three days of NAPLAN testing. Now in it’s ninth year, NAPLAN dominates Australian education during this week of May. The literacy and numeracy tests are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a catch up day for those who may have been absent during the week. These four ‘May Day’s’ of testing have become a permanent educational fixture.

For the first time, some children will be completing tests online. This is a pilot program the Australian Government hopes to extend to all schools.

NAPLAN testing is all about compliance. Testing was made compulsory during the Rudd, Gillard years. It overrode and replaced other testing programs.

The stated intention of this compulsory exercise is to capture student performance at a particular point in time every year. In fact, it’s impact goes far deeper. For weeks and months leading to this week, students in many schools sit practice tests or undertake activities slanted toward their readiness for NAPLAN. In some schools this happens on a daily basis.

The regime is one that excellently illustrates compliance at work. The Australian Government has mandated NAPLAN and it’s compulsion underpins system and school responses. School funding and educational futures are determined by data profiles. Test results are taken into account during school reviews, principal assessment and staff evaluation exercises.

At individual school level, NAPLAN results can lead to everything from moments of euphoria to feelings of despair. While it may not be talked about openly, principals, staff members, parents and tested students feel the pressure of waiting for results. When released, statistics for each school are microscopically dissected and studied by system leaders. In like manner the data is cut, sliced and analysed in every conceivable way at school level.

Outcomes for every school in Australia can be scrutinised by the public at large on the ‘My School’ website.

Many teachers believe that Tom Chappel’s ditty on NAPLAN, particularly the line that “your score is my score” carries real weight.

Students sense tensions and feel the underlying vibe created by this program. While some may appear indifferent, others are reduced to nervous anticipation and pre-test stress. Weeks and months of preparation together with countless classroom hours spent working on preparing for this week, adds to their unease.

NAPLAN is seemingly here to stay. But questions about its need, purpose and legitimacy remain.


I believe in mission statements. They are focussing. I revisit my mission statement regularly. It is included on correspondence and emails. It is also on the reverse side of my business card.

My Mission Statement:
* To fulfill and be fulfilled in organisational mode: Family, work, recreation.
* To acquit my responsibilities with integrity.
* To work with a smile in my heart.
These precepts have been my guiding light since 1984.

Consider developing a mission statement that offers purposeful focus. You’ll be glad you did!