REMEMBERING ANZAC IN OUR SCHOOLS

Published in NT Suns in April 2017

REMEMBERING ANZAC IN OUR SCHOOLS

Anzac Day remembrances taking place in our schools this week are particularly poignant. Many of our students have parents or relations serving in Australia’s Defence Forces. For them, Anzac Day is more than a recall of historical valour; it emphasises the fact that they and their loved ones are part of today’s defence cohort. Anzac Day is very much a reminder of their present situation.

Anzac Day remembrances are very close to the homes and hearts of these students. That is especially the case in Darwin and Palmerston. Our schools and communities have enrolled large cohorts of defence children. They are members of families who have to live their lives around the requirements of Australia’s defence leaders. Family rotations and parental assignments are part of their life.

Contemplating these issues can result in children feeling both unsettled and worried about the future. For defence families the issues of peace and conflict and the way they can impact on home life are very real.

Defence School Transition Aides (DSTA’s) have been appointed to schools with significant numbers of services children. They help both students and families settle into new schools. They also support those about to leave on family rotation. Rotations mean that children will sever friendships they have built during their time at the school. Included is help offered children who may have learning difficulties caused by leaving one educational jurisdiction and entering another. Tutorial support is available to these students and can be accessed with DSTA support. This extra help is available at no cost to parents. DSTA’s help defence families and students come to terms with these and other issues arising because of relocation.

Multiculturalism

The nature of our multicultural society needs to be interwoven sensitively into Anzac remembrances. There are formalities including flag raising, the Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post and Reveille that form part of school ceremonies. They add both dignity and solemnity to the occasion. Delivery of the Anzac Message could be hurtful if it had a ‘them’ and ‘us’ theme. The theme should be about a desire for the betterment of all people. There are no winners and losers in conflict situations, rather a loss for everyone.

Anzac Day remembers the valour of those who have given their all for others. If the remembrance can build oneness and unity, strengthening the resolve of our young people toward living good lives, it will have achieved its purpose.

MORE TO EDUCATION THAN YEAR 12

Column published in NT Suns in February 2017.

Education is for the whole of life and the foundational years of schooling are the most important. Year 12 is one year of and along the continuum of learning and development.

MORE TO EDUCATION THAN YEAR 12

Year 12 is often portrayed as the pinnacle year of education. Stories and conversations lay stress on the importance of this final year of secondary schooling. The years leading toward year 12 and those following, are often far less illuminated.

Year 12 is important as a year of study culmination. Stress is placed upon its importance to young people as they reach this crossroads in their education. Inability to earn a satisfying TER score is portrayed as a frightening concept.

Year 12 does not have to be a frightening year or threatening period. Neither should it be regarded as a stand alone year on the educational pathway.

Every year of school is important. Perhaps the most significant years are those from preschool through to year three. These early years are the foundation period during which key principles and precepts of basic learning take place. For schools focussing on holistic education, it is when principles of social, emotional and moral/spiritual development are added to a focus on academics. When undertaken in partnership with parents, this approach is one offering a stable base upon which character and educational development can take place.

Early childhood is sometimes discounted as not being all that important. This is entirely wrong, for the building blocks of education are set in place during these initial years of schooling.

Wise students are those who build upon previous learning year by year, gaining the most from school. This positive attitude will ensure that each educational challenge is met with fortitude, not worry or fear.

In the years leading to year 12, students have the opportunity to choose either academic or technical/vocational pathways. Appropriate choices will open up future options, academically or in trades occupations.

Year 12 is often portrayed as presenting new, possibly insurmountable challenges to students, but this only applies in cases where students have not made the best of their years leading to this point in time. While parents and teachers can help young people keep focussed, it is their inner motivation that counts. And those attitudes are born during initial schooling years

Our Territory needs young people who become future contributors to the economy. Whether or not we ever achieve statehood depends on our ability to consolidate the NT on a sound, sustainable economic footing. And that largely depends on today’s students.

AVOID TECHNOLOGY PITFALLS IN CLASSROOMS

AVOID TECHNOLOGY PITFALLS IN CLASSROOMS

Computers were introduced to school classrooms during the 1980’s. Initially, schools set up dedicated computer rooms and classes were rostored to have one or two periods each week. Students learnt about computers and how to develop documents for print-out.

Schools then moved to a number of units in each classroom and more time was devoted to student use of these tools. With the advent of iPads many schools encouraged each student to have their own personal device. In 2017, we would be hard pressed to find a school without computers or iPads. When electronic smart-boards and other supports are added, schools almost drown in technology.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware has increased, becoming a major cost item for schools. As well, items purchased are often outmoded within months of being bought.

Additional costs are significant. Software is not cheap and neither are licences needed to authorise multiple users. When maintenance needs are added to purchase costs, schools are faced with significant and ongoing budget commitments.

There are classroom pitfalls that need to be avoided.

Students tend to digress from what they should be doing with computer and iPads, drifting from learning to entertainment sites. It is imperative that students sign agreements about use of search engines, with teachers monitoring that commitment. Engaging with inappropriate sites can lead to big problems.
Games sites need to reinforce and extend student learning and need to have an educational purpose. Entertainment programs without educational merit distract students and waste learning time.

*Children sometimes play with networks that have been set, causing programs to crash or corrupt.

Misuse of technology by students can lead to cyber bullying and other inappropriate online conduct. Cyber bullying has reached epidemic proportions.

Students working on topics can be lulled into thinking that googling the topic, then cutting, uploading and pasting segments from existing sources into the text they are developing is fine. It isn’t! It is important that students think about and own their work, in order to understand topics. There is a distinct danger they could become plagiarists, taking the ideas of others and using them without acknowledging their sources.

Spell-checking and grammatical correctness are automated tools in many software packages. It is entirely possible for students to create and edit text, without understanding what they have written.

Computers, iPads and other devices can help support learning. However, they should always be used with care by students, under teacher oversight.
There is every chance that gadgets can become relied on to the point of detracting from genuine student learning.

POLICY CHANGES SNEAK IN DURING HOLIDAYS

This column, my first for the Suns this year draws on our Northern Territory experience. But this happens everywhere.

POLICY CHANGES HAPPEN DURING HOLIDAYS

Schools are closed and teachers may be away during the Christmas holidays. However, policy decisions and priority setting does not stop during the festive season. When school leaders and teachers return for the new year, they are often introduced to new initiatives apparently developed during the holiday season.

That has again been the case during the past few weeks. Urban school staff begin the school year on Friday January 27. Their counterparts in rural and remote schools return to duty on Monday January 30. They will be greeted by new educational initiatives.

During the past few weeks, there has been a renewed focus on the importance of teaching Indigenous languages. There is a strong move in place to have traditional language study added to the school curriculum. Part of this is based on language being a support for cultural understanding. A parallel concern is that of Indigenous languages vanishing into history. The need for their preservation is one of the reasons driving this position.

Introduction to a language other than English (LOTE) is now an Australian Government priority for all preschools. Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham is keen to have the program introduced as soon as possible. There is an anticipation that LOTE will also focus on older students. This initiative has been tagged as compulsory.

A third push is for the study of NT History to become obligatory in NT Schools. Former NT parliamentarian Matthew Bonson has urged that Territory history should be brought into focus in our classrooms (Sunday Territorian 26.12.16). Past administrator Ted Egan stated that it is ” … a big mistake that Territory and Australian history is given so little respect by not making it compulsory.” (Op cit)

Curriculum changes should never be based on ‘spur of the moment decisions’ about new priorities. The volume of teaching content confronting teachers and schools, demands that add ons are fitted in by dropping some previous programs. That should happen in order to make things fit and is also a matter of common sense.

Unfortunately, there is systemic reluctance about dropping curriculum content. Obligations on schools come with the expectation that staff and students will cope. It will be expected that extra content announced during this holiday period, will be managed within existing staff resources. Staff preparing for 2017 may feel the academic year ahead is a glass mountain they have to climb.

Holiday pronouncements about curriculum change should cease being a standard practice.

TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING

Written for the Suns Newspaper column in  August 2016.  While this fits to the Northern Territory, the tenet of this column has wide applicability.

 

TEACHING CAN BE TOO CHALLENGING
Teacher turnover and short term teaching appointments are regularly raised as issues in the Northern Territory. Northern Territory education is seen as being far more fluid and mobile than elsewhere in Australia.

While dissatisfaction plays a part in teacher resignation everywhere, there are local factors that come into contention. Chief among these is the considerable number of teachers who have been recruited to the Northern Territory on short-term contracts. This was seen as necessary to fill vacancies in remote and “difficult the staff” schools.

Just a few years ago, advertisements placed in the newspapers invited teachers to come to the Northern Territory to “try the place out”. Generous relocation expenses were offered, with paid southern return guaranteed after a relatively short period of time. Such offers created the impression that teachers are doing our system a favour by being here. The idea that minimal teaching effort would be good enough, became an issue.

Fortunately, this recruitment methodology appears to have been curtailed. However, there is heavy reliance on interstate and overseas teachers taking up vacancies in “out of town” areas. Part of this has to do with the lack of remote area appeal for those who undertake teacher training at the Charles Darwin University. Many preservice teachers are mature age persons with family commitments precluding them from working outside urban areas. Others are distance education trainees, preparing to teach in their home states. Unless and until we are able to reach a point of training a higher percentage of Territory grown teachers, turnover will continue to be an issue.

Training opportunities for Indigenous teachers are provided through the Batchelor Institute attached to the CDU. There have been many initiatives over the years aimed at graduating fully qualified Indigenous teachers. However self-sufficiency in teaching terms is still a work in progress.

A factor contributing to short term teaching careers is that of disappointment with what graduation offers. Many graduates are put off by system priorities . The requirement that they teach in a way that is so focussed on formal testing and assessment outcomes is off-putting. Their wish to teach holistically, seems to be at odds with prescribed system realities. The need to spend significant amounts of time on matters ranging from discipline to paperwork accountability are also disincentives. Both graduate and experienced teachers become disenchanted. That can and does lead them to resignation and the seeking of alternative careers.

Knowing about short term teaching issues is one thing. Fixing them, is another.

STUDENTS HAVE FUTURES FEARS

Published in Suns Newspapers August 2016

OVERCOMING FEARS ABOUT THE FUTURE

Periodic survey results confirm that children and young people are filled with uncertainty about the world’s future. Apprehensions are fuelled by all too regular stories about death and destruction by wars and pestilence. How do children digest issues that range from the Syrian conflict and terrorism to the threat of the Zika virus.

We cannot hide news of what is happening in the world from young people. Nor should we attempt to do so. They are more aware of issues than we may realise. While political, environmental and social issues are not new, media technologies mean that microscopic reporting and instant feedback give more immediate insights than in past years. Many young people have access to social media through iPhones and other personal devices. What is happening in the world is brought to their awareness through applications on these devices. Their perceptions may well be confused.

Young people also talk with each other. They discuss issues and share information in the same way as adults. The use of social media offers a communications context but children also converse about what is happening in life’s world.

Children have deep seated concerns and wonder about the future. The ‘Raising Children’s Network’ (Google) has an abundance of entries, materials and reports on the subject of anxieties confronting children. Beth Arky, writing for ‘Understood’ (Google) identifies six common fears faced by young people. Central to these are the fear of personal failure and concerns about the future. It is important that parents and teachers discuss issues with their children at home and students in classes. Part of this should be careful inquiry to ask about things that might be on their minds.

Issues creating uncertainly and apprehension cannot be explained away. However, conversations that consider matters children find confronting can help alleviate the fear that compounds when people hide their feelings and sweat on matters of concern. Sharing conversation shows that no-one is alone when it comes to worrying about where our communities, the Territory, Australia and the world are heading. Discussions at home and school can help formulate coping strategies and management ideas.

‘Behind the News’ and similar programs can help young people understand issues. These programs also help inform discussion.

Anything that can be done to offer peace of mind for young people in these confused times is important to their feelings of well-being. Understanding matters now, may help them become future solution finders.

CONSIDER CHANGE CAREFULLY

Too often new, beaut ideas are grabbed and planted into schools in a faddish manner. This may satisfy romantically inclined educators but can reduce children in schools to being educational guinea pigs.

One of the things many educators find anathema is sticking with proven approaches. Methodology which is foundationally solid needs to be built upon in incremental terms. That guarantees that teaching and learning will go from strength to strength.

Sadly, the preference seems to be that of consigning what is working to the WPB. With that done, new beaut systems are brought in as replacement technology. It seems that educators get bored with ‘same old, same old’. They toss out good, proven and working programs to push new, innovative and largely untested practices onto schools and into classrooms.

While change is important, it should be both considered and incremental. Throwing the baby out with the bath water can create learning and knowledge vacuums. Neither should children and students in our schools and places of learning be treated as experimental control groups.

I believe it important for teachers in classrooms to carefully consider changes that might me made. Including students through discussion and pre-consideration should be part of the process.

SPECIAL EDUCATION IN NT – THE BEST IN AUSTRALIA

SPECIAL SCHOOLS CLEAR TERRITORY WINNERS

Special Education in the NT has been boosted by the opening of the new Henbury Avenue School. This upgraded facility adds to educational and developmental opportunities for students with special learning needs.

Henbury Avenue began its life as ‘Coconut Grove Special School’ in the 1970’s. It was a school of two or three transportable rooms. There was a photo in the NT news of that time showing then Principal Charlie Carter pulling a wheelchair bound student up flagged concrete steps into one of the buildings. Henbury Avenue in particularly and special education in general has come a long way since that time.

Priority

NT Governments of both political persuasions and the Department of Education have placed a high priority on special educational needs. Darwin students are excellently supported by both Nemarluk and Henbury Special Schools. Both are new, upgraded schools. Students with enrolment eligibility are provided for in terms of their primary and secondary education. Integration of students into mainstream programs offered by nearby schools has overcome segregation for special school students. This allows them the opportunity to develop educational and social links with peers outside the parameters of their main school.

Palmerston has a special education unit incorporated into Rosebery Middle School. A special unit to meet primary students need operates as an annex to Woodroffe Primary. Integration into mainstream classes is an organisational focus.

Students with learning challenges who do not qualify for entry into Special Schools are supported in primary and secondary schools. Qualified staff support classroom teachers. Special Education Support Assistants are employed as budgets allow, to offer extra assistance to children experiencing learning difficulties in mainstream classes. Individualised educational plan are developed to identify both learning needs and specific teaching strategies for these pupils. Regular in-school reviews involving parents, support staff and teachers take place. This helps keep awareness of student needs and progress to the fore.

Stigma

There is a belief that to enrol children in other than mainstream schools is belittling. That is not true. Parents whose children are eligible to enrol at Nemarluk, Henbury, Acacia Hills in Alice Springs (where $6.5 million is being spent on upgrades) or special schools in regional centres, should arrange a visit. As parents generally discover, the benefits children gain from enrolment in special schools, far outweigh any negatives.

The issue of enrolment should not be coloured by misconceptions. Our special education schools, their annexes and our support programs for children with special needs are the best in Australia.

ORAL COMMUNICATION – SO OFTEN OVERLOOKED.

Oral Communication is so important. These days the skills associated with oral expression are too often overlooked. Consider the following as elements that need to become ingrained into practice.

ELEMENTS OF VOICE, SPEECH AND SPEAKING

VOICE

* Vocal qualities. VOICE IS YOUR MAJOR WORKING TOOL

* Speech flow, including pitch, rhythm and speed.

* ‘Ah’s’, ‘um’s’, ‘er’s’, ‘aw’s’, and other speech fillers.

* ‘okay’ at start or end of sentences.
* ‘guys’ as a word of address to a mixed audience.
* ‘gonna’ rather than ‘going to’.
* Don’t overdo ‘so’, particularly as a never ending joining word.
* ‘could, could’ (double clutching)
* ‘I was, I was’ (double clutching)
* ‘Wh, when’ and similar double vocal movements.
* ‘and, um’; ‘um and so’; ‘you know’ ad infinitum.
* ‘um and or” ‘um it’s it’s …’.
* ‘aaaand’; ‘o n e’ (word stretching).

* Recognising and using punctuation.

* PRONUNCIATION and word usage

* A CONVERSATIONAL VOICE is engaging. A listening audience is reassured to hear program presenters speaking in a relaxed manner. Many listeners are working through the hassles of the day. A calm and relaxed manner coming at them over the airwaves is relaxing and reassuring.

* Using pause, allowing your audience time to digest and reflect on what you have said.
* Projection and outreach, avoiding ear burst and fade-out, which imposes ear strain.
* Use words to paint pictures, stimulating the listener’s imagination. Successful radio and media communications are those which, by their appeal, draw listeners to programs.
* If working on a presentation from within the broadcast studio, IMAGINE you have people with you as guests. Work as a radio presenter in the same way you would if others were there.



EYE CONTACT

* Look at people. Don’t look over them, under them or around them.
* Engage people individually and collectively through eye contact. Rest on individuals and cover the audience.
* Make your eyes friendly, encouraging and inviting.
* Avoid flat or hostile eyes.
* Eyes are the most important parts of the anatomy when it comes to gesture.

GESTURE

* Compatible with the presenter and magnifying of speech.
* Gesture is a tool that can help emphasise and reinforce points.
* Overdoing gesture can undermine conversation because recipients are studying aspects of body language rather than listening to what is being said.

Avoid accidental gesture which is off-putting. These might include the following:

* Wagging a cordless microphone while speaking.
* Rocking from one foot to the other or swaying from the waist.
* Neck movement which is out of sync with general movement
* Eye contact which has you speaking in one direction, looking in another.
* Randomly putting on and taking off spectacles.
* Holding and wagging or twirling glasses while speaking.
* Doing similar with a pen, lazar pointer or some other prop.
* Pulling at collar, sleeves or any other aspect of apparel.

INTERVIEWING

* Plan your interview so it flows logically. How do you want it to begin, develop and conclude.
* Be aware of time and ‘Commanding’ the program; don’t be usurped and don’t allow your agenda to be hijacked. Time awareness is essential.

COLLABORATE.

* Collaboration with like minded professionals is valuable and enriching.
* From collaboration grows synergy, the collective energy that is enhancing. It uplifts those who are working together in occupational fields.

* Those working in isolation can be left behind because collaboration is increasingly a strategy whereby we work to develop our professional ethos.

DO SCHOOLS HAVE THE RIGHT FOCUS

Here in the NT (Australia) schools are all about ‘business’, ‘budget management’ and worry about the principles of management are in my opinion detracting from educational leadership. From what I read, this is an issue that engages schools and systems around the world.

We need to consider two strands of operational function within schools, the educational leadership and the administrative streams. Educational leadership should attract the Principal salary, the administrative stream should be paid at a salary level commensurate with that of a Vice-Principal. I recently published a paper at henrygrayblog.wordpress.com on the subject (11 December 2014 ‘Schools Preoccupied with Money’. Educational disconnect with teaching and learning because of business priority is a real worry.