This column was published in the NT Sun on April 17 2018



It often seems those who have been involved with educational developments and direction in the Northern Territory are completely discounted. What has happened in past years has either been completely overlooked or altogether forgotten. In relation to facilities, curriculum emphasis, staff and student development, community engagement, and other key areas, it seems that education is always in the “planning“ stage.

It is common for ideas to be raised as “new initiatives“ when in fact they are revisitations to what has been tried (and often discarded) in the past.

In part this has to do with the fact that the history of education in the Territory has been so poorly recorded. There are some records scattered in various libraries and archives but they are not readily available to current decision-makers. In 2009 when becoming the CEO of Education in the NT, Gary Barnes commented upon the fact that he was coming in “blind”. There was very little documented history he could access in order to familiarise himself about the system he was inheriting. At the time there was hope something might be done to rectify the situation. There was a proposition developed by some within Education’s Executive Group suggesting resources be given to documenting history. However, that thought faded very quickly.

In 2014 the Education Department planned on developing a visual display that focused on the contribution of CEOs from 1978 when the NT accepted responsibility for education from the Australian Government. Time, energy, effort and money was put into this development but it was subsequently shelved because of a change in government and Education’s CEO.

The Department of Education has a detailed website. It would be great if “history“ and “past development“ could be included, with people invited to read and contribute to an understanding about educational development in the NT. While this site would need to be periodically monitored and moderated, an invaluable history could be established in a relatively short period of time. This suggestion has been raised in the past without ever going anywhere!

The paradox is that many people with rich experience, are not able to share these for the benefit of the Territory nor for the awareness of incoming educators. With the passing of time, those with knowledge either leave the Northern Territory or pass on. Sadly the knowledge and understanding they could contribute, departs with them. I hope this might be corrected but don’t imagine that will happen any time soon.



This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on December 5 2017




At this time of every school year, realisations dawn and reflections begin.

One of the key realisations as a teacher is that the 40 week school year has all but passed and you wonder why time has gone by so quickly. This is an issue also confronting students who need to be time conscious for the whole year. Putting off assignments and delaying the completing of work can lead to gaps in learning and progress. That does not augur well for exams and final assessments.

Another realisation is that during the year, distractions can make it hard to stay on track with what needs to be covered by teaching programs. Unplanned events and activities can creep into school calendars, overturning planned events. Staff absence through illness or leave can impact upon schools and classes. For young children particularly, the quality of rapport that builds between teacher and students helps them feel good about school and learning. Staff disruptions can be unsettling.

There is always a need to be careful that extras making up the frills of a school day and week, do not displace the time required for learning the basics. Time given to key subjects should be somewhat sacrosanct. Deflection away from core learning can happen and should be avoided.

A key realisation has to be that of all professions, teaching is the most scrutinised. Everyone wants to have a say about what goes on in schools. This might be formal, coming from directives on priorities from administrators. It might be the setting of school agendas by school councils or management groups. Media often magnifies what experts and interest groups feel should and should not be promoted or taught in schools and classrooms. Part of this is realising that everyone from system managers to interest groups, believe that schools should be responsible for filling a pseudo parenting role. Sadly this is due in some cases to families either not having the knowledge or not being interested in fulfilling their role in bringing up children.

Teachers and school leaders have come to realise that more and more is being heaped on schools, with compulsory curriculum requirements expanding like Topsy. Rarely are things dropped from school agendas in order to accomodate the add ons. Where does it all end?

It is almost time for teachers to draw breath and reflect on the school year that is about to end. There will be a lot for them to think about.



This articles was published in the NT Suns on November 14 2017. Written with the Northern Territory context in mind, it has applicability to Year 12 students all around Australia.



Several thousand Northern Territory Year 12 students have reached the pinnacle of their primary and secondary educational experience. Some have completed their publicly assessed examinations and begin the wait for exam results. By Christmas time they will have their results and can begin planning the next stage of their lives. Other students who have opted for school assessed subjects will be considering vocational careers. For some students, there may be disappointment but the majority will experience the joy that comes with success. Commitment and effort generally lead to positive outcomes.

‘Schoolies Week’ will be happening for our Year 12 cohort. Many students will let their hair down and chill out, possibly in Bali or at some other recreational resort. Celebration is fine and should be without incident if the cautions offered by parents and authorities are observed.

Within a few short weeks, the question of ‘what next’ will be exercising the minds of graduates. Apprenticeships and further trade training will be on the horizon for some. Contemplation of university entrance to Charles Darwin or interstate universities will be considered by others.

Gap Year

Graduating Year 12 students may elect to take a ‘gap year’. This period of time away from study is used by some for travelling and others for work.

A gap year gives students the chance to fully consider career alternatives. Many students who have opted for a tertiary program while still at school, have upon reflection changed their minds and chosen alternative career pathways. To go straight to university from Year 12 can mean commencing a course that is really not the most suitable. The options then become changing courses midstream or continuing with a program that ultimately may lead to a unsatisfying career. While jobs available may not be those of first choice, the chance to earn money and meet people builds confidence and helps develop independence for young people.

Those choosing to work for twelve months know their earnings can go a long way toward meeting HECS costs and other tertiary study expenses. Degrees are becoming more expensive as Federal Government initiatives impacting on university funding begin to bite. Accumulated HECS debts are burdensome and can take years to pay back.

To complete Year 12 is an achievement and congratulations are in order. I am sure we all wish graduates well as they contemplate and prepare for the next stage in their lives.







Column published in NT Suns June 6 2017


A prime focus of education is planning towards meeting the future needs of children. Preparing children and young people to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders is a key educational commission. This should be a shared responsibility involving parents on the home front and teachers in our schools. Taking advantage of learning opportunities is also a responsibility resting on the shoulders of students. Parents and teachers offer development and educational opportunities for children but cannot do the learning for them.

In a world of educational pressures and global confusion, it is important to be careful and responsible in planning learning opportunities. Part of this is to offer a stable and understandable environment. The opportunity to ‘grow through play’ and the way in which children learn to understand the wider world are both important.


The importance of play and social interaction children have with each other is sometimes discounted. Abundant research confirms that children learn about the world through play. This along with other stimuli supports their social, emotional and moral/spiritual growth. Young people can be and often are exposed to the pressures of academics too early in life. Making haste slowly and ensuring these other elements are taken into account, supports the stable development of young people. Pressuring children academically might produce ‘high fliers’. However, confidence and maturity come from socialising and play, without which children can be left in isolation. Playing together is one way children begin to understand one another and the world into which they are growing.


In these troubled times children’s self confidence needs to be supported by parents and teachers. Distressing events, particularly terrorist attacks, climatic catastrophes and other disasters have an unsettling effect on everyone. This is particularly the case for children who can and do become distressed by such events. Trying to shield young people from these events or attempting to brush them off, will only heighten their anxieties.
Awareness of terrifying events creates distress which “… may be shown in all sorts of ways.
This can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, bed wetting, becoming … snappy or withdrawn or not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Parry and Oldfield, ‘How to talk to children about terrorism’ The Conversation, 27/5/17)

Children need the confidence and understanding that grows from play and they need reassurance about the good things in a world into which they are growing. It’s up to adults to see that both these needs are met.


Published in NT Suns in April 2017


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.


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.


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.


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!


While this entry relates to the Northern Territory and Board of Srtudies recognition of students who have done well, similar ceremonies take place elsewhere … Or should do.

We are quick to point out areas of challenge while often reluctant to celebrate student success. This paper is about rejoicing.


In February every year the Northern Territory Board of Studies recognises the accomplishments of Year 12 NT Students, along with several stand-out primary and middle school children . This year’s celebration was held in two stages. On February 4, a ceremony was held in Alice Springs for students attending schools in the Southern Region. Last Friday the Top End celebration was held in the main hall of Parliament House. Students from Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, the rural area and throughout Arnhem Land were honoured.

The Board’s Chair Mr Ralph Wiese was Master of Ceremonies.

Students were recognised for academic subject excellence. Awards for vocational educational studies acknowledged the universality of education and preparation of young people to enter into a wide facet of occupations in the years ahead. Both private and government school students were applauded for their 2015 results.

Each recipient received a certificate and monetary reward. The top 20 Northern Territory Certificate of Education students were also presented with trophies to recognise their hard work, dedication and commitment.

The most outstanding NT Certificate of Education Student, Lauren Northcote, attended Darwin High. She has earned a full scholarship to the Bond University (Queensland) for double degree tertiary studies.

A feature of 2015 was that 13 of the 20 top NTCE students were educated in the public school system. Nine were from Darwin High, two from Casuarina Senior College and two from Katherine High School. Three of the top 20 students attended Essington and one the Good Shepherd Lutheran College. In 2014, 19 of the top 20 students came from the government sector.

Monetary rewards earned by students are sponsored by business, a number of professional associations, Charles Darwin University and the Department of Education. Many thousands of prize dollars are awarded to assist students with tertiary study or occupational training.

Special Awards

A highlight was the conferral of the Administrators Medal. Two medals, one for a primary and one for a junior secondary student recognise academic accomplishment, behavioural excellence and the modelling of citizenship qualities. Olivia Anderson (Larrakeyah Primary) and Morgan Gurry (Darwin Middle) were recipients of medals awarded by our Administrator the Hon John Hardy.

Three awards named in their honour were presented in recognition of outstanding Territory educators taken before their time. Sally Bruyn (Year 6 science Award) Vic Czernezkyj (Mathematics excellence) and Karmi Sceney (Indigenous excellence and Leadership urban and remote schools). Alice Campbell (Alawa Primary), Leonard Ong (Essington), Kyana Hubbard (Casuarina Senior) and Daniel Bromot (Kormilda) were the award recipients.

Along with 2015 awardees, 1338 other students successfully completed their year 12 studies. Many are opting to complete their tertiary education at Charles Darwin University. Our university is continuing to gain status, recognition and respect.

The celebrations confirmed that many of our upcoming generation will be key contributors to the Territory’s future. That future is in good hands.


Skills are being lost. Creativity of the mind is being taken over by imposed creativity, the imagination of others, visited through engaging fingers on keyboards.

This is accessing creativity belonging to others but that is not owned by the person accessing the ideas. It is sad that person skills are being lost and personal creativity stymied.  We need to keep our imaginations vibrant and alive.

Re-prioritisation is needed, and quickly.

COLLEGIALITY AND CARE Essences of Passing the Leadership Baton

This was shared with readers of ACEL’s e-Leading in 2015. I wrote from my heart and with appreciation for those who helped me in developing along my career pathway.


Collegiality and Care

Essences of Passing the Leadership Baton

When reflecting upon one’s professional life, the remembrance of significant people who helped make a difference, reflects upon the consciousness. One remembers people who cared enough to care. Looking back on my years in education, I recall five people who helped me along the way and at various stages of my career. Their collegiality, empathy, advice and care made them great mentors, coaches and example setters. They motivated me to become an educator who endeavoured to support others in the same way.

John Lockley, Head Teacher Wannamal School: 1971

In my second year of teaching, I was lucky enough to earn an appointment to Gillingarra, a one teacher school in the central west coastal area of WA. I was head teacher on probation. At that time, in the early 1970’s, school inspections were an annual event and were a quite rigorous exercise. This was particularly the case for probationers.

John Lockley was an experienced head teacher at Wannamal, a slightly larger school 50 kilometres down the road. His school was due for inspection around the same time as mine. He knew I was the new kid on the block and correctly anticipated my nervous apprehension about the pending exercise.

John phoned and offered to come up to Gillingarra to familiarise me with what was involved. He spent an afternoon stepping me through the processes the Inspector would follow. He explained what documentation I needed to complete and why particular records were necessary. This was an exercise in familiarisation and demystification, an experience that built my self confidence.

Thereafter, John kept in touch, periodically guiding me in a supportive and collegiate manner. His interest, pastoral care and concern were instrumental in helping give me a good start to my educational career. That help was an important stepping stone towards my future.

Jim Eedle (Dr Jim) our First NT Education Secretary: 1979

The Northern Territory Government took responsibility for Territory Education in January 1979. Until that time education had been administered by various State Departments including NSW and SA. Until 1979, staffing had been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Teaching Service in Canberra.

Becoming an entity in our own right provided us with a serious opportunity to consider how education in the Northern Territory might be shaped.

In March 1979, Dr Eedle met with school education leaders in Katherine, a regional town 300 kilometres south of Darwin. He welcomed us all to the ‘new’ NT educational system and offered words of meaning, advice and caution.

Dr Eedle metaphorically described our system’s emancipation as being like unto a rising sun. He offered two pieces of advice I have always regarded as being statements of infinite wisdom.

He told us that as leaders, we should always remember that “schools are for children”.
His further advice was that educational structure should always serve function”.

Dr Eedle suggested system priorities for us. He placed an emphasis on education which I always endeavoured to follow. With the passing of years, education everywhere has become structured to the point of where educational operations seem massively over-built.
Structural magnification can defocus us from the prime purpose of education – to develop and enrich children and students moving up the grades and through the years.

I always tried to underpin my practice, with Eedle’s advice about priorities firmly in mind. What he had to say, focussed on the prime purpose of education as a process to develop the young, preparing them to take control of the future. This became part of my ingrained educational practice.

Geoff Spring Education Secretary NT: 1983

In the mid 1980’s I was appointed Principal of Nhulunbuy Primary School at Nhulunbuy, a mining town of 4,000 people in East Arnhem (NT). Nhulunbuy was a school of 800 students and over 50 staff. The consensus was that our school would benefit from an appraisal that examined operational process and helped with the establishment of educational priorities.

At the time, school appraisals were flavour of the month. I was keen to make sure the model fitted to identifying teaching, learning and student development needs. My newness to urban education in the NT made this an untried area.

I wrote to Mr Spring, explaining what we intended doing and asked for his advice in shaping our appraisal process. He telexed me back (in the days before facsimile machines and email opportunities) with a very detailed, three page reply. I learned from him that valid school appraisals considered the organisation from the inside out, rather than the outside in. There was a tendency to prioritise the physical environment (how the school looked) along with staff and student wellbeing (how the school felt), ahead of what happened in classrooms.

The primary aspect of appraisal he advised, was to consider the teaching – learning nexus, the classroom interface or how the school taught. Evaluation from the outside in, missed the point of focussing on what schools were really all about.

We followed the Spring Methodology. I discovered that if the heart of the school, its teaching and learning focus were healthy, relationships and physical aspects of appearance tended to look after themselves. Mr Spring’s timely advice was not lost. The method was one I followed in other schools during following years.

Dr Colin Moyle ACEA (Now ACEL): 1984

From Dr Moyle, I learned that periodic professional refreshment should be part of educational development. It can be easy to relax in the leadership role, believing there is nothing more to learn. Leaders who think this way become ‘cruisers’, leading organisations that meander along, often making minimal progress.

Revisiting the essence of a career can bring with it essential rethinking and revitalisation. This process can help people in leadership positions refocus and reinvigorate their operational precepts.

In 1983 I was afforded such an opportunity when Dr Colin Moyle, a key figure in the Australian Council of Educational Administrators visited Darwin. He conducted a week long leadership symposium with fifteen school principals. He asked each of us to contemplate the development of a mission statement of no more that 25 words. Its purpose would be to focus us on key priorities we identified.

The idea of a mission statement that conceptualised sense and purpose had never crossed my mind. After careful consideration my statement emerged. It became both a reminder and a guide.

It reads:

To fulfil and be fulfilled in organisational mode, family, work and recreation;
To acquit my responsibilities with integrity;
To work with a smile in my heart.

Over the years since, I have frequently reflected on my mission statement. I have also asked others to consider the wisdom of developing a similar focussing position. My mission statement has well and truly served its purpose.

Charlie Carter Regional Superintendent of Education, Darwin: 1992

Wake-up calls are sometimes necessary and I had one come my way early in 1992. I had just been appointed principal of Leanyer School and began to fill the role enthusiastically. Too enthusiastically. I was making decisions without consultation and acting in a way that was imposing on Leanyer, the philosophy and policies belonging to Karama School, from which I had transferred.

Some staff members and parents met with Mr Carter to express their concerns about my leadership style and approach. He listened to them and hand wrote me a note. It read in part:

Dear Henry

I am taking this opportunity to alert you to the fact that I have recently received a number of deputations from many sections of he Leanyer School Community. In all instances they were critical of your leadership. …

I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the situation and ways in which I can offer support to you. Please ring me to make an appointment. …

I have handwritten this letter to preserve … confidentiality. …”

I met with Charlie Carter. What followed was the support and understanding I needed to confront and meet this challenge. The help offered made me stronger, more empathetic and wiser in my dealings with others. I went on to spend 20 years at Leanyer as the school’s principal. Without the support, coaching and help of Mr Carter, my tenure may have been closer to twelve months.

Needless to say, I learned the wisdom of an approach to dealing with key issues, that confronts and overcomes challenges in an effective and non-confrontationist manner. It was a conversational and understanding strategy that stood me in good stead when dealing with others. Mr Carter’s modelling and practise of that approach was helpful to me at the time. He taught me the value of that self same approach in the years that followed.


Each of us in professional life can draw inspiration and understanding from the words and practices of others. In one sense it is ‘rote learning’. It is the instilling of priorities and the impression of leadership examples that pass from one generation of professionals to the next. These stepping stones of understanding and style help in ensuring some sense of organisational stability. Without this transfer, educational leaders could become lost.

Henry Gray