TEACHING A JAIL SENTENCE?

A lot of teachers and principals can and do enjoy their vocation and calling. However
many teachers and those working within our schools feel that being ‘sentenced to teach’ is somehow akin to a jail sentence. A sentence that can last for years and years and from which there is no parole prior to retirement. They are locked in because there is no career alternative. They cannot resign because of financial circumstances. And the profession is like a custodial sentence because of the way education has evolved to become an institution requiring compliance, accountability and justification. The joy has gone and changing parameters leave a bitter taste.

On the day of retirement, their last day, people walk. It’s bitter sweet. They resolve never to look back until they are far away from the years that have been.

How sad.

FOR POLITENESS SAKE – Uphold and Model Respect and Good Manners

These days, manners are not practised by habit. Many children (and adults) are poorly mannered. It seems that a big percentage have never been taught the rudiments of good manners at home. Child care programs may try but their prime focus is on minding, not on teaching.

All too frequently children overlook ‘excuse me’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’. ‘i beg your pardon’ and so on. Although it gets monotonous, correcting students who overlook these essences of politeness and good manners is important. Commenting in a praising context to children who do remember to use these words and expressions can offer positive reinforcement.

One of the most frequent oversights occurs when children butt into conversations being held by teachers with another student or students. That impetuosity certainly needs correction. Children need to appreciate the need to wait their turn when dealing with teachers.

Manners can be broached through appropriately constructed lessons. To involve students in situational role play where manners need to be practised can help. Periodic classroom discussions about manners and politeness might be useful.
The subject could be broached through a Socratic Discussion session.

Strategies to reinforce the need for good manners including reinforcement through daily classroom interaction should be part of teaching and learning strategy.

DON’T DISCOUNT LISTENING AND SPEAKING

We hear lots about the need to focus on the four element of literacy, reading, writing, speaking and listening. They are all important.

Unfortunately, they are sometimes regarded in ‘cart before the horse’ terms of importance. Reading and writing are held to be the major players in this literacy quartet. Speaking and listening, ESPECIALLY LISTENING are discounted.

Listening should be considered the first and very foundational literacy skill. Certainly it is the quality that engages babies and very small children. In terms of acquisition, listening, speaking, reading and writing develop in that order. Certainly these literacy skills are developed in what becomes a melded or blended fashion. They complement and reinforce each other.

The onus placed on reading and writing, discounting listening and speaking as happens, contributes to poor listening skills. Cognition and comprehension are both impacted. Also discounted by non-listening attitudes can be respect for the opinions of others.

Speaking cogently, politely and correctly also needs re-engagement. Sloppy speech is not a quality of which the user can be proud. What is said and HOW it is said are important quality.

Correct speech and careful listening are literacy attributes can can and do build confidence in people. They should never ever be consigned to second class status.

REMEMBERED EDUCATORS – Adding values that stay with students

One of the joys of being an educator is to be reminded at times of successes that students experience and of the good things that come their way. Not of of that success relates to academics. There are social, emotional and moral/spiritual qualities that can and should grow and develop within students.

During my years as an educator I have worked with tens of thousands of students. Quite deliberately, I have never retained contact through social media. I don’t use social media accounts. However, if I read of successes they have had in later life, I will make an effort by to contract and congratulate them. That applies to successes coming the way of past students, right across the spectrum of contribution.

Often parents of past students will let me know, as we pass in the street or meet in shopping centres, about how their children are travelling. I always make it a point of passing on my regards and in most cases I remember these students. This would happen for me, in the relatively small city of Darwin, two or three times each week.

It fills me with joy when reading of successes of past students in the newspaper or via radio or television report.

One remembrance stands out. Years ago, I had in our school a student who was a very decent young man. However, he al;ways averted his eyes away when talking to others. On several occasions I invited him into my office and tutored him on the art of gaining confidence through eye contact. Years later, he came up to me in a Restaraunt, reminded me of his name (I hadn’t forgotten) and thanked me for taking the time to help him develop his eye contact skills. He was going places and was no we an aeronautical engineer. This is one anecdote but there are hundreds of others.

Not all outcomes have been rosy. Through my schools have passed thieves, burglars, rapists and murderers. I have also had the experience of having to cope with past students feeling so down on themselves that they have taken their own lives. So from time to time, I question myself as to whether I could have done anything during my time of association with them, that might have swayed them away from these courses of action.

It is our contribution to education now, that has its outcomes on the lives of people in years to come. And while unexpected it is nice be be thanked and appreciated by those whom you taught when those years do come.

MOTTOS ADD MEANING

Mottos can reveal a lot about any organisation. Allow me to share two.

My teachers training college had as its motto ‘Non Nobis Solum’, translating as ‘Not for ourselves alone’. This to me was an expression of teaching’s aim. We are there for others. For me as a student teacher and then as a new teacher going forward, it was a pointer about the perspective I would do well to embrace.

My last school as principal was at Leanyer in Darwin’s Northern Suburbs. Our motto, born in 1992, my first year of twenty in that place, grew from a need to express an ambition that needed reinforcement at that time. ‘Together as One’ became our motto. It’s application and remembrance did a lot to draw us together in oneness and unity of educational purpose.

It might sound simplistic, but mottos are important as statements underlining school organisation and ethos.

BLESSINGS

I hope educators all over the world are able to take time to reflect upon the positives that have been part of the 2015 school year. Too often we consider the challenges we confront, to trhe extent of pushing accomplishments into the background of our thinking.

We should not ignore challenges but neither shoiuld be overlook successes. To focus on the first without acknowledging the second, turns our profession into one of struggling, day-by-day, along an almost impossible pathway.

Balance is important. Let us celebrate individually and collectively as educators in the year that has been. Let us also embrace students and communities into those celebrations. We all deserve to leave the year with a good taste in our mouths and a good feeling in our souls.

THE EVERLASTINGLESS OF EDUCATION

A PERSONAL REFLECTION

The older you become as a teacher, the more experience you gain. However, the older you get, the greater is the strain on resilience or ‘bouce back’ capacity. As a long time school principal in primary schools, I used to keep an eye on teachers and if necessary, counsel with those who were genuinely flagging, about career options.

I retired from full time principalship one month shy of my 66th birthday, for two key reasons. One was that the physical engagement I enjoyed as a classroom visitor and teacher was being pushed by administrative requirements threatening to shackle me to the desk in my office. The second was the fact that our systrem was inexorably grasping at data and outcomes measurment to the detriment of holistic educartion and the development of chiildren as people.

I retain a deep and primary interest in education as a reader, writer, mentor, coach and as a contributor to educational journals. My connection through ‘Linked In’ is part of that evolution. I write a weekly newspaper column about educational matters and have a blog at henrygrayblog.com

It is important that we give back to education because of the opportunities that have come our way.

WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?

Educators seem to be more than willing to put their collective hand in the air, volunteering to correct more and more of the ills and challenges confronting society. Part of this is our seeming willingness to volunteer the bringing up of children and young people in the ways they should go. If anything is wrong, if things need correcting, the repair and renovating role is placed squarely on the shoulders of schools and teachers.

This begs the question of where do parents fit. It seems that more and more children get born, to be committed to child-care agencies then schools to manage and look after their total upbringing. If things go wrong, no responsibility attaches to parents. It is all down to schools and teachers.

Before school care, preschool, school, after school hours care, holiday care … Where does itv end and how much time do parents give to the primary care of their children. Don’t forget the baby sitters and child minders parents employ after hours so they can go out and socialise.

Parents have to work and I understand economic imperatives. However, there is a question of balance. It should be behoved upon parents to remember and fulfil their primary care responsibilities toward their children.

WOMEN ADD VALUE TO EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP

While written from the viewpoint of appreciating women as educational leaders and managers, my belief would be that they bring enrichment to all organisations.  We discount them to our clear and distinct disadvantage.

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THE VALUE OF WOMEN AS PRINCIPALS, KEY TEACHERS AND ORGANISATIONAL PARTICIPANTS.

In all forums with some minor header changes

Women are key players at all levels. I believe the following attributes to fit their character as ‘the invaluable group’.

1. Women are all seeing, all knowing and able to join in fifteen conversations at once.
2. Women are aware: They have 360 degree vision.
3. Women have clear goal orientation and crystal-like focus.
4. Women cut to the chase and don’t dither around the edges of issues.
5. Women are careful synthesisers and succinct summarisers of situations.
6. Women are adept at timetabling and planning; they are meticulous plan followers.
7. Women have awareness.
8. Women show empathy to those who are under the pump.
9. Women excel in engaging others in planning and organisation.
10. Women have excellent leadership and participative perspective. They are both on the organisational balcony with all-encompassing vision and on the dance floor with and among those engaged with endeavour.
11. Women make an extraordinary contribution in going forward.
12. Women contribute proactively to staff endeavour and leadership balance within schools and systems.

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Elaboration

1. WOMEN ARE AWARE OF THEIR SURROUNDS

Women are all seeing, all knowing and able to join in fifteen conversations at once. I mean this in a totally appreciative and complimentary context. The broad based awareness women have of their surrounding environment makes them the superior gender when it comes to awareness. They have, in my opinion, a panoramic appreciation of what is going on around them. Ladies read body language and more empathetically understand reactiions of others than do men. Not only can they contribute to a conversation in which they are participating; they also gain appreciation of the tenet of surrounding dialogue. These finely honed environmental skills add to their situational awareness. As a male leader, I was always wise in seeking feedback from female staff leaders on matters we were dealing, for this helped inform in a way that was beyond my own interpretative capacities.

2. 360 DEGREE VISION

Another quality vested in women and often lacking in men, is a capacity for 360 degree vision. The expresssion ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ fits because of the totality of awareness with which ladies are blessed. After a staff meeting involving 40 or 50 people, I always felt it wise to ask the women members of my leadership team for their feedback because the meeting elements I missed (body language, eye exression, non-verbal contact between people) they picked up. This enabled us to appreciate the meeting more fulsomly than would have been possible for me alone, or in conversation with another male. This is just another quality with which women are blessed and which mmen can fail to recognise.

3. FOCUS

From working with many women over the life of my teaching career I can vouchsafe for their clear goal orientation and crystal-like focus. Ladies, far more than men can divine a path that leads through from aims and objectives to goal outcomes. While there are always exceptions, I felt that women with whom I worked were less likely to be sidetracked by diversions than men. Their approach and priorities establishment helped me, in terms of reminding about the fact I needed to keep on time and on task. Oven many years, I was blessed to have some outstanding female members of the leadership groups which developed at my schools.

4. CUTTING TO THE CHASE

Women cut to the chase and don’t dither around the edges of issues. When confronted by tasks, they quickly align the best and most efficient way to get from task start to goal accomplishment. They do accept advice but are able to synthesise and sift valid suggestion from what might be extraneous. Women are less bogged down when it comes to dealing issues than many men. They are definitive in approach and get things done. While appreciating the contributions of those who approach shared tasks positively, they are not in the business of treating foolishness lightly. While valuing the contributions of some men within my operational sphere over the years, I knew that if something needed to be done quickly, efficiently, accurately and conclusively, it was best to delegate management and decision making to a woman.

5. SUMMARISERS AND SYNTHESISERS

It is common for women to be demeaned by men, who have them as garrulous and gossiping. This is entirely unfair and equally, incorrect. Both men and women are want to wax lyrical in social situations but when it comes to business and organisational propriety, women are far from idle chatterers. They are quick and adept at taking on board information about issues, summarising succinctly and drawing out the main points conversations confirm as needing attention. In my opinion, they do this better than men.

The capacity of ladies to synthesise and extrapolate to directions it would be wise to follow is well established. It is a fact that women have this capacity. To listen but then quickly work through to a point of where the organisation, based on information to dater, can go forward with confidence makes them people who contribute magnificently to organisations.

6. PLANNING AND TIMETABLING

Women are adept at timetabling and planning; they are meticulous plan followers. I believe they are far better at meeting deadlines than men who are in charge of organisations. Over the years I was blessed to work with ladies as members of leadership teams and had cause to thank many of them over the years for keeping me focussed and on track. Our leadership ‘mix’ always included men and women and without female contribution we would have been less effective leadership teams. Many was the time I had cause to thank the female cohort for reminding me of and insisting on the follow through of timelined obligations.

One of my smartest moves was to delegate (both task and decision making responsibilities) to ladies who were members of our leadership groups. They ensured that we managed in an ‘on time and on task way’. For mine, they come up trumps.

7. WOMEN HAVE AWARENESS

Women who lead have a 100% awareness of what is going on within and around their organisations. Their sixth sense, womanly intuition, enables them to know what is happening within the school, company or enterprise. They have a sense that keeps every aspect of their domain within their mind’s eye. Men’s awareness is less broad, less perceptive and far less acute.

Knowing their places of work so intimately enables female leaders monitor the performance of their teams. They are not nosy and intrusive, simply aware. I believe Gail Kelly, Westpac’s CEO demonstrates these leadership principles. so too, do many women who are involved within leadership teams. What blessings they bring to their workplaces.

MISSION STATEMENT

I was challenged to develop a statement of mission or purpose in 1983. Statements asked of us by Deakin University’s (Geelong Australia) Dr Colin Moyle asked that we develop a statement of 25 words of less which would be our precept and guide going forward. I spent a great deal of time in developing the following focus:

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

This guide is one I reflect upon regularly and have on the reverse side of my business card. It has been of great focussing value to me over the years. Do others have statements or mottos that reflect the principles shaping their actions? Would you be prepared to share?