WINDING DOWN

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

 

WINDING DOWN

 

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.

YEAR 12’S ON CUSP OF FUTURE

 

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.

 

YEAR 12’S ON CUSP OF FUTURE

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

THE SCHOOL YEAR ENDS (FOR 2016)

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

REFLECTION AND RECHARGE TIME

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.

HINDSIGHT ON A CAREER

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.

NAPLAN NEEDS A RETHINK

THINK AGAIN ABOUT NAPLAN

With the release of the 2016 NAPLAN results, education again enters a lengthy period of self-examination and study of outcomes. With results released a prolonged period of data analysis now commences. Australian, State and Territory level results will be dissected, followed by a examination of individual student performance at school level. Everything else about education may mark time, allowing this exercise to be pursued without interruption.

Every year, States and Territories are offered plaudits or brickbats depending on results. School results are minutely analysed with the publication of results online at the “My Schools” website.

By the beginning of 2017 this year’s study will be exhausted. Then it will be time to prepare for the May tests. Students in the testing years (three, five, seven and nine) will be subjected to trial testing programs aimed at getting them ready for the tests in May.

Of course schools are advised not to go overboard when it comes to readiness for testing. However, with so much attaching to NAPLAN outcomes, this advice is rarely heeded. In actual fact, systems want their schools to do well so they compare favourably with their intra-territory and interstate counterparts. Systems also seek and value kudos based on test results.

The costs of saturating Australia’s educational system with NAPLAN must be mind-boggling. It’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that since 2008, when universal testing was introduced, hundred of millions of dollars have been poured into the program.

A major flaw is the interpretation of NAPLAN’s importance. The tests measure narrowly defined academic competencies of four student groups, at the same time each year. The rest of the year and the successes of all students seem to count for little. This testing with its academic focus seems to imply that holistic education is of little consequence. Teacher quality is spoken of in terms of teachers having the ability to prepare children for these tests. There should be more to quality education than fixation on testing regimes.

What of the students

I don’t know if anybody has thought to ask students what they think about this program. If they were to be asked, there might be some interesting, enlightening and eye-opening responses. I believe there would be little appreciation of the weeks and months of pre-test preparation many of them have to endure. A student forum on this program is well worth considering. Whether notice would be taken of their viewpoint is altogether another matter.

GIVING BACK

I am entering my fifth year since retiring as a full time educator and school principal. Experience grows upon us all. It’s incremental and in line with the number of years we have been working along with the classification of positions we have held. As experienced educators, we should consider coaching, mentoring and retaining an interest in our profession.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those who saw their way clear to help us during the years of our development. The best way of honouring that debt is to give back in the same way, to those who follow bus into the educational profession.

To walk away without considering those coming behind is almost unprofessional. As educators, both present and past, we are members of a fraternity. Education is a giving profession. There is joy in giving back and supporting those following in our footsteps.

Do for others what was done for you.

THE EMERGENCE OF A GURU (The Birthing of Educational Practice)

The Emergence of a Guru
(The birthing of new educational ideas, which translate into practice)

Once upon a time on the eve of a Melbourne Cup day, an ordinary man had an extraordinary dream. In his dream it came to him that he needed to do only ONE thing in order to achieve personal greatness. In his dream the lightbulb of his subconscious mind flashed on. In order to achieve greatness he needed to develop a … develop a … THEORY. A new way forward.

A Theory! FANTASTIC!!

This very ordinary person thought about the inspiration presented to him in his dreams.
This new idea would be something he wanted to develop, espouse and portray orally and in written form. The would want to share his theory with one and all. He wanted it to be new, big and exciting. He wanted it to work for him in a way that would bring him acclaim, pecuniary emollient and above all, recognition.

He wanted to be a GURU. An ordinary man lifted to extraordinary heights caused by the ‘realisation and awakening’ of his theory falling on the ears of those who wanted to be convinced that his idea would indeed be a new way forward.

This “would be” Guru realised the importance of promoting and marketing his new idea.
So he talked about his new theory and never let a moment rest when he wasn’t theorising to others.

At first people were only mildly interested in the would be Guru’s Theory.
But like a little rock thrown into the middle a pond produces a ripple that spreads and spreads, the interest grew and grew and grew. It became quite exponential.

Gatherings of people (who self-defined as learned ones) began to talk, to echo and reflect upon the theory of this “Great One” who had come into their midst. They could not get enough of his exposition.

He went on a major lecture tour, preaching his theory in places wide-ranging in nature
– from small country town halls to metropolitan convention centres.

He was widely acclaimed and received by audiences everywhere in the educated world.
Figuratively (and in some cases literally) they fell at his feet. At times he couldn’t believe that he, an ordinary man, had become a “Guru Centric”.

Now it was that this Guru became a cult figure lauded by those who ranged from very high IQ’s to more run of the mill citizens. This acceptance by everyone became a denominator that linked people of all persuasions.

People paid to hear the words of this now Mighty Guru, basking in the matter and manner of his presentations.

People paid to buy his words. He made a mint from PowerPoint sales, DVD’s, essays and texts and by uploading these words into cyberspace and onto the net where they could be downloaded by adherents – for quite substantial remuneration.

Those of mercenary bent designed and sold T-shirts, mugs, writing stationery and other items enhanced by his countenance and embellished by his signature. He even became a hero on Pokemon cards.

Like Pedro climbing the mountain, he had reached dizzying heights of stratospheric proportion. He WAS the “Great One” above and looking down on all below him.

HIS was the pinnacle of life.

As the Guru
THIS GURU
Looked down and proclaimed.
“I’m on top of the world
Looking down on my creation
And the only explanation I can find
A the people I see
Looking at me, Me, ME,
Think I am special
And one of a kind.”

Of course the admiration of his adoring public eventually reached saturation point.
His theory had achieved a status of becoming standard household and workplace practice.
There was no more tinsel and glitter about his new idea. Then of course it was time for role to move on, embracing other thoughts that were new, untried and untested.

So it was that his adoring ones moved on, creating new heroes, new Gurus, all the while continuing to practice the habit of ‘discipleship’. They of course were dedicated to being followers.

He was quite happy to let them go. He had had his turn! The translation of his ordinariness into extraordinariness had earned him years of substantial acclaim and one huge pile of dollars.

Years later he pondered the “why”. Why can mortals rise, their ordinary becoming extraordinary.

Through his ponderings he realised it takes time, effort, thought and creativity to translate a dream into reality.
He wondered about his experience. And wow, what an experience.

“Guruism” had set him up for life. He faced the prospect of enjoying an early, long and carefree retirement.

“Blessed be ordinary people who take ordinary people and create for themselves a Guru Class.
I am glad, so glad I was able to cater for those who had itchy ears and who longed for excitement. Thanks to my theory I feel better now .

,

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.

Conclusion

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

________________________________________________________

KEEP A CLIPPINGS FILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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