COMES THE 2018 SCHOOL YEAR

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

THE SCHOOL YEAR AHEAD

 

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

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

 

There are several misunderstandings that need to be dispelled.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

 

Edited version published in the NT Suns on September 5 2017

 

SCHOOL STAFFING A 40 YEAR OLD YO-YO

It’s on again! For the past 40 plus years, the issue of class sizes has occupied the minds of educators. The subject is one that has dominated the thinking of parents, classroom teachers, principals and system administrators. Documenting the changes that have taken place in both primary and secondary schools, urban and rural over the years, would fill the pages of a large book.

The argument about class sizes grows from educational theory and classroom practice. It includes issues of student age and ability. It differentiates between desk based learning and more practical lessons requiring the engagement of specialist teachers and equipment.

The current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) between the Department of Education and teachers is due to expire in October. Among changes being sought by the Australian Education Union (NT) is for Territory class sizes to be reduced from 27 to 25.

The NT Government became responsible for administering Territory Education in 1979. During the 38 years since, there have been innumerable expansions and contractions in class sizes. These changes have been endorsed as part of the process attached to policy management and shifts in educational priorities.

The staffing formula once used to determine teacher entitlement took one side of an A4 page. In recent years, that has changed. Calculating exact teacher numbers for schools is no longer a simple process. It is one that has been made more complex by the fact that student classification (including special teaching needs and behaviour management) is taken into account when determining staff entitlements for each school. What was a simple process is now a complex issue.

Practical matters also cloud staffing considerations. When teachers are absent, it is not always possible to employ relief staff to cover classes. There are generally more positions in schools to be filled than relief teachers available for employment. Relief teachers will not always accept employment because of travel difficulties and other problems.

When causal teachers are not available, groups may have to be split, with students adding to the numbers in other classes. For primary, middle and senior schools, teachers may have to forego release time.
Assigning specialist teachers to general classroom teaching duties is another ‘solution’, that while necessary, is certainly not desirable. It can mean program changes and students missing out on art, music, physical education and other specialised subjects.

It is one thing to develop a formula for class sizes and another altogether to make it work.

 

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.

NEW TEACHERS, NEW BEGINNINGS

Published in the ‘Sun’ in the NT, in February 2017.

NEW TEACHERS FACE NEW BEGINNINGS

Last week marked the commencement of careers for over 100 new teachers in our schools. Some have been appointed to urban schools, others to more remote corners of the NT. ‘Urban’ includes schools beyond Darwin Palmerston and Alice Springs. Katherine, Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy are classed as urban schools.

Then there are community, settlement and outstation schools. It is to all these places that teachers new to the profession have been assigned.

An induction program for beginning teachers offered some exposure to the situation in which they will find themselves. This program of several days duration, covered departmental issues and curriculum requirements. However, it is only after taking up appointment and commencing duty that specific learning and understanding will impact the teaching experience.

The ultimate for all teachers, following probationary periods, is the gaining of permanent status. That makes them eligible for home loans and can admit them to the mortgage market.

For teachers who are permanent, a career stretches before them that may seem to be quite endless. There is no telling the end from the beginning. New teachers are full of optimism and feel good about the future. All want to make a difference, helping children learn. This motivation holds, regardless of appointment location.

Successful teachers will develop strong professional relations with colleagues. Sharing experiences and learning from each other, school leadership teams, students, parents and community will be important to their development. May they do well in their chosen profession.

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.