A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

This article was published in the NT Sun on February 2018.

 

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

Caring for school environments is the duty of all users. If care is not taken, classrooms, walkways, toilets and school yards can quickly become littered and grubby. Most schools emphasise the need for students to properly dispose of rubbish. There are rubbish bins inside classrooms and buildings and strategically located around school, in toilets as well as communal areas.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for schools to maintain a clean, litter free appearance. A drive past some schools, particularly late in the afternoon, reveals a scatter of paper, plastic cups and other rubbish. A proliferation of rubbish detracts from the grounds appearance, giving the impression that all students are litterers. That is true only of of a minority.

Awareness of the need for classroom organisation and tidiness should be part of student development. In many classrooms there is a roster, assigning students to specific tasks. They might include the following:
• Cleaning whiteboards
• Delivering and collecting notes from the office
• Taking lunch orders to the canteen
• Collecting lunch orders from the canteen
• Tidying shelves and classroom storage areas
• Giving out and collecting work books
• Collecting recyclable materials.

All students take responsibility for:

• Tidy desks and personal storage areas
• Stacking their chairs at the end of the day
• Disposing of food scraps and their own rubbish into bins
• Putting litter into outside bins
• Personal hygiene including toilet flushing and hand washing
• Using classroom bins rather than floors for pencil shavings and scraps of paper.

Some would argue that attitudes of cleanliness and tidiness should be automatic. However, recognising effort and rewarding enterprise can help reinforce personal and civic attitudes. Recognition of class responsibility for care and maintenance of school appearance might include the following:

• The awarding at assembly of a mascot that ‘visits’ the tidiest classroom until the next assembly.
• Recognition of the class that looks after the verandahs and public areas adjacent.
• Giving small rewards to children caught ‘doing something good’ when it comes to  environmental care.
• Presenting class or principal’s certificates to classes and children who always do the right thing when it comes to school and classroom appearance.

Schools have cleaning contracts. Contractors attend to daily and weekly cleaning together with a ‘spring clean’ during each long holiday period. However, it is up to students and those using the school to look after and take pride in their facilities. Along the way, habits of cleanliness and tidiness that should last a lifetime, are reinforced.

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A ‘NO GO’.

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on February 13 2018. I would welcome reader feedback on my position. This reflection takes account of my experiences with mobile phones in schools while a school principal.

 

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A NO GO

The issue of mobile phones and students accessing them while at school has again come to the fore. The issue has become more critical because of self harm and suicides apparently motivated by the receipt of macabre messages.

Cruel messages and heartless pictures have a deleterious impact on the well-being of many students. From anecdotal evidence it seems that the impact of these messages on younger students is particularly pronounced.

We hear of students misusing their telephones during the school day to send such messages. They are also being used to “steal” photographs of others which can then be shared online. There are also stories of older students (in both primary and secondary schools) using their mobile phones during recess and lunch periods to share pornography between themselves and with younger students.

That this sort of thing is happening in schools is mind-boggling! The suggestion that it’s okay for students at school during the school day to access mobile phones when ever they want, is beyond all common sense.

We are also learning that very young students have their own devices which they are able to freely use, seemingly, whenever they wish

The latest scenario is that federal and state politicians suggesting that students should not be able to use mobile phones at school during the school day. This should not even be a point of debate. Students should not have phones and free access to the use at school during the school day. That used to be the way it was. If there has been a relaxation of the “no phone“ rule, it needs to be immediately reinstated.

Children and students bringing phones to school should be required to hand them to the front office or to a teacher for minding until home time. It would be better in the altogether for parents to resist pressures from children to supply them with “phones without operating rules”.

There are mobile phone options available which can be programmed to limit incoming and outgoing calls to pre-set numbers. The use of a limited device should be sufficient to enable necessary contact between parents and their children.

While some schools require students to bring their own devices to assist in study programs, these are usually laptops and iPads, which lend themselves to better control and monitoring. To continue unfettered phone use at school will continue the bullying and harassment trends which should not be a part of school culture.

This column was published in edited form in the ‘NT Suns’ on August 2 2017. 

Note:  Unedited columns are published in my blog.

 

ACTIVE PLAY IS BECOMING HISTORICAL

Playing in the outdoors was something members of older generations took for granted when they were children. In more recent years there has been a foreclosure on what was once unregulated freedom. Safety and security issues have raised concerns about the wisdom of young people being allowed ‘old fashioned’ freedoms of play.

The upshot, is that many young people prefer to sit and play games on screens, rather than being in the outdoors letting off steam in a running, playing manner. There are hundreds of pieces of research that have been done, all pointing toward the fact that a lack of physical action and activity is depriving children of an energy outlet in play.

It is true that many children are now playing less than used to be the case. There are of course, a growing number of play centres in cities that attract young people, but they are often at distance from where people live. It also costs a lot to patronise these centres, meaning they are beyond the means of many families.

From time to time, walking or bike riding to school are promoted as one off family days. Children walk or ride with parents or others to school. Normally the majority are dropped off and picked up by parents and carers. Even on these special walk and ride days, most children (and many bikes) are collected after school.

School and public playgrounds used to be fun places for children. However, they have been impacted by occupational health and safety (OH&S) requirements that have taken many of the fun elements out of playgrounds. Roller slides used to be powerful drawcards for children but after an accident or two, OH&S decreed that rollers had to go and be replaced by a flat plastic or metal sheet down which children slid. Fun evaporated. ‘Stranger Danger’ awareness and the possibility of needle stick injuries have also discouraged parents from allowing children access to public playgrounds without supervision.

More and more families are living in high rise apartments. Limited playing space naturally encourages sedentary activity.

For whatever reason, physical activity and letting off steam in play situations seems to be diminishing. This is an unfortunate trend and not one helpful to the development of young people. It makes play opportunities at school all the more important.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

This column was published (with abridgment) in the NT Suns on June 20 2017.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

We need to be very careful that the development of young children is not detrimental. Little children need time to absorb and to understand the world into which they are growing. In these modern times, that world is increasingly complex and difficult to understand. There is a tendency on the part of many to advocate the ‘forcing’ of learning and understanding on children before they are mature enough to grasp concepts.

Recent Early Childhood supplements in the NT News and the Suns point to the wisdom of gradually presenting learning opportunities to children. Articles in these supplements laid stress on the importance of play and providing relaxed, enjoyable places of learning for young children. The building within them of a desire to learn and having confidence in their learning, will not come if unduly hastened. ‘Force feeding’ knowledge into children goes against both common sense and espoused recommendations.

A significant point made in the Suns EC supplement was that ‘Play makes a lasting impact’. That article went on to confirm that “skills developed through quality early childhood education last a lifetime.” The critical importance of quality parenting, well prepared educators and empathetic schools count for a lot, in terms of young children growing up.

Against this backdrop of thoughtful reflection about development, come Australian Government directives that amount to premature expectation and force feeding of knowledge beyond the ability of young children to comprehend.

There are two recent examples of this imposition. The first was Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s decision that all preschool children in Australia should be introduced to the Japanese Language. How can little children possibly comprehend ‘Japan’ and the ‘why’ of this language, when they are still in the initial stages of literacy development in our mother tongue. A directive like this is confusing for them and distorts their key educational needs.

More recently PM Turnbull has decided that ” three year olds in childcare and students from preschool … upwards will be taught about suicide awareness and mental health … .” ( “Aussie youngsters get mental health boost’, NT News, 8.6.17) Specific suicide discussion could happen with children as young as 8 years of age. Introducing children to complexities beyond their comprehensive ability poses distinct risks. It is far better to provide for the emergence of happiness and satisfaction through carefully structured learning experiences, than attempting to educate through hastily conceived programs.

CHILDREN NEEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

Column published in NT Suns June 6 2017

CHILDREN NEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

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.

Play

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.

Unease

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.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

 

This column, published in the NT Suns in March 2017, focuses on the NT.  However, in my opinion, there is a NEED FORV THE APPOINTMENT OF A COUNSELLOR to the staff of every school.

SCHOOLS ARE PLACES OF HUMAN NEED

With the frenetic pace of educational issues and priorities, we tend to overlook the fact that schools are about people. Students with aims, ambitions, positive and negative feelings, commit each day to their schools. This relationship begins when children commence preschool or attendance at early learning centres. It continues through primary and middle school years. Schools are centres of important educational, social and developmental opportunities.

Along the way, there are personal challenges and setbacks. Some are of a fairly minor nature, while others have a far greater and deeper impact upon students, staff and the school community. However, it seems the need for counselling support is on the increase. It is at such times that the human face of education is of critical importance. The most recent NT tragedy was the untimely deaths of two students from Darwin High School. Their passing is having an impact upon school students and staff that is being recognised through counselling and other support services. While the essence of education is about student academics and personal development, our department is there to support those in need during times of sorrow. Counsellors offer emotional and moral support. They never quite know when counselling support will be required, so readiness to offer assistance is important.

In a wider Territory context the Department of Education at central and regional level supports those in schools impacted by death, injury or mishap of students and staff. The need for this support may be within our city schools, and those in larger towns or smaller and more remote communities.

There are a number of circumstances within schools that can cause deep distress for students, staff and in some cases parents of school children. One of the most common is bullying in its various forms. Online bullying with harsh verbals and embarrassing photographs is the most insidious and least understood method of causing hurt. It is important that these circumstances come to light, with perpetrators being called to account and victims being given support.

The need for school based counselling is on the increase. Education departments may need to consider the appointment of support counsellors in schools on a one to one basis. Counselling needs are growing; support needs to be timely and immediate.

‘BACK TO SCHOOL’ HELPS

 

  BACK TO SCHOOL POINTERS THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL FOR PARENTS

1. Be confident, not hesitantly or ‘worried’ in conversation with or around children. Doubts rub off.

2. Label possessions – clothes, lunch boxes, – clearly and indelibly.

3. Choose lunch boxes small enough to fit into school fridges. Oversize boxes are often full of emptiness and take up unnecessary refrigerated space.

4. Be aware of healthy food policy for your school. Don’t pack poor quality food.

5. Be aware of school nut policies that are often in place.

6. Cut fruit, sandwiches and other food into manageable portions. Younger children do not get on with whole pieces of fruit.

7. Defence Force children enrol from interstate at this time of year. Know about the support that can be offered through Regional Education Liaison Officer’s (REDLO’s) for primary schools and Defence School Transition mentored (DSTM’s) for secondary schools.

8. Be aware of tutorial support programs for defence children arriving from interstate.

9. Be trustful and avoid being helicopter parents.

10. If parents need to have in depth conversation with teachers, make an appointment at school office for these meeting. Don’t shoehorn in and at Teachers who are trying to introduce children to the year and settle them down.

11 . At home time, let teachers dismiss children to pack their bags including getting lunch boxes from fridge without doing it for them. Children have to learn these strategies.

12. Don’t crowd into classrooms and around doors at the start of the day or at home time. ‘Crowding’ leads to chaos. Wait at a respectful distance for children to emerge.

13. For Middle and senior school enrolments, discuss courses and study options with school coordinators within the first few weeks.

14. Most schools have parent/teacher information evenings within the first weeks of school. Plan to attend and ask question about school processes and directions.

15. Most schools have websites. Look them up on Google and read about your school.

16. LET GO OF YOUR CHILDREN FOR THE SCHOOL DAY AND BE TRUSTFUL.

17. Be aware that all teachers establish classroom rules with children. Learn from your children what they’re rules are, so parents and teachers can be together on the same expectational wavelength.

18. Become aware of school homework policy. Read handbooks.

19. If nearby when bringing or collecting children, avoid what can be disruptive conversations in loud voices with other parent. This talk can be off-putting to teachers and distracting for children.

20. Make sure vaccination and immunisation records are up to date and bring these records so they can be copied onto student enrolment data.

21. Ensure that a contact phone number is available to the school and always kept up to date.

22. Where applicable, know the cyclone policy applying to your school. Keeping a copy of this and essential data on the fridge or home notice board is not a bad idea.