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.

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

An edited version of vthis paper was published in the NT Suns on August 15, 2017  

 

NAPLAN DETRACTS FROM EDUCATION

NAPLAN outcomes and results are again in the spotlight. Media is involved in reporting and commentating on state, territory and overall Australian results. As usual, the NT is shown as being on the bottom rung of the performance ladder.

School Educators in the NT are made to spend far too much time dealing with the issues of NAPLAN preparation and fallout. Preparation for the May tests in reading, writing and mathematics is on from the first day of every school year. While the key focus is on children in years three, five, seven and nine, whole schools and their communities are affected by preparation for NAPLAN as the number one priority on Australia’s educational calendar. It seems at times that little else matters.

There is a lot more to student development than these tests, yet NAPLAN envelopes the annual educational calendar. System leaders talk of the importance of teaching methodologies and strategies that lead to enhanced student results and data improvement in tested fields. The agendas of staff meetings in many schools are dominated by a preoccupation with data outcomes. Meetings of principals and school leaders have, for many years, had the issues of NAPLAN and data very high on discussion agendas.

After ten years and the expenditure of billions of dollars on NAPLAN, very little has changed. In terms of comparison with the rest of the world, Australian student performance is at best, mediocre to poor. A few schools here and there celebrate. Most of these are in green belts that boast community stability and family affluence.

Comparasion specialists seem to get a great deal of satisfaction from pointing the finger at the NT because of our coverall results that place us last on any comparative table. This negative approach goes all the way back to the ‘seas of red’ (school underperformance) that used to attract a double page spread in the NT News.

Few people ever stop to think about how students feel about this testing regime. Without doubt, children are pressured by constant talk of testing, particularly when so much of the conversation is about negative outcomes. They must also become both frustrated and bored by the constant practice commencing many months prior to May’s testing week.

There should be much, much more to education than an annual reporting regime, magnified beyond its real worth.

 

ENGLISH MUST COME FIRST

 

Published in NT Suns in March 2017

 

ENGLISH MUST BE THE KEY FOCUS

Sometimes educational ideas appear to lack common sense. Thoughts about change are based on whims and the sudden revelation of ‘good ideas’. When these utterances are made by important people and key decision makers, they cannot really be ignored. In my opinion, an example of policy being made on the run is Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham having decided that it’s important for all Australian preschool children to learn Japanese.

Pronouncing Japanese as ‘the’ language to be learned ignores the fact that some schools have chosen to learn an indigenous dialect or to prioritise Indonesian, Mandarin or some other language.

This initiative overlooks an important language need. Our children must become well-versed in the understanding and use of English. Superimposing other languages, particularly in early schooling years can detract from this “homegrown” language need. The time and attention that is devoted to studying a foreign language is the time and attention that should be given to mastery of our mother tongue.

The English Language involves more than just speaking. There is listening, interpretation, comprehension and understanding, along with reading and writing. The way in which Australian young people understand and use our basic language, suggests that these elements are often lacking. NAPLAN tests certainly confirm these deficits.

There is no guarantee of any permanent and ongoing immersion of children in the study of Japanese or other foreign languages. Spur of the moment initiatives often fade quickly. This new alternative language approach is likely to be dropped as suddenly as it was introduced. This often leaves language learners in limbo because there is no follow-through. In turn, this could give rise to cynical attitudes toward a study of languages other than English alternative language study.

For Japanese to succeed as a second language, study opportunity would need to be continued through primary and into secondary school. That would need to happen around the Territory and Australia. There is little likelihood that this will happen.

Many employers are concerned about language and literacy deficits among young people. They say that young people have very poor communication skills, cannot write, cannot hold an intelligent conversation and often don’t understand what’s going on because of poor literacy.

Surely, this fix needs to come from within the educational system. The earlier children begin to have a sound understanding and working knowledge of the English language and its use, the better. Putting that off and substituting a language other than English may be unwise.

MORE TO EDUCATION THAN YEAR 12

Column published in NT Suns in February 2017.

Education is for the whole of life and the foundational years of schooling are the most important. Year 12 is one year of and along the continuum of learning and development.

MORE TO EDUCATION THAN YEAR 12

Year 12 is often portrayed as the pinnacle year of education. Stories and conversations lay stress on the importance of this final year of secondary schooling. The years leading toward year 12 and those following, are often far less illuminated.

Year 12 is important as a year of study culmination. Stress is placed upon its importance to young people as they reach this crossroads in their education. Inability to earn a satisfying TER score is portrayed as a frightening concept.

Year 12 does not have to be a frightening year or threatening period. Neither should it be regarded as a stand alone year on the educational pathway.

Every year of school is important. Perhaps the most significant years are those from preschool through to year three. These early years are the foundation period during which key principles and precepts of basic learning take place. For schools focussing on holistic education, it is when principles of social, emotional and moral/spiritual development are added to a focus on academics. When undertaken in partnership with parents, this approach is one offering a stable base upon which character and educational development can take place.

Early childhood is sometimes discounted as not being all that important. This is entirely wrong, for the building blocks of education are set in place during these initial years of schooling.

Wise students are those who build upon previous learning year by year, gaining the most from school. This positive attitude will ensure that each educational challenge is met with fortitude, not worry or fear.

In the years leading to year 12, students have the opportunity to choose either academic or technical/vocational pathways. Appropriate choices will open up future options, academically or in trades occupations.

Year 12 is often portrayed as presenting new, possibly insurmountable challenges to students, but this only applies in cases where students have not made the best of their years leading to this point in time. While parents and teachers can help young people keep focussed, it is their inner motivation that counts. And those attitudes are born during initial schooling years

Our Territory needs young people who become future contributors to the economy. Whether or not we ever achieve statehood depends on our ability to consolidate the NT on a sound, sustainable economic footing. And that largely depends on today’s students.

NEVER LOSE PRIME CONTACT WITH STUDENTS

School Principals and leaders should NEVER lose contact with students.

I was a regular in classrooms and programmed teaching until the last three years of my principalship years. It then became more incidental but was maintained. Principals need to know their students and the best way to achieve that is by teaching them. I most certainly read all reports to parents written by teachers and wrote my own comments to the child on each report. As a principal I found children valued knowing I valued them. Part of this was possible because I engaged my leadership group fulsomely in the business of school operations. Sharing in this way enabled me to share time with children.

Things CAN become busy from an adminstrative viewpoint but we neglect establishing and maintaining meaningful connnections with students at our peril.

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

THE GOOD SIDE OF YOUTH

It is unfair and alarming that minorities can colour opinions held for majorities. This is particularly the case for children and young people.

Popular media constantly saturates viewing, listening and reading time with stories about misdemeanours and crime attributable to young people. U Tube, Facebook and social media often embellish these stories of wrongdoing. Most run stories about children and young people, focus on negative behaviour. Assaults, unlawful entry, property damage and destruction headline these reports. That has again been highlighted in the NT and Australia by media reporting during the recent school holiday period.

An alarming outcome of this focus is that perceptions held for every young person becomes distorted. The community can lose respect for all young people because of the actions of a minority. To regard them all in this way would be a gross misinterpretation.

The Reality

The majority of young people have a positive outlook on life and are keen to succeed. From primary school through to secondary and tertiary years, most are motivated and keen to do their very best. They are respected by teachers, supported by parents and are positive generational ambassadors. They are people of fine character, building solid academic, social, emotional and moral foundations.

Many undertake part time work in the retail trade. They are shelf packers, check out attendants, floor cleaners and shopping trolley retrievers for supermarkets and stores. Some involve in the hospitality industry, working after school hours and at weekends. Some may fritter their earnings, but many save for a purpose. That might be for a car, to defray tertiary education costs or to fund travel.

Young people of all ages devote time to sporting activities, including participation and volunteering as coaches and umpires. Others involve in artistic or cultural pursuits gaining confidence and skill. Self-improvement and community service is manifest in other ways. Children join scouts, guides, junior police rangers, tae-kwon-do and karate groups, St. John Ambulance and similar organisations. A large percentage go on to become leaders and instructors of these groups, demonstrating their commitment to self-betterment and community good.

We can but hope that young people who have been involved in wrongful behaviour come to a point of self-realisation and correction. Support from families and authorities helps, but ultimately character change has to come from within.

In overall terms and as a senior citizen, I believe the future of the Territory is in the capable hands of fine young people. They deserve our encouragement, support, recognition and appreciation.

VALUE and LEARN from EDUCATIONAL HISTORY

While based on the Northern Territory, there is a need for educational history to be appreciated and respected on a global basis.

EDUCATIONAL HISTORY SHOULD NOT BE DISREGARDED

One of the sad deficits confronting Northern Territory Education is the lack of recorded history. Very poor attention has been paid to recording past developments.

When appointed as the CEO of Northern Territory Education in 2009, Gary Barnes highlighted this issue. He said there was little documentation on system history to which he could refer. This limitation put him in a challenging position. He identified the lack of historical information as a major oversight.

Nothing happened before 1992

The Department of Education computerised many of it’s systems in 1992. Manually compiled records developed prior to that date are not readily accessible. Inquiry about earlier matters often go unanswered because nobody has access to requested information. It is not uncommon for long term and now retired educators, to be rung and asked if they can recall answers to historical questions. It is almost as if the foundational years of NT Education never happened.

A priority should be retrieval and electronic recording of what remains of NT educational history. Ideally, that project should embrace individual schools, educational regions and the system as a whole.

A way of starting might be to create a web page which invites people to input information either anecdotally or more formally. This could be periodically moderated and formatted.

Some Data

Some schools have better historical recall because of document preservation. School newsletters, yearbooks and school council documentation are three sources providing information about their past. A few have even compiled school histories. Parap School for example, celebrated its 50th anniversary with the release of a book which summarised its years of growth and development

However, there has been no concerted effort on the part of our system or most schools to compile a documented record about development.

This deprives newcomers the chance to appreciate the background of schools. It also means that principals and system leaders are “starting over” when it comes to considering future school and system direction. Changes made without considering history can lead to past mistakes, or poor policy decisions being revisited.

It is important to look ahead. However, awareness of the past should inform the future. Reflection can help avoid revisiting pitfalls at both school and system level. It is rather sad that public education in the NT, in looking forward, seems to discount what happened in the past. Our lack of recorded history needs to be addressed.