OLD FASHIONED READING IS THE BEST

This piece was published in the NT Suns Newspaper on April 10 2019 under the title Books are still valuable.


In these modern times, it is easy to replace traditional reading approaches with device supported alternatives. The proof of this change is confirmed by the number of bookshops that have been relocated away from the Northern Territory, changed business focus or closed. Among these are the ABC Bookshop, Dymocks and Angus & Robertson. While newsagents carry text material, dedicated bookshops are in decline.

Tablets and electronic books are becoming ever more popular, replacing what was a preference for books and traditional texts. Newspapers and some magazines have skyrocketing numbers of online readers, but subscriptions to hardcopy and paper formats are declining.

Electronic reading is an individualised alternative. The interaction is between the reader and the device. Text sharing and discussion does not take place because this reading method is not a group activity. Reading from devices does little to promote text sharing and companionship between readers.

Jackie Sinnerton made this point in a recent column about what should be an important sharing between parents and children. She suggests that “… parents should stick with old fashioned storybooks when reading to their children and ditch the electronic devices … reading from a device or e-book fails to engage children in the same way as a storybook. Parents and children verbalise and interact more when story and pictures are in print.” (Reading more special when it’s in print, NT News, 27 March 2019)

Traditional reading offers interactive opportunities for parents and children. Quoting from a prominent paediatrician Dr Tiffany Munzer, Sinnerton explains that the tradition of parents and children reading together offers “ … interactions, including warmth, closeness and enthusiasm during reading (which) create positive associations with reading (that) will likely stick with children as they get older.” (Op cit).

Although not stated, this benefit will in all likelihood be carried forward and become a habit that today’s children will practice as tomorrow’s parents.

Traditional reading promotes family togetherness. It also supports children in their acquiring of reading, conversational and comprehension skills.

The NT News and other papers belonging to the Murdock stable recognise the importance of shared readings in the family context. From time to time, sets of books which can be purchased by families reading newspapers, are offered for sale at most reasonable prices. This is a positive and practical initiative.

Access to traditional books and sharing quality time focussing on written text, adds value to family life. Children from homes where shared reading and discussion is a family habit, stand to gain a head start in reading, discussion and social sharing which are elements of formal schooling.

SCHOOLS ARE COMMUNITY HUBS

This column was published in the NT Sun Newspaper on April 2 2019 under the title Schools can be top drawer.


A recent article in the NT News (March 23 2019) confirms that schools can have an almost magnetic appeal to people. In her column School can seal the deal, Raphaella Saroukos confirms what many educators have known to be a truth for a long time, that “Parents are placing their child’s education first when it comes to buying into the residential market”.

She is absolutely right. When parents with school aged children are looking to buy a home, the qualities and characteristics of schooling opportunities is a prime consideration. Saroukos emphasises the point that “a school’s quality and reputation are a growing incentive for buyers who (in time) can enrol their children in certain middle and high schools.” These are the secondary schools available once children complete their primary school years.

Increasingly, schools advertise their wares and what they offer for students. This is happening through print, radio and television advertising. The vast majority of schools augment this outreach through websites, facebook accounts and by using the ‘My School’ application.

While important, promotion alone does not confirm the quality of education offered by individual schools.

The atmosphere or feeling generated by the way students, staff and parents relate to each other is of critical importance. This quality is not created by school buildings and facilities. It is about the way people connected with schools get on together.

Sought-after-schools have strong and practised values. An overarching quality is the respect that everyone within a school community has for each other. The best promotion that can happen is word of mouth, with satisfied parents, students and staff sharing their perceptions with others. This may lead to increasing school enrolments as others seek the same quality of education for their children.

Saroukos’ column illustrates this point. Those reading her column (and with school enrolment in mind) might appreciate her citing of parents who were motivated to purchase a home in Wulagi because of the school. Parent Shardae Harris is quoted: “I love the school, the teachers are great and Jamal (son) enjoys it … it’s better for us as parents to sleep at night knowing he loves going to school.” (Op cit)

The Saroukos column is focussed on housing in areas where the quality of schooling is known about by estate agencies. Aside from Wulagi, she confirms that other sought after school suburbs include Driver, Leanyer, Nakara, Parap, Stuart Park and Wanguri.

The quality of education on offer is a prime consideration for families buying houses in our suburbs.

CHILDREN NEED REASSURANCE IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

This column was published in the NT Suns Newspaper on March 26 2019, under the title Reassuring your kids.


We are living in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world. Safety and security are paramount issues and frequently the centre of conversations.

Terrorism is increasingly global and no country or region is guaranteed as safe from its impacts. The Christchurch massacre on March 15 showed that to be the case.

Questions about safety and the uncertainty of security affect both adults and children. For children, one of the most significant impacts has been the requirement that schools develop lock down policies. Policies are periodically drilled for the sake of awareness, so that if schools are under threat they can be safely implemented.

Children of all ages are very aware of what is happening in the world. ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’ elements of life are constantly brought to their attention through media and by listening and contributing to conversations.

Sarah Parry and Jez Oldfield wrote that “While adults often have enough life experience to … take a long term perspective toward such disasters, children can face different challenges.” ( How to talk to children about terrorism, The Conversation, June 5, 2017.) Events such as the Christchurch massacre cause children to “… experience much higher levels of distress than usual. … this can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, … (children) becoming very snappy … withdrawn … not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Op cit)

Shielding children from confronting reality does not work and is an unhelpful strategy. Parry and Oldfield write that “… young people today are exposed to anxiety provoking information like never before. Rather than shielding children from inevitable stressors, we need to focus on arming them with balanced information, compassion, hope and the chance to develop their resilience.” (Op cit)

Rather than hiding the horror of terrorism from children, frank discussion, including answering their questions, is a wiser approach. Parry and Oldfield suggest the following strategies.

• Ask children how they feel about what they have seen or heard. Then address their feelings.

• Remind children that helpers of those distressed are the real heroes. Discuss their bravery, decency and morality.

• Be conscious of the need to “ … enhance children’s confidence, sense of bravery, ability to problem solve and develop their moral compass” through empathetic and understanding parental support.

• Sorting the truth from myth and misinformation that circulates after tragedy, helps children keep things in perspective.

• Be conscious of the need to reassure young people about parental and adult care for their safety. Parry and Oldfield (op cit) offer wise words. “ Being able to reassure young people that they are safe, loved and cared for can make all the difference.”

These considerations are paramount in helping children during uncertain times.

TEACHERS MET REPORTING RESPONSIBILITY

This was published in the NT Suns Newspapers on March 5 2019 under the title In defence of teachers.

While relating to one particular case, the matter of teachers being under appreciated when it comes to reporting issues, happens far too often. Teachers make good scapegoats.


A Sunday Territorian headline (24 February 2019) ‘Teachers failed to save kids’ deserves a response. The story reported that “ a judge has lambasted teachers at a Darwin school for failing to protect children who were being sexually abused by a after school worker. … Justice Anthony Graham was scathing of the “failure” of school authorities … to act on “warning signals” (apparent) as early as November 2013.”

Any abuse of children is deplorable and the perpetrator has drawn a sentence that reflects the gravity of his actions.

However, I am concerned the story fails to recognise that teachers concerned acted responsibly and met the scope of reporting requirements expected of them.

Requirements about mandatory reporting of suspected misconduct against children are covered by Department of Education policy. The need for teachers and educators to be vigilant on matters of student welfare are embedded within the administration of every Territory school.

These policies and procedures have been in place for many years. They are regularly revised and updated as necessary.

Principals of all schools are required to conduct an inservice that covers all aspects of mandatory reporting at the beginning of each semester. The program covers guidelines on the ‘mandatory reporting of harm and exploitation of children’. The inservice is supported by a powerpoint presentation that can be printed and distributed to staff.

All staff are required to sign a document confirming they have been inserviced. Their names, together with a principal declaration which includes an attendance sheet, is sent to the Department of Education.

This program extends to include all people employed or who offer volunteer services at the school. This includes outside school hours care staff members.

In the case reported by the Sunday Territorian, the school adhered strictly to this policy. “The matter was raised with the child’s mother and a report was made to child protection services but … the matter was not referred to police … .” (Op cit.). In this and on subsequent occasions, reporting requirements were met by the school.

Judith Aisthorpe ( Lawler defends conduct, NT News, 25/2/2019) cites Acting Education Minister Eva Lawler who confirmed that “ … all mandatory reporting obligations … were fulfilled by teachers and the school.”

Council of Government School Organisations President Tabby Fudge is reported as saying “ … the children were let down by departments …”

I do not accept that the Education Department or the school should have been held to blame for this sad happening. Judicial criticism of their actions was misplaced. Teachers and school principals adhere to the highest of reporting standards.

PRINCIPAL ABUSE MUST BE RECTIFIED

This column was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on March 12 2019 under the title Violence is a major worry.


A recent Australia-wide study undertaken by Professor Phillip Riley for the Australian Catholic University confirmed an alarming trend towards violence directed at school leaders. “School leaders are almost ten times more likely to be physically assaulted at work than the general population, with women employed at government primary schools the most at risk. … 45 per cent of principals experienced threats of violence during 2018 while 37 per cent were subjected to acts of physical violence.” ( Students, parents attacking teachers, Rebecca Urban, ‘The Australia’, 27/2/2019)

This survey on principal safety and wellbeing has been undertaken annually since 2011. Evidence confirms bullying, threatening and assaulting behaviour as an escalating issue.

Our local school leaders are not exempt from this dire situation. “ … half the Northern Territory’s school principals have been physically attacked at work according to the survey.” (Wave of abuse at principals, Natasha Emeck NT News 27/2/2019). This is appalling! The matter needs to be firmly addressed and not accepted as being normal, tolerated behaviour.

The NT Government and Department of Education uphold the safety of school staff as being a matter of utmost importance. If this position is to have meaning, there needs to be more than acquiescing to the abuse trending towards school leaders. The issue should also be one of the highest priorities on the NT Principals Association agenda.

Principals (and indeed all staff) have a right to feel protected and should not be discouraged from reporting and following through on matters of assault.

Anecdote suggests that over time, the impact of quite serious assaults on school leaders have been downplayed and almost swept under the carpet. Principals should not be made to feel embarrassed about responding proactively to verbal or physical assault. Indeed, response should be encouraged and have the absolute backing of educational authorities and professional associations. The Education Department’s legal arm should be to the fore in supporting principals and prosecuting assailants through the courts.

It is not good enough for principals to be given an annual allowance to fund programs helping them cope with the stress of assault. That is tantamount to accomodating actions which should never occur.

Firm action against abusive students and adults will provide a clear and visible message that school leaders (and teachers) are not prepared to absorb this behaviour. That action has to be paramount. Assault against principals must not be tolerated. The trend must be countered openly, visibly and with full backing by Government, the Education Department and the Principals Association.

NAPLAN THE ALBATROSS

NAPLAN keeps hundreds of educators in permanent jobs. Since its inception, NAPLAN has become an institution costing at least a billion dollars, maybe more.

Since being introduced in 2008, it has become a monster.

NAPLAN dominates the educational thinking in schools, their controlling systems, State, Territory and Australian Education Ministries.

It has spawned countless highly level salaried positions in curriculum departments and ACARA.

NAPLAN underpins the focus of many school staff meetings. It always influences the agendas of school principals gatherings. It occupies the system hierarchy whenever state and territory administrators and leaders meet to consider key issues. It exercises the minds of education ministers whenever they gather to consider Australia wide educational matters.

Without NAPLAN, meetings would be shorter and called far less frequently than is the case.

NAPLAN predicates the thinking of classroom teachers. “Your score is my score”, the words of Tim Chappell when singing about the subject, are ingrained into the thinking of those responsible for preparing children for these annual excursions into the study of comparative data.

NAPLAN is about more than three days of testing each May for students sitting the tests. ‘Pretesting’ programs commence in many schools weeks and even months before the tests are administered. Students practice and practise and in all honesty get to be bored stupid by all the pretesting attention that goes on. When students are asked about the tests, they confirm this to be the case.

NAPLAN is an industry. It engages thousands of people in primarily focussing their attention on its accumulation of data. Teaching and strategies are driven by the data imperative that has its base in NAPLAN.

This program in its many parts is like unto the seven headed hydra of Australian Education.

NAPLAN has come with a huge cost and through the years of its operation, has given little back.