NT SCHOOL HOLIDAYS – THE JURY IS OUT

This was published in the NT Sun on September 25 2018

HOLIDAY CHANGES – THE JURY IS OUT

The 2018 school year is ‘icebreaking’. A new holiday structure is in place and operating for the first time. This has significantly changed the organisation of our school year. Under the old program, each school semester of 20 weeks was divided into two ten week terms. The mid semester break was of four weeks duration, with a week between terms three and four.

From this year, the four week holiday period in the middle of the year (June, July) was reduced to 3 weeks. The extra week has been moved into the break between term three and term four. This year’s two week break is from next Monday October 1 to Friday October 12.

The decision to change the NT school holiday schedule was made after surveys were conducted by the CLP Government during its last term in office. Education Minister Peter Chandler organised the extensive review of school holiday arrangements. Parents, teachers and community members were asked their opinion of the structure and whether they believed a change was necessary.

Responses indicated that the majority of Territorians felt change was overdue. The decision was between the holiday model of southern states (six weeks at Christmas and two weeks at the end of each term) and the one that has been adopted.

There has been a mixed reaction to the new holiday schedule. However, until the full change has been experienced, it will be hard to determine the benefit or otherwise of this approach.

Traditionally, the second half of every school year is more intense, more mentally sapping and energy using than the first half. This has to do in large part with final assessments and exam preparations. There are also very few public holidays in the latter part of the year. Down time for a single week between term three and term four was judged as insufficient for students and teachers to have a meaningful break.

Hopefully the longer break will enable them to enter the last stanza of the school year feeling more ready and refreshed than has been the case up until now.

There have been some concerns that the change will impact on Year 12 students preparing for their TER examinations.
This should not be an issue for students who have regular and timetabled study habits

Time will tell whether the change makes any significant difference to the NT education year. The new schedule should be in place for several years before comparisons are made.

TIME CONSTRAINTS CHALLENGE DIFFERENTIATED TEACHING

“Differentiation … means teachers plan for the children who are actually in their class, instead of designing lessons for their idea of the “average” child.” (Graham, L., and Cologon, C., ” … What is differentiation and why is it so important”, The Conversation, March 8, 2015.)

This is a telling article, and covers the topic fulsomely. One point that needs to be taken into account is that of ‘time’. Preparing for each individual and meeting by the needs of children in solo specific manner is almost a utopian ambition. In practical terms, when teachers have classes approaching 30 chiildren in number, this ambition becomes almost impossible to fulfil.

The fact that teachers want to be 100% differentiators between children and the realisation they can’t because of time constraints, can lead to feelings of professional melancholy. That can escalate to educators suffering from self doubt and feeling guilt about the jobs they are doing.

Limitations have to be realised. Self flagellating because of not beiong able to meet the impossible should be avoided. In is in this environment that collegiate encouragement and professional support for those doubting themselves is so important.

WE NEED SCHOOL COUNSELLORS

We live in times where confusion reigns, Young people have their senses assailed by propaganda coming at them from many different sources including social media. Students and classes need quiet times and the chance for meaningful exchange with counsellors who can help, when it comes to establishing priorities and revisiting values. The need for ethics awareness and the building of honesty as key characteristics is often overlooked. It is true to say that in these modern times, many young people are disquieted about unfolding events. Class, group and individual conversations with counsellors would go a long way toward overcoming their concerns.

The chaplaincy concept is an Australian Government initiative. Funding is available to schools applying to join the program. A prime aim of the program was to build a values culture within schools. At the same time, limitations imposed upon chaplains meant this became an impossible task and the program has largely floundered.

Maybe the Federal Minister for Education, could consider discontinuing the chaplaincy program. Training of counsellors to work with students in schools could instead be implemented. Qualified counsellors are scarce on the ground. To include ‘counsellors’ as a specialist category in teacher training or re-training programs would help meet this dire need.

While this comment is cast in an Australian context, school counsellors to help with the guidance of students are needed everywhere. There is so much instability in life, that any assurance students can receive will be of great help.

CAN TRUST BE RESTORED?

An era of accountability, assessment, and compliance requirement now has a major influence on education. Times have changed. People are now called to account more zealously than used to be the case. Appreciation is less forthcoming and demand for results within narrow academic strands of accomplishment are front and centre. Trust in teachers and school staff to do their jobs without their efforts being closely monitored has all but vanished. Conversations with school based educators confirms that most feel under growing stress and pressure.

Accountability and compliance pressures have resulted in a refocus of teaching strategies and data collection. Data is all about justification. It is the number one topic that occupies the agendas of educational meetings in both schools and higher departmental levels. Focus on data, student results and comparisons of students with those elsewhere are the major drivers.

This pressure puts educators under constant stress. There is no respite, no letup and no longer an underlying enjoyment of teaching. This in turn is transferred to students in classrooms. Teachers and students are educational game players who MUST meet predetermined teaching and learning outcomes.

It may be a cry too late, but teachers and students must be trusted to teach and learn without the need for their every move to be minutely examined.

ONLINE COMMUNICATION HAS ITS LIMITATIONS

While written with the Northern Territory in mind, the thoughts conveyed have traction in all situations where communication is important. Don’t overdo the technological alternatives or skip on primary communication opportunities.

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ONLINE COMMUNICATION HAS ITS LIMITS

The NT. Department of Education (DoE) has a website. It can be found by simply googling ‘NT Department of Education’. That brings up a home page with links to all current initiatives, policies and everything else that relates to education. All it takes is locating the home page, perusing links and going to the information sought. Opening some links will reveal others that either extend a particular topic or point to sub-links for further elaboration. There are options for online reading, or opening and printing documents for later study.

Nearly every school in the NT has a website. A great deal can be learnt about our schools by googling school names and following the links. Included on the websites of most schools is information about their interpretation of Departmental policies. Priorities, processes and procedures are included. So too, are details about financial health and NAPLAN test outcomes.

Most questions people have about educational matters have answers that can be quite easily found by going online. Notwithstanding this source of information, questions often remain unanswered. One reason may be that answers to queries are not satisfying.

On occasion, what is written may be in language that is hard to understand because of terminology, acronym usage or jargon. Things need to be written in a clear, understandable and friendly genre. This may help minimise confusion. A good example of clear written communication is that of general information included in the NT News ‘Back to School’ supplement (22 January). Included were details about term dates and the ‘Back to School’ Vouchers. There is often ambiguity within the community about dates, school funding and parental assistance schemes. Clear statements in print clarify things far more quickly than an invitation to go online and explore issues requiring answers.

Old Fashioned Contact

While the Internet can add a dimension to communication, I do not believe it should replace the more traditional methods schools use when making contact with parents and community. Neither should the Department rely solely on web based contact . It is wrong to assume that people will, automatically seek answers to their queries by going online.

Online communication options have their place. However, the web places parents, schools and the Department at distance from each other. Online communication is impersonal. I believe there is a place for print media and conversation to be part of the way we discuss education. Traditional school newsletters, memos and letters retain their value as methods of communicating. Using the telephone to make contact is far more personal than receiving email advice about issues.

Nothing takes the place of face-to-face conversation. That should always be a feature of the way we interact with each other.

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.

PERSPECTIVES TO EDUCATIONAL CHANGE WITHIN SCHOOLS. Bringing Influence to Bear

In retirement from full time work but as an educator who still makes peripheral contribution, I have discovered something very interesting.

When in full time work within schools, principals and their staff members are on the ‘inside’ looking ‘out’. New ideas, approaches, initiatives and priorities developed within the wider policy and planning domain, after some pre-consideration, are funnelled down on to schools to pilot, trial, implement and generally manage. New initiatives (so called) often come down in volume, meaning those in schools have very little time to think about what might be entailed before they have to wrangle them into place. It is this imperative that gives riser to the complaints of curriculum overcrowding and lack of time to work systematically and in a carefully managed context.

Schools are the end-point of these new educational directions . Implementation is often compulsory and has to be undertaken within a very limited time frame. The consequence of this methodology is that those in schools are case into reactive do mode. they have little time to consider the Genesis and the evolution of initiatives before they land on schools. Principals and staff members, along with school councils and communities of students and parents are discouraged by these pressures from giving genuine feedback. They have little time for talking because they are so busy doing.

The bigger picture

Once retired and with the pressure of day-to-day work lifted from one’s shoulders, the chance to consider proposed change takes on a different character. It becomes possible to view issues from the outside (the school) looking in rather than being inside the school looking out (at systems and government positions).

Being able to consider issues in a more dispassionate and less intimate weary does provide the chance for consideration and also for contribution to the shaping of policies and programs before they are down lined to schools. This can be done through contribution to working parties and accepting invitations to make submissions during discussion phases of change being considered. Some retirees joint committees considering policies at this level.

Walking away from education when retired does not afford this opportunity. For those who remain in touch, there can be a role to fill. Part of that giving back is considering how change impacted upon those within schools, from a first hand experience trial viewpoint. That can be an important perspective to include in discourse prior to ideas reaching school level.

EDUCATION AND ‘MIND HEALTH’

Worry, anxiety and depression are big factors in today’s world. They are recognised and talked about in ways that used to be taboo. ‘Taboo’ because to discuss them was deemed to be a sign of weakness. These days people do open up about mental health. It is an issue considered as relevant in many settings, including educational platforms. To be aware and to take mental health into account is important.
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3 SUNS 45

‘MIND HEALTH’ A TOP PRIORITY

We are made increasingly aware of challenges children and young people face in modern times. The relatively uncluttered and unhurried times of the past are gone. Children of today are being brought up in an increasingly frenetic world, one that has the potential to confuse and cause them concern.

The nurture of children is about far more than providing food, shelter and clothing. It is about spending time with them and being part of their developing lives. With parents and caregivers heavily committed to work, this can take a great deal of juggling.

At the end of long working days, parents come home exhausted. Many collect children from care centres on the way home. When they walk in the front door, there are domestic chores to confront, meaning young people are left to look after themselves. Television, videos, computer games, Facebook and texting take over minding duties while parents attend to household tasks. Countless studies confirm that prime time spent by parents talking with their children is minimal.

It is important that parents share conversation with their children. Girls and boys need to feel part of the family circle with opinions and ideas that are heard and respected. It is through conversation that parents get to know and understand their own young people. Sharing time also helps children gain confidence in their parents.

Avoiding Sad Outcomes

Concerns about bullying, together with worry, anxiousness and feeling they are not important family members can lead to depression – a growing phenomena among young people.

Common signs of depression among children in the years up to puberty can include:
* a prolonged sad mood
* a loss of interest in normal activities such as playing and games
* withdrawal both at home and school
* uncharacteristic behaviours such as stealing or bullying
* tiredness, particularly in the afternoon
* sleep disturbance
* bed wetting. ( the above dot points from an online source)

Key school programs

The Department of Education (DoE) encourages schools and school communities to be aware of issues that confront children socially and emotionally. More and more, schools are involving with “Kid’s Matter”, “Mind Matters”, and “Bullying No Way” initiatives. These programs offer life building skills.

“Kids Matter … is a flexible whole school approach … improving children’s mental health and wellbeing (in) primary schools.” (kidsmatter.edu.au, home page) The program aims to build respectful relationships. It’s focus is on the following:
* Developing a sense of belonging and inclusiveness for children at school and home.
* Supporting social and emotional learning.
* Working with parents and carers.
* Offering individualised support for students needing help.

‘Mind matters’ is a similar program. It supports Australian secondary schools to promote the mental health and well being of older students. (mindmatters.edu.au, home page)

‘Bullying No Way’ has been established to help make teachers, parents and students aware of bullying’s insidious impacts. Bullying, be it physical, verbal, online or in other forms can have devastating impacts on the lives and confidence of those on the receiving end. It is far too common and cannot be ignored. (bullyingnoway.gov.au/)

Young people have a right to healthy bodies and strong minds. They need to be aware of their part in building a sound future. However, things may not work out the way they should if school and home do not play their part. Educators as secondary carers and parents as primary caregivers are obligated toward helping children transition successfully into an adult world.
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THE ‘SOMETIMES FORGOTTEN’ SCHOOL STAFF

It can be too easy to recognise teachers as key educational personnel, without appreciating school support staff. Those in support and ancillary positions help schools to tick.

This paper was published as a column in the ‘Suns’ Newspapers in October 2015. 

THE ‘SOMETIMES FORGOTTEN’ SCHOOL STAFF

When considering schools and educational issues, thinking generally embraces students, their parents, teachers and school leaders. There is a tendency to overlook the roles and positions filled by administrative and support staff. Key support staff occupy Department of Education positions. These are allocated to schools on an enrolment and pupil-teacher ratio basis. Included are the Finance Administrator and Administrative Officers (AO’s).

AO’s used to spend some time as teaching assistants in classrooms. However, educational complexity and school accountability have required them to increasingly focus on office management and administrative duties. They are no longer ‘teacher aides’ but occupiers of significant ‘whole of school’ support roles. The tasks they undertake on behalf of classroom teachers may be limited to photocopying, construction of material aides and completion of other peripheral tasks. School self management and independence has dictated this change in support staff roles.

Classroom support

Classroom support that teachers need is largely provided by Special Education School Assistants (SESA’s). SESA positions are funded on the basis of identified student needs through Student Support Services. Additionally, schools are allocated aide positions to support Preschool and Transition students.

Recent changes to school budget responsibilities combined staffing allocation and operational grants into a single one-line allocation to be managed as needed by each school. It includes both base funding and finding for student needs.

This budget strategy has been hailed as a step toward schools being increasingly accountable and responsible for outcomes. This may be the case. However in order to fund material needs, there is a possibility that staffing numbers will be pruned. The challenge confronting Principals with their School Councils or School Boards is to maintain school needs as a whole without compromising in the area of staff support.

Professional Development

Historically, school administrative and support staff could be employed without having any formal qualifications. A statement regarding employment prospects for Education Aides in the NT reads as follows. “You can work as an education aide without formal qualifications, but employers usually require Year 10. You will probably get some informal training on the job. Entry to this occupation may be improved if you have qualifications.”

Wise Principals and their Councils invest in training for school support staff. Professional development needs to be commensurate with the positions they occupy and should include every staff member.

School management practices and educational outcomes are enhanced if staff are well versed and up to date with workplace requirements. For the sake of school efficiency and educational outcomes, support staff along with teachers, need to be included within this educational loop.

SNIPPETS FOR EDUCATORS (13)

Be Positive when Assessing

When evaluating or assessing students, be personable. Offer commendations along with recommendations. Be encouraging and avoid put downs. Offer advice on major needs in private to avoid embarrassment.

 

The Ideas Mill: Accept Substance and Disgard Dross

Our profession – education – has more people clamouring to contribute their ideas about trends, directions and priorities than any other. Welcome substantive thought but avoid dross and razzmatazz.

Mission Statement

My Mission Statement is ‘to fulful and be fulfilled in organisational mode, family, work, recreation; to acquit my responsibilities with integrity; to work with a smile in my heart.’ What’s your’s?
Some things should be everlasting in intention and changed only to meet significantly altered situations. Mine, created after a meaningful leadership inservice in 1983, remains with me to this day. My statement is for substance and not for show. Sure, I share it but I try to live it. ‘Fashion’ in education has not been part of my practice. I have my mission statement on the reverse of my business card and it attached as a footnote to my emails. If my mission statement can influence or focus others, then that is a good thing. (I too, am influenced by those with whom I speak and about whom I read.) I commmend mission statements for the focus they offer.

 

Keep Things in Perspective 

Beware! As an educator, the more you do the more there seems to be left to do. Keep things in perspective. Always recognise your accomplishments along with ongoing and remaining challenges.
                               The ‘stage’ that classrooms  mirror

Classrooms are like stages, teachers like unto both actors and directors. How well they set teaching and learning scenarios is important. Taking their students along with them confirms their success.
                                    The calling should never sour

My hope is that no educators will ever walk away from their calling, their contribution, their giving, their work, their care for others with a bitter and cynical taste, so glad their career  is done.

Caught between Priorities

School leaders are often caught between a rock and hard place, challenged by the need to meld departmental expectaion with teacher needs.
                                            Value Atmosphere

There is nothing more fleeting nor more precious than organisational atmosphere. Tone and harmony are precious and easily lost school ingredients.
                                             Make a Difference

An aim for all educators, regardless of their position, should be a desire to inspire others. Onus is placed upon us to be people who put stock in the character development of children and students.

 

Don’t Downplay on the Basis of Language or Ethnicity

When developing special programs for those with specific language and ethnic needs, we must be careful not to diminish, downplay or minimise learning capacities.

Appreciation

An ultimate reward is when students from years past, having reached adulthood, thank you for the contribution you made in years past to their educational nurture and development.

Building Blocks of Learning

There are elements of learning that are ‘nose to the grindstone’ basics. Tables, word study, rules, formulae, spelling and handwriting are examples. Learning rudiments are important.

LOTE  Learning needs Careful Predication

We need to consider Languages other than English (LOTE) as part of our school programs. They need to be recognised, resourced and staffed. They should include cultural aspects of understanding because langauge on its own is poorly referenced in situational terms.