Happy Birthday

It has now been one year since the launch of WA Teachers’ Lounge. In addition to moving the apostrophe to the correct location in the title, the site has been a conduit for my own learning and reflection.

The Facebook Page now has 270 followers and the WA Teachers’ Lounge website has had over 5,000 hits from its 52 posts.

It was interesting to see what stirred discussion and debate. The post on Student Learning and the two posts on Professional Learning Communities Part I / Part II, have been, by far, the most popular (over 1,000 reads) – perhaps only read by university students who needed a quick quote? I hope not.

Thank you for your loyalty to the website and the facebook page, I hope you will find it a great ongoing source of current news and views for your own knowledge and professional development. If you find a gem here now and then, please tell other WA Teachers about the site.

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School Leadership

This is another great report and one worth school leadership reflecting on. The focus is a comparison of leadership in some of the highest performing education systems in the world, namely; Alberta, England, The Netherlands, Australia (actually, Victorian schools only), New York, New Zealand, Ontario and Singapore.  

The report considers leadership opportunity, qualification requiremenets, evaluation of time spent by principals in/out school, professional development, accountability factors in the development of an effective team.

I have enclosed page 29, Exhibit 19 – Signs that a team are heading UP in the RIGHT direction or signs that things are heading DOWN. To see the WHOLE report, CLICK HERE!

A Fairytale for the Arts – Happily Ever After?

When a school showcases the diversity of their school’s offerings in various publications and presentations, it is usually dominated by photographs from dance, drama, music, physical education, camps, concert, practical science and showcases… very few photographs show students sitting down at desks reading, writing and arithmetic-ing (I enjoyed writing that non-word).

Ironically, this projection is not necessarily reflected by the curriculum policies and procedures that underpin our school structures; here the focus is sometimes weighted heavily on academic performance in mainstream subjects and their ensuing ‘scored & ranked’ results.

There is a new tide of evidence mounting of the value of ‘the arts’ as a critical aspect of our curriculum rather than just a marginalised ‘extra’. This is a report that should be considered with some weight, especially in light of these emerging pedagogical insights.

I thought it would be worth reproducing the “Fairytale” from the opening pages of this report (The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential). You will note, it ends abruptly and has no resolution.

Do you think “The Arts” has a happy ending?

Once upon a time, all over the world, no children went to school, because schools hadn’t been invented. But children and young people still learned all they needed to become useful grown-ups in their community. They did this by listening to their elders, who told them wise stories and sang songs with them; together with the adults they danced and made music and performed the deep ceremonies and necessary lore and laws of the people; with the adults and each other they drew patterns and painted pictures and fashioned sculptures to create and communicate images and meanings; they invented stories that, although make-believe, were models of both the real world and other possible worlds – and they brought the models to life by acting them out. They learned by making artful and art-full play, and from all these experiences, where the body and senses, the brain and the emotions were all working together in constructive harmony, they made order and meaning for themselves in their personal, relational and objective worlds.

Then as life for humans got more complicated, some very odd people invented a special place to learn, and called it ‘school’. And the idea caught on, at least among grown-ups, who decided that in school, knowledge and compliance were the same thing. So they invented the Protestant Work Ethic, which divided work and play, and led to places for work called ‘classrooms’, where you learned sitting down – a good class was a quiet class, and play was left firmly outside in a special place called the playground where nothing important happened. The body and senses were ignored, and the emotions banished, and the brain was the only thing that counted. And they turned learning from a verb into a noun and called it ‘The Curriculum’ – a document in which what young people needed to know was all written down and could be carefully controlled, and what they did not need to know could be excluded.

The excluded bit included the Arts. This was because the odd grown-ups thought that music was noisy, the visual arts were messy, and that dance and drama were both noisy AND messy. If they happened at all, they were allowed to happen outside school time or on wet Friday afternoons. Their exclusion was also partly because another strange thing had happened in the world beyond schools.

Proper Art had become something only for grown-ups, and could only be created by special people who had a gift from the muses and had to have special training, which of course was available outside the schools.

Committing ‘Suicide’ to the Curriculum

Boy! Is this ever a contentious issue. I’m so glad that we are finally having the discussion of how ‘suicide’ is handled in our society.

For years it has been a taboo subject; particularly in media where the issue has been addressed with ‘kid gloves’ in fear of copy-cat events from those who may be more vulnerable in our community. In media circles the only time that suicide is openly discussed is if; a ‘person of note’ has committed suicide, the journalist is reporting on the death of others from a ‘suicide-bomber’, suicide statistics are being discussed and/or the various classifications of this data (e.g. gender, age-ranges, etc.)

The state of mental health in our community is such that we need to have a wider conversation than this. More people die from suicide than in fatal motor vehicle accidents in Australia. Currently, about 2,000 people commit suicide per year in Australia. There is hot debate about what is the best course of action with some arguing ‘we have seen a small drop in the suicide rate – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and others saying ‘let’s take it off the taboo shelf and discuss suicide more openly’. Both sides agree that ANY reporting and/or discussion must be defined by a mature, non-sensationised conversation.

So where does this leave teachers who are being asked to incorporate ‘suicide’ within the national curriculum (Health? Physical Education?) under the mental health banner. See report:http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8989646/calls-for-schools-to-address-suicide-prevention/

If the mental health experts can’t agree on how it is best to deal with it – is it something that teachers should be ‘boldly addressing’? I’m getting mixed messages, this recent article highlights some of the issues that are bound to await us http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/experts-warn-of-danger-posed-by-school-text-20110216-1awnt.html (I wonder if Romeo & Juliet is being slammed with equal rigour?). Whilst it seems ludicrous to ask students to write ‘suicide notes’ (an oversight on the part of the publisher more than the teacher I would suspect), surely it is important to find and CREATE learning opportunities that allow students to discuss this issue?

There are many texts from my own teaching that I have used in the English class (frequently) that allow discussion of this topic in a controlled and meaningful manner. Romeo & Juliet, Dead Poet Society and short-stories such as On Saturday Afternoon (from the classic short story collection in SPECTRUM ONE) all open doorways for discussion about ‘dark feelings’, ‘the black dog’ and (not just by osmosis) pathways of help and assistance.

For me it is about PLANNING these teaching experiences. Don’t misunderstand me, they are not a daily showcase piece of my teaching practice but they are in my ‘swag bag’ and I would certainly be prepared to ‘go there’. I believe that students need to have the opportunity to discuss things in order to be informed, have access to support and have some issues ‘deconstructed’ in complexity.

I should say that I do take precautions when delivering any kind of sensitive material. In the case of texts that address suicide (yes – even Romeo & Juliet!) I would consider the following list a bare minimum of preparation;

  • If I don’t have a good rapport with a group of students, I wouldn’t go there; likewise, if you know that friends/family of students have committed suicide it is just insensitive to ‘go there’ through the use of (in my case) a text choice!
  • Keep those ‘LIFELINE McDonald’s CARDS / KID’S HELPLINE CARDS(you know the free ones they send to schools) ready for these lessons
  • Deliver this type of content when you have TIME – save it for a DOUBLE-PERIOD
  •  Notify the counsellor / chaplain / HoD that you are covering sensitive material
  • Don’t deliver the materials or lead the discussion like you are at a funeral
  • Allow students to talk openly
  • Pitch the depth of conversation to the age

I would love to hear other teachers response to the idea of being mandatated to deliver curriculum in this arena. All thoughts, disagreements, cases, examples greatly appreciated!

If you or someone you know needs help – please access the FANTASTIC resources available at the following website: http://www.suicideprevention.com.au/

Australian Curriculum Coalition Paper (Summary)

For those following movements in the Australian Curriculum here is an important development; “The Australian Curriculum Coalition (ACC) represents a forum of Presidents, Executive Officers and Executive Directors of National Education Organisations. The Organisations represent members who are teachers, principals, school leaders, academics and education researchers.”

Today they released the following ‘open letter’; http://www.acsa.edu.au/pages/images/Australian%20Curriculum%20Coalition%20common%20view%20on%20the%20Australian%20Curriculum4.pdf

The report extends support for a national curriculum but requests the following;

  • Revision of timeline for development and implementation
  • ‘Build stakeholder ownership’ (teachers/principals/associations, etc.)
  • Inform debate by making drafts and consultation ‘public’
  • Pages 4 & 5 discuss a rigorous need for these initiatives to be world-class and framed by clear curriculum rationale
  • Reduction of ‘over crowding’ in curriculum documents (This will sting as it was a primary objective for ACARA to keep the statements ‘open’ – ironically it is the consultation process that has been the source of the ‘fattening’)
  • Whole or Core Curriculum – Clarification for ‘local’ content (This is quite problematic for the History implementation but I think they are drawing a long bow on this one – your thoughts?)
  • Cross-curricula Developments – (YAY!!)
  • Reporting and Achievement Standards (YAY!!)
  • Funding for PD/PL

Wish they had mentioned a few more (e.g. consideration for special needs, resources, etc.)

Would love you know what you think of these suggestions? http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/WA-Teachers-Lounge/154210691257798

OECD Education at a Glance

Interested in seeing how Australia compares with the rest of the world in relation to performance, graduation statistics, students pursuing tertiary studies, money spent on education, alternative programs in other countries, ‘country rankings’, teacher pay scales, class sizes, contact time?

Then you may be interested in looking over the new 472 page report from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) … OK…. there is an abridged version titled, “Highlights from Education at a Glance” (92 pages) which is well worth having a glance at. You may wish to leave a strategically placed, pre-highlighted copy in the teacher’s staff room in hope that the Principal may have a look too!

NAPLAN Data Released

National NAPLAN Data has been released today.

http://www.naplan.edu.au/verve/_resources/NAPLAN_2010_Summary_Report.pdf

Although a ‘raw data’ comparison will show that WA students are performing below the National Average it is important to remember that, on average, WA students in year 9 are nearly 1 year YOUNGER than our Eastern States counterparts and have experienced 1 ‘less’ year of schooling. This is a variable that will likely be marginalised by our newspapers.

 This is being corrected by the ‘half cohort’ year coming through the WA system (currently children in Year 8). Queensland schools will now be represented as the ‘weaker cousin’ as they have not yet made the adjustment to be ‘in line’ with the rest of the country.