Of Pendulums and Pedagogy

I have stumbled across two articles this week related to the role of computers in the classroom and it encouraged me to revisit an earlier post:

OECD Report on Ipads

Computers in Class a Waste!

It is a wonderfully unique time in history for education. Learning opportunities and the breadth/depth of information access is overwhelmingly delicious. Running the Teachers’ Lounge websites/pages has been a great vehicle to document some of my own exposure to this wonderful e-world and I run with arms out-flung to embrace the digital age!

I recently reflected with a friend that I recall my Dad having won a prize at his work (in the 1970s) – a hand-held calculator, with green lights! There was a huge controversy in schools about whether these devices should be allowed in mathematics classes. Similarly, the typewriter created controversy in its day, as it was seen as a ‘lazy writing tool’ ! We’ve come a long way in education.

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of the digital manifesto in our schools. Millions of dollars poured into 4 year turnaround devices (or less!) in order to ensure that schools are on the cusp of the education revolution – or at least – seen to be! Worse at times, is the competitive vying for digital one-upmanship which focuses little on the educational outcomes of the child, but rather the projected persona of the institution.

In 2011 I oversaw the roll out of iPads in our Year 6-12 classes (our focus was on portability to outside spaces, the role of the camera/video element, e-portfolio to “capture learning over time” and to enhance emerging digital skills). As a team we were cognizant that our responsibility did not end once students knew how to use the devices and commenced the interface with the virtual “www superstore”! I do see that this is a trap many educators (and leaders) fall into. The focus of time, energy and funding can be very much on getting the digital mammoth established for quick sale and the underlying pedagogy given little after-thought!

The momentum is continuing; with the development of funding (and curriculum) for coding and robotics in the upcoming “Innovation Nation” … Believe me; I’ll be on board, but with eyes-wide-open on the developmental needs of our children.

… even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.  (Click for full story)

My son is currently in Year 5 at a school where iPads have been rolled out – I hear and experience (!) the concerns addressed in Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. With the recent announcement that NAPLAN will now become a compulsory digital platform for “two to three years from 2017” (http://www.nap.edu.au/online-assessment/naplan-online/naplan-online.html ) – the proliferation of devices in schools for the purpose of “testing” may be a sad synergy!

In the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions? I do understand that many educators would argue for both. The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments. Read Full Article

Despite the genuine educational concerns about the use of devices in our community; I do believe the balance can be found and we can still embrace the opportunities at our fingertips! The engine of this opportunity is embedded in that last quote… Re-read that last sentence… NO – read it again. Do we do that? Do YOU do that? I like to think I’m an experienced educator and despite some amazing WINS in this area; I still feel I have only splashed in the pool of “… open-ended, process oriented and student-driven learning…”

My recent viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” reaffirmed the directions we are taking and the voice we hope is heard in education… relationship, engagement, project-centric, real-world connectivity and the responsibility of exhibition (with the ultimate goal of “contribution” … in my opinion)! Yet; whilst this generation offers educators a spectrum of exciting choices; the truth is – it’s all about the LEARNER.. does their engagement with school make them want to learn more? Is it about their passions which are being foregrounded or ours? How valuable do we rate “our curriculum” over “their inquiry”?

There are deeper waters here! In our classrooms, technology must be the slave and not the master; a vehicle for deeper learning, an access for students to reach a real and engaged audience, an opportunity for deeper expression and enriched engagement… if not – we will suffer the consequences of a missed opportunity in education and deliver a generation of Candy-Crushed Kids.

Advertisements

Learning from “The Dot”

I love this story. I hadn’t seen it before and it immediately struck me as a great encouragement to teachers. How do we manage the “little” moments that present themselves. It struck me that;

  • The teacher has this conversation “after class”.
  • The teacher asks Vashti to “own” her work by signing it.
  • The work is privileged for what the student is able to achieve “at the moment”.
  • Vashti mis-reads the teacher’s cues … is this from her experience with other teachers (e.g. Vashti’s reaction to “Polar bear in snow storm).
  • Vashti’s teacher invested in her “after class” – by framing the first picture.
  • Vashti had resources at her disposal to “explore” (her “never before opened paint box”)
  • Reflection is CRUCIAL to the next step of learning … AND teaching.
  • Most of Vashti’s learning happens without the teacher; her teacher is merely the CATALYST.
  • This teacher only has Vashti once a week. 🙂
  • The school “Art Show” … an opportunity for an authentic AUDIENCE.
  • Vashti honours her experience (and her teacher) by mentoring another.

Professional Learning Communities, STAR Teachers and the Road Ahead – Part 2

The focus of professional learning is to examine the strategies for achieving effective communication, collaboration, and ‘job-embedded learning opportunities’ (Church and Swain) for the community of practitioners within a PLC for the solitary prize of improving student learning.

The current Australian context reveals a staggering agenda of reform in many areas of Primary and Secondary education. Educational leaders are faced with the challenge of delivering a balanced menu of curriculum reform, legislative change, administrative procedure, policy update as well as ongoing communication of the philosophical/religious beliefs and values that underpin the community for which the organisation has been developed.

In our great endeavour as educators, to secure best practice which delivers effective outcomes for students; educational institutions, and those who serve within them, we must work collaboratively through the toss and tumble of short to mid-term political agenda, to establish routines of cohesive practice that will position our learning communities to skim the cream of emerging insights, research and international best-practice.

Educational leaders and decision makers must also be prepared to invest time and money in effective, cutting-edge professional development for teachers. In “The Fourth Way”, Hargreaves and Shirley argue that schooling has slowly evolved in its structures of practice, from government funded, intuitively-lead foundations of teaching  (the ‘First Way’) to a system that is heavily laden with tight boundaries and “endless quantities of achievement/performance data so that short-term solutions prevail …”; the ‘Third Way’.

The ‘Fourth Way’ is a call to arms for a return to “… the magic and wonder … of teaching. It’s time to recover the missionary spirit and deep moral purpose of engaging and inspiring all our students. It’s time to put down the spreadsheets and look to each other … to show our true strength by learning to “let go” a little. Peter Senge presents a similar and powerful case, which speaks to the heart of the learning community’s culture – to release established beliefs about hierarchical leadership within educational (and other) institutions and embrace the value of an inter-connected, empowered, co-contributing community.

In developing a school culture of shared vision; open and collaborative learning; informed, research-rich discourse amongst practitioners, and accountable, open-door classrooms we must be committed to reinventing the tone, mode and method of our established communication pathways. Without a senior leadership agenda to commit to these ideals; teachers and middle-management can only aspire to achieve these objectives within their own spheres of influence. “… there is convincing evidence that teachers will reduce their overall involvement in work, in important quantitative (e.g., time, energy) and qualitative (e.g., commitment, caring) ways … as administrators tightened control over teachers, they tended to become less engaged, less motivated and less committed…” (Blase)

Sadly, for many teaching staff, the richness of an effective professional learning community may only be found within the micro-environment of their faculty rather than a school-wide experience.

For too long, schools have been subjected to workshop-centred professional development that only deals with the immediate needs of the organisation rather than working to a longer-term vision, professional learning which has been undertaken has been chiefly dominated by curriculum reform and legislative agenda; in many ways these agendas have masked other priorities for learning development.

So how do committed, time-stretched leaders encourage genuine opportunity for the development of the Professional Learning Community?

Recommendations for Professional Learning Practices – Whole School

For many schools, an effective plan for professional development as part of a strategic approach to the development of the learning community has not been systematically developed. Frequently, schools have ‘grown’ stronger leaders through trial and perseverance and there needs to be a strategic solution that allows all stakeholders to be heard if the community is to move forward without casualties.

Ideally, these objectives could be achieved with consideration some of the following strategies;

  • Evaluating the use of intra-school networks of collaboration, discussion and influence across ‘associated’ like-schools. The larger, more experienced schools, mentoring and resourcing (e.g. policy, documentation, marketing, shared resources, new teacher mentorship)through a structured development partnership.
  • Consideration of a development fund or teacher scholarship program.
  • An audit of professional learning priority in consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the faculty/pastoral needs of staff and the needs that parents may need to access,  “Good governments do not merely tolerate and endure community organizing as a regrettable and dispensable distraction from learning. Rather they respectfully and continuously engage with parents and community activists to promote wider change strategies. More than this, they create preconditions that enable community organizing to flourish as an essential element of change…” (Hargreaves and Shirley)
  • Move Professional Development budgets and decision making procedures to faculty/teacher level.
  • Inter-Department discussions and Project-Centric Integration.
  • Empowering mastery – adequate provisioning for staff working out of their depth.
  • Empowering open discussion with TIME and RESOURCES for collaboration / experimentation – a “permission to fail” atmosphere.
  • New staff induction and school-based mentoring program (outside of the WACOT arrangements) not just a structured appraisal system.
  • A Required Reading File with ‘provocations’ for discussion in staff meetings / briefings.
  • Recognition of professional learning practices and a ‘profile’ of learning by the school leadership. Opportunity for staff to provide team members with insights (and recommendations for implementation)  from their professional learning.
  • Reflective practice – Asking for a ‘written reflection’ of how external professional development can assist the school/departmental practice and what recommendations the participant would make to the school as a result of their attendance.
  • “Modelling a Collaborative Approach”; here the focus is on the senior leadership who must model the desired approaches in “listening… inviting… initiating … managing … acknowledging” and rewarding collaborative process. Encouraging connection with schools/leaders who are “doing” it.
  • Investing in a professional development ‘library’ of staff resources (parent resources / board members, etc.) on current practice (books, texts, DVDs, CDs, Research Papers), case study, exemplars, etc. and asking staff to propose purchases from their own reading/s. This could evolve into a Reading Circles project for staff development.
  • Use of ICT resources to generate a staff professional learning ‘portal’ e.g. ‘schoology.com’
  • Staff retreat / workshop that focuses on specific areas of concern to groups of staff by choice of participation.
  • Automatic payment of subscription fee for peak association body membership within each faculty
  • Self / Peer Evaluation with specific content questions related to current ‘tools’. E.g. “How are you as a teacher tracking on Professional Knowledge (Standards 1 & 2) of the National Professional Standards for Teachers?”, “How does your term one year 10 program synthesise with the expectations of the Australian Curriculum?” This keeps knowledge expectation at a reasonable pace.
  • Visible documentation – Science and Maths Faculties may not be housed in the same office but we should have access to their ideas and offerings to find points of commonality within our curriculum that can serve one another.
  • Mentoring other schools AND sourcing mentors.

These proposals centre on a re-evaluation of corporate priority to community priority; to make the most of the constellation of educator-capital that has been demonstrated by committed and dedicated staff within the micro-levels of our schools. As leaders our attitude SHOULD be that … “In a time of great complexity and discontinuous change, a learning organisation effectively uses its sum total of organisational intelligence, which is exponentially greater than the sum of its individuals.” (Ryman)

 

Professional Learning Communities, STAR Teachers and the Road Ahead – Part 1

“What initiatives in our professional learning will bring about positive change in student learning?”

The idea of developing collaborative structures amongst teachers within learning communities is a key concept that is echoed throughout a lot of my current reading and experiences in education. Whilst the attributes of a learning community are widely explored and indicators defined; achievement of these ideals is by no means an easy feat.

Hurdles to change in school culture and the development of successful learning communities are plentiful, especially in the mid to long-term. For leaders who desire to move student performance forward either on a school, district, state or federal level; these barriers can be multi-faceted and are frequently well ingrained into the teaching fraternity psyche.

Macro-political influences from both state and federal levels often set the short to mid-term educational agendas for schools. The impacts of these multiple and consistent waves of change are felt for many years by educational professionals. Any fresh initiatives at the school leadership level to bolster performance may be met with some degree of scepticism.

There is a tendency for teachers to demonstrate a lack of faith in educational reform. For many, corporate memory of historical changes that were perceived to have little return for huge personal or departmental investment are coupled with disillusionment, that commitment to these initiatives are not sustained by governments (or school leadership) over the longer-term. The evolution of the Australian Curriculum saw a marginalisation of the work, by many, in the implementation of the Western Australian Curriculum Framework and some teachers are saddened by its impending demise (despite the benefits of the changes). In this climate, learning communities can be more resistant to embrace initiatives for mandated change, or worse, approach changes with a cynical caution.

After reading the work of Haberman in ‘Star Teachers’, I felt empowered to sell my long-standing opposition to the belief that it is the responsibility of ‘learners to learn’, not ‘teachers to teach’. Unfortunately, I believe that this mentality, (i.e. the “you can lead a horse to water” mentality) is rife amongst many educators and is a real barrier to teachers seeking opportunities to improve in some areas of their practice. Whilst teachers show a commitment to growing in the functional aspects of their profession (e.g. development of content, processes and procedures, marking etc.) they are less inclined to take responsibility for student learning.

According to the Haberman’s view of STAR TEACHERS, “Stars view themselves as successful professionals rescuing students … see themselves as teachers of children as well as of content… they accepted accountability for student achievement … did not blame students for not learning … and defined their roles in terms of “whatever it takes”…”

If ever the question of, ‘Who is responsible for student learning?’ was more important, it is most certainly now. In Melbourne, a 15-year-old male student “… is suing the Victorian Education Department and the State Government for failing to teach him literacy and numeracy”

I was recently honoured to have an ECU practice student join me for a week’s observation and she will join me for another four weeks in June. It soon became clear that this young lady had a great deal of natural panache and I asked her to take a class on her final day. She did a wonderful job and I was pleased to sit down with her for 20 minutes afterwards to highlight her outstanding points and deal reflectively with a couple of the ‘bumpy moments’ in her lesson. I provided four pages of hand-written notes as a form of affirmation and evaluation.

I doubt there would be many teachers who did not commence their teaching in a similar manner. The role of mentorship has to be a natural, less formalised form of professional appraisal and an ongoing habit of departmental (and inter-departmental) discourse. Lack of robust discussion and inter-teacher feedback (i.e. for the years BEYOND our practicum or first year of teaching) can lead to a culture of isolationism in teacher practice.

In high school settings, there is prized value in developing the departmental learning community and the powerful effect this can have in dispersing isolationist practices. Some argue that departments methodologies should promote, shared values, de-privatised practices and reflective dialogue –  others see these tools as a “softer approach”; instead, preferring to ramp up departmental function and policy into a system of rules, agreements and goals regarding teaching and instruction – obtaining data on student performance, which in turn serves as a feedback mechanism for improving teaching and learning.

I am genuinely delighted to see a call for this kind of rigour. Working with co-professionals from an agreed platform which clearly stipulates the process for improvement in teaching and learning objectives. Policy that ‘builds in’ teacher accountability, (e.g. turn around on marking, holistic student review, consensus process and delivery strategies, co-observational expectations) and are not driven by a ‘back-scratching’ mentality of endorsing one another’s mediocre practice.

The Gratton Institute (see my earlier post – http://wateacherslounge.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/the-report-every-politician-and-principal-should-read/)  endeavours to remind educational leaders and decision-makers “that teacher effectiveness is the most significant influence on student outcomes”. Jenson investigates the factors that influence student performance and writes; “An increase in teacher effectiveness of 10% would lift Australia’s education systems into the highest performing group of countries in the world… Each grade needs to incorporate 5% of a year’s worth of learning for our students to be amongst the best in the world.” The report campaigns for more government investment in teacher training and utilises internationally recognised testing such as PISA, PIRLS and TIMMS to lament Australia’s eighth placing in international rankings. It determines that “… moderate changes to teacher effectiveness have a significant long-term effect.”

It is hard not to see the logic of his (Jenson’s) argument and his passionate representation for teachers to be provided with constructive criticism on their ongoing teaching practice as a means of gauging progress and effectiveness over time. “All teachers need to have effective evaluation that identifies their strengths and weaknesses and feeds into individualised development plans.”

Investment in the professional development of staff is an imperative that can’t be ignored in the evolution of learning communities. With an expected surge in school-age children in WA next decade of more than 140,000 students … and an estimated 312 new schools, coupled with a predicted 30% exodus of teachers and administrators in both Primary and Secondary due to retirement over the next five years; initiatives to invest in teachers and leadership has never been more at a premium.

Development of well-supported, training-rich, cohesive teachers who are valued for their ability to ‘deliver the goods’ as a growing team within their learning communities is an objective we all want to see. It is a worthy goal and one, we hope we can say, we got ‘right’.

International Mud Day

A Day for Kids to PLAY IN MUD? Is this just too KOOKY?

I promise after listening to Tim Vidler speak on ABC Radio – You’ll … “Get It”

6a00e0097e4e68883301a511d5b9d7970c-320wiBold Park Community School (BPCS), founder of the inaugural International Mud Day, were excited to join other schools and organisations to partner in an initiative to link with schools around the globe in enjoying the benefits and pleasure of playing in mud!
The intention of this event is to provide children with a symbolic opportunity to join with others around the world in connecting through the catalyst of mud.
This year BPCS “amped it up” with a dirty-big mud obstacle course (the Mudsticle Course); where children from ages 3 to 18 (and adults) interconnect with like-spirited children around the world by playing in mud together on Friday the 27th June, 2014.
Grown from its inception in 2009 with the connection of 80 Nepalese orphans and the children of Bold Park Community School, with the support of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), this inspirational initiative has flourished into a multi-continental annual celebration.
As the participants of Bold Park Community School Mud Day since 2009 have discovered, there are children like our friends in Nepal who are prevented from enjoying nature-based play because they only have one set of clothes. One of the aims of International Mud Day is to raise global awareness of this sad reality and provide funds to meet this need to enable children to delight in the joys of mud play, and in the mean time, encouraging our own children (and parents) to overcome our fear of getting dirty!
Mud gratifies one of our first and basic instincts. We will be playing in and connecting in the same earth. “Mud – It’s universal”.
For more information, visit the World Forum Mud Day site at:

 

Secret Mums on “POSITIVE” Business … OR … Engaging Our Parents in the Learning Partnership

IMG_7407

I hope you don’t mind my indulgence. It has been a fantastic few weeks at our little school. We have been running an intimate and innovative program for our Middle School girls (aged between 11 and 14).

These are confronting years for our young ladies and we have identified the need to focus on our girls in this age range. Families are needing support to cope as their girls deal with the new pressures of adolescence; confidence issues, body image and representations of beauty, healthy attitudes to food and exercise, complicated relationships (parents, “other girls”, and attraction/s to others) as well as the stresses of school, building success and coping with the technological presence of social and electronic media. It is no surprise that anxiety and stress are a growing community issue.

If our young people don’t have the tools to deal with these issues, they are simply not in a position to be able to learn.

The Middle School team consulted and researched widely to target a program that would offer the girl’s the confidence to address these issues within the school environment. Staff worked to collate a library of POSITIVE centred readings, video clips, podcasts, songs, feature articles and short stories centred around the themes we had identified and addressed POSITIVE solutions to HELP Girls… Kaz Cooke, Maggie Dent (our patron), the “Dove” media packages offered some great provocations;  as well as best practice readings from Relationships Australia and other professional support organisations.

resourcesThese “readings” have been broken into five weekly reading packages which will be delivered as a “girls only” group in a fully integrated English program. We have secretly employed the mums who also completed the reading program, complete with homework for Mum AND daughter.

Mother and daughter study, discuss, read and reflect on the weekly readings TOGETHER before they come to school to share their thoughts with their “Reading Circles” group.  The package integrates perfectly with English, Health, Electives, Zentangles and our Girls group and is informed by the pastoral care focus we have throughout the school.

The series culminated today (Friday the 6th June) with a special surprise event! The girl’s arrived to find all their mothers AT SCHOOL accompanied by our special guest; Kate Wilson – our amazing “spoken Word Poet” – a passionate young lady who has much to say about the issues we are addressing. You can view a sample of her work at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rK46nILY-rw – she was truly MAGICAL!

Most significantly – each mother shared about a moment from their own childhood where they had to face a challenge lead to a POSITIVE; something that was special to all of the girls – they were invited to present their snapshot through a medium of their choice; a dance, a song, a poem, a story but REAL and from the heart.

They also gave their daughter a handwritten letter in which they communicated and celebrated the BEAUTY they see in their daughter.

We are sold on the belief that schools must work with parents in partnership toward developing our young people – not JUST in an academic program but multi-elementally. We are excited that our school has been in an intimate position to RESPOND to the needs of our children in partnership with our wonderful community.

What Makes a GREAT Teacher?

aYou're the bestI like Todd Whittaker’s book What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most. It asks, “What makes a great teacher?” and seeks to identify the operational features of “great” teachers and how they may differ from less effective teachers.

There has always been great debate about the secrets of teacher effectiveness; some focus on behaviour management, student expectation, hands-on engagement, environmental factors … the list goes on.

According to Whittaker; these are the “fourteen things” that “great” teachers DO that other teachers DON’T! (a paraphrased approach – forgive me Mr Whittaker!);

1. They keep PEOPLE first and PROGRAMS second.

2. They determine strong and clear expectation from the very start of the academic year; with a focus on consistency.

3. They determine to minimise the LIKELIHOOD of student misbehavior.

4. They take responsibility for student learning and maintain high expectation of student performance and engagement.

5. They take ownership of their role as the “variable” in classroom which matters the MOST.

6. They are great ambassadors for their classroom and their school. They create and promote safe, happy communities.

7. They look for the positive… always!

8. Relationship, relationship, relationship – they can rebuke caringly and can say sorry liberally.

9. Keep small “inconveniences” and “disruptions” SMALL.

10. No matter what – there is a reason they are doing what they are doing. They have a focus with purpose.

11. Their decision making is filtered by the outcomes for the students, not the outcomes for themselves.

12. They always believe the best of their students – every child is “good”.

13. They keep standardised testing/s in perspective.

14. They care, they care, they care.

I would like to add a few other observations, some from my own experience and some from others who have sought to investigate this question. What qualities would you add to the list?

15  They establish learning environments that are student-focused; not control focused (https://theteacherlounge.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/building-learning-environments/)

16  They build parental bridges EARLY.

17  They promote meta-cognition.

18. They complete the tasks they ask their students to complete – they DEMONSTRATE the literacy process (e.g. they write a paragraph with the class, they show HOW they construct sentences – not just the finished/polished version/s).

19. They link learning with student interests and abilities.

20. They embrace new technology.

21. They stay positively connected with other educators BOTH within and OUTSIDE of their discipline.

22.  They embrace a range of strategies for different learning styles, genders and the labyrinth of ‘special needs’. They allow multiple forms of “assessment”.

23. They build knowledge and understanding from what is ALREADY known.

24. They have an attitude of life-long learning; they know that THEY have not arrived. I would add “self reflection” as an integral part of this.

25. They look for mentors and are prepared TO BE mentors to others.

26. They understand that they can’t always do all 25 of these things … and they can NEARLY live with that!

20 Things a Secondary Teacher Wishes He Could Say to Parents

Can we have an honest conversation?

I promise, I am not “representing the teaching fraternity” by writing this… I haven’t consulted with my colleagues; in fact they may well feel VERY differently from the views I express here. I do want to express some of my thoughts from my own teaching experiences over the past twenty years.

I understand that by doing so – I open the door for “20 Things Parents Want to Say to their Child’s Teacher”; and as a parent, I may well write the reply myself. 🙂

  1. I want to help your child – please trust me and empower me to move your child forward.
  2. Read the school policy statements. You NEVER know when you need to know them.
  3. Serve your child a good breakfast, pack a healthy lunch, stop excusing them from sports and leave the Cola and Energy drinks for the weekend. Nutrition and physical activity hugely impacts concentration and behaviour. PS – They could pack their own lunch and they could make their own breakfast.  PPS – They could pack your lunch now and then too 🙂 .
  4. I didn’t give your child a “D” – the work they gave me however, was.
  5. As an English teacher – I BEG you. MAKE THEM READ! Read TO them when they are young. Buy them books/comics as much as you already buy them video/games based materials. When they get older, buy second-hand texts that will either SUPPLEMENT what they are currently learning OR model the kind of writing rigour they are expected to produce in essays, etc. My biggest recommendation? Put these materials in the toilet and change them regularly!
  6. Please contact me when your child needs help, assistance and guidance in their learning. I know you’re not an expert in my field and trying to help your children with their homework can be a real maze! Please let me know the areas your child is struggling with as they happen (not after the due date of a major assignment). On the flip side – don’t empower incompetency or mediocrity by justifying your child when they have been lazy by not following through on a task, responsibility or their homework.
  7. I know my obligations to have a working ownership of your child’s condition, learning difficulty, illness, allergy, diagnosis – I take my working knowledge of this really seriously. With all due respect to the professional who spent time diagnosing your child; please remember that (in most cases) they have spent 1/2000th of the time I spend with your child in the year – I really do have some valuable insights about their learning and behaviour too. On a similar point; when a doctor tells you not to notify the school that your child’s medication has been adjusted so they can get “accurate feedback on its effectiveness”; please remember to discuss with your health professional that the school has a duty of care.
  8. I ask this question of teachers too – Should we reward children for things that they should be doing anyway?
  9. On Parent Interview Night I have only 5-10 minutes with each parent and we need to communicate effectively in the short amount of time we have. If you need more time – please ask – I want to make sure you are happy with what is happening in my class and that we are clear about expectations and all of the support materials available to your child. Also, please make a time to see the drama and dance teachers… they don’t have as many bookings on these nights and you’ll be amazed what you learn about your child from a meeting with them.
  10. Your child is just like you were at their age. Your child’s version of class events, homework due dates, behaviour and attendance; reflect this similarity. If you were a perfect child and you don’t know what I am talking about – please speak to your partner /spouse.
  11. Your child’s education will be negatively impacted if you continue taking two-week holidays during school time because it’s cheaper to buy Bali tickets in the off-peak time. Yes – I will prepare work for them (though experience tells me they will do it the night before they return to school – it just makes you feel better – right?).  Yes – it is a great educational experience. But – ask your boss if you can take two weeks off during non-leave time; ask if s/he will send your work to you while you are away and promise me it won’t impact your work routine.
  12. Be involved wherever possible. Read the diary, read the blog, read the school newsletter, know the examination timetable. Ask me how you can help in my class – but only if you’ve done the other things first.
  13. Talk to me FIRST (not the poor office lady, the principal or another parent). I know I can be a moron, I have a weird and wacky sense of humour that is easily misunderstood, I make mistakes, I make tippos in my typing (;)) but please; unless it’s almost criminal, talk to me about it – FIRST. IDEALLY, have your child talk to me about it (because when your child talks to me – the version of reality that got home is stripped away and we can talk from a different platform). If you aren’t happy after talking it through – then please talk to someone else – you have given me a fair go at coming to a resolution.
  14. If you are visiting the school to see me – GREAT. Please make a time. I don’t want to be rude when you “talk to me at the classroom door” but when I am talking to you during teaching time, I have my back to 30 children.
  15. Stop doing your child’s homework for them. I know it is tempting to do some “creative scribing” and editing. I know you want them to do well. BUT … I know it’s your work because they can’t replicate it in class. If you keep doing it – I will embarrass you by asking you to stop. It is OK to let them fail.
  16. If you’re allowing your child to use technology – YOU have the GREATEST power and responsibility as the gatekeeper – please exercise this power. Letting them have free rein and saying you “aren’t tech-savy” is like sitting in the backseat when your 17-year-old commences driving lessons with your car.
  17. I understand that school may have been hard and even traumatic experience for you but this isn’t about you or me.
  18. Please don’t ask me to be your FACEBOOK FRIEND until after your child has left the school. Please don’t visit my home, phone me at home or send mail to my personal home or email address. BUT do write to my school email, leave me a message to ring you back or arrange a time to get together.
  19. Provide your child with a well-lit, organised, comfortable and distraction-free environment for study. If your child tells you they can study with the TV on – they are probably lying. If they have been on the computer for longer than 25 minutes – check on them – they are either on a social network or they need a glass of milk.
  20. You know your child – I DO want to know what motivates them, what their interests are, what might be “eating them” at the moment, a little of your family situation and of course any challenges or medical conditions that need attention. Please don’t leave vital information for me to discover after three months. I only have a small window before they potentially move on to another teacher.

I hope there is something that you can reflect on. Thank you for allowing me to be so candid – I feel cleansed! Now I will read it back to myself with my PARENT hat on – and will make some adjustments myself.

A Day in the Life Of ?

I had fun writing this a few years ago for an introduction to an article titled: “Why am I still Teaching?”. I haven’t revisited it for ages – hope you can read the tongue-in-cheek. Very different from my normal posts – hope you enjoy it!

“Hi, Mr W”

“Hi, Johnny – It’s great to see you! How did you go in your final exams last year?”

“OK, I guess. I haven’t really needed any of that stuff.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m working for Diablo Steel Mining; 5 days on, 10 days off. They pay me $82,000 with accommodation and food included.”

“That’s great, Johnny – I’m really happy for you.” I repent for my lie on the way to the staff room.

Johnny’s spit balls are still on the roof of my classroom. Johnny wrote rude things in the dust of my Camry in Year 10. Johnny is now 18 and earning MORE THAN ME in the mining industry. Johnny is a moron.

I leave Johnny. I’m allowed to leave him all by himself now because he is wearing a “Visitor” badge. The school administrator obviously OK’d his pass. I want to write in the dust of the Administrator’s BMW – but I don’t.

The coffee jar is empty, I am on kitchen roster this week so I can’t be annoyed with anyone and that REALLY annoys me!

One of the photocopiers has “under repair” written on a recycled sheet of A3 and the other has been left to handle 62 copies of a 28 page SOSE booklet about recycling.

My one free period is replaced at the last minute by a compulsory relief lesson. I will be teaching “Sewing” to Year 8 boys (They call it something post modernist now but we all translate it back in our heads). They were going to ask a lady to do the relief but they didn’t want to appear to be sexist in their distribution of relief duties. I secretly wish Johnny was doing “Sewing” this afternoon.

Jessica Mildachophfski just spotted a spelling mistake on my whiteboard and even though Mrs Jennings has cancelled a meeting three times about her son’s lack of commitment – I will make time after school, before the new software training, to meet with her. 

I arrive home and find the credit card bill in my letter box. I have invested $127.50 in stickers, merit awards, lollies (don’t tell the P&C as they have just moved the whole school over to the Jamie’s Kitchen brigade), Second Hand DVDs, folders, notepads, posters, overhead projector pens, drawing pins and red cardboard for Valentine’s Day. My wife doesn’t say anything any more – she knows I NEED it. She says I should consider writing away for a grant from Diablo Steel Mining Company.

Before I go to bed I spend quality time with MY children. They are 2 of 120 I have spoken to today. I read the latest WA Curriculum Update (a daily review now) that I carry into the bathroom to read peacefully after dinner. I watch Biggest Loser and relate to it as meaningful television before I finish off my marking I didn’t get to do in the “Sewing” session.

My friends and relatives tell me how lucky I am to have 12 weeks off a year. That all teachers “…start at 9 and finish at 3 and get recess and lunch”. I don’t argue anymore.

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/