I’m sitting here on my holiday, an early one at that, thanks to the private school perks that allow me to see students off on the 3rd of December, and I come across a viral video. It depicts a boy and his father preaching the ‘unjust’ school system in which this Year 9 boy’s learning resides. I laugh a little at the Facebook thread of comments then, like usual, I scrutinise and observe where the overpowering ‘expert’ opinions are coming from. The vast majority, outside one commentator on the wrong thread (promptly reminded about this in not-so-respectful terms) and the family’s (we, the crowd of keyboard warriors assume, then concur, there’s an alias going into battle for the kid at the centre) friends or themselves bang on about how the boy is to blame and his parents should swiftly give him a clip around the ears and a hasty haircut. But after I stopped laughing out loud and shaking my head at the people who actually rule over something like this in the first place, I grit my teeth in frustration. Without telling you all up front, and by simply giving an overview from “an outsider’s perspective”, I neglect to disclose I actually know all involved, including the kid. In fact I use to teach at this controversy-wrapped institute and had the young boy in Year Five some five years ago.
To complete the outline of this blog, let’s just start with the acknowledgement of this story being on cream of the crop journalism show (cough, cough), A Current Affair. Why on earth would anyone run with a story like this? For those whom are a little confused at this point, the child in question was allegedly given an eviction notice from the school if he didn’t cleanup his act, after years of menacing behaviour which included suspensions, general annoyance and an incessant disturbance to the learning of others. He was given his alleged seventh suspension for refusing to move seats in a classroom, at the teacher's request. Clearly this was the straw that broke the camel's back and brought about a bit of a storm. Hence, its showcasing on National television. The parents, both lovely people, just like every other parents around Australia, want the best for their kid and sent him to a middle range fee paying private school. With the extra cash splurged on the son’s education, they expected his learning and social needs to be catered for (and probably his attitudinal issues too). A bit of an ask but not an unwarranted or unachievable one. Five years down the track, the child has seen little progression in any sense and will now be joining his friends (many whom have already left the school in the news story) at the nearby public school, something which would probably have been on the cards anyway. A choice of the family but to an extent, forced.
But why the news story? Surely something so petty, it would never achieve much really and would only create a bad taste in the mouths of many involved. It has seen a lot of backlash on the family, particularly the parents. But it does rear the head of an ugly systemic problem in mainstream schools around the country. We do not have a structure in place readily available to those who do not fit the mould. The skill and drill, listen and don't interrupt style of regurgitation rote learning. Not only is it decreasing learning nourishment for the lower end of student cohorts, it also actually impedes development of the stronger students and teachers too.
Now, from a personal perspective, this kid was certainly no angel, nor should he be given any more chances for the last few years worth of trouble, but neither should I have. I don't have to think to deeply about some of the rubbish I made my teachers put up with and more or less got off scott free. And there’d be plenty of parents out there whom would feel the same way. ‘Gee, if this kid is getting threats of expulsion, maybe we’re lucky our child didn’t’, they may reflect. But here’s the thing, I’m now a lot wiser and more compassionate. I was a disobedient menace too once upon a time and, unlike this student, I was eventually offered boundaries, consistency and most importantly guidance by my teachers (admittedly only one or two spring to mind). This child is just that, a kid. And every one of those kids, at that school or another has the right to a quality teacher; one who gives enough of a damn to look out from the conformist crowd of pompous control freaks and say, ‘hey, is everything ok? What’s going on with him? This attitude thing isn’t going to get any of us anywhere and the potential he could have cannot be on show if we all continue this way’.
The reality is you can’t put a square peg in a round hole so why are teachers still trying so bloody hard to do so? I cannot think of anything worse for my own daughter if she happens to struggle, that a teacher couldn't bring out the best in her. The reality is, my daughter may not grow to be the brightest, bravest or sportiest but she will certainly be the best her! All I want, like us all, is for our children to be given an opportunity to shine, in their own unique way.
Adults, universally, preach being yourself and to stand out in a crowd but we still try strangle our youth into being ‘just like her/him’. I will say it forever and a day but because it’s just so important: preventative measures are always the remedy to reactive insolence. And it starts from the top. We need more accountability within the classroom. For far too long have we let the kids (and their parents) take the blame for poor classroom practice. Yes, the apple generally falls pretty close to the tree and teachers are continually bombarded with stressful workloads, workloads which could be made lighter with better support, mentoring and a more collaborative approach to instilling safe and learner friendly environments. I know I would not have been half the pain if I had these classroom settings, lead by strong, caring and resilient teachers. Same goes for this boy in question. Time to stop the bleeding.
Let's look at the world's most successful education system for inspiration. The leading educational system statistically (by a country mile) Singapore, is changing their approach to the way they see education for the modern day student. They are so far ahead in academic testing but still take solace in the Scandinavian countries’ approach to the whole child learning journey of collaboration, critical thinking and the modelling of soft skills required to apply in real-world contexts. "Learning is not a competition,” states Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Education Minister. The Ministry of Education (MOE) is planning a series of changes aimed at discouraging comparisons between student performance and encourage individuals to concentrate on their own learning development. One interesting element in all this change is that in the work force, no real company or business would expect each employee to just sit and, like a puppet in silence, take orders without an ounce of initiative or innovative critical analysis. In this new Singaporean system, classroom behaviour and practice is being brought in line with local workplace needs as the island state prepares pupils to work in its growing service sector. ‘Why would they change if clearly, the system is so far ahead it doesn’t even need fixing?’ You may be asking. The answer is quite simple and I’ll put it in the words of the educational guru John Hattie: “if you are not moving forward in education, then you’re going backwards. There’s no such thing as stationary in education, you’re either ahead of the game or behind it..." and if Singapore is to remain ahead of it, then by gosh they need to break the shackles of backward, rote learning and become more progressive than ever before. Change is challenge and challenge brings about gains.
Holistically, this child is to blame, I mean sure, he is a quirky kid. I know this, I mentored him myself. When under my tutelage, he made weird noises, took pride in being the class clown and, more often than others, messed up. But we worked together on his strengths and accepted that his differences and deficiencies were opportunities to grow. In fact, the Junior School there still has a frog faction house chant created when he was the frog mascot all those years ago. I'm sure he took great pride in knowing he had a role to play. He felt he belonged. This student struggles in school, we’ve heard it before. My question here though is, do we actually accommodate for these many types and styles or do we expect all to accommodate for the teacher’s one style?
I hope this student, and any other who finds themselves lost in the outdated system we find ourselves in, become an inspiration for their peers and continue to shine in their own skin. I cannot go into bat for a brattish child and his actions; as he should meet the consequences for whatever actions he chooses to instigate but I can empathise. I was once that student and I was once that child, I have no doubt of that. It’s hard to fathom from up here on our pedestals, i know. Kids need to respect their elders and they need to learn a lesson because they should know better. 'Grow up' we grizzle. The very essence of this whole story is that we assume the children will automatically act like adults in these situations when all they see is adults reacting like children.
Timothy is a children's book author of Billy The Brilliant and I'm The Best and proud educator of all types of student. May his teaching continue to inspire all to be the best version of themselves!
For the A Current Affair story, copy this link. https://www.facebook.com/129086560531063/posts/1843165602456475/
What do Martin Luther King Jnr, Pauline Hanson, Waleed Aly and Mohammed Ali all have in common? It's a tough place to be in, that previous sentence, but together they sit at the top of their chosen game, for differing reasons. So how, despite being loathed by so many and often shrouded in controversy, did they get there? They are all whingers! There's an old saying, 'the squeakiest wheel gets oiled first', which gives me an unlikely line of blogging dialogue today. I'm going to be exploring why we all need whingers in our networks, workplaces and clubs. Oh, wonderful whingers!
Let me just start by saying I am not endorsing any of the aforementioned pupils but do want to investigate how people like this are not only getting ahead of the crowd, (in Hanson's case by getting elected in her original 'Labour safe' seat of Oxley with a huge 19% swing), with such dominance. Each offers a unique insight into the times of the people, societal needs and further justifies an affirmation for the theory, 'if you don't look, you will not find'. Sometimes, 'don't fix it if it doesn't need it', simply justifies peoples niavity - there's always a problem worth fixing - just ask a whinger!
Here are some great lessons as to why the whinger is not just important to us, it is a necessity to our development.
"If you don't look, you will not find" ~ Daniel Amen.
My first point is that often we seek an outsider's perception in life: the best car, the best fashion, the best house, the best haircut… We get the picture. To negate this point, I will use the analogy of the immaculate car in the museum showroom. For the visitors of this slick machine, it seems pristine and would potentially purr like a cat if started - this we'll probably never know. Oh, and to sit in the car; rooftop back, we can relax and let the wind comb our hair with its cool breeze, as we enter a utopian dream of pleasure and good riddance. The windows are oddly tinted though and the museum curator isn't allowed to explain why this beast, made for the road, is cooped up in this building. Perhaps if we open the hood, the engine is rusted, parts missing and its entire system wired incorrectly. Maybe hampering this engineering feat of beauty, once aching to hit the roads, is now it's too far gone it simply has to sit metaphorically idling without true direction or opportunity to shine to its full potential. The point is that cars are meant to be driven, their sole purpose is to take the ground that awaits in its path. Sometimes there will be speed bumps, sickening windy roads, and even dead ends but the vehicle is made to pull off maneuvers made for the glitzy screens. Referring to our own context now, sometimes too much emphasis on the creation of something that resembles strong business, worthwhile entities and desirable culture for us to dwell within ultimately becomes smoke and mirrors. Without whingers, our perfect world would be so far flawed its entire existence would be forged. So even the best places to call home, the best-looking peer, the most fulfilling position of employment and the most prodigious entities lack the authenticity required to progress. The United States fo America, the land of opportunity… We've all heard it before but where we, as neighbours and allies, in Australia saw it wrong was when we saw luminant lights and the advantaged showing off the perfect lifestyle, there were literally millions suffering. We couldn't see what our modern day historical legends of inequality, Dr Martin Luther King and Mohammed Ali saw. We were lured in by the shiny shell and the dreamy vision of driving the beast out on the open road, not knowing it was never going to leave that showroom without. These two African Americans looked where no one dared to venture before them. One, the rights of the people in peace, and the other voiced to stand up and preach what is right, rather than parade around in the pretentious glamour. Both saw the showroom but pursued the drive, they realised the car wouldn't even start and would seek a mechanic, publically. The people were waiting for the courageous, resilient and heroic people they were but first, the needed a voice to help whinge, like never before. They found that in two greats of human existence. And aren't we grateful for it? If we didn't look back then, we would never have known.
Why choose Pauline Hanson to emphasise my points? Surely this is a little risqué? Well, no. Not really. Pauline has shown she has heart and grit. She is inappropriate at times and even gobsmacking and racist with her exclusive line of ideology. What she does offer me though is a perfect segue into the necessity of whingers. She is Australia's queen of whingers! And some may even question, why she gets so many votes? The answer can be one of two things, really: she's an expert politician or she whinges about so much that some of it voices the opinions of the unheard. Think about it in your workplace. Yes, you! We all know that whinger. The one who speaks their mind in meetings when it's so much easier to shut your mouth and hope the boss speaks up then lets everyone go home where it is safe from confrontation! Or the one who seems never to agree with what is chosen. Well, like it or not, these people are so empowering, your workplace would not and could not operate without them. See, they open our eyes to something new, something different. They challenge our very own process of thought, our line of pedagogy and our own perception of what is right. If not for anything else, whingers strengthen our ideology, unity and tighten the loose ends of development so that the path to success or an environment conducive to success can actually occur. And more often than not, they actually voice the opinions of many, giving necessary feedback to leaders and other stakeholders. The reality is, whingers make our workplace tick. They act as the conversation starter, they loosen the clamp of worry and allow venting to take its place- something we all need- more so in open forum then the safety of closed doors. They help us appreciate what is great about our practice.
From time to time, we all get caught in the act of seeing things through rose coloured glasses; our kids, our workplace or club culture, even our own performance. Without a whinger, we wouldn't know this. They are quick to inform (as annoying as it is at the time) us of our overconfidence, self-reassurance and that there is still a lot of room for improvement. The reality is, we cannot please everyone, so the sooner we realise this and continue to challenge ourselves to see things from the other pair of glasses (insert colour here), the better our overall outcomes will be, in any walk of life. Waleed Aly sits on our screen for an hour and a half every night whining and he is, despite making you want to throttle him through the television, in the right. Our deficits as a society, need to be heard. He is somehow the voice of many and these people spoke in 2016, raising him to the highest status a TV personality can reach, the coveted Gold Logie. He's controversial and speaks his mind, often countering the 'old- Aussie' mindset, but it's refreshing, raw and worthwhile listening to. We tune in to hear his opinion more than any other show during that prime-time slot each night. Waleed Aly is a true leader and pioneer in the whinging culture. Let's be honest, he's promoting equality to minority groups, backs those whom their voice goes unheard and stands up for what he believes in. We need and have needed this man, and more people like him for an age now. So let's celebrate our whinging ways! Whinge-o-Matic!
A Star Is Born… But Not at First.
Without a doubt, the latest remake of the movie, A Star is Born, is the best movie I have seen in a long time. Not since the last remake (I wasn't even born yet), but a long time all the same. It did what all good movies should; resonate. Bradley Cooper and Stephani Germanotta sharply lit up the screen in ways one wouldn't have thought possible some time ago. Although the performances were gut-wrenching, throat stifling pieces of epic Oscar-worthy acting, it is not this loosely analysed review which brings me to writing a blog at all. The movie has been done three times previously and follows, more or less, the same storyline, yet it opens our eyes to perhaps the single most important movie moral of our latest generation, 'be yourself first.' A movie literally for the times.
The fact you are reading this blog thinking, 'who the hell is this Stephani Germanotta?' justifies my reason to write this entirely. If ever a movie character typifies the charade Lady Gaga has gallivanted around with the past decade, it'd be this one. Her character, Ally, a broken wanna' be singer with raw talent, losing out to the harsh world of pop-stardom, gets a lucky break. She becomes a highly sought-after performer and songwriter, but not before some heinous critique from those before her. "Nose is far too big", "too ugly" and "not what anybody (in the business) wants" leads the trail of a vicious denunciation. It all makes you stop and think, 'sounds a little familiar, right?' Even for Lady Gaga herself, this speaks volumes of her own journey. Having to create songs like, 'Poker Face' and, 'Just Dance' to break onto the scene; coupling these somewhat trashy fanatical anthems were outrageous, shocking and identity questioning costumes. Empty of the beautiful soul we've now come to know and lacking any real substance, via this route, she found fame. Is this the message we have for those wanting to make it in life, whatever path they choose to follow? Fake it 'til you make it? It's actually despicable.
Katherine Hudson did the same thing after not getting anywhere near where she wanted to be, simply being herself. Toiling for years with nothing but a voice and a message, she just couldn't crack the big time. She ultimately made it, as one Katy Perry, bringing out arguably her biggest and value-misaligned hit, 'I Kissed a Girl', leaping onto the scene as if from nowhere. Poor Miley Cyrus had no chance really, living in the shadows of the mullet her father brought into fashion some thirty years ago. She was sweet, innocent and her values spoke volumes of whom she really wanted to be. With wig in hand, Miley's 'Hannah Montanna' drew the envy of young girls across the globe, but that only lasted until Disney realised she'd be too old to play a twelve-year-old girl anymore. Failings in releasing warm, strong willed and self written songs brought about a rebellion. 'Can't be Tamed' drew attention and Miley's new identity was heavily publicised. Her twerking shenanigans now bring about more conversations and coverage than both her real talent and father's mullet combined. I'm sure she would want to be remembered for other things, amongst other things, perhaps the amazing performer and person she is.
These examples; like so many others, glammed up with ridiculous costumes, raunchy film clips and odd behaviour in the public eye (the star of the blog wearing a mask for the bulk of her appearances as GAGA - clearly taking the early 'aesthetics' criticism to heart); are just sad. I'm not convinced that we, as a society, have come far enough to say we don't need this anymore. We sit and listen to the industry of shame, revealing our biggest stars as creeps, narcissists and predators not minding at all when it generates the next big thing to feast our eyes upon. The #Metoo movement brought about (and still is) a change in mindset for the hardships girls encounter on the road to fame. Never before have we seen a greater need for real strength with our characterisation of girls and boys alike, but are we getting it? The jury is still out.
The last twelve months have seen raunchy, unrealistic and completely inappropriate clips complement top ten hits like never before and one must stop to think who this is affecting most? That's right, our youth! There's even a term used for this type of behviour on social media. Katherine Lindsay, of Refinery 29, wrote about it in disgust. "Why do we still manage to turn on the television to this rot?... teens are now accustomed to 'next level engagement' where it has to be good enough to share with others, get the likes and comments…". The study she conducted found that music videos were shared more commonly (67%) than any other form of video online. So, it's no wonder the stars themselves are pressured to play up to the hype. We cannot blame the stars for their 'sellout'entirely, as 'A Star is Born' itself explores the managerial side of stardom also. These people are forced to push their stars further than ever before, it's all about money, popularity and, most of the time, these new icons have a fixed used by date - being sweet f*#% all. A change of hair colour, some out-there backstory and a clothing range to make Grandma regurgitate her sweets all make up the nasty concoction needed for popularity. Despite the money these superstars make, you have gotta' feel for them. The fact is, they never really get to show who they really are until it's on their own accord; but not before they're too famous for people to really care for why they didn't come out like this originally. It is important to note that this happens for so few. And the, 'fake it 'til you make it' cycle continues.
Let's not get too carried away with poor old Lady Gaga here either, Bradley Cooper hasn't had it easy either in his rise to fame. Having to battle the stigmas of playing the arrogant heart-throb, on films like The Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, with featured roles on Sex and The City would not have been easy. Not easy… but not degrading either. He was lapping up the fame and put on a pedestal, I'm sure his original 'fake it' worked out quite well. The message of this blog is to allow a reflection on what we are seeing unfold with our actors, we are seeing in everyday society. We know the facts of youth mental illness and suicide are alarming, we know the social media's curse with regard to self-esteem, body image and the concern over opinions of others, so let's highlight the strong and pedestal the bold, especially in the world of fame! I watched a scathing, though rousing attack on the males in the movie-making world from Natalie Portman, a girl who has been in the industry since she was eight years old. It got me thinking, how lucky we are to have such successful, yet, grounded, moralistic beings modelling the real way to make an impact on others? But let's not get carried away with negativity here, this blog is trying to highlight something far more glorious than all of this. Being the best version of yourself, first time around.
What A Star is Born teaches us, amongst so many things, is that we yearn for the real, raw emotional vulnerability of life, despite doing everything possible to remove ourselves from the very premise of it. We must be happy with the person we are and the even better person we will be tomorrow. Only let the learning from yesterday improve you, not control you! Ally, Gaga's character, actually fits so well into the life and coming to fame of Stephani Germanotta, if you didn't know the movie was a remake, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was actually based upon Lady Gaga's ride to fame. The inspirational aspect of real life hugely impacts us and this is why A Star is Born works on so many levels. Yes, both actors do an impeccable job, and the set and music superb, but what makes it so powerful is the story's relatability, across 75 years, from back when it was first made. Now and then, we have chauvinism, and we have substance abuse. Now and then, we have stars on the edge of out of control and, perhaps most importantly, we have silence surrounding mental health. Each of the movies, albeit from different eras, end with the lead male taking his own life, a subsequent occurrence from the strain of life. The harsh reality of trying to be something you are not taking its toll. The true beauty of the flick, and what will win it many awards, is the light Ally bestows on such a dark soul, by simply being herself. Not glowing like Beyonce or seductively gross like the Kardashions, just her. In fact, as I assumed comfort in my seat at the cinema, I too even whispered to my wife, 'gee, Gaga is actually not very attractive', oh how the next two hours changed my mind. Her character was so real, Gaga herself, said she was literally crying her eyes out on set at the sensitivity of the script and how she thought it was a screenplay made for her. What a grand message of 'don't judge a book by its cover' or whatever cliché you want to attach to this film but do yourself a favour and go see it! Incredible in every way! And whilst you're at it, try being yourself, first time around.
A Star is Born: 5 / 5 magic hats
Oops, I did it again! I'm not sure why I continue to do it, after doing it for so many years now. Setting myself up for an all too predictable frustration. "Bloody hell! Why am I even bothering?" I implode with anger. This feeling is probably all too familiar for too many of us in the workplace. "That data is rubbish!"
Like many, I grew up loving numbers and statistics; I worked with percentages and my head riddled itself with problems over the happenings of AFL events upon the previous weekend or the cricket at the local park. I can still remember faking a sickie from school when Australia would play a One Day International Cricket Match, I'd soon be glued to the screen, taking graphs and working out run rates by hand. There are so many upsides of data, but never did I think I'd be writing a blog about the downside and, at times, the ineffectiveness of it.
So, with this love for data, it probably doesn't come as a surprise my findings and observations bring about great frustration, bringing me to the point where I feel we (teachers and schools at least) have gone too far using it incorrectly.
From one perspective, I love the analytical science data brings, and to its definition, it is simply supposed to do this: Find patterns, trends, deficiencies and areas of concern so that an individual/cluster can access feedback on progression and then move forward towards greater competency. On the other hand, data lends itself to what I suggest is the typifying reason employees behave with dishonesty and, to an extent, corruption. Today, I'm going to explore both.
Colleagues, without even trying, simply by not caring enough to do their job properly, send you to the edge of your tether. Contributing most to this and the worst thing ever brought into my workplaces, across several different schools, is the data platform. Amongst other things, it brings about a Debbie Stroud coined feeling, 'demoralisation'. As a negative, we'll start with the exposure of this data. My aforementioned point (about being a platform) demands all key stakeholders have access to data. No one seems to care where from and how the data came about but we just need so much of it! As if this data is the potion to ease all the tension within. Parents and students alike wait for it like Christmas. Many then grapple with it like the Grinch has stolen our happiness when things don't go to plan, further bringing about stress for everyone. Ahh, data. Data offers many in a workplace a first-hand look at what others are doing, how they are tracking and, most importantly, where the deficits are. This isn't a bad thing either. We need time to reflect and collate information on the practice in which we operate. We need to ask, 'is my practice working?' and 'where can I improve?' The problem lays dormant in many a workplace though as data seems to be more commonly fabricated than Donald Trump's media coverage. To put it simply, the data we are exerting is complete and utter, "FAKE NEWS". Wow! Didn't think I'd be quoting Donald Trump in a blog! Put simply, if we pretend all is well and provide some falsehood data to say so, people may just believe us - this is not a good thing by the way!
Either way, the problem with having a platform in your workplace may not seem evident at first, for there are many positives which are grandstanded and paraded around in the early days, hence the 'great' decision to purchase it; but slowly and surely, issues leak, then ooze and eventually pour profusely. Now, this is 'demoralising!' There are those employees with the smoke and mirrors approach, parading about when it suits (or when authorities are watching), showcasing, you know, employee brilliance, but what is really going on? Here's where, if we look closely enough at the data, we will find perhaps some very confusing, if not baffling, results. Requirements and allocation of workloads are not undertaken correctly, the practice is poor and the people receiving the produce (in my case, students and parents), are very happy, despite being a little suspicious, for the outcomes are reaching new heights. Whilst the comings and goings within the domain reeks of very rare and weak competency, the results suggest otherwise.
This is where data fails to reveal what it was designed for, the truth!
One of the great benefits of data is that it keeps a company, entity or system accountable. There are standards in which we all need to adhere to, and bloody high ones at that! Data keeps track of performance over time. In a car dealership, a commission is offered for greater sales, bringing about strong outcomes for the business; in an entrepreneurial institute, data shows growth and decline and allows stakeholders to monitor networking, company goals and gives insight into what lies ahead. This, for the number lover, sounds appetising, but on the flip-side, this type of data can also bring about competition within the ranks and can interfere with the whole purpose of the data collation in the first place, improvement. Data can bring about ill-feelings, squabbling and stress. In my profession, teachers start looking into how to best accommodate the needs of data, not students. The honest educators work harder, walking the tightrope of burnout and the bad ones only exacerbate this by spinning webs of deceitful and false data. What's worse, the teachers' practice declines, for fear of disconformity and start teaching to tests. The vicious cycle begins and there's no turning back.
Data can be toxic, in any environment. To make my point, I need to delve into the piece of data my profession does really well… (cough…cough) withholding: from all the data and testing that occurs, teachers are getting worse! We are nearly at the point of epidemic! With more teachers than ever before leaving the profession (data exhibited in a previous blog) and no sign of halting, we must look at the formula for acknowledging how we use data and how it improves teaching practice. Let's not forget the kids! They are the real ones missing out here. While we bicker in the background, the students are losing good teachers, quality nourishment of knowledge and a bestowed critical, investigative thinker for the future. Let me use the naughty, often forbidden word to explain. Wait for it… NAPLAN! Ummah!
NAPLAN is loathed throughout the industry and beyond, what I think is actually really irrelevant, but what is not irrelevant is the data this testing brings. Data shows it brings stress to kids, parents and teachers alike. Data shows it spotlights a steady decline in the acquisition of facts; basic skills in literacy and mathematics are through the floor and one more thing; teachers are getting away with not properly teaching what students need to know. My goal here isn't to bag teachers but something this NAPLAN data shows me is, yes, teachers need to be more accountable for their classroom. The students and their deficiencies, the parents and their questions, the happiness and wellbeing of each within, and, of course, their own practice. For me, the data tells us all, teachers need to improve. NAPLAN tracks individual kids around the country but it doesn't reflect the teacher's impact. Yes, NAPLAN is a one-off test, but if students knew the content and were able to apply independently, the loathing of the test would dissipate. Let's not worry about teaching to the test, spoon feeding our students, let's just teach properly. Forget about collecting student data for a moment and collate teaching data. Stimulating the teachers will engage students, more testing helps no-one, in fact, it hinders the whole teaching sector from progression, the goal of data collection entirely.
With a greater focus on why we collect data, more privacy on who can access the data and more emphasis on direct and explicit employee professional care and development, high outcomes can, and will, be achieved. Collect data via surveying the people whom matter most, prioritise culture and outcomes will look after themselves. The purpose of data is to improve, let's get our heads out from behind the shadows of self-saving mode and promote quality professionals, working towards greater proficiency. Let's support the teacher who need help, challenge them to question and desire change, then maybe their students will. Resilient teachers, willing to make mistakes and take on feedback will go a long way to helping the rot. Put more emphasis on teaching teachers and the students' standards in academia will rise!
For the record, I do not like NAPLAN but here's some insight into some of "pro" arguments. The kids I had taught for a two-year period at a previous workplace from Year 5 to 6, broke all the school's records for Year 7 NAPLAN results the following year. A nice affirmation using externally sourced data. What's more exciting is, this would then be broken by the next group of kids I taught, who went into Year 7 the next year. How's that for data?
Bankers are filthy rich, investors are intelligent or lucky and nurses dedicate their lives to save others'. Receptionists please their clients like no other and police officers serve and protect. But there's one job that plays a massive role in the survival of the entire human race and planet earth as we know it. That's right people, I speak of those standing before us for more than forty percent of our childhood lives, teachers.
After travelling to Tasmania recently, it dawned on me, we teachers are a very special breed; heroic, kind and often whacky. So, what makes these senseless, kooky and sometimes authoritative beings so important?
Let's find out.
Because it is so much easier to change teaching policy, education practice and well, the teachers themselves, than that of changing the personal lives of students; families, individual characteristics and of course the behaviours and social norms in the community, teaching ranks very highly on what contributes most to a child's academia, career prospects, socio-emotional development and potential into adulthood. But before we go blaming the teaching for that incident that occurred and classifying it ‘poor teaching', let us fact-check some analysis of just why good teachers have such a positive influence on our children.
The best ‘test and reveal' sample of evidence for this is a change in a child's environment compared to that of the teacher. Although schools are vast in their range of difference from the next, a competent teacher will impact student achievement and well-being seamlessly. This will happen regardless of a school's status, community demographic or systemic set-up. Comparatively, students will have a more difficult time adapting to poor teaching practice and the environment they create, detrimentally impacting well-being and strangle clutching academic progression. The perfect example of this is the passage from Primary School to High School. A poor Year 6 teacher will offer an open mind and fresh start for students, ready to embark on a new journey with new teachers in Year 7. Quality teachers in a high school will lap up the students who need that extra attention, whereas the poor teachers will filter any positivity the students' mindset has left and squeeze the first of the anxiety-laden trail that begins when children enter adolescence. Alternatively, the opposite can occur too. Good teachers may pave such a strong path into adolescence, the sky seems the limit for each individual. Then the unthinkable; all this is quelled as the students enter a world of High School, often riddled with poor teachers. This seems dramatic but is the harsh reality of classroom and school transition, hence shining the clear spotlight on the message that, contrary to many leaders and their warped beliefs, good teachers are quite clearly irreplaceable.
Unlike in society, teachers are best identified by their care, nurturance and performance within the classroom, not for their colour, creed or experience. Also unlike in society, schools can operate by a different hierarchy; where those who care most get acknowledged most and those who create belonging, not belittling, get ahead. Think about it, a school based on community, where students are genuinely cared for are far more sought after than those which are purely based upon rigour and regurgitation to achieve nothing more than data. In a recent investigation by the Department of Education in Western Australia, surveying and analysing the pastoral care of over 140 teachers and their school's community stakeholders (principals, parents, administrators and, of course, students), the best schools and thus most effective teachers, regardless of the school's demographic and social climate, prioritised relationships and strong vision in treating the student as person, taking interest in the child and their interests. This played a major role in the overall academic and social development. The results also reflected the efficiency of the whole school experience for students and their families. The report concluded, "if they were cared for effectively, the results of those in question; academically and the general appreciation and view of the school would trend upward. If there was no real consistency with a priority on care, the view and results fell dramatically."
Good teachers are like melodies you can't get out of your head. Many of us, even as adults can recall that ‘one incredible' teacher; the one who made our time in that one year, inspiring! Like the whole school experience was so worthwhile, just for that twelve months. But how many people can say that one teacher made all the difference because "she planned diligently", or, "he controlled well and worked with great management", or, "that teacher knows everything about everything"? Sure, this all helps somewhat, but universities are not places you learn the real teaching, these skills are assets in all professions. Teaching needs that little point of difference. Clearly, the best teachers are passionate and enthusiastic and approachable and do things slightly different. When the time with this teacher is over, you go home and talk to your parents about the amazing fun you had or the learning activity that felt nothing like ‘normal learning'. They didn't know everything but they didn't seem to mind. And when you outsmarted them in inquiry, it was celebrated and shared across all the class. It was special, an experience like no other. It was different. A perfect segue into the next point, great teachers are different.
When tooting the horn of individuality, it is somewhat deflating when the person preaching is just another bland version of someone else. What a position to be in as teacher; bringing your personality out so that others can see you as human, not just the brick in the wall the system often confines us to be. Without a doubt, in a world of incessant conformity, those who possess even the smallest of difference, make the biggest of differences. We want a world of independent, responsible and critical creators, with a sense of service, generosity and pride in being, right? So, only being great in role modelling will bring about the most positive outcomes, conducive to success in the aforementioned. Able and inspiring individuals come from able and inspiring guidance.
As teachers, we have such a wonderful opportunity to spread the goodness of being kind, learned and humble; selfless, inquisitive and just being present. To all teachers out there, who think that you've had enough; I empathise but urge to persevere. Never again will you be in the same space as those you share today's classroom with. Think about it; you could be standing before, sharing incredible experiences with the next Prime Minister, future Hollywood heroes, tradies and politicians; the next Master Chef and your very next nurse. Heck, you may even have yourself an able age carer for when you're too frail to treat yourself the way you deserve. Where in the world will you ever have the pleasure, the honour to be present with amazing individuals like these ever again? They care about your presence. Your smile can make all the difference in one being's day. Smile more, love your students, love your job, love the good and the bad, and then smile some more, for you are a teacher.
By gosh we have an important job. Do it well!
Author, Brene Brown once quoted on American national television, promoting her latest novel, "a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically wired to belong". So, I why have nearly fifty percent of schools across Australia prioritised school belonging in their vision, yet the slide in its attainment started slipping in 2003 and has not ceased doing so since? I had to question 'why is this so important' when reading a recent study and 'what is the cause' for this scary slide?
As all good teachers do, I self-reflected and related the data back to the small sampling I take great pride in claiming my own, my classroom. I questioned my very practice: is my pastoral care strong enough? Do kids feel welcome in my class? Is the relationship corresponding between teacher, student and families with enough authenticity?
All of these questions prompted me to investigate. So, without further ado, I shall explain why the sense of belonging in schools, across Australia, is wavering dramatically.
We cast our minds back to 2003, yes, I know, it was a long time ago! Heck, I was just a Middle School student myself. I was rebellious and can't really say I, myself had a great deal of pride in my school experience or felt a true sense of belonging. What I can say about this time was that, as all teens do, I had troubled things in my life which brought about a yearning for one thing, an escape. For me, removing myself from domestic troubles at home and the pressures of study was easy, I had football. But when this was not around, the schoolyard was a haven. I had my mates around and the banter kept us all sane. I felt, despite the classroom environment feeling more like a zoo, us students united, almost inherently against the common enemy, authority. This was fun, it brought trouble but also handed a strong sense of companionship and a belonging. When I was with these pals, I felt good. This is what we all, as humans, seek. The school had innately given us this with the cohort they had accepted and the distribution of students within each class. But this is my experience, why were things so much better for a student back then than it is now? Where has that belonging gone?
Let's think globally about the place we reside in and what wasn't around fifteen years ago. For starters, the kids of today! These small things in life we appreciated back then are now seen as boring and lame. For growing up in a tech-infested world has driven concentration levels through the floor, narcissism to an all-time high (and its acceptability, I mean, who would've thought in 2003 "selfies" would soon be deemed conventional social behaviour in public?) and a desire to reach out and share everything to the greater community from the palm of our hand is incomprehensible. Facebook, Snapchat and 'slide left or right' dating apps weren't the focus of conversation, moreover, the latest episode of Degrassi Junior High and The OC. Hanging out with friends meant actually going somewhere and interacting face to face, without the moblie phone screen playing friendship projector. The point here is, schools acted as a social platform for students, bringing them together, now there is no need for that when they can just as easily sit in the bedroom without the adults or outer network peers needing to make up the background noise.
Without a doubt, a higher priority is placed upon academic rigour today, a ploy of higher scholars, in high up places, to raise the bar in Australian schools, as we worked our way down the rungs of the world's academic ladder. We all know a school focuses on core learning and teaching, that's the very idea of its existence. But, as we rolled into school each day, teaching our inquiry or developing ever important connections, a little test called NAPLAN was manifesting in the background, ready for administering in every classroom around the country, throwing the programming and expectations of content coverage into a frenzy. As much as the idea of this thing was to pick up standards to comparatively compete with the practice of schools on the other side of the world, it did one thing and one thing only. Bring about unnecessary stress. Dr Kelly-Ann Allen, from University of Melbourne recently documented, "every year, much of the educational focus and emphasis is on the NAPLAN literacy and numeracy scores which can be detrimental to a student's wellbeing and contribute negatively to their academic performance". So, for each time we step into a book store or supermarket, when we are often confronted by practise test booklets, think about this. And every time Term Two blossoms into the academic year, teachers' attention shifts to preparation (except all those schools and communities which do not care for the test…cough, cough), think about this. And finally, when the resource centres get the slightest sniff of an impressionable parent, stressing over the results of a one-off, irrelevant exam, and like a bee to honey, they are all over them, think about this. All this is causing a downward spiral in our progression. Parents, students, teachers and staff who focus too heavily on this practice, we have fundamentally flawed our institutions and its everyday practice. We have all become more and more stressed, over academia. We need to stop. Who misses out most from this fallout? EVERYONE! Further enhancing the need to attain learner independence, fulfil individual learning pedestals and completely outdo everyone else (if not for anything else, bragging rights), only creates less belonging. Enough is enough. The thing that excludes itself naturally from this systemic progression is: community.
A nasty concoction of social norms and the need to be better has actually weakened our individual growth. On a nation-wide level, we have transformed our schools into places where we no longer want to be, teachers and students alike. So, what about a way forward? Let's look into it, from the kids' perspective.
In a recent meta-analysis of fifty-one studies, which included over 67,000 students, a factor identification of what impacts belonging at school has seen some not so surprising but still very alarming results. Self-efficacy rates are lower than ever amongst our youth which impedes our quest for belonging but it is not the strongest factor. Supportive parents and family adaptability is also crucial but the overwhelming factor in the creation of belonging with a school environment- drum roll please- is the teacher- student relationship. The nurturance of care, mutual respect and value for the individual as a person, not just a data-friendly number in the system. Whilst Dr Allen acknowledges, "as the curriculum demands and class sizes increase and teachers feel stressed, this can be increasingly hard to maintain" she demands our leaders ease the data-driven strain of teaching and learning, to "allow time for relationships to happen and to look how their teachers connect with and value others." If leaders do not promote and foster this belonging, the results, across all areas of school (including community engagement and satisfaction) will continue to slide along with its academia and feeling of togetherness. She summarises her data findings with one simple sentence that should resonate with us all, "It's vital to focus on academic outcomes, but a students' school life cannot be adequately represented by a standardised score." Amen.
At the end of the day, encouraging a sense of pride in each other's journeys and taking time to create belonging within each place of learning does not have to come at the expense of academic achievement, it actually enhances it. Ironic, right?
Pathed by balcony and bathed in pink and orange glow, my walk to the drinking fountain is often met with beautiful sunrises which blanket the grounds of my school. Though today was met with something unexpected, perhaps more glorious than what was previously anticipated. On the third floor of my school facility, I watch below surely the most wonderful thirty-second interaction of the entire day. A father, having to be at work by 7:00 am, tentatively though trustingly releases his son into another day of exploration.
I reach for the tap to fill my bottle and miss, I'm so wrapped up in the moment of bliss unfolding below me. Dad kisses his son's forehead before reminding him about pickup time. "I'll be right here waiting, buddy," he starts, a stammer in voice. "Promise you won't forget," he concludes, almost pleading. By this time, I can't help but smile, my heart full of adoration. I've seen this scene many a time before, but never like this. The son has made his trek, barely fifteen metres when Dad, still standing motionless but full of emotion, makes one last effort to attain son's attention. His eyes are poised and body statue frozen. "Have a good day," he calls. Son looks back, "Yep. I will Dad". The water overflows my bottle as I snap back to reality. What a moment to witness. In my decade or so of being a teacher, I had been openly seeing this type of connection a lot. But never with Dad, always with Mum.
It was simply amazing. I quietly thanked this father (to myself) and used the inspiration to ensure one thing: that I never let my status as a "MAN" get in the way of my status of a "PARENT". This small snippet of my morning opened my mind to an array of memories and brought me to the question: when did the male stop showing this kind of emotion? Is there a rule where we, as men, are not allowed to? I wanted to investigate and what better way to do so than by using my iconic mate as a perfect side story.
Although it wasn't that long ago, I grew up in a time where men were men. Men had to be men and boys had to be mini men. I cannot say things have changed too much but they are changing, slowly. I still embrace the state of vulnerability and implore all to prioritise, wholeheartedly, the ability to form and hold authentic relationships. The rigour of our everyday lives must always come second to this. Despite this, there was a time when vulnerability was a sign of weakness and bravado outranked any form of sensitivity. The impact on my age bracket is severe; mental health taking its toll on our nearest and dearest, tenfold. I actually cringe at the thought of having to hide my sensitivity but that is how many around still behave. Think about the previous generation of men, the fifty or sixty somethings, and the environment they grew up in. Living up to the Bondsy wearing, bronzed chunderer from down under, who was funny, well built and extremely brave must have been excruciating. Always. I can't think how exhausting that would've been. One of my generation's many representatives, actor Justin Baldoni, has had a gutful of always playing the shirtless macho man, "I'm tired of being man enough, all the time". And aren't we all?
A close friend of mine and I recently chewed the fat about the way we, as teens, once were. We were strong, chauvinist and reckless; popularity swaying in our direction. We drank way too much, VB of course, and rebelled in almost all interaction with authority, except on the footy field. We lived like we were heroes and, despite behind closed doors our so-called admirers thinking we were crazy or jerks, we were glazed with glorious appreciation. We were alpha males, accepted for this and felt valued as a result. We were jocks, carbon copies of our fathers. The same fathers who probably had the same pressures in years foregone. This acceptance, from people, in all directions, is what drove (and has driven) this trail of masculinity for the ages. All we all ever really want as kids and impressionable youths (perhaps even as adults) is acceptance. Not for who we are but for who we think others want us to be. It tends to become a rotten cyclic notion and it needs to stop.
During this conversation, Robbo (hilarious we have such occa nicknames to coin our token of acceptance - something we also inherited from our dads - I get 'Bricka', a derivative of Dad's 'Bricko') and I talked about no longer feeling the need to impress with our drinking escapades and drunken tirades. Something surprising for most, as we prided ourselves with this very act for over a decade, so much so, I earned, justly, the term "Frank The Tank". It felt good to be accepted and feel valued for taking on Frank, but where did it all come from? Is this truly how we want society to be? Ostracising those who do not conform?
We complain about bogan-ism taking over the country and our reputation for unsolicited mistreatment of those beneath us as a whole but the mentality we have acquired through our short tenure as a country has not only been bestowed upon us from those before, we, as a nation have bathed frenetically in all of its hideous spotlighting. We mistreat our immigrants and visitors, despite recognising our laid back and easy-going personality as a strength; we welcome desperate ways to get ahead, by cheating, disregarding comparisons of our cheating, criminal and not so humble beginnings as a 'white' state. Our culture is rich with pride and history which dates back to the dawn of time, though we do our best to shunt or dissipate what makes us whole and great. We chop down those poppies who are tall and worked tirelessly for their worth, for the jealousy that rages within continues to plague our own progression. We sit in the shadows and whine that no one ever gives us a voice, a hand up or support, then shoot down any first sight of one with an ounce of moral courage. All this is just the beginning of one almighty shit show our upbringings have created, yet there is one ginormous thing we all should hang our heads and wallow for. For when all of this rears its ugly head, our own mothers still tell us we are all perfect. Oh yes, our humble and ever caring female. Our treatment of women is deplorable. For every show of masculinity and its pressures, we hack away at the beauty of femineity. Underprivileged is one thing, outcast is another, but the true show of us as a country, a society, is mistreatment of our girls.
A few years back, Robbo ran for a purpose, not just to show his strength and determination (something this brut was accustomed to) but to see the pain one's body can endure, physically and mentally. A raiser of funds and awareness for an amazing entity, Bravehearts, an organisation trying mightily to protect children from the pits of sexual abuse. This run was no ordinary run, and the fact that only thirteen runners took place epitomised its complexity and rarity. The task: run seven marathons in seven days. Oh yeah, did I mention it was done in seven different states, one each day? Just the thought of this is enough to make your muscles ache, your spine tingle and head pound. Who in their right mind would do this? Robbo would! Was this to prove he was truly man enough? I think so, but in the same breath, when he would be done, running his body into the ground, he would become a real man to a totally different accord .
Never have I known a more go-getting, inspiring self-believer. In fact, one of his drunken misdemeanours came from the cursing of his peers proving this very point. Robbo needed to be the man, at every opportunity, so when drinking onlookers posed a simple query with him, "you wouldn't do this Robbo!", the challenge was on. This applied in every situation and trust me, some of his "you wouldn't do this" accomplishments are now like folklore. This grit and uncanny need to prove others wrong opened his mind to new places, places he thought his intellect would never allow him to explore. The place this race took him was one of despair, darkness, isolation and emotional wreckage. Not because of the pain he was enduring over the nearly three hundred kilometres he had run, moreover because of the people he met and their stories of hurt. Their stories firstly filled his gut with agony, then filled his heart with admiration and his head with the drive. "If these people can go through that, such afflictions from others, I can surely keep running" he reminisced. "The worst thing," he recounts, "was the fact I hadn't been through it nor known of this type of behaviour from adults, grown men". You see, most of these runners, like Robbo, would have to endure relentless chaffing, staunching blisters and ripped skin, severe athlete's foot and unthinkable cramp, to pair with daily nausea, sleep deprivation, travel ooziness and baffling muscle soreness. This was something they had all agreed to do, on their own (sane) accord. What they hadn't ever signed off on was a different hurt. The pain of their childhood mistreatment. Then the stomach knots of self-shame, the ridicule of feeling the freak when thoughts of suicide and solidarity knocked down their resilience. This type of pain, a few runs, seemed a grain of sand on a beach in comparison. What Robbo witnessed during that time was life-changing. "Most of these stories were of males mistreating women". He remembers one female competitor wailing in tears during a circuit run (4 x 10.55km), somewhat because of an ankle injury, but mostly because that time, running all by herself had gurgled the pain and suppression from within. "It [howling] was almost unbearable to listen to", he recalls when running passed or beside her during that particular leg.
Each night, the group would delve into their own life stories; most were of abuse and most about the stigmas surrounding men being all powering and emotionless. The experiences were hard to listen to but had to be echoed. This run was making an impact on many and sending a message, a loud one of the hope for change... one bloke at a time. It is important to note, not all abuse is at the hands of men, but, according to ABS's survey on domestic violence in 2016, a staggering 77% of victims are female, at the hands of males. It is never pretty, regardless of gender, the point here is that as Robbo and I experience more in life, we have come to realise that our own education and upbringings could have played a part in the expectations surrounding the treatment of others, particularly girls. That country boy, scruff and rough, which has an abundance of advantages, may have been overexposed to a backward expectation upon how he should treat women.
True to his occa style, Robbo got a tattoo of his achievement but knew the permanency of his new addition would bear no comparison to the emotional scarring and traumatic permanency of the victims of which it represented. A greater awareness of the facts, a more emotionally intact being and a greater respect for minorities ensued this experience for Robbo. His parting with bravado was celebrated internally as much given kudos from beyond. Conversations stemmed about the nature of males verse the nurturance of this chauvinistic, bullish and boisterous behaviour inherently habitualised by men. When we grew up with those who care, we care. When we are exposed to trauma, we are traumatised. When we see strength in aggression and violence, we foster the behaviour. "Boys will be boys" is no longer an excuse for disrespect. If we show love for ourselves, as men, the nurturance of sensitive vulnerability will engulf those around us. I realise it is my job to break the back of an ugly monster that has exhumed from all corners of society's bedrooms. As educator, as mentor, as footballer; as author, as Dad and as man.
The question we have to confront is clear: are we man enough to be a real man? This means having the courage to be honest with others, to stand up for what we believe in and most of all be honest with ourself. We are all born with an ability to love, a dependency on others and the yearning for care. The way we are nurtured is completely up to those who love us. One thing is for sure, respect must be nurtured. If we cannot foster respect, in all we do, so that those beneath us can then grow into respectful beings, these vicious cycles of mistreatment may never alleviate.
I've grown up with one version of Robbo and now know the same being but a completely different man, yet I still respect him, perhaps more than ever. There's an old saying, which probably spawned from the same scripture as, "boys will be boys", but should cease to exist from all realms of an equitable society; it exhibits perfectly how this revolutionised bloke has changed. "The boy you see at seven is the man you see at thirty", a saying so true in general society but not for Robbo, not for I. If this bloke can change his perspective on everything, I can. We all can. We are not destined to treat people a certain way, we make a choice to do so. That includes ourselves.
So, why try link a converted blokey bloke to a dad dropping off a kid at school, to the treatment of women? It is quite simple. These scenarios all play out scenes of the past and of future change. The key is education, care and a nurturance of positivity. The amazing world we grow up in isn’t always really that amazing. Let us foster what is good and what is worthwhile, like equals. We preach respect and now it is time to practice what we preach. That dad showed me how all dad's should be: proud. Sensitive and proud. Be man enough!
All good men out there, who was the boy you were at seven and who have you become?
Beginning Teachers: P-Plates Please
After a reinvigorating second term, which saw me take on a practicum student, embarking on their last adventure (4th Year Placement) before entering the world of teaching, I sit and reflect. I watched in awe of this young budding nurturer who breathed life into my dying sense of hope in the system. This kind of teacher could just save the world in which we call our domain; she has awareness, respect, passion, enthusiasm, care and an uncanny sensitivity to the needs of each individual. It was indeed a very exciting display of development over her ten-week placement. What she did have too (which should never be under-rated) was the ability to listen. Something so simple, yet so very important in the future phase of her teaching career, for both classroom and staffroom. Taking on feedback and bouncing ideas around in mentoring sessions was a breeze and certainly got me thinking. It got me thinking about just what the impact mentor teachers have on the next generation of educators and I think I have solved the myriad of confusion as to why teachers fall victim to some of the most horrific statistics when in the first half decade of the teaching journey. "Stats?", you ask? Yes, stats like almost a quarter of teachers graduated since 2011 have left the profession and in that year (2011) alone, 31%. The stresses of the job, coupled with the patronising jibes (you know the ones: "Holidays! Are you teachers ever at work?" Or "I could easily be a teacher, they just play games with the kids all day, and get paid to do it"), have, according to the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, claimed up to half of all teachers in their first five years on the job. This is shocking though, for me, believable and certainly not surprising. The lack of skill, guidance and accountability play their role in making this first, and for some, the last stanza of the profession that much more difficult. I could sit and whine but that would serve no purpose really, we all know the worries of educators. But, after my recent experience, I feel it necessary to proclaim a solution of sorts. It goes like this… excuse the persistent 'P' theme - it all makes sense once you have read. Enjoy.
Perhaps projecting the persistent prominent problems with primary teachers when they inaugurate their professional passage is their lack of the 'P-word' principle to peruse and pursue most promptly.
When we say 'P-Word' what actually comes to mind for the new educator?
I'm going to explain the pilot of peppering 'P's' in primary teaching. It is a well defined, yet disregarded philosophy and practice that persistently pries with producing perfect primary practised professionals.
Possibly, 'P' stands for passion. This is one attribute new teachers are permeating profusely. For the beginning professional, it is clear there is no lack here and hence; teaching is promptly off to a positive commencement. If this quality remained evident amongst educators well into their second and even third and fourth decade of mediating youths then we would all be praising the peaches for the incredible school system we have. This is not only implausible; it is also far from the truth. At which point do teachers stop craving the progress of their personal practice? There doesn't seem to be a timeframe or passion clock but it is quite clear that a teacher's passion does fade or dwindle over the years of heading the learning experience of students. It is also definite that if educators do not at least lead their career with this 'P-Word' they may be in the wrong profession. The skills of a newly found fulltime teacher will come with another 'P-Word' we know as 'practise' (apparently this makes us perfect) but please allow me to continue on this pursuit for the tenuous 'P-Word'.
Passing conversations about education practice, behaviour management and the support of new educators come by often. There is always a theme and tone that overshadows positivity. Provision. Peer mediation, school's leadership and of course, principals are not giving enough support or guidance to their colleagues. Professional learning and development are not only underrated, it is under-utilised and absently encouraged. Once these leaders establish themselves at the top of the pecking order it seems the lack of empathy and direction is ever so present, unless of course, it is a professional requirement in order to progress careers further. Simple peer observation and friendly feedback allow for development and this, in its simplest form creates collegiality and leaves the door for better teaching practice ajar. The rigours of leading a school institute are demanding but this difficult task can be made easier through precise vision, attainable goals and ample professional development. Like in our classrooms, schools need routine, the members within need to know their place, need to feel welcome and ready to make mistakes so they progress through collaborative involvement. So please, principals and peers of beginning teachers alike, please acknowledge a set of 'P-Plates' on our newest comrades in our industry.
Palatable practice can be achieved with the previous ingredients; however, penetrating professional proficiency is not entirely a result of them. Parenting priorities are often not taken into account in schools. Should it matter? Yes and no. Yes, because trying to change or eliminate nurture can be a difficult, if not an impossible task. No, because your ability to truly make a difference in a student's school experience is up to the teacher, in its entirety. Creating ideals about the structure and class culture is a tough assignment but it is the single most important component in aiding the learning of our students. Does it teach literacy and numeracy? No. Does it offer room for progression in school life? Yes. Often this is the single biggest battle for early educators. There is an abundance of vigilant and perfectly planned teachers that enter the education field but they lack one thing. Control. No matter the proficiency of lesson structure and sequence of learning, the teacher will never be fully competent without control. This doesn't mean standing at the front of the room screaming and demanding respect so that learning can take place either. It is a clearly guided, self-maintained respect. Independent and responsible learners feel empowered by their rules, they feel encouraged to make mistakes within their environment, for the benefit of their peers. The classroom should be somewhere safe where ridicule is left at the door and the atmosphere is a warm, friendly haven. Sounds nice hey? How does this occur in a classroom of a newly trained teacher with no experience? Precise philosophy. This can only come from the system in which teachers and students take part in each and every school day.
Parting with pride and participating in precipitous, precedential proximity is preferred. Simply being there for beginning teachers is all it takes. Passing praise, deliberate positivity and perennial management of best practice should ensure our true 'P-Word' is apparent for the best success. And when this is done, planned proficiency is patent. Overwhelming support is truly what is needed, even when it is not needed. To know someone is always there, gives that sense of confidence, a desire to improve and harness good for everyone involved in the process. So, what is that magic 'P' word, after all of this pandering? 'P' is for probation. Not at all with any negative connotation, but moreover with preference to planned proficiency. Place positive probation at the pinnacle of priority and practised professionals will perform.
I sat in a meeting last October, where quite simply put, there was a huge elephant in the room; an insolvent culture. The leader, who had previously pushed such topics, along with wellbeing, equality and care, under the carpet, had now decided that, in light of some insipid outcomes on all fronts, it was time to check a 'culture' box. One of his several puppets infamously quoted a famous quote, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and again expecting different results". At the time I cringed; my previous three years of hard work, toil and often heartbreak; continually battling with ostracism and dealing with my own moral courage had gone into this philosophy. I preached change, "it's hard but we all have to do it eventually…" I announced, to which many had critically denounced it, saying "there's nothing wrong with the culture" or "it's not your place…". Things since this meeting last October, unfortunately, have spiralled, almost uncontrollably, to the depths of the lowest point the entire institute has been.
Shortly after that meeting, masking strategies were put in place, of course, I watched cynically, my better judgment and personal mantra disagreeing with wholeheartedly.
And since, now being the middle of the following year, giving ample time to assess the impact of that "meeting to end all meetings on culture"? Well, let's just say, in the words of the great Albert Einstein, "May we all bathe in the insanity in which we all created…"
A short and sweet one today, leaving a little food for thought.
Many words have connotations; positive and negative, but none are blurred as to which connotation sits best for the word culture more. I guess there's confusion around this as those who seek culture for a betterment and end up seeking an abrupt exit from a dire environment, filled with negativity.
Culture; something I feel I aimlessly sought, has many facets to uphold positive progression yet probably the most effective strategy to obtain belief in a system that later brings about endless supplies of euphoric affirmation is the establishment of routine.
Many who set out to establish great culture most probably have great intentions but those who seek without effect fall victim to instilling repetition. Negative repetition, based on the ideas of few, or God forbid, one will lend itself to one thing and one thing only, egotism. Sure, ideas and implementation must all come from one but when dealing with many and that one deals singlehandedly with all, the path to success starts to crack. So, if leading this journey, be strong, set routines, establish standards (and bloody high ones at that) and stick to them, for the sake of all. If your standard fits many, make them fit all. No exceptions.
Culture is about precedents. Good and bad, they form the basis of what is required to achieve one's goals, in all walks of life. When something great happens, that "wow, that was unexpected…" take the time to sit back and celebrate it. Spend time giving pats on the back and words of affirmation because before you know it, the time to hand the bitter pill of failure will come. This is certainly an easier one to swallow having seen the high commendations for what is expected. If the failure comes first, then don't hold back, make it a precedent, and stay strong. Instill the message we learn from mistakes and then it's about the response. Always follow up the response with everyone within the culture's inner sanctum. Have them see that making mistakes is part of learning and that has allowed even further progression, that the mistake entitled one monumental precedent so it will not occur, with anyone again. If it does, there's a precedent. People hide from setting precedents and this alone may derail your desire to establish a routine driven culture of success.
There is no one way to establish good cultures but without the people at the top, making tough yet necessary decisions, they do not occur. Without the input, buy-in and a sense of value below, the culture is doomed from the outset. As a natural leader, I set about creating goodness in every way possible but by far and away the most important thing I do, as quickly as possible, I set good habits. Good routines. Repetition is nice for the continuity of a collective but is it really the basis of good culture? Set up a routine and you move forward, set up repetition and, despite at times feeling as though you are moving forward, you hit a corner and head straight back around in the opposite direction.
You know that feeling you get when everyone is following an action, fad or trend and you literally want to vomit? You know it will pass but you start to wonder why there is always these relentless trends amplifying negativity. Why won't those who bring about positivity in the world, even in the smallest of ways, catch a break? If only everyone would put as much energy into something good, worthwhile and which may actually make a real difference in the world, maybe then, the world would reek of magic!
Well, I have a message for all of you who continue to shine brightly without thinking you have made an imprint. For those who feel the energy-sapping goodness is running dry. I want you to think about the real reason you shed virtuousness on others, and finally, to never stop spreading your radiance. It's called…
"The 100th Monkey"
"Bang!" A long time ago, government forces were testing atom bombs in the sea. It was seen to be the best place to drop huge devastation as it was only near uninhabited islands which would not affect human life if invaded with radiation.
Because the politicians were so kind, they decided to re-settle the island near the testing site with monkeys. Not just a few, but about ten thousand. There was a freshwater source in the middle of the island and the monkeys could enjoy the delicious coconuts, which were aplenty on this island. Interestingly enough, scientists made daily trips to test the environment and to observe how the monkey colony was settling in. One thing concluded from their visits; the coconuts were extremely hard to eat as the rusks were radioactive. This could derail the entire re-settlement, taking down an excellent goodwill gesture in the process. Solution: teach some monkeys how to wash the coconuts thoroughly prior to devouring them. This was an arduous task and took over a month to establish the washing routine with just a small, nine monkey sample. The mission was a difficult one, re-settling an intoxicating environment but the government; scientists and environmentalist were resilient, it had to be done.
After six weeks, there was something peculiar in the science reports from the previous month and a half. Nine monkeys were rigorously cleansing the coconuts of radioactive remanence, making it easier for consuming and overall survival of the colony. The original nine trained cleaners turned into thirteen. It was a celebration; the mission was possibly going to work. Ten thousand strong, with many female nurturing babies, the colony needed this routine to survive, so having caught on, those extra four monkeys would now hold the key to clean coconut rusks and the survival of the island primates. The scientist made trips monthly for the next few months, what they found was amazing. On their returns they found nineteen monkeys cleaning, followed by thirty-four, fifty-seven, seventy-four and ninety-one. Then one-hundred, two days in a row. As incredible a breakthrough this was, showing that if one hundred monkeys can conform to this ritual and despite only one percent of the primate population having started the regime of cleaning for survival, it proved to the scientists that, perhaps in time, the monkeys would all be doing this life saving, revolutionary task.
It was decided to fund a venture to the island for a team of specialist researchers and animal conservationists over a twelve-month period. The team would rotate fortnightly and hence, give 24/7 access to the monkeys and their inspiring development. But after a staggering one week on the island, something truly mind-blowing occurred.
The team of scientists sent out search parties to different parts of the fresh water source on an overcast day. This day was to have the most amazing silver lined clouds for what they were to witness was truly unbelievable.
Although the time was stringently toilsome, often grueling, the scientists feasted their eyes on one special gathering. Ten thousand monkeys, as if in ritual, washing their rusks readying themselves for consummation. Over the next week, the same thing had happened, time and time again.
With what was a hunch originally, a distant "maybe", the looming survival strategy for this colony had worked tremendously. Each day, the primates would make their way to the fresh water and wash, it was now habitual.
Even if you think your positivity is making a limited impact, you must persevere, for one day, when you least expect it, the sun will shine upon you and the masses will worship your glory. Make good habits and in time your legacy will reign over all.