Saturday, 27 July 2019

Email the blight of School Principals

I am told and read that one of the major problems for the contemporary school Principal is parents being able to email the school.  A proportion of these parents expect almost instant response and tend to become angry when this is not possible under the weight of all the emails a school receives. It is becoming more frequently reported that Principals experience parental abuse some of which is physical.

I can only imagine the additional burden this is for Principals, who are under other major pressures like the expectation of top level student academic output.  In Australia this latter pressure comes for the politicians when Australian students do not perform well in standardised compulsory academic tests.

Teachers also can be emailed and I am in no doubt are under the same pressures.

Physical abuse of teachers also seems to be on the rise from students and parents.  I recently observed a TV program interviewing teachers now in a poor mental state as a result of student abuse.

I hypothesise that the answer to this is to build a strong and purposeful wellbeing program that embraces within a school community the students, the staff and the parental cohort. I suspect that such a school community culture would push back on parental and student aggressiveness.  Within that climate of wellbeing there would be no room for such aggressiveness. It would become the exception rather than the rule.

I might now expect some comments that I have been out of the Principal game for too long and have become too altruistic.  I defend myself in anticipation by stating firmly that I would establish the wellbeing culture should I once again be in the position of Principal. Every child and every staff member should enter the school gates every day feeling respected and loved as members of their school community.  The same should apply to parents.

I have not touched upon the potential for parents and students to use social media platforms to stir up trouble for school Principals and teachers. I guess such perpetrators would have to be careful what they put out there in what could be classified as the public domain.

May the Force be with you!


Saturday, 20 July 2019

Light them up to learning

One of the key jobs of the school Principal as educational leader of their school community is to constantly and enthusiastically create a climate in which the students want to learn and every teacher is enthusiastic and inspirational.

Keeping an eye out for teachers who are losing their edge for whatever reason is vital.  Remedial action needs to be taken by the Principal to re-inspire that teacher.

An outsider coming in to a school should feel the vibe of teachers at the top off their game and students filled with a desire to learn. Is it a happy school?

May the Force be with you!


Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Helen - secondary (high) school Principal on future proofing students

At last I've got to Helen. What I write about her is in a context of my related posts about future proofing students.  Here goes:

Helen – Secondary School Principal

Helen faced a different situation in some ways to John. She knew that there were requirements for secondary school graduation to meet State defined standards and the entry requirements of Universities and the Vocational tertiary education providers.

She was determined to create a teacher in-service opportunity where she would lead a seminar where the pre-reading would be:

·      Best Careers for the Future 51 Jobs;
·      The blog post, What Does a future With No Jobs Look Like;
·      The Executive Briefing by McKinsey Global May 2017; 
·      Fullan Michael, “The nuance of academic achievement” Australian Educational Leader, Vol 41, Term 1, 2019, pp 8-10.

The purpose would be to inform the teaching team of her school and to attempt to draw out implications for implementing the Western Australian version of the Australian National Curriculum(WAANC). Her student population covered the school years 7 to 12. She knew she would have Leopards, Jaguars and Panthers. She had faith in classes being cross set for learning. She worried that in year 10 students would need to make a choice abut the path they would follow for university entrance, for entering the vocational education and job market stream or the general course stream for students who did not want to take up either of the other two pathways.  This latter was like a middle option.

She had heeded the warning in the McKinsey, May 2017, Executive Briefing that “The disruptions to the world of work that digital technologies are likely to bring about could pose significant challenges to policy makers and business leaders, as well as workers.” She had taken note from this Briefing that education systems and learning needed to evolve “…for a changed workplace” and that  “Policy makers working with education providers (traditional and nontraditional)”……had been advised that they “….could do more to improve basic STEM skills through the school systems, put a new emphasis on creativity as well as critical and systems thinking, and foster adaptive and life-long learning.”

During the mid 1980s she had been inspired by the education guru Michael Fullan as she valiantly tried to achieve a better understanding of how to bring about successful change in education.  Lo and behold she had now come across the guru again in an article “The nuance of academic achievement” in the Australian Educational Leader, Vol 41, Term 1 2019, pp 8-10.  Could this assist her introspection about how the WAANC might be implemented in her school in a context of a future partially predicted, but much of which was unknown.

Fullan’s central argument was that we had gone overboard in emphasising academic achievement and had paid scant attention to ‘connectedness’ or being ‘good at life’, wellbeing if you will.  Fullan postulates that the two go together and if they are treated together academic achievement and connectedness will feed off each other and be achieved at a high level.  Helen, like school Principals across Australia, had experience with the compulsory literacy and numeracy testing required annually by all years3,5,7 and 9 students. This was the NAPLAN system.  Politicians at the federal government level seemed for many years to be obsessed with Australia’s poor ranking in literacy and numeracy and science with other OECD countries.

Fullan writes of ‘deep learning’ the key goal of which is to ‘engage the world, change the world’. Fullan writes”

“Our six core learning goals similarly encompass academic and connectedness goals through the 6Cs:character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. The strong pedagogy of our four pillars of learning (partnerships, engaging pedagogy, stimulating learning environments, and leveraging digital), are also in the service of centring on both academic and wellbeing goals.” (p10)

Helen reflected how the McKinsey Briefing revealed elements that resonated in the context of what Fullan proposed:

“Educational systems have not kept pace with the changing nature of work, resulting in many employers saying they cannot find enough workers with the skills they need. In a McKinsey survey of young people and employers in nine countries, 40 percent of employers said lack of skills was the main reason for entry-level job vacancies. Sixty per cent said that new graduates were not adequately prepared for the world of work. There were gaps in technical skills such as STEM subject degrees but also in soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and punctuality.”

Helen was comforted as she reflected on the purposeful student, staff and parent wellbeing programs working effectively across her school community.

Helen wanted to implement the policy of mastery of basic skills and knowledge that were prerequisites for the next step in learning within key subject areas such as: English literacy, mathematical numeracy, digital and design technologies.  It would be heads down and get the job done and all this within the context of the broader life understanding and participating subjects like the Humanities and the Arts, especially the performing Arts.  She had a sense too that some study of ethics would be vital as students faced the exponential rate of change that now existed and would exist into the future. The Western Australian Curriculum (WAANC) for years 11 and 12 had a Philosophy and Ethics offering the difficulty would be to enable every student to partake of this.

The organisation for learning in secondary schools had traditionally been specialist subject teachers working each within their speciality with not much scope for integrated across-subject studies. Helen wanted to make some adjustments within this speciality regime, especially within the STEM fields as the evidence was mounting that practical integrated study with life applications was an effective approach.  The challenge was whether within that structure the mastery principle could still be applied.

Helen reflected on a set of underlying principles and skills that must be evident across the learning program. In no particular order these were:

·      Curiosity – utilising and encouraging this student trait;
·      Enthusiasm – utilising and encouraging this in students and not just for school learning but for life in the wider sense;
·      Critical thinking – developing in students a high level of skill in this vital area
·      Lateral thinking – applauding and encouraging this.
·      Collaboration and teamwork – this would be vital for detailed across-subject integrated practical studies – also there would need to be an awareness creating about the dangers of ‘group think’ and that there is a place for mavericks who think laterally;
·      Creativity – fostering this at every opportunity;
·      Adaptive and lifelong learning – developing this within each student;
·      Communication – so vital for learning and living in general; educating about the dangers of the social media grabs and the power of social media for good and evil;
·      Validity of information – building a caution to always want to prove the validity of each source of information, refusing to accept vague and unproven materials; primary and secondary sources are the specifics of this – the internet can carry a lot of false and invalid information;
·      Digital excellence – digital literacy needed to be leveraged at all costs;
·      Connectedness and being good at life;
·      Ethical awareness – educating how this is an essential measure to be applied throughout life to all sorts of situations;
·      Self awareness – being comfortable in one’s skin – being able to reach a position on the ultimate nature of reality such that one is comfortable and not continually troubled – suggesting that a base for such reality is the loving relationships that one has with close loved ones and friends – it’s also okay to be Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish; Christian, Muslim as long as one avoids fundamentalism to the extent that one wants, even insists, that all others to be like them – fostering the Australian way of a ‘fair go’ for all, and the Australian mateship that defines us as a people;
·      Humour – develop and nurture a sense of humour in students.

Helen wanted desperately to have all her teachers identify positively with the above list with each ensuring that these principles are reflected in their teaching.  This would be a major in-service commitment, a venture not to be hurried. She was not going to be a radical change agent who is seen to want to be rid of the values of the traditional specialist teaching approach rather she wants to adjust for more flexible learning organisational structures.  She knows how thrilling it is to sit at the feet of an inspirational specialist teacher, a guru.


I would relish the opportunity to be back as a school Principal educating my staff about the contexts for the future and how our curriculum implementation might take this into account.  

May the Force be with all school Principals who have one of the most important jobs on this planet in whatever country they live.


Thursday, 27 June 2019

John Primary School Principal - post 4

John gave himself a slight talking to as he had temporarily forgotten a very important future proofing tool.  He once again committed to working very hard to ensure that a sense of humour was imbued as part of the culture of his school community, a sense of humour based on caring for one another by keeping the spirits of all at a high level of joy and enthusiasm.

May the Force be with you!


Wednesday, 26 June 2019

John - Primary School Principal - post 3

Here is the final post for John:

In the curriculum area of the TechnologiesJohn also wanted the mastery principle applied. He felt that for whatever the future might hold the Design and Digital technologies would be essential skills for lifelong learning and for various jobs of the future.  Again he would look to achieving the prescribed outcomes of the Technologies’ syllabus through integrated studies.

For the LanguageJohn would deploy a specialist in the main chosen language for the school.  In his case he wanted Indonesian or Chinese given the economic and cultural importance of these countries to Australia. He knew he only had the resources for one language and the decision as to which one was pending. He felt he would be happy for the specialist teacher to ensure effective oral speech with being able to write the language a bonus.

He hoped that he could employ a specialist who would be at the school for some years, thus potentially guaranteeing continuity of learning outcome attainment for each student. Again informative data bases for each student’s achievement would be vital.

Informative data bases were essential to his mastery approach.  The idea that a teacher taking in the new pupils at the commencement of each year tests to find out what they know and understand is archaic, with the modern computing infrastructure enabling ease of establishment of informative data bases. 

The interactive teacher discussions to enable consensus about what mastery looks like for the learning outcomes of the prescribed syllabus was another crucial process if the mastery principle was to work.  John knew these standards- setting in-services worked as he had done them already.

The mastery described above necessitated regular spaced assessments to ensure the mastery of the prerequisites.  John’s thinking was that for all other areas of the curriculum up to the end of primary school, the Leopards, Jaguars and Panthers would learn together in their classes grouped by age.  What did this mean for each subject area?

Uppermost in his mind at this stage of his introspection was the development of a purposeful student and staff wellbeing program.  He postulated that the Physical and Health Education programcould have a special role in achieving this, but he also knew that every teacher daily would be contributing to the well being of the students in their care.  Wellbeing and its attainment was to be a part of the culture of the school. He wanted each child to daily walk through the school gates knowing that they were safe and respected yes, even loved.

His Physical and Health Education (PE & H) specialist teacher would be part time and hopefully also be on the staff of the local public (State) secondary school but this was not essential. He dreamed of the PE & H program being focused on the individual fitness of each child.  His rationale was that fit students are better able to cope with the learning program and are part of a wider community push towards preventative health processes. Along with the School Counsellor the PE & H specialist teacher would be responsible for the major aspects of the regular spaced assessments of each student’s wellbeing.  He knew that there were many available sources of assessment tools so that the design of such would not be a burden to the responsible staff members.  Under the guidance of the School Counsellor and the PE & H teacher each generalist class teacher would assist in the administration of the surveys and the compilation of the data.

All of the above was not meant to detract from the PE & H teacher moving the students towards the attainment of the learning outcomes of the prescribed syllabus. He knew it was a big call for a part time teacher and part time School Counsellor but was certain that between them they could mange this important task.

For the Humanities and Social SciencesJohn wanted each generalist classroom teacher to work through the prescribed syllabus for that age/grade with no cross setting required. The aim was to cover the learning outcomes for the syllabus with some spaced assessments to check on whether each student was taking in what the learning experiences had intended. Assessment was no to be a dominating feature and reporting to parents would reassure that the syllabus was fully covered within the academic year. John did not want formal grades of any description to be applied but he wanted parents reassured that the syllabus covered inquiry skills and knowledge and understanding inclusive in specialist areas such as history, geography, civics and citizenship and economics and business with a special emphasis on Australia. He wanted students above all to be enthused about these aspects of their country through exciting learning experiences. John knew he might have problems convincing parents that it was acceptable not to have formal grades.

John had a special feel for the Arts area of learning, especially the performing arts.  He had experienced how participation tended to provide positive opportunities to build self- esteem for the majority of the students.  He knew how important this could be for the Leopards who may be struggling with the academic subjects that would be the basis of STEM studies in secondary (high) school. Thus Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Musicall provided the performance opportunities. It should all be fun based.  When it evolved to performing for audiences every child should have a role at various times.  John knew that to hear the applause of say an adult audience at a concert was so positively reinforcing.  He also knew that opportunities to act out various situations can help children to understand and learn to deal with situations such as bullying or feeling shy.

The Visual Artsprovided opportunities to express ideas in colour and in various designs.  There was also scope for the application of this area of the Arts to the creation of stage sets, the designing of T-shirt art and just the sheer joy of painting and/or sketching what can be observed.

Above all John in his role as the educational leader of his school community wanted his students to carry through on the arts into adulthood as a way to relax, enjoy, share and be participating members of their respective communities.  He imagined seeing his students as young adults playing musical instruments, singing in choirs and performing in plays.

John respected the Arts as a definitive part of the culture of society.

In summing up this period of introspection, John wanted each student to develop confidence in their ability to learn.  He wanted to see creativity and problem solving as an element in many of the learning experiences as well as the fostering of critical thinking. 

It was one thing for John to have the above views about curriculum implementation.  Somehow he needed to bring the teaching staff along with him and be prepared to adjust the thinking to take into account innovative ideas from any member of the staff.  This meant providing them with opportunities to float such ideas.


Well there it all is for the Primary School Principal trying to future proof his students.  Of course a lot would depend on where the secondary (high) school proceeded with its future proofing.

May the Force be with you!


Friday, 21 June 2019

John - Primary school Principal - post #2

John, continuing from the previous post:

He had a bit of a feeling that deploying a teacher with special responsibility for integrating STEM studies might be the way to go. Leave the students in the generalist class teacher structure K-6 with each teacher teaching a class grouped by age and consequently heterogeneous in ability to learn. The integration specialist would advise the teachers on STEM integration projects which could well be across say all the year 4 classes or across grade levels. Flexible learning groups could be the way the way to go. This approach did not cut across applying the mastery principle described above.

As an aside John thought that he would need to extend the mastery principle to coding and touch typing skills as students developed their computer literacy.

He wanted also to apply the mastery principle to Science. However he felt that the learning outcomes could be achieved by the generalist class teacher working with the whole heterogeneous class in the dedicated science room.  He could not afford to employ a science specialist but hoped that from time to time one of the science teachers from the local high school could be co-opted to come and assist.  In addition he wanted to explore embracing freelance teacher opportunities on the internet where an annual subscription would allow access to this avenue of expertise. Formal grades were to be applied but not in the form of Above satisfactory, Satisfactory and Below Satisfactory as in the prescribed syllabus (ANC).  Rather he wanted statements about each student like:

·     ‘has achieved all the outcomes of the prescribed syllabus for the year level and moved beyond these’; 
·     ‘has achieved all the outcomes of the prescribed syllabus for the year level’; 
·     ‘did not quite achieve all the outcomes of the prescribed syllabus for the year level but generally has a solid grasp of what science is all about”; 
·     ‘found science hard going but we are monitoring this as James moves into the next academic year’;
·     displays confidence in observation, the application of critical thinking;
·     understands at a basic level what it means to establish an hypothesis and to use an inductive method to test it; 
·     has a feel for basic ethics as applied to scientific endeavour.  

Above all John wanted parents to be educated in the detail of the science syllabus given the importance of STEM subjects for the jobs of the future. John surmised that the primary science syllabus of the WAANC was contemporary and futuristic with each year level being organised as follows:

Science Understanding
·     Biological Sciences
·     Chemical Sciences
·     Earth and Space Sciences
·     Physical Sciences

Science as Human Endeavour
·     Nature and development of science
·     Use and influence of science (…not in P syllabus)

Science Inquiry Skills
·     Questioning and predicting
·     Planning and conducting
·     Processing and analysing data and information
·     Evaluating (…not in P syllabus)
·     Communicating

John wanted his students to move into secondary (high) school with a sound general grounding in science and above all an enthusiasm for the subject

May the Force be with you.


John primary school Principal

As promised in the previous post I am now being John, primary school (K-6 or F-6) Principal having a private introspective time on how best to implement the prescribed curriculum (WAANC).

John – Primary School Principal

John was aware of the contexts described above and resolved to do everything in his power to ensure that his teachers were also aware.  

In order to go a long way towards producing students who had the skills and knowledge to adapt to a rapidly changing world, to future proof students, John surmised that the main focus areas of learning would be:

·     A high level of all aspects of English language literacy so that students were effective information processing persons and communicators.

·     A high level of numeracy given the importance of mathematics as a tool for solving real problems in a fast-paced high tech world.

·     A high level of digital skills including coding, touch typing and computer literacy.

·     Experience in Science such that his students would enter secondary school having comprehensively covered the prescribed Science syllabus, being enthusiastic appliers of the scientific method and having inquiring minds.

·     Experience in the Design technologies such that there was enthusiastic application of design skills to the solving of real life problems.

·     Developing a working understanding and knowledge about the Earth and how living and non-living things were an integral part of the Earth and Universe environments. Part of this would be to come to considerable knowledge about the history and geography of Australia and its Pacific neighbours and to begin to understand how various human agencies such as the levels of government and business operated.

·      John also had special views about the value of the Arts and Health and Physical Education but he would give more detailed thought to these areas of student development later.

To attain the highest levels of English language literacy and numeracy skills John  concluded that in these areas of learning no student should move to the new learning to come unless they had mastered the prerequisites for that new learning. He was prepared to let each class teacher in their class grouped by age and thus being heterogeneous in learning abilities up to the end of year 3 primary, cope with the Leopards, Jaguars and Panthers.  He knew that his junior primary teachers were skilled in deploying a small group structure within their classes to cater for continuous mastery learning as described above.

From year 4 onwards he was tempted to use cross setting for English literacy and numeracy learning with the Leopards in one set, the Jaguars in another and the Panthers in another. This was easier for him in his large primary school of 450 students. He knew it was not as easy to do this in smaller schools but Principals usually found a way. However he was troubled that the STEM focus might not be achieved unless a cross-curriculum subject integrated approach was adopted. He envisaged a problem solving of real life situations that challenged students to think critically and outside the box.  As an example, he had a tingle of excitement as he imagined a challenging problem solving project with regard to how the school community as part of the wider community contributed to more effective management of waste. He could see students K-6 involved in such a project with an integrated approach touching the Humanities, Science (…including ethical considerations), Mathematics, Design Technology, Digital Technology and English communication, achieving STEM learning outcomes solving real life situations. Would cross setting stifle such an integrated learning approach? Yes was John’s conclusion but he would take the issue to his staff creating discussions to find the best organisation for the STEM learning whilst ensuring the mastery attainment of the learning outcomes of the English and Mathematics syllabuses.

He had a bit of a feeling that deploying a teacher with special responsibility for integrating STEM studies might be the way to go. Leave the students in the generalist class teacher structure K-6 with each teacher teaching a class grouped by age and consequently heterogeneous in ability to learn. The integration specialist would advise the teachers on STEM integration projects which could well be across say all the year 4 classes or across grade levels. Flexible learning groups could be the way the way to go. This approach did not cut across applying the mastery principle described above.

As an aside John thought that he would need to extend the mastery principle to coding and touch typing skills as students developed their computer literacy.

More from John in the next post.

May the Force be with you!