Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Preparing for the Unknown

Been off air for a time, but here I am again.

Still stuck on this theme of school Principals and their teachers needing to seriously contemplate preparing students for an unknown world and what this means for the contemporary curriculum. It would be a process of thinking into the future maybe guided by the views of top futurists and ethicists. In a crowded organisational environment like a school this requires valuable time, but I believe it to now be essential.

The Covid19 pandemic has made us all sit up and think how vulnerable we are as humans on this planet. How can we survive such things if we do not act in a globally constructive manner? Nationalism is rife as countries withdraw into themselves.  The pandemic has once again revealed that under such disastrous happenings the inequalities of peoples across the world, including within my own country Australia, are heightened. The poor, the unemployed, the displaced persons as refugees will suffer most. While the pandemic rages people are still being killed by modern weaponry in various conflicts fuelled by power struggles based on religion, territorial disputes and what I can only describe as power-grabbing narcism of some would be dictators.

Ways of waging war are advancing at an exponential rate and are becoming more insidious like the computer hacking attacks by one country upon another that are now commonly reported. Unmanned drones fly in and bomb with so-called precision however the collateral damage to the innocent bystanders still occurs.

This morning I read the following quotation from the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov:

"The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."

I also am becoming aware of the concept of "cultural cancelling" fanned by the mind blowing communication power of social media.  If you don't like what someone says cancel them! Of course this has to be tempered by the stand we must make against hate type speech. We cannot allow blatant verbal and physical attacks on vulnerable people, for example, as manifest in racial discrimination. Also maybe it is acceptable to cancel the accolades that a statue of a slave trader might receive as a part of our history. Cultural cancelling has a positive and negative side and I see in my own country those who would cancel the pleas and protests from our indigenous Aboriginal people to be recognised in the Australian constitution and to have a special 'voice to parliament'. Surprise, surprise, they even want a treaty in a context of the 1788 colonial invasion of their lands as they perceive it to be. I pray that all this is achieved for them before I leave this mortal coil and at my age this is something that I contemplate a little more often than in the past.

All of the above sits in a context of how people will meet their basic needs in a future where the nature of work is unclear.

By now you will be exhausted or even offended by the picture I have painted.  My purpose is to declare that schools cannot solve these major issues, but they can produce graduates who believe in the power of the individual to make a difference, an individual who had the opportunity to study ethics at senior high school and first year university. I recommend that the study of ethics be compulsory at these levels, but not formally assessed as part of society's recognition of a need to prepare each student for the unknown.  Ethics will be a tool to enable better coping mechanisms in a context of the world described above. Ethics will provide a confidence in the young that they can cope with optimism and a true sense of humanity.

Now I've done it! Who knows how readers will react, but I must take the plunge. It is important in concluding that I note that contemporary curricula in Australia do provide opportunities to study ethics. I simply want to emphasise the importance of this field of learning.



May the Force be with you!


GD

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Bullying

I'm sure there is a plethora of research studies on bullying in schools.

I've seen a bit of bullying lately from the subtle 'I was your buddy yesterday, but today am talking with other friends and am not inclined to include you in this interaction' to the outright nasty comment delivered in a variety of ways, not the least of which is via social media devices.

I've noted that girls can be particularly cruel to one another.  Even a little one of 8 years texting to another "I'm cool and you're not".

A mum said to me today that she agreed girls can be vicious to one another, but she does not observe this in boys. She has both amongst her family and cites a particularly bad year for bullying experienced by her daughter. She changed schools and all was well. I'm not saying the bullying caused the change to another school as I don't know the facts of that matter.

I ask the question : Are boys less prone to bullying than girls?  I just am not on top of the research in this area.

I hold to the view that a school community with a skilfully crafted student/staff wellbeing program will have less bullying.  Can anyone out there substantiate my hypothesis or on the other hand refute it with hard research evidence? In my time as a Principal I was concerned with the wellbeing of all staff and students, but did not have a purposefully crafted wellbeing program.  Such a thing was unheard of in my time. This is not an excuse it just wasn't talked about professionally to any great extent.



May the Force be with you!


GD

Monday, 1 June 2020

Still Learning

In my previous post I lauded teachers and principals for the way they have risen to the challenges of online learning for students as a result of the covid pandemic. I also mentioned that I'd been able to mentor my young grand children as they participated in the online learning from home.

It was a learning experience watching the skills of 8 and 9 year olds year olds in using the iPad, the vehicle for the learning.  Even more exciting was my re-education on how maths is taught today.

I had left the classroom environment before the use of mathematical things such as the number line appeared in the curriculum. I had been clinging to the view that a sound grounding in automatic response to knowing the multiplication tables and the number facts to 19 were a basic grounding to achieving numeracy. Also being effective in bridging tens for addition. I clung to this view even in the context of calculators being available. I was enlightened in seeing my grand children use the number line to carry out complex addition and subtraction. They were learning to tackle theses tasks in a problem solving sort of way rather than just utilising the automatic responses of which I speak.

I also marvelled at their knowledge of 2D and 3D shapes and how they understood faces, edges and vertices. They were even into a more geometric approach to angles within the 360 degree spectrum.

'Look it's nothing new', I hear you say, 'you have just been away form the coalface for too long'. Be that as it may I am beginning to see the STEM influence across the mathematic's curriculum.  I have been converted from a view that the mathematicians had hijacked the school maths syllabus to the detriment of the necessary attainment of functional numeracy.

Despite all of the above revelations I still think it would be easier all round for students if they achieved the automatic responses noted above.  These could be applied within the problem solving approach.  I could see where my grandies laboured at times because they did not know the appropriate tables and number facts.  They were resorting to counting on fingers and saying the appropriate time tables from the beginning until they reached the table needed.  Very laborious despite the new methods they had available.

A constructive blending of the old with the relatively new might be the answer.

Got to say that for my teenage grandchild I was blown away by the idea of using Excel in calculating
surface area variations in 3D shapes.  This for me is STEM truly in action in the contemporary mathematic's approach.

Oh to be young again and experiencing innovative teachers of maths going about the business of opening up such a wide range of career choices through the STEM approach.

Please don't be too hard on me you maths' experts out there.

May the Force be with you!


GD

An Educational Revolution

While universities have been running online learning for some time now Covid19 has meant that for weeks Australian schools have been teaching students online as they maintained isolation measures at home.

I was privileged to mentor my grand children in this online learning and I compliment the teachers on how they adjusted and brought effective learning into the many homes. This was a new thing for these teachers but they met the challenge as I always maintain teachers do.  I think it opened the eyes of many parents just how complex and demanding the teaching job can be. This week my grandies returned to full time attendance at school. I could hear the sighs of relief form many parents whispering across the land.

I take my hat off to the Principals who have been faced with complex decisions during the Covid pandemic.  Traditionally schools have a detailed emergency evacuation and disaster response plan. Now they also have a Covid plan to keep students and staff safe and to respond quickly to a student or staff member testing positive.

I've not written a post for some time owing to the passing of a loved one from my family, but here I am back on deck with maybe a few more tiresome thoughts from a retired Principal.  I say again being a school principal is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet.

May the Force be with you!

GD

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Educator bashing

Been off air for some time but becoming sick of the teacher and school Principal criticism by politicians in Australia.  They just don't get it, that is, how complex it is to run a school and to teach.

It is true that contemporary teachers and Principals are under more pressure than in my days as a teacher and Principal, however even in those days these vital jobs were no walk in the park.

The nub of the criticism is that Australian students are falling behind in the world rankings in literacy, numeracy and science learning. The stats for Australian students on the PISA (Program or International Student Assessment) were viewed negatively, most recently in New South Wales where the Premier of that State expressed concern at the decline in mathematics on the PISA tests (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February, 2020, p18).

The stats from the Australian annual NAPLAN (National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy) testing are always under eagle eye political scrutiny. The results in recent years have drawn a lot of criticism from politicians.  The irony in my view is that the administration of and coaching for these tests takes up too much teacher and student time that would be better spent on mastering the prescribed curriculum learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy. Australia has an excellent national curriculum K-12 and each state has its variations of this.

I have laboured long and hard in this blog to indicate the strategy to overcome the above deficiencies.  It is based at least in Primary (Elementary) school around mastery in the English language skills and mathematics skills, knowledge and understandings.  At this level of schooling there is no need for rigorous mastery of the prescribed syllabus learning outcomes in the other subject areas except perhaps for Digital Technology and Science.  I wouldn't even require mastery of in science at this level.  I would be contented to be able to say for these non mastery syllabus areas that my graduating students have covered all the required learning outcomes in these non mastery areas and are enthusiastic and ready for the more specialised requirements of Secondary (High) schooling. I would be able to have each graduating student carry detailed records for literacy and numeracy into the hands of the receiving Secondary school teachers.  Throughout the primary school years each student's report would show a special comment section on how they are progressing in attaining in functional literacy and numeracy. Parents want to know this.

Readers there is so much detail in previous posts about all this with the above being a brief recap.

As for School Principals any Principal worth their salt will be regularly assessing how their school community is going against a set of school effectiveness criteria.  Hopefully their training makes them competent  to do this.  Such effective Principals would be confident to open their schools to an external effectiveness audit at any time.  Previous posts cover all this in detail.

Without being a showoff it would be useful for politicians to read the posts in this blog.

Frustrated as ever!

May the Force be with you.





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!


GD

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 into 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!


GD