Institute of Total Education
Teaching and Leading from the Heart and Soul

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Where is education heading?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Education is currently receiving a great deal of attention in the media, with the ABC airing a forum this week which focused on concerns participants had about where education was heading. Formal instruction in IT is about to start earlier, with the announcement this week that training in computer programming will be mandatory in Prep from next year in Queensland schools. At the same time,  concerns are raised about the stress and anxiety children are already experiencing. This prompted me to think about the purpose of education outlined in statement made in a seminar for teachers by Vijayadev Yogendra, founder of the School of Total Education. Whilst academic skills should be taught to a high standard, and need to be informed by  future workplace requirements, children need much more than this if they are to live happy, fulfilling lives. They need to  have emotional security and resilience, and teachers have a key role in this. But over and above this, our world  has a great need for peace. This will only come when the individuals who make up our communities have peace. Our educational systems need to adopt approaches that will serve this paramount need. In his statement which follows, Yogendra redefines the purpose of education as serving the fundamental need of society for harmony and peace.

The Purpose of Education - Vijayadev Yogendra

Past and Current Approaches

What I have in my own way conceived of an educational formula and principles, after  experience in my own studies and  observing children in my life, has been that the whole basis of society at large is based upon material involvement, material success and possessions. So what we have been doing in the school system in the last hundred years is to educate them in the three R’s so that they fit into the existing society and support the aspirations of business, support also national aims or ambition. So  education was designed to sustain those factors. The branches of science were developed mainly to assist the suffering of people through various discoveries and approaches, but they are also used for war. In the history of mankind, whenever there is a new discovery or a new thing happens,  it is used to enhance the financial position of the person who has a part in the company to get money out of it, or it is used by nations so that they can become stronger, so that they can dominate, they can conquer.

The Need for a Deeper Education of the Human Being

Why is it that human beings are so involved in hurting, plundering, and causing  pain? Mind you, it is not just a minority group, but the majority.  There is an anger in every individual that is dormant until they get an opportunity to express it. War becomes an opportunity. It is the circumstance in which they express their anger. A fight in a pub becomes an opportunity. A lonely person in the street becomes an opportunity for a gang to go and molest and hurt him, and you can go on from there. So therefore the conclusion I have come to over the years, is that these children who come to you have got this seed in them of anger. All that is wanted by them is an opportunity. Your job, the same as my job, is to see if we can somehow destroy that seed. Can you see the point of education now? That that anger that has been coming through centuries in the hearts of people, can we through our process of education overcome or eliminate it through the experience that the children get from us of our capacity for loving and caring?

So more work has to be done by the teacher on herself or himself in creating that loving, caring attitude.Not being loved precipitates anger: “Why aren’t I being loved? Why aren’t I being given that type of care?” Your children have the same question. “Why aren’t I being loved?” So children who have what I call a diminutive psychology are bound to have areas where they demand so much, want so much that we can’t fulfill it all. That’s where an intelligent parent or teacher can divert their thinking from the non-essential to the essential in a creative educational process. So therefore when they grow up they don’t have those needs. They can be satisfied. They can become content and accepting of their surroundings rather than getting angry about what they haven’t got.

The Teacher as Key

I’m sure you’ll teach the three R’s and I’m sure you’ll do the academic work and I’m sure you’ll fulfill the obligations of  the state system, but the subtlety is developing a human mind so that at the end that person is not angry, is content, and has the quality that creates the harmonious society.  We have to recognize that we are going to have these children grow up in a very hostile environment. But I always maintain that a person with a tremendous capacity, if we can develop it in them, can manage a hostile climate. Their own personality, what they have gathered within themselves, through their thinking, will give them that air of confidence, even discipline, even strength, that they won’t worry  and this as I say, is part of total education.

Jan Gudkovs  22/11/16

 

The inclusive power of community

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a young man who drowned at a surf beach two weeks ago. He had been a student at the school where I was principal for over 30 years and I had known him all his life. He was in his late 20s. He was in the prime of life, he had a beautiful fiancée with whom he was sharing his life. He had a stimulating and fulfilling career and a loving family and many friends who couldn’t believe he was no longer with them. As I sat there in the sadness, sharing the celebration of his life, speaker after speaker spoke of the importance of community.

Community and the importance of relationships was one of the key things this young man had learned from his involvement in school and the community that supported it and which physically surrounded the school property. This sense of belonging, of knowing who you neighbours were and of sharing their lives and supporting each other was something he just picked up from his family, his friends, his teachers and the whole virtuous circle of the human scale education that he had experienced.

His employer and work partner spoke with great eloquence of the gentleness of this young man, his sense of community, his respect for others and the valuing of individuals and relationships that he had picked up from the culture of his formative years, and the tremendous contribution this made to the development of this business into something more than a business. His mother, his friends and his fiancée all echoed these sentiments. I couldn’t be more proud or humbled.

 

Richard Waters 12/3/2015

What does it take to be emotionally ready to learn?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I was interested to read recently how brain research is telling us that we need to be emotionally ready before we are able to learn. This fits with my experience over many years of trying to help students to learn new skills or knowledge.

Learning anything new requires a belief that it will be possible, before a young person can take the first step. As Professor John Hattie, from Melbourne University, said in the article I was reading, “To choose not to learn something can be seen as rationally prudent, while choosing to learn can be risky – and taking the risky choice depends on high levels of confidence.”

So students who are reluctant learners are not just being recalcitrant. This is where the intuition and experience of the teacher comes in – creating the emotional climate where the student feels confident to take that first, risky step of learning something new. This is as much about a relationship of trust as it is about knowledge.

A colleague of mine, who is a wonderful tutor, always used to say the important thing was to take students back to the point where they felt confident in their knowledge. Then you could move forward a step at a time from the known to the unknown like stepping on stones to cross a creek.

Education for a Good Life?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I recently read an interview with social researcher, Hugh Mackay, who was reflecting on the fact that, although Australia had done relatively well weathering the Global Financial Crisis, we still felt anxious and confused. He put this down to the distraction of materialism.

He referred to the idea that we are social creatures, and that building strong communities by treating others with kindness and respect is the goal on which we should focus.

It occurred to me that the only way we can build these communities is by showing our children how. The Good Life, that we all want, is still based on treating other people they way we would like to be treated. We need to make this central to the education of our children.

For parents, it is about how we treat our partners, the people with whom we work and the people we deal with through our work. For teachers, it is about how we relate to our students, our colleagues, school leaders and parents.

Teaching children how to treat others with kindness and respect doesn’t have to be a special subject, it is built into how we interact every day and it is just as important as the academic curriculum.

As someone once said to me, “Education is about what is left after everything we have learned has been forgotten”.

Are We Ready for the Asian Century?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

So we have a new government in Canberra and it looks like business as usual in the education sector, failing some new policy directions which weren’t canvassed during the election. However, one would expect a continuation of the policy to engage with our northern neighbours as we move deeper into the Asian Century.

In terms of education, the promotion of the learning of Asian languages and extending our knowledge of Asian cultures and histories would seem to be imperative. Some schools are doing well in this area and, with more funding and training, this can be improved further. However, what is not so clear is whether our attitudes towards Asia are changing from fear and xenophobia to acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

As a younger generation travels overseas (beyond Bali) and takes up educational and business opportunities, it is to be hoped that the inevitable cultural contact will promote a mutual respect and understanding that goes beyond the culinary.

It is not unusual for people to be afraid of the unfamiliar but hopefully we can have an open mind to learning from cultures that are often thousands of years older than ours. The opportunities that come from broadening our horizons, and our minds, are enormous and can enrich our lives and those of our children.

Parents value more than test scores

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ben Jensen, Director of the Grattan Institute, reported last week that his research had shown that the publication of NAPLAN results on the Commonwealth’s My School Website had not led to parents changing schools for their kids or increased competition between schools. So what has all the fuss been about? Why is so much of taxpayer’s money being wasted on these projects of dubious educational value?

This is a damning admission for the great “Testing, Scoring and Comparing” regime established by governments around the world in the last few years. Teachers and other educators have been arguing that this approach is not what was going to improve education and they have been proved right.

Jensen’s research also showed that parents valued a lot more about their schools than the outcomes of narrow cast tests like NAPLAN. They value things like “school culture and discipline, religious affiliation, reputation, the state of buildings and school grounds, and visible classroom characteristics such as class size” (Grattan Institute Report).

So apparently competition is not that relevant a value in education. In that case, let’s do away with the paraphernalia of competition between schools, and focus on co-operation and collaboration between and within schools and concentrate on providing the best education we can for the children and the communities we serve.

More “communication” may just be more dubious data

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Many people will have seen the saturation advertising on the Commonwealth Government’s “Plan for Better Schools”. One of the key points in this campaign is “Better Communication with Parents”, so I thought I would have a look at the website to read more. Imagine my surprise when the only reference I could find was a section on “More Information for Parents” about more data on the My Schools website, information which schools already provide in their Annual Report on each school’s website.

This raises the question of the difference between information and communication. There is already information overload and governments seem obsessed with data. Schools no doubt will be required to supply more statistical data. However, does this really mean parents will have better communication with their children’s schools?

Good communication involves both speaking and listening. All parents from time to time have concerns about their children’s experience at school whether it is academic, social or behavioural. For these concerns to be addressed there has to be opportunity for communication, which is a two-way thing, whereas the data avalanche is all one way, from the top down.

Schools need to be approachable and to provide a variety of opportunities for parents to engage with teachers and the school leadership about the progress and well being of their children.

Children do not learn well where there is tension

Monday, June 17, 2013

There is a myth in Australian schooling that students learn better when they are under pressure. My experience, as a teacher and school leader, is that if you can create a relaxed, friendly but respectful atmosphere in the classroom, children will learn more easily.

Research on brain functioning indicates that, as we learn, we make connections between the synapses of the brain and that this occurs best in situations of low stress. Undue pressure causes the brain to freeze up and this makes it harder to absorb information or make new connections.

In Grade 4, we had Mr Woodberry. He was a tall, lanky type who was warm and friendly. He was consistent and very seldom raised his voice although he did wield the strap in those days of corporal punishment. Everyone learned and progressed.

Miss Styles, in Grade 6, however, created an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. She would shout and lose her patience frequently. As a result, the students would freeze up, particularly those having difficulty, and many students slipped back in their grades in the space of a year.

Tension doesn’t just come from teachers, it permeates a school created by the school leadership, pressure from government and expectations of the local community. We should be creating schools where the atmosphere allows the students to learn and to optimise their achievement.

Why the Teacher-Student Relationship is central

Monday, June 17, 2013

It was good to see the Premier focus on Teacher Quality in his recent press release on “Great Teachers = Great Results”. However, Great Teachers are not just those with the best academic qualifications because the most effective teachers are those that build positive relationships with their students.

Children need to feel that they are cared for and are not just physically safe at school but feel emotionally secure and this comes more than anything else from the kind of person their teacher is. A teacher’s character, perhaps an old-fashioned word, is as important as well as their intellect and their instructional skills. A teacher is more a mentor than a manager and they need to be able to establish an atmosphere in their classroom where children feel they belong and are valued.

What works towards the brain opening up and establishing neural pathways is as much emotional security as intellectual stimulus. What shuts down children’s thinking is fear and insecurity and feeling like they are not cared for.

We need to be concerned about children’s learning but an over-emphasis on results is a bit like all the hype and expectation placed on our athletes at the London Olympics, it can be counter productive. Raising the pressure and the stakes doesn’t always translate in to better performance.

Professional Standards for Teachers could have a broader focus

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

As from this year, the Standards devised by the Queensland College of Teachers will be replaced by a set of Australian Professional Standards for Teachers which are to be used to assess teacher performance and plan professional development.

The seven standards use straight-forward language and that is good. Things like ‘Know your students and how they learn’  and ‘Know the content and how to teach it’. However, each standard is broken down into 5-7 subsets and is specified for graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teachers. So in the end they are a lot more detailed.

One aspect from the Queensland standards that is not covered in the Australian ones is ‘Support personal development and participation in society’. This indicates less focus on social and emotional development. This is a weakness given the problems many of our young people are facing.

 The Queensland Standard of ‘Foster positive and productive relationships with family and community’ gets less emphasis in the new standards and this too reflects a narrower view of our profession.

Schools in the 21st Century need to be more holistic in their aims and practices if they are to meet the needs of young people and families. The new standards could reflect this more, so perhaps the report card on the writers of these standards should be “Could do better”!

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