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

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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

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”.

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.

Parents need to make a conscious choice about their children's education

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I was thinking the other day, I wonder how many parents actually make a conscious choice in the schooling of their children. It is one of the most important decisions we can make, given the impact education can have on our children’s future.

It is easy just to do what the neighbours are doing or say, “Well this was good enough for me, why not for my children?”  The question to be asking is, “What kind of education does my child need in the world that they are living in now?” And more importantly, “What kind of education does my child need for the world they will be living in when they become young adults?”

The world of the future will require creativity, adaptability, flexible thinking, self-confidence, the ability to collaborate, a capacity for empathy and a strong sense of values. As society changes and the economy morphs into a knowledge economy and the rest of the world increasingly interacts with our society, these qualities will allow the young adults of the future to adapt, to make a living, to build positive relationships and also to contribute in a positive way to their community.

Is the education you have chosen for your child going to give him or her the knowledge and experience to make their way in this world? Will your child look back on the choice you made for their education and say, “Thank You”?

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”!

Are we graduating students who can be contributors to society?

Friday, November 23, 2012

It is that time of the year when our schools say good bye to their Year 12 graduates and it always gets me thinking about the purpose of education.

Some schools call it Speech Night or Awards Night and it often has a focus on the winners of prizes for academic, sporting and artistic achievements. However, it is not just the winners who have completed their schooling and while it is great to recognize talent and hard work it is also worth pondering about the kind of people we are putting out into the community.

Hopefully, if we have done our job properly, we as educators are graduating people who can contribute something to society, who have a level of maturity about them and who are basically good citizens. This does not just mean people who can get a job and vote every three years. A good citizen is one who can build relationships with others in the work place, in the families which they will be creating and with the people they meet in their everyday lives.

This doesn’t just happen. Good citizens are nurtured by their families and it is on this foundation that schools can build. Schools need to make creating good citizens one of their key goals as it is indeed one of our National Goals of Schooling. Schools need to have programs that help develop awareness in students that they are not just pursuing their individual goals but that they are also part of a society that needs their positive input. This could also be described as empathy and the ability to connect with others.

So let’s celebrate with the Year 12 students the end of their schooling but let us also reflect how we can ensure that we are handing over to society young people who can be contributors as well as consumers.

Are Schools the new centres of community?

Friday, October 19, 2012

This week I spoke to Rob Mohloek, the Assistant Minister of Child Protection, at Parliament House about his concerns related the huge numbers of children coming to the notice of the Child Protection authorities; one in four Queensland children over the course of their young lives.

One of his main interests is the need for a more comprehensive approach in the social emotional education of children and the development of their awareness and skills in these areas. There are good programs in some schools and the Queensland Government’s Student Well Being Framework is a good step in the right direction but schools are being left to select and implement their own programs. What’s needed is a comprehensive and integrated program that equips all children and especially those at risk with awareness and skills that give them greater resilience to manage life’s most important challenges.

The other area of need is parent education and the Minister was very interested to hear about the comprehensive approach to this at The School of Total Education in Warwick. There parents are supported in their parenting by attending regular discussion groups and have timely input from experts and guest speakers. There is further individual support through the Centre for Healthy Living.

Many years ago it was the church which provided the most important moral guidance and focus of community life but now only 4% of the population are regular church attenders. By default, Schools have become the centers of community life, and for some children school is the only place they really feel safe. Schools are yet to realize the reality of this profound cultural transformation and the responsibilities that come with it. Neither has government.

It was refreshing to meet such a sincere person as the Assistant Minister with a real concern about the young people in our community who are so important to all our futures.

Should we be focussing less on competitive sport and more on health?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

With the Olympics in full swing and our attention riveted on our elite athletes in London, it was disturbing to hear former marathon runner Rob de Castella on the ABC radio recently talking about how unfit Australian kids are becoming. He was talking about the unprecedented obesity rates and how some kids don’t know how to run, jump or even skip!

A lot of it is put down to children becoming fast food consuming, computer addicted, couch potatoes. However, maybe we should also be looking at our fairly narrow view of health being driven by the myth of Australia as a nation of sporting legends.

In schools, the focus is often on periodic carnivals in athletics and swimming and the emphasis on being the best, fastest, strongest and the way the winners are applauded, lauded and awarded. It is no wonder, a lot of kids conclude that sport is not for them and even the winners leave school never to pick up a racquet or a bat again.

Maybe it is time for a focus on health rather than sport. It should be about physical education classes where all students and teachers spend 15-30 minutes every day in enjoyable physical activity accessible by everyone.

Health is also about a nutritional diet and learning about how to make tasty meals that are good for you rather than having to buy it ready-made. It is about learning how to refresh your mind with quietness and how to de-stress with recreation in the fresh air away from computer games and Google and Facebook and videos.

If schools could focus more on health and less on competitive sport we might just be able to win the battle for our children’s physical well being

Managing Behaviour or Self Discipline?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There has been a lot of talk in the media about behaviour problems in schools recently. It is true that the poor behaviour of some students can make it impossible for productive learning to take place. All the good work done by teachers, and the students who want to study, can be cancelled out by a few disruptive students who for their own reasons aren’t willing or able to cooperate and comply with basic social expectations of reasonable behaviour.

However, the current focus on ‘behaviour management’ is too narrow to address the problems that relate to poor classroom behaviour. It is about containment rather than education.

Behaviour Management is a lowest common denominator approach which simplifies the complexity of student thinking and acting into a set of clearly defined expectations and consequences for non-compliance. These are made clear to students and teachers and there is a school-based framework for enforcement. This is good as far as it goes, but there is so much more behind a student’s behaviour than a ‘choice’ to behave one way or another in a given situation.

Students come from a context and that context is a family and that’s where they have learned about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, social norms and how we should regard and treat other people. It is also where children learn how to control their behaviour, what we used to call ‘discipline’. Discipline is basically how to manage your energy. Some parents clearly need training in understanding and modelling discipline too.

All students need guidance from more mature people who have come to an understanding of how our behaviour impacts on others and how to contain and direct our energy to achieve positive goals. This should be a more significant part of teacher training in universities.

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