Yesterday, in light of Friday’s School Strike for Climate Action, alongside a terrorist attack on innocent people in Christchurch, New Zealand and the ensuing comments by a certain Politician and the response of a seventeen year old boy, I had an “Aha moment” when I read Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families’ reflection on the recent events.
I have for a long time advocated for teaching our kids to stand up for what is right over what is easy and I’m continuously met with justifications for why teachers, parents, children are powerless in the Education system because we must follow the rules or we will lose our job, be seen as “that” annoying parent, be labelled a disobedient “problem”, but Dr Justin Coulson has articulated what I’ve known in my heart for a long time now, which is basically this:
Are we teaching (modelling to) our kids to think critically and make moral decisions or are we raising obedient rule followers?
These things are not the same thing.
We MUST teach our kids to stay in their integrity and stand up for what is (morally) right, over what is (obedient following of the rules) easy.
This is not an attack on teachers, parents, children, education department employees, or even politicians. This is a call to action. This is a call for reflection and the courage to live in your integrity and stop complying with “rules” that are made to primarily serve those in power.
We must all put the Education system (broadly and at school and class level) through the lens of “Who does this decision serve best?”If the answer is not “The children”, we must question. We must not obey the rules for rules sake, because most of the time, the needs of the system (political agendas, schools (image), Principals and Teachers, and sometimes even parents) is who the rule benefits.
EVERY time, I want you to stop and think. I want you to consider our archaic lock step production line of a system where children are segregated by age and grade, where uniforms are pedantically enforced, where the emphasis is chronically focused on testing and grades, instead of growth and development, where children are shut down for attempting to have a voice and are reprimanded or punished, where rewards (sticker charts, apps and traffic light systems) are used to control behaviour instead of modelling, empathising and scaffolding children to make moral decisions, and of course, the farce that is NAPLAN. NB.These are examples and will not apply to all contexts, the point is to reflect and filter your situation through the lens of:
HOW does THIS benefit the CHILD? If it doesn’t benefit the child – then please stop.
Are you interested in a progressive secondary education option for Brisbane’s Western Suburbs?
Are you disillusioned by the top-down, content delivery and data collection focus of Education, at the expense of the well-being of children and authentic learning?
Do you believe that quality Education fosters Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (Pink, 2009)?
* Integrated, Inquiry and Project-based
* Positive learning dispositions and 21st Century skill sets fostered
* Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical thinking (the 4C’s) valued over rote memorisation
* Teachers as facilitators and mentors, rather than as content deliverers and data collectors
* Socio-emotional learning prioritised
* Partnerships with community, industry, business, TAFE and University
* Interests and passions authentically linked to the Australian Curriculum outcomes
We always intended to send our kids to state (public) school.
However, from when our eldest reached year two (2012), we knew something was not quite right. The Teachers all suddenly seemed stressed and overwhelmed. The curriculum content had taken a big concept leap. The Australian Curriculum and Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) were being rolled out in Queensland schools. Prior to now, Year 2’s used to learn number concepts to 100 and this year the expectation had shifted to number concepts to 1000… and every subject area had similar changes and shifts in the expectations of children.
In year three, our son started coming home anxious and angry. We considered that perhaps his new baby brother was having an impact on him and we tried to connect with his Teacher, asking how he was going (emotionally). We were seeking information and hopefully support for his social and emotional well-being at school, but instead we received grade book information. She tried to reassure us that his academic work was “fine” and he is quiet and no trouble in class. Over time it was revealed that our son’s class of seven and eight year olds, were being told what they needed to ‘do’ to achieve an A, as opposed to a C (pretty abstract concepts for this age group) and they were participating in practice for each of the four NAPLAN tests every week. He was becoming increasingly anxious and angry about school.
He began Year 5 with an amazing male Teacher who we hoped he would connect with, after a series of Teacher changes in year 4….then the NAPLAN practice started again and the tummy pains, tears begging to stay home several days a week, talking about wanting to ‘fight’ kids at school who annoyed him at lunch time and the angry after school decompression meltdowns, became a near daily occurrence. All of these symptoms, disappeared during the school holidays.
We were repeatedly told that he is “fine” because he is well-behaved at school and that it is “normal” for 10 year old boys to “hate” school, behave angrily and aggressively after school and that we need to be tougher on him and he needs to learn to “suck it up”.
This perspective did not sit well with me. Why do we accept this as “normal” and turn it into a problem with the child, instead of a problem with the environment (and the system)? Our family life was becoming increasingly stressful and negative.
After much research and soul searching, we finally decided to home school. This ended up being the best decision we could have made at the time and within weeks, the playful, happy boy that we knew was in there, was back.
We also withdrew our six year old from school. After experiencing a play-based Prep with our eldest in 2010, the formal Prep our middle child experienced only four years later was heartbreaking to witness. We were deeply saddened by the push down of the formal curriculum and the lack of creativity and play in the transition year.
I guess we were lucky that our middle child “coped” academically and socially, but is “coping” good enough?
Kids shouldn’t need to survive their education, they need to be thriving.
Even, our resilient, outgoing middle child was beginning to disengage by Term 4 of Prep. By Year 1, he began to question: “When will we get to do science experiments and learn about volcanoes?” Sadly, only 30 minutes a week was allocated to science and the Year 1 content was designated to “habitats”. “Why can’t I do art that is MY art”(instead of the cookie cutter replicas required for grading and accountability). It broke my heart.
The most important things about education for me as a parent, is that my kids want to go to school and enjoy learning, collaborating, communicating ideas, have the freedom to discover and express who they are creatively and to critically question and stand up for what is right, over what is easy. We want our children to have a strong sense of self and belonging, which prioritised in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) but forgotten as soon as they enter the school system. The Melbourne Declaration says that these skills and positive learning dispositions are what children need to develop to thrive in the future, yet *most schools in the system are only focused on quantifiable test scores. This benchmarking focus ignores the fact that education is a perpetual continuum. It is not linear and most importantly, is about the lifelong journey of holistic growth and development of human beings!
All our children’s Teachers were wonderful, committed and caring people. We don’t feel this was a problem with Teachers. We know they are stuck in a system that demands benchmarking, comparison and competition. The problem is that this approach is NOT what is best for developing thriving human children and life-long learners.
We adored our home schooling community, the fear of “lack of socialisation” is a huge myth. We reconnected as a family, we learned through our interests and we all made lasting friendships. It was a truly irreplaceable time in our lives for growing as individuals and as a family.
Then we stumbled across a small community school that embodies nearly everything I was trying to offer my children through homeschooling. The school centres their pedagogy and decision making processes on the developmental readiness of each child. Every decision is analysed through the lens of “how does this benefit to the child”. The children have a strong voice in their school and class rules, they can climb the big tree and shoes are optional – they can take healthy risks to test how things work. Learning is active, multi-age, individualised and integrated (yet still aligned with the Australian Curriculum). They prioritise social and emotional learning, wellbeing, resilience, the arts and self-directed projects.
Our then 6 year old was immediately at home. Our eldest took a few weeks to trust that school could be an emotionally safe and fun place.
I sat down in our second term with our eldest’s teacher and it was the first time I had had a conversation with a Teacher who had truly SEEN him for who he really is, instead of who he let people see – the obedient, quiet, do as you are told, do the bare minimum just so I can get by, child.
He was compliant so his previous Teachers thought he was doing fine, but he HATED school. At his new school, his confidence soared. He was able to “be” himself. He became the leader he never believed he could be. He started teaching the younger kids soccer at lunch time (and 3 years after he graduated primary school those “younger” kids still play).
We found an amazing school that fits us perfectly. We recognise how privileged and lucky we are to have this choice.
So when Kathy Margolis’ post about why she quit teaching (shared over 45000 times) went viral in February, 2016, it wasn’t enough that OUR kids are ok. I turned to my husband and I said:
“It’s not just us, Teachers see it too. All kids should have a school like this. I have to do something…”
This letter was emailed directly to a number of the candidates in all political parties, including Premier Annastacia Palasczczuk, Opposition leader Tim Nicholls, Education Minister Kate Jones and Shadow Education Minister, Tracy Davis, the Queensland Greens and One Nation, as well as the Queensland Teachers Union on the 7th November 2017.
Protecting Childhood is a grassroots alliance of teachers, parents and mental health professionals advocating for the well-being of Australian children. Our particular area of concern is the impact of the Australian school system on children through developmentally inappropriate academic standards and expectations, high stakes standardized testing including NAPLAN, and the diminishing elements of free play, exploratory learning and creativity in a heavily planned and content-heavy national curriculum.
What we are seeing in Australia is an incredible rise in childhood anxiety and depression, which is mirroring the experience in the United States and United Kingdom post 1950 where the depression rate in teenagers is 5 to 8 times higher than in 1955. Dr Gray has identified a strong correlation between the decline of play in childhood, including at school and this rise in mental illness.
“By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders,” Dr Gray writes. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-inchildrens-mental-disorders/
Play is not in addition to or a distraction from learning, it is the critical key to it, particularly in those early years which set the tone for a lifelong learning journey.
“There is very clear evidence that children’s cognitive development and emotional well-being are related to the quality of their play, and a number of studies have shown that individuals who are not well developed in these areas are not playful.” (Whitebread, D. 2012).
The problem of Play Deficit Disorder is evidenced with the increasing pressure on children from the moment they enter a school classroom in Prep. There are assessments of their academic knowledge from the outset, and where children are less advanced than others there is pressure to push them to develop early literacy and numeracy skills at the expense of the free play that is so critical to their early learning.
This has been acknowledged by the current Queensland government with the Age Appropriate Pedagogies program in Queensland State Schools essentially designed to return play back to the prep and year 1 curriculum. However, we fear it’s only a bandaid solution and what is needed is a change of approach to school education from the outset, to reverse this push-down pressure and expectation that is doing serious long term harm to our children.
This approach is set to worsen with the proposed Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check. While a phonics check can be a useful tool to identify early indications of dyslexia, the Federal mandate of this approach and inevitable reporting of this information on a national, state and probably school by-school level is only going to increase this risk of anxiety and depression even earlier in the school experience.
This Queensland State Election represents an opportunity for the next government to stand up for Queensland children, and in turn, stand up for the future of our state.
Protecting Childhood is therefore calling on all parties in the Queensland State Election 2017 to commit the following:
1. To reject the implementation of the Federal Government Year 1 Phonics Check.
2. To restructure the State curriculum program – Curriculum 2 Classroom – for Prep and Year 1 to ensure the expectations on the achievement spectrum are age and development appropriate.
3. To reject any suggestion to lower the school starting age.
4. To advocate to COAG Education Ministers Forum to end MySchool publication of NAPLAN results on a school-by-school basis
5. To reject robomarking and online performance of NAPLAN.
6. To ensure funding is available for registered kindergarten programs to enable children to have an additional year in kindergarten if their early childhood educators and parents believe they are not ready to start school.
We understand that the Federal Government has imposed itself significantly on the autonomy of State education departments since the Melbourne Declaration in 2008. However, we want the States to resist on behalf of the teachers, parents and, most importantly, children who are suffering in this regime.
We look forward to your considered response which will help our 10,000+ members make an informed decision on November 25.
Chris Cox on behalf of the Protecting Childhood Executive Team
What do we, as Australians, want education to look like? What do WE value, what is important to us? We do we educate? Are we expecting children to meet the needs of the system, rather than the system meeting the needs of children? Do we educate to look good on international rankings or is it about the growth and development of children?
Recently, a teaching friend of mine lamented the fact that she missed “real teaching” and it made me sad. I too, mourn the loss of “real teaching”. It’s the reason I left the classroom. So what do we mean by real teaching? Real teaching happens when teachers have creative and professional freedom to design a curriculum and lessons based around children’s interests and needs. Yet in today’s system, many teachers feel that they are nothing more than puppets or robots spitting out prescriptive lessons in a standardised curriculum. I’ve had young teachers tell me that they wouldn’t know what to teach without this curriculum. Teaching is an art form not a science and I fear we are losing that art form.
Let me tell you a real story to illustrate real teaching.
In the last 2 weeks of my teaching career I decided to give my students a real gift, some real teaching. I had finished teaching them the prescribed lessons and had finished administering the prescribed assessment. I had finished boring them with topics neither they nor I were interested in. I had finished trying to teach them age inappropriate concepts which made their eyes glaze over and made me feel guilty. I decided to go back to what I knew worked, real teaching.
Each morning we started with a 10 minute topic of the day. I chose topics that I was passionate about and invited them to throw topics into the ring as well. We discussed things like shark culling and shark nets (the boys loved that one), free range eggs and caged eggs, refugees. The 10 minutes sometimes went for much longer depending on the children’s interest. The children shared some very considered and thoughtful opinions and there was some lively debate. One parent reported that their dinner time conversations had become very informative.
One day I decided to talk about palm oil. Now anyone who knows me knows that I am very passionate about this topic. We talked about deforestation and the effects on the animals as well as the fact that trans fats are very bad for our health. I showed them the app that I had on my phone which scans labels and tells you whether the food item contains palm oil and whether it comes from a certified or non-certified source.
After morning tea the children were all lined up at the door waiting for me with lunch wrappers imploring me to scan them to see if what they had eaten contained palm oil and whether the source was ok. They sat patiently as I scanned them all and answered their questions. I knew I was onto something. Seems my passion had been contagious! So I jumped on their enthusiasm and we got out the laptops. My instructions were simple. Find 5 facts about palm oil that you could use to educate others about the topic. “Is it for assessment?” chirped one boy. “Do we have to write in sentences?” asked another. After letting them know that it wasn’t for assessment and I didn’t care how they recorded their notes off they went. My classroom became a hive of activity. Exclamations of horror could be heard as they read the information and were shocked by their findings.
Then the snowball began. “Can we make our 5 facts into a power point?” I think when I replied “Sure” that they were shocked because usually there was no time in the day to accommodate the requests of the children. Classrooms are always time poor these days. I was shocked at who had asked the question. It was a boy who was not very interested in anything other than soccer and for whom schoolwork seemed an arduous chore. And then others chimed in.
“Well it’s not much point doing that unless we show them to someone.”
“I know let’s ask if we can present them on assembly.”
“Let’s ask if we can present them to other classes.”
The ideas were flowing thick and fast and my heart was singing! The most poignant exclamation across the classroom was, “Do you realise that we are making work for ourselves and no one is complaining?!”
The power points were great but it didn’t end there. They decided to send emails to all the teachers inviting them to view the presentations but that still wasn’t the end. Some girls found it incredulous that Australian companies were using uncertified sources of palm oil in their products. They wanted to write to these companies and let them know that what they were doing was wrong (some great persuasive text happened in those letters). A child, who was very creative but not into writing, made a persuasive poster about palm oil.
Around the school the children’s classroom visits and talks were a resounding success.
In that one topic we had covered English, Geography, Science, Health and Maths. From real teaching comes real learning. These children took control of their own learning and ran with it. They owned it. And more to the point, they had fun doing it!
These last 2 weeks brought me such joy. I was so glad to have the opportunity to demonstrate that I knew how to be a good teacher, how to engage children and incite a love of learning. Those last 2 weeks also invoked in me such sorrow because I knew that if I could be trusted to teach like that then I wouldn’t be walking away from the profession that I once loved.
Data collection in schools to fulfill national standardised testing requirements is a wrong education driver. The results provide cold, non relational information. It is the relationship between students, teachers and parents that requires the greatest focus and attention.
Collecting national data on children, like the Australian Early Development Census, NAPLAN etc will, I believe, turn out to be one of the great deceptions and money wasters of our times. An experienced educator who “reads the child” and gets to know them, will possess more valuable information about that child than can be gleaned from any data collected via standardised national testing. When we focus on the latter, which sucks energy from the human teacher/pupil/class engagement, we go down a dehumanising path of cold statistics.
The intention may be good, but in fact, it has become a costly exercise that doesn’t actually benefit the relationship between child, teacher and class which is the driver of learning. Our current political (forced?) obsession with standardised testing, with results being marked, collated and analysed in distant places, is a complete distraction from the main game. The main game – true human connection and relationship, where the DATA is right in front of the teacher – is being eroded, devalued, defocussed and dissolved by distant politically assigned DATA collecting educrats/testucrats.
Knowing children, their qualities and abilities and how to support their next stage of faculty development IS the real game – the true living interface where learning takes place.
All teachers will tell you they do not need third party data for assessment or planning. Somehow the hierarchy are managing to make them bend to their ill-conceived will. Children are the teachers’ information (DATA) with which they work. We need to empower teachers in their most important and challenging of human relations activities and stop them becoming agents for distant third party number crunchers.
Teaching is slowly becoming paralysed – “paralysis by analysis”, by an unnecessary and unwelcome third party. But yes there are three parties where the relationship ideally needs to be good; child, parents and teachers. Parents will always be the child’s first teacher. Conscious parenting and conscious teaching provide the true human space for learning to take place. Reading the child; understanding the child; knowing how to guide the child; serving the needs of the child’s growth and development – this is the main game of parents and teachers! The knowledge (data) lies in the understanding relationship between them. It always has and it always will. The more our focus goes on DATA collection for the (misguided) missionary zeal of politicians, educrats and testucrats, the more it detracts from the real game of teaching.
PLEASE, STOP THE PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS! It has not worked overseas in the counties we are choosing to follow – England and the US. The answer lies in supporting teachers and parents. We really need to support the human organic living needs of teachers. They need human resources and support to assist with the most human and challenging of vocations – teaching our children, where all the performance data they need is right in front of them. We need to listen to them, respect them and provide them with what they need. Ah yes, cold distant data, the great deception and money waster!
Let’s discuss ‘that child’ found in many education and care settings. However, let’s not label him ‘that child’, and respectfully use his real name, Jacob. Jacob is spirited, energetic and a non-conformist. When all the obedient children are sitting on the carpet, Jacob is playing with dress ups and refusing his educator’s attempts to control him. When he and other children are happily playing outside then asked to come inside, the other children resign to compliance. Not Jacob. He refuses to abandon his outdoor play time, to come inside and hear a story he has heard a thousand times. He knows that he’ll just struggle to sit still anyway, so the story will be constantly interrupted with his educator’s attempts to behaviour ‘manage’ him into what is perceived by the adults in his room as ‘listening behaviour’. He would much prefer to keep moving, climbing, running and jumping in the outdoor space, as children of his age need to do. So he does…..
This post is written by Sandi Phoenix a core Protecting Childhood team member. You can read the rest here: http://www.phoenix-support.com.au/blog/advocate-for-childhood/
It’s Back to School for kids this week. Parents have been getting all the resources ready, new uniforms, books, laptops and other devices depending on the school requirements, and teachers have been hard at it planning for the year ahead.
But the homework doesn’t end for parents when we send our kids off to school for the first day. Here’s a few homework items we suggest!
Be mindful of your children’s emotions and tiredness
Whether they’re starting school for the first time, moving from primary to high school, or simply moving to a new class, it’s always a big transition. Kids have come off 6 weeks of family holidays, uninterrupted play and activities. Getting back into the grind can be a challenge.
Most schools and teachers realise this and they’ll ease kids into the routine, but others will start loading up on learning from the start. It’s up to us as parents to monitor how our kids are coping. Nobody knows them better than you.
They’re bound to be tired and maybe a bit irritable in the afternoons. Don’t be afraid to cut them some slack on homework. In fact, in primary school it might even be a colossal waste of time.
Let’s face it, our brains need time to recover after being engaged for significant time at work, our kids are no less in need of the opportunity to rest their weary heads.
Don’t surrender to the parental guilt of not pushing your kids hard on the homework thing. Even if they’re not keen to read their books, offer to read to them. It’s still valuable.
If you’re concerned with the amount of homework coming back, don’t be afraid to chat to your teacher to find out what their expectations really are. If you have any concerns, or feel your child’s sporting and musical classes that they might do after school are more valuable, don’t be afraid to make that point to the teacher. After all, it’s not all about the school and the teacher, learning is a team effort and you, your child and your teacher need to be on the same page.
Say no to NAPLAN
This might sound like controversial advice, but if your child is in year 3, 5, 7 or 9, don’t forget you have the right to withdraw your child from participating in NAPLAN. The high stakes nature, the media obsession, the tying of funding, and in some states even attempts to tie high school graduation to year 9 NAPLAN results – it all leads to stress and anxiety on kids, schools and teachers to make NAPLAN a focus.
There is no evidence that obsessing over NAPLAN is helping our academic results, and increasingly it seems that focusing on it, is actively reducing effective learning time, as more time is spent preparing.
But why withdraw? Quite simply because the higher the rates of withdrawal, the less meaningful the data is. The less meaningful the data is, the less the data appeals to media, politicians and bureaucrats who like to make a big deal about things.
In fact, maybe the NAPLAN story in 2017 will be about the levels of withdrawal? Now that’d be newsworthy!
So your tasks are:
Ask your child if they WANT to do NAPLAN. Some kids really enjoy doing tests, and we would never suggest denying them the opportunity to do something they want to do – even if, in reality, it’s pointless.
Write a letter to your teacher and principal, advising that your child will not be participating in NAPLAN testing or PREPARATION for NAPLAN testing.
It’s also a good idea to chat to your child’s teacher about what level of preparation they will be doing with the class. As your child won’t be participating, you want to be sure that their time will be usefully spent. Of course, that could just mean letting them go play, but as most schools have strict supervision guidelines, it’s probably worth suggesting reading, writing a story or drawing pictures.
There’s no doubt your child will achieve more than doing any NAPLAN practice testing anyway.
Make home fun
Above all, whether it’s the first week or the last week of term, home should be where your kids feel most comfortable. Let them play, let them have fun, and try not to be too demanding about schoolwork.
We hate taking our jobs home with us. So do our kids
Benjamin Franklin said “Nothing is certain in life, except death and taxes”. That must have been before politicians started weighing in on matters of education.
Because there’s nothing more certain these days than politicians sinking the boot into teachers, schools and apparently, early education centres.
At a time when media, the public and politicians of all persuasions are lamenting Australia’s apparently lacklustre performance by comparison to other OECD nations, we have this week seen Federal politicians come out swinging against the very people who have direct influence on changing that.
It started with Andrew Laming, Liberal MP for Bowman, with an unprovoked, snide Facebook post asking “Are teachers back at work this week, or are they “lesson planning” at home? Let me know exactly.”
Teachers most certainly did let him know.
The gold star for school education is Finland. We hear it constantly. Their success is in no small part due to the respect that teaching as a profession, and teachers as professionals are held. They are well paid, very well educated, and trusted with the important role of teaching our next generation.
Disrespect for our education professionals was further highlighted by Senator David Leyonhjelm who flippantly dismissed early education teachers as nose wipers and peacekeepers.
Senator Leyonhjelm’s concern is the $3 billion childcare reform package, based on the ever increasing costs of childcare, to which he puts the blame on “overqualified” staff and overzealous quality standards.
Shadow Early Childhood Minister Kate Ellis pointed out today that the research shows children who receive quality pre-school education do better when they transition to school itself. That has led to the quality framework the sector is working towards.
The reason fees are escalating is because families simply can’t survive on a single income, and so families are scrambling for childcare placements that are becoming rare as hens’ teeth. It’s basic supply and demand economics. Demand is high, supply is low, so fees go up.
Senator Leyonhjelm seems to think the solution is to let anybody run a centre, increasing supply and thus reduce costs. Who really cares about the quality of care? So long as their noses are wiped, what does it matter?
We should be concerned that wage growth is so slow that families have no choice but to put their children in childcare early and that to make that viable it needs to be cheaper. There seems to be a growing push, beyond the obsession with every Australian working, that every child should go to an early learning centre or be “left behind”.
What children at that stage need is physical, creative play and frequent, responsive oral communication with adults and other children, to build their vocabulary and their confidence in understanding and speaking language. This can be done at home, and traditionally was. But with the need to work, the capacity of many families to do so is reduced.
The goal should be to enable more families to have flexibility to have one or both parents spending time at home fulfilling this vital developmental work.
Then of course there’s the private, for-profit mega chains that dominate the sector. That’s much harder to solve.
Both the early childhood and school education sectors depend on the diligence, professionalism and passion of the educators within. Without those teachers, no amount of funding or public policy will address it.
Until our parliamentarians cease with this disrespect for the people primarily responsible for educating our next generation, there seems little hope of progress.