Real teaching

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.

Kathy Margolis

Cold Distant Data: The Great Political Deception and Money Waster

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!

Jonathan Anstock

The Advocate for Childhood

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/

 

 

Back to school

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.

More broadly, high stakes standardised testing has been shown to be ineffective and indeed leads to a misleading view of a child’s performance, let alone the school cohort.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

Political disrespect for education professionals

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.

“Data is the wrong driver”

On Tuesday, 18th October 2016, the Protecting Childhood (PC) team had a meeting with the Deputy Director General of Education Queensland (EQ), Leanne Nixon and the Executive Manager of Curriculum Development, Robyn Rosengrave. Representing Protecting Childhood were founders: Amy and Chris Cox; Kathy Margolis and PC Ambassadors: Associate Professor Michael Nagel, child development expert from the University of the Sunshine Coast; and Tom Hardy, retired Principal with his 40 year medal from EQ, prior consultant at Cambridge University and past President of the Australian and Queensland Primary Principals’ Associations.

Our meeting began with Tom articulating our proposed agenda, highlighting the fact that none of us have vested interests in the Education System, other than our genuine commitment and concern for children and the future of teaching. Our agenda items included:

EQ’s response to our Queensland petition,

  • the transition year (prep in Queensland),
  • teacher choice in pedagogy,
  • the curriculum review,
  • the importance of play
  • the growing incidence of anxiety and suspensions in young children

Chris expressed our concern about EQ’s response to our Queensland petition, stating that it is contradictory to what we are hearing on a regular basis from teachers and parents. The EQ response implies that schools and teachers have the flexibility to implement the curriculum how they like. The crux of the matter is that the assessment is the assessment and it is mandatory to do the assessment. We stressed that many teachers DO NOT feel they have autonomy or respect for their experience as educators.  Qld Education Minister, MP Kate Jones seems to have a good understanding of the over-crowding of the curriculum and genuine desire to help and teachers are very grateful for this. The review of the curriculum, however, does not address the developmentally inappropriate “benchmarks or standards” at all grade levels. These “expectations” place undue stress on children and teachers, to achieve a 1-2 year leap in expectations since as recently as 5 years ago.

“Children have not changed, only the demands placed on them. We are rushing children through harder and faster.”

Our understanding is that the amount of autonomy is often dependent on the leadership of the school and that some proactive principals do say “we’re throwing away the C2C” (Queensland’s prescriptive curriculum), though others insist on following the C2C meticulously. Kathy told of how she retired early, not because she doesn’t love teaching, but because what she had been required to do, did not sit well with her personal philosophy of education.

“We have hundreds of parents and teachers contacting us, that’s why I’ve continued. Many teachers have reached out saying ‘please don’t stop talking’ and parents are telling us their heartbreaking stories. In Prep in term 4, I’ve been told that in geography, 5 year-olds have to compare and contrast two holiday destinations and write four lines of rhyming prose. That’s unrealistic.”

Children of that age are deeply in the concrete stage of development. That means they are not yet ready to think abstractly. Children that age should not be expected to compare and contrast two places they have not experienced directly. Devastatingly, the play-based curriculum that previous Premier, Anna Bligh promised, is mostly gone.

Leanne Nixon responded to clarify that “schools make decisions about implementation and there is nothing in our policies stating that teachers are not to use play-based pedagogies, so the perceptions you have been hearing around implementation – that’s something we need to take on board”.

Leanne shared her background including working in schools for 30 years with a recent move to central office. Ensuring that we do the right thing for every child is her primary work. She acknowledged that developmentally, children are all on a continuum and that HOW the curriculum is implemented IS the work of central office and she, too, is challenged by some implementation choices.

Amy highlighted a document an EQ teacher received though professional development course. This document,the P-10 Literacy Continuum, was also displayed on the walls around the office we were in. The document spans tasks or outcomes from Prep to Year 10, with many items in the Prep  columns with the letters “OE” or “EP” next to them. The legend defines these as “On Entry” or “End of Prep”. An example “On Entry” expectation is “child writes a sentence with spaces between words.” Leanne insisted that the document does not say “SHOULD” and explained it is a demonstration of what SOME kids will bring to Prep. We would venture to say that there is very little room to interpret it as anything other than an “EXPECTATION”. Leanne reiterated that every child comes on a continuum and that central office provides a basic view to support teachers to implement in a way that considers the individual circumstances, children and their communities. The reality is we are hearing about Prep kids saying “I’m dumb” or “I hate school” or “If this is school, I don’t want to be alive anymore”. We are damaging these kids because we are pushing them so hard and so fast.

To comply with the current curriculum benchmarks, you cannot do justice to children or their learning. It is not practical to run a play-based curriculum AND meet the standards. If a child finds a caterpillar outside, it if far more engaging and meaningful to talk about butterflies and write and explore that, than to read a prescribed book and ask children about how a character can change or what we could do differently.

Tom Hardy enquired about what would happen to a Principal who encouraged Prep classrooms to “use pencils by choice?”  rather offering crayons and big implements for writing; play-based water play every day; modelling – “the way it WAS when we HAD a world class pre-school curriculum, just prior to the introduction of NAPLAN. Reading by choice as well”.

What if a principal insisted that the primary goal of Prep was to have children with good oral language skills and confidence? Would they be penalised for poor “data”?

Leanne maintained that it is about the individual needs of the child and that is the principal’s job. Tom pushed further that it is near impossible because of the push-down of the formal. Leanne asked “who is doing that to them? I’m fascinated, I’d like to know”. Tom suggested that it is systemic: the Directors who visit schools, putting pressure on performance. Leanne agreed that there is a problem with some principals’ understanding of the developmental needs of young children. Tom reflected back to a program he was involved in, back in 2001, because the kids coming into grade 1 (6 year-olds) were coming to school without the verbal skills to build literacy on – couldn’t speak properly, they didn’t know their nursery rhymes, they didn’t have that linguistic data pool to build on. It wasn’t part of the training of principals to understand early childhood development. WE STILL HAVE THIS PROBLEM. Leanne asked if we think that teachers are coming in with the capability around early childhood? Kathy suggested that older experienced Teachers do selectively make choices based on the needs of the children, but some newer teachers are too scared to not comply.

“Teachers are constantly asked to collect “data”, everything is about the data.”

Image result for Teachers are constantly asked to collect data, everything is about the data.

Kathy discussed how teachers are asked to collect copious amounts of data and then they have to have data conversations. She had followed the expectations of the C2C, she had constantly had to apologise to her kids (year 6), as she knew they weren’t getting it, she knows she is a good teacher, but she knew the concepts were too difficult for them. She walked into that data conversation and the mentor and the Deputy said to her “Can you think of a way you can improve these results?”  “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? My hands (in that school) were tied. Of course I knew how to improve their results! but if I’m asked to follow the C2C – I can’t do that.”

Robyn was squirming in her chair, because when you say “forced to” she knows there is nothing in policy saying you HAVE to implement any of that and Leanne reiterated that none of that is prescribed from the centre.

Michael, who works with pre-service teachers, has noticed an over emphasis on assessment, especially NAPLAN, through conversations with students returning from Professional Experience Placements. “I teach pre-service teachers in human development and learning and they go on prac and they come back saying ‘you know all those things that we talked about on early learning?  I did not see any of that, because we had to focus on assessment. We had to focus on moving kids from A to B, in this amount of time’ and that flies in the face of any measure of developmental psychology, any measure of child development. I feel that increasing, more and more, every semester. It may not be a product of the curriculum per se, but perhaps, maybe the way it is worded, along with the assessment parameters with NAPLAN…. I’m talking about how it is interpreted in the outside world and that in itself is one of the biggest problems.”Image result for courier mail NAPLAN results story

Leanne responded that she understands what has been driving the behaviour of schools and the unintended consequences of this state’s obsession, via The Courier Mail, with NAPLAN results. She stated that “we have deliberately, over the last 12 months, stepped away from that.”

Michael pointed out that we have schools ‘preparing’ kids for NAPLAN and Leanne acknowledged there is now an industry around NAPLAN.

Leanne has been travelling all around the state saying “DATA IS NOT THE RIGHT DRIVER IN SCHOOLS”

Leanne reflected that EQ has 80000 staff around the state and it will take time for the message to filter down, but tried to assure us that the conversation has started. Just like the C2C has always been “adapt or adopt” but some people still think they have to do the whole thing. EQ wants to move forward with teaching quality, knowing the learner and knowing what the next learning piece is, for every individual learner. Unfortunately, people are not going to be convinced overnight.

Kathy offered another “unintended consequence” of the C2C, describing how she was talking to two newish teachers about how amazing the 1980’s were and how creative we were and how much we achieved and they said “but without the C2C, we wouldn’t know how to teach!” and that’s tragic.

Tom raised that while some parents are starting to question, there are still many parents who support NAPLAN to the hilt because they’ve bought into the propaganda. Tom talked about an award winning author, who he taught in year 6. This writer’s own children don’t want to write and she blames the C2C for taking that joy away.

“There is no joy in explicitly structured writing that has no creativity or the freedom of continuous writing.”

Leanne agreed and while not blaming the C2C, said that they were engaging in studies to look at the need for extended writing for children in schools without the restrictions.

Amy and Chris told their story. We always intended to send our kids to state schools. However, in the lead up to NAPLAN in year 3, our eldest son began having angry, emotional meltdowns regularly after school. Over the next two years, he became more and more anxious and stressed to the point we dreaded picking him up in the afternoon. Amy spent 15 months researching: looking at diet, parenting strategies and sought the help of a child psychologist. The tummy pains would begin the night before, the tears, the begging to stay home, the declarations of “hating school”, the talking about wanting to fight kids that annoyed him at lunch time, the angry explosions had become a daily occurrence. We received dismissive comments about after school tantrums and “hating school” as being “normal” for a ten year old boy, especially as he was quiet and obedient in the classroom. Amy would not accept that these attitudes and relentless resulting behaviours were “normal”. This is not normal, this was a chronically stressed young boy, crying out for help. Our family life was becoming increasingly stressful and negative. After much research and soul searching, we finally made an informed decision to home educate. This was the best decision we could have made. Within weeks, the playful, happy boy that we remembered, was back.

After experiencing a play-based Prep with our eldest in 2010, we felt the stark contrast with the ‘formal’ Prep our middle child experienced only four years later. We were deeply saddened by the push down of the formal and the lack of creativity and play in the transition year. I guess we were lucky that our middle child is very social and coped quite well academically, but he was burning out by term 4. In grade one he would question why there wasn’t time for hands-on science experiments and “why can’t I do art that is MY art”, instead of the cookie-cutter art, almost identical for each child, needed for assessment? It broke our hearts. We had good relationships with their teachers. We could see how stressed they were too. When the most important thing to us as parents, was for our children to enjoy learning for learning’s sake and the increasing lack of opportunities for creativity, we started to feel a huge clash of values.

“All their teachers were wonderful, committed and caring people. We don’t feel this was a problem with teachers. We know they are stuck with systemic demands for performance outcomes. Our school followed the C2C closely.”

We adored our home schooling community and social activities were abundant. When we stumbled across a small community school that approaches everything in their pedagogy based on integral developmental and readiness, we knew we had found the right place for our family. Every decision is evaluated based on how it the benefits the child. Relationships and emotional development come first. Each term they spend a whole week on self-directed projects and all the other learning areas are individualised and integrated. Our kids are thriving. I honestly cannot imagine what we would be dealing with if we had left him in the state system for another year and a half. They were both well behaved and compliant at their previous school, but they put on a mask to cope and HATED going to school. They now  have the confidence and emotional skill sets to truly know and be themselves. Then in February, when Kathy’s post went viral, Amy turned to Chris and said:

“It’s not just us, teachers see it too”.

Kathy explained that she never meant for her post to go viral. When friends asked to share it, they had to explain how to make it public so that they could. It was shared 40000 times. “That was just MY TRUTH of how I felt. I was just crying out saying, I can’t do this. I still get really emotional – because I was a really good teacher. but I realised it wasn’t just my truth.”

Related imageWe are constantly hearing stories from parents and teachers of the plight of childhood. This is not just Queensland. Michael added “It should be very alarming that we are hearing of children with severe anxiety and stress disorders and increasingly so, the younger they get. It should be very alarming to see kids in prep being expelled. What is it that’s driving that? We are all on the same page. We want the best outcomes for kids, but to-date it just seems like it is getting worse before it is getting better. While most of our evidence is anecdotal, I could go back to my emails and present story after story – from parents who say – my kids are not doing well and we don’t know why. And the worst thing is that “they don’t like school” at 4 or 5! Why are Prep classrooms set up like pseudo year 1 or 2 classrooms? Why are kids being asked to sit and be quiet for extended periods of time?”

Leanne asked “What is the one thing you would change?” Amy’s response was having a one-size-fits-all “standardised curriculum”. Leanne responded with “well that’s what this is”.  We contended that you cannot set benchmarks for all children in a grade level. There is such a broad spectrum of readiness that ranges years. A child who isn’t reading in Prep is not “behind”. A child in year 4 who isn’t grasping abstract concepts, is not behind. They are just not ready! Readiness cannot be forced because a bureaucrat in an ivory tower says so. Leanne agreed with us that all children are on a developmental continuum. There is no one standard that all children will be able to reach at the same time or age. Kathy added an example of an 11 year old whose self-esteem she built up and differentiated for, only to be told he had to do the standardised assessment, which he was not ready to do and watch him say “no I can’t do it, I really am stupid”. This is made worse by the C2C. When you stand in front of a class and try to teach and engage them and you watch their eyes glaze over. They’re bored. I’m bored – because I hate this topic too. I felt like I had very little autonomy to meet the needs of the children in my class. Leanne maintained that teachers are allowed to implement using their professional knowledge and judgment. It is concerning that teachers don’t feel that they are allowed.

Michael asked why Ed Qld can’t use the media to promote that “NAPLAN is not the be all and end all”. Leanne said she did say these things to the media this year, but the media did not use those things, because it wasn’t the story they wanted to tell. We asked why we need NAPLAN at all? It’s all about Federal funding, otherwise it is of no value.

Tom Hardy contributed that we need to do something about excessive amounts of assessment. Year 2/3 children have upwards of 25 assessments a month. Children constantly say – is this for assessment? Children shouldn’t even know they are being assessed. We’ve lost all those other kinds of assessment that we used to have, checklists, observations, projects, having the child involved in assessment development. Leanne agreed with us that the C2C has been interpreted as a dictate, rather than a resource and they would support resources around alternative styles of assessment. She seemed genuinely concerned at this far-reaching misinterpretation. Tom Hardy asked who in the Education Department communicates with regions and principals? Who is ensuring principals’ understanding that dispositions for learning are developed by age 8, because currently we are actively destroying those dispositions. We seem to have lost some of that understanding of what good teaching and learning is. As mothers of boys, Kathy and Amy expressed that they know that boys around age 4 and 5 are develop in a different sequence and rate than girls, but when the expectation is that all children at this age have to learn sight words and will be reading and writing at a set standard by the middle of Prep – it’s heartbreaking. There are tutors specialising in Preps! We hear parents saying that their child won’t need to repeat Prep, because these September holidays we are going to get in the Speech Pathologist and a tutor. This child is a baby. He doesn’t need this! He just isn’t ready. Sure a teacher can run a play-based program, but if a child isn’t reaching the achievement benchmarks, it won’t be because of the teacher, it will be because of readiness. I wish that principals were allowed to say to parents “your child does not have to do standardised tests”. A lot of parents are unaware that it is their choice, not the school’s choice. All Tom Hardy’s grandchildren think that NAPLAN is a joke that contributes nothing to their learning.

Chris summarised that there are bad practices happening and Leanne interjected that she would say these “bad practices” exist across the country, not just Queensland. We unanimously agreed. These bad practices are a global issue. Leanne shared that they look at school opinion survey data and overwhelmingly parents like their schools. We don’t disagree, but we wonder who actually gets to do these opinion surveys and it seems they are only from year 5 – none in the early years. A selection of parents (apparently random) and every child in years 5, 7, 9 and 11 do it and every staff member. Kathy made the point that more anonymous teacher feedback is needed. Teachers are really scared. I didn’t want to speak up. I’ve witnessed first-hand, experienced teachers are being told, “this is the way it is in 2016, if you don’t like it, there’s the door”. It’s not that we are bucking against change, for goodness sake, the number of changes I’ve seen in the last 30 years!!! Change in rolls, we are constantly reinventing, but to not be able to question the philosophy behind what’s going on and have transfer papers put on teachers’ desks. Teachers are too scared to speak out. I tried to speak up but nobody listened or was interested in what I had to say. I know some of the answers, and other teachers do too, but they are just really scared. They are on contracts with families to support, they are jumping through hoops, they are kept so snowed under, it’s piled up on teachers and nothing is taken away, they are so tired and ground down, they just don’t have any fight left in them.

Tom Hardy raised Lucy Clark’s book, Beautiful Failures. It speaks for teachers, parents, children and principals. He had it with him at a doctor’s visit, and the doctor asked about it, and stated that they see children and teens like the book depicts all the time, anxiety, depression, suicidal. Leanne agreed that schools contribute to that, it’s a growing issue, but she also worries about our society in general. She brought up the Griffith age-appropriate pedagogies study, articulating that she has a problem with the term “age appropriate pedagogies” because EVERY age group has an appropriate pedagogy and people presume it is about the Prep-3 space. We are doing work, trying to understand why the play-based approach pedagogy has been lost for many teachers. There are now coaches in every Queensland region to support teachers. Some of our principals have lost sight of their role as leaders around curriculum and teaching and learning. Some of our teachers have lost sight because of the new curriculum. All those things you know about quality pedagogy haven’t changed that, but that is what is believed. We need to swing the pendulum back.

“Data is the wrong driver”.

We’ve been invited back in February or March next year.

Money before people?

Australian Parliament House rises majestically above the skyline of central Canberra. The national flag sitting atop the 4-prong spire above the pond outside the front entrance, and the lush green lawns that flank the walls up to the roof top is an image of synergy between natural and built environment. Of national pride and international inclusion. The home of our democracy, where people representing every corner of our land come together to work towards progressing our society in this ever changing world.

Falun Gong Protest

On this day in November, the lawns before Parliament House are, as is often the case, occupied by protest groups. On one side, hundreds of people kneeling on mats in perfectly aligned rows wearing bright yellow shirts indicating their support for Falun Gong. Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is a Chinese spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition that combines meditation with gentle exercises and a moral philosophy based on compassion, truthfulness and forbearance. Silently they sit until the small speaker on the grass plays the sound of a gong and the practitioners seamlessly move into a new hand position.

The peace and silence gives a palpable calming energy as I stand with my Protecting Childhood colleagues, Gabbie and Jonathan, and other observers, who look distinctively like political advisers or lobbyists in their suits and ties. It belies the horrifying reason for their protest. In 1999, with Falun Gong rising in followers to a number almost equalling the ruling Communist Party, the Chinese Government outlawed the religion, and began arresting them at will. Even worse, rumours abounded that they were tortured, their bodies tested and their organs harvested to fuel China’s burgeoning organ transplant trade. These rumours were proven true in 2006 when an independent international investigation found compelling evidence, including statements from Chinese doctors complicit in the operations, that this was actually happening.

Aware of the magnitude of this abhorrent abuse of human rights, we are left aghast.

“Are you a senator?”, asks one of the protest organiser of Gabbie, to our amusement. The organiser explains that they want the Australian Government to make a motion to call for China to cease the live organ harvesting trade and stop persecution of the Falun Gong on the basis of religion. They want any member of parliament to come down to the lawns and meet with them to discuss their plight. So far they had not been successful. “Could you please tell them about us when you meet them” she asked, after we explained we were there to meet Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Labor MP Milton Dick and Xenophon Team Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore to raise awareness of our own cause.

I can’t help but cringe as I recall that some members of the 45th Australian Parliament are calling for a ban on immigration of Muslims, effectively our own persecution of people based on their beliefs.

The silence is broken as one of the political advisers nearby makes a call on her mobile. “There’s 20 or 30 here,” she says, though when I look at the numbers there’s far more. It was then that I noticed she was looking to the other protest group across the lawn – a group calling for a Royal Commission into the banks. Jazz music is playing, and a middle aged man is dancing enthusiastically to the tune.

The juxtaposition of the two protests is inescapable.

One, a loud, vibrant, relaxed group calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against money; the other silent, peaceful, calling for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity.

As we made our way back up to Parliament House, the familiar flaming red hair of Senator Pauline Hanson approaches in the other direction, flanked by her controversial adviser James Ashby, and two other staffers. Could she be going to meet the Falun Gong? This would be an unexpected action for someone who has, for 20 years, operated in the political arena under the “what about us” rhetoric for, as Ms Hanson puts it, “real Australians”.

Of course she wasn’t. Stealthily she was guided behind the Falun Gong protest to avoid being noticed, and swiftly moved into the Banking Royal Commission group, shaking hands and smiling. After all, these are the “real Australians” that are her focus. People who are paying too much interest or too much in fees and feeling financial stress.

Indeed these are real issues, things that all three of us feel to varying degrees as well – myself, in a single income family with a mortgage; Gabbie, now without her teaching job that had been a rock for 16 years before she resigned last year, and Jonathan, retired and with only the income from his excellent professional development workshops for teachers on top of his pension. Here we were in Canberra out of our own pocket, giving up our own time, without any funding from lobby groups or vested interests, to advocate for the well being of Australian children.

Our economy is so dependent on our trade links with China – the country whose government allegedly is inflicting these horrific crimes against Falun Gong followers – and so their plight goes with minimal recognition by Australian parliamentarians. Money before people.

And there was Pauline Hanson, putting money before people.

Money before people.

Inside the foyer of Parliament House, the peace and serenity for the lawn gives way to raucous, echoing energy. Lobbyist groups in suits and ties, led by political advisers with their mandatory ID badges, and school groups excitedly taking in the experience of being in the home of Australian democracy.

We are excited too. Our determination to affect change in our school system for children now, their development as they grow up and become critical thinkers and contributors and innovators in our society in the decades to come will be initiated here. Within these walls, with the support of those we give the trust of our votes every 3 years, change happens.

Our excitement tempers slightly after calling Senator Hanson-Young’s office and initially being greeted with “who are you?”. Oh no! They didn’t forget our meeting did they? But no, they were simply on the hop, and the Senator was delayed but would be down as soon as possible. After a short wait, the senator’s adviser greets us and apologises that the Senator will not be able to join us.

Meeting the Greens’ spokesperson for Education and Early Childhood was the primary purpose of our trip. So to not get the opportunity to meet and connect on this very human issue was deflating.

We explained who we were and what we were about to Kate, who dutifully made notes in order to “brief the senator” later.

“What are your two key asks that you want done?” she asked.

This question was anticipated, but sadly not at this early stage in the conversation. Asking to give two “asks” to fix the ills of the Australian education system is like asking for two things to solve the Climate Change problem. It’s simply not possible. “Stop publishing NAPLAN results on MySchool, and lift the minimum starting age to 6″, I said. Noted. Without further discussion.

Kate went on to suggest others who we’d be better off talking to, and quick as a flash she was “off to a 1.30”.

While the loud hum of the Parliament House cafe continued, the three of us sat in silence. What just happened?

Kate also suggested we check out the view from the roof of Parliament House, so we took that advice from Senator Hanson-Young’s Senior Adviser. The silence again returned. The symmetry of Parliament House looking up Anzac Parade to the War Memorial, which in turn sits at the foot of Mount Ainslie again revived that feeling of energy and national pride. Indeed the building and its surrounds are spectacular, and a wonderful monument to our democracy which is lauded around the world as one of the strongest and most durable.

We make our way down to the buzz of the foyer to ring Labor MP Milton Dick from the security desk. A host of lobbyists are here checking in, with political advisers buzzing around, as seems to be their primary role. I notice a suited young man that had the look of a political adviser trying to find someone he didn’t recognise and moved in his direction. “Chris?” he asked, the serendipitous looks of confusion leading to a correct conclusion. The formalities of identification complete, we make our way through the halls to Milton’s office.

Milton Dick isn’t a new face. I had met him several times during the election campaign, and I wasn’t surprised by the firm handshake and broad smile that greeted us in his office. Clean, quite minimalist in furnishings, but clearly well utilised over the years by members of parliament before him, there are book shelves with the Rules of Parliament. Huge, thick volumes dating back 20 years or more in some cases. I thought to myself “I wish I knew what the rules were.”

Flying to Canberra to meet my local member of Parliament wasn’t part of the plan, but despite tireless efforts, Labor’s own Education spokesperson and deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, was not able – or perhaps willing – to make time for this unknown “lobby group”, which we seem to be categorised as, and as such treated with suspicion.

Mr Dick listened to our case again, and heard Jonathan and Gabbie’s stories before having to interrupt our meeting to give a 90 second speech in support of the Jindalee Bowls Club – just down the road from my home – that was robbed.

I keep checking the clock as we wait for Mr Dick to return, and realise that I need to leave to get my return flight to Brisbane. I wouldn’t meet Senator Kokschke-Moore either. Gabbie and I leave Jonathan and make our way out – dodging what seems an endless line of lobbyists and advisers.

Exhausted mentally, I’m still wondering what just happened. We had come to Canberra to look for a champion for our cause. Here I was, empty handed. No disrespect is intended to the people we did meet, but it wasn’t the outcome we were looking for. Why couldn’t they see what our obsession with standards and data was doing to children?

We had come down to Canberra for the big game, and we weren’t playing by the same rules. The rules of the game seem to require a lot more resources to earn your right to get to the right people. Earns your right to make the right people see your truth.

Money before people.

Protecting Childhood is all about ensuring we have a school system that fosters the development of life long learners. This was a learning experience for all of us. It was a learning experience for me. It seems a core skill of advisers and parliamentarians to separate emotion from fact. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s defence of his linking the entire Lebanese-Muslim Community to the 22 individuals on terrorism charges by stating “it’s the truth”, absolving himself of the emotional damage done to the thousands of innocent, law abiding, hard working Lebanese Muslims who contribute to our society in so many ways is, as an infamous senator would say, empirical evidence of this condition.

That juxtaposition of the protest lawn, Falun Gong’s struggle for human rights, up against the Banking Royal Commission group’s struggle for money seems truly reflective of the nature of Australian Federal Politics.

I/We just have to get better at playing their game.

By Chris Cox – Protecting Childhood

Why do we educate?

As John Dewey proclaimed, education is a lifelong “continual process of reconstruction of experience” (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008a, p101). What characterises meaningful education for one, may be entirely inappropriate for someone else. I believe the unifying factor is that we are all continually growing, learning and evolving as we attempt to make sense of the world. Education is not limited to classrooms or schools, nor is it specific to children. However, as a future early childhood/primary school teacher, I will use the terms “teachers,” “children” and “schools” to refer to the broad range of educators, learners and learning communities across the lifespan.

The Purpose of Education

I believe that the fundamental purpose of education is to cultivate an intrinsic love of learning, through a developing awareness of self, of others; and of our interconnection with the world.

Specifically, the learning environment must ensure that learners:

  • experience connected relationships;
  • have their developmental needs met and valued; and
  • develop flexible skills and motivation to adapt and thrive in an unseen, unpredictable future.

Connected relationships

Education, at its heart, is a human endeavour which cannot exist without attentive relationships (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d). Empathy, authenticity and respect for the whole person are paramount.

A foundation built on humanistic or child-centred education philosophies resonates with me strongly. In particular, the work of Maria Montessori, backed by humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow, who understood the necessity of meeting the basic physiological and psychological needs of the child, to guide them to self-actualisation (Weinberg, D. R., 2011).

Education is as much a process of exploring identity, moral reasoning and socio-emotional skills, as it is for academic pursuits.

Nel Noddings agrees that the process and outcomes of education, need to enrich lives and create compassionate, collaborative and reflective communities (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d). “Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework” (EYLF) supports the conviction that connected relationships are a prerequisite for engaged learning.  The EYLF illustrates how quality relationships extend beyond the teacher/child trust relationship, to forming a sense of personal identity, negotiating peer friendships, finding a sense of belonging to the group and eventually assuming skilful and knowledgeable roles within the local and global community (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009). The western inclination to administer schools on a business model of success, intent on delivering content and testing for compliance, is undermining the crucial role that connection and compassion contribute to growing well-adjusted, capable human beings (Robinson, K., 2010).

Developmental needs

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was influential in dispelling the beliefs of John Locke, that children are born, “tabula rasa,” a blank slate or empty vessel for filling with knowledge (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008c). Rousseau asserted that human beings are born innately good, with distinct personalities, temperaments and a propensity toward learning and seeking to understand (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008f). Locke’s position starkly undervalues the distinctively strong, capable and resilient nature of children (Dodd-Nufrio, A.T. (2011).

Noddings counsels that curriculum should be planned around key life phases (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d). We must honour individual growth and engage with children at their present point of emerging understanding. Dewey discouraged imposed or pressured introductions to reading, writing and abstract concepts outside of the child’s social experiences (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008a). Readiness is key when evaluating both behaviour and attentiveness to learning.

Maria Montessori was influential in attributing value to developmental readiness and for recognising that, every child is a whole person who will progress through the stages of physical, mental and emotional development, in their own time. Learning is an individual process of building understanding and unearthing personal capacity (Gutek, G.L, 2001). Moral development advances as the child matures from an egocentric perspective to an altruistic worldview (Cain, R., 2005).

Flexible skills and motivation

In the conceptual age, where technology is continually changing the way we live and communicate, creativity, inquisitiveness, critical processing of ever-expanding information, lateral (right-brain) thinking, problem-solving, design, collaboration and empathy, will be the most desirable future skills (Pink, D.H., 2006). The broadly accepted tradition of single curriculum for all, devised for an era that required specifically skilled, yet compliant workers, is no longer justified (Zhao, Y., 2016). The escalating dominance of the standards movement is actively working against creativity through its insistence on rewarding sameness (Robinson, K. & Aranica, L., 2016).

Children need to develop capacities to become active and responsible members of democratic society (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008a). Effective interpersonal skills for collaboration and social interaction, as well as intrapersonal skills including mindfulness for emotional well-being, will become vital for navigating the future with enthusiasm and empathy (Ozmon, H.A. & Craver, S.M., 2008b). Emphasis on creating original solutions to problems and entrepreneurial ability to apply concepts, ideas and philosophies to life, is predicted to replace memorising answers for standardised tests (Zhao, Y., 2016).

Although, eastern philosophies like Confucius’ vision of education for a harmonious society is an admirable goal, the suggested approaches prioritise “societal harmony” at the expense of the self. Furthermore, the constraints of a hierarchical structure undermine the central concept of mutual respect (Gutek, G.L., 2011). However, we can learn extensively from the central values of Buddhist education, by concentrating on:

  • collaboration over competition;
  • altruism over ambition; and
  • realising that genuine wellbeing is accomplished through caring for others (Bohdi, B., 1998).

Roles of the teacher and the learner

The teacher’s role is one of facilitator, mentor and guide. It is the function of a teacher to formulate a thorough understanding of what is important to each child, their individual capabilities, interests and prior experiences (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008a). The teacher is trusted to prepare the classroom with thought-provoking, developmentally appropriate integrated content and resources and foster an atmosphere that encourages and guides dialogue to strengthen skills for inquiry, discovery and reflection in the learner (Gutek, G.L., 2001; Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d).

Matthew Lipman appeals to teachers to encourage children to challenge the status quo, even when the teacher’s personal perceptions are confronted (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008b). The role of “carer” is not exclusive to the teacher and “cared for” is not confined to the learner. A pivotal part of the teacher’s role is to nurture the caring capacities of each child, by demonstrating and becoming an ally, who truly receives and authenticates what the child is expressing (Johnson T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d). As the learner’s self-image is emerging, the teacher is also on a parallel journey of evolving identity and growth. The child’s role is to be receptive and to reciprocate care and attention with interest, effort and appreciation of being understood (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d).

Parker Palmer expresses it well.  

“Good teaching comes from identity, not technique, but if I allow my identity to guide me toward an integral technique, that technique can help me express my identity more fully.” (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008e, p 295).

Teachers play a supporting role in guiding children to work through and cope with their feelings, negotiate conflicts and learn pro-social behaviour, in contrast to a punitive approach of dispensing penalties. This responsibility necessitates a deep understanding of holistic child development, encompassing socio-emotional, moral, ego, physical and cognitive perspectives (Cain, R., 2005). Embracing reasonable developmental expectations of children’s ability to comprehend and focus, are critical for building self-belief in the child.

Methods of education

The most effective educational approaches, which have a clear objective of developing a love of learning, place the utmost significance on the question:

How will this benefit the child?

Methodologies that put educational and behavioural outcomes, ahead of the well-being of the child, do not fit with a caring approach. While behaviourist techniques, such as those endorsed by Skinner, may elicit a desired response through rewards and punishments, it is inauthentic and counter-productive for encouraging empathy and caring (Ozmon, H.A. & Craver, S.M., 2008a; Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d). Behaviourism at best coerces children to work for extrinsic rewards, rather than self-fulfilment and at worst, crushes self-esteem and breeds stress and anxiety. While there is a place for behaviourism in understanding behaviour, I am strongly opposed to using this technique for control and coercion of others.

Dewey advocated the importance of play and self-activity as an ongoing process of a developing awareness (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008a). Noddings also argues that a universal curriculum for all is detrimental. She advocates for programmes of study that integrate themes of caring into traditional subjects and for developing “centres of care” which group children by interest, instead of age or ability (Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F., 2008d).

A classroom that affords children the autonomy to express themselves will acquire the skills and awareness to protect the needs of the collective (Cain, R., 2005). A commitment to play and experiential learning is indispensable in the early years through to age seven. When children show holistic developmental readiness, gradual transition to a framework which includes a balance of inquiry, explicit literacy and numeracy instruction and project work for encouraging creativity and problem solving. As children mature, they can be afforded more autonomy to manage their time and begin to explore topics through both hands-on and research assignments. The high school years should present students with choices and goal setting to design their individual educational path, without the limitations of year levels or a standardised curriculum (Burke, K., 2016). Integrated themes, investigation stations, a willingness to make mistakes and Socratic inquiry opportunities are central features of education needed for the intangible future (Robinson, K., 2010). 

I believe that teachers and schools have a duty of care to cultivate an intrinsic love of learning. Consequently, nurturing connected relationships and developing the child’s sense of identity, awareness of others and belonging within the community, must take precedence. Emphasis on personal growth and improvement should take preference to ranking and comparison of imposed standards. The teacher’s comprehensive understanding and respect for holistic developmental readiness, is foundational for supporting learners to develop the confidence, competence and motivation, to become active contributors in their local community and the increasingly global world.

Amy Cox

References

Bodhi, B. (2010). Aims of Buddhist Education. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition). Retrieved from: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_35.html

Burke, K. (2016). Module 3 EDC1300 – The Future of Education. Retrieved 14 September 2016, from http://usqstudydesk.usq.edu.au/m2/pluginfile.php/1004257/mod_resource/content/1/EDC1300%20Module%203%20study%20guide%202016.pdf

Cain, R. (2005). Moral Development in Montessori Environments. Montessori Life, 17(1), 18-20.

Commonwealth of Australia (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.coag.gov.au/sites/default/files/early_years_learning_framework.pdf

Dodd-Nufrio, A.T. (2011). Reggio Emilia, Maria Montessori and John Dewey: Dispelling teachers’ misconceptions and understanding theoretical foundations. Early Childhood Education Journal, 39(4), 235-237

Gutek, G.L. (2011). Confucius: Proponent of Educating for a Harmonious Society. In Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: A Biographical Introduction (5th ed., pp. 9-29). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Gutek, G.L. (2001). Maria Montessori: Proponent of Early Childhood Education. In Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: Selected Readings (pp. 178-187). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008a). John Dewey. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 98-124). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008b). Matthew Lipman. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 250-272). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

 Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008c). John Locke. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 64-71). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008d). Nel Noddings. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 218-232). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008e). Parker J. Palmer. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 289-311). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Johnson, T.W. & Reed, R.F. (2008f). Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Philosophical Documents in Education. (3rd ed., pp. 72-81). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Pink, D.H. (2006). A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead.

Ozmon, H.A. & Craver, S.M. (2008a). Behaviourism and Education. In Philosophical Foundations of Education (8th ed., pp 191-223). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Ozman, H.A. & Craver, S.M. (2008b). Eastern Philosophy, Religion and Education. In Philosophical Foundations of Education (8th ed., pp 80-118). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Robinson, K. (2010). Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms. TED talks. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms

Robinson, K. & Aranica, L. (20). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. Great Britain, UK: Penguin Books.

Weinberg, D. R. (2011). Montessori, Maslow, and Self-Actualization. Montessori Life, 23(4), 16-21.

Zhao, Y. (2012). World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

“I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

I listened to this young teacher’s lament. “I just don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

She’s been teaching for 7 years and is a fabulous teacher. She’s bright and bubbly, fun, switched on and the kids love her. She is a great teacher. And yet I fear she is going to be another statistic of our failed education system. She has already lasted longer than the average graduate. It makes me so sad but I know exactly where she is coming from because I’ve been there.

The long and grinding days are hard enough with all the afterhours planning and the marking but we accept that. The constant flack we get from the media and sometimes the general public hurts but we manage to accept that as part of the job as well. The staff meetings and parent teacher interviews, fetes, camps, discos, we accept them as par for the course.

What it is impossible to accept is the feeling that we are letting our students down. “I give those struggling more time than I should and I scaffold them through it but they still fail. I’m failing them.” It’s the tears cried for our students that end up making the job impossible. It’s the never ending guilt of doing what we know is not best practice.

It’s the pushing of them too hard and too fast, the stress and anxiety that we inadvertently cause them. It’s not teachers like her or like me who are failing kids. It’s the system that is failing these kids and it’s failing teachers as well. (Kathy)

“Let’s focus on what makes a difference to student outcomes” – YES Simon Birmingham, let’s….

“Let’s focus on what makes a difference to student outcomes”

Yes, let’s…let’s focus on the need for children up to at least 6 to learn through play. Let’s focus on the need for children to get plenty of movement in their day to develop their gross and fine motor skills, as well as social cues.simon

Let’s focus on the evidence that earlier introduction of formal literacy and numeracy tasks, such as phonics and worksheets, actually leads to lower results and plateaus by age 10.

Let’s focus on the evidence that children who start formal education and learn to read at age 7 have passed their peers by age 10.

Let’s focus on the fact Australia has one of the youngest school starting ages in the OECD.

Let’s focus on the impact that the NAPLAN regime has had on the narrow focus of teaching in the first term of those NAPLAN years.

Let’s focus on the increasing rates of childhood anxiety and depression, which many child psychologists are linking to the early starting age, the push down pressure of the curriculum and “standards” pressure and lack of developmentally required movement and play.

Let’s focus on the evidence that homework in primary school is of little to no benefit and that indeed it may have a negative effect.

Let’s focus on the fact that schools being publicly ranked on league tables leads to unreasonable pressure on teachers to “perform”, when their performance is entirely dependent on the unique set of children that comes across them.

Let’s focus on the evidence that children in underprivileged families will have less access to early education, time with their parents, are read to less, may not be adequately fed or cared for and thus are in no position to “perform” at school.

Let’s focus on the fact in countries where results soar teachers are respected and highly qualified, not subjected to corporate-style “KPIs”.

Let’s focus on the fact that the only people who benefit from compulsory iPads, apps and computers in their early years learning are the manufacturers of the devices and their applications. Follow the money.

Let’s focus on the fact that the examples we are following – the UK and US – are below us on their standards.

Why in the hell are you and the Labor party so seduced by this corporatised ideological sabotage of what actually makes up good education, and leads to, not just good “student outcomes”, but happy, creative, critical thinking, well balanced, healthy children, young adults and adults.

Simon, you are wrong. You are going down the wrong track. The Productivity Commission is treating this as an economic issue, an economic policy. That’s where this country is fundamentally going wrong.

Education is not an economic issue. The entrepreneurship, innovation, productivity and value that our future adults provide the economy is a welcome side effect of good education. But it’s not the goal. Education is about shaping our future generation. The values, the creative, critical thinkers, the problem solvers, the cultural and social fabric of our Australian society in 20, 50, 100 years time.

Absolutely nothing on NAPLAN tests contributes to that. Absolutely nothing on PISA indicates that success.

What does indicate that success – or rather, failure – is our growing youth suicide rate. Suicide is the leading cause of death for boys 15-29. Our growing obesity rates. Our growing drinking problems and associated violence.

The solution to all these problems and social issues is education.

But not by cramming their heads with content, junk to regurgitate on standardised tests.

Julia Gillard. Peter Garrett. Christopher Pyne. Yourself. ACARA. You’re all getting it wrong.

Take a step back from your ideological blindness, step away from your sycophantic educational department advisers who tell you what you want to hear based on this ideology. Look broader.  Open your eyes to what works. Open your eyes to what isn’t.

Open your mind.