Sunday, October 25, 2009


We were having a chat around dinner about the role of politics in education. I took the position that party politics had no place in education and others took the role of education is a necessary part of government.

We reached a point where we decided that a weak bureaucracy that allowed rapid change in education was a flawed platform as students ran in 12 year cycles and governments in four year cycles. Ideas are not given time to develop or be researched properly due to political expediency.

The issues in recent years have arisen as ill-researched policy have been able to be introduced (with the idea of gaining votes rather than improving education) because current bureaucracy is too weak to resist or put forward arguments to prevent the worst of political excess.

This has occurred as current government agencies have lost public confidence and are as weak as they have ever been. They lack a knowledge base and have low morale.

It would take a strong government to change this mentality and guide/fund strong and conservative, reputable long term appointments rather than make ill advised decisions.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Inspirational students

Students can surprise you. Yesterday, the year 12's graduated. For some it was a surprise - that despite numerous obstacles (some self created, others purely due to circumstance) they had somehow made it, for some meh - it was an end... for others the start of something well deserved.

The school prefects did a wonderful job of standing up and being counted - truly contributing to the school. They made you feel proud to be a student or a teacher. They were funny, they were serious, they included everyone and they reminded you of the little part you had in growing them into people that would contribute to society because through that one speech, they already had.

.. and it felt good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Common diseases found in teachers

"Challenge"-itis: to act offended or abrupt if an existing decision is challenged as being ineffective or could be improved.

"New idea"-itis: the need to deflect, ignore, be offended by or denigrate any new idea that challenges an old one without due consideration.

"Take credit"-itis: the need to claim credit for unrelated success whilst in the presence of immediate superiors.

"Lost credit"-itis: being sad because someone has taken credit unfairly.

"In my experience"-itis: when experience rather than reason is used to defend indefensible positions.

"shyness"-itis: suppressing positive ideas for fear of annoying, irritating or offending someone.

"fed up"-itis: losing faith in all students due to the actions of a few.

We need to be ever vigilant to prevent the virulent spreading of these diseases in our fellow teachers and ensure that we find cures for them as they arise.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Online Books

We've been looking for Living books for Mackenzie and found a local website that has a lot of educational software. Can't vouch for it yet, but it does seem to have a fair range.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bit flat

It's hard when the best thing for a school is not the best thing for a bunch of students. The articles on the half cohort floating around best illustrate what happens when budgets rule schools rather than common sense.

It makes everyone a bit flat when good teachers are actively looking for jobs and are uncertain of their future, whilst teachers remaining are put under the microscope as to why they were chosen to stay in lieu of others. I know when I had to dismiss staff I always made it short and sweet, to minimise staff impact. It was always harsh on me this way, but was easier on staff. In schools, decisions may be made mid year, with staff remaining until the end of the year.

Loss of capability is always a concern - as typically teachers are multi-talented and losing someone impacts on class availability. The smaller the school, the lesser the ability to have redundancy and the higher the impact of losing a staff member. This exacerbates the lack of ability to run small class sizes in small schools (50 student cohorts with 10% of students reaching level 3 courses) are bound to make small classes(eg. five students). It raises the question of the appropriateness and equity of most small WA high schools for bright students.

I also think that sometimes we miss that some teachers can really do wonderful things with small groups - the adage that <5 is bad is not always true.

I struggle with advocating for students. I have been criticised for advocating and for not advocating vigorously enough - once for not idetifying loudly enough that students were in the wrong class, on one occasion for raising that potential issues were arising due to changing class availability and on one occasion for raising that I thought that my teaching was sub par for a topic and needed help. Sometimes I understand why some teachers just want to close the door and teach and let others do what needs to be done. I'm glad of this blog, as it allows me an outlet rather than just pursuing what I think needs to be done through action and persuasion.

Those of us specialising in one learning area (such as mathematics) need to examine opportunities for multi-skilling or alternatively find larger schools. It makes it harder to stay focused when you would rather be looking to student improvement and working with a dynamic and motivated team to make it so. Building a good team is difficult and breaking it up for the sake of a couple of dollars is just a tad silly.

On the upside, the limits topic in Saddler 3BMAS is a bit of a doddle - which is great, as I found it difficult when I went through school. I'm not sure if it is just that the text is good or if I'm missing something.

Anyhoo.. time to look forward, find the next idea and drive it onwards. I think year 7 extension programmes are next with some refocusing of the year 8 -12 programmes to tailor them a little better to the cohorts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thoughtful material

As with any material that makes you think, information was provided at yesterday's PD session that has the mind racing. In particular was the advice (not directive) to not publish anything online that might criticise your employer.

This was of particular interest to me as this blog forms an important part of my teacher reflection and I do comment on public figures from time to time (Julia et al.) who is my indirect employer (being a part of government) and DET who is my immediate employer. Much of it is tongue in cheek - but hopefully constructive criticism and investigation of topical issues.

I strongly agree with the presenter that information needs to be anonymised and any reference to an individual student on this blog is an idealised representation of students gained through day to day interaction (no student mentioned on here actually exists, although the situations may have occurred in some form)... and that has always been on purpose.. similarly there are no direct quotes from named individual staff... nor is my school disclosed (although if you know me, you could probably figure it out - which is ok - as you would know where I work anyway).

Although information suppression was not the intent of the PD yesterday, the inferred blanket ban on comments from teachers about schooling is a problem as it suppresses idea development and gives the impression to the public that teachers are not inclusive and won't interact with the community to better serve. This ivory tower where schooling is only discussed in the school is not right. It is interesting to see the public encouragement of involvement with the community yet the blanket that is put around what appropriate involvement is.

Teachers are professionals and have a responsibility to develop the concept of schooling with the community. It is interesting to see schools responses to Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook and mySpace. As stated in earlier articles, I believe direct communication between teachers and student via this mechanism (at present) is inappropriate, fraught with danger and misadventure, but to distance ourselves from it is to create another disconnect with our students in addition to the emotional and physical disconnects that currently exist. To ignore it is to limit our ability to monitor cyber-bullying and create situations where students are put at risk (as students quickly recognise unmonitored resources that can be abused).

With open internet based resources available, teaching has an opportunity to widen it's ability to communicate and interact more with parents, past students and community organisations to improve the behaviour and intellectual output of students.

I think this is one of those issues that needs further investigation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PfD day

The first Pupil Free Day worth going to. No PD of limited value, just an information session, an examination of needs of the school, some solution sessions and some planning time. Someone did a lot of work to make it come together. Yay!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Games for educators website

Came across this link in my travels - a site about games for educators. Also has a regular podcast.

Though not specifically for educators, this one by Tom Vasel isn't too bad either.

Updated 18/10/09: Fixed link!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Board game tragic

Ok, I admit it.. I'm a board game tragic.  During the week I bought Space Hulk, a game I remember from my youth.. It was a game I could never afford, so when it was re-released I picked up a copy.  Reliving your youth.. that's kinda cool....

Then I started playing and became addicted.

Then I bought paint, brushes, turps, primer and then started painting all of the miniatures... and the worst thing is that I've been enjoying it.  What the hell is wrong with me????  Is it curable?

Anyhow, here are some links that lead towards the hobby:
Games Workshop
Board Game Geek
Painting Guide

It leads me to think, if I'm enjoying it (and I'm just a big kid).. could students enjoy it too.  I've been looking at creating after school programmes that could teach students (particularly boys) collaboration, return for effort, work ethic, respect.. Get kids to enjoy school and gain some leverage to encourage them to perform.. These are what I've come up with so far..

Yr 11 mathematics summer school (very successful 5 days during 2008/9 school holidays)
Yr 9 games design workshop (2008 board game/computer programming club for boys)
Yr 8-10 computer game programming in Java (still to run)
Yr 8-10 Warhammer 40k club (miniatures gaming, still to run)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Importance of community support in teaching

It's easy to become jaded in teaching. You see it everyday. Yet there are those that stay fresh year in year out. I believe I'm discovering their secret.

About two weeks ago, I said a short piece at the local parish about my teaching experiences during mass. Since then I have had about a dozen people come up and say how much they enjoyed the discussion. The talk focused on the successes in my teaching career. There was an aspect of respect in their voices when I discussed how we sought to improve the lives of the kids. It's been energising.

Today, some friends came back from Jakarta and we discussed again some of my teaching experiences this time with a more cynical tone. This time the discussion was more about the practical and self preservation aspect of teaching. The compromises that get made to ensure that teachers make it to the end of term. The times where you made practical decisions rather than the idealistic ones that I'm more known for. In this instance I felt deflated and the teaching profession looked more like a defeated organisation.

I realised afterwards that practicality be damned, I prefer seeking the idealistic path, as taking the practical path means that I accept the compromises that it requires. So, it takes an extra couple of hours out of each day to teach the way I like to teach. To compromise is to denigrate the profession we seek to promote and ultimately to lose face in the public's eye when we fail students (even if they don't appreciate/want/are resistant to the attention and effort that promotes their successes).

..and that's the need for public recognition of contributions by teachers - if nobody values or cares for the effort of our teachers, teachers don't know that the effort we put into students is recognised (or even required), whether the outcomes are worth seeking and the perseverance of improvement worth pursuing.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interference in Teaching

University 4 year degree, WACOT, WWC, Federal police clearance, Curriculum Council and NCOS, National curriculum, ACARA & league tables, Scope and Sequence documents, moderation, compulsory PD, A-E exemplars, Independent schools, union politics,  DET's squillion policies on everything and now a national teacher standards body (Gees thanks Julia!).

Can we possibly put more bureaucracy and BS between teachers and students?

Yes we can!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happiness and the mall.

Today I was walking down the mall, baby and wife in tow.  It was a lovely day, baby was gurgling and we had just had a nice lunch in DJ's.  The counterpoint to all this sappy contentedness was the hordes of unhappy people bustling around.  Frowns, heads down, generally needing to be somewhere else.

Sometimes I think we all need to take a look around and enjoy life a bit.  I suppose I have always been lucky, I have fallen into jobs that were fulfilling and challenging or alternatively sought ones that were - but they tended to be all consuming.  Things can change quickly - I had a discussion with the man who was installing something at our house and in discussion he said his daughter died of cancer at age 17.

That would be life stopping. I can't imagine thinking how I would be if that happened to Mackenzie.  It reminds you that we should try and enjoy every moment with our loved ones and seek to find ways of making best of what we have. 

The good times need to be cherished.