Pushing prams between an autumn sunset and a bold dawn

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Prams these days are triumphs of modern design.  Engineered with the lifestyles in mind of smart men and women who want to share a walk with dogs and community spirit, around the inner suburbs.

The western gold glows in leaf falling colourscapes, the autumnal twilight melts slowly.

These are the parents of our Kindergarten children around 2015.

Intelligent adults full of expectation: with a world of information available on any conceivable topic. Curriculum to class sizes, policy to pedagogy, student welfare to sunsafe; it’s there, just a mouse click away,  for the reading.

Amongst these adults will be tweeps and mummy bloggers: intuitive users of social media available right now and not likely to go away anytime soon. People with huge opportunities for canvassing opinion and gaining input to a range of ideas about school and schooling: and their own child. From contentment with ‘getting what they got,’ to ‘expecting change, and wanting to see added value.’

The pram pushers will push us. Let’s not respond by pushing back.

Instead, let’s see if we can engage them in going about the business of planning school; as opposed to school planning.  School planning uses all available sources of data and information to plan how to make WHAT IS better.  Planning school is about being able to connect people and ideas; as well as using all available sources of data and information to collaborate across a range of forums and media, and then create something which is different, and allows us collectively to echo Michelangelo:

‘I saw an angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.’

I don’t know about angels, but I think we all know that there is huge potential in a generation of young people. And, for those still being pushed up my street in the fading amber of an autumn day, I hope that, by 2015, we can be walking alongside, planning school as a shared journey where there is a sense that we have gone from pram pushing to sitting beside each other at a planning desk, as we build scaffolds around the fabulous humans we are seeking to build.

Testing Backpacker Rules

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Sometimes I think many of us dream about the potential to use our power to connect to build networks which go way beyond the traditional boundaries of state, or church, or cultural boundary.  It is early days, but there are many things happening which rattle the cage of beliefs we might have about just how things ought to be.

I still find it inspiring that a person with strict localised cultural, religious or political beliefs can, in a connected world, zoom between levels of engagement with these: sometimes wide-angling, and connecting with a potential new market, or relationship network which was formerly beyond possibility.

How then, do we define the ‘rules of engagement?’

Recently. In Melbourne, I was staying up the backpacker end of town, and wandered into the All Nations Nomad Hotel for a drink.  The pub is connected to a Backpacker Hostel and, another chalkboard over the bar offers treats like:

  • Goon Rouge or
  • Goon Blanc

Along with a scale of prices for beer in pots, schooners and jugs.

Music requests

They obviously have a computer set up running iTunes or similar and punters ask the bar staff for requests. Some simple rules appear in bold caps on a chalkboard above the bar.



There are some key messages here about setting clear guidelines and expecting co-operation.  By the time we read number 3, it puts some responsibility back to us and may make us re-read 1 and 2, which also ask for common sense and respect for the role of the other.  Calls for respect of property and common courtesy simply reinforce the potential for more civil ways of interacting when we are able to recognise that all parties have sometimes complementary, sometimes competing, needs.

This may or may not be a good example, but, for me, it says a lot about how there are different possibilities around gaining common understandings for the way we do things or would like to see things happen. A faith in this, however, requires a shift toward an environment in which there is a ‘bias to yes,’ and a promotion of that curious tri-chotomy of tight ~ loose ~ tight.

The underlying premise is that we have something to offer you: a song to sing

  • Ask us for what you want and we’ll try to help
  • Please understand that if we are busy we will still try to meet your needs but your understanding would be nice and would make it best for all of us
  • Think about the current vibe and the collective feel and reflect on how ‘what you want’ fits within this landscape of ideas.
  • So that we can continue to provide this, please don’t play around with our equipment.
  • Courtesy and ‘manners’ are trans-cultural matters which demonstrate our commitment to a ‘meta language for cross-cultural positive interaction.’

I then sat and watched young people, and listened to a variety of accents, and saw the possibilities of a ‘metaverse’ before me: where we can construct other possibilities for the way that we work and make decisions.

I then think about the possibilities which are provided in a connected web 2.0 world to enable a very much more varied ‘message stream.’

This will take much longer if there is anchorage in a past culture which seeks to garner support for collective action by employing rhetoric around solidarity which could be seen as exaggerated in an Australian work environment where less than 20% of workers belong to unions.

Our education system should be able to embody some simple rules for backpacker song requests in a pub.  And it would be really nice if everybody who wanders in to have a drink is happy to take note of a mutually beneficial and respectful way of doing things.

Then, if you are putting your hand up to ‘have a go’ we ought to be doing whatever is possible, to support you.

Time for a post industrial way of thinking

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There are so many conundra in education.

For example: if we believe that all people should be supported to achieve their potential, then why do we continue to accept a concept of ‘strength in unity for collective bargaining’ which prefers to reduce the points of individual excellence to the blunt object of a bludgeoning of creativity.

If we really do believe in the uniqueness of the individual, and the efficacy of differentiated curriculum, and accepting the broad spectrum of humanity and human behaviour, then why do we still see a uniform policy as a key measure of positivity in public perception of our school?

As teachers who are so aware of the ability of Twitter to transcend linear control of the message, why do we still blindly buy the idea that an Australian government will fall sheeplike, into the production of a facsimile OFSTED or NCLB:  with or without apples and meat-cleavers.  Why is there the huge trust differential?  Faced with a vodcast from a Director General and a similar message from a union official, why is it almost automatically accepted that there is a huge trust differential based on who is seen as the member of the ‘boss ‘class.

Teachers are the people who provide the interface. Teachers will always have the ability to make this interface as productive as possible with the most valuable and transcending resource being their own engagement with the ideal of, in its purest sense: ‘being a teacher.’

Yet, we still expect that those people who have progressed to any ‘higher up’ level are, by their demonstrated aspiration: ‘not to be trusted’

The depressing sight of men, in the great depression, fighting each other along the hungry mile to catch a token for a day’s work. There are good and strong reasons why people have had to band together.  When we have a vastly different ability to connect, though, let’s look beyond the ‘bust or ban’ strategy which seems to have delivered so little for our young people in terms of an innovative educational setting.

In a world wide web world,  the ability to connect leads us closer toward a proposition where we can develop an international meta language related to answering the question:  “Beyond culture and religion, what are the things we all need to agree upon if humanity is to be sustained for the benefit of all?”

We can have enormous diversity yet a tight commitment to some fundamentals.

I was so relieved to have someone tell me this week that they had an optimism that our communities would actually be intelligent enough to see beyond the hype of league tables in education, if they were created.  Is it reasonable that we take action to prevent the gathering of data which allows feedback which lots of parents seem to be interested to know.  Our communities have access to so much information these days in every area of their life.

In a web 2.0 world, is it reasonable to adopt an activist stance which is predicated on a perceived need for teachers to advocate on behalf of an unknowing and helpless public.

And, have we asked them?

We need the NAPLAN snapshot

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The Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced a review of the model for funding schools in Australia.  This will take place in the run up to the next Federal election and, predictably, it has made some sectors very anxious. In an attempt to hose down this anxiety, Julia Gillard has maintained that no school will end up poorer as a result of the review.

Various sectors of the educational community have been very vocal in the last months regarding the Federal transparency agenda and the MySchool website in particular.  This site, rather than being static, will continue to evolve, with more and more information being added.  As well as the very important addition of growth data, this year will also see the addition of much more disclosure of all sources of funding for the private sector.  When this is added, it will allow even more clarity in the overall picture across sectors of schooling.  As the piece at the end of this post demonstrates, we haven’t necessarily been shown the full picture before.

Many sources are revisiting the ideological debates surrounding testing agendas and the potential for a narrowing of curriculum, loss of holistic approaches creation of league tables and a perception of stifling creativity.  Some of the loudest voices in this actually come from the non-government sector.

In an avowed attempt to mitigate the negative impact of the use of data to create league tables, unions have called on teachers in public schools to refuse to administer tests.

In the non-government sector, while there’s plenty of rhetoric about holistic education and the evil of a league table environment, there’s absolutely no suggestion at all of a similar form of action against the testing program.

Despite the finely argued ideological opposition, the overwhelming outcome of this action will simply be a reinforcement, in the court of public opinion, that public school teachers and schools have things to hide.

Our public schools are doing some wonderful things for children from the entire spectrum of our local communities.  This year, we have the opportunity to publish the extent to which this is occurring by having the data available which shows growth.  In the years to come, we also have the chance to track and verify this progress, assisted by a range of National Partnership programs which focus heavily on providing even greater access and opportunity for children from low SES communities.

Far from ‘protecting’ low SES communities from the stigma which many fear will flow from the media creation of league tables, we may actually lose the ability to demonstrate that additional resource has meant that our hard work is paying dividends: that the fundamental tenet of free and secular public education can deliver a fair go for all, especially as increasingly fairer funding models are applied.

Let’s ensure that we think through the balance between the need to ‘send messages,’ or to advocate for ideological stances, and the possibility that a broad based agenda of transparency and reporting of a wide range of measures, including NAPLAN data can actually assist in the movement toward a funding model which is more of a level playing field for all.

NAPLAN, approached correctly is no more than a ‘point in time snapshot’ of how we are travelling toward our objective of providing maximum opportunity for every child to grow their potential and to assist us to realistically look at how we can get into the business of ‘planning school’ as a place where this can occur.  Without the snapshot, taken at regular intervals, we have no means, other than asking a sceptical public to ‘trust us, we know best,’ to highlight the quality of the work we do.

As a comment on the current model of funding for schools, the piece below was written a number of years ago, using references to source material which was available at the time.

Having your cake and eating it too

Imagine running a business where you could apply the following formula :

  • Assume that you have no funds carried forward, and no debts: you are starting from scratch.  Despite having the capital value of a fully functional site, you are starting with a zero budget.
  • Estimate what it will cost you to operate over the next year: salaries, maintenance, contracted services, risk management etc.
  • You are now well below zero in the value of your business.  You need to plan to get ahead, and to make sure that you have an attractive product. (All within a highly competitive area and within a narrow market where the consumer described ‘indicators of quality’ are not necessarily a construct contemporaneous with other general societal trends.)
  • To stay competitive, in a pro-choice environment, you need to create surpluses to be applied to growth of the business and its capital.
  • Work out how much profit you want to make, your ‘operating surplus.’
  • Your business is eligible for significant grants from the government.  Work out exactly how much you will get from these grants.
  • Now decide how much you will need to charge per unit of your product to achieve the operating surplus you have set as a budget goal.

With no effect on the size of the government grant !

In fact, as you attract more customers, the government will make sure that you get more funds, so that you can set the price that customers pay to give you the profit you need.  A sort of government underwriting of a set income stream ! Oh, and while you get the funds you can decide who works for you based on whether they go to the same church as you, or reflect your beliefs, despite the fact that the government funds you get come from everybody.

And this is how a consultant to the independent schooling sector believes private schools should run their business.  Speaking at a conference of Heads of Independent Schools, Trevor Gorey, suggested some key principles for financial management in private schools.

As a matter of interest, most schools operate on a gross profit (income less direct teaching costs) of between 30% and 40%

Critical Financial Issues in Independent Schools Trevor Gorey –AHISA Conference –  April 2003

In another cool and clinical analysis of how to play hard but fair, Audrey Jackson, 2002 Executive Director of the Association of Independent Schools in Western Australia, has little time for the proponents of the concept of being a ‘not for profit’ organisation, preferring to dismiss this as ‘altruism in the extreme.’ Audrey Jackson – Building a Capital Base in a School – 14th Biennial NCISA Conference, 2002

Now, look at some strategies to increase surplus.

Clearly, to get a bigger surplus, you need more customers, and preferably customers of the type which will attract the highest level of government funding.

As the calculation is done on postcode, the retention of a boarding house as a home for the sons of western graziers actually retains a number of students who may be from postcodes where the average income levels are massively depressed due to drought and the flight within the Australian GDP from the rural sector.

Or, you can offer scholarships, which give you a double barrelled benefit.

  • Firstly, you get to pick the cream from other schools, making your own outcomes improve and enhancing the perception of the value of the education on offer.
  • And, what a bonus, because the scholarship can be directed to worthy students from certain SES groups, the actual cost to the school of offering it is not comparatively high.

The judicious use of bursaries and scholarships can have a hugely beneficial effect on enrolments both in the short and long terms.

They can be used to improve the overall academic profile of a school and to bring students into the school from low income families.

The strength of the strategy from a financial point of view is that the scholarship students attract full federal and state funding so the cost of forfeited fees is lessened.

Critical Financial Issues in Independent Schools Trevor Gorey – April 2003

Now, before you rush to describe this as the politics of envy, stop and think it through again.

  • How many parents who choose to send their children to private schools understand how their fees are calculated. ?
  • As they work themselves into the ground, and sacrifice things to provide what they see as an opportunity, do they understand that the fees they pay don’t just fund the gap between what they think they would get in their local public school and the cost benefit they see in their choice of a private school.?
  • Do they understand that they are also paying up to 30% on top, so that the school can maintain and improve its ability to sustain annual capital growth ?
  • What would the outcome be of using a percentage of the funds invested in this business, which sets a margin of profit, to invest in a system which can be a hub of the community in which you live, and, as such, be the means by which the entire community will move ahead.

And, in the fairest of all Aussie ways, wouldn’t they agree that there could be some compromises of the aspirational need to ‘have the best’, to create a better, fairer, more truthful system all round ?

References : (These were active at the time of writing – may now be broken)



Just who perpetuates the paradigms?

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The recent ACEC 2010 conference in Melbourne was interesting from a range of perspectives.  Disappointingly, I became more and more and more dismayed at the perpetuation of a number of dominant paradigms.

Prominent amongst these was the view that the failure of our schools to change to has been largely the responsibility of a range of successive policy makers, governments, management, bureaucrats and, basically anybody not ‘at the coalface’ of teaching. Predictably, the biggest laughs came from the heavy criticism of government policies at both state and federal levels, and in the heady ideals from the seventies, and the belief that the very people who had assisted the rise of these ideas to prominence were now actively proceeding, blinkered and in step, to pull the truck of an ideology which would seek to turn all children into complicit cogs for the machine.

And, you’ll need to allow me a wry grin here when we stop and think that much of this glee and anti-establishment rhetoric was coming from people whose livelihood is derived from working for establishments which value their uniform policy, which suspend girls who have the wrong coloured hair, who know that their faith policies may include profession of religious views which could provoke hatred in various parts of the globe, or lead to significant reduction in the rights of women or other groups, or which have, in the past, decried public schools for their humanist approaches to individual choice making which are divergent from the truth of gospel.

All of these schools have an absolute right to exist in my opinion.  The fact that they can relies, however, on exactly those taxpayers, of all sizes, shapes, colours and faiths, who in turn elect governments who provide a very significant portion of  their funding. This guaranteed funding then enables the creation of budget models which can adjust additional income through fee increases and plan for surpluses which can fund an ongoing cycle of improvements.  After then actively discriminating, in their employment policies, against anyone who cannot produce a suitable evidence of their ethos compatibility, it would be nice if they had the decency to see a little more of the forest which is the realm of public opinion and the broad spectrum of a very diverse modern Australian; and less of the separate trees which they have the opportunity to shape in ways which suit themselves, and their customers.

There was loud applause for widespread criticism of the National Curriculum, for NAPLAN, for the Digital Education Revolution, for Victoria’s Ultralab, Queensland’s Digital Pedagogy Licence etc,  and for the general idea that governments basically always have it wrong.

Whether they are right or wrong, the policies which were planned for implementation were put on the table very publicly prior to the last round of elections. In Australia, we all vote.

It’s like sitting in a pub, in the fug and swill of an after-work session and overhearing the conversations which so often default to the age old laughter and derision to those in the ‘boss’ classes, who invariably ‘wouldn’t have a clue,’  are ‘all brains and no common sense,’  or who are ‘only concerned about putting something on their CV’ etc. This seems fairly usual group behaviour, but we should always remember that everybody started somewhere sometime.

It is also useful to remember that: titles and positions aside, we are all human beings. We all, as a former leader of mine said, “put our pants on the same way in the morning.”

Sometimes we need to hold a mirror up to our own paradigms.  Just as it is unreasonable for ‘the system’ to assume that every person ‘at the coalface’ of teaching, is trying their best to do as little as possible and therefore needs to be whipped into shape with some good testing regimes and performance management systems, may it not be a bit unfair to assume that every person at a management level is spending all of their days planning ways to make life difficult for those ‘at the coalface.?’

‘At the coalface’ is, for me an expression I fundamentally dislike in reference to teaching. While I fully understand the analogy, it simply serves to reinforce all of the stereotypes about organisational behaviour which grow from a labour oriented industrial model of the world. An interesting clinging to a paradigm which so many profess to be wanting to change through working in more student centred ways. Are students just so much coal that we dig? If, as a teacher, you want to be seen as a person who does more than process commodities, in a drudge of non-recognition and encouragement, then stop talking like a coalminer or process worker. We can all make choices about the mental models we apply to our world. Maybe that dude in the suit who’s one of those people from DET might just be a human being like you. Maybe they also like Twitter, or keyword searching on YouTube, or playing volleyball, golfing or building websites. Inappropriately applied paradigms are just as destructive from any direction.

Just for the record, we have many leaders in our system of education who have been trying different approaches for many years. Gary Stager and Seymour Papert may be interested to know that we were using 1:1 computers in a Juvenile Justice school in Sydney in 1985, with Apple 11e computers and Logo, along with wonderful text based story software like ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ etc.

We might also like to remember that, in 1989, the ‘Schools Renewal’ report, or Scott Review, lead to some very significant changes, with the introduction of new structures, smaller school ‘clusters’, educational resource centres, acknowledgement of the growth of technology in schools, and calls for more localised approaches. Full implementation of the recommendations were thwarted, however, by hugely strident industrial opposition: the famous ‘Metherell Years.’ While policy makers and system leaders tried to move away from a centralist organisation and structure and provide a framework for greater engagement with priorities at local levels, teachers came out en masse to decry this direction.

After working as Teacher in Charge at a Juvenile Justice school and teaching myself how to program in Basic and Logo, to provide engagement for very troubled young offenders, I spent a year as a classroom teacher with limited access to a small lab of MicroBee computers and sporadic use of the one Apple 11e in the entire school to produce slideshows of student work using a technique which created a screen display which I have long ago forgotten.

Then, in 1988, in my first Principalship, at Broken Bay Sport and Recreation Centre, the efficacy of using a computer to assist the program booking process and information management became very obvious. The booking database I developed using Appleworks Database and its integration with the Wordprocessor module to mailmerge all correspondence, accident report cover letters etc was then scaled up to operate for all centres statewide by 1990. An upgrade to an Apple 11gs gave a bit more graphic ability, (we couldn’t afford a Mac), and we used this to create brochures to accompany environmental quests and information transfer.

One of my staff told me about Keylink in 1989 and, equipped with a new modem, it was good to be able to use a very primitive form of text based messaging, using the Austpac system with text which wiped onto the screen. Using Keylink, it was also possible to get involved in some of the first online OzProjects like Newsday. It was also possible to send faxes directly via Keylink, including outputting a spreadsheet list directly via fax.

In 1990, we hosted 140 teachers at Broken Bay Sport and Recreation Centre for a Computer Education Conference. The theme was ‘technology and the environment’ with significant input from the regional Aboriginal Education consultant and the Computer Consultancy team. Over 100 computers were manually loaded from a truck onto a ferry for a half hour trip to the Broken Bay wharf. They were then manhandled onto a tractor and trailer, then carried across a footbridge to another truck and then to the dining hall. Computer Consultant, Glenn Mullaney, had arranged for Telstra to provide an additional four phonelines which had to be physically provisioned across Patonga Creek and over the eastern ridge to the camp at Broken Bay. We had Keylink demos in the nurses quarters, Lego on the messhall verandahs, hypercard stacks in the lodges and, at night, lots of connection and fun.

We carried and lugged. The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story, under a headline which said, ‘And no Pac Man after lights out!’ about the use of Medical Forms intended for children sent to ‘campers.’ We did it because we believed this was important. It was, and it still is, and many are still trying to scaffold and support.

I remember taking a group to the beach to try an idea I had to develop Logo programs. One pair would write a program to describe a shape using basic sequential instructions eg Fwd 10; right 90; fwd 10 etc. Another pair would then be the turtle..using foot lengths as a unit and a stick as a pen to scribe a shape on the sand. We threw hoops onto grass and leaf-litter and did mini beast counts, tallying the data in spreadsheets.

It is possible to continue listing a whole range of ways that things have been tried to build environments which provide opportunities for students and which encourage shifts in pedagogy and in policy. There are many others who have continued to look for ways to work to make a difference. Don’t let us forget that system attempts, in the early years of the 21st century, to provide a platform for a range of web-services was met with bans by the union, operating with the majority support of teachers. Did those who speak loudest against the failure of the system to achieve change, speak up in their staffroom? Why does the union still use Faxstream as its primary communication format if not through fear of alienating non- email/internet users? No matter what the leadership vision might be for a school learning environment which is constructivist and flexible in approaching groupings and pedagogy to enable learners, there are still very strict processes in place around staffing schools, which were fought for by teachers themselves, as recently as last year.

There is much that is imperfect in a policy environment which bases itself on a fundamental principle of equitable provision, and the rollout of infrastructure and access. Yes, there may be better ways to finesse this. We can, however, point to the fact that students in Brewarrina have the same level of access to publicly provided ICT as students in Balmain. Our ‘fatcat’ bureaucrats have, in the DER NSW approach, handed a mass of resource to practitioners. Their way of doing it can be scoffed at by visiting experts, but the potential is there for the taking. I’m pleased to say that, if you put your hand up and say you’d like to have a go, if I can, I’ll do whatever I can to support you. Why not connect and collaborate at your staffroom level and gather a team who can then create something better and different through collaboration and mutually respectful relationships at all levels within your organisation. And, at the next social function or barbecue, why not speak up, and if necessary, seek to educate friends and community members about the urgent need we have to move from school planning to planning school. This is everybody’s business.

Please don’t let us, as people engaged in something much more important, allow ourselves to persist with exactly the paradigm entrenchment which we so vehemently criticise.

A friend, a colleague, a mother, a cousin, think of the range of things which describe who we are.

It is our affiliations which give meaning to who we are.

LIPS Wordle

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This is a wordle created by entering the URL of the LIPS blog.


Challenging our own paradigms?

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One of the great positives emerging from the mySchool website has been the discussion which has been generated.

With a range of people via Twitter, in meetings, and wherever; there has been plenty of talk happening. Lots of the talk, from people outside of teaching, is supportive of the website. Some well written pieces have appeared, in the mainstream press, from respected writers who can’t all necessarily be part of the misguided fringe of parents and others who seek to know more about the measures which form part of school performance evaluation.

Rather than feeling under siege, educators should feel empowered to enter fully into the debate.  In so doing, however, the rules of debate need to be accepted and the possibility of an opposite argument gaining the ascendancy be acknowledged.

On a few separate occasions last week when I met with people from a range of community based organisations, they expressed incredulity at the outrage being expressed.  We hear about Metherell, yet fail to focus on the fact that we are talking about 20 years ago. Think about it. The thermal paper fax machine was the ‘must have’ for a modern office. It was a year before George Bush Senior invaded Iraq the first time. I was publishing a school newsletter on a Mac with no hard drive and a 1.44mb disk as a backup. Bob Hawke was still Prime Minister.

The list could go on and on.  Couple this with the massive shifts we have collectively made in what we believe about the extent of fundamentalism in the world, which is willing to promote prevalence of culture and/or religion as the primary goal. Then, remember the huge shifts in a world where the internet provides the capacity for a ‘dichotomy of connectedness’ and the potential for the asking of key questions like: ‘what do we all need to commonly agree upon if we want humanity to continue?”

I don’t recall that we thought about China, or anticipated the current potential make up of the World Cup Finals back in Terry Metherell’s day.

Maybe it is time for us to really reflect on our paradigms.

Does the ‘common wisdom’ of the 70’s, which was so vehemently guarded at the start of the 90’s by a cohort of baby boomers now nearing retirement, actually stack up against the intent, from millions of users, to see what they could see on the mySchool site.

Funnily enough, though, the sky is still up there and, for people like me who work directly with the schools involved, we know that we will continue to look for ways that we can do the best to identify capacity, develop capabilities and then, demonstrate competencies, in a plethora of ways, across an open horizon of possibility.

Much of the rhetoric around the ‘moral core’ of the argument has promoted a view that we, as the educational professionals, must assert out faith in our practice and expect that people without the esoteric knowledge of the educational professional defer to our opinion.

Our best way forward is through moving from tweaking what is: ‘school planning’; to having significant dialogue at all levels about ‘planning school.’

We could, if we chose to, use this opportunity to really engage with the simple questions about “planning school.”  What is it? Who is it for? What happens there? Why? etc etc. Up until now we’ve tended to accept the parameters of ‘school’ and look for incremental gains.  Imagine if we could leverage a fundamental community paradigm shift by encouraging and participating robustly in the debates.  Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

There are, after all, basically 3 key influencers for being able to be a great and engaged learner:
·        Genetics
·        Attitude
·        Affective teaching

A school should be about providing an attitudinal context and common value platform which quietly believes that it’s OK to want to have more opportunities than the past: life’s like that.

Change is a constant within all of nature: some cyclical, some cataclysmic.

So, let’s look back at an oft quoted piec:

Mount Druitt High School

On 8 January 1997, the Telegraph published the headline, “The class we failed” concerning was the Year 12 class at Mount Druitt High School in outer Western Sydney in which no student scored a Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) above 50 (the top mark is 100). Although the article made clear that the newspaper believed that the state had failed the students, many accused the Telegraph of branding the students themselves as failures and showing a full year photo identifying students.

The story led to a renewed focus on the quality of public schools in Western Sydney and precipitated several reviews of schooling in the area.[5] But for many, the headline highlighted problems with interpreting Higher School Certificate results and the accompanying TER.[6]

The students successfully sued the newspaper in the Supreme Court for defamation. The Telegraph subsequently apologised and settled for damages out of court.[7] The published apology stated:

“In that story The Daily Telegraph suggested, among other things, that the students in the class of 1996 failed their HSC. This is wrong and The Daily Telegraph withdraws any such suggestion. The Daily Telegraph also withdraws any suggestion that those students acted without discipline or commitment in their HSC studies. The students in the HSC class of 1996 successfully completed their HSC and contrary to the suggestions in the original article many of those students performed very well scoring high marks in the HSC. The Daily Telegraph apologises to each student in the class of 1996 at Mt Druitt. It also apologises to their parents and friends for all the hurt, harm and suffering it has caused them.[7]”

Later, criticising defamation laws, News Limited CEO John Hartigan said that

“The words in the story pointed to deep-seated problems within the education system, but a barrister convinced the jury that, regardless of the words before him, what we really meant to say was that the entire class was too stupid to pass the HSC.”[8]


We are now in the second decade of the 21st century. Even the oldest students in our schools hadn’t been born when Terry Metherell was so disliked, and where the scaremongering and phantoms of nepotism generated about local selection were laid.  Twenty years on.

Wow, I still had dark hair then, and pre-schoolers.

Don’t buy into both issues for the price of one.

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Whatever we might think about the possibility of media outlets or other purveyors of the ‘public interest’  creating league tables of school performance by harvesting data which will become available on the MySchool website, we need to think a little more carefully about whether we can afford not to have the continuous data available which has allowed schools to really make an observable difference for children and young adults.

Schools have become very used to using the data available from testing to plan teaching, and to best target resources. We are especially interested in ‘growth’ between years, as this provides tangible evidence of our ability to make a difference and: this is what most of us hope to do.

Back in 2005 I wrote an Education Week message to Principals.  I hope you might have the time for a read. You’ll get to see some of the things which I believe, and, while some of the priorities around issues have changed the beliefs still remain. A brief excerpt follows:

Part of the richness also came from spending time deliberately focusing on the good that we do, and the good that we can do.  I know that you will all, this week in particular, be trying to showcase the good that your school does, in the best way possible: the demonstration of the joy that children have taken in their learning. We can never forget the look on the face of a child who displays work to a close adult who cares, and who obviously looks like they are comfortable relating to the teacher: as a professional educator and, also, as a significant caring adult within the same child’s life.  The desired outcome is, after all, similarly shared. Most of us want our schools to be places where children are happy, where teachers care and, where children learn.

It has always struck me that the most powerful predictor to a child’s school “success” is not so much socio-economic status as the attitude toward learning which forms part of the child’s family culture. The attitude toward learning and, in particular toward the local school’s ability to provide learning leaves a child at the point of contact with formal school in the best state of preparation possible: they want to be there and they want to know how to find out stuff ! There are, of course, always links between this and those who have seen the positive benefit of an attitude like this.  We should not, however, continue to use this as our only “rule of thumb” or we will continue to lose sight of our primary asset: the strength of our diversity and the ability of the people in our schools to do magnificent, inclusive work.

More recently, in this blog, I wrote about the concept of tight loose tight, and also of our need to move from School Planning to Planning School.  We can only do both of these things if we have access to the means to measure our improvement.  And, I agree, test data, is not the totality at all and fails to measure so much else which is massively important.  As an indicator, however, it can’t be ignored. It allows us to match a mark to a face and a child, and work with all of the significant people in the child’s life to collaboratively plan school which provides the best options possible, for them.

It allows us to challenge the belief that the child’s environment and background means that we can’t make much of a difference for them.  It allows us to show that we can empower children through creating schools as places where they can give voice to their curiosity and be led, in partnership with their parents, parent or significant others on planning how to satisfy that curiosity, to demonstrate the outcomes of the process and then to point to clear evidence of their growth.

And yes, if there is little growth, we certainly ask questions.  All of us, as we trawl through our schooling memories can recall teachers and that they were different.  Do we imagine that has suddenly changed?

It s the quantification that also allows us, though, to see where there has actually been little difference being made at all, and the questions which might follow this are relevant and reasonable.

Whatever we might think about the worth of people, who aim to create comparitive tables, it seems to me that disrupting our once a year snapshot in time which lets us know just how well all the hard work we put in has paid off is cutting off our nose to spite our faces.

If you have the chance and time, have a look at the message which is now ‘soo 2005!’

Begging the same question

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I read today that the Australian Medical Association(AMA) has decided to questionwithdraw its support for a system whereby doctors trained overseas, or overseas citizens who train in Australia, need to spend 10 years in rural and regional locations before being able to practise in major metro centres.

Amongst  the inevitable hue and cry which will ensue following the ‘going live’ of the MySchool website next week, there will no doubt also be questions around the vexed issue of attracting and retaining a whole range of services to hard to staff locations: including teachers and other educators.

Traditionally, we have always looked at ideas which either suggest greater financial reward, or systemic routing through a process of progression toward a final transfer reward to somewhere else.  By and large, differential pay has never flown far, and I’m sure that the average punter won’t really be surprised to discover that certain places which most people seem to have heard of, but no-one you know has actually been to, are traditionally hard to staff.

Now, amongst other things which put me further down the rungs on the league table of life, economics and accounting are not my strong suit.  I have often wondered, however, whether it would be possible to use a similar classification system to the existing NSW Transfer Points system, and declare a range of differential tax rebate zones for salary earners throughout the country.  That is, if you work in location X, you may pay a different rate of tax on your taxable income than if you live in location Y.

State governments should like it, as it would mean that the Federal government was then carrying a big can, in the form of lost tax revenue, but, as we have seen: this is a Federal government willing to fund education as a major priority.  Other ‘incentives’ don’t seem to have had the bite that they might have, maybe this may be another way to go?

Banging the same drum

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blogWith the 2010 school year about to start, I thought I’d dust off some concepts and ideas from past years and put them together to focus some thinking on what proactive schools might be doing in the next little while.  It only takes some reading from Twitter posts and elsewhere to see that the operating environment continues to evolve at an exponentially growing rate.  This article, for example, posted by @Darcy1968 provides a good look at the changing parent clients, and the continued trends in technology and its impact on pedagogy once again underscore the imperatives.


This simple reversal of words provides us with a very different paradigm to begin the new year.  Yes, there are the givens, the systemic limitations, resourcing deficits and external accountability pressures.  There is still, however, the constant possibility for people to adjust their mental models and to embrace the possibilities of the future, rather than stare wistfully at the rear view mirror.


And, maybe we can borrow from some management theory in looking at the way we organise for curriculum delivery.

Leadership is best informed by a big picture view, along with the ability to zoom between close and longer fields. We live in a world where curious dichotomies exist between close local communities and the longer distributed social networks and internet communities. It is this context which shows, in stark relief, a need to employ a construct which is ‘tight, loose, tight. That is: we need to be tight around our expectations, what we see as important, what we want to be the outcome of what we do. We also need to be tight around the expectation that we be able to measure our success, our growth, our level of frustration: our performance. Then, like some chocolates, it is the bit in the middle that creates the excitement. It is the bit which empowers, which says: ‘Within this framework of clarity around expectation and evaluation, you have permission to make this happen in ways which suit your context, and which are undertaken to provide the best ‘lift’ possible’. – From ‘Doing what’s BEST

Yes, we must be tight around expectations and limit setting.  Despite seeking to encourage excitement at the thought of setting off for new places, we need to ensure that everybody feels safe doing so, and that they have some sense of why it is that we are going and what we hope we might find there.

We need also to be tight around the ability we have to demonstrate clear outcomes: our accountability environment and our moral purpose demand no less.

It is the place in the middle which creates exciting possibilities in pedagogy and also in student learning. Styles and preferences, harnessing of gifts and talents, working from areas of personal interest, integrating aspects of social media and connectedness: tapping into the marvellous talent and capability of the 21st Century learner. Give them permission to amaze us!


And, as a possible organiser, have a think about this view of a 3 ring circus.  There will be times when the concentration is in 1 or 2 rings only.  We should ensure, however, that the core values always manifest themselves, and that each of the 3 rings is explored at some stage, with an absolute imperative to ensure that we do not neglect those things which enable us as humans to re-create body, mind and soul.


I have these slides together in a powerpoint presentation which I’m happy to share. If you’d like a copy, just click here

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