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Subversion in Education: Twitter made me do it.


The teaching community who utilise Twitter seem a pretty cheerful, innocuous bunch.  Ideas are mooted, resources are shared and encouragement is available by the bucket-load.

But appearances can be deceiving.  Scratch the surface, and the reality becomes clear…the ‘tweachers’ are, in fact, a bunch of  rabid revolutionaries, intent on the overthrow of ‘the system’ while ushering in a new world of educational anarchy. Check out what they’ve been up to:

Employees share trade-secrets and assist the ‘competition’ to get ahead by making resources and ideas freely available.

Employees access and interact with people whose ideas about the future of our business would have our company change wholesale structures, and even raze our business so that a new model can be enacted.

Employers coach employees from other companies to challenge and disrupt the thinking of their own leaders.

Accepted sectorial agendas are being progressively undermined by evidence and precedent from previously unheard of international competitors.

Employees are setting up rival companies and not-for-profits to support this radical new agenda.

Clients are being told to ask for more and to expect more.  Some employees are actively encouraging clients to go elsewhere for better services.

Pockets of revolutionary behaviour are sweeping the globe as employees ignore the priorities of their employers and implement their own work practices.  The little people are rising.


Child Rights: Is your school meeting its obligations?


This week, I’ve had the priviledge of working with a NGO (Non-Government Organisation) at the UN in Geneva.  NGOs form an important part of the monitoring and reporting capabilities of the UN, especially with regard to human rights.    The NGO access-pass has allowed me to sit in on discussions and deliberations at the Human Rights Council and the Committee for the Rights of the Child about matters as diverse as the human rights situation in Gaza, whether ‘cutlural rights’ can be defined, adoption procedures in Albania, the quality of the education that Roma children have access to, child refugee programs on the Thai-Laos boarder and pretty much everything in between.  I even heard Syria lecture other states on their record of human rights!

One aspect of the work of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that I’ve become aware is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), that each country undergoes every 4.5 years.  Essentially, the UPR offers a “peer review” of nation states by all members of the UN.  Each nation state (eg, Australia, Bolivia or the USA) submits a report to the UNHRC, documenting their progress in implementing or maintaining Human Rights within their country. This report is is complemented by investigations by the UN iteslf and (most importantly) the submission of reports by any registered NGOs who wish to pass comment on progress in that nation (whicc is often the only true depiction of what is actually happening ‘on the ground’).  The State Under Review (SuR) then experinces a 3.5 hour grilling by the UNHRC, whereby any UN member country can question the actions of the SuR, and challenge them to provide evidence that universal human rights are being upheld (which webcast for all to see).  Finally, a report is then prepared on behalf of the UNHRC, making recommendations to the member state about areas of Human Rights that require attention, action and progress – and be assured, they are very thorough!

Every UN nation has undergone a UPR, and all countries have therefore received recommendations about how to improve the enacting of human rights in their country.  At their next UPR, each country is expected to report back on their progress agains the recommendations given in their previous UPR and on any new areas of progress.  The first round of countries who have undergone two UPRs have just been completed, so some of you will be able to compare the last report and the most recent one, to see if you country is actually making progress!

The report (‘Outcome of the Review’) for your country is available for viewing here and it provides an interesting reading for a whole variety of reasons!  One thing to be aware of in reading your coutry’s report, is that EVERY recommendation made by another country gets a mention in the report – even if it is merely repeating what another country might already have said.  It’s fascinating to see what different countries are intersted in making recommendations about, and who is looking to chastise the SuR for various breaches of human rights…it certainly is a very open and frank process!

Of even greater interest to schools…

Of even greater interest to those of us in schools, is the five yearly review of each country’s progress against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In a similar process to the UPR, each UN member state submits itself every five years for one day of questioning over their committment to the rights of children up to the age of 18.  Once again, NGOs can submit reports to either support or challege the report of a Nation State (a good example of this is the 2012 review of Australia, where a number of groups submitted reports challenging the State’s account of the care of asylum seeker children).  A report of recommendations from the Committee of the Rights of the Child on areas that require action is prepared and disseminated.  Each country can also participate in a reviews of some optional protocols, such as Children and Armed Conflict and Children and Sexual Exploitation.  The concluding documents of each country are found here and they provide a really rich set of recommendations that schools could use to ensure that they are writing policies and procedures in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These reports are much more clear to read, and their is less repitition than the UPR reports, as the final recommendations are prepared by a Committee.

A great activity for senior students: The final reports prepared on each nation from the Committee on the Rigths of the Child are also great documents to use with senior students to help them better understand child rights and the moral obligation of states (especially their own country).  An intersting expercise migth be to compare the recommendations made to a developed country, with that of a nearby developing country.

In my next post, I’m going to explain some of the recommendations made to Australia, as a means of showing how far reaching the reports of the UNHRC are.


What really mattered…


Last week, our whole staff were privileged to attend the Sandhurst Education Conference.  Hosted by our Catholic Education Office, the conference was two days of horrible weather, terrible 3G service and (let’s face it) fairly ordinary food!  Listening to staff conversations this week however, it’s clear that the conference ‘nailed it’ where it matters.  I can’t tell you how many fantastic discussions I’ve walked into or sat down amongst these past two days back at school.  Our teachers and support staff are enthused and excited about the ideas they heard and the people they met.  I have not come across one person on our staff who didn’t get something profound out of the two days.  Classroom architecture, differentiated curriculum, servant leadership, inquiry learning, habits of mind, courageous living, mentoring, ICT in Ed, spirituality, Gen Z, artistic grace…these are the topics (and more!) swirling around in people’s hearts and minds.   In the middle of a long and busy term, it was just the pick-me-up we all needed to continue our pursuit of the best ways to engage learning and pursue excellence (in whatever form that might take).  Of course, the challenge now is to breath life into the ideas, and channel our renewed energy into ‘wins’ for ourselves and for the students.

One great pleasure for me as Principal, is the knowledge that these discussion will turn into recommendations and actions.  We have the structures in place for this to happen, but more importantly, I believe we now have a critical mass of teachers with the confidence to make things happen.  Risk-taking or ‘giving it a go’ is now common in our classrooms.  There is a new playfulness to our culture, which encourages and inspires us to give things a try.  Daily, I feel encouraged and supported by teachers who shoot through an email, or drop in for a chat about something new they are attempting with their students.  They are ‘leaders’ (many by their action, rather than by title) who dare to encourage, dare to try, and dare to ask.  They are managing change.  They are considering how to prepare their peers for new frontiers.  They are evaluating and tweaking.  They are courageously moving us into a new way of being.

I might be wrong, but it feels to me like the conference brought us all onto the same page in a way that no plan or policy could possibly have done.  We were affirmed in our steps thus far, and emboldened to go further.  We were held up as leaders, but also found mentors amongst those in other places who are pursuing, enabling and ennobling learning with purpose and joy.  They say the Spirit moves in mysterious ways.  At our place, she’s drawing us to a new professional collegiality that not so long ago, we couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Explainable, not excusable.


During the staff days at the start of the year, we had a terrific session with Jo Lange. Jo was working with us on the simple techniques that help reduce behavioural issues in the classroom, and how to manage some of the more high end disruptive behaviours. She explained the broad categories that disruptive students fall into, and explored some of their key motivations for disruptive behaviour, which was all tremedously useful.

One of the key things that has stayed with me since that day, is the idea of exploring with students the notion that poor behaviour chioces can be thought of as “explainable, but not excusable”. More and more, I find our students able to explain their behaviour (“I did it because…”), while failing to see that even while there might be truth in their reasoning, that particular behaviour is not excusable in our community. Perhaps even more so, parents can fall into this trap and the ensuing blame game.

I have found the simple phrase “Yes, I understand that behaivour is explainable, but that does not make it excusable” pulls the antagonists up short, and turns the discussion in a more productive direction almost immediately. I commend it to you as a useful tool in your kit.

Interestingly, I have also heard a few teachers use the phrase when speaking about their peers. Utilising our “Agreed Behaviours” from earlier in the year, discussions are able to occur more readily, because our team leaders and experienced teachers feel empowered to begin a discussion, highlighting the difference between why “something” is happening, and whether that “something” (such as a teacher using a different assessment task to the rest of their team, or a staffmember failing to use our agreed behaviour management steps) is acceptable in our community.

None of us a perfect, and this approach to professional accountability requires sensitivity, trust and care on behalf of all those invovled, to ensure that we are building up our colleagues and their professional ability. In inexperienced or agenda-driven hands, the encouragement to engage in challenging professional conversations could endanger our community and the sense of collegiality we have. Our short-term anecdotal evidence is that, in fact, the opposite is occurring…

Agreeing to disturb each other…


One of our first staff activities for 2012 was to discuss and begin to settle on our “agreed behaviours” as a collegial team.  Towards the end of 2011, we invited all staff (teachers and ancillary) to put forward some suggestions about areas where they believed we as a staff had conflicting approaches that hindered our work with the students and also increased the stress of our peers.  The list included everything from teaching the agreed curriculum and following behaviour management protocols, through to professional dress, having a tidy workspace and an engaging, clean classroom.  We ended up grouping the suggestions into five key areas: “Trusting relationships”, “Professional dialogue”; “Learning is the core focus”, “Professional Duties” and “2012 Stress-Busters”.

As we reconvened from the teams where we had been discussing not only what the “agreed behaviour” might look lie, but how we would like to be reminded/approached if we “fell of the bandwagon”, the atmosphere in the room was electric.  “That was the most real conversation we’ve ever had” said one of our teachers. “I feel like we talked about things that have always been taboo” said another.  “I like that we had a professional conversation about how to hold each other accountable” chimed in a third.  The rest of the room was nodding along.

What a wonderful fresh appreciation of professional relationships we’ve started the year with!  We’re not (and never have been) a dysfunctional staff by any means, but the buzz as we look forward to the kids beginning on Monday is tremendous.  There is a confidence that the real issues have been brought to front and centre, and that even in doing this brief exercise, let alone the power of the potential of the follow-up conversations, we have given license to each other to courageously encourage each other to “be more” in our teaching and other professional duties.


The Bingo Bonanza


Over the last three weeks of Term 3, we played a Bingo game with our staff (the cards we have used for the last three years can be found here).  Over the three weeks, they had 15 tasks to be signed off.  These ranged from visiting classes (Science, PE, Home Ec, Maths) to spending time in the front office, or the library or in our Learning Enhancement centre.  Staff who managed to get everything signed off went into a draw for an iPad.  Cool stuff.

Today in our PLTs, we asked staff for feedback on their experiences.  Keep in mind that we did not set up any expectations for staff (we had hopes, but kept them to ourselves in the Leadership Team).  The feedback today exceeded our wildest expectations…

  • I loved being in other people’s rooms and seeing how they do things.  I learnt so much about how to do things better.
  • It was such a joy to see people “doing their thing”. Inspiring.
  • The kids really enjoyed having different teachers in the spaces with them.  They loved that we were playing a game, but that were were obviously enjoying it, and learning stuff at the same time.
  • It was great to see what amazing things our teachers are doing.  We forget that we have very inspirational people right here in our midst.
  • I could see that a number of our staff offer personalised learning already.  I have to get a move on.
  • We really have some talented people using ICT in amazing ways in this place.  Kids were teaching me how to use these different programs.  They were so proud.
  • Our Teacher Aides and office workers work really hard!
  • Teachers were saying “there’s nothing special going on in my room” but actually, their kids were doing amazing things…it had just become “normalised”.
  • If had forgotten our Chapel existed.  It was such a lovely blessing to just sit quietly in there for 20 minutes.  The light was gorgeous and the quiet just touched my heart.  I came out with tears in my eyes.
  • I enjoyed seeing the kids in different spaces, interacting with a different teacher.  That alone gave me some good ideas about how to work in my classes.
  • Bingo just opened the doors – people were talking about what they were doing in their classrooms ALL THE TIME.  The conversation in the staffroom changed!  Collaboration was really real.
This experience has been such a positive time for us.  We’ve decided to commit to it again next year, but in the interim, to end each morning briefing with the question: Does anyone have anything cool or interesting going on in their class today that others can visit?  There should be lots of fun, and more great learning ahead…

Just thinking…


Principals are a bit spoilt in that we frequently get access to speakers and high quality educational thinkers.  It’s a good sign that most Principal meetings now also include an element of Professional Learning, so that we are being constantly challenged to reflect on “next practice” for our school communities.  Lately, there’s been a lot to think about.  I thought that to be fair to my school community, I’d just throw about a few of the things that are on my mind at the moment.  In doing so, I hope more people (teachers, students, parents, interested community members) can feel encouraged to be part of the conversation.  These items are in no particular order, and some (such as the first two) are already on the Agenda of the Curriculum Team:

Kids at school

How do we improve their learning?

  • Do our students understand the difference between homework and study?  Are we just setting a lot of “busy-work” for homework (“…finish this at home”), or is there genuine learning going on?  What is the place of Homework in the 21st Century?
  • E-Learning Days: Do all students need to be in a classroom every day?  If we’re serious about “unlocking learning”, why are we still building traditional courses where the kids are in front of a teacher all-day, every-day?  What are the opportunities in this for freeing up teachers for “clinics” in areas where students need extra support or extension?
  • Common Assessment Tasks – where do these fit within Differentiated Learning? In “Lay-terminology”: If we set the same task for all Year 9 English students, do we really have a sense of all that they are capable of, or just whether or not they can do that particular task?  If this task doesn’t inspire them to do their best, do we really learn anything from its submission?
  • Which begs the question…do we really understand Differentiated Learning?
  • VETiS (Vocational Educational Training in Schools) Courses: Under its current model, VETiS is very expensive, and only caters for a small number of students.  If we ran more courses in-house, we would actually generate income to use in other exciting ways!  How can we look at VETiS in a way that enhances our curriculum and student pathways, rather than as a program we “buy into” for a select group of kids?  Also, how would a “one-day out” model work for us (eg. all VET classes occur on a Wednesday, for the full day)?
  • VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning) is highly valued and growing in other schools, but not so much in ours.  How can we turn this around for the benefit of our students?

OK, that’s just a few things that I’d love some thoughts on.  I look forward to reading you responses & online discussion.

Parents, Bullying & Facebook


It seems that at every parent information night that we have held in recent times, the issue of parent monitoring of their son/daughter’s Facebook accounts has come up.  We encourage parents to have as much interaction with their child’s online activities as they do in their off-line ones, ensuring that their adolescent’s behaviour is safe and respectful.  To this end,we will soon be offering a parent night for those who don’t believe they understand enough about social media to really monitor what’s being said and done by their son/daughter online (better late than never…).

This year we’ve encountered a new phenomenon (well, new to us, anyway), of parents engaging in online arguments which involve their adolescent children.  We’ve had parents say extremely aggressive, abusive and offensive things on discussion boards and FB pages.  These parents utilise their own identity (ie. their own FB account) and appear to have no concern about confronting their child’s peers/bullies online, or joining the discussion/argument.  Sometimes, the issues concerned are remarkably trivial, but at other times, the online social and emotional war being waged concern very serious matters and allegations.

Interestingly, in our experience, the language and tone used by parents involved in these online arguments often reads more like another adolescent than those of a considered adult.  More alarmingly however, the defensive anger employed (“you hurt my child and now I will hurt/threaten/embarrass you”), which in the past, occasionally became apparent at the school gates or in the shopping center carpark, now appears to have a new platform.  Parents can attack and intimidate adolescents from the comfort of their own home.

We usually become aware of parents’ online engagement in student fights or bullying when those involved come to us with a print-out of the pages concerned.  We actively encourage students to print out online discussions which they find threatening and/or abusive.  When parents are involved in these matters, a resolution between students is usually much more difficult to achieve, but we stick to our goal of attempting to heal the relationships between the students as much as possible, so that they can both/all continue their education without this matter adversely effecting them (and obviously, we have a variety of process’ and programs in place to help achieve that).

How we handle the matter with the parents concnered is altogether more challenging.  The best I think we can do is to hear their concerns for their child (since it is the reason they became involved in the matter in the first instance), attempt to reassure them that a process is in place at school to help all parties reconcile their actions and move forward in a peaceable and respectful way, and then raise the matter of their involvement in the online argument/bullying, and how the matter might have been handled in a more appropriate way.  Ultimately, there are legal actions potentially (defamation, harassment, etc) at play here, and parents need to appreciate (as much as students do), that what is said on FB is not exempt such proceedings.

Parents have every right to be concerned about the wellbeing of the children, and where necessary, to become involved in the resolution of when issues emerge between peers.  Schools have an active role to play in building parent capacity  through access to programs, speakers, readings and sites which help them find ways of supporting their adolescent, and bringing matters of discord to resolution without further escalating the conflict.  In providing such opportunities for parents, schools are ultimately teaching students the tools to resolve conflict in respectful and peace-building ways.

Grandparents as carers


Do you know many of your students are cared for primarily by their Grandparents?  We are constantly surprised by the amount of generous and gracious “senior citizens” in our community who take on the care of their grandchildren, with little recognition or recompense from the government or the community for their efforts.

The scenario that we are hearing more and more frequently is that the parents of children have just “given up” coping with the demands of parenthood, and moved onto something else…sometimes a new partner (with their own family), sometimes a new job in a new town (where the kids couldn’t be cared for), sometimes into oblivion with drugs or alcohol, and even an alarmingly high number into  prison.

Grandparents have enormous challenge raising these children…kids who are often hurt by the abandonment of their parents.  Their are financial pressures and the inevitable balancing act between filling the place of a parent, while maintaining the lifestyle of a grandparent (which many ultimately forego).  The generational disconnect from adolescence can also be especially difficult, and we encounter many grandparents who are completely overwhelmed with the social and technological world their grandchildren inhabit.

Schools systems are now just beginning to understand the help we can provide to such people, not just through the seeking and offering of financial support, but in helping to bridge the gap between these Baby Boomers and their live-in Gen Y and Gen Z grandkids.  More simply however, recognising and acknowledging the huge social service these amazing people are undertaking can go a long way.  Advocacy to Government and local agencies through whatever means possible is also valuable, as is ensuring that opportunities for respite care are well understood.

Let’s share how schools are helping Grandparents to raise their grandchildren…

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