Thursday, 8 February 2018

Jane Caro says lay off Principals. I agree!

IT’S THE start of a new school year so, of course, there are a flurry of stories in the media about schools, what is going on in schools and what schools and school principals should or should not be allowed to do. 

The two most recent ones are about a Queensland public school principal who has caused a ruckus by insisting students wear a particular kind of school shoe. (It’s something to do with the type of heel, apparently, but other than that it’s beyond me.) And the other is about Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham sticking his oar in by saying schools should ban mobile phones. Apparently, this will help reduce cyber-bullying.

I am not going to venture an opinion about either of those issues, to be honest, because my view is that individual school communities, school principals and staff are the people who are best placed to decide what works for their school.

I have the greatest possible sympathy for principals, in particular. They have one of the most difficult jobs in our society for which, especially if they work in the public system, they receive somewhat less than spectacular wages. Principals are responsible for — not just the education of — but the health and safety of what can be more than a 1000 children and young people. They must manage and organise a large staff, manage and maintain classrooms, buildings, playgrounds and public spaces. They must liaise with often jumpy and politically driven education departments who demand ever-increasing levels of accountability (aka filling in forms). Plus deal with parents, the wider community, the P&C and, of course, a media ever-hungry for a school-based scandal. And that’s not to mention attending constant meetings after school hours, going to all school concerts, performances, sporting events, assemblies, award ceremonies and various community events.

I have watched principals be hung out to dry in the media over school formals, bullying, uniforms (see above), technology (see above), parental behaviour outside school grounds, students behaviour outside school hours (hello parental responsibility), the content of school plays and performances, songs that are sung or not sung, flags that are flown or not flown, religious holidays observed or not observed, discipline — either too much or too little, remarks in school newsletters and just about anything else you can think of.

No wonder it is becoming more and more difficult to attract teachers to apply for principal’s jobs — across all systems. They watch what their principals do and conclude the game is not worth the candle.

And that’s the trouble with all the rest of us — whose only qualification is we once attended a school — being so quick to judge and criticise what goes on in them. It has the opposite of the desired effect. We are not improving our schools. In fact, we may be making them worse. In fact, if you want to help your child do well at school one of the first and most productive things you can do as a parent is work with your child’s teacher and principal, not against them.

It is as destructive to a child’s learning if their parents and teachers are at loggerheads as it is to their emotional development if Mum and Dad constantly undermine one another. If we want to minimise bullying, it doesn’t help for an aggrieved parent to respond by bullying the school. What does help is if all the adults involved — parents, teachers, principals — present a united front against such behaviour.

I’m not saying that principals and teachers are always perfect and never make mistakes but before leaping on social media, I’d suggest you have a civil discussion with the teacher and principal who you feel has done the wrong thing and see if you can sort it out that way.

There is an old saying I have always liked: “The best thing a man can do for his children is love their mother.” I think that the best thing a society can do for its students is love their teachers and give them the professional respect and authority they need to do their increasingly complex and demanding job.

Let’s go back to giving an apple to the teacher rather than constant brickbats.

Jane Caro is on the Board of the Public Education Foundation. She has co-authored two books on the subject The Stupid Country, How Australia is Dismantling Public Education and What makes a good school. Follow her on Twitter: @JaneCaro

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