Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Lockdowns in Melbourne

Early  research on remote learning from the Grattan Institute suggested students from disadvantaged backgrounds lost about a month of learning during term two, learning at about 50 per cent of their regular rate.

"If you’ve got family members who are illiterate, for whom English is not their first language, or who have addiction problems, they can’t provide the levels of support that other families might be able to provide," Professor Wilkinson said.

"Teachers can provide some level of support, but it's not like the level of support they can get when they’re actually in school, face to face with a teacher all day."

Meanwhile, Independent Schools Victoria has told its schools they can implement remote learning from the start of term three, but advised them to wait until the state government announces a formal return to learning from home.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Uni debacle

Second-year university student Emily Johnston failed her first online exam this semester "miserably", she says. She'd usually have lab classes every week at Sydney University, examining brain specimens and cadavers. But these have been replaced by demonstrations over blurry Zoom sessions, where other students have hijacked meetings and blared music.

"We're just so unengaged, to the point where we can't be bothered to get out of bed," she says. "I know in three weeks I will forget everything. I'm not learning - just reading notes, hearing what they're saying in pre-recorded lectures from years ago and copying it down. When I inevitably fail the semester, I'll have to redo the entire unit. That would cost me $1200."

For thousands of university students, a semester of online learning was not what they paid for. Motivation has dropped and many fear they haven't learnt content they need to progress their degrees. Some are disgruntled they must pay full fees for what they see as a lesser service and have been disturbed by online exam technology.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Teachers going back

Over the past month, teachers have been heroic as they have ‘pivoted’ (to employ the popular term) their entire educational offerings. An enormous effort. BUT – the wear and tear is starting to show. Some are suffering virtual exhaustion, others of us are at risk of becoming ‘zoombies’. 

If there ever was any doubt that teachers are among our country’s frontline workers, it is now dispelled. 

We need to care better for all of our teachers. They curate our future. 

Research shows there are 3 big factors that reliably create the resilience that help people through tough times and they have nothing to do with gratitude or empathy or mindfulness (all good things to have, mind you, but I can’t find any research that links them with resilience). 

If we look at how people who have thrived after serious hardships – holocaust, pandemics, concentration camps, kidnappings, prolonged neglect and deprivation – three factors stand out as helping them through: re-adjust, re-align and re-invent. 

Re-adjust 

It takes time to re-adjust to major changes and it requires looking reality fair and square in the eye. It really is what it is. These really are crazy times. 

This is not some glossed up, optimistic version of, ‘everything will be all right by next week/term/year’. A positive mindset that is not supported by an appreciation of reality does not serve people well. Typically, optimists who make these sorts of predictions, fall apart when the timeframe they set doesn’t eventuate. 

Life really is tough in these times and none of us knows exactly how long this will last. 

For sale – Worst Purchase Ever! A 2020 Planner 

While it is tempting to be like an ostrich and put our heads in the sand, it is better to model yourself on the meerkat – upright, aware, observing and orienting. 

Ask yourself, ‘Do I truly understand and accept the reality of the situation? Does my school?’ Do this by keeping informed by high-quality sources and ignoring the endless barrage of conjecture that surges in times like these. 

Some of your colleagues will slip into denial, don’t join them. Some may be unwisely reckless while others take a doom and gloom perspective. Respect that everyone has their own triggers and will respond in different ways to these times. 

For those who feel less preoccupied by the busy ‘to-do’ list of work, there can be a backwash of unprocessed emotions. Some may experience vivid and unsettling dreams. Others may find small past incidents that seemed trivial at the time re-emerge as issues. Helping people to process their feelings is helpful for their long-term resilience. 

Rather than asking people how they are feeling about these times, it is often better to ask them to tell you what they think is the best and the worst part of it for them? 

This is about processing, not correction. You are not likely to change their viewpoint so don’t waste your time trying. 

Denial may feel like it is fun and relaxing but in the long term will not serve you well. The best way to cope with this is still, not to get the virus. 

One form of denial involves ‘platitudes of gratitude’ such as, ‘isn’t it wonderful we can all be at home and have virtual dinner parties?’ While there are opportunities to be found in adverse times, glibly overlooking the challenges of these times will lessen your ability to adapt to changes as they become necessary. 

Facing reality is gruelling work and re-adjusting your life is emotionally wrenching. Expect to feel exhaustedExpect to have some good days but also accept that we will all have some tough days. 

In times of disconnection, we need to work harder to create belonging. Reach out to people. Increase your reach. If you typically connect with a small group, consider broadening your circle of contacts. Think about who might be feeling especially disconnected or alone and give them a call. 

Re-align 

At these times some people throw their arms in the air and cry, ‘Why me?’ It is much more powerful to regard yourself as a participant in recovery rather than a victim of circumstance. 

Victims become helpless, lose hope and feel higher levels of despair and anxiety. Resilient people return to the process of creating a great life for themselves and the people around them. 

Re-align yourself with your core values as well as with the things that boost your immune system and nourish your life. Sleep, diet, rest, healthy food, fun and contributing to the people who are important to you are all essential ingredients. 

Build a bridge from the current hardships to a better future. Do meaningful activities that utilise your expertise. Find ways to make the most of increased time-in and less time-out. 

One way to do this is to conduct a ‘check-up from the neck-up’. As yourself, what have I neglected in my rush to deal with my job and with the world? What have I suppressed in me through that degree of busy-ness? Can I give myself the freedom to re-awaken those neglected parts of myself? 

Take the time to get to know your students even better. Happy teachers get along well with the people they spend most of their time with – their students. Discover your students character strengths, learning strengths and interests. Ask them to share their thoughts about the best and worst aspects of this time. Ask them what sorts of support would be helpful for them. Deepening your connection to your students will increase your effectiveness and your job satisfaction. 

Deepening relationships does not mean rushing around taking care of everyone. If we feel we need to ‘fix’ others, we take on their burden and can rob them of an opportunity to take responsibility for themselves. This is a sure path to compassion fatigue and burnout. 

Linking with students in a positive way at this time can forge bonds for the future. Ask them also to tell you what’s great and what sucks about this time. (You’ll get to hear more about what sucks). Remember your aim is to connect and understand, not to fix. You don’t have to have the answers. It is enough to have the caring and the questions. 

Some of your students have been training for an online lifestyle for years and will adapt well. Others will be more needy. None of us has all the answers that we would like to have. Help where you can but don’t feel you can provide reassurance that you don’t feel you have yourself. 

Apply CPR to your own personal relationships – connect, protect and respect. In ‘The Revolutionary Art of Changing Your Heart’ I suggested two main ideas to develop this: Firstly, look at the people close to you and think ‘I am so lucky to have you in my life. 

Secondly, take on responsibility for creating better relationships by taking on a position that if you have a problem, we have a problem (and I have a role in helping fix it). 

Find the things that give your life meaning and do them. A role model we all have for this is Viktor Frankl who survived internment in concentration camps by finding meaning even when times seemed hopeless. It is often by contributing to others that we increase our happiness and the sense of meaning in our lives. 

There may be an opportunity to provide more powerful learning experiences. NAPLAN is suspended, assessments are less intensive and Year 12 exams are delayed. Consider how to use these freedoms to create meaningful work that you can really believe in. 

Re-invent 

Some of our most imaginative solutions had their origins in the toughest times in history. 

Life is an improvisational art. Resilience is the ability to flexibly respond to whatever life throws at you. 

While you will hear stories of great scientific insights occurring in times of isolation, don’t pressure yourself to be creative at the moment. 

Teachers have had a particularly rough time. They have worked incredibly hard, transforming education into online learning. Some have not had a proper break since the start of the academic year. Some will have been away from their usual workplaces and colleagues for an extended period. It may be that the schools they return to may not always resemble the schools they left. 

When teachers and their students do return to school, expect that everyone (staff, parents and students) will all need to go through the process of re-adjusting then re-aligning before re-inventing. 

Flexibility allows you to be inventive and creative. For teachers who fear the class time their students will lose this year, I have one question for you, ‘How much of your own schooling do you really remember?’ If your answer is 60% or more, you are doing better than most. Of the 13 years of school available to be completed, about 5 years is wiped from the memory banks. I would be the first to say there is much more to school than just knowledge recalled. Even so, 5 years! Deep breaths. Relax. 

By facing the reality of being in uncertain times, doing what is meaningful and takes cares of others and most importantly ourselves, we can go forward and together create an improved form of learning. 

For a moment, time travel into your future. Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to look back on these times?’ No doubt there will recollections of loss and sadness. Will you relate stories of deprivation, fear and hardships or will you tell a tale of renewal and re-invention? Take care and nourish your spirit. Think about what makes you come alive and go and do it. 

 

Andrew’s books include: Your Best Life At Any Age and Unlocking Your Child’s Genius 

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Thoughts on our return

Over the past month, teachers have been heroic as they have ‘pivoted’ (to employ the popular term) their entire educational offerings. An enormous effort. BUT – the wear and tear is starting to show. Some are suffering virtual exhaustion, others of us are at risk of becoming ‘zoombies’. 

If there ever was any doubt that teachers are among our country’s frontline workers, it is now dispelled. 

We need to care better for all of our teachers. They curate our future. 

Research shows there are 3 big factors that reliably create the resilience that help people through tough times and they have nothing to do with gratitude or empathy or mindfulness (all good things to have, mind you, but I can’t find any research that links them with resilience). 

If we look at how people who have thrived after serious hardships – holocaust, pandemics, concentration camps, kidnappings, prolonged neglect and deprivation – three factors stand out as helping them through: re-adjust, re-align and re-invent. 

Re-adjust 

It takes time to re-adjust to major changes and it requires looking reality fair and square in the eye. It really is what it is. These really are crazy times. 

This is not some glossed up, optimistic version of, ‘everything will be all right by next week/term/year’. A positive mindset that is not supported by an appreciation of reality does not serve people well. Typically, optimists who make these sorts of predictions, fall apart when the timeframe they set doesn’t eventuate. 

Life really is tough in these times and none of us knows exactly how long this will last. 

For sale – Worst Purchase Ever! A 2020 Planner 

While it is tempting to be like an ostrich and put our heads in the sand, it is better to model yourself on the meerkat – upright, aware, observing and orienting. 

Ask yourself, ‘Do I truly understand and accept the reality of the situation? Does my school?’ Do this by keeping informed by high-quality sources and ignoring the endless barrage of conjecture that surges in times like these. 

Some of your colleagues will slip into denial, don’t join them. Some may be unwisely reckless while others take a doom and gloom perspective. Respect that everyone has their own triggers and will respond in different ways to these times. 

For those who feel less preoccupied by the busy ‘to-do’ list of work, there can be a backwash of unprocessed emotions. Some may experience vivid and unsettling dreams. Others may find small past incidents that seemed trivial at the time re-emerge as issues. Helping people to process their feelings is helpful for their long-term resilience. 

Rather than asking people how they are feeling about these times, it is often better to ask them to tell you what they think is the best and the worst part of it for them? 

This is about processing, not correction. You are not likely to change their viewpoint so don’t waste your time trying. 

Denial may feel like it is fun and relaxing but in the long term will not serve you well. The best way to cope with this is still, not to get the virus. 

One form of denial involves ‘platitudes of gratitude’ such as, ‘isn’t it wonderful we can all be at home and have virtual dinner parties?’ While there are opportunities to be found in adverse times, glibly overlooking the challenges of these times will lessen your ability to adapt to changes as they become necessary. 

Facing reality is gruelling work and re-adjusting your life is emotionally wrenching. Expect to feel exhaustedExpect to have some good days but also accept that we will all have some tough days. 

In times of disconnection, we need to work harder to create belonging. Reach out to people. Increase your reach. If you typically connect with a small group, consider broadening your circle of contacts. Think about who might be feeling especially disconnected or alone and give them a call. 

Re-align 

At these times some people throw their arms in the air and cry, ‘Why me?’ It is much more powerful to regard yourself as a participant in recovery rather than a victim of circumstance. 

Victims become helpless, lose hope and feel higher levels of despair and anxiety. Resilient people return to the process of creating a great life for themselves and the people around them. 

Re-align yourself with your core values as well as with the things that boost your immune system and nourish your life. Sleep, diet, rest, healthy food, fun and contributing to the people who are important to you are all essential ingredients. 

Build a bridge from the current hardships to a better future. Do meaningful activities that utilise your expertise. Find ways to make the most of increased time-in and less time-out. 

One way to do this is to conduct a ‘check-up from the neck-up’. As yourself, what have I neglected in my rush to deal with my job and with the world? What have I suppressed in me through that degree of busy-ness? Can I give myself the freedom to re-awaken those neglected parts of myself? 

Take the time to get to know your students even better. Happy teachers get along well with the people they spend most of their time with – their students. Discover your students character strengths, learning strengths and interests. Ask them to share their thoughts about the best and worst aspects of this time. Ask them what sorts of support would be helpful for them. Deepening your connection to your students will increase your effectiveness and your job satisfaction. 

Deepening relationships does not mean rushing around taking care of everyone. If we feel we need to ‘fix’ others, we take on their burden and can rob them of an opportunity to take responsibility for themselves. This is a sure path to compassion fatigue and burnout. 

Linking with students in a positive way at this time can forge bonds for the future. Ask them also to tell you what’s great and what sucks about this time. (You’ll get to hear more about what sucks). Remember your aim is to connect and understand, not to fix. You don’t have to have the answers. It is enough to have the caring and the questions. 

Some of your students have been training for an online lifestyle for years and will adapt well. Others will be more needy. None of us has all the answers that we would like to have. Help where you can but don’t feel you can provide reassurance that you don’t feel you have yourself. 

Apply CPR to your own personal relationships – connect, protect and respect. In ‘The Revolutionary Art of Changing Your Heart’ I suggested two main ideas to develop this: Firstly, look at the people close to you and think ‘I am so lucky to have you in my life. 

Secondly, take on responsibility for creating better relationships by taking on a position that if you have a problem, we have a problem (and I have a role in helping fix it). 

Find the things that give your life meaning and do them. A role model we all have for this is Viktor Frankl who survived internment in concentration camps by finding meaning even when times seemed hopeless. It is often by contributing to others that we increase our happiness and the sense of meaning in our lives. 

There may be an opportunity to provide more powerful learning experiences. NAPLAN is suspended, assessments are less intensive and Year 12 exams are delayed. Consider how to use these freedoms to create meaningful work that you can really believe in. 

Re-invent 

Some of our most imaginative solutions had their origins in the toughest times in history. 

Life is an improvisational art. Resilience is the ability to flexibly respond to whatever life throws at you. 

While you will hear stories of great scientific insights occurring in times of isolation, don’t pressure yourself to be creative at the moment. 

Teachers have had a particularly rough time. They have worked incredibly hard, transforming education into online learning. Some have not had a proper break since the start of the academic year. Some will have been away from their usual workplaces and colleagues for an extended period. It may be that the schools they return to may not always resemble the schools they left. 

When teachers and their students do return to school, expect that everyone (staff, parents and students) will all need to go through the process of re-adjusting then re-aligning before re-inventing. 

Flexibility allows you to be inventive and creative. For teachers who fear the class time their students will lose this year, I have one question for you, ‘How much of your own schooling do you really remember?’ If your answer is 60% or more, you are doing better than most. Of the 13 years of school available to be completed, about 5 years is wiped from the memory banks. I would be the first to say there is much more to school than just knowledge recalled. Even so, 5 years! Deep breaths. Relax. 

By facing the reality of being in uncertain times, doing what is meaningful and takes cares of others and most importantly ourselves, we can go forward and together create an improved form of learning. 

For a moment, time travel into your future. Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to look back on these times?’ No doubt there will recollections of loss and sadness. Will you relate stories of deprivation, fear and hardships or will you tell a tale of renewal and re-invention? Take care and nourish your spirit. Think about what makes you come alive and go and do it. 

 

Andrew’s books include: Your Best Life At Any Age and Unlocking Your Child’s Genius 

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

NSW again

Education experts believe intensive tuition and additional teaching resources will be required to ensure students do not fall behind in their studies following the disruption to classrooms caused by COVID-19.

As the NSW government rushed guidelines to teachers ahead of the full-time return to school next week, experts called on the state's education department to fund the increased resources, which may include redeploying teachers from bureaucracy or even retirement.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

NSW

Mark Scott: (it was) “striking to us the number of students in metropolitan Sydney who did not have a device or fast broadband access at home.” Has it really taken this crisis to bring home the level of inequality in our education system? Kay Buckeridge

Friday, 15 May 2020

NSW set to resume

Schools will begin testing students to identify where they have fallen behind in their learning when they return full-time, and will cut parts of the kindy to year 10 syllabuses to ensure they can focus on literacy and numeracy.

The NSW government will announce details of the next phase of the return-to-school plan next week, and is hoping to have all students back full-time by the end of this month, Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said on Friday.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

I guess this is what we’ll be doing in Victoria soon?

Students will learn a stripped-back version of the NSW curriculum for the rest of term two, with educators given permission to factor learning disruptions from the last six weeks into their teaching plans and focus on the most essential content.

staged return to school begins on Monday for NSW public schools, but Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said it would be a while before regular calendar events such as assemblies, excursions and school sport resumed.


NSW Department of Education secretary .

Photo: Edwina Pickles

Principals will spend this week trying to ‘manage this’

Friday, 17 April 2020

Morrison want us to go on a guilt trip

The nation’s teachers have spent their Easter "holidays" shifting their units of work online. And now, the Prime Minister pleads, think of the children.

The term of a million weeks finally came to an end and our teachers breathed a collective sigh of relief. Two weeks to take stock and, as the metaphor goes, stop changing the tyre while the truck is hurtling down the highway.

Then the Prime Minister pleads with them to return to the classroom, emphasising after the national cabinet meeting on Thursday that classrooms are the best places for children to learn.


This follows his comments on Wednesday, when teachers busy trying to prepare for remote learning might have paused to catch sight of the Prime Minister calling on them to walk back through the school gates, telling them that “the education of our children hangs in the balance”.


He doesn’t want children “giving up a whole year of their learning”.

Teachers were mystified by this. To begin with, the idea that classroom teachers — or even most school leaders — have any say over whether schools are open or "closed" is absurd. Those decisions are taken at a system level, guided by state and territory governments.


On Thursday, after the national cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister’s office unveiled a list of seven national principles for the educational response to the COVID-19 crisis. The first was reiterating his point that learning is best achieved in a physical classroom.

But he then conceded what the education community knows already — that schools will be allowed to continue with remote flexible learning.


It’s hard to fathom that at the very point in time when teachers are collectively working harder than they ever have before, that they should be accused of somehow letting the side down. A reminder that teachers already set a high bar — it’s a mighty difficult job at the best of times — in the interests of their students.

Right now, we must have national conversation about what schooling and learning are — and what they are not. The new principles are a departure point but they don’t get to the essence of either.


Let’s start with the conversation about "home schooling". What is happening now is not home schooling. In home schooling, parents design learning for their kids. They map learning activities to the curriculum. They assess learning.

On the basis of this assessment, they make decisions about what needs to happen next. An integral part of home schooling is usually an array of social and community activities, from Girl Guides to gallery visits to the local football club, none of which is available right now.


If children are learning at home, following a course of study painstakingly designed by their teachers, with whom they have regular contact via a variety of means, they are not being “home schooled”. To call what’s happening in this situation “home schooling” undermines the extraordinary work of our teachers, who are engaged in the Herculean effort of rethinking every aspect of their practice with an eye to maintaining the quality of teaching and learning.


Not to mention that it puts ridiculous and unnecessary pressure on parents, most of whom are neither teachers nor home schoolers. So let’s call it "schooling from home".

Neither are teachers who have spent untold time and effort rethinking and reshaping their lessons for students to engage with at home shirking their responsibility to teach.

The Prime Minister had it wrong when he said on Wednesday “I kept my kids in school up until the last week because they weren't getting taught at school in that last week, I mean, they were sitting in a room looking at a screen; that's not teaching, that's childminding”.


The teachers at Mr Morrison’s daughters’ school were surprised surely to hear that they spent the final week of term one babysitting. That’s not what online teaching feels like to anyone.


The job of the teacher, in a nutshell, is to create the conditions for student learning. It’s not to stand in front of the class and "deliver" the curriculum or to magically transmit knowledge from one brain to another. Yes, being co-located with your students helps, because an important part of being able to create the conditions for learning is really knowing your students, being able to read the room, but it’s simply not the case that teaching, much less learning, happens only in the classroom.

When teachers are pedalling as fast as they can to create good conditions for their students’ learning without having access to their physical classrooms — and I know from my serial lurking on teachers’ social media groups that they are — it doesn’t follow that we’re looking down the barrel of students “giving up a whole year of their learning”.











Yes, there is a problem with equity of access only not all students have adequate equipment for schooling at home, including internet access. And, of course, some students need to be at school because their parents need to be at work, or for welfare-related reasons.


Nobody, however, is suggesting that those children be denied access to school, and indeed teachers and school leaders are working hard to make sure they aren’t. Some acknowledgement of those efforts is necessary.

Schools are workplaces for students, teachers and other adults. In most schools, neither classrooms nor staff-rooms are spacious — your average office worker’s cubicle set-up looks like salubrious accommodation compared to most school staff-rooms. Morrison was right when he pointed out the staffroom could be a risky place for teachers to be.

At a time when social distancing orders prevent us from moving around freely or catching up for dinner with a couple of friends, it makes no sense for teachers and students to be sent back to the confines of the classroom or the staffroom.


Social distancing measures put in place for workers in other essential services are simply not able to be rolled out in schools full of students and teachers — there’s literally not enough space. It might be a safe enough environment for students because of their age (I don’t dispute the public health experts on this) but if it’s not safe for lawyers or waitstaff or academics or parliamentarians to be in their workplaces right now, it’s not safe for teachers and their families either.

Nicole Mockler is an associate professor of education at the University of Sydney