Institute of Total Education
Teaching and Leading from the Heart and Soul


Managing Behaviour or Self Discipline?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There has been a lot of talk in the media about behaviour problems in schools recently. It is true that the poor behaviour of some students can make it impossible for productive learning to take place. All the good work done by teachers, and the students who want to study, can be cancelled out by a few disruptive students who for their own reasons aren’t willing or able to cooperate and comply with basic social expectations of reasonable behaviour.

However, the current focus on ‘behaviour management’ is too narrow to address the problems that relate to poor classroom behaviour. It is about containment rather than education.

Behaviour Management is a lowest common denominator approach which simplifies the complexity of student thinking and acting into a set of clearly defined expectations and consequences for non-compliance. These are made clear to students and teachers and there is a school-based framework for enforcement. This is good as far as it goes, but there is so much more behind a student’s behaviour than a ‘choice’ to behave one way or another in a given situation.

Students come from a context and that context is a family and that’s where they have learned about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, social norms and how we should regard and treat other people. It is also where children learn how to control their behaviour, what we used to call ‘discipline’. Discipline is basically how to manage your energy. Some parents clearly need training in understanding and modelling discipline too.

All students need guidance from more mature people who have come to an understanding of how our behaviour impacts on others and how to contain and direct our energy to achieve positive goals. This should be a more significant part of teacher training in universities.

The CURE for the Golbal Education Reform Movement (GERM)

Friday, June 22, 2012

It is strange how an idea can gain acceptance and spread all over the world. The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which is dominating education policies in the western world at present, is a major example of this. The key elements are: focus on basics, prescribed performance standards, standardised testing, test-based accountability and top-down bureaucratic control of schools. These are also key elements of Australia’s education policy.

One of the main voices against these policies is the Finland Education Director, Pasi Sahlberg, who has characterized this unofficial convergence of education policy as a ‘GERM’ which has ‘infected’ western education systems. The effect of this he says has been the narrowing of curriculum, pre-occupation with data-gathering, an atmosphere of fear among teachers, too much bureaucratic control and a discouragement of innovation and creativity in teaching and learning at a time when it is needed most.

The Finnish solution or ‘CURE’ to ‘GERM’ requires a different mindset to the one currently in vogue in Canberra. Firstly, focus on the whole child and help each student find their own talent. Secondly, encourage innovation and creativity and personalise learning. Thirdly, minimise standardised testing and encourage self-assessment. Fourthly, don’t intimidate schools, teachers and students over test scores. Lastly, resist bureaucratic control and respect the professionalism of teachers who are trained and experienced in how to bring the best out in students and let principals focus on leading for learning rather than data gathering.

It was reassuring to hear this response because, as you may know, I am also in favour of education for the whole child and encouraging innovation and creativity. At some point in the 2000’s, politicians decided they knew best how education could deliver what this country needed. Now it is time for schools to resume control of education for the good of the country and their students.

Intrinsic Motivation is more Sustainable than Extrinsic Motivation

Friday, June 08, 2012

It is the time of year, coming up to end of semester assessments, when motivation can be an issue for senior students. Parents worry, teachers are concerned and students sometimes struggle to put the energy in where it's really needed, in finalizing assignments and preparing for exams.

Really the only person who can motivate the student is himself or herself. Our society is pretty good at providing external motivation such as competition and awards, on the positive side, or fear of failure, threats or anxiety on the negative side. These motivations are outside the person and, although they may work in the short term, they are not a great preparation for the future because they leave the individual dependent on others for their motivation.

The best kind of motivation is that which comes from within. Intrinsic motivation is something under the control of the individual and is more sustainable because of that. If a student can't find a reason within themselves to study, all the pushing and shoving from outside is probably not going to help.

Intrinsic motivation can include factors like enjoyment or finding an interest in the topics being studied. Sometimes you have to get into a topic before it becomes interesting. Finding a sense of challenge with individual tests and assignments is another way, “What could I achieve if I really put my mind into this?”

For parents, the best kind of support they can offer are creature comforts, such as good meals, a quiet place to study and reduced distractions. The other kind of support is inspiration, where a parent can act more like a coach in football team who demonstrates their belief in the ability of the person who is tackling a challenging situation by letting them get on with the job themselves.

Schools Really Need to Treat Parents as Partners

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Schools and parents have a symbiotic relationship where each depends on the other. Schools need support from parents to succeed in the education of the students in their care but parents could also do with some support from schools given the rapidly changing social environment.

Schools need the help of parents in fundraising, volunteer work with tuck shops, working bees, supervision on excursions and many other areas. Unfortunately, many families find that both parents need to contribute to earning family income and are less available for volunteering and participation.

The support schools need from parents is not just about fundraising and volunteering but also support for what schools are trying to do. Perhaps schools may not have been a place where some parents felt at home, but those parents can really help their children by encouraging them to listen to the teachers, to make an effort in their studies and to be open to all the learning that is available in the school environment.

However, it is not just about academic development but also the values and attitudes that children bring from home that influence a child’s school career and indeed how much the school can assist each child to maximize their potential.

Schools could reciprocate the support they receive from parents by providing input for parents on parenting. There are some great seminars in capital cities by an organization called Generation Next on issues of concern such as bullying, self-harm, youth suicide, drug use and underage drinking? Why not bring one of these to our local area or better still, why not design our own seminar with local doctors, psychologists and counsellors? This could be helpful to parents of all schools in meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing society.

Challenging the Productivity Paradigm in Education

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I hear a lot of talk in business and education about paradigms. A paradigm is the current narrative (or story) about how things are in the world or in a particular field such as education. It’s what the American economist J.K. Galbraith called the “conventional wisdom”.

The current story goes like this. Australia survived the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) better than most. However, next time we might not be so lucky. So to maintain a strong economy we need to build our productivity. Productivity means we can produce more goods and services with the same or less workers. To achieve this, we need an education system to train our students with the skills needed for the 21st-century economy. The best way to achieve this is to have national testing of literacy and numeracy skills, to publish the results and highlight the low and high achieving schools. This will motivate schools to ensure students achieve better results, the country’s productivity will improve and give us an international economic advantage.

What’s wrong with this story? Well, unfortunately, it is based on dodgy assumptions, leading to a flaky hypothesis, an inaccurate prognosis and an invalid conclusion.

Productivity and 21st Century skills are all about being innovative, new ways of thinking and creative solutions that can be taken up rapidly throughout the economy. You will not achieve this by narrowing the focus of learning, creating an atmosphere of fear, top-down direction and high stakes comparison of results which are the outcomes of the current system.

So rather than narrow down the curriculum with a view to improving test scores we should be broadening it out. Don’t intimidate students. Build confidence through appropriate challenges, strong relationships and emotional security. Then the creativity will come bubbling out in all sorts of ways and we will get a really happy ending for everyone.

Is Education Reform Just About Money?

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Wealth the key to school success!” the headline shouted in a major education story this week. The story showed that the top performing schools in the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests were from the country's wealthiest areas. On the one hand, it is surely no surprise that areas of socioeconomic advantage also have educational advantage. On the other hand, if this evidence is used to make the case to throw more money at low achieving schools in low SES areas it won't necessarily solve the problem.

Even within our own area there are significant differences in NAPLAN performances and in the socioeconomic background of parents in the different schools. I did a quick search of the new ‘Your School’ website on Warwick’s postcode of 4370 and it instantly gave me a list of Warwick schools to compare.

However, even though the concern is apparently about wealth inequalities, the measure used to indicate social inequality, the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) does not include a measure of parent income.

So there are schools with lesser or greater disadvantage in their students’ backgrounds, but what is the best way to address this? Can you really expect schools to reverse all the effects of social disadvantage?

Where governments can make a difference in school performance is to continually work towards enhancing the quality of teachers and placing good teachers in low SES areas. Teachers, at a minimum, need greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy in the pre-service courses. However, teachers also need better training in how to really inspire young people through the impact of their own character and teachers also need input on how to reach out to and engage with parents so they can support their children's learning and growth. Neither of these important aspects are significant parts of current teacher training courses.

Getting the Balance Right between Academic and Character Development

Friday, March 30, 2012

I was talking to some friends recently who had returned from a couple of years working in New York and they were saying that the pressure on kids in schools there is incredible.

The New York system, set up by lawyer Joel L. Klein, so impressed our Prime Minister that she modelled much of Australia’s current education policy on it. This includes the high stakes NAPLAN testing and the publication of schools results on the My School website.

Because of Queensland’s relatively poor performance on the NAPLAN test, there has been a lot of pressure on teachers. In some schools, certain students are asked to stay home on test day so as not to drag the results down.

The Prime Minister is also concerned about our apparent slip in performance from 4th to 7th place in relation to other OECD countries, especially since some of our Asian trading partners have passed us.

Ironically, Pasi Sahlberg, Director of Education in Finland, which has been at the top of the OECD rankings for many years, is critical of the way Australia uses its NAPLAN tests and My School Website. Speaking on the 7.30 Report on ABC TV last week he commented:

“Anywhere these types of things had been put in place, teachers started to focus more on teaching to the test and curriculum has narrowed…”

Sahlberg said, “We believe that co-operation and networking and sharing are the things and important things to make sure everybody will improve…”

It is important to get the balance right between helping children achieve good literacy and numeracy standards and putting too much pressure on them.

Education is about producing good citizens and helping children gain confidence in their ability to learn. Is high stakes testing really the way to achieve these outcomes?

[A video and transcript of the interview with Pasi Sahlberg can be found on the ABC Lateline website.]

R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the essential quality in teacher-student relationships

Friday, March 30, 2012

At a seminar last week I asked a group of teachers about the qualities of the teachers who inspired them when they were at school. Much of what they said involved respect.

Mutual respect is a central part of any good relationship but it is a key to learning. For real learning to occur there has to be a feeling that each of the parties brings a sense of respect to the relationship. The teachers I talked to said that really good teachers showed respect to their students and made them feel they were worthwhile.

Of course respect needs to be reciprocated from the student to the teacher. However, respect is something you earn rather than something you are given automatically. For teachers this works on a number of levels. Learners respect teachers who have a knowledge of their subject and especially if they are obviously fascinated in what they are teaching.

Children also recognise people with character and they respect that in teachers. Qualities like patience, consistency and responsibility are core elements in a good teacher’s character. In their own way, children actually make choices about who they will attend to and who they will ignore and this is largely based on respect.

Unfortunately, respect for teachers is not as high as it could be in the community. The shift of the direction and control of education towards government and politicians and away from educators may have something to do with this. Teaching is an art and the people who know most about it are the professionals, the ones who spend each day in classrooms with young learners. They know what they are talking about.

Parents also have a role to play in modelling respect for teachers and people with knowledge and wisdom in the community. If parents do not indicate through their actions and comments that teachers are worthy of respect why would their children be any different?

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