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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Retirement, and other musings…

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 8, 2014

Teachers in the government system are very rarely publicly acknowledged for the work they do, and nowhere is this more evident when the time comes for retirement.

The Education Department takes no notice at all.  Towards the end of a career they have a shabby little acknowledgement of years of service when they dispatch a form requiring authorisation for a certificate acknowledging 35 or 40 years of service: it doesn’t even come with pre-paid postage, the recipient has to attach a stamp advising them if the certificate is wanted or if they wish to attend the ‘ceremony’ where it is presented.  The ceremony is, of course, after work, and since it consists of strangers also ‘celebrating’ their years of service, it seems a lot like more of the unpaid overtime that teachers routinely do.  Because the department knows absolutely nothing about the work done in the years of service, it falls to the hapless principal to research a few details, adding to her workload for no useful purpose at all since none of the other people attending the ‘ceremony’ are, with the best will in the world,  likely to be genuinely interested.  The proceedings cost the department the price of an A4 piece of paper and minor catering expenses.

When a teacher in a government school retires, there is usually some sort of ceremony at the school, and depending on its resources, there will be some sort of gift and some speeches made.  I have been to some rather shabby functions like this: a multipurpose room at the school jazzed up with a balloon or two and some photos.  There are nibbles brought by the other teachers; and the resident wit usually makes what is thought to be a comic speech.  Very rarely will there be a speech that actually outlines the teacher’s achievements beyond the obvious.  These retirement functions were at their worst in the Kennett years, when the premier eliminated 7000 teaching positions and told parents that it would make no difference to the quality of education.  7000 retirements is a lot, and retirement function fatigue soon set in.  Many of our best teachers left the service without anyone marking their departure at all.

This week, my old mate Alan retired.    On Friday after school, in a hot staff room where I was the only colleague from any of his previous schools, there were generous speeches from senior staff, and it was obvious from the crowd that he was a well-loved member of staff and they were sorry to see him go.   But it was Alan’s inspiring speech that made this a special occasion for me and for everyone else who was present.

I’ve known Alan for more than 25 years, and I’ve always known him to be a wonderful teacher.  We taught together for five years, and have kept in touch with regular social gatherings of staff from that school ever since.  But it was not until Alan rose to say his farewells that I had the opportunity to hear him articulate his reasons for sticking with the job.

It was because he had once heard someone say that the kids who end up in gaol are the ones who can’t read.  Because they can’t read, they can’t get decent jobs and they lack the skills to make a success of their lives.  Alan determined there and then that he would always do his very best to see that any child who came into his care would learn to read properly.

A modest man, Alan admitted that he didn’t always succeed.  But he tried.  He never gave up.  It was his mission in life, and he gave it his best shot.

If the Minister for Education had any idea what the profession has lost in the retirement of my mate Alan, they would have been there with a gold watch, at the very least.

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Australia ranks fifth in literacy and 13th in numeracy, says OECD | World news |

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 9, 2013

Australia ranks fifth in literacy and 13th in numeracy, says OECD | World news |

via Australia ranks fifth in literacy and 13th in numeracy, says OECD | World news |

And *sigh* still our politicians criticise the profession, underpay Aussie teachers and waste our time trying to import dumb ideas like performance pay from the US.

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Australian Curriculum – it’s all systems go!

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 22, 2011

News just in* is that MCEECDYA (the Ministerial Council for all stuff educational) has approved the final version i.e. the achievement standards of the Australian Curriculum as we have it so far (English, maths, history and science). This means that all ministers, state and federal, of whatever political persuasion and despite all the posturing that’s gone on, have given the curriculum the nod.

After all the work that’s been done, they would have been mad not to.  For well over a century we have had the absurd situation of each state having to fund curriculum development from their eight separate education budgets.  For any state to reject the AC would have meant them having to start again, at the beginning, at their own expense, and have an out-of-date curriculum until a new one was written.  Cash-strapped state governments were never going to abandon the AC at this stage of its development, whatever the political grandstanding.

Educational publishers must also be breathing a sign of relief.  Instead of commissioning and publishing materials for all the different school systems, they can now produce better, cheaper materials that can be used right around the country.  Thank goodness for that, because that will keep Australian educational publishing profitable, and so schools will be less at risk of having to make-do with inappropriate imported materials from you-know-where.

Given that each state is coming from a different base, it does make sense for implementation plans to be state specific.  Victoria’s plans are laid out at the VCAA  Australian Curriculum page; readers from other states can find what their state is doing from the ACARA Implementation Coordination page.   But for all of us right around the country, it means reporting against those new achievement standards from 2013 onwards.

So we’re going to be busy in 2012.  We’ll have a hybrid curriculum until the rest of the AC is available but we have a lot of work to do in the four subjects that we currently have.  At the school level, we’ll be auditing existing curriculum, tweaking what we have and developing new units where needed.  What will really matter is that we design first-class assessment strategies and tasks that allow kids to show what they know and can do.

However, the most important thing is that we use this curriculum to create engaging learning that’s fit for 21st century kids, many of whom will be 22nd century adults.  After all, five-year-olds in a 2013 Prep class will most likely live to be over 100, what an exciting thought!

Resources to support Victorian schools will be available at this VCAA page from October 24th.

*You can sign up for an email newsletter to keep abreast of AC developments at the ACARA website.  Click on this link and find it on the LHS menu (on their Home page).

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The Confronting Truth about School Funding

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 9, 2011

Anyone who’s driven past the grandiose school edifices and facilities of Melbourne’s private schools knows that there’s something badly wrong with the system, but now there are hard facts to expose the funding inequity that government schools have had to live with under successive governments, Liberal, Labor and the current dog’s breakfast.   Click this link to read the article.

Will anyone do anything about it?

Not a chance.

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The Nation’s Top Schools? I don’t think so…

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 2, 2010

As predicted, our national newspaper wasted no time in commissioning some analysts to develop a league table, using the NAPLAN results on the Federal Government’s My School results.

The so-called top schools are, as we knew they would be, independent schools charging fees that put them beyond the reach of the majority of Australian parents.  The headlines attribute these schools’ success to their independence in curriculum, and not to the privileged lifestyle the students inevitably lead, not to the wealth of books and materials and computers and resources they have, and not to the schools’ ability to exclude troublemakers and students with profound learning disabilities or welfare issues. 

(Please spare me the usual rubbish about scholarship kids and parents who struggle to pay the fees, I bet there aren’t any parents on the Education Maintenance Allowance sending their kids to Sydney Grammar. Spare me the stuff about how these schools have troublemakers too: government schools like mine get their rejects all the time, not to mention the kids who’ve failed to learn to read by the end of Year 2, with a corresponding impact on the Year 3 results of both schools. Everyone knows that what independent schools really offer is an exclusive peer group.  That is what the parents want, and that is what they are willing to pay megabucks for.)

The nation’s top schools, really, are those that make a huge difference to the life chances of the students they teach.  Economists would label these schools as the best at value-adding, but that’s not a term I like to use in connection with people and their learning.  These top schools are staffed by dedicated, caring teachers who focus on literacy and numeracy as well as providing a rich curriculum in other areas.  These top schools focus on teaching interpersonal skills as a high priority too, to ensure that bullying doesn’t affect the learning of vulnerable students. These top schools teach all kinds of kids, including those without a word of English; those from dysfunctional families that sabotage learning rather than support it; and those with learning and intellectual disabilities who are included in the NAPLAN tests because government guidelines for funding these disabilities are so restrictive that these students never get classified as disabled in the first place.   These top schools do it without much money, without swimming pools and theatres and vast playing fields: these top schools spend their money on the staff to run extra support programs and on professional development so that every teacher on staff knows the most effective research-based methods of teaching reading, writing and maths, as well as skills for getting on with other people.

I wonder if any of our politicians are going to put out a press release about these  top schools? I’m not holding my breath…

My school is one of the nation’s top schools.   You can find us punching above our weight on that invidious website, but I recommend you talk to our parents and students instead.  After all, they’re the ones who really know.

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The Crowded Curriculum

Posted by Lisa Hill on April 7, 2010

Back when Jeff Kennett was in power here in Victoria and schools were sinking under the weight of the then Curriculum and Standards Framework, I had an article published in The Canberra Times about offering flexible school hours and extending the time that children spend in school (with suitable additional remuneration for teachers, of course). 

Now with the new National Curriculum on its way, once again the issue of the Crowded Curriculum arises. See Annabel Astbury’s article in New Matilda here.

The way I see it, there is no other solution to the Crowded Curriculum except to extend the hours that schools are open, and make teaching and learning so attractive that children and teachers will be happy to be there.

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Bah humbug, from the VIT

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 23, 2009

At this time of the year most employers give their employees a bonus, but not mine.

I get a bill from the Victorian Institute of Teaching instead.  I’ve just paid it today, and I hope my colleagues have too, because I note that that ‘late payment processing fees now apply if invoice not paid in full by due date.’

What do I get for my $70, a fee which rises by a couple of dollars each year?  Registration to teach, (which used to be handled efficiently and for free, by the Department of Education) and it’s not even national registration.  Their most high profile activity, dismissing  teachers who have disgraced the profession through inappropriate behaviour with students, results in the embarrassment of salacious reporting about it.  Great for the prestige of teachers, not.

Gee, thanks, VIT.  Happy Christmas to you too.

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Justice Michael Kirby, you’re my hero!

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 2, 2009

I hope the ABC doesn’t mind me quoting from their report about what Justice Michael Kirby had to say about the inequitable funding of government schools, because I’m fed up too.  I am more than fed up with the lack of funding for kids who need extra help, money for which is smeared as money for teachers to feather their nests and slack off.   I’m really angry about the shortage of teachers because teaching is a profession nobody wants to do any more because it’s so badly paid and the conditions are so awful.   I’m even more angry that we are importing rubbish ideas like payment by results and league tables from America when the US, the richest nation in the world, has an education system that has failed its poorest citizens and has appalling literacy rates.  Why on earth would we want to copy anything they do?  And why is it that it’s government schools that have to submit to this stupidity, eh?

” Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby says he is fed up with government neglect of public schools, especially while private schools get extra public money. In a speech at Melbourne High last night, Justice Kirby said Australians educated in state high schools should stick up for public education and urge the government to provide more funding. “The schools where 63 per cent of Australians are educated deserve better, and the time has come for all citizens to make it clear that they demand an end to the under-funding of public education, where the future of our nation will chiefly be written,” he said.

Justice Kirby pointed out that during his 13 years on the High Court bench, he was for the most part the only judge to have been educated entirely in public schools. “One out of seven. This is curious, there is a puzzle here, but also a challenge,” he said. And he took a swipe at politicians and the media who criticise public schools.

“I’m fed up with the suggestion that public schools neglect education in values,” he said.

 “I’m fed up when I go to wealthy private schools with substantial supplementary funding and see the neglect of the facilities of famous public high schools. “

A principal of a fine private school said to me recently that in most other countries, the high school of the former prime minister would be celebrated and it would be well endowed. “I hope that this attrition will end, and end soon. It is unjust and it’s certainly undeserved, as the record of public school achievements demonstrates.”

Justice Kirby highlighted the achievements of Australian Nobel laureates who had attended public schools, including this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Elizabeth Blackburn. And he urged those educated in public schools to speak up for the majority of Australian students. “It constantly amazes me that leaders of government in Australia who have themselves benefited from public education go along with inequity in the distribution of public funds for schooling,” he said. “Parents and citizens in public schools have to learn the art of advocacy. They’ve got to blog, Twitter, text, lobby and argue. ‘Be sure that the lobbyists for private and religious schools are highly skilled and well organised. For the children of the nation’s public schools, this lack of balance has to stop.”

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Be the Revolution? If only there was one!

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 27, 2009

What on earth is going on at HQ in the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development?? Have they lost the plot entirely?


I came back to school after Cup Day feeling tired but pleased with myself.  Everything was under control, I thought. The reports were done, and we had amended our Strategic Plan to take account of developing a new Student Engagement Policy, a huge task that came out of the blue and was assigned to all schools late in Term 3.  It’s  due to region by the end of this year but we had set aside an hour a week to work on it so that we could get it finished by the deadline.  (Anyone who is imagining that this could be a one page A4 document had better think again.  This so-called policy is going to run to about 30 pages, and is really a full-scale program). 

Anyway, I had developed a draft of the Annual Implementation Plan V1 from the amended strategic plan and it was almost ready for circulation and feedback.  The Professional Development Team had sketched out a Professional Development Plan V1.  We had made our plans for the three curriculum days at the beginning of 2010 and the staff doing the presentations were organised to undertake some preparatory PD.   I thought I could focus on getting the library stock-take organised and correcting the projects that Years 3-6 were due to finish in Weeks 7 and 8.  

But then I checked my email….

First there was a demand for a School Performance Summary.  Data to be provided to us on November 6th, and the finished report due to region on the 16th.  Yes, that’s 10 days to do it and I had to miss a morning’s classes to attend PD to find out what it was all about.   It turned out to be an ‘enhanced’ version of the Rudd government’s so-called transparency agenda.  I dutifully provided a profile of our school etc to go on the State Government’s website which will duplicate the league tables data which the Feds are setting up.  I did this knowing full well that no one will look at it once the league tables have been published in The Australian and all the tabloids (who have, no doubt, already organised their journos to sort the data, once it’s available, into the format that they want).

Then there was some stuff from region, inviting us to Be the Revolution.  I waded through the world’s most irritating website (I’d add the link, but I can’t find it on SMR’s website LOL) to find that there was an 88 page manual to read.  I decided to read the summary instead, but that was 14 pages long. I printed out the wretched thing and stuck it in my bag to take home and read later.

I did that at the weekend.  As I suspected, Being the Revolution involves a lot of work.  Most of what we have to do rehashes the Curriculum Plan that we did in 2007, (yes, that’s only two years ago) but there’s also some fanciful stuff about dreaming how we might redesign our school spaces to teach in the 21st century.  Even if there were some prospect of having the money to do this, isn’t this an architect’s job?  Are they really expecting teachers to design buildings??

Whether it’s an absurd waste of time or not, my estimated time impact of the Be the Revolution stuff, that is, how much teacher time is needed to deal with it,  totals 13-19 hours + 4-6 weeks research + unspecified time for the ‘catchphrase’ & ‘road map’  + 4 x ongoing time allocations + unspecified time for reflection, based on advice in the 88 page manual:

Section 1: Dreams 3-5 hours+ ongoing unspecified time for the ‘catchphrase’ & ‘road map’;

Section 2: Invest 2-3 hours + 4-6 weeks research

Section 3: Design 7-10 hours +ongoing;

Section 4: Share: 30-40 mins +4 x ongoing time allocations + unspecified time for reflection

I have no idea where this time is going to come from: planning, preparing for and correcting student learning, I suppose?  Integrated Unit development?  Preparation of resources?  After school professional development?? Consensus moderation of assessment tasks?  All the other initiatives we have in our strategic plan?? Anyway, I set my doubts aside and added it to the list of things we’re going to do in 2010 in our Annual Implementation Plan V2, and added it to the Professional Development Plan V2  as well.

23.11.09 (Monday)

Circulated draft Annual Implementation Plan V2 to Leadership Team.

25.11.09 (Wednesday).

Email about online PD available for the three curriculum days at the start of term 1 2010.  I would have thought that all schools would be devoting at least one whole day to introducing the new Student Engagement Policy, and another whole day to progressing the implementation of E5 and planning for using it.  Anyway, we’ve already planned our three days…

26.11.09 (Thursday )1.23pm

Email from SMR about Ultranet AIP Guidelines suggesting ways to include the Ultranet in the Annual Implementation Plan.  Wary of committing the school to something we know very little about, I re-do the Annual Implementation Plan now V3 with undertakings to provide PD for staff and implement the initiative as information becomes available.  Make note to self about amending Professional Development Plan which will be V3.  Frantic efforts to share these amendments with the leadership team sabotaged by huge rainstorm.  The corridor is awash, three rooms are flooded, parts of the ceiling collapse under the weight of water, and it seems like a good idea to turn the computers off.  Oh, and everybody is too busy with mops and towels to chat about the AIP . 

27.11.09 Friday 1.25 pm

That deadline to submit the draft  Annual Implementation Plan is looming – rainstorm or not, it’s due to region on Monday.  Updated the Annual Implementation Plan Draft V4 to include more about the Ultranet, and sent it off by email to the Leadership Team for feedback.  Five minutes later, there were three new documents about the Ultranet in my inbox.  Ultranet Readiness documents they call them – as if schools can be ready for something about which they have had next to no information, no professional development and no money to provide the infrastructure.

At this stage my rebellious streak overtook my professional zeal and I decided that I’d had enough.  These incessant  demands from the department are unreasonable.  Clearly they are disorganised and have left everything to the last minute, and they seem to have forgotten that schools are busy with reports, EOY functions like Graduation, managing the Fed’s Building Program, preparing grade lists for 2010, interviewing staff for 2010 positions, library stock-takes and so on.  We’re still teaching too – I’ve got 18 classes a week; the other leading teachers who are classroom teachers get 4 hours time release a week.  How on earth are we supposed to collaborate on planning at such short notice (never mind the collaborating we’re supposed to be doing on the Student Engagement Policy as well!)

Whoever is in charge of the Department of Education & Early Childhood Development at HQ needs to get out of the skyscraper in the city and visit some schools to see the impact of these unreasonable demands.  Strategic planning for effective 21st century learning is too important to be ruined by such disorganised stupidity as this.  It saps the goodwill of hardworking teachers and it means that anything that does get done won’t be done properly. 

If we had a real revolution in schools, there would be respect for the work of teachers, there would be money to support worthwhile initiatives, and adequate time release would be provided for planning purposes instead of trading on the goodwill of the profession.

Update 2.12.09 More stuff came today, to be included in the Annual Implementation Plan.  Too late, o tardy bureaucrats, we’ve sent ours in already, as per the official deadline, on Monday last.

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Catastrophic Fire Danger Days

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 19, 2009

Well now I’ve heard everything!  I read in The Age today, that there’s concern that schools might not be able to notify parents if schools are to close on days of Code Red Catastrophic Fire Danger.   This is because the  Bureau of Meteorology Fire Danger Rating, which determines whether a school in an at-risk area closes, would be declared twice a day – at 5am and about 5pm.  So schools may not know until then that the school – for the safety of students and staff – MUST be closed.  Brian Burgess, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Schools Principals  was quoted as saying that there was no way a high school could shut on such short notice.

What utter nonsense!  School communities are in the same location as the families that attend there.  And even if some students travel some distance from the school, every parent has a responsibility to monitor these fire danger ratings on a daily basis.  These warnings will be broadcast in the media well before any child sets off for school in the morning, and any family in the same at-risk area as the school ought to have enacted its bushfire safety plan anyway.  It is not the school’s responsibility to notify people that there’s a catastrophic fire danger rating for the day!

We have seen what happens when people rely on getting personalised warnings about bushfire danger.  Every parent in Victoria ought to know the potential risk to the school their child attends.  Check the  Bushfire At-Risk Register if you don’t.  Every Victorian has a responsibility to monitor those daily warnings for their area or any area they plan to travel to,  and to share the information with anyone who is vulnerable.

Click this link for Victorian Forecast Areas.

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