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Monday, July 26 2021

Achieving Excellence as a Teacher - Staying the Distance.

We are currently in a crisis in public education.  Recent numbers from the Bureau of Statistics suggests 53% of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education.  It is becoming more and more obvious that all the energy and enthusiasm beginning teachers brought to each school is quickly extinguished when the reality of the Department’s obsession with teacher accountability crushes their passion.  It has been estimated that 40% of graduates quit in the first five years, not to mention the growing numbers of experienced teachers walking away from their jobs.


‘In the good old days’ new teachers did get informal mentoring from more experienced colleagues.  They had time to absorb the life in a school. The whole-school relationships, so crucial in connecting to students was extended across all the schools’ personnel.  The school you were appointed to was already a community and you were welcomed in and supported without any ‘documented’ - forced support.  Now, with the advent of Professional Teaching Standards in 2011, all teachers, including those with extensive experience are burdened with administrative tasks that achieve nothing more that satisfy some framework that is supposed to verify their professionalism.  In reality, this is only busy work and the outcome does nothing more meaningful than some official recognition that the has teacher turned up. 


The down-side is that these experienced teachers have no time or energy to really support their beginning colleagues.  To survive those first years requires a personal investment to defeat those artificial obstacles erected by our leaders.  If you can do that you can still find the absolute joy that comes with teaching.


Most teachers have chosen their careers for good reasons, they want to teach but like all skills some possess more natural talent but that does not define anyone’s career.  To become a good teacher requires you to want to become a good teacher, it’s a mindset.


Carol Dweck Psychologist from Stanford University, author of ‘Every Student Has Something to Teach Me’ emphasises the importance of a teacher’s mindset.


For a start, don’t think your present skill set is fixed for all time, too many people think one or all of the following:

  • The type of teacher someone is, is predetermined, it cannot be changed, it is permanent
  • Teachers can change the way they teach in the classroom, but they can’t really change their true teaching ability
  • Some teachers will be ineffective no matter how hard they try to improve


If you have these types of beliefs you will inevitably become discouraged.  Instead of looking for ways to improve you will believe you’re not good enough!  Unfortunately, if this is you, you try to hide this perceived failure by avoiding opportunities to learn from others or observe examples of good practice.  In today’s climate, you will be ignored and destined to fail yourself and the children in your care.


This attitude reflects those of students who experience toxic shame (see Newsletter Toxic Shame - 18 August 2020).  The attitude of these kids is that when things go wrong it’s not that they made a mistake it is because they feel they are a mistake.  This leads them to adopt a series of faulty beliefs that they articulate through their self-talk (see Newsletter Faulty Beliefs – 6 April 2020).  For these teachers who think they are not ‘good enough’ their self-talk will be something like:

  • I’d be able to do this easily if I was a good teacher
  • I’ll never be as good as that teacher
  • I’ll never be able to get these students to learn this
  • If I take a risk and it doesn’t work out, I’ll lose your status/control/respect
  • You see, I took a risk and failed; don’t ever try that again. I’ll stick to what I know
  • Why not face the facts; I’m just cut out for this


Imagine if, in their pretraining and workplace T&D they were taught the following set of beliefs:

  • No matter how much natural ability you will always find ways to improve
  • Every teacher, no matter how good they are can significantly improve
  • The rewards of trying new teaching methods far outweighs the risk of making a mistake
  • It’s good to discuss my difficulties with others so I can learn from them  


We can all become better teachers if we display our humility instead of defending our reputation.  No one’s perfect, no lesson is perfect that’s because teachers and students are people so be honest with yourself!  When the kids see you wanting to learn you are modelling the very behaviour you want them to adopt.


In the last Newsletter (Just Say No – Not So Easy - 19 July 2021) I outlined the difficulty in getting the time to carry-out all the demands placed on teachers and I suggested that you should prioritise the tasks you really do need to complete.  On top of this list is the work you do for your students, in the classroom, preparation, assessment, etc.  After this I would aim for continually improving of my teaching skills.  To do this you need to:

  • Take every opportunity to engage in appropriate T&D, read more professional literature, and constantly be on the lookout for new ideas and teaching techniques.
  • Observe other teachers, in my early career I identified an outstanding teacher, Neil Gower and he became my mentor without knowing it.  I watched him every chance I got. He was always willing to share his knowledge with me and anyone else.  Knowing Neil, he would not have been a fan of the prescribed mentoring that really misses that relational connection, he was a practitioner!
  • Confront your problems head-on and ask for help.  This is a sign of strength not weakness!


As I stated at the beginning of this Newsletter, too many of our young teachers are leaving, driven out by the meaningless bureaucracy and tedious administration demands and I suspect the decision to leave has been made more easily because they don’t understand that teaching is not easy, sure some find it easier than others but ask any experienced teacher about their first years and they will recount the levels of exhaustion they experienced at the end of every day.


So, you have a choice, even when you are overwhelmed remind yourself, if you want to succeed you will have to make an effort.  It’s hard but doable and even though you will never be perfect some days, in some lessons, with some kids you will experience a joy and satisfaction that money can’t buy.  Remember, when this happens, and it will if you keep going, you have earned that moment and no bureaucrat can take that away from you!  And, for a bonus that kid or those kids will share in that victory!

Posted by: AT 08:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 19 2021

Just Say No - Not So Easy!

As we again have to deal with a lockdown and we move into the new term we are once more confronted with the challenge of home schooling.  And, again teachers will rise to the occasion, working above and beyond what would reasonably be expected to ensuring that the kids’ education will continue.  However, I am quite fed up with the politician’s and bureaucrat’s insipid declarations of their gratitude for the great work done by those same teachers on behalf of the students.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the staggering effort made by teachers at this time it is that teachers are constantly asked to meet unrealistic demands and this is resulting in burnout and the subsequent loss of student’s learning.


The Department and Government acknowledge the problem of burnout and they have produced plenty of advice on how to avoid it.  Likewise, I have addressed the importance of looking after yourself in previous Newsletters (see Looking After Yourself - 2 September 2019).  Working in an environment that demands more than can be delivered without compromise leads to burnout and if this is happening to you will notice changes to your physical and emotional wellbeing as well as changes in your behaviour.


In that Newsletter I also considered the five causes of burnout; these being:

1. Work Overload

2. No Autonomy

3. Under Valued

4. Not Supported in the Workplace

5. Fairness

6. The ‘Meaning’ of your Work


I would contend that all of these characteristics exist across the teaching profession.


I have consistently advised that the best advice to combat burnout is to have strong personal boundaries (see Newsletter ‘Boundary Considerations’ – 31st July 2017) and the steps are:

1. Stay Calm

2. Ask the Questions - What is Really Happening?

3. Who is Responsible?

4. What Do I Want to Happen in the Long-Term?


This last question is critical.  For this current dilemma the answer for the question what do I want in the long-term is that we are not burned-out!


If you look at the literature devoted to addressing the issue the pattern of advice is to consider things like ‘enjoy your work’, ‘consider finances’, etc. but within this information three themes stand out.  These are:

  • Know your Values - what is important to you in life.
  • Practice Time Management - Review your typical week and cut down on time ‘wastage’ meetings.
  • Set Boundaries - Set limits on your work time and set aside time for other activities. Learn how to say ‘no’.

For teachers, I contend the overwhelming value is to provide the students with the best possible education.  If other demands take you away from this fundamental goal you compromise your work.  However, it is within the way you manage your time and if necessary say no to demands that distract you away from your core business the elements of a resolution can be found.


Let’s start with time management; the extraordinary demands on the modern teacher and school executive cannot be met within a forty-hour week unless there is a compromise in the quality of each task completed. 


When the working conditions for a teacher were first established the negotiations were centred around the lesson preparation, face to face teaching and assessment such as homework and reporting.  These were the conditions I had to meet when I started forty years ago.  And, I can assure you that even then I did more than the forty hours expected but I still had time for my life.


Contrast those conditions with the demands placed on today’s teachers.  In Victoria classroom teachers in both primary and secondary schools reported working an average of 53 hours per week.  The changes in technology, the increase in student’s mental health issues, mandatory accreditation, repeated changes to curriculum, NAPLAN testing, School Reviews plus an increase demands on teachers to provide pastoral care and personal development lessons; all this and more has been added to our workload without any increase in real support.  In an AEU survey of 3,591 teachers nearly three quarters of respondents felt they spent too much time on administrative tasks.


Here’s the thing; if we look at the practice of time management in a systematic way we could record the hours applied to the various demands on individual teachers, teaching with the preparation, marking, face to face, welfare etc., mandatory T&D, accreditation, administrative duties, playground duties, etc.  When we have an unbiased and rational sample add up the hours for a week.  Then compare those hours to a forty-hour week. 


The next step is to cull any hours of work over the mandatory forty or what you are prepared to allocate.  Be careful not to be too generous the goal is for you to have a healthy work/life balance!  This is where the value of your work is contested.  You can announce that you will not do certain tasks unless more support is provided and if you are directed to meet set obligations that are outside your adjudication ask what tasks you should not do to so those ‘obligations’ can be met, if you think it is necessary get those directions in writing.


This brings you to the moral challenge of saying no!  This is a step that needs to be taken but one that takes a great deal of courage.  If we want teachers not to burnout, not to leave the profession in droves as they do now, to be effective where it matters - in the classroom than we have to have the courage to say no to unachievable demands! 


Remember that although the Department consistently praises the teachers for their efforts they never take any responsibility for their continued increasing demands on teacher’s time! In their WHS Policy they assert: 

The department is committed to:

1.11 – providing everyone in its workplaces with a safe and healthy working and learning environment.

But this is never applied to teacher’s wellbeing.


I despair at the current state of our profession, we have lost sight of our core business teaching and the understanding that it is the personal connection between the teacher and the student that enriches the learning experience for the student.  I have watched teacher’s focus being diverted from their classroom with dubious administration tasks and a continuous parade of ‘quality solutions’ such as leadership training!  Teachers are qualified to teach and should be in class while they hone their skills on the job.  Leaders will, as always emerge, those who best ‘do the job’ not pass the external test but more importantly kids will regain the full attention of their teacher!



Posted by: AT 12:10 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 12 2021

Political Bias Associated with the ABC Current Affairs Program - The Drum

I have recently become more and more disgruntled regarding what I perceived as being a blatant right-wing bias in the selection of panellist for the current affairs ABC evening show the Drum.  To eliminate any confirmation bias on my part I went back over past episodes and assigned participants to various groupings.  The distribution of the 144 panelists is shown below:


The number of participants with direct political affiliations was 22.  These are:

Stephen O’Doherty - Liberal

Stephen O'Doherty - Liberal

Kathryn Greiner - Liberal

Katrina Hodgkinson- National

Kerry Chikarovski - Liberal

Wendy Machin- National

Brigid Meney - Liberal

Craig Chung ­ Liberal

Craig Chung - Liberal

Jackie Kelly - Liberal

Ewen Jones - Liberal

Kathryn Greiner - Liberal

Kate Carnell - Liberal

Jacqui Munro - Liberal

Adrian Piccoli -National

Kerry Chikarovski- Liberal

Kerry Chikarovski - Liberal

Stephen O’Doherty - Liberal

Alexander Downer - Liberal

Kate Carnell - Liberal

Emma Husar - Labor

John Pesutto - Liberal


This leads to the following distribution:

The ‘one’ ex-Labor affiliate was Emma Husar who left the party after on-going issues between Ms Husar and that party and this was the reason for her participation.  I make no judgement about the incidents that lead to her resignation but find it uncomfortable that she was the only representative of the second most dominant political party to be invited as a panelist.  In effect, there is mu labor representation on this show!


The Greens had no representation!


I contacted the ABC complaints department on Thursday, 8 July and they have assured me they have passed this on for examination.  I informed them I would wait until Monday before I went public with my findings.  To my dismay they had the Liberal John Pesutto on the Friday and Adrian Piccoli from the Nationals on the Monday.  Pesutto’s appearance meant that there were seven Liberals in the last ten episodes and Piccoli made that eight consecutive representations of coalition affiliates.  This is hardly a concession about my concerns.


I believe the evidence cited above provides evidence that this show is little more than a vehicle for the coalition government and does not fulfil the mandate of our ABC.


Posted by: AT 09:47 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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