The Missing Superheroes

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As a young girl who aspired to greatness, I couldn’t think of too many people I’d rather be than Bat Girl. Bat Girl had a cool outfit and rode a bike and beat up bad guys.  But I was always conscious that she was living in Batman’s shadow, following a path he’d already trodden.

Wonder Woman was my other favourite.  She wasn’t following in anyone else’s footsteps, or being a slightly less powerful version of a male hero. She was a hero in her own right.

WONDER WOMAN

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 22: WONDER WOMAN – “Formula 407” – Season One – 1/22/77, Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) goes south of the border to recover a top secret formula stolen by the Nazis. The series was based on Charles Moulon’s comic book superheroine., (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

It used to frustrate me that there was such a dearth of female heroes. I loved that Princess Leia was strong and heroic, smarter than both Han and Luke, but she was still a victim, held prisoner by Darth Vader, needing to be rescued.

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I became increasingly aware of the lack of women in public life. I remember one Saturday, my sister and I were making a mix tape of songs from the radio, and pretending to be DJs,  recording chat and making announcements between each song. For a brief period in the late 70s/early 80s I thought I might like to work on radio when I grew up, but, as my sister pointed out to me, there were no female announcers on the radio, just men. We wondered why that was, and concluded that mens voices just sound more convincing than women’s. A high pitched female voice on the radio would sound silly. Or so we thought, having never heard a woman on the radio.

It was around that time that Deborah Lawrie was the first woman to make a commercial flight in Australia. This was after a prolonged sex discrimination case against Ansett Airlines. My uncle was a pilot for Ansett so my family paid close attention whenever they were in the news. I remember Ansett arguing it would not be safe for a woman to fly commercially, especially if she were having her period. I was delighted when she won her case.

We often hear the expression ‘It’s a man’s world’. That was certainly true when I was growing up. No one was TELLING me it was a man’s world,  but it was apparent, even to a 7 year old child that there were opportunities and paths available to men that were closed to me, simply because of my femaleness. The lack of female role models made some careers seem impossible or absurd.

I started high school at a time when a poster campaign aimed at breaking these barriers was running. On classroom walls and corridors all around our school were posters of women in jobs typically considered to be men’s work. The two I remember most clearly were the car mechanic and the scientist. They all bore the simple message “Girls Can Do Anything”.

It was a simple campaign, but for us it was powerful. Until then, we hadn’t been aware of anyone challenging the norms of what women could do. The feminist movement had of course been happening for years, but as Year 7 students, we were oblivious to all that.

My friends and I weren’t sure that we wanted to be mechanics, but we liked that the posters suggested that we could. We felt stronger when we saw them. We loved that they challenged the way things were. They gave us hope that maybe being female wouldn’t stop us doing what we wanted. And of course, when the character Charlene, who happened to be a mechanic appeared on neighbours, we felt elated. Barriers were being broken all over the place.

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A simple poster campaign made a difference to my friends and I, in a time when there were few female role models in public life, in literature or on television. While women have come a long way (and still have a long way to go), there are still many marginalised children in Australia growing up in an environment which tells them, through the absence of representation, that they can’t aspire to greater things.

How often do we share literature that features people with disabilities or diverse genders, or from diverse backgrounds?  How often do we feature their stories in our history lessons?We need to be challenging the absence of role models, and actively seeking out texts and role models that represent the diversity of our student populations.For schools to be truly inclusive we must examine not just what we teach, but what we leave out, and who we ignore. We owe it to our students to show them that there is a place for them in this world, that they can participate fully and aspire to whatever it is they wish.


This post was inspired by  @Obi_jon_ , @debsnet and @drsriddle who all wrote blogs inspired by cartoons recently.

Trouble Brewing at Snake Mountain High

The Indexcardification of Education

A pedagogy of Astro Boy: education and social justice

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Evidence-Based Practice: Supporting decisions or a stick to beat us with?

There are days like today where I feel more tired and jaded than usual about the push for evidence based practice in schools, which sometimes seems more a stick to beat educators with than a tool to guide and inform our practice.

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Increasingly I speak with teachers who have either lost confidence in their ability to make professional judgments, or don’t have permission. Perhaps the pedagogy they have adopted (or been told to adopt), isn’t  effective. But instead of questioning the pedagogy, they assume, or are told they are failing,  doing it wrong. I suppose it’s a natural conclusion when evidence is treated as proof, and learning is regarded as something that follows a predictable path.

The truth is, no one really knows what will work in education. As much as politicians, consultants, ‘edgurus’ and the publishers of scripted  DI programs might like us to believe  a particular input will produce a predictable outcome, we know that’s not true. There are always students who don’t fit the mould and for whom that approach is ineffective.

No one better positioned than the classroom teacher to judge how to best teach their students. Every classroom has its own dynamics and unique variables. There is no template for practice which can fit each situation perfectly. It is the teacher’s job to work out if it can be applied at all.

Standardising instruction, behaviour management techniques and so forth, whether across a year level, a school or a system may work for those students who fit the mould, but there are always those students who don’t fit, who don’t thrive, and for whom a standardised ‘evidence-based’ approach is setting them up for failure. All too often, students who don’t fit are seen as the problem. They must change to fit the system, rather than reshaping the system to fit the students. Those students who can’t adapt fail, or are marginalised. They quickly learn that they don’t belong.

I’ve taught many marginalised kids. Students who are very difficult to teach because they don’t fit the mould. Some traumatised, some  highly anxious, some with diagnoses such as ODD. Students who are still  learning to regulate their emotions, to form positive relationships with other students, to trust adults and to communicate effectively rather than lashing out physically or verbally. Students who are also learning reading and writing, mathematics, art, science and so forth. They are difficult to teach and learn in different ways.

Some, with a desperate need for control, are best provided with choices and opportunities for self-direction. They will resist, rebel, undermine and refuse to engage if they feel they are being ‘told’. Others, with extreme fear of failure, thrive when provided with clear, explicit instructions, repetitive activities, and only a gradual increase in challenge. Some learn best with and from other students, they are motivated by their peers. Others, need to have their own space, and not be disturbed or interrupted. Some can only sustain activity for a short period of time. Others will have meltdowns if forced to end an activity before it is complete or perfect.

There is no template for children, there is no one model of best practice we can adopt and say ‘This is what works’. Frequently what works on Tuesday will be a complete failure on Wednesday. Yes we refer to research, and we seek out evidence to inform our practice, but we adapt and modify everything we do to suit the children in front of us.

Every child needs an education, but not all children fit the education we provide. It is our obligation to ensure that we don’t marginalise those outliers. We must instead do what we can to provide the education they are entitled to. We must become flexible, let evidence inform judgement but not dictate it. Rather than force our students to fit in or fail, we need to shape our practice around their needs. That is what teacher professional judgement is all about, and why it needs to be privileged in our schools.

 

Starting Out

STARTING

In 3 days I’ll commence a new school year, in a new role as relieving principal for a special purpose school that caters for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I’m expecting to be there for a term, but it could be longer depending on how long it takes to fill the position permanently.

Working with these sorts of students is always challenging. While I’ve developed expertise working with similar cases in a mainstream setting, working in a school where EVERY child has significant behavioural or emotional needs will be a new experience.

However, this sort of work is rewarding. I usually find that once trust and rapport has been developed with a child, they make great progress. I love seeing them develop self awareness, emotional control, belief in themselves as learners and as valued members of a school community. So often their first experiences with formal education is negative, and they feel alienated. A lot of work needs to go into reversing that, building their self esteem and confidence. If we can help them with this during their early years at school, I believe we have a far greater chance of seeing positive outcomes for them in the future.

I’m looking forward to working for a cause that I am passionate about.

I went into the office last week and started transferring dates to my calendar. It is already bursting with deadlines, meetings and so forth. I have 8 meetings in Week 2 scheduled already, along with enrolling a new student. There are 8 the following week as well.

Of the 5 teachers (There are 5 teachers and 5 learning support officers at the school) only two were there last year. Two of the three new teachers coming in have done some casual relief work at the school and are highly regarded, but this will be their first experience running their own class. The third teacher has never worked at the school before.

All of these teachers are early career and on temporary contracts. The assistant principal, who seems very capable, dedicated and insightful is also a temp. There is one permanent teacher on the team at the moment.

I think at least two of the five learning support officers (formerly called teachers aides) are also new this year. So, of the 10 staff,  5 are new. And then of course there’s me – new as well. A priority will be to ensure that all the teachers are well supported, with the less experienced  having access to good mentors.

With so much change I want to try to keep things as normal as possible for the students. Often children with diagnoses like ADHD, ODD and autism experience a lot of anxiety when there is change. Returning to school after the holidays, being put into new classes with different peers and a new teacher is anxiety inducing enough. Introducing several unfamiliar adults will likely add to this. There may well  be some boundary testing, and greater chance of meltdowns in the first few weeks.

Intentions for 2016

 

1. Read more books2. Get a new hobby3. Try rock climbing4. Be more creative

I’m writing this on New Years Day, a temporal landmark that helps me leave all that happened in 2015 behind and start fresh.

So what is to come in 2016? For me new challenges.

I’ll be starting the year as relieving principal of what’s commonly called a behaviour school, for students in Kindergarten to Year 4. These are students who for various emotional and behavioural reasons do not do well in a mainstream setting, but the aim of the school is to get them to the point where they can.

Students attend the school four days each week, remaining in their home school on the fifth. The teachers work closely with their home schools  to support their re-integration into the mainstream setting. By the end of their three term placement, the number of days at their home school increases, until finally, they return full time.

It’s a good program. I’ve worked with a number of children and families who have had their lives turned around by this and similar programs. And its so important. These children’s first experiences of school are often of alienation, and that can colour their experience throughout life. If we can’t turn things around, these children are at high risk of poor social, emotional and educational outcomes.

Aside from the obvious challenge of working with such high need students and families, I’ll be responsible for leading a team of teachers and learning support officers who are operating in roles which are both physically and emotionally demanding.

There’ll also be the steep learning curve of managing school finance, and of being a site manager.

And I’ll be working with a broad range of stakeholders. In addition to parents and students, I’ll be working with the Department of Health, an NGO who will be managing a residential part of the school, the home schools for all the different students, and even the taxi drivers who provide transport for students to and from the school.

On top of this, I’ll be commencing a Master of Education (Research).

So, my priority going in to the year is to ensure I remain healthy and fit enough, both physically and mentally, to manage all of this.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I over commit, I don’t do well in any area of life, and given my recent ‘episode‘ I’m even more cognisant of the need to take care of myself.

To bring myself back to a state of good health, I  put in to place practices that I need to maintain. Having a healthy diet and regular exercise were obvious, but the other that was vital to my recovery and to my continued well being was ‘me time’.

I have always been a reflective person, and need time to think, process and make sense of things. If I’m busy, always involved in activities or surrounded by people, I go under. Making time to simply be in my own headspace is essential to my wellbeing. It’s also one of the things that can most easily be sacrificed when I’m busy, because it seems hard to justify the necessity of simply ‘being’ when there are so many demands on time.

So, the practices I began last year that I mean to continue include:

  • No work on weekends. This probably won’t be possible in 2016 if I’m combining work and study, but I still need to quarantine some time. I need to learn what the demands will be to determine how best to manage, but hope to quarantine at least one day of the weekend. Another option might be to schedule weekends off or away every few weeks.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. This is going to be the hardest part as I’ve struggled with insomnia for years. But I found avoiding wine on week days, staying hydrated, going to bed at a reasonable time, and reading a book rather than surfing the net on my smartphone before sleeping helps a lot.
  • Get up early. I started getting up at 5:30 am last year, even though I didn’t need to leave my home until 8. I loved it. The sun would just be rising and the only sound was bird song. I’d read, write, have a leisurely breakfast, make lunch and bid a somewhat smug farewell  to my partner who would leave getting up until the last minute then fly out the door feeling stressed – which is exactly what I used to do. Making time to start the day slowly made the whole day run well. Work didn’t feel as if it was taking over, but was just one part of a varied day.
  • Walk or run every day. I NEED exercise to clear my head and to get rid of tension. In 2015, I would either walk to and from work (45 minutes each way) or go for a late afternoon run. I won’t be able to walk this year, and I’m not sure how late I’ll be working. I’m considering  using the school grounds after hours for exercise. The school has large grounds, with a walking track and a swimming pool. There could be some good possibilities there.

Since I’ve already begun these practices, this is not so much a list of resolutions as of intentions. The main priority for me as I head into 2016 is to prioritise those things that will keep me well. If I don’t have my health, I’m not much use to anyone.

 

#EduCoachOC Chat 4: A Time for Giving and Receiving

A Preview of our next Coaching Chat.

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December is a time when many of us think about giving and receiving. We show gratitude, share cards, gifts and acts of kindness, and we accept kindness from others.

So it’s a perfect time to reflect on how giving and receiving work in a coaching context, and that’s what we’ll be doing in our 4th Chat on Monday December 7.

Q1 – In what ways does coaching allow the coach to give? And to receive?
Q2 – What difficulties or successes have you come across in ‘giving’ your time, presence in the conversation, feedback or expertise?
Q3 – In what ways does coaching allow the coachee to give? And to receive?
Q4 – What conditions are optimal for productive coaching in which both parties come out having given to & received from each other?
Q5 – What ‘random acts of coaching’ could we enact this festive season to use our coaching toolbox to give…

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Becoming a Coach – Part 1

This month I’m participating in the #educoach blog challenge initiated by Kathy Perret, Jessica Johnson and Shira Liebowitz, moderators of the US based Twitter chat, #Educoach.

I don’t wish to write on the how of coaching – there are plenty of more suitably qualified people than me to do that. Instead, I thought I would use these posts to reflect on becoming a coach. I doubt that journey will ever end. I agree with  Christian  van Nieuwerburgh who writes in An Introduction to Coaching Skills, that to be a coach is not something you are taught, it is something you become, a way of being. I suspect it is something I will always be ‘becoming’.

#Educoach was the first Twitter chat I participated in. Back in 2011 I stumbled across it by accident. At that time the only form of coaching I was aware of was sports coaching. I knew nothing about coaching in an educational context and It sparked my interest. That chat is what started me on my journey to becoming a coach.

Last year, again by accident, I came across the Growth Coaching International website, and signed up for their Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP). I’d been wanting to learn coaching skills for so long, and this looked perfect. I self-funded the training as it was too expensive for my school, but I don’t regret a cent. Becoming a coach has been transformative. It’s one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done.

You see, before becoming a coach, I would carry people’s burdens. If a teacher came to me with a problem I believed it was my job to find a solution. Like Christopher Pyne, I was a ‘fixer’. At least I tried to be.

But I was stressed and burning out carrying my own load while picking up the loads of others. If a team member felt stressed, I’d feel guilty. I believed I had let them down or failed them in some way. It was taking its toll.

I went into coaching to better support teachers, but through the process, I learned how to support myself. I no longer carry people’s burdens and try to solve their problems. Instead I walk alongside them and empower them to unlock solutions for themselves.

The SVA Education Dialogue Dinner

On Monday evening I attended the Social Ventures Australia Education Dialogue Dinner. They bring together:

150 senior national education leaders – representing all states and territories, all sectors, and national agencies and organisations – to focus our collective efforts on enabling and supporting great teaching in all schools through a culture of evidence-informed practice.  Such a collective focus is necessary to arrest the decline in the educational performance of Australian students and the widening gap in performance between the most and least advantaged young Australians.

I was keen to attend, though I did have a couple of reservations about the premise:

I do want to see ‘collective efforts focusing on enabling and supporting great teaching’ and the ‘widening gap between the most and least advantaged young Australians’ addressed.

However, while a ‘culture of evidence-informed practice’ seems a worthy goal, I can’t help wondering who decides what evidence is? The definition of good evidence in the field of education seems to be quite contested with some types of evidence privileged over others.

I’m also not certain that there truly is a ‘decline in the educational performance of Australian students’. The evidence for this is based on performance in PISA, TIMMs and NAPLAN. As Radhika Gorur & Margaret Wu explain in the video below, those data sources can be misleading and a ‘more nuanced understanding would point to quite different policy actions’ (Full paper here). Of course this feeds back into my questions around how we decide which evidence will inform our practice.

Nonetheless, It was extremely interesting to hear representatives from different sectors share their thoughts about how to achieve these goals.

Back in 2013 the federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, said in a Lateline interview

“The OECD says that we are a high equity nation in terms of our students… I don’t believe there is an equity problem in Australia.”

In spite of what Minister Pyne believes, the evidence of a huge equity gap is compelling, and not in dispute at all. Therefore, it was heartening to hear so many speakers from business, government, think tanks, academia and education systems acknowledge that equity is indeed a significant problem.

Over dinner we heard from a number of speakers.

Ian Narev, CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia shared his perspective:

as citizens of the economy we must care about equity in the education system.

The Thatcherite notion that we’re citizens of an economy rankled slightly, but aside from that, I liked what he had to say.

He talked about renewed calls for focusing on ‘basics’ and said that from his point of view, basics include not only the traditional 3Rs, but also financial literacy, some technological literacy (though not necessarily coding) and

being a good human being is a basic foundational skill.

He described the kind of human beings he thinks we need to raise, emphasising qualities like acceptance and inclusiveness.

We heard from The Hon. Adrian Piccoli, Minister for Education, NSW.  Minister Piccoli spoke about the need for education policy and practice to be evidence-based. He provided examples of how his government has used evidence to reform education in NSW:  providing principals with more decision making autonomy; focusing on quality teaching through the Great Teaching Inspired Learning reform; and reforming  Initial Teacher Education through means such as the legislation of minimum entry standards.

He wondered aloud why, when there is so much evidence to support these reforms, every other state and territory is not doing the same thing. I meanwhile, wondered privately if it’s because the evidence itself is contestable or if it just comes down to money.

Over his time as minister, Piccoli has shown a great willingness to inform himself about education in Australia. He doesn’t just surround himself with advisors. He attends conferences, visits schools, talks with teachers and principals and has a far better sense of some of the challenges we face than many of his predecessors.

He spoke about the inequity of our system in NSW, and gave the example of Walgett Public School in one of Australia’s least advantaged communities.  Walgett is an inland school in a sweltering climate. Piccoli told us it has air conditioners that rattle so loudly they can’t be used in lesson times, they drown out the voices.

Much has been written about the problems at Walgett that create so many barriers for learning, so I won’t go into them here. What impressed me was the minister’s willingness to state publicly that a school in a system he is responsible for is in dire need of better resourcing. He challenged anyone to visit a disadvantaged school and then say money doesn’t make a difference.

The two keynotes were followed by a panel discussion. I admit to drifting in and out of this a little, possibly because not only was I participating in an active backchannel on Twitter,  Summer Howarth and Bruce Burnett, sitting on either side of me kept topping up my wine glass. It was great to see Summer again. She was the organiser of the EduChange conference I blogged about here. It was also a pleasure to meet Bruce, along with Jo Lampert. Bruce and Jo are behind the very promising National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools initiative, and we had featured an interview with them on the Teachers Education Review podcast the weekend before.

The panellists were Chris Roberts, non-executive Director, Res Med; Tony Cook , Associate Secretary – Schools and Youth, Australian Government Department of Education and Training; Maurie Mulheron, President, NSW Teachers Federation; and Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive, Education Endowment Foundation.

As Shani Hartley noted on the backchannel, all the speakers and panellists were men. However John Bush, Associate Director, SVA quickly pointed out that two senior women had dropped out of the panel in the days leading up to it.

Photo Credit: @Johnqgoh - Twitter

Panel of Men – Photo Credit: @Johnqgoh – Twitter

Tony Cook spoke about the achievements of the Federal Government’s reforms, including the national curriculum and the MySchool website. Both of these examples caused a few eyebrows to be raised in the room, as many in education see the MySchool website, created under the former Gillard Government, as a damaging Federal initiative. The national curriculum is not without it’s critics either, having been reviewed before it was fully implemented, resulting in a number of very controversial changes.

Chris Roberts  framed education in economic terms. He referred to it as one of  Australia’s biggest exports, and talked about growth, flexibility, employees and customers. He said that from a business perspective, we need to be developing in students the skills to innovate, problem solve and think about issues broadly.

Sir Kevan Collins began speaking about his belief that the solutions to education’s challenges already exist in the system. Our challenge is to identify, verify and distribute them. He asked us to consider how we determine what is good evidence and went on to suggest that we need to take a scientific approach stating,

‘there are not enough medical style randomised trials in education research’.

At this point one of my table mates almost choked on dessert, considering the ethical implications of RCTs in education, and my twitter backchannel erupted in a frenzy. (Well, it was more a slight disturbance in the feed where a few small voices suddenly sighed and then things went on as usual)

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Dessert – It was delicious

I know little of research methodology, but I’m connected with a wonderful network of experts who patiently explain things and share articles with me. A few months ago, a useful paper was published in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education called “The medicalisation of current educational research and its effects on education policy and school reforms”. If you’re not sure why such choking and frenzied tweeting occured at this point, then the paper might be worth a read.

If you don’t have time, this video provides an overview.

For me, the highlight of the evening was listening to Maurie Mulheron. He speaks gently and reasonably about issues, but makes strong, important points.

He began provocatively, claiming talking about quality teachers is offensive. We never talk about doctor quality, and during a financial crisis there is never discussion of the quality of economists. He asked that instead, we talk about quality teaching. I agree with him. Language frames the way we think about things. There is a subtle, but important message embedded in the choices we make. I blogged about it here.

Maurie made powerful points about research and reform:

  •  teaching is one of the most demanding, complex professions. Teachers need to be at the table in reform discussion.
  • our children have been guinea pigs for education reform from outside the profession that has never been evaluated. Only 10% of education reforms across the 34 member countries of the OECD have ever been evaluated.
  • the Gonski funding review is the most important social reform in 49 years, with 329 pages of evidence. If we don’t start every conversation with Gonski, then we’re missing the most serious evidence.

His contributions were  met with rousing applause from many places in the room.

The SVA Education Dialogue Dinner was an interesting and entertaining evening, I enjoyed being presented with such different perspectives on school reform and the opportunity to discuss them with people from a range of sectors in such a relaxed setting. The following day, even more dialogue occurred with a range of panels and speakers which I hope to blog about at some point.

I’m very grateful to John Bush and Social Ventures Australia for allowing me to be a part of it.