One of the concerns I always have with Government Policy, is that most often, it is designed by those who don't work in the profession, and oftentimes, it is driven by forces that are so far away from the current realities of a classroom and the day to day actualities of a modern student, that you wonder what the agenda is.
I would like to be naive and believe that what sits behind the majority of Educational Policy is what is best for children.
Unfortunately, experience, recent and current initiatives, and the neo liberal trends across the world would suggest otherwise. However, the drivers behind Public Education and what Public Education is, is a debate for another time. In this post, I want to look at what the average teacher would want, if the average Politician would just ask.
Let me start with a brief background. This week, the Government introduced a new Policy. I have already posted about that, and you can read more in The Devil is in the Detail. I won't rehash that here, but it has made me think about that 359 million dollars, and what I would do with it.
Firstly - some very very rough maths. That 362 million additional money into the Vote Education budget is roughly $141,394.25, per school. Of course, thats an even split across all schools in the country and does not take into account size, type (e.g. Hospital Schools, Health Camps etc). Once you put that slider across, I am confident it would amount to far more per school. However, for the sake of this post, lets sit with $141,394.25.
To big business, most likely not a lot of money - but to the average school, like mine, thats a good dollop of money that would make a huge difference, particularly in the interim.
So, what would I do?
1. Fund Teacher Aides (TA's) in classrooms to support literacy and numeracy programmes.
Not just willy nilly, but based on what our data shows as the areas needing assistance and using that data - I would use my lead teachers for Literacy and Maths (most effective schools already have these) to provide the TA's with specific training to help support classroom programmes. It would be targeted and it would be outcomes based and the implementation and monitoring would be completed by the lead teachers. This would include using funding to release them to observe, support, train and use tools like walk throughs. (I already have this in place but it is expensive, funded by ourselves and it would make a massive difference if I could increase this initiative to reach more students)
2. Fund more TA time to support students with Special Needs and Behaviour Issues.
There is a myth out there that Group Special Education - the Special Education arm of the Ministry, fully funds these students. Not only is it a myth, but it is so poorly funded that the stories schools could tell you about the advocacy they go into to get the measliest amount of support for these students would make you cry. Students do not get full time funding, and you can never rely on what you might get because it can change each term. Hardly inspires confidence in teachers, parents or schools.
If you ask teachers what causes them the most amount of stress, they will say that students with difficult behaviour and those with in-depth special needs, that are inadequately supported, not only take up additional teacher and planning time, they make the job harder. The complex needs within our schools are not understood by the wider public. I love that we have mainstreaming and that we have a rich diversity of students in our schools, but when students who require additional support are only funded, for example, 3 hours a week, it makes me despair - even more so when you add disruptive, cognitive and health needs into the mix. So, this additional money would be such a godsend for schools like mine all over the country to assist with the extra hours of TA funding we need to support them.
3. Fund a counsellor.
I do this for a day a week already, outside of our funding, but this funding would allow me to fund more time. The difference having a trained counsellor onsite to work with students can not be understated. But this is not a resource that the majority of primary schools can access. Mental Health resources, full stop, are scarce, or too expensive to access. Having someone who is trained to deal with issues that young people face, is an absolute godsend, and reduces incidents in playgrounds and within classrooms. Yet, it is not something that is funded.
4. Fund additional ESL (English as a Second Language) time.
One of the concerns in the educational sector right now is the amount of students who are born here, but who don't speak english or their first language securely at home. These students currently receive less funding than students born oversees, but are twice disadvantaged. The research shows that when a student is secure in their home language, learning English is easier as is any subsequent language. I would fund additional first language classes for these students, as well as additional english support. In 2014 we will be running first language classes, but it is always a dilemma in terms of how to support students who lose ESL funding before they are ready and how these additional - but important - programmes are funded. Unfortunately, money does not just drop down from the sky.
5. Fund Leadership development.
One of the most successful things we have done is fund leadership training for our leadership team. But, it is expensive. We have a highly respected facilitator who comes in and runs half day workshops with my team. Together, we work on issues pertinent to educational leadership and how that relates to their teams. It requires release for each team member, funding the facilitator and providing additional support, resources and time to embed new learning. Good, effective leadership makes a difference to student learning. There are not that many opportunities for middle leaders to be given training, and this was our way of meeting this need. Additional funding to support this initiative would allow us to continue it, and strengthen the process.
6. Fund the release time of my lead teachers.
Good lead teachers going and observing and providing feedback to other teachers, working alongside them, is invaluable. Having teachers released so they can go and visit these lead teachers in their classrooms is also important. My staff have said this is one of the most useful forms of changing and supporting teacher practice they have been involved in, and would like more opportunities. Paying for it is expensive and finding the money for it is not easy. Additional funding to support this would be welcomed. I expect this is similar to what the Government want to implement, but I have these teachers already, they have been trained and they know how to observe, support and guide others. Growing your team is what makes the difference - having the funding to do it - well that would be amazing.
7. Fund additional Pastoral Care initiatives.
There are so many students out there that suffer from a wide range of issues - issues that are outside their control, such as nutrition, health, the homes they live in and the types of emotional situations they grow up in. Funding to support programmes that address these inequities so that they can enter the classroom ready to learn and not be in a constant state of survival and stress, would allow them to access the curriculum. It is all very well and good to say that a student must meet National Standards - but impossible if they are unable to settle to work when their outside school life is one of chaos. To be able to fund additional TA time to support these students would be an investment in the long term.
8. Fund some additional professional development in areas other than literacy and numeracy.
With the demise of the Advisory service and the Government decimating professional development for teachers, how exciting would it be to have the ability to buy in an 'advisor' in curriculum to reignite the fire of inspiration in teachers. Imagine an external person coming in for Drama or Art!!! Oh the excitement as we bring something in that is not focussed on National Standards!! I constantly say to my team that we need to bring the F word back into learning (I will have to post on this another time) - and by F, I better clarify and say FUN! Students will always learn more if their learning is fun, exciting and inspiring. In the old days (several years ago), you could bring the Advisory Service in to work with staff, and their expertise would inject a new level of enthusiasm and skill into the teaching of the curriculum. Now, it costs so much, and the 'provided' professional development has a very narrow focus.
9. Fund early intervention.
The more resources that are pumped into the first few years of school, that includes smaller numbers, more 1-1 time and TA support in classrooms, then the more likely the success of the student for the rest of their schooling. It is too late at high school. We underinvest in our youngest students. It really needs to start at Early Childhood. This too, is another post for another day.
10. Fund the time component to go with Units.
Units are dollops of money we fund teachers who take on additional responsibilities. They are great, but they don't come with time. Teachers who take on additional responsibilities like lead teacher of ICT, or Literacy, may be paid a little more, but they don't get funded for release time to work with other teachers in their classrooms, to observe, to assist or to plan programmes. Many teachers I have worked with over the years would rather the time than the money. Or a mix of both. Before you ask - no, we do not have the flexibility to use Units that way.
Thats my list to start with.
I should state here that they are things that I know work and are about putting students first, and that my own staff have said they would like more of.
You see, there is another myth out there, that teachers just want big pay increases. Let me make it clear, I don't know any profession or person in a job who would say no to additional money - but for teachers, its not always about paying them more.
What they really want is more Teacher Aide time, help with difficult behavioural students, support for their at risk and special needs students, time to visit other classes, and time to sit and work alongside the lead teachers. Sure, you can pay them more, but it does not, and never will, solve the real issues that face teachers.
So, next time you feel like waxing lyrical about the state of Education, how about you ask teachers what they want.