Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Importance of the Thespian Pursuit

"To be or not to be - that is the question…"

Actually, it should never be a question, or of question - it should just be.

Let me clarify before I lose you in the abyss of ambiguity.  Tonight I saw a letter to parents that disappointed me.   It disappointed me on a number of levels - firstly as an educator and secondly as a parent.

The letter came out of the States, from the Elwood Public Schools district.   I've put a copy of the letter below, but for those who find the small print just a little too small, I have retyped below.

"Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians
We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools and, more specifically, to clarify misconceptions about the Kindergarten show.  It is most important to keep in mind is that (sic) this issue is not unique to Elwood.  Although the movement towards more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world. 
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarden show is simple.  We are responsible for preparing children for college and career (sic) with valuable life long skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers.  Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone.  But know that we are making these decisions in the interests of all children in mind. 

It is then signed by four of the Kindergarten teachers.

Well.  Where do I begin.   Initially I thought it was a hoax letter.  Firstly,  I did not think that it was the best written letter to parents in the world - and if it had come through my eyes first it would have had to have been seriously rewritten before it left the school - but that aside - I secondly found it just too gobsmacking that fellow educationalists did not see the value in the 'Kindergarten show'.   I checked - to make sure the school was legit and that the people who had signed it were real.  It seems so.

Lets have a closer look at some of the points raised in the letter.

"demands of the 21st century are changing schools"

Too right they are - and not in a positive, good for the community and any of our countries future, kind of way.  Lets not blame the changing face of the world we live in here - it is not technology or the way families are made up in our modern world that are the issue - they are exciting things that given the opportunity, could allow schools to do amazing things to prepare our children for a world that has yet to be invented.  Oh no, the demands are not our changing world so much but that of the neo liberal, dark suit, white shirt brigade , who are relentless in pushing their corporate G.E.R.M ridden agenda (and I have written about this before).   Their systematic deconstruction of public education systems across the world are what what these demands really are - and the changes they are making are not good for our children.

"movement towards more rigourous learning standards"

That would have to be a bit of an understatement - polite - but a little misleading.  Let me clarify - no educator is against high quality, high standards and a first rate, equitable education for all.  But to say that what is happening around the world - particularly in the States is a move to 'rigourous learning standards' is to suggest that teachers didn't have them, and that teachers must be second rate.  Lets just be honest shall we - the agenda is not about what is best for children - although I am sure initially the thought of those who were failing did come up in discussion - but really, it is about how to make money out of education.  To privatise, to corporatise, to turn education into a profit making margin dictated factory is the real agenda.  Where test makers, test sellers and test testers can all sit together rubbing their Scrooge McDuck hands together in monetary glee.  Cynical?  Yes.  Accurate?  I think so.

"The changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world."

See point one above.  It should feel unsettling - it should concern people, especially parents.  We send our children to school to assist us in the shaping of our little people into decent human beings who will lead our world.  As an educator, it is a position of such privilege and importance.   Children are not fiscal numbers, to be spat out of the factory as a one size fits all.  How on earth have we forgotten this? What is wrong with our world.

"The reason for eliminating the Kindergarden show is simple.  We are responsible for preparing children for college and career (sic) with valuable life long skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers."

Hmmm.  Actually, we are preparing our students for a heck of a lot more than that.  We are preparing our students to inherit the world - to lead us into the future - to be humans, with values, skills and competencies that they will need to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.  I agree, we do need them to be literate and numerate problem solvers - but that is not the be all and end all.  It is a small fraction of what they need to be healthy, caring, empathetic PEOPLE.  No parent I talk to or that I have asked - and I have asked many over the years as part of our strategic planning - has ever just said to be literate and numerate.   Todays parents want their kids to be good people.  To be responsible, open, global citizens who are our future entrepreneurs.  The world they inherit is yet to be defined and as such they will need to be able to navigate in a diverse and multi cultural and faceted world.  That is where opportunities to explore the arts (Kindergarten show) are critical.  I fear these teachers have missed the point.  And worse still - because ill advised and ill informed administrators have made them this way.

"Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone.  But know that we are making these decisions in the interests of all children in mind. "

RUBBISH.  If these teachers were making the decision in the best interests of the children, then they would know this was not right.  Instead, they would have modified the show so that the learning that came from it ticked all those boxes and more.  You see, where does the power of engagement come into this?  Where does the love of learning and the excitement of exploring something new and fun come into it?

In Conclusion:

Students need more than just the 3 R's.  They need opportunities to explore learning that leads to confidence, increased social and emotional competence (and therefore increased academic success), kinaesthetic development and creativity.  In actual fact, the list of goodness that comes from learning in the Arts is long and outweighs any flimsy argument about needing to have more 'rigerous academic standards'.

Now before any kiwi teacher gets to smug about how this would never happen here - let me burst that little bubble right now by dinging the 'you are incorrect' buzzer.  I have sat with colleagues who have informed the group that they have decided to do away with 'frivolous' interruptions to the days learning.  Alas, they have forgotten one thing - it is in our beautiful curriculum.  That, however,  is a post for another day.

To sum up - I remain saddened by this letter.  I know it is merely the tip of an overwhelmingly large 'deconstruction of education' iceberg.  It is my wish that educators will remember and protect- despite the ill fated message to the contrary - all those wonderful opportunities (like the Kindergarten show) to explore creative pursuits like the Arts, because it is those kinds of opportunities that inspire students to greater heights, and helps them grow and develop into the best people they can be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lest We Forget - ANZAC Day Remembrance

                                  A short Promo Video that sums up 
                           why we celebrate ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day Dedication

At this hour, on this day, ANZAC received its baptism of fire and became one of the immortal names in history. We who are gathered here think of the comrades who went out with us to battle but did not return. We feel them still near us in spirit. We wish to be worthy of their great sacrifice. Let us, therefore, once again dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals of which they died. As the dawn is even now about to pierce the night, so let the memory inspire us to work for the coming of the new light into the dark places of the world.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old; 
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning

                                             We will remember them.

Tomorrow is ANZAC day.  

It is a special time each year where Kiwis and Australians come together to commemorate all the soldiers and servicemen/women who have served their country in war or conflict, and in particular, those who did not return.

To all those brave people who have served for my country so that I might have the freedoms that I enjoy as a Kiwi – I thank you.  To all those active Kiwi men and women, I thank you!  I respect your contribution and sacrifice.   I do not take for granted the rights that I enjoy and yet are denied to so many in our world.   To all the families who have lost a loved one – I salute your loss. 

This post is for you all.  Thank you. 

Quick Facts:

1. ANZAC stands for Australian, New Zealand Army Corps.

2. It commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli, Turkey, during World War I in 1915.  

3.  New Zealand and Australia both observe this event each year, and it is a time to remember all who have served their country in wars and conflicts.

4.  ANZAC day is a pubic holiday and always observed on April 25th in New Zealand.

5.  Close to 3000 New Zealanders died during the 8 month Gallipoli campaign.

6.  On ANZAC day many Kiwis (New Zealanders) attend parades, dawn services or ceremonies to commemorate ANZAC day.  Returned service personnel often attend parades wearing their medals. 

7.  It is common to lay wreaths to remember Kiwis who fought and died in past wars and conflicts. 

8.  Poppies are the symbol of remembrance for all people who have lost their lives in war. They go back as far as Napoleonic wars, where the Flanders Poppies were the first to flower over the fallen soldiers’ graves in France and Belguim.

9.  ANZAC biscuits are popular anytime, however their significance relates back to when the woman at home during war would send them off overseas knowing they would still be edible even after many weeks at sea!  Interestingly, both NZ and Australia claim they ‘invented’ them first.  I will believe my fellow countrywomen – I say it was the Kiwis!  

Interesting Video Footage: 

This is a series of short video footage of what it is to embody the spirt of the ANZAC.  

Song with Footage about Kiwi Soldiers 

Fascinating reading of a letter from Gollipoli 
that highlights the conditions, with old footage

Archive footage of the NZ Army in action 

Although from an Aussie perspective the 
footage is both rare and interesting as 
we glimpse early warfare

The most appropriate way to complete this blog post  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Survive the Easter Crazy

Easter – time of great temptation, where mountains of chocolate deliciousness lurk around every corner, ready to beckon you forward into the dark and alluring world of all that is sugary, sweet and enticing. 

Enough waxing lyrical!  Just thinking of the myriad of chocolate yumminess that surrounds us at Easter is making me salivate. 

Some tips for surviving the Easter sugar onslaught and keeping the waistline manageable, and the pocket less empty.

Tip 1:

Easter Basket

Instead of filling it with only chocolate and sugar treats, add some healthier options like cranberries, fruit and nuts.  You can also add in non-edible treats like books, puzzles and art gear.  If you do add chocolate, try and put in dark chocolate options which are better for you.   When I was a child my favourite item in the annual Easter basket my Nana used to send to us was the little tiny fluffy chicken.  I would spend hours over Easter playing with it. 

Tip 2:

Avoid Off loaders

These are those people who are also trying to avoid overindulging in sugar and try to offload their sugar to you.  Where you can – avoid falling for this sneaky trick.  Have a plan B up your sleeve, like offloading it yourself!

Tip 3:

Try Not to Overspend

Like Christmas, Easter can be a time of over indulgence in not only the sugar stakes but also in the money stakes.  It can be easy to fall for the multitude of Easter sales, and the need to over spend on luxury items like food, alcohol and of course, chocolate.   Then, often because it is a long weekend, people take this time to go away, which can be a very expensive time.   Set yourself a budget that fits into your lifestyle and work to stick to it.  Factor in the additional treats and luxuries that you want to indulge in, then you wont be in for a nasty shock after Easter.  

Tip 4:

Exercise Chocolate Control

By this, I really mean portion control.  It can be too easy to be sucked into buying big and extravagant Easter treats – try buying smaller sizes and not the large ones!   If all else fails, hide some of it away so you are not tempted to keep grazing on the chocolate.

Tip 5:

Watch the Hidden Calories

If over indulgence is something you know you could easily be sucked into, then keep a track of what you eat in either an old fashioned diary or with any number of online Apps that help you track your food and drink (SparkPeople is a great online place to start and is a free sign up).    Watch for the hidden calories in what you drink.  Oftentimes, what we drink has many hidden calories and Easter is one of those times of the year where we may be tempted to over indulge – especially with alcohol.   If you are going out to dinner or to a party, eat something healthy before you go.  That you way you wont be tempted to overindulge. 

Tip 6:

Drink Water

Drink plenty of water – not only is it good for you, but it will help stave off the cravings for sugar and it will keep you hydrated. 

Finally, Easter is a time of celebration, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you happen to go a little overboard.  Most important of all – enjoy your time with family and have fun!!

Must dash - there is a Cadbury Creme egg with my name on it...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flogging the Public Education System – Dead Horse Syndrome

 Flogging the Public Education System – Dead Horse Syndrome

Warning – content may cause angst and derisive snorts of frustration, and is satirical in nature. 

I think someone forgot to send the important people within G.E.R.M (those are the dark suits, white shirt brigade who like to intervene in educational policy and introduce reforms that ultimately undermine public education systems across the world) that flogging a dead horse will not make it get up and start running.  

It is an ‘oldie but a goodie’ piece of wisdom from the Dakota tribe, that the best way to ride a dead horse is to dismount.  Seems logical.   Logic and G.E.R.M don’t seem to mix too well. 

For quite sometime, New Zealand managed to avoid catching the G.E.R.M.  Public education, for the most part, was nicely inoculated and protected from the 5 key terrors of the G.E.R.M – Standardisation, Core Subject Focus (aka narrowed curriculum), Low Risk Programmes to Reach Learning Outcomes (more narrowing), Corporate Management Models, and Test-Based Accountability.  (no time to digress on these things today)

Then there was the SNEEZE!  And just like that, we caught the G.E.R.M. 

Here is where the dead horse comes in.  The G.E.R.M principles and its impact on educational systems across the world, are as useful as trying to ride a dead horse. 

Let me elaborate how we are currently being forced to ride a dead horse using some of the changes either implemented or about to be, within our current NZ system. 

When the logic to dismount the dead horse fails, the following options are useful: 

1.    We will buy a new whip – we will whip that dead horse harder and harder until by goodness, it stands up and starts to move.  The whip here is the relentless message to the public that 1 in 5 students are failing, NZ teachers are not doing enough, we must reform our dead horse and we will whip it until it preforms.  We will reform the Teachers Council so that it becomes EDUCANs, and that will be our main whip for ensuring the riders keep on riding that dead horse. 

2.    We will change the rider – enter the new and improved Executive or Change Rider aka Principal.  If those other principal riders can not make that dead horse move then by hook or by crook we will change the rider and pay the rider more to do so.  What could possibly go wrong with such sound policy?? Cough – the horse is dead – cough. 

3.    We will threaten to ‘sack’ the dead horse – and now that we have a new and improved Teachers Council called EDUCANs, we will be able to do this.  So listen up horse, stop being dead and start running. 

4.    If all else fails, we will appoint a committee to study the horse – take your pick, there are plenty of sector group working parties studying how to make this dead horse run.  This process works best when covertly hidden behind closed doors with short consultation timeframes and parameters, and in utter secrecy.  Transparency is the enemy in such processes. 

5.    We shall develop a training session to improve our riding ability – and for this we shall narrow the focus of what we shall provide training on and for whom, and we will ensure the Ministry for Dead Horses is the only keeper of the purse.  They shall tell which riding schools will be able to access what particular professional development, when and why, and at no point shall there be negotiation, choice or timely information. 

6.    Remind the education riding sector and populace that other countries ride this same kind of dead horse, and so too can we – on that, we shall use flawed research from failing systems to justify that our dead horse can rise again, and it too will be able to run races and win the annual PISA trots with ease.  All it takes is to copy another countries system.  Simple. 

7.    Sanction the riders that stand up and say ‘but wait – our horse is dead, we need to dismount’ and call them rebellious – for this we shall provide those riders with ‘special’ help from LSMs and Commissioners, who will be able to show them the light, or they will enact number 3 on this list.  This will ensure any other ‘rebellious’ riders will tow the stable line and stay on the dead horse.

8.    Lower the standard to ensure the dead horse fits in – enter Charter Stable Schools and the non-requirement for teacher riders to be trained.  The less trained a rider is the more chance the dead horse will rise again and run.  I can’t see where this would lead to an issue.  Dead horses do require old fashioned concepts after all.

9.    Arrange to visit other sites to see how well they ride their dead horses – a good place would be the countries where some of the policies that are designed to flog this dead horse have already failed, but where G.E.R.M is prevalent.  Looking to stables with innovative processes is pointless.  New horses cannot replace dead ones. 

10.  Change the laws to specify that ‘horses shall not die, they are merely living impaired’ – the best way to change a law is to rush it through parliament and avoid that messy consultation and transparency that comes from a long drawn out discussion on why the dead horse will remain dead. 

11. Harness several dead horses together for increased speed – if we introduce National Standard horse, tie that to Charter horse, and cobble up IES horses to improve efficiency, then there will be no stopping this speeding goliath of a PISA trot winner.  Move along folks, nothing to worry about here. 

12.  Provide additional funding to increase the horses performance – from out of thin air and a tight budget, produce 160 million dollars of NEW money and declare ‘this is an investment in you’ and it will be the saviour of ensuring the dead horse runs again. Simple – should have done this 3 years ago.  Imagine how fast this horse will fly now!

13.  Promote the dead horse to a supervisory role – Expert or Lead horse anyone?  Who is keen to be a Change or Executive Horse?   This will surely make the dead horse faster and more responsive.   Once again – there is nothing flawed with this proposal – all sounds perfectly sound bite like.  We thank the PR firms for their spin ability.    

14. Rename the horse ‘neo liberal paradigm shift’ and keep riding it – because really, all those naysayer riders out there just need to change their mindset and know that this new shift will make the horse faster. 

15. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all horses and their riders – enter National Standards, Charters, and EDUCANs.  Now all we need is an Executive or Change Principal Rider, and a few Lead or Expert Riders to ensure the new performance requirements are carried out…oh, hang on – we DO have that coming.  Whew.  Crisis averted. 

16.  Kill off the other horses so that that dead one does not stand out – the most simple of them all.  A big fire in the Public Education Stable should take care of most of that.  Carefully placed of course so as not to singe the dead horse. 

So folks – don’t you worry about that dead horse.  Just you wait until G.E.R.M has fully ensconced itself into the very DNA of the dead horse.  There is the 18 point plan on how to resurrect it, and by golly you watch that thing run. 

In summary, it would seem that one can, indeed, flog a dead horse.