Saturday, June 21, 2014

It Is Not Truth That Wins, But Perception

In the world of politics, it is seldom the truth that wins out, but the perception of truth.

How painfully true that statement is right now.

It would be fair to say that it has been a tough old week for some in the world of kiwi politics.  The main party on the left has taken quite the hammering, and how the next few days plays out is going to make all the difference.

Its irrelevant now what the actual truth is.  The damage has been done.  Perceptions mean everything in todays world, and the savvy know this.  It is all about the PR spin.  In this weeks saga the 'leakers' of the information and the PR firm behind the 'leakers', knew timing would be critical.

And so I wonder...

How ethical is it for the 'leakers' to have sat on that information for such a long time?

They knew all about it and they failed to disclose the fateful paperwork until the timing was just right.  They waited for the Leader of the Opposition, DC, to state publicly that he had no knowledge of that situation.  Interesting to note that the media asked some pertinent and might I say, leading questions (is that a morality issue in itself I wonder...) that set up DC quite nicely, all before the OIA had actually come through so the 'leakers' I expect are behind that as well.  Then media  (I suspect through the 'leakers' pre warning them of the contents but not wanting to be implicated themselves), magically release it the very next day, rendering their victim as a fool and an incompetent liar.  Thats not the reality because DC spoke with the knowledge he had - but its the perception that he lied.  And the perception is powerful.  It feeds the bias the public has for distrusting politicians.

Why did the 'leakers' not release the letter in parliament?

The 'leakers' have been reported as saying Mr Liu, the person at the heart of the leaked letter, has been debated in parliament for 'months'.  Does anyone else wonder why then, considering they have had a copy of this letter for over 6 weeks, they themselves didn't produce this 'evidence' in parliament?  Of course, I forgot, silly me - timing is everything!  Why act with integrity when you can use your information to trap someone for your own gain.  A further wonder is just why are the leakers not being asked by the media why they didn't release it sooner, if they knew.  To date I have not seen a report on that - and I have been waiting all weekend to see there is balance.

More importantly, why did they push for the release of the letter full stop, when they had their own letters kept secret?  

I am no expert in these things, but I have heard of the old adage  'if you live in a glasshouse', and that does seem to apply here.  It smacks of hypocrisy to slam one person for not being upfront, all the while knowing you had your own secret letters.  Interestingly, there is little more on this fact either.

Why is the media not asking the 'leakers' some key questions?

I have been thinking about this for some time.  The media has a huge responsibility to be impartial (unless they are a political commenter or writing an opinion piece) and to report the truth.  So, in the pursuit of truth you would imagine that the media players would be lined up to ask the tricky questions.

In fact, my questions - if I was a journo - would be along these lines;

On the letter:
  1. Who advised you about the 'letter'? 
  2. Who else knew about the letter other than the PM and Immigration Minister?
  3. Why did you not release the letter in the house when you were debating Mr Lui?  
  4. You say Mr Luis donations and connections have been debated in parliament for over two months, and you have had the letter in your possession for at least 6 weeks - why did you not release it sooner?
  5. What were you hoping to achieve by releasing this letter now, at this specific time?
  6. Whose idea was it to advise the media of the existence of this letter?  (of course they would advise that they were not behind it in which case I'd go further to say, 'So you are confident there is no evidence to suggest anyone involved with you or the party spoke with the media about this before hand?')
On the Lui donations:

  1. How long have you known about the alleged extra $150,000 in donations?
  2. How did you find out about that alleged donation?
  3. Who else knew about this, and why did you not bring this up during the two months you have all been debating this in parliament?
  4. Who else is involved in knowing about this from your organisation? 
  5. What were you hoping to achieve in providing this information to the media but not in parliament during the times you were debating Lui?
  6. There was mention that the PM was confident there would be more information to come on the donations front.  How did he know this?

Of course, depending on the way the answers went there would be some tweaking and modifying.  I don't doubt that I could write the likely answers, because that is the way a good PR spin machine works - only answer what you are told to answer, all other times use subterfuge.

Which brings us back to perception.  If the 'leakers' can maintain their shock and horror at the turn of events, and keep on trotting out the line that DC has 'much to explain', and look how 'thin' his credibility is, then the publics perception is that DC is slippery and lacks credibility.  All the while, the real people who lack credibility and ethics are those who knew about the letter, but failed to disclose it in the house.  Here, the truth is irrelevant - it is the perception of the truth that matters.

Does the media realise how important their role is in providing the truth, and how what they chose to report, or not, shapes societies perceptions?

The media has an important job to play when it comes to assisting the public with deciphering the truth in a situation.  Especially in an election year.  For the most part, I quite like our journalists.  I don't always agree with them, but I like their style.  I particularly like opinion pieces, most of whom I don't agree with, but I like that they put their thinking out there and there is no second guessing.  I imagine it is important to gain the trust of politicians from both sides of the house, and to be known as a balanced reporter.

I do wonder if they realise that sometimes they are being played and manipulated, a part of the PR machine that is political spin.   Perhaps they do - perhaps that is part of the 'game' that we the unsuspecting pubic are not privy to.   What is interesting in this case is that the media had a part to play in setting DC up as well.  If I have read the report correctly, on Tuesday they asked him what seems like leading questions, perhaps in the hopes they could trap him to say he knew nothing about it.  I am guessing that they already knew about the letter or had been promised a leaked copy and someone suggested they ask DC those questions.  Then, the letter is released under OIA.  I wonder, in that context, who had the most to gain from that line of questioning.  I also wonder, had they already seen a copy but could not release until it had been given to them under OIA so as not to implicate their sources?  (I am such a sceptic these days)

There are two ways that could have played out.  They could have said 'we have been promised paper work that suggests you supported Mr Liu - would you care to tell us more about that?" or the way they did it.  I appreciate the way they did it sells more papers and is more sensationalist, and I understand that.   I expect that they will be just as balanced with the other side of the house and use the same strategies in the future, should such an opportunity present itself.

At any rate, the media are the make or the break of a situation like this one, and I am still hopeful that a wily reporter will dig a bit deeper and ferret out the back story.  This is not about a letter as such - but about how to manipulate a situation to set up DC and twist public perception.  When you look at the questions used on Tuesday, you understand how much of the medias handling of this fuelled perception.  How far will the media go to right this, I wonder?  Time will tell.

Why could DCs staff not find the letter or knew about it, but the current PM and Immigration Minister did, and had a copy of it?

I believe DC was acting on the best information he had.  His staff had searched but failed to find anything, as was his understanding.   This close to an election, DC would know that something like this would be political suicide if he was 'caught out'.   If we use logic, then we can objectively look at this situation and believe that he was confident he was in the right based on what he knew of the issue.  Either way, he was let down on all accounts.

I wonder who leaked the letter?

Who has the biggest axe to grind?  Did the 'leakers' go on a massive ferret hunt all by themselves to find a smidgeon of dust so that they could twist peoples perceptions and turn it into a massive mudslide of dirt?  Or did they have help?  I wonder if we will ever find out or if the media will ask...given the implication that the media knew quite a lot before they actually got the OIA, then I suspect they will not go on a hunt to find the masterminds of the set up.

Was it an inside job? (I am not leaning that way)

Some pundits have hinted it could have been an inside job.  I find that abhorrent and I naively refuse to entertain that as a valued option.  No political party, on the left or right would be so foolish this close to an election surely?  I'm more inclined to think that that is part of the PR spin - sell the public the perception of instability enough times and they will eventually buy it.  If it was to be the case then the party members have every right to demand payment in blood.  Heads should roll and atonement made.  However, until proven otherwise I refuse to believe sabotage.

Why didn't one of DCs staffers come forward and say 'we looked, we didn't find, were sorry to have let our boss down'?

Its about ownership of a situation.  I appreciate that he did not push one of his staffers under a bus, many politicians before him have done just that.  That shows he has a moral compass and ethical set of guidelines and I like that about him.  It is not easy being set up and finding the right path to take when the fight is against perception, and perception is winning.  The truth, as I outlined before, is irrelevant to the minds of voters.

Is it fair? No.

Is it right? No.

Is it equitable? No.

It is however part of the political landscape.  That is why it is a shame someone on his staff didn't take one for the team, or that his Chief of Staff didn't step forward with a coordinated line.  The fact that DC refused to sell out his team does say more about the values of his party than it does about those who set him up.

Was the timing of the medias release of politicians being one of the least trusted professions and the leaking of the signed letter...lucky timing and coincidence or carefully orchestrated plan?

I don't know the answer to this wondering.  Either way, it certainly helped to feed into the bias mentioned above.  In terms of a beautiful cohesion of manipulating perception, it doesn't get much better.  Coincidence of not, I bet the 'leakers' were smiling all the way to the PR boardroom.

Finally, I wonder how 'accurate' the signed statement of Luis is re the $150,000 in donations is?

I wonder this for several reasons.  It does seem awfully convenient.  Just like that, he recalls a bottle of wine worth $100,000, signed by Helen Clark.  I am Helens biggest fan, but no one in their right mind would buy a signed bottle of plonk for that amount of money - not unless its gold plated, has some kind of 100yr old history or was the bottle on the table as Captain Cook landed.  More importantly, if someone had, there would be evidence of the fact somewhere.  People in Labour would remember.  It would have been written about somewhere.  You just don't forget a purchase/donation of that magnitude.  Surely someone would have asked Helen if she remembered...

Then there is the sudden, and oh so conveniently timed, signed statement.   Just like that, Lui suddenly signs a statement to say he's donated $150,000 to Labour, but again, the 'leakers' don't produce their evidence and the signed statement until DC has said, publicly, there is no evidence he's aware of, or knowledge about it.   Cue sinister music.  DC is not stupid.  This is an election year and he is already sailing close to the wind regarding public perception.  There is no way he would publicly say that unless that is what he believed as true.  

The Daily Blog explains how Luis statement is just that - its not an affidavit and links to a good article on why legally that is important.   Like Bradbury, I also wonder about the legitimacy of the statement, and how on earth no one in Labour can recall these mysterious donations, if they are indeed fact, and if they are not, how dirty the 'leakers' hands may be in this mess.  

The damage is done.  Fact or fiction, the perception of lies and cover ups, hypocrisy and disorganised disarray has just been further strengthened by this recent allegation.  


I hate unanswered questions - they drive me crazy and keep me awake at night wondering.

Either way, perception is a powerful thing.  Truth will always struggle to prevail when the machine that is public perception is fully fired up and on a roll.  Add some 'Teflon Politics' into the mix and many a politician has been caught in the trap of flailing pubic perception.

Maybe one day it will be truth that prevails, not perception.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Teflon Politics

Have you ever thought about Teflon and Politics, and how they relate to each other?

Stay with me - its not as strange as you may think.

In this particular context, I am referring to specific politicians and how they have qualities similar to Teflon.  It seems that no matter what they do, what the scandal is, or what the people they lead do, they remain invincible.

Certainly, politics in New Zealand right now seems to be reflective of Teflon at its most powerful - but there are examples of Teflon Politicians and political leaders all over the world. Wikipedia terms it as a nickname given to people, particularly politicians, for whom criticism does not stick. Famous politicians referred to as Teflon Politicians include Ronald Reagan, nicknamed the 'Teflon President', Tony Blair - 'Teflon Tony', Australia's John Howard - 'Teflon Johnny', and our own PM John Key nicknamed 'Teflon Man' and 'Teflon John'.

The examples above illustrate commonalties.  It is like they wear an invisible cloak of Teflon that repels all forms of muck raking and dirt (its interesting to note that apparently these cloaks are real - not terribly reliable as yet but real in an abstract kind of way, check the link).

These Teflon Politicians are often at the heart of controversy or teetering on the periphery. Their 'excuses bank' is always full and ready at hand. Their ability to skirt around an issue with apparent ease is nothing short of miraculous and if none of these skills work they set off a baffling smoke screen to take the pressure off of themselves, and onto their opponents.

Suffice to say, irrespective of what messy trough or controversial issue they find themselves embroiled in, they always appear to walk away unscathed.  To all intents and purposes, they seem invincible.

Sometimes, if a situation is particularly serious they might take a temporary hit in the polls, but that is short lived and appears to be quickly forgotten.  It would seem that they are able to work their magic on the unsuspecting public with agility and skill.

And so, in true Principally Mused style, I wonder.

A key wondering I have is, what makes them so invincible, and the public so oblivious to what is in front of them?

At what point does Teflon lose its magical qualities and the scratches appear?

Teflon is an interesting substance.  Once you scratch the surface (pun intended) you find all is not as it seems.  On the outside, punters are lured by its apparent strength, numerous applications and most importantly, its non stickablity.  But what do you do with your teflon pan when the scratches form and its magical qualities fade, along with its ability to remain non stick?

Thats right, you throw it out.

Sometimes, we fail to see the scratches and we continue to persevere with our pan, glossing over the scratches, ignoring the burnt and substandard fare we are producing and keep on pretending that all is well.  If its really bad we might even kid ourselves that buying a new pan would be a waste of money, too big a risk - what if that pan becomes as useless as the one we are using.  Can we take the risk, we ask ourselves.

All the while we fail to realise the damage our scratched Teflon (the one we pretend is still shiny and new) is doing to our food, to our health and to our environment.  Sometimes we change our pan but by then it is too late - and it is not until we change the pan that we realise our folly.

 This is the same as in politics.  For some political leaders, it is irrelevant how many mistakes they make or how often they 'change their mind' or have a 'brain fade'.  Nothing damages their credibility, nothing seems to scratch their Teflon coated business suits or damage their reputations.

Just like the scratched, burnt and malfuntioning pan, the public become reluctant to trade their substandard pan in for a new and improved one, reluctant to take the risk and believe that new pan will be better for them and their country.

Meanwhile the Teflon Political leader uses this to their advantage as they prey on the fears and prejudices of a Nation.  This is one of the Teflon's secrets and it is what helps to keep the armour slick and the scratches from going too deep.  Consider it like a healing balm of sorts.

Perhaps most concerning about Teflon Politicians is that we as the public fall for the farce.  We get taken in by the rhetoric, the shiny suits and the slick and slippery one liners.  Reassured by their super human ability to slide through scrapes unscathed, we the unsuspecting voters keep them ensconced in power, oblivious to the dangers their leaching chemicals are doing to our Nations wellbeing.

So how do we combat these Teflon Politicians, and protect our Nations from their destructive and divisive ways?

Ask the question - would we excuse this behaviour or trait in ourselves or a family member or friend?  If not, why would you excuse a local MP, Prime Minister or President?

There are always two sides to a story - look for the omissions and question, question, question.  Try not to take everything you hear on faith.  Many Teflon Politicians slide along on their 'popularity', 'charm' and will 'smile and wave' their way out of a crises.  Ask yourself, is that really how you want your politicians to run your country?  Is that how intelligent, skilled adults operate?  If your boss was a 'smiling assassin' and acted that way would you accept that?  Or would you make excuses for them because you like the way they 'smile'?

Watch their debating style - is it logical, intelligent and fact based, or is it argumentative, insulting and borderline offensive?  When I have watched our parliament and others around the world debate issues, it seems that the public enjoy the later - and ironically it is the Teflon Politician that debates with smart Alec quips and veiled insults.  The more measured and logical debating style can sometimes be seen as smarmy and arrogant.  Certainly it is less entertaining.

Herein lies the rub - the Teflon Politician survives on being the smiling entertainer.  Sadly this reflects more on society and its desire for the gutter debate than it does on anything else.

Whilst I acknowledge that Teflon has its uses, I do wonder if a Teflon Politician is all shine and no substance, and if this ultimately is what all our Nations strive for.

I know I would rather have a less slick and shiny leader that had substance and the interests of the Nation at the heart of all matters at the helm rather than a smarmy, slippery Teflon Politician who smiled and waved their way through every issue and controversy as if they were invincible.

At the end of the day we just need to remember that we all know what inevitably happens to Teflon - its scratches and day to day wear and tear eventually render it useless.  I just wonder how long we are meant to wait for our Teflon Politicians to finally wear thin,  and what damage is inflicted on a Nation whilst we all wait.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

IES - Insane Educational Shambles

$359 million dollars!!

Let me type that in for you again - slowly - so you understand just how much money we are talking about.

Three hundred and fifty nine million dollars.

In words or in numbers it is a lot of money.  A LOT.

It is money that has been magically found for the governments new flagship educational policy IES - Investing in Educational Success.  When it was first announced to the world early in the new year, I wrote a post with a warning that The Devil is in the Detail.  In that post I outlined what we knew of the policy and my wonderings and concerns based on the small amount of information that I had at the time.   I am pleased (well actually displeased) to provide an update.

Earlier this week the government lifted its embargo on the IES policy and published its working party report(s).

It is quite big.  You could not accuse the working group of sitting on their collective hands and not doing any work on it in the last few months.  On the surface, the report appears comprehensive, detailed and padded with plenty of words.  There are two reports - the working groups report part one which is the main report and the working group report part two, which is titled 'Advice and Members Independent Background Papers'.

I read it.  It has taken me some time - in places I have read it in more depth and in others I have skimmed it.  I reiterate, its quite big.

The more I read of it, the less I see it as Investing in Educational Success as touted, and more of an Insane Educational Shambles in the making.  Let me explain further.

1. 359 million dollars is a huge amount of money to spend on only a small amount of teachers and principals.

Many people think that this money is going to go directly into the schools and students that need it the most.  This would be an incorrect assumption.  Most of this money is going on a small select group of teachers and principals to 'lead'.  Unfortunately, only a very small amount of this money is actually going on anything that remotely looks like a student.  I repeat, most of this money is for wages.  Take off the 33% tax (as pointed out by a colleague the other day) and in fact the government gets at least 1/3rd of it back.  So its a false promise to begin with.

2. Any policy of this magnitude needs to be implemented with wise, careful consideration.

Unfortunately this is not the case here.  The process is being rushed through faster than a speeding bullet.  This is being touted as one of the biggest, most fundamental changes to our education system since Tomorrows Schools in 1988.  Not only has there been limited consultation and support from the sector, it has not had the kind of quality debate something of this magnitude needs.  The timeframes for this are tight.  Most of the policy still has much work to do and this is all expected to be done in the next few months.  The new roles are 'to be advertised for the start of 2015'.

3.  There will be no trial first.

This policy is intended to be rolled out for the whole sector to embrace and engage with without having first been trialled to see if it actually has potential.  None of us should be surprised, they set a precedent for not trailing things first, we just need to look at National Standards.

4. It requires signifiant variations and additions to the teachers and principals collective contracts.

These things take time.  The key word here is collective.  The majority of teachers and principals are employed under collective agreements.  In order to change these the Ministry needs to produce a claim to the Union which then gets presented to the members and any counter claim presented.  (This is the simplistic version)  These things should not be rushed.  The concern if you rush something this important is that mistakes can be made.  The experts that are experienced in these things need time to look at all the variables and what possible unintended consequences might occur.

5. There are still so many unknowns and big questions that remain unanswered.

Despite a working group, much of the report states that there are still many areas that need to be figured out yet.  So much of the detail is still undecided and undetermined that trying to figure out just how the policy will work on a practical level leaves me wondering if there was any thought that went into this in the first place.  For example, just how do they anticipate leading a cluster over a large geographical area?  Have they factored in the cost of travel and accommodation?  How does a smaller school sustain releasing lead teachers and principals to assist other schools when they do not have the pool of expertise to take over their roles?  Who pays for that?  The fact that the profession has more questions now then they did at the start, surely points to concerns over the actual policy itself.  A rethink might be smarter - a rethink where you actually asked the profession what they needed would be nice.

6. There are mechanisms for rewarding teachers already.  I wonder why we are not just strengthening those.

Boards of Trustees and Principals already have the ability to pay lead teachers of nominated areas units to recognise the additional work they do.  This process could be strengthened and tagged to leading literacy or numeracy within schools and for clusters.  That way there would be more flexibility.

7. Good effective models of successful clustering exist already - why are we not doing what we know works?

EHSAS and the ICT clusters were very successful models of schools working together.  My biggest wondering is why the powers that be didn't take those models and modify them to fit the IES process?  That way there would have been better buy in by schools and the profession.

8. There are claims that this policy will assist in 'professionalising' education.   Really.  Silly me, I thought teaching was a profession. 

Apparently, paying a small handful of principals and teachers more and calling them lead, expert, change and executives will 'lift education into a profession'.  This will provide a career structure and ensure teachers are 'professional'.  Hmmm.  One of the most offensive things I have ever heard was when our Minister told a group of principals that EDUCANs and the work in this policy would finally mean we were professional.  This implies that teachers and principals are currently not.  Hmmmm.  I do have some wonderings about this.  Since when does the amount one is paid constitute professionalism?

9.  NZEI were working on a career pathway.  How is this better than what the membership approved I wonder?

If IES is meant to be a career pathway, what was wrong with what NZEI was proposing.  That career structure was a far better structured process that teachers had bought into.  This on the other hand, seems add hoc and rushed.  For principals, it seems less a career opportunity but more a retirement pathway process.  Due to the difficulties of a smaller school principal/teacher being able to be released to do these jobs, there are big murmurings that this resource will get just get captured by the secondary principals and teachers.

10. Where did the money come from?

I repeat - $359 million is A LOT of money.  Apparently, money does not grow on trees, but yet here we have $359 million to invest into education.  Its kind of ironic when you think of how often educators seek funding for programmes that we know will address inequity, achievement disparity and social and emotional needs that impact of academic achievement.  No money for proven methodology but here we have $359 million.  I wonder what the trade off was.  Treasury reports on the education sector over the long term indicate that future governments may reduce spending and that there were ways of doing this without compromising quality.

11.  Is anyone actually confident it will assist students who are 'high priority learners'.

I am not.  Let me explain why.  Its all in the wording.   Initially when this policy was launched my understanding (and that could have been incorrect) was that schools, particularly those with high priority learners (HPL), would be required to participate.  Now, it would seem that clusters are voluntary, and that leaves me with the wondering, how will it meet the needs of schools with disproportionate levels of HPL?  In high decile areas, how does this voluntary measure ensure schools with HPL are part of these clusters.  A secondary wondering is around the following wording under the heading of Priority learners, in the Innovations Fund section.  "It is likely that most, if not all, Communities of Schools will include the need to lift the achievement of priority groups as part of their Community achievement objectives."  It is the use of the words 'most, if not all' that leave me running concerned.  How can this initiative ever hope to support HPL when there is no clear requirement to do so.  I do wonder what kind of project these communities might engage in if they have no students that are identified as needing support.  The working group have indicated that Communities of Learning should show consideration of HPL.  I would expect that this is a must have not a nice to have.

12. Change Principals/Principal Recruitment Allowance could go to inexperienced middle leaders. 

Granted the documentation says in rare cases a deputy principal could be the best person for the job.  I have met and worked with some exceptionally talented deputies over the years, but the job of turning a 'failing' school around is not one for the faint hearted.  The paperwork goes on to say that candidates need to be able to show evidence of turning a challenging school around.  The role of DP - even in bigger schools - is nothing like the role of principal.  Until you are sitting in that office, on that chair, with the weight of responsibility resting on your shoulders, nothing prepares someone for that.   It is a tricky job at your average joe blogs school - but a challenging school is rife with major issues that need addressing.  I am interested in how they are going to define 'rare'.   I think these kind of positions need to go to seasoned and proven leaders.

Talking about failing schools is like pointing to the elephant in the room.  We all know they exist but we pretend they don't.  Of all the elements outlined in the IES policy, this is the one bit that I think has some potential.  Not in its current form however.  What it might look like is a post for another time.

13. How is it all reported, monitored and who reports to whom?

There are lots of what ifs, maybes and could dos throughout these reports.  It is still very unclear who the executive principals report to, if they have any statutory powers (especially if things are not going well within their community of schools), let alone how they monitor and feedback progress.  There is mention of ERO and the MOE monitoring IES, but no actual details about how this looks.  Again, there are too many questions that remain unanswered which makes me wonder about its workability for schools and Boards.

14. A managerial model versus a leading learning model

At a meeting to discuss this policy, a colleague of mine made the point that IES is a managerial model, not a leading learning model.  I agree.  IES puts yet another layer of bureacratic red tape around our jobs as educators.  It is quite ironic considering this is designed to be about 'leadership'.

15. Is this really the best way to spend such a huge amount of money, or could we come up with far better solutions that would make a difference to more students.

This is the most important question and point of this entire post.  $359 million dollars works out to be around $140,000 per school.  Imagine what Boards of Trustees in consultation with their communities, could do with this kind of money.  I have posted on what I would do with this money based on discussions with my team and colleagues.  I am pretty confident that if you told parents that this money could be better invested in assisting students with special needs (like the ones that are not supported or funded such as dyslexia and students on the spectrum), supporting those students with behaviour issues in the classroom, assisting communities with counselling services, Teacher Aide time, specialist literacy and numeracy support and other such practical resources that actually make a difference, then they would rather the money be spent that way.  It is not rocket science.  Funding wage increases for a handful of teachers and principals to lead 'something' (we don't know what that is yet) to support a cluster of schools to improve learning without any money to actually spend on children and programmes that make a difference, seems a bit wasteful.  I acknowledge that there is a tiny pot of innovation money (but it is tiny) but it seems impractical in terms of making a difference.

Finally, these are just some preliminary thoughts from my reading of the reports.  I have pages of annotations, questions and wonderings.  I have no doubt that I will post on this again.

Really, if it was up to me, I would say - enough is enough.  This is such a fundamental change to our education system and such a huge amount of money, that my advice to my colleagues would be to say that in its current form, we don't accept it.  To stand firm, to learn from the class sizes and Intermediate Schools policy work and make a stand.   This is an election year, and if ever there was an opportunity to have our voice heard then now is it.  Let me be very very clear, if they are successful in September then not only will this policy rocket through, but other, even more destructive to public education policy, will be rolled out faster than you can say 'what happened to education in NZ'.

We can spend this money better.  I am confident if we asked parents to support us to spend this money on our students in a professional and responsible way, that they would agree.  This is not Investing in Educational Success, this is more of an Insane Educational Shambles.

We can do better than this.

Further Reading:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Busting out of the Classroom - Time to Break Free

Has the world gone mad?

I appreciate this is a bit of a loaded question but stay with me. 

This morning, whilst idly scrolling through my twitter feed I saw a tweet by Pasi Sahlberg (an educationalist that I hold in great esteem and who, incidentally, is fabulous to listen to if you get the opportunity). 

It caught my eye - I was curious - I wanted to read more.

It piqued my interest.  'Children's rights to breaks in school'. 

Back up the bus here for a moment.   In what modern 21st world would this ever be an issue, let alone something worthy of a tweet by such an esteemed educationalist? 

I read on.  

It transpires that a Chicago administrator sent this letter to their faculty.  
In the memo, the administrator outlines the implementation of two new policies to assist in maximising learning and academic attainment.  

The first, that there will be designated restroom times with 5 minute allocated slots and secondly, should students not train their bladders (my interpretation) to be able to use the restroom in their designated time slot, they will be entitled to two bathroom passes per term.  

It gets better.  

Teachers are encouraged to use their stop watches to time these 5 minute rest breaks, and to praise those who are 'timely' in their business. 

Rewards for unused passes will be given at the end of term, and filling out a 'log' will assist students in telling the time - analogue and digital!


In the blog post Pasi tweeted about 'Taught by Finland', the blogger outlines how in Finland going to the bathroom is a legal right.  Here in New Zealand, students can go to the bathroom whenever they need to.  Its not about law, its about a basic human right.  It defies logic to me that one would even need to mandate it, let alone structure this human right into a 'timetable'.  Here in NZ, the good teachers I have worked with have systems and processes in place so that students learning is maximised and mucking around in the bathroom is minimised, but no teacher or principal I know would dream of introducing such an anti child policy as this. 

Here's why.

- Children are entitled to go to the bathroom when their bladder dictates they need to.  I can't see any reason around academic achievement (or otherwise) that could ever be used as a mandate for such an antiquated policy.   It screams of distrust of students, teachers and misplaced angst about what is important in education.  Timetabling rest breaks should never be an issue.  I might understand processes needing to be introduced if it was because there was bullying, mucking around or general chaos during break times, but that is more about school culture and behaviour management than the need to be an over zealous administrator who needs to micro manage everyone and everything.   

- It is unhealthy to 'hold it in'.  As a parent it horrifies me that children are expected to 'hold it in'.  Imagine how disastrous this could be if a child is unwell, not to mention the concerns around risking urinary track infections.  

- Parents would be outraged, as they should be. I find it ironic that in the 'land of the free' students are dictated as to when and how their bladders operate.  Parents at this school should be standing up asking serious questions about priorities.   Stories of teachers running into a spot of bother with parents when accidents happen are not uncommon.  However, there is a difference between a shy little person not telling the teacher when they have had an accident, and a policy such as this.  If you do a quick google search you will see that mandating how and when students go to the bathroom is reasonably common, particularly in the US.    There is even a story of a teacher who charged students fake money to go to the restroom (I suspect it was part of a maths topic that went haywire and the media took it upon itself to beat it into a story bigger than Ben Hur).   Suffice to say, just as the teacher in Finland stated, here in NZ going to the bathroom is a normal everyday right.  

- Little peoples bladders are inconsistent at best. Have you ever taught 5 and 6 year olds?  When they need to go, they need to go.  No timetables or silly bathroom passes will change that.  I know none of my teachers would withhold the right for a student to go to the bathroom, in fact, our teachers remind the little ones to do just that, because when you are a child you are more interested in the fun things you are doing in class, the exciting playtime options you can explore during playtime (recess) and lunch time, and of course what is in your lunch box.   Remembering to go to the bathroom is the least important thing in your mind.  

- Morally, it's wrong.  For those students who have 'accidents', think about how this will impact on their self esteem.  This kind of mandate is asking for accidents to happen.  Professionally it's abhorrent - which century do we live in?

- Schools are about learning, exploring and growing citizens.  What does this kind of dictatorial policy decision teach children?  That schools are only interested in your academic well being, not social or emotional, and that you are a number to be timetabled, catorgorised and dictated to.  Even your bladder must conform.  I repeat, what century are we living in?

- Schools are not prisons.  I'm no expert in prison doctrine but I imagine even prisoners are entitled to go when they need to go.  I can imagine there would be a human rights uproar if adults were subjected to bathroom passes (2 per quarter) and timetabled rest stops.  I imagine there would be a black market emerge for illicit hall passes.  In this case the administrator has already pre thought this and students must sign for their passes.  Seems over overly anal, (a kiwisim meaning terribly detailed orientated) to me, pun unintended. 

This story, however, points to a much larger issue that should concern all educators.  

I can understand the pressure that must be placed on administrators in places like the US to perform, and I have some sympathy for wanting to crack down on lost time as they attempt to meet all this standardised policy.   

But here's a thought.  

If you want better academic achievement, rather than introducing top down, anti children policies that you think will produce a streamlined timetable and therefore increase student learning time,  invest in the things that make a difference to students learning.  

Invest in your teachers pedagogy about how students learn, what inspires children, and show them that you trust their professionalism.  Ask them how they think they can turn things around.  Give them the skills and tools they need to do their job, encourage parents to be a part of the learning journey and most of all, let children be children.  (I could wax lyrical about this in more blog posts than you could ever read, suffice to say - there are better ways to inspire - find them - find a way to work within the standardised mandates because quality teaching will always prevail)

It saddens me that the neo liberal G.E.R.M keeps on infecting countries, schools, and educational administrators, like an overzealous sneeze.   As a result ill placed policy mandates like this surface.  I have posted about this trend before, where administrators from Elwood Public Schools felt they needed to shut down the really important things in a school (the kindergarten play) in order to chase down academic success and raise test scores.  New Zealand policy makers have been attempting to enforce more standardised mandates upon the public education system here and in doing so dismantle all the things that made us world renown and similar in doctrine to Finland.  

Stories like this serve as a warning to educators in New Zealand and other countries that are hell bent on ramming neo liberal policies down the public education throat.  This is where the madness that is standardisation, competition and rising levels of inequity leads.  We do not need or want it.

Whats next - a ban on playtime and lunchtime?

Ps On a more facetious note, perhaps the teachers could play Queens 'I want to break free' - it goes for 4:27, that would give students an extra 33 seconds to get back to class!  

Additional Information:

The Memo:

Dear Faculty,
Welcome back and Happy New Year! In order to maximize student learning and reduce the loss of instructional time, we are implementing two new restroom policies.
1. Designated Restroom Times - Take your class to use the restroom only during your allotted time so that multiple groups of students are not competing to use the facilities. Also, the expectation is that the restroom break should last only five minutes. Before leaving for the restroom, clearly communicate the behavioral expectations and the time limit. Use your watch or stopwatch to time the students and praise them when they meet the behavior and time expectations.
Sign up for your restroom time slot in the main office by Tuesday, January 7. 
2. Restroom Passes - In addition to scheduled restroom breaks, students will be given restroom passes to use if they need to use the restroom outside of the scheduled time. Students will be given two restroom passes to use between now and the end of the quarter. They can choose to hold on to them and trade them in for a reward at the end of the quarter. Following these guidelines:Have students fill in their names as soon as they receive them. Passes are invalid if names are crossed out for another name.For the upper grades, students can use one teacher's pass in another classroom, but they still only get the same number of passes per quarter.Use a class roster to have student initial next to their name to indicate that they received the passes.Have students fill in the "time out" and "time in" and then turn the pass in to the teacher when finished. This will help them practice the CCS of telling time with both digital and analog clocks.
Promote the benefit of not using the passes by reminding students that rewards will be given for left over passes at the end of the quarter.
Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Thank you,

The Left Can Do This

Last week I posted on the new introduction to politics on the left, the alliance between Mana and The Internet Party. In that post I outlined my wonderings about this new player on the field of political footy, promising to lay out my wonderings around why I think the left is a serious contender in the up coming election. 

One of the biggest worries for the parties on the left is the media. The media pundits seem to be hell bent on painting a picture of a 5 headed Hydra, one that is fractured and running against itself.  Anytime they sense a sniff of criticism of the left by the left, the media jumps in with cries of an unstable political environment on the left.  At that point the right wing takes over with its savvy PR machine and spins the public a line that those who vote for Labour and the Greens will be dealing with a crazy conglomeration of strange activists who can't agree on anything.

To counter this, Parties on the left can't be publicly dissing any of their left wing colleagues. The public don't like it and the media goes in for the kill.   They need to be seen to be coordinated, collaborative and consistent.  

Here's where learning from the greens co leader Russell Norman is useful. He has been consistent in keeping out of the mud, and has become adept at sidestepping any attempts to get him to criticise those with whom the Greens would need to form a coalition with - particularly Labour.  I can imagine that at times (cough Shane Jones cough) this has not been an easy task.

Theres an irony here, in terms of a scary political Hydra.  If there was ever a heinous monster of an alliance that could go into government and should have voters frightened, it's living on the right wing side of politics. To think our counties policies could be formed from the strange and wacky things that have come out of the right wing quarter should have all kiwis running scared.  Considering marijuana decriminalisation reform is the most radical thing coming out of the left block, in comparison to the ludicrous and 19th century thinking from the right block of fake moon landings, State sanctioned incest and a call to bring back smacking, well, what more do I need to say?  Voter beware.   

Then there are the polls.  Currently, they don't paint a particularly rosy picture.  They do seem a little skewed.  I have never met anyone who has been rung and been asked to participate in a poll about voting.  I wonder if too much attention is paid to these polls.  It wouldn't be the first time a party has been appearing to poll badly close to an election, and then seem to make a miraculous come back.  

From a grass roots perspective (one that's not formed from a talkback radio listening or mainstream political tv watching bias) the polls don't reflect what I see and hear on a daily basis.   I get a sense that the public are concerned about the very things the Government say are doing well and that there is a disconnect with what is reported and what is happening in the real world.  Housing, education, rising mortgages, escalating living costs and the ever widening gap between those who have and those who don't, are regular conversations in the average kiwis home and workplace. 

Despite the polls, there are murmurings of hope and a real sense that the left can do this.

Firstly, Labour has a track record of working well with others.  They have worked with a wide variety of parties, and they have the experience and 'know how' to run a collaborative well oiled coalition that will take NZ forward.  The public just needs to remember that it is under a Labour Government that NZ has been the most successful - both socially and fiscally.  Together with the Greens they will be able to lead a coalition of the left.  

Secondly, the Greens have grown into themselves.  The modern Green Party is savvy, diverse and they have proven themselves as capable political players.  Gone are the early misconceptions of 'mung beans at dawn', hairy armpits and pot smoking parliamentarians who only want to save the planet one flower at a time.  Instead, we have a modern, experienced Green Party that echo the sentiments of the future with the ability to work with Labour to create a vibrant green economy that NZ could potentially thrive under.  

Then there is Winston and his NZ First Party.  Typically he is a bit of a wild card.  However, he does have his followers and they are a voice that his party hears and caters for.  Winston has been around forever.  He is politically adept at working things to his advantage.  My only wonderings here are his longevity and what happens when he eventually goes.  Next year he turns 70.  At some point, politically speaking, enough will be enough for him.  Then what?  Of course, the other wondering is what he will do come election day.  If it is close, will he go left, or will he go right?  With Winston, you just never know.   The plus side is that should we trust him to stay left then his experience will ensure things are steady. 

That leaves us with The Internet and Mana alliance.   Today I have been watching the live streaming of the candidate selection process for The Internet Party (yes, I am aware I need to get out more), and I am impressed with the philosophy of transparency that The Internet Party is employing.   That, along with the other strengths I posted on last week, should be enough to reassure the public that the left do indeed have what it takes to lead our country.

Therefore, what will it take for the left to win?

1. Collaboration and a collective voice on the issues that matter. 

The parties on the left are united in the cause of ensuring there is a change of government.  They are united in the cause of ensuring equity and success for all kiwis.  It is these messages that they need to be consistent with.

2. The ability to show collegiality and professionalism. 

The public are not interested in watching another sideshow of mud slinging. Whilst it might entertain some, for the most part what it does is live up to the reputation the media paint - one of disarray and fractured parties. When another party on the left disses a potential collation partner, it reminds me of the old adage to never wrestle with a pig, because you both get dirty and the pig loves it. The problem with dirty mud wrestling in politics when the left are mucking around getting muddy, is the right wing use it to their advantage. Their PR machines are huge, and they are slicker than an oil disaster. 

It is foolhardy politics to give any advantage to the right wing, particularly this close to an election and when the main polls are not going your way. By all means, have your personal opinions on recent developments, but exercise caution and attempt to keep them private and behind closed doors.  The media are persistent in undermining what the left wing are attempting to achieve, and I have been wondering when the left will stop, drop and collaborate. The sooner they do this the sooner the media will look for other things to focus on.

3. People to get off the couch, get motivated and VOTE.

One of the advantages of the alliance between Mana and The Internet Party, is that they have the means and motivation to go forth and assist other parties on the left to tap into the lost million of the countries eligible voters. Each party on the left has its own strengths and niche. Together they have the ability to inspire, encourage and fossick out those voters whom, for their various reasons, choose not to vote in the last election. In a previous post I wrote about why someone should vote, and why their voice counts.  The key here for the parties of the left is to make sure they inspire those who didn't vote last time and to give them a reason to do so this time, emphasising why their voice does indeed count.  The real danger here is that people will remain at home, disinterested and unwilling to participate.  

Finally, the left can do this.  They have the ability to form a cohesive, collaborative government that will lead NZ into the future.  Between them they have a mix of experience, innovation, determination and sound policies that will make a difference to all kiwis.  They can do this. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Politics Just Got Interesting

It has been an interesting time in politics lately.   All kinds of political machinations have been at play with intrigue, drama, the odd ear picking and just a sniff of scandal to make the TV news interesting.  Who says the New Zealand political landscape is boring.  Not lately.

If ever there was a time to pop the popcorn and grab a seat, then now would be that time.

In typical Principally Mused style, I have been wondering.  In fairness, so much has been happening that I have been wondering more than writing.  In particular I have been wondering about what the new alliance between The Internet party and the Mana party means for NZ politics.

I am going to add my 10 cents worth of wonderings to this issue, take it for what it is - just my wonderings and observations.  

The merger - 5 key wonderings.  

Unless you are currently living under a rock, you will have no doubt heard all about how Kim Dotcom and his The Internet party has formed an alliance with Hone Harawira and his Mana party.  

1. An alliance with Mana - clever and strategic.  

On the surface of it, it seems a strange alliance and an unlikely coupling.  Plenty of pundits have written on the pros and cons (as they see them) and I don't feel qualified to sit here waxing lyrical on the ins and outs of the morality of Maori seats vs general electoral rolls, 'coat tailing' claims and millionaires motives.   The way the right wing is going on about this alliance you would think an alliance had never been formed before.  The irony here is that National has forgotten its own roots, as it was born out of an alliance itself.  With that in mind, perhaps it should look at where it got to and be less dismissive.  Big things are born from small beginnings.  

But, I have been wondering and thinking about this from a strategic perspective.  Looking in from the outside, and having heard both Hone and Laila speak about their motives and their perspectives, it reads like a smart marriage of convenience.  There's a unification around wanting a change of government, a group of people who all bring a variety of resources to the table - from a seat, to money, to activism, to political capital.  It's easy to judge this and question motive but that aside, it's clever. 

2. Crowd sourcing policy - savvy, smart idea.  

This is clever.  Instead of making things up, they are doing the smart thing and asking people what they want to see changed and what would make a difference.  I've read The Internet party draft education policy and it's a good start.  I will be curious to see how it merges with Mana but thus far it is encouraging.  The media this weekend scorned them for 'crowd sourcing' but actually, it's real power is in harnessing the voice of the young disaffected 'non voter' who will feel their voice is valued.  Pure genius really.  

One of the biggest criticisms of the current reality we live in is a lack of true consultation and an appearance of not listening to the public.  To tap into this is good policy development. 

Laila was smart this weekend when pressed about free tertiary education and how it might be paid for.  Instead of promising to abolish this or raise taxes on that, she made it clear that this was a discussion to be held with the voters.  It is wise to have a public debate around things that are important.  It has been long overdue.  Of course there will be a cost - the real question is, what is the public prepared to lose?   My wish is that we could have had the same debate on education.  Instead we are being lumped with a policy that could have used that money to make a real difference.  More about that soon! 

3. Appointing a seasoned, respected, articulate and passionate ex MP as leader - very smart.  

Laila Harre is a force to be reckoned with.  She's proven she's capable of holding her own, both as a past MP for Alliance and leader, and this weekend by expertly batting off aggressive and over zealous interviews by the media.  

It was a clever move by The Internet party. She brings mana (pun simply conincidental) and credibility to the table.   There has been criticism over her age but thats is, in my opinion, posturing from the right wing as they attempt to discredit her.  Her experience and reputation speaks for itself.  It is another stroke of genius and has just upped the stakes to one of viability.  

4. Investment of capital - an opportunity too good to not capitalise on.

Whilst opponents and over eager journalists are touting the Mana merger as a blatant money grab and a millionaires puppeteering,  I have been wondering a bit deeper than that.  It is a little naive to think that this is a marriage born out of love.  Of course, this is about convenience.  I ask this - so what?  It is not the first time someone has put their money where their mind is, and it won't be the last.  

Would the others like to have that kind of money at their disposal?  You bet.  What this does do, is give two minor players a chance to get their voice out and to even up the playing field somewhat.   There has been a significant investment made by Kim Dotcom, and I am wondering just how big this investments impact will be come election day.  

The fact that they are being blasted for the investment by the media and the right wing seems somewhat hypocritical.  Cough Colin Craig cough.  Cough Act cough.  Cough Cabinet Club cough.

5. Paying candidates to run - a stroke of ingenuity! 

To be able to pay their candidates and their leader as they head off to an election is something all parties should do.  It values the contribution and skills of the candidates and means that candidates won't lose out.  While it would be nice to think that candidates run for parliament out of the kindness of their hearts, the reality is that for many, they have to leave jobs and security.   

The sceptical would say that people are only putting their hands up to run because they will be paid.  I am sure there is a smidgeon of truth to this but I also think it shows that the party value people and are prepared to put their resources behind them.  This allows people of calibre to stand up.  

Where might this journey lead...

Could it all end in custard?  Perhaps, but that is not for me to crystal ball gaze over.  The players in this are all mature and savvy participants and I am pretty confident that they have all gone into this arrangement with their eyes wide open and with various alternative modes of operation already thought out.  

Right now they are united in a common cause and the investment Kim Dotcom is putting into this is an opportunity too good to pass up.  It will give then all a 'super sized' virtual megaphone that will prove, I believe, to be invaluable.   

With the above in mind, I would gently remind others that it is always smarter to play with and factor in the unknown rather than discount or disregard.  Just, in, case.

Finally, let me sum up my wonderings on this matter. 

Like a game of chess, there is a level of strategic manoeuvring at play here, where this new team are pulling their collective resources together to place themselves firmly on the board.  

My biggest wondering here is how are the other parties on the left going to ensure they are part of this strategic positioning to maximise the left vote.  There is an opportunity here to maximise the vote for the left and to block out the right.  

Each of the parties on the left are unique in terms of their constituency, yet are united in the common cause of wanting a better future for New Zealanders.  Labour has a track record of working with most of the current parties on the left, and I have no doubt that they will be able to work well with this new alliance as well.   Labour and the Greens are a proven combination.  They can do this.  More about the reasons why the left are a serious and proven contender another day.  

Suffice to say, rather than seeing The Internet Mana party as a threat to the votes of the left, they are instead the party that has the potential to reel in the lost voters.  Now is the time for all the players on the left to be united, show they can work together and that they have the back of all New Zealanders. It is unwise to live up to the media's label of being 'fractious'.  Now, more than ever, unity is critical.

This new player in the political world has certainly added a new element to politics in NZ, and watching how this plays out will be fascinating indeed.  Bring on the election - things just got interesting.