For the Love of Learning

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Reflecting on why it is I keep coming back to this blog and I realise that it is purely for the reflective time spent on why I believe learning is a “life blood” that naturally runs through all of us.

For some it runs freely and smoothly while for others it gets “clogged” up with an insistence that there is an ongoing blockage for the need to learn. Whether it be excuses or resistance to upset the “norm” of our lives.

As I think about young students in a classroom, or anywhere for that matter, there is a insatiable desire to learn. It may not be in the Maths lesson Period 7 on a summer afternoon in a classroom with no air conditioning but in their overall “desire” is to understand their world and “make  a dent in it”.

As adults, this desire seems to waver in some but thankfully not all. It becomes a load, and “overwhelming luggage” to get to our next destination. I have heard colleagues discuss learning, whether professional or tertiary based, as too unbearable and painful as if they were pulling a wheelbarrow between their teeth up a steep incline.

Whatever happened to “For the love of learning”? For the pure knowledge that your cognitive space is motivated and enhanced. That your world may seem more interesting to try to understand. That your life may become more educationally 3Dimensional.

Learning is not a given. Learning is not something that you “order” to suit your needs at that moment in time. Learning is not about already knowing something and resisting the new knowledge. Learning is the new! Learning is pushing through obstacles and finding things that you didn’t even know existed. Learning is about stopping at a particular moment and inhaling new found knowledge. Learning is about success and failure. Learning is about discussing with others and coming up wth knowledge that is new to you.

If we are relying on “learning” to be a slow moving, gentle cruise along the mild river of life, we are shutting our eyes to so many “adventures” along the way. I know I want my learning to be a “water rafting” ride in life. I want the ups and the downs, the screams of fear and the screams of success. And I want to know that at the end of my life, I have had the “learning” ride of my life.

So many of us have learning lapping at our fingertips within the reach of our keyboard and computer but we find the reasons for sending it away or upturn our noses at the chance to learn. For others on this planet, learning is so valuable that they risk their life. The village people of Atuleer Village in China are such brave advocates for the power and privilege to learn. (see video)

Atuleer Village China Risk Their Life for Learning

The next time you have the opportunity to ‘learn something” don’t look for the excuses nor  make the excuses. Instead, strap your helmet on, grip the oar as tight as you can and get ready to run down the river with the white water rushing around you. You’ll see it can be the best ride of your life!

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The Conscience Takes A Back Seat

Unknown-2     The most rewarding role in my life is that of mother and educator. I have been blest with three children who give my life essence. My daily thoughts are on helping these children become “decent”, well respected and well loved, empathic human beings who have a strong understanding of what is right and wrong.

But to do that is to assume that a person’s values are shared by all and this is not necessarily the case. What I value in life someone else may deflect its relevance in their own lives. And worse still, deflect its value as being important in my life.

The difference to me, as a mother and educator, is not just morality, i.that is right and wrong based on rules or “norms” but awareness of our conscience.

A conscience, is upon personal reflection, morality’s effect on others. An effect or a by-product of our choice of values, norms or rules.

I distinctly remember being taught about my conscience. Phrases such as “using my conscience” is part of my upbringing at home and school. This thinking was impossible unless I was “trained” to think about the effects my moral decisions had on others.

I worry that conscience is being shadowed by morality on its own. It is very easy to discuss “right” vs “wrong” with children, and let’s not be ill informed, many adults could do with a discussion on morality and the conscience. But do we give enough credence to thinking about our conscience. Do we “train” our minds alongside our hearts to think about how our words and actions will effect others especially if they do not share our own value system.

Morality can very easily play kingpin in life but the conscience allows us to steer our moral values so that we are able to look at ourselves in the mirror and live with our decisions, words and actions. The conscience is a reminder that the world does not exist to satisfy our own self or our own needs at the detriment of others. A person could assume their moral understanding because they know right and wrong in their own value system but if it isn’t shared by others we need another factor i.e., the conscience to level out the field.

As a child I was informed about the body, the soul and the mind and thankfully, I had the wisdom of educators who taught me the dimension of the conscience. This allowed me to reverence the idea that I may need to miss out because others’ needs are just as important.

There is an integrity to the value system when the needs of others are served before the needs of one person are catered for. The conscience, as I say to my own children, is your best friend to help you make solid, integral decisions and processes. The conscience, unlike morality alone, emphasises the person’s desire and accountability to do right rather than just the thinking of what is right and wrong.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s used their conscience today at all?”

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Renewable Humanity Resources Are Running Out Fast

images-3I was inspired to write this post after talking to my 11year old incredibly humane daughter about a public speech she has been asked to write at school. Her topic “What Happens When It Runs Out?” We discussed all the normal expectations of such a speech such as coal, oil, and so on but realised that perhaps what the world should be more concerned about is what happens when “IT” runs out. The “IT” being renewable humanity resources. Continue reading

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Qualified to Love

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I first wrote in this my educational blog site nearly two years ago where I was introduced to reflective writing and critical reviews by a visionary lecturer who knew knowledge and understanding didn’t amount to word counts only. This blog site has been a place where I could share thoughts on learning, teaching and leadership in the educational domain. Subjects such as mission integrity; ethics; shared moral purpose and authentic leadership were thoughts that helped me to understand the importance of my role as a teacher and leader. It has been quite some time that I have been at this site but sometimes my reflective thoughts inspire me to write.

Recently, I completed a Masters in Educational Leadership. This was a degree that I worked very hard to achieve all the while trying to juggle full-time studies with raising three young children, working part time, looking after a home and caring for an elderly mother. For me, it was not only an achievement for myself but for my children to see that at any age learning is a priceless gift. And learning is to be cherished as this gift.

But sometimes, life throws situations by you and clouds your reality and makes life a fog filled highway.A highway you don’t always want to be on. Unsure whether your thoughts and reflections throughout two years of extensive university study will lift some of this fog. But strangely, for me, it has. For you see, I remember many years ago, when my first daughter was born, a parent at the school asked me ‘Do you think you will be a better teacher now you are a parent?” I remember thinking what a silly question to ask. It is only recently that I reflect deeply on my role as a teacher and parent that this question makes more sense. I may never be an inspirational classroom teacher again, who knows what is install in my life. I may never be a proud leader, who knows what life has installed. But I do know that my role as teacher to my children is constant and the most rewarding educational role I will ever hold. That is something that can never be challenged or questioned, and the last 11 years have proven to be the most valuable of my life.

A smile filled with pride; a hug at random times of the day; a question enveloped in curiosity are all parts of this educational role that are immeasurable. Am I a qualified teacher, very much with 25 years of teaching experience. Am I a Master of Educational Leadership, at least proven academically. But the one question that I can answer with assurance and confidence is that my teaching expertise in the everyday of my children’s lives is my ongoing vision, it is my daily focus, and it will be area of expertise that I value more than anything in life.  Just recently a dear friend said to me “Parenting can be boring and dull but it is a responsibility that we have been given to look after above our own needs”. You could take all my degrees and qualifications away from me but at the end of the day, my responsibility as an educator lies right at the feet of being a mother to my children first. That qualification is framed in my heart and mind, and is untouchable!

For GBF, HMF and NDCF xxxx

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Mission Integrity: Holding On By Our FingerTips


images-1School leadership, in modern times, is faced with challenges from every corner. Social, economic, religious and political. Catholic school leadership is facing these challenges but with the extra weight of keeping to the mission of the school and that of Catholic education especially when they continue to “receive significant support from public funds”(Grace, 2002) and are heavily driven by market values just like any other school. The Catholic schools are also varied in their identity, their multi faiths and multi ethnic populations and yet are still committed to uphold to the mission of their schools. The question is why and for how long can they maintain this? Continue reading

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Neo-Liberal Agenda and How They Present Three Important Challenges to Catholic Leadership.

Neo-liberalism refers to the adoption of private and social enterprise approaches to publicly funded education systems, often referred to as the new managerialism.

(Jim Gleeson, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane) 

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In this post, I reflect on three issues emerging from the neo-liberal agenda and how they present important challenges to Catholic leadership. This reflection is based on the work of Jim Gleeson “Critical Challenges and Dilemmas for Catholic Education Leadership Internationally” which is currently still In Press.

 ISSUE 1: Erosion of the Importance of Values in Catholic Education

The first issue is that of the erosion of values based existence and direction in schools and their effect on the purpose of Catholic schools. In our Catholic schools, our vision, our mission, our purpose, our identity and our culture are enveloped in Gospel values that personify the words presented to us by Jesus. Neo-liberalism has shifted the focus onto the legal ownership and development of a commercial / economic background and existence. Gleeson refers to the “market-driven neo-liberal values”. It is very difficult when governance from “above” ie Governments, State and National, are driving the implementation of expectations in learning to a degree that the values are less intended and applicable to “market success education”. Parents are expecting more of our schools, and with the less faith based committed clientele and secularisation of Catholic Education, the stress on values is lessening to be taken over by the need to succeed in a political, legal and economic world.

Gleeson states that “the emphasis is on performance indicators” and this is evident in present NAPLAN and through globalisation such as PISA tests and high stakes testing. Values are not “performance indicators” even though they contribute immensely to the common good and when these collective attributes are disintegrating the “corrosion of character” (Sennett, 1998) is fast tracked. A school is undeniably an economic engine in the community and are more recently seen as a production line of capable citizens. The problem is defining “capable” and its relationship in a Catholic school. If we go back to the ministry of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop and that is to ensure every child had an education particularly those whose families worked in the coal mines and couldn’t afford the money or time to educate children. Is this still not reflective of our modern day where a great majority of the Catholic school population is not lower income families because the education in Catholic schools is considered to be “high standard”. Catholic schools are often mistaken for private schools as opposed to independent and the expectations from many parents is that, because it is not State school then it must be private. This is a definitive understanding that is carried through to the expectations of the results of their students.

This is also clearly obvious from the time parents write up a Kindergarten application form for why they want their children at Catholic Primary schools right  through to Year 6. An enrolment form for Kindergarten often reflects a parent’s desire for Catholic “values”, a Catholic “education” and Catholic “environment” but the discussions change by the time they are preparing for Year 7 and it is more about how well they achieve individually on test scores, whether they will be accepted into the appropriate High School or whether they are gaining any scholarships. This is reality. I don’t believe that parents’ completely “throw out” values bases in their child’s education but I do believe that they become less evident in their reasoning for their child’s education.

For me, the concept of values in the school is based on our moral purpose and responsibility of education and that is to provide the most valuable form of education for each individual student; to respect their rights to a “good” education; to present our best practice for the well being of the students and to act as an agent for Catholicity in the school. To support the development of human capital with a Catholic intention and philosophy.

ISSUE 2- Neo Liberal Policies and Education 

The second issue is on the measurement of education practice. Gleeson states that “Curriculum is seen as product rather than process, something that a teacher must deliver, rather like the mail or milk”. I don’t believe that Catholic education should be less competitive as an institution to any other school. The question is how much of an impact is the standardised testing having on the local school curriculum and addressing the needs of the local community? So long as education is linked to Government funding and comparison, the pressure is on schools, including Catholic, to publicise their abilities and standards of teaching and learning. The concern is the pressures on staff and students to “come up to scratch” compared to other areas which clearly don’t always share the same socio, economic or political sphere. This concerns me when a student’s education is now a political, governing and funding frisbee.

ISSUE 3 – Faith Based Education and the Neo Liberal Agenda

In many Catholic schools, the ideology is that religion is not simply an extension of the current curriculum as if to say it was an “extra”. Catholic schools embed the philosophy, the values and the intrinsic of our faith within the culture, the curriculum and the community. The reality though is that neo-liberalism is putting weight on religious education within the curriculum. Is it a stand alone subject; is it embedded within the curriculum, culture and community or is it cross curricula where other key learning areas are integrated? The integrity and purpose of Catholic education is clearly founded on the principles of providing equality in education for all yet Gleeson states statistics of “one in three low income Catholic children in Australia attend a Catholic school as against 60 per cent of children from higher income families. This is a stark comparison and questions the Catholic School and Church’s role in providing opportunities for the poor. Where is the relationship of neo-liberalism and the common good. It appears that one is dividing the purpose of Catholic education further from its central heart of common good.

Conclusion

Neo-liberalism will always be a past statement as each year unfolds a “new” neo-liberalism which will come to light. And with it, the debate as to the impact it can and will have on Catholic Education and its leadership will continue. Leadership is challenged to face these changes, economic, social and political, and at the same time respect the dignity of each student and the impact each individual will have on the overall common good. A confronting time for Catholic school leadership that I believe will present as continuing trials in Catholic education in the future.

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Shared Moral Purpose and Shared Leadership Are a Compelling Force

imagesShared Moral Purpose is a communal sense of intention based  in shared values. Shared moral purpose is a powerful and challenging aspect of school cultures.

Shared leadership suggests that the collective staff share that purpose and speak the same language in regards to conceptualising what it is we want for our students’ learning to give them the best outcomes to shape their lives.

At this point, can I just say how encouraging it is to know that these conversations on moral purpose, authenticity and shared leadership are being had in schools. Regardless of what stage a school or individual is at in these arenas, the fact remains that we are challenging ourselves as people and professionals whose impact on the lives of others is exponential. We are challenging our expectations and our reasoning as teachers and this can only be a “good thing”. (Fullan, 2001)

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