Digital Archaeologists

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Whether or not we like it, technology is here and it has arrived with a large bang over the last few years. That “bang” is not getting any quieter and personally, I think it is the sweetest sound in the classroom in the 21st century.

At no other point in history has so much been at the direct fingertips of our students …and their teachers.

At no other point in history has so much of the planet’s knowledge been so accessible to our students …and their teachers.

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Teaching “Those” Students

I just spent some of the best 17 1/2 minutes of my life watching a TED Talk  called “The Toxic Culture of Education”by Joshua Katz, a High School teacher of Mathematics. During the view, I thought Joshua’s blood pressure was about to need medical attention and with that came an energised appetite for “THOSE Students”.

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Eli, Eli Lema Sabachthani

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(Image: Staples, 2015)

Up until now I reserved this website for more educational based writings but the events of recent times involving two of my fellow countrymen, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have led me to put my thoughts down in a post.

Both these men are known to nearly every breathing Australian. Known as the “Ringleaders of the Bali 9” and currently smelling the incense of death as they have been sentenced to execution by firing squad. These two men allegedly tried to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin into Indonesia. They were found guilty…accepted.

But through the media we hear of their transformation as human beings and the transforming effects they have had on other human beings especially those sharing the stench of prison surrounds.

Tonight as I read a Tweet posted by a friend, where he sits in prayer, in a vigil organised for them and my hearts cries out “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani” just as Jesus apparently cried out when he was on the cross. This means “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me”.

My God, where are you to show me that these men are worthy of salvation. How much more worthy can a person be? I hear the limp reasons for supporting their execution. That they put other people’s lives at risk. How many of us have never put another person’s life at risk simply by speeding along a freeway; or not regularly checking the rubber on our vehicles’ tyres. No comparison I hear you say, I beg to differ! I was young and stupid once too but disguised as mature, responsible and job holding. Now I see the error of my ways but when I was younger I just smelt the fresh air in the open window and music to singalong with as I drove along the road. Not heroine, correct but still a deadly weapon was my car. How many truck drivers take drugs to keep to a deadline. Yes, workers trying to feed their family but still a deadly weapon when they fall asleep at the wheel of a truck. How many foreman have allowed their construction workers to work in unsafe work environments without harnesses or head gear. Not heroine but still a deadly weapon. And the list goes on. Do we accept execution for these people?

The argument continues that if my “child” died from one of these overdoses would I feel differently about them. My answer is no. My “child” made that decision just as others in my community choose to take alcohol in excess and put their own life and put others’ lives at risk.

I’m not contemplating that these men should be freed and perhaps, maybe through some mystical presence Joko Widodo may inhale this thought. Perhaps these men’s purpose for existence in life was to be caught and be imprisoned so that they could do what others have failed to do. To save; to show compassion and dignity to other inmates; to transform the lives of so many; and to challenge our laws for the rights of the ruah of the human being. Would I have been writing a post about people in a prison if they hadn’t transformed my own life and the answer is quite clearly no. These men, like so many “misfits in a perfect society” have served their fellow man in ways many of us can’t imagine let alone achieve. And I ask, if someone like Jesus came across these men what would he say to them? I have no doubt that they’d be embraced with the most outreached arms and a forgiving heart. The thought of even possibly hearing that they have been executed makes my heart stop. I pray every day as I don’t want to cry out “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani” if that time comes.

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Inspirational Learners

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You know, being born in a country like Australia gave me the opportunity to learn using a language that is so familiar to me. It wasn’t always like this for me having started Primary School with no English language skills. I still managed to “find my way around” the school and its many environments. But what is it like for an adult, who comes to a new country and has no English understanding. This past week has seen two people I know start English classes. My amazing brother in law is the first and the other is my neighbour, a family man who lives in my street and has come to Australia, with his young family, as a recognised refugee.These are two men, who have left their families, a life they are familiar with and the security of their first language to come to a country which has its own distinct colourful culture and language.

Speaking to both these gentlemen, after only two English classes, and you can see why I admire these “Inspirational Learners”. They are going back to basics in language: counting; recognising days of the week; learning alphabet letters and so on. These are both capable men who had careers in their own countries. Men who supported extended families and they are now “starting from scratch”. What makes them inspirational is the smile that they use to tell me about their day at “school”. They laugh at their accent when reading their new found knowledge; they proudly repeat newly formed words; and they use it in context.

Every time I hear a word come from their mouth, which clearly is newly learnt, it makes me take a deep breath and recognise that lifelong learning is not always a progression from a particular point along some continuum of learning but that it may take you back to an initial stage of learning and requires you to “start again”.

Upon seeing their blackline masters for the letters of the alphabet; looking at their neatly formed handwriting and seeing the grade “Good” written on the bottom of the page makes these two men “inspirational”. They pull out one stencil after another from their bag with so much pride and self encouragement. Each paper they show me is a step closer to their “new life”.

I write this post as a Masters Student at university but the respect and admiration I have for these two men, as learners who are going back to basics  within the new country they now reside in, is exponential!

Finally, I saw my neighbour tonight, after Day 2 at English Classes. He greeted me at the door with his brand new T’shirt with an oversized Australian flag on it.He said it is now his favourite shirt…..makes me so emotional and proud! This is a man who came from a country where his home was bombed, his son shot in the eye and trying to raise a teenage daughter who is completely dependant for physical and cognitive support.

I may not have the “academic” definition of inspirational leaners but I sure as cookies reckon these two men define it perfectly!

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Piece of the Global Educational Pie

“…although basing educational policy making on scientific evidence may be a good idea, it implementation and rigour are lacking”
(Weiss, Murphy-Graham Pretrosino and Gandhi, 2008)

imagesReflecting on evidence in policy making in education on a local, state, national and global level and it is obvious of its role in forming policies. But evidence based decision making is, as Wiseman (2010) states, “… all about what works or best practise.” The question asked is what works in what situation and in what community?

I have to say I am divided about all this “evidence” and its effect on policy making and of course on leaders and schools.

I believe I may be devil’s advocate and suggest that there needs to be “something” and that we can’t just irrationally propose a policy on education without basing it on “something”. Oakley (2002) suggests evidence “validates and legitimises education processes and products”.

Obviously, the challenge is to  create a basis for evidence that has substance and takes into account social, gender, as well as geographic elements. This is where the criticism comes in that, as Wiseman states, “…it only focuses on what works in specific situations or with unique communities”.

But the question remains for me, is that continuing criticism of evidence based policy making can only lead to more authentic, genuine, truthful forms of policy, or at least one hopes. Or as Whitty (2006) states “we must consider evidence within context”.

To state it is politically driven or economically focused would predominantly touch at the hearts of those who, on a daily basis, value the true “depth” of education i.e. teachers, school leaders for example. Ask a policy writing politician and the response may be quite different. Each person’s role in education i.e. teacher, parent, student, leader, policy writer are all driven by different purposes of education e.g. educational, economical and political. And each has a domino effect on the other.

As Ladwig states “schooling is meant to provide many more things than just academic outcomes”. But for politically driven policy makers these  “non-academic outcomes” are irrelevant to their political intentions. Evidence doesn’t cater for or truly reflect these non-academic concerns.

So that brings to to the point of “sitting on the fence”. As an educationally driven and motivated member of society, evidence based decision making and policy writing are too concerned with the quantitive rather than the qualitative measures but as a citizen of a forward gesturing nation, I ask “How else do we make these decisions? What do we base the policies on?

To the non-educational background onlooker the conversations and their understanding of the policy making politically driven agenda relies on numbers. It is what everyone globally can relate to. It is what we can globally compare. It is what we can sell newspapers with! It is what politician can be elected with. Sadly, education of students is just one piece of the “global educational pie”, often and more so it is becoming a smaller piece at that.

References:

Ladwig, J.G. (2010). Beyond academic outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 113-141.

Oakley, A. (2002). Social science and evidence-based everything: The case of education. Educational Review, 54(3), 277–286.

Weiss, C. H., Murphy-Graham, E., Petrosino, A., & Gandhi, A. G. (2008). The fairy god-mother—and her warts: Making the   dream of evidence-based policy come true. American Journal of Evaluation, 29(1), 29–47.

Whitty, G. (2006). Education(al) research and education policy making: Is conflict inevitable? British Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 159–176.

Wiseman, A.W. (2010). The uses of evidence for educational policymaking: global contexts and international trends. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 1-24.

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Not Sure Leader Is the Right Word

Unknown-1 In any organisation, the term leader is used but after much reflection on this area, is this the correct term to use when we discuss leadership? To be a leader suggests that you have followers. That somehow you are at the front while others continue to walk the path you have set out in your travels. I know many would stop the post here and suggest this is a ludicrous thought but the more I reflect on it the more I question the term “leader”. In 1990, Bass wrote that “leadership is a relationship with social influence in a group setting.” He suggested that “leadership occurs when “one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group”. This relational definition does not, in my opinion, suggest to lead or be a leader , and so I ask again, is it the right term to use? Lindberg and Oloffson claimed that leaders operate from a values set which they use to influence the thoughts and actions of others”. This does not arguably equate to leading others but influencing others. So if I believe that leader is not the right term, then what is the right term? Can I suggest “Influencer or 4 M-er (Meaningful Moderator, Motivator and Modifier) or  Social Effect Agent or Authentic Relationship Developer (Finlay, 2014) perhaps?

A Social Effect Agent does not appeal so much to many, I am guessing, as it sounds like an experimental spy term or a social experiment compound. Nor does 4 M-er as a write up on anyone’s Curriculum Vitae as their current position held in an organisation but whatever term we come up, should we not question the term leader and open it up for more discussions?

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Child Minding Does Not A Leader Make

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Many years ago, at a school I worked in, a school staff member, and obviously not a teaching staff member, continually called teachers “glorified baby sitters”. I was fresh faced from university in my first job and when she would frequently use this term  I would politely smile (while my insides boiled) and continue on my way. But how do I now, some 25 years later answer to a person if that same comment was made to me now.

And my answer is eloquently put by Professor Charles Burford  when he says “…we are just child minding if we have no moral literacy” and “…we are not about the growth of the character of the kids”. (2009)

When we look at teachers and leadership in a school, and not just Principal leadership, Burford suggests we come across familiar values of common good; individual rights; justice; community; and, excellence. Special values are what we call core values. In a Catholic school environment, Catholicity is one core value. When these values influence and drive our decision making processes of what and how to teach, it distinguishes us from “glorified baby sitters” to leaders in education.

But Burford goes further to suggest that we need to know, as leaders, what is the moral purpose of what we are doing? At that young age, I knew I was a teacher, a hard working , dedicated teacher but this answer had no purpose. It was just an definition of what I was. And this definition was up for critique as it had no purpose.

In hindsight, my response should have been about my values and the values of the school, and “special issues of good character” e.g. decency and not ones considered more important than others, but ones that are prioritised in the school. My response should have included my purpose of supporting children for the “common good”; or effecting justice in the school environment; or developing levels of community across all age groups.

Perhaps, this conversation with this particular staff member may not have developed any further but what it would have assured me of was my understanding of what I believed an authentic leader was. And it wasn’t a glorified baby sitter!

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