I have blogged a little around this and in particular I have expressed my concerns around the testing culture that is narrowing our curriculum and undermining the real talents and passions of our learners.
On a wider scale, I think the answer to most of our issues lies in bringing back the 3 R's.
These three R's being 'Respect, Regard and Relationships.'
One of the main contributors to low morale in our system is lack of respect. Teachers are working in one of the most important professions, yet they garner the least respect. I steer clear from social media or comments on education related news articles. The comments people make on these articles, despair and anger me. It seems so absolutely heartbreaking to read these comments when we work so hard and give up so much of ourselves to our job. Educators enjoy little respect from government and often even less respect from many parents and sections of community. Our every move is questioned, everyone is an expert, we often over analyse every decision we make for fear of the range of opinions that will be expressed about it and the complaints that will come flying in via email. To add to this, we can not truthfully share how we feel in these situations, so are often left feeling quite maligned and unheard.
Many teachers suffer from bullying from within our school communities and outside of our school communities, sadly even in staff rooms themselves, having experienced this bullying firsthand I know how devastating it can be. I nearly gave up teaching after my first year, I hated it!
The sad thing with education is that everyone has had one, every parent and caregiver has an experience of being in a classroom, many of them bring that experience into their relationships with us.
So what is the answer? Well firstly I would like it to start with our Government. I would like them to listen to us, listen to what we are saying in terms of what is not working in education and in any way shape or form show that they respect us. Is that not what we tell our children, that we should stand up for others when we have the occasion to do so? Our Ministry, our Government needs to be standing up for us, showing they value and respect us by putting in policy that is supported by research and our combined voices. We talk about student voice, but where is ours?
I would also like more avenues in place for dealing with bullying that happens towards us. Any bullying that may occur towards us, that our BOT are unable to deal with needs someone to be able to leap in and support us, an agency with teeth, not just advice, an agency that actually has some power to do something about it, to make it stop!
Bringing respect back to all situations is absolute key, we do not have to agree with each other, but we do need to respect each others emotions and needs. In every situation both parties need to leave with their mana and value intact.
Basically it comes down to everyone being able to display respect for the other party, us for our colleagues, the children we teach and the parents and caregivers that love them. Respect from parents and caregivers who we know love their children, but do need to understand that we are human. Kindness goes a long way.
We all have memories of a teacher that probably was not the best, that maybe didn't respect us as we deserved, but we should not take that experience into our relationships with other teachers and school staff. As parents now, we should not carry these experiences into our interactions with our children's teachers. I mean we have all had bad experiences with many professions, do we carry this experience into our future interactions with someone in the same profession, or do we judge it on a case by case basis?
"Always treat others how you wish to be treated."
I would like us to start having more regard for everyone that forms a part of our education system. Our profession needs to be given more media around the awesome things that are happening, and much less reporting on the negative. That is where we come in, we need to be putting that positive out there more often, sharing what we do. Not only does there need to be need more regard publically for education, it actually goes further than that. We need to start holding children in higher regard, giving them more credit and trusting them more.
I know at our school we have not had rules for a while now, rather than this creating absolute mayhem it has had the opposite effect. We barely have any issues, children have great relationships with each other and the playground is generally a picture of busy happiness. Trusting children first and having regard for their decision making skills is huge. We allow certain things, like tree climbing, bike riding, scootering, use of real spades, sawing, hammering, nerf guns, etc....if they do anything that contradicts our trust in them, then we put restrictions in place, but trust and regard always comes first. Children learn so much by taking responsible risks and being able to manage risk and learn their limitations, by over managing them, we take away these learning opportunities.
We need to hold parents and caregivers in higher regard. We need to understand that they have absolute love for their child, and will engage with us with raw emotions from time to time. We need to hold them in high enough regard just to listen to ensure they have have been heard and feel valued. We also need to give them more credit in terms of knowing their child. Just like parents, we can not hold past interactions against those we may have in the future (I know, much easier said than done.) In this respect, we need to be offered more training, allowing others to speak without reacting emotionally ourselves is a skill in itself and something I think needs to be added into teacher training. I am still developing this skill and believe me, it is hard.
We also need to start holding each other in higher regard. Our system should be one fluid body, working together as children grow and develop. ECE, Primary, Intermediate and Secondary need to be listening to each other, sharing more often and learning from each other. Growing an understanding of the developmental stages of our learners and how we cater to these at each part of their journey would be an excellent start. Our system has become too top down. We have a culture intent on getting children ready for the next stage, as if it was more important than where they were currently at. In my opinion our system needs to work from the ground up, building on foundations rather than pushing children without regard for their developmental needs.
It is hard for others to hold us in regard if each part of our system is seen as quite separate. In these terms I hold out great hope that this will be a positive effect of COL's. Principals and teachers need to be holding each other in higher regard. Too often do I hear teachers and principals talked about as quite separate entities. When we go out to courses and I hear a principal saying "they won't do that" when talking about their team I cringe. When I hear teacher aides or office staff referring to teachers as 'they' as if they are some separate being, I cringe. When I hear teachers referring to their principals as some mystical 'they' I cringe. This reference to each other as if we were very separate in the system or in any way would believe or act differently from each other, really annoys me. We need to be a team, we are there for one purpose, to work with children. By seeing ourselves as separate entities with contradicting ideals it is not assisting us to be seen as a positive whole.
Yes we may disagree from time to time, but putting up walls or assuming we will go unheard even if we speak up really saddens me. No one learned anything by always assuming they were right. The key here is that we need to be holding another in high enough regard that we take the time to listen and reflect, to absorb and then to discuss in a reasonable and professional way.
And perhaps the most important R for our children. Establishing positive relationships is absolutely crucial. The connection with the teacher is the be all and end all.
Relationships with our colleagues are also absolutely crucial, we need to be sharing more. Our current system has bred a climate of unhealthy competition. We need to be sharing more often for the good of our children! We all have so much to offer each other, but often for fear of being seen as a show off we don't share, we don't value our own ideas enough to offer them up to others. We are also fearful of the responses of others to our ideas. Wow, teachers can be mean to one another, I have seen it first hand on social media....respect, regard and relationships, that is what it comes down to. If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say it.
Relationships with parents and caregivers are also vital....how we interact with them will determine how they feel about us and in turn this will be reflected in how they talk about us to their children. Obviously we do not need to be besties, but the relationship does need to be a reciprocal one based on kindness, trust and respect.
And then it comes back to our relationships with ourselves, I am not encouraging arrogance here, but I am encouraging you to know your worth. We need to be more aware of how important we are, how much we matter and how much effect, positive and negative our actions can have. Acknowledging our worth and impact should govern our interactions with others, we need to understand the impact we can have with one single interaction.
And that is that, the three R's....in my opinion, absolutely crucial to moving our education system down the positive path it deserves!