schools

docile rating

I’ve never been a huge fan of the decile rating system of schools in New Zealand. So when the government announced it is considering doing away with them I was a quietly optimistic for about a 10th of a second. Decile ratings are divisive and should be reviewed.  But I’m not convinced the idea of individual risk factors being used to target funding on an individual level is going to turn the tide of under achievement. It is yet another move to distance the stated intentions of economic and social policy from its effects. It’s another clever example of neo-liberal policy wrapped up in rhetoric around targeted funding. There are some pretty interesting criteria being proposed for defining those students ‘at risk’. Some are a little baffling, but probably are statistically accurate as I am sure there have been people crunching numbers in order to bring us such revelations.

Even if the decile rating system is disbanded it won’t change socio-economic segregation and stigmatising of particular schools based on demographic and dare I say it assumptions based on ethnicity. Education is precariously place in the society and the landscape of political manoeuvres.

However I wonder if we could replace the decile rating with a docile rating. Schools that teach to a 19th and 20th century curriculum and maintain a ‘bums in seats’ compliance model of learning would rate highly for docile learning. Those taking risks, enabling all kinds of energetic expressions and the presence of emotions with a valuing of novel and unique approaches to relationships would rate low in docile.

Businesses and employers would know what kind of ideas young people had experienced and how their thinking and ways of relating to diversity might have enabled or constrained their perspective. Docile ratings would be independent of the incomes of families and would reflect the commitment of a school to break free of traditional models and modes of learning.

Extra negative points for not having a uniform and having a play-ground at high school.

Can’t handle the Jandal

A couple of weeks back, I left a meeting and was called back to be politely told ‘you can’t wear jandals anymore at work under the new health and safety regulations – have you got sandals’? The irony of the meeting being about uniform mingled with confusion but I answered in the affirmative. Flip flopping my way back to my office in my very flash, Havaianas that I had especially brought to go with my new summer wardrobe I wondered about these new Health and Safety Regulations.

So I searched, and I put in the word jandals, I searched under footwear, I scoured documents for any reference to the hazards of sitting in my office with my toenails painted chrome to match the metallic look of my straps. A counsellors office doesn’t usually have hazardous chemicals, chisels, or hot glue guns. I understand there are some work environments where open toed footwear doesn’t cut it. I worked in a foundry for 4 summers as a student and accepted the need to wear steel capped boots in February. But I’m very happy for someone to point me in the right direction with the new legislation.

Then it dawned on me. The jandal is one of the few forms of gender neutral footwear out there. The idea that somehow my equally flimsy sandals might offer more ‘protection’ doesn’t wash. But they do look more ‘feminine’. Looking around at the large array of high heels worn hiking up and down stairs, in wet slippery corridors, I have to wonder how much safer they are. I know I am not safe to drive heels but they are apparently safe. They safely define feminine and give a clear coded sense of ‘professional dress’.

I am quietly cynical about this latest attempt to manage my footwear in the name of my health and well-being but quite frankly it seems like a back handed way of bringing in a professional standard of dress and one that pushes for a more coded form of gender. It will be interesting to see what happens on school camps. I know how painful it is kicking a tent peg in jandals. I hope there can be some transparency about it if indeed it is the case, up front and honest rather than half buried in rhetoric trip over.

Tuesday I will be at the first health and safety meeting of the year so will pitch some of these questions to the committee. Maybe I’ll wear knee high doc martins to be on the safe side.

Twit Bit

There is a quiet take over happening. Wrists are no longer places where a simple watch rests. No the wrist is now a monitoring device, communicator and even connects your forearm to your hand! The Fitbit is a hit with a wide array of people interested in tracking their physical activity.

For many it’s a great way to stay motivated to exercise, create comradery and feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. In the wrong hands (wrists?) it can invite a perpetual monitoring of the body with feedback triggering worry, fear and anxiety. Those already with a tendency to intensify a focus on measuring up or perfectionism might see devices like the Fitbit as a way of ensuring they maintain the perfect body.

It was interesting to see the New Zealand Herald run a piece on concerns about Fitbits in schools. I’m not sure about the intention of the author but I wonder about the technique of seeking two polar opinions interspersed with quotes (or facebook posts) as a reasonable representation of a phenomena. But what irked me most was one Principals response alluding to counsellors making issues out of nothing.

I imagined being a counsellor at that school (if they have any given the clear disdain expressed) and thought what I might have hoped for from a school leader speaking to the media. It occurred to me that it was the perfect opportunity for someone to have seized the chance to demonstrate the high levels of professional integrity and respect for the ‘on the ground’ awareness of issues that counsellors in schools become aware of and linking in with Health and PE curriculum leaders, working collaboratively, taking a critical approach and drawing attention to very real and current concerns.

But no. Moment lost. However I have an alternative to the Fit Bit – care of the inspiration of this article. It is called the Twit Bit. You stick it in that jeans pocket that no-one really knows what it’s for (but now thanks again to the journalism of the NZ Herald we are enlightened) and it cues off micro changes in arrogance and ego – much like a lie detector. Then sends you a potential alternative statement or thought.

The idea is not to get to 10 000 a day. Can think of a few people who could benefit from a Twit Bit, including myself.

Can I be prank?

Riding into work I was greeted by the sight of our park like grounds draped in toilet paper. Windows painted and classrooms set up outside. A grin spontaneously erupted onto my face as a bunch of students scooted towards me in ‘boys’ uniforms. A BMX lay beside the hall (Redline…very nice) and bodies ran and moved freely. But this wasn’t the norm, far from it and yet it was so natural and joyous. The energy and vitality was a welcome contrast to the digital zombies I often see in the morning.

It’s now known as ‘prank day’ but for some reason it seemed more like an ordinary school day, or perhaps what could easily pass for ordinary in other places (minus the tree decorations and occasional water gun). The gender blurring of seeing bodies in shorts and racing around on wheels toyed with the ‘girls school’ image, it enabled freedom of movement to express physicality. The pranking gave gender a well deserved spanking.

Here’s the thing, school uniforms can police gender. If there are no other options other than skirts or culottes then femininity is enforced. I’m occasionally tempted (in my dark sardonic moments – of which there are many) to ask the question ‘why not go the extra step and mandate long hair’. If masculinity in some schools is regulated by hair length, then surely in keeping with ‘uniformity’ of gender girls must maintain long hair.

Its wheels day again tomorrow and I might just have to bust out some moves on a unicycle or borrow a skate board. Gotta make ‘hey-watch out’ while the shun shines on gender-correctness.

Inside Out and Upside Down

Although I retired from the classroom years ago, I still dabble in teaching the occasional health class. It is an honour and a privilege to have conversations with 16-17 year olds about sexuality and there are new resources to go with more language to describe the wide spectrum of identity. One of the newest is Inside Out and if anything people’s vocabulary will broaden when it comes to diversity. For any health teacher needing a solid start in coming to grips with some of more hidden aspects of sex, gender and sexuality – intersex and transgender in particular it would be good to take a look at. For those who feel more settled or stuck in a rut it might just freshen things up.

My hesitation is not with resource so much. I agree with the intention of the need to create more awareness or acceptance of ‘difference’. My narrative counselling lens is finely tuned so I’m a little sensitive to language, power and discourse. As such, I’m a bit irritating to those who hold more traditional humanistic ideas about ‘self’. This is pretty much the underpinning philosophy of all education. So back to my nagging uncertainty, it’s about the ability of teachers to facilitate conversations, questions and hold an open ethical space for ideas to be shared. I do not doubt the depth of knowledge and skill some teachers have, but I’ve heard enough students comment about their shock and disbelief, confusion and unease. One recent example was a class who were asked to stand and to sit down if they had talked to one gay person that day (or week?), and gradually it was the last person standing. I’m not sure how accurate this is to what actually happened, but if it is even partially true it is disconcerting. Sort of wondering if you get extra points for gay people of different cultures, ages, disabilities (yes people with disabilities experience sexuality!)…

I’d ask one thing of teachers using this resource – do not disclose your sexuality (particularly if you identify as heterosexual) if asked and especially if you are a cisgendered male. These resources will have the greatest influence if teachers are aware of the privilege/power of heteronormativity and how every interaction, utterance, expression, hesitation, avoidance or inability to comfortably facilitate complex notions of identity will determine what young people ‘learn’.

Schools simply need more PD on LGBTQIA….and not just rainbow scrabble.

 

 

Dodgy Digits

My line of work puts me at the scroll face of online abuse, bullying and harassment of young people. Whilst I like to think of myself as youthful I cannot claim any knowledge of what it might be like to be growing into a young adult with so many ways to connect, share thoughts, ideas and more. Taking more clothing off and sharing these pictures with others is a growing phenomenon. I’ve been consulting with police and other agencies recently. It might be a bit hard for many parents to hear but if you have a child who knows how to use a phone and is socially networked you might need to be aware of the new harmful digital communications act.

The uncomfortable truth is young people in their teens are growing an awareness of sexuality, desire and taking risks, pushing boundaries. Some of these edges are new as technology creates alternative mediums and relationships. Parents are playing ‘catch up’ and while the act defines the law it will not necessarily prevent harm, distress, upset and deep regret. One consistent message I’d like to give is for parents to try and not ‘freak out’ and send their teen back into the dark ages of the 1990’s – which to them is last century…metaphorically. If they get it wrong, support them, listen and try and suspend judgement. I’ll come back to support later.

So what should people know? This is just my summary (the act is much more detailed and I do encourage people to read it)

First the act defines harmful as that which if any reasonable person was put in the same position then they would be highly offended. There are 10 criteria that define offensive, a digital communication should not…

1: disclose sensitive personal facts

2: be threatening, intimidating, or menacing

3: be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the same position

4: be indecent or obscene

5: be used to harass

6: make a false allegation

7: contain things published in breach of confidence

8: incite or encourage anyone to send a message to someone to purposely cause harm

9: incite or encourage someone to commit suicide

10: put someone down (denigrate) for their colour, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability

One of the issues we face is that cameras are out all the time. It is not a crime to take pictures of people in public unless they could expect a privacy. This covers changing rooms, bathrooms, showers. But if they are posted online without someones consent the above criteria kick in.

A tricky bit for young people is the sharing of images with friends or somewhere like facebook. When talking with police recently they were very clear that once an image was ‘shared’ it was a form of consent. I’m not sure I agree and others would naturally challenge this. The issue is the ability to control that image and where it goes. Facebook profile pictures are some of the most common images uplifted and used in other places. So check you profile pics folks. Shutting down and removing images takes time and in my experience it is the worry, fear, anxiety and shame and humiliation that lasts much longer. The rumours start fairly instantaneously and once spinning are very difficult to stop.

If there are sexually suggestive images being shared of any young person under the age of 16 this is also legally classified as child pornography. So yup it’s serious. Your teens need to know this stuff! They also need to know where to get support. Hopefully they can talk to someone in their family. If not someone at school, or netsafe (nz) or the police. If you know someone who is being pressured to send pictures they can use the ‘send this instead’ app.

But we need more open conversations not just ‘thou shalt not take selfies’ lectures. Young people need to lead these conversations in schools. Peer Sexuality Support Teams, Body Image Leaders, Mediators, Prefects…others with capital letters of importance!

Many of us will shake our greying heads and recall the only harmful digital communications we knew about growing up was giving the fingers or making rude words on our calculators. Times change and we need to zero in and be one.

a-fend-did

I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.

So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.

I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.

She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.

Circle of life

Circles are whole and complete. They are geometrically perfect and there are so many magical features to explore if you feel like unlocking your inner maths geek. They also make for a great seating arrangement for working through conflict. Last night I was involved in running a circle conversation with a great group of young women (gender assumption provided by working at a girl’s school) from a hostel. They had asked for one and had participated in one earlier in the year. However this time it was a bit different and it got me thinking about the difficult place of emotions or the places emotions find difficult to be present.

I’ve run plenty of classroom circles where the dynamics had broken down or a specific incident needed addressing. In a learning environment it is fair to say that there are some common hopes and expectations about what works for everyone being able to maximise the opportunities available. There are rules and expectations around participating so that everyone is heard and that the focus is not on individuals but actions, a form of externalising problems that can enable shame to shift into understanding. It gives a form of emotional distance.

But this wasn’t a class. It was a group of 17-19 year olds some of who had been living together for 5 years. I knew a bit going into the meeting and hoped my finely honed skills could keep the process contained however within a few minutes I realised I needed to shift my reference point of containment and what was needing to be held. This was a whanau, the bonds of this group ran deep and so did the hurt and the compassion. The raw emotions and language were rough and at times I felt the urge to stop the process but caught myself in moment of censorship, of trying to sanitise the process for the good of politeness and minimising hurt. Again however had those feelings not been spoken, had the passion, energy and upset not been expressed there would have been an injustice of the utmost kind.

The injustice of silencing emotions and denying people the real effects in the name of ‘managing self’ and having control of our feelings at all times denies a spirit of being and simply cages and penalises people for being upset. Often I sense people want to avoid the difficult emotional part of restorative processes. Sometimes a hearing conversation is needed before healing can begin.

Last night was just that – a hearing conversation. And as we turned out the lights in the library I noticed my t-shirt reflection in the glass. A glowing Kiwi with a laser beam coming out of its eye and a silver fern on my chest. It seemed the match the burning intensity of some of the looks and the unity and genuine sense of togetherness in spite of the conflict and anguish.

Circles also form spirals, springs, and other complex shapes. It was messy and there are probably some people wondering if it was worth it, sphere enough but that isn’t the point (oh so delicate pun to finish).

inclusive exclusion

Throwing money at schools to provide more support for students with unique functioning says something about a profound discomfort in schools with any form of diversity beyond culture. When writing about the ‘cost’ of providing support for disabled students the needs of the majority of students who ‘might miss out on teachers time’ are privileged. The threat to the normative learning environment is what is represented when it comes to promoting increased funding and my concern is this moves schools further away from inclusive and more toward exclusive concepts of special needs. One of the reasons I think is a general dis-ease with any form of emotional, social, physical difference. The need to manage diversity by erasing undersirable outward expressions of uniqueness means schools have lost one of their most powerful functions, to provide young people with experiences with others who may ‘be’ un-like them to allow this unsettling to play an role in forging a genuine appreciation of the vast range of humanbeingness. Maybe this has something to do with the insanity behind assessment driven pedagogy, I’m not sure, but the dominant concerns indicate this might be part of the reason.

Another pressure point is the growing parental entitlement creeping into education. I don’t begrudge parents wanting the ‘best for their children’. However neoliberal forces seem to have condensed and concentrated this into a drive to demand that schools remove all barriers to their child achieving their best. It seems as though ‘accessibility’ has been hijacked as an idea to some degree. If litigation or media exposure is threatened, Principals can be backed into a corner to preserve their brand. These are some of the contextual influences skipped over by media in a bid to focus on economies of identity – financial bottom lines and the ever growing business management approach to education and pedagogy.

A concept I find increasingly needed but missing in schools is de-expertising. That is, you can actually ask young people themselves what they need! And be careful to allow for some space to just them to be teenagers, de-pathologising youth in general would be a good start. Getting frustrated, angry, emotional and struggling to communicate feelings is not uncommon for teachers…or young people. Let’s remember that and get back to basics – the 3 r’s – 1: Are assumptions disabling students more than their actual disabilities, 2: Are young people consulted when developing IEP’s? (especially year 11 and beyond but even before this), 3: Are the needs of the many really that different to the needs of the few?

Having said all this however I am acutely aware that parents are covering the costs of teacher aids and shouldn’t be. I’m also grateful for the work RTLB’s and TA’s do, an often invisible and underappreciated part of the fabric of teaching. To the Ministry Of Education, put your money where your mouth is but don’t let it suffocate a wider discussion of inclusion, belonging and feeling valued by everyday practices in schools.

More assessment? What the Hekia?

Moving through the corridors at work over the last week has had the air of a zombie apocalypse. The ashen faces, sunken red eyes with black rings, shuffling feet and monosyllabic answers from senior students indicative of a gradual trend of sucking the life out of young people and teachers with internal assessment. The level of burn out and fatigue for the middle of the year is a worrying trend. Rarely do I hear students talk about what they are learning, or finding interesting or inspiring – they simply don’t have time or space to wonder, think, challenge or explore knowledge. While countries such as Finland who we look to for models of best practice are moving toward less assessment and testing we are moving in the opposite direction thanks to a government determined to make the tail wag the dog. The political spin doctors will convince the public this is about raising achievement and being able to measure this consistently. The so called ‘gap’ at year 9-10 is not really a ‘gap’ it’s just that there is no national tracking at these years, but there are plenty of assessment tools schools use, otherwise we wouldn’t have had improving pass rates for NCEA.

Teaching to the assessment is already happening which is not education but robotic performance where the types of questions asked by students and sanctioned by teachers are centred on what has to be done to get there. Get ready for the Governments next big experiment that will drain more of the life blood out of schools. Hekia does like to go for the jugular after all.

It’s a good thing vampires and zombies are trendy right now as the piles of marking bury my colleagues and crush the spirits of youth.