Category Archives: Values

Reflection on education

I began my teaching career in a multicultural inner suburban high school in Melbourne. My motivation was to share my passion for English language studies with my students and to provide them with engaging and challenging learning experiences. I understood that education provides the foundation for life by enabling access to further study and employment. Education also develops mature individuals; their ways of appreciating others and understanding the self. I learned that the development of intercultural understanding is essential to the creation of a harmonious society to which individuals from different backgrounds can contribute. My educational philosophy has grown from there, founded on the belief that schools should be committed to nurturing the whole person: to exercising both the mind and body and to caring for the social, emotional and spiritual well-being of each individual as they become mature citizens.

The challenges facing education in Australia today are not unique to our country. Schools play a crucial role in preparing students for life in a world that is changing so rapidly that we cannot accurately predict the skills and knowledge they will require in the future. Educational programs must excite students’ curiosity, foster inquiry, creativity, problem solving and thinking skills. The link between the quality of teaching and student achievement is well understood and the school should be a community of learners – teachers and students alike – focused upon excellence in learning.

The quality of teaching must be a high priority in our schools. This involves building a culture of professional learning where teachers are committed to working on improvement in their own practice both individually and collectively. This involves professional review, goal setting, action research, collaboration in learning and peer review. Moreover, as technology and social change increasingly effect the delivery of education, teachers must be prepared to innovate in the way in which learning is organized and student academic progress monitored and supported. Traditional models of classroom delivery are now but one option for the organization of student learning.

Student engagement in learning is essential to success yet research indicates significant levels of disengagement in Australian students. Formal learning experiences will be authentic, have purpose and meaning, and allow student agency. Informal learning experiences should be acknowledged and provided for in school programs.

The high levels of anxiety and depression experienced by young people pose a significant challenge for Australian educators. We talk to students about our rapidly changing, uncertain and conflicted world but we must give them personal skills and strategies for understanding and coping with complexity and uncertainty. This enables personal growth. A cohesive school community is one in which care is demonstrated, in which the actions of its members reflect the values of the school, in which significant rituals are observed and achievements are celebrated. Schools should enable all students to enjoy success in their individual achievements and to be equipped for life as mature, responsible and caring members of our world.

These are exciting and challenging times in education as we respond to technological innovation, to new knowledge about learning and the brain and to ways to promote student wellbeing and achievement. We do not know what the future of education will look like, save that those who will grasp the future are those that form part of a community of learners; students that engage in a variety of learning experiences and teachers that engage with the best in educational research, are open to exploring new ideas and maintain an abiding commitment to improving the learning for our students.

Curiosity, confidence & compassion

Recently I was returning to Sydney by plane. In the three seats in front of me sat a young girl, her little brother and father. Across the aisle from them sat the mother. The boy looked to be about three years old and looked quite sweet – until he opened his mouth. He leant forward and looked over to his mother and said “Why are you sitting over there? You’re a loser mummy!”
His father said nothing.

What troubled me about this incident – apart from the fact that a child so young would take this attitude to his own mother – was the language of division and opposition that he so readily used. This perspective of the world, shaped by the idea that there are winners and losers and that the losers are to be jeered at, troubles me greatly; that there are sides to be taken and there is strength in numbers. A single instance such as this is disturbing on its own but it is not isolated and it is a broader social problem. I am one of many in our community concerned by the tenor of public discourse, such as the language of our politicians or prominent figures in the media, or the language used via social media.

Schools are often burdened, sometimes unreasonably, with the expectation that they can and should be educating students about all manner of subjects that sit outside the core academic curriculum, the latest example being childhood obesity. Nevertheless, it is right that school leaders and teachers reflect on how students’ perspectives are shaped by their experience of school. What kind of school is our school?

As we began the school year, our staff took time to think about what it is not only to be a Christian school, but specifically and uniquely, to be a Uniting Church School. The Rev Alistair Macrae, then President of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, posed the question: “Is there a DNA which belongs to the Uniting Church in Australia which … is evident across the breadth of the life and work of this church?” And if so, would that “DNA” that be apparent in the life of a Uniting Church School. He suggested four key points: being inclusive, engaged in reconciliation; working for justice and peace through experiences that expose students to the call “to serve the least, the lost, the lonely and the little.”; having a multicultural perspective – seeing the world and appreciating difference; and expanding the horizons of students through international partnerships. Alistair Macrae expressed his wish that through education, which he defined as “the purposeful activity of love”, children develop three values: curiosity, confidence and compassion.

My hope is that all schools, whether secular or faith based, work to foster these values: curiosity – the love of learning; confidence – learning to accept and love ourselves; and compassion – the love of others.