Ann, my principal and I attended a DECS Learning Technologies Project meeting with our partner schools with the goals of updating each site's progress and making plans for the next stages. This is part of a joint three year project exploring the role that technology can play in schools and progressive learning programs. The phrase "21st Century learning" is in the mix as well, but the good news is that all four sites and our university research partners are trying to define that phrase in terms of what that means for South Australian K-12 public schools. We definitely don't need another buzz phrase where everyone sagely nods their head whenever it is heard.
Each school has some funding (not a lot) and has university personnel to help explore their identified research questions. I won't mention my school's specific questions in this forum except to say that our focus is squarely upon a whole school approach towards inquiry learning and supporting teachers to move their pedagogy towards effective implementation of that approach. Technologies are being viewed as necessary tools to improve teacher practice and consequently our students' learning. For example, we are looking at how the use of interactive whiteboards and wireless laptops can be used to broaden student learning within this context.
My school was first to present to the collective group. I led out with the presentation with Ann, my principal fleshing some of the details along the way. I talked through our inquiry scope and sequence, our Interactive Whiteboard Users self assessment against Dr. Trudy Sweeney's IWB Framework and the results of our student learning technology survey. We then heard from the other schools (Ferryden Park Primary, Streaky Bay Area and Glenunga International School) who detailed their progress on their own identified priorities. Glenunga had actually completed an extensive student survey constructed by their university partners that was synthesized by a group including student leaders who then presented their findings in summary format to the school's teaching staff. The students who attended our meeting talked about the daunting task of telling their teachers about what they collectively believed were the attributes of an excellent teacher. The other enduring phrase was from their principal talking about the metal image she has of seeing students "unplugging" as they walk in through the school gates - ipod ear buds out, mobile phones off - it is a scene she hopes to see change over the course of the three year project.
So that was a good Friday, celebrating the way forward, putting the pieces together for a replicable way forward for public schools in this state.
Fast forward to today.
Today and the latter half of yesterday were somewhat chaotic. It could even described as a debacle.
My teachers' union and the State Government are at loggerheads over a pay and conditions agreement where.. quite frankly, there doesn't seem to be much agreement going on. I'm not a particularly militant unionist but I've been willing to support the calls for industrial action in a bid to keep our employment conditions on a par with other teachers Australia wide. Victorian teachers also had a long and bitter struggle but won concessions that were worthwhile after 18 months. Western Australian teachers recently gained a three year deal of 24 % and statistically, South Australia is on the bottom of the rung. Both the above mentioned states will have classroom teachers earning more than I will in my junior leadership role of coordinator. What am I saying here? Not much except that having an industrial commission order a stop to a strike less than a day before it is due has created bad feelings in all parts of the community where no parties - the teachers' union, the government or even the independent umpire (the commission) have come out looking like losers eagerly pointing the fingers at each other.
All this talk about performance pay and flexible funding for a 21st century education system seem pretty hollow words when agreement about basic funding for an education system is so hard to reach.
Digital technology did play its part though. I received an email from my principal forwarding a DECs message warning that a commission order could be imminent and to stay posted for further developments. I arrived home where my wife said that she had seen a television report saying that the union had been ordered to call off their strike action or face sanctions. This was about 5 pm - I scoured the web for updates and kept an eye on my inbox for an update. Finally at around 9 pm my phone buzzed with a text message from my union saying that the strike was off, report to work as usual. I emailed my colleagues and then went to work planning lessons for the day. I even had two students email me asking if school would be on so I sent them messages to let them know.
But, in the morning, only eight of my thirty students fronted for school. Despite what the Australian said, chaos was not avoided. The whole debacle gave most parents little or no time to change plans - I don't blame them for being fed up with the unpredictability of the whole situation. I did not even send my own kids to school - it was going to be too hard.
Definitely not a Friday to be repeated any time soon.