Sunday, February 20, 2005
The power of speaking from the heart!
The Empire it seems is striking back! Kelvin Squires, principal of Stratford Primary and past president of the New Zealand Primary Principals Association, interviewed for our local paper, was speaking from the heart about primary education as we currently know it. Forget all the endless compliance requirements he says, it all comes down to ‘hearts and minds’.
‘It is the hearts and minds that the ‘blue suited bureaucrats who are molding the counties education system have forgotten about’. ‘What we have is a left wing government that generally has this one size fits all mentality.’ This is not working says Kelvin because, ‘if people don’t connect with what you’re asking them to do…then they bloody well won’t do it!’
At last a principal with the courage to say what is on all our minds .Kelvin reminds us all forcefully that the real passion for education comes from the classroom not from distant ‘experts’ from Wellington.
Leadership, he continues, is vital if we are to add a voice of realism to the educational debate. Principals need to be supported to do what is right for their pupils. He asks the question, is the system about listening to the voices of the local community, or is it about a system continually dictating compliance requirements that makes the job of those running schools difficult? ‘Compliance is an ugly word in an increasingly regulated New Zealand society.’ Schools are constrained by constant accountability and distracted from developing in students a love of learning for its own sake.
Kelvin believes it is time we ‘led the government’ because ‘there are a lot of causalities as a result of political whims’ as politicians decide schools can solve all societies’ problems by dictate. The latest is the worry about obesity which, important as it is, must be more that a school problem. Of greater concern Kelvin, suggests, is the issue of the development of self centred students, and students ‘at risk’, resulting from the individualistic and competitive ‘market forces’ ideology we have had imposed on us.
Students, Kelvin says, need assistance with emotional intelligence and learning to live with others. Parenting is another issue that is of concern to Kelvin and the suggestion that mothers should get back into the workforce may help the economy but parents need to see their vital role as ‘their children’s first teachers and that the school just adds value’
What worries Kelvin is the ‘lack of thought about what really matters’. As for Ministry consultation, ‘there is consultation and consultation’. It is time for all the government departments that impinge on schools to work together to ‘provide unflinching support networks’ for those working at the front line. The government’s role is about providing ‘synergy’ between all the providers. At present, ‘it is like a lot of chooks running around with their heads chopped off – there doesn’t seem to be a hell of lot of talking to one another’.
If we don’t improve the situation we will face problems attracting high caliber principals in the future. Too many principals with much needed wisdom are leaving and there is no rush to for senior teachers to take on their roles. Attracting principals is more than about salary; ‘people need connectedness; they need to have their hearts and minds valued’.
There are real strengths in our system Kelvin says but, ‘if you are always striving to catch up’ with the latest compliance requirements it is difficult. People need affirmation; ‘it is important that people know they are doing a good job’.
Education is about developing citizens who will leave the world a better place. This underpins Kevin’s philosophy. ‘Politicians are calling the tune ‘but as Kelvin wisely reminds us that it is the children’s ‘hearts and minds that count’ in the future.
We have been to busy jumping through political hoops for too long. It is not about compliance and Kelvin concludes the interview by saying, ‘I’m not a great believer in rules. I have set of values,’ education is ‘about connecting with the hearts and minds of teachers and students’. Helping all students develop a positive sense of values is vitally important task of both home and school.
All I can add is that it time to stop and collectively say ‘enuf is enuf’ and add our voice to the debate. Kelvin has made as start it is now up to the rest of us!
The last word from me comes from Spike Milligan, who wrote in his book ‘The Looney’, that 'a bureaucrat is a man who obeys orders from above and ignore complaints from below.’
It is worth remembering though, that in a election year, someone might be listening.