Helicopter Resistance

‘Helicopter Resistance’… It almost sounds like human warfare at it’s best… Images of Apocalypse Now with ‘Ride of the Valkyries score blaring in the background…. This is not an image that I ever thought of making any sort of reference to in an educational blog. However, the rise of the ‘Helicopter Parent’ is crippling economies and fracturing societal structures.

The term ‘Helicopter Parent’ was first coined by Cline and Foster in 1990 in their book “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility” (pg. 23-25). Basically, ‘Helicopter Parent’ refers to parents who are over-nuturing and over-protective. According to Kathy Masarie MD, author of ‘Raising our Sons and Raising our Daughters, she says a ‘Helicopter Parent’ refers to;

“….a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s experiences and problems. These parents rush to prevent any harm or failure from befalling their children and won’t let them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children’s wishes. They are so named because, like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach of their child.”


Of late, there has been much thrust by organisations within education to provide parent education on resilience building to re-enable children to learn through their mistakes. The ‘Helicopter Parent’ like any other parent only wants the very best for their child. They want all facets of their child’s life to go smoothly without any problems, and to achieve the very best both academically and socially. Over my time as an educator across all sectors, domestic and internationally, I have seen a number of what could be called ‘Helicopter Parents’.

Subsequently, I have also come to see an increase in students becoming more reluctant in wanting to try and ‘have a go’, because of fear of failure.  The students who I have taught have always gone away with two very important analogies at the end of an academic year…. One being the time that they themselves began to ride their own bicycles. Here they had to fall off to find their balance, and succeed at riding on two wheels.

The second being the story of the famous Thomas Edison.

The story goes that “Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb”. (The story is often told as 5,000 or 10,000 times depending on the version.) When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb [or a thousand steps to get it right].”


I have felt that there have always been two sides to the ‘Helicopter Parent’ debate. One being that students need to learn from their mistakes, and the other side sees parents not wanting the same detrimental experience of squashing creativity within their child, and for their child not to have the same hard slog at learning within school as they did.

Some time ago there was an article written in ‘Lifehacker’ titled; ‘How (and why) to Intentionally Set Yourself Up for Failure’. What I really enjoyed in reading this article was that;

“While it might sound counterintuitive, confusion is thought to be beneficial to learning. Researchers found that when you’re confused about conceptual topics, you tend to actually learn more effectively and bring that knowledge forward into new problems. The fact is, the more you struggle the more likely it is you’ll learn.

This article highlights the necessity for failure. However, it also makes reference to how as humans, we are still learning about how we learn! A colleague recently tweeted an article titled ‘The Science Behind how we Learn new Skills‘, which discusses the importance of going through the processes of learning and where failure is a part of this process.

Our brains are still a bit of a mystery. We’ll likely be learning about how our brain works for years to come, but we are starting to get a better idea of how we learn new things….Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore, has reported (in the Journal of the Learning Sciences) that people who try solving math problems in this way [through exploration] don’t come up with the right answer—but they do generate a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and about what potential solutions would look like, leading them to perform better on such problems in the future. Kapur calls this “productive failure,”…


See also; ‘Give yourself permission to suck, it’s the only way to learn‘.

Last month, there was an article written by Kasey Edwards and given reference to by the New York Times titled; ‘Paying for Playdates‘. The article articulates how parents are paying in the region of $400 per hour to have their child ‘schooled’ on how to play with others.  However… “there is something horribly anti-social about paying for playdates. It pollutes the organic social connections that form between children, transforming play into a vile commercial and instrumental enterprise.”

While playdate lessons are an extreme example, it’s consistent with a wider phenomenon in which parents are seen as incompetent and incapable of accomplishing the most basic of tasks. Feeling insecure and unsure of our parenting abilities, we defer to ‘experts’ to intervene and advise us on how to raise our kids.

According to The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012), there was a staggering $6.9 billion spent on mental health care last year. There is an average annual increase in this spending of 5.2%. Out of this, Medicare paid out a staggering $851 Million (for the 2011-2012 financial year) to mental health related services – more specifically psychologists and out-sourced programs which dealt with psychological strategies relating to mental health.

What are we doing to our children? Are we setting up the next generation for failure?


Last month I watched a TED talk by acclaimed speaker Ken Robinson. Personally, Ken Robinson is one of my favourite speakers on Education and educational reform. He has an ability to make his point not only entertaining, but simple and accessible to all. His message here has drawn upon previous material. However, he makes a very clear point about the core business of teaching and learning across all levels of education. Here is Ken’s talk:

Ken made some very astute points about education in today’s climate. One point he makes is rather ironic. He says that; ‘because of the nature of what it means to be human, the essential spark of interest in each of us in different’ (at this point, Ken was discussing the American ‘drop-out’ crisis and the experience of failure by students). However, in examining this fundamental element of how we are all different, our systems of education all expect us to excel at literacy and numeracy. Yes…. I said excel.

Governments and educational systems are motivated by measuring data around Literacy and Numeracy standards. You only have to look at the Australian National Assessment Program, Literacy And Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, PISA World Rankings and the latest part of our world to endorse teacher based assessment – New York. The New Yourk Times last week wrote;

Under the new system, 20 to 25 percent of each teacher’s rating score would be determined by state-approved measures of students’ growth, another 15 to 20 percent by measures established by the schools, and 55 to 60 percent would be based on in-class observations or performance assessed by video recording….The new model would have four tiers — “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective” — and be based on test scores and classroom observations.

…It can only presumably be said that these measures would be based around Literacy and Numeracy. But in our current global milieu, with China and India becoming more developed in terms of civilisation and education, and with the role technology is playing in closing the gaps in education…Where is the ceiling of literacy and numeracy attainment? Do we keep expecting more and set the ceiling higher each year, or do we expect something different?

Robinson urges us to move past the data and into a student centred, student led curriculum where not only Literacy and Numeracy standards are a focus, but also the Arts and student’s interests. He discusses the Finnish education system, where students do not drop out and where the results are the highest in the world for literacy and numeracy.

I have one problem with pursuing a system of education like the Finnish.. and that is culturally they have something quite unique. They have built a culture of education where the teacher is supported, highly respected and backed by the parent and society in which they live. They have autonomy over their curriculum and learning, they are paid extremely well and they are the top performing graduates within their country. Changing that aspect of culture long-term in already developed western countries will come albeit too late and have little to no substantial economical impact. By the time the culture has changed, China and India will have economically overpowered western countries in capitalist markets and the shift of wealth will have moved.

It almost becomes paradoxical in nature to be able to refashion an entirely new system of education when we keep expecting more of the same. I am not saying that Literacy and Numeracy standards are not important. They are. Yet facilitating and fashioning pathways for learners and teaching to the ‘Point of Need’ of a student at that exact moment of learning, is ultimately what teaching is about.

I ask you, how open is your education system to letting ‘go’ and giving freedom to teachers who are experienced, show talent and passion, to be able to redefine an ageing model of education? If literacy and numeracy attainment is becoming greater because of our need to engage with technology at a younger age, then where do our focuses for all levels of education lie? … I wonder what Beethoven would say?

It is not, and cannot be all doom and gloom. There are systems around the world in developed western countries that have made their move and begun to redefine teaching and learning. I am lucky to be a part of that. The core business of teaching and learning across all sectors now rests with the ability of the teacher to not only provide structures that enhance literacy and numeracy standards, but also allow for students to direct their learning through their interests. It offers a very interesting and deep model of education, particularly if educational institutions become centres of innovation, ‘think tanks’ and wider business propositions unto themselves. We can provide more than just a service… we can also fashion the future.

On March 13th 2013, I was overjoyed with the election of Pope Francis as the new leader of the Catholic Church, both as a committed catholic and an educator. I am excited of the focus of the Church as being an institute for the poorest of the poor, which is rather ironic in light of the lived message of Christ. I often wonder at times when and where it was that the Church lost some of its core direction to take this line. However, I understand the focus and am invigorated by it.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis humbles himself from the Jesuit order. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the order, the Jesuits were founded by St Ignatius of Loyola as the Society of Jesus in 1540 and grew rapidly in Europe to then spread around the world. The Society grew from the service to the poor, and into education. Today the Jesuits are charged with educating over 300 million and are the largest provider of education around the world Pre-Kindergarten to University.

In my work with the Jesuits last year as Head of Religious Education and Chaplain at St John’s Beaumont Jesuit Preparatory School in the UK, I came to admire the Society in so many aspects of their mission, particularly as an educator. Whilst the Catholic Church around the world begins to re-define itself in its ever-changing context, it looks to Catholic Education as its formative apostolic instrument. Parramatta Diocese Bishop, Anthony Fisher OP discusses in his address to priests and principals on 11th November 2010…  How “Catholic Schools are Centres of the New Evangelisation”, a term first coined in the 2007 pastoral letter of the Bishops of NSW and the ACT “Catholic School’s at a Crossroads”.

Archbishop Bruguès OP in his address in June last year to over 1000 Leaders in Catholic Education in NSW and ACT spoke on this matter, urging for the strengthening of this evangelisation. Bruguès said that “Catholic educators needed to recognise both the humanistic and formative nature of Catholic schools”, at which I thoroughly agree.

However, there was one point of conjecture I had with the latter address which was in the  following statement;

‘Former models which worked in the past have little relevancy nowadays,’ said Bruguès. ‘Indeed, pedagogy is a matter which is by nature, in constant evolution: one can no longer teach today in the same way as 40 or even 20 years ago. Therefore a Catholic school must adapt to these evolutions and even ‑ why not – anticipate upon them.’

Yes, in terms of teaching pedagogy and style I agree…. However, there was one exception to this rule, one which resonated strongly with me….

In September of 1980 a small group of Jesuits came from around the world and met in Rome to discuss Jesuit Secondary Education. Throughout the discussion, the topic changed to the distinctive nature of what Jesuit Education is.  After four years of meetings under the guidance of Father Pedro Arrupe, who was then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, saw the eventual development of a document titled; “The Characteristics of Jesuit Education”(click to download). This document is a document not just for Jesuit Education, but for Catholic Education world-wide. It is a document, at which I believe Bishops and System Leaders need to take a closer look at. It has so many answers for us as Catholic educators and a miriad of future possibilities and directions. Appendix 2 is the short of it, however it really can not be read without the deeper understanding behind the whole document and the link to Christ’s teachings.

For a document that was written almost 30 years ago, the foresight of the Jesuits can offer not only direction for other Catholic educational institutions and systems, but also a reduction in time and energy in helping to develop their own direction in the current educational climate.

As the living embodiment of Christ, if we are a Church to serve the poorest of the poor then we need to do a better job at creating Men and Women for others in Christ’s image. There is no better document to employ, and it is one in which I hope to utilise in the future to its full effect.

SJ Symbol

SJ Symbol

The Standard

I returned back to Sydney, Australia from two years of professional development in Europe last August. I have been busy re-establishing myself with both family, friends and work. However, the latter has taken up the majority of my time.

Since being back I have noticed professional learning right across all sectors in education as being more prominent than when I left. The profession has been a-buzz with excitement, trepidation and even fear, because of the pace of change. The main catalyst has been the 2009 PISA results showing Australia’s drop in ranking amongst the world’s leaders in Education.

The new Australian National Curriculum being introduced is meant to re-instate content and realistic benchmarks for our students Australia-wide, and not rely on State governments to interpret their own less stringent or mediocre curriculums.  The Australian Curriculum will allow for the national assessment of learning, in turn informing future governmental focus’ and driving system, leadership and teacher development.

AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership) was established in January of 2010 to oversee the teaching standards of all Australian Teacher Regulatory Authorities. For the first time in Australia’s history we have not only a national standardised curriculum, but also national teaching standards to work towards, as well as professional benchmarks, in terms of competencies.

The government announced this week the increased standards for those wanting to enter the teaching profession. Both Federal and State governments have taken Finland’s approach to teacher quality and are raising the benchmarks for all undergraduates. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, undergraduates must:

Personally, I welcome the approach to the profession. I commend the government (both Federal and State) in taking this hard line, particularly in light of a possible short-term decline in university enrollments for Teaching… ‘To attract the best, they must be the best’.

This year also sees the implementation of the National Teaching Standards for ALL teachers, particularly those in NSW schools who have not needed to be a part of this process if teaching prior to 2004. Admittingly I am one. However, I am hopeful that this, in conjunction with the undergraduate process, will greatly improve our profession and in turn, student achievement in the coming years.

The ABC’s Q & A episode on March 11th was one of the best discussions I have heard in some time on all things current to education in Australia. The discussion around funding, teacher quality and standards, and the ability to weed-out those under-performing educators was a tightly packed, fast-paced episode, in which I came away feeling encouraged about the future of education in Australia.

Though monetary funding has been tight since the GFC in all countries, the only reason I can see to the failure of the government’s plan here is the pay and the superannuation packages on offer for teachers. If education is not an attractive career for both men and women as a long-term prospect, then the top 30% of our population will look elsewhere.

One incentive I noticed for educators in Germany is to be given a pension/superannuation which is one of the highest in their country. It makes the short-term average wage seem acceptable in light of the twilight years. It is something, that particularly for men, would be a main attraction to all levels of education, including Primary.

I have just returned from a tour of Ireland and Spain and have felt first hand the global economic crisis which we are all faced with. The people in these countries are in despair over their future and they can only surmise that their country’s monetary stability in time will improve. The ABC’s Four Corner’s ‘Dicing with Debt’ episode outlines the issues faced, particularly by Ireland.

I had a chance to meet up with a former colleague in Dublin last week. She works for the Department of Education for the Republic of Ireland. She spoke to me about the cut-backs in Ireland relating to education, which included; increased numbers of pupils per teacher, reduction of special education services, amalgamation of school campuses and the closing of smaller rural schools, as well as the reduction in spending on teacher training and pupil resources. Understandably, the government has had to take action to cut expenditure. However, the long-term repercussions on Ireland’s growth as a nation and overall impact on the global business front will be felt hard in the years to come. The same can only be said about Spain and presumably Greece.

Though the unification of these countries into the European Union and the taking on of the Euro as a currency, as well as the deeply seeded corruption within Greece (in particular) have added to the turbulence, it is not necessarily the case in education around the world. Governments understand the need for a paradigm shift in their education practises to better meet the needs of their incumbent economies and to drive them long-term. The following clip encapsulates the need for the ‘shift’.

With the coming of age of China and India as super-nations, the shift political, industrially, militarily and monetarily is beginning to swing their way. China is investing huge sums of money into its education. Their cultural belief has always been that the success of their nation is directly related to the success of their children’s education, and it is now that they are investing heavily into education practises and policies which will set fast their economy for years to come. The enticing wages and packages for experienced teachers, particularly English-speaking teachers, is very attractive to the international educator at present, shifting away from the once profitable Dubai and Singapore markets.

America has been hit hard by the recession and they too have felt the squeeze on their education systems throughout the states. The New York Times, in an article titled ‘Panel Says Schools’ Failings could threaten Economy and National Security’, stated that;

“The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital…The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.”

In  the self titled New York Times article last week; ‘More young Americans are out of high school are also out of work’ the reporter says that;

For this generation of young people, the future looks bleak. Only one in six is working full-time. Three out of five live with their parents or other relatives. A large majority — 73 percent — think they need more education to find a successful career… But among those who graduated after the financial crisis, the numbers are far worse: only 16 percent of the classes of 2009-11 had full-time jobs. An additional 22 percent were working part-time, and most of them wanted full-time work.

The included video in the article goes into more detail over the nations growing youth crisis. America, one of the world’s richest nations is receding economically and if the trend continues, particularly with their educational cut-backs, they will lose their dominance as a super-power in the blink of an eye.

The currency of education in the world today is priceless. The uncertainty of our current climate with the GEC and EU issues has led many educated, right from the college student through to the Generation X and Baby Boomer, to re-evaluate what they want in a career. Financial security is ranking more highly than having a prestigious job, being wealthy, or being a leader in within their community. The dreams to push boundaries and become risk-takers is being squashed by the need for long-term security.

China is securing their long-term future economically and it wont be long before they can become risk-takers on the world stage and begin to dominate monetarily, politically, industrially and eventually militarily.

Tooling with Technology

Meeting the needs of the 21st Century Learner has been particularly challenging for educators, system leaders and governments around the world. Technology has been such a large driving force in changing education over the last ten to fifteen years and it is most visible when we examine classroom environments. However, the most important change has been in the pedagogy of teaching and learning.

What is this pedagogy of teaching and learning today? What does it look like?

Well there is no ‘one/right’ way in using technology in the classroom, and I suppose that this is the most frustrating thing for educators who have been institutionalised to be process driven and product focussed.  “Just tell me when and how to use it.”

I personally feel for any seasoned educator who has been driven out of teaching because of the fear they faced in using  technology. You may be be asking why… Personally, I think back to the time early in my career when I had the MOST wonderful lesson planned…. I got my kids engaged, and ready to unveil the interactive CD Video in the desktop, which was hard wired to the digital projector and external speakers, facing the tripod which had the white pull-down projector screen. Unfortunatley, the bulb blew 3min in! Time to plan it…Time to set it up… Time to work out what was wrong… Time where my students missed out on learning…. I can only imagine that this feeling of standing in front of the students trying to rectify the problem is the feeling they faced every day!

Today the practice of using technology has moved on. Technology is not being used as the person in front of the class. It is being used as the tool to engage enquiry within the collaborative classroom, to personalise the learning and to break down previous learning barriers. Technology has helped to unlock the nature of learning.

Do you think that Einstein went to school to learn how to develop nuclear energy?…. I think not. I bet, by most part learning something new began with a desire or want for that something – “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. Today the role of the educator has shifted to play the part of the stimulus and to facilitate, track and monitor the inquiry into the learning – as it happens.

Previously, governments saw technology as the tool to provide a quick fix and improve results.  It was the miracle maker in the acquisition of knowledge. Unfortunately, this was not and is not the case. Technology is only as good as the practitioner in charge of the class….And like the students, that educator needs to embrace change ‘like no tomorrow’.  As one of my peers asks in his blog; “How many school are using technology as a $1000 pencil?”.

There was a wonderful article published in the New York Times last month, on the use of Technology in the classroom at East Mooresville Intermediate School. The article explores the success of the school’s increased performance in reading, mathematics and science, in relation to the use of technology. Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District said;

“This is not about the technology…It’s not about the box. It’s about changing the culture of instruction — preparing students for their future, not our past.”

Though other schools in the area, and in other districts, use technology in educating their students, administrators and teachers  at Mooresville saw the main difference that set them a part from other schools was that;

they value computers not for the newest content they can deliver, but for how they tap into the oldest of student emotions — curiosity, boredom, embarrassment, angst — and help educators deliver what only people can. Technology, here, is cold used to warm……Many classrooms have moved from lecture to lattice, where students collaborate in small groups with the teacher swooping in for consultation.

In the hallways of their school, corridors read:

“iBelieve, iCan, iWill.”


The Successes of a System

I am currently reading the book by Pisa Sahlberg titled ‘Finish Lessons: What the world can learn from educational change in Finland’. It is a very interesting and compelling book aimed at system leaders, policy makers and an politicians alike. Though the main focus is on teacher education and the quality of this, as discussed in my previous post ‘The Profession of Teaching’, it does shed light on some important aspects to the education system in Finland. These being:

1. There are no private schools.

I can only applaud the ability of the Finnish government to go down this path. It allows for equality. Yet, it can be attributed to the high tax rate that is paid in the country servicing education, health care and public transport (to name a few). I could not under good consciousness advise a developed country to undergo this path. The choice of education provided by private sectors reduces the burden on governments and their ultimate expenditure of the annual GDP (as demonstrated in Australia). However, for a small developing country it can be shown to reap dividends overtime.

2. All administrators have worked as teachers.

‘To lead by example’, comes to mind. Having those who do not have the experience or knowledge to lead the complexities of educational change is organisational suicide. It is perplexing to see governments who choose Ministers of Education, making educational decisions, who do not have the background necessary.

3. They don’t focus on tests or testing.

The competitiveness of industry which once drove the traditional anglo-saxon education system has now changed. The want and need of business today from their employees is very different, as discussed in ‘Re-imaging 21st Century Schooling‘. ‘Competitiveness’ is seen by the Finnish as a hinderance to the education of their children.

4. Teaching is a revered profession, and they trust teachers.

It was stated by Pisa Salhberg in the New York Times that; ‘At least 25% of students on graduation from their formal education elect education as a profession which they which to pursue’.  The package offered to teachers, as well as the job entitlements are attractive to the Finnish. Teachers are also well regarded and  suported in Finland as a whole.

5.  Foreign students are integrated.

The integration of foreign students posed a problem for the Finnish education system early on. However, the Finnish, I believe have found an extremely effective solution, where there is a value placed on the student’s mother tongue, and where the government pays for two hours a week of learning in the student’s  indigenous language.

To read a brief overview of Pisa Sahlberg’s work click here.