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What a difference the Holy Spirit can make! When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation in early 2013, we were adrift, like I was adrift in the Pacific Ocean during my epic voyage. Why? Because in 600 years, there had not been a papal resignation. There had not been any hint of it prior to the announcement that surprised everyone, even the cardinals who had been summoned to the Vatican for the consistory. They were absolutely flummoxed and speechless. Holy smoke and holy chaos! The Barque of Peter was truly launched into uncharted waters. We Catholics felt we were in dire straits. The mood wasn’t good. And yet somehow that mood was changed remarkably with the arrival of a rather unlikely pope. He said it himself as he appeared on the balcony after the conclave: “The cardinals have gone to the ends of the earth to find the new Bishop of Rome”. Talk about a God of surprises. It was like Princess Penzance and Michelle Payne winning the Melbourne Cup. No one saw it coming. No one predicted it.
Reading signs of the times
We are not out of woods by any means. Even the greatest pope cannot solve all the problems we have in the Church. In Australia, we seem to have reached a critical juncture. Not only are we afflicted by such things as the decline in Sunday worship, the fall in religious practice, the dearth of the priesthood and religious life, etc … we also face the biggest challenge to date, which is the loss of our moral credibility and trust capital due to the sexual abuse crisis. Nevertheless, it must be said that Pope Francis is the embodiment of our hope. His unexpected election and the way he exercises his leadership give us a breath of fresh air and a source of great hope. Even though the journey ahead of us is daunting, we are bolstered by the fresh energy that the Holy Spirit has given to us even as we face a critical juncture in human history.
I make bold to say that this is the unexpected way of God. Consistently in salvation history, he has brought unexpected outcomes out of the most crushing defeats. Out of the ashes of the exile, he brought about the new Israel; out of the ashes of the crucifixion, the resurrection; out of the ashes of the Roman persecution, the universal Church. Watershed moments can be catalysts for renewal and transformation.
I believe that we are living in a watershed and a privileged moment in the history of the Church. Just as the biblical exile brought about the most transforming experience that profoundly shaped the faith of Israel, this transition time can potentially launch the Church into a new era of hope, engagement and solidarity that the Second Vatican Council beckoned us with great foresight. From where I stand, the arrival of Pope Francis and his emphasis on servant leadership have unambiguously signaled this new era. He, himself, said poignantly that we are not living in an era of change but change of an era. By this, he means that it is the Church that needs to live up to its fundamental call to be “ecclesia semper reformanda” or the church always in need of reform in order to be in sync with the movement of the Holy Spirit and direction of the Kingdom. It is not “business as usual”. There needs to be an attitudinal change at every level, a conversion of mind and heart that conforms us to the spirit of the Gospel, a new wine into new wineskins, not a superficial change or, worse, a retreat into restorationism.
Launch into deeper waters
I have a particular interest in the biblical experience of the exile. My personal story of being a refugee, my struggle for a new life in Australia, coupled with my Franciscan heritage have all contributed to the sense of hope which was the legacy of the exile of old and which should inform and enlighten our present exile experience. Like the prophets who accompanied their people, interpreted the signs of the times and led them in the direction of the kingdom – the arc of salvation history if you like – we must do the same for our people in the context of this new millennium.
Our story, the Judeo-Christian story, is a narrative of hope in despair and of reordering human relationships in the light of unfolding revelation. It began with the story in Genesis where the seed of hope was sown and a promise of redemption was made in the face of sin and brokenness. The story of the great exile likewise puts in bold relief how hope was born in a situation of utter vulnerability. In the light of this experience, there occurred a paradigm shift in the way the people related to God and to others. A vengeful, jealous, petty and tribal deity gave way to a much more expansive vision of the divine: a truly universal and all-embracing God. As a consequence, human relationships and social structures were reordered in a way that was consonant with the evolving consciousness.
The Judeo-Christian story finds its ultimate expression in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – the source and the ground of its hope and renewal. But it also continues to unfold throughout history, especially at its pivotal moments. Thus, when persecution forced the church to disperse from her Jewish home, she learned to welcome the gentiles and became a refuge for the persecuted. When she came out of the catacombs into an imperial Christendom, places of learning, contemplation, prayer and solidarity sprung up in response to the thirst for authentic discipleship, hope and renewal.
Now we find ourselves in yet another pivotal moment in history. Just as the Berlin wall collapsed, the walls of Christendom too have been blown away the wind of secularisation. We are forced to move out of our catacombs into the open, into the new unfamiliar world of post-modernity where nothing is taken for granted as far as faith and belief go. Like the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, we are roused by the Spirit of Jesus to launch the Barque of Peter into deeper waters (Luke 5:4).
My episcopal motto, ‘Duc in altum’, is a perennial test of radical discipleship. It is a call like that of Abraham and Sarah, to leave the familiar and the comfortable, to go to the unknown destination. It is a theme made with urgency and constancy by Pope Francis. It is a church that dares to risk the new frontier rather than a church that is anchored in a safe harbour. The Barque of Peter is once again pushed out into deeper and more treacherous waters. Here, in the new exile and inhospitable landscape, we must learn to walk with others: other faiths, other traditions, other voices, including those who oppose and are critical of us. We learn to be the humble servants of the Kingdom and the sacrament of God’s love and presence in the world.
The challenge to offer a hopeful vision
I believe that one of the critical challenges for the church today is that of prophetic reframing. It is the ability to read the signs of the times and interpret them in a way that offers fresh and hopeful vision for the future despite appearances to the contrary. The prophet knows the past promise of God’s word, but knows how to interpret this word in her or his life and to speak that word to others that will lift them up.
One of the stories that has a feminist touch and a particular relevance to us today is the story of the Hebrew midwives Puah and Shiphrah. Their courage, imagination, and daring are highlighted in the very first chapter of Exodus. It was a critical situation vis-à-vis the future of a people. Yet Puah and Shiphrah were up to the task of reframing a harsh reality into a vision of fresh hope. They did so by refusing to obey Pharaoh’s command and by showing faithfulness to God in delivering new life, thus securing a vital future for his people.
Today, in the midst of many situations of seeming hopelessness, it is easy for us to be overwhelmed and numbed. We feel unable to meet the challenge of delivering new life on behalf of those who feel hopeless and disenfranchised. Yet like Puah and Shiphrah, we are challenged to present an alternative vision of fresh hope. When we are on the side of the poor, the vulnerable, the suffering people and when we stand in solidarity with those without hope and act together, we can be channels of hope. In opening our eyes and hearts to the sufferings of our world, hope can be awakened, a hope that allows us to see things from the perspective of God.
This was what Mary MacKillop did when she rallied her sisters behind the poor and vulnerable in colonial Australia. She took a prophetic stance, not simply in providing affordable quality Catholic education and health care to the poor masses, but fundamentally in meeting the great cultural challenges of their times. “Never see a need without doing something about it”. In acting out of a strong passion for the Kingdom and a visceral compassion for the suffering, she brought about a fresh hope for others.
Like her, we are called to be channels of hope and to meet the challenges of our times. In what ways can we follow her prophetic vision and apply it to our context? Who are the people without hope and how can we reframe the harsh realities that they experience into a hopeful future?
The challenge to go to the margins
Pope Francis constantly calls us to move beyond the security of the status quo and take the risk of going to the periphery. The church must be the church of the poor and for the poor. The church must go out of itself in order to be close to those in need. Conversely, the church that does not go out into the world keeps Jesus imprisoned.
The church without its missionary impulse is unhealthy. For him, this missionary impulse has little to do with doing the minimum, with complacency and mediocrity. In fact, it has everything to do with taking risks and living with enthusiasm and commitment. We should not be content with the status quo, especially when that status quo is less than what God wants for us as individuals and as a community. Australia is a wonderful country but where it is in terms of its treatment of asylum seekers, Indigenous and marginalised people should trouble us.
If one can detect the direction of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it has something to do with the movement from security to boldness, from inward looking to outward looking, from preoccupation with our status quo, safeguarding our privileges to learning to be vulnerable, learning to convey God’s compassion to those who are on the edges of society and church.
Hence our challenge is to accompany people from the margins into a journey towards the fullness of life and love. It is to embrace the call of the Second Vatican Council to identify with the joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of those who are poor and in anyway afflicted. It is to be the bearer of joy to those who are most deprived of it. To do this, he/she must be able to live in and to bridge the yawning gap, the liminal space between the ideal and the real, between what the church teaches and how the people respond.
We feel torn between the two. As representatives of the Church and her servants, we want to be faithful and preserve her unity and integrity. And yet, on the other hand, we know that we must also walk with our people, identifying with them in their struggles, their questions and their uncertainties. We know that the faith and its radical demands cannot be compromised and accommodated to suit everyone’s interpretation. At the same time, the 50 shades of grey that life can present to the people in the real world demand that we walk with them in the search for truth in love. We look to Christ for inspiration in the way he immersed himself in their world and walked with them on the journey to liberation.
In fact, history has shown that religious life is invariably involved with a critique of the status quo, a dissatisfaction of accommodation and a search for fresh and radical ways of following Christ. The challenge for those who wish to live the ideals of the Gospel is to not lose sight of the divine pathos and God’s preferential option for the poor.
It is a vocation of the Christian leader to be with his people in their hopes and struggles, anxieties and fears. He/she is to be “a Malcolm in the middle” who occupies in betwixt and between, liminal, peripheral and precarious places. It is not easy to be in the middle, and to be loyal to both ends of the spectrum, to belong to the Church of orthodoxy and yet also to minister in the world of the unorthodox. That is really between the rock and the hard place as they call it. Yet, that is the calling of the leader, because we are meant to be at the coalface, in the messiness of it all and at the same time in fidelity to the Gospel. We are sent to the strong and the weak, the wholesome and the broken, the churched and the unchurched, the pious and the impious, the normal and the bizarre. We are sent to them through the gate, who is Christ. We are sent often from the inside out and not from the outside in. Like Christ in his ministry among the sick and the lost, we are called to meet God in the most unlikely people and places.
Pope Francis challenges all of us to divest ourselves of clericalism and elitism, and return to the purity of the Gospel. His constant call to the church to be less concerned with itself and to be more outward looking encourages us to walk with our people in the ambiguities and complexities of their lives. The self-referential church steeped in a culture of splendour is in stark contrast with the church of the poor and for the poor. It is the latter that we who pattern ourselves according to Jesus the prophet on the margins endeavour to serve. It is like new wine in new wineskins. The leader for today’s church and today’s world is like Christ among the marginalised, the sick and sinner.
How can we respond to the challenge of being a church at the margins today? Where are the new “peripheries” and new “horizons” in Catholic education that we are called to be and to offer nearness and proximity?
The challenge to be a merciful church
By proclaiming the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis wants it to be a special time for the church to contemplate the mystery of mercy and become a more effective sign of God’s action in the world. The symbolic opening of the Holy Door in Rome – which is to be replicated in all particular churches – serves to remind us of the joy and hope that the Holy Spirit ushered through the Second Vatican Council. One cannot help but feel the ardent desire of the Holy Father in relaunching the project of the Council which is to present the Gospel to the men and women of their time in a new, fresh, more accessible and credible way. “The walls which too long had made the church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way.” (Misericordiae Vultus 4)
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the church was suspicious of the world, which was perceived as evil. Remember the classic three enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. It was a defensive, fortress church. Followed the lead of Pope John XXIII and his optimistic aggiornamento, guided by “the signs of the times”, the gathered bishops recognised that the church needed to open itself to the world, engage with the world and even to learn from the world. Gaudium et Spes, the guiding document of the Council, presented a new paradigm: the church is not an enclosure which protects its members against the sinful world. It is a fellow pilgrim with the men and women of our age. It is a church incarnate in the world. Therefore, it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and self-referential pomp, but of accompaniment and engagement. The Jubilee of Mercy is opportune for us to respond anew to the clarion call of the Council to engage with the hopes and joys, the griefs and anxieties of the people of our age. Thus Pope Francis affirms: “The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” (MV10)
Pope Francis uses a rather unconventional term to describe the church. He famously says that pastors need to wear the scent of the sheep. Then he describes the church as a field hospital that treats the wounded after the battle. “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity”. That is his vision of the ideal church. Not a perfect society, nor the enclosure for the privileged but a refuge for the poor, an oasis for the weary and a hospital for the wounded. When I was in Italy, I was very intrigued by the private tombs in many churches. In medieval time, it was not uncommon for high-ranking ecclesiastics, royals and even well-heeled citizens to be buried in ornate church buildings. I wonder if this was a vestige of the time when the Church was the arena for power. I wonder if this was the natural progression of the imperial Church, which came to be born after the conversion of Constantine. Thank God Pope Francis has reclaimed for us the vision of Church of the ‘anawim‘. ‘Anawim’ refers to the faithful few or the remnants who endured much suffering and who formed the nucleus of the new Israel after the exile.
The field hospital is not concerned about defending against threat of encroachment and loss of its status and privileges. Instead, it goes out of itself to respond to the needs of those whose lives are at risk. It engages with the world rather than withdraws into enclaves. In fact, time and again, Pope Francis challenges the church to not be concerned with its own prerogatives. “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”. (The Joy of the Gospel 49)
Being merciful is at the heart of Catholic identity. It is not simply a matter of acting with mercy and compassion to those in need with our position of power and privilege intact. Rather, it is a radical discipleship of vulnerability and powerlessness in the footsteps of the humble servant of God. It is an existential stance in favour of the weak and the vulnerable in the face of the prevalent business model of success and power. It is about building people and relationships rather than profit and size. It has to do with the Kingdom mentality rather than the empire mentality. How can we be the merciful face of God to a wounded humanity in our school communities and families? How do we balance the need for recognition and success on the one hand and the fundamental ethos of care for the broken and the wounded on the other?
The challenge to be an inclusive church
For me, one of the greatest challenges the church faces today is to be inclusive, to be a big tent church. Pope Francis urges us to be a church where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel. You heard me say in my Installation Homily that there can be no future for the living church without this vital sense of ecclesial inclusiveness. By that I mean there must be space for everyone, especially those who have been hurt, excluded or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians, women, disaffected members. The church will be less than what Christ intends it to be when issues of inclusion and equality are not fully addressed. That is why you heard me say that I am guided by the radical vision of Christ. I am committed to make the church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a church where there is less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.
The teachings of Jesus like the parable of the Good Samaritan challenge us to think outside the square, outside the established patterns, norms and conventions. Jesus teaches us some home truths that are truly confronting and incisive. Samaritans were considered outsiders and outcasts by ordinary Jews. Yet in the parable, it was the Samaritan who was the unlikely hero. For he showed love and compassion to the person in need. On the contrary, the priest and the Levite, who were considered the respected class of society and the custodians of tradition, were found wanting. They put tradition and law in the way of basic human love. Thus, in crafting the characters in their cultural and religious context, Jesus really upset the tulip cart. He questioned the prevailing assumptions and stereotyped attitudes. He turned the presumed order of moral goodness upside down. The holders of tradition failed the test of good neighbour while the outcast proved himself an unlikely champion of basic human decency, mercy and compassion.
We can no longer understand the parable just in terms of being kind to those in need. It is an incisive lesson that cuts our prejudices to the quick. The lawyer who posed the question to Jesus “who is my neighbour” went away with much more than he had bargained for. He was challenged to be the neighbour and to be one like the Samaritan. It would have been a profound and indeed humbling revelation: The villain had become a hero and vice versa. The meaning of goodness, humanity, moral uprightness had been redefined. The boundaries of acceptance, inclusion and love had been annulled. Jesus had presented to him a radical new way of seeing, acting and relating.
That is what Jesus consistently does. He has a habit of challenging ingrained stereotyped attitudes, subverting the tyranny of the majority, breaking social taboos, pushing the boundaries of love and redefining its meaning. “You heard it said that love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you …” His interactions with women, with tax collectors and other types of social outcast are nothing short of being revolutionary and boundary breaking. It is his radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing that ought to guide our pastoral response.
As the Gospel illustrates, it is the holders of the tradition who are often guilty of prejudice, discrimination and oppressive stereotype. We in the church today need to examine our own attitudes and actions towards the victims of injustice and adopt what I would call a seamless garment approach. We cannot be a strong moral force and an effective prophetic voice in society if we are simply defensive, inconsistent and divisive with regards to certain social issues. We cannot talk about the integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression in the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women and homosexual persons. It won’t wash with young people, especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as “intrinsically disordered”. This is particularly true when the church has not been a shining beacon and a trail-blazer in the fight against inequality and intolerance. Rather, it has been driven involuntarily into a new world where many of the old stereotypes have been put to rest and the identities and rights of the marginalised are accorded justice, acceptance, affirmation and protection in our secular and egalitarian society.
In one of his interviews on a rather thorny issue of homosexuality, Pope Francis says that we must always consider the person, because – I quote, “when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” It seems to me that the Pope has more than moved away from the approach of condemnation and judgment. He has refocused on the proclamation of God’s love for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised; he has firmly placed the pastoral emphasis on the dignity of every person; he has committed the church to the way of engagement, affirmation and compassion which is at the heart of the Gospel. The church can only be the conduit of compassion and speak the language of hope to a broken humanity when it truly personifies powerlessness and stands where Christ once stood, that is, firmly on the side of the outcast and the most vulnerable.
The synod on the family was essentially an exercise in administering the medicine of mercy to the wounded. In the past, the results of synods were sometimes seen to be foregone conclusions. This synod, however, has seen the unleashing of the energy long locked up beneath the ice of institutional security. Pope Francis has really lived up to his vision of the Church daring to break loose from its comfort zone and self-referential mentality. It is a church attentive to the signs of the times and incarnate grace at work in the world, even among the unorthodox and the marginalised. Much emphasis has been placed on the question of communion to the divorced and remarried. Yet, through the lens of mercy, the real question is how the missionary church can accommodate and accompany those struggling to live and still falling short of the Christian ideal. This ecclesial inclusiveness was instrumental to the doubting Thomas’ journey to faith. There must be a necessary space for dialogue and growth for the doubters and dissenters like Thomas. The capacity to create and nurture that space is characteristic of a church that walks the walk with the weak.
Catholic schools are premised on the fundamental dignity of each and every person. Attention to the most vulnerable and needy is written into our DNA, our Catholic ethos. How can we be places where this sense of ecclesial inclusiveness is fully expressed? In what ways can we advance Jesus’ radical vision of love, inclusion and human flourishing in our communities?
In summary, I believe we are living in a time of grace and hope precisely because this fallow time allows us to rid ourselves of what is unworthy of Christ and to grow more deeply in our identity and mission as his disciples. Hence, it is the time to reclaim for the Church:
* Less a role of power, dominance and privilege but more a position of vulnerability and powerlessness;
* Less an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden;
* Less an experience of exclusion and elitism but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity;
* Less of an attitude of ‘we are right and you are wrong’ and more of an attitude of openness to truth wherever and whoever it is to be found;
* Less a leadership of control and clericalism but more a diakonia of a humble servant exemplified by Christ at the Last Supper;
* Less a language of condemnation but more a language of affirmation and compassion; and
* Less a preoccupation for its own maintenance but more a concern for the Kingdom of God
In the end, though, I firmly believe that we’re on the threshold of renewal and transformation. The Second Vatican Council set in motion a new paradigm that cannot be thwarted by fear and paralysis. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it cannot be put back. That new paradigm is one that is based on mutuality not exclusion, love not fear, service not clericalism, engagement with the world not flight from or hostility against it, incarnate grace not dualism. The Holy Spirit is at work even at a time of great anguish. He accompanies us as we move in the direction of the Kingdom.
Pope Francis has unleashed a new energy, he has poured a new wine which cannot be contained in old wineskins. He has challenged us to move in concert with him and bring about the rebirth of the church. I am endeavouring to follow the pope’s lead. I have forfeited my Qantas Club membership, which is not a big deal these days. I fly with Tiger regularly – on a wing and a prayer. But that’s the easy part. The harder part is to do what most of you do, which is to labour at the coalface of the church. It is have the smell of the sheep, to walk with people, identifying with them in their struggles, their questions and their uncertainties. It is to discern and live out the vision of hope in the midst of life’s disappointments.
May we be like the prophets for our people during this our contemporary exile. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with them, proclaim the message of hope, the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the Kingdom. May all of us enact the rhythm of the paschal mystery of dying and rising in the pattern of our Lord who is the Alpha and the Omega.
Ann D Clark Lecture delivered by Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers, 18 August 2016Read Less
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The recent release of the report of the independent review into rural, regional and remote education provides a much-needed focus on the unique challenges and opportunities rural, regional and remote communities encounter. Ultimately, this is an issue of the place of these communities in contemporary Australian society.
The review was commissioned in March 2017, with the aim of improving education outcomes for rural students and their access to higher education. It sought to identify new and innovative approaches to achieve this.
The “rural school challenge” has existed since the advent of compulsory education. But this is the first major national report since the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Inquiry into rural and remote education 18 years ago. Sadly, progress towards a more equitable educational experience, outcomes from schooling and access to higher education has been slow in the intervening years.
We cannot waste the opportunity this report provides to refocus our attention on Australia’s rural communities and the students in them.
What does the report say?
The report makes 11 recommendations, and identifies four priorities:
establishing a national focus for regional, rural and remote education, training and research to enhance access, outcomes and opportunities
focusing on research for successful learning and building young people’s futures – school leadership, teaching, curriculum and assessment
addressing the information communication and technology needs in regional, rural and remote locations, and
focusing on the transitions into and out of school.
A national research programme
The focus of research in two of these four priorities is important and timely. Here, the report highlights as much about what we don’t know as what we do know.
Australia has a vibrant and internationally renowned rural education research community. There have been many studies here in Australia, and overseas, that engage with the issues and ideas put forward in the report. But research funding has been declining in a tight budgetary environment. It has has also focused on issues of schooling only, including teacher quality, NAPLAN and national curriculum.
Through this time, much rural, regional and remote education research has been highlighting the problem with the “metro-centric” one-size-fits-all approaches preferred in public policy over the last two decades.
Nonetheless, the resulting projects have identified strategies that work: attracting rural students into teaching, specifically preparing teachers for rural schools, embedding curriculum in local contexts, innovative information and communication technology approaches to enhance curriculum access and new resourcing models, to name a few.
A national research focus will facilitate a unique opportunity to scale up innovations that exist in the sector. It will also ensure our focus is broadened from school-centric research to broadly-based rural education and community research.
We need a ten year focus, with significant and guaranteed funding to develop and implement a longitudinal research agenda. That might seem like a long while, but considering that a child is at school on average 13 years puts it in perspective. When we note the report makes recommendations related to early childhood education through to post-secondary education and training, we’re looking at approximately 22 years of a persons life.
A sustained, rigorous and funded national research program will confirm Australia’s leading international position in rural education research. The challenges we face are not unique to us, they are shared, for instance, by Canada, the US and China.
To activate this, we need to build a small group of five to ten specially trained researchers across the country dedicated to rural, regional and remote research. This leading group of researchers would be at the forefront of identifying success and “scaling this up” - using these insights in more communities and with a greater coverage. They can then provide a rolling review of the success of the implementation of the recommendations in the report.
A return to equity
The report places equity back in the centre of the educational agenda, rather than equality and resource redistribution. Through the sustained focus on rural, regional and remote, the report highlights these communities have unique needs that go beyond the funding they receive – though that remains important – and the school gate.
In doing so, it highlights the limitations of the “one size fits all” approach to public policy that has dominated until now. While such approaches might work on a national scale when the vast majority of the population live in major cities, the population outside that space get hidden among the averages.
For instance, the report highlights the need to ensure the relevance of the Australian Curriculum and its implementation for rural, regional and remote students. It reminds us there is another dimension beyond the Gonski 2.0 pre-occupation with the distribution of resources. There is also what schools do with those resources, and how they tailor their work to meet the unique needs of their communities. This is where we need sustained and detailed research.
The staffing challenge
Meeting the unique needs of the community is only possible if there are appropriate teachers in the schools to do so. It’s not surprising, then, that the challenges of staffing are a major theme. Many approaches have been tried throughout Australia to train, attract and retain appropriate teachers for rural, regional and remote communities. If we’re going to ensure the equitable distribution of skilled teachers in these schools, we need to try something radically different.
Beyond the school gate
While critically important, the challenges of rural education go beyond getting the right teachers into the right school. They are largely influenced by factors outside the school gate, such as the local economy, employment opportunities and community well-being.
This is an area of urgent further research. The report recognises educational achievement exists within the community and the local social and economic issues. But an understanding of how these interrelate in rural, regional and remote contexts remains undeveloped.
To enhance the opportunities for children, we need to ensure we have vibrant and valued rural communities with a strong social and economic future. Such communities are also attractive places for professions to relocate to, have a career and raise a family.
Rural innovations need to be ‘rural’
The report makes plain that the needs of rural, regional and remote communities are unique. This is a rural research agenda, not education research with a rural twist. As such, it’s crucial the government’s response, and researchers, heed the theme of the report – each community is distinct, and needs to be considered for what it offers. Then, by recognising this uniqueness, we can explore what innovations are scalable across different communities, and how they need to be tweaked to be successful in each new context.There is already success in rural, regional and remote schooling. We need the courage to identify this success, understand it, and facilitate collective networking to grow this success.
Philip Roberts, Associate professor, University of Canberra; Adrian Piccoli, Professor of Practice, School of Education, UNSW, and John Hattie, Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of MelbourneRead Less
The language we use to discuss the work of teachers in the public domain matters. It matters to our shared understanding of education as a society and it impacts on teachers’ work both directly and indirectly. My research at the moment focuses in part on the notion of quality in education, specifically how issues of teacher quality are represented in the mainstream print media. As part of this work I decided to look more closely at the use of the terms teacher quality and teaching quality in mainstream print media.
It might seem at first glance that these terms are interchangeable or that if there is a difference, it is negligible. However there is a difference, and I became intrigued at how they are used differently in the media and how that difference can impact readers.
For my study I collected every newspaper article that used either ‘teacher quality’ or ‘teaching quality’ in the 12 national and capital city daily newspapers over a four-year period, from January 2014 to December 2017. There were 432 articles in all, spread fairly evenly over each of the four years, comprising over a quarter of a million words.
I used a range of different techniques to analyse the language used across the group of articles. To start I explored the use of the terms themselves (teacher quality and teaching quality) in context: which teachers were the journalists referring to and what exactly were they saying about the quality of said teachers and/or their teaching?
Use of the terms
While all the articles mentioned either teacher quality or teaching quality, some of them used the terms more than once: there were 369 mentions of teacher quality and 179 mentions of teaching quality in the 432 articles. So teacher quality was used in these articles over twice as many times as teaching quality. All 548 mentions referenced either school teachers or teachers in higher or vocational education institutions (universities and colleges).
Significantly, of the 369 instances of the use of teacher quality in the texts, 360 (that’s 98%) referenced school teachers, while only 9 (the remaining 2%) referenced teachers in higher or vocational education contexts. Somewhat conversely, of the 179 instances of teaching quality in the texts, only 57 (32%) related to school teachers, while the majority of references (122, or 68%) related to teachers in the higher and vocational education sectors.
When ‘teacher quality’ is mentioned, with very few exceptions, the talk is about schools. So if the media report or comment is about quality issues in schools the term teacher quality is much more likely to be used than teaching quality.
The opposite is true of university lecturers and teachers in vocational and technical colleges, where issues are generally rendered in terms of teaching quality.
The different use matters
The overwhelming use of term teacher quality when referring to schools implies that if there is a problem with quality in schools it is a problem with the teachers themselves. In this case quality is linked directly to who is doing the teaching.
On the other hand, the use of teaching quality while referring to universities and further education contexts implies the quality has to do with how a teacher is teaching. So if there is a problem with quality it is not a problem with the teachers themselves but with the teaching methods or curriculum they are using.
This issue might seem subtle, almost theoretical, but it has some very practical implications. In the paper Professional learning, pedagogical improvement, and the circulation of power researchers from the University of Newcastle drew attention to the difference between understanding good teaching as practised (as implied in ‘teaching quality’) and embodied (as implied in ‘teacher quality’), arguing that “where good teaching is understood as being about practices rather than bodies, there is likely to be a stronger receptivity to the idea of change in pedagogy”.
The ongoing use of teacher quality in relation to school teachers reinforces the idea that there is something implicitly wrong with the teachers themselves, rather than with their practices. I know from my considerable work alongside practising teachers in schools the relief that often comes from shifting the conversation to recognise that teaching is practised rather than embodied. In other words, the conversation shifts from one about who teachers are, to what teachers do, and in the process all kinds of doors open to honest critique and the hard work of collaboratively improving classroom practice.
When quality is viewed as a problem, and it inevitably is by the media, politicians and education bureaucrats, it would a much easier problem to solve if it is a problem with pedagogy and curriculum rather than a problem with the actual people who are employed to do the teaching. But it was interesting to delve further into my slice of media and look at who, ultimately, is seen to be responsible for solving any perceived problem with teacher quality.
Who is seen to have solutions to teacher quality problems?
My analysis of these articles found discussion of teacher quality most often occurred in the context of a broader discussion about improvement of teacher quality. Sometimes the discussion directly referenced improvement, while at other times it focused on falling quality (with the associated need for this to be remedied). Almost exclusively, however, the proposed agent of improvement lay beyond both the school and the teaching profession. Governments, accrediting bodies, departments of education and in some cases, universities were seen to have the power and responsibility for improving teacher quality, generally through enforcing stricter controls on who comes into the profession and what they learn on their way into teaching. In only the rarest of cases are teachers themselves positioned as active players in the improvement of teacher quality.
The influence of government use of the terms
Of course, newspapers aren’t entirely responsible for the prevailing focus on teacher rather than teaching quality. Teacher quality is well and truly out there in the public space. It was one of the four pillars of the current Federal Government’s Students First strategy, and was a darling of the Rudd-Gillard Governments during the Education Revolution. It is embedded in numerous current national and state and territory education policy documents. These things have a knock-on effect to the way the education is reported in the press, and to the way teachers’ work gets discussed within the community and sometimes even by teachers and other educators themselves.
But here’s the thing: when it comes to education, if we’re really interested in quality, we need to shift the conversation. We need to make it more about helping teachers to improve the quality of what goes on in their classrooms, and less about casting them as personally or professionally inadequate in the public space. We need to make it more about teachers’ practices and less about teachers as people. We need to make it more about real, collegial professional learning for improvement and less about trying to regulate our way to quality.
Nicole Mockler is an Associate Professor in Education at the University of Sydney. She has a background in secondary school teaching and teacher professional learning. In the past she has held senior leadership roles in secondary schools, and after completing her PhD in Education at the University of Sydney in 2008, she joined the University of Newcastle in 2009, where she was a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education until early 2015. Nicole’s research interests are in education policy and politics, professional learning and curriculum and pedagogy, and she also continues to work with teachers and schools in these areas.
Nicole is currently the Editor in Chief of The Australian Educational Researcher, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the British Educational Research Journal and Educational Action Research. She was the Communications Co-ordinator for the Australian Association for Research in Education from 2011 until 2016, and until December 2016 was Associate Editor for both Critical Studies in Education and Teaching and Teacher Education. Nicole is on Twitter
In the light of current debate about the journey of NAPLAN over a decade, its possible timely review and it's utimate future, this opinion piece provides a thorough insight into high stakes testing.
Any Principals or school leaders who have an opinion piece about current educational topics please contact the Editor - firstname.lastname@example.org
Darren McDonald - St Benedicts Primary Applecross WA
Recently the Office of the eSafety Commissioner launched the new online interactive tool for parents, called the Screen Smart Parent Tour, which aims to engage parents and carers of 10-14 year old children on a range of key online safety issues. We focused on the 10-14-year age group as it is a time when young people are likely to be striving for more independence and peer acceptance, and when parents may want to access relevant information and advice.
The attached kit includes some suggested social posts and key messaging, along with digital assets.
While this tool targets parents and carers of children aged 10 to 14 years, it can also be used by parents of older children or even younger children (especially as a way for parents to be aware of issues that their child may encounter in the near future).
It’s intended to be a relaxed way of conveying important pieces of information and tips, with prompts at the end of the tour to further information on our iParent site. Parents get to see how other parents responded (through baseline data we obtained from a survey of 50 parents and which we intend to update on a quarterly basis). Parents can also download the facts and tips at any time if they decide to exit the tour, which also includes important contacts and links for further information and support. The tips and facts sheet also highlights some recent research done by our Office.
We appreciate your assistance in helping to bring this tool to school parents so that they can help keep their children safe online.
Kellie Britnell - Office of the eSafety Commissioner
Western Australian delegates at the 1986 Conference in Adelaide, which celebrated the state’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary of settlement.
Back Row: Roma Criddle, Sr Clare Rafferty, ???, Bill Gaynor, Graham Cowles, ???, Sr Mary Kirrane, Patsy Runge.
Front Row: Sr Kathleen O’Connor, Mike Burson✝,David Knockolds, Brian Kelly, Jim Smith, Ann Nolan✝,Sr Maura Kelleher.
Following the success of the inaugural ACPPA Conference in 1984, there was no question that the conference must continue as a major event in the life of Catholic Primary Principals throughout the nation.
As significant numbers of Catholic Primary Principals wished to also attend the APPA annual conference, which provided them with outstanding speakers on global as well as national issues, it was decided that the ACPPA conference would be held immediately prior to the APPA conference. The second conference, therefore, moved to Perth and once again took over the boarding school at Santa Maria College in Attadale.
Then it was Adelaide’s turn and they decided to do something just a bit different. The conference entitled Faith Development of the Catholic Principal was held at the Grosvenor Hotel, and was a working conference using the Shared Practice model, a collegic learning process developed with help from Flinders University. Delegates were divided into small groups of 5 or 6 people, each with a local principal who had participated in prior training in the process, as leader. Theologian Fr Denis Edwards and Margaret O’Toole from the Spiritual Formation Team were the Keynote Speakers, who set the issues for the groups to workshop.
It was also in Adelaide that a tradition that still forms one of the keystones of our conferences was born. On one night delegates were bussed to Blackfriars College, not very far away, for a night of socialising. The evening took the form of a Bush Dance, with music provided by the boys of the college’s Big Band, ably assisted by a few of the more musically competent local principals. The ACPPA Social Night has been a fixture at conferences ever since.
It may have been just a coincidence, but Adelaide’s first casino had only opened 8 months prior to the conference, in the heritage buildings that formed part of the Adelaide Railway Station. This building was immediately across the road from the Grosvenor, and sort-of became an unofficial extension of the conference venue.
Were you involved with ACPPA in the past?
Did you hold an elected position in ACPPA?
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If you are interested in being a part of our ACPPA Alumni please contact:-
Teachers Health is the only health fund exclusively for the education community. We were created by teachers for teachers over 60 years ago.
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Associate Professor Michael Nagel from the University of the Sunshine Coast says while a whole-scale review is a good first move, NAPLAN should be abolished completely.
“The research around standardised testing [like NAPLAN], is pretty conclusive, in that standardised testing paradoxically leads to much lower standards,” Nagel said in a statement.
“I think there’s three [major problems with NAPLAN]. The first is that standardised tests are limited in determining what a student actually knows or has learnt, so they don’t give us a real good understanding of what a student knows.
“The second thing is that they quickly become a high-stakes endeavour, making for a competitive environment, and they’re used to compare things that they shouldn’t be used to compare. You should never take a diagnostic tool, which is what NAPLAN’s meant to be, and use it to compare. And that’s what happens: we use it to compare students, to compare classrooms, schools – god forbid we start comparing teachers."
The expert in developmental and educational psychology noted that the sheer stress NAPLAN induces on students, teachers and parents is the “most worrying thing” about the scheme.
“We should be looking to examine what the children know in ways that don’t create stomach pains and nausea; we have studies that tell us that NAPLAN does this to children,” he said.
Nagel added that while we are quick to point the finger at teachers when student outcomes are seen sliding, we should stop meddling and trust in their professional ability to get the best out of each child.
“In this country we have a tendency when things don’t look well to bag teachers. In Finland, in contrast, they have a tendency to [trust teachers] in what they do, and I think the more we would trust teachers, and allow them to make determinations about where kids are at, in conjunction with working with parents, the better off we would be, because no two kids are the same, and teachers are trained to look at what kids can do, what they can’t do, and help to move them along.”
Associate Professor Jihyun Lee, a specialist in standardised testing from UNSW Sydney, said it was “common sense” that NAPLAN be reviewed after 10 years.
“While the NAPLAN program has focused on developing its technological aspects such as online and adaptive testing in recent years, there has not been a thorough and practical evaluation of the external validity of the program, i.e., its usefulness at the societal level and perspectives from various stake holders,” Lee said.
The researcher added that we don’t know how students really feel about the testing, and we lack a solid understanding of how teachers use the NAPLAN results to tailor their teaching - or indeed if NAPLAN has any add-on value at all.
“There is also a question at the national level, i.e., how much knowledge and information is gained for the public, educators, policy-makers, and academics about our students’ academic achievement?” Lee said.
Literacy and curriculum expert Professor Beryl Exley has echoed Lee’s call for a review, citing concerns that NAPLAN data is being misused.
“We know that NAPLAN is an expensive exercise and we have good reason to be cautious when we see Government and media using that data in ways that it wasn't meant to be used. An example is when claims are made that NAPLAN results are a measure of teacher effectiveness or when a NAPLAN reading and writing result is a measure of a student's literacy capabilities,” Exley, from Griffith University, said.
Exley criticized our whole “NAPLAN era” that has “produced collateral damage” by narrowing the curriculum and crushing creativity.
“For example, literacy has been reduced to the literal comprehension scores and a very elementary form of generic writing.
“We know NAPLAN is affecting pedagogical practice; students are experiencing the teaching of writing as having to learn two basic generic structures instead of writing as a creative craft that moves across multiple genres depending on audience, purpose and context.
“We know there are issues when a certain form of assessment is privileged over other forms of more authentic assessment that teachers, parents and children find useful.”
Exley added that NAPLAN sucked up principal’s time, taking them away from more crucial tasks.
“National standardised assessment can be useful for providing a health-check on the education system per se, but it's not necessary to have census assessment for all students in Years 3, 5, 7, & 9. A cross section assessment will provide enough data to provide a picture of what's happening in the system and to determine the impact of various initiatives in certain communities,” Exley said.
By Sarah Duggan
The oldest profession – teaching – is no longer attractive. The Queensland Deans of Education revealed there have been alarming drops in first preference applications for this year’s teacher preparation courses. Queensland has experienced an overall 26% drop. Most alarmingly, UQ reported a 44% plunge. QUT saw a 19% drop.
These figures reflect a national trend. ACU’s is down 20% for campuses in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. This follows disappointing interest in 2017. VTAC reported a 40% drop in 2017 compared to 2016. So why don’t people want to be teachers anymore? There are at least seven reasons people aren’t so keen.
1. Teacher education competency fixation
Our best teachers can inspire a student to achieve beyond their wildest expectations. They find the teachable moments and use humour to explain key concepts. They care for their students as individuals and go that extra mile to design their teaching to connect with them in meaningful ways. Their assessments are fair and they rejoice with students when they master important ideas.
These professional attributes are the essence of good teaching. But accredited teacher education programs must be designed around 37 competencies as prescribed by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). These competencies don’t address these personal attributes.
Having a competency framework is not so terrible. We need teachers to have observable capabilities to plan assessment, to know content and related ways to teach it. The skills are necessary, but not sufficient. We need the relationships dimension in the teacher education package. The types of things we value in our best teachers are conspicuous by their absence in program accreditation. So why would someone aspire to teach if the interpersonal dimension is lost?
2. Standardised testing obsession
Standardised testing has become a national sport, with PISA and NAPLAN. Much class time is spent preparing students to do well. The stakes are high for the teachers and their schools. While teachers do need to test their students to check on their progress, the national obsession is a problem.
Teachers spend a great deal of time preparing students for these tests. Standardised tests are a unique testing genre, and teachers need to attend to this preparation without abandoning everything else they need to do. This is a challenge, and the first casualty is teacher creativity. International reports also argue this point. Where’s the fun in teaching if you don’t have scope to be creative?
3. Lack of autonomy
Finland enjoys attention for their successful education system. Finnish teachers have an open brief to decide what to teach their students and how. In Australia we micromanage and control. The emphasis on play and the arts in Australian schools is lacking.
In Australia, departments of education provide explicit guidance for classes well ahead of time. This means the teaching approach and content is in place even before a teacher meets their students. This undermines the ability for teachers to be responsive and tailor teaching to learners’ needs. And so, the professional responsibility of Australian teachers is compromised - making the job seem rather unattractive.
4. Work intensification
Work intensification refers to the increasing range of duties and responsibilities that have been attached to the role of teachers. Teachers report the rewards of teaching are obscured by this, and the crowded curriculum. They are stressed by the range of things they’re required to teach and the snowball effect that emerges from increased requirements.
Intensification is due to many factors, not least of which is the expansion of teacher responsibilities to include social skills development previously addressed at home. Teaching is well known to be hard work. Yet, hard work without appreciation or respect is a disincentive.
5. Negative public image
An audit of newspaper stories in Queensland over the past year shows a tendency to report negatively on teachers. In the 12 months examined, 11 months featured more negative stories.
6. Teacher bashing
Teaching as a vocation is publicly scorned. This is commonly called ‘teacher bashing’. As a career, teaching is tolerated as a convenient backup pathway for people, but not endorsed as the main game. There have even been reports of teachers being actually physically bashed.
7. Teachers’ salaries are poor
The final nail in the coffin: poor salaries. A graduate dentist from a five year course earns A$130,000. The majority of secondary teachers have also completed a five year program, but the starting salary is A$65,486 reaching A$71,000 after 5-10 years.
No wonder people don’t want to be teachers
It’s not surprising, then, that numbers of applicants for teacher education programs have slumped. The programs are long and intense, the creativity and relationships aspect of the vocation has been eroded, there is pervasive negativity in the media, and comparatively poor salary and working conditions.
It’s hard to know where to start, but appealing to the vocational drive of those who love leading others to achieve by raising the profile of these additional attributes in teacher education programs might help. This would require a gentle review of the national program design and accreditation guidelines. Or perhaps we need to be better at reporting teacher success in the mass media.Read Less