Teachers’ Strike: Premature Exhortation?

September 6, 2018

Lyall Lukey, Convener of the recent Education Leaders Forum “Valuing Educators-Revaluing Education” argues that precipitate strike action is counterproductive to lifting the status and salaries of present teachers and recruiting the next generation. This article was first published in Education Central and Education Review on 4/9/18.
https://educationcentral.co.nz/teachers-strike-premature-exhortation/

Even in pursuit of goals that many support, and in a favourable political environment, albeit with fiscal constraints, it is still easy to deliver a lesson on how to lose friends and not influence people, as primary teachers may be discovering.

Industrial Action?

Around 400,000 students and their families were affected nationwide by the one day primary teachers strike on 15 August, as were many employers.

“Industrial action”? In the learning coalmines and the dark satanic mills of pedagogy?  In the post-industrial 21st Century?   By tertiary educated people perfectly able to articulate a compelling case via old and new media and work through multiple political and community channels in ways that don’t inconvenience their natural allies and alienate others?

Rather than thinking outside the soapbox, the NZEI, the primary teachers’ union, appears to have simply dusted off anachronistic teacher salary campaigns and pushed go.  The front page headline in The Press on 16 August was “Industrial action could escalate, teachers warn”.  It was alongside a recycling story.

On 29 August, far from the front page, NZEI president Lynda Stuart was quoted  as saying that primary school teachers were disappointed not to have a new pay offer two weeks after striking.  From inside a rapidly shrinking non-painted corner Stuart said they had expected a new offer by now. After all, the nurses’ negotiations earlier this year produced a new pay offer roughly every two to three weeks.

Two further days of talks were planned.


Not The Art of the Deal

Not playing a trump card, Stuart said the union would not consider opening a vote on further strikes until it had a new offer from the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry had confirmed the day before that it hadn’t changed its offer of pay rises over three years ranging from 6.1 per cent to 14.7 per cent, making the entry salary $55,030 for university educated teachers and bringing the maximum classroom salary to $80,600.

NZEI is going for a 16 per cent pay rise over two years, among other claims to improve staffing and workloads it says have contributed to a national teacher shortage.

While the median wage has outpaced teachers’ salaries over time, as the NZEI has demonstrated, the Ministry of Education points out that the latter has outpaced the Labour Cost Index (LCI) which it prefers to use for comparisons.

Perhaps there needs to be a new measure, linked to an agreed percentage of an MP’s salary?

All Black role models?

Meanwhile primary teachers nationwide donned black to express “frustration” about the lack of a new offer after a whole fortnight had elapsed. For their learners this may not be the best example of exercising patience and self-control on the grounds that good things take time, especially with a newish government still shaking down.

Hopefully there are not also too many all-white exemplars like the mob of bullying sheep in  Oat the Goat, the interactive bi-lingual anti-bullying tool which is proving a big hit in schools.

Goodbye Mr Chips

Placards were mainly well punctuated but hardly emphatic: “A school is not a McDonald’s. Stop upsizing our classes and workload.” “The 80s called they want their pay back.” “We are not walking out on our kids. We are walking for them.”

At least they didn’t trot out the old corporal punishment canard, “This is going to hurt me more than you”, though it may be true.

At one placard stop a passionate parent spoke in the third person about the great work of teachers, comments most of us would support in most cases.  The accolade rang a little hollow when it turned out that she, herself, was also a teacher.

Addressing the converted rather than the big issues is great therapy but not very effective. Rather than  ritual triennial salary war dances why not a more effective on-going strategy to develop cross-party consensus by engaging the wider public in an informed conversation about enhancing the vital status of teaching?

If there have to be painted up public appearances how about doing them on a Saturday morning? Not the best time to get TV traction, with or without a tractor mounting the stairs of Parliament, but a great time to interact with the community in a positive way while using social media to disseminate video and other messages.

 Strike Me!

Speaking pre-strike the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins said that the Government’s current offer was already double, on average, what the primary school sector received by way of increases under the National Government.

The Minister said he’d prefer the strike was cancelled in favour of further bargaining and discussion on the issues. He would, of course, after a pretty good opening offer. But he had a point about premature direct action. Well before negotiations even started in the current primary teachers round there were rumblings of trouble at rumour mill.

Timeline

A fortnight before the surprise announcement on 19 October 2017 of the formation of the new Coaltion Government by Winston Peters,  teacher unions were  warning of likely strikes to seek pay rises costing “hundreds of millions of dollars”, including an extra allowance for teaching in areas of expensive housing such as Auckland.

Targets were obviously being prepared pre-election for the next pay round with a National-led government likely to be in the crosshairs. The winner turned out to be a hybrid horse of different colours.

A Labour-led Government is usually a time for advances in education, if it is in power long enough. There could be unintended political repercussions for Labour (think 1960 and 1975) in teachers going for a bigger initial hit than is wise in the circumstances and helping to scare some other horses, rather than going for significant progress now but playing a longer-term game.

With the Government facing the most aggressive push for public sector rate wage hikes in recent times and private sector employers sitting watching nervously on the sidelines, teachers took a big risk sending themselves off early.

Losing the War?

There are undoubtedly endemic quantity and quality issues in teacher and support staff supply, even if the Ministry has played them down in the current negotiations.

South Auckland Middle School principal Alwyn Poole argues the case on Stuff that “striking teachers have already lost the war, even if they win a small pay battle”.

“The current collective agreement round for teachers takes us back to the 1970s, and teachers and their unions (with the approval of their members) are screwing this up very, very badly. They have already lost even if they ‘win’…How on earth does all this moaning and complaining inspire the next generation into this amazing career? It doesn’t. The unions are making it embarrassing to want to be a teacher.”

He argues that it is well past time for another bargaining agent under the Employment Contracts Act – “something like a Professional Association of Academic Teachers (PAAT) – that has a high bar in terms of qualifications and stated ethics. This will elevate the profession and give the better teachers an opportunity to seek their best pay and conditions, as is possible in all other professions”.

Members of a Profession?

“… the committee considers that teaching is a profession and that teachers are, and should be encouraged to regard themselves as, members of a profession.”
1978 Marshall Report

For many teaching is a vocation. But to what extent do teachers-and more importantly others-see teaching as a profession?

Auckland Point School principal Sonya Hockley said on strike day that the most important issue faced by teachers was “raising the profile of the profession so that it was viewed as a valuable career option for graduates.”  But as Alwyn Poole said, having other colleagues throughout the country trashing the job doesn’t help.

What might help lift professional self-esteem and recruitment is an emphasis on the real value of teaching and the mix of tangible and intangible rewards. While underlining the attributes and skills necessary for teachers to succeed it is fair to touch on some of the benefits of the challenging job. These include reasonable job security for most established teachers and family friendly “at school” hours and weeks.

This doesn’t mean glossing over the amount of homework necessary to prepare an ongoing diet of food for thought for hungry young minds, nor playing down the undoubted challenges of the classroom, ancient or modern.

For balance, what about a bit of emphasis on the satisfaction of seeing young eyes and minds open and brains develop?  Think of Ernest Rutherford’s headmaster at Fox Hill School, who first sparked Rutherford’s  interest in science, watching his protegee’s later progress at Canterbury College and Cambridge University.

The intangibles have to be complemented by appropriate salary levels, adequate support staff and opportunities for professional development in a positive learning environment. But salary is not necessarily a big factor at point of entry, though it may be in terms of retention. NZEI ranked salaries fourth on its 2017 10 point plan to solve Auckland’s teacher shortage.

Many ex-teachers in all walks of life demonstrate that teaching is an excellent springboard for other things because of the skills and experience gained.

Organisational Survival

Reg Revans in “The Learning Organisarion” says: “For an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be equal to, or greater than, the rate of change in its external environment.” 

Collective pay negotiations are the raison d’etre of the NZEI and PPTA and their permanent employees.  The NZEI got off on the wrong foot in the current negotiating dance.  Shooting itself again in the same appendage won’t help its survival prospects.

Perhaps it is time for the NZEI to do some self-reflection and reinvention to enable it to play an enhanced leadership role by building cross-party consensus about the value of education.

Spreading change by positive diffusion, like two gases meeting and mingling, takes time. But being the opposite of confrontation  it works effectively at the molecular level.

Valuing Educators

In their role as knowledge navigators, teachers are more important than ever in showing learners how to navigate the ocean of information while avoiding the icebergs of misinformation.

Research shows that countries with a greater proportion of the population tertiary educated generally have higher levels of innovation and productivity. Opportunities to learn and to apply that learning result in both public and private good. Education provision in New Zealand is already undergoing some rebalancing to reflect that duality.

The foundations for lifelong learning and adaptability need to be laid down early.

Revaluing Education

From 1990 Finland brought about a revaluation of the Finnish public’s estimation of the teaching profession through tougher entry standards and a cross-sector consensus of the key role of education and training in a fast evolving society.

This forward-looking approach to adapting to the rapidly changing world and learning to innovate was demonstrated pre-iPhone by the way Nokia shifted its focus from pulp and paper to cellphone technology.

In this country there are calls to lift the entry bar for teacher recruitment: “Given the future capability teachers require…there is a strong case for lifting entry requirements for academic capability generally, literacy and numeracy, and content knowledge that supports teachers’ ability to work with the relevant curriculum…..having high entry standards may help to reposition teaching more generally as a high status profession and one that it is a privilege to enter.”

Given the increasing importance of education for the future of this country and all its citizens, it would be a pity if the current negotiating imbroglio deflected the focus away from much needed attitude, value and system changes.

Lyall Lukey Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.

Source: Education Review

 


Job Currency: By Degrees? Without Qualifications? With Micro-credentials?

September 3, 2018

Speaking at the recent 12th annual Education Leaders Forum in Rotorua, Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic generated  interest  with his presentation “Micro-credentials: an old dog with some new tricks!”  ELF Convener Lyall Lukey explains why. This article was first published on Educational Central on 29 August 2018.

See you later?

By itself a degree or a diploma is no guarantee of appropriate workplace performance. Some may argue that the Texas student who recently posed for graduation snaps  in the water, with an alligator  another snap away, should have her degree replaced forthwith with a Darwin Award.

“Tertiary qualifications not required”

Last year more than 100 New Zealand organisations signed an open letter saying that tertiary qualifications are not required for a range of skilled roles in their workplaces. Instead, they were themselves willing to assess the skills, attitudes, motivation and adaptability of candidates in order to cope with a shortage of skilled workers in a rapidly changing employment  environment.

Likewise reports The Wall Street Journal U.S. employers are dropping both work history and degree requirements in order to attract a larger pool of job candidates. This seemed to work for  one newish  high office incumbent .

Micro-credentials: Some new tricks!

At the points of entry and promotion, fast filters developed by independent experts are obviously useful for both employers and job  seekers.

Enter micro-credentials- specific mini-qualifications which recognise smaller, more discrete sets of skills and knowledge than a degree or diploma.

At ELF18 Phil Ker said that micro-credentials are enjoying an international resurgence, both in response to time and money costly traditional qualifications and to meet employer demand for training that meets specific work needs at a time of rapid technological and social change.

The “old dog” turns out to be a very lively greyhound, especially when compared to existing Clydesdale qualifications. It can take 10 years to complete a part-time degree and two years plus to do a part-time certificate.

Traditional qualifications are also slow and costly to develop and cannot respond quickly to new skills needed by industry. Micro-credentials can be custom-made in short development time-frames.

Showing you’ve got what it takes

“Edubits validate sets of skills and knowledge developed through experience or through new learning. They are flexible, online, anywhere, anytime and cost effective.” Phil Ker, CE Otago Polytechnic

There is a growing demand for just-in-time learning to meet these changing skill needs. Micro-credentials enable people to show what they know and can do through digital certification, validating new learning as well as skills and knowledge already acquired.

Otago Polytechnic’s micro-credential service EduBits  works closely with the business sector and helps  employers frustrated with deciphering omnibus qualifications focus on their particular requirements.  It also makes visible employees, present and potential, who have got key skills or knowledge not indicated by conventional qualifications.

The key components of the service, on-line and/or face-to-face, are the assessment of required competencies and either the identification of prior experiential learning or the delivery of developmental training.

Present EDUbits include Health & Safety, Team Management, Microsoft Skills, Project Management.

EduBits can quickly be tailor-made to satisfy organisation-specific requirements. Dr Lance O’Sullivan is using EduBits to validate the skills of the digital health assessors involved in iMOKO, the innovative digital health service for children  which has just gone national with the support of the Wright Family Foundation.

Once awarded, an EduBit digital badge can be added to online profiles like LinkedIn, personal websites, email signatures and CVs. The badge encapsulates the assessment metadata attesting to particular workplace knowledge and skills that are not necessarily linked to academic qualifications, though some EduBits can be NZQA endorsed.

Potted History: Mismatch and Mishmash

Changes in workplace practices are forever outrunning the attempts of education and training providers to keep up. Innovation and disruption creates an on-going mismatch between the mishmash of qualifications and those who use them as employment currency.

During the First Industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries a modicum of education was encouraged by some new industrialists for factory workers, presumably so the latter could read the on/off buttons on new machinery, thus avoiding being jammed in it and slowing production.

The Second Industrial Revolution in the final third of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th brought with it a new level of technological change, standardisation and the Henry Ford assembly line still beloved by some education policy makers.

By performing simple repetitive tasks manufacturing workers became extensions of their machines. They were encouraged to leave their brains at the factory gates.

World Wars I and II encouraged close ties between manufacturing and warfare. The nature of management itself underwent a military metamorphosis, becoming more hierarchical and incorporating terms like the span of control.

Post-World War II American W.Edward Deming , for a long time a prophet without honour his own country, was instrumental in the postwar Japanese economic miracle by encouraging higher standards of statistical education and practice on the factory frontline. This was based on the joy of learning and its application. It embedded quality into the whole manufacturing process rather than it being a postscript at the end of the assembly line.

Today’s Agile World

Today, in a more Agile world, hierarchies have flattened further. As the outcome of organizational intelligence the agile enterprise  uses key principles of complex adaptive systems to rapidly respond to change in a business environment and meet customer’s needs by taking advantage of available brainpower to continuously innovate or disrupt without compromising quality.

But many academic and trade qualifications remain analogue in a digital world.

A less testing school environment

“With the removal of National Standards and the flexibilities of NCEA and growing focus on internal assessments our teachers are going beyond the test and exploring new and interesting ways to capture and evidence learning…”    Claire Amos

As the emphasis shifts at the primary and secondary levels from the summative to the formative,  hopefully reducing assessment form-filling by teachers,  there  will be more opportunities for informal real-time feedback to encourage learners.

This means that what happens now in the tertiary qualifications space is especially relevant.

 

Stronger links with employers

Employers, among others, must be listened to and encouraged to accept the credibility and utility of new ways of providing evidence of learning and doing. The strength of the currency of evolving qualifications needs to be lifted and maintained to avoid triggering Gresham’s Law.

As Phil Ker points out, as the supply of micro-credentials grows a significant challenge will be the extent to which the market is regulated and the credentials are quality assured, as is the case with traditional qualifications.

In a recent Education Central article on micro-credentials and life-long learning  Roger Smyth marks the development of a framework for the creation of micro-credentials, announced by the Minister of Education on 1 August, as a first step in this respect.

No doubt hybrids will eventually emerge, with some micro-credentials becoming later components of diplomas or degrees, while having already served their purpose incrementally.

Lyall Lukey  Convener of annual Education Leaders Forums since 2007.