Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review - Walking Free by Munjed Al Muderis with Patrick Weaver

My wife decided that I would enjoy this book and bought it for my birthday. So, I've had it for a while. Recently I decided to read it and knocked it off in all of five days. Riveting book. Obviously the assistant writer introduced many colloquialisms as I seriously doubt that an Iraqi has the same sense of humour as we Aussies.

I learnt quite a bit about Iraqi culture, differences in religions, how good life in Iraq used to be, the horror of the Gulf War, the barbarity of Saddam Hussein, and gained a new found respect for refugees, especially boat people. Perhaps part of that respect is down to the fact that he's now a world-famous orthopaedic surgeon and not a blight on society though.

Life in a detention centre is not for the faint-hearted and I'd hate to think if I could put up with what he did for a new life in a country that was not so welcoming. Thought that some areas of his life and experiences were glossed over, particularly his second marriage, but it does make for a great read. I'll be recommending it to my son to open his eyes a little.

Walking Free by Munjed Al Muderis with Patrick Weaver

Monday, August 24, 2015

WACSSO Annual Conference

Last weekend they held the Western Australian Council of State School Organisations Inc. (WACSSO) annual conference. I participated as a nominated representative of our school, through the affiliated P&C, for part of the Sunday (rather ill on Saturday meant that I was unable to attend). Here's a bit of a run down of the goings on during my time there.

Sharyn O'Neill, Director General of the Department of Education opened her presentation with a statement that, with some relief, the year 7s have been made to feel welcome in high schools and that the change has been well implemented. She also said that there was inequality of sustainable/fair funding for schools and that the argument for more funds continued. Much debate regarding the formal implementation of the new curriculum had taken place. WA is the only state where 4 y.o. children attend kindergarten at school. More focus on writing is required - NAPLAN has revealed this. A total of 442 schools were now Independent Public Schools (IPS). And for three years in a row there was an increase in public school market share. Some of this was due to the economy and some was related to confidence in public schools. It marked a reversal of 20 years of declining market share. A new program whereby 3 y.o. children in an Aboriginal community received schooling also provided an opportunity for the Education Department to assist the parents.

She spoke about the influences on the education/learning of children. Parents have the most influence when it comes to their children's learning, followed by teachers, because of their involvement in input to the children's school and learning at home. An increase in the father's involvement has been shown statistically to lead to an increase with student scores, both in primary and high school. Parents need to set standards and make decisions. A teaching parent is one who discusses values, knowledge, skills, showing respect among other things. Sitting down and watching a TV program, even something as horrid as The Bachelor, could lead to a chat about racism, gender, homophobia, etc. Children would be better served obtain values and knowledge from their parents than what the media is foisting upon them. Parents need to influence the learning of their children.

Sharyn mentioned that the media pushes girls to look, dress and act older. Sexuality is promoted at a much younger age than previously. She had concerns about the generalisation of gender.

She spoke about technology that will keep advancing but we need to find ways to utilise it in schooling. Technology is also competing with the influence of parents and teachers.

Children need to learn to ask questions, not assume that everything in the media is true and be discerning.

A brief on some of the questions, with notice, asked;

What is the expected date for all schools to be transitioned to IPS? - No date, the choice belongs to schools to nominate and then there is a selection process. Not compulsory.

How is the curriculum catering for under-achievers and the push for OLNA achievement? - Schools should not wait until then and they need to identify struggling students and engage them at a much earlier time.

Are P&Cs largely fundraising bodies, what is their role beyond? - P&Cs are much broader, but unrecognised. They can be further involved with issues raised with the school board/council.

Why are principals given so much autonomy? - This is due to the Education Act, principals are held accountable for what happens at the school. Schools need to customise to requirements of students/region. The principals are not autonomous, otherwise they would need to be a private school.

Where should complains from teachers and parents regarding a principal be directed? - Tell them directly. Doesn't want to hear playground/car park chatter.

How will the Education Department deal with inner city housing density growth? - Consider space for out-of-boundary. Exercise rules and stop taking students from out-of-boundary (children already at the school will not be deprived of their place). Consider local intake areas. PEAC and GAT places could be moved. Transportables, new buildings, rebuilding and multi-storey schools were a possibility.

Will all schools be allocated school psyches for Schools of Special Needs Education (SSEND)? - No, the director general can't control the allocation of non-educational staff. It's done on a needs basis and resources are limited.

What is the accountability for under-performing school/principal? - There is a strong accountability for principals and there are consequences. Performance management a process to test under-performance. There is a correlation between performance and social circumstances. This needs to be tackled but it's important that schools are seen to be improving.

Transfer points have diminished since the introduction of IPS. What is being done? - The IPS relates to being chosen. Schools advertise and appoint teachers. The teachers need to want to be there and need to have the mix of skills that the school requires.

What about the need to attract and retain quality teachers to country schools? - Allowances up to $18k/year, permanence after two year, overseas recruiting if necessary. For remote communities there is an additional $26k/year, free relocation, an additional 10 weeks annual leave after three years of service and no issue with filling these positions. For the last four years there has been a 100% teacher placement, i.e. no shortage, at the commencement of the school year. Switch is a program that provides retraining for teachers to move into other secondary school areas.

Sharyn O'Neill, Director General, Department of Education
 Allan Blagaich, CEO of the School Curriculum & Standards Authority was next to speak. His organisation is the one authority to determine outcomes for all kids within the public, Catholic education and independent schools. He spoke of the push for a parent Website which will be able to demonstrate the standards of work from children in years K-10 which will result in grades A, B and C for all subject learning areas. He mentioned that a c-grade was a pass and that a d-grade was below the acceptable level therefore an e-grade, a leftover from the NSW education system, didn't make much sense. Remediation is also necessary.

Allan said that within a class of students of the same age it has been shown that there can be a range of six years in ability. This makes life for a teacher difficult.

Student record of student achievement was to commence. Grades must have the same meaning throughout the state and currently this is only attained for year 12.

Core subjects are available until year 10 then choices must be made. For children not studying under the curriculum they must have an individual education plan with which the parents, student and teachers will be involved in.

TAFE has been critical of students who are technically literate upon leaving school, by having attained a c-grade in English, but were not numerate. This was being addressed.

OLNA tests mean that those passing have a minimum attainment suitable for Cert II courses. And 10-15% of students can't attain this. There is a need to review foundation courses and early intervention is certainly required.
Allan Blagaich, CEO, School Curriculum and Standards Authority
Kylie Catto, WACSSO President, was mainly involved in ensuring that the conference proceeded well and did prize draws during my time there.
Kylie Catto, WACSSO President
John Worsfold, the keynote presenter, spoke about building a high performance team. and the leadership involved in them.

Passion and authenticity need to be shown as a leader in a high performing team. A vision focus, what and why you are trying to achieve, is necessary. You must also use mental models, values to drive for, in the form of beliefs and assumptions. Powerful leadership is critical. You have to be strong, focused, believe in the values, convey the message and be passionate about the goals. Communication is important as is a clear vision. Both vision and mental models need to be strongly aligned. Don't forget team values.

Leadership - vision focused, authentic, communication is a strength - message has to be clear and consistent. Needs to define what success would look and feel like.

Mental Models - made up of our beliefs, values and assumptions. They drive our performance and are resistant to change. The message is interpreted differently by people and needs to be defined. We can't see them clearly ourselves. There needs to be a rich, skillful, daily feedback to help us reflect on our mental models.

Teams - individuals with different mental models. Dialogue is crucial to gain rich knowledge we all bring to a team. Egos need to be left at the door.

Leadership with a vision focus - long term view necessary, focus on team culture and shared vision, set and live the standards, align every team member with the vision, mentally tough - aim high, be true in assessments of self and team, consider feedback but not necessarily act upon it, inspire team members to make things happen.

Team first - an athlete whose primary goal is not the success of the team will usually not improve the team's performance - Ric Charlesworth.

Vision and values - cornerstone to high performance, authenticity, communication, vision, need to vocalise team goal.

Accountability - like to know how we are going, creates opportunity for dialogue, KPIs are not a big stick, take person out of a job that they aren't capable of, no shortcuts.

The price of high performance - tension will exist, continually. Work at the cutting edge, everyone must hold each other accountable. Reactive tension focuses on how we feel and getting rid of bad feelings. Creative tension focuses on what we want to create, vision focus.

Team success - Strong visionary leadership, belief in the vision, clarity and authenticity.

Woosha's presentation was well received, particularly his highlight reel of big marks and bone-crunching shirtfronts.
John Worsfold, Keynote Presenter

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Europe Holiday 2015 - Day Seven

Slow start to the morning and I didn't leave the apartment until 9 am. Wandered around some streets until I came to Wenceslas Square and then headed to the main train station. Bought my ticket to Kutná Hora město. Had the cabin to myself for most of the journey.

Dodgy Russian Currency Exchange on Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square
National Museum

On the train
 The cabin was so hot without the window down and the brakes were incredibly noisy. Almost exhilarating when cruising along at high speed. Train conductors were most helpful as we had to change trains. Alighted at Kutná Hora-Sedlec for the Ossuary - church with the bones of some 40~70,000 people. Awesome and fascinating.

Inside the Ossuary

Inside the Ossuary

Inside the Ossuary
I made sure that I purchased a multiticket to take in the nearby Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and St Barbara Cathedral. Quite a saving on purchasing individual tickets and I wanted to fill my day there. At most you can spend 20~25 minutes in the ossuary as it isn't as large as you may expect. The church was quite large, especially considering that it was built in 1300.
Inside the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady

You can even walk around in the attic

One of the chapels
 Whilst waiting for the train to take me into the town, an older gentleman came along, greeted me in Czech, then sat down and made a phone call in English. After finishing he asked me if I spoke English. I informed him that it was one of my better languages.

We chatted. He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1943 and moved to England when the communists from Russia took over. His mum was English and worked at the British embassy. One day, whilst in the south of France, it came upon him that he had to return to Prague. He hitchhiked and got a ride that took him all the way to the border but he had to stay overnight in Germany due to it being too busy at the border. His arrival coincided with the 25th anniversary of his leaving and the hospitalisation of his father who had attempted suicide.

He walked me around town to go to St Barbara's Church, also known as the Cathedral of St Barbara. On the way he stopped off at his house to grab something before calling in to a cafe to go to the toilet. I waited long enough so just left. After all, I was a tourist on limited time for tourism. I had enjoyed our chat though.

St Barbara's Church is 30m H x 70m L x 40m W - large. Basically built on the wealth of a nearby silver mine. I wandered around town afterwards and sat down for garlic polevka (soup) followed by a small nougat zmrzlina (ice cream). Down to my last 18 Czech crowns.

St Barbara's Church on the left

One of the chapels

From the rear of the building, or is it the side?
 Decided to head back to Prague and returned to the train station. Caught the next train that came in but, unfortunately, it was going the wrong way. The friendly conductor told me which station to get off at so that I could catch a return train - didn't charge me for the ticket that I should have bought!
Not my train
 Spent about an hour waiting at Malešov which is not exactly the centre of the universe. Calculated that I would be about 1 hr 10 mins later than anticipated for my return. Supposedly 34C today so quite warm. Luckily for me I managed to get an SMS through to the missus and she was waiting for me at Costa Coffee.

Malešov Station
Went looking for a decent place to have dinner. Luckily the missus remembered Cafe-Pub Atmosphere along the river. And she's normally terrible with directions. The food was fabulous - two mains, a side, a salad and two large drinks for 602 Czech crowns (rounded up to 700 with a tip). Not keen on the smoking inside the establishment though.

Part of a sumptuous dinner

One last walk along Charles Bridge before buying a mole keyring which the missus bargained down to 150 crowns - it was 249 elsewhere. Late night packing and our host arrived back from holiday and dropped in for a chat. Bed after midnight.
Can't finish off an evening without photographing Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

Monday, August 10, 2015

Europe Holiday 2015 - Day Six

Early morning walk around Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square) as Miky wanted to photograph buildings without heaps of people blocking the view. Quite surprising to see the streets almost empty and quiet. Bought bread at Way Better Bread and groceries at Tesco before tea and coffee at Costa Coffee where we ate breakfast.

Not many clientele early in the morning

No wonder they wanted to protect Prague from the Nazis and surrendered quickly

Beautiful artwork

Deserted street
Home for a rest before heading out again at lunch time. Visited the Kafka Museum which was a bit weird. He was a weird, but gifted individual.
Charles Bridge is pretty crowded at lunch time

Outside the Kafka Museum
Across the road to Svetje pub/restaurant for lunch. Miky ordered an extra serving - a plate of cheese. Stinky cheese, it was. And not good tasting. I will remember that distaste for a long time. Couldn't even finish it.
Looking back at Charles Bridge
Crossed the river and found the Old Jewish Cemetery - the other day we were at the back of it. They only accepted cash and seeing as I wanted to preserve my Czech crowns I paid in Euro. They gave me a poor exchange rate. And they charged for photos.

Interesting display of religious objects and the cemetery itself was something else. It seemed disorganised and ad hoc. There was a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust with all the names of the Czechoslovak Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis. So many names on the walls (nearly 80,000).
Inside the Jewish Museum


Some of the names of the Jewish Czechoslovak Holocaust victims - Kafka stands out

Impressively done and poignant

The Jewish Cemetery in Josefov

The oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe

And probably the most haphazardly organised

No room to get in

Part of a series of pictures depicting a Jewish burial ceremony

Some of the items used in a Jewish burial ceremony
Later in the evening I attempted to change some money as cash was low. My exchange business that treated me so well before was closed. A couple of other money exchanges were open and offering no commission but rate of only 12.65 and 14.01 Czech crowns to the Aussie dollar when the real rate is 18. Rip-off merchants. Bought a quesadilla for dinner. Tried to call our host, whom we still hadn't met, but my mobile wouldn't connect. He did receive my text message though and responded.
Summer crowd

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Europe Holiday 2015 - Day Five

Up at 6 am for breakfast on the balcony before walking up to Pražský Hrad (Prague Castle). Saw a lady driving with her exhaust pipe dragging which fell of at the next set of traffic lights. Karluv Most (Charles Bridge) didn't have many tourists and none of the art sellers at 8 am. It's a little more attractive because of that.

Nice morning to take wedding photos. Only Asians were doing this.

Nice view of Pražský Hrad early in the day

Best time to see Karluv Most

Not busy in town just past the bridge either
Steep walk up to the castle and we arrive at 8:30 which was half an hour before any of the buildings were open to tourists. Bought tickets, first in the door actually, when they opened at nine o'clock. St Vitus Cathedral was closed for a service until 12 pm so we toured St George's Basilica. Delightful building. And we were first tourists to enter so it was not crowded and quiet.
Castle was undergoing some renovations

Inside St George's Basilica

Looking up at St Vitus Cathedral
Had a gander a the castle building and the story behind it. A few old relics but the great hall was fab. Unfortunately you're not allowed to take photos inside. Looked at the Golden Lane with some maintained houses, little shops, armour and weaponry on display along with a torture room. The Rosenberg Palace wasn't worth viewing.
Small shops on the Golden Lane

Some armoury on display in the Golden Mile
The lineup, 40 minutes before opening to the public, for St Vitus Cathedral was huge. Went looking for somewhere to eat and drink. Left the palace grounds and crossed the road to Garden Cafe - too hot, too expensive and staff too idle. Across the road was Starbucks that Miky had read about and she was really keen to try. Nice sandwiches, tasty coffee (so she said) and nearly full of Koreans taking the best spots. Oh, and numerous screaming babies too.

Had lunch outside the castle. Top view from atop Starbucks.
Back to the castle and I returned the audio guide before joining Miky for a look inside St Vitus Cathedral. Magnificent. Gorgeous stained glass windows and displays. Awesome. Holiday highlight.
Stained glass window inside St Vitus Cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Splendid pulpit

Extraordinary stained glass windows
Garden walk was pretty boring. Except for an American tourist getting told off by a well-armed guard for sitting on the grass.
Keep OFF the grass!
In the town below we bought a gelato to eat. Great chance to wash my face as it was a hot day. Quite a few paddle boats out on the river. Pasty Brits soaking up the sun?
Soaking up the sun on the Vltava River
After a short rest at the apartment we went to the Old Town and found the tourist info, finally. Did lots of shopping - dishes and clothes before having dinner. Nice walk around the streets in the evening. Concert for the 600th anniversary of Jan Hus in the Old Town Square but it was just finishing. Had a chocolate waffle was as tasty as Nutella on cardboard.
Evening view of Karluv Most and Pražský hrad