Welcome back to the 2017 school year. I hope the year is a successful one for you, your students, your colleagues and your rural community.
Providing our rural young people with an outstanding education becomes even more important these days of ‘post truth’, ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’ and ‘incomplete information’. The need for people to be able to have respectful, mature and principled discussions is even greater. Education provides the fundamental skills to be able to have such discussions. These issues will provide challenges for the curriculum and for pedagogy over the coming years. Our students and we will have to learn to adapt to a constantly and rapidly changing society.
How do we manage this and support our rural and remote young people gain these skills to ensure that they are able to participate in the future world that we are face moving into?
Over the holidays I read some articles by Roger von Oech, a world leader in creative thinking and problem solving. One of his suggestions for encouraging creativity he proposed was to ‘Be dissatisfied!’.
Intrigued, I delved deeper into what he had to say. The confronting suggestion made more sense as I read on. A less controversial heading would have been ‘Be constantly on the look-out for ways to improve’.
The ‘Be Dissatisfied’ suggestion, however, was aimed at guarding against complacency and the attitude of “Everything is fine, so why change?” Over the years, the most successful organisations I have seen are those that capitalise on that period of relative calm and stability to look at ways of improving the organisation, not only to spot potential problems but also to identify opportunities and act before issues emerge.
As teachers and leaders within rural and remote communities, we should, therefore, consciously and regularly set aside sufficient time to focus on the often neglected top left hand quadrant shown below – the Very Important / Not Urgent (adapted from Stephen Covey). This is where the improvement opportunities reside. This is the area where you can identify pre-emptive actions to head off issues before they become major problems. Too often, the Urgent but Not Important issues consume a disproportionate amount of our time. The best time for reflection and planning is when things are going relatively smoothly.
He suggests that the worst time to be trying to make improvements or making fundamental changes is when you are under the pump or the wheels are falling off and you are facing significant challenges. The moral of the von Oech’s suggestion is that to remain successful, sometimes we have to ‘be dissatisfied’ with the things that are going well and that made us successful in the first place and look for ways of improving and enhancing them.
Sometimes, the responses to a certain set of circumstances remain in place long after those circumstances ceased to exist. It then becomes a matter of
“This is how we have always done it. Why change?”.
To free up time to do the thinking and planning we need to continue to respond to the current rather than historical circumstances, we need to be more discerning about how we respond to the Not Important / Extremely Urgent. Somebody else’s ‘urgent’ need not become our ‘urgent’ and, in doing so, appropriate that critical thinking and planning time. I acknowledge that this is something that is sometimes easier said the done.
As you will see in this edition, CEP has a busy and exciting year to look forward to. During the last term of 2016 and over the Christmas break we made some changes to the way in which we operate to enhance the services we offer to you – the rural and remote education communities. Programs we are providing such as Maggie Farrer’s ‘Enhancing Education Opportunities through Clustering & Partnering’, the Sir John Jones Forums and the Overseas Study Tours are ways in which CEP believe we can provide the time, the space and a vehicle for you to reflect on, plan and refine strategies to continue to improve the educational opportunities for students in our rural communities.
Your role as educators is critical, but we also know that we very rarely hear about the long term impact we have on our students. Albert Schweitzer summed it up well:
“No ray of sunlight is ever lost, but the green it awakes into existence needs time to grow; and it is not always granted to the harvester to see the harvest”.
That is often the reality for teachers.
Thank you for all you do to provide opportunities for our children and young people in rural communities and we look forward to supporting and working you during the coming year.
Can I leave you with another quote that I came across recently from Batelle for Kids in the USA:
“Windmills are icons communicating enduring rural values — ingenuity, thriftiness, self-reliance, and resilience. Today these values are more important than ever for rural communities,
Windmills have been replaced by wind farms full of turbines with blades up to 116 feet in length, generating more energy at lower cost.
Rural education communities must navigate a similar transformation – producing greater educational opportunity and economic prosperity in a time of fiscal challenges.”