Shifting the practice of education from polite cooperation to purposeful collaboration

Cooperation or collaboration?

img_8242-11.jpgIn lists of the various ‘Cs’ of the 21st century ‘collaboration always seems to make an appearance. In this past week I worked with a group of educators, looking at agile learning spaces, thinking about how we need to work to ensure engaged learning for students in these spaces. The necessity of real teacher collaboration was the consistent theme across the groups.

Do you think educators, teachers and leaders, are collaborating or cooperating?

They were still unable to truly achieve the desired outcome because they confused pleasant, cooperative behaviour with collaboration.” (HBR April 2015)

The difference collaborating and cooperating

Hord (1986) undertook a study of research on organisational collaboration and presented the difference:

  • Cooperation – People working together, separately and autonomously. There may be mutual agreement around the task, but the work does not progress beyond that.
  • Collaboration – A relational system within group, where individuals share aspirations for the outcomes. It operates in a model of joint planning and joint implementation.

Collaboration facilitates pooling resources and dividing labour, it alleviates isolation, sustains motivation and creates energy. However, it also feels time-consuming to collaborate and there is significant personal investment necessary to sustain it.

Teacher collaboration and student learning

In many schools teachers make efforts to cooperate, but it is much less common to find teachers actually collaborating. In daily practice, teachers… often use the word ‘collaboration’, while what they do… is actually cooperation.
(Meirink et al, 2010 p.164)

The so-called ‘new pedagogies’ of the 21st century require a student-oriented approach, which means educators give up old routines and shift prevailing beliefs, as openness and transparency become essential elements of practice. Collaboration is critical to this. The effectiveness of collaboration can be observed in the way individuals interact within teams.

Collaboration and learning are closely related. Effective collaborative teams show a high level of interdependency and autonomy, and are characterised by group cohesion, the glue that holds the team together. Alignment around the vision is important for effective collaborative teams, where goals are shared and a strong team approach is evident.

Moving from Cooperation to Collaboration

Level 1: Show and tell – low level collegial activity, hearing about each other’s’ practice

Level 2: Let me help – Critically looking at another’s teaching practice

Level 3: Share and share alike – Openly exchanging materials and ideas

Level 4: We’re in this together – Collective responsibility for the work of teaching in the team

If teaching teams remain at the levels 1 and 2, they will stay ‘cooperative’. It takes deliberate effort and shared commitment to progress to true collaboration. (Adapted from Meirink et al)

How do you grow a culture of collaboration in your school?

  1. Don’t give up at the first (or second) attempt – collaborative relationships grow from successful previous experiences
  2. Make the outcomes clear – goals that are mutually held assist in growing collaboration
  3. Get some quick wins – achieving some short term goals as a team will encourage progress
  4. Challenge preconceptions about collaboration – our own personal experiences impact assumptions and decisions

(adapted from Hord 1986)



Ashkenas, R (2015), There’s a difference between cooperation and collaboration HBR (Blog), April 20, 2015

Meirink, Imants, Meijer & Verloop (2010) Teacher learning and collaboration in innovative teams, Cambridge Journal of Education, 40:2, 161-181

Hord (1986) A Synthesis of Research on Organisational Collaboration, Educational Leadership, Feb 1986

How open learning space can work for introverts, extroverts & ambiverts: D.A.R.E.

Let me give you a snapshot of myself.  

I like people, I enjoy conversation. I am quite comfortable in settings where I don’t necessarily know anyone. I don’t find it difficult to strike up a conversation with a new person. I’m fairly confident communicating with small and large groups. I actually enjoy a good meeting, with robust discussion and clear outcomes. On this basis, you could say that I’m an extrovert.

On the other hand, I’m not actually energised by being in crowds. I regularly seek time to be in my own head, working alone. I would rather have dinner with my family or a small group of friends, than work-the-room at a party.  I love reading and sharing thoughts and ideas through writing. On this basis, you could say I’m an introvert.

beyond1.jpgI’ve been reading about the impact of noise distraction on introverts and extroverts and couldn’t quite work out where I fit. Lately, it seems that being an introvert ‘is the new black’. So I decided to take a few online tests (based on ‘what?’, I don’t know), but these were the results of four tests:

  • Extrovert
  • More extrovert (than introvert, I think)
  • Mild Introvert
  • Ambivert

An ‘ambivert’ is a person who balances traits of both the extrovert and introvert in their personality. Like most things today, we can think about this personality trait spectrum. This article: 9 signs that you’re an ambivert explains further.


Being an extravert, introvert or ambivert, preferences the way we work and learn. Noise impacts our productivity, often dependent on the type of task we are doing and  our personality trait.

Noise sensitivity is a core personality factor (Oseland and Hodsman, 2015). The learning environment can be designed with this in mind, allowing for a quiet place for the introvert to work on a complex task, and the extrovert to be amidst the buzz of activity for simple task. Oseland and Hodsman propose a people-centred approach to acoustic solutions in the office environment – DARE:

  • Displace noise distractions by providing easy access to informal meeting areas, breakout and brainstorming rooms
  • Avoid generating noise distraction by locating noisy teams together and considering the personalities
  • Reduce noise distraction by controlling the density and using good acoustic design
  • Educate by introducing etiquette and agreed behavioural norms concerning phone use, music and managing disruptions

How would DARE work in the open and shared learning environment?

“Aren’t open learning environments better suited to extroverts?

“Don’t introverts just get frustrated by the noise?”

These are common questions. An open and shared learning environment doesn’t mean a great big barn with the sound bouncing around, creating an assault on eardrums. There needs to be an intention around designing collaborative spaces, but the execution of the idea must consider the details to make it work – noise, personalities and types of activities matter.  Here is DARE from the perspective of the open learning environment:

  • Displace: The design of the space provides zones for working in different ways, giving the learner agency, such as:
    • Quiet zones for individual work
    • Collaboration areas allowing for noise
    • An ‘in-between’ spaces where social connection can be maintained in the buzz.
  • Avoid: Consider the placement of collaboration areas and the proximity to quiet zones. This recognises the personalities of the students and the teachers, the task to be undertaken, and where they need or want to work.
  • Reduce: Wherever possible reduce the impact of the noise transference through good acoustic design, but also think about soft furnishings, flooring and the density of bodies inhabiting the space.  
  • Educate: Establish agreed norms of behaviour. The level of communication amongst teachers working in the spaces is critical. It is essential to each and model acceptable and respectful behaviours in shared environments.


Ref: Oseland, N. &  Hodsman, P (2015) Planning for Psychoacoustics: A Psychological Approach to Resolving Office Noise Distraction Prepared for: Saint-Gobain Ecophon

The impact of noise on learning in open & shared spaces: 4 questions to ask

Why do we have smoke alarms? We can see smoke, we can smell smoke. Why isn’t that enough? Hearing is the most reliable sense, because ‘our ears are always on’. We will wake up to the alarm, but not the smell and “it is the only sense that is reliable when we sleep”. (Oseland and Hodsman, p.24).

There is a difference between sound and noise. Sound can be measured and standards are set for speech intelligibility, sound transmission and reverberation time within a space. Noise is subjective, we attach meaning to it and memories and feelings can be evoked.  It all depends on how your brain interprets the sound that creates ‘noise perception’.



“It’s too noisy”

This is probably the most frequent comment I hear from teachers about the idea of working in open and shared learning spaces. The reality is, there is no one-size-fits-all regarding noise in the classroom. One person’s ‘noise’, is another’s ‘buzz’.

There are a two ways that the impact of noise can be mitigated:

  • Acoustic design
  • People-centred approach

The positive by-product of this is that teachers’ voice and hearing are protected by good acoustic standards (Robinson 2014). Another consideration is to ensure there is regular communication among the teachers in the shared spaced so that activities can be coordinated (Greenland & Shield 2011).

How do we relate to noise?

Individuals will react differently to the same acoustic conditions, often as a result of personality factors, circumstances and the types of activities being undertaking. Oseland and Hodsman suggest a people-centred approach to solving acoustic problems, in terms of managing space and guiding behaviour.  

What interrupts engagement, whether we are the the office, the classroom or working in cafe? Other conversations within hearing.

Many of us can’t help but engage in unconscious listening, which can become distracting and counterproductive. This has been referred to as the ‘cocktail party effect’. We become unable to differentiate messages from background noise. It is a considerable risk in the open and shared learning environment if this is not carefully managed.


Oseland and Hodsman found that that degree of distraction caused by background speech is dependent on “the nature and complexity of the task”. Low-level and repetitive tasks can be more effectively completed in a noisey environment (p.29).

What is the impact of noise on learning spaces?

In terms of noise, the success of working together in a shared, open learning environment is dependent on a number of elements, even if the teachers have designed the most engaging learning experiences, these four questions are crucial:

  • Have the acoustics been professionally engineered in the space?
  • Have the teachers in the space developed a common understanding of what is considered a productive noise level?
  • Are the noise conditions of the learning activities coordinated among the teachers so that when students are  engaged in complex tasks they can work without distraction?
  • How has the space been zoned to accommodate different levels of noise and tasks, with agreed behaviours (like a ‘quiet zone’)?


Greenland & Shield (2011) Survey of Acoustic Conditions – Semi-open plan classrooms in United Kingdom
Oseland, N. &  Hodsman, P (2015) Planning for Psychoacoustics: A Psychological Approach to Resolving Office Noise Distraction Prepared for: Saint-Gobain Ecophon
Robinson, Rose Munro (2014) New generation learning environments: creating good acoustic environments

Psychoacoustics of learning environments: A people-centred approach to noise

file_000-4As I write, it’s a rainy day. Our small apartment is on the top level of the building, located on a semi-busy road. Not a highway nor a freeway, more of a connection between suburbs. I’m quite used to the steady stream of traffic noise  and today, as it’s raining, so there is the added wet-road swoosh accompanying the sound of the cars and buses. I can work with this ambient sound. Some would probably call it noisy, and find it unproductive, but I am now used to this environment. My focus is occasionally broken by an inconsistent sound, a transient noise: a motorcycle, construction work or siren. My mind works out each of these almost subconsciously, they’re just a ‘blip’ to my work. It’s only the fairly unusual sounds that make we stop and think, “That’s a helicopter”.

Sound is an important consideration in the workplace and learning environment. This week I shared an article on LinkedIn that seemed to touch a nerve: How does noise affect productivity in the office? It had around 1700 views and more comments and likes that any other post I can recall recently. Noise is a sensitive and a personal subject.

From reading the white paper linked to this article (ref below), I began to understand the realm of noise vs sound, noise sensitivity, productivity and concentration. It is so much more than measuring decibels and meeting approved standards to achieve a productive working or learning environment. An individual’s response to noise is subjective, and the report explores how considering psychoacoustics can help designers to take into account the human elements – personalities, working styles and preferences – when designing the appropriate acoustic working environment. The report says that noise is the most significant cause of dissatisfaction in the workplace, leading to loss of productivity.

“The better we can understand the individual and take a human approach, from that perspective, the better environment we can create.”
Paige Hodsman, Saint-Gobain Ecophon. (

Obviously, as I was reading, my mind was making links to the innovative learning environment. The activity-based workplace is a helpful comparison to the innovative learning environment. Activity-based work enables choice – where to work, who to work with – depending on the nature of the task. This working environment is designed with a range of affordances, such as meeting rooms, focus rooms and quiet zones. Innovative learning environments, which some seem to consider to be large noisy open barns, can also be designed and zoned for the different kinds of work that engages the learner. Sound, and its unwanted sibling, noise, are pertinent considerations in the design of  learning environments.

“Let’s stop this madness of open plan classrooms right now, please.” said  Julian Treasure in his TED Talk  Why architects need to use their ears.

It doesn’t need to be an either/or argument. Either we have walls up and quiet classrooms, or we have no walls and sheer bedlam. Utilising the knowledge we have now, there can be a both/and solution for schools. We can have open, shared and collaborative spaces, and also allow for the noise sensitivity, the psychoacoustics need to be addressed in school.

I found this paper fascinating and will share more insight into psychoacoustics and potential considerations for schools.


Ref: Oseland, N. &  Hodsman, P (2015) Planning for Psychoacoustics: A Psychological Approach to Resolving Office Noise Distraction Prepared for: Saint-Gobain Ecophon


Growing a professional learning community in your school: ONE thing that you need first.

Effective and lasting change in schools, or any organisation for that matter, is a result of a strategic process, designed to meet the needs of the school, rather than ‘sending a couple of teachers off to a workshop’. When I first started at SCIL we decided to run workshops on a variety of educational topics, such as ‘Learning Matrix ’ or ‘Web 2.0 Tools for the Classroom’. These were often presented to a disparate group of educators sent along to learn some skills for their own classroom and tick a few accreditation boxes along the way. Something started to feel not quite right with this ‘lone ranger’ methodology.

We instinctively knew that for effective pedagogical change, we needed to encourage teams to come, to participate in a facilitated process. This was a catalyst for Design/Engage. We believed that effective professional learning, leading to change in mindset and practice, could really only happen through a learning community.

“The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is the developing ability of school personnel to function as a professional learning community.” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998)img_8242.jpg

Professional: expertise, knowledge and experience in a particular field

Learning: ongoing and fed by curiosity

Community : characterised by mutual cooperation, emotional support and personal growth, working together toward shared goal

For effective professional learning in community, there is one key characteristic that needs to be in place,

“It is evident that among faculty members looking to improve their schools as professional learning communities, a commitment to trust is frequently regarded as an important pre-condition.” (Cranston, 2011,p. 61).  

What type of trust?

Bryk and Schneider (2002) described trust as the basis for developing social capital, and identify three types:

Organic Trust is based on the moral character and designated authority of leadership and is given unconditionally. This kind of trust has often been seen in faith-based environments, clergy and lay-leaders, had almost unquestioned trust. Yet, this basis has been somewhat eroded today, as we frequently see tragic cases of abuse of such trust. 

Contractual Trust is transactional. Basic actions and outcomes are agreed upon, in accordance with stated terms. In this era of high-stakes testing and parent expectations and government agendas, it is a fear that education could be translated to these terms.

Relational Trust, John Dewey observed that a good school is more like a [functional]  family than a factory (Bryk and Schneider, 2002). Relational trust forms the basis of the ‘family’ interactions. Despite personality differences and clashes, there is a bedrock of connection that enables relationships to be maintained. 

Relational trust is the foundation of the effective professional learning community, and essential for effective and lasting change.

On a personal note, I firmly believe that in the 21stC faith-based schools and communities need to be built on the notion of ‘relational trust’. One that is evident in a leader’s ongoing trustworthiness, rather than on the basis of moral authority alone.


Bryk & Schneider (2002) Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement
Ch2: Relational Trust
DuFour & Eaker (1998) Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement: Best practice for enhancing student achievement

School Education: A both/and solution? Standards & accountability AND joy & creativity

I’m a big picture, solutions-focused kind of person. I love solving problems and making things better. As a result, my biggest stressor is when I can’t see a way through. I’ve just listened to a podcast: Why school teacher Gabbie Stroud loved and left her career. Then I read her piece in the Griffith Review, Fixing the system. And then I wanted to sit down and have a good cry.

My husband and I listened to the 50 minute podcast on a 40 minute journey home from visiting my father on a Sunday afternoon, at one point I said, “take the long way, we need to hear this to the end.” Gabbie painted a picture of a loving teacher, investing deeply into her students, but she finally left the profession due to the pressures of testing, data-gathering and standards. She writes,

How did I get here?

I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution. Each decision made keeps us stuck in an archaic learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic potential.

Fundamental to this model is the idea of standardising.

Standards, standardising and standardisation.

Making every kid the same.

Making every teacher the same.

If I was successful in my job, that’s what would happen.

Based on that, I don’t want the job any more. (Griffith Review 51)

As Gabbie spoke of the excitement of pre-service teachers desperate to start with their own class, I remembered the feeling. As she talked of small children competing for your attention and hanging off every word, I also recalled the joy of investing into these young lives.

But I left the coal-face before standardised testing became the behemoth, along with its associated pressures. So when I read that “the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 53 per cent of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education” (Here), I despaired. When the NSW Education linked student progression to the HSC (final Year 12 exams) to their achievement in the Year 9 NAPLAN (national standarised tests) I despaired again. (Here)

I understand accountability. I understand benchmarking. I understand that governments have fiscal responsibilities to ensure that funds are spent in such a way that our nation will progress and measurement mechanisms are the pragmatic response to this.

But is this at the cost of sucking the joy out of teaching and learning? Great teachers teach, not ‘facilitate’ – they know their students, they have knowledge, they can adapt their pedagogy to bring out the gold, and they enjoy what they do. On Australian 60 Minutes last weekend disruptive principal, Peter Hutton, from Templestowe HS in Melbourne was asked by the reporter about the kinds of students they produce at his school, Peter replied, “We’re not a factory, we don’t ‘produce’ students.”

I would love to find a both/and solution. Pendulum swings and bandwagons have dominated the sector for too long. Standards, effective teaching measures and achieving outcomes matter, but not at the cost of relationships, creativity and joy. Will the current students have the memory of that amazing teacher that sparked something, who instilled the lifelong joy of learning?

Hope so.





It’s time to rethink pre-service and early career teachers… We want them to stay!

In the second week of the new school year in Australia the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank, released the report Engaging Students – Creating classrooms that improve learning. It is important to consider the holistic environment that promotes learning and engagement in students. Student behaviour and the choices that they make are critical to the overall success of the students’ experiences at school.

“Any parent knows that the best intentions can disappear under pressure – yet we expect teachers to get it right every day” (p.8)

This report seeks to affirm teachers in their role, recognising the difficulties faced in the classroom and makes recommendations at the school level and government/system level.

Much of my reading and thinking is around the physical environment and engaging learning for students, but the management of behaviour is a dynamic that can’t be ignored. It is another one of those under-the-surface-of-the-iceberg elements. Innovative learning environments, passionate teachers and creative content is insufficient unless the cultural and social norms of the learning community are known and shared.

The Grattan Institute report outlines some startling statistics about the impact of disengagement on learning. The disengaged students at the heart of the report are not those displaying overtly aggressive behaviour, but are disruptive and passively disengaged. It states that unproductive students are, on average, two years behind peers in literacy and numeracy, while passively disengaged students do just as poorly as disruptive students.

Attitudes and mindsets of teachers are addressed, stating that stressed teachers can get caught in a damaging cycle when student behaviour escalates. Many of us recall teachers decades ago who would yell, humiliate students, they would use sarcasm and even punish the entire class. This type of teacher behaviour benefits no one. I do hope that teachers like this are no longer in the profession.

The experience of the pre-service teacher that is really under the microscope here. In an era when too many young teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, they identify the ‘number one’ professional development need is managing student behaviour. It seems we are failing them in their initial teacher education and then the quality of induction and mentoring once they commence in the profession.

 While managing student behaviour as a new teacher is one of the greatest stressors, it appears that the time spent on this during initial teacher education is minimal. Quality in-school practicums are essential, learning from exemplar teachers on how they establish routines and parameters in their classes.

What if we took this one step further, that exemplar schools became places for initial teacher education, as it occurs in the UK. Schools could work in partnership with universities, providing a more effective progression from theory to practice. With each innovation and technological shift in the 21st century, the world of students change. Schools are better placed as the incubators for young teachers, providing real-time understanding of the emerging generation at school. Then, once they commence as a fully-fledged teacher, ensure a mentor/support program is in place. 

No ‘sink or swim’ attitudes welcome here.


First things first: Principal as change agent

Before we even begin to think about teacher being a change agent, we first need to ensure the conditions are in place for the principal be an effective agent of change in the school. 

What do teachers think about the change styles of principals? You may be surprised by what they think. The article “The Relationships Between School Principals’ Perceived Change Facilitator Styles and Teachers’ Attitude to Change” (Bagibel, 2014) researched teachers’ attitudes to change and principals’ change facilitator styles. The researchers concluded that the principals’ styles are determine teachers’ attitudes to change to a significant degree. This post graphically represents the findings from the research paper.


Ref: Bagibel, M. et al 2014, The Relationships Between School Principals’ Perceived Change Facilitator Styles and Teachers’ Attitude to Change”, ISEA Vol 42, No. 3

A Leadership Strategy: Ask not what your people can do for you (rather, the other way around)

My part in the research project ILETC is looking at the role of the teacher, adapting and changing mind frames and practices to take the opportunities that the innovative learning environment affords. This cannot happen in a vacuum, it is effective and lasting when change is the result of leadership, clear vision and the collective pursuit toward a shared future.

just-add-techI noticed this picture on twitter recently. We just can’t add technology, or add new furniture and hope for the best. If we believe in enduring change for the good of society, then the iceberg metaphor applies. It’s all the hard work that happens beneath the surface that makes change go the distance. We are in an era of unprecedented change in education, one in which disruption is necessary in education, for a generation unlike those who have gone before. In their report for A Rich Seam, Fullan and Langworthy (2014) outline ‘new pedagogies’:

The ‘new pedagogies’ are not just instructional strategies.They are powerful models of teaching and learning, enabled and accelerated by increasingly pervasive digital tools and resources, taking hold within learning environments that measure and support deep learning at all levels of the education system.”

They explain that a new process of change is required, called “inherent change”, an almost organic process, “built around humankind’s need to… be doing something intrinsically good and… to do it socially”.

This ‘new change leadership’, necessary for these new pedagogies to take hold is not considered to be either top-down or bottom-up, it needs to be,“both and, it is also sideways. Ideas and energy flow vertically and laterally…. The role of leaders is to simultaneously help the organisation ‘let go’ and ‘rein in’”.

The Essential Leadership Model, outlined by by Knuth & Banks (2006) is based on Maslow’s Hierachy. It considers what the teachers need from the leader and outlines “a set of knowledge, skills and dispositions required for meeting those needs”. During the leader’s ascension, toward the apex there are key checkpoints, questions that leaders need to ask themselves for the vision realised. This is my simplified version of Knuth & Banks strategy:

First Level: Your actions match your words
Leaders model core values and principles. You are able to inspire trust and articulate vision. Principle-centred leaders inspire trust by displaying consistency between core values, words and actions.

Leader Checkpoint 3: Is your internal compass in or out of alignment?
If your words and actions don’t match there’s no need to go any further.

Second Level: My physical and material needs matter to you
The work environment is clean and attractive. Sound, air-quality and safety needs are considered. Teachers have the resources they need to do their job well.

Third level: I am appreciated for my contribution
Leaders actively foster a sense of belonging. Encouragement and recognition is personalised. They put a human face on policies and systems.

Checkpoint 2: Is it your priority to ensure the basic needs of your people are met?
Without valuing people, clear systems, policies and training for staff, a leader’s energy is consumed by chaos or disorganisation and probably interpersonal conflict.

Fourth level: We’re on a journey together
As a community we own the vision, good systems are in place and we are able to direct our collective energies to our core mission.

Checkpoint 1: Do you feel like settling?
It’s all humming along nicely now, let’s just enjoy this. The fourth level is considered the ‘false apex’.

The Apex: Higher order change
This is rarely linear, rational or comfortable. It is disruptive, chaotic and tested by ambiguity. Leaders here demonstrate adaptive leadership skills. This is where the disruption happens. Remember: it isn’t actually an end point.




Fullan & Langworthy (2014) – A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning
(Ch 6 The New change leadership)
Knuth & Banks (2006) The Essential Leadership Model,  NASSP Bulletin, 1 March 2006, 4-18

Culture & values must relate to everything, even school uniforms. Especially for girls

As students in Australia get ready to head back (or even start) school, many are making sure that they have the right gear, in this part of the work this usually includes the school uniform. In an era that we espouse so-called ‘21st century’ education, characterised by ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’, the school uniform seems somewhat anachronistic, at least on face-value. There are many deep and broad elements to this discussion, but in this piece, I’m considering it from a perspective based on my experience and observation.

The article in the Sydney Morning Herald (9 Jan) Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform quoting gender research that dresses and skirts:

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-51-23-pm“restrict movement in real ways; wearers must negotiate how they sit, how they play, and how quickly they move. Skirt-wearing, consciously and unconsciously, imposes considerations of modesty and immodesty, in ways that trousers do not”.


It also goes on to talk about the negative impact of this on girls in being actively engaged in sport.

“A study conducted in one Australian primary school in 2012 found that girls did significantly less exercise over a two-week period when wearing a school dress than they did when wearing shorts.”

I don’t think that abandoning uniforms in Australia is on the horizon, some would even say that it is un-Australian to consider it, nor is cancelling dresses (or tunics, as they are called in Australia) and skirts from the list. It’s about ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’. School uniforms are seen as important social-levellers and provide affordable options for families to dress their kids for school each day. This isn’t that ‘either/or kind’ of argument, but I will go into that a little later.

As schoolgirl both in primary and high school I was fairly ‘anti-dress’. In my younger years I loved Velvet, the 1960s outdoorsy-kinda-gal in the horsey TV show, National Velvet. In one episode I remember well, Velvet ran home from church and immediately changed out of her dress and into her riding gear. Velvet’s mother despaired that she spent more time in trousers than dresses. This was my story. Whenever I could, I would wear shorts and trousers, however my mother  was intent on me being more of a ‘lady’! (There were tears over this.)

Of course, there are many schools that provide options for girls, trousers and shorts in their uniform. As students get older and desire to follow fashion trends, often the options of the school-style trouser just doesn’t appeal, so the girls just go back to the tunic/skirt and blouse. In addition, some girls will wear a jumper/sweater in summer as the  button-up blouses make them feel uncomfortable. When schools only provide options that seem more 20th century in their thinking, then ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’ are compromised.

So if a school uniform remains  the Australian Way: How might we…

  • Start thinking differently about the school uniform
  • Create a poliform, providing number of choices
  • Be a bit more on-trend with what we offer to students
  • Have school uniform guidelines that are more agile and flexible
  • Help parents to see that the school uniform rigidly applied does not ‘maketh the man’ nor the woman

I’m sure there are many more ‘what ifs’ in this conversation,  if we put our minds to it. This isn’t a ‘uniforms or no uniforms’ argument, but trying to find some common ground. All I know was that as a school-aged person, I was much freer and able to be myself when I could choose what I wore. As an adult, I’ve worked in an environment of a uniform, and I didn’t like it. Not everybody is like me, there are some who love the idea of not thinking about what they wear. If we truly desire an education system where we are enabling a personal approach to school and life, then our decisions need to match our values and desired culture at every point.

file_000-3I have come to realise, over the years, that wearing a dress is much cooler in summer, but there are some summer days when I will still wear pants or jeans as well. As an adult, I have ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’.

Now, don’t get me started on ties!


(not expressing the views of my employer)