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Author: Jason Kimberley
Date: 23 August, 2013

The Principal for a Day program is run by the Australia Council for Education Research (ACER) and is aimed at getting people in the wider community to understand the joys and challenges of running a school. This is my third year participating in this wonderful program.

The day started with a lucky all day parking spot outside Armadale Primary School, Armadale. Things got better with a cuppa (white with one) in the staff room with Principal Rochelle Cukier before heading off to assembly where I was invited to take charge. We started with a rousing version of Advance Australia Fair complete with a didgeridoo backing track.

After a brief welcome and thanks for having me I was able to give an overview of Cool Australia’s Enviroweek 2013 and how thrilled we are at Cool Australia to have Armadale Primary participating for the fourth year in a row. There were many achievement awards for the new principal (me) to hand out to those students who have been putting in a big effort at school recently. All were warmly applauded for their efforts.

After assembly Rochelle and I retired briefly to her office to have a chat. A student who has just escaped a nasty headlock interrupts us. He has very red ears and tears on his cheeks. Rochelle stoops down to listen to his story before referring him to the sick bay. 

The conversation begins with Rochelle’s thoughts and concerns about kids and the time spent on screens. Screens can be brilliant learning devices but become a real concern when they replace social interaction. From Rochelle’s experience, students can quickly begin to show a lack empathy or kindness and become egocentric with overexposure to screens if student use isn’t carefully monitored and controlled. Other potential issues are one-way communication, loss of ability to socially interact and the expectation of instant gratification. 

This instant gratification interests me greatly. It’s not what happens in real life. We have to work hard at things to make them happen. You almost never get noticed or rewarded straight away in real life but you almost always do on the screen. If you don’t like it you simply start again.

Kids need to explore with free play (that’s right parents – stay out of it). Who can turn a cardboard box into a racing car anymore? Problem solving? Design?

Some kids are constantly appeased by their parents. They see their kids as a 10 out of 10 when they are really about a 6 or 7 out of 10. Discipline is almost gone with parents expecting schools to fix everything. No one waits for anything any more with everyone seeming to want everything yesterday. This is where rituals are very useful. You don’t see Jewish kids negotiating to bring their Bar Mitzvah forward. Do you?

Time passes quickly. What do your kids remember? What do you want them to remember? The family time spent together. Spotting the next red car on a long drive? Kids miss the time they don’t have with parents. Kids want mum and dad.

Parents have an obligation to bring back the good old days – the olden days. What did you do mum and dad? Kids are missing out on their childhood. Yesterday’s problems were drugs and alcohol – now its online gambling. This is the next social challenge. Rewards for everything comes from online games.

It’s important to set filters. To impose screen time limits. Bed times for screen time – the screen can have a sleep you know. Here’s a spooky one – how about read a book? Let’s be clear – games are addictive! They have a place but they aren’t family members! You can’t be your kids friend all the time – set boundaries and don’t be afraid to be the tough guy.

Okay you may be thinking, “every time I ask my kid what they did today they say, ‘nothing’ so what’s the point?” The point is to keep pushing it and ask open-ended questions. What are the three fun things you did today at school? What was funny? Did anyone cry today?

Curious kids are what it’s all about. Encouraging your kids to question and work things out for themselves is paramount for critical thinking. Kids need to create opportunities for themselves. Discover their passion. Find a niche and fill it. Kids today will be doing jobs we can’t even imagine.

Wow, it’s a big job being a principal. Plenty to think about here as I dash off to my next chat with the year three and fours who are bursting with information about their Enviroweek projects. There is one group of ‘Waste Warriors’ who will bringing their lunch as ‘Nude Food’ (without wrappings) for the week. We discuss potential blockers to this activity. The students decide that ‘Nude Food’ will be a bigger challenge for some of their mums with a penchant for wrapping everything in foil, paper and plastic.

Another group are preparing to be ‘Water Lovers’ for Enviroweek and are investigating eight ways that they can all save water for the week and translate that savings into the whole year. That’s the beauty of Enviroweek – creating good habits for a week that will last a lifetime. As I write this more than 150,000 students have registered to participate in Enviroweek 2013.

Over lunch in the staff room we get onto my favorite subject – sustainability. It is very is well accepted at Armadale Primary. It’s clearly not the next big thing here. There are real and valid reasons the school is actively doing it. They have enjoyed steady progress over ten years. There has been a shift to online to save resources. This has been done step by step. It makes sense to do it this way. The department still insists on paper records for their purposes but the school magazine and school reports are now going online. Kids are starting to submit homework digitally.

It’s seen as a logical progression for all education. It’s learning, it’s action. The kids want to know what they can do now? There was a recent planting day at Glen Iris wetland that bought together Aramadle and community group Friends of Gardeners Creek that was a massive hit with the students and parents from Armadale Primary who participated. Kids will follow up with research into the best planting initiative to follow and the best way to execute the initiative.

After lunch I spend the afternoon speaking with the rest of the school about their Enviroweek challenges and how they will execute them. We got to talking to about home grown food. Some students were selling their produce from street stalls or market gardens. They tell me that making $40 never felt so satisfying to know that you had planned, grown, cared for and picked your own produce. The kids who reaped what they had sowed have gone onto become the school leaders. Maybe there is something in this for all of us?

My day at Armadale Primary was a real treat, a wonderful experience where I learned so much. The warm welcome from Rochelle and her dedicated team of teachers. The sing along greeting of, “Good-Morning-Jason” from all of the Armadale Primary students was so heartwarming. The level of engaged conversation with the students was just inspirational. To hear the positive attitudes and actions of all students is incredibly encouraging. To everyone at Armadale Primary thank you for having me.

Jason Kimberley

Cool Australia Founder and CEO

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