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Friday, February 28, 2014

Whose Responsibility is it?



Children's day in NZ is tomorrow.   

It's got me wondering.  What do children need, and whose responsible for what they need?  

Sounds simple doesn't it. 

On the face of it, the majority of people will say parents are responsible for everything.  

Perhaps.  

I started reflecting on the 'perhaps', and some of the variables around why it is not as clear cut as we would be led to believe, and that has left me wondering.  

To define what children need is an infinite list that we could continually add to, depending on our contexts, our philosophies and our understanding of the world.  It is inexhaustible.  For the purposes of this post I will focus on just a few of what I consider the 'basics'.  

The Intangibles: 

Firstly, love, support, boundaries and someone to care and protect them.  

Whose responsibility?  The Family.

The Home Basics: 

Healthy food, sleep, decent housing and clean clothing that fits. 

Whose responsibility?  The Family.  

The Wider Basics:

Access to health care and a good education. 

Whose responsibility?  The Family and the State.  


As stated earlier, seems simple right?  
Ahh, not so fast dear reader.  
Here are my wonderings. 



http://www.childpoverty.co.nz 

The Intangibles:

What if kids don't get this?  What if something happens, and a child does not  recieve love, protection, care, or boundaries?  What are the consequences for society? What happens to that innocent and precious baby if it does not recieve this essential nurturing?  Who do they ultimately become and what negative impact could that have on the rest of us?  (I will give you a few hints - crime and lack of empathy for others, as a starter - where the cost to society both financially and from a humanitarian perspective is huge).  

So now the really big wondering.  Whose responsibility is it NOW?  When the family is unable (for whatever reason - lack of skill, understanding, mental illness, drugs and alcohol, poverty, trauma) to provide these intangible things?   

You may notice I added poverty.  People underestimate the impact on someone's psyche that poverty has.  Constantly struggling to make ends meet is soul destroying.  It eats away at your dignity, you sense of being and it's ramifications are far reaching.  I added those reasons not as excuses but as risk factors. 

Do we just let it 'drop' or does the State take responsibility?  Which costs more I wonder, State intervention or doing nothing?

The Home Basics:

I noted healthy food first.  The rising tide of obesity here and around the world is becoming unsustainable.  The costs to our collective heath systems is staggering.  It is unsustainable.  More importantly, the risks to the children and their personal heath and ability to live a long successful life is huge.  Once you scratch the surface of just this one home basic, it's no longer as simple as saying the Family is responsible.   

The cost of good quality, healthy food far outweighs the cost of suger coated, fat laden, chemically enhanced fast food options that are convienient and easily available.  Rubbish food is big business.  That, however, is a different debate.  

It's easy to say parents are responsible for feeding their children good food, but if you are unable to buy quality food, and you are not sure how to eat well on a low income, junk food is all you have. 

Then there is the question of neglect?  More and more cases are surfacing of the State intervening with highly obese children.  Unkempt, dirty children who live in substandard housing - whose responsible for them when Family neglects these things?  (Again, for similar reasons above - here, food and housing is particularly affected by poverty)

So I wonder, on just a fiscal level, whose responsible?  (I will leave the moral and judgemental level to others)  

Is it fiscally wise for the state (given the unsustainable health costs alone) to intervene with mandates on healthy food (like a sugar tax, as some countries do), or to ensure housing stock is affordable, healthy and is safe (like a building warrent of fitness).   Does the State need to take responsibility for ensuring there is enough quality state housing for at risk families?  

What responsibility does the State play in ensuring the economy is strong, jobs are plentiful and safeguards for business and workers are equitable and balanced?  Where does cost of living, inflation, tax, and all those outside the Family forces, come into play, and ultimately, whose responsibility is that?

So, I wonder.  What's cheaper, State taking responsibility for when families can't or just letting it alone, to fester and compound. 

Once again, poverty seems an underlying theme here.

The Wider Basics:

Health care and education.  Both are critical for the success of a child and ultimately the success of a Nation.  Healthy, well educated citizens build successful societies.  This is a no brainer.    

Above I made reference to both Family and State responsibility.  Let me clarify.   The Family is responsible for ensuring they get their children to school, or to a doctor. They are responsible for supporting their children and getting them what they need when they need it.  

The State is responsible for providing an affordable (I would say free but that's hardly true) good quality basic health and education system for its citizens.  That's what our tax dollars are for.  Let's not get into the argument of public vs private.  If you want gold plated then feel free to pay for it, and feel free to write your own posts extolling the 'virtues' of public vs private.  

For the sake of argument, let's say we agree with that.  Now here's where the sticky wonderings begin, and that pesky poverty risk factor pops back in.  

What if Families can't afford to visit the Doctor, pay for medicine and get their kids treatment?  There is plenty of research around and various concerning reports and studies here and offshore about poverty leading to 3rd world diseases having a devastating effect children.  Rheumatic fever for one.  

Whose responsible now?  

What if the education system is not equitable and resources are badly allocated?  What if parents don't send their kids, don't access (for all the reasons above, including needing the older kids to stay home to look after siblings, or to leave school to get money) opportunities for education?   Who picks up the responsibility then?

Wait for it - here's that overriding wondering again.  What costs more?  The State taking responsibility when Families can't or won't, or just letting it be.  



http://www.childpoverty.co.nz 

Finally, if all this post does is make you wonder, question, consider the alternatives or look at a situation from multiple angles, then that's a good thing. Nothing is ever as clear cut as we would like it to be.  

What stands out for me is that poverty is an overriding factor in the above.  Sometime people find themselves in that situation out of sheer misfortune, and by the same stroke of misfortune - any one of us could be in their shoes.   Imagine a major disaster, economic crisis, illness, or other such catastrophe. 

If that was the case, my final wondering is - when it is out of your hands or capabilities - whose responsibility is it then?  What costs more in the long term?  Helping you back up, or leaving you down in the gutter

Saturday, February 22, 2014

When things make you go Hmmm - Post Graduate Teacher Training

A good friend and outstanding educator posted a link today that made me a bit cross, and gave rise to some internal grumblings.

It was an opinion piece about teacher training and in particular training at at a post graduate level by Associate Professor Claire Fletcher-Flynn.  From where I sit, as someone who employs graduates and as someone who has them come and complete practicums (where they work in classes as a trainee), there were a few things in the article that were not only generalisations, but statements that left me uncomfortable.

I did a bit more digging - because until I had read that article, I did not realise that the Universities were looking to turning teacher training into a 'fast track one year only' post graduate course, and phasing out the longer diploma.  I found a Massey University article from 2012 that had been published in the Dominion and, despite it being from nearly 2 years ago, was again struck by the generalisations.

The quality of teacher training has been something that has been bothering me for sometime.  I have had students complete practicums in my schools from 3 different main cities, and from a wide range of training providers.  They do not come prepared on an even footing.  The moment we sold out and deregulated, allowing competition to enter the training space, and allowed universities on their own and many non specialist providers to start training our teacher stock, we started to, in my opinion, water down the quality of our teaching force.  (I can hear the collective gasping from all the academics - and I ask that you contain your gasp until you read more)

A quick history:


Teachers colleges were established in NZ with the first being in Dunedin in 1876, then Christchurch in 1877.  Wellington and Auckland soon followed suit.  Long story short, these were the first and they were held accountable by the Education Department.  Issues of competency, training, certification and quality were consistent.  Teacher training colleges for the most part continued to hold the responsibility for training.  If we look at the passage of primary teacher training (my area of interest), training evolved from the pupil/teacher system, normal schools, teachers colleges, to colleges of education.  By the time deregulation and competition came to teacher training in the 1990s, teachers colleges were scrambling for the funding that comes with chasing student numbers.  We then saw, more recently, a merger of sorts between the colleges and the universities.   (Coles notes at best, read here if you want a more in-depth history)

Though out this whole historical period universities have always held themselves aloft as a superior alternative.  There has always been an uneasy marriage, I believe, between university and colleges.  The difference between (in a very simplistic way) the two, has been said to be due to two opposing philosophies/models of education.  One where the practicalities of teaching are at the forefront, the other who believes it needs to be more theoretical and academic.  Herein lies the rub re todays angst, because both articles are espousing why post graduate will be the 'be all and end all' of training, the next 'mecca' and the way forward.  I have grave misgivings and I don't agree.

Let me start off by being very clear.  I have no issue with further education, like working towards a post graduate masters or a doctorate in education.  In fact, I applaud and support that.  I also support having a highly qualified teaching force, and just a diploma is not enough.  But let me be very clear, I am not a big fan of the pressure cooker one year course for primary teacher graduates.  This is where I have concerns that we have swung to far to the academic side, and lost the practicalities actually needed in a classroom.

What exactly about the original article concerned me?


Postgraduate initial teacher education (ITE) will ensure new teachers are more mature, more widely experienced and taught to a higher standard.

More mature?  In what way - in theory they are a similar age to those who do the 4 years, and now days quite a number of trainees are from all walks of life and of all age groups.  A definition of mature would be helpful here.


As it is, almost all primary and early childhood teacher trainees leave school and go directly into a teacher education programme.

Really?
That has not been my experience of all students.  Many are now people who have had jobs outside of the profession and are looking for a change.  They have come to teaching later in their career and bring a richness of world experiences with them.  As for what is wrong with young people entering training, by the time they finish 4 years, they are like any graduate, but unlike a post grad student with only one year in a school, they will have had many opportunities to experience classrooms.  As far as I am concerned, this is a distinct advantage.


Usually, in this, they have no contact with the wider university; instead, they proceed as a cohort through a programme taught almost exclusively by teacher-training staff, themselves mostly former teachers, and in premises that are usually a sub-campus peripheral to the mainstream university.

Let me take this apart bit by bit.  The students who are doing their BEd degrees have many opportunities where they do actually interact with the wider university.  I loved my time at Uni, but let me be clear about this - university is a strange little place full of academics who want you to be academic little clones just like them.  That is not what I want to employ to teach 5 year olds.

I believe, for a teaching graduate, it is a good mix to have students learning about the importance of life long education and research within the hallowed halls of the university by highly qualified academics.  But it is as equally important for teaching graduates to learn about classroom practice from within spaces that are akin to an actual classroom, and by practitioners who know first hand what teaching is.  A university lecturer who can spout off truck loads of research and paper based best practice but has never actually taught a real live child, can never, ever impart the important things about being a teacher.  I believe you need both, and most importantly, you need a practitioner to be the person who guides students through how to make the theory and pedagogy applicable within a busy classroom context.

For me, the people who made the biggest difference to who I am now as a leader and teacher, are not the academics.  I can tell you all about the theories and meta analysis behind what makes a difference in a classroom and what improves leadership.  I can spout off from the work of Hattie, Robertson, Sergiovanni, Spinks and a multitude of others.   But, and this is a big but, what is important here is not the theory but how it is applied in practice and for that, my heroes have been the amazing people I learnt from over the years.

I first met these practitioners at College.  Then in classrooms teaching beside me, and then as leaders.  Leaders, past and present, that I have walked beside.  So, if it is 'almost exclusively' that these graduates are being trained by excellent classroom and leadership practitioners - then that is the best thing we could have.  I would rather employ a graduate who has the richness of good practice 'theory' behind them from experienced ex teachers and principals,  than a whole load of academic theories that actually don't work in a classroom without a practitioner first making them apply.  All it does is confuse a graduate and set them up for failure.


As many will have come from families of teachers, their perspectives must necessarily be narrow.

This has to be one of the biggest generalisations of them all.  To be honest, I'm quite surprised by this comment because academics  (at least the ones I know) do not usually make such sweeping comments without evidence, evidence often referenced and in triplicate.  (I will confess it does seem like I just made a generalisation…the sarcastic comment about referencing was intentional)

Whilst I concede that there are a number of graduates with a family member who have been in teaching, it did not apply to me, and to most of the people I have employed.   I would go further to ask, why does it matter?  If anything, it is possibly an advantage to know what you are getting yourself in for, and what the work load is.

I have often wondered what it would be like to have a member of my own family I could discuss education with, that did not revolve around busting myths and stereotypes.  Sometimes, we need to see what are the perceived weaknesses in a new light and see what the strength is behind them.  I am guessing it is my 'practitioner' head that knows to do this - it is second nature as a teacher to look for things to build upon.  Perhaps academics are not as well versed in this, because theory without application remains just a theory.  

The requirement to obtain a first degree will act as a useful external check on education departments' and colleges' admission standards, which, inevitably, will be raised, since entry into a university master's programme requires a much higher level of achievement than a bare pass.

I agree high standards are a good thing to strive for.  I expect high standards of teaching from my staff and I expect the best for our children.  I do however ask this - who are we training these graduates for?    If we are training them to enter a 'university masters programme', then by all mean turn them into the academic clones I mentioned above.  But we are not churning out professors of science, english or history, to go and teach other budding academics.  No, we are creating teachers.  I would be wary of using a set of marks as the only perquisites for this training.  You cannot teach personality and all those wonderful qualities we need to have in our teaching force.  An academic clone who has known nothing but study at such an in-depth level is little use to an abused 8year old who needs a person who can relate to them.

Such an approach would ensure that a student already has a good degree with which to develop an alternative career should teaching not prove to be as attractive as they had hoped, or to switch to secondary teaching should that be their later preferred path.

Oh.
This reads as if primary is not that important.  A real, 'don't worry love, if its not very attractive - its just an option'.  Teaching is not an option.  The best teachers are those who come to it from the perspective that it is what they need to do to make a difference and to give back.  Its not an 'option'.  Some of them have done other things in their life and it has led them to it, others just know.  Those - in my experience - who thought it was a 'good enough' option, rarely stayed.  The job is too hard to just be 'an option'.

the new proposals are far, far better and are in line with best international practice and in step with the decisive actions that Michael Gove is driving in Britain.

WOW!  Here is where we see where the Associate Professor really lies in terms of educational policy.  The moment she uses 'best international practice' with the name Michael Gove, then we know we are heading into right wing conservative territory.  Associate Professor Claire Fletcher-Flynn has just laid her cards out on the table.   It is here that, for me, I begin to get concerned.  Is she lecturing to these graduates about Gove policies and pushing this right wing agenda, and by doing so brainwashing a whole generation of new educationalists with policies counter intuitive to our whole education system?  This scares me.  In case you are unaware of who Michael Gove is, he is the secretary for state education in the UK, and behind a number of controversial policies.

Existing teachers, too, I imagine, will be cautious of a cohort entering the profession with much higher qualifications than theirs.

I wonder where her evidence for this statement is.  I say 'rubbish' to this.  What kind of schools do you think we are running these days?


Dr Sexton and others worry that important attributes of intending teachers, such as empathy, enthusiasm and the ability to communicate, might be lost.
There is no reason why this should be so, and procedures to ensure prospective candidates possess such qualities are already well established in other professions.
I wonder which professions she is speaking of?
When it comes to employing a teacher, I want passion, the ability to adapt, an undefinable 'something' that will light the fire of learning and inspire students to be everything they can be and more!  I have my own procedures for looking for these things, but I expect these people to be in training already.  I talked above about the things you cannot teach.  Often it is these qualities, and they are critical in front of children.

'Book smarts' are all very well and good, and they will assist you with further study, but let me be clear, if you are the kind of 'triple A plus, with distinction' student who expects the world - and by world I mean children - to be as ordered, structured and tidy as a text - you won't make it in my world and it would take some convincing for me to hire you.  Kids are messy.  They don't fit nice neat ordered and prescribed models of education that the 'academics' who live in ivory towers analysing research and meticulously theorising about classroom practice, like to place children in.  

it seems most desirable that fewer would-be teachers be recruited and only the best, those capable of postgraduate study, be exposed to a higher-quality curriculum and hands-on best practice.

I agree that we can train fewer, but better quality teachers.  I don't agree that the ability to do post grad is all they require, and furthermore, what 'higher quality curriculum' does she talk about?  They will have less time in a one year 'learn to be a teacher' crash course than their 3-4 year counterparts, and they won't have access to the outstanding ex classroom teachers as their lecturers - only academics with their meta analysis, and as for hands on practice!!  Cue ominous music!

There is less 'hands on' when you have the one year pressure cooker.  Its at this point that the academics talk about the next two years teaching in a school undergoing the advice and guidance mentor programme that then allows you to become registered.  Its talked about in the Massey article and its eluded to here.  Let me address this rather big elephant in the room.

THIS IS NOT NEW people.  Its what ALL teacher graduates must go through.  I went through it, the teachers in my school went through it (in one shape or form) and all current graduates go through it.  To say that is the 'hands on' stage is simply not good enough.  It is hard work employing one of these graduates.  I know.  They require more support, more time and more money from schools to be spent on them in order for them to be effective in a classroom.  I am aware that this post is getting long so I will save my graduate teachers post for another day.  Suffice to say, using it for the argument that a post grad one year programme is better, is null and void.  In fact, it strengthens the argument that a 3 -4 year programme is better because they have more hands on and are better prepared.

Finally:

Attracting quality students to teacher education is important.  The future of our little people require it.  I remain unconvinced that the post graduate teacher training is the way to go.  What I would like to see is the happy marriage of practical and academic.

I want well qualified people who understand that the theory has a practical basis, and I want a graduate who can think outside the square, question and inquire into their practice and use research as a tool.

Most importantly, I want them to set the world of learning on fire for students.  I want them to inspire, to embolden and to engage our children.  Finally, I want them to be able to question and to lead the profession forward.  To innovate and do what we have been doing for years - lead the world in creative, successful educational practice.





Friday, February 21, 2014

Chinese Lantern Festival



                      
Last weekend we went and checked out the Chinese Lantern Festival.  It's a highlight in our Auckland calendar and one of the most magical events of the year.

With thousands of pretty lanterns, Over 100 food stalls and a variety of entertainment, it is a spectacular event.  Best of all, it's free! 

2014 was the 15th year, and the Venue, Albert Park, is a fabulous inner city spot.  We went on the Friday night, which coincided with Valentines day, despite it being a family activity for us, it was just a perfect way to celebrate.  A highlight was the sky tower lit up in pink to represent love.


                  


  If you've never been - highly recommended!  4.5/5 from me.  



                        

                       

                                                                   
 




                       
  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Truth As It Relates to Cattle




The wisdom of the universe has an interesting habit of turning up in the strangest of places.

When I look at the above joke (cheers to whomever it was that emailed it to me originally - I am sure at the time it served as a wee pick me up - given the trials and tribulations we face each day, I know it would have been most welcome) I do wonder where I fit in relation to the cartoon and its characterisation of age.

Somewhere in the middle I suspect.

I realise its an unusual item to seek wisdom from, but when you stop and look at it, there is a ring of truth in the statement "At least we all understand each other on Wednesdays".

For me, when I think about leadership, and indeed life, it serves as a timely reminder that we all need to make the effort sometimes to try just that little bit harder to understand those who are not the same generation as ourselves.

We do have similarities - but we do not always see the similarities when we are so busy pointing out the differences between generations.

The irony is, at some stage of our lives we are all likely to fall into the:
  • misunderstood generation
  • too old to understand the younger generation
  • stuck in the middle mediating generation
  • or, stuck in the middle too old to relate to the younger generation and too young to be given the mantle of responsibility generation

So, lets try to understand each other more often than just on Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Professional Neglect - What are the safeguards for vulnerable children neglected by the system?

Today I read an article that disappointed me.  The headline read "Boy 8, who hanged himself, 'let down' by Social Services".

A young man, Rexford, hung himself in 2008, and the findings from the inquest are enough to break your heart.   He was only 8.

In his short time in our world, he had endured the following:

  • 9 different agencies - but despite this, he still had his case closed by social services months before he died (he died in October but was taken off the Social Services case load the Easter prior)
  • been regularly let down by social workers, with regular changes in staff
  • had emotional, behavioural and educational issues
  • had come to school on several occaisons with injuries 
  • moved from Ghana to the UK with his dad, brother and sisters, but his mother was denied access to the UK and subsequently died, which leaves me wondering, why would they not allow his mother to come to be with her children - that defies logic to me.

The poor little man.

Can you imagine his heartache at not having his mother there to support him, and then learning she had died?  It is not at all surprising that he suffered from behavioural issues.  Who knows what traumas he had faced in his birth country and the subsequent move to the UK.  I wonder how scared, lonely and lost he must have felt, to take his own life by hanging himself.

It breaks my heart.

It disappointed me because I know it is not an isolated case and I also know, that despite the fact its a story from the UK, it is not only the UK that can hang its head in shame over letting down those most vulnerable of children.  I know, first hand, that it happens here, and I have seen reports from the US, Australia and other, so called 1st world countries, that it happens there too.

These services are set up and designed to protect those children who are most vulnerable and neglected, but here is my wondering - where are the safe guards that ensures the system doesn't commit professional neglect?  The system that protects the children from professional incompetence and malpractice?

How does it happen, I hear you ask?  It is a good question and well worth having a public discourse on.  In all the years I have been working with at risk students - and that is quite a few now - there are 3 main areas that I think, in my experience, lay at the root of this 'professional neglect'.

Firstly, let me add the caveat that there are many wonderful, hardworking people who work within the various agencies that are designed to support vulnerable children.   For them, I would gladly pay them all the gold in the world, and there are not enough bouquets of flowers to thank them.   But it is not those that shine that I am referring to.

The 3 Areas I Believe Let Vulnerable Children Down - a NZ perspective and my observations that are applicable worldwide:


Policy: 


By this, I also mean the system.  In particular;

  • Suitable placements are hard to find, and when they are found, support from the related agency is ad hoc and inadequate to support foster families who take on children who have been removed from their families - particularly traumatised children.  
  • Counselling and psych services are inadequate and assessments can take far to long to happen - in the meantime the needs of students are further marginalised and the longer the system takes to put into place vital supports, the damage for a child deepens. 
  • The ability for Social Services to get custody (worse case senario) or supports for children seems (to me) to be convoluted and hamstrung by outdated rules and policies that cripple a social workers ability to actually support families and children practically.  
  • Welfare reforms that on the surface appease the public by 'getting those bludgers!!', but with consequences that result in children being further marginalised by poverty, with increases in family violence, ultimately sees them being punished further by the system. 
  • Ever tightening budgets, less resources, delays in implementing resources and poor pay.  

Personnel:


Finding the right people for the job is problematic. 

  • I appreciate that the work of a child protection worker is a tough job.  The hours are long and unpredictable, the abuse and trauma they see would be heartbreaking and highly distressing, and having to deal with passionate advocates (like me) on a daily basis must be very tiring.  
  • Recruitment issues like low pay, stress, safety on the job, high case loads, inadequate supervision and support, administration loads and lack of professional development and training (I will get to that soon) will all be contributing factors toward high staff turnover and staff retention.  
  • Add in a negative public image and limited resources to implement programmes, and this further compounds the issue.    
  • What is disappointing here is that all it takes is for a handful of overworked, stressed social workers and their supervisors to let down a child and the whole system comes into disrepute.  
  •  People make the difference in any organisation.  How they are looked after, for example by providing them with ongoing training, giving them adequate supervision, financially rewarding them, ensuring there are enough staff to ease the workload and making sure they have the resources they need - all comes back to policy!  
  • making sure there are adequate systems in place to deal with burn out, stress and trauma is also critical. 
  • Considering we are dealing with the life of a little person - then it is critical that we get it right. 

Training:


Providing good quality training and ongoing professional development is important.

  • It never fails to amaze me how little child protection social workers know about brain development and the effects of trauma on social and emotional competencies.  
  • If I had a magic wand, I would ensure they all understood the importance of brain development - particularly for children in their first few years of life, the impacts of trauma and what good practice is for assisting in helping these children heal.  
  • I would make sure they understood the importance of relationships, transitioning, the critical importance of the bond with the significant caregiver (usually the mum) and early intervention.  
  • Often the school is the only place that provides a safe, stable environment for vulnerable children.  They often have built up a strong relationship with key staff, and they feel secure there.  To remove them from their school after they have been removed from family, all because policy and the system can not accommodate their needs - is not good enough.  More solutions need to be created - and I hate to use that naughty word - money - needs to be invested to ensure they are supported to keep this vital resiliency factor in play.  
  • Providing training and ongoing opportunities to enhance knowledge and skill is a no brainer.  


I know there are other issues - but for me, those are the top 3.

Children only have a short period of time to be children.  As a society it is our job to make sure they have a safe and happy childhood, and a chance to build a firm foundation to base the rest of their lives on.  It is in all of our interests to make sure we get it right.  

I wish we lived in a world where we did not need a system for protecting vulnerable children, but what I am more sure of is, we most definitely should not need a system to protect these children from the inadequacies within the profession.  Professional neglect should not ever be something we need be concerned about!

Sources:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7594787/Boy-8-who-hanged-himself-let-down-by-social-services.html

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Big Gay Out

Coyle Park looking towards Auckland City and the Sky Tower

On Sunday we went to the Big Gay Out.  It was our first time visiting this annual Auckland Festival, and it was fabulous!



The Festival was held at Point Chevalier's Coyle Park.



This was the 15th year the festival has been run, with an estimated 15,000 people turning up to enjoy the free event.  By all accounts the Big Gay Out is one of the highlights in the rainbow calendar.



We weren't too sure what to expect, if I am to be honest.  In the past, I thought it was an Adult only kind of event, and not appropriate for Squirt - I couldn't have been more wrong.   Others had assured me that it was indeed appropriate for families, and this was very true.  It gave us a great opportunity to talk to Squirt about equity and tolerance, and to discuss how it is ok for families to look different to ours.




When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by a friendly anti GE activist.  He seemed genuinely surprised that I not only knew about it, agreed - but had even blogged about it!  (If you would like to be more informed you can read it here)


                           

Of course, all the main political players (from the PM, the Mayor, the Leader of the Opposition, Leader of the Greens etc) made a show of turning up, and smoozing with the crowd.  All in the name of an election year.  I noticed quite a few politicians there just for the fun of it - and the odd commentator or two.  Its one of the great things about Auckland - its such a diverse community of interesting people.


Looking toward the West
                      

It is a very well run festival, with good security, great entertainment and plenty of opportunities for people watching.  In addition, they have a market area with all manner of items, from food, hats, information pavilions, the obligatory political stands and free health checks.


     

The Defence Force was even there with its recruitment truck - which I found a little ironic. It is the beauty of EEO policies, and it was a great testament to a more tolerant world.


                        


Advice for newbies?

1. Sit under the trees - it was stinking hot and the sun was relentless, so go early and park up.
2. Just go and have fun.


                       


So, in summary, it was a stunning day - the sun was shinning, the cicadas singing - and the music and entertainment was pumping!!


                         

We will go back next year, and I no doubt this will be a regular on our Auckland annual events calendar!!


                        


                          

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Waitangi Day - New Zealand's Day!

The FlagPole at the Treaty Grounds

Today is Waitangi day.

Waitangi Day is held every year on the 6th of February, and it is New Zealand's National holiday to celebrate the signing of the Treaty, back in 1840.  The Treaty is considered NZ's founding document, much like the Declaration of Independence.  With that in mind, Waitangi Day is similar to celebrating the 4th of July.

The Treaty was signed at Waitangi in 1840, in the stunning far North, by British Representatives and over 500 Maori Chiefs.  It was a significant day in our history.  It made NZ a part of the British Commonwealth, and guaranteed Maori (the indigenous people of NZ) rights to their land and the same rights as a British citizen.  Over the years, this has been a cause of tension, as interpretation over the differences between the Maori and English translations, varies.  In particular, land ownership.    You can read more here.


The Treaty 


Traditionally, politicians flock to the Waitangi Treaty grounds each year, to participate in the celebrations, particularly pre Waitangi Day celebrations.   It is also typical that there are protests at the grounds.  This year was no different.

Every year, the media sensationalise Waitangi Day, and focus more on controversy and protest than in showcasing unity.   In doing so,  they alienate both Maori and Pakeha (the name for New Zealanders of European decent) in our country, creating division and opening up scars and old prejudices.


Hobson's Beach - at Waitangi
Today I read one of the best criticisms of this obsession by the media to turn our national day into one of controversy, all in the name of making a few dollars and selling some papers.  I particularly like her summation on the responsibility the media has for race relations.  You can read her article here 

"So as I watch the way Waitangi is reported in the mainstream media this year, I am again frustrated. The media is selling the public short and it should be mindful of the role it plays in race relations in this country."


Waitangi Day needs to be our National Day of celebrating what it is to be kiwi.  We are a unique and special peoples, with a rich culture that comes from our Maori heritage and from the many peoples who have made it to our shores and call New Zealand home.  There are not many of us in the world.   I don't know the exact figure of how many kiwis are out there in the world, but I would estimate it would be somewhere around 5.5 to 6 million (based on how many live here and how many live offshore).   That makes us rare!

We need to celebrate all the amazing things that are about being a kiwi.  For example our number 8 wire mentality, and the fact that we punch well above our weight in the world arena for everything from sport, music, writing, movies, science and even politics.

Most importantly, New Zealand is the home of all things Maori, and we should celebrate how important that is to us all.  The Reo (language) and Tikanga (Maori way of doing things) have shaped our country - for me, it is what it is to be kiwi.  Maori culture is to me, the foundation of kiwi culture - it is unique and it is special.

The Meeting House 

I love being a kiwi.  I love that we are a small nation of peoples who are diverse and I love that we live in what I believe is a paradise.  We are lucky to have such richness of culture, landscape and freedoms at our disposal.  Our children were lucky to be born here.  Many countries can not say the same.  It is this that we need to celebrate.  We are not perfect - and for that we have work to do - but that is not the intent of this particular post.  For today, it is to remember what it is that makes us who we are.  To stand together as one, accepting our diversity and celebrating it.

It is important to acknowledge the past, and it is important that we use the present to heal the ongoing wounds so that we can move forwards with openness and success into the future.

Today is Waitangi Day.  I celebrated by chilling out at home with family.  You may have celebrated by attending a Waitangi Day celebration, going to the beach, protesting, reflecting on the Treaty or just having a break.  However you celebrated our National Day - I hope you had a great one!!

The Meeting House - another view 
NB: The pics are from a visit to the Waitangi grounds we took last year - it is a stunning place, and when you are standing there, overlooking the flag pole and the ocean, you can feel the history of the place.  If you are in Northland - go.  You won't regret the trip.


Ngatokimatawhaorua, one of the largest Māori waka, sits in the grounds.

For more information:
http://www.newzealand.com/travel/media/features/maori-culture/maori-culture_waitangi-treaty-grounds_feature.cfm

http://www.newzealand.com/travel/media/features/events/events_celebrating-waitangi-day_feature.cfm

Monday, February 3, 2014

Avondale Market

Avondale Market 


Avondale Market, held each Sunday at the Avondale Racecourse, is fabulous.  It is especially famtastic for fresh fruit and vegetables that are cheap, seasonal and all round great value!

                                     

It's an eclectic place, chocca full of people from all over the world.  A true melting pot of cultures.

                                      

Here you will find a multitude of stalls from second hand traders, items from offshore, fresh fruit and vegetables for what seems like miles, various takeaway food options, buskers and all sorts of bric and brac!

                                         

A veritable smorgasbord of fresh fruit and vegetables are on offer - and it never fails to impress me at how cheaply we can stock up on our greens. Authentic Asian foods can also be sourced here.  I'm always curious to see what exotic fruits and vegetables are displayed.      

                                        

Avondale Market has been hailed as one of NZs largest.  We've been to many markets, and this one sure is one of the best.

                                           


Open every Sunday from 6am to around 1 pm, regardless of weather.  I would advise it is best to go when the weather is playing ball - heavy rain could put quite the dampener on the trip.

It has been running for 30 years, and well worth a visit.  We need to ensure we go more often - Auckland has many great markets, and more fresh fruit and veggie places than you can shake a stick at.  This is one of the biggest and cheapest and I can tell you now, we went home with loads of fabulous and delicious fruits and vegetables, and all for a pittance.

4.5 out of 5 from me!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Greenerrella and the Two Mean Min-is-Sisters


WARNING:  This is satire - if you are allergic to satire please switch eyes off now. 


Once upon time, in the Land of the Long White Cloud, a young woman worked hard campaigning for the rights of those less fortunate than herself, and earnt herself a place within the countries Governing Palace.  She belonged to the house of the Greens, and over time found herself co-leading the house with Prince Norman.

Growing up, she dreamed of living in her own castle, and wearing beautifully tailored jackets designed to fit as snuggly as a glass slipper.   She believed, that as long as she worked hard, she could, like many 'Aotearoa-ians' before her, achieve success.  

Princess Greenerrella never lost sight of her dream.

At times her life before entering the governing palace was hard.   She faced numerous failures before she eventually achieved success.

She vowed that even when she had achieved her dream, she would never forget the difficulties, or the opportunities that she had been provided with, and that she would fight hard to ensure others could have the same chances to climb the ladder of success!  

All her hard work paid off, and eventually she was able to buy a home that looked castle like, and using her sustainable ideals, she decorated and improved her home to be the 'castle' of her dreams.   Finally she was able to commission the nimble fingers of the talented dressmaker Adrienne Winklemann - known for her fabulous suits across the nation.  Oh the pleasure of finally having a jacket made to fit her!  

What Princess Greenerella never expected, was that her fellow Min-is-Sisters from the house of Blue were less generous and had been struck down with a terrible disorder 'selfish-initis'.  A disorder that left its afflicted bereft of kindness, compassion, and most importantly, a conscience or moral compass.  Instead, it made them say cruel, unkind words, and left them with a twisted bitter jealousy.

Poor Princess Greenerrella!

When the verbal attacks came, Greenerrella was taken aback by the vitriol that spewed forth from her fellow Governing Palace representatives.  For nearly a year, 3 members from the House of Blue took pot shots at Greenerrella - belittling her in an attempt to make her feel as if she did not have the right to be in the Governing Palace.  Nasty, rude comments - the kind of comments that one might find in a hormonal teenage girls locker room - not from people who were meant to be role models for the citizens of the Long White Cloud.

Phrases like 'sanctimonious hypocrite' were aimed her way.  Further snide statements were directed at her.  Statements dripping in sarcasm and designed to disparage Greenerrella and bring into question her integrity, were used.  One House of Blue member implied that because she was 'resplendent in her Adrienne Winklemann jackets' she was hypocritical to speak about social justice, a cause she was passionate about.

Further insult was added when the Min-is-Sisters publicly insulted her by calling her jackets 'ugly'.   On one occasion, one Min-is-Sister of the House of Blue was stricken by a particularly nasty spot of 'selfish-initis', and lashed out at Greenerrella after one her speeches, saying it was 'vile, wrong and ugly.  just like her jacket'.

Finally, Greenerrella decided to bring to the attention of the Nation just what kind of horrid behaviour was occurring in the Palace of Governance.  She stood up for herself, and declared the bullies for what they were - rude, petty and inappropriate.   This, instead of eliciting an apology for their outrageous behaviour, merely amused one of the Min-is-Sisters who declared Greenerrella was simply being 'a sensitive little sausage', and that she stood by her comment that Greenerrella's jacket was 'really ugly'.

By telling her story, she was hopeful that the Nation would be horrified that such powerful people were being such bad role models, with behaviour that would see them sanctioned as bullies if they were still at school.  Considering the roles two of the representatives from the House of Blue had in the Palace of Governing, it was critical that their affliction of 'selfish-initis' was treated straight away.   This was a case of how dangerous 'selfish-initis' was, and how if not treated, had the ability to obscure citizens from hearing about the real issues.

Greenerrella however, was a generous soul, and even in her time of angst, reminded the people that the issues of poverty, social justice and equity were what was most important.  To pick on her for what she wore and the home she lived on, said more about the others moral integrity and their maturity, than it did about her.  She stood by her passion for making a difference and knew she had a proven track record.

Finally, she said to the Nation.  "I don't care what they look like.  I don't care what they wear.  I just really wish they were genuinely compassionate for the people who need them". 

The End. (or is it..)