Worshipping Critically

As a musician in a worship team for nearly 10 years now, I have learned how to play worship songs. I have learned how to create space. I’ve learned how to play by ear. I’ve learned how to play a chorus with power and strength, and then with softness and tenderness, all in the same song. I have learned how to lead others into a space of worship.
But I have also learned how to be critical; to think what needs to improve; to look for missing elements; to think about whether the tempo is too quick, or too slow; to think about whether the guitar is in tune or not; to think about whether the sound has got the mix right as to how I think it should sound; to think whether this is too loud, or not loud enough.
I have learned how to be critical, but I haven’t learned how to turn that off.
You see, being critical when you have a run through practice helps to improve the sound, improve the flow, improve the music we are using to bring our worship to God.
But as soon as the service starts and we are charged with helping God’s people worship Him, the critique needs to stop. For in that moment, the music is as it is meant to be, and our worship should transcend all else.

The trouble I have found in not being able to stop, is not when I am on stage worshipping and leading others in worship, but it is when I am being lead in worship. My mind is busy critiquing all of the things I have mentioned above. I’m busy telling myself how I’d do it differently, even, better.
But what I’m not doing is worshiping God, for all he is, for all he has done, and all that he has done.
You see, Satan uses critique for evil. He slides it in behind the scenes. He makes you think you’re doing what you’ve always done. But he brings it in to distract us, to frustrate us, to block us, from worshipping our one and true God almighty.

So maybe we need to ask ourselves; Am I going to stand and sing the worship songs, frustrated that it’s not to my liking, or am I going to stand and worship God for all of His glory, all of His grace, and all of His love that He so freely gives us.

Lord, help me remember that you made everything just how you like it. This earth has been around much longer than I, and will continue to be long after I’m gone. And You have been there since before that, and will be there after it. You are so much bigger than my small problems and the issues that I face. And because of this I will stand, and I will worship you. May my soul benefit, may my mind now wander, and may it be with all of my heart.

Performance Pay Gets in the Way

In Education in New Zealand over the last couple of months, we have heard the threats of performance pay, and bumping up class sizes, and developing better teachers. This has been well documented in the press, with recent articles on Stuff outlining the intentions of the current Government.

www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/6930082/Bigger-class-sizes-announced – 16 May, 2012

www.stuff.co.nz/6936035/Bad-report-card-for-bigger-classes – 17 May, 2012

Please take your time to read both posts, and then my thoughts regarding the future of New Zealand’s education. There are also further links to similar articles at the bottom of this post.
If you think that this doesn’t affect you, you may be right. But this will be affecting your child, your son, daughter, or your niece, nephew, or your friends children. You will know someone, some child that this will affect, and it would pay to be thinking of them when you consider these points.

From these articles, there are three major changes that the Government is pushing. They are wanting Better Teachers, so there are going to be changes to educating teachers to be better. They are introducing larger class sizes, so that there are less teachers to pay. And finally they are wanting to introduce performance pay for teachers, as a “reward” for good teachers.

 

Better Teachers

Part of the intentions of the National led government, (who don’t even make up the majority of this country’s support!) to try and sell these policies, is to say that they want to make better teachers. No one is going to be able argue that having better teachers is not a good thing. Aside from that, it is incredibly insulting to the profession so suggest that teachers at the moment aren’t “better”.
And how do we define “better teachers”?
How do we assess whether one teacher is better than another?
Well, the government would say “By results against the National Standards”, which we know is a load of crock, because National Standards are a set of unfounded and unjustified guidelines for failure not achievement. Add to that the fact that National Standards are based on an “Overall Teacher Judgement” , which surely enters into a conflict of interests, where results are used to determine if you are a better teacher than someone else.
Enter National testing. This will be the next line of changes to the system, as Teachers will not be trusted to make the decision as to where the students are at, so we will have a National Standardised test that every kid in New Zealand will sit.
The other thing the government would say regarding how you assess whether a teacher is better than another is this coin word called “Engagement”.
My first, and only question will be – “How do you plan to measure engagement?”. The answer to that will be so flimsy and washy that even tree huggers would be ashamed.

So how else will we get “better” teachers? By educating more teachers (of which there is already an excess of; or is it to replace all the good teachers who leave because of this)? They are also talking of making additional study requirements of existing teachers, on top of teaching a class, and raising the achievement of that class so that they can get paid? Is anyone else getting this!? It sucks. Yet its happening.

 

Class Size

This is a planned red herring for these changes. They’ve set this one out as a mouse, so that everyone dances and screams, whilst across the room they sneak through the lion which is performance pay. The major change isn’t the raising of the class size, but that schools will be funded based on the class size. See, changing the class size requirements in Year 2 to 10 classes from 23-29 pupils to 27.5 pupils isn’t going to make much of a difference. I started this year with 28, and am now down to 27 (essentially 27.5!). In years gone by I’ve had 29, and even a term of having 31. It’s not like they’re making class sizes 35, 40, 45…. Yet.

Yet what a difference it makes when I have a class of 22 -24. The room is quieter, which means there are less distractions, and more learning productivity. The students are more relaxed and more focussed, and so tend to be more “engaged” – if that can be observed. The teacher is more relaxed and has a better headspace, and is less likely to be having to deal with the niggles that occur in larger class sizes. We get through groups quicker (or can cover more learning in extended group times) allowing me to touch base with students one on one and see how they are going. The students get a long better, its easier to keep an eye on them. Everything is better. There is not a single downside to having less students in the class – if you are focussed on the benefits for the students.
However, if you are not focussed on the benefits for the students, and are instead focussed on the red number at the end of the leger, then of course, larger class sizes to take in every child in New Zealand,  means less teachers over all, which means less salaries to pay, and salaries take up 80% of the budget.

But larger class sizes mean less one on one time with the teacher than they already get, there’s more noise, which increases distractions, and lowers learning. There are more niggles in the class, which raises the teacher’s stress levels as they try and contend with keeping on top of things. Students realise this, and also notice that they can get away with little things while the teacher is busy dealing with other problems. Less quality time is spent on teaching, and more on crowd control.

Two principals commented in the latest article on Stuff today. One said that he started teaching “…he had a class of 40 and that was not conducive to modern teaching methods. ‘It was `Sit down and do this’. There was very little discussion and very little of what makes teaching effective.’”

The other makes an incredibly good point, one that I hope everyone else can come to realise, in that larger class sizes means that “The very group that the Government say they want to work with most – Maori, Pacific Islanders, special needs students – we know that when there are large classes, it is harder for them to achieve.” – Bad-report-card-for-bigger-classes – Stuff, 17 May 2012.

But politicians will argue that a “good” teacher will be able to teach any number sized class. Some university proffessors who also haven’t had any teaching experience in the last 20 years, will also try and tell you that “research suggests” that quality teaching is more important than class size.
So let us get the “best” teacher in the country, and put them in front of 35-40 students. Not for a day. For the year. According to these politicians (who have never taught a class, or if they did, they left and became politicians – says more about them than they think!), this teacher should have no problems raising achievement against National Standards, while continuing to teach other subject areas, complete reports, analyse data and provide differentiated learning for the class, whilst maintaining control of the behaviour in the classroom.

 

Performance Pay

Today (17 May, 2012) it was announced that performance pay would be decided on, not just by an appraisal system, but also based on achievement results of National Standards.
I find it relatively humouring, but I am very much annoyed that this has been somewhat hidden by the whole uproar over class sizes, as it is quite clearly a much bigger issue.

Before I begin into my rant, I want to make it clear that I understand the need for a performance pay type model. There are a lot of “bad” teachers out there, and there does need to be a system for working them out, and removing them from the system. The good teachers do deserve to be rewarded for their efforts, and often are in the areas of being given units for the additional work that they do.
So I do agree that poor teachers need to be whittled out, and the good teachers do need rewards.

However, performance pay based on results is not the way. Especially when those “results” are going to be based on National Standards, which still have not been fully developed or implemented properly or fairly, and have so far been able to tell us nothing about achievement, but instead, have given us a very good picture of failure.

Basing performance pay on results is ridiculous. And here’s why

Some students are behind the eightball when it comes to learning. A list of factors would be longer than my arm, but a few would include such things as;

  • mental disabilities or challenges
  • being hungry due to lack of breakfast/food at home and school
  • stresses at home (mum and dad split/fighting/depressed/drugs/alcohol
  • abuse (verbal, physical, emotional)
  • unhealthy living environments that cause regular illness and misses out on school
  • lack of support at home, where value placed on education is minimal, and so student is often truant

Many of these things are out of the school’s control, and are out of the child’s control, and sometimes even out of the parents control. No one can be blamed for any of this happening – not even the government. It’s called life.

But what will end up happening?

I have had students in the past who were well below the National Standard. There is no hiding it. The parents were made aware of this, and there were no real surprises at all. Every teacher that had been before me, and myself, had worked hard to raise the level of achievement, and had done so, but at a very low pace. And nothing would have changed that. The student, at the end of the year, had made a year’s progress, but was still well behind the eightball when it came to National Standards.

I have a privileged view of this whole issue. I have worked in classrooms for the last 3 years. I know what it is like. What is scary is that the people who are making these decisions, not only don’t have any experience of what it is like, and are merely concerned with making the red figure at the end of the leger smaller, but they don’t want to listen to those who actually have some idea about it.
But I get that. Why would you listen to teachers? Of course teachers are going to complain about being paid based on performance. Of course teachers are going to complain about having larger class sizes.
But what about listening to what has happened in the past? Look at the education system in the UK. A mess. Why? Because of the National Standards that they introduced into their country, which has completely destroyed the hope in teachers and students over there.
Look at the education system in the US. A mess. Why? Basically because of Charter schools and performance pay (from what I’ve read – I could be wrong…)
But why are we taking our world leading education system, with it’s curriculum that was world beating, and developed for a decade to be flexible and adjustable to suit EVERY classroom in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and completely changing it to be based on National Standards in Reading, Writing and Maths (3R’s… which I thought had been dispelled with the inkwell and cane in classrooms of old). Not only that, but then we go and base our whole education system on models that have been complete failures in other countries.

How stupid do we have to be to follow a bunch of sheep off a cliff?

What really scares me even more, is the notion that there might be a chance for parents and students to have input into the performance pay of a teacher. “[Ms Parata] revealed that parents and even students would soon get the chance to review teacher performance…”

Evidently my 9 and 10 year olds are the best kind of people to decide if I’m a good teacher or not, and whether I get paid. Who knew? Next there’ll be a National Standard in “Reviewing your teacher”.

 

Finally

I wonder how politicians would react to the tables being turned.
Maybe, we set a baseline salary for MP candidates.
And let’s introduce performance pay to that.
So a salary of $144,000 a year (which is the pay check one receives (2012) if he or she is just a member of parliament, with no other responsibilities…) will be available, but the percentage of that salary is decided upon how many votes you received. So if you get 100% of the vote in your electorate, then you should be entitled to 100% of the pay. But, if you got 59% of your constituents vote, then your salary would be $84,960 a year (which is nothing to shrug your shoulders at). The left over $59,040 could then be put into a fund that will supply services such as Health, Education, Police, with the funding that they deserve, or at least help contribute towards it.

I bet they probably wouldn’t like that.
I bet they’d probably complain about it.
I bet they’d probably complain a little like what the teachers are complaining like now.
I bet they’d decide against it.

 

So thank you to all of you out there who voted this government in. Thank you to all the teachers who blindly voted National because they fit in the pay bracket for tax cuts. The only thing we can do now is sit back and watch the future of this country plummet into the depressing depths of “Well Below” and “Below”, as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer (in every aspect, wealth and education).

Is it that dire? Or can we actually get out there, and support the teachers?
Your child has a teacher, who works hard, works weekends, takes work home, and sacrifices their time, their money. If you don’t have a child, you will know someone who does, and that child also has a hard working teacher trying to make a living. And for those living under a rock and think that teachers work from 9 until 3, and get heaps of holidays and shouldn’t be complaining, you need to get a reality check. I am assuming you have a 9-5 office or something of a clerk at a place like Document Pros printing shop. Teachers work 8-5pm most days of the week, just like you. We often have to take work home on the weekends (although I try to avoid this as much as possible, because like you, I am trying to have a life as well!), and as for holidays, they are not. We work in the first week finishing off things from the last term. And in the second week we plan and prepare for the next term. The school holidays are just work without kids, which is exactly what you and the majority of the rest of the workforce does day in day out.

What now?

I want to encourage you to be active, if not for your child, then for me, a teacher. Write to your local MP, expressing your concern over these changes. Write to John Key (the current Prime minister) and express your concern and lack of support for these changes. The worst thing you can do is sit there and do nothing. Actually I lie. The worst thing you can do is sit there and blame teachers, and complain about how we are complaining about our future.

And what can teachers do? Well, we can bring the country to a stop by all walking out on our classes, together, as one. Parents all over the country will be forced to take the day off work. Production will go down. And no doubt, there will be complete and utter blame put on Teachers instead of the real cause of the strike, which is the Government’s decisions. But the reality is that I don’t want my teaching ability to be judged by the results of 9 and 10 year olds against an unproven and unjustified National Standards which have nothing to do with achievement, and everything to do with failure.

 

Related Reading

Teacher Performance Pay under fire – 17 May 2012

Concern over teacher performance pay – 17 May 2012

Principals criticise move to bigger classes – 17 May 2012

Education Changes: video – 16 May 2012

Teacher performance pay gets tick – 3 May 2012

 

Please Note: I am a registered teacher in New Zealand. I have been teaching for 3 years in New Zealand classrooms. The views I have expressed here are my own, and not necessarily the views of the school I currently work for, nor the Board of Trustees of that school.

Worship: Leading People Vocally

There’s been many a battle cry, leading people forward in confidence and braving the fight and struggle that lies ahead.

I find that the same needs to be applied when you lead people in worship.

But what is vocally leading?
Simply put, it’s where you say out loud the next part of the song that you’re wanting to head, usually in the form of saying the first line of that part.

When you vocally lead people to where you want to go, it serves two purposes. The main purpose is to give a signal to your musicians as to where you are taking the song, hopefully in tune with the Holy Spirit as to what God wants in the worship directed to Him. The second reason is often overlooked, but by leading the worship team vocally, you also end up leading the congregation as well. Two birds, one stone saying ensues…

Often the worship team sets up a myriad of hand signals designed to direct the team to different parts of the song. These are very useful, especially where space between parts is limited, or if there is a sense of quiet reflection and it might be difficult to vocally lead the next part of the song sensitively. But it needs to be coupled with strong vocal leading.
As a guitarist, I don’t have hand signals, but foot signals. My foot signals won’t actually lead the team to different parts of the song, but instead instructs whether I’m wanting to bring up the dynamics of the song, or bring it down to quiet and possibly bring a close to the song. Leading to the different parts have to either be vocally lead, or I have to launch into the next part and do the first line or so as a solo, which sometimes works just fine.

So, how do I vocally lead?
As you arrive at the end of a chorus, or verse or chorus, and some direction is needed, stop singing (whilst allowing the congregation and backing vocals to carry the song) and simply say the line of the next part you are feeling the Holy Spirit is leading you. As an alternative to simply saying it, build it into a tune, so that you are almost singing the direction you wish to head. It really is that simple. Remember, you don’t have to sing everything. You can stop and lead everyone, including the congregation, into the next part of the song.

Why is it important?
As mentioned, it leads your fellow musicians, as well as the congregation. But it also allows you to move away from what I call ‘prescribed worship’, where the order of the parts of the song is already decided on and practiced. It doesn’t necessarily lend itself to any adjustment or freedom, to be lead by the Spirit, to repeat a verse, or sing another chorus or even head to a new song altogether. It is important to be able to be free enough to allow for this, to adapt with how the congregation is engaged, and to feel God’s presence, and by vocally leading during these times, the music team and congregation can follow you with confidence as they worship.