Today, April 5, is a special day for me.

Here in Australia we have such a thing as Long Service Leave – something that I know is completely foreign to my northern hemisphere readers. Think of it as a paid sabbatical. Basically, once you have worked about ten years with an employer, you are entitled to additional leave.  Quite a bit of it.

Today I fly to America to spend four weeks travelling with my wife and youngest daughter, and visiting my eldest daughter who is studying in Montana. We’ll end up in Canada, where we lived in 2005, visiting friends. After that, I have the rest of the term off. Yes, the whole ten weeks.

What does that mean for this blog? Well, in the short term, I’ll take a break and then see what happens…

What does it mean for me?  I’m hoping, a good rest after a lot of years of busy teaching.

See you soon.





Questioning Students


I’ve been reading through the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. It’s a great prompt and reminder of the qualities of teaching that help students achieve their best. I’ll mention and unpack some if the techniques on the blog in weeks (months, if it takes that long) to come.

I am a teacher who questions kids a lot. I use questioning as a way of discovering what they know, of challenging them to think further or deeper, and at times as a way of contradicting an opinion fort he purpose of higher-level thought (evaluation or justification).
But I have to admit that there are times when I don’t push the students enough and accept an answer that is less than complete.
Lemov challenges us to only accept answers that are complete and correct and to certainly not complete or compliment the answer for our students. Don’t wake it too easy. By all means, acknowledge the effort and accuracy, but if there is more that could or should be added, seek it.
One other aspect that Lemov mentions about questioning is the need for correct technical language when answering. I won’t allow the more simple language of explanation. I’ll stop a student and ask for a better word or invite others in the group to provide the word.
Questioning can take time. Sometimes I just want to get the content delivered. But I am so aware that the process is usually more important than the end result. I am striving to be more conscious of that on a daily basis.

Howe about you?  How do you promote both questioning and quality answering in your classroom?

Shouldn’t we be working?


Wednesday afternoon. Library. Research time. Double lesson. Year Eight.
All Middle Years teachers will understand…

I decided that we all needed a break so, without too much explanation, I got the kids to leave their books and laptops on the desks and walk outside. Once we had gathered on the side of the oval, I started my narrative: I love big trucks and diggers, I had not yet had the chance to look at the construction work (a new road on the other side of the oval), I need some sunshine and fresh air, we were going for a walk…
At this point I expected cheers of delight (part of the reason I told them this outside and not in the library). Instead, I was met with some blank looks and confused faces. One girl asked, “Shouldn’t we be working?”
I was flabberghasted! Are you serious? You are shocked that we’d take a break in the middle of a double lesson?

It got me thinking about the busyness of our classrooms and our curriculum. I have to admit that I don’t take a break like this one very often (this was the first time in the 5 weeks of teaching these kids) and it would seem no one else does either. Yet I remember a time where I’d head out for a 15minute run-around quite often. It cleared the head and burnt of excess energy and was just a lot of fun.
But today, 2014, would we do that? Highly unlikely. And how sad that is. We need to take the time to have fun, to explore, to build relationships.


Behaviour Management in the Middle Years


Behaviour management – a perennial topic of discussion and, quite often, the straw that can break the proverbial back of both students and teachers…

I had a ‘warm’ (read: not quite heated but close) conversation with a fellow teacher recently about the behaviour of the students in a particular Middle Years class.  I must confess that I was frustrated, at least on the inside, with some of her comments which appeared to dismiss the possibility that young adolescents can misbehave because of what is going on in their lives.

Let me explain…  I hold to the belief that young adolescents, on the whole, do not misbehave solely because they want to.  I believe that there are factors, sometimes quite significant, that take them to the point of misbehaviour.  Yes, there is still a choice being made, but that choice may seem the only logical response in their mind to the feelings, changes, misunderstanding and complexities of their lives.  I guess that approach is a bit Maslow-vian.

This does not excuse the behaviour… does not make it right… does not avoid consequences…  But when we, as adults, try to understand why a student misbehaves, we have gone part of the way to discovering the way to progress with the student; part of the way in helping them understand their behaviour and in changing it in the future.  Such an approach also allows for a significant relationship between the student and teacher to continue and hopefully grow.  It provides the opportunity for pastoral behaviour management to happen.  Understanding can be the first step on the pathway to potential change.

The teacher with whom I was having the conversation struggled to see that discipline should take this route.  To put it bluntly, she believed her Middle Years students should behave simply because they were expected to.

Sadly, she also seems to have missed the 3R’s of Middle education: relationship, relationship and relationship.

What do you believe about discipline in the Middle Years?

What behaviour management processes happen in your school?

Do my comments stir you enough to leave a comment?  (I hope so)

Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear you beliefs about behaviour management in the Middle Years.





They are at their desk.  There’s homework to be completed.  The books are open, the iPod is on shuffle and hard-wired to their ears, their phone is chirping and flashing as texts arrive and are sent, and the computer is scrolling with instant messages…

Just another evening in an adolescent’s bedroom, right?

There’s been a lot said about the ability of teenagers to multitask and, certainly from my perspective, they seem more capable of handling a variety of simultaneous activities far more effectively that I am.  Surely there is no real problem here; after all, multitasking is a necessary and expected part of our life, isn’t it.

Not too long ago, I would have said ‘yes’.   Indeed, my busy work life has had me handling many things and feeling the need to jump from one event to the next, from one thought process to another on a daily basis.

But my thoughts have been challenged recently by an article titles Monotasking is the new multitasking.  In a nut-shell,  the author reports on research done by Clifford Nash who says people who regularly multitask “can’t filter out irrelevancy”.  Indeed, you only have to google the term monotasking and you’ll be provided with a plethora of possibilities to ponder, including a fun little TED talk by Paolo Cardino that you should take the time to watch.

The article I read indicated 5 things we should do to minimise multitasking and start the move toward monotasking.  Parents and teachers should take note of these and encourage adolescent learners to understand their realities for learning.  These five things, listed below, were proposed by Australian Psychotherapist Nelly Cullen.

  • Create a distraction-free work environment
  • Reduce potential interruptions to your work
  • Disengage from other work
  • Be present in the moment
  • Set time limits for intense work and take breaks.

For the adolescent learner, I believe this means…

  • Getting rid of the phone and IM apps when homework is being done
  • Justifying the type of music that is being listened to when working.  Interestingly, and perhaps frustratingly for teens, research indicates this is Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Corelli.
  • Short but intense bursts of learning time is best.  Parents can help with this by helping teens to gradually increase the length of these work bursts.  Perhaps through the early teen years it might be up to ten minutes at a time with short, active breaks.  By late secondary school, this should be set at an optimum 20 to 45 minutes at a time, again with an active break where movement is involved.

No matter how you look at it, it seems we all might have to do some re-evaluation of our work habits, I reckon…