Student Voice

One of the highlights of last week’s APCAS conference in Singapore was the student forum. We sat wrapped as seven students from the Australian International School spoke about life on their side of the chalk-face.
These students from Year 6 to 11 were articulate, witty, wise and engaging.

Here is a snapshot of a few of the things they said and explored…

About self-directed learning a Student said: ‘we had relationship with the teacher so it was easy to ask them when we needed it’.

When asked, ‘what if there were no grades at your school?, the kids were initially stumped. They admitted they were motivated by grades but then considered what else might motivate them.  It was interesting to see how engrained the educational process was for these adolescents.

There was a mixed bag between the desire for written and verbal feedback. But all said that the feedback from their teacher was what they sought most and that it needed to be authentic and linked to how they, the student, could improve.

Regarding attention and interest in class: ‘We listen for a while but then lose ingested when we are not able to take control.’

On time tabling: A 5 minute break between each 50min lesson. The Kids thought 50 was optimum.

When speaking about the reason and motivation for doing assessment: ‘If it was an essay, you’d give it to your teacher and it wouldn’t matter any more. Having a real audience makes a difference’.

While I could unpack these comments on he his post, I actually think that would be pointless. What is most important is for you, and me, to take their statements and consider what should be our take-away message in relation to our classrooms, our teaching practices and our students’ learning.

As always, I’d love to get your feedback and opinions.

A Fork in the Teacher’s Road

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I was made aware of a fork in my road yesterday and it is worth sharing.  It was one of those moments when you realise that, as a teacher, the little decisions can become significant beyond the immediacy of the moment.

It was after the bell for morning break.  I was pretty keen for my morning coffee (please don’t judge me too harshly) and ready to head for the door straight after the students.  One of the girls sitting right in front of me hesitated for just a moment then said, “My mum will be home from Alice Springs tomorrow”.

While I don’t believe I showed a hesitation to her, I had a distinct moment of debate in my head.  Do I respond with a brief but (to be honest) dismissive reply or do I ask the leading question that would open her up and give permission for her to share what was behind the question?

I trust you know me well enough to know which road I took at that particular juncture…  Yes, I asked her why mum had been away and why she was in Alice Springs.  And then came the wonderful intersection of time and opportunity and connectedness that makes all teachers et up in the morning.  She shared about the award her grandfather had received, the excitement in her family and her mother’s trip to be there for the ceremony.  it was genuinely interesting information and I’m so glad I asked.  And, of course more than that, I created a point of commonality and relationship with the student that is vital and lasting.

And I still got time for my coffee!


I trust my decision at that fork in the teacher’s road is not ever the road less travelled.

Have you a similar story to share?



Appreciate. Expect.


This quote piqued my interest when I saw it on a post recently.  I’ve written about this sort of topic a couple of times before, but let me hone in on the two key words from this quote…


I want my kids to know that they are appreciated: for who they are, for what they do, for how they contribute, for their very existence as a student in my class.  This is, obviously, the core of relationship.

So how do you do that?

Get to know your students in any way possible.  What sports do they play?  What hobbies or jobs do they like?  Where do they fit in their family’s dynamics (remember, birth order impacts many parts of life)?  What are their greatest struggles and fears?  All of these questions will help to shape our understanding of a student as an individual.

As you get to know your students, you will find ways to appreciate them using the language and methods that work for them, individually.

But appreciation goes deeper than just knowing a student.  Often it becomes and act of will.  Sometimes we need to be the adult and draw from our maturity to look beyond the behaviour and character to the deeper things of life-connection; to that place of ‘appreciating because ‘and not ‘appreciating for’.  ‘Appreciating because’ is about appreciation that is not driven by what a students does.  It is driven by the very fact that they are a fellow human being with wants and needs; that we as teachers have been given a huge responsibility to speak into this life for a period of time.


What do you expect of your students?  I fear that with the tyranny of time teachers experience daily, we can easily slip into the mode of teaching that expects a little less than we might hope so that we know there will be a level of success.  The reality is that adolescents, especially, will have far more to offer than we expect.  Given the right opportunities and learning environment, adolescents can and will come up with wonderfully surprising outcomes.

Projects and open learning environments and discussion forums and real life learning and engagement with community programs will all provide a platform for exploration and growth.  I can assure you that, when I’ve run such activities, the outcomes have far exceeded what I expected.

I trust you will seek out new ways of blending your appreciate and your expectations of your students.


Middle Giggle


Just a little story to make you smile today!

(I’d love to hear if this has ever happened to you…)


Walking through the hallways at the middle school where I work, I saw a new substitute teacher standing outside his classroom with his forehead against a locker.

I heard him mutter, “How did you get yourself into this?”

Knowing that he was assigned to a difficult class, I tried to offer moral support.

“Are you okay?” I asked.  “Can I help?”

He lifted his head and replied, “I’ll be fine as soon as I get this kid out of his locker.”


The infinite value of the multicultural classroom


I am teaching a wonderful unit on multiculturalism, refugees, migrations and asylum seekers.  Here in Australia, this is a relevant and current issue and there is a lot to discover and explore.  What has made the teaching so much richer than I anticipated is the fact that, across the two class groups, I have seven students who have intimate experiences with migration.  Several are refugees and a couple have parents who migrated here.

I invited each student to share about their family’s experiences and I could not have planned the results if I had provided them with a script.  Completely unprompted, the students spoke about war and displacement, about waiting in a refugee camp for years, about abuse and poor education and family tensions, and about the release and relief that came with resettlement.
For a significant time, the rest of the class sat spellbound as their peers spoke.

There has been a lot said and written about the self-centeredness of adolescence and their inability to engage with non-bells-and-whistles didactic presentations.
I can assure you that engagement can happen in all sorts of ways.  The key is the passion of the presenter, especially when it is an adolescent’s peer.

And none of this would have happened without the fact that I am blessed with the richness of a multicultural class.


Engaging Lessons; Life Lessons


I read a great article recently about the value of real life teaching.  I’d encourage you to check it out…

Obviously, it got me thinking about the degree to which I teach for real life and the ways in which I do it.  Sometimes I am like Teacher A but I strive to be more like Teacher B.  Let me give you a recent example of some life teaching that happened in my room.

Now, we know that young adolescents can be passionate beings, connecting on a deep level with injustices and offering creative solutions (though sometimes misguided or limited by their understanding).  To tap into this and to further their exploration of the issues facing people living in disadvantaged locations, I ran an introductory activity with the help of two of my students.  They were asked to role play with me but in secret.  They were my targets at which I threw every inappropriate teacher behaviour I could think up, disciplining them unjustly in front of their peers for half an hour.  The two kids did a great job of copping what I asked them to do, moving seats, standing up, being sent from the room, being told they were silly for not knowing something I felt they should know (even though the rest of the students didn’t know it either).  You get the idea.

At the end of the time, I called them both to the front of the class and we ‘confessed’ our role playing and allowed the rest of the class to discuss their feelings about what had happened.  Wow!  We certainly did a great job.  There were so many discussion-starter comments from the class about injustice, their feelings toward me during the activity, and their feelings toward the kids who were unfairly treated.  From there we looked at the UN Charter of Human Rights which, all of a sudden  became a living document to the class as they related what I had done to what happens in places around the world, and what we should do in response.

I’m convinced that what could have been a dry, stand-alone lesson on the Charter, had suddenly taken on new depth and meaning.


What activities do you do in your classroom to create real-life learning?


Boundaries when everything is Google…




Our school is currently moving into the Google environment, using Gmail for communication between students and staff, creating Docs and making them available on moodle, encouraging discussion threads on Groups, and so on.

I love the level of connectivity it affords me and I’m hoping to get subject specific content online for the students soon.

As a starting point with my Year Eight kids, I sent an email to them to check I had their address was correct as well as to ensure they knew how to access their mail. (I know these kids are intuitively tech savvy, but that is no guarantee they all can do what I need them to.).  Having asked the students to shoot me back an email, I then spent the evening at home on my school-supplied iPad replying to their responses. I also dealt with an email from an older student about an upcoming off-campus event she is involved in.

This is a new world of connectivity for us all.  I love it and I’m wary of it.

And it got me thinking… With the increase in connectivity and access to and from my students, has our teaching day just become significantly longer?  Have the boundaries between work and home become more rubbery?

Now I know that teaching is, really, a 24hour profession; we almost constantly mentally engaged in the job at one level or another*.  We will consider the content of lessons, collect resources, worry about kids and evaluate our effectiveness.  We will blog and tweet and read and grow professionally in our ‘own’ time.  But I believe we, as professionals, need to engage in discussion about boundaries and work-life balance.  We need to ensure that the connected classroom does not ever take us to a place where we cannot easily disconnect.

How do you set boundaries for yourself?  Where do you draw the line and turn off the technology?

I’d love to get your feedback.



* This reminds me of a couple I met while teaching in Canada in 2005. They were both art teachers but returning to the Ukraine and giving up on teaching to return to producing art.  Why?  In their own words, “You know how it is. When you are teaching you never have enough head space to pursue other things in life.”


APCAS Conference & School Camps



Yes I am!  And I’m really excited about it, partly because I am going to Singapore (I’ve only every seen the inside of the airport there) and partly because it is shaping up to be a great conference.

As you would know from reading my blog, I am a passionate Middle Years teacher and any conference that will continue to hone my skills and increase my knowledge about teaching teens fires me up.  This particular conference will have the added bonus of focusing on some different elements of education (for me).  In part, that includes the chance to check out international schools, where students and staff come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.  I’m expecting it will be a bit like having the world squished into a single school campus…  Hence the conference title, I guess: Global Students, Real Solutions.

If you’d like details on the conference, please have a look HERE.

If you’re attending, please let me know so we can plan to catch up for a coffee.


On another note…  I’m planning our annual Year Eight camp which will take the kids a few hours away and provide them with some activities designed to build relationship, develop team dynamics, and offer some personal challenges to stretch the kids.

Each year I ask myself why we do this.  I know what I want the kids to get out of a time like this but, given the restrictions of time and the (sometimes disappointing) limitations of the camp facilitators, we often don’t quite get there…

What do you do regarding outdoor education and extra-curricula activities like camps?  What have you found that works effectively for students development and growth?  What are your goals and how do you ensure you meet them?

I’d love to get your ideas.



First Day… Keep Calm…


It is the first day back with the students tomorrow (after my term off) and I’m feeling a bit like I can relate to this Keep Calm statement.  I have returned to find I have dropped a subject and picked up another, and across the three subjects I will be teaching, the content for all is basically new.  It’s taken a bit to get my head wrapped around the big picture let alone the daily break-down of content.  But I am truly excited about getting into the classroom with the kids.  There has been a lot that’s happened with them while I have been away, including the death of one of the dads just two weeks ago and some behaviour issues that, honestly, I’m surprised have come about.

But all of this is, in part, the life we signed up for when we became teachers.  And working with young adolescents makes it even more unpredictable and fun.  The plans I have will remain the general guide for what we’ll do together, for I truly hope that the kids and I will create some wonderful, unexpected, unprecedented learning together.

It is going to be a great semester.  There will be challenges.  We will succeed, together.

Bring it on!