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!



Making my world bigger

14 weeks is a heck of a long time, but it has been that long since I last sat at my desk at school and, today, I am back here trying to get my thoughts together in preparation for the onslaught of the semester ahead. And it has been a mixed bag of success.

During my time of leave I travelled overseas for four weeks and then renovated large swathes of our house. In the middle of it all there was the death of my father-in-law and the process of grief for all of my immediate family. While I had been checking my school emails and kept a small part of my brain linked in on school stuff, I have had a wonderful time of doing something completely different.

What did I learn? I guess the most significant thing was that there is a lot of life we rarely have the opportunity to experience and that, for teachers especially, the routines of education can become a rut which might run so deep that we lose sight of other, equally valuable and interesting aspects of life. And this is an important thing to remember (or be reminded of). I am a firm believer in education providing as broad a scope for student learning as possible and so teachers must maintain their own life-exploration in order to ‘be the world’ to their students.

To annotate just one aspect of this… I have had several weeks of project managing trades workers. I have a better appreciation of their levels of skill and knowledge and their ability to do a job (which was taking me quite some time) effectively with the right technique and tools. I especially enjoyed working with my sparkie who took it upon himself to become my electrical mentor, passing off jobs to me instead of simply doing them himself, saying, “Why pay my boss $100 an hour for me to do something I reckon you could do yourself”. Not only did I learn about wiring and installing lights and powerpoints and switches, but I have the satisfaction of bragging that, “I hooked up those lights all by myself!” (Don’t worry; he did check my work before we switched the power back on.)

Does that make me a better teacher? Of course it does. My world is bigger. I have more I can draw upon when teaching my kids. I have increased appreciations and understandings.





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.