Good Teaching (Parker Palmer)

Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach is an incredible book that gets at the heart of why we are teachers, and in so many ways, as we grasp this ideology, we will be challenged to evaluate the atmosphere of our classroom.

How ‘complete’ are you prepared to be in the classroom?  Is there a part of you that you strive to hold back?  There probably is but I challenge you to evaluate not only what you keep private but what do deliberately do not; what you use from your own experiences as an element of your personal pedagogy.  I believe what Palmer says about teaching from a place of identity and integrity has a significant role to play in the choices we make regarding classroom discipline / atmosphere.

How do you see identity and atmosphere intersecting in your classroom?



After three decades of trying to learn my craft, every class comes down to this: my students and I, face to face, engaged in an ancient and exacting exchange called education. The techniques I have mastered do not disappear, but neither do they suffice. Face to face with my students, only one resource is at my immediate command: my identity, my selfhood, my sense of this “I” who teaches—without which I have no sense of the “Thou” who learns.  Here is a secret hidden in plain sight: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. In every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.

Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching—and, in the process, from their students.

Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a “capacity for connectedness.” They are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem-solving, creative chaos. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts meaning heart in its ancient sense, the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.

As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight.  Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart – and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be.  The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subjects can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.



It’s been far too long…



I confess that I have often thought that I’ve been too busy because ‘life got in the way’.  What a ridiculous statement.  The fact is we are all bust doing life and we make priorities – not always good ones.  Life is awesome and busy and rewarding and all I want it to be!

It’s been a while since I posted here but its time I started again.

My role at my school has changed and, in part, I’m looking at the behavior management process of our staff.  That’s lead me to do a bunch of research and reading of other people’s blog posts.  And there’s some awesome stuff out there!

Over the next few posts, I’d like to share some of what I’ve found and what I’ve shared with the staff at my school.  I trust you’ll find something useful there and that you’ll navigate to the sites of the wonderful people who inspire me in the realm of education.



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The [un]Reality of Teenage Thoughts


The Death Stare.

The most powerful weapon in the psychological arsenal in the war of Teenage Girl Against Girl.  It messes with heads and hearts, and demands a return of equal or greater intensity, perhaps even punctuated with a roll of the eyes!


I had to go ‘there’ with a couple of girls recently, working with them to resolve a long-standing (it’s been a week) and complex (no one knows how or why this started) feud that had hands on the nuclear red-button of ‘I just want to punch her in the face’.

So how do we handle such things?

  1. Recognise that the feud is real in the minds of the students, even if it seems fantastical to you
  2. Help the kids understand that a reality exists outside of their mind.  Not all glances happen with a suitcase of emotions attached.  Often it is just a glance.  Period.
  3. Give it time and space
  4. Help the kids learn through the process
  5. Provide the words and actions the kids need
  6. Understand that part of adolescence is the need to be adult while the reality of life is still stuck in childhood.


Busy Growing Up

douglas - the robe

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Robe – a very old book (1942) that my dad was reading.  The opening line caught my attention…

Because she was only fifteen and busy with her growing up, Lucia’s periods of reflection were brief and infrequent; but this morning she felt weighted with responsibility.

It seems teenagers may not have changed that much during the past 60-odd years!

It’s interesting that, at the time the book was written, the term ‘teenager’ was not in common use (that happened a few years later), yet the author sums up so much of what was, and still is, a teenagers life.

busy growing up‘.  We must remember that our adolescents are on a journey to maturity.  We cannot expect them to be all at the same stage or even consistent in their ‘growing up’ from day to day.  There is so much that impacts their lives and development.  I do love the use of the word ‘busy’ and I trust I’m never guilty of stopping a teen in their busyness of growing, journeying, processing and maturing.

periods of reflection‘.  Teens have a lot going on in their head and not all of it is structured and organised.  The fact that there are ‘periods’ of reflection is so true.  ‘Brain today and gone tomorrow’ might well describe many adolescents.  But the reality remains: when the mood arrives, their ability to reflect and think is outstanding.  I trust I never assume a teen’s ability to process or not, but always support and encourage, and celebrate the times of success.

weighed with responsibility‘.  There is such truth in that statement.  Teens are caught in the flux between seeing responsibility and wanting maturing, and struggling to grasp adequate experiential breadth to deal with either.  We also see it in the rates of anxiety and depression in adolescents.  I believe there is a degree of negative mental health that occurs because teen are thrust into aspects of the ‘adult’ world before they are ready.  It is my goal to meet an adolescent where they are and to be understanding of the weight of responsibility they may carry.



Guest Post: Fun Homework Tasks


As the debate about homework swirls around educators, it was nice to be approached by Corinne offering to share some thoughts on interesting way of setting fun homework for Middle Years kids…



Homework is an essential part of any curriculum. While it may be easier to assign homework to junior grades, it becomes increasingly difficult to give middle school teens homework because they’ve already got more on their plates than they can chew. So how can middle school teachers achieve the fine balance between assigning their students homework and making sure they’re not overburdened? The following homework ideas might just be the solution!


Create a reading log

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Have the kids create their own reading logs at home and then check them at month-end.

What is it?

A reading log is a journal where you can record your reading activities – what you read, how many pages have you read, what you think of the plot, etc. In other words, a reading log can be an excellent tool to summarize what and how much you are reading. Reading logs are generally broken down by dates.

How does it help?

Reading logs serve manifold purposes. They gift readers with memorable experiences as they go on listing the books they read and their points of view on them. What a fulfilling experience it would be to go back and look at a reading log that was made several years ago! The cathartic effect of talking about a book after reading it cannot be negated either. Don’t you feel lighter when you discuss the book you read with someone? In the case of a reading log, one gets to note down their afterthoughts instead of discussing verbally with another. Keeping reading logs can give teens a real sense of achievement when they go through their entries.

How to create one?

Help children make their reading logs at home or advise them to download simple reading logs from third party websites, only after you’ve viewed their terms and conditions. Below is a sample reading log.

Date of reading Book title Author No. of pages Like/dislike so far Reviews/comments
30th June A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin 78 Like None


2nd July A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin 142 Like Can’t wait to finish it
4th July Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Macmillan) Lewis Carroll 200 Like Been waiting to read this one for so long!


Science experiments

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Science experiments can be a wonderful tool to explore science subjects at home and learn hands-on. Hand over an instruction workbook to each student in the class so that the child can independently carry out the science experiments at home. Discuss the observations and conclusions in the class so that the students continue to learn from one another’s outcome. Get ideas for science experiments from online sources or chalk them out yourself; just make sure they are fairly simple and safe to carry out as older children may not always request adults to help out if they’re doing the experiments at home.


History calendars

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Aah, history calendars! When did World War II take place or when did the United States elect its first President? Dates are difficult to remember for every middle-schooler, especially when they’ve got more important tasks at hand like solving a trigonometry problem or analyzing the aftermaths of the WTC attack for their social studies projects. It’s a good idea to give them the homework of making history calendars that you can put it up in the classroom. If you’re planning for the middle-schoolers to make a calendar from 1900-2010 then divide the years equally among the students and have each of them make a calendar with the important events in the years assigned to them. For example, have a student make a history calendar for 1900-1910, another one for 1911-1920, and so on. Encourage them to illustrate their calendars and use colors to make it display-worthy!



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If you’re a middle school teacher, have you ever attached any importance to the teaching values of conducting an interview? It’s time you did! Have middle school students interview a neighbor, parent, teacher, peer, or sibling as homework to find out more about a particular topic. You can suggest topics specific to the interviewee; sibling – sibling rivalry, parent – responsibilities and expectations of a parent, neighbor – sharing and giving, etc. to get the teens started. However, allow them the freedom to prepare the questionnaire for their interviews. Apart from understanding another person’s perspective and point of view on a particular topic/issue, students will have much sharpened communication skills too by the end of the interview.

As times are changing, teaching is also evolving into a more interactive and game-based exercise. So, bend the rules and sneak in a good amount of fun to the learning that you are imparting!


Author Bio:

Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning.




Caring for Teens




I’m not a fatalist, but I am more and more concerned with the negative impact of ‘life’ on the lives of our adolescents.  I’m seeing an increasing number of students who struggle with the complexity of their lives and the impact those complexities have on learning, connecting, and life.

With that in mind, I have to say that the quote above from Josh Shipp resonates with me at the deepest levels of who I am.

My school is blessed with so many educators whose desire is to teach way beyond the curriculum; people who desire to understand and deeply care for the young adolescents in their care.  Weekly, perhaps even daily, I hear of a staff member who had the chance to explore life with a student.  And this mentioning comes from a genuine desire to develop real relationship with the students.

I’m also very aware of the need of students to share their story with an adult who cares.

Recently I had cause to speak with a student about a behaviour issue that was quite out of character.  This is a young man I did not know and had never previously spoken to.  And yet, in the course of our conversation, he chose to disclose some significant and deeply-impacting life scenarios – stuff that is way beyond what any teenager should have to deal with.

I have no idea why he chose to trust me and share that stuff with me but the fact is, he did.  For some reason he felt safe to do so.  And the result of knowing that just one person at the school knows his life story seemed to have a impact on the way he viewed his life at school.

Right person; right place; right time.

Sometimes it really is that simple to ease the pain life brings.