Changing the World


I wrote last week about my Year Eight students and the mini project they were doing to end the year.  I am incredibly impressed and proud of what they have achieved, especially one group.

I have kids who are wrapping almost-new second-hand books and making cards which will be delivered to the children’s ward at the local hospital.  Others are making videos with a social justice theme and posting them YouTube. Still others are writing letters to encourage people to consider partnering with an aid agency to support impoverished people.  A couple of individuals are creating social-justice themes art work.

But the group that are impressing me most are those students who have created an awareness campaign and are promoting it through social media.  do a search for #Heart2Change in twitter or instagram, or look up Heart2Change of FaceBook to see what they are doing    It is such a simple but powerful concept.  The students are encouraging people to put the heart2change symbol (above) on their wrist as a way of engaging people in conversation; a way of explaining that they have a heart to change the world, that others can have a heart to change, and that, together, we can change hearts.  How great is that?  simple, effective, and a clear message.  A couple from this group were even interviewed on the local community radio station this morning.

I really hope this concept goes viral (like the ice bucket challenge) but if it doesn’t, I am still incredibly impressed with that these kids have achieved.  Their thinking and discovery and problem solving… and their passion… has been astounding.

Please check them out and join their movement to change the world.

I cannot imagine a more exciting place to be working than here at my school with my young adolescents and in this wonderful, collaborative environment.


6 things teens need to hear every day…


As in, “You were to have this completed today.  Let’s work toward tomorrow”.
Grace is needed with teen learners and sometimes there are very good reasons why something needs to be put off for a day or two. Teen’s lives are complex. The reason why the task is not complete today might be as varied as the sky and the earth. Listen to the reason, evaluate, then show grace when you can.  Give them until tomorrow if you can.  But then hold them to account.

As in, “You’ve done well here, here and here however what do you reckon about this part?”  Students crave balanced feedback on their work. Providing just the positives eliminates the need for improvement. Providing just the negatives is crushing. The balance of the two provides the goal and the improvement needed to get there.

I believe you can
Advocacy is invaluable.  Our positive encouragement is vital.  Helping teens see the pathway to further success is enlightening.

However, never should we leave them to flounder in finding that success.  Scaffolding is necessary and cushioning their failure-fall is imperative.  Which leads to…

You made a mistake
Mistakes are normal, needed and need to be noticed.  Celebrate the growth that comes from the discovery of a mistake. And make sure you show your mistakes and your growth too.

How often do we restrict learning because of our preconceptions.  We need to listen to suggestions from students and say yes more often. Creativity and thought are based on permission and exist beyond the boundaries of restriction.

In other words
Adolescents require explanations to be given in various way, as many times as needed. Don’t become frustrated by their lack of understanding. Be the adult. Be the teacher. Find new ways to explain. And this is not just about new words to use, but also new methods and process to demonstrate and engage in learning.


What would you add to this list?


Little Things before Big Things


I love serendipitous moments that get you musing…

These two posts appeared close together in my Facebook feed the other day:

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I think all the pressure that I put on myself has been paralysing.  When I graduated from high school, a lot of people wrote in my yearbook: ‘You’re going to do great things,’ or ‘I know you’re going to make it big.’  I realized that with all the time I spent trying to figure out what my ‘big thing’ was going to be, I passed over a lot of small things that could have really added up.  The moment I became content with taking small steps, I started moving forward again.


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“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

Do we, in our adult / teacher ‘wisdom’, assume too much of our adolescent learners and throw them headlong into our version of their adult life without taking time for them to learn life as kids?  I am a firm believe in the lesson of the little things.  They are the foundations on which great things and extraordinary lives are built.


Apologies of the poor quality graphics  Here are the links: I love lots of the stuff from ‘Humans of New York‘.  The second quote is attributed to William Martin.


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.


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.





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…


sleep in teens

As educators who work with adolescents, we know that there are monumental changes that happen in the bodies of teenagers as they grow, develop and change.  One of those changes has an impact on the adolescent’s ability to sleep, resulting in potential sleep deprivation (or what is now more commonly termed ‘sleep debt’).  
With this in mind, I wrote the following for my school’s parent newsletter.  You might find it of value…


There are good biological reasons why teens struggle to get to sleep and can’t be woken in the morning. But there are some good things parents can do to minimize the impact on teens.

If you are finding your teen is often drowsy upon waking, tired during the day, and wakeful at night, then the following information summary may be helpful.  The full article and links can be found at

Until the age of 10, most children awaken refreshed and energetic. In adolescence, the brain’s biological clock, or circadian rhythm, shifts forward. Melatonin secretions, which trigger sleepiness, start later at night and turn off later in the morning. This natural shift peps up adolescents at the traditional weekday bedtime of 9 or 10 p.m. and can explain why it is so hard to rouse them at sunrise. In contrast, circadian rhythms in middle-aged people tend to swing backward, and many parents struggle to stay awake when their adolescent children are at their most alert.

Teenagers actually need as much sleep or more than they got as children—nine to ten hours are optimum. Most adolescents are chronically sleep-deprived, averaging a scant six to seven hours a night.  Too little sleep can result in uncontrolled napping, irritability, inability to do tasks that are not exciting or of a competitive nature, and dependence on caffeine drinks to stay alert.

Sleep debt also has a powerful effect on a teen’s ability to learn and retain new material, especially in abstract subject areas such as physics, philosophy, math, and calculus.

Parents can help teenagers get enough sleep by keeping TVs and electronic gadgets out of their bedrooms, switching to caffeine-free drinks in the evening, and getting them to wind down activity by a reasonable hour. Catch-up sleep on weekends is a second-best option because it can confuse the brain as to when night-time occurs and is not as restorative as regular slumber.


Learning Forgiveness



How real are you in front of your class of adolescents?  Are you willing to make mistakes?

My early teaching career was one built on the foundation of ‘the teacher is right’ (even when I was wrong).  It was not a healthy place to be and I’m glad I am not there now.  My students know I will let them know if I make a mistake; indeed, they will usually point them it to me.  We’ll also use those mistakes, as well as the ‘I don’t know’ moments, to learn and grow together.

As I have blogged before, I want my students to embrace their mistakes and learn from them.  I want them to be real; to understand their limitations as possibilities and their errors and ‘not yet achieved’s.  Hopefully they will see that modelled in me.

I trust I am helping my student to forgive themselves for the mistakes they make and to continue the growth toward maturity.



Competency Based Positive Vocabulary


We all know that positive language is important within the classroom but I believe that for adolescents is it critical.

More than at any other time in their lives, teenagers will struggle with aspects if identity as they move from relatively intimate parental control and influence into the adult word of personal decision making (and all of the consequences that brings).  Adolescents can easily feel overwhelmed with their life and the changes that are occurring.  At times they will feel in control but often they will struggle with their level of competencies and will need support.  One way of doing that is through the language we use and engender in the classroom.

Recently, I came across the following list of words that challenged me to consider how a small change in the language I use could make a potentially large difference to my students (and how I view them).

While the list was used to contract a pathology (‘how do I fix’) language set with a competency (‘how do I support’) vocabulary, I believe it can also be used to engender a more positive language in our classrooms and in our adolescent students.



Negative vocabulary


Positive vocabulary

Fix Empower
Weakness Strength
Limitation Possibility
Problem Solution
Insist Invite
Closed Open
Shrink Expand
Defence Access
Expert Partner
Control Nurture
Backward Forward
Manipulate Collaborate
Fear Hope
Cure Growth
Stuck Change
Missing Latent
Resist Utilise
Hierarchical Horizontal
Diagnose Appreciate
Judge Respect


In what ways do you see this language could transform your classroom?  I’ve you to share your ideas and opinions.


Metcalf, L., (1995) Therapy towards solutions: a practical solution focused program for working with students, teachers, and parents. New York Centre for Applied Research in Education

Learning Internet Safety (Guest Post)



As educators, we understand the inherent issues and the dangers of poor internet safety understanding.  This is especially the case in adolescents.  For many, the bombardment of images and themes via the internet can bring about many social, emotional and psychological pressures… sexual confusion through exposire to explicit material being just one.  We, as adults, are aware of the dangers of providing personal details online but, due to poor decision making during this time of brain reorganisation and development, young people will easily ignore such boundaries.  I think most will also agree that the internet can give a skewed understanding of the world. But there is another side the the coin.  The internet is powerful and informative and connective and… here to stay.

It is my privilege, today, to host another blog post from Albert Roberts. Read on as he explores…


 At What Age Should Children Learn About Internet Safety?

The birth of the world wide web has become one of the most significant developments in history. It informs almost everything that we do as people – we use it for leisure, work, learning and play. As all reasonably rational teachers, parents and guardians know, it can be both an invaluable tool and a potential danger. We will never effectively tackle the dangers that lurk on the internet, if we cannot first come to terms with this dichotomous truth. What we can do is educate and inform children in our care about the dangers of the internet. We must do this from an early age, and we must do it without tricks or lies.

It is hard to teach children about internet safety, because we can’t always protect ourselves from its conmen, trolls and predators. If a fully functioning adult can be targeted by the darker forces on the web, how can we possibly keep the most vulnerable members of society safe from them? The key is to come to terms with the fact that our control of the internet is limited. There are bad things out there, but we can’t influence or stop the vast majority of them – not on our own.

There are countless stories of parents forbidding their children from using the internet at home, only to later find out that they’re accessing dangerous material or talking to dangerous people in secret. There is safety in honesty, there is security in being open with children. Nevertheless, it can be tricky to work out when a child is old enough to start learning about safety internet. This is due to the fact that there’s no real consensus for when a child is old enough to start using the internet.

If we can all agree that it’s best to leave the free use of the internet to the discretion of parents, it is safe to assume that an awareness of internet safety should begin as soon as your child is given leave to browse the web. Whilst a child is below twelve years of age, it is best to use the internet together. When your child begins to approach adolescence, you can begin to touch upon some of the more serious risks involved with independently surfing and using the internet. You should never try to frighten your child into behaving appropriately online, because this will only increase their confusion.

For children under 12 it’s important to establish simple and easy to understand “golden” rules:

  • Never Share Names, Schools, Ages, Phone Numbers, or Addresses
  • Never Open An Email From A Stranger – It May Contain Viruses That Can Harm A Computer
  • Never Send Pictures To Strangers Or View Pictures That Strangers Send To Them
  • Keep Passwords Private (Except to Parents)
  • Tell A Trusted Adult if Something Mean or Creepy Happens On The Internet

Children are inherently curious things – even more so when they reach adolescence. It can often seem like the act of forbidding a certain action can have the opposite effect. If you forbid a certain action without fully explaining why, that teenage need to rebel will only become more of a problem – the internet can be too dangerous a place to take that risk. A large part of tackling this issue is confronting the fact that teen’s might be actively trying to search for mature content online. Whilst it is true that sanctions can sometimes be useful, discretion must be used here. Teen’s have to deal with a rapidly changing brain and they need support, even if it isn’t always palpable.

It does not make a child abnormal or even badly behaved, it just means that they’re exploring the limits of their own sexuality. In order to stay safe, they simply have to know that not everybody tells the truth online. They must fully understand that even if they feel like they can trust an online friend, there is no guarantee that that online friend is telling the truth. Don’t be afraid to discuss this dilemma frankly with teens – be careful not to patronise, but do explain that adolescent brains sometimes find it harder to deal with making clear and rational decisions.

It is natural for adolescents to be curious about the darker side of the internet and at this age, 24 hour supervision isn’t possible, and never healthy. This is precisely why early reinforcement is so vital – if you give children the right information and tools, they will apply it on their own behalf. Don’t simply tell them not to share personal information, agree to meet strangers or share photographs via the internet. You need to first identify the reasons why an adolescent might want to do these things – bearing in mind we most often won’t particularly like the answers.

The difference between teaching and telling is a very fine one – teaching a child about internet safety rather than just tell them how important it is. Children won’t have any frame of reference to help them understand exactly why they need to be careful online, so there’s no point trying to have discussions about chat rooms or sexual predators at a very early age. It is much more effective to teach them the basic internet safety rules as if they are an immutable fact of life. If you teach a child these things early enough, they will become an accepted part of life.


Albert Roberts has been a secondary school teacher for eleven years. He recommends checking out the services from School Explained as they are great for improving the relationship between teachers, parents and students alike.  Albert can be found online blogging about how to engage challenging students and how to improve parent teacher relationships.