Community Connections

In her book Secrets of the Teenage Brain, Sheryl Feinstein comments on the value of, and need for, adolescents to experience activities that help develop a conscience. “Teenagers, as members of many communities, deserve schools that promote moral sensitivity and character… School and life experiences that support moral character foster individuals with high self-esteem who are capable and willing to give back to others.” (p157, Hawker Brownlow 2007)

Many schools provide curriculum content opportunities for such social and moral exploration but we know that most adolescents learn best in hands-on experiences. There are many schools that provide real-life experiences for their students in a whole variety of ways. In some cases it is even included as a mandatory extra-curricula learning element. My nieces in Western Australia, for example, were expected to log a minimum number of hours of community service during their senior years. One volunteered at a LifeLine Op Shop, another helped out at the RSPCA. What they learnt about themselves, about others and about their community was significant. I know they both developed an increased empathy during their volunteer hours as well.

Activities like these take students outside of their own realm of experience and are given the opportunity to give back to the community. They challenge the sometime-held belief that adolescents are self-centred. They help adolescents put their own life into perspective. And they engage that passionate advocacy part of an adolescents’ developing self.

In my school, we have established a strong link with a primary school that has quite a number of disadvantaged students in their population. For the past couple of years we have taken Year 9 students to that school to run a breakfast program, one day a week. The connections between the school have grown from there and I trust they might grow more.

I love the compassion, care and concern my students are developing as they prepare a simple toast-and-spreads breakfast and shoot a few hoops with these younger kids. I also love the broadening understanding of life that is developing in my students.

As Feinstein says, “…mature and sensitive people take into account the effect of their behaviour on others.”

I know you’re busy but… 10 ways to be present for your students


I got pulled up recently by a passing comment from one of my students… “Mr Wilcox, I know you are really busy but could I come and talk with you about my work?”
For some reason (guilt?) the ‘really busy’ bit was the barb in her words.

Why did she perceive me as busy? In what ways am I communicating that to my students? Sure, there are always plenty of things going in my professional life, but the most important of them must always remain my ability to be present for my students and their learning.  Teaching is a very busy career but it is a profession  founded on the needs of the students.  We must never put the cart before the horse.

Here are some things I have observed that will likely communicate the wrong message to students about your availability. (Some I confess to, others are not ‘me’.)

1. Using technology
Technology is an important part of teaching and should be seamlessly integral to what we do. Sometimes, however, it can become a distraction and a time-drain. Be sure it never gets in the way of solid student relationship.

2. Tweeting, texting, emailing in class
I am aware of people who will do this during a class they are teaching.  It’s time to disconnect from your online world and connect with the kids in front of you.

3. Getting stuck at your classroom desk
It can be easy to set a task that engages kids and then find yourself, as the teacher, working on something else. But consider how this looks to the students. Be 100% present in every element of your student’s learning, wandering and questioning and encouraging.

4. Frequently focusing on what you (or they) need to do by a deadline
Deadlines are real and necessary but an over-emphasis on them will communicate a one-dimensional approach to learning: the busier you are the more you are effective. Take care not to let your own deadline pressures to complete things or have kids complete tasks get in the way of quality time for engaging, relational learning.

5. Being late for class
This is obviously poor form and can easily communicate that something else is more important that your presence with your class.

6. Leaving class quickly
Very much like point 5, this yells ‘too busy’ to the students. Or, even less desiringly, ‘I’m done with this teaching stuff’. Frequently, the after-lesson time will be when students will hang back and chat about learning or life. Be present for them.

7. Turning up with a coffee or cookie in your hand
Personally, I hate it when teachers bring coffee or food to class. I know there will be times when you have duty and don’t get a chance to have a break, but let’s be sure that we don’t become so relaxed about our class setting that we lose a professional, attentive approach toward our kids. By all means, have a snack time with the kids if you want. But be careful not to inadvertently communicate that you are so busy you can’t even take a break during break times.

8. Brushing kids off
I guess this is the ultimate way of communicating you’re too busy to care. If you cannot speak with a student immediately, negotiate the soonest time possible to catch up. And then, don’t forget.

9. Not providing good eye contact and attention when speaking with students
This is akin to brushing kids off. Your body language is critical in communicating positive, healthy, connected communication with your students. If you can’t give them your full attention, don’t try to give them just part attention. Either stop what you are doing or negotiate another time when you can give all of your attention to the student’s needs.

10. Not being able to be found by your students
I can think of a few teachers I have worked with who did a very good job of disappearing during break times or spare lessons. Sometimes, these are the best times for students to access you and work through issues.

Let me finish by saying again: teaching is a very busy job. There is a lot that goes on and many things that demand our time. But I believe that, in reality, many of the tasks can wait so that our students remain our main focus.
What’s your opinion?


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.


Fighting the New Drug


As educators, we must be aware of the social twists and turns that will have an impact on our students. Whether we like it or not, our students will frequently become a slave to societal elements and this will, likely, have an impact on who they become, what they bring to the classroom, and on their ability to develop healthily. We must also recognise that we, as educators, have a social responsibility to challenge unhealthy influences in the lives of our students.
The greatest influence and, potentially, the greatest destructive force in the lives of adolescents today is pornography (for both males and females). Teens have access to pornography in ways unheard of 15 years ago. Indeed, one statistic says that 90% of 12 year olds access porn on a regular basis. Porn has both an addictive and a paralysing effect that we must be aware of. Often boys will become imitators and/or aggressors in response to what they see.
And the impact and seduction of girls in this area of culture is just as dangerous and impacting.
Please take the time to watch this TedX video  (be warned, there are some confronting matters that are discussed, but no graphic images, and I’m not advocating you show it to younger teens). It is important that we are educated about the impact of this ‘new drug’.
Which brings me to a second web site I strongly encourage you to connect with, Fight the New Drug.
You can see an introductory video of the organisation here.
This nonprofit organisation deserves your attention and their web site contains powerful information that you, the educator, must have at your disposal.
Whether it is deliberate and intention teaching on this topic or incidental hidden-curriculum references, I believe we all have a responsibility to inform and educate about the dangers of this new blight on our society.
I value the individuals I teach too much not to do something about it.


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.


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.


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