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.


Trying to be hands-off for creative tasks


To finish the year, I have my Year Eight students working in teams to engage with the ‘now what’ question that flowed quite naturally from the work we have been doing on social justice, third world countries and aid agencies. Effectively, I have given them free reign to complete a task of their choosing. This is not ‘academic’ work but it is definitely making use of higher-order thinking skills. This is not life-like learning. This is real-life, make-it-happen, dirt-under-the-fingernails learning.

It is challenging! Both for the students and for me. There is no planning I can do. There are no defined outcomes I can aim for. All of it is in the hands of the students. And it is stretching us all.

I have kids who want to use social media to promote a cause. Others are wanting to visit the local hospital to hand out toys to kids. Others are creating social justice themed art work. Still others want to tattoo symbols on wrists. (Seriously!)

Now, I tend to be a fairly hands-on teacher with clear plans and goals. You could see how this is definitely outside my comfort zone and why I’m feeling a degree of being out of control. (OK… I’m a bit of a control-freak when it comes to learning in my classroom…)

Basically, I need to be prepared for my students to (potentially) fail. But, as I’ve said many times, it is in those times and scenarios that the kids will learn. It’s a tightrope to walk for a teacher… How much do I input to ensure success, and how much do I let things run a natural course recognising the risk of failure. Is success needed? How do we define success anyway? How do I determine busy noise from distracted noise in the classroom? And does it matter? Does every kid need to demonstrate they are involved or, again, does that not really matter? Is the process seen as being as important as an end-result?

These are just a few of the questions that run through my mind, lesson by lesson, as we work through this process. I’m not sure I have too many of the answers at this time but I’m hoping I do in a week or so once we are finished.

But that’s just like life, isn’t it?

Hopefully, sometime soon, you’ll see some links on this blog to the work the kids are doing…


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.


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.”


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.



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

Why Teens Forget


Mia MacMeekin, of An Ethical Island, and I have worked together to create an infographic about the teen brain. It is partly based on a blog post I wrote some time ago to tackle the issue of Teen Forgetfulness. Through lots of research, checking facts, and rechecking facts, we have found that teens forgetfulness may be due to major changes in their brain during the adolescent years. These changes frequently last into the late teen years and, in some cases, well beyond.

While there is research that demonstrates the increased forgetfulness of teens, we also found that research suggests this time period is an awesome explosion of learning and discovery that takes them into adulthood.

Thanks, Mia! It was a great experience to collaborate on these infographics.  I appreciate your graphical skill!

So, friends, have a look below and tell us what you think!

(PS Further information of teen forgetfulness can be found on my blog here and here.)


If these walls could talk 2.0


I got a bit carried away last week as I started writing on this topic.  Let me try again…


The end of the academic year is racing toward me at break-neck speed.  There is so much to do and so little time to do it and I know I shall be saying goodbye to my current crop of kids before I know it.  And this year it will be a bit different to many in the past because, with a role change next year, I will have less opportunity to join in the journey my students will continue through the Middle Years.

I was reflecting on the year and asking myself, “What would the walls of my classroom say about the past year?”.

If you have read any of my blog, you will know that I’m pretty passionate about the Middle Years, working with young adolescents, and engaging them in real, relational teaching as a foundation for learning.  And that means that, at times, what goes on in the classroom is rather left-of-centre from what might be considered ‘normal teaching’ (whatever that might be).

So now that we’re almost at the end of the academic year, what would my classroom report card look like (or sound like, from the classroom walls’ perspective)?

  • I would hope to get an A for laughter and tangents, as well as for learning and content connections.
  • I’d expect to do well in eye contact and listening and reflective questioning and empathy.
  • I’d be hoping to get a good mark for (appropriate) toilet humour in my boys’ class and for (seemingly) irrelevant chatter in my girls’ class.
  • I pretty sure I’d get good marks for my ability to get content stuck in brains but I trust I’d get a better mark for getting content stuck in hearts.
  • I hope I’d fail at ‘discipline’ but get a solid pass at relationships and respect.
  • I would expect to pass at mistake-making and get credit for mistake-learning.
  • And I would hope my students would report positively on their personal growth as much as their intellectual growth, and that they would report on who I am as much as what I taught.

Because of all of that, I actually am not so sure I would want my classroom walls to talk because somehow I don’t think everybody would think I’ve met the benchmarks ‘education’ likes to impose on me…


What would your classroom walls say about you?

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Chalk and Talk – a winner!


I had an interesting thing happen in class recently. I used the whiteboard.

Now, I honestly can’t remember that last time I wrote on the board, let alone teach a ‘chalk and talk’ lesson with my kids (does anyone know the 21st century term for this when we use whiteboards?). I can’t say I am a particularly technology-intensive teacher but I do like to use a wide range of teaching methods and styles and C&T is a fair way down my list. But we were talking about the use of commas and it was a simple teaching process for the content.

I started the lesson (with my girls’ class) by saying it would be a bit of a “chat-and-explain, chalk-and-talk lesson”.  I said it almost apologetically. I was quite surprised when a few of the students gave a ‘that’s great’ type of response. They seemed keen to learn this way.

Anyway, we had a good time chatting and learning with me explaining things and writing stuff up on the whiteboard. They got the concepts and completed a few practice examples on a worksheet. They demonstrated their engagement and their acquired knowledge.

At the end of the lesson I told them, as I often do, that they’d done a great job in learning. One lovely girl responded with, “You did a great job teaching today, Mr Wilcox’.

Hmmm… chalk-and-talk and great-job. I wonder how many pedagogical boffins might struggle with that!?

Now, I’d never go so far as to assume that all things old have become new, but I do know we must not throw the baby out with the technological, ritz and glamour, high paced bathwater. It seems our students are happy with meat and three veg lessons from time to time.

How do you provide balance in your teaching styles?

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