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.


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.


APCAS Conference & School Camps



Yes I am!  And I’m really excited about it, partly because I am going to Singapore (I’ve only every seen the inside of the airport there) and partly because it is shaping up to be a great conference.

As you would know from reading my blog, I am a passionate Middle Years teacher and any conference that will continue to hone my skills and increase my knowledge about teaching teens fires me up.  This particular conference will have the added bonus of focusing on some different elements of education (for me).  In part, that includes the chance to check out international schools, where students and staff come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.  I’m expecting it will be a bit like having the world squished into a single school campus…  Hence the conference title, I guess: Global Students, Real Solutions.

If you’d like details on the conference, please have a look HERE.

If you’re attending, please let me know so we can plan to catch up for a coffee.


On another note…  I’m planning our annual Year Eight camp which will take the kids a few hours away and provide them with some activities designed to build relationship, develop team dynamics, and offer some personal challenges to stretch the kids.

Each year I ask myself why we do this.  I know what I want the kids to get out of a time like this but, given the restrictions of time and the (sometimes disappointing) limitations of the camp facilitators, we often don’t quite get there…

What do you do regarding outdoor education and extra-curricula activities like camps?  What have you found that works effectively for students development and growth?  What are your goals and how do you ensure you meet them?

I’d love to get your ideas.



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!



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.





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…