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.”

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?



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

Giving the look…



I’m sure you are well aware of the power teenage girls hold over each other just simply by giving a look.  Interestingly, I’ve been dealing with some of this in a group of students this year but what I have found interesting is the way the issue has morphed into a psyche issue.  For several girls, they have been complaining that an individual is constantly looking at them from across the room.  While it might be happening (but I’m not so sure it is) what I am discovering is that the individual supposedly being looked at is interpreting all sorts of things from the look.  And most of the interpretation is entirely assumed and not intended.  It seems I have a few students who are struggling with their self-perception and transferring their emotions onto the looker.

I am working this through with the girls and making some headway but I am finding it interesting and valuable to challenge all the girls who work harder at being comfortable with who they are.  I am being reminded about the inherently self-focused yet peer-acceptance-driven realities of early adolescence.


Being energised in the workplace

The post today is an article I wrote a in 2011 for the MYSA Leaders Network.  You may find it valuable…


As I sit to write this, another busy term has come to an end and I’m looking forward to a holiday break.  There would be no argument from any education leader that holidays are well deserved for each term and each year seem to get fuller, busier and simply more demanding.  But as I reflect on my energy levels right now I realize that, while I may feel tired, I am not feeling particularly weary.  And as I explore why that might be, I realize that as a Middle Years Leader I am in a wonderful occupation; one that provides a myriad of opportunities to be energised and to share that energy with others.  Let me encourage you to reflect on your own energy levels and, perhaps, challenge you to look anew at your work environment and ways in which you too might renew your energy for the leadership task you face.

Firstly, we should to explore the danger of leadership burnout, for it is real.  I value what Parker Palmer writes on the dangers of being a leader who gives from a place of emptiness…

One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess–the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.

(Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak)

How do we ensure that we remain ‘full’?  I believe it relies on seeking those places and events that engage and enegrgise us.

In my school, I am blessed to combine an administrative role with a teaching role, allowing me to lead, share, teach and learn in equal measure.  I have the opportunity to engage my unique passions, especially to see young people grow in their self-awareness and knowledge of the world in which they daily engage.  I know that when my students are engaged in what they are learning, they will affect greater learning.  The same is true for us as leaders.  When I am working in my areas of passion, my ideas, concepts and curriculum flow more easily.  I can empower staff to grow in their teacher-awareness and knowledge of adolescents.  I can also draw energy from my passions to springboard me through the mundane aspects of the job.  Indeed, I deliberately create times in my day when I can engage in the things that matter to me, the things that (to draw on an advertising analogy) ‘give me wings’.  To quote Parker Palmer again, Each time I walk into a classroom, I can choose the place within myself from which my teaching will come, just as I can choose the place within my students toward which my teaching will be aimed. I need not teach from a fearful place: I can teach from curiosity or hope or empathy or honesty, places that are as real within me as are my fears. I can have fear, but I need not be fear—if I am willing to stand someplace else in my inner landscape. (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach)  How might you paraphrase this quote to bring it inline with your leadership?  What might it look like to lead from curiosity or hope or empathy or honesty?

Celebrating success is a big ‘passion switch’ for me; success in the big and small, in students, in staff and in me.  I love looking for the greatness in others, especially in those students who my peers may struggle to see the same greatness.  I think it is important that I celebrate a student’s birthday, a learning group’s achievement or a class’ exploration of a new topic.  I also know that a note, comment or email from me to a staff member about their achievements and successes will energise them just as an encouragement note from them spurs me on.  Something this simple can unlock the potential in others and, in my school community, we look for ways to make encouragement a part of our work life.  How can your actions or comments make another person’s day?  How could you deliver thoughtfulness as a rich blessing?

It is from these celebrations that another ‘passion switch’ flows: the building of meaningful relationships with those I work alongside each day.  And the starting points for this is vulnerability and (appropriate) intimacy.  For me, I reckon there is something wrong if I have walked through the school and not had a student say hello or want to tell me something about their life.  It empowers me to know kids want to connect with me and what I do, for this is part of the reason I became a teacher in the first place: I enjoy working with students.

As I reflect over the past couple of months, there are some standout events where I see my openness has led to powerful moments. As a Year Eight English teacher, I revel in the opportunity teach autobiographical writing and to hear of the life journey of my students.  In the course of teaching the unit, I share something of my life – specifically the tough but growth-filled time when my niece died.  This year, it became apparent that Lance* was struggling to put pen to paper and I discovered why when, after much encouragement from me, he finally showed me some planning notes.  It was hard to go past one word on his page: suicide.  A quiet moment later that day gave Lance the opportunity to talk for the first time about some dark events of his past.  He was relieved to tell someone and I was blessed to be the right person at the right time.

In the same way, Lucas* latched onto the similarities in our life experiences as a young man who, like I did, finds himself boarding with a family and a long way from his family.  My words of encouragement and understanding of his situation empowered him and energised me.

Where have you become isolated in your leadership role?  In what way can you develop relationships and reconnect with the reasons for why you chose your career in the first place?

As a leader of leaders, I see it as my role to empower teachers in their job.  I love trawling for ideas that support Middle Years educators and my inbox is constantly being supplied with emails from the various lists to which I subscribe.  While it does take time, I love reading through these articles to find the gems that others may use, whether that is an approach to teaching an element of curricula, a behaviour management concept to try, or a challenging idea a Pastoral Care teacher might use to generate class discussion.  But leading staff obviously takes a lot more than this.  The meeting times I have with year level staff each fortnight include more than the issues that need raising; there is also opportunity to discuss successes for, as they say, success breeds success.  As we talk about great things, we energise ourselves and others to look for greater success too.  As a leader, you have skills and knowledge that deserve to be shared with those you lead.  What can you do to create a greater culture of sharing and success in your school?

Finally, I need to be energized through laughter.  Like many, I can become so focused on the task at hand that I miss the opportunity for introducing those laugh-induced endorphins into my blood stream.  Having a belly laugh with a class of students does more than make them feel that learning can be fun.  It puts me in the place where barriers are broken down and where I can be free to laugh with them (and maybe even laugh at myself).  Sharing laughter with staff is also important and I make sure my inbox contains some comic feeds too.  Most recently a YouTube by Julian Smith titled ‘I’m reading a book’ has done the rounds at my school.  And if you want some encouragement about the value of your career, check out the ‘What do I make?’ clip by Taylor Mali.  Look them up, and laugh!

None of us who work in Middle Years Leadership will question the fact that it takes a huge investment in time, tears, effort and emotion to do our job.  Each one of us knows that we do what we do because we are driven by our passion to see young adolescents become more than they seemed capable of.  Equally, we know the demands of the job will never be fully rewarded extrinsically.  What engages and empowers me, as I trust it does you, is the deep knowledge that my leadership style connects with my skills, desires and personality.  I trust you will look for those intrinsic moments in each day when your passions energise you through (and in spite of) the challenges of leadership.