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.


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:

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 8.44.16 pm

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.


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.”


Ski lessons


I can’t ski.

There… I’ve bared my soul by exposing a long-held secret.

In 2005 my wife, kids and I packed out bags and headed off to live and work in Canada for six months. It was one of the best personal, professional and family development times I have ever had. We made some awesome friends and experienced more of life than we thought could ever be packed into such a short timeframe.

During this time, just before Christmas, we headed to some ski fields to learn to ski. Now, I say ‘ski fields’ but the reality is less impressive than I’m sure you are imagining. Anyway, there was snow, there were not hoards of people, and we signed up for ski lessons.

None of us had skied before, primarily because the sum total of snow that falls in my state of Australia is measured in nanometres.

My two older kids were 10 and 12. They had one lesson and were off hitting the mildly sloping terrain with abandon. My youngest was in kinder-ski (she was six) and giggled her way through a few hours of hurtling into inflated animals because turning was not in her skill set yet. She was very cute. She became the darling of the (primarily Australian) ski teachers.

My wife and I, along with two other adults (I told you there were few people there) headed off to our lessons. We got the boots and skis on. We looked the part. We imagined ourselves heading for the triple black diamond run. We were pumped!

Then reality set in.

By lunch time, I managed to slide in a straight line without falling down. And I’d managed that… once. (Don’t ask about how incredibly difficult it is to ride those things that dragged you back up the slope or how much they hurt when they smack you in the back of the head when you’ve fallen down!)

I returned for the afternoon lessons hopeful that I’d master The Turn. I didn’t. I did, however, manage to justify in my mind the inherent value of skiing in a straight line (there’s much less wear and tear on one ski over the other).

The following day, because of the small number of skiers and despite my protestations that I just can’t ski, I ended up having an individual lesson.

By lunch time my instructor agreed with me. I can’t ski!

We all have strengths and weaknesses. There are those things that we struggle to achieve in.  And our students are just the same, especially during the early adolescent years when the complexities of hormonal changes and peer importance come into play.

Their beliefs about their failures are real (in their mind).  Their justification for failure becomes more engrained with every disappointment.

But I never want to be like my ski instructor.  I want to persevere and encourage and continue to find new instruction techniques that engage with my students so they can experience success.

I trust I am a better, more understanding, compassionate teacher in the light of my skiing experiences. I certainly understand the frustration of trying and failing.


High Expectations for Students


School started back last week (for the teachers) and we had several sessions of sharing and professional learning as well as some time to get personal planning done.  I love that we get an extra week mid-year to do this sort of planning and learning!

We spent some time looking at expectations for students and read an article written by Linda Lumsden.  In a nutshell, the article suggests that teachers have a tendency to set too low an expectation on students.  In fact, the article quotes Asa Hilliard III who contends that

“our current ceiling for students is really much closer to where the floor ought to be.”

That’s a pretty confronting statement.

While I don’t necessarily disagree, I did start pondering the reason for this and the extent to which expectations might be communicated by influencers outside the classroom.  In my experience, parents can sometimes reinforce the notion that a student is incapable of more than they might currently be delivering in the classroom.  This will especially be seen when adolescents (especially boys) are going through the typical 14-16 year old slump.  You know the thing… hormones are raging, life is opening up new possibilities and excitements, and school… well, it sucks.

How frustrating it can be when parents settle on the belief that their child is incapable of better results and potentially direct them into a ‘lower academic’ career.  Often all that is needed is time and the support of teachers and parents while the brain reorganises itself and the child is able to learn again.

I know it is not always as simple as that, but sometimes it is.

(The media play a part in this pervasive opinion of adolescents too.  Just look at the way teens are portrayed in the media!)

Teachers play a vital role in supporting adolescents through this time, particularly in setting the academic bar appropriately high.  What we believe of our students – more importantly, what we communicate to them about our belief in / of them – will potentially be one of the most significant things we do as Middle Years teachers.

Here is more of what Linda Lumsden says about expectations and their desires from teachers:

Although students may appear to accept or even relish lax teachers with low standards, they ultimately come away with more respect for teachers who believe in them enough to demand more, both academically and behaviorally.

In a recent national survey of over 1,300 high school students (Public Agenda 1997), teens were asked on questionnaires and in focus group discussions what they think of and want from their schools.

Teens’ responses concerning what they want were clustered in three main areas:

  • A yearning for order. They complained about lax instructors and unenforced rules. “Many feel insulted at the minimal demands placed upon them. They state unequivocally that they would work harder if more were expected of them.”
  • A yearning for structure. They expressed a desire for “closer monitoring and watchfulness from teachers.” In addition, “very significant numbers of respondents wanted after-school classes for youngsters who are failing.”
  • A yearning for moral authority. Although teens acknowledged cheating was commonplace, they indicated that wanted schools to teach “ethical values such as honesty and hard work.”

Similarly, when 200 middle school students in Englewood, Colorado, were surveyed about their most memorable work in school, they repeatedly “equated hard work with success and satisfaction. Moreover, they suggested that challenge is the essence of engagement” (Wasserstein 1995).

How do you show your high expectations of students?

Please leave a comment to share your opinions and ideas.

It’s An Increasingly Changing World (Guest Post)


Here is guest post number two for the week, this time from UK teacher Albert Roberts.  Albert provides us with some valuable insights and commentary on the possible future of education.  I believe this is a great follow-on from the earlier guest post by my friend Kris Naiker…


It’s An Increasingly Changing World (Are We Really Preparing Our Kids For the World That Waits?)


The future world that today’s students will live in is difficult to predict. While it’s likely that the global economy will recover and employment levels rise, the kinds of jobs and the skills needed by our kids could be markedly different to what we currently understand. What is probable, though, is that technological growth within schools will continue, from using the internet as a teaching tool, to allowing personal devices like tablets and smartphones within the classroom. With this in mind, what challenges and opportunities will be experienced by future educators and parents?


Future Challenges for Schools

The broader role of education in schools will likely continue to combine the need for academic subjects to be taught alongside more specialized courses, with students encouraged to make use of the internet to widen their knowledge from school subjects. Given that Middle Schoolers are now growing up with personal technology as an essential part of their daily lives, the ongoing challenge will be to adjust schooling and encourage transferable skills from personal activities and social media into their learning.

Speaking as part of a recent Big Think initiative, Bill Nye suggests that the future classroom won’t be radically different, in the sense of students coming together in communities and experiencing structured learning, but that the scope for accessing information will be much greater – future students will likely spend more time publishing work online, and will be encouraged to pursue projects that can feed back into their school assignments.

One way in which parents and schools can anticipate this future involves encouraging not only rote learning, but critical thinking and an awareness of digital citizenship; this means education in schools and at home on how children can responsibly contribute to online discussions, and how they can participate in voting, fund-raising, and international projects.


Adjusting for a New Job Market

As Tina Barseghian points out, new generations of children will be facing a potentially very different job market and expectations for skills by the time they reach adulthood than what we currently have. Quoting the work of Cathy Davidson into adapting education for the future, Barseghian reflects on how ‘65 per cent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet’. This means equipping children with skills that might come in useful across a range of future areas. Cathy Davidson particularly recommends getting younger children and Middle Schoolers familiar with basic programming languages such as SCRATCH, which can enable them to build their own web sites and apps.


New Methods

Some schools are also exploring ways in which the entire experience of learning can be redirected to best suit the contemporary abilities and skills of children possessing deep familiarity with technology. For example, the Quest2Learn project in New York City involves a public school where video games are used as a teaching tool; subjects are taught through specially designed video games, which feature quests and challenges that reward student knowledge and team work. While the world of the next ten to fifteen years is hard to predict, by focusing on critical thinking skills and a creative approach to digital technology, schools and parents can arguably encourage children to develop initiative and an awareness of opportunities to access knowledge and collaborate with others.


Albert Roberts is a concerned secondary school teacher in the UK.  He hopes that forward thinking teachers fill the education jobs in London and inspire the next generation.  When he’s not teaching or marking work, Albert can be found blogging about the challenges teachers face today.



Curriculum: What really Matters! (Guest Post)

I’m excited about hosting two guest posts this week (partly because it’s given me a week off writing).  Both have a ‘future focus’ that I’m sure you will appreciate.

First, here’s a post from an awesome teacher, skilled curriculum developer and valued friend and colleague, Kris Naiker


“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”

-John Dewey-

I recently attended a conference where the presenter Heidi Jacobs said, “At present, our education system is based on 19th century Structure, 20th century Curriculum and 21st century learners.” As I reflected on this statement and my journey as an educator, I am now able to articulate the frustrations I feel as a teacher.

I can honestly say I was very excited with the idea of a National Curriculum (currently being rolled out across Australia). This would provide an opportunity for a fresh start where the needs of the learners would dominate the design of the curriculum. However, even though the Australian Curriculum has used the 21st century learning “buzz words” such as ‘sustainability, ‘ICT’, and ‘Cross-Curriculum Priorities’, largely the old archaic values still underpins the curriculum. Over the last two years I have tried to implement 21st century principles of learning on 19th century structure, it is no wonder the frustration I feel as an educator.

The feeling of frustration is not all bad: it forces you to look for solution; it challenges you to look for ideas and fight for your students. A couple of days ago I sent an email to the Humanities team at my school about our upcoming meeting. I wrote, “So for our next meeting, let us forgot about admin stuff, let us forgot about our upcoming assessment task, let us forgot about the next unit we are going to teach and let’s look at ways we can ‘revolutionise’ our curriculum so that it focuses on the learners and their world.”

I hope as a team we will develop a curriculum which recognises that young adolescents need a diverse curriculum but not an over-filled curriculum. I hope our curriculum will highlight that young people need a decompartmentalised curriculum where links between subjects are obvious and natural. I hope our curriculum has real-life links that allow students to explore themselves and their world.

While implementing change can be daunting, I am inspired by the words of Mark Twain when he eloquently penned the words,

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.”


As educators, I encourage you to challenge the old paradigm of education and continue to fight for quality learning for our young adolescents. It will be worth it!

Kris Naiker


Building Blocks – a planning process

During the pupil-free days at the start of the year we explored the building blocks of behaviour management as constructed by Chris Sweeney. His formula of behavioural foundation blocks, supporting those blocks needed for success, and topped by blocks that are necessary tools, made a great deal of sense.

What followed, however, was a powerful exploration process as we took this basic building-blocks construct and use it to explore the how and why of other aspects of the education we provide in our school.

Let me encourage you to think through aspects of your teaching or your school or your leadership in a similar way. Consider, for example, what would be the building blocks that would engage all learners (as we did).
What would be the foundations? Perhaps relevant content, acceptance, humour, teacher passion and developmental understanding.
What might be required to prepare for student success? Maybe an understanding of multiple intelligences and an ability to interpret and Mozart the curriculum.
And what tools would be used? Habits of the mind, variety in content delivery and effective differentiation.

Can you see the power in breaking down learning processes using this construct? We found it a great way of distilling beliefs and processes and ordering them in a logical way.

What would you select as the building blocks for effective adolescent education? Or for your school’s educational philosophy? Or for your subject area?

I encourage you consider reading more about Sweeney’s building blocks of behaviour management, and to use the fundamentals of his building blocks to explore other aspects of the education you help to deliver to your students.