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…


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?


Learning Forgiveness



How real are you in front of your class of adolescents?  Are you willing to make mistakes?

My early teaching career was one built on the foundation of ‘the teacher is right’ (even when I was wrong).  It was not a healthy place to be and I’m glad I am not there now.  My students know I will let them know if I make a mistake; indeed, they will usually point them it to me.  We’ll also use those mistakes, as well as the ‘I don’t know’ moments, to learn and grow together.

As I have blogged before, I want my students to embrace their mistakes and learn from them.  I want them to be real; to understand their limitations as possibilities and their errors and ‘not yet achieved’s.  Hopefully they will see that modelled in me.

I trust I am helping my student to forgive themselves for the mistakes they make and to continue the growth toward maturity.



Learning Internet Safety (Guest Post)



As educators, we understand the inherent issues and the dangers of poor internet safety understanding.  This is especially the case in adolescents.  For many, the bombardment of images and themes via the internet can bring about many social, emotional and psychological pressures… sexual confusion through exposire to explicit material being just one.  We, as adults, are aware of the dangers of providing personal details online but, due to poor decision making during this time of brain reorganisation and development, young people will easily ignore such boundaries.  I think most will also agree that the internet can give a skewed understanding of the world. But there is another side the the coin.  The internet is powerful and informative and connective and… here to stay.

It is my privilege, today, to host another blog post from Albert Roberts. Read on as he explores…


 At What Age Should Children Learn About Internet Safety?

The birth of the world wide web has become one of the most significant developments in history. It informs almost everything that we do as people – we use it for leisure, work, learning and play. As all reasonably rational teachers, parents and guardians know, it can be both an invaluable tool and a potential danger. We will never effectively tackle the dangers that lurk on the internet, if we cannot first come to terms with this dichotomous truth. What we can do is educate and inform children in our care about the dangers of the internet. We must do this from an early age, and we must do it without tricks or lies.

It is hard to teach children about internet safety, because we can’t always protect ourselves from its conmen, trolls and predators. If a fully functioning adult can be targeted by the darker forces on the web, how can we possibly keep the most vulnerable members of society safe from them? The key is to come to terms with the fact that our control of the internet is limited. There are bad things out there, but we can’t influence or stop the vast majority of them – not on our own.

There are countless stories of parents forbidding their children from using the internet at home, only to later find out that they’re accessing dangerous material or talking to dangerous people in secret. There is safety in honesty, there is security in being open with children. Nevertheless, it can be tricky to work out when a child is old enough to start learning about safety internet. This is due to the fact that there’s no real consensus for when a child is old enough to start using the internet.

If we can all agree that it’s best to leave the free use of the internet to the discretion of parents, it is safe to assume that an awareness of internet safety should begin as soon as your child is given leave to browse the web. Whilst a child is below twelve years of age, it is best to use the internet together. When your child begins to approach adolescence, you can begin to touch upon some of the more serious risks involved with independently surfing and using the internet. You should never try to frighten your child into behaving appropriately online, because this will only increase their confusion.

For children under 12 it’s important to establish simple and easy to understand “golden” rules:

  • Never Share Names, Schools, Ages, Phone Numbers, or Addresses
  • Never Open An Email From A Stranger – It May Contain Viruses That Can Harm A Computer
  • Never Send Pictures To Strangers Or View Pictures That Strangers Send To Them
  • Keep Passwords Private (Except to Parents)
  • Tell A Trusted Adult if Something Mean or Creepy Happens On The Internet

Children are inherently curious things – even more so when they reach adolescence. It can often seem like the act of forbidding a certain action can have the opposite effect. If you forbid a certain action without fully explaining why, that teenage need to rebel will only become more of a problem – the internet can be too dangerous a place to take that risk. A large part of tackling this issue is confronting the fact that teen’s might be actively trying to search for mature content online. Whilst it is true that sanctions can sometimes be useful, discretion must be used here. Teen’s have to deal with a rapidly changing brain and they need support, even if it isn’t always palpable.

It does not make a child abnormal or even badly behaved, it just means that they’re exploring the limits of their own sexuality. In order to stay safe, they simply have to know that not everybody tells the truth online. They must fully understand that even if they feel like they can trust an online friend, there is no guarantee that that online friend is telling the truth. Don’t be afraid to discuss this dilemma frankly with teens – be careful not to patronise, but do explain that adolescent brains sometimes find it harder to deal with making clear and rational decisions.

It is natural for adolescents to be curious about the darker side of the internet and at this age, 24 hour supervision isn’t possible, and never healthy. This is precisely why early reinforcement is so vital – if you give children the right information and tools, they will apply it on their own behalf. Don’t simply tell them not to share personal information, agree to meet strangers or share photographs via the internet. You need to first identify the reasons why an adolescent might want to do these things – bearing in mind we most often won’t particularly like the answers.

The difference between teaching and telling is a very fine one – teaching a child about internet safety rather than just tell them how important it is. Children won’t have any frame of reference to help them understand exactly why they need to be careful online, so there’s no point trying to have discussions about chat rooms or sexual predators at a very early age. It is much more effective to teach them the basic internet safety rules as if they are an immutable fact of life. If you teach a child these things early enough, they will become an accepted part of life.


Albert Roberts has been a secondary school teacher for eleven years. He recommends checking out the services from School Explained as they are great for improving the relationship between teachers, parents and students alike.  Albert can be found online blogging about how to engage challenging students and how to improve parent teacher relationships.

The Past – The Adolescent – The Future



What a great statement about adolescence. It’s so true isn’t it; adolescence is a time of transition between the comfortable and known world of childhood and the exciting, scary and enticing world of adulthood.

Now, we know that adolescents or teens or tweens can often feel they are stuck in the middle, always looking forward while wanting to maintain some hand-hold on their past.

One area in which I see this as a problem are during those times when kids want to solve their own problems, especially in the playground.  I’ve lost count of the number of occasions where I’ve had to deal with a relational issue that arose because teens wanted to explore the adult word of helping and decision-making but with disastrous results.  I’m sure you know the sort of thing… Sally has a problem with a friends and so all the girls gather around to give advice in order to sort out the problem and they decide that certain things should be said (less than tactfully).  Invariably, the problem grows way beyond what they can handle and I’m left to mop up the mess.

Not that I mind particularly because what the students are doing is discovering and learning about life, and life is messy.

What I do try to do, however, is remind the students that they still have some growing to do and some learning and understanding to acquire.  Ultimately, I want then to feel they can take some control but have adults they can (and should) bounce ideas off; adults who will help them explore healthy ways of dealing with problem.

Ahhh, the joys of teaching in the Middle Years…


Costly Kids – Guest Post


Whether you are a parent or an educator, you will be well aware that raising children involves a great cost. The greatest cost surely is emotionally for we invest so much of ourselves in our children. But there is a financial cost too (for parents).
Here in Australia, it has been determined (who knows how) that it costs AU$450,000 to raise a child to age 21. Mind you, if you have two kids, you can apparently get them both across the line for the discount price of AU$800,000!

For something different this week, I thought you might be interested in the following Guest Post infographic submitted by Vera Reed.


It’s never too early to start thinking about saving for your kid’s higher education plans. Whether your child is planning on college or university, public or private; it’s important to start saving early to ensure you’re not caught unprepared when the time comes. One of the ways you can begin saving is cutting out some of life’s simple luxuries; Yes, that might mean skipping your daily morning trip to the coffee shop.

The cheeky infographic below, brought to us by PassGED, outlines some ways you can ease into saving for your kid’s college or university plans. Applying some of these tips early on when your kids might soon be starting their secondary school education will make the cost much more achievable. Although some of the terms used below are specific to Americans, the overall theme stands true. The biggest tip to saving money for your kids higher education, is to start early and to cut back on unnecessary expenses. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money adds up when you give up these small pleasures.

Vera Reed is a freelance writer from Southern California. She understands the importance of cutting back on small luxuries, and how big of a difference it can make to your bank account.

Forgetful Teens – revisited

forgetful teen

Teenagers are forgetful. It is a well-known fact.

But do we need to just accept that this is the case or is there something we can do about it?

Some time ago I wrote a post about forgetfulness in teenagers and it is one of the most visited of my posts. So I thought it would be good to revisit this important topic.

Firstly, why are teens forgetful? To quote from that earlier post…

The Prefrontal Cortex (the area of the brain which plays an important role in planning, decision-making, organisation and rational thought) is the last part of the brain to become fully developed.

So, to a degree, they can’t help it.  It is a biological consequence of the developmental process of adolescence.  But that does not have to be an excuse because the reality is we can (and must) do things that will assist teens as they move through the developmental stage.

Here are a few tips:

Scaffolded organisation: We all know that organisation is often the key to remembering. However what we can fail to do is provide the scaffolding teens need to become organised. Parents and teachers need to provide frequent and repeated hints and reminders about organisational structures.  There is a careful balance needed, however, because we don’t want to take all of the responsibility onto ourselves – there must remain a level of natural consequence for the adolescent’s actions.  But I worry for those young people who are left to their own devices when they really don’t have any devices to be left to!  Something as simple as a diary (that is used) will help.  Reminders and routines with responsibility.  That, I believe, is the key.

Busyness kills memory: No matter our age, the busier we are, the harder it is to remember all that we must do. Consider what goes on in a typical teenager’s life, especially their social connectedness, and ensure that the priority balance is correct. The same applies for the extra-curricular activities in their life. Sometimes teachers and parents simply expect too much of students.  Explain the too-busy risks to teens and help them make the tough priority decisions.

Increase the importance of memory: Talk through with teens the value of remembering.  For some (and not all) it is simply easier to forget and deal with the consequences if and when they come along.  But in reality, adolescence is a time of training despite and in spite of the quagmire of a reorganising brain.  They can remember things and should be encouraged and congratulated each time they do.  Help them to believe in their abilities and commiserate with them when they forget the little things.  Definitely avoid chastising them for the little things.  They need support not added stress.

Look for creative methods as prompts:  Encourage teens to use mnemonics and rhymes and phone reminders and paper diaries (agendas) and friends and sticky notes and… anything that works for them.  Try them all and have them see what works for the individual (and remember it might work this week and it possibly won’t work next week.  That’s the fun of it all…)

Remind them that remembering reduces stress:  There will be those students who will get caught in the stress of forgetfulness – or worse, in the stress-forget-stress death spiral.  Gently help them understand (even as the world is closing in on them) that it doesn’t need to be this way.

Temper the technology:  This will potentially be the toughest battle for parents, but limiting an adolescent’s access to technology will have an impact on their memory.  The research I’ve read of late has been pointing to the fact that none of us (not even teens, despite their protestations) are as effective in multitasking as we’d like to think we are.  Encourage them not to surround themselves with multiple devices when schoolwork is a priority.  Technology can have an impact on sleep too, which will have a subsequent impact on memory.  This can be addressed as simply as establishing a central location in the house where all the phone chargers are plugged in.  Consequently, all of the phones (including the parent’s) will be there overnight.  No 2am texting.  No disturbed sleep.  No tiredness impacting memory function.  The same thing should apply to computers and TVs and iPods and… anything that becomes a consuming force in a teen’s life.

Allow natural consequences:  How teachers and parents deal with the times of (inevitable) forgetfulness is vitally important.  Find the balance between supporting but not rescuing. This ‘balance’ will change for each individual but it is important that every teen experiences the reality of their situations.

Forgive:  It is important to finish with this!  Remember, teens will forget.  It is often because they can’t help it; it is biological.  Support them, encourage them, care for them and accept who they are at this stage.

What do you to to support forgetful adolescents?


You can find out more about forgetfulness in teens by checking out an infographic  elsewhere on my blog called Why Teens Forget.


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.


Am I Getting Old?


I have been teaching at this school for 14 years – a long time by anyone’s definition!  In fact, I’ve been here so long that I’m now teaching alongside past students!  And it has been an interesting process for me…

It has got me reflecting on my teaching from a decade ago (when they were in Year 8).  I’m pretty self-critical of my methods and attitudes from that time, and thankful for my growth as a teacher and as a person.

Now that these awesome people are working alongside me, I’ve honestly had a few ‘I hope they only remember the good bits’ mixed in with some ‘they’ll bring great personality traits to the classroom’ and a few ‘I wonder if his students will give as good as he gave me’.

And I’ve also enjoyed watching them try to decide what to call me now that we are peers.

Mostly, I’m proud that the unimaginably important task of education is being passed on into very capable hands (certainly more capable that I was when I started teaching).  We need the energy, enthusiasm, skill and understanding of these young teachers who remember what adolescence is about for more sharply (and relevantly) that I do.

I look forward to learning from them; being the pupil as they become the teacher.


21st Century Teaching


Last week’s guest posts headed us in a definite 21st century direction so I thought it would make sense to share an info graphic Kris shared with me a couple of weeks ago.

It comes from Mia MacMeekin‘s impressive blog, An Ethical Island.

Enjoy the challenge of evaluating your teaching by these 27 standards.  I did…