A big part of our boys program focusses on challenging stereotypes and building empathy. This week we have the opportunity to attend two workshop sessions to support our learning in these areas.
On Wednesday my class was involved in a ‘disability awareness’ program. Students had the opportunity to participate in a range of activities designed to give them some insight into what it is like for people with disabilities to perform simple school task. It was interesting to see which students rose to the challenge and which students didn’t cope well at all. All students came away with a greater understanding of the challenges faced by students with disabilities in our school.
Today, the boys attended a session run by the Australian Ballet Company. After a lot of groans leading up to the event, the boys were exposed to a challenging and exhausting dance workshop followed by a performance. It was a fantastic opportunity for the boys to experience something that is not generally promoted as acceptable for them. It was even better to see them participating well and enjoying themselves.
Challenging these stereotypes is vitally important for boys. If their experiences are limited to the footy field and traditional ‘man’ activities they are also limiting their opportunities for the future.
This week we have begun ‘Genius Projects’ in our class. Inspired by the work of many other classrooms around the world, these projects allow students to explore their passions learn in creative ways. It allows students to be involved in learning in real life contexts. After our first session today I saw a class of boys that were more ‘switched on’ than I have seen all year.
Our ‘Genius Time’ happens for a 100 minute block on a Friday for 4 weeks. The first 3 weeks are for students to plan and create along (along with some independent time at home) and the final session is for presentations and sharing. Before our sessions start, each student submits a proposal for their project at a meeting with me and we look together at how their project supports their learning across the curriculum.
The projects underway are varied and unique to the interests of each child. One boy spent time learning guitar chords in preparation to perform a song, another small group of kids were turning a narrative into a movie and were experimenting with creating a realistic black eye. Another pair of students were creating recipes, shopping lists and budgets in preparation for their ‘restaurant’ opening where they plan to serve a three course meal to a group of parents and teachers. It was a fantastic sight to see.
For more information about ‘Genius Time’ have a look here.
This week has been a tough one. I haven’t done a very good job of ‘letting go’ and some student wellbeing issues have been effecting my ‘mental health’. So as I sit here preparing for the night’s slumber, a thought from a long ago conversation entered my mind. I was speaking with a colleague and they said that they find that they reflect at the end of each week on 5 positive things that are going on for them right now. So here goes…
My family is my happy place. I am continually amazed at what my kids can do and I am ridiculously proud of who they are becoming. They love learning and love life. My wife forces me to do the things I don’t want to do, but need to do to keep myself sane. She is an amazing support and gives me the time I need to do the stuff that comes with the job, even when it seems to take up too many hours. I appreciate everything she does. I love them and I am very lucky.
2. ‘The team’
Some exciting things are happening at Hackham East at the moment and I feel lucky to be working with a fantastic team of teachers that are committed to improving learning for kids. Although the ‘craziness’ can be overwhelming at times, it is exciting and rewarding everyday.
3. Our School Leadership
I feel lucky to be working with leadership in our school that challenge and support what we do everyday. Our single sex program and now our steps towards flexible learning spaces wouldn’t have happened without the trust of our Principal, Bob Thiele. Our new Deputy Principal, Sally Slattery, has breathed some life into our literacy program and some really exciting learning is happening around classroom libraries and reading programs. Jacinta Wade, our counsellor is a huge support and seems to be able to read every frown or confused look that crosses my face!
I am enjoying rediscovering playing music at the moment thanks to an upcoming school band reunion. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
5. The Blogging Process
Although it sounds a bit like I’m ‘clutching at straws’, I am really enjoying the writing and reflection process at he moment. A great way to reflect and improve my practice but also to help settle the thoughts before trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Speaking of which…
Since boys convert feelings to movement it is essential that parents and teachers realise that boys need to move when faced with emotions and that a good way to open boys up is to do something active with them that they enjoy. In the middle of some physical activity they will often reveal what problem they` may be facing.
This is a recommendation that I believe we are following well in our classroom. The ‘walk and talk’ strategy is one that we use very regularly. Within our unit team we support each other with the supervision needed to be able to do this and school leadership are also happy to cover classes when the need arises.
Although the logistics of this strategy can be difficult, it is important to find ways to make this happen. Talking to boys ‘side by side’ rather than ‘face to face’ makes a big difference. Often speaking with a boy face to face about a difficult topic can cause them to feel confronted, where as the same conversation side by side or during physical activity seems more supportive and relaxed.
This is a strategy that I have see and use everyday with great success. Several years into our boys program we are now seeing the boys use this strategy with each other. Regularly, students will notice an issue ‘brewing’ before I do and ask to take another student for a walk to try and help them. It is amazing to watch and has really become something that we take for granted in our classroom now.
For us, this recommendation has been a ‘game changer’. It has helped to create an environment where we talk to students rather than at students. It has helped to create a classroom environment where big blow ups are rare and where students are managing their issues with much more success.
Over the last seven years I have worked to establish and develop a single gender program at our school. Starting with some initial small trials, the success of the program has seen us expand so that we now have a single sex class option, for both boys and girls, for students from year 2 through to year 7. Being involved in this process has been a highlight of my teaching. I totally and wholly believe in this program and feel lucky to be involved in something that has made a big difference in the way our school runs. The lasting relationships I’ve been able to develop with students and their families over this time have been brilliant.
Our single gender classes are designed around the work of Michael Gurian, a gender education expert from the USA and also the work of Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education. Among his extensive work, Ian Lillico has developed 52 recommendations for boys in schools. These recommendations were at the heart of our boys classes when we first began.
This year, one of the goals I have set myself is to revisit these recommendations and critically look to see how well we are showing these in our classroom and learning programs. To do this, my plan is to create at least one blog post each week focussing on how we implement (or don’t implement) each recommendation. Each post will focus on one recommendation and look at what we are doing, what we need to improve on and, if appropriate, a commitment to action.
Let’s see how we go!
Both at home and at school women must be in positions of power – they must not be seen as the nurturers and men as the power brokers. Both men and women must play a rearing role in their sons’ lives. The father (or male teacher) must not be seen as the disciplinarian as this tends to further emphasize the gender stereotype.
This recommendation is one that we could certainly do better in our classroom. This is particularly evident to me after participating in the Miss Representation PD last week. Although we have lots of good things happening in our classroom, we need to tighten up our act in this regard.
At Hackham East we have strong female teachers and leaders everywhere. Our boys class spends a lot of time with our female music teacher who is also responsible for our Kapa Haka program and she is certainly a strong and well respected role model. There are many others though, that we could access better.
Our new deputy principal has a passion for reading and has some great ideas about class libraries and the way book clubs run. These passions fit in with one of our key class focuses this year. This is a perfect opportunity for me to expose the boys to another female educator in a position of power. Our new school counselor is also a strong female leader that we could access better for our class. Being the teacher in charge of our schools student voice program means that there are some links we can make with how our classroom runs.
Next week, my commitment to action is to work at strengthening how we achieve this recommendation in our classroom. My goal in using this process is to turn a never ending ‘to do’ list into something that will see regular professional reflection and improvement in our classroom.
I received the following email today, written by a relief teacher (substitute teacher) who recently spent the day in our classroom. It’s not often that we get get to hear great feedback and it’s certainly rare to get it in writing.
8th March, 2013
The purpose of this letter is thank you and your class for making my time at Hackham East Primary School one that I will never forget. In fact I have put it down as one of my best days of teaching.
As you know being a relief teacher can be a very tricky role but when greeted by enthusiastic students who are willing to help and support you through the day, a significant transformation takes place.
The level of respect, emotional intelligence and support was overwhelming positive. I think that it is really important that the students and the parent community understand that whatever you are doing in the school has been working to create citizens that we can all be proud of.
This year, I have also worked as a relieving PE teacher at Hackham East and I wish to commend the students that I have come in contact from a range of Year 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 classes. They too are displaying a high level of respect, emotional intelligence and support for each other and for me as their relieving teacher.
I believe that the Play Is The Way Program and literacy programs such as Jolly Phonics as well as the teaching of values, manners and respect have made a significant difference to the way the children see themselves as a learner and how they function in their learning environments.
I also believe that having separate boy and girl classes has also provided many learning opportunities that are difficult to provide in mixed classes.
Please share my insight with the staff, students and school community, as I believe it is important to take time to reflect on the successes of the positive work that you have all committed to. It is definitely shows in the way your students behave.
Salli-Jane Campbell (a.k.a. Ms. Campbell)
This week several staff from Hackham East attended a session of Miss Representaion run by Louiza Hebhardt. The film explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. It explores the images of women that we are exposed to everyday and how this effects both our girls and boys.
After the film we heard from Melinda Tankard Reist from collectiveshout.com . Collective shout is an organisation that campaigns against the sexualisation of girls. One of the many battles this organisations fights is to remove items, such as sexualised clothing from our stores. It is amazing (and disturbing) to see how much of this material is out there for our kids to soak up.
AS A PARENT I walked away from this session feeling fearful for my children. As the father of an 8 year old girl, I am already aware that it is difficult to buy her clothes that I feel are appropriate. I find myself wondering how I will help her to develop positive self body image and expose her to images of positive women that can serve as her mentors and role models as she finds her passions and areas of interest in life. How do I combat the massive amount of negative, horrifying, inappropriate images telling her how she ‘should be’.
As the father of a 12 year old boy I have very similar fears. In a world of sexist, horrible music, TV, video games and movies portraying men as powerful and women as weak, how do I teach him that women have the same right and expectation of power, success and equality as he does? I really don’t know the answer.
AS A TEACHER OF A BOYS CLASS I walked away realising that I have a responsibility to educate my boys to be better men. We need to provide our boys with role modeling of appropriate interactions with women. We need to talk to boys about what is and isn’t appropriate and have open, honest discussions drawing their attention to the way women are portrayed in the media. In our classroom we do this regularly already. We call the boys on an inappropriate comments they may make and spend the time to pull these apart and look at WHY these type of comments are harmful. I hope this continues as they move on to high school at a time where they really need support to navigate their way through adolescence.
AS A MAN I walked away feeling a little guilty for my gender’s part in this.
AS A HUMAN BEING I walked away concerned about our society as a whole. I walked away wondering when big business might develop some corporate responsibility? When do the powers that be step up and make a call that padded bras for four year olds are not how they are going to do business. I walked away wondering when this will become a ‘big deal’ for the public at large and I walked away wondering why I hadn’t taken notice before now.
Miss Representation 8 min. Trailer 8/23/11 from Miss Representation on Vimeo.
The ‘flipped’ classroom has become a huge topic in a reasonably short amount of time. There has been some great discusion and there have been some good points made on both sides of the discusion. Personally, I’m not convinced that there is one right way to do this. In fact, I think if we get caught up trying to follow the rules of ‘flipping’ the classroom we can do more damage than good.
For the last year or so, we have been experimenting with our own version of a flexible classroom. I say ‘we’ because the changes that have been made are based on discussions with students. Our students have fed back to us about what works for them at school, and what doesn’t. This has been a big learning experience for me and at times a very confronting one.
We have avoided calling our classroom ‘flipped’ because I don’t believe we conform to that mould. We have set up flexible learning spaces to allow student to work both collaboratively and individually as they need. We have worked hard to give the students a large amount of control over their learning and the teacher has absolutely stopped being the focus of the room.
The part of the flipped model I disagree with is the emphasis on students watching ‘lectures’ or ‘classes’ at home. I believe we still need to offer students a chance to access this base information at school. For many of our students, accessing technology is not possible and neither is accessing appropriate support for their learning. If we value the information we are sharing, we need to make time for it in our day. Students should be provided with opportunities to access learning at home in different ways.
By taking the best bits of a lot of different ideas, I hope we are on track to creating a flexible learning environment that works. It’s an ever evolving process with the goal of worrying less about how we teach and more about how kids learn.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Toffler
I like this quote. The idea of unlearning and relearning is important. If we aren’t prepared to do this we are doing ourselves and our students a huge disservice. If we continue to do things purely because it’s ‘the way we’ve always done it’, we are missing out on learning opportunities for ourselves and taking away the same opportunities for our students.
This week, I was faced with some new learning that challenged everything I knew about teaching and learning maths. The session, run by Ann Baker, unpacked her ‘secret code’ and showed me a whole new way of thinking that just made sense. Using the strategies she showed, allows students (and perhaps we teachers) to see HOW and WHY numbers work. It clearly shows the relationships between numbers while challenging the deeply ingrained processes that we all grew up with. It’s not to say that the ‘old’ processes are completely wrong, but they are not the only way, and they don’t show us the all important HOW and WHY.
As teachers, we know that professional development can be a bit ‘hit and miss’. I walked away from Friday’s session feeling completely challenged, wondering how I had gotten this far without knowing this stuff. I walked away wondering how we get this information to teachers before they hit the classroom. I walked away wondering where to start in helping my students to ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’. I also walked away with a new set of tools, feeling ready to start making changes.
As a teacher, it a horrible feeling to come to a realisation that your ‘best practice’ isn’t really good enough, but surely it’s worse to not realise it and continue to think that you have nothing to learn?
Ann and Johnny Baker – Natural Maths