Welcome Back to Term Two

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
― Attributed to Lao Tzu

Welcome back for term two! I hope the mid-semester break was a chance to recharge and be ready mentally as well as within your program, for term two. It was, for me, a busy break, and the return to school has also been busy.

I spent the first  Monday and Tuesday of the break attending a Foundation Level course for THRASS, a phonics-based literacy system. It was an absolutely fantastic two days and I feel much more confident that I can have a positive impact on my students literacy levels than I did previously. I will write a THRASS-focused article  at a later date, as I genuinely believe that it is a highly worthwhile system which can have highly positive impacts for students’ literacy abilities and understanding of the use of English.

I spent some time planning for the upcoming term, getting my program in order, and after having attended the THRASS course, am not happy with it. I feel that the value in certain aspects of the program is not particularly high, and the course has made me question why I am implementing that spelling program in that way. I hope to be able to invest some time over the coming three days solidifying that program for the term. I also would like to spend some time revising other aspects of my overall literacy program.

Mrs Mitchell reached the halfway mark of her pregnancy during the break, and we attended the clinic for the appropriate scans to check up on Youngling. It is this scan where the ultrasound technician can provide high quality three-dimensional images of the baby, if, that is, the baby cooperates. Youngling decided to wave her/his hands a lot while we were there and so the arms covered the face. We have elected not to determine the gender, and so will have quite the surprise in a few months time.

I spent the entirety of the second week of the holidays working on an application for a full-time permanent position, which I will be submitting this afternoon. I have had some incredibly valuable and useful feedback from my Principal which has helped me refine and strengthen the application and as a result, I feel that I have a good chance to reach the interview stage of the process.

Yesterday, I returned to school for our staff development day, and discovered that the school rebuild progressed significantly during the break, with foundations and footings now being in place for a number of sections. I have included a short video clip below.

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There's been a few changes! #PCPS #buildingsite

A post shared by Brendan Mitchell (@c21_teaching) on

The day was quite productive overall, with the whole staff meetings completed quickly after the relevant sessions had been delivered, allowing us to break into Stage meetings. Stage Three have a large number of events occurring this term, with PSSA Knockout events, the annual Year Six Canberra excursion, weekly coding being lessons delivered by ScopeIT, a bicycle safety and awareness excursion, a First Aid course, planning and preparation for the Year Five excursion to the NSW Sport and Recreation Point Wolstoncroft site in term three and planning and practice for the school athletics carnival. A busy term indeed! That is all before you factor in the semester one student reports.

I have also been successful in gaining consent for pre-conference interview from a number of speakers at the Education Nation conference in June which I am excited to conduct. I have already completed one, with some others in progress. If you have not yet completed your registration for Education Nation, I would urge you to do so, particularly if you are interested in the Elements portion of the conference as registration numbers for that aspect are limited. Click here to register.

I spent some time yesterday rearranging the room in an effort to improve the flow and functionality of our learning spaces, which has been received well by students thus far, and was excited to hear that my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl yesterday morning.

I hope that your break and the return to school has filled you with excitement for the coming term, and that you are filled with enthusiasm and excitement for what is to come. As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback via the comments section below, or via Twitter.

Planning ahead for 2016

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
– Attributed to Neil Gaiman

Welcome back to a new year! I hope that the Christmas and New Year break was relaxing and you have returned refreshed and ready to start with your new class. Personally, I am looking forward to an exciting and eventful year, and will be achieving some goals and going a long way towards achieving others. What are your goals for the year? Have you set any?

As my regular readers may recall, I have been offered a year-long temporary contract for three days per week on a Year Five class with a more experienced teacher which I am excited for. I am hoping to utilise this year to complete my accreditation to move into the proficient bracket, as well as to expand my skills and abilities.

I am attending FutureSchools again this year and am also hoping to attend FlipConAus in Adelaide in November. I will once again write up a series of review articles based on my notes from the conferences. I am also attending a THRASS Foundation Course in the April holidays, which I am looking forward to.

I plan to continue with this blog, posting an article each day, Monday to Thursday, however, that may scale back to only Monday to Wednesday, depending on time management needs as I have a lot going on, as we all do, outside of education.

I am in the process of an upgrade certification as a Football (soccer) Referee, which when completed will see me refereeing in the third tier of football in Australia, National Premier League Division Two, and this goal will require a considerable amount of time and energy for training and matches.

My biggest goal for the year, however, is to manage my time more effectively. I have decided that in regards to working outside of school hours, I will, where possible and practical, only work while Mrs. C21st is at work, and I will not be working outside of school hours on Thursdays or Fridays unless absolutely necessary (such as during report season and the beginning few weeks of the school year where there is still a significant amount of planning and programming going on). I feel like this is going to be crucial to not burning out this year, given the time, physical and mental demands that I will be under with everything that is happening. I will also allow me time to complete any marking, planning, blog writing, Tweeting etc, but also provides me with time off (Thursday and Friday, though I will be looking to undertake some casual work on these days).

Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear, either in the comments or over on Twitter, what your goals are for the year.

Staff Development Day Term Three (Part Three)

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
-Attributed to Harvey S. Firestone

Welcome back to the third article in my series reviewing the Term Three Staff Development day for schools under the Gosford City Learning Community banner. In the first article, I reviewed the opening remarks by Gosford Public School Principal, John Anderson, Acting Director Public Schools, Jason Baldwin and then the keynote speech by Jane Caro. Part two in the series, posted yesterday, reviewed the first half of the talk from Michael Auden, and today’s article will be spent on reviewing the remainder of Michael’s talk, which resumed after the lunch break.

 Michael resumed his presentation by continuing the discussion regarding the differences between the male and female brain, specifically the surges of testosterone that the male brain receives at three key points in their lives; in-utero, at around the age of four years old and again at the onset of puberty. I must have missed the subsequent link from that due to writing my notes, as the next note I have is that the biggest box in the male brain is the empty box, a point that follows on from The Tail of Two Brains video by Mark Gungor. I have included the clip, again, below, but have set it (hopefully, to start at the section in which Mark discusses this particular point.

Michael elucidates on this point, taken from the video, where research was completely by the University of Pennsylvania that demonstrated that men were capable of thinking about absolutely nothing, and still breath. Michael continued by explaining that there is research which demonstrates that women’s brains generate more electrical energy, when they are asleep, than many men’s brains do when they are fully engaged. Michael unfortunately did not offer any citation for this revelation, and I have to admit that firstly, I am no neuroscientist, and secondly, that I am only in the beginning stages of my teaching career, but that that statement does not sound quite right to me. I am not sure whether then that an indicator of my ego feeling affronted or something else, but it does not feel right.

Michael continues on this point, men’s emotional and vocal processing centers are on opposite sides of the brain which creates lag-time between processing and expressing in boys, which for impatient teachers, can cause issues as they see delayed responses, particularly in boys who are being roused on, as indicators of defiance or lack of understanding or other negative indicators. It further, according to Michael, goes to the point of life being a physical job, as boys apparently often need, or are assisted by visual or tactile learning, yet are also easily distracted by anything that catches their eye or ear or nose.

It was noted that the traits being discussed in the context of make brains are not exclusive to the male gender and that there are many females with some male tendencies and vice-versa, and that this is a combination of a lower serotonin levels and higher testosterone levels then typical females.

Michael next discussed male emotional expression and said that from around the age of ten years, boys need older male role models for appropriate emotional expression. Up until that age, they take much of their emotional expression cues from their mother or other female role models, but that around the age of ten, boys are on the cusp of puberty and are therefore receiving additional testosterone levels and feel the need to look for manly ways expressing themselves.

In previous generations, this has been the stoic male, the man who does not cry, or demonstrate emotion, which has been culturally reinforced in many cultures and generations, and continues to this day, of telling boys who are crying “….don’t cry, be a strong man. Men don’t cry…” and similar, gender-stereotypes which perpetuate this notion of stoicism as the definition of masculinity, and which, arguably, is part of the reason for the high levels of suicide in young males that we are currently seeing. The BeyondBlue website writes the following about suicide in the male population:

“Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and, in Australia, there are approximately 2,200 suicides each year. 80 per cent are by men – with an average of 5 men taking their lives every single day. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44, significantly exceeding the national road toll.”
BeyondBlue, Men, emphasis my own

This gender stereotyping is further seen in the way that boys and young men are encouraged, socially and psychologically to take risks, particularly through the puberty years. Michael made the point about thinking about how we react when a young boy takes some sort of physical risk, such as climbing trees, or running across the roads and how we react when a girl of the same age takes the same risk. Michael did note that the introduction and mass social-acceptance of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has seen a rise in male emotional expression, but was unsure as to whether or not this was positive due to the social impacts that those social media and statements within those forums can have on our social interactions.

There are some other significant factors that make boys different to girls, according to Michael. Boys need explicit modelling on how to handle anger appropriately. Boys who do not eat breakfast have been shown to have, by eleven am, the cognitive reaction time of a fifty year old male, and that on top of that, many boys do not become cognitively awake until after lunch time. I very much believe that explicit modelling of appropriate anger expression is a must for young boys, and also for young girls, and that we need to do this in order to shift our culture away from domestic violence, playground brawls and alcohol-fuelled fights and the current upsurge of the so-called coward’s punch. 

I can also attest to the accuracy of the second and third points from my own experience. I cannot function with any level of intelligence without breakfast, and though I am good for getting physical work done around the home in the mornings, such as vacuuming, washing the dishes, mowing the lawn etc, I do not get anything intellectual done on my days off such as programming and planning for school, writing blog articles or marking student’s work until the afternoon. When I was completing my initial teacher education, it took a supreme effort of will, or a due date of that afternoon for me to get any work done as far as completing assigned readings, tutorial work or assignment research done before lunch. That said, if I was able to get myself started on those tasks, I could be highly productive.

Michael’s next point was an interesting one, and is a topic that I have read about, which has been termed the Hermione Granger Effect and indicated that it created resentment and frustration for those who are not called upon but did, in fact, know the answer.

Michael closed out his presentation by offering a series of what he termed boy-friendly strategies:

  • Utilise stand up desks where practicable. Boys will work longer and go deeper when they are up.
  • Time bites. Boys cannot concentrate for long and need regular breaks. Before a task, have a mental challenge to promote cross-brain fitness.
  • Less teacher-talk. Best ration is 20/80 teacher-talk/ student engagement. Unfortunately many classrooms operate in the opposite ratio.
  • Treat the first ten minutes of your day with students like speed-dating. Get them excited to learn and motivated for the learning, not the mundane lethargy-inducing tasks like roll marking or note collecting.
  • Hand writing is a physical task for boys and they need help with strategies to make penmanship easier.
  • Share your sunshine through body language, words and smiles.
  • Though this applies more to secondary school, remember that for students it is very much a case of like the teacher, like the subject.
  • Make introductions to topical or thematical studies interesting and engaging. An example can be seen in the below video, which was an introduction to a group of year five students and their goldfields unit of learning:

  • Boys often see mistakes and bad relationships as irreparable. Promote new beginnings.
  • Have a beanbag in the class. It is hard for anyone, let alone a boy, be angry, while sitting in a bean bag due to the physicality of that simple task.
  • Where possible, give boundaries rather than rules, and the rationale for the boundaries. Boys see rules as a challenge in many cases, and boundaries can be easier to manage from a classroom management point of view when working with some students.
  • Use postcards to send home short messages about success, particularly with struggling boys. The postcard will likely take pride of place on the household refrigerator for the next month.
  • Similarities and differences. Use similarities and differences to teach about difficult concepts. This gives students a starting point to understand what the idea or concept is about and something to which they can relate it.
  • Show and tell. Public speaking is a literacy, and should be treated as such. Start it early, from kindergarten, but continue it all the way through. Where appropriate, record students speaking to allow for self-assessment and to teach specific public speaking skills. This can help with teaching the often difficult topic of grammar.
  • Utilise the four C’s: be competent, show confidence, be caring and communicate with the student and with the parents and the what and the why of what is happening in the classroom.

Michael finished up here, though there was much of his slideshow that was skipped over due to time constraints. It was a long presentation, but I personally found it to be highly relevant and engaging. There was a closing motivational talk, from Australian Paralympic Liesl Tesch, who won a Gold Medal at the London Paralympics for Sailing, having previously won a Silver Medal for Wheelchair Basketball. However, I was so riveted by her talk that I failed to take any notes. I also am not sure that her talk would have transferred very effectively into the written medium, as much of the engagement came as much from her body language and persona as it did from the content.

I thank you for reading this article, and this series reviewing the Term Three staff development day and I hope that you found these articles as useful as I found the presentations from which they were derived. I would very much like to hear from anyone regarding any aspect about this series, and wholeheartedly recommend you take up the opportunity to hear either Jane Caro or Michael Auden should the opportunity to do so present itself to you.

Staff Development Day Term Three (Part Two)

“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.”
– Attributed to Albert Einstein

Welcome back to this mini-series of articles reviewing the learning from the staff development day at the beginning of term three. If you missed the previous article, reviewing the keynote speech from Jane Caro (@JaneCaro), I highly recommend reading it, as it was a very engaging session. We had a short break for morning tea after Jane’s talk, and came back to hear the main speaker for the day, who was actually conducting two sessions, either side of the midday break.

Michael Aulden was speaking to us under the title Angry – disruptive – lazy – Teaching restless boys, a topic which, in my mind, promised to be highly interesting. Michael’s opening statement, that “[l]ife is a physical job…” saw many of the males in the room nodding their heads, myself included. My interpretation of this, combined with my personal experience of life, is that irrespective of whether you are involved in physical labour, life is a physical task. It is visceral, and feels more alive whenever we/I am engaged in some sort of physical activity, whether it be labouring in the yard, or running around as a football (soccer) referee. I find a strange satisfaction in physical tasks such as mowing the lawn, high intensity interval training or gutting the cupboards in the house in order to throw out the accumulated junk and resort things.

Michael then asked us to picture a male student that we know from our class and consider to be struggling, and to mentally describe his profile; name, areas of concern, and areas for success. Michael continued by offering some suggestions for making it easier for boys to engage, such as using music as a timing cue for the end of sessions. Michael suggested the theme from The Simpsons:

The reason for using music, rather than a verbal time warning such as “one minute left” is that many boys do not have a concept of time, and so the time warning holds no effect. In contrast to this, the majority of students know how long The Simpsons theme music lasts, and can use visualisations based on cues or signposts within the music to determine how much of the song has played. This can be beneficial for all students, but particularly the boys, in helping them to be aware of how long they have left before they are required to either be on task or packed up and back on the floor, or whatever the requirement is.

Boys struggle with, continued Michael, rules, concepts of time, reflection, expression of emotion and educational success for boys is strongly pillared on their self-esteem.This couples with Michael’s opening point that life is a physical job, as boys, at five years old, when we send them off to “big school” and expect them to be able to conform to the requirements of sitting still, listening for long periods of time and completing a range of physical tasks which they are unfamiliar with, the research is showing they are less able to sit still, to listen, to concentrate to communicate and that they need variety, stimulation and physical activity. Going back to Jane’s point about student well-being being the central aspect of education in Finland, boys in Finland are not required to start school until they are seven years old.. This comment brought about a few nods of agreement from the audience.

Michael then showed us part of a clip called A Tale of Two Brains by Mark Gungor, which talked about the difference between men’s and women’s brains, and therefore how they think. We only watched a short portion, but I have included the full clip below.

Michael also recommended that we access a copy of The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine and also the counterpart to that book, The Male Brain, by the same author.

It was about here that we broke for lunch and networking, and so it is here that I will stop for today’s article. Thank you for reading, as always, and I would very much like to hear your thoughts on this topic via either the comments section or via Twitter.