Sunday, 28 June 2020

Enough is Enough!

It has been extremely distressing watching the footage of the blatant racism exhibited by various USA police, not least George Floyd’s gut wrenching murder. I would like to think this is a specific American issue but as we sadly know, racism exists in our own backyard and that is where we need to start to address it.

You could argue racism is a very complex and imbedded issue, and it is!

Martin Luther King had the answer. He was able to cut to the core of how to bring about change. This man’s integrity and the difference he made to humanity stands out in history. He was intelligent and was able to touch people’s consciousness by his simple and clear dealing with the truth. A stinging but powerful statement was his commentary around “the appalling silence of good people.”  

To be clear he actually said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

That’s it! Simple as that! “Silence is complicity!” We all have to take responsibility. It’s time for us all to stand our ground and do what we know is right whether it be on racism, workplace harassment, domestic abuse etc

We are all fragile beings that need and deserve respect, support and kindness. It has been so refreshing having some of our leaders here in Aotearoa modelling the mantra of this. Our PM, Jacinda Adhern spoke on the world stage at the United Nations Assembly where she called for a new world order ---one that puts ‘kindness ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism.’

Schools and families have the obligation to explicitly educate our young people with these central issues of human responsibility, but most of all, to ‘walk the talk’ as modelling is the most powerful weapon against the insidious nature of racism and harassment of any kind.

The issue of racism is complex and deeply rooted but rather than feeling helpless as an individual, we can all make a difference. We all have to be brave and speak out when we see and hear what we know to be wrong, as ‘silence is complicity’!

Thursday, 9 April 2020

What Motivates Powerful Learning

Hard Fun

“70% percent of children drop out of sports by their early teens. Why? Recent studies show it’s often because playing sports has ceased to be fun.”
This report is essentially critical of coaches who over drill children and treat sport as a must win activity. This of course ‘kills’ motivation for many of our young people. The report goes on to say, “A good youth coach ensures that every practice, every competition, every communication is focused on all of the athletes having a positive and enjoyable experience. Youth sport should be about having fun while learning to work hard for a common goal, to prioritise developing skills over winning, to persist in the face of adversity, to be a good sport, and to be competitive. If all coaches got the proper training and supervision, many more kids would continue playing sports throughout their teens.” (1)
The reality is, this is the same for any learning. Sadly, many children are turned off school when it is repetitive, pitched to the middle of the class, drill orientated and boring.
The best education is ‘hard fun’---we all learn better when there is a bit of tension and stretch combined with enjoyment. This fits so well with the important concept of ‘learner agency’ where the aim is support learners incrementally to take more control over their learning. “When learners move from being passive recipients to being much more active in the learning process, actively involved in the decisions about the learning, then they have greater agency.” ( Core Education: )

Personalising learning (giving learners more ‘choice’ and ‘voice’) as much as possible is a powerful way of connecting students’ passions and interests (hard fun) which of course will help drive their learning.

This isn’t some woolly notion. It has to have rigour and struggle running through it.  I know it is a bit of a cliché but ‘no pain, no gain’. As you know this applies to all of us and we would be doing our students a disservice if we didn’t foster resilience in them.

As teachers we must have high expectations for our students and communicate these to them. This should be done in a positive fashion inviting and expecting students to be active in their learning and to be able to reflect on their efforts and talk about it. Making learning goals shared and explicit to students gives the learner a sense of ownership which of course is very motivational.

Praise and feedback is central to levering the best from the students. Some students will metaphorically need their ‘hand held’ more than others until they have the confidence and skills to ‘walk alone’. The need for this scaffolding and example prompts will vary enormously across any one class.

The concept of ‘learner agency’ is huge, complex and powerful in the learning process. Best practice here transforms children’s learning and is central to this idea of ‘hard fun’. In time students will become more confident and active in their learning. This intrinsic engagement / motivation creates powerful and deep learning.

(1  (  “Our Kids’ Coaches Are Doing It Wrong” by Jennifer Etnier in The New York Times, March 12, 2020 (reported in Linda Braun’s Hippocampus, April 7th 2020)

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Time Bomb

Over the last week I have observed two situations which have prompted me to share this article written by Dr Luis Rojas Marcos (Psychiatrist) entitled ‘A Silent Tragedy’.  Dr Marcos is very experienced and highly regarded. ( see )

This article offers parenting skills that can and will prevent sadness and distress for all family members and help set children up for success at school and beyond.

Dr Marcos is in a very sound position to give this advice and I know most educators would support his views. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of parents are doing a great job and are striving to be the best parent they can be but we should all read this article.

The first situation that prompted me to share this article occurred at a cafe whilst I was having a coffee. A young child about 4-5 years old was playing on a trike whilst his mother was having a coffee. When she had finished, she said to her young son that it was time to get off the trike so they could go home. The child responded with a firm 'no' so the mother engaged in a debate which resulted in the child just riding off leaving his mother stranded calling out, 'well just a few minutes more'. Over the course of the next 20 minutes or so when the child came within earshot, the debate ensued with the child defiantly in control and when I had finished my coffee and finally had to go, the mother was still glumly sitting there waiting for her son to tire of playing on the trike.

The second situation occurred a few days later when I observed a similar situation where a dad was negotiating a 'time to go' situation with his pre-schooler (about age 3)  with the child firmly in control and the mother watching on exasperated at the situation but clearly with no influence on the child.
In both these situations, my inner self was screaming with 'for goodness sake'! Both families were in for a rough ride with their children as they weren't prepared to be the 'adult' in the relationship and were unintentionally giving the children concerned the message, that they were the centre of the universe and they were in control. Often and usually, children who do not have the security knowing their parents are in control grow up testing all their relationships struggling to make friends and of course being the same sort of parent as what has been modelled to them. I won't go into the various strategies the parents could have called upon to make these situations harmonious and constructive, as I want you to read the article below which deals with this better than I could.

A Silent Tragedy
There is a silent tragedy that is unfolding today in our homes, and concerns our most precious jewels: our children. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! In the last 15 years, researchers have given us increasingly alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in childhood mental illness that is now reaching epidemic proportions:
Statistics do not lie:
·         1 in 5 children have mental health problems
·         A 43% increase in ADHD has been noted
·         A 37% increase in adolescent depression has been noted
·         There has been a 200% increase in the suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14
What is happening and what are we doing wrong?
Today’s children are being over-stimulated and over-gifted with material objects, but they are deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
·         Emotionally available parents
·         Clearly defined limits
·         Responsibilities
·         Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
·         Movement in general but especially outdoors
·         Creative play, social interaction, unstructured game opportunities and boredom spaces
Instead, in recent years, children have been filled with:
·         Digitally distracted parents
·         Indulgent and permissive parents who let children “rule the world” and whoever sets the rules
·         A sense of right, of deserving everything without earning it or being responsible for obtaining it

·         Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
·         A sedentary lifestyle
·         Endless stimulation, technological nannies, instant gratification and absence of boring moments
What to do?
If we want our children to be happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and get back to basics. It is still possible! Many families see immediate improvements after weeks of implementing the following recommendations:
·         Set limits and remember that you are the captain of the ship. Your children will feel more confident knowing that you have control of the helm.
·         Offer children a balanced lifestyle full of what children NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your children if what they want is not what they need.
·         Provide nutritious food and limit junk food.
·         Spend at least one hour a day outdoors doing activities such as: cycling, walking, fishing, bird / insect watching
·         Enjoy a daily family dinner without smartphones or distracting technology.
·         Play board games as a family or if children are very small for board games, get carried away by their interests and allow them to rule in the game.
·         Involve your children in some homework or household chores according to their age (folding clothes, ordering toys, hanging clothes, unpacking food, setting the table, feeding the dog etc.)
·         Implement a consistent sleep routine to ensure your child gets enough sleep. The schedules will be even more important for school-age children.
·         Teach responsibility and independence. Do not overprotect them against all frustration or mistakes. Misunderstanding will help them build resilience and learn to overcome life’s challenges.
·         Do not carry your children’s backpack, do not carry their backpacks, do not carry the homework they forgot, do not peel bananas or peel oranges if they can do it on their own (4-5 years). Instead of giving them the fish, teach them to fish.
·         Teach them to wait and delay gratification.
·         Provide opportunities for “boredom”, since boredom is the moment when creativity awakens. Do not feel responsible for always keeping children entertained.
·         Do not use technology as a cure for boredom, nor offer it at the first second of inactivity.
·         Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, shopping centers. Use these moments as opportunities to socialize by training the brains to know how to work when they are in mode: “boredom”
·         Help them create a “bottle of boredom” with activity ideas for when they are bored.
·         Be emotionally available to connect with children and teach them self-regulation and social skills.
·         Turn off the phones at night when children have to go to bed to avoid digital distraction.
·         Become a regulator or emotional trainer for your children. Teach them to recognize and manage their own frustrations and anger.
·         Teach them to greet, to take turns, to share without running out of anything, to say thank you and please, to acknowledge the error and apologize (do not force them), be a model of all those values you instill.
·         Connect emotionally – smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, play or crawl with them.
Article written by Dr. Luis Rojas Marcos Psychiatrist.

Ref: Article and picture downloaded from:

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Best to 'Walk our Talk'

In a recent study it was found that 90% of American parents say their top priority for their children is for them to be kind and caring! I would say from my experience as a parent and what I have seen in my 40 years of being an educator in primary schools, NZ parents would say the same thing.

This of course is what we all want for our young as we see our world fraught with complex and sad issues of poverty, violence and greed.

However, when the study dug into reality and asked the children what did their parents want and value from them most of all, they said things like good grades, doing well at school and getting a good report.

We can underestimate children’s ability to see what parents really value. Words are cheap and unless we truly model what we say, our young ones will zone in what adults really prioritise.
This hypocrisy can be very accidental as most adults truly want their young ones to be kind and caring.  In their article, the authors, Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant, went on to talk about a subsequent study that demonstrated that kindness appears to be on the decline. A rigorous analysis of annual surveys of American college students showed a substantial drop from 1979 to 2009 in empathy and in imagining the perspectives of others. Over this period, students grew less likely to feel concern for people less fortunate than themselves—and less bothered by seeing others treated unfairly.”

This is scary stuff in a world that has so many challenges. It is abundantly clear, we can do better! However much we praise kindness and caring, we are not showing our children we value these attributes.Accidentally we can become so focussed and worried about academic achievement we fail to nurture kindness as well as we think we are. We can inadvertently promote our children’s achievement accolades as personal badges of pride.

We are all guilty of this and it is time to reflect on what balance exists between our celebrating achievement versus the character traits of empathy and care. In some ways promoting E.Q. over I.Q.
Ironically many successful and happy people are strong in E.Q.

In the article, it suggests making explicit efforts to promote what is valued in your home. For example, at the dinner table ask the children questions related to your values such as, ‘did you help someone at school out today?’ We need to look for opportunities to praise children for caring acts. Talk to your children about being mindful of the friends they foster. Encourage them to notice classmates who are kind and compassionate versus those who might be popular but not necessarily kind.

I see lots of very positive things going in the school I work at (Waterloo) but the article I have referenced has made me sit up and review what we are doing with the aim of striving to be better. ‘Treat other people as you wish to be treated’ is a strong and meaningful mantra. I also think we have to be very explicit with children and actively foster in them to be courageous. To stand up for what is decent and right.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Being United

(Footnote below)

I have just finished reading Michelle Obama's book 'Becoming'. I was keen to read her book as she comes across as a person with great dignity, integrity and courage.

Towards the end of the book she addresses a question she has been asked many times. She said,

"I have no intention of running for office, ever. I've never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten years has done little to change that. I continue to be put off by the nastiness---the tribal separation of red and blue, this idea that we are supposed to choose one side and stick to it, unable to listen and compromise, or even be civil.” (p419)

This was music to me ears as I have struggled with the combative and hypocritical nature of politics.

In an earlier blog post I talked about this concern and offered my views on a possible better way. I have repeated much of this below as I have been further inspired by Michelle Obama's strong views.

There is no doubt about it, ‘together everyone achieves more’. Over the years we have all watched New Zealand’s political circus of punch and counter punch. When election time comes around the hype and marketing builds. Unfortunately some ‘over promising’ can happen and this of course comes with quite a bit of under-delivering once elected.  No matter how principled people are, they usually vote with self-interest and who can blame them.

The current situation is no different.  The reality is, New Zealand has a combative and party dogma centred construct of governing. Under this model how is it possible to harness the best of what we have and have a fully unified, inclusive and powerful strategy ahead!

We have a choice. We can accept this as is and carry on regardless. To be fair, New Zealand can be proud of much of what has been achieved in recent times, including getting through in pretty good shape after the challenges of the Christchurch earthquakes, recessions and of course the global financial crisis (GFC). However, everyone would agree, the gap between those ‘who have’ and those ‘who have not’ is far too wide. Our education, health and social sectors are underfunded and operate in an uncoordinated fashion. That’s probably too harsh but a cross disciplinary approach would be more powerful.

A fundamental question needs to be asked. If you were responsible for a large number of people’s welfare and their asset base, would you set up a system of governance as we have currently?

I personally wouldn’t. I may be naive, in fact I know I am but the idea of a meritocracy of sorts has much merit in my mind. Democracy has to be at the heart of this.

I believe most New Zealanders have a very similar vision for our country. I also believe most would ascribe to very similar principles and values. For example, most New Zealanders believe in democracy, racial and gender equity, environmental sustainability, freedom of speech and so on.

If a shared vision was democratically settled on and then the agreed principles and values we wish to live by are agreed, we would then have the basis to create a shared strategic plan and related goals to implement.  These goals would be far ranging having targets across the spectrum of what we hold dear as New Zealand citizens. Of course these goals would need to be revisited regularly to ensure they still have the powerful relevancy and currency required.

Having a shared and ‘owned’ approach like this would take out the enormous amount of time we waste on petty and quite often personal political debates which cause division and take the energy away from what is important.

This would also take away the need for political parties and allow passionate people to put their hand up for election to New Zealand’s  1st XV who would take up the responsibility for leadership. I use the term 1st XV with ‘tongue in cheek’ as it is a parlance many would recognise. Essentially the best people for the job similar to a Board of Trustees. Right now, my vote would be for Jacinda to be captain and coach. I see many others across the parties who have so much to offer NZ but are caught up in party politics and ‘treading water’.

I, like you want the best for NZ. We should aspire to be a role model for the rest of the world as our planet is in a perilous state.

Before you dismiss this idea as nonsense, debate it with your family and friends as I know we can do better. Let’s get our best people on the park as together everyone achieves more.

This wonderful poem is very related to what has been said.

Image result for pity the nation khalil gibran

Footnote: Teamwork picture. Apologies but my eyes can't quite read the credits. Hopefully you can.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Let’s Get Real

This blog entry is a brief attempt to summarise a few key ‘silver bullets’ to transform our education system. I underline the point that this would not require increasing the Government Education ‘purse’ but would require a change of spending priorities.

I have come to these views after being a principal for 24 years and in education for over 40 years. These years have not been merely at the ‘chalk face’ but also engaged in my own extensive reading and writing about education.

In addition to this, I have talked to a wide range of other experienced principals who share the same or very similar views.

Silver Bullet # 1  Learning and Behaviour Support

I have put this as Number 1 because this is very urgent and would make an enormous difference to schools’ morale and performance. There are many, many angry principals out there who see this as a ‘no brainer’.

Appoint teacher assistants (para-professionals) in every class or at least 1 to every two classes. This is a crude allocation but essentially we need to up teacher support so the teachers can focus more intently on teaching and learning. Currently we have teachers drawn away from this focus by very unfair situations such as severe learning and behaviour/safety needs.

The sooner all schools get dedicated SENCOs related to roll numbers the better. These specialist teachers would coordinate the teaching and learning of the more challenging students and coordinate T.A. (para-professional) support and teacher interaction.

Silver Bullet # 2 Teacher Training

Teacher training model needs to be reviewed and it is! The cautionary notes I would make here are:
1. Prioritise what it is to be a teacher and don’t squeeze the experience into one year.
2. Don’t over intellectualise the courses. There is too much emphasis on qualification v understanding of what it is to be a teacher and the holistic and developmental nature of learning.

If we get this right the sector would see a significant and sustained boost in life-long learning and achievement.

Promote teachers as inquirers. Give them time to think, watch, absorb and do their magic but be rigorous and have high expectations. To be fair, this concept of teacher inquiry is being promoted but for a while undermined by over the top expectations from 'the powers that be' for teachers to justify  their existence by detailed record keeping as part of an appraisal process.

Silver Bullet # 3 Quality Assurance

The currently accountability model of assurance checks on schools should be tweaked to a rigorous guidance model. Accountability is a must but the focus must be on implementing best practice with minimum bureaucracy and death by paperwork. Enough ‘talking the talk’, schools should only need to ‘walk the talk’. We need a High Trust model supported by advisors. Then if a school loses this trust early intervention will be needed.

Focus on teaching and learning with ‘hard fun’ at the centre. We must have high expectations for our students appropriate to age and particularly stage. Confidence is everything and learning is developmental! We don’t all get concepts in a linear order nor at the same time. Many young people do not achieve a sense of themselves as an independent learner until their mid-twenties. In our current model, too many of these young people feel a sense of failure as they transition out of school because they haven’t yet jumped the education hurdles implicitly and explicitly expected of them by the system. If we truly believe in life-long learning, then our model must change.

We all learn differently and as Bruce Springsteen wisely said, “One problem with the way our education system is set up is that it only recognises a certain type of intelligence, and it’s incredibly restrictive. There’s so many types of intelligence, and people who would be at their best outside of that structure get lost.”

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Boredom is a Great Teacher

Boredom is a great teacher. Without it there wouldn’t be any spaces in a child’s day to dream, wonder and struggle with time on their hands. Boredom allows space and opportunity for creativity and the development of independence.

Is your child running from one after school activity to another? Do you feel like you are so busy driving your children here there and everywhere that at times you feel over-whelmed? This is not unusual and it can creep up on you. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs you will ever have.
The reality of our world today is there is so much choice for extra-curricular activities. Children can be pushed to their limits and end up not doing anything justice. (maybe even compromising their team mates and/or tutors/coaches)  The result can mean over-busy days and children who are frazzled and often parents too! Parents are not always at fault as children can put pressure on parents to participate in things that look ‘fun’.
Making hard choices is a life skill and we as the adults need to foster this decision making skill. Children need down time to really flourish and grow. Being able to appreciate being still and chilling out is also a life skill. I encourage you to foster these life skills and that may mean at times you need to be an active influence on decision making for over-zealous children.
If the adults in their lives are also rushing about and frantic all the time, our children will come to believe that is how life is supposed to be. However, if we can model a slower pace and make time to ‘chill out’ and create slower paced moments, then we open up a more intentional dynamic of healthy living. Simple opportunities such as sitting down together for meal times, playing a board game, or cards, or going on a short slow walk around the block gives a strong well-being message and cements life-long habits.