The secret ingredient of dignity

Do kids trust me with their learning? Or are they scared of my reaction toward them and protecting themselves from me?

It was heartening to attend an education forum the other week where keynote speakers were talking about the human condition of learning – esteem, culture, leadership, beliefs and risk – rather than peddling silver bullet education products (bar one). Because there is no silver bullet, not even the relatively important (and now established and at risk of becoming tired) trends of feedback and data.

Data can be helpful, and feedback even more so; but if I know that my teacher is willing to take a risk on me and protect my dignity, then I’m going to put my best foot forward aren’t I?

If I know my teacher believes in me there is a certain ‘calling out’ of potential that I would be daft to resist as a student. Who doesn’t want to grow in esteem because someone gave them a chance? Who wouldn’t put their best foot forward if there was assurance that risk taking wasn’t going to end in humiliation?

So then, how are we ‘calling out’ potential in the next generation? And, do our kids trust us with their learning, failures, ideas, dreams? Because there is no point believing in the next generation if they don’t believe in you. To put if frankly, if a kid brings me an idea, will they be putting their dignity at risk?

Will I snap back? Undermine their confidence with my wit? Take the opportunity to reinforce my superiority? Probably not you, the reader, but definitely me, I have a bank of ‘cut-down’ lines to stop kids in their tracks, even though I darn well know it’s not good parenting or pedagogy. Somehow in (probably justified) self-preservation of our own sense of value, us adults can adopt sarcastic, aloof or just plain mean demeanours to keep the would-be threat of kids’ behaviour at arm’s length. We develop survival tactics for dealing with childishness and immaturity, but sometimes (perhaps too often) these tactics jeopardise the most critical part of the education/child-rearing dynamic – our relationships.

There is a way to interact, tease out a topic, challenge misconceptions, grapple with failure, encourage higher achievement and maintain, even better, build, a child’s dignity. Here’s what we want: we want to raise kids who can walk toward the mess of their learning situation, rather than sweep it under the carpet, and find the courage to deal with the project, the subject, the pain (yes, learning is painful – stop trying to make an entertainment-based circus enterprise out of education) and grow through the process with dignity.

We get to facilitate that. Us, the teachers, parents, coaches, youth workers. We are the adults in these relationships. We’re the ones who create spaces and provide opportunities. We’re the ones who cloak or strip a child of dignity.

Practically, here’s five tips for restoring/building dignity:

  1. Listen. Give kids a voice, validate their feelings and be empathetic to the pain that can be learning. Their feelings may not be logical to our adult reason, but they are real, and it is important we understand how they’re feeling so we can work with where they’re at.
  2. Be open in your interactions. Drop the suspicion, unless you’ve got indisputable evidence for it. Innocent until proven guilty. We treat kids with suspicion, they’ll start acting suspicious. We treat them with respect, they’ll have something to rise to. Let’s give them that.
  3. Communicate high expectations up front. No surprises. Give them the opportunity to meet your expectations, with dignity. If they trust you, they’re more likely to want to please you.
  4. Communicate your belief in their capacity to grow. This is such a big deal that I’ve devoted another whole blog post to this topic.
  5. Lace your language with dignity rather than sarcasm. This is only possible if we drop our prejudices, and that’s easier said than done. I’m currently writing an academic paper about without-prejudice teaching and learning, it is a huge topic. We often think of prejudice in terms of the big issues – race, class and gender – but it is just as rampant within cultures and groups as it is between them. We can be prejudiced against a child because of his or her health issues, parents’ occupations, personality, religious beliefs – the list is, sadly, very very long. And we don’t do very well hiding our prejudice; kids have very keen prejudice radars, and if they detect it they will protect their learning from us. This one requires a little soul searching: are kids protecting themselves from me?

If learning were just information transfer, none of this would be an issue. But it’s not. Good learning requires inter-generational relationships, and if these relationships are under strain then a good education is jeopardised. There is no super curriculum to make super learners; if information was going to save the world it would have done that by now. Relationships are more important than we give them credit for, therefore trust is critical.

A good place to begin is a resolve to make every interaction a dignified one: for the child and the adult. We know that the number one predictor of student achievement is students’ own expectations of their own performance, and it will only be through authentic relationships that we can influence students’ expectations of themselves for the better.

 

 

 

 

The question every young person is asking: Do you see potential in me?

The risk is, having lived over half my life as an adult, I’ve got a few opinions. After all, I’ve travelled to many countries, had my heart broken, taken risks, been scared, scored goals, married, had children, worked with other people’s children, made mistakes, been published, and my resume is longer than it used to be by virtue of my age. Simply put, I’ve got experience. So the risk is, I’ve also got opinions. And when you’ve got experience and opinions there is a high chance of becoming justifiably critical of the people and the events around us, especially younger people.

For example, I survived the pre-school years, so I’m at risk of thinking I’m qualified to comment on parents of pre-schoolers.

Or, I’ve travelled to various cultures, so I’m at risk of thinking I’m qualified to justify my own culture.

Or, I’ve led teams of people, so I’m at risk of thinking I can commentate on someone else’s leadership.

But the reality is, when I was going through whatever – parenting toddlers, travelling to remote places, leading big teams – I really didn’t want someone else’s commentary. And I rarely found that opinions helped. Actually, I would have shrunk back in discouragement if I’d listened to everyone’s opinions, especially those that came from people who were older than me. What I needed and desperately wanted was someone who had gone before me to share their experiences and encourage me to keep going. Helpful evaluation that would help me to improve was welcome. Opinion without experience was not.

At 40 years of age, I feel passionately about this because criticising the next generation is not going to make the world a better place. Just because I think (or know) I’m right, doesn’t mean I am entitled to prove people who are 10 or 20 years younger than me wrong. When did you ever feel good about being wrong? And when did you ever seek advice from an older person (a parent or teacher for example) who liked to prove you wrong?

If I’m critical I will silo my experience within my own generation because no one coming after me will want to hear it, much less learn from it.

And at that point, education breaks down. Education isn’t just getting through curriculum, it is the passing on of generational wisdom (Furedi, 2009). Education isn’t just knowledge – anyone can fill their head with knowledge – it is also the mindsets that accompany the knowledge (e.g. Yeager & Dweck, 2012). So it is my responsibility, as someone who now has experience that may be helpful for the next generation, to help them see what they can’t yet see by virtue of age.

We hear a lot of criticism of teenagers and young adults – self-obsessed, narcissistic, uncommitted – but really they’re just like every generation before them: second guessing their own potential because they haven’t yet had time to realise it. We did too. And how helpful was it when someone with a few more years’ experience came along and identified your yet-to-be-developed potential? He or she gave you the vote of confidence you needed by sharing perspective you didn’t yet have. Or, how much of a struggle was it to take risks and forge forward against the doubt and criticism of people who you wished would cheer you on? Here is the question every young person is asking: Do you see potential in me?  And if the answer is, “Yes, I see that you see potential in me,” then they will listen to our experiences. If the answer is, “no,” then why would they?

Somewhere between approximately eight and 12 years of age, we all transfer over from being motivated by mastery (the acquisition of knowledge and skills) to being motivated by self-preservation (McInerney & McInerney, 2008). It is part of the transition into adulthood. All of us protect ourselves from the opinions of others, especially if our trust has been broken. And if we have experienced the pain of someone else’s ill opinion (who hasn’t?) then we are all prone to shrinking back and reducing the scope of our influence so that we won’t be hurt like that again. And then we join the commentators, and the cycle repeats itself for another generation (see diagram below).

But what if, instead of criticising the upcoming generation, we gave them the vote of confidence they are looking for? Imagine if instead of sharing our opinions, we shared our raw experiences, showing them that you don’t have to trust the crowd to continue to lead and love the crowd. What if we didn’t shrink back, thereby giving the next generation the confidence not to shrink back when setbacks come their way too? What if we encouraged them, spoke to the potential in them (the potential they don’t yet have the capacity to see) and invested into their future by leveraging our resources for their benefit? There’s a quality education right there.

Cycles of shrinking back or bouncing back

 

Has the information age made us better humans?

If information was going to solve the world’s problems, it would have done it by now. We are more informed than ever before, and yet our prejudices still harm others. Our kids are more educated than any other generation before them, and yet they increasingly suffer from anxiety and distress.

Let me be blunt. Sex education hasn’t stopped teen pregnancies or the health issues associated with promiscuity. Land mine education doesn’t stop terrorism. Drug and alcohol education didn’t stop the ice epidemic. Tolerance and diversity awareness hasn’t cured racism.

Really. We are more informed and educated than ever before, and still we are messed up. If science, education and information were going to solve the world’s problems, then why is our collective pain deeper than ever?

I’m all for education – I spend most of my time investing into its causes – and I’m so thankful for the enhancements that technology has brought to learning. I truly am; technology has improved the pace and quality of education out of sight. I’m also deeply thankful for scientific discovery.

But kids need more than information, they need security, and they take their security cues from their adults.

When kids are anxious or stressed, we often want to throw them a lifeline of information, feeding them with facts to allay their fears. “I know you’re worried about x, but let me tell you about y and z. See, you don’t need to worry.In our adult fix-it-mode, we often forget that what kids need more than information is a listening ear, a dose of empathy and an injection of courage. The internet can’t do that for them (and if it does it’s creepy). “Google it” should be our last resort. There is no substitute for an open and authentic inter-generational relationship.

A good education is not a high-speed transferal of information, it is the passing on of generational wisdom (Furedi, 2009). To know something is one thing, but to know how to think about it is wisdom. To know when to access information and when to refrain is wisdom too. Sometimes we let our kids know too much too early, before they have developed the neurological facilities to adequately process the information (cf. cognitive development theories). (And we wonder why they’re anxious.)

More than exposing kids to information (and thinking we’re progressive because we’re not holding back), we need to model ways to think. Courageous ways. Wise ways. Persistent ways. Patient ways. We need to show our kids how to think respectfully. How to think compassionately (Stafford, 2007). How to think critically (cf. Bloom, 1984; Marzano & Kendall, 2006). You can extend this list.

What’s the alternative? We teach them how to stress out, give up, freak out, blame others, and search for information that supports their prejudice and insecurity. No wonder the information age hasn’t improved the human condition.

Our strength will be their point of reference. We don’t need to be perfect for the next generation, but we do need to be present and authentic, and we need to make our wisdom visible for them.

There is no escaping our own foundations

Somedays I feel wrung out. This mama is only ever as happy as her most perplexed child, this wife feels the demands placed on her husband, this professional feels the full weight of major decisions that impact others’ lives, this sister cares, this daughter notices, this friend wants to be there, and this educator is motivated by others finding clarity.

And then if I stop to consider my friends in Africa, women in developing contexts, children who’ve suffered the effects of war, or the needs in my own street, I am struck by an overwhelming desire to do more, write more, teach more, share more.

I watch my daughters negotiate the negativity of culture, show kindness to people who need it, suffer the scorn of the popular people who are too cool to be nice to everyone, and then try to work out what they really think of it all – stuck between what they know is right and what they think other people will like. We sit on their bedsides late into many nights talking about human behaviour and motivations, exploring hard questions like “why doesn’t she like me?” or “why is that teacher so sarcastic?” or “why do people lie?”

Then the morning clocks around again and we start another day, coaxing the kids out of bed, facing the demands at hand, trying to make fair and just decisions that strengthen our community, doing our darndest to enrich the life of someone somewhere somehow. Making mistakes, taking risks, hoping to high heaven that complex problems will resolve. Interrupting our adult world to make time for our kids. Remembering to find the humour, even in the middle of a storm.

And if I listen to the avalanche of terror, heinousness or perversity on the news I could be overwhelmed. How, oh how, did humanity become so depraved, fear mongering, and senseless? I am compelled to shine brighter and plough the soil of my own family’s culture deeper, so that my kids can send down their roots into the richness and fertility of goodness and truth, and thrive.

IMG_6739And therein, lies the secret of sustainability. My own soil. How fertile is my own life? When was the last time I took time to plough in some nutrients and turn the ground in my own life? How are my foundations? From what keystone am I taking my bearings and forming boundaries? And ultimately, how rich is the soil I have cultivated in my own life so that my kids can grow and be fruitful in their own unique ways?

Sustainability is in the soil. The foundations. The belief systems. The bottom-line. No foundation, no strength. No nourishment, no fruit. The deeper the foundation the more formidable the structure. The richer the soil, the greater the harvest.

So rather than being overwhelmed by culture or the state of the planet, I’ve decided to take good care of my plot. And it’s a fight. We fight to define and practice justice, peace and courage. We struggle to understand old-fashioned terms like righteousness but we know that we would be poorer for its absence. We debate, walk toward differences of opinion, encourage questioning, but always turn back to consider timeless truths that have prevailed. We talk about wisdom, but too frequently act foolishly. We teach our kids to think and question, and then live with the consequences. We teach our girls to be kind, knowing they’ll fail, because we do too, but also knowing that a keen sense of injustice accompanies kindness and this can be heartbreaking. Feeling are hurt. Tears are shed. Paradigms are challenged. Trust is built. Values are shared. Laughter is contagious. We plough the soil.

Some days we neglect the soil; other days we break it up and sow in seeds of robust discussion; every so often we unintentionally contaminate it; every day we live in it. There is no escaping our own foundations. Pay attention we must. So we keep ploughing.

Ever lied to a teacher?

What you want to do as a teacher is give students the benefit of the doubt, show kindness, hope they are being trustworthy, and that perhaps they might learn a lesson about human decency along the way, maybe even pass it forward. That’s the scenario we wish for.

Unfortunately, lying to the teacher is all too common, and as the years tick by it seems both students and parents have less of a conscience about it. The old dog ate my homework is mild, comparatively. What’s more, there doesn’t seem to be a collective conscience about plagiarism either – a vexatious combination of both stealing and lying.

And then if students really want to dodge consequences, they pull out terms like “stressed” or incite “bullying” against their teachers. All good teachers are happy to receive genuine concerns of this nature, but the waters get very muddy when such terms are used in an unqualified manner. (And it makes it difficult for students who really need to use these terms when those who don’t are abusing them). Sometimes it feels like we’re on opposing teams; even though teachers and students are meant to be on the same team: a learning team.

The heart of the teacher who once upon a time hoped they might change their corner of the world is devastated. I wanted to inspire the next generation and give them hope, but instead I’m dodging lies and shouldering the responsibility of students’ lack of the same.

It’s no surprise some teachers resort to lists of rules and steel their hearts – something they probably swore they’d never do, but feel they have no other option if they want to survive.

Or they leave the profession. They’d rather cut their losses and protect their souls.

So let’s unpack the situation, and maybe find some clarity. First, a couple of points about rules.

Rules articulate the lowest common denominator. They don’t tell you how awesome you can be, they tell you how low you can go. So keeping the rules is reasonable, not exemplary, behaviour. For example, a speed limit tells you how fast you can go; it doesn’t make you a courteous driver. A law about defamation tells you how you can’t speak; it doesn’t make you an oratory inspiration or encouragement.

Rules are only needed when the character of the people is not strong enough. We can teach our middle and high school students this concept. For example, we don’t need a ‘hands up’ rule if everyone is considerate of others and leaves space for open conversation. Or, we only need a ‘don’t touch others’ belongings’ rule if you are destructive or disrespectful of others. The more trust, respect, and care in a community, the less rules are needed.

The take home lesson: rules help, but they don’t change the world. So let’s dig deeper, why do kids (and adults) lie?

Personal experience tells me that it is often because kids want to keep the good opinion of their parents. It’s easier to vilify the teacher than lose the good opinion of a parent because you cheated or stole something. Research would agree with my experiences[1]. When children are infants they may lie to avoid consequences, but as they grow older kids are more prone to lying to retain the good opinion of the people they love, even if it means vilifying others. Complex: kids lie because they want to be loved.

This is further complicated by a decreasing moral conscience about lying in our society. Un-truths seem to be more and more socially acceptable. Lie to get a job. Lie to keep someone happy. Lie to make yourself look good. Lie so that others won’t worry about you. Lie so people won’t go out of their way to help you. Lie for approval.

Meanwhile, bullying and narcissism are on the increase. Is it any wonder?

And, respect and trust are eroded. This is a real problem in light of the knowledge that the building blocks of a functional relationship (in any context) are trust and respect.

When was the last time we taught our kids about trust? How to become trustworthy? And taught them about honesty? About how honesty will build your character even though it may have consequences?

When was the last time we had a lesson about how lies are probably the most understated wickedness in the world because they BREAK trust, and when trust is broken respect is lost.

When was the last time we said, “I’d prefer to know the truth and love you as you are than for you to think you have to be a certain kind of person for me to love you.”

As teachers, we have a steep hill to climb, because often kids come to us with the idea that we will only like them if they fit a certain stereotype. So they lie to us – even in their assignments – to try to secure a better opinion of themselves. Breaks my heart.

So here’s a message from this educator to every student: Your character is more important than your grades or your popularity. Grades have short shelf lives (they’re out of date within a matter of months), popularity ebbs and flows, but character will sustain you. If you give me the chance to work with authentic you – the real you, not a plagiarised or photo-shopped version of you – then we can put a plan together to help you grow. Authentic growth is what you want to take with you into your future, not a glossed up version of yourself that won’t stand the trials of life. If you grow authentically then you will own the successes; they will truly be yours. You’ll be a strong learner and even more than that – a strong person.


[1] Lee, K. (2013). Little Liars: Development of Verbal Deception in Children. Child Development Perspectives, 7(20), pp 91-96.

Perkins, S.A. & Turiel, E. (2007). To lie or not to lie: To whom and under what circumstances. Child Development, 78(2), pp. 609-621.

Switching students off or on in the first 10 minutes

What are students thinking when they’re asked to turn their attention to the teacher at the start of the lesson? “I need to listen to this and find out what we’ve got to do today.” Or: “Here she goes again. She just loves the sound of her own voice.”

Student engagement, from the get-go, reflects a) their learning dispositions, and b) the learning culture in the room. This short post is about both these factors, and how teachers set the tone of a learning culture, and subsequently influence students’ learning dispositions. Learning cultures are unique to specific environments. Students will either increase or drop their expectations for learning, depending on the culture of the class or school.[1] So it is critical that a teacher maximises the first minutes of each lesson to send a very clear message: “You’re in my class now, this is where we get on with the job.”

If you’ve been present in any professional development session in the past five years then you will have, no doubt, heard the latest buzz words: learning intentions, SMART goals, plenaries, success criteria, formative feedback.

Perhaps you’ve invested in some snazzy mini white boards (Dylan Wiliam[2] says these are the best invention since the slate), made it your priority to broadcast learning intentions[3] in multiple modes, and developed other industrious ideas to engage learners. It is the age of visible learning[4]. When students enter your classroom, they know you’ve prepared for them: in the first 10 minutes they engage in an introductory activity, and they are aware of the learning intentions for the lesson.

However, every good teacher knows that everything can be in place – curriculum, resources, and pedagogical tools – but none of these guarantee students’ full engagement. I would argue there are some other critical messages that need to be sent to secondary school students in the first 10 minutes of every lesson:

  1. I have full confidence in your ability to learn and move forward in this subject. The reason I am so confident, regardless of your previous learning experiences, is because I know that learning is a human trait and I have a growth mindset[5] regarding your capacity

Students have the most acute faith-radars I’ve ever encountered: Do you have faith in me? They will assess whether their teachers believe in their capacity to learn, faster than the teachers will be able to assess their levels of proficiency. We are all assessing each other. It is important that teachers pass the Do you believe in me? test. If they don’t, the first ten minutes of a lesson will become meaningless to the students, because what does your instruction matter if you don’t believe I can do this anyway?

  1. I’ve prepared a lesson for you, and it is specifically designed so you can move forward. Here’s where we’re going, this is what you need to do to get there. Let’s move forward. This lesson is not just for the flyers, or the strugglers, it’s for everyone.

I have found that if students know that your teaching style is inclusive (us teacher-folk would call it differentiated), they are more likely to trust you. No doom and gloom, “I’m not sure if you guys can actually do this…” or “This activity will sort out the sheep from the goats” – but a confident and clear sense of “this is what we’re going to do today.”

  1. Everyone in this room is worthy of my attention and care. This is a without-prejudice learning space. Everyone will be treated with respect and given a chance to receive helpful feedback. You are important to me.

You can’t fake this. Kids know if you genuinely care or not. And if they think you care, then they will be more likely to pay attention the learning intentions you’re espousing.

  1. I’m not here to waste your time. I will give you a chance to work independently in a while, but for now you need to listen to my instructions because they will help you.

The curriculum is so crowded that no activity should be a time-filler. Everything should count – either towards building a sense of community and teamwork, or towards learning outcomes. Students come to know what classes they can waste time in, and what classes count toward their learning.

So next time you say, “OK everyone, screens down, eyes to the front,” what students hear is: “I believe in you, I’ve prepared for you, you’re on my radar, and I won’t waste your time. Let’s go.”

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[1] A fascinating article about different learning cultures and student expectations can be found at http://www.erikdriessen.com/application/files/8814/2945/1576/2014_Watling-2014.pdf.

[2] Professor Emeritus, Dylan Wiliam, is renowned for this work on formative feedback.

[3] To read about learning intentions, aka learning outcomes, see http://www.assessmentforlearning.edu.au/professional_learning/learning_intentions/learning_intentions_landing_page.html

[4] John Hattie, 2008.

[5] See Carol Dweck’s work on growth and fixed mindsets (2006).

Starting Middle School? Five things NOT to do.

Starting Middle School can be nerve wracking. I’ve seen so many middle schoolers tie themselves in knots about very real concerns. So here are a some tips for what NOT to do:

1. Do NOT let anyone put you in a box. Don’t be confined to the sporty box, the musical box, the academic box, or any box. You be you. Sure you might be sporty, but I’m sure there’s a whole lot more to your character than just your sport. Or, you might love academics; but again, there’s more to you than your numeracy and literacy prowess. As soon as you let your peers put you in a box, you reduce your scope of play. Widen your scope. Be sporty and artsy. Be technologically savvy and a health-freak. Be you. And don’t put yourself in ‘not’ boxes either – like the not-mathematical box or the not-dramatic box. Not-boxes are probably even more dangerous because they pre-decide what you can’t do without even giving you a chance to try. Avoid all boxes, and just be you.

2. Do NOT be tricked into thinking that you have to be popular to have friends. If you’re desperately trying to be popular, you’ll likely do something nasty to try to make yourself look better than someone else, and people will end up hurt. To have friends, you need to be friendly. It really is that simple. Be friendly. Care about others. Show an interest in what they’re doing. Help out. Speak respectfully. Be the kid who is kind to everyone, who refuses to get involved in gossip or bullying, and by Year 12 you’ll probably be one of the most respected people in your grade.

3. You’re NOT in competition for grades. Not with your friends, siblings, or parents. Here’s the thing with kids who treat grades like a competition, eventually they either: a) think they’ve learnt enough because they got better grades than the person they were trying to beat; or b) give up because of disappointment. Either way, they check out of learning and stunt their development. Grades are NOT a competition between the people you love or hate. Grades are what you get at the end of your effort. They let you know how you have performed at a certain point in time. Then as soon as you learn something more, yesterday’s grades are suddenly out of date. Effort is more important than grades. Effort grows your capacity – your writing skills, problem solving skills, balls skills, etc. Effort grows your attitude too.

4. Do NOT convince yourself that everyone else is normal and you’re weird. No one’s normal. Of all the years I’ve worked with middle schoolers, I’ve never met one kid who had a ‘normal’ family. Everyone has a different story, and you’re still writing yours. When you look back on your high school years, you want to be able to tell a good story, but that will depend more on the decisions you make than the family you come from. How you decide to treat others will be part of your story. The decisions you make about alcohol and drugs will influence your story. The decisions you make about how much effort you put into your studies will be part of your story. Don’t worry about ‘normal,’ be more concerned with the story that you will tell.

5. Do NOT stress. I know, it’s easier said than done, especially when you’ve got real stuff to worry about. But someone needs to tell you that some anxiety is optional. Voluntary. Not-compulsory. You can choose not to be anxious. Yes, some anxiety is bad, like a migraine that just won’t go away, and if you’re experiencing that kind of anxiety then you probably should see a doctor. However, everyday regular stress is good for you because your capacity grows under strain. You’d never grow strong muscles if you didn’t stress them in exercise. You’d never grow resilience if you never spent time away from mum and dad. Being upset is normal, but a healthy kid can choose not to become anxious.

For example, you might be stressed about an exam, but you can choose not to become anxious or fretful. If you’ve done everything you can to prepare, and there is nothing more you can do, then you need to decide to settle your thoughts so that you can focus.

Or, you might be stressed about school camp. That’s understandable, but most of our worry is targeted toward things that haven’t even happened yet. Worry of this kind can be a choice. 

Or, perhaps you’re anxious about whether he/she likes you. If you’re friendly, and you haven’t done anything to offend that person, then there is nothing more you can do to impress someone. We can’t control other people’s thoughts or feelings. Make a choice not to stress.

Time to stop worrying about stuff you can’t control. Focus on the things you can control like your own effort, health, and friendliness. There is nothing ‘cool’ about being stressed. It’s not good for you, and sometimes you just need to choose to shake it off. (Cue Taylor Swift).

 

Dear Year Nine

I’m at a chapter end in my career – finishing up school teaching and moving on to new endeavours – and as I get ready to ‘graduate’ school (again), I can’t help but think how lucky I’ve been to end this chapter with some wonderful Year Nine students. Sometimes Year Nine gets a bad rap, but my experience has been otherwise. So before they go on to Year Ten, and I head in another direction, I wanted to say thank you to a group of fine young men and women.

Thank you for making me laugh. Punctuation lessons have never quite been so fun. I will not quickly forget the colon presentation nor the comma sing-along!

Thank you also for returning the grammar lessons and teaching me about on point and on fleek. Similarly, thanks for trying to teach me aeronautical theory, but I’ll leave the maths and physics to you!

Thanks for introducing me to Kanye West, Stephen Hawking and John Cena (yes, I live under a rock).

Thanks for our chats about Pastafarianism, religion and Jesus.

Thank you for immersing yourselves in Shakespeare and creating such artistic performances. But thank you also for clearly pointing out that if Juliet was only 13, then Romeo was a creep.

Thanks for writing feature articles beyond your years. Aristotle would be proud of your persuasive skills. I’m proud of your capacity to mash together intelligent research and considered opinion in a sassy journalistic style.

Thanks for helping one another and acting like a team.

Thanks for taking the Australian accent to a new level and putting the larrikin in your short stories.

Thanks for being amazing athletes and performers, but living your lives without pretence – competing at a state or national level one day, and then the next day turning up to English and getting down to business without any fanfare. You’re awesome.

Thanks to those of you who humour me and do all your work without complaint, even though you’d rather be in Maths or Science.

Thanks for writing poems and then having the courage to read them to the class.

Thanks for always assuring me of how good your work is, even before I’ve seen it. I love your confidence (but now you need to go back and write to the task!).

Thanks for being kind, opening the door for others, staying back to tidy the room on the odd occasion, and always saying thank-you at the end of each lesson.

You are an amazing group of young people with incredibly bright futures. It’s been a pleasure spending this year with you.