“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.”
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:
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.
To see the full list of articles in this series, click here.
“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.
View the list of articles in this series here.
“Do not underestimate the difference that you can make. You may be the only connection that a student makes during their schooling.”
– Jason Baldwin. Acting Director, Public Schools, Central Coast
Welcome back everyone, and my thanks for your understanding as to my break of last week. This article, and the next few articles, will focus on the staff development day that was hosted by Gosford Public School as a joint day between the members of the Gosford City Learning Community. Having had two nights of solid sleep over the weekend to catch up from my week in Canberra, I felt reasonably caught up on sleep and ready to go for a new term. Fortunately, my school, as with many schools, scheduled a staff development day for Monday of Week One this term. Staff from my school attended a joint event with the other schools that are part of the Gosford City Learning Community for a day of learning that was primarily focused on teaching boys. The welcome remarks were made by Mr John Anderson, Principal of Gosford PS, who offered an acknowledgement of country.
Following Mr Anderson was the acting Director Public Schools, Jason Baldwin. He delivered some interesting remarks about how schools are changing, offering some statistics that were both eye opening and disturbing. In 2009 there were 16,524 students living in out of home care, which had jumped to 18,300 by 2013. Similarly, the number of students with a disability has risen sixfold since 1987 and suicide is now the leading cause of deaths amongst teenagers, statistics which are more than a little disturbing. He closed by reminding us that we cannot underestimate the impact that we can have on a student, and that the connection we form with our students may be the only connection that that student forms throughout their schooling. This statement echoes, very strongly, the sentiments I spoke about in my Graduate Address and which are further articulated in my Teaching Philosophy.
We were then introduced to advertising guru and outspoken proponent for public education, Jane Caro who was delivering the keynote address under the title The strength of public education today. While I am familiar with Jane from her time on The Gruen Transfer and from following her on Twitter (@JaneCaro), I have not had the pleasure of hearing her speak previously and so was looking forward to hearing what Jane had to say.
Jane opened with a congratulation to Adrian Piccoli. As the current Education Minister in the NSW Government, he made the (apparently) shocking move to actually visit the country which is consistently ranked highest in international benchmarking regimes such as PISA and TIMMS to see what we could learn from their education system. What came from that was the discovery that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the majority of the Western world was deciding that academic excellence should be the central concern of public education, Finland decided to put student well-being as the central concern.
Fast forward to the current global education climate, and there is a trend by the Western countries who adopted academic success as their keystone to plateau in international benchmarking tests, whilst Finland, which placed student welfare at the centre of their education system continues to grow. Jane commented that “it is the easiest thing in the world to create a highly educated elite…but the most difficult thing to do is to create a highly educated general public, and public education is the only institution that shoulders the burden of educating the general public.” This is an interesting point to me as most countries have a highly educated elite, whether it is the highly developed countries, or the tin-pot dictatorships, or the countries in between, they all have a highly educated elite. Where the difficulty ensues is in creating a general public that is highly educated.
You may question why society needs a highly educated general public when there are so many occupations that are highly important to a functioning society that do not appear to require more than a minimal education. Jane answered this unasked question by her statement that “public education is about democracy. If you are going to trust your citizenry with the body politic, then you must educate them. It is for this reason that public education is indivisible with democracy.”
Jane continued to speak about the importance of public education, decrying the current Government’s attempt’s to roll back the public education system, and turn it into a welfare system of last resort, and pointing out that this is a radical thing to do, but that the Government calls itself conservative. Jane also pointed out, on the back of a point regarding the recently leaked Education Funding Green Paper, that if wealthy parents are required to pay more for access to public education, than they would have every right and expectation to demand for greater focus for their children, and that this would come at the cost of other children.
Jane touched on the low morale amongst many in the public education sector, both staff and students, indicating that she didn’t think it was too much of a surprise that morale is considered by some to be lower than ever, and that cynicism is ever-rising, framing it as being the result of swinging-door politics. A Government will introduce an education program that is designed to lift, for arguments sake, literacy levels amongst young students, and it produces results, raising the hopes of both staff and student. Unfortunately, when the government changes, they de-fund that program in favour of something else, dashing those same hopes that have just recently been raised. Once broken, hopes take longer to revive and students (and teachers) take substantially longer to re-engage. Hope can only be raised and subsequently dashed, before cynicism, and for some, bitterness, sets in, hearkening back to the old adage, once bitten, twice shy.
Jane next spoke about the public v private debate, indicating research (un-cited during the keynote, but given Jane’s background, I trust that she can produce the report) that students from comprehensive public schools, once they attend university outperform their private or selective schools colleagues by an average of five marks, and on top of that, are more likely to complete their degree and to graduate. Jane added that her theory for this, with some tongue-in-cheek, is that those students coming from a comprehensive public education background find it easier to transition from one under-funded and under-resourced institution to another under-funded and under-resourced institution. On contrast, those students who attend university from private or selective schools are transitioning from well-funded and well-resourced institutions to an under-funded and under-resourced institution and subsequently find it more difficult to adjust to this new scenario, not having previously encountered anything like it.
Jane posited, continuing along this train of thought, that we have a generation of parents who fear three things:
Jane related stories from deciding which schools to send her own children, two daughters, to. She was told, outright, by a private school that if she sent her two daughters to a public high school that they would end up on drugs and other assorted and equally outrageous results of public education. Jane indicated that she sees private education as being fear-based, and leveraging on the three things that parents fear. If you send Little Johnny to the Local High School he will end up on drugs and in Juvenile Detention, but if you send him here, to this safe well-funded and well-resourced private educational institution, then he will succeed in life.
Is that not what all parents want for their child’s life? Success and happiness? Private schools are about parents fear of not doing the best, or of not doing enough for their children. Public schools, Jane counters, are about hope, because in a public education system every child has potential, irrespective of their background of socioeconomic status. Jane commented that if you, as an educator, regardless of your position on the hierarchical ladder, can soothe a parents fear and anxiety about their child, then this will flow-on to reduce the child’s fear and anxiety, which will then affect the classroom and the learning outcomes of our students.
Jane closed with two final points. The first was that social media and online news sources now have more influence than mainstream news sources such as radio, television and newspaper, particularly in anything that we are emotionally invested in, which includes education. Finally, Jane elucidated that our classroom’s are often seen by students as an oasis of normalcy and lucidity in a chaotic world and that we can strengthen that sensation, which often is then reflected in our students learning outcomes by making a promise to our students:
“there is nothing I can do about what happens outside of the school. But I make a commitment to you that everything that happens in the school, you will be given the reasoning. You might not like it, but you will understand it.”
Students, and indeed many adults (I include myself in this), often find it easier to engage with or buy into something when the why of that thing is understood. You may have heard students ask “why do we need to learn this?” If you can outline the why, and not merely state that it is part of the curriculum, but why it will be useful for them in life, than you will likely find that they engage more willingly and more deeply in the learning process.
Jane ended her speech there, and answered a few questions from the floor. I found Jane to be highly engaging to listen to, and to speak with a lot of common sense. Her rhetoric was engaging without being superfluous, and I would encourage you to take the opportunity to hear her speak, should it present itself to you.
Thank you for reading as always, and I would like to hear from anyone who has thoughts on the public v private education debate, particularly around the points that Jane mentioned as indicates in this article.