A Life-Span Perspective on Bullying

Earlier in the term I went along to Professor Vanessa Green’s inaugural lecture at Victoria University that tackled the issue of bullying which I feel is particularly pertinent to youth in educational settings. Green presented a range of points around the issue – and while the 45 minute format did not allow for any particular depth into the issue, there was a range of interesting points raised.

Bullying is a barrier to every human being having the right to fulfill their potential and develop a full set of social and emotional skills. The existence of bullying has historical been denied often making this area of research difficult. Defining bullying is problematic. There is debate around whether the use of the word ‘repeated’ should be included – one harmful incident is potentially damaging so does it really need to be repeated in order to be considered bullying. For instance, cyberbullying challenges the common definition, because one post containing defamation can be seen by a significant number of people and shared even further.

slide_25Espelage and Swearer have developed a social-ecological model of bullying among youth (explained further here). It suggests that the role of the parents is particularly vital, and some evidence suggests their advice can often be harmful (who is training them? Is this the responsibility of schools?). Other participants are then vital like peers and this is where the bystander effect comes into play. The more people that see the less likely we are to help. We are not taught how to intervene. This is the shift that Green proposes: a community response whereby we all accept responsibility for stopping bullying.

The bullying programme that Green advocates is KiVa, already being used successfully by a
small number of NZ schools. She detailed a number of promising aspects of this programme and argued that is should be widely used.

kiva_logo_registered_550x550-300x300Another angle Green took in terms of a community response was in suggesting that we need to work towards a zero tolerance of bullying through shifting to explicitly teaching positive peer relationships and how to interfere in situations that do not fit this. Bullying occurs because of an unequal power dynamic – if left to sort it out themselves, this will remain unequal. We need to believe in the capacity for change and develop our growth mindsets.

I found her final point fascinating, as Green expanded the discussion to draw on our global community. We have seen in recent years a whistle blowing trend which has challenged the balance of power. These global manifestations of power the subsequent bullying that occurs could be a different story if we are all equipped to participate in positive relationships and intervene when we recognise a relationship that it’s not.

Active Learning Stories


Students came to our professional learning session today to share their stories. Active learning is a project based student centred model of learning that the school has embraced this year for the first time. The launch was earlier in the year and here’s a post that captures some of what happened on day one. The students today shared their projects and jounryes including:

  • 3D Printing – how could we incorporate 3D printing into the curriculum at Newlands College?
  • Start a brewing company – what does it take? How do we do it?
  • Tackling Student Stress – building resources to help assist struggling students.
  • Automotive design – How have cars become more fuel efficient?
  • Starting a sign language class to help connect with the deaf students – A goal to add sign language to the curriculum in the future.


The learning that was evident in the stories that were shared was powerful. Particularly as the stories were student driven and from the students own passions and not guided by any need to gain credits. I found the learning interesting and the way the students had overcome problems and navigating their thinking in quite complex ways. During the session though I ended up focusing on what the staff response was, and the learning that needed to happen for the adults involved…

What was fascinating was how interesting it was to observe how they overwhelmingly responded to the content rather than the learning. As a result most of the questions were directed towards the topics raised and not about the learning journeys.

Another fascinating aspect was hearing questions from staff where the majority were leading questions. It was amazing how many times a teacher said “like,” “or” and examples that led the response. They often contained the answers for the students to pick from. Many responses were along the lines of “have you thought of…” or “one thing you could try…” It was fascinating to see such a clear indication that student-centred learning is not as accessible as I thought and how there are still steps to go.

This is a challenge as a professional learning leader and much more thinking needs to go into how we support the change in this culture. At least we have the structure in place in order to address this!

Presenting ‘Safer Schools For All’

I was fortunate today to present for the second time yesterday the ‘Safer Schools for All’ PPTA Rainbow Taskforce presentation. Previously I reflected on how full the presentation was of ‘tell’, the need to facilitate more discussion, and how it needed to be more dynamic. I’m proud that I feel I moved in a positive direction in all these factors and feel like I’ve moved in the right direction. However, I have thoughts to reflect on nevertheless in a couple of key areas:

  • Transitions – I feel like because I’m adapting a presentation created by someone else that sometimes my flow isn’t as strong as it could be. Sometimes moving between ideas of topics is a little off and I feel taking more ownership of the presentation and developing it to my own thinking is key to this.
  • Responses to suggestions could have been stronger – I feel I perhaps accepted all the responses because they were all offers in a staffroom that I was unfamiliar with. There were some weak suggestions as to what we can do when we hear “that’s so gay”. But I accepted them all without pushing to do more. I also didn’t feel I adequately challenged a suggestion that contained prejudice.

I feel good having developed confidence in presenting it, and totally rapt about nailing my mihi for the opening. Very proud to carry the message and share my knowledge.

Student Voice – Matariki

As an acknowledgement of Matariki, students from Komiti Maori were invited along to join our Professional Learning Focus Groups. They spoke about their learning and we gently interrogated them. Some of the strands arising from the discussion were:

  • The need for specific learning – and repeating stuff. “While some people find repeating stuff useless, I need it repeated and it helps”.
  • “The biggest difference to my success is the thoroughness of what we have to learn”. Value the little stuff and the big stuff.
  • “I feel supported when I have a wide range of knowledge of the topic”
  • “Even though the I say no to support, I still probably want it”.
  • “Mentoring was good because we could bond, talking with other without the need to write things down”.
  • Self directed learning criticised and generally misunderstood as being a thing that has to be done alone without support. Are students misunderstanding the concept or are teachers not setting up this approach correctly?
  • Need to have friends and connections in class – friends help more than the teacher at times.
  • Other students can be distracting – desire for teachers to do something more about them.
  • Personality of the teacher vital in enjoying the class.

Active learning was a topic that all the students spoke about. They

  • One project was about looking at tikanga Maori and finding out more about it so they could share things with the school.
  • Frustration at not having a topic, and generally not valuing the process of finding something to look into. No learning or reflection about this process was on the surface for the students and you have to dig for this.
  • General comments showed they understood the point of active learning and that progress  was being made towards a positive outcome.

Safer Schools Workshop at ILGA Oceania


This article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

The inaugural ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association) Oceania Human Rights and Health Conference was hosted in Wellington earlier in the year. It attracted scholars, community leaders and friends from the Oceania region as well as ILGA representatives from across the globe.

Organising committee member Rawa Karetai opened the conference by saying “this is a great opportunity for our communities to add our voices by identifying the issues affecting us here in Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific as well as share our stories on the international stage”.

Angela King and I represented the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce at the conference and also ran a workshop to share the success of the ‘Safer Schools for All’ programme.

The ‘Safer Schools for All’ workshop has been delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years. It addresses the issue of bullying of students and other members of the wider school community who are perceived to be different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It was an exciting opportunity to share this work and feedback from the presentation reinforced that this targeted professional development was leading the way for changing heteronormative school cultures.

Another notable presentation at the conference was a report from a nation wide youth survey. The feedback emphasised again how the reality is concerning for students of diverse sexualities and genders.

Most youth reported negative experiences in their schools. However, positive experiences like peer acceptance and support groups were overwhelmingly shared by pakeha gay males. This shows the marginalisation of many other identities by schools and their environments. It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of this diversity beyond just gay and lesbian because our young generation are identifying with more fluid identities.

These findings were raised in a panel discussion with representatives from parliament. They were asked what they were doing to change the situation for LGBTI+ youth and what they experiencing in schools?

Louisa Wall noted that we are dealing with “a reactive system. At the moment, schools are reliant on an active group or students or teachers to initiate change to address the need for more support for these students”. One action point suggested was to increase the visibility of LGBTI+ issues, which means more than just a poster on the wall, but policies and practices in all school spaces that respect diverse youth and treat them with dignity.

The conference was attended by the head of ILGA, Renalto Sabbadini. In his opening address he challenged the sense of binaries that some parts of society are still holding onto and the prejudices that this reveals. He called for the community to continue to challenge and ask questions of society’s assumption “because it is only by questioning ourselves and by having others question themselves that we can grow, as individuals and as a society”.

2016 Goal Setting

2016 Goal: to develop the learning agency of students with low self-management and low self-efficacy. 

Historical Position

  • Increasingly aware of the need to explicitly teach core skills such as the key competencies and the habits of mind. The cynic in me believes that the students that already have strong self efficacy pick up on these skills naturally when given the right environment. This is often what I get measured on because these students demonstrating these skills are often visible.
  • Self-directed units of work have become more and more frequent in my classes. Last year I pushed this to new levels in having students create and pursue their own courses in Level Three Media. A student captured what this was like in this write up.
  • 2016 is seeing my Media classes attempt a multi-level structure, which will be unit based, but with opt-in class time and opt-in assessments (with four set due dates for the whole class).
  • I want my students to have a high degree of agency, be in charge of their learning and make good choices. I believe in giving them the space to do these things, and having reflective processes in place so that we can learn from them. I have observed though that historically I don’t make significant shifts with the students with the weakest levels of self-efficacy and motivation. Two students last year only achieved 6 credits, and one achieved none in a course where they were given the power to act. In interviewing them at the end of the year I still didn’t feel they had gained much knowledge into how they learn, and therefore the approach of the course simply wasn’t valuable for them.

Action and Next Steps

  • Identify five students for a focus group to track and work with through the year. Each of these five students have low rate of participation in self-motivated tasks as observed in term one. The table below captures a snapshot of these five students. They represent a range of ethnic groups (including Pasifika and Maori) and are all boys which aligns with a our school goals of increasing achievement for these groups.


  • With these five students I’ll run an individual discussion with each of them to explain what I’m focusing on this year. I’ll then give them a formative survey to collect some data about where they see themselves in relation to some specific skills. Something I’ll repeat later in the year to measure shifts. Then I plan to run focus lunches where I’ll bring the students together to talk about agency and learning and co-construct interventions for us to follow through with.
  • Explicitly teach key competencies, self-efficacy, growth mindset, and the habits of mind. I say this often, but I don’t often talk about how. It’s on the list for a future blogpost.
  • Look into current research into motivation and ways to build agency. As a starting point, here are some gems from this post on cult of pedagogy:

What studies suggest motivates students:

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.
  5. Students are motivated to learn things that have relevance to their lives.

Six reasons for motivation deficit:

  1. The student is unmotivated because he or she cannot do the assigned work.
  2. The student is unmotivated because the ‘response effort’ needed to complete the assigned work seems too great.
  3. The student is unmotivated because classroom instruction does not engage.
  4. The student is unmotivated because he or she fails to see an adequate pay-off to doing the assigned work.
  5. The student is unmotivated because of low self-efficacy—lack of confidence that he or she can do the assigned work.
  6. The student is unmotivated because he or she lacks a positive relationship with the teacher.

Finally, this approach is connected strongly to our school’s vision (below) and placing students’ at the centre of their learning. I hope tat I will be able to understand more about low self-efficacy learners and develop more successful ways of helping them this year, and in the years to come.


Reform and Reaffirm Diversity

protestThis article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

In Social Sciences in 2016, many classrooms will be using the 30th anniversary of the Homosexual Law reform as a context to investigate civil rights. The isn’t the only learning area where this topic could arise, and the recent publication ‘Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand Education’ (reviewed in the last PPTA News) contains many suggestions as to how this might occur.

The contributors to this publication point out that the New Zealand Curriculum’s contains the principles of “diversity” and “inclusion”. Being aware of diverse sexualities, sex and genders and being inclusive is essential to meeting this part of the curriculum.

A chapter on transgender diversity contained a set of recommendations is a helpful starting point for ensuring your practice is sexuality, sex and gender inclusive. The following bullets points are adapted from these recommendations:

  1. Assume there is at least one queer or sexuality diverse person and one trans or gender-diverse person in every class you teach.
  2. Don’t assume you’ll know who that person is.
  3. React to homophobic, or transphobic language to ensure a positive environment. Language sometimes heard in the classroom involves using “gay” as a pejorative, or “tranny” as an insult.
  4. Use gender neutral language. For example avoid addressing groups of people as “you girls” or “you boys” when there are people in that group whose gender identities have not been disclosed to you.
  5. Engage with resources that already exist and the recommendations that they make. The updated Sexuality Education Guidelines and the Inside Out video resources, both published last year and highlighted in previous issues of the PPTA News, are up to date resources that can support Professional Development in this area.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Please keep trying.

In another chapter, Susan Sandretto writes about the way we address popular cultural texts in the classroom. These might be formal texts chosen for critical study in subjects like English or Media Studies, or they might be texts that are discussed in any classroom as part of a general conversation or relationship building with students.

Sandretto shows how teachers can help students question assumptions that are frequently taken for granted in these popular texts. Through an analysis of an episode of The Simpsons, and advertisement for Calvin Klein and an issue of the School Journal, she shows how critical questions can help uncover how heterosexuality is often expected.

“Teachers and students who develop their skills of text analysis can explicitly address the relationships between language and power as they make visible the ways that hetereosexuality is frequently normalised in the texts of popular culture”.

Asking critical questions can help to break the dominant narrative of gender and sexuality and be more inclusive of all identities in the classroom.