Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students

51ewlzrbrtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Peter DeWitt’s 2012 book, ‘Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students’ is a call to action that is just as relevant now as it was five years ago. Written is a highly accessible way it focuses on the building the understanding of the needs of LGBT and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure safer schools.

Importantly, DeWitt makes it clear that this isn’t just about a minority group of students, this is about having a positive impact on the whole education ecology and everyone within it. “Without addressing the needs of LGBT students, educators are not addressing the needs of all students” (32).

Some of the key ideas he puts forward as action points include:

  • Educate staff about LGBT issues.
  • Participate in GLSEN’s ‘no name calling week’ which could reinforce NZ’s Bully Free Week, Day of Silence and Pink Shirt Day.
  • Read literature and use content that contains LGBT subject matter.
  • Do not be afraid to use LGBT language, like the word “gay”. Whispering the words or avoiding them suggests there is something that is wrong.
  • Encourage diverse thinking and for students to step outside their comfort zone by introducing the perspectives of minorities.
  • Ensure your school offers a GSA (commonly referred to as a QSA in NZ)

The best quotation I have heard was from a Rochester, New York, LGBT student who said, “You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something” (11).

DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press: California.

What Connected Educators Do Differently

b437fc27f47f9f13c721d09109968686This book really spoke to me, validating my work in recent years to develop a professional learning network, and my desire to expand this and become more connected. Written by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, it acts as a call to arms for using social media (particularly Twitter) to connect and the importance of relationships (the 3 R’s: relationships, relationship, relationship) in education. This blogpost is just a bunch of ideas I extracted while reading the book and things I felt were worth revisiting.

Definition of a connected educator: “[educators] who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (xxiii)

Principle of the 3 C’s: focus on Communication, Collaboration and Community. Invest in these principles!

“Who is helping you get better, or – more importantly – who is inspiring you to want to be great?” (30).

The challenge facing schools today is the ability to cultivate a culture wherein all members of the school community feel comfortable in disrupting routines long established by the status quo and embrace a connected world which is ready to support their desire to learn without limits (30)

Guide to setting up Twitter:

Strive to be tomorrow…today. Make a bigger impact by following these suggestions, which can be used as something like a checklist:

  1. Speed meet and greet – icebreakers to connect staff and create a family culture.
  2. Make it personal – give teachers time during professional learning to call 5 parents they would not otherwise and share with the parent something awesome about their child.
  3. The welcome wagon – have a select group of staff meet every new student in the school and ask them about their new experience being welcomed into the community.
  4. Making invisible students visible – during meetings, put up a list up of every student in the school and ask staff to write one thing about each one beside the name, those who have nothing are invisible and you can then think of a way to cultivate a relationship with that student.
  5. This week on twitter – share inspiring tweets with the school.
  6. Thank a parent or  a staff member – call the parents of the new teachers and let them know how great it is to have them working at the school.
  7. Two a day – two personal notes a day to staff from the SMT/PL
  8. Invite them back – call those who have dropped out of school and personally invite them back.
  9. Accentuate the positive – at SMT/HOFS/DEANS/PL talk about a teacher who has made a difference and then follow up with a note to that teacher.
  10. Celebrate good times – each faculty should start meetings with a successful learning story.
  11. Front and centre – Have the Principal greet people for a day – sit in reception.
  12. Student Leadership Teams – Host them for a monthly lunch.
  13. Exchange dates – host exchanges with other schools to swap teachers and students – model connections with others.
  14. Local educamp – partner with neighbouring schools and host a camp re professional learning development together.
  15. Televise the tweets – on a public TV at your school.
  16. #oneperson – have staff members name one person who has made a difference in their lives and write their address and a message on a postcard. Store these and send them in December.

These ideas and the overall purpose of the book speaks to the importance of relationships. Professional relationships beyond the school through social media can foster collaboration and widen your community and the impact of your teaching and learning.

In the concluding chapter, the authors surmised that connected educators:

  • establish their professional learning network
  • begin to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want (greater knowledge of themselves as a learner)
  • focus on communication, collaboration and community
  • have a ‘giving mindset’
  • strive to be tomorrow, today
  • always focus on relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • model the way
  • and know when to unplug (126).

I’ll be taking many of these ideas forward with me now. Cannot speak more highly of this book and the passion with which it is clearly written.

Whitaker, Todd, Zoul, Jeffrey & Casas, Jimmy (2015) What Connected Educators Do Differently. New York: Routledge.

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

visionI was drawn to reading this text due to personal interest in the creative process through teaching creative arts subjects, but also wanting a deeper understanding of the word ‘creative’ which is prominent in the Newlands College vision. Twyla Tharp is someone I didn’t know by name, but I was already familiar with some of her work.

My general position on creativity in the classroom was that explicitly teaching creativity is a myth. I’ve joked about this with colleagues as we’ve laughed about the idea of framing up a lesson with:

  • C: Creativity
  • R: To learn how to be creative
  • O: You will have been creative
  • P: 1. Creative starter; 2. What is creativity? 3. Creative exercise; 4. Creative reflection

I have argued that creativity comes through student voice, agency and opportunities. Some of these opportunities to go outside the box are explicit, but if the classroom is designed in such a way that students have the opportunity of using their voice, then there is the opportunity for them to think for them to express creativity. But now, Tharp has cartainly challenged my perception on what it means to learn creativity.

254799Her thesis is that “In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative” (9). The book is essentially about how to prepare and create opportunities for creation from the perspective of an artist who has mastered their craft. She argues their is a process that generates creativity and anyone can learn it. In order to have this perspective one must therefore view creativity are the result of hard work, not some “transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration” (7). Therefore learning creativity is about adopting habits and a creative mindset (there are certainly growth mindset overlaps here).

A few points of interest:

  • “Get busy copying” (66). A challenge to my perception of creativity. Something I could think about reframing when giving opportunities for media students to come up with film ideas for their productions. “Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill” (66).
  • Generating ideas required four steps. Tharp argues some people are good at some of these but never all four. Holding awareness of your strengths and adopting strategies to address limitations is key to ensuring your ideas matter.
    • Generate – create, from memory or experience
    • Retain – hold on to it, don’t wake up without the idea
    • Inspect – study it, examine, infer
    • Transform – alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes
  • “Practice makes perfect – Not true. Perfect practice makes perfect” (165). Practice to maintain and protect your skills as you do to develop them. “Art is a vast democracy of habit” (166). 0968aa60b060f4d0da0400d390d0cb18

I believe overall that my views on creativity and education have shifted from this book. I have certainly begun to see the creative process as a habit, as something that can be taught. Explicit teaching appears to be the key and talking about each aspect of the process, making it clear how to scratch for ideas, deal with ruts and stay in grooves will enhance creativity in my classroom.

What about where creativity sits as a core value for the school? I’m left thinking about how these ideas sit within other subjects outside the arts. Is creativity viewed as a habit that can be learnt in science? How do we make ‘creative’ a word that doesn’t just appear in the vision, but a essential part of the fabric of the school?

Tharp, Twyla (2003) The Creative Habit. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

Personalised Learning – The Continuum of Choice


In reading this article on personalised learning trends, this graphic stood out. Originally introduced by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, it presents the opportunity to reflect on where we are at on this continuum of choice. It got me thinking about my classroom design, and how we can evaluate not just individual lessons/classes, but also different parts of our practice:

  • Drama class: students are participants and occasionally designers
  • Media classes: students are co-designers at first, but upgrade to designers once the expectations are set up
  • Active Learning: they have the opportunity to be advocates and entrepreneurs
  • Deaning: provides students the opportunity to be an advocate, but historically would say I’ve treated the students as participants.
  • Leading Professional Learning: my colleagues are participants.

This graphic offers a really accessible visualisation of the role of the teacher in learning, and a way of creating meaningful goals and next steps. For instance, I think I can do a better job at leading professional leading whereby my colleagues become co-designers in my focus group. By giving the teachers a greater role in the group they will need to examine their purpose for learning more which will make the sessions more valuable. They can learn from experiencing this approach and potentially take it into their classrooms.

I would add that what I plan to do with this illustration is share it not just with colleagues, but also with students. It will help to communicate what I want from them and their learning and part of the ‘why‘ of what we are doing in the class. I feel transparency around the intentions of student-centred learning is essential to making it successful.

Sage on the Screen – Education and Media Technology

sage-screen_webThis interested book written by Bill Ferster organises itself through chronological developments in technology. Ferster captures each development as a history of progress and relates it to the growth of modern pedagogy. The contents pages looks like this:

  1. Traditional Media
  2. Interactive Media
  3. Hypermedia
  4. Cloud Media
  5. Immersive Media
  6. Making Sense of Media for Learning

The temptation here is to see such a structure as a rubric that we are moving through. One could argue that traditional media for instance could be prestructural on the SOLO Taxonomy, and immersive media is the extended abstract. This notion led me to reflect on my own practice, which I would argue fits in the cloud media space – streaming media, MOOC’s, flipping, are all embedded in some way into what I do. From the rubric perspective, this book gave me an insight into what education is moving towards.

The historical approach to this book led to some interesting evaluative comments about the introduction of media technology into education. In the formative years, as cinema, radio and television all emerged, application of these mediums into education settings appears to be ineffective coming from the perspective of transformational pedagogy. The case study put forward here of American Samoa where congressional funding was used in the early 1960s to create instructional televised lessons which were used for up to 30% of the learning time. “The top down, autocratic nature of the American Samoa experiments is typical of how many educational technology projects are implemented” (36). Professional capital was absent from this approach, and therefore the technology – at best – only substituted the teacher’s practice rather than enhanced the learning.


The book then documented the attempts of technology to create learning experiences that were not passive, or linear in their implementation (42). Learner agency developed with the introduction of more interactive media, but needed to move in alignment with developments in pedagogy. Where traditional media, like films, offered teachers a break, the shift to interactive forms of media required a different set of teaching skills (70). The disconnect between the technology and the implementation had begun – something which is visible now in a BYOD environment where students might still be experiencing no fundamental change in the instruction because pedagogy has not moved alongside the technology. (Represented by the first level of the SAMR model).

When exploring hypermedia, Ferster argued that “using multiple (but appropriate) forms of media together can often be more effective than any single media form alone” (88). This was supported by Richard Mayer’s research into the principles of multiple-channel learning:


This research presents  a compelling argument for blended learning, but what technology to blend? The media technology that could potentially feature in classrooms has never been more diverse. This is evident in the immersive media chapter, where virtual reality and augmented reality are explored. The challenge in laid down in the final sentence: “if instructors can come up with compelling uses for the new capabilities these tools afford, immersive media may indeed join the pantheon of instructional media forms” (158).

My major takeaway is that the human element is fixed element in any pedagogy. Many media products “assume that all students come to instruction with the same amount of preexisting knowledge and learn at the same pace;” however, a good teacher can optimise this tool and create learning opportunities for the right students, at the right time and the right place (171). The human element is the most important factor in learning, and no modern media or medium can replace it… yet.

Ferster, Bill. Sage on the Screen: Education, Media, and How We Learn. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland. 2016.

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part II

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_In a previous post on Todd Whitaker‘s excellent read What Great Teacher Do Differently I captured his first 7 of 14 points about what effective teachers do. The following post details the next seven along with a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

8. Don’t Need to Repair – Always Do Repair

Two big aspects of this chapter that I value and will takeaway:

  • Effective teachers don’t use sarcasm, make cutting remarks, issue smart retorts, or engage in banter that could be harmful. Be I do – and probably quite often. It’s something I haven’t been challenged enough on. The potential harm to relationships and learning is too great to continue with this risky behaviour.
  • A scenario Todd describes in some detail is about building a repairing conversation with a student who has fallen out with another teacher. He suggests preparing them for an apology before any further action can be taken by using the analogy of the highway patrol man giving someone a ticket. How can the driver best get out of that situation: be nice. In practice this means helping the student to understand what their best next steps and giving them the language to support them to do this.

9. Ability to Ignore

Sometimes acting on an observation only serves to escalate something into a situation that requires handling. Sometimes not acting on an observation loses a teachable moment. Finding a balance and fine-tuning professional judgement is the key here.

10. Random or Plandom?

In an effective teachers classroom, design will play into maximising every potential learning moment. This includes the planning of the programme, but also the design of the space and who collaborates with who. Doing things by design, but not actually looking like there is a design is the goal.

11. Base Every Decision on the Best People

This tenet challenges the idea of instigating a rule or regulation because one person has done the wrong thing. The idea relates to the staff room as well and the way that staff are treated. I can think of examples where signs have been put up, or conditions put in place that have led me to question my own actions, despite how I was not contributing to the issue in the first place. This feels to me like a seed that could grow into professional capital is explored further.

12. In Every Situation, Ask Who is Most Comfortable and Who is Least Comfortable

This chapter contained a confronting idea for me that has got me thinking about the way feedback is gained and acted upon. The argument here suggests that approval of a system by a majority isn’t a measure of a success – it is who is comfortable or uncomfortable with it. Looping back to the previous chapter, it is what the best people think that matters most. For example, if 5% of the effective people are uncomfortable with a new idea, then that needs to be addressed. If 25% of the ineffective people, then this isn’t so much of a problem. If people feel uncomfortable, they will change their behaviour, for better or for worse. I’ve extrapolated a bit there, but the idea is quite a challenge to my assumptions.

13. What About These Darn Standardised Tests

The central debate in this chapter doesn’t interest me much, although Todd makes some excellent points around navigating it. What I am interested in was the overarching point of the chapter which is: “effective teachers don’t let hot-button issues shift their focus from what really matters” (107). As mentioned previously in these posts, it’s the students that are at the centre, and the goal is to prepare them for life, not for the next test.

14. Making it Cool to Care

“Students care about great teachers because they know great teachers care about them” (122).

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part I

The difference between more effective teachers and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It is what they do (xiii)

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_What Great Teacher Do Differently was a super summer read from Todd Whitaker. This blogpost is just a capture of his first 7 main points (the books is subtitled ‘the 14 this that matter most’) and a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

1.It’s People Not Programmes

Improving teachers or getting better teachers are the best ways to improve a school. People make the biggest difference. But people are all different, and what is effective to one person isn’t going to be effective to someone else. I am a remarkably different teacher to the colleagues that I work most closely with. To pick up a programme or a plan of theirs and take it into my classroom is a mistake. People make the difference: not just myself as a practitioner, but the students in every class are different. No programme can be the solution; people have to be at the centre.

2. Power of Expectations

The start of the year is the chance to set the tone and to frame positive expectations of the behaviour of the students. The book doesn’t mention it but I kept thinking of the ‘don’t smile until Easter’ mantra that some of my colleagues still mention (and possibly even employ). I couldn’t think of a worse way to create expectations than not smiling. That kind of approach leads to setting rules (being responsive to behaviour) rather than expectations framed as positive and welcoming statements.

3. Prevention Versus Revenge

My takeaway from this chapter was the reframing of the toolkit of behaviour management strategies. The point Todd made here was that every teacher has a list of options they may take when a situation arises (eye-contact, send to the Dean, praise another student for the correct behaviour etc.). However, the point is which of the list of strategies always work? Answer: none of them. So what makes an effective teacher is being able to select the right strategy at the right time. Also: never use sarcasm and never yell.

4. High Expectations – for Whom?

Todd points out that high expectations is not a variable between ineffective and effective teachers: all teachers have high expectations for students. However, great teachers have high expectations for themselves. “If the students are not focused, great teachers ask what they themselves can do differently” (34). Sometimes I find myself articulating this idea through asking whose actions are you ultimately responsible for, so therefore whose actions can you actually change?

5. Who is the Variable?

The empowering approach of accepting that you yourself is the one in control can raise teacher efficacy which will trickle down to the students. A focus on self, on responsibility, on how we respond and on what – at the end of the day – we can control will lead to success. I would challenge the binary that Todd suggest here however. I do feel there need to be a balance managed between reflecting on our own actions as teachers and attributing success of lack of successto the actions of students. We need to be cautious about attribution or causation when thinking about pedagogy.

6. Ten Days our of Ten

The challenge for all teachers is not to be positive and upbeat some of the time – it’s to create a positive atmosphere of mutual respect all of the time. Todd explains a number of aspects to this, from arguing that you don’t have to like all your students – you just have to act as if you like them, to the ins and outs of praise: effective praise must be authentic, specific, immediate, clean and private. And finally, you can never have too much nice.

7. The Teacher is the Filter

As teachers, we are responsible for the tone of the class. When we sneeze, the class catches a cold. Our focus becomes the students’ focus. Meetings are an opportunity to make “the teachers more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today” and lessons a chance to make the “students to be more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today” (57). Filter out the negatives that don’t matter: they don’t do good to anyone. Instead share a positive attitude and watch that spirit become infectious.