Losing the Love: Where Did the Joy Go?

For me, teaching used to be a vocation; now, everyday feels like a job. I’ve taught for 9 years and it never occurred to me that one day I would feel like this. Why is this happening? Where did the joy go?

I have now taught in London schools for eight months after eight years of teaching in New Zealand. The change has certainly changed me. In this blogpost I want to consider three things that may have led to this loss of love. Maybe reflection can help me to start regaining that passion.

Burn Out

For eight years I was warned about burn out. I was actively monitored by senior staff and managed through some busy times. My work output in NZ was immense. I was devoted to work in a way that rarely impacted on my life outside school, but the energy and endless hours I found for work seems momentous retrospectively. Part of this was being young and ambitious. Part of this was my DNA – I’ve always had an enormous capacity for work.

I don’t really know what it looks like, but I never ‘burnt out’. Articles have helped me to understand what the signs of burnout are and the enormous pressures that make the professional “unsustainable” and maybe I’m experiencing something like that now. I’m learning how to be a teacher that only works regular hours and leaves on Friday to have a weekend without a pile of marking. But that’s coming from my own personal drive to make the most of living in London, not because the profession is structured in a sustainable way.

A New Context

The education machine in the UK is a terrifying beast. I am troubled by the prescriptive curriculum, the endless data drive and high-stakes assessment routines. After eight months I have come to accept a lot of the world around me, and my questions have faded. I read local media articles with  statements like “London schools are in the throes of a growing crisis” and the teacher’s union saying that “our own research shows…81% of teachers have considered leaving the profession in the last year because of workload“. There’s clearly a massive issue with the state of the profession.

The context is working against my passion and my love for teaching. I’m not being enabled in the way that I was in New Zealand. NCEA gave me the opportunity to be creative with the curriculum, data was largely naturally occurring and captured in a variety of ways, and assessment may have been too frequent but at least the students had multiple opportunities to succeed, not one day to prove three years of successful learning. In NZ a full time teacher has 20 contact hours. Currently I have just over 24 contact hours which is under my allotment so I am used for relief lessons nearly every week. Is there a way to be as passionate about education in a system that is designed this way? …I’m looking for it.

The Nine Year Itch

Part of me does wonder how much this loss of passion is part of a natural career ebb. Perhaps this post-modern feeling of self-reflexive understanding – it is just a job – is completely unremarkable. Perhaps this is just career maturation as I learn to be more selective about where I apply my energy. Perhaps this is a process we all go through to some extent. Perhaps…but isn’t is a shame that there are clear external factors that suppress my sustained passion for teaching?


Black Box Thinking – Reframing Failure & Success

51H9Pp5odlL.jpg I found this gem of a European summer read at a book exchange in Berlin. Despite the front cover endorsement by the Daily Mail it turned out to be full of valuable ideas and engaging stories. Matthew Syed‘s intention here is to challenge traditional ways of viewing success and failure. I found plenty of connections throughout the book with education and came away with a valuable reminder of the importance of holding one’s ideas lightly.

One of the central comparisons that threaded through the book was the different approaches to failure in medicine and aviation. The former is structured to reframe – and thus ignore – mistakes and the latter uses failures to develop, redesign and progress. Syed argues that viewing failure as profoundly negative and something to be ashamed of prevents us from high levels of performance; “progress in most human activities depends, in large part, on our willingness to learn from failure” (94).

The word ‘failure’ has a stigma for me. I find it blunt and abrasive; rarely do I find use for it. In education, what constitutes a failure is still a learning opportunity. However, Syed warns of danger of protecting ideas from the possibility of failure (120). Part of that is perhaps hiding from the lack of success by searching for evidence of some success. In a classroom something might work for a minority, but it has failed for most of the class. How often does that small slice of success stop me from making genuine change and progress?

Syed also highlighted the impact of cognitive dissonance. When one is challenged for being wrong, our instinct is usually to justify ourselves to protect our self esteem, which involves filtering out evidence which contradicts our position. The book uses several examples to show how the higher one’s position of power or responsibility, the more cognitive dissonance is likely to influence decision making. A truly worrying finding that reminds me of Karen Spencer’s uLearn16 keynote, where she persuasively argued for the importance of holding your ideas lightly.

Explicit links to education where addressed in small passages that drew of Dweck’s work on the growth mindset. There was also some examples given of schools that had set up systems to celebrate failure. In part this is to address the vulnerability of high achieving students who are terrified of risk taking. As Wimbledon High School‘s head teacher put it: “we dare [the students] to fail” (287). I would be interested in reading Syed’s book devoted to analysing the education system. His perspective was a good challenge to my assumptions and a reminder of some important values.

Back to the Chalkboard: Behaviour Management

In the past few weeks I have read a lot about behaviour management. As an experienced teacher in my 9th year of teaching I have become aware that I have coasted on strong relationships when it comes to behaviour management but now I have a real need to understand more about the science to be able to run an effective classroom. This blogpost is a summary of some of the key things I am now trying to embed in my practice.

The Right to Learn

This is a new way for me of framing the idea of rules. The idea of rules is stigmatising and distracting from effective teaching. From the Cult of Pedagogy, I discovered Michael Linsin, the founder of Smart Classroom Management, who framed rules as the following:

Rules protect the students right to learn and they protect the teacher’s right to teach

Co-constructing rules from a shared understanding of why they are needed changes the dynamic in the classroom. The primary purpose of being in the classroom is to learn and that needs to be understood by all for it to be an effective space for learning. I’ve found the assumption that the majority of students in London understand this underlying principle is not true – explicitly addressing ‘why are we here?’ is necessary.

Modelling Behaviour

Albert Bandura is a key contributor to the idea of Social Learning Theory which explores the idea that behaviour is a learning concept coming out of observation and imitating others. As a theory this is persuasive for me as it has made me consider how many opportunities there are for observational behavioural learning in contexts where poor behaviour is so frequent that it is almost always visible. Where is the opportunity to build and learn about self-efficacy in this system?

Linsin also has a solution for this and talks about modelling the expected behaviour in explicit detail. “You may bring a desk or a table up in front of your classroom, sit down, and pretend to be a student. You may have other students acting as models also. Show students how you expect them to behave while you’re giving instruction, and then how you expect them to behave when they’re doing independent work.” It’s important that the students see themselves in this activity, practice following the expectations and understand what not following these instructions does to the learning of the class. This process of modeling is outlined in this blogpost and this image:

Economy of Language

Something I think I’m guilty of is increasing the complexity of a instruction of explanation when it isn’t understood the first time. Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion talks about the economy of language: the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. The messages need to be direct, clear, and concise in order to maximise the response from the class. It’s one of those areas of teaching which can always be on the area for development list.

It’s the Teacher’s Fault

This is a hard one. I’ve carried a lot home over the past three months. I’ve undertaken some deep soul searching and experienced some dark moments. It’s because I reflect – I’ve been trained to reflect, to always gaze into my own actions. I process, and I believe it when I hear Linsin say the following:

When your students are, all of them or most of them, when they’re not doing something that you’ve previously taught them how to do, whether it’s talking or entering the classroom, and they don’t do it well, even though the students are responsible for their behaviour, when that happens, most of the class is not doing what you ask, it’s on you. It’s about you.

On top of this, it is hard not to be swept up by the media tornado looking to reposition teachers and the education system wherever it will sell more papers.

But then there is cognitive dissonance because I also know that I shouldn’t care when students’ misbehave. I know I am not responsible for the choices my students make. I know this. But when I am on the supply chain or teaching in a new school, applying consistent consequences is hard. Navigating the tension between owning the situation and letting go is tough.  But to be effective – it has to be done.

Supply Teaching: A Lesson in Real Time

The following takes place between 12.01pm and 1.09pm


No names have been used and while I don’t identify the school this lesson happened at, there are several schools in London where the experiences I had were similar. 

12.01 – I arrive to period four, Year 8 Geography, after a short commute. I’m lucky today because arriving before the students is an uncommon but handy advantage. The teacher’s desk is a nightmare to navigate and no obvious cover work is visible so I’m back to the door to greet the early birds. It may be a relief lesson, but it is still all about relationships. Most walk past without acknowledging my greeting and the ones that do have a smile on their face which isn’t warm; it’s the smile of a hungry hyena that has just spotted dinner.

12.03 – I’m still looking for the coverwork and now I have a sensible student with me who is either helpful or using the opportunity to scout the teacher’s desk in detail. The room is filling up fast and the noise level is reaching migraine-inducing levels. I have learnt not to try and compete with this initial roar – without any established authority, shouting won’t get me far at all. Instead I wait for things to settle to address the behaviour.

12.05 – A teacher aide walks in and our eyes meet. We worked together earlier in another class. In that instance their eyes were welcoming – this time their eyes spell out fear.

12.06 – On the teacher’s desk I finally find a planner. In the box for the current period are two words “Bangladesh Floods”. Earlier I moved aside a worksheet that I remember reading Bangladesh on it – bingo.

12.07 – I haven’t been able to look for the cover all this time because of the need to resolve behaviour issues that have been happening around me. Throwing paper towards the bin, using white board pens to draw graffiti on the board, and moving the furniture around to facilitate gossip is just a small sign of things to come. Now my focus is on turning the room back into something resembling a classroom. There’s a big group in the back corner where music has started to play and a desk has just fallen over. “Make your way to your desks thanks” I state calmly but there’s a hint of futility that I’m not sure I’m successfully hiding. “Where you from sir?” and “Are you Australian?” are the familiar questions that fly back from students who have just heard my voice.

12.09 – It turns out many of these students aren’t even in this class. They leave in a way that ensures every knows they are leaving. I’m still convinced that there are more people in the room than desks, but at least now most people are behind one.

12.10 – I stand in front of the class and ask with a loud voice, but without shouting, for silence. No one beyond a one meter radius takes any notice, and it’s likely they haven’t heard me. I repeat my expectations, another couple of times and slowly the ripple of awareness moves through the class. I start the countdown from five, pausing between each number to reiterate the expectations using consistent instructions. Now the response is pure defiance. They just don’t care.

12.11 – “Shout at them sir” comes the advice from the front row. I have only shouted at a class twice. Once in my first year of teaching where a group of boys were imitating a classmate who had Global Development Delay and I actually lost it. The second time was in my first week of teaching in London when emotions, exhaustion and frustration reached tipping point. I’m not proud of either moment. I refuse to intimidate students into compliance.

12.12 – The teacher aide is targeting individuals, getting them to notice me at the front by turning around or quieten down. I’m focusing on individuals too, using non-verbal gestures to reinforce expectations and trying another countdown. At this point something needs to happen, but I don’t feel like I have enough respect to be able to take any significant action. To be fair some students in the room want to do the right thing, but they are largely yelling “shut up” at the defiant people and just making the situation worse. I feel helpless.

12.13 – Having heard the noise down the corridor, the Head of Department now enters and the change in the air is palpable like the room has frozen over. The senior teacher manages to achieve virtually perfect behaviour while not acknowledging anything that has passed before it. When another teacher enters a riot that I’m supervising I always feel a sense of shame. Are they judging me for not having a functional class in front of me? What is it that I’m doing wrong?

12.14 – The subject leader has the students immediately get back into their seating plan and at a glance has deciphered the relief instructions. He picks a student to come forward to explain “cause and effect” a necessary concept for the worksheet. He pretends to whack the student and then defines the concept with some excellent hands up input. The selected student at the front jumps on board and falls to the ground more dramatically than the death of Nick Bottom’s Pryamus. The teacher says “I sure know how to pick them”. I just managed to stifle the laugh.

12.17 – When he leaves the next part of the lesson is the most calm, work focused, section of the lesson. It almost lasts 30 seconds. A student then busts out a song that I don’t recognise and they are off again. I pace the room refocusing the students on the task in front of them. Many complain they don’t know what to do and I find myself repeating the instructions over and over again one on one with students increasingly briefly as it almost becomes a game to them.

12.21 – The class is still madness. I ask a student sitting at the front who I haven’t seen say anything to go to the office and ask for ‘on call’. He’s confused. I repeat the sentence but he is still unsure. I suspect he’s just nervous about getting out of his seat which would enhance the chances of being hit by any of the objects that are now being thrown across the class. The student sitting next to him instead braves the journey and heads out the door.

12.24 – On call arrives. The class is frozen again. I have a quiet word next to the newly arrived teacher and describe the classroom as a “zoo”. I ask her to stay for a few minutes and take anyone who acts up away. She doesn’t say anything directly to me which doubles my shame, but instead begins to scold the class about their behaviour and signs off by telling the class that she is just across the hall before marching out. Previously I’ve had on call turn up and drag me out of the class to tell me how I should be controlling the kids. So maybe I should just be grateful.

12.28 – It’s settled for a while again but now of the 32 students in the class at least half of them ask to go to the toilet. It is a game. Many of the students attempt ostentatious performances to try and convince me of how desperate they are. The student who demonstrated the effect in cause and effect is on the floor again. I target him for extraction but the response to “stand up, take your things and stand outside” is to debate the fairness of this when other students are doing x, y and z (and he’s right). The packing up his things is now the show that everyone needs to see and he starts ranting to his captive audience about how I have “come at him” and this is completely unfair. He chooses colourful language and slang I don’t recognise. The on call teacher is back in the hallway and suddenly leaving the room goes a lot faster. One down.

12.32 – Now a student has got my attention for feeling sick. I really don’t know how to address this effectively. My useful response is ask them to do a couple of simple things and then tell me again if they still feel sick in 10 minutes – most students don’t ask a second time. This situation feels different and the student is making a good case. I scribble them a quick note and send them off to medical.

12.35 – A group of students notice that my stubble is a little bit ginger the students discuss this among themselves unmoved by how much I can hear. The group’s dialogue is interrupted by a boy who directs a related question at me: “Are your pubes ginga too sir?” Eyes everywhere immediately widen. It’s a comment that in this context I have no instant response to. Everyone nearby is watching how I react; the student who said it is looking forward to my response, knowing that they’ve been successful in testing me and having no regard for any consequence that might follow. After a long pause I’m stumped. I feel completely useless. If I attempt to sanction now I’m not going to get it right so all I can do is defer. I know I haven’t dealt with this properly and the shame intensifies.

12.37 – Meanwhile, the toilet traveller has returned which I become aware of because of a commotion around their seat. The student has sat down in their chair and is now stuck thanks to a gluestick. The aftermath brings the on call teacher and the head of faculty back into the room. They are standing at the door and calming pointing out students who then leave the class including, to my relief, the student who was interested in my pubes. The student stuck on the chair is next to be withdrawn; they attempt to bring their chair but are promptly told to leave it and suddenly it doesn’t seem to be stuck at all. The performance is over. Six down.

12.41 – The settling is more sustained this time with the primary instigators gone, but others quickly self-promote. A student who is out of their seat gets told by me sternly to sit back down. They tell me: “Sir, I’m dealing with a problem”. I reply bluntly “So am I”, which is received with cheers from the class. Maybe this earns me a little respect, but it also costs me a noisier classroom.

12.45 – Three quarters through the lesson I have my third learning conversation where I am actually beside a student and help to develop their understanding of cause and effect through some simple deduction questioning. To do that I have to deliberately ignore behaviour that I should be addressing. The teacher aide is on the same page and circulating as well. I’m addressing students who want to refill their water bottles, desperately need hay-fever medication or claim to be experiencing claustrophobia. And I still haven’t even attempted the roll.

12.55 – I’m surviving. The light is at the end of the tunnel. Time is moving slowly because I’m constantly checking the clock, but the end of the lesson is near. I’ve managed as many learning conversations in the last 10 minutes than I had in the first 45 minutes. Is this the sign of a successful supply lesson? What measures success? That the lesson ends and nothing has caught fire?

12.57 – Instruction are given to pack up, even though most students are already well on their way. I follow this up by asking students to stand behind your desks and wait for dismissal. Most start wandering again and some go for the door. I am now a physical barrier to them leaving the class. There are two students that have no issue with invading my personal space despite earlier being told to move away from theirs.

12.59 – “You will not be dismissed until you are waiting silently behind your desks”. Many students forget where their desks were and end up being as close to the door as possible. It’s a long process and yet another battle but eventually they go back. The bell goes for lunch so I point to students that have largely been cooperative and indicate that they may leave. Many others attempt to follow and again I find myself acting as a physical barrier in front of the doorway. The incentive is leaving, the consequence is not. It’s so clear. But for the remaining students the game is too tempting.

1.03 – I could give up and just let the remaining 10 students go, but I stubbornly believe in following through. I am thinking that in an hour of defeat, it’s important to finish this lesson with a victory. Outside the classroom a group has formed like it is the arrival gate at Heathrow. Their presence in the window just encourages the defiance of those who are left. They plead and whine. I repeat the expectations. They argue and debate. I repeat the expectations.

1.06 – The last students are dismissed. On the way out the door is slammed and a huge bang follows, maybe some kicking in the nearby lockers. I don’t look to find out. I feel exhausted, drained and shamed. The teacher aide has already left, but their warm smile as he left is encouraging. Earlier in the lesson he told me quietly that things were normally like this. I suspect he is lying, but maybe it’s not too far from the truth.

1.09 – Walking to the staffroom – not feeling entirely safe – it’s not the personal toll that I’m processing; I’m thinking about education and the system I’ve found myself in. I know I made several poor decisions in this lesson, but I didn’t get it so wrong that what happened was inevitable. I could have done many things differently, but so could the teacher that left the cover work, and so could the teachers that came into the room during the lesson, and so could the people responsible for making the arrangements for the supply teachers who come into the school fresh each day, and so could the senior leadership team who lead in the culture of the school. Are these students really getting a fair chance?

LGBTed Launch – The Power of Values, Stories & Authenticity

Live your values; don’t just laminate them.


Bennie Kara delivered this perfect summary of the day in the panel that helped to close the launch of LGBTed. Held last weekend, it was an occasion for workshops, networking and the start of an organisation with real potential to make a serious difference. The organisation’s main function is to create more visibility in the UK education system in order to make schools more inclusive places. It was an inspirational day. This blogpost is some thoughts on some of the key themes that emerged for me over the course of the day.


Claire Birkenshaw‘s session titled ‘A trans perspective on nurturing a sense of belonging for young trans and non-binary people in learning communities’ was the most explicitly narrative driven session of the day. She set about sharing with us her story (‘safari’), as a means of promoting learning through creating empathy. It was a powerful session, very tweetable: “Every child should feel they belong in their school environment and nothing should hold them back.”

Professor Jonathan Glazzard presented a compelling case for the existence of LGBTed when he showed through statistics that the stories aren’t changing. However, what reoccurred consistently across the day was the power of knowledge to disrupt narratives. This came through the buzzword of authenticity, and the idea of being your authentic self to create meaningful learning environments. David Weston also included the quote on the right from Harvey Milk in his concluding keynote along this theme. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach was also quoted during the day: “the authentic self is a soul made visible.”

The Progress Divide

I remember the idea of progress being challenged at the ILGA Oceania Conference in 2016. The divide there was between LGBTI+ rights in the Pacific Island nations compared to progressive New Zealand (“Don’t ask me how far away from marriage equality we are when we are not safe in our own streets”). It was the rural/urban divide that arose at LGBTed. The stark difference in statistics on the experiences of LGBT teachers based on where they live was shocking.

This rung the bell of inclusion and the need for diverse voices within diversity. The majority of teachers at the conferences represented the first three letters of LGBT and were predominantly white. It’s important that we are sensitive to representation and ensure we are listening to other perspectives. David Weston also made this point; inclusion is key to progress which includes conservatives and readers of the Daily Mail.


Related to the divide is the notion of othering. David Weston suggested that “when people look at LGBT communities and ‘other’ us, it’s a natural psychological thing but it is deeply scarring”. This then creates shame. Claire Birkenshaw responded to the current so called ‘trans* debate’ by saying that of all the things that are being questioned, the one that cannot be challenged is that we are human. This framing immediately changes the expectations around the dignity and nature of the discourse that should be allowed in this questioning dialogue. Knowledge is again the key, and that is where educators – armed with a knowledge curriculum – are so vital; we can be the champions of equality for the future.

Diary of a London Supply Teacher

I’ve now spent six weeks supply teaching in mainly central London schools. I’ve had some short stints of continuity a couple of times and many one off days covering everything from IT to Spanish. It has been quite an experience and I’ve got some observations:

A good measure of a school is how the students treat supply teachers

Ready for a day of supply. 

Causation is a dangerous game to play in matters of education; however, without explicitly suggesting as much a trend is very clear. Schools where I’ve found the students treat supply teachers with respect tend to uniformly be schools that are welcoming and well organised. This means meeting both HR and a Senior Leadership Team member or appropriate Head of Department on arrival, receiving key information like a school map and overview of school systems, and appropriate access to the necessary classrooms or staffroom via a key or swipe card. The offers for assistance, frequent ‘check-ins’ and smiles in the coridors are all forthcoming as well.

On the other hand, schools where the students have more problematic behaviour offer a contrasting experience. The vibe of the school is clear from the reception where sign in procedures are offer unclear, the discourtesy can start with the office staff before a student has been sighted, and the important half an hour of preparation before classes is often wasting waiting in reception. These are the schools where cover work is sometimes hard to find: buried in a colleague’s email, left in the wrong classroom, requiring ICT access that a supply teacher doesn’t have, or simply non-existent. Often it is not meaningful – pages from a textbook which the students have no prior knowledge of, or worksheets that might be pitched entirely at the wrong level.

A day of relief offers a very small window. But I feel as though that experience is more than a little bit telling.

To survive there is a right level of care to bring to each day

When I began relieving I approached each day with an intent in the same ballpark of the way I approached each school day in New Zealand. Less than a week later I reached a feeling of rock bottom as the constant failure to reach my expectations weighed so heavily. It wasn’t necessarily the battle with the students to behave in a respectable manner, it was more the battle with myself. I found myself ill-equipped with the skills needed to deal with such challenging behaviour, shouting in the classroom for the first time in a very long time.

After deep soul searching I changed how I approached each day in order to survive. I became far more relaxed and flexible in terms of what each lesson entailed. Specifically this meant responding to behaviour issues by passing it on rather than feeling responsible, and being responsive in my expectations so that students may not achieve any meaningful learning outcomes, but at least they didn’t break anything.

You may only know them for an hour, but relationships are still the key

The more relaxed approach opened up the space for classroom conversations that I was far more used to. A student off task watching a football video under the desk got a football chat before being asked to put their phone away. A conflict between students was dealt with using humour rather than separating them. The result was less confrontation and more meaningful interactions.

Part of this was how I grew to set up each class. The pattern I developed was to introduce myself before introducing the work. This meant saying I was from New Zealand, asking what they knew about my home, whether they knew of our two official languages (te reo Māori and NZ Sign Language), teaching them to say “kia ora” and delivering my mihi. This made me more than a supply teacher, it made me a person and it enabled conversations that mattered a lot more than many of the worksheets I then had to pass out.

Making Diversity Visible for Gender & Sexuality Inclusive Schools

This blogpost was originally published on the CORE Education Blog here. 

At any conference or professional learning event, the idea of “inclusive education” tends to buzz. It’s a theme that many workshops or presentations have at their heart. But when we talk about inclusive education, are we also including sexuality minorities or gender identity?

Data capturing the voices of same-sex or both-sex attracted, and transgender youth suggest we are not. These groups of students are regularly overrepresented in statistics for bullying and well-being in the Youth2000 surveys (Clark et al., 2013; Clark et al., 2014). Sexuality and gender diverse students may not be visible in a lot of Aotearoa’s schools, which can make inclusion complex. However, it is now 2018, and our diverse young people are beginning to make more noise. They are proudly coming out and demanding change.

Last year I was privileged to be selected as one of the 2017 CORE Education eFellows. Seven teachers from various contexts undertook action research projects over the course of the year with guidance from CORE mentors and the support of one another.

I set out to work with a small group of teachers to develop their inclusive practice to support making sexuality and gender-minority students feel welcome, included, and accepted at school. I was interested in delving into the teachers’ historical understanding of sexuality and gender and support the development of that understanding. The inquiry investigated what makes a difference for teachers in this area and to encourage ongoing practice that promotes empathy and acceptance. I hoped that understanding the teachers’ journeys, both past and present, would help to develop gender and sexuality inclusive practice in others.

diagramMy findings led me to develop this diagram (with some source inspiration from this blogpost). Our inclusive practice is in tension between the pressure to be more inclusive and the pressure to be comfortable. Pressure comes from well-being initiatives or professional development opportunities, the statistics (above) that tell us that more needs to be done, and student voice that demands change for inclusion. The pressure in the opposite direction comes from internal pressure that naturally wants to maintain the status quo, the drive to stay in your comfort zone, and competing priorities.

In order to create a shift, I propose drawing inspiration from Newton’s First Law: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. What is required to shift teachers to more gender and sexuality-inclusive practice is greater pressure for change. To avoid diversity inertia, we need to make the compelling reasons to change more visible.

Friday 18th May is Pink Shirt Day. This is an opportunity for visibility, for schools to shift the inertia.

The purpose of Pink Shirt Day is “to create schools, workplaces and communities where all people feel safe, valued and respected.” While the day sets out to address bullying in a general sense, the origins of the day come from the LGBT+ community. It is important that homophobia and biphobic and transphobic bullying is specifically addressed by Pink Shirt Day events because sexuality and gender minority young people experience higher rates of bullying (Bullying Prevention Advisory Group, 2015).

It is easy to be involved; many schools already participate. The harder part is ensuring that the day results in a deeper understanding of the prevalence and impact of bullying on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Pink Shirt Day toolkits are a great place to start. This is also a good opportunity to reflect on our practice too: how do sexuality and gender minority students know they are safe in our schools? In our classrooms? How does our practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Participating in the day is one action that can make a difference. Taking part could mean one individual wears pink, or a whole school. But this is only a start. We need a tidal wave of action to push us out of diversity inertia and start turning around Aotearoa’s embarrassing statistics for our sexuality and gender minority youth.

Links to further information:

Newlands College staff on Pink Shirt Day, 2017


Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. (2015). Bully prevention and response: A guide for schools. Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. Retrieved from http://www.education.govt.nz/school/student-support/student-wellbeing/health-and-wellbeing/bullying-prevention-and-response/bullying-prevention-and-response-a-guide-for-schools/

Clark, T. C., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Denny, S., Crengle, S., Dyson, B., Fortune, S., Lucassen, M., Peiris-John, R., Robinson, E., Rossen, F., Sheridan, J., Teevale, T., Utter, J. (2013). Youth’12 Overview: The health and wellbeing of New Zealand secondary school students in 2012. Auckland, New Zealand: The University of Auckland.

Clark, T. et al. (2014) The Health and Well-Being of Transgender High School Students: Results From the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey. Journal of Adolescent Health 55, 93-99.