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.

Personalised Learning – The Continuum of Choice

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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.

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).

Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School

fullen20drawingMichael Fullan delivered a memorable keynote at uLearn16, discussing the new pedagogies for deep learning. He was persuasive in claiming the role of the middle in education transformation is most important. He proposed that the role of leadership was to:

  • Respect and reject the status quo
  • Be an expert and an apprentice at the same time
  • Experiment and commit

During this presentation he talked about professional capital. I had little prior understanding to hang this on, but having now spent some delightful time in Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves’ book Professional Capital things are a lot clearer.

51d5demgijl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Professional capital – the systematic development and integration of three kinds of capital – human, social, and decisional – into the teaching profession (xv)

In exploring these three areas – human, social and decisional capital – the overwhelming trend I read was the need for autonomy and trust in order to build knowledge, understanding and capability. The five C’s of professional capital that enable the teaching force to become highly effective are a good start:

  1. Capability (or expertise)
  2. Committment
  3. Career
  4. Culture
  5. Contexts/Conditions of teaching

There was a step that Fullan and Hargreaves addressed first which was around attracting the right people to the teaching profession. They unpacked systematic differences between countries and looked at reasons for capable teachers leaving the profession after only a few years.

If you want a high performing school system, a competitive economy, and a cohesive society… we need the best, most highly qualified teachers who have a deep and broad repertoire of knowledge and skill in the schools that don’t have the luxury of screening out children (79).

Effectively, this acts as a contradiction to the current direction of the NZ government. When it came time to talk about the culture of schools, there were some fascinating insights:

The arbitrariness of culture is a curse and a blessing. As soon as you grasp that, you realise that it’s just when things are completely fixed that they are actually most open to change. (103)

This non-committal way of defining culture makes a lot of sense in practice. Efforts to create a culture, often bring voice to the opposition, but naturally developing culture shifts are – for better or for worse – are often achieved without significant interference. Understanding the different types of work cultures in educational setting helps to flesh this out. They presented the two main categories of professional cultures and four subgroups:

#1: Individualism

Individualism is created by architecture (isolated classrooms), evaluation and self-preservation (associating help with evaluation and “collaboration with supervision and control” [108]), guilt and perfectionism (high expectations in environments with poorly defined limits), pressure and time (closing the door to collaboration in order to successfully meet obligations).

In the best professional learning communities, we will see, strong collaboration and distinctive individuality go together in vibrant communities of innovation and growth (111).

Individualism is not ideal for a culture of learning. Individualism “undercuts the possibilities of developing and circulating professional capital” (106). But individuals are essential to any workplace ecology.

#2: Collaborative Cultures

“Collaborative cultures not only can be informal but they also must always be informal” because for collaboration to occur in an authentic way it must be embedded and not forced. This powerful idea challenged my understanding of leading collaborative change. To unpack it, the authors describe and unpack four different types of collaboration:

  • balkanisation (clusters of collaboration, usually departmentalised; often there develops conflicts between clusters and poor continuity across departments)
  • contrived collegiality (danger of forcing cooperation, needs to be a patient development journey, authentic collaboration is doubtful when based on external agendas)
  • Professional learning communities (space for inquiry and learning together; challenges emerge and self-direction evident through ownership of the problems and the solutions)
  • Clusters, networks, and federations (school to school networks; systemic connection opportunities, co-operation – friendly rivalry, support)

Within effective collaboration there is a clear understanding of collective responsibility. “Collective responsibility is not just a commitment; it is the exercise of capabilities on a deep and wide scale. It encompasses positive competition: challenging the limits of what is humanly and professionally possible” (142)

Thoughts I am left with:

  • Collaborative cultures are based on trust and relationships and are not forced or contrived. Informal work is the basis of a collective culture. However, this needs to be balanced with arrangements that allow the emergence of this kind of social capital that are deliberate and structured.
  • A balance is needed as well between the pushing of new ideas and change and pulling: “by the excitement of the process, the inspirational feeling of the engagement, the connection to people’s passions and purposes” (130).
  • Change leadership is a series of balances: “confident and humble, resolute and empathetic, collaborative and competitive” (136).
  • The fundamental goal “is to do things that bridge the chasm, reach for partnership, and replace polarization with integration – in ways that make every effort to respect each other’s positions without capitulating to them” (154).
  • I am reminded of the opinion economy – a concept introduced to me by David Buckingham. Finding the space, the balance, the commonalities, between two opposing ideas or concepts is important to navigating forward effectively. This connects to the principles of change which require professional capital.

We can treat teaching as just a short-term investment of business capital, and finance the present by mortgaging our children’s future. Or we can make teaching a sustainable investment for professional capital, and give birth to a world of many happy returns to come (186).


Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Guidance Professional Learning Day

The Guidance Professional Learning Day is now an annual event for the guidance team to take a PL approach to our positions. Deans PL is usually deferred to learning-on-the-job and internal support, so having this day to stop and examine our practices and be introduced to new ideas is so valuable.

Mindfulness

Presentation from Marc Mulholland as our guidance counselor. Talking around helping student to slow down think less and rationalise through mindfulness. Mindfulness is:

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Marc suggested the importance of taking time out and time to focus during our days. He took us through an exercise where we were instructed through a meditation process. It was a  time out and a chance to focus on the moment. He talked about the importance of taking time to stop and notice things in our environment that we don’t notice everyday.

We were introduced to six mindfulness exercises you can try today:

  1. Mindful breathing
  2. Mindful observation
  3. Mindful awareness
  4. Mindful listening
  5. Mindful immersion
  6. Mindful appreciation

Mindfulness is training the brain to have focused attention and increased emotional regulation. Data to support the implementation of a mindfulness programme is part of this TED talk:

Conversation then turned to how this might be incorporated into our current programmes. Initial feelings were positive and this is a discussion worth continuing.

Cross Sector Agency Perspective on Vulnerability 

Jo Brider – Lead Adviser: Social Sector Partnerships | Sector Enablement and Support

Jo spoke about the introduction of the Vulnerability Children’s Act 2014. The impact on schools and professionals and the actions we take to support these students. Vulnerable children are defined as:

Vulnerable children are children who are at significant risk of harm to their wellbeing now and into the future as a consequence of the environment in which they are being raised and, in some cases, due to their own complex needs. Environmental factors that influence child vulnerability include not having their basic emotional, physical, social, developmental and/or cultural needs met at home or in their wider community.

What do we do as professionals?

  • Sometimes something as simple as asking “are you OK?”
  • Trust your instincts – be professional
  • The need to share information, pass on disclosures
  • Sharing of information is absolutely vital

Further reading: The White Paper for Vulnerable Children and a FAQ.

Research on Student Wellbeing

Julia Davidson – Principal, Wellington Girls College | Woolf Fisher Scholarship 

With Julia’s scholarship she targeted visiting high performing schools and how they are dealing with mental health and wellbeing of their students. Her findings pose interesting challenges to the way in which we are supporting student wellbeing in these increasingly complex times. The first part of her session was reporting back on her findings. Most of the following examples come from Ontario:

  • Integrated and holistic approach to wellbeing – part of the vision, annual and strategic plans, comes from the top.
  • Curriculum integration – health compulsory until students are 15/16
  • Incredibly well resourced including this website: Well Ahead Canada
  • People involved are generous and collaborative, with additional staffing in place (the US system Julia encountered doesn’t have guidance counselor, broadly speaking they are under resourced careers advisors)
  • Ontario just started walk in mental health clinics

What action is possible for schools?

  • Learning environment: ‘climate of care’; responsive classroom model
  • Curriculum: health; wellness days (teachers not involved, student managed, external providers) and pop ups; reduction of credits 15-19; quality not quantity; NCEA policies around withdrawal and assessment clarified and emphasised; no exams Y9/10 or homework; flexi-block of time in timetable.
  • Pastoral care: form time (swap for more focused mentoring? Smaller groups?) Tuakana teina instead of peer support – 1:1 matching; wellness theme in assemblies with student voice.

Active learning Showcase Reflection

The Active Learning Showcase was a fabulous occasion, truly putting learners at the centre. It saw about 100 students in the hall to present and showcase their learning in conversations with mainly adults who were circulating around.

The open invitation to work the room and talk with students offered an opportunity to deeply reflect on how to approach learning conversations with students. I found that students with interesting content would draw content focused questions from me, and it would take significant effort to sometimes steer this conversation into the process. There was so much value in this for the students involved as the conversations were so empowering and the growth across the two hours was visible in many instances.

In terms of Professional Learning, I feel that one of the biggest gains of the showcase was through the decision to make it compulsory for all staff to attend. This forced staff to engage with the underlying learning purpose of active learning and any cynicism was immediately challenged by the voices of the students. It was visible during the two hours that teachers were active in talking to akonga. This must have been a challenge for many who enjoy the safety of a desk as a barrier. But the throw them in the deep end approach was a valuable experience for at the least the opportunity to circulate among learners in an innovative learning environment.

There is deeper reflection to come about the process as a whole. It is a complex journey to unpack. But it’s great to record this positive buzz!

Growth Mindset Workshop – Carol Dweck and Susan Mackie

The workshop was to explore your own mindset triggers and learn how to respond to the everyday challenges and demands to help us become the people we want to be. Prior to the workshop we were asked to complete some pre-readings/pre-viewings:

I want to be… someone who inspires others to aim for the sky and strive to be the best that they can be.

Success in life is about learning, constantly learning, finding hard things sticking to them. It’s also about finding the joy in learning. I was struck by how often the word ‘joy’ came up across the day. That is a powerful word that should be turning up more in my classroom. BUT many things that we do are turning people into non learners – we put emphasis on talent, on who is gifted and who is not. We create children that have to be infallible. This is the enemy of learning. If children think they can be infallible, they limit themselves so that they can be perfect.

How do we bring back the zest for learning?

Brain Plasticity – neuroscience shows us the tremendous plasticity of our brains – they can transform through learning. There is a lot of evidence that mindsets work and mindsets matter.

There was a section that was focused on the idea of an organisation and how there are fixed and growth cultures. A fixed setting is likely to believe in – and judge – fixed abilities. It will have a competitive culture where staff will try to be between that one another and therefore little or no collaboration. Meanwhile a growth focused organisation will support creativity, innovation and foster teamwork. Teachers being excited to go to work. Brainstorm together, feeling free to innovate, trying things, to go to others with problems and not be judged.

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  • Deep fear of failure in Y11. The need to experience some success before the mindset can grow
  • Brain Training vs growth mindset – the picture of neurons in your brain making connections.
  • Brainology essential to study skills – study skills in isolation is not ok.
  • Grades in Math (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, Dweck, 2007) said one student: “You mean I don’t have to be dumb”

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  • False Mindset  – of course one will always say that they have a growth mindset
  • It’s a normal thing to make a mistake, it’s a wonderful thing to learn from a mistake.
  • We must have a deep belief that everyone can raise their abilities
  • Tie the process they engaged in and connect it to their learning
  • How to raise kids with grit
  • Effort is one route to learning and improvement
  • Someone that says: “I have a growth mindset in all areas” – is a clear sign that they have a fixed mindset

Fixed mindset triggers

The following for triggers are common for switching our approaches back into a fixed mold. The slides suggest the different ways of  dealing with each of these triggers. The triggers can trap you in the fixed mindset – be aware of them and those behaviours.

1. Stepping out of our comfort zones.

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2. High effort

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3. Setbacks

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4. Feedback

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Changing your mindset

“I’ve told you a 100 times”

“Yeah, and how’s that working for you”

  • The power of “yet” or “not yet”
  • Legitimize the fixed mindset and acknowledge that we’re all a mixture

Name and claim your fixed mindset persona. Get to know it:

  • When does it show up?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How does it affect your behaviour? Your relationships? Your goals?
  • Over time, learn to work with it

Fixed mindset persona: Joking Jerome – a persona I use to protect myself sometimes. Occasionally I rely on humour to navigate tough situations. This occurs a lot outside of school mainly, but my joking and sarcastic nature can be used as a defense at times and might prevent deep reflection and growth from a given opportunity. (True words said in jest?)

How to raise kids with grit

  • Mindfulness and mindset are related
  • The need to explore your own mental models, what you think about your learning and others learning: you show it.
  • Have an assembly about failure.
  • “Finland doesn’t teach to the test, they teach joyful effective learning
  • Nothing can tell you how smart you are and how smart you will be when you grow up. A test/assessment measures what you know now, and it will show you what you need to work on going forward.
  • The interplay between adult and child’s mindset – teachers and adults matter.

Fixed mindset triggers

  • A student struggling or confused
  • A student not listening to your lesson
  • A student with high or low test scores

There is compassion when you understand that all students have some degree of pain or fear behind their behaviour. These behaviours can all be addressed with a growth mindset. This involves working with the student and supporting them – and not putting them in a fixed mindset box. The growth mindset is part of the meta-curriculum.

  • The fishbowl – activity of coaching through some teachers when faced with this kind of conversation.
  • The conversation around assessments could be examined. How do we manage students fears and emotions through assessment?

Advice for a students in a fixed mindset?

  • See it as a challenge
  • What do you need to …?
  • Restorative questions – what’s happening/happened?
  • Look for the positive strategies and adapt them for a different context.
  • Peer to peer conection
  • Saying more effort is needed can alienate a student. They need to connect the effort with better outcomes/understanding.
  • Look up your heroes – they always find without fail that their heroes had to try really hard and had to overcome challenges.
  • Use the personas that make you afraid of risk. Something that is common and accessible.

Transmitting mindsets in the classroom

  • What can teachers do?
  • Studies showing that adults are not passing on growth mindsets
  • Rushing in and not letting the students fail
  • When students succeed – praise the process. Tie it to learning, progress.
  • When children struggle or fail – focus on the process. Talk about fabulous struggles.
  • Ask: What are you struggling with now? 
  • Give out failure of the year award
  • Make errors. Modelling the error correction process.

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Growth mindset necessary for students to find their way back to the world that needs them so much.

Slides from the presentation