Education Engagement & Motivation



I regularly annoy math teachers by questioning why I would need to learn Pythagoras’ Theorem as a kid.

Or Calculus? Seriously… does that even exist?

And just to prove I’m not being mathsist, why should we care about Shakespeare?

Whilst you might this I’m being facetious when I’m doing this, I’m trying to highlight that whilst I – as a somewhat educated 37 year-old – can see the value in each of the above, I wonder if it’s as apparent to the average teenager (the one who isn’t satisfied with the exam or future rationale)?

Whilst some kids will tolerate not having a greater imperative for learning other than, it will be on the test, or they, might need it when they’re older, for a great deal of students this is the first step towards disengagement.

If it doesn’t really matter to them, why learn it?

Seriously… what do you say when kids ask you, “Why are we doing this?”

How do you make it matter?

I’m hoping we can build a resource of powerful answers to such questions.

Let’s share some ideas on #MakeItMatter2Me on Twitter or feel free to offer suggestions to “Why are we learning this?” in the comment box below.

A good start point sometimes can be to ask, “Why are we teaching this?”

It’s a powerful question than can foster real innovation in what and how we teach.

Education Engagement & Motivation Tech & Social Media Wellbeing Youth

Hear No Evil, See No Evil


One of the most common questions I get asked by schools, is along the lines of how can we teach “Cyber-Safety?”

Leaving aside the fact I’m not keen on the use of the work cyber as whilst it may have suited our needs a decade ago, nowadays it’s pretty much irrelevant.

Why do I say irrelevant? Because the inclusion of the word cyber indicates that somehow these actions are separate from the rest of a person’s life. Take cyberbullying for example… the ramifications are not confined to cyberspace, they are very – for want of a better word – real.

OK, I didn’t really leave that aside did I?

Anyway, my biggest issue with teaching – let’s call it Digital Citizenship – instead, is that we rarely listen to what the kids actually want or need to know about or do.

Take for example a group of Yr 9 students I was working with recently, who all said they were worried about their privacy online, but their parents didn’t know how to address it, and their school didn’t want to teach it. The students said they felt that the response from the adults was, if you’re worried about it don’t use it. The adults in their lives didn’t understand that this wasn’t an option. They also felt they couldn’t report any instance of bullying or inappropriate stuff (sexting etc.) because that would just result in them losing access to their phones or laptops.

I’ve written before about the way Digital Citizenship, and in particular the use of Social Media is taught in school.

If we taught kids to drive a car the same way we teach them to use social media it would look something like this:

1. Driving lessons would only be taught by adults with little or no experience of driving.

2. Driving lessons would never take place in a car.

3. Driving lessons would only focus on the dangers of driving and what not to do

Of course we wouldn’t tolerate this, but this is often the approach taken in schools and the community.

If it’s a problem, increase the firewall or ban it. How long will it take for us to realise this approach is failing out kids.

They want to be responsible digital citizens, but we don’t hear that. We just assume they’re up to no good.

No one’s helping in ways they understand, or in ways that genuinely empower them.

Except perhaps…

If you are interested in exploring a more proactive approach to digital citizenship and/or learning in your school, then I would highly recommend getting in touch with Pip Cleaves at Design | Learn | Empower or Nick Jackson at Digital Leaders Australia – and no, I don’t receive a commission, I just really respect their work, and their ability to hear the student voice and engage accordingly.

Or if you just want to learn a little more about what kids are up to these days you could check out this site from ACMA, and yes, I am aware they use the word Cyber…. 

Oh well.

Education Engagement & Motivation

Do we get Engagement Wrong in School?

Oz Teacher Logo

I’m really pleased to say that in 2014 I’ll be writing a regular column, School of Thought, for the Australian Teacher Magazine.

My first column for 2014 is now up!

I say engagement is overused because I witness, all too often, schools confusing conformity for engagement. Measures such as attendance, grades, homework, and adherence to uniform rules etc. are all taken to determine whether students are engaged or not.

Why not go and read the full article on the Australian Teacher Website!

Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

At last!

As posted on the YouthEngage site…
One of the main reasons for my leaving full-time teaching was to establish YouthEngage, and at last we have been given approval by the NSW Dept of Education & Communities to research the effectiveness of one of our programs.

Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership

The problem with professional learning

I love getting feedback. After each speaking engagement or facilitated workshop, I seek feedback from those who attended and from those who engaged me for the gig.

I enjoy receiving positive feedback (obviously) but it’s the feedback that suggests improvements, or points to flaws in my delivery that push me to be better at what I do.

Having said that…

I do tend to bristle at the types of feedback that are along the lines of:

Teachers want something they can take away and do first thing Monday morning.

For me, this mindset is the biggest problem with professional learning – particularly in education.

Let me explain why I think that. And by explain, I mean ask you some questions.

How many Professional Learning days have you attended in your career? How many had a take home message? How many can you remember? How many of those messages still resonate with you?Expert_01

I’d hazard a guess that for each of those questions the number got lower and lower right?

Here’s the thing. It’s not like I’m out there teaching people how to tie their shoe laces (great talk by the way!). In my sessions we’re discussing engagement, wellbeing & leadership. Three things that look quite different in your organisation compared to the organisation of the next person who reads this blog. I’ve never worked with you, your colleagues, your kids, your kids’ parents or your wider learning community. I’m not the expert- YOU ARE.

When I’m working with professionals, my goal is to stimulate discussion and thinking so as to empower those present to design strategies that will enhance the experiences of everyone in their school or organisation. I seek to recognise and build on the capacity of those in the room, and in turn, their colleagues when they return to their schools.

I believe that the First Thing Monday Morning Mindset is a product of the way teachers have been treated over the years. Continually told that we need smarter teachers or that the system’s failing; that the Uni’s aren’t preparing teachers properly or, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, look at your holidays!”

Some teachers genuinely believe they need a guru to come in and give them a list of things to do with a class or staff body that the guru has never met. It’s quick, to the point and everyone can tick that box off the list of things to do that year.

It would be interesting to see what kind of bang for buck your school gets for this approach to professional learning. It would be interesting to ask each member of your staff the four questions I asked earlier. We know the answers of course, and yet we persist…

So, in an attempt to appease everyone, and at the same time stay true to my philosophy… here IS one thing you can do first thing Monday morning…

Suggest to your Principal that at the end of this term, or the next, your school holds an IDEASFest. I’m sure you’ve seen enough examples of this kind of thing through TED talks, FODI and the like to get the idea.

Open it up to any member of your learning community – parents, kids, teachers, maintenance staff – and hear what they have to say about the things that matter to them and your school. You could frame the talks to be around a certain theme, or be less prescriptive.

No big bucks for keynote speakers, no experts or gurus and I’d bet you’ll have to persuade some that this would even constitute professional learning… 

But I’d also bet that this kind of day would provide you and your staff with a take home message or two that might resonate the rest of your career, let alone just the weekend.

Education Engagement & Motivation

Kids don’t WANT to be engaged – do they?

Originally written for this week’s Generation Next NewsletterToilet engaged

Whilst in Denmark last week I had the chance to meet and share ideas with different schools and organisations around the concept of student (and staff) engagement.

Over breakfast with the Department of Pedagogy at the University of Aarhus, one researcher told me of his study that showed that – whilst many teachers and thinkers (myself included) are suggesting students should be allowed more autonomy in education to find their passions and develop goals around their areas of interest – students report not wanting this.

These 16 and 17 year-old students reported wanting in fact needing to be directed as to what they should be doing, even as far as to what they should be passionate about!

So does this mean that those like myself who are pushing for more autonomy in schools are wrong?

You could argue yes.

But I’d suggest that this research could serve as a wake-up call.

Here we have teachers trying to engender and develop intrinsic motivation in their students, and the students are rejecting it.

What becomes of these students when they leave school.

Will they find the same support networks in the workplace or tertiary education?

My experience says no, they won’t.

Intrinsic motivation is an essential component of engagement. If we are genuine about wanting engaged students in school, then we must encourage autonomy from an early age before they become conditioned to having everything done for them.

Even their thinking.

Engagement & Motivation

3 things I learnt about success from Mountain Biking

Last year, as part of the Yr 11 PDHPE Preliminary Course, I took twenty Year 11 students on a mountain biking camp. Doing my thing!

We rode through the Stromlo Forest in Canberra by day, and camped in sub zero temperatures by night.

For anyone interested in doing similar, I cannot recommend Will & the team at highly enough! (Tell him I sent you!)

It’s only in the last couple of months that I’ve really appreciated some of the analogies I could draw between by experiences mountain biking and success in pursuing your goals – whatever they may be.

1. The harder the climb, the bigger the thrill

I love snowboarding. The thrill you get from carving it up down the slopes is amazing, and the thrill of racing down a mountain on a bike is similar – but different. Because with mountain biking, you really earn the thrill. Whilst when snowboarding you sit in a chairlift to reach the summit,  mountain-biking  requires considerably more effort. A 10min race down the mountain, may require a 50mins climb. The climb is hard, it’s hot and you need a breather when you get to the top. But that’s when the fun really begins!

When pursing your goals, the more challenging the goal, the more satisfying the achievement. When I’m talking to students, I throw out the following, and whilst not a universal truth it certainly acts as a provocation.

If something seems too hard, it’s probably worth doing. If something seems too easy, it probably isn’t.

2. Momentum is Your Friend

In mountain biking, you need to navigate particularly treacherous terrain. Often you need to slow right down to handle the toughest parts. But don’t stop – even though your initial instinct may be to do so! As soon as you stop, you lose your balance and over you go! (Often to the amusement of your companions!) Momentum helps you maintain your balance, and slowly but surely helps you overcome whatever challenges the terrain presents.

When pursuing your goal, sometimes the road may appear blocked, or obstacles in your way may seem insurmountable. But again, momentum is your friend. Keep moving forward, no matter how slowly. Any progress is good progress because as soon as you stop, you fall.

3. Keep Focused on Where You Want to Go

On a bike, your path is determined by where your eyes are looking. On a hair-pin bend you need to be looking “through the corner.” That is you need to be focused on where you are going. Not necessarily where you are. If your gaze is only on the track directly in front of you, or worse, down towards your pedals (which is the natural reaction) you’ll find yourself sliding off the track – and in the case of the Stromlo Forest down a mountain side. When we rode along fallen tree trunks over streams, again you had to fight your natural instincts to stop (see above) and look down. You could only have eyes for the end of the tree trunk, or you’d be getting wet!

When pursuing your goals, you have to keep your eyes on the prize. Where you’re trying to get to may seem a long way off. It may be a matter of years before you’ll achieve what you’ve set out to do. Regularly reminding yourself of what you want to achieve – and why – will help to reinvigorate your desire to keep going.

Engagement & Motivation Leadership

Do other schools think more of you than your own?

When I’m in schools, I always recognise that the teachers I’m working with are the experts on their

As well as being expert educators, they understand the idiosyncrasies of their colleagues, leaders, students and wider community.

However, what I’m finding more and more is that within schools, teacher “expertise” is often not recognised outside of their perceived domain.

In other words, teachers limit ourselves and each other by our job title. We are there to teach our subject(s), do playground duty and write reports. There is little attention paid to actively recognising and nurturing innovation, collaboration or creativity.

Up until a few years ago this meant that people just got on with what they were paid to do and thought little more of it.

However, with the advent of social media, and Twitter in particular, this has changed.

Online, I regularly see PE teachers from one school collaborating with English or Drama teachers from another. Sharing their ideas, experiences etc. Maths teachers developing innovative ideas with art teacher.

Yet when I ask about such collaborations taking place within the walls of their own school, very often there’s not much doing.

Which led me to ask this question (on Twitter obviously!):

Which led to some interesting debate on Twitter over the weekend… here are the picks…

So with these thoughts in mind, I sought the opinion of school leaders who I KNOW value and actively encourage autonomy, creativity and innovation in their staff.

Ben Jones – Head of Teaching & Learning in Public School in Western Sydney

Stephen Harris – Principal of Northern Beaches Christian School

And to finish with, I couldn’t go past this one… I LOVE the sentiments expressed by John his tweet.

John Goh – Principal of a Public Primary School in Western Sydney


Education Engagement & Motivation Wellbeing

Are we testing the wrong things?

This is my latest article in the Generation Next Newsletter…

As the Fairfax media reports that more parents than ever were withdrawing their kids from the annual NAPLAN tests I wonder if these tests are even assessing the right things in school.

Now I realize the importance of literacy and numeracy – of course I do.

But, these tests only measure outcomes.

If we only assess the outcomes, we often misunderstand or completely ignore the causation.

What if we saw these “outcomes” as a by-product of genuine engagement and wellbeing in our schools?

What if – instead of striving to enhance scores, we sought to enhance the wellbeing of our kids (and teachers!).

What if – instead of trying to compete with our Asian neighbours in the numeracy league tables, we attempted to genuinely engage our students in a way that develops critical and creative thinkers with a real lifelong love of learning.

To be frank, engagement and wellbeing are pre-cursors to real achievement, but all too often we pursue achievement at the expense of our kids’ (and teachers’) sense of engagement and wellbeing.

I recently discovered this Gallup poll that aims to chart the levels of hope, engagement and wellbeing across students in Grades 5-12 across the United States.

In Australia, I know ACER have this survey on engagement as well as their wellbeing survey and I think it would be in your school’s best interests to know how your students are tracking in this regard.

Change Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Wellbeing

Forget teaching… how about some learning?

If you’re interested, I’m involved in two professional learning events in the coming days.

PLANE Festival of Learning










You can REGISTER HERE to attend or you can watch the Live Feed here.

Follow on Twitter using #FOL12

If you’re there, please stop by and have a chat!

PLANE LeadMeet – The Wellbeing Series

On Tuesday 23rd October at 7pm (Sydney Time) I will be hosting the first of four LeadMeets – online Webinars aimed at school leaders to discuss ideas in and around wellbeing. They are free to attend.

Watch the promo below and REGISTER HERE.