Social Justice Wellbeing Youth

Kids Giving Back 5th Birthday

Some of you might be aware that every year I’m very proud to partner with my friends at Kids Giving Back to work with teenagers who access Youth Off The Streets.

Well today, Kids Giving Back hosted its 5th Birthday party at Rough Edges, a homeless community partner in Darlinghurst, Sydney, and I was honoured to MC it.

The event brought together educators, charities and corporate sponsors and the Member for Vaucluse, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton, who praised Kids Giving Back for its important work in the community based on student volunteering – something the Minister felt strongly about from a personal perspective:

“I know from my own experience as a young volunteer, that these experiences create deep connections with community and this is what set me on my path to politics, where I serve the communities in which I live.” – Member for Vaucluse, the Hon. Gabrielle Upton

Indeed today, a key element of the event featured students from regional NSW school, Kandos High, who cooked and delivered meals to homeless people at Rough Edges. before being taken through Kings Cross to explore the issue of homelessness in a hands-on way, through a program called ‘Urban Walk’.

Today, Kids Giving Back announced a new volunteer program called, ‘Food, Clothing, Shelter’ that celebrates diversity and aims to remove existing barriers preventing young people in Sydney’s West from engaging with the wider community. Kids Giving Back, together with community partners Rough Edges and Thread Together, will work with students to create care packages of food and clothing for vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and the homeless.


To date Kids Giving Back have partnered with 39 schools across NSW to provide these type of opportunities for students. If you’d like to explore how you might get your students involved with these awesome programs, you can download the schools programme here then drop my friends, and founders of Kids Giving Back, Ruth or Carole a line.

Tell them I sent you! 🙂

Email Kids Giving Back

Wellbeing Youth

What kids *really* want from us when they ask for help…

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Professor Donna Cross present on wide range of issues pertaining to wellbeing, and in particular student wellbeing.

Professor Cross presented some interesting perspectives from her work with children and adolescents. One perspective that I found particularly compelling – given the media attention around bullying in schools in Australia at the moment, with this article in the Daily Telegraph and the ABC planning to air The Bully Project hosted by former Olympian Ian Thorpe – was around help-seeking behaviours in instances of bullying.

Professor Cross showed us this slide:

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.40.17 pm

Two glaring issues are apparent.

First of all, the rate at which kids seek help.

Less than 15% of boys who said they were dealing with an issue sought help from an adult, whilst less than half girls dealing with an issue chose to seek help.

But perhaps even more of an issue is the rate at which kids stated asking an adult for help didn’t actually improve the situation.

To address this, Professor Cross suggested we adopt the LATE model when talking to kids seeking help. The LATE model is an approach adapted from the work from Michael Tunnecliffe.

In short it stands for:

L: Listen

Actively listen, and ensuring that adults do not engage in behaviours that imply we don’t have time to fully listen to the child’s concern.

A: Acknowledge

Regardless of whether we believe it should be a cause of concern for the child, we need to acknowledge that it is. Even throw-away lines like, “Oh don’t worry about it” can imply to kids we’re not taking them seriously.

T: Talk about options

This is most powerful when the child comes up with the options. We can facilitate a conversation that explores the pros and cons of each option, but as with most things, when the individual comes up with a solution, they are more likely to put that into action.

E: End with encouragement

Encouraging the child to put into action what has been discussed and setting a time for a follow up chat is essential. Also acknowledging again that, whilst it doesn’t guarantee success, they did the right thing by seeking help.

This link talks about the LATE model in more detail in schools, and includes the notion of confidentiality as students really aren’t keen on the thought of them being the topic of staffroom discussion.

But I think the LATE model offers any adult – a parent or other family member, teacher, coach – a simple way to better engage with youngsters when they seek our help.

Furthermore, it’s pretty good model to use when anyone – young or old, family member or work colleague – needs our assistance.

*The slide used above is available in this presentation.

Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Wrapping Kids in Cotton Wool

dan on projectYesterday I was interviewed by the panel on Channel 10’s The Project with regard to ‘Cotton Wool’ kids…

It stemmed from a story in Melbourne where a father was suing a school because his son ran into a wall whilst playing tips. The father’s argument was – the school should ban running in the playground.

Hmm… I’m not so sure… as I said the panel, if the first thing we do when our kids do something ‘daft’ is look to blame someone else, then perhaps there’s the issue.

We have seen the evolution from Helicopter Parents to ‘Helicopter Gunship Parents’ who launch pre-emptive strikes against anything or anyone that might pose the risk of disappointment, risk, challenge or failure. That’s why so many parents do their kids’ homework for them, or why now – if you’ve attended a young child’s birthday party you’ll have seen this – EVERY layer of Pass the Parcel has a prize!

Helicopter Gunship Parenting

Learning from failure, a setback or a poor decision is a crucial aspect of growing up. It’s how kids learn to be resilient. It’s how they learn to take responsible risks and understand the consequences of their actions. You don’t learn these things simply by being told about them.

It’s as though parents want their kids to be happy all the time. 

But being happy all the time is in itself a mental health concern.

In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

So, next time you want stop your child from “making the same mistakes you did” – we’ll assume those mistakes didn’t land you in jail or the emergency ward – why not let them learn a little by stuffing up*.

After all, those mistakes helped you become the person you are today. And you’re not all that bad are you?

*You might have noticed I stuffed up earlier be sending a post entitled “UK” – with nothing on it… oops… I learnt something there too! 🙂 It’s actually a page for UK based schools/organisations who might be interested in doing some work with me…

Education Engagement & Motivation Youth

Engaging the Student Voice

The basis for student voice is to be found in Article 12 of the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child, which sets out the right of children and young people to express an opinion and to have that opinion taken into account when decisions are being made on any matter that affects them.

How many decisions at your school take into account the opinions of students?

I mean really take students’ opinions into account.

If we’re honest many of our efforts around student voice pay lip service at best.

What I mean is, who are the students we listen to? Do we act on the feedback they give us? Do we even need to, or are they the kids we know will say what we want to hear? Have a look at this from the Freechild project to check in with where you’re at in your school.

Having said that, I’ve come up with a simple survey that you could use as a starting point to engage the student voice.

1. What’s the best thing about being at this school?

Asking this question is taking a leaf straight out of the Appreciative Inquiry model of change. By knowing what we do well, we can use this to inform any changes we’d like to make. We can ask why does this work well. How can we leverage this to enhance other areas of our school?

2. What would you like to do more of at school?

This could throw up all manner of interesting ideas. It could be more kids would like to game. Or perhaps they’d like to explore personal interest project, maybe they’d like to chill out more… who knows… Whether you see any value in their suggestions? Well that’s up to you.

3. If you were in charge of the school what one thing would you like to change? – What makes you say this?

Ditto for this one, but crucially the reasons – the What makes you say this? – will prove more fertile ground for change

4. Do you feel able to be yourself at school? – If no, why not?

5. Is there at least one adult at school to whom you can go if you have a serious issue?

These two questions are vital questions to ask in any school. They are paramount for a student to feel connected to school. The importance of school connectedness is the subject of this 6min podcast. SPOILER ALERT – IT’S CRUCIALLY IMPORTANT

I would urge you to only engage the student voice, if you are genuinely willing to act upon the feedback.

You have to ask every kid. It could be anonymous, it could be done via pen & paper and put in a shoe box, or done via Google forms or Survey monkey.

Yes there are more in-depth surveys out there but as a start you could do worse than ask these questions.

If your school as a whole doesn’t want to buy in, as a classroom teacher you could ask your kids:

What was the best thing about this unit/lesson/subject? What would you have liked to do more of? What would you have changed?

I’ve done this with some very witty kids, where the answers have come back, ‘Nothing,’ ‘Chilled’ and ‘The teacher’. But give it time… publicly acknowledge and act on feedback and you’ll start to see a shift in the ownership kids take of their learning.

What else do you do to engage and empower the student voice in your communities?

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 Wellbeing Youth

Does PSHE or Citizenship have a place your school day?


On Thursday 20th February at 8pm GMT, (7am on the Friday Morning AEDT in Sydney) I shall be hosting the #UKEdChat on Twitter.

We’ll be talking about teaching citizenship, and Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) in schools.

In the UK, PSHE education remains a non-statutory subject, but the National Curriculum framework document states that:

 All schools should make provision for personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), drawing on good practice.

PSHE covers a wide range of concepts:

Identity (their personal qualities, attitudes, skills, attributes and achievements and what influences these)
Relationships (including different types and in different settings)
A healthy (including physically, emotionally and socially) balanced lifestyle (including within relationships, work-life, exercise and rest, spending and saving and diet)
Risk (to be managed rather than simply avoided) and safety (including behaviour and strategies in different settings)
Diversity and equality (in all its forms)
Rights, responsibilities (including fairness and justice) and consent (in different contexts)
Change (as something to be managed) and resilience (the skills, strategies and ‘inner resources’ we can draw on when faced with challenging change or circumstance)
Power (how it is used and encountered in a variety of contexts including persuasion, bullying, negotiation and ‘win-win’ outcomes)
Career (including enterprise and economic understanding).

However, with the move to more independent schools, academies and free schools in the UK, I wonder if there is a risk of PSHE being brushed aside to increase focus on ‘more important’ subject areas.

Despite the vast array of concepts outlined above, the only statutory aspect of PSHE these schools must cover is sex and relationships education (including sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS).

In Australia, much of what would be taught in PSHE is taught in Personal Development, Health & Physical Education, (PDHPE) or Health & Physical Education (HPE) and is mandatory regardless of what school you work in.

As someone who qualified and taught in the UK before moving to Australia I will find it interesting to contrast attitudes to teaching what I consider to be something that is relevant to any student in any country.

So whether you teach in the UK, Australia, or anywhere else in the world,  I hope you can join us for the #UKEdChat on Thursday 20th Feb at 8pm GMT.

Find out what time this is where you live.

To find out more about PSHE, and maybe check out the PSHE Association’s Website or this document that explores how to address PSHE in the curriculum.

Education Social Commentary Youth

Hey kids – Stop talking like that!

Teen Speak

I bet there’s certain things kids say that grate on you. I bet there are slang terms that, quite simply, you don’t understand.

Every now and then you’ll come across a helpful list of the latest “kids speak” like this one. Go on, read it. It’s brilliant.

I’ll bet if you think back, there were words you used that your parents didn’t really get, and when they tried to use them, well… it was just wrong.

A couple of weeks back I stumbled across a very interesting article, again from the UK.

A school has decided to ban the use of certain slang words.  It’s worth noting they’re not talking about swear words, but words like:

“Innit” and the ever present “Like” are in the firing line as is starting sentences with “Basically” or ending them with “Yeah.”

Reaction has been varied. Some (mostly older folk) have applauded the move, whilst others have pointed to the naturally occurring changes in language over time.

Others have claimed that it could be considered racist, as some of the slang words under fire are most common in the vernacular of those from West Indian background.

It’s certainly an interesting debate, because I have my pet peevs too!

The seemingly new phenomenon of shortening words really grates on me.

Totally = totes, Obviously = obvs and for some reason – particularly Channel 10 – have been promoting “Double Eps” for over a year now… Is “Episode” really too long a word?

Yeah I know I know… Basically, I’m just being a grumpy old man. After all this is how the kids speak now innit yeah?

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Social Commentary Social Justice Youth

My Reaction to Naming & Shaming Young Offenders

In reaction to the Queensland Government’s move to name & shame young offenders as young as ten, I wrote this piece for the ABC.

Being seen to be tough on crime is Politics 101. It’s a guaranteed vote-winner. It creates good copy for the tabloids, and “naming and shaming” is the bread and butter of any self-respecting shock jock. It’s even better if you can blame your opponents for the apparent crime wave.

You can read the full article here.

You can also listen to a radio interview I gave on Melbourne’s SYN 90.7FM

Media Social Commentary Youth

Sex, Drugs, The Media & Our Kids

I originally write this for my regular Generation Next column

In the weeks since that Miley Cyrus performance at the VMAs, more fuel has been poured onto the fiery debate around the overtly sexual messages our kids are receiving thanks to the media.

Add this to the heady mix of alcohol, violence and drug use with the apparent rise of such related anti-social behaviour of our teenagers – once again commentators are calling on the media to pull its collective head in.

Just this Sunday, I was watching a movie with my five year-old son that featured, amongst other things:

• Every second character, including the two lead characters smoking.
• Every second character, including the two lead characters drinking alcohol.
• Drink spiking.
• A drunken bar room brawl that involved guns, knives and king hits.

The brawl only subsided when a stripper appeared on stage, dressed all in blue (the relevance of this will be apparent shortly) and began to sing,

Hey fellas
The time is right
Get ready
Tonight’s the night
Boys, what you’re hopin’ for will come true
Let me be good to you

You tough guys
You’re feelin’ all alone
You rough guys
The best o’ you sailors and bums
All o’ my chums

So dream on
And drink your beer
Get cosy
Your baby’s here
You won’t be misunderstood
Let me be good to you

Hey fellas
I’ll take off all my blues
Hey fellas
There’s nothin’ I won’t do
Just for you

So dream on
And drink your beer
Get cosy
Your baby’s here
Hey boys, I’m talkin’ to you
Your baby’y gonna come through
Let me be good to you

I reckon Miley herself would be pretty happy with those lyrics.

I know what you’re thinking…

“Haesler! What are you playing at letting your five year old boy watch an episode of Underbelly?”

But it wasn’t Underbelly.

It was Walt Disney’s 1986 animated classic, The Great Mouse DetectiveGreat Mouse Detective

Making $40 million – in the 80s – the film is widely acknowledged as being the saviour of Disney, after some less-than-stellar releases. It appears that even back then sex, violence, alcohol and drugs sold, and sold well.

Kids have always been subjected to these kind of messages, but I think we underestimate our youth – and the adults in their lives – when we believe whatever they see they’ll do.

Melinda Tankard-Reist wrote in her Fairfax column this week that the young girls she’d spoken to since the Miley performance were in no way influenced to act the same way. Some of the comments from the girls aged 12 and 13 were:

”She thinks it’s cool, she’ll attract more people, but she hasn’t.”
”She used to be inspirational, we used to look up to her, now she’s ruined herself.”
”The performance portrayed a negative image of women.”

I would guess that these girls have strong role models in their lives, be they male or female, parents or otherwise. And I think that’s the point.

Of course the proliferation of the media has meant kids are getting these messages more often, but we can’t underestimate the power of a good adult role model and their ability to dilute, deflect or redefine these messages so kids can watch The Great Mouse Detective without becoming drunken gun-slinging strip club regulars.

Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Girls Get A’s, Then Get Surgery

This was originally published for my regular Generation Next column. 

I have a saying that my teaching colleagues will be able to appreciate.

Interesting kids have very interesting parents.

I spent the past two years resisting invitations from schools to give parent talks.

My reasoning was that whilst after 15+ years teaching, I can speak with some authority with regards to working with school students, I have only been a parent for the past five years, and I reckon parenting is the hardest job in the world!

However, this year I broke my duck and have enjoyed chatting with parents on a variety of subjects… but as yet I haven’t broached this one.

This weekend I read an article in which kids are rewarded for impressive academic performances with plastic surgery!

Apparently, according to a cosmetic nurse quoted in the article, ”Lips and cheek augmentation are very, very common with the girls prior to the formal and graduation.”

I honestly don’t know where to start with this. I mean what do you say to parents who think like this?

Here are three of my initial thoughts:

1. If your daughter has issues with her self esteem so serious that the only way to address them is with surgery, then what kind of parent makes her jump through academic hoops in order to get it?

2. If your daughter is only motivated to do well academically by the prospect of having needles inserted into her face, what messages have you been sending her about learning, identity and self worth?

3. Or perhaps I am so out of touch with what’s going on, that I really need to get with the program before my daughter graduates in which case I reckon I’ve got about 12 years to work this parenting thing out.

Parenting is hard. But some parents – and Society as a whole – make it harder than it needs to be.