Sunday, 2 June 2013

How to create SOLE in Year Nine Education

The tyrannical teens:  a guide to the Ten Tenets of the Teen Condition.

Or how to develop SOLE in your program.
The secret of eternal youth is arrested development.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884 - 1980)

Don’t you just cringe when you hear those, usually aging white Anglo-Celtic conservative voting republican or Capital L Liberals Christians (am I stereotyping so early in an opinion piece?), who start a rant or monologue with “kids these days” or “when I was their age…..?” Well, let’s think about this.
Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers….
Of course this is a well-recognised, loved and used quote usually attributed to Socrates or Plato from around 400BC and it seems to find more favour in older folk like, well, us! The point being that in reality, the teen condition or “psycho-social” stage of development of the teen is as old as humanity itself. It is the industrial and post-industrial response to it and how society is organised that is making trouble for us and “them”.
If we think briefly about the industrial period mentioned above, it may be helpful to explain these circumstances. There have been several “revolutions” in human history. They all revolve more or less around these fundamental discoveries:

·                     Development of implements and then (Powered) machinery are considered the most important change in the various revolutions and ages (stone, bronze, iron) and Industrial Revolution, without these it would not have happened.
·                     The Factory System, concentration of a workforce in one place and the dismantling of subsistence and then serf systems. The then development of a Disciplined-based workforce. De-skilling. Skilled labour, mostly male, replaced by women and children.
·                     New Towns. Factories located near power supplies, water, coal. New social arrangements
·                     Cheap goods. Mass production brought about a massive reduction in costs. The quality of factory produced goods was often better than the hand-produced equivalent.
·                     New types of job. Engineers. Factory managers. Knowledge worker in 21st century.

Within these changes we can identify similar changes in recent industrialisation that are still affecting us today such as the knowledge and communication revolutions. It should be noted that there have been power revolutions that have included, if we went back to antiquity, the discovery of fire, then in industrial times to steam, electricity and more recently gasoline and maybe soon more sustainable forms. The rest flows on.

What isn’t often referred to is the development of communication: think of the earliest guttural utterances of our friend, Arg, in his cave. Actually not too different to that that emerges from my kids or our students. But, as language developed, so did commerce and trade and with the development of trade came a need for numeracy and accountability and so on.
Have a look at the Armstrong and Miller Show show cave-man film clip here.

See link to YouTube:

The stone-age did not end because of a lack of stones! Nor has the teenage condition ended due to a lack of teens! Nor has it ended or begun due to the changes the social and industrial arrangements of contemporary society.
The reason I briefly explain this potted history of the world is to put in perspective that the teen condition has remained a psychological and physiological stage of development that has not resulted from the post-industrial time. Further, it is worth considering the impact of this on education systems per se.

Our current education system is the product of the post-industrial, colonial-empire model of the world and is founded on constructs of the age of enlightenment. The empire was an astounding time in humanity: the colonial world built the world’s largest computer at that time: the bureaucracy! Bureaucrats and the system they served were a fundamental part of the success of the colonial era. Information could be processed and passed-on, albeit initially in writing and on paper then subsequently using telegraphy and decisions made that were consistent anywhere in the colonial world. It was the internet of the time.
That internet of that time needed fresh and renewable components and the system that was created to feed the system was the mass and unilateral education system as we know it today. The bureaucracy needed literate and numerate nodes (OK, people!) who could be placed anywhere in the empire and read, write, communicate and interpret directives. It didn’t matter that the person was educated in New Zealand, Norfolk, Sydney or Bombay. It was the age of enlightenment and those who “knew” had the tasks of opening the lids of the heads of those who need the information poured into it to have it filled-up! The “system” was hungry for components.

The education system of the time was created to fill that need that 18th and 19th century model to feed the growing needs of the bureaucratic empire. It didn’t matter that it was English, French, German or Dutch, the system was basically appropriated from Germany or more specifically Bismarck’s Prussia. So if you wonder why we still persist with ringing bells, disciplined-based learning arrangements and groupings based on year-of-manufacture (birth date), it’s due to an industrial model of education: blame it on the Prussians! No, blame it on us for maintaining it and continuing to feed the hungry beast that is our “system” whether that is capitalist, empire, colonial or post-modern!
So where did the teens go in all this? They went to work, essentially, as soon as possible and of course initially in small places where their physical size was an advantage! Up chimneys, inside boilers, inside ships hulls to hold rivets and all the horrible tasks that the industrial age could use them for. All that transition and “it takes a village to raise a kid” notion was lost.

Traditionally, as in traditional cultures, the era of the “teen” per se was a short period of time, a few years at most due to the burden of the growing increasingly hungry and unproductive person on a family or society. Families and communities could not afford to have dependent young adults who behaved like kids. They needed them to become independent and productive, and reproductive I might add! There needed to be a definitive and clear point at which a person became an adult and was expected to behave as an adult. Here’s how it was done.
In almost all traditional cultures everywhere across the globe, adolescents marked the transition by significant rituals. They often undertook difficult journeys into the natural and unfamiliar environment with significant adult mentors at about “that age”, teenage or adolescence. They learnt the ways of their world, undertook dangerous, physical and emotional challenges. It might have involved a “vision quest”, the “conquering of a local physical obstacle, a mountain, jumping from a tower with vines attached to one’s feet and so on. It is currently known as a rite of passage. The term rite of passage was coined by Belgian folklorist Arnold Van Gennep (1960) to describe ritualized transition between significant life stages. Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, Van Gennep divided the ceremonies associated with such transitions into three categories: rites of separation, describing the passage out of a previous form or social category; rites of transition, emphasizing an ambiguous threshold phase which he termed the liminal stage; and rites of incorporation, stressing the re-entry into a new and clearly defined stage or phase. Van Gennep argued that this triplicate pattern provides an underlying ritual structure with an unvarying sequence, stating “the underlying arrangement is always the same. Beneath a multiplicity of forms, either consciously expressed or merely implied, a typical pattern always recurs: the pattern of the rites of passage”[1]

Society today as a rule does not provide this ritual delineation from child to adult. Education today needs to provide teenagers with a rite of passage. That should be the fundamental aim of the teenage education programs for this age group. Later, I shall share some key observations of what to include in that educational rite of passage, and why. It is about creating SOLE in education!


The rite of passage has clearly defined stages around preparation, separation and reintegration and all need to be marked ceremonially and with rituals. They need to be explicit and wonderful! We know what teens do when we do not provide rituals and ceremony, rites and scarring for them, they (as in teenagers) do it themselves. They do it as teenagers can, usually a little dangerously, riskily, often inappropriately and secretly. They pierce themselves and cover themselves in body art as an external expression of their coming of age and departure from childhood. They all try to look the same to express their individuality! It involves pain! How romantically antiquated and prehistoric! They train surf, they get drunk, binge-drink, dabble with drugs and all the stuff that a poorly developed frontal lobe will NOT discourage them to do!
One vital and important part of the rite is the “liminal” stage. The time of “limbo”. Actually my blog spot is called Liminal Learning so if you are keen to read more of my thoughts type that into your favourite search engine[2]. Liminality is something we see teens doing almost on a daily basis, by themselves and is usually the reason we hear teachers and parents plead with me to “fix them up”, something is wrong. Well, actually, this is normal teen behaviour, they are actually neurologically in limbo and it is not helped by the numbing curriculum being dealt them. See Ted Talks Sir Ken Robinson![3]

Teen years at school need to be renamed as PIVOTAL Years. We have to get this right. We must have a PIVOTAL year’s program that takes account of the neurological stage of development, the Liminality of their emotional and developmental state and that takes them explicitly through the stages and out the other side to functional adult-like behaviour or social competence. The successful completion of the “rite” would allow progression into the stage of life we call adulthood, with expectations of adult-like behaviours, speech, attitudes and values. Great rituals and marking, often physical marking and scarring should take place. Amazingly, traditional cultures recognized this stage and dealt with it very quickly and effectively: as noted, they couldn’t afford to have hungry demanding half-men and half-women dependent on the community for long!

To successfully address the PIVOTAL Years’ needs, education needs to recognise the psycho-social stage of adolescence and respond accordingly. Later, I will introduce the Ten Tenets of Tyrannical Teens as the basis of how to organise your SOLE: Socially Organised Learning Environments. Yes, education today needs SOLE to address the Pivotal Years.
As the Alpine School has operated for the last ten years, a research relationship has developed and thrived with Monash University, Gippsland. A number of academic papers have been published on the outcomes of that research, which has primarily been scrutinising outcomes of the program in terms of leadership, self-efficacy, student perceptions, leadership, and parent opinion among others. The papers have been developed around a range of contemporary educational constructs. They are all published, reviewed and available.

What has become increasingly apparent with the progress of the Alpine School is that a core academic and moral purpose has become much more clearly defined. The construct that has become part of the school’s educational discourse has involved these key factors:

·                     The middle years of school for most students are a tumultuous time in psycho-social-neuro development and the education system has in most part struggled to meet these needs or provide this as the core of the moral purpose.

·                     Middle year’s learners are often characterised by the need to undertake integrated learning based on an enquiry model, self-directed, with tangible action outcomes. This is the model of Community based learning that has been the cornerstone of the Alpine model of curriculum. This model essentially is more engaging and encourages the enquiry and ingenuity which is a characteristic of the adolescent developing brain. It is also a very social learning model, again an essential characteristic of the adolescent learner whose need to belong and contribute to the tribe is inherent.

·                     Students have been at school for ten years at this stage of their educational journey and are often disengaged due to the repetition inherent in that system.

·                     The author uses the metaphor of long service leave as appropriate for the middle-years students, for the same reasons we value it as an industry construct. They’ve been at it for ten years and deserve a break!

·                     Adolescent psychologists describe the need for connection with significant adult role models at this age and stage of life: many students attach themselves to and idolise various rock stars, athletes, teachers, scout leaders or youth group leaders and sporting personalities at this age. If a connection is not made that is meaningful, adolescents can often make inappropriate connections. Similarly, inappropriate predator behaviour capitalises on this need and drive in teens to seek to associate with an adult role model.

·                     Adolescents seek to belong and comply for the most part at this stage, be members of and accepted by “the tribe”. If an appropriate “tribe” lead by the adult mentor noted above is not found, adolescents can associate with inappropriate tribes, gangs, mobs and meet the need in these ways. It is difficult for an education system to meet that need in its current construct. Adolescents will seek out membership of a tribe and seek out their own ritual passage if we as an education system do not provide it.

·                     In meeting that need to belong and be mentored, it appears that part of the need of adolescents is a requirement to undertake a significant ritualism in some way to prove and become acceptable to the “tribe”. (Note, I have read a paper on Incarceration of Indigenous males in NT describing this as the “new rite of passage” for these young men in these communities). This has become widely described as a “rite of passage”, as noted above. Indeed, many traditional societies and communities recognised this and the needs were met by the adolescent undertaking a significant journey away from the home community with significant non-family adult mentors. These journeys often involved ritualism, sharing of knowledge pertinent to gender and place, and may have been in some part unpleasant or even painful, involving cicatrisation or ritual scarring to prove the requirements of the journey had been met.

·                     Upon return to the community, the adolescents were normally welcomed as adults and expected to behave and contribute as such to the community. Ritualization of the return was critical to the completion and return.

What has become apparent to the author after observing the progress of the Alpine School and the through-put and output over ten years is that a rite of passage does indeed take place in the progress of a student through the program. Further research[4] has revealed precious little in-depth research on the topic, not surprisingly as the residential experience of education is still relatively small. In developing the SOLE, a Rite of Passage is a crux of the experience. However, the discussions and research, plus personal experience suggest a rite of passage has three characteristics:

·                     Separation from that which is familiar, family, community and the normal and expected support structures for that young person.

·                     A “liminal" stage, or the time of “limbo”. Limbo is an apt description of the stage that is the centre of the rite of passage experience. It is the time of transformation, and as a school that purports to provide leadership education, this is the crux of the experience or our core moral purpose. In this transformational stage, the adolescent is literally deconstructed, their very world and belief/value structure challenged and reformed. This is the essence of transformational leadership. It is this rather than the teaching of, for example leadership models or leadership styles, that is the core of leadership education!

·                     The third characteristic of a rite involves reintegration to that place and community from which the person has come. This is the significantly challenging period as the realignment of a ritualistically transformed adolescent into the pre-existing home/school/friendship/life situation can cause a great deal of anxiety, upheaval and distress for the young person. It is sometimes described as a re-birthing, with the pain associated with a “birth”.

·                     This reintegration phase is often the stage schools struggle to deal with. It is partly from a misunderstanding that from the experience the student has been “fixed-up” or the work has already been done while away. Our research has shown that the reintegration has to happen after the separation stage and at a time of reconstruction into the normal life, not while away. Schools need to reframe the expectation of the returning student (in much the same way society has had to reframe the expectation of a returning soldier after a period of war: research into this phenomenon is current in Nth America with Outward Bound working with dysfunctional returned servicemen and women, and in Israel with post compulsory military service).

So all this information is rather fascinating to be sure, but WHAT is it we as educators need to specifically do? Elsewhere in another paper I have authored I refer to NAPLAN being replaced by NAPE testing-National Assessment Program Engagement. That would help for a start, begin testing and measuring engagement rather than the outcomes of education which should be literate, numerate and socially competent young adults.
But the key for schools and us now is to create for teens what I call SOLEs: Socially Organised Learning Environments. They can happen and do happen in schools and I think the School for Student Leadership does have SOLE as a core of its operation and belief and value systems. I would like to share then the ten tenets for tyrannical teens in arranging a SOLE.

1.                   Teens are social learners. They love being together. The reason they go to school is not because math (I might offend all the math teachers in the audience therefore stereotyping math as a subject majority of students hate whereas the subject hatred is usually linked to the teacher and the delivery!) is so engaging. When we establish learning programs they it needs to be addressing the fact that teens love to be together. They are tribal. They want to express their rugged individuality by looking and sounding the same as each other. Actually this trait disappears in latter teen life only to reappear in mid-life crisis as middle-aged men express their individuality by buying Harley-Davidson Motorcycles and all trying to look the same-AGAIN!. In fact, the teen boy predisposition to growing breasts and fatty deposits around their girth at puberty, which does disappear, returns at forty!

a.                   What we need to do is create learning and co-dependency in the operation of the instructional model.

b.                  SOLE schools will and do recognise and capitalise on the social drive that teens have. They want to be together! Separate them form others and keep us all safer!

c.                   This can create safe places, boundaries, edges and containment.

d.                  Schools and facilities need to have hierarchies of spaces that allow for transition into and out of larger and smaller places that both unambiguously provide cues to acceptable behaviour and yet require students to think about their behaviour in them.

e.                  We have an opportunity, especially in residential and outdoor educational settings, to provide links and parallels with spaces, behaviours, dress, language, mores, volume, actions, proximity, intimacy and more!

f.                    This opportunity to provide learning and instruction, either explicitly or experientially, is unique! The instructional model is about CODE SWITCHING.

g.                   Code switching is a sophisticated response that most adults can read and respond to but teens need explicit facilitation or instruction about.

h.                  In a SOLE school, students will learn and know what language to use, when they can swear and with whom, what clothes to wear (or not as in the case of showering of course!), how loud to speak, how to or if to hit on someone or if not there and then where and how…and so on.

i.                     The capitalisation of the social learning predisposition has been at odds with traditional modes of educational delivery: that Prussian-Colonial model described earlier. This model tends to subjugate and crush individuality and separate and divide subjects. Integrated curriculum!

2.                   Students love rituals, and ceremonies. Use rituals. Make them up if necessary. Society hinges on birth, marriage, puberty, onset of menses, ceremonies that punctuate our lives are equally important to teens. Think of Hogwarts and Harry Potter: teens love the thought of being part of the tribe and belonging especially if it is slightly edgy or naughty.

a.                   Mark and punctuate significant events with rituals. It is decidedly difficult for teens to express themselves at the best of times, let alone when it comes to new and awkward social and emotional issues. Guide them through these with communal rites: I love the recent rock/stick/leave idea for departure ceremony at our council fire provided by one of my staff. “Bring a stick to represent what I am going to stick with, bring a rock representing what was hard and a leaf to represent what I’m going to leave behind”.

b.                  Play games and invent them to demonstrate the difficult to explain: we’ll show you a couple. See below. We will do some!

c.                   Use fires, circles, dress-up, capes, appropriate concepts (appropriately) from cultures you are familiar with. I use a lot of Canadian First Nation rituals and constructs and explain that is where they came from.

d.                  Australian Indigenous culture has many constructs and ideas that are accessible for use in schools. They also provide an opportunity to share cultural artefacts and practices.

e.                  Most of all make them fun and enjoyable!

3.                   Teens are religious and say a special, secret prayer every day. I can now reveal that prayer to you. “Please god, don’t let anything embarrassing happen to me today”. Do stuff that takes them into their discomfort gradually. Set-up real-life circumstances that allow them to try on the new sets of clothes and identities in safe social settings.

a.                   . Developing resilience in our kids? Take a bit of a ‘well what’s the worst thing that can happen’ approach with students so that in the event of not succeeding it isn’t seen as the end of the world. The adults in their lives need to be able to have a laugh too, particularly at themselves, and not cringe, pull faces and be vocally judgemental. Yep sure there is a time and place to have conversations about choices- open, honest conversations, not hypocritical (the old do as I say not as I do) type conversations. It’s difficult because we want our children to forge their own identities, to be individuals (or not), to make their own choices- we need to listen- different from hearing- and as in times past share our own stories warts and all without it ending up as a ‘when I was your age’ monologue- not an easy thing to do.

b.                  Teen suicide is an issue too which is why resilience needs to be factored in- how often do you hear of the young man who splits with the GF and is found hanging the next day (rural Australia is notorious for this type of permanent solution to ‘temporary’ setbacks)


4.                   NDD is real. Read Richard Louv’s work and apply the learning from Louv’s work in your program. The crux of Louv’s work is around reconnecting young people with the natural world, or counter to this is addressing the disconnection from the natural world that the contemporary post-industrial society and the resultant structures have created. How many readers have become familiar with Richard Louv and his construct on Nature Deficit Disorder? The more we compartmentalise, control, disconnect and dehumanise kids and their learning, the more sick they get. Sounds like Sir Ken Robinson…They get sick of school, too. We have to stop ordering and stage-managing kids’ lives. They need to get dirty, they need to play and they need to do it now. They need to do it for real and not on line and not through an app. They need to stop being delivered especially in year or grade nine, stuff that is not relevant and will not help them on their journey to becoming a man or woman and being socially competent, or custodians, or just being well! Get this book and read it: Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Then leave it on the staffroom table. Build reading and understanding it into every performance plan of every teacher.

Richard and Sir Ken (Sir Ken Robinson’s RS Animate)

We are delivering a dull content that is disengaging and numbing kids in an era when they are amped-up and rearing to go. We anesthetise them with sometimes terrible pedagogy or dull content. We ask them the stupid questions that we know the answers to…….and success is determined by the individual’s ability to regurgitate ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ that is acceptable to the person who ‘judges’ their work.


OK, so a teaching in a year 8 class asks the kid at the back “What’s the capital of France”? If they are lucky they might get back “F”. If they are not careful they’ll get back “Gee miss, I wish I had your problems……….”


And we tell them not to ask the answer of their friend because that is cheating-in life its called collaboration. And then when they get too excited we have a drug regime prescribed just in case they don’t comply and call them ADD….see YouTube clip of this student telling the teacher a thing or two![5]

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the current trend that Louv identifies is deeply related to the next discussion about the urbanisation of the world population. Increasingly young people are becoming sick as a result of the disconnection from the natural world, says Louv. The trend away from Outdoor Education is disturbing: it is currently overlooked in the National Curriculum, as I understand. Are we becoming so risk averse that getting kids into the outdoors is now too dangerous? Is the trend toward testing and scores so important that we program every moment of a young man’s or woman’s day? Is it because we apparently cannot measure on metrics the benefits of Outdoor education that it is becoming less important? When we are disconnected from the natural world, we acquire illnesses of contemporary society like depression. “Suicide was the 15th most common cause of death in 2011 and the 10th leading cause for males. Males account for approximately three quarters of suicide deaths and it remains the leading cause of death for males aged 15-44”[6]. The prognosis for young men with severe depression and bi-polar disorder is in my recent experience as bad or worse that someone with the likes of cancer. And, unfortunately, the pathology of cancer for example is far more easily identified and removed than that of depressive illnesses. Depression is such an unglamorous illness. The implications of disconnecting young people from the natural world in terms of real world, holistic wellbeing, is measureable, Louv has the data to support this. Kids get sick and depressed when separated from the natural world, from un-programmed play, from such incidental interactions with the natural world or nature per se.

If it is considered too dangerous to expose our students to the outdoors, then I ask that we do some serious analysis on the death-rate due to suicide in young people that may be attributable to disconnection: from possibly the things that I believe can make them well, that Louv identifies and Sir Ken addresses.

Let’s look at the current world situation. The nature of the world is urban:

o        80% of the world population lives in cities.

o        The 20% who don’t live in cities retain 80% of the diversity of language and live in and connect with the most bio-diverse environments in the world.

o        Nearly 50% of Australians live in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane!

My dear friend and researcher in Calgary Alberta, David Lertzman, is publishing research on the correlation between linguistic, cultural and environmental diversity. You can’t save one without them all. These concepts and constructs are not mutually exclusive. You tackle one you tackle them all. His work takes him between the marginalised northern Alberta First Nation communities and bands on reservations directly impacted by the oil-sands extraction there. This is juxtaposed by his work with Amazon first nation people in Brazil and the impact of timber and other extractive industries.

If we pursue the Louv construct, is this what has happened to Maslow?

5.                   Teens focus on “having”, the immediate need to acquire and possess. They want to HAVE it all as soon as possible. The focus needs to be made to “be” and “do” as the transitions to “having”. If we can change the focus for teens onto what you have to “do” and what you have to “be”

a.                   Create classes and activities that focus on the future self that are about being and doing rather than accumulating or having. Be socially competent, do your homework, be organised, be on time, do your duties and so on. Then teens will have the respect and admiration they deserve and want.
6.                   We need to give teenagers responsibility. Curriculum needs to be project-based and have real, tangible outcomes. Some call it authentic curriculum. The devil makes work for idle hands! When any of us have responsibility taken away, the result is we behave irresponsibly. The ultimate expression of this is institutionalisation of long-term inmates of prisons or other state-controlled institutions. Similarly, in our programs, we need to set-up students to become independent not dependent on us. Therefore, a good deal of the program time with us needs to focus on departure and return. We need to get that right while they are with us.

a.                   The counter punch is the risk of mistakes, of the shirkers, the under-the-radar flyers. Keep them visible and accountable. Have faith in the strength of the community and the strong sense of social justice….next point indeed!

 7.                   Teens have a highly tuned sense of justice, want to make a difference and learn by doing. Teens have highly tuned antenna about when things “are not fair”, when somebody has had a miscarriage of justice perpetrated on them or someone else. It is imperative to be able to clearly explain ones thinking when it comes to addressing behaviours.

a.                   Have a set of organisational or community values established. Use activities to establish the values and make it into a compact/contract/MOU and have all student participants sign the document. Display in publicly and refer to it. Have your staff walk the talk too- nothing gets up their noses more than them having to do xyz and the ‘adults’ then doing the exact opposite!

b.                  Establish a student council or justice system. Get them to sit and assist in ascertaining behaviour, indiscretions, and punitive processes.

c.                   Be able to explain your decisions. Think out aloud so to speak so students understand how you arrived at a point of view.

8.                   Teenage attention span is their age plus three in minutes. Lessons and learning times need to be grouped around these times. Make breaks regular. Do many things at once or one thing at a time: decide this based upon the individuals.

a.                   Windows OS and iOS are great platforms for allowing kids today to multi-task.

b.                  However, like all of us, kids have preferred and priority tasks: most see iTunes as the priority task although it is in fact the preferred task!

c.                   Chunk information. Keep on one topic and delineate the change in idea.

d.                  Take time to allow responses. Film yourself teaching. Audit who you question and how. Time with a stopwatch the period from asking a question to answering it yourself! Mostly we do this: we rarely allow enough time to allow a question to be processed in a students’ mind and then for them to formulate a response. How many times have we heard a student respond, when asked, “Sorry I didn’t hear you”? Plenty! What are they saying? They are religious (see rule above) and do not want to be embarrassed or it is less embarrassing to admit this than answer incorrectly OR they really DID NOT HEAR? And you know why they did not hear? Because they have limited or less capacity to listen/process/comprehend/formulate an opinion/raise hand/put idea into comprehendible speech….THEY DO NOT HEAR!

e.                  We adults do the same thing- how often have we gone to a conference and nobody wants to answer the question for fear of being ‘wrong’ in front of their peers and colleagues- maybe I am the exception!


9.                   Catch them doing the right thing and see it for yourself. Choose the battle-no kid in my experience, ever died of a dirty or untidy bedroom for example. Make the battles worth it: don’t disregard the issues, but choose when to have them and what to make the big issue about. If we escalate the small stuff into big issues, for example make a huge fuss over a small transgression like swearing or such, what will you do/ where do you go when something REALY big happens.

a.                   It is so easy to only see the stuff teens do that drives US MAD! They leave stuff everywhere, they are late, they talk inappropriately, they respond rudely if at all, they stay up late and get out of bed late, they do not plan for the stuff they need tomorrow, they forget what they did today, they don’t plan for next week or next term let alone tomorrow, they day dream,….all the stuff that PLATO noted! That’s why our parents in our school are so happy for us to somehow “fix them up” as if this is all an incredible pox on the teens that needs some medication administered to cure it.

b.                  All the stuff we see is NORMAL TEENAGE BEHAVIOUR. Keep this in mind: it doesn’t mean it’s ok or acceptable, but it is not personal. It is not done as a morning pact to get to you. They say the Morning Prayer but not the morning list of people to annoy that day. Take them to task and sometimes step over the jocks and socks. Remember, annoying to many of us as it is, no kid died of an untidy bedroom!

c.                   We acknowledged this in our program and recognised that the floordrobe was more used than the wardrobe. We just didn’t bother with them at our second and third campuses. We provide fish-bins that sometimes contain items of clothing, sometimes ordered and sometimes organised. Sometimes the clean-up involved shovelling the pile from the floor into the fish bin.

d.                  The main point is shift the eye and one’s attention to the good stuff that is done, the improvements, the things that are better. I am justifiably accused from my own kids of never seeing the good stuff they do (god I do look hard sometimes to find it!) but we cloud our view of our students by focusing on their attention to ADLs (activities of daily living). Does it matter if their shoes are untied, wrong laces, unbrushed hair…?

e.                  Choose the battle. If we make a huge ado about the socks and jocks, what do we do when something really important happens? Where do we go?


10.               The Teen experience is now a 10-plus year protracted event-no SAGA! We need to do something in society to punctuate it and mark the end of childhood and the start of adulthood. We need to circumvent the self-administered rites that teens today subscribe to mark their ritual progression. With the adult opportunities there needs to be a closer link to the adult responsibilities and obligations. We have opportunities in our programs to make closer links to adult-like behavioural expectations and mores. We also need to model those and explicitly instruct them. We need to use rituals and ceremonies more effectively following experiences, to signify the end of one phase and the start of another.

a.                   It is not practically possible to foreshorten the teen experience but it is possible to create SOLE in our schools that will deliberately and explicitly focus on the rite of passage that is the transition from child to adult.

b.                  Why not test it? I propose the NAPLAN become NAPE-National Assessment Program ENGAGEMENT.

c.                   DO something different in education, do it tomorrow when you get back. Be bold and be excited.

d.                  Have gender-specific activities and focuses in the program that converge on “what it is to be a man or woman” discussions. Be bold and brave in curriculum and instructional design.

e.                  Year nine students have only been at school in the 21st Century. Let’s give ‘em some 21st Century learning!

In summary: things have got to change. Schools have to change. Why can’t we learn anywhere anytime? Why do kids have to spend set times at schools on set days? Why do we still subscribe a post-industrial, Prussian model of education?

Create the school and program that is SOLE for teens: a social organised learning environment. Do it by following the ten tenets;

1.                   Recognise that teens love being together, have diverse social and emotional needs, need to get away from what they have been doing for ten years at school, has complex real-life issues as part of the learning, has adult-like responsibilities, creates celebrations and rituals and encourages special relationships with adults outside family.

2.                   Use rituals and ceremony to mark events, times, successes and weigh-points in experiences. Make then fun and authentic, genuine and with certificates!

3.                   Create resilience in the students by deliberate and uncomfortable circumstances that students have to respond to. These should be then facilitated to reflect potential real-life situations.

4.                   Connect young people with the nature world. Create opportunities for unstructured play. Be in beautiful places and use them for reflection time: we call it “Spirit Spot”. Read Last Child in the Woods.

5.                   Shift the focus for teens from the immediate and “have” to the “what do I have to be and do”. Use good goal setting and facilitated processes to do this.

6.                   Make curriculum engaging and connected. Give them real responsibility.

7.                   Set up student justice committees, council chambers, decision making bodies. Show them fun and tangible processes to make decisions and learn processes that may be transferable to later life and that outside school life.

8.                   Understand attention spans in teens. Chunk learning and allow time to consider and answer. AND ask valid and true questions that you as teacher do not know the answer to and WAIT for the answer! Be liberal and contemporary in the approach to use of technology BUT by the same token set boundaries and limits.

9.                   Don’t beat them up over everything…I am so guilty of this. Tyr TRY to see the great stuff they do and acknowledge them. Choose the time to point out the bad stuff. Don’t descend to the “and while I’m on it, let’s talk about the other ten things I hate about you” syndrome….At school, as a teacher, it is so easy to be the emotional coke-bottle that every teen gives a shake and it’s the last one that cops the wrath!

10.               Do something in your program that focuses on rites. Make it clear that there is a destination and outcome to what is happening and that is the rest of your life as an adult!

The way to create SOLE in education, Socially Organised Learning Environments, is to follow the above principals. Make school like life, the preferred place to be. Give education SOLE! You can do it, do it NOW!

Mark Reeves.



                Here is a brief summary and lesson plan for a couple of the activities.


Let’s do something active. This will require participation and action. Sounds like curriculum should be Heh?! Today we are going to do some NAPLAN practice. We will focus on geometric shapes. Firstly Circles then Triangles, lastly matrices…..

The Circle of Life

Using the 15m long, tubular climbing sling that you conveniently have in your pack, and the culturally appropriate spear, we are ready to go. Check your sling knot!


1.                   Arrange the sling on the ground in the circle you wish the group to make and stab the spear into the ground in the centre of the circle. It needs to be a tubular climbing sling 15m in length tied with a tape-know.

2.                   Get the group to form a circle and hold the climbing sling. They are SO strong a group of 30 or 40 will not break it

3.                   Lean back hold on, feel the stretch of the sling and the balance of the group.

4.                   Let the group wave and wallow in and out.

5.                   Ask the group to focus on keeping the spear in the centre of the circle. Lean back, keep the focus on the spear.

6.                   Begin a monologue along these lines…

a.                   I want to take you on a mind journey…..close your eyes…

b.                  We are a circle gathered together today here held and supported by each other and the fabric of the sling.

c.                   The sling may represent the social bonds and social capital that unites and forms or defines our communities, families, societies and world.

d.                  Lean back and feel how we support each other.

e.                  Try to focus on the spear, the circle the support.

f.                    Life is a circle. We end in the same place we started.

g.                   The world is a circle, roughly, spinning in a roughly circular orbit around our circular sun. Most terrestrial bodies move in roughly circular orbits apart from their gravitational attractions.

h.                  When a society is in balance, it supports and can cope with the disruption of subversion or adversity. Here we can ask one person to try to take the group in another direction by themselves by pulling or pushing. No way. The ring will not move.

i.                     Ask those with a common birth month (November?) for example to try to take the group in another direction. Because they are dispersed and uncoordinated, they will be ineffective.

j.                    Talk about the fact that our very being and life is maintained by a “circulatory system” that moves our life blood round and round.

k.                   Now ask someone to go into the middle and move the spear off-centre. Get the whole group to focus on the new position of the spear and, staying tight and connected, move themselves and consequently the whole circle into a position such that the spear is now again the centre of the circle.

l.                     The group will move, magically, silently, into a position such that the spear is centre.

m.                Question this phenomenon in relation to group goals, to clarity of purpose, to focus and centred common belief. Let participants explore their feelings about this event.

n.                  There may be other facilitated discussions that can come out of this experience.

o.                  Some will now complain that the tape is hurting their hands: use this as a metaphor for the pain and effort required to maintain a community and the circle of our lives and connection.

p.                  Explore and enjoy this simple activity with such simple props!

The triangle-the strongest shape in geometry and society!

1.                   Identify two people on other tables around the room. Note who they are and where. Anyone, particularly two unfamiliar but intriguing people. Make them people unknown to you, one of different gender. Don’t let them know. It is a secret.

2.                   Are you all familiar with an equilateral triangle?

a.                   Well done, you are mouthing that it has equal side lengths, equal internal angles that all add up to 1800

3.                   Pretend you are viewing this triangle from above, a birds-eye view.

4.                   With you as one point in the triangle, and unbeknown to the other two identified people, you must now accept this challenge to arrange yourselves into a perfect equilateral triangle.

5.                   You will need to get up and move.

6.                   The other two identified people will not yet know you have chosen them to be your corners.




There will be minutes of chaos, some will be noisy, some will not participate and just manipulate the situation so it is “easy” them, others will comply and try, and try and keep trying and eventually give up. Some will just do it so it is close enough.


I facilitate this activity by pretending I have a triangle APP on my iPhone and will measure the accuracy of the triangles….do whatever it is fun!


When it has gone on long enough (you will know it’s long enough because they will pretend to have completed the task and in reality it can’t ever be complete….), call it to an end. Some groups will keep moving and moving and moving…frustrating for all.


What’s the point? If possible, move about the room and ask for opinions, reactions, interpretations…


They will be something at least like this and maybe more depending on the group age and motivation:

·                     Stupid they won’t stay still

·                     I can’t control them

·                     Why don’t they behave

·                     Someone moves over there and caused my ally to move….

·                     The group keeps moving and so on….


The purpose of this activity is manifold! Triangles are the strongest shape in engineering/math or whatever, and also the strongest shape in community.


Triangles and this activity represent the fact that even though you think you can control the others, maybe community or international opinions, they are free agents whose movement and location is not determined by your values or position but are influenced by things so far out of your control. However, despite this, we are connected and whatever we do has a profound and direct or indirect influence elsewhere.


Look at this picture of my beautiful bike. The world and life is a circle, our lives are a circle, the earth and the sun are circles circulating around an endless universe and the very life blood within us is a circulatory system. It’s all held together by the strength of the connections of triangles! Have a look at my bike:

Now, have a look at the basic front page of our current favourite international connection tool:


We are connected and our curriculum needs to recognise this quick smart.

Community Web Activity.

Aim: To undertake an engaging, kinaesthetic and concrete activity to help explain an esoteric construct of community and leadership.

An excellent end of week one activity to pre-empt the Community Agreement and Peer Skills Classes.

Can be undertaken in half an evening class. Could also be redone with core or expo teams. Works well in smaller groups individually rather than in pairs. Ideally 15 to 20 participants or pairs works.

Need:  at least 4X30 meters of about 9 or 10 mm soft nylon rope. Super Cheap Auto has it. Scrap paper, pens for each. Unfurl the rope and roll up on a spool so when it is laid it is quick and without tangles! This is important to move the elaborate phase quickly to maintain momentum.

Engage: Form the group into a circle. The activity can be done in the dining room of all campuses if weather is foul. Play a circle clap game, circle thumbs game, pass the hand squeeze game, hokey-pokey. Fun and active.

Explore: Sit in the circle. Talk briefly about the concept of community: We are living in one. Don’t dwell too long; let the activity and the long program do that over time. This is an introductory powerful activity that can be referred to again and again. Ask the students to identify a series of action or inactions, beliefs, values, attitudes, words or verbalisations that one can see that help us identify a healthy community. We will call these concepts or constructs.

Explain: Alone first, write down the top five concepts you feel need to be in a community for it to be healthy. It may take a prompt to get it going: ask a pre-warned staff member in the class with you. They will helpfully answer “Respect”! Perfect. Explain how important respect is in a healthy community. Let students now go to write down their top five. They will then pair this to a paired top five. Need to do so with a group of 45, it’s too big otherwise. 20 or so is a great size.

Go around the group. Start at the student leader, as good as anywhere! When they share their concept, maybe it is honesty for example, allow the group to agree this is a good concept, and get the pair to write it nice a big on the sheet so it can be seen.

Continue around the group. If an already used concept is suggested, ask the pair to go to their number two, or number three and so on. We will end up with 20 or more great concepts that they have identified.

Elaborate: Now the fun starts. Ask the group to agree what is the number one concept for a healthy community. Often it is honesty, respect, equality and so on. Start there. Get the pair to hold the end of the rope. Ask what that number one concept best connects to: e.g. if it is respect, maybe it links to honesty. Take the rope across; get the pair to hold the middle “bite”. Continue to weave the rope across and back and forth until all the concepts are linked, all student pairs have hold of the rope. An impressive web is formed. There will be tugging, laughing, talking, and the web will be bucking and lifting…just don’t trip. It’s all ok!

Now ask the student leader(s) to come out to the middle and lay arms spread on the web. The circle will stand up, pulling their rope-end tight. The person is lifted from the floor! There will be much laughing, yelling, hilarity! Everyone will want a turn.

With a complaint and focussed group, one may then try two student leaders, then swap and see if someone else would like a turn? Up to you, time and focus of the group.

If you have a compliant group who is willing to keep the student elevated, one can then deconstruct the community. As each essential piece is removed, with your descriptions and group comments, the leaders will lower gently to the floor. The “community” has collapsed!


Evaluate: This is where one can facilitate a brief conversation about how it takes a community of functional concepts, behaviours, attitudes, actions/inactions to be linked in a constructive way. Moreover, only a healthy community can support leadership-in this case our student leader.


Good luck, it is a great activity and a powerful activity that will remain with the student long after a discussion is forgotten!



Please use these activities and facilitate them well! Enjoy them and if you like them acknowledge where they came from!

[1] Norris, Julian, 2010. Crossing the Threshold Mindfully: Exploring Rites of Passage Models in Adventure Therapy. PhD Paper, University of Calgary, Albert, Canada.
[4] See Reeves Churchill Fellow report at

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