On Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

‘Gender-neutral’ or ‘mixed-gender’ toilets: A trend that seems to have hit British, Australian and American schools with thunderclap speed, taking even the professionals like me by surprise.

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12-years-ago, when I was last teaching in the UK, this topic wasn’t even a topic. People were happy with toilets the way they were: male and female. A recent spate of moves to appease the transgender community have changed all that, however, with a lot of controversy and anger being stirred-up along the way.

Take this recent story of a new, multi-million dollar school set to open in Brisbane this month. Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will be the first secondary school in Queensland that actually forces students to share the same bathrooms. No male, female or ‘other’: everyone uses the same facilities. The only exception will be the changing rooms, which will contain separate male and female toilets.

This has caused outrage in the local community and in Australia as a whole, with parents, politicians, education experts and members of the public venting their anger on social media and through Australian media outlets:

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element.”

Education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell for The Sunday Mail.

Opposition education leader Jarrod Bleijie made his opinion known via Facebook, stating that “boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school.”


In defense of the school’s gender-neutral policy, an unnamed departmental spokeswoman said the following via Daily Mail Australia:

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meet contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”

I have contacted Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker today with a statement of my concerns regarding the safeguarding of students at her school (particularly teenage girls who will be most affected), along with a request for a reasoned justification behind why the decision to install gender-neutral toilets was made. I shall add her response to this blog post should I receive one.

But what about other countries?

Australia is not the only country in which the common-sense of the masses has clashed with the logic of ‘progressive’ liberals.

Take Deanesfield Primary School (yes, a primary school!) in South Ruislip, West London, where parents launched a petition in September of 2019 in an attempt to ban unisex toilets at the school. Complaints centered around concerns from menstruating girls, who feel like their privacy is invaded when they have to share toilets with boys.

One mother, who has two young daughters at the school, said:

“The cubicles were open at the bottom and top so older pupils can easily climb up the toilets and peer over.”

It’s unclear if complaints have been heeded by the school, and again I shall be e-mailing the school today and should they offer an official response then it shall be posted on this page.

How big is the problem?

Opposition to gender-neutral toilets in schools is so big that this one blog post cannot do the topic justice. Some recent stories that have broke are listed below:

UK Girls Skipping School, Traumatized After Being Forced to Share Toilets with Boys

Gender-neutral toilets don’t help our kids, but threaten them

My thoughts on this issue

A few things:

  1. Schools should always remember that the parents are their key customers. When gender-neutral toilets are introduced in a school, without prior consultation and approval from parents, then a school is acting like a totalitarian dictatorship. I don’t like the arrogance that such schools have when they believe that they do not need to listen to parents – the ultimate, prime educators of their children.
  2. I’ve yet to see any convincing research that suggests that gender-neutral toilets benefit the majority of students at school. I’ll be looking into this further and shall provide a ‘research synopsis’ next week.
  3. Such a tiny minority of school students identify as being ‘transgender’2% in the United States (according to the CDC). Should the majority of students change their routines to appease the minority? How should this minority be catered for in a way that does not negatively affect the majority (e.g. menstruating girls)? The solution, it seems to me, it not to force all students to use gender-neutral toilets but to provide enough ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘mixed-gender’ toilets for students to choose from. Schools will have to keep and maintain official registries of student genders to achieve this, so that only boys can use the boys’ toilets and only the girls can use the girls’ toilets.
  4. I take issue with small children identifying as ‘transgender’ and then the subsequent push by some parents to provide hormonal supplementation and ‘puberty blockers’ to facilitate a sex-change. In some cases, children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated in this way, with many of the risks being largely unknown:

“The bottom line is we don’t really know how sex hormones impact any adolescent’s brain development”

Dr Lisa Simons, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (via Frontline)

If a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse or activity, then how can a child consent to having their sex changed? This is an important question that urgently needs to be answered, otherwise we may see many of these children filing lawsuits against their parents when they reach adulthood. We may also see a rise in mental health issues as these children grow and mature, getting older and wiser along the way.

This leads into a much larger debate that goes beyond the scope of simply the installation of gender-neutral toilets in schools. It goes to the core reasoning behind this latest trend, and warrants further exploration in a future blog post.

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Happy New Year 2020

2019 has been a great year. I’m very grateful to all of the support shown by you: my loyal readers and fans. Some of the highlights of 2019 were as follows:

1. I released a second book for teachers: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback
2. More teachers than ever before read and benefited from the articles on this blog
3. I became a Google Certified Educator (Level 1) – I highly recommend this course for every teacher (check out my blog post on this at https://richardjamesrogers.com/2019/12/29/becoming-a-google-certified-educator/)

2020 projects in the pipeline:

1. I’ll become a Google Certified Educator Level 2 and then a Google Certified Innovator, and I’ll be sure to blog about the process so that others can learn how to do it.
2. My next book: The EdTech Book, will be released.
3. Giveaways of my first two books will happen from May – Aug 2020.
4. More blog posts and more frequent YouTube videos to provide teachers everywhere with practical tips
5. A new podcast will be set up to provide practical tips for teachers.

Happy New Year everyone and thank you for your continued support.

Becoming a Google Certified Educator

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

I’m really pleased and happy to say that I am now officially a Google Certified Educator!

More good news: Any teacher can do it, from anywhere in the world and in this video I show you how:

But, why should you become a Google Certified Educator? Here are a few reasons:

  • It’s really cheap (the Level 1 exam is only $10)
  • It looks amazing on your C.V./resume
  • You’ll pick up some new tips for using G Suite from the exam itself

So, my message this week is simple: Become a Google Certified Educator!

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What Should Teachers do with their Time-Off?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video:

One of the massive perks about being a schoolteacher is that we get loads and loads of holidays. In fact, in my particular case, I’m only actually in school for around 180 days per year. That’s a lot of free time to deal with. 

snacking

So, with this in mind, I find myself asking a rather controversial question: Are we using this free time productively?  

I’ve been lambasted quite viciously in the past for expressing my views on this particular issue. My views haven’t changed, however, so if you’re one of those snowflakes who gets easily triggered, easily offended or who has a nervous breakdown when someone has a different opinion than you, then you might want to stop reading now.

The laziness of it all?

With all of this free time in-hand, I often wonder why more teachers aren’t starting their own businesses, writing books, setting up podcasts, starting up blogs, doing online marketing or anything to better themselves or improve their quality of life. 

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What would Elon Musk, one of the world’s most successful businessmen, do with 185 free days each year? Perhaps this quote from an interview he did (video embedded below) will shed some light on things:

Interviewer:

Did you ever consider retiring?

Elon:

No, not really. I did take a bit of time off. I did reasonably well from Paypal. I was the largest shareholder in the company and we were acquired for about a billion and a half in stock and then the stock doubled. So yeah, I did reasonably well, but the idea of lying on a beach as my main thing, just sounds like the worst – it sounds horrible to me. I would go bonkers. I would have to be on serious drugs. I’d be super-duper bored. I like high intensity – I mean, I like going to the beach for a short period of time, but not much longer than a few days or something like that.

So we can conclude that this formidable titan: some would say an example of what we should all aspire to become, would use 185 days productively. He’d take some short-bursts of time-off, but mostly he’d be working on new projects and new ideas, or furthering current ones. 

An ancient Chinese proverb that keeps me striving and moving ‘forward’ when I have free time is this:

An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold.

Mediocrity breeds more mediocrity?

One core philosophy that I think all teachers agree with is that with enough hard work and effort, our students can become anything they want to become (notwithstanding significant physical and psychological hindrances). 

Surely then, as teachers, we also need to be at the top our game if we are to truly live that message: that a human really can become anything with enough effort. 

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Why then do so many teachers fall short of this principle? So many of us are one-timers: we got a university degree, trained to be a teacher and that was it. Zero significant achievements since then. 

And yet, we expect our students to be excellent. We expect them to make excellent progress. We expect them to use their free time productively. We expect them to aspire, push themselves, have goals and achieve big. 

Maybe it’s about time that we modeled that process. Only then can we really know what excellence is.

As for me, I’m not perfect but I’m no hypocrite either. This Christmas vacation, for which I get three weeks off school, will be divided between a number of tasks. I’ll take a short holiday for a few days, but the rest will be spent becoming a Google Certified Educator, completing a Certificate in Data Science from Berkeley and a number of additional tasks linked to this blog, my books, a new business and things to get me ready for my classes in January (including a rigorous gym schedule). 

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If we’re not advancing personally, then how can we encourage our students to advance?

I’ll post an update at the end of my Christmas vacation, to let you know how I’ve managed. After all, if I’m going to preach the ‘be useful and be productive’ mantra to you, my readers, then I absolutely need to lead by example and practice what I preach. 

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Using Google Apps in Teaching

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Group work and independent study can now be greatly enhanced by technology. Google Suite has really opened up this space by pioneering the development of real-time collaboration via ICT. This week I’d like to share some tips on how to use Google’s super-cool tools in the classroom. 

The Google Suite of services involves a number of apps that students can use for group work, online learning and data processing. The most useful apps that I use in my daily teaching are:

  • Google Classroom: This is a place where the teacher can post assignments, upload resources (including links to websites, YouTube videos, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, etc.) and post questions that the students can comment on. It has a very nice, user-friendly interface and is an absolute blessing when a teacher is absent from school – cover work can be uploaded with ease, and all students will have quick access to that work (and will even receive an e-mail notification every time something new is added to their Google Classroom by the teacher!). It’s a form of Virtual Learning Environment/VLE.
  • Google Slides: Imagine you’re in a group of 5 people, each working on the same slide presentation simultaneously on 5 different computers. You’re all editing the presentation in real time – that’s what Google Slides is, basically. It’s really powerful, and I’ve found that students never grow tired of working in groups to create beautiful presentations. Get your students to present the slides to the class when the project is done and you’ve ticked so many boxes – collaboration, using ICT to enhance learning, leadership skills, courage, and on and on we could go. Just make sure you’re walking around the classroom to check on the students as they are doing the work, and ask the group leader to ‘share’ the work with you (this involves clicking a button, and selecting the teacher’s school Gmail address to share it to).
  • Google Docs: This is similar to Google Slides, albeit with a slight difference: the students collaborate on a word-processed document in real time, rather than a slides presentation. It’s great for producing leaflets, infographics, reports, booklets, summaries and traditional ‘assignments’.
  • Google Sheets: As the name suggests, this is a spreadsheet application that the students can collaborate on in real-time, in groups. As a science teacher I find that this is perfect for data collection and processing as it can be used to generate graphs and charts. It’s also good for keeping lists (e.g. lists of revision websites).
  • Google Forms: Great for surveys and peer-assessment tasks. Students can create forms for other students to fill in, share these forms with their peers, receive responses and the software will even generate pie charts of the responses for quick analysis. It’s a fun way to use ICT to enhance learning, and a quick way to gather interesting data.
  • Google Sites: This is Google’s amazing website creation software. In a matter of a few clicks, students can create their own websites that are securely linked to the school’s G Suite server. I’ve just recently used Google Sites with my Grade 6 students to create ePortfolios. These ePortfolios act as online records/journals where the students can record their reflections on their work, school achievements, extra-curricular activities and photographs of schoolwork they are really proud of. At my school, we plan to use these ePortfolios as an ‘entire’ record, with students adding work to them throughout their time at school. It’s something meaningful that the students can take pride in, and spend significant time developing.

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It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with Google Suite, however, and there a few things to watch out for:

  • When used extensively in a school, the whole suite involves frequent electronic communication between the teachers and students. This can be a little time-consuming, and one has to be careful that students (and you) are using the school’s official e-mail addresses (and, of course, Gmail works best). It’s very easy to inadvertently log in to your personal Gmail, and comment on a student’s Google Slides with it. You also must ensure that students have not created any Google Suite projects using their personal Gmail addresses, otherwise you could inadvertently send an e-mail or message from your school e-mail address to a student’s personal e-mail address.
  • When everyone in the school (students, teachers and admin) are using Gmail, it can be easy to e-mail the wrong person by mistake, especially when you’re in a rush. If you a have a student named Peter, and a colleague named Peter, for example, then if you’re not careful you could end up e-mailing a ‘teacher to teacher’ e-mail to a student. This requires vigilance and although educational technology seems to be gaining pace and speeding up, teachers really do need to slow down when using it to avoid making some silly mistakes.
  • Google Suite is easy to use, but it can be a bit daunting at first. Google does offer online training for teachers at a really low price, and if you pass the course you become a ‘Google Certified Educator’ (now that sounds cool!). Check out teachercenter.withgoogle.com for more information.

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Smartphone Addiction is Destroying Children’s Lives

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Related article: Digital Disaster: Screen Time is Destroying Children’s Health

I’ve been given three Year 7 Computer Studies classes to teach this academic year. It’s been really exciting, and really interesting to discover what 11-year-olds are learning about in this important subject these days. When I was in Year 7, for instance, I learnt how to create folders, spreadsheets, word-processed documents and databases on an even-then outdated Acorn desktop computer:

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The Acorn Archimedes A3020 desktop computer: What I was using in IT class when I was in Year 7 (Image courtesy of Martin Wichery at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2190336806/)

Today, however, students are using tablets, notebooks and smartphones to learn about:

  • E-safety
  • Digital footprints
  • Cybersecurity
  • Online docs, sheets, slides and forms using Google Suite
  • Gaming addiction

That last bullet point: gaming addiction, has been really interesting to teach as a significant minority of my students are regular gamers on Fortnite and other platforms. As part of their course, I was required to show them this video which tells the story of a young boy whose life was almost destroyed by gaming addiction (very highly recommended):

In the story, the boy is given a gaming console by his dad, and his life basically spirals downwards until he is left homeless. It highlights the fact that online gaming can be really expensive, really addictive and very time-consuming. The effects on the character’s body, his hobbies and his schoolwork are all very cleverly portrayed. 

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Is he working, or gaming?

Gaming addiction is only a small part of a much larger and more pervasive problem in society, however. That problem is smartphone addiction, which has really gripped younger generations quickly, and was certainly not a problem 10 years ago. 

This week, BBC News released a shocking report entitled Smartphone ‘addiction’: Young people ‘panicky’ when denied mobiles:

smartphone addiction

The report summarizes a large study conducted by researchers at King’s College London. The research analysed 41 studies involving a whopping 42,000 young people, and was published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. It arrived at a surprising and worrying conclusion:

  • 23% of participants exhibited behaviors consistent with addiction, such as feeling anxiety when the phone was taken away, not being able to control the time they spent on smartphones and spending so much time on mobiles it encroached on other activities.

So smartphone addiction is officially ‘real’, and that should act as an immediate call-to-action for school leaders. 

As a teacher who has embraced technology for learning purposes for quite some time, I was quite the advocate for the use of smartphones in teaching. They can be used as clickers for online games like Kahoot!, and can be good alternatives when kids don’t have access to tablets or laptop computers. This research however, along with the World Health Organisation’s recent classification of gaming addiction as a mental health disorder has led me to reevaluate my stance. 

Perhaps it’s now time for schools to ban smartphones and online gaming completely?

Here is a snippet of what the World Health Organisation has to say about this new condition, Gaming Disorder:

 

Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

This, I believe, should lead all teachers to a logical question to ask: What can we do about it?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ban smartphones in schools completely, unless written permission is given from a parent. In the case where written permission has been given, the smartphones must be locked away in a central location during the day and only returned to the student at the end of the school day (e.g. for the purposes of phoning home).
  • Invest in ICT systems that are non-intrusive and non-addictive (e.g. ICT labs). Classrooms could be fitted with notebooks/laptops integrated into classroom desks, or students could be asked to bring their own laptop/tablet to school each day.
  • Schools should have bookable sets of laptops or tablets for students to use, and school libraries should have suitable numbers of laptop and desktop computers for students to use. 

The clear advantage of centralized ICT systems over studentowned devices in schools is control: school-owned devices can be set-up with gaming blockers, chat blockers and website filters. 

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I would suggest that the challenge of solving smartphone and gaming addiction (two separate, but related problems) is an urgent one, and will require:

  • Schools to work even more closely with parents, health professionals, ICT service providers and local governments.
  • Careful allocation of school budgets, with more money being funneled towards ICT systems that are usable, but safe. 

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Preparing Students for Mock Exams

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Mock exams offer an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to assess current knowledge and discover common misconceptions. They (should) provide a rigorous and thorough ‘trial run’ of the finals and may even act as a sharp and frightening wake-up call to some learners. 

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Considering the immense importance placed on mock exams (not least for providing a good basis for making final grade predictions), one would assume that the preparation of students for them should be organised like a well-planned military operation. 

That’s certainly what should happen, and the aim of this article is to cover the ‘battleground’ that your students will need to fight through in order to be well-trained for those all-important practice exams. 

Roger that! Let’s get right into it then!

Go through past-exam papers

These are by far the best revision materials for exam-level students. Rigorous past-paper practice, under timed conditions, offers a number of benefits:

  • Students become used to the ‘style’ of questions that will be asked in the real thing.
  • Frequent exposure to the ‘command terms’ that will be used in the real exam (words like ‘Deduce’, ‘Explain’, ‘Sketch’ etc.).
  • The level of challenge presented by past-paper questions will be at the level expected by students of that age-group. 
  • When taken under timed conditions, students can develop their time-management techniques too (ensuring that they don’t run out of time in the real mock exam – a common problem!).

Giving feedback

Some examination boards share their past papers for free (e.g. Edexcel), whilst others sell them them for a small fee. If you have the money (or if your school has the budget), then they are always worth the spend. Some ideas for saving money when purchasing exam papers include:

  • Keep any spare examination papers that you get sent each year by the exam board, and scan them to pdfs. Within a few years you’ll have a comprehensive bank of exam papers ready to share with your students.
  • Purchase a user account to an exam-board’s question bank and share the account with colleagues.

Make sure your students go through the model answers (mark schemes) when they’re done, and make sure they know how to actually use the mark schemes (Do they know that OWTTE means ‘Or Words to That Extent’, for example? Do they know what M1, M2, etc mean?).

Should your students be strict or lenient when marking past-paper questions? 

Always be strict, because the examiner will strict and the final exams will probably contain questions that the students will never have seen before. If the answer does not match the mark scheme, then mark it wrong.

What about handwriting?

If the examiner cannot read the answers given, then your students will be penalized. Make this point really clear, as it is an issue that does affect many students (especially when rushing under exam conditions – another reason to train students by exposing them to past-papers under timed conditions).

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Go through exam-style questions

These are a little different to past-paper questions and tend to be found within textbooks, on great websites (like BBC Bitesize) and inside revision guides and workbooks (like those made by CGP, for example). 

These provide much of the same benefits as a past-exam paper questions and are often organised by topic, allowing students to reinforce their subject knowledge in stages and target areas of weakness with relative ease. 

Make sure that model answers are provided and that students mark their work strictly (just like with past-papers).

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Provide a topic revision list

An obvious one I know, but worth mentioning. If students don’t know the topics that are going to come up on their mock exams, then how can they possibly prepare?

Share the official syllabus, perhaps through your school’s VLE, MOOC or even by e-mail if you have to. Make sure the students know which topics from the syllabus are going to come up in the mocks. 

Provide topic summaries

Summaries of key topic areas can really help students to grab the essentials in a short space of time. Share these as Mind Maps, bulleted lists, end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks and even, again, revision websites that you recommend.

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Share textbooks

A lot of schools cannot afford physical textbooks for every student. However, we should at least be recommending textbooks that the students can buy themselves if they want to. 

One way to solve the problem of textbook costs is for schools to build their own (e.g. from slide presentations that teachers create), get students to create textbooks for themselves by setting up a learning journals system and even paying for an online subscription through the publisher’s website (which is often cheaper than purchasing physical books).

Recommend revision websites

There are many great websites that offer excellent, free resources for revision. My personal favorites are:

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David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me: What can Teachers Learn From This Book?

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Warning! – This blog post contains expletives and graphic language. If you are prone to being offended, triggered or distressed by such language, then please stop reading immediately. 

84kg.

That’s how much I weighed three months ago. I was fat, tired and lazy. Too many things were not proceeding with momentum in my life. I had become ‘soft’. 

After a day of full-blown mediocrity at some point in mid-August (whilst I was still ‘resting’ in my summer vacation from school), I took the time to sit in a Starbucks coffee shop during the late evening and take-stock of my life. I’d woken up late, I felt like crap and I had procrastinated all day long. It was a wasted day, basically. 

What would my students think of me if they knew that I wasn’t ‘practicing what I preach’ to them: to chase your goals, be resilient and to work hard each and every day?

Then, I reflected on who I was as a teenager. Richard James Rogers: the kid version, went to karate class three times a week, absolutely smashed-it at Army Cadets twice a week (and many full weekends and summers on training camps) and never wasted a single second. He put up with some messed-up stuff too (home-life was a bit, well, crazy to say the least), but he didn’t point the finger at other people and blame them for his misfortunes or disadvantages. In fact, he saw his difficult life-situation as a powerful catalyst for self-improvement: he had every reason to just ‘go for it’, and he knew he would end up a total loser if he gave in to life’s relentless cry to ‘give up’. 

That woke me up. 

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Me as a 16-year-old Army Cadet, 20 years ago

Sometimes, I believe, we have to look back on those things we’ve done many years ago and ask some very honest questions, such as ‘Am I better now, or am I worse?’. ‘Have I climbed, or did I slide?’ and ‘Am I a loser, or a winner?’

The ‘Goggin’s Video’ was something I had watched a while back, and I thought it was pretty cool. I thought it was time to watch it again that evening. I’ve embedded it below:

I’ve read a lot of great self-improvement books in my time (Awaken the Giant Within, Think and Grow Rich and Outwitting the Devil come to mind instantly). However, reading these books never really spurred me on to take the massive action that would cause big changes in my life. This Goggin’s video, however, with it’s raw honesty inspired me to actually do something about the pervasive mediocrity that seemed to have taken hold in my life.

If you feel that you could do more, or if you have a nagging feeling inside of you somewhere that says ‘you’re not enough’, then watch the video above in full. I think it will resonate with you. 

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In the video, Goggin’s talks about being brutally honest with yourself and taking action to change things. If you’re fat, then blurt it out: ‘I’m fat. Roger that. Now what am I going to do about it?’ 

As a former Navy SEAL (who’s been through Hell Week three times), the 2013 Guinness World Record holder for the most pull-ups in 24 hours (he did 4030) and the Infinitus 88K race winner in 2016 (one of the most brutal races in the world): Goggins knows more than a thing or two about perseverance and pain. His story inspired me to do more. 

I decided to hit the gym every day, running at least 3k each time (I’ve now brought that up to 5.5k) and doing abs and weights on alternate days. Some days it was really hard – I’d get home from school, nap (like a lazy *&^#@$%) and then wake up a few hours before the gym closed (thank God it closes at midnight!). I felt sluggish, but I said to myself ‘Do it now you ‘insert expletive here’).

78.6kg

That’s how much I weigh today. I’ve lost 5.4kg in three months. It’s not an amazing amount of weight, but I feel an amazing difference and my BMI (Body Mass Index) stands at 25.2, which is almost at my target (24.9).

I feel better. I look better. I wake-up better (I don’t feel too zombie-like anymore). This was me last week:

Richard James Rogers lost weight

Interestingly, as well as giving his insights on making massive changes in your life, Goggin’s also shares some really insightful stories from his time as a schoolkid. In his book, ‘Can’t Hurt Me‘ (highly recommended), Goggin’s describes in graphic detail the massive difference between a teacher who actually gave a damn about him, and a teacher who gave up. I’ve included the extracts below:

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In these extracts we see clearly the differences between Ms. D and Sister Katherine, and the profound effect that a teacher’s behavior can have on student self-esteem. Here are the lessons that I drew from Goggin’s experiences:

  • We must take full responsibility and accountability for the progress of our students. We must never ‘give-up’ on a student and take the easy ‘way-out’ by using past academic struggles, Special Educational Needs or emotional problems as excuses not to try. 
  • Students remember the impact a good teacher has on them well into adulthood. Goggins’ fond memories of Sister Katherine show this. Can you remember a good teacher you had at school?
  • Sister Katherine had a ‘no excuses’ mentality, and made her students realize that it is their responsibility to make life happen. How taboo is that mentality these days?
  • A bit of extra time spent helping and mentoring a student can have a massive effect on their sense of self-worth. Does your school have an active and useful mentoring system in-place?
  • As soon as we ‘label’ students we have a choice to make – dedicate more time and effort to help them out, or give-up on them. We have to have the mentality that ‘all students can be helped’. We just need to figure out the best ways to help them. 

I highly recommend Goggins’ book to any teacher who wants to get a brutally honest insight into the life of child who went through hell growing up (it’ll help you get a perspective on the reasons behind some of the behaviors you might see in-class). It’s also a good book for leveling-up in life. 

Purchase Can’t Hurt Me from Amazon here

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Cognitive Sandwiching: A Method for Teaching Difficult Topics

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Memory is the residue of thought

 – Daniel Willingham

This is one of my favorite pedagogical quotes and I’ve found it to be 100% accurate over the years. 

As an International Baccalaureate Diploma chemistry teacher at an international school, I often have to teach topics to my students that are really, really difficult. Furthermore, the students will be examined on these topics at some point in the future, and those grades really mean something: the students will be using them to apply to study at universities all around the world. 

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“An AMAZING Book!”

A key question I often ask myself is how can I get my students to think deeply about the topics they are learning, so that they remember enough details to get excellent grades on their exams?

it integrated

I’ve tried lots of different methods over the years, but I think I’ve finally nailed-down a system that works with every difficult topic I teach:

  • Explore
  • Question
  • Teach
  • Test

Hopefully you’ll see that this is a system that can be applied to your subject area/teaching context too. 

Step 1: Explore (Thinking Intensity 2)

Provide the stuff you want the students to learn in multiple formats. Some that you may wish to use could be:

  • Online videos
  • Websites
  • Simulations
  • Textbooks
  • Podcasts
  • Magazine entries
  • Revision guides

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Get the students to work in groups or pairs to produce some kind of creative, collaborative output. Examples include:

  • Create a Google Slides presentation about…..
  • Create a stop-motion animation about……
  • Create a large infographic about…….
  • Create a digital animation about…..

At the end of this exploration step, the students should present their work to the class in some form. This simple act of articulating what they have learned will cause deep-thinking (and therefore, memory) to take place. 

Step 2: Question (Thinking Intensity 3)

Give the students a series of exam-style, challenging questions on the topic to complete under timed conditions. The students can work together on this if you wish, and may use the resources they have for help. 

When the time-limit is over, provide the model answers (and make sure you actually have model answers available). Students can go through these answers via peer-assessment, self-assessment or even automated assessment (in the case of online teaching systems, like MyMaths and Educake).

Discussing homework

As a teacher, I also like to go through any particularly difficult questions with the students so as to clear up any misconceptions. This is especially true if, for example, nobody in the class can do question 2. 

Step 3: Teach (Thinking Intensity 1)

This acts as an incredibly useful review for students after what has been an intense exploration and self-assessment of stuff that was, essentially, self-taught (with a bit of help from the teacher).

Go through the key points of the topic traditionally, perhaps using a slide-based presentation, video, animation or even notes written and explained on the whiteboard.

Make use of a few learning games to spice things up a bit, especially if key vocabulary needs to be learned. Spend time going through common misconceptions: those things that students get wrong year-after-year. 

Step 4: Test (Thinking Intensity 4)

Test the content covered using the most difficult questions you can find. Don’t go beyond the syllabus or above what’s been taught (obviously), but use past-paper questions that really do get the students to apply what they’ve learned to unusual contexts. 

Prior to the test, you might want to provide questions of similar difficulty (with model answers provided) for the students to go through at home. 

chatting in class

Make sure you go through the test afterwards too. Provide the mark scheme and make it really clear where, and how, marks have been lost.

Fluctuations

By fluctuating the intensity of thinking in this way (2,3,1,4) we’re exercising the brain in a similar way to how we exercise the body – gradual increases in intensity, followed by rest, followed by higher intensity. 

I’ve found that this model works really well for getting students to understand really difficult topics. 

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Bruce Lee: My Favorite Teacher

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

Bruce Lee

I had a very unique and life-changing experience two weeks ago. One that I was not expecting. 

It was the October half-term and I decided to to take a well-earned break from things for a few days. I and my wife traveled to Khao Yai National Park in Thailand to enjoy a few days in nature. We both certainly appreciated the fresh air and scenery. 

On the way to Khao Yai I noticed a road sign that said ‘Pak Chong’ which specified a number of kilometers to get there. It wasn’t far way, and as a massive Bruce Lee fan I knew that this was the place where The Big Boss was filmed. 

That’s quite a big deal for a lifelong martial artist and a big Bruce Lee fan. The Big Boss, filmed in 1971, was the movie that propelled Bruce to epic levels of fame in Asia. It was his ‘big break’, so to speak. 

I, like a lot of pre-millenial kids, had a rocky life growing up. I wasn’t without life’s necessities but a number of people at that time really tried to mess things up for me. I was bullied at school by a number of individuals who wouldn’t dare bully me now. My parents had also divorced when I was around 2-years-old and that created a domino effect which basically made things difficult. 

We’ve all had our fair share of challenge in life. Many people choose to give up when the going gets tough – they might turn to alcohol, drugs, gangs or things like that. Thankfully for me, however, my dad took me to learn Shotokan Karate at age 11, and soon after that I learned about Bruce Lee.

I read Bruce’s ‘Chinese Gung Fu‘ and ‘The Tao of Jeet Kune Do’ when I was only a teenager. Bruce’s message about handling combat seemed to resonate with me and began to influence many non-combat areas of my life:

  • Train every part of your body and work as hard as you can – that message helped me a lot. Physical training and hard study helped me to ‘escape’ from some of the problems I had at home. I believe that Bruce’s message helped me to develop this drive. 
  • Use the enemy’s strength against him: the idea of matching aggression with relaxation, allowing the opponent to complete his force, and then respond with aggression (the ‘Yin Yang’ dynamic) also had parallels in my life. When people got in my face and moaned, bullied or complained at me, I felt it necessary to listen, respond calmly and remain unfazed. I would then get on with my life and try harder than ever. I just couldn’t be provoked or pushed around anymore. The bullying just didn’t upset me anymore, and when one kid went too far and tried to push me around, I used my Shotokan skills to respond (and that’s the polite way of describing what happened). Needless to say, he stayed away from me after that.

Bruce Lee lived by example. He actually had high-level skills. He practiced what he preached. If Bruce told you to “train every part of your body”, you’d better believe that he was the ultimate epitome of that philosophy. 

I honestly believe that good teachers cannot be hypocrites. If you’re teaching your students about the dangers of smoking but you smoke, then you’re a fraud. If you’re teaching physical education but you’re morbidly obese, then you’re a fraud. 

Bruce wasn’t a fraud. If he told you to do it, then that meant he could do it like a pro. 

I went to the Big Boss’ house in Pak Chong and I was surprised to find that it had changed little since 1971. To stand at the location where Bruce Lee actually fought the bad guys, and the Big Boss himself, was like going on a sacred pilgrimage:

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The Big Boss’ house is actually an active temple called Wat Siri Samphan. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with the head monk at the temple, who told me that soon the temple may be refurbished, and some of iconic structures that still stand may be knocked down:

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I am now working with a number of individuals to preserve Bruce lee’s legacy in Pak Chong by securing the historic filming locations so that they can be enjoyed by many generations to come. 

Updates will follow.

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