Staff Development Day Term Three (Part Three)

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
-Attributed to Harvey S. Firestone

Welcome back to the third article in my series reviewing the Term Three Staff Development day for schools under the Gosford City Learning Community banner. In the first article, I reviewed the opening remarks by Gosford Public School Principal, John Anderson, Acting Director Public Schools, Jason Baldwin and then the keynote speech by Jane Caro. Part two in the series, posted yesterday, reviewed the first half of the talk from Michael Auden, and today’s article will be spent on reviewing the remainder of Michael’s talk, which resumed after the lunch break.

 Michael resumed his presentation by continuing the discussion regarding the differences between the male and female brain, specifically the surges of testosterone that the male brain receives at three key points in their lives; in-utero, at around the age of four years old and again at the onset of puberty. I must have missed the subsequent link from that due to writing my notes, as the next note I have is that the biggest box in the male brain is the empty box, a point that follows on from The Tail of Two Brains video by Mark Gungor. I have included the clip, again, below, but have set it (hopefully, to start at the section in which Mark discusses this particular point.

Michael elucidates on this point, taken from the video, where research was completely by the University of Pennsylvania that demonstrated that men were capable of thinking about absolutely nothing, and still breath. Michael continued by explaining that there is research which demonstrates that women’s brains generate more electrical energy, when they are asleep, than many men’s brains do when they are fully engaged. Michael unfortunately did not offer any citation for this revelation, and I have to admit that firstly, I am no neuroscientist, and secondly, that I am only in the beginning stages of my teaching career, but that that statement does not sound quite right to me. I am not sure whether then that an indicator of my ego feeling affronted or something else, but it does not feel right.

Michael continues on this point, men’s emotional and vocal processing centers are on opposite sides of the brain which creates lag-time between processing and expressing in boys, which for impatient teachers, can cause issues as they see delayed responses, particularly in boys who are being roused on, as indicators of defiance or lack of understanding or other negative indicators. It further, according to Michael, goes to the point of life being a physical job, as boys apparently often need, or are assisted by visual or tactile learning, yet are also easily distracted by anything that catches their eye or ear or nose.

It was noted that the traits being discussed in the context of make brains are not exclusive to the male gender and that there are many females with some male tendencies and vice-versa, and that this is a combination of a lower serotonin levels and higher testosterone levels then typical females.

Michael next discussed male emotional expression and said that from around the age of ten years, boys need older male role models for appropriate emotional expression. Up until that age, they take much of their emotional expression cues from their mother or other female role models, but that around the age of ten, boys are on the cusp of puberty and are therefore receiving additional testosterone levels and feel the need to look for manly ways expressing themselves.

In previous generations, this has been the stoic male, the man who does not cry, or demonstrate emotion, which has been culturally reinforced in many cultures and generations, and continues to this day, of telling boys who are crying “….don’t cry, be a strong man. Men don’t cry…” and similar, gender-stereotypes which perpetuate this notion of stoicism as the definition of masculinity, and which, arguably, is part of the reason for the high levels of suicide in young males that we are currently seeing. The BeyondBlue website writes the following about suicide in the male population:

“Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and, in Australia, there are approximately 2,200 suicides each year. 80 per cent are by men – with an average of 5 men taking their lives every single day. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44, significantly exceeding the national road toll.”
BeyondBlue, Men, emphasis my own

This gender stereotyping is further seen in the way that boys and young men are encouraged, socially and psychologically to take risks, particularly through the puberty years. Michael made the point about thinking about how we react when a young boy takes some sort of physical risk, such as climbing trees, or running across the roads and how we react when a girl of the same age takes the same risk. Michael did note that the introduction and mass social-acceptance of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has seen a rise in male emotional expression, but was unsure as to whether or not this was positive due to the social impacts that those social media and statements within those forums can have on our social interactions.

There are some other significant factors that make boys different to girls, according to Michael. Boys need explicit modelling on how to handle anger appropriately. Boys who do not eat breakfast have been shown to have, by eleven am, the cognitive reaction time of a fifty year old male, and that on top of that, many boys do not become cognitively awake until after lunch time. I very much believe that explicit modelling of appropriate anger expression is a must for young boys, and also for young girls, and that we need to do this in order to shift our culture away from domestic violence, playground brawls and alcohol-fuelled fights and the current upsurge of the so-called coward’s punch. 

I can also attest to the accuracy of the second and third points from my own experience. I cannot function with any level of intelligence without breakfast, and though I am good for getting physical work done around the home in the mornings, such as vacuuming, washing the dishes, mowing the lawn etc, I do not get anything intellectual done on my days off such as programming and planning for school, writing blog articles or marking student’s work until the afternoon. When I was completing my initial teacher education, it took a supreme effort of will, or a due date of that afternoon for me to get any work done as far as completing assigned readings, tutorial work or assignment research done before lunch. That said, if I was able to get myself started on those tasks, I could be highly productive.

Michael’s next point was an interesting one, and is a topic that I have read about, which has been termed the Hermione Granger Effect and indicated that it created resentment and frustration for those who are not called upon but did, in fact, know the answer.

Michael closed out his presentation by offering a series of what he termed boy-friendly strategies:

  • Utilise stand up desks where practicable. Boys will work longer and go deeper when they are up.
  • Time bites. Boys cannot concentrate for long and need regular breaks. Before a task, have a mental challenge to promote cross-brain fitness.
  • Less teacher-talk. Best ration is 20/80 teacher-talk/ student engagement. Unfortunately many classrooms operate in the opposite ratio.
  • Treat the first ten minutes of your day with students like speed-dating. Get them excited to learn and motivated for the learning, not the mundane lethargy-inducing tasks like roll marking or note collecting.
  • Hand writing is a physical task for boys and they need help with strategies to make penmanship easier.
  • Share your sunshine through body language, words and smiles.
  • Though this applies more to secondary school, remember that for students it is very much a case of like the teacher, like the subject.
  • Make introductions to topical or thematical studies interesting and engaging. An example can be seen in the below video, which was an introduction to a group of year five students and their goldfields unit of learning:

  • Boys often see mistakes and bad relationships as irreparable. Promote new beginnings.
  • Have a beanbag in the class. It is hard for anyone, let alone a boy, be angry, while sitting in a bean bag due to the physicality of that simple task.
  • Where possible, give boundaries rather than rules, and the rationale for the boundaries. Boys see rules as a challenge in many cases, and boundaries can be easier to manage from a classroom management point of view when working with some students.
  • Use postcards to send home short messages about success, particularly with struggling boys. The postcard will likely take pride of place on the household refrigerator for the next month.
  • Similarities and differences. Use similarities and differences to teach about difficult concepts. This gives students a starting point to understand what the idea or concept is about and something to which they can relate it.
  • Show and tell. Public speaking is a literacy, and should be treated as such. Start it early, from kindergarten, but continue it all the way through. Where appropriate, record students speaking to allow for self-assessment and to teach specific public speaking skills. This can help with teaching the often difficult topic of grammar.
  • Utilise the four C’s: be competent, show confidence, be caring and communicate with the student and with the parents and the what and the why of what is happening in the classroom.

Michael finished up here, though there was much of his slideshow that was skipped over due to time constraints. It was a long presentation, but I personally found it to be highly relevant and engaging. There was a closing motivational talk, from Australian Paralympic Liesl Tesch, who won a Gold Medal at the London Paralympics for Sailing, having previously won a Silver Medal for Wheelchair Basketball. However, I was so riveted by her talk that I failed to take any notes. I also am not sure that her talk would have transferred very effectively into the written medium, as much of the engagement came as much from her body language and persona as it did from the content.

I thank you for reading this article, and this series reviewing the Term Three staff development day and I hope that you found these articles as useful as I found the presentations from which they were derived. I would very much like to hear from anyone regarding any aspect about this series, and wholeheartedly recommend you take up the opportunity to hear either Jane Caro or Michael Auden should the opportunity to do so present itself to you.

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