Are You Feeling Sleepy?

One of the most common issues middle school parents face is that their kids have trouble getting up in the morning during the week and stay in bed a long time at the weekend. There is also a common assumption that teenagers find it easier to concentrate in class in the mornings than in the afternoons.

Well it will be a surprise to some parents to learn that scientific research into the brains of your teenage kids show that their natural biological sleep pattern at this age shifts toward later times for both sleeping and waking, meaning it is natural for a teenager not to be able to fall asleep before 11pm. Research also shows that adolescents need approximately 9.5 hours sleep, which creates a problem for parents. If a parent tells their child to go to bed at 9pm, there is a good chance that they may not be able to fall asleep until 11 or 12pm. If they then rise at 06:30am, they certainly have not had enough sleep.

Schools could also take note of this research. Many people think that lessons that require more writing or ‘thinking’ should be in the morning and other lessons such as Art and PE should be in the afternoons. But in fact many teenagers feel more tired in the morning because they are actually in the middle of their natural biological sleeping pattern.

Also, ideally, school for middle and high school kids based on research, should start at 10am or 11am. Not possible at the moment but interesting nevertheless!

What can we do to help our teenagers get through the school week more effectively?

Here’s some advice for teenagers from the American National Sleep Foundation:

  • Take Naps.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark
  • Try to establish a routine which you try to keep to it as much as possible at weekends
  • Eat and drink and exercise
  • Don’t drink caffeine (esp. within two hours of bedtime)
  • Eat a good breakfast and don’t skip lunch.

Have a look at the following website for more information:

Other interesting news articles:

School Day Starts Later

Head Teacher Urges Lie in for students

Cook Eat and Learn!

Homework. You either love it or you hate it. Most students you talk to hate it.

Avid readers of this blog will already know my views of homework for middle school students. If it is Relevant, Interesting and Personal then there’s a good argument for it. If it’s Boring, Repetitive and Impersonal then it can be painful and probably is not helpful to your child. (Not just my opinion. See Alfie Kohn, Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish and others)

Here’s an activity you can try at home with your child which is Relevant, Interesting and Personal and it’s not homework. It’s called cooking. Yes cooking. Usually the role of the parent is to provide meals for their hungry teenagers, how about encouraging them to take part in the process?

The process of cooking uses some of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and can lead to many of the components encouraged in an inquiry based education programme.

Start with a recipe. Ask your son or daughter to look at the recipe, get the ingredients together and follow a process. This will presumably involve measuring, weighing, and mixing. It may also involve converting. Whilst doing this, you can be talking to him about nutrition and diet etc.

Laying the table and coming together to eat is also an important part of the process.

As your son or daughter becomes more used to the idea of maybe cooking once a week or fortnight, why not then introduce the design cycle into the process?

  • investigate
  • design
  • plan
  • create
  • evaluate.

Look in your fridge and investigate what you have in terms of ingredients. Design a meal for the family. Plan the process, create the meal and then, very importantly evaluate the meal!


Now what better way to spend a chunk of the evening with your children? Admittedly you might get some resistance to the idea at first, but I bet they’ll end up enjoying being sociable and learning at the same time!

Making Good Choices

Children of middle school age are going through many changes.

They are reaching a stage of their life where they place increasing importance on being noticed and accepted by their peers and this is a time when peer pressure becomes a major influence in the many choices a child faces.

The school/parent relationship has a very important role to play in terms of helping children make good choices in terms of being healthy, safe and respectful to others.

What are ‘good choices”? They are choices which keep students safe and healthy and they are choices which give them opportunities for friendship and self confidence.They are also choices which show responsibiltiy towards the environment and each other. It is very important for us to help students take responsibility for the choices they make and take responsibility for the things they choose to involve themselves in.

When parents have the luxury of being able to choose a school, they do so for many reasons. I wonder how many ask to see the school’s mssion statement? The mission statement at the school I am principal at the moment, emphasizes respectful, caring and encouraging behavior within a diverse community as the backbone of who we say we want our community to be. But we can’t achieve this without parents help. There was a famous Rabbi who once said “Educating children without parental involvement is like heating a house with the windows open.

Families have a set of values which are defined through traditions and moral or sometimes religious beliefs, which are sometimes known as ‘family values’. Our school’s mission statement is a living document which declares what we value as a community. It is a statement of our ‘family values’. For the parent/school partnership to work most effectively we need to have shared values. Schools have an impossible task ahead of them in terms of helping students make ‘good’ choices if the values or definition of what good choices are differ.

An interesting activity each family reading this could try would be to sit down at home and come up with a family mission statement– A statement that defines the families’ values and goals. Once this statement is agreed upon and written down, the family could take out the school’s mission statement and compare.

What things are the same what are different?

The choices we make have an effect on others and it is important for us all to be able to reflect on these and move on. It’s also important for us to reflect on what we do to support the communities’ shared set of values at school and at home.

Learning in the Classroom. Classroom ‘Discipline’

Classroom Discipline

Here’s what the definition of Discipline is according to merriam-webster (

2obsolete : instruction
3: a field of study
4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c: self-control
6: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

Punishment? Training? Control?

These are all words which we shouldn’t be using when we talk about helping kids to learn in the classroom. Everyone in the classroom needs to be caring, supportive and encouraging. The question is ‘How?’.
Teachers train to be teachers. Part of that training always includes sessions on “Classroom control” or “Classroom Discipline”. They prepare you by giving you talks on ‘how to control a difficult class’ or ‘dealing with class room misbehaviour’. From my experience, what’s important is to make expectations for the classroom clear. Such as arriving on time, having correct equipment, being respectful, being supportive, giving others time to speak etc. I mentioned in the last paragraph that everyone in the classroom needs to be caring, supportive and encouraging. This includes the students and the teachers.

The clip below shows an education training film for teachers made in 1947. It shows what they consider a bad lesson and then contrasts it with what they consider a good lesson. The good lesson example contains excellent advice for teachers which of course still apply today. We might sometimes describe some teaching styles as ‘old school’ or ‘old fashioned’ but this clip shows that good teaching has been around for a long time.
If kids see that you care, have a little humour, are consistent with behaviour expectations for all, relate learning to the real world in an interesting way and are ‘on their side’ ,then there is a good chance some excellent learning will go on in the classroom.

Dennis Littky in his book “The Big Picture – Education is Everyone’s Business” Published by ASCD says:
“We all know that in classes that kids enjoy, there are fewer or no behaviour problems. And we know that kids enjoy a class when they’re involved. If they’re doing a project on something they’re interested in, something thats real and has real world consequences, then they don’t tend to pass notes or ask to go to the bathroom 10 times”
Have a look at this clip. It’s about 14 minutes long.

What’s your name?

Teachers need to know the names of their students. Teachers also need to speak to students using their names. Sounds obvious, but some educators underestimate the immense power of addressing someone by name. There were times, when I taught at a large comprehensive school in London, when, after teaching a class for the best part of a year (two periods a week), I didn’t know all of their names. Children and adults notice when you don’t know them AND they notice when they do. I make it may business as a principal to get to know my students, how else can you build up a relationship? Walk down the corridors, smile, greet people by name, make comments like ‘good job with the basketball game at the weekend’ (sorry Alfie Kohn, I’m working on the praise thing!) and you’ll notice a huge difference. A parent probably knows their child the best. They can detect mood changes; they notice things which seem ‘out of the ordinary’. This can and is often put down to ‘hormones’, ‘teenagers’, etc, but if we as educators get to know students better, we can spot changes and we can respond to them. We can work in partnership with home to help the students. This can only be achieved when the teacher to student ratio is small. At our small international school we proudly state that our teacher to student ratio is low. This is usually interpreted as having small class sizes. This of course is educational more sound than large class sizes for obvious reasons, but I consider teacher to student ratio being ‘the number of students a teacher actually teaches’. It’s all very well having a maximum class size of 18. but if you teach 15 classes in a week, which some teachers do in a week that’s 270 students and if you only see them for 80 minutes a week, what chances have you of really knowing them? Going back to knowing their names, is it any wonder some teachers struggle with remembering names?

As a parent, when you go to look at a school or when you go to your next parent/teacher consultation day ask the teachers of your child; “How many kids do you teach a week?” and “How well do you know my son/daughter?”. Of course if they don’t know your son or daughter well it may not be their fault. Ask those questions to the people running the school!

Social Networking for Teens

During this weeks Middle School assembly, I talked about social networking and particularly facebook.

We saw some video clips from the organization NetSmartz which explained the dangers of posting information on the web amd some other funny youtube clips. The most important message I would like us to get across is that students need to be aware of the dangers of posting information about themselves on line and the dangers of posting information about other people. The advice ‘do as you would be done by’ which was given to me when I was of middle school age still stands true. Now we can say ‘before you write a comment or post a picture or video; think whether you would like that written or posted about you’

I definitely do not take the approach that social networking is not a good thing. In fact social networking has been around for hundreds of years, it’s just that now the opportunities for bullying, harassing and harming each other are greater, easier and more anonymous.

Before this technology, if a student wanted to say something unpleasant about a fellow student the options included; speak to them personally, write a note and give it to them or start saying things about them to others which gradually spread. These methods of bullying of course still exist today, but tend to need some form of premeditation before carrying them out. Now students can communicate instantly from their phones and computers. They can type comments about people or post a picture or video of fellow students from the safety of their bedroom press ‘return’ and the job is done. The message may then be seen by potentially hundreds of fellow students instantly. It’s much, much easier than before.

Students, particularly in middle school need a great deal of personal and social guidance, They are struggling to come to terms with puberty and all the issues this brings. The dangers of the solitary technological ‘bubble’ some students surround themselves with at home can be great.

Parental control tools such as ‘Magic desktop’, ‘Cyber patrol’, and ‘Safe Eyes’ can be applied at home and school but these are what they say- ‘parental controls’. If kids want to find other computers to access ‘forbidden’ sites, they will. Some of the applications used by teenagers today are; chatrooms, social networking sites such as facebook, instant messaging, email peer to peer (P2P), news groups and games. If a concerned parent or school blocks all of these their children will find some where else to roam.

These applications are not necessarily unsafe either. Instant messaging is a great way to keep in touch and chat with friends. Don’t forget we had instant messaging 20 and 30 years ago- it was called the telephone! The concerns though, are often to do with how long kids are talking, who they are talking to, and what they are saying. Some of the language they use on when messgaing can be a worry too.

One of the most important things adults can do is first UNDERSTAND what their children are doing. They need to educate themselves to the technologies out there toghether with understanding the benefits and dangers they bring. There is help out there. Some sites such as and offer advice and information for parents. When it comes to discussing issues with teenagers UNDERSTANDINNG can lead to improved COMMUNICATION and IGNORANNCE can lead to CONFRONTATION

To help parents UNDERSTAND we as schools need to set up an opportunities for parents to come in and discuss issues pertinent to their kids’ age group.

Understanding the Kids (Understanding can lead to improved communication)

A great way to teach parents about what their kids are doing on the internet is to get the kids to teach them themselves by sitting down with parents. Students are willing to help! They don’t necessarily see these presentations as ‘giving away information to the enemy’ as long as it is explained to them that parents understanding can lead to better communication. If ignorant parents just ban sites and computer time ‘willy-nilly’ based on no knowledge, then this will lead to confrontation. Including kids in the discussion is vital- it is something they know a lot about. Schools can encourage some kids to give a presentation of what they are doing. Help parents to set up facebook accounts, get them instant messaging each other, show them some games, take them to a chat room.

Communicating with Kids

Assuming that the parents now have some knowledge behind them, now is the time to start communicating with their kids about their feelings and concerns and setting up some ‘family rules’ as far as internet safety and use is concerned. Parents have always been worried about their children’s safety. When they were young their parents would worry about predators. The predators then, were likely to be described as someone who might harm their children, and parents and schools reinforced messages such as ‘Don’t accept sweets from strangers’ and ‘don’t accept a ride from a stranger’. These predators are still there, but now they have an amazing tool to lure kids called the internet. Predators can make friends with the kids, pretending to be someone of their age, can easily identify where the kids live and also encourage a meeting-all online. Chat rooms are the most common form of use.

When kids want to go out for the evening what are the four most likely questions a parent might ask?

1. Why do you want to go out?

2. Where are you going?

3. Who will you be with?

4. How long will you be?

This gives parents enough information to feel relatively safe when their kids go out. These same questions can be asked to children when they go online.

1. Why do you want to go online (homework, chat with friends, play games etc)

2. Where are you going? (which sites will they use?)

3. Who will you be with? (who are you going to be speaking to?)

4. How long will you be?

Kids of the 21st century need computers and they need the internet. Banning their use at home can lead to confrontation and frustration. It is more important to try to make sure they are safe by understanding the dangers. Parents need to try to create a climate of open communication at home, a great place to do this is by trying to have dinner together as often as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eating meals together to strengthen families and support good child development. They suggest that teenagers who eat with their families on a regular basis are less likely to experience depression or emotional stress than teens who do not eat regularly with their families. These same teens that share meals with their families are more likely to be motivated in school and have better peer relationships than those that do not share meals with their families.

Here are some other sites suggested by facebook themselves offereing advice:

‘We’ The feeling of School Community

The ‘we’ factor is very important in schools. Students, staff and parents need to work together to create the best learning environment possible. Students need to be treated with respect and be given a say in the running of the school. Rules shouldn’t be called rules. This sounds too rigid. Why not call them Common Sense Actions (CSA’s?!) or Safety and Common Sense Actions (SACSA). I try to move away from the ‘DON’T’ to the SACSA. For example you could post a sign up and down a corridor saying ‘DON’T RUN’-that is a rule. Students see this and think; “I’m not allowed to run”, quite often without thinking about or knowing why. They only find out why when they are in the principals office! Why not put up signs saying ‘RUNNING in the corridor is dangerous!’ This isn’t a ‘don’t rule’ it’s a statement. Or why not put up a sign saying If you WALK in the corridor, you’ll make the school a safer place. Try to think of some rules at your school and try to turn them from a DON’T to a SACSA.

Students should understand why rules are in place. They pretty much always boil down to actions which may harm or upset others, and safety. When a student is brought to my office for ‘breaking a rule’ I always says to them “tell me one rule that exists in the middle school which isn’t there for either the protection of other’s feelings or safety and I’ll get rid of it.” Students need to have a say in the running of their school. It’s good to have some form of democratic structure in place, whether it be student council, house system etc. At our school, students are elected as house leaders and they meet with me every week to talk about issues and to plan events and competitions. They actually run meetings with their house on their own (there is a teacher advisor in the room, but they step back and let the students run the show), canvassing for student feedback and opinions and bringing them back to me to discuss. They also act as mentors and role models. Younger students should be able to go to them with a problem or concerns. As soon as we have a shared feeling of responsibility, the atmosphere or ethos will be better.

Dennis Littky Talk

This is a link to a video of Dennis Littky talking about the MET schools.

Littky is the co-founder and director of the Big Picture Company and the MET school.

I am very impressed with the philospohy of the Big Picture Company and their committment to Small Schools and personalised, relevant and student centered learning. I’d recommend you to take some time to look at this video his ideas are enlightening! I visited a MET school in New York last year and had an amazing experience.

Littky Talk


Homework is a hot topic in the middle school at the moment. I have introduced the idea that we need to think about why we set homework and if students do take learning home, what should it look like. After reading much research, articles and books such as Alfie Kohn’s “The Homework Myth”, Sara Bennet and Nancy Kalish’s “The Case against Homework” and Harris Cooper’s “The Battle over homework”, it is clear to me that we need to re-examine and discuss our current practice. I don’t think there is a huge problem at our school, in fact the excellent teachers we have are very open to ideas and change. They are also doing a great job and really have the student’s well being at heart, but I think that we all just assume that homework should be set and all have very different ways of setting it.

I am not saying that there should be no learning done at home, I am simply saying that the learning should be relevant, interesting and personalized. If a student is really excited about their learning and they want to continue their learning at home, they will!

One point of discussion is to look at the curriculum content of each subject. If a teacher feels that she or he needs to set homework in order to “get through the curriculum content” then I would say we need to look at the curriculum and see if things can be re arranged to enable it to be taught primarily at school.

Another area is the awful practice of saying “Here’s the work for today and if you can’t finish it, you have to do it for homework”. Who does this benefit. The kids who find the work easy don’t have any homework and are not stretched and the kids who are struggling or just simply take longer, end up with homework.

The students at our school, through the student leadership body are also looking at homework through surveys and interviews. It upset me yesterday when I saw a video interview with a 6th grader who said “Home is for fun and school is for work”. When I hear comments like this I feel we have failed this student and need to try to get through to him that learning should and can be fun. This student needs to be excited about learning at school at home.

I visited the Bronx Guild School in New York last year, which is a big picture school. I asked a student there whether he had homework. He said “I don’t get given homework, but I do a lot of my work at home”. If people get excited about something they are doing, they’ll just want to keep doing it.

I read an interesting response to the opinion of some educators that kids can’t always have fun and they need repetitive practice homework in order to teach them discipline and organizational skills. They also sometimes compare this opinion with Musicians and Athletes who have to do a lot of preparation and repetitive exercises to get better. The response simply said “The difference is that the musicians and athletes WANT to do it”.
I’d happily give a student 2 hours of Math practice questions to do at home if they were interested in doing them!

More to follow….!

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