Growing up, I was surrounded by Girls can do anything stickers (bright yellow with pink writing) to encourage and motivate me at school and to do as well as males. Times have changed — when I went to University, over twenty-five years ago, females already accounted for over 60% of the students in the Marketing Department and in my year the honours class was 80% female.
Now, as the mother of two tama, I want to start the conversation — sharing stories and resources of how teachers and whānau can support and engage boys at school and at home, to be all that they want to be.
How can we make sure all our tamariki fulfil their potential?
Anaru White (a teacher for many years, and now a CORE Education facilitator) and I have started this ongoing discussion and asked for ideas from colleagues (Jo Robson and others) as well as on Twitter.
Podcast: Let’s Hear It For The Boys — encouraging boys to succeed at home and school
Let’s hear it for the boys — engaging boys at school and home – Anaru and Rochelle
Anaru: Kia ora tatoa! My name is Anaru White. I work for CORE Education, and I’m here with Rochelle Savage, who also works for CORE. Kia ora Rochelle.
Rochelle: Kia ora Anaru.
So, today, we decided to discuss how teachers and parents can teach and support and encourage boys at school. And, my perspective is mainly that of a parent, and your’s, Anaru is someone who has worked as a teacher and also who works as an educator.
So, when you were teaching, or working with teachers in school, what do you think works to encourage and support boys?
Anaru: Well, Rochelle, I think that one of the most important aspects is finding what motivates students. And, probably, one of the best place to start is about those relationships with your students, and in this case, obviously with boys in the classroom. And not just in the classroom, but also outside of the classroom as well. And, for me, those relationships, they need to be genuine; it’s about finding those genuine interests that boys have. And that’s just taking the time, to listen to them, to be patient with them. And also, just creating those opportunities to be able to form those relationships, and for me, it’s especially those opportunities, the ones that empower them for them to show what their interests are for them to really grab something, and take the lead as well. And, there’s also there’s been a bit of talk about boys needing boundaries, and yeah, I kinda get that as well, but I bring that up as a bit of challenge for us, Rochelle, as we talk about boys in this podcast and podcasts to come, and, also, those out there as well around those boundaries that boys need, or perhaps don’t need as well within the classroom.
Rochelle: Excellent! I just wanted to expand upon what you were saying with regards to genuine interest. It’s something that in my observation as a parent is that I’m really impressed with my children’s teachers when they suggest challenges to them, and give them enough time for them to rise to the occasion, which has been great in terms of— one son’s teacher had asked him to be an MC for the talent competition. And, he really liked the idea. She gave him enough time — he decided to write his own links, what he was going to say, and he practiced them —, and he loved it. And I just applauded her because it came from her observation of him, and it also enabled him to embrace a challenge. Another example, in terms of a lot of boys that I’ve seen, is presenting in assembly. Like, something that is fantastic nowadays at school is that children present at assembly from 5-years of age, and there’s the two of them together, like there’s notices from people, introducing songs — all of those aspects, and the girls do a brilliant job, but my goodness, the boys, I have just seen them shine in a way that I don’t often see in other aspects of schooling. And, they often have people in the palm of their hands. Like, it’s just wonderful to see. The challenge is that we don’t want to generalise about all males or all boys or all girls, but, a lot of boys seem to, when they’re given the opportunity really are great orators.
Another example is, my tama’s teacher has introduced inquiry projects that the student chooses the topic and the boys have just excelled at that. They’ve just absolutely embraced it. And, the other week at assembly I saw three boys getting awards for their assignments, and they were things like Minecraft, they were soccer stars, they were Ford cars, they were things that interested them —
Anaru: “Yes, tapping into those interests”
Rochelle: Absolutely. And sometimes also, you can suggest them (as a parent) to the teacher. Another example is that my son’s in a rural school, so they’ve got what would classically be intermediate as part of the school, and so, when they go off to Technology, he’s left in his years 6–8 class, and the teacher has set them projects to work on. And one project that she set was working on a Jurassic Park idea, which involved him and another boy basically creating this park (Jurassic). So, they had a set amount of money, and they had to buy these dinosaurs. And he showed it to me, and said, “Mum, I’m going to bring it home!” And looked — What are you going to spend on dinosaurs? What are you going to spend on amusements? What are you going to spend on kai? How are you going to set it all out? And he talked all the way home, when we were walking home, and just talked non-stop about it — and that’s quite unusual for him. Like, normally, with him, it’s the classic trying to get him to talk about his day. Every single Thursday when he did this, he would just talk non-stop about it. And he was keen to bring stuff home from school. And, again, that’s the teacher thinking, What might inspire, what might interest, what might connect? And again, it comes back to those relationships and knowing that interest.
Anaru: Exactly. And willing to take risks is a big thing, I believe as well.
So, Rochelle, the supporting of boys by knowing them is also important by parents as well?
Rochelle: Absolutely. For me, it is a balance in life, but it is also trying to walk the talk, isn’t it, in terms of, it’s not just saying, “How was football?”, it’s, if you can, going along to football. This weekend was a classic example of — we had my oldest son’s football game; we ended up having an adults vs the children — or me and the dads — as I like to say it. But, I know that he enjoyed me giving it a go and me being on the team, and being actively involved in things that matter to them. So, we go and shoot hoops, and we go and kick a soccer ball, and sport is something that I do enjoy, but I’m not particularly great at hoops, I’m not particularly great at things, but it’s giving it a go. Or, something we’ve also been doing recently, is playing an online game together. And I’m not particularly good at it, and I don’t particularly enjoy — I’ve never been a gamer, and it’s not particularly my thing, but my children love it, and, actually, what I do is, I build up my army, and get my youngest tama to do my battles for me, because he’s really good at it and he enjoys it. But it also opens up those discussions about —
Rochelle: Yeah, exactly. So, it’s something we’ve got in common. So, at the moment, apparently their friends think it’s quite cool that I’m doing it. I’m just waiting for when that changes, but at the moment that’s a good thing…
Anaru: …Roll with it.
Rochelle: And also it means that we can have those discussions in a natural way about safety, because, what it is, it’s a very small local group, which, a local man who’s a grandad set up, and the only people that can be in the group are if you know someone. So, it’s all children my children’s age, a little bit older, it’s some of the parents whose children are playing. And we talk about why you don’t let anyone else in. I said, you know, If someone came to our door, and knocked on our door, would you just let them in without asking questions, and, if you didn’t know them, would you let them come and sit in our kitchen? And they were like, Well, probably not. And, I said, It’s the same thing.
So, if you can actually find … I guess, it’s trying to find things, even if they’re not your things, interests, and engage with them, because they are then more likely to engage with you on things that you want them to engage in as well.
Rochelle: So, what else, Anaru, works well to support boys at school do you think?
Anaru: Well, probably building on what you’ve just said, Rochelle, and also, I suppose, in the unique and also grateful position that I have to, as a former teacher, working alongside schools and obviously boys themselves, is the importance of relationships, taking those risks, looking at those opportunities, and being genuine, but also, what falls out of that are those authentic learning contexts, which you’ve just talked about as well. And from there, when boys see the purpose, and see the Why?, from there they will be able to get engaged and to be motivated. And I think that self-motivation is a big thing as well. And from there comes all that kind of discovery and sense of purpose and achievement as well.
And another thing that I really like to talk about is the whole idea around silence. To me, silence is golden, and when a boy is asked a question — or, when a male is asked a question — and, again, we can fall into generalisations here, but a lot of the time I know from my experience, there’s a bit of a process when there’s science, and that process is important, because it is a cognitive process, and what’s happening as well. And it’s also a good idea when you have those discussions and have those dialogues in your classroom or learning situation, Who is doing the talking the most? Where does the balance lie within the classroom? Teacher talking vs the students talking, etc. Likewise in group work. And, I think, Rochelle, I think it’s one of the things that you are going to talk now about the kind of work that Celia Lashlie has done…
Rochelle: Āe! I think you raise a really good point where something I’m trying hard in all aspects of my life is to have those gaps. I think, it is again a broad generalisation, and I don’t want to – not all women – but, I think a lot of women work things out by discussing them, while men sometimes can do that, but they’ll often go away and have a think and then come back to it. And some practical suggestions that Celia Lashlie’s book, “He’ll be Okay — Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men”, which a lot of parents I know of boys have bought and read, and I highly recommended it if you haven’t read — I’ve re-read it again recently, and she’s just got some great practical suggestions. One of them is, like what you’re saying, If you ask your son a question, she suggests, preferably when driving or doing an activity, and one thing is, just wait for the answer as long as it takes.
Anaru: Wait time.
Rochelle: Absolutely. And, I think her example in the book is: she sort of said to her son, “What’s your favourite fruit?” And, she thought he hadn’t heard the question, and it was like, to her, this crazy length of time, and she desperately wanted to jump in, and say, “Is it apple? Is it banana?” — offer suggestions. And I think, as women, we need to pause and allow them to have the time, as long as it takes. And, in the end, her son said (I think it was), “Pineapple”. And that’s the thing I’ve noticed with my tama, when you’re driving along, and if you do ask a question, sometimes, just also wait and wait and wait, and if you’re patient, they’ll answer.
The other really practical advice she gives for parents is, to talk about the day at night. And she was saying, for whatever reason, boys often don’t love that whole let’s sit down face-to-face and have a big discussion. Like, that’s not a thing that’s just not a good time if you’re a boy. However, at the end of the day, and it’s all dark, and this is something that I try and do usually nightly — it doesn’t always happen, but I try really hard to make it happen — where, turn the light out and we lie in the dark, and we talk about their day. And sometimes it’s prompted where I sort of say, Tell me something really interesting about what happened? Was there anything bad, or frustrating, or annoying, or something you want to talk about? And we also do, Is there anything else? And, something I also love is that my sons also ask me about my day, which is just really nice. It’s a lovely healthy relationship thing. But the best thing about that is that I actually find out more in those five or ten minutes at the end of the day than I do at the whole rest of the day. And I find out the really crucial stuff: Who did they play with at lunch time? Was there a lunchtime that they actually spent by themselves. I found out about the emotional health of my children, and really, that’s what parents want to know. I think that most parents are much more interested in, How is my child feeling than, how is my child doing academically at school. So, that’s such a great practical suggestion.
And, I know that you’ve read the book. What practical suggestions for parents or for teachers did you like?
Anaru: Well, it’s exactly that: the book was really practical. And, I guess that it comes from Celia’s background. And, within the book, she talks about the different stages that boys go through, as well, and also what to expect at these stages. They’re just common behaviours etc. And, also, she relates it back to stories with her son, but also reacting with some other males and boys obviously from her prison background working within prisons and the stories from there. And also, part of the project that she did with a number of boys’ schools up and down New Zealand as well, which is good, because it’s obviously targeted, which is what we’re talking about here, and it’s also New Zealand-based as well. It’s also good to have those New Zealand stories as well, that we can relate to.
Rochelle, any other suggestions?
Rochelle: I’ve thought a lot about why girls often excel above boys at school — and, again, not all girls, but this is an observation of mine on how can we better support boys at school. As we’ve discussed, there’s not a simple answer, and for this podcast, our key aim is, opening up the discussion, providing resources we’ve found helpful, asking those out there, What are some other resources, and people have very kindly shared some of their thoughts and their resources. For me, I think, a critical aspect is trying to encourage a love of reading.
Rochelle: Something else that has worked, and I’ll put a link also below this podcast, to something I’ve written previously, in a blog with regards to — how do you do that? How do you encourage a love of reading? And the latest things that are working really well, particularly for my tama potiki, he is really enjoying audio books. He enjoys reading, and he’s now getting into Harry Potter, and books like that, but really, he sometimes just wants a break from actually reading. But, it’s that love of stories, and it does so much, I think, academically. And this is something that we can do. And it’s hard; it’s not always for a lot of parents who say, I’m trying, I’m trying!. But, I guess, the main thing is, don’t give up; just keep on trying. And, parents and I share authors that our sons love. I go into bookshops and tell them, this is what my son’s like, this is his age, what do you recommend? For me, this is something that can help academically, and also, it’s a lot of fun, to have a love of reading.
Join the conversation
Anaru and I would like to continue gathering ideas on how parents and teachers can continue to support boys to fulfil their potential. If you have a resource or a story to share – or an issue you would like us to explore — please leave a comment below or tweet us: @rsavagenz or @anaruwhite. Or, join the conversation on #BoysInEducation.
Audio interview: Parenting with Joseph Driessen — girls vs boys
Blog: 11 Ways to grow great readers: A parent’s perspective
Image: boys playing on Kaikoura beach — by the author.