Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  
And there’s no better time to start than today.

There’s no business like show business!

It’s wonderful to be able to honestly say that the show was spectacular.

Every year, this week is one of the busiest of my teaching year. It’s right up there with report writing in terms of stress, but it’s much more enjoyable.

It’s Production Week.
I’m the director/producer of my school’s musical each year, and this is the week where we hit the stage and everyone is wowed by the students’ performances.

The weeks leading up to the show have been demanding. There has been fear, elation, exhaustion, laryngitis, delight, and excitement in fairly equal proportions. Even so, there has been an overriding confidence – at least, most of the time – that the show would be great.

In every show we do, the kids are always amazing, and I’m always proud.
But during the first performance of ‘Les Miserables – School Edition’ last Friday night, I was so proud that I cried. For someone who doesn’t cry much, that says a lot.

It’s wonderful to be able to honestly say that the show was spectacular.

In saying that, I don’t mean to brag. This has been a group effort by singers, actors, orchestra, sound and lighting crew, set construction teams, backstage crew, parents sewing costumes, hair & makeup teams, vocal coaches, musical director and myself. A show like this doesn’t happen without every part of the machine running.

Most of you reading this won’t get a chance to see the show, so here’s a little article from today’s Warrnambool Standard, complete with a totally-unrehearsed-for video that shows you how talented, and how delightfully funny, my students are.

It’s no wonder I’m proud. They’re fabulous.

That’s an A+, right there.

One of my students has quoted ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Man In Black’ in a piece of writing exploring how people encounter and respond to conflict. 

I think I’ve died and gone to Teacher Heaven. 

A+. 

I tried.

From time to time, teachers are asked to cover lessons for colleagues who are absent for some reason. 

Today I had the privelege of covering a Y10 Health and Human Development class.
They could have been discussing exercise, nutrition or health… but, no.

That would have been waaayyy  too easy. They had to be learning about male and female body parts and their functions. 

While I was busy asking myself why these lessons always seem to be handed to me, I was interrupted by a student asking a question.

Student 1: “What’s the cervix again?”
Student 2: “It’s the trapdoor thing that stops the baby coming out.”

Wait. The what??

Very diplomatically, I suggested he might like to look things up in a dictionary, or at least the printed notes they had been given to read and highlight. I don’t think he did, though. 

A little later, Student 1 had another question: “Are the uterus and the urethra the same thing?”

Again, I pointed him to the printed notes and the dictionary.

“How is that going to help me?” he asked. 

“How indeed?”  I thought to myself. 


I’m sorry, Miss K.  I tried. 

Alternate ed.

While in Detroit staying with my cousins, I spent a day visiting the school where my cousin David teaches.  It’s an alternate ed school on the same campus as a regular high school in the suburb of Birmingham. Classes are open age and not organised by grade level. 

I’ve had some interaction with one of the Hunanities teachers here before, as we have set up some interaction and communication between our history classes. It was great for our students to share their experiences and perspectives, and to find out their similarities and differences in the ways they view and understand world events and the ways in which they enjoy recreation, sports and entertainment. It was wonderful to meet with Mallory and continue our collaboration in person. 

I took the opportunity to share with several classes about the similarities and differences between the USA and Australia. Geography, politics, government, food, popular culture, flora and fauna, and history have all been topics of conversation. The students have been really interested and keen to discuss things, so I’ve really had a lot of fun. Talking with teens comes naturally to me, so I have been very blessed to have these opportunities. 

I also had the chance to watch my cousin teach geometry to a student who hates math. In his words, “Every moment of this is agony for her.” By the end of this one-on-one instruction time, she is mentally exhausted but she has achieved two learning goals and shown that she is making progress. She takes a nap for the remainder of the session: this is both her reward and essential recovery time after a lesson in which she has fought to achieve mastery of skills and knowledge that many students might take for granted as “basic”. 

I can understand where she is coming from. I hated math too: I found it very difficult, and my teacher was neither patient nor understanding of my weaknesses. I have to say that if my math teacher had been as gentle and encouraging as my cousin is with his students, I might have leaned more. There really is a art to teaching “math as a foreign language”, as David so neatly puts it. Other students in the room are more self-driven and work quietly in the relaxed learning environment where there’s blues music playing and the communication is casual and comfortable, even though the expectations and academic standards are maintained.  

I am so impressed. The students here are getting a chance to succeed and graduate where the regular classroom did not work for them. The staff are very proactive and constructive in their communication. In that, they are very much like the teachers with whom I work and, I’m sure, most teachers the world over.  It’s not really a unique thing that we do, but each of us has incredible opportunities to impact every student’s day, every student’s willingness to learn, and the outcomes of that in every student’s life. Here, where the kids face other issues in addition to those generally faced by teens in regular schools, there’s some powerful work being done to engage and mentor young people who are at very real risk of otherwise “falling through the cracks” or dropping out altogether. 

As David and I walked out at the end of the day, I was struck by the difference in appearance between his school and the one upstairs, which clearly gets more funding and attention than the other. It may look nicer up there, but I have developed a very soft spot for the students and the staff at Lincoln St Alternate Ed. What happens there is very, very special indeed. 

Exhibiting the Courage to Care

Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.

We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II. 

Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them. 

  

The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same. 

Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.

I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.  

I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result. 

   

My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.

He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.

 It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.

Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather. 

I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did. 

I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre. 

Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander. 

There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.

All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.