See My Peers, See My Future


This blog post is to share the second of the seven articles I wrote for Gulf News 6 years ago. After I’d already committed to write the first there was a request to slightly modify the brief. So articles 2 to 7 were targeted at older students – of approximately Class 9 and above about issues important for them.

This particular piece was motivated by my concerns about the degree to which large numbers of students were motivated both by ‘the system’ and by peer pressure not to really put their heads above the parapet, to stand out or to be different or to take different actions to get different life outcomes.

As a result, whilst many students expressed wishes and desires to excel, to achieve big dreams too often their actions were driven by a need to fit in, to conform and to make themselves as much the same as their peers, thereby making it almost impossible to achieve outcomes any different from the mass.

(Click on the link above to open the article in pdf form in either a separate browser tab or page.)



Children’s Backpacks – The Lack of Drive & Energy to Change


Backpacks should never weigh more than 10 – 20% of the child’s weight.

That’s the strong and firm recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In India at least. i would reckon that the angst about the weight of children’s school bags has roiled around for at least 15 years, and yet there’s still all the evidence that little has changed and that those bags are still way too heavy.

It’s become one of those problems and challenges where everyone seems to agree it’s wrong, but everyone is waiting or demanding that someone else should take the action to solve the issue. In the meantime, children keep suffering as everyone blames someone else.

There have been some creative attempts to solve the issues. I was aware of a textbook publisher in the South of India who replaced the separate textbooks for English, maths and Science in Primary classes with combined books for Term 1, Term 2 and Term 3. The idea was that the child would just need to carry the one book. The idea had limited success. People somehow believed that knowledge is compartmentalized according to subjects and therefore were not completely comfortable with these combined books. Teachers sometimes wanted to jump around the syllabus and not be tied to the earlier decisions about allocating the work across the three terms. Then, when exams came around they wanted the children to carry all of the books.

Here’s a recent article that highlights some of the issues – issues that really don’t seem to have changed much over so many years:
MSN – Mom Article – Here’s What Happens When a Child’s Backpack is Too Heavy

There are some key issues that people need to own up to if solutions are to be found;

a) Teachers retain their freedom to shift lessons around at short notice, so children can’t leave books at home and simply take to school the ones for the scheduled classes for that day. The more chaotic the scheduling and planning in schools, the more books the children carry each day – to avoid getting in to trouble. Teachers, all too often, don’t tell children to bring all the books related to the subject because they KNOW all the books will be required, but to retain maximum convenience for themselves.

b) Where lockers are provided to children, too often they’re not convenient or the timetable doesn’t permit sufficient time to use them. Or, quite simply, they’re not taught the skills and benefits of effective planning. I’ve seen too many situations where the lockers were in classrooms. So, if the room is engaged, students can’t enter to access their locker.
Even going back to when I was in school (and that was a very long time ago!) the timetable was set up with lessons in blocks of two (never more than three). The expectation was that we collect and carry the books for the lessons in that block. So, you didn’t have to go back between the lessons when there wasn’t time. It was my responsibility to plan this correctly. Between those blocks of lessons there was ample time to go and get books. So, if I was late to a lesson because I left getting my books until too late or arrived with the wrong books, that was also my responsibility. That said, human error happens and it’s through making mistakes that we get better. Missing a book occasionally is not the end of the world, but we can learn from it.

c) The first day of a new term/ academic year is one of the worst for heavy bags. Too often we see children carrying everything. Teachers can plan for this by providing information to parents and students about what to carry with the aim to bring everything gradually over the first two to three days. We’ve done this effectively in some schools where I’ve worked with the leadership team in the past. It was necessary to plan accordingly in age appropriate ways (for example making sure that the entire contents of the bag didn’t go back home at the end of the first day!)

d) There are similar issues about the end of the term/ academic year. The entire content of a child’s locker need to go home generally (or at the parents’ insistence). If we know this, we need to plan for it to avoid a last day when the children will carry a bag bulging with every piece of scrap paper and bag built up in the locker over a whole term Again, in the past, I’ve been involved in situations where communication with parents and the children ensured that the contents of lockers were first tidied and sorted and then moved home over two to three days at least. This effectively spread the weight burden.

e) The article advocates trolley bags as a way to avoid the issue of bag weight. In my experience this isn’t a good solution – in fact, it can make the situation worse, because all restraint on what goes in to the bag goes away. As stated trolley bags also don’t work when children need to go up or down stairs. This also troubles children when getting in and out of vehicles. There’s a bigger issue with younger children that lead us to outlaw these bags in at least one of my past schools – the potential for children to run over each others’ legs and feet, causing at least hurt if not injury.

f) Parents who want everything to go home every Friday pose a challenge and make themselves part of the problem instead of part of the solution. I’ve seen this quite frequently, often tied to their own perceptions that to prove themselves as effective caring parents who take a personal interest in their child’s learning need to go through the books at least once a week. Sadly, too often, I’ve seen these occasions lead to children dreading the weekend, feeling the need to defend their teacher and getting stuck between home and school. I’m sure few of these parents micromanage employees in their workplaces in such ways, yet they do it with their child and the teachers! Children learn to own their learning better by less frequent reviews of their learning. I prefer twice a term student-led conferences where the child gets to present the work they’ve been doing and reflect on their own learning with the teacher and parent.

g) Being cool is highlighted in the article, but especially in secondary schools is a massive issue around school bags. I remember being particularly frustrated in Bangladesh where the older boys wore their bags with the straps loosened off to the maximum so that it bounced below their bum. The strain they were doing to their backs was awful to see, all on the pursuit of peer pressure, being cool and fitting in. I used to applaud those who had the sense and personal strength to not feel the need to go along with the silliness.  The ‘one shoulder’ thing is also an issue.
Ultimately, the way to address this issue sits alongside so many others where peer pressure causes children to engage in behaviours that are not in their best interests. We can’t necessarily win all the time, but as parents and educators we need to do all in our power to stress individuality and the strength to pursue goals and objectives through independent thought, rather than going along to get along. That’s an issue for another blog post!

The reality is these heavy bags are harming children and have been doing so for many years. We haven’t done enough to address the issues and past solutions aren’t going to be enough. It’s going to require that parents and teachers care enough and combine their care for the children to create effective solutions.

‘On fleek’ Is So Yesterday!

If you’re a teacher or a parent who has teens in your life, you may spend a good deal of your time struggling not to admit that you’re feeling a bit out of touch.

Well, here’s some survey results that might give you a chance of catching up a bit, to understand where teens are coming from and what’s happening/ what matters in their lives;

Business Insider – What Teens Are Like in 2016

It’s important that we’re careful with this kind of information. Trying to be ‘like the teens’ is not going to work and will very rapidly lead to lost respect. This is a club to which we’re not permitted membership, even if we learn the passwords. We have to remember our role – as parent or educator – and that we’re not there to be their best buddy. There’s also nothing to be gained by condemning, criticising or denying how things are. We only have to look back to our own teen years and the things that confused, annoyed or angered our parents’ generation, whilst making perfect sense to us. And, didn’t those things play a part in shaping who we are today?

However, understanding a bit more about how their minds tick, what they hold important and what matters can provide clues as to how best to work with them. One thing that hasn’t changed (and won’t) is the peer pressure coupled with FOMO (fear of missing out) that means that when a trend catches with teens, it’s very quickly an avalanche. These pressures feel very real for the teen and can be the source of considerable stress. Simply telling them to think independently doesn’t solve the issue!

Gulf News – Article 2

As i wrote last week, the request from Gulf News was to write articles 2 – 7 with a target audience of students of Class 9 and upwards. So, with this in mind, here is the second article published in Gulf News that came out on Sunday.

I hope you enjoy the read. Please share your thoughts and ideas as these are some thoughts and ideas that I’m writing about for the first time and i still see my own views as ‘evolving’ to some degree:

Article 2 Gulf News

Tony Buzan on Mindmapping

I have long been a big fan of Mindmapping as a way of organising thoughts. I’ve been using them for over 20 years now for planning speeches and presentations, organising projects, lengthy pieces of written work, even for problem solving.

I advocate them for students for essay planning, chapter reviews for revision checking understanding and test and exam preparation. In TSRS we’ve found that they are especially useful for children with special needs as aids to learning and retention.

It saddens me sometimes that students learn about mindmaps, acknowledge them as a great idea, but fail to make them part of their own habits. When I quiz them it’s usually something related to – ‘people like me don’t do stuff like that’, ‘my mates will think I’m weird’ (peer pressure to keep each of us ‘in our place’ is alive and well!!)

Here’s the originator of Mindmaps, Tony Buzan, talking about them;

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