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Practical Wisdom Teaching strategies that work with our boys, from Brisbane Boys’ College teachers, backed by research.

“The teacher-boy connection

does not merely contribute to or enhance teaching and learning; relationship is the very medium through which successful teaching and learning is carried out.


Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley

WE KNOW BOYS. / Relationships are at the very centre of all we do

with our students. At Brisbane Boys’ College, our guiding philosophy is All About the Boy. We seek to create a strong relationship with our students in order to prepare them for learning and to assist in their development as young men. This relationship between boys and their teachers/ mentors is the basis for utilising teaching strategies which work. The strategies in this booklet have been categorised under 10 key areas, based on the work of Dr Peter West. These teaching strategies were developed by Brisbane Boys’ College teaching staff over the course of a number of professional learning conversations. Many thanks to the passionate teachers who openly gave their wisdom, experience and good humour.

STRATEGIES FOR WORKING WITH BOYS. 1. Be Brief. Be Positive. Build Relationships. 2. Talk Less. 3. Get Boys Doing. 4. Use Humour. 5. Get Help. 6. Challenge Boys. 7. Competition Works. 8. Help with writing. 9. Being a man means. 10. Keep it Clear.

BE BRIEF. BE POSITIVE. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. / Get boys talking about what it means to be male. Show examples and role model positive behaviours.

BE BRIEF. BE POSITIVE. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. Be interested in your boys – what he does (both at school and out of school). This makes the job in the classroom a lot easier as the boy can then see that the teacher cares about him as a person. Boys will work much better for Not a put down zone. Each time you and be willing to try their best if they somebody says something negative feel that you know them, like them and towards another student, then they must are interested in them as a person. read out something from the “Build Up-Chart” to that person in front of the For parents who are upset, form a whole class. positive and empathic partnership. For example: Acknowledge that you can sense they You have a nice smile. are frustrated or upset. Aim to support I like the way you treat others. their child positively, in partnership. You have a wonderful imagination. You brighten up my day. Connect with a student whose You’re a cool dude! emotional state is heightened. Distract the student and give him plenty of Don’t back boys into a corner. Always opportunity to do something else (even provide an out. This will maintain your playing in the playground etc). Do this relationship and strengthen respect long until he has a chance to calm himself. term. Let the student know that you will check if he’s ready in 5-10 mins. Be a thespian. There is a little bit of that in all of us. Learn how and when to Follow through with processes that use this. Boys will see you in a different you announce with regard to academic light and relax. Calm the mood and tell routine and expectations of behaviour. personal stories to build relationships. Boys like and expect routine. Know boys beyond the classroom Most students find it easy to behave – whether through co-curricular, a appropriately. For those who don’t there conversation at lunch or a conversation is generally a reason – search for the with another teacher or to a parent. reason – never give up on students. Let them know you care and share experiences. Our boys love to share. Non-verbal cues – waiting in the same space before delivering content. Start each lesson fresh, with positivity and with a greeting. Each boy is valued as an individual and mistakes forgotten. Boys can move on quickly if given the chance.

Remember a positive that the boy has achieved when he thought that he couldn’t, then don’t let him forget it. Remind them about it whenever they say they can’t do something. It’s a great motivator and makes them feel good about themselves, thus developing a positive relationship with the student.

The triangle of relationships must be developed, not ignored (student, parent and teacher). Often student issues stem from external factors. Parent information can be pivotal to finding a solution or way forward. Some things cannot be changed and then support is the best option.

Pass on positive feedback from other Show you are vulnerable. This is teachers. “I was so happy to hear so boys feel comfortable to have a that (name) always behaves in Music conversation. Lessons. I’m going to give everyone an Honour Point.” More often than not, if I Talk about anything. This can allow reward good behaviour, when outside lessons to follow a natural progression. the classroom the boys will do the right This helps deeper thinking to occur. thing. Leave on a positive note. I try to leave Build their self esteem. An anxious the boys with no ill feeling towards me student saw me regarding an upcoming as it is a consequence of their actions. assessment. He explained feelings of In saying this though, be understanding being vulnerable/feeling of failure/loss of of their situation. confidence. I spoke with him regarding his success so far/work ethic/pride in In the playground: I like to hear both/all him/openness/honesty, and positive sides to an incident and then assist the life traits that I saw in him. Next lesson boys in solving/finding an alternate way when I asked for someone to present to solve the problem. This way all boys their work, who should volunteer so feel that their ‘side of the story’ has been positively? told. Avoid labelling – labels stick, Show empathy towards the boys and sometimes for a school life. endeavour to discover the reasons behind particular choices of behaviour; Be authentic. Be real in the classroom there’s always an underlying reason. and acknowledge mistakes. This is important to develop a sense of belonging which is a human need of Never underestimate the power of great importance for optimum mental positive physical touch - such as a emotional wellbeing. handshake or a pat on the back. Develop real connections. If they trust Find the right balance. Share aspects you, they will trust that the educational of your life with them, but not everything. journey you are taking them on is Firm but fair. Humour, but not putworthwhile. Real learning starts with downs. trust.

TALK LESS / Cut down the words you use.

Boys like clear, short instructions with clear timelines. Give students one task or section of new information at a time. Get boys active early in the lesson, but be actively involved in the lesson too.


Use a homework grid with options to choose from for motivation.

Keep boys busy, active and moving physically and mentally. This must be done from the position of understanding who the boys are and what their strengths are. You can then make a judgement about when they need to move, or when things need to slow down to develop deeper learning experiences.

Visible thinking strategies enhance metacognition and encourage interaction between students. It helps students experience a range of viewpoints.

Boys need trust and belief. I sit with the boys when conveying an important message. I will sit on a downslope and get boys to form a “U” around me. I will speak at a volume where it is hard to hear. This helps get undivided attention. This setup reduces the power imbalance and provides a more powerful, meaningful experience.

I try to treat a boy as someone I’m looking forward to talking with and tend to chatter about things in daily life – like you’d do with a person at a bus stop or who you might meet in a waiting room. It disarms them. They invariably contribute and you have the beginnings of a working relationship Collaborate and deconstruct the task togther and unpack what is required. The boys can then construct their own ideas.

Make the learning boy-friendly: • Choose topics and activities wisely • Scaffold tasks, build structure into the learning • Include kinaesthetic learning • Use practical, hands-on and relevant activities • Find ways to create success for each learner.

Be empathetic and willing to listen to show a genuine concern for the boys as individuals, even if they are not a favourite student!

Get down to their eye level when working with boys. I kneel down, sit next to them – get them to sit next to me. It’s much easier to talk face to face if you want relationships.

Read aloud with all the boys. Boys take turns to read sections. All boys need to have a shot if possible. Try small sections of reading for boys who are reluctant. Praise and encouragement should follow.

Have a word or phrase to get boys’ attention without clapping or raising your voice. Year 1 boys will put their hands on heads and stop what they’re doing.

GET BOYS DOING / Focus on – what will boys DO in this lesson? Most males are focused on action.

GET BOYS DOING. I combine samples of student work with rubrics and get students to grade the work in groups, against the criteria. This results in conversations to promote a common language to discuss challenging text types. “Team Talk” Tell the boys what is happening during that session, day or week. Boys love to know where the lesson or experience fits into the bigger picture. They want to know the end point. Be clear and simple with instructions Boys don’t listen. Be organised and clear. Hand out whiteboard markers – write arrows all over the room to engage students. Ask students to set their own goals which are specific and achievable. Create a list of three goals – check in before and after class on how they are doing. Email/call parents with the good news. Include students in decision making and why they are participating in certain activities. Implement a ‘standing station’ where boys can stand to complete the task/s instead of sitting at their desks. This helps their focus and concentration, as well as completing the required work. Change the learning environment – use the spaces we have available to structure a lesson outside the regular routine.

USE HUMOUR / Use a joke now and then. It really helps to get boys on side.

USE HUMOUR. Share appropriate humour. School is a place of learning – including how to be respectful and a good learner. Boys don’t always get it right. With the boys I teach, I use a variety of strategies to manage the class, but one of the most effective is to use humour to redirect attention and focus back to learning. Well-placed wit that does not belittle or offend can diffuse a situation quickly and build a relationship while allowing learning to get back on track. Relax. Sometimes when I feel myself becoming overwhelmed in the classroom, I breathe, tell myself to relax, and always try to smile. Use humour but don’t make the situation a joke. The humour is used to develop the rapport between myself and them (this can be used at a later stage.)

Using humour in appropriate ways – support/encourage/engage rather than belittle or embarrass. Boys need to have fun while they’re working and to know you are human too – let them hear you laugh! Let the boys know you. Laugh at yourself. Boys feel safe. Humour can break down barriers. When the time comes for work, it is more likely to happen. Humour is a great way of connecting with boys.

GET HELP / Use a teacher buddy to help

you watch underachievers who slide under the radar. Tell the class someone is coming in to give you a hand. Or use a colleague to observe your lesson to assist with other ideas or improvements.

GET HELP. Observe. Take some time to observe a lesson of another teacher. Share a Graphic Organiser that has worked for another teacher. Ask for ideas about how to teach a particular concept. Take time to engage with colleagues at break times. A shared frustration or idea might be the spark you need. Ask outside of BBC. Talk to a colleague from another school. Debrief with another teacher when a lesson has not gone to plan. What could I do differently? Ask a colleague for a tip to start the lesson.

CHALLENGE BOYS / “Can you do it?” Challenge boys more. Boys say school doesn’t challenge them enough.


Don’t hover. When asking a student to do something. Make your expectations clear and expect that they will do it, then walk away. Check on them later but don’t stand by them expecting them to Editing written work can be perform. challenging for some boys. They do not want to face mistakes. Reading their Don’t challenge their masculinity. It work aloud empowers them to “hear” triggers threat (fight or flight reactions) their own errors. and it’s linked to the idea of not backing a student into a corner. If a student asks a specific question for clarity, what are signposts? After Change the learning environment I answer it for them, I might go back to – use the spaces we have around to them that lesson or the next day and structure a lesson outside the regular see if they can explain what signposts routine. Why? It keeps kids on their are – if they can, job done. If not – try toes and helps them find new ways to again. connect with the subject. Set individual goals for the student Allow mistakes to be part of the who is struggling to understand content. learning process. To really engage Set individual goals in the lesson and in learning it needs to be allowable have check-in points to gauge success. for boys to be BRAVE in asking Students are empowered in their questions when they don’t know. In own learning goals and the goals are the early stages of teaching a class, achievable. I establish the expectation that boys take responsibility for their learning by Be the best teacher you can be. You asking if they don’t understand or seek are an inspirational role model. Know clarification. This is encouraged by your subject area. Be passionate about positive reinforcement. Likewise, boys what you teach. Plan well, with thought laughing about others asking questions and creativity. This will enable boys to or boys belittling attempts at learning is see who you are and what you care dealt with swiftly. about. The student struggling in rehearsal Being fair, firm and friendly. Fair and – give lots of different opportunities to firm really do not require explanation but succeed – one to one time, email check“Friendly” does – a student is not my ins, small group with a buddy. Let them friend and will not be my friend BUT I know that their struggle is ok and their will be friendly in my dealing with him. success matters. Challenge boys to achieve their personal best and measuring that success.


ETITION S / Get boys competing against others, against themselves and against teachers.



/ Provide clear literacy and numeracy support for all boys. Role model and provide examples of what you expect in all subjects.

HELP WITH WRITING. Provide clear, specific and direct feedback. Always support written feedback with a verbal conversation. Often, boys will not even read feedback, unless you structure some lesson time to sit with them. Boys like the opportunity to discuss areas for improvement. Scaffold the task. Break the requirements into ‘chunks’. Have boys check their work for specific errors such as punctuation, spelling and sentence construction. Model the value of writing and reading. Use short films to encourage writing, discussion, world issues, ethics, inequality etc. The deal is: I’ll show you a short film each week if you agree to write a short synopsis for me and watch it again at home with mum and dad. Provide clear discussion about what is required in an assessment task. Boys need to feel they can manage the task and succeed. Use interesting topics to engage boys in reading and writing. Give boys lots of choice. Once they have some ownership or interest in a topic, they will do wonders.

BEING A MAN MEANS... / Get boys talking about what it

means to be male. Show examples and role model these behaviours.

BEING A MAN MEANS... Ask boys to be in touch with emotions. Be respectful/caring and discuss using OAR – Own your behaviour, be Accountable for it, be Responsible in the future. This is utilised to remove “blame, excuse, denial” traits of adolescence. Model expected behaviours such as picking up litter in the playground. If I expect a boy to do it, I can do it too. Boys are afraid of being afraid – sometimes this perception of not being tough enough leads to ridicule – be careful how you challenge boys’ masculinity. Praise publically and punish privately. Some boys have a fragile sense of self-esteem. The quickest way to “lose” them is to shame them in front of peers.

KEEP IT CLEAR / Explain tasks simply, step by step.

KEEP IT CLEAR. Allow the boys to give out Honour Points. At the end of each lesson the teacher assigns an Honour Point and explains why. The boy then chooses a boy for an Honour Point and explains why. This is repeated until four boys have an Honour Point. There is much emphasis on responsibility, kindness and looking at the whole group. Be clear about your intentions for the lesson. Write the plan for a task or lesson on the whiteboard. Keep directions clear. Share the objectives of the lesson with students, and come back to these at the end of the lesson and/or the next day to "check in"

MANIFESTO. ALL ABOUT THE BOY. We will bring out the best in you We will educate and enlighten you – not just teach you We will encourage and empower you – not just coach you We encourage you to discover what you’re good at We will help you find confidence by unearthing your talent We see you as a son of the world and the world will always be your playground We know you as the knight, crusader, viking, gladiator, or pirate you are We know you as the real person you are We understand the changing you We know boys, we speak boy We watch you grow and develop from child to man We guide your development into a good quality human being – a gentleman of honour We support you to grow strong in body, strong in character and big in heart We will watch you make mistakes, make robots, make music, make amends and make a difference We will inspire you, back you, nurture you, care for you and about you We will help you develop, evolve and find your special place in the world We know you’ll do well, we’ve watched you win We will watch you go forth with the confidence and capability to change the world.

Profile for Brisbane Boys' College

Practical Wisdom - Teaching strategies that work with our boys. Created by BBC teachers.  

A collaboration of teaching strategies by staff at Brisbane Boys' College. Copyright 2017.

Practical Wisdom - Teaching strategies that work with our boys. Created by BBC teachers.  

A collaboration of teaching strategies by staff at Brisbane Boys' College. Copyright 2017.