Strategies for teaching boys.

It’s hard being a man.

Our family had a sporting breakthrough in 2014.

Young Atticus our super grandson had a win.

Atticus Bond is our gorgeous autistic grand-guy who has phenomenal intellectual capacity but is not the most athletic person going around. He tries hard but by his own assessment finds sport a challenge.

In third term in 2014 his primary school held its annual cross country faction carnival torture test. I say torture test because when I was at school I detested cross country running and always managed an injury, flu or an on coming brain tumour to evade it.

If I had to describe Atticus’s skill set, long distance running is not anywhere on the first or second page, however he found a way to succeed. Armed with a simple plan, an iron will and a steel technique, Atticus set out to walk the course. (A strategy I wish I had have figured out many years earlier.)

He was asked several times if he wanted to stop but politely said that he would finish what he had started.

A long time after all other contestants had finished, Atticus crossed the line.

Few people noticed but Atticus didn’t mind… job done.

His Gold faction won the competition so he received the vicarious joy of being in a winning team even if he didn’t win himself.

Last week though one of his team mates made an interesting observation. It seemed that Gold faction had won by only one point.

“Do you know what Mum?” this boy told his mother, “If Atticus hadn’t finished the race he would not have earned a point for finishing and Gold wouldn’t have won.”

His mother related this point to some other mothers, who in turn told a teacher.

One Friday afternoon a fortnight later Atticus Bond was awarded an honour certificate for winning the cross country carnival for Gold Faction “For your, courage, dedication and persistence….” The award read.

Atticus blushed with embarrassed pride as he stood in front of the whole applauding school.

That’s how it goes when you are a sporting hero!

Later that same week I sat with seven young men, only one of them had a father who was not in gaol. This is a “normal” class in a “standard” aboriginal school in Northern Australia. We were supposed to be discussing aboriginal in deaths custody, something that could affect all of these boys directly, but because they had to read they were not displaying courage, dedication and persistence….

The weird thing is that all of these boys aged around thirteen desperately needed to process the grief that comes from having an absent father but already years and years of “boy” training had taught them to supress all “softer” emotions that would challenge their Manliness… the same process that led their fathers to prison.

According to Joe Ehrmann alexithymia is the inability to put emotions into word, Ehrmann believes that 80% of men are unable to express their emotions in a significant way.

These boys are a drastic example of what happens when the cycle is started.

Boys are still told to “be a man” “grow up”, “toughen up” and “get over it” and they do. They very rapidly lock their emotions away in a place they dare not go to and aim themselves at an early “adulthood” without any of the tools that can truly make them a functioning human being.

When this happens I believe they D.I.E. That stands for becoming Defiant, Immature and Excessive.

I am sure if you have lasted this long on this blog that you know an adult male who is Defiant, Immature and Excessive and thinks they are terrific.

The two biggest skills that Ehrman believes that all men need are…

· The skill to develop relationships in which they can love and allow themselves to be loved

· The skills to find a cause greater than themselves; something that teaches them that life is not about yourself but the people who you care for.

Surely these should be a two biggest daily strategies in all schools.

Each of the boys sitting around the table had been raised with a set of lies which caused them to meet all of the challenges that the world threw at them as threats to their manhood, scared to be anything but “strong”, prone to lashing out with the violence that comes from the unprocessed grief of never being the man that they really wanted to be.

Unfortunately even in this remote corner of the world these boys were constantly bombarded with the false images of masculinity that the world measures males by Sport, Sex and Money or Balls, Babes and Billfolds as Ehrmann puts it.

For some reason males elevate sports people, lover boys and rich men as the models of manliness that they should all be, measures that these boys start falling short of very early in their lives.

“I don’t think there’s anything more painful than feeling like you don’t measure up as a man,” Ehrmann states, “and given the cultural definition, you’ll never have a long enough athletic career, you’ll never sleep with enough women and or make enough money to ever be fulfilled and satisfied by that. So men start to medicate the pain of not feeling man enough—alcohol, drugs, sex, materialism, pornography—whatever men need to attach to in order to feel secure about their own masculinity.”

Breaking the cycle needs a new language and a new approach to education because the needs of our boys are equally in difficulty in leafy green inner suburban schools as they are in remote Australian communities.

Throughout Australia sport is held up as the savior but will only stop the cycle if turns from winning at all costs to developing boys into true men through positive relationships and life changing causes. Let’s face it sport is not for everyone and with only 30% of Australian Children ever playing child hood sports in adulthood, sport becomes one of the prime abusers of young men.

Emotionally capable men are not created by kicking a ball around a paddock.

In short we need a new type of education that believes personal literacy based on TLC, that’s not just Tender Loving Care, but the ability to Think, Listen and Communicate is more important than winning games of sport, coming first in the academic tables or how much money your family has.

The type of education that says “I love you just the way you are!” that tells boys that they don’t have to lose any part of themselves to become some macho warriors minus the emotions, that you don’t have to be a sex god or a millionaire to be successful, just a person who cares and shows it.

So here are a bunch of simple strategies will help connect with the boys in your classes and hopefully enable you to help them break the cycle.

Before I plough into these though I must introduce a new word into the English to make sure we don’t get too carried away. That word would be “SoBNA”.

SoBNA stands for some-but-not-all boys, males are not a homogeneous group, there are exceptions and counter arguments for all of the strategies I mention below and I truly know that girls like most of these strategies too. However they might just enable you find something that hooks a student in that you might not have thought about.


Each of these photographs will provoke a brilliant discussion but be prepared to challenge their often extremely dogmatic opinions. Many boys are trained to be opinionated, like their role models in sport, business, politics, music and the media.

Push back and ask “Do you really believe what you just said or are you just following the pack.?”

Be warned anything to do with genitals and pain is considered extremely amusing to males and I am afraid to admit that I agree, as long as they are not my genitals!

This image though can get you into a brilliant discussion as to whether animals should be killed for human’s entertainment.


This stops competition allows you to get rid of interrupting and enables you to choose any student at any time, don’t hesitate to make boys get help from someone else in the room to answer a question, they need mountains of practice at asking for help.

Please do not ‘save’ them when they are struggling with an answer, it may feel good from the teacher’s point of view but it takes away their ability to use metacognition and develop persistence.


Boys are tactile learners and are always rocking on chairs, tapping and drumming. Use good manipulative's to give them the simple physical output that they often use to block too much input.

Playdough should be mandatory in every classroom, as should non standardized play material. Replace Leggo with wooden cubes and you will see creativity blossom.

Ask them regularly to make a model of what you’re talking about, whether it be a scene in Shakespeare, a mathematical relationship, a dance move or the plot of a novel.

Suddenly you will have engagement to work with.


If you really want a boy to hear you will find that the right side is better than the left.

Research shows us that your right ear is better than your left ear at receiving sounds from speech. Early on girls have a listening advantage but with age females remain stronger with high pitched sounds and males are better with lower pitches… Don’t ask me why… It just is!.

And it’s worth a try.


Stop and allow time to process language, talk about it and ask questions. Strategies like TTYPA (Turn To Your Partner And…) are great for a thirty second discussion before you ask questions.

You get better processing of language and they ask smarter questions.

They are also much less likely to call out and interrupt if they know there is a time to get their questions answered.


A job makes a kid feel important, gives them a break from a class, gets them known around the school and makes them feel important. I used to regularly send one trouble maker to the office to get a file for me. When this happened the office receptionist would happily have a conversation with and stuff just about any piece of paper into a folder and send him on his way.

This worked perfectly as he got some air, calmed down and returned to class ready to work.


Having a wronged boy sitting on the blue dots is like having a heavily shaken bottle of champagne with the wires taken off sitting in the front row of your class first thing after lunch and screaming “SIT STILL”!


This picture says it all (Although I don’t know what Kochie is doing in a science lab!).

Any boys in this class will remember this lessons forever!

Ask yourself “Will these guys remember this next week?” if the answer is “No!” seriously consider how to add colour and action to whatever you are doing.


Boys like space. When you put them close to each other they invade each other’s territories, prod, poke, punch and annoy each other CONSTANTLY.

Work table allow them to spread out a bit and stand up desks give them the flexibility to move without being chastised.

If you want some fun throw in a few exercise balls, the big inflatable ones from the gym. This gets them moving and tires them out enough for them to relax and learn.


Be aware that boys like to memorize facts. Take advantage of this trait.

Challenge them to remember bundles of facts and test them verbally.

Here’s a simple Memory Circle strategy that really works

  1. Do a TTYPA on a topic that has a range of answers.

  2. Have each student share their partner’s answer with the class.

  3. Choose students at random to see if they can recall the answers given so far.

  4. Progress around the room in groups of four replies.

  5. Applaud students who can hang in till the end.

  6. Strongly enforce the rules of “Right to get help.”

I played this this week with thirty year five classes and well over 50% of the class aced it and could remember everyone in the classes favorite food and not one kid knew less than half.

Not bad for 45 minutes work.

Here are ten more quick insights that might help:

· Keep in mind many boys need extra time for task completion.

· Boys in general tend to mature at a slower rate than girls, therefore may not be ready for their assigned program/grade placement.

· Left hander alert! Be aware that left-handed boys suffer learning disabilities 10 times the rate of righties.

· Keep in mind that boys are less accurate at “reading” faces than girls. This can affect your ability to discipline nonverbally.

· Boys tend to be more aggressive in temperament than girls. This has implications for grouping and pairing. Pair them up with girls who know how to handle big egos.

· The greatest instructional motivator for boys is to teach to their interest area. If there are no opportunities in the curriculum, slip random clips and images into you lessons.

· Boys often have volume control issues. Teach them about different shades of saying.

· Make sure that your instructional delivery and classroom management reflect the fact that 95% of the children diagnosed as hyperactive are boys. In fact Boys make up over 70% of students classified as special needs.

· Boys make up 80-90% of discipline referrals. Should we refer them less or refer girls more?

· Because a girl’s “Corpus Callosum” (the bundle of nerves that connect the brains left and right hemisphere) is significantly larger than boys some researchers believe this may explain why girls are capable of completing several tasks at the same time. Remember this when you give instruction. And design group work.

As you can see boys still have issues. Learning how to teach them well helps everyone. Whenever an intervention is done to improve outcomes for boys girls do better as well!

So remember Atticus Bond and know that changing the way we teach boys will most likely take longer than we think but with courage, dedication and persistence, you might just win them over.

Watch this, this is the trailer of “The Mask You Live In”. It is very challenging but well worth sharing the full movie with your school.

I love delivering on how to better educate and love boys, I will be running some awesome workshops on our Bali Teachers Retreat this January.

We will be at the incredible Hotel Komune Resort for 6 days of rest, relaxation and some PD. We currently have a very affordable price, which is tax deductible.

Find out more and join us!

Greg :)

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