A 3 Step Process to Foster Resilience & Empathy (6 minute read)

How does a disagreement that young people inevitably have with their friends relate to losing a basketball game or other sports match? Can they notice a connection from those two situations to a difficult assignment in one of their classes?

Is it too much of a stretch to connect all of those personal experiences to characters in their favorite TV series or literature? How does all of this relate to the lyrics in their favorite songs? Or living things in nature?

A common thread across these situations could be ‘resilience’ in the face of ‘setbacks.’ Imagine if more of our middle school students could independently draw out the lessons of each circumstance and apply those lessons to new situations.

For instance, a disagreement with friends could demonstrate that strong emotions are temporary. Unpleasant feelings will eventually fade. That idea could be comforting after a sports match loss.

And after both making up with their friends and winning a match, they could learn that struggles can make positive moments feel even better. And that the best things in life are worth putting in effort.

Those lessons can be applied to a challenging school assignment. They could then notice these principles in others such as characters in film and other stories. Imagine a young person making this connection while watching squirrels prepare for winter!

The best thing we can do for our students is teach them to become pattern seekers, especially in the area of self-management.

The rapid pace of change in our world today means that our young people will have to continue to learn and adapt long after they’ve left our schools (McGowen, n.d.). They need to be able to see patterns across different situations. They can’t give up easily. And they need to be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

We can use an empowering three step process to teach our young people how to become pattern seekers.

Step 1: Acquire understanding of transferable concepts.

Concepts are organizing ideas with distinct attributes that are shared across multiple examples. Put simply, they are words we use to organize and categorize our world. They are like mental file folders. They help our brains organize examples into meaningful groups based on shared attributes.

The beauty of concepts, as shown in the example of resilience and setbacks above, is that they point students and teachers alike to look past the superficial features of a situation and into the deeper structural features.

Step 2: Connect concepts in relationships.

Concepts alone, though, do not suffice to transfer our learning to new situations. The real driver of transfer is the ability to see the patterns of interaction among concepts. For instance, a resilient person must do more than just recognize a setback or a difficulty in a situation. They need to use their understanding of how setbacks make success taste sweeter in order to persevere and not give up. The mental “file folders” — concepts like setbacks and perseverance — need to be organized in relation to one another to create a conceptual framework in the expert’s mind (Donovan & Bransford, 2005).

Every field, hobby, or complex skill can be viewed through the lens of fundamental elements, called concepts, and the predictable ways those elements interact. Concepts and their connections are a critical link between prior learning and new situations.

See Figure 1 for the three simple steps to think about social-emotional learning.

Figure 1: The Learning Transfer Model-Stern, et. al, 2021

The most straightforward way to help students construct webs of meaning is to ask questions that prompt student attention to conceptual relationships. We can plug concepts into the following conceptual question stems to achieve that:

  • How are and _ connected?
  • What is the relationship between _ and _? 
  • How does impact/affect/influence ? 
  • What effect do and have on ? 
  • How do and interact? 
  • What is the role/purpose of  in ? 

We can use a cycle with two main components as a broad way to think about instructional design:

  • Teachers pose abstract questions about how concepts relate in order to call attention to the deeper structures of a situation.
  • Students explore a specific context – e.g. a personal difficult moment, witnessing a difficult moment that others experience, hearing about an injustice in the community, etc. – in which the concepts play a major role.

After students have a chance to explore a specific context and answer the conceptual question, the cycle should continue, allowing students to apply their understanding to increasingly dissimilar contexts. See Figure 2 for a visual of this cycle.

Figure 2: The Learning Transfer Cycle –Stern, Ferraro, & Mohnkern, 2017

Step 3:  Transfer learning to new situations.  

Consider the example in Figure 3 for social-emotional learning. Students are exploring the concepts of empathy and conflict. To begin, of course, teachers help students understand each concept on its own. They give students a quick definition of each concept and have students categorize a series of scenarios and images as representing either empathy or a lack of empathy. Students brainstorm as many types of conflict as they can and create a non-linguistic representation of what conflict means to them. These activities help direct students’ mental effort to the shared characteristics of empathy in new situations, which is essential for learning (McTighe & Willis, 2019).

Once students understand the meaning of each concept, the teacher poses a simple question about the relationship between them: How are empathy and conflict related? Then, students work through the learning transfer cycle to deepen their understanding of the concepts and understand how the concepts relate to each other.

How are empathy and conflict related?

Abstract conceptual questionContext for investigation
How can a lack of empathy lead to conflict?Students read a short story about a younger brother who always feels left out by his older siblings. Then they discuss the role a lack of empathy played in this sibling conflict.
How can conflict make it difficult to empathize with someone else?Students brainstorm instances in which they have had a conflict with someone else and write a journal entry about how the conflict made them feel. Then they discuss how the feelings associated with conflict – anger, frustration, resentment, sadness – can make it difficult to put yourself in another person’s shoes to practice empathy.
How can empathy help resolve a conflict?Students watch a video in which a girl overcomes a feeling of anger during a fight with her best friend by imagining things from her friend’s point of view.
How are empathy and conflict related?Students reflect on their learning through the previous three contexts and respond to the overall question of how empathy and conflict are related.

Notice that with each new book, video, or exercise, students are not only looking beyond the unfamiliar, superficial features to recognize the familiar, organizing concepts, they are using the unique features of the situation to explore the deeper patterns involved in the relationship between empathy and conflict in order to build a complex web of connections between the two ideas in their minds. This aids in both memory retention and in transfer of learning, as strong patterns in relationships allow predictions when confronting a new situation (McTighe & Willis, 2019).

The beauty of this cycle is that each new context also helps students strengthen their understanding of each concept individually. After investigating the relationship between empathy and conflict in these various iterations, students will have many examples of each concept in their respective mental file folders and can draw upon those examples when investigating the relationship between, say, conflict and peace, or empathy and resilience, down the road. And, just as important, each new context provides fertile ground to practice learning transfer.  

When we transfer, we must revisit our existing understanding and interrogate what we believe to be true. This means that we have to practice intellectual humility and admit when our prior understanding was partial or erroneous. Imagine a world where everyone practiced intellectual humility! This simple three-step process is a powerful force in our quest for more resilient and equitable schools and communities.

For further learning on this model, see Julie’s website and online courses. 




Donovan, S., & Bransford, J. (2005). How students learn. National Academies Press. 

McGowan, H. (n.d.). Sample frameworks. Heather E McGowan. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://heathermcgowan.com/sample-frameworks 

McTighe, J., & Willis, J. (2019). Upgrade your teaching: Understanding by design meets neuroscience. ASCD. 

Stern, J. H., Ferraro, K. F., Duncan, K., Aleo, T.,  (2021). Learning that transfers: Designing curriculum for a changing world. Corwin. 

Stern, J. H., Ferraro, K. F., Mohnkern, J. (2017). Tools for Teaching Conceptual Understanding: Designing lessons & assessments for deeper learning. Corwin. 

Julie Stern has two decades experience facilitating adult learning, and feels lucky to partner with educators to take their practice to the next level. She is passionate about synthesizing the best of education research into practical tools that support educators in breaking free of the industrial model of schooling and moving toward teaching and learning that promotes sustainability, equity, and well-being. She is a four-time, best-selling author of Learning that Transfers, Visible Learning for Social Studies, The On-Your-Feet-Guide to Learning Transfer and Tools for Teaching Conceptual Understanding, Elementary and Secondary. She is a certified trainer in Visible Learning Plus and Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction. She is a James Madison Constitutional Fellow and taught social studies for many years before serving as Director of Curriculum Innovation for a network of schools. Julie moves internationally every few years with her husband, a US diplomat, and her two children.

What it Really Takes to Be a Successful Middle School (3 min)

Support, connect, balance. When the ELMLE team selected these words as the theme of the 2023 conference, they certainly had no idea they would also so accurately summarize what we’ve learned from AMLE’s Successful Middle School programming during the 2021-2022 school year.

We’ve facilitated studies of The Successful Middle School: This We Believe to help schools understand middle grade best practices, conducted the Successful Middle School Assessment to help schools gauge their implementation of those practices, supported schools and districts through ongoing coaching and professional development, and recognized twelve schools as our inaugural Schools of Distinction for their robust implementation of those very practices. Although we already knew what makes a middle school “good,” we’ve learned a lot about what it actually takes to get there.

We’ve learned that successful middle schools foster a symbiotic relationship of support, empowerment, and collaboration among staff, students, and the community. When the upper administration trusts a school leader to do their job well, the school leader feels supported and empowered. If that school leader feels supported and empowered, they can trust their staff to do their jobs well, and the staff feel supported and empowered. If school staff feel supported and empowered, they can trust their students to do their job well, and students feel supported and empowered. If students feel supported and empowered, they take the success of a school far beyond the school’s walls, fostering trust and positive relationships between the school and their families and community. When families and the community feel connected to the school, they trust upper administration to do their job well. Support, connection, balance.


Description automatically generated

We’ve learned that successful middle schools develop these relationships intentionally and meticulously. Although the following list is by no means exhaustive, it provides a few tangible practices and mindsets that we’ve seen them utilize to create favorable conditions for these relationships to grow.

  • Staff understand and appreciate their students, including a strong foundation of young adolescent development.
  • A clear vision unifies staff and guides every decision.
  • Policies and practices are developed collaboratively and are evaluated transparently to ensure they are unbiased, student-centered, and fairly implemented. Staff and students know they have a voice in the decisions that are made for their school and believe they are listened to.
  • Structures foster meaningful relationships for students and staff, such as small learning communities through interdisciplinary teaming and advocacy for each student through advisory.
  • The empowerment of staff extends beyond administrative and teaching staff to include support staff and those in other roles.
  • Professional development honors the existing expertise of each staff member while working toward goals in line with the school’s vision.
  • Students believe they have a voice–in their academic experiences, in how their school operates, and in their larger community–and they know adults will listen.
  • The school engages with the community so that students’ learning experiences have both real-world relevance and impact.
  • The school views families as equal partners with the school in the best interest of the students and ensures families have authentic opportunities to not just spectate but actually influence the life and work of the school.

We’ve learned that when staff, students, and families feel trusted and empowered as part of a collaborative school community, the vision and mission of The Successful Middle School truly comes to life. We look forward to sharing more of what we’ve learned with you at ELMLE in January! 

Snowploughs, Snow boots, and Supervised Struggle

Martin Griffin

Recently I was reading an interview with a famous UK TV presenter in which she told a story about raising her son. In it she revealed something of her parenting style; something I found quite alarming at the time. If it rained in the afternoon as her boy was due to get out of school, she said, she’d send money to his bank account and text him to get a taxi home so he didn’t get wet.

This was my first encounter with what is now commonly referred to as snowplough parenting. Snowploughing replaces helicoptering – hovering around toddlers in playgrounds – when children reach middle level education. The snowplough parent aims to solve every conceivable problem their child might have ahead of time, ensuring a blissfully effortless existence.

The problem this creates for teachers compounds year-on-year. Why? Well, firstly snowploughing suffocates the development of the characteristics necessary for academic success, and crucially, creates a cultural expectation that is the school’s job to snowplough as well. The parent arranges life in the domestic context – removing issues around money-management, tech and connectivity, even walking through the rain – but it’s expected the school does the same in the educational context; tests shouldn’t be too hard, one-on-one sessions should deal with specific difficulties, lessons should be universally entertaining but also bespoke to each child, an issue was vividly illustrated by a recent GCSE student of mine. Approaching me at the end of a lesson he said, “Sir, I’d like to start revising
soon. So when are you going to put the extra lessons on?”

And we’re also dealing with a second challenge; the seemingly-daily expansion of what parents define as a problem. Helping your child to get started on their homework gradually becomes doing the homework for them, which morphs into complaining to the school that the thought of homework makes your child unhappy.

Which brings us to the question – what can we do? Having been a middle and high school teacher, at Key Stage 3, 4 and 5, for over twenty years, I’d like to make a case for replacing snowploughs with snowboots. Where one sweeps aside potential problems before they emerge, the other helps pupils suit-up and tackle them. I’m not advocating a let-‘em-get-on-with-it-and-turn-a-blind-eye approach; what I’m suggesting is that we create supervised struggle. We can do this as classroom teachers, designing a task that occurs in the middle of a lesson – a task we build-up to and carefully framework, but one that pushes students to operate at the very edge of their ability – or we can take a more holistic approach, leading struggle across a longer period of time and multiple subjects; modelling project-management tools and guiding their use over a fortnight for example.

Whichever approach we choose, we should be explicitly sharing the strategies pupils need for study at and beyond our level, rather than micromanaging every minute of their school experience. We hope to be sharing some of these tools and approaches at ELMLE’s January conference.

Martin Griffin and Steve Oakes

Martin Griffin and Steve Oakes have a combined 40 years’ experience teaching post-16 students as classroom teachers, heads of faculty and senior leaders. They are the authors of The A Level Mindset (Crown House, 2016), The GCSE Mindset (Crown House, 2017) and The Student Mindset (Crown House, 2019). You can learn more about their work with the VESPA model online and on Twitter @VESPAmindset. 

You can join Martin and Steve in three sessions during our main conference. These sessions include: 

  1. Divers and Thrivers: introducing non-cognitive skills in middle level education
  1. ‘Clear is Kind’: coaching students in positive study behaviours 
  1. Teaching middle school students how to revise

Bridging the Executive Function Gap in the Classroom in 47 seconds a Day (8 mins)

Bethany Febus is a Professional Certified Life Coach specializing in ADHD and Executive Function in Seattle, Washington, USA. Bethany is passionate about supporting her clients in understanding the way their unique brain works so they can develop supportive strategies and systems that are interesting and relevant to who they are. Her work with families includes improving skills around academics management, time awareness, planning, collaborative problem solving, emotional regulation, organization, social skills and more. Bethany trains and mentors coaches at the ADD Coach Academy, an internationally recognized coach training program.

If you are a fan of TikTok, and an educator, you may have come across reels of the middle school science teacher Maddie Richardson, or “Miss R.”, teaching her middle school students 8. She teaches science, but she includes a mini Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lesson as a “brain break” in her classes every day. Despite my ambivalent feelings about TikTok, stumbling onto little gems like Miss R. has been revelatory for me. As a certified ADHD coach, I’m inspired by this simple but impactful integration of SEL into the classroom.

As an ADHD and Executive Function Coach, I work with students to help them understand their brains better and to create personalized strategies and structures to meet their personal and academic goals. We focus on building skills in planning, prioritizing, organizing, problem-solving, and time management. This is what we usually mean when we refer to “Executive Function Skills”. However, there are additional executive function skills that I also work on with my clients
that are even more integral to student success, but that are often seen as less important in academics. These include emotional regulation, self-awareness, working memory, self-talk, social skills, self-monitoring, and motivation. The demand for my services has grown tremendously over the last couple of years as the stress of the pandemic has pushed students to the limits of their ability to cope and their ability to mask their challenges.

I sometimes work with my client’s teachers to better support their learning needs, and I often find their teachers at a loss as to how to help them. They often have exhausted their usual repertoire of support systems. I believe that this is partly due to a pervasive misunderstanding of how executive functions develop and impact student’s success. We tend to assume many of these skills are developmentally consistent across children, and we make assumptions about what students “should” be able to do based on their age 12. While a majority of children develop executive functions along a consistent timeline, many children need more support to bridge the gap between expectations and performance1. Worldwide statistics estimate close to 6% of children may have developmental delays of 3-5 years in executive functioning 11, 1. In the US it is estimated to be almost 10% 10, 1 . These numbers do not even include students whose executive functions may be impacted by lack of sleep, anxiety, depression, or a multitude of other life stressors.

For example, here are some factors that might impede a hypothetical 7th grader’s ability to succeed in math class:

A 7th grader walks into class after the bell rings, walks right past the turn-in bin without turning in their math packet, slumps down into their chair loudly, and then proceeds to stare out the window without taking out paper or pencil.

The teacher feels frustrated by what seems like disrespectful behavior and is worried about the pattern that seems to be developing with this student. They hold back their criticism and prompt the student to get out their supplies.

The student looks annoyed and snaps back “I know, I’m getting it!” They slowly pull out their notebook, and then loudly ask their neighbor if they can borrow a pencil. The teacher’s resolve crumbles.

Does this sound familiar? When we peel back the layers of this student’s experience and identify which executive function skills might be lacking, we can see the reasons that they are struggling: 

  • They take an inefficient route through the halls to their locker (planning/working memory/problem solving). 
  • When they get to their locker, it takes three tries to get their password right (focus, working memory, fine motor skill challenges). 
  • When they get their locker open their mind goes blank (working memory, situational awareness). They grab their math book and nothing else (working memory, future thinking, planning) They ignore the bag of pencils that have been sitting in there since the first day of school. 
  • The bell rings which sends a burst of cortisol through their system.  Fearing they will be late again (emotional regulation), they slam their locker shut and tell themselves how stupid they are and how they will never get anything right (emotional regulation, verbal working memory). 
  • When they enter the math class, everyone looks at them, which makes their stomach flop and their face flush (emotional regulation). They are flooded and shut down2. Even without the shutdown, they may not have had the situational awareness required to remember to turn in their homework.
  • They are so stuck in negative thoughts and fears that it feels to them like they have just sat down when the teacher prompts them to get out paper and pencil. The prompt reaches their limbic system like a threat to which they react reflexively. 
  • What does this have to do with Miss R. and her TikTok’s? Miss R. introduces Social Emotional Learning topics to her students that include the effects of lack of sleep on the brain, responsible decision making, making failure a norm, and more. Each lesson is about the length of the average TikTok video, 47 seconds. And from the enthusiastic voices of the students in the background, she has their full attention. I am not suggesting that every teacher start making TikTok videos with their class. What I love about this model is that it shows that it doesn’t take a lot of time to meet the needs of a variety of students. Some teachers are already finding ways to implement executive function education and support9. According to researcher and SLP, Sarah ward, those teachers have seen an increase in self-esteem and autonomy in their students as a result9. I believe this could be done on a large scale without curriculum changes. Teachers could weave this learning into their lessons and the classroom culture regularly.

    Not sure where to start with your own classroom? We know that when students are regulated, they are more able to take in information and learn from it5. If educators could do one thing to support our students with executive function challenges, it would be to see the connection between emotional regulation and execution13. Help them find ways to get out of fight/flight (which many are otherwise trapped in all day long) and back into their learning brain. We can do this in many ways including modeling conscious breathing, mindfulness and considering sensory needs or sensitivities and movement needs. We can model and teach a “pause” before action. Dr. Russell Barkley, a well-respected executive function expert, says that students with executive function challenges need to “repeatedly practice self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future to effectively plan and go toward the future6.” The key to supporting executive functions is to make them explicit and repeated. Your whole class may not need this, but they will all benefit from it, and they will all grow in empathy and self-awareness when they understand the various challenges and skills of their classmates.

    If a student isn’t meeting behavioral or academic expectations in the classroom, ask yourself, “why?”, and “why now?” Peel back the layers and see if there is a way you can include the whole class in the scaffolding. We can help students to understand that their inability to meet expectations in the moment is merely because of a skill they have yet to learn. Rather than telling themselves “I hate writing, I can never think of something to write about”, they might think “I couldn’t pick a topic today because my ‘decider’ was all worn out after picking a book, so I asked Miss Lara if she could narrow down the choices for me or let me have the night to think about it.” Giving language to the challenges they are facing helps students build self-awareness and ultimately independence4

    At the end of each lesson, Miss R. encourages students if they aren’t proficient at the lesson topic yet, “that’s ok, you are in middle school, let’s take a deep breath and let it go…And if you brought any stressors, depressors, or anxieties with you today, I want you to let them know you will be with them later … all you have to worry about right now is science and it’s not going to be that bad” The same message can be said to teachers. Maybe you are already doing all the suggestions I have listed and more. If so, Bravo! But, if you haven’t yet understood the role of executive functions in your student’s ability to access the curriculum, and you have blamed their behavior on something else entirely, or you have given up on a couple of students completely, I want you to take a deep breath and let it go.  As neuroscience changes how we understand the brain, we are all still learning how to effectively support our students, and all you have to think about right now is being the amazing teacher you already are and know it’s not going to be that bad. In fact, it could be pretty amazing!

    1Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. Dedicated to Education and Research on ADHD (n.d.) The Important Role of Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation in ADHD© Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D. [factsheet] http://www.russellbarkley.org/factsheets/ADHD_EF_and_SR.pdf 

    2Brown, T. (2014). Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD. Jossey-Bass.

    3Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (29 Oct. 2020) Activities Guide: Enhancing & Practicing Executive Function Skills. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/activities-guide-enhancing-and-practicing-executive-function-skills-with-children-from-infancy-to-adolescence/. 

    4Jacobson, R. (2021, August 15). Metacognition: How Thinking About Thinking Can Help Kids. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/how-metacognition-can-help-kids/

    5Shanker, S. (2017, July 4). Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life (Reprint). Penguin Books.

    6Barkley, R.A. (2012) Executive Functions: What they are, how they work and why they evolved. New York: Guilford

    7Shaw P, Eckstrand K, Sharp W, Blumenthal J, Lerch JP, Greenstein D, Clasen L, Evans A, Giedd J, Rapoport JL. (2007 Dec 4) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is characterized by a delay in cortical maturation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.;104(49):19649-54. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0707741104. 

    8 Richardson, M, [@themissrproject]. (2022, September 2) Day 17 –  #teamwork and #commucation also happy Space day #nasa #artemis1 🚀 (launch on Saturday)  #teacher #sel #leadership #teachersoftiktok #wholebrainteaching [Video].TikTok. https://www.tiktok.com/@themissrproject/video/7138930747238567214?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1

    9Ward, S. (2014, July 12) A Clinical Model for Developing Executive Function Skills Sarah Ward   https://www.efpractice.com/_files/ugd/78deb2_0ee2dbd06e384650a209f48d9101ac3d.pdf

    10 Danielson M, Bitsko R, Ghandour R, Holbrook J, Kogan M, Blumberg S (2018 January 24) Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2016. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 47:2, 199-212, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2017.1417860. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5834391/pdf/nihms937906.pdf

    11 Willcutt EG (2012) The prevalence of DSM-IV attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analytic review. Neurotherapeutics. 2012;9:490–499. doi: 10.1007/s13311-012-0135-8.

    12 Sippl A (nd) Executive Function Skills By Age: What to Look For Life Skills Advocate [blog] accessed 2022 08 13 https://lifeskillsadvocate.com/blog/executive-function-skills-by-age/

    13 Barkley R (2012) Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning Theory Burnett Lecture Part 2 ADHD

    How can we protect kids? By knowing that sex education and grooming are not the same.

    By Justine Ang Fonte, sexuality education teacher and Leah Carey, sex and intimacy coach and host of the podcast “Good Girls Talk About Sex”

    As sex educators, we are deeply concerned about the recent effort to paint our work as “grooming” or “sexualizing” children. In fact, our goal is the exact opposite: to make sure children have the skills needed to repel the tactics used by predators. 

    In May 2021, conservative commentator Candace Owens accused one of us of being a pedophile. “[S]he should have to register as a sex offender,” Owens tweeted to her 3 million followers. 

    The crime? Acknowledging to first-graders that it’s normal to be curious about their genitals.

    In today’s fractious political climate, critics argue that in giving children accurate, scientifically based information about their bodies, we are either preparing them to be molested or are predators ourselves.

    In March, Tucker Carlson called it “common sense“ to not talk to children younger than third grade about their genitals because it is “disgusting and probably illegal.” 

    This line of reasoning is gaining traction every day, whether in Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which critics have called the “Don’t Say Gay“ law, or a New Jersey school district announcing it would limit sex ed instruction to a single 35-minute period on the last day of school in grades 2, 5 and 8.

    That is hardly enough time to cover basic anatomy, let alone the other things we believe young students need: an understanding of appropriate boundaries and how their body communicates danger signals to them.

    The rhetoric has grown so fevered in recent weeks that we wanted to get perspective from someone on the front lines: Rahel Bayar, a former sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor.

    She is the founder and CEO of The Bayar Group, an organization that works with schools to prevent sexual misconduct and child abuse.

    “What I saw as a prosecutor was kids who didn’t come forward, or when they did come forward, they would say things like ‘My tummy hurts’ or ‘My tummy itches,’” Bayar said. “What they really meant was their vulva, not their tummy.”

    Without the correct language for their anatomy, adults don’t understand what children are trying to say.

    “One of the biggest pieces of abuse prevention is to teach your children the correct anatomical names for their body parts and not attach any type of shame or embarrassment to them,” Bayar said.

    When kids learn that anything “down there” is shameful, they are less likely to come forward because they’re afraid of getting in trouble for admitting that someone touched them. 

    So the question of the moment is: How is sex education different from grooming?

    “My God! Why is that even a question?” Bayar laughed. “Grooming typically involves secrecy … which is one of the reasons why we teach the difference between secrets and surprises. Secrets have no ending and surprises do. We start teaching kids that at a very, very early age because secrets are what people who groom children use to silence them.”

    Grooming preys on fear, shame and silence. Sex education seeks to dispel them through transparency. 

    Lessons for young children include correct anatomical terms for body parts including genitals and having control over their “body bubble,” or zone of privacy.

    The goal is to help children recognize and repel predatory behavior by understanding their body’s warning signs of danger: things like sweating when it’s not hot, trembling when it’s not cold, a racing heart when you haven’t moved, or feeling like you have to urinate when you just went to the bathroom. Then they practice different ways of saying “no” and “I don’t keep secrets with adults.”

    Children don’t need to hear the words “sex” or “predator” to learn basic safety skills that can repel groomers.

    While children may not yet be able to verbalize why these lessons are important, there is no scarcity of adults with stories to tell about how lack of appropriate education harmed them as children.

    On the podcast “Good Girls Talk About Sex,” everyday women discuss their sex lives, including their earliest introduction to their own body. In over 100 interviews conducted since 2019, more than 25 percent of interviewees report that they began exploring their own genitals by age 5. But for many, this exploration was shrouded in the type of secrecy and shame we’re seeking to eliminate.

    Lynn, age 49 at the time she was interviewed, had no access to information about her body at home or school. “I was so uninformed about it that I reached down between my legs … and my fingers sort of fell into my vagina,” Lynn recounted. “I thought that I wasn’t finished at the bottom. I thought I had a birth defect.” For over a year she believed she was dying. This fear of her own body, coupled with lack of accurate information, left her susceptible as a teenager to grooming by men 20 years her senior.

    As uncomfortable as it may be to think about, skilled predators have an especially insidious tool: manipulating the child’s body so the abuse brings the child a sense of physical gratification. As Bayar noted, “We have to acknowledge the fact that our bodies have physiological reactions to touch and at different ages, that means our bodies respond in different ways.”

    Cathy, 52 at the time she was interviewed, was molested from age 6 to 11. 

    “My first memory of sexual pleasure was very confused because I was having pleasure but it was during abuse … There wasn’t sex ed and I felt ashamed. I wasn’t sure why my body was responding the way it did.” For decades, it was hard for her to decouple the concepts of sexuality and abuse, so even masturbation was fraught. “I had associated sexuality with abuse or power struggles, and not having control over my body.”

    Both of these women — and so many more — would have been well served by basic education about their bodies as children. Although we hear the most about disclosures of assault from women and girls, sexual abuse occurs across all genders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the U.S. experience child sexual abuse. Because there is a social prohibition on boys appearing “weak,” their abuse experiences are even less likely to be reported. 

    Melissa Pintor Carnagey, founder of Sex Positive Families, said in a conversation with us that “informed kids grow into empowered and prepared adults who are better able to have healthy relationships, know their bodies and to be safer along their journey. Sexuality education is the resource that helps them get there.”

    In the current climate, how can you make sure that all children receive the education they need and deserve? 


    Too often we vote for the national races at the top of the ticket, then gloss over elections happening closer to home. Decisions about sex ed are being made at your local school board and on the city, county and state level. 

    Before going to the voting booth, learn how candidates view the need for dedicated time to teach children about consent and anatomy, and vote accordingly.

    Whether or not your school embraces sex education for all students, you can also help kids get the information they need at home. Work with your school’s PTA to offer parents workshops from sex educators who can provide tools to communicate with children about sex with less anxiety.

    There is a #MeToo generation of adults who struggle to have effective conversations about these life-saving topics, but this can stop with Gen Z. We, as their trustees and caregivers, can equip our children with at least one tool that has been proven to protect them: sex education.

    Originally posted on NBC’s THINK: Opinion, Analysis, Essays

    How Educators can Help Middle Schoolers Thrive in Turbulent and Calm Times

    Phyllis Fagell-Key Note Speaker at ELMLE Connect (Porto)

    In a conversation last spring with Cindy Conley, a principal at Irving Middle School in Springfield, Va., she told me that yet again, she was surprised by something her post-lockdown students were doing. At an end-of-year celebration for eighth-graders, a group of boys began playing duck, duck, goose. Soon, more than 50 boys were playing the game, one that is usually enjoyed by much younger children. “That never happened pre-pandemic,” she told me. “But some of these kids left in sixth grade and came back as instant eighth-graders, and I don’t think I anticipated how much the elementary part was still in them.”

    Throughout the pandemic, I’ve written articles about how educators, coaches, parents and other adults can preserve middle schoolers’ well-being as they navigate a vulnerable phase and growing up in turbulent times. It’s a double whammy, but I think we’re entering a new phase. While educators initially were caught off guard by some of the trickle-down effects they saw on children when they returned to in-person schooling, they now have more realistic expectations and a better understanding of what children need to be successful. The last few years have upended conventional notions about what students can or should be able to do by a certain age or grade, and that’s a good thing. I’ve yet to meet a middle schooler who performs better because they think they’re “behind” or lacking in some way. 

    While it may be particularly important to meet middle schoolers “where they are” when they’re contending with uncertainty and disruption, that’s always been true for tweens. And the best way to help a child do well is to help them do well – in other words, to set them up for success. In a recent article for The Washington Post, I talked about how adults can set kids up for a “better year,” but many of the tips I included are timeless. Here are some “evergreen” ways that educators can help middle-school students learn, connect with others and maintain a strong sense of self, regardless of what’s happening in the world.

    Let go of the notion of ‘normal

    Middle schoolers are sensitive to criticism and peer approval, and they can feel blindsided if they struggle in unexpected ways, whether they don’t complete an assignment or panic when they need to present in class. To help kids stay positive when things go awry, “interrupt the concept of normal,” said Christopher Emdin, a professor of education at the University of Southern California and the author of “Ratchetdemic.” When we spoke, he encouraged adults to let kids start each year fresh, to dream about how they want things to be. Ask, “‘When you went through school before, did you like it all?’” he said. “No. Based on what things were before, how do you want it to be now?’”

    Even subtle changes to students’ physical spaces “can radically change the learning experience,” Emdin told me. When he was scholar-in-residence at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 2021, he partnered with students to build prototype post-pandemic classrooms. “I wanted them to feel like it can’t look like what it looked like before.” They swapped out fluorescent lights for blue bulbs, brought in planters of grass and piped in music. The idea is to ensure they see school as special, comfortable, and beautiful, “so that you start training the mind to see the educational work as fun,” Emdin explained. “When you bring in flowers and grasses, change the lighting, the sounds, the seating, it invokes relaxation and helps kids associate reading or homework as, ‘This is when I’m chilling.’” 

    Take their emotional pulse

    Check in regularly with students. Ask questions such as, “What were your highs and lows this week?”  “In an ideal world, how would you adjust the workload or the way you demonstrate your learning?” and “How can I best support you?” Explicitly acknowledge that the past few years have been tough, added Jason Ablin, a former principal, school consultant in Los Angeles and the author of “The Gender Equation in Schools.” “Say, ‘We want you to feel great about going to school every day, and if you feel like things are going off the rails, we’re here for you.’ 

    It’s helpful to know a child’s baseline stress level, said Michelle Hoffman, a licensed counselor at Granite Academy, a therapeutic school in Braintree, Mass. If a student tells you they’re worried about a test or a fight with a friend, ask them to rate the stress on a scale of one to five. The number itself is less important than what it tells you about their perception of the situation and their capacity to cope with it, Hoffman explained. “Once you have a basis for comparison, you can have a conversation about what might lower their stress,” she said. Validate their concerns, even if they seem overblown. You might feel the pandemic is over and students should be able to handle more pressure, but “stress is additive. Kids are resilient, but they’ve used up their reserves,” she said.

    When you know what’s troubling a student, you can help them reframe the situation and think about next steps. Emily Kircher-Morris, a counselor in Missouri and the author of “Raising Twice-Exceptional Children,” recommends walking children through the best-case, worst-case and most-likely scenarios, then devising a plan. If they’re worried about missing an assignment, for instance, Kircher-Morris might ask: “Who can you go to for help? How can you communicate with them?” If the issue relates to social anxiety, she might suggest they talk to the teacher about a way to ease into giving a presentation. For instance, maybe they first present to the teacher and a classmate, or perhaps they pre-record their presentation. 

    Students often feel powerless because they have little control over things such as when they eat lunch at school or whether they take math in sixth grade. You can give them back a sense of agency by having them set and work toward personal goals. Encourage them to commit their goals to paper, because research shows that people are 42 percent more likely to reach their goals if they write them down and monitor their progress regularly. Every year, Larry Haynes, the principal of Oak Mountain Middle School in Birmingham, Ala., recruits 35 professionals from the community to mentor eighth-graders. At the end of each grading period, the mentors meet with their mentees to discuss their report cards, their progress and their goals. Afterward, the students write their goals on a reflection sheet.

    “I tell them to display their goals in a prominent place where they will see it, because that keeps it fresh in their mind and serves as a motivator,” Haynes told me, adding that he always tells the students about Thomas Holloway, a former student who stated in middle school that his goal was to play football at West Point. “Thomas graduated from West Point in 2014,” he tells them. Setting goals also can ease students’ anxiety related to events in the news. To help them, shift the focus away from the state of the world and back to their own lives. “If you zoom out to space and everything on Earth looks tiny, then it can seem like there’s no meaning to any of it, and that can feel really overwhelming,” Kircher-Morris told me. “But if you zoom back in, you get to decide what your meaning and purpose is.” That could be a goal such as doing better in a class or sitting with a new friend at lunch.

    Offer structured fun, directed social time

    After the turmoil of the past few years, many children are focused on friendships, but their skills are rusty. Research shows that connecting with others can improve mental health, and middle schoolers need the practice, but they may need an assist. If they’re too anxious to socialize, do structured icebreakers and other get-to-know-you activities in class. Suggest they participate in structured activities, such as an after-school club that reflects their interests. The idea is to find low-pressure opportunities where kids can practice making eye contact and resolving conflict. Haynes offers alternate activities for kids at school dances, for example. He might have board games in the cafeteria or a kickball tournament outside.

    Affirm that they’ll be fine

    “We talk about kids almost in monthly terms: Academically they should be here, their social-emotional development should be here,” Ablin told me. “But when things are as disrupted as they have been, we need to see kids where they actually are; be calm, loving and thoughtful about that; and really believe that, eventually, the child will be just fine.” That means letting go of the idea that students have “fallen behind.” As Ablin noted: “It diminishes children and kills the joy in learning. When we say, ‘You’re not where you’re supposed to be,’ we’re also saying, ‘You’re not who you’re supposed to be.’” 

    If you adopt that attitude, it takes the pressure off of you, too. When educators set reasonable, attainable goals, students tend to do the same. Plus, emotions are contagious. If you dial down the pressure you put on yourself, your students are likely to “catch your calm.”

    *Tips drawn from an article I wrote that ran in the August 18, 2022 issue of The Washington Post

    The Middle Leader Manifesto

    We asked one question to 160 Aspiring, Middle and Senior Leaders in our Leading from the Middle programme: what does it take to grow into an excellent middle leader?

    By Ewan McIntosh

    Know what you want.

    Have a goal to start with. Even better, have a cause. A strong cause helps guide your project towards a meaningful and valuable outcome.

    Simple ideas are ambitious ideas.

    There’s no such thing as a small change. Change meets with resistance whatever it is. A simple, clear vision with concrete ideas is a starting point to making any change happen. Make your ideas clear, not clever: draw them so a seven year old can understand and a 57 year old Principal gets excited. “Everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler,” said Einstein. Simple sells. Simple can be easily understood. Simple happens.

    It’s about them, not about you.

    No Middle Leader is an island. Listening, really listening, is how we build anything worth building. Listening to others is vital, but also listen to yourself. The power of reflection is key to seeing the learning opportunities.

    Be vulnerable and lead from behind. Your team makes you a leader, not you. A leader without a team is dancing alone. Find your first follower, and get them to bring a friend. And then you can start being a leader.

    Great leaders don’t just run on their gut. They don’t just have hunches. They run on data, too. Data can be on a spreadsheet or on the face of the person in front of you right now.

    Find your Brains Trust.

    The collective is more powerful than the parts that make it up.

    Share, think, wrestle with ideas, constantly shift your perspective and seek out the folk who challenge your ideas with heart. If you work in a school, that should include some students. And it should include people who don’t work in your neighbourhood, who can show you there’s always another way.

    And your Brains Trust can also be your ally when you need a reality check.

    Make your ideas portable.

    The way you communicate your ideas matters, but what matters most is that the idea is memorable on first sight. Make the idea inspirational and memorable. Big ideas are hard for people to deal with. They don’t know what to do. They can’t see the next step. Inspirational ideas are ideas that happen. Memorable ideas are ideas that have happened. Inspirational, memorable ideas are stealable, ones that others can build on.

    Leaders create leaders.

    Middle Leaders don’t hide out of sight, or keep their ideas hidden. They rock the boat and throw ideas over the side to test the water. Where there are ripples there’s enough interest to keep going, to refine, rebuild and create an alternative way of doing things. Great leaders create ideas that others can borrow, and use to become even better leaders themselves.

    Plan serendipity.

    Accidental conversations tend not to happen when they’re programmed in as a Zoom meeting. Unless you plan for serendipity. How can you make meetings last 8 minutes, not 60, and start at a weird time that makes people show up early, not on time or late?

    Side projects can be the work. The unexpected outcome is often the outcome worth going for.

    20% done is an invitation to feedback. 90% done is an invitation to ship.

    Feedback is the place where good ideas become great. Iteration isn’t a formula. It’s a mindset.

    Build ideas bit by bit with others. Coach the idea, not the person. The ability to reflect and be flexible, change the plan when it needs to be changed. We used to say “fail fast”. Really we need to “learn fast”. Trial and error allows us to do that.

    Ask questions that drive an idea forward. Don’t be critical with your question. Don’t question like you don’t believe — question like you need to know more to make an idea happen.

    ‘No’ is the start. Be bold with your changes so that others will argue with you! Suddenly you’re in a conversation about your cause.

    Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. Then iterate again.

    When you tell the story again and again, when you run projects again and again, when you keep pushing the flywheel around just one more turn, eventually you get the perpetual motion that makes the whole thing fly. Speed trumps perfection. Get stuff done, find out what needs to be done better, and keep going.

    Revisit your scrapheap.

    We always throw out ideas that didn’t work out first time around. Keep them somewhere. When you’re lacking inspiration, head back to your old projects and those that fell over at the first hurdle. Revisit them with fresh perspectives. Then coal can maybe become diamonds. Journal it. Anyone who ever came up with anything kept a journal. Write and draw everything that you notice.

    Communicate clearly, differently, often.

    When you’re trying to communicate your idea clearly, one way might be visually, but other ways help more people understand. Collaborate with a “cabinet of talents”, people whose skills add to yours.

    There’s power in small conversations — every conversation is a step closer to finding the nugget that paves the way for the idea to come to life.

    Don’t hold your cards close to your chest — make sure you share your ideas far and wide. The better your idea the more likely others will want to borrow it. Then they can make it their own and improve upon the original idea.

    Time is your most valuable resource — start using it that way.

    Use time wisely. It’s one of the only non-renewable resources that we have. Be effective with your meetings, make sure your team is working on useful tasks. Don’t waste people’s time with meaningless tasks or laborious meetings.

    Actually do it.

    Leadership isn’t a book. It isn’t a PhD. It isn’t just reading about it. Leadership is what you achieved by trying something out.

    Download a high-res version of the manifesto as a poster, for free.

    Ewan McIntosh is the passionate and energising tour de force behind NoTosh. He’s a highly-regarded keynote speaker and host at events around the world, marrying intense prep work and a natural capacity to listen and shine a light on the best stories participants have to share.

    Ewan will be facilitating a pre-conference on “Leading from the Middle” as well as our host of conversation during our plenaries each day.

    ‘Defeating Habit with Originality’ – How We Can Teach Students to Study Differently

    By Martin Griffin and Steve Oakes

    Much of what we do as learners is the result of ingrained habit. Many of us will be able to recall a time in our own education when results at a new level of study suggested our approaches to learning were no longer effective. How did we respond? Usually by doubling-down; doing more of the same, pedalling harder and hoping.  

    In many cases students eventually give up, concluding they’re not intellectually capable of study at a new key stage or more challenging level. But they’re often wrong. We’ve worked with thousands of students who are well capable of handling new ideas and of exploring and interrogating new concepts and material. It’s the non-cognitive elements of study that defeat them – the fresh habits, routines and approaches they’ll need. What worked for pupils in Year 7 might not work in Year 9; new levels of study demand new tactics and strategies. 

    This is the work we’ve been doing for the last ten years now: defining which non-cognitive factors seem to have an impact on performance, and then developing a series of tools that support pupils changing the way they work. Our strategies are designed to encourage, as art director George Lois put it, ‘the defeat of habit by originality’. 

    Some of our strategies are all about vision and motivation. We’ve all seen the impact a magnetic goal can have on learners… but goal setting needs to adjust as students grow. It isn’t just a case of plucking potential grades from the air, writing them down and hoping for the best. High vision students are increasingly aware of who they are and what they stand for, and this growing self-awareness allows them to create a compelling vision of what success looks like and what the future holds for them. They don’t just focus on a ‘what’ (‘I want to be a doctor.’); they know their ‘why’ (‘Fairness is important. Equal access to healthcare is crucial. I want to help solve the inequality problem.’)  

    Another group of strategies we’ve developed are all around effort. As students begin working at a higher level, the successful ones snack on learning rather than binge: they read a chapter of a textbook per week, summarise their notes in four half-hour sittings, write an essay in stages, review their understanding by testing themselves on a topic. In short, they actively set themselves work. This switch from the passive completion of directed tasks, to the active sequencing of independent study sessions is a crucial part of unlocking higher levels of effort.  

    Some fresh habits we need to teach are all about organisation. There comes a tipping point in your education where you can no longer carry all your notes around with you. At key stage 1 and 2, a single plastic wallet with your homework in will suffice. Now there are textbooks, files, folders, jotters and handouts. Middle-level students need to use a range of tactics to arrange their resources thematically – i.e. by topic – rather than chronologically, and they also begin to project manage. For more distant deadlines and tasks that require multiple sittings, successful students adjust their approach to study so they can effectively sequence their work. We need to teach them how to make strategic assessments of what needs doing next and why.  

    A fourth group we’ve developed are all about revision and preparation. Many students hit crisis-point when their beloved practice strategies, used successfully in the past to memorise information, seem suddenly useless. Middle-level students begin to wake up to the realisation that knowing the information isn’t enough; the information needs to be fully absorbed … and then used to analyse unfamiliar data, solve a problem, construct an argument in the form of an essay, evaluate an approach, or critique a case study. For students loyal to memorising information, this can be a shock. High practice students learn to adjust the way they revise, mastering the content as the course goes on so that the bulk of their preparation involves high stakes exam-style problem solving. They are calmer and better prepared as a result.   

    And finally, we’ve put together a whole range of fresh strategies to help students with the attitudinal component of study. All pupils face ‘the dip’, that moment when progress halts and backslides. It might have happened before, but what works at one level – reconnecting with our successes, reminding ourselves of our positive qualities, comfort eating and watching a bit of TV – might need adjustment as challenges arise more frequently. High attitude students have a broader and more robust range of tactics when times are tough. They might be adept at benefit-finding. They might have a strong support network they regularly rely on, because they don’t equate asking for help with intellectual inferiority. And they have techniques for handling stress; they know exams are not a test of their self-worth.  

    There has been much debate around the extent to which academic performance is predicated on inherited intelligence. Are we genetically fated to achieve certain outcomes, or are we architects of our own results? Each new generation of scientists and researchers places us somewhere else on the nature/nurture continuum. 

    But as you might expect, our take is different. It doesn’t matter whether the latest research points us to the inherited cognitive ability end of the spectrum or not. It is the non-cognitive element of study – our habits, systems and behaviours – that we can most easily change as we grow. So rather than debating precisely what proportion of our success is due to genetic predisposition or emphasising a past-equals-future paradigm, we should instead be supporting students in changing the ways they work as the programme of study demands change.  

    That way, we prepare them more effectively for an uncertain future.   

    Posted with permission from Martin Griffin and Steve Oakes who will be some of our keynote speakers at ELMLEConnect in Malta, January 27-29. Want more information on how to register for our conference? Go here.

    A School’s Role in Delivering Sexuality Education

    By Miguel G. Marshall, Sara Silverio Marques, Justine Ang Fonte, Amy Patel

    (an excerpt from NAIS Sexuality Education: An Overview for Independent Schools)

    Perhaps the chief role of independent schools in the context of sexuality education is to bring to the surface the core values of their communities and discuss how those values align with their missions and how those values may influence discussions and curriculum around sex and sexuality at their school.

    An additional role that independent schools can play that intersects with sexuality education is developing media literacy. According to research on the health effects of media on children and adolescents (Strasburger et al., 2010), a century ago to be “literate” meant you could read and write. In 2009, however, it meant having the ability to decipher a bewildering array of media and make sense of them all (Strasburger et al., 2010). In the context of 21st century media literacy, it is important for educators to strive to be reliable sources of accurate, non-judgmental information, and have a willingness to engage in direct, honest conversations with students (Goldfarb & Lieberman, 2016). Providing a forum for the discussion of sexuality education is important because of the fundamental role human sexuality and relationships play in the independent school goals of developing character and inspiring high-achieving students. As we have discovered in our research, sexuality, in and of itself, intersects and overlaps with character-development, values, and achievement.

    Schools are also wrestling with finding time (and money) to support programs outside the traditional core subjects. Health education and sexuality education curricula may be interpreted as competing with the ultimate mission of core academic schooling. This challenge is not unique to independent schools; it also impacts public schools (Hall, McDermott Sales, Komro, & Santelli, 2016).

    Further, independent schools always consider the role that families play. Families may identify a range of knowledge associated with sexuality that they find developmentally inappropriate for children. Although such information is often influenced by religious values and cultural backgrounds, it may not be the case with all families (Robinson & Davies, 2017). Additionally, cultural context and background affect how individuals receive and interpret messages about sexuality (Goldfarb & Constantine, 2011). This information is important to keep in mind when engaging families around the topic of sexuality.

    No matter what approach to sexuality education an independent school chooses, the following prompts can start discussion.

    1. Consider where you and your school stand on issues about gender, power, trust, hierarchy, and human nature.

    ● Do your or your school’s stances influence your perceptions about sexuality education? If so, how?

    2. Consider the Circles of Sexuality

    ● What topics does your school already emphasize or discuss with students? Where are the gaps?

    ● How might the circles integrate with ongoing efforts in social and emotional learning (SEL) and faculty professional development?

    ○ Recall the SEL framework includes: a. Self-awareness

    ■ Self-management

    ■ Social awareness

    ■ Relationships skills

    ■ Responsible decision-making (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2017)

    3. Consider whether your school helps develop values and educates for character? What are these values? Do they apply to sex and sexuality? Do they apply to human development?

    4. Consider, as a community, the ethnic, racial, cultural, personal, religious, and moral concerns and undertones of sex, sexuality, and sexuality education.

    5. Consider how a school’s mission statement influences inclusivity and exclusivity of difference and different types of peoples.

    6. Consider intersectionality and how students’ diverse backgrounds and experience may affect their personal beliefs, values, and knowledge about sexuality (Breuner et al., 2016).

    ● According to the Independent School Diversity Network, “intersectionality” (or intersectionalism) refers to intersections between different groups of people identifying in various -isms or social identifiers; the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination. Find more information about this topic from: http://www.isdnetwork.org/what-is-diversity.html and https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/10/intersectionality-the-many-layers-of-an-individual/.

    7. Consider how school dress codes reflect a social focus on adolescents’ dress as an expression of sexuality (Fortenberry, 2014).

    8. Considering the role of values:

    ● Where do your own values come from? (Think of the role of your family, friends, media, religion, school, politics and other factors.)

    ● Have your own values changed over time?

    ● To what extent are your values implicit and taken for granted? To what extent are they the result of careful reflection?

    ● Do you think of values as having universal validity? Or do they apply only within cultures or traditions?

    ● Can schools avoid teaching values? If not, what sort of values should they teach, and how should they teach them?

    ● What values (either explicit or implicit) underpin any program of sex education familiar to you?

    ● Make a list of your own sexual values. Now write another list for someone you know well whose personality differs from you. How much common ground is there between the two of you (Halstead & Reiss, 2003)?

    9. Regarding the implementation of sexuality education lessons and curricula, consider:

    ● Skills development in finding information or resources to make it easy to pursue new information when needed or when interest arises;

    ● Assigning homework or supplemental individual assignments that allow students to explore a topic of interest to them;

    ● Conducting activities that help students identify personal values, or start connecting topics learned in class to personal behaviors or situations they may encounter; and

    ● Including time in the curriculum for student questions and integrating these topics into subsequent activities to cover topics of intrinsic interest to your students. (Silverio Marques, 2014)

    ● Teens, Health, and Technology: A National Survey conducted by the Center on Media and Human Development, School of Communication, Northwestern University gathered a nationally-representative sample of 1,156 U.S. adolescents. Data from this survey showed that 43 percent of teenagers have viewed pornography online, 27 percent have viewed how to play alcohol drinking games, and 25 percent have viewed how to get tobacco/nicotine products (Wartella et al., 2015).

    ● Consider the role that your school may play in pedagogically addressing the viewing of negative health information online (e.g., pornography, how to play alcohol games).

    10. Consider:

    ● Where does sexuality education fall within the broader context of the school mission and curriculum?

    ● Where do conversations need to happen to reflect on human sexuality prior to implementing a curriculum or program?

    ● Does your school want to use an established curriculum, develop its own, integrate concepts into existing classes, or adapt a curriculum to your needs?

    ● There are different ways to incorporate health and sexuality education into the school setting, including:

    ○ Health classes

    ○ Transdisciplinary projects

    ○ Guest speakers

    ○ Using literature from authors representing a diversity of sexual identities

    ○ Having a “wellness day”

    ○ Hosting workshops for parents

    ○ Conducting professional development for faculty

    Ultimately, it may be our school communities’ values — moral, ethical, religious, or otherwise— and what we want for our students that determine our approach to sexuality education. Indeed, “moral education (and values education more broadly) is inextricably bound up with sex education, just as it is with education in general” (Halstead & Reiss, 2003). “The key questions now are what sort of values schools should teach in sex education, and what approach they should adopt” (Halstead & Reiss, 2003)? What values a school community espouses and how a school goes about cultivating and representing those values is unique to every independent school.


    Breuner, C. C., Mattson, G., Committee on Adolescence, & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2016). Sexuality education for children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(2), e1–e11. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1348

    Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2017). What is SEL? Retrieved July 1, 2017, from http://www.casel.org/what-is-sel/

    Fortenberry, J. D. (2013). Puberty and adolescent sexuality. Hormones and Behavior, 64(2), 280–287. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.03.007

    Goldfarb, E. S., & Constantine, N. A. (2011). Sexuality Education. In Encyclopedia of Adolescence (pp. 322– 331). Elsevier. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-373951-3.00086-7

    Goldfarb, E. S., & Lieberman, L. (2016). Sexuality Education During Adolescence. In J. J.Ponzetti, Jr. (Ed.), Evidence-based Approaches to Sexuality-Education: A Global Perspective (pp. 218–236). New York: Routledge.

    Hall, K. S., McDermott Sales, J., Komro, K. A., & Santelli, J. S. (2016). The state of sex education in the United States. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 58(6), 595–597.doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.03.032

    Halstead, J. M., & Reiss, M. J. (2003). Values in sex education: From principles to practice. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

    Robinson, K. H., & Davies, C. (2017). Sexuality education in early childhood. In L. Allen & M. L.

    Rasmussen (Eds.), The palgrave handbook of sexuality education (pp. 217–242). London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-40033-8_11

    Silverio Marques, S. (2014). Developmentally-Appropriate Sexuality Education: Theory, Conceptualization, and Practice (Doctoral dissertation). University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1665572178

    Strasburger, V. C., Jordan, A. B., & Donnerstein, E. (2010). Health effects of media on children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 125(4), 756–767. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2563

    Wartella, E., Rideout, V., Zupancic, H., Beaudoin-Ryan, L., & Lauricella, A. (2015). Teens, Health, and Technology: A National Survey. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University. Retrieved from http://cmhd.northwestern.edu/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/1886_1_SOC_ConfReport_TeensHealthTech_051115.pdf

    Posted with permission from Justine Ang Fonte who will be one of our keynote speakers at ELMLEConnect in Malta, January 27-29. Want more information on how to register for our conference? Go here.