Change your school around

I recently came across the following article – How to Turn Around a Failing School.


It was written in 2016 and offers a reflection on the factors that impact on changing a school around. 


What stood out was the priority given to the ‘environment‘. They write ‘first you need to create the right environment before improving teaching standards’. 


As part of this, managing behaviour was key – although it was notable that there was a clear connection between improved behaviour and increased motivation


Central to our ‘connected learning’ approach, are key questions focused on supporting schools to 


  1. think about their environment
  2. explore the connection the individual has to their learning – furthering motivation


We are currently working on new tools to support schools to engage with these questions as the seek to do what they can to make their learning environments and their students motivation the best it can be. 


Children’s voices matter

[The following content was sent to: The Clerk Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs Committee Clerk: Timothy Bryan RE: Bill 57, Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018.  – as part of efforts to challenge the closure of the Office of The Ontario Child Advocate]


Children’s voices matter!


Research demonstrates that investing in the voice of the child has the potential to transform communities increasing more effective policy and practice. To allow this to happen it demands that society needs to create opportunities for citizens (including children) to engage and participate effectively. 


My concern, which is shared by both colleagues and students, is that a move to repeal the 2007 Act that created the Office of the Child Advocate in Ontario, will disconnect children and young people from such opportunities to participate and engage with significant implications for individuals and society. 


I have spent many years as a researcher, practitioner, writer and teacher promoting the voice of the child and the value that it brings to both adults and children in the everyday spaces that they share. I, therefore recognise the role that the Office of the Child Advocate plays. Although, I acknowledge there is room to continue to build on the mission that the Office seeks to pursue, I am in no doubt that this Office is a talisman for the voice of the child not just in Ontario but throughout the country. 


A practical example is reflected in a class I run, where students are invited to evaluate the offices set up across the country as a response to Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ontario office always comes out ahead of the others. 


Why? It is because of its ambition to work with children and not for children. An ambition that is built on a genuine recognition of the voice of the child. 


My students, past and present from first years to fourth years have been surprised and shocked by the intention to close the Office. They are worried about what it says about the society they live in and the communities they want to be part of. It is a passion that is also matched by practical considerations. If we are limiting how we hear the child, this will restrict the extent to which policy and practice can be fully informed to produce the most meaningful outcomes. 


I have written books about how if we are to create a culture of child centred advocacy with all the benefits for society that I have eluded to then we must first establish the voice of the child – talk and listen to children – and second create opportunities that amplify that voice. This desire to close the Office of the Child Advocate and the alternatives being proposed will limit and restrict both the chance for children to be heard but also the chance to create meaningful opportunities that further children’s participation and engagement in society. It will, as a result have a negative impact for children’s everyday experiences, for the policies and practices that inform their lives and for civil society as a whole. 

Being Heard

Great to be part of the following move to action…


Today, Childhood and Social Institutions students from King’s University College, London, Ontario, raise their voice and speak out against the proposed closure of the office of the Ontario Child Advocate. Attending the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs hearing in Queen’s Park, Toronto, the students seek to challenge the move to repeal the law and re-position the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) under the auspices of the provincial Ombudsmen. The argument the students wish to present is that this move makes a negative statement about the value of children’s voices in Ontario, with implications for children’s effective engagement in our communities. It will impact on children who need help but it will also impact allchildren and the way in which they see their role within our society. Canada made commitments to children when it signed the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the OCA has provided both a provincial and national lead in speaking out for and with children in relation to these obligations.  Removing the office will result in at best reducing the voice of children to help shape effective policy and practice and at worse silence groups altogether.


Childhood and Social Institutions students engage directly with the value and relevance of children’s voices within their courses.


We are delighted that the delegation attending this meeting is made up of mainly first year students, they are representing the views and opinions of their fellow students across each year of our program. 

Remembering Creatively

A poem to encourage children to take some time out to think and share…


Take a moment, stop and think 

of 100 years before, 

all was topsy turvy 

for the world had gone to war. 


Life meant something different 

as the bombs came raining down, 

hopes and dreams; frozen, stuck, entombed 

in Flanders blooded ground. 


In the years that followed 

wars kept knocking on the door, 

and as this poem’s written 

terror lingers, frightens, storms. 


So why not… 

– fight a different war, 

– free those hopes and dreams, 

– lift them from the place they fell, 

released through poetry? 


So get a pen on paper, 

tell of all you wish to see, 

of the world that you are part of, 

of the world that’s yet to be. 


In you their hopes fly high, fly new 

fly brighter than before, 

so take a moment, stop and think 

Of 100 years before. 


Share a contribution to

Have an Idea

Last post I wrote about the value of having the courage to give an idea a go. Promoting the voice of the child can be a challenge within institutions, due to the fact that children’s voices have not always been valued. 


However, we can change this. 


To help explore projects that can promote the voice of children – we use this simple framework…


  • Have an Idea
  • Talk and Listen
  • Give it a Go
  • Keep on Learning 


The key part about this tool is that each segment has a role to play!


No project begins unless you have an idea. That first idea however does not need to be ‘complete’ or perfect, rather it offers a starting point – a basis from which you can then explore. 


Our individual experiences allow us all the potential to offer unique ideas and perspectives, whether that is in a school, a home or out in the community. It also does not need to be merely the adult that has the idea – children have ideas too!!!


So explore some ideas – see what creative thoughts you can uncover. 


Just one idea – offers the basis to get the conversation started from which a project can build!


For more see our book ‘Giving Children a Voice

Give it a Go (1)

Ever wondered how the way the classroom is set out impacts on children’s experience of being in school, indeed of their learning?


Could you move the chairs and tables around? Are the chairs comfortable? Could the children be responsible for what is up on the walls? What about children creating learning dens? 


Heard a great presentation today from a group of students who were exploring how we can create meaningful opportunities for children in school. They focused on children’s participation in shaping their classroom. What stood out was the extent to which it was so easy to identify barriers that could stop us, as adults, giving children a voice on shaping the classroom. 


There are a number of schools and educational approaches that highly value investing in ensuring the classroom space is ‘child friendly’, but it was really exciting to hear about projects in which individual teachers had decided to ‘just give it a go’ and to try out involving children in shaping the classroom. 


Indeed, maybe it is just as easy to come up with a solution to the list of challenges that we could place in the way of us engaging children – ‘just give it a go’.  


So – ‘give it a go’!

(More on the themes in this post to follow)

Theory and Practice & Practice and Theory


The connection between theory and practice and practice and theory has been an interest of ours right from the early days of EquippingKids. 


I remember hearing about a school who decided to invite a group of senior academics to come in and view what was going on – to get their considered thoughts and feedback. However, the most striking responses from the day were along the lines of – ‘is this what actually happens in school?’, or ‘oh it’s great to actually visit a classroom’. 


Yesterday a new book ‘Contextualising Childhoods’, which I co-edited with friend and colleague Sally McNamee at King’s, Western University Canada – was released. It looks at that relationship between theory and practice. But I would argue it does more than that, it invites the academic to learn from the practitioner – as the reader is encouraged to consider how practice might inform theory.


This stands out in a section of the book that looks at themes around children and death. Not a warm and cosy topic but a reality, at different extents, for all families. This is brought into sharp focus through a discussion on children within a hospice, as they and their families manage a life limiting condition. Here a practitioner shares her experience and through this highlights the extent to which children’s voices are and are not heard. 


  • How well do we communicate with the child who is a non-verbal communicator?
  • To what extent do our assumptions about their physical condition impact our thinking on their competence and therefore adult efforts to discuss their illness? 
  • To what extent are voice, choice and participation relevant to a child who has a terminal condition? 


By combining theory and practice and continuing allowing both to speak to each other our ability to effectively answer such questions must grow, and with it our ability to improve children’s everyday lives. 

Algorithms or Conversation?


Recent news coverage explored the use of algorithms to identify vulnerable children. It was suggested that in an era of cuts it may offer a tool to identify children who might be at risk of ‘abuse, youth offending and truancy’.


Although no-one would deny the importance of protecting children, one of the major concerns about using data to identify risk – is that it de-skills all of us from talking about it.  


It is not that technology cannot help – but rather that technology must sit alongside additional efforts to enable children to be able to be part of a discourse about who they are and how they feel. It takes us back to the points in last week’s blog, where the importance of belonging was highlighted alongside the need for children to have a language so they can involve themselves in the conversation. 


Abuse, offending behaviour and truancy are all issues where we will be  better able to protect children if we can support them to develop the skills and the language to speak out. 


Promoting an environment where the voice of the child is valued must be an ambition of any who wish to protect the child! Algorithms could help to get a conversation started, but without us investing in the ability of both adults and children to converse meaningfully – our ability to effectively protect children will always be limited.

Being Yourself

Getting off on the right foot this new academic year – surely has to mean thinking carefully about ‘identity’ and ‘belonging’ and what those practically mean as part of any day to day work with children. 


I have been reading Afua Hirsch’s book BRIT(ish) – a clear and passionate exploration of race and identity. There are a number of interesting themes that Hirsch raises in relation to race that can also be considered from the perspective of being a child. For example, that strength of desire to belong and to be part of something that allows one to best present who they are – is a challenge children are regularly facing.


We see children seeking that wish to belong in many day to day interactions at school. At times children might overplay their hand as they seek to demonstrate that perceived sense of belonging, or indeed not play a hand at all as they watch from the sidelines trying to work out exactly where they fit in. 


However, and this is the crucial part, if we are to equip children truly make sense of that desire to belong, then doesn’t that have to start with a journey of discovery – one in which each children meaningfully comes to know themselves. Hirsch, as part of her own exploration suggests, ‘it is often said that you cannot do anything until you know who you are’. 


If we are going to support children as effective lifelong learners, to not only manage the requirements of exams but also the complexities of day to day life, then don’t we have a responsibility to ensure that children know themselves? 


To start that might mean simply mean being able to express ones feelings…

(to be continued