Hamilton teacher Chris May was interviewed this week on TV1’s ‘Good Sorts’ about the boys’ programme he initiated at his school that is focused on empowering boys to be great men.

In his Education Review article May points out that there is often too much focus in our schools on what students can’t do, which leads students to feel disengaged and bored with their learning. This prompted him to develop the Nga Tama Toa programme, which translates as Empowering Boys to be Great Men. The programme, aimed at Year 8 boys, focused on incorporating ‘real world’ skills and competencies into the boys’ learning.

The ‘real world’ skills range from learning how to shake hands properly, to tie a tie, to vacuum, to tackle, to cook a steak, to change a tyre.

“To create purpose for this contextualised learning, the boys and I explored the mantra of what it means to be ‘a’ man, over being ‘the’ man,” says May. “The intention was for boys to begin to understand what they could do to have ownership of themselves and their learning. We built upon ideas such as respecting themselves and others, integrity, equity with those younger than them, innovation, inquiry and curiosity, perseverance, and positive learning attitudes”

Veering away from the daily timetable every so often allowed May and his students to explore what they saw as being important in their lives. Students learned to change a flat tyre, cook a family meal, and even volunteer at the local early childhood centre.

May believes young people are often more capable than they are given credit and are not given many opportunities for contextualized learning.

“We are willing to have senior students within our school mentor others, take on leaderships roles, and take care of younger students, but are we willing enough to have these same students, say, use a saw, wood, hammer and nails?”

He says the programme has also had a positive impact on relationships.

“It seems to be the ‘Kiwi way’ that sarcasm and put-downs are commonplace among friends, specifically within boys’ peer groups. Finding a place for boys and young men to express themselves and have the support of their peers builds a kinship that is stronger than most teacher-student relationships. This also provides a platform for boys to do one thing that they can find the most difficult: ask for help.”

Ultimately, he discovered through the process that by supporting students to take ownership of their learning both in and out of the classroom not only left them more engaged, but empowered.

May’s book ‘Running with a Hurricane-Educating Boys for Manhood’ can be bought here.

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