JOSEPH DRIESSEN pinpoints four key areas for teachers to address in order to help improve boys’ achievement.

Boys’ learning is increasingly becoming the focus for many schools and teachers, who are debunking the old myth that only boys from certain socio-economic backgrounds or ethnic groups are underachieving. In fact, many boys from all sorts of backgrounds are underachieving, simply because they are boys trying to learn in an education system that does not take their learning needs seriously.

It is heartening to see so many teachers making significant progress with improving the learning experience for boys. These teachers find that improvement takes place when they address the following areas:

Becoming more authoritative

The term authoritative means being supportive and caring on the one hand, and providing assertive,
positive leadership on the other.

Many boys need a lot of care, encouragement and support from their teacher, because deep down they lack confidence, which is masked as bravado. When they meet a teacher who shows they really care, these boys open up and communicate what they need, becoming very loyal to their teacher.

However, these same boys also need positive, assertive, leadership from their teacher; one who is not afraid to state clearly their expectations and who has the courage to demand a lot from boys.

These teachers are not fazed by boys testing them, and simply assert their authority and reiterate the standards the boys need to meet.

Boys thrive in classrooms where both the standard of care and expectation is high. Conversely, teachers who are permissive and who let boys push them over, or who are aggressive and authoritarian, find that they lose a lot of respect, and gain a lot of opposition from some boys in their class.

Creating a winning team

When teachers put in sustained effort and skill to create a team culture in the classroom, many boys drop their resistance to the teacher, and become proud to be part of the team.

These teachers create loyalty and commitment from boys by creating great relationships and articulating their
expectations, and by weaving into their frequent class talks the norms they want in their classroom.

Many boys are actively looking for the alpha leader of the group who cares for them, and them successful teacher, by acting like one, discovers that they have a team of boys willing to go on the most difficult learning journey.

Conversely, teachers who simply focus on learning, achieving and “getting through the curriculum”, without putting in the effort to build warm, respectful relationships, and create a winning, team, find some boys resist them all the way.

Listening to boys’ learning preferences

Some boys give up on learning, and trying to get adults to understand what they need, very early on in their learning career. As early as in kindergarten and the new entrants classes, where some boys find their teachers are not really aware or interested in their learning needs, these boys switch off from the teaching process.

What these boys need is a teacher who actively listens to them, and who asks them persistently what learning and teaching they are looking for. After initial scepticism, most of these boys will tell the teacher exactly what works for them, and when they note that the teacher honours their requests and preferences, re-engage with the learning process.

These teachers start to focus on boys’ interests and learning differences. They get books which capture boys’ hearts, and create learning contexts which animate them. They create activities which involve boys’ bodies and hands, and change pedestrian writing to animated doing. They provide challenges and create competitions, provide novelty as well as routines, link the learning to boys’ values and aspirations, and make boys feel their boyculture is respected and valued.

Conversely, some teachers are utterly unaware of the needs and values of boys, and simply roll out a learning programme full of assumptions, norms and value judgements which some boys actively disagree with, and which confirm to them they are incarcerated in an environment which alienates and ignores them. Their opposition is a direct result from having a teacher who does not ask, and does not listen.

Involving boys in the teaching process

Many boys are deeply deprived and live in ’noman’s land’. There are few or no men in their lives, they lack male guidance and discipline, and are deprived of knowing men who can inspire and guide them. If we raised girls without women there would be an outcry, but because we live in a cultural era whereby it is politically correct
to ignore boys’ fundamental right to male role models, many teachers accept this as normal.

Teachers who are successful with boys, however, understand the critical importance of male role modelling, and use the boys in their class or school, as learning role models. These teachers stand back, and actively use boys (and girls) as co-teachers. They invite older boys into their classes as teacher aides and mentors.

Within the class they appoint boys as learning counsellors, reading tutors, writing coaches, homework helpers, and thereby show all boys that boys are great learners.

These teachers also have a busy programme of visiting male role models, and actively invite fathers and grandfathers into their classes to talk about their work, to model the importance of reading and writing, and to give boys the much needed presence of male role models.

Conversely, many teachers blithely have bought into the distorted and deprived ’no-man’s land’ culture of our society, and make no efforts whatever to introduce male role models into their class. These teachers would be outraged if their daughters were raised in an environment where there were no women whatsoever, but they are unaware of this double standard. Some of their boys however, are actively waiting to get out of this environment, and look for sport, work, their mates, their coaches to provide this role modelling. They have given up on the classroom to meet their search for a healthy, balanced, male identity, and are waiting to leave, and join the real world, where there are male role models who will inspire them.

Joseph Driessen is an education consultant who gives a variety of educational workshops and seminars to teachers, parents and educational management teams both in New Zealand and internationally. He can be contacted on


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