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At schools all around New Zealand prizegiving is coming up to recognise and celebrate students who have worked hard and achieved highly. Most schools use these sorts of schemes to reward their “star pupils.” But there is often some form of unease among teachers and parents who argue awards can do more harm than good: that, if not managed carefully, they encourage unhealthy competition or an expectation of reward. So does this mean we should cancel prizegiving’s altogether? Absolutely not!

While I agree that there is a wrong way to do prizegiving, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right way. It also doesn’t mean that students who have worked hard all year should not be acknowledged. Students are often very enthusiastic about awards they receive, not only does it make them feel proud of themselves, but it helps them to realise teachers really notice everybody.

I believe that awards inspire students to work to their highest potential. Giving out an award to students who have achieved something is a way to make students feel like they can achieve something if they work hard. This helps young people to learn early on that their actions can have an effect on how they will do in life and that the harder the work the more they will achieve.

It is also a mechanism to promote a little bit of healthy competition. With a goal for students to work towards students will be encouraged to complete their work to the highest standard possible, rather than just complete it to a passable standard. At the end of the day, competition is a factor in life that will show up time and time again in the workplace. School is a good place to learn how to treat competition in a healthy manner, without letting it take over your life! It seems like there is no better place to start being competitive than in your years at school.

Giving out awards at school encourages kids to not just get passing grades, but to strive to get the best possible grades they can. If you don’t get any more credit for getting amazing grades, what is the point for working hard? Would this leave kids thinking all they need to do is the bare minimum? Awards encourage kids to do their best and getting recognition will make them want to do just that little bit more.

An awards ceremony is a special day for many students receiving awards, and it gives an opportunity for the students to be recognized by their peers, teachers and family members that have supported them throughout the years. However, if you are going to award certificates, the key thing is to make sure they are inclusive. There is something in every child to recognise. Categories should be all-inclusive, covering every subject and after-school activity, from theatre to dance to speech and debate. This gives the opportunity for students to be recognized for things other than grades.

At the end of the day, prizegiving is just one day out of the whole year. It is designed for the school community to feel happiness for their peers, not jealousy. Are we really so scared to celebrate success?

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. Can you think of any flaws with this opinion?
  2. What are some cons of prizegiving? Does it make students feel left out?
  3. Should prizegiving celebrate more than academic success?

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. Ask your peers and/or your teacher what they think about prizegiving. Do they think it is a good idea.
  2. Has prizegiving motivated you to work harder? Why/why not?
  3. Explain how you think prizegiving should be run and what awards should be given.

The best way to deal with cyberbullying is by reporting it or talking about it.

What is cyberbullying?

Online bullying – or cyberbullying – is using technology like shared texts, emails, online posts, images, messages or videos to embarrass, threaten or harm someone. It can range from spreading rumours to encouraging violence. Unlike physical bullies, cyberbullies often choose to hide their identity. They can also bully from a distance and reach lots of people with just a few taps on a keypad, which can be very stressful for their targets.
Like all bullying, it’s not OK. No one has to put up with it and it can be stopped.

What can I do if I’m being cyberbullied at school?

It’s important to remember that – despite using technology – cyberbullying still depends on real people to spread and respond to it, so people are the key to shutting it down.  If you’re being cyberbullied, there are some practical things you (or your caregivers ) can do to stop it:

  • Tell someone what is happening and that you are upset by it – don’t suffer alone.
  • Check out your school’s policy on cyberbullying and see what they can do.
  • If you’d rather not talk to friends, family or school you can always contact  Netsafe , Kidsline, What’s Up, or Youthline for confidential support and advice on what to do or how to cope.
  • Change your phone number, block or unfriend bullies, and alter your online profile or privacy details so they’re more secure; most providers offer help with settings.
  • Collect evidence of the bullying: keep messages, take screen shots or photos, record dates and urls, or print emails.
  • Consider taking a short break from some or all social media; you have the right to be online, but sometimes a rest can help calm both emotional and media storms.
  • Report what’s happened to your internet or mobile provider – they may be able take down or block certain numbers and sites that break their code of conduct.
  • If what’s happening is really serious or scary, consider telling the Police.

What can I do to protect myself online?

  • Choose carefully with whom you share your mobile and online details and any messages or posts: one US study found 17% of all so-called “private” emails/texts were shared – often with more than one person.
  • Set your privacy settings to protect what can be shared on social networks like Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat; organisations like Netsafe and Sticks ‘n Stones also have great advice on how to do this and how to report things like bullying.
  • Never give anyone else your passwords/logins.
  • Don’t retaliate or respond to internet bullies and trolls – they might use it against you or as an excuse to continue; they’ll lose interest if they aren’t getting a response.
  • Never join in cyberbullying – what goes around often comes around.


Women and Children’s Health Network, 4 May 2017. “Cyberbullying – Bullying From a Distance”.  Retrieved from: http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx?p=335&np=288&id=2704  2 November 2017.
Netsafe, 2 October 2015. “How to Use Privacy Settings on Social Networks”. Retrieved from: https://www.netsafe.org.nz/privacy-settings-on-social-networks/ 2 November 2017.
Netsafe, 23 December 2016. “Online Bullying Help for Young People”. Retrieved from: https://www.netsafe.org.nz/reporting-young-people/ 2 November 2017.
Sticks ‘n Stones, n.d. “Dealing  with Bullying”. http://www.sticksnstones.co.nz/youth/dealing-with-bullying/ 1 November 2017.

Useful  links

Facebook https://www.netsafe.org.nz/adjusting-your-privacy-settings-on-facebook/

Kidsline http://www.kidsline.org.nz/Home_312.aspx

Netsafe https://www.netsafe.org.nz/aboutnetsafe/  

Office of the eSafety[HO8]  Commisioner https://www.esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting/cyberbullying-complaints/social-media-services-safety-centres

Snapchat https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/privacy-settings

Sticks ‘n Stones http://www.sticksnstones.co.nz/our-project/

Twitter https://support.twitter.com/articles/20169886

What’s Up? http://www.whatsup.co.nz/

Youthline https://www.youthline.co.nz/contact-us/

Upstander versus Bystander , Life Education Factsheet.

Empathy is the ability to understand how another is feeling and even share in that feeling.

Why is it important to have empathy?

Empathy is the key to making and keeping connections with people. It’s about linking two or more minds by recognising and respecting others’ feelings and attitudes. It’s likely to increase helping behaviours like sharing, comforting or showing concern. It can stop us from embarrassing ourselves – or others. Think how a three-legged race goes much better when you and your partner can sense and communicate how to move and which way to turn.

What does it look, sound or feel like when someone has empathy?

Someone showing empathy might be said to “put themselves in another person’s shoes”, “be in tune with them”, or “get inside their skin”. Empathy can take many forms. Sometimes we just feel it; sometimes we act on it. Here are some examples[H1] :

A toddler tries to comfort someone who is crying by offering them a favourite toy.

A pre-schooler sees a picture of her mother laughing or smiling and says “Mum is happy”.

We squish over to make room on a bench so someone doesn’t feel left out.

We feel happy when our friend wins a prize.

We understand how upset someone who is being bullied  might feel, so we don’t join in.

We don’t say loudly “Look – that lady is SO FAT” if we see a very large person on the street.

We know why our little sister is both nervous and excited about starting school.

We don’t make a loud noise when we know someone is tired or upset.

We understand why someone did something bad … or had to do it in a certain way.

A counsellor senses when a client’s ready to talk about a hard topic, and when they’re not.

We understand the feelings of a person in a song, book or film – even if we don’t like them.

Someone says “I know how you feel … I understand your frustration…” and really means it.

We smile or wave at someone … even if we don’t know them.

It’s easier –but not essential – to empathise if you’ve had a similar experience. Reading, different social contacts, or just taking time to think and talk about others helps us develop empathy. Empathetic people are often great negotiators, advisers, and listeners who show tact, compassion, kindness, consideration and good manners.

Can you think of some other examples of showing or feeling empathy?
In which jobs or situations might having empathy be particularly important


California Department of Education, 26 September 2016. “Foundation: Empathy”. Retrieved from: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/cd/re/itf09socemofdemp.asp 8 November 2017.

The Brain from Top to Bottom, Mc Gill University, nd. “Sharing Other People’s Pain”. Retrieved from: http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_03/d_03_s/d_03_s_dou/d_03_s_dou.html  8 November 2017.

Is there a difference between empathy and sympathy?

They’re pretty similar and not all dictionaries or psychologists agree on how to define them. Sympathy most commonly means showing sadness or pity for someone because we know something bad has happened to them (like feeling sorry for flood victims) and/or wanting  to help them. It’s the tiny difference between being ‘with’ them in their feelings (pathos) as opposed to ‘in’ them.. In everday speech the difference is small and often lost. What’s important is that they’re both great emotions for us to use with people.

Can you think of some jobs or situations where empathy might be particularly important?

A thick and heavy skirt. A scratchy blouse. A badly tied tie. Ripped stockings. Chunky lace-up shoes that you grew out of two years ago. A blazer. Sound familiar?. Of course it does. Every student knows just how awful and uncomfortable school uniforms can be. It’s almost as if we are programmed to hate them. So wouldn’t it make sense to ditch them in favour of mufti every day? Funnily enough, I don’t think so.  

I believe that ditching school uniforms would not only cost parents more money, it would be a bad idea all around. In fact, school uniforms are as important as anything else in the education experience. Interestingly, what most excites children going to school for the first time is usually their uniform. Every five-year-old can appreciate wearing a school uniform is a powerful rite of passage, and an equally powerful statement of belonging. This is no less true of high school students.

Each school and its students usually find that their distinctive uniform is not simply an exercise in conformity, but a connection to the history of the school and a symbol of its community. These elements make students feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves. The simple act of putting on a uniform makes a student feel prepared for school, and indicates a readiness for the day ahead. However, admittedly students do not wear uniform simply for the sake of tradition, to feel they belong, or even to prepare them mentally to study. 

Instead, I believe uniforms have been worn since schooling began, and will likely continue to in the future, because they are a great leveller. No two students are the same: many come from different backgrounds, different areas, different classes in society. Nevertheless, whatever they bring to the school, they all come together on equal footing, to be identified and judged by their character and contribution alone.

If uniforms were to be ditched and students could wear mufti every day of the week, it would get old pretty fast. I don’t know about you, but I found it hard enough finding outfits for Mufti Day once or twice a term, let alone every day! Students would end up spending an extra half an hour EVERY MORNING worrying and fretting about what to wear and feeling like their clothes aren’t “cool” enough. There is no need to worsen the status and respect many students give to clothing labels and price tags. Student attention needs to be focused on learning in the classroom, rather than how they look when they are in that classroom. Mandated uniforms can serve to shift the emphasis from competition back to academic performance and personal achievement.

Uniforms create a feeling of oneness and belonging. Everyone can be on the same team. As on athletic teams, uniforms are worn for immediate identification and to inspire a feeling of ‘oneness.’ Put on your team uniform and you suddenly belong. A sense of loyalty emerges from inside, as does an extra effort to perform at the student’s best. Look, my school uniform wasn’t exactly gorgeous, but it never mattered! No one looked any better or worse than anyone else, and in a learning environment, that was perfectly fine. Nothing to worry about! 

Critical Questions:

  1. Should schools get rid of school uniforms?
  2. What would be a solution to meet in the middle?
  3. Who is responsible for this issue in the first place and who is responsible for solving it?

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. Ask your parents if they wore school uniforms at school? Do they look back gladly or do they wish they never had to?  
  2. How can you make your school uniform better? Is there something individual about it?
  3. Design a new school uniform that students will feel comfortable, individual and happy in.  

For as long as I was at school, maths, science and literacy were considered “the smart subjects.” More emphasis was placed on them than any other – we would spend more time on then, we would schedule dentist appointments around them, and we would be given more homework for them than all our other classes. They were always prioritised over Arts and Music. So why is this? These subjects only make up a small portion of the subjects taught at school, but they are considered the “important” ones. To me, this is ridiculous!

Yes, English, maths and science are essential subjects and I don’t think we should suddenly stop learning them. But their importance does not lessen the importance of the Arts and Music. Arts encourage the development of creativity, critical thinking, motivation and self-confidence – skills that are necessary for innovation. Moreover, these skills can help children learn academically.

Evidence suggests subjects such as music and drama have beneficial effects in the classroom. Playing an instrument benefits creativity, spatial-temporal ability, IQ scores and reading and language. It can also improve motivation and behaviour for secondary school children. Arts education in schools has introduced many children to great painters and great music, and helped them through their first dance steps or musical endeavours. It can serve as a bright spot of the school day, a class that brings fun and beauty, and which is not about testing.

Furthermore, the way the system works is simply not fair for students who have particular talents in the Arts. Their talent is made out to be less important and sometimes even perceived as “drop-kick” subjects. As a result, they aren’t encouraged to think it will take them somewhere in life. If more emphasis was placed on the Arts, it would encourages more kids to go and get an Arts degree or pursue a career in the Arts, because they see their talent and favourite subject as something worth pursuing, rather than just as an interest.

We should remember the famous Einstein quote – the one that says that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will spend its life thinking it is stupid. Some students struggle to read but come to life on the stage. Others just can’t concentrate in maths lessons but will sit and paint for an hour without leaving their seat. If our schools are only interested in children’s progress and attainment in a limited range of subjects, how can we ever hope to build on the potential of those whose strengths lie elsewhere?

At the end of the day, we should remember that there is a very strong argument for simply pursuing Arts education for its own sake – for enjoyment and appreciation. If the Arts make students happy and feel good about themselves, give them a sense of achievement and help them to appreciate beauty, then that is justification in itself.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. What do you think the most important benefits of Arts are? How will these help you later in life? Are there any disadvantages?
  2. What do you think the most important benefits of Music are? How will these help you later in life? Are there any disadvantages?
  3. Who are some famous and/or successful people you can find who attribute their success to studying Arts and Music?

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. Take a look at your timetable – do you think next year you could add some Arts and Music subjects to it? Would you want to?
  2. Ask your teacher or parents what they think the importance of Arts and Music is. Do they think more emphasis should be placed on it?
  3. If you don’t take Arts or Music at school, I challenge you to do something creative related to Arts and/or Music this week! Paint a picture or learn a few chords on a ukulele! What else could you do…?

A good friend brings out the best in you and is there for you, whatever happens.

What does a good friend look like?

Friends can come in many forms: they can be young or old, or might even be an animal like a pet. A good human friend:

lways brings out the best in you

enerally keeps your secrets, unless they affect your safety
O  ften shares your interests
O  ften shares your feelings, and always understands you
D  efends you and sticks up for you – even when others don’t

F   orgives you if you make mistakes or do something silly that hurts them
R   egularly shares with you: toys, thoughts, fun, limelight … everything
I    ncludes you in whatever they’re doing
E   ncourages you and isn’t jealous of you
N  ever lets you down
D  oesn’t try to control you, but tells you when you’re doing something stupid

They may not do all these things all the time; but they’ll do many of them most of the time.

Being friends and having friends

We can be a friend to others as well as having friends ourselves. People often say:
The best way to have a friend, is to be one.
We can also be a good friend to ourselves  by taking time to look after our body and mind.

What about when friends fight or move on?

Friendships can change over time, like any relationship. And friends can argue and make up.
Everyone feels left out by their friends – even their besties – from time to time. Sometimes it’s because we’ve done something silly of hurtful to them, perhaps without even realising it. Sometimes it’s because our friends are people just like us and make mistakes – just like we do. Sometimes we just don’t “click” anymore because one or other of us has changed.

If we’ve upset our friends we need to say sorry to them. If they try to make up for something that they’ve done to upset us we should accept their apology and move on.

 “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” Oprah Winfrey


Women and Children’s Health Network, 13 October 2016. “Friendship”. Retrieved from: http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx?p=335&np=286&id=1636 5 December 2017.
Women and Children’s Health Network, 15 February 2016. “Shyness – Are you[HO4]  Shy”. Retrieved from: http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx?p=335&np=286&id=1636 5 December 2017.

Useful links

“How can I make friends ?”, “Loving Ourselves: Self-love and Self-Compassion”,  Life Education factsheets.

“I’ll be There for You”: by The Rembrandts. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-9pLZQ4vu0 6 December 2017.

“Friends will be Friends”: by Queen. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAQ4sJZ5IsU 11 December.

“Friends Forever”: from Bear in the Big Blue House. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xlYecJEH_k 7 December 2017

“You’ve got a Friend in Me”: cover from Toy Story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIYOJ_hSs0o Retrieved from: 7 December 2017.

Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha, Rima, Ono, Whitu, Waru, Iwa ,Tekau! But can we all keep going?

It’s an exciting time not only for Māori but for all New Zealanders. Our growing recognition of the Māori language and culture is the result of decades of Māori development by many past and present Māori leaders. In the midst of all the excitement is a growing debate around making the Māori language compulsory in New Zealand schools.

So how do our government and leaders feel about this? It turns out they are pretty uncertain on the question of compulsory te reo Māori in schools. Under article two of the Treaty of Waitangi, the government pledges to protect “taonga katoa” (all treasured things). One of these things is te reo Māori, one of three official languages of New Zealand. The current government have spoken of ‘integrating’ and ‘normalising’ te reo Māori and have pledged 1 million speakers of te reo by 2040, but have avoided the term ‘compulsory’. At the moment it seems to be pretty much agreed across the board that New Zealand does not have the teachers or resources to make te reo a core subject in schools right now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set goals to work towards. Even though some leaders are putting it in the too-hard-basket or simply don’t want to do it, others are prepared to do the mahi to get there.

Many have argued while it would be great to see people picking te reo up as an option, that integration is more realistic than compulsion. While it is important to get children into te reo at an early age, If New Zealanders want to learn it is up to them so long as the opportunity is there. Others have said people need to choose to speak in their homes and communities – it has got to come from within. However, to me, simply offering the choice is not enough for the language to thrive. Until the Government puts a line in the sand, schools won’t get the proper resourcing and capacity they need to teach te reo. We need to make this a goal.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable there will be many old-fashioned, elderly members of Parliament who are set in stone on the issue, claiming there is no value in learning te reo. However, if we move the debate away from a focus on race and culture, maybe we can discuss the productive education outcomes from learning the Māori language. Ironically, one of the most compelling reason for making the Māori language compulsory in schools has very little to do with the Māori language at all, and even less to do with Māori culture. A large benefit is the advantages of bilingualism — that is, the increased ability children have to process knowledge and develop understanding when they are able to speak a second language. Weirdly, that’s where the focus of this debate should be. It’s an outcome that works for everyone, regardless of their background, or even their ability.

But why te reo Māori? A common argument raised against making te reo Māori compulsory in schools is the status of the language itself. Why not learn a language that’s more widely spoken, and of more “value”? Well, quite simply, they’re really difficult. Te reo Māori is one of the easiest languages in the world to learn because the sounds generally stay the same no matter how the letters are grouped. For children who speak basic English, the transition into learning a basic language like Māori is easy. It makes sense to choose a language that’s much easier to learn. Not to mention a language that has a significant legal status and cultural importance in this country. Another awesome benefit is that normalising te reo makes learning more inclusive for Māori children, thus part of our commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi. Once we have the resources available, it seems there is no good reasons left to resist embedding the Māori language into our education system.

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. What is the most important aspect of learning te reo Māori?
  2. Why should we learn te reo in school and not later on in life?
  3. What are some more benefits of being bilingual (being able to speak more than one language)?

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. This week, learn a new phrase in te reo Māori every day and find an opportunity to weave it into your conversation. Do this with a mate so you can remind and test each other.  
  2. Ask your teachers at school how they would feel about te reo Māori being compulsory as a school subject. Do they agree with this idea?  
  3. Write a letter to your local representative if you agree that te reo Māori should be compulsory in schools. Explain why you think this is important and the overall benefits making this change will have.

On the bus on the way to school, on your phone. Period 1 maths class, on your phone under the desk. Morning break, everyone is playing games on their phones. In English class, scrolling through Instagram under the desk. During lunch, snapchat the funny things happening with your mates. Practice after school, sneaking a look at your notifications whenever you can. School is boring enough, shouldn’t we be able to entertain ourselves by going on our phones when we want to?

While this may seem slightly exaggerated for some students, this is the reality of screen time at schools today. It takes up insane amounts of our learning time and is with us virtually wherever we go. Social media is addictive, and that’s basically the explanation to all of this. From compulsive checking and oversharing to the loss of scholastic opportunities, we may also be putting our education at risk.

Just how deep does the problem go? Seventy-two percent of online people use social media and the average user spends 23 hours a week on it. 23 hours! That’s almost an entire day per week spent entirely on your phone. So why are we using social media for the same amount of time as a part-time job? Most of us claim that school piles too much work on us and that we are too busy, but when we spend this much time on our phones, can we really complain?

A lot of students may not realise they are addicted to their social media. This isn’t unusual, as we all have a fundamental need to be accepted by our peers. When we post something to Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, we want to see that contribution validated. We want our participation to matter, to be accepted by others… even total strangers. These minor validations can act as pleasure-inducing “hits” much like an addictive drink or drug and can find people taking their social media habits to unhealthy extremes.

This problem isn’t going to magically go away. Social media only gets better, app creators get more inventive, the content becomes addictive. They make sure you won’t simply get bored. Therefore, it has to be a conscious effort on your behalf to cut down on screen time. This can be really difficult so you may want to start small, but with a large goal in mind. On iPhones now there is a setting that monitors your daily screen time. Depending on your average, try and bring your average amount of hours spent on your phone daily down by even just 15 minutes a week– until you hit your goal time. Just remember your phone is meant to be propelling you forward, not holding you back.

However, until all students learn to limit their own screen time, should schools step in? This could function by schools accounting for all student devices during the day, and only allowing students to have access to them for a certain number of hours per day. This may also mean using a whiteboard and a pen & paper to learn, rather than using tablets at computers at school. Phones aren’t the only problem, screen time in any form adds up to the number of hours per day spent staring at a monitor.

Imagine how much homework you could get done — and how more spare time you would then have — if you spend 30 percent less time on social media. Imagine how different your education could be if your time at school was spent learning about the incredible world around you, rather than staring at your screen!

Critical Questions:

  1. Why do you think being reducing screen time at school is important?
  2. Do you think it is important to reduce screen time in general or just time on social media? 
  3. What are the educational benefits of cutting down screen time? Think both mental and physical aspects.

Practical Thinking Questions:

  1. How are three easy ways during your day you can personally reduce your screen time at school? i.e. not bringing your phone to school.  
  2. Ask your parents if they think having phones and other devices at school is a good thing or a bad thing – and how it would have made their education different.    
  3. Do you think you can give up some screen time at school each day? List reasons you should and reasons why you don’t want to. What is more important to you.