Edwina caught up with Dr Tim Hawkes, a leading Australian educator and writer. He is currently the Headmaster of The King's School, Parramatta and the author of ‘Ten Conversations You Must Have with Your Son’. The book aims to equip parents with the necessary skills to help them guide their sons.
What was the driving force for you to help parents guide the lives of their sons towards adulthood?
There has been a manifest betrayal by Australian schools of their students. With the rise of accountability measures such as HSC league tables and My School websites, we see a growing focus on preparing students for an exam rather than preparing them for life. I want to recover our mandate as educators to prepare students for the post-school world. A good education is something infinitely more rewarding than preparing a child for a test. A good education is holistic and develops a child intellectually, emotionally, socially, physically and spiritually. It was in recognition of this that we at King’s wrote the four books that make up the ‘Learning Leadership’ series. This four year leadership course covers topics such as values, resilience, courage and integrity. The course also looks at life skills, such as giving a speech, conducting yourself in an interview, writing a résumé, dealing with the cyber world and engaging in strategic planning. We also introduced a Boys to Men program into Year 10. Essentially, this is a life-skills program that covers things like financial literacy, etiquette, cooking, cleaning, car maintenance, sex and intimacy. Contemporary issues such as online dating and managing the cyber world are also explored. A novel was written for the boys called ‘Blizzard Lines’. It also covers many of these issues. Boys read the novel as they undertake a trek – a literal journey into manhood. These are some of the ways King’s uses to tackle the issue of preparing students for life. Interestingly, since undertaking this program, our academic results have soared!
"One of the problems with us dads is that in seeking to be significant outside of the home, we fail to be significant inside the home"
What are the key conversations you must have with your son?
Key conversations are conversations that are relevant. Typically, these tend to be conversations about love, identity, values, leadership, achievement, sex, money, health, living together and resilience. ‘Ten Conversations You Must Have with Your Son’ is designed to give parents a scaffold so they might undertake these conversations with even more success.
How do you advise parents to keep communication going within the home?
I am troubled by the minimal amount of time some fathers spend with their teenage sons. It is sometimes measured in seconds in a day. With mums it is usually better. One of the problems with us dads is that in seeking to be significant outside of the home, we fail to be significant inside the home. Having been hard-wired to provide, we express our love by providing for the family. However, part of providing is giving our family emotional and social support. Our presence is hungered for by our sons as much as our provision. When we get home after a day at work, we need to resist the urge to retreat from the family. We need to make ourselves available to our sons and our families.
Parents who spend time talking with their sons provide opportunities for their sons to discuss their thoughts and feelings. This can make our sons emotionally healthier. They become trained to discuss their feelings and are less likely to bottle them up. In many ways it’s teaching boys how to cope.
Can you share with us some tricks to increasing effective communication in the home?
1. Dine together and ban the use of phones during meals. Use the time to discuss the high points and low points of the day.
2. Use car journeys to chat to the kids. Ban the headphones when travelling short distances in the car.
3. Make the kitchen table a conversation zone. Preparing meals together often leads to serendipitous conversations.
4. Use sport as a place and time to share non-threatening conversations. These trivial conversations are needed to build the bridge needed for the more ‘heavy’ conversations at other times.
How do you believe boys can achieve better academic and non-academic outcomes?
What has often happened in our school system is that behaviours modelled by girls are considered good. However, behaviours modelled by boys are sometimes considered bad. You are a good student if you are quiet and sit still – which typically does not describe the behaviour of a boy. Boys tend to enjoy a learning environment that is visual in its approach and technologically rich. At King’s we’ve had great success creating an environment where big learning tasks are dealt with by breaking it up into smaller chunks. We also use more competition and active-based learning. Allowing more processing time and teaching in an environment where there is good natural light can also help. We air-condition classrooms so that boys get rid of excess body heat after recess and music is sometimes used to help boys focus on learning. More than anything, boys, like girls, need great teachers. They need mentors that can inspire, that create a sense of wonder and disturb with new possibilities. Boys need teachers who enjoy teaching and have a great sense of humour. It needs to be remembered that boys are often physically big. We can assume a level of maturity, based on their size. However, boys may have V8 bodies, but they often have P-Plate minds. They don’t have the wisdom of experience. Their brain is still developing until they are 26 years of age. Our boys need to understand themselves. They need to know why they get grumpy in the early teen years. It’s because there is a 600% increase in testosterone – that’s an anabolic steroid – so they get roid rage. Therefore, they need to learn impulse control. A simple way to do this is to teach boys about traffic lights – if you see red, STOP! If you see yellow, it doesn’t mean go faster, it’s a warning light. Only when things are green, is it good to go.
"It’s easier to build a boy than mend a man"
I asked Director of Life Education, Dr Steven Middleton about the ‘Boys to Men’ course…
I’m thrilled to be a part of this iconic program at King’s. It’s always exciting to be involved with something that is new and revolutionary like our ‘Boys to Men’ course.
There is a lot of research that suggests that character education and academic education are complementary. King’s embraces this thinking so that values education is translated into the classroom as well as encouraged outside the classroom. The boys see a lot of the things we do in the ‘Boys to Men’ program as fun. They do cooking, etc. but we also do things like trying to defuse dangerous situations, learning how to relate to others and how to manage the complex issue of sex and intimacy. We are looking at developing boys who we can be proud of as fathers, husbands and sons. This process needs to start early. It’s easier to build a boy than mend a man.