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Separating behaviour from the child.

Thursday, Sep. 14th 2017

In my early teacher training in the 80’s, I was very fortunate to be trained, supervised and professionally evaluated, by some genuine masters of the teaching craft. Of course, there were a few less inspiring educators as well but that’s life. J

One of these exceptional educators, was a mid-70- year-old, old-fashioned Christian Brother. He was tough, very tough. He was an ex-boxer, disciplined ( still exercised to sweat, for an hour every morning and encouraged all of us to do the same ), hard on his students ( he only every wanted the best for and out of us ), yet, he always remembered our names and had a trap-door memory of details about each one of us.

‘Each one of you are people before teachers and the students you will teach, are children before pupils’, he used to regularly remind us. He made us fully understand that the ‘behaviour’ at any given time is NOT the child. That there is a clear and present distinction between the behaviours and actions that we observe and the inherent humanity underneath the behaviours. This has been one of my guiding professional principles. A stance that has sometimes rubbed some people the wrong way. A stance that has often been up against a system that can often seem completely removed from its core role. A role that is NOT simply to impart information and content. Rather, a COMPLEMENTARY extension to sound family values. The two must always be aligned, otherwise students ( and teachers ) quickly become disenfranchised, over-working and under-delivering, quality education to the humans in their care.

I was an eager student and knew I was at the feet of a master craftsman. A genuine heart-educator. A man who was constantly encouraging us young teachers to ‘get behind the student’s eyes’. To somehow try to see beyond student behaviours and performances. A man whose light for education, hadn’t dimmed in nearly 50 years. A man of God. A man seemingly crafted from wind-hardened Connemmara marble. A man who looked, spoke and behaved like someone 20 years younger. A true professional. A teacher’s, teacher. A man whose legacy lives on in many of his graduates.

This guiding principle of separating ‘child’ from ‘behaviour’, has enabled me as a teacher and parent, to separate the two. In particular, when it was time to ‘punish’ significant boundary-breaking behaviours. Being able to look a child clearly in the eye and say; ‘I don’t like what you’ve done but I still love and value who you are’, gives a clear message of hope and acceptance that continues to open communication channels for both.

Perhaps next time this scene presents itself to you, you might well remember the powerful shift that can occur when these words are said and felt.

Paradoxically, prosody is very important.

Tuesday, Aug. 8th 2017

Most good teachers ( and parents for that matter), have always known and taught, the importance of being able to read out aloud, especially to an adult. This adult can then invest some time in gently guiding the excited new reader to ‘harder’ books.

One of the most effective ‘yardsticks’ for parents to measure the competency of an early reader ( can be as young as four or five but usually around Year 1 or age 7), is their fluency, rhythm, intonation, timing, phrasing, etc. In other words what they ‘sound’ like when transferring information from the page, to the brain, with context and meaning.

The mechanics and linguistic study of this very important process and skill is called prosody.

The process and mechanics of prosody is effectively explained in more depth here…

Within this context, prosody can reflect linguistic features, such as sentence structure, as well as text features, such as punctuation. Skilled readers pick up on these features, and respond to them when reading aloud, as when they pause briefly at relevant commas, pause slightly longer at sentence boundaries, raise their pitch at the end of yes-no questions, and lower their pitch at the end of declarative sentences.

This skill development, can often be arbitrary, relying on a plethora of skills that coalesce to not only increase reading skills but increase them through the use of mouth, tongue and ears. This somatic reading experience is the gateway to better reading ( both silent and oral). It is also one of the single biggest catalysts to improving the comprehension rate and accuracy of the reader. In other words, they actually remember so much more, rather than simply focus on the decoding.

Usually the beginnings of a life-long reader.

As if Already

Monday, Jul. 31st 2017

One of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve come across in recent times, is the notion of ‘future living’ our goals and intentions. Initially, I found this whole concept very foreign and wondered if it was merely some New Age thinking that sounded good but had little application in the ‘real’ world.

The breakthrough for me came, when I actually began to question what my ‘real’ world actually was. Of course, like you, my senses inform me quite nicely of my version of MY world. The world that I inhabit each and every moment. How on Earth, can I affect anything in my own, or anybody else’s future? The answer, I discovered, was that I ALREADY do!! So, why not play around with this notion, tweak it a little to suit my own needs and see you we go.

My experience was quite profound. I began to experience a lot of genuinely successful ‘future experiences’ in the hear-and-now.

I began sharing my experience with our students with some outstanding results.

Initially, it was suggested to the students to look around their home/schools/sporting clubs, etc and look at the folks that had whatever it was that they desired. Better marks and improved results at school, better relationships – especially with parents and siblings, better connections with close friends, the list was endless…

They were then directed to copy/model/duplicate as many of the observable qualities and behaviours of those people. What did they eat? Wear? How did they speak? Were they late for class or on time? Where did they chose to sit in class and with whom? The results were often immediate and outstanding.

Many of our students, suddenly found themselves establishing meaningful and very ‘doable’ study plans. Essays began to get started and submitted on time. Diets began to be tweaked. Exercise began to be undertaken. Relationships ‘suddenly’ and mysteriously began to change.

The only instruction was to behave, think and do, as if they already had whatever it was that was important to them. Not wait for some time in the future when they may or may not have succeeded in obtaining them. The results were often spectacular and frequently immediate.

So, next time you’re feeling ‘stuck’ and unable to seemingly improve, try ‘future planning’ your goal and live and feel as if you already have it.

Here at Focus Education, we expand our student’s possibilities in as many ways as we can and one of them is to allow our ‘unseen forces’ to work for our students and not against them. The ‘I can’ in action. 🙂

Handwriting Blues? Hebbian learning to the rescue.

Wednesday, Jun. 28th 2017

One of the most frequently asked questions from our Seniors at this stage of the year is: ‘How can I write so many short answer and essay type questions within a short timeframe?’

The often unwanted answer is – practise. Practise. Practise and when you think you’re done, practise a little more but make it count. Make it meaningful for your brain as well as your hands and fingers. In a certain sense, one IS the extension of the other.

Simply writing tombs of straight copy from a book, is a very dull and uninteresting way of practising this vital exam skill. It can be done and often is but rarely does it last. Therefore it ceases to become practise and your frustration continues.

One of the easiest and often the most effective is what we call ‘automatic writing’. That is, you give yourself a topic you know a lot about. A topic or topics you most likely talk, read or research anyway.

The key to this practice is time. Once the topics are selected, practice begins. Making sure that your writing equipment is fully loaded, removes any daydreamy excuses to not write. Set your timer for no more than 5 minutes for the first five days. ( Believe me, if your topics are as good as you think they are, you’ll most likely want to write volumes. Stopping, rather than starting is the main concern here!). Connecting your brain and hand in this ‘effortless’ way, creates vital and new neurological connections and like all learning, the brain just loves repetition. Krebs law is then able to be used to your advantage.

Another important ke,y is to restrict yourself to increasing daily writing time by no more than 5 minutes weekly, i.e. by the fourth week, you should be writing no more than 20 minutes. After four weeks, the brain needs only twice weekly ‘top ups’ of 20 minutes each in order to further imbed the new skill.

Senior Subject Choices

Tuesday, Jun. 20th 2017

This time of the year can often be problematic and very confusing for Year 10 students, as they make major decisions about subject choices for the Higher School Certificate. Their life choices beyond school, are often dependant on the subject choices made at this critical time.

Often times there is a cacophony of well-meaning voices, advocating a particular range of subjects that they feel would suit the student. Teachers, parents, curriculum advisors, grandparents and friends, can add to the often dischordant chorus of well-intentioned information. Information they feel can assist the student make the ‘right’ choice for life post-school.

Many of these opinions are valid. Some, however, have very little to do with the skills, talents and personality of the student and everything to do with projecting the ancient patterning we all possess.

As we are all aware, many of the careers and jobs these students will undertake have yet to be created!

So, how on earth can a 16 year old get it ‘right’? How can they reverse-engineer a career path that satisfies tertiary requirements and maintains their sanity? Many students can become stress-bound slaves to subjects and content that is not only meaningless and soon forgotten but can be anathema to them entering the adult world of tertiary and other trainings.

Left-brain rationalising will usually create only more of the same. That is, constant rationalising of subjects, choices and courses, that are often far removed from the students intrinsic skills, talents and individual personalities.

Of course, many subject choices are dictated by tertiary institutions themselves. Many tertiary courses dictate a certain level of performance in specific courses and so they should. Future medical students require a load that is predominantly Science-based. Engineering courses, the same.

One strategy we have successfully implemented for many years, is the ‘one-for-me’ subject choice. Simply, this requires the student to honestly evaluate their own individual personality, interests and passions, then choose ONE subject that matches this very personal criteria. This can often provide a much needed respite from the academic rigour of many other subjects. Working with the student’s inherent interests can greatly assist them to balance their often crowded timetable, frequently presenting them with a course that ‘lights them up with ease’. A course where preparation is peppered with genuine enthusiasm. A course where results often reflect their passion. A match where subject, teacher, skills and content often provide an oasis of ease. A regularly timetabled time where they immerse themselves in content that is deeply meaningful and often requires significantly less preparation and ‘swatting’ time. A course that can often become a vital catalyst for success in other subject choices, as it not only reduces stress levels but the frequently positive results and feedback, can positively influence performance in other courses.

Something worth adding to the mix this term, as these major decisions are made.


The Science of Smelling

Monday, May. 22nd 2017

The olfactory senses are part of the body’s limbic system, which is responsible for memory, emotions, and behavior. When a scent is inhaled, messages are sent to parts of the brain that are a part of the limbic system and chemicals that have direct effects on mood are released such as serotonin.

The limbic system is also responsible for feeling pleasure, and the “reward path” in the brain is also a part of the limbic system. Activating this system prior to and during  study can have significant benefits for performance.

There is now a large body of evidence to suggest that scents such as rosemary and bergamot, applied or inhaled during exam preparation and then applied under the nostrils prior to exams can yield significantly better results.

While nothing replaces formal study techniques and procedures, having an ally from a plant source can significantly add to a student’s academic ‘toolbox’.

Try it and see! 🙂

Does your child really need a Fidget Spinner?

Tuesday, May. 16th 2017

Our brain has the magical ability to rewire itself. We live in the world that offers our brains instant gratification, which works just like a drug. The more instant gratification we offer our brains, the more our brains crave it.

With the best of intentions, we have rewired the brains of this entire generation of children to expect instant gratification, by offering them IPads, videogames, and depriving their brains of opportunities for boredom, responsibilities, and limits. Children come to school emotionally unavailable to learn. Their brains are unable to function under lower levels of stimulation, and expect special effects at all times. Unfortunately, real life can’t offer their brains what we promised; compared to the stimulation offered by the screens, real life is boring. Life requires the brain to work through boredom, which these children can’t tolerate so they become fidgety the moment their brains perceive even minor “boredom”.

With the invention of the spinner fidgets, we take their brains to the next level of instant gratification. Moreover, again and again, we buy our children what they want, the moment they want it, without thinking if it is truly what they need. Now, they bring the spinners into the classroom; continuing to stimulate their brains all day long with high levels of spinning stimulation. The more they stimulate their brains, the more they will crave for it, the less delayed gratification they will have, the less emotionally available for learning they will be.

There are a few kids that do require fidgets. However, even for these kids, the fidgets are just a quick fix. These children require a much deeper approach to help them concentrate.  In many cases, if a child needs fidgets, it means that his brain is overly stimulated and he actually needs help calming his brain down rather than further stimulating it. Here are some suggestions that will minimize your child’s need for fidgeting:

  • Teach children that “boredom” is a normal state of human emotions. Help children to recognize the signs of boredom and help them develop functional strategies to deal with it. Don’t take the responsibility of constantly entertaining your kids, as they need to learn to self-regulate through boredom.
  • Put a conscious effort to train your child’s delayed gratification skills. Avoid using technological babysitters in cars and restaurants and train his ability to just sit and wait.  Teach your child to sit at a table until everyone finishes eating.  Limit snacking between meals.
  • Limit your child’s access to technology. In addition, unplug from your phone and share quality time with your child.
  • Offer your child opportunities to spend time outdoors, especially in green space.