Joe Ianora

Joe Ianora is principal of Del Amigo High School in California. Previously, he was principal of San Ramon Valley High School for nearly a decade.

Educational System Versus Boys: Are We Really Helping All Students Learn?

Around the nation for the past 10-plus years, the educational battle cry has been No Child Left Behind. While there are many programs, federal and state dollars are being spent to focus energy on closing the achievement gap. I would argue that there is a large population of student that gets lost in the statistical analysis of student success—our boys.

Since the inception of the schoolhouse, there has always been a debate around how to educate our children. Over the past 15 years, there has been much discussion around gender difference and learning in our schools. Many books have been published on this subject by people such as Dr. Leonard Sax, Dr. Michael Gurian, and Dr. Michael Thompson. More recently, there was an article in the Washington Post regarding the success of boys in our schools.

As a continuation high school principal and PLC advocate, the question of educating our boys is always on the forefront of my mind. The demographics at my school show us to be culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse; however, we are not diverse when it comes to gender. Eighty-five percent of my student population is made up of boys who have been failed by our educational system.

As I work with the students on my campus, I think of No Child Left Behind and ask myself, what happened? I have seen so many programs come and go with some level of success, but how do we create a culture that ensures all students learn and, more specifically, how are we actively connecting and engaging our boys in the learning process? How do we form a connection that helps our boys learn? How do we help teach resiliency so that our boys have the skills and tools to be successful in a system that can seem stacked against them?

Boys do not always clearly communicate their feelings (my wife tells me it doesn't get better as we grow older!) The third essential question of a PLC (What do we do when they don't learn?) gets at the heart of helping us address our forgotten population, and we cannot afford our boys to be a forgotten statistic. This question allows educators to delve into why our boys are not successful and help them discover how they can best learn. More importantly, it allows us to create meaningful connections that can help our boys develop the resiliency to persevere.

So what are some ways to connect with all students, more specifically our boys? Here is a quick list of things that I have tried or observed in the classroom to help our boys engage with their learning:

  1. Greet students at the door and again as they leave; this helps set the tone for respect and makes it clear that learning will be happening.
  2. Build in activities that promote movement (for example, "pose" a vocabulary word, gallery walks, "cross-class" partner, collaboration groups).
  3. Use kinetic/tactile learning for a great way to gain engagement in a learning activity.
  4. Allow alternative assessments to demonstrate mastery (for example, video design, rap lyrics, a model or diagram).
  5. Structure lessons that require both competition and teamwork.
  6. Have lesson outcomes end in a product (for example, a booklet, model, video, physical structure).

Ask any of our boys about their teachers and they will tell you what makes the difference for them is connecting to the material, but more importantly, connecting to the adult who is making the learning relevant to them. While some would say that this is an innate skill that only some of the most skilled teachers possess, I believe connection is a skill that can be developed through the PLC process. For the success of our boys (and for all), we need to form those appropriate connections to ensure all students learn at high levels.


lynn oliver

The problem is somewhat with our schools for the subconscious and yes, also conscious use of more aggressive and less supportive treatment of our Male children. This begins as early as kindergarten. However this is a socital problem, which is going on in every country today.
W are still treating boys from one year of age through adulthood to be tough. We are giving our daughters much more kind, stable, verbal interaction and other wonderful supports from infancy. This is creating very different outcomes for boys and girls with extreme diferences in lower socioecnomic areas due to much more extreme differences in treatment and contrasting support.
The belief Males should be strong allows more aggressive treatment of Males as early as one year, designed to create more layers of agitation, fear, and tension, so they will be prepared to fight, defend, and be tough. This is coupled with much "less" kind, stable, (very little verbal interaction) and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. It is this more aggressive, less supportive treatment that creates the toughness or maintained, higher average layers of – anger, fear, anxiety, preparation for defense, etc. This remains in the mind as higher average stress that take away real mental energy needed for academics. This increases over time and continued by society from parents, yes teachers, and others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance/distrust of others -parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; lags in communication, lower social vocabulary, poor sentence structure; also higher average stress: more layers of mental agitated conflicts and fears taking away real mental energy that hurt learning and motivation to learn. This also creates more activity due to need for stress relief from their higher average stress. It creates more defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth. The higher average stress creates higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on the pencil and tighter grip) that hurt writing and motivation to write (hurting form and creating early fatigue). It creates much lag in development due to lack of care creating a learned sense of helplessness in school. This differential treatment continues through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also society gives Males love and honor (essential needs for self-worth) only on condition of some achievement or status. This was designed to keep Male esteem and feelings of self-worth low to keep them striving and even give their lives in time of war for small measures of love and honor. Males not achieving in school or other are given more ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not an option for fear of coddling. Many Males thus falling behind in academics then turn their attention toward video games, and sports, to receive small measures of love and honor not received in the classroom. The belief boys should be strong and the false belief in genetics creates a mental denial of any connection with differential treatment and the lower academics, lower esteem, and other problems, removing all good sense when it comes to raising boys today. I feel there is an almost emotional cannibalism allowed upon Males by society, even young Males who appear weak, all to make them tough.
Since we as girls by differential treatment are given much more positive, continual, mental, emotional/social support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls compared with boys. We enjoy much more continuous care and support from infancy through adulthood and receive love and honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things: lower average stress for more ease of learning. We do enjoy much freedom of expression from much protection that makes us look less stable at times. Of course we can also use that same freedom of expression to give verbal, silent abuse, and hollow kindness/patronization to our Male peers with impunity knowing we are protected. We enjoy lower muscle tension for better handwriting/motivation; higher social vocabulary; lower average stress for reading/motivation; much more positive, trust/communication with adults, teachers, peers; and much more support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the more amplified the differential treatment from a young age and increased and more differentiated over time. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society, we are enjoying even more lavishing of love and honor, while boys and men are still treated to be tough are failing more and so are being given even more ridicule and abuse by society and yes, also by girls and women using our protected freeness of expression and now, even from false feelings of superiority. My learning theory and article on the Male Crisis will go to all on request or can be read from my home site at

Posted on

Jason Allshouse

This was an excellent article. I teach on a small island in Maine where the majority of the male students see no real value in education because they can go out and fish and make a lot of money. I loved the way that you phrased how we leaving boys behind, and that is something that I never thought about. I feel like I have a good connection with the majority of my male students, but I struggle to form some of those connections with the 6th-grade boys. I am going to try some of these steps to see if it can improve the learning of my students, but also help me to build a better relationship with some of the more difficult students.

Posted on

Niambi Riggins-Thomas

This is a GREAT article! The students that I work with in the inner-city are predominantly African-American and predominantly male. You have listed some wonderful ways to engage this group. My favorite is the "end product", as I have never thought of this, but it makes absolute sense! I will definitely add this to my repertoire!

Posted on

April Bryant

This article relates specifically to a conversation that I just had today. I am currently a first grade teacher. Fourteen of my eighteen students are males, which is about seventy-eight percent of the students. Ninety-five percent of the student body at my school also receive free and reduced lunch which also has a great impact on the achievement gap at my school. Over the past few years, data has shown that boys are under-performing compared to the girls at the school, especially the African American males. Ninety-three percent of my boys are African American. I really enjoyed the ideas that you have used in your classroom to meet the needs of the boys. I try to include hands-on activities that allow my boys to move around. They enjoy a little competition and they seem to like anything that is similar to a game. In my classroom, I have tried to teach reading skills by using books that will interest boys. For example, we might read about snakes, sports, or bugs. One "ah-ha" moment that I had was your idea about having an "end product". I would like to take the strategy back to my classroom. I feel that it would work with a majority of my boys, as they seem to be proud of things that they make. Thanks for your insights and suggestions. I definitely think that I could benefit from Professional Learning Community sessions about how to reach the male population!

Posted on

Mario Tims

I enjoyed reading this article. I have always worked in a school with a minority population and I always assumed that it was just minority boys having this issue, but I can see this affects many of our boys. My first two years of teaching I worked at a Residental Treatment Center. The first year I taught the all-girls home. I enjoyed it, but I was eager to change the next year to teach the all-boys home. What was I thinking? The boys were the more difficult of the to. The were more hyper, the were less motivated, and they were seriously stubborn. I always remember those days know that I teach in a more traditional school with boys and girls. It is still the same. Reaching the young men is more difficult but I must admitt. When I finally to reach one, and I can begin to see the changes its even more rewarding.

Posted on

bintu dudley

Mr. Ianera your blog relates to the current situation I see daily. I am an educator who works in a male prison setting. The students I teach are grown in age but not in education level. My area of specialty is literacy through the fifth grade in all subjects. In your post you listed engaging our boys in learning by a simple gesture of greeting our students at the door and setting a tone for respect, which a lot of my students admit that their past teachers lacked. Many of my students state most of their teachers did not take the time to help them individually or encourage them; therefore, this was one of the many factors that kept them from wanting to learn. If they would have had a teacher who cared or showed concern it would have made a difference in how serious they took their education, because sometimes their parents lacked the ability to encourage or show concern in the educational growth. Mr. Ianera it starts at the head, you noted you are an administrator your leadership is so vital in what your teachers need to witness you do or know the values that you uphold. I encourage you to keep spreading this important message of our young men that are becoming statistics, in hopes that all educators take the torch it can and will make a difference in the life of a generations to come.

Posted on

Kim Davison

Last year, I was a teacher to 14 male second grade students and only 4 female second grade students. To say that my school year was difficult is an understatement. Many of my male students struggled to maintain control over their bodies and often fed off of each other’s high energy. It was not uncommon for my students to physically fight each other or act defiant. Although some of my students had other factors affecting their behaviors, such as special education needs, I could not understand why I could not reach them. Reflecting on my own teaching, I was afraid that I was not cut out for this position. I had tried endless strategies; (behavior contracts, contact with families, fidget sticks, silly shake downs, incorporating movement in the lessons, etc.) however, nothing seemed to work. Then I got to question: Is school really designed for boys? Sitting in a desk or on a carpet square, listening to someone else speak, following classroom and school regulations: all of these tasks just did not seem to interest my male students. I really had to redesign how I taught and involved myself with activities that my students enjoyed. For example, I learned about the game Minecraft and the TV show Ninjago, to help reach my male students on a more personal level. Students, whether they are male or female, want that positive relationship with their teacher. They want to feel that their ideas are valued and that their strengths are noticed. I tried to maintain this outlook while I taught these children. However, there was no doubt in my mind that some children simply learn in ways that a traditional school setting cannot offer. Yet, it is still up to the teacher to help reach those students.

Posted on

Karyn Doran

You make excellent points and suggestion in your essay. Statistics show that boys, specifically American-American boys, are most at risk and are most often left behind despite (and sometimes as a result of) our programs, tests, and data collection. The most important thing we can due is make a personal connection with these students. That connection may be the one thing connecting them to school and their eventual graduation.

Posted on