Connect with your students

How to Connect Conundrum

The question I always ask myself is: How do I engage and connect with my students? They are a tricky audience. Each one is unique in their background, personality, interests and academic skills.

On the flip side I also explore my connection woes: Failures to establish relationships. Having favorites. Failure to listen. So many problems could be solved by just listening.

Ultimately, success in teaching is based in learning how to connect with students. Perhaps that is the secret to all things. Here are some tips to improve connections:

  • Say hello by name
  • Attention is the currency of interpersonal relationships
  • Attention for bad behavior is functionally the same as attention for good behavior
  • Make a point to spread the wealth (attention): recognize all students
  • Ask open ended questions, that is, questions that have multiple right answers
  • Emphasize the value and practice of sharing ideas
  • Listen, and restate what you hear
  • Have students listen, and restate what they hear
  • Ask students. Find out what students are interested in

Here is a question:
How often should a teacher connect with each student? And what does each connection look like?

  • If you are an elementary teacher with 32 students?
  • If you are a high school teacher with 180 students?
  • If you are an administrator responsible for a whole school?

Connectedness is a state of mind and a set of behaviors. Underlying it is the idea that diversity exists within our organizational self, our group, our relationships. However, our connectedness needs to be reinforced on a regular basis.

I remember when I was a first year teacher in Ithaca, New York. I often looked to my mentor teacher, Irma. She was  master of her trade, full of warmth and wisdom. If I had had a child in second grade, I could have thought of no better teacher.

One day I was plying her with questions about classroom management. After each idea, I replied, “That is great.” After several of these exchanges, she looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You know, if both of us think exactly the same, then one of us isn’t necessary.” I clearly knew who was expendable in that scenario.

In my first year of teaching I had 25 unique children in my third grade class. To know each one was a challenge. Years later, when I was a high school teacher, connecting with 180 odd students was an even greater challenge. I always started with their names. Then their interests. I always tried to vary my interactions.

Years later I became a high school English teacher. We had to teach specific core novels. One of them was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved reading and re-reading it each year. In the novel Atticus Finch explains to his daughter Scout that one ought not to judge others, as she had been doing:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus explains to young Scout how we never really know people until we walk around in their skin.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it

I have never forgotten that quote. It still resonates with me. In this particular case, it really speaks to the importance of empathy, of how we connect to other people, and ultimately of our ability to think critically. Each year in 10th grade English class we would explore that concept with what seemed to be hundreds of variations by students. Students tied it into their own lives.

Adapting to the unexpected

Lesson planning is essential, but there are always times when things don’t go as expected. Effective teaching requires the ability to hear what students are saying, whether verbally or non-verbally. In other words, sometimes a lesson tanks.

Responding to the unanticipated requires flexibility, lack of ego, but also a connection to one’s students. The lack of ego is critical. We can never take lesson failure personally. If we do, then we miss a learning opportunity for our students. That is what teaching is about: learning.

Sharing ideas to make them better

I was particularly inspired recently with a drawing by teacher and artist Sylvia Duckworth. It is called “The Anatomy of an Idea” (see below). I found it on Twitter since I follow her – which by the way is a method I recommend to developing personal learning networks.

Share and connect an idea


Empathy: What is it?

The importance and nature of empathy is explored in three videos embedded below. For those who want to know more, check out the Edutopia article by Keyana Stevens from January 2016.

Enjoy the animation on empathy by Brené Brown. It could be used with professional development and it could also be used with students to stimulate discussion. It is deceptive in its simplicity. It illustrates empathy, and what it is not.

Then explore this video interview, What is Empathy? with students at varying ages. It goes well beyond how to spell empathy (which the interviewer apparently asks). Children and teens offers deep insights into how we connect with each other on a deep level.

Are we the only species to experience empathy? Some jaded folks might say not all humans experience it. Some scientists say that empathy is a human concept even though there is ample evidence on how animals comfort each other. I leave it to you for your consideration in the following video, Do Animals Have Empathy?

Connect: Crucial skill for all ages

The World Economic Forum presented an article entitled, The one crucial skill our education system is missing. It focuses on the worrying decline of empathy:

young people are becoming less empathic than ever; American College students showed a 48% decrease in empathic concern and a 34% drop in their ability to see other people’s perspectives

The study makes a pointed observation that our students are disengaging. Distraction may be a part of the cause. For example, 87% of millennials admit to missing out on conversations because they were distracted by their phones. The effect on the ability to focus can be significant.

Ironically, in a world that is increasingly connected, we as individuals, as families, as a society, are becoming less connected.

Summary

Teaching and learning is about more than skills. Academic development – including critical thinking – should include social-emotional awareness. That means that developing empathy is a core trait to be nurtured and developed. It is the core of our connectedness. It is our anchor with what is humanly important.

Classroom Management in Age of Relationships

What is Classroom Management?

I have taught and administered in K-12 schools for 25 years. I have evolved over time, becoming more confidant, perhaps no more so than in the area of classroom management and learning how to maintain strong student relationships. It was natural for me to also teach graduate school at some point since virtually all teachers in California are required to obtain 30 graduate hours. I have taught Teaching of Reading, ESL/ELD/SDAIE, Educational Technology, and Educational Research. Yet one commonality had to do with the questions my students asked me on the first day of class.

Almost all of them were employed as K-12 teachers, and they wanted to know about classroom management. They did not want the theory. At least not at first. They wanted the nuts and bolts, the how-to, the step 1,2,3 of it all. So I built it into each course. What did I teach them about managing students? First, a little history and context….

Classroom management: engaging student inquiry

Classroom management is about actively engaging students

Some History

Prior to my own first day of teaching, I had planned for days. I barely slept that night. In college I had been a psychology major, and I had take very few education courses, thinking them extraneous. However, on my first day in teaching third grade, I found I only had 15 minutes of usable material. 25 eight-year-olds sat calmly looking for instructions on what to do next. I was up in the ethers, and they were on earth. What I also discovered on that day was that teaching is a living, breathing process. Yet one needs to plan everything.

Iteration #1: Just as no battle plan in war survives first contact with the enemy, in teaching no lesson plan survives first contact with students.

Plan, plan, plan, and be ready to discard at a moment’s notice. Yet teaching is about students and relationships, not just content. In Ithaca, New York, it all boiled down to a single needy boy in class named Ethan [name changed]. I had 25 students in that third grade classroom, and every one of them was unique. Some knew how to read, but others struggled with sounding out words. Some could write a full paragraph, but others could barely write letters without reversing them. Yet whatever they knew or did not know academically, they were young children looking for bonding, guidance and relationships.

Ethan was a lively, extremely impulsive boy in my class. He could barely contain his enthusiasm in all things. Sometimes his actions were entirely inappropriate. Yet as I learned more about him, I learned of a tragic family history that had altered how he behaved forever. His mother was murdered by his father right in front of him. He was now being raised by his grandmother.

I remember a class field trip I had arranged to a local meteorological station. As students began to get off the bus, my wife – who had volunteered to be a chaperone – jumped up. Someone had put their hand under her dress. We were both young and took it in stride. After the tour of the station, the children climbed back on the bus. Ethan ran up to us before boarding, “Do you want to know who did that to your dress? It was me!” He laughed gleefully and scampered onto the bus. My wife and I couldn’t help but laugh as well.

Ethan and I touched each other’s lives over the course of the school year. He was extremely bright, yet the trauma of witnessing his mother’s death was not something that would easily fade. He needed acceptance as a person, yet clear guidance in behavior. Both took time.

Other students in the class were nearly as complex. I learned over time that teaching is about developing relationships, not just about subjects and standards. If there is no meaningful relationship between teacher and student, then engagement in the learning process is severely diminished.

Iteration #2: In the classroom, the teacher and students learn together. They learn to move together as a single organism.

Some Management Guidelines

Many books and articles have been written about management. There are some good resources that I list below. However, my own approach can be stated simply.

  • Be authentic, be consistent, and be caring
  • Everyone can learn, but you have to make lessons engaging.
  • The classroom is a learning environment. Set high standards.
  • Develop relationships. Treat students with respect, and expect them to treat each other the same.
  • Keep rules simple. If you have more than fingers on your hands, it’s too many.

If you would like a useful article, try this from NEA. It is called Discipline Checklist: Socializing.

If you are a visual learner, then watch Classroom Management Techniques, a series of videos from Edutopia. You may also find this article very useful: Classroom Management: Resource Roundup.

Sharing and Content Curation in Education

The Evolution of Sharing and the Explosion of Content:
Mash-ups, Citizen Journalism, Citing Sources and Original Thought

Education offers multiple opportunities for taking sharing to the next level. The Internet gave birth to the World Wide Web in the early 1990’s with Mosaic and the Netscape web browser. The visual Web in turn gave birth to social media when Mark Zuckerberg first created Facebook. Social media and its many cousins are now an omnipresent part of the lives of most students and many teachers.

Using Social Media to share and curate content

The Sharing Wheel of Content Curation

For many years the emphasis in K-12 has been on obtaining information and then often regurgitating it or, as in the case of Common Core, testing for mastery.

The model of information sharing and curation appears to have shifted from linear hierarchy to a more organic or circular modality. How does this communication evolution impact the classroom?

What is the challenge for modern students in the 21st century? Will creativity and originality survive in a world of sharing, clones and wannabes?

A. Content Curation

Content curation is the first challenge of the 21st century communications shift. It has developed in response to the vast store of information now afforded by the Internet. If one looks at the various job boards, one can now find employment positions for content analysts. These are different folks than database administrators who manage the technology that underpins content and learning management systems.

Why you must curate content in 2015 is a well done article by Julia McCoy. It appeared in Search Engine Journal. McCoy clearly explains the necessity of managing the explosion of web content. She also provides free, cloud-based tools to accomplish that goal. However, one point that really grabbed me was her conclusion:

Though many new tools are appearing on a daily basis and making the job of content curation experts simpler, human involvement is still the most important factor for success.

Curation is only one aspect of managing vast information stores. In fact, the dilemma may be in the compulsion to manage and share as opposed to the creation of novel ideas or original analysis. We need a mental model. One of the most lucid is KQED Mind/Shift’s 4-part series by Justin Reich and Beth Holland (they are co-founders of EdTechTeacher).

The Mind/Shift Model of Curation, Creation and Connection

B. Levels of Sharing

Sharing is the second challenge of the 21st century communications shift. It needs to be seen as a gradient of experiences and interactions. Let’s differentiate between simple sharing (I found something cool); task-related sharing or collaboration to achieve an objective of goal; and the building of community.

  1. Simple sharing: little evaluation other than “liking” the item. Oftentimes there is little annotation. Current studies show that a large number of people typically share (for example, re-tweeting via Twitter) without even completely reading the article. This content surfing rides just above the surface waves of the content. A fascinating article by N. Bakshani entitled Binge Reading Disorder notes that the typical American reads more than 100,000 words a day. But does he or she actually understand even a fraction?
  2. Collaborative work: Sharing for the purpose of achieving a common objective is probably the new model of 21st century work. It is made possible by the “cloud.” Google Drive (often called Google Docs) has become a de facto standard for a collaborative workspace. Of course, there are other Apps as well. The point is that distance is no longer a limiting factor in work. Sharing at this level is more meaningful and typically produces a persistent product.
  3. Community: Over time the ability to share and collaborate can lead to persistent connections. One might call these communities. For example, it is interesting to see how Twitter Chats like #caedchat have evolved to become communities. Facebook friends and family setting has, for many, become the way to keep community alive when distance would otherwise prohibit regular interaction.

C. Creativity and Originality

Creativity is the third challenge of the 21st century communications shift. What is creativity? What does it mean to be original? In the context of the current blog, does over-sharing interfere with originality? Several issues and strategies offer some insights.

Project based learning

The movement to Project Based Learning (PBL) may offer some help into a higher level use of educational standards. The foundation of PBL might be said to be the driving question (sometimes called an essential question). The key point that differentiates it from lower order thinking is that a driving question is open-ended. It is not simply the search for one right answer. Because PBL admits to multiple right answers, it fosters greater creativity in inquiry as well as more original content creation.

Citizen Journalism

One might make the argument that citizen journalism began when the first user reported a breaking story on Twitter before the news rooms could put together their stories. It leads us to ask: What is journalism, and how does it relate to the world of high school students? Can a preconceived narrative interfere with an uncovering of facts? Is it more important to tell or story, or to tell the truth? Journalists put a lot of emphasis on getting the story first; yet more important is to get it right.

Given that many of the younger Millennial generation get their news from Bing, Yahoo, Twitter or an aggregator like Digg, it is important for educators to start developing lessons around standards of content curation and content creation.

Mash-ups, Paying Homage and YouTube

Kids love their music. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams produced the hit song Blurred Lines in 2014. The family of Marvin Gaye said they had copied the guts of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit song, Got to Give it Up. Thicke and Williams said they were paying homage to Marvin Gaye. However, the jury found in favor of the Gaye family, and Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $7.3 million.

This raises the question: Where does homage end and infringement begin? Copyright has a long history. Many educators and others use short sections of copyrighted work under the doctrine of fair use. But can it survive the 21st century? By extension we can ask the same of sharing. There are excesses for sure. Yet where does sharing start, and when does it become simply copying?

Conclusion

We live in a rapidly changing world dominated by a flood of information, multi-leveled communication, and a wealth of sharing. It is an interwoven phenomenon of both process and content, and it is evolving rapidly. Teachers need to explore and understand how this evolution affects student behavior, student thought and classroom practices. The explosion of information as a practical matter requires both teachers and students to learn how to curate and to evaluate content. It requires that we explore models of sharing in education. When is an idea ours? When and how is it derived? Equal value has to be given to creativity and to one’s ability to use analytic skills.

Case Study in Narrative Seeking

The Rolling Stone case of errant reporting. The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has been gaining quite a lot of traction recently as the public becomes more aware. In November 2014 Rolling Stone Magazine published an investigative piece about a purported gang rape on the campus of University of Virginia titled A Rape on Campus. The report outraged many. However, others dug deeper. After the Washington Post discovered many inconsistencies in the story – and after an in-depth investigation by the Columbia School of Journalism; and after an in-depth investigation by the local police department  – Rolling Stone Magazine retracted the story. The Columbia School of Journalism concluded:

Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking

In psychology the phenomenon of seeking out information and sources that confirm our previously held beliefs is called  “confirmation bias.” As such it definitely has a legitimate place in teaching students to cite and evaluate evidence to support their arguments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Reveal is produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The CIR originally produced the I Files. Check out some of their previous work.

The Shift in Privacy

This topic is really an extension of Levels of Sharing explored above. What people know about us has increased with the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. What are the boundaries between you and me? Can we have any reasonable expectation of privacy in a world of ever present social media and the powerful algorithms of Google? It will have to be the topic of a future blog.

World without walls: Privacy may not be dead, but it has certainly altered. Most communication about which we are talking occurs in the cloud. The cloud, by definition, is somewhere out of our control. Transparency rules the day

Teaching inspiration

What if

Teaching Inspiration

I am a longtime educator. I have worked in K-12 for 25 years as both classroom teacher and administrator. I have taught college graduate course in educational technology, teaching of reading, action research and more. Over the years I have seen two repeating themes in young teachers: the need for classroom management strategies, and the almost insatiable appetite to believe that it would get easier.

I am also a parent of four children and grandparent to four more. That happens if you hang around long enough, and your children are inclined to repeat some of the same mistakes you made. I see how the nature vs. nurture dialectic plays out uniquely in each generation. The English literature teacher in me sees it like one of Shakespeare plays, a theme in variation, ever the same yet with stylistic differences.

The older I became, I have found that younger adults would often defer to me. Whether it is kindness or respect was sometimes hard to know. However, I definitely remember several adults who asked me if they should go into the teaching profession. My stock reply:

There are two things in this world I never suggest people do unless they feel called to it: having children, and teaching.

Perspective and Context

I entered teaching before I ever had my own children. I always knew I wanted children ever since I was young. I do not know if that is typical for a young man, or was it just an understanding that I had with myself in one of those intimate conversations in the mirror? When I was a teenager, I pictured myself becoming a doctor; maybe a surgeon. When I was even younger than that, I thought of my future self becoming a “scientist.” It seemed to wrap up all that I thought was important in “becoming a man.”

Fast forward to college. I became a Psychology major and English minor. It took six long years with multiple deviations on my path; I ran away from home at age 24 to get married. Then I took my first real job as a third grade teacher in Ithaca, New York. I made a staggering $6350 my first year. At least now I can say that was last century’s wages.

I remember that I came home and cried after my first two days on the job. Literally. I realized that my four years of college has not prepared me to deal with a room of 25 eight-year-olds. (Yes, class size was smaller then.) My wife told me I could not quit no matter how I felt. I had to stick it out for the year. I had signed a contract, and that contract spoke to my character.

My wife was finishing her four-year degree that Fall. We had one source of income. We had just settled into a life in snow-belt country. I stayed on the job. After the brief tears and doubts, I embraced the challenge.

Moment of Truth

I realized that I knew virtually nothing about how to teach reading. That was easily my first order of business The other was organizing the days into manageable chunks of instructional time. So one evening a week I got in the car and drove one hour to a Teaching of Reading class at Syracuse University. Because I had an actual teaching position, I found myself in the same class as “experienced teachers.” I was ever aware of the irony, yet I knew I had found my calling. I just desperately needed to know how to fulfill it.

Searching for Inspiration: The Not Yet of Mastery

Yes, we all need it: teachers, students, administrators, parents. Board of Education members and perhaps even a few politicians might need it – along with some backbone. But what is inspiration? Why do we need it?

Human beings are complex creatures, and teaching is one of the most complex acts of human engineering conceived. Taylor Mali lets us know what teachers really make.  Daniel Pink’s video explores what motivates us. Carol Dweck explores the growth mindset and the power of “not yet.”

We have free will, the ultimate in growth mindsets. With the ability to win big comes the chance to fail miserably. Our goals and objectives may be different, yet we have the near universal need to believe we are doing the right thing – regardless of the reasons. Doubt is a necessary part of human nature. We aspire, we choose, and we doubt. THe surest motivation is that which comes from within. We seek inspiration more than we seek answers.

Engagement

Creating an engaging learning environment can be arguably said to be the teacher’s most difficult task. However, engaging students is a function of hard work by the teacher. It is not just exuberance. For example, Buck Institute of Education is a leading force in Project Based Learning. Projects are meant to invite participation. They typically begin with entry events. “Entry events should engage and intrigue, and provoke students to want to know more.” Feedback and tasks are thoughtful, genuine and have a linkage to that entry event. What a great philosophy of learning!

Imagination, Play and Control

Imagination is inspiration’s cousin. It often requires a period of fermentation. Sometimes it requires a certain amount of playfulness. It gives voice to our emotional nature. Like it or not, school is place where we learn to play and interact as well as solve problems and master content.

Google’s 20% genius time approach to stimulating engagement and achievement is based on the premise that if you allow your talent pool – whether engineers or students – some choice and control in what they create, they will turn out superior results. In Google’s case, they allow their engineers one day a week to work on projects of their own choice. Both Gmail and Google Talk were developed in this way. ESchoolNews writes a fascinating article about how two English teachers adapted this approach to their classes.

What if

Imagine what if. What if learning were inspired and engaging? What if students were motivated to learn? What if they could follow their interests? What if teachers felt supported, valued and had all the tools they needed? What if a child’s education were the most important thing in the world?

Reference

For further reading, check out “Half the World is Not Enough” by Lev Grossman. This Time Magazine article explores and dissects Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to get every human online.

The Classroom Feedback Loop

feedback

Reviewing, communicating and feedback.

When learning is the goal of any project, then teachers and students enter a constant feedback loop. How – and how often – that feedback is structured is essential to success. Educators refer to the importance of formative assessments that provide mid-course corrections rather than relying on final or summative assessments. How mid-course feedback occurs determines whether students actually understand where they are in the learning process.

In How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track, Katrina Schwartz at Mind/Shift addresses the dilemma: most student work is only read by teachers. Not only that, but intermediate progress checks may be infrequent. One thing that research has shown is that good feedback needs to be targeted, specific and timely.

What is Good Feedback?

  • It is targeted. That is, it is linked to learning objectives.
  • It provides specific guidance to students.
  • It is timely.

Researchers such as Carol Dweck are working on helping students develop academic or growth mindset. It is important that students believe in their own ability to succeed. One thing Dweck notes is that students can influence their own learning.

Mindsets: How Students Can Influence Their Own Learning

  • Belonging to an academic community: feeling connected
  • Belief in the likelihood of success
  • The work has meaning and value
  • Belief that abilities and intelligence can grow with effort

When evaluating or reviewing student work, a rubric may be important, but it is not enough. When communicating with students, it is just as important to state why you, the teacher, are giving feedback at this point. It is how they will eventually internalize the ability to reflect on their own learning.

good, bad and the ugly

There is a critical difference between praise and feedback. Praise is not tied to learning results or performance, whereas feedback is. It is not a question of whether work is good or bad, but rather how the work expresses one’s goal. Feedback is an interactive, two-way street.

Sometimes teachers, parents and others are caught up in the dilemma of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Uncertain alliance

Many people have what can best be described  as an uncertain alliance with criticism. Rather than informing and strengthening a product, those in positions of authority who are giving feedback confuse the value of the person with the status of student work. Perhaps the question is whether the confusion is on the receiving end (the student) or the giving end (teacher). Nonetheless, it is a problem.

Students listen to their peers

Peer influence is huge with pre-teens and teenagers. Teachers can learn to leverage student feedback  by how they structure the learning environment in their classes. It is not always about whether the teacher is the only person who can give useful feedback, it is also about how students help each other understand.

work together