Parents are part of the child’s life too!

Children can benefit from the collaborated efforts of parents and school teachers. When parents are not part of the decision making process of education in the classroom, they can feel isolated. It is also critical that feedback on the student’s positive performance be shared with parents and not just negative ones.
This episode of the podcast looks at some practical ways to bridge the gap between parents and teachers.

Parents are part of the child’s life too!

Children can benefit from the collaborated efforts of parents and school teachers. When parents are not part of the decision making process of education in the classroom, they can feel isolated. It is also critical that feedback on the student’s positive performance be shared with parents and not just negative ones.
This episode of the podcast looks at some practical ways to bridge the gap between parents and teachers.

Students, do not procrastinate.

Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week. –Spanish Proverb

We all have the same amount of time in the day; 24 hours.  And that time is divided into time spent eating, sleeping, school, extra curricula activities.

So stick to the time you schedule for home work, out of school class projects and subject review.

Avoiding “Learned Helplessness”

Young girl resting her head in her hand looking perplexed

We all have students that just want to “get it right.” We all have students that constantly seek the attention of the teacher. “Did I get this right?” “Is this what you want?” Now while it’s certainly a good thing to affirm students in their learning, many times we want students to be creative with their learning. We allow them to own their learning and create assessment products where they can show us what they know in new and inventive ways. Because of this, there isn’t “one right answer,” yet our students are often trained to think that there can be only one.

Similarly, we want students to be reflective, to ask themselves, “How do I know if I’m on the right track?” or “What could I do next?” Instead of coming immediately to the teacher, we want students to experiment on their own. Many of us wonder why students constantly do the opposite instead. I’ve got news for you. It’s our fault. We, as educators, are often responsible for learned helplessness, and we have a responsibility to change it! How can we empower our students to be self-directed learners?

Curate and Create Learning Resources

If we want to have students seek out other information from sources other than the teacher, then we must make sure those resources are available. Many teachers using the flipped classroom approach already have created or found these kinds of resources. However, think broadly about the word resource. People are resources, texts are resources, and community organizations are resources — to name just a few categories. We have to be comfortable not always knowing the answer, and instead suggesting we find the answer together through the vast amount of learning resources that we have at our disposal. Try curating these resources before, during, and after a unit. Work with students as well to create a culture where the answers are everywhere.

Questions “For” (Not “About”) Learning

What do I mean by this? Instead of using questions to check for understanding and getting the right answer, we can use questions to probe students’ thinking and push them to think about their learning. Questions can serve as powerful redirection tools that promote metacognition. Instead of responding with “Yes” or “No,” ask a student, “Why do you think that?” If you notice an error or gap in learning, try using questions that push the student to think:

  • What else could you try?
  • Have you experimented with another idea?
  • Why do you think this is true?

Questions are powerful tools for helping students own the process of learning.

Stop Giving Answers

Often, when a student fails or makes mistakes, we want to fly in like a superhero and give the answer. “This is what you need to do.” We come to save the day, and pat ourselves on the back for being a great teacher. In fact, we may have done that student a disservice. This doesn’t come from a bad place, or suggest that we’re bad at teaching. On the contrary, we care for our students, so we want to help them whenever we can. Ask yourself this: By helping that student, will he or she own the learning, or are you doing the learning for him or her? This means that sometimes we need to get out of the way. If students are working in teams, for example, and are arguing (safely) about what to do next, we need to let them solve the problem on their own and then check in. “I heard an argument. Did you guys figure it out? Great work at problem solving!” Of course, if students are floundering, and failure is not productive, by all means step in. But also feel free to allow yourself wait time before you do so!

Allow for Failure

I firmly believe that failure is a powerful learning tool, but we have to make sure that we create a culture where it is OK to fail forward. Do you grade everything? If so, you may not be communicating that it’s OK to fail. Do you allow for multiple drafts and revisions and demand high-quality products? If so, you are communicating to students that they have multiple tries to learn and, more importantly, that they can be creative and experiment. In addition, we should be there to support students when they do fail, and to help get them back on the right track.

We need to take responsibility for empowering our students, and to scaffold the process of self-direction. Self-direction doesn’t happen overnight, especially, when many of our students, based on specific structures of schooling, are trained to be helpless. Although we can take steps as individual educators to avoid learned helplessness, we need to reexamine the systems of schooling, from curriculum to assessment and instruction, to allow for empowerment rather than always getting the right answer.

Helping Students Start the School Year With a Positive Mindset

by: Maurice J. Elias’s Profile

Boy happily running with his backpack

For students who have had trouble in school, or who have had a negative summer, it is especially important to get the school year off to a fresh start. And for all students, having a positive mindset makes learning much more likely. Here are four activities to help accomplish these goals.

Identity and Purpose: Who Am I?

Now that students are back in school, it’s a good time to help them refocus on learning, their strengths, and the personal and other resources that will help them succeed. Students can individually fill out the grid below, and then pair-share, discuss in small groups, and finally share with the class some of their responses. (Students tend to be most comfortable sharing numbers 2, 4, and 6 below when in larger groups.)

You may also wish to use other creative forms of sharing, such as having students create a collage or chart with all of their answers to each question or the top three answers to each question. Consider integrating this activity into any journal writing your students do.

  1. What motivates me?
  2. What are my best abilities?
  3. How do peers influence me?
  4. When and with whom am I at my best?
  5. Who are my best sources of help?
  6. How can I do more of what will best help me to succeed?

A Living Poll

Read each statement and, based on students’ opinions, have them move to a part of the room that you designate to represent each of the answers below. The three areas of the room are for those who believe any of these three answers:

  • It’s mostly true for me.
  • It’s partly true and not true.
  • It’s mostly not true for me.

You can choose to present the following questions positively or negatively:

  1. “I think school is pointless.” OR “I think school is important, and I need to learn so that I can succeed.”
  2. “I can be violent in some situations.” OR “I am more peaceful and would only use violence where there is a real danger.”
  3. “I think that trying doesn’t matter.” OR “I believe that the more I try, the more I can succeed.”
  4. “I do what makes me popular with others in school.” OR “I do what I want and what I think is the right thing to do.”
  5. “I come to class to pass the time.” OR “I am someone who wants to be involved in school and learn.”

After each statement (or others that you may wish to add), ask students in each area of the room to share why they believe as they do. There is great value in students hearing peers’ views about why they have turned to a more positive mindset. And it’s instructive for the teacher to get a sense of students’ views. Note that students may move to an area where they “think” that the teacher wants them to be.

Asking them to articulate why they believe as they do is your check — and their reality check — on whether they really do have the belief that they’ve endorsed. You may want to end with a discussion of the challenges of sharing honest opinions.

Journaling About Beliefs and Mindset

As a supplement to the above or as an activity in its own right, have students respond in their journals to at least one of each stem:

  • I used to be _______ but now I am _______
  • I used to think _______ but now I think _______
  • I used to do _______ but now I do _______

There is added benefit to revisiting these activities mid-year, or even after each marking period, to see how ideas are changing (positively or negatively).

Make a Good First Impression

First impressions matter. Teachers have told me the importance of decorating classrooms in ways that catch students’ attention and gives them something to think about at the same time. Give your students clipboards and a questionnaire asking them to notice different aspects of how the room is decorated. Come together to discuss what differences students noticed, why they think you made those choices, and what they would add if they were you. You can adapt this for younger children, as well.

Share with us in the comments section below your experiences with these activities and especially your more effective adaptations.


Advisory: 22 Ways to Build Relationships for Educational Success

Taken from:Nashville Big Picture High School

A shy and quiet ninth-grade student, Harley didn’t want to make friends when he entered Nashville Big Picture High School. He didn’t think he could. “Freshman year, I didn’t think I could really do anything,” remembers Harley, now a Nashville Big Picture alumnus and a rising college freshman. “Now, I believe in myself.”

On the first day of school, everything changed for Harley in his ninth-grade advisory when he met Michael, today one of his best friends. “He helped me to expand myself, talk more, and become friends with more people. I can now easily go up to somebody, shake their hand, and start a full-on conversation with them out of thin air,” notes Harley. His confidence shows in his senior capstone project, a 20-minute documentary honoring his graduating class. “I interviewed every student, every teacher, and most of the staff that we have ever interacted with,” recounts Harley. He also interviewed his peers about student voice and choice for Edutopia.

Relationships are the hub of advisory. Students stay with the same peer group of about 15 students — as well as the same advisor — throughout all four years. “Advisory gave me a place in school that I looked forward to,” recalls Harley. “In middle school, I would dread every day having to be with those kids again, but at Big Picture, I looked forward to seeing not only the group of people I considered friends, but the group I considered family.”

Students at Nashville Big Picture attend advisory Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (their on-campus days) for 15 minutes in the morning before classes and two hours at the end of the day. (They’re off-site at internships on Tuesday and Thursday.) During advisory, they have individualized learning time where they work on projects and assignments for their classes; ten-minute one-on-one meetings with their advisor weekly (the frequency and time can change depending on their students’ needs); and relationship-building activities, like family meals, problem-solving discussions, and games of Uno.

Nashville Big Picture has a 95 percent attendance rate and a 98 percent graduation rate. “They want to be here because they feel welcomed,” says Chaerea Snorten, Nashville Big Picture’s principal. “They feel like they matter. They feel loved and appreciated.”

If you want to create a culture where your students feel supported, appreciated, and safe to open up to you, here’s how you can adapt Big Picture’s philosophy of building intentional relationships, both inside and outside of advisory.

How It’s Done

22 Ways to Build Intentional Relationships With Your Students, Even If You’re at a Big School

If you can’t fit advisory into the master schedule, you can implement a lot of what Big Picture does during homeroom, in your classroom, or during lunch and break periods. At the heart of advisory is building intentional relationships with your students. Here are 22 ways to do that.

1. Know your students’ names, suggests Snorten. When you use someone’s name, you’re recognizing their identity. It’s simple, but it helps your students know that they’re being seen.

2. Recognize something that your students like. “Even something as simple as, ‘I know your favorite color is green,'” recommends Snorten. “Or, ‘I know your favorite football team is the Washington Redskins’ — anything like that. It’s a talking point.”

3. Notice something about your students. “‘Hey, I love your blouse. It’s really pretty.’ That extends itself for a conversation,” explains Snorten.

4. Ask your students about their experience in after-school activities. You can say something like, “’Hey, I know that you were able to go speak in front of the mayor. Tell me what that experience was like for you,’” suggests Snorten. “Or, ‘You all had a softball game the other day. I understand it was pretty tough. Share some fun things about it.’ These kinds of conversations are quick, and they don’t take hours and hours to build.”

5. If a student is late (or acting up), check in with them. “Instead of saying, ‘Go to class,'” suggests Courtney Ivy Davis, Nashville Big Picture’s school counselor and internship coordinator, “start a conversation, and say something like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen that you’ve been late for the past couple days. What’s going on? Do you need some help with anything?'”

6. When you’re having conflict with a student, use that as an opportunity. As a teacher, you’re positioned to help students problem solve and work out their issues. The language that you use in these situations is key, and Snorten advises asking the following questions:

  • What happened with this situation?
  • Was there something that you could have done differently? What would the outcome have been?
  • What are resources that you can use to help you work through issues or concerns that you have?

Related Resource: 13 Common Sayings to Avoid

7. Have your students address you by your first name, offers Snorten. This helps humanize you to your students. You’re not just their teacher or principal, but you become Miss Courtney or Mr. Gary who has two cats and loves to freestyle rap.

8. Know that it takes time to build relationships. Whether the role of advisor is new to you, or your advisory group just graduated and you’ll be starting over with freshmen again next year, remember that building relationships takes time. “It takes time to get through your students’ walls,” says Derick Richardson, a math teacher and advisor. “I have an awesome young lady in my advisory. It took a few years for her not to blow up on me whenever we had conversations revolving around conflict. Now I know how to present things to her so she can receive it.”

9. Be open, honest, and vulnerable with your students. “There’s nothing off limits,” says Gary Hook, a Big Picture history teacher and advisor. “I’m honest with them, I’ll say, ‘Hey, I had an argument with my wife this morning. I’m sorry if I’m in a bad mood. We’re going to get through it.’ I’ll say that, and it disarms them, and they may say, ‘I had an argument with my mom this morning, and I’m feeling …’ I like to take that approach because, at the end of the day, I know the real student versus a false personality. We get in touch with the human side of one another.”

10. Bring your personality into your advisory. If you walk into four advisories at Big Picture, you’ll notice that each one is different, and each one reflects the advisor’s personality. In Hook’s advisory, for example, they’ll sometimes have freestyle Fridays. He has been a fan of hip-hop since he was ten, and now he uses hip-hop as an avenue to connect with and engage his students; they challenge him to freestyle rap battles. “I’m pretty much undefeated,” he says. Another Big Picture advisor ends each advisory with a game of UNO, which has become an ongoing tournament.

11. Help your students learn that not knowing the answer is OK. “The number one thing that students think about is not wanting to appear as if they don’t know something,” says Laura Davis, a history teacher and advisor. “That’s a big hurdle to get over, getting them comfortable with asking for help.”

12. Guide your students to become resources for each other. “They learn who is good at computers, who is good at art, who’s good at organizing, and who is good to practice their presentations with,” says Davis, “and that is a life skill.” Help your students recognize their strengths — as well as the strengths of their classmates — so that they can support each other and know who they can reach out to for help.

13. Make sure you take care of yourself. Staying balanced is necessary, says Hook. As a teacher, you’re always thinking about your students. The same is true for being an advisor, and maybe even more so. When considering your students’ needs, don’t forget your own in the process. If you’re burnt out, you won’t be able to be fully present for your kids.

14. Create advisory expectations with your students on day one. “The most important thing in ninth grade advisory, from day one,” emphasizes Davis, “is setting what the culture of the room will be like. What are the expectations for the students and for the adult?” Have your students create the classroom norms, but allow yourself veto power. Be clear on each expectation and what that looks like. If be respectful is an expectation, what would being respectful look like?

15. “Whatever happens in advisory stays in advisory,” stresses Davis. It’s important to include confidentiality in the advisory expectations so that your students are comfortable sharing their feelings, struggles, and successes in a safe space.

16. Focus on teaching your students skills with long-term benefits. “Teaching them how to manage their time, their projects, due dates, syllabuses, and multiple apparatuses of online tools — that’s extremely key,” says Davis. “Reflecting, journaling, we do that every day. That happens at the very beginning. I want them to take these skills with them all four years. These are things I model every day.”

17. Check in with each student for ten minutes. If you have an advisory or homeroom, use some of that time to check in with your students one-on-one. “We talk about school, internships, life, and things they want to let me know,” explains Davis. “If you’re in a school with 500 students,” adds Hook, “and you don’t have the ability to connect with a small group, start having conversations about how to do that. Could it work if you add 15 minutes to your day, or if you take ten minutes away from your lunch?”

18. Do something fun. “If you have a homeroom of 36 kids, what could you do tomorrow to build relationships?” asks Davis. “Do something fun to get your students to start slowly breaking down their walls.”

19. Let your students do walk-and-talks when they’re having a hard day. When Davis’ students are having a difficult day, she lets them leave class momentarily to walk with her (while someone covers her class) or with a peer so that they can share what’s on their mind. “I think that’s really important for kids to know that they have a supportive group of peers — and an adult — that will listen,” says Davis.

20. Use family meetings to resolve conflicts. If there’s an issue, “we gather in a Quaker Circle and talk about what has happened and where we move from here,” explains Davis. “It prevents the ‘he said, she said,’ dialogue. Anyone can call a family meeting. I can, or the students can.”

21. Host family meals. “Every first Friday, we pick a menu, and every person has a responsibility,” explains Hook. “They bring in their food, and we eat, hang, and laugh together. That’s just my way of bringing them all back to this space, refocusing our energy, and hitting home the idea that we’re a unit, and we’re moving forward.” Family meals initiated from a holiday brunch. Hook’s students loved coming together to cook for each other, and they came up with the idea to have a family meal to celebrate all of the birthdays for each month. Hook begins each family meal with a lesson or philosophical question, like discussing what is wealth, or what traditions the modern American family no longer follows and what’s the impact of that. “Sometimes they entertain my questions, and they want to talk about it,” says Hook, “and other times, they’re just like, ‘Oh, gosh, here he goes again.'”

22. Reflect on your practice. At the beginning of each school year, as well as bi-monthly with their professional learning community, Nashville Big Picture’s staff looks at how they can improve what they’re doing. “We don’t just sit in one place,” says Ivy Davis, “and say, ‘Hey, this works,’ and leave it that way. No, we’re always looking at, ‘Is this still working? Do we need to keep it? How can we enhance this?'”

Building relationships is one of the most critical elements at Big Picture, says Snorten. “That’s key because it’s the catalyst. When a student can relate to you, and they know you care, that makes a big difference.” Nashville Big Picture has cultivated a relationship-focused culture, and advisory allows them to deepen those relationships.

Dialogue Defibrillators: Jump-Start Classroom Discussions!

By: Todd Finley

During a 12th-grade English discussion years ago, I asked a question that nobody answered. Wanting students to do more heavy academic lifting, I decided to wait until someone spoke before saying another word. A minute crept by. The class fidgeted while I waited. Ninety tense seconds passed. Students’ faces registered confusion and frustration at my brinkmanship. At the two-minute mark, I continued to wait. . .

8 Issues and Remedies

We’ve all experienced whole-class discussions where students don’t play along. You’ve begged, “Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?” The paragraphs below unpack why academic discussions go quiet and what to do about it.

1. Fuzzy Questions

Sometimes students don’t respond to a prompt because it’s either too complex, ill-structured, or inaudible. The trick is to teach kids the art of questioning the questioner.

To begin, I describe all the things I don’t understand:

  • Why do electrons change behaviors when they are observed?
  • If two husbands pass away, which life partner do you spend time with in heaven?
  • Why is the plot of Game of Thrones such a chore?

Nobody, I say, is expected to know everything. So here are ways to respond to fuzzy questions:

“Would you please. . .
. . . state the question in a different way?”
. . . break that question into parts?”
. . . give me an example?”
. . . repeat the question more slowly?”

If they comprehend the question, but their answer is tentative, I suggest that they say:

  • “Let me answer the part that I know.”
  • “Would you please come back to me after I’ve given the question more thought?”
  • “May I phone a friend (receive peer help)?”

2. High Percentage of Introverts

There’s a 25-minute Psychology Today test that determines if students in your class are introverts or extroverts. If your students are mostly introverts, then avoid cold-call methods like the popsicle stick protocol. Because introverts appreciate more time to think through the question before answering, direct students to “sneeze write” about what they heard you say or read (PDF). Asking early classes to fake sneeze when they finish their written reflections will wake everyone up during the ensuing hilarity.

3. Lack of Focus

Engaging in social media conversations can distract students, even after they’ve put their phones away. However, a recent study revealed that focusing on nine deep breaths improves the attention of individuals obsessed with their last Instagram post. Additionally, watching a grassy rooftop (or a picture of one) for 40 seconds boosts concentration and reduces mental errors.

4. Social Threat

To preserve social status among unfamiliar peers, some students remain guarded. The remedy, developing trust, begins with the teacher: “Even one supportive relationship with an adult at school can have significant positive effects on a student’s school functioning” (PDF). According to Dr. Megan Tschannen, trustworthy people manifest the following traits:

  • Benevolence: Showing appreciation and being fair
  • Honesty: Following through on promises and owning up to mistakes
  • Openness: Making yourself available and letting others make decisions
  • Reliability: Meeting obligations and being a can-do problem solver
  • Competence: Being professionally capable

Talk about and model trustworthiness in class.

5. Boredom

When learners find the class topic tedious, interrupt the discussion with surprise, movement, an academic game or problem, or partner work to enhance interest. Sometimes, a little more structure can transform a discussion from “blah” to “aha.” Ask students to write an answer to your oral prompt and then share the reflection with a peer. Every time an idea is voiced, the partner has to complete this phrase: “I heard you say that. . . ”

Teachers telegraph disinterest or engagement; the latter is predicated on the instructor genuinely listening. Chambering your next question while students talk unmistakably conveys disinterest.

Celebrate contributions. One time, I telephoned the mother of an at-risk learner to describe how her son made an astute point during class. “Someone that profound is going to experience a lot of success in college,” I said. There was crying on the other end of the line, and I followed suit. During class talks for the remainder of the semester, the boy’s eyes sparkled.

6. Sleepiness

Students sleeping on their faces during class discussions is not uncommon. Find several tactics in my post about keeping students awake.

7. Cognitive Load

Ask a child to multiply 47 x 47. Her eyes will shift more rapidly and squint — an indicator that cognitive load is about to make the student tune out. Fortunately, brain breaks can relieve cognitive load. A study of third-grade students demonstrated that subject-related brain breaks employing “moderate amounts of movement achieved the best results in terms of combined enjoyment and refocus time.”

8. Wait Time

Wait time is a specific amount of silence that elapses between an instructor asking a question and a student answering. It also includes the time between a student’s answer and the teacher’s response. Good things happen after a three-second pause, including increased achievement and more questions posed by students. There is another type of wait time to consider. According to Robert Stahl’s research, instructors interrupt when a student’s pause in the middle of an answer exceeds point-five seconds. Stahl recommends always waiting for students to finish a thought.

Minimize Everyone’s Performance Anxiety

I find that distributing participation points during discussions changes students’ motivation to contribute. Moreover, my own multitasking skills are not up for the simultaneous challenges of:

  • Tallying contributors
  • Introducing rich prompts
  • Refocusing the discussion
  • Listening with as much concentration as my niece at a Taylor Swift concert

You might be interested to know what happened to that silent 12th-grade class mentioned at the beginning. After three minutes, I broke the silence: “Why didn’t anyone answer the question?” The students reported that the prompt was unclear and that their intimidation grew as time passed. Robert Stahl’s research reinforces their interpretation: When accompanied by fuzzy prompts, extended wait time ratchets up anxiety and leads to “no response at all.”

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