Unteaching and Unlearning is Intellectual!

Reposted from https://hawkhopesblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/unteaching-and-unlearning-is-intellectual/

adult-education-2706977_1280

The “apprenticeship of observation,” introduced by Dan Lortie (1975) provides a lens through which we can consider why preservice teachers (and the general public) may feel they know all they need to know about teaching and learning.  They went to school, kindergarten through 12th grade, at least, and have had numerous teachers across their educational experience.  As a result, they may enter into a teacher preparation program with the belief that they know what teachers do, why teachers do what they do, and how they, as teachers themselves, will do it better.

High quality teacher preparation programs typically prepare candidates through a mix of theory, evidence-based and best practices, and field experiences. Teacher educators and preservice teachers often struggle with the disconnect between the preparation program’s teachings and the practices and strategies preservice teachers experience in their field placements.  This is when we must also tackle “unteaching” of misunderstood or misinformed educational practices and “unlearning” of the things we think we know about what it means to be a teacher.

white board

Unteaching

Unteaching requires us to acknowledge some of the commonly-held beliefs and practices prevalent in schools and classrooms; as well as to challenge those practices that are problematic with evidence and applicable strategies.  For example, in early childhood teacher preparation, we are charged with unteaching shaming and punitive behavior management systems such as clip charts because these systems persist in practice.  Simultaneously, we teach the evidence about social emotional developmentcommunity building, and trauma-informed care, which are all in direct conflict with systems like clip charts.  Both are critical to future teachers’ ability to eschew traditional systems and instead implement best practices in meeting the needs of their learners, teaching the behaviors they want to see, and honoring the individual and unique needs of each child.

neonbrand-426918-unsplash

Unlearning

Unteaching is hard work but unlearning is even more challenging.  The “apprenticeship of observation” is so powerful.  Unlearning is the act of letting go of ideas, beliefs, and practices we believed to be true, effective, and valuable.  When presented with more compelling evidence for an alternative approach, we unlearn the previously held belief and replace it with a new belief.  Years of watching disruptive kids be removed from class, conforming to threats of punitive consequences (e.g., your grade drops one letter grade for late submission), and expecting school success to be measured by compliance with rules, many future teachers struggle to adopt more equitable, intentional strategies focused more on teaching than on punishment.  As I have become more intentional in implementing unteaching pedagogy in my courses and interactions with preservice as well as inservice teachers, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges we face in creating inclusive, accepting, responsive learning environments for learners and teachers.

In an attempt to “bridge the gap” (is this the most overused phrase in education?), I, along with my colleague and friend at James Madison University, Dr. Mira Williams, started a website with an intentional social media presence in an effort to make our own unteaching pedagogy and unlearning practice visible to other teacher educators, teachers, and learners.

Social Media As A Tool

We started by building a Facebook page for sharing blog posts and resources with a growing community of teachers.  However, on advice from a trusted marketing expert/friend, we branched into Instagram.  Do you know that there are thousands of teachers on Instagram who post about their lessons, their resources, their struggles, their wins, their processes, their thinking, and their outfits of the day?  Neither did we.  The hashtag teachersofinstagram has over 3.7 million posts as of today and the Instagram teacher leaders boast upwards of 40,000 followers.  Where are teachers going to share resources, ask for support, get new ideas?  Instagram.

Our site, @teachingisintellectual, attempts to provide bite size best practices to our small but growing community of followers.  We use apps such as Word Swag and PicLab to create visuals in order to communicate an idea or to pique interest for a click over to the blog.  We engage with the growing number of teachers we follow as well in order to contribute to the community and build relationships.  We have learned so much about what teachers want support with, where they look for solutions, and how they challenge each other on matters of unteaching and unlearning simply by following, participating, and listening.

The culture of education dominating teaching Instagram is in many ways different than what those of us who no longer teach in PK-12 environments may believe.  The #teachersofinstagram have taught us innovative classroom practices.  For example, just this weekend, a third-grade teacher we follow on Instagram posted an anchor chart she made with her students about consent.  The post has since gone viral and national news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC ran stories about her post.  Popular education Twitter accounts have tweeted about it with many prominent voices in education boosting its’ reach.  Teachers are using their social media presence to get the word out about their work.  They are telling their own stories.  We are simply listening. We then use our resources as partners to respond in ways that are useful and supportive of the unteaching and unlearning of flawed practices with a focus on replacing them with better strategies.

We aim to grow our reach in order to use our platform to inform our research but also to provide a hungry, deeply committed community of educators with the resources they are seeking to unlearn ineffective practices.  Additionally, providing preservice teachers access to teacher leaders on social media who are making their innovative, creative work visible, shows what is possible.  The #teachersofinstagram are modeling best practices in real time with real students in real classrooms.  We believe partnering with these teachers and learning from them could be a critical 21st century step in bridging the much-talked-about research to practice gap.

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

10 Things You Should Never Do as a College Professor

This article had me thinking today about all the ways college professors have historically and may still get in the way of student learning.

So, I wrote a quick little response.  It’s just a start.

Forget your privilege.  You went to college, for many years, and many brilliant people helped you get where you are today.  You are a college professor because your doctoral advisor saw potential in you, taught you the wily ways of academia while guiding your research, your writing, and your learning.  Doctoral programs are an amazing opportunity to read, talk, learn, grow.  You had that opportunity.  You are undoubtedly changed from the experience.  Yes, it was hard.  Yes, you made sacrifices.  Yes, you had uncaring professors along the way.  But you had an opportunity that many only dream of.  Never forget that.

You have also earned your degrees.  You’ve secured that much sought-after tenure track/tenured position.  You have accomplished so much.  But can you really not remember what those undergraduate days were like?  The stress, the lack of sleep, the bad food, the no money, the roommate stuff?

Require expensive books.  Particularly when you then assign only two chapters.  Choose accessible readings.  Provide multitudinous means of accessing readings.  Assign readings intentionally and engage students in applied learning to grow their surface understanding from the reading.  You’re the expert.  Teach.

Assume.  Unless you have trust with your students, you can only assume you know nothing about their lived experiences.

Use Grades As Punishment.  Grades should reflect progress toward mastery of content.  Period.  That’s it.  That’s what grades are.  Communication about learning.  If you use grades to threaten, punish, or coerce students, you’re doing it wrong.  Docking a letter grade for a late assignment is unethical.  Maybe try asking the student why the assignment was late, or better yet, have a relationship with the student that allows her to come to you first.

Office Hours Only.  You do know your students have full lives outside of your course, right?  They have jobs, maybe kids and families, other courses, commitments, responsibilities.  If you set your office hours at the time convenient for you and you are inflexible in meeting with students outside of that time, you are communicating that your time is more valuable than your student’s.

Think Your Time Is More Valuable Than Your Students’.  It’s not.

Expect Students To Improve Without Feedback.  Feedback is teaching – it’s an iterative process and, as the teacher, your participation is required.  If you hand back papers with letters or points on the top, your students have no information about how to improve.  Assessing learning is feedback for you on your instruction, your assignment, your students’ learning.  Provide transparent feedback so your students can progress toward mastery of the content.  Yes, it takes more time – it’s also your job, do it well.

Fail To Teach.  Additionally, if students address you inappropriately in an email, provide them feedback to improve.  As a female professor, I invariably get emails addressed to Mrs. Newton.  I reply with a “Hi, Student, my name is either Dr. Newton or Jen once we’ve actually met in person.”  Guess what.  That’s all it takes.  Rather than being frustrated or writing a heated, ego-driven post on social media, provide feedback, tell students what you expect, allow them to meet your expectations.

Waste Students’ Time.  Busy work, extraneous readings, anything that does not result in extending students’ depth and breadth of knowledge, is a waste of time.  Sure, you can assign anything you want, you can give students 10 points for bringing a dog to class and they will beg, borrow, and steal to get a dog, but what are you teaching?  That teachers are manipulative and that learning is at least secondary to control.  Use their time wisely.

Shame or Condescend Students.  To colleagues, friends, on social media.  Ever.  Every time I see one of those “It’s on the syllabus” memes, I die a little inside.  You are imperfect.  You forget about the occasional faculty meeting, deadline, oil change.  Hopefully, there are people in your life who help you out.  Maybe you could be that person for a student.  Yes, they’re imperfect.  So are you.  Choose empathy.

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Commitment Logs

We know students don’t really read the assigned reading, right?  There are loads of reasons for that.  Textbooks are cost prohibitive, the reading is cumbersome, too long, irrelevant from the student perspective, it’s tedious . . . just to name a few.  As instructors, we implement various strategies to encourage, incentivize, motivate/manipulate students into doing the reading.

I’ve done it.

Reading checks.  Guided notes.  Entrance tickets.  Summary notecards.  Come with three questions from the readings.

For a few semesters, I started off with reading checks that asked specific questions regarding the content from the reading.  And graded them for accuracy.  3/5.  1/5.  5/5.  Then, when my students learned that I was serious about reading checks and they came to class having read, I would give them a sheet of paper that said, “tell me your childhood pet’s name.”  (I didn’t do this specifically.  But I could have.)

Because the point is the reading, right?  Not the reading check.

But by assigning point value to the reading check, that is why I was communicating was important.  And I didn’t actually believe the reading check itself was important.  I did more reading on the evidence and rationale in the “ungrading” model and decided to move my gotcha points into partnerships.  This is where commitment logs were born.

Commitment logs are individual, self assessment accountability tools I use to engage students in their own learning.  I set learning intentions and success criteria for the class session but I ask students to set their own learning intentions and success criteria for our time together.  Sometimes students will write something like “I will stay awake for the whole class” or “I will learn three new things.”  Wherever they are, I’m good with it.

It’s not fancy.  It’s just an ongoing commitment to their learning, their own accountability.  Because some days their heads and hearts are not in my engaging, brilliant pedagogy.  And that’s okay.  They set goals for themselves.  And, more often than not, they exceed their goals.  I think there is something to the act of writing it down, of focusing on an intention, that allows them to attend to their time in class with me a little differently.  Reading checks never affected engagement.  Commitment logs do.

At the end of class, they make an exit statement.  They write about if they met their success criteria, why they did or did not, what they learned, remaining questions they have, concerns they experienced during class, anything they want.  And I respond to every single one prior to our next meeting.

I did ask a midterm and final course evaluation question about the commitment logs.  Students were overwhelmingly positive about the activity.  Since, I respond to each person each week, I am also able to keep a quick record of our relationship as it develops, the student’s self perception and assessment, and concerns or questions that appear more than once across students.  It has unexpectedly provided a relationship-building strategy as well.

I’ll post the blank document here for anyone who may want to try it.  Let me know how it goes for you!  How do you engage your students in their learning and in self assessment?

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Pencil Fairy Project

We are so fortunate in that we often have the opportunity to partner with teachers in learning, problem solving, and improving practices.  Inevitably, across various contexts and grade levels and locales, teachers report frustration with students for not having pencils.

Pencils.

We kept hearing it.  We’d ask questions like, “What frustrates you so much about the pencil issue?” and the responses were varied.  Some said it was an indicator of showing up unprepared, a lack of respect for them or their class, a lack of responsibility.  But, for us, it always felt like a resource issue.  Teachers should have all the pencils they need to engage their learners in all the ways.

Pencils.

When we are confronted with beliefs about what kids “should” do or have, we are always mindful of all the ways we – as adults and professionals – drop the ball.  We are often without a writing utensil when we need it most, yet there is always someone nearby willing to share.  We know these teachers would give us a pencil if we asked!  They would never tell us we were disrespectful for not having one or take it as a lack of our preparedness for our time together.  It happens.  People forget pencils.  And all kinds of other things!  But, for some reason, kids not having pencils was a very frustrating and pervasive problem for teachers.

Pencils.

The more we talked about it, the more it seemed like it was not really about pencils at all.  It was about resources.  Supplies, yes, but also time!  We have seen teachers tag their pencils with identifying markers and create check in/check out systems for pencils, some schools have pencil machines next to the soda machines!

So, we thought maybe this is a small way we could alleviate a huge frustration for teachers.  We could get pencils to teachers and kids.  Lots of pencils.  Loads of pencils.  Enough pencils that no one has to man a sign in/sign out for pencils or sweat a broken pencil, or worry about trying to find one on the floor to avoid being in trouble.  What if we could just get pencils to teachers?  Would that one teeny tiny thing do anything at all to take a teeny tiny load off teachers’ overwhelming list?

We crowdsourced pencils from our friends and families generosity using social media and Amazon wishlists.  We connect directly with teachers using teachingisintellectual’s Instagram and send as many pencils as we can to each teachers’ request.  We take pencils to every professional development we get to do now because it is one small thing we can do for our teacher partners.

Pencils.

We’ve distributed over 20,000 pencils now and we hope it’s just the beginning.  We advocate for fully funded public education and will continue to fight that fight.  Meanwhile, we will contribute as many pencils as we can to as many teachers who need them.

Drop some pencils off at a school near you today.  Do it again next month.  Kids need pencils and it is something you can do.  And pay off an overdrawn lunch account while you’re there too.

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Teacher Education Faculty and First Year Support

I think often about students I have worked with who are in their early years of their teaching career. I remember my early days in the classroom, feeling prepared and ready for the year, but eerily aware that there were many unknowns: student strengths and instructional needs, district and school policies, and the curriculum to plan, write, and prepare. There was no formal induction support, but I thrived with several informal mentors. I also knew other teachers who weren’t feeling successful and supported. As a result, they  often left teaching after their first few years. I served as an induction year mentor after my first two years of teaching. It was important to me to help other teachers succeed in their early years in the classroom. In addition to mentorship, research on effective teacher induction support programs suggests there are many ways we can support new teachers, including: workshops and seminars tailored to new teachers, targeted professional development, reduced workload, and common planning time (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).

Flash forward to the present… I am now an assistant professor. I am well versed on the evidence about creating effective teachers and interested in retaining effective teachers, especially in the first years. Those early years, and my role as an induction year mentor and model reading teacher, have remained an important motivator in the work I do today teaching foundational education coursework in the areas of special education, inclusion, reading, and learning disabilities.

I don’t believe the task of induction support should be shouldered only by school districts. I think teacher preparation programs should have a role in supporting their graduates. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (2010), and other researchers, have suggested teacher preparation programs and school districts both need to be involved and connected to ensure continuity and coherence (Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Latham & Vogt, 2007; VanZandt Allen, 2013), just as faculty are part of the equation in other countries (Darling-Hammond, 2017).

Recent research suggests some teacher preparation programs are contributing to induction support and teacher knowledge in innovative ways. Examples of strategies include:

  • helping new teachers develop personal and professional identities (see Henderson, Noble, & Cross, 2013)
  • supporting graduates in the first five years in attending a Summer Curriculum Writing Institute (see VanZandt Allen, 2013)
  • facilitating book studies as professional development (see Dolan, 2017)

We should also make sure these approaches go beyond basic support and challenge our graduates to have academic and scholarly pursuits. It shouldn’t just be about the day to day support, but also continuing to build a foundation of ideas and resources that will carry an educator through their career. Do the deep dives in content and pedagogy. Complete action research. Stay in touch. Ask new teachers what they need. Teach them how to reflect.

No matter your role in education (teacher, administrator, university faculty), there are myriad ways you can contribute to the retention, mentoring, and continued preparation of teachers in their first few years.

If you are a new first or second year teacher (or new to a district) and your district offers induction support: please sign up. This is a chance to get advice, feedback on your teaching, a clearer understanding of policies and expectations, and improve your student outcomes (Ingersoll & Kralik, 2004; Strong, 2009). Expect that learning will continue.

If you are a teacher or administrator in a state or district that doesn’t provide induction support: please get involved and speak up. The New Teacher Center (2011) reviewed all state policies on teacher induction. Check out your state here: https://newteachercenter.org/policy/state-policy-reviews/

If you are faculty in a teacher preparation program: please review what your department is doing and your contribution/service in this area. Ask yourself, “Is there a way for me to provide service through supporting induction year teachers?”

As a faculty member, I am going to take the next step here for me: supporting a first-year teacher in action research and writing and reflecting on it through the year. She asked, I listened. By now you’ve probably already read the first blog in a new series by Bev Chatfield. Watch for more planned reflections in this 10 month blog series chronicling some of the intellectual work of a first-year teacher and how we are working through it with action research, reflection, and dialogue.

The first years are the most important in retaining teachers. How are you supporting first year teachers?How are you supporting teachers new to your school or district?

 

Heather Haynes Smith is an Assistant Professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Prior to Trinity she worked as an elementary teacher, K-12 literacy coach, state level reading technical assistance specialist, and program coordinator on research and dissemination grants related to reading and teacher preparation at The University of Texas, Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts. She was a doctoral fellow at The University of Kansas, Beach Center on Disabilities, graduating in 2012 with her PhD in Special Education. Her research focuses on students with disabilities and the integration of academic and emotional/behavioral supports at the student and systems levels. She also studies effective pedagogy in special and general education teacher preparation. She is most interested in supporting the goals of inclusion in schools and society. She supports literacy efforts regionally and nationally, especially for students with LD or who struggle to read.

I’m Here To Learn

A little about me in the month before my first year begins

To be perfectly honest, I’m nervous about my first year of teaching. I’ve spent the summer
reviewing learning theory and teaching strategies, reading radical books about equity and power dynamics in the classroom, building an elaborate teacher emergency kit filled with everything from pepto to a tiny hair straightener, and trying to find the courage to refresh my memory of physics. Yes, physics – the subject that sends shivers down the spines of rising high school juniors and, for many others who have taken the course, flashbacks of nightly fifty-problem homeworks straight from the textbook.  Physics has a bad reputation of being isolating and difficult. As someone who struggled through physics courses in both high school and college, I know first hand how true that can be.

Early in my college career, I was determined to become a math teacher through the more common route of majoring in physics with a minor in education but I quickly became overwhelmed by the independent lecture/homework structure of learning in college level math classes. In hindsight, it seems like fate that I took my first education course during my second attempt at Calculus II; the more I suffered in math, the more I ached for a learning environment that used research-based strategies and theories to ensure the understanding of its students. I was introduced to the idea of learning communities, classroom structures that encourage students to learn collaboratively towards shared goals, and I constantly imagined how such communities could improve my
experience in math. I continued taking Calc II until I passed it on the fourth try, having changed my major to Philosophy and taken on a fifth year of private university to do so. By then, I was hell-bent on teaching math with learning theory in mind so I pursued a Master of Arts in Teaching.

I took a long, difficult, and less travelled road to becoming a teacher and I believe that I’m
personally the better for it. I’ve learned how to work hard and recover from failure, I’ve met a network of creative and intelligent people through talking about my own passions, and I’ve been given many exciting opportunities like this one by being willing to take risks with people I trust.

How I’m going to make my teaching intellectual my first year

My experiences in education and philosophy over the last six years have instilled in me a love of research and self-reflective learning. It seems that the natural progression of this would be to participate in some scholarly exploration in my first year of teaching. Similarly, it seems natural that I should continue to be mentored by a faculty member who guided me through academic and professional quandaries in the past. With Heather’s encouragement and knowledge of the process, I’ll be improving my teaching this year through action research.

I believe that the best way to become good at anything is to study it. I don’t want to just keep my head above water this year; conducting action research will allow me to hone my craft and provide my students with a thoughtful and intentional academic experience that considers their social, emotional, and academic needs through community-based learning. I’m still nervous but I know exactly where to channel that excited energy: becoming the best teacher I can be.

Now some things I want to know from you!

How are other first year teachers reflecting on their practice?
What are other first year teachers reflecting on? (parent communication, reading instruction, etc.)
Can action research help me be a better teacher?

First year teacher – passionate about community and equity

Calling All Social Workers!

Schools are dynamic and increasingly complex spaces.  The need for “all hands on deck” is apparent yet not always provided, supported, funded, or valued.  For learners who receive special education supports as well as social work services, the collaboration is critical but, honestly, rare and difficult.  School-based social workers (some schools do still have this role!!) are limited in their ability to support the whole child through family and community involvement, primarily focused on the child’s engagement at and with school.  Community social workers are limited in their ability to support the whole child through school involvement, primarily focused on the child’s safety and well-being at home.  Therefore, we have a wide gap in communication, collaboration, and supports for learners and their families between school and home.

That said, I would argue that bridging this gap has never been more critical.  Special educators need you!  They want you!  Check out the hashtag #armmewith on social media and you will see teachers literally begging for your expertise and collaboration! They know they are not adequately trained or prepared for the complicated and intense needs of their learners and their learner’s families.  They know that families cannot attend to the daily demands of their child’s school, (i.e. back pack mail, library books due, lunch money) if they are focused on safety and basic needs. But they do not have the family systems knowledge or skills to support families in the ways you can.

I have a teacher right now who has a learner in her self-contained special education classroom who sleeps all day.  A lot of people live in his house, from very young babies to elderly grandparents.  He isn’t coming to school ready to learn because he isn’t able to get sleep at home.  His teachers are frustrated and blaming the family because the child is too sleepy to learn.  They complain that they’ve called social services to no avail.  The school does not have a social worker.  Could collaboration with a social worker benefit the child, the family, and the teachers?  The teachers say yes.  They feel powerless to provide a meaningful education to this little guy and they want help.  What do you say?  Can you envision ways of supporting this learner, his family, his teachers?

When I asked teachers what they want social workers to know about collaborating with special educators, they resoundingly said they crave your expertise in families and services.  They feel ill equipped to serve in that role and are desperate for your partnership.  One said, “I wish schools would take the money they spend on security guards and spend it on social workers.”  Let’s push to make that reality.

We also need to create a unified system so that school personnel and social workers and other community supports can communicate regularly and meaningfully in developing and providing services to learners and their families.  If a community social worker could attend the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting of a child they are supporting, it could make a world of difference in how that plan is presented to meet the educational needs of the learner in a way that builds up the family as a whole.

My first job in my field after graduating with a Masters of Education in Early Childhood Special Education was as an Infant-Toddler Specialist serving young children and their families with developmental delays or disabilities in their homes.  Of my caseload of around 20 families, about half were in the custody of the Department of Social Services.  I knew next to nothing about all of the resources and supports provided by social workers initially but I learned quickly that my previous beliefs and expectations were way off.  I’d long been told that DSS does nothing with reports of abuse or neglect, that they’re paper pushers, overworked, underresourced, lacking empathy.  I experienced none of that.  I collaborated with amazing social workers who focused entirely on creating safe environments for kids and supporting families in getting the services they needed to become adequate parents.

Then I moved into a public school setting and while my students were the same population I had been serving in home based services, the collaboration with social services completely ended.  I never saw another social worker or had any opportunity to collaborate with families in their involvement with social services.  Special educators want and need to work with you but they need to understand that your responsibility and priority is in strengthening families, rather than removing children and penalizing families.

We have a long way to go in understanding each other but we have to get at the same table, in the same room, same building to begin meaningfully providing learners with the best both of our field’s have to offer.

WE NEED YOU!!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Three Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Build Classroom Community

Build relationships, you say.  Teach the behavior I want to see, you say.  Build community, you say.

Haven’t I been doing that??

Often, the draw to visible behavior management systems for teachers is the act of doing something.  Let’s take a common example in any classroom:  A learner is talking while the teacher is talking.  What are the teacher’s options in that moment?  I’ll brainstorm a few.  a)  She can stop teaching and wait patiently until the learner redirects him/herself back to the lesson.  b) She can call the learner by name and ask for their attention.  c)  She can move her body closer to that of the off-task learner in an attempt to bring their attention back to learning.  Okay, that’s three, and all three are assuming everyone else in the class is rapt with attention to the engaging and fascinating content presented.

So, maybe it’s not so easy.

If I have a visible behavior management system, though, I can ask the learner, in front of their peers, to move their clip/remove a marble/write their name on the board/stand by the wall at recess/anything I want.  It’s a system, it’s fast, children respond, this is effective, right?  Peer shame is an excellent motivator, right?

No.  It’s not.

I do understand, however, the draw to do something about the off task, defiant, non-compliant behaviors all kids (and adults!) demonstrate sometimes (or often!).  We should be prepared for it because they are natural responses to our American educational model.  I remember when a former student/first year teacher texted me while setting up her room two days before her very first group of incredibly lucky four-year-olds started school.  She said something along the lines of, “Jen, I need a system, right? Like red light/green light, or, like, some teachers have cars, should I have cars, or I saw someone had an actual stop light but someone was laminating bugs but I don’t know how that one worked, and I don’t know what system I need.”  I asked her to catch her breath, slow down, talk to me about this “system” needed.  And it all tumbling out about how there have to be consequences and she knows she took two behavior courses and she didn’t realize she never even learned a system and now she was about to have her own class of real life preschoolers and no system!!

I do understand the very strong pull and the courage NOT having a visible system requires.

So, let’s identify three things you can incorporate into your day tomorrow.  Three small shifts, little changes, that make a big difference with learners.

  1. Greet each and every learner by name.  Ask a minimum of one question of the child beyond “how are you?”  Identify something on which to compliment the child, while trying to steer clear of physical appearance.  Start their school day off right.  By seeing each and every child, you acknowledge their strengths and their needs, consciously accept all they are, and commit to teaching them.
  2. Develop a system for identifying “braggables” about each learner in your class.  Then call 2-3 parent/caregiver after school 2-3 days a week and tell them something awesome about their kid.  Connecting caring adults with positive feedback, funny stories, brilliant writing, whatever the “braggable” is, goes a long way in building classroom community.  It also makes it a lot easier to have the difficult conversations if the need arises.  Building relationships with learners means building relationships with families.
  3. Build in time for kids to talk to each other and to you!  When we restrict their social interactions, we limit their ability to work productively in pairs, small groups, large groups because they use that precious time to catch up, rather than work.  My daughter’s parent/teacher conference report said “too social, especially at work time.”  My daughter’s response:  It’s the only time we get to talk!  Give them time and strategies for large group sharing, pair sharing, and small group chats.  I know it sounds counterintuitive but it really does make for smoother running classrooms.

 

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What works for you?  Tell us!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Things I Know

  • Tiara
    Tiara Brown

    Even the youngest of children are more perceptive than you think. They are watching. They are listening. They will mimic the people in their surroundings. Be an example.

  • Young children can’t be “MEAN”. For toddlers there is a difference between compliance and understanding. Young children may follow directions but this does not mean they understand right and wrong. Don’t expect this at this stage as developing a conscious comes with time.
  • High quality childcare and early intervention are IMPORTANT and PROVEN to increase academic skills and social competency. The focus on these two areas cannot be underestimated.
  • Research continues to show us children have an untapped capacity for learning. Teachers should remember this and use different modes to cultivate this potential. Never underestimate the ability of any child.
  • Access to high-quality educational opportunities is a HUMAN RIGHT.
  • Teaching should be intentional, purposeful, and meaningful. Allow mistakes but give meaningful feedback. Teachers cannot expect children to learn if they are not given explicit and meaningful advice.
  • Inclusion is good for everyone if it is done correctly. Period.

What do you know?  Tell me!!

Things I Know

  • Educational contexts will not improve until we demand professionalism of the field. That begins in teacher education. Set a high bar for faculty. Teacher education is not a place for career teachers to transition. It’s a career in and of itself with specific knowledge and skills separate from those demanded in K12 environments.
  • Parenting is hard and no supports exist for doing it well. Everyone is not an expert on child development nor does everyone have access to an expert on child development. Unrealistic expectations abound and parents and kids struggle as a result.
  • Every. Single. Person. is doing the best they can with what they have. Behavior is communication and serves a purpose so seek to understand rather than punish. Address the cause of the behavior rather than the behavior itself.
  • Mistakes are unavoidable and necessary components of learning.
  • Typical grading systems do not reflect learning.  They’re more reflective of compliance with teacher preferences.  If you give/get attendance points, drop a letter grade for late submission, or in any other way use grades to compel behavior, you are abusing the system.  Grades are communication of mastery.  That’s it.  Not behavior.
  • Meaningful inclusion means each and every learner is a valued member of the classroom and school community. Supports are in place in order to reach the high expectations set for each student.  Fair is not always equal as we each need different supports for success.
  • Every.  Single.  Family.  Loves their child and is doing the absolute best they can with their specific realities.  Empathy is foundational to effective teaching.

What do you know?  Tell me!!

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.