Rock The Socks

I posted on Instagram about the trip my daughter, Isley, and I made to Lawrence, Kansas for a play her former kindergarten teacher wrote based on an experience Isley had with bullying in 7th grade.  I want to provide more context to that experience first and then provide some facts and resources related to suicide prevention.  I’m hoping the connection between the two will make sense as we work through it.

I know it’s hard to read but it says “Zoe G is a bitch and she is ugly Doanta F said so with those ugly ass long socks.”  This was found on a bathroom wall in the middle school and Isley and Zoe knew immediately who had written it.  Zoe was hurt, of course, and the girls considered a variety of responses.  Ultimately, though, we decided to wear long socks for the remainder of the school year.

Isley and Zoe bought tall socks and we posted about it with a few hashtags.  Former students of mine shared the story with their students who then joined in the tall socks movement.  One of my former students who is now an extraordinary teacher in Brooklyn sent a box of tall socks for the girls to share with classmates who wanted to participate.

 

We started getting pics of long socks from California, Kansas, Virginia, North Carolina (one of our sock supporters was in MY prek class when she was 4!!), and more.  Zoe felt supported and seen and the message was spreading far beyond our little St. Louis suburb.  We kept the long socks going until the last day of school and eventually even the girl who wrote the message came to school in long socks.  Seriously.

It was an opportunity to create community from hurt and we took it.  However, it did not address the root causes of the hurt nor did we have any luck in motivating the school counseling staff to support the learner who wrote the message to better understand how she was feeling in the school environment.  As we often say, hurt people hurt people.  Bullying is not a natural and inherent part of educational spaces – kids need our support in navigating big and difficult emotions.  Why aren’t we actively and proactively providing those supports?

Fast forward a year and Isley’s amazing kindergarten teacher (middle school theater elective teacher also because of course she is) . . . Ms. Fewins and Isley connected when Isley was in her kindergarten class and they’ve remained close.  The best teachers are like that – teachers for life.  Ms. Fewins wrote a script loosely based on the tall socks experience and her middle schoolers edited and revised it, eventually selecting it for their spring play.  We knew we had to be there for it.

As soon as we got into town, we were greeted with LONG SOCKS!

The cast told a powerful story of the social dynamics and challenges kids are facing and their individual and collective struggles to fit in AND be true to themselves.  We know what adolescence brings.  Rather than saying “middle school is so hard,” how about we actively work on providing kids the space to work through their emotions, strategies for navigating the difficulties, and opportunities to practice mistake making and forgiveness granting?

Ms. Fewins helped us bring the experience into the light again and to reflect on what we learned from it.  Isley and I continue to feel that we didn’t do enough to help the girl who wrote the message – she has gone on to continue hurtful behavior toward Zoe.  Rather than punish “bullies” after the damage is done, we should push in as much social emotional support for kids throughout their educational experience.  We leave many many kids with very limited problem solving skills to continue doing harm to themselves and others.  In fact, in schools we often pile on to those kids who need the most support creating amplified feelings of isolation.  Restorative practices are critical for interrupting this cycle.

The mental health of our learners must be on the forefront.  Rates of suicidality, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicides are all increasing and are present in very young children.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24.  Nearly one of every eight children between the ages 6 and 12 has suicidal thoughts.

That’s multiple people in your class and in mine.  There are no restrictions to who is affected – across genders (girls attempt suicide more than boys but boys die by suicide more than girls), across race, across ethnicity.  We do know that LGBTQ+ kids who do not see themselves in others are at increased risk of suicidality.  Please know and be familiar with the Trevor Project resources if you teach kids!!

We have a moral and ethical obligation to take loving care of all of our kids.

We teach college students and we are so fortunate to have these conversations with students pretty regularly.  I say fortunate because we are fortunate to be a resource and to be trusted and to be able to connect our students with resources.  Unfortunately, far too many faculty are not considering the many and heavy demands on our students.  In fact, far too often, they’re piling on unnecessarily.  We know our courses are not the only or most important thing students are grappling with.  We know our deadlines are, for the most part, arbitrary.  We accept our students are humans with full lives and our responsibility is to partner with them in their learning. (More on that another day)

We will keep talking about this but I wanted to share a compilation of national resources so you have vetted places to go when you need them.

Active Minds

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 

American Association of Suicidology

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Jed Foundation

The Imagine Project

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1.800.273.8255

Trevor Project

You have local resources as well.  If you have a resource you want to share, send it to us and we will add it as well as post it on our social media.  We can provide a space of hope and of care for each and every kid.

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.

The Real World

What is this “real world” you speak of?

Who defines it?

Is it the same “real world” for everyone?

I was recently in conversation with colleagues about class attendance.  Now, full disclosure, I do not have an attendance policy.  I know my class is not the only thing going on in the lives of my students.  I know they have to make choices with how they spend their time and I do not sit in judgment of those choices.  I encourage open communication, I want to know if you aren’t coming (if at all possible) because I’m a worrier and I care about you.  The ‘why’ you aren’t coming isn’t my business.  I do not attach points to attendance or the ever elusive but pervasive concept of “participation.”  If you’re missing a lot of class, I ask if we can talk.  I want you to get the content, the knowledge, the learning, the experiences, and I want to help remove any barriers I possibly can.  I want us to work together and I try to be a trustworthy and empathetic person who can serve as a resource.

So, that’s my approach.

My colleague said a student emailed saying they were going through a traumatic breakup and wouldn’t be in class.  The colleague said nope.  Another colleague said, when you’re a teacher, you can’t just stay home when your heart is broken.  The real world doesn’t stop for your break up.

Why not?

We get personal days and sick leave and we can and should use them in ways that support our overall well-being, right?  We need to learn how to engage in self care and boundary setting and mental health awareness and care.  Teachers are not martyrs or superheroes or angels.  They are humans with the wide range of human emotions and experiences.

I wonder about things like perfect attendance awards (why?) and the “in the real world, you’ll be expected to . . . ” framing that builds and reinforces anxiety and this run yourself into the ground, work 24/7 mentality that is literally killing us.

What if we modeled self care?  What if we respected boundaries?  What if we taught students to ask for what they need?

This week, I had a number of long, stressful days.  So, on Thursday, I cancelled a few things and worked from home, caught up on emails, scheduling, feedback, some writing.  In all day meetings on Friday, I talked with a colleague who had done the same the day before, took a “mental health day.”  We both said “GOOD FOR YOU!” to each other.  Where did we learn this was okay?

We didn’t.  We both expressed guilt and shame and a feeling of embarrassment about it.

In the words of the perfect Jonathan Van Ness, “who gave you permission to be so amazing?”  I’m giving you permission to set boundaries and to teach students to do the same.  And here’s the tricky part – respect the boundaries they and others set.  We must take care of each other.

How have you learned to care for your own mental health and well being?  How do you extend that grace to others?

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.

Resource Roundup

We often are asked for resources on a variety of topics so I am creating a space here to share readings, books, videos, modules, movies, that we use and love. If you have resources, send them our way!

READING

Bradshaw, W. (2013). A framework for providing culturally responsive early intervention services. Young Exceptional Children, 16(1), 3-15. Bradshaw, 2012

Inclusive Classroom Profile

Empowered Educators:  How High-Performing Systems Shape Teacher Quality Around the World, 1st ed.  Darling-Hammond, Burns, Campbell, Goodwin, Hammerness, Low, McIntyre, Sato, & Zeichner  ISBN:  978-1119369608

Troublemakers:  Lessons in Freedom From Young Children At School by Carla Shalaby

VIDEOS

Not sure I love this video but it’s assigned in my course this week so we’ll see what kind of discussions come from it.

PODCASTS

Cult of Pedagogy

INSTAGRAM

@britthawthorne_

@teachandtransform

 

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.

Unteaching and Unlearning is Intellectual!

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

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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.

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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.

Recess Is A Right

I posted a picture on our social media of a tweet from the 2006 MN Teacher of the Year Dr. Lee-Ann Stephens that read:  Advice to a new elementary school teacher:  never, every withhold recess from your students for any reason.  They need the activity and you need them to have the activity.  It shouldn’t be viewed as a privilege, but a part of your daily curriculum.

The post generated conversation which is awesome.  In this post, I hope to provide some context for recess as a right, not a privilege and some alternative strategies.

First, remember, behavior is communication and it always always always serves a purpose.  You can read a bit more about that here.  Once we determine the function of the behavior, we can find more appropriate ways to meet that function for/with the learner.  Okay, so let’s play this out with recess.

Basic scenario:  Learner is off task in class, out of seat, what have you.  Teacher subscribes to the “you waste my time, I’ll take your time” philosophy and responds with taking away 5-10-half-all of recess.

Behavior is communication.

  • What is the function of the off task behavior?  Is the learner avoiding the work?  Is the learner unsure what to do?  Is the learner “bored”?  Is the learner seeking attention from the teacher or from friends?
  • Are any of these functions met by reducing/eliminating recess?

Nope.

(Side question:  have you ever taken recess from a child one time and never ever again?  Does it every work to change the behavior, teach the behavior we want to see, or is it a punishment we invoke because we’re frustrated?)

Why do we offer time in the school day for free movement?  Is recess really “their” time?  What is the role of recess in teaching and learning?  Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control endorse recess with policy statements outlining the cognitive, social emotional, physical, and academic benefits of regular unstructured play time for elementary age learners.  The slow whittling down/removal of recess has never been rooted in the evidence of development, teaching and learning, or best practice.  It has always been about increasing instructional time.  But, recess actually HELPS learners attend to task, focus, learn.

Let’s look at it another way.

Think about a time you’ve been in a long faculty meeting, professional development day, webinar, or something similar.  Even if the content is engaging, you may find yourself getting restless.  You may get up to go to the bathroom, get a drink, stand by the wall for a bit.  You may stretch in your seat, check your phone, or pick at your nail polish.  You can do what you need to do in order to get your attention back to the topic at hand – you can take self regulated brain breaks because you’re an adult.  If your admin or PD provider told you that getting out of your chair to stretch your legs would mean you do not get the scheduled break time everyone else gets, you would probably have strong feelings about that.  Because we all need breaks – whether we’ve “earned” them or not.

Taking away recess is a power move, not a teaching move.  Reframing all of our actions and reactions through a teaching lens means recess is not a bonus or a reward, but a critical and non negotiable part of a learner’s work.

Now that we know taking away bits, pieces, all of recess does not support our end goal of teaching and learning, what can/should we do instead?

Tackle the function.  Meet the need in an appropriate way.

So, if it’s escape, build in break cards, mindful moments, a quick “errand” that incorporates a little movement.

If it’s attention getting, what is driving it?  Is it teacher attention or peer attention that’s desired?  Use proximity, room arrangement, teacher talk cards or, if you can, take just a moment, get on the child’s level, and ask them what they need.  That very well may be enough.

They’re communicating with you.  Let’s be listeners, teachers, learners about our learners.  Restricting their movement and limiting their freedom creates barriers in our relationships and does not teach the behavior we want to see.

Make recess a right, not a privilege.  What are some other learner rights you feel are non-negotiable?

 

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.

Engagement: The Holy Grail of Teaching

Recently, a colleague asked me for recommendations of books about developing growth mindset.  He wanted to be able to recommend something to parents whose children are “apathetic toward school.”

Learners.  Apathetic.  Toward.  School.

Why may that be?

Okay, yes, I can collect some literature.  There are most certainly books.  (I always always always recommend Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? for starters).  AND, I always insist we consider the causes behind those apathetic behaviors rather than the behaviors themselves.  Treat the disease rather than the symptoms, amiright?

So why may learners present as apathetic toward school?

Here are four of my ideas – in no particular order – followed by some quick and easy ways to create interest for those apathetic learners.

  1. School (as in, the building and the people within it) is not welcoming, safe, inviting, accepting, or engaging.
  2. Nothing being taught is relevant in “the real world.”
  3. Anxiety and depression are real and are experienced by children in k-12 settings.
  4. What’s in it for the learner?  Can learners see any benefits from their participation in school?

I said no particular order but I do think #1 is a big one.  Maybe the biggest one.  Why should learners care about school?  Do schools care about learners?  I mean every single learner?  The difficult learner?  The apathetic learner?  The angry learner?  The defiant learner?  It is our job as educators to gain the cooperation of our learners and that often means we have to dig deep.  Forming relationships, human connections, is the critical component of gaining cooperation.  We cannot have successful teaching and learning spaces without meaningful relationships.

Ask that apathetic kid who s/he cares about at school?

Ask that apathetic kid who cares about him/her at school?

Does that apathetic kid feel safe at school?  Feel seen?  Feel valued?  Feel like s/he can contribute in a meaningful way?

Schools typically have one speed – busy!  There are a million things happening in every moment.  Kids, staff, administrators, volunteers, student teachers and practicum teachers, custodians, specialists, researchers, and more all moving within the walls of the school at any given time, quickly, late for the next thing, rushed, distracted, B U S Y.

Is it really so unbelievable that some learners may be overwhelmed, intimidated, exhausted, or shut down by that context?  By connecting with individual “apathetic” learners, we can determine what is causing their lack of engagement, their apathy, their distance and develop strategies to make school a learning environment that works.

#2 ahhh “the real world.”  Such a weird phrase.  What is the real world?  Where is it?  What about K-12 education is not the real world?  This term always strikes me as a flawed and there are just so many reasons why.

  • Loads of kids experience more “real world” before they get out of bed in the morning than I have in a lifetime.  Food and housing insecurity, poverty, and family issues are all “real world” experiences that kids navigate every day.
  • The idea that if we extend kindness to learners and reward the behaviors we want to see, we are not preparing them for the real world.  Right.  Because in the real world, I get paid to go to work . . . or I don’t go.  No one does anything for nothing in return.  Including you.  Including learners.  It’s “real world” and okay to reward hard work.
  • The real world includes loads of problems in need of solving.  Our K-12 learners can and should be tackling real world problems in need of solving too.

#3 Schools need help.  Teachers cannot meet the very real trauma and mental health needs learners bring with them to the classroom.  We need social workers on our teams.  We need counselors with actual resources to support learners, families, and teachers.  We need psychologists and psychiatrists with expertise in child trauma and early childhood/adolescent mental health.  We need resources.  Learners who disengage from school and disconnect from preferred people and activities need support.  What may look to some as apathy toward school may very well be a plea for help.

#4 School, in and of itself, is not super motivating.  Is it?  Teachers make all the difference in this regard.  The difference between a teacher a learner looks forward to seeing versus a teacher a learner dreads makes the difference in a learner’s day, year, future.  It takes ONE adult to see a kid, to really acknowledge their presence, their uniqueness, their humanity.  ONE adult can make all the difference in the life of a kid.  We have to be that ONE adult.  Not for every single learner, of course.  But if we all step up, we should be able to be collectively find ONE adult for every learner out there who is slipping through the cracks, ghosting through the school day, approaching learning with apathy.

What if we took responsibility for our apathetic learners?  What if we saw the onus of engagement in ourselves rather than in our learners?  What if we sought to understand the “why” of apathetic learners rather than just the “how” of their apathetic behaviors?

Talk to me.  What do you think?  How do you engage apathetic learners?

 

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.