Shame permeates our schools and classrooms. Kids shame their peers and, sometimes, usually unwittingly, teachers shame their students.
Compassionate classrooms, detailed in Hacking Classroom Culture by Angela Stockman and Ellen Feig Gray, extinguish shame.
Read the excerpt below to find out how to eliminate shame in your space and design your own compassionate classroom.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget
how you made them feel.
—MAYA ANGELOU, AMERICAN POET, MEMOIRIST AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST
THE PROBLEM: WE ARE QUICK TO JUDGE OUR STUDENTS
Whether we like to admit it or not, teachers have the potential to have a profound and lasting effect on our students. Sometimes we are remembered in ways that belie our best intentions. Ellen tells a story of when she was in AP American history class, more than 40 years ago. The teacher liked to call out students when they weren’t performing up to his expectations of how they should be participating in his class. For him, classroom discussion was of great value, as he believed we learn best from a free interchange of ideas and interpretations of the readings.
She vividly remembers how this teacher, in his desire to encourage participation, shamed a very quiet and anxious student when he said, in front of the whole class, “Robert, we haven’t heard from you at all this semester. I think I’ll replace you with a potted plant!”
When we feel vulnerable and are subject to shame, we shut down, retreat into ourselves, feel unworthy, and become embarrassed and unproductive.
To this day, her heart palpitates and she feels the tightness in her abdomen as she recalls this embarrassing event. And the shaming wasn’t even directed at her! It turns out that this student was painfully shy, extremely anxious, and the victim of teasing and bullying because he was so socially awkward.
When teachers shame students, or peers shame each other, trust is broken and connection is eroded.
Another experience Ellen recounts is that of one of her childhood friends, whose third-grade teacher made him stand in the garbage can on a regular basis, in the corner of the classroom, because he fidgeted in class, appeared uninterested in the lesson, and spent more time gazing out the window than completing his work. The teacher had decided that this student would never succeed and the only job he was fit for was as a sanitation worker, and she felt it was her responsibility to make a point of that to the whole class.
Ellen and her friend now laugh about this incident more than 50 years later, but the emotional trauma this teacher caused remained fresh for a long time and greatly affected his self-confidence in his own academic abilities. (Fortunately, that didn’t stop him from becoming the head of one of the world’s leading foreign policy think tanks after attending an Ivy League college and earning a PhD.)
What his third-grade teacher didn’t realize at the time was how bored he was with the lessons she was teaching and how he needed greater intellectual challenges to keep him focused. She also failed to realize that he was a naturally deep thinker, who would always be more engaged by what was going on inside his head than what was happening around him. Nonetheless, she was quick to judge, and relied on shaming to try to whip him into shape.
These examples of shaming and humiliation are extreme and tantamount to child abuse. Most of us are well meaning and would never intentionally hurt a student by shaming them with our words or actions. But classrooms are by nature potentially shaming places where students are subject to judgment, evaluation, assessment, grading, scoring, comparison, criticism and scrutiny for how they perform, behave and stack up against the rest, and what they say, do, and reveal about themselves on a daily basis. That makes schools the ultimate in vulnerability communities and students continually at risk for shaming and humiliation.
Add to that the social environment where students are made to feel less than by their fellow students through teasing, bullying, and shaming. As the adults in the room, we must be sensitive to the many, often subtle ways that kids may treat each other badly, including saying and doing hurtful things in your classroom, as well as through social media. Many students are coming to class feeling ostracized, fearful, threatened, anxious, bruised and distracted by these emotions. It is important that we appreciate their experiences and acknowledge how those experiences may contribute to their reticence.
It is collaborative and vulnerable, with everyone taking risks. And shaming is not an option….
When we feel vulnerable and are subject to shame, we shut down, retreat into ourselves, feel unworthy, and become embarrassed and unproductive. When teachers shame students, or peers shame each other, trust is broken and connection is eroded. This can happen even when we are not conscious of the power of our words and are not being purposefully shaming. For example, it’s common to hear teachers say things like “If you put as much time into your algebra homework as you spend playing in the band, you might be more successful.”
A comment like that is often meant to motivate a student to work harder, but in reality it makes them feel less than worthy, and inadequate. The teacher can reframe the comment with something like “I’ve seen you put a great deal of effort into practicing your guitar so you can play in the band. How might you spend more time studying for your math tests so you can master the problems? How can I help you pass this course?” Often it’s when we recognize and appreciate who our students really are that we can best help them become the best they can be.
We need to reframe the way we think about ourselves and our students. If we acknowledge their vulnerability—and ours—we can operate from a place of empathy and compassion and open ourselves up to seeing our students as human beings who want what we all want—to be loved, accepted, and to feel worthy of succeeding.
THE HACK: HONOR STUDENTS AS HUMAN BEINGS, NOT HUMAN DOINGS
Dr. Brené Brown points out that vulnerability is a human emotion that is neither good nor bad. In fact, she sees vulnerability not as a weakness, but as the core of all of our feelings. When we shame others we are derailing their courage to be vulnerable.
The truth is that all students, no matter their age, grade level, academic ability, or apparent self-confidence, come to class feeling vulnerable. When we acknowledge them as human beings, with complex emotional lives like our own, we are equipped to help them prepare to open themselves up to real learning. Shaming not only disrespects them, but may also set them up for failure, lack of engagement, low motivation, and a perpetual self-defeating attitude.
Learning entails taking risks, and it is our responsibility as teachers to create an environment where students can open themselves up to what’s possible, to try to reach their potential and to be embraced for who they are.
When we reframe vulnerability as having the courage to take risks, to be uncertain, and to expose ourselves emotionally, that’s when real growth, change and learning can take place. It is up to us to create an emotionally safe environment that is built on trust and respect, nurturing students’ potential rather than shaming them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW
There are a number of things you can do to shift the tone of your classroom to a more positive one. You have more power than you may think in creating a community that’s based on safety and trust, where students feel comfortable enough to open themselves up to learning. Here are some suggestions:
PRACTICE VULNERABILITY. Show your students you are vulnerable to being judged and shamed, just like they are. If you reveal yourself to them, they will open themselves up to letting you know them. On the first day of class, Larry Schwarz, whose story we shared in Hack 2, tells his students that who they see now is not who they will see tomorrow, in a week, in a month, or at the end of the semester.
“Right now, who you see is an overweight, older man, and you may be thinking things and making certain assumptions about me that you will find out are not true as you learn more about me and spend more time in this class.” When we admit we are all vulnerable, and reframe our vulnerability as an opportunity for authentic human connection, we have the potential to form healthy, positive teacher-student relationships of trust that foster learning on all levels—academic, social and emotional.
ILLUMINATE POTENTIAL SOURCES OF SHAME. By shining a bright light on what students may be worried about when they come to class as well as what they most wish for, we can normalize their feelings of vulnerability and begin to treat them with respect. Angela uses an exercise called “Wishes and Worries” when she works with students to assess their interests, their needs, and their fears, and to understand that they are not alone in their feelings.
She also uses what the students reveal to create agreements about how they will treat one another in class, and from time to time returns to the wishes and worries theme to check in on how she is keeping her promises to fulfill their wishes and create a space where their fears can be allayed. We have provided a protocol for Wishes and Worries for you to download, in the supplemental resources folder for Hack 5….
PROMPT POSITIVELY. Choose positive words when communicating with your students about their potential. When you assess a student’s progress with specific constructive feedback that’s grounded in positive reality, you are offering them useful feedforward that they can build upon. Even when you’re attending to flaws, it’s possible to frame your feedback in a way that builds your students’ confidence. Rather than saying “This is where you need to improve,” consider using “This is what you’re showing me you’re ready to try next.”
THE HACK IN ACTION
Ten years ago, Starr Sackstein began teaching English and journalism to eleventh and twelfth graders at the World Journalism Preparatory School. As a teacher in a traditional system, she became disturbed by the cutthroat competitiveness and lack of collaboration among her students. She observed how students were defining themselves and their worth exclusively through their grades, and not through what they were their learning. The A students flaunted their high-achieving status and held it over their less-than-A peers. Students who were getting grades of less than a 90 felt worthless, shamed, and less than, merely by virtue of the fact that they did not measure up.
She wondered what it would be like for them if she substituted the grading system with a feedback system that featured constructive comments. Starr was able to identify with her A students, as she was one herself. When she began to put herself in her students’ shoes she realized that they were ex
periencing what she had as a student—there was nothing more important than achieving high grades. She remembered how her teachers constantly reminded students, “If you don’t do your work, it’s going to affect your grades.” And she became ashamed at what she calls some of the same “abuses of power” she was “perpetrating against her students, unknowingly.”
During report card season in 2011, Starr became acutely aware of the atmosphere of anxiety that pervaded everything at her school. What was notable to her was the anticipatory excitement that only the A students exhibited. “When report cards were handed out, there were either cheers or tears.” When she came to terms with how she was about to grade her students with letters, she compared that to how her own son in elementary school was being evaluated through what she considered much more informative and reflective narrative feedback.
She began to consider how she could better communicate her AP literature students’ progress and learning accomplishments on their report cards. She wanted to change grading from an “isolated judgmental experience to a collaborative conversation.” She felt that it was “time to give students the words to talk about their learning, in a meaningful way.”
Starr brought more self-reflective student practices into class. And she began the conversation with her students: “What do grades mean to you?” At first there was frustration, especially among high performing students whose self-worth had been inextricably tied to their grades. She realized that “shifting the mindset around something like grades was hard work,” but she refused to “slip back” into the strict letter grading system. As she observed the process, she saw her students “engaged in learning, pushing boundaries, and articulating growth in ways they didn’t know teenagers could.”
She attributes these results to taking risks and trusting each other. The self-assessment no-grading system Starr has used with her students is continually evolving with the input of students. She continues to involve them in an iterative process of empathy, prototyping, testing, and refining as they go. It is collaborative and vulnerable, with everyone taking risks.
And shaming is not an option….
To learn more about extinguishing shame and designing compassionate classrooms, look inside Hacking School Culture here.
This excerpt is provided with permission from Times 10 Publications
It might not feel like spring in the northeast and midwest United States, but we’re still Hacking Spring, with an amazing Hack Learning Twitter share contest!
We gave away more than $5,000 worth of books and T-shirts at Empower18 Conference last month, in in effort to spread the word about Hack Learning–a movement aimed at helping teachers and learners easily solve some of their biggest problems.
We’re still solving problems and giving stuff away
Spread the word about Hack Learning, and win!
All you have to do is share a cool, funny, unorthodox, amazing, hacky picture or video on Twitter, get plenty of engagement, and you’ll have a chance to win our Grand Prize!
Keep reading, because this starts TODAY and ends Saturday, April 7, 2018.
- Take a picture or video of you or a friend or family member with your Hack Learning T-shirt, Empower18 Hack Learning booth pic, and/or a Hack Learning Series book.
- Share the pic/video on Twitter.
- In the share, mention @markbarnes19 and add #HackLearning. (NOTE: all shares MUST contain both @markbarnes19 and #HackLearning to be eligible to win.)
- Ask for likes and retweets (optional but helpful).
- The three Tweets with the most engagement (combined likes and retweets) win!
3rd place — $50 Amazon Gift Certificate
2nd place — $75 Amazon Gift Certificate
GRAND PRIZE — 15 Hack Learning books, 1 coffee mug, 1 tote bag ($500 value)
When is the contest?
- Start posting to Twitter NOW: Thursday April 5th
- Contest ends: Saturday April 7th at 8 PM ET
- Winners announced: Sunday April 8th at 11 AM ET
Tweet your pic NOW!
What’s the purpose?
Simple: We want people to see Hack Learning books, so they’ll be inspired to check out one of education’s most powerful problem-solving movements. And we’re not afraid to enlist your help and incentivize sharing with cool prizes.
We give away more content than anyone–over $100,000 in FREE content to educators around the world in 2017 and 2018! After all, Hack Learning is not about making authors or publishers rich; it’s about making educators better!
Share your pic or video on Twitter now. Tag @markbarnes19 and #HackLearning. Promote your Tweet, so you can win!
NOTE: Hack Learning authors and team members are ineligible to win.
Hack Learning’s Mark Barnes wrote about revolutionizing assessment by going gradeless in Education Week’s 10 Big Ideas special report. Some readers are intrigued, and some are pushing back.
In Episode 110 of the Hack Learning Podcast embedded above, Mark takes on the pushback and explains why grading and evaluating are not parts of effective assessment.
No, Students Don’t Need Grades, excerpted from Education Week’s 10 Big Ideas article
Technology and social media continue to disrupt education. Classrooms are morphing into maker spaces; STEM labs and media centers are filled with fascinating electronic gadgets. Teachers spend less time in front of the class and more time in the middle of the action. Schools, teachers, leaders, parents, and students across the country are embracing this brave new world.
In the midst of rapidly changing technology, and consequently, pedagogy, there is another fundamental change I would argue more educators need to embrace. It’s a growing movement to alter the one function of education that most stakeholders steadfastly refuse to revise: how we assess learning.
If you’re interested in disrupting education far more than the 3-D printer or smartphone ever could, consider schools and colleges where there are no grades. Imagine classrooms where teachers never place numbers, letters, percentages, or other labels on students’ work; where report cards don’t exist; and where the GPA has gone the way of the dinosaur.
In a gradeless classroom, the perpetual lies that numbers and letters tell about learning would cease to exist. Honor and merit rolls would disappear. There would be no school valedictorian. Clubs that celebrate high performers would disband. Many colleges and universities would change how they admit incoming freshmen, and academic scholarships would need a makeover.
Moreover, teachers would learn how to effectively assess academic performance, and students would become independent learners, driven by curiosity and inspiration rather than by the empty promise of a “good” grade or the threat of a “bad” one.
Now, this may sound like only a big, perhaps even unrealistic, idea. But the gradeless classroom already exists in schools worldwide. While I don’t claim to be the creator of no-grades learning environments, I and thousands of my colleagues across the United States and around the world have turned it into a movement that is helping educators reimagine how they assess learning.
Read the rest of my EdWeek article, part of the 10 Big Ideas in Education special report, here.
Mark Barnes on grades, feedback, and evaluation
- Grades and feedback are not the same. Grades are numbers, percentages, and letters that label students and mislead stakeholders about what has or has not been learned.
- There are many factors that impact learning, and teachers must have a conversation with students about those factors.
- It’s crucial that teachers ask kids questions: Why did you do this? Why this way? What if you had done this instead? What don’t you understand? How can you better understand this?
- Education needs to eliminate evaluation from assessment. Evaluation is about judging performance, and the only shareholders suited for this type of judgement are the learners. Teachers should relegate their feedback to observations and questions and teach kids how to judge their work.
More on going gradeless
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Parenting Just Got Simpler
Because mantras bring peace to the process
You throw out consequences willy-nilly. You’re tired of solutions that are all or nothing. You’re frustrated with the daily chaos. Enter Parent Mantras, invaluable parenting anchors wrapped in tidy packages.
These will become your go-to tools to calm your mind, focus your parenting, and concentrate on what you want for your kids.
Now, you can connect with your child like never before
Parenting author, educator, and presenter Kimberley Moran works tirelessly to find best practices for simplifying parenting and maximizing parent-child communication.
Using 10 Parent Mantras as cues to stop and reset, Moran shares concrete ways to parent with intention and purpose, without losing your cool, creating better parent-child connections.
With Parent Mantras, you’ll be able to:
- Balance immediate needs with end goals
- Grow your child’s independence
- Engender trust and honesty
- Let your decisions stand
- Set boundaries with confidence
- Locate practical resources for support
Bonus: Parent Resource Notebook
The PRN includes sample pages that parents can use as models for implementing mantras. These models are accompanied by blank templates you can actually write on, creating your own notebook pages that serve as your go-to guide for those difficult situations that are unique to you and your children.
Keep Hacking Parenthood and the included Parent Resource Notebook with you at all times. It’s like having your own playbook for parenting teens and children of all ages.
Ready to find your mantra?
Grab Hacking Parenthood today; find your mantra, and hone in on what matters most, when raising kids feels out of control.