Toni’s Template for Engaging Reluctant Learners

In Episode 90 of the Hack Learning Podcast, Mark Barnes shares Toni’s Template for engaging reluctant learners from the forthcoming Hacking Engagement Again: 50 Teacher Tools That Will Make Students Love Your Class (Times 10 Publications August 2017) by James Alan Sturtevant

From Hacking Engagement Again (Book 13 in the Hack Learning Series)

The Problem: It’s hard to engage reluctant learners.

Did you…

  • graduate from high school with at least a 3.00 GPA?
  • play a varsity sport?
  • become a member of the National Honor Society?

Teachers who were academically successful, participated in sports, were members of  extracurricular groups, and experience warm feelings when they think about their school days (this describes a lot of educators) are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to understanding the perspectives of reluctant learners.

The prompts above don’t even account for minority students who may feel alienated because of race, ethnicity, or sexual identity.

A teacher’s gender can be a titanic barrier as well. I’ve always been intrigued by how some female instructors are champs at engaging reluctant male students, while other female teachers struggle mightily with such kids.

Hacking Engagement Again

Coming to August 2017

I decided to consult an expert, a champion, a guru and find out how she does it.

The Hack: Toni’s Template.

Toni Newton has lived in Cleveland her whole life. She started teaching in Cleveland Public and then migrated to the inner-ring district of South Euclid.  

She recently intervened in a confrontation, “A young male student kept mumbling his name and refusing to take out his earbuds when questioned by a female staff member. She became very upset and started yelling. He responded by clenching his fists. His body began shaking. He was barely able to contain himself. I know this kid and realized that I better jump in. I took him aside and just started talking. Not lecturing…just distracting him hoping to cool him down.

“I nodded to my colleague as if to say, I got this. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the hint. On two different occasions, I calmed him down only to have her circle back and continue her lecture! She kept escalating the situation. This young African-American male was being totally backed into a corner. She had no appreciation of his perspective. All she cared about was getting the last word.”

Check out Hacking Engagment

When it comes to mentoring young colleagues struggling to engage reluctant male students, Toni advises:

  • Be patient. Bonding with reluctant learners takes time.
  • Don’t take things personally. Kids can treat you miserably, but be the adult and don’t take the bait.
  • Let them get to know you. Toni once helped a young white teacher who was struggling to engage his African-American students. She encouraged him to share his love of heavy metal music. Remarkably, and after some failed attempts, it worked.
  • Be authentic. Reluctant learners love to find your weaknesses. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

What You Can Do Tomorrow?

  • Highlight students on your roster. As I go down through my current crop of kids, it’s easy for me to highlight students that process the world differently than me.
  • Compose a brief perspective description for each highlighted student. These are one or two sentence reflections such as, Jason seems very religious, or, I think Niki is a Democrat. Some may be disturbing, Hans seems inclined towards white supremacy. Such reflections will help you navigate future student interacts. Regardless of whether you agree with your students, it’s your responsibility to forge a relationship.  
  • Breakdown barriers by sharing a hobby. Toni’s students from Cleveland Public probably didn’t listen to a lot of heavy metal, but nonetheless, her young colleague took her advice and engaged his students. What interesting hobbies could you share, that might particularly interest young males?  

Many teachers struggle to understand the perspective of reluctant learners. Engage such kids by patiently applying Toni’s template.

Subscribe and Never Miss an Episode
itunes button


Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher



Start your new professional development journey.

Download a Hack Learning book today.

sifting through internet noise with Google alerts

Sifting Through Internet Noise with Google Alerts

Google alerts seem like a simple, not-so-sophisticated tool. You format alerts so that Google can mine information and email it to you.

But how do you use Google alerts for education? What can a teacher, principal, or superintendent do with alerts, to empower all stakeholders?

In Hacking Google for Education: 99 Ways to Leverage Google Tools in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, educators and Google gurus Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, and Scott Rocco explain.

The podcast episode above and the book excerpt below provide more details about the power of Google alerts for educators.


The internet has too much information to sift through. As a case in point, try Googling the word “alert.” We got over 715,000,000 search results. Who has time to go through that many results? In this age of digital information and social media, it’s imperative that teachers, principals, and superintendents stay current with the school-specific information that is out there on the Internet.

For the most part, the days of clipping out articles from local, state, or national newspapers are gone. Everything is posted online, which makes it difficult to keep track of news that might highlight or mention you or your district.

Teachers can have students use Alerts as a research tool for a project. Principals can use it as a way to tell their school’s story. District search committees can use Alerts to research their next Superintendent.

In addition to monitoring their digital presence, people need a place to store and display the content digitally. There’s no limit to the great district events you can promote, especially through a Twitter feed, Facebook page, or Pinterest board. Promotion obviously starts with having the information to share in the first place. The best way to track information on the web in a timely fashion is through a little-known feature called Google Alerts.


Make sure that you are signed into the correct Google account by using your Gmail account username and password. Scroll through the Google Alert homepage to become familiar with its various sections. You will notice that there are three sections starting from the top and working their way down the page: Search Box, My Alerts, and Alert Suggestions.

How the Search Box works

Where it says “Create an alert about…” type in something that you would want an Alert about. For example, Brad Currie or Evolving Educators or #Satchat. Your selected searches will wind up in a feed just below the Search Box in a place called “My Alerts.”

Explore the My Alerts area to understand how it functions. You will notice a gear in the upper right hand corner. Click on it and you will see two options titled “Delivery Time” and “Digest.” The “Delivery Time” feature provides you with an opportunity to select a time of the day that you want an Alert(s) to show up in your Gmail inbox.

The “Digest” feature provides you with an opportunity to receive Alert(s) in a Gmail inbox of your choice on a daily or weekly basis.

Also browse the Alert Suggestions area. Maybe there are certain things that interest you, like Google Updates, that you want to stay on top of. If you select “Google Updates,” you will receive a Gmail inbox Alert every time there is news mentioned pertaining to the topic called “Google Updates.” Once selected it will give you an Alert preview and from this point you can choose to enable the Alert or not.

Check out hundreds of FREE resources in the Hack Learning Toolkit

The Alert Suggestions section enables you to quickly add Alerts pertaining to trending topics, organizations, or people. Click the “+” to add the item to your Alert feed.

Click the garbage can icon next to the topic in the “My Alerts” section to stop receiving notifications. You can also click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the Alert in your Gmail inbox.


  • CLASSROOM: Students can use Alerts to research a particular person, place, or thing for a project. Say for example students are creating a Google Slide presentation on the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They could set up an Alert for a one or two-week period that will then push out content to their Gmail inbox every time there is a newsworthy mention of Dr. King on the internet. This hack would be particularly useful around the time of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day when information on celebrations and programs are being disseminated. These Alerts can enhance opportunities for students to learn about him in class.
  • SCHOOL: Principals and teachers can keep track of school-related news by setting up an Alert. For example, Brad keeps track of all things Black River Middle School (BRMS) by setting up an Alert. Every time BRMS is mentioned in a newsworthy sort of way online he gets an Alert in his Gmail inbox. He will then push out these newsworthy links onto his school’s Pinterest board, Twitter feed, and Facebook page. This is a great way to acknowledge and archive all the amazing things that are going on in your school. It also makes it very easy for school stakeholders to find important news items.
  • DISTRICT: School board members or a district-wide search team may want to keep track of candidates for a future superintendent opening. Once a list of candidates is compiled, Alerts can be set up for those specific people and the current schools they work for. Over the coming weeks and months Alerts about news pertaining to the candidates will be sent to a specified Gmail inbox. Any items of interest can be forwarded to the decision makers on the committee. It’s a great way to collect artifacts to support informed decisions. 

Google Alerts has many benefits for educators. District search committees can use Alerts to research their next Superintendent. Are there any negatives or obstacles associated with Google Alerts? Sure there are.

Your inbox could be flooded with alerts that have nothing to do with the topic you selected. There is more than one school with the same name. On the rare occasion you could foreseeably receive an inappropriate alert that looks like spam.

Overall, Google Alerts is well worth the investment. It will save you time and pinpoint searchable topics for all to enjoy.

Check out 96 more ways to leverage Google tools in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Subscribe to the Hack Learning Podcast

itunes button

Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher

DraftEDU: With the Number 1 Pick Hack Learning Selects

Listen to “87: #DraftEDU – With the Number 1 Pick Hack Learning Selects” on Spreaker.


itunes button

Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher



I live in Cleveland, and for Cleveland Browns fans, NFL draft time is the best time of the year, because it is the “season of hope.”

Shortly after the Super Bowl, we begin discussing the draft and the potential next “great” player who might land in the #Cle and save one of the worst franchises in all of sports.

This year, with the Browns having the Number 1 and Number 12 picks overall, the draft chatter has been louder than ever. This omnipresent discussion got me thinking about what I’m calling, DraftEDU.

If you could pick your “players” — those players being blogs, EdTech tools, and rapport-building strategies — and you had picks in the Top 3 for each category, which would you select? Which of these would forever change the future of your franchise?

For #DraftEDU 2017, I’ve selected three positions of need and have target my Top 3 in each area.

Now, drafting is not a legitimate science. There’s always guesswork and opinion involved. So, check out my picks, and let me know the ones I didn’t pick that you would select and which you’d add to your own draft.

Top 3 Blogs for Educators

1 – Cult of Pedagogy — Cult is the blog where “Teachers nerds unite,” says Cult of Pedagogy creator Jennifer Gonzalez. Cult brings you insights on education technology, books, and best practices, presented in gracefully-written posts and podcasts. Plus, Gonzalez writes with an engaging style that few other bloggers have.

2 – Edutopia — The George Lucas Foundation’s informative site provides a vast library of articles and resources from great educators, like Lisa Dabbs, who shares The Power of the Morning Meeting — one example of the kind of unique content you can find at

3 – We Are Teachers — Separated by Topics and Grades, We Are Teachers gives new meaning to “teacher life.”

Top 3 EdTech Tools for Teachers

1 – Voxer — I’ve been touting this walkie-talkie app for years. Voxer gives all students a voice.

2 – Twitter — The ultimate social channel for connecting with your Personal Learning Network (PLN), Twitter is constantly updating its features, making microbloging the easiest way to connect with students in and out of class.

3 – SurveyMonkey — Arguably the best formative assessment tool available, SurveyMonkey empowers teachers to quickly and easily create surveys and polls that make assessment easy and fun. Beware, though, if you use SurveyMonkey, your kids might just ask you to give them a quiz.

Top 3 Rapport-Building Strategies

1 – Celebrity Couple Nickname Game — Remember Brangelina? That’s former married celebs Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Hacking Engagement author James Sturtevant combines his students names in a similar fashion in his Celebrity Nickname Game — a fabulous rapport builder and great way to remember your students.

2 – Greet Kids at the Door — In his article 10 Reasons to Greet Kids at the Door, Virginia school principal Reed Gillespie says that this excellent rapport-builder is a simple way to have brief conversations with all students. For some, this may be the only meaningful conversation they have in a given day.

3 – Give students choice — Ask, “How would you like to learn this?” In many cases, you’ll find that the paths students choose to learn are not too far from how you’d enjoy teaching your lesson. Give kids choice, and they’ll feel better about your teaching methods and about you as a person.

Subscribe to the Podcast

itunes button

Hack Learning podcast on Stitcher



James sturtevant leaving feedback

How Kaizena Reimagines How Teachers Grade Student Work

Listen to “49-Engage as you Grade…Starring Kaizena” on Spreaker.

How Kaizena Reimagines How Teachers Grade Student Work

By James Sturtevant

Okay…here’s the way this went down! I was a college freshman and I had a long way to go in the writing department. I needed to cite more, I needed more supportive evidence, and my sources were meager and of low quality. Sound familiar?

When I got my paper back, I noticed the grade…which was a C, shoved the paper in my book bag, and went on with my existence. The next class, our professor urged us to read the comments she’d wrote on our papers.

I read a few, but then I got discouraged and quit. It seemed like she was yelling at me! I missed some great directives and advice.

Now, I teach 18-year-olds how to write research papers. I totally get the struggle of students not embracing advice on how to evolve as writers.

Hacking Engagement: 50 Tips and Tools To Engage Teachers and Learners Daily

Click this Image and Engage Today

Karma is a beautiful thing! I was frustrated because I knew my students needed help. And then…I met a lovely little app called Kaizena. It detonated my paradigm on providing students with feedback. It transformed grading papers into a collaborative process!

Kaizena is voice grading. You highlight a portion of kid’s paper, hit record, and start enlightening.

There are a bevy of benefits to using your voice as opposed to your default red pen:

  • Your voice is far more emotive than a simple written comment
  • Your voice can be far more encouraging
  • Your voice can better communicate tone and emphasis
  • It’s easier to listen than it is to read, hence kids are more inclined to listen to your comments
  • Most educators can speak a lot faster than they can type or write
  • This method invites collaboration because students respond to comments

Best of all, Kaizena has the potential to make grading papers engaging for students and teachers.

Check out more cool Google Tools

Consider Kaizena, using the Hack Learning problem-solving formula:

The Problem

Students don’t read assessment comments.

The Hack

Use Kaizena and transform assessment into an engaging collaborative process.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

  1. Sign-up for Kaizena
  2. Generate a student invite code
  3. Commandeer a student guinea pig to help you navigate the process
  4. Designate a future writing prompt for your Kaizena maiden voyage

With Kaizena, students are far more likely to listen and then apply important directives they may have previously ignored.

James sturtevant leaving feedback

James Sturtevant leaving feedback with Kaizena

Student writing could become a collaborative process.

Learn more about using Kaizena and other powerful Tips & Tools for engagement in James Sturtevant’s bestselling book, Hacking Engagement.

A version of this post first appeared at

How to Teach Kids to Police Themselves on Social Media

Listen to “85: How to Teach Kids to Police Themselves on Social Media” on Spreaker.
Before we can teach kids to police their own social media practices, we must police our own actions on social networks, because kids are watching.

I was reminded of this lesson recently, during an enthusiastic debate on Facebook. I explain in the podcast episode above.

5 strategies to teach kids to police their social media activity

1 – Think before you share

Social media can be intoxicating. You’ve likely seen the research about kids being engaged 7-10 hours daily and some adults being unable to function in normal daily life, because they can’t leave social media. It’s so easy to share pictures, graphics, links to content, along with comments and less-than-a-second likes and retweets (see number 4).

We must teach kids to fight the urge to share absent-mindedly. Facebook and Twitter make this extremely easy. Teach students this simple strategy: Read, Reflect, Decide. This process takes 30-60 seconds and it can make a difference in so many lives.

Just read your content carefully; reflect on what it means to share it; then, decide if it should be shared. Remind kids that sometimes they should decide to Not share or interact with content. Discuss what makes content shareable and, more important, if anyone be hurt by your actions.

2 – Never respond in anger

Think for a moment about something you’ve seen recently on a social network that made your blood boil. The share incited you more than anything you can remember. You flinched, frowned and your fingers tingled, because you couldn’t start typing fast enough.

Hopefully, in this case, you used the Read, Reflect, Decide strategy and didn’t post in anger. If something your see on a social network upsets you, it’s best to walk away. If you feel you must respond, do it privately and politely.

Look Inside

3 – Understand the longterm impact of your social shares

Yes, one bad tweet, like or share of content on a social network can hurt you for many years–in some cases forever. College admissions deans and HR directors are watching.

Many people have lost jobs because of one thoughtless share or comment on a social network. Is your future worth that five-seconds it took to post something thoughtless, and likely meaningless, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram?

There’s a recurring theme here: Read, Reflect, Decide. This habit will serve you well.

4 – Ask, “Why am I liking or retweeting this?”

The Facebook like and Twitter retweet are simple, fun ways to join a conversation on a social network. But when they are used without forethought, they are two of the most dangerous tools on the Internet.

People are so quick to like or retweet something, because they don’t have to create new content or comment; they can interact with content and, perhaps, show support of a friend in less than a second.

While saving time in our hectic social media lives is important, a simple like or retweet can be as damaging as an expletive-laced personal post.

Teach students to consider what their like or retweet means. It’s basically an endorsement of content. Liking a friends post about abortion or antiwar protests may feel like a simple nod to the friend.

Meanwhile, it can be devastating to other friends or even family members who have different beliefs. It’s okay to have an opinion, but it doesn’t have to be shared with the world, and there are times it’s best to simply say No to the like or retweet and move on.

5 – Avoid confrontation

How many times have you wanted to question someone’s intelligence or win a battle of sarcasm in a Facebook or Twitter chat? Consider how often this happens with kids who tend to have a much smaller filter than adults.

Guy Kawasaki, one of the world’s leading social media experts, says to stop at two replies to any heated discussion. Anything beyond two will most likely be negative and potentially harmful.

Plus, many people join conversations late, so they may have missed the context. They see something you said that seems snarky and they don’t consider the other person. It’s you or your student who looks bad.

Download it now for FEE

For more from the Hack Learning Podcast, visit our episode archive at

A version of this post first appeared at Brilliant or Insane