Changing the Conversation with Parents

Is it time to reconsider parents’ role in teaching and learning in

your space? Parent and family involvement in education can now be

so much more than a phone call, open house, or parent-teacher conference.

In her new book, Hacking Early Learning, Principal of the Year Jessica Cabeen

shares some practical strategies for engaging parents in daily teaching and

learning, using 21-century technology.

See how you can bring parents along for the entire journey in every school

year.

THE HACK: CHANGE THE

CONVERSATION WITH PARENTS

Having your first (or second, or third) child enter the K–12 system

can be a milestone in many ways for families . . . and for teachers

and leaders. Setting the tone for when and how you communicate

and build a mutual relationship goes a long way toward establishing

trust with the stakeholders you will be serving on the journey.

Authentic family engagement is more than a parent night, more

than Dads and Donuts, and if you do it well, it will start well before

students enter the classroom, and leave a lasting memory well after

they leave your school.

How we welcome and end every day with students can also be a

great starting point in building relationships with families. In what

ways are you intentionally taking time to show care, concern, and

empathy for the students in your class? How often are you checking

Click image to look inside

in with families after a difficult time? When do you recognize that

student who just seems to be doing the right thing every time you

turn around? How do you celebrate every child during the school

year—and make sure that the family hears about it as well?

If you have an opportunity to live where you lead, you have the

bonus of engaging with future, current, and previous families in

your community every day. This is a chance for parents to see that

you are more than a principal, and for you to see how much they

love being parents. Building relationships with families can occur

on Saturdays at the swimming pool during a swim meet, Sundays

at church, or at the library when you check out new books after

school and see former students studying.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW

Find the right platform(s). Families these days

receive information in more ways than ever before.

As educators, we must work to find the right fit

for each family, to make sure they are receiving

information in a timely manner. Our school community

recognized early on that parents were

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process for positive communication.

engaging more with their phones than the school

folder. Armed with that information, we created a

blog that links directly to our Facebook page. That

way, families can see an intro to a subject and click

to go right out to the blog for further information.

We also post pictures of the school day, host

Facebook Live events, and push out reminders on

this social platform. I used Twitter … so

parents can see inside their child’s day. YouTube

has been a great vehicle for pushing out monthly

your stakeholders so that you are choosing

the right tools to reach families, and recognize that

there may be more than one right answer.

Jessica Cabeen, Minnesota Principal of the Year, author of Hacking Early Learning

Make sure to teach the tool, and then use it!

Teachers use tools like Seesaw, Remind, Facebook,

and Twitter to communicate with their families.

Before posting, they spend time at back-to-school

conferences, demonstrating the tool and helping

families get signed up and logged in. We want to

make communication between home and school

easy, accessible, and supportive for families. I have

even seen teachers highlight the tool during subsequent

parent nights and conferences. But once

families are signed up, use the tool to communicate

early and often. The more you post, the more families

practice using it, and the stronger the bridge

between home and school will become.

What are some communication tools you

can use to communicate? Jot them down—

and then start to figure out how you’ll pull

them into your daily, weekly, and monthly

communications.

Reach out the old-fashioned way. One expectation

to maintain is that families receive positive communication

about their child within the first month of

school. Starting the second week of school, armed

with addressed postcards and classroom lists, I sit

in classrooms and look for the good in everyone.

Once I have observed a class, I take the time to

write three to five postcards to specific students

engaged in learning and positive social behaviors,

and/or contributing to class in a specific manner. I

use the class list to keep track of who I sent

cards to, and then move to the next room.

This process takes almost a full thirty days,

but is incredibly worth it! Parents and students are

proud to receive mail from the principal, and it helps

me shift the defined role of what a principal is “supposed”

to do to what our vision of school leadership

is. Plus I get to contribute to the success of our

learners every day!

Starting tomorrow, figure out your own process

for positive communication. Make your way into at

least one class, observe, and decide how

you’re going to give the students—and their

families—positive reinforcement.

This excerpt from Hacking Early Learning is shared with permission

from Times 10 Publications.

For more episodes of the Hack Learning Podcast, hosted by Mark Barnes,

visit the archive at HackLearningPodcast.com and subscribe to the show.

Separating Feedback and Evaluation

Hey evaluation, you can’t fool teachers who understand assessment; we know you are not feedback.

You won’t find this sentence anywhere in Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman, but in the Hack about creating a writer-centered workshop, Angela clearly expresses that writer- or student-centered learning environments are founded on the kind of feedback that does not behave like a grade or an evaluation.

In one of her most thoughtful sections, Angela shares a powerful anecdote that underscores the value of meaningful feedback for all learners.

from Hacking the Writing Workshop, by Angela Stockman

I remember the first time one of my writers found herself grappling with what I’ve come to recognize as a sort of culture shock. This is common when kids who have been coached to become interdependent find themselves inside of a classroom whose leader is decidedly authoritarian.

We’d been writing together throughout the morning when she came to me and quietly asked if we could chat after all the other kids had gone home. I noticed that she seemed nervous, and it wasn’t characteristic of her.

“What’s up?” I asked, closing the door behind the last writer to leave.

“Do you remember how I set a goal last summer to finish writing an entire novel?” she asked, and of course I remembered. I smiled brightly and said, “That was quite an accomplishment.” 

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation.

“Yeah,” she bit her lip, taking a long look out the window. “About that.” As she tried to continue, tears began to form in her eyes. “So, I was really excited to take creative writing at school this year,” she told me. “I know the teacher is well-respected. He’s a very talented writer himself. In fact, he really intimidates me.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“Well, I asked him to give me feedback on my manuscript, and he kept it for a while. Then, when we finally met, he told me that maybe if I stayed after school every day for this entire year and spent even more time revising it, I might be able to publish it. He said it didn’t show much promise.”

My heart broke. The writers that I support are trained to provide quality feedback to one another. This is hard learning. It takes time. It also takes a great deal of empathy. Many of the kids that I write with provide better feedback than the adults I know.

This writer was one of the best. I was hurt for her, because she spent so much time improving her writing and serving other kids in our community who always wanted her feedback.

Click image to look inside

I was also furious with her teacher, who I knew fairly well. I wanted to tell her that truly talented writers never tear others down. I wanted to tell her that he was wrong and that she could publish her writing that very day if she wanted to. I wanted to tell her to complain to her principal and to ask her mother to call the guidance department to switch her out of his class.

I wanted to say so many, many things in that moment, but instead I nodded and quietly asked, “How did you advocate for yourself?”

She looked confused.

“I’m serious,” I said sternly, looking her dead in the eyes. “How did you advocate for yourself?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she stammered, scanning the floor and the walls, as if the answer was waiting there.

“Well, as I understand it, you asked your teacher to provide you feedback,” I told her. “Did you ask for his evaluation? Did you ask his opinion on whether your work was ready for publication?”

She shook her head. “No.”

In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

“You did not. Here’s the thing, though—it’s not uncommon for people to confuse feedback with evaluation. Maybe you should try again. Maybe if you’re clearer about what you need, he’ll be able to help you better.”

“Maybe,” she wiped her cheek.

“How will you do it?” I asked, inviting her to rehearse the exchange.

“Well, I could give him our peer review protocol and ask him to use that instead of his own opinions,” she offered, and I told her this was a great idea. I asked her how she would request this from her teacher in a way that wouldn’t offend him.

the feedback you need

“I’ll just tell him that we use it here, in our writing studio, and it helps me a lot,” she told me. “I’ll ask him if he minds using it when he talks with me about my writing.” This seemed respectful.

She would ask if he might use the protocol that helped her, and she would also make it clear that she respected his right to refuse.

“What if he says no?” she asked, horror washing over her face again.

“Then, you need to find someone who is better able to provide you the feedback you need,” I smiled. “It’s your work. You’re responsible for making these choices. It’s hard to find good people to review our writing. We get better at knowing who to ask—and when—over time.”

When we met again a few weeks later, she was glowing. “He really liked the protocol,” she told me. “In fact, he started using it with all of us in class.”

This didn’t surprise me at all. “It’s how you handled yourself,” I told her, and then I said that her courage and willingness to own and share her expertise made me proud. When we create learning cultures that are vastly different from the ones our colleagues maintain, it’s likely that some may not handle things so well, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better than okay if this provides our students opportunities to practice strength spotting and self-advocacy.

These are important life skills. Finding the words for what we’re good at can be challenging, though, and without those words, strength-spotting is almost impossible. This is why it’s so important to create or adopt a framework that makes character strengths explicit.

end of excerpt

Many Hack Learning books, blogs, and podcast episodes are filled with examples of the kind of feedback that helps students ask important questions and reflect on their paths to learning. In Hacking the Writing Workshop, Angela Stockman reminds us once again that feedback is more important than evaluation in helping kids see work through the most important lens of all–their own.

 

Visit the podcast archive at HackLearningPodcast.com.

When Teachers Bash Teachers, Education Suffers

I love connected educators. While I have no hard data to prove this, I believe that educators who tweet, join live Twitter chats, and converse in Facebook, Voxer, and Flipgrid groups are better, in many cases, than teachers and leaders who are not connected.

My experience on all of these platforms is that these connected educators are working very hard to be the best at what they do. They share links to wonderful resources and articles about innovative teaching and learning, and they participate in some inspiring conversations that help me reflect and, in some cases, drive content at Times 10 Books. This is powerful, free professional development.

If you’re not sure of a tweet’s intended meaning, why not simply ask the tweeter what she means?

In spite of all the thought-provoking PD happening on social media, there’s still a problem.

As I observe a mountain of marvelous content on Twitter, I’m also seeing an increase in what looks a lot like subtle bashing of other educators who submit their ideas of “best practice.” I put that phrase in quotation marks, because many EduTweeters can’t agree on what “best practices” are.

This bashing, which some people defend by saying, “I was talking about the idea, not the person” is, surprisingly, prolific, which might make you wonder, How can this happen in the education space? These are adults, after all, who are supposed to model proper behavior for kids.

Someone recently posted the following tweet:

Good teachers will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can improve their lessons next year. That’s just what they do.

The tweet was liked thousands of times and retweeted over 500 times. I have to assume this indicates that thousands of people agree.

One popular connected educator disagreed, though, and replied to the “Good teachers…” tweet with this:

The rest of us crap teachers will use summer to rest and take a break without feeling guilty about not thinking about work. That’s just what we do.

That comment sparked a furious conversation that included tweets about unfollowing the author of the “Good teachers…” tweet. Others said the author should simply be disregarded for various reasons. Soon, more zingers followed in support of the popular dissenter, all seemingly aimed at disparaging the “Good teachers…” author.

One well-known connected educator defended the “Good teachers…” author, expressing shock at what he believed to be a “mob mentality.” This was swiftly met with the “I didn’t do anything wrong/ he didn’t do anything wrong” defense.

As I continued to read and offer a different perspective with a few tweets of my own, I envisioned a similar scenario in a different venue with different participants.

It looked like this:

A young girl at school was sharing a poster she’d created for a class project. A few kids liked it and said it was beautiful. Some asked the teacher to hang it up, so visitors could see it when they entered the room.

A few students, though, didn’t like the poster; they understood it to mean something entirely different from what the girl had intended.

They felt it made a statement about the kind of kids they were and that it smeared them in some way, even though they never asked the girl to clarify the poster’s message.

They said the girl had created content like this before and that she should be ignored. “Let’s not play with her anymore,” one zealot shouted. “Truth!” one of the popular kids yelled.

Soon, a few other students, who didn’t know the girl at all, heard the commotion and stuck their heads in the room.

They noticed the popular student shouting at the girl, so they joined in. It had to be the right thing to do, if the popular kid thought so. None of them, though, bothered to ask what the girl’s creation meant.

The ridicule continued. The people who liked the girl’s work lost interest, while the others became louder. When the teacher said they should stop, they shrugged and replied, “We didn’t do anything. We’re just talking about the message on the poster.”

Meanwhile, the girl, who had drawn a beautiful picture of three children with lightbulbs over their heads, dropped the poster and hurried out of the room.

One of the students who had wandered into the class picked it up and read a quote under the picture. It said:

Good students will spend some time this summer thinking about how they can be better students next year. That’s just what they do.

Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s try to hack learning every day.

What if Teachers Could Extinguish Shame?

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.

EXTINGUISH SHAME

Reframing Vulnerability

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.)

Learn more about compassionate classrooms

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.

Learn more about compassionate classrooms

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

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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

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