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.
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.
Let me begin with full disclosure: Before I learned about Unanswerable Questions in Hacking Mathematics, by Denis Sheeran, I thought just about everything math related was unanswerable. Admittedly, math has always been pretty elusive to me.
After reading about Unanswerable Questions, though, I’m looking at math and pedagogy differently.
Rather than talk around Denis Sheeran’s concept, I thought I’d just share it straight from the mathematician’s mouth–or at least from his book.
From Hacking Mathematics: 10 Problems That Need Solving, with permission from Times 10 Publications
THE PROBLEM: STATISTICS FILL DAILY
LIFE, BUT NOT MATH CLASSROOMS
You’ve just about finished a chapter in your textbook
or unit in your curriculum materials and then
you notice it, right there, staring you in the face. What
is it you see, menacingly staring back at you? The last
section of the chapter: the statistics section, sometimes
called “statistical connections” or “data around us” or
“modeling.” No matter what it’s called, it gets translated
by a lot of math teachers as “Skip me, you don’t have
time.” But don’t jump on the skipping bandwagon.
Find the mean. Find the median. Find the mode. Make
a bar graph or pie graph. What’s the probability of flipping
heads on a coin? Twice? These are the instructions
and questions that encompass the complete statistical
learning many of us received in middle school, mostly
with data sets of five to ten pieces of information. Some
of us who had more adventurous teachers may have even
made graphs of bivariate data and tried to come up with
our own lines of best fit using completely non-statistical
methods by employing our understanding of writing a
linear equation using two points.
We live in a different world now, where large data sets
are available instantly and calculation tools can organize
and calculate all we need to know in less time than it takes
to sharpen our pencils. It is no longer useful to spend our
time teaching arithmetic and calling it statistics. In today’s
classroom, the mathematics teacher has the opportunity
and responsibility to create statistical thinkers.
Unanswerable Questions will develop statistical thinkers
in your classroom.
Rather than dwell on the past, let’s look at the present
and the future for most of us. Our standards and materials
spell out the statistical concepts we are to teach. What has
changed for our students is that the standards no longer
ask for students to calculate and find statistical values,
but instead to recognize relationships, understand variability
and its effect, and make predictions based on
interpretation of data. In short, true statistical thinking
is missing. Statistics in today’s schools should be based on
THE HACK: ASK UNANSWERABLE QUESTIONS
When we ask students to find the mean of the heights of
the twenty-three students in our class, we are asking them
to average numbers together, which is a very easy question
to answer and an even easier question to grade. Instead,
when we ask, “How tall is the seventh grade?” our students
must begin an investigation that takes them much deeper
into statistics. They will discuss how to obtain the necessary
information, devise a plan (one that likely won’t work
or is completely unrealistic), refine that plan, measure each
other, standardize their measurements, find means, graph
information, and maybe even come across the idea of a distribution
Since up to this point in their mathematical education,
most questions have had numerical and final answers, the
desire to answer an unanswerable question will continue
to motivate the students to work and think and collaborate.
Finally, they will come to a point where they are
satisfied with their inexact solution to the problem, therein
revealing the heart of statistics: using what we know to
infer about what we don’t know until more information
comes along and either changes our minds or gives us a
reason to reopen the question. Unanswerable Questions
will develop statistical thinkers in your classroom.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TOMORROW
There’s a reason your textbook or curriculum source
has the stats section where they do. It’s very likely that
it ties into the unit you’re teaching in a deep, meaningful
way. Here’s how to start harnessing the meaning
and inspiring your students to think statistically.
• Look at the statistics section first. See what
statistical concepts are connected to the lessons
you’re teaching in this unit, and work
backward. Find an Unanswerable Question
that you can share as you open the chapter,
and refer to the question throughout.
• Find claims in the media to discuss. Every
single day, you can find stories in the media
with claims made about a company, a government
office, an auto manufacturer, or a
school. Present students with the opportunity
to debate those claims. It’s likely that in little
time, they’ll need a statistical process to back
up their claims.
• Share the unlikely. Lottery winners, survivor
stories, and game show outcomes will foster a
statistical conversation in a hurry. When you
read about them or see statistics in the news,
make note of it and bring it to class to start
• Find Unanswerable Questions in sports.
Don’t ask answerable questions, like what
a player’s batting average is now that he’s
struck out three times in a row. Dig deeper
for the Unanswerable Question, like asking if
batting average affects salary in baseball. Or
which baseball stat has the biggest impact on
player salary? Those are tough, if not impossible
THE HACK IN ACTION
One of my favorite Unanswerable Questions comes from a
TV commercial that aired during my childhood. It involved
a cow, a fox, a turtle, an owl, and a boy. The Unanswerable
Question: How many licks does it take to get to the center
of a Tootsie Pop?
Show the old commercial to your class—it’s on YouTube.
Then, after fending off questions like, “Why does the
owl eat the lollipop?” and “Is this some kind of fable?”
and “Why isn’t the boy wearing any pants?” you can get
The Answerable Questions:
What are the characteristics of a Tootsie Pop that we
need to take into consideration?
What is a “lick” for the purpose of the experiment?
What needs to be measured, and how?
In sixth grade, students need to be able to recognize that
a statistical question is one that anticipates variability in
the data. While the class is discussing and defining the
components of the Answerable Questions, they will see
that variability exists, even in their definitions, and as such,
will exist in their data. Even when they come to an agreement
on definitions and procedures, they will quickly find
that during the data gathering, different students are following
the procedures differently. This leads them directly
into the next question: What do we do with our data?
Students may have enough mathematical acumen at this
point to be able to make good, if not entirely correct, suggestions
as to what should be done with the data—so let
them. In my experience, by the third or fourth suggestion,
they come up with “Average it all together,” or “List it from
smallest to biggest,” and even “Graph it.” At this point, I
may break the class into teams to complete each of the different
valid suggestions and report back, or I may take one
of the suggestions and run with it, depending on the focus
of our previous and upcoming content instruction.
Sixth graders need to be able to describe the distribution
of the data using its overall shape, center, and spread,
and recognize that its center describes all the data at once,
while the spread (variation) describes how all the data is
different from each other. They also need to be able to
display the data on a number line (dotplot or histogram)
and describe the distribution in context.
I expect my sixth graders to be able to say: “After
licking both sides of our own Tootsie Pops until each student
reached the chocolate center, we counted the number
of licks per student on each side. The mean number of
licks was ##. This was more/less than I expected. When
we graphed the data, the distribution was almost symmetrical
except for one point which took many more licks
to get to the center. The median, or middle value, was
less than the mean, and I think that’s because of the large
number of licks it took on one Tootsie Pop. No one licked
more than ## times or less than ## times before reaching
Remember, the goal with sixth grade is not to pass the
AP Stats test, but to introduce data-gathering methods,
require correct statistical language, and to develop the
ability to describe sets of data. To extend this to higher
grades, weigh the lollipops first and compare weight and
number of licks as a linear relationship. (There’s a surprise
ending to that one that I won’t divulge). Students
should also discuss whether or not the Tootsie Pops could
be called a “random sample,” and what randomness is
and why it is important.
— end excerpt
Learn more about Unanswerable Questions and other problems that need solving in Hacking Mathematics.
More from the Hack Learning Podcast
Video produced by Tootsie Roll, 2012