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This #HackLearning chat was hot. Professional dress was one topic, and the opinions, both for and against dress codes or “dressing up”, were shared openly. Check it out and let us know what you think.
This #HackLearning chat was hot. Professional dress was one topic, and the opinions, both for and against dress codes or “dressing up”, were shared openly. Check it out and let us know what you think.
Here’s an embarrassing story that taught me a lesson:
Setting: my old classroom in northern NJ, sometime in the 2010s, 9:43 AM
As I rounded the back left corner of desks, a student elbowed another. Feeling the nudge, she covered her notebook. On the page I caught a glimpse of the words “Mr. Dawson” and some tally marks. They traded nervous smiles.
Then it hit me. They were counting something about me. And if they were keeping a log in a notebook, it must be something I did A LOT.
“So, I’m pretty sure I know what that is. If it’s something I say or I do over and over, I’d really like to know. I’d really like to try to work on it.”
They hesitated, but one girl let it out: “It’s every time you say ‘you know what I mean?'”
Just to emphasize, there were A LOT of tally marks.
My face felt flush, and I was self-conscious for the rest of class. But in retrospect, that was a great day. From then on, I knew the impact that my speaking ability has on my students. Because if they are counting my verbal tics in their notebook, they aren’t learning.
Since then, teaching students to speak with confidence has become important to me. In fact, I’ve probably spent a disproportionate amount of time on it. This spring, I received this email from a student, which showed me that it may be time well spent:
I’d like to highlight one phrase. Can you spot it?
This student did not thank me for “a magic trick for better speaking.” No, she thanked me for doing “so many class discussions.” Like many parts of life, getting better at speaking requires putting in the practice.
This article is about a big shift to the way we have students practice speaking. Don’t panic, though. There are two simple steps at the bottom of the article. If you like the big ideas that follow, you can get started using those first steps.
How does speaking in class usually happen? I think back to my time as a student and it varies.
Three types of speaking I experienced in college:
What can I learn from these three memories?
In the first example, speaking was a chore, a rule. It was a box to check.
In the second, the teacher created conditions where students could interact like that. They gave each other honest criticism. And they were willing to accept it. I don’t know remember those classmates’ names, but I remember the learning from that class.
In the third example, I had to battle my nerves to speak well. I had to plan, prepare, and practice. There were real audience members. I wanted to impress my teachers.
The first example is class participation taken to the extreme. The second two examples are speaking events.
To get clear on terms, consider the connotations of requirement vs. event:
A requirement is something we have to do. It’s bureaucratic. It’s boring. It’s a motion. It’s done. Next.
An event is something that we look forward to. We plan for it. We prepare for it. If we are in the audience, it excites us. If we are on stage, it excites and scares us. Afterwards, we’re satisfied. We talk about it. We review it. And we look forward to the next time it happens.
What is it: It’s a discussion protocol I learned about from Dave Stuart. It asks students to discuss a debatable question or topic. The catch? Students must “pop up” from their seats and stand before speaking to their classmates.
Why it works: The typical class discussion becomes a public speaking opportunity. When students pop-up, they take an active role in showing others that they have a point to make. They need to take the initiative to speak. I recommend Dave’s Pop-Up Debate Starter Kit (I did not get paid to say that). I used the slides he includes in the Kit dozens of times last year.
How to start: Ask students to stand up before speaking instead of raising their hands. Some students will find this awkward. That’s ok. The shift that this makes on the mood of the discussion will surprise you.
What is it: This is a five-minute presentation with 20 auto-advance slides. Slides feature images or phrases, not bullet points with a sea of text. Generally, speakers do not use notes or any other aids.
Why it works: The Ignite talk dramatically raises the stakes of presentations. This cannot be under-emphasized. There is no winging it. These presentations compel students to learn their material. They need to rehearse over and over again if they want to succeed.
I gave one of these talks to my sophomores before they delivered theirs. It was one of the most challenging presentations I’ve given.
Disclaimer: the auto-advancing slides have ruined some student presentations. Students who underestimate the task stare at me for the last 45 seconds of the presentation. Emphasizing rehearsal is essential for this speaking event.
How to start: Ask students to give one-minute talks on a topic of their choice without using any notes or guides. Ask students to use images or phrases on their slideshows instead of bullet points.
Like with cold calling, students feel nervous before these speaking events. Raising the stakes puts positive pressure on students to deliver their best in class.
We must provide clear guidance and instruction when assigning and planning these events. Then, we can trust that we’re helping students build speaking skills for life.
Have you used pop-up debates? Ignite talks? How do you turn speaking into an event? Share with fellow teachers in the comments.
What happened in Charlottesville, Virginia should not be politicized. Many of us, including me, have made this despicable event about the president and what he said in the aftermath of violent protests of the removal of a statue.
Do I have opinions about these statements? Absolutely, but this isn’t the place to share them. Teachers, parents, and school leaders are better served with a discussion about how the events in Charlottesville can lead to lessons about tolerance.
But is teaching tolerance really a teacher’s job? You bet it is.
The attitude that we should stick to the curriculum is as archaic as the one-room schoolhouse. Educators can’t assume their students will learn tolerance at home; white supremacists had parents, and they obviously didn’t learn it.
We can’t be effective educators if we are ineffective at teaching humanity, and we can’t be humane if we are intolerant.
This seems so obvious that I flinched at typing it. Still, if teachers ignore it, intolerance and hatred will fester.
Most educators are quick to condemn the actions of protesters in Virginia, but condemnation often ends with a flurry of barbs at the president and/or the perpetrators. Then we get to school, and race to our daily lessons.
Sure, discussing racism and bigotry with kids can be delicate and risky, but when handled efficiently, it can unify your students and create an environment that is conducive to longterm learning.
The key to success is to leave politics out of it. Discuss the actions of protesters and the impact of their actions. Reflect on history and similar events. Create plans to avoid hate and violence. When you focus on the dangers of hate and intolerance, much can be learned.
Pushback: There will be plenty of hurdles with a lesson on tolerance. Feel free to share your in comments and on our Facebook page, where this post is currently pinned.
I grappled with the idea of writing and publishing this for quite a while. It’s not a feel-good post. It’s a bit in your face, depending on the kind of person you are, and it’s about as direct as anything you’ll read today. But it’s not without purpose, and it is certainly hacky.
That’s it for the disclaimer and the brace-yourself introduction. Let’s get to it.
You’ve got thin skin. Or you know thin-skinned people. You or they can’t deal with the slightest criticism, and the moment you hear it, the gloves come off. You’re reading this, because it’s possible that you’re concerned enough that the title of this post is true and you want to face the problem and figure out how to change.
If this is accurate, keep reading. There’s some hacky advice here, based on my own experience as a reformed thin-skinned person.
That’s right, I used to come unglued the second I thought someone was denigrating me or my work or even suggesting that I might be wrong about something. I was one of the most thin-skinned SOBs you’d ever meet.
When I was a classroom teacher, my short temper and defensive nature impacted my teaching and, unfortunately, my students and colleagues. I was sometimes even brusque with parents who had the audacity to question my methods. Once, in an email to a parent, I wrote, “How much experience as a classroom teacher do you have? I’ve got over a decade’s worth!” Ouch!
Why was I like this? What purpose did my anger and sarcasm serve? Sadly, it took a long time for me to ask these questions, and questioning your own personal makeup is the first step to realizing you have a problem with thin skin — at least that’s how it was for me.
Answering the second question was easier than answering the first. Why a person is defensive, angry, and willingly abrasive is an issue with deep roots.
My own are too far-reaching to cover here.
When you finally explore the benefits of thin skin, you quickly realize there are none.
For me, lashing out at a student who questioned me only eroded our relationship, and in most cases the individual would shut down. When a colleague argued that homework was necessary, I shouted that the research was on my side. Upon reflection, I realized that this didn’t lead to change in pedagogy; it only damaged an important collegial relationship. Being rude to a parent in an email led to a complaint to my principal, which brought other repercussions.
So what are the benefits of being thin-skinned? None. Unless you consider damaging relationships beneficial.
It took me the better part of a summer to come to grips with why I was like this and even longer to truly change. There are several attitudes, I’ve found, that make up the psyche of thin-skinned people. Consider if you have any or all of these attitudes.
We have preconceived ideas about how friends, or even close acquaintances, should treat us. And the moment they do something we question, we feel betrayed.
I have a huge following on Twitter, and I share my friends’ content liberally. Sometimes, though, I may disagree with or question something they share. I’m never rude about it; I usually just question their ideas or propose an alternative of my own.
I’ve had some good-natured arguments on social channels, and most of the time, they end cordially, and we live to argue another day.
Once I contended in a tweet that a longtime friend had missed a key point in an article he wrote for a well-known education blog. The tweet was pretty benign, praising his overall work while suggesting that X is an overlooked strategy. Unfortunately, when publishing the tweet, I failed to consider what I call the “thin-skin-factor.” The blogger was so incensed by my tweet that he reneged on a promise, saying he no longer wanted to be associated with me.
We’d collaborated on numerous small projects and chatted often about best practices in education. Still, one tweet was enough for him to abandon our friendship. This is one of many dangers of being comfortable in you thin skin.
My wife always says that religion and politics are off limits at family parties. She is wise beyond her years. Thin-skinned people can’t stand to have their political beliefs challenged. Admittedly, I share my opinions openly on my personal Facebook page. Usually, I post a slanted article and add a one-sentence personal annotation. I never vilify others for their opinions. These posts are just conversation starters. Still, I have been berated for them many times, both publicly and privately, on social media. A few times, longtime friendships have ended over a social share on Facebook.
One thing I had to overcome in order to shed my thin skin was my own confirmation bias. My friend Angela Stockman explains the dangers of this phenomenon here: 5 Questions That Help Curb Your Confirmation Bias
I ignored the fact, however, that there is sparse evidence that a carrot-and-stick approach to discipline is even marginally successful at changing behavior. My confirmation bias, though, cultivated my thin-skin attitude for far too long.
We live in a fast-food world — both literally and figuratively speaking. We want everything right now. As parents and educators, we want kids to do what we say immediately. I used to be the worst at this, and it’s still a struggle. If I instructed a student to move to another seat, and she hesitated for a millisecond, my blood boiled and I’d begin shouting.
I once asked an administrator to unblock a website I wanted to use in my classroom. When I was told she’d have to confer with other administrators, I fumed. That day, I zipped off a harshly-worded email to colleagues about how our administrators were negatively impacting education with their archaic, traditional philosophies. The website was unblocked six months later, after a change in central office. My thin skin inspired the email that only served to delay things and, as it turned out, it was I who was hurting my students.
The good news is you can toughen up. If I did it, anyone can. Start with these three simple hacks, and save your professional life and your relationships.
This is similar to the old advice to take a deep breath and count to 10. What distinguishes the Pause-and-Plan hack, though, is the plan phase. Sure, you can count to 10 in your pause moment, but then you have to ask, “What should I do next?” or “How should I react?” If I could go back in time, when the school leader told me I needed to wait for a committee meeting to approve my website, I would have paused and planned. My answer to “How should I react?” would have been: Take a step back; find an alternative instructional tool, and just wait!
If you’re too political or you have to be right, steer clear of social media, especially during election time or when key new legislation arrives. If homework, grades, or abortion are hot-button issues for you, avoid these discussions on Twitter and Facebook. Just walk away from your computer or put your mobile device in your pocket the second you see a post or comment about your hot-button issue. If you feel you must say something, apply the Pause-and-Plan strategy before you contribute to the social media discussion.
Back in my thin-skin days, I thought mediation was for only monks or people in cults. When I read a book about meditation and mindfulness, I decided to give it a try; after all, the research on meditation’s impact on emotional states is impressive. It didn’t take long for me to become hooked on meditation. Best of all, when I feel a thin-skin moment coming (yes, it still happens), I sometimes move to a quiet place, clear my head, and focus on simple breathing. After just a few minutes of this, my anger is gone. Meditation and mindfulness can thicken even the thinnest skin.
As noted at the beginning of this post, it’s not inspirational, and it is a bit in your face. As is the case with all things Hack Learning, though, the three hacks for your thin skin are designed to toughen up your emotional state and to thicken your skin.
A version of this originally appeared here on Medium
Hacking Education, Book 1 in the Hack Learning Series, turns 2 years old this month. We’re celebrating by giving you Hack 9 — The Glass Classroom — here.
Transparency is not the same as looking straight through a building: It’s not just a physical idea, it’s also an intellectual one.
— Helmut Jahn, German Architect
We teach behind walls. These walls block everyone’s view: parents, colleagues, administrators, and other students. When we set up a demonstration, deliver new and exciting content, or give students instructions, these experiences stay between us and the students who happen to be in our room at the precise time when the experiences happen. Sure, they might take notes. We might provide handouts or links to supplementary information, but the real, live experiences float away as soon as they’re over.
The ephemeral nature of our teaching, the fact that what we do in our classrooms is more or less shrouded, contributes to problems like these:
What if we could tear down the walls of our classrooms and make our in-class learning activities transparent to anyone who’s interested?
For four months in 1915, education pioneer Maria Montessori installed a glass-walled classroom right in the middle of San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition. She wanted visitors to see children at work in a classroom using the Montessori method, a pedagogical approach that had yet to take hold in the United States.
The response was phenomenal: The classroom drew crowds of onlookers; many returned day after day for repeat visits. Newspapers covered the event, and the new approach soon gained traction in America. Even today, some Montessori schools install temporary Glass Classrooms in storefronts and parks to give the general public an up-close look at how their methods work.
A century later, technology allows us to achieve the same goal of sharing our classroom practices without the expense or hassle of constructing actual glass walls. With social media and other mobile apps, we can fully share our classroom activities with others, effectively making our walls transparent.
Whether it’s parents, other students, colleagues, community members, or curious educators from anywhere at all, anyone can experience the learning activities you want to share.
With a class Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account, you and your students can share photos, status updates, reminders, announcements, and reflections on daily activities. A class YouTube channel could offer regular video glimpses of teaching and learning. And a live streaming video app like Periscope, which you can set up at a moment’s notice, lets others actually watch what’s happening in your classroom in real time. The positive implications of the Glass Classroom are broad:
Parents will become more invested in what’s happening in class, because they will know precisely what is being taught. This will allow them to ask their children more relevant questions about class activities, support them with their homework, and have a better feel for what you’re attempting to accomplish. When you give parents regular, convenient access to the inside of your classroom, you greatly reduce the chance for misunderstanding while building a stronger partnership with some of your most important stakeholders.
Absent students won’t fall so far behind. The more “transparent” your activities are from outside your room, the easier it will be for a student who is sick, on a school trip, or removed for disciplinary reasons to access your lessons. Imagine having a student return from an absence without ever needing to ask you for make-up work.
Community members will become more invested in your school. Although local officials and business owners will readily say they support the schools, that idea is pretty abstract when they really don’t know much of what happens in those schools. Being able to peek inside will give community members a greater familiarity with your daily activities, building a greater sense of unity in your region and planting seeds for relationships that could result in funding opportunities, shared resources, and a greater overall sense of public pride in the local school system.
Teacher repertoires will grow. Having access to models of others’ practice will build teachers’ willingness to try new approaches in their own classrooms. This applies not just to the teachers in your own building; if class transparency is extended beyond your school community, your ideas could reach teachers anywhere. If tens of thousands of teachers converted their classrooms to glass, the opportunities for easy, customized teacher professional development would be astounding.
Creating a classroom that allows anyone to look inside takes time. You’ll need to educate all stakeholders, build regular sharing into your routine, and learn some new technology. But to get a quick, small taste for what a Glass Classroom is like, try this:
Step 1: Choose a platform for your social channel.
Before you can start sharing, you need a platform, an online channel from which to share. To build participation and keep yourself from getting overwhelmed, start with just one. Rather than attempting to establish a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, an Instagram account, a YouTube channel, and an Edmodo page, pick one and launch it. You might consider surveying students and their parents to see which platform they use most frequently and start there.
When setting it up your social channel, keep in mind that most of these tools offer privacy settings, allowing you to make your channel public or limit its availability to invited guests. How you select privacy settings may depend on what grade level you teach or what your school’s Appropriate Use Policy says.
Step 2: Define your content.
When you’re getting started, think about what kinds of content you’re going to share on a regular basis. Ask yourself a few important questions: Will you post weekly videos of in-class activities as a way to showcase interesting things? A daily written message about the day’s activity? Short, practical videos to help students and parents understand assignments? Student reflections?
Talk with students about what they think would be the most useful or interesting kinds of things to share, and how often you should be sharing. Set a tentative schedule and decide who will be responsible for executing those shares—you may want to be in charge at first, but the channel will be more successful if students have ownership and can participate, so keep looking for ways to include them in the operations.
Step 3: Set guidelines.
What rules should be implemented to ensure your channel is a place where learning is celebrated, rather than a catch-all for useless noise or an unsupervised playground where bullies can take over? Work with students to establish a set of basic guidelines for your channel, agreeing to revisit and revise them as you proceed.
Step 4: Educate stakeholders.
Some administrators and parents may have reservations about using social media in this way. They may be concerned about privacy, cyber-bullying, and safety. You can assuage these concerns with education: Whether you do it through in-person workshops or by creating an online video that explains what you’re doing, teach stakeholders about how your chosen platform functions, the privacy settings you have in place, the type of content you’re going to share, and the guidelines you and your students have established for its use.
Step 5: Secure permissions.
When sharing student names and images online, it’s essential to obtain parents’ permission. Your school may already have parents sign a release form for this purpose; if not, be sure to send out your own form before you place student pictures or content on your social channel. If you have a public channel, be sure parents know this, and give them the choice of opting their children out—this means you will need to keep these students off-camera whenever you are recording, and leave their names out of any written shares. Usually, only a few parents will choose this option, but offering it demonstrates courtesy and professionalism, while building a sense of trust.
Step 6: Start sharing.
Your channel will become a vital place for learning only if you use it consistently. Set up a schedule of sharing and stick to it. Whether it’s once a day or once a week, consistency is key to getting stakeholders used to seeing your posts. You can give a bigger boost to your channel by promoting it: If it’s public, make a concerted effort to invite parents, your colleagues, administrators and community members to view and participate in it. Include links to your channel in newsletters and emails—simple strategies that invite curious readers to engage with your content.
Step 7: Be vigilant.
Even with guidelines in place, you must watch your social channel carefully. Set up notifications so you are alerted every time someone adds a new comment or shares anything to your channel. Be sure to make your own voice heard on a regular basis: When students, parents and administrators see you sharing content and reminding participants about appropriate use, they will feel comfortable that your channel is a useful tool for learning, rather than a dangerous playground.
Step 8: Expand.
Once you and your students are comfortable with a single platform, expand your reach to others: You might join more social media platforms, or just add other features or special opportunities to your existing channel. For example, if your class is going to be participating in a TodaysMeet discussion (a kind of private online “chat room” that anyone with the web address can visit), share a link to the the TodaysMeet room with outsiders ahead of time, so they can participate or just observe.
Or if you set up a camera to broadcast an event for a Google Hangout on Air (a free video conferencing tool that will show your event live and store a recording of it later on YouTube), you can then share links to the live or recorded event through your main social media channel.
Despite the ubiquity of digital learning tools and the omnipresence of social media, you still might encounter some resistance to using these resources. Here are the most likely objections to setting up a Glass Classroom:
My students aren’t old enough for social media accounts. Some platforms have minimum age requirements, which would preclude elementary students from setting up their own accounts. If you want to use these networks, set up an account for the class under your name and share the username and password with students. Alternatively, you could use a social network designed for student use, like Edmodo or Schoology.
Kids are not mature enough to use social media responsibly. Frankly, this can be said about a lot of adults using social media. Digital citizenship is a vital skill set for all people living in this century, so why not teach it in school? If you teach a six year old how to use Twitter or Instagram and these lessons are reinforced throughout the year every year, all students will get it, and they will carry these appropriate practices into their lives outside of school.
Parents are concerned about privacy. From the start, be respectful of these concerns and keep parents in the loop: Share your rationale and vision with parents, educate them about the tools you plan to use, and always obtain written permission before introducing a new level of transparency (see steps 3-5 in the Blueprint for Full Implementation section). And remember, although it limits some of the benefits that can come from a Glass Classroom, your channel can be closed to the public: An invitation-only Facebook page can be set up, or an app like Homeroom (gethomeroom.com) can be used to create a private online album of photos and videos, shared only with parents.
I don’t want people seeing every single thing that happens in my classroom. You may not be comfortable having your work on display, especially when it comes to video sharing. This discomfort may come from insecurities about imperfections in your teaching, general self-consciousness, or the desire for some privacy in order to bond with your students. Keep in mind that what you share doesn’t have to be perfect—you’re sharing it to improve understanding and to build community, not to demonstrate your own skills. If you don’t love being on camera, stick to sharing student work, or have students take turns being the ones on video. And remember, you decide what to share: Unlike a real classroom made of glass, you can put your walls back up anytime you wish.
Parents won’t use it. Like everyone else, parents are saturated with digital messages from everywhere and, naturally, it will be a challenge to direct their attention to your classroom’s social channel. If you choose a platform parents are already using—like Facebook or Instagram—your channel should be a welcome addition to their current social media habits. Regardless of your chosen platform, you can build parent participation if you share a few high-interest activities at the very beginning to really pull in lots of parents and get them used to seeing great content on your channel. Do the opposite—sharing mundane content on an inconsistent basis—and your channel will indeed be a ghost town.
Starr Sackstein, a high school English and journalism teacher at World Journalism Preparatory School in Flushing, New York, embodies the concept of the Glass Classroom. For several years, she has been sharing her classroom activity online through blog posts and photos. In the fall of 2014 she began documenting a new, student-centered approach to grading through a collection of blog posts and YouTube and Periscope videos.
“The authenticity of seeing what a learning space looks like is so valuable,” Sackstein says, about sharing her classroom through a social channel. “It’s good for my students to be able to show the world the amazing things that they’re doing.”
With the free Periscope app, Sackstein uses her smartphone to record students at work on various projects and presentations. Sometimes she asks students for feedback about what they’re learning, and a live audience can tweet questions that Sackstein or the students can immediately answer. These recordings can be viewed live on any device equipped with Periscope, so parents and other interested parties can watch in real time. Sackstein then saves the recordings and posts them to YouTube, so those who can’t attend the live session are able to watch and learn later.
Because Sackstein makes these resources available to anyone who’s interested, she gives parents insight into what their children are learning in her class and allows administrators a broader look at her teaching than they’d get from a simple observation. The videos also help co-workers understand exactly what’s going on in her classroom, which provides valuable free professional development for teachers at Sackstein’s school and all around the world. “Periscope is an opportunity for me to share with others how a student-centered classroom looks and runs. There’s a depth, a three-dimensional look at what goes on in my class.” In effect, she’s created a Glass Classroom.
Many teachers feel that the work we do just isn’t fully understood by the outside world. In the past, our ability to showcase that work was limited, but technology now allows us to pull back the curtain and share the fantastic things happening in our classrooms—really share them—with all the nuance, complexity, and immediacy a visitor might get from standing right inside our rooms.