I was 23 and had landed a job as a teacher in Skaneateles, NY, a village that sits at the northern tip of one of the pristine Finger Lakes. I didn't know much, but fresh from college, I didn't know that yet.
I learned quickly that there were village kids and there were the farm kids. There were deep pockets of old money. And just as many folks on the outskirts of town scraping by.
Marcus Pendell was a student in my first class, a third generation farmer. Of all the absurdities of life, it turns out that he has been a grownup for a couple of decades now, and I'm on my way to visit him and his wife and kids. You get to do stuff like this when you become a "teacher of a certain age" and you're now part of the nostalgia that takes over 50 year-olds' lives. And yes, my former students are in their 50s.
I picture what Marcus might look like, and realizing he farms so close to a village known for its good taste and style, I wonder if he's turned into one of those celebrity farmers, the ones who talk about sustainable sourcing and charcuterie. They show up on glossy magazine covers. They wear suede jackets. They pose in a field of flowers, holding a jar of honey, or with both arms outstretched, full of chanterelles.
"And then, sort of out of nowhere, he says, 'I never forgot the first day in your class.'"
By the last turn onto his land, I can tell I won't be seeing organic herbs or morels today. Just a hunch he won't be wearing anything from the J. Peterman catalog.
Two German shepherds announce us as the car pulls up to the house at the top of a dusty hill. Marcus's wife is waiting and she shoos away the dogs from under our feet. This is a dairy farm. Cows. Milk. Knee-high rubber boots from Sears.
"He's still a man of few words," his wife laughs, "but he's excited to see you again."
We wait in the kitchen, and after a few minutes, Marcus bounds into the room through the sliding door off the back deck. He's still big and burly, now with a dark beard. He wears one of those big caps farmers wear with the name of a seed company on it. We hug.
He says, "You look exactly the same except you have short hair now." I laugh. Then we both laugh. He was 11 the last time I saw him.
We start our farm tour by climbing into his big pickup. I'm still processing the idea he's all grown up. That he could -- if he wanted to -- shave. He may be processing that I need a hand getting myself into and out of his truck. I can't tell.
And then, sort of out of nowhere, he says, "I never forgot the first day in your class."
I'm surprised by this because I don't remember much at all.
"Tell me," I say.
Apparently I had written on the black board: Write a composition about what you did over summer vacation. Marcus tells me he looked at the instructions and thought, Well, I didn't do anything over the summer -- milk, cut hay, clean the barn, feed cows, deliver calves -- nothing. He figured it was going to be one of those years.
He sighed. He began writing. His opening line was "I'm a farmer."
He says I collected the compositions, sat down at my desk and started reading them aloud. The one I read right before Marcus's was written by someone whose family owned a 30-foot sailboat.
Then I turned to his. I read his opening line and stopped. I said, "Where is Marcus?"
He tells me this was the worst thing I could have said because everyone knew who he was, and everyone (even the ones I thought were nice girls, he tells me) had made fun of him somewhere along the way since kindergarten precisely because he was a farmer.
He raised his hand, but he knew no one would laugh because it was the first day of school and they all wanted to get on my good side.
He tells me I looked straight at him and said, "A farmer! Wow. You're a farmer."
This is the life of a teacher. Once in a while, you get stories like the one Marcus is telling me.
But once in a while it goes this way: You send a friend request on Facebook to another child-now-grown-up who also spent a whole year with you. And the person sends you a terse reply, letting you know in his first sentence that his memories are not warm. They're not pleasant, or inspiring, or even mediocre. And even though a Facebook friend is not a real friend, he has no intention of being yours. It was something you said, trying to be funny, maybe, but he heard it as unkind. Maybe it was.
"He is all grown up, with children of his own. But he still remembers what you said. You write a long apology back, and you hope maybe he will forgive you."
You want to go back and make it all better. At the very least, you want to remember saying it, but you don't. He is all grown up, with children of his own. But he still remembers what you said. You write a long apology back, and you hope maybe he will forgive you. You never hear from him again.
"Watch your step here," Marcus says.
He is about to answer a question I just asked about tractors, but he stops instead and says, "I was proud that day, that first day, when you read my composition and asked all those questions about being a farmer. Thank you for that."
Even in this moment -- pretty much a teacher's dream -- I think of telling Marcus about the other boy. I want to let myself off the hook, maybe, by saying, "Too many kids, too many moments, too many words for all of them to end well." But I'm still too sad about the kid who hates me to even talk about him.
"We better get back to the house," Marcus says. Lunch is probably ready."
The year he was in my class, Marcus taught me about farming. He schooled me -- the suburban girl who didn't know field corn from sweet. Lots of times he'd arrive in class and tell me about the calf he'd helped deliver a few hours before. I was always breathless during his lessons. I took more than I gave. He was always the teacher, though neither of us knew it then.
I want to thank him for being a kinder one, a better one, but I don't.
We go inside to wash up for lunch.
Laura Pinger and Lisa Flook of the Center for Healthy Minds share their lessons from creating a "kindness curriculum" for young students.
Walking to class one day, one of us (Laura) saw a young student crying and waiting for his mother to arrive--he had split his chin while playing. When Laura got to class, the other students were very upset and afraid for their friend, full of questions about what would happen to him. Laura decided to ask the class how they could help him.
"Caring practice!" exclaimed one of the children--and they all sat in a circle offering support and well wishes. The children immediately calmed and they continued with their lesson.
This is what's possible when kids learn to be kind at school.
Various mindfulness programs have been developed for adults, but we and our colleagues at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wanted to develop a curriculum for kids. Every school teaches math and reading, but what about mindfulness and kindness?
We ended up bringing a 12-week curriculum to six schools in the Midwest. Twice a week for 20 minutes, pre-kindergarten kids were introduced to stories and practices for paying attention, regulating their emotions, and cultivating kindness. It's just the beginning, but the initial results of our research, coauthored with Professor Richard Davidson and graduate research assistant Simon Goldberg, suggest that this program can improve kids' grades, cognitive abilities, and relationship skills.
Why teach kindness to kids?
The school environment can be very stressful; in addition to any issues they bring from home, many students struggle to make friends and perform well in class. Being excluded, ignored, or teased is very painful for a young child, and we thought it could be impactful to teach empathy and compassion.
When other kids are suffering--like that boy who split his chin--can we understand how they might be feeling? Kindness bridges those gaps and helps build a sense of connection among the students, the teachers, and even the parents. Learning to strengthen their attention and regulate their emotions are foundational skills that could benefit kids in school and throughout their whole lives.
On top of that, having classrooms full of mindful, kind kids completely changes the school environment. Imagine entire schools--entire districts--where kindness is emphasized. That would be truly powerful. Teaching kindness is a way to bubble up widespread transformation that doesn't require big policy changes or extensive administrative involvement.
Running and studying a Kindness Curriculum
If you had visited one of our classrooms during the 12-week program, you might have seen a poster on the wall called "Kindness Garden." When kids performed an act of kindness or benefitted from one, they added a sticker to the poster. The idea is that friendship is like a seed--it needs to be nurtured and taken care of in order to grow. Through that exercise, we got students talking about how kindness feels good and how we might grow more friendship in the classroom.
Another day, you might have found students in pairs holding Peace Wands, one with a heart and one with a star. The child with the heart wand speaks ("from the heart"); the other child (the "star listener") listens and then repeats back what was said. When there was a conflict between students, they used the wands to support the process of paying attention, expressing their feelings, and building empathy.
Our Kindness Curriculum combines creative activities like these, as well as books, songs, and movement, to communicate concepts in a way that is understandable to four year olds. Our instructors taught the curriculum with active participation by classroom teachers.
The Kindness Curriculum is designed around the ABCs--or, more specifically, A to G:
Sixty-eight students participated in the research, with about half going through the Kindness Curriculum and the other half measured as a comparison. To investigate the impact of the curriculum, we tested children before and after the training period.
The results of our study were promising. Students who went through the curriculum showed more empathy and kindness and a greater ability to calm themselves down when they felt upset, according to teachers' ratings. In an exercise with stickers, they consistently shared about half of them, whereas students who hadn't gone through the curriculum shared less over time. They earned higher grades at the end of the year in certain areas (notably for social and emotional development), and they showed improvement in the ability to think flexibly and delay gratification, skills that have been linked to health and success later in life.
This was a small study, and we'd love to see deeper investigations into our Kindness Curriculum in the future. For example, what happens over a longer time if we support students' practice throughout the year and into the next school year and beyond? If parents got involved in the curriculum, they could provide powerful support as well.
"Kindfulness" in daily life
Mindfulness and kindness go hand in hand, so much so that the phrase "kindfulness" accidentally (but aptly) came out in one of our conversations and has stuck with us. While we administered a specific curriculum for the purposes of our study, any teacher or parent can bring the principles behind it to bear on their interactions with children.
The first key is simply to model mindfulness and kindness. For example, what quality of attention do we bring when we interact with our kids? Do we give them our full attention--eye contact, kneeling down to speak with them, asking questions--or are we distracted? Kids are extraordinarily observant, and they pick up on whether we are paying attention to them. By modeling behavior, and through our interactions, we show them what it's like to be seen and heard and to be compassionate with others.
Another simple activity is to relax and feel the natural breath for a few moments during the day. Kids need to be active and run around, of course, but they can also benefit from cultivating a bit of stillness. For example, when Laura enters the classroom, she or one of her students rings a bell, which signals students to listen until the sound ends and then feel five in- and out-breaths together. This practice settles students and gathers their attention so they are more ready to learn.
We can also help kids reflect on their emotions, which sometimes feel overwhelming, and change their relationship to them. After a child calms down, we can sit with them and reflect on that feeling. Which part of the body felt angry, happy, or upset? All emotions are natural, so kids shouldn't feel bad about experiencing them; we can teach them to cultivate a kinder attitude. For example, a parent might say, "When I feel sad or angry, it doesn't feel good in my body. But all people have feelings. Feelings help us learn about ourselves and others. I can be kind to myself no matter what feelings come. I can get better and better at learning from my feelings."
And, by the way, practices like these are equally useful for parents and teachers, who are struggling with stressful workplaces or busy classrooms. For teachers, brief practices with students many times during the school day allow everyone to pause and be fully present to themselves, each other, and what is happening, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. For parents, mindfulness and self-kindness training allow them to be more present with their spouse and children at home and with their coworkers at work.
Finally, to combine the concepts of mindfulness and kindness, we can teach caring practice to our kids. These phrases work well for children: May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be peaceful.
When the boy split his chin, the other four-year-olds got together to do this practice: May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful.
And these wishes can be extended further: To my entire classroom, my school, my neighborhood, my whole community...May we all be safe, may we all be happy, may we all be healthy, may we all be peaceful.
In the midst of their distress, the children found comfort and support for themselves and their friend rather than feeling upset and worried. They later shared with him that they had offered him these wishes. It's these small changes, spread across classrooms, that could make schools more kind--and educate a new generation of more compassionate and connected citizens.
Read more stories like this at Greater Good.
As educators, we need to consider that there are two very important parts to quality learning: questioning and reflecting. It makes for a healthy mind to question what you are thinking and learning. Reflecting on our learning is not only an important part of the learning process, but also an automatic brain process. In other words, our brain automatically considers what it is learning before it "files" information.
As a self-proclaimed seditionist, I am always questioning myself and the topics to which I am very passionate. Seditionist can be defined as one who instigates or incites, but I prefer to think of myself as one who is discontent. With discontentment comes the ability to make meaningful change. To begin your journey of reflection, introspection and change, I have created a list of questions for your consideration.
Ponder the answers honestly (after all, there is no good reason to lie to yourself), and then determine if and how you can begin to look forward to meaningful, professional change. Think of this survey as a means of change in 2016. Good luck!
A true reflection of yourself and your teaching must start with honesty and a commitment to change, even if it is going to sting a little. A true model teacher must reflect honestly and set goals based on his/her reflections. If you feel so inclined, share some of your reflections in the Huffington Post comments section. Let us help each other move towards meaningful change through our reflections.
The human brain wasn’t designed for industrial education.
It was shaped over millions of years of sequential adaptation in response to ever-changing environmental demands. Over time, brains grew in size and complexity; old structures were conserved and new structures emerged. As we evolved into social beings, our brains became incredibly sensitive to our social worlds.
This mixture of conservation, adaptation, and innovation has resulted in an amazingly complex brain, capable of everything from monitoring respiration to creating culture. This added complexity came with a cost. Not only do all of these systems have to develop and interconnect, but they also have to stay balanced and properly integrated for optimal performance.
This evolutionary history poses a challenge for educators. While findings from social neuroscience can provide some welcome guideposts for teachers, they cannot substitute for the flexibility needed in the classroom to accommodate a range of students. Students and teachers are not uniform raw materials or assembly-line workers, but a diverse collection of living, breathing human beings with complex evolutionary histories, cultural backgrounds, and life stories.
If we are going to move forward, we will have to admit that a one-size-fits-all model of education is doomed to fail the majority of students and teachers.
And through understanding how students’ brains actually work and using that knowledge to benefit classroom learning, we may be able to positively influence classroom education and prepare students to better face unknowable futures. Here are nine scientific insights that educators might want to keep in mind.
Our brains require stimulation and connection to survive and thrive. A brain without connection to other brains and without sufficient challenge will shrink and eventually die—moreover, the modern human brain’s primary environment is our matrix of social relationships. As a result, close supportive relationships stimulate positive emotions, neuroplasticity, and learning.
That’s why it pays for teachers to create positive social experiences in the classroom. From a neurobiological perspective, the position of the teacher is very similar to that of the parent in building the child’s brain. Optimism, encouragement, and giving someone the benefit of the doubt have been shown to positively impact performance—and so does a caring and positive regard for students. Promoting social-emotional learning programs that decrease student conflict and create positive social climates in the classroom are invaluable to learning.
The cerebral hemispheres have differentiated from one another and developed specialized functions and skills. In general, the left hemisphere has taken the lead on language processing, linear thinking, and pro-social functioning while the right hemisphere specializes in visual-spatial processing, strong emotions, and private experience.
Most tasks, though, involve contributions from both hemispheres. So, it is important to understand how to engage both in the classroom context.
Good teachers intuitively grasp this in their students, and they will seek to balance the expression of emotion and cognition, encouraging overly rational students to be aware of and explore their feelings while helping anxious students develop the cognitive capabilities of their left hemispheres to regulate their emotions.
Storytelling can help here, as stories can serve as powerful organizing tools for neural network integration. A story that is well told, containing conflicts and resolutions and thoughts flavored with emotions, will shape brains and connect people.
… through understanding how students’ brains actually work and using that knowledge to benefit classroom learning, we may be able to positively influence classroom education and prepare students to better face unknowable futures.
Much of our most important emotional and interpersonal learning occurs during our first few years of life, when our more primitive neural networks are in control. Early experiences shape structures in ways that have a lifelong impact on three of our most vital areas of learning: attachment, emotional regulation, and self-esteem. These three spheres of learning establish our abilities to connect with others, cope with stress, and feel that we have value.
Every time children behave in a way they (or we) don’t understand, a teacher has the opportunity to engage in an exploration of their inner world. When painful experiences can be consciously thought about, named, and placed into a coherent narrative, children gain the ability to reintegrate dissociated neural networks of affect, cognition, and bodily awareness.
Encouraging students to write about their experiences in diaries and journals can help, as it lets students become the masters of their experience and reducing anxiety and stress. Research has shown that writing about your experiences can increase well-being and help with emotional regulation, which may have been impaired through early traumatic experiences.
Conscious awareness and explicit memory are but a small fraction of the vast amount of neural processing that occurs each millisecond.
Think of how many things you do without having to think about them: breathing, walking, balancing, even constructing the syntax of a sentence, is handled automatically. The brain is able to process incoming information, analyze it based on a lifetime of experience, and present it to us in half a second. The brain then creates the illusion that what we are experiencing is happening right now and that we are making decisions based on our conscious thought processes.
Because of this, it is especially important to teach students to question their assumptions and the possible influences of past experiences and unconscious biases on their feelings and beliefs.
This is especially true when thinking about prejudice. Because fear conditioning does not require conscious awareness, the brain’s knee-jerk reaction to individuals of other races is unrelated to our conscious attitudes. Open discussion and increased interracial exposure can work against prejudice being turned into conscious beliefs and negative behaviors.
Physical activity exerts a stimulating influence on the entire brain that keeps it functioning at an optimal level. Exercise has been shown to stimulate the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus and to pump more oxygen through the brain, stimulating capillary growth and frontal-lobe plasticity.
Proper nutrition and adequate sleep are also essential to learning. Although the brain is only a fraction of our body’s weight, it consumes approximately 20 percent of our energy, which makes good nutrition a critical component of learning. Sleep boosts cognitive performance and augments learning while sleep deprivation limits our ability to sustain vigilance and attention. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to impair flexible thinking and decision-making.
An awareness of these biological realities can lead to changes in school start times, lunch programs, and recess schedules. Teachers can teach students about the importance of sleep and make suggestions for better sleep habits, such as how to create a good sleep environment and promote relaxation. Good nutrition and regular exercise can be incorporated into the school environment. Teaching about the interconnections among the brain, the body, and how we learn will provide students with important scientific knowledge, which could improve their academic performance and physical health.
In addition, learning can be enhanced by certain environmental conditions and hampered by others. Inadequate school facilities, poor acoustics, outside noise, and inadequate classroom lighting all correlate with poorer academic performance. Chairs with poor support hamper blood supply to the brain and impede cognition while temperatures above 74–77 degrees Fahrenheit have been shown to correlate with lower reading comprehension and math scores. A more hospitable climate for learning can help performance by providing for the physical needs of the body.
Curiosity, the urge to explore and the impulse to seek novelty, plays an important role in survival. We are rewarded for curiosity by dopamine and opioids (feel-good chemicals in the brain), which are stimulated in the face of something new. Because our brains evolved to remain vigilant to a constantly changing environment, we learn better in brief intervals.
This is likely one reason why variation in materials, breaks, and even intermittent naps facilitate learning. It is probably important for teachers to reestablish attention in their students every five to 10 minutes and continue to shift the focus of attention to new topics.
Learning also involves the strengthening of connections between neurons. “What fires together wires together,” say neuroscientists, which is why repetition supports learning while the absence of repetition and exposure results in its decay. Teachers would do well to make sure they repeat important points in their lessons to deepen learning.
Given that visual, semantic, sensory, motor, and emotional neural networks all contain their own memory systems, multichannel learning engaging each of these networks increases the likelihood of both storage and recall. We have an amazing capacity for visual memory, and written or spoken information paired with visual information results in better recall. There is a greater likelihood that learning will generalize outside the classroom if it is organized across sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive networks.
Evolution has shaped our brains to err on the side of caution and to trigger fear whenever it might be remotely useful. Fear makes us less intelligent because amygdala activation—which occurs as part of the fear response—interferes with prefrontal functioning. Fear also shuts down exploration, makes our thinking more rigid, and drives “neophobia,” the fear of anything new.
Most tasks involve contributions from both hemispheres. So, it is important to understand how to engage both in the classroom context.
Stressful situations trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which interferes with neural growth. Prolonged stress impairs our ability to learn and maintain physical health.
Success in school depends upon a student’s ability to somehow decrease their stress. The inclusion of stress-management techniques into the curriculum is an obvious application of neuroscience to education that can improve learning, emotional well-being, and physical health. Teachers can use their warmth, empathic caring, and positive regard to create a state of mind that decreases fear and increases neuroplasticity and learning.
Our brains have evolved to pay attention to the behaviors and emotions of other people. Not only is this processing complex, but it is lightning fast, shaping our experience of others milliseconds before we even become consciously aware of their presence. We automatically generate a theory of what is on their mind—our ideas about what they know, what their motivations may be, and what they might do next. As a result, we are as quick to think we know others as we are slow to become aware of our own motives and faults.
Taking our thoughts about others and trying them on for size has the potential to teach us about ourselves and increase our empathic abilities. Simple exercises that guide students to examine what and how what they think and feel about others may be true for themselves can open a window of self-awareness, empathy, and insight. Teachers can ask students to examine the lives of historical figures and characters from books and movies to help them gain a third-eye perspective on their own strengths, motivations, and flaws.
When problems are represented at higher levels of abstraction, learning can be integrated into larger schemas that enhance memory, learning, and cognitive flexibility. Starting with major concepts and repeatedly returning to them during a lecture enhances understanding and memory, a phenomenon that increases when students create their own categories and strategies of organizing information. Chunking material into meaningful segments makes it easier to remember, and improves test performance while increasing prefrontal activity during encoding.
When it comes to discovering the details, bear in mind that our brains evolved to learn is through trial-and-error exploration. This is true of learning and adapting to both our social and physical environments. Therefore, using what we learn to attempt to solve real-world problems and adjusting our behaviors or ideas based on the results augments the retention of skills and information. We are born to explore, and teachers who make use of that will probably find more success in the classroom.
The brain is a social organ: that’s why it pays for teachers to create positive social experiences in the classroom. Discover four ways for teachers to create a caring classroom.
We have two brains that art combines: Stories can serve as powerful organizing tools for neural network integration. Learn more about arts and smarts.
Early experiences are powerful: Much of our most important emotional and interpersonal learning occurs during our first few years of life. Learn more about attachment and brain development.
The unconscious is powerful too: Unconscious bias makes it important to teach students to question their assumptions and the possible influences on their feelings and beliefs. Discover how the brain can correct unconscious prejudice.
Mind, brain and body are interwoven: Physical activity, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep are essential to learning. Learn more about the importance of play.
The brain has a short attention span: The brain needs repetition and multiple-channel processing for deeper learning to occur. Read eight tips for fostering flow and engagement in the classroom.
Fear and stress impair learning: Success in school depends upon a student’s ability to somehow decrease their stress. Read more about stress at school
We naturally empathize: Our brains have evolved to pay attention to the behaviors and emotions of other people. Learn how to foster empathy and compassion at school.
Teach the big picture: Learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture—and then allowing students to discover the details for themselves. Read about fostering a sense of awe in the classroom.
This article was originally featured on greater Good and was written by Louis Cozolino, PhD, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and private practitioner.
Norms of Collaboration
Pausing before responding or asking a question allows time for thinking and enhances dialogue, discussion, and decision-making.
Using a paraphrase starter that is comfortable for you –“So...”or “As you are...” or “You’re thinking...” –and following the starter with an efficient paraphrase assists members of the group in hearing and understanding one another as they converse and make decisions.
Two intentions of posing questions are to explore and to specify thinking. Questions may be posed to explore perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations, and to invite others to inquire into their thinking. For example, “What might be some conjectures you are exploring?” Use focusing questions such as, “Which students, specifically?” or “What might be an example of that?” to increase the clarity and precision of group members’ thinking. Inquire into others’ ideas before advocating one’s own.
4.Putting Ideas on the Table
Ideas arethe heart of meaningful dialogue and discussion. Label the intention of your comments. For example: “Here is one idea...” or “One thought I have is...” or “Here is a possible approach...” or “Another consideration might be...”.
Providing data, both qualitative and quantitative, in a variety of forms supports group members in constructing shared understanding from their work. Data have no meaning beyond that which we make of them; shared meaning develops from collaboratively exploring, analyzing, and interpreting data.
Meaningful dialogue and discussion are facilitated when each group member is conscious of self and of others, and is aware of what (s)he is saying andhow it is said as well as how others a re responding. This includes paying attention to learning styles when planning, facilitating, and participating in group meetings and conversations.
Assuming that others’ intentions are positive promotes and facilitates meaningful dialogue and discussion, and prevents unintentional put- downs. Using positive intentions in speech is one manifestation of this norm.
Teacher appraisal is dead. We killed it.
THE GOAL: Teacher-learners, who…
THE PROBLEM: None of this was achieved by appraising teachers in the traditional manner we used in the past. A fleeting visit from the head, capturing a moment in time in the classroom, ticking some boxes in terms of ‘performance’… What purpose could that possibly serve? How could we address our school goal of ‘using data to inform teaching and improve learning’ and harness the success of our new coaching initiative to make a real difference to teacher development?
THE PROCESS: Our Teaching and Learning team unpacked our Learning Principles collaboratively. How would they actually look in a learning context? How would teaching and learning reflect our beliefs about how learning best take place? We created a ‘more like /less like’ chart for each of our learning principles, as seen in the draft example below (always a work in progress!)
The decision was made to replace appraisal with a growth model which would achieve the desired goals. Trialling the model with volunteer teachers brought us valuable feedback. Collaboration with our global network garnered further ideas for adaptation…
THE GROWTH REVIEW – A NEW MODEL BASED ON COACHING PRINCIPLES:
Step 1 – Teacher looks at the ‘more like/less’ like charts of our learning principles, reflects on his/her own teaching and self assesses how he/she is applying the learning principles.
Meeting 1 – Teacher and reviewer collaboratively explore and discuss the learning principles and select what the teacher will focus on.
Observation 1 – Reviewer observes for evidence of the selected area of focus, using the ‘more like/ less like’ charts as a guide to facilitate observations and records the data. Evidence might include conversations with students.
Meeting 2 – Teacher and reviewer discuss the data. Teacher reflects on the teaching and learning and the reviewer asks key (coaching style) questions to support the teacher in thinking about possible improvements.
Observation – Reviewer watches for evidence of the selected learning principles, and records the data. Focus on looking for improvements, new things being tried, application of points from the discussion.
Meeting 3 – Teacher reflects on the process with the reviewer, and goals are set for moving forward.
POSSIBLE FOLLOW UP:
Feedback and comments invited, as always!
by Jay McTighe
The start of the new school year offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on the life and work of Grant Wiggins, an extraordinary educator who died unexpectedly at the end of the last school year (on May 26, 2015). Although I am an only child, I considered Grant my brother as well as an intellectual partner and best friend. I think of Grant every day and miss him terribly.
While Grant is no longer with us, his spirit and ideas live on. Indeed, we can honor and celebrate his life’s work by acting on the sage advice that he offered to teachers over the years. As we prepare to meet our new students, let us consider three of Grant’s sensible and salient lessons for teachers.
Lesson #1—Always Keep the End in Mind
Grant always reminded teachers of the value of designing curriculum, assessment, and learning experiences “backwards,” with the end in mind. While the idea of using “backward design” to plan curriculum units and courses is certainly not new, the Understanding by Design® framework underscores the value of this process for yielding more clearly defined goals, more appropriate assessments, more tightly aligned lessons, and more purposeful teaching.
Grant pointed out that “backward design” of curriculum means more than simply looking at all of the content and standards you plan to “cover” and mapping out your day-to-day lessons. The idea is to plan backward from worthy goals—the transferable concepts, principles, processes, and questions that enable students to apply their learning in meaningful and authentic ways. Grant knew that in order to transfer their learning, students need to understand “big ideas.” Rote learning of discrete facts and skills will simply not equip students to apply their learning to novel situations. Thus, he advised teachers to plan backward from desired transfer performances and “uncover” the necessary content needed for those performances.
Here are several curriculum-planning tips that Grant offered:
Grant noted that teaching for understanding and transfer will develop the very capabilities identified in the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, which are necessary to prepare learners for success in college and careers.
Lesson #2—Feedback is Key to Successful Learning and Performance
For years, Grant reminded teachers that providing learners with feedback was a key to effective learning and improvement. His insights have been confirmed by research (from educators like Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, and Robert Marzano) that demonstrates conclusively that classroom feedback is one of the highest-yielding strategies to enhance achievement.
Here’s a straightforward test for classroom feedback: Can learners tell specifically from the given feedback what they have done well and what they could do next time to improve? If not, then the feedback is not yet specific enough or understandable for the learner.
Grant also reminded us that classroom feedback should work reciprocally—that is, teachers should not only provide feedback for learners but also seek and use feedback to improve their own practice. Here are four ways that teachers can obtain helpful feedback:
Lesson #3—Have Empathy for the Learner
In our writings on Understanding by Design, Grant and I described six facets of understanding: a person shows evidence of understanding when they can explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize, and self-assess. These facets serve as indicators of understanding and guide the development of assessments and learning experiences.
Grant pointed out that the facets have value beyond their use as a frame for curriculum and assessment design. They can be applied to teachers and teaching as well. As one example, he described the phenomenon that he labeled the Expert Blind Spot: “Expressed in the language of the six facets, experts frequently find it difficult to have empathy for the novice, even when they try. That’s why teaching is hard, especially for the expert in the field who is a novice teacher. Expressed positively, we must strive unendingly to be empathetic to the learner’s conceptual struggles if we are to succeed.”
Grant reminded us of the value of being sensitive to learners who do not have our expertise (and sometimes not even an interest) in the subject matter that we know so well. He pointed out that “what is obvious to us is rarely obvious to a novice—and was once not obvious to us either, but we have forgotten our former views and struggles.” He cautioned us against confusing teaching for understanding with simply telling. He encouraged teachers to remember that understandings are constructed in the mind of the learner, that understanding must be “earned” by the learner, and that the teacher’s job is to facilitate “meaning making,” not simply present information.
Grant encouraged teachers to develop empathy for students by “shadowing” a student for a day and reflecting on the experience. Recently, a high school teacher took his suggestion and described what it was like to walk in the shoes of a student. Her account, summarized in a blog post with over a million hits, should be required reading for all teachers, especially at the start of a new year. Maybe you will be inspired to engage in this action research in your school.
These are but a few of the many lessons that Grant offered us. Although he is no longer with us, his brilliance lives on in his thought-provoking blog posts, articles, and books. His advice elevates our profession, and our students deserve the benefits of his wisdom.
Jay McTighe leads ASCD’s Understanding by Design® cadre and brings a wealth of experience that he developed during a rich and varied career in education. He served as director of the Maryland Assessment Consortium, a state collaboration of school districts working together to develop and share formative performance assessments. McTighe is an accomplished author, having coauthored 14 books, including the best-selling Understanding by Design series with Grant Wiggins.