In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Waking up a teenager at 7 a.m. is like waking up an adult at 4 a.m.”
Scott Carrell (University of California/Davis), quoted in “Making Smarter Use of
Time” by Alyson Klein in Education Week, February 26, 2020
“If you compare the effects of your phone to eating properly or sleeping or smoking, it’s not even close.”
Jeff Hancock (Stanford Social Media Lab), quoted in “The Menace of Screen Time
Could Be More of a Mirage” by Nathaniel Popper in The New York Times,
January 18, 2020, https://nyti.ms/38hnuYq
“Once a day, have a conversation where you mostly listen. Don’t underestimate the power of your silence.”
Arianna Huffington (see item #2)
“If someone is surprised at being fired, it’s a sign that you’ve failed not in the termination conversation but in your evaluation and review process.”
Joel Peterson (see item #3)
“Under the tyranny of coverage, social studies is made boring and robbed of its capacity to make sense of an uncomfortable past, a chaotic present, and an inchoate future.”
Tina Lane Heafner (see item #1)
“It’s not enough to teach. We have to make sure the kids learn.”
Justin Minkel (see item #8)
1. Teaching Social Studies in Troubled Times
In this article in Social Education, Tina Lane Heafner (University of North Carolina/ Charlotte) expands on the 2019 speech she gave as president of the National Council for the Social Studies. Heafner embraces the new NCSS vision statement and touts the role of social studies educators in “humanizing the curriculum, educating for empathy and action, and empowering children and youth agency, advocacy, and activism.”
Sadly, she says, this work is being done against a backdrop of these troubling developments in the U.S.:
– Extreme political polarization;
– Divisions between urban and rural regions;
– Being dismissive of people with opposing views;
– Racial distrust and racially isolated communities;
– The failure of many voters and candidates to focus on substantive policy issues;
– The widespread acceptance and circulation of erroneous information (“fake news”);
– Escalating fear, anger, and isolation created by social media echo chambers;
– The devaluing of deliberation and civil democratic literacies;
– Routine verbal assaults on journalists by politicians;
– An all-time low in civic knowledge (only one in four Americans can name all three branches of government) and public engagement.
All of which, says Heafner, makes the role of social studies educators more important than ever. “This is our Sputnik moment,” she says, “an event that makes people collectively say that they need to do something, and set a course in a new direction… to uplift the attributes of social studies learning such as mutual respect, forbearance, civic engagement, and deliberative skills – skills that our democracy depends on to survive and thrive.”
Heafner laments the marginalization of social studies in the curriculum (often the result of high-stakes testing of reading and math) and the mediocrity of all too much teaching. “Under the tyranny of coverage,” she says, “social studies is made boring and robbed of its capacity to make sense of an uncomfortable past, a chaotic present, and an inchoate future… There is also profound, incontrovertible evidence that poor and nonwhite students, in addition to those who identify as immigrants, receive demonstrably fewer opportunities and inferior civic education as compared to middle-class and wealthy white students.”
Heafner calls on social studies educators to take the lead in embracing the increasing diversity of the nation (as of 2014, more than half of public school students are nonwhite) and teaching in ways that reveal and heal racial and economic injustices. “Social studies is learning, doing, being, growing, and acting,” she concludes. “The questions we pose, the inquiries we pursue lead us to understand ourselves and others more deeply, to appreciate the complexity of the world in which we live, to grapple with difficult topics, and to speak out against systemic injustices. The study of social studies enables us not only to have a voice, but to actively engage in our local, national, and international communities as informed, educated, and compassionate citizens.”
“Agency, Advocacy, Activism: Action for Social Studies” by Tina Lane Heafner in Social Education, January/February 2020 (Vol. 84, #1, pp. 4-12), https://bit.ly/32GpbxH; Heafner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Compassionate Directness in the Workplace
In this New York Times article, Arianna Huffington (Thrive Global) describes the methods of giving critical feedback in two different organizations:
– Blunt and harsh, in the name of efficiency;
– Accommodating and kind, overlooking problems to avoid conflict and hurt feelings.
Both are problematic, says Huffington: “The first creates a toxic culture of brilliant jerks that drives people out and eats itself from within.” The second lets issues fester until they create lasting damage.
“People are hungry for feedback that helps them grow and improve,” she continues. But a recent survey found that only 26 percent of employees believed the feedback they were getting helped them get better. Poorly delivered feedback is not only unhelpful but also leads to disengagement and disempowerment.
The secret to a truly productive workplace, Huffington believes, is combining directness with compassion. This approach, which is a hallmark of her own organization, empowers people “to speak up, give feedback, disagree, and surface problems in real time. But it has to be done with compassion, empathy, and understanding. It’s what allows us to course-correct, improve, and meet challenges while also building teams that collaborate and care for one another.”
All this can exist only if the policy is explicit and people have established an atmosphere of trust. Huffington has some specific pointers:
– Give one piece of constructive feedback and let it stand on its own. “Don’t undermine your message by padding it with irrelevant positive statements,” she says.
– Don’t let stress or being in a hurry get in the way of compassion and empathy.
– When you notice a problem, find a way to surface it immediately.
– Consider the other person’s perspective. Before a face-to-face meeting, ask yourself, “Where is this person coming from? What are key motivations and priorities?
– When you receive constructive feedback, write it down and come back to it later. This allows you to get past your immediate emotional reaction and see if it’s on target.
– Shift a digital exchange into a face-to-face conversation. This is much more likely to build trust and camaraderie.
– “Once a day, have a conversation where you mostly listen,” says Huffington. “Don’t underestimate the power of your silence. Instead of giving your opinion or changing the subject, invite the other person to go deeper.”
“Combine Compassion and Directness at Work” by Arianna Huffington in The New York Times, February 24, 2020, https://nyti.ms/2vm1PBf
3. Firing 101
“How can you fire someone in a fair and decent way?” asks Joel Peterson (Stanford University Graduate School of Business, chairman of JetBlue) in this article in Harvard Business Review. Drawing on his experience terminating “many dozens of people” and his work as a leadership professor, Peterson suggests these do’s and don’ts:
• Don’t wait for a “firing offense.” Bosses are often too compassionate, repeatedly giving underperforming colleagues one more chance and procrastinating over the final decision with wishful thinking and worries that a firing will hurt morale. “Document the smaller, quieter moments of underperformance and establish a trend line,” Peterson advises. “Try coaching, training, and other methods to fix the problem. But recognize when someone has become a ‘net drainer,’ whose performance and attitude are infecting the rest of the team. When that situation can’t be fixed quickly, it’s time to act.”
• Don’t hesitate to fire friends and family members. “Good leaders separate the personal from the professional,” says Peterson. “They clearly and frequently communicate to any friends and family members on their team that they cannot provide protection should those people underperform.”
• Don’t ambush people. “If someone is surprised at being fired, it’s a sign that you’ve failed not in the termination conversation but in your evaluation and review process,” he says. Frequent, honest feedback lays the groundwork, and if things are not going well, a structured improvement plan (with plenty of support) puts the person on notice.
• Prepare and practice. “Before entering a termination discussion,” says Peterson, “I engage in a series of self-talk exercises designed to reinforce the necessity of the action and put myself in the right mindset… I also remind myself that as a manager, I deserve some of the blame for the person’s failure, owing to poor hiring or coaching.” Just before the meeting, it’s helpful to role-play the conversation with a trusted colleague.
• Don’t pass the buck. There’s a natural tendency to avoid personal responsibility, says Peterson, but even if the decision to dismiss was a collective decision by the leadership team, the person doing the dismissing must accept full responsibility.
• Don’t hand off the dirty work. “No one likes to fire people,” says Peterson. But he believes that having someone else handle difficult conversations is unwise: “Eventually the whole organization will pick up on your inability to face tough issues.” That said, it’s a good idea to consult with HR people; they can advise on how to handle the dismissal, and you may want them to sit in on the meeting.
• Deliver the key message within the first 30 seconds. Delaying the punch line and trying to use humor or commiseration “invites misunderstanding and awkwardness,” says Peterson. “It also gets in the way of moving promptly to next steps – organizing the departure in a way that is most helpful to the employee and least disruptive to the organization.”
• Don’t overexplain. “A termination meeting is a time to communicate a decision,” he says, “not to debate it, defend it, or negotiate it.” Be clear and succinct and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into details. Again, there should have been fair warning of what was coming in coaching, feedback, and an improvement plan.
• Be human but strategic. “As they deal with their own emotions,” says Peterson, “bosses must recognize the difference between empathy and compassion (which are useful in this context) and sympathy or sorrow (which can be counterproductive).” The person being fired often has strong emotions, and the way the dismissal is handled will have consequences in future interactions with the person – and among the person’s supporters within the organization.
• Be generous. The boss should work to get a decent severance package for the person being fired, including financial severance, professional outplacement help, and a plan for providing references. The person should have a fair chance to start over.
[Peterson’s focus is on non-unionized personnel in a corporate setting. School leaders need to be attentive to applicable contracts, collective bargaining agreements, and laws. K.M.]
“Firing with Compassion: Do’s and Don’ts” by Joel Peterson in Harvard Business Review, March-April 2020 (Vol. 98, #2, pp. 135-139), https://hbr.org/2020/03/firing-with-compassion
4. Antiracist Work in Schools
In this article in Teaching Tolerance, Philadelphia high-school teachers Clarice Brazas and Charlie McGeehan (she is black, he is white) share what they learned about antiracism work when they interviewed teachers around the U.S.
• Teachers of color do a disproportionate share of supporting students of color. While black and brown teachers often form bonds with students who look like them, one theme in the interviews was resentment among those teachers that their white colleagues weren’t pulling their weight – and often sent troubled students to their black and brown colleagues.
• Educators of color are expected to take on antiracist work and manage white fragility. “One refrain we heard again and again,” say Brazas and McGeehan, “was that white educators, even those who see themselves as committed to equity, frequently consider antiracist work something outside their responsibility.” Many expected teachers of color to do the heavy lifting in classrooms and in faculty meetings, PD sessions, and other venues. “Educators we spoke with stressed the need for white colleagues to own their discomfort, find places to process their growth that don’t rely on educators of color, and avoid justifying hurtful comments.”
• Educators of color are sometimes driven out. Brazas and McGeehan heard stories of administrators retaliating against those who took on antiracist work in their classrooms and beyond.
• White educators can work to manage white fragility in themselves and among colleagues. One Boston teacher told of a thoughtful and constructive reaction from a white supervisor who was confronted by three black subordinates about a tense supervisory situation. “OK, so what do I need to do to fix this?” she said, and worked to learn and grow and get better at discussing race more directly.
• White colleagues can work to ensure that labor is evenly distributed in their schools. For example, at their Philadelphia high school, Brazos and McGeehan say there’s an advisory structure that matches each student with a caring adult for all four years, with twice-a-day advisory group meetings. “This structure,” they say, “means that the responsibility of supporting our students is shared and ensures that teachers of color are not required to do this work on their own time.”
• White colleagues must educate themselves about race and racism. Here are some suggestions gleaned from the interviews:
– Read, watch, and listen. There are lots of books, articles, videos, and podcasts that provide information and help educators work on their own racial identity.
– Be present with and listen to educators, students, and families of color. A neighborhood walk is a great idea.
– Avoid making conversations about you.
– Connect. “Find or build a group of people for accountability,” say Brazas and McGeehan. “Focus on generating conversations with white colleagues, and make sure you are staying accountable to people of color.”
– Use your power to take action. If there are inequities or people are being left out in your school, speak up.
“What White Colleagues Need to Understand” by Clarice Brazas and Charlie McGeehan in Teaching Tolerance, Spring 2020 (Issue 64, pp. 55-58), https://bit.ly/39jNjZj
5. Can Administrators Observe Classrooms Without Being Disruptive?
In this article in Edutopia, Long Island (NY) assistant principal Andrew Canlé says an administrator entering a classroom can interrupt instruction and change the dynamic. The teacher may be thrown off stride and the students may tighten up, concentrating on impressing the observer. “This is a big problem,” says Canlé. “The administrator can’t be sure what students know because they’re not getting an accurate look at the classroom learning environment.” His suggestions:
• Check in with students outside the classroom. Informal chats in the hallways, at recess, and in the cafeteria can be surprisingly informative, especially with questions like, “What have you learned so far today that you didn’t know yesterday?” This can be taken to another level by the 10 x 2 strategy: picking a student and making a point of having a two-minute chat with him or her every day for two weeks.
• Build trust with faculty. Through their actions, administrators need to convince teachers that classroom visits aren’t a “gotcha” but part of a low-key process of noticing and affirming effective practices and coaching for continuous improvement. The best way to build trust and learn about students and instruction, says Canlé, is “frequent, one-on-one conversations with teachers.”
• Have teachers appoint classroom greeters. On a rotating basis, one student has the job of getting up when a visitor enters the classroom and saying, “Hi, my name is —-. Welcome to our class. Today we’re learning about —–. Would you like to have a seat?”
“Implementing these ideas can help administrators get an accurate sense of what students are learning with minimal disruptions when they visit classrooms,” says Canlé. “And that can help administrators build strong relationships with students and faculty, and transform the overall culture within a school.”
“Getting an Accurate Assessment of Student Learning” by Andrew Canlé in Edutopia, February 26, 2020, https://edut.to/2PFS0Vu; Canlé can be reached at email@example.com.
6. Who’s Doing the Work Here? Ideas on the Correcting Workload
In this article in EdSurge News, Washington State teacher Elizabeth Matlick says she used to put in countless hours each week grading and writing feedback on the essays and tests from her 100 middle- and high-school students. For a while, she was doing this at 2 a.m., awoken by her toddler’s night terrors. When Matlick gave papers back, most students skimmed over her comments to see their grade and rarely improved their work, even if she required a second draft. She was exhausted and discouraged.
Over the last four years, Matlick has developed a better way to give feedback. Here are the stages she went through:
• Giving students reflection questions on their writing to help them recall the feedback she’d given them on previous assignments;
• Having students engage in peer review with classmates. “Having a snapshot of real-time peer review data gave me more insight into how students were using teacher-developed criteria to evaluate one another,” says Matlick. “I was able to provide more real-time interventions. Students were getting the feedback they needed faster.” (This eventually yielded an app called Floop https://www.floopedu.com that made the peer review data visible and simpler to manage.)
• Most recently, Matlick has focused on students who weren’t using the feedback they received from their teacher and peers. She realized they needed support to “seek and understand feedback so they could use it to learn.” She had students jot on sticky notes how they felt when they got feedback (scared, prideful); get in touch with the actions those emotions produced (not looking at the feedback, getting defensive); and think through how they could respond more productively (for example, looking at the feedback in private and waiting a day to respond). She also had students role-play a driver’s ed situation, with one in the driver’s seat, the other playing the instructor in the passenger seat. Students quickly saw the need for interaction, with the “driver” asking for as well as receiving feedback.
“The goal,” Matlick concludes, “is for my students to eventually develop the patience needed to persist through multiple rounds of feedback, to have the motivation to improve even when the process feels stressful, and to bring a curiosity about how to learn more deeply, rather than focusing on a letter or number grade… It turns out the best way to help students improve their writing is by giving timely, targeted feedback – but it doesn’t necessarily have to come from me and certainly shouldn’t happen at 2 a.m. in my living room. Instead, it should be a team effort forged in the classroom. And when it’s working well, it’s driven by my students.”
“My Greatest Teaching Problem Was Feedback. Here’s How Research Helped Me Solve It” by Elizabeth Matlick in EdSurge News, February 18, 2020, https://bit.ly/2IfaUP8
7. Who Is Best Qualified to Evaluate Curriculum Materials?
In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Goldstein (Match Education) comments on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s article on the “bazaar” of online classroom materials (December 2019, summarized in Marshall Memo 816). First of all, says Goldstein, are supposedly high-quality published curriculum materials truly effective? “The top-down approach to assigning expertly-designed-and-validated curriculum hasn’t yet worked in real life,” he says. “If the stuff we say is ‘good’ doesn’t actually drive student achievement, we should be really careful about saying somebody else’s stuff isn’t good. Individual teachers may not know the data about a particular curriculum, but they do know that lots of ‘highly-rated things’ have failed in their personal experience.”
Second, teachers have different criteria in mind when they look for materials online. Engaging their students may be top of mind, or filling instructional gaps in adopted curriculum materials, or meeting the needs of high- and low-achieving students. Those are the things that teachers are “shopping” for.
Third, Fordham criticized some widely downloaded online materials for not having “clear directions.” Goldstein guesses that the thousands of teachers who have downloaded these very popular materials already have a workable set of directions in their heads, so a lack of explicit instructions wasn’t a problem.
Finally, Goldstein compares Fordham and other expert evaluators of curriculum materials to Rotten Tomatoes’ reviews of movies. There’s an important distinction, he says: “The Rotten Tomatoes reviews are not written by people who read the script; they’ve watched the movie. Consumer Reports does not rate a car solely by sitting inside it or studying its specs. Yes, they do that. But they also (and more importantly) actually drive the car. Yet, typically, curriculum reviewers simply read lessons and imagine them in their mind’s eyes. That is a very difficult way to gauge what happens in real life when that lesson is taught…
“I would urge curriculum reviewers to rate curricula by watching several teachers actually use it… Then we’d have the chance for a ‘Tomatometer Expert’ who is more trusted by teachers, because the feedback would be grounded in real life outputs (how the class actually goes) rather than inputs.” This, Goldstein believes, would allow for a gradual, trial-and-error improvement of classroom materials, which would, in turn, lead to “huge gains for students.”
“Watch the Movie, Don’t Just Read the Script: Teaching vs. Curriculum” by Michael Goldstein in Education Gadfly, January 8, 2020 (Vol. 20, #1), https://bit.ly/2PHDahh
8. Ideas for Individual Student Reading Conferences
“My favorite moments with my students happen one-on-one,” says Arkansas teacher Justin Minkel on this article in Education Week Teacher. To make the most of reading conferences, he suggests the following:
• Prioritize quality over quantity. Trying to rush through the entire class each week is a mistake, says Minkel. His routine is doing two or three conferences a day, so some students are seen every other week.
• Read with struggling readers more often. “Being equitable with our time doesn’t mean allotting it identically to each student,” he says. Minkel’s emergent readers have conferences almost every day.
• Begin with a compliment. Reading aloud is a “vulnerable process for many children,” he says. “They tend to be more receptive to feedback on their reading abilities if we begin that feedback with one or two of their strengths.”
• Have the student try out a new skill on the spot. “Sometimes, even when they’re eagerly nodding their heads, our students have no idea how to go off and do what we just told them to do,” he says. “It’s not enough to teach. We have to make sure the kids learn.”
• Check for comprehension. Some students can read with 100 percent accuracy but not understand what they just read. Simple, low-key questions – What happened in this story? What did you learn from this book? – tell whether the student is doing the “critical, invisible work of reading – visualizing, connecting, inferring, predicting,” says Minkel. This is especially important for English learners, and for all students it builds the bridge from thinking to talking and then to writing.
• Immediately put observations to work. Reading conferences give teachers invaluable information about each student’s fluency, comprehension, and strategies for figuring out tricky words, and it’s a shame if the data wind up in a manila folder and aren’t used. Minkel believes in applying insights on the spot – grabbing a whiteboard and helping a student see how to turn the word moon into main and mean, or asking, What happened so far? “The time we spend gathering data is only useful if we actually use the data to make kids better readers,” he says.
• Teach the reader, not just the reading. Minkel suggests using one-on-one time with students to check in with them on the bigger picture: How’s our class going for you? Any problems? How’s your baby sister doing? “Taking that half-minute to ask how students are doing can convey that we care about them as human beings, not just as a collection of reading levels and test scores,” he says. “Over time, these little human moments can strengthen, reinforce, or repair the relationship at the heart of teaching.”
“Six Tips for Making the Most of One-on-One Reading Conferences” by Justin Minkel in Education Week Teacher, February 25, 2020, https://bit.ly/2PCU2FO
9. Getting More Value from “Turn and Talk
In this Forbes article, author Natalie Wexler describes what she often sees in classrooms when the teacher tells students to turn and talk about something just taught:
– Students talking about the intended topic but not making any sense;
– Students having a lively discussion on a different topic;
– Capable or assertive students holding forth while others listen – “social loafing”;
– Students staring into space waiting for the teacher to say time is up;
– A very noisy classroom, making it difficult to hear, also inviting off-task behavior.
Teachers may suspect that their turn-and-talks aren’t that productive, but many believe their administrators expect this pedagogical move to be used in every lesson.
“To be sure,” says Wexler, “there’s truth to the idea that interaction has educational benefits. Learning doesn’t happen unless students are engaged, and group and pair work can be very engaging for students. But it’s possible to have engagement without learning.” Here are some research-based ways to get maximum value from turn-and-talks:
– Make sure students understand what they’re supposed to be discussing, starting with enough factual information and a clear and interesting prompt.
– Give students guidelines and protocols that help them debate and negotiate – for example, “Make sure you understand your partner’s perspective.”
– The quality of turn-and-talks can be enhanced if students are asked to write silently before discussing with their group.
– Pair sharing can be especially helpful in world language classes, giving students more practice using the language without the pressure of performing for the whole class.
“Why Teachers Need To Do More Than Have Kids ‘Turn and Talk’” by Natalie Wexler in Forbes, February 9, 2020, https://bit.ly/2TxOfCH
10. Do Teachers Plateau After Their First Few Years?
In this Journal of Professional Capital and Community paper, Anne Podolsky and Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University) and Tara Kini (Learning Policy Institute) report on their analysis of 30 studies of the relationship between years of teaching experience and teachers’ impact on student learning. Their conclusions:
• While teachers’ effectiveness grows most rapidly in the first few years in the classroom, it continues to improve into their second and even third decade of their careers. “The effects of teaching experience on student achievement are significant,” say Podolsky, Darling-Hammond, and Kini. And the compounded effect of having several accomplished, experienced teachers in successive years can reduce the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color.
• Two factors are especially important to accelerating teachers’ growth: working in a supportive and collegial professional climate (the principal plays a key role), and teaching at the same grade level for several years.
• Experienced teachers have a positive impact when they work closely with and mentor less-experienced colleagues. Conversely, the worst-case scenario is schools with large proportions of inexperienced teachers. Unfortunately, these are often the highest-poverty schools.
“Taken as a whole,” conclude Podolsky, Darling-Hammond, and Kini, “the findings of this review suggest that investments in building an experienced, highly-collaborative teacher workforce focused on continual learning are most likely to result in greater student learning, while, at the same time, reducing teacher attrition… Of course, not all experience is educative: some highly experienced teachers are not particularly effective or have retired on the job, and some novice teachers are dynamic and effective. However, by and large, a more-experienced teaching workforce offers numerous benefits to students and schools.”
“Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of U.S. Research” by Anne Podolsky, Tara Kini, Linda Darling-Hammond in Journal of Professional Capital and Community, October 21, 2019, https://bit.ly/2VDLzWJ; Podolsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,
11. Short Items:
https://thelionsstory.org/resources, which is on the website of a new Philadelphia-based organization, The Lion’s Story.
“How to Resolve Racially Stressful Situations” by Howard Stevenson, November 2017
b. Online access to the Smithsonian – This link https://www.si.edu/openaccess provides close to 3 million 2-D and 3-D images from the Smithsonian’s 19 museums.
“Smithsonian Open Access” 2020
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