Podcast for Teachers: Building a Quality Learning Environment - Steve Barkley

Podcast for Teachers: Building a Quality Learning Environment

What do students experience in your classroom that they would identify as indications of caring? When would they identify the tasks that they have been given as useful? When and why would they describe hard work as feeling good? Can students recognize that when teaching is hard work it feels good to you? How might discussions about above and beyond generate increase quality work and learning? When are your students wowed?

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Podcast Transcript
[00:00:01.690] – Steve [Intro]

Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding, and my curiosity has piqued whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.


[00:00:33.930] – Steve

Building a quality learning environment. I want to begin by asking you to take a moment and reflect. Reflect on a recent time that you’ve had what you might label as a quality experience. Did you purchase a quality product? Did someone give you quality service? What made the experience rank as a quality experience for you? I had a very recent quality experience which was rather new to me to have a quality experience in a hospital emergency waiting room. My wife awoke early in the morning with a strange pain in her neck that seemed to be getting worse, and in trying to contact our house doctor, we found out that she was on vacation and so we made the trek to the local emergency room. As we entered early in the morning, we were greeted by a person with a smile, immediately asking us what was wrong and how he could help. As he placed us in an examination room, he was politely explaining that our wait would need to be a while as the doctors were out at other places within the hospital seeing patients. He did everything he could to make our weight comfortable and continued to check on us as we waited.


[00:02:21.710] – Steve

When a doctor arrived, she was quick to gather more information and check back from what she could read from the initial intake that was done. As the examination went on, the doctor continually informed us that she would help. She brought in other doctors to check on her reading of the case and together they came up with a treatment plan, wrote the prescriptions for us and sent us on our way to the drugstore. Extra care was taken as we are in Switzerland in the German section, and they went out of their way to make sure that we totally understood all of the directions that went along with the medicines that we’d be receiving. As my wife and I walked to the car, we both commented on the quality of the experience and a need to let people know how much we appreciated the quality of their service. Years back, I found this quote from William Glasser about quality that I thought was very helpful. He stated, “while quality is difficult to define precisely, it almost always includes caring for eachother, is useful, involved hard work on someone’s part, and when we are involved with it, either as a provider or a receiver, it always feels good.


[00:04:11.570] – Steve

Because it feels so good, all of us carry in our heads a clear idea of what quality is for ourselves.” Consider Glasser’s terms – caring, useful, hard work that feels good, and the interesting part, it feels good to the provider as well as the receiver. Take a moment and reflect on the quality experience that you identified at the start of this podcast. Do those items appear? Caring, useful, hard work, feels good? They certainly line up with my emergency room experience. Caring was shown throughout the process. The ability to get service when our doctor was not available was very useful, and you could tell that people were working hard to take care of us but their body language, their posture, their tone of voice, everything suggested that they enjoyed the opportunity to serve us. Consider how you build these elements into your classroom environment. Caring, useful, hard work that feels good. If you could jump ahead six months from now and interview your students and ask them to give examples of when the classroom felt caring, what do you imagine your students would say?


[00:05:56.720] – Steve

If you were to ask your students to take all of the assignments and tasks that they’ve been given and to sort them onto two piles, useful and useless,  what do you think would be on each of those piles?


[00:06:11.110] – Steve

Important to know that just because a student considers a task might be useless doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. But it does communicate that the student isn’t seeing the value, and it might cause me to consider how I present the task to students so that they can understand the purposefulness of a task.


[00:06:36.660] – Steve

And lastly, when would students in your class describe that working hard felt good? And can students tell that when you’re working hard, it feels good to you to have your hard work serve your students?


[00:06:58.890] – Steve

I often find that teachers working in the area of the performing arts or teachers who take a project based approach in their classrooms can find it a little bit easier to build in that item of hard work, feeling good. As students invest in the project, invest in the outcome, it’s easier for them to see the payoff of their effort having value. Those of you who use goal setting with the students can look to achieve the same thing, as students can identify progress that’s occurring from the hard work that they are taking on. You might want to consider putting Glasser’s quote and the items of caring, useful, hard work that feels good in front of your students and encouraging them to engage with you in identifying how the classroom can be organized, how the classroom can be structured, how the communication between teachers and students and students with students can be set up to increase the likelihood that more people in the classroom are more frequently finding caring, useful and hard work, feeling good. I’ve taken Glasser’s list of caring, useful, hard Work that feels good and added two additional elements that I’ve come across in my conversations with teachers. The first one I call above and beyond.


[00:08:44.250] – Steve

I was exploring quality with a group of teachers, and one of the teachers said, if you like the idea of quality, you might want to look at the concept of above and beyond. They went on to explain to me that above and beyond is what causes us to identify experience as quality. In other words, it exceeds our expectations. If I look back at my example of the emergency room in the hospital, the above and beyond was the environment that they created. We went there for treatment, we went there for a prescription, but the environment that they created went above and beyond the expectations that we walked into the emergency room with. I had a high school teacher share with me that the way he introduces that concept to his students is early in the year, he gives them a pretty straightforward task to complete as an assignment, and when the students hand it in, he looks it over to grade it  and if they met the qualifications that he laid out, in other words, the expectations that he had shared as the assignment, the students receive a grade of C.


[00:09:53.630] – Steve

So on this first task, most of the students get their paper back with a C. He says that rather quickly, there are students at his desk questioning him what’s wrong with their assignment, and he informs them that there’s nothing wrong with it. They did a perfect job, they met the requirements, and that’s how you get a C. Of course, the student wants to know how you get an A or a B, and he goes oh, well, if you want a B, you need to go beyond the assignment and if you want an A, you have to go above what most of the people did to go beyond.


[00:10:27.710] – Steve

Above and beyond – a very interesting way to look at what it means to work hard. I’ve had some teachers describe the way that they approach above and beyond is in the rubrics that they give students. So if they have a one to four rubric, they’ll identify what the work looks like that gets you a one, a two, or a three, but they leave the four spot on their rubric blank. In other words, the student needs to come up with something beyond a three in order to score a four on their task but the teacher doesn’t define what that would be. I’ve had teachers tell me that they explain the ability to identify what you could add to the task that would move it from a three to a four is part of what’s behind getting a score of four. That above and beyond certainly shows up in quality teaching. Teachers who create quality experiences for students go above and beyond the task that’s required to be a successful teacher beyond what the curriculum says needs to be covered. High quality teachers are constantly exploring that above and beyond area.


[00:12:02.390] – Steve

In addition to above and beyond, I added one more element to that list of quality. I call it “wow.” Several years back, I read a book by Tom Peters called, “The Pursuit of Wow.” Peters talked about the need for businesses and organizations to wow their customers.


[00:12:23.950] – Steve

So how often can you get a customer to say, “wow” is an indicator of your success.


[00:12:31.230] – Steve

So if you’re providing a service, how often do you hear customers go wow? If you created a new product, when you put it out on the shelves in a store, how often do people walk by, touch, or pick up your new product and describe wow?


[00:12:44.490] – Steve

Peter’s writing drew me to watch it happen in my own life. I’m checking into a hotel, it’s after midnight, and as I leave the desk with my key, they hand me a warm cookie. I’m getting in the elevator and I’m going, wow. Now think about that.


[00:13:05.600] – Steve

I just paid $150 for a hotel room and I’m wowed by a cookie. But it did the trick. Can you think of the last time that you were in a restaurant and you were wowed? Some restaurants wow you by size of portion. You go into steakhouses and they bring the raw meat out and let you take a look at it and pick one. There’s a restaurant I went to where they had a 50 ounce steak, and I hope no one ever orders that. It’s really not even a steak, it’s a roast. But as soon as the waiter picks it up, everyone at the table goes “wow!” Now, it’s funny because when you go to a very expensive dinner, what happens to size of portion? It gets really tiny. In an expensive dinner, you’re not going to get a whole carrot, only four slivers, but each one is strategically located on your plate. You’ve just paid $25 for a brownie, but it’s got a red, white, and blue stripe through it and a flag on it, and the plate is on fire as they delivered it.


[00:14:02.540] – Steve

So it caused me to think about where does that show up in a classroom? Is it a strategy that a teacher can use?


[00:14:10.910] – Steve

Can a teacher sit down at the end of the week and look through the previous week of learning and say, how often did I hear a wow from my learners? Now, you can’t wow kids all the time, or you’d be entertaining them, but you need that spark of wow plugged in every now and then.


[00:14:28.150] – Steve

The start of a school year, the start of a new course, the start of a unit of study is a great time to be looking for a wow. Over the years, I’ve collected examples of teachers wowing students. Science teachers may have it easiest, they’re going to blow something up, and the kids are wowed. I met a high school teacher who, on the first day of school, shows up in a costume, but it’s the costume of the character that’s the lead in the novel that the students are going to be reading.


[00:15:14.280] – Steve

I met a fourth grade teacher, and she came into school on the very first day and had the secretary deliver A gift wrapped box to her classroom. It was a rather large box with a big bow on it and a letter attached. And as she opened the letter, she read the card to the kids. The card said, this is a gift to the fourth grade students to be opened as soon as you know the volume of the box.


[00:15:32.570] – Steve

She then asked the kids, does anyone know what volume is? And none of the students did. So she said, Well, I think it’s math. So the kids were all flipping through their math books to find a formula, and as they do, she puts it up on the board. They then had to take the measurements of the box, and as they did the measurements, they found fractions in the measurements. It took almost three weeks for the students to do all the math learning that they had to do to finally get that opportunity to identify the volume of the box. Every day during math class, she’d get the box out, they’d make progress, and she’d put it back on the shelf. And it wasn’t uncommon for the kids to enter the classroom in the morning saying, can we do math now? And so finally, the day came that the kids had figured out the volume of the box. They had a big celebration.


[00:16:26.510] – Steve

They opened the box, and inside the box was a giant plastic bag filled with candy, a long string of it. It just wound around and around and around, and it was tied shut with a bow and a card attached. And the card said, when you can divide me evenly, you can eat me. The students had more learning to do. Here’s the best part of the story that the teacher shared with me. Months later, at Christmas time, the kids left a present on the teacher’s desk, all gift wrapped. And when she went to open it, the whole class yelled, you can’t open it until you tell us the volume of the box. That teacher’s activity, her creation of a wow had long-term payoff with student engagement and learning.


[00:17:16.970] – Steve

I worked with a high school in New Jersey where at the beginning of the year, nearly 90% of the teachers agreed to open the school with a wow activity in their classroom. on that first day. The principal reported back to me that he received phone calls from parents who couldn’t believe the way their high school students came home from that first day of school.


[00:17:35.430] – Steve

I encourage you to stop from time to time and spend some reflection looking at quality in your classroom. Caring, useful, hard work, feels good, above and beyond and wow. Consider engaging your colleagues and your students in that exploration of how we can work together to create more quality experiences. Part of the positive emotional impact of providing quality experiences for our learners is that it causes our own positive emotions to be tapped, which continues adding positiveness to the overall experience. This is a payoff worth the effort. I’m wishing you as many possible quality teaching and learning experiences as possible.


[00:18:45.370] – Steve

I’d love to hear your examples, especially an example of a wow – your thoughts on how we cause the school day to have more quality experiences for everyone involved. You can always reach me at barkleypd.com. Thanks for listening.


[00:19:08.750] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening in, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.



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