I had the pleasure to be a presenter at Jim Knight’s TLC21 Conference. Jim joined my session and shared his insights as we explored four different mindsets. In part 2, we examine a longer-term focus rather than the usual education short-term and how we can use our proximity to students for greater learning impact.
View the Marshmallow/Acorn Video here.
Listen to Neema Avisha’s comments here.
PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:28 Jim Knight ponders with me about reframing mindsets through coaching. I had the opportunity to be part of Jim Knight’s virtual TLC conference, an event I look forward to every year. Jim joined me by sharing his reflections after each of the four mind frames that I proposed. In part one of this podcast, we examined focusing on love rather than hate and focusing on an ecosystem design rather than an assembly line. Here in part two, we’ll look at long-term rather than short-term focus and using our proximity to students.
Steve: 01:12 Here’s my third one and my third reframing also came from Sam Chaltain, he’s the one that pointed to Roman Krznaric’s book, “The Good Ancestor” and he talks in here about thinking longer term. And that was part of what was hitting me as I was looking at folks headed back to school was how do we get teachers thinking longer-term rather than short-term? And schools have a history of being in that short-term thought process, short-term goals, short-term measurements. In Krznaric’s book, he talks about a native culture where people think seven generations out. So seven generations from now, when they look back, will they be calling you a good ancestor? And the model that he uses here, he talks about the marshmallow brain versus the acorn brain.
Steve: 02:33 The marshmallow brain is connected to those marshmallow studies they did with the with the little preschoolers where they put one marshmallow out and and the kid had to refrain from eating that marshmallow. He ended up with two, but a lot of kids couldn’t handle that longer term and they popped it in compared to the acorn. So that that concept of cathedral thinking is one that really resonated for me. Think of the power of the people who started building those cathedrals, knowing that by the time the cathedral was finished, the people that started building it weren’t likely to be there as a future future focus. But where this really hit me was this this past summer when I was working with with some
teachers who in July, were having kids come to summer school.
Steve: 03:36 These kids were going to school for their first time in almost a year and a half. So the previous March, they had gone into virtual and at the end of the school year, were in virtual the next whole year. And the first time they were gonna be walking into the classroom with teachers was gonna be in June for a six week summer school. And all I could think of was the last thing that ought to be on our mind is what math we were gonna give this kid during the six weeks that was gonna change his life. And I started talking to people about, let’s think about that student exiting school as a young adult. So, yeah, he’s a third grader now, but what’s he look like exiting school and how might these six weeks you’re gonna spend with this kid have a have an impact on that?
Steve: 04:35 I think I think this is a tough one for coaches to get into kind conversations with teachers, because teachers do have those longer term dreams and they frequently get knocked down by those short-term testing cycles and I think the ability for the coach to engage the teacher in at least finding some common ground. Just today, I was on a coaching call with a with a superintendent who said to me, our state is requiring the tests. The Teachers know the kids are gonna have to take them. He said, but as a leader, I’m trying to tell them, just relax, lean back. I said, I’m gonna make another suggestion to you – I don’t think it’s about getting them to relax. I think it’s about getting them to dream long term. Tell them that as a superintendent, you’re you’re with them, you’re focused on the long term picture. And then let’s talk about, how as teacher, do I wanna spend that time and energy look looking at that at that long term picture. So what thoughts that raise for you?
Jim: 06:00 Let’s talk about it first. It seems to me that’s what coaching is. Coaching is long-term versus the short-term view. Now the coaching could be hung up on the short term view, but I always say when you’re coaching, it’s every student that teacher ever teaches. And so your legacy is not just today, it’s every day that teacher teaches subsequently. If you tutor this year’s kids, then we help this year’s kids, but next year, there’s a new group of kids. But if you’re coaching, we’re having a more lasting long-term impact. But I like that question, I’m just trying to remember the name of the person who wrote this, but where do I wanna be in 10 days, 10 months, 10 years.
Jim: 06:49 And what do I want to do? And how can I make sure that my efforts are contributing to lasting impact rather than – you know, it’s like junk food versus nutrition.So junk food, I’m gonna eat it, it’s gonna be gone, it doesn’t do any good. It’s nice in the moment, but then I probably just want more anyway, it’s not gonna do me much good. Whereas something that’s nutritious could have a long-term positive impact. So I think it’s giving up on junk activity and focusing on the real. And this is a really good thing – if you think about the obsession with like I said, pacing, guides and curriculum, and, you know, I’ll make sure I cover the curriculum. I don’t know if the students will be with me, but I’ll make sure I cover it in time, hit everything. That’s kind of this short-term versus the long- term. Long term is, we set a goal, we want to have a socially significant difference. This student will be different next year because of this. That’s to me, the long term goal.
Steve: 07:52 If you stay with that, I think the role for the coach is to assist the teacher in finding the evidence. I think we go short-term because short-term evidence is easy to collect, but there is evidence. On these growth plans I’m working on with teachers, I’m trying to get them in many cases, to look at bigger changing issues. But then what are the indicators that students are moving in that direction? How does a student approach learning? Or how does the student react to the teacher? How do you begin to pick up those indicators of evidence that a coach can use to reinforce for the teacher that you are making that progress? And I think that’s the problem with long-term. Everybody’s looking for the quick indicators, the long-term indicators are there, but you gotta be more skilled and more focused to find them. And I think it’s really an important time to bring an outsider into your classroom, because they’re more likely to be able to pick those things up than the teacher who’s immersed in it day in and day out.
Jim: 09:07 I think you could call it instructional coaching with the end in mind, which is in case people are listening who don’t know, is Steve’s book. I think when you sit down with a teacher, often, they’re like, let’s figure out how to make this work, let’s come up with something. And then there’s a tendency to land on the first thing. And often, the first thing isn’t the lasting thing, the long-term goal, really the most powerful goal. So I think to take some time to make sure to ask yourself, is this a long term goal? Are the kids lives gonna truly be better as a result of this goal? I think that’s a really important question.
Steve: 09:47 Yeah, it was cool, I had a chance today, I was coaching a a physical education teacher on putting his personal growth plan together. And I mean, it was just really valuable that that’s where he went. He’s teaching middle school physical education, but he’s talking to me about when these kids are 40.
Jim: 10:12 That’s great.
Steve: 10:12 So, what decisions is he making now as a middle school, physical education teacher that’s gonna be impacting these kids when they’re 40. That’s the place to be.
Jim: 10:25 I love it.
Steve: 10:26 All right. I’ll share one more with you.
Jim: 10:31 So just so I’m clear, “The Good Ancestor,” is that a book by –
Steve: 10:35 Yes. The book is called, “The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long-Term in a Short-term World.”
Jim: 10:41 I know his book on empathy, but I don’t know that book.
Steve: 10:44 Yep. The last refocus I’m gonna raise comes from Neema Avashia, and she’s the person that linked me into looking at this concept of teachers using their proximity to students and focusing on their proximity to students. I found a statement that she made on Twitter that her concern was that the people who were making decisions about kids coming back to school out of out of quarantine were people who were the furthest away from the kids. And when she brought it back to her own experience, she went on to share that when she first got thrown into virtual, her teaching wasn’t very successful.
Steve: 11:53 And she thought she could make it through the year, March to June, everything’s gonna be okay, come the fall. And when it came the fall and it was back into virtual, she knew that she had to go to the kids. And she talked about how it was the kids teaching her what she needed to do to be successful. And she was sharing that she had been reading the book, “Just Mercy” with her kids and she referenced this line from “Just Mercy.” For those of you, if you’re unfamiliar, Brian Stevens is an attorney who represented minority people of poverty on death row and got a lot of sentences turned over. And he has this line in the book, “if you want to understand the world, get closer. If you’re willing to get closer to people who are suffering, you’ll find the power to change the world.” That’s a quote from his book. I’m gonna show you just a short clip here that will that will introduce you to to Neva.
Neva [Video Cli…: 13:06 The McCormick is located Dorchester, which is the most diverse, most populated neighborhood in the city of Boston. There are challenges are really specific to being a young person of color in the city of Boston that make the day to day of school really hard for some kids. And those are the kids in my classroom, right? So if I’m not talking about race and the way that race is affecting them and affecting their families, then I’m being blind to the very real issues that we’re all struggling with. And that just doesn’t feel right as a teacher. Like, my job is to help kids make sense of what’s happening in the world, not to pretend that what’s happening in the world, isn’t happening.
Neva [Video Cli…: 13:49 Part of what I’m trying to do in this unit is teach kids stories of black history that they haven’t learned before and show kids people thriving, people pushing back, people resisting and succeeding, even in difficult contexts. I think that the narratives that we teach around race in America often try to gloss over the hard stuff that history still affects everything that is happening in our country right now. Kids are both able to see like, wow, this is really deep history, like, wow, this this existed and it was so powerful and it’s so meaningful and also to think about why haven’t we learned it before?
Steve: 14:30 Her thinking led me to ponder, did we in some ways, during the virtual learning of quarantine, actually get closer to our kids in some ways? I interviewed a music teacher who, during the quarantine, was tutoring English language learners at his school online. And he talked about getting to know the families of kids, because he was Zooming into their houses at off hours do that. In many places, the communication between teachers and parents dramatically increased during this time. In many cases, parents got to observe teachers teaching which almost never happened
previously. So I began to ponder how do we deepen the connections and proximity with students and get teachers to use that proximity?
Steve: 16:00 So I think as a coach, it’s really finding out the degree to which the teacher knows about students and how I assist the teacher in knowing about students and that that’s part of the work. I can’t come in as a coach and not get into the life of the students and the life of the teacher and be able to be the supportive, helpful coach that’s gonna lead to real change. The walls of the school at least shook during this time and I’m hoping there’s some cracks in there that are gonna allow us to build a different kind of future. And this concept of knowing – I started years ago with the phrase that knowing was critical. That teachers needed to know the kids and the kids needed to know they’re known. In many cases as coaches, we need to know the teachers and the teachers need to know that they’re known.
Steve: 17:20 So that’s my pondering.
Jim: 17:25 This is also a good one. You’re you’re ruining my day. I’m gonna be thinking about it all day.
Steve: 17:31 [laughter]
Steve: 17:31 But I mean, what occurs to me – I love this Brian Stevenson quote, “what occurs to me is, why don’t we?” You know, what’s keeping us from doing it? And so I had a bunch of ideas. One might be, just hurry. We’re in too much of a rush. And as I forget who it was, I think Dallas Willard maybe said, all my worst moments in my life happened when I’m hurried. It might have been John Mark Comer. I think he wrote a book called “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” So it could be hurry. It could be just the way our brains work, or at least the way we live out our lives intellectually.
Jim: 18:21 I remember once I worked with a friend of mine who was a researcher. We had a week where we were trying to write this research grant at the university. And one of the people on the team had a miserable cold. I mean, she was hacking and coughing, she had cold medicine and aspirin and a box of Kleenex. She was blowing her nose the whole time. And on the fifth day we were working together on this team, the researcher looked up and he said, “oh, do you have a cold?” And she said, “oh, so nice of you to notice, you know, it’s been five days we’ve been doing this.”
Steve: 18:56 [laughter]
Jim: 18:56 He was so into his thinking that he didn’t really notice the people around him. So there’s that. And then I think there’s a number of other things, but the other other thing I would say is, we’re already carrying around a lot of suffering and we’re hesitant to add more. And I don’t think it’s consciously we do this, but it’s kind of like defense mechanisms, where I’m gonna blame the I’m gonna blame the parents, or I didn’t have enough time, or it’s not that big of problem, I’m gonna minimize the problem, all those things that keep us from feeling pain. And maybe we hesitate to truly have understanding and compassion because it’s hard. You almost have to be counterintuitive to do it.
Steve: 19:53 Well, it’s where you need a coach.
Jim: 19:55 Right.
Steve: 19:56 In other words, understanding the struggle that a student has doesn’t mean that as a teacher, I need to take that on. I mean, I can see it happening to me, but to me, that’s why PLCs and teams and coaching all come into that. I need other people’s lenses looking at this and thinking and working through it with me, so that I don’t end up in that defense mechanism of trying to make it safe for me.
Jim: 20:40 Yeah. I think it’s kind of like many other things are like this, that the initial tendency goes back to your long-term thing to some extent. The initial tendency is to do the quick thing, but if we push ourselves to go a little further and maybe go against our protective shells and step out a little bit, we’ll actually have a deeper life. It’s kind of like Dr. King’s quote, “I decided I’d to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Well, hate in the moment seems like the right thing, but if you can transcend the hate, maybe your life’s gonna be deeper and more beautiful and better, you know? I mean, I’m probably thinking too deeply about this, but I love the idea of if you can get closer to people who are suffering, you’ll find the power to change the world.
Steve: 21:29 It’s wonderful, powerful quote, isn’t it?
Jim: 21:30 Yeah.
Steve: 21:31 Well, I’ll pull it together with two last thoughts here. Teachers who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually do. And I think they definitely deserve to have a coach. Matter of fact, more than one, which is why I’m so big on the culture of coaching and coaches being the coach of coaching to expand that piece out. And this quote that I just pulled from my most recent read triggered when you were talking about us moving too fast. So this is from Adam Grant’s, “Think Again.” “The power of listen doesn’t just lie in in giving people the space to reflect on their views.
Steve: 22:32 It’s a display of respect – powerful word, and expression of care. Listening is the way of offering others our scarcest, most precious gift.” That just really hit me – our attention. Listening well is more than a matter of talking less, it’s a set of skills in asking and responding. And when you were describing it, the word that was jumping out to me here is attention. So whether I’m coming at this from the teacher-student role, the coach-teacher role, the leadership role within a school, it’s really finding ways to stop and to give that attention. I think that’s the biggie. We all deserve that kind of attention. So that’s how my brain got used during quarantine.
Jim: 23:47 I love it. These are great, great things. Just to pick up on this Adam Grant one, because I can’t resist. My good friend, Don Deshler, who we’ve named a leadership award after, says, in life you have two things. You have the time you’ve got and you have what you do at the time. And when you listen, what you’ve done is you’ve given them the time and then you’ve focused your actions, your attention on them. So the two things you’ve got, you’re giving them to the other person as a form of respect. So when you say it’s our scarcest, most precious gift, it’s not just our attention, it’s our time too. That struck me about this. I love this so much, Steve. You’ve got me thinking and I really appreciate it. I hope other people – well, I know other people will feel the same as I do. This has really been a provocative four ideas to think about.
Steve: 24:36 Thanks. And thanks for having me at your conference. I look forward to it every year.
Steve: 24:44 In the lead-in to part two’s podcast, you can find a link for a video clip about the good ancestor concept, and also a video clip
that’ll take you to Neema Avashia’s comments that you heard. I hope that you enjoyed learning along with with Jim Knight as I always do and thanks again for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 25:12 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.