In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve discusses how “knowing” can develop trust and opportunities among students and educators.
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes. Thanks for listening!
Announcer : 00:00 Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud is sponsored by the AAIE Institute for International School Leadership. Preparing educators for the unique challenge of international school leadership through online courses led by international school leaders. Learn more at aaieinstitute.org.
Steve: 00:18 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:46 The impact of knowing: creating opportunities to ask and listen. Knowing — that’s K. N. O. W. I. N. G. Knowing is critical to building trust. Trust that is needed within the classroom to impact student learning. Trust that is needed among teachers as members of professional learning communities. Trust that needs to exist between administrators and teachers across departments, across schools, throughout a district, in order to develop a culture and a learning opportunity that brings dynamic learning to both the educators and the students that they serve. David Brooks published an article in the New York Times titled “Students Learn From People They Love.” He stated that what teachers really teach is themselves. Their contagious passion for their subjects and their students. He reinforced that children learn from people they love and that love in this context means willing the good of another and offering active care for the whole person. I want to repeat that. Willing the good of another and offering active care for the whole person.
Steve: 02:20 Those are powerful words and they really ring to me, of this concept of knowing. A teacher can’t communicate a willing of the good or offer active care unless she really knows her students. All teachers know some students and often unconsciously communicate that sense of knowing in connections, in ways that enhance that student’s learning. But our consciousness needs to be focused on identifying students we don’t know. Some students who might spend an entire day not feeling known or finding a connection with anyone at the school. I’m a very strong component of advisory programs, especially for middle schools and high schools. Creating an opportunity where someone at a school has a full on commitment to know students. If a teacher has an advisory of, say, 15 to max 20 students and preferably if the teacher has that advisory for more than a year, the teacher can make that commitment to know each and every one of those students and to communicate to those students that the staff at the school is responding to the student based on knowing that student. That the school responds differently to a student, that teachers respond differently to a student because that student is known.
Steve: 04:22 It doesn’t mean that the advisor has to be the person that has the relationship with the student, but it’s critical that the advisor identifies that someone in the school has that relationship with the student. And in cases where a student doesn’t have a person, the advisor assists in creating an opportunity for that relationship to be developed. So as a teacher struggling with a student that I’m not making connections with, I know that if I were to turn to the advisor, the advisor can assist me either because the advisor knows the student or the advisor knows a person who does know that that student well and has a knowledge and connections that can assist me as the teacher in working with that student. So advisory creates that opportunity for asking and knowing. I frequently described that in my mind, in an advisory, the flow of information or knowledge ought to be 50/50.
Steve: 05:46 So perhaps 50% of the time that a student is in advisory, the student is gaining information that’s critical and important to the student. But equally, 50% of the time the teacher in the advisory is gaining information from the students that become critical. In elementary schools, this may look more like a morning meeting. I work with a school that puts that first 15 minutes aside as “village time.” Opportunities for students to know each other and teachers to know students. While searching for information on knowing, I found a great interview with Walter Bettinger, the president of Charles Schwab. He tells a story of a business professor he had who gave him a one question final test. And the question was, “what’s the name of the woman who cleans this building?” Bettinger states that that that experience had a powerful impact on him.
Steve: 06:59 He said it was the only test the he had ever failed and he ended up with a B that he deserved in the course. He found out that the woman’s name was Dottie and that he didn’t know Dottie. He had seen her each day, but had never taken the time to ask her name. He says that he’s tried to know every Dottie since wherever he’s worked. And that this was a great reminder about what really matters in life — that you should never lose sight of the people who do the real work. It’s interesting because I’ve been following the head of a international school on LinkedIn and he places himself every morning, outside the school, greeting all of the students coming into his school and all the parents there dropping their children off. And a company executive who was delivering his child to school, was caught by the head of the school’s attention and focus and he commented on the fact that it would be like a CEO standing outside the building and greeting a thousand students on their way into the building.
Steve: 08:30 Bettinger adds a difference between managing and leading. And he says this: “With leadership, you make a decision every day about whether you choose to follow someone and you make that decision in your heart, not in your head.” That’s a great description in my mind for a teacher to remember about how students are making decisions in our classrooms and as school leaders to think about decisions that teachers make based on their sense of being known by the leader. Equally important is that the leaders create the opportunities for teachers to know each other. I work with a library media specialist who purposefully arranges her schedule so that she takes lunch at a different time each day, which gives her the opportunity to be having lunch with a different grade level of elementary teachers. Knowing and being known.
Steve: 09:50 I worked with a high school principal who had a requirement that at faculty meetings, teachers sat in groups of three and started each faculty meeting with a question that he posed for the three people to answer with each other. His requirement was that you had to sit with different people at each faculty meeting and he actually had a check sheet for teachers to use at the Faculty meeting, identifying folks with whom they had not yet sat and had those, those conversations. I was working with a district looking at the transition of students from elementary school to middle school and we identified elementary teachers who did not know the names of people who were teaching sixth grade at the middle school. And one of the first activities that the district did was to set up some social afternoon kinds of gatherings that brought fifth and sixth grade teachers together to just to know each other.
Steve: 11:14 I worked in a middle school with a science teacher who could not tell me the name of anyone who taught freshmen science at the high school. If folks within a district don’t know each other, it’s impossible to have the kind of communications that are necessary and critical to build a program around addressing the needs of students. We can do all the aligning of the curriculum that we want when it’s just dealing with shuffling papers and organizing standards. But that critical conversation that occurs when a teacher is struggling with a student and grabs the phone to check in with last year’s teacher. Or a teacher is questioning the depth of student understanding and in content and can check in with the teacher who will be working with that student the following year. Those conversations are best when they occur informally.
Steve: 12:29 So we’ve gotta be finding ways to create the culture and the structures to build those knowing relationships among people. Increased knowing between teachers is one of the big payoff benefits that I see of creating a pure coaching program. If two teachers experience a pre-conference, if I get to talk to you about a learning activity in my classroom that you’re going to come in and see, your questions allow me to talk about things that are important in my value system as a teacher. And very often in those settings, teachers discover common beliefs and values that prior to peer coaching, they they didn’t know existed. And then when I open that door of my classroom to my colleague, I’m creating a sense of vulnerability that can allow that colleague to know me better and for me to know that colleague. And creating those knowing relationships among staff can build trust that builds increased vulnerability. And so any teacher being faced with a student not learning, not mastering, not succeeding at the level that we’re desiring, knows there are people on the staff I can turn to. People who care enough about my students as well as caring about me. It really reflects back to David Brook’s term that love means willing the good of another and offering active care for the whole person. Teachers investing in each other to support each other as well as supporting the students that we serve.
Steve: 14:59 When I posted a blog on this topic of knowing, I got a tremendous response from a young woman I know named Allie and I’d like to read you her response as a quote.
Steve: 15:16 “This is a great point, Steve. I still remember those teachers and faculty members, janitors, instructional staff, secretaries, French teacher, guidance counselor and coaches who took an interest in my life strengths and knew how to push me. I can recall their names immediately and could rattle off in this post if I wanted to. Their investment in me gave me the confidence to take on new challenges and know that I had a support team to fall back on if I failed. This taught me an important skill set for my career to stay invested in the lives and careers of my colleagues and clients and to help whenever I can.” That’s the way we all want to be remembered. Working as teachers or coaches or school leaders. We want to be remembered by people as someone who knew them and that knowing of them drove us to bring them the support we did. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 16:43 Thanks again 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.