Podcast: Why a Focus on Learning - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Why a Focus on Learning

Why a Focus on Learning

Judy Thompson shares her views on how our traditional, “industrial” schooling model needs to change. Her focus on coaching and facilitating learning emerged as she recognized how teaching English as reading and writing wasn’t leading to success with the language. Consider how her thinking supports your desire for maximizing student learning.

  • Teachers talk—–Facilitators listen
  • Teachers see what is wrong—–Facilitators validate
  • Teachers are authoritarians—–Facilitators are leaders

Visit Judy’s website here.
Watch Judy’s Ted X video here. 

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

Steve [Intro] (00:01):

Welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. As instructional coaches and school leaders, you have a challenge to guide continuous teacher growth that promotes student success. This podcast looks to support you with strategies from our experienced guests and insights that I’ve gathered across many years. I’m thrilled you’re here. Thanks for listening.

Steve (00:28):

Why a focus on learning. I met today’s podcast guest after reading a post that she shared, describing differences between students who might be identified as gifted learners compared to bright children. Just as an example, the the Post suggested that while bright children know answers, gifted learners tend to ask questions. And while bright children would be interested, gifted learners are highly curious. And while the bright child may enjoy school, the gifted learner really enjoys learning. With a visit to her website and an extended Zoom conversation, I uncovered Judy Thompson to be an educator who I was sure would generate an interesting podcast conversation. And I’m pleased to say that when I invited her, she agreed. And I asked Judy to give me a little bit of an introduction and before she comes on here, I want to share the introduction that she sent.

Steve (01:33):

Judy wrote, before I became an English as a second language teacher in 1999, I was a mother and a horse trainer. Those roles taught me how to communicate effectively with magnificent creatures who didn’t speak English. I’d go so far to say it was my experiences and not my degrees that prepared me best for my teaching career. “If something isn’t working, try something else,” gave me the freedom to develop new avenues, originally, for teaching English as a second language, and more recently, for reading literacy. I recorded a TED Talk in 2009 that opened many doors and led to my first book, “English Is Crazy,” which is sold in more than 60 countries. Welcome, Judy. It’s great to have you here.

Judy (02:28):

It’s lovely to be here.

Steve (02:30):

I’m wondering for starters, talk a little bit about what your teaching background was.

Judy (02:38):

I had a degree in English, and when my last child got on the school bus for kindergarten, I went to the employment office and they did a discovery program that identified what you were good at, from what you liked, from what your experience was and they crunched all the data and said, “you should teach ESL.” And I said, “what is that?” <Laugh> So I got a great job. I went to Hamburg College, and then, just an act of God, I got a great job with the Board of Education. So I did that for years, but it didn’t matter how long. And the teachers were great, like great, great coworkers who cared and worked hard. But it didn’t matter how long the students were there, they never learned to speak English confidently. It was almost a hundred percent focus on reading and writing with an expectation that speaking fluency would follow. And it never happened. So that wasn’t fine with me because they were counting on me to teach them to speak English so they could assimilate and live in Canada, so I had to figure out how speaking works. And it turns out they’re unrelated. So reading and writing, listening, speaking in English, are unrelated because spelling doesn’t make sense.

Steve (04:00):

Gotcha. When you and I had the chance to to to speak, I zeroed in on this word that our focus ought to be about learning. And I guess I’m hearing that right embedded in all those experiences. The kids really didn’t learn what the learning outcome was that you were shooting for.

Judy (04:25):

No. It’s that test takers – we have a culture of unskilled unemployable, test passers, and 43% graduate high school functionally illiterate. Functionally illiterate means they can read the words on an aspirin bottle and don’t know how many pills to take.

Judy (04:45):

It’s a comprehension thing. This is an epic fail of mine. This is not them. And that we’re so satisfied. We’re a smug <laugh>. Teachers are smug. “I’m such a great teacher.” So we can’t collapse working hard and really caring with success. We don’t have success. And it’s built into the system. We can’t have success with the industrial education system.

Steve (05:16):

I started to pull phrases out from things that I’ve seen you’ve written and your website and following you on social media, and “industrial education” is one of the phrases that you use. Talk a little bit more what you mean by that.

Judy (05:31):

I got that from Grant Lichtman, and he is amazing. So he’s an American and he talks about transforming schools and boards for the 21st century. And he does it and he has a formula for doing it and he’s transformed hundreds of schools. But he coined industrial education, as far as I know – sit down in rows, do what you’re told, be quiet, regurgitate what I tell you, don’t question authority or anything or else you are in trouble. You’re going to the principal’s office. I think this is hard for the really gifted kids too, who have questions about everything and honestly, their teachers don’t have answers. They have a curriculum. And anything outside of that is frowned upon both in teacher education, how can they forward anything but that rigidity? So yeah, industrial.

Steve (06:35):

It’s really the assembly line.

Judy (06:37):


Steve (06:38):

Preparation for the assembly line.

Judy (06:40):


Steve (06:41):

Right on.

Judy (06:41):

Compliance school.

Steve (06:44):

So many things in the existing design still fit that while the whole world around has dramatically changed.

Judy (06:52):

I wish I had his name in front of my face. It might be Don Cheney, who measured success over life. And that the highest, the kids with the highest grades, the A students, I think he called them, work for the C students. And the typical report card for a C student is A-A-C-D-D-D. Like, they just focus on that thing that they’re passionate about and barely pass anything else. But they’re the generators, they have their own voice and the A students work for them.

Steve (07:28):

I’m pretty sure that was Don Clifton.

Judy (07:31):

Clifton, yes. Thank you so much.

Steve (07:35):

I actually had the opportunity to work on a joint project with him years back. And I love doing parent workshops and presenting his piece to parent workshops because I’d say, how many of you want your kids to come home with – I put the two report cards up. How many of you would prepare your kid having this one versus this one? And all the parents go for that all A report card. And then when I would share his results, the highly successful people almost always had those an an A or two and stuff they were really interested in. They knew what they had to do to meet some other minimum requirements and they knew stuff that wasn’t even worth doing and they just blew it off and that’s what caused them to be successful in life.

Judy (08:20):

This brings up something else about industrial education, is knowing that doesn’t make a difference. There’s no ability in traditional or industrial education to adapt. So it’s been this way for 250 years since its inception. It has always been this way. And “we always do it this way” is kind of a catchphrase, but we’ve always done it this way. We’ve always done it badly. How about that?

Steve (08:49):

Just another example that that the co-founder of my my company, Joe Hasenstab used to share years ago, there’s a TV show that was, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? And you would go on that show and the fifth graders knew answers that all these people they brought on didn’t.

Steve (09:07):

And what nobody seemed to get, and I don’t even know that I got it until Joe pointed it out to me, is that it really described the fifth grader as the fool because they were spending all their time learning this material, which all these highly successful people were purely showing them, you really don’t need to know any of that stuff to be successful.

Judy (09:33):

Ebbinghouse. We’ve known that since 1880s. The forgetting curve. We know the percentage we forget in an hour. By the time we finish the test and leave high school, we’ve forgotten it all. It doesn’t make a difference. Knowing doesn’t make a difference in education.

Steve (09:52):

Another phrase that you that you had, I think I found out on your website is that you said you discovered you weren’t a teacher. You were a coach. Talk that through a little bit.

Judy (10:03):

After the TED thing, that opened a lot of doors. And I was invited to different countries to coach, to, I can’t use the word, you teach our executives to speak English. So executives have unlimited money and no time. So they want to get fixed fast. So I started assessing them – why don’t you think you speak English now? I mean, a lot of them could call me and say, “I have a meeting in New York City on Monday. I’m leading a meeting. This is Wednesday. Can you fix my English by Monday?” And you go, “well, yes, he doesn’t know his English is fine.” So why do you think you don’t speak English now was a big question. But then you designed something for him. So I did a lot of mining executives so I could customize and do the articles and the videos about mining.

Judy (11:00):

I had a lot of banking executives like that, accountability. If they didn’t achieve the results I said they could, then I didn’t get paid. There’s a money back guarantee in the contract. And nobody ever got their money back. You fixed whatever their problem was and they were done. It took six to eight lessons, didn’t take years. You go, oh, there’s that thing that’s holding you back. It’s easy to fix. We fix it like this. There’s a little bit of unlearning. There’s always unlearning. You have to take away all the junk that they learn from their English teachers in school. They install the chips that your accent is a problem and that your grammar’s a problem. And neither are a problem in conversation. They just aren’t. Everyone has an accent. So then there was accountability and autonomy.

Judy (11:52):

They have to be able to do it when I’m not there. So when I started doing all these A words and getting great results, that’s when somebody told me, that’s not teaching. None of those aspects of learning are in teaching. Not assessment, not architecture or customization. Not accountability, not activities, not autonomy. So if you’re adding those, you’re not a teacher, you’re something else. So if you’re adding all those and you get just a ridiculous amount of money for that for coaches because they have all the money. They have money, so just fix them. But it wasn’t super satisfying. The money was great fixing one rich person at a time. So I was a coach. I subsequently learned that was coaching, it was lucrative. But coaching to groups is facilitating and I identified it as facilitator now.

Steve (12:54):

That was the next word.

Judy (12:57):

That stops teachers in their tracks because they say, I can’t customize for 30 children at once. And I could barely deliver the curriculum and my heart breaks for them. But it’s not true. It’s totally doable. And it’s much easier than delivering a crap curriculum that they’re just gonna forget after the test. It’s much, much easier. You just lack the skill. So it’s just the other side of the same coin. So teachers talk and facilitators listen. Teachers see what’s wrong. We are trained to see what’s wrong in market X and fix it. You did this wrong. Facilitate. See what’s right. “Your spelling’s perfect. Thank you for your contribution. Look at your grade printing. I never thought of it that way before.” This is how they talk all the time. They only validate. Only validate. And the learning is exponential after that. So teachers are authoritarian and facilitators are leaders. There’s a lot of talk in corporate about leaders, leaders, leaders. And the vehicle’s facilitation. We have to get that vehicle into school and we have to get teachers to stop believing they can’t. You’re so close your greatest moments, you’re doing it now. When you see them and recognize them or see something special in them, that’s facilitating, that’s not teaching at all. That’s what you already do. I just need you to be more mindful of doing it more, like all the time.

Steve (14:30):

I was just in a conversation yesterday about the teachers who are struggling moving to the facilitation piece are still holding onto some sense that in that old teaching model, they have contro and in the facilitation model, they have to give up that control. It’s really a different kind of control though, isn’t it?

Judy (14:59):

Control itself for one thing – having to resist the temptation <laugh> to put capitals on that sentence.

Steve (15:10):

It’s that issue that the mistake jumps out at me and so I need to control myself to look for the piece that’s right that I’m gonna build upon rather than that mistake…

Judy (15:27):

It’s a mindset, but it flips over like a switch. And you have to pause. You have to just stop yourself for a minute from instead of reacting, you have to respond. And there’s a lot, a lot of talk about that in social media now, in personal relationships, in business, and we have to get it in school. School is the last to get it because teachers don’t know what to do differently. There’s no structure to make a choice. There’s a structure now. You can make a choice, a respond choice.

Steve (15:59):

So my work with instructional coaches falls down on the same piece then of the instructional coach not getting caught up in a telling mode and really to get caught in the asking and listening mode is where the growth’s going to occur and not the telling mode.

Judy (16:17):

A hundred percent. Teachers talk, coaches listen.

Steve (16:22):


Judy (16:22):

It’s a skill.

Steve (16:25):

So how do we support teachers? I know that you’re a teacher advocate. I know you used the phrase when I talked to you before, “we can do better.” You have this belief that we’re all capable of doing better. Most of the people that that I’m working with, instructional coaches, school administrators, they’re in the role of supporting teachers. So what would you describe as the support we need to provide for teachers to move in the direction that’s gonna make the most out of this for kids?

Judy (16:58):

We’re generating an online program with the Wiz Tango education platform, a training program for facilitators. But it starts with an assessment that streams teachers and like hardcore died in the wool teachers, I know the answer and we have to do it my way, which has a place. They have a place. And the more open-minded ones or progressive ones, they’re often younger. They’re often seasoned teachers who are so frustrated, they’re leaving the industry in droves. Those people that are leaving, we want them. So the support is actually training. Not expensive and not long. It’s to take what you have, have and use it in a fresh way. Young teachers don’t want to spend their whole life not making a difference. Old teachers almost can’t change, almost can’t process the contribution. They’ve been in this system. It’s not them, it’s the system. But the teacher’s leaving, we want them. They figured it out.

Steve (18:12):

Do you think that that’s part of what the post-COVID element is?

Judy (18:20):

A hundred percent.

Steve (18:21):

COVID shown the light on the problem that was already there is my thinking..

Judy (18:25):

Yes. I think it started with the internet. The launch of Microsoft shifted everything. And the transparency provided by the internet. No one can escape. So school really got away with this bullying culture. And we want good marks. And look how great our school is in fudging the marks and belling the marks to make their school super, super competitive and it’s false. It’s education theater. I call it education theater. You don’t actually learn anything except how to do and market. That’s what you learn.

Steve (19:04):

Play the game.

Judy (19:05):

Yeah, the transparency from the internet was the start and COVID was really, really disruptive. And it ChatGPT is the finish. You’re carriage makers and harness makers and candle makers. You don’t have a job anymore.

Steve (19:28):

There is no going back.

Judy (19:32):

Teaching is finished full stop as we’ve always known it. And the faster you can adapt, the happier and more effective that you’re going to be and the more indispensable you’re going to be.

Steve (19:43):

As a facilitator and coach.

Judy (19:46):


Steve (19:47):

Is that fair to say?

Judy (19:49):

Absolutely. The facilitating skills.

Steve (19:57):

Well, Judy, I knew this was going to be a tug on the brain and it certainly has proven to be that.

Steve (20:08):

What’s a way that people who are listening in can follow up with you, find out some of the things, kind of maybe follow you on social media and tap into your website?

Judy (20:21):

It’s thompsonlanguagecenter.com. The ABC Facilitated Reading was written for parents to teach their children to read, to address that 43% of kids that are slipping through the cracks and graduating <laugh>. How do you get through the education system and graduate as a poor or illiterate leader? So it’s for parents to take responsibility for that. Parents are in pain, they’re suffering, and they’re ashamed because they know that kid’s smart. It’s the smartest children, they can’t read. They’re too fricking logical. The school, somebody just told me this and I love it – it was Daphne Russell. She said, “school is for left brain thinkers and the talent and the creativity and the future is with right brain thinkers and school absolutely crushes it.” So I don’t believe we’re right or left brain. I think we’re a mix.

Judy (21:19):

But when she adapted it to school, I thought, oh my goodness. So at the expense of all the creativity and the genius, really, in our population is crushed in our left brain serving school. So the ABC Facilitator Reading, the back is a guide that for facilitating anything. So it works in your personal life. It works at work, it works in math, science, geography. It’s the process of facilitating is in the back of the book. If you want buy the book, it’s on Amazon. If you don’t send me an email, I’ll just send you the pdf. It’s not about capitalizing on this, it’s insulin. This drives my business manager insane. <Laugh>

Steve (22:11):

<Laugh>, I’ll put those links into the lead-in to the podcast.

Judy (22:16):

Thank you so much.

Steve (22:17):

You so much for letting me search you out and agree to join here with me. I’ll look forward to following you.

Judy (22:23):

Thank you very much. You take care.

Steve [Outro] (22:28):

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

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