A Lie All Teachers Should Believe

What is the most empowering belief a teacher can have? 

That’s a question I was recently asked. A few answers came quickly to mind:

All students can learn.

I make a difference.

The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I believe the most empowering belief a teacher can have is a lie.

How, you might wonder, can teachers be expected to believe a lie when they know it’s a lie?

The same way we walk around believing all sorts of lies in spite of knowing the truth.

For example, we believe we’re better than others in all sorts of ways, even though our logical brains know how unlikely that is. Researchers have found that we rate ourselves above average on everything from our driving ability to our academic performance to the quality of our personal relationships.

We persist in the belief that more money will make us happier, even though increased happiness has not followed previous pay raises and despite the fact that we’re aware of the research showing the happiest people on the planet do not live in the richest nations and that after about $75,000 per year, money doesn’t increase happiness. 

Many of us still believe in the American Dream, that if you work hard enough you can be anything you want, even though we’re also aware that opportunities aren’t equal and the data show that fewer than 8 out of every 100 kids born into the lowest economic quintile will ever earn enough to place them in the uppermost quintile.

We believe that having children makes us happy. But when Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman asked working women in Texas to reconstruct their days and rank each of the activities on a happiness scale, they ranked spending time with their kids about the same as vacuuming. (Source) And then there’s the below graph, which shows how happy we are throughout our lives. It speaks for itself.

So there’s a pretty good precedent when it comes to believing stuff that just isn’t true.

Why do we do it?

I believe it’s because we have a choice between internalizing the truth or the lie, and internalizing the lie is often more likely to improve our circumstances.

There’s research to back up such a belief. Research by Carol Graham (and subsequently confirmed by others) found that individuals who were optimistic about their futures tended to have better health and employment outcomes. Graham writes:

“Those who believe in their futures tend to invest in those futures, while those who are consumed with stress, daily struggles, and a lack of hope, not only have less means to make such investments, but also have much less confidence that they will pay off.”

Read more here: Is The American Dream Really Dead?

The American Dream might be a fantasy, but believing in it makes it more likely you’ll achieve it.

Consider a child who dreams of becoming the next Tom Brady. For that matter, consider a six-year-old Tom Brady. Young Tom, as he was growing up, surely became aware, somewhere along the line, of the long odds of becoming an NFL player. The odds of him becoming an NFL quarterback were even slimmer. The odds of becoming the greatest quarterback of all time were so infinitesimally small that they could legitimately be considered impossible. Had Brady internalized those odds, he would have quit. None of us would know his name. Instead, Brady chose to believe the fantasy that a relatively unathletic mop-headed California kid could grow up to be the greatest signal caller in history.

We believe those lies that have the potential to benefit us. We lie to ourselves to protect our egos, to provide us with a sense of volition, to enable the illusion of control and self-determination.

Which is why the most empowering belief any teacher can have is this:

Everything that happens in my classroom is my responsibility.

Teachers who believe that lie believe that when things go poorly, it’s their fault.

When their students don’t get along, it’s because of the culture they’ve built.

When a routine isn’t followed, it’s on them.

When students don’t learn, it’s because they didn’t teach well enough.

Everything that happens in their classroom is their responsibility.

It’s a lie, as easily disproven as the American Dream.

In truth, things go poorly for many reasons outside the control of the teacher. Students sometimes act like jerks because all people sometimes act like jerks. Routines don’t get followed because humans are forgetful and easily distracted. Sometimes a student doesn’t learn because she hasn’t eaten, or he broke up with his boyfriend the night before, or she didn’t get any sleep because her baby sister cried all night, or because he just doesn’t give a damn about the Reconstruction Era (and really, can you blame him?).

But just because it isn’t true doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe it. Like the American Dream, you’ll do better if you buy the lie.

Believing that everything that happens in your room is your responsibility makes you a better teacher, just like equating more money with greater happiness makes you a better American (can you imagine what would happen to our economy if everyone actually acted on the fact that more money doesn’t make us happier?)

Believing the lie makes you a better teacher because it compels you to try to solve problems. By attempting to solve problems, you might actually solve some of them. Things will improve for the simple reason that you believe you can improve things.

The Other Side of the Coin

The problem, of course, is the same as the lies about wealth, parenthood, and the American Dream. The lie, while it benefits each of us to believe it and act accordingly, can be used by others to harm us.

If the American Dream is possible, then people born into challenging circumstances have no one to blame but themselves for not making it.

If we believe that wealth ought to make us happier, then we assume there’s something wrong with wealthy people who are miserable.

If we believe that parenthood is the best thing that can happen to a person, then postpartum depression becomes an existential threat rather than a rational response.

 

Teachers should believe the lie that everything that happens in their classrooms is their responsibility. Such a belief will make them better teachers.

But the rest of us should show more understanding and recognize the truth: There are a number of things teachers can’t control, and failures in their classroom are as likely a result as those things as they are anything the teacher has or hasn’t done.

 

Teaching Financial Literacy: How to Help High Schoolers Care More

Lizzie Weakley

 

Financial literacy is something that many teenagers do not have a firm grasp on, and it is something that many parents and teachers overlook the importance of. Young people need to understand the importance of financial literacy so that they are able to properly tend to their money in the future. The following information provides a closer look at three helpful ways to help high schoolers become more well-informed on the subject and take it more seriously.

Budget Simulations

Encouraging students to complete budget simulations will allow them to think more deeply about their future income and spending habits. It will also allow them to create clearly defined financial goals for themselves that they can potentially work towards later on in life. Examples of criteria that could be included in the simulation include practical money skills, financial independence, and paying bills, such as utilities. You can even provide them with fake checkbooks to balance each week, which will give them a deeper insight into personal banking.

Smartphone Apps

There are various smartphone applications available for download that could also be beneficial for students in order to help them learn more about personal finance. They can enable you to track your spending habits, improve budgeting skills, and create a plan for paying debts. These could be used in conjunction with the budget simulation in order to create a more interactive and realistic experience.

Games

Games are another way to create a more interactive experience. Typically, most students will learn more if they are engaged in activities that are fun and allow them to think creatively. You can develop your own games tailored for your students that will align with your personal finance lesson plans or even encourage them to play existing games, such as Monopoly, which actually offers various learning opportunities when it comes to money management.

Overall, getting students interested in financing and budgeting doesn’t always have to be challenging. You just need to find an approach that captures their attention and gets them interested in the learning process. The tips above make excellent starting points for any educator hoping to boost their student’s interest in financial literacy and help them to care more. These methods will provide students with highly beneficial skills that they can utilize throughout their lives in order to make more financially sound and well-informed decisions regarding their income and spending habits. You just need to remain diligent and find which learning styles appeal most to your specific students.

5 Foreign Language Language Activities That Students Actually Look Forward To

Lara Smith

 

In the world that we live in, we now need to learn foreign languages to broaden our horizons.  Not only does it seem cool if you know another language, due to globalization, being bilingual or knowing a foreign language often gives you more opportunities to get better jobs within your own country and abroad.

Apart from that, due to a free market, most large scale businesses have collaborations with counterparts abroad and they require a workforce that they can communicate with. Here are a few activities you carry out with your student to have fun and learn more efficiently.

 

  • Practical Application

 

Gone are the days when people used to get books and read them. People often want results in a small amount of time, and that is only possible with the practical application of what they are learning. For this, you can have a collaborative class every week. For example, if you are teaching your students Spanish, you can call a class of Spanish people learning English to come and interact with your students. Not only will it give them a hands-on experience but because it is in a closed room with a limited amount of people they will not hesitate as much.

 

  • Plan A Trip

 

The best way you can get your student to register and then help them is to plan a trip to the country where that second language is spoken. While it can seem to be overwhelming at the time and may sound a bit over the top, it will be an incentive that students can’t refuse.

 

  • Shopping Mall Activity

 

While this may sound cliché and students may feel out of their comfort zone, this is one of the best ways to learn language specific to a particular scenario. Not only can they get knowledge of the language in general, but they can also start recognizing the underlying structures. For example, the prepositions Por vs Pora are often hard to understand, and no matter how many times you go over them in class, students will learn adequately when they are exposed to respective situations.

 

  • Movie Translations

 

Another thing you can do is watch a Spanish movie together. What you need to do is let them watch the whole movie without subtitles and then ask them how much they have understood. The chances are that they will have a reasonable idea of what is going on. After that, start playing the movie scene by scene and ask each student to translate what’s going on in the picture.

 

  • Music Therapy

 

New research shows that music can help foreign language learners with pronunciation and vocabulary. You should arrange a dance class with Spanish music and explain to them the essence of the song and ask them to dance. Ask a choreographer to help you prepare a performance that they can do later at their graduation ceremony. This will surely help them out with many little things that they still seem conscious about with regard to language.

 

About the Author:

Lara Smith has worked for Wall Street English for 20 years. After studying at Stanford University and subsequently doing a CELTA course, she began her career in teaching. She is obsessed with languages and currently writes blogs at https://www.mimicmethod.com/.

4 Important Ways to Help a Grieving Student

4 Important Ways to Help a Grieving Student

A guest post by Meghan Belnap

 

As a teacher, watching over the mental and emotional health of your students can be difficult. Students who face tragedy are often in need of comfort and extra support, but it can often feel as if your options are limited in regards to how to help. 20 percent of all kids will grow up experiencing the death of someone close to them by adulthood. Even though helping a student through grief is the primary responsibility of parents, rather than teachers, students will look to their teachers as authority figures for guidance and sympathy. Here are just four big ways that you, as a teacher, can help your students through a painful loss. 

Making sure basic needs are met

When children, teens, and young adults experience grief, they can often become withdrawn and lethargic, lacking the energy or even motivation to meet many of their basic needs. Eating, especially, can be hard for them to make a priority, as anxiety caused by grief can constrict the stomach and make food unappealing. One way you can check up on these students is to talk to the cafeteria staff to see if the student is getting lunch. Consider keeping some light, easily digestible snacks in your desk to offer them before or after class if you find they are neglecting to eat at lunchtime, and be aware of any extreme weight loss that may necessitate action from the parents. 

Consult with Parents and Guardians

Being able to openly discuss their feelings is a major part of the grieving process, but children and teens can feel worried about bringing up depressing or uncomfortable topics. Make sure that the student knows your office hours when they can come and talk to you if they need a compassionate ear, and make sure they are aware of the services offered by your school counselor. If you notice them feeling overwhelmed during class, discretely allow them to step outside or to the school counselor immediately. It can also be greatly beneficial to consult with the parents to get their perspective on how their child is handling the loss and what can be done to help them. Whether it is the passing of another student or a family member, each child deals with death a little differently and may need unique accommodations. 

Giving parents counseling information

When a student is grieving the death of a loved one, their parents are often going through a similar process and may not be aware of the resources they have for their child’s grieving. Giving parents phone numbers, addresses, and pamphlets for local psychiatrists and counselors can help ease the burden on the family and provide the student with professional guidance. Grief counseling for young adults has become more widely available as rates of suicide in teens has increased. Services like these can help a grieving student find comfort, educate parents on healthy coping mechanisms and emotional outlets, and even detect signs of depression and anxiety that the student may be repressing. 

Homework extensions and test makeups

Another way teachers can help grieving students is to provide alternative assignments. While their formal education is important, it can often take a back seat when the student is overwhelmed from the grieving process, and the last thing they need is for that grief to create further stressors through falling grades. Extended deadlines, make-up days, and a pass on quizzes can help a teen keep up with the workload and maintain decent grades. A little leniency, particularly early in the grieving process, will relieve stress from the student and make them aware that the authority figures in their lives make their mental and emotional wellbeing a priority.

As a teacher, there are limited options for how you can get involved in the personal lives of your students. This does not mean that there is nothing to be done, however. The simple act of directing a student to professional aid and showing a little extra compassion can go a long way in ensuring that the student is able to make their way through the grieving process in a healthy manner. Whether they want to admit it or not, students of all ages are greatly affected by their teachers, and they will appreciate even the little gestures of compassion you show.

Their Levers Are Destined to Fail

How do you get educators to do things differently? That is the question anybody with an idea about how to improve any aspect of education must consider.  

Such a question derives from dubious assumptions. First, you have to believe that things need changing, an assumption that probably says more about you than about what’s happening in schools. Second, you have to believe your idea will actually work on a large scale, an assumption that reveals your hubris and something teachers who have been doing the hard work for at least a few years find unlikely.

Their suspicion means that teachers won’t try your idea on their own, so you must force them to. In order to force someone to do something they’d rather not do, you must offer rewards or threaten sanctions  Rewards usually cost money, and you didn’t get to be rich enough to force your ideas on others by giving that away. Punishments must be severe enough to compel action.

It’s no secret that the success of any rollout or implementation is more dependent on teacher buy-in than almost any other factor. When initiatives fail, it’s the reluctance or incompetence of the teachers asked to implement it that’s blamed, not the idea itself. And it doesn’t matter what the reform is. You could be trying to get your teachers to use the textbook you purchased, to stress learning goals to their students, or to develop and use performance scales. You might even be trying to help them. I’m in conversation with someone at the Department of Education who wants to focus on educator empowerment. We’re brainstorming ways to educate teachers on how they can protect their wellbeing and fight for better work cultures. But we face an uphill battle because no matter the initiative, recent history proves it’s hard to get teachers to change and even harder to get true buy-in. 

First, there is the issue of time. When are teachers going to get the training? When will they be given an opportunity to look over the materials? The U.S. requires its teachers spend more time in front of their students than any other developed nation. That leaves very little time for everything else. Because they have too much to do and not enough time to do it, any new idea will meet immediate resistance. 

Second, and more importantly, there’s the issue of motivation. Why should teachers do this new thing? To be as cynical as possible (since any new initiative will have to deal with cynical teachers who have been through this a time or two before), what’s in it for me? I’m offered the opportunity to take an online class, or receive some coaching, or use my PD hours the way I want to and the first thing I’m going to ask (if I’m being cynical) is why should I?

Because it’s not as if this new thing comes without costs. There will be a time commitment and a learning curve. It will take effort. If I’m working with others or receiving some coaching, there’s some risk. There’s usually additional work involved and I’ve already got plenty, thank you. And there’s no evidence that it will work. In fact, based on my considerable experience, the evidence suggests that it will fail and be replaced by something new within a couple of years.

So why do any of it? 

Enter the levers.

Reformers (and I don’t use the term pejoratively here, but just to describe people who are trying to change the way teachers do things) love levers.

Which says something about how they view teachers. As Peter Greene writes,

A lever is a tool that one uses to force movement. There’s nothing collaborative about a lever. And you don’t apply a lever from inside the area you want to affect– you stand outside the box and bear down. If something breaks and snaps loose, it will go flying away from you.

As a metaphor, levers leave a little something to be desired.

But questionable metaphors are not the only problem with levers. The real problem for reformers is that their levers are destined to fail. 

Their Favorite Levers

 

Teacher evaluation

The thinking, I suppose, went something like this: Our test scores suck, which means our teachers must suck. To improve both, we’ll get rid of the duds. In order to identify the dead weight and make this appear at least a little bit objective, we’ll have to rate them. You know, with checklists and numbers and other sorts of data-y things. We’ll make it complicated so it’s harder to question. Anyway, the ones with the lowest ratings will be shoved out the door. The others, seeing those teachers summarily dismissed, will fall into line. Bill Gates, the champion of stack ranking at Microsoft, led this effort to the tune of a half-billion (with a b) dollars. Gates assumed that a practice that worked (except it didn’t) in the sphere where he had the most familiarity would work elsewhere. His efforts failed. In hindsight, it’s not hard to see why.  

Most teachers quickly figured out that they only needed a good enough evaluation to return next year and that the odds of that happening were very high. With a teacher shortage, they could take their chances and not sign up for extra work just to earn extra points on their evaluations. History has proven that’s almost always a safe bet. If there’s one enduring lesson from the Gates experiment, it’s that billionaires and state governments may bark, but principals who have to do the actual firing won’t bite. Even at the height of the teacher evaluation craze, very few teachers received the lowest possible rating and even fewer were fired. 

Reformers hoped that the fear of losing our jobs would make us easier to control. They hoped to provide administrators with the leverage they needed to force compliance so that if they wanted to implement any of the fine initiatives being fed to them by reformers, they’d be able to raise an eyebrow, point at their tablets, and get teachers to bend the knee. When that didn’t work, merit pay was trotted out. The thinking: If we can’t threaten them into compliance, let’s try bribery!  That didn’t work, either. Most of the bribes weren’t large enough, and they were attempting to bribe people who knowingly sacrificed the opportunity to make more money when they chose education in the first place. If we cared about 500 bucks that much, we wouldn’t be teachers.

Badges (or mini-credentials)

So if teacher evaluations and merit pay won’t work, what will? How can reformers and the administrators who’ve signed on to their reforms get teachers to attend training or choose their own professional development or attend a three-day workshop that they don’t really want to attend? The latest solution seems to be digital badges. 

Digital badges are mini-credentials that teachers can earn when they display competencies with new skills or acquire new knowledge. Proponents point to their personalized nature and gamification as reasons teachers find badges better than traditional professional development. When used this way, teachers may indeed find digital badges more motivating. Used as levers to move teachers to action, however, they suffer from the same problem as other methods.

Digital badges are essentially résumé builders. As such, they only appeal to ambitious social climbers who are always looking for the next rung on the ladder.  As levers to get teachers to change, they’ll work on very few and those who do chase them will soon be out of the classroom, on to bigger and brighter things. Teachers who are content to finish their careers in the classroom have no use for them. These types of Scooby Snacks only motivate the already motivated, who would show up for whatever you’re offering anyway if they think it will help them move closer to their next job.  

Extra pay

Just kidding. This isn’t a favorite lever. Normally, if you want somebody to do disagreeable work, you pay them. Some teachers would likely trade autonomy for money. But as the response to nationwide teacher shortages demonstrates, education reformers, most of whom are right of center and proud supporters of our capitalist system, suddenly forget how the free market works when it comes to education. Few of them suggest paying teachers more as a way to attract them to the field. Instead, they look for alternatives, be they Teach For America temps,  long-term subs, or computer programs. Although many want to model America’s schools after America’s businesses, they don’t want to use the lever nearly all businesses use.

Appeals to Professionalism (Guilt)

When all else fails, reformers and the administrators who do their bidding can call on an old friend, guilt. Of all the levers, this one is most effective, at least in the short-term. “Do what’s best for kids,” teachers are told, and what’s best for kids is almost always what people who don’t teach kids think is best for kids. You’ll be reminded that you’re a professional, with the unspoken implication that professionals would never shirk their responsibilities, one of which is constant improvement. You’ve heard all the lines. They’ve probably even worked on you. And no matter how many times we’ve been burned, some of us keep coming back.

It’s manipulation, pure and simple, and it’s a lever that ultimately fails because it never achieves genuine buy-in. Guilted into doing something, some teachers will do it, but they’ll be resentful and unenthusiastic, hardly the mindset those with the idea had in mind when they imagined their brainchild in an actual classroom. Other teachers will exercise their teacher’s veto: they’ll pledge to do the thing and then go back to their classrooms and do what they know works. Compliance, however achieved, is a poor substitute for buy-in.

 

Those Damn Cynics

The only lever left might be to get rid of the cynics so the levers face less resistance. But this is a fundamental attribution error. Cynics don’t become teachers; cynical teachers are created by the situations they find themselves in. And being poked and prodded with levers is one of the causes of the cynicism reformers continually butt up against.

Cynics don't become teachers; cynical teachers are created by the situations they find themselves in. And being poked and prodded with levers is one of the causes of the cynicism reformers continually butt up against. Click To Tweet

It’s a vicious cycle. Reformers hope for docile acquiescence but are instead faced with skepticism and obstinance. To move the doubters, they pull out their crowbars, none of which work. Teachers, convinced that the reformers’ ideas are bad since they needed to be jabbed by levers in order to even try them and because every previous initiative met the same resistance and inevitably failed, have their cynicism confirmed. They become even less likely to change. It does no good to get rid of the cynics because there aren’t enough idealists to replace them, and if you keep sticking levers into them, those idealists will be cynics soon enough.

The Lever That’s Not a Lever

The only lever that will work is the one no reformer wants to use. If you want me to try your new idea, then offer me more freedom and create something useful. Say to me, “We’d like you to try this. We think it’s pretty nifty, and we want to see if it works. We’re so high on this idea that we’re sure if you try it you’ll never go back to teaching how you did. But we’ll trust you to make that decision because we know you want what’s best for your students. We also know that if you try this new thing and it works, you’ll tell other teachers and they’ll start using it. Everybody will win.”

This is how Flipgrid, Pear Deck, Google Classroom, Prodigy, and countless other products ended up being used in thousands of classrooms. Teachers didn’t need to be coerced into using any of them. None of them needed levers. They spread because they worked. 

Of course, allowing teachers to choose is not really a lever at all. That’s trust and treating teachers like professionals. And if reformers did that, well, teachers might decide the ideas they’re being pitched suck. They might not try them at all. And there’s no possible way that teachers, the people who do this teaching thing for a living, can possibly know more about what works than the people who hold the levers.

 

Peter Greene wrote about the unfortunate use of levers as a metaphor for education policy here and like everything he writes, it’s on the nose and fun to read.