Welcome to the Back to School episode! Any teacher should be able to gain some insight from this show but ESPECIALLY new educators or teachers that are new to teaching newcomers and SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education).
Below is the transcript and links.
Find this show on your favorite podcasts app or you can listen right here:
In my part of the world, school is ramping back up. So any time we go into a new school year, we have that excitement, but also the nervousness. I remember being a new teacher, and I was just beside myself, worried. And so today I am going to revisit five things that are like my non-negotiables when I start the year. But this show if more than that. This show is about mindset.
If you’d just like to hear about the 5 things, you can watch this YouTube video from 2018 that has over 5,000 views. These five things to start the year in the newcomer classroom but, really, they would work for any classroom.
So your students may not have strong literacy or any literacy in their native language. We are seeing more of that. But SLIFE are learning to read later than others because they have missed maybe formal education, that’s usually why SLIFE don’t have literacy. It’s because they didn’t have traditional education or an opportunity. That’s what it is, right? It’s a lack of opportunity for a lot of our students.
So if a child comes into my classroom and they don’t speak English, they don’t speak my language, it can easily look like there’s something wrong, or they may not be able to learn as quickly. And that’s just the opposite of what’s true. Most of the time, that child comes with lots of background and lots of language. It’s just a mismatch for my language and my background. So we want to keep that in mind.
That’s what today’s show is about. How do we go back to school with the right mindset to help everyone learn as quickly as possible, including me, including the person that’s teaching, because these kiddos are our best teachers. All right, so let’s think about this.
I always go back to these five things but I don’t need to do a show on them. I’ve done that so many times.
- Create Name Tents for Low-Stress Introductions
- Play the #SelfieKahoot I made about me
- Get a Trivia Question to create a Class Selfie Kahoot
- Create an IDK Poster with the Students
- Guide Students to create a Socia Contract
Many readers/listeners have seen this but if you have not, and you want the explanation on each, you can watch the following video. You may also be interested in a show I did on them in 2018 and again in 2019 and we even did a COVID edition in 2020 for online learning.
I talk about these briefly in the podcast and I cite John Seidlitz and his 7 Steps to a Language Rich, Interactive Classroom. I also mention the Flippen Group and their Capturing Kids’ Hearts training and John Hattie’s Visible Learning research.
What I focused on more in today’s show was mindset. Here is a transcript of my thoughts from the show:
So here’s what I’ve learned. I have to keep challenging my mindset. I have to keep challenging it. I used to work with a man named Joseph Mauer. And if you have our Boosting Achievement book, youll see that we cite Joseph Mauer throughout the book. He’s an amazing educator. He’s a master teacher. I would go and sit in the back of his classroom because he taught in a low socioeconomic area, but he had some of the best scores in our district. And we have some pretty wealthy schools in our district. But, no matter what, his scores were always at the top. So we would go watch him. Josephnwas the one that told me about Capturing Kids Hearts. He was the one that showed me how to annotate the objectives. He had been through Seven Steps training, and he was implementing a lot of Seidlitz’s Seven Steps. So I leaned on him a lot when I went back in the classroom. I was struggling because I was falling into default teaching. You know, it’s when you know better, but you fall into default because it’s stressful and you just go back to your default. So Joseph came and watched me teach when I had a whole group of newcomers. I hadn’t been in the classroom in a really long time. And they were all SLIFE kids. They were students with interrupted or limited formal education. And I was just having a really hard time getting a handle on it. One of the things Joseph told me was, you have to challenge what you believe. Where’s your “I don’t know” poster? I was like, “I can’t read that, but they can’t.” They couldn’t read it yet. I was like, “What good is that going to do???” And then he’s like, Okay, where’s your Social Contract? You need to do a social contract.” Me: “They’ve never been in school. How are they going to create the norms??”
It was such a good conversation with him because he was just brutally honest with me that I had my bar too low. And I thought, what is too low when no one in here can read in English, and most of them can’t read in their native language? And they’re in middle school! They don’t know how to do school. They’ve never been in school… So you know, there were all these things that they couldn’t do, and he was just not hearing me! “You don’t understand. They can’t do this, they can’t do that.” But he reminded of what we all say we believe. We believe that kids can learn quickly in the right environment. Kids can learn very quickly. And he knew that I believed that this was a lack of opportunity. Which is what was going on, right? Kids had not had the opportunity to learn this language enough or to learn to read, or to learn to read even in their own language.
They just hadn’t had the opportunity.
So I never forgot that. You have to challenge your beliefs. If you believe that they can learn quickly, then I need to stop focusing ONLY on what they cannot do. I need to know what they can’t do. I need to figure out along the way what they can and can’t do. But I need to keep putting the bar higher than what they can do because I’m there. We can do a shared reading. We can make that poster and read it together. I can track the print with my fingers, and the kindergarten teachers told me they’re going to use it to learn to read. That’s going to be a big part of their road to literacy because you’re giving them multiple exposures to little high-frequency words every time you read that poster, and it’s meaningful. There are so many things wrapped up in some of the basic things that we need to remember to do. But it starts with what do you believe? What do you believe? Do you really believe every child can learn quickly? Or do I believe that every child except these kids?
What do you believe? Do you really believe every child can learn quickly? Or do I believe that every child except these kids?
And let me tell you, if you followed me for a while, or if you did buy the Boosting Achievement book, and you read the introduction, you know that the class I’m talking about. They were fighting and climbing over desks, and it just seemed like there was no way. People were telling me they were unteachable. But that had more to do with the environment than the child. By the time I came in and was asked to take over, they had spent months frustrated because they didn’t speak each other’s languages. And this was way before the pandemic when we started focusing on SEL. It didn’t occur to me. I felt like a brand new teacher all over again. And so I was in a high-stress place. It’s humbling to go back into the classroom. I say that all the time. I just want to lift you up if you are the one actually teaching because we think as instructional coaches that we remember. You can’t remember. There’s no way unless you’re the one actually doing it. And so I just want to lift you up and honor the fact that it can be a stressful thing because you want to do the best for your students. And their demographics keep changing and challenges keep coming at us. So when Joseph came in to watch me teach he said things like “… but you know better than this. I mean, you know this, you taught this, you’ve trained this.” That was true but I was in a high-stress place at the time, and we know that people don’t learn well and don’t function well in a very high-stress place.
So we found the answer in reflection. So what I would do is film myself. This was Joseph’s suggestion. I was also leaning on my instructional coach in the building, and he told me the same thing. You could film yourself, and you don’t need to share it with anyone. It’s for you. There are other ways to reflect, too. I found Twitter. I could reflect every day for 15 minutes. Go to the hashtag #SLIFE (for students with limited or interrupted formal education) or whatever it is that you teach. You can find people out there who are sharing and will help you reflect. I could listen to a podcast like this while I’m doing the laundry. I’m having an opportunity to reflect. Dr. Katie Topple and Tan Huynh and I wrote a book called DIY PD for Educators of Multilingual Learners. The entire thing is about how to personalize your learning on your own. When you want to in tiny snippets or in long chunks, whatever you want to do. You can take your professional learning to the next level. Even if you’re the master, there’s room to grow, and we have to personalize our learning for that. We’re pretty proud of the book and teachers are having so much fun in the #DIYpd4MLs trainings we do in districts.
So I was doing a lot of DIY PD by just watching my own video. It’s called micro-teaching. I was also blogging. No one was reading my blog! It was a single-reader blog… me. But it was a place for me to reflect when I had a chance to write down what went well, and what didn’t.
Then it was really helpful when I just humbled myself. I told the kids, I’m trying to learn how to best teach you. Can you help me?
Let’s learn together.
Phew!! It got better. It got way better. I need to do a Where are they now? show.
The Messages we Give Them
When they told me what they wanted to be, my shoulders dropped, and I’m like, well, let me give you something a little more realistic. 🙁
Okay, now I was the problem. Who am I to say that they can’t be that? They can. They just need to not give up. Even if you’re in high school and you can’t read right now, how much time do we all have? Whose timeline are we on? Of course we want to give them tons of options. I was really glad someone showed me things that I didn’t need a four-year degree to do, because I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the means to go to a four-year college, and I didn’t have a good academic record either. But you just take the next step forward. You just take the next step forward. And we have so many things to support these students. Point them in the right direction and raise the bar and just tell them what they’re going to need to do.
Point them in the right direction, raise the bar and just tell them what they’re going to need to do.
But you know what? Let’s talk about what we need to do right now so that you have the best shot. Whether you have six months left and you’re going to age out, or whether you have the rest of middle school and high school, or whether you’re behind and you’re in second grade, you get to keep the learning. Whatever we learn this year, you will take with you on your next step. So you’re not starting from zero, ever. Just don’t give up.
I just finished my dissertation on what helps SLIFE persist through to graduation despite challenges.
It is going to be published soon. Register here if you’d like to be notified when it is available on ProQuest.
I couldn’t work with any of those students that I’d ever taught. I had to find new students that had interruptions in education, that had entered US schools in high school, anywhere from two to ten years. They had missed of schooling. Some had been to newcomer centers, some had not. Some went into regular high schools.
We looked for themes as to why they did not drop out. It was a qualitative study. So we did interviews. And in today’s show notes, I’m going to put a Google form if you would like the entire dissertation because it’s about to be uploaded and we will send out a reminder if you would like it to be on this list. So we interviewed unfortunately, it’s hard to find students with limited education that don’t drop out. The research shows that they’re dropping out at a higher rate than students who are new to the country, that our average English learners are multilingual learners. That dropout rate is higher than the average student. But this demographic’s life is even higher and growing even faster. So it’s important to know what we are doing in our communities as faculties in regular schools and what families are doing to support or to make it harder. So we did interviews and we looked for themes in those areas.
And every area had pros and cons. Every area had family supports. What made it easier and what made it harder. And it wasn’t that some students didn’t have any family support, but they had strong support in one of the other areas. But I just want to talk about faculty. The two biggest themes for adults in the building… that made them want to stay in school:
Degree of Esteem that we held them in
Kindness and Patience.
Kindness and patience. I know you know what that means. And the way we talk to them in our body language and when we think they can’t understand us, they get it. They get whether you’re being kind and patient or not. And it makes a big impact, 100% of them said, on whether they want to stay in school or not. And let me just explain quickly if you don’t know what I mean by degree of esteem.
Degree of esteem means how do we view them? Do we view them in high regard or do we view them in low regard and pity them? Or feel like they can’t do what they feel it. So if you think of the word esteem, your self-esteem is how you feel about yourself.
High self esteem means that I feel very confident, Low self-esteem = I feel not confident and not good about myself. So degree of esteem is the level of esteem that you hold me in, do you hold me in high regard? Do you hold me in high esteem? Do you make me a leader in the class? Do you set up wins so that I can start to contribute more because, you know, my voice is important? Or do you say things and do things that give me the impression that you feel sorry for me and you don’t think that I can contribute much?
I’m going to give you just one example of what one student said. He had missed many years of school, and there was an adult in the building, and it was not even a teacher, but she asked him, what do you want to be? What did you say you wanted to be? And he said kind of sheepishly because he didn’t know if it was realistic. He said he wanted to be a pilot. And she responded, “I can see you in the air. I see it. I see you in the plane. I see you in the air..”
His words were “…. little words like that. I don’t think they [teachers] understand how important that is to the student.”
It’s a pretty emotional study to me. You know, I would think to anybody that teaches, right? That’s what we got into it for. But as an educator, you deserve some practical things. You deserve some things where you’re not killing yourself and staying up late at night and making special things. For this demographic, we’re finding that’s not what you have to do to keep them in school. They said tutorials and summer school were the biggest things for systems. Those are the biggest things. And not special tutorials or special summer school. Just understand that every day I know more English and every day I learn more and I can read more.
And I might fail algebra again this year, but I’m moving forward. I’m going to come to tutorials, and I’m going to keep learning more algebra and more English. They said tutorials help them work in smaller groups and with different teachers, and summer school gave them an opportunity to focus on just one content area at a time or two for the whole summer. So these are things we already have in place.
I don’t mean to make all of this sound easier than it is, but I do feel like we’re making it harder than it needs to be for me.
Mindset. Challenge my beliefs.
Challenge what I believe, just like Joseph told me. What do you believe, though? What do you really believe? Do you believe kids can learn? Do you believe if they don’t give up, that there’s nothing that would be able to stop them over time. Do you believe that kids beat the odds? Some kids beat the odds. OK, why not? That beat all the kids in your class if the determining factor of why they can beat the odds or how they feel about themselves and what’s available to them. So I’m going to end on this because I just think we just need to take this with us.
I need this so much because our world continues to change and our jobs all become more and more challenging and we just need to settle and think about what can we control and what can we not control and what are the things that are practical that we can do that have the biggest impact and how can we form relationships with students where we flip that script. Where we flip it and go. I know it’s hard. I’m going to do what I can to make it easier for you and understand that every day it gets easier. Every single day, just like going to the gym and working out, it’s hard, but you’re getting stronger and it becomes easier. So just come with us. Just come with us. Okay, so here’s what I want to end on, okay? I really want to end on something that happened in that classroom back then that really makes me think now I try to hold on to it now.
So the class was full of language learners that had limited formal education. And they were in secondary, they were in middle school, the class I’m talking about. And it just seemed like an uphill battle. And I consulted with someone who is a leader in the field and I was asking what I could expect, like what’s the best scenario, best case scenario? And so they told me what the research shows. It’s going to take five to seven years just to learn a language and then literacy on top of that. And they don’t have good outcomes for this kind of student. And XYZ and I said, yeah, but they’re learning, I mean, faster than I would have imagined because by now we had an environment that was so supportive and everybody felt like they were learning and everybody was motivated. Right? We’re fast forwarding to the second semester. This person told me, okay, well, you might have one like that, but that’s an anomaly. That’s not normal. That’s not what’s generally happening in classrooms. Okay, but it’s not one. Okay, well if you have a few, they’re anomalies.That’s not the norm. Carol. I was like, okay, but everybody is learning faster now that we’ve been focusing on motivation and what like Larry Ferlazzo writes about how to help kids find their own motivation. We’re focusing on that and we’re making sure things are relevant to them. And that’s a big focus.
…everybody is learning faster now that we’ve been focusing on motivation
A lot of shared reading, shared writing, and relevant topics. They’re with some teachers and content classes that are holding a high bar, and they have them I mean, they had just optimal situations all over the place, and they’re all learning so fast. And she said, well, yeah, because it’s the environment that’s the anomaly. It’s the environment that’s not normal. So they’re all going to learn more quickly.
BE THE ANOMALY
When you look at research, that’s what I want us to think about here. When you look at research that the average kid like this goes blah, blah, blah and takes this long and all of that, we need to ask ourselves why. Why is this so? What is the average classroom look like? What is the average student with interrupted education having an opportunity to do? What’s the support look like?
Take it all into consideration before you say, okay, well, there’s no hope for this kid.
Make sure your environment this year is the anomaly.
Make sure your environment is what makes the difference.
You can do it!
All right, so that’s the Back to School episode of 2022!
But whenever you’re reading this, the principles throughout this episode should apply. You can take those five things that I talked about at the beginning, and you can implement those at any time in the school year. The biggest thing I wanted to talk about that applies anytime of the year is our mindset, my mindset, challenging my beliefs.
That made the biggest difference for me. And that goes a long way to helping the mindset of the students that we serve.
Where can we connect?
Come to Texas! 🤠
Come to Houston if you’re listening to this real-time in 2022, in November, we have TEXTESOL! Our local TexTESOL IV chapter is hosting!
That flyer is for our state conference, and I’m honored to be a keynote speaker with Dr. Steven Krashen, Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld, and THE John Seidlitz. We’d love to have you here with us.
Also, you could come to TABE! That is the Texas Association of Bilingual Educators and the annual conference is here in Houston in mid-October.
I am giving a full-day preconference on Rapid Literacy for Older Emergent Readers. More to come on that: https://tabe.org/
We would love to see you there. I’ll end this podcast, just telling you. Thank you. If you’re still listening to a podcast, again, you’re the type of educator I’d love my own child to have, and I appreciate you, and I hold you in very high esteem, in very high regard.
Please reach out if I can help you.
Take good care.