The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 152 Transcript
Jennifer Gonzalez, Host
If you’re listening to this in August of 2020, you’re most likely in the midst of juggling a hundred different things right now. You’re managing all the messy details of starting a new school year under constantly changing circumstances. You’re scrambling for resources. You’re debating the pros and cons of various reopening scenarios. You’re wondering how any of this can possibly be accomplished, and deep inside you’re pretty sure it can’t.
As all of this swirls around us, it can help if we stop, get very quiet, and focus on one thing, arguably the most important thing we need to accomplish as we move forward into the school year: building relationships with our students. While this goal is important during any school year, in 2020 it’s crucial. This virus has robbed us all of the human connections that help us to grow, support us through hard times, and make life on this planet so rich. For students whose home lives are not always safe, lockdowns have introduced trauma that regular school attendance may have prevented. We’re all still hurting. And we’re still not out of the woods.
If you’re one of many teachers who will be starting the school year online, or if you end up returning to online instruction at some point during the year, making those connections will be more challenging than in a face-to-face classroom.
To help you navigate this change, I’ve invited Dave Stuart Jr. to join me today. Dave is a high school English teacher who also does a lot of the same things I do, helping teachers do their work better through his website, books, and online courses for teachers on student motivation, time management, and classroom management. His newest offering is a free mini-course, 10 Tips for Staying Motivated When Teaching in Times of Uncertainty. You can find all of his courses by going to cultofpedagogy.com/dave. Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for all of Dave’s courses, so if you end up enrolling in the paid courses through my link, I receive a small commission.
I have been a fan of Dave’s work for years now. Not only is he a really likeable guy, but he goes pretty deep with his work, making sure he understands the research behind the principles he encourages in the classroom. I always learn a lot from him and I’ve been meaning to have him on the podcast forever, but the timing never worked out.
Today we’re going to be talking about one specific strategy Dave uses for building relationships with his students. He calls the strategy Making Moments of Genuine Connection; it’s just one small part of his overall approach to building trust in his classroom, and today we’ll talk about how to make these moments happen in remote teaching situations. If you enjoy our conversation, you’ll want to also hear Dave next month on Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers podcast, episode 206, where they’ll be talking about all the other recommendations he has for humanizing the online classroom.
Before we get started, I want to thank UL Xplorlabs for sponsoring this episode. UL Xplorlabs inspires secondary students to solve global safety and sustainability issues through science. This free, online teaching resource explores battery energy and fire through three modules: the phenomena of thermal runaway in lithium-ion batteries, mobile phone battery supply chain and the issue of e-waste, and a fire forensics investigation unit, where students investigate how and where a kitchen fire started. UL Xplorlabs invites students to exercise their reasoning skills and sparks curiosity through interactive videos, hands-on activities and virtual self-guided lessons. Today’s students are tomorrow’s problem solvers, for a safer, more sustainable world. Visit ULXplorlabs.org, spelled U L X -P L O R- L A B S for these free resources.
Support also comes from Pear Deck. One of the reasons I love Pear Deck is because it was founded by educators who have designed the products to support instructional best practices known to improve student outcomes. Pear Deck gives teachers real-time insight into student thinking and understanding so they can react as necessary and seize teachable moments. Better yet, Pear Deck’s seamless integration with Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint make it easy to build interactive presentations that generate 100% student engagement. Great news: Pear Deck is offering Cult of Pedagogy listeners 60 days Premium Access for free! Just visit peardeck.com/cultofpedagogy to get started!
Now here’s my interview with Dave Stuart, Jr.
GONZALEZ: Dave Stuart, Jr. I have wanted to have you on my podcast. We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years, so I am happy to say welcome to the Cult of Pedagogy podcast.
STUART: Jenn, it has been a minute but I am so delighted that the time has arrived and here we are.
GONZALEZ: Here we are. So this is probably the third serious consideration that we’ve given to topics that we wanted to talk about. I still think we’re going to get to some of those other ones eventually.
STUART: Here we go.
GONZALEZ: But this is going to be very, very narrow and specific and hopefully we’ll be helping teachers in what they need to do right now, which is August of 2020.
GONZALEZ: And maybe even beyond. So before we get into our topic, just for people who are not familiar with you and your work, tell us a little bit about your work as an educator and as an online presence.
STUART: Okay. I’m a secondary teacher, going into the 16th year of my career. I teach high school right now in West Michigan. For about eight years I’ve been writing about teaching and trying to get to the bottom of the work that matters the most. How can I get as much as possible out of my class, but also have a full self to bring home to my family every day? That’s an existential question for me. All my writing’s based in that. I’ve got a book called “These 6 Things,” which is probably the most organized representation of my thinking. Then I’ve got some online courses for teachers on student motivation, classroom management, time management. That’s a quick overview, Jenn.
GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. And you’re at davestuartjr.com.
STUART: I am.
GONZALEZ: Which we’re going to remind people at the end too, but in case somebody’s just wanting to go over there right away and do that.
STUART: But they’ve got to spell it with a “u,” Jenn.
STUART: If they don’t do that, I don’t know who they’re going to find, but it won’t be me.
STUART: There we go.
GONZALEZ: Yes. Okay. So we are going to talk about this coming school year, which right now apparently is still a huge mystery to a lot of teachers in terms of what they’re going to even be doing. But one thing I think we can all say for sure is that many teachers will be teaching online at some point this year, whether it’s part of the year or all of the year. What you and I are going to talk about is why it is important to connect personally with students under normal circumstances, and why is that especially important if you’re teaching remotely?
STUART: Yeah. I mean we know that human beings desire to feel valued, known, respected, and safe. That’s just a basic condition for a relationship to happen. It’s a basic condition for learning to happen. When you’ve got a learning space, in person or online where students do not tend to feel valued or known or respected or safe, learning will be way more friction heavy. So the idea is that connection, attempted connection between teacher and student, student and student, this facilitates learning because these relationships, they act like a friction-reducer, a lubricant. The good news is that, as we’re going to talk about, this is still a condition that we can create in online spaces. I guess one other thing I should say too from an equity standpoint, from students who feel marginalized in a learning space, this is even more important. The research on belonging is really clear that a strong connection with the leader of a learning environment is an important tool for mitigating things like stereotype threat.
GONZALEZ: Excellent. I’m really glad that you added that and included that. So this, forming some sort of a bond with your students as a teacher, it sort of solves preemptively a lot of problems. And yeah, I would think that a lot of us this year have suffered from just loss of connection in general.
GONZALEZ: Just not being able to relate to people the way that we normally would face-to-face. What we’re going to talk about today is this is a term that you coined a while back called moments of genuine connection or MGCs. This is a specific approach that you have kind of developed over time for connecting with students. First we’re going to just talk about what exactly is your definition of a moment of genuine connection, and maybe talk a little bit about how you would normally do this in a regular classroom, and then we’ll talk about how that would look in an online space, how teachers could do that this coming school year.
STUART: Yeah, okay. There’s a million ways to build relationships with human beings, but as I said at the start, my work is super focused on the most efficient ways to get to the outcomes that we’re after. I actually did, when I was a first-year teacher, first three years of my career, I would spend, Jenn, 10, 15 hours per week probably, if you followed me around, solely focused on building relationships with students. All of that was before school, after school, during lunch. Massive amounts of time, time that I could not invest into feedback on student work, learning things from Cult of Pedagogy, planning lessons. Time that was only focused on that. MGCs are just about, it’s asking the question, what would be the most efficient means through which to build these relationships where students feel valued, known, respected and safe? So one word at a time, moments. These are brief encounters with students. They’re genuine, meaning that we as teachers work hard in our hearts to actually want to connect with our students, to actually like them. Let’s call it what it is. Not every personality fits nicely with every other personality. MGCs call upon the teacher to do some inside work, some self-examination when negative feelings crop up with students.
STUART: Connection we’ve already talked about. What you’re after in these encounters is that feeling, that set of feelings, valued, known, respected. So we call out specific things that we notice about the child, specific things that we know about them from information that they’ve given us. I guess a couple other quick things I would say is that to make these efficient, they’re embedded in what I’m already doing as a teacher. Whenever possible, they’re not extra, so they’re before class, they’re right after class, during independent work. Now we’ll talk in a minute about remote-ifying that because there’s some challenges there, right?
GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.
STUART: But we don’t want to lose this idea of it being something that is embedded in what we already have to do. Another thing that needs to be said is that we track these moments so that we’re being sure that every child is receiving an attempted connection from the teacher on a regular basis. For secondary teachers, I just recommend having the number of students on all of your rosters, know that, count them up. Then ask yourself, what would be a really can’t-miss goal? Like, would it be fair to expect myself to try to connect for 30 to 60 seconds with three students per class per day? Would that be an undue burden on me, or could I handle that? If I can, then that’s my objective, and I’m just going to keep track on a single sheet of paper. I mean this is how I do it.
STUART: Write on a clipboard all the names of all my class, all my rosters are right there, and so I’m just making a note that I connect academically, that I connect personally. It’s good to have a balance.
GONZALEZ: Do you write yourself a description, or do you just sort of put a check next to the name? “Got it.”
STUART: Two to three words maybe, Jenn.
STUART: That’s just to jog my memory what I spoke to the student about, if I want to look back.
GONZALEZ: Okay, good. Efficient, yeah.
STUART: Yeah. Efficiency is the key. Sometimes efficiency, you picture a robot. You picture a lifeless automaton, but there is a lot of humanity to be gained from efficient relationships when you’re talking about building relationships with dozens of people.
STUART: And in the context of learning other stuff. So efficiency is good.
GONZALEZ: It means you get to more kids.
GONZALEZ: I mean I think if somebody were to say this is awfully robotic, it’s like, well, I could really connect deeply with four or five kids over the course of two weeks.
STUART: Yeah, yeah.
GONZALEZ: Or I could connect with a whole lot more and make them at least feel seen. There was that study years and years ago. I can’t even remember now where it came from, but they said that there are some kids that go through an entire school day without anybody speaking to them.
STUART: That’s right, and if we don’t keep track.
STUART: And if we don’t make these efficient, I can guarantee you that we contribute to things like that.
STUART: Not cause we’re jerks.
GONZALEZ: Well there are those personality types that, no. There’s though personality types that are waving and dancing in front of you.
GONZALEZ: And getting all of your attention.
STUART: Yep, yep.
STUART: Or the students who you know that you got to connect with, because they’re right there on the razor’s edge and you want to make sure you get them engaged. But yeah, there’s a lot of students who will just slip right by if we don’t keep track.
GONZALEZ: Right. Yeah. You need some kind of a system.
STUART: So there’s MGCs in a nutshell, in a few minutes.
GONZALEZ: Okay. And so, and it really is something that you’ve kind of whittled down to this system, and you have other ways of making connections with students. That was something I wanted to bring up is that my friend Angela Watson, our friend Angela Watson, just talked to you yesterday was it?
STUART: Yeah, yes.
GONZALEZ: She’s having you on her podcast. It’s going to actually be published a few weeks after mine, but you guys are talking about the bigger picture of just humanizing a remote classroom. We decided that you and I would just zoom in on MGCs specifically. This is actually part of a bigger picture for you.
STUART: Yeah, right. This is just you’re putting the foundation in your house that you’re building, but of course you’re going to be building relationships through interactive direct instruction. You’re going to build it through conferring with students over their reading or talking with them during a whole class debate or something. But this just makes sure that even your most introverted children, even the children who you would most easily miss, that they are receiving consistent attempts at connection from you.
GONZALEZ: And that’s the important thing too that I remember seeing and your blog post about them is that it’s the attempts that you’re actually recording. So talk about what happens when you attempt and it just doesn’t quite happen.
GONZALEZ: You sort of give yourself credit still for the attempt, yes?
STUART: I’m so thankful that you brought that up, because we can’t control the emotions of a child.
STUART: We can just try to influence them in a direction that’s going to help them and us.
STUART: So yes, all I’m responsible for as a teacher is the trying.
STUART: And to continue to hone my skill, right Jenn? Because we can get better at anything. I approach this like a craftsperson, like an athlete.
STUART: And I try to push myself. Some weeks, how many MGCs can I get? Can I get all my students? Other weeks, what’s the longest that I can talk to a student in the hallway before it starts to get really awkward or something?
STUART: Actually, we can link this in show notes.
STUART: Awkwardness is to be expected. I mean especially if you’re trying to connect with teenagers, especially the start of the year, they’re going to think that this is weird.
STUART: Like why is this teacher pulling me aside after class and saying, hey, I just want you to know, I really appreciate you in my class. And that piece of writing that you did yesterday, when I was reading through that after class, I thought, wow. That’s completely a unique perspective that no one else even brought up, so I wanted to thank you. It’s going to hit some students as weird at first, right?
GONZALEZ: My own kids are 13, 14, and 15, so the 15-year-old is just getting to the point now where she’s not looking at me sideways over stuff like that, yeah.
GONZALEZ: But yeah, it’s just like, ugh, stop.
STUART: Yeah, yeah. So that post, that will help if you experience the awkwardness and you think, oh my gosh, I’m just really bad at this.
STUART: It’s all part of it.
GONZALEZ: So, okay. Now let’s move to remote situations.
GONZALEZ: You are going to share some specific strategies that teachers can use if they’re teaching remotely to still create these MGCs.
STUART: So if we’re trying to do this remotely, the first starting place is how did it work in person and what are the closest transfer areas with what my remote circumstances are like? The thing that I’ve had a lot of difficulty with in talking to teachers all around the place the last two weeks about this is that when we talk about working with students remotely, there’s like 52 different ways schools are doing even that.
STUART: You know?
STUART: So I mean if we’re using Google Meet, you don’t have the waiting room feature that Zoom has.
STUART: So I’ve heard of teachers doing the waiting room in Zoom and at the start of class, you just bring in a single student, quick MGC, single student, quick MGC, single student, quick MGC, and then all the rest.
GONZALEZ: Okay. So this is a Zoom-specific feature.
GONZALEZ: But of course all these other tools are constantly adding and changing stuff, but with Zoom there’s something called the waiting room, which is just sort of a holding pen for everybody?
STUART: Yes, right. That’s right.
GONZALEZ: Or you pull kids into the waiting room or you’re pulling them into —
STUART: You can then, so in this feature, you can pull a single person in at a time. The reason I’m bringing that super specific example up is because we’re not going to be able to right now cover the exact solution for every teacher.
GONZALEZ: Yes, exactly.
STUART: What we’re trying to illustrate is understand your tools and ask yourself, what would be the simplest way to make it possible to embed MGCs with that tool?
STUART: All right. It’s possible to do it synchronously through video, but it won’t be possible all the time.
STUART: So Flipgrid can be used for MGCs, and I always ask teachers, has anyone ever made you feel valued through a text message? Okay, so that means that we could use Remind if we needed to attempt MGCs. Has anyone made you feel valued through a voicemail? Okay, so now we could use some type of an audio feedback tool or audio messaging tool to attempt MGCs, and we’re just attempting. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s not going to be.
STUART: There’s so much that we’re learning right now, so I want to encourage listeners to find the easiest wins that you can —
STUART: — for attempting these.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I’m thinking about this. The physical parallel to something like this waiting room is the before and after class time where you just pull a kid aside. So if your tools don’t have that as an option, there may be other kinds of workarounds that you can do. I’m thinking if I’m using another kind of video conferencing tool, I could always just create two separate rooms and everybody start in one and then we kind of make our own so that you’re having private conversations with a couple of them anyway as they’re coming in.
STUART: Yep. You can do micro scheduling during an office hours block that you have every week. I was talking with a teacher who’s planning on doing that.
GONZALEZ: And this is the teacher that’s sort of setting it up by alphabet, right? These are required office hours for chunks of students?
STUART: That’s right.
STUART: Yes, yeah. So if you’ve got that type of a schedule then you can use office hours for MGCs.
STUART: It’s just really asking questions of your leaders, of your colleagues so that you really understand your structure, your tools.
STUART: And trying to find what’s going to work really well.
GONZALEZ: You’ve also listed here brief personal videos for students every month.
GONZALEZ: Talk a little bit about that.
STUART: So an idea that I picked up from the community college distance learning gurus. A lot of the great research, like action research classroom wisdom type stuff in distance learning, and I’m finding this at the community college level, because they’ve been doing this for a long time. They have huge range of student preparation in a given class, a huge range of home circumstances in a given class. They have to figure out how to keep students engaged who have all these different levels of readiness for college-level work and all these different types of living circumstances. So there’s a lot of richness in the thinking of community college professors right now.
STUART: …who’ve taught at a distance. I just want to call that out and thank anyone listening who does that work, because we are looking to you right now and appreciative of everything that you can put on the internet.
GONZALEZ: Man, I bet there are some people out there that really appreciate that shoutout.
GONZALEZ: Because I think that’s a population of educators that just is overlooked way too often.
GONZALEZ: And they do some really, really good work, so thank you for that.
STUART: Yes, of course.
STUART: So the one idea that came through researching this is this idea of a video postcard. The idea of that is that you send a video to your class once every couple of weeks or month or so that it’s you in a place outside of school, going about your life where you just say, hey, I’m thinking about all of you guys. So you could do something like that directed at each of your students over a month. That would be a lot of work though. So I’m posing that as an idea that needs to be played with and made more efficient.
STUART: But the big point of this segment that we’re talking right now, remote-ifying MGCs, is that what we’re seeking to do is so simple that the only obstacle really is our creativity and our understanding of our constraints.
STUART: We just have to attempt to make a student feel valued, known, and respected.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. You have two other ideas that I want to make sure we get out there because I think the general principle is absolutely going to be heard. I also think that there’s a lot of teachers out there that are overwhelmed right now, and when they hear a good idea, they’re like, oh yeah. I didn’t think of that.
GONZALEZ: You’ve got something in here about again embedding, embedding these MGCs into giving feedback on their work, for example, instead of thinking of it as something separate.
STUART: Yes. I want to make sure that I cite these researchers because they’re new to me, but this is probably the most powerful piece of research I’ve read in the last month of my life. They basically, they were working with college students, college distance students, and one group received feedback on their work through writing, and the other group received it via audio. This is Ice, Philips, Curtis and Wells. It’s a 2007 study. I’ll send you that link.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, we’ll get that link.
STUART: Yep, yep. Jenn, this is crazy. The students in the audio feedback group received just as good of teaching, just as good of feedback, they only received it through audio. They were significantly more satisfied with the feedback they received. And check this out, they’re three times more likely to apply the contents of the feedback to subsequent work.
GONZALEZ: Wow. No kidding.
STUART: Three times more likely. You know how much time that we teachers spend giving feedback on student work?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. And it was just audio. That was the only difference?
STUART: Yes. Yeah, so the researchers, they theorize that this is because audio makes nuance way more easy to read, right?
STUART: You can’t read a mean tone into direct, unpleasant feedback when I’m speaking it to you and I’m saying, hey, I just wanted to point this out. This is something we’ve been working on. That is a lot differently received from a child than if it’s just in writing, “Fix” or whatever.
GONZALEZ: Yes, yes. Right.
STUART: Yeah. And so we can, again depending on what tool we have, so I’ve heard that people using Vocaroo with Google Classroom, that’s like a Google Classroom extension or something. Using whatever tool is going to make it the simplest to do, we can give audio feedback on student work, and you can go ahead and tag at the front or the back of that, hey, I really appreciate the growth that I’m seeing in your writing, and I’ve noticed it. That is likely to make a child feel what we want them to feel.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I think that’s a really helpful tip, and that research, that is pretty mind-boggling.
GONZALEZ: For kids who have very low tech at home, who are not going to be able to get all that well-connected, what would you suggest for them?
STUART: So the simplest method to me would be you work through your roster at a rate that is doable with all the rest that’s on your schedule and you make phone calls.
STUART: They don’t need to be long at all, but they can simply be a, hey, I’m checking in. Is anything getting in the way of your learning right now? And then, I just want you to know that I was thinking about this thing that we talked about previously. Or, I think you’re really going to like what’s coming up due to the interests that you shared on your survey.
STUART: These are brief little comments that we can piggyback onto for what you’re describing, the student with difficulty doing the online education. We need to be having some type of vocal connection with them. So just might as well add MGC onto the phone call.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. You have got a lot more to offer online. You’ve got your student motivation course, which I’ve heard very good things. I’ve taken a look at it a little bit, but I’ve actually heard from people that have taken it that it was really good. I think the thing that I like about your work is that you really go deep.
GONZALEZ: I think that’s powerful. You’ve got a course on classroom management, another one on teacher time management. And what we were just talking about before is that you are developing something about, kind of around this topic too, that maybe by the time this is out, you’ll actually have that ready. So where should people go to find all of this stuff from you?
STUART: So davestuartjr.com. I will have something right on the front page pointing to this new learning opportunity. But yeah, like I was telling you, I’ve this week given some PD on this topic to teachers in New Mexico and South Dakota and a bunch of readers on my blog. So I feel really confident that the one-hour session that I’m putting together will be useful for schools trying to make teachers feel confident and encouraged and equipped to do this work of building relationships from a distance.
GONZALEZ: Excellent. Thank you so much, Dave.
STUART: Oh my gosh, Jenn. Thank you. Until next time, until next month.
GONZALEZ: That’s right.
STUART: It’ll be fun.
GONZALEZ: That’s right, exactly.
For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode, visit cultofpedagogy.com, click Podcast, and choose episode 152. To explore Dave Stuart Jr’s online courses, go to cultofpedagogy.com/dave. And to get a weekly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at cultofpedagogy.com/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.