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Classroom Management, Equity Resources, Mindset & Motivation, Podcast Articles   |   Sep 13, 2020

How to humanize your classroom so kids are known, valued, respected, & safe

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

How to humanize your classroom so kids are known, valued, respected, & safe

By Angela Watson

This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: I’m talking to Dave Stuart Jr. about humanizing the learning space whether you’re teaching in-person or online. We’ll be unpacking the classroom practices that can help students feel known, valued, respected, and safe.

My guest today is Dave Stuart Jr. His articles have consistently been one of the best in the education space for many years now.

If you’re new to his work, Dave is a classroom teacher in Michigan, as well as a published author and exceptional keynote speaker. The thoughts he shares on his blog and his weekly email align so well with everything that I share with you, and I know if you like my work, you will like Dave’s. We’re talking today about the ideas from a blog post he wrote called “How to humanize your classroom or school when teaching from a distance.”

I think almost every teacher, at least in the U.S., is feeling a distance from their students this year, whether it’s from trying to stay 6 feet away or teaching remotely. Humanizing your classroom is a big part of bridging the gap, according to Dave.

I’ll recap the big ideas below, with an embedded podcast player for listening to the interview and a full transcript to follow underneath.

Recap and Big Ideas

  • A humanized space is a space in which less of us is hidden and more of us are known. In humanized school classrooms, students feel valued, known, respected, and safe.
  • Getting to know more about a child as the year goes on or knowing the child’s profile as a learner and their strengths and weaknesses, and then bringing this knowledge into conversations and feedback are ways that humanize school classrooms pre-COVID, and they humanize it now.
  • Seek to know the stories of your students in an effort to help deal with children’s trauma and stress in this difficult time.
  • There are certain people, certain humans you are going to have to work harder to build relationships with and connect with.
  • Recognize that you can quickly make a child feel valued, known, or respected.
  • Who you are as a person influences how you show up in the classroom. It’s not just about what you do with students, but about who you are. We don’t see all students the same and this goes beyond even just prejudice and stereotypes.
  • We have to get real about when we’re connecting with other kids as humans, we have to be willing to see them for who they are, and not for who we think they are or who we assume they are.
  • Partner your systems and instructional practices with the fact that a child always has autonomy.
  • As a warm demander, teachers should recognize that you have something to offer your students, but also recognize that you have to enlist them in choosing to learn and that you can’t force them.
  • Combine truthful feedback with your belief in the student. Make use of the various education technology available today to make giving feedback easier. Audio and video feedback allows the teacher’s nuance to shine through.

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ANGELA: Dave, talk to us about what it means to really humanize your classroom. What does that phrase mean to you?

DAVE: Well, I think there’s a couple of pieces to it. First, this idea that human beings are naturally, mostly invisible. I can see a child’s physical body when they’re with me, but I can’t see their thoughts, emotions, feelings, fears. And that’s our default — we’re mostly hidden.

So a humanized space is a space in which less of us is hidden, more of us is known. And very importantly, that’s okay. Right? So in a humanized space, four words that I think will become hallmarks — you’ll observe them, you’ll feel them, and sense them — would be where people feel valued, known, respected, and safe. Those four words ring around in my head as I’m moving throughout a classroom, or built in a digital space where people are humanized.

Known, valued, respected, and safe.

Yes. I think it’s that simple. I think all the most beautiful places and groups we’ve been a part of — if we look back and think of our emotions — we will recognize those.

We know that strong teacher and student relationships have a positive impact on student learning. A lot of people like to say, “It’s all about relationships.” I disagree with that. I think teaching is about more than just relationships. You can have a great relationship. Matter of fact, let’s just go ahead and go down this rabbit hole a little bit.

I think you can have a great relationship, but parents don’t send their kids to school to have a relationship with the teacher. They send their kids to school to learn. And we want kids to be mastering skills, so I think it’s reactionary to say “relationships are everything”, or “it’s all about relationships” because for so long, we weren’t prioritizing relationships at all, and now it’s sort of a pendulum swing.

We were moving from this authoritarian, fear-based thing, and to now, it’s like it’s all about relationships. But it’s not, it’s not about just getting kids to like you. It’s not about just having rapport. You’re using that rapport so that you can actually get through to kids and help them learn and engage with the content and the skills. Can you say something about that?

I mean, I just think you should drop the mic because that’s right. Everyone who’s ever said, “It’s all about relationships,” has amazing intentions. Right? It’s not about the intention behind our language, but our language is powerful. I think it was Einstein who said, “You’ve got to make things as simple as they can be, but don’t go simpler because then they’re not the thing anymore.”

So the truth is that relationships, and this is how I think about it, they’re one of our most valuable currencies in the classroom, no doubt. You try to maximize the mastery outcomes of your learning space without relationships with students, and you’re going to be leaving a lot of learning on the table. They’re a huge valuable currency.

And they’re also all of our favorite things about education too. They’re education’s greatest reward, those relationships we build with students, the relationships students build with one another. We look back, we think back, and sure, we learned some things that year, and that was important. That’s the job. But it’s the relationships we really smile about when we think back. So we can’t lose those truths, but we also can’t go so far as to say it’s all about relationships because truly, I don’t think any parents, like you said, are sending their kids to school thinking, “Well, I just hope my child has a good relationship with their teacher.” They expect us to promote their child’s long-term flourishing.

That’s really well said. And you’re right that relationships are really one of the highlights for teachers. And so I think we also have to be careful not to make that too teacher-centered. We get into education because we want to make a difference for kids. We live for those light bulb moments. We live for those moments where we feel like we’re making a difference. And so in a way, that can be a teacher-centered approach: to think that it’s about relationships because it’s meaningful for me personally.


And so I really want to think that through a little bit more, especially when we think about the challenges for the coming year, because it’s difficult to have to distance yourself from students, where you’re either teaching them remotely, or you’re having to change how closely you can interact in person. So I think for both remote and in-person learning this year (those are probably two realities that most teachers are going to end up facing at some point). I think there’s a lot of overlap between the approaches.

So I want to start by acknowledging something that you shared on your blog, which is that when you don’t know what to do, you should build on what you do know. So how can our regular practices for humanizing the classroom be a good starting place for planning to address the unique challenges where we’re distanced from kids more than we’d like to be?

Yeah, Angela. You do such a good job on this in your work too in helping teachers with overwhelm. The top thing we can do with overwhelm is to return to our strength, return to our knowledge, return to our experience. And every teacher in the world knows things for connecting with students, for humanizing a classroom, every teacher in the world. And these things don’t perfectly translate to a classroom with social distance, or masks, or an online learning space. They don’t translate perfectly, but they do transfer. So knowing a child’s name, what they prefer to be called, how to pronounce their name, super basic things, really fast at the start of the year. That works normally. That worked this year.

Knowing more and more about a child as the year goes on, so that we can connect with them in deeper ways, knowing the child’s profile as a learner, their strengths and weaknesses, and our discipline, and bringing this knowledge into conversations, into our feedback that we give students. Those things humanize the classroom normally, pre-COVID, and they humanize it now.

What are some new things that we need to consider this year for kids, maybe some important things for teachers to keep in mind regarding the trauma, or the stress, or the challenges that their students may be facing?

Well, this is such a good question because people have experienced this pandemic very differently. Right?


Basically, a lot of teachers all had to shift last spring to teaching remotely. And for many of us, we were given a lot of flexibility with our job and how that looked. I mean, again though, this varied so greatly around the country and the world. But we have to understand that a lot of the children in our classrooms, they experienced extreme hardship. They experienced extreme danger. They experienced perhaps the ultimate tragedies of losing a loved one, or watching a loved one pass away.

And these types of things, the reason I’m bringing it up is because I think this year especially, we need to seek to know the stories of our children. And the best way to probably do that would be to just develop a system of calling three to five homes per week, working that into your weekly routine.

And we’re not talking about long, in-depth interviews. We’re talking about, “Hey, I was thinking about your child this week, how much I appreciate having them in class. I love the contributions that they make to our discussions, the way that they light up the room with their smile.” Whatever it is, it needs to be genuine. “I’m just wondering. How does your child seem to be doing? What are you seeing at home? Is there anything I should know?”

These can be as brief as five-minute phone calls. Every teacher knows they sometimes can become quite long too. But what we’re trying to do right here is to gain knowledge about the children on our roster that will empower us to be compassionate, empower us to empathize with the different circumstances that look us in the face every day on Zoom or in the classroom through a mask. I think that’s the number one base level act or routine that we can take this year is to just give ourselves the information that can make a path to empathy.

I know another practice that you recommend for teachers when it comes to really getting to know kids and their stories, is finding what you call moments of genuine connections, so MGCs. And I know that when this episode airs, you will have also been on Jen Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy podcast talking about this. If anyone wants to learn more about these moments of genuine connection, make sure to check out Cult of Pedagogy, episode 152, because Dave is going to be talking more about that there.

But I think it’s a cool idea, and I’d like to have you give an overview here because when I read about it on your blog, I was like, “This sounds something similar to what I did with my kids.” I have a resource called Daily Connections that I make available to teachers. I taught elementary, so I had one group of kids all day long. I divided my class list up into five sections. So if I had 25 kids, there would be five Monday, five Tuesday, five Wednesday, etc. And I had the kids’ names there, and I made an extra effort to connect with those five students on that day.

And of course, it doesn’t mean I ignored the rest of the kids. It doesn’t mean I showed favoritism. It doesn’t mean that if it’s not your day, you didn’t get a connection. But it was just a way for me to make sure I was seeing ALL of my kids.

Because I had kids in my class who were quieter, who maybe we didn’t share the same language, so it was harder for us to have conversations. I had kids who honestly? Their personalities conflicted with mine. They were just harder for me to like, harder for me to really connect with, kids whose identities were different than mine, and so we had maybe fewer things in common. And I had to work harder.

There are certain people, certain humans you are going to have to work harder to build relationships with and connect with. And I think we need to just acknowledge that.

That’s honesty. Yes, that’s right. That’s reality.

And the thing is, a lot of the kids that I liked were kids that other teachers complained about … and vice versa. Like, I  just had the hardest time with this kid and my colleague would be like, “Are you kidding? I think that kid is amazing.”  

So much of this is personalities too, and you really have to be aware of that, be aware of the kids that are harder for you to engage with, and to be really intentional about reaching out and making sure that you’re listening to them, and you’re giving those moments of genuine connection. So that’s what it looked like for me. What does it mean for you?

I want to point out this pro-teacher move right here of just so much of our best teaching doesn’t even have a chance to begin until we decide, “I’m going to partner with reality.” What’s real? How many of us get into teaching and we think, “I’m going to connect with every single child and I’m going to love every single child. And it’s going to be easy because my heart is pure”? But the simple reality is that human beings are so multifacetedly diverse that there are some combinations that don’t fit together super well, and it takes work to make a moment of genuine connection with some people.

That word genuine is intentional. It requires that I do the inside work, that I explore my negative emotions around children I’m having a hard time with like you’re saying. Just those personalities or whatever, they don’t mesh, so that I can seek to genuinely connect with them, so that I am working to like all the children on my roster. So genuine, we key in on that word. We recognize that there’s an easier path of just going through the motions of trying to connect with a child versus trying to do it genuinely. That’s really important. I love that you talked about this system of tracking moments of genuine connection because this is not an original idea, not at all.

Every teacher in the world knows you have to connect with students. The power comes when you have a system for making sure that you attempt to connect with every child regularly. That’s the power. That’s the humanizing for all students in the room, and to just some of the students, not just the students that you’re naturally inclined, or you’re biased toward connecting with. I think about all those students around the country and the world who just come into class, into school, and they just kind of don’t catch anyone’s attention because they’re not flagging us for behavior or something like that. They’re not flagging us because they’re super outgoing. They’re those middle kids, for lack of a better term.

How many of them don’t have regular connection with their teacher because the teacher leaves it up to chance that they’re going to connect with all the kids? I mean, again, we’ve got to partner with reality. The reality is we have biases. We have blind spots. So I love your system. It is beautiful and simple. I have a clipboard with every child on each of my rosters. As you said, I teach secondary, so I’ve got multiple classes per day. And I just seek to connect with, to attempt to connect with three or so per class, per day. And then I can usually get through every child every two weeks or so.

And the last thing that I’ll say is, well, I’ll say two things very briefly. These are moments, meaning that they’re brief. We’re pressed for time. This year, I feel that more than ever. And it’s important to recognize that you can make a child feel valued, known, or respected very quickly. That does not take a long time. It could be, “Angela, I want you to know that the other day when I was reading your paragraph, there was this little spark of humor at the end, and it just made me laugh. Thank you.” That took me 15 seconds to say. It could be, “I was thinking about you when I was watching the football game the other day because I know you love this team. And you just popped into my head, I wanted you to know that.” That’s what I mean by moments.

And then the last thing I want to say is that we are attempting these. You can’t ensure, you can’t guarantee that in a given connection attempt with a child that the child will feel valued, known, and respected. I love this about teaching, that my power is finite. There are only so many things I can do. That frees me to just focus on my work and leave the results up to the child, all the other variables. So we’re attempting and we’re tracking these moments of genuine connection. That plus nothing will give you 80% of the relational power of all the strategies out there.

I feel like there might even be some potential for more of these moments this year. I mean, it depends: as you acknowledged, there are so many different ways that teaching is going to look this year. Certainly, if you are, for example, live streaming your in-person instruction for all the kids at home, six hours a day, this is not going to be possible. But I’m thinking about the teachers who have the benefit of being able to do some synchronous learning and some asynchronous learning.

I’ve heard some really cool things coming out this past spring, and even a little bit in terms of what’s planned for this school year and what we’re doing here at the beginning in terms of being able to offer more office hours for kids, where they can sign up for times to meet individually, more small group instruction, more time if you have kids with IEPs, being able to meet with them one-on-one, or in groups of two to three, in ways that maybe weren’t possible before. Because when you have a classroom full of students in front of you, giving one kid your undivided attention for 30 seconds is a luxury. But with everybody in their own homes learning, there may be more potential there too, so I’m excited about the possibilities there are for some teachers and kids to have more connections this year.

I mean, can I just call out the fact that this is a beautiful thinking habit that we all need to just practice, practice, practice? It’s finding the opportunity in the difficulty. This is a tough one to talk about because like you said, there are so many scenarios that people are experiencing right now. Am I live streaming every single second of every day? Do I get to do office hours? Do I get to do asynch/synch?

So we have to take our constraints, take whatever the schedule is, and just: “Okay, how could I connect with a feasible number of kids per day without reducing education to relationships is what it’s only about?” If you have to Zoom with all your students 60 minutes a day, per class, or something, you could ask three students to stay after every day. Just start the day with, “Hey, I need you to stay after. I want to just quick chat with you.” You could do that.

You can have office hours where you expect every child to attend or whatever. They get scheduled to attend and use some type of waiting room feature. And you bring them in one at a time. You could do flip grid. I mean, we just have to take the tools that are available to us, which are dizzyingly idiosyncratic right now, totally depends on your school or your setting.

And just like we were talking about a bit ago, try to make simple adaptations. I love the thread of your work, the thread of your work that has always been that there are only so many hours in a week. If you give every single one to teaching, you’ll actually die. You have to sleep. Your body needs to eat. Very few of us are doing that. But many of us are sacrificing our performance as teachers. And we’re sacrificing our lives outside of the classroom by just trying to do everything equally well, and so we’re just working too many hours.

So I just want to encourage folks listening. I know that you might be in the worst scenario possible in terms of demands on you, pressure on you. If you’re in that circumstance, you have to adjust with what we’re talking about right now and just find a workable solution that doesn’t destroy your sanity.

What are some other ways that you focus on relationship and community building, and letting kids connect with you, human to human? I’m thinking specifically in ways that you really honor kids’ full identities and try to see them for who they are.

Well, I mean, you said it right there. Right? I’m convinced that so much of this that we’re talking about is really work that I do inside of myself. It’s work that I do when no one’s looking, work that I do outside of the classroom. When I detect I’m kind of bitter at this kid right now, I’m kind of bitter at this parent right now, what happened? So I remove myself on a regular basis, and I go into solitude, even if that solitude is just my classroom door is shut, the lights are off, it looks like I’m gone so that I can have a minute to sit down with a pen and paper and say, “Okay. This negativity, where is it coming from? What happened?”

Oftentimes, I’ll just find that the person hurt me, I experienced pain from what they said, or did, or didn’t do, or a comment that they made. And I need to process through that. Other times, I may be harboring some guilt because I know that I spoke flippantly, or I said something that could’ve really hurt this student, given what they’ve shared with me before, giving the different facets of their identity. I need to go and try to repair that, even if they didn’t experience pain from it. I’m going to pull them aside tomorrow and say, “Hey, I said this the other day. It didn’t feel right to me afterward. I just want you to know I’m going to own that I shouldn’t have said that, and I want to apologize.” Basic things, right? Inner work is so important for teachers.

Yes, it is. Who you are as a person influences how you show up in the classroom. It’s not just about what you do with students, but about who you are. And I think we also have to get real about the fact that we all have implicit bias. And we do not treat all students the same. We don’t see all students the same. And I think we’re lying to ourselves when we insist on that. And this goes beyond even just prejudice and stereotypes.

How many times have you had a kid in your class where you taught the older sibling, and you remember what that older sibling was like? And you assume that sibling is going to be the same way, that the older kid was a problem, so you just are automatically tougher on the younger sibling?

Or maybe the older kid was an angel, and then with the younger kid we’re thinking, “Well, I don’t understand why you’re not like your sibling.” We come with all of these preconceived notions about who kids are, how they should be, what we think they’re like based on their hairstyle, the way they dress, the way they carry themselves, their facial expression, their family, their socioeconomic status, their race. There are so many different things that factor in here.

And I think we have to get real about when we’re connecting with other kids as humans, we have to be willing to see them for who they are, and not for who we think they are or who we assume they are.

Yeah, because it goes back to humanization. I mean, a humanized space is where someone, and maybe this actually refines the idea, it’s not just that they feel valued, known, and respected, it’s that they are valued, known, and respected. The shortest blog post I ever wrote, the title, The Best Way to Make a Child Feel Valued, Known and Respected, the blog post, is to actually value, know, and respect them. The end.

To use your example with the older sibling, if we’re viewing a younger sibling through the lens of the older sibling, we don’t actually know the younger sibling. We know a photocopy of them, a counterfeit, oversimplified version of them. I mean, so many of our conflicts in life and our difficulties in the classroom come from the fact that we over reduce what our hyper complex beings, wrought with dignity, full of dignity, and we reduce them. We caricature-ize them. And as you said, so much of that is invisible even to us. It is implicit.

I want to talk a little bit about mutual trust because I think that one challenge for teachers this year is not being able to control — and that is a loaded word — control students’ home learning environments the same way that they may try to control the school learning environment. And I see this as an opportunity to let go of oppressive systems, to really disrupt power structures and micromanagement of students’ time, micromanagement of students’ bodies, and shift into a way of schooling that is more respectful of student autonomy.

So are there some things that teachers can consider this year about trusting students and building the kinds of relationships where kids can exercise more choice? Is there something that we can tie in here when we talk about humanizing the classroom?

Yeah. And also, partnering with reality because you can’t make a child do things. A child always has autonomy. Human beings always have autonomy. The question is: Do our systems, do our classes recognize that truth? You can certainly come up with ways to micromanage a child’s body, or at least create a ton of consequences so that the child is likely to do what you want them to do with your body. But you can’t with their mind. You can’t with their heart. This is fundamental human freedom.

So schools, teachers, we need to partner with that truth. And we need to build, as we’re talking about, learning spaces that are humanized, relationships that are real, so that we as teachers can enlist our students in a learning regimen.

Because here’s the thing, Angela. If I come to you, and I should, and I say, “Angela, I’d like you to help me become a better writer. I would like you to do that,” and if you do good by me as my teacher, you are going to tell me, “Okay, Dave. There’s some things you need to do with your body, like don’t write late, late at night while you’re slouched in your bed just before you go to sleep. I want you to give the better portion of your day to writing. I want you to get in a space where distractions are minimized. I want you to turn off your smartphone. Or I want you to turn on the app that blocks distracting websites. If you’re serious about this, Dave, I’ll help you. But there’s things that you need to do, things that I know because I have knowledge about this, experience about this. In other words, I have power, Dave, for writing. And I, as your teacher, I want to give you that power. I want to give you access to that power.”

We can’t pretend that we as teachers have no power. Right? We do. We have the power of a whole lifetime of learning. And what we’re seeking to do in a class is to partner with young people and give them access to that power, so that they can go out and live choice filled lives of long-term flourishing. So I just think we need to look at our systems. We need to look at our policies. And we need to say, “Okay. Where are we just straight up going for coercion? Where have we completely given up the idea that this can be a partnership, and instead, we’re just going to coerce? We’re going to make it happen, and they’ll thank you later.”

And how could we instead be a place where we acknowledge our power, we acknowledge our authority? Those things exist, whether we want to acknowledge them or not. I mean, I guess what’s coming in my mind is Judith Kleinfeld’s work on culture responsive pedagogy way back in the ’70s. She had this term, a “warm demander”. Teachers who were having the most success with the populations Kleinfeld was observing, they were warm demanders. They did take on the mantle of authority and power.

They recognized that they had something to offer their students, but they also recognized that they were going to have to enlist their students in choosing to learn from them, that they can’t just force learning on a human. They’re going to have to be, that’s what she means by warm, it’s going to have to be a relationally rich context, an invitational context. So that’s the tension. I mean, I’m not giving any easy answers there. I recognize that, and I apologize. But this is the wrestling match that I think our systems are being called to.

That’s really well said. I’m going to link in the show notes to an article that you wrote about being a warm demander because I think that’s really key. There’s an episode of Truth for Teachers about it too. It’s episode 157 about being a warm demander. I too found her work super powerful and really influenced the way that I try to show up with kids in the classroom.

Your article really reminded me of this old dusty thing from college. It’s like, “Oh, yes, exactly. That’s right.” That is such a useful concept for today. I mean, she developed that in 1975.

It’s amazing.

But we need some of that in 2020.

Yes, we do. How about when kids aren’t meeting expectations? How about when kids maybe aren’t showing up to class, they’re not engaged, they’re not doing their work? What are some best practices for reaching out to those students in ways that will help reengage them and maybe give them some feedback that will help them improve?

So for the reaching out aspect, the earlier that we can identify a dip in engagement, a dip in attendance, and reach out, see what’s going on, the better. In cases where the child is just psychologically becoming disengaged, oftentimes just the quick reach out, the direct message, the Google Voice text, etc. “Hey, I noticed that you haven’t been attending as much. Everything okay? What’s going on?” And this is where we can bring in some of that warm demander pedagogy too. And we can say, “I know that you can succeed. I know you want to. Let me know how I can help.”

Earlier we can do that, the better. So I think having a system for just every week checking, some simple tool that you have for engagement. It could be if you’re in person in class. How frequently are kids putting their head down during class? If you’re online, then you can be looking at usage statistics or whatever you have.

The feedback to help them improve, I’m thinking of some research — Dan Coyle is where I first learned of this. He calls it magic feedback. I think he’s got a blog post on that, Angela. He talks about it in his book, The Culture Code. But researchers have found that when you give feedback on student work and you say, “I’m giving you this feedback because I know what you’re capable of, and I believe that this will help,” when you combine truthful feedback, so accurate, in the case of the students that we’re talking about, they’re not meeting expectations, so it’s negative. Right? It’s not good news, but it’s real.

When you combine that with messages about belonging, about your belief in the student, researchers find that it really improves follow-up behavior on the feedback. So one other study that is coming to mind is, this one kind of blew my way, but it’s from the distance learning research, and they took two groups of learners in a distance learning setting, and they gave one group feedback on their projects in writing, and one group feedback on their projects via audio.

And the audio group had way more evidence of using the feedback in subsequent work in a much higher appraisal of the degree to which the teacher cared. And with the tech tools available to us today, audio feedback has become easier to give than ever — not all work, but certainly some. We could bring in some audio feedback, and that might engage some of our learners who are slipping away or at very least help them to use our feedback for improvement because that’s what we’re after.

That’s such a good point because also, giving audio feedback is sometimes faster. I talk on the podcast about the app Voxer, which I just love. It’s kind of like What’s App. If I have something that I need to say to someone that it’s going to take me forever to type out, I can just hop on Voxer and say it in a minute. So it’s a time saver, but also, as you’re talking, I’m realizing how much more humanizing it is for kids, particularly if you’re giving them constructive feedback or something they need to improve on.

I spend a lot of time when I’m writing trying to soften what I’m saying sometimes, adding in emojis, adding in, rethinking my word choice. But the thing is, if a person can hear my voice, you can hear I’m not angry at you. I’m not trying to criticize you. You can hear the warmth and the care in my voice. It just comes across totally different.

People read tone into words, and that’s what makes giving written feedback so, so challenging. Sometimes they didn’t mean it to be as harsh, but I mean, it takes longer and it takes more words to say things gently. And so I think a lot of times, we just write, fix this, or this is wrong, kind of feedback on students’ papers. When we talk about audio feedback, yes, it gives you the chance to be more thorough and accurate.

Yep. And that was the researchers’ theory, is that the audio allowed for the feedback recipient to understand the teacher’s nuance. I’m going to be real direct with you. This thesis makes no sense. But I see how you got here, and this is something that could maybe help. When I say that to you in person, it’s just a lot easier for you to get my heart for you than it is if I write that down. Chances are, that child might be talking about that in 10 years like, “Yep, I remember this teacher said this to me, and that’s when I knew I can’t write, and it marked me permanently.”

This is such a good point. If a teacher wants to give audio feedback or video feedback, are there any tech tools that come to mind, or any real simple ways to manage this that you can think of?

Vocaroo is something that I’ve used on Google Classroom. But some of the LMSs that schools are rolling out this year, like Canvas, enables you to do that. I remember five years ago seeing Jim Burke, English teacher extraordinaire, he was sending MP3s to students’ emails from his phone, so it’s gotten a lot better. I would just find the tech savviest teacher in your school and ask them, “Hey, with our setup, do you know anything for audio feedback?”

One thing that I’m trying to ask everyone that I talk to this season on the podcast is about something they are optimistic about for the coming year because I think right now we have sort of a dearth of hope. Things are so uncertain. There’s not that much to look forward to.

So true.

And so I think that optimism — having something to look forward to, having something to be hopeful about and excited about — is life-sustaining for us at this point. So what is something you are optimistic about for the coming year?

I was revisiting this idea the other day, the Stockdale paradox, which this admiral in a Vietnamese prison camp back in the ’70s, he noticed that the people who survived the prison camp the best were both optimistic and deeply intimate with the brutal reality of their circumstance. So you’ve got to embrace the brutal facts and be optimistic.

Well, most of us are pretty intimately acquainted with the brutal facts of this school year. We know this is about to be all types of difficult all year long. I am so optimistic that teachers are going to demonstrate to a watching world that we do care about students. We don’t just say it, we mean it. You’re going to see us adapt. You’re going to see us learn. You’re going to see us innovate responsibly, recognizing that your child is in our class right now, and they’re not a guinea pig, and we will honor them with great work. That is going to be witnessed in every community around the country and the world. I’m convinced of that.

And what makes me most excited about that is what we as teachers are going to take away from the experience. I think we’re going to be deeper and stronger every year of our career after this. And I’m so thankful for that.

I agree. I think this is a game-changer. This is a pivotal year for the teaching profession. We are not going back to what it was before. This is the reimagining. We’ve had a lot of conversations about reimagining schools lately, and people think it happens behind closed doors, people just dreaming things up.

No, we’re living it out. The daily work IS the reimagining. The way we’re showing up for kids every single day, the practices we’re doing, the things we’re emphasizing, the relationships that we’re building, I think this IS the reimagining. This is the shaping of what is to come.

And I think any period of transformation is going to be a bumpy ride. It’s not going to be a smooth, easy, comfortable process. And when we come out on the other side, we’re going to look back and say, “Wow, this changed me as a person. It changed me as a teacher.” And we can make those positive changes. I’m really energized by what you shared, as you can see.

I love it.

I want to close out the show with a takeaway truth. What is something that you wish every teacher understood about humanizing their classroom?

For all of human history, education has always been a fundamentally human and interdependent endeavor. You’ve never been able to just have a one-party education. It’s always taken two. And at the same time, in teaching, there is always one party who knows something, has a skill, has experience that the other party could benefit from. And I think in schools, where children are forced to attend school, compulsory public education, we just have to be so humbled by the fact that we do have things to share with our students that are valuable and beautiful and life-expanding. But we also have to find a way to invite our students to partner with us voluntarily.

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go! A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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