Teach Like Lincoln

Prior to the presidential election of 1860 and the history altering affairs that soon followed, Abe Lincoln was a political failure.  He wasn't even a consideration for the Republican nomination.  Sure he was a great guy from humble beginnings with a decent law practice.  But an individual with the potential to run the country amist the most turbulant time in the nations history? Nah!!!!!

He was dismissed and people focused their attention on other political upcomers- Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, and  William Seward.

Until they heard Lincoln speak.

Captivating, intelligent, enthusiastic, and empathetic, Abe would mesmorize his audiences.

Further, he would TEACH them.  Though there are numerous theories surrounding the 1860 Republican nomination and the subsequent presidential election, I believe Abe was successful because he was a good TEACHER.

In other words, he won the trust of the people because he taught them his ideas.  He did so in three ways:

Parent Communication Made EASY

At a recent brainstorming session with new educators, a list was developed highlighting the most pressing and nerve-racking obstacles that a new teacher faces.  The list contains a few unique and humorous answers:

- dealing with the aches and pains resulting from standing all day
-talking to friends and family as if they were a student

and my favorite:  remembering to eat and use the bathroom

These are all legitimate concerns, but our time is better spent helping new teachers with methodological and pedagogical issues.

Also on the list was time management, over preparation, and classroom management.  It took some time before the elephant in the room was finally identified:

"Well," a participant timidly squeaked, "I'm afraid of parents, like calling them and talking to them."

A unanimous "Ohhhhh yeah me too!" resounded from the group.

As a development project, we decided that was our area of focus- the dreaded parent contact.

As a group they developed a protocol for addressing parents, which I will not share with you.  What I will share with you, that I did not share with them (YET!) is an easy way to not only get parents on your side, but communicate with them weekly and encourage positive interactions.

This works for all parents, even the most ornery ones:)

It only takes five minutes a week and virtually alleviates the stress caused by parent contact.

Its called the  (Put your content here) Update Email.  For example: Earth Science Update Email.

This article discusses the strengths and benefits of a weekly parent email in a list of observations.

How To Get Through The Mid-Year Grind

The honeymoon is over.  Six weeks into the school year and the novelty of "being back in school" has worn off.  The grind is on.

The Late Fall and Winter school season is the make it or break it point.  Most teachers (and students) settle into self-sustainment and mediocrity.  They weather the storm that is November through March by looking forward to the promised breaks.

This mood doesn't need articulation, you can observe it in the body language of those that surround you.  They come to work a little later, leave a little earlier.  They flip through a phone rather than complete their daily reflection.  Dress down Friday becomes dress down Wednesday-Friday and as dress down Friday becomes wear sweat pants to school day.

As appalling as it sounds, this is the mid-year grind, and it is all to easy to fall into this vacuous trap.  We can all picture teachers that embody this idea.

This is no way to teach.  I'm terrified that as I age and become more a veteran teacher, I'll slip into just "putting up with it."  I'm so scared in fact, that I consciously make a decision to re-motivate myself at the start of November each year; a fantastic piece of advice from my fantastic mentor.

Last year, I read a series of autobiographies describing people with an unquenchable work ethic (John D. Rockefeller and Steve Jobs).  It worked and I powered through Winter and blossomed into Spring unscathed and teaching with a purpose.

This year, my motivation came a bit earlier, but none the less I am embracing it.  A small passage from my favorite book caught my attention and immediately refueled my tanks.  The purpose of this article is to do two things.  First, convince you that NOW is the time to rev your engine (as I hopefully did above) and second, to share my motivational passage.

Advice To Leaders On Who To Hire And To Teachers On How To Get Hired

In our quest to find educators with the "get it" factor, we find ourselves at the start of the process: hiring a potential rockstar.  Today's discussion deals less with what the applicant offers, and more with your mindset, as a leader, sitting across the table from them.

We aso discuss the characteristics of how to "get it" if you are a new or beginning teacher.  This article will show you how to feel confident sitting across the table from the suits.

When Best Practices Become Too Much Of A Good Thing

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Much of my inspiration is drawn from conversations held with other educators.  It seems that talking with other teachers, along with writing, helps me organize my many thoughts concerning education.

This discussion starts as many others: a quote from a meeting during a conference dedicated to sharing unique classroom best practices.

(I shared how writing proves to be not only therapeutic, but also as a development tool to improve professionally)

My colleague began:

"So there is this book by Daniel Pink, its called Drive.  In it he describes the necessary factors to encourage and promote productivity.  One of the factors is autonomy.  When given freedom, employees and subordinates are more productive.  Just look at GOOGLE!" 

(Drive is a resource worth your time)

He continued:

"So I've reflected on how this autonomy idea can be incorporated into my classroom, and from the start of school, I've given more freedom to my students.  I give them a list of activities for each topic and they choose which activities to do and when to do them.  I let them choose their cooperative groups and their homework.  I even let them choose when their work is due."

"Really, wow.  That seems exciting.  I'm assuming it is going well if you're sharing it?"  my supervisor probed. 

"Well, no.  My classroom is an absolute train-wreck" the educator replied in a somber voice.

"It seems that too much of a good thing can be bad..."

This article is about finding the balance between using a best practice and using it too much.

Why Your First Year Of Teaching Should Be Difficult Part 2

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In our last discussion, we established that not only should the first year of teaching be difficult, but that the difficulty associated with the first year is crucial for learning.  We understand that mistakes foster creative solutions, failure is a productive process, and self esteem can be managed by rethinking our goals.

In this discussion, we'll consider three important psychological perspectives to help you power through your first year in the classroom.

This article will discuss Carol Dweck's popular concept of the growth mindset, Angela Duckwork's work on grit and persistence, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's idea of optimal performance and flow.

Why The First Year Of Teaching Should Be Difficult Part 1

It is time we apply our pedagogy to ourselves.  Again I start with a brief conversation between myself and a first year educator:

Ms. Sims: "The seniors are tough, it's like they look right over me!  I don't know how to handle them, I feel like they'll yell back at me if I raise my voice.  This is hard.  Really, really, really, hard.  And hurtful, I want to be a good teacher and I'm hurt that I'm not.  Its just so hard.  It's like I'm not smart enough to do this."

We were only about three weeks into the school year and it seemed like she had already had her fill.

"But you work hard, keep your chin up and grind out the rest of this week."  I replied.

There it is, the "I'm not smart enough line" we constantly get from our students.

Ms. Sims had been successful her entire life; supportive family, no issue getting into college or graduate school, and was lucky enough to begin searching for an employment at a fairly opportune time.

This was her first "real" obstacle.    Her response isn't uncommon and almost expected.  Like a lot of our students, she fell back on familiar ground and perceived her intelligence as fixed.  She's struggling now and therefore she'll always struggle because she isn't smart enough.

The first year is difficult for many reasons.  The most important, however, is obvious: you are learning how to teach for the first time.  It is not difficult because first year teachers are not smart enough.

Meaningful learning is full of mistakes.

Meaningful learning is full of failure.

Meaningful learning is riffled with self doubt.

Meaningful learning is difficult.

And this is the way it should be.  

For help internalizing the struggle of first year teaching, I'd like to enlist the perspective of three VERY successful individuals: philosopher/psychologist William James, innovator/inventor Thomas Edison, and businessman/founder of Bridgewater Associates Ray Dalio.

Hook, Line, And Sinker...5 Easy Ways To Hook Your Students

"I heard you give homework on the first day of school, I think that is a stupid idea..."  the little tank of a person standing before me blurted out.
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"I want you to know that I'm not going to do it, or any of the homework you assign, I think that it is all stupid."

"We'll discuss work outside of class momentarily, for now, please find your seat."  I tried to calmly respond.  It was the first day of school, and I had not yet even learned the student's name.

"OK, I just wanted to give you a heads-up."  He quickly quipped back.

"What is your name?"

"Travis, and school isn't my thing, and I already don't like you because you're a teacher."

"Well Travis, challenge accepted, now head to your seat buddy."

Frequent readers have come to realize that I place a lot of value in the words  of wisdom coming from mentors.  Again, I believe that mentorship is an underrated component to success.

A mentor once told me that education is simple: get the kids to like you and they'll do work for you.

Wow, get the kids to like you.  But there is a fine line in getting the students to like you, and being "that guy" who tries to hard and pushes the students away.

This article is about how I get my students to like me, without being "that guy."  This article is not meant to be a pat on the back or a three page look at me ramble.  This article is meant to give you a couple ideas to hook your students.

Hook them once and you'll catch them for the year.

Over Empathetic Teacher Syndrome Explained

“ I felt like an emotional dumpster, and I felt helpless because no one was coming to clean out my trash…”  Clara barely mumbled, her voice nothing more than a squeak above a whisper.

“Everything the kids were going through, I adopted as my own problem.  Every pain, hardship, and crappy moment of their lives I took on as my own issue- involuntarily.  I burned out...  I burned out not from the work, stress, or all of that, but because after a while I was unable to distinguish the feelings of my students from my own feelings.  It was terrible.”

A lot of teachers leave teaching.  Leaders and administrators are struggling and scrambling to find out why young exceptional teachers walk away. 

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an answer.  Poor pay?  Crappy conditions?  Aggressive parents?  Everything seems to add up and a new teacher is often burning the candle from both ends with a butane torch.

But Clara had a different story.  She is exceptionally smart an unbearably motivated.  She gets teaching.  However she decided not to return to her third year in the classroom.  As a young educator looking to answer the teacher attrition issue, I asked her a painful question that lead to the above response.

“Did you give up?”

The Power Of Associative Learning

whack whack whack whack whack whack whack…”

“My gosh that wookpecker sounds like someone is hitting a tree with a baseball bat!” my wife exclaimed, “I wonder how they do that…any idea Mr. Biology teacher?”

I…I don’t know…” I stammered as I furrowed my brow.

I looked abstractly off to the side as my deep in thought wheels began to spin.

Whatcha thinkin?” my wife innocently said after what, in retrospect, seemed like an eternity.

“I’m thinking… about World War I… actually…”

“World War I?  What happened to the woodpecker?  I’ll tell you what, sometimes I don’t know where you come from” she said with a loving smile.

"Well..." I began explaining “I began thinking about the woodpecker, and that hitting its head repeatedly must hurt.  But then again it wouldn’t peck at wood if it was harmful, so they must have a mechanism to avoid brain injury, like concussion prevention.  Then I thought about my wreslters and how they deal with head injuries-concussions, that my first step is to visit our athletic trainer.   I also go to the trainer when they get a busted nose that I can’t stop from bleeding, and that she uses this tube of gel that helps the blood clot.  Which made me think of hemophilia, and Prince Alexi Romanov from Russia, and how Rasputin was involved in helping the boy, but gave bad advice to his father about running the army which is thought to have contributed to the revolution in Russia during World War I.  See, it’s not that strange of a thought process” I said as I smiled back.

“Yes Chris, it is.  To associate a woodpecker and WWI is a strange association…”

I have to agree, but also state that the mind is an incredible thing.

Call it educational serendipity, but that night I picked up Talks to Teachers on Psychology And to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals by William James and flipped to a section called “The Association of Ideas.”

Who better to help us understand the flow of thought than William James.  His insight has helped us to deal with difficult students and how to keep a positive habit.  This article is about his classic theory on the association of ideas and its implications on learning.

The Velcro Theory of Memory

1941 was a special year for electrical engineer George de Mestral.  On a walk through the Swiss Alps, his K9 companion causally brushed against a plant that would change the world of adhesion forever: a Burdock.

Upon returning home he spent considerable time removing the unwelcome hitchhikers from not only his dog, but also himself.  Becoming “bioinspired” and realizing the potential for the Burdock seed to function as a model for reusable adhesion, Mestral observed his new collection under a microscope.
The key, he quickly understood, to the Burdock’s sticky effectiveness were tiny crochet needles extending from the seed that become entwined with anything unlucky to brush against it.  Burdock seeds are infamous because they stick to everything using ingenious harpoon like extensions that violently grab a hold of anything furry or fabric.

The insight didn’t take long, but getting a patent did (he finally received it in 1955).  Mestral is credited for inventing Velcro, the ubiquitous household item that is used in virtually all capacities of life; from heart surgery to fashion.

Always in search of useful and meaningful analogies to describe the brain, psychologists use Velcro to describe the acquisition of knowledge and the Velcro Theory of Memory has gained recognition after the Heath brothers briefly discuss it in the their recent best seller Made To Stick.

As educators, we can appreciate a helpful analogy.  This article will discuss the transformation of

Memory is the transformation of external stimuli to neuronal impulses that result in altered synaptic connections to store sensation; the more elaborately an experience is encoded, the deeper it is learned.”


“Memory is like Velcro.  The more hooks an experience has, the better it is remembered.”

How To Use Examples And Analogies To Enhance Understanding

A fantastic section heading from Why Students Don't Like School by Daniel Willingham highlights the biggest obstacle that teachers face: student understanding.
"Understanding Is Remembering In Disguise"
As you let that sink in, also reflect on the difference between remembering  and  understanding.

Remembering is the ability to recall a past experience.

Understanding is the ability to use past experiences to formulate novel connections.

A Task Management System For Teachers That Works

Mrs. Callaway (not her real name) uses more sick days than any other teacher in the building.  But she is rarely sick.

She simply has trouble getting stuff done.  She lets her to-do accumulate to an astronomical length, feels overwhelmed, and routinely thinks that the only way to cross of the list to stay home and get it done.

(However, knowing that she doesn’t have professional responsibilities for the day proceeds to rationalize her way into sleeping in, having a prolonged breakfast, and finally realizing that by 3:30 she has done nothing but wasted a day set a side to do everything)

On average, by her own account, she takes a “to-do” day about every two weeks.  She and I have been working on a system, together, to manage this issue and had seen limited success; until we implemented the system described in this article.

This article is about a to-do system that is easy and actually works.  Further, when using it, you’ll find that to-do lists not only shrink in size, but virtually disappear.

3 Tips On How To Mitigate An Extreme Classroom Management Issue

John Doyle is systems scientist at Caltech and has coined an interesting phrase: robust-yet-fragile.  I first learned of his work while reading Anderw Zolli and Ann Marie Healy's book Resilience.  (It is a good read if you like Taleb's The Black Swan or Antifragile)

Robust-yet-fragile seems counterintuitive.  From Zolli and Healy:
"( robust-yet-fragile systems are)...complex systems that are resilient in the face of anticipated dangers... but highly susceptible to unanticipated threats."
Understanding this concept will give educators an additional tool in their classroom management toolbox.

The teacher's classroom is a complex system abounding with anticipated management issues: tardiness, inattention, distracting behavior, chatting etc.

You have effectively learned to deal with these foreseen issues and have practiced solution implementation.  For example you use physical proximity to hush a a chatty student without altering your lesson.

Planning to prevent and manage small issues makes your classrooms robust: immune to small disruptions.

However, acknowledge that once in a while, you find yourself knee deep in a situation that no one could've imagined.  "Knee deep" management issues are one-of-a-kind that cause you to shake your head in disbelief.

Extreme events, if handled improperly, can derail and destroy a lesson or worse, a classroom culture and environment.

This article is about dealing with extreme, lesson ending, classroom igniting events by mitigating their impacts.

The goal is to make your classroom resilient to any and all management issues.

Kurt Vonnegut And The Genuine Educator

I’ve read everything that Kurt Vonnegut has written (except for his most recent book published posthumously called Letters, which is on my reading list after Glass Castle).  I thought I had run my eyes across every line he’s authored until I was directed, via Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, to Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note where I found a priceless letter he wrote to his family as a deployed soldier during WWII.

Those familiar with Vonnegut’s crude and cynical style assume that his pessimistic, and often hilarious, tone is used exclusively for his novels.  His unique style is his identity as an author.  In other words, the phrases and sentence structure used in his books were purposefully adopted for dramatic effect.  He surely can’t view the world through his literary lens.

4 Maxims From William James On How To Keep A Habit

You’ll rarely hear of a teacher that has a New Year’s resolution.  Rather they adopt New School Year’s resolutions.  Just as New Year’s resolutions last as long as it takes to read this article, so do New School Year’s Resolutions.

They fade exceptionally fast.

This article is about how to develop, in yourself as an educator, a lasting habit. (though the ideas can apply to any change of habit)  New School Year’s resolutions are just dressed up goals that incorporate a habit.

The Methodology Of Mother Nature

Humans can learn.  Prior to formal education, learning was dependent on natural processes occurring within the human organism in reaction to an ever-changing environment.

Therefore, the human brain has not evolved to learn in the standardized, sterile classroom we see in our schools but rather with Mother Nature as its teacher.

This article is about how, if we consider Mother Nature the ultimate educator, we can use her methods to improve our instruction.

Let's deconstruct the pedagogy of Mother Nature.

Silence As A Pedagogical Tool Part 2

Our discomfort with silence is persistent.  The last discussion highlighted the origin of that fear.  Most relevant to our discussion is the unrelenting stimulation that we experience on a daily basis.  Overwhelmed with constant input, our brain is playing catch up with a hyperactive environment. 

Our students fear silence because they rarely experience it.

Rather than trying to beat the beast, let us tame it and use it to our advantage.  We can use silence in the classroom to improve our teaching. 

This article outlines two powerful implications brought about by appropriately using silence.

Silence As A Pedagogical Tool Part 1

Cole destroyed his basal ganglia, the cells in his brain responsible for many important fundamental operations when he was crushed under a 4-wheeler.

18 months later and after intensive therapy, Cole entered his sophomore year of high school and is dependent on an adult for his daily needs.  He came back to school because he missed his friends and is determined to walk across the stage during graduation.

It is truly enjoyable spending time with Cole and I sincerely look forward to it. The last time he stopped by my classroom, he named my new turtle "Ricky".

As a result of his brain injury, there is a delay in communication which makes interacting very uncomfortable.

After his last visit, I began feeling poorly about myself because I felt uneasy around Cole.  It is the delay that I’m struggling with.

The delay translates to a silence lasting, what seems like, eons.  In reality, the time between exchanges is only about 20 seconds.

Why am I uncomfortable with delays between spoken exchanges?

Why are we so impatient to receive responses when in conversation?

Why are silent pauses so awkward?

As with every perplexing question, The Pragmatic TV Teacher dove into the realm of literature to find an answer.

There is an answer, and also a way to use silent pauses to our advantage while teaching.

This article describes why silent, extended pauses are uncomfortable.  The second part to the article discusses how we can use silence during lesson implementation.

6 Tips On Managing Your Classroom From A Venture Capitalist

Guidance in education can come from unique sources.  Ben Horowitz is a venture capitalist and successful technology entrepreneur.  The Hard Things About Hard Things is his contribution to the entrepreneur business community on how to develop and manage a successful business.

He also has an awesome blog.  Business person or not, he has a lot to offer.

Being a CEO is not an easy job, and Horowitz doesn't sugar coat the details.  Why are we discussing him here?  Because he offers pragmatic advice.

An area of guidance that struck me was his advice on how to fire people.  As a business ebbs and flows, it is an unfortunate inevitability.

Considering the unfortunate inevitabilities in education, one corollary came to mind: classroom management.

Just as a CEO doesn't want to deal with staffing cuts, an instructor does not want to deal with issues in a classroom that extend beyond typical management.

No teacher wants them, but every teacher has them: the issues that demand immediate attention because the behavior is effecting others in the class.

The bad kid.

I'm going to use the advice Horowitz gives future business leaders on the proper way to fire people as a framework for effective classroom management.

Relevant Reading List: Encouraging Correct Decisions

Encouraging Correct Decisions

A unique occupation like teaching requires unconventional preparation.  The Relevant Reading Lists are a series of books that when read together convey a similar message imperative to teaching.  The books listed are not included in typical teacher preparation programs. The Pragmatic TV Teacher feels they should be.  Reading these will make you a better educator.

Your classroom is a social landscape.  As a landscape it needs to be be maintained.  Proper care ensures an environment where your students are encouraged to make correct decisions.  The following resources will help you understand the process of decision making and how to manipulate a situation to facilitate healthy choices.  I consider social psychology one of the most underutilized sciences when addressing education.

Influence by Robert Cialdini
Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstien
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Start with Thinking Fast and Slow.

Claiming The Classroom Territory

Mentoring is a lost art. (more here about mentoring and keeping exceptional young teachers.)

Mentoring is reassuring for the mentee and rejuvenating for the mentor.

Most new teachers are mentored.  Mentors should have timeless advice and pragmatic best practices.

How do you give advice to a young struggling teacher?

How do you craft phrases that are both meaningful and memorable?  A mentor's words need to pack a punch.  Where is one to start?

This article has been developing as a witches brew in many ways, and the thought process was finally solidified as I was re-reading Steven Pressfield's The War of Art; an awesome resource for igniting your creative self.

This article is not about the importance or role of a mentor.  This article is not about how best to be a mentor or the logistics of the mentor mentee relationship.

This article is about the best advice I was given when developing as a teacher from my mentor.

I'll never forget it: "Your classroom is your territory, and no one messes with your territory."

Typing it makes it appear less aggressive and assertive as the lines pour through my mind.

It's an "in your face" philosophy for gaining control of your craft.  Territory implies something personal, protected, and cherished.  I love the lines and still value it's meaning.

This article is about heeding the advice of my mentor and making your classroom your territory.

13 Ways That Expert and Novice Teachers Think Differently

An age old question still lacks an answer: what makes a good teacher good and a bad teacher bad?
When trying to identify the characteristics between novice and expert educators, we often look at instructor behaviors.  What do expert teachers DO that novice teachers don't, or vice versa.

Rarely considered is the way expert teachers THINK differently than novice teachers.  How do expert teachers mentally represent common classroom issues and occurrences?

When training new teachers, it would be helpful to not only tell them what to do, but also how to think.

Tracy Hogan and Mitchell Ravinowitz reviewed a ton of literature looking to see if expert teachers mentally represent components of education differently than novice teachers.

This article will describe 13 differences between the way novice and expert teachers think.  Though some can be interpreted as behaviors, I encourage you to read them considering the cognitive thought processes that underlie each one.

Go strait to the source, their article is incredibly thorough and very readable.

The Important Research Most Teachers Have Forgotten

Teachers are often lied to.  Most of the time by students trying to sneak out of a missing homework assignment, but in some cases by research scientists.

Before you get mad and swear off academic literature as a professional development resource, know that the findings will not only help you as a teacher, but also increase the IQ of your students.

18 classroom teachers gave the TOGA IQ test to their students at the start of the school year.  The teachers were told that the test was used to discover "bloomers", or students primed that year to excel.

With the scores calculated, the researchers gave a list to each teacher of who, in their class, was ready to explode intellectually.

But they lied.

7 Tips To New Teachers On How To Be Visible

"I'd love to stay and chat more, but I have a quick meeting with Stacy" I innocently commented to a colleague

"I'm sorry, with who?" I was asked.

"Stacy, the living environment teacher, her room is actually right around the corner from you."

"Oh, her.  I thought there was a new teacher in that room but I never see her."

You'd think that this conversation occurred in September, at the start of a school year.  I'm sorry to say that his occurred last week, in late-June.

During the short walk to Stacy's room, an often quoted phrased jumped in my head normally reserved for celebrities:
"Invisibility is a fate worse than failure."
Stacy had become invisible.  Further, if she had become invisible to her colleagues, how visible was she to her students?

This article is about pragmatic steps to make yourself visible without adding additional work.

Educators who are visible, "get" education.

How To Deal With Rejection In Education

"I feel like I'm sinking..." my mentee squeaked.  " I don't know if I can do this again next year."

The sink or swim conversation is often referenced in education, especially in relation to first year teachers.  Being honest with ourselves, we must admit that there are times when all of us feel like we are sinking.

We sink the fastest after rejection.

Rejection in education comes in many forms: disrespect from a student, a stalled initiative, or a conflict with a coworker.

How we bounce back is important.  Resiliency is a strong personality trait.

This article is about how to bounce back from rejection in education. For guidance, we turn to a book about...selling (?!?).

2 Simple Steps For More Effective Cooperative Effort

Group work is a phrase that, when uttered, often makes administrators cringe.  They picture students lazily hovered around a collective space completely disengaged, copying from each other, chatting, while the instructor barricades themself behind the comfortable confines of their desk.

This is a shame because cooperative effort is fantastic way to educate students and has overwhelming positive implications outside the classroom (social, emotional, etc. ).

Good meta for starters here.

However, cooperative learning is only effective if implemented correctly.

In an age of ever-growing communicative isolation- think technology- students need to be taught HOW to interact within a group.

Where is one to start?

MIT addressed a similar question about cooperative efforts and the resulting collective intelligence.   They wanted to identify the characteristics of successful groups and uncover the collective components present in groups with synergy.

Synergy is a whole system that is "greater" than the sum of its parts.

MIT wanted to tease out the characteristics that made groups of people working together better than individuals working independently.

They found three common characteristics for high performing groups:
-each group had a high level of social sensitivity (empathy)
-each group had an equal distribution of contribution (group members let others speak)
-each group had a high number of females

This article addresses the first two characteristics, empathy and conversational turn-taking, and how to teach them to your students.

The goal is to synergize your students' collective efforts.

Relevant Reading List: Advice to Young Adults

A unique occupation like teaching requires unconventional preparation.  The Relevant Reading Lists are a series of books that when read together convey a similar message imperative to teaching.  The books listed are not included in typical teacher preparation programs. The Pragmatic TV Teacher feels they should be.  Reading these will make you a better educator.

When leading by example isn't enough, educators need to have relevant resources to consult when young adults need direction.  The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, Never Eat Alone, and So Good They Can't Ignore You are three books that will give you pragmatic advice to share with your students.

Einstein Would Have Been a Crappy Teacher

For all of his wisdom and worldly contributions, Albert would've stumbled as an educator.

(read Walter Isaacson's account of his life: it is truly eye opening)

How do I know? He doesn't understand a fundamental aspect of acquiring knowledge: that facts must precede conceptual constructs and the synthesis of new information. (Origin of this idea is Make It Stick)

Evidence for this bold claim comes from this often praised quote:

"creativity is more important than knowledge" says Einstein.

That might be true for some endeavors, but teachers should be careful and avoid this advice.

For someone who devoted his life to making connections and advancing theoretical physics through the accumulation of knowledge, this quote is confusing.

An ambiguous discussion referring to the context of this quote is unnecessary, of course we love Albert, we are simply using this idea as a springboard into something much larger.

Factual knowledge is the seed of creativity.  Without knowing things, you can not use creativity to weave them together to create new ideas.

Without facts, there is no synthesis.

This article highlights the benefits of factual information on reading comprehension and memory.

William James On How To Help The Kid That Gives Up

We all have (hopefully just) one: the student who shuts down.

Whether they make an initial attempt or not is unimportant.  The "shut down student" is inapproachable, frustrated, and somewhat defiant.  They've given up hope and insist they "can't do it."

Over 100 years ago, the same type of learner was described by William James:
"The teacher often is confronted in the schoolroom with an abnormal type of will, which we may call the 'balky will'.  Certain children, if they do not succeed in doing a thing immediately, remain completely inhibited in regard to it: it becomes literally impossible for them to understand it if it be an intellectual problem, or to do it if it be an outward operation, as long as this particular inhibited condition lasts."
How would perceive and internalize the situation.  Would you get angry or mad?  Would you be patient?  Would you place blame on the student or some extraneous factor?

How would James think about the situation?

"When a situation of the kind is once fairly developed, and the child is all tense and excited inwardly, nineteen times out of twenty it is best for the teacher to apperceive the case as one of neural pathology rather than as one of moral culpability."

James removes blame from the student.  The student is not consciously behaving this way, it is simply a result of the student's psychological being.

How would you proceed?  Would you remind the student of Dweck's work and say "you can understand the problem if you realize that your intelligence isn't fixed.  If you work hard, you'll get it!"  Or would you pull a page from Bjork's desirable difficulties handbook and say "this is what we call a desirable difficulty, trust me, you want this challenge!"

(I'm not, at all, saying that the work of Dweck or Bjork are unimportant.  I'm just having some fun.)

How would James handle the situation?

"The aim of the teacher should then be to make him simply forget.  Drop the subject for the time, divert the mind to something else; then, leading the pupil back by some circuitous line of association, sprint it on him aging before he has time to recognize it, and as likely as not he will go over it now without any difficulty."

Surprised that he uses distraction and deception?  Don't be.  James is a powerful thinker who truly understands the applications of psychology.

Tricking a student into working through a difficult problem is like getting your dog to take it's heart worm medicine.  The dog won't touch the pill by itself but you know it's necessary to keep your dog healthy.  So you use a little distraction and deception and  disguise the pill in a delicious piece of deli meat.  Everybody is happy: to dog got a little snack and you're taking steps to keep your dog worm free.

The solution posed by James is simple.  He suggests first getting the student's mind off the challenge as a way to calm them down and forget about the difficulty.  When the mind is calm, the teacher can then re-introduce the difficult idea, maybe dressed up as something else, quickly so the student doesn't have a chance to realize that it is the old problem disguised as something new.

It sometimes becomes overwhelming for writers to consistently report the newest and lasted educational best practices.  I believe it is worth taking a step back and considering simple ideas based on common sense.

Talks To Teachers On Psychology And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals is a timeless, underutilized, educational resource worth your time.

Thanks for reading.

The Most Powerful Way To Help Kids With Testing Anxiety

Adam was a mess.  If you saw him, you would have thought that he was attending the funeral of someone very pivotal in his life.  On the brink of tears, unable to breathe, he sat along a set of blue lockers simply clutching his knees to his chest.

The death of a family member?  No, the APUSH Advanced Placement exam.

Adam had an anxiety attack while taking the assessment.

It has become common for students to panic during high stakes testing situations.  Elementary students will simply cry and look confused.  Older students will seize and stare blankly at the page.  Recently however, we've seen more students that have full-blown panic attacks and physical reactions to tests (vomiting etc.).

I feel bad for them, we all do.

For students who experience severe levels of anxiety like Adam, there is little we can do.  For students with lower and more manageable levels of testing anxiety, we can employ a simple trick before and during the assessment to help them.

This article is about how testing anxiety decreases performance on assessments and one powerful trick teachers can do to alleviate that stress.

How To Make Boring Content Interesting: 3 Tips From Psychologists

Follow this line of reasoning:

Students learn what they think about and students think about what they're interested in.

It makes sense, right?

The question now becomes, what makes something interesting?

Think to yourself: what are you interested in?  I'm interested in (read obsessed) with 19th century Russian Fiction.  I'm sure that didn't pop up on your lists of interests.

It seems that interest is subjective.

I know what your thinking: if all of my students are interested in different things, then getting them to think and learn about the SAME thing will be impossible.

Right and wrong.

You're correct to assume that your students have subjective interests that differ.  You are wrong to think that getting them to think about the same thing will be difficult.


Because cognitive psychologists have determined the common characteristics of something that is interesting.  Said differently, I'm interested in Russian literature for the same reasons your are interested keeping dogs, hiking the Adirondack high peaks, or restoring vintage cars (fill in your hobby).  My interests and your interests share the same intrinsic appeal.  This interest intrinsic appeal can be deconstructed.

This article is about how you can make your content interesting.

The Sign Of The Amateur Educator

 "The sign of the amateur is the overglorification of and the preoccupation with the mystery."
This fantastic line comes from a must read: The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield.  Please read it.
Closer inspection will prove rewarding.

Before we look at the actual sign(s) of the amateur, let's clarify what the sign of the amateur is referring to.  Educators embody unique characteristics based on their level of "get it."  Teachers who "get it" exude the "get it" glow.  Be it a fire in their eyes or an aura, you know when an educator "gets it."

This article describes the difference between an amateur educator and a professional educator based on the "get it" factor.

3 Things Experts Say Make A Perfect Study Session

Peter Brown (a writer), Henry Roediger (a psychologist), and Mark McDaniel (another psychologist) have 3 important tips for learners on how to study.

Try this tomorrow in school: ask any of your students how they study.  Their response:  "uh, I like read the textbook and look at the notes."  One study found upwards of 84% of students reread text.

Even to those not in education, this seems like a waste of time, and it is.

Help your students improve their study habits by highlighting the advice of Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel in their book Make It Stick.

This article will discuss what your students should not be doing to study and will give you a response when you hear the inevitable "uh, I like read the textbook and look at the notes."