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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
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What I Wish My Teacher Knew: One Question That Could Change Everything
All links and references are available in the online show notes: www.coolcatteacher.com/e141
Download the PDF Transcript: Kyle Schwartz episode 141
Monday, September 4, 2017
Vicki: Kyle Schwartz @kylemschwartz changed her life, the life of her students, and much of education when she asked her students a question: “What do you wish your teacher knew?”
What did Kyle’s students wish she knew?
Kyle, what kind of answers did you get when you asked your students, “What do you wish your teacher knew?”
Kyle: You know, the answers really ran the gamut. I’ve been asking my students this question since I very first started teaching, for years, “What do you wish your teacher knew?”
And they’d say funny things like, “I wish my teacher knew more about velociraptors.” But then they also said really poignant answers, such as, “I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework.”
So it really became an opportunity for me to get to know my students better and to reach out to them and to build relationships.
Why did this question go viral?
Vicki: Why do you think it went viral?
Kyle: I mean, I was pretty shocked about how far these little humble notes have gone. But you know, I think it really speaks to this universal relationship between teachers and students. And I think we’ve all had experiences as students where we wanted our teacher to know something. And (if) our teacher just knew this one aspect of our lives, or maybe (about) this one interest, or this one sensitive spot for us – things could be different for us in school.
I think it really has touched so many people because we can relate to it. But it’s also such and easy and simple invitation that all teachers can really do in their classrooms.
How can teachers use this question in their classrooms?
Vicki: OK. So, the best way to get kids to tell you what they wish you knew is just to ask them?
Kyle: Yeah, you really do just ask kids. It’s really a simple invitation. So, I go through a very detailed explanation in my book about how to do this lesson with your students, but it really starts with sharing yourself with students and letting them know about what you wish they knew about you. You know, make it a two-way street.
1 – Give students options about how to answer the question
Give your students options. You know, they can write these notes, or they can just be respectful observers. I even let kids write me as many notes as they want. And they can take it in whatever direction they want. So, they can be, you know, light hearted and funny with it, like “I wish my teacher knew how to do a backflip.” Or… they can be serious about it. The can share what they’re comfortable sharing.
2 – Share as appropriate (and with permission)
And the next step – it might really surprise people – it surprised me – is to share out. One year I was just doing these notes with kids and the students started going, “Hey! When can I read mine out loud to the class?” So I just went, “In a little bit.” And we all just sort of sat in a circle. Kids who wanted to share — shared. And honestly, almost every single person shared what they wrote. And even really vulnerable things, like, “I wish my teacher knew that my dad died,” or, “I wish my teacher knew that I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight.” Even those really poignant things — kids wanted to share with their classmates. They wanted to share with their group. So, I’ve kind of included that as a part of my lesson.
3- Build your class community
And then I really just close with community. And I make sure that kids know that, “Hey. This is a safe place. We are a community. You can come to talk to me about things. We can support each other.” And it’s really as simple as that.
Kyle’s response to the criticism
Vicki: But this is hard. I’ve followed this for some time. And you got a lot of response. But some educators criticize and say, “You shouldn’t have shared any of that.” Like none of it. How do you feel about that?
Kyle: You know, I think it really comes down to… like intention. And my intention was really to share this lesson that really works for me in my classroom. And as far as the impact goes, my community – the students I serve – are so proud of this. The families are so proud of this. You know, the advocacy is not lost on them. They understand that they’re advocating for themselves and their community and for students around the country. It’s been a really empowering experience for my students and my school community.
Vicki: But you know, isn’t it tough, Kyle, to take that kind of criticism?
Kyle: It is. But I think it comes from people who don’t know me, or don’t know our school or our community. But you know, I even had a mom — after this all kind of went viral – say, “But can you give me my student’s note? Because I want to frame it.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate this going viral or anything, so I had already recycled all the notes. But it kind of just speaks to the fact that our students’ voices are really powerful. We as teachers need to find ways to not only listen to their voices but also to amplify them, and help kids become advocates for themselves and their communities.
What mistakes could teachers make while doing this lesson?
Vicki: Is there a mistake that a teacher could make with this lesson of asking, “What do you wish your teacher knew?” Is there a mistake or a caution that you would give teachers?
Kyle: Yes. So, I would say,
Tip #1: Wait for a while after school starts to do this lesson
Kyle: Number One: It seems really tempting to do this lesson on the first day of school. Right? Because you just want to get to know these new kids in your class. But I would really wait until there’s already a sense of community established in your classroom, so that kids really feel comfortable to share what they want to.
Tip #2: Remember that we’re mandatory reporters
I would say, maybe a caution for first year teachers — I think many teachers are aware, but – we’re all mandatory reporters. The truth is that (if) the kids share something with you that you believe that they are in danger for (and it might happen), you know we’re obligated to report that.
Tip #3: Use this as part of ongoing conversations and relationships
But I will say also that just follow up with kids. This is (not) just a one-off, a one-time thing. It’s not going to be as powerful as it is if it’s just an ongoing part of the community building in your classroom.
Vicki: It’s such a great question. I would encourage all of you remarkable educators out there — because you listen to the show, you want to be remarkable — to really motivate us at this point in the school year to say, “What do you wish your teacher knew?” Handle those sensitively. Handle those appropriately. But I really think it can open up some conversations.
A word to teachers who are afraid to ask this question
Vicki: Now, Kyle, let me ask you this. What about the teachers that are afraid to ask this question, because they’re like, “You know what? I’m going to open up a whole can of worms, and I do not have time for this because I’m already too busy.”
Kyle: I guess I would just say, “We’re in the business of relationship building. Like, that is our daily work as teachers. I know that there’s this inferno of demands and pressures burning up around us. I’m a real third grade teacher, and I feel that too. But there’s a quote from Shanna Peoples, who is a National Teacher of the Year. She says, “We need to turn away from that inferno of demands and pressures, and turn toward our students.”
So, I guess I would just encourage teachers – the more you know about the kids, the better you’re going to be at teaching them. And when you get to that place where your classroom truly becomes a community, where kids support each other, where kids trust each other… I mean, powerful learning happens there. I think it’s really mutually enforcing that they have community and academics. So I would just encourage teachers to take a risk, put yourselves out there, and maybe your kids will do the same. And it will end up being a real common powerful learning experience.
Vicki: So, remarkable teachers, this is so inspiring. And remember, we have to relate before we can educate. It’s all about that relationship. This is a great example about how we can motivate our students and motivate ourselves to build that relationship just a little bit stronger.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Biography as Submitted
Kyle Schwartz is a public school teacher in Denver, Colorado. Recently, a simple yet powerful lesson created in Kyle’s classroom received international attention.
She asked her students to finish the sentence “I wish my teacher knew _.” Her students’ candid responses inspired the #IWishMyTeacherKnew movement and were covered by every major media outlet. This sparked a conversation about the realities American students face and how schools can support all students. To continue this dialogue, Kyle has written a book entitled “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids.”
In addition to teaching, Kyle is a dedicated advocate for students. She has spoken internationally about supporting students, differentiating instruction for students learning English, and building strong communities in classrooms.
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