As Thomas Paine recommends we must “smile in trouble, gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection.” In today’s show we discuss how teachers should respond when students come to us unprepared and other reflections on teaching with International Educator Patrick Holt. Start the new year by reflecting on your own practice and sharing what you’ve learned. At the end of this post, sign up to get the free reflection, reset, and refocus PDF and use it to reflect and improve for this next year. (If you get my weekly newsletter, you'll get this PDF sent to your inbox this week!)
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.
When Students Come to You Unprepared and Other Reflections with Educator Patrick Holt
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e221
Date: Monday, January 1, 2018
Vicki: Today we're talking with International Educator Patrick Holt @holtspeak who’s now teaching Social Studies in Singapore, but has traveled the world.
Patrick, what are some of the things that you think you have learned in 2017?
Patrick: We just moved from the Middle East to SIngapore, and one of the things that I’ve really considered a lot is who my students are, and how those students contribute to how I think as a teacher.
Having taught in Qatar, a very different… I taught local Qatari students. Now I teach a group of students who are maybe 8-10 different nationalities in my classroom at any time. It’s really transformed the way I teach.
Kids will always talk about how students are the most important thing — which they are. But also, the students themselves inform what you can do, and your passions that come out in your classroom.
That’s something that has really become so clear to me, making this transition.
Vicki: So in what ways?
In what ways can students inform you about what to teach and how to teach it?
Patrick: In what ways? Well, it’s what you can do. Every student that comes into your classroom brings things with them. You have to be ready for that. I think a lot of times — especially in a program such as where I teach, which is the MYP, which is very rigorous. We have an expectation of those students — what they can and what they can’t do. Or what they should be able to do.
As a teacher, I think when we have those expectations I think we kind of fail a little bit, because if you’re not willing to meet the students where they are, and you become frustrated because they meet what your curriculum asks, then you’ve put yourself in a really rough spot.
You feel like you’re failing.
What we have to remember is that you’ve got to sort of ignore that curriculum sometimes, and really sit down and think about what those students need. I just kind of realized that because I had a lot of challenges and cuts with the MYP.
Now I have students who can meet that, but you just realize that those students are not any better or worse. It’s just that they come to the table with very different things.
Vicki: You know there are times that… I even have kids that transfer in, or they have different learning levels. SO you’re really saying you have to start with where students are. You can't make up for it just because they have a gap.
You have to start with where students are.
Patrick: Yeah. Particularly, in international education, our clientele is very different than what’s at home a lot of the time, because we have parents who expect a lot. We have a program that is very rigorous. It really is, when you look at the criteria for assessment.
As a teacher, you have these forces that are pushing and pulling in all sorts of different ways, but you have to just close your door in your classroom and just look at what those kids really need at that time. That’s even just helped me now, when I have a much wider range of what students can and can’t do.
I have to remember that I have students right now — they can’t function at the MYP level, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t, that they're not capable. It just means that they have challenges that need to be addressed.
That’s something that I’m constantly thinking about. I don’t have a clear answer, but it’s something that really stood out for me this year.
Vicki: Patrick, how does that make you feel? You feel the pressure. Certainly you do, to help kids meet those standards. Teachers around the world feel this pressure. We're supposed to meet certain guidelines, meet certain standards. When kids come in to us, and that gap is so big… we can either teach the student as they are, or we can transfer the pressure we feel to the student. What have you learned about that?
Teachers around the world feel this pressure.
Patrick: The last thing I want to do is transfer that pressure to the students. This year, what’s been really great is that I have a really, really strong parent group.
I’m thinking of one specific child right now who is incredibly passionate about stuff, but she just has huge challenges with her executive functioning and being able to get down to get things done, etc.
But the key is that I’ve met with her mother numerous times now, and so has our team. Her mother is completely open to her just continuing to have her passion to learn be stimulated. I said to her, “Up to this point, she still wants to learn, so the worst thing that we can do is stop that.”
Fortunately there, we’ve been able to stop that, meet with the parent, and we’ve all agreed that assessment criteria are irrelevant at this point. It’s just to keep her moving forward.
That’s one thing that I think that is really important — to just connect with those parents and find out what they’re truly after. Then everyone else — at least in our context — everyone else will be happy. So if the parent is happy, then my administrator will be happy. Then I have no pressure. That definitely helps out.
If the parent is happy, then my administrator will be happy.
Vicki: What a blessing, to have good relationships with parents, because that’s really tough.
Patrick: (laughs) Yeah.
Vicki: So has there been anything else that you’ve learned? You’ve learned about meeting students where they are. You’ve learned about not transferring that pressure and having those relationships with parents. What else?
Patrick: What else… That’s a good one.
I think I continue to learn. I’ve been doing this for ten years in a professional mode. I’ve worked with kids for my whole life, maybe like 25 years. It never ceases to amaze me that I can continue to learn more about teaching and learning, and just trying to do my best every day in the classroom. That takes constant reflection.
Good teaching requires constant reflection.
Vicki: Constant reflection is just so important.
Have there been any tools or pedagogies that you started using or improved this year?
Patrick: I started reading a lot about brain function. I’ve heard people talk about it and I’ve watched that sort of conversation going on in my Twitter feed a lot. It’s something I’ve always sort of had in my mind, but I hadn’t actually done enough reading about it to start to use it in my classroom.
I’ve had a problem with that, because I talked to my middle school students about how long they’re capable of listening. According to what I’ve been reading, it’s about 12 minutes.
We have an inquiry based program, but I do have to give instructions a lot, clearly. So whenever I can see them fading, in that first 8-10 minutes, I kind of scold them a little bit, you know, saying, “Hey, you know what? Your brains have 12 minutes of my time…”
Learn about brain function.
So I’ve been having a lot of fun with those kind of things.
I’ve been using a lot of… Think, See, Wonder… which is an old (one). That’s been around forever. But when you put it in the context of what it’s supposed to do in terms of building up the brain over time, it makes more sense.
I like to explain the whole idea to the students, too.. So they’re enjoying that, and so am I.
Vicki: And you know, brain breaks. I don’t know what you call them there in Singapore, but brain breaks can be so important.
Vicki: I know some kids walked into my classroom this week. I looked at their eyes, and they had just had a geometry test, and they were just…
Vicki: We went and stood outside for about 3 minutes, just to try to get some sun and kind of just reset.
Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. For sure. They need that time to be able to figure themselves out, and they need to understand that what they’re feeling is normal, too. I don’t think kids realize it.
Our schedule is crazy at our school. They need to realize that this sort of stuff that’s going on in their head is real. I try to understand it and have some empathy the best I can, anyway, for it.
Vicki: So Patrick, as we finish up, as educators are looking forward to the next year, what’s your inspiration to encourage educators around the world to really reset, refocus, and bring everything they’ve got in 2018?
How can educators get ready for the upcoming year of 2018?
Patrick: I’d say think about what your students can do outside of your classroom, what they love outside of your classroom. Try to bring that into your classroom in some way, because if you can harness that and somehow blend it with what you’re doing, you’re going to have so much more buy in and so much more fun with your teaching and your kids, what’s going on in your day-to-day life in school.
I think that’d be some good things to do.
Vicki: Reflection is important. For, we are to raise up a generation of students who can learn from the past to create a better future, the modern teacher must be the modern artisan of reflection and learning. However, reflection is best done in times of still and quiet. Have quiet conversations with yourselves and other artisans of learning for when the hubbub and hustle of the school day is upon us, we have little time for reflection yet the work must move forward.
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Bio as submitted
Dad, International Educator CoETaILer, musician, human, quiet rabble rouser -Canada -Taiwan -Qatar -Singapore #iamcanadian
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Reflect, Reset, Refocus Guide
If you want to plan and work on making the next year or next month better, use this handy guide to help you reset and refocus on what is important.