Humanizing the Classroom for Teachers & Students With a Strengths-Based Approach
Guest(s): Beth McCord Kobett and Dr. Melissa Carr
Run time: 57:35
Season 1, Episode 6
Series 1 Teacher to Teacher Podcast
[00:00:02.65] NARRATOR: Welcome to Corwin's Teacher to Teacher podcast with host, Carol Pelletier Radford. Carol is an experienced classroom teacher, university educator, founder of mentoring and action.com, and author of four bestselling professional books for teachers. She believes the best form of professional learning happens when teachers engage in authentic conversations and share their wisdom.
[00:00:23.89] In every episode, Carol and her guests share stories about pivotal moments in their careers, successful classroom strategies, and personal actions they take to minimize stress and stay healthy. The Teacher to Teacher podcast is a place to engage in authentic conversation and reflection with experienced educators. We hope these conversations will energize you, keep you inspired, and remind you why you chose to become a teacher.
[00:00:48.84] TORI BACHMAN: Hello, welcome to the Teacher to Teacher podcast, sharing our wisdom with host, Carol Radford. I am Tori Bachman, a Corwin editor and a co-organizer of this podcast, which we've created for teachers at all levels who are searching for practical wisdom to apply in their classrooms. We believe we're all constantly learning and learning together.
[00:01:09.98] To share their wisdom today, we have two pretty special guests, Beth Kobett and Melissa Carr. I'll introduce them to you now.
[00:01:18.41] Dr. Beth McCord Kobett is professor and dean in the School of Education at Stevenson University, where she leads teaches and supports early childhood, elementary, and middle level pre-service teachers. She is a former classroom teacher, elementary mathematics specialist, adjunct professor, and university supervisor.
[00:01:39.50] Beth recently completed a three-year term as an elected board member for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics known as NCTM, and was the former president of the Association of Maryland Mathematics Teacher Educators also known as AMMTE. And Beth has authored several Corwin math titles, including the bestseller, The Formative Five, Everyday Assessment Techniques for Every Math Classroom and the very recently published, Formative Five in Action.
[00:02:11.28] Beth, we're happy to have you here today. Thanks for joining us.
[00:02:14.29] BETH KOBETT: Thank you so much for that lovely introduction.
[00:02:17.55] TORI BACHMAN: Of course. Also joining us today is Dr. Melissa Carr, an educator who's featured in Carol's recent book titled, When I Started Teaching, I Wish I Had Known, Weekly Wisdom for Beginning Teachers. Melissa has been an educator for 33 years, gaining experience as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, assistant principal, principal, and district technology administrator.
[00:02:43.53] With a focus on educational technology and reading at the secondary level, Melissa has received accolades as District Researcher of the Year, Secondary Principal of the Year, and a Florida finalist for Innovative Principal of the Year. Melissa is an innovator who creates a culture of trust and collective efficacy for helping students and educators achieve their personal best. Melissa, thank you for joining us. I'm really happy to meet you today.
[00:03:10.47] MELISSA CARR: Thank you so much. I'm delighted to be here.
[00:03:14.03] TORI BACHMAN: And we're all looking forward to this conversation. I will now turn it over to Carol. Thanks.
[00:03:20.43] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thanks, Tori. And welcome Beth and Melissa. I'm so excited to talk with you today. So I just want to say a little bit about this interesting conversation that we're going to have with two doctors. I also have my doctorate. So I want to just-- as the listeners are going, wow, what's going on here? These very educated people that have moved from the classroom into higher education or principalships and leadership roles.
[00:03:50.31] So I want to just ground the conversation today in it's OK to stay in education and move from the classroom to leadership roles and higher education roles that continue to support the work of classroom teachers. Because we are the community. And when we stay in the classroom and love it, that's one aspect of education. And then the principal, a leader from the classroom is the best that you can have. And then having a professor in higher education who was from the classroom also keeps all of us focused on what's really most important, which is helping the students be the most successful they can be in school.
[00:04:37.64] And when we all come from a teacher wisdom, teacher to teacher mindset, that's what I believe makes a difference. And that's why I'm here today to lead these conversations for all of us to learn from.
[00:04:51.76] So as we begin, I'd like to ask all of our guests to share their journey into teaching. So Beth, thanks for being here. And can you just share your journey into teaching? Let's hear it.
[00:05:03.32] BETH KOBETT: Yes, I'd love to share my journey into teaching. I did know I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't quite realize it yet. So I tested out a few other majors, and then I became a big sister. Big sister and big brothers in college. And I realized that I had to do this. That I was testing out these other majors, I wasn't quite happy in them, and that switched me into teaching. And as soon as I entered the classroom, I had an amazing experience with a mentor teacher and fell back in love was teaching.
[00:05:43.32] When I was a sixth grader, I had an opportunity to run a small tutoring group, and that was when I realized I was really supposed to be a teacher. And I want to share that a little bit because I think it's so interesting that we find our way into the teaching profession from so many different entry points, and there's these little messages we get about becoming a teacher that sort of add up to this wonderful realization. So working with pre-service teachers, I get to hear these stories all the time. So I think it's an important idea for teachers to go out and share. So thanks for asking that.
[00:06:24.26] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thank you, Beth. Now, I just want to ask a little bit of a follow-up is how did you get-- so you left the classroom, you have your doctorate, you're teaching in higher education, what was that moment, that pivotal moment when you made a decision to leave a classroom and to contribute to the profession in a different way?
[00:06:46.92] BETH KOBETT: So my I have had like Melissa, quite a few different positions within the whole education community. And I will tell you that it's all about being open to opportunity. So I was a classroom teacher and someone said, oh, you really like math. Have you thought about being a math specialist? Oh, that sounds interesting. Let's try that for a little bit.
[00:07:11.41] When I was a math specialist and after I finished my master's degree someone said, "Would you like to adjunct in a university?" And I started adjuncting for several different universities, and I realized how much I loved pre-service teachers. And so that journey began.
[00:07:31.63] And then I honestly would love to tell you that I had a 20-year-- I'm in my 38th year of education, and I'd love to say I had a 38-year plan, but I did not. What I did was look for opportunities and say yes a whole lot, and that's how I found myself here.
[00:07:50.59] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that. So I call that following the breadcrumbs. It's like a little breadcrumb and then you follow it. But you are reacting with your emotions too, and I love that. What about you, Melissa? What's your journey to your doctorate in this new role from being a teacher and choosing teaching?
[00:08:09.79] MELISSA CARR: Well, I agree with Beth that it's all about those influencers in your life, your mentors who have said to you, "Wow, you are so good at this. Why don't you consider trying taking on this new role?" I've actually been in some situations where I said, I don't feel perfectly confident stepping into this new role. I don't feel like I know enough. I don't feel like I'm fully qualified. But the encouragement that came from those folks who had gone before you, so they were in a position of authority in the district or in the organization, and they believed in me more than I believed in myself.
[00:08:56.26] So it's taking that leap of faith and knowing that someone else has seen that potential in you, which is what we do as teachers every day with our students. And so my journey is the same. Someone saw a spark in me, and I took that leap of faith, and I felt comfortable enough with that relationship with them that I took it on and wrestled with it, same thing with going through the doctorate. I was actually in a new role as an assistant principal responsible for assessment and curriculum at a high school and still figured out a way to work on my doctorate at the same time.
[00:09:36.32] And when I look back on all of those things that we've done through our lives and couldn't believe that we did it, but we're so much better because of it. I am going to be a heck of a classroom teacher when I finish this stint of my life when I'm publishing and teaching high school English again.
[00:09:55.36] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes, going back to the roots. Back to the roots. I have a similar journey. I was in the classroom. I taught fifth grade, I was an elementary teacher. Always wanted to be a teacher. So I was more of a traditional choosing teaching from the beginning.
[00:10:14.45] And actually in my book teaching with light, I tell the story of when I chose to be a teacher and then I didn't do very well on some entrance tests for the college. And I was very upset that they weren't going to let me apply. The guidance counselor was like, no, I don't think you could be a teacher, you should be something else. And I'm like, what? I have to be a teacher. I have to be a teacher.
[00:10:38.59] And my mother was my mentor advocate who said, no, you're going to be a teacher. They don't know you like I know you, that's your dream. So I have a whole story about that. But then being in the classroom for all those years, it's the same. It's like, I didn't leave because I didn't like it.
[00:10:55.96] We hear so many stories about teacher retention that people leave the classroom because they're not happy, they're discouraged. Many people are leaving now. But our three stories are we left to continue to forward education for the profession. So we need to have those stories more articulated. So I'm glad that we're sharing that.
[00:11:20.71] And then the doctor thing is the nightmare, the crying. And you learn how to write, don't we? Learn how to edit and write and give up our words very easily.
[00:11:32.59] MELISSA CARR: Right, a little bit every day.
[00:11:33.81] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes. So thank you for sharing your journeys and reminding me of mine. So here's the question that I'd like us to delve into a little. We were all in the classroom, and there are defining moments that we can remember that influence us and help us to become that better teacher or that more effective teacher. So I want us to talk about that for a bit.
[00:12:04.49] Beth, do you have a story that really changed who you were in the classroom? Let's keep it there with your elementary, your roots. What happened?
[00:12:18.98] BETH KOBETT: Yes, absolutely. It was my first year of teaching, and I think that the reflection of the first year is such an important thing for all of us to continue. I do this every year, I reflect on my first year of teaching, especially working with pre-service teachers.
[00:12:35.54] And I was getting my classroom ready, getting the bulletin boards up, getting so excited about that. And some teachers came in and told me that I was going to be receiving a student at the beginning of the year, and that the student had all of these problems. And I was really frightened by the conversation.
[00:12:59.72] I went home and I reflected on it, and I began to get incredibly anxious about how I was going to be able to teach the student considering all of the kinds of things that had been said. And I'll be really honest, it was very deficit-based, very negative, oh, good luck, those kinds of things. And also some not so nice things about the community or the family that this child was associated with.
[00:13:28.49] And on the first day, in walks this child who was nothing like what I had imagined. A very energetic, exuberant, curious, and it didn't align. And I began to wonder about-- and the conversations continued. And there were definitely some behavioral challenges. I won't discount that. But what I learned more about that in a moment, I have to tell you as the year progressed and we addressed particular challenges that the student was having was the messages that I received and the perception that I built up, I personally built up about the student and how important it was for me not to be a gatekeeper and to look at each child as if they get a fresh start.
[00:14:21.95] And I believe that that moment, that built-up that I experienced is something that is recreated all of the time for children. And I think about all the time, what if I said that about a colleague? Wait till you see this colleague. Or what if that were said about my own children or about myself? And that perception of how much it influences the ways in which we design instruction, the ways in which we're going to interact, the ways in which we're going to communicate with the entire educational community really truly sets the stage for and influences the educational experience of individual children.
[00:15:08.06] So this child taught me more about being a teacher than-- and this story began to be repeated over and over again, by the way. But I learned better how to cope with it and how to respond to it.
[00:15:22.03] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that. I love that you're bringing up multiple issues for us to think about. And Melissa, I'll let you respond to Beth's story too. But it reminds me-- my work is in mentoring and advising teachers and yet, there's a fine line between giving advice to a beginning teacher and mentoring, which is more inquiry-based or helping the beginner to understand these challenging problems.
[00:15:54.06] Because we get the other side from when I worked in higher education and did what you're doing like, preparing pre-service teachers, they would say when they got into the school, I wish I had known this. I wish I had known these challenges. I didn't realize how hard it was going to be. And that helped me develop more mentoring and inquiry to ask the questions.
[00:16:15.09] But you're raising the issue like, how much do we tell people? How much do you need to know? And when is the line crossed when it's more stereotype and just kind of giving advice or how to handle something that could really hurt somebody's reputation? So there's a fine line there about, how do we share that? What do you think about that as you remember that story of getting the info but then what's that piece that made this a learning experience?
[00:16:56.82] BETH KOBETT: Well, what I began to understand is that I needed to ask better questions and also set better boundaries about the conversations that I would engage in because quite frankly, I was walking away feeling really, for a lack of a better word, gooey. Like, not so good about the ways in which I used words to describe students and I think in the ways in which I might communicate about a student.
[00:17:24.81] Because I realized we are incredibly powerful. We're powerful. And any position that we're in education, we hold so much power in the ways in which we influence how others might interact with our students. And I find that true here as a dean for my pre-service teachers. So there's factual information.
[00:17:50.77] So the student is one year below grade level in reading and achieving this score. And this student has this disability, and this student has this behavioral challenge. And so those are factual information versus good luck getting the student to do any work, those kinds of things.
[00:18:14.28] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Right, thank you.
[00:18:15.81] BETH KOBETT: Yeah, so now my response is-- and I am mentoring my students to also engage in conversations that ask, how do I get this information? And also like, can you tell me a little bit about the student's strengths? Tell me about something wonderful about the student that you've noticed or witnessed. And tell me the story of it, not just some platitude but real stuff that you can tell me about this.
[00:18:43.62] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes, thank you. This is, I think, a really inspiring story because it frames the way in which we interact with our students and our colleagues. But as a beginning teachers, and that's I hope many of you that are listening, sometimes beginners don't know what to ask, don't have the question. They don't know what they don't know. So I think it's important for us to continue to do the mentoring and to raise this relational question of judgment and stereotype that isn't going to help the teacher interact any better.
[00:19:22.35] What do you think, Melissa, about what we're talking about? Has that shown up for you in your career?
[00:19:29.13] MELISSA CARR: Absolutely. So many memories come flooding as I hear Beth tell her story. And when we started teaching in the early '90s, back then our rule of thumb was stay out of the faculty lounge. I know those don't exist quite the same today as they used to back then, but that meaning behind stay out of the faculty lounge, you did not want to have a preconceived stereotype of a student, whether you had them that year or you knew they were coming to you because you want to start the slate clean with those students.
[00:20:09.47] And that goes back to building the relationship with the student as an individual, learning their strengths like Beth said, but understanding their background and all the data points that come with them to meet those students where they are.
[00:20:25.64] As principal of a high school, I always start every school year with the locker room pep talk, if you will, with my team. Not only my teachers but our front office staff, our counselors. And I repeat to them over and over again, no matter what you may have heard about any student we will encounter this year, I want you to meet them where they are, build those bridges, and get them across. Get them to the next stage of their life.
[00:20:56.32] And I don't know who coined this phrase, but I always remind everybody that we need to be who we needed when we were younger. You know that phrase? We've seen it everywhere on social media, right? But be that person, be that teacher, be that support person. Be that person for the young people that are going to flood our campus next week that you needed.
[00:21:22.17] What was the missing piece when you were younger that you wish someone would have said or done or supported or forgiven or looked beyond? Be that for our students. Meet them where they are, take them to that next stage of their life and support them. Especially now where mental health is so significantly impacting behavior and academic performance with our students, and it's getting such attention these days.
[00:21:54.85] So for new teachers, avoid those negative conversations. I know they happen because people are human and they just have to vent sometimes. But know that that's a moment of weakness on anyone's part. All of us are guilty of that.
[00:22:10.74] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Right.
[00:22:11.79] MELISSA CARR: But yes, meet them where they are.
[00:22:15.15] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: So you raised an issue, and I've write about this in my other book, Teaching with Light about the teachers room. And I think it's important for us to just-- let's talk about that for a bit. So when I started teaching in the teachers room, believe it or not, people were smoking. In the old days, right?
[00:22:36.96] MELISSA CARR: Yes, they were. That's another reason I avoided it.
[00:22:40.70] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: So we are laughing about it now but teaching has changed and the culture of the school and all of that. But back to what we were saying with Beth about the difference between mentoring and advising and colleague conversations and human beings being frustrated about we're not perfectly crafted people. We will make mistakes.
[00:23:05.23] But I always wanted my pre-service teachers to go to the teachers room and to learn how to separate-- because I didn't want them to be isolated, the student teachers, in their classrooms working the whole time. So I remember saying, "Well, go and see how you can contribute. How can you listen to your colleagues and see their frustration as opposed to their negative vibration that you can't handle?"
[00:23:35.65] Beth, what do you think about that? I mean, are we trying to isolate our beginning teachers or any teachers? How do we live in both of those worlds and still have some socializing as adults? We don't want to be with the kids all the time. What's your feeling about that?
[00:23:54.25] BETH KOBETT: I think that's really an interesting idea. And no, we don't want isolation because we know that collaboration and community is what keeps us going and what keeps us in this field. We need each other. And we also do need opportunities to vent and sort of speak our truth. And we don't want people to be inauthentic. We do not want people walking around and having to be not who they are all day long, because that's exhausting.
[00:24:23.27] So what I ask them to do is reflect on this idea of, what energizes you? Is there a particular person? Is there a human? Does it energize you to go and eat lunch with everyone? For some people it doesn't but for some it does and for some, it doesn't.
[00:24:43.45] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes.
[00:24:44.12] BETH KOBETT: So I think this idea, what we say all the time here at Stevenson is we are not producing cookie cutter teachers because we do not have cookie cutter students. We need to find what works for us. And the sooner we figure it out, the better off we are. And you can learn about that by knowing what energizes you.
[00:25:06.14] So for me, sitting in an office all day is the most challenging thing ever. It really is. So I still teach my classes, but I also go and teach in classrooms in local schools here. Because let me tell you, I can live off the energy of that for a week or two. So it's about making that list of what energizes you and supports you to keep doing the work and being who you are. And it's about understanding that.
[00:25:35.69] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that.
[00:25:36.75] BETH KOBETT: We must live up to something.
[00:25:38.19] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes, but we have to ask those questions. So those are the questions as a principal, you're asking those, and I'm doing that here. So I want to call out those things like, what do we love? What do we-- but if someone says something, I can remember hearing something bad about a student's family or oh, he's just like his brother. You're never going to-- he's never going to learn anything or those kinds of comments.
[00:26:07.85] And I remember, someone taught me this, and I don't know who I could credit to it. But I have used this phrase so many times when I would hear that. And it takes courage in the teacher's room or wherever it is that someone says it, where I would say, I do not have that same experience of that student. And it was just as simple as that because I didn't want to not say anything and be silenced, but I didn't want to add to the conversation because I wanted to be socializing with my colleagues, and some of my colleagues said things that I didn't agree with.
[00:26:49.24] What do you think of that, Melissa? Is that something you've experienced before or do you have a tag line that you say instead of don't say that about Joe, do you have a phrase that you use when you hear those things?
[00:27:04.76] MELISSA CARR: Yes, well, it's part of my coaching background too because that's kind of what got me into teaching in the first place is always start with something positive. So when I hear colleagues or others saying some negative things, I say, yep, you know what? That may be true. I kind of listen to what they say and then I pick up on one of those points and I ask them, can you explain a little bit more about that point you made there and tell me something good about them. Kind of leading them into finding their own pathway to what's really great about that student.
[00:27:44.75] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: OK, I like that. So we're back to the strengths. So this is interesting. Because as Beth is saying, we want to be authentic and we don't want to just be goody two shoes all the time. Well, I just say nice things about everybody. But as Beth is saying, it's the facts. So this is an interesting story for us to think about.
[00:28:07.71] Melissa, you have a story that you shared in the book that I think is a good message for people. Could you just say a little bit about this story that happened when you were teaching and how you integrate it into your learning as you moved on?
[00:28:22.65] MELISSA CARR: Sure. Within the first couple of years of my teaching, again, thought I had the best laid plans for classroom management, and the lesson was awesome. And in the process of simply turning the television on-- and in the early '90s, our televisions were the television tubes that were bolted to the ceiling up in the corner, right? Exactly. And as luck would have it, we could never find the remote control if one existed.
[00:28:56.85] And so I had this habit of having to step up on my chair, my desk chair to pop the button on the television to turn it on because I had this awesome video clip that was going to make my lesson just perfect.
[00:29:11.72] And so I was teaching freshman English at the time. And of course, my classroom was far exceeded. The number of students far exceeded the number of desks in the classroom, so they were packed in there, it was a full day. And the momentum of my beautiful lesson, I stepped up on the chair to turn the television on, the build up to the awesome video clip and somehow, the chair slipped from underneath of me. I fell to the ground behind my desk. So I'm literally behind my desk.
[00:29:44.67] So there was total silence in the classroom. And I had this flashing moment in my brain of, how am I going to handle this? And it was that split second that I popped my head up from behind the desk, and I looked at the students and I said, well, when you fail, you always have to get back up. And the students erupted in laughter and applause. And I laughed it off, and they were making sure I was OK but had built that rapport with the students that that kind of thing could happen.
[00:30:21.94] And so we often referred to that phrase for the rest of the school year with the students if they bombed a quiz or they had to revise that piece of writing, another time for me. And it got to the point where I'd say, "Well, you know if you fall--" And the students would recite, "We know, we know, get back up again."
[00:30:42.51] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Get back up.
[00:30:43.65] MELISSA CARR: So that kind of became our mantra.
[00:30:45.63] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Oh, my gosh.
[00:30:46.71] BETH KOBETT: So my foible there really worked to our benefit collectively in that classroom for the year and really helped to teach me lessons through life, that learn to be flexible and have those relationships with folks so that when you do stumble, because we all do, it's inevitable, that folks tend to be more forgiving and supportive of you. And so that was my story.
[00:31:16.70] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I know. Well, I can see you actually. I mean, I see the TV and the whole thing. Has that ever happened to you, Beth? It's the most embarrassing moment the thing and then you have to-- you're in front of the class and everybody's looking at you. Anything you can share?
[00:31:33.84] BETH KOBETT: Daily. Pretty much daily.
[00:31:36.43] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Daily.
[00:31:37.79] BETH KOBETT: And very embarrassing things. But what I love is the humanizing aspect of that. And I mean, humanizing the classroom for teachers as well as students is so important. And I love the humor because ninth graders could-- they clearly loved you because you turned it into a humorous, meaningful moment that everybody got to. That becomes a shared experience that's referred to throughout the year.
[00:32:11.50] And so many classrooms teachers do this, where they have little phrases or something that's a shared collective experience, which means they're in community. So I love that. Yeah, no, I'm really doing something--
[00:32:24.27] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: That's something. We just have to-- yeah, there's the human piece, that's the theme of this podcast session is like, the humanity and the ways in which we have to collaborate and love each other and chat, be challenged by all of these stressors. But we're doing it.
[00:32:46.65] So let's give some-- all right, the listeners are ready for some practicality. We had some great conversation. What have you learned? Classroom management always becomes the number one thing when I talk to new teachers or mentors, that's what new teachers need help with. But classroom management could be routines and rituals or disruptive behaviors or paperwork or something like, what's a tip? What's something that you've used that-- like, this works, I'm passing this on. Melissa, you have one? Do you have one?
[00:33:20.78] MELISSA CARR: Well, besides the fact of practice, practice, practice, so that it does become routine to get the students in the habit of doing those things for you so your classroom just runs like clockwork, but one thing that I suggest to actually remove from your plate is not everything has to be graded.
[00:33:39.48] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thank you. Thank you. Everybody's like clapping, yes.
[00:33:43.08] MELISSA CARR: You don't have to grade everything. And dare I take it a step further, I realized later on in my career that you don't always have to end assignments and units of instruction when the grading period ends. That was a huge aha moment for me when I realized that you know what? It's OK.
[00:34:01.57] You don't have to finish that unit on Shakespeare for grades to go in on Monday. Well, you simply break it down into smaller parts and you say, to be continued. And that almost even enhances it, and students are excited to come back and read more and do more with it.
[00:34:17.87] But you don't have to grade everything because not everything has to be an assignment in the grade book. Students can exchange for peer feedback, students could use that just to get some ideas going. We could consider it a simple practice before OK, now, this is the piece that's going to be graded or that was a freebie. It's not necessary. I can remember hours and hours.
[00:34:42.32] And I live in Florida. And I would be on the beach on the weekends grading papers.
[00:34:48.06] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I know the big bags. I can see you carrying the beach bag with all the papers in it.
[00:34:53.60] MELISSA CARR: And a giant floppy hat to block the sun from the paper.
[00:34:57.77] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Oh, my God. Thank you for that tip. I think everybody's happy to hear that because beginning teachers, especially, and even experienced and middle year teachers just feel that obligation, if I gave it to the student, if they did it, I need to do it.
[00:35:14.63] Beth, what do you think of that? And do you have one of your own?
[00:35:17.86] BETH KOBETT: Oh, I love that. As a formative assessment person who believes that we are making formative assessment decisions that don't have to be graded, that we're actually paying attention more in the classroom if we don't have to-- if we don't think, oh, I've got to grade that later. And we can make an instructional decision right in the time. Oh yeah, I'm all for that.
[00:35:40.63] I have a couple thoughts on that that I was thinking about sharing that I think have crossed from elementary school and even an early childhood classroom that I might go into. I will say kindergarten has challenged me the most in my behavior management beyond anything else that I have done at all levels, including adult learners. But that is this idea of greeting students at the door, having a personal conversation.
[00:36:08.85] And I love-- and I'm sure most of our listeners and you all have heard of it, which is the 2 by 10, which is two minutes a day with a particular student that you're trying to connect with for 10 days in a row. And I have seen miraculous things happen as a result of that, both for the student, for myself, and for students in the community in the space, in the community learning space to be able to react differently to what's going on and really settle everyone down.
[00:36:42.47] So that's really about a lot of-- we're seeing so many, as Melissa noted earlier, so many challenging behaviors that we have not seen to this extent. I think we've seen them forever, but I think we're seeing more students struggling a little bit with self-regulation and decision-making, problem-solving, those kinds of things. And that those greeting at the door and that centering the relationship in the classroom really goes a long way towards building a whole behavior management process or plan for your classroom.
[00:37:19.70] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that, the 2 by 10. So do you try to do all your students in a certain time? You just decide who you're going to focus on.
[00:37:30.85] BETH KOBETT: Yes. What you do is you do the greeting with everyone, so you sort of--
[00:37:36.90] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
[00:37:38.33] BETH KOBETT: And then if you are noticing either an engagement issue, either over-engagement or under-engagement, you can address that particular student, I recommend usually only doing two at a time because that's four minutes. And you are also, students are coming in every 15 minutes. You can't do that, you could only pick one.
[00:38:00.65] You have a two-minute conversation, and you have to plan them ahead of time like, what am I going to ask? What am I going to say? You might not always do that but otherwise, it becomes-- you forget about it. So you plan and then you can see amazing, amazing things.
[00:38:17.57] I've had pre-service students do whole action research projects on this and completely turn around. I mean, completely turn around a student. I had a pre-service student meet a student off the bus. And her two minutes were walking the student into the school, standing at the locker, putting the stuff in-- this is a middle school student. Putting the stuff in the locker and spent the two minutes greeting and walking in.
[00:38:47.52] And I mean, it is incredible. It's an incredible. Because it's about that one person. Who's my person at the school? Who's somebody who cares about me? Who's somebody who is engaged and happy to see me?
[00:39:00.23] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that. Thank you for sharing that. As we wind down and get to our closing questions, Beth, I want you to highlight-- just talk a little bit about your books. You've written so many books, you're contributing to the profession around the math content. But you also-- I want to add the strengths conversation back in here because it really is a theme in your writing. And strengths and math don't usually fit together for me. So I don't know about you, Melissa, but math wasn't--
[00:39:35.99] We have a story in the weekly wisdom book with I love my content. And she was a math teacher, she got the student to love math. And I was like, wow, that's an amazing teacher. So I think that you're in that category, Beth. So how does strengths in math and that whole theme fit to why you've written all these books?
[00:39:59.90] BETH KOBETT: So it really started with the student in the beginning of the story that I told you. And student, students, many students. And then I noticed it was happening at the college level. And also, so many people have really frightening stories about learning math, and having a whole identity around their deficits in math, maybe they couldn't memorize something or they had to go to the board and some sort of embarrassing thing happened and they made a decision that they weren't a math person.
[00:40:30.87] And in my career, I've learned everyone is a math person. It's about accessing it and figuring it out. And I just need to spend a little bit of time with you or we all do to figure out where your strengths are.
[00:40:43.44] And we also in the math field spend a lot of time, and I know in other fields as well like reading and diagnosing. And this effort to diagnose and remediate means that we end up having this conversation that's solely around what this human had all the deficits that this human has. And I was in a meeting with some teachers and I said, what must it be like to walk in the classroom knowing that the people that are going to help me are only looking at the things?
[00:41:20.11] And I'm not saying only but that's how we were all trained to be teachers. And I hate the word trained, by the way. But we were all taught to be teachers to go in fix it, remediate it, and carry on. And so that's where the work began because math is known for some really rough sort of experiences for people, especially in the United States. And so that's where it became.
[00:41:46.45] And I also launched into this at the same time this work around appreciative inquiry, which you will want to cut me off because I will get so excited. But I will tell you that at work, I spend my whole day operating in the world from a strengths-based perspective. So every human I encounter, even if it's a really frustrating time or we're sort of butting heads over something and we are not agreeing on something, I am in my moment saying to myself, what strengths does this human sharing with me right now? What strengths and gifts does this person have? And it could be a passion about their idea, and I can respect that 100% even if I don't agree with it.
[00:42:31.17] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: So how does this fit with Carol Dweck's mindset work? Is it aligned or a little just connected complementary? Because the mindset research seems to connect a little bit, but how did that connect for you?
[00:42:52.51] BETH KOBETT: I think it connects nicely. It's different in that the mindset research is around helping people understand their capacity to learn and that they can do that. So something that Carol also talks about it's not just about saying try harder. Because that's really frustrating sometimes when you're like, hello, I'm running a race one time and someone's like, you can dig it in, you can try harder. I'm like, that's all I've got.
[00:43:24.16] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: That's it. That's it, right.
[00:43:26.48] BETH KOBETT: But what if we reframed it by saying, look, here's what I'm noticing, you have strengths in figuring out at least two strategies when you're solving a problem. And I notice that you're very good at whipping out a number line or some sort of other graphical representation. I'm wondering if we can use the strength now to apply it to this situation.
[00:43:51.72] And that exact scenario can happen over and over again. You have a strength in building relationships with your students. I wonder if we can use those relationships that you have to think about planning, your planning so that we can connect your planning to your relationship building. What could we do here? So we're anchoring it on something specific the person already does instead of going in and saying, you know, your planning is just not strong. So what we're going to do is we're going to start working on it.
[00:44:21.63] But now, I'm coming from nowhere. I'm coming from a vacuum versus coming from something that you have identified. And it needs to be very specific because this idea of like, oh, you're wonderful and you're great is not helpful. It has to be like, you're seeing when someone sees your strengths. You are seeing.
[00:44:40.25] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes.
[00:44:40.95] BETH KOBETT: So I will just quickly share-- I send a strength email to every student that I teach every semester. So it's an email that just says, thank you for sharing. And there's no response needed. I'm not expecting anything, I don't have-- this isn't loaded like you're supposed to say, thank you for that. It's towards the end of the semester it just says-- I outline and I keep a chart, like a formative assessment chart, and I outline all of these things that they've been sharing and gifting me throughout the semester and then I share it back to them.
[00:45:13.43] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: So this is really important. This is about giving feedback to-- teachers giving feedback to their students as well. So you're modeling not to give idol praise, which we would learn when we're correcting stacks of papers. Good job. Very nicely done. So we're mindlessly correcting these papers that we-- but Melissa just told us we don't have to, which thank you.
[00:45:39.21] And then one comment, I can remember in my doctorate program, I'd get the least feedback from this most famous professor, Bob Keegan, who did all the research in adult development. And he would say one sentence on my paper, and I would hold that because it was some positive thing. It wasn't just I liked the way you did this, it was like this message relates to-- whatever the sentence was, I held it as a strength or a specific positive comment.
[00:46:17.22] So what you're saying, I just want to underscore that, that this can be attached to the way teachers give that feedback on the papers and just see each other. You're right, it's about seeing.
[00:46:32.19] Now, Melissa, I know you haven't written a million books like Beth has, but you are focused on the-- you were just published when I started teaching book. What did it feel like to be published? And do you have any ideas for books?
[00:46:49.71] MELISSA CARR: Yeah, that's great. This is going to be my story when I'm on a podcast and a year or two from now when they say, so what was your first publication? And I can reference your book.
[00:46:58.55] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yeah, you were in it.
[00:46:59.72] MELISSA CARR: Thank you for that moment in my life. Thank you.
[00:47:01.89] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: So how did that feel to have your words out there?
[00:47:08.16] MELISSA CARR: It's exciting. It kind of is a little boost of confidence to like, yeah, you can do this. Sure, you can do this. It's one of my visions for myself, my goals for myself is that I will begin publishing. I've been keeping notes especially through the pandemic. I would really like to write something related to how I worked through and carried a high school of 3,000 students and their families through the pandemic. And we managed to even through that all raise our school grade, which is huge. We were the only school to do that.
[00:47:55.02] And so I've been keeping lots of journals through that experience, and that always sits tucked away in the back of my mind. The experiences we had, how it strengthened our faith in one another and in society, even during a time when a lot of people were at one another's throats on opposite sides, it was quite a cathartic experience. Hardest thing we've ever had to do together but my goodness, the beautiful things that came from it. And so that's always tucked away in the back of my mind.
[00:48:30.95] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: All right, we'll be looking for that. Keep taking your notes. Well, I want to thank you both.
[00:48:38.25] One thing that a lot of people ask me is how do you sustain your energy and enthusiasm and passion? Which has clearly come out in this conversation. We've had a deep and rich conversation. What do you do for yourself? I know self-care, we say that so much. And I'm not against manicure, pedicure, I think we should all treat ourselves. But it's deeper than that.
[00:49:04.83] And the sustaining energy and passion, what do you do? I know there's no magic bullet but you must each do something that keeps you grounded. Melissa, what do you do?
[00:49:18.41] MELISSA CARR: You're right, for all of us, we all have a little thing that we may say or do but honestly, we're always continually searching. So for me, those moments of bliss or hanging out with my cocker spaniels and my husband, walking the beach, reading a new book, just finding that time to disconnect.
[00:49:43.20] I turn off my cell phone, I turn off the notifications so I don't see the red numbers in the corner of those apps that are clawing at me to open it. I literally turn off those notifications. That small thing, just my anxiety level goes down because I'm like, oh, look, I have an empty app box.
[00:50:04.69] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: I love that. I'm doing that. Thank you.
[00:50:08.91] MELISSA CARR: So yeah, so that's what I like to do.
[00:50:11.10] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: All right. Just to well, give yourself some space. To keep that machine, slow it down a little bit. What about you Beth? Do you have any special things that you do to ground yourself?
[00:50:27.16] BETH KOBETT: So I love to be outside. I actually put my feet on the ground. I used to be a big runner, but now I'm really pretty much just walking. But not just walking, I'm sorry, walking.
[00:50:41.91] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thank you.
[00:50:44.68] BETH KOBETT: But I need to put my feet on the ground and I need to have my hands in dirt and flower and garden and things like that. And I really know that I have to be creative. I need to give myself time to be creative, which might mean not someone else's creative but just my creative, which might be writing, it might be putting a flower garden together, it might be-- it's all different kinds of things. And so I have to give myself space to do that. And that energizes me.
[00:51:20.07] And then amazing ideas. I don't know if they're amazing. I think they're amazing at the time.
[00:51:25.11] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yeah, you love it.
[00:51:27.03] BETH KOBETT: And are generated in those moments.
[00:51:30.30] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Yes. Oh, I can feel it. So grounding was the right question for both of you since. And I love to put my feet I live near the beach as well. I'm up on Cape Cod and I appreciate your responses because it brings us back to that human piece, which has kind of been the theme of this conversation, recognize the humanness in our physical body as well to calm ourselves down and not be so connected to the outside influences.
[00:52:04.03] So we're going to end with a question that Dick Elmore created in his book, I Used to Think and Now I Think. And I'd like each of you to answer that question in a succinct way for our listeners. What did you use to think about teaching and education in your journey as a leader, school leader? And now, what do you think? So Melissa, what did you use to think? And what do you think now?
[00:52:34.66] MELISSA CARR: Well, to be a succinct as possible, I believed early on that a very well-planned lesson and very strict procedures were going to be my ticket to success, and everything was going to come out perfectly. But what I've come to learn is that it's about connecting with those students in your classroom, meeting them where they are, and giving them what they need at that moment in time.
[00:53:01.11] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thank you, Melissa. Beth, what about you?
[00:53:03.69] BETH KOBETT: So I used to think that I needed to know everything that I was going to do and that I was the person that was going to impart all of this knowledge, and my students were going to love it and soak it all up. And now I think or now I know that I am the learner. I am a forever learner. And I put my foot in the classroom every day and say, what is it I am to learn today about my students, my content, myself and others? And that's where I am now.
[00:53:38.97] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thank you. Thank you both from the bottom of my heart for this rich and diverse conversation of our journeys into teaching and learning. And we're all continuing to learn, so I learned a lot today.
[00:53:54.52] Tori, what did you learn as our resident listener and some closer, our closer for this podcast? What stands out for you?
[00:54:06.91] TORI BACHMAN: I really enjoyed this conversation. And what stands out for me most is the way you both in various ways and at different times really brought up the humanizing factors that are necessary as educators. I love it and it was actually a little bit coincidental, I think, that you both have had so many different roles in education, and I get the sense that you both are like teacher teachers. Even that you're at different levels of leadership right now but you're like, teachers and really focused on boosting other teachers in their work.
[00:54:47.93] And I really appreciate Carol's point about that, that there are different pathways through education and that not all teachers are leaving the classroom because they're fed up. They're leaving classroom roles to go do other things. And you're still educators and teachers. So I really appreciate that you can both bring that wisdom to us today.
[00:55:11.91] The conversations about strength-based focus is really heartening. I wrote down something that Beth said, what strengths is this human sharing with me? And even thinking of that in terms of getting through challenging conversations with colleagues is pretty helpful. Great practical tips about setting routines so that things come more automatically and not everything has to be graded. Sort of giving yourself and your students grace that way is super important.
[00:55:44.68] I actually did have some flashbacks. Both my parents were teachers. And when you started talking about the faculty lounge, I had a couple of flashbacks of my time in faculty rooms as a child when they would take me to school and the smoke, that's why I remember so much.
[00:56:01.76] But focusing too on how to center yourself as a teacher in conversations with colleagues, that can be challenging when it comes to preconceived notions about a student. And some of the tips that you gave there were really helpful in terms of coming at it as like, this is a human child, this is a person who has a lot of strengths so let me try to focus there instead of on-- and focus on my experience with this person instead of focusing or absorbing what other people say.
[00:56:35.45] I think those are really, really important pieces for us to all keep in mind as teachers and as people who just are human people, who work with other human people. So I appreciate you both. Thank you.
[00:56:50.50] BETH KOBETT: Thank you, Tori.
[00:56:51.62] CAROL PELLETIER RADFORD: Thanks, Tori. Thank you to our listeners and everyone who tuned in to hear this very insightful conversation. We'll see you next time on Teacher to Teacher.
[00:57:04.88] NARRATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining today's Teacher to Teacher conversation. We hope this time together energized you, inspired you, and reminded you why you chose to become a teacher. You can purchase any of Carol's books and any books mentioned in the podcast online at www.corwin.com.
[00:57:21.72] Please leave a review, and share this podcast with your colleagues. Thank you for listening to the Corwin Teacher to Teacher podcast, a place to share teacher wisdom and engage in authentic conversations with experienced educators.
[00:57:32.79] [MUSIC PLAYING]
Beth McCord Kobett
Beth McCord Kobett, EdD, is Professor of Education and Associate Dean at Stevenson University, where she leads, teaches and supports early childhood, elementary, and middle preservice teachers in mathematics education. She is a former classroom teacher, elementary mathematics specialist, adjunct professor, and university supervisor. Beth also served as the Director of the First Year Seminar program at Stevenson University. She recently completed a three-year term as an elected Board Member for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and was the former president of the Association of Maryland Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMMTE). Beth leads professional learning efforts in mathematics education both regionally and nationally. Beth is a recipient of the Mathematics Educator of the Year Award from the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) and the Johns Hopkins University Distinguished Alumni Award. Beth also received Stevenson University’s Rose Dawson Award for Excellence in Teaching as both an adjunct and full-time faculty member. Beth believes in fostering a strengths-based community with her students and strives to make her learning space inviting, facilitate lessons that spark curiosity and innovation, and cultivate positive productive struggle.
Dr. Melissa Carr
Carol Pelletier Radford
Carol received her Education Doctorate from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she focused her studies on mentoring and teacher leadership. She is also a certified yoga teacher who practices meditation and shares mindfulness strategies with educators through her online courses and website. Her podcast Teaching With Light features the stories of teachers and inspirational leaders. Her next passion project is the creation of a Teacher Legacy Network, where retired teachers can share their wisdom with the next generation of teachers.
You can learn more about Carol, find free resources, videos, meditations, courses, and all of her books at mentoringinaction.com/.
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