by Stefanie Whitney
I am one of them.
And, the list goes on...
I’m only getting started, but for the sake of time and my increasing anxiety, I will stop for now.
If this list is all you know about me, then you have likely formed judgments, perhaps even drawn conclusions that all point to: I am or I am not “your kind of people”. Yet, I hope curiosity will encourage you to learn more.
As one of “them”, I have also found myself hustling to find my “us.”
In so many ways and to so many people, I am one of “them.”
And for the longest time, I have hustled to show the “us’s” that I’m one of the good “them’s.”
I am hustling to be one of the good ones.
Focusing on the hustle.
Martha Beck believes that “Integrity is the cure for unhappiness.” I’m currently reading The Way of Integrity by Beck, and she explores the concept of hustling. Brene Brown deserves credit as the first to help me reflect on my own hustle, and Beck manages to take my self-reflection to another level.
“Humans create elaborate cultures because we are intensely social beings, dependent on the goodwill of others from the moment we’re born. We also have an enormous capacity to absorb and replicate the behavior of people around us. From childhood, often without even noticing it, we learn exactly how to win approval and belonging in our particular cultural context…. In this rush to conform, we often end up overruling our genuine feelings–even intense ones…to please our cultures. The extent to which people will defy nature to serve culture can be truly horrifying.”
Literal and figurative battle lines are drawn because of people serving a culture–and, as Beck uncovers, often battle lines built not on our integrity but on our desire to fit in, to belong.
This quest to belong can be as catastrophic as a world war or as seemingly innocuous as cheering for your favorite hockey team. Seemingly is appropriate here because I cannot be the only one who has observed cheering turn into leering, then smearing, and finally–something much more sinister.
So–about our personal hustles. My personal understanding of both Brown’s and Beck’s explanations of the “hustle” is to do whatever it takes to be accepted into a culture of people, often at the expense of our own internal nature, or value systems. The definition is easy to accept. However, the extent to which we can get lost in the hustle is much harder to actualize, which is why Beck’s request of readers at the end of chapter two “admit–just to yourself–that some of your actions are designed to impress or fit in with other people” shriveled up my soul like a raisin.
"Us" vs. "Them": a living history
As a former member of the “not a math person” team, I feel a bit proud of my observation that division seems to be the most popular of the mathematical operations (I also feel flummoxed, sometimes defeated, and always overwhelmed by this reality). I’m not sure if test scores or climate surveys quantify this, but observational data suggests we have been and continue to be really good at division in this profession, in this state, in this country, in this world.
Continue ad nauseam.
Choosing to be an outsider
I know I am most motivated by curiosity and compassion for humans, animals, and the occasional inanimate object. Because of curiosity and compassion, I believe that crossing over to hang with “thems”, while initially unsettling, almost always ends in a feeling of warmth in my insides and a smile that is hard to wipe from my face.
There are rare moments when this type of rendezvous doesn’t result in blossoming warmth and shared smiles. Upon reflection, I realize in many of these failed moments that I was/am hustling–trying to cajole, convince, fit in, or defend myself–often through evasive jokes, ducking and weaving, and the occasional speed talking. I leave these conversations frustrated, short of breath, and filled with the sinking dread that my position as a “them” has been solidified.
In the spirit of selective attention, I’m struck by just how often even those with the best of intentions manage to divide us. Take this recent quote by Adam Grant:
“In cultures of arrogance, people get rewarded for expressing certainty and conviction. The most confident speaker claims the most status. In cultures of humility, people are applauded for admitting ignorance and asking questions. The most complex thinker earns the most respect.”
My initial reaction: “Yeah. See? It is them, not us.”
But I have been an active member of both cultures. I know where I feel most myself and how I show up among folk who inspire me rather than how I show up when inclined to bring my hustle. I prefer a culture of humility, but I need to frequently pause and consider how I am contributing and upholding this culture rather than perpetuating a culture where hustle and arrogance are the play calls.
Grant brings up an example that does not have to be about division. If I accept my role in the situation and choose to avoid deflection and blame, then I understand he is talking about being human—choosing arrogance or humility. We have choices. Timshel.
And while both of these things can be simultaneously true, what is more important is that I stop trying to convince anyone else of this reality and simply know my own truth.
Going forward, I am reminded that at the first sign of battle lines being drawn an opportunity exists to calmly step over the divide and ask questions. Listen and seek to understand. Fight the instinct to grab my ruler and Sharpie (it’s taking everything in me to not make a hurricane path reference here).
When we are in places where lines of division are being drawn, rather than choosing sides, I strive to be an outsider who starts asking more questions. (In this regard: I have been known, on rare occasions, to weaponize questions--sorry Socrates—so I find it helpful to check my tone of voice and know my authentic intent of asking before boldly striving for that outsider status.)
“Us vs. Them” only exists if we let it. We are the perpetrators of division and discord. We can either pick up the golden apple, pull out a sharp knife, and argue over who gets rewarded, or we can peel the superficial skin off to reveal the parts underneath where common ground exists. (Too much? Did that allusion get out of hand? Probably. Some will like it; some won’t. Oops, I did it again. Gah. Free Britney. Opportunities for division are everywhere.)
ideas by Tan Huynh and Katie Miller, compiled by Third Eye Education
In our recent podcast interview with Tan Huynh and local Minnesota expert on Multilingual Learners, Katie Miller, our conversation quickly cut to the core of education.
Throughout the conversation, Huynh and Miller share some strategies and resources that help them access that educational core quickly and effectively. Their ideas tended to fall into two categories: (1) leveraging what motivates and engages students and (2) modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner.
They come to school for each other
Huynh shares a realization he had early on in his instruction: students “do not come to school for you, they come to school for each other. So why don’t we use that as the framework for instruction?”
This takeaway inspired a sharing of ideas: a few favorite strategies and resources from Miller and Huynh that help all students, multilingual learners as well as all classroom learners. They both agree that by upping the amount of talk in our classrooms, and by teaching students structures and protocols for quality conversations, we give them a greater access to success.
Talk - Read - Talk - Write
A strategy coined by Nancy Motley, Huynh shares a favorite tool of his: the Talk-Read-Talk-Write protocal.
Learn about this tool here:
"Question, Signal, Stem, Share, Assess" was another tool shared by Huynh. This stratgy might be used in this way:
Katie Miller, along with the Third Eye Education podcasts hosts, share a love of visuals for enhancing understanding. Pairing words with pictures is a simple way to increase comprehension and language acquisition.
For each of these three strategies, students “can do this in their heritage community language too,” Huynh points out.
Learn beyond what you were taught
In our conversation, Huynh also highlights the importance of being continuous learners: we must set aside outdated practices to “Learn beyond what you were taught.”
A few resources Miller and Huynh shared, which may help you push outside of what you areadly know, are:
The book Cultivating Genious: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad is a resource Miller loves, and Huynh just interviewed Muhammad on his podcast last month. Find out more here:
Carol Salva's work was brought up by Huynh: specifically her book Boosting Achievement. Dig into Salva's resources here:
For more strategies and resources from Huynh and Miller, considering exploring some more of their works.
“When teachers approach students with a Can-do mindset, everything is possible.” 〰 Tan Huynh
by Heather M. F. Lyke
A simple Google Search or a scroll through a social media feed from an educator, and it’s easy to confirm that this is a hard year—a hard year that follows two previously hard years. This is a truth that has not alluded us here at Third Eye Education: simply explore some of our articles from this past year to confirm:
In the past year—particularly, over the past few months—there is one phrase we hear over and over from educators: We just don’t have enough time.
Yep. That tracks. Over the course of a school day, teachers have classes to prep for, labs to set up, emails to answer, students to follow-up with, make-up assessments to give, test scores to analyze, poor student choices/behaviors to address, copies to make, coffee to drink, emails to answers, bathroom needs to attend to, parents to call, papers to grade, meetings to attend, assignments to create, messes to clean up, referrals to follow up on, chapters to preview, grades to update online, club meetings to facilitate… and those are only the basics. Not to mention what happens when the classroom phone rings: Can you cover __ class during your prep hour? Could you attend this IEP meeting in place of __ since he is out ill today? FYI, there will now be a mandatory after school meeting.
So the day finishes with work undone; which means that teachers take the work home with them, or they stay late to finish it, or they feel guilty that they did neither of the two. Little of this refuels the soul, little of this is why teachers went into the field, and none of this is sustainable for the long term.
While too much to do in too little time may be a truth universally acknowledged in our field, it’s not one to embrace. In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, readers learn that you must “treat your time with respect” (227) and ensure there are many opportunities to do deep work, or “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration” (3).
Considering how little time educators have, the likelihood is low that most Third Eye Education readers will have time to complete Newport’s book in the near future (maybe once summer arrives), I bring you the following key reasons and applications for educators:
3 Reasons Why Deep Work is Needed
It increases job satisfaction.
Counterintuitive though it may be, “jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because…they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it” according to the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Newport 84).
Hungarian psychologist Csikszentmihalyi is perhaps most famous for his work on flow states, which is outlined here along with how educators can utilize this concept in classrooms:
Newport notes that a state of “flow generates happiness” and that “deep work is…well suited to generate a flow state” (85). Therefore, to increase satisfaction with work, educators may wish to find more opportunities for deep work, just as educational leaders may wish to remove/limit the many barriers that can get in the way.
It increases the ability to learn new things.
It is not uncommon to hear that “the educational system is broken” nor that someone would like to lead a new initiative but they “just don’t have the energy.” If we want to try new things, if we want to fix broken systems, then we have to have a capacity to learn new and hard things.
Newport notes that “to learn requires intense concentration” (34); yet, we often try to squish it into 10 minutes at the start of a staff meeting, 30 minutes of table conversation in a room where other groups are also talking, or 45 minutes of PLC session that is filled with interruptions by emails or visitors. But learning requires “deliberate practice”: attention “focused tightly on a specific skill you’re trying to improve or idea you’re trying to master” (35) for long periods of time.
The educational system we are working in right now needs change, but to learn and apply what is needed to make that change, we first must ensure there is time for deep work.
It increases productivity.
Deep work pushes past that concept that being busy is being productive. “Doing lots of stuff in a viable manner” isn’t the aim (64). Instead, when deep work is embraced one identifies what tasks are most important and ensures they can be completed during periods of high concentration.
If one has “clarity about what matters” it then “provides clarity about what does not” (62), and knowing the difference allows one to focus on the work that will have the greatest impact. In turn, productivity—at least the productivity around what matters most—is enhanced.
3 Ways to Reclaim Time to Do Deep Work
Take control of your tasks.
Newport notes that the “key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and to add routines and rituals into your working life,” to “minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration” (100).
Some routines to try:
Some of what Newport suggests when it comes to limiting distractions doesn’t fit in education. For instance, as much as I would love to try his “Don’t Respond” method for dealing with email, I don’t think that would go over well with the staff, parents, students, and community members who email me frequently. Nonetheless, here are some ideas to do work in the education field:
I know there are those who might scoff at some of these suggestions, usually with the argument that we need to be available for our students at all times. While that may be true in some cases, for most of us setting and sharing boundaries like these is a way to teach students time management as well as a way to model the importance of focused work. Setting boundaries lets us become even more available for students in those times when we are not engaged in deep work: these boundaries allow us to be more focused while working with students, as we know our other tasks have already been, or are scheduled to be, completed.
Build capacity for future focus.
Perhaps this is the most counterintuitive of the ways to reclaim time and embrace deep work. To focus deeply, one must also have time allotted for boredom, reflection, meditation, and creativity: this is the yin that balances out the yang of deep work.
In Deep Work, Newport notes that he doesn’t “work at night and rarely on weekends;” yet, during the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2014 he published 20 peer-reviewed articles, won two highly competitive grants, published a book and wrote the bulk of another all while being a full-time professor at Georgetown. His ability to sequester work to Monday through Friday, and to finish each day by 5:30 PM, actually provided him with stronger focus; knowing he had limited time enhanced his productivity and allowed him, upon getting home, to be more present as a spouse and father.
Some ideas for reclaiming the downtown needed to do deep work while at work:
By putting into practice some of what Cal Newport recommends, we might be able to make educational change happen faster and achieve more ideal outcomes. Whereas, as Henry Ford is attributed with saying: "if we keep doing what we have always done, we will always get what we have always gotten."
Now, with all of that said, I have just spent two hours doing deep work by focusing on this article (awesome!)—but I did it on a weekend (not so awesome)… So, that is a change I will need to make going forward.
In honor of my own suggestions above, I am now going to turn off this laptop and take a nice long soak in a warm bath so I can better focus on work when I arrive back at school on Monday.
by Nick Truxal
Recently, I took a break from my years as an educator to get new training on better leading and applying evidence: specifically, data driven evidence. The focus of my program is the corporate world, and as such, I am having a number of revelations.
The one that I want to focus on today is that the corporate world is transforming in many of the same ways that we have been doing in education. There is an enormous focus on skills: building new skills in employees, breaking jobs down by associated skills, understanding the skills needed to perform well in teams, as well as assessing and reporting based on skills.
Since our inception, Third Eye Education has been speaking about skill-based reporting. Just a few examples:
I personally love feedback only, skill-based instruction and reporting. The remarkable thing is that the entire world seems to be making a pivot in this direction as well. There are a few key reasons driving this transformation, and a few key takeaways for educators.
What's driving this transformation?
These reasons may sound familiar, but the slant on them I find unique:
What may educators pull from this?
I see these as being parallel to the conversations we’ve been having in education. Of course, each can be applied to how we, as teachers, are assessed as well as how we assess our students. I do wish that I had considered the third bullet point above, which is offering options to better our practices, before jumping into the work, myself.
Ultimately, this means a few things for educators:
A small disclaimer as I conclude: I’ve always hated the idea that education should take anything from business. We are not a business. We are here to help young people to grow. I’ve often found it difficult to accept the best practices emerging in the workplace. I think I found it easier this time because it so closely mimics what we’ve been working on for a long while.
Further, it does show a fundamental shift in the way our society is thinking, and having advanced knowledge of such a shift can indeed help us better prepare our young people to grow.
Finding the Collaboration Balance
by Nick Truxal
The move to teaching online, even if it may be over for you, dear reader, does seem to have pushed some new practices into place that prove dangerous for teachers and students in the long-term. In particular, I’d like to focus on the new modes of communication and collaboration that have been implemented in the wake of Zooming to class.
Being more accessible to our colleagues, students, and parents certainly has its advantages. We can instantly help a student with a question, quickly let a parent know the status of the classroom, or have a great professional learning community with colleagues across the district, city, state, or nation. Of course, that student may want an answer at 11:00 pm, that parent may be trying to send an instant message during class and wonder why they don’t hear back, and “just one quick ten-minute meeting with administration over Zoom” may happen twice an hour.
Rob Cross, Adam Grant, and Reb Rebele wrote a fascinating piece on “Collaboration Overload” in 2016 (which Rob Cross continued into the book Beyond Collaboration Overload). In the article, they cite some interesting (pre-pandemic) trends. Trends such as:
Of course, in a school, the most in-demand employees are teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists…all of whom are finding that the world of instant communication has opened up certain flood-gates.
Interestingly, Adam Grant offered a solution to this issue three years before he helped to identify it. He spoke of a certain Fortune 500 company that implemented “Quiet time.” Three mornings a week, employees would not be exposed to superfluous e-mails (or any e-mails), “Just one quick thing” situations, “stand-up meetings,” nor anything else. The interesting part of this: when the company successfully implemented these quiet times, productivity increased an enormous 65%. However, even having employees self-impose (to the extent they were able) a similar policy, resulted in a 47% increase in productivity.
To me, this led to an interesting tension.
In my own practice, and in my own data, I can tell you that communication is important (I am sure you’re shocked). I have long been in the habit of sending FERPA safe emails to every parent with updates every Friday via a mail-merge setup. When communication was personalized and consistent, I found a 20% positive change in the grades and skill attainment that my students had in my classes. Just from communicating with their parents. I did a similar experiment in sending e-mails to my students, and found similar results.
So, communication is vital—and detrimental—to the surprise of no-one.
The Break Down of Implications...
Hold some time as sacred.
Giving students uninterrupted time to work: increase productivity.
I am sure there are many implications to these studies that I haven’t had time to parse, yet. If you have further insights, please feel free to share them with us.
by Sweta Patel
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2019, two million students dropped out of high school. There are a number of reasons why students choose to drop out, but at the end of the day, as an educator, I want to focus on effecting change for the reasons that are in my control.
At our alternative school, students often report low motivation because they’re already so behind in credits. At a certain point, many assume a ‘why should I even bother’ mentality. To help create hope, while also maintaining the integrity of our academic standards, we are currently experimenting with an in-school, non-computer-based credit recovery system.
This year, we squeezed in an extra period into our school day (a 7th hour). During this time, we are offering “credit recovery labs” in the four core areas—English, math, science, and social studies. Students who had failed a previous English class, for example, can enroll in the English Lab.
When they first enter a lab:
Once the plan is fulfilled, students can move into another needed lab. Students do not have to remain in the lab the entire quarter: they only have to remain long enough to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals.
This process is very different from what we typically see in the educational system. Students who have failed a course are usually required to retake the entire course (despite having completed some work and meeting some standards during the first attempt). With this system, we are acknowledging the learning that was accomplished and are only trying to fill in the gaps. Within this system, students are able to meaningfully and efficiently recover credit in failed classes with a classroom teacher.
When speaking with students in my English Lab this year, they feel the labs have given them hope again. Looking around my classroom, you might see one student reading a self-selected book and working on close reading strategies. Another student might be working on creating a Google Slides presentation around toxic relationships, preparing to deliver it to the health class. And yet another might have a Chromebook in hand, drafting a short story for feedback.
My role is to identify students’ interests, learning gaps, and help create a personalized learning plan. When students complete the plan, I ask the counselor to identify the next lab or class the student can go to—and this might be three weeks into the quarter or six—there is no one start/end time for every student because every student’s plan is different; it’s a fluid and flexible system. Many of our lab students are able to recover a half credit in one quarter… And that is hope.
As we move forward with this experiment, we’re hoping to develop a more efficient system to identify missed standards. This will require that all content area teachers come together and identify prioritized learning standards for each class, quarter by quarter. If a student were to fail a course during a certain quarter, with established learning standards, lab teachers would be able to more quickly work with the original classroom teacher to identify the gaps.
Our math department is already very strong in this area. Here is an example of the Math Lab teacher’s personalized plan for a student to recover Geometry credit:
We hope to continue to shape our in-person, teacher-led credit recovery system at our school through collaboration among the lab teachers, content area classroom teachers, students, and our counselor. We will refine the processes for identifying students who need a lab, tracking students who move from lab to lab, and the communication between lab teachers and the original classroom teachers.
This is our shared mission: to help students recover credit in a meaningful, purposeful way (with academic integrity) that creates hope and lowers our dropout rate.
Third Eye Education posts weekly articles focusing on education and innovation.