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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Videos Teachers Can Learn From ...

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 15, 2020 12 min read
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(This is the first post in a two-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What videos or movies have taught you something that you have applied in your teaching practice?

We all, of course, use videos and movies with our students as part of our instructional “delivery.”

But there are also videos and movies that have affected our instructional “practice.”

Educators will share a few of them in this two-part series.

I’m going to start off by sharing my choice, Dan Pink’s exceptionally populart TED Talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation.” His emphasis on intrinsic motivation resonated deeply with me and dovetailed nicely with the experience garnered in my preteacher 19-year career as a community organizer.

I’ve embedded his video below, and you can also read his past contributions to this column at “Several Ways To Motivate The “Unmotivated” To Learn and at “Teachers As ‘Persuaders': An Interview With Daniel Pink.”

In addition to that suggestion, Beth Jarzabek, Cindy Garcia, Dennis Griffin Jr., and Dr. Beth Gotcher offer theirs in today’s column.

“Every kid needs a champion”

Beth Jarzabek is currently a language arts teacher at Paul R. Baird Middle School in Ludlow, Mass., where she resides with her husband, Michael, and daughter, Amelia. She recently received her MATL from Mount Holyoke College:

A few years ago, after being in education for over 12 years, I received a “wake up call that will forever shape my interactions with the students who I have the privilege to teach each day.

As part of one of our monthly faculty meeting, my principal showed my colleagues and I Rita Person’s TED talk titled “Every Child Needs a Champion.” (Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion | TED Talk - TED.com) In this video, Pierson emphasizes the importance of building relationships and connection with students—even (or especially) the ones who give you the hardest time. In illustrating this point, Pierson recounts an interaction that she had with a colleague who asserted that she was not paid to LIKE her students. She was paid to teach. The kids were there to learn. End of story. Rita’s retort to this revelation was short, to the point, and true. “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” While this assertion has been debated by Blake Harvard in the article “But...We Do Learn from People We Don’t Like” and anomalies certainly do occur, most of us who have filled the role as both teacher and student will see Rita Pierson’s words as true.

Prior to viewing this lecture, building connections and establishing relationships with my students was always something I had done but could not honestly say was an explicit goal or priority. This talk, with its reminder that not everyone makes connecting with students a priority, not every student has a solid family foundation to stand on, and not every child has a mentor-worthy adult to help guide them and help foster their self-esteem, renewed and reinvigorated my commitment to establishing sustainable relationships with my students.

In my classroom, I primarily deal with students who struggle academically and who usually have the accompanying low self-esteem. In this talk, Pierson shares the story of one such group of students. She told these students that she was indeed the best teacher and they, in turn, were the best students. They were put together, she said, to show everyone else “how it’s done.” With this one statement, these students gained a confidence that they once lacked, walking (or strutting as she describes it) down the hall, assured that they were something special. After viewing this video, my approach to both current and possible future students shifted. When visiting other classrooms, especially those that house students who I may have in class the next year, I often comment that I am “scouting” for my next year’s “draft picks.” This serves a dual purpose. First, it is an opportunity to make connections with students before I have them in an official capacity. Because relationships are vital in any classroom, this primary positive interaction sets us on the road to craft a solid bond. Second, “hyping” my class prior to students even walking through the door hopefully makes being in my classroom something special and therefore makes the students themselves feel special, leading to confidence and success.

I have recommended this video to fellow veteran educators, as well as fledgling teachers right out of college, because it serves as a vital reminder. Every child does indeed need a champion, and we, as educators, are in the unique position to fill that role for students who may otherwise fall through the cracks or crumble due to an insufficient support system. We owe it to ourselves, to them, and to our profession to be that staunch advocate, tireless defender, and shining beacon of hope.

Here is it:

Four movies that “provided a lasting idea that I applied as a teacher”

Cindy Garcia has been a bilingual educator for 14 years and is currently the district instructional specialist for PK-6 bilingual/ESL mathematics in the Pasadena Independent school district (Texas). She is active onTwitter @CindyGarciaTX and on her blog:

Movies are a great form of entertainment and provide a way to relax after a stressful day or week. Movies leave lasting impressions or ideas that you end up applying in your daily life. Below are four movies that made me think or provided a lasting idea that I applied as a teacher.

Matilda (1996): Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey was a sweet and loving teacher to her students, and that was how I wanted to treat my students. I do not have Miss Honey’s temperament, but in our classroom, my students felt safe to share their thinking, express their ideas, and ask questions. The atmosphere in our classroom was that we were all learning together, it was OK to make mistakes, and we were going to help each other learn. Our classroom was highly structured, but students always knew what to expect, and they enjoyed coming to school every day.

Stand & Deliver (1988): Jaime Escalante is a mathematics teacher that sees the potential in his students when others have written them off. He not only has high standards for his students, but he challenges them to take AP Calculus and do well on the AP Calculus exam. At the start of each school year, I would look through my students’ permanent folders as a way to get to know them and I looked for an area where they had potential for growth. During the school year, I provided feedback to students, and we had conferences that focused on setting goals and their growth. Jaime Escalante also showed me that I had to put in extra time and effort in order to accomplish some of my more challenging professional goals.

Remember the Titans (2000): This movie showed a great example of how working together, even with people that we think are different, can lead to great things. This was something that I kept in mind on challenging days with students and colleagues. I reminded myself that there will be setbacks and difficulties every school year. In order to keep moving forward and support student learning, we must work together to develop a plan that is feasible and uses the strengths of the students in our classrooms and grade-level team members. Another thing, this movie showed me was the importance of helping my students build relationships with their classmates. I made it one of my goals to implement instructional strategies that allowed them to form bonds, support trust, and encourage each other.

Lean on Me (1989): Joe Clark, the principal, pushed for higher standards at his campus. He also held teachers accountable for student learning and achievement. He also worked with the staff to make the school a safe and enjoyable environment for students. One thing that I applied in my teaching practice was having higher standards for all of my students. It was the job of every person in the classroom to put forth their best efforts and work hard. I showed my students that I was also there to support and guide them, but they had to try using the tools and strategies we had learned. I also tried to keep in mind that, just like in the movie, students and other teachers have different talents that can be used to support student learning. Furthermore, while I might have great ideas, it is important to listen to the ideas of others, because they might be more effective.

“Remember The Titans”

Dennis Griffin Jr. serves as the principal of Brown Deer Elementary School in Wisconsin. He has seven years of experience as a middle school educator and is entering his sixth year as an administrator. He is currently pursuing his doctoral studies in educational leadership at Cardinal Stritch University. Dennis believes all students will be successful in school when they develop relationships with educators that value their gift, cultures, and individuality:

Remember The Titans is one of my all-time favorite movies. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest movies in regard to understanding how the individual talents of a group come second to the capacity of the whole. For some reason, we believe that collaboration and acceptance come easy just because we join a group. That was clearly not the case for the Titans. The Titans had to overcome the fear of their differences in regard to race. Then they had to unite against the obstacles that others placed in their way as they learned how to succeed together. When you have a collective vision, we can be perfect. One of the most iconic scenes of the movie came when Julius said to Gerry, “Attitude Reflects Leadership, Captain!” This is significant to me because I am a reflective practitioner. It is easy to look at how things are shaping out and place the blame for our lack of success. It is another thing to look in the mirror and identify that our actions as a leader are in direct proportion to the success of the team. Gerry decided to take action on the challenge presented to him by Julius.

It resulted in Julius saying to the team when they were down at half time at the championship game: “You demanded perfection. Now, I am not saying that I’m perfect, ‘cause I am not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played until now. So this team is perfect. We stepped out on the field that way tonight. And, uh, if it’s all the same to you, Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.” Coach Yost followed by saying, “Yeah, I hope you boys have learned as much from me this year as I’ve learned from you. You’ve taught this city how to trust the soul of a man rather than the look of him. And I guess it’s about time I joined the club.” Can you imagine the schools and world we would be able to create if we truly acknowledged that we are better together? What would happen if as adults we created the transparency that allowed educators to openly share how what they have learned from their students has transcended their personal lives? I know that we are headed in this direction because, “Action Reflects Leadership, Captain!”

Classroom applications from “Winnie the Pooh”

Dr. Beth Gotcher has taught in Maryville City schools for 12 years. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at John Sevier Elementary. Beth is in her second year as a Tennessee Teacher Fellow:

As a child and even now, probably more so, I have always been a Disney fan. Growing up and still to this day, I’ve always found “Winnie the Pooh” to be one of my favorites. I read the books and have seen the movie numerous times. There are so many memorable quotes by A. A. Milne that could be applied to education, but there are two that have stuck with me and I have incorporated into my classroom.

The first quote is by Piglet: “The things that make me different are the things that make me me.” I want my students in my classroom to know that each of them is important, each of them is appreciated, and each of them matters. Our differences are what make us unique individuals. Even as young as kindergarten, students want to be accepted. In a world where social media is ever present, it is important to teach students at a young age that it is OK to be unique and be themselves. It’s what makes our classrooms and our world well-rounded places.

The second quote from “Winnie the Pooh” is posted in my classroom: “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” This has become our class motto and can be applied to so many different situations. First and foremost, I want my students to believe in themselves. I want them to leave having strong self-confidence that will last them long beyond my classroom. We talk about this quote at the beginning of the year and what it means for our class and our school.

As a kindergarten teacher, the transition to school can be scary for many students, especially for students that have only been at home with a relative or at the same preschool since birth. This quote helps inspire and encourage them through the transition period. Then throughout the year, I reference the quote when we are learning new things or trying something new. A lot of kindergarten involves new content and experiences both academically and socially. I want to build confidence in students that they can rely on especially in those moments when they are unsure, scared, or alone. Students may not always have someone at school rooting for them to succeed, but I want them to know in my classroom they are always supported and valued.

Thanks to Beth, Cindy, Dennis, and Beth for their contributions!

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