In part 4 of this 4-part interview, culturally responsive teaching expert Zaretta Hammond talks to Edthena founder Adam Geller about small but high-leverage changes school leaders can make to re-imagine student learning.

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video reflection platform for teachers to improve their classroom practice. Today, we’re talking with Zaretta Hammond about culturally responsive teaching. She’s the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, and she’s also a huge fan of the Marvel Universe, and I think that this is fitting because when I think about the Marvel Universe I think it’s an image of a better version of the future, right? So let’s talk about a better version of the future, and the optimism that I hope we can all take on as we look ahead. Obviously the pandemic has been a lot. But we’ve got an opportunity here, we’re all going back to classrooms this year, we’re hoping that it’s gonna be full-time for the whole year, right? So we have an opportunity to rethink what our schools look like, what our classrooms look like. That’s a really big prompt. So maybe let me dial it in a little bit. Help me if I’m a school leader, what is one small thing that I could be like really committing to that would meaningfully change how my school is leading students to their full potential?

– Yeah, I think that is a great question, right? That the pandemic was a lot but there is a gift in the disruption because the disruption of schooling as usual has brought us to new places, we now know what’s possible, so we have to think about what do we keep, what do we stop? Because we realized, oh, we didn’t need to be doing that, before we start doing new things. So being able to move out of this past year into a new year a lot of people are talking about re-imagining. So re-imagining starts with understanding all of these wonderful things we can re-imagine, and we want to change, but change comes one domino at a time if you will, you know, using the analogy of domino’s set up one behind the other in elaborate patterns so you still have to push the lead domino. So you have to think about what’s the small but high leverage change that you can make that becomes a positive disruptive innovation that can move through your system. So I think the balance of asynchronous, and synchronous learning is one of the things we can move into a regular life. As a leader I think one of the things we definitely wanna be able to do is to say, how do we give more autonomy to students for their own learning? How do we create the school system that moves away compliance and pedagogy that gets students just kind of back into kind of the regular way they’re doing things? ‘Cause here’s the thing there is lots of conversation about this idea of learning loss, and how we respond to that is gonna be based on our re-imagining, and understanding the science of what’s high leverage is going to be really, really important. Otherwise what we’re gonna do is just double down on what wasn’t working before because we think kids are behind. So we’re gonna have to have the social-emotional space, and this is where leaders come in, what’s the thing that you can do? Is to not fall back into that, you know, we’re just gonna keep doing the same things but to actually create space for teachers to innovate, for students to be co-creators, for parents to be in relationship in new ways. I really think that is one of the best things that’s gonna come out of the pandemic in terms of schooling, leadership, sharing ways that we had to partner with parents we shouldn’t just abandon that. So I think that’s one thing I think. I think similarly when we think about what happens in the classroom, right, being able to give students more autonomy around their own learning in ways that are intellectually engaging, and stimulate intellectual curiosity. There are some teachers that were really doing that. You know, there were some folks out there that were creating packets and sending it home, and then kids would kind of meet up on zoom to compare how they were doing but from their own… Science projects or whatever this hands-on learning, learning by doing is a core collectivist practice, right? So the idea that you are thinking, and talking, and doing, is what a lot of students experience. There’s a whole segment of students that thrived outside of normal school. Why did they thrive? Because now they can lean into how they learned best, and that they have the support to do that. So looking at ways where we can bring the best of that, support it so that all students can access that, so teachers are only dealing with the right number of things, right? These are the small high leverage things that we should be doing. I also think feedback. John Hattie and his visible learning effect size list feedback as one of the number one things we can be doing, you know, beginning in first, second, third grade, helping students understand what it means to get feedback not just good job but to actually say, hey, here’s what you’re doing. Well, here’s what you need to improve. Here are the steps out there that you can go ’cause we’ve covered this before. So to me this is one of those elements that given the new space we have in classrooms we should be bringing feedback in a much bigger way, autonomy in a much bigger way, right? A different type of adult learning community, and adult culture in schools that has social-emotional self-care at the core it’s an important element that I think leaders should be thinking about. So we all have our small high leverage thing that we could be doing but they all sync up, right? They all create a type of synergy.

– One thing that I was thinking about it, you know, as you’re responding to my question, you know, to help us find that example of the one small thing, actually what started to become really clear for me by that was in some ways the definitions of the things to stop doing. So maybe it wasn’t necessarily the answer of what the right thing is for our one school, or our one classroom, but like when you were talking about the autonomy, and making sure we don’t remove that from the student experience, but I immediately thought of was, well, that probably means things like don’t program in the double dose remediation math class assuming that all students are gonna need two years of math instruction next year instead of just one. It was kind of thinking like those practices that we were so used to doing those are the things we might actually be able to rethink, and that in some ways could be holding us back from finding these newer, and then as we’re talking about smaller high leverage ways to change what’s happening in a school in a classroom.

– Absolutely, and this is where the knowledge of culturally responsive instruction to accelerate comes in. So again if we’re not doing a double dose of remediation a lot of people say, well, what will we be doing? Well we’re actually gonna be teaching students how to learn new content so they can accelerate for themselves. So it may be 15 to 20 minutes, two or three times a week that they’re really focusing on getting students to engage in the kinda productive struggle that allows them to actually learn new content quicker, or to learn a particular approach, or to give feedback, conferencing with students. We did more of that on the zoom than I think we did in our classrooms in person. So being able to, you’re absolutely right to think about not only what are we saying yes to but what do we have to say no to in order to make that yes possible.

– Tell us more about this idea of focusing on making sure students are learning how to learn. You know, obviously that’s the goal here but is there maybe a small high leverage thing we can give to students, or talk about with students that they can think of as this small high leverage change they’re making for themselves?

– I think there are two things we can do. We can’t give anything, we can be no more than the personal trainer, you wanna get well, or healthy, or lose the weight, the trainer doesn’t give you anything, what the trainer does is understand your goals, and your level of motivation, puts a program together, and coaches you through that when you’re in the, you know, the hour you’re with them. And then they give you the tools that you can go home, and continue to make lifestyle changes. So part of what we’re trying to do as personal trainers as students cognition is show them, give them tools, coach them to use these tools so that when they go out into other parts of their learning adventure, another class, you know, after school, when they’re studying on their own, they can use these because they been incorporated them to actually be able to accelerate their understanding, or improve their processing of new content. For example, Making Thinking Visible has thinking routines but there’s one routine that’s called, purposes, parts, and complexities. And I like to use it not because it’s a strategy but when I give it to students, and I coach teachers to use it with students as a tool now the student eventually internalize it so every new thing they look at they can start to say, well, what’s its purpose? Can I see the parts of it? What are the complexities between these parts? So that thinking, and processing, and looking at something actually is a learn how to learn process. So now they’re dinged rights and brains actually grow new pathways so that every time they look at something new they’re gonna be able to see its complexities in relationship to its parts. They’re gonna start to question do I understand the purpose, and, oh, how do I figure that out? But do you see how that’s self perpetuating? You never lose that once you actually gain that ability to look at something through that lens. Another I give students is the muddiest point, that your confusions are actually clues to your learning. So let’s stick with that. So what’s the muddiest point today? Where was I confused? Let me lean into that a little bit. How do we use errors as information? And that’s part of having a feedback loop where students are actually being able to do their own gap analysis. So these are small things that when students are given those tools but coached so they’re not just one-off strategies but literally empowering tools, now the student can never unsee the parts, purposes, and complexities.

– It’s almost like in addition to helping students learn how to learn we want them to learn how to love the struggle of learning.

– Here’s the thing about that you cannot love the struggle until you feel you’re progressing. So competence precedes confidence. And we know this because the brain has something called the progress principle that we get a dopamine hit when we make progress. So say we need a 10, we need to get to 10, you know, and whatever the scale is doing whatever, and we started at a two and after three weeks we’re at a five. Now we can be bummed, I’m at a five, but it’s like, oh, if I look back I actually see I started two. Wow, if I keep going I’m on the right path. When you see that you have made progress your brain gives you a dopamine hit. It says this has been hard but keep going. So when we leverage that that competence, and that dopamine hit generate that feeling we call confidence. And we have it kinda backwards, we’re trying to get the kids confident, and excited, and curious, when they are struggling destructively. So our coaching has to deset the conditions that get students more of that positive. So if we know that there is some ground for them to make up coming out of the pandemic we are gonna have to leverage that intellectual curiosity, we’re gonna have to leverage the productive struggle, and coach students how to do that. That shouldn’t take us an academic year. The first six weeks every teacher should be committed to helping students understand how to use errors as information, here we’ve set up a feedback loop, and now I’m gonna coach you through that. Hell, you know, Serena Williams, the G.O.A.T needs a coach. Why? She doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head. She wants to improve. Tiger Woods at the height of his mastery of golf had a coach. Why? It is about the process of improvement. And when we deny that to students we are ensuring that we won’t make progress on equity.

– Well some good examples of small, high-leverage changes that school leaders, teachers, and students can be making. Zaretta, we are out of time for today’s conversation but thank you so much for joining us. If you’re listening to this and wondering what else did we talk about please head to for the rest of this conversation as well as many others. Zaretta it has been so great to talk with you, to learn from you. Thank you so much for being part of PL together.

– Well thank you for letting me be a part of it.