How to Shift to a Student-Centered Approach in Parent-Teacher Conferences


By Mitch MosbeyMay 30, 2016

Shutterstock / Nolte Lourens

Data, expectations, report cards, goal-setting, learning objectives, and parent-teacher conferences. These are just some of the responsibilities of teachers. (And trust me—there’s much more where that came from.) While not the most appealing parts of the teaching profession, they are also necessary to show the growth of students.

But what if some of these responsibilities were taken off the teacher’s back and given to students? As classrooms shift from teacher-driven instruction to more student-centered learning, teachers have witnessed how powerful it is when students take control of their own learning.

To share their learning with others, students are setting goals, tracking their learning, compiling binders, and leading others through presentations in the form of student-led conferences. While this is a shift from parent-teacher conferences, where teachers are providing the information to families, more and more schools are seeing the positive outcomes when they put the student in control. Jered Pennington, principal at Amy Beverland Elementary in Indianapolis, IN, mirrors this view:

“In order to maximize students’ learning potential and success, key stakeholders must be fully invested in the process. With that said, why leave the most integral stakeholder, the student, out of the conversation?”

As Pennington goes onto say, “Student-led conferences provide a platform for students to serve as equal partners in the educational conversation,” and offer them an opportunity to “have a sound understanding of perceived strengths, challenges, qualitative/quantitative data, and desired learning goals.”

Why not help students to be the masters of their own data?

How to Prepare for a Student-Led Conference

First off, students start to compile a data binder at the beginning of the year. The binder is filled with assessments and work completed by the students, as well as student reflections.

Teachers might start out by having all students put in the same type of data, but over time, students will take more ownership of their binder after they begin to understand the process and the impact it can have on their learning. Once again, this is a reflection of the students as a learner, rather than the student as a data point. In my classroom, when having students set goals, I have them complete their own “Plan of Action” that states their goal, and then lays out how they want to achieve their goals. Over time, they independently decide on a specific plan-of-attack.

One of the most important parts of preparation is having students practice vocalizing their learning and explaining it to others. Sometimes, a sample script or bullet points help students first attempting student-led conferences. I have my students practice with different students in the class discussing their binders and then answering questions from their peers. This gives them confidence, knowing they are prepared for when family members and other adults are present.

What It Looks Like Day-Of

My school made the shift from Parent-Teacher Conferences to Student-Led Conferences a few years ago, and we still follow the 15-20 minute format that most teachers are already accustomed to in their schools.

This year, instead of the teacher driving the conversation, students were showing off their data binder. First off, students highlight some of their work that they are most proud of and explain the learning process. Then, they are reviewing data to show their growth thus far. And then, there are the goals—in fact, one of the most powerful moments is when students share their goals with family members. When a student is telling an adult how they want to be a better student, it is much more powerful than hearing it from their teaching.

What about the teacher?

Teachers are still present during the conferences, but only there for support. This is a shift from teachers having the typical “How do you think your child is doing?” and “Here are their strength…” and “Here’s what they can work on….” discussions. Teachers are there for one central purpose: to answer any misunderstandings, and further explain how they would support students in achieving their goals.

Don’t Stop At That One Fall Conference

As I reflect and plan for future years, I plan to have another conference towards the end of the school year to have students showcase why they are ready for the next grade level. Over time, it is very easy for teachers to simply stop setting goals with students, and following up on them after the student-led conferences. I’ll admit that when I first started it with these types of conferences, I sat down with the students and had great conversations—yet this slowly stopped, once the student-led conference took place. Hence, one fall conference isn’t enough.

Where Can You Learn More

Check out Twitter and be on the lookout for chats regarding students-led conferences. You can also check out various teacher blogs and websites. For those looking for a great book to read about the impact of student-centered learning, check out the book Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessmentby Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin.

For those that are trying to take things digital, there are more and more tools that support digital student portfolios online. My first grade students, for example, use a tool called Seesaw (@seesaw); Seesaw allows for my students to take photos and videos of student work, record voiceovers, write on photos to deepen their explanations, and import work from other apps. It also allows for great communication with parents because they can be alerted anytime students upload posts.

Seesaw is just one tool that teachers can explore. Other options includePadlet (which is a favorite of some of the intermediate classrooms at my school), apps such as Three Ring and Evernote, and other student website options like Weebly or Wix or blogging sites, such as Kidblog. While it might be beneficial when starting a digital portfolio to have students use the same tool, upper grades might like the option to select their own tools.

Onto you, educators. And if you’re still a bit reticent about taking that leap away from teacher-controlled conferences, I leave you with one final thought from Jered Pennington: “Traditional parent-teacher conferences may (or may not) lead to educational compliance, but student-led conferences lead to educational cooperation.”

Mitch Mosbey (@mitchmosbey) is a first grade teacher in Noblesville, Indiana at Promise Road Elementary.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Indiana). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Do teacher expectations matter?

Researchers, policymakers, and education professionals alike tend to agree that it is important for teachers to believe in their students and to maintain high expectations about their students’ educational attainment. This is a key motivation underlying arguments to diversify the teaching workforce. However, little research has been able to show whether or not teacher expectations actually matter for student outcomes outside of specific experimental settings.

In a new IZA Discussion Paper, my co-authors and I demonstrate that teacher expectations do matter in that they have a causal impact on students’ educational attainment. We also show evidence that teacher expectations differ by racial groups in ways that put black students at a disadvantage.

…teacher expectations do matter in that they have a causal impact on students’ educational attainment. We also show evidence that teacher expectations differ by racial groups in ways that put black students at a disadvantage.

To understand our research, it is helpful to start with a simple observation: teacher expectations tend to line up with student outcomes. In other words, teachers tend to report high educational expectations for students who end up attaining college degrees.

This correlation could arise for two reasons. One possibility is that teachers accurately predict which students will be successful in school and which students won’t. If so, teacher expectations don’t necessarily matter for student outcomes, but are simply accurate forecasts.

Another possibility is that teacher expectations have a causal impact on student outcomes, functioning like self-fulfilling prophecies. In this case, high expectations about a student could translate into more school and teacher resources being devoted to the student or more effort on the part of the student. As a result, the student might achieve more, and in turn, the original expectations align with the student’s ultimate educational attainment. A bleak picture forms if we consider the opposite case: teachers could have negatively biased expectations about a given student, which could lead to fewer resources being devoted to the student and/or the student internalizing these low expectations and exerting less effort, with the ultimate outcome of lower educational attainment.

Negative teacher biases functioning as self-fulfilling prophecies are particularly concerning if beliefs are negatively biased for certain groups of students, e.g., racial minorities. In fact, in earlier research, my co-author and I discovered a striking pattern regarding teacher expectations. If a black and a white teacher are asked to report their expectations regarding the ultimate educational attainment of a white student, they tend to agree. However, if a black and a white teacher both form expectations about a particular black student, their answers diverge quite a bit.  The black teacher tends to have far higher expectations than the white teacher.

This pattern raises two important questions, which our current researchaddresses:

  • First, if black and white teachers disagree about the same black student’s educational potential, which teacher is more accurate? Perhaps black teachers are too optimistic in their expectations. Alternatively, white teachers may be too pessimistic. It is worth mentioning, moreover, that pessimism would not necessarily mean that white teachers are racist. It may be that white teachers, when viewing the challenges that some black students face, simply over-estimate how these challenges will undermine students’ chances of finishing college, for example. In other words, students may be hurt because teachers with good intentions form low expectations.
  • The second question is whether these differences in expectations matter for student outcomes. In other words, it may be the case that some teachers have unduly high or low expectations regarding some students, but that these biases in expectations do not really affect student outcomes.

Our current research addresses these two questions. In particular, we examine the causal impact of teacher expectations on student outcomes. We examine nationally representative data of about 6,000 tenth grade students in 2002. For each student, teachers are asked how far they expect the child to go in school. Responses include less than high school, high school degree, some college, college completion, and masters or PhD. We focus on whether teachers expect college or more. Moreover, these students are followed into early adulthood, which means we know whether teacher expectations align with students’ educational attainment as of 2012.

We show that teacher expectations largely do align with student outcomes. To disentangle whether this reflects accurate forecasts versus self-fulfilling prophecies, our study relies on a unique feature of these data: two teachers evaluate each student. This allows us to harness teacher disagreements: when two teachers disagree about how far a student will go in school, at least one of them is objectively wrong. We then see if this “wrong-ness” affects student outcomes. [1]


We find that teacher expectations matter. To put this into perspective, if a student is randomly assigned to a teacher whose expectations are 40 percent higher, which is the average difference in expectations faced by black and white students in the sample, the student becomes 7 percent more likely to complete a four-year college degree. This is a nontrivial effect size for a secondary-school intervention. To put this effect in perspective, it is similar in magnitude to the impact of fairly large  class-size reductionsin early elementary grades and improved teacher quality in late elementary grades on college completion. We also show that teacher disagreements tend to occur on the some-college versus college-degree dimension. This appears to be a large—and largely overlooked—source of educational disparities between blacks and whites, as recent researchshows that the socio-economic trajectories of college dropouts more closely resemble the trajectories of high-school graduates than those of college graduates.

Next, we dig deeper into the basic finding that black teachers have higher expectations for black students than do white teachers. We find that most teachers, across the board, are optimistic.  They tend to expect college degrees for far more students than ultimately obtain them. However, teachers are less optimistic about black students. An interesting nuance, therefore, is that white teachers are more accurate when forming expectations about black students because they tend to be less optimistic about them. However, since higher expectations lead to better outcomes, “accuracy’’ in this case amounts to a selective lack of optimism that puts black students at a disadvantage.

In conclusion, our study offers causal evidence that teacher expectations matter. Negative teacher biases can function like self-fulfilling prophecies that affect college-going. Moreover, we find that teacher expectations differ by racial groups in a way that puts black students at a disadvantage, exacerbating racial achievement gaps. Our results also identify differences in how black and white teachers form expectations as one possible mechanism underlying the well-known finding that black students seem to perform better when they have black teachers. Together, our findings suggest that efforts to combat biases (e.g., hiring more black teacher or “de-biasing” white teachers) could prove helpful in reducing racial educational attainment gaps.



[1] Much of the paper is concerned with developing an empirical approach to disentangle accurate forecasts from self-fulfilling prophecies.  The aim is to isolate changes in teachers’ expectations for reasons that should not matter for college-going on their own, for example, chance positive or negative encounters.  We exploit teacher disagreements to accomplish this. Intuitively, our empirical approach consists of three steps.  First, we use one teacher’s expectations to “control for” all the important factors about a student that would influence college going. Second, we assess whether the second teacher’s expectations, which are higher or lower when the two teachers disagree, have any effect on the educational outcome via “self-fulfilling prophecies”.  A third and crucial step is to assess whether such disagreements are random, e.g., due to chance positive or negative encounters with the student.  Such encounters could change a teacher’s expectations for reasons that arguably are not important for college-going only affect students through the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecies.

‘Brain-hostile’ education: how schools are failing adolescents

Here’s an interesting brain research based article that supports so much of what we’re doing at Sacred Heart – especially our concentration on student-centered learning.

The Washington Post

By Valerie Strauss September 26
When people talk about making sure that curriculum is “developmentally appropriate,” they are often talking about the work young children are given to do at school. Increasingly, in this era of standardized test-based school reform, very young children are being asked to do things — such as read and write and analyze — before many of them are able to it, and kids can feel like failures before they get to first grade. But it isn’t just young kids for whom developmentally appropriate material is vital.
Modern neuroscience is presenting revelations about how the brains of middle and high school students develop and how best to engage them, but, as the author of this post says, “Regrettably, these proactive practices in middle and high school appear to be the exception rather than the rule. In this post, educator Thomas Armstrong discusses how schools are ignoring what science is telling them about how older students learn — and how they can fix it.

Armstrong has been an educator for more than 40 years and is the executive director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development. He is the author of sixteen books related to learning and human development, including his newest, “The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students,” from which this selection was excerpted.

By Thomas Armstrong

The last 15 years of neuroscience research on the adolescent brain reveals that it is still under construction and amenable to influence from the environment. While there are a wide range of factors that educators have no control over, the one place where educators can have a high impact on adolescent brain development is school. Students in the United States spend about 1,000 hours in school each year (not counting extracurricular activities and before-school, after-school, and summer programs). This time, which amounts to about 15 percent of students’ waking lives, presents a golden opportunity for educators to create instructional activities that can change brain functioning in positive ways.
My new book, “The Power of the Adolescent Brain,” presents “brain-friendly” strategies that secondary schools throughout the United States (and the world) are currently using that dovetail with the way the adolescent brain works. Regrettably, these proactive practices in middle and high school appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

Evidence has been mounting to suggest that too many secondary schools are “brain-hostile” at worst, and “brain-ignorant” at best in their use of outdated practices that fail to take advantage of the neuroplasticity of the adolescent brain. These practices might even be termed “brain-damaging” to the extent that they create stress, apathy, and resentment among students that negatively affect brain functioning.

A large-scale national survey of middle and high school students revealed that more than half of all 10th grade students were bored in class and less than half enjoyed being at school, while another survey of 14- to 15-year-olds revealed that only 33 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys were seen by their parents to be actively engaged in school. A 2013 national Gallup Student Poll found that 75 percent of elementary school students were actively involved and invested in school, while only 44 percent of high school students had the same level of engagement.

“If we were doing right by our students and our future,” says Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, “these numbers would be the absolute opposite. For each year a student progresses in school, they should be more engaged, not less.’’ Even students who appear engaged may in many cases just be going through the motions by providing teachers with responses that are least likely to cause them harm or exposure.

At a time when adolescents’ emotional brains are jacked up to the max, the middle and high school curriculum suddenly “gets down to business” and becomes emotionally flat in tone. This has only become more common during the last few years. One recent study revealed a strong pattern of emotional suppression in students’ relationships with teachers at urban high schools. The authors wrote:

As teachers come under increasing pressure to produce demonstrable student achievement gains because of newly developed teacher evaluation systems and enact challenging pedagogy because of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, they may be more likely to think about understanding and improving emotion related interactions as a distal goal—one that diverts time and energy from the primary task of fostering student learning.

Owing to challenges from interest groups and other factors, such as the “committee” authorship of most textbooks, the textbooks that dominate so much classroom time lack any real zip, as former U.S. Assistant Director of Education Diane Ravitch points out, referring to high school history textbooks: “There seems to be something in the very nature of today’s textbooks that blunts the edges of events and strips from the narrative whatever is lively, adventurous, and exciting.’’

At a time when the adolescent’s brain increasingly craves stimulation from peers, education becomes more teacher-centered, offering less small-group interaction and cooperative learning than elementary classrooms. In addition, teachers promote student embarrassment by posting students’ grades and test results for everyone to see, and ban or restrict social media that could facilitate interpersonal learning in the classroom.
At a point when students’ decision-making skills are at a critical stage of development and the prefrontal cortex is going through a process of fine-tuning, zero-tolerance discipline policies run roughshod over students’ capacities to learn from their mistakes. In addition, schools heap required courses on students to prepare them for college, some actually requiring students to declare a major or course of study in ninth grade or even earlier. This approach deprives students of opportunities to take electives that are interesting to them and that might lead to a vocation in adulthood.

During a point when students are entering the developmental stage of formal operational thinking and are able to engage more deeply in metacognition, the curriculum begins to devote more attention to lower-order skills, such as recall of facts, formulas, and details.

Finally, at a time when adolescents have a huge appetite for rewards, teachers start employing higher standards in judging student competence and tend to give lower grades than elementary school teachers.

It’s clear that substantial reform is necessary to align classroom and schoolwide practices with the mountain of research now available on how the adolescent brain develops. One professor has gone so far as to suggest that we need a Head Start program for adolescents.

The guiding principle in reforming secondary education should be to craft educational programs and instructional strategies that link the evolutionary advantages of the adolescent brain to socially appropriate and constructive learning outcomes . So, for example, although risk taking can lead the adolescent to engage in unsafe driving practices, it can also lead him or her to try out new, challenging activities that promote learning, such as a poetry slam.

As one 16-year-old commented after competing in a poetry slam, “It’s really scary. You’re nervous and shaking. Then afterwards you get that same feeling you get coming off a roller coaster. You want to go again.’’
Similarly, adolescents’ need for bonding with peers might propel them into membership in a violent gang—or it could drive them to get involved in a service learning project that benefits the whole community. The sensation-seeking behavior that can lead adolescents to drug abuse could alternatively be directed toward a highly engaging student-centered learning project. The reward-seeking behaviors that might lure teens into Internet addiction could be tapped through a game-based learning experience in the classroom.

Why so much blatant racism is bubbling to the surface

The Christian Science Monitor


Several recent outbursts of overt racism show how social media and the presidential race are stirring up sentiments that were deeply buried.

  • Mark Pynes/
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The firing of a teacher’s aide in Forsyth County, Ga., the censuring of a small-town mayor in Pennsylvania, the arrest of an East Tennessee State University student – all three after comparing black people to apes.

These recent examples of blatant racism have been met by swift public condemnation. Americans, on the whole, remain firmly intolerant of intolerance.

But shudders of racist sentiments in times of civil unrest are hardly new, and the current bout is noteworthy, say some ethicists and historians.

The racist speech is accompanied by an emboldening of white supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan – which grew from 72 chapters in 2014 to 190 last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. They’ve been actively recruiting, leafleting lawns and sidewalks in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and California. And former Grand Wizard David Duke is running for the Senate in Louisiana, saying his platform has “become the GOP mainstream.”

The trend is partly a new age manifestation of age-old problems – in essence transferring what used to be anonymous wall scribbles to the center of the public square. Indeed, some are seeing the First Amendment right to free speech as an invitation to incite.

But in that way, social media – along with the racially charged nature of this year’s presidential election – are forcing the most entrenched forms of racism to the surface in new ways. While shocking to some to hear, the outbursts give a more accurate portrayal of how much further America needs to go to heal race relations – and can sometimes be a catalyst to accelerate that progress, some say.

“These remarks tell us there’s a strong strain of bigotry and racism still alive in our country,” says Gene Policinski, senior vice president for the First Amendment Center in Nashville. “Sometimes the function of free speech is to give us a true picture of society.”

The evolving shape of civility

The recent incidents have captured attention, but also spawned a backlash.

On Facebook, West York, Pa., Mayor Charles Wasko, has compared the Obama family to orangutans and has suggested President Obama should be lynched. He remains unrepentant, claiming a “witch hunt” against him. “The racist stuff, yeah, I’ll admit I did that, and I don’t care what people label me as,” he told WHTM-TV.

During an emergency town hearing on Monday, many residents said the tone of the presidential race is giving license to racist rhetoric. Pennsylvania state Rep. Kevin Schreiber (D) called Mr. Wasko’s Facebook outbursts “the legacy of angry, bigoted speech and rhetoric that is so quickly and casually spewed and circulated today.”

Meanwhile, school officials said a teacher’s aide in Georgia’s Forsyth County made repeated comments likening first lady Michelle Obama to a “poor gorilla.” The school district acted decisively to fire her.

For his part, the East Tennessee student was charged with one count of civil rights intimidation, a crime in Tennessee. He admitted to trying to provoke a largely African-American crowd to violence by wearing a gorilla mask and carrying a banana on a string, which he offered to black people, saying, “Here you go, sir.”

While extreme, in many respects, these incidents point to a debate over the shifting bounds of civility. They are in part a backlash against the perception of political correctness run amok. The rise in discussion on college campuses of “micro aggressions” (sleights caused by racial insensitivity) and “trigger warnings” (that warn survivors of rape or abuse of depictions in books, art, or movies that could “trigger” a reaction) is seen as a prime example of sacrificing robust free speech for cultural oversensitivity.

The incidents point to the growing willingness among some Americans to challenge these emerging social norms and boundaries. And Donald Trump, with his brash style, has helped lead the charge.

“What Trump has done is emboldened a number of individuals and groups who might hold similar views to express them in a way that would not have been socially acceptable only a couple of months ago, never mind a couple of years ago,” says Joshua Inwood, a geographer and ethics core faculty member at Penn State in University Park, Pa. “The election of Obama and [rise of] Trump has unleashed a whole set of discourses that were obviously prevalent in the United States of America, but were not given such mainstream play.”

To critics, the trend has simply been an attempt to find acceptable means of public expression for latent racism.

“Broader attacks on ‘political correctness’ are simply an attempt to hide the sentiment that whites are mad that they don’t get to speak any way they want to in offensive, horrible, dangerous, threatening and illegal ways about folks of color,” says Matthew Hughey, a University of Connecticut sociologist. “Trump is drawing from that well.”

The danger is that the incidents may not remain confined to verbal attacks. “Upticks of rhetoric … tend to end in some kind of violent outburst,” says Professor Inwood.

Response to the incidents

But the backlash against such rhetoric can also have a positive effect in the longer term. The tragedy of the 1906 Atlanta race riots, which were fanned by incendiary racial rhetoric whipped up by competing newspapers, resulted in the creation of committees of black and white leaders that became the early blueprint for the civil rights movement a generation later.

The 1906 riots also resulted in public censure of the most incendiary of the newspapers, the Atlanta Evening News, which closed weeks after the violence.

In West York, the town council voted Monday to censure Mr. Wasko. Hundreds of residents packed the meeting to voice their disgust. “He left no one behind in his hate,” town council president Shawn Mauck told reporters.

And the reaction to the gorilla-masked young man in Johnson City, Tenn., also spoke volumes. The largely African-American crowd ignored the man’s provocations until police arrived to arrest him.

“There may in part just be a perception that there’s more people speaking [racist thoughts] now that they have a [social media] amplifier that they didn’t have in the past,” says Mr. Policinski at the First Amendment Center. “I think we’re right to take it seriously, and we have every right to be offended. But I also think there is some value in hearing this in the marketplace of ideas even though it brings pain and embarrassment and shame to those who think this language is out of bounds.”

Want to Raise Successful Daughters? Science Says Nag the Heck Out of Them
For tweens, eye-rolling and backtalk really means, ‘Thank you for the helpful advice. I shall endeavor to act accordingly.’

Someday, my daughter is going to kill me for this one, but it’s a story that will vindicate parents everywhere.

Researchers in the United Kingdom say parents’ super-high expectations for their teenage daughters–especially if they remind them constantly of those expectations–are among the most important factors in predicting whether young girls will grow up to become successful women.

As a university press release put it: “Behind every successful woman is a nagging mom? Teenage girls more likely to succeed if they have pushy mothers.”

Nag more, fail less.

The researchers at the University of Essex found that girls whose “main parent”–that’s usually the mother–consistently displayed high parental expectations were far less likely to fall into the traps that made the girls less likely to succeed in life.

Specifically, these girls were:

  • Less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
  • More likely to attend college.
  • Less likely to get stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs.
  • Less likely to have prolonged periods of unemployment.

The researchers, led by PhD candidate Ericka G. Rascon-Ramirez, studied the experiences of more than 15,000 British girls aged 13 and 14 over a 10-year period.

Of course, avoiding the prime pitfalls doesn’t necessarily mean that girls are destined to become the Sheryl Sandberg, Katie Ledecky, or Sara Blakeley of their time. But it does mean they’ll be more likely to preserve their opportunities to succeed later.

And that, dear parents, is the point at which your work is done–when your children’s success becomes much more a factor of their desire and work ethic than yours.

Rolling eyes? That means it’s working.

Nice study, some readers might reply. Have you actually tried being the parent tasked with nagging a 13- or 14-year-old daughter? News flash: Whether we’re talking about boys or girls, it could quickly deconstruct into a cacophony of eye rolls, door slams, and sullenness.

It’s not a lot of fun, I’m sure. (Regular readers will know that my daughter is only a year old, so I haven’t had the pleasure myself, yet. For more on how to raise successful kids, you can read my free e-book, How to Raise Successful Kids: Advice From a Stanford Dean, a Navy SEAL Commander, and Mark Zuckerberg’s Dad.)

But parents can take solace in one idea the researchers entertained: The more it seems hectoring them is like pounding on a brick wall, the more it might be working.

“In many cases, we succee[d] in doing what we believ[e is] more convenient for us, even when this [is] against our parents’ will,” writes Rascon-Ramirez. “But no matter how hard we tried to avoid our parents’ recommendations, it is likely that they ended up influencing [our] choices.”

In other words, if your tween or teenage daughter rolls her eyes and says something like, “Arrrrggghhh, Mom, you’re so annoying,” what she really means, deep down in her subconscious mind is: “Thank you for the helpful advice. I shall endeavor to act accordingly.”

Stacking the little voices.

There’s also some stacking going on, meaning if you set expectations in daughters’ heads that they should go to college AND they should not get pregnant as teenagers, they’re more likely to make it to age 20 without having a child than they would have been if you’d only pushed the “don’t have a baby until you’re old enough to be ready” message.

As my colleagues at Scary Mommy, where I first heard about the study, put it:

“Sure, having a healthy sense of self-esteem and believing that you have options is great, but not getting pregnant just because you ‘don’t want to hear it’ is fine with us, too. Whatever. Just make it not be so.”

I don’t know about you, but even as a man in my 40s, I sometimes hear my parents’ cautionary words–or even my grandparents’–when I go to do something I probably shouldn’t. My grandfather passed away in 1984, but if I ever overdo it on dessert, it’s his voice I hear calling me out for it.

And assuming this study holds value for boys as well–there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t–that means I have my parents’ habit of consistently expressing their high expectations to thank, at least in part, for my success.

So thanks for the nagging, Mom and Dad. And to my darling daughter, believe me, this will be harder on me than it is for you.

How To Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher


However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher — regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom — commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher. Along those lines, even after a decade in the classroom, I don’t claim to be beyond criticism — not in the least. Still, I wish to offer some advice on constantly striving toward perfection, however elusive that goal will always remain.

Constantly Share Best Practices

As a first step, work toward recognizing that, no matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, there will always be someone else who’s more effective at a certain facet of teaching. When I was a first-year teacher, a veteran colleague inquired how I’d engaged such strong student interest in the American Revolution, something that he’d struggled with achieving. I shared my lesson plan, which culminated in a formal debate about whether the colonists had acted justly in rebelling against British rule. Moving forward, I felt more confident and comfortable about asking that colleague for help with providing quality written feedback, which he excelled at doing.

Find a Trusted Mentor

No matter how much experience you have, it’s crucial to find and rely on a trusted confidant. As a new teacher, I spent countless hours chatting with colleagues about best practices and where I feared that I might have fallen short. Not once did they pass judgment on me, or suggest that whatever I had done (or failed to do, in certain cases) was beyond repair. Instead, they offered thoughtful advice on how I might do things differently. No matter the subject, I value hearing fresh perspectives from new and veteran teachers about becoming even better at my job. Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.

Commit to Classroom Observations

I do my best to observe other teachers in action. This year, I benefited from watching a colleague inject humor into his English classroom to cultivate a more relaxed but effective learning environment. In turn, I tried to strike a similar balance in my history classroom, which helped students feel less afraid of sharing ideas and learning from mistakes. I’m equally grateful for observing a colleague teach French to students whom I also instruct. She possesses a gentle firmness that learners respond to, but more importantly, students know that she cares about them — and they don’t want to let their teacher or themselves down.

Change Things Up

I also observe other teachers to see how they change things up, especially when I get too comfortable in a routine. It’s certainly easier to teach the same books and content each year, but it’s also incredibly boring, which can lead to burnout. This summer, I’m working to revamp some of my American history curriculum to fall more in step with what students are learning and doing in their American literature class. For example, when juniors are studying the Cold War in my class, they’ll be reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen in their English class — an award-winning graphic novel highlighting many Cold War-era fears and tensions. For both classes, students will complete a yet-to-be-determined project to showcase their understanding.

Model the Usefulness of What You Teach

In line with changing things up, I’m always looking for new ways to model the usefulness of what I teach. More than ever, I find that students want to know how they can apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world. In American history, I continue to de-emphasize rote memorization in favor of activities requiring clear, analytical thinking — an essential tool for whatever students end up pursuing in college or as a career. On most assessments, I allow students to bring a notecard. It seems less important in the age of Google to assess how much students know. Instead, I’m significantly more concerned with how much sense they can make of all this information so readily available to them. In all of my classes, I also make it clear that knowing how to write well will play a significant role in their future success.

Caring Beyond What You Teach

To motivate my students toward success, I strive to show that I care about them beyond the classroom. I do my best to chaperone trips, watch sporting events, and attend plays and other student-run productions. I advise the Model United Nations Club, which allows me to share my passion for diplomacy and fostering change. I also coach cross-country to help students see that I value maintaining a healthy body just as much as developing an inquisitive mind. The most transformational teachers that I know have a deep understanding of how their role transcends far beyond any subject that they’re teaching. Such teachers have the most lasting impact on their students long after graduation.

Fostering Identity Safety in School


An environment where students are not bullied based on their race or other aspects of identity can be intentionally cultivated both inside and outside of the classroom.

By Becki Cohn-Vargas
October 5, 2016

School is a young person’s world for many of the hours of their youth, and identity-based bullying — based on a student’s race, sex, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, mental or physical disability, or other characteristics — can make that world a deeply negative experience. Everyone in the school needs to feel that they matter — not in spite of, but because of who they are. That is the feeling of identity safety.

An identity-safe school is a place where everyone feels physically and emotionally safe. Students have a sense that they belong and that people have their back. This kind of environment can be intentionally cultivated in all learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. It encompasses how adults treat students, how students treat one another, and how adults treat other adults.

But many students experience the opposite of this ideal. Those who are perceived as different can be subject to cruel teasing, name-calling, bullying, and cyber-harassment, all the way up to intimidation, threats, and physical violence. Educators are not always aware of bullying until a serious incident occurs because it is done under the guise of “kidding around” or occurs in the shadows. Educators across the world are waking up to the extent of the damage and the often long-lasting suffering that goes way beyond the specific incidents. And we are recognizing our responsibility to address all forms of bullying and intolerance.

Addressing Bullying on Multiple Levels
If bullying is handled only at the disciplinary level, underlying biases and attitudes about the kids who are perceived as different persist. Getting to a deeper level that truly leads to change goes beyond a bullying assembly, specific lessons, or disciplinary practices in response to bullying. It requires looking at the whole school environment. Here are four important elements in handling bullying, or avoiding it to begin with:

Foster identity safety in an environment of respect, empathy, and kindness by modeling it all day long through classroom and school-wide learning activities.
Engage in dialogue about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other identity characteristics to bridge differences. Much bullying is based on biases, and those biases need to be addressed by refuting stereotypes and by having students learn about each other and develop empathy to bridge differences.
Take swift action to address bullying and all forms of intolerance by offering support and guidance to all involved. Help targets gain confidence to speak up for themselves; help those who bully change their behavior; and help bystanders become upstanders who speak up when they see harm being done.
Listen to students’ voices and give them tools and opportunities to be leaders and activists in finding solutions.
A team approach can be used to develop an identity-safe climate where every student and staff member feels welcomed and valued, where nobody has to leave their identity at the door.

Six Things You Can Do to Foster an Identity-Safe Environment
The process to address school climate involves a concerted effort.

Create an infrastructure with a leadership team to guide climate improvement efforts.
Train staff, students, and parents on identity safety, bullying prevention, and how to address intolerance.
Collect data on school climate. This includes incidents of bullying and other discipline, as well as student and staff attitudes and feelings. Repeat the assessment yearly to track progress and determine where to focus improvement efforts.
Analyze and update policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they are equitable and student-friendly.
Create an identity-safe school plan or incorporate identity safety and positive climate efforts into your existing plan.
Focus on both student wellness and staff wellness.
Unquestionably, transforming school climate and sustaining that change are not easy, but both are well worth the time and effort. The students will feel better and achieve at higher levels, and the staff will have higher morale. That does not mean that bullying will never happen again, but when it does, a school that is poised to respond and take swift action will lead the healing process and will continue to move forward in a positive direction. Our students deserve nothing less.