10th grade youth tell us how to get better at online learning

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

I recently read Marilyn Pryle’s post on what her 10th grade students said when asked “What did any teacher do to support you with online learning?” This post is powerful for two reasons:

Listen to our learners. Youth are experts of what being in our learning spaces is really like.
  • Everything Marilyn offers is easy to do and reasonable for students to expect of us.
  • Marilyn’s suggestions are not Marilyn’s. This list exists because Marilyn listened to her learners.

Easy and reasonable

Ideas like responding to email and having a consistent place and time for students to look for assignments are important to do whether we are learning in person or learning online. They model professionalism and demonstrate respect for our students.

Listen to our learners

Much of my work with schools involves finding out how students are experiencing the learning. I might host a youth listening session, do one-on-one interviews, or help schools analyze survey data. And, while the work usually starts with me leading these kinds of activities, my goal is always to help school develop the habit of hearing what their youth and families are saying.

Marilyn’s piece offers teachers and school leaders specific, helpful, and achievable actions towards creating online learning spaces that are as warm, nurturing, and rigorous as possible. And it all started by asking a question: “What did any teacher do to support you with online learning?”

Tim, I’m not even sure how to teach right now…I truly don’t have the emotional or mental space to do something like this.

Right now, I’m as worried about my colleague’s well-being as I am about our students. There’s a pandemic happening right now, and that’s making every aspect of our work trickier than it needs to be.

It’s understandable if creating a survey and getting feedback from children and youth feels like it’s too much. Here are some smaller, tinier ways of creating space for youth to be heard:

  • Just use Marilyn’s list. It’s a good one, and it came from youth.
  • Start by asking just one student who’ll talk to you honestly.
  • Put off the content until you and your learners work out the routines and procedures.
  • Let families know your plan and ask them if it’ll work for them.

The importance of clarity.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

The importance of clarity.

What does it mean to say that we are doing something? It means that:

  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do.
  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) is equipped to do it.

We’ll get to the second condition in the next article. This week article is about the importance of knowing what you are doing and about helping you and your team get clear on your work and what you hope to achieve.

Before you read too far, I want you to know that there are more important questions for me to answer. Questions like: 

I’ve linked articles from colleagues with skills and knowledge to help answer these questions, and I encourage you to read those articles too. After all, if you’re reading my blog, it’s probably because you are a leader of some kind in a caring profession, and you want to do the work the right way.

For now, what I want to do is to provide a framework for thinking about something important that you are already working on. Using this framework will help you and your team get clear about your goals, increase the efficacy of your strategy, and elevate the success of your work.

If we can’t explain it, can we really be doing it?

Everyone who’s supposed to do it knows what it is, who it is for, and what it is supposed to do.

Whether your school has been a Project Based Learning school for years or if your agency just started a staff wellness initiative, everyone who is supposed to be doing the thing must know what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to do. 

Here is a simple exercise to take action towards clarity:

  • Name the thing you’re doing.
  • Name who the thing you’re doing is supposed to help.
  • Describe what the thing you’re doing is supposed to achieve.

If you’d like, here’s a print version of this exercise in print form:

Or, click here to check out this digital version of the same exercise.

The people for whom we are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do.

For reasons encoded deep into the DNA of how culture influences schools, agencies, and organizations, the people for whom we are doing something are typically the last to know about something we are doing on their behalf. It is essential that the people for whom you are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Here are two reasons why your project will fail unless the people your project is about are involved from the beginning:

It’s immoral.

“Nothing about us without us” is a phrase used in a wide variety of activist circles to dismantle systems where those in power make decisions on behalf of groups without power and without their involvement or consent. Examples of this that occur frequently are when:

  • Schools make major changes in how students learn without explaining to families why they’re making a change and what’s supposed to happen as a result.
  • Law enforcement agencies increase their visibility without explaining to their community what they’re doing and what their goals are.
  • Nonprofit agencies ask youth to speak on panels without compensating them for their time or equipping them to participate as partners.

It makes your work harder than it needs to be.

While all of the above examples are morally suspect, they also make your work harder than it needs to be. Think about how all of the above examples change when the people for whom we are doing something know what it is and what it is supposed to do:

  • The school changing how students learn involves families at the first planning meeting. They provide the context for the change and opportunities to be trained in what will happen in their children’s classrooms. As a result, families not only understand the work but also help the work get done.
  • Law enforcement agencies seek out and create opportunities to be invited into communities. As a result, officers learn to view communities as the answer to problems rather than as the problem to solve with the tools of policing.
  • Nonprofits explain what the purpose of the panel is going to be. Resources are provided to help youth frame their message in the context of their own lived experience, and youth are compensated (in cash) for their time. As a result, the nonprofit has a cadre of highly trained youth who can support the work as peers.

Why it matters

Leaders who can explain what their team is doing and also provide those that they serve with meaningful and frequent opportunities to be participate are better able to elevate the success of their team and their organization. Regardless of what your organization is doing, or for how long an initiative has been going on, leaders who can explain what they’re doing, who it benefits, and what’s going to happen when the project succeeds are equipped with everything the need to plan, execute, and succeed.

Author’s note: Helping leaders, teams, and organizations achieve clarity in their work is an essential element of my work. The next time you’re writing a newsletter or explaining to your team a directive you’ve received, consider scheduling a call and seeing how I can help.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury–it’s required.

Dr. Cornel West famously said “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As a person believes that education is a means to achieve social justice, Dr. West’s words remind me that my work to create just, equitable, antiracist, and inclusive schools begins not in the classroom, school, or park district, but rather within my own self. To be a person working for justice means that paying attention to my wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury—it’s required.

Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization in Tucson that runs a student wellness center for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Like other after school programs, students can work on homework and participate in a variety of activities including: basketball, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. What makes Higher Ground unique, however, is that each program participant has their own wellness plan organized around the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Even more powerful, however, is how the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help Higher Ground staff to take care of themselves so that they are equipped to care for others. Arthur Rodgers, Higher Ground’s Executive Director explains that “the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me create a balanced life for myself and keep me focused on the whole person when serving others. Thecia Rodgers, Community Schools Director, agrees, saying “The Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me personally to be aware of my own health and wellness lifestyle, and to identify where my own wellness could be stronger. This helps me consider each person I serve as a whole person.”

As you read through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, notice which aspects of wellness you currently practice. It might also be helpful to note something you can do today to support a dimension of wellness that you might not practice as frequently.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness 


Physical wellness is about caring for our bodies. We attend to our physical wellness when we eat well, drink enough water, and get regular exercise. Making sure to get enough sleep and scheduling necessary medical, dental, and vision appointments are also essential aspects of physical wellness. Finally, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is important to our physical wellness.


Learning new skills and developing new understandings supports intellectual wellness. Choose something that interests you and make a plan to learn more about it. This might be reading a book, doing something creative, or purposefully engaging in new ideas or perspectives.


Naming our feelings and paying attention to how we manage both positive and negative emotions supports emotional wellness. Managing stress, building resiliency, and developing a positive outlook are all key components of emotional wellness. Sometimes, the work of emotional wellness happens best with spending some time alone, and other times, connecting to our support networks is better.


Having purpose and meaning is crucial to wellness. Pay attention to values and sense of purpose. If necessary, uncover, discover, or recover what matters most to you. Some people find support in participating in communities with shared values. Others find it helpful to reflect on values and purpose privately. Most important, work to make sure that your actions align with your values and purpose.


One key aspect of environmental wellness is finding ways of living that respect the environment. Recycling, driving less, and planting trees are three ways that we might support our environmental wellness. Another aspect of environmental wellness connects to building comfortable places to live and work. Cleaning up the kitchen at home and clearing off our desks at work are examples of practicing environmental wellness.


The basic level of financial wellness is working to make sure that we have enough income to feed ourselves, our families, and to pay the bills. Taking stock of our income and expenses is a powerful way to practice financial wellness. More than earning money and making budgets, however, financial wellness is about understanding our personal relationship with money. By reflecting on what money means to us, we gain a better sense of what might be influencing our spending and saving, and whether those influences are helpful.

What love looks like in public

Dr. West asks us “Never to forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As we seek to be educators who create just classrooms, dismantle oppression, and help children and youth become successful learners and good human beings, the implications of Dr. West’s words are tremendous. If justice is what love looks like in public, then our capacity to build a just world depends both on the level of love we show ourselves and how skillfully we care for ourselves across all Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Of course Eight Dimensions of Wellness is not the only framework for practicing self-care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time researching wellness and to pay attention to resources that connect with them. However, what I’ve seen at Higher Ground makes me think that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are a good place to start. I’ve summarized definitions and examples from the University of Maryland’s wellness information site, and you can learn more by clicking here.

Love + Content + Time.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah

I believe that the heart of effective teaching and learning is love + content + time, and that all three are necessary to build and sustain effective districts, schools, and classrooms. Here is why:

The inspiration from this post came from my work with Higher Ground. Click here and learn more about them.


Love is the starting point of effective teaching and learning. And, while good teachers recognize that love is the center of their practice, teachers are often afraid that this love could be misunderstood. After all, when I say “I love my spouse,” I mean something different than way I say “I love popcorn.” 

But let’s get real for a moment—Teaching is a profession that expects an intelligent person with at least one (and typically several) college degrees to help a room full of other people’s children become successful learners and good human beings. In between “I love my spouse” and “I love popcorn” is a type of love that effective teachers understand is at the center of their practice.  

“You look upset. Are you ok?”“I need you to focus on your work.”
“It’s good to see you! You’re running late again. We can make a plan together when you’re ready to talk about it.”“You’re late again, and now you’re behind the rest of the class.”
“Come back to me tomorrow, and in one piece!”“Pages 4-5 are due tomorrow.”
“I want to make sure my students are represented in their learning. That’s why I’m doing so much reading on culturally sustaining pedagogy this summer.”“I don’t see color.”
Love is essential.

Loving our students and expressing that love in our practice ought to be an explicit part of every educator’s job description and professional preparation program. Nothing-not one thing-happens in a classroom or in a school until students know that they are safe, loved, and cared for.


Content represents precisely what we mean by social, emotional, and academic achievement. The most engaging activity in the world and the most informative text ever written are only useful if the schools and teachers using them understand what students are supposed to learn as a result.

Here are some examples and non-examples of ensuring that all students have access to important content:

There is a written curriculum, and everyone knows where to find it.There is no written curriculum, so everyone develops their own materials.
“Hey, this fun activity I found on the internet matches where my class is at right now in their science curriculum!”“Well, this quarter is supposed to be about life cycles, but I really like this activity about fossils. Let’s do it!”
“This math lesson is supposed to be hard. We’re learning not only how to use statistics for modeling, but also how to manage stress when things feel overwhelming.”“Ok, now that math is done, let’s do this lesson on stress I found.”
“Ok, team, we’ve got [x] learning targets to master this semester. Do we have materials for all of them?”“Uh oh…we’ve got three weeks left in the semester, and we only taught half the learning targets. Let’s do a jigsaw for the last three chapters of the textbook.”
“Let’s check to make sure that our reading lists are inclusive of authors of color.”People of color are invisible in the curriculum.
Please do not neglect the last row.

Please do not neglect the last row in the table. Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement means ensuring that our students are represented in the content we teach. Otherwise, we risk creating schools in which, as Dr. Jamila Lyiscott warns, “The content of the curriculum ignore[s] the cultures of their communities” (Lyiscott, 2019).

To become successful learners and good human beings requires that students leave our classrooms each day equipped with knowledge, understanding, and skills that they didn’t have before. While it’s possible (and typically dangerous) to teach students something on accident, students achieve more when everyone involved is intentional about what the point of each lesson, unit, and course is about.


The level of learning that happens in our schools and classrooms depends on the level of love our students experience, the level of clarity regarding the content they are to learn, and finally, the way we view time as a resource for learning.

Time is more than just a thing we all feel we need more of. Yes, we need time to collaborate, plan, teach, and reflect. All the grading, assessment, and stuff our principal or superintendent needs us to do takes time. However, when the only thing that matters in a school is what happens in this period, this semester, or this academic year, time will never feel like an ally.

I know this is a bit meta, but when we think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement, time isn’t really about the minutes in a period we have to teach today’s content. Rather, time is the medium through which growth happens.

Think of it this way—If students were like a packet of sunflower seeds, we could predict how fast each seed ought to grow, what kind of light they need, and how much to water them. Truthfully, our students are more like a packet of assorted seeds from apple, orange, and peach trees, with a few acorns tossed in just because. We don’t expect a peach pit to turn into a mature tree by the end of a semester or even an academic year. To do the same for our students just makes everyone frustrated.

When we expand our timeframe for our work, we can see ourselves as part of a system meant to help students learn and grow over a lifetime. We also see that our role in supporting our students’ growth changes depending on where they are at in their learning. Whether we are building better schools by becoming trauma informed, enhancing our curriculum, or learning to use a new computer intervention, time is always on our side. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone has a right to waste a minute in the life of a child. Time is precious. What I am saying, though, is that if we see our students as trees rather than sunflowers, we can also understand that the time frame for our work is far bigger then a single lesson or even a school year.

Sometimes, students respond to our love and our content with indifference. Sometimes they struggle with concepts far more than we wish. All too often, brilliant students are told that they are not that brilliant because of a  yearly test score that can’t (or won’t) see them as anything other than a number that’s not high enough yet. But we can learn to view time differently, and if we can help our students to do the same, we can also learn that what we do today matters even when we can’t see the change right away.

I’d like for you to check out Higher Ground, an organization that has always understood that all children are worthy of love, all children deserve to be taught how to be a person of character, and that all children have a right to their own time.

I’d also invite you to read Dr. Lyiscott’s book, Black Appetite. White Food.  Lyiscott, Jamila. (2019). Black appetite. White food. Routledge.

Three reasons you’re struggling with data.

Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement requires schools to know their students and their systems well, and to do this, data is crucial.

If your team is struggling to use data to make decisions, here are the top three reasons why:

Reason 1: You’re making it too hard.

Collecting data takes time and resources. Increase the likelihood that you’ll get good data by taking time to plan the least invasive way to measure what you want to know.

QuestionHard WaySimpler Way
Are teachers using the new science curriculum?“Let’s conduct daily walkthroughs, complete a checklist, and compile all 21 items onto a spreadsheet.”“During recess for the next three Wednesdays, I’m going to ask five kids at lunch if they had a science lesson this week from the new adoption.” 
Do students feel safe at school?“I think three 1/2 day focus groups with staff, teachers, and students ought to do it.”“There’s a free climate survey available through PBISApps.org. Let’s start there and see what patterns come up.
Does our school need dramatic reform and change?“Well, only 34% are proficient on the state tests, so clearly we need to completely transform our practice.”“The average scaled score for grade 5 was 1345 on the state test. That is 16 scaled score points away from proficient. Let’s see which of our students has the most opportunity to grow and find out what targeted interventions might help.”
Start your data work by making your data work for you.

Reason 2: Your measures aren’t sensitive enough.

It’s beautiful to see my three children grow throughout the year. I’ve got their heights marked on their bathroom door frame. And, if I measured that growth in yards rather than inches, I’d be waiting a long time to see any change. 

Schools often use yardsticks to measure changes that happen in inches. For example, standardized test results are often reported in terms of percent passing. While percent passing data is the measure most often used to hold schools accountable, it is also the least useful information to use when school and district leaders are making instructional decisions.

Here’s why. Take a look at the chart below. In this school, three fourth grade teachers decided that 70% or better was a passing score on a benchmark test. That means that in Classroom A and Classroom B, 0% of students passed, while in Classroom C, 41% of students passed. So Classroom C is the winner, right? 

Choose measures that matter.

Not so fast…Instead of looking at how many students passed the test, let’s look at how well they actually performed. While no one in Classroom B passed the test, Classroom B and Classroom C have the same average percent correct. Finally (and most importantly), while students in Classroom A had the lowest average percent correct, nearly half of Classroom Cs students were among the lowest scoring students among all three classes. 

Bottom Line: What needs to happen in each classroom is completely different, and we can figure out what to do when we use measures sensitive to changes in student learning.

Reason 3: You’re not telling anyone about your data.

Now that you’ve got 1) a simple to use plan to get the data you want, and 2) a measure sensitive enough to changes in student learning, you’ll need 3) a plan for sharing that data in real time or as close to real time as possible.

QuestionSimple / Sensitive Data CollectionCommunicated by…
Are teachers using the new science curriculum?“During recess for the next three Wednesdays, let’s ask five kids at lunch if they had a science lesson this week from the new adoption.” “On Wednesday afternoon, let’s share what percentage of students reported having a science lesson from the new adoption at our staff meeting.”
Do students feel safe at school?“There’s a free climate survey available through PBISApps.org. Let’s start there and see what patterns come up.“Once the survey closes, let’s create a summary report with the most relevant graphs and share it with staff the next day. We can process the data more in our team meetings.”
Does our school need dramatic reform and change?“The average scaled score for grade 5 was 1345 on the state test. That is 16 scaled score points away from proficient. Let’s see which of our students has the most opportunity to grow and find out what targeted interventions might help.”“We just got back our state standardized test results. We were 16 scaled score points away from proficient, and now we’re only 1. We’re not at passing yet, but we should celebrate that growth!”
The power of data is in the stories it tells.

The power of sharing data is in building a shared understanding of what is happening within a school or district. Especially when schools focus on choosing data tools that are simple to use and sensitive to small changes, communicating the data as it changes helps everyone understand what is working, how well, and why.

If you or your team in interested in learning more about how to get the most out of your data, click here to contact me.

Safety first

-by Timothy Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Schools are working out how to ensure that all students—without exception—have access to quality education in the context of a pandemic that forced most schools to close their buildings, teach kindergarten via Zoom, and hold drive-through graduation ceremonies.  The sheer size of what needed to happen to keep children safe and engaged with school required physical, mental, and emotional labor well beyond what is already expected of educators.

Now that most schools are on summer break, I hope that everyone involved with teaching and learning takes a deep breath, then another, and perhaps three more. This was hard. Truthfully, the only thing harder than what we all just did (and I’d say did rather well, given the scope of change and lack of training to do it) is to contemplate what happens when summer is over. 

Much of the conversation about reopening schools is about how to meet students’ social and emotional needs or whether school should happen online or in person. All important problems to solve. And, all miss the most important point: nothing happens in a school, classroom, or kitchen table until everyone involved believes that they are safe. Here are three strategies that will enhance your ability to keep your community as safe as possible in the fall:

Get informed.

Summer has often been a good time for professional reading. Whether you are a district, school, or classroom leader, now is the time to read guidelines from authoritative sources for keeping students and staff safe.

Here are a few places to start:

Get prepared.

The main strategies for minimizing risk of COVID-19 infection are about screening,

Planning for a healthy and safe school is about screening, scheduling, and sanitizing.
Planning for a healthy and safe school is about screening, scheduling, and sanitizing.

scheduling, and sanitizing

It is likely that your local health department will recommend universal screening prior to entering your campus. Now is the time to think through how that process will work and what resources you will need to make screening effective. If the plan is to take temperatures, you’ll need thermometers, and likely more than you have on hand right now. You’ll need masks, gloves, and questionnaires, and time to train staff to use them properly. If you know that you’re not the best at the small details, recruit the staff that can help and ask them to work out how the lines will work, who will put the cones six feet apart, and where students and staff will go once they’re through the screening stations. Finally, schools must have a place to isolate students, staff, or visitors develop symptoms during the school day that feels safe and respects the dignity of students who may possibly have been infected.

Because COVID loves crowds, most authoritative resources for reopening schools recommend scheduling strategies to reduce the number of people together at one time. One scheduling strategy is to stagger arrival times. Many schools are hesitant to do this because of siblings enrolled in different grades. The solution is to stagger arrival times first by family and then by grade. Use your school information system to print a roster of students, sort them by family, and then assign those students to classrooms. Now that students are already pre-sorted by sibling, you can stagger arrival times by family and reduce the number of children arriving at screening stations at once. 

Other scheduling strategies include having students eat by class instead of in a cafeteria, and scheduling whole-school assemblies to occur via video or over the public address system. Specialist teachers should visit classrooms instead of whole classes in the school visiting specialist teachers. Middle and high school leadership teams should schedule groups of students to move as a class as much as possible, increase the spaces available for students to eat lunch, and work with students to understand the importance of eating in the same space with the same people.

Some ideas, such as ‘every other day’ schedules, are less supported by evidence. This is because COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for more than one day, and because plans that bring different groups of children into the same room actually increase the likelihood that a teacher will be exposed to COVID-19 and then transmit the virus to children. When creating schedules, make sure that your team isn’t increasing risk by introducing more people into the same group.

Sanitizing is also an essential component of every reopening plan from authoritative sources. The first resource listed above, Guidance for cleaning and disinfecting: public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools, and homes. May, 2020. Centers for Disease Control, not only explains what must be cleaned, with what chemicals, and how often to do it, but also explains what is not important to clean. Because supplies are limited, schools should focus on cleaning high-contact hard surfaces, especially indoors. According to the CDC, cleaning sidewalks with disinfectant is unnecessary and likely takes away from time, effort, and resources that are better spent making sure doorknobs, desks, and chairs are thoroughly cleaned. Read the document for complete information. It’s helpful.

Another aspect of sanitizing is masks. Surprisingly, none of the resources specifically mention wearing masks. When I looked into it more deeply, I discovered that the reason appears to be low compliance among students. As an educator, this makes little sense to me. We teach students in all grades to walk on the right side of the hallway, to put lunch trays away in the correct space, and to wash their hands after using the bathroom. If we explicitly teach students why they need to wear a mask, how to wear the mask effectively, and reinforce students who wear masks the way they have been taught to wear them, students and staff are far more likely to comply with what  virtually every public health organization around the world recommends as a key strategy for reducing COVID-19 transmission.

Get visible.

Nothing—not one thing—happens in our schools until our staff, students, and families believe and trust that school is a safe place to be.

Nothing—not one thing—happens in our schools until our staff, students, and families believe and trust that school is a safe place to be. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, trust is the result of intentional communication to address everyone’s legitimate need for safety. Once your school or district has a plan, communicate that plan widely. Make it part of your newsletters and start posting signs, schedules, and expectations now. Take videos of your staff learning the new protocols and setting up screening stations. Post links to resources for where to get masks and how to wear them. Our students, families, and staff deserve to know that someone is in charge of this and that the plan for the fall exists ‘in real life,’ not on paper. 

Creating safe learning environments has always been our first job as educators. View your safety plan as an opportunity to live your values out loud and to build your school’s or your district’s reputation as a competent organization that can do what is necessary to put safety first.


We don’t have time to think about values…we’re just trying to finish the year and reopen school somehow.”

In a breath, educators across the United States completely transformed the way they connect with students and their families. Boundaries between work and home, always blurry for educators, have dissolved completely as we connect with learners online, via text, and curbside house calls. Thinking about our own values and vision right now feels goofy—and perhaps a little selfish—given what our work demands of us if we want to do right by our students

Frankly, I’d be suspicious of anyone who knows what the ‘best’ way to teach, run a school, or do our jobs well right now. As I stand, in this moment, I am both proud of my colleagues and aware that we don’t really know yet what we’re doing. The risk, though, of not pausing to uncover, discover, and recover our values is to continue a drastic re-imaging of schooling without considering the values that form the ethical core of our profession. More acute, though, is that by not examining the values guiding who we are and what we do, we increase the risk of moral injury.

Moral injury is the harm that occurs when a person is forced to act in ways that violate their values. Values are windows through which we see who we aspire to be and mirrors that reflect how well who we currently are matches our aspirations. Generally, values are effective because they tend to be automatic and implicit filters that guide day-to-day decisions without too much pondering. A quick glance through the values window reminds us that we are loving, caring, and expert professionals, and brief look in the values mirror reveals the kind words and time spent honing our craft each day that let us know we’re doing our best, and that our best is pretty good.

As the context of our work shifts, our values might need to shift as well.

However, when the entire context for our work shifts to something we would never want for ourselves or our students, values that used to support our work can feel impossible to live up to. While each person’s resilience, support, and capacity to practice self-care and healing is unique, many educators are struggling line up how replacing math instruction with Kahn Academy, reading instruction with audiobooks, and classroom instruction for online class meetings (where some students own three laptops and an iPad and others borrow their parent’s cell phone to text answers to their teacher) lines up with what the values at the core of their work. 

If you feel like your students deserve better, you are right. And knowing that this is not your fault doesn’t make it easier.

Take a moment and answer this question: “To be a professional that effectively supports children and youth to become successful learners and good human beings, it is important that I am [insert one word answer].”

In January, I would have said my most important answers were:

  • Reflective
  • Kind
  • Competent

Now, as I listen to my daughter communicate her grief over lost friends communicated in elaborate refusals to do the Beethoven book report, I recognize that patience, kindness, and competence won’t cut it.

Right now, I’m coming to understand that to do this work it is essential that I am:

  • Healthy
  • Present
  • Compassionate

It is important that I am healthy, and that means I schedule time to exercise. I must be present so that I focus on the issue in front of me and am available to those who need me. Finally, compassion for myself and for others helps me move beyond judgement and into action.

I am not claiming that these three values are all that are important to me, nor that anyone else needs to share my list. What I am suggesting is we might be able to look through a clearer window and more reflective mirror. Organizing resources to support social, emotional, and academic achievement begins with our values, and we get to choose what we value. Choose values that help—that’s what our values are supposed to do.

Organize around values.

Marie Kondo is a consultant famous for helping people throw things away. Interestingly, on her website, she describes her main goal as “to help more people live a life that sparks joy, and we are committed to offering the simplest, most effective tools and services to get you there.” What Marie Kondo and I have in common is that we believe that organizing resources is essential to achieving goals. And, schools are often cluttered with ‘box’ interventions, resources, and three ring binders that seemed important at one point, but now just take up time and space. 

And, while I appreciate Marie Kondo’s emphasis on sparking joy, in my work, I avoid as much as possible telling schools what to do. Rather, I help schools decide for themselves what is important and then help them organize their exceptionally limited resources to support the social, emotional, and academic achievement of their learners. 

Whether I am helping a school or program develop systems to support positive behavior, become a trauma-informed, or to look at academic data in a new way, the main goal that we are working towards is uncover the values guiding our work, decide if those values reflect who we want to be, and adopt new values when necessary.

A value is a judgement of what is important. Because values are judgements, they reflect deeply rooted beliefs in how we go about our lives. Our values forcefully and implicitly guide our actions and our practice, we must be aware of our values and how they affect what our student learn and how they grow.

In practice, a value is a one word answer to the following question:

“To be a successful learner and a good human being, it is necessary to be [insert one word answer].”

Often, words like respectful, kind, compassionate, inquisitive, patient, committed, and resilient come to mind. When I lead this process with large groups of educators, I encourage the group to make the list as long as they can. What matters most is not the precise list of words that we uncover, but that the group becomes aware of which values are personal and which values are shared. And usually, this is when what I have come to call the “intense fellowship” begins.

Once the group has created the longest possible list of what the individuals in the room have decided is indispensable to their work, we talk for as long as is necessary to adopt no more than five values that we agree to teach, model, and reinforce in our work and throughout our community. Usually, this leads to fruitful disagreements and surprising outcomes. Educators speak their truth for the first time, and colleagues hear each other in new ways. And, as always happens, a core list of indispensable values emerges that not only supports the social, emotional, and academic achievement of our students, but also has a unique superpower of dramatically reducing time, effort, and money spent on unimportant and unhelpful tasks.

Our values are the arrow for organizing resources.

Imagine a school who believed that to be a successful learner and a good human being, it is necessary to be compassionate, respectful, inquisitive, and safe. When a proposal for a new way of teaching reading comes to their leadership team, they ask, “Will this new set of workbooks help our students become compassionate, respectful, inquisitive, and safe learners and human beings?” They look at their current reading data, and examine the workbooks focused on drilling discrete skills. Because they believe that a compassionate, respectful, inquisitive, and safe school designs instruction that is engaging and connected to important content, they will decide that the time, efforts, and money spent on these reading workbooks does not make sense. Instead, they will focus on creating a written curriculum in which all students see themselves represented in their learning. They’ll ensure that students are taught to treat each other as though they were important, and to treat themselves as though they were important. Curiosity and asking questions will be rewarded. And, staff will consider the physical and emotional safety of their students and each other as they design and deliver instruction.

The point of uncovering values is to understand who we are, what we aspire to be, and what must be transformed.

The point of uncovering values is to understand who we are, what we aspire to be, and what must be transformed. Understanding our values helps focus our teams on what matters most and keeps us disciplined in refusing to be distracted by any intervention that comes in a box or the latest noise in media. Most importantly, knowing what we value helps us see the good in each other and in every student that comes into our school or program.

As I write in the middle of a pandemic where millions of children across the United States suddenly are learning at home, I am convinced that our nation understands better now than at any point in my career that the work of helping children learn and grow is complex. In days, schools completely redesigned how they provide instruction and what they do to connect with students because giving up on our children and our youth was simply unacceptable. Education is a values-driven profession, and uncovering these values helps us live them out loud.

Self care and trauma informed practice.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Self-care is now mainstream in popular culture, and is discussed more frequently as being part of our professional repertoire in education. And, as more schools respond to the needs of children who have experienced trauma, the need for all educators to view self care as an essential daily practice is growing. More than once, however, I’ve talked to educators who really don’t want to talk about taking care of themselves. What these educators want to know is how to help kids who’ve experienced trauma heal, learn, grow and achieve. Talking about self-care when our students have been through so much can feel selfish at first. 

Trauma Informed Practice begins when practitioners practice self-care. However, while it’s hard for professionals who always place their students’ needs ahead of their own to think of themselves too, making self-care systematic is essential and this is why: 

Because caring for children who have been victims of trauma is hard work. 

Planning lessons, gathering materials, keeping up with developments in our field, and attending to everything else that makes a classroom run is complicated in the best of conditions. 

And, if you work in a school, the likelihood that you are helping children who have experienced trauma is high. The heartbreaking truth is that our schools serve children who have been the victims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Some students have witnessed violence in their home, while others have no permanent, safe place to call home. Many students rely on us to provide breakfast and lunch every day, with some schools providing take-home dinners and clothing, too. These circumstances have the potential to overwhelm a child’s capacity to cope on their own, and the resulting traumatic stress can affect how children learn.

Frequently, helping children who have experienced trauma starts when a teacher listens to one child, holding both the child’s pain and potential at once, and creates space for the child to feel fed, safe, and cared for. Ideally, teachers and school leaders are on teams that think through these complex issues of practice and are able to put plan in place to support our students and all that they bring with them to school as learners. In all settings, helping children heal is complicated work that requires intense amounts of physical and emotional energy. 

Like the flight attendant reminding me to put on my own mask before grabbing a mask for my children, self-care is about more than taking a break to watch a funny video or having coffee with a friend. At its core, self care is about making sure that there is a ‘self’ available to ‘care.’ Really, self care is about surviving and thriving.

Because the most effective caregivers for victims of trauma are those who see themselves clearly and love themselves unconditionally.

Often, children who have experienced trauma have complicated relationships with the people who have harmed them. Sometimes children believe that they are responsible for their trauma, feeling ashamed or embarrassed that they were helpless to prevent what happened. When children have both 1) good reason to distrust adults; and 2) a false sense of responsibility for their hurt, learning how to see themselves as resilient, beautiful, and loved is often an integral part of healing.

While in a different way, we educators come up against our limits daily—the lessons that didn’t work as planned, the paperwork that keeps coming, and the testing regime that keeps telling us we need to work harder. What our teachers and school leaders deserve to hear is that we are doing an amazing job of helping our children and youth learn and grow. 

Take a moment, and think about something you did today that helped a student learn and grow. Guess what? You were the person that did that thing, and you get to feel good about it. All the rest can take care of itself.

Because unless we know how to care for ourselves, we can’t teach someone else how to do it.

Carol Dweck’s work in growth mindset has resonated with educators throughout the world. Dweck’s research demonstrates how people who see intelligence as something that can increase through hard work tend to be happier and more successful than people who think of intelligence as a fixed quantity that doesn’t really changed over time. Even more powerful is Dweck’s well-researched claim that we can learn to have a growth mindset, even if we don’t already have one.

Self-care is similar to growth mindset. It’s possible to change how we think about ourselves. It’s possible to decide to love and care for ourselves even if that has been hard for us to do in the past. And unless each of us does the hard work necessary to love and care for ourselves, we will never be able to teach someone else how to do it. 

Singer and composer Lizzo recently said “Self-care is more than just going to the spa, getting your nails done or drinking a mimosa “’cause it’s Sunday.” Lizzo describes self care as being about self preservation, and involves each of us knowing ourselves well enough to know how to love ourselves. 

Certainly, children who have experienced trauma have a right to know that that are loved and cared for when they are at school, and they have a deeper right to know that love for themselves and from themselves. And, while we can teach students to care for themselves, we have to know how to care for ourselves first.

Social, emotional, and academic achievement.

-Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Today, my eight year-old daughter is going to select a famous person to research for her class biography project. She’ll do it largely by herself. With no classmates. With the teacher she loves only available via email or online conference call a couple times a week. 

Because of what we must do to keep ourselves and our community safe, my daughter’s second grade classroom suddenly became a much more isolated experience. She’s stopped asking if her friends can come over, and she understands why she can’t go to school right now, but what is clear to me as an educator and as a parent is that my daughter’s social and emotional learning have always been interwoven closely with her academic work.

Social and emotional learning are closely related and generally talked about at the same time. And, while social and emotional learning are closely linked, they are not identical. 

Social learning

Social learning happens when students engage in learning activities that require collaboration and cooperation with others. These opportunities might come from teachable moments when skilled adults help students manage a conflict. Teachers might also foster social learning by designing instruction that purposefully requires students to connect with each other.

Some examples:

  • “Well, we have one jump rope and two kids who want to play with it. What can we do?”
  • “Today we’re learning to refer to key details and examples in a text when making inferences about what the text means. Talk at your table about what meaning you made from this text, what words in the text helped you make that meaning, and how your conversation with your friends at your table might have affected what you know now.”
  • “Yesterday, we proved how triangles whose sides are the same length are congruent. Today, we’re going to work in your groups to create models of triangles that explain how else we might prove triangles are congruent.” 

Emotional learning

Emotional is about knowing what we feel, understanding how feelings affect us, and regulating feelings appropriately. Teachers whose students are working on emotional learning would work on learning activities that evoke hope, stress, anger, happiness, fear, and joy in ways that were developmentally appropriate for their students. And, at least part of the learning would be about how the stress we feel affects how we engage other parts of the learning, and how we can regulate stress with effective coping strategies.

Some examples:

  • “How might what happened to the main character make you feel?”
  • “We’ve never worked on a timed essay question like this before, and it’s common for students to feel stress when writing this way. What do you know about yourself that might make the stress more manageable?”
  • “You look [upset/happy/excited/nervous]. I’m interested to know more, if you’d like to share.”

It is possible to purchase a box of materials full of activities meant to promote social and emotional learning. Many of these boxes have materials developed by teachers and have evidence that they benefit students. However, the box of resources will never be as important as the teacher designing the instruction. Integrating the social and emotional learning outcomes alongside academic outcomes communicates to students that their relationships and how they manage their feelings are as important to their success as their understanding of quadratic equations.

My daughter just finished her outline for her biography book report about Beethoven. Her teacher wants students to record a monologue and make sure the class has a chance to see each other’s work. I checked the mail as she cleaned up her papers, and there was a postcard from her teacher that said:

“I miss your stories, your jokes, your smile, your laughter, your thoughtful questions and your kindness. I am sending you a big hug!”

Shalom Rockwell, Second Grade Teacher, Tucson Unified School District

Social and emotional learning will happen whether we are intentional about it or not.

Because my daughter’s teacher is intentional about helping her learners stay connected and emotionally well, Anjali actually cares about her assignments and is willing to work even without her teacher physically present. This postcard is one of many ways that her teacher has made sure that my daughter understands that she is more than a successful report on Beethoven. To equip children to be successful learners and good humans requires deep and thoughtful integration of social, emotional, and academic learning.