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A study of power.

The term “power play/struggle” in education translates to: “teacher has a petty request that the student won’t comply with until she either gets irritated to the point of raising her voice and/or stops an escalation of an event to the point of no return.”

Did you ever get involved in a power play? I sure have, not many, but a few here and there. But since I came into teaching in my forties, and had two sons of my own about the same age as my students when I started, most of the power plays or struggles came with small costs, a lot of reflection, and many apologies on my part. They were handled between me, the student, other teammates and sometimes the parent. Most power struggles are headed off at the pass by prevention measures:

  1. Have a routine. (Get composition book, something to write with or borrow a pencil from me, read the board, read the learning targets: when I am standing in the ‘teacher spot’ time to listen, and then get going!)
  2. State expectations clearly, and rationale why.
    • Example: No food in the classroom. Our building is old and in the heart of a city. There are vermin. I don’t want vermin in my class, or the building.
    • Example: food. Your red Gatorade and Hot Cheetos can potentially stain the carpet, or get micro crumbs in your laptop keyboard. Oh, and it’s killing you.
    • Example: You need a charged laptop every day. Not charged? You can bring your charger to my class. Don’t have it? Sit next to mine and use it.
  3. Know your quirks. Mine? No music while reading. Side conversations. Removing all oxygen from the room with your constant shouting and talking out.
  4. Understand emotional states: Explain that yes, sometimes they will be bored. And that’s okay. And it’s okay to be confused. And to not know everything…and to know things, too.
  5. Know your cool spots. Mine? Allowing music sometimes. Allowing random discussions about what is on their minds. Reading books they recommend to me. Asking permission to share their work. Telling them how much I love them. Apologizing if necessary. Knowing they are somebody’s baby. (My personal teaching motto/creed/mantra.)

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post posted a letter by educator Amy Murray, Teacher to parents: About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid). I could have written it. This afternoon I was having an imaginary conversation with a parent of a student. (Note: anecdotally this is about many students–we all have students who seek attention.) This student is so smart, and…so bored in my class. He blurts out the endings of stories, talks over instructions, and when challenged to offer alternatives or choice, has nothing further to offer. I want to be this student’s, well, if I can’t be his favorite, then at least someone he can respect and do well. I don’t need to be any student’s favorite, I just need them to know I’m there for them, and maybe in ways they don’t recognize yet. That may not happen, and that’s okay. As long as he knows he will find that place, that person, in and out of his own family, circle of friends, etc. I just have 29 other little ‘someone’s baby’ to take care of, too, in that class.

Relationship building is an interesting situation. Conflicts happen. I may not be able to adjust for bias, assumptions, and backward-facing trauma, but I do have a proven record of relationship building, and can’t let others make me doubt this skill or who I am at my core.

So let’s add #6: Self-respect. Let students know respect can’t thrive without self-respect first. Be confident, be yourself, and be better.




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Locus of control…

In my never-ending quest for better questioning techniques, I’ve been packing up some new resources. My VideoScribe video is based on the Harvard Educational Publication guide for QFT.

  1. Teaching As Dynamic “4 Strategies to Ask Better Questions”
  2. Harvard Education Publications on the Questioning Formulation Technique

Encouraging students to talk more, question more, take chances more has proved to be a big challenge this year. I’m not sure why. I think some of our instruction was turned upside-down, so the foundation of being comfortable with one another, questioning, taking risks, etc. wasn’t laid down at the beginning of the year, but it’s never too late to correct course. I’m writing this to remind myself that next year the flow should be Who we are as readers/writers >Asking and generating questions >claim, evidence, reasoning. If students know how to ask solid, open-ended questions that engage them, they’ll have ownership as to the “why” and the “reasons,” therefore will be more engaged. That’s the idea, anyway. 

Here are some slide links I created to help you get started with your own QFT:

QFT ideas

Here are possible Learning Targets and Success Criteria you may want to use or modify for a QFT lesson:

  • In order to think critically about any subject, we must first learn how to question and challenge that subject or topic. This way, we can think about a topic from multiple ideas more deeply.
  • Success: By the end of _______, I will be able to generate up to _____ (number) of questions, and prioritize into the 3 most important open-ended questions about a topic. This task will enable me to demonstrate higher level thinking about this topic. (Refer to DOK chart)


Here are the CCSS and the TPEP rubrics that mandate student questioning:

Common Core addresses questioning:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.
Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

TPEP (many Washington State schools use this teacher evaluation system).

One of the most subjective and potentially damning of the criterion is the ‘student engagement’ piece.