Full PreFrontal

Ep. 104: Kim Bearden – The Teacher Artisan

March 23, 2020 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 104
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 104: Kim Bearden – The Teacher Artisan
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 104: Kim Bearden – The Teacher Artisan
Mar 23, 2020 Season 1 Episode 104
Sucheta Kamath

There is a widespread acknowledgement that experts are made and not born and those who investigate how experts become experts that have studied the fields like surgery, computer programming, chess, ballet, music, or even firefighting agree that excellent training, deliberate practice, and exposure to masterful mentors are some key ingredients that seem to matter. So those who teach could benefit from the evidence that in order to put forth the best teaching teachers need to witness and interact with the best practitioners. That way, we might be able to rethink the concepts of the best students or the best classrooms by focusing on creating the best teacher experts.

On this episode, co-founder, executive director, and language arts teacher, Kim Bearden from the Ron Clark Academy, will share ideas on inspired teaching and awesome student engagement. She will discuss teaching methods that bring the students’ desire to learn into focus and inspire them to work hard on their challenges.

About Kim Bearden
Kim Bearden is the cofounder, executive director, and language arts teacher at the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school and educator-training facility in Atlanta. Over 62,000 educators from around the world have visited Kim’s classroom and have attended her workshops to learn better ways to promote success in their own schools.

In 2016, Kim was honored at the White House by President Obama for being inducted into to the National Teachers Hall of Fame. She was selected from 70,000 nominations as the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Humanities Teacher, and the Milken Family Foundation selected her for the Award for Excellence in Education. She is the winner of the InfluencHer Award, the UGA Outstanding Educator Award, and the Turknett Character Award for Servant Leadership. Mercedes-Benz recognized her in their Greatness Lives Here campaign, and Women Works Media Group has named her one of Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women. Over the past thirty-three years, she has been a teacher, instructional lead teacher, curriculum director, school-board member, staff-development trainer, and middle-school principal. Kim is a bestselling author of two books. Her newest book is Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done.


Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Show Notes Transcript

There is a widespread acknowledgement that experts are made and not born and those who investigate how experts become experts that have studied the fields like surgery, computer programming, chess, ballet, music, or even firefighting agree that excellent training, deliberate practice, and exposure to masterful mentors are some key ingredients that seem to matter. So those who teach could benefit from the evidence that in order to put forth the best teaching teachers need to witness and interact with the best practitioners. That way, we might be able to rethink the concepts of the best students or the best classrooms by focusing on creating the best teacher experts.

On this episode, co-founder, executive director, and language arts teacher, Kim Bearden from the Ron Clark Academy, will share ideas on inspired teaching and awesome student engagement. She will discuss teaching methods that bring the students’ desire to learn into focus and inspire them to work hard on their challenges.

About Kim Bearden
Kim Bearden is the cofounder, executive director, and language arts teacher at the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy, an innovative middle school and educator-training facility in Atlanta. Over 62,000 educators from around the world have visited Kim’s classroom and have attended her workshops to learn better ways to promote success in their own schools.

In 2016, Kim was honored at the White House by President Obama for being inducted into to the National Teachers Hall of Fame. She was selected from 70,000 nominations as the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Humanities Teacher, and the Milken Family Foundation selected her for the Award for Excellence in Education. She is the winner of the InfluencHer Award, the UGA Outstanding Educator Award, and the Turknett Character Award for Servant Leadership. Mercedes-Benz recognized her in their Greatness Lives Here campaign, and Women Works Media Group has named her one of Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women. Over the past thirty-three years, she has been a teacher, instructional lead teacher, curriculum director, school-board member, staff-development trainer, and middle-school principal. Kim is a bestselling author of two books. Her newest book is Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done.


Support the show (https://mailchi.mp/7c848462e96f/full-prefrontal-sign-up)

Producer: Alright, welcome back to Full PreFrontal where we are exposing the mysteries of executive function. As always, I’m here with our host Sucheta Kamath.

Good morning, my dear friend. This is going to be a great conversation. I can’t wait for you to kick it off.

Sucheta Kamath: Alright, Todd, I know you are every committed to your field and you’re amazing, and if you want a second career, you might find inspiration in the guest that we’re going to have today, an extremely well-celebrated and remarkable educator, so think about second calling here.

Producer:  Okay, if you insist.

Sucheta:  Well, you always are such a good teacher to me, so yes, I see a lot of traits in you, but as we talk about education, recently, I spoke at the Georgia Association for positive behavior support conference and almost close to 1600 educators had gathered together to talk about discipline problems in schools in Georgia, and the keynote speaker was talking about bringing a passion and handling challenges in children, and some of the stats are horrific. Apparently, we are engaging with children, particularly when they become unmanageable that there are at least 150,000 incidences where students are being punished, are receiving physical punishment from a teacher, so that is just horrific, right? So, managing kids in the classroom is a really challenging and when it doesn’t go well, but most often, it’s rewarding, but how do we convert or change our interactions with students and make all of those interactions rewarding?

And that’s why we have this amazing guest today, her name is Kim Bearden. She’s the co-founder, executive director, and language arts teacher at the highly acclaimed Ron Clark Academy right in our backyard, an innovative middle school and educational training facility here in Atlanta. Over 62,000 educators from all around the world have visited Kim’s classroom and have attended her workshops to learn better ways to promote success in their own schools. Now, over the past 30 years, she has been a teacher, instructional lead teacher, curriculum director, school board member, staff development trainer, and middle school principal, so you can certainly see her flexibility and innovativeness as she has played different roles and served different communities as a leader, and Kim is a best-selling author of two books. Her newest book is Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage, and Get Things Done. One of the most amazing things that our listeners would enjoy knowing about Kim is that in 2016, Kim was honored at the White House by President Obama for being inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, so I will say she’s my third teacher as a friend who I know, so I am famous by association, and she was selected from over 70,000 nominations as the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Humanities Teacher, and the Milken Family Foundation selected her for the award for Excellence in Education.

So, she is also the winner of the InfluencHer Award, the UGA’s Outstanding Educator Award, and the Turknett Character Award for Servant Leadership, so we can go on and on on celebrating her, but I can’t wait to welcome to her to the podcast, so Kim, welcome to Full PreFrontal, can’t wait to talk about executive function, classroom management, and inspiring learners and teachers as well.

Kim Bearden: Well, thank you for having me today.

Sucheta:  And I know you jumped through hoops to get here, so managing daily crisis is not at all unusual to you, but before we jump into the topic of your expertise, I wanted to start off with executive function since that is our main area: how do we manage ourselves as we manage our life’s trajectory and goals, and focus and intentionality? Would you share with us a little bit about your own executive function and how were you as a learner and thinker when you were younger, and what kind of classroom you found most engaging, and what was that particular teacher or group of teachers doing that influenced you the most?

Kim:  Well, as a student, I was one of those kids who loved school. I loved everything from the smell of paper to the sound of a pencil across the page.

Sucheta:  I love that!

Kim:  Yeah, I just was fully immersed. I was very fortunate to have very positive experiences in school, and so that was just something: I love to learn. I was the eager kid sitting in the front row who couldn’t wait to learn the next thing and the next new idea, but when I think about the teachers who stood out to me, there was a combination of things. They somehow would do something creative, something a little bit different, something that made me look at the world in a different way, and also, those teachers that I felt like they didn’t just see me as a student, they saw me as a human being, those teachers who seemed to know a little bit about me who would greet me with a smile, there’s just that warmth in their classroom, that feeling that it was a home away from home, and that’s something I really work hard to replicate in my classroom here, and then those teachers who challenged me. I think it’s really – I know that if you are bored, if you’re not being challenged, school is not a place where – that’s where a lot of issues happen to and for me, I have felt like in my classes, I was always challenged to learn more, to be better, to do more, but done with the support. So, it’s interesting for me how my experiences as a student really molded who I became as a teacher. I was one of the fortunate ones who had a great education growing up, but I’m really trying to provide that to my students because I want them to feel the same way walking into school that I always felt.

Sucheta:  One thing that you and I share is school was a positive experience for me as well, and now that I have been in this business and have been talking to experts, it has also opened my eyes to this. It had so much to do with the teacher who actually tapped into my inner resources or allowed me to tap into my inner resources, and one thing that you mentioned here which is also, I think, making classroom a home away from home and that’s certainly – I think you’re talking about the coziness or the feeling of a community where you belong and not a sterile environment. I grew up in India and our classrooms, believe it or not, did not have a single picture, painting, or a scribble on the walls – the walls were pure whitewash, and a blackboard, and the blackboard, the only person that was allowed to write on the blackboard was the teacher, and all the children sat in rows and columns, and the teacher was in front. The teacher never went – the teacher only went to the backbenchers if they were creating trouble, so. And then I came to America and there is overcorrection that every single ounce of the wall is taken up with something creative but ultimately, then you don’t know what to focus on, so I’ve seen both extremes.

So, let’s dive deeper into the fundamental idea here, so first of all, tell us the story of Ron Academy and what were you and Ron thinking when you decided to cofound the school and what challenges in education were you trying to solve for?

Kim:  Well, Ron Clark and I met in the year 2000, we were both honored as Disney as teachers of the year, an award was primarily given for creativity and innovation in the classroom, and we just hit it off. We got to spend a year together going to different events, different professional development, and so one day, he looked at me, said, “You know what, you and I should start a school together one day.” Teachers say that all the time: “If I had my own school, this is going to be what I would do,” and I said, “Sure, Ron, it sounds great.” I didn’t really know that it would actually become a reality, but he wrote a book called The Essential 55, and Oprah had highlighted it which was really exciting, and so he took the money from that book, put it in a foundation and called me up and said, “I’m serious, I’m going to start a school. Will you come to Harlem?” and I said, “You know what, if you come to Atlanta, I’m in,” because Atlanta was my home. So, he came here, we looked at 50 sites all over Atlanta and we bought 100-year-old dilapidated old warehouse, so it was [inaudible] community and we transformed it into a school. But what makes it unique and distinctive, I guess, is that one of the things both of us had had a history of doing is doing a lot of professional development for educators. Even though I was in the classroom, I’m still in the classroom, I would go to different places, you’d sit in a theater and you tell teacher strategies, ideas, implementation, things that they should do, and some teachers would be able to get it, but some teachers, it didn’t really translate back to their classrooms because we learn by doing, right? And we learn by seeing things.

Sucheta:  Exactly.

Kim:  And so, what we realized is that in the world of education, it’s very ironic but there are some real problems with the way we develop teachers in that teachers go through a professional – they go through their student teaching experience, and then their student teaching experience, they are paired with a teacher, and then that’s their real-world application, but after that, you could work in a building for 30 years and never again watch another teacher teach. You may have one of the best teachers in the country down the hall, but you go into your silo, you close the door and you have your kids looking at you and you never actually watched that other teacher in action, and so we said, what if we could find the best teachers we could find anywhere, we put them in one building, and instead of closing our doors, we opened our doors? What if we allow teachers to come in and sit in our classes, watch us teach learners of all different backgrounds, of all different academics abilities, all different academic skill levels, and watch us teach not because we are perfect but because there’s no such thing as a perfect teacher, but to really see what it could be, and then take our methods and ideas back to their classroom. If you want to be a master surgeon, you operate beside other surgeons your whole career, or a master carpenter, you build beside carpenters, but in education, you never really get to see masters at their craft, and so we thought it was a great idea and it has really taken off. We are the only place in the world that we know that does it to the scale that we do, but now, we’ve actually just surpassed over 70,000 educators from around the world that come to this tiny little warehouse in Southeast Atlanta to sit in our classes and attend our workshops, and take our methods and ideas back to their classrooms, so we’d like to say we are trying to create a revolution education because the teacher from the class – there’s many factors that affect the child’s learning, obviously. There’s so many factors that are pieces of the puzzle, but one of the greatest pieces of that puzzle is that teacher in front of the classroom, and so we can provide that support and that training, and methodology for those teachers then we feel like we are having a huge exponential effect on education.

Sucheta:  That’s incredible, and you know, I really like your attention to this one fact that we learn by doing, and after you complete your professional training, you never do enough where your peers or your supervisor are giving you feedback, and also, like you said, to innovate, you need to kind of really have a good experience in what the problems are, but I feel nowadays, teachers are so busy that they do not get enough time to hang back and think about the problems they are running into because they have to meet deadlines, test often, or meet common core demands or whatever it is, so I like that you have created this atmosphere where this can be delivered and observed by others as they are. I am coming in, I cannot believe it’s taking me so long, but I’m coming in February to see you guys in action, so I can’t wait.

Kim:  I’m excited for that. Yeah, we also really try to heal their souls a little bit when they’re here too because you mentioned a lot of the things, we have a lot of teachers who are emotionally broken and they love children and they want to be everything for their students, but they are just barely treading water, and a lot of them are working multiple jobs outside of the school to be able to pay their bills and they have paperwork and sometimes, they don’t have the leadership support they need. There’s just a lot of things that are really, really difficult for educators at this day and age, and so we really tried to give them that motivation, that inspiration too in addition to giving them tools to try to help make them more effective and feel that sense of confidence in the classrooms.

Sucheta:  I know, I have heard you speak as well as I’ve seen the work. I think you come from a place where you trust that they have the capabilities within them, so they don’t need to go and get more skills, because that’s often seems to be the emphasis, but here, it’s like more effective use of your talents and skills that you have, which is a wonderful way to invite people in.

Kim:  Well, you know, I tell teachers there’s an art and science of teaching, and we know more about the science of teaching than ever before. We know how the brain works, we know how to use data to drive instruction. Now, all those things are incredibly important and I’m grateful for that knowledge, but there’s also an artistry to teaching, and I feel like the artistry is where the passion lies, and those teachers who are artists, they are the ones that have kids who lie in bed at night and go, “I can’t wait to be in her classroom,” or “What’s he going to do tomorrow?” So, it’s taking the best of who you are and exuding that passion in your classroom. How do you do that? How do you make your mark in your classroom in a way? Because if you exude passion, people are drawn to it, and if you’re passionate in your classroom for what you’re teaching, the students will be engaged.

Sucheta:  You talk a lot about dynamic teaching methods or Ron Academy, how you and Ron are known for inspiring people and infused dynamism in teaching, so what does that mean to you and how does that get contextualized in any subject and all subjects? Like, can we maintain this dynamism in all subjects? Because a lot of people are hung up a little bit about that: my content does not permit me to dance or my content does not permit me to sing poetry. It’s fun teaching math, how can I infuse poetry, you know what I mean? So, how do you view this?

Kim:  Well, I’m glad you asked that. So, there’s a lot of videos, many have even gone viral of some of the things in our classrooms and there is a lot of music and there’s a lot of movement. To be clear, I can’t dance for the flip, and so you don’t have to be able to dance, but we do use a lot of songs and dance, and things like that, but that’s not by any means the whole scope of what we do. I think that those things are just very catchy and that people see the joy in our children’s eyes, and so those are the things that people tend to share more, but music is a very powerful tool for learning and for the development of the brain, and for memorization to have content, so that you are able to dig deeper after you have the memorization of those facts. So, there is a lot of music in our classroom, but there’s also a lot of conversation. We teach, when educators come, they watch how sometimes, teachers would throw a question at our students and then take it from the depths of questioning, how they engage in conversation, teaching our students how to talk about the learning, how to stand up, even if you are an introverted child, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have thoughts and ideas to share, and so we help our kids build that confidence to be able to get up, look others in the eye and speak on even what they got right but also why they got something wrong or talk about their learning process. That’s something that people, when they come here is a huge take away. Also, we really work on just – there should never be a lesson where kids are just sitting there for a whole hour and somebody’s just talking at them. It’s how do you engage lots of different methods? But discipline is a piece of that too. I mean, we are very big on discipline, manners, respect, and we balance that with the creativity, the passion, the enthusiasm, the joy, and that’s how you’re able to have really tough learning or are very academically rigorous because it’s safe instruction, so they can learn, but there is the passion, the joy, the enthusiasm, so they want to learn, they are willing to dig in and do the work that needs to be done.

And so, we also teach teachers – yes, you don’t have to jump on the table top – even though Ron and I are known to do that, you don’t have to do that to be passionate in your classroom, but we do teach teachers some of those presentation skills about the movement and the way that you’re just even saying this – everything from your body language to your facial expressions, to the intonation in your voice and inflection, and things like that. We also teach some too because everybody has seen from Ferris Bueller’s Day off when the teacher is at the front of the board and he’s just saying, “Anyone? Anyone?” He’s droning on and on, [inaudible] we teach teachers how to not do that as well because they are more engaging and more dynamic as presenters as well.

Sucheta:  So, Kim, I want to kind of switch attention to one element that you talked about which is as you talk about it, I see your principles in threefold, so first is, I think one of the wonderful things you bring into the students is this opportunity to engage with great passion, where the teacher is passionate, that students will feel the passion, and when you feel the passion, you are inspired to reach out to your inner meaning. Second thing I see is the concept of the discipline, manners, and respect. I want to spend some time talking about that, and the third part, we will talk about this, actually, development of knowledge, but can you talk a little bit about what role does having rules play in helping children grow and am I right that you started off by saying that Ron has written this book, but I guess you have 55 or, I don’t know, more, but strict rules that kids are expected to abide by?

Kim:  So, our kids may tell you, there is 155, but really, the word ‘rules’, I prefer the word ‘expectations’, and protocols – how we treat each other, how we interact with each other, and so it’s things like if you bump somebody in the hall, what do you do? “Oh, after you,” “Oh, excuse me, after you,” so we do teach them some social graces as well. It something that’s important but it’s also things like how do you give a firm handshake? How do you look somebody in the eye and those kinds of things as well? How do you express appreciation, the importance of that, but one of the things that I think that – you don’t have to have 55 rules by any means but one of the things that we are very intentional about sharing teachers is that you have to be very specific about expectations. When I was a beginning teacher, 33 years ago now, I remember I was told to have – I just need three rules: be respectful, be on time, and to be prepared. Well, I learned very quickly that first year, and most teachers struggle – I struggled too – here’s the problem with that though, Sucheta, is that respect looks very different in different people, and so if you tell kids, “Just be respectful,” some kids, that’s where you get the kind of things sometimes in classes, “Well, I am respectful. What? What am I doing? I didn’t do anything wrong. What?” But the teacher is perceiving your tone of voice is disrespectful, your body language is disrespectful, and so there’s a lack of understanding, and sometimes, a child really gets perplexed, like, “What? This is how I talk to people,” and so what we do here is we are very, very specific. The more specific –

Sucheta:  Can you give us some examples of that?

Kim:  Yeah, so we do a lot of role-playing with kids at the beginning of the school year. I said, “If you were sitting up here presenting to me, how would you want me to be sitting?” I mean, how would you want the audience to be sitting, right? And I said, “Pretend you were up here.” I said, “What would you want everybody in the audience to look like?” and so they’re all sitting up straight and they look really enthusiastic. I said, “Exactly, that’s being a respectful participant, right? What if I’m doing this?” I sit in a chair and I’ll slump way down, put my head on my hand, I said, “If you’re giving the presentation of your lifetime and I’m doing this, what would you take from that?” “Well, you look like you’re bored, you look like you’re not interested, like you don’t care about me,” those kinds of things, so you start to help them understand, “So see, that is why in this classroom, when someone is speaking, we sit up, we make eye contact, we look at them,” and so you’re teaching them also social cues and social graces, but you’re also teaching them, there is a why but what the expectation is. So, we talk a lot about what disrespect look like and what does it sound like? If I were to ask you a question and you answered it, how can you answer – which sounds more respectful? Yes or yes, ma’am, in the south sometimes, or yeah? What sounds better? Then they will all agree, well, yes sounds better. Exactly! So, do you see that’s why – so, we kind of break things down in that way, and then they start to understand it. So, the more specific you are, then the more specific results you’re going to get. It makes a big difference.

Sucheta:  I love that.

Kim:  Yeah, and so then, we don’t have those escalation issues. A third of the students we accept to come to the school actually had some kind of history of behavior issues before they came, but if they were to come here, you would have watched our classes, you would think I’m lying to you because those issues go away, one, because we are very nurturing and we love our kids, so that’s the other thing is that discipline, netted out, if there is no respect given by the teacher too, there is no love from the teacher, then that makes it more challenging. My students here, they know that I care about them. I eat lunch with them, I sit and talk to them, I’ve visited the home of every kid in the school, they do home visits, I go to their ball games or sit and talk to them about what they care about, so when I am disappointed or upset with them, they receive it because they know, oh, she wants me to be better. It’s not that she doesn’t like me, it’s that she doesn’t like my behavior, and they are able to distinguish between the two things. So, when we are talking about discipline, your relationship building is huge.

Sucheta:  So lovely, yes, and I think it’s so amazing as I’m hearing you speak, I mean, we often underestimate or dismiss, these are good human practices, isn’t it? It’s something that your parents would teach you, how to be a good citizen of the world, and what I am hearing you say, that you were concretizing it, but you are also translating that to the students, so there is no left for interpretation or inferring, or extrapolating, and then say, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted me to be sitting straight in your class.” There’s no ambiguity about that. No, I expected, did you hear my expectations? And when I expect you, I’m actually elevating you in my eyes because I’m giving you the parameters by which you can hold yourself, correct?

Kim:  Exactly.

Sucheta:  So, tell me, do children understand the distinction between these rules? Because they have grown up with rules but they think that rules does imposing some arbitrary ideas on me, and now, you’re making a little puppet out of me, like that’s when the discipline problems begin. So, this art of controlling them into coming on your side and getting them to see the value, how do you do that?

Kim:  Well, I think the part of it is that a lot of them, when we talk about what were the things that have happened in class or that they’ve experienced where they did feel unsafe or they felt unsettled, or they felt bullied, those kinds of things, when those have happened, how did they feel? We want to create an environment where you feel safe or you can’t wait to come to school every day, where you feel supported, where you feel loved, those kinds of things, and the way that we go about doing that is this is the way we treat each other. We do talk about it, we don’t want anybody to be fake. We even talk about it, I said — here’s the thing: so, a lot of teachers will say, “We’re a family, we’re a family,” but what I’ll tell teachers is, “That’s great, we say that too, but if you’re going to tell them we’re a family, you best be ready to show them what a healthy family looks like,” because unfortunately, not all children have a healthy family. Some do, some do not, and so as I define family with my kids, I say I think that family kind of means that I care about you, I want what’s best for you, and I got your back. Doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everybody in this room, it doesn’t mean that you have to want to spend every single waking minute — you don’t want to go on weekends and be with every single kid in your class but that does mean still, I care about you, I respect you, I want what’s best for you, and those kinds of things, then kids start to understand, yeah, that’s what I would love if everybody in that class felt this way about me or we did that for each other. So, it really just helps them understand that what we’re trying to create is something that works to their benefit, is what they really ultimately want.

Sucheta:  I think that’s such a key point. You’re not looking at the child in isolation; you’re seeing the context, you’re building their context, and you’re giving them a sense of belonging through these meaningful relationships that they are building along the way which is so powerful. I love that.

So, what are some of the teaching methods that you bring to your students so that they can themselves be effective in engaging with focus and willingness in spite of having learning challenges?

Kim:  Well, we do have students here from all different kinds of academic backgrounds. About a third of our students were students that were struggling, a third of our students right there in the middle, and the the third were doing pretty well in their schools before they came here which is pretty typical of most public school classrooms, and so there’s lots of different ways that we engage with our students. One thing is that anytime I’m teaching content, I teach in multiple ways, right? So that there’s all different ways that they receive the information, so for example – oh, gosh – alright, so, I have to teach punctuation to my students, right? Some of the people don’t remember those comma rules because you glazed over when your teacher would just drone on and on, or give you a packet of worksheets for you and install all the commas. So, what I do – I mean, yes, there’s a lot of written work here too, of course, so I figured out I take referee hand signals and I attach them to punctuation marks, and so I’ll put unedited sentences on the board and the students stand up, and then they actually use their bodies to insert the punctuation as they are doing the sentence, and then on another day, they’ll come in and when we are practicing some of the rules – we’ll have explained the rules – I’ve done very traditional teaching, like “This is what it looks like, here’s an example, here’s the rule, here is why we have the rule,” but then I have little noisemakers, like cheap little party favors, like little tambourines and tiny little maracas in things, and each one represents a different punctuation mark, and so we will read the sentence but then they have to play for two seconds whenever they get to that punctuation mark that their instrument represents, and so it almost looks like candle fire.

Sucheta:  I love that.

Kim:  And then, on another day, they may come in and when they are finally practicing and I’ve got watercolors, and so instead of just having a packet where they are writing, they are actually using watercolors to paint the punctuation marks on as they are going through and I’m walking around and I’m helping them, and I’m checking things like that, or on another day, they would come in and I actually had to sing, I said it was “Punctuatiano’s,” it’s this Italian restaurant, and so I had just old cheap plastic tablecloth on the table, not much to it and some Italian music, but I had all these different papers that had sentences that were not punctuated, but they used pasta to punctuate them, like little elbow macaroni for commas and little spaghetti to underline –

Sucheta:  Oh, I love that!

Kim:  So, even though there were days, you come in here and it looks very traditional, see throughout that, there were other things that I did using lots of different modalities and lots of different learning styles, and things like that, so by the end, if they don’t know where those darn, as are, I mean, they know where those commas are — they do great because they’ve practiced it but they want to get it right because doing it is fun. They want to play the right instrument, they want to do the right hand gestures, so I got to know those comma rules, so that I’m not doing it at the wrong time, and things like that, and so it’s getting them excited about being right, about learning the information. That’s just one example, but it just popped in my head because we are about to start in doing all that.

Sucheta:  Yes, could you sign me up please? I have article deletion syndrome. I [inaudible] a and the.

Kim:  And all these things, we are blessed with a very beautiful facility here that I’m in now, but we teach teachers things – I mean, everything I explained to you can be done with little  borrowed cheap – it’s not like you have to go out and buy – teachers spend way too much money out of their own pockets – as we’ve already said, minimal salaries, and so it’s really just lots of different ways to get kids moving and engaged with a contact. It helps, it’s not just for little kids. I mean, this is something that if you were here as an adult and I were teaching you these rules, you’d still enjoy getting up and moving instead of just sitting still and staring at a board all day long, and so there’s lots of these multiple ways that we teach it.

Sucheta:  It’s so funny, so I do group training for elementary, middle school, high school, and college students teaching executive function, and one of the things that I do is the same idea of not so much instruments, but if we are working on kind of something called schema analysis, so if you want to process complex information, you have to impose or see the underlying structure to information, and you understand that structure of information using various templates. So, getting children to be exposed to different types of information or templates kind of creates this extra vision for you. So, I have a box in my office for over 20 years that I have through my travels or experiences, I have gathered, and if you take those items in the box, out of the context, you have no idea what it is because it doesn’t have any identifying marker to it or any – so, for example, I have like these salt-and-pepper shakers that they give on airplanes, but they have a base and they don’t have a hole, you have to remove a cap. If you don’t know what that is, you have no idea what it is, and so we do lots of exercises where kids have to figure out the use and the context based on something that exists arbitrarily, but what I tell when I do my training of other speech language pathologists or educators, I say innovation is how do you apply a fundamental principle of teaching in the most creative way? So, the students are second-guessing not just your method but also content because the engagement comes from like, what? What are you trying to teach me? And you are using this, but they are so used to seeing worksheets, but now, you have to get them away from worksheets. So, when you talk about Italian pasta, it is literally like they have to not start seeing commas everywhere. I used to – it’s outdated but when I did workshops that would be like two-day workshops, I used to carry a phonebook, old Yellow Pages, and I used to distribute to the audience, and I used to say, “Now, we are going to design memory strategies using two pages of phonebook,” so they used to freak out, “No, there’s nothing published,” and I said, “No, you don’t need anything. You can create something because if you understand how to engage people that you are training or helping develop,” so that’s what I’m hearing you, that your inspiring teaching methods have incredible application, but it’s such a sound principle that you are giving them opportunity to generalize in many, many contexts.

So, what are some of the powerful takeaways from your book that will transform teaching and learning for current and future generation that you highly endorse?

Kim:  Well, my book Talk to Me is about the power of effective communication because to me, that’s at the heart of meaningful relationships, whether it be relationships for the teacher and the students or students with one another, or teachers with one another, or communicating with their parents or other stakeholders, and so there are six principles that I teach – I know we don’t have time to do all of them – I would say my first two or probably my favorite, but six principles are consideration, motivation, appreciation, validation, and then the art of conversation, and celebration, but consideration is this mindset. It’s the idea that there’s always more to the story. You’ll never know what somebody else is going through, you’ll never understand completely  what it is fully to walk through someone else’s shoes. So, in the book, I share a lot of stories where I walked into a situation perhaps thinking that this was the reality, to really learn that somebody was experiencing a totally different set of realities or stressors and that was why that person behaved the way they did. So, it’s really helpful if we go through life if we always understand we can never fully know what it is to be somebody else. Now, that doesn’t mean to allow people to bully you, it doesn’t mean you allow people to mistreat you or that you lower expectations, but if you have a consideration mindset, it tempers and the way that you approach conflict where there is conflict, but also in your day-to-day interactions, it really affects the way that your body language, your facial expression, your tone, how you deliver information, and it makes a big difference in the way that you see the world and you don’t get your feelings hurt so much. Sometimes, if somebody says something, sometimes, you can just wear that and carry that with you but if you take it into consideration, there could be a whole lot more to the story. I think it makes you a lot more reflective and maybe not so defensive. And then, that [inaudible] into the second principle which is motivation. In our day-to-day interaction, whether we realize or not, there are motivators behind why we come to the table to meet with somebody. Now, if you’re off with your friends, obviously, your motivation is to bond, to get to know one another better, but in our day-to-day interactions, let’s say you do have to sit down, you’re an educator and you’re sitting down with a parent, you are trying to come up with a solution of sometime, right? Or trying to share information in some way. Sometimes, we come to the table and our motivations are off. For example, let’s say a parent wrote an email to a teacher and the teacher misinterpreted it, teacher felt defensive, so if I go into a conference and I’m feeling defensiveness, anger, frustration, ego, those kinds – insecurity, then that’s going to come out in the words that I choose. It’s to come out of my body language, and then it’s going to make it feel like there is conflict with maybe there doesn’t need to be. So, there are a lot of positive motivators. Positive motivators are things like insight, wisdom, solutions, productivity, kindness, goodness – those are the positive influencers, but there are also negative influencers like power, control, manipulation, ego, insecurity, and if you are going to the table with one of those being your motivators, it’s going to come out and it’s not going to go effectively, and I also talk about the fact that it’s not the words you choose that are as meaningful as the sincerity with which you say them. Sometimes, there are people, they say all the right words, they say everything you want to hear but you don’t trust them as far as you can throw them. Well, that’s because intuitively, you know that they really have the wrong motivation. They are out for themselves and they are trying to gain power or control, or manipulate.

Sucheta:  Yeah, I think the part that you talk about this presentation, what you say, how you say, I think I love that you are not only telling that again to teachers but also, you are making that transparent to students because it has a direct bearing on second chances you get from your teacher, right? Sometimes, let’s say you are having difficulties but if you are approached to your difficulties or tantrum or you are approached to you on challenge’s meltdown, then the meltdown gets bigger attention than your need, and to become a self-advocate, you need to be aware of that, and so I really like that approach. I think you just mentioned this but is this a good thing? Would you consider these factors that you were describing that block the road to self-efficacy or effective classroom efficacy is the culture killers? You talk a little bit about that?

Kim:  Yes, I mean, there are a lot of things that we do that kill the culture in the classroom, whether it’s you’re walking and you are seeking control or power instead of just respect and enjoy, and a lot of times, if you were – I even talk to school leaders about there are things that are pretty standard that are done that teachers will complain about or in any organization: failure to speak in the hallway, failure to say hi, failure to look someone in the eyes and smile, things like that. They are such simple things – failure to give credit where it’s due, failure to show appreciation, failure to really see people in the work that they are doing. All those different kinds of things are really barriers to creating a healthy climate and culture.

Another one of the principles that I talked about in the book is validation and really, that’s that old idea of ‘I see you’. I really recognize all that you are doing and if I don’t know everything you are doing, I sit down to take the time and say, “Tell me about the project, tell me everything that you had to do to make this happen because I am just amazed,” and you could do that with a child, like “You know what, talk me through this essay that you wrote or this piece of work, or whatever you’ve done.” I said, “I’m so impressed. Tell me, talk to me from the very beginning to the end, like what did you have to do to come up with this idea and how did you put all this together? I just want to know because I just have such an appreciation for it and I’m just fascinated. Talk me through it,” and that person really feels seen, and it’s even things too when we talk about behavior and we’re talking about the positive behavior, it’s like recognizing those positive behaviors. “I noticed today that I saw you in the lunchroom walk over and help somebody who needed help, and when you do that, that shows me you’re going to be the kind of person who’s always going to stop and notice people and assist them, and that’s just the beautiful thing about your character.”

Sucheta:  Yeah, it almost sounds to me, it’s like Zendō, it’s like a Zen monastery where everybody is anchored and there is a great sense of equanimity because we recognize the humanity in each of them. That’s such a powerful way to be. Even when you feel stressed, you know somebody’s going to see that stress and separate you from the stress. They are not going to think, “Oh, my God, here comes the ball of anxiety,” and I love the part where you said getting them to explain the process or just to recognize how much hard work went into creating something. Sometimes, we are so caught up in having children produce, we may not have the time to pause and acknowledge other than we are evaluating or giving feedback about the product, but the process is celebrated which is so empowering.

So, with that in mind, tell us a little bit about – which is kind of we are doing this backward, but one quick question I had been thinking about is what do teachers and educators get wrong when it comes to needs of learners? So, I bet you have some people in the audience, when they come to observe you and learn from your workshops, they are thinking, “Kim, you think this is easy. Come to my school, we can’t do this. My principal is this way, my headmaster is this way, my other fellow teachers, nobody will have a buy-in.” What do you say to them? What is stopping them from being open to making a difference from inside out?

Kim:  Well, and a lot of [crosstalk] – right, a lot of times, they really are in some really challenging situations, and I really do delve a lot into it those relationships and that relationship building, and even if they can’t, I’m focusing on what they can do in their own classroom first. I think that’s really, really important, but when you talk about the challenges that we have, honestly, I think that – well, there’s a couple things of that pop in my head first. One is that discipline is an issue. It’s a big problem in a lot of schools, but all of a lot of times, teacher’s frustrated, teacher’s angry at the kids, so that it doesn’t go anywhere and there’s not a lot of movement. So, for example, we do a lot of things with movement and energy in our classroom, getting our kids to move like the punctuation example is just one small example, I’ve had teachers say, “Well, if I did that with the boys in my class, they’d be out of control,” and what I would say to them is, “Respectfully, that’s the exact reason you need to do it, because they need to move. That behavior is that way because they’ve been sitting still and that they are just not designed to sit still in that way.”

Sucheta:  Exactly!

Kim:  [crosstalk] move. We as adults, everybody who is listening to this has had a day where you are sitting in a conference or something like that and you behaved badly, you are making notes or texts, or doing something because you’re like, I cannot just keep sitting here listening to this person drone on and on. We have all done that as adults, but yet we expect kids to be able to do that and it’s even harder for them. So, I think that that’s a big thing.

Another issue though is that there is a huge culture of low expectations. If you have a child who learned differently, it doesn’t mean that you have low expectations for that child. You teach them differently, and high expectations, I like to say they are the outward manifestation of your belief in someone. You see, if I have low expectations, what I’m really saying is, “Well, maybe, I don’t think you can do it either.” So, we have very high expectations – now, you don’t just say, “Here’s the expectation,” get there, you have to provide the support and the structure, and work with that child, and be patient, and that kind of thing, but you still have to set high expectations because that child has to function in the world where the expectations are high and the competition is high, and so there are a lot of beautiful, wonderful, loving, kind teachers who love their students dearly, but they make a misstep sometimes because they’re like, “Oh, but his life is so hard, so I’m just going to do this instead,” but that really isn’t helping that child because that child is going to not learn that work ethic and sometimes, we know that those kids who have to work the hardest, they are the ones who are the most successful. They are the ones you want to hire because of that grit and that determination, that work ethic, because they did have to meet those high expectations.

Sucheta:  So, do you think that the low expectations come from the – culture of low expectation is fueled by socioeconomic background? Is there something to do with that as a lot of research is talking about that things are not made equal for every student?

Kim:  I think that absolutely, that can be one factor. I think that a teacher may feel like well, this child is – and it’s true, a child may not have been exposed to as many things prior to coming into that classroom, but that doesn’t mean that, “Oh, I don’t think you can do it.” I have three sons whom I adopted from Soweto, South Africa. Two of my sons were living in a garage when I met them. My sons, I adopted them, they arrived here at age 12, and my sons could not add, they could not multiply, my son [inaudible] could not read. They speak five languages fluently, by the way, but they were not literate in them, and now, my sons are all seniors in high school and they are all honor students.

Sucheta:  Wow, yeah, that’s remarkable, yeah.

Kim:  Well, they came from poverty but it shows if you’re in the right environment and you teach in multiple ways, then you have the structures and you have the support, that even though they came from that poverty, they can still learn, so I had very high expectations. Oh, it was a lot of hard work to get them to where they are today, but a lot of times, some people might have said, “Well, you know what, bless their hearts, they came from that, so we can’t expect that from that.” I’m like, no, we can. I’m going to expect that of them because I want a better life for them, and so I think that’s where we misstep sometimes, is expectations are important but you, of course, have to provide the support to help it.

Another thing that’s challenging our classrooms is that 77% of teachers are white females. I’m a white female, I know you can’t see me right now but I’m a white female, and there’s so much statistics and data that even if a young boy of color, especially a young boy of color from poverty has at least just one male teacher, just one of color, that he significantly more likely to graduate from high school and to have success, just to have somebody who looks like him who can understand him at a different level, like I love my children like I birthed them, I mean, every single child in this building – and I know I believe in them, I challenge and I care about them, but it’s one of the things too, we’ve got to get more people of color into education and more men in education too. I think it’s only 2% of educators are black males, and all different types of diversity because then that can help us to seek to understand each other better too, and understand the cultural relevant things that we need to know as teachers as well.

Sucheta:  And you know, just a sidebar, in my profession, speech language pathology and audiology, we are slightly above 200,000 people in the nation and we have close to 94% of them are white women, so yeah, we are seeing the same issues because if we are serving children or special needs population, or a lot of these special needs students could be simply having experiences of disadvantages that come from growing up in poverty, their role models are not necessarily somebody that looks like that, and that can be really, really challenged because – and the experiences, they may not have the shared experiences too. So, thank you for adding that little nuance there because I think our practices need to change, the way we hire, the way we prepare teachers, and then the way people see teaching as a profession.

Kim:  Right, absolutely.

Sucheta:  So, as we end, you talked a lot about teachers, and what a way to be. What is your message for parents and how do you prepare parents to be good partners with teachers?

Kim:  So, one thing that parents – I am a parent of four children, sometimes, we are so blinded by our love for our children that we can’t see crazy in ourselves. We see it in other people, and I’ve done it too, every single parent on the earth, the one thing to know is that all kids, every child on this planet, sometimes we’ll tell them the truth and all children make mistakes. I mean, I was a great kid, I had wonderful parents, but I lied to my parents sometimes because I didn’t want to get in trouble and that doesn’t make me a horrible person. So, one thing to understand is that please know that if something doesn’t add up or it doesn’t sound right, not to go on the attack but rather just say, “Hey, my child came over and told me this and I just want to get clarification. Can you fill me in on what happened?” Instead of just jumping to the conclusion that something happened, and accept if the teacher said, “Well, here’s what your child did.” Sometimes, parent will say, “Well, is that really true?” Yeah, the teachers said. So, one thing is really to understand that we are in this together and even your precious perfect baby could have done something wrong. I think that’s really important to understand and that we are in this together, but the other piece too I see happening a lot is that sometimes as parents, especially the parents who are just overtired, we feel like – well, first of all, we wear the emotions of our children, and so on any given [crosstalk] –

Sucheta:  So true.

Kim:  If your child’s happy, you’re happy, if your child’s sad, you’re sad, if your child’s upset, you’re upset, and it’s easier said than done because I’m a parent, I get it, but when your child’s upset, the best thing you can do is not be upset and be calm, or if your child is hurting, try – if you are hurting, then don’t let them see it, go in your room and close the door and then cry in that pillow but when you’re with them, they need your calm, they need you to be level, they need you to be a voice of reason, they need you to be – they need peace, they don’t need the storm to be fueled, then the last thing I would say for parents is that sometimes, parents will be embarrassed if their child made a mistake, right? They are like, “Oh, my gosh, the shame, the family, I can’t go to open house now because you got detention,” and teachers, we don’t think that way, like if a kid did something wrong, that does not mean you’re a bad parent, and so we got to work together as a team. I’ve had kids mess up because I’ve got real kids here and I’ve said things to mothers like, “You know what, I know you raised him better and I know that you did not raise them to tell a fib like that, and so I’m so glad he did it here because we can work together as a team so that he knows it’s not right to do, and this consequence is going to help them understand moving forward, this is not what to do, but please know I think you’re a great mom.” I mean, I think that we have to learn to validate each other and see you are doing a great job for this kid, we are in this together. Kid messed up but life is not over, family is not shamed, it’s not the child’s never going to college because the child got in trouble in seventh grade, so those are the kind of things I think that parents get hysterical about sometimes.

Sucheta:  I love everything you’re saying and I wish this interview never ended. I’m truly so thrilled with the way you have presented this information and I highly encourage our listeners to get both your books, and I know as I hear it through the grapevine that you are working on a third one, so I can’t wait to see that come out but truly, thank you, Kim, for everything you do for our children and the care and affection you put in, and you have such incredible respect for their ability to rise above their learning needs and challenges simply because they are here, they are here to grow into their own selves, and I think the inspirational message that you are saying that everybody has the same access to a beautiful future.

So, we may not have access to Kim but everybody has access to reaching their personal best, so I thank you for being on this podcast and really helping us all learn more how to reach out to our best potential. Thank you.

Kim:  Thank you so much.

Producer:  Alright, well, Sucheta, I have to tell you, I want to go back to school and I want Kim to be my teacher.

Kim:  Yes.

Sucheta:  [crosstalk]

Producer:  Alright, that’s all the time we have for today. If you know someone who might benefit from listening to this conversation, we would be grateful if you would kindly forwarded directly to them, so on behalf of our host, Sucheta Kamath, today’s guest, Kim Bearden, and all of us at Cerebral Matters, thanks for listening today and we look forward to seeing you again right here next week on Full PreFrontal.