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Learning is everyone's job!

The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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Eric Jensen: Why the "Rich Classroom" and "Engagement" Mindsets Are So Important
June 20, 2016
by Cathy Gassenheimer
In my post last week about Eric Jensen’s new book, Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change (Solution Tree, 2016), I summarized the first half of the book (Parts 1 & 2), which addresses the relational mindset and the achievement mindset. I began with Jensen's essential question:
“If students of poverty are different, whose job is it to do the adjusting?”
In this second and final post, I want to share my learnings from parts 3 and 4, which he titles the rich classroom climate mindset and the engagement mindset.

Part Three: Why the Rich Classroom Mindset?

Part three of Jensen’s book is organized into five chapters, addressing these major themes: voice and vision, safe classroom norms, and academic optimism. The beginning and ending chapters in this section provide information about the secrets to the rich classroom climate mindset and strategies for how to “lock in” this mindset.
An important, yet simple take-away for me was Jensen’s differentiation of culture and climate, two terms that are often used interchangeably.
Arguing that there is a clear difference between the two, Jensen defined culture as “what we do” (e.g., behaviors and character) and climate as “how we feel." (p. 110) The connection point, according to Jensen, is when culture “invite[s] reflection on how our behaviors affect us, others, and our school.”
Focusing on both culture and climate is critical to the establishment of a rich classroom climate because doing so invites us to “focus on what students need to succeed, and build that environment every day." (p. 113)
As I read this section, I was reminded that, while most of this information will not be new to most of us, Jensen is inviting us to be very intentional about ensuring its use strategically so that students are engaged every day in learning.Read More
Four Mindsets Help Us Teach Poor Students in Rich Ways
June 15, 2016
by Cathy Gassenheimer

“If students of poverty are different, whose job is it to do the adjusting?”
Eric Jensen asks his readers this tough question at the end of his new book, Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for Change (Solution Tree, 2016).
While Jensen holds this question until the very end of the book, his point of view is clear from the very beginning. Jensen suggests all teachers, particularly those who work with large numbers of students living in poverty, must believe they have the ability to successfully teach every student:
“In teaching, you have to believe that every single student (100 percent of your students with no exceptions) can improve a great deal and that you’re willing and able to make it happen. You have to believe that you are the biggest difference maker in each student’s life. You have to believe that no matter what else is going on in that learner’s life, once class starts, you can make the magic happen.
"You have to believe you can connect, inspire, and energize every student. If there’s just one molecule of doubt in your mind, students will sniff it out and lose faith because they know you don’t have faith in them either.” (p. 17)
Jensen’s message it clear: It is up to educators to change the destiny of their high poverty students. He speaks both with authority and from experience. Jensen grew up in an incredibly dysfunctional home. At age two, his mother walked out and he was left to the care of “neglectful caregivers” until his father remarried when he was six.
His new stepmother was “violent, alcoholic, and abusive…[Jensen] never went into the kitchen when she was there because that’s where the knives were (p. ix).” Jensen struggled through school, was arrested twice, and barely graduated from high school. He got his life together in adulthood, became a teacher and is now on a mission.

More about Poor Students, Rich Teaching

While he sets a very high bar for teachers, he accompanies those expectations with a plethora of tools, advice, and research. The book is augmented with a resources page on the publisher’s website.
Acknowledging that teaching is hard work and requires most educators to change their mindset, Jensen reminds us “students can change if teachers change first (p. 179).” And that’s what this book is all about: How and what teachers need to do to successfully reach all of their students.Read More
Want to Effectively Help Others? Curiosity, Commitment and Caring Are the Essential Tools, Says Edgar Schein
May 19, 2016
by Cathy Gassenheimer
With great anticipation, I opened a copy of the latest book by Edgar Schein, the Society of Sloan Fellows Professor of Management Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Schein is the author of Helping and Humble Inquiry, both of which have helped shape the work of the Alabama Best Practices Center.
This new book, titled Humble Consulting: How to Provide Real Help Faster, is hot off the press. As I began to read the preface, it did not take long to hook me. Let’s see if you can be hooked as well!
Schein begins the third paragraph this way:
“In my own experience as a helper, it seemed crucial that the client really be able to tell what is bothering him or her and be able to be open and trusting in doing so. I then discovered that the major inhibiting factor to clients’ being open and trusting is the cultural force in the United States toward telling as being the heroic model...."
Schein says the cultural premium placed on "telling" led to helping and consulting models in the U.S. that were structured around diagnosing problems and giving recommendations. He continues:
"In my own consulting efforts, I found that telling did not work, and furthermore, that the clients who called me in for consultation often had previously experienced the ... approach with other consultants and did not find the diagnose and then recommend approach terribly helpful.” (pp. 3-4)
When we ask for help – or, even more challenging, when being told we need help –we feel a loss of independence. As Schein observes in his earlier book, Helping:
“It nevers ceases to amaze me when I observe someone stumbling or falling down on the street how the first thing out of his or her moth is invariably ‘I’m OK.’ Even when we are clearly hurt we are reluctant to accept the suddenly impose state of dependency." (p. 32)
Accordingly, to successfully help someone, Schein suggests, the helper needs to focus on strengthening the status of the client (or person being coached) – to resist giving quick answers and spend lots of time listening and understanding what the client wants. This begins a process he calls humble inquiry.

In his new book, Schein broadens his concept of humble inquiry to humble consulting, which begins with the consultant or coach first exploring “what is really on the client’s mind” and honoring the client's own curiosity.Read More
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