Disengaged. Burnt-out. Stressed. Does this all sound familiar? More and more pupils (and teachers) are becoming increasingly disconnected from education. But what's really causing this?
In this School Behaviour Secrets episode, we interview author & education psychology researcher, Don Berg. We discuss the real reasons why so many people are disconnecting with education, and he reveals some simple strategies you can use right now to help prevent this.
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Show notes / transcription
Don Berg 0:00
So you've got all these different elements from the system, making it hard for those teachers just to operate. So yeah, they have their own problems of burnout and disaffection. And if they were already disengaged, like that doesn't help, but we need to rethink how we're actually putting things together. Recognising that human beings have a certain nature, that engagement and motivation works a certain way. That's how humans are. The research has been done cross culturally and everything else. Everyone has the needs. How do we actually operate to support those needs?
Simon Currigan 0:33
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to a another episode of school behaviour secrets. While other educational podcasts are like the vehicular equivalent of a magnificent shiny sports car. We're more like a go kart made from an old milk crate, metres of duct tape and the wheels we stole off your sister's pram and this thing's got no brakes or steering. So if you don't get out of our way, it's your shins that will pay the price. And on the Kart with me today is my co host Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.
Emma Shackleton 1:42
Hi, Simon. I'm here and ready for today's ride.
Simon Currigan 1:45
Exciting times. I'd like to start the show by asking you a question.
Emma Shackleton 1:50
Simon. This has to end is becoming obsessive. Every week. It's question after question. It's invasive.
Simon Currigan 1:58
I know. I'm sorry. There's just stuff I want to know
Emma Shackleton 2:02
Being asked questions every week like this. It's all just getting a bit much.
Simon Currigan 2:06
So one quick question.
Emma Shackleton 2:08
Oh, go on then.
Simon Currigan 2:09
What's one activity that you don't like doing and why?
Emma Shackleton 2:12
Just one? Well, the first thing that springs to mind is sitting in traffic jams. The reason I don't like sitting in traffic jams as I'm sure most people don't either, I just find it's really boring. And it feels like a waste of valuable time. There's so many more interesting and exciting things that I could be doing with that time. So I guess it's just frustrating really, because it feels really pointless. Anyway, why do you want to know?
Simon Currigan 2:39
This week we're going to share my interview with Don Berg. Don is an expert on why students and teachers are becoming increasingly disconnected from education and what we can do to address that in schools, we look at what factors motivate kids to engage with their learning. And what this means in terms of practical strategies we can start using in the classroom right now.
Emma Shackleton 3:03
Okay, but before I press play on that interview, I just like to ask our listeners one thing. If you've been enjoying the podcast or you find the contents valuable, please could you open up your podcast app and leave us a rating and review. When you do this. It tells the algorithm to share the podcast with more people to show it in their recommendations on their podcast feed, which helps the show to grow and helps more teachers, school leaders and parents. And now here's Simon's conversation with Don Berg.
Simon Currigan 3:37
So today I'm very excited to welcome Don Berg to the show. Don is an author, education psychology researcher, alternative education practitioner, leader and he has over 20 years of experience leading children in self directed educational settings. In his brand new book Schooling for Holistic Equity, Don explores why we're seeing such high levels of student and teacher disengagement, the disconnect between educational goals and results and the faux achievement and shallow learning that prove woefully inadequate in preparing students for both higher education or the workforce. Don, I've got a feeling this is going to be a very, very interesting interview. Welcome to the show.
Don Berg 4:20
Thank you for having me.
Simon Currigan 4:21
So let's start with, you say although schools often focus on the achievement gap, that the engagement gap is just as important. What do you mean by that?
Don Berg 4:30
So I first ran into that idea in 2015. Because Carnegie Foundation, which is a huge funder of research and all kinds of reform and things and especially in the US, I'm not sure if it's international, but they put out a report called Motivation matters. And in that report, the quoted the scholars who were doing the basic research and said, you know, this is more important than the academic achievement gap because it's in a sense a prerequisite to that achievement. And there's better science to say how to solve it. So they said it's more solvable. And that's important too is there's a really clear scientific framework for understanding engagement. There's not a clear scientific understanding of academics and our acdemic achievement. So I think that's part of an important perspective on it is realised, there is some really good solid stuff to say, Okay, here's some steps you can take, here's how to understand why it's happening, and then proceed from there.
Simon Currigan 5:27
So what are we saying, if the kids aren't engaged and motivated by their work, then they aren't applying their talents and their skills and developing in the way we would want, as you know, professionals working in education?
Don Berg 5:40
Exactly. And it's interesting, because the relationship between engagement and achievement is not linear. It's not like you get more engagement you automatically get more academic achievement. That's not the way it works. But it is true that there's probably some threshold beyond which like, if you don't get to that point, you're not going to get the achievement in a case. And but once you exceed that point, then if you've got skillful instruction and good clear management and things like that, then you can get some achievement to happen. It's like a foundation, but you have to build on it with other things.
Simon Currigan 6:12
How do we know for sure that pupil disengagement is a problem in the education system? Right now I speak to a lot of teachers and head teachers, and they sort of complain, or they're worried about the behaviour of individual children or cohorts of children. But that's very anecdotal. How do we know this is a kind of more widespread problem?
Don Berg 6:31
So there's several threads of research. I mean, I mentioned the Motivation Matters report that was actually looking at a variety of sources. The field that I specifically study, self determination theory, has many decades of research as the concept of it got put together in the 80s or so, then they started to gather this information and say, oh, you know, and there's not just from this one perspective, but from everybody who looks at something related to engagement is seeing the same thing. One example, Gallup, they're not really considered scientists, but they're a credible source of information. And they started doing their student version of their studies on engagement in schools. And I've looked at seven years of their data, and it was all declining, they show 70% of teachers in the US are simply disengaged, and they show the similar pattern in the students, it's now less than 50% are engaged. So we have a variety of sources to say, this is what's going on. This is a problem, and we should address it. So everybody's recognising it now.
Simon Currigan 7:27
I had an interesting conversation with a GP in the UK, actually. And he was saying, it's surprising how many teachers are on antidepressants, very high levels. And if we've got teachers who are disengaged with the education system, how on earth the students going to be engaged?
Don Berg 7:47
And there was research, I forget who it was, but I was in conversation with them. And they were saying, we have this research shows the engagement is contagious. And I had seen a study fascinating one from the France, they had a volunteer instructor teach kids blind basketball, how do you do that? You know, but the experimental condition was that they told the kids either they just said this is a volunteer, or this is a paid person. And they not only showed that the kids responded better to the volunteer, but that when the kids were then told to teach other kids blind basketball, their students then responded better to the volunteer teacher, so that the motivational consequences went two generations, it's clear, motivation and engagement are contagious. And when 70% of your teaching workforce is disengaged, surprise, surprise, that's going to be passed on. Again.
Simon Currigan 8:42
I love that study. Because I think maybe what it's revealing, or part of what it's revealing is when we feel that we as a child, if someone's at the front of the classroom, the adult is there for intrinsic reasons. They love their subjects, they love to engage with the kids, they feel like they're making a difference in the world, then that's completely different from being told there's someone stood at the front of the room, you're a unit of work, they're being paid, it changes the environment and the culture in the classroom.
Don Berg 9:09
Simon Currigan 9:09
So what does engagement look like, I know that sounds like a dumb question, but you can be engaged in different ways, you can be engaged becasue you have an intrinsic joy, what do we mean by that?
Don Berg 9:23
Because that's actually a developing process. For decades, there was this model of a three part thing, you know, behavioural engagement, emotional engagement, and cognitive engagement. 10 years ago, there was an additional element added called a agentic engagement. So the behavioural engagement, that's the obvious stuff, you see it, I can observe whether you're engaged or not. That's just behavioural engagement. So emotional engagement means that when you're in that activity, you're feeling neutral to positive emotions, you're having a sense of it, that's good. And so the negative of that is having negative emotions and that's not good and you're emotionally disengaged, then the cognitive engagement means that you're using more sophisticated strategies to learn from that activity, and whatever it is you're doing. So the cognitive engagement is how you're applying yourself. Agentic engagement is the one where it's actually a social process. It's how you put yourself, your opinions, your ideas, who you are into the situation in order to get more out of it. So part of the way in agentic engagement works is that if you put something out and you get something back, so it's a social process, and that's the newest one, I mean, 10 years in the literature, but you know, the mainstream of education doesn't even use the word. For us in the psychology world, you kind of have need support in the environment, then you have some level of need satisfaction that follows from that, then you have a motivational result. And then that generates your engagement. And then engagement is what produces the quality of learning that we're actually looking for. And it's all self reinforcing. So and contagious, you know, the teacher and the student are interacting and saying, If I'm putting myself into this, then I get some investment back. I mean, that's the way it's ideally. Now, of course, in a class, if I'm the teacher, and I'm looking at all these kids, there's these two over there who are super excited, but then there's six over here who are just like, You're bothering me go away. You know, it doesn't quite work out. So as teachers, not the only one who's determining how this environment is going to work. But that's the brilliance of a brilliant teacher is like, Okay, can I get something where even if the ones who are gonna disengage, and I can't help that, at least aren't bugging anybody else, you know, they respect the fact that there's something going on, and they'll just tune out without actually being disruptive. I was reading Rafe Esquith. He's a best selling author, teacher who taught third or fourth grade in Los Angeles. But he talked about like, let's be real here. He's recognised as a brilliant teacher, he does not reach every student. But he is so respected by his students that the ones who are tuned out and not really learning are just not bugging anybody else. So that's an important part to understand, too.
Simon Currigan 12:14
I think there's a bit of a myth, certainly in the UK at the moment that there is one simple solution to behaviour and engagement and motivation. And I think what you've highlighted there is different children have different needs and different interests, different strokes for different folks, to some extent, and an experienced, good teacher in inverted commas there can adapt and work with the children they have, rather than just blaming the kids and saying, Well, I've got this sort of one approach, and everyone needs to fit into this box.
Don Berg 12:43
Simon Currigan 12:44
It's that individualised approach, isn't it? Before we get on to increasing engagement. What does the data say about why are we seeing greater disengagement? We've talked about it sort of tailing off, and the data is there. So why is there more disengagement, this divide between students and their teachers and their learning? And their teachers on their learning? Interestingly enough, what's happening? What are the key factors that we think are driving that right now?
Don Berg 13:06
It's not, I would say, an individual level phenomenon, what you're seeing is that there are vulnerabilities that are simply being exposed that were already there. When I look at it, my sensibility is what are the system factors that are kind of tying the teachers one hand behind their back, you know, and for instance, age grading, putting kids the same age together. Now, that seemed like a good idea 100 years ago, and in the US, it seemed like a good idea. Because we had this population explosion, we had crazy numbers of kids showing up in these urban cities, and they had to do something with them. So they age batch them. Well, how does that have anything to do with education? When you really think about what education is, that's just not relevant. Even as a management strategy, it's questionable, but I could see why they went that direction. But now today, we need to rethink that. How does the child really learn something more skilled? When by definition, the people surrounding them, the majority in the room are not skilled? Like that doesn't make sense. So we're looking at structural factors like that. That's why Jean Twenge's research shows a steady decline because there's simply some ways that our teachers hands were tied by in their back, just from the way things were organised for other reasons, besides actual education. And then you have now things like COVID showing up and, and blasting that system into a whole new realm. Like it just oh, we have to do everything virtually. Well,we don't even know what that means, in many ways, because that just wasn't that's recent development. So many teachers were just catching up. They basically just transfer what they're trying to do into the format of a computer. And if what they were doing wasn't that great or effective to begin with, because their hand was tied on the back, not their own fault. I'm not saying they lack skills. I'm saying they had their hand tied behind their back in the first place. And then you throw this other wrench in the works. And it's like, okay, now you stab him in the back, too. So you've got all these different elements from the system, making it hard for those teachers just to operate. So yeah, they have their own problems of burnout and disaffection. And if they were already disengaged, like, that doesn't help, but we need to rethink how we're actually putting things together, recognising that human beings have a certain nature, the engagement and motivation works a certain way. That's how humans are, the research has been done across culturally and everything else. Everyone has the needs. How do we actually operate to support those needs? Well, it's not going to look like age graded, it probably doesn't look like letter grades. The other form of grades like is that really a useful form of feedback, and educationally relevant form of feedback, and not so much simplifying down to a letter is helpful for the system to try and sort people and do a variety of tasks that have nothing to do with the way the student and the teacher are interacting, which is where the education is really happening. So yeah, there's a number of things that one, were already in place, and then they just get exacerbated by an event like COVID.
Simon Currigan 16:14
So those are the structural problems that are propelling this disengagement. If we're looking at engagement in schools at a holistic level across the whole school, then what do we as teachers and school leaders need to actually put in place and think about in terms of our policies and our practice to actually make that happen and increase that engagement?
Don Berg 16:32
So this is something that I think there has been a serious gap in what was being done and what's kind of available to be done. And so I'm actually working on a project right now to create what I call Instant Climate. So climate is probably something you're familiar with classroom climate, school climate. In the US, there's been even federal recognition of that as something valuable to do like, oh, let's look at climate, let's include it in an accountability measures and things like that. But as I've been looking around, and I've looked at youth truth and Panorama, and a few other climate instruments that are big, I mean, one climate isn't universal in any way here as a measure. But when it's used, it's usually used collect data annually, maybe twice a year if you're enlightened, and then see what happens. Well, from a teacher's perspective, from a classroom perspective, collecting the data once a year is not very helpful. So what I'm working on, which I call instant climate is something to be able to collect that data. And in theory weekly, you probably that's too much, but maybe every two weeks, maybe every month, where you can say, hey, I did something, and I got the feedback that I need to work on this or this. And then you take action and then collect data a few weeks or a month later and see what happened. So it's actually a tool that's meant to be useful in the classroom, rather than it's more formative and summative, if those summative measures are in place, if your school is already collecting those annual things, that's great, you shouldn't replace it. But you should keep doing that. And that will be the evidence that shows that what you were doing at a smaller scale in the classroom was actually working.
Simon Currigan 18:06
So is this like a dashboard with lights on it that lets you kind of know in real time what's happening in terms of your classroom climate.
Don Berg 18:09
That's the idea. It's based on a system called clickers where the kids are able to answer they actually just answered with QR codes. And then the teachers themselves can process the data. So that's another thing, is that a lot of these other ones are big, fancy things. The reason you only do it once or twice a year is because there's so much effort involved in processing that data. This is something that the teacher can collect the data. It's not instantly available, like in the real time moment. But they can process that data in an hour that evening and have a good idea of what they should be doing the next day. And then other thing is that the traditional measures are vague and not very helpful. I had a principal pull up her panorama app at the ASCD conference in Chicago. And I Oh, nice, you know, you've got graphs. Oh, that one looks like it's going down. What are you gonna do about that? And she's like, ugh?
Simon Currigan 19:03
That is the thing with data, knowing something is less powerful than knowing what to do as a consequence of that data.
Don Berg 19:09
Simon Currigan 19:09
I want to just unpack something you were saying there. So we've got the idea that we're going to classroom climate, and this is not something ephemeral, this system that that kind of be measured. And we can use this formative assessment, you started to use terms like autonomy and competence there. So specifically, what are the factors, the things that we can do and encourage as the teacher in the room to improve that climate? What did you mean by those terms? What should we be looking at sort of specifically?
Don Berg 19:37
So autonomy, competence and relatedness are primary human needs. So that means that like air, water, food shelter, which you die from, if you don't get met, and sleep, which doesn't kill you, but is still a need. Those are those kinds of needs. That's our primary universal human needs. So what that means Is that, like I said, the model needs motivation, engagement, learning, those are some very specific things there are measurable and autonomy, for instance, is the sense that you are in control of the activities you do. It doesn't mean you necessarily chose them. It means that whoever chose them, you trust that person. And turns out most people trust themselves more than they trust anybody else.
Simon Currigan 20:23
So would this be the idea that the more choice you have over how a task is completed, the more committed and engaged you feel with the task? Is that the kind of...?
Don Berg 20:32
Sort of, so you have to be careful about that statement. Because yes, it's kind of true, as long as you're matching the skill level of the person with the what they're expected to do. It doesn't do any good for a five year old to say, I'm gonna build a rocket. Yeah, right? It there may be a brilliant five year old out there who is ready to do rockets, but it's like, you really have to be careful about what you give them choices over. So you have to have a sense of choice that's are appropriate to the level of skill and understanding that are present in that child. So yes, when they have choices, as long as the range of choices is all appropriate. Great, but that's a tricky question. So choice is important, because you have to have some sense of what you're doing, you know, if the kids are told by a trusted teacher, here's what you're going to do, they'll do it, even if they didn't have a choice.
Simon Currigan 21:28
Don Berg 21:28
a teacher they did not trust, even a choice given by an untrusted teacher may not be as good as it could be, you really need to have that trust in place, which gets to the relatedness need. It is fundamental, and it's about being recognised for who you are. And in the situation, you're in being accepted by that group for who you are. This is where trust comes from, I see you, I recognise you, and I in some way, honour who you are. And choice giving may be a great way to really help that along.
Simon Currigan 22:02
So is that sort of the idea of emotional safety, feeling safe in the classroom, to make mistakes and suggest things which may or may not be right, knowing that other people can disagree with you, but not in the sense that you're a bad person, I just have different ideas to you that kind of culture.
Don Berg 22:17
Exactly, exactly. psychological safety is the broader term. And yeah, and it's going to come from not just the relatedness, but the supports of autonomy, competence, and relatedness all together. That's what generates the psychological safety that we look for in high performing teams inside and outside of schools. So that's where this particular framework is really valuable, because it really articulate very specific things that are going to generate that safety, regardless of what type of team you're on, then you have the competence need, which is the sense that you're effective at achieving your own goals within whatever situation it is. So your self efficacy, your locus of control is internal, that variety of things. It's the perception that I'm as competent as I can be right now. And I may be building on my competence as I go. Particularly if it's objectively true that you're not very competent, but you still have to have a perception, you're at the level you're at, and you're building on that. And so that's where you can be overwhelmed by, you know, the five year old being given solid rocket motors, it's like, I don't know what to do with this, well, that's not going to be a helpful situation, because they don't feel competent to use those materials that they've been given. Whereas the stomp rocket, that'll work, right,
Simon Currigan 23:26
So we sometimes work with teachers, and the kids are engaging in task avoidance, and you can see their self esteem issues. And you can see, they don't want to get something wrong. So they're kind of rejecting the task before it rejects them, in a sense, would competency in this terms, when you talk about perceived competency, what we often say to the teachers is you need to start by differentiating the work or what the child believes they can do, you may have done amazing assessments. And you may know their exact level of academic performance, and you just want to move them along a little bit. But if they don't believe they can do that task or have a crack at that task, then what you're going to see is task avoidance is that the kind of where we're talking about in terms of perceived competence?
Don Berg 24:04
Yeah, so particularly around task avoidance, is what you're seeing is more than just a problem of competence. If they're avoiding the task, what you're probably seeing is the other needs being thwarted as well, is they're not feeling like they're safe in this environment, either through relational challenges, or simply, this isn't really my thing. I don't identify with this activity, it is really the inter locking of all three needs that really generates that negative in that environment. Do you have to look at more than just competence. Now, it may be that you can use competence as the leverage to build trust and build, you know, the autonomy that they need to become more comfortable. So that's helpful, but making sure you have all three lenses on this challenge is really important because if you only see it as a competence challenge, you're probably going to miss some of the important parts that are really important to that child.
Simon Currigan 24:56
Okay, so we get these three elements working together in a positive See if way in a constructive way that increases engagement. What are the benefits when we get this right for the students and the teachers?
Don Berg 25:06
To use a classically overused term, synergistic. So that's where it really does start to be that positive spiral of, okay, if we've got the trust, and we figured out what their edges of competence are, and they're feeling autonomous about it, then they start to accelerate up a spiral. And that's going to go both ways, then that's where it's really interesting to look at large whole classrooms that work really effectively. Like Rafe Esquith, as an example is he was having third and fourth grade, Inner City, Los Angeles kids, studying Shakespeare, putting on Shakespeare's plays, reading complex literature, performing music. When you look at that, and you think, oh, you know, this is great. This is you know, a fabulous teacher, and then every other teacher is going. Grrr! And it's true of not only Rafe Esquith who did get pushed out eventually, but 1984 the movie about Jaime Escalante, I wish I could remember the name. But you know, he was a real life person in Los Angeles, he taught inner city, mostly Hispanic kids to learn algebra and complex all the way through calculus and start taking AP exams, to the point where the AP folks accused them of cheating. And then they re-did the test and proved that in fact, they hadn't cheated. Right after the movie came out. Jaime Escalante was pushed out of the district, eventually, the programme that he put together fell apart. And so they're back to their baseline. So it's really interesting, when you see these really high performing, teachers almost always get pushed out if they get that kind of spotlight on them. Anyway, once the movie comes out about your teaching, forget it, you just leave.
Simon Currigan 26:53
It's over. Yeah, on the positive side, I think what you're saying there actually is when we as the adults, get the right elements in place, even kids that other people have given up on can perform and exceed expectations. And that can be really powerful for the teacher, because sometimes you feel like it's all out of your control, and there's nothing you can do. And then you start to blame the kids. And you think, you know, there's nothing I can do. And that's really stressful for the teacher. But actually, what the research shows is get these elements lined up in the right way. And there are things the adults can do to increase engagement in school.
Don Berg 27:28
Absolutely. And then that's why I want to create the instant climate instrument is because it's going to be a data source that's completely under the teachers control, that it's not even going to be valid to take it outside of that in some ways. But it's something where you can say, Okay, here's a set of data that says, here's where I'm at, and here's where I need to go. The great thing about it is it's based on a self determination theory, which has very specific advice about how to support autonomy. It shows you some typical classroom practices that deteriorate motivation and engagement, you know, punishment, like a fair punishment versus unfair punishments. Both are negative in terms of the impact they're going to have. But fair punishments are a lot less negative than unfair punishments. So realistically, sometimes punishment is going to be necessary as just as a management tool, but make darn sure you're doing it fairly, because then you can least minimise the damage that was follows from having to use it.
Simon Currigan 28:28
I mean, we find in our work, it's the coaching conversations you have around what happens that changes behaviour, rather than the consequences itself missing a lunchtime or something, it's not logically related to the thing the child has done, it hasn't moved on their understanding their social skills or whatever it happened to be in any meaningful way.
Don Berg 28:46
Exactly. Yeah. I mean, when you look at behaviour challenges, oftentimes, there's a social skill component at work, not in every instance. But a lot of times, it's just Oh, either the social skill slipped like they had it, you know, they've demonstrated before, but something was going on, and it slipped down to this other level, and you just have to have that conversation. What can we do to better keep that in place? Or it's just that lack. And you need that conversation to like, oh, okay, let's, how do we build on what you do know, to get to that place where we can prevent this from happening again. So really does rely on those conversations, interaction, and relationship. So yeah,
Simon Currigan 29:29
Don, if you're a teacher, a school leader, listening to this podcast, what's the first step you can take today to start improving student engagement in your classroom or your school?
Don Berg 29:38
So I would say start with relationship that's the one that is the most amenable to sort of immediate actionable things. Plus, you have a sense of who's who in your room in your school, they will recognise all the leaders and say, Okay, what can I build on as a strength and if you see, okay, I have a weak relationship with this person, this student or teacher Okay. Where can I create an entry point? Where can I just have an interaction that's going to be positive? Anybody can be small. If you're in a negative relationship space, you need to start small and start to probe with gentle ways to find out, okay? Are they open to my improving our relationship? It doesn't have to go both ways, or it's not going to doing good. So then you can really say, okay, what can I do? What small thing can I take? And then on a bigger space, you say, Okay, how can I be more real about the relationships we actually have with each other and recognise, here's where it's not ideal. And here's where we need work. Make that effort and see how it goes. But be really, I think relationship is always the first place to start.
Simon Currigan 30:43
And how can we find out more about your new book Schooling for Holistic Equity and your other resources? Because I know you've got lots of resources on your website.
Don Berg 30:50
So the website is conveniently enough holistic equity.org. And yeah, you can find out I have videos on most of the pages there. I've written several books, of which the newest book is kind of a compilation of several, so puts them together, puts it in a coherent, whole way of thinking about what holistic equity actually is. So yeah, holistic equity.org. It's not actually out yet The Instant Climate but that'll be going up on there. And on my I have a site called attitutor.com, which is the portmanteau of attitude and tutor so ATTITUTOR. But that will be the main place where I'll put that instant climate tool, and that'll be the tool that people can start to play with, probably within the next few weeks.
Simon Currigan 31:35
That sounds amazing That sounds really interesting. I think it's gonna be really powerful in terms of feedback about how you make positive climate in the classroom. Finally, we asked this of our guests, who's the key figure that's influenced you, or what's the key book that you've read, that's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with kids?
Don Berg 31:54
So I think interesting, it's not a famous person at all. But it's, it was a mentor of mine, her name is Mary Gardener. And she was a bus driver for many years and raised six or seven, have her own children. And then when she retired from driving bus, she wasn't done raising kids. So she started what she called her baby school. And then when those kids got old enough, the parents demanded that she started in the preschool. And then I actually met her when she started a school age programme during the summer between the years and the whole premise, it was called kids about town. And the whole idea was get kids out every day on public transit, exploring everything available in the city. So we did libraries, museums, performances, everything you can do in Portland, Oregon, that we could think of. And that would be, you know, appropriate for kids. So we did that. So that ended up leading to me, homeschooling other people's kids for about five years, just basically doing kids about town. But all year round. You mentioned in my intro that I you know, have many years of experience leading children. And that's one of the eras of that was homeschooling other people's kids, and really using the community as the primary learning resource, and then having them make decisions about what should we do, how should we do it? And so that's kind of an unusual element in my background. And then I I ended up studying Summerhill, which is in England as Neil summer Hill not, there's another one. But as Neil Summer Hill was an interesting one, because it's democratic school, which is all about having the kids choose how they're going to live their life. It's a boarding school, and I think kids are there from might be six or seven years old. But they go until they're 16, 17, I think, and, you know, they can choose not to go to classes, which is interesting, and something that almost got them shut down in 1999. But they won the court case on that against Ofsted. You know, that's been my journey since that doing my own thing was to study and find out what are these radically different kinds of schools doing? And how can we actually bridge the gap? If you're just from the main stream, if you all, you know, is teacher in front of students who are forced to be there than when they have a choice? It seems like well, they'll just don't, you know, dropped out, you know, they will do opt out for a little bit. But then they realise like, yeah, I want to learn stuff. So they do. They pursue all kinds of interesting skills and opportunities and projects. And most kids at Summerhill take classes, but the classes they chose, and they learn all the different kinds of skills that we would normally want. Because they want to get better at some particular thing. Or they are scanning a loss across a lot of things. And they've discovered Oh, reading tends to be a thing I have to do in order to succeed in, in life. And to me, the psychology is the place where bridges those two worlds schools, like Summerhill, democratic schools, really emphasise the autonomy more than that mainstream schools do but that doesn't mean that there can't support autonomy within those mainstream but that's the thing. That's really the key to the success is the support for autonomy. How can I better serve for their autonomy, how can I build a relationship with them? That's going to be better. So yeah, Mary Gardner set me off on my journey in a lot of ways, because she did something that was out of the box. She said, Okay, what would kids really need, you know, because they're active, every single day, getting on, they're skilled at writing public transportation, planning trips, you know, the whole thing, just they were better students for it, when they had to return to the classroom.
Simon Currigan 35:23
And you know, Don, listening to that, throughout that sort of potted history of your journey, there's a golden thread there. And I think the golden thread is engagement. Which brings us back to the start of the podcast in a full circle very nicely.
Don Berg 35:35
Simon Currigan 35:36
I really enjoyed that interview, I think there are so many practical takeaways, our listeners can start using with their kids already in the classroom. Thank you for being on the podcast today. It's been brilliant.
Don Berg 35:46
Emma Shackleton 35:47
So what Dan was saying there makes a lot of sense when we don't feel like we've got ownership of a task if we feel out of our depth. If we don't feel connected to the people around us, we're much more likely to give up and become disengaged.
Simon Currigan 36:03
Absolutely. And I'll drop direct links to Dan's work in the episode description.
Emma Shackleton 36:08
And if your students are experiencing disengagement during lesson time, there might be some simple tweaks that you could make to the way you've organised your environment, or the format of your lessons. And that could have a real impact on improving behaviour in your class.
Simon Currigan 36:24
If that sounds interesting to you, we've got a completely free download that goes with this episode called the classroom management score sheet. Inside the score sheets, you'll find a list of 37 factors that all have an impact on classroom behaviour. It's a list of things that you're doing or not doing. Think of it as a roadmap to improve your presence in the classroom and to improve engagement in the classroom. So it's based on 1000s of observations that Emma and I have conducted between us. So you know, it's based on sound classroom practice.
Emma Shackleton 36:56
And of course, if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management, it can really help to make sure that your feedback to them and action points are even more clear and objective. Get your score sheet now by going to beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. Clicking on the free resources option in the menu, you'll find it near the top of the page, the score sheet is completely free. So go and get yours today. And we'll put a direct link in the episode description too.
Simon Currigan 37:26
And finally, if you like what you've heard today, don't forget to open up your podcast app and subscribe to make sure you never miss a future episode. subscribing to the show makes you feel as joyful. As a trout. That's been tickled by a real trout tickling Pro, someone who really knows their stuff, and is at the top of their trout tickling game, who uses the right gloves has spent years developing their technique and it's the right trousers and everything. Close your eyes. And you can feel it right now. Do it with me, trouts really have it made.
Emma Shackleton 38:01
That's really all we've got for today. We hope you have a great week and we look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets. Bye for now.
Simon Currigan 38:11
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)