March 12, 2021


Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and
learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.

Communicating with Students

Here we are, one year of living the consequences of a global health crisis. Like most of you with children, my teenager is in remote school in his bedroom. Like most of you we haven’t seen family and friends. Like most of you, I have sent more sympathy cards in these months than I have my entire life. Like most of you, I know good people who have died of COVID or of complications due to the chronic shutdown. In fact, I am going to pause this writing to attend a Zoom funeral (my fourth since March 2020) and will return later. We continue to grapple with COVID and its new variants; who, when, and where we’ll be vaccinated; unemployment (mostly of mothers) and its affects; the devastating data on learning; and the irreparable effects on the social-emotional well-being of our young people; and a host of other challenges. One thing we can do for our families and students is to communicate that we care about them, communicate that we understand them, and communicate that we love them again and again. I am reminded of some communication basics and share them here.

3 Big Ideas

  1. Be positive from the start.
    There are four cognitive processes that all learners use. Learners move from attention to encoding to storage then retrieval. How efficiently and effectively they perform these tasks depends a lot on how they feel about who is teaching them. It’s critical that we signal belonging and connection at the start and throughout the relationship. In The Talent Code, author Daniel Coyle found that 19 words have a tremendous boosting power in learning. His research reflects achievement boosts of 40% to white students and 32% to Black students when providing feedback. “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them,” are 19 words that matter and should be forever etched in your mind.  

  2. Set weekly expectations.
    Catlin Tucker suggests setting a “playlist” every week to help organize students to accomplish learning goals. Playlists pull together a mix of activities designed to build specific skills. Students control the pace of their learning and teachers can customize individual learning paths with the playlist model. Read her article “Playlists: A Path to Personalizing Learning” and see the incredible example. You can make a copy of her Google Doc and edit for your needs  

  3. Hold small groups and conferences.
    Just like you would in your face-to-face class, plan for small groups and conferences. These can help keep students be more engaged and give you the opportunity to communicate you care, concern, and love. The table below is a way to think about small groups and conferences.

      Feedback Reflection Mastery
    Focus Targeted help at any point in a project Student self-reflection toward end of a project Demonstration of high levels of understanding
    Teacher Role Answer Questions Asking Questions Ask and Answer
    Student Role Ask Questions Answering Questions Ask and Answer

    Jeff Bush at the University of Colorado SchoolWide Labs Project has an excellent (really!) piece on how to effectively use breakout rooms. In his article titled “Small Group Discussion During Remote Learning” there is a YouTube video that is a fantastic exemplar of how to use breakout rooms for small groups and conferencing. Take a look and share. In the video you’ll hear teachers model:
    * Asking questions of one another
    *Providing encouragement 
    *Asking for help
    *Giving alternate suggestions
    *Using evidence 
    *Talking aloud as they work


“Communication works for those who work at it”
– John Powell, author


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the
lighting of a fire”
-W. B. Yeats, Irish Poet

1 Question

How do we help fulfill the vision of learning as a process
enhanced by relationships?




About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.










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