Why Teach Different?
There’s one thing that can capture student attention in an age of social media and an educational system focused on data-driven instruction, and that’s unforgettable classroom conversations. Listen to Teach Different co-founders, Steve and Dan Fouts, describe a way of teaching that can recapture the human connection that is being lost in the noise.
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Steve Fouts: 00:05
Hey everybody Steve Fouts here. This is podcast number two titled “Why Teach Different?” I am going to introduce myself, and my twin brother Dan who is also a teacher. I didn’t get a chance to share my teaching experiences on the west side of Chicago in the first podcast. I have about 20 years of experience, on and off, teaching in underserved schools on the west side of Chicago at the middle and high school levels. I have taught social studies and mathematics, but most of my experiences have been with very challenging student populations. That was the spirit behind the conversation technique that we shared in our first podcast. I’ll let my brother introduce himself. We’re twins, so we’re similar in a lot of ways, but we’ve had very different teaching experiences.
Dan Fouts: 1:10
Unlike Steve, all of my teaching experience has been in the suburbs of Chicago in a very well funded school district. I’ve been teaching since 1993, so that puts me in my 27th year of teaching. I teach AP government, a Philosophy elective, American studies, and U.S. history. In a very interesting way, Steve and I have a wide breadth of experience with different environments, different kinds of students, and different kinds of administrations with which we’ve worked. We hope that the message that we share today, and moving forward, is one that applies to essentially anyone in K-12 education.
Steve Fouts: 2:03
What we’d like to lay out in this podcast is a problem that both Dan and I see in education and in society which gave birth to Teach Different, and why we are inspired to make a dent in a real-life problem. Here’s how we think of the problem, a lack of human connection. Think of social media. It’s come about in the last ten, maybe fifteen, years. Students are interacting with one another in all kinds of different ways that weren’t even thought of, or imagined, when we were growing up. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, echo chamber in social media, where you can just talk to people who agree with you. You don’t have to be in the same room with someone and actually look at them and explain yourself.
Dan Fouts: 3:12
You can avoid people who disagree with you and just find like-minded individuals quickly.
Steve Fouts: 3:19
It’s hard to really measure what that’s doing to students, but I’m going to call it a lack of connection, because I think that something is missing when you interact and communicate that way. When students come into classrooms, they’re not only distracted by social media, but they’re not used to sitting in the same room looking at other people and talking. Think about how that’s going to affect your…
Dan Fouts: 3:50
…relationships in real life
Steve Fouts: 3:52
Exactly. And classroom dynamics. That’s what teachers have to deal with right. The other thing I would add is the dynamic within family structures. Students from underserved communities that I’ve worked in go home and they’re not having connections with people. They don’t even have reliable role models at home. When you have students coming to class who aren’t having those experiences, who don’t have people in their life listening to them, it becomes another major obstacle in establishing connection and trust in the classroom.
Dan Fouts: 4:41
As teachers we have an opportunity with those students who look to us as the one figure in their life who can forge that human connection. We have a huge responsibility here.
Steve Fouts: 4:55
Right, many kids don’t even know what they’re missing.
Dan Fouts: 4:59
Steve Fouts: 5:00
Many don’t believe that people want to listen to them. Those are just a few things that I see from the student perspective in this lack of human connection.
Dan Fouts: 5:12
To jump in and build on that, the teacher and school perspectives in the last ten to fifteen years have changed significantly. We’ve learned a lot about instruction, assessment, learning objectives, learning targets, and there’s been a major scientific movement in education…
Steve Fouts: 5:42
Data is king.
Dan Fouts: 5:43
…data is king. We’ve learned a lot about the profession and how to quantify and measure things. A lot of that has been really good and we’re not here at Teach Different saying it hasn’t been good. What I think Steve and I would agree is that a casualty of this movement towards a more scientific measurement has been a lack of human connection. It’s become harder and harder in the classroom to make room for more authentic conversations where kids are connecting on personal levels, as they would in a conversation. It’s not impossible, we’re just saying it’s very difficult. I think it’s not valued as much, because it’s actually hard to get data from that and measure it. You can walk into a classroom and see a really good conversation going and appreciate it, but it’s hard to prove what that is accomplishing when it comes to data and measuring it.
Steve Fouts: 6:56
How do you measure whether a student is being empathetic to another student? How do you measure if a student is engaged and cares about a conversation and might even remember it later for another class?
Dan Fouts: 7:12
These are almost like virtues that you’re trying to measure within their personality traits. They don’t fall under the same kind of rubrics that we’re used to.
Steve Fouts: 7:24
This is why we focus so much on building conversations for the classroom. It’s to help establish that human connection.
Dan Fouts: 7:34
Steve Fouts: 7:35
It’s not just a distraction to have a conversation about something interesting and then go back to what you’re supposed to be doing in class. This is designed to be a hook. If a teacher gets good at getting these conversations going, they’re going to be teaching different. They’re going to be teaching Abraham Lincoln and the students are going to be fascinated and engaged.
Dan Fouts: 8:00
Right. Because, that human connection has been made through the conversation and the power comes from connecting it to your academic content. There’s value in the conversations and there’s value in the connections.
Steve Fouts: 8:16
So, in our next podcast we are going to break down what we call 3-step think alouds. This is a curriculum that we’ve developed and designed to specifically help teachers get conversations going in their classroom. They are aligned to social emotional learning themes, and designed to eventually connect to the content. It’s going to help with human connection, the hook.
Dan Fouts: 8:54
This is the start. If we want to build more human connections, you have to start with conversations. We try to make it a blend between science and art. You have to have both. It has to be a predictable routine. We make it a little scientific, but it’s also very artistic. The way in which you run the conversation is going to be unique to your personality.
Steve Fouts: 9:18
Exactly. I hope you enjoy the podcast and have learned a little bit more about why we Teach Different, and who Dan and I are. Look for podcast number 3 where we’re going to break down the components of these 3-step think alouds.
Make sure you visit our Conversation Library where we have many conversations like this, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim, and an essential question to get you started.
Dan Fouts: 9:47
You might want to do that before you listen to the next podcast.
Steve Fouts: 9:50
Yeah, take a look before you hear the next podcast. We want to thank everybody for joining us. We will see you soon. Thanks everybody.
Dan Fouts: 10:58
Alright, thanks everybody.