If we leave out love in the learning piece, how can we expect kids to have a voluntary relationship with lifelong learning? Steve Farber sits with Glen Warren, the Literacies, Outreach, and Libraries Director at Encinitas Union School District. Glen points out how love is not just a sentiment; it’s a discipline. If we focused on love first, we would have already built-in the beautiful support for emotional learning as part of the ecosystem. Emotional learning engages students, helping them develop rigor, relevance, and relationship in education. If you’re passionate about cultivating a love of lifelong education in our students, tune in!
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
How To Cultivate The Love Of Lifelong Learning With Glen Warren
Glen Warren is my guest if you haven’t figured that out by now. I want to tell you a little bit about Glen and then I’m going to get him to tell you a little bit about himself. Let’s start with a high level. Glenn is an educator. Not only is he an educator, but he’s also a phenomenal educator. He’s a passionate educator who believes that and this might come as a surprise to the readers, love is damn good education. He is at Encinitas Union School District here in the San Diego area. He’s the Director of Literacies, Outreach, and Libraries. In other words, he is the LOL Director.
The name plate that he wears to official functions says Director, LOL, which is appropriate on many levels, as I’m sure you can already tell. He’s renowned in certain aspects of education. He’s been active in the library world. You don’t fit the stereotype of a librarian but that’s okay. He co-wrote the California Model School Library Standards and the California Career Technical Education Standards for Information and Communication Technology. He’s been an Orange County Teacher of the Year. He’s been a semi-finalist for California Teacher of the Year. How come you didn’t win that one?
A little bit of an odd duck.
As it says here on his CV, he is also a little bit of an odd duck. Glen, we have a lot to talk about. Thank you for being here.
It’s an honor to be here. Before we get started, I was going to say, Steve, thank you for the impact you’ve made already in the education world from your work that you’ve been doing in business. It’s a godsend to us and an encouragement to a growing number of education true leaders, extreme leaders.
Thank you for saying that, Glenn. That ties into what I was about to say, which is in the spirit of what we call nowadays full disclosure. I want to talk a little bit about how you and I are originally connected. It was originally through my work, particularly through the book, The Radical Leap, which for the uninitiated among you reading, LEAP stands for Love, Energy, Audacity, and Proof. I wrote this book about love and business and Glen was in education. Tell the story from your perspective.
For quite a while, there are many things we have to do in education and many new programs, many different things that we “have to do.” I was thinking, “What is the true foundation of extreme education?” If you think about it, education and extreme art are redundant statements. Education by its nature is extreme like what you say about leadership. It occurred to me that love was it. Love is the basis. When I was interviewed for Orange County teacher of the Year for the panel, my wife, interestingly enough, was also up for that same award. Now we know the legitimacy of that word because she did not win and I did.
We could see that there’s a bit of credibility issue there in Orange County about how I won, still, people are shaking their heads about that. Anyway, in the interview, one of the things they asked me at the end, they said, “Why should you be considered for this?” I go, “I don’t know.” I can tell you this though. The one thing that matters in education is faith, hope, and love. I said, “The way we love our students is essential to everything we do. If you don’t have that, you just have a program or a system. It’s not going to work the way it should. What we believe about our students, the value they have today, and the hope for their future. If we’re not bringing that to the table every single day, we’re not loving our students.”
The panel was silent. That often happens when I’m saying something. It’s deadpan. I figured since I’ve already got them in a negative state, I’ll add to it. I said, “Every one of us is here because somebody believed in us when no one else would.” More silence. The next statement was, “Thank you for coming in today.” I’m pretty clear on what that means. I walked out and the next person was supposed to come in but they delayed him from coming in. I thought, “I must’ve upset them in some way.” I came to find out later that there were a few of these going on. Tears and a little bit of emotional response because the panel instantly started talking about how somebody cared about them and loved them along their journey.
They wouldn’t be there indeed if that hadn’t happened. Instead of blowing the thing up, I was pleasantly surprised that that took. In the Orange County Department of Education, I said, “We need to advance love, obviously.” I was looking for somebody that I could point to other than me because I’m not that credible. I was looking for someone who has published about this or spoken about it. Interestingly enough, the Orange County Department of Education, at that time, this was over a decade ago, had your book. They did it as an entire book study for the entire Orange County Department of Education. They tried to get you but they didn’t quite work out.
I said, “I need this guy. This guy used the word love. Is he bankrupt?” I was worried about you when I heard that you’d put that word out there because that’s surely the end of a career thing. I found out you’re going strong. I thought, “I’ll call.” I called and I don’t know who I talked to. I said, “If this guy cares about education, he’ll call me.” He said, “He does talk to college folks.” I go, “No. I’m talking about K-12.” I was not exactly the most inspiring when I called. I sounded like an angry New Jersey guy when I called but I was passionate about it. I was shocked when a few days later, the phone rang and it was you. You talk about being quite overwhelmed with that call. You stepped up and you say, “Glen, I am in the San Diego area. Let’s meet.”
We came together and had a great set of representatives at that table. Angela Myers was there. Some people probably know who she is. We had principals from not only Southern California but from around the country. We did a special thing at the Orange County Department of Education. We invited principals to come. There must’ve been somewhere between 70 and 100 principals in that meeting with you that day. It was meaningful. I realized then we’ve got to do something to move this forward. I had to start thinking, love is not just a sentiment. It is a discipline. How do we get there? What is the basic action? I had to come up with, “How do we get there?” I didn’t have the answer at that time. That was over a decade ago. We’re getting closer. We’re real close to being able to get to the proof piece of the leap deal within education.
When you say, “How do we get there?” The there that you’re talking about is operationalizing love in education.
Yes. For me personally, when I say the word there, there are two perspectives on there. One is my perspective on there, which is what you said. The operationalizing love with love, energy, audacity, and proof, and all that stands for. Oftentimes in education, for the more general point of view, how do we get there is what we care most about. In those four letters, what we care most about is the proof. That is a bit counterintuitive because what we want most is that proof. By focusing on proof first, it distorts the whole thing.
When you say proof in education, you’re talking about the metrics, the things you can measure.
The things that are currently measured.
Like test scores.
Primarily test scores and that kind of thing. Things have evolved since we met over a decade ago where we now see social-emotional learning becoming part of it. If you think about it, the addition of social-emotional learning was this add-on that should have been there all along. Why do we need to now add social-emotional learning? We do need to do that. There’s no question about it. The funny thing about it, is it should never have been an add-on. If we had focused on love first, instead of proof first then what would have happened is we would have already built in as part of the ecosystem, a beautiful support for social-emotional learning. That’s what we’re calling it now. The social-emotional learning is proof to me that there was a problem.
Thank God we did something about it as a whole with education and social-emotional learning. I do believe if you can trace the genesis back to education doing this, proof burst, what’s the data? What audacious action are we going to do to address that proof that we see? Let’s get some energy to get going on it and loving it’s optional. That’s how we typically do it in education. It should be the complete reverse. Start with love and go the other direction. You think about energy. We talk about this energy crisis right now with Russia and gas prices going up. That is a perfect analogy for where a lot of educators are aware. Many of us are running out of fuel or out of gas.
Many are looking at their retirement early. Some of them are traumatized. They don’t have any more bandwidth. We hear this all the time. If energy is a problem, you’re never going to bolster up energy by starting with proof and going the wrong direction. You’ve got to find what matters to people, what they love. When that’s actualized then we’re going to see this energy crisis that we have within education begin to get diminished. Once people get back in touch with what matters to them, it changes the equation.
What I found surprising about this when you and I first started talking many years ago was you said to me something like, “If you think love is provocative in business, it’s even more so in education.” You followed it up by saying something like, “If you don’t love kids, what the hell are you doing in education?”
That’s exactly what I said.
The thing that was surprising to me about that is everything. As a lay person, in other words not an educator of our children, that was shocking. I bet this is true for most people who are reading who are not educators, they’ll be surprised as well. It seems fundamentally obvious that teachers should love kids and that we want our kids to be taught by teachers who love teaching and love the kids. It’s also pretty obvious that that is not always the case.
We’ve all encountered bad teachers over the years. If you were to trace it back, those are teachers who either got into education for the wrong reasons because it got summers off, or they got into it for the right reasons but they ran out of energy and they got beat up. Some of them became cynical, or trying to survive and then the COVID era exacerbated. My point is that love is radical in the field of education. A starting point for us in this conversation is to acknowledge that, that there is work to be done around that it’s not a patently obvious, already existing thing.
It’s important to add to what you’re saying with an article that came out in EdSource. If I misquoted that then I’m a bad librarian but I think I got it right. The headline was, “Teaching is a work of love.” In that they crossed out a work of love, that teaching is work. The article made the point that, “No, I don’t need to love my students. I don’t need to love my job and love what I’m doing to do my professional work.” I read through this article and I was taken aback by the fact that this was even published first of all, but I began to understand that the article’s point was that the word have to was used numerous times in the article. Have to is there all the way. This is a danger point for this conversation that needs to be clear. The gift of love and education. I don’t want to call it work. It is work. It’s like, “I’m going to get married. It’s work.” I don’t think that’s generally how it starts but okay.
I’ve been married for many years and I could tell you that that’s true but I’m telling you, I don’t lead with the idea that this is a job. I leave with the idea that I want to be with this person and I love this person. I want to be with him kind of thing. The word have to and then I realized the article was correct. You don’t have to but here’s the thing. Education is not good with things that aren’t in the have to realm. You have to teach the standard. You have to do these things. You have to get this done.
This is not in the have to realm because the moment it goes into the have to realm, it’s corrupt. This is strictly a want to. You need to understand it’s different than any other work you’ve done because this work, if it isn’t from the heart to begin with, if it isn’t from the intrinsic movement, if it isn’t from something as a want to and you turn this into a have to, you’ve now made it a shotgun wedding and that’s not what we want here.
I’m going to go back to your aforementioned title, Literacies, Outreach and Libraries, LOL. There’s something else that LOL stands for.
That’s correct. Love of Learning/Learner. We’ve got all kinds of data out there that says kids are learning. There’s a lot of talk about education has “failed”. I don’t believe that at all. I believe education has been heroic. You can’t have us as heroes at the beginning of the pandemic and enemies in the nettle but that’s what’s happened for a lot of people who I don’t think they’re fully informed about what happens in education, and how much we should continually applaud and be grateful for the calling of being a teacher in this world, especially in this country. When we started with this, the idea that we have kids learning.
You see test scores rising or people going on the state data screen saying, “These kids were below grade level. Now they’re above grade level. Look at all the progress these kids have made, isn’t that wonderful? How did we get there?” They go, “This is what we did.” They try to replicate that exact same thing but then nobody asked the questions of the students that improved. How did you like it? You get a resounding response across the spectrum. Gallup did a poll of nearly 1 million kids that talked about this a few years ago. That data showed us that they may have been learning but they hated it.
Where’s our metric on, “You advanced and got better. Let’s replicate that approach,” but you never asked the question, “Are your teachers and your kids loving it?” When I go into a group of educators and I asked the question, “How many of you ever went to school?” Interestingly enough, all of them raised their hands, which is a dumb question to ask. I said, “I want you to raise your hand if you love school.” I would say always a small minority raise their hand. I said, “Now I’m going to go to teachers. I don’t want to go to the opposite end of the spectrum. How many of you hated school?”
I use that word explicitly. Nearly 50% of everybody I talked to, the hands go up sometimes even more. What happened is they wanted to get into this to help address that issue but they weren’t even clear on what that issue was. The love of learning is this idea that right now, the conversation is, are you a learner? Teachers and kids should be learners. We should be learners together. I agree but if we’re leaving out love in that learning piece, and that’s not even being accounted for or even asked, then how are we expecting to have these kids have a lifelong voluntary relationship with learning? That’s the point. My hope is LOL will turn in the director of the love of learning. Right now, everybody knows that’s the case because I’ve talked about that.
The lifelong implications of that are significant. If I got great grades and test scores and I hated the process, that means I did all of that because I had to. Then when I don’t have to anymore, in other words, I grow up, I’m not in school anymore. I go on. If I don’t have to do that stuff anymore and I always hated it then I won’t. All this talk about how we should all be learners together or the catchphrase in business that you hear a lot is lifelong learning.
Leaders need to be lifelong learners. We get it intellectually but if we don’t have an experience of loving that process ingrained in us from the time we were kids, it’s a lot harder to do. I’m trying to imagine it because I’m in that category. If you asked me how I felt about school, the last time I loved school, I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade.
That’s what the data says. It diminishes horribly right after third grade. You’re nailing it. It bottoms out in high school horribly.
I hated high school.
You’re underscoring the point I’m making. I’m pointing out that you can read, you can write, and you can speak. You’ve even made a living about it. You clearly got what you “had to get”.
It’s shifted back for me in college. I did love learning in college.
Think about why you did because you got to choose the direction you were going.
Let’s build on that a little bit. Say K to 8 or you’re focusing nowadays on K to 6.
That’s where the real action is. People are focusing on high school and middle school. You’re a day late and a dollar short on that deal when it comes to love. If you look at the data, elementary does the best job with getting positive responses from their kids on “loving school.” You get the best response in elementary. It’s not great but it’s better than secondary for sure. People would argue the reason for that is things get harder and this is no longer fun and games. You think elementary teachers were doing fun and games like it was one big party. No. I’ll ask any eighth-grade teacher if they’d like to come down and teach kindergarten for a month. You will get no from most of those people.
Don’t start with that deal. Educators are equal in terms of the professionalism that they bring to the table. The one thing is that with elementary, we’ve got a better shot at it. Let me talk about kindergartners for a moment. Kindergartners, it’s counterintuitive. Where should we be paying attention to excellence in education? I love districts that say, “We’re committed to excellence.” What’s the option? We’re committed to being awful at education? Why do we even bring that up? In kindergarten, we also know from places like the Right Question Institute and from the work that George Land did with NASA and trying to find creativity and rocket scientists. In his study, we know from the longitudinal studies they both have done and from Gallup’s poll that I mentioned earlier, we know that kindergartners come to us, they’re pre-packaged to be learners. Have you ever met a kindergarten?
One of the things they do is they ask a lot of questions. They can completely unravel an adult. An adult says, “I will bring the knowledge to the table,” and the kindergartner obliterates them by the time the conversations end. What happened is that these kids come to us asking a ton of questions and we will quickly run out of the knowledge base to answer their questions. What happens is they are gifted at asking questions. They also come to us gifted in the area of divergent thinking.
Define divergent thinking.
If we ask somebody, “What are all the possibilities you could use for a paperclip?” This is Ken Robinson’s example that I’m quoting. Think of all the uses for a paperclip. An adult like you and me, we might come up with twenty potential uses for that paperclip. What they found with kindergarteners, they came up with nearly 200 purposes for the paper clip because they will say, “Can the paperclip be 200 feet tall and made of foam rubber?” Something that we wouldn’t even think about because they aren’t confined with what the limitations are. They will come up with, “If you have in these conditions, the paperclip could do this.” What we notice is they follow these students through their educational career and the educators provided the same measure they were using for those NASA rocket scientists.
The same measure because it’s a simple measure or test. They gave it to the kindergartners and 98% came back as gifted in divergent thinking. When they measured the same kindergartners with the same thing and third grade, 30% were gifted, same group. When they got to fifth grade, 12%. Amongst the adults and rocket scientists, the number for us is 2%. The reason why that’s so important is though divergent thinking is not the same as creativity, it is an essential capacity that people have to be using in order to engage with creativity. Though we can’t have a direct measure for what creativity is, we can look at that essential part that needs to be present. Generally, 98% or 100% of what goes on in education K through 12 is all convergent thinking.
We aren’t making any room for that divergence. A professor at Harvard talked about this topic. She said in a physical exercise, the difference between the two is divergent thinking is looking up. This was a master’s class at Harvard. She had everybody put their hands up and look up into the air and stretch and look up. She said, “That’s diversion thinking. Lean over and look down on the ground and bend over, try to touch your toes. That’s convergent thinking. Try to do both of those at the same time.”
She was using that to help people understand. We often try to combine these two things at the same time. When you’re letting people dream, you need to let them dream and then you go from there into how you put it all together. Oftentimes we’re saying things where you can’t do that or here’s the obstacle to getting that done. It shuts it down. Same thing with questions when kids ask questions to go, “That’s not on point. That’s not helping us get to where we need to be but then we’re killing kids’ curiosity.”
“Go ask your mother.”
That goes back to my original coined word vocabulary word from earlier.
The solution to this from your perspective is about it’s in the way that we teach.
I’ll put it in form of a question. Is it about giving kids more choice as to what they focus on?
Let’s talk about that. That’s a big conversation, education, where we want to give kids voice and choice. If you asked most educators right now is that important? You would pretty much get a positive answer on giving kids voice and choice. Yes, it does come down to choice but here is what it looks like when we start implementing it. We’re going to tell you what you’re going to learn but we’ll give you a choice of you can do that in a PowerPoint presentation, in a website, or in a movie. That’s an improvement over where we’ve been but in my world or the way I look at that is, “I’m going to give you voice and choice. You can have raw broccoli, fried broccoli, steamed broccoli, and some teriyaki sauce on your broccoli and there’s your voice and choice.”
The problem with that is that I’m so glad I had choices of broccoli. The thing that seems to escape us is that you only gave that kid the choice of broccoli. That’s what typically happens when we’re standard centric because many of us are suffering from post-traumatic standards disorder, where we start with the standard as the first issue of consideration where the first order consideration should be the student and the standard should be the servant of the learning. Sadly too many times the learning is the servant of the standards. It’s backwards.
Given that, to expand on that analogy a little bit, let’s say the child needs broccoli. In other words, they need math.
They most certainly do.
What is the alternative?
We’re not asking going back to convergent and divergent physical exercise I talked about earlier. We’re not suggesting that it’s only looking up or only looking down. I’m certainly not suggesting you need to do both of those at the same time because that would be a circus performer I would imagine. That’s not what I’m asking for. What we’re talking about here is when we talk like this, people are seeing it often as, “Is it this or that?” What we’re talking about is where is the emphasis going? For example, if you’re putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, like standards for students second, we’re not suggesting getting rid of standards. We’re not even suggesting to get rid of students.
We’re simply saying that, where should the emphasis be? We’re suggesting to shift that emphasis should be on the student, not getting rid of the standards, in other words, the broccoli. You’re right. Both have to be in play but all too often, when we bring up this type of thing with teachers and going this direction, they’re so scared that they’re not going to get all the broccoli and all the broccoli that has to be eaten, that there’s zero time for this student centric approach, or they make the student centric approach an add-on to, “We’re going to do this later,” like a special thing where it should be part of the entire ecosystem.
Give us an example of what that would look like in a traditional subject or skill that I need to learn. How do we pull all that together?
We’re talking about now, multiple subject areas. Whatever we come up with, it has to be simplistic enough. We’re living in a complex world. There’s been a lot of books written on this subject. I don’t think as many people that should have read them have read them because they probably didn’t have the time. We need to make things extremely easy to get your head around. I’ll give you that example but I want to frame this first with the idea of how we made love stand for something to help teachers’ heads around it. That is LOVE stands for Learning, Opportunities, Valuing, Everyone. When we talk about some of the equity conversations that have been going on, interestingly enough, what love would have to do with supporting that effort.
To be clear, you can’t get to equity without love or it’s just mechanical. We want it to be sincere. Learning opportunities and valuing everyone. We need to know what kids care about. If we’re going to value everyone, we need to know that. The way we did it is we came up with three evidences that have to be present in order to say you’re on the road. If you got the greatest maker space in the world, if you’ve got the greatest programs for science, and you’ve done great work with multi-tiered systems to support an ESL, all the wonderful things, all the programs that we have. If you don’t have these three things, you’re not on the road.
What are those three things? First of all is the students and teachers. We need to add the teachers, they count too. We can’t leave them out of the equation. Do the teachers and the students in a given classroom ecosystem, are their personal interests, the things that matter to them, their personal identities too, are they visible? Are they heard? Are they experienced? Those three things are important. Are they seen? Are they heard? Are they experienced? Are they valued? Those things are a moving target, especially amongst the upper elementary students and junior high students. Their love for their greatest celebrity can change from one week to the next. By the way, that does matter if that’s what matters to them. The bottom line is that no matter what the interest is, though it can change, is it still visible, and is that respected in the class?
That’s part one. Part two and these are not in order necessarily, are the students formulating questions that are driving instruction in the classroom? In other words, are the students formulating the questions? The Right Question Institute and Santana from that group came up with something called The Question. Dan Brownstein came up with something called a Question Formulation Technique. It’s catching on in schools across the country. They’re realizing that when students are formulating the questions, they own it. They own the learning. What happens is there are any questions and no hands go up because that framing tells us what you didn’t learn when I taught you and we’ll help you.
It’s almost a shameful thing. Whereas the hunger of learning is questions. We may be serving up the greatest meal in the world and we keep improving the meals but we’re doing nothing to affect the appetite of the student. The appetite of learning is questions. Typically, the teacher owns the question like the essential question. What is the essential question? “Who died and left you, boss, of the essential question?” When we turn kids loose on them formulating the questions, they are now partners in co-creating the learning environment of where they had to go. Here’s a cod example of where it would apply. We had a fourth-grade teacher big on with this. I get this idea behind him. There was a third thing but I left it out.
The third thing is how kids connect the required learning to the desired learning. How did they make the meaning? We’ll get to that. We were out with a school site and we heard this mini explosion coming from a classroom. The board was there, I was there, “Maybe we should go to that classroom.” We went into that classroom and what we caught was the teacher had first day of school, kids sat down, she had these bowls on her desk that had minorly explosive materials in them. She didn’t have a bomb or something but like pyrotechnics on the mild side. She lit one. The kids were mesmerized. Here was her lesson plan. After the kids were speechless, she goes, “Any questions?”
I have pictures of it. That whiteboard in that classroom filled with questions. All those questions that students asked, you see the happy faces of all those students. Also, the teacher realized and we all realized that in those questions, not only did we have the “required essential question” that was up there but we had things that went into such depth that no one had expected that level of depth to come from a student. I said, “Which of these questions do you want to pursue?” They limited it down to which ones they wanted to pursue. Interestingly enough, it’s exactly what she needed to teach.
Except now, the difference is not in phony teacher world, this is real authentic relationship with kids because there were questions up there that weren’t even on the syllabus that they would ever get to, and now it’s part of it. It is in reality that students co-create it. What was amazing is the teacher started connecting with their students’ personal interests in the class. She went to that third thing that I didn’t talk about much, which was, “How do you relate this to this energy experiment?”
This was learning about energy. “How does this study that we’re doing for next-generation science standards on energy connect to your personal interest?” She had a kid and there was a sports kid and what cooking. The kids love pepperoni, I don’t know why they love pepperoni so much, and this famous singer. The requirement of the student was, “I need you to connect what you saw here today. How does this relate to the thing that matters so much to you?”
That requires some serious divergent thinking to happen. To hear what the kids came up with was mind-blowing because it showed a depth of understanding. Pepperoni and energy make total sense. Think about a performer needing energy. Can you imagine a boring performer? They are out there but my point being is that the kids were now connecting what was going on in that class to their personal life and it mattered. The three things are the personal interest, the questions of the students, and the teacher. By the way, teachers need to have the things they love so much. Hopefully it’s not drinking-related but maybe sports teams or something like that. Something appropriate obviously.
They need to have their thing in the classroom so they feel like it’s part of their classroom. Their personal interests, their questions, everybody’s questions. Are we honoring the questions of our students? The connections, how are you connecting the required learning to the desired learning and vice versa? The desired learning to required learning. I’m using desired as a figure of speech to speak to the personal interests and identities of the individual student.
Let me feed this back to you and see if I’m visualizing this in the right way. If I’m a student in that classroom that’s doing all of these things, first of all, the teacher will have asked me some kind of a discovery process as to what matters to me.
An ongoing conversation.
What am I interested in? Where do I like to spend my time? If I love guitar and I love soccer, the teacher and my fellow students will know that. I will know that about them and my teacher because we’ve talked about it and we’ve explored it.
It matters. It’s not a one-off, it’s an ongoing conversation.
The way that I experienced that it matters is that you’re interested in that for me and vice versa.
Have you ever been in a bad relationship? If you’ve ever been to one, it seems to me the definition of a bad relationship is I care about what I care about. I want you to care about what I care about and I don’t care about what you care about. That seems to me the nature of a bad relationship.
The other thing is that I should, as that student who loves guitar and soccer, the theoretical student here, then I should have also seen that reflected somehow in the physical environment, the classroom.
If it’s not present, it doesn’t matter. Generally, classrooms are shrines to answers only. Not to things that are unrelated to what the topic is.
It might be a picture that I drew. It might be something that I brought in and it now stays in the classroom.
A lot of times, teachers use stickies on those so that the student has the capacity to go up there at any time and change those things because those interests and identities could shift over time.
What happens for me as that student, every day that I walk into that classroom? I’m present and therefore I love it. I feel heard and seen. I feel that way about the other kids and the teacher. This is a place that feels like home to me. The second part is the subjects that I have to learn as a student, like Math, for example. When I’m “taught” those things, I need to have the opportunity to ask whatever questions I want to ask about it. I’m going to generate the questions. Therefore, the teacher needs to present that subject matter in a way that elicits and inspires those questions and the students. Blowing things up on my desk.
The Right Question Institute, for example, talks about that as a question focus. There’s a focus where the questions will be generated from. In that case, it was that experiment but it could be almost anything.
At some point, I’m going to take that subject, Math. I’m going to be given the opportunity to ask the question and to pursue the connection between Math and guitar and soccer. I’m connecting the subject that I need to learn with the things that matter to me and the things that I’m interested in. That makes it relevant and deep on a level that the traditional book learning is never going to get to. Did I get that accurately?
You nailed it. In fact, you’re talking about this because people have a low tolerance for how long it takes me to explain it. Let’s air that part and maybe we’ll make some progress here but that’s good. Let me give me an example from the education world about something called close reading, this idea of taking a deep dive into texts. Generally, when kids do that, that’s not something they’re excited about doing because what they’re taking a deep dive into is something that may or may not in any way appeal to them. This was an example that was given at a conference that I was at on literacy.
It was a great example. I took it away with me because the high school football player got a little love note from this girl that he was interested in maybe going out with. The note said, “It was great to see you today. I hope we can connect right after school.” It had little hearts and a little exclamation point and other little trinkets on there that were cute. That football player spent the entire day doing an extremely close read of those two sentences and asked a lot of questions about it, like, “What do you think that heart means?” He was generating a lot of questions. The hashtag was obvious, which was, how does this connect to me? Here’s an example of we’re always trying to get kids to do something that is “academically rigorous”.
We start with rigor. This idea of going deep is connected to the idea of rigor. We often talk about in education is rigor, relevance, and relationship. Once again, those three things matter. We want the kids to go deep. We want somebody to get that deep learning out of something so that matters. The problem is that you got the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable because if you start with rigor then the rigor is going to be manufactured. If you start with this relationship piece, look at that football player and the relationship that was already there, the relationship first then the relevance. This guy was clear on what the relevance was. The rigor became organic. It’s the right three things but often in the wrong order. Another example of that is this idea of claimed evidence reasoning, which would be familiar to most educators if they hear those three things.
They’ve probably been to numerous trainings on claimed evidence reasoning. That’s great for a product but it’s horrible for thinking because if you think about it on the process side, make your claim, find your evidence to support your claim. You could find it on Facebook, I am sure. Put reasoning last, like, “How did you figure that out?” In the thinking process, the emphasis should be completely the opposite. Start first with reasoning. Look at what evidence is there based on those two things, then state a claim. From a process standpoint, that makes sense. From a product standpoint, it’s the opposite but we’re so focused on product that we forget the damage that we’re doing when we make it all about the product and not the process.
Let’s get back to those three elements and talk a little bit about the symbols that you used to tie it together. Tell us about the symbols and how it relates. These are symbols that you’ve used to communicate the ideas around this and to make it a little bit more concrete for people.
As simple as we possibly could. Love with the premise of learning opportunities, valuing everyone. The three things that we have yet to find a good name for, we call them the three things. From a musician standpoint, I call it the blues chords. I don’t use that most of the time because most people would not necessarily know what that means. If you play guitar, if you have three chords, if you have C, F, and G, which is pretty much blues. It could be in different keys but you can get a lot of music done with those three chords. If you’re going to be working with musicians that may be better than you are or maybe not as good as you are and you ask the question, “What song are we going to be playing?” and you find out it’s some complicated thing that has a lot of chord changes, you’re going to feel like, “I’m not sure I can play with you guys. I’m a little worried.” But if somebody says, “We’re going to play the blues together.”
All of a sudden, you’ve got those three chords that you could build a lot of music around. For us, these are the three things that allow everybody to jam in learning. The three things are the exclamation point or mark. The exclamation point is, “Do you have visible the student’s interests and identities present in the class and truly honored, not as an aside?” That’s first. The second thing is the question mark.
You have the exclamation and the question mark, which is the student formulated questions, not the teacher-generated questions but the student-generated questions, and that they matter. Are they visible? Are they hurt? Are they experienced? The third thing is the hashtag, which is this idea of connecting both horizontally and vertically, divergently and convergently. It represents all those wonderful things. The hashtag is this idea of the student connecting their own personal life, their own personal desires and interests, and identities to whatever subject is being studied in the classroom and vice versa.
Interestingly enough, you can use the hashtag between students that have different interests and even find out what the commonalities between those are, which is powerful and moving beyond integrated learning which is a hernia, and move more towards interdependent learning, which is more fluid in the sense that we all need one another. We’re not trying to make the pieces fit. We’ve already come to the termination that everybody in here is valuable and we need everybody’s contribution and make this happen. Those are the three things.
To me, those are such universal principles. They’re powerful principles of education. Whenever I talk with an inspiring educator and fortunately there are a good number of you guys out there, I walk away feeling like, “I wish I would’ve had that experience when I was a kid. I wish Glen was my teacher when I was a kid.” It also strikes me that these are principles that are valuable in business too. What are the implications for all of us in the future?
Let’s talk about the implications for right now and then let’s talk about the implications for the future. Let’s start with now. First of all, there’s been a lot of conversations about equity. Part of that is making sure that everybody is included, that everybody is their identities, the multiple identities that students have. It’s the language that we typically are using. From what their gender is or how they identify their race. Frankly, I think all of the things we’ve been talking about, their love, their interests, all of it is all part of that. If you’ve had more than one kid, the one thing you know, if you’ve had more than one child, son or daughter or nonbinary, whatever your family is, the one thing you can count on if you know you’ve had more than one, you know they’re not the same.
You have to treat them differently. The same thing for kids at school. One of the things that we talk about equity is we talk about starting with knowledge. We often talk about, “What do you know about this subject?” Like the KWL chart, which I’m like, “No, thank you.” KWL stands for, what do you Know about the subject? What do you Want to Learn about the subject? What did you Learn about the subject? Sounds nice. The problem though is you’re asking kids for what they know. Sometimes kids don’t know things. You’re asking them to tell them what you know and they’ll tell you something completely wrong. Some would argue that that’s okay because they could find out later how wrong they were, which I’m not sure is a great motivator but that’s okay.
When you do these types of things and you say, “What matters to you?” One of the phrases I use is what matters to you matters. That’s a great catchphrase that we use. When you ask that question, when students are telling you what they love, what matters to them, what their identities are, they can’t get that wrong. They can’t be wrong. When you ask them what their questions are, “What is it that you want to know?” They can’t be wrong. When they talk about how this relates to them, they can’t be wrong. Let’s say we had a kid, a student in one of our classes that was in fourth grade. He was already learning calculus and they were studying fractions.
The student had been advanced. None of this was relevant to the student because they were way beyond this. When we introduced this in that class, “What matters to you?” We knew what mattered to the student and then, “What questions do you have?” You should have seen the student’s face when we’re talking about fractions. We said, “What do you not know about fractions that you would like to know?” “This is the first time that you’re asking me for what I don’t know? I know more than everybody in this class, including the teacher.” I go, “Yeah but the more you learn about something, the more questions you should have about it.”
He goes, “That’s true.” I thank the fourth-grader for having such an evolved mind at such an early age. The students said, “Can I use trigonometry and calculus to formulate my question about fractions?” I go, “Go right ahead and do that.” For the first time in this student’s experience in that class, he was with the other students because they all had questions that they wanted to know that they did not know. Instantly, equity came into the classroom. It was beautiful to see and then to see how this connects to what matters to them. You should have heard this. I heard his explanation. I cannot repeat what he said. Not because he said anything profane but I’m sure what he said was profound but I didn’t understand.
That’s beautiful. I’m so glad. One of the implications for right now is the amazing inclusiveness that you you’re now valuing everybody as a love of learning. For the future piece, I’m going to use one pointed example about this that is one of the things that get me riled up. I was in a meeting that said this thing I hear over and over again. It’s been out there. It keeps coming back up. Here’s what’s being said, 85% or 50% or 70% or 40%, I’ve heard all kinds of different percentages, but they’re generally double digits and they’re nearly over 40%, but we’ll cut the differences and say 65%. I’m not sure where this data is coming from but I hear it all the time, “65% of the jobs that students are going to have in the future don’t currently exist.” Do you hear that at all?”
Yes. I’ve been hearing that forever.
When they say the statement, it’s like, “Aren’t I profound in sharing that with you?” it’s like, “No, you’re not. You’re only expressing the problem. What’s the solution?” “The solution is we’re going to help kids connect with the existing jobs of today,” which is good. That’s a good step in the right direction. Let’s get some real-world experiences and get them connected to businesses and to people. That’s great. What about those 65% of those jobs that currently are there? What are you doing about that? To get students prepared to be the creators of those new jobs. You’re not going to prepare those students with the traditional as well. Prepare those students as well in the current climate but you will better prepare them if you could start showing them how things that normally didn’t go together, that would never be considered to be in the same room together or collaborating with one another or see the interdependence between things that had never been joined together.
That’s where the creativity piece emerges. That goes back to the divergent thinking essential capacity. One cod example of this, I was at the Orange County Department of Education at the time. I went up to JPL and met the guy who was the CTO, who was in charge of the Mars lunar rover that had already gone. They were working on the next one, which was the one that was crazy in terms of its complexity. It was beautiful. He was telling me about how he was going to craft his new team. He goes, “In my new team, I’m going to have our typical scientists, creators, and designers and the best of what we have here at JPL. I’m also going to bring in a football coach, a pastor, and a lawyer.” I go, “What are you doing that for?”
He goes, “I want my people to think more divergently. I want people at the table that don’t know anything about our field but can have a unique perspective.” That was a truly inspirational moment where I saw somebody of that capacity saying that thing. As we connect, get our kids to be able to hashtag it, get our kids to be able to question, and get our kids to understand that what matters to them does matter. These are going to be the best-equipped students for the future to create those jobs that don’t exist.
What a fantastic summary of everything that we’ve talked about. Glen, I know there are going to be some people that would love to connect with you, have a conversation, and pick your brain. Those are brave people that would like to do that. What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
You’re going to get ahold of me on Twitter. @WarrenMedia is my handle. I’m not sure where Twitter is going so let’s leave that alone. Also, feel free to email me. I’m perfectly happy to receive email from you. I would have you use my district email, which is Glen.Warren@EUSD.net.
Glen, what a great conversation. No surprise for me. We’ve had many over the years. I’m thrilled to be able to share your knowledge and your insight and your foresight to the readers.
I would like to throw one last thing in there before we sign off. Not only can people connect with me to “pick” my brain. I’m not sure how productive that will be but I can tell you this. You’ve got whoever you are. This resonates with you. You have a real partner in this journey. I know that we can’t possibly get this done in isolation. We need each other. One of the things I know you and I talked about and we’re passionate to see is people that oftentimes when they’re trying to go these directions, they feel a bit alone. They feel a bit isolated and they feel like maybe, “Is there anybody else that thinks like this?” There are plenty but one of the things we need to do to help inspire that energy back is to bring a love community together, a community that doesn’t require association dues or any money.
If you pay for love, it’s not love anymore. There’s another name for that. This idea that we could give an opportunity for people who get to what we call next practice. Many people talk about best practice. I’m not interested in your best practice. I’m sure you’re doing the best you can, what I’m looking for is that next practice, the one we aren’t doing that we would never know was there unless we had connected with each other. Being part of a community that believes that love is the best foundation. Many believe without it, it’s all meaningless anyway. I would simply say if you’re interested in this, I’m hoping in the near future that we will be able to bring people together in communities to be able to geek out around these things and see what other mischief we might be able to get into.
Those communities should be made up of educators and business people and concerned citizens.
I would also add that list. Students, their voices are some of the most profound in terms of this. I would say that obviously the parents, the entire community, here’s the beauty. When you take the love piece out of the equation, instantly silos emerge. When you put the love piece as the foundation, we find out how much we all are interdependent on each other and need each other’s heart and soul and mind at the table. There’s no limit to where we can go if we tap into that.
On that note, folks, thanks for tuning in. Until next time, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. See you next time.
About Glen Warren
Glen Warren is the Encinitas Union School District Director of Literacies, Outreach, and Libraries, in other words, he is the LOL Director.
He co-wrote the California Model School Library Standards and the California Career Technical Education (CTE) standards for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.
Glen is an Orange County Teachers of the Year, California Semi-finalist Teachers of the Year, and was recently recognized by the California Reading Association with its first ever Literacy Leaders Award for 2018.
The ultimate goal for his work is to revive and advance the LOVE of learning!