Noelle: I saw this today and I want people as they're listening to this podcast, and when they go back into some of our YouTube videos and see this lesson that you did—I want to bring some attention to watching you in action. The lesson’s phenomenal, right? The student output, the engagement, the collaboration, seeing the connections that can easily be made.
There’s still a moment of, “You're an adult, you're a teacher and they’re students." But you are in a moment and you're with them and I can see in your eyes, you know where this lesson's going to go when you want it to go. You were about to make a decision. "Well, I want to go this way," and it was your will and [the student] was not going to let you, she kept coming back at it.
Talk to us as future teachers, as teachers. How do you get so comfortable with yourself that you allowed [the student] to make the decision?
Chris: Teachers have to trust the students. If you've earned the respect of the student, even if they're taking you in a different direction, they respect you enough to ensure that they get you right back on course. And they're sharing with you what they need.
I always tell my aspiring teachers that I work with, “You have to have a freestyle ability, which is the ability to just be in the moment and trust that you're going to get to the right spot. And you have to be able to freestyle.”
The best assessments I know are in the eyes of young people. And when she said, “No, I need more time…”
Noelle: [The student] was making eye contact with you. And she kept looking down at her work. And then she's be like—
Chris: “Dude, get this right.” And I had to get it right. And I had to trust that [the student would] get us where we needed to go.
And another thing I've learned, as a teacher, the best rule ever is never go one-on-one. Whenever there's a moment where a young person is adamant about something, it doesn't matter if they're right or wrong, in their mind and their heart they're invested in this thing. You can't battle a kid one-on-one because once you create that confrontation on a one-on-one, now you take everybody out of the zone, out of the element, and then everybody's watching the spectacle. And they're looking at that spectacle to see who wins. And once you do that, then you activate this thing I call affiliation and alienation, which is now, I've got to pick a side. Am I going to pick the student, or am I going to pick the teacher? And here's the thing: the teacher, as an adult, they have more social capital with the young people.
Nine times out of ten, they're going to pick the young person. Now you're the outsider. And if you're the outsider, then they all can coalesce against you. And then the lesson doesn't get done.
There were a couple of lessons. One: never go one-on-one. Two: trust the student to get the lesson back. Three, trust yourself to be able to freestyle yourself back the way you need to go. And then four—Joel M. Beats says this, trust the process.
This whole teaching and learning is a dance more than anything else. You trust your partner because your partner wants to get you to have the best performance, as well.
Noelle: But there was a moment too, where I was watching your proximity to the learners, and you were naturally okay if you turned your shoulder and your back to students who were much engaged with you. To turn over here and say, “What's coming over here?” And then as other students would be like, “Yo, listen to what I'm doing,” you knew that those students had already known and realized you see them, you hear them, that what they're doing is on track. But that's part of their personality.
And you would do just enough to look over and say, “I hear you, but I got to come over here.”
Chris: People think that your words are your main tool. But as a teacher, your body is your instrument. Literally the physicality of your being. People ask me all the time why I'm so concerned with aesthetics. You know, I'll do the bow ties. Why do I have so much attention to detail in my aesthetics?
Because as a teacher, I see you. This is important. You have the blue and white seersucker vibe with the pink accents. Your watch is blue and pink. Your earrings are pink, the touch of pink in your lipstick. And when you're working with young people, every iota of your body is part of your teaching.
So your attention to aesthetics has to be off the hilt. Because they notice all those things like, “Oh my gosh, she cared enough to match her shirt to her watch for me. She cares enough about me.”
But most importantly, my body is like my weaponry, right?
So a shoulder to a student, not turning your back, but a shoulder to a student says, “I'm not focused on you right now, but [my shoulder] is still focused on you. At any second, I can always turn back around and you're with me.”
So I can't give a kid my back, but I can give a kid my shoulder. The shoulder says, "You're not my main focus, but I'm always ready for you." That's pedagogical while I'm focusing on this young person. One young person that I might be focusing on, they just need eye contact. They don't need my words. They just need me to look at them. I can do shoulder to one, eyes to the other, hand on shoulder of the other. All at the same time. And I'm saying three different things to three different young people, and I haven't said any words yet.
Now, my voice could be like, “Yo, over there, I see y'all.” So now I'm communicating with one, two, three, and four at once. And I think teachers have to understand how to feel comfortable in their skin, because every square inch of your body should be teaching. Your words are just the part that is heard, but what your body does is what is felt.
And you can't get to that part of full teaching in that way, until you're comfortable in your own skin.
Noelle: I would always realize where my teacher blind spots were because I would catch myself, “Noel you're too much over here.” And I would remember when I'd stand in my room to see where my blind spots were to see how I could corral or reshape the classroom to not have as many blind spots.
Chris: Noelle, you get so much of the technical aspect of this craft that I wish more people got. Because, see, like my one, two, three, and four can easily shift within a millisecond to another one, two, three, and four. And I think it's about—the shifting of the body also lets you know that if there's a blind spot in this moment, a millisecond can connect to another young person.
One day I'll do this work, right? Like, there are angles to your body that allow you to be able to have a certain presence in the classroom, and if you're not aware of what your body is saying, you'd be surprised at what outcomes you're getting. [People might be saying], “He's talking about all these angles and backs and shoulders to students.” But I've literally done studies where young folks who don't get the right angles respond to my instruction differently.
I just need us all to understand the power. Listen, teaching is such magic.