Two faces looking at each other

Chatter by Ethan Kross

During the last few years, the voice inside my head has been vehemently berating me and informing me that I am a failure. Despite over a quarter of a century of teaching experience, I felt less confident than my first year of teaching. Though the logical part of my brain argued against this critical inner voice, it was difficult to overcome. I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling inadequate, but that didn’t make it seem any less real.

Ethan Kross, psychologist and director of the Emotion and Self Control Laboratory, calls this mental self-criticism “chatter.” He has written a book by that name on what he and other scientists have learned about how to “harness” the judgmental thoughts that cycle through our heads so we can make them less destructive and more productive. Interspersed among the tales of athletes, scientists, and others, there are psychological studies that have informed researchers about chatter, and Kross offers suggestions for tools we can easily incorporate into our daily lives to leap out of those negative feedback loops.

One such tool is called, “distanced self-talk.” When I tell you how simple it is to do this, you will most likely doubt its effectiveness, but Kross has quite a few examples to back it up. The idea is to mentally advise yourself in the third person, as though you are an outside observer rather than the subject immersed in the situation. You can also temporally distance yourself by imagining that you are looking back on the circumstances from a time in the future.

In the chapter, “The Power and Peril of Other People,” Kross surprised me with the fascinating work of Bernard Rime, who found that “talking to others about our negative experiences doesn’t help us recover in any meaningful way.” In fact, what we often think of as venting can make our chatter worse. (Does this make anyone else think of Teachers’ Lounges?) He goes on to explain how this can be avoided when, “The interlocutor ideally acknowledges the person’s feeling and reflections, but then helps her to put the situation in perspective.”

I won’t give away all of the tools because I think Kross explains them best. (He includes a chapter at the end that recaps all of the tools mentioned in the book and offers suggestions for how to use them in different situations.) I will say that if you are experiencing the deleterious effects of Chatter, that you will find this book enormously helpful. If you are someone who teaches, parents, or in any way supports a person who battles anxiety, depression, or self-hatred, you will find this book enormously helpful. If you somehow managed to survive a traumatic event, a natural disaster, or a worldwide pandemic, you will find this book enormously helpful. And, even more importantly, you will find this book hopeful. I think quite a few of us can use a bit of that right now.

Click here to learn more.
Genius Hour Presentation Planner

Genius Hour Presentation Planner

I’ve updated the free Genius Hour Presentation Planner, and I’ve added it to my Genius Hour Resources page under “Free Genius Hour Downloads.” This is a digital planner made in Google Slides, and is meant to be used after students have completed the Genius Hour Research Notes (also on the Free Genius Hour Downloads page). In the past, I noticed that students often jumped to creating their presentations before acquiring very much new knowledge, so these two resources gave them a framework to help them with gathering information and preparing to share with others. I would also recommend taking a look at my post, “Step Away from the Slideshow,” to get some ideas on how students can present without boring themselves or their audiences to tears. One particular addition I made in the update to this Presentation Planner was to add some guidelines for the Timeline to help students understand what needed to be done before each of the three dates (Rough Draft, Rehearsal, Final Presentation).

(“From Jaded to Joyful: Galvanizing Students with Genius Hour” is one of the many Professional Development sessions that I offer, and can be done virtually or in person.)

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Solving the Curation Equation

My latest post for NEO offers advice on how to develop a workflow to help you compile the hundreds of teaching ideas you gather from social media and other digital sources. Solving the Curation Equation: Efficient Methods for Collecting Teaching Resources relates some of the secrets I use to save myself time when I bookmark those resources — and when I need to find them later. Though my current favorite tool is Wakelet, you can easily adapt the suggestions in this article to any tool you use. Speaking of Wakelet, here is my page of public Wakelet lists to which I’ve just added “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking/STEAM.”

Here are my other NEO Articles in case you missed them: Podcast Pedagogy: Leveraging Audio Programs for Learning, Six Ways to Support Spatial Reasoning Skills Online, Let’s Talk a Good Game: Mining Talk Shows for Classroom Engagement Ideas, How to Do More with Less Screen TimeHow to Facilitate Meaningful Discussions in Hybrid or Virtual ClassroomsTop Ed Tech Tools for DifferentiationFrom Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve EducationApplying Universal Design for Learning in Remote ClassroomsHow Distance Learning Fosters Global CollaborationHow to Use Design Thinking in the Classroom, and How to S.T.E.A.M. Up Distance Learning.

A couple of specific articles that you may want to read are: Podcast Pedagogy (which pairs well with this recent list from Common Sense) and From Normal to Better: Using What We’ve Learned to Improve Education. The latter article was written last August, and I think it’s a good reminder of the improvements we can made in education based on what we learned last year instead of returning to status quo.

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Photo by Cesar Hiar on

Teacher Checklist for Current Events

As school boards, districts, and states pile on bans of teaching Critical Race Theory in the classroom without even understanding what they are censoring, others are substituting vague language in weak attempts to disguise these racist laws. I am not a lawyer or a history teacher, but I oppose any efforts to restrain students from learning the truth and exercising their own critical thinking on the lessons that could be learned from that truth. I also think it’s important to keep things relevant in the classroom, and that means that current events should not be ignored. Facing History has a free checklist for educators to use for planning purposes when considering current events. You will need to create a free account on the site in order to download this editable PDF, which also has links to reliable news sources as well as suggested strategies to use during student discussions. Armed with this and a list of the state standards you are addressing, you can be prepared to help students make connections between the past and the present, as well as to their own personal experiences.

I will be adding this post to my Wakelet of Anti-Racism Resources. Click on this link to find more!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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TEA Survey

I apologize to anyone who is not a reader of this blog in Texas, but I feel that this is so important I need to share it on all of my social media. The Texas Education Agency has put out a survey asking stakeholders for their opinion as to how the remaining 4 billion dollars of the American Rescue Plan money set aside for education in our state should be spent. The state has to submit a plan to the US Department of Education by June 7th, and has set a deadline of May 21st for people to fill out this survey. I don’t know about you, but as a retired teacher who is still very much invested in the education of our students and the plight of educators in Texas, I have been feeling that more politicians and bureaucrats have been making decisions about schools than the people with boots on the ground. This survey could be for show, especially since the turnaround from the deadline to June 7th is so quick, but I think it behooves any of us who have opinions about how this money should be spent to speak up. For the record, this was my response in the final box asking if I had any other comments, “A lot of great teachers are about to leave the profession because they have not felt supported this year. Some work in schools that are falling apart, teaching large classes, dealing with students who are carrying a lot of emotional baggage, and the teachers feel alone and disposable. They need more personal days, more qualified substitutes, more campus staff to work with students who have emotional issues and safer working environments. They need to know their opinions matter and that they have a voice.”

I urge you to please fill out this survey by 5 PM on May 21st in order to record your own views on how this money should be allocated in Texas. If you are in a different state, please research the plans your own state has for spending the American Rescue Plan money set aside for education. This is a lot of money that could do a lot of good if it isn’t eaten up by political pet projects and selfish lobbyists.

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Photo by Tim Samuel on

What’s Next?

In yesterday’s post, I admitted that I reluctantly left the classroom about 15 months ago because my mental health was suffering dramatically. I was fortunate to be in the position that I had qualified for retirement and that our family could afford this change. This was about three months before the pandemic shut everything down in the United States, and I was congratulated on my prescience by many – despite the fact that I obviously had no idea of what was to come. Though I knew I was fortunate, I found it hard to be thankful because the hardships that unfolded for so many of my colleagues made me feel even guiltier that I had walked out on a career I once loved and people I continued to admire.

Since that time, of course, conditions continued to worsen. Some colleagues have resigned, some others are deciding this will be the last year, and some are actively looking for new opportunities. With demands on teachers increasing – while support either remained the same or decreased – many educators have sadly come to the conclusion that I did – that our system in the United States makes it nearly impossible to maintain a healthy personal/work balance.

I taught for nearly 30 years before I came to the above conclusion, so I am not advocating for teachers to abandon classrooms in droves. But if you have reached the same point in your journey where you feel you are no longer able to do a good job in either your work or your personal life, you may be looking for a change. I saw a post on Twitter where a teacher confessed this, and asked for suggestions. I thought it would be helpful to include the post here.

There were many great responses on the thread, so I want to mention a few here that are outside the usual sites such as LinkedIn:

I hope this post is helpful to anyone who is seeking a new adventure related to education. Students need great teachers now more than ever – but you can’t be great if your mental and/or physical health are suffering.

Photo by Keira Burton on