Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
Voice Lessons July 2008

Hello! This coming summer I am delighted to be working once again with teachers from all over the world at the Teacher’s Training Center for International Educators. Our topic for this summer is The Heart of Teaching: Beyond Content. The course was inspired by the students with whom I had conversations over the years, who told me they don’t remember all of the content that was taught to them in their classes, but they sure do remember the lessons they learned from the teachers themselves. How the teachers treated them, what teachers taught them about being not only good students, but also good human beings. Students remember what is ‘beyond the content.’ This newsletter touches upon three ‘beyond the content ’ concepts you can incorporate into your teaching this coming year.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you!

The Heart of Teaching: Beyond Content – 3 Key Concepts

When I was in the classroom, I always said I didn’t teach English, I taught students how to be better people through the subject of English. I was very clear that I was teaching beyond the literature and the writing to something just as essential, if not more so - how to be a self-directed, yet at the same time, an interdependent person. Here are three ideas around capacities of self-directedness and interdependence that you could apply to your teaching.

Building Agency in Others

Pretend you are a student and your teacher comes over to look at your math homework. Feel the difference between these two sentences.

“Why did you choose that one?”


“Tell me about your reason for choosing that answer.”

Feel the difference? In one comment (adding a bit of tone to it), the teacher sounds a bit skeptical of the student’s thinking or that it was solid thinking. In the other, the teacher expresses a strong belief that the student had her way of looking at things and the teacher wants to know about it. This strong sense of belief in the student’s capacity is called building agency. A teacher through his or her language expresses a belief that the student is or isn’t competent and for a student, having a teacher who thinks you are capable, and voices it to you, is crucial. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, by Peter Johnston discusses this concept and many more language skills. Here is a look at a few comments teachers might make to help students build an inner-narrative that says,” I can do this.”

  • How did you figure that out?

  • What are you thinking of doing next?

  • What were some of the choices you made in this piece of writing?

  • How are you planning to go about this?

Sitting in Silence

The idea of silence for many of us is a welcome one. For students, who might be accustomed to living 24/7 with an iPod, cell phone, the clicking of the fingers on a computer, MySpace, and YouTube, the idea of quiet might be a new, and possibly uncomfortable idea. In a world that seems instant in its responsivity and connectivity, silence can afford us time to think. Wait time, think time. Time to reflect. Teaching students to take but even a few silent moments to collect their thoughts allows for more critical thinking and opens up their minds to more divergent answers. This teaching of how to sit in silence won’t be easy on the teacher. Students will want to blurt out, or whisper to a neighbor. It won’t be very comfortable for some but it is worth the effort. Consider that you are helping them manage their impulsivity and actually think before they speak - great gifts as students move into the world.

A Sense of Belonging

Dr. Greg Walton of Stanford University did some terrific studies on what the feeling of belonging to a group did for motivating someone to achieve. He conducted experiments in which college students were given problems to solve solo, but before he had them go into separate rooms he either assigned them an individual or group number. Those who felt they were being tested on their abilities and that their answers would affect ‘their group’ attempted more problems and persisted for longer periods of time than those who thought they were doing the test alone with no impact on others.
The implications of this research on how teachers create a sense of belonging in their classrooms can be huge. How we create a space in the room for everyone to feel safe is critical for social and emotional development, but it is also can impact one’s academic growth. A student who feels that he or she matters and her contributions to the class impact others will work harder. Think about how you want to set a pro-social tone for the upcoming school year with this information in mind.

Students remember who we were even more than what we taught. As we prepare for the upcoming school year, let’s work to be more intentional about our language and how it helps us build an effective and supportive classroom climate.

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Cool Resources

On the topic of teaching ‘beyond the content’...

  • The Arts Corps, the largest nonprofit arts educator in the Seattle area, fosters creative habits of mind in young people through a passionate corps of teaching artists. Check out their video, “Powerful Learning Through the Arts” at The inspirational video takes a look at how the arts can help teach students lifelong practices of persistence & discipline, critical thinking, courage & risk-taking.

  • Art Costa’s and Bena Kallick’s Habits of Mind are 16 intelligent capacities, inclinations and dispositions that are being intentionally taught in classes throughout the world. Habits include managing impulsivity, persisting, listening with understanding and empathy and thinking interdependently. The website, has resources, sample lesson plans, quotations and learning activities all focused on helping you to teach the Habits of Mind in your school and classroom.

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

July 2
Elements of Effective Instruction
Day School Leadership Through Teaching Incoming Cohort
Hebrew Union College
Los Angeles, CA

July 11
Generational Savvy:

Implications on Preparation, Practice and Policy
National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future
2008 Symposium
Washington, D.C.

July 22-23
Having Hard Conversations

Administrators’ and Mentors’ Summer Institutes
Knox County Schools
Knoxville, TN

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleagues. You may reprint this newsletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2008 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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