5-in-5: Q&A with Teacher Chuck Poole
Most episodes of Future of School: The Podcast feature a “5-in-5” rapid-fire interview with an innovative teacher―five minutes, five questions, five perspectives direct from a practitioner. The podcast prioritizes hearing from every voice in education, from the association and district leaders driving purchasing and policy, to the teachers delivering instruction in the online or physical classroom, to the students and parents who have experienced the benefits of having meaningful choice in education.
This interview gave us the chance to connect with Chuck Poole, a passion-driven educator with over 20 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, he is a public speaker, author, influencer, and a bright light in the education community across our country. You can learn more about Chuck on his site teachonomy.com.
Our 5-in-5 interview series highlights teachers’ perspectives on the future of school. Read below for an edited recap of my conversation with Chuck Poole or listen to the full episode above to hear from Chuck, as well as John Watson of Evergreen Education Group and the Digital Learning Collaborative, and student scholarship winner Ethan Rich.
Amy Valentine: What was the first experience that opened your eyes to the power and potential of blended and online learning?
Chuck Poole: The first experience that opened my eyes and made me realize the power of online or blended learning had nothing to do with content, surprisingly enough. It had more to do with relationships.
Just a really quick story ─ I had a student a few years ago who was extremely quiet, and as teachers, I know we have a lot of students who are very quiet or introverted. They are the students who may not want to answer questions, or they avert their eyes when we are looking around to call on somebody. This student was extremely quiet. She was a great artist, but she never talked in class. We decided that we would do a version of blended learning where we would flip the classroom.
I had the class online the night before, and we were going to discuss it. Interestingly, we did it for three days. I didn’t require the students to put their actual names in; they could just put in a screen name. One screen name had the most intelligent and awesome comments that I had ever experienced in the chat. After the three-day experiment, I said, “Alright! I need to know who this person is. Your comments are amazing. They are fantastic. I am just so proud to have you in this class.” She beamed with pride and raised her hand for the first time in my class, and said, “That was me, Mr. Poole.”
After that class ─ this was a higher-level class ─ she came up to me and said, “I just want to thank you for allowing me to share my voice. I don’t like to talk in public very much, and you gave me the opportunity to talk anonymously through this experience. I felt that it really made a difference in how I was learning.”
I was blown away by that, and it showed me the power to impact students in that way. Among others, that particular piece gave me a glimpse into the power of what blended learning can do.
Amy: We both know that there are many misperceptions about online learning in the K-12 space. What’s one thing that you think that people struggle with when conceptualizing online and blended learning in K-12 schools?
Chuck: I think one big thing is that they often feel that they have to run an online learning piece the same way they would run it in person. It’s very different. You’re not necessarily going to teach in a blended learning style the same way you would teach when in person.
It’s the reason why it’s blended. You don’t have to mimic what you would do in your classroom.
I realized that people were struggling with it because they felt they had to be tech-savvy to make this happen. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions.
I don’t think you have to be tech-savvy or knowledgeable about all these tech rules to carry out blended learning. Good teaching is good teaching. If you are passionate about affecting kids’ lives and their learning, you’re going to do a great job.
Amy: What’s one strategy that you think every teacher should use in their classroom?
Chuck: This is a strategy that I made up, and it’s called the “Emoji Box.” If you’ve ever been to an airport and when you’re leaving, it asks for your feedback with smiley faces. You can smack one of them ─ happy, sad, angry. Well, I’ve created something similar. It’s an emoji box, which is basically a shoebox with three slots with a picture of a happy face, a not so happy face, and kind of a confused face.
I have little wooden chips, and every day after my class, as the students leave, they drop one of the wood chips in one of those slots to let me know how they felt about the class. They let me know whether they loved it, felt so-so, I could do a better job, or they were completely confused. It’s completely anonymous.
Then, the next day, I approach them and say, “Hey, we had a lot of confused people. Let’s take a pause and let’s learn a little bit why.” It’s a good way to get rapid feedback on students, and you can do that online as well just by simply putting up some emojis or some different ways of doing it.
In middle school, it was awesome for a very simple way to get students to give me feedback on the class in real-time as they were leaving.
Amy: Are you using that strategy this year in the remote setting?
Chuck: Yes. I have it all set up and ready to go. And it’s pretty cool because I can do it whether I’m live streaming or if it’s set up in a way where I’m using either a Google docker or something like that.
I have it set up both ways, and I’m excited because it’s been something that the students have loved. The one key thing is that it’s anonymous. I’ll be using it as we start online and then transitioning it when we head back.
Amy: When you consider what the future of school should look like for students, what comes to mind?
Chuck: I think that it should be, in an ideal world, essentially, individualized learning with collaboration and input built in for students. I’m a big person with feedback. As I’ve said, I have my students with the Emoji Box ─ give feedback in that way, but we also meet every Friday, sit down, and the students evaluate me.
I start by giving them a simple checklist of what they can do with comments ─ again, totally anonymous ─ that they will drop in a box, and then we’ll chat about it the next day. I found that allowing them to evaluate me as their teacher gives them a little bit more ownership and trust so that we’re building the classroom together.
Considering what the future of school should look like, I believe that it should be almost like a collaboration in a community that you build. As teachers, we can facilitate learning in a way that can be even more effective for students.
Amy: Well said! My last question for you is, “What one big dream do you have about education that you would love to turn into a reality?”
Chuck: This one falls more toward the teachers, I believe. My one big dream ─ and I’m trying to work toward that even a little bit now ─ is to make sure that every teacher, whether they’re in my building or around the world, feels valued, appreciated, and offered the resources they need to succeed in every way. So, that way, frustrations and the feeling of being overwhelmed can lessen. I know many different things have to happen for that to occur, but this is my dream, and I want to work toward it.
It’s to show teachers and make them feel appreciated, valued and that their work is making even an even bigger difference than they might realize. Once that’s in place, the impact on the students will continue and be even greater overall.
Future of School thanks Chuck Poole and all of our great guests for participating in our podcast. To hear all episodes of Future of School: The Podcast, and to subscribe via your preferred app, visit https://anchor.fm/futureofschool