Wednesday, January 17, 2018



“Mr. Pickerd, I just can’t do today!”
These words fainted out of her mouth as she drooped there in front of me.
“What on earth is wrong?” I asked.

This proved to be the right or wrong question at the wrong or right time…I couldn’t tell quite yet, because what poured out for the following minute or two became a litany of stressors in the life of this young student: test here, practice over there, paper due then, work in the meantime… The list continued. She felt driven to the point of confusion, of disarray, and was no longer able to focus on the moment.

My teacher (and more so my parent) heart wanted to sit her down and help her decide which of the too many activities was or were pressing her beyond her limits, but that wasn’t what she wanted. Time to put away the toolbox. She needed to lay it all out and be heard, nothing more at the time.

If this were an isolated situation, I might be able to chalk it up to a student who has opted to take on too much. That is not the case, though.  This student walks, stands and sits alongside a host of others who try to take aim at the moving target of success. They grow up learning that being your best…always is the goal. Never stop. Try everything. Excel at it. Do all you can do every time.
This sounds great, and it has risen to the point of moral, familial, and social obligation for some. What is it doing to our learners though?
What is it doing to all of us?

One result is that when I believe this way, everyone around me holds the potential of being a competitor, someone who will keep me from being ranked number one.
Another outcome is that my brain never shuts off because I never run out of obligations calling on me to “be the best”.
Yet another is that I lose track of who I am…that is if I have taken (or better yet been given) the opportunity to consider it in the first place.

Back to the student… as my teacher heart and head began to calm down and collaborate, I looked for a way to understand exactly what stands behind all of this stress…what comes as a result…which risks linger. In doing so, I recognized that I stand little chance of changing the reality of the matter. Many of the causes and results of stress among students stand far beyond my zone of influence. Nonetheless, I recognized that I do have an opportunity to refuse participation in the creation of more stress in the lives of my students.

So, my summer reading list for summer 2017 grew. I googled “books on the brain” and began ordering from the local library. Some of the books were easy to grasp, while others stretched me. I agreed with what some posited; I set others aside. In the end though, through reading about the brain, I began to understand a bit more about my students…about myself.

How I encounter my students (all of them) makes a big difference. How I take time to really understand them means more than indicated by any study I have ever read. What I do with the physical space in the room to promote community and mobility speaks about how important our “team” is. I have learned a great deal about evaluating and using it to build up students and help them set personal goals, rather than allowing it to reflect how little they know. Most of all, I have learned to look at my students with a new clarity of who they are and are becoming…
that each comes with gifts that contribute to the whole and bless the rest of the class.

Resulting, I have learned to pay closer attention so that I can sense what the group needs and when: when to back off on the syllabus and engage with the class at a personal level, when to listen more and team build, when more time needs to be given for an assignment, etc...

So how does all of this have any connection to a stressed student?
It is more simple than we might imagine. Slowing down from time to time and looking at those around us brings us to a new perspective. We start to see the people around us in a new way. We begin to see our connectivity with them and how we can share with one another, learn from one another, and lift one another up… all of which give us an opportunity to understand that we are important, that we belong, and that we are not alone.

If I know that I am connected, that I am part of a group to which I belong, and that I am therefore not alone; I’m likely to experience a lower level of stress and therefore add to my potential for becoming.
I desire for my students to learn who they are and become those people, and I therefore am going to do
everything that I can to help them do so.
Perhaps then I will be less likely to have a student approach me and say, “Mr. Pickerd, I just can’t do today”

If you would like to watch a short Ted talk on this topic or read an article about it, please see the links below:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Is it something I find? Is it something I make? Is it a priority? How do I spend it? Do I waste it? I can’t get more of it. How much do I have anyway?

How often I find myself asking these questions!

If my starting point for these questions is information-seeking, I may reach one set of conclusions. If; on the other hand, my asking the questions is more rhetorical… more meditative, I may reach an entirely different conclusion.

Right now, I am sitting in a very quiet room on the campus of the University where I am blessed to teach as an adjunct.  The day began at 3:40 a.m. I woke an hour early and worked my way through a cup of tea and a fresh shave before noticing my mistake.  Time.  Time gained or time lost?

At 5:00, I woke my son so that he could prepare for school and the zero hour that we both share. It begins at 6:23 each morning and thrusts us into another language before most weary eyes begin to quiver themselves awake. While having a short morning prayer and feeding our still groggy stomaches, we say little else, mostly because my son is a quiet morning person…quite the foil to my outgoing, ready-to-talk whenever personality.  Still, it is time. Time invested?

Each day the space in which I work is filled with every sort of soul: eager, apprehensive, assertive, aggressive, joyful, sad, triumphant, downtrodden, hopeful…; and these souls fill the room where I get to share language and life with them. Time. Some need very little. Others need very much. How do I spend it?

In the evening I have the pleasure of riding home with two children: one in high school, the other in elementary. We share about our day…some days more…others less. We sometimes grab a snack…or a library book or video.  Other days we head straight home to save time.  Time. How much do I have?

Our family. It is growing older. Out hobbies and interests change and draw us in varying directions.  We eat together, share films together, work together.  We are serious together, sometimes too much so. We laugh. We love each other and frustrate each other. We grow together, I pray. We have time. Time.  It seems to be a currency with a limit. 

I understand that my days(filled with time)are numbered.  All of our days are numbered. How will we invest our time? With whom will we share it? How? To whose benefit? 

As I am convicted of the preciousness of time, I encourage others to look at it, perhaps with new eyes, or a new heart.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Water, Tea, and a Spot of Time

Life seems full of coincidences.  We run into people just after we think about them.  We hear a song in our heads and shortly thereafter hear it on the radio.
Sooner or later; though, what seems at first to be coincidence actually proves to have more purpose.  

Here’s an example… 
I recently read the story in John 4 where Jesus was tired on a journey.  Being near Jacob’s well, he stopped for a while to refresh himself with a drink of water.  What came as a result of this water stop was a conversation with a Samaritan woman at that well.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but what came as a result of the conversation was life.  The words exchanged there were nothing less than an example of hospitality, love, care, and a model for us to follow.

Just a few days after reading this passage, I was blessed by an encounter with a student while I was on my way to fill my water bottle.  This student didn’t have the life matters of the woman at the well, but life was indeed weighing her down heavily.  She too was walking to a well (the same drinking fountain where I wanted to fill my water bottle).  When I asked her how she was doing, her eyes filled with tears.  Drinking fountain water suddenly didn’t seem good enough at that point, so I asked her if she wanted to have some tea.  My classroom is outfitted with a hot water cooker (Please don’t tell my secret.)and an abundant stock of tea, so I invited her to sit in on my class for a minute and let the teabag do its work in the hot water.  

My class was fortunately in the middle of a group project, which afforded me a few minutes to chat with this student.  It was a time of life-giving words.  She was able to unload her struggles, which, though not excessively large in the grand scheme of things, were certainly very heavy to her.  A mere 5 or so minutes, a spot of time really, gave her the space to regain herself and find new perspective…and in that spot of time, I learned a new meaning for a story that I had read a few days earlier.  What a gift a person can find in the middle of a trip to the water fountain, some tea and a spot of time!

Coincidence?  Hmmm.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Window Streaks and Learning

Early in my marriage, my wife and I would infrequently haul out rolls of paper towel and window spray for the detestable work of washing windows.  One of us worked on the outside and the other from in the house.
Inevitably, one of us would tap in the window and point to a streak or spot that the other had missed.  The trouble was that the person with the spot or streak couldn’t see it.  We simply needed to trust each other’s eyes, follow the pointing finger, reapply the spray and wipe a bit longer.  
At times the work leads to laughter, sometimes not.
Just this week I relearned the wisdom of this lesson again, twice: once in my classroom, once in another venue. Both reminded me of how much I need to continue learning.
The classroom application came in a class in which I had been practicing a concept that I had been teaching the students for over two weeks and which would be on an up and coming test.  Though the students could work magic with the concept in a closed context (a school context), they, without realizing it, were lost to do so in a real-life situation.  
I could see the spots on their side of the glass, but they could not.  Their vision for the concept was limited.
One student asked me when we could use this concept in everyday life.  Having shared this at the beginning of the teaching two weeks earlier, I reminded and restated the example. The class looked at me and nodded, remembering that the discussion had taken place, but that was all.
They could see the spots on my side of the glass, but I could not. I had not taught the full use of the concept.
Nodding at myself, I took a step back and asked how the class would feel about going back to the beginning, building an assortment of scenarios in which we could use what I was teaching them, breaking up into groups to practice it, and then speeding up the question and response time so they could master it.
The energy level of the room told me that the answer was yes.  The smiles told me that I had found the spot on my side of the glass and washed it away.
Together we practiced, checking in with each other.  My job was to keep sharing scenarios that were real and relative to my students.  The students’ job was to practice hard and let me know how their understanding was growing.
In the end, we could all see better.  Our window was clean.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

We each process differently. Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)

We each process differently.  Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)
Over the years and decades of learning and teaching (and coaching and training…), I have been placed in so many different sets of circumstances in which I needed to stop, look, listen, and reflect about what I was doing. It always came at a time when what I was doing was either not working or not as well as I had hoped.
Several weeks ago it happened again. During an evening class, I was pulling out all of the stops to teach a concept to a group of students. They too were putting themselves into the learning.  Yet, despite everyone’s effort, the connection I had hoped my class would make with the material fell short.  
At the end of the evening, I asked the group to review and share with me what they had learned, and they did so quite well. Nonetheless, I sensed that their words masked the lack of depth of understanding. Their eyes, on the other hand, revealed all.
Upon leaving the building I was struck by an idea. My smartphone holds a great free app called Sound Cloud. It allows users to record music and voice and share. I knew that several of my students used it for music, and the others could easily download it.

So upon reaching my car, I pulled out my phone and recorded a simple 5-minute review of the class’ main points with some easy-to-understand examples.  Five minutes!  That is all the time it took. I uploaded the recording and e-mailed my students a link to follow me, asking for their input.
The input they gave excited me.  Some commented that listening again in a different way was what helped.  Others said that they appreciated being able to hear the lesson again once they were back home. That alone did the trick.  All agreed that they wanted to have a new sound cloud for each remaining lesson of the class. They wanted to keep listening.
Motivated to see what else could be done with this simple concept, I brought the idea to my high school group.  Always willing to try something that uses their technology, they pulled out their phones and either started following me on Sound Cloud or downloaded the app so they could do so.
It only took one recording of a lesson to hook my classes. They love the freedom of reviewing material.  Others like having access to lessons when they are sick. Everyone wants to have the session recorded during their particular classes. 

Since I teach language, I have begun creating stories that encapsulate the unit themes, vocabulary, grammar and culture and sending students on academic walks to listen.  After their academic walks, students return to class to discuss the recordings. Since we have been doing this, even the most challenged students have begun to participate more in speaking.  When I asked the students to share with me what was happening while they listened to the stories, they were more than ready to tell.
Each time listening brought them a deeper understanding.  They could picture the lessons in the book. Hearing the information that they had read brought the chapter topics home to them. Hearing the tales in the voice of the person who made the stories specifically for them helped them invest more. Having the opportunity to listen as many times as they wanted or needed gave the students a certain ease of approach.
I’m sold.  The beauty of this tool is that it is free.  We use it in class, so students can share technology. Students with computers at home may access Sound Cloud there. Others who need to use the school or public library computers may do so. 
What is more, it offers yet another means of reaching students, going where they are to help them learn, and show them that their teacher is invested in their learning.

So, why is this BLOG entitled We each process differently.  Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)?  I suppose it is because students and teachers alike process differently.  I needed to be confronted with a problem before I reached a possible solution.  My students needed to test the process to see if it could work, and we all will be playing with this gem to see where else we can use it for learning and teaching.
What a great project for all involved!  Thank, Sound Cloud!

If you have any additional ideas for using this or other teaching/training/learning apps, please forward them to me via FaceBook or

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Technology: a Blessing with Responsibility

Technology: a Blessing with Responsibility
Each day, we see students as young as elementary school age weaving through schools with cell phones in their hands. They check text messages and social media more fluidly than many of their parents. Tweeting, snap chatting, instagramming…they do it all.
If we take only a quick look at the technology picture around us, we can be fooled by what it means. One perspective is that every student holds a cellular key to the world in his or her hand or pocket. Is it true though? Why is it important to even ask?
I was recently confronted by this question in a new way. Why? It’s partially due to the ongoing thrust of technology and the encouragement to use it across education.
Each week I stumble upon new apps or websites that could enhance learning or teaching in some way. Some offer promise in my classroom; others present solutions to students.
In as far as I appreciate this, I am forced to take pause for thought. Do the many hours of digital content creation benefit all students?  Do all students have equal access to the content? Am I somehow blocking out or marginalizing certain students as I increase the volume of digital content? Am I unwittingly supporting the creation of a culture of haves and have-nots?
I think that it is important to consider these questions for the benefit of my students. Quickly asking my classes about their access to technology one day, I learned that at least 2 students in each class have no cell phone and that another 2-4 lack smartphone access. Many of those who own phones have very limited data plans. Furthermore, each class is represented by at least one person who has no internet access at all, not even at home.
A quick and plausibly helpful response to this question is to point out the access to school and public library computers. Thoughtful as the thought may be, a challenge arises when we think this way. If I ask students to use their lunch time in the library, and their evening time at a local library, I am, in a manner of thinking, penalizing them. Not having internet access at home consigns them to study in a specific place and in a specific timeframe, which may not be possible. May I presume that my students’ lives match up with library hours? Do all students have transportation to a local library? Am I necessarily the only teacher asking students to work online? Will the 30 minutes of allowed internet computer time at the public library suffice for the work assigned? Do we unintentionally grant educational partiality to the students who have easy access to the electronic tools that we use or build? 
James 2:1 reminds us to, “…show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…”
These thoughts challenge me as a teacher and as a parent who fully supports the creation of digital learning materials. Access to quality learning can go a long way toward leveling the educational playing field and help slower learners. Giving students around-the-clock access to reviews and practice components is a beautiful gift that a teacher can offer. 
Nonetheless, I would challenge fellow teachers(and continue challenging myself) to spend some time considering how we can guarantee equal access to necessary learning and offer all of our students equal space for their education, all the while supporting each student in our classes and avoiding unintentional partiality.
I invite you to respond to this blogpost and join the conversation.
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Caring for our Students through the Work we Assign

November 20, 2015

Caring for our Students through the Work we Assign

When I was young, I worked on my grandfather’s farm from February until the harvest in the fall.
One day during our lunch break, my grandfather began reminiscing about the “good old days”.
Whenever grandpa told a story, we listened, partially because he didn’t tell very many stories. It also owed to the fact that his dry sense of humor usually left you laughing, if you listened well.

Grandpa related a story from growing up during the Great Depression and how, to help get people back to work, certain jobs were created. One particular job that Grandpa could remember was the moving of dirt. Each morning, when Grandpa and the other men arrived on the job site, they were handed their shovels and work gloves and sent to the task of moving a pile of dirt and gravel from one side of a work site to the other. By the end of the day, if the men worked hard, the job would be complete. Then they would sign out and go home, just as the second shift arrived. 

After some time on the job, the men were getting the hang of their work and found some shortcuts, helping them to complete their task more efficiently. It was, nonetheless, hard and time-consuming work. The men did it, because it was, after all, work. They also did the work under the assumption that it was accomplishing something of value—maybe for construction of a new road…

One day, my grandpa returned to the job site after his shift had gone home. He had forgotten his hat and wanted to pick it up. When he arrived, he saw something very confusing.  The very pile of dirt that his team had spent the morning and early afternoon moving from one place to the another was being moved back to the point from which it had come. He shook his head and probably grumbled something savory.

Grandpa still went to work the next day, but not out of a desire to move dirt, not out of a sense of purpose. He simply went for the money that he needed.

As his story continued, it became clear that my cousin and I were supposed to learn something from listening.  The two of us had been complaining about hoeing the bean patch that morning, and Grandpa appeared to be making a point.  When we asked him what that point was, he told us.

He said, “The work I give you boys has a purpose. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t give it to you. I’m not interested in wasting your time or mine.  Hoeing the beans keeps the weeds out and puts oxygen in the soil.”  
He waited and looked at our faces for understanding. Then he continued. “The work that I had on that worksite looked like it had a purpose, but at the end of the day, we were just moving dirt around for money.  Then, the next day, we moved it again. If I did that to you, you would have a good reason to complain, but this work in the dirt is getting something important done.”

We told Grandpa that we understood, and he smiled and said, “By the way, I have a pile of dirt out behind the greenhouse.  If you want to move it, you can.”  

I still don’t know if he was joking. We never went to see.

This memory came back as I read the following word from Philippians this morning.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

As teachers or anyone else in a position of assigning work for that matter, we remember that the people doing the work we assign need to be able to trust in the meaning and purpose of the work we give.  If its purpose is hard to see or questionable, we run the risk of losing trust. 

One way of showing care and compassion for our students is by showing them the value in the work they do, by sharing the short, medium, and long-term vision.  We show it by connecting what they are doing now to what they can do with it later.  Flippant phrases like, “It is to help you learn how to think” carry little value. 

Both the story and the verse challenged me to look again at the material I teach, the units I create, the homework and study guides that I provide.  Am I being careful to care for my students?  Am I showing this to them by looking to their interests in humility?  Am I valuing them, their work, and their time?  Am I valuing them by giving them work with true value?

How about you?