Introducing Pear Deck Teaching Truths

The Pear Deck Teaching Truths are a set of principles that we believe in, and have designed to guide you in building positive school culture where teachers can create powerful learning moments for every student, every day. The truths are rooted in our own experiences as educators and school leaders, and backed by pedagogical research. The most effective teachers already operate by these truths, but everyone needs a reminder once in awhile of how important it is to open up channels of communication between students and teachers while building strong, trusting relationships between peers. 

We created Pear Deck with these truths in mind, and we’re so excited to find new ways to explore their potential with you. Read on to find out what the Teaching Truths are, and how you can bring these best practices to your school.

If you know us, you know that we can’t resist a pun or a mnemonic! So we’ve organized our Truths to be easy to remember—just think TEACH! 

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Truth No. 1: Tackle Tenacity

Students need to be encouraged to be courageous and resilient. Developing tenacity—that ability to overcome setbacks—means giving my students real challenges, allowing them to fail, and guiding them through the aftermath. Life doesn’t present us with discrete tasks that we ace or fail. Instead, we are continually traversing a path replete with highs and lows, resplendent views and pitfalls. Let’s help our students be unafraid in those stumbling moments, teach them how to get back up, reflect, and keep going.

A school culture that engenders resilience challenges students to take risks outside of their comfort zones and guides students through the failures that inevitably come with those risks. When a true achievement is attained, the reward isn’t material – it’s more than a certificate or a medal.   

Imagine students in the thrill of a football victory against a rival school. Or imagine your students on opening night of the school musical. The reward these students receive is a sense of pride in front of their community—and the internal reward of knowing they worked hard, really really hard, with lots of mistakes along the way, to achieve something spectacular. Tackling Tenacity is about helping students achieve that sense of strength and confidence in their own potential. 

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Truth No. 2: Excavate and Expand

To find happiness and satisfaction in our ever-changing world, students will need to adapt, change, and innovate. I don’t want my students to spend 12 years in school repeating after me; I want them to learn to dig deeper, to ask “why,” to uncover multiple possible “whys,” and suggest creative solutions to big problems. Rather than being a taskmaster, I want to be a coach who encourages my students in practicing and strengthening their critical and creative thinking muscles every day. 

As teachers and administrators, this means you set the tone for intellectual curiosity. Testing is intended to make sure all of our students achieve a standard of rigor, but a major downside is that our curriculum quickly becomes reductive. Kindergartners should be able to add single digits? OK. Well the quickest way for me to be sure they can do that is to drill them on it every day. But in doing so, we focus too much on the destination and ignore all the treasures that are to be found on our learning journey. What if we replaced worksheets with the thrill of observing numbers in nature? What if we restored the wonder, creativity, and critical thinking for the students and ourselves? 

Rigor doesn’t come from worksheets or bubble tests. Rigor comes from a school-wide commitment to curiosity, a willingness to engage big questions, a drive to ask “why?”, and an insistence on pushing each other to accomplish worthy goals. Remembering to Excavate and Expand can help us keep in mind how critical it is to help students connect what they’re learning to why they’re learning, and to go deeper. When we make those surprising discoveries and forge new pathways, we’re living the principle to Excavate and Expand in our classrooms. 

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Truth No. 3: Anticipate Awesome

I took a school trip my senior year of high school, during which my teacher asked us to journal. She said she’d read our trip journals but if we had a private section, we could mark it and she wouldn’t read that part. Well, she did read it. On purpose? On accident? I’ll never know. But when I came to collect my journal, she clearly knew some of my private insecurities and big questions as I reflected on my high school years and turned my attention toward college. She said to me, “Michal, don’t think about high school. You are going to go on to college and do great. You are going to make great friends and all of this...” she gestured to my peers and the school building beyond, and kind of waved it away, “you are going to thrive in college.”  

It was a moment in which I felt both deeply humiliated and fully seen by my teacher. She knew me, understood me, and appreciated me in a way I hadn’t realized and in that moment I felt emboldened. Her confidence in me was empowering and allowed me to see myself in a new way.

My students need that from me. We all need that from the people in our community. 

Students not only do better in school when they feel like an important and valued member of their school community, they do better in life. There is such a deep power that comes from the feeling of someone at your back, from knowing that the peers and adults you see everyday care about and have confidence in you. It’s so powerful that even one sentence from one adult can live with you for 20 years. Let’s show each and every student that we want them there, that we expect great things from them, and we see them.

When we Anticipate Awesome, we step away from the preconceptions and biases that can color our perception of each other and our students. When we challenge ourselves to truly see what our students are capable of and raise the bar on their own sense of potential, we Anticipate Awesome, and that can make all the difference in the world. 

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Truth No. 4: Cultivate Compassion

Coming to school every day can be an overwhelming experience. It’s sensory overload all day long and students don’t often get a lot of guidance in how to handle conflict, identify when internal stress is impacting their outward behavior, or support one another as a learning community. A great learning community invites differences in emotions, opinions, skills, and challenges. 

Cultivating compassion begins by asking your students each day how they’re feeling, if they’re getting the material or having trouble, and prompting them to share different opinions with each other. When you do so, you create a caring learning community where students better understand themselves and respect their peers' strengths and challenges. When the classroom culture is rooted in respect, students are better able to help and learn from one another.  

Sometimes the hardest part of creating a compassionate learning community is the work we have to do on ourselves. This work is hard to do when we, as teachers, are disconnected from our hearts and emotions. After all, we bring our stress, baggage, and biases into the classroom, too.  In order to help guide our students, we must also be willing to do the work to be whole and healthy.  

As a professional, I never want to lay my stress on my students. That can cause me to construct an unintentional barrier between me and my students. But when I have been able to let down my guard and let my students see me managing my emotions and navigating stresses, their own barriers begin to fall. They start to see me not as an external authority figure, but a human being. They begin to trust me more and they begin to take more responsibility for themselves and for each other.

What’s remarkable is that when I have been the most open and willing to be vulnerable, I have had some of the most amazing days. My openness resulted in my classroom feeling fully connected. And that’s how we arrive at truth number 5, Hand it Over.

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Truth No. 5: Hand It Over

As we face classrooms filled to the brim with the energy and emotions of dozens of students, we yearn to keep control and hold chaos at bay. At the same time, we need to find opportunities to hand over responsibility to our students so that they can take ownership of their learning and their role in shaping their future. A supportive, yet challenging learning community might start with us, but we can’t fully build it without engaging our students. A great educational experience (and a great life) doesn’t magically happen for them; our students must learn to be active agents in their own success and happiness.

Handing it Over happens when you leave step-by-step worksheets behind and give students a project to manage. It happens when you allow their voices and opinions to shape the direction of the discussion or allow their questions to lead the way forward. It happens when you let students learn from each other and become experts.  It happens when you encourage them to talk to one another, not just through you. And it happens when you invite them to work on projects that impact the community around them, not just their own grade.

I have tried many ways to Hand it Over as a teacher, a parent, and a manager. It’s exceedingly difficult to find the right balance, the right scaffolding. When I see my child failing or struggling, it’s so tempting to think I’ve handed over too much responsibility and try to fix it for him, which would be incredibly disempowering. Handing it Over requires a willingness to sit in a bit of chaos, in a bit of not knowing. Will my students handle it? Will they be able to rise to this challenge? Will they be responsible?  Was it right to let go of control in this way? I might not always get it just right, but as a teacher, it’s my job to keep rebalancing, to guide and support, and then let go when they are ready for it.

These are the Teaching Truths that we find to be self-evident. We believe our schools should be compassionate and connected learning communities where the whole child is seen, welcomed, and challenged. 

Stay tuned! In the coming weeks and months, you can expect more inspirational guidance on how to teach with these truths close to your heart, as well as tactical tips on how the Pear Deck tools can support you.

This week's blog post and the Pear Deck Teaching Truths were created and written by Pear Deck Chief Educator, Michal Eynon-Lynch.

Michal Eynon-Lynch