Thriving K-12 Teacher-Student Relationships Now with Bridget Hocutt

Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 26: “The Importance of Student Relationships with Bridget Hocutt

In today’s podcast, we get to go on a trip, sort of. I got to talk to one of our “A Passion for Progress” students, Bridget Hocutt, who teaches eighth grade. At the time of our recording, she and her family had decided that since they were all working remotely to take a little road trip, which was super exciting that I was able to talk to her as they were traveling. But we do get to hear a little bit of her trip in the background, which is just super fun, and if that’s not 2020 I don’t know what it is.

Bridget took our course and just really saw the benefit of student choice, building student relationships, how all of it interconnects and she’s really inspirational to listen to, and I think you will get a lot out of the lessons that she’s going to teach you today.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

Jenn Breisacher: Just kind of starting out in the whole thing. Why don’t you introduce yourself? Who you are what you teach all that fun, fun stuff.

Bridget Hocutt: Okay, I am Bridget Hocutt and I teach eighth grade Language Arts in well, the other side of the country from you. In a more rural school district where there are about 300 students in our school. We’re six through eight.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay.

Bridget Hocutt: And I get to see all of the eighth-graders.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay. Well, that’s got to be fun, though. You get to know all of them.

Bridget Hocutt: Yeah, although it’s provided a unique challenge starting the year off completely online because I really don’t know most of the kids. So, building that relationship has been a little bit strange trying to figure out how to do that because they don’t know me, and I don’t know them.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, that’s very, very fair, for sure. How has it been going? So, obviously, you’re teaching all virtual? Has it been a challenge getting the kids to participate? Has it been okay? Everybody’s story is the same yet different. So, what has it been for you?

Creating a Plan

Bridget Hocutt: Well, I feel like I have maybe had some advantages in building student relationships in this environemnt over a few of my colleagues in that, partway through the summer for whatever reason, I just had this gut feeling that this is how it was going to go. So, I started, probably the end of June, really just planning for what am I going to do when this is completely online, I know what to do when my kids come back to the classroom, even if I only see them a few days a week.

But I don’t know how to do this whole online thing. I never learned that way. I’ve never taught that way. I just have zero experience. So, it feels like because I spent a lot more of my summer planning for that, that there are actually some things that I did to set myself up for success.

It doesn’t mean that it’s all going lovely or grand or anything like that because that just isn’t our reality right now. I opted to do individual Zoom sessions with my kids instead of whole group learning because they felt like I could more meet their individual needs. I think that that’s been going relatively well.

I have some students that still don’t come to those but it’s going to be that way, whether it’s big groups, or whether it’s individual. I think that I have based on some conversations with them, some colleagues. I think I have more kids that are coming to the individual sessions than we’re doing so in the spring in the big group. So, I’m encouraged by that.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s good. Yeah, I mean, there’s probably a little bit of pressure on them, I want to say that you’re waiting for them, you’re not waiting for everybody else. It’s just them which has probably been helpful.

Bridget Hocutt: I think it has been. It’s still interesting how many of them won’t turn their camera on which, you know, it’s a choice that they make, but it’s interesting to me when it’s just the two of us and you can say anything. I get that too that you know some of them you never know what their situation at home is and just to really respect that piece for them. So, I also feel with those individual Zooms I’m really able to meet the individual needs of my kids. It’s really interesting.

Some of them have some of them, it’s common among students but then there are others that in the conversation we’re having, and you know they’ve been struggling because their work hasn’t come in or it’s only partially complete. Then in this 10-minute conversation, you’re having all of a sudden, the light bulb goes on, because they’ve said something that might not even always be related to the issue they’re having with work, but you make the connections. Then you’re able to ask the right question, and the student goes, Oh, yeah, aha, I actually had one of those today.

Jenn Breisacher: Right. That’s huge. I really think that that is a benefit of online learning. You can’t have… I mean, you can set it up so you have individual conversations with each student in the classroom, but they’re always worried about who can hear me, who’s around, who’s going to see me, as individualized as you can make it. Closed-door in the classroom, there’s still always that fear. But when it’s online, it’s a fair game almost to let your guard down a little bit, and have those conversations that make everything make a little bit more sense.

Building Student Relationships through Curriculum

Bridget Hocutt: Yeah. Yeah. Today, it was interesting. So, my kids are keeping digital notebooks and I went in, clearly making some assumptions about the tech skills that my students had as eighth-graders. Today in a conversation, because a lot of my kids have really been struggling because I’ve asked them to paste some additional things into their digital notebook and different things like that.

I showed them how to do it. One assignment was only that and then and they all did it. So, then you assume, okay, they’ve got it and you move forward. Then today, in a conversation with a student who is significantly behind, something came up about the notebook. Her words, were, I’m just really having trouble with that. What do you mean, you’re having trouble with that?

So, then we could really get to the bottom of she’s just really struggling to paste things into her notebook the whole time. It’s not organized like mine that shows up on my video lesson and she can’t find what she’s looking for. It was like, oh, I can fix that for you. How about if I just put the notebook together and I paste all of the materials that you need for these first two units and I’ll just send it to you. She was like, you’d really do that. Sure, and I actually did that for four students today.

But it was something that until I had this conversation with the student, I didn’t really understand what it was she was struggling with.

Jenn Breisacher:  Right. I think that’s common as a teacher. You do, you make assumptions that if they’re at a certain point, either in their educational career or life or even just your class they should understand something. Then there’s either the kids just don’t want to ask questions, or they’re embarrassed on some level that maybe they did miss what it was, and it’s such an expectation of yours now that they’re afraid to ask for fear that they’re going to be yelled at or ridiculed or whatever.

Then on the flip side of that, it probably took you a couple of minutes to put that together for her to fill it all out yet how many other teachers would take that time to do that just to make the whole process easier for everyone? Because there’s this terrible idea that it’s on the kids, they’re supposed to do it when why not make it better for everybody?

Bridget Hocutt: Yeah, yep. It was like, oh, and in hindsight, perhaps I should have done this for everybody. But I mean, you think that’s true in the classroom, too. I mean we make decisions in the classroom, and get the work back from the kids and go, yeah, that didn’t go like I expected it to, right. I think there’s just the added piece of being online where sometimes the lag time for that aha to happen, is a little more significant now.

Jenn Breisacher: Right.

Bridget Hocutt: I also appreciate that I’m being able to say, and maybe more than ever before in my teaching career, and being able to say to kids, I need this communication with you. Hey, I need you to reach out because I’m learning too. So, it’s changed how some of my students are approaching this as well because they’re recognizing that there are parts that I’m new to in all of this as well.

So, it’s kind of like we’re on this adventure together. I actually had one today that as we were having a conversation, he said something about a piece of technology, and I’m like, I don’t even know what that is. So, then he could share his screen on Zoom, and he walked me through it. I was like, okay, that’s really cool. So, I think that just is so empowering for the kids when they feel like they’re teaching you something just like you’re teaching them something.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, just adding that element. I’ve been talking to everybody about it’s a terrible time and it’s so hard on so many levels but so much good is coming out of it. People are being forced to talk to each other more and that might just be at the dinner table with your own family because you have to be together or it could be that you’re talking to your students in ways that you not necessarily didn’t want to before but didn’t have the opportunity to, didn’t have the availability to and now you have to do it that way.

Bridget Hocutt: We have a couple of new teachers in our building right now, but I can only imagine. It’s their second year of teaching and how complicated this has been because they never even finished a first full year of teaching in the regular classroom with kids. Instead, they started it, and then our whole last quarter was all we shut the school down and we tried to do online with very little compared to what we have now.

student relationships

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, I mean, in a way, some of the teachers that you would think would struggle with this, the ones that are not as experienced, are doing a little bit easier with it, because they don’t know any better. So, just like a first-year teacher would be rolling with it, they’re just rolling with it, trying to figure it out.

Then it’s the teachers that have been around the block a few times that have their methods down, that say they know how to do this are the ones that are struggling because they’re not willing to open up their brain to hey, there’s another way you can go about this. I don’t really have a choice because I can’t teach in a traditional manner online, or hybrid, or with some kids in front of me and some kids through the internet, you just can’t.

The Technology Advantage

Bridget Hocutt: Right. I also think our newer teachers have a lot more experience with technology. So, I think there are some things that just are maybe a little more intuitive for them that aren’t for those of us. I count myself pretty fortunate. The school district where I went when I was a kid, they were kind of on the cutting edge of technology, and I happened to be able to TA for the teacher that was the lead in that.

So, there were a lot of things that we would get some new programming, he would say, sit down and figure out how to learn or figure out how to use this so that you can teach so and so. I’m not necessarily afraid of technology.

I feel pretty comfortable around it. He would always say what’s the worst you can do break the internet. It’s not going to happen. So, I mean, he was just, go for it. So, I feel like that’s an advantage for me, but I know that not everyone that’s in my spot in their career feels that same way. But I do think our newer teachers that are a bit of an advantage that a lot of them have that they have worked more with technology. It’s been a little bit more of their probably high school and college life than it ever was.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah. Definitely. That’s where we’ve mentioned that disparities amongst the kids have really been brought to the forefront, but disparities amongst teachers have been as well. If you have never been I don’t want to say forced. But if you have never been required, in some form to take on some new technology, or never had somebody make sure that it wasn’t just a fleeting professional development where you smiled and nodded and then went back to what you were doing before. Now the expectation is you need to figure it out because there is no other option.

Bridget Hocutt: Well, and some of it is the oh man, we were going to go back as a hybrid, and now all of a sudden we can’t do that. Oh, whoops, now you need to know this and so you get the 90 minutes of PD on whatever technology tool like Google Classroom or whatever that you’re going to use in this moment. Then it’s like, okay, so 90 minutes is enough and now I’m going to figure out how to use it.

That causes a lot of anxiety for teachers and people. But then the other side of it that I’ve discovered is we were like, okay, so Google Classroom is pretty intuitive because that’s the platform we’re using. It’s pretty intuitive for kids and they’ll figure it out. Then we’re like, yeah, they don’t intuitively know how to use it.

We’re now on this side, and I’ve said to a couple of my teacher friends that have all agreed with me, perhaps we all should have taken the first two weeks and all of our lessons should have been on how to navigate Google Classroom and all of the pieces of that step by step. I’m finding I’m having to do a lot of that sort of teaching to even get them to get to the content lessons, which is okay. I can be flexible with that.

We can do that, but I think it’s again, it’s back to that and I think we said it earlier, that word assumptions.

We make assumptions about our kids. We make assumptions about our colleagues. We make assumptions about all of these things and some of that habit of doing that is starting to come to light in this online situation that we’re in.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, and I mean the kids they are incredibly tech-savvy. You give them some type of social media app and they’ve got it figured out and four minutes flat. But correct, they still need to be taught how to use it. There is still a learning curve. You’re still going to have to take the two weeks to say, this is the button you push, this is where you go because they’re not excited to post their dance on Tik Tok as much as you know, finding this folder on Google Classroom.

It’s different but they’ll get it and once they get it, they have it.

So, it’s not real, we’re just going to dabble in this app or this program for a little bit, and then we’re not going to come back to it again, it’s just going to be for this one project. If it’s consistent and you come back to it over and over again, it’s totally fine. But you can’t assume that they are going to just know how to use it because they don’t have a computer chip in their brain as much as we sometimes think that they do. They do need to be programmed. We’ll just stick with that theme.

Bridget Hocutt: Yep. I want to circle back because I think you originally asked me what I did to prepare for this. One of my friends from high school teaches online. So, I will say I had multiple conversations with her over the summer, just picking her brain about different things about how she does it, and what are the benefits of that or this or the different way because she works for a company that does online instruction.

So, you know, there are pieces that I have to do that she doesn’t have to do but just trying to figure out which is how I came to the idea of the individual Zoom sessions because that was one of the things. She’s like, I only teach one kid at a time. Oh, okay. Then that was a little bit of a conversation and I had already been earlier in the spring talking to my principal about wanting to flip my classroom.

Our kids just don’t do homework and some of it is they just really don’t have the support at home to be able to do that. So, thinking about differently, how then do I leverage the time in the classroom for the things that I think are really important, but they don’t have the support at home to do. But you can’t just not do any of the instructions as well. But you can’t give one thing up to gain something else.

So, I’d already been talking to my administration about flipping my classroom, super supportive of that. So, when it looked like this is what we were going to do is like even more reason to figure out that flipped approach because then I know that even if we do a hybrid model when the kids are online, they’re getting the instruction videos. Then when we’re together, I get to do the clarifications, and we get to do the small group work, and we get to do the collaborative kinds of things that sometimes I see.

Jenn Breisacher: The fun stuff.

Bridget Hocutt: Well, and I think they’re the things that often when kids don’t get it like you think they do, they’re the things that get set by the wayside, and yet they’re the most powerful learning pieces for the kids. Then that’s when I came across your flipped classroom in the student-centered classroom and all of those pieces. I think the big thing for me was walking through that I don’t even know what to call it program, professional development.

Jenn Breisacher: PD course.

Bridget Hocutt: So, walking through that I don’t know that a lot of it, for me, was new learning but it definitely reaffirmed what I believed for a long time as an educator. That was just in all of this, it was just really, really comforting to be okay, yep, I really do understand how to reach kids, I really do understand my craft, and all of these things that I’ve been thinking for a long time.

It really is the direction that I should go, and I finally feel like I’m in a building that 100% embraces that idea.

I think that’s the piece that pushed me over the edge of, “Yes, I’m going to go for this”. So, we do have two foundational units that we’re doing right now that all the kids are doing, and I’ve set up some things that I haven’t always done in my classroom. But I think online, the kids, have to meet a certain minimum percentage on each of the assignments before they can access the assessment.

Then they have to score a certain percentage on the assessment before they can move on to the next unit. All of that, in an effort to prevent them from failing later on. I want to set them up for success.

Jenn Breisacher: Sure.

Utilizing Student Choice

Bridget Hocutt: What’s kind of dangling out there for them is the idea that I created 12 choice units for my students and that they then get to choose six of them to complete over the course of the rest of the year.

Jenn Breisacher: Awesome.

Bridget Hocutt: So, as I’ve talked with kids about it, they’re starting to get a little more excited about that. Today, I talked with several kids about more specifics, like what are those units. So,  essentially, they get to read and write about the six topics that interest them.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s awesome.

Bridget Hocutt: So, I’m excited. I got to work with my history teacher, and we’ve worked on at least three of the units. So, one for each quarter is collaborative and the project that they complete, they would get credit in both English and social studies.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s fantastic.

Bridget Hocutt: Today, as I was sharing with kids, I watched their eyes get bigger and as they’re getting excited, it’s like, I’m getting excited. I’m excited about how this is going to look. I don’t have all of the details figured out yet. But one of the units is around suspense.

So, the kids get to read suspense stories and they get to study how an author crafts and uses different techniques to create suspense in a text and in a movie, and then the end project is they either get to create their own suspense to narrate a story, or they can do a suspense film, like a short film.

So, for my kids that kind of horror and that kind of stuff, might be something that they choose. So, anyway, those are the pieces that I think, for me feel like I can manage this online, that I have some ideas. I would still be doing this if we were in the classroom but what I feel like it’s done for me is made the online piece feel manageable.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Bridget Hocutt: It’s like, yep, I already had a vision that I was going to be videotaping my lessons because my kids were going to be watching those at home. So, that was an okay thing, and even though right now the collaborative pieces look a little different. I think we are going to do some of those via Zoom, once we get to the choice of unit. So, I’ll shift away from the individual Zoom sessions. In the same way, I’m doing them now and shift to those collaborative opportunities for kids.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah.

Bridget Hocutt: So anyway.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s such a fantastic plan. I mean, I hear like, my thoughts coming out of your mouth. I’m so excited because that’s like you got it, you’re implementing it, and you realize that some things might work, some things you need to tweak, some things you’re still figuring out and that’s okay. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. You might get a call tonight that says like, Well, we’ve got to go back in or we’re going to be out for the whole year, you just don’t know right now.

So, having that flexibility and having a plan and getting your kids excited through the internet looking at them. It’s just, you can’t ask for much more than that. So, if you had to give a teacher who’s really trying to figure it all out and manage it, and piece it together, right now, a piece of advice, what would it be?

The Advice You Need

Bridget Hocutt: Four words.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay.

Bridget Hocutt: Grace-because you know what, you’re not going to get it right every time. You’re not going to get it right, the kids aren’t going to get it right and the best thing you can do is give yourself and them grace, when a mistake happens. Flexibility- because it’s never going to look the same from day to day and you have to be able to be flexible with those changes that will cause a lot less stress for you.

Perseverance- because this is going to be hard. There’s just no way around it. This is going to be hard, but we have to stick with it and when we stick with it, our kids will stick with it…

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Bridget Hocutt:…because they will see that. Number four choice because if they have a choice, they’re going to be with you.

Jenn Breisacher: Yep.

Bridget Hocutt: You want a choice as a teacher. The kids want choices as students.

Jenn Breisacher: Again, as the teacher, you are 100% dictating what their choices are. So, you are still making sure they’re doing what they need to be doing but they think that they have all these options, and you know, they’ll gravitate towards what they like which will make them more engaged. It’s a snowball.

Bridget Hocutt: Yep. Absolutely.

Jenn Breisacher: Awesome.

Bridget Hocutt: Thank you, Jen, for reaching out and for putting the PD together and just reaffirming everything that I’ve believed for a long time but giving me the I don’t know maybe the springboard to jump in and say, okay, yep, I’m just going to go for it.

Jenn Breisacher: Oh, that makes my heart so happy to hear. I put so much of my own thoughts and time and I just want to get it out to as many teachers as I can and just hearing you say as it worked for me that just makes me so happy. Well, on that note, are you guys going on a little trip? I didn’t even ask. That’s very rude of me.

Bridget Hocutt: Well, it’s hunting season and our youngest daughter is a senior getting to do online. So,  we feel like perhaps we need to do some things that we wouldn’t normally do. So, since we can teach remotely, we’re headed to the other side of the state to hunt.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s awesome. I said to my husband, so the district that we live in might be going all back to school which, right now they’re on a hybrid, and they’re only in two days a week and we’re comfortable with that. But now I’m like, I don’t know.

Bridget Hocutt: I know. It’s so hard to know.

Jenn Breisacher: Well, I work from home and my husband works from home unless he’s traveling. But right now, traveling has been obviously non-existent. So, I’m like what if we just like to rent a motorhome and we like pull the kids to go virtual and we can park places and work and then just go, just go, and find things? When would we have the opportunity to do that again? So, good for you guys for actually doing it, because we’re a lot of talk.

Bridget Hocutt: Well, we have both because we did online in the spring, they shut schools down the middle of March and we never went back. At that time, at first, we weren’t even allowed in the building, so we did all of it at home. This fall, they’re actually letting teachers in the building and they actually are allowing our school-age kids to come in with us. So, that has been a big benefit.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s helpful.

Bridget Hocutt: We’ve said, nope, we’re not doing it at home, we’re doing it at school and we’re leaving school at school so that we can be home. But we also feel like she’s missing out on a lot of those senior year kinds of things and so we just decided, nope, this is going to be one of those things that we can do. I say go for it. Don’t just talk about it Jenn, go for it.

Jenn Breisacher: I know….

Bridget Hocutt: Do you want any suggestions about where you should go. Email me. No seriously, the year we went from one side of the state to the other we spent 33 days on the road in a motorhome touring the United States. It was the coolest thing we’ve ever done, and both of my girls would tell you that.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s awesome. So, my husband’s whole family races boats, which is random, but it’s all over the country. So, we do have the opportunity to drive to wherever there happens to be a race site. So, we certainly have that and then the other part of me because we’ve been backhandedly having this conversation with each other like, “oh, we should just go”.

But we’re doing trying to pay off the debt and trying to do all the responsible adult things, but I’m like, “when are we going to have an opportunity like this?” It’s just that internal the devils on the side like just do it. The angel is like no, you have a plan, you’re trying to do the thing.

Bridget Hocutt: It is hard, and I will say that was a piece that you don’t drive by a gas station in a motorhome. Right. Yes.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes. Well, well aware of that.

Bridget Hocutt: Thanks for being flexible with us.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s the name of the game in 2020.

Bridget Hocutt: It’s one of those four words right.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes, right. All right, well, thanks again. Enjoy your time.

Bridget Hocutt: Take care.

Jenn Breisacher: Bye.

**After our conversation (and another forthcoming podcast), our family did decide to take our cross-country trip!! Thanks to Bridget for the motivation to stay in our bubble and have the experience of a lifetime.

If you missed our trip (I made a whole curriculum for my kids as we went), you can check out the highlights on Instagram: Part 1 Part 2**

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at studentcenteredworld.com/about

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