Episode 106 Language, Self-Reflection, Growth: Thomas Sauer

It's About Language, with Norah Jones
It's About Language, with Norah Jones
Episode 106 Language, Self-Reflection, Growth: Thomas Sauer

“If a teacher does something effective in their classroom, and no one sees it, did it even happen?

In this podcast, Thomas talks about the importance of self-reflection…for teachers, in this case, but self-reflection is, in fact, important for EVERYONE so that our interior and exterior language “speaks truth” about what we are doing in the world.

Thomas refers to, and we spend some time on, a well-constructed system of reflection called TELL, Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning. You can check out the complete TELL reflection domains in the resources listing, below with Thomas’s biography and other resources.

In my work as an educator, supervisor, trainer, coach, and consultant, I fell in love with the concept and content of TELL from the beginning of its appearance, based on the amazing array of language education leaders that contributed to its development and on its clarity and logic.

My own workshops and talks have encorporated the concepts of reflection and feedback in a variety of ways, but one of my most sought-after topics continues to be the use development and use of Integrated Performance Assessments. In particular, institutions and supevisors are interested in the concept of my proficiency-priented specialty, what I can “Everyday IPAs.

These daily “bursts” of integrated language through a tightly focused activity involving all three communication modes in a natural order (interpretive to interpersonal to presentational) provide such powerful opportunities, day after day, for both student and teacher self-reflection. They super-charge students’ skills and, in particular, their confidence and hope. They realize they CAN use a language, and that each time they do under low-stakes settings (even in a classroom! with peers! in front of a teacher!) they can get better and better!

And that’s what TEACHERS realize about themselves, too. They can do it. They can grow. They can have fun with students. They can encourage students without adding burden to their days, nights, weekends.

Powerful stuff.

In March of 2020 I was asked to present virtually for a NADSFL professional gathering. That’s the National Association of District Supervisors, of which I am a member. Their requested topic was the TELL Domain of Performance and Feedback, with a focus on the first Standard.

There is no better way I can think of, in a simple and single post, to demonstrate what reflection looks like than to share the the segments of my presentation which specified, through the TELL framework, how reflection is to be used in planning, using, and learning from classroom approaches to language instruction, in this case my area of specialization, “Everyday IPAs.”

The TELL Framework introduces the Performance and Feedback Domain (one of 7 Domains with, in part, this statement:

Effective language learning experiences are facilitated by the use of assessment strategies that allow students to demonstrate what they can do with what they know and to receive helpful feedback that advances the attainment of the performance objectives.

Now let’s take a look at what the first TELL Performance and Feedback Standard (PF1) has to say about what effective language teachers do:

PF1: The teacher measures student language growth through performance assessments.

a. The teacher ensures that students’ learning experiences prepare them for the performance tasks.

b. The teacher uses performance tasks that clearly outline expectations and that have a real-world purposeful context.

c. The teacher uses performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate growth relative to the proficiency targets.

d. The teacher uses performance tasks that provide feedback on how well students have met the performance objectives.

e. The teacher identifies student successes and opportunities for modification to improve future performance

Now I’ll share with you the reflection insights I presented to the NADSFL group. These concepts and more are part of the workshops I present where we can act and reflect together, to bring hope to individuals and growth to all:

Based on this Performance and Feedback Assessment, how do we approach and plan and prepare for an “Everyday IPA”?

  • Use multi-mode performance tasks to provide demonstrable evidence of student fluency and accuracy.
  • Relate performance tasks to students’ life experiences and interests.
  • Base limited, measurable outcomes and rubrics on standards.
  • Review rubrics to ensure growth in language control and fluency.
  • Base feedback on the specific, measurable outcomes from the rubric.
  • Begin feedback focus with confirming successful specific language behaviors as noted in the rubric.
  • Continue feedback with specific steps that can be taken to target language behaviors
  • (Train and coach students to provide self- and peer-feedback using the model above.)

When we do our own reflection and ask others to observe and reflect with us, what are some “look fors” when evaluating how an Everyday IPA has worked with a class?

  • The task is clear, logical, and appropriate for the time frame for which it is planned.
  • Students engage with the topic because of perceived relevance to their life experiences and their contribution to it.
  • Students receive the rubric/expectations before the task begins.
  • Before beginning, students clearly understand the expectations and the continuum of assessing their performance.
  • The teacher provides ample time for the task and for reflection.
  • Students first provide their own self-feedback; the teacher confirms and/or extends the feedback.
  • The teacher uses student task examples to demonstrate examples of growth relative to proficiency targets.
  • The teacher leads students to identify focused, limited next steps to practice and apply on the next performance task.

What are some important tips for success with Everyday IPAs, that you can reflect on as your try them out?

  • Use authentic prompts (and remember the whole world is the authentic toolbox).
  • Keep first in mind the real life of (young) humans. What’s effortlessly common to all of us?
  • Keep the task limited and simple.
  • Think “every day.” Small increments mean lot of practice, more training in self-coaching, and lower stakes.
  • Keep prompts and use them across time within and among levels. Modify the task, not the text. Save yourself time.
  • Train students first in the basics of proficiency standards. Give native language examples, then TL.
  • Create a basic rubric that reflects what you have trained students to understand about proficiency standards.
  • Use the rubric over and over. Post it on your wall or give the students a doc they always have access to.
  • Keep the task short and give time for students to reflect on how well they themselves did on a given task.
  • Ask students to self-rate on the rubric. Coach afterwards, confirming success (and why) and need (and why).
  • Don’t take grades for everyone every day/time. Growth is its own reward when done frequently.

May YOUR reflections, no matter your work, no matter your experience, open for YOU the path to joy and hope for you and all around you, through language.

And if you want to see Everyday IPAs in action in your class, school, district, or institution, please connect up with me and let’s work together to bring this powerful tool to your teachers and students.

Thomas Sauer bio and resources

Thomas Sauer is passionate about helping teachers make the shift from teaching to learning. As such he has held a variety of roles in the world language education field for the past 25 years. Currently, Thomas is the codirector of PEARLL, a Title VI language resource center at the University of Maryland, where he develops resources to support reflective teaching and facilitates face-to-face and online professional learning opportunities for language teachers. He previously worked as an independent consultant with educational organizations across the country and as a K–12 world language specialist for several school systems in Kentucky. Mr. Sauer taught German at the University of Kentucky, Georgetown College, the Kentucky Institute for International Studies, and Kentucky Educational Television. 


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0:00:02.6 Norah Jones: What language do we use to talk about our strengths? How do we reflect on the things that we are doing, such that we find what we are doing right and work at developing it and rejoicing in it? What do we say to ourselves about our own skills, our own possibilities, and how do we share those thoughts about ourselves with others? And how do we listen and learn from, benefit from and rejoice with others? All of these issues have to do with language. All of these issues have to do with a variety of communities in which we live, families, organizations, businesses, educational institutions.

0:01:00.5 Norah Jones: My guest today is Thomas Sauer. Those in the world education field will almost certainly recognize his name as a man who has provided for workshops and sessions and leadership for decades. Those of you not in the world education field recognize that this conversation brings to bear how what we experience through language can affect positively all those around you and you yourself. Enjoy this conversation with Thomas Sauer and reflect on what it means to you and for you, and share that with others.


0:01:46.1 Norah Jones: It’s fun to be able to have a conversation always with the both energetic and also highly fascinating, Thomas Sauer, but it’s going to be especially neat to have a conversation today. Hi Thomas.

0:01:58.4 Thomas Sauer: Hi, Norah. How are you?

0:02:00.6 Norah Jones: I’m doing well, thank you. And we have lived through storms to be able to have this conversation finally. And would like you to, first of all, introduce yourself to the listeners who may or may not be familiar with the educational scene of the National Foreign Language Resources Center, the various aspects of what goes on with teacher training. And then there are some that’ll be very familiar with you, of course. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

0:02:32.9 Thomas Sauer: So I’m currently working at the University of Maryland at the National Foreign Language Center. And within the National Foreign Language Center, I am the director of a outfit called PEARRL which stands for Professional in Education, Advancing Research and Language Learning. And we are one of 16 language resource centers that are funded by the Department of Education. And so they’re all around the country, different institutions, they all have a different focus. Our focus happens to be professional development while all the centers do professional development, we try to actually figure out what works, what doesn’t work in professional development. We try to find the answer to that really simple question, what will make a teacher change their practice?

0:03:24.4 Norah Jones: Profound. A very simple question.

0:03:28.2 Thomas Sauer: Yeah. And the reason why I got into this is because I’ve been doing PD as somebody pointed out to me. I’m in my fourth decade of doing professional development for teachers. I started doing PD in the late ’90s and so now that we’re where we are, this is the fourth decade in which I have done professional development. And so I love working with teachers, I love learning with teachers and, but I started my own career in distance learning. So I taught German on satellite television. So I never saw my students which meant I, from my very first teach job, I had to think about, okay, if I say that, what will cause that to happen in the learning? What will they do because of my instructions, because of my directions?

0:04:13.8 Thomas Sauer: So I’ve always thought about teaching not as a separate process, but I had to think about both sides of it. I didn’t have just had to think about what I’m doing as a teacher. I always always had to think about what the students are doing. And so my… When we used to be on Twitter, my Twitter bio was always passionate about making the shift from teaching to learning because I’ve always had to think about not just the teaching aspect, but truly the learning part. And so now in my work as a professional development center, obviously that’s core and front and center to think about, okay, how do we think about not just giving more knowledge to teachers. But if I give, if I train teachers, what is that going to cause them to do?

0:04:58.8 Norah Jones: What is it or is it even possible to say what it is that you would like teachers to do? What kind of evidence that teachers are doing something you had hoped for are you looking for?

0:05:15.1 Thomas Sauer: That’s a really, I think, that’s a really hard question. And one that administrators around the country have to fight with all the time. Any teacher who’s scared of observation, I always tell them, don’t be scared. Who’s the most scared in your observation? The principal who has no idea what they’re even supposed to be looking for in a Chinese immersion classroom, in an 8th grade French classroom, in a high school German level four class. So they’re much more scared than us teachers, but of course teachers would be helpful if we knew what this teaching should look like. And so about a dozen years ago, I got involved in a project called the Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning Project, short name TELL. And it was an effort by four colleagues. We were all districts, well, three of us were district supervisors and one was a consultant. And we all tried to figure out the answer to your question actually, what is it that we want to see teachers actually do?

0:06:20.3 Thomas Sauer: We all had different motivations. One district had a very large turnover rate, so the supervisor kept like, I keep doing the same training over and over and over again. In my own district, we had embarked on a very ambitious curriculum redesign and I needed teachers to be really laser-focused on implementing the curriculum as written. So we just kind of dug through the literature and the research to see what is it that we know. And there wasn’t one place that kind of said, okay, this is what effective language teachers do. Lots of textbooks out there, lots of research, but they always just address one part of it. So we came up with this set of criteria. We shared it with other smart genius people that we know and asked them for their opinion. They’re like, “This is amazing. Can we have it?” And so like, okay, well before we share it public, let’s make sure we are on the right track here. So we again make connections to other general education frameworks because there’s lots out there that says what all teachers should do, and sometimes language teachers fight those frameworks, even though they’re good. But they don’t use our language.

0:07:32.8 Thomas Sauer: Language teachers, we have our own lingo when it comes to talking about teaching. And if it doesn’t say it exactly that, then we’re dismissing it, even though it might be a really good strategy. So we try to translate, pun intended, these general education strategies into terms that language teachers could understand. And then went through a large scale review. We had reviews from every single state. Textbook authors, teachers, consultants, district supervisors, state supervisors, classroom teachers to give us their feedback to make sure that that framework really is solid. And then we published, and it’s been out now again, almost, 11 years, and it has undergone two revisions. And I still think it’s a really good framework for telling people what effective teaching looks like. And I knew that during COVID because I was really scared, obviously, when COVID happened and we all switched to online learning. Of course, I immediately thought, “Oh my gosh, what does TELL say? Is it going to be okay?” And we looked at TELL from the COVID lens and discovered maybe with the exception of a few statements that made direct reference to the organization of the classroom. It was spot on because good teaching is good teaching.

0:08:45.0 Norah Jones: Thomas, you used so many important phrases in there and to… That talked about, for example, translating concepts that were in use in more general education or in some other specific curricular areas into the kind of language that the language community of teachers would feel that they could own and respond to. You take a look at them, I’m going to ask you to specify some of the aspects of the TELL curriculum framework. The framework around the what the teacher effectiveness and language learning is all about.

0:09:25.2 Norah Jones: Keeping in mind that I’m also looking and saying, what is it that educators in general, but really, especially of course by the nature of this podcast, language teachers, language educators are able to be reflecting on how non-language people, how people in business, how people in organizations should be thinking about best practices, about how things work when they speak to their teams. When they work with their community organization, when they’re interacting potentially with their family or friends. What are some of the insights? What are some of the guidelines that you know have been important and have carried through even under such circumstances as the pandemic?

0:10:20.3 Thomas Sauer: I think one at the core of everything that language teachers do and that makes us so unique and in my mind irreplaceable is because we are probably, and I’m quoting Katrina Griffin here who said that during her speech when she became the actual teacher of year that language teaching is the only subject area where we’re actually teaching interpersonal communication, where we’re actually helping people understand each other. And that makes us so unique and probably one of the most important subject areas there is right now. Everything else is often content. It’s things that are Googleable [chuckle] And I know language is Googleable but to make those true interpersonal connections, to have true interpersonal connections that are based on intercultural knowledge, you need to human two humans. And language teachers help their students become those humans who can have those conversations. And yeah, that’s what I would probably say to outsiders too. That’s what you’re looking for, language teaching today is not learning isolated facts about the language, about the culture, about the grammar. It’s to raise a generation of people who can communicate with each other for the better of the whole human race.

0:11:44.0 Norah Jones: That’s a powerful statement right there. How’s that initiative growing? How’s it going?

0:11:50.8 Thomas Sauer: Oh, that’s a… I think we have pockets of excellence around the country. We have teachers who embrace it. There’s lots of teachers who think that that’s the byproduct of their teaching, but not the product. And so then their practices perhaps don’t support it and they just hope that what happens. And then, of course, you also still have teachers who are still teaching isolated facts, language, culture. So I think, it’s all over the place.

0:12:21.5 Norah Jones: In what way is the work that you have done and that you’re currently doing bring to the awareness of more and more practitioners the fact that the communication, the connection of human to human is not the byproduct, but the product that you’re looking for and why?

0:12:45.1 Thomas Sauer: We obviously try to do that through training, through workshops, the different professional development models. But anybody who has talked to me knows I’m just trying to get teachers to be reflective of over their practice. One of those colleagues who was involved in the beginning of the TELL framework always said to me that, “Thomas, there’s no teacher that gets up in the morning and says, I want to do a bad job today”. And that was… For me that was really profound because we kind of have to think about it when you go, observe a teacher and like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they’re doing this.

0:13:21.5 Thomas Sauer: There’s no teacher that gets up and goes into that room and says, “You know what? I’m going to do exact opposite of what they told me last week in the PD”. No, every teacher does exactly the best that they’re able to do. They do the best with what they know. The whole old saying, you know better, you do better. Obviously that’s why professionalism is important. So you have those teachers. But then on the other spectrum, I think we have a lot of teachers who aren’t aware of that they’re amazing. So I run into these teachers who do absolutely incredible things, even better than what we could imagine in writing the TELL framework, but they have no clue that it’s happening. And so I always say, if something amazing happens in a classroom and nobody knows about it, did it really happen?

0:14:06.9 Thomas Sauer: So if they’re not aware… And they’re aware in the sense that their students enjoying it and there’s outcome, but they don’t know, they can’t explain the process that they went through. And I was in that category of teachers myself too. Because people would say, “Oh, you’re an amazing teacher” even though I had no idea why. For me I was just doing what I… I was literally was just phoning it in at some point because I was like, I just didn’t… There was no intentionality. So my big word when it comes to professional development, when it comes to teach effectiveness is intentionality because I think that’s what’s missing so often. And that’s not a dig on teachers.

0:14:47.8 Thomas Sauer: The lack of intentionality has to do with the structures that are in place that don’t allow teachers to be intentional. Teaching 4 or 5, 6 different classes a day, the 30-minute planning period between which you have to do 5 minute other things don’t allow for intentionality. The overall school sketcher doesn’t allow for internationality. The culture around teaching doesn’t allow for intentionality. So I’m trying to get people to be intentional about their choices as a teacher, which starts obviously with awareness. Be aware first and then be intentional about the decision that you’re making. And I think that’s not happening nearly enough for us to actually get to that goal that we just talked about of having language classes where interpersonal communication for the better good is the true goal of the class.

0:15:41.1 Norah Jones: The intentionality breakthrough which clearly is going to be incremental based on all of the environmental surroundings that you have just placed it in here, in this bit of this conversation, how do you go about it? How are you building an understanding of intentionality so that effectiveness in the classroom, someone did see it happen, it does grow. How are you going about that to scaffold the breakthroughs into a greater and greater number?

0:16:21.4 Thomas Sauer: So one of the things that we’re trying to do in our work at PEARRL and to TELL framework is to get teachers to name and observe effective practices. Every teacher in the world has probably a smartphone. So we have a device in our classrooms that allows us to record our classes for our own purposes. And so, for example, TELL has a series of what we call feedback forms that teachers can use to just see, how close am I? What am I doing? So I now have a group of teachers in Tennessee. They would literally… They would record them. They would get together on Friday nights with a bottle or two of wine and they would watch each other’s videos using the TELL feedback forms to give each other feedback, which of course is incredible. I mean, that might be extreme, but they were committed to the cause. So I think just seeing yourself teaching, so many teachers haven’t seen themselves teach. They may have recorded a video way back when they first got their education certificate and then haven’t seen themselves teach. The other thing is go see other teachers teach too.

0:17:33.4 Thomas Sauer: So it’s one thing to see yourself, but I think it’s also we haven’t seen other teachers teach. Unfortunately, the reality of teaching is still go to your classroom, shut the door, and nobody will know what happens inside. And so getting teachers to open up their classrooms, letting anybody come inside at any point to see would just be an incredible change. I knew I had made progress in a… Sorry, backstory. I was a district supervisor for a large urban school district for about a dozen years. And I knew we had made progress when the teacher’s like, “Thomas, you can come anytime it does not matter.” Because they wanted the feedback, they wanted to see. And that was a huge shift from where… “Oh, don’t come in today. Oh, no.” Or, “I did come in” like, “Oh, well you should have been here yesterday…

0:18:23.0 Thomas Sauer: Yesterday was much better”, to please come or sometimes I would go to school for a meeting and not go into the classroom. Like, “Why didn’t you come into my classroom too?” And so that’s when I knew we had made progress because teachers were asking for demanding feedback on their practice. They wanted to see. And so you can do this for yourself. You don’t need anybody else coming in. Give a kid a camera and let them record the video and just see what you’re doing and just… There’s so many things that we have feedback form where you can tally how much language the students are producing, how much language you’re doing.

0:19:01.4 Thomas Sauer: There’s feedback forms for how you are engaging students. There’s feedback forms for all kinds of strategies. And just… There’s so many, you just get so many, “Aha moments.” I had a teacher, I observed her once, she didn’t know I was coming. There was an unannounced observation in a school in Florida and she had a stack of these feedback forms on her desk, copied, I was like, what are these? She said, oh, this is what I’m doing. Every day, one of my students has a job of giving me feedback. And so they sit in the back and they fill out the feedback form. So they’re not participating in the lesson, they are watching the teacher, they’re the observer.

0:19:43.3 Thomas Sauer: And it had a great effect, great impact because now she got instant feedback from her students. She had talked about having data to take to her evaluation conversation with her principals. “So this is how I started this, what I’m doing now.” But also it let the kids in on a little secret because, oh, she’s doing these crazy things with the target language because she’s supposed to do them. So I was, I thought it was just a genius way of bringing intentionality to her practice because she wanted that feedback.

0:20:19.8 Thomas Sauer: And I think that’s incredibly important. Unfortunately, so many teachers are turned off by feedback because of what has happened in general education of the or in the evaluation period. Either teachers are not getting evaluated frequently, they get evaluated against frameworks that are useless. Quite frankly, when it comes to language teaching or they’re getting feedback on things that weren’t their goal.

0:20:44.7 Thomas Sauer: If my goal is not, if my goal is X, Y, Z, you can come back 10 times, I’m not getting better of at it. I need feedback on the goal that I have set for myself that I want to get better at. So if my goal is, this is the, I’m going to stick to staying at target language for 90%, I need feedback on how close I’m getting there. I don’t need feedback on my use of technology in the classroom because that wasn’t my goal this year.

0:21:10.7 Thomas Sauer: And so I think teachers have been turned off a lot through probably some misaligned evaluation systems. And we need them to get back to, what’s the evidence in my practice? I don’t ask teachers to rate themselves. I just like, where’s the evidence here? Where would I see in your practice that you’re doing X, Y, Z? Don’t give me a rating, don’t give me a number, don’t give me a fully implemented partial passionate, tell me exactly what’s the evidence in my practice. And for that, we need more evidence to share with other teachers. We don’t have it. Our most current library of practice which is the title is the Annenberg series which has a copyright year of 1999. Now the videos are great, but certainly our understanding of language teaching and certainly our clients, the students have changed just a little bit since 1999. [chuckle]

0:22:10.5 Norah Jones: There’s so much here directly for education. I’m also thinking about folks that are in businesses and industries, groups of all kinds who you are talking about there… What works includes a culture of trust as well as some very specific and how you have explained here that not only specific, but also relevant and discerned as important for a specific timeframe of learning and growing professionally. This though criteria that we are focusing on and not some random things that the evaluator comes in. Cultivating that in school systems, cultivating that in businesses, you’re working how much with helping both the educator, but also with helping them to educate those that would be observing, be evaluating. How much work is involved with that so that the system grows?

0:23:23.9 Thomas Sauer: I think some businesses are doing this already, but the majority are not. Feedback in itself, doesn’t matter if it’s in teaching or in the rest of the world, it’s often a really difficult thing to say. To provide feedback to another person is very difficult, honest feedback. And so we, and by we, I mean really the entire world, we have tried all kinds of approaches to give them feedback, not just teaching, but also, there’s this whole, this, I like to call it the, I don’t know if I can say this on your podcast, but the bullshit sandwich, where you give them something positive and then you tell them the thing that you want them to get better at, and then you give them something else positive.

0:24:08.2 Thomas Sauer: Well, businesses do that all the time. It doesn’t work because we’ve been trained to already, and like we don’t even hear the positive. Like, we like, “Oh, let me just, oh, oh, oh, where is it, where is it, where is it? Oh, there’s the thing that they want me to hear.” And then I don’t hear the second positive thing either, because now I’m so focused on the negative thing I’ve done in my work that I’m missing out on. So it’s a, for example, that is not interpersonal conversation, is it? That is a one way, it’s truly presentational. And it’s not an even an effective use of presentational because the listener is not hearing the entire message.

0:24:44.8 Thomas Sauer: So, and again, businesses often don’t do a good job at that either. There’s a wonderful article called the Feedback Fallacy that talks about that. And we use that a lot in our training, trying to get teachers, but as you said, it could be beyond teaching, to take more of a strength-based approach to feedback. How can we get people to identify what are they really good at in order to get better at something else? We don’t do that in education, right? That education is a deficit culture. Education is a deficit culture through and through. Everything from state testing to district or school-based testing or the idea of assessment off, you know, we start off at the hundred points then we check them off.

0:25:30.0 Thomas Sauer: It’s all a deficit culture. And our teachers have been kind of conditioned to that. And then, as you mentioned, the products of our teaching, they go into real world with that mindset of a deficit culture instead of taking more of a strength based approach and figure out what are people really good at? And do we really document all the good things that we’re doing and then building on that. So not just saying, okay, I’m not good at this, so where can I get training to get better at it, but figure out what am I really good at and how can I use that to help me get better at something else?

0:26:06.2 Thomas Sauer: Because again, I’m not really good at some aspect, not because I don’t want to be good at it because I don’t know, I’m doing the best I can. Everybody does the best they can. And so, okay, if that’s the best, then let’s use the best to get better as opposed to figuring out all the things that we’re not doing and focusing on how to get better at the things that we’re not doing well. It’s hard to do that, though, in a society that’s focused on achievement. Who sells the most, who has the biggest, the brightest, the best? Because that implies that they’re doing something wrong when they don’t have those things.

0:26:49.0 Norah Jones: Well, I am especially resonating with two aspects. One is the colleagues through the years that have literally said to me, don’t tell me anything good. Don’t sugarcoat what you saw. Just tell me what I need to do to get better, when in fact they had been doing some spectacular things. And I did tell them, but they were impatiently waiting for me to stop that so they could get onto the real thing, which was the criticism [laughter] or the implied criticism. And the second is how much indeed, of course, as you’re mentioning, this is a strengths approach where increasing that which you do fluidly or more fluidly to become even more joyful in it is what you focus on rather than trying to somehow repair “weaknesses” which are just not naturally occurring strengths for you, work on the stuff that works. How does this relate to that reflective work that you do with your professional development, the coaching, including self coaching, what does reflection consist of in this case? How do people apply it?

0:28:10.6 Thomas Sauer: Well, you said the word joyful, so let me play with that one because I do think, I really hope that teachers do find, despite the structural training challenges, despite the deficit culture, there’s got to be some kind of joy for them to get up in the morning and do this over and over and over again. And I know that’s a hard thing to say in ’23 as we’re losing more and more teachers, but there are joyful moments. And I think if we can just start documenting them, that would be amazing.

0:28:42.1 Thomas Sauer: Just kind of be, just look for bright spots and journal them, or if something makes you laugh out really loud something had happened with your students, write it down so that you can just, going through the process of acknowledging it, that something joyful has happened. And then of course you can also look at it later on. Students give us compliments. Students actually do give teachers compliments. Yes, they say some really nasty bad things about teachers, but there’s plenty of students who give compliments, but do we actually hear them? So pay close attention when students actually do that, listen really careful.

0:29:23.0 Thomas Sauer: And what kind of compliments do you hear from students most often? Because that probably is going to be a good indication of what your strength is as your teacher. Do you know what your students love about you? That allows us to build on that, but we have to bring a certain level of awareness to it too. Same thing with parents too. I know parents complain, but parents can also be grateful for what you’re doing. And then when they express that, we’ve got to be able to hear that and vice versa too do with the students too. Don’t just call parents when something goes bad, call parents when things are going well with their children.

0:30:11.3 Thomas Sauer: They’ll be so grateful and you’ll get lots of good feedback because no other teacher ever does that. Teachers only call home when things go bad. So what if we change that and actually call when things are going well, to let the parents know that their students excelling at something. You’ll get that return because likely if your students are excellent at something, they love your class, they love what you’re doing, and they probably told their parents about it which now you can create that cycle. Maybe you get it back from the, “Oh yeah, she told me all about how they love in your class doing X, Y and Z.” And so we’ve just got to change that culture and so change those small everyday little conversation.

0:30:53.3 Thomas Sauer: Same thing when you look at student work, look for evidence of growth, don’t look for all the things that are wrong, but look at all the things that the student did well, the students did better than last time and capture that. Either reflect in it in a journal or write about it somewhere else, or just tell another colleague that you’ve caught those positive things so that you don’t get bogged down by all the other the negativity won’t go away, it’s still there. We can’t change the entire school church overnight. But within your world, in your sphere, if you begin noticing all those positive things, you can begin changing your conversations about yourself and your own practice. And then I think we will see some actual changes in the practice because you’d be more inclined to try new things too.

0:31:46.6 Thomas Sauer: If you don’t feel good about your school environment, you don’t feel good about the outcomes from the students. You don’t feel good about your practice and what you’re doing, to try something different sounds really scary because you’re already not liking all this stuff and now you try something I don’t even know or understand. I might not like that. I’m not going to try that. So we’ve got to create a culture where we have joyful moments so that we’re willing to take risks because people who don’t have joy are not going to take risks.

0:32:23.6 Norah Jones: And the intimacy of that particular response Thomas. It’s begins as something as simple as and profound as taking a moment to write something down that has been said positively or something that has worked out well. And I’ve got an image of so many classrooms where people are onto the next rush, onto the next thing that seems like it’s a deficit. A deficit. I didn’t get to that. They didn’t do this. I’m not understanding this. I’m not… Where if we could write down, again, it’s that intimacy. Take a moment to say, hold on guys, that was awesome. I’m going to go ahead and capture it so that the good is not what we walk away from taking the deficit with us. That intimacy of acknowledging the good things and helping them to be anchored and remembered then can come into a larger gathering. You hold varieties of trainings, of collaborative conferences of, things you’ve even called the unconference when people come together and bring some of these concepts together and share additional things. What are those kinds of trainings, conferences, and again, unconferences that you have done that bring folks together and multiply this impact?

0:33:57.0 Thomas Sauer: So we do a lot of those things. We have online summer institutes. We run a leadership academy. We’re working on online modules. You mentioned the companies that we ran for a few years. They’re all built around the idea that the teacher is the expert, not the consultant that comes in, not the drive by PD because I truly believe then, if we get the right people in the room, and I always tell them the right people are the people who are in the room. Doesn’t matter who they are, those are the right people. We can come up with all kinds of solutions and often we just don’t have the luxury of time to do that. So when they do come to these events or when they do participate in those opportunities, I make them always appreciate the moment and acknowledge the moment that you are in control.

0:34:56.2 Thomas Sauer: You are in charge of what’s about to happen. Makes them incredibly uncomfortable. By the way, it takes teachers usually half a day or so to get over that because they’re so conditioned to like, okay, this is how this works. You’ll tell me what to do. I will sit here, I’ll pretend like I pay attention and if I like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t like it, I’ll just ignore you and do what I was doing before. And so when they come to an event with us and you’re like, oh no, you are in control, you’re in charge. You make decision. You set your own goal, you share what’s happening in your classroom, you ask the questions, it makes them very uncomfortable at first. But they’re always realizing at the end they’re like, oh yeah, together, we do know. Because come on, at the end, it is just Spanish 1.

0:35:42.8 Thomas Sauer: How many teachers around the country are sitting on Sunday afternoon at the kitchen table trying to write the lesson plan for Spanish 1? It’s got to be a very large number in this country. And so in one of my first supervisory jobs, I was in a very large school district, 200 teachers, and we had a PD event and there were these two teachers to choose each other. Like, oh, hello, what’s your name? Oh, my name is so-and-so. I teach French at this school. Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t teach French in this school. And I wanted to scream. Because here you are in a large city, you’re both teaching French. You had never met each other. So I lived in Kentucky where I was the only driven speaker for a hundred miles. So to have language teachers who live within in close proximity and teach with them to not collaborate or communicate this for me was worrisome.

0:36:35.6 Thomas Sauer: And so that’s been another one of my passion is trying to get teachers into the room. And I think that’s what we do really well. We get teachers together to connect, to share resources. One of the really cool projects we’ve developed with the university of Oregon, there’s a resource center out there as well called Castles. We develop a platform called Catalyst. And it’s basically, oh, that was hard to describe because it’s kind of like LinkedIn/Facebook for language teachers. So teachers can go on, they can self-assess, they can upload evidence from their practice. They have a place to journal. They can share resources but there’s nobody there who guides all this. Guess what, nobody’s guiding things on Facebook either. We didn’t know how it worked. We just all figured it out. And so this is a place for teachers and we have about 3000 teachers on that platform who are just connecting and sharing ideas and like, “I noticed you’re really good at this…

0:37:38.0 Thomas Sauer: Can you help me with this?” Or, “I noticed you have this as a goal. This is also a goal of mine. Can we work together to figure this out?” And so, yeah, all the work we do is always focused on getting teachers together and celebrating them, their strength as the experts because there’s nothing I can say, or, there’s some things I can say, but it’s always better when it comes from a teacher and in a post COVID world. I know if you have not talked during COVID, you don’t do PD to teachers post COVID. So I understand that.

0:38:10.8 Norah Jones: Your image of these hundreds of people around the country all thinking about doing something on Monday that’s basically the same. And the collaborative opportunities for lessening that sense of isolation, that sense of, I’m having to develop this on my own. It’s a powerful, powerful concept and gift. So it’s important for everybody to keep in mind, I think.

0:38:36.6 Thomas Sauer: Well, it not just to keep in mind, I believe it’s a requirement for teachers to share in today’s world. If you’re shutting your door and you’re doing amazing things and not sharing them, you’re not doing your full job as a teacher. And you’ll see that in that if you look at the TELL framework, there’s a professionalism domain that has specified some very criteria that effective teachers do. And sharing is one of those things. It’s a prerogative to share with other teachers. The idea that we’re doing it just for ourself and just for our own job doesn’t cut it in my world.

0:39:17.5 Norah Jones: You’re on notice folks, when you hear Thomas doing that, you’re on notice, what types of changes have happened from the pandemic that you would provide such an important statement that you’re, if you haven’t been teaching during the pandemic, it’s time for those that have been to step up. What are some of the things that have been learned or that you’re seeing kind of stories do you have to tell about the stories pre, during, post, wherever you want to pick up some stories that will help to illustrate what you’re saying about how people learn about their contributions and their pathways to their joy.

0:40:00.6 Thomas Sauer: I do think the sharing obviously happened during COVID. The opening of the classroom happened during COVID more so than ever before. Because there was a built-in, [chuckle] there was a need for it. You couldn’t get just people were drowning without help from each other. And so all of a sudden teachers were much more inclined to share resources from the classrooms. And it’s like, we’re all figuring this out together. It was great. I loved every bit of it. The number of videos that people shared, the resources and the ideas I’m afraid that we’re going backwards though. Like we haven’t maintain maintained that momentum. Because we went, the idea of back to school is Thomas’s least favorite sentence because I don’t want to go back to school. And that’s all about learning for me. So I feel like we’ve gone, actually, if anything, we’ve gone backwards as opposed to forward.

0:41:00.8 Thomas Sauer: I mean, we missed some huge opportunities when that comes. I do think there’s still lots of sharing going on. There’s still lots of grassroots happening. But now it’s doing in this like, there’s so many of them that are doing it in a sleek packaged way because we all want to know the imperative has gone, the emergency is gone. So now I can sell all these things as opposed to just share all them like we did before. And I don’t want to begrudge anybody trying to make money, but it’s not going to move us forward as a profession, probably as much as I could. And so I would love to go back to even more sharing and more opening up classrooms. But the, we’re back in the same structures, the same environment, the same deficit culture that we were before COVID.

0:41:50.6 Thomas Sauer: We’re right back in it. And if anything, we’re now in it worse because now that I just read again today about how it’s the worst performance of 13 year olds in math and reading in decades when of course we can blame COVID but you know what’s going to happen next? We’re going to go back to some very archaic instructional practices because we’ve gotta base those test scores again. And so now we’re going to excuse the low performance for lots of bad decisions in education. And so, and I see that in language teaching as well. And I really hope that we don’t fall down that rabbit hole to use, we shouldn’t compare any of that stuff. A and B, there’s such opportunity to change the conversation or language teaching or teaching in general. But there was such opportunity. I know it’s still, there is, but there definitely was.

0:42:42.2 Norah Jones: And where Yes. Agreed. Afraid. I have to start by saying that. What kind of things would you hope to have heard in the conversations? Had some of the transformations that could have been possible taken hold just a blue sky as they say a little bit with me here.

0:43:00.5 Thomas Sauer: Oh, well, we should have definitely had conversations around schedules. We figured out all kinds of crazy schedules, but then when we went back, we went right back to oh 7, 32, 30, 6 class periods. Is that really necessary? That would’ve been one. I wish we would’ve had conversation around subject areas, period because in my mind the notion of subject areas is way past this expiration date. And you would’ve thought when we had this idea, like, oh, we were talking about COVID, which, how many subject areas did COVID really addressed? There was no COVID class, but we were able to bring in everything. And that’s true for everything in life. So that would’ve been opportunity for us to have the conversation. What do we really need language for? Do we need it just to speak the language or do we need to do it to do all these other things? But, oh gosh, no, that’s a whole conversation for our podcast right there. What’s the real purposes of language teaching is, right? But yeah.

0:44:05.7 Norah Jones: We can return to that easily, my friend, very easily. And then there’s the gorilla waiting outside the door when we open it up. The AI, how, what are some of the things that you see in the work that you do and in the folks that you work with, with regard to impact of that and language?

0:44:27.7 Thomas Sauer: It’s going to, my guess is it’s going to be like everything else in education when it comes to new technologies, we’re going to ban it. First reaction is going to be, we’re going to ban it because we’re afraid of it. And then most slowly some school districts will allow it and then we will probably use it in inappropriate ways because we don’t really understand it because it was banned for so long and then it will become underutilized. I mean, and I’m only saying it’s because I’ve seen this with YouTube.

0:44:55.1 Thomas Sauer: I remember doing PD 20 years ago when YouTube came out. I was, you know, YouTube was banned. I remember that YouTube was banned in pretty much all the districts. You could not, that was like a no-no. And now. Sometimes I wish, like, sometimes I wish it was banned, because I’ll be going in classes. It’s like one YouTube video after another YouTube after like, okay, can you teach without using YouTube videos? And so it… I’m afraid that AI might go that same route, that we’re going to go from banning to misunderstanding, to misusing it, to under utilizing it.

0:45:25.5 Norah Jones: Quite a progression there or if I may use that word, actually, progression. We’ll leave it there at that though. Thomas, before we finish today, what is it that you want to be sure that those that have… Are listening hear from you. What do you want to invite them to do? Or what do you want to repeat or add? Exhort.

0:45:48.5 Thomas Sauer: I just, I really hope that teachers, as perhaps a new school year will start, they really think about what is it that I’m really good at in my practice, I’m really focused on, maybe this is the year where you don’t have a goal for yourself to get better at something. Maybe this is just the year where you go, “I’m going to continue to be really good at this one thing and focus making sure that that’s what I’m good at.” And by doing that, figuring out why they’re really good at, in order to bring that intentionality that’s needed in order to get better at other things because we do just way too much goal setting without being ready to have those goals. You can make the goal all you want to, but if you’re not… If you can’t, if you don’t know why that’s a goal. If you don’t know how to reach that goal, it doesn’t really matter. So yeah, being, focusing on what you’re really good at, and then sharing that. Tell the whole world what you’re really good at because can you imagine if every teacher just share what they’re really good at? What would happen to the field? We’d be really, really good, wouldn’t we?


0:47:07.3 Norah Jones: Well, and there’d be a whole lot more joy. And that would be a wonderful gift for everyone.

0:47:14.6 Thomas Sauer: And we need that in teaching right now. We need joy back in teaching.

0:47:17.5 Norah Jones: That we do. And Thomas, thank you for all the joy that you do bring in world language education and training and in just, being with and around so many folks that have loved having you in their classrooms, in their districts, and leading the charge of training and reflection. Thank you so much for everything you do.

0:47:40.8 Thomas Sauer: Thanks for having me.


0:47:44.2 Norah Jones: What strengths do you recognize in yourself? What reflection have you done on your own work, especially that which leads to a positive response for yourself? What sharing have you done with others? What listening have you done from them? As a Gallup Strengths coach, I recognize that working on our strengths to increase them and to bring them out for the joy and purposefulness of life, for ourselves and others is of a paramount importance. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation and I look forward to sharing future conversations in which we address those issues through language of how we can bring hope to the world together to ourselves and to everyone. Until next time.

Thank you for always focusing on the possibilities, opportunities and the power of language and what it can do for us individually - and collectively!

Elizabeth Mack

If you've never done #cliftonstrengths, yourself or with your team, don't wait any longer.  Norah Jones of FLUENCY CONSULTING is the one and only to do it! It's all about your super powers: finding & using them to affect positive change in the world. What's not to love?!

Elizabeth Mack
Founder and CEO / Freestyle Languages


Yes, @NorahLulicJones definitely has the talent of "bringing out" the best in others or allowing them to showcase themselves in the best light! Thank you for directing the spotlight on others who have great stories and talents to share with others. 

Lisa Fore


Your podcasts are exceptionally relevant and applicable, thought-provoking and insightful, easy-to-follow and enjoyable!  

Paul Sandrock
Senior Advisor for Language Learning Initiatives / ACTFL


You have an immense talent to draw the best from your participants. 

Richard Brecht


Norah knows how to LISTEN - she really "hears" the message - and the interview is richer because of it.  New questions come from the hearing. 

Terri Marlow

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