Rebecca Rolland is the author of The Art of Talking with Children (HarperOne, March 2022). She is a national certified speech-language pathologist and adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is also on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Boston with her family.
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Show Highlights

The power of language transforms with music.

A framework to access what lights people up.

Build resilience by micro moments and through everyday conversations.

Question starters used to create meaningful conversations.

Seven key areas to The Art of Talking with Children.

Help students draw on their natural resilience and raise their awareness about themselves.

Counteract bias and help students celebrate the differences among others.

Read my latest book!

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Read the Transcript here.

The Art of Talking With Children

Daniel (00:02):
Ages ago, I used to say that I was an artist in that my classroom was the canvas. Now I still think I’m an artist. I still think I’m a teacher. Although the classroom has changed, it has expanded, and now it reaches around the world. Thank you dear Ruckus Maker for making that possible. My students are a little bit older than they used to be, but they are still as hungry as ever to learn to stretch and to grow. Today’s conversation is about the art of talking with children and as educators and Ruckus Makers, I think you’ll be very interested in this topic. We also get into the concept of resilience, which is important for all leaders to be able to navigate. That’s a foundational tool or necessary skill for any leader anywhere. And even more so these days, after the last few years we’ve been through, Hey, it’s Danny, Chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders, Better Schools. And this show is for you, a Ruckus Maker, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school right now. We’ll be back with the regular conversations scheduled today after some messages from our show sponsors.

Daniel (01:27):
Develop your structures, systems, supports, and culture for excellent teaching and learning in every classroom for every student as a part of leading learning, a brand new certificate of school management and leadership course from Harvard Leading Learning runs from February 15th to March 15th, 2023. Apply by Friday, February 3rd, Enroll by Thursday, February 9th. Get started at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/harvard. Teachers have the power to impact children’s lives in almost immeasurable ways. As an instructional leader, as much as you’d love to provide every teacher the support they need to learn and grow, you can’t be with every teacher in every classroom. Teach FX is a whole new way to provide instructional leadership at scale and in a way that’s teacher centered. Teachers Use FX to record a lesson and automatically get personalized private feedback to guide their own self-reflection. See Teach FX for yourself and learn about our special partnership options for Ruckus Makers teachfx.Com/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid, or traditional educational setting. Learn [email protected]. We are with Dr. Rebecca Rolland, who is the author of The Art of Talking With Children. Talk about a fantastic skill. Can’t wait to dig into this content. She is a national certified speech language pathologist, an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who’s also a proud sponsor of the show. You might be aware. She is also on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Rolland lives in Boston with her family. Dr. Roland, welcome to the show.

Rebecca (03:28):
Great. Thanks for having me.

Daniel (03:29):
Absolutely. You have experienced an emotional moment with a patient as a speech pathologist using song. I remember that story you were telling me, and I want to invite you to share that with the Ruckus Maker community.

Rebecca (03:43):
Definitely. As a graduate student clinician, when I was first studying speech language pathology, I was working with patients with aphasia who’ve had either some sort of traumatic brain injury, perhaps a stroke, and really are having trouble communicating with words. There’s really one type of therapy, which is really powerful using music and songs in which you actually take a patient’s hand, you work with them to do the rhythm of familiar songs. Actually, this has been found to stimulate language and emotions in patients who may not have been able to speak very much. As a really new clinician, I was just so amazed by the power of singing simple songs like Happy Birthday or very familiar childhood songs with these older patients who were able to talk in ways they couldn’t have before. So that was really an inspiration for me in my career.

Daniel (04:36):
I can imagine how that might have felt at the time. What do you think that tells you about the power of language?

Rebecca (04:45):
I think language is so much more powerful than we realize. We’re often on autopilot with our language. We don’t realize the power of Song of Music, and even just our tone of voice and the way we enter a building with our words. I think our words are much more powerful. I set a tone from the very beginning.

Daniel (05:01):
My partner is from Zimbabwe. So her mother tongue is Shauna, and I’ve hired a Shauna tutor and it’s wonderful. One of the things that she does is she sends me children’s YouTube, nursery songs. But it has actually really helped me learn some of the greetings and responses and that kind of thing because I’m literally hearing the song right now as we’re talking about it right through my head. Definitely, again, thank you for sharing that. I know that you have an approach or framework to access what lights people up. Do you mind sharing a bit about that framework?

Rebecca (05:43):
Definitely. I’ve developed what I call the Rich Talk framework, and this is really meant to support conversations, sort of great conversations between students, teachers, teacher leaders, anyone who interacts with students. And it has three components. It’s A, B, C, A stands for adaptive. You’re really trying to adapt to a child or student’s temperament, their mood when and where they want to talk, kind of when they’re most open to having a great conversation. B is back and forth. So rather than lecturing at kids or kind of talking to kids, we’re really thinking about how do you have that equal balance between the student talking and the adult talking. And C is child driven, so really thinking about having conversations starting from a point of interest or worry or concern or engagement for the child. And so much research has shown that that’s a really key way to motivate students and to help them learn much more profoundly.

Daniel (06:44):
Yesterday I was leading a leadership workshop, a kickoff school type event actually in town, which was pretty cool because normally you’re flying exactly like that, they could get tiring, but it was just down the street 10 minutes away. Wonderful, wonderful experience. I remember telling the faculty too, like how many of you actually, when we were working as groups, did what we, what we committed to doing for the entire time? How many of you kind of went off a little bit? But the point I was trying to make is, I think some parts of great teaching is embracing the tension and letting go a little of control and the connection that I’m making with what you’re saying in terms of the Rich Talk framework. And please, if I’m messing stuff up, tell me like, Danny, you’re an idiot, and this is actually what I’m trying to say, but what I heard you were talking about, like when you’re going to the child first and basically saying, “what do you wanna talk about?”

Daniel (07:41):
Or “the problems that you wanna discuss” and that kind of thing. You’re giving up some control and sometimes that could be tough for Ruckus Makers and educators and that kind of thing. I’m just curious if there is anything you wanna add, if I am pulling on the right thread, in terms of things that you’ve learned from yourself or people you work with in terms of giving up that control and transferring it to others.

Rebecca (08:06):
Definitely. I think for Ruckus Makers, the idea is to be creative about what you wanna get across, about the curriculum, about your overall goals, and think about how you can bridge those goals with the goals or interests of your students. So rather than saying, “I’m going to sit here and wait for students to come to me, how do you create that equal bridge where students are coming with their interest, you’re coming with your goals and interests, how do you actually meet in the middle?” And that’s actually much more profound experience generally for everyone than it is to just say, I’m gonna sit here in my curriculum and wait for you to come.

Daniel (08:40):
We’ll wait for you over here. Exactly. You might not ever arrive. That’s good. Rebecca, I think you’re interested in resilience. I certainly am from a leadership lens and student lens as well. And I know that you talk about how it’s formed in these micro moments. What does that mean?

Rebecca (09:03):
Definitely, I think we often see resilience as a really big topic, and we think about kids overcoming major challenges or bouncing back from surgeries or accidents or trauma. But really resilience happens and is built through everyday conversations. Even in the small questions you’re asking students in the way you’re framing questions, in the way you’re framing mistakes, all of this builds up over time for students to either feel more resilient, more in control, or to feel more out of control and feel as though, “Okay, all of this is not going to get me where I wanna go.” So I’ve actually developed a series of questions and story starters and things like that to support students in feeling resilient, to support them in having these kinds of conversations. Not necessarily to say we’re going to script the conversations far from it, but really to just start the conversations to allow them to bubble up more naturally and to have both the educator and the student involved in them.

Daniel (10:08):
Can you give an example of one of those questions or starters that you tend to use?

Rebecca (10:13):
An example would be for example. What is one place or one strategy that you tend to go to or that you think helps you when you’re struggling? What is one place you feel safe? What’s one strategy that helps? And what is one person that can help you when you feel like you’re struggling? And so here in that sense, we’re helping students to draw on their natural resilience, their natural strategies, and to raise their awareness about them. So we already know that students are more resilient than they may realize. By simply pointing out, let’s look at what’s already working for you. Let’s look at what you’re relying on, and maybe even let’s brainstorm further. What could you be doing that you’re not doing? Let’s go from your strengths to look at additional options. Those are really great ways of starting to build that resilience.

Daniel (11:05):
I might answer that with a couch with a good book and whoever the protagonist is or potentially outside, anywhere running around, just clearing my mind. I’m just with myself. What do you do, if you don’t mind sharing?

Rebecca (11:22):
A few things. I tend to play with my kids a lot. A lot of times I feel like when I’m in these kind of small moments with my kids, I don’t have time to think about what kind of bigger issues. I also do a lot of physical things as well. I do open water swimming and I find long meditative swims are really nice to just forget about the concerns of the day.

Daniel (11:44):
But in Boston, like this is really cold water. So is that year around for you, or do you stop?

Rebecca (11:50):
I do stop, I do stop around close to mid-October. It’s a seasonal sport, but I do have a wetsuit.

Daniel (11:58):
I remember the last thing, and then we’ll get back to your work. When I was living in Scotland, we went somewhere it was called AKA Taboo, and there was some sea that we were connected to. I remember stepping just my toe into the water and the shock of how cold it was. This was a Scottish summer too. But the wild thing is, all the Scottish folks, they’re just in there splashing around, having a good time. I’m screaming cuz it’s like, I think I’m about to die. And then all the English that travel north to be up there to holiday, they all have wetsuits on. It was a really fascinating cultural experience for me. Okay. Back to the sort of question starters and that kind of thing for Rich Talk is, what’s part of that resource that you have on the main pillars of Rich Talk? Or is that something else?

Rebecca (12:51):
Yes, definitely. In my book I actually provide, so stories, research based strategies. Also takeaways. So even at the back, there’s an appendix that talks about even by ages and stages for children. Thinking about how you would do this for a younger student? How would you do this for a high school or middle school student? Because I do think that obviously the framework is the same, but how we talk and what we start with is dependent, obviously on the student’s stage.

Daniel (13:20):
Absolutely. Okay, cool. Well, congrats again on having the new book out, The Art of Talking with Children, and we highly encourage every Ruckus Maker to go pick up a copy. So in that book as well, you have seven areas that I think are, are key. If I remember, can you list some of those if we haven’t covered them so far in our talk?

Rebecca (13:39):
I really start with this idea of deeper learning. Learning is one of them, which includes curiosity. There’s empathy, so really supporting empathetic and caring relationships. Confidence, social skills, openness to others, which is a really key one. Thinking about not just visible differences between people, but invisible differences. Differences in learning, thinking, attention, and so on. And that’s become a really big focus of my work as I think about how to counteract bias and how to help students really celebrate the differences among others.

Daniel (14:15):
Let’s talk a little more about that openness to others because I could see how that’d be super helpful especially in an inclusive setting. What could you tell us about that?

Rebecca (14:26):
As a speech pathologist, I’ve worked in many inclusive settings and I’ve also done kind of pullout work. I’ve seen the effects of having inclusive conversations versus, for example, in classrooms where I would go in to meet a student and there would be this kind of grown this sense of, Oh, this person’s coming in to see me, there’s embarrassment, it’s shameful, you know? So I’ve kind of been there with students and I feel like I’ve sort of felt vicariously how I can imagine those students feeling. When this person comes in and it’s a sign that something’s wrong with you and so that sort of motivated me really to think about how this could change and how we could have classrooms that don’t feel like that, that don’t feel bad to feel like you’re in need of extra support or something like that.

Rebecca (15:14):
I’ve really emphasized that all students, whether or not they have learning differences, all of us learn differently from each other. And all of us need to understand our own learning styles and celebrate how other people learn. It’s very important that we have these conversations with all learners, whether they’re neurodiverse or whether they’re neurotypical learners. I couldn’t emphasize more the fact of starting with a framework for everyone. Really thinking about what your learning strength is? What is challenging for you? Why do you think that is? Questions like that. What supports you to learn the best? All of these questions really are great, not only for students who may be having challenges, but for students even who are in gifted education or who are just sailing along. I really think it’s critical for whatever grade as well.

Daniel (16:07):
Absolutely. Speaking of critical, I think creativity is critical as well. Maybe we can touch on that in just a second after we have a few messages from our show sponsors. So learn how to successfully navigate change, sharpen your school’s success, and empower your teams with Harvard’s certificate and school management and leadership. Get online professional development that fits your schedule. Courses include leading change, leading school strategy and innovation, Leading people, and leading learning. You can apply today at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/harvard. The BLBs podcast is also brought to you by Teach FX. Research shows that the more students speak in class, the more they learn and the better they perform. Teach FX has helped hundreds of schools increase their student engagement by visualizing for teachers what portions of class are teacher talk versus student talk. Learn [email protected]. And today’s show is proudly sponsored by Organized Binder, a program which gives students daily exposure to goal setting, reflective learning time, and task management, study strategies, organizational skills, and more organized binders.

Daniel (17:23):
Color coded system is implemented by the teacher through the parallel process with students, helping them create a predictable and dependable classroom routine. You can learn more and improve your students’ executive functioning organizbinder.com. And we’re back with Dr. Rebecca Roland, who’s the author of a wonderful book that I highly recommend Ruckus Makers Checkout. It’s called The Art of Talking with Children, Children. And before the break we were really discussing this openness to others. And now I’d love to move us towards what I, what we called critical. Creativity, Creativity in play. And this is important because some schools, I don’t know if you see this in the Boston area, but I remember in Chicago. Like they, they added new rules, more hours of school, more hours of really skilling, drill, not changing at all instruction. And that was interesting while ripping away like PE and the arts and things where folks can and students right, can, can express their creativity in play. I just thought that was terrible. Meanwhile, everybody who was making those rules, their kids went to the private schools that had an abundance of play and creativity and drama and all these kinds of things. Talk to us about creativity and play.

Rebecca (18:43):
Yeah, so I couldn’t agree more with you. I have seen so many negative effects of this kind of cutting down of resources, cutting down on play, and especially at a time when kids are, we are facing an obesity crisis. We’re facing so many children with attention deficit disorders and other attentional and executive function issues. The more we cut down on recess and thinking we’re supporting kids to learn more, the more counterproductive it is. I would really encourage Ruckus Makers of all grades to not do that. I think that’s really poor. Planning poor instruction and really just setting kids up for frustration. A lot of what my work focuses on is figuring out how we have conversations that help children open to learning and children can’t be open to learning if they’re physically unwell, if they’re unable to express themselves and if unable to have unstructured play.

Rebecca (19:40):
So for me, that’s a foundation. At the same time, I really wanna emphasize that play goes beyond sort of playing outside, which I think is completely critical, but it goes also to playful thinking and learning. So even the ways we do science experiments, for example, can be very playful if we think about, for example, supporting students to act like detectives, to figure out their questions, to refine their questions, and to realize that the greatest scientists in the world are the ones who ask the best questions. They’re not the ones who have all the answers. I think we really need to shift the framework, not only to emphasizing play as we tend to think of play, but even emphasizing playful thinking and learning when we’re in the classroom.

Daniel (20:24):
I’ve worked with leaders and sometimes I ask them like, what’s the silliest question? You come up with what’s the worst idea that you could share with the group? And I sort of play with those edges because some of them are silly and some are really terrible, but then sometimes people say something because you’ve re you’ve removed the risk of failure cuz you’re saying give me terrible stuff, but actually sometimes with some really brilliant right, ideas are expressed as a result of I guess removing the constraint of failure. Thank you for giving the idea about science and how we could add play. Is there anything you wanna add to that? I see you nodding.

Rebecca (21:03):
I actually, I love that. Actually I wanted to add something which I do also often which is to talk a lot about non-examples when you’re talking about a concept as well as examples. I’ve done a lot of that work, because it really does help students clarify their understanding to say, “Well, okay, give me an example of that, but let’s talk about what are non-examples or non-examples of that.” And you could be crazy, you could be kind of close. But that really helps students refine their understanding of concepts at the same time as they’re playing and they’re brainstorming and they’re kind of probably laughing with each other. And so it really does create a more playful and relaxed environment for learning.

Daniel (21:42):
Opens you up to breakthroughs. Thank you for that. I’m gonna own this in terms of the question I forgot to check in with you, but let’s just be authentic and real here on the show. I don’t remember if you have a resource or not that you’d like to point people toward in terms of downloading from your website, but if you do have one that was a great time to talk about.

Rebecca (22:03):
I do have on my website you can sign in and get an, I have a weekly newsletter. I have sort of a top tip sheet, so if you wanna just go on and download it, it’s just a really simple thanks to keep in mind for having rich talk. I think it could be really useful.

Daniel (22:20):
Great. And is that on rebeccarolland.com or is something else?

Rebecca (22:23):

Daniel (22:25):
We’ll have that linked up for sure in the show notes. Okay. So if you can click that link and get there pretty easily. We are at the questions I ask all my guests, and I cannot wait to see how you answer. Rebecca, if you could put a message on all school Marquis around the world for a single day, what would your message read?

Rebecca (22:45):
So I did think about this and I would say the message would read small interactions, accumulate. We often think about big goals for education, but we don’t think about how all those small moments are building up to the big goal. So that’s what I would actually want everyone to keep in mind.

Daniel (23:04):
Great. And now you’re building your dream school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school, Rebecca? What would be the three guiding principles?

Rebecca (23:17):
Yeah, so I think the three guiding principles would be authenticity, communication, and belonging. I think children really need to feel like they’re part of a community. They need to feel grounded in place in history and time, but also to feel as though they can hear others and to be heard. I’d really wanna emphasize these kinds of conversations that are teaching not just how to speak, but also reflective and active listening skills. I think if we can raise a generation of children who are able to do that, we are really on the way towards improving so many things in our society. So a few things I would really wanna emphasize first is just I would love to have materials, whatever I could find for conversations to be made visual. So, for example, I think it’s so important that if we’re talking about math and someone says, Oh, I think it could work like this I would love them to just be able to take materials and build what they’re thinking so that everyone can sort of see alongside each other what’s happening.

Rebecca (24:19):
And to think would be really, really important. I would also like to have floating classrooms so that children can move between ages, between grades, depending on their interests and skills. Rather than feeling as though kind of they’re stuck in one grade doing one thing because of their age. I think so often we don’t differentiate as much as we could. I think having a kind of really flexible differentiation would be super important. And then finally, I think I would really love students to learn not just about the environment, but really in and through the environment. I would love to have kind of classrooms that are in the woods, classrooms that are near rivers where we’re actually talking about things as we’re seeing them. We’re talking about natural phenomena. For example, responding to how the river’s flowing, thinking about where that river is going, things like that. I think those kinds of natural in-person experiences can go so far in supporting children to become environmentally aware, but even to understand conceptually things they couldn’t understand otherwise.

Daniel (25:24):
Wonderful. I’m gonna give you an honorary gold star, Rebecca, because you might not know this, but in Mastermind: Unlocking talent within every school leader, my latest book, I have some framework that I call the ABC’s, a powerful professional development. We were very aligned. A is for authenticity. These for belonging. Of course you are the author of Rich Talk that is talking with children. C communicates for me. C is a challenge, right? Ah, nice. So anyways, so Bon, you get the gold start. That’s <laugh>. Cool. Well, we covered a lot of ground today, Rebecca. And so of all the things we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to

Rebecca (26:07):
I would want a Ruckus Maker to remember that great leadership requires great listening skills. I think the more we talk about communication, the more we should think about how we are listening to those who are in front of us? How are we waiting before we respond? And just to take one moment and reflect on that, especially when you feel triggered, you feel upset, angered, whatever, whether it’s by an adult or a student. I think that would go so far to improving our relationships.

Daniel (26:41):
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at@Alienearbud. If the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @alienearbud. And using #BLBS. Level up your leadership at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”



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