by Brittany Usiak, K-12 and Adult Programs Manager
Building civil discourse skills, shifting power and responsibility to students, and establishing a more inclusive school culture are some of the most important goals in education right now – and all are central to the Touchstones discussion method. But it sometimes feels overwhelming to move from daily classroom discussions to these profound impacts. How can you ensure that Touchstones doesn’t just become one more required program, and instead reignites the joy and curiosity of exploring ideas together through discussion?
Over nearly 40 years of work with tens of thousands of educators and hundreds of schools, we’ve learned what strategies and tools support impactful outcomes for classrooms. Right now, demands on teachers feel daunting, which is why we’re making these insights easily accessible to all our school partners in 2022-2023. Our new Implementation Guide: Making the Most of Touchstones shares 9 actionable ideas to help you jump start (or restart!) your school’s journey with Touchstones. We share 6 of them here, but be sure to download the Implementation Guide to get them all.
1. Articulate Clear Goals
Being clear about why you chose Touchstones for your teachers and students from the outset will help you measure progress toward your goals. How do Touchstones curriculum and discussion programs align with and support your school’s mission? How are you hoping it will enhance your school’s culture and climate? Take the time to make these goals specific and explicit and share them with all your faculty.
2. Train All Staff
If your aim is to transform school culture, it’s essential that every member of your team recognizes when students are demonstrating the new skills they’ve developed through Touchstones, whether or not they’re regularly leading discussions. Make sure everyone is familiar with the Essential Skills Touchstones develops and how student growth is fostered through guided and structured discussions. If you’re hosting in-service professional development, invite all staff – including administrators and supervisors, instructional coaches, school counselors and social workers, and support staff. You can also ensure regular practice with the Touchstones method by using it in PLCs or other meetings.
3. Help Students See a Why
Touchstones has the power, not only to build your students’ discussion skills, but also to reignite wonder, curiosity, and joy in learning. From the start of the year, all school staff should engage students in thinking about how Touchstones is different from other school contexts – a chance for everyone to connect authentically, to learn by teaching, and to discover and appreciate their own and others’ talents. Throughout the year, regular discussion evaluations will help students reflect on what they’re learning about themselves and each other.
4. Gather Data
Touchstones creates a powerful shift in classroom and school culture–leading to a more inclusive and collaborative learning environment, one discussion at a time. We offer engaging and easy-to-use survey tools to capture progress and support evaluation of individual student and whole class growth at the beginning of the year, mid-year, and end of year. Surveys conform with FERPA guidelines, connect seamlessly with your students’ devices, and provide specific and actionable information about what’s going well and where to focus to improve student and class skill development and outcomes. Reach out to us to get access to our digital survey tools for your students.
5. Bring in the Community
Leverage your work with Touchstones in the classroom to build relationships and foster trust with families and caregivers. Our family engagement pilot program can be customized to meet your needs while honoring families’ experiences to help them connect to each other, their student, and school staff. The program pulls texts from our volumes tied to the theme of community and is designed to be facilitated by you, with guidance from Touchstones staff. Reach out to us to get started!
6. Stay Connected
The Touchstones educator community spans the globe and works in all types of school contexts. We offer a variety of events and programming for you to stay connected in a way that makes sense for you. Network with other Touchstones teachers and share tips and strategies by becoming a part of our Touchstones Teacher Community on Facebook or learn about upcoming events and initiatives by following us on social media and joining The Touchstones Circle, our monthly email newsletter. There’s still time to apply to our fall Touchstones Fellows cohort or sign up for Open Enrollment Workshops. And this year, we’ll also be hosting a quarterly drop-in community discussion series just for educators called Exploring the Four Stages of Discussion.
As you begin or continue your Touchstones journey this year, we look forward to hearing from you and supporting your work. Please reach out at any time with questions, ideas, or stories from the classroom!