Connie Hamilton Ed.S. is a curriculum director in Saranac, MI and educational consultant working with school districts across the United States. She is a certified trainer in effective classroom questioning, teacher evaluation tools, visible learning and supports teacher learning in the area of literacy.
Connie is the co-author of Hacking Homework and is the author of her new book Hacking Questions: 11 Questions to Create a Culture of Inquiry in the Classroom. Hope you enjoy our conversation!
I grew up in Michigan as an only child for 10 years with my mom. So I grew up with that only child mentality to keep busy and find something to do so I played school. With my stuffed animals all in a row. I would take stacks of old worksheets home and give Big A+s at the top to some and also have struggling learners giving them red Xs. Then I would encourage those who were struggling to do it over. I ended up doing them over also as the teacher and part of the class. I had a lot of time in my room by myself with my stuffed animals playing school. I always knew I wanted to go into education. When I was 9, my mom remarried. When I was 10, my first sister was born and at 14, my second sister was born. My youngest sister was in kindergarten when I left for college.
The Dr. Will Show – Standards-Based Learning with Connie Hamilton, Ed.S.
What it was like when you were a student
I was a pretty good math student and my mom wanted me to capitalize on some of my math skills I had. So I entered Michigan State University as an Aeronautical Engineering major. My heart was always with kids and education, but she really encouraged me to check out that field. I took 2 or 3 calculus classes and thought this was not for me. So I changed my major to education and I didn’t tell my mother for almost a year. So I became a teacher even though my mom discouraged me from education. Sadly, there’s not enough recognition that teachers deserve. Even back then, my mom recognized that teachers work very hard and don’t get enough accolades or perks. She just wanted me to get the benefits for all the hard work I was doing. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished. I never thought I would wake up every day and love what I do.
Your journey as an educator
School was really good for me. Some classes were easier than others. My first year as an educator, it was hard for me to relate to struggling students because I never experienced that as a learner myself. I embraced the challenge. When the Rubik’s Cube came out, I was going to fix that thing and would not quit until I had it solved. That idea of “I don’t get this” when it seemed so clear to me made me reconsider what it meant to be a learner especially those struggling who were in most need of a teacher who knows how to deliver the curriculum.
When I first graduated from Michigan State, I couldn’t find a teaching job in Michigan. I took my first position in Houston, Texas. I taught there a couple of years. As a first year teacher, I didn’t think I was prepared and was afraid to teach kids to read because it’s such a big responsibility. They hired me as a third-grade teacher and I thought they would know how to read by then. My class was really small so I got to know them well. After a few weeks, the principal told me that the 1st-grade class numbers are really high and 3rd grade classes are really low, so I’m going to give you a couple of days off to get ready for a new group of 1st graders. I was terrified with teaching 1st graders how to read. Remember I was from Michigan and teaching in Texas so vowels sounded different. Teaching students to decode words when phonemes are a little different the way that I pronounce them versus how they pronounce them was just another added challenge. It ended up working out in the end.
I got married and moved back to Michigan. I was a Title I teacher working with small groups of 8th-grade students who were struggling, then I became an 8th grade English teacher and really enjoyed middle school. In fact, I got my administrative degree and became an assistant principal at the middle school. Then I moved to Saranac Public Schools and became the curriculum director.
My husband’s name is Paul. We have three awesome kids that are all very different. Our oldest is Paul, the third, and we call him Tre. He is a junior at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit as an illustration major. He was a great student, an AP everything, and was planning a career in engineering but he loved his electives. Every chance he got, he wanted to take an art class. When he visited the College for Creative Studies, he knew that was the place for him. Our middle boy, Luke, is a Marine and is leaving for Japan this summer for three years. We’re very proud of him but have mixed emotions. He struggled more and was not a typical AP student. Going through school through his eyes helped me become a better educator. Alison is our youngest and just finished as a junior in high school. Ali would like to be an Autism consultant and special education teacher. She is every teacher’s dream. She had some supports. Learning is not easy for her, but she works very hard. She even comes in early for extra help. All three of my children are close.
Hacking Homework: 10 Strategies that Inspire Learning Outside the Classroom by Starr Sackstein and Connie Miller
When we look at learning outside of the classroom, there are things that have more value and can be more relevant than homework. Hacking Homework shows you how to:
- Workaround the policies and Break Up With Daily Homework
- Teach Organization and Responsibility in Class so it translates to home
- Ramp up accountability and time management skills
- Establish positive relationships to motivate learning
- Customize Assignments to Meet Student Needs
- Be flexible with timelines
- Encourage Students to Play, so they’ll want to work
- Support innovation and creativity
- Spark Curiosity Before the Lesson
- Make connections that generate interest in learning outside the classroom
- Use the Digital Playground and harness social media for learning
- Amplify Student Voice and Incorporate choice in how kids learn at home
[This is Barbara. Listen to what Connie shares about why doing homework impacted her and Starr’s relationships with their children and why homework doesn’t do anything to gain responsibility skills.]
Note Taking Tips
IDK (I Don’t Know Kick the Bucket) is a chapter about how to work with kids that don’t know the answer, it is a start to explore what they know. Each chapter has different hacks like Hear the Music behind the answer is a thoughtful answer to thought to still reach success. We need to listen to the process as prompts to the ideas.
- Hear the music: listen for correct answers
- Scaffold to trigger student thinking without doing it for them
- Kick the IDK bucket to avoid “I don’t know” as the final answer
- Punctuate your learning time to end with reflection questions
- Spin the throttle to fuel students to ask the questions
- Fill your back pocket with engagement questions
- Make yourself invisible by establishing student-centered protocols
- Be a Pinball Wizard and turn students into facilitators
The book provides talk protocols that can frame their curiosities as a progression to evolve the process in asking questions. It prompts students to shift their level of thought.
5 Ways to Create a Culture of Inquiry in Your Classroom (10 Minute Teacher)[This is Barbara: I had such a great conversation with Connie and really love her book on questioning. I highly recommend her book Hacking Questions for any educator wanting to go deeper on how to pose questions and into the art of questioning.]
Connie Hamilton Ed.S. is an author, K-12 curriculum director, and international presenter/speaker. Her thorough overview of instructional strategies such as questioning, student engagement, and feedback, perfectly align with her experience as a teacher in K-8 classrooms and principal at both the elementary and secondary levels. Collectively, her educational background and a broad range of experiences provide a solid base from which she draws to bring learning connections and actionable strategies to schools, districts, and audiences nationally.
Connie uses her communication skills to listen and promote the type of outside-the-box thinking that teams of educators will use to reason through problems and develop comprehensive plans that connect initiatives in strategic ways.
She currently serves as curriculum director in Saranac Community Schools and provides a series of professional learning workshops for districts across the country. Connie’s passion is questioning and coaching leaders to better support their most valuable school assets: teachers.