Life Talk

Introduction to Life Talk

In schools you know, can supporters communicate with young people as needed about things young people are experiencing and supports they need?

PRINCIPLE: We need to make it more routine, not rare, to invite dialogue with students about their ongoing life experiences.

In this section of, we’ll post resources that help folks communicate more routinely about students’ ongoing experiences, situations, and needs, so that folks know from students what’s going on with students and offer supports on the sport.


If you were going to design an Ideal Student Support Calendar to structure a student’s typical month, what communication opportunities would you schedule on that calendar?

Who (see the Foundational Image on page 10 of Schooltalk) would you gather, how often, to talk about which domains of students’ experiences? Via which channel would you support them to communicate? Draw yourself a blank calendar and start designing.

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Featured #schooltalking effort

Educators at The Preuss School UCSD in San Diego have designed their school’s grade 6–12 advisory program over many years and now consider it a crucial aspect of their student support infrastructure. 

In the Preuss advisory model, teachers stay with a single advisory class for seven straight years, meeting an entire class period like any other class. Advisory class is used for supplementary help on academics (e.g., all teachers focus on time management, organization and literacy; math teachers send problem sets into advisories for peers to work on together). Advisory is also used for college preparation (e.g., the counselor uses advisory time to help with financial aid forms or host college reps; teachers use advisory to help students prepare for the SATs, seek scholarships, and write résumés and personal statements).

Advisory also supports one-on-one conversations about how young people are doing personally. Advisors say that issues shared privately with them range from advisees’ personal struggles with depression, family poverty, or immigration to adolescent struggles with girlfriends or boyfriends, plus ongoing personal successes. One advisory teacher told me the relationship creates “a family—I feel more at home with this group than any other.” As two Preuss teachers put it when sharing their advisory model, advisory “supports a diversified student body through high-level curriculum” by providing “a sense of belonging and inclusion they so desperately need. And we all know that when that happens, learning happens.”

Would you/could you schedule such an Advisory in a school you know? How often would it meet? Ideally, what would people in your Advisory talk about?

For more information about our University Preparatory Advisory program, please watch this video:

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Here’s an example of Life Talk: interviewing young men of color about what supports their success. The Counter Narrative: Reframing Success of High Achieving Black and Latino Males in Los Angeles County asked over 200 high school-aged young men of color throughout Los Angeles County to describe and explain their achievements--and the supports in their lives they valued most.

Many students discussed how schools and opportunity contexts could be improved for everyone, even as they explained their own access to specific supports helping them to succeed in and out of school.

In this additional blog post, UCLA professor John Rogers dialogued with the report’s main author, UCLA professor Tyrone Howard. As Howard puts it, “It doesn’t have to be seen as, ‘We tackle structural inequality,’ or ‘We look at cases of success.’ I think we’re telling a more complete picture. It’s possible to talk about both.”

As takeaways from youth voices, Howard emphasizes that educators need to:

  • support a variety of ways to be “male” in schools, allowing youth to be their full selves.
  • create caring relationships and “environments of affirmation” schoolwide, not just in isolated teachers’ classrooms. (As Howard puts it, “so many young men feel like they’re kept at a distance by teachers.”)
  • support young people through moments of struggle. (“It’s almost like there’s a stigma, or an embarrassment, tied to setbacks or challenges.”)

In the end, Howard challenges educators to create what Schooltalk calls Life Talk infrastructure: time inside and outside the classroom when educators can “really get to know young people, communicate with young people, hear their dreams, talk about their own life challenges, and have those young people walk out of there feeling a renewed sense of hope.” In listening to young people, educators “humanize” and value students as people with crucial strengths and resources to apply to their own success.

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How can we make it more routine in schools to invite dialogue with students about their ongoing life experiences (Life Talk)? Vajra Watson and colleagues from Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) use spoken word poetry to build youth voice and school success identity. As they put it, “Young people have the potential to be the authors of their own lives and agents of change. At SAYS, we activate young people to read, write, and speak about their lives through the medium of spoken word performance poetry. Through this unique process, literacy and leadership go hand-in-hand as young people pick up the mic and the pen.” Check out their work at Their mantra? “If you got something to SAY? SAYSomething.” Their hashtag? #schoolismyhustle.

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Featured #schooltalking effort

In winter 2018, CREATE at UC San Diego hosted an event with Emily Chiariello and San Diego educators. We talked about how to bring diverse voices into classrooms of every demographic, through fiction and nonfiction texts that spark students’ own voices. It's a great #schooltalking question to ask in schools: which texts are we offering to students, to prompt which conversations about which aspects of whose lives?

We explored the huge bank of texts and lesson-planning tools available free here

The resource bank from Teaching Tolerance can catalyze dialogue with students not only about historic or extraordinary struggles, but also about everyday, even “mundane” human experiences.


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