Testing IS the Answer

standardized test

I am late to the party on this one, but I’ve finally realized it: testing IS the answer! My favorite NFL football team has not won a Super Bowl in decades. I’m not an NFL coach, GM, owner, and have never played in the NFL…BUT I know exactly what it takes to win a Super Bowl: testing.

I think that once the NFL season begins in July, my favorite NFL team should test all its players in the 40 yard dash, shuttle run, verticle jump, and 225 lb bench repetitions. This should only take about a week to do for each cohort of players. Although access to much of the facility’s resources will be prohibited during this testing time, it will only be for a 4 week cycle to get all players tested.

After the 4 week cycle, practice will go on like normal–except for the players who did not score well. They will do extra 40 yard dash, shuttle run, verticle jump, and 225 lb bench repetition activities in addition to their regular football practice schedule and/or do these extra activities in place of parts of their regular football practice schedule. To make sure we are building winners, they will be tested in these areas every 2 weeks or so, in place of football practice, to monitor their progress.

The entire team will then be tested again in September. Again, players will only miss one week of practice, and access to the facility’s resources will be prohibited for only the new 4 week cycle to get all players tested. This testing period (and all testing periods) will provide critical information–hundreds of pages of reports–as to how our players are learning and coaches are coaching. There may be players cycling in and out of extra drills and progress monitoring during this–and each–off-testing phase.

To remain sharp and lock in on the division title, we will test again in November. We will again miss only a week of practice, while prohibiting access to much of the facility’s resources for only another 4 weeks. This will provide valuable progress monitoring data to drive the next phase of practices, as well as continue making big picture decisions for our organization (coaching staff, practice methods, improvement goals, etc.).

To stay sharp during our playoff run, we will test again in January. This final testing period will take us right into the Super Bowl in early February. January’s testing data, along with the previous 3 cycles of testing and data (thousands of pages of reports!), should not only prepare us to play in the Super Bowl, but should also provide a very good predictor as to how we will perform in the Super Bowl.

So, NFL owners, below is the blueprint to winning a Super Bowl this season. You’re welcome.

                                                             2016-17 Football Schedule
July 28-30 Camp opens, football practice
July 31-Aug 27 *Testing
Aug 28-Sept 18 Football practice
Sept 19-Oct 15 *Testing
Oct 16-Nov 16 Football practice
Nov 17-Dec 14 *Testing
Dec 15-Jan 3 Football practice
Jan 4-Jan 31 *Testing
Feb 1-Feb 4 Football practice
Feb 5 Super Bowl
*Allow time and flexibility for malfunctioning and incompatibility of equipment to abruptly shutdown testing sessions for hours or days at a time.

Not a football fan? No worries. Here’s an analogy for you…

My home state of Illinois is in a world of dysfunction as it pertains to its budget. If you are not aware, here are some…highlights(?)…including the lack of funding to provide free public education. Nope. Not a typo. The lack of funding to provide free public education: ISBE Estimate of Number of Days School Districts remain open 6.17.16.

Now, I am no law maker. Nor am I a finance guy by trade. Nor did I attend law school. Nor do I teach Economy or Business classes…BUT I know exactly what it takes to balance a state budget: testing.

All lawmakers should be tested on their ability to balance a state budget. Each testing session will only require one week away from the daily work of balancing the budget, and would only prohibit access to major resources in completing everyday work for balancing the budget for 4 week windows (to allow for all lawmakers to be tested). To keep our lawmakers sharp at budget balancing, this will occur 4 separate times during the year. Lawmakers who do not meet scoring benchmarks during testing will receive support in addition to their everyday work, and in many cases, will receive support that replaces their everyday work in balancing the budget. And don’t worry…time will be set aside from the everyday work of balancing the state budget for disrupted and postponed testing windows due to technical difficulties.

There you go lawmakers. The blueprint to a balanced state budget: 4 weeks away from balancing the state budget to assess your budget balancing aptitude, and 16 weeks without access to major resources to balance the state budget so that we can assess your aptitude in balancing a state budget. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

Now, to find a way to apply this to Education and student learning….

P standardized testing  student standardized testing

standardized testing hopscotch

Standardized assessment hopscotch

Little Things Mean A Lot


It’s cliche, but so true. Little things mean a lot, in daily life and in our profession of education. Sometimes we have to set aside time to reflect on the little things that have made a difference; other times, our attention is drawn to them with a thank you note or words of appreciation. I’ve learned it’s not always the action of little things that have impact, but the absence of doing little things can be just as impactful.

The absence of doing little things. One of my students, I’ll refer to him as Darrell, had intensive and deep social emotional issues. These manifested themselves daily in major behavioral infractions. As his Assistant Principal, I worked with him on the back end of infractions, as well as with him, his family, and our school team proactively on the front end.

I met with him regularly, whether it was reactively on his terms or proactively on mine. We had finally hit a stretch where things seemed headed in the right direction. I was able to praise him during our proactive get togethers during the stretch.

I got caught up in meetings, appointments, and other things requiring my attention. I missed a couple proactive meetings with Darrell. I was nervous. No news. No news was good news. I missed a couple more. Still no news. I went from being nervous, to being pleasantly surprised and very proud of Darrell.

We weren’t scheduled to proactively meet on this day, but I was gonna make a point to swing by one of his classes and tell him how proud I was of him. I ended up getting called to other things, and with a free moment or two I decided to knock out other quick items on my to-do list. I did not want to rush my time with Darrell, so I decided to grab him the following day.

Unfortunately, the following day didn’t come. At the end of that day, I got a call. Although years ago, it’s a call I have not forgotten to this day, nor will I ever forget. Darrell had done something so egregious, alternative placement was a foregone conclusion.

To this day, I wonder what impact the lack of me doing a little thing (2 min convo telling him how proud I am of him) had on Darrell, his decision making that day, and ultimately the new direction his educational life was headed. If I had made time for him, would things have been different? If I had interjected a 2 minute conversation of how proud I was of him, would it have had an impact that would have deterred the day’s event? I will never know the answer; however, since that day I strive to keep myself out of situations that may lead to my having to ask again.

The presence of little things. It’s happened to all of us, and to many of us it happens daily. Someone thanks you for what you did earlier in the day, and you have to stop and think for a few moments as to what the person is referring to. You eventually remember, and realize the reason it didn’t come to mind right away was because it wasn’t a big deal–to you. But obviously to her it was positively impactful enough that she took time out of her busy schedule to graciously thank you. That is a big deal.

My District hosts regular twitter chats. Although we’ve experienced higher attendance and more engagement each month from district staff members, it’s still new to us this year and in the growth stages of infancy. A few weeks ago, Tom Whitford (@twhitford), Dan McCabe (@danielmccabe), and Matt Rich (@mattrich0722) attended and participated in our chat. One of them is in our same Chicago metropolitan area (but in another geographic region), another is in Wisconsin, and the other is in New York.

This absolutely blew my mind! It was awesome to see educators I greatly respect and follow taking time out of their busy schedules to share and learn with us. It also provided a reality check for me. I realized I have allowed myself to again get caught up in things, and neglect some “little things”–one of which is taking time to openly reflect.

So, I want to do a “little thing” and thank Tom, Dan, and Matt for their time a few weeks ago, and let them know it has reminded and rejuvenated me to the power of reflection. Perhaps this reflection will positively impact someone, as Tom, Dan, and Matt positively impacted me with their time.

I hope this can serve as a humble reminder to acknowledge the potential power of little things, and perhaps even more so, the potential impact of the absence of doing little things.

Little Things

Whatever It Takes for Kids…Except THAT!

Are we honest with ourselves?

Are we honest with ourselves when we look into the mirror?

In my 13 years in education, I have yet to hear an educator say anything different: I am all about kids. Kids are my number one priority. I will do whatever it takes for kids. Although we all say the words, sometimes our actions say something different. Sometimes our actions say, “I’ll do whatever it takes for kids…except THAT!”

What are our exceptions? This post is not meant to offend, but to elicit candid reflection of our daily practice. Do our actions support our words? When they don’t, some examples are:

I will do whatever it takes for kids–except…

  • work with THAT parent after that nasty email she sent me
  • collaborate with THAT teacher after what I heard she said about me
  • extend out of my comfort zone
  • incorporate technology into student learning in my classroom
  • implement an IEP modification or 504 accommodation I don’t agree with
  • voice my opinion if it goes against the opinion of the small–but loud–negative group
  • recognize and support social emotional learning
  • hold my team members accountable
  • have a difficult conversation
  • treat all kids fairly (as opposed to equally)
  • say sorry to a student
  • tell a parent I was wrong
  • ask for help
  • share the successes taking place in my classroom
  • differentiate for the abilities and readiness levels in my classroom
  • utilize data as a factor to inform decision-making
  • co-teach
  • share “my” classroom with other sections during my prep and lunch periods
  • teach THAT class
  • switch classrooms or teams next year
  • thank HIM
  • give HER credit
  • candidly reflect on my daily practice and make necessary revisions

We can begin as cautiously as setting personal goals to put a dent in the way our sentences end, or as ambitiously as completely terminating the exceptions at the end of our sentences. Either way, we must have the courage to look ourselves in the mirror and accurately identify how our sentences end, and the professional dignity to do something about it.

This Year, Please Don’t Be Yourself!


“Be yourself” is a phrase commonly said to help us be comfortable. As we reflect on our contributions to kids and our service to our communities, I wonder if we should not be ourselves.

The kids we have this year are different. The parents we have this year are different. Our team members, curriculum, resources, and facilities may be different. Why then, would we want to be our same selves? If being ourselves means being comfortable, are we trying new things? Taking risks? Having candid conversations with genuine feedback and honest reflection to learn and grow?

I believe things (generally speaking, as well as specific days, units, meetings, team accomplishments) went one of two ways for us last year: not the way we had envisioned and we’d like to make things different; or very well and we want to build upon that to be even better. Either way, we are revising. It may take more than just “being ourselves” to fulfill our newly formed visions and expectations. This year, we must be our new and improved selves.

In working toward newly defined goals for this year, we must keep them at the forefront of our daily processes and routines. We must hold ourselves accountable. Some of us are successful posting our goals near our beds, on our desks, or in our notes on our devices. Others may increase accountability a bit by publicly posting in our classrooms or offices. Yet others may ratchet up the accountability–as well as pool for ideas and support–by sharing with a spouse, trusted colleague, administrator, or team.

With candid reflection, learning, growth, and revision, our kids, parents, teams, schools, and communities are getting a new and improved “us”. I caution against “being ourselves”; unless, of course, we have defined our identities as reflective and ever-evolving. In that case, by all means, let’s continue to be ourselves!

6 Questions to Prepare for the New School Year

are you prepared

February. Making the turn into Assessment Alley. Revised schedules. Computer labs are reserved. MacBook carts are off limits. Time is tight to wrap up grades for the quarter. Space and resources are limited to begin those 4th quarter units of study. Evaluation deadline is fast approaching. Colleagues are snippy. Kids are restless.

Remember how your school year ended? It may or may not have gone like this; however, the way it ended was probably impacted to some extent by how it started.

A new year is coming upon us. Clean. Fresh. But in order to take advantage of the new year, we must engage in candid reflection about last year, and specifically, the final 1/3 of the year. Here are some question starters for our reflection:

How was student behavior in my classroom down the stretch?
Negative behaviors and referrals may escalate if the values of the learning environment become lax. Expectations and accountability should not be seasonal or conditional. Homework completion, peer interactions, room navigation, the manner in which kids enter and exit the room, and all other processes & routines have been modeled. The calendar should not determine new ones, especially if they are diminished in effectiveness.
Tip: Set expectations we can keep, regardless of the time of year. We must set our classroom expectations in August as we want them applied in May, then firmly hold each other accountable along the way.

During standardized testing, was I prepared for potential variations to “the usual”?
We know we’re doing it. We know when. We have a pretty decent understanding of the allocation of time and resources in committing to standardized testing fidelity in our buildings. We even know it’s probably not going to go as planned.
Tip: Take time in August to take a look at scope and sequence, and stay ahead of scrambling in April to make due without a laptop cart or 5 full days of instruction per week with our kiddos.

Did classroom student learning integrity remain high during all my IEP and 504 preps and meetings?
Initials will arise. Annuals and re-evals come due. Students in our classrooms must learn. Death. And taxes. This (504 and IEP team members–not death!) is as much a part of student learning as any of our other roles, assignments, and obligations.
Tip: We are a part of a team much bigger than our classrooms. Our contributions to 504 and IEP teams are tremendously valuable and necessary to student learning. We must view this as such, as opposed to an add-on. Utilize our subs and give them the benefit of the doubt as educators when planning lessons for them. We’d rather sort through incomplete instruction than sift through babysitting referrals.

Did my evaluation take away from my “teaching”?
We know when we’re up. We know it takes time to read feedback, gather evidences, and meet for pre and post conferences.
Tip: Take time in August to understand the evaluation process in our districts and specifics as they pertain to our evaluators. Being on the same page will transition evaluation from a spring to-do list task to a way of professional life and consistent growth as an educator in the business of student learning.

Were our kids prepared for the safety drills?
Spring tornado, fire, and intruder drills. They’re already on the calendar. Student safety is as much a part of student learning as anything else.
Tip: Managing unexpected emergencies is a life skill, not a spring to-do list task. Let’s treat it as such.

How well did I balance planning instruction and learning of the school day with the extra-curriculars I’m involved in…and my family time…and my friendships…and my hobbies?
We know when areas of our lives are stressed. We also know the seasons that provide the most stress.
Tip: Let’s be intentional with our commitments to our areas of passion and obligation. Sometimes we feel like we have to do all or nothing. Can we team up with others so that we can be involved, yet still give attention to all areas of our lives that deserve it? Yes, we are educators. But we are people first.


Please share any reflective question starters or tips you may have for us to best prepare for 2015-16 student learning!

take action get preparedawesome satisfied

Discipline: Teacher Focused vs Student Focused

Teacher focused Student focused
What is it? Punishment An opportunity to teach behavior to a student currently deficient and not meeting expectations
Who “does” it? Administration All educators who come in contact with the student
What is the foundation of it? Rules Relationships
Behavior is… a choice, therefore punishment serves as encouragement/deterrent to choose wisely learned, therefore must be taught, modeled, re-taught, and supported
Teacher becomes frustrated when… administration does not impose punishment and/or immediately correct the behavior student learning curve takes more time and resources than anticipated

What is it? Pretty straight forward. Teacher focused educators believe discipline is about punishing kids for their behavior, and removing them from class makes it easier to teach their content.
Student focused educators believe their jobs are to teach kids (Math, Art, Science, Spanish, Behavior, etc.), and that is challenging to do if students are removed from their instruction.

Who “does” it? Teacher focused educators believe discipline is handled by administration. Therefore, anytime it’s needed, teacher focused educators send kids to the office.
Student focused educators believe they–and everybody who comes in contact with kids (other teachers, administration, extracurricular supervisors, custodians, office staff, lunch crew, bus drivers, etc.)–have a role in supporting positive student behavior. Therefore, when it’s needed, they work collaboratively with colleagues to provide support, redirection, or guidance as appropriate.

What is the foundation of it? Teacher focused educators are committed to rules. They work diligently to protect them, and may become adversarial with those who break them. Teacher focused educators believe that following rules makes it easiest for them to teach their content.
Student focused educators are committed to kids. They reach out to those who exhibit a need for support to meet expectations, and tend to make positive connections with them. Student focused educators believe their best leverage in student learning is a strong relationship.

Behavior is… Teacher focused educators believe behavior is a choice. Rules make clear what the expectations are, and punishments will achieve rule obedience.
Student focused educators believe behavior is learned, just like academic skills. And just like academic skills, proficient behavior can take time, practice, and supportive teaching.

Teacher becomes frustrated when… Teacher focused educators feel punishments should match how upset they were with the student’s infraction, and that the behavior should be immediately corrected by administration. If either of these do not occur, they may feel unsupported.
Student focused educators are dedicated to student learning, and may feel emotional exhaustion from a commitment to students with high behavioral needs.


Scenario: Today we’re working on quadratic equations. A student doesn’t correctly complete them. I see him struggling, and I give him an ultimatum: “Get this next problem right or I’ll send you to the office.” He gets the next problem wrong, and I feel grossly disrespected and cite the student for insubordination. I send the student to the office, and am fully expecting at least a couple day hiatus from my classroom for him. When he returns, I expect him to be proficient in quadratic equations. If these do not occur, I will not feel my administration is supportive of me.

In my entire career, I have never witnessed or heard of this experience as it pertains to academic skills; however, this can be a pretty typical response when it comes to behavior. In the above scenario, we tend to pull kids closer to us, offering help before or after school, or during lunch periods. We reach out to peers for different ways to expose the material of quadratic equations. We find various resources and implement different strategies. We monitor progress, expecting incremental improvements over time and set benchmarks. We bond with the student beyond the general classroom setting. Yet, when it comes to behavior, we tend to push students away, exiling them and expecting immediate proficiency upon return to us.

If we view our jobs as teaching quadratic equations, that will most easily be done by removing the kids who don’t already know them or won’t catch on quickly. But if we view our jobs as teaching kids quadratic equations, that can only be done with kids in front of us. We don’t send kids to a magic room in the office that teaches quadratic equations to full proficiency by holding them there for a couple days. We dig deeper, work collaboratively with colleagues, and create valuable connections with our kids beyond the universal setting, striving toward a shared goal. The same should hold true for behavior.



Increase Rigor by Relinquishing Control


As conference time is upon us, I am reminded of one of my major career “catapult” moments: initiating student led conferences. As I began to leverage the enthusiasm, ambition, and inquiry of the students in my classroom, I quickly began achieving more by doing less. As a result, I discovered an invaluable, always accessible, and unlimited resource in my classroom: my kids. This applies to all things, but I will share my learning progression as it pertained to initiating student led conferences.

Setting the scene: It was a century ago (1999). I was teaching 3rd grade and had one bulky computer in my room. The entire school (500 kids) had a hub of 30 laptops that could be signed out. No wi-fi, so cords, wires, and power strips littered the hub. I was a 2nd year teacher who had grown up without a computer, and was as far from a techie as one could possibly be. I had just finished my first year of teaching, and spent the summer taking a few student centered “tech” classes (HyperStudio, KidPix, Inspiration, Kidspiration, etc).

I was excited to put my new toys to use in my classroom; however, I was terrified of the equipment and the set up. I had no idea what the difference was between the blue cords and the yellow cords, or what plugged into what. But Kyle did. Kyle was one of my 3rd graders, and had a passion and extreme depth of knowledge of “tech stuff”. So, every morning Kyle volunteered to show up early and plug everything in for me, log in every computer, and set up the day’s program we’d be using. I would watch him, ask him questions, and have him show me how to do things. I wanted to become a techie like 8 year old Kyle…

The way things had always been: They were called Parent-Teacher conferences for a reason. Students were not a part of them. Teachers told parents about their kids for 15 minutes, then the next parents came in. Sometimes, parents would receive and take a different message home than was intended by the teacher.

I didn’t see the point of me entirely telling a parent about their kid. I wanted kids to tell parents about themselves and their work, goals and progressions, challenges and plans of action…

Phase 1: Students need to attend their conferences. I shared my preliminary vision with my principal and asked if I could request students to attend. Her response was, “The kids are only 8!”, to which I replied, “I know, they’re 8. They can do this!” I was told I could not make kids attend, but could ask. So I did, and got 100% attendance!

Phase 2: Students need to share. Not only did all of my kids attend, but some even improvised and voluntarily commented and shared! The response from parents was great, as hearing from their kids has a different value than hearing from the teacher. So, in anticipation for our next round of conferences, we prepared and practiced sharing. I offered some prompts and sentence starters, and my kids really took to them.

Phase 3: Students have examples of work, progress, & action taken as part of plans. A nice surprise that evolved from students taking to the verbal sharing was they wanted to provide evidences. To keep things organized, accessible, and mobile, with Kyle’s help we began creating electronic portfolios using Hyperstudio, Kid Pix, Inspiration, and KidSpiration. With so much value and enthusiasm being inserted by my kids, 15 minutes wasn’t going to be enough. So, we experimented by extending to 30 minute conferences, two at a time. We set up families in opposite diagonal corners of the classroom, and I set up a boom box (1999, remember?) in the middle of the room between them to provide some auditory privacy. Students shared and led with such pride, and parents were extremely engaged. I was able to simply float between the families, filling in where needed.

Phase 4: Get out of the way and simply support where necessary! Things went so well during our conferences, 30 minutes was not enough time. I had to kick out every single family. Because they knew that everything we did could potentially be something they share in the spotlight of their conferences, kids began taking serious ownership of their daily learning, behavior, reflections, goals, and action plans. In other words, school was becoming what school is supposed to be! So, moving forward, we set up 60 minute conferences, four at a time, one family per corner of the room, boom box tunes in the middle providing auditory privacy, with me floating.

Families could come and go as they pleased during their 60 minute blocks. For many families, 60 minutes was still not enough. So, we (Kyle, who was now in 4th grade but still came back to help me) set up laptops outside of our room for families to begin early or continue after their 60 minute blocks.

Benefits: Students can achieve anything put on them. As I learned, what was hindering my classroom was not my students’ learning, but my comfort in the rigor of things I limited myself to putting on my kids. My student led conferences progression spanned 2 years (4 rounds of conferences). What I put on my 2nd cohort of kids was much more complex than what I put on my 1st cohort; however, to the kids it was simply how we did things and the expectations of what they knew 3rd grade to be. As I learned something new, became comfortable, and shared A, B, and C with kids, they took it in as A, B, and C. As I evolved to D, E, and F, then G, H, and I, then J, K, and L, kids were still taking it in as A, B, and C. Because to them, it was all they knew. It simply was how we did things.

During daily instruction and learning time, I rarely had to discipline kids and never pointed to a poster of rules not to break. We simply reminded ourselves, “Am I going to be proud to share this during conferences?”

In Summation: Student led conferences promote ownership and accountability in learning. It gives meaning to daily work and builds community around expectations. Implementation paces will vary dependent upon district initiative, building administrative support, culture, and your own comfort.

My journey began with an immense fear of technology, and resistance from a principal’s perspective that kids should not even attend conferences because they were only 8. It progressed to those same 8 year olds leading 60 minute conferences twice per year. It resulted in our student led conferences being filmed and used for presentation as a district initiative of student led conferences all the way down to Kindergarten.

Students consistently monitored themselves, their learning, and behavior, invested in their goals and plans of action, and achieved beyond anything I could have put forth for them at the time. By relinquishing control and utilizing the number one resource in my classroom, rigor was increased on all levels.


The Power of Detentions

detention quiet

If we had to host our own detentions…

  • how many would we write?
  • how would we want student behavior impacted as a result?
  • how would we work toward achieving that result during our time with the student?

Answering these questions may provide insight into the power of our detentions–and perhaps more importantly–offer insight into what we value as educators.

How many would we write? If the thought of spending more time with kids who have just broken a rule, not turned in an assignment, defied a request, or disrespected us makes our tummies queasy, I ask that we consider this: these kids need us more than ever at this time. And, oddly enough, we need them.

The students need us because we are their teachers, and they need to be taught/re-taught expectations, responsibility, order, or respect. We can teach math, science, art, etc., without kids in our rooms, but we cannot teach kids without kids in our rooms. Teachers teach KIDS.

We need more time with these students, not less. More time spent with kids increases the likelihood of cultivating relationships, both academic and social emotional. Research suggests that students learn and experience increased success when we’ve developed positive relationships with them.

How would we want student behavior impacted as a result? I’ve seen teachers stumped in silence when asked this question. In the heat of the moment, sometimes we become egocentric. What we “want” is for students to be punished as a result of their behavior toward us. When we find ourselves here, I suggest re-routing our focus. It is challenging to prescribe resolutions for students when we are focused on ourselves. Do we want increased student responsibility? Respect for the learning environment? Compassion for our community? It is imperative that as educators and professionals we prescribe student-centered solutions that promote positive behavior moving forward.

How would we work toward achieving that result during our time with the student? If the detention time is not dedicated to improving the probability of positive student behavior moving forward, it runs the risk of being punitive. Consequences for the sake of punishment can quickly deteriorate student-teacher relationships, thus decreasing the probability of positive student behavior moving forward. This can lead to a cycle of infractions and punishments that viciously and exponentially feed one another.

If detentions are time spent with kids, focused on student learning outcomes and positive behavior, and we engage with them to promote such, let’s give all our kids detentions! They can serve them during the natural course of the day, and we can just call it teaching.

If you have ways you seamlessly build relationships and incorporate compassionate re-teaching responsively and flexibly during your school day, please share.

Discipline to Build Student Relationships

Discipline meaningless punishment


The best teachers have great relationships with students. Part of this can be attributed to who they are at heart, but part is also intentionally focused energy and effort. 6 things the best teachers (and educators in general) do are:

1. Set kids as the priority every day. As educators, we have many demands, pressures, and expectations exerted upon us. The best teachers understand that putting kids first can inherently accomplish anything else on the list. Test scores, standards, grades, motivation, behavior, and attendance are examples of things that can be increased by setting kids as the priority. What does this mean? Setting kids as the priority means genuinely getting to know kids, their strengths, interests, passions, aspirations, frustrations, backgrounds, and areas for growth, then acting upon this knowledge in planning for instruction and engaging students in learning. The best teachers know this transcends the content of any manual or basil reader (which can have value as resources and tools–just not end goals).

2. Treat discipline/behavior as a content area to support student learning.  Just like Language Arts, Math, PE, Music, Foreign Language, etc., behavior is an area in which kids need our support to learn skills to grow. Math teachers do not send a student to the office if he fails a quiz, then expect an administrator to spend an hour or two teaching the concepts to him, call home, assign negative consequences, and expect the student to return with a positive attitude and ace the quiz; however, some educators treat disciplinary infractions this way. The best teachers meet students where they are behaviorally and accept the responsibility of supporting them as needed, just like they do academically.

3. Relish the opportunity to support student learning in the area of behavior. The best teachers know that working with students–and families–through behavioral infractions is a fast track way to building positive relationships. The disciplinary process provides teachers an opportunity to show kids they matter, and families they care. These situations take time, energy, and firmness; but so do teaching kids to read, understand fractions, and speak a foreign language. Educators who pass off these fast track opportunities to others not only pass off the opportunity to build and progress relationships, but often create just the opposite: adversarial relationships with students and families.

4. Recognize and celebrate positives (positively) disproportionately to negatives. Although the best teachers hold kids to high expectations, they still take the time to acknowledge achievements. They praise them, and also contact parents to share. This is very time consuming, but so is fielding negative calls from parents. The best teachers know this, and also understand the invested time yields much different results when placed proactively at the front end rather than reactively on the back end.

5. Remove teacher ego from student interactions. The best teachers always focus on student centered objectives when dealing with disciplinary and behavioral infractions. The root of the issues are addressed, and teachers support the skill in need. Incidents–especially disrespect and insubordination–are never compounded with punitive consequences because they were directed at the teacher, and are rarely outsourced for resolution.

6. Search for relationship building opportunities. The best teachers jump at opportunities like lunch duty, recess duty, hall duty, morning duty, after school supervision, extra-curricular supervision, and chaperoning. These environments are saturated with relationship building opportunities, as both parties can take off their “school caps” and engage on another level.


Perhaps this winter holiday can provide time for us to examine our priorities. If kids are not at the top of the list, hopefully this offers assistance with any necessary revision. Our kids deserve it.

What essentials would you add to this list? Please share.

GenEd Differentiation: SPED’s Been Ahead of the Game for Years

learning knows no bounds sped

With a different kind of emphasis and focus recently (last couple decades or so) on mainstream differentiation, I think we must turn to our SPED educators for guidance. They’ve been doing it all along.

The premise of special education is to work with colleagues and families to devise an individualized education plan (IEP) to meet kids at their learning readiness levels. Recent mandates and expectations have placed the same accountability on general education teachers for mainstreamed students.

To plan for and accommodate the standard three traditional learning levels (“on level”, “below level”, and “above level”) are no longer enough. The reality has always been that in a classroom of X kids, there are X different readiness levels. In the past, grouping students into 3 instructional cohorts was acceptable(?); however, this is not acceptable in the current era of education. General educators are under more and more pressure (some mandated, and some from personally high expectations and passion for their craft) to cater to each individual learning readiness level in the classroom; in essence, to create personalized learning paths–or individualized education plans–for each and every student.

In theory, I believe every educator wants to do this; however, in reality, it is a challenge–and not an area of strength–in public education. Time, resources, and manpower are just a few constraints that make this task challenging. I believe 3 things can help alleviate this stress and promote work toward accomplishing this great task:
1. Collaborate & confer with your SPED staff. This is the work they’ve always done for kids. Working with all staff who have any kind of relationship with the student (academic, social, emotional), along with parents, as a team to target strengths and areas for improvement is their everyday job. They design goals and plans to reach said goals. They continuously check in with one another, formally and informally, monitoring progress along the way, always including parents. They make adjustments as necessary, always in an effort to create success, build confidence, and foster independence.
2. Stay current and implement best practices: multidisciplinary, project based, inquiry based, backward design, Maker Education, genius hour, to name a few. These practices can empower learners (including the teacher and parents as learners) to take ownership of the learning process. When this occurs, you’ve essentially increased the resource of instructional manpower in your classroom.
3. Leverage the resources available to you. For example, there are so many apps and social media platforms that can be utilized to foster collaboration. Collaboration can take place among learners within the classroom, grade level, school, district, state, country, and world. These relationships can be used for sharing, brainstorming, proof reading & editing, and feedback. Talk about increasing the resource of manpower–the assistance of the entire world and its expertise is one click away! Leveraging 21st century virtual tools for collaboration also increases the resource of time, as these tools transcend learning outside of school hours and across time zones, borders, and oceans.

During this educational era which can feel lonely and barren, it is imperative to reach out to the people and resources you do have around you to maximize our kids’ learning opportunities and experiences. If you have more ways to accomplish this, please share.