Category Archives: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

Note to Learning Teams: It’s Time to Complete Your Mid-Year Checkup

As a guy who has written and presented and consulted on the power of PLCs for over a decade, I’m always surprised by how little learning teams do to monitor their own health. 

We write norms and outline a plan of action for our meetings at staff development days in August — and then we file those norms and action plans away in our team folders, never to be opened again.

No wonder we get frustrated with the progress we are making together.  Without the regular implementation of clearly stated and agreed upon structures to govern our work, weekly meetings can end up feeling like a giant waste of time.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Sometime in the next two weeks, sit down with your colleagues and complete a mid-year checkup.

Clark Tibbs


Here’s how:

Step 1:  Have your team leader add all of your team’s commitments to the first column of this Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.  Include both norms that are supposed to be governing your team’s weekly meetings and any specific structures or plans that were important to your team back in August.  Here’s a sample of a completed Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.

Step 2: Set aside time for every teacher to reflect privately on whether or not your team is doing a good job honoring your commitments to one another.  Explain to team members that any “NO” votes need to be backed up with both reasoning and suggestions for improvement.

Step 3:  Copy your team’s commitments into the first column of this handout.  Hang a poster sized version of the handout in a private space that team members can access.  Ask team members to use sticky dots to indicate whether or not they think your team is honoring your commitments to one another.

Step 4: Use the completed “Sticky Dot Chart” to start conversations about the overall health of your learning team at your next meeting.  Areas receiving lots of “NO” votes need to be revisited. Why is it that your team is struggling with those commitments to one another?  What can be done to tighten your work in that area?

The simple truth is that the health of learning teams has to be monitored and addressed if collaboration is going to produce motivated teachers and meaningful results for kids. 

The time you invest in reviewing the commitments that you’ve made to one another is time you invest into making your team stronger.



Related Radical Reads:

Note to #atplc nation:  Norms Really DO Matter

The Importance of a Clear Vision

Just How Important IS the Composition of a Professional Learning Team?


Three Things I Want Folks Beyond the Classroom to Know about Teaching.

Over the last few days, I’ve been having a conversation with a few close friends about the differences between the work of classroom teachers and the work of educational professionals in positions beyond the classroom.  

Perhaps the most important conclusion that we came to was that regardless of position, there are good people doing important work in both places.  The primary difference in our roles rests not in the demands of our jobs or the importance of our contributions, but instead in our preference for having a deep and meaningful impact on one small group of students or having a broader impact on the students of an entire school or district.

William Iven

Personally, I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who is willing to lead from beyond the classroom — whether as an instructional technology coach, a media specialist, a social worker, a guidance counselor or an administrator. 

I recognize that all of those roles accomplish important tasks for a system oftentimes without direct access to a single group of students — and it’s that direct impact that I personally crave the most.

I couldn’t imagine working in education without the positive feedback that I get from the day-to-day interactions with a single group of students.  I can see and feel the difference that I am making in the lives of kids because they are having a-ha moments in front of me all of the time.  People beyond the classroom have to look for evidence of the impact that they are having in other — and to me, less rewarding — places.

And because of the part time work that I do as a school improvement consultant and trainer, I know full well how difficult it is to move individual teachers, learning teams, and schools forward.  “School change” is REALLY nothing more than changing individuals — and changing individuals isn’t easy.  That means people working beyond the classroom require a patience and determination gifted by God to accomplish their work.

Need proof of just how hard it is to “change individuals?”

Try to get your life partner to change ANYTHING about their personal actions and habits and then get back to me.

More importantly, remember that helping teachers to change actions and habits is like 90 percent of the work done by people in roles beyond the classroom every single day.  ANY success is a small miracle when your primary responsibility is to change the actions and habits of adults.


But there really ARE three things that I wish every person working beyond the classroom would know (remember?) about being a classroom teacher.

(1). I really can’t check my email and respond to you during “the workday.”  One of the defining characteristics of my work is that I don’t have any flexibility during the bulk of my school day.  My students roll through my classroom door at 7:45 and — with the exception of 16 minutes for lunch — don’t leave again until 1:30.

That entire period of time is a whirlwind for me.

I’m trying to deliver good instruction. I’m trying to answer a thousand questions.  I’m trying to collect missing work.  I’m opening stuck lockers.  I’m helping students find missing phones.  I’m soothing frayed emotions and negotiating conflict between both individuals and social groups.

What that means is if you are trying to get information from me, you are going to have to wait until my one free period of the day — which doesn’t start until every single kid is gone AND I’ve had the chance to hit the bathroom!

Sometimes, I think people working beyond the classroom — who generally have more flexibility and control over their schedules because they aren’t teaching an individual group of students who attend classes on a specific schedule — forget that.  Heck, just yesterday, I disappointed a colleague in a position beyond the classroom by not having something completed for them by the end of the workday.

“Didn’t you get my email?” she asked.  “I sent it at 10:38 this morning.”

My answer:  “Nope.  I was teaching students until five minutes ago.”


(2). I’m responsible for moving the work of a TON of other people forward, too:  One of the hardest things about being a classroom teacher is that I almost always feel buried under a never-ending list of tasks that I need to complete for people working in positions beyond the classroom.

The Equity Team needs me to fill out a survey about my perceptions on the role that race plays in my work.  The school improvement team needs me to fill out a survey on my thoughts regarding our school’s results from recent testing.  The PBIS team wants me to continue making positive contacts with the parents of students demonstrating the kinds of behaviors that we encourage in our building.

I have questions to answer about the progress that I’m making towards meeting my individual and team goals for this school year.  I have chapters to read for a book study that I am participating in.  I have to generate a new list of students with medical needs and then add that list to the materials that I leave for substitute teachers.  I have to pull work together for a student who is home bound for medical reasons.

My learning team’s benchmark has to be written — and then I have to meet with our school’s technology specialist to get that benchmark prepared properly so that we can track progress by student and standard.  I’ve got a list of students who are currently struggling in class that I need to develop individual intervention plans for.  I have to nail down a plan for delivering a universal screening assessment for my entire team in the next few weeks.

What that means is that there are going to be times when you aren’t getting my best effort and thinking, no matter what your role is or what task you are asking me to complete.

That’s not because I’m a slacker who doesn’t care or a difficult guy that doesn’t respect the importance of the work that you are trying to do.

That’s because there are twelve other people counting on me to complete items as a part of their area of focus.  In every circumstance, moving that work forward can only happen after consulting with me — but because EVERYONE relies on responses from me, I’m always behind or I’m always giving some tasks more of my mental attention than others.

Sometimes, I think people working beyond the classroom — who, in many cases, have the wonderful opportunity to focus deeply on one specific aspect of moving our building forward — forget that.


(3). Working directly with kids is still my first priority:  Probably the most important thing to remember as you work with me is that the day to day interactions that I have with students are ALWAYS going to be my first priority.

That’s for obvious reasons:  I really do have kids rolling through my classroom door every morning.  If I’m not prepared with engaging lessons, my day is going to be a huge grind!

But it’s for philosophical reasons, too:  I CHOSE to stay in the classroom with kids because those direct interactions mean more to me than anything.  Making them smile and helping them learn and seeing them succeed are the rewards that keep ME moving forward.

Here’s how that plays out in my own thinking: When I’m deciding how to use the limited time that I have for responding to demands for my time and attention, I’m prioritizing based on my own belief of the potential positive impact that individual tasks might have on MY work with MY kids.

Planning and preparation and responding to parents will always come first.  I know those actions matter.  I can see their impact on my students and families every single day.

From there, I’m ranking and sorting everything else that lands on my to-do list.  Some tasks get done quickly and with full attention and effort.  Others sit on my to-do list forever — or at least until I get a second (or third.  or fourth.  or fifth) email reminder that they need to be completed.

What that means is if you want me to prioritize your work, you need to do a REALLY good job selling me on the impact that your area of focus is going to have on my students.  I need a “convincing kid-centered why” before I’m going to give ANY new task my full professional attention simply because I’m ALWAYS buried in new tasks.

Sometimes I think people working beyond the classroom — who ALREADY understand just how powerful their area of focus — forget that.

Because they can already see the convincing kid-centered why behind the work they are doing, they assume that I can see it, too.  The truth is far more complicated than that.  Most teachers can see SOME value in ALL of the tasks they are being asked to complete — but if you want YOUR tasks to matter most to us, you need to find ways to show us the direct impact that your work will have on our kids.

Only then will you move us from simple compliance to full commitment — and only then will you start to see your work move up on our list of priorities.

Does any of this make sense?

Again — I know full well just how hard the work that people beyond the classroom are trying to pull off can be.  I do that work, too.  I’ve been a consultant in schools and districts for the better part of the last decade.  What’s more, I know the sacrifices people make when they move into positions beyond the classroom.  When you walk away from having a direct impact on a single group of students, it’s harder to find evidence that you are making a meaningful difference in the lives of kids.

That’s a trade-off I’m not willing to make — so I’m grateful for everyone else who HAS made that trade-off.

My goal with this post is simply to help people working beyond the classroom to better understand the reactions you are getting from teachers.  


Related Radical Reads:

This is Why I Teach.

Does YOUR School Have an “Avoid at All Costs’ List?

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

Three Reasons YOU Should Be Hashtagging Your Curriculum.

Late last school year, I jumped feet first into a project called #hashtag180.

First proposed by Kyle Hamstra, #hashtag180 encourages teachers to grab and share images and video of either the work they are doing in their classrooms or the real world application of content that they are expected to teach.  The key, however, is to then add a hashtag representing the specific curriculum standard that the content being shared represents.

Here’s a sample:

Do you see the #sci6p31 hashtag at the end of the message?

THAT’s what makes #hashtag180 work different from the sharing we have always done in social spaces.  It represents the specific curriculum objective that my Tweet was designed to teach — and by adding it, I’ve made this content searchable by standard.

That means when I’m teaching this same content next year, I can easily find the strategies that I used to engage my kids.  Just as importantly, that means OTHER TEACHERS who are teaching the same content can easily find the strategies that I’m using to engage my kids.

So why should other teachers consider hashtagging their curriculum?  

Here’s three reasons:

You will learn your curriculum inside out:  If you are anything like me, you probably don’t spend a ton of time in your standards documents.  You know what units you are expected to teach. You have a good sense for what topics need to be addressed in those units.  And if you’ve been at it for a while, you even know the activities that you use to teach each of those topics.

But here’s the thing:  If you aren’t regularly reviewing your curriculum, you may be making a whole ton of faulty assumptions about just what it is that your kids are expected to know and be able to do.

Just because you’ve taught a unit or a topic for years doesn’t mean that unit or topic is an essential part of the required curriculum for the kids in your care.

When you start hashtagging your curriculum, however, you are automatically forced to revisit your curriculum documents to ensure that you are adding the right tag to the messages that you are sharing.  That constant revisiting means you will always be fully aware of whether or not the content you are teaching is actually in your curriculum — and that’s a really good thing.


You can build a digital portfolio detailing your mastery of your content area:  Regardless of the state, province or country that you work in, there’s a good chance that your teacher evaluation protocols require you to demonstrate a deep and meaningful understanding of the content that you teach.  You are also probably expected to have a strong sense of content specific pedagogy — or the best ways to teach the concepts in your curriculum to your students.

Every time that you hashtag your curriculum, you are creating evidence — sorted by standard — of just what YOU know and can do with your curriculum.

Imagine walking into your next teacher evaluation meeting with your supervisor or your next interview with a new school and being able to quickly search for specific examples of your teaching strategies by each individual standard in your required curriculum.

Or imagine how impressive you would be if you created a digital portfolio like mine that included every #hashtag180 post you’ve ever made — and they were all sorted by the standards you are required to teach.

Talk about an impressive professional behavior, right?


You can begin sharing engaging academic content to your school’s social media profiles:  Go take a look at your school’s Facebook page or Twitterstream.  Now, check out what pops up when you use your school’s dedicated hashtag.

If your school is anything like most schools, there are probably a TON of calendar updates and/or generic celebrations.  Your band guy has probably posted a picture of his jazz ensemble at a competition.  Your athletic director has probably posted the final score of the most recent basketball game.  Your principal has probably posted a picture of a smiling kid walking in from carpool.

But can you find anything that is directly and explicitly tied to the way that teachers are delivering the required curriculum?

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

And that’s one of the reasons that I share every one of my #hashtag180 posts to our schools #salemproud stream.  The way that I see it, if parents are able to see me thinking about and explaining my curriculum in our social spaces, they will begin to see our school as a place where curriculum is just as important as the jazz band competitions or the final scores of our basketball games.

Sharing academic content that is directly connected to the required curriculum sends the message that (1). academics matter here and (2). our teachers are geeked about their curriculum.  Those are important messages to share.

Long story short: There are a thousand reasons why hashtagging your curriculum make sense.  It’s a practice that every teacher ought to think about embracing.


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the Hashtag 180 Challenge?

More on My #Hashtag180 Work.

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio


Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Over the next year, I’m participating in a school-based book study of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

If you haven’t read it before, you ought to pick it up.  What I dig the most about it is the fact that George’s ideas are incredibly approachable.  Not only will you walk away with a better understanding of just what innovation looks like in action, you will walk away with a belief that innovation is doable.


My a-ha this week came in a chapter on the importance of relationships in education.  

George references this Atul Gawande bit describing how ideas spread through an organization.  In the article, Gawande describes something called “the rule of seven touches” that he picked up from a pharmaceutical sales representative:

I once asked a pharmaceutical rep how he persuaded doctors—who are notoriously stubborn—to adopt a new medicine. Evidence is not remotely enough, he said, however strong a case you may have. You must also apply “the rule of seven touches.” Personally “touch” the doctors seven times, and they will come to know you; if they know you, they might trust you; and, if they trust you, they will change.

That’s why he stocked doctors’ closets with free drug samples in person. Then he could poke his head around the corner and ask, “So how did your daughter Debbie’s soccer game go?” Eventually, this can become “Have you seen this study on our new drug? How about giving it a try?” As the rep had recognized, human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.

I know firsthand that the rule of seven touches works with adults.  Here’s why:  I’m ‘notoriously stubborn’ too! 

Need proof?  Ask literally ANYONE who has worked with me professionally over the last 25 years.

If you are going to have ANY chance of convincing me to embrace a new practice or behavior or to walk in whatever direction you are hoping I’m going to walk, you are going to need to rely on more than just your authority or position.  Instead, you are going to have to have a series of smaller interactions with me that build trust.  If I don’t come to know you — or worse yet, if I’m not convinced that you’ve tried to get to know me — I’m never going to trust you.  And if I don’t trust you, there’s not a chance in the world that you are going to convince me to take your ideas for a spin.

But I wasn’t thinking about adults when I read about the Rule of Seven in The Innovator’s Mindset.  I was thinking about the students who struggle with behaviors in our schools.

You know the kids that I’m talking about:  The ones who aren’t in their seats when we want them to be or who use unkind words to their peers or who can’t keep their hands to themselves or who are late to our classes time and time again or who are in spaces where they aren’t supposed to be or who mouth back when we try to correct their behaviors.

For years, my response to those behaviors had nothing to do with “the rule of seven touches.”  Instead, my response was more along the lines of “the rule of seven consequences.”

I’d sign their behavior trackers or fuss at them in the hallways or chase them back to their classrooms with a stern voice or the ‘evil eye.’  I’d write them up and send them to the office and argue that we needed MORE consequences if we were ever going to ‘manage their behaviors.’

I actually took pride in being ‘the strict teacher’ and would warn kids at the beginning of the year that if they didn’t behave, I would be their LEAST favorite teacher.  I’d call their parents during my planning period, intentionally trying to get kids in trouble.  “Wait until you get home,” I’d crow.  “Your mom is NOT happy with you.”

The funny thing is that NONE of those ‘command and control’ approaches to dealing with student behaviors worked.

Students who were suspended time and again or fussed at time and again or shouted down by teachers time and again or ‘disciplined’ time and again by the adults in a schoolhouse don’t become MORE likely to follow your rules or to participate in your school community in positive ways.

Instead, they resist and fight back and begin to doubt and disrespect everything and everyone in your school community.  Why would you expect cooperation from kids who have been buried in consequences by important adults at every turn?

So I’ve done my best this year to create “positive touches” with the students who struggle with behaviors on my hallway.  

Specifically, I’ve learned the names of kids in different classes that I stumble across over and over again out of place in the hallways.  I say hello using first names every time that I see them. I ask about their weekends, about their interests, and about how their days are going every chance I get.  I say goodbye as the head out the door at the end of the day.  I say, “It’s good to see you!” a thousand times a day to kids who have gotten used to being somebody’s outcast.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of these interactions — and they cost me nothing.  But they are deliberate — designed to get kids to ‘come to know me’ because I realize that if kids who struggle to behave ‘come to know me’, they are more likely to trust me.  And if they trust me, I’ll have a better chance to coach them around behaviors when I need to.

And it’s working.

I’ve already established trusting relationships with some of the most ‘difficult’ kids in our school.  Those kids stop and listen when I ask them to.  If I need them to head back to their classrooms, it happens without any kind of resistance involved.

When they make poor choices, I can call them out on it and know that they will hear me rather than slip directly into denial or anger or belligerence.  What I love the most is that many of them have started stopping by my room on purpose just to say hello in the morning — and they’re bringing friends who want to get to know me, too.

None of this would have happened in previous years, y’all.

That’s because in previous years, I would have tried to drop the hammer on these kids every time I saw them in the hallways.  I would have chased them away or fussed first and asked questions later.  I would have used every punishment that I had available to me, convinced that those punishments were not only deserved, but essential to “send a message” to kids.

Can you see the flaws in my logic?

My priority was obedience first and relationships later, not realizing that obedience — or the lack thereof — was a direct reflection of the state of the relationship that I had with each individual student.  The kids who misbehaved the most were the ones that I’d done nothing to get to know and appreciate and value and celebrate.

Now don’t get me wrong: I haven’t ‘rescued’ any of these students yet.  They aren’t behaving everywhere that they go in our building.  In fact, it’s not unusual for me to find out that they are in trouble for shouting at other teachers or staff members that they’ve encountered during the school day.

But each of those negative interactions bothers me more now than ever because I KNOW that these same students CAN respond in a positive way to correction and to guidance from adults.  That correction and guidance just has to come from adults that they trust — and trust starts when adults concentrate on having positive touches with the most difficult kids in their buildings.

So here’s a simple question I want you to consider:  Is your school a “rules first” or a “relationships first” community?

You are a “rules first” community if you spend more time in staff meetings or leadership meetings or school improvement meetings talking about consequences for kids than you do talking about the best ways to build trust with the kids who need you the most.

You are a “rules first” community if you have an incredibly long list of misbehaviors and their corresponding punishments posted all over your school’s website, but you can’t make a similar list of the deliberate steps that YOU are taking to make sure that every kid — including those that are always in trouble — has positive interactions with adults in your building each day.

You are a “rules first” community if your school is full of teachers who are constantly grumbling about the lack of “enforcement” or “discipline” in your building but those same staff members aren’t willing to roll their sleeves up and create experiences intentionally designed to strengthen relationships with students who are struggling to behave.

You are a “rules first” community if teachers in your building can list all of the things that a difficult student has done WRONG but struggle to come up with anything that those exact same students have done RIGHT.

You are a “rules first” community if you are more than ready to call home to notify parents of all of the ways that their kids have broken the rules, but you never take the time to call home and notify parents of all of the ways that their kids inspire you and make you proud.

And you are a “rules first” community if there are a group of kids that you never seem to be able to reach with consequences.  They’ve tuned you out.  They’ve given up on you.  They don’t trust you — and because they don’t trust you, they will never respond to you in the way that you hope that they will.

If that sounds anything like you, maybe it’s time to start thinking about relationships.

They matter.



Related Radical Reads:

Is Your Team Failing Unsuccessful Practices Together?

Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

When Was the Last Time You Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?


Transferring Facts v. Building the Future Together.

Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.  

For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching.  Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.

Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards.  But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts.  It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.

The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired.  What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.

That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls.  If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.

But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.

It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN?  How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.

That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.

In it, Vermeulen writes:

“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”

That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all.  Read it again.

And then ask yourself a simple question:  Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?

Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts.  And if so, chances are your kids are bored.

How do you fix that?

Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.

Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.


If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.


Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?