Category Archives: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

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.

#thatmatters

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.

#trudatchat

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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.

#trudatchat

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.

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Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?

 

 

Session Materials: Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Over the next two days, I’ll be working with a group of incredibly motivated teachers and school leaders at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading in Phoenix, Arizona.  Together, we’ll be wrestling with what good assessment looks like and the role that both feedback and grading can play in informing practice and developing learners.  My unique contribution to the conference will be primarily centered around student-involved assessment practices.

Here are my session descriptions and materials:

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Creating a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

In spring 2012, educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reins over to them?” This session introduces participants to the tangible steps William M. Ferriter has taken in his sixth-grade classroom to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback as a result of Shareski’s challenge.

Bill discusses the differences between grading and feedback. He helps participants explore simple self-assessment behaviors that can be integrated into any classroom. Teachers learn more about the common challenges of moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in a classroom.

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Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides | Complete Handouts

If schools are working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences should be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William Ferriter introduces participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to 1) track progress by student and standard, 2) provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and 3) facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

Bill shows how digital tools can provide quick checks for understanding and tracking progress by student and standard. Digital tools can deliver content and free class time for individualized instruction. Tools can help teachers use classroom observations to show student progress.

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Assessing Learning in a Purpose Driven Classroom

Slides | Complete Handouts

Technology expert Will Richardson maintains that today’s classrooms are failing students. In Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (2012), Richardson says, “We focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction, …accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored. Learning is relegated to the quantifiable.”

To create highly engaged learning spaces, classrooms must be reimagined as places where students work together to do work that matters. These arguments aren’t new; project-based learning has been promoted for the better part of a decade. How do we assess learning in classrooms where complex projects — rather than accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored — stand at the center of the curriculum?

Participants discuss why project-based learning should play a role in the modern classroom. They examine a planning template that illustrates project-based learning experiences focused on essential outcomes in a curriculum. William M. Ferriter explores simple steps for teachers to evaluate student mastery of essential outcomes.

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How Do We Turn Failure Into Learning Opportunities?

Slides | Complete Handouts

Over the past five years, the notion of learning from failure has become widely embraced. Businesses tout the importance of failing fast and failing often to succeed sooner. Educators argue that failure helps students learn to be resilient and determined, and failure is the first step towards building a growth mindset.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, failure in schools still carries negative connotations and incredibly high stakes—fail a test and your grade suffers; fail too many district benchmarks and you are assigned to remedial classes; fail an end-of-grade exam and you are held back; fail to earn a very high GPA and your college and career choices are limited. The truth is no matter how intimidating failure can be, it can also be turned into a positive learning experience as long as teachers help students analyze their performance and make plans to move forward—a process William M. Ferriter introduces in this session.

Bill reviews four main reasons people fail at important tasks. He examines differences between learners who see failures as dead ends and those who see failure as a starting point for new learning. Carefully structured feedback can play in helping students turn failures into learning opportunities.

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Using Digital Portfolios in Grades 5-12 to Create a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

Research on characteristics of effective feedback reveals one simple truth time and again—feedback gathered by learners is more powerful than feedback given to learners. Our primary role in promoting learning should be to develop students who constantly reflect on what they know and what they don’t know—behaviors that can be encouraged through the regular use of digital portfolios in the classroom.

William M. Ferriter discuss the role of reflection in developing independent, self-directed learners. He examines how blogs, simple Web 2.0 tools, can play a role in digital portfolio projects. Participants learn how they can launch digital portfolio projects in their own classrooms.

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If this content resonates with you, you might also want to check out my latest book, Creating a Culture of Feedback.  It’s a quick read that will force you to think carefully about the difference between grading and feedback in the modern classroom.

 

Is Your Team “Flunking Unsuccessful Practices” Together?

Over the summer, I had the chance to hear Eric Twadell — the Superintendent of Stevenson High School District 125 in Illinois — deliver a keynote at a Solution Tree PLC Institute.

While his whole keynote was amazing, Eric shared a quote from a book called How Children Fail — which was written in 1964 by John Holt.  Holt’s goal was to study the characteristics of highly effective schools.

His main finding about exceptional schools is as relevant today as it was when first written over 50 years ago:

“The researchers then examined these schools to find what qualities they had in common.

Of the five they found, two struck me as crucial: 1) if the students did not learn, the schools did not blame them, or their families, backgrounds neighborhoods, attitudes, nervous systems, or whatever. They did not alibi. They took full responsibility for the results or non-results of their work.

2) When something they were doing in the class did not work, they stopped doing it, and tried to do something else. They flunked unsuccessful methods, not the children.”

Those are two really easy filters to evaluate the work that you are doing together, y’all. 

If you catch yourself coming up with alibis to explain away the struggles of your students, change is necessary.

And what change is the most important to embrace?  Start studying your practices in a systematic way.

Put evidence behind the impact that those practices are having on students — and then amplify those that work the best and give up on those that are doing little to move your kids forward.

The good news is that there’s nothing difficult about any of this.

Studying practices in service of student learning should already be a regular part of the way that you are doing business.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

What Role Do Hunches Play in Professional Learning Communities?

Interventions are NOT Optional.

Our Compulsive Obsession with the Impossible Sexy. 

 

Second Guessing My Kids of Color?

Blogger’s Note:  This post is on race in America. It’s full of ideas I’ve been wrestling with for a long while.  Like the issue, there’s nothing neat and polished and finished about my thinking.  But like the issue, I think it’s time for transparent reflection — particularly from white people in positions of authority and leadership — no matter how messy it may feel.  

Read it if you want.  And then do some reflecting of your own.  This is a conversation we have to stop avoiding.  We owe it to one another.  


I think I’m an outstanding teacher.  At least that’s what I’ve heard from parents and students time and again for 25 years.  It’s not unusual for kids to smile when they see me, anyway — and I”m not bashful about telling students that I believe in them and that I care about them.

That matters, right?

But here’s a really uncomfortable confession:  I’ve caught myself time and again over the past few weeks treating my students of color differently than I treat the white students in my school.

Simple things, really — but treating kids of color differently nonetheless.

Things like saying, “Where are you supposed to be?” to Ja’Quon when I saw him outside the bathroom, jumping immediately to the conclusion that he’s either skipping or stalling instead of simply going to the freaking bathroom.  I even used the word “caught” when describing the interaction to Ja’Quon’s teacher — implying, with little evidence, that he was in a place he wasn’t supposed to be.

Or things like chasing Cadedra and Samyria away from the water fountains when they are saying good morning to one another each day, jumping immediately to the conclusion that whatever they are doing, it’s going to end up causing some kind of social drama that I’m going to have to deal with later.

Or things like being really surprised when Ashante asks the best questions in my classes and that her parents are some of the most interested and involved parents that I’ve ever met — and then realizing that I can count the number of interactions that I’ve had with the parents of my black students on one hand.

Or assuming that Tadion was screwing around in the hallways when he showed up late to class after lunch — and then finding out that he had an upset stomach that he was dealing with.

Heck — I did it today, y’all:  De’Andre and Jonaad showed up in my room for our school’s enrichment period.  “You’d better be here to work,” I said the MOMENT they walked in the door.

“If you aren’t interested in working, you aren’t welcome here,” I said, with skepticism in my voice even though I hadn’t questioned any of the other kids who showed up to work in my room.

#sheesh

Look back over my list of examples for a minute.   There’s nothing overtly racist there, right?  

In fact, I’d bet those kinds of moments happen a thousand times a day in your schools, too — especially if your school is staffed, like most, with a whole bunch of white, middle class teacher people.

But that’s what makes them so damn insidious, y’all.

Imagine being De’Andre or Cadedra or Tadion and being doubted and second guessed at every turn by every adult in your building.  Want to say hello to a friend?  Go for it — but get ready to be hassled.  Need to use the bathroom?  Go for it — but get ready to be hassled.  Late to class because you forgot something in the cafeteria?  Yup.  You are going to get hassled for that, too.

Meanwhile, your white classmates — let’s call them Sarah and Alex and Jack — are all saying hello to friends, using the bathroom and coming to class a minute or two late without having to explain themselves.  Instead, they’re getting  friendly reminders to be more responsible next time!

Stew in that for a minute, y’all.

Does it sound like your school at all?

Be honest.  It won’t hurt.

But also imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color?

#doublesheesh

And don’t forget that while being doubted at school, our kids of color are ALSO living in a world where the President of the United States defends white supremacists as “very fine people” while simultaneously calling black athletes protesting police brutality in communities of color “sons of bitches” who deserve to be fired.

Our kids of color THEN see those same athletes called “arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates”  and “crybabies” and “no good n*****s” by commentators and community leaders.

ALL. OVER. A. PEACEFUL. PROTEST.

And not just a peaceful protest about ANY old thing — a peaceful protest designed to draw attention to troubling stories like those of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and #ferguson and Freddie Gray and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile — cases where black men were literally killed in the streets.

Need MORE proof of how bad things really are?

Consider the fact that we’ve become so desensitized to the endless cycle of violence against marginalized groups that we barely even acknowledge events that DON’T involve shootings anymore — think School Resource Officer Ben Fields tossing an African American student all around her high school classroom for being disruptive or police officer David Casebolt turning into Kung-Fu Panda to break up a pool party that had grown too large in McKinney, Texas.

And worse yet, we haven’t even really BOTHERED to consider the concerns of the #anthemprotesters.

Don’t believe me?

Go read through your social media streams right now.

I guarantee that you’ll find plenty of people raging about “rich, spoiled athletes disrespecting the flag” but few who are wrestling with “black men using their position as public figures to speak out about racial injustice in America.”  The one-sided-ness of the conversation speaks volumes about our readiness as a nation to deal with inequality.

#triplesheesh

Long story short: I used to wonder why some of the kids of color in our building were so darn belligerent when I tried to correct them.

They’d mouth off every time.  I’d write them up for being disrespectful every time.  Then,  I’d gripe to colleagues about their attitudes — convinced that I’d done nothing to deserve their back talk.  After all, they were the ones breaking the rules, right?

But when I think with an open heart about the way that I’ve caught myself treating my kids of color, it’s pretty clear that I’m the one being disrespectful.

I really do jump to negative conclusions about the actions of my black students a heck of a lot sooner than I do when I’m having the same kinds of interactions with white students.  Andy gives me attitude and “he’s just having a bad day.”  Anquan gives me attitude and “he’s just a bad kid.”

And if I think with an open heart, I’d bet that at least some of the confrontations that I am seeing out of my kids of color are nothing more than a reflection of a society where doubt and criticism and unfair consequences are the norm rather that the exception to the rule for black kids living in a biased world.

I can’t fix all of this by myself anytime soon.

But I can guarantee you that, moving forward, I’m ready to rethink every interaction that I have with a kid of color to at LEAST ensure that my own assumptions aren’t leading to a classroom where bias is the norm rather than the exception to the rule.  And I can also guarantee you that I’m going to speak out — as a white man in a position of authority — about race in America anywhere that I can.

It might make people uncomfortable, but I just don’t care.

I OWE that to my kids.

And so do you.

#simpletruth

 

*Note: All student names are pseudonyms to protect identities.

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Related Radical Reads:

After __________, What’s Our Role in Promoting Peace?

#charlestonchurchshooting

#ferguson

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?