Monday, July 18, 2011

Have a Great Day! (The Choice is Yours)

     As educators I think we are all story tellers first and foremost. As a learner I find that I most connect with others who, in telling their story, also reveal some of the struggles they have dealt with. I don't relate very well to those who have an aura that indicates they have never made a mistake. I've also come to realize we are largely responsible for creating the world we live in or at least how we view that world.

     As I reflect on the school year that has concluded I know that I had way more good news than bad and yet I let the bad news consume me for a time. Not getting a job I really wanted knocked me for a loop. The time spent being disappointed detracted from enjoying other aspects of my life and that was a poor choice on my part. Especially when the end result was that I ended up having the opportunity to take on an incredible job that I would not have considered otherwise.

     I know it is easy to see what's wrong or missing but it does little to create forward progress. How we view the setbacks and respond to them is what allows for gains to be made. Research speaks of a 4:1 positive to negative ratio or the need to have four positive actions to outweigh the impact of each negative action. This is where we can exercise choice. Rather than looking at these five math statements  
3 x 5 = 15
10 – 6 = 4
2 + 7 = 9
11 – 8 = 2
12 / 4 = 3
and noticing that one is wrong, perhaps it is more prudent to notice that four are right. This by no means dismisses the notion that one of the solutions is incorrect. Instead it becomes a question of where we spend the bulk of our energy. Do you notice the one student without supplies or the twenty-four with them? Is our attention drawn to disparaging the tardy or honoring those present?

     I know each day I wake up and ponder the issues about to unfold, I have a choice to make. I hope I'll decide to have a great day more often than not. Seems better than the other option. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

10 Questions Looking for a "Yes" Answer! (Book Excerpt)

     I am thrilled to be part of an author team with Charlie Coleman and Chris Weber and happy to see the book will be out this week ( Here's an excerpt that is timely as our thoughts drift away from the recently completed school year and towards the upcoming one:

     Educators must make a commitment to approach challenges in a positive way, by helping students find their passion as they prepare for a world vastly different than the one we faced. We cannot change the students who come into our schools; rather, we must change our approach to working with them. We must commit to proactively serving students by anticipating their needs.

     We can predict that students will experience frustration, confusion, and perhaps failure in the absence of clearly articulated routines, structures, and expectations for their learning environment. Over the years, as we have worked with many staffs in a number of school districts, our repertoire of strategies for improving student behavior and overall educational effectiveness has evolved. While there can be no complete, exhaustive list of strategies for making a difference with students, we hope that those presented in our book will help you and your school community get to a place where staff, students, and community members can answer “Yes!” to the following ten questions (Hierck, 2009a):
1. Does everyone in our school agree on why we are here?
2. Does everyone really believe we can make a difference for all kids?
3. In terms of making a difference, do we have a common school-wide vision?
4. Are clear and specific school-wide systems in place to make our vision a reality?
5. Are classroom plans in place that match the school-wide systems?
6. Are individual student support options in place?
7. Do procedures in the office support the school, classroom, and individual plans?
8. Does every adult talk about these plans openly, regularly, and systematically?
9. Do we know, with measurable evidence, that the plans are making a difference?
10. If our plans are not making a difference, are we willing to try something new?
     I hope you'll enjoy the book and look forward to any feedback you might want to share.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Descriptive Feedback - Life's a Beach!

     Summer is trying to arrive and most educators are striving to get a break and recharge their energy reserves. Therefore, posts should be short (also a nod to Twitter friend @Nunavut_Teacher who likes short posts) and specific. So here's my first attempt at a shorty....

     Yesterday I was having a great time with my granddaughter on the beach and at the park when I caught myself doing what we some times do in education - giving feedback that was meaningless even to an 18 month old. I caught myself saying "good job" and "nice work" as she was putting rocks in a bucket or sliding down the slide. It reminded me of a brilliant post by Nicole Vagle (check it out at that spoke to the need to go beyond these trite phrases. I committed to trying it out with baby Isabella and gave her specific feedback about the size of the rocks she was gathering and to look for different sizes as the bucket got full. I told her she could go faster on the slide if she pulled her legs together rather than having one out to the side that caused her to slow down. Now, I am willing to admit that the sun was shining on me and I could have been a little dopey but I am convinced that she changed what she was doing based on the specific feedback I was giving. If it works for babies, what a powerful intervention it must be for our students! Just a thought before heading back out for more Grandpa time.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Alfie and Me

     As our Twitter (#kohnbc) book review of Alfie Kohn's "Beyond Discipline" winds up this Thursday, I am left thinking where his thoughts and mine intersect and where they diverge. I am comforted by the knowledge that they do both and here's why. It is imperative that educators read lots, talk lots, and grow lots. I am fortunate to be asked to come work with a variety of educators and my opening comments always address the notion that my experiences are just that - mine. They are neither better nor worse, more compelling or more inspirational, absolutely foolproof or considerably flawed. They work for me and continue to evolve despite my career having stretched for twenty-eight years (and counting). The important piece for anyone in the audience is the need to contextualize what you hear and read. This is where I stand with Alfie.

     I can fully endorse the notion that we are not looking for mere compliance achieved through bribery or positional authority. That creating a sense of community is the ultimate objective to enhance learning for all. And that "management" in its coldest definition does little to change the view that the problems always rest with the students. However, I also know that many of our students (and I fear the number is increasing) come from structures where there is little to model their behavior after and even less to gain in an intrinsic sense, from demonstrating it. A colleague shared a recent event at graduation that helps to illustrate this:
"Fred and Damian were two of the biggest behavior problems in middle school. As their principal I had to deal with them on many occassions for minor and major offenses, including several suspensions. School was not a high priority for them. When I moved to the high school this year, Fred and Damian were in Grade 12. Once again, I had to be on them to pro-actively prevent them from getting into situations that would jeopardize their graduation. Both needed some personal attention (hounding) to get the credits required to pass Grade 12.  At our Valediction Ceremony, in cap and gown, and in front of 300 grads and 2000 on-lookers, Fred and Damian got to walk across the stage and shake my hand. As I reached out my hand, spontaneously, these two tough boys rejected the hand-shake and gave me a big hug."
Ultimately, where Alfie and I come together is on our fervent belief that it all starts with a relationship. In order to move away from some of the rigid structure he chillingly portrays, educators need to invest time and energy in creating and cultivating positive relationships with their students (and with each other!). This is initially very time intensive but the benefits far outweigh the cost. My view is that some of our students need to be led out of some dark corners that may not have been made by us but heavily impact our attempts to create a community of learners. The mere act of saying "Good Morning" may not be enough to alter a morning that was headed downhill long before the student arrived but if it is delivered sincerely and because it reveals something about you (rather than being a "device" designed to get compliance as Alfie would be concerned about), the change may happen over time.

     A number of posts in recent days have looked at the notion of relationship building. I love Sean Grainger's (@graingered) sharing of "Norm" schools. He talks about a colleague who suggests we need “Norm schools”… the kind where “everybody knows your name,” and not just during regular school hours. This is the powerful impact that building a relationship can have for those students who need a place to feel safe. George Couros (@gcouros) also talks about this impact when he says "the relationships that we build with our staff, our community, and especially our students are the foundation of a successful school." I firmly believe that this approach will render obsolete the need to create new consequences or engage in the never ending "late debate".

     As I continue my learning journey I know that Alfie and I will intersect again. I appreciate that he pushes my thinking and equally appreciate the contributions my colleagues in education continue to make that enhance my knowledge base.