Saturday, March 30, 2013

How PLCs Survive Cultural Tornadoes

In a recent post, 2 Ways PLCs Battle through the Storm, I illustrated how teams must use the mission and vision to right the ship if conflict is prevalent. Teams would identify issues that prevent the unit from fulfilling the campus mission and ascertain if their collaborative efforts were moving them closer to or further away from their vision. An all too common mistake begins when teams stop by reviewing and recommitting to the mission and vision.

When invigorated, individuals take off with their own understanding of this new mission and vision and create a whirlwind of work, while others stay behind and watch with an air of cynicism. Those on fire represent a mass of warm air, while those who remain uncommitted represent a cold air mass. When these 2 masses of powerful air are in the same building, the potential exists for conflict to occur and emotions to collide in such a way that an F5 tornado can form. Once this occurs, the destructive forces of confusion and frustration will turn a once hopeful unit into a cultural catastrophe. In short, stating that you have a mission and a vision isn't enough to make a PLC work.

Here's how to avoid your Tornado!

Once teams assess their current location in their journey to realize their vision, they must calibrate their behaviors and actions if they truly hope to become the team they aspire to be. To become better, teams must start with behaviors or values. Values represent collective commitments of how individuals will work together to benefit the entire system, thus preventing a tornado. In absence of values, teams succumb to the emotion of the day.

So what are values?

1. Collective Expectations

Values are expectations that all team members develop together. These commitments detail how the daily actions and interactions from each team member will push the team closer to reaching the goal of the entire organization.

2. Steps for Improvement

In order to improve as a whole, teams need guidelines that help them understand the behaviors that must be present if the campus is going to improve. Individuals must understand that in order for the team to improve, each member possesses a moral responsibility to commit, grow and help others grow.

3. Rules to Resolve Conflict

In the presence of conflict and the absence of values, PLCs can suffer setbacks that could potentially destroy the team. Values that include guidelines for honest dialogue and steps to honor differences are crucial. Teams that fail to plan for conflict subconsciously are in effect lowering the barometer toward tornadic conditions.

Values are more Powerful than Directives

Successful PLCs thrive on collective commitments and reciprocal accountability. In essence, they are not dependent on the leader to tell them what to do and how to behave. Values are what brings the term, professional, to Professional Learning Communities. Both leaders and teams lose value time leading when they are forced to dedicate their efforts to holding people accountable. Leaders must hold people accountable from time to time, but when values are actively in place, leaders can direct the majority of their time to those who need development or redirection rather than every employee.

Each spring, there is plenty of stress to spread around. Strong teams are able to process stress in a healthy way as opposed to allowing it to turn into conflict. Weak teams allow conflict to deter them from their focus, and when the conditions are right, conflict turns into a tornado.

The best way to avoid a Cultural Tornado is to value your campus and staff enough to not allow a tornado to form in the first place.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Finding True Peace

With Easter upon us, it is necessary for me to reflect on what Easter is truly about. As I reflect on scripture, I am reminded of John 14:27 that says: “Peace is what I leave with you. It is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.

In this day and culture of fast paced fury, we inadvertently blind ourselves from finding peace. Whether it be stress from a struggling student that we can’t seem to reach, challenges within our teams, difficult people that we work with or stress from our own personal burdens, we must remind ourselves that all of these things are man-made and will not last forever; thus we should not allow stress to deter us from find His Peace.

I send you this not to convince you of anything. I want you to know that I believe that all of these things will come to pass, but the one thing that will not pass is His undying love for me and you.

I hope that over this weekend, all educators get some much needed rest and solitude to put all things in perspective. After all, it'll all be there waiting for us on Monday.

Happy Easter

Monday, March 11, 2013

March Motivation - Race to 100

Here is my 2nd installment of March Motivation, Race to 100.  As we march through the month of March, motivation wanes in the classroom and behavior can be a challenge.  Changing things up a bit can make all the difference in the world for students, and making a race of it can turn apathy into excitement.

Race to 100 is a simple hundreds chart that an elementary class can use to earn a class reward for their great behavior.  Each time the class displays a specified appropriate behavior they can color in a square colored on the chart.  Once all 100 squares are colored in, the class earns the reward.  For middle and high school classes, teachers can identify learning behaviors that they would like to see improve.

Here is a link to a word document that you can edit to meet the needs of your class.

Before Getting Started

The teacher should review their discipline data to see which behaviors are in need of improvement.  In addition to discipline, teachers should identify the locations in the building where the students struggle with their behavior.  Last, teachers should ascertain if students are having difficulty in places where they drop their class off with another adult.

Create the Criteria

Once the behaviors, locations and situations have been identified that need improvement, teachers should set criteria for students to have a square colored in for displaying appropriate behavior.  For great behavior in the classroom, all students could be expected to have no one move to the worst level for classroom consequences.  In the cafeteria, the class could earn a square for a report of good manners and behavior from the cafeteria monitor.  When the students go to music or art, they could earn a square for a positive report from the teacher.  In the hallway during transition, the class could earn a square for earning a compliment from another teacher or 2 squares for a compliment from the principal.  The key behind the criteria is that it must be specific and attainable by the class.

Communication is the Key to Motivation

Once the criteria is set and the chart is created, it is time to motivate the class.  Pump them up.  Let them know what the reward will be and how they can earn it.  The manner in which the teacher communicates this motivational plan will be the deciding factor in whether or not the students get on board.  In addition, the enthusiasm in which the teacher use to communicate the class' progress each day will be the key to whether or not the class fills the chart in quickly or not at all.

Celebrate the Data

When the class fills in the 100s chart, it is time to celebrate their success, but teachers shouldn't forget to acknowledge the hard work that the class put in to earn the reward.  Reviewing the behavior that warranted the reward is critical.  Teachers should review the number of times the class had great classroom behavior, earned squares for behavior when they were with another teacher or received compliments from others.  This is more important than the reward itself, and it will help reinforce the behaviors desired from the teacher.

If you have ideas to make Race to 100 better, please drop a comment. Good luck!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March Motivation - Multiplication Rock Star

Multiplication facts have always been an important skill for elementary students to learn. Building automaticity and fluency is key for students when they must be able to apply the skill at high levels of rigor. A great way to build these skills is through timed tests where students get faster solving these problems little by little.

The problem often becomes the boredom or frustration from the monotony of taking timed tests. Kids lament "This is boring" or "I can't do this". Kids can do it, but the presentation of "you have to do these timed tests" lacks appeal.

The reality is we want our kids to be rock stars. Well, if we want them to rock out their multiplication facts, we need to give them a rock concert to work towards.

Here are the steps that our math curriculum interventionist and 4th grade teachers took to make their students Rock Stars!

Steps to Set up Multiplication Rock Star

Step 1
Set up a rock concert where the teachers are the performers. Yes, they can lip-sync or karaoke the songs, but it is best if they dress up for it.

Step 2
Use the times from the students' timed tests to gain them different levels of access to the concert.
Example - 4 minutes gets you into the show, 3 minutes get you into the mosh pit. 2 minutes get you a backstage pass.

Step 3
Promote your concert. Our teachers promoted the concert and put up a big poster to add the kids' rock star times when they reached 4, 3, and 2 minutes. The kids walked by the poster everyday and kept up with who was going to the show.

Step 4 
Make the show a memorable experience. Our teachers did a fantastic job and rocked out for the kids. It took 30 minutes and was well worth the time.

Multiplication Rock Star changed the kids opinion of memorizing math facts and of the stigma of hard work. Kids learned that hard work pays off and that their teachers care for them and their efforts in learning. Multiplication can be boring, and kids enjoy working hard when they know a cool inventive awaits them. Grades don't motivate every student but a focus on improvement does. So take a chance and rock out math with Multiplication Rock Star!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Are You an Education Editor or Critic?

I was listening to the song, "Story of your Life" by Five for Fighting, on my way to work today. As I pondered the lyrics of the song, I started to wonder what role editors and critics play in the lives of those who are writing the stories of the lives. We have those who criticize our stories (CRITICS) and those who help shape our lives (EDITORS).

In education, we have millions of students who are writing the stories of their lives, and we must decide if we will be their editors or their critics. Before we make a decision, we need to decide which role we play in the lives of children.

What are editors, critics and the similarities and differences between the two?

Editors are people who edit material for publication. They take rough drafts and turn them into final products. In education, editors take students as they are, see opportunities for improvement and take specific steps to help students realize their potential. They help students identify the errors that they continue to make and work with the student to turn mistakes into opportunities for growth.

Critics are people who judge, evaluate, or analyze works. They also tend to readily make trivial, or harsh judgments. In short they are faultfinders. In the school, critics blame students for not having the ability, work ethic, background or experiences to be academically successful. They see students' mistakes and shortcomings as reasons that the student are not growing.  In short they only see limitations.

Editor & Critic Similarities

These two people are similar in that they both discover areas of weakness or errors. They are both detail oriented and can see things that authors can't possibly see. Educators must be able to identify weaknesses and errors in students' learning. They must be knowledgeable in the content that they are expected to evaluate. What they do with their findings is what separates them apart.


The major difference between the editor and the critic is their commitment to the author.

Editors make stories better. Because they have an emotional investment in the author, they possess a deep commitment to see the author's story become a classic. Education editors also have a deep investment in the student. They are committed to seeing all students succeed, and all of their efforts reflect that moral obligation.

Critics can criticize a piece of work and walk away. It's easy to be a critic because he has no emotional investment in the author. In education, critics are more self-serving than editors. They are more concerned with the level of performance students are expected to meet rather than helping students grow to that same expected level of performance. Critics are more focused on their own reputation as an educator than the student's potential to learn, and as a result, student success is optional in a critic's classroom.

So which are you?

Like I said earlier, it is easier to be a critic than an editor. It is easy to find fault and then walk away. It is much more difficult to see the diamond in the rough and do whatever it takes to bring out the diamond's luster.

Millions of kids are in classrooms. Each day, they write another page in the story of their life.  Some pages are epic and some pages hardly have a word on them.  So we have a choice. Will we support each author by helping them edit each page that they write, or will we waste their time, and ultimately ours as well,  critiquing every single word that they write?

If you think about it, education already has enough critics from the news media to the legislatures and every place in between.  Schools don't need another critic, especially coming from within schools.  We need more editors to turn stories into novels.  So we have a choice.  We can either criticize and walk away or we can engage in the tedious task of guidance and influence.  The choice is ours. 

I prefer to be an editor. It is harder but worth it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March Motivation - Hidden Hero

March is the time of year where motivation wanes and frustration abounds. Students struggle to see the benefits of their hard work and teachers struggle even more finding ways to inspire kids to work even harder at learning. Over the month of March, I'll share some strategies that our teachers are using to motivate and inspire students to learn.

Hidden Hero is a motivational strategy that focuses on recognizing the hard work of one student to illustrate the work that is expected from all students.

Here's how it works.

Teachers place the name of one student in an envelope and tape the sealed envelope on the board. The envelope has the words HIDDEN HERO written on it. The teacher then describes the learning behaviors that are needed from the Hidden Hero. The teacher then tells the class that if the Hidden Hero does what is expected, the ENTIRE class gets a reward. The power behind this presentation is that no one knows who the Hidden Hero is.

Time to Reveal the Hidden Hero

When it is time to reveal the Hidden Hero, the teacher has to decide if the Hidden Hero's work met the specified criteria that the teacher communicated to the class.

1. If the Hidden Hero performed and earned the reward for the class, the teacher announces "Because this student demonstrated the (list of criteria), the entire class will enjoy the reward of... The name of our Hidden Hero is... Everyone celebrates the hard work of the Hidden Hero and enjoys the reward. This celebration builds self esteem in the Hidden Hero and challenges every other student in the class to step up.

2. Rarely does this happen, but if the Hidden Hero did not perform as expected, the teacher announces, "I'm sorry class.  Our Hidden Hero did not do the following things to earn the class reward (define specific behaviors)". The teacher MUST NEVER reveal the name of the Hidden Hero. Identifying the person who failed to perform would be devastating to the student. In addition, not announcing the Hidden Hero will cause all students to reflect on their own performance and make adjustments for the next opportunity.

Benefits of Hidden Hero

Students will work even harder if they believe there is a possibility that their name is in the envelope. If the Hidden Hero performs, all students develop confidence in themselves and motivation to work at a higher level. Students know that there is a possibility that they may be selected anonymously in the future, and they will begin to prepare for their opportunity to win the reward.


Rarely does a class fail to earn the reward, but if the Hidden Hero doesn't perform, it is critical that the teacher be prepared to use the failure as a teaching tool for improvement. If students know that this failure is not permanent, and they will have a future opportunity, they will be prepared next time. It all boils down to the manner in which the teacher communicates to the class.

Don't Over-Use this Strategy

Hidden Hero, like any motivational strategy, loses its effectiveness when over-used. Teachers must be strategic in deciding the best time to use the strategy and in selecting the learning behaviors that students must improve upon. Typically, when students are tired of the same old song and dance instructionally, Hidden Hero works best.

It's All about Celebration

Hidden Hero is only as effective as the teacher promoting it. If you want your class to work harder, the teacher must work equally hard in promoting the Hidden Hero concept, the reward to follow, and, most importantly, the work ethic that it takes to be successful.

Last, this is not an elementary strategy. All kids, K-12, are motivated by the Hidden Hero because all kids want to be recognized as the one who earned a reward for the entire class.

Motivation - From Extrinsic to Intrinsic

In order to build intrinsic motivation, we all need extrinsic motivators. Hidden Hero is an extrinsic motivator that when used properly can be referenced by teachers to illustrate to the class and to individual students that they have what it takes to be successful. Intrinsic motivation cannot exist in every kid by itself. Some students need extrinsic motivators to help them develop self-confidence.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Education Can't Afford to Pass the Buck

Kicking kids out of school, having them quit or quietly disappear has been a fact of life as long as there has been school.  If the student wouldn't perform, he would be asked or ordered to not return to class or school all together. This response is similar to the business model.  If the employee doesn't show up for work on time, fails to do the work as assigned, is dishonest or refuses to follow directives, he will be fired.  The business model works to teach the employee an important lesson.  If you can't work here, you will need to find work elsewhere.  Employees leave and hopefully learn their lesson as they look for their next job.

While firing employees who fail to perform works in business, this model doesn't necessarily transfer to the education sector.  When a student does what it takes to be fired from school, what lesson is learned?  Where do students go for their next learning opportunity?

The lesson learned is that if the student doesn't conform, he is no longer required to learn essential skills anymore.  He can stay home everyday which is what many struggling students desire to do anyway.  He can transfer to the school of the streets where he can learn skills that will prepare him for a life of crime.  He can go to work at a part-time, minimum wage job which will be the highest level career that he can attain.


So in essence, allowing students to fire themselves from school relegates them to a life of poverty or crime. 

Let's look at poverty and crime for a second
  1. More people are dependent on governmental assistance than ever in our nation's history. 
  2. The imprisonment rate is the highest in our nation's history at over 2.5 million prisoners currently locked up in the penitentiary. 
  3. Our courts are flooded with criminal cases to the point that it would take 10 years for the courts to try every case that was filed this year. (Yes, that is correct. 10 years to try this year's cases) Judges have no choice but to make plea agreements, so criminals can be punished.
  4. Once a person is convicted of a crime, he is virtually unemployable for any middle class career for the rest of his life.
  5. The majority of crimes that police officers deal with involve people in poverty.
  6. Domestic abuse has a higher chance of occurring in families of poverty than not.
  7. Children of poverty come to school more than 2 years behind their affluent counterparts.
  8. Children of imprisoned parents have a greater chance of having emotional and social issues than children whose parents are not in the penal system.
  9. More children are being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles and guardians than ever before.
  10. It costs $27 to educate a student for one day while it costs $65 to house an inmate in jail for a day.

The effects of poverty and crime are staggering!!!

At some point, these former students gave up on school.  They quit or the school sent them on their way.  While I do not wish to argue the validity of whether these former students were difficult or deserving of consequences or accountability.  I do want to illustrate the point that by removing them from education, education is passing the buck on to the government; hence the taxpayer.  In other words, for every student that fails to be educated, the student and his children become dependents of the nation and its resources.  The student never learns the intended lesson, to be an independent productive member of society. 

We can no longer afford to pass the problem onto someone else.  No one is better equipped to prevent poverty and crime than education. While education is completely overwhelmed, every other governmental agency is overwhelmed as well.  The only way that we can address this issue is to not pass the buck onto someone else but work with the other agencies to hold students and their parents accountable for ensuring that their child is educated. 

Education is the only hope to reduce or possibly end the cycle of poverty and crime.  Educators must know that we are the last line of defense to save children from becoming another statistic of systemic dependence.  We must accept the moral obligation to educate every child and prevent children from choosing a life of poverty and crime.

My final thought is this.  For every buck that we pass onto someone else, it will cost us 10 bucks to deal with it forever.  That is why we can't afford to pass the buck.