Saturday, December 13, 2014

First Quarter Celebrations

After the first quarter of School Year 2014-15, at a building inservice session, I commended my staff for a hugely successful first quarter and asked them to do a quick-write about what they could celebrate about the beginning of our school year.

One of our new teachers wrote: "It's nice to work in a school where the staff is so friendly and helpful, and the administration is so supportive."

A member of Team 6 (sixth-grade teachers) shared, "6th grade worked very hard and got all kids who needed a [behavior] plan on a plan."

An anonymous teacher wrote, "The beginning of the year was the best beginning since I've been here. We are also getting kids where they need to be (with behavior plans) at a good pace, with a lot of different interventions."

Another teacher echoed my sentiments about our Kick-off Rally: "Our first rally this year was one of the best ever!"

A Team 7 member wrote, "I want to celebrate the fact that seventh grade team is really trying to get our students what they need. It does not matter if it is behavior, grades, or a quick hug, we are all there for our seventh graders!"

Even the teacher in our ED (Emotional Disorder) classroom celebrated her students' behavior: "This quarter I'm celebrating the fact that, despite the challenges, we are surviving and thriving. Our new students are learning new coping skills and undoing old habits."

A veteran teacher new to our building wrote,

The lead teacher in our alternative program, School Within a School, celebrated that "all the students in SWAS (Safehouse) have stayed in school through first quarter. No student has been long-term suspended."

A veteran high school teacher who transferred to our middle school wrote this list for her celebration:  "#1 I don't hate middle school. #2 Some kids and I have come to an understanding, and they're trying and improving so much. #3 I love working as a team!"

I shared my own celebration. One of our teachers had sent me an e-mail about a different topic, but she added the following within her communication:

As I have expressed in the past, I love having you as a boss, and I sincerely appreciate the support you consistently provide to me and others when needed. My favorite things about you, as an administrator, include your commitment to keeping all kids in school - meeting them where they are, and moving forward from there - and your commitment to structure, routine, unity, relationships, and personal and professional growth in order to support all students' needs. I have always said that I love working in KCK, but I have realized it's not actually KCK, but it's that I love working at Arrowhead.

I told my staff that I was really blessed by her sharing these sentiments with me because she actually articulated the vision I held for our school. Knowing that people were "getting" the vision and responding to it is more fulfilling to me as a building leader than almost any form of recognition or reward.

You will notice that almost every celebration had to do with helping struggling students to manage behaviors that would keep them out of class or out of school, or with engaging students in the programs we use to increase a sense of belonging and provide orchestrated fun at our school. Teaching teams also  provide specific interventions as soon as students show that they struggle with or resist doing school work.

Because we have so many new staff members this year, and because it has been a few years since we revisited the basic components of our classroom discipline system with everyone, we focused quite a lot on training in and discussion about the first two levels of our Our Multi-Leveled School Discipline System during August inservice and first quarter. These levels are "Large Group Supervision" and "Classroom Discipline."

Much of our teachers' team time was dedicated to planning early intervention for disconnected, disruptive, or under-performing students. This work involves the following critical tasks:

  • All teachers attended grade--level sessions on how and why to implement the specific components of our system. 
  • All teachers taught and rehearsed school-wide and classroom procedures. 
  • All teachers taught and reinforced the behavior standard expressed through our Five Common Rules for every classroom. 

Because we know that adults' expressions of exasperation or frustration undermines our efforts with kids, we encourage teachers to let the system work for them: Just take the actions we said we were going to take for each incident of misbehavior. 

By mid-September, at least 90% of our students were responding well to our system. Ten percent, however, needed additional support. Teachers use their team planning time (45 minutes each day) to identify and discuss kids who struggle with behavior and to construct support plans for them. The behavior model we use to help these students is the Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST) model, which refers to kids with repeating behavior issues as "chronic" students.

This work, planning and implementing customized behavior support plans for kids who have not managed to be successful in school, is the work so many of us were celebrating by the end of October.

Our teachers demonstrate extraordinary expertise in working with all kids, and especially students with very challenging behaviors and mindsets. At this writing, we have 19 sixth-graders, 20 seventh-grades, and 8 eighth-graders (of our population of nearly 500 kids) on behavior plans that are completely facilitated by their classroom teachers. These are students who, without our teachers' expertise, would surely experience repeating suspensions and eventual long-term suspensions or expulsion.

I have never seen a group of educators implement behavior supports for students as effectively and with such commitment as my current staff. I celebrate them, and I celebrate their continual growth in this critical aspect of our profession.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rally Time

Our first all-school rally of the year was off the chain! Really, it was something like out of a movie, except that I don't know a movie that depicts the magic we made at Arrowhead Middle School three weeks ago. 

This is our third year using multi-grade Houses as a structure for creating a sense of belonging and fun for every student.  Our current eighth-graders never knew a middle school year without Houses. More kids have bought into the fun of representing their House with colors and chants, and most are totally down for our year-long competition among the Houses. 

Teachers and staff realize that this structure is not about giving us all more work to do; it is the balance to our strict discipline system, a significant portion of our orchestrated FUN!

We always try to kick off our first rally with the Washington High School Marching Band. This is the high school most of our middle-schoolers will attend once they leave us. A well-oiled, music machine, under the direction of Chris Green, the marching Wildcats hit the doors with booming drumbeats and blaring horns. It's all hype as they play loudly, and dance, while our students enter and take their seats in the multi-purpose room (school gym).

We could hear the Houses practicing their cheers and chants throughout the building all morning. We glimpsed crazy hats, gigantic bow ties, and face paint. Every group was decked out in their primary colors. 

The defending champions, House of Strong Foundation, showed up strong, with green hats and emerald mardi gras beads, wearing their "House Champs" t-shirts, awarded at the end of last school year. As 2013-2014 winners, they have bragging rights all year long.

House of Hope wore bright pink shirts and capes, and swipes of pink face paint under each eye. House of Creativity was a swarm of bright orange, and the Valiant House of Reason, flashed their electric yellow. Our Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Brame, a member of Reason, sported his matching yellow pants.

Dr. Cynthia Lane, our district Superintendent, joined us for our kick-off festivities. She can motivate any crowd. We all appreciated her belief in us and her inspiring message.

Other items on our Rally agenda included our cheerleaders and campus officer performing the Arrowhead Anthem, our dance team, and the always popular cup-stacking competition among House captains.

Already, hundreds of House points have been earned by students: for bringing their school supplies by our due date, for earning stamps by being prepared for class, for displaying House spirit at the rally. GPAs, attendance, behavior, community service, sports eligibility, and attendance at family conferences add to a student's point contribution for his or her House. 

It is ON this school year! No one will want to miss the second rally, which means they will need to achieve a minimum of all C's in every class first quarter! 

Many thanks to the members of our creative and efficient Renaissance Committee, who plan, prepare and host these incredible assemblies. And congratulations to all the teachers in our building, all of whom successfully invested our students in our building-wide motivational program. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

First Book Launch: My Self-Publishing Journey

This morning, before leaving for work, I discovered that my book formatter had finished the final edits, and my completed file was nestled, like a gift, in my gmail inbox. 

I had already completed all the sections of the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) application I could before uploading the book file, so I was eager to get home this evening, make a few clicks, and see my e-book and book description on my own Amazon sale page.

The actual upload was a little anti-climactic. I've been researching how to self-publish for over a year and have made hundreds of decisions along the way, knowing I probably wasn't as informed as I'd like to be on my options and their possible repercussions. Here's how I ended up self-publishing this first book:

I read print and online books, blog posts, and forums. My situation has me temporarily tight-fisted, so several decisions amounted to "what's the cheapest way to make this happen?" I'm thankful there actually is a very affordable way to get a cover design and internal formatting.

Working with technology I have not yet mastered makes me feel like I've been immersed in a foreign country where no one speaks English. I knew I did not have the time or the patience to become fluent in book formatting, so I hired a formatter on I bought two "gigs" (one for each of 50 pages; my book has 100 pages. Cost:  $10.

By the way, to pay for services online, I set up a PayPal account, deposited money from a bank account I set up for business, since I am basically starting a business with the production and sale of my products - books. This way, the broad accounting requirements are taken care of (until I learn more about how to run such a business).

I gave my formatter $10 more for the hassle of making the images at the back of the e-book read-able, and will probably still send in a "tip" for a total of $25. I think "hajath" did an awesome job on the pages, including the font, the headings, and the clickable Table of Contents. 

It took a total of eight separate messages to finish all the pieces, but I never had to wait more than 24 hours for a return e-mail and revised file. Best of all, the book content file was accepted immediately when I clicked to upload it on Amazon.

I also worked with a cover designer. I bought one gig for $5. She directed me to select an image from I found one that showed a "teacher" interacting with middle schoolers. The staginess of the shot bothered me, but I was eager to see a cover, so I went through with the process. Here is that first cover design:

The design was balanced and attractive. I just couldn't get over the "canned" appearance of the stock photo. Social media shares taught me that e-book titles must be legible even at the thumbprint size. 

When I got my cover design back, I shrunk it down while viewing it in "Preview" and could read my title even when the image was miniscule. My name even showed up well enough.

Around this time, I changed the name from Building Your School-Wide Discipline System to Beyond Classroom Management: Building Your School-Wide Discipline System. (See What's In a Name Change?) So I asked the same designer, through the email messaging system on, to change the title.

My designer changed the name in a few minutes' time. After I had attained a "real" photo of one of my teachers delivering our common rules and consequences to her class, my designer switched out the cover images for another $5 gig. I tipped her and got the finished cover design for less than $20.

Outsourcing the tasks I could not easily do myself cost me less than $50. Uploading the cover and the book content on the Kindle Direct Publishing site was effortless. 

Looking back, all of these tasks could have been accomplished within a couple weeks after finishing the manuscript. I'm looking forward to repeating the process - quicker and easier, of course - with my next book. 

Now, on to marketing!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Teachers Are Back!

In early August, my non-educator acquaintances always ask me, “So when does school start?” What they really mean is, "When do the students start school?" But my mind is on other people. I'm likely to respond, “We’ve already started! The teachers come tomorrow!” or “We’re in session. The teachers are back!”


Administrators’ school year starts four weeks before the kids arrive. The first three weeks we are attending numerous meetings, including sessions about our own professional development, updates from departments, review of district goals, and school leaders'  marching orders.


In between all those meetings, I’m working with teacher leaders on our building-wide instructional programs, the master schedule, interventions, and teachers’ professional development. My assistant principal and secretary and I spend considerable time examining and updating our Staff Handbook, and I continue to interview applicants for any remaining vacancies.


Then we have one week with teachers before the kids come. We have two full days of building in-service, another two days in district content meetings and at district-wide convocation, and a full day of classroom preparation. 


All leadership personnel in my building know very well that the success of our school rests on how well we can support our teachers. They are the ones who make the greatest difference for our students. So our attention is on them, not on the kids, as we start the school year.


This year, we are starting our school year with 10 new teachers, three of which are new to the profession. Six of our new hires attended five days of Basic BIST Training to learn about our school-wide system for working with difficult students. Several returning teachers spent inordinate amounts of their own time helping new staff prepare for their classrooms and students. 




At our opening meeting, one of our new teachers remarked, “Wow! A whole breakfast. We always only got donuts.” Donuts are not enough for our super stars. We cook scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage to accompany our pastries on opening day.



This was the best start of school year we have ever had. Our building structures are tighter than ever. Our returning teachers are more prepared and/or have gained more expertise. We leaders are more focused and are trying to roll out all programs and initiatives, including our building-wide discipline system, in smaller chunks of implementation, with facilitation and teaching.


I would put my teaching staff (and my leadership staff) up against any workforce in any school building in the nation. They just rock!


They rock our school theme and motivational structures – Houses!

They rock their grade level team tasks!

They rock our discipline system and our student support system!

They rock Unit Planning and Daily Planning!

They rock Family Advocacy!

They rock supporting one another!

They rock their bulletin boards!

They rock their grade book system!

They rock how they take care of kids!

They rock our interventions – academic and behavioral!

They rock our building literacy initiative!

They rock collaboration!

They rock instruction!


They are celebrities. They deserve red carpet treatment.


They even rock their own humility. It doesn’t matter how often we tell them how great they are, they never rest on their laurels. They just pick up the next task or focus . . .


and they rock that, too!


School may begin. The teachers are back!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What's in a Name Change?

So I changed the name of this blog from Building Your School-Wide Discipline System to, simply, my name. 

I started this blog in January of 2014 to share the extraordinary work of our incredible teaching staff and to practice writing about schooling. I hope that my enthusiasm for leading my high-needs urban middle school is evident to readers. It certainly is one of the most fulfilling facets of my life.

Building Your School-wide Discipline System was the title of a book I have been working on since last September. 

Many authors, more knowledgeable than I am about navigating publishing in this digital age, advise writers to use their own name for their blog rather than the title of one of their books.

Keeping up with this blog, posting regularly enough to generate consistent interest, is a challenge. I can't imagine trying to maintain a blog for every separate book I write.

So, Laurie Boyd, the blog, will broaden to other topics that I like to explore, most of them related to schooling, of course, but also writing and self-publishing.

Speaking of name changes . . . 

My marketing research indicates that titles with the words "classroom management" will sell better than a discipline book, so I have finally decided on the title, Beyond Classroom Management: Building Your School-Wide Discipline System.

Even though the name change resulted from marketing research, I think the words "Beyond Classroom Management" captures the message of this book better than it's original title. That message is this:

While every classroom teacher must acquire expertise in classroom management, a truly effective school will provide a system of interventions for every pattern of student behavior they encounter, and the school leader will fully support teachers in their efforts to implement that system. Here's how.

I'm excited to share the cover design for my soon-to-be-released Kindle ebook:

I plan to produce the print-on-demand version (paperback books) as soon as I get this one published (self-published). 

I would be honored if you would consider following me by clicking the "Follow" button beneath my picture on the sidebar or through the forms located in the black section at the bottom of this page. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Do I Create More Work for Myself and My Teachers?

My assistant principal shared our system of interventions for students who don’t do their school work with a colleague from another building. “We’re not doing all that. They’re just out of here,” he responded.

Occasionally, I address a common thought among some teachers, that as long as they deliver their lessons, it is the kids’ responsibility to learn and do. They don't see why they should have to chase kids for homework or assignments.

My approach and expectation is that our students have to work harder to fail than they would have just to engage in their schoolwork and succeed. Yes, I know that learners aren't truly motivated unless their desire to learn is intrinsic, but many youngsters will never develop an intrinsic motivation until they first taste success. 

I see it as our job to make kids successful, sometimes in spite of themselves. When they succeed, we help them recognize that feeling of pride and confidence that accompanies achievement, and we work to build on that feeling. You can’t just wait and hope for intrinsic motivation to magically coalesce in a youngster’s soul.

Here is all the “extra work” we execute at our middle school, work that is not required by anyone outside the building: 
  • Two to three team meetings a week to plan interventions for students struggling with academics, behavior, or both.
  • Several portions of individual plan times for teachers to work one-on-one with students on plans.
  •  Required parent-team meetings as an early intervention for non-working students.
  •  “Do-Not-Admit” conferences (emergency face-to-face meetings) with parents of students who are not working.
  • Monthly meetings with our paid behavior model consultant.
  • Paid off-site training for all staff in our behavior intervention model (for many, more than once).
  • Maintenance of our school-site vision team for our behavior interventions.
  • Development of support systems and programs for kids with chronic behavior problems – E.D. (emotional disability) classroom for students with IEPs, and SWAS (School Within a School), our on-site alternative program for general education students with severe behavioral issues.
  • Staffing for alternative education programs.
  •  On-going building level in-service for all teachers and staff.
  • Assistant principal’s coaching and monitoring of teachers who struggle with student discipline.
  • Rewards system for “college-strong” habits: organization, completed homework, agenda-keeping, bringing supplies and textbook, etc., including small prizes every other week and quarterly parties.
  • Quarterly rallies to recognize and celebrate student achievement – attended by students with “C” or higher in all classes.
  •  Houses structure to provide a sense of belonging and orchestrated fun for all students. 
  • Starting in January, grade checks every Monday. Students passing all classes with Cs or better get recreation. Students not passing get assisted study hall.

Why do I, as leader, make more work for myself and my staff when we can get by without it? 

First, addressing chronic behaviors is something a school team never finishes. Suspended, even expelled students, are coming back eventually, only angrier and more disconnected from school. No one can feel good about putting adolescents out of school. 

Since chronic behaviors and lethargic attitudes are going to be issues we deal with endlessly, a systematic response for nearly every profile of student actually makes the work easier and more efficient. We are more effective every year with harder and harder kids.

Secondly, we are learning that we absolutely can impact our most chronic kids, as we get better and better each year with our interventions. The first school I lead, we reduced our suspension days from 4,000 to 400 a year in three years’ time. 

This school year, my eighth year at my second school, we “lost” only three students to long-term suspensions, and two of those were enrolled in other programs. One returned after his five-week suspension.

Our passing rate for eighth-graders, defined as students passing all classes with a “C” or better, was 93% this year. This number includes nine students who completed the bulk of their middle school career in School Within a School, but earned back some or all of their regular classes by the second semester of their eighth-grade year.

Our students’ passing rates increase each year as they move from sixth- to seventh- to eighth-grade. Every team of teachers contributes to our students’ maturation and progress. By the time they get to eighth grade, our students know they will not get away with hurtful or disruptive behavior, and they know they must get their work done before they can play or enjoy privileges.

They know their teachers and administrators will help them with whatever they need – academic tutoring, special seating, extra time, discipline, attention, and praise. And we will provide those things whether they welcome our intervention at the time or not!

When we celebrate the culmination of all of our efforts at our eighth grade promotion celebration, the eighth-grade teachers in charge of the program are careful to acknowledge every stakeholder in our kids’ success, knowing it took the village to get them where they are on that glad day. 

Our shared sense of accomplishment is fuel for our adult engines. We know we are making a significant difference in kids’ and families’ lives. What a great reason to love getting up and going to work every day!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Using a Behavior Model for Chronic Students

As a first-year assistant principal in charge of discipline, I spent literally every moment of work responding to disruptive incidents or threats of violence. Many days I could not even break to eat lunch because there were so many behavior-related fires to put out. Students in our school committed legitimately suspend-able offenses, according to our district Code of Conduct, and I scrambled to keep up with the flood of office referrals.

Fighting or inciting fights, assaults, bullying, and gross disrespect of teachers were some of the infractions that consumed my day. When I called parents to notify them that their children were suspended and they had to come get them, parents routinely cursed or blamed me for the children's actions. Even though they were not present, many parents immediately blamed teachers for their kids' disruptive behavior.

One parent I had to call for the second time within a week, railed, "You all don't know how to work with kids. All you know is suspend, suspend, suspend!"

Never mind that this mother had little impact on her own child's behavior. The truth is we did not know how to work with kids, especially disconnected, angry, unhappy kids. Were racial differences a factor in our adult-student relationships? Likely. Were economic differences a factor in our students' behavior? Undoubtedly. Still, the school was in dire straits.

A critical core of caring and still-hopeful teachers wanted very much to make a difference in our students' lives, but we found ourselves embroiled in endless power struggles in which we defaulted to fussing, yelling, and threatening our challenging students. The children were so fragile inside that they retaliated with angry words or pushing and stomping out of classes or even out of the building. Adults and kids seemed to operate in parallel universes.

During those days, I had not yet learned to implement a building-wide discipline system. The adults in the school stayed in a reactive mode toward student misbehavior. It was humbling to realize, since we thought of ourselves as educated and knowledgeable professionals, that we were ineffective with so many children. I called a more experienced principal in the district for some advice. He told me his assistant principals had gone to a training they found helpful in dealing with extreme issues, directing me to BIST.

I found a website for "BIST" on the internet: Behavior Intervention Support Team. At that time, I had not heard of any other model, so I described the organization's claims to my teachers and offered to pay the registration for anyone who wanted to, to go to the five-day training. Fifteen teachers and another administrator signed up to attend, during the teacher's summer break! It was the turning point for our school climate.

The BIST model is built around two behavioral guidelines for the school: 

The model helps adults adjust our use of language to prevent angry escalation or even to de-escalate angry students. The model teaches that anger is a secondary emotion; the real issue when kids are angry is usually embarrassment/shame, or fear. When we realize this, we don't thoughtlessly react to angry words. We can feel empathy toward an angry child or teen, and this makes all the difference.

BIST teaches us to provide cooling-off places for kids that allow them several chances to become calmer, to move out of fight-or-flight mode into rational decision-making. A hurtful or disruptive student will be asked to move to the safe seat inside the classroom. If he cannot comply with that move, he will be asked to move to a buddy room seat in his advocate's classroom. If he disrupts there, he is sent or escorted to the Recovery Room, where a trained staff member works with him on the missing life skills that keep him from being okay in a classroom.

Chronic kids, according to this research-based model, are missing one or more of three life skills:

The model offers all kinds of tools for processing with students around their behavior, their feelings, and the results of their behavior through questioning. Processing is not easy or natural for most of us. We have to memorize steps, comprehend the big ideas of psychological change, and practice, practice, practice. We have to use lists or "cheat sheets" as long as it takes us to internalize the process. Often, our young charges stump us. Often we resort to lecturing instead of listening and countering with questions. Often, it's messy.

But I could never give up BIST now. I have seen too many teachers' interactions with students change from punitive to relational and too many young people soothed and helped to change with BIST. We are in our eighth year of implementation and I still buy the consultancy every year for my staff. A BIST expert visits our school every month for a full day. She models processing or shares tools or discusses progress. She observes practice and checks on the operation of the Recovery Room. Next year, she and I will bring BIST support to our ED room, which serves students identified with emotional disorders.

I don't work for BIST, so I cannot teach the details of the model, but I can and do promote their work because it has made such a difference for all of us. Many of my staff, over the years, have testified that components of the model have helped them with their own obstinate children or even their spouses!

When we can get chronic kids to partner with us, to recognize that their behavior reflects a problem in their lives and that they need help, we can keep those kids in school. They may need a great deal of support for a long time, but we have the luxury of being able to provide that time and support because the majority of our students are managed well by our school-wide discipline system.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Who Are Chronic Kids, and How Do They Impact a School?

Embedding effective large-group supervision protocols and implementing common rules  and four-step consequences  in each classroom can regulate the student behavior in a school very well. This basic level of school-wide discipline, if maintained by nearly every adult in the building in a consistent, fair, and empathetic manner, can transform the climate of a school.

Somewhere between 85% and 90% of your student population will respond appropriately to this system, and a school once characterized by chaos, danger, and/or hopelessness will begin to feel like a manageable and even an enjoyable place to work or learn.

Still, if even10% of the student population cannot be managed with the first level of the discipline system, the school faculty and leaders have plenty of disciplinary work left to do. If, in my building of nearly 500 children, 10% of the student population is chronic, that means 50 children are regularly hurtful or disruptive.

Fifty chronically misbehaving kids can cause havoc in a building, which is why school administrators, usually sooner than later, suspend or expel students who repeatedly flaunt the rules, bully others, disrespect teachers, and worse. A significant portion of our schools' populations of students act downright ugly.

Chronic students are those who cannot manage their own behavior. They are typically filled with anger or controlled by their own hopelessness and stay checked out of school and life. We have learned that chronic kids always have good reasons for feeling angry and out of control. In nearly every case, they have been mistreated or tragically disappointed, usually by adults who should have fed, protected, or loved them.

Sometimes, poverty alone has taken its toll on a family. Lack is a monster. Dependence on gang affiliations for survival and safety is still a real issue in many youngsters' lives where I live and work. Their parents' incarceration or deportation or addiction affect many of our students. Health problems - mental and physical - their own or a loved one's - impact lots of our students. Violence in the family or around the neighborhood - or in society (such as the murder of Trayvon Martin) is a pervasive threat for lots of kids.

Hurt people hurt people. Hurt people's behavior looks and feels evil and selfish, but these are children. Their behavior is learned or adopted to relieve unbearable pressure or for self-protection, physical and psychological. Educators must act out of compassion for hurt kids, whether we appreciate their behavior or not.

However, when chronic kids are in class, they hold the whole room hostage by demanding all the time and attention of the teacher and by oppressing their peers with their hostility. Everyone has to be on guard against their hurtful remarks or disruptive behavior. In hallways, at lunch, on the bus, and at the bus stop, these students brutalize their peers, through words or actions or both. 

Typically, the school administrator gets calls from upset parents, teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers about the behavior of these students. A responsible leader cannot allow these students to destroy their school environment. After a certain number of short-term suspensions, chronic kids, in a responsive building, are long-term suspended.

School leaders who will not get disruptive students out of the classrooms or common areas abdicate their authority to do anything about their chronic students, allowing them to disrupt classes and terrorize hallways and restrooms until nearly every adult and child in the school is in fox-hole mode, thinking only about survival and their own safety. No learning occurs. Hopeless frustration develops into rage or despair among adults and children.

And yet, suspensions bring schools only temporary relief from the problem of chronically misbehaving kids. Eleven-, twelve-, and thirteen-year-old children are coming back to school at some point, largely unchanged, to repeat the cycle of disruption and suspension over and over throughout their middle and high school careers until they are finally expelled or drop out. In a district like ours, that's hundreds and hundreds of students.

Until we learn to work with and actually save our worst-acting students, we will continue to contribute to the proliferation of chronic students. Those chronic students grow up to raise chronic kids, all of whom come to our schools, and/or those chronic students take their increased rage and fight for survival into the communities in which we live and work.

We signed up to teach, to deliver instruction about approved curriculum to students who want to learn. We did not sign up to be counselors or law enforcement or even parents. Why should we have to deal with chronically hurtful and disruptive kids?

The truth is, we don't, actually. We can just keep putting our worst acting kids out. But that doesn't seem to staunch the flow of hurtful and disruptive kids into classrooms and buildings every year. We are not seeing fewer hurt, damaged, or struggling young people. We are seeing more.

So even if we didn't sign up to be social worker, mentor, or therapist, hopefully we signed up to make a difference. Helping chronically struggling kids to understand their problems and to acquire the coping skills necessary to manage their overwhelming feelings about their torn lives and aching hearts is how to make that difference. 

Some kids need us more. Can we be there for them and provide what they need without surrendering the well-being of those who can manage their behavior in school?

Making that difference is what our behavior model and our on-site intervention programs enable us to do.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5 Reasons School Teams Should Study Together

If a school leader wants teachers and support staff to adopt a new initiative or to embed a proven practice in any meaningful way, the best way to start is to study together. When we try to take short cuts to improving instruction or school-wide policies, we end up with lots of people acting like they are complying but with no significant change in practice.

When I was teaching, I would have been highly frustrated by a leader's insistence on jumping through a hoop to satisfy a mandated practice, so I try to make sure that any implementation requirement for my teachers is grounded in a convincing rationale for helping kids learn. Whenever possible, my leadership team finds an article or a book chapter, sometimes an entire book, that addresses the need for the initiative or required practice. 

We engage in study for the following purposes:

As the leader of a high-needs school in the poorest section of our district, I realized that my faculty and staff were divided on issues related to race and economic class. Most of us acknowledged that we needed to engage in dialog about conflicting perceptions and disparate experiences, but that didn't mean it was comfortable. Reading and discussing a book makes a difficult topic a little less personal, although we all made plenty of personal connections while studying Jawanza Kunjufu's Black Students, Middle Class Teachers.

As our immigrant population grew, we had to learn to support and teach students who did not know English. We spent our weekly inservice sessions in study groups, facilitated by a college professor and a district professional developer. We read, wrote about, and discussed the text, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners. We practiced components of the Sheltered Observation Protocol (SIOP) presented in the book, an approach that teaches planning and delivery techniques that best serve ESL (and all) students.

In the second school I led, my faculty and leadership read Rick Wormeli's book on Summarization and, more recently, Mike Schmoker's book called Focus. As individual classroom teachers began implementing the strategies we studied, we asked them to share their thought process and experience in our inservice times, including the effect of their practice on student learning. 

When their peers saw what these teachers were accomplishing with our shared student population, they were more motivated to experiment and share about their own attempts to improve instructional practices. Studying together almost always results in self-directed motivation to grow and change in our practice, and that brings energy and enthusiasm to our professional interactions.

A few years ago, our grade level teams spent one team planning time per week reading and discussing Doug Lemov's  extraordinarily helpful book Teach Like a Champion. One teacher on each team facilitated the study. This book provides specific, brief descriptions of highly effective techniques for managing the classroom and for engaging all learners. 

Every technique is presented with a one- or two-minute video of a real teacher demonstrating the technique in a real classroom. At the end of each meeting, the team members planned to practice the technique, reflect on their practice, and share with one another at their next meeting. 

Here's a sample of the technique called "100 Percent." 

One of my veteran teachers exclaimed, "Every new teacher should have a copy of The First Days of School and Teach Like a Champion!"