Monday, May 25, 2015

What Does a Teacher Leader Do?

Victoria Luhrs (now Lynch) completed her student teaching at the first high-needs, urban middle school I led. The overarching impression I had of Victoria as a fledgling teacher is that she defined her own success by her students' success. If she ever didn't get out of her students what she wanted or planned to, she examined her own performance and tried again.

In addition to delivering solid instruction and facilitating what we now call "21st Century Skills," Victoria strived to provide opportunities to our kids that they would not otherwise have. She invested kids in meaningful projects that required them to think, act, decide, speak, and listen as citizens. She enjoyed collaborating with her teammates, and they enjoyed her creativity and passion.

Then, she went to Virginia to teach in a school with her best friend.  When I learned she wanted to return to our district, I was looking to fill a recently vacated Teacher Leader position. Victoria Luhrs (Lynch) and "Teacher Leader" go together like white boards and markers, like elmos and LCD projectors, like parties and decorations! I knew she'd be perfect for the job. 

I said it. She knew it. Done deal.

Our new TL was VL!

Victoria (on left) joins (then) Teacher Leader Monica Randle at Arrowhead.
Monica, another fabulous Teacher Leader, moved on to administration in another district school.

For the past four years, I have enjoyed Victoria's creativity, passion, dedication, her considerable intellect, and the way she responds to challenges in relationships and leadership.  Our district provides time weekly for professional development. Teacher leaders plan and deliver much of our professional learning, and that takes an understanding of adult learners, an ability to connect all learning to shared goals for our students, strategizing to ensure implementation, and small- and large-group facilitation.

As the instructional leader of our building, I have been immensely gratified that Victoria has grasped and owned the mission of our school. It sure helps that she is as motivated as I am to make sure our students don't fall through any cracks while they are with us. She is almost always spot-on with her decisions about what to emphasize or focus on, and that is very hard to teach.

Victoria (standing) leads our August inservice.

I love to be impressed by educators. I'm, like, totally thrilled when I'm impressed by teachers and school leaders. This young woman impresses me regularly. In her position as TL, she has been leading the implementation of our building literacy plan. Under her leadership, we have made enormous strides toward establishing a culture of reading and toward learning how to teach writing.

What does a teacher leader do? Here are a few things that Victoria does as teacher leader:

* Every teacher in our building facilitates a MIRP period with a classroom of students. MIRP is an acronym for Monitored Independent Reading Protocol. This year we have learned how to help kids use the I-PICK strategy to select just-right books for them to read for pleasure. Victoria made us bookmarks so we could easily use the strategy with kids, and so that kids could easily use the strategy for themselves. We have also learned just how easy and quick it can be to conference with readers about their books.

Teachers practice the 3-Step Interview Victoria taught, to use with students during MIRP time.

We do a WHOLE LOT MORE READING AND TALKING ABOUT BOOKS at Arrowhead, thanks to Victoria.

* Before the end of last school year, Victoria convinced me to make changes to the master schedule that would allow for a weekly meeting among all teachers who are assigned to struggling readers in our building. This group consisted of a Life Skills Special Education teacher (for students with special needs who perform below a second-grade level academically), two Direct Reading teachers (for students with disabilities who perform more than a couple grades below grade level), two Targeted Literacy Instructors (whose job is to help kids fill gaps that make reading hard), and our ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. They called their weekly meeting "The Reading PLC." 

With Victoria as facilitator, they studied and shared The Cafe Book: Enaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction, by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, as well as portions of Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading, by Tanny McGregor, and I Read it, but I Don't Get It, by Cris Tovani. Each member tried out relevant strategies in their classrooms and shared their results with one another.


* The Reading PLC also became the Reading Response Team. These teachers and Victoria flew to the help of any student who could not connect with an independent reading book. They were successful in generating an appreciation for reading in dozens of students over the course of the school year.

The Reading PLC presents to the staff at our AMS Faculty Expo

* Victoria is so determined to fill the school with reading options, that she orchestrates two or more Scholastic Book Fairs each year. She wants to give kids and parents a book-buying experience, but she also wants to take advantage of the bonus funds we earn from the fairs to buy more books. She always has a stack of books selected for me to buy with school money as well. Because she will identify the titles that young people love to read, I am happy to budget lots of funds for her to spend on the purchase of new books each school year.

* Victoria makes sure that area agencies, such as our public library and local book marketers become active participants with our school. Our students attend regular book talks and check-out times, not only in our school library, but also at our public library.


* Victoria is a gifted group facilitator. She is very adept at getting all voices into the room about critical issues related to literacy in our school. She facilitates all of the study and planning meetings we've had to craft, implement, and reflect upon our building literacy initiative. She is a natural with learning-focused conversations and with the use of structured protocols for thinking and sharing. We never waste a second at Victoria's well-planned sessions, and we have fun too.

Victoria and Lisa present to the staff at our Faculty Expo.


* Although not an official requirement of the job, Victoria is a professional party planner, so we regularly enjoy her considerable gifts in this area. Victoria has prepared lots of teacher gifts over her few years with us. She has orchestrated some really fun, themed refreshments and events, for students and for staff. One of my favorite events for teachers was the breakfast bar during Teacher Appreciation Week one year. One of my favorite events for students was Pancakes and PJs for students who met the requirements for developing "college-going habits."

Our year's end treats at our final professional learning session last week was "Orange You Glad It's Almost Summer" with every orange food we could find. Just for fun.


* In addition to everything else she does, Victoria also coaches teachers and content PLCs in the areas of English/Language Arts and Social Studies. She knows the standards for her content areas and she knows instructional strategies. She knows backward design and unit planning. She knows kids. She knows management. She knows the complexities of a teacher's job and the challenges of time management. The meetings we require with our instructional coaches (teacher leaders) actually save teachers time and work, as our coaches help to streamline their thinking around what's required, what resources are available, and how they might get the most bang for their buck in student achievement. With any district-wide initiative, Victoria quickly conceives how best to have our teachers study it, plan for it, implement it, and reflect on it (as well as how I can monitor it) over the course of the school year. She also helps teachers examine and plan from their students' achievement data.


* Victoria is also a gifted graphic designer. She whips out designs for school banners, themed covers for our student planners, t-shirts for various purposes, the family crests for our Houses, instructional materials, and many more items.


Victoria also goes on field trips when extra supervision is needed, arranged field trips whenever possible with connections to teachers' units, jumps in to assist with our assessments, helps with the master schedule, lends an ear to struggling teachers, and co-teaches or models instruction when needed. She even shares her friends and family members with AMS.

Victoria and Kip Lynch at the AMS Career Fair

(Shout out to Kip Lynch for sharing his profession with our kids at this year's career fair!)

Next year, Victoria will share her gifts and talents with another school. I am happy for them and for what they will accomplish with her help. I am happy for her as well, because she craves challenges, and a new assignment always presents a challenge. I am immensely thankful for her contribution to our school.


And that's what a teacher leader does.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Sale Now!

Click here to buy the book.

Paperback - $9.99

Kindle ebook - just $2.99

(You know, you don't have to buy a kindle to read a kindle ebook. 
I read mine on my iPhone or iPad with the free kindle app.)

What educators are saying about Beyond Classroom Management: Building Your School-Wide Discipline System:

  • This book was a great read for those looking to plan or review their whole school behavior management plan. It contains good tips and ideas for administrators of all levels. Whether you're starting out or starting over, this book is a good read. 

  • Beyond Classroom Management is an excellent resource for both teachers and administrators. The book is engaging, thoughtful and most importantly, practical! The author has systematically described the most important aspects of managing a classroom/school and lines out exactly how to do it from both the perspective of the classroom teacher, as well as from the administrative side. Every year, I work with new teachers who are entering the teaching profession with high hopes and dreams of becoming a great teacher. Time after time, their ability to manage their classroom is a make it or break it issue for their success. I would highly recommend Beyond Classroom Management for teachers as well as administrators who train teachers if they are interested in teacher retention and effectiveness.

  • Excellent book..many good ideas to use in classrooms. I have seen these ideas work so well and successfully with middle school age students.

  • Author, Laurie Boyd, "tells it like it is" as she defines the building of relationships and tenacity required in today's classrooms. I like this easy-to-follow book and feel it is a "must-read" for all teachers and school learning communities as it includes motivational common-sense moves to incorporate within even the most challenging of classrooms. This would serve well as the focus for a book study within Professional Learning Communities.

Who Should Read Beyond Classroom Management: Building Your School-Wide Discipline System?

  • Any leader who recognizes the need for increased structure and a working system for his or her school will find help in this book. 
  • Any teacher who is trying to find his or her way to more effective classroom management, and who needs support for developing effective discipline structures will find help in this book. 
  • School teams who are developing components of a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) plan will find help in this book. 

Click here to get your copy today:  

Beyond Classroom Management

Who is Laurie Boyd, author of Beyond Classroom Management: Building Your School-Wide Discipline System?

  • Laurie Boyd is the principal of Arrowhead Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas. During her 25-year career (so far), she has performed the following jobs for her urban school district: substitute teacher, Social Studies teacher, English teacher, Literacy Leader, School Improvement Facilitator, Assistant Principal, and Principal. Laurie enjoys collaborating with and supporting teachers. She loves to write about her highly motivated and dedicated school staff and the successes they accomplish together at Arrowhead, a school where great teachers want to work and that students love to attend.

In addition, check out our free download, especially for middle and high school teachers. A great companion to the book. Free, when you sign up for our email newsletter. Get tips and more free resources delivered straight to your inbox:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Locker Tags Helped Us Embed a Growth Model. Who Knew?

As a secondary teacher learning to manage a classroom, I came to envy elementary teachers because they held sway over a hot commodity - recess! Lots of youngsters will choose appropriate behavior so they don't lose play time during recess. Middle School typically does not include recess (although many of us believe that daily physical breaks would be a good idea for kids and adults alike).

As a principal, I stumbled upon a hot commodity for our middle schoolers when I began to transition our population of nearly 500 students and 26 teachers into a structure we call "The Esteemed Houses of Arrowhead Middle School." We already had a structure of advisory periods called Family Advocacy, in which every teacher was assigned a group of students they met with weekly for review of progress, motivation, communication with families, and supportive relationships. I grouped one FA class from each of our three grade levels together to form nine multi-grade Houses.

Each House has its own name, its own color, its own symbolic family crest, its own slogan, and its own cheer or chant. Each eighth-grade FA class selects two students to serve as House Captains for the school year. When we hold our quarterly rallies - all-school assemblies for student recognition and fun - the House captains hold their House banners and lead their group's House cheer. They select participants for the House competitions during the rallies, or they compete themselves. We celebrate students' birthdays every quarter. The House captains distribute the birthday treats to their quarterly House meeting.

In an attempt to generate interest around the House captain position, I posted a House family crest on the locker of each House captain. I knew that social dynamics among adolescents can be dicey, and I wondered if their peers would deface or destroy the locker tags out of jealousy or any petty offense, or if the House captains themselves would think they were embarrassing and find a way to "lose" them. By the end of the school year, every locker tag was still in place, still whole, and still clean. Amazing! I realized we had our hot commodity.

Other organizations began using small cut-out images for recognition: pep club made locker tags for the players of each sport. Kids who bought red ribbons from National Junior Honor Society, for their anti-drug campaign, posted their ribbons on their lockers. We made House MVP (most valuable player) tags for those who contributed the most points to their House each quarter. Again, the tags stayed on the lockers all year, and peers did not touch them.

This year, we adults had a goal of trying to invest our students in the assessments our district uses to measure academic progress. We knew that if we did not find a way to make these infrequent, long, and often arduous assessments meaningful NOW to our students, we would not get the reliable data we needed to make decisions about our instruction for them or, sometimes, about the appropriate placement for our students.

We decided to communicate a building-wide goal, at first, of ONE POINT. Everyone needs to grow at least ONE POINT on the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress). Our students took the MAP Reading test and the MAP Math test in the fall and again in the winter. We quickly printed locker tags in neon colors for every student who grew at least one point on either test. We asked teachers to announce the growth of each student in their FA classes that week, and to have their students immediately go into the hall and add the earned tags to their lockers:

"I grew on the MAP Reading test from Fall to Winter" or "I grew on the MAP Math test from Fall to Winter."

In a few minutes, every hallway bloomed with pink and yellow neon glints of light. Kids who had rarely, if ever, received recognition for academic achievement were posting the same tags as straight-A students, and just like that, our "Growth Model" culture was born and became meaningful to students. A school community can't get very excited about an elusive total percentage of growth on a standardized test, from one year to the next, which doesn't even compare the same students. But we can all get behind the notion that everyone should grow academically.

We discovered from our assessment data, that 66 students scored at the "College Ready" level on the MAP, so we decided to highlight this achievement with neon green locker tags that state simply: "COLLEGE READY. Arrowhead Middle School."

We printed the same message on neon yellow t-shirts and awarded kids their shirts at our January rally. As we lined up these students on the far side of the gym so we could take a picture of them with their shirts, the rest of the student body rose to their feet and gave their peers a lengthy standing ovation, with no prompting from adults.

After our Spring MAP, we added 34 additional "College Ready" students for a total of 100 even. At the final rally, we asked every student who knew they grew on the Math MAP and/or the Reading MAP to stand. Nearly every single student stood and then applauded themselves and one another again. 

We've enjoyed a school climate upgrade! It's cool to be smart at Arrowhead Middle School. It's cool to celebrate your achievements at Arrowhead Middle School. And it's cool to celebrate your peers' achievements at Arrowhead Middle School.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Words Are Our Only Weapon

Annie Sullivan is Helen Keller’s teacher in the movie about Helen’s life called The Miracle Worker.  Helen’s parents are thrilled with Annie’s success in getting Helen to comply with basic behavioral expectations, but Annie is not satisfied with that. Appropriate behavior is necessary in order for Annie to make progress with Helen’s education, but it is not nearly enough. She bemoans the fact that she has not been able to make Helen connect sign language to meaning, and states, “Obedience for its own sake is a kind of prison too.”

When I first learned to manage a classroom, it took about four weeks to convince my students that I would fairly and consistently implement consequences for disruptive behavior. All of our personal interactions had been about discipline and behavior. I noticed that my students were compliant, and most were performing successfully with the curriculum, but they acted like they had been beaten into submission. 

Instead of animated, if inappropriate, conversation, my kids were silent. Few smiles. Lots of sighs. Lethargy and oppression was not my goal. I just wanted to be able to manage the group.
I wondered if I could share my motive for strict discipline in a way that could help my kids feel good about their developing self-discipline. I pondered how to present my message. Eventually, I just defaulted to a basic chalk-talk illustration.

I drew a splash-like shape on the chalkboard and wrote the following words inside:  chaos, violence, rebellion, destruction, disarray, selfishness, failure, defeat. On the other side of the board, I drew a balanced rectangle inside of which I listed words like: order, success, caring, productivity, generosity, perseverance, prosperity, self-esteem. I drew a large arrow shape pointing from the disorderly shape filled with undesirable outcomes to the orderly shape filled with desirable outcomes.

I said, “I want to tell you why I have been so strict with you. Anyone who cares about you would never allow you to stay in this condition (indicating the negative words in the first shape). When I first got here, there were students in this class walking around the room the whole hour, melting crayons on the radiator, trashing the room, throwing books and stuff out of the windows, hassling their peers.” They knew very well what their class had been like without discipline. 

I remembered how Annie Sullivan had railed at Captain Keller when he accused her of treating Helen like a child who could see: "I treat her like a seeing child because I want her to see. I expect her to see."

I pointed to the list of positive words in the rectangle. “These are the things I want for you. Success and satisfaction. There’s only one way to get from here (chaos) to here (order), and that’s through this.” I wrote the word “discipline” on the arrow. “Discipline is really love. That’s where I’m coming from. I expect you to act like self-assured, powerful, successful young people now so you will grow into self-assured, powerful, successful adults.”

One little speech will never ensure a perfect classroom environment, but little speeches are needed. Words are really all that teachers have to give. They are our only weapon, tool, or medicine. I tell prospective teachers that they have to develop their capacity to put their ideas and feelings into words. They have to get really proficient at expressing themselves, for their students’ sakes. Young people long to have help from trustworthy adults to interpret their world, their relationships, and their emotions. If the only information that ever comes out of our mouths is about curriculum and grades, we are of little more value to our youth than a machine.

In the school I lead now, the most beloved teachers are those who talk to their students about how to interpret experiences, how to approach challenges, how to feel about events - teachers who laugh with their students, who express their desire to see them succeed, who enjoy being with their kids. All of these teachers are comfortable using words to motivate, encourage, comfort, challenge, and inspire their students.