Monday, May 27, 2013

An Emmy-Winning Norm

The sitcom Cheers was a mainstay on television sets across America in the 1980’s.  In every episode, a regular occurrence took place.  Norm Peterson, a mainstay of the bar, Cheers, would enter the front door.  Upon his regular entrance, Norm would say, “Evening, everybody”.  The bar would yell, “Norm!!!”.  One of the main characters would ask Norm a question and Norm would reply with a hilarious one-liner response.
The recipe was genius.  Every viewer was hooked, and they expected this norm each time they watched the show.  It was simple, yet powerful.  Norm’s entrance was not powerful because it rarely occurred.  It was powerful because his grand entrance occurred every time without fail, with timely precision and with epic comedic appeal.
Teams need the same type of routine.  They need regularity in coming together, collaborating together and committing to one another.  According to Rick DuFour, a team consists of a group of people who work interdependently to achieve a common goal for which they are mutually accountable.  If a group of people wish to be a team, they must be committed to a goal that every member plays an integral part in achieving.  Furthermore, the members of the team must be committed to contribute toward the goal as well as depend on one another to improve personally.  Teammates must have guidelines to work together, support one another, and confront behaviors that prevent progress toward outcomes that they agreed to work toward.
In order for a group to become a team, teams must collectively create guidelines as known as norms.  With each member contributing their ideas of how to work together, norms should define how the team will come together, have a purpose for meeting and leave with a useful product for each member to implement in their classroom.
When teams are creating norms, they should ensure that the following criteria are addressed:


  • What are the agreed upon times that the team will start and end the meeting?
  • How will the team make certain that time is maximized and not wasted?
  • How will members address others who waste team time?


  • What is the primary purpose for the team coming together?
  • What issues will the team discuss during the allotted meeting time?
  • How will members prevent off-topic issues from deterring the team away from its purpose?
  • How will members confront others who prevent the team from collaborating about the purpose?


  • What common product will all members walk away with from the meeting?
  • What will members bring with them to the meeting to contribute to the creation of the common product?
  • How will members confront others who fail to contribute to the common product?


  • What are interruptions that cannot be allowed in the collaborative meetings?
  • How will team members prevent or stop unexpected interruptions from disrupting the meeting so the team can stay on-task?
  • How will members confront other members and outside guests who interrupt the meeting?


  • How will members of the team address disagreements or differences of opinion while maintaining the positive culture of the team?
  • When conflict arises between members of the team, how will the other members work together to help resolve the conflict?
  • When conflict cannot be resolved, how will the team seek support from campus leaders?

Focus on Kids

  • How will members keep the focus of the collaborative meeting on the needs of all students?
  • When the discussion focuses more on the staff ‘s needs than the needs of the kids, how will the team address this issue?


  • When the team accomplishes a goal, how will they celebrate?
  • When an individual member has a success, how will the team celebrate their individual success?
  • When and how often will the team celebrate regularly?
Teams that plan together stay together, but teams that celebrate together, accelerate together. Just like in the show, Cheers, teams must have all the ingredients for collaboration and serve them on a regular basis.  If your team can commit to the norms that they can create, your team will be destined for an Emmy-winning performance.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Closing the Transition Gap

At the end of every year, students learn the material well enough to go to the next grade or the next course of study.  They demonstrate mastery or at least proficiency for their current teacher and the teacher is confident that the student is prepared to learn the following year.

At the beginning of every year, students walk into a new classroom with a new teacher and are asked to show their knowledge acquired from the previous year. All too often, an equal number of students succeed and fail demonstrating their retention of prior learning.  If this is all that is known about the student, the new teacher is left to wonder what the student actually learned last year.

So a gap exists.  Between the time that a student completes school and begins a new year, many factors exist that cause students to be unable to walk into the classroom in August prepared to learn.  Of course, summer regression plays a big part in why students stumble in the initial days of school.  On top of the loss of retention, the learning that the new teacher expects from students is slightly different from the learning that took place in the student's prior year.  Instructional language varies from teacher to teacher and from grade to grade. If students fails to traverse the gap, they will be behind before the first assignment comes their way.

Schools can create transition sheets to help the new teacher learn about students from their previous teacher.  Grades, reading levels, generic behavior infomation are great indicators about the students' performance from the previous year.  A piece of paper can close the gap, but not completely.  Without a deep understanding from both sides of the gap, misunderstandings still exist.  What one teacher deems proficient, another may rate below average.  Something is still missing.


Transition sheets created by administration and handed to all teachers to complete is helpful but may not identify the best information for all teachers.  Teachers from adjacent grades must work together to create transition sheets that have common language and concrete quantifiers of proficiency that both parties can understand.  When teachers decide the proficiency of a given skill, teachers must have a precise definition of what the skill looks like and sounds like at the end of the current year and the beginning of the next year.  Teachers must understand how the skill was taught and learned in the previous year, so the next year teacher can build on prior learning for the beginning of the year.

Transition sheets must not be limited to just grades, skills and numbers to gauge proficiency.  The receiving teacher must know what strategies work best for the student.  Strengths and weaknesses in learning the content should be shared.  Interventions and their frequency can give teachers strong indicators of how much support the new student will need to be successful.  Behaviors that prevent learning are a critical piece of data and positive behavior supports that have worked with the student should be communicated.

Transition is a difficult thing for students.  Each year they have to adjust to us.  Each year we have to adjust to them.  Instead of spending the first 6 weeks of school figuring out what they can and cannot do, we should be more proactive and know as much about the kids before they enter our classroom.  If we can do that, we will definitely move in the right direction toward closing the transition gap.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Finding Victory within a Loss

My last soccer game was last month. With my girls team there were lots and of ups and downs. There were days when we didn't play so well, while there were days when everything was clicking perfectly. As a coach it was my job to find the areas that needed improvement. Putting players in the best place for them to be successful was crucial, and in the end these decisions decided whether we won or lost.

When we win, it's real easy to celebrate, but when we lose, it can become a challenge. Players feel defeated. The coach doubts his ability to lead. In short it is difficult to find a victory in a loss, but if the team is going to make any progress, the coach must always find victories in every loss. The best way to do that is to capitalize on the strengths of every player on the team.

So translate that into the school setting. When the scores don't come back as you expected, how did you react as the leader or the coach? Do you see only loss, or do you see victory? Our nation and culture has condemned failure, especially when it comes to student achievement, and thus, we can find no victory in a loss. We must rise above the failure of edpolicy and move toward discovering the victory in our kids.

Here's three ways to find victory when you lose

1. Growth in Student Performance.
Looking at individual students or groups of students and how much they have grown is very helpful to find victory.

2. Growth in Skill Performance
Results by skill must be analyzed to determine how much growth occurred from last year.

3. Growth in Individual Teacher Performance
Teacher performance can be analyzed to find the growth that their students experienced from the previous year as well as the skills that grew in achievement. Finding these victories are critical for leaders as this is where coaches can find experts to help other teachers who didn't experience growth in particular areas.

Everyone wants their team to win, but it doesn't always happen. Excellent coaches or leaders don't overreact to a loss because they know every result has something to be gained from it, the victory within the loss.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Using your Roll-Over Minutes

5 years ago, cell phone companies touted that if you went with them, you could roll over unused minutes to the next month.  The idea sounded great.  Save unused minutes so you can bank them when you really need them.  If you think about it, wouldn't it be cool if we could roll over unused minutes from this year and use them for next year.  After all, we always complain about not having enough minutes in the day to truly meet the needs of every kid in the course of a year.

Well check this out.  Schools have about one more month left on the clock until the end of this year. Everyone is tired and ready for the break. While it is easy to watch the clock wind down, this is the time to roll over your minutes into next year.  Kids are struggling now and will regress over the summer.  Instead of spending the first 6 weeks next year reacting to them, spend these 4 weeks preparing for them.  Teams will spend the first 6 weeks of next year learning how to work together.  Instead spend these 4 weeks preparing to be the most effective and efficient team you can possibly be.

This is your opportunity to roll over 4 weeks into next year's instruction and make next year's 1st 6 weeks as powerful as possible.  In essence, you could roll over 4 weeks into next year by getting a head start today.

From Planning to Transition

Teams must plan now for the kids that they will receive.  Here are some questions that teams should be asking now:
  • How will the team assess the new students' knowledge at the beginning of the year? 
  • What are the successes and failures of the kids that will receive in the fall? 
  • What current year skills will need extra emphasis as soon as school begins?

From Intervention to Prevention

Kids will come in the door behind due to summer regression, struggles from this year or both.  Here are some questions that current year teachers must ask to set next year's teachers up for success with students who struggle academically?
  • Which students struggled all year long?
  • What current year skills did each kid struggle with?
  • What interventions were used to help the student learn the skill and what were the results?
  • How often did the student receive prescriptive and targeted support and who provided the support?

Helping Students with Next Year's Behavior

Kids had difficulties all year long with behavior.  It is easy to have the mindset that it is now someone else's turn to deal with the student, but that mindset is selfish and counterproductive for the kid and next year's teacher.  Set both up for success by:
  • Listing the student's typical behaviors
  • List the student's motivations for his behavior (attention, task avoidance, etc.)
  • List consequences that were tried and their results (including parental involvement)
  • List positive behavior supports, their frequency and the results.
  • List a member of the campus that the student has a positive relationship with. (Possible mentor for next year)

Improve Collaborative Efforts

Collaborative teams have structures that help or hinder the team.  By reflecting on the collaborative efforts of teaming, teams can become more efficient next year and maximize their planning time next year.
  • What tasks did we do this year that really helped our team meet the needs of kids?
  • What tasks inhibited our team from making real progress?
  • What behaviors did our team exhibit that we need to improve on for next year?
  • What norms need to either be created or revised to make our team stronger next year?

Tick Tock, Tick Tock...

The clocking is ticking.  The game will be over soon.  We will all be going our separate ways for a few months and then come back ready to start a new game.  The game always begins with us being behind on the scoreboard from the start.  Use your time wisely to catch up on next year's score by putting some points on the board now.