Friday, January 30, 2015

A Collaborative Response to Discipline

Nothing stops learning faster than persistent disciplinary issues, and nothing frustrates teachers more than poor behavior that never seems to improve. Teachers are collaborating about instruction, standards, assessments and interventions, but how many teams take time on a regular basis to align their expectations for and their responses to acceptable and unacceptable behavior? 

School-wide rules are critical for student success, but they are most effective when grade level or department level teams personalize their united adherence and enforcement of rules and procedures.  It is very important for teams to take time throughout the year to review and refine how school-wide expectations should look and sound within their team.  The best teams take time to not only norm how they will work together.  They norm what they expect from all students in and out of the classroom, and furthermore they align how they will collectively respond when any student 
violates a classroom or school rule.  For positive behavior supports, teams work  together to create team-specific positive behavior supports and incentives that will  motivate students to make smart choices in their behavior and learning.  When  students commit a minor infraction, high performing teams align how they will  respond regardless of which teacher is responding to the behavior.   

Norming behavioral responses is important for three reasons.  

  1. New teachers or teachers who struggle with classroom management benefit from the expertise of others. 
  2. Team norms for behavior set the tone for commitment to school-wide rules.  
  3. Students rarely interact with solely one teacher, especially at the secondary level.  Students will encounter several teachers, and if students know that all teachers are on the same page when it comes to discipline expectations, students will be more inclined to respond positively regardless of which teacher is addressing them.  

To Respond to Discipline as a Team, 

Collaborative teams should establish common expectations for the following:

  • Behavior expectations, 
  • Corrective responses and 
  • Positive reinforcements
Teachers should take time to discuss not only those expectations but what behaviors trigger a response from the teacher, and which behaviors are ignored.  Going beyond the discussion of rules and rewards is what takes student discipline to the next level.  Teachers should share how they redirect without negatively impacting instruction.  The best teachers have strong disciplinary systems that empower kids to own their learning.  Collaboration is the only way that colleagues that learn those best practices.

Monitor and Adjust

Discipline changes likes the seasons.  Some days, discipline is going great, and then the full moon comes, and chaos ensues.  Behavior gets a little crazy from time to time, but the best collaborative teams see the changes coming and determine how best to adjust their collective response.  They develop new ways to set expectations for the behaviors that they want to see from all students, and they unify their response to the most troublesome behaviors affecting the majority of students.  A collaborative response to discipline is not just a team meeting to discuss behavior.  It is a collective responsibility to systematically teach all students the benefits of becoming self-disciplined individuals.  After all, discipline isn't about rules.  It's about being responsible and respectful members of society.

How does your team respond to discipline?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Vouching for Public Education

State legislatures have more impact on education than any form of government.  As an educator in Texas, I am currently experiencing this impact firsthand. Let me explain.  The Texas Legislature is now in session, and public education is once again a major issue in this biennium.  Since public school budgets were slashed six years ago and slightly improved 4 years ago, school finance is once again a major topic as it should be.  There is no doubt that schools need additional funding to address the higher academic expectations and the huge increases in enrollment that every public school faces.

But there is another issue gaining steam that will once again take money from public schools, and that issue is called vouchers.  The public knows little about them as the concept has many different meanings depending on who you ask.  Here is my understanding of vouchers based on what I have read and seen in other states.

Vouchers give parents choice in where to send their child to school. 

  • Currently without vouchers, parents already have a choice in where to send their children to school.  
  • Schools that fail to meet state accountability requirements must offer parents the option (at the district's expense) to send their child to another public school within the district.  This is in place for districts with multiple enrollment schools.
  • Most public school districts accept students who wish to transfer in from another school.
  • For parents who wish to have their children educated through private schools or homeschool, that choice currently exists also.
  • School choice already exists, and furthermore, this current form of choice doesn't take money from public schools!

Vouchers take Money from Public Education

  • A voucher essentially takes money from a public school and gives it to the parent to use at the private institution of their choice. 
  • Parents could send their child to private school or homeschool and the state would pay the parents for it.
  • The state will subsidize vouchers by taking the money from the public school system.  There's no other way to pay for it. (BTW - Did I mention that schools currently are not adequately funded?)
  • With a voucher system in place, public schools are left with less money to educate ALL kids.

Forget the Dollars & Let's Talk Sense.

Let's forget the topic of money and just look at the issue of vouchers preparing all kids for the future.  After all, the entire argument for vouchers is that it is a better way to educate all kids. 
  1. What research supports vouchers as being a more effective way to educate ALL children? 
  2. Will non-public school entities (private, home-school, etc.) that accept students with vouchers be required to be evaluated under the same TEA accountability standards as its public school counterparts do?
  3. Will non-public school entities that accept students with vouchers be held to the same End-Of-Course requirements for high school students as its public school counterparts?
  4. Will non-public school entitites that accept students with vouchers be required to have 100% percent of their staff meet highly qualified certification requirements as its public school counterparts?
  5. Will non-public school entitites that accept vouchers be required to be accredited as its public school counterparts do?
  6. Will non-public school entities that accept students with vouchers be required to administer all state tests as its public school counterparts do? (STAAR, STAAR-A, SOA, STAAR-Spanish, STAAR-Alt 2, TELPAS, TPRI, etc.).  
  7. Will non-public school entities that accept students with vouchers be required to accept every student that shows up on their door step as its public school counterparts do and meet their individualized needs? (Special Education, 504, G/T, ESL, RtI, etc.)
  8. Will non-public school entities that accept students with vouchers be required to track every student and submit evidence (like public schools are required to do) to ensure that no child drops out of school?
  9. Will non-public school entities that accept students with vouchers be required to offer rigorous college AND career pathways (see House Bill 5) that help push every child to graduate under the Texas Recommended High School, Distinguished Achievement Program or the new Foundation High School Program as its public school counterparts do?
The reason that I have these questions is because they are based on state requirements that all public schools are required to follow.  Non-public school institutions currently don't have to adhere to all of these requirements.  If these schools are going to accept state funds to educate students, then they should be required to follow the same stringent guidelines as its public school counterparts.  Furthermore, they should be evaluated with the same measuring stick.

Some legislators tout that public schools are failing and private schools are not.  That is not a fair statement because public schools exist in a punitive system of accountability while private schools make their own rules. Additionally, private schools pick and choose their students, while public school accept and educate ALL KIDS!  There's just no comparison.

Vouchers aren't for ALL Kids

The last issue I have surrounds all kids.  Have our legislators realized that taking money from public schools hurts kids?  A voucher system is nothing short of taking money from public schools and giving it to private entities that currently do not have the same requirements or more importantly evidence of effectiveness.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not against private schools.  I am against the state legislature taking money collected for the purpose of educating the public and giving it private schools.

Stay Informed

If you also share these questions or have additional questions, please join me in asking our state legislators these questions at  I would definitely like to know how a system that plans to divert money from public schools will help the kids left in public schools.

Finally, Public Education in Texas is Effective.  

Graduation rates in Texas are one of the highest in the nation.  ACT and SAT participation and performance rates are improving.  More students are on a college or career pathway than ever in the history of our state.  If more students are being successful than ever before, then why would the government redirect money away from an improving system?  If you believe the future of our nation, then you want to ensure that the public receives the highest quality education. Any legislation that detracts from educating the public is essentially killing the future prosperity of our nation.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Brainwash your Kids into College

Are your kids brainwashed?  The answer to that question is a profound yes.  Kids are brainwashed by what they see on TV, what they hear on the radio, and what they follow on their social media. There are all kinds of influences shaping their minds every second of the day, and the question that we must ask is this.  Who is brainwashing them for their future?

What I mean is this. 

There are so many students who have no idea what it takes to go to college. They think college is only for those with money or those who have the best success in the classroom. The fact is 1 in 17 students of poverty will actually go to and graduate from college. What about the other 16 kids? What is their college and career future? Who is brainwashing them into believing that they can go to college and make something of themselves?

If we take the 1 in 17 statistic and look at it through the lens of students being brainwashed, here is what it would look like. One in 17 students of poverty is brainwashed into the notion that they can go to college and make something of themselves. That means the other 16 are brainwashed against college. They are brainwashed to believe that they are not bright enough for college. They are conditioned to know that they don't have the right stuff for a successful life.  

But Here's the REALLY Important Question.

Are you brainwashed? Yes, you!!!. Are you brainwashed into the notion that only a few select kids have the ability to have a successful college and career future. Do you think that a student's socioeconomic status, background knowledge, lack of language, home life, or any other excuse is the deciding factor in whether or not a kid is college material. Do you believe that you have little to no impact on a child's future?

Do you believe that college and career counseling is only the responsibility of the counselor?  Do you say to yourself, "I don't have the knowledge or skills to counsel a student into believing that they can go to college"?  Do you actually believe that you don't have time to talk to students about college and career because you have to much content to cover?

Well the Reality is This.

We better start making time.  Our job isn't to cover content. Our job is to guarantee learning, and that guarantee is not dependent on passing a standardized test each year.  Sure, a student's success can be measured in weekly, monthly or yearly academic growth, but the pinnacle of academic success is revealed when we talk about students who made something of themselves in life.  We all have students that have done amazing things with their lives and we take pride in knowing we played some role in that success.

We must never forget that we are here to inspire kids to know that they control their own destiny, and they hold the key to their future.  Yes, we will connect with some kids more than others.  I know... Not every kids is suited for every subject, but here is one thing I do know.  Every kid can become a productive and contributing member of society.  Some have more obstacles to overcome than others, but if the school can work as a system to intentionally brainwash every kid to find their inner potential and purpose in life, and if every teacher will use their one year of instruction with kids to brainwash them into believing in their future and potential, and if every campus and district leader will create systems that flood students' minds with endless examples of the positive benefits of college and career pathways, then I firmly believe that academic success will not only be accomplished.  It will become more meaningful to our children because they will have something to shoot for beyond passing their classes.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Being a School of Excellence is a Choice

Student success is a non-negotiable in every school, but there is a stark difference between ineffective and effective schools.  All schools have a goal of guaranteeing the success of every student, but effective schools deliver on that guarantee by creating the necessary teamwork to reach that goal.  Ineffective schools have rhetoric.  Effective schools have results.  Ineffective schools have action, but effective schools have action that is purposeful and precise.

If you think about it, effective schools view themselves as living breathing organisms, and they view every person within the organization as a vital part of the organism.   After all, every person has a direct impact on kids.  If all staff members within an organization are vital to student success, then we must recognize that effective schools must focus on the effectiveness of teachers as the primary factor that impacts student success.  

Schools of excellence are living organisms.  A living organism survives because all of its organs, tissues and cells have specific functions that work interdependently to not only help the living system survive but thrive.  Excellent schools don't survive.  They thrive, and the leaders of these schools (both formal and informal leaders) mine for expertise and greatness in every person within the organization.  And when the expertise is found, these leaders empower the expert, whoever it may be, to lead their peers toward excellence. In essence, excellent organizations have a distinct desire to constantly convert followers into leaders.  When everyone is leading their area of expertise as well as learning from each others' expertise, then every person is leading and everyone is growing.  When every person is learning, then ultimately every adult is guaranteeing success for every child and every adult.

So How Do We Reach Excellence?
The notion of school improvement can no longer rest on the back of the lone leader telling everyone what to do.  If we want every student to truly reach their unique pinnacle of excellence, then every teacher, teacher leader, coach, campus administrator and district administrator must put their heart and soul into collectively creating a living system that guarantees the excellence of every educator first.  When a school can create a system that thrives on producing excellent educators committed to the success of all kids, then I'm pretty sure that student achievement will take care of itself.

Creating a school of excellence isn't easy, but it is a choice that we all must make, especially if we want to turn the rhetoric of "All Kids" into actual results.