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Friday Reflection: Courage

People have different definitions of courage and that is because there are different kinds of courage. 

There was a post the other day that seemed pretty innocuous to me.  There was a picture of three men, a manager and two of his team members, all in business attire.   They were sitting together in a row on what looked like a plane.  The manager wrote that he always required his team to be dressed in business attire, even on transcontinental flights.  The reason? They represented the company and you never know who you will be sitting next to.

Reading through the comments it was surprising to see so many negative comments aimed not only at the idea but at the person that posted the picture. There were over 5000 “thumbs up”, but also about 4500 “thumbs down.” Even more surprising was so much of the thumbs down response were attacks or personal, not just disagreeing.

It is important for leaders to cultivate a culture where ALL opinions can be expressed safely without fear of being ridiculed or belittled.  It is not only important because no one should be fearful to express themselves, it is also important because you never know where your next good idea will come.  It could come from that person that is always verbal and unafraid to express themselves or it could come from that quiet, shy team member.  Fear squashes creativity.

There is the courage that runs into burning buildings and there is the courage that means you are willing to stand alone with your opinions. There is the courage that shows itself in battle and there is the courage that doesn’t look for approval, but acts on their values.

Here are some things you can do to promote courage:

  • Define courage for your team—this seems silly maybe, but part of leadership is education. People define courage differently. Let people know how you define it and explore how they define it. Reach a common understanding. Then use that definition daily.
  • Set expectations for courageous behavior in your organization. Some of the rules we see in classroom work really great—show respect for others, listen when others are talking, be safe, be kind, be honest, etc.
  • Model that behavior
  • Celebrate when you see it and overtly reinforce it.

The good news is courage is contagious, so practice it and spread it!

After But, it is all downhill!

“That is a great idea, but….”

“I agree with you a 100%, but….”

“I really liked what you did, but…”

“He/she is really a great, but…”

How many times have we heard those words or how many times have we said them to others?   We all know what comes after the “but,” and it is usually negative. That “but” sucks all the positive out of the first part of what we are saying.  It says:

“I don’t really think it is a great idea.”

“I don’t agree with you a 100%.”

“I don’t really like what you did.”

“They are really not that great.”

It is what people can hear and remember and often this is not our intention (except for those passive aggressive people).

The root of this kind of communication may come from behavioral research that says something along the lines of suggesting we provide 5 positives to every negative and this is a good practice.  The issue is the “but.”  

Three Strategies You can Use

ONE: Keep the positives. It is a great way to reinforce the behaviors we want to see.  How do we decide on what behaviors we want to reinforce? Briefly, those behaviors should be identified and shared as part of the vision you have created with your staff (topic for another blog post).

TWO: Drop “but” from your vocabulary! Look for other words like however or better yet, turn the “but” into a question. The following questions can help build relationships, actively involve both you and the other person in the process and let the other person know their thoughts are valued.

  • What was your thinking behind what you just did?
  • What were you trying to accomplish?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What other ways do you think you could approach this issue?
  • How do you think you can improve this process?
  • Can I share some ideas with you that you might find effective and useful?

Three: Ask for feedback and then, reflect.  I always ask people if the feedback made sense to them.  Was it relevant to their needs? Could I have made it clearer? Feedback is not always easy to hear and sometimes I can get defensive, so that is why I, you, need to set time aside for reflection. I resist the temptation to respond immediately, other than thank you.  Take time to reflect on what I should take and use.  I go back to the person and am specific in thanking them for what was useful and helpful.  In addition to reinforcing the relationship, it models how they should look at and use feedback.


One of the objectives of feedback is to help foster change either toward a specific goal or for general improvement.  When we don’t provide feedback in a supportive and positive way, neither is accomplished.  An adaptation of a Mahatma Gandhi quote: Whenever we give feedback, give it with kindness and be truthful-with the intent to help, otherwise the message and the messenger will be ignored. 


3 Delivery Techniques Every Teacher Should Know

The title for this blog post was going to be 3 Secrets Every Teacher Should Know, but there should be no such thing as secrets when it comes to instruction. For teachers and students to excel, there are no secrets, just shared knowledge of what works.

It is not only what we teach that is important, but how we teach it, how we deliver the instruction. Here are three field-proven techniques that will make your instruction more effective and increase student performance.


Verifying is echoing a student’s correct exact response so the whole class hears another repetition of the correct answer. For example:

Student Response:  “All sentences start with a capital letter.”

Teacher Verification:  Yes, all sentences start with a capital letter.

The teacher then adds another perfect repetition by turning the verification into a group response question:

Teacher: “What do all sentences start with?”

Group response:  “A capital letter”

Teacher: Yes, all sentences begin with a capital letter.

This is instructional feedback that verifies the students and takes the place of “good job’” or “very well done.” While that is very positive feedback, it is not instructionally useful.

Pause & Punch

Another powerful technique is in the way you deliver your instruction.  In the following sentence, the words that should be emphasized are in underlined italics.

By simply emphasizing key words in your questions or directions, you can increase the probability of first-time correct responses and reduce the chance of student confusion.

Here are two examples, one for Math and one for Reading:

Math: Students are shown a pie graph.        

 pie chart

Teacher directions: “You’re going to write a fraction for the picture.  First you’ll write the number that tells how many parts are in the unit. Is that the top number or the bottom number?


Students read, “There was never anything for Edna to do on the ship after it left the harbor.  Sometimes she would sweep up or help with the meals, but most of the time she just sat around and looked over the side of the shop at the swirling water,”

Teacher asks: What did Edna do sometimes on the ship?  What did she do most of the time?

Not everything we say as teachers has the same importance. If we can pause before the key instructional words and then punch those words out by saying them louder, that prompt can guide students to the correct response. In this reading example, our naive students could definitely confuse what Edna did sometimes as opposed to what she did most of the time. By pausing and punching on sometimes and most that prompt can prevent that confusion from happening.

Call and Response Reverse:

As students read, you sometimes need to jump in with a quick definition of a word to help them completely understand the text.  You then question the students, reversing the definition and word—causing students to attend to it and remember it better with just an investment of a few seconds.  In his book, Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov calls this technique a “call and response reverse.”


Students read the sentence: “The sweet perfume of the roses immediately attracted the bees.”

The teacher interjects- and uses lots of effective pause and punch AND verification of responses- to clarify two words:

“The sweet perfume of the roses attracted bees immediately. Perfume is a scent or smell.  What word means scent or smell?”

 Students respond, “Perfume”

Teacher verifies: “Yes, perfume.  What is perfume?”

Students respond: “A scent or smell.”

Teacher verifies: “Yes, perfume is a scent or smell.”

Teacher continues: “The sentence says the sweet perfume of the roses attracted bees immediately. If the perfume attracted the bees, the smell really interested the bees and pulled them toward the roses. Everybody, what word means really interested the bees?”

Students respond:  Attracted.

Teacher verifies:  “Yes, attracted.  What does attracted mean?”

Students respond: “Really interested.”

Teacher verifies: “Yes, attracted means really interested. So, this sentence would mean the same thing if it said, ‘The sweet scent of the roses really interested bees.’”


Remember Practice Make Permanent.  If students practice something the wrong way, they learn it and remember it the wrong way.  If they practice the right way, students achieve mastery. ONLY perfect practice makes perfect permanence and leads to mastery. The three techniques shared here help ensure perfect practice.

Friday Reflection: Be the Change

Time for our Friday Reflection. If you are a leader, you are involved in change. The question is, are you involved in change as an outside facilitator or are you part of the change? Are you willing to change as well?

“…the system in place is ideally suited to producing the results the school is currently getting…any change in the desired results, from the current system in place is going to require a change in mission, core beliefs, and core values that underpin the system, especially if the goal is to permanently sustain the desired change.” Lezotte

Be the Change

• Remember, you, too, are part of the system you are trying to change.

• Have you reflected and identified the changes you need to embrace? Are you modeling them for your staff-leading by example?

• OR, do your actions despite your desire for creating change support the system in place?

• If so this should help you understand how others are feeling about change. Walk a mile in their shoes.

• How often do you leave the safety of your office and routine to go out and see what is going on?

• Do you engage with people without bias? Accept the fact that insights can come from the person you value the most AND from the person you disagree with the most. Don’t limit your information gathering.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend!

We Can Do It!

Imagine we found a cure for cancer and didn’t use it! Or a cure for the common cold and didn’t use it. People would be incensed.  That is how Ron Edmonds felt about creating effective schools:

“We can whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do that. Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact we haven’t so far. “

The question is why and at least part of the answer can be found in people’s resistance to change. One of the better ways to overcome resistance is to explain the change and let people know how they will benefit from the change.

Ron Edmonds, Wilbur Brookover, and Larry Lezotte developed a body of research that support these basic beliefs

  • All children can learn & come to school motivated to do so
  • Schools control enough of the variables to assure that virtually all students do learn
  • School should be held accountable for measured student achievement
  • Schools should disaggregate measured student achievement to be certain that students, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, are successfully learning the intended school curriculum
  • The internal & external stakeholders are the most qualified & capable people to plan & implement the changes necessary to fulfill the “learning for all” mission.

What are the Seven Correlates?

In their search for what makes schools effective, the researchers first identified effective schools (“schools that were successful in educating all students regardless of their socio-economic status or family background”).  Then they identified common traits of these schools. These were culled down and are known as the Seven Correlates of Effective Schools:

  1. Instructional Leadership
  2. Clear and Focused Mission
  3. Safe and Orderly Environment
  4. Climate of High Expectations
  5. Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
  6. Positive Home-School Relations
  7. Opportunity to Learn and Student Time on Task

Instructional Leadership

In this post, we are going to look at Instructional Leadership. 

Instructional Leaders:

  • Place a priority on promoting growth in student learning
  • Make instructional quality the top priority of the school and take the necessary steps to make that vision a reality
  • Foster and lead learning teams/communities that meet regularly
  • Work with their staff to discuss work and data
  • Collaborate with staff on problem solving
  • Develop leader among their teachers
  • Take responsibility for what students learn

Instructional leaders exhibit the following behaviors (Blase and Blase-2000):

  • Make  suggestions
  • Give feedback
  • Model effective instruction
  • Solicit opinions
  • Support collaboration
  • Provide professional development opportunities
  • Give praise for effective teaching


Ron Edmonds: There may be schools out there that have strong instructional leaders, but are not yet effective; however, we have never yet found an effective school that did not have a strong instructional leader as the principal.

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