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Tip from the Field: Using Videos Effectively

Videos have become increasingly more prevalent in today’s classroom.  We all know that watching a video about a certain content area can be extremely valuable to enhance learning- especially for our children with limited schema, but, like everything else, it is not just what we do but HOW we do it.

Kim Burgess, one of our top JP School Improvement Specialist made the following suggestions to a group of teachers about effectively using videos:   

“Videos can be extremely powerful tools for enhancing student learning in the classroom. To ensure maximum benefits for using the visual aid, the following steps from SPARKed should be considered:


1.      Preview the content to make certain it is appropriate

2.      Select short segments that are truly applicable to your lesson

3.      Ask students to write about what they know on the subject


1.      Give  students a specific assignment to focus on while viewing the video

2.      Show one short segment at a time so that you can direct the learning experience


            Check for understanding through group work and/or discussions

Videos used correctly should enhance instruction and result in an interactive experience for both the student and the teacher.



Are you asking the right questions?

Questioning, or more correctly effective questioning is an essential component of classroom instruction and like most effective strategies, it is a thoughtful process. It doesn’t just happen. Effective questioning can be used to elicit immediate information about student learning—it is way to incorporate formative assessments into every day.  As a way of conducting formative assessment, it allows an opportunity for deeper thinking and provides teachers with significant insight into the degree and depth of student understanding. It engages students in classroom dialogue that both uncovers and expands learning.  Seen in this light, you can understand why effective question should be an important part of your teaching style.

The essential, preliminary step before posing a question is - PLANNING effective questioning.  Deep and thoughtful planning must be used to determine what kind of question will elicit the information YOU need to check for understanding and monitor your instructional effectiveness.

The next step after asking the question is also critical- what we do with their responses…this information  provides us with a decision-making point as to where further scaffolding is warranted or not.

Let’s think about open-ended and closed questions – what’s the difference between the two? An open-ended question is likely to draw out a longer response than a closed one.  Which one is going to give you the most information about the students’ understanding?  So, which type should we use most often?

Open-ended-absolutely!  By turning a closed question that can be answered with a specific piece of information ("What answer did you get for number 5?") to an open-ended one that allows for more than one response ("How did you get the answer for number 5?"), we can provoke more insightful commentary from students.

We need to intentionally PLAN to stop and check for understanding at various places throughout the lesson so we can plan for future instruction. These periodic checks allow us to determine the following:

  • What the learners know
  • What they DON’T know
  • The extent to which a learner is linking background knowledge with newer concepts
  • Whether there are any misconceptions that are getting in the way of understanding

By intentionally and systematically providing checks, we minimize the chance of not recognizing the trouble areas.

What should be our focus during the questioning process? Our purpose should be on determining what the students know and don’t know.  It is about uncovering information, not testing. We want to look for anticipated misconceptions or partial understanding.  Then we want to use that information, that formative data to adjust instruction.

One way this can be done is by using Robust questions which set up subsequent instruction.  Robust questions provide the information you need to further prompt, cue, or explain and model.  When students are able to answer robust questions thoroughly, it indicates they are ready to further refine their understanding as they work with groups. They are able to receive less and less teacher involvement.

Consider this exchange:

Teacher: What is a nocturnal animal?

Student: An animal that stays awake at night.

Teacher: Good. What is a diurnal animal?

Here the teacher is quizzing, not questioning. The teacher is running through a list of technical vocabulary (nocturnal, diurnal) to determine how closely the student's answer matches the book definition.

Now consider this exchange:

Teacher: What is a nocturnal animal?

Student: An animal that stays awake at night.

Teacher: Tell me more about that. Does a nocturnal animal have special characteristics?

Student: Well, it doesn't sleep a lot.

Whoa- what has been revealed?   A misconception!

 This student is making a completely reasonable answer, based on what he knows and doesn't know at this time, and incorrectly assumes that nocturnal animals are sleep-deprived.

The teacher didn't teach this, but the student believes it nonetheless. It is the follow-up probe that makes the difference. The teacher's intent in using a question is to uncover, not test.

And here's where the teacher uses his thin-slicing abilities to make his next instructional decision. They could say the following:

Teacher: I'm thinking of those pictures we saw of the great horned owl and the slow loris in the daytime and at night. Does your answer still work? [A prompt to activate background knowledge]

Alternatively, the teacher might say this:

Teacher: Let's take a look on page 35 and reread the second paragraph. Does the author agree or disagree with you? [A cue to shift the learner's attention to a source of information]

Robust Questioning is a great strategy that not only engages your students, but provides you with formative data to guide your instruction to better meet the needs of your students. 

Leadership and Authority

For many people leadership equals authority—and that is true.  The question is how do we use that authority? What is your style of leadership? Where does your authority find its source?

I am a big fan of Michael Fullan.  In his book “Leading in a Culture of Change,” he shares Daniel Goleman’s 6 types of leadership:

  1. Coercive: The Coercive Leader demands compliance.  His message to his team is, “Do what I tell you to do.” There is no questioning or explaining, just demanding.
  1. Authoritative: The Authoritative Leader mobilizes people toward a vision. This leader invites you to come along, but maybe it is come along and follow directions.
  1. Affiliative: The Affiliative Leader creates harmony and builds emotional bonds. This leader puts his people first. 
  1. Democratic: The Democratic Leader forges consensus through participation. They consult with their group and solicit input. They want to know what their people think.
  1. Pacesetting: The Pacesetter sets high standards for performance. They set the bar for all the group by setting the example.  They want people to approach tasks as they do—usually high energy all the time.
  1. Coaching: The Coach develops people for the future—they look to create a pipeline of leaders that will sustain their vision.  They listen and prompt their team with questions that encourage them to think and act based on what they have learned.

Two of the leadership styles listed above were determined to negatively impact on the people being led.  They are the coercive style and the pacesetting style.  In the first case, people resent and then resist the efforts of the leader and therefore their vision. In the second case, people burnout trying to keep pace.

The temptation is to read this list and try to identify what kind of leader you are. Nothing is that black and white. I would venture a guess that at one time or another each of these styles are used by leaders depending on the situation.  If your building is burning down, you don’t want a Democratic Leader trying to take vote on what to do. You want a leader that is going to say, “Do what I tell you to do!”  If you are trying to decide how to address a problem that has been identified in your school, maybe you want a Democratic Leader, willing to listen and come to a consensus.

Effective leaders take the time to reflect on the different styles of leadership they use and how they use them.  Like most things, data is important. Keeping a journal is a great way to document the situations that present themselves during the day and how you deal with them.  Ask yourself, did what I did get the results needed? If not, what could I have done differently? Do you see a pattern in your behavior? What one behavior, if you changed it, would impact your work positively the most?

Finally, we need to examine where we draw our authority. In the beginning, it is usually from the position itself.  Our title identifies us as the leader.  This alone is not enough to make you a leader or give you authority.  Effective leaders are “influencers.”  They know that there is very little they actually control. They also know that by building relationships there is much they can influence.  It is probably the single most effective strategy for a leader.  You build relationships by being sincere, honest, and consistent. You listen, and provide feedback and when it makes sense you take input and you apply it. You create and nurture a climate of accountability. You let people invest in your vision.

The fact is that leadership is a complex process.  Sometimes the leader needs a hammer to drive home their points and sometimes they can use a baton to orchestrate.  

Giving Solutions vs Letting Your Team Figure it Out—What do you do?

The more leaders micromanage, the less ownership opportunities they provide for their team members. Maybe more importantly, the less team members take ownership. Their thinking is, “Why bother? My supervisor is just going to change my idea and send it back to with suggestions.” Imagine yourself a reporter given an assignment by your editor. You complete the article and submit it.  The feedback from the editor and your peers is that you did a great job! Then in the excitement of the good job, you are flooded with suggestions on how to make it better.  The suggestions are good, it just that the article is not yours anymore. It is the editor’s. 

Effective leaders don’t micromanage for a whole host of reasons.  It doesn’t develop new leaders—an important function of leadership in my opinion.  It undermines the power and confidence of your teams and potential new leaders.  It doesn’t allow space for your team members to become problem solvers, just to implement what you offer as solutions.  Now, to be clear, of course, there is a time and a place for experienced leaders to offer advice and direction. The question is when to remove the “training wheels” and teach people how to go it on their own (in another post we can talk about the importance of moving from managing to monitoring)

Most leaders have gotten to where they are because they were good at their jobs and they kept getting promoted.  So to many people it makes sense to keep doing what is working for them.  That is how they got to where they are, right?  Here is the an essential point—as workers or team members become leaders they need to make the jump from an individual worker making an individual contribution to being a developer and nurturer of others—a leader. They need to allow others opportunities for ownership.

In the book The Awareness Paradigm, author Nancy Hardaway teaches leadership lessons by telling us a story. One of these stories is about a young owner of a brewery.  She gives a leadership consultant a tour of her facility and during the tour they are constantly interrupted by staff asking for guidance.  At the end of the tour, the consultant shares some insights with the owner:

“When you’re good at something, it’s easy to get caught in it, to have it become your default and not a choice. You’ve been doing it so long, it’s easy to think no one can do it without you.  Then it becomes self-fulfilling. Your staff ends up coming to you for everything. You have all the answers so they keep coming…You’re a great at solving problems. So you keep solving the problem for them. You’re giving them the solution rather than making them figure it out a solution which help build the skills you want them to have. Plus, your reluctance to have them fail means they get reluctant to make a mistake. So they don’t want to try anything with checking with you.” 

These kind of leaders often mean well (there is the leader that is power freak and just doesn’t want to give up the power, but we are not talking about them right now), but in the end hurt their team more than help them. The more people feel ownership of their work and their role, the more they feel a responsibility to get it right and do it right. This in turns builds pride and self-confidence. One view of leadership presented by Heifetz in his book Leadership without Easy Answers is, one of mobilizing people to tackle tough problems, problems that have not yet been solved.  This means the effective leaders trusts his team to work on the problem and come to their own conclusions, their own answers. 

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