Getting Past the Tipping Point

The tipping point can be defined as a collection of subtle moments which become more significant causing a less subtle change. According to our friends at Merriam Webster the definition of tipping point is: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. 

In a time where critics of education are plenty, I choose to believe differently. I believe education is at the tipping point. Awesome is happening in schools across the country.

The question that begs to be asked is, “How do we get past the tipping point?”  @matthew_arend

The power of relationships and turning engagement into empowerment has been the focus for #IMMOOC’ers this past week. While hundreds of educators across our country and world have been by reading Innovator’s Mindset, participating in Twitter Chats and blogging (3 times this week #IMMOOCBC1, #IMMOOCBC2 & IMMOOCBC3) there are thousands more who are not.

How do we move beyond our current efforts and make this “mindset” the “unstoppable event that takes place”? How do we get past the tipping point?

As a building leader, I know I need to continue pushing teachers just beyond their level of comfort. As Amber Teamann, stated this week, “…I am ok with their pace, as long as they are moving forward.” Status quo will not get us past the tipping point. We ALL need to be moving forward.

I have personally shared my copy of Innovator’s Mindset, had a second copy shared with me and just placed an order for a third. While, I am not asking you to go buy additional copies, I am asking you to share. Share what you have learned, share has what inspired you and leverage the relationships you have cultivated to get us past the tipping point.

“How are you planning to get past the tipping point?” I would love for you to share your ideas in the comments below.

Let’s empower one another and create more significant moments leading to something great for education.



Rethinking Empowerment #IMMOOC #IMMOOCBC2

At some point last school year and at the beginning of this school year, I shared the graphic below with our teachers.

When I shared this originally, it was my attempt at telling our teachers, “It’s ok to try these things, take a risk.” I knew some teachers had already been using some of these tools and I knew some needed a nudge to try them.

Throughout the rest of the school year I would be in classrooms and see teachers trying to integrate these tools into their instruction. In most cases, this document was pinned to the bulletin board at their desk or taped to a cabinet near by.

In August, the following year, I passed this same document out again. I had the teachers cross out what they had tried last year and circle a couple of things they wanted to try this year.

It was while reading the most recent chapters of the Innovator’s Mindset that I realized the mistake I had made. Yes, teachers were empowered to make decisions, take risks and blend technologies into their instruction, but we were leaving out the most important voice in the room…the students.

I am rethinking empowerment. @matthew_arend !ref I recently read a post by Cathy Brophy, a fellow IMMOOC’ers which you can read here. Her final line was, “In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.”

“In the end, empowering kids cannot start until we empower the grownups we work with.” – Cathy Brophy

I am ready and our teachers are ready for the next step. As spring arrives and I begin to tentatively lay out plans for next fall, I am rethinking empowerment. It is time to empower our students. @matthew_arend !ref The new handout may look something like this…but given to students from their teachers.

(No disrespect to Austin Gagnier or Sylvia Duckworth for changing the title. I love the thinking and have used it multiple times. I am just rethinking empowerment.)


Is Self-Consciousness the Death of Innovation? – #IMMOOCBC1

It’s funny how many parallels you can draw from life when you are immersed in something. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have been immersed in the #IMMOOC. I found another parallel to the Innovator’s Mindset yesterday as I was driving in the car. I was listening to a podcast when the author shared the following quote from Tom Hanks. “Self-consciousness is the death of art.” In this quote, Hanks was alluding to the fact that when filming movies, he rarely acts out a scene for a second time. In his mind the subsequent takes add to his level of self-conscious therefore making them worse than the first.

This got me wondering, “Is self-consciousness the death of innovation?” @matthew_arend !refAs I walk in and out of classrooms I see teachers who boldly find ways to make learning new and better for their students. Teachers take these risks well knowing they could fail. It begs to question, are there teachers who do not take the same risks because they are self-conscious? Does their self-consciousness limit innovation?

This week our #IMMOOC focus was on relationships, relationships & relationships. As a building leader my goal is to develop relationships, empower teachers and students and ensure that self-consciousness does not become the death of innovation. Hear more about that by watching #IMMOOC Live Episode 3.

How do you ensure relationships are in place so self-consciousness does not become the death of innovation in your classroom, grade level, department or building?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Unbridled Foolishness #IMMOOC

“Unbridled innovation is dangerous, foolish.” Those words were sent to me in a tweet this past weekend. Literally slapped me in the face.

I had been participating in a Twitter chat and @PrincipalPaul a member of my PLN had tweeted out the following, “We wouldn’t let surgeons/pilots consciously leave the best technology on shelves collecting dust. Why do we let educators?” In response to his comment (which I agree with) I replied, “The same can be said about professional learning. We don’t want our doctors using same practices year after year.” Understanding the 140 characters within a tweet can be limiting, let me explain. Research and advancements in medicine happen at a rapid clip. Doctors can continue to practice traditional methods or change their practices based on the latest technologies, advancements & practices. As an educator, I want the same for our profession. Teachers and leaders need to be learning. Regularly!

Here’s an example…My dad had a hip replacement surgery a year ago last November. When he went to meet his surgeon, the original plan was to undergo a traditional hip replacement surgery. Being an active guy as my dad is, he asked questions. My dad wanted to recovery quickly and get back on his bicycle ASAP. His questions helped him discover an alternative to the traditional approach. He discovered minimally invasive hip replacement. Ultimately, the implants used are the same, however the approach is totally different. Enter innovation via interation. (a change of something that already exists)

This minimally invasive approach has not been around forever. I will not pretend to be in medical school. I will save the who discovered it and when it was discovered for someone who is. What I do know is that it started somewhere. This new and better approach started with someone asking a question leading to a new and better way to perform surgery. Just so you know, less than one month later, I was able to attend a spin class with my dad. He was not yet at 100%, but goodness…he was spinning one month after a hip replacement.

You can see how my 140 character response may not get to the point. The response I received and subsequent dialogue that ensued challenged my thinking.  The gentleman I was engaged with asked, “How can profession regulate tide of untested approaches, willy nilly adoption of ideas?” My response, “term regulate confines us to “a way” of doing things. Does ed need to be regulated or innovative?”

We continued back and forth and agreed that education cannot be confined or put in a box. When education is put in a box, creativity dies. This is where I appreciate the push from George Couros, encouraging educators to find ways to innovate inside the box. Just as we agreed education not be confined to a box, he responded with the words, “…I would still assert that unbridled innovation is dangerous, foolish.” It was then I realized, I am not convincing or changing this man’s mind 140 characters at a time. I responded with one last thought and then bid him farewell. “We may disagree, but understand it’s unbridled foolishness that will uncover the next big thing.” @matthew_arend

As the Twitter chat ended, I began to doubt myself. Is innovation dangerous? Is it unbridled foolishness? Do others feel this way?

I go back to George’s definition of innovation, a way of thinking that creates something new and betterDoes doing something new or doing something better take some unbridled foolishness? I bet Blockbuster wishes they had spent some time with unbridled foolishness. Does education need regulation? Sure. Innovation and the creation of new and better ideas? You tell me.

24 hours removed from the Twitter chat, still wondering if I really believed the words I had tweeted, “unbridled foolishness will uncover the next big thing” I tuned into the #IMMOOC YouTube Live Session 2 w/ Katie Martin, George Couros & special guest Sarah Thomas. I sat up a little bit taller as these three unpacked the first chapters of the Innovator’s Mindset. Their words affirmed my belief. The belief that I want teachers innovating with an unbridled foolishness, waiting to discover the next big thing. It may be appropriate to note, in my opinion, the difference between unbridled foolishness and willy-nilly ideas is simply the reflection that follows said ideas and whether the ideas create a new path for students to learn.

Specific statements made throughout the night simply spoke to me. The statements captured in the images you see reinforced my beliefs, served as a source of inspiration and encouraged me to return to my staff and students to innovate with an unbridled foolishness. The smallest idea may be the next big thing. @matthew_arend

What did this experience teach me?

  1. Believe in yourself. Do not back down when someone challenges your thinking. Listen and be open to their point of view and then be willing to defend yours if you believe it to be best for students.
  2. There is work to do. For every educator out there who “gets it” there are still many who do not. It becomes the job of those who do to educate those who do not. The innovative ideas yet to be discovered count on it.
  3. Surround yourself with people who do and do not think like you. You will receive the affirmation you need, but will also have your thinking challenged. The challenge makes you just uncomfortable enough to grow. Thank you #IMMOOC.

Hope you join us on this #IMMOOC journey!


Time to Reflect w/ Video Update #IMMOOC

March is one of my favorite times of year. As a school principal it may be the busiest time of year, but I love it. March Madness is probably one of the big reasons as I am a huge sports fan and I enjoy watching the upsets and buzzer beaters that seem to accompany the road to the final four. Yet another big reason March is one of my favorite times of year is Spring Break. Not because we get five days off of work, but because it allows for some down time. It allows for time to think. It allows for time to reflect.

George Couros started the second round of #IMMOOC this week which I am excited to be participating in. Hopefully at a deeper level than the first round. (Help hold me accountable.) As a part of the #IMMOOC, each week there is a YouTube Live Episode.  John Spencer and AJ Juliani kicked off week one and led us through some thought provoking conversation. Towards the end of the session, AJ Juliani commented about the power of reflection and giving people time to reflect. I am terrible at that as a leader. I need to be better at giving my teachers time to reflect. If we do not intentionally set time aside to reflect, will reflection really occur?

A couple of weeks ago I was encouraged by my boss to consider recommending our campus for the Schools Transforming Learning Designation Program through the Texas Principal’s Visioning Institute. My original inclination was to say, “No thank you” and focus on the task at hand. Little did I know, this was a nudge. An intentional nudge that would require me to reflect.

As a part of the submission nominees had to create a 3-5 minute video capturing how school buildings were walking out the mission within the Visioning Document. I chose to highlight a specific article within the document, Article 5: Organizational Transformation.

Organizational transformation is the re-engineering of current structures and practices, resulting in a paradigm shift in our culture, vision, and trajectory, so that our purpose becomes empowering our learning community to collaboratively design profound, meaningful learning experiences throughout the educational journey.

– Plano Leadership Visioning Institute

This definition has been the driving force behind the work the staff at Sigler Elementary has been a part of. The last word of this definition is the most impactful for me and serves as a frequent reminder. We are on a journey. Many of us on the staff are in different spots along the journey. Some are farther along then others, but what I have come to realize is that no one is at the same spot they once were. I wonder…have I allowed them time to reflect on this journey?

As I jump back into the #IMMOOC I am reminded how innovation is not separate and apart from the journey, but it ultimately is the journey. As GC’s a mindset. It’s through innovation that the organizational transformation continues and it’s through reflection we navigate the March Madness and head towards the next destination along our journey.

Interested in seeing the video we submitted…As promised.

Sigler Elementary: Schools Transforming Learning

“I Don’t Need Help”

Friday, January 6th was a big day for thousands of elementary aged students and teachers across North Texas and I am not talking about the anticipated release of the “Work-in-Progress” A-F report card system which dropped today. Shortly after noon, soft and fluffy snow flakes filled the skies, shifting any focus students and teachers may have had on learning to an instant obsession with what was happening outside. Students faces were pressed oh so gently up against doors and windows trying to find the best vantage points while others, who were dressed appropriately braved the wind chills to experience the feeling of snowflakes landing perfectly on faces staring up into the snow filled skies.

While classes across North Texas and more specifically at Sigler Elementary were gawking in awe at the snow flakes, there was one class that was experiencing a separate set of emotions. Earlier in the week a teacher and I had scheduled a time for me to come down and facilitate a restorative circle or what this classroom calls a family circle. If you follow my blog, you will know I recently shared a post about empathy and how we, as educators can play a vital role in developing this awareness among our students. (Miss my post on empathy?) Read it here: Building Empathy…Changing Behavior…More Questions Than Answers

My prior discussions with this classroom teacher led us to scheduling a family circle with students to discuss how it is completely acceptable to need help, how we help those who may not request the support, how it feels to receive help and what we can begin doing immediately to help those around us. Now, I will be the first to tell you I am a novice when it comes to facilitating these restorative circles but what happened in today’s circle took me completely by surprise.

Prior to the students sharing, we reviewed the agreements they had previously discussed, including the mutual trust and respect needed to speak from the heart during our time together and the option students have not to speak and passing the talking stick (soccer stress ball) to the next student. In my efforts to lay the ground work for responses I was hoping to hear from students I discussed how I need help as the principal and how I have an amazing assistant principal who is able to see when I need help, sometimes before I recognize it myself. I discussed how it was OK that I ask for help and I discussed how once the help was received it would be a tremendous breach of trust if the person who helped me, then went behind my back and made fun of me for needing help. I really thought I had my bases covered. Then the students started talking.

Most of you know, I am the principal of a Title I, bilingual campus with a high percent of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. It would be naive of me to think students in schools contrary to this do not have social emotional concerns, but after having spent years serving schools with a variety of demographics, I believe my current students carry the weight of the world and have limited tools to handle the weight appropriately.

“I do not need help.”
“I tend to be independent, so I do not see why I would need help.”
“Why would I help anyone? No one is around helping me.”
“I will help someone if they ask.”
“I lookout for myself.”
“I help my sister, but that’s my job.”

These are 8-9 year olds you guys. What?!?!

Each time I heard a statement similar to the ones above, I felt as if I was being punched in the gut. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to convince these students how wrong they were. Instead, I allowed them to speak and wait for the next person to share.

It was about this time, the teacher had to excuse herself because the emotion of hearing some of her students feel as if they did not need help, they did not want help and they were not willing to help their peers whether someone asked for help or not had just become too much. It took everything I had to fight back tears. I was jealous of her. I wanted to cry. Seeing her cry made be want it even more. Yet, when her students saw her crying…not a one had a tear in their eyes. Maybe they didn’t understand? Maybe the depth of the conversation was to much? I refused to think they do not care. I believe they do.

I asked, “How does it feel to know your comments, your “I do not need help” statements impact your teacher so negatively? How does it feel to know she cares about you so deeply it brings her to tears?

At this point most students began passing and did not want to comment. Had it gotten too deep? Had I taken it too far?

I ended the circle on a soapbox, using some of the statements as a platform to let these students know the adults at Sigler do not see being a teacher as their job. As a staff, the teachers at Sigler make a choice, each day to come to school to help them.. We do not expect students to ask. We will help, regardless if students think they need it or not. We will help students even when it is hard to. It is not our job. It is our calling.

Finishing with eyes filled with tears, I let the students know if they had something to share, something they did not want the whole group to hear, I would make myself available to talk with them individually. Three students stood up and wanted to speak with me one on one.

I talked with each of them, saving one young man until the very end. To be honest, 95% of the “help” talk may have been intended for his ears, but clearly it was a message we all needed to hear. As I got down on his level, he broke. The tears fell from his face and he simply said, “I get it. I understand what you are trying to do. You are trying to help me.” The tears that are filling my eyes now are the same tears that we shared together in the hall. Tears falling in the hall, while the snowflakes fell outside.

A breakthrough? Maybe. Are we done? No way. We still have work to do.

All the work teachers have to do weighs heavy on their minds, daily. Who has time to stop the instruction and have “family circles”? Y’all…these family circles are the instruction. I learned more about this group of students in 30 minutes than I had learned all year. If we do not take the time to learn about our students, build empathy and help them build empathy for others, we are failing them.

I need them to “get it”. We need them to “get it”. We cannot fail.

In closing, I want to share a quote that was shared with me this week that is a call to action. It reinforces this work and the work of so many other teachers who refuse to fail their students.

“Welcome to success. Say goodbye to failure because you are not going to fail. I’m not going to let you fail.” – Marva Collins

Did I, Can I, Am I Making an Impact?

It was 2002 and I was a first year teacher greeting 5th grade students as they entered our classroom for the very first time. I was probably more nervous than they were. Thinking back, there is no “probably” about it. I was so nervous. My first year. My first class. So many ideas. I wanted to do my very best for these students. I did not want to let them or their parents down. Knowing what I know now…I should apologize profusely to each of the students and their families for that first year. I do not need to apologize for a specific event or anything like that, I’d just like to do my first year over again. Can I do that? Can I get a mulligan? Can I do the first couple of years over again? I want to ensure I made an impact.

16 years later, that first class of students has now graduated from college and from time to time I cross paths with one of them. Within the last year, three of my former students reached out to visit and discuss their futures. All three had aspirations to enter the field of education and I am happy to report, two of these young ladies have started their teaching careers. It begs to question…”Did I make an impact?”

This word,impact is one I reflect on often…

“Did I make an impact?”
“Can I make an impact?”
“Am I making an impact?
“What can I do differently to make a greater impact?”

While on Christmas break, I received the following email:

Hi Mr. Arend,
I hope you’ve had a good first semester at your school and that everything is going well with you. I know it’s been quite a while since I saw you this last summer, a bunch has happened since then. I managed to find a job (finally!) before my graduation and had to move out here to Plainview, it’s a small town about 45 minutes north of Lubbock in the middle of nowhere where my mom was from. And I’m teaching 5th grade reading. It’s been really eye-opening and stressful and fulfilling and I’m loving it.
But I kind of wanted to thank you for when I was in your 5th grade class you read to us the Among the Hidden series, I don’t know if you remember this, but that was easily the highlight of my year that grade. But I decided to pass it on and read it to my own classes and they love it, they’re completely enthralled every time I read it. We’re already on the second book in the series and they’re constantly begging me to read to them every day. Some have already went out and bought the series or are asking for it for Christmas, just like I did all those years ago. It’s also amusing how stupefied they are when I tell them those books I have are from when I was their age.
So, I thought it’d be fun to share this with you, and again thanks for reading it to us. I’m hoping to make this a tradition and read it to my new classes every year. Hope you have a good last few days of school before break and have a happy holidays!

Wow! Can every teacher receive an email like this? This is what it’s all about. I had to read this twice and then share it with my wife. Now, I would still like my mulligan, but how reassuring to know, all these years later that I was making an impact. I was making a difference. I recall exactly what she is taking about, although I hadn’t the slightest idea she was so enthralled with the books at the time. (Let me take advantage of this moment and encourage all educators to take the time to simply read to their students.) Without hesitation, I can say I made an impact in this young ladies life. My hope is that she can be just as impactful for the students she is teaching. Imagine the ripple effect as the impact continues. There very well could be a teacher in the making in her classroom today.

Impact. Whether it’s my “one word” for 2017 or simply a goal for the new year, it is what I hope to make. Through being intentional with my actions each day, I hope to positively impact my family, students, teachers, parents and other educators I come in contact with. If I can positively impact just one person who is able to pay it forward and impact another, I feel I am paying it forward and honoring all those who have positively impacted me on my journey.

As I think back on and sort through the memories of my first year of teaching, I believe I was able to make an impact. How big? I may never know. What I do know, is the students and families I served during my first year of teaching and each year since have made a tremendous impact on me.

Here’s to 2017 and making an impact!

Are We Reaching Them? A Story about Growth Mindset

Often times I sit in my office after students and teachers have gone for the day and wonder;

“Are we doing the right thing for students?”
“Are we making a difference?”
“Are we reaching them?”

Yes, I admit, often times it is hard to see the forest through the trees, but as the leader of a campus, those are the questions I ask myself to help hold me accountable. Do I doubt myself? Sometimes. Can I answer the questions honestly? I better. If I cannot answer them honestly, I am cheating our students out of the best experiences and opportunities I can provide them.

Lately, I have been enamored with what students say. Working with students between the ages of 5-11 I am reminded daily of just how much our students absorb even when we do not think they are. As the saying goes…kids say the darnedest things.

Growth mindset is one of the many things we share with students as we strive to empower our students to persevere and overcome obstacles they may encounter in school and in life. As the school year began, we welcomed many students who were not with us last year, and with that, considered it an opportunity to begin discussing growth mindset with a group of students that may not have been exposed to it yet.

As the weeks went on, it was obvious I had a student in a lower grade level (KN-2nd) who would benefit from spending some time with a student in an older grade (3rd-5th) as we continue to set some expectations and continue to discuss growth mindset. You see, this young many we will refer to as Franklin did not have a growth mindset. I knew that. He had no idea. More importantly, he did not want to know…yet. Franklin did not have anyone to look up to in life (according to him) and as I got to know him better, I quickly realized he would benefit from a mentor. (Even though, he did not want one) While I worked to secure an adult mentor, I knew just the student in 5th grade who could serve as a role model for this young man.

The following is the exchange that occurred between Franklin and the 5th grade student as I introduced them for the first time.

Me: “Franklin, this is Joe (for the sake of this story). Joe is a 5th grader who is a great role model.”
Franklin: “I know him. He goes to the Boys & Girls Club. I do not need a role model.”
Me: “Fair enough. He is not a role model then, just a 5th grade student who can help in letting you know what is expected of students at Sigler.”
Franklin: “I know what is expected.”
Joe: “What do you like about school?”
Franklin: “I do not like school.”
Joe: “Why don’t you like school.”
Franklin: “I do not like to read. I am not good at it.”
Joe: “That is a fixed mindset. You need to have a growth mindset. With a growth mindset you could have said, I am not good at it yet.”

They continued to talk back and forth after that, but to be honest, I do not remember what was said.

We were doing something right. This 5th grade student…we reached him. He got it. He was modeling a growth mindset right before my tear filled eyes.

The moral of the story…often times we do not realize as educators just how much our students are absorbing. We do not realize we are reaching them because we do not give them the opportunity to demonstrate and model what they know.

My intentions were pure when I sought out this opportunity and I was not thinking, not even for a moment this 5th grade student would make me as proud as he did.

While I was seeking an opportunity for one student to positively impact another, I received a gift that reminded me, “we are reaching them” we just need to be reminded of it from time to time.

Building Empathy…Changing Behavior…More Questions than Answers

Man it feels good to watch these letters and words appear on the screen. It has been way to long since I have been able to share my thoughts and learn from you. In all honesty, I have many thoughts or potential posts in the “que” but I have either not taken the time nor found the time to articulate my thoughts well enough to post them. I am reflecting. I am making notes. I will share. I promise, I will…

So, why this one? With so many thoughts just waiting to be shared, why did I decide to share this one? I suppose that answer is an easy one. Complete transparency…I am sharing and writing about this because I do not have the answers. In fact, I have more questions than I do answers and I am turning to you, my readers, my PLN, to help bring clarity to my thinking.

If you have spent any amount of time in education, you realize you spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your students when it comes to addressing unwanted behaviors. In fact, it may get to the point where you feel all you are doing is addressing “the behavior”. While it may feel that way, the reality is, the majority of students are meeting…or in many cases exceeding expectations and we simply are not paying enough attention. How do we fix that? How do we spend more time focused on the positive, moving away from focusing on the unwanted?

I realize the unwanted behavior, if unaddressed can quickly interrupt the learning experience of the student exhibiting the unwanted behavior, but as we know, the unwanted behavior also interrupts the learning experiences of other students who are simply bystanders, trying to do their best to maximize the opportunity in front of them. Keeping in mind, the relentless pursuit many teachers embark upon in attempting to do their very best to instruct all students, balance behaviors, implement accommodations, work to strengthen relationships & keep parents informed of progress (or lack there of) well knowing the behaviors of the few can negatively impact the instruction/success of the majority. So, how do we address the unwanted behavior in an attempt to change it?

Traditional practices would suggest the unwanted or undesirable behavior be stopped or redirected. Got it. Easy enough. A teacher can redirect behavior, change a seating placement, provide engaging activities and even activities that empower students, but what if the behavior does not change? A parent conference can be scheduled. Teachers can collaborate with other teachers and brainstorm ideas to implement within the classroom. Plans can be put into place. The plans can be positive (which I prefer), the plans can have input from the student (prefer this as well), the plans can be catered to meet the student’s specific needs. Mentors can be assigned. Counselors can be utilized. The list can go on and on. What if all of this does not work? At some point the positive behavior supports wane and consequences turn from positive to negative and words like suspension begin to enter the conversation. In-school, out of school…alternate school setting. Yep. All forms of suspension. Does it work? I suppose it depends upon the individual student and their needs. Does it work for all students? I know that answer. No, it does not work for all students. So, what do we do?

At some point over the last nine to ten weeks, I had an epiphany. We keep running our students through all of this well intended “stuff” to address behavior, but we are not addressing the root cause of why our students are doing what they are doing. They are serving their time or doing what we ask and then we are sending them back to class as if they should “have it figured out”  or we think things will change. What we are forgetting as the adults is “for things to change, I must change.” I wonder, “Is the cause of the student’s misbehavior linked to something they may not completely understand?”

Do students understand empathy? Have we provided them with the supports to do so?

How do we grow and develop a student’s ability to be empathetic? How do we get students to feel? How do we get students to feel how someone else is feeling? Do students realize their undesirable behaviors make other students feel a certain way? If they did, would they continue to act in that way?

I told you I have a lot of questions. I am seeking some answers. I am not one to sit around and just wait for the answers to come to me. I am actively seeking out answers on my own and I hope you will contribute to my thinking. Familiar with restorative practices? You may be, but what I am finding is that most educators are not. There is a lot of research out there behind the effectiveness of restorative justice or restorative discipline in schools and guess what key word is positioned at the center of this research? You got it. Empathy.

As I have learned more about restorative practices and met with colleagues within my district and within my PLN who are also interested in learning more about how we can develop empathy within our students, I am beginning to see how this may change the narrative on school discipline. Less referrals. Less suspensions. Maybe, no suspensions at all. The sky is the limit with restorative discipline.

Have you ever participated in a restorative circle? Whoa. Powerful. Talk about getting to know your students. Restorative circles immediately take me back to my college psychology class and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a campus we are ensuring the physiological needs are met, we ensure students are safe and create environments that allow them to feel safe. A restorative circle can reinforce learning in a safe environment. Students feel loved and cared for when they are listened to and a restorative circle provides an opportunity for students to be heard. Earlier I asked, How do we grow and develop empathy? The next level of Maslow’s Hierarchy is “esteem”. Using the visual to the left, the respect of others is a key ingredient of empathy. How do we make students aware of the respect they are showing others? We have to take action. We have to do something different.

Are you ready for your first circle?

Sit your class or small group of students down in a circle and use a talking stick to provide one participant the opportunity to speak, while reminding the others they need to listen. Then provide an open ended question about how students are feeling…

How did you feel when you walked into the building this morning after the weekend?
How do you feel about not being in school over the weekend?
How do you feel…

If you are looking for questions and need something more concrete, try these if you are experiencing challenging behavior within your classroom:

To Respond to Challenging Behavior
What happened?
What were you thinking of at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To Help Those Harmed By Other’s Actions
What did you think when you realized what had happened?
What impact has this incident had on you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

See how these questions shifts the focus from a me versus you to a focus of empathy? These questions also remove the accusatory tone used when discussing behavior with students and give a voice to those who may have been impacted by other’s actions.

While circles can be used to discuss a specific incident, circles can also be used to develop community, address a concern or to just check-in with your class. While I still consider myself a “rookie” in this practice there are a couple of takeaways I can share after completing just a few restorative circles.

Shifting the conversation from “Why did you do that?” to “How were you feeling when…?” is a game changer for students. Ask a student “Why did you do that?” and nine times out of ten you receive an “I don’t know.” Of course they do not know. If they knew why they did it, they would probably not do it. Ask a student “How were you feeling when…” and the response is completely different. Through my brief experiences, students have shared a plethora of feelings, often times sharing feelings completely unrelated to the direct event, as something made them feel a certain way and this “thing” was a result of unresolved emotions. Insightful. It not only allows me as the educator to learn more about the student but students are learning about one another. Guess what? Empathy is increasing. Mine included. If we do not think empathy in educators needs to be checked, we have another think coming. The first thing to go when a student acts out in “my class” is empathy.

We think “How dare he do that?”
We think “Does he know whose class this is?”
We think “I am the teacher. I will show him?”

How often do we think, “I wonder how that student is feeling?”


You know what it takes to build empathy?


You know the one thing we never feel we have enough of?


Now compound that by working in a high needs, Title I building where each minute we are not working with students is a minute lost. Who has time to lose when we are trying to support students in scaling a mountain? After all, they have a test to pass at the end of the school year. Who has time to spend on developing empathy? (These questions are smeared with sarcasm…but we know there are educators who are asking these questions.) 

How do we shift the mindset?

While I do not have the answers to many of these questions, I do know this. We better find the time to develop our students’ empathy. Our students, our future depends on it. We must be raising a generation of students who have empathy for one another. We must raise students who understand their actions not only impact themselves, but they also impact others and not always in a positive way. I believe we find time for what we value. The key will be leading people to understand the importance of valuing empathy.

Where do we go from here?

I am going to keep refining my restorative practices. I will continue to facilitate restorative circles with students and yes, I will have some teachers participate in them as well. We will start small…subtle changes here and there. Is there a silver bullet? I believe there is. It is the time we spent developing empathy. Easy? Not a chance. Necessary? Absolutely.  I have a million questions and I have yet to find the million dollar answer. Maybe one of my readers has it, but I will not hold my breathe. We will continue to put one foot in the other, knowing that continuing to do what we have always done, will give us what we have always got.

I am ready to approach behavior in a new, transformative way.  I am ready to bring restoration to our students, teachers, classrooms and community.


Are you transforming the way you approach behavior in your classroom, school or district? I hope you will take a moment to share what you are doing. Share what has worked. Share what you have learned. Share where you have failed along the way. Hopefully, by sharing your failures and successes I, along with others will be able to learn from you and share.

Do you have resources you have learned from? Please share them below.

Here are a few I have collected and am currently using:
Restorative Questions:
Restorative Practices Handbook:
The Little Book of Restorative Discipline for Schools:
Better Than Carrots or Sticks:

Are there people online I should be learning from?

I learn from:

Who are others?

Take a moment and share your answers in the comments below.

Are You Cultivating Passion?

My summer goes pretty fast as a school administrator and even faster as a school administrator who moonlights as a summer school principal. I am not complaining. It just goes fast. In the days that I do have, I do my best to spend time with my family, unplug from work & read. I keep a stack of books on the end of my desk that I come across throughout the year, knowing summer will be my best time to dive deep and spend some time reflecting on what I have read. I have yet to find enough balance throughout the school year to really read like I would want to with so many other plates spinning. I rely on blogs, which are much shorter reads to feed me.

Last February, I was able to see and hear Angela Maiers present at TCEA in Austin, TX. I was so inspired by her message, that her Classroom Habitudes book made its way to the corner of my desk upon my return. After a couple of hours by the pool today, with my book and highlighter in hand, I was able to finish reading Classroom Habitudes. I love it!

As students across the country return to school in a month of so, we expect so much out of them and we often forget that everything we expect must be explicitly taught. (So is the case for me as an elementary school principal). If I had a nickel for the number of times I have said or have heard a teacher say, “Our students need to improve in the area of problem solving, I would be rich.” After reading this book, I am questioning how well I have led our teachers to explicitly teach our students the “habitudes” it takes to be a skillful problem solver. Maybe we do…a little…but at the end of the day, I think we just want it to happen through osmosis. Much like we teach students to read and apply number sense in math, we have to believe these “classroom habitudes” are important enough to spend time explicitly teaching to our students and then embed them into our content and curriculum.

Classroom Habitudes – Angela Maiers


I think you would agree, as educators we want our students to develop these habits and attitudes. Do we want them bad enough to explicitly teach students how to go about cultivating these habits and attitudes? It is one thing want it and a whole new level to actually do something about it and make it happen. “Classroom Habitudes” is full of lessons and resources that teachers can begin using tomorrow to further develop these habits and attitudes in students.

As I was reading today, there was one particular habitude that struck a cord with me. Passion. Angela
Maiers defines the passion habitude as follows:

Passion is the ability to intentionally pursue actions that are personally and socially meaningful.

Read that again…

Now, in the Texas, STAAR results have recently been shared with districts across the state. If you were to poll the students who took STAAR this past spring, how many of them do you think would find the STAAR personally and socially meaningful? I ask that because, I/we are holding ourselves hostage & our students hostage to a test that at the end of the day, is not meaningful to students.

Do you feel your instruction meets the needs of your students as defined above? Are you creating opportunities for students to “intentionally pursue actions that are personally and socially meaningful“?

Angela Maiers includes some reflective questions to determine whether or not you are preparing students to be good at school or prepare them for life.

  • Are we helping students discover & work on things they are truly good at? 
  • Do students go home at the end of the day emotionally charged or emotionally drained? 
  • Will students remember the projects we’re working on today five years from now? 
  • Are we proud of the work we do? Are our students proud of the work they do? 
  • Does the cause for which we fight go beyond making the grade or increasing a test score? 
  • Does the cause create meaning in our students’ lives?
I am not sure how you honestly answer those questions, but Angela Maiers shares the following:
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you can be assured that your current curriculum, schedule, and classroom environment cultivate the kind of passion that will enable students to live more fulfilling lives, lead courageously, and engage in work worth bragging about!” 

My question is, “What if you answered no?” What if the curriculum, schedule and environment are not cultivating the kind of passion that our students need to develop? If we agree, these habitudes need to be increasingly present in the lives of our students, it is time we look in the mirror and ensure we are cultivating the same habitudes in ourselves as leaders and teachers. 
I for one, do not want students leaving our building without being able to live more fulfilling lives, lead courageously and engage in work worth bragging about. 
What do you want?