Digital Check-in / Check-out is coming back on 24 Sept 2020 at 3:30pm PT.

Check-in / Check-out (CICO) is a simple framework for social, emotional, and academic support, and it’s typically easy for schools and youth-serving programs to implement

Basically, CICO works because the intervention is about strengthening relationships with students and communicating with young people effectively. And, while many schools have done CICO well with in-person learning, CICO for digital learning spaces can be equally effective.

Join us for our next free upcoming Digital Check-in / Check-out webinar! It’ll be 90 minutes long, and will focus primarily on implementing Check-in / Check-out in digital learning spaces.


Build classroom community with digital buddy boards

Relationships first

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

In April of 2016, I was principal of an elementary school that tragically lost an amazing kindergarten teacher. Maria would check in on me each Monday and ask about my family and how I was doing. She’d make sure to have a kind word and a smile as I began my week, and I’m certain that her kindness rippled into every classroom I visited.

Free Webina: 26 and 27 August, 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 3:00pm to 4:30pm MST

At the first staff meeting after the death of a teacher who had been helping our littlest learners grow since the school was built, I discovered that there were teachers who had been serving at the school nearly as long as Maria, yet never had a conversation with her. The two minutes that Maria spent with me on Monday mornings were two minutes I would have wanted any staff member to experience, and I decided that we would be as purposeful about connecting with each other as Maria had been with me.

Our solution was to create a staff Buddy Board. The idea is simple: 

  • Print your staff roster.
  • Assign each staff member a buddy.
  • Do something with your buddy at the staff meeting.

We used name tags that attached to a foam board with magnetic tape, and we pulled buddy activities from our Sanford Harmony box. If you don’t have Sanford Harmony, you can create your own 2-3 minute activity list as a team, or just search the web for ideas. The goal, however, was simple—every staff member would have at least two meaningful opportunities to connect with everyone else by the end of each year.

I realized that if a group of teachers could come together for a Wednesday staff meeting for decades without necessarily having spoken to everyone they work with, then to assume that a classroom of students would build connections with each other on their own seemed unwise. If love and belonging are prerequisite to learning, then we needed to be intentional about creating opportunities for our students to connect.

Digital Buddy Boards are a powerful framework for supporting connections between students in your classroom, school, or system.

Buddy Boards are a great school-wide strategy that can easily adapt to digital learning spaces. You could implement them in a classroom, throughout a school, and between grade levels. You can (and should) involve staff in your Buddy Boards, especially staff that are generally left on the margins of our school community (think teaching assistants, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and crossing guards).

If only because you’ll know that every student in your digital classroom will have meaningful opportunities to experience love and belonging, creating a digital buddy board is a great thing to do right now. And, your buddy board can help engage students in important dialogue when:

  • Students return from a screen break, you’re waiting for everyone to log on.
  • You’re providing 1:1 or small group support in a breakout room, and the rest of the students are done with their work.
  • It’s the start or the end of a class period or day.

And, while Digital Buddy Boards are not typically part of traditional Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports training, they fit perfectly into Tier 1 PBIS practices. Anything we can do to provide students frequent and meaningful opportunities to connect with each other in low-risk, high-warmth situations increases the likelihood of them learning how to manage conflict on their own when necessary. Plus, it’s fun!

I hope you’ll join us for one of the free 90 minute webinars coming up on 26 and 27 August, 2020. Webinars are at 1:00pm to 2:30pm and 3:00pm to 4:30pm both days, and you can sign up here.


The importance of clarity.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

The importance of clarity.

What does it mean to say that we are doing something? It means that:

  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) knows what it is and what it’s supposed to do.
  • Everyone who is supposed to do it (and everyone we’re doing it for) is equipped to do it.

We’ll get to the second condition in the next article. This week article is about the importance of knowing what you are doing and about helping you and your team get clear on your work and what you hope to achieve.

Before you read too far, I want you to know that there are more important questions for me to answer. Questions like: 

I’ve linked articles from colleagues with skills and knowledge to help answer these questions, and I encourage you to read those articles too. After all, if you’re reading my blog, it’s probably because you are a leader of some kind in a caring profession, and you want to do the work the right way.

For now, what I want to do is to provide a framework for thinking about something important that you are already working on. Using this framework will help you and your team get clear about your goals, increase the efficacy of your strategy, and elevate the success of your work.

If we can’t explain it, can we really be doing it?

Everyone who’s supposed to do it knows what it is, who it is for, and what it is supposed to do.

Whether your school has been a Project Based Learning school for years or if your agency just started a staff wellness initiative, everyone who is supposed to be doing the thing must know what it is, who it’s for, and what it’s supposed to do. 

Here is a simple exercise to take action towards clarity:

  • Name the thing you’re doing.
  • Name who the thing you’re doing is supposed to help.
  • Describe what the thing you’re doing is supposed to achieve.

If you’d like, here’s a print version of this exercise in print form:

Or, click here to check out this digital version of the same exercise.

The people for whom we are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do.

For reasons encoded deep into the DNA of how culture influences schools, agencies, and organizations, the people for whom we are doing something are typically the last to know about something we are doing on their behalf. It is essential that the people for whom you are doing it know what it is and what it is supposed to do. Here are two reasons why your project will fail unless the people your project is about are involved from the beginning:

It’s immoral.

“Nothing about us without us” is a phrase used in a wide variety of activist circles to dismantle systems where those in power make decisions on behalf of groups without power and without their involvement or consent. Examples of this that occur frequently are when:

  • Schools make major changes in how students learn without explaining to families why they’re making a change and what’s supposed to happen as a result.
  • Law enforcement agencies increase their visibility without explaining to their community what they’re doing and what their goals are.
  • Nonprofit agencies ask youth to speak on panels without compensating them for their time or equipping them to participate as partners.

It makes your work harder than it needs to be.

While all of the above examples are morally suspect, they also make your work harder than it needs to be. Think about how all of the above examples change when the people for whom we are doing something know what it is and what it is supposed to do:

  • The school changing how students learn involves families at the first planning meeting. They provide the context for the change and opportunities to be trained in what will happen in their children’s classrooms. As a result, families not only understand the work but also help the work get done.
  • Law enforcement agencies seek out and create opportunities to be invited into communities. As a result, officers learn to view communities as the answer to problems rather than as the problem to solve with the tools of policing.
  • Nonprofits explain what the purpose of the panel is going to be. Resources are provided to help youth frame their message in the context of their own lived experience, and youth are compensated (in cash) for their time. As a result, the nonprofit has a cadre of highly trained youth who can support the work as peers.

Why it matters

Leaders who can explain what their team is doing and also provide those that they serve with meaningful and frequent opportunities to be participate are better able to elevate the success of their team and their organization. Regardless of what your organization is doing, or for how long an initiative has been going on, leaders who can explain what they’re doing, who it benefits, and what’s going to happen when the project succeeds are equipped with everything the need to plan, execute, and succeed.

Author’s note: Helping leaders, teams, and organizations achieve clarity in their work is an essential element of my work. The next time you’re writing a newsletter or explaining to your team a directive you’ve received, consider scheduling a call and seeing how I can help.


Eight Dimensions of Wellness

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury–it’s required.

Dr. Cornel West famously said “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As a person believes that education is a means to achieve social justice, Dr. West’s words remind me that my work to create just, equitable, antiracist, and inclusive schools begins not in the classroom, school, or park district, but rather within my own self. To be a person working for justice means that paying attention to my wellness is neither selfish nor a luxury—it’s required.

Higher Ground is a nonprofit organization in Tucson that runs a student wellness center for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Like other after school programs, students can work on homework and participate in a variety of activities including: basketball, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. What makes Higher Ground unique, however, is that each program participant has their own wellness plan organized around the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Even more powerful, however, is how the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help Higher Ground staff to take care of themselves so that they are equipped to care for others. Arthur Rodgers, Higher Ground’s Executive Director explains that “the Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me create a balanced life for myself and keep me focused on the whole person when serving others. Thecia Rodgers, Community Schools Director, agrees, saying “The Eight Dimensions of Wellness help me personally to be aware of my own health and wellness lifestyle, and to identify where my own wellness could be stronger. This helps me consider each person I serve as a whole person.”

As you read through the Eight Dimensions of Wellness, notice which aspects of wellness you currently practice. It might also be helpful to note something you can do today to support a dimension of wellness that you might not practice as frequently.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness 


Physical wellness is about caring for our bodies. We attend to our physical wellness when we eat well, drink enough water, and get regular exercise. Making sure to get enough sleep and scheduling necessary medical, dental, and vision appointments are also essential aspects of physical wellness. Finally, avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs is important to our physical wellness.


Learning new skills and developing new understandings supports intellectual wellness. Choose something that interests you and make a plan to learn more about it. This might be reading a book, doing something creative, or purposefully engaging in new ideas or perspectives.


Naming our feelings and paying attention to how we manage both positive and negative emotions supports emotional wellness. Managing stress, building resiliency, and developing a positive outlook are all key components of emotional wellness. Sometimes, the work of emotional wellness happens best with spending some time alone, and other times, connecting to our support networks is better.


Having purpose and meaning is crucial to wellness. Pay attention to values and sense of purpose. If necessary, uncover, discover, or recover what matters most to you. Some people find support in participating in communities with shared values. Others find it helpful to reflect on values and purpose privately. Most important, work to make sure that your actions align with your values and purpose.


One key aspect of environmental wellness is finding ways of living that respect the environment. Recycling, driving less, and planting trees are three ways that we might support our environmental wellness. Another aspect of environmental wellness connects to building comfortable places to live and work. Cleaning up the kitchen at home and clearing off our desks at work are examples of practicing environmental wellness.


The basic level of financial wellness is working to make sure that we have enough income to feed ourselves, our families, and to pay the bills. Taking stock of our income and expenses is a powerful way to practice financial wellness. More than earning money and making budgets, however, financial wellness is about understanding our personal relationship with money. By reflecting on what money means to us, we gain a better sense of what might be influencing our spending and saving, and whether those influences are helpful.

What love looks like in public

Dr. West asks us “Never to forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As we seek to be educators who create just classrooms, dismantle oppression, and help children and youth become successful learners and good human beings, the implications of Dr. West’s words are tremendous. If justice is what love looks like in public, then our capacity to build a just world depends both on the level of love we show ourselves and how skillfully we care for ourselves across all Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

Of course Eight Dimensions of Wellness is not the only framework for practicing self-care. I would encourage everyone to spend some time researching wellness and to pay attention to resources that connect with them. However, what I’ve seen at Higher Ground makes me think that the Eight Dimensions of Wellness are a good place to start. I’ve summarized definitions and examples from the University of Maryland’s wellness information site, and you can learn more by clicking here.


Love + Content + Time.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois-Shah

I believe that the heart of effective teaching and learning is love + content + time, and that all three are necessary to build and sustain effective districts, schools, and classrooms. Here is why:

The inspiration from this post came from my work with Higher Ground. Click here and learn more about them.


Love is the starting point of effective teaching and learning. And, while good teachers recognize that love is the center of their practice, teachers are often afraid that this love could be misunderstood. After all, when I say “I love my spouse,” I mean something different than way I say “I love popcorn.” 

But let’s get real for a moment—Teaching is a profession that expects an intelligent person with at least one (and typically several) college degrees to help a room full of other people’s children become successful learners and good human beings. In between “I love my spouse” and “I love popcorn” is a type of love that effective teachers understand is at the center of their practice.  

“You look upset. Are you ok?”“I need you to focus on your work.”
“It’s good to see you! You’re running late again. We can make a plan together when you’re ready to talk about it.”“You’re late again, and now you’re behind the rest of the class.”
“Come back to me tomorrow, and in one piece!”“Pages 4-5 are due tomorrow.”
“I want to make sure my students are represented in their learning. That’s why I’m doing so much reading on culturally sustaining pedagogy this summer.”“I don’t see color.”
Love is essential.

Loving our students and expressing that love in our practice ought to be an explicit part of every educator’s job description and professional preparation program. Nothing-not one thing-happens in a classroom or in a school until students know that they are safe, loved, and cared for.


Content represents precisely what we mean by social, emotional, and academic achievement. The most engaging activity in the world and the most informative text ever written are only useful if the schools and teachers using them understand what students are supposed to learn as a result.

Here are some examples and non-examples of ensuring that all students have access to important content:

There is a written curriculum, and everyone knows where to find it.There is no written curriculum, so everyone develops their own materials.
“Hey, this fun activity I found on the internet matches where my class is at right now in their science curriculum!”“Well, this quarter is supposed to be about life cycles, but I really like this activity about fossils. Let’s do it!”
“This math lesson is supposed to be hard. We’re learning not only how to use statistics for modeling, but also how to manage stress when things feel overwhelming.”“Ok, now that math is done, let’s do this lesson on stress I found.”
“Ok, team, we’ve got [x] learning targets to master this semester. Do we have materials for all of them?”“Uh oh…we’ve got three weeks left in the semester, and we only taught half the learning targets. Let’s do a jigsaw for the last three chapters of the textbook.”
“Let’s check to make sure that our reading lists are inclusive of authors of color.”People of color are invisible in the curriculum.
Please do not neglect the last row.

Please do not neglect the last row in the table. Supporting social, emotional, and academic achievement means ensuring that our students are represented in the content we teach. Otherwise, we risk creating schools in which, as Dr. Jamila Lyiscott warns, “The content of the curriculum ignore[s] the cultures of their communities” (Lyiscott, 2019).

To become successful learners and good human beings requires that students leave our classrooms each day equipped with knowledge, understanding, and skills that they didn’t have before. While it’s possible (and typically dangerous) to teach students something on accident, students achieve more when everyone involved is intentional about what the point of each lesson, unit, and course is about.


The level of learning that happens in our schools and classrooms depends on the level of love our students experience, the level of clarity regarding the content they are to learn, and finally, the way we view time as a resource for learning.

Time is more than just a thing we all feel we need more of. Yes, we need time to collaborate, plan, teach, and reflect. All the grading, assessment, and stuff our principal or superintendent needs us to do takes time. However, when the only thing that matters in a school is what happens in this period, this semester, or this academic year, time will never feel like an ally.

I know this is a bit meta, but when we think about supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement, time isn’t really about the minutes in a period we have to teach today’s content. Rather, time is the medium through which growth happens.

Think of it this way—If students were like a packet of sunflower seeds, we could predict how fast each seed ought to grow, what kind of light they need, and how much to water them. Truthfully, our students are more like a packet of assorted seeds from apple, orange, and peach trees, with a few acorns tossed in just because. We don’t expect a peach pit to turn into a mature tree by the end of a semester or even an academic year. To do the same for our students just makes everyone frustrated.

When we expand our timeframe for our work, we can see ourselves as part of a system meant to help students learn and grow over a lifetime. We also see that our role in supporting our students’ growth changes depending on where they are at in their learning. Whether we are building better schools by becoming trauma informed, enhancing our curriculum, or learning to use a new computer intervention, time is always on our side. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that anyone has a right to waste a minute in the life of a child. Time is precious. What I am saying, though, is that if we see our students as trees rather than sunflowers, we can also understand that the time frame for our work is far bigger then a single lesson or even a school year.

Sometimes, students respond to our love and our content with indifference. Sometimes they struggle with concepts far more than we wish. All too often, brilliant students are told that they are not that brilliant because of a  yearly test score that can’t (or won’t) see them as anything other than a number that’s not high enough yet. But we can learn to view time differently, and if we can help our students to do the same, we can also learn that what we do today matters even when we can’t see the change right away.

I’d like for you to check out Higher Ground, an organization that has always understood that all children are worthy of love, all children deserve to be taught how to be a person of character, and that all children have a right to their own time.

I’d also invite you to read Dr. Lyiscott’s book, Black Appetite. White Food.  Lyiscott, Jamila. (2019). Black appetite. White food. Routledge.



We don’t have time to think about values…we’re just trying to finish the year and reopen school somehow.”

In a breath, educators across the United States completely transformed the way they connect with students and their families. Boundaries between work and home, always blurry for educators, have dissolved completely as we connect with learners online, via text, and curbside house calls. Thinking about our own values and vision right now feels goofy—and perhaps a little selfish—given what our work demands of us if we want to do right by our students

Frankly, I’d be suspicious of anyone who knows what the ‘best’ way to teach, run a school, or do our jobs well right now. As I stand, in this moment, I am both proud of my colleagues and aware that we don’t really know yet what we’re doing. The risk, though, of not pausing to uncover, discover, and recover our values is to continue a drastic re-imaging of schooling without considering the values that form the ethical core of our profession. More acute, though, is that by not examining the values guiding who we are and what we do, we increase the risk of moral injury.

Moral injury is the harm that occurs when a person is forced to act in ways that violate their values. Values are windows through which we see who we aspire to be and mirrors that reflect how well who we currently are matches our aspirations. Generally, values are effective because they tend to be automatic and implicit filters that guide day-to-day decisions without too much pondering. A quick glance through the values window reminds us that we are loving, caring, and expert professionals, and brief look in the values mirror reveals the kind words and time spent honing our craft each day that let us know we’re doing our best, and that our best is pretty good.

As the context of our work shifts, our values might need to shift as well.

However, when the entire context for our work shifts to something we would never want for ourselves or our students, values that used to support our work can feel impossible to live up to. While each person’s resilience, support, and capacity to practice self-care and healing is unique, many educators are struggling line up how replacing math instruction with Kahn Academy, reading instruction with audiobooks, and classroom instruction for online class meetings (where some students own three laptops and an iPad and others borrow their parent’s cell phone to text answers to their teacher) lines up with what the values at the core of their work. 

If you feel like your students deserve better, you are right. And knowing that this is not your fault doesn’t make it easier.

Take a moment and answer this question: “To be a professional that effectively supports children and youth to become successful learners and good human beings, it is important that I am [insert one word answer].”

In January, I would have said my most important answers were:

  • Reflective
  • Kind
  • Competent

Now, as I listen to my daughter communicate her grief over lost friends communicated in elaborate refusals to do the Beethoven book report, I recognize that patience, kindness, and competence won’t cut it.

Right now, I’m coming to understand that to do this work it is essential that I am:

  • Healthy
  • Present
  • Compassionate

It is important that I am healthy, and that means I schedule time to exercise. I must be present so that I focus on the issue in front of me and am available to those who need me. Finally, compassion for myself and for others helps me move beyond judgement and into action.

I am not claiming that these three values are all that are important to me, nor that anyone else needs to share my list. What I am suggesting is we might be able to look through a clearer window and more reflective mirror. Organizing resources to support social, emotional, and academic achievement begins with our values, and we get to choose what we value. Choose values that help—that’s what our values are supposed to do.

Why data literacy matters.

-by Pamela Dean, M.Ed.

According to a review of Data Literacy of Educators: Making it Count in Teacher Preparation and Practice in the Harvard Educational Review, data literacy in education is the ability to create actionable instruction based on the collection and examination of student data such as attendance, grades, test scores, behavior, and motivation.

Sounds easy enough: Use the data we have about our students, our classes, and our schools to create effective instruction to improve some aspect of teaching and learning. However, in my experience, there are many nuances that affect how we interpret data. To be effective, we must have accurate baselines and clear ideas about what we want to measure and why. 

Grading practices, especially equitable grading practices, are one of the things I have spent a lot of time researching and discussing with colleagues. This stems from an experience that my daughter had when she was in 9th grade. If you had known my daughter as a teenager, all she did was type from sun up until sundown as she wanted to be an author. In two years she wrote over 650,000 words! All ninth graders at her school were required to take a business class where the first quarter was spent on typing. Her diagnostic showed her typing speed as 112 wpm and she ended the quarter with a speed of 120 wpm.

She got an F because she did not show appropriate growth.

We contacted the teacher who told us that the grade was automatically generated by the district using an algorithm. Since she only had 7% growth, it was an F. She looked at the teacher for a minute, then said, “So [John] could type 10 words per minute and now he can type 20 and he got 100% in the course.” The teacher said yes, because [John] had shown 100% growth. My daughter then said, “So I was already typing twice as fast as professionals do and I learned to type even faster. Did you really expect me to be able to type 224 wpm?” The teacher looked at us thoughtfully, then said he was going to contact the district to discuss the issues with their algorithm.

In the end, the district changed the way that it graded that class. Instead of assigning a grade based on a percentage increase, they developed a scoring rubric showing how many wpm it would take to earn each letter grade. This is a far more equitable grading practice especially since the rubric correlated with business standards.

Another area where data interpretation can have a tremendous impact on students and their futures is in special education. I used to teach students with profound special needs. At one training meeting, we were examining data sets to consider student placement in classrooms for higher levels of need. One student’s data appeared to show that the student was violent – hitting, pinching, biting, kicking. The consensus seemed to be that the student needed higher levels of support than her current classroom was able to provide. The next level of placement would have put her on a trajectory to move to a group home for violent young adults once she turned 21.

As this group of educators discussed this student, it became apparent that the student only exhibited these behaviors with one staff member. Further questioning showed that everyone else who worked with the student during classtime sat across the table from her, while the support worker in question sat next to the student. What the data actually showed, then, was that the student felt that this support person was invading her personal space. Since she had no words to express that because of her disability, her only resort was to push the support person away. The support person said she would sit across from the student, the student stayed in her current placement, and her trajectory remained to live in assisted living and attend workshops for adults with special needs. The reexamination and reinterpretation of the data literally changed this student’s adult life.

These may seem like two extreme cases, but it is indicative of the need for true data literacy in education.

How we approach data can tell a lot about our educational philosophy. If we collect data without a clear vision of why and how we should use the data, it can have serious and inequitable impacts on our students’ success in many different areas. But if we commit to become truly data literate, if we use data in equitable ways to find the root of student issues and to promote student achievement, we can gain valuable insights that will help us prepare them for successful futures at school and in life.

Click here to schedule a free call to learn how you can increase your team’s data literacy.

Be prepared: Three practices to make your data meetings effective and efficient

-by Annmarie Granstrand 

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, shares that we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. As a literacy coach, I was always on the hunt for routines that could bear the weight of big data. Here are some strategies to build into your systems for data meetings.

Connect data-based goals and vocabulary to school values

The alphabet soup that is education terminology comes to a full boil in data meetings. I’ve even seen math teachers googling “RIT score”. The brave ones pause to ask “wait, what does student growth percentage really mean again?” Want a strong ROI on your data meetings? Pre-assess and pre-teach. Take the time to be sure everyone feels comfortable with the vocabulary, has a safe space to ask questions, and connects the content knowledge to your school’s values. For example, a team’s data analyst might say,  “You will see the term RIT score often. It is our goal to move 75% of our students into the green quadrant of the Achievement Status and Growth Report in our MAP data. Our school’s mission is to see students make great gains and demonstrate growth.” 

An impactful school leader prepares the focus and goals for a data meeting. Pick two or three student-level reports, pieces of writing, or informal assessments that demonstrate a trend across the grade level. You may have an inkling about what gap in the curriculum is creating this problem. But data meetings are your opportunity to leverage existing expertise, increase teacher capacity, and collaboratively problem-solve to directly impact student success.

As a second grade teacher in Chicago, my grade team would gather after our students completed the new unit’s pre-assessment writing task. Using the rubric individually, we would forward writing samples that scored a 2 out of 4. The team lead would notice a common deficit, like a weak introduction. Then the lead would open our data meeting by displaying a few of these student work samples for teachers to analyze in a brief gallery walk.

Bringing student work to data meetings is a common practice but should come with a focus. I’ve had occasion to sit with 28 “small moment” narratives on my lap, listening to my colleagues share funny stories and rock star writer moves. It can be a wonderful way to learn from veteran teachers and trade teaching moves that elicit great writing. The pitfall is outlier dominated discussion. For example, try to avoid conversations such as: Why does this student continue to invert these letters? Has anyone else had a Stein in their class before? What can I do to challenge this student? Keep your eye on the goal: identify grade level trends and what they tell us.

Series of strategic partnerships 

Partner your educators strategically. It increases your meeting’s efficiency. Think about when you’ve had students consider an open-ended question and asked them to “turn and talk.” Which group got down to business? Which group was more likely to get off task or spend more time on pleasantries? 

Listen to the No Stupid Questions podcast of October 31, 2021. In it Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth espouse the concept of dyads or bust. The idea: focus less on balancing talk time and more on getting down to the task at hand.

Once teams are sure they understand the data terms and a trend to address, these partnerships can work together to create classroom-level plans that support team-level goals. Consider pairings that leverage expertise. Partner a veteran teacher with a novice. Match someone who writes IEP goals with someone who strays from lesson plans. Listen in on these conversations without participating and following up later for some post-partnership feedback can help leaders see opportunities for professional learning or learn building-specific nuances.

Don’t forget to assign resources to each partnership so their data-informed discussions connect to implementation. One special educator and one classroom teacher can connect the select student work samples to the standards. Another two teachers can analyze how the curricula will or will not soon address this deficit. A third partnership might identify mentor texts for future mini-lessons. When the partnerships come back to the whole group, every educator’s input can be documented, considered, and valued by the team.

Just as we create a safe structure for students to collaborate, ask questions, and put learning into context, school leaders can develop efficient and effective data meetings for staff.

Want to enhance your team’s work with data? Click here to schedule a time to zoom call. There is never a charge to talk.

Podcast Episode: https://freakonomics.com/podcast/if-everyone-hates-meetings-why-do-we-have-so-many-of-them/

Ongoing Professional Learning with Data

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

I frequently lead professional learning on how to use data effectively, most recently with Youth On Their Own, a Tucson-based nonprofit that supports youth without a permanent place to live in graduating high school. Over the years, I’ve collected a few topics that tend to be effective for whole-staff trainings, and others that have transformed teams of teachers and individual educators in 1:1 coaching sessions. I also have worked with some amazing administrators to support their use of data as well. If your school is thinking about explicit training in using data, the topics below will be helpful.

Whole Staff

Screening data vs. diagnostic data

Screening data is meant to identify a problem. Diagnostic data identifies solutions. Frequently, I notice schools and nonprofits using screening data to identify problems and solutions. This leads to bad strategy.

For example, a common screening tool in elementary schools measures number of words read correctly per minute. While good reading fluency is a strong indicator of reading skill, low reading fluency has a variety of causes. Without also using a diagnostic tool effectively, millions of elementary school children in the United States are wasting time with repeated readings of familiar texts to increase their reading speed when their actual struggle with reading is far more complex. Screening data identifies students needing support, but diagnostic tools are needed to uncover causes. Moving from screening data to diagnostic data is essential training for any educator working directly with students.

Interpreting standardized test results

Pamela Dean is a colleague of mine and a teacher-leader at Lawrence 3-8 in Tucson Unified School District. She recalls how “I once worked at a school where I was quite vehemently berated because only 33% of my students scored proficient on the state assessments. Until, that is, they finished yelling at me and then I said to them, “Well, you could look at it as only 33% of my students scored proficient. But since only 11% of my students scored proficient last year, it actually means that there was a 200% increase in the number of students who were proficient. I guess it’s all in how you want to look at it. I prefer to look at it this way. “

The first key takeaway from Pamela’s experience is that weaponizing data against teachers is disrespectful. Schools will never use data effectively if data is a tool for criticism. The second key takeaway is that most people—including school leaders—struggle to interpret standardized test results accurately. Generally, this lack of fluency in what standardized test scores report leads most educators to focus on failure and to ignore growth. Given that schools are meant to help students learn and grow, a thorough understanding of what standardized test results mean—and what they don’t—is vital.

Grade-level / Content teams and Individuals

I have grown suspicious of asking teachers to spend time in grade level teams reviewing data. These meetings tend to involve more compliance than commitment, and require schools to build elaborate systems and schedules to function. In fact, I recommend that schools spend most of their time with classroom-level data, rather than in teams. 

However, using data in grade-level or content teams can be powerful if teams view data as a tool to help them achieve their goals. Professional learning for grade-level / content teams or individual educators might include the following: 

Using data frames to develop process targets

Protocols for working with data are available throughout the internet, but what I like about the data frames below is that they are simple and work at both ends of data collection. The Post-Data Frames have three prompts when teams want to engage data that has already been collected:

  • What do I see?
  • What does this mean to me?
  • What might I do?

Beginning with a disciplined, literal view, “What do I see?” grounds teams in exactly what the data says. Next, “What does this mean to me?” invites teams to interpret the data’s significance within the constraints of what the team actually sees. Finally, “What might I do?” prompts teams to assess what the y might stop, start, do more of, or do less based on what they have come to understand through their data.

When teams have targets they want to reach and the data hasn’t been collected yet.,the Pre-Data-Frames are the best tool. The Pre Data Frames also have three prompts to support teams in aligning strategies to goals.

  • What is the outcome?
  • What is my role in achieving the outcome?
  • What’s my process target?

“What is my outcome?” is also meant to be a literal question. Teams write down a measurable outcome exactly as is. “What is my role in achieving the outcome?” asks team members to write down exactly what each team member is going to do to support the common goal. Finally, “What’s my process target?” asks team members to think about one small task, behavior, or strategy that they can implement every day. The process target is starred because it’s really the only part of the Pre-Data Frames that anyone needs to think about on a daily basis. So long as the process target lines up with the outcome, the team’s job is to forget about their long term goal in order to focus on the ‘do it every day’ process target that will bring about growth over time.

And, more and more organizations are coming to view individual data conferences as more valuable than PLCs. This same process functions powerfully at the individual classroom level.

For School Leaders

Every school leader should be fluent in each of the above topics. And, I’ve earned a doctorate in education without learning most of them. Most school leaders have to learn about using data effectively on their own, or from other school leaders that have read a few more books on data. Sometimes, it is helpful to seek out professional learning individually, and knowing yourself as a learner helps.

Personally, I read both print and audiobooks, and I have time built into my schedule to read and practice. And, if you want to get started with data, Darell Huff’s “How to Lie With Statistics” is a great place to start. Another great text is “How to Make Decisions with Different Kinds of Student Assessment Data, by Susan Brookhart.

However, if you think having a coach or a trainer might help, this is the kind of work I love to do, and I have many other professional contacts to whom I’m happy to refer you. Click here to schedule a time to talk, or click here to send me an email.

Three true objections to data that you can’t ignore.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

While most school leaders view reviewing student data in professional learning communities (PLCs) to be essential, most teachers view these meetings as a waste of time. (Gates Foundation, 2014). Here are three objections to data that I hear frequently from teachers that I encourage all leaders like you to validate and explore. As always, if you’d like to know more about this or any other content on the blog, click here and let me know how to get in touch.

“You can make data tell any story you want.”

When I think about the number of times an agency manipulated cuts off scores to make student performance appear worse than it was, or reported meaningless “percent passing” scores without reporting scaled scores over time, or even adjusted the scale on graphs to exaggerate or minimize change over time, I absolutely understand skepticism towards data.

However, using data for self-serving ends is not the same as understanding that using data involves nuance, context, and multiple perspectives. For example, if scaled scores on a standardized math exam are going down year over year, there are likely several reasons why and dozens of rational solutions. Nevertheless, the fundamental truth is that the yearly scaled score trend in math is down. It is our job to decide if that matters and what we should do.

“Youth are not a number.”

This is absolutely true. It is impossible to reduce any human person to a point on a graph. Behind each set of data are a set of people with lungs that breath, hearts that beat, and souls that nurture their own aspirations. Our youth are definitely not numbers. It would be more accurate to say, “Our numbers are our youth.”

While no data point completely describes the powerful and wonderful dignity of each human person we serve, our data do capture discrete—yet important—aspects of how youth experience what we offer them. Dismissing data dismisses that experience, and diminishes our understanding of our youth.

“We shouldn’t teach to a test.”

Teaching to a test happens when a test drives what students learn, causing anything that can’t be measured on a test disappears from the curriculum. This is becomes more dangerous the further the “test-makers” are from the “test-takers.” Consider Pearson, a multinational corporation specializing in testing, where “half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division.” This was in 2015, and the trend hasn’t reversed. States set standards, multinational corporations decide how to assess standards, and classroom teachers have to decide whether to equip their students for success on Pearson’s exams or to help them master developmentally appropriate content. And sometimes, those goals do not align.

The non profit version of this saying might be, “We shouldn’t chase numbers.” And no, I do not recommend that schools I work with adopt a test as a curriculum or that nonprofits I work with focus on data targets to the exclusion of what matters to their clients. Rather, what schools and nonprofits can do when faced with tests and program targets set by someone else is to equip their students/clients to succeed on portions of test and program targets that matter most. More likely than not, the rest can safely be ignored so long as growth occurs where it needs to happen.

Too often, data incriminates more than elevates caring professionals in schools and nonprofits, making resistance to data is common. Moving beyond resistance involves validating the truth of these objections to data and communicating a comprehensive, life-giving approach to incorporating data into our work. 

If your school or nonprofit is working to build a healthier relationship with data, click click here to let me know how to get in touch, or click here to schedule a zoom call.

Two reasons why your team resists data.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

Right now, I’m working on a presentation on data for Youth On Their Own a nonprofit in Southern Arizona that supports youth without permanent homes to graduate high school. Like many of the schools, nonprofits, and government agencies I work with, data is at the heart of what Youth on Their Own’s leadership team uses to ensure that their strategies serve youth effectively.

Nevertheless, while data-based decision can support our work powerfully, many caring organizations struggle to make data part of their day-to-day conversations. In my experience, this happens when:

  1. Data triggers our inner critic.
  2. Data is disconnected from the work.

“Hello, Inner Critic”

Caring professionals possess a deep, personal commitment to those they serve. Generally, their desire to help students and clients succeed fosters an equally powerful desire to do their best work. While leaders want data to support their staff (unless that data is presented carefully), meetings about data typically have the opposite effect.

Frankly, data lacks tact. If 90% of students are supposed to be achieving some kind of goal, and only 87% of students meet expectations, data will only reveal unmet goals. This tends to trigger each staff member’s inner critic. When the inner critic has the floor, our inner dialogue tends to focus on blaming ourselves for failing our students or blaming something external for making our students’ success impossible.

Suggestions to regulate our Inner Critic:

  1. Measure growth parallel to summative outcomes. For example, if 90% of students are supposed to meet some outcome by the end of the year, report how students are growing towards that goal along with the number of students who meet the goal.
  2. Break down ambitious outcomes into manageable pieces. One way to do this is to think about how much growth different groups in your goal have to make. Arrange your data set in order and divide in half. Then divide those halves in half. Now you have four groups that your team can target more efficiently.

If your hunch is that you or your staff might be listening to their inner critic too closely, give me call and let’s talk through possible solutions. 

“Why am I tracking this?”

Teachers generally believe that team data meetings are a waste of time. School leaders typically believe that team data meetings are essential. (Gates Foundation, 2014).

The reason for this disconnect is that the data that school leaders want teachers to discuss often has little to do with what each individual teacher is working to accomplish in their classroom. If a district wants to measure how fast children can read fake words (a common assessment throughout the United States, if you can believe it), and teachers are interested in actual fluency and comprehension of text, we can’t blame teachers for their lack of enthusiasm in making instructional decisions based on word lists such as “kig,” “uz,” and “gix.”

Data matters when data connects–specifically, when data connects to the values that guide our work.

Suggestions for keeping data relevant:

  1. Replace team data meetings with individual data meetings. Right now, most PLC meetings are largely a waste of time. When teachers set their own achievable goals based on data that matters to them, they are more likely to plan instruction to help students meet their goals.
  2. Write your reasons. Whether the goal is shared or individual, each person working towards a data target should write down a) what they expect will happen when the goal is reached and b) what achieving the goal would mean to them and to those they serve. Having a vision for what happens when we achieve a goal and understanding what that goal means to us keeps data connected to our work.

One example of a data point that avoids inner critics and connects deeply and directly to each staff members purpose comes from Youth On Their Own’s Mini-mall. YOTO’s Mini-mall runs on donations from the community, and each donated food, clothing, or hygiene item is counted prior to entering the display area. Each youth visiting the Mini-mall knows they can take a certain number of donated items home, regardless of what the item is. The goal is for “items in” to equal “items out,” letting staff, board, and the community know that their donations support their intended clients. If the balance is too much one way or the other, the solution is clear: either get more stuff for youth, or get more stuff to youth. No critic needed, and the data connects directly to the day-to-day work of every staff member in the organization.

Building a healthier relationship with data begins when leaders acknowledge the presence of inner critics and work to keep data connected to the actual work. Call me or email me with your questions about data in your organization. I’m eager to help, and it’s always free to talk.

Support students with ADHD through play-based coaching.

On 4 December 2021, I’m hosting an online workshop called “Classroom-possible & evidence-based supports for children with ADHD.” Because students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are frequently misunderstood and often struggle in typical classroom environments, learning more about what ADHD is (and isn’t) as well as what kinds of classrooms, schools, and tasks are likely to be supportive for students with ADHD is a really good idea.

After reading dozens of articles on classroom-based interventions for students with ADHD, the strategies in the workshop are there because

  1. The ideas work.
  2. The effects are lasting.
  3. The strategies are feasible.

Of the four strategies, the one that I’m most excited about is play. Read more below or click here to schedule a call to learn more.

What happened:

  1. Researches invited a students with ADHD and friend without ADHD to come to a clinic and play. 
  2. When the kids did something that supported their interactions with peers, the adult in the room told them what they did and let them know it was good.
  3. When the kids did something unexpected or unhelpful, the adult in the room suggested a positive alternative.
  4. The adult in the room began by asking the children with ADHD to remember what they did last week that “made playtime fun.”
  5. Parents scheduled weekly playdates with kids and offered positive feedback on specific skills.

The result was a big decrease in unhelpful/unexpected behaviors so significant that parents noticed the difference well before the end of the study. Most importantly, even after the play sessions ended in the clinic, the effects seemed to last, even 18 months later. So, if you try something like this, and it works, you won’t have to keep at it forever. FYI, six sessions of 20 minutes a piece seem to be enough.

Options to make this classroom possible:

  1. Do exactly the same thing: If your school has an occupational therapist, play-based therapy is a tool that they already know well. 
  2. Do it, but just do it medium: When students work in partners, give space for mistakes and be available for feedback.
  3. If you have access to a paraprofessional, either train them to provide positive feedback during group work or have them supervise the larger group while the you provide the intervention.
  4. Recruit parents to help. Give parents a step-by-step guide to the skills you’re looking to develop. Even better, use this free K-12 website to download and print pre-made skills cards.
  5. Keep it small: The key to this intervention is let students with ADHD know when they do something right. Your school / classroom likely already has a system for positive feedback. Using that same system to support students with ADHD might be the easiest way to get started.

Playing and working with friends is a powerful strategy for students with ADHD. Combined with in-the-moment feedback and support from families, schools can create exceptional learning environments for all students while offering students with ADHD effective and respectful support.

To be clear, replicating the exact same conditions of any research study is impractical. What I encourage my clients to do is to take the key elements of what seems to work and think through ‘classroom possible’ ways to incorporate what is most promising and realistic for them. In this case, positive feedback, clear expectations, peer modeling, and specific instructions for parent support are the key components of success. Trying any of them is likely better than doing nothing, and may even prove to be easier and more effective than trying them all.

If your school is implementing some aspect of a play-based support that includes peers, please let me know how it’s working out! And, if you’d like help getting started, click the link below and we’ll schedule a call. There is no charge to chat, and it would be my pleasure to help if you’d like.

Click here to schedule a time to talk about classroom possible, evidence-based supports for students with ADHD.

Wilkes-Gillan, Sarah, Anita Bundy, Reinie Cordier, and Michelle Lincoln. “Evaluation of a pilot parent-delivered play-based intervention for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 68, no. 6 (2014): 700+. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed November 9, 2021). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A392070186/AONE?u=azpcld&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=d55b0711.

Classroom-possible, evidence-based supports for children with ADHD

By Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

I’ve co-presented on evidence based interventions for children with ADHD, twice to the American Academy of Family Practice Physicians and once at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Schools frequently ask me for suggestions and strategies to support children and youth with children with ADHD 

As an adult with ADHD and a parent of a school-age child with ADHD, I’m keenly aware of how most schools and workplaces—implicitly and explicitly—view ADHD as a deficit, rather than a different way of engaging. While I certainly work hard to make sure my ADHD is my problem, and not a problem for my colleagues and clients, I’ve often wondered how neurotypical educators might function in environments where they can

  • Take breaks when they need to
  • Pursue topics that interest them for as long as they want
  • Seek help to break down big tasks into smaller chunks
  • Receive direct, unambiguous communication about expectations
  • Have reasonable, yet flexible deadlines
  • Enjoy clear, consistent, and predictable daily routines and environments

One of the best choices I’ve ever made for my own mental health was to start a business where I can create my own ideal work conditions, since anyone who’s ever worked in a school knows that school is not always the best place for a child or an adult with ADHD to be their best. As much as most schools strive to support all students, to succeed, most students (and their teachers) must

  • Direct their attention on a task for as long as someone else needs them to
  • Pursue someone else’s topics, for as much or as little time as someone else wants
  • Figure out how to complete complex projects largely on their own
  • Decipher indirect, implicit communication about expectation
  • Fixed and arbitrary deadlines
  • Negotiate a wide range of learning environments throughout the day

Unsurprisingly, students without ADHD tend to manage better. 

One of the best researched and most effective interventions for ADHD is medication. However, medication is not an option for every child, and schools can’t require families to seek a diagnosis or a prescription. Since schools generally can’t control whether a family chooses medication as a treatment for ADHD, often the most effective, evidence-based supports for children with ADHD involve “classroom-possible” strategies that are good for all students, yet demonstrate the most benefit for students with ADHD:

  • Play-based skills coaching with peers
  • Recess at the beginning of the day, and ideally throughout instructional time
  • Positive reinforcement paired with clear, predictable expectations for behavior and classroom routines
  • Explicit training in organizational skills

The success of any of these strategies is whether or not they are feasible within the classroom environment.For example, few schools can schedule an occupational therapist trained in play-based interventions to coach students in pairs and then support at-home interventions with families. However, schools can replicate key elements of each strategy within the resources already available.

One way to get started is to read the articles cited below and implement what makes sense for your school, classroom, or youth-serving space. Another way is to join us for an online overview of how schools might do this in real life. Join us on Saturday, 4 December, 2021 from 9:00am to 10:30am (PT) for a 90 minute workshop on Evidence-Based Supports for Learners with ADHD. Workshop registration is $37.00 and includes access to slides, digital, and print materials post workshop.


 Wilkes-Gillan, Sarah, Anita Bundy, Reinie Cordier, and Michelle Lincoln. “Evaluation of a pilot parent-delivered play-based intervention for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 68, no. 6 (2014): 700+. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed November 9, 2021). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A392070186/AONE?u=azpcld&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=d55b0711.

Liang, Xiao, et al. “The impact of exercise interventions concerning executive functions of children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 18, no. 1, 22 May 2021, p. NA. Gale Academic OneFile, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A665438171/AONE?u=azpcld&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=66cb30cd. Accessed 9 Nov. 2021.

 Evans S, Owens J, Bunford N. Evidence-based psychosocial treatments for children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 2014;43(4):527-551 

No more triangles. No more tiers.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

One of my clients is building a system for supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement for the first time. Another is revising their approach to ensure that they are aware of their students’ social, emotional, and academic needs and has already created a system for supporting anything that might prevent student learning. Often, people call this “response to intervention” or “RTI.”

Also, they’re doing this with no triangles, and no tiers.

This is the beginning of a process that I expect to revise several times this year. However, the fundamentals seem to work. And, while the steps I’ve outlined below are meant for school- or district-level teams, individual teachers or people working in caring professions can likely use a similar process to organize resources and accelerate growth towards goals.

Step 1: Answer this question—At our school, what might students experience that affects their learning?

This first step is best done individually. Distribute sticky notes to each team member. On each post-it note, write one item that affects how students learn. Some items might accelerate learning (“Most parents of sophomores check for missing homework”) and others might prevent learning (“Low reading fluency beginning in second grade”).

This is the time to consider all variables that affect learning. Depending on your school’s unique context, the degree to which your team is aware of trauma, racism, how families might be differently resourced, and—most importantly—what your academic and discipline data reveal about your students all uncover opportunities to accelerate your students’ social, emotional, and academic achievement.

Step 2: Sort items from most common to least common.

Your team’s next step is to assess how prevalent each item is at your school. The best way to sort items is vertically from “most common” to “least common.” 

It may be that some item affect all students school-wide, while others affect smaller groups or individual learners. Note that all students—without exception—are important. We are not prioritizing based on numbers. Rather, by noting how common our students experience “poor grades due to missing work,” for example, we can better locate where the solution needs to live. Similarly, if we have a small group of students who would benefit from intensive math intervention, we can design a solution meant for them.

Step 3: Resort items from “supportive” to “disruptive.”

After your team has agreed on your “most common” to “least common” list, resort your items from “supportive” to “disruptive.” Make sure you keep your horizontal list in order. All that changes here is that items that are “supportive” slide to the left, and items that are more supportive than others slide further to the left. Similarly, items that are “disruptive”  slide to the right, with the item that most disrupts student learning sliding furthest to the right.

You’ll know you’ve done this step correctly if your “most common” to “least common” items stay in order and none of them have any items directly above or below.

Step 4: Circle all items that your school currently has the capacity to address.

What makes TGS Educational Consulting’s approach to RTI different than anything else I have encountered in practice, in research, or on the internet is that this approach expects and allows your team to be honest. For example, it might be true that your students need five more teachers, and it might also be true that hiring five more teachers is impossible. For now, hiring five more teachers will not be part of your work plan. 

Rather, focus your attention on what your team has the capacity to address. To assess capacity effectively, it may help to ask:

  • Do we have unused resources?
    • Interventionist with short rosters, under-referrals for counseling services, parent volunteers who could be trained as reading fluency coaches, paraprofessionals ready for new skills
  • How hard would it be to get new resources?
    • If there’s something we want to do, who in the room is able to make it happen? If that person isn’t in the room, who do we need to ask? 
  • What could we stop doing that might free up resources?
    • Hint: If you’re not sure what you could stop doing, your teachers probably know and want to tell you.
  • Which items are we truly excited and committed to address?
    • Truthfully, my most successful teams are the ones that set goals that matter to them. This might take some courage from the school leader if the team wants to pursue a goal that might not directly line up with some other strategic plan somewhere. However, teams that accomplish goals that matter to them generally choose goals that matter to students as well.
  • Which items are we simply unprepared to address?
    • If something is preventing students from learning, you’ll need to work on it at some point. However, giving yourself and your team permission to be honest about what you are not yet ready to address means that you can enthusiastically commit to working on items that you know you can change.

For most educators, 80% or more of their day is spent teaching students or running a school. Time available for new initiatives is much more limited than most people truly understand, including a few school leaders and central office administrators. For any approach to RTI to work, everyone involved must have the courage to be honest about what their team and their staff has the capacity to address.

Step 5: Pick one. Maybe two. Not three.

At this point, I typically recommend that teams lift the circled items off the chart paper, whiteboard, or Jamboard and look just at the items that their school currently has the capacity to address. While all of the items might be possible, addressing all of them at once typically isn’t. 

Serve your students better by focusing on one item until it’s done. If you must, pick two items. Three or more rarely get done in a year if attempted all at once.

Step 6: Break it down.

Beginning with your “most common” and “most disruptive” circled item, create a work breakdown structure. Stop when you realize that you are at 80% capacity. You’ll need the additional 20% to absorb individual student needs that will undoubtedly emerge as you get started.

A work breakdown structure is really just a list that breaks down each part of the project into small “packages” in the order that someone needs to do them. There are many ways to draft a work breakdown structure, and some of the most effective involve a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. What is important, however, is that your work breakdown structure include the following:

  • What you are doing?
  • For whom are you doing this?
  • How do you know who needs to participate?
    • What are their names?
    • What consistent and equitable data protocol led you to find them?
  • Who will do it and by when.
  • Why you are doing it.
  • How you will know when it’s getting better / fixed.

While it’s not always essential (or even possible) to have 100% of the plan completed before you get to work on your item(s), the more clarity you can have at the beginning, the more likely you are to be successful. 

Step 7: Work the plan. Work the plan. Work the plan.

The teams that achieve the most dramatic results are the teams that work their plan. Between one meeting and the next, everyone leaves knowing exactly what their role is in supporting their students’ social, emotional, and academic growth.

And, the teams that routinely feel deflated are those that leave meetings unsure of what they are supposed to do. Worse, sometimes staff leave professional development sessions confused or ill-equipped to do what they have been asked to do.

What helps mitigate resistance is making sure you’ve built a plan for supporting students that is based on what you know to be true for students at your site. Also, brainstorming and sorting goals based on how common and how disruptive they actually are supports your team by focusing effort on what matters most. Furthermore, committing only to what your team wants to do and has the capacity to achieve allows you and your team to continue your primary day-to-day tasks, only extending yourselves where you truly have time, energy, and resources to do so.

You’ll notice that there are no triangles or tiers in this plan.Triangles and tiers are not necessary, and are problematic from an equity and an achievement perspective. Instead, you’ve considered what you know to be true about your students, and developed a plan for your students based on what you are actually equipped to do. Especially now, when the work of teaching and learning is as complex as ever, focusing on what you actually can do and want to do is an outstanding opportunity to achieve excellence where you can.

Here is a graphic organizer of this process. Feel free to download.

While meeting the needs of our students has always been required, triangles and tiers are optional.

If you’d like to talk more about how this process looks in real life, click here and schedule a time to meet. It’s always free to talk.

Youth: The missing voice in Check-in, Check-out.

-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.

One of the problems with CICO is that it works. Students get frequent doses of positive, pre-corrective feedback throughout the day, and generally, incidents of unexpected behavior tend to go down dramatically for most students who participate. But, this likely happens for reasons we might not actually want, and may even prevent students’ long-term growth.

The idea in traditional CICO is that after 6-8 weeks of having external regulators (teachers and coaches) prompt students’ behavior, students will develop habits that don’t require prompting. But what if the opposite were true? What if the only reason student behavior improves is because we’ve provided frequent doses of external motivation, and never connect the goals we have for students to goals that they have for themselves?

Orange Grove Middle School is a school that I have worked with for three years to build Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS). They are a large middle school in Catalina Foothills Unified School District, and what I’ve always enjoyed about working with Orange Grove is that they are both systematic and responsive when designing supports for their students. Over the last two years, they’ve challenged me and their Tier 2/3 PBIS team to re-think traditional CICO in ways that centralize the voices most commonly missing on PBIS teams: the children and youth that we serve.

So far, the result looks like this:

  • Step 1: Students meet defined data-based entrance criteria. (Three office referrals in six weeks is a common threshold for CICO.)
  • Step 2: A trained coach meets with a student at the beginning of the day to pre-teach strategies to help students demonstrate school values and expectations.
  • Step 3: Teachers provide feedback and collect data on students’ success throughout the day.
  • Step 4: Students meet with their coach at the end of the day to review the day and plan for tomorrow.

This is a lot like traditional check-in check out, except that there’s one tiny little step in between Step 1 and Step 2.

  • Step 1.5: A trained coach meets with the student, explains the reason for the meeting, and says, “What do you think would help you get the most out of school?”

Step 1.5 changes everything about traditional CICO. In fact, Step 1.5 challenges the fundamentals of PBIS, at least as practiced in most schools. By asking youth for their perspective on their own data, coaches are now able to focus coaching conversations around what matters most to youth. Often, what matters most isn’t something that school adults anticipated when making expectations. For example, many schools assign students to CICO on the basis of referrals, but don’t spend much time considering what the referrals are for. Students receive generic feedback based on school expectations, and usually only get specific feedback if their coach notices a specific struggle area on their daily point card. (Personally, I have a hunch that the daily point card isn’t necessary, and I’d be eager for a school that has the same hunch to contact me so we can find out together, but that’s a different topic.)

Orange Grove takes the opposite approach. Each student participating in CICO develops a tiny, highly focused goal that addresses the reason they were referred to CICO in the first place. Coaches help students develop goals by asking students what they think would help them get the most out of school. Then, students come up with at least a dozen possible ideas. Together, coaches and students sort their ideas two times: First from “Most Helpful” to “Least Helpful,” and then from “Easiest” to “Most Difficult.” Usually, there are at least one or two ideas that are both relatively easy and helpful in terms of reaching their goal. This becomes the focus of CICO, ensuring that the coach’s role is to help students achieve success as defined by students themselves.

What Orange Grove Middle School has done to place their youth at the center of their behavioral supports is beautiful, and I would be thrilled to help you and your team to do the same. However, if you’ve already built a traditional CICO system, you still have many opportunities to tailor your coaching conversations to goals that matter to your students. Without changing anything about how CICO works, coaches could ask students what they hope to get out of the day and to think about one small action they could take to make it happen. Small and consistent actions build positive habits from the inside out, and as habits grow stronger, students don’t need us to explain the connection between effort and results. Rather, they see it for themselves.

If you’d like to talk more about what Orange Grove is doing, click here and schedule a time to meet. It’s always free to talk.

Self-care action plan

-by Tim Grivois, Ed.D.

I recently led a workshop on self-care for an amazing group of caring professionals from Youth on Their Own, YOTO. While feedback from the workshop was positive, participants did ask for more time to work with three specific activities that accompany the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Cards. Below are the activities and an explanation of how to use them. Feel free to use them for your own personal reflection, or as part of a whole-staff development.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness

This activity is another way of applying the sorting activity that’s already in the deck. Once you’ve had a chance to read the cards, the invitation is to think about which dimensions of wellness might be calling to you, and to shade in each dimension of wellness according to how strongly you’re hearing that call.

Dimensions of wellness might be “calling to you” if you know that this dimension needs your attention. Or, you might feel called towards a certain dimension because engaging that dimension sounds fun. Because self-care begins from the “inside-out,” there truly isn’t a right or wrong way to shade in your wheel. Ultimately, your wheel belongs to you, and you get to decide what the visual representation means. 

Generally, people use the wheel to select one or two dimensions to focus on first, and these tend to be the ones that are most shaded.

Pick One Card

The “Pick One Card” activity is a good one to do when you’re looking to generate ideas for self-care that you haven’t considered yet. The goal of this activity is to select a dimension of wellness that you’d like to focus on. From there, think of three small ways to engage that dimension of wellness, and one big way. Note that there is no need to commit to any idea, big or small. Rather, the goal is to note that you have options.

For example, I might choose financial wellness.

Three “Smalls”

  • Finish the video game I’m playing before buying another.
  • Pack my lunch tomorrow instead of eating out.
  • Add $5.00 to my credit card payment.

One “Big”

  • Set up (or add to) an automatic transfer to my retirement account.

If you plan on using this activity in a group, it’s important to note that everyone has a different idea of what might be ‘small’ or ‘big.’ The goal is to generate options that make sense to us individually.

Supporting Our Colleagues

This activity is meant for groups that work closely together. Often, when we notice that our colleagues are overwhelmed, we want to support them. Yet, sometimes it can be hard to explain to each other what support we need.

First, participants take a moment to consider what they would want their colleagues to do when feeling overwhelmed. Then, in small groups made of colleagues who work closely and frequently together, participants find out what they can do to support self-care at work.

“Supporting Our Colleagues” looks simple, and it is. However, I recommend making sure that you’ve established safety in the group and that you’ve made clear that what we are only sharing with our colleagues what we feel appropriate for our workplace.

We Grow in Inches, Then Feet.

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are highly interdependent. Most of my clients discover that when they or their team engages in one dimension—even in small ways—other dimension of wellness improve without much extra effort.

Use “We Grow in Inches, Then Feet” to imagine the positive changes you’ll experience when you’ve successfully attended to one dimension of wellness. By envisioning the positive outcomes in advance, you’ll activate your brain to notice them as they occur.

I hope that you’ll use these resources along with the Eight Dimensions of Wellness Deck to help yourself and your team to seek out opportunities for self-care that match what you know you need most. If you’d like to schedule a time to talk about more about this resource, click here. There is no charge to chat.