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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
“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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
Some people don’t need to purchase a book to explain why time blocking, (working on the same kind of task simultaneously) is helpful. But, I am an adult with ADHD, and I needed the book!
As a school principal and now as a consultant to school principals, my schedule is a paradox. While I can decide how I would like to spend my time in ways that I couldn’t as a classroom teacher, I also contend with frequent, urgent, and unpredictable interruptions that often change my plan for the day.
If I deal with tasks as they come, my work days look like “What Most People Do” on the graphic below. Most weeks, however, I spend an hour on Sunday evening making each day in my week look like the “Time Blocking” column. Working on similar tasks together tends to take far less time. And when the inevitable interruptions happen, returning to the same kind of work is much simpler than switching between many different kinds of tasks.
I have time-blocked every minute of my workweek except for half a day on Thursday and half a day on Friday. I use these time slots for all the stuff I thought I would do but couldn’t get done. Some people would consider that a kind of time-block too, but it just keeps my schedule flexible for when I need to push a grant to Friday instead of my normal writing time.
To start with time blocking, think about how you might change the categories in the graphic. What categories of work do you do? Does any category have an obvious time block you could schedule right now? Hint: If you already have a color-coded calendar, which colors could you bring together to create larger blocks for the same tasks?
Because time-blocking tends to streamline work dramatically, I often help leaders with time-blocking during Technical Assistance Time appointments. Give the strategy a try, and let me know what you think in the comments below!
Because time management is a crucial leadership skill, I read every productivity self-help book I can find. While each one has a unique perspective, I’ve noticed that all productivity systems amount to making two vital yet distinct types of lists: your Big List and your Small List.
Your Big List is every piece of work that belongs to you. For most people, their Big List is what I mean when I say “open-ended lists of tasks.” Because running a school involves managing more information than any human being can reliably store, having one place to record everything ensures nothing gets lost.
Big Lists are, well, big. For this reason, digital tools such as Google Tasks, Todoist, Asana, and Trello are often the best for Big Lists. I’ve used them all, and currently manage my work through Todoist. However, the best Big List tool is the one you’ll actually use. Try the free tools you probably can access through work, and email me if you’d like to know more about the others. If you prefer a physical Big List, consider a Bullet Journal or any large notebook.
I schedule time to manage my Big List in the morning and evening. Every time an email or something in my physical inbox requires my action, I record what I need to do in Todoist. Of course, if I can just do it now in five minutes or less, I just do it.
However, what makes your Big List useful (everything is on it) also makes it an obstacle to effective time management. Because your Big List will always be too big to complete in a day, using your Big List exclusively leads to exceptionally busy yet highly unproductive days. Avoid this by creating a Small List of only those three to five tasks that you are sure you can complete tomorrow.
While most leaders I work with already have a Big List, the Small List is often a new strategy. Avoid this by creating a small list of three to five tasks. A bite-sized focus sets you up for success, especially for school and nonprofit leaders who can expect to manage random interruptions in their day. When you commit to three to five Small List items, you have more time for everything else.
The best time to create my Small List is before I leave work for the day. I have “Do These Today” in the upper left corner of my whiteboard and space for no more than three to five items. Then, when I get to the office, I know exactly what I need to work on. This keeps me accountable to what I can get done, and usually leaves me with plenty of extra time to complete everything else competing for my time and attention.
Big List / Small List is essentially a way of collecting all the work and making daily decisions about what matters most. Give the strategy a try, and let me know how it’s working for you! And, as always, find a beautiful way to live your values out loud.
Productive teams always track their tasks during meetings. You’ll see the best teams review tasks at the start of the meeting, add tasks to their lists as they come up during meetings, and confirm that everyone knows which tasks are theirs at the end of meetings.
While I definitely prefer to work with team members who hold themselves accountable to get tasks done, I’m also in the business (literally) of making work easier for schools and nonprofits. One powerful way to prevent “list explosion” is to ensure that tasks never end up on the list in the first place. “Let’s do it now” is your power phrase for productivity.
Consider the following:
“I’ll email Antonio later today and ask when he’s free for the speech consult.” Let’s do it now.
“We still need to tell the district office which grade is going first for benchmark assessments.” Let’s do it now.
“I still haven’t called back the family who wanted to know about our dual language program. I’m seated by my phone and I have the message in front of me.” Let’s do it now.
Whether I’m leading a meeting or working in my office alone, anytime my team or I might be tempted to put a small, pressing, and required task off until later, I say, “Let’s do it now.” Taking a few seconds or even a few minutes to complete the job will prevent to-do lists from exploding and accelerate progress towards goals by ensuring that no one is waiting for a tiny task to get done.
If you or your team has a to-do list full of tiny tasks, try “Let’s do it now”! Especially for those (including me) who are prone to procrastination, just getting the thing done can be a tremendous relief!
If this is already part of your practice, or if you’re going to give this a try, drop a comment and let us know how this might work for you!
While professional development/professional learning is often the first reason why school districts or nonprofits reach out to me, we continue to work together because of how valuable our Technical Assistance Time (T.A.T. sessions) become.
A T.A.T. session is when you and I work to accomplish something we both know how to do. I serve as your Coach and Assistant: I’m Coach when I keep us on track and focused on achieving the work, and I’m Assistant when I ghostwrite newsletter content, make phone calls, or connect you with a new resource.
While having someone to help sounds excellent, the first question to answer is…
Couldn’t I do this by myself?
Yes, you could. You are absolutely capable of doing this by yourself. In fact, I can’t help you with your to-do list if you don’t know how to do the stuff on it. However, leaders who schedule T.A.T. sessions run into the following situations:
Task Paralysis: Often, leaders can feel overwhelmed and stressed to the point where they cannot get started on anything, even a tiny part of their job. When this happens, having a coach/assistant combination can help them get unstuck and moving again.
Drowning: School and nonprofit leaders always have more to do than can be done in a day. Add to this the random and urgent events that interrupt focused work time, and sometimes, the to-do list only gets bigger. Working with me for an hour can be as valuable as several hours alone.
Better things to do than…: You became a school leader to help children and youth learn and grow. If the work on your to-do list doesn’t align with your sense of purpose, working with me to get things done quickly can dramatically increase the time available to do what you actually want to do.
They are an adult with ADHD: People with ADHD (like me) make outstanding leaders and tend to work well in high-stress settings. However, we are notorious for craving structure but hating being told what to do. Having me work side-by-side with you as a professional body double can tremendously support leaders with ADHD, particularly with tedious but necessary projects.
When I work with schools on family engagement initiatives, I first ask, “What do you want families to do?” Yes, we want families to be involved. Of course, we want the adults who care for our students to be engaged. But what do we actually want them to do?
Do it now. Imagine that every family were perfectly engaged and involved in their student’s education. Write down a list of five things that they’d do.
Once schools develop a good sense of how they would like families to engage their school, the next step is to consider why families might not already be doing this. Usually, it’s because no one communicates to families what they’d like them to do. Or, it might be that families have work schedules that prevent them from being present when schools want them to show up. Being honest about the barriers between school and home is a vital step in addressing obstacles to meaningful family engagement.
Do it now. For every action you wish families would do to be engaged and involved in their student’s education, write down why this might be hard for some families.
Now that we’ve examined what meaningful engagement looks like and what obstacles our families might experience, we need to meet our families where they are…literally. Until schools stop expecting families to overcome obvious barriers to engagement, families will understandably wonder if their involvement is genuinely welcome.
So, if no one comes to the PTA meeting because it’s at 5:30 on a Thursday when most families are making dinner and getting homework done, maybe it’s time to deconstruct and re-construct what the PTA is for and have healthier expectations about family participation. Perhaps it’s time to make family engagement less about attendance at events and more about going through the backpack daily and ensuring their students turn in assignments. Finally, instead of feeling frustrated that the parent who works multiple jobs never seems available to meet during the school day, perhaps we express gratitude that they’re working hard, paying the rent, and keeping a stable home for their child.
While every school culture and context is different, any family engagement initiative must include:
Clear, frequent communication about exactly how we’d like families to be involved.
An honest assessment of the barriers between family and school.
Concrete action to reduce or remove barriers so that genuine invitation and welcome can come through.
Meet your families where they are….literally. Expect, accept, and celebrate that different families have different capacities to be involved. And most importantly, do something concrete today to welcome all families-without exception-to participate at the level that they can.
Leaders, step onto your platform, and step into your power. Come to my workshop on Sharing your Story on Social Media: Tools and Tips. It’s Wednesday, September 6, 3:30-5:00 Pacific/Arizona time, and it costs $5.00 per participant.
Why $5? Because I don’t really want to charge money, but I do want you to remember to come. And, that way, when you do click on the link and join the Zoom, you’ll know that you’ll be with a group of committed educators and school leaders ready to share their school’s or district’s story and take charge of their own narrative!
You’ll leave equipped to build a content calendar that suits you. Also, you’ll develop content to post, and create a strategy for making storytelling through social media part of our leadership practice.
We are looking forward to seeing you! Sign up here, and as always, may you find many beautiful opportunities to live your values out loud!
I work with numerous school leaders and leaders of nonprofits, and I’ve interviewed dozens of superintendents and principals for the YouTube channel. While every leader is unique, I’ve noticed that they all seem to have the same strong coaching skills that I encourage in the leaders I work with.
Characteristics of a coaching leadership style:
While good leaders employ a variety of styles to suit their context, a coaching leadership style tends to fit many work environments because coaches will
Provide feedback while watching their team do their work. Coaches don’t wait until after the task is over to provide feedback.
Describe success criteria clearly. What does ‘done well’ look like? Effective coaches can finish this sentence: “You’ll know it’s good when…”
Communicate their belief that their team can meet and exceed expectations.
Use effective questions to help team members discover their own solutions.
Coaching-style leaders have a knack for taming confusion and creating a culture of clarity. It’s evident because it’s true: people tend to do their best when they know how to do it.
Pros and Cons of Coaching Leadership
The advantage of coaching leadership is that the workplace tends to be solution-oriented and positive. People have good relationships with their leaders and with each other. Best of all, clarity and communication are shared values.
Coaching leadership can go wrong when leaders forget to learn from their team and don’t seek feedback from those doing the work. It’s easy to assume that we’re coaching people to do the ‘right’ thing in the ‘best’ way just because of our position.
How does coaching leadership differ from other styles of leadership?
When someone asks you what to do, ask “What would you like to do?” Helping your team take ownership of solutions is a hallmark of effective coaching leaders.
Provide feedback in the moment. When you hear an employee handle a phone call well, tell them immediately. Tell them that they did well and what precisely you heard that was exceptional. The time for feedback is right now, not at the end of the week debriefing.
Be visible. It’s impossible to coach after the fact. Good coaching happens in real-time, which means making time to be present for the work your team is doing.
Coaching leadership is especially effective when implementing a strategy requiring specific classroom or workplace actions. Particularly for new curricula, social and emotional learning initiatives, or schools new to Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), coaching leaders tend to have the easiest time navigating change.
Are you a coaching leader? Is your leader an effective coach? Let’s have our own coaching conversation in the comments!
I was doom-scrolling through LinkedIn (I know. I am really interested in what educators are doing!), and I came across a checklist for family engagement that Dr. Julia Carlson created and gave away to colleagues. The checklist is a promise her school made to families regarding what they could expect the school to do for their students so long as families did their part to “show up” at school. “Show up” means something different for Dr. Carlson, so I encourage you to watch the full video.
As I reflect on our conversation, here are three main points I want to share with school leaders, special educators, classroom teachers, and all caring professionals who depend on family partnerships to achieve good outcomes for those they serve.
Don’t do too much.
Strategic plans for schools and nonprofits often contain dozens of goals. These goals could range from Positive Behavior Interventions and Support, Social and Emotional Learning, curriculum, staff wellness, budget, and everything else imaginable. Whether your school’s plan is a promise or a work of fiction depends on whether 1) the leader in charge wants to do it and 2) resources exist to accomplish the work.
I rarely encounter leaders who are unwilling to set bold goals and work on them. The biggest problem I see when working with schools on action planning is that most leaders need to pay more attention to how much work is involved in making things happen. Hint: It’s usually much more work than most of us anticipate. Dr. Carlson recommends that leaders focus on two or three achievable goals a year, plan backward from them, and make time in their calendars daily to work on a narrow list.
Make it tiny.
Dr. Carlson understood that her school needed to increase student attendance before any other social, emotional, or academic goal was possible. To do this, she and her team decided to visit students who weren’t attending school and ask families how they could help.
However, Dr. Carlson’s team understood that families have many good reasons not to answer the door when a stranger knocks. They may be busy, not even home, or unwilling to open the door to a stranger who knocks in the middle of the day. To make sure that their visits were still helpful to families, anytime they knocked on a door and no one answered, they left a door hanger on the knob which had the names of the people visiting, what they wanted to talk about, and a direct line to whoever could help at the school. Instantly, families reengaged and reconnected, even if they didn’t answer the door when the team visited.
Small touches like door hangers can dramatically reduce barriers between our schools and those we serve.
Do it every day.
We can’t call something a priority if we’re not working on it daily. Our calendars tell the true story of what is actually the heart of our work. If family engagement (or any other goal) is a priority, then time to work on it needs to be built into our day. Our calendar is a powerful tool. We may only need 20-30 minutes (or even less), so whatever you’d like to see, think of an action verb that you can incorporate into your daily routine that will make your vision concrete. Then do it.
Let’s share some concrete support for each other. In the comments, let us know what you’re working on and doing daily to better serve your school or nonprofit space!
Step one of PBIS is to establish a PBIS matrix. Sometimes, schools establish values for their PBIS matrix without considering what is essential to be a successful learner and a good human being. Instead, I’ve seen teams select values just because they fit an acronym that matches their school mascot. I love a branded PBIS matrix. My favorites have school colors, logos, and mascots all over them! Not my favorite—acronyms. Here are two reasons to avoid acronyms when creating a PBIS Matrix:
1. Acronyms can lead to a weird PBIS matrix.
When schools fit values to acronyms, the word they want to create becomes more important than the values they’d like to see lived out loud. I would never recommend centralizing an expectation simply because the school needed a vowel for some word they like. Instead, start your brainstorming by asking, “What values are essential to be a successful learner and a good human being?”Then, you can create word families of similar kinds of values. This makes selecting 3-5 over-arching expectations much simpler.
It’s possible that you end up with 3-5 words that fit an acronym, and if you do, that’s great! However, what matters more is that you create a list that matches what you want to see your school community live out loud.
2. You don’t need an acronym anyway.
We use acronyms to remember information that would be hard to remember. When schools implement PBIS, the values are everywhere: posters, matrices, and PBIS tickets, for example. You’ll hear values every day as staff recognize positive behavior and also when they correct unexpected behavior. Twice a year (at least), your entire school will learn to live your values out loud in every setting area. PBIS schools teach, reinforce, and assess their values constantly.
Give your students some credit. Students memorize 26 alphabet letters in the littlest grades—they can learn a list of 3-5 words.
What if you already have an acronym…?
Sometimes, PBIS teams inherit a matrix with an acronym. If the values work, it may be easier to leave it alone. However, I recommend schools look at their matrix every 5-7 years. Students, staff, families, and leadership can change tremendously in that time. Values may have shifted, too.
When your team is ready to take a second look at your existing matrix, focus on values necessary for learning and participating in the community effectively. Email me if you’d like to discuss this process more!
Or, check out this resource from the Center on PBIS on how to create a matrix: Click here.
As always, find a beautiful way to live your values out loud today!
Once you’ve built the basic infrastructure for school-wide PBIS, your team stops focusing on posters and starts focusing on whole-school problem-solving. And, your data is the best place to start.
Before your Tier 1 PBIS meeting, your data analyst should prepare the monthly Data Drill Down. The Data Drill Down summarizes last month’s behavior data into the most critical problem. While some PBIS teams do the Data Drill down together, completing the worksheet and developing the precision problem statement before the meeting saves time and allows the team to focus on solution components.
Use your data to answer “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and most importantly, “why?” Having a data-based answer to these questions allows for effective solutions. An example is below:
Data Drill Down
Facts from Data
Sophomores and Juniors
Minor Physical Contact
Passing periods, especially before and after lunch
Obtain peer connection
Precision Problem Statement
Sophomores and juniors engage in minor physical contact during passing periods, especially before and after lunch in the hallways in order to obtain peer connection.
This is an example data-drill down worksheet.
Often, though, PBIS meetings stop at the data. While meeting about behavior data is great, unless the team develops and implements solutions, all they did was have a good talk.
Solution components describe what adults will do to address the problem, and the best solutions are effective (it works) and realistic (we can do it). When teams commit to solution components that are too hard to implement, they usually discover that no one does anything. This wastes time. Instead, focus on smaller, “classroom-possible” actions that the team knows they can support.
An example Solution Component worksheet is below:
An action school adults take that makes the unexpected behavior unlikely to occur.
Admin and non-classroom staff provide extra supervision along hallways before and after sophomore and junior lunch.
An instructional activity we use to equip students to live school values out loud.
Classroom teachers to reteach Hallway PBIS Lesson plan to Sophomores and Juniors during homeroom class.
How we plan to recognize students with positive feedback when we see them living school values out loud.
Admin and non-classroom staff to recognize students for being safe by keeping hands the themselves: 10 tickets per passing period per day.
What school adults will do to correct behavior after seeing unexpected behavior
Say: “Your hands were on another student’s body, and the expectation is to keep them to yourself. Would you like me to explain why we keep hands to ourselves, or are we good here?” If behavior continues, note on referral form and follow discipline flowchart.
While all solution components are helpful, I often recommend that teams only use one or two, especially if they’re concerned about over-committing.
If your school uses SWIS to track discipline data, your SWIS facilitator trained someone at some point how to do this in 20 minutes or less. If you don’t have a SWIS facilitator or use something other than SWIS, call me, and I’ll show you how to do this with whatever data system you use.