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By Megan Alexander, Instructional Coach and Prinicpal Endorsement Program student
I have been listening. Observing. Taking notes. Noticing patterns.
For the last three years, I have served as a school leadership coach, trained via NYC Leadership Academy protocols. It has been my privilege to come alongside fifteen principals in ten different buildings on behalf of the Administrative Support Program through School Administrators of Iowa. In these schools, I have been listening, observing, taking notes, noticing patterns.
Concurrently, as an instructor of the “Teacher as Leader” graduate course and director of the Master of Education program at Northwestern College, I have engaged in discourse with teachers and principals from all of the country, hearing about what practices support and what practices thwart effectiveness in K-12 educational systems.
Here in Iowa, this kind of constructive discourse has ramped up since the Iowa Legislature passed the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, now in its fifth year of operation. Its primary focus was to provide a system of distributive leadership that empowered teacher leaders to provide instructional leadership to peers in their respective buildings. The subsequent conversations about instruction and learning have been some of the most robust experiences that I have observed over a 37-year career as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
Visiting schools during this time of shared leadership between administrators and instructional coaches, I have witnessed different attitudes toward change. We educators realize that change must happen: to stay the same is to fall behind. I have observed school cultures that promote transformative teaching and learning, and other school environments that erect barriers that impede systemic change.
Over time, I have noticed nine notable practices that make a compelling difference in creating an effective K-12 distributive leadership system.
Click on each practice for an expanded explanation provided by Instructional Coach Megan Alexander, Boyden-Hull Community Schools, and currently a student in the Principal Endorsement program.
All staff should have the opportunity to be involved and be heard so that there can be collective agreement on a shared vision.
Having a shared vision and teaching for learning is at the forefront of important principles that should guide a school and all of its operations. What do we, as a collective group, want teaching and learning to look like? The following eight notable practices as described in this blog cannot be set in place within a school without first establishing the vision for what the school community believes to be the overall vision for what the culture and efforts within the organization should be.
The most crucial element of a shared vision for teaching and learning is the buy-in that all staff and administration have in regard to the vision. Administration and leadership must buy-in, because they will be the driving force in developing the school culture that cultivates efforts in working toward the shared vision of the school. However, possibly even more critical is the buy-in of the teachers. Teachers are the ones making the day-in, day-out decisions about students. If a shared vision has been established and collectively agreed upon, the leadership within a school can trust that teachers are consistently making decisions that align with that ideal without having to micromanage.
Leadership should deliberately seek input from all staff affected by decisions or potential change.
People feel valued and respected when they believe their leaders desire to hear their ideas and input and understand their points of view. Too often, decisions are made in a school by the administrators and school leaders who think they know what teachers think, feel and need, but actually may not have a clear understanding of what’s truly happening within the walls of each classroom. As a whole, good leadership has been shown to improve teacher motivation as well as positivity in the work setting (Five Key Principles, n.d.), so what does “good leadership” really look like? Research would argue that one huge emphasis in establishing a positive school climate in which teachers collectively work toward student achievement is the need for opportunities for meaningful collaboration. Providing teachers the opportunities to work together purposefully and communicating that their collaborative work is powerful and necessary in moving toward the shared vision for teaching and learning increases professional engagement and creates an overall more positive work environment and successful school system.
Professional principles should consistently guide how team members treat each other.
Moving toward the vision Needs to be consistent growth—how? By setting up systems and systems by which the school, learning, and activity within the school is being consistently evaluated and improved. This task is much too great for one person or even one team to take on, and the insights and expertise each staff member are too valuable to dismiss. The collective efforts of the entire staff through distribute leadership are necessary, and teachers must play an active role in helping move toward the school’s vision for teaching and learning. Districts and buildings must ensure that a systematic approach to involving and engaging all staff members and the work to be done and the initiatives to be taken. Some examples of effective norms (Carter, 2018), as further discussed in the eighth notable practice, “Productive Professional Learning Communities,” but that also may be appropriate for committee work include:
- We will have an agenda purpose for each meeting.
- We will avoid side conversations, they are distracting and disrespectful to the speaker.
- We will limit discussions that will monopolize time.
- We will start and end on time (time keeper).
- We will treat members with honesty and trust.
- Our goal is to help each other.
- We will practice confidentiality.
Whether a district uses APL, NIET, Marzano’s or Danielson’s framework, common vocabulary and assessment expectations are essential.
Preparing our students for the jobs and challenges they will face post graduation continually grows as a challenge faced by those in the education field. As this difficulty elevates, the vitality of high-quality teaching and the complexity of what it means to truly enact it. These obligations and challenges place teachers under an enormous amount of pressure, and teachers are faced with needing to decide where and how to move forward in making changes toward improvement.
Just as teachers within a school need a common, unified, and focused goal in a school’s vision for teaching and learning, they also need a specific and common framework of criteria on which to focus their efforts of improving instructional practice. This can be accomplished through a school’s adoption of a common framework of instruction.
An instructional framework can be described as a collectively shared understanding of instructional responsibilities and what it looks like to implement those in the classroom. Frameworks provide a systematic approach to unifying teachers and administration under one set of criteria that have been identified as responsibilities critical to the teaching profession. These systems typically aim also to provide feedback to educators across multiple domains and multiple criteria components within each domain by outlining specific expectations and definitions of measurement toward mastering those expectations.
Under a common framework, teachers know exactly what is expected of them, and administrators have an organized system for evaluating teachers and communicating feedback as to areas of strength and areas of potential growth. The specific organization of domains and criteria addressed depends on the individual framework, or combination of frameworks, adopted by a school or district, but consistency is seen across most widely used frameworks to encompass domains of instruction, planning, environment, and professionalism (A new instructional framework for Iowa, 2019).
Establishing rhythms of nonevaluative feedback leads to partnership, growth, and unified practice.
In the last decade, instructional coaching has sparked interest in schools for many reason including an increasing recognition that “teacher quality is a critical factor in student success” (Knight, 2012, p. 94). Instructional coaching offers a strong alternative to traditional professional development models and thus has increasing advocation in the field. Not only has a partnership instructional coaching model been found to increase implementation in comparison to traditional professional development methods, it has also shown to be more effective for communicating desired content, engaging staff, and setting expectations for future implementation (Campbell & Stanley, 1963).
A unified school vision for teaching (notable practice 1) and learning and a well-defined framework for learning (notable practice 4) provide the foundation from which schools and districts can build in developing specific teaching practices. This common vision and collective goal allows for successful coaching cycles, narrowing down the emphasis with which skills and practices the building collectively agrees to be worthy of investing in learning. Coaches do not encourage random, haphazard, self-determined best practice, but instead hone in on those practices established in the school’s common framework for learning. Districts and schools should invest in providing training opportunities for instructional coaches and teacher leaders so that they can have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the teaching practices outlined in the common framework for learning.
Developing these skills across grade levels and content areas creates cohesiveness in the school and results in students experiencing skills of the common framework and best practice throughout their entire experience at the school. Students know what to expect when these practices are put into place, and teachers benefit from prior student exposure.
These roles are then communicated to all staff numerous times throughout the school year.
Without defining teacher leadership roles, many districts’ teacher leadership programs are floundering. To implement truly effective instructional coaching and teacher leadership programming, teachers and staff need to know what to expect from their instructional coaches and what accountability and support they will receive from them. Similarly, coaches need to have their expectations clearly outlined to ensure they are meeting the needs of the district’s students and teachers as well as meeting the expectations of their administrators. It is critical that all stakeholders of the teacher leadership and coaching programs are on the same page.
Defining the coaching cycles as discussed in the fifth notable practice and tying those responsibilities into the school vision helps establish a foundation from which teachers and coaches can begin to work toward a common goal. Moore Johnson and Donaldson (2007) suggest that teacher leadership programs are suggestively more viable if roles have well-defined qualifications, responsibilities, and selection processes.Below is an example from Opportunity Culture’s Defining Teacher-Leader Roles (n.d.) as to what these role definitions might look like. Be sure to address all needs within these roles and take into consideration which responsibilities and roles should be distributed to teachers in a classroom and which roles would need to be met by someone whose schedule is exclusively for those responsibilities.
The principal holds all employees accountable for participation, collaboration, and productivity, but she or he does not micromanage.
There is no doubt that principalship entails a great deal of difficulty and responsibility. Besides classroom teachers, principals are the most important members of the school team. They can’t always be in each and every classroom, but they need to be present and aware, checking in often and providing meaningful feedback. They need to be aware so that they can make informed decisions in the best interest of their schools and the students in them. The reality is, however, this ideal is becoming intensively more difficult to enact under the increasing responsibilities falling at the feet of today’s principals. Between addressing staff concerns, the paperwork that is now required for state and federal documentation, making both short-term and long-term decisions, hearing requests, handling complaints, and engaging with students who demonstrate behaviors, the ever-growing and surmounting responsibilities and situations that demand the attention of principals can easily become unmanageable.
Principals are no longer able to take on the weight of responsibility by themselves. In all realms of business and life, it has become critical for leaders to develop a skill for encouraging leadership across the organization. Micromanagement is not effective, and schools are no exception to this reality (Five Key Responsibilities, n.d.). Delegation and developing shared leadership are now skills that are entirely necessary for the success of a principal and his or her school.
PLCs should focus on four questions: What do we expect our students to learn? How will we know they are learning? How will we respond when they don't learn? How will we respond if they already know it?
The foundation for Professional Learning Communities is again tied back to the school’s shared vision for teaching and learning. If it is desired school to be moving toward the vision, how will it get there? The impact Professional Learning Communities can contribute to a school’s development is incredible, but to do so the structure of a PLC must be organized and structured with all organization members clearly understanding the expectations and purpose for each PLC meeting. Joe Carter, a principal in Emmetsburg, Iowa, outlines three Big Ideas for PLC meetings that are nonnegotiable as the focus for every single PLC meeting in his building. These three Big Ideas that drive PLC work are: “Focus on Learning,” “A Collaborative Culture,” and “A Focus on Results” (Carter, 2018). By emphasizing these three Big Ideas for his team’s PLC work, Principal Carter has set the framework for expectations that should guide and drive every PLC meeting. In addition to the Big Ideas identified by Principal Carter, there are several other elements of a PLC that are non-negotiable:
- Centered upon the 4 Corollary Questions: What is it we want our students to learn? How will we know if each student las learned it? How will we respond when some students don’t learn it? & How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency? These four questions are the backbones of PLC work. Investigating and experimenting to find answers to these questions are the reason PLCs exist. Each and every PLC meeting must address and focus on these four questions in regards to different skills that students are expected to learn.
- Norms: Norms are the rules and expectations for PLCs as developed by each individual team. Norms help teachers stay on track and allow one another to hold each other accountable for the ideals they’ve established for their work together.
- Agenda: Each meeting should follow a consistent agenda, which can be established by the team or the building leadership.
When teachers believe that it is within their power to improve student learning, they will expect great things of themselves, and student achievement will rise
The previous eight notable practices play together to increase student achievement by creating intentional, consistent, and purpose-driven schools full of growing and improving teachers through administrative direction and support. Research by John Hattie, however, would suggest that none of these factors in and of themselves will have the greatest impact on student learning. Instead, that power lies solely in collective efficacy, the belief shared collectively by teachers that they “can positively influence student learning over and above other factors” to “make an educational difference in the lives of students” (Donohoo & Katsz, 2017, p. 21).
Collective efficacy describes the shared belief of teachers and other educators that they, as a unit, can “organize and execute the courses of action required to have a positive effect on students” (Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004, p. 4) to a greater extent than students can be influenced by other, outside factors including home life and community experiences. In making efforts toward increasing student achievement and working to achieve the school’s shared vision for teaching and learning, fostering such a powerful tool as collective efficacy is a dire investment for principals, administrators, and other school leaders. If teachers and administrators desire to make an impact, they first must believe that they, as an educational unit, have the power to do just that.
Teachers’ impressions of their ability to impact student learning are greatly impacted by the connections they have made to previous experiences in regard to the efforts they’ve made and student achievement. By intentionally affording professional learning opportunities that allow and encourage teachers to make these connections between their collective actions and resulting student achievement helps develop the belief that the prior is causal to the latter. By bringing to attention these times of exemplifying efficacy, teachers are able to see evidence of these efforts having a meaningful impact on student success. Practicing making collaborative efforts to impact student learning and engaging in professional learning opportunities that teach these skills can serve as a starting point in beginning to make these connections.
Does this list match the notable practices you have observed in effective school leadership? I invite you to challenge and add to my observations. What areas do you see as crucial in the K-12 school framework? How can educational leaders provide the necessary vision for K-12 schools to follow?
Download the Notable Practices white paper
By Megan Alexander, Instructional Coach and Principal Endorsement Program student
About the Author
Gary Richardson is currently the director of Northwestern College's Master of Education program and an instructor in the Master of Education in Educational Administration program. He has worked in education for over 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. He is also a school leadership coach for the Administrative Support Program through School Administrators of Iowa. He is passionate about training teachers leaders and administrators. Learn more about the Principal Endorsement program.
Your first year of teaching will be an exciting and maybe a little frightening experience. There will be many challenges and rewards as you build impactful relationships with your students. To help prepare for this adventure, below are a few suggestions from a long-time educator:
- Get to know as much about your students as you can, especially early in the school year or semester. For many students, it’s not how much you know academically as their teacher but rather how much you care about them as individuals that matters most.
For elementary students, if possible plan home visits before school begins. If you can't do this, read all of the records you have on each student. Make your room a fun and inviting place perhaps with interactive bulletin boards.
- For secondary students, I would suggest that you have them complete a brief form in which they identify these interests. I encourage you to develop a small card for each student and make notes of these interests for periodical reference. You may even want to consider having them write a short biographic sketch in which you may uncover things about their family. Hopefully, you will also be able to attend some of the outside activities of your students and then find an appropriate time to verbally recognize their efforts or write them a brief positive note.
I taught a course at NWC for 35 years which consisted primarily of first year students (Foundations of Education). I had them complete a short three-by-five inch card during the opening class period identifying their interests. I then converted much of this information on a class list which I would try to review before each class period. I also had them write an early semester biographic sketch (about 500 words) which usually uncovered additional information about them. I kept copies of these sketches, and I still periodically refer to a number of these papers in my retried years.
- You also need to get to know the other staff members. Make friends with the secretary and custodian, they will be important people in your life.
- Your college courses have undoubtedly armed you with several methods of discipline. Make one of them or a combination of them your own. If it doesn't work, regroup until you find what needs adjustments. Avoid demeaning students in front of their peers. If a student is misbehaving or being disrespectful with other students, it would be best to address the situation privately.
- Though it may be tempting to dominate the learning process, remember God gave us two ears and only one mouth. The skill of listening is one many of us need to develop more. You may find you'll learn a lot through this process.
The teaching profession certainly lends itself to being a servant. Many students have indicated that it was a teacher who made the most significant impact on their life.
That person could be you!
Dr. Ron Juffer rarely forgets a face, name, hometown, or other details that enable him to warmly greet nearly every student he ever had—even years after graduation. He taught in the Education Department for 35 years and continues to volunteer and mentor future educators in his retirement.
With over 25 years of experience in early childhood/early childhood special education and currently a full-time Head Start Pre-K teacher and curriculum director, Michelle decided to add one more thing to her busy schedule – an early childhood bachelor's degree online. She started learning far more than she could have imagined!
- It’s never too late to pursue your dreams and goals! I have always wanted to take the plunge into continuing my education, but it was never a good time in my life to start. With a busy lifestyle and family life, not to mention a full-time teaching job, I couldn’t imagine fitting one more thing into my schedule! Until I found out I can take it all online at Northwestern with help by a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood ® Iowa Scholarship. They want to pay me to go back to school so that I can pursue my dream? NOW is the time!
- It’s a balancing act
This is a fact. Going back to school has helped me become more organized and more efficient with my time. I can now watch my daughters play travel softball in another state while writing lesson plans, talking with a preschool parent, and writing a college paper about being a resilient educator. Finding out how to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others is an important first step in this process. I schedule out time for everything and learn to plan and prep. There will be times where you feel a little overwhelmed or second guess yourself for taking “the plunge” into adult learning but keep your goals in mind and find time to relax.
- You are making a difference!
Setting a strong foundation for children in early childhood is something I have a passion for. This role comes with much responsibility and is a very rewarding and challenging role. I like to know that I am going back to college to help myself be the best I can be for my students, their families, and my colleagues. In my classroom, I feel confident and happy now that I have the tools to become more intentional in my teaching. It also shows in the excitement of my students and their motivation for learning.
- Live to inspire & lead
I receive amazing support from my Northwestern advisor, T.E.A.C.H. advisor, instructors, and peers. We learn from each other and give each other the guidance it takes to become successful in our careers and college classes. Since taking classes I feel that I have learned to become a good leader and colleague. I have accepted a Curriculum Director position at my school along with my teaching job and love to help my colleagues achieve their goals in their classrooms.
- Progress & growth
I feel that everything I am learning in my classes is helping not only my classroom and teachings but my school and team of colleagues. I love to see quality care and teaching happening all around me. Knowing that you are part of a much bigger picture brings me satisfaction in all that I work hard for.
Michelle Koenighain is a wife and mother of two children, two dogs, and a cat. She is the Head Start Pre-K teacher and curriculum director with the Wlliamsburg (IA) Community Child Care Center-Head Start. She has a passion for teaching young children and building a good foundation for a lifetime of learning. Michelle is currently earning her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood online with Northwestern College. Learn more about the B.A. Early Childhood online program.
Teaching online in this program offers me an opportunity to give back to my profession. I hope to mentor and encourage others to do this special work that we are called by God to do.
In 2016 I retired from my position as the Director of Patient Care at Floyd Valley Healthcare. During this time I was responsible for managing and directing the nursing departments of medical-surgical, surgery, oncology, Obstetrics, emergency, education and clinical quality. In addition, I provided oversight to community health, cardio-pulmonary and the laboratory departments and served as a member of our Senior Management Team. After 23 years as the director, I knew I could not simply stop working for and with nurses! Teaching the next generation of nursing professionals was a natural fit.
My healthcare career started as a lab technologist and then moved to nursing and then patient care management. I changed my focus from lab tech to nursing following about 3 years as a stay-at-home mom. I liked working with patients so I decided to return to college for my BSN and attended as a non-traditional student. Married with 3 small children, I commuted daily to Sioux City. It was a crazy time but went by quickly! I later went on to complete my master’s degree as well.
During my career, I worked in a variety of healthcare settings. After 10 years in the lab field at a small rural hospital in Canton, SD, I began my nursing career at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD. as a staff nurse and later as an in-house nursing supervisor. I also worked as a staff nurse and a Nursing Director in a long-term Care Center. I have a passion for rural healthcare, as well as family and community issues.
During my varied career, there have been many changes due to technology. Technology impacts how we do many things including charting and medicine administration. The Electronic Medical Record allows real-time charting and sharing of information that is important in a fast-paced healthcare environment. Many surgical procedures are now done in an Outpatient setting rather than an extended hospital stay. The pace of care is very rapid and many patients are observed overnight and discharged the next day. It has been very exciting to watch and be a part of the changes.
You can never replace that human touch. We need nurses available to offer compassion, to listen and help people when there is a need.
It is rewarding to see that one thing has not changed, patients still need people who are willing to assist them, assess and help them through some difficult times in their lives. You can never replace that human touch. We need nurses available to offer compassion, to listen and help people when there is a need. Whether the need is physical, mental or emotional, nurses provide that and it is a wonderful work.
Teaching online in this program offers me an opportunity to give back to my profession. I was blessed with many wonderful professors along my journey. I have also worked with compassionate and caring people in my profession that are still my friends today, and together we share the bond of caregiving. I hope to mentor and encourage others to do this special work that we are called by God to do.
Twas my first year of teaching, and all of my interest
Was on creating a classroom straight out of Pinterest!
My lessons were written, my files were in order,
Name tags created, and bulletin boards had border.
When what to my eager, excited eyes should appear?
But a room full of children… I had nothing to fear!
Yet as I studied each one and looked at each face,
I suddenly worried… “Am I in the wrong place?”
They weren’t what I’d pictured, nor what I had planned.
Some were naughty, and sassy, and had dirt on their hands.
I looked up with fret, and cried, “Lord, help me, please!
How can I teach and love ones, such as these?”
Then gently He whispered, “Child, here’s what you do…
Give them grace, love, and mercy, just as I’ve done for you.”
Each year, we teachers enter a familiar classroom and greet unfamiliar faces as we welcome in a new batch of learners. But what happens when those new students don’t measure up to our expectations, don’t match our preferences, and present us with challenges we weren’t prepared for in college?! As I reflect on my past first days of school, would you allow me to offer you some tips for “loving the students you are stuck with” this year?
- Words --- There is power in words! As the teacher, my words set the tone for the day --- I can choose positive or negative words --- I can choose words that build up or tear down --- My words can be many or few and they can bring hope or defeat. As the leader of our classroom ( or our business or family), we need to choose our words carefully.
- Needs/Concerns --- Regardless of how much time we have spent planning our lessons, our students may not care what we know. Their immediate needs are not academic --- they need to feel safe, loved, accepted and they need to know that we are for them, not against them.
- Respond/React --- When medicine works, your doctor says your body is responding --- when it doesn’t work, your doctor says your body is reacting. Our attitude toward our students is the same --- are we responding or reacting?
- Your presence --- Your students need you to show up every day. Even difficult coworkers need to know that you are committed to them and to the goal/mission.
- Forgive – Our students need to know that when they do something wrong, they are going to be held accountable, but they will also be forgiven. They don’t need a lecture each time, they need to know there is grace and a second chance.
- Say I’m Sorry --- Students need to HEAR remorse and SEE it modeled before they can feel their own remorse. Our students may have never heard the words I’m sorry or they may have been required to say it so much that it has become a flippant phrase with no meaning. It’s our job to give those words meaning and validity.
- Let it go….. Don’t hold students’ offenses against them --- refusing to let go and forgive doesn’t change the offender, it changes us. We are the ones who become bitter, angry, and resentful. What a student does on Monday cannot be held onto until Friday….. Start fresh each day.
- Clean up your language --- My mom always said: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. Lose the sarcasm, arguing, lecturing, and yelling.
- Thank you --- People need to feel appreciated. They don’t care what you know until they know you care. Our students need to know we appreciate them, even the smallest act – showing up, showering (especially those jr highers), doing homework, helping another student.
- Take an interest in others --- Our students need to know that we are interested in them outside of the walls of our classroom. Attend their soccer games! Wave to them at the grocery store! Sit by them in church!
In his book, Just Like Jesus, author Max Lucado reflects on the 13 th chapter of John where we find the story of Jesus and His disciples. Lucado explains that if anyone felt stuck with other people, it had to have been Jesus. He hung out with the same crew for three years and, let’s face it, His disciples weren’t exactly first round draft picks. They were misfits and trouble-makers. Yet, Jesus didn’t give up on them. He loved them. In fact, He loved them so much that He washed their feet. By performing this selfless act, Jesus not only showed them mercy, He also gave us an example. He wants us to do the same.
Are any relationships in your workplace in need of mercy? Are there any in your classroom who need assurance of your grace? Be encouraged today to follow the example of Jesus and LOVE the students you are “stuck with.”
We become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic: Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams
Since 1990, the immigrant and refugee population in the United States has increased dramatically. Immigrants arrive here as high-skilled workers for tech companies, and refugees flee violence and persecution in their home countries. As a Parent Educator and as a liaison, I provide immigrant families with knowledge of the school system and academic programs and support the adaptation of immigrant families into a new and alien culture.
Immigrants and refugees struggle to acculturate and adjust to American life due to differences in language and culture. To make my point clear, I would like to share with you an example of Moses who is a student at our school.
Misunderstanding turns into Miscommunication
Moses, a refugee from the Ivory Coast, hoped to enroll into the after-school program. This required the completion of an application form. The form included questions about his ethnicity, date of birth, sex (gender), and Social Security number. Moses brought the form home and asked his mother to complete it. When she read the questions, Moses’ mother got very upset and told him he could not continue in the program. She did not want her child to be a part of anything involving "sex!" Moses’ teacher explained to him sex on the form was a term requesting parents to identify their children as boys or girls. Moses lacked the word to explain the misunderstanding. His mother said, "This is a bad place, no sex." Moses explained his problem to the teacher and asked for help. This is one of the many problems that teachers and administrators encounter at school, and, immigrant parents face in their struggle to adapt to a new country.
Immigrants arrive here either as bilingual or multilingual speakers. Even those with knowledge of the English language struggle with minor differences as they speak British English. Words like napkin (tissue) and full stop (period), creates a glitch for smooth conversations to happen. British English differs from American English with its pronunciation, vocabulary, spellings, dialects, and pragmatics (usage of language for different purposes) of the language. Refugees, on the other hand, struggle with an inability to understand the educational process. Their limited English skills and the lack of education creates unique problems between them and their children.
Developing School-Parent Partnerships
Parent education programs assist immigrants to learn to speak English, understand the educational system, and gain a better understanding of their children’s school. It also provides tools to apply knowledge effectively, problem-solve, and communicate in society. A significant benefit of parent participation in educational programs involves the ability of parents to learn from each other and value different viewpoints and cultural expectations.
Schools must creatively work with immigrant parents to mediate between two cultural contexts. School-parent partnerships will lighten the burden for parents and increase engagement, collaboration, and goodwill between parents and the school system. By harmoniously working together, parents and schools can create a synergy that benefits everyone.
Dr. Poornima D'Souza works with students and parents in the Sioux Falls school district as a school-parent liaison. She also teaches graduate courses in Northwestern's online Master of Education program. If you're interested in learning more about this area, Dr. D'Souza will share more strategies for facilitating cross-cultural school-parent partnerships at the 2018 Northwestern Leadership Series.
Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty. Literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.... Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential. - Kofi Annan
My son and daughter seem to continually find something to argue about. They know just how to push each other's buttons. As a mom, it can be exhausting trying to use every argument and fight as a teachable moment and faith-building opportunity for my kids. Recently, after a particularly loud disagreement with some pretty flavorful word, I took my daughter aside and reminded her that her brother was a gift to her from God and she needed to love him. Her response was, "Love him?! I don't even LIKE him right now!!!"
How often don't we as educators feel the same way? "Lord, I know you have placed this child in my classroom for a specific reason and I know you want me to love him... but right now, I don't even like him!" In moments like this, we need to learn to separate the behavior from the child. The most important part of dealing with children with challenging behaviors is RELATIONSHIP. Developing a caring connection with the child will build a secure attachment and a positive relationship. The old saying is true, “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
When dealing with challenging behaviors in young children, there are several steps we as educators can take.
- Define the Behavior – What exactly does it look like? Is it a tantrum? Kicking? Hitting? Biting? Withdrawal? Screaming? Crying? Try to focus on changing one behavior at a time.
- Consider Risk Factors – This includes biological and environmental factors. Were there complications at the child’s birth? Substance abuse during pregnancy? Neurological problems? Poverty? Exposure to violence? Trauma?
- ABC – Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence – What is happening before, during, and after the behavior? Is something triggering it? When is the behavior most frequently occurring? What is the “payoff” the child receives… attention, escape, or sensory stimulation?
- Prevention – How can I adjust the physical environment, the routine, or my teaching strategies to make our day more predictable and help the child feel safe? Are there choices I can give that will give the child a sense of having some control?
Understanding and addressing challenging behaviors in young children is a constant struggle. As followers of Christ, we are called to love one another and show grace. As you begin the week with yet another "to do list" that keeps getting longer, let me remind you of God's "to do list" and encourage you with these words from Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you? To ACT JUSTLY, to LOVE MERCY, and to WALK HUMBLY with your God."
Heidi is an instructor in Education at Northwestern College and the director of the online Bachelor's in Early Childhood program. To learn more about the online programs visit the Master of Education or Bachelor's in Early Childhood pages. For more resources and training about trauma in students, take a look at the NWC Trauma Informed Conference.
This week is American Education Week and we have much to celebrate! We celebrate educators who are working hard to meet all levels of student need. You can multi-task to create rigorous curriculum opportunities as well as plan empowering social-emotional learning activities. The care you have for students drives positive relationships. You realize that students come from all different circumstances, and every student needs someone who believes in him. You are TEACHers! If you agree, do you feel like celebrating or do you sometimes feel like you are losing steam? You may sense that teaching is always changing, and you feel swept up in an unfamiliar dynamic.
Balancing curriculum and social-emotional learning
This is unfamiliar territory for many teachers as we are not used to teaching social-emotional skills. We all agree though, that it is essential and even fun to do so. Why the worry and why the resistance? Because change is difficult, albeit inevitable. Our resistance is not so much about the assumption that social-emotional learning is a vital new component of teaching than it is about our own feelings. Thankfully, we can change the way we feel. We need to realize that our role is a helper role. When we help learners, we are fulfilling our destiny. Be happy, grateful and thankful that we are exactly where God wants us to be at this precise moment.
Building positive relationships
Certainly, 100% of teachers would agree that positive relationships are key, but many students who need us most are the most difficult to reach. This requires a teacher mindset that is willing to reflect and change. Change is difficult, and people resist it. If you are using a student’s bad behavior as the reason you cannot develop a positive relationship with him, then you are only seeing the behavior, not the student.
We cannot develop a relationship with a behavior; we can only develop a relationship with a person.
Do you know what that student likes or is passionate about? If you don’t know, then you haven’t yet begun the work of developing a positive relationship with him or her. Give yourself and your student some time, and cultivate the relationship just like a seed in a flower pot.
Students come from all different circumstances
Every student needs someone who believes in him. This is a call is worth celebrating! God has put us in charge of carrying this out for our students. Of course, it may be difficult to believe in a kid who doesn’t believe in himself, but this is our greatest calling and it is our highest honor.
Teachers do have a lot on their plates, it’s true. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by an ever-increasing variety of challenges. But we also have an excellent sense of what we need to do, how we need to do it and why we need to do it. We have an important mission for every student in our care.
Remember - we have the brains, power and creativity to succeed!
All too often, we face life looking forward or looking backward. We forget about the moment that we are in.
I remember as a new mom, looking forward to having my children develop and grow because I was excited to see them enter the next phase or leave that ugly phase of something like teething or potty training! What I often had to tell myself is to just enjoy the moment that is right in front of you today. I had so many people tell me that it would go by fast and that I would want those days back. Guess what? They were right. Now that I have one in college, two in high school, and one in elementary, I find myself thinking about how quickly life has changed and that it went by way too fast!
I have found that as I grow older, that I need to find joy in each day and enjoy the moments that are right in front of me. It’s not always easy; because let’s face it, some days are just not worth repeating! However, remember that God has a purpose for trials and joys we face. It’s not always clear at the time, but we are learning and growing in our faith.
I lost my mother-in-law and three grandparents all within a span of two years. Each one of them had a special place in my heart and always took the time to enjoy the people that they were with each day. They had a wonderful way of listening and being focused on the conversation with those around them. Too often our schedules and technology distract us. Perhaps we could learn how to seek out time like this? After all, how do you want to be remembered? As someone who was always appears stressed and on a tight schedule or as someone who took the time to enjoy the people around them?
Whether you are looking forward to a vacation, being done with classes, or even the end of this day; take the time to reflect and find the blessings and joy you encountered today. It might have been a smile from a student or patient, a phone call from a friend, or a hug from your child or spouse. Treasure those moments and thank God that it was part of your day. The more you seek out these moments, the more joy fills your heart and you will soon find yourself filled with blessings each day.
Rejoice in each day of life - and choose joy.
I am a behavior intervention specialist/special education co-teacher at an elementary school and teach Master of Education Special Education courses at Northwestern College. Throughout my years of working with different students, I’ve been able to help many students, teachers, and parents better understand learning behaviors and ways to promote healthy and positive responses for learning. As you read this email I received from a cooperating counselor, you may be able to connect the situation to one of your own student’s behavior.
Good Afternoon Dr. Kyle,
My name is Ms. A.; I'm John’s (fictitious names) counselor at B. Middle School. John’s mom indicated that you found a way to positively motivate John. His behavior is "OK" at this point. We conferenced with mom last week and she suggested that we communicate with you about strategies that you utilized that helped John succeed. Our biggest concern is that he is NOT working in his classes. He is beginning to resist by crying and being incredibly negative. He's a wonderful young man, with a beautiful smile and we want to help him feel successful. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
This was my response:
One of the most important things to do for John is to build a cooperative relationship with him - he will not participate at all unless he feels some kind of positive connection. He loves to be called on and noticed for his verbal contributions, and he is exceptionally well-spoken with a great vocabulary. His accommodations should include numerous ways to allow him to participate verbally, and speak into a voice-to-text type of machine or app. He will be able to participate very meaningfully because he is very bright, however this won't look like the normal, 'sit-and-get' strategy that teachers probably expect. I would begin by making sure that John is in co-teaching classrooms with flexible, creative teachers who are willing to think out of the box. Just sending John out of the gen ed. classroom to do the very same thing with the sped teacher is not an option.
Because John is smart and well-spoken, but impatient, he will have trouble relating to peers unless these peer-to-peer collaborative support relationships are structured by the teacher for success. If teachers assign John to a para or sped teacher, this could easily develop into a very non-productive, co-dependent relationship. When paired with one or two cooperative peers, John can be the “Materials Master” who checks to see if things are in order for the group. He can be the “Calculator Leader” in his group to check the math problems when the group has completed their task. He can be the “Praise Person” and reward his team with a Tic-Tac mint every time the team completes a step in the process of the lesson or the assignment. This helps him focus on the lesson, and it helps his team members keep him on task because they want that mint or reward!
"We need to structure the lesson so that he will be able to participate and feel successful. Right now, he feels inept and he knows that school is not the place where he feels smart or capable."
John is like most kids in that he loves to be a teacher-helper; he loves positive teacher attention. He used to sit at the computer and point to things that the teachers were discussing by moving the mouse around the screen to emphasize the part of the page she was discussing. He can manipulate pieces of a story and he can do math by dictating what the steps of the problem are. He can explain how things are done to another peer. There are lots of ways that he can show what he knows other than traditional work, so check with the specialist (the sped co-teacher) and plan to make tweaks in the lesson so that John can explain his thinking.
Basically, we need to structure the lesson so that he will be able to participate and feel successful. Right now, he feels inept and he knows that school is not the place where he feels smart or capable. Rather than get into a struggling match to make John fit into our mold of what we think middle school "work" should look like, we need to help him feel smart and capable by creating learning experiences that are structured to allow him to participate and show what he knows. As he grows in positive experiences, he will become stronger and more resilient.
Our classrooms and students are constantly changing. It's important to continue our education in behavioral strategies and trends for the many different situations that can be presented. As teachers, our ultimate goal is to inspire and encourage each of our students and prepare them for their bright futures. For more information about ways to broaden your educator skills, see the online Master of Education and endorsement programs.