March 29



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Do public behavior charts have any place in a leadership classroom? The answer is clear: No! Authentically shifting student behavior from “challenging” to “consistently positive” requires a focus on positive engagement and the whole student. In fact, a growing body of research supports moving away from labeling or ranking student behavior. Even when executed with positive intent, traditional behavior modification plans can be problematic and create unintended negative consequences for students. They can also be detrimental to classroom culture. Courtney Clark, Interventionist at A. B. Combs Elementary, shares her experience with rating student behavior using traditional behavior charts.

Leader in Me Weekly: Please share more about your experiences with rating behavior according to a red, yellow, and green scale. 

Courtney: When my oldest child was a kindergartner, she came out from school every day and consistently told me, “I had a green day.” I would ask her to tell me more about what she learned and who she talked to, but she was determined to come out everyday and tell me her color and tell me who was on red or yellow. The more I thought about it and watched how other kids were interacting with their families after school, I realized that defining children as a color and inviting them to define themselves by their behavior doesn’t align with a leadership model. From there, I had a conversation with Principal Summers and we began to get rid of behavior chart practices at A. B. Combs.

What can you share with educators to help them shift their paradigm about this practice?

I try to express to teachers that behavior is a skill just like reading and math. If we have a child who’s lacking in an academic skill, we teach them and give them a chance to practice. It is the same thing with behavior. Give them time to practice and celebrate good effort—just like we would with other skills—that it’s not something to be punished because you don’t know it yet. We also want the focus to be on the whole person and leadership development. When we use a behavior chart that clips up and clips down or switches colors, we’re putting the focus on the wrong thing and it makes a child one-dimensional. That’s why we really have moved away from that system where everyone looks at that chart to see “where they are.” It is not a true picture of a child.

How can we support educators who still believe that students need to be punished for negative behaviors?

While we do definitely have consequences and compassionate responses for negative behavior, consequences without practice and support are ineffective. The other thing that we always try to keep in mind is that all behavior is communication. When a child is behaving in a certain way, they are communicating a need. So, once we figure out what that need is, and teach them how to get that need met in a safe and orderly way, then the negative behavior will likely subside.

What has the impact been on the school community from this shift in response to negative student behavior?

I can tell you that office referrals have dropped dramatically. And one of the things we did was work really hard to teach educators practices that help our children to calm down when they get upset. We focus on the pause—that space between the stimulus and the response. The work is in teaching the teachers and students how to grow their pause and how to deal with challenges in a calm way. Our teachers have become really good detectives at figuring out what happened before that behavior by asking:  What was that child trying to tell us? What fixed it? When is that child successful in the day? 

Thank you for teaching us to approach challenging student behaviors from a lens of leadership and fostering growth in the whole person! 

We can promote accountability and responsible leadership expectations with Personal Leadership WIGs. Using this strategy, all students work toward various Wildly Important Goals. These are built on students’ diverse needs and set up each person to celebrate growth as a community. One student leader may be working on using kind and respectful words with their peers, while another is striving to arrive on time for class. Shifting student behavior in this way involves moving away from what you want to stop and focusing much more on positive engagement—what you want to have happen—and the whole person. Build ownership, empowerment, and equitable systems for behavior accountability with Personal Leadership WIGs. Are you willing to give it a try?


Focus on positive engagement and the whole student with our Empower Positive Behavior With Personal Leadership WIGs resource.

Learn More:

March 9

A Program-Wide Approach for Strong Family Partnerships

Webinar Series

A Program-Wide Approach for Strong Family Partnerships

Recorded: Tuesday, July 20, 2021
A mother and her two children reading together on the floor.
Watch On-Demand
About this Session

Strong and reciprocal family relationships create intentional connections between school and home and reinforce learning. Since the beginning of the pandemic, programs have reinvested in their family partnerships, as families are a critical partner in education. As children return to the classroom and families return to work, how can schools and programs continue to foster strong family partnerships?

Join ReadyRosie founder, Emily Roden, and Teaching Strategies Dual-Language Content Manager, Clarissa Martinez, as they explore the critical role school and program leaders play in creating space for strong family partnerships. Leaders who attend this webinar will

  • discover the resources needed to build a program-wide family partnership strategy, rather than a classroom-by-classroom communication strategy;
  • examine the existing data on positive learning outcomes associated with strong family partnerships; and
  • come away with the tools to build a plan to collect appropriate data and make data-informed decisions about their programs’ family engagement strategy.
March 9

4 Ways to Support High-Performing World Language Learners

4 Ways to Support High-Performing World Language Learners

Differentiated tasks can help ensure that all learners in the classroom are engaged, including those who are ready for more challenges.

March 7, 2022
Two people watering a plant
Michael Austin / The iSpot

Have you encountered students who consistently put their best foot forward, no matter what they’re doing? Students who are resourceful, take charge of their own learning, and have the ability to use their critical thinking skills in learning another language? They’re probably high-performing.

My Tagalog classroom is no exception. Throughout my career as a world language teacher, I have been impressed by how high-performing students would ace every spoken or written assessment that I gave. However, along with the joy of witnessing these students excelling, I worry about not being able to match my teaching with what they really need to continue growing.

I apply these four practices in my classroom to better accommodate and engage high-performing students, without compromising other learners:


Instructional planning involves informed decision-making and is further strengthened by the way we respond to learners’ needs.

In one activity, I asked the class to craft a word cloud (using a free word cloud generator) featuring their favorite Tagalog word. Students explored the online tool and presented their outputs in whatever format they chose. High-performing learners specifically were able to use interesting shapes as well as connect those shapes to the meanings of their chosen Tagalog word. One learner chose the word oras (time) and created a word cloud in the shape of a clock that included related Tagalog phrases and words, such as the three aspects of verbs—perpektibo (past), imperpektibo (present), and kontemplatibo (future).

When it comes to nurturing high-performing learners’ critical thinking skills, however, try to entertain their questions and provide resources that will satisfy their curiosity. Exposing them to additional new content as they learn the target language or culture is a good way to develop their critical thinking skills. My students are better able to explore other points of view and expand their horizons on the topics they are most invested in. This can also be done with other advanced learners who are interested in either learning more about an aspect of the target language or better understanding some cultural notes about a country where the language is spoken.

After discussing the concept of pakikipagtawaran (haggling) in the Filipino culture, one student shared a story about her father, who was a “good haggler” himself. To feed her curiosity, I sent a copy of a research study on the haggling behavior of Filipinos for her to peruse.


Collaboration ushers in a more meaningful and interactive world language learning experience. I always consider variety and the nature of the tasks given when determining which type of grouping to use. Similar-ability groupings help high-performing students enjoy activities within their levels of understanding, while also giving teachers the opportunity to introduce tasks that are a little more complex or challenging than usual.

A group of high-performing students from my class chose to produce a video of beautiful places in their area—the West Coast of the United States—as part of a lesson on locating places and events in Tagalog using the Nasa (where a place is) and Sa (where an event is) sentences. I especially enjoyed how they extended their discourse by going beyond the sentence patterns I taught them, and the way they enunciated words made it feel like there were native Tagalog speakers in the room.

At the same time, when world language learners are in mixed-ability groups, they can gain knowledge and understanding from diverse perspectives. This enriches the world language learning experience because students get to negotiate meaning and build trust with one another when accomplishing their tasks as a group. On top of that, high-performing learners can serve as mentors or facilitators for their group. I call it a “bayanihan” moment, when members of the group help one another to reach a goal. This is a nod to the Filipino spirit of community that highlights people’s unity and camaraderie in times of crisis.

I asked students to negotiate with an assigned tindero/tindera (vendor) to practice their haggling skills in Tagalog. The goal was to persuade the vendor to grant the tawad (discount) that they wanted. The high-performing learners made sure that they were there to help their group members if a peer forgot what to say or how to respond to a question in the target language. Some students even translated difficult phrases to make meaning more comprehensible and interpretable for others.


Whether written or verbal, the right amount of positive feedback provides encouragement to all learners. This is especially true for high-performing students, who we can motivate by acknowledging their accomplishments and excellent work in class. But balance is key.

When every single contribution is praised, student confidence may turn to arrogance, translating to inappropriate comparisons between themselves and the rest of the group or license to reduce their effort and engagement in class. Additionally, other students may feel that high-performing learners are highly favored or, worse, receiving special treatment.

I ask myself three questions to help me identify if I am giving the right amount and type of positive feedback to high-performing learners:

  1. What is the purpose of this positive feedback? Am I, for example, giving positive feedback to encourage good behavior and strengthen good study habits in class?
  2. Am I giving learners the opportunity to reflect on their performance when given constructive positive feedback?
  3. Am I overdoing positive feedback to the point that negative comparisons or competitions among learners are already forming?

In addition to these questions, this article on maximizing feedback in the classroom has been helpful for me.


Choice is everything in my classroom. Aside from accommodating learner differences, choices allow high-performing students to showcase the knowledge and skills they have acquired in a different context.

I usually present three options to choose from—easy, average, and difficult—for their extended work, explaining my expectations for each. Each assignment type has a corresponding number of points, though I do not explicitly tell them that the points they earn depend on the complexity of the assignment; learners notice this themselves.

In my beginning Tagalog class, I ask learners to choose among three extended works to be presented in class the next day. I have them apply what they learned about Baybayin, an ancient Filipino script:

  • For the first option, the learners were to write just their names using Baybayin.
  • The second, slightly harder, option was to write theirs and another person’s name.
  • The last and most challenging option was to write all the names of their family members.
February 24

Restorative Justice Does More Than Solve Conflict. It Helps Build Classroom Community.


Restorative Justice Does More Than Solve Conflict. It Helps Build Classroom Community.

By Helen Thomas     Feb 23, 2022

Restorative Justice Does More Than Solve Conflict. It Helps Build Classroom Community.

It’s a dry, hot day in south Phoenix, but my dimly lit classroom is cool and comfortable. Quick footsteps approach outside the door and two-dozen 8- and 9-year-olds return from recess, sweating and smiling. They calmly walk to their desks while a children’s mindful breathing video plays on the whiteboard. Some students quietly grab their water bottles and head out to fill them up, and others sit on the carpet and stretch. While this happens, I watch four students pass by their desks and head straight to the table in the corner of the room to sit in a small circle.

Maria is speaking about an interaction at recess that left her feeling excluded. Gabriella starts to speak over her. Before she can finish her sentence, Ariel says, “Please wait until it is your turn, remember, everyone will get a chance to speak.” Gabriella nods and patiently waits her turn. After a few more minutes, Ariel turns to Maria and asks, “What can we do to make this right? How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” At that moment, I was absolutely amazed by the four children in my classroom. Only a few months before these same students came in from recess in tears, shouts, or both nearly every day.

In order to get to that point, I had to do a lot more than simply teach students the skills to engage in a conflict resolution dialogue. Students were able to independently work through that moment because we had spent a significant amount of time intentionally building the mindsets and relationships necessary to do so. As an early-career educator, I instinctively turned towards the approaches I’ve been taught by my own relatives and many other Indigenous teachers, to nurture, sustain and repair community. It took nearly two years of using these approaches to realize that other educators were doing the same thing, but they were calling it restorative justice or restorative practices.

Restorative Practices or Restorative Justice?

In my conversations with other educators, there is usually confusion around the definition of restorative practices due to the common emphasis placed on restorative justice, which focuses on repairing relationships when harm has occurred as an alternative to punitive approaches to discipline. In contrast, restorative practices focus on not only repairing, but also building and strengthening relationships and social connections within communities. The mainstream conception of restorative justice is credited to Howard Zehr and is thought to have originated within the criminal justice system in the 1970s. However, a 2017 report from the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, notes the growing demand from the field that practitioners acknowledge many of the values and practices of restorative justice come directly from Indigenous communities in North America and across the globe.

In fact, my own understanding of restorative practices is rooted in first-hand experiences of learning from Indigenous peoples implementing this way of being in their communities. In college, I had the opportunity to travel to the tribal headquarters of various Native Nations to learn directly from tribal leaders through the Native American studies program. For a federal Indian law course, we traveled to Window Rock, Ariz., to learn about the Navajo Nation’s peacemaking courts.

The Diné (Navajo) community uses peacemaking to resolve domestic disputes in a way that prioritizes restoring balance and harmony to the entire community. We discussed how restorative justice as a philosophy and set of practices more closely aligns with Indigenous knowledge systems than dominant criminal justice approaches in the U.S. Years later, as I started to explore the field of restorative justice as an educator, I realized how rare my perspective was and how it impacted my understanding and use of restorative practices in my classroom.

Going Beyond Repairing Harm

While others saw restorative justice as a way to transform their behavior management or discipline, I conceptualized it as a holistic framework for not only repairing, but nurturing and sustaining relationships with and among the classroom community. When I taught first grade, we started every day with a community circle, where each student was given the opportunity to respond to a daily question or prompt. Students were encouraged to actively listen to their peers and share openly or respectfully pass when it came their turn to speak. Sometimes called talking circles, this is a commonly shared technical protocol within restorative practices, but to me, it was the style and form of communication I had experienced in various settings with Indigenous peoples my whole life.

Within my own culture, circles are often used symbolically and literally for their ability to promote equity, interconnection and holism. My mother, the current chairwoman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, has said that as Lakota people, “we live in a circle way—the sacred hoop relates to every aspect of our way of life.” A central belief of Lakota people, and many other Indigenous communities, is the idea that we are all related. All living beings, including animals, plants, lands and waters have inherent worth because we are all an integral part of a larger interdependent system. This concept of relationality is foundational within a restorative practices philosophy, but educators rarely have the chance to consider how this mindset can impact the design of their instruction or the structure of their classrooms.

Learn from Indigenous Ways of Being

After much self-reflection, I recognize now I was comfortable applying this idea of relationality in the classroom because I was socialized in a community that exhibited the foundational values, beliefs, and mindsets needed for a restorative way of being. I also recognize that is not the case for the majority of educators in classrooms.

Even so, the realization motivated me to consider how restorative practices can be implemented not only in my classroom management but also my instructional choices. I designed lessons that created authentic contexts for students to practice the skills needed to maintain healthy relationships. Our classroom communities found success repairing harm with restorative practices because students proactively developed meaningful relationships with not only me but each other as well.

As more and more schools turn to restorative practices, I encourage all interested educators to center and learn from Indigenous communities who have been implementing restorative practices as a holistic way of being since time immemorial.

February 23

A Simple Tool for Aligning Instruction and Assessment


A Simple Tool for Aligning Instruction and Assessment

This quick visual guide can help teachers ensure that their daily lessons align with their learning goals and assessments.

February 18, 2022
Teacher works at her desk
StockRocket / iStock

Teaching at our best is like anything else we pursue; it’s part science and part art. It’s a learned skill that requires time and patience to hone. Teachers, therefore, become frustrated when our self-efficacy is threatened by questionable policies and relentless new initiatives, particularly during a pandemic. But having a set of trusted pedagogical strategies can help us keep it together—even under extreme pressure.

In coaching schools, part of the initial work is to engage leadership in learning walks to see what’s happening in classrooms before investing time and resources to design professional development (PD). Classrooms will always be the incubator for what’s needed in education.

It’s challenging for administrators to keep their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in their schools if they’re not interacting with teachers in classrooms or listening to them. These visits also allow school leaders to recommend appropriate tools and practices for empowering teachers.


Through no fault of their own, I have found that many classroom teachers don’t always see how assessment drives instruction or the alignment between summative assessment, learning goals, formative assessment, and teaching strategies/scaffolds. For example, a career switcher who didn’t participate in a preservice program or a teacher whose preservice program included very little instructional modeling may not have a set of pedagogical strategies at their disposal for planning and facilitating instruction.

There isn’t only one way to teach. But daily lessons must have flow and alignment.

Classroom teachers need to have fluidity and a reservoir of trusted strategies they know when to use. These strategies must be part of methods for attacking daily instructional problems with flexibility to address unforeseen occurrences. A planning tool and framework for mapping instruction backward can be helpful in maintaining alignment no matter what we encounter in the instructional day.

To help support teachers, I’ve adapted the tool during lesson/project ideation sessions. It’s been helpful for teachers who may not understand how to rewrite standards into learning goals or for those who may need a refresher on scaffolding and creating instructional alignment. Some of the schools I work with have even added the tool into their lesson and performance task templates. See a template and completed example here.

The tool originates from PBLWorks and is inspired by backward design methodology by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins but does not replace McTighe’s Understanding by Design resources through ASCD. Instead, the tool is a simple table with four columns, easily allowing educators to map their instruction in alignment with summative assessment and daily learning goals.


Column one: Determine summative assessment. Well-designed summative assessments drive instruction when they align to standard(s) or a benchmark. The tool should be used to align instruction for summative assessments in the form of products, demonstration of a performance task(s), or literary composition.

For example, a particular unit or project plan can call students to create written, technology-based, or constructed products (e.g., reports, PSAs, model prototypes, etc.). Once we determine what we want our kids to do and make by the end of a specified time, that goes into column one.

Column two: Compose learning goals. Developing learning goals for lessons and projects is a critical practice often neglected in PD and, therefore, is often excluded or not well thought out in curriculum unit design. Derived from academic standards and learning frameworks, learning goals are vital to teaching and observing learning and are the backbone of lessons.

Good learning goals drive what students will understand and what they will be able to accomplish following a lesson or project. They need to go beyond objectives on our whiteboard or lesson plan and should be unpacked during mini-lessons as the focal point of the academic conversation between teachers and students.

I use learning targets (LTs) to capture learning goals as statements about what students can do regarding completing the product or task in column one of the planning tool. Here are some examples of what can go in column two:

  • I can explain how human activity affects the health of bodies of water and the ecosystems they support.
  • I can collect and analyze data to inform my decisions and design better solutions to real-world problems.
  • I can present my conclusions to an audience using multimedia tools that more effectively convey my message.

EL Education has powerful video examples of how to use LTs across the grade levels.

Column three: Develop formative assessments. Each learning goal in column two will need formative assessment to check students’ understanding. Teachers can decide on both informal and formal formative assessments. I find conducting two formal checks (quizzes, essays, etc.) for each summative assessment good practice for determining where students need help, remediation, and challenge.

Informal checks can be used daily between our interactions with students to determine their instructional needs. Here are some we can use as quick checks for understanding.

Column four: Utilize instructional strategies and scaffolds. Instructional strategies and scaffolds are what we reach for to teach a particular lesson—or, in this case, the learning goal(s) in column two. Learning goals require us to explain, clarify, and model. Regardless, students will need time to practice—moving from guided (teacher-led) to independent.

Gleaning insights from formative assessment helps us put the appropriate scaffolds and interventions in place by updating column four. For example, to help students with their coding skills, I like using the workshop model to structure station rotations allowing them to move between working independently and working with the teacher or their peers. Both content and elective teachers can also use it for differentiating and choosing scaffolds that work best for their kids.

February 1

7 Attention-Getters to Use Instead of Raising Your Voice

7 Attention-Getters to Use Instead of Raising Your Voice

These visual and audio cues can help middle and high school teachers quickly get students back on track.

January 27, 2022
Teacher raising hand to get students' attention
gorodenkoff / iStock

For many new teachers, classroom management can be one of the biggest obstacles to achieving success.

Without a toolbox of strategies to get students’ attention, raising your voice may feel like the only option when students are engaged in a loud activity or simply not meeting expectations. To avoid creating a negative classroom culture, which ultimately impedes learning, new teachers, or teachers facing new circumstances in this less than ideal school year, can employ these attention-getters.

For each of the attention-getters below, it’s important to explicitly teach students what your expectations are for how they should respond. For older students, it will likely take only a few minutes for you to demonstrate the attention-getter and share your expectations—voices are off, eyes are on the board, etc.


1. The Clap-In (or Snap-In): The clap-in is a classic attention-getter for good reason! While many teachers resort to raising their voices when the classroom gets too loud, clapping provides an equally noticeable but far more positive way to get students’ attention. To use a clap-in, simply pick a pattern to clap and have students repeat it back. As more students join in, the clap gets spread across the room until all students are participating in the clap and ending their conversations.

There are a few ways to make this more interesting for students. One option is starting with a clap and switching to snaps. This requires students to be even quieter to be able to hear the pattern you snap and then repeat it. You can also select a student to lead the clap-in or snap-in to build further investment in the attention-getter. Finally, rather than making up your own pattern, you can work with your students to design a unique clap-in or snap-in pattern for your class.

2. Give Me Five: This is a great option that not only helps bring students’ attention back to you but also provides an opportunity for them to work together to get everyone back on track. For this attention-getter, raise your hand high so that students can see you. As each student sees the signal, they will also raise their hand. This will continue to spread until all students are silently raising their hands and looking to you for further directions.

To make this more exciting, I have timed my students to see how long it takes for everyone to raise their hand and then challenged them to beat their time. This has been a very efficient way to get the attention of all students without even using my voice at all.

3. Class-Wide Countdown: This strategy is similar to Give Me Five, as it has a cascade effect across the classroom when students join in to bring their attention back to the teacher.

To employ this strategy, the teacher begins a countdown, generally from 10, but teachers can make adjustments as needed for their individual groups; and as students hear the countdown, they join in until all students are participating. Once the entire class reaches zero, all students are silent and have their attention back on the teacher.

4. Call-and-Response: Using a call-and-response is another easy way to get students’ attention, as they will have to not only listen to join in but also stop any side conversations in order to provide the accurate response. This attention-getter provides lots of room for creativity that both teachers and students can use to make the calls-and-responses best suited for them.

It’s beneficial to involve students in the process of creating these calls-and-responses and then practice how they sound and what students are expected to do when they hear them—similar to the Clap/Snap-In.

5. Timer/Song: This strategy uses other sounds rather than a teacher’s voice to get attention and relies on a specific timed activity.

I use this strategy if I have given my students a group or partner task to complete for a specific amount of time. When they start, I begin the timer or song (instrumental works best!), and by the time the timer or song goes off, students are expected to end their conversations and return their attention to me. The timer works best for potentially louder group activities, while the song is a great option for a slightly quieter partner activity.

6. Hit the Lights: This strategy is one I use only when I need student attention  immediately back up front on me. Just like the theater signal that a performance is about to begin, a quick flash of the lights can alert students that something is about to happen. I explicitly explain to them that a quick flash of the lights means that they need to turn off their voices and track me.

I often use this strategy if students are working in groups and I only need to remind them of one quick piece of information but plan to let them return to working at their previous noise level.

7. Sound Effects: This strategy can be a more fun way to get student attention but one that must be explicitly taught so that students can be mature and meet expectations when it’s used.

For this strategy, the teacher should identify a sound—I like to use this one—that will quickly get student attention and play the sound when needed. My students know that when they hear the sound, they are expected to be in their seats, silently tracking me for directions.