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.

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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.
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.

September 15

Addressing Persistent Defiance

Addressing Persistent Defiance

Any student may refuse to cooperate at times, but handling students with oppositional defiant disorder requires that teachers have a plan.

October 4, 2018
Teacher talking to a student about her oppositional behavior

We all have students who test our limits. Most kids can be uncooperative at times, especially if they’re tired, hungry, or feeling overwhelmed. For certain age groups, like 2- to 3-year-olds and teenagers, noncooperative behavior is a normal part of development.

In addition, up to 16 percent of all children and 40 percent of students diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder have oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which is characterized by a pattern, in multiple settings over time, of consistent negative and hostile behavior that can include deliberately annoying or upsetting others, explosions of anger and hostility, defiance or frequent arguing with adults, and then blaming others for misbehavior.

Often teachers react defensively to obstinate behavior, creating a situation where teacher and student may become locked in a power struggle or an ineffective pattern of communication.

So how does a teacher handle a student who openly defies rules, purposely tries to irritate the teacher, or has a pattern of hostile behavior toward authority? Here are some suggestions to help you avoid problems or to manage them when they arise.


As a new teacher, I quickly determined that showing anger was counterproductive with students who were oppositional. It made the behavior worse as they were often amused or encouraged by upsetting an adult.

Even when you’re upset or frustrated, it’s important not to allow the child to see your emotional response. Keep a positive tone to your voice, and adopt neutral body language by keeping your hands by your sides. Be cautious about approaching the student or entering their personal space as this might escalate the situation.


Learning to use “I statements” helped me immensely in working with students with difficult behavior. When a student is noncompliant, often our first impulse as teachers is to point out the behavior by using a statement that begins with “You” and gives a command. For example, “You never listen and follow directions. Don’t get out of your seat again!”

Rephrasing this as an “I statement” is much more effective. For example, “I would like for all of my students to sit down, listen, and follow directions so that they know what to do next.”

This statement is less judgmental, and it instructs by describing the positive behavior desired. Remember to keep directions concise and deliver them in multiple ways (in writing, spoken aloud, or using signals, for example).

When possible, offer choices where you will be happy with either outcome. For example, “Students may sit on the beanbags or at their desks to work quietly.” Choices make students feel like they have agency without having to display defiant behavior.


Switch your focus from recognizing negative behavior to seeking out demonstrations of positive behavior. Look for and reward even small steps toward flexibility, compliance, and cooperation.

When a student shows improvement, give it attention. I found positive notes home to be especially effective. I sent postcards to my students who demonstrated improvement in their behavior. A parent once told me that not only was this the first positive note the student had received, but he was so proud of it that he kept it on the refrigerator to look at every day. Don’t underestimate the power of positive words in shaping behavior.


Behaviors help students obtain something desirable or escape something undesirable. Learning to think of behavior as feedback or a form of communication helped me to work more effectively as a teacher with students who display problem behaviors.

Ask yourself:

  • When does this behavior happen or not happen?
  • What happens before and after the behavior?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Are there factors outside of the student’s control that might be causing or contributing to the behaviors? (For example, has the student experienced trauma? Does he or she come from a household with housing or food instability?)
  • What alternative behavior would be more acceptable than the one being displayed?

Consider that there may be understandable reasons for the misbehavior. For example, as a teacher I often saw students create a problem to avoid doing work that was too difficult for them. Some students act out because of difficult issues in their homes or communities. I also saw students act tough or argumentative to impress peers or avoid bullying or victimization by other students.

Understanding the cause of the behavior will help in establishing a plan to address the challenges.

If a student frequently displays problematic behavior, it also may be possible to request a functional behavior assessment (FBA), which looks at academic and non-academic factors that could be contributing to or triggering behavior. While the law only requires an FBA after a suspension of 10 days or more, an FBA may be requested at any time. An FBA is usually conducted by a team, which can include a special education teacher, general education teachers, parent or guardian, school administrators, and specialists (such as a speech therapist, psychologist, or behavior specialist). The FBA is then used to create a detailed behavior intervention plan (BIP).


Once a behavior is identified and assessed, a plan may be developed to prevent it from continuing. A BIP outlines steps a teacher will take when a problem behavior occurs.

A BIP should teach the student more productive behaviors and strategies, reward positive and appropriate behaviors, and outline who is responsible for each intervention.

Perhaps changes can be made in the environment, like moving the student’s seat, or instructional methodology changes could be made, like shortening or modifying an assignment to match the student’s capability for independent work. Teachers could also consider altering routines if there are times when the behavior is likely to occur.

For example, if a student is having an outburst every time they’re called on in class or asked to present information in front of their peers, the plan might offer alternatives such as:

  • The teacher will provide the student with a set of questions about the lesson to answer on paper and turn in instead of answering questions aloud.
  • The student will be responsible for asking for a short break or alternative location to complete assignments when they are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Each day, if the student turns in their answers after the lesson, they will receive a positive note home and 5–10 minutes to work on their art projects.

The behavior plan that the team comes up with should be implemented in all classes. The team should meet to hear teacher and parent/guardian feedback, and the plan should be revisited periodically to change ineffective interventions or modify interventions where the student shows improvement.

We all have the capacity to learn, change, and grow. When given the right tools and environment, students with problematic behavior can learn more productive strategies that will help them have positive and effective interactions with others.

September 15

Giving Students More Authority in Classroom Discussions


Giving Students More Authority in Classroom Discussions

When teachers act as facilitators of class discussion rather than leaders, students see themselves as valuable contributors to their own learning.

September 8, 2021
High school students participate in classroom discussion
PhotoAlto / Alamy Stock Photo

We all can agree that one of the most rewarding experiences in teaching is helping that one student find their voice and take a commanding role to contribute to the classroom learning experience. Allowing students the opportunity to engage in discourse that involves externalizing, elaborating on their thinking, and receiving feedback will lead to construction of their knowledge and understanding of a topic. However, these discussions require students to have authority and command over their own thinking to reconstruct ideas and concepts based on their previous knowledge and existing schemas.

With traditional power dynamics in the classroom, the teacher is the authority. In order to engage in meaningful student talk, we need to break this hierarchy. Otherwise, students may only regurgitate ideas or express concepts that they perceive to be favorable or correct. Assimilating new knowledge with their previous experiences and knowledge allows them to reconstruct new neural networks that lead to long-term understanding and sustained learning. In other words, the new knowledge is personal and relevant.


The teacher plays a powerful role in changing this dynamic of authority in the classroom. It requires the teacher to ignore the intuitive behaviors of a good conversationalist in everyday situations. A typical classroom discussion may have the following pattern:

Teacher talks—Student One talks—Teacher talks—Student Two talks—Teacher talks—Student Three talks. This continues with more students talking but always alternates between a student and a teacher.

In the above pattern, perhaps all students talk at some point in the discussion, but the teacher is always the central figure. A boomerang effect bounces the conversation back to the teacher after a student talks. To clarify, we are describing “talk” as any significant contribution of thought, ideas, or concepts.

Many different students are participating. However, it’s a teacher-centered conversation. Perhaps the teacher is the only one answering questions, or it’s evident that students are not listening to each other and repeating responses. The teacher is the authority of the conversation, and socialization of learning is not yet at a community level.

In order to increase authority and enhance student construction of knowledge, the teacher’s primary role is to facilitate and guide the discussion, only choosing to contribute when absolutely necessary. The goal is to avoid the boomerang effect. In order to get students to respond to each other, it’s not enough for individual students to feel empowered in their own voice; they must see other students as valuable contributors and listen to their voices as much as they would the teacher.


1. Map out the discussion. Prior to the discussion, meticulously think about the desired flow for the development of ideas. Begin with open-ended questions to allow for inclusion of all ideas, and then prepare some follow-up questions and prompts to guide the discussion in the necessary direction. These should also address inaccurate ideas and missing information. Also plan on the exit strategy, or how the discussion will end with a clear and concise summary of concepts.

2. Allow for wait time. Wait time is a great tool to increase authority in our students as well, not just to allow them space to think. When a student asks a question of a teacher, the teacher takes a step back and waits, modeling thinking and processing of the question, making it clear that it’s safe for anyone to respond. This moment of silence gives time and space for students to process the question and offer a response.

Students know the rules of conversations just like we do—a person talks and then another responds. Wait time allows an opportunity for a student to take advantage of this innate rule of conversation. It reinforces that the teacher is not the authority of the classroom community learning experience. It also prevents students from turning off their attention when another student talks because the expectation is for everyone to think and process.

3. Utilize prompts strategically. Teachers can avoid the boomerang effect through the use of prompts that do not add a significant value by contributing an authoritative response, but redirect and facilitate to support a student to respond in an authoritative manner. This approach reinforces the idea that students have authority and students should listen to each other. It also reinforces the community learning experience that sees the teacher as the guide-on-the-side and models conversation skills that students can use outside of class.

You may want to try a few different types of prompts. Here are some simple prompts to engage students:

  • What do others think about that idea?
  • Let’s hear someone else provide additional evidence.
  • What are some alternative ways to think about this?
  • Let’s have someone restate the question/idea in different words.
  • How could we add, revise, rephrase, build on this idea?

The following are scaffolding prompts to address incorrect or missing information:

  • What needs to be revised to improve the accuracy of this idea?
  • What do we know that can help us solve this problem?
  • Where can we find more information?
  • How can we answer this question?
  • Let’s consider [concept]. How does that affect your thinking?

With all of the above prompts, the teacher responds only to transition to another student. It’s important to note that the teacher doesn’t offer praise or criticism directly. Often students are seeking teacher approval. These prompts do not reinforce the students’ seeking teacher approval; they reinforce the socialization of learning in the class community.