About Me

My photo

I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Monday, September 25, 2017


Behavior Intervention Plans or BIPs are plans designed to help students learn to engage in positive behavior.  BIPs are usually used for students with students who are ED or exhibit extreme behaviors.  They usually consist of one to three negative behaviors to eliminate and specific positive behaviors to replace those.  Then, action steps are designed to provide support for the student as they work the plan.  There are also consequences attached to the plan.  Creating a BIP can be a time-consuming process involving teachers, administrators, parents, other support personnel, and in some cases, the child.

One of the most difficult aspects of implementing a BIP is giving it time to work.  While you may see results in just a few days, sometimes it takes several weeks to see any progress.  This can be a trying time for teachers and parents.  The key is to not give up, but implement the plan consistently.  This is not always easy and it is very tempting to quit when immediate results are not seen.  However, we should not expect a child's behavior to change overnight anymore than we expect a baby to walk the first time it pulls itself up.  In many cases, a child has been demonstrating a behavior for months or even years and it is all they know.  These behaviors may also be a part of their disability.  In order to help them learn new behaviors, we must consistently implement the BIP for a reasonable amount of time.  If we quit too soon, we will never know if the steps could work.

If, after a reasonable amount of time, no progress is being made, it is time to sit down and develop a new or revised plan.  This must come after evaluating the effectiveness of the original plan.  What is a reasonable time?  Usually around 3 weeks is a good checkpoint, although a shorter or longer period may be required depending on the behavior.  The key is to meet and evaluate the plan at regular intervals.

One of the greatest things I've witnessed as an educator is seeing students with a BIP develop new positive behaviors to override the negative ones.  This usually comes after consistent implementation, review, and follow up.

Unfortunately, I've also seen plans fail due to lack of follow through or inconsistent implementation.

One of the key points to remember is that, just like an IEP, a Behavior Intervention Plan is a legal document and, as such, must be implemented as written.  The time to give input about how the BIP is designed is during its development, not after it is put into place.  Once in place, it is expected to be followed.

Thankfully, most children do not need Behavior Intervention Plans.  But for those whose disabilities and behaviors require it, a well-designed and implemented BIP can mean the difference between success and failure in education.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Follow the Process

The following is my weekly post to the staff at Northside Primary.  

For the past three years, we've had a successful WatchD.O.G.S. program at Northside Primary. Over 150 men have served in our classrooms and on our campus. Many come back numerous times. It has gone beyond my wildest dreams. Many times, these men tell me how much they enjoy being a WatchD.O.G. and then say what a great job I'm doing with the program. My answer is always the same. "I just read the manual and follow the process." You see, there is no magic to WatchD.O.G.S. There is no magic formula to get 150 men to come to the school and serve. There is no magic formula to get them to sign back up again and again. In fact, anyone willing to do the work could make WatchD.O.G.S. successful. The reason is that WatchD.O.G.S. follows a process that has been tried and proven at hundreds of schools across the nation and the world. (I will admit, though, that the staff at Northside has done some magic to make these men feel welcome and allow them to serve.)

I've been at two other schools where WatchD.O.G.S. was in place. Neither achieved the level that we have for one simple reason. They did not follow the process. In one school in our town, they tried to reinvent the wheel by doing it their own way and ended up tanking the whole program.

Is the WatchD.O.G.S. process easy? Not at all. It takes a lot of work and a commitment before success is realized. But, that is the same for anything worth having.

So, Mr. Quarles, besides that fact that we are kicking off WatchD.O.G.S. again in one week, what does all this have to do with me? I'm glad you asked. As an educator for over 20 years, I've realized that our profession has a lot to do with processes. We teach kids to follow processes (we just call them strategies) when they are learning. These processes help them do things like decode words and solve math problems. We also teach kids processes (procedures) to help them successfully navigate the classroom and school. The great thing is, when they follow them, they usually are.

As educators, we also have processes that we follow. For example, Lucy Calkins Writing is a process. Guided Reading is a process. M.A.T.H. is a process. Each has been proven to help kids successfully master their learning. But, like any process, they are only truly effective when they are followed. They lose their full effectiveness when steps are left out or not done with efficacy. When I decided to start WatchD.O.G.S., I made a deliberate choice to do exactly what the National Centers for Fathering said to do. I trusted the process and it worked.

I encourage you to do the same. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, simply trust the process. Will it take lots of reading, lots of work, and mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But, as our kids grow into high level readers, writers, mathematicians, and most importantly, learners, it will be worth the work.

Have a Great Week!!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

We missed you

"We missed you, Mr. Quarles."
"Mr. Quarles, you're back!!"

Those were words I needed to hear today.  And I heard them from adults and children all day.  I've been out for the last eleven days due to a family emergency. It must be something about not working for a while that messes with your mind.  That and being without reliable internet most days. You have to time to think and ponder your purpose.  Near the end of my time away, I was beginning to wonder,. "Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing?" "Am I making a difference or just putting in time?"  Fortunately, when I walked in today, I realized once again that education is where I need to be.  The welcoming smiles, kind words, hugs, and greetings were enough to prove this.

I am so thankful to be an educator.  Not only to do I get to impact the lives of kids and adults, my own life is impacted by them.  Sometimes, I forget that.  But, when I return after being out and receive the welcomes I got today, I realize how important what I do really is.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

On being a (transplanted) Primary School Educator

I have a confession to make.  For most of my life, I was scared of working with Primary School kids.  There, it’s out in the open.  I could probably form a self-help group of people like me.  “Hello!  My name is Breck and I’m a Primary Scaredy-Cat.”  As a middle school teacher, I had the utmost respect for Primary School teachers.  “How can you spend all day long in the same room with the same kids?,” I would ask myself.  Anyone who could was almost saintlike in my eyes.

Now that I work at a Primary school, my views have changed.  Not about teachers.  I still think anyone who is effective with Kindergarteners and 1st Graders is a saint.  My views about the kids have changed. I’ve grown to love this age level and the wonder that each one brings with them each day.  I now see Primary School as the amazing place that it is.  As I’ve reflected, I made a list of some of the great things about being a Primary School educator (something I never thought I’d be).  Below are my thoughts:  

  • You get to start kids off on the right foot, without all the excess baggage they may gather as they grow older.
  • Primary kids are still moldable.  They do listen and take to heart what adults teach them (even when it appears they are not).
  • You often get to work with young parents and help them become better.
  • The kids still hug you and are excited to see you.
  • You can follow these kids a lot longer before they graduate and see what they become year after year.
  • Primary kids are often a blank slate.  You have an opportunity to write so much into their lives.
  • The kids still get excited when they see you in the community.  I love trips to Wal-Mart just for the kids I’ll know I’ll see there.
  • Primary kids are forgiving.  Even when you make mistakes, they still love you and stand by you.

What else would you add to this list?  I’d love to hear your feedback.

Friday, May 19, 2017


The following is a post from my final Northside News newsletter for the year 2016-17.

Rapper Andy Mineo has a song called “Uncomfortable” that I listen to while driving to work. In it, he describes many of the ways that we as a nation and a people have become content with being comfortable, so much so that we lose our drive and hunger to get better and we start to settle for less. As an educator,  I find this thought convicting.  The last thing I want to do is become comfortable and lose my drive to help kids improve.  Sean Cain, in describing schools, says that our practices often are more focused on what is comfortable for adults rather than what is best for kids.  In fact, very often Good For Kids = Uncomfortable for Adults. (Cain, 2017) 

Why am I saying this now?  We all have a summer coming up and I hope that we use it to rest and relax.  In fact, if I could I would make that a directive.  We all need that time to rejuvenate.  But, I also hope that we use the summer to reflect on our actions, practices, and procedures.  I don’t mean spend a few minutes thinking about it, but truly reflect and ask ourselves questions such as:  Is what I am doing best for me or is it best for the kids?  What do I need to change in the way that I teach or lead?  How can I step out of my comfort zone so that I can meet kids where they are?  This is not an easy thing to do. Reflecting is usually uncomfortable.  Sometimes it hurts. In fact, improvement always comes with struggle and pain.  It is just part of the process.  But, if we follow through, the end result is that we are better than we ever were before.  

Whether you will be at Northside next year or you are moving on, my hope is that you continue to grow every day and never settle for simply doing what is comfortable for you.  Instead, I hope that you will embrace the power of the uncomfortable in order to become the best teacher and leader of kids you can be.

Have a great summer!!!

Cain, Sean (2017, May 17) A Reader Asks...Principal Coaching-Upset Parents and Community (blog post)
Retrieved from: http://leadyourschool.blogspot.com/2017/05/a-reader-asks-principal-coaching-upset.html

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Last Two Weeks

Below is a post I shared with staff in our weekly newsletter.  This one went out two weeks before the end of school.  I hope it has meaning for you as this school years ends.

The last two weeks of school are upon us.  Can you believe it?  It seems like just yesterday these kids were walking through the doors.  These final days are usually crazy busy with so many programs, assessments, awards, graduations, and more.  In the hectic pace, it is easy to forget why we are here. As important as many of the other things are, they are not our driving force.  Children are.  We have a choice to use these last two weeks to focus on all of the things that are happening around us or to focus on our kids.  In a few years, when we reflect back on this time, we will probably not remember the hectic pace, testing, and all of the other demands on our plates.  Instead, we’ll remember the faces, voices, smiles, and joy of the little ones whose lives we’ve impacted.  

This week, I’ll close with a question from Stoic philosophy. To paraphrase, “Will this (fill in the blank) affect my ability to live a fulfilled life?” Anything that does not get a “yes” is really not that important in the long run.  As we approach these last two weeks, let’s focus on what is truly important and let the rest slide off, as it will all soon be forgotten. 

My Favorite Education Lines

After years of reading and participating in professional development, I've heard my share of new ideas and philosophies and strategies.  Most of these, even the ones that didn't work well, had some redeeming value.  Below are some of my favorite quotes and one-liners that I try to keep at the forefront when working with kids and adults.  These have been helpful over the years.  (I'll try to attribute when I can remember the source)

Q.T.I.P. - Quit Taking It Personal   (This reminds me that kids are not acting out because they are mad at me. I just happen to be there at the time)

It takes one fool to talk back.  It takes two to make it a conversation.  (Fred Jones - Tools for Teaching)

Some kids are born on third base and we think they hit a triple.  (Something to remember when we are working with our high achieving kids from strong family backgrounds.  Also serves as a reminder that most kids are starting in the batter's box)

Nevertheless....  (Great phrase when a child talks back or makes a personal verbal jab at us)

Is it what's best for kids? (The ultimate criteria for what we do)

We are here for student success, not adult comfort. (Like the question above, it is easy to focus on what is most convenient for adults and lose sight of our reason for being here.  We must never let our our own agendas get in the way of children having the greatest opportunity for success)

These are just a few of my favorite lines.  Please add your own to the comments as I need to increase my repertoire.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Art Show

Tonight was Northside Primary School's Sixth Annual Art Show.  This year's theme was the jungle.  Our amazing Art Teacher, Misti King (she is in the black t-shirt) worked with students to design, create, paint, and display pieces created from recycled plastic bottles. The students also created and built the jungle items that make up the displays. To put this into perspective, these are five to seven year old kids.

Work on the show began in January and continued until just minutes before the guests arrived.  Students and staff spent the last week turning the building into a jungle including creating a walk through cave with cave drawings and a waterfall.  The rest of the building looked like a scene from "Jumanji."  In the middle of all of this, each student created their own jungle-themed art piece that was displayed throughout the hallways.

As a school leader, I am so proud of the work put in by the students and staff here at Northside Primary.  Honestly, the only thing I did was set up a couple of tables and try to document the work on camera.  Throughout this process, I've seen students actively engaged, excited, and ready to show the over 100 parents who came the work they did.  It was an amazing night at Northside.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Five Weeks

The countdown has begun.  The days are being marked off and thoughts are drifting toward that idyllic place called "Summer."  As I hear the hallway talk and watch the calendar days disappear, it reminds me that, yes, summer is coming, but more importantly, our time is limited.  We have just a moment left with this group of kids and then they are off to the next grade.  This remaining time is so precious.  I wrote the post below for my staff in our Friday newsletter to remind them of all that we can do with the short time we have left.  I hope you enjoy.

I looked at the calendar today and realized that we have five more weeks of school.  Just five weeks.  What on earth can you do in five weeks?  I would have to say quite a lot.

In five weeks, you can
  • inspire a child to become better.
  • build stronger relationships with your kids.
  • raise a child’s reading level by (fill in the blank).
  • teach your children new math/reading/writing strategies.
  • recognize something positive about every child in your class.
  • Encourage every staff member in the building
  • help a child get their AR shirt.
  • Make a positive contact with every parent in your classroom.
  • try a new teaching strategy.
  • visit another classroom and see how someone else teaches.
  • read that book you’ve been trying to get to all year.
  • develop a new habit.
  • learn more about a coworker.
  • walk 33 miles (if you just walk one mile a day).
  • read 33 blog posts (by just reading one a day).
  • Start setting goals for next year.
  • Add your own ideas to this list

How will you choose to use the next five weeks?  Whatever you choose, use it well.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Good for kids?

Last week, a student ended up in my office.  He was having trouble controlling himself and was bothering other kids to the point that they couldn't learn.  When I got him into my office, he was all over the place, barely able to sit still.  We talked while he bounced.  It didn't take long to find out the circumstances that brought on this behavior.  For one, the adult he normally works with in the class was out.  Plus, he had been brought to school late by a family member who didn't know his morning routine.  Everything was off.  It was now 9:00 in the morning.  Normally, this child can be calmed by looking at some calming sticks I have in my office.  These are tubes filled with colored liquid and glitter that slowly move when turned.  Not this morning.  They quickly turned to drumsticks and were taken away.  It was now 9:15.  I knew he liked to read, so we got some books out and I told him I had to finish what I was working on at my desk.  He could sit in the chair or on the floor and read.  That lasted all of 5 minutes. I then sat on the floor with him and we read together until he could no longer focus.  Having an errand to run in the building, I took him with me and let him help me carry a few things back to my office. Deciding that I would likely get no work done, we sat at my desk and tested out apps I had recently downloaded.  We would do them together and he would rate them for them.  Most were not any good in his eyes because they weren't games.  We did have some fun with Sock Puppets as I tried to get him to explain some things to me using his puppets.  However, he could only focus for a short time. It was now 9:45.  I had to make another quick trip to a class and saw a teacher waiting for an appointment.  I asked her if she would sit with him for a minute.  She agreed and I went into the building.  When I returned 10 minutes later, they were sitting on the office floor making funny faces into an app.  It was now close to 10:00.   I knew that he would have some extra support arrive in his class at 10:30, so I made the decision to keep him until that time.  We went back to my office, read some more, explored a few more apps, and then it was 10:20.  I took him back to class.

Walking back to my office, I asked myself three questions:

1)  Was that time good for the student? I would have to say yes.  He got positive one-on-one time with an adult, wasn't getting into trouble in class, and did learn a bit in the process.
2)  Was it good for the kids in his class?  Again, I would have to say yes.  They were able to work for over an hour with the teacher focusing on them and not on this one student and his constant movement.
3) Was it good for me?  Yes and No.  While I built a stronger relationship with this child, I had really needed to use this time to visit classes and finish an appraisal I was working on.

As a reflected on these three questions, I was reminded that, as an educator, I come to work each day to do what is best for kids, not necessarily what is comfortable for adults.  Yes, I could have taken this child back to class but would that have been in his best interest?  What about the best interest of his classmates?  At the end of each day, I want to look back and be able to say that I have done what is best for kids, no matter how it affects me.  That is why I come to work each day and why I am educator.  It's not for my own well-being and comfort.  I do what I do for children.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mission/Vision Planning Part 2

Last week, I posted about the beginning of our journey to craft a new campus mission and vision.  We got as far as deciding our major points for the mission and assembling a team to write our draft mission statement.  Today, that team met and began the process of crafting a mission statement that reflects our purpose as a campus.  From our previous meeting, we had narrowed our focus down to a few select areas.  These are listed below:

Key ideas: 
Age appropriate
Safe and secure environment that produces students who are academically successful, creative, and productive citizens
Problem Solving 
      o Social
      o Emotional 
      o Learning
Learning focused
Values, morals, integrity
To help encourage students to set and achieve goals
To teach each individual child to their full potential
Set the foundation
Student centered

Starting with this list, we discussed each point and then combined any together that could redundant. We also highlighted the key words and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each of these.  As we worked, the conversation became lively as people supported their ideas and opinions.  I was reminded of the points in Patrick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team as I worked hard to ensure that we had effective arguments and not an artificial harmony.  I was elated when members of the team were willing to disagree with me and others and provided excellent points to back up their objections.  We finally decided that we would craft a mission statement that gave the overall purpose of the school and then craft supporting points to serve as our guide in implementing these.  

The first draft of our mission statement is:  

The mission of Northside Primary School is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where each Kindergarten and 1st Grade child learns to his or her full potential

This is more specific than our current mission statement, which reads, "As part of Palestine Independent School District, Northside Primary School is committed to providing quality instruction to our students.  The staff is a motivated group of professionals dedicated to assisting children in the development of their greatest potential.  Our vision is to equip all children who leave our school with knowledge and skills that will enable them to achieve maximum success in society."  

The meeting ended with some homework, namely to use the staff input from above to create a set of guiding statements to show how we will fulfill this mission.  We will meet again next week to put these together and rehash the mission, if needed.  

As a part of my own reflection, I will continue to blog about this process and share with others who may be developing their own mission and vision.  Hoping it will be helpful. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Mission/Vision Planning 1

At the beginning of this year, our campus began a renewed focus on building strong Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  As we began to put the structures in place, we reviewed our mission and vision and realized that what we had was, number one, not being used, and number two, no longer relevant to our campus.   I began to research mission and vision development and came up with a game plan.  We would start with a staff training and get input from all staff members at that time.  Then we would form a team to take that staff input and craft a new campus mission and vision. The plan was to do the training in November, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was pushed back to January.

At the initial training, we reviewed the importance of a mission and vision to the PLC process and then spent time reflecting on two questions:  Where are we headed and what will it look like when we get there? (Vision) and What is our purpose?  Why do we exist as a school? (Mission).  I know these are very simplified, but it worked with our staff.  Each individual submitted their own ideas and then collaborated with others to focus their thoughts.  At the end of the afternoon, we had about 30 large sheets full of ideas from our faculty.  As I walked through the room, I also saw them reflecting and dreaming more than I had seen in a long time.

After that meeting, a colleague and I sat down and disaggregated all of this data to produce two documents that simply listed the mission ideas and vision ideas.  I also had each PLC, our support personnel, and special education groups select someone to represent them on a team to create new or updated mission and vision.  Interestingly enough, two PLCs chose not to pick a representative. I approached them twice and then decided it was better to not have them than have someone who would not add to the conversation.  We ended up with twelve people on the team.

Today, we sat down for our first meeting.  As a team, we reviewed the responses from the whole group regarding our mission.  Each person rank ordered these with no more than five number ones. Prior to starting the meeting, I had been casually talking about reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown and brought up the concept of looking at whether something was simply a Yes or a "Hell, Yes" and then choosing to focus only on the "Hell, Yeses."  The team took this to heart and really honed in on what our purpose is related to the children on our campus, a Primary (K-1) school.  After individually rank ordering the ideas, we then grouped up (one admin, one teacher, and one support person) and did the process again only with our number one items.  Finally, as a whole group, we recorded the top choices.  Conversation was active as we looked at each item and discussed whether it belonged on the list.  We also discussed themes that emerged in the final information.  The final chart is below:

Notice the big "K-1" across the page.  This was a reminder to focus everything on the fact that we serve kids in these two grade levels.

After completing this, we chose a team from the larger group who will meet over the next couple of weeks and put together a draft mission.  This will be presented to the team for review and editing until a final mission is created.

Once we finish with our mission, we will follow the same process with vision.  We will also begin crafting our values and goals, but I don't want to overwhelm people yet.

Since I've never developed a group mission or vision, I was unsure how this would all work.  I've been pleasantly surprised so far.

One thing I've kept in front of the group throughout the process is that, if these are just words on a page, they are useless and we've wasted our time.  For the mission to be effective, it must be kept in front of us all the time and used for setting our priorities, evaluating decisions, and keeping us focused on our purpose as a school community.

I'm looking forward to continuing this process and growing as a campus.  I'll be sharing more as wer move along.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What's the real need?

How often do we jump to conclusions with children?  I know I do way too much.  It's easy to think, "That student is acting up because they are just trying to get attention."  "Just ignore them.  They always act that way."  But, there is usually an underlying problem.  Maybe they are trying to get attention.  But, maybe not.

Today, I had a child acting out and literally throwing a fit in a corner. It took a while to calm him down, but once we did, we were able to start asking questions.  Did something happen at home or on the bus this morning?  Did you eat breakfast?  Are you angry at someone?  After multiple questions and lots of "Leave me alone's," we finally determined that the child hadn't slept last night.  It was obvious due to red eyes, but that could have been allergies as well.  Once we were sure we had the problem nailed down, I gave the child some choices.  "You can go to class and try to focus or you can come to my office and take a nap."  The child didn't respond, so I left him with an adult and walked down the hall. "Let me know what you decide."  Less than two minutes later, he came up behind me and said "I think I'd like to sleep."  We went and got a mat, a pillow, and something to cover with and set it up in my office.  He got under the covers and in less than a minute was sound asleep.  I worked at my desk with the lights off (I have a large window) and  let my staff know he was there if I happen to leave.  I was in and out for the next two hours, but he never moved.  Finally, someone came and told me he woke up and was back in class.  He had a great rest of his day.

If I had jumped to the conclusions, I could have easily made this problem worse.  I could have given him a consequence that would have been ineffective.  I could have made him stay in class and exacerbated his behavior.  I could have called his parent and had them come up, probably resulting in them taking the child home.  Instead, I decided to find out what the real need was.  In this case, it was sleep.  It could have been hunger, fear, anger, or a multitude of other issues. It is so hard to tell by looking at behavior alone.  Getting to the real need takes time and effort.  You may not find it in one day.  But, when you do, it is imperative to see that the need gets met.  Otherwise, you will rarely see any behavior change, either short or long term.  

So, take the time to find the real need with children  It is worth it. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Question - Reflections on The Innovator's Mindset

Over the past week, I've been reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  Throughout the first part of the book, he repeats this question, "Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?"  For administration, it is revised to say, "Would I want to be a teacher in my school community?"  These questions are not designed to be condemning, but to provoke reflection on what is best for those we serve.  Based of of this, here are two questions that I am reflecting on and asking staff to reflect on as well:  As a teacher, do I meet my student's needs, both academic and social-emotional, like I would want my own needs to be met?  As an instructional leader, am I doing everything I can to help my staff grow and develop both as educators and as individuals?

When I seriously examine everything I do in the classroom or school and ask myself, "Is this what is best for students and teachers?" I realize that there are many things that could be done better and more effectively and help create a positive culture of learning.  Things like learning structures, use of technology, professional development, support for new teachers, instructional strategies and materials, communication, student discipline, and classroom management all need to come under the thoughtful eye of reflection.

Only when I begin to truly reflect on my practice will I be able to make the changes that will lead to better teaching, learning, and leading.  Otherwise, I risk just following the status quo and never really growing.  And, to me, status quo is simply not acceptable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017



The word conjures images of greatness, heroism, once in a lifetime experiences. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't want to live an epic life, making a difference in the world.   But, what if being epic and living an epic life were different than our current reality?

What if being epic doesn't mean doing big things, but instead means doing little things well?  What if epic is spending true quality time with your kids or your spouse?  What if it is teaching a child to read? Or write? Or speak?  What if epic is helping a student understand what it means to add and subtract? What if it is inspiring a student to dream big?  What if being epic means giving your time or resources to help someone who could never pay you back?  Or just being there for someone in need?

What if living an epic life is really just doing what we are called to do and doing it well, day by day, no matter the circumstances or obstacles that stand in our way?

Now, that, my friends, is epic.

Thanks to John Spencer (@spencerideas) and the EduAllStars podcast for the inspiration for this post.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Learning from Podcasts

Recently, I discovered podcasts.  I take that back.  I've known about podcasts for years, but only recently started really listening to them.  The reason is that I'm beginning a new exercise program and wanted to learn while I sweated.  But, no matter what got me started, I'm finding a wealth of valuable learning through podcasts.

If you aren't familiar with what a podcast is, a simple definition is that it is a talk show that you can download and listen to at any time.  There are hundreds of them available on every topic imaginable.  I lean toward education and leadership podcasts.

Below are several of my favorites that I cycle through each week.  If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  I'm always open to learning.

Better Leaders, Better Schools - This podcast is designed to help school leaders get better through learning from the wisdom of those both inside and outside the school setting. 

Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers- Angela Watson provides great ideas for teachers on a variety of topics and from many different guests. 

Andy Stanley's Leadership Podcast - Pastor Andy Stanley provides leadership motivation, ideas, and wisdom from his own experience and interviews with other leaders. 

Kids Deserve It - Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome provide motivation for educators in each weekly interview with a leader in various fields. 

You can use many different services to access podcasts including iTunes.  I personally use the app Podbean, which is available on the AppStore or GooglePlay.  But, there are many others that provide the same function.  However you choose to do it, I encourage you to start listening.  It is worth the time.

Again, please feel free to leave your favorite podcasts in the comments section.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


"You can eat all of that food or you can go to your room, young lady."

 Which would you choose?

"You can get to that office now or I can call your mother." Hmm, decisions, decisions.

In either case, there is not much of a choice given.

"You better decide now or it's not going to be pretty around here."

Sadly, these are the kinds of options that kids, particularly those with behavior issues already, face every day.  No matter how they choose, they lose. There is no positive choice.

But what if we changed these scenarios.

"You have a choice. You can eat your beans first or your potatoes first. Which do you choose?"  

"It's time to go to the office. You have a choice. You can walk with me or you can walk ahead.  Which do you choose?"  

At this point, either keep eating or start walking and let them make a choice.  They now have two positive options, both of which get the result the adult was looking for in the first place.

Offering two positive choices give kids a chance to practice decision making and have some control over the situation.  It also allows the adult to focus on the positive response they wanted from the beginning while teaching the child the skill of decision making. For this to work, however, two things must happen. First, you have to give the child some time to make a choice.  This may take some time. Be patient.  If they don't choose, repeat the choices without sounding angry. Second, both choices have to be positive for the child.  If one is positive and one is negative or both are negative, it comes across a threat.

So, let's revisit the above situations. You've just given the child a choice between eating their beans or potatoes first. After a few moments, they start eating their beans.  At this point, it is time to notice them and reinforce their decision.

You chose to eat your beans first.   

In the second scenario, the child goes ahead of you and makes it to office before you arrive. As soon as you get there, acknowledge their choice: You chose to walk ahead of me.  

While it may seem simple, giving two positive choices can alleviate many of the power struggles that adults face with kids every day.  Also, if a student is upset, it can help them become calm by giving them options and some control over those options.

Are two positive choices always necessary?  Of course not.  If a student is following directions, then there may be no need for choices.  If a student is in a fight or flight state and unable to make a choice, then an assertive command will be necessary.  In case of an emergency, choices could be dangerous.  For example, during a fire, the only choice is to get out of the building through the safest route possible.

Giving two positive choices is a powerful tool in our arsenal to use to avoid power struggles and teach kids to develop decision making.

For a more thorough discussion of the concept of choices, watch the video below from Becky Bailey's Conscious Discipline series.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Victim or Victor?

"These kids just can't get it. I could teach if they would just try harder."  "Parents are the problem.  If they would just raise their kids with some manners, my job would be easier."  "If Central Office would stop sending more mandates, I could get something done."

Sound familiar?  These refrains, in various form, are heard in schools everyday.  These and similar phrases along with the thought processes that accompany them are what I've started referring to as victim mentality.  True victims are at the mercy of others, usually not by choice.  A victim mentality, however, is a choice.  I know because I've made it many times in my life and career.

So what is a victim mentality? In simple terms, it is putting yourself in the role of victim by blaming others or circumstances for your current condition.  Victims, in this case, give up control to someone or something else and simply accept circumstances as they are.  It is what Zig Ziglar used to call "stinkin' thinkin.'  It is possible that your current circumstances may be affected or even have been brought on by forces outside of your control.  But, that doesn't mean you have to allow these to control you.

The opposite of victim mentality is victor mentality.  Victors may be in the exact same situation or circumstances as others. They may be facing the same challenges.  The difference is that they take ownership of the problem and look for a solution.  Victors do not give others control over how they respond to circumstances.  They focus on what they can do to change things and then get to work.

Overall, victim mentality is the simpler path because it relieves you of responsibility.  If circumstances are beyond your control, how can you be expected to do anything about it?   Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous.  This mentality can lull you into believing you can't do anything, so you just don't.  Why try to get better if nothing is going to change?  Why work harder if you can't change anything?

Victors, on the other hand, take responsibility for the situation they are in, even it is not of their own making.  They determine to do what is within their power to do.  They refuse to be defined by their circumstances.

In education as in life, people can choose either of these two mindsets.  The victors are the ones who move classrooms and schools forward day after day, year after year.  They are the ones that defy circumstances and do whatever it takes for kids and schools to succeed.  They do all this while the victims sit back and watch, wondering why these people are working so hard.

So, which will you be:  victim or victor?  The choice is yours.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

You never know

Last Sunday morning, I was visiting with a consultant who helps mentor and train pre-service teachers for an area university.  While we were talking in the church office, a veteran teacher walked in.  The consultant stopped, looked at her, and said, "I need to tell you something." He proceeded to tell how one of his pre-service teachers shared that the reason she wanted to teach was because she had struggled in school, had poor behavior, and didn't feel like her teachers cared about her.  But there was this one teacher in 4th grade who did care.  This teacher loved her, but also pushed her hard when she didn't want to work. She told how this lady would even come to her house, sit at her kitchen table, and make sure she was learning. "It's because of her that I want to be a teacher,"

Tears were beginning to form in my eyes as I listened to this story, but I was stunned when my consultant friend looked in the veteran teacher's eyes and said, "You were that teacher." As he shared the girl's name, a light shone in her eyes.  "Oh, yes, I remember her.  We went round and round, but I refused to give up. I'm so glad she is doing well."

As educators, we may never see the real impact that we have on our students.  It could be years later before the fruits of our labor come to fruition.  But, we do have an impact, for good or ill.
Each day, we need to focus on giving our best to every student and not accepting less than their best, no matter how hard that is to accomplish.  It will be worth it if we don't give up.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Panda Planner Part 3

This is the third post in a series on my journey with the Panda Planner.  In the last two, I talked about the features of the planner and how to use it.  This time, I'm focusing on how I have been putting the Panda Planner to use and some of the benefits I am deriving from it.  See the video below for my insights:

One of the first time/task management principles I ever learned was to set up the next days schedule the night before.  I've continued to do this, but it was burdensome because of having my calendar and other sheets to carry around. Obviously, I could use a tool like Google or Outlook, but, although I am pretty tech savvy, I still prefer paper and pencil for some things.  With the Panda Planner, I have space for my schedule, tasks, and major priorities in front of me and it is easier to plan my next day's activities.  Then, in the morning, I focus on prepping for the day by reflecting on what I am thankful for, excited about, and what I want to focus on for that day. Once I have gotten my mind moving in a positive direction, I then spend the next few minutes reviewing my schedule and priorities before heading out the door.

At the end of each day, before I start on the next day's schedule, I spend time reflecting on and listing the days's wins and ways I'll improve.  This act alone puts me in positive mode again and then gets my brain prepped to look for how I'll change myself the next day to make it better.   Both the planning and reflecting are becoming habits for me and helping me focus on my priorities each day.

One area that I did not do well was longer term planning.  With the Panda Planner, I now have a tool for weekly and monthly planning and reflection.  Every Sunday night, I take time to review all of my pages from the previous week.  I then reflect on the wins and areas I can improve during the coming week.  I then plan my week out, focusing specifically on the important projects and goals.  I refer to this page all week long to keep myself on the right track.

Monthly planning requires me to focus on my major goals for the month and distractions to avoid in order to meet them.  It also lets me decide on a focus for the month and habits I'm trying to develop.  Being able to mark off each day that I do my future habit is a real motivator.  At the end of the month, I can look back and reflect on how I did in meeting my goals and what I learned along the way.

As I've stated before, all of this could be done with other planning tools, but this is the first I've found where it is all together and simple to use.  For me, the simplicity and the reflective piece have made all the difference.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Changing Behavior and Mindset

Our campus, a high-poverty Title 1 school, has been implementing Conscious Discipline this year as part of a three year plan to help change the climate and culture of the school.  As we learn about the CD structures, we are implementing them building wide and teachers are putting them to use in their classrooms.  Each day, we have a campus wide morning meeting where we celebrate student and staff achievements, learn new social skills, and sing about positive behaviors.  Slowly, but surely, we're seeing changes in the behaviors of students as they learn new social skills.  I've even begun to change the way I work with students when they visit the office.  We spend lots of time learning and practicing positive choices.

Last week, my principal and I were doing lunch duty when she observed a student pointing across the table and appearing to tell on another student.  "We're not a tattling school," she told the little girl.  The boy beside the girl piped up, "No, we're a caring school."  Another joined in, "We're a safe school."  A third child joined the conversation, "We're a helpful school, too."  My principal commended each of them for their insights.  About that time, the little girl said, "I was just trying to tell you that she spilled something and needed help."  My principal apologized, let her know she was helpful, and, not one to waste a teaching moment, shared the entire conversation with the rest of the kids and adults in the cafeteria.

I later told our staff, "Our kids are getting it.  By our example, use of Conscious Discipline, and love for these kids, we are making Northside Primary a loving, caring, safe, helpful school."  When we deliberately focus on both teaching and modeling positive behaviors and noticing when kids use them, it will stick and we will see changes, not only in the children, but in ourselves as well.

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Kid's Cry: Notice Me!!

Thursday afternoon, my son William called me after work.  "Dad, come watch me play golf."  I headed for the course and spent the next hour or so watching my son swing a club at a little ball.  As he played, he made sure to tell his golf ignorant father about each club and why it was used.  Most importantly, he looked over his shoulder regularly to be sure I was watching him play and not on my phone or daydreaming.

Even at 15, my son needs someone to notice him.  We all need this.  How much more is this a priority for young children?  The whole scene reminded me of what I'm learning in Conscious Discipline about Noticing and letting kids know through our specific words and actions that we really see them.  This is more than a quick "Good job," which is really a form of judgment.  Instead, when we notice a child, we let them know we see what they are doing.  "You jumped up in the air and your arms went like this."  "You started every sentence with a capital and ended with a period.  You did it." "You held the door so your friend could walk in.  That was helpful."

True noticing takes focus and work.  But it is what kids want and need from the adults in their lives.

This week, take time to really notice your kids.  It makes a difference.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Time to Read

"What books are you reading right now?"  When I ask this question, I normally get one of two responses.  Active readers will tell me about the latest book they are engrossed in and often share the lessons they are learning.  Inactive readers will look at me with a blank stare.  When I ask why they aren't reading regularly, the most common response is "I don't have time."  In this post, I hope to address that excuse with a well-worn solution that still bears repeating.

The first question that must be addressed is, "If reading is so important, how can someone on a busy schedule make time to do it?" One of the easiest ways I've found is to set either a length of time to read or a minimum number of pages.  For example, if a person reads 10 minutes a day every day, they will have read 3,640 minutes in a year. That's the equivalent of 60 hours.  If you read as little as 25 pages an hour, that's 1500 pages or five 300 page books in a year.  Not bad for someone who hasn't read in a while.  

If a person instead chooses to read just 10 pages a day in a good book, that's 3650 pages in a year, or twelve 300 page books.  Imagine the effect of reading twelve great books in a year, especially if you put what you've learned into practice.

Where does the time come from?  The main way I've found to create time for reading is to change my TV habits.  I hate to say it, but on demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu can be reading killers.  Especially if you start binge watching programs.  So, what about taking 10 minutes of TV time and turning that into reading time?  You could read during the halftime show. Better yet, how about 30 minutes, the length of a typical sitcom?  Do that every night and you'll gain 182 hours of reading time each year.

Another time I've found to read is in the restroom.  It may not sound glorious, but it allows a few minutes each day.  Just don't take too long or people may start banging on the door. If you ride public transportation, use that time for reading.  What about Facebook time?  Could you spare 10 to 30 minutes each day off of social media to read a good book?

Setting up a particular time of day to read is also helpful. For example, I like to read right before I go to bed. My house is quiet and I can focus on my book.  Others wake up early to read or read during lunch.

Even the busiest people can find down time in their day that can be used for reading.  It may mean altering schedules or giving up some habit, but the benefit is worth the sacrifice.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Panda Planner Part 2 #30DaysBlogging

It's been about 10 days since I started using the Panda Planner.  In my first post on the Panda Planner, I said I would be doing periodic updates about how it is helping (or not helping) me in my quest for a more productive day and better time management.  So far, I'm happy to report that the results have been positive.  I'm accomplishing more at work and home as well as developing some healthy habits.  In the video below, I discuss some of the positives and lessons learned over the last ten days.

There is really nothing unique about the parts of the Panda Planner.  Each aspect can be found in other planning tools. What makes it useful and different, at least for me, is the structure.  All of the tools and processes that I want to use are in one location.  For example, I don't have to think about reflecting because the reflection piece is on each daily page.  I just have to do the work.  Remembering to plan out my week is not an issue because the process is laid out in the Weekly section.  All I have to do is take the time and effort to make it happen.  My priorities for each month, week, and day are laid out before me.  I just have to focus on these priorities.

Since I started using the Panda Planner, I've seen my productivity increase simply because I have my highest priority activities in front of me each day.  I just make my daily schedule match these priorities as much as possible.

Aside from the time management aspects, my favorite part of using the Panda Planner has been the daily and weekly reviews.  While completing these, I get the chance to zero in on the positives of the day or week as well as where I can get better. I also get to really think about my day before it happens and decide what I'm excited about in the upcoming hours.  Being excited about accomplishments and growth opportunities make them even more special when they occur.

All in all, I've seen growth since I started using the Panda Planner and expect to see even more in the weeks ahead.  I'll continue to reflect and provide more videos on my journey in the weeks ahead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Great Connector

This subject of this post has nothing to do with being an educator.  At the same time, it has everything to do with it.  This post is about food.  Namely, the connecting power of food.  Since 1998, I've either visited or lived in 10 countries outside of the United States.  In most of these, I had the chance to spend time with local families, often in their homes.  I also observed lots of westerners, particularly Americans, during these visits.  Most of these travelers stayed at 5 star hotels and ate at the best restaurants.  In contrast, my wife and I stayed in homes or cheap hotel rooms near the city centre and usually ate with families or in the local eating spots, particularly night markets.

It makes a difference. If you are just in a place to sightsee, eat wherever you like. If you want to connect with people, eat with them and, even more importantly, eat what they eat.  I can't count the relationships that I have made with people simply because I was willing to sit in their home and eat what they had cooked.  It was always amusing to see people grin and comment about how you really liked their food. It was honoring to them, just as it is honoring to have a guests eat at my own home.  It brings joy to both the giver and receiver.

For many people, eating unknown food is scary.  I've seen people who were literally afraid to eat what others had carefully prepared.  One fellow who traveled with us for a time loaded his suitcase with beef jerky so he didn't have to eat local food.  On a home visit in Southeast Asia, the grandmother took pity on him and hand prepared him chicken strips so he wouldn't go hungry.  Another man refused to eat at the night market and instead made his way down the street to Pizza Hut each evening.  Both missed opportunities to build relationships with people in the most natural way possible, over a meal.
In my travels, I've eaten foods that were amazing and others that did not agree with me.  It didn't matter because it wasn't about the food, it was about the people.  The food was just a connector.  This was brought back to mind this week when an Indian student's mother found out I had lived in parts of Asia.  She made me a plate of flat bread and green curry sauce that was to die for.  That simple gesture was a reflection of the relationship I am building with her family.

I could write all night about food, what does it have to do with education?  Lots.  As educators, we have to be willing to step into our student's and families world in order to build relationships with them.  Maybe that won't be through food, but instead finding out what they enjoy and then doing it with them.  It may mean finding out which kids are on the little league team and then going and sitting in the stands watching them.  It may mean finding out their favorite game and playing with them.  When parents visit the school, we can find out their interests and spend time talking with them about it. When we are out shopping or in the community, take the time to visit with parents and their kids.  If you are invited to their home, accept the invitation.  Whatever we do, we must find a way to connect that is honoring to the other person and use that to build a relationship.  The means is not what is important.  The relationship is.  In my case, I just hope it involves food.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Panda Planner (Initial Thoughts) #30DaysBlogging

One of my goals for the new year is to find or formulate a better system of time management.  With an every increasing amount of responsibilities, it is imperative that I use my time more productively.  I've written before on this topic before (Getting Things Done) and still use the strategies from that post.  Now, more is needed.  That is where my search began. I've been reviewing several different time management systems and most are more difficult than helpful, particularly with my "keep it simple" personality.   I stumbled onto the Panda Planner online and after reading several reviews and watching videos decided to give it a try.  The main reason I wanted to use it is that it appears to help you focus more readily on specific projects and has reflection built in.  It is also designed to focus on the positive, even when looking at areas to improve. I already do these things, but not often enough in writing.  That should change as I use the Panda Planner.  The plan is to use it for the four months that this copy allows and write reviews along the way.  I've included my introduction in the video shown below.  (Next time, I'll turn the camera.)