Making It Happen: “When Change Has Legs”


The problem with new initiatives is that nobody wants another thing to do.  Everyone is full-up, drowning in a plate that is over-full.  Still, continuous improvement seems necessary.  Change , naturally, falls out of the need to get better at what we do.  Better means smarter; more focused and full of intent.  Embedding new frameworks and specific practices into our schools can be tricky.  Failure rates can be high and sustaining efforts over time requires keen leadership.

In a previous entry, I stated

For lasting change, we must build upon the good things that are already happening within the school ecology.

In an article written for Educational Leadership (“SPECIAL TOPIC: When Change Has Legs”), David Perkins and Jim Reese elaborate on four key factors that  help determine whether change efforts will be sustained over time.

“we might think of change as traveling on four legs: frameworks, leaders, community, and institutionalization.”



  • teachers are more likely to warm to frameworks they can adapt to their personal styles and circumstances
  • teachers can often work effectively with two or three frameworks simultaneously, as long as the frameworks are not contradictory

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • stiff, rigid frameworks with little room for individualization
  • juggling more than a few frameworks that don’t “fit” together well

What seems to work

  • allowing for individual implementation of the framework with frequent feedback from colleagues
  • choosing just a few roomy frameworks that fit well together.



  • Initiatives need a political visionary (often the principal) who advocates for the initiative relentlessly,   making it a priority, defending it against critics, explaining it to parents, appearing for key events, and allocating resources
  • They also need a practical visionary (often teachers) who is given the time and resources to manages the program on the ground, organizing faculty groups and events and conducting some training and coaching.

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • simply being “friendly” toward an initiative is not leading the initiative
  • administrators cannot easily play the dual role of political and practical visionary

What seems to work

  • Leadership with a slow but constant presence
  • The initiative is not a bulky mandate, but instead becomes more about “who we are”



  • widespread change efforts include a complex set of interactions
  • varying degrees of acceptance are to be expected and planned for by all
  • a collegial culture is crucial; transparency essential

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • a strong in-group and out-group can form if leaders are not careful about initial work
  • the polarization can grow, making success increasingly unlikely

What seems to work

  •  make information widely available to staff, community and other school leaders
  • recruit teachers with experience in new initiative to share stories; remain inclusive



  • sustaining over time is difficult as the context changes
  • initiatives need to be written into the school’s “dna”

Roadblocks that thwart change

  • practical and/or political visionaries leave
  • change was not planned for; momentum subsides

What seems to work

  • plan for teaching new staff
  • create a framework for sharing practices; place events on calendar

It is not enough to simply adopt a new initiative with integrity.  Instead, we must be intentional about HOW we put legs on the framework.  Our choices will determine the degree to which new practices emerge; change in practice becomes systemic.

Perkins and Reese add:

” The main point is that teachers like talking about teaching. So with a shared language and a shared approach there is loads of room for talking. It brings teachers out of their classrooms, their grades and their departments, and creates a more collaborative school environment.”

Perkins, David N. and Reese, James D.   “Special Topic:  When Change Has Legs“. Educational Leadership.  71 ( 8),     2014.  42-47. Print. Electronic.


Power With, Not Power Over: Building Community


Reading the section on Community Building in High Impact Instruction by Jim Knight.  Chapter 11 is entitled “Power With, Not Power Over”.

Power With involves authentic power we develop with students.  To do so, we must practice empathizing with, connecting with, and respecting students.  

Empathizing is an active engagement that  is a “willingness to become part of another’s experience, to share the feeling of the experience”.

“Empathy is the very means by which we create social life and advance civilization.”  Jeremy Rifkin

“Power with” our student begins with the simple desire to empathize with them, to deeply understand how they are experiencing our class and school, and how they think and feel about what is important in their lives.  ”  This is about being intentional about understanding.

Teachers can use empathy as a strategy for everything they do in class.  Some specific examples given by Knight include:

  1. see the class through individual students’ eyes as much as possible
  2. put photographs of all students on the wall where lesson design occurs to remind that the focus is on these children
  3. do a mental roll-call of all student’s faces before planning a lesson to consider the needs of each student
  4. consider how high, average, low and other learning students are doing in your class
  5. prompt students to do Martin Seligman’s Three Good Things Exercise
  6. use more formal methods:  interest surveys, strength surveys, writing prompts, anonymous feedback
  7. have a peer of yours interview students
  8. take a challenging class that will help you understand the experiences of students who are struggling (I recommend trying to knit socks!  )

Building effective relationships with students is a pivotal piece of their learning process.

“I Used To Think…” with PBIS

Our second cohort of  school teams came today for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Intensive Training.   We changed it up a bit by having two superb administrators from a county middle school and elementary come to tell their PBIS “story” of implementation.    Much of our typical content delivery was woven into the message given by these two “pros” .  Nice change!

Our Work During The Day

Teams will be using PBIS Assessments and the Benchmarks of Quality  (BOQ) to progress monitor their school’s implementation.  After completing the BOQ electronically at their table, teams discussed their results.

They were given a bit of content covering the various components of PBIS implementation.  They had good conversations with their team to determine what they had in place and what they needed to add or “tweak”.  Action plans for every phase were documented.  This will be taken back to their school for input prior to our next session in one month.  They will end the three sessions with a detailed roll out plan that is unique to their building’s needs.

At the end of our first day, participants were asked for feedback about what did and didn’t work for them.  Additionally, we did the “I used to think” routine to help participants reflect upon how and why their thinking had changed after our first day.  Here are many of the responses:

used to


Teams were at variety of places in their implementation efforts thus far.   All teams were  experiencing many inconsistencies and “holes” in their current efforts.  Still, keeping the conversations rich and moving through the day was tricky considering everyone had different needs.  It was not always clear when to stop and start.  It seems someone’s experience would be jeopardized if we moved on; others needed to move on to maximize their day.  I suspect this is the teaching conundrum.  We will discuss ways to negotiate this in the future.

We will continue fine-tuning the context of their learning and  look forward to our next session in about one month!


Find a PBIS Assessment Coordinator

PBIS Assessment School Information Form

Thinking Routines

Flipping Professional Learning: Our First Go


Well.  We did it!  We flipped our professional learning for educators!  

Part of our master plan for professional learning includes FBA/BIP Using the Problem Solving Method.  This is an essential element to any school building’s framework of support for all kids.  Essentially, we believe the problem solving method is a viable way to understand the child in the school environment.  This knowing allows us to support them in ways that help them overcome the barriers that prevent them from thriving socially, emotionally and academically.  The process can be laborious and isn’t needed for all kids.  When the environment and the student clash in pronounced ways, this is the most reliable tool we have.

We have had sessions for our county for years.  They have been fairly well-attended.  However, the lesson design and resulting outcomes for educators   were  problematic for a variety of reasons:

While I work with a phenomenal team ( and this is OUR collective “baby”),  my personal goal was to design a more engaging experience for the learner that met them where they were and gave them some tools to move forward.  Infusing some technology, where appropriate, was also part of our game plan.  I yearn for growth:  in self and others,   and to be a catalyst of just that. There must be a purpose in everything I do.  Our team did a great job designing this learning experience!

Lesson Design

We are going to flip it.  No more “sage on the stage”.  No more “sit and git”.  I wholeheartedly am grateful for  the support we had by Bryan Dean (@drrevdean) , the county’s gifted guy with ‘hat-n-tats’, who knows “the real deal”.  He assisted with lesson design.

The 1.5 day “content” (knowledge) was put on PowerPoint with voice-over.  Supporting handouts were placed on Edmodo.  We had assessments, but these were primarily about affording participants with state credits for their participation.  We had a completed case as a  model.

We typically send out a pre-needs assessment using  This is to guide our day; meet them where they are, currently.  

Face to Face

1.  Digest the content:   we used  as a back-channel but to process what they knew, what they needed to know and how we can support them during the day.  The input was very helpful, in a formative assessment kind of way.


2.  Teams applied learning with an actual student.    We had a school team ; we had individuals from several school teams.  Those from the school team were:

  • more engaged
  • more productive


                                                                         20130131_110131 (2)

This is what “engaged” looks like with adults.

3.  We used a chalk talk routine to discuss pitfalls and roadblocks.  

4.  We crowd-sourced interventions around the pitfalls.  We modeled thoughtful searches.  People discussed.

5. We made district/building plans around all of the content.  


  •  Quadruple check access as it pertains to technology
  • Create and USE pre-assessments to design great learning for individuals
  • Make this a three day event with two of the days face to face
  • Keep on, “keepin, on”.  Progress monitoring matters because it informs
  • School teams are more engaged and productive than individuals
  • Consider giving credits for individuals who simply want the content

Engaging, productive professional learning is hard to come by.  I want to get better at meeting educators where they are and helping them to the next place.  Our next go around will be even better!

What Is Your Special Purpose


Like Navin R. Johnson, in The Jerk:   everyone has a special purpose.  Knowing and monitoring the “why” of your work will increase the chances that you hit your target.  If you stand for something, you are less likely to “fall for anything”.  How you spend your time matters (as Navin will attest).

I had the pleasure of reading Annie Murphy Paul’s blog last week.  This particular entry was essentially about knowing your purpose.  AMP  uses the concept of “templates” to harness this:   there are  commonly occurring patterns in your work.  You need to find them; use them to  define your purpose.

‘Think for a moment about what “pattern recognition” means in your own job. For me, it means being able to recognize an interesting insight hidden within often-dense academic papers, and being able to fit that insight into the structure of things I know about learning, as well as into the structure of a blog post or a magazine article.

When I worked at Psychology Today magazine many years ago, and had to churn out dozens of news items for every issue, I actually made a list of common story-telling structures: “So you thought X was the case? Well, new research shows that actually Y is true.” “New research shows that that old bit of wisdom, X, is more true than we realized.” “Here’s something you’ve never considered: X.”

This long digression brings me back to the question I posed above: What are some “templates” or commonly occurring patterns in your own work, and how can you more precisely define and refine them? I’

And so, during knitting and morning walks with my Pug, I tried to articulate this:   What ARE my templates ?

Recurring themes in my work:

  1. Become a better coach:  Teachers and principals are overtaxed , undervalued and treading water.  How can I  be more effective in helping them deal with their most pressing issues around student engagement/school culture?  
  2. Become a better teacher:  Old school professional learning no longer works.  How can I meet the needs of the learners who count on me to support their unique needs around  thinking and learning ?  All professional learning must embrace  adult learning in the age of technology; it must meet them where they are and help them to the next place.
  3. Become a better peer:  Working collaboratively means we need to understand one another; support strengths and weaknesses; celebrate the diversity therein.
  4. Focus on what matters: I must go back to the goals of my work; identify what matters and  let the rest fade into the abyss. Less is more.


  • Kids want to be engaged; teachers want to engage.  Coaching and teaching must be innovative and reflective of the unique needs of the learners.
  • The world needs all kinds of people to “tick”.  Take time to understand people who speak a different ” language” .
  • Locate what is “core” work.  Be sure THAT never takes a back seat to other things.

My purpose:  Coaching, teaching, collaborating around student engagement and school culture/climate.  I will explore my  templates around each of these areas.  Next up:  Articulating my templates around coaching.  

Knowing WHO You Have

mid2Circa 1996.  This is my Teensy; my youngest; my Madeline.  A toddler, smiling, while her extended family clapped at her newly honed skill of “running” in our huge backyard.   She was proud here, much like the day before when just her father and I smiled and sat in awe while she ran uphill, smiling.

The day after, with a larger group, this lasted  for about 30 seconds.  The next picture (hidden) shows an overwhelmed baby girl, looking for her mother, crying.   I bolted out into the yard to snaggle her up in my arms.  I was confused about the sudden change in her affect.  I only know she needed me to protect her from the clapping, yelling and cheering.  I intuited that is was all too much.  The noise was too much, but more than that, Madeline did not like all the attention.

mid Madeline @ 8 analyzing the basil grown for her self-altered pesto recipe

Fast forward 1.5 decades:  Madeline prefers to hang under the radar: reading, thinking, baking, yoga-ing:  minus the make-up and bling that her peers adore. I didn’t understand this about my girl for quite some time.  I learned that she prefers solitary time.  She dislikes a lot of attention.  She wants to read and write and think.  This is a private activity that she shares, sometimes, with the people she loves and trusts.  I covet the time “that” trusted human is me.  I hold it dearly, because I never know when it will be sitting in my lap.  Still, nobody is all “introvert” or all “extrovert”.  Like everyone else, Madeline is a wonderful blend, loving social time with special people; craving time for reflection. Shy?  No.  Quiet?  Often.  Don’t forget:  Still waters run deep.

576851_4885868667807_1236838366_nMadeline with friends during spirit week

Knowing your students will allow you to meet their social needs

Some of my Tweeps recommended a book by Susan Cain:   Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking . I am intrigued. I want to understand introversion better. I love people who seem to fit this profile. I work with people who seem to fit this profile. I may even have been born introvert myself, but  the world and experience seems to push everyone to be social; to collaborate and  talk.  Still, like many, quiet time fuels me.  I love working alone.

I also listened to a TED talk by the author: Pretty amazing synopsis of what it is like to grow up primarily introverted in a social world.  Listening to this TED talk fueled a conversation on Twitter about collaborative work in classrooms.  One of my Tweeps has done a remarkable job of thinking about Cain’s book .   Follow this link for a thorough look at what it means to be introverted in today’s classroom.

The need for privacy; the need to seek respite from “social” – is a healthy and adaptive way to negotiate life. I suspect, as teachers, it is our job to know our kids and know what they need to shine.  Social learning is great for extroverts, but not everyone learns best that way.  While the world pushes us to collaborate, we must also consider that some think and learn best when they can work independently before sharing with the group.

Knowing who sits in front of us in class is the first step toward meeting everyone’s needs.


Thinking Through the Roadblocks: PBIS

Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) is a school-wide  framework that offers buildings the opportunity for culture change.  Implemented well, within a response to intervention (RTI) system that offers a wide array of creative, comprehensive options for academic and behavioral challenges, research on PBIS is promising.  It reduces the need for special education referrals.  It reduces the number of suspensions.

Most common misperceptions?  

  •  PBIS is all about extrinsic rewards.
  • All kids don’t “need” it, so why should we do it?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

PBIS is a comprehensive framework that is most effective when embedded in the school’s improvement plan/goals AND in collaboration with an RTI model around academics.  The beauty of PBIS, really?

  • develops predictable routines in common areas
  • creates common language for staff and students
  • focuses on teaching routines/expectations instead of punishing
  • helps staff think through expectations for activities and procedures
  • helps administrators think through expectations of staff and students
  • keeps staff and administration communicating about their school culture
  • helps school teams develop alternatives to suspension

Reward systems are part of PBIS and research across many buildings indicate it works.  However, reward systems are only a small part of the bigger picture.  During our professional learning and implementation support, we encourage buildings to determine if this part is necessary for them.  If they are not comfortable with it, we help them implement without.  After all, if the data indicates the climate is fine, why tamper with what works for them?

PBIS is not needed for you?  This may be true for teachers who  are incredibly effective at building relationships.  Maybe you are consistent, positive and  able to manage all difficulties within your classroom.  But look around.  Is this true for every classroom in your building?  District?   Is it possible that your building or district needs it, despite your success?   The consistency, predictability  and routines that PBIS supports offer are vital for children who come from chaotic, unpredictable communities/homes.  Your demographics may not include these students.  They may, but you might be effective regardless.   Still, the benefits of PBIS done well are clear.  They work for everyone, everywhere.  This is about the building, not the individual teacher alone.

So, what does it take to become a high implementor of PBIS?

(1) Teacher commitment to the initiative needs to be developed and reinforced. Communication of guidelines and the rationale for practices could facilitate teacher buy-in. Systematic use of data to demonstrate the effectiveness of PBS practices was also linked to teacher buy-in.
(2) Clear implementation guidelines should be provided to all school staff through a structured system of professional development and information dissemination. The guidelines need to help teachers respond positively to an often diverse population of students. They also need to encourage consistent and appropriate implementation of the rewards system based on a shared understanding of PBS in the school.
(3) Systematic data collection and use allows teachers and administrators to monitor the nature, location, and frequency of smaller disciplinary infractions before they become larger issues.
(4) Including student input in data-based decision-making can be useful in addressing barriers associated with the rewards system, including selecting appropriate rewards and monitoring the consistency with which rewards are offered.
(5) PBS orientation/training for new and substitute teachers could increase the consistency of application within the school. Similarly, refresher training may be needed for more experienced teachers. However, given the limited resources for professional development and the experience of some teachers with PBS, creativity in how to provide the training – to whom, when, and in what format – will be needed.


Positive Behavior Support in Delaware Schools

Identifying Implementation Barriers and Facilitators in PBIS