Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Seven Sure Solutions to School Success: How Many Do You Need?

Looking to the Future by Reviewing the Past 

Dear Colleagues,

   There are times when all of us need to pause, consider, reconsider, and regroup.  This especially important given the speed of our personal and professional lives- - because sometimes we are so focused on dealing with the present, that we do not reflect and learn from the past.

   On a professional level, the month (or so) before the beginning of the new school year is a critically important time to analyze the past  . . . so that we can apply the “lessons learned” from the past when the school doors open (in August or September) in the near-future.

   And so, in this spirit, I decided to look through some of my recent past blog messages to identify some of their themes and patterns... hoping that this analysis will help all of us to better address the future.
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Controversies and Concerns

   In looking at my past blog messages, I realize that there are many controversies in education.  In fact, even when some of the data and information are irrefutable, the interpretations and implications are still controversial.

   And then there are times when controversies occur because either (a) there is a difference of opinion, or (b) people are afraid to acknowledge the truth. 

   In the latter situation, I have little patience when colleagues know that something is wrong, over-simplified, under-researched, or ineffective. . .and yet they are passive, quiet, involved, or complicit.  This borders on a moral or ethical problem when students, staff, or schools are denied services and supports, or are outright harmed.  This happens far too often in education because of ego, incompetence, or self-promotion, or just because people are afraid of losing their funding, status, or jobs.

   Among the controversies I have addressed over the past 24 blog-months are the following:

   * School Improvement and Turn-Around Practices
   * Strategic Planning and Organizational Development
   * Effective Teacher Training, Recruitment, and Retention
   * School Safety and School Violence
   * Disproportionality and Zero Tolerance
   * Teasing, Taunting, Bullying, and Harassment
   * The Efficacy of PBIS and its Branding by the Department of Education
   * Trauma Sensitive School Programs
   * Disproportionate Suspensions of Minority Students and those with Disabilities
   * Student Accountability and the Restorative Justice Bandwagon
   * Effective School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management
   * Differentiated Classroom Instruction and Instructional Student Groups
   * Differences between Remediation, Accommodation, and Modification
   * Multi-Tiered Service and Support Systems that Work
   * Linking Functional Assessment with Strategic and Intensive Intervention

   Most of the time, these issues have been prompted by a national report or event.  Some of the time, they have been generated by a situation or dilemma that I have addressed during one of my national consultations in the field.  All of the time, I have directly identified the issues, and tried to make specific and practical suggestions for change- - from a student perspective.

   If any of these issues are important to you as you reflect on the past in order to prepare for the future, I invite you to look at the middle right hand side of this Blog where you will see a Subject Index to All Blogs list that will transport you to the messages related to your interests.
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Organizing your “Next Steps”

   In order to help you to think about different school improvement practices, and/or to help organize them for implementation at the beginning of the coming school year, I would like to briefly review our evidence-based model and approach. 

   Organized in “Seven Sure Solutions,” we have a great deal of free (some paid) information describing many strategies and approaches in each of these areas on our website (CLICK HERE TO LINK).

   The Seven Sure Solutions for School Success are:

Solution 1  Strategic Planning and Organizational Development
Solution 2  Staff Cohesion, Consultation, Shared Leadership, and Teaming
Solution 3  Professional Development, Supervision, Coaching, and Accountability
Solution 4  Positive Academic Supports and Services (Effective Academic Curriculum, Instruction and Multi-tiered Intervention)
Solution 5  Positive Behavioral Support Systems (Effective Multi-tiered School Discipline, Classroom Management, Student Self-Management, and Interventions for Behaviorally Challenging Students
Solution 6  Multi-tiered Response-to-Instruction and Intervention
Solution 7  Community and Family Involvement and Outreach


The Seven Sure Solutions for School Success 

Solution 1—Strategic Planning and Organizational Development.  This solution initially focuses on assessing the organizational climate, administrative style, staff decision-making, and other interprofessional and interpersonal processes in a school. 

   Activities then move into identifying and reinforcing, or establishing and implementing the organizational policies, professional development and instructional practices, and year-round teaming and intervention approaches that support the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral success of all students. 

   The ultimate “products” of this solution are School Improvement Plans (SIPs) that help schools build capacity and autonomy; identify, develop, and deploy resources; facilitate communication, collaboration, commitment, and innovation; and sustain student, staff, and system success.
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Solution 2—Staff Cohesion, Consultation, Shared Leadership, and Teaming.  In order to facilitate staff’s ongoing commitment to comprehensive school improvement, effective schools create a shared leadership atmosphere, structure, and formal and informal leadership interactions.  The shared leadership approach is guided by school-level committees that work seamlessly with grade-level (for elementary schools) or instructional-level (for secondary schools) teams.  This solution uses all of the components from the figure above to recommend and implement a school committee blueprint that is used to facilitate staff cohesion, consultation, and teaming. 
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Solution 3—Professional Development, Supervision, Coaching, and Accountability.  This effective school and schooling solution focuses on the evidence-based professional development, clinical supervision, coaching, and evaluation/accountability practices- - at the system, school, staff, classroom, and student levels- - that ensure that effective and differentiated instruction and effective and positive behavior management exists in every classroom for every student. 

   This involves creating a culture, and planning and implementing the processes whereby everyone recognizes that professional development occurs, formally and informally, every day for every staff person. 

   With a goal of increasing staff knowledge, enhancing instructional and intervention skills, and reinforcing confidence and independence, the essential processes are research and self-study, professional development and in-service instruction, clinical supervision and collegial consultation, and case study practice and application using peer mentoring and professional learning communities. 
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Solution 4—Positive Academic Supports and Services (PASS).  This academic instruction and intervention solution focuses on creating an effective “Instructional Environment” in every classroom within a school.  The Instructional Environment consists of the interdependent interactions among Teacher-Instructional, Student, and Curricular processes. 

   Expanding briefly, the Instructional Environment involves the integration of:

   * The different academic curricula taught in a classroom, as well as their connection to state standards and benchmarks, and district scope and sequence objectives (i.e., “What needs to be learned?”);

   * The teachers who are teaching these curricula, and how they organize and execute their classroom instruction (i.e., “Are appropriate instructional and management strategies being used?”); and

   * The students who are engaged in learning, their ability and motivation to master the instructional material, and their response to effective instruction and sound curricula (i.e., “Is each student capable, prepared, motivated, and able to learn, and are they learning?”). 
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Solution 5—Positive Behavioral Support Systems (PBSS).  This behavioral instruction and intervention solution focuses on implementing a comprehensive positive behavioral support system across a school that help:

   * Students learn, master, and apply interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills and interactions at a self-management level;

   * Staff to create and sustain positive, safe, supportive, and consistent classroom climates and school settings that motivate and engage students, while also holding them accountable for their (especially, inappropriate) behavior;

   * Schools to implement the multi-tiered strategic and intensive behavioral instruction or intervention needed to address students with non-responsive, resistant, challenging, or extreme behavior; and

   * Communities to reinforce these goals in home and other community settings. 

   While interactions in the common areas of the school (e.g., hallways, restrooms, cafeteria, buses) are addressed explicitly in this solution, a major focus here is how the PBSS is coordinated by teachers within and across grade levels, and how PBSS activities impact classroom climate, interactions, management, and engagement.  Another facet of the PBSS involves its multi-tiered continuum of services, supports, strategies, and programs to address the needs of students exhibiting social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.
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Solution 6—Multi-tiered Response-to-Instruction and Intervention.  All effective schools need to maintain a focus on problem solving, teaming, and consultation processes.  This includes the consistent use of data-based, functional assessment, problem solving approaches that all staff learn and use (a) when implementing effective academic and behavioral instruction in the classroom, and (b) when addressing students who either are not responding to this instruction or are exhibiting serious academic or behavioral concerns. 

   For the latter students, a multi-tiered “Response-to-Instruction and -Intervention” (RTI2) process is used that integrates problem solving with consultation and intervention.  Rejecting the more “traditional” RTI approach that advocates a universal intervention protocol, this RTI2 process emphasizes the importance of linking the data-confirmed reasons why a student is not responding to effective instruction to strategic instructional or intervention approaches.  These strategic approaches then are implemented by classroom teachers with consultative support (if needed) from other experts in the school.  This RTI2 process also recognizes that some students need adapted, differentiated, different, or more intensive instruction to address their needs, while other students need specific, focused, strategic or intensive interventions. 
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Solution 7—Community and Family Involvement and Outreach.  The parent and community training, support, and outreach solution focuses on increasing the involvement of all parents, but especially the involvement of parents of at-risk, underachieving, and chronically non-performing students.  Unfortunately, parents in these latter three groups tend to be less involved in and supportive of the school and schooling process, and thus, parent involvement often discriminates achieving from underachieving students. 

   Relative to the community, many schools do not use, and often are unaware of, the expertise and resources available to them.  In addition, there are times when community agencies (e.g., after school programs) are providing services that schools could use to reinforce or extend their instructional, intervention, or other support activities.  Finally, for students with significant, 24/7 academic or behavioral/mental health challenges, the need to coordinate and integrate school and community-based professionals and their services, supports, strategies, or programs is essential to the integrity of these approaches and the success of the students.
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   For schools that need to quickly address one of the “controversial” issues described earlier using one or more of the Seven Solutions, the webinar below may be of use.  Titled Fast-Tracking the School Improvement Process:  Strategic Planning, Administrative Leadership, Staff Collaboration, and Student Success, the webinar describes an 18-month turn-around blueprint emphasizing the essential Solution areas needed for schools in need of immediate change, improvement, and success.

   For schools that do not need to fast-track their processes, I hope that the Seven Sure Solutions will be helpful either to address a weakness or limitation in your school or district, or to move you to the next level of excellence as you approach the new school year.

   Meanwhile, if you are “on vacation,” I hope that you are enjoying the break.  If you are break but still thinking and planning for the coming year, I appreciate your dedication.

   As always, if I can help your school(s) or district in any of the areas related to one or more of the Seven Sure Solutions for Success, please do not hesitate to contact me. 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Unfulfilled Promise of Education: Students’ Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Skills

Why the “Soft Skills” are the Hard Skills, and Why they are Essential for Students’ Academic Success- - What Outcomes should be Targeted?

Dear Colleagues,

   For all of the rhetoric about ensuring that students are “college and career” ready, the reality is that our schools are still focused on students’ academic success and- - because of federal legislation and the U.S. Department of Education- - academic success that is measured largely by a single, high stakes, standards-based test.

   And yet, we know that many university freshman are spending a significant amount of time in remedial courses because they do not have the prerequisite skills (regardless of their high school diploma) to be successful at the college level. 

   We also know that many students do not complete their college careers- - many, perhaps again, because they don’t have the prerequisite academic skills to be successful. 

   And, we know that many high school graduates- - who enter the job market directly from high school- - need significant levels of (re)training in order to apply their reading, math, oral, and written skills to their new-found jobs.
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Students’ Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Skills

   But today’s discussion is not about academics.  Instead, it is about students’ social, emotional, and behavioral skills (or lack thereof).  Because no matter how prepared or unprepared our students are academically, they are substantially more unprepared in the areas of social, emotional, and behavioral interaction and collaboration. 

   This is largely because our schools are not systematically teaching our students the social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills that they need for success. . . skills that help them to learn and interact positively and prosocially in the classroom, with their peers, with teachers and other adults in school. . .and eventually in college and the workplace.

   Some call these skills the “Soft Skills.”  But, I think that these are the hard skills.  This is because these interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills most often occur under challenging, sometimes highly emotional, situations and circumstances.  Moreover, when people are unsuccessful in these areas, they damage relationships, alienate colleagues, and sometimes lose the jobs that they are otherwise academically prepared for.

   And so, as Congress rethinks our country’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act, our states, districts, and schools need to seriously consider developing a developmentally-sensitive, scaffolded preschool through high school Health, Mental Health, and Wellness curriculum with a specific scope and sequence of content, instruction, and skill development.

   While some educators may say, “Another thing to do ??!!”  It is important to note that hundreds of research studies over the past 20 years have demonstrated that students who learn and master social, emotional, and behavioral skills in their classrooms, academically outperform students who do not learn these skills- - at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.

   But our schools are already spending a significant amount of money, time, and training on a number of programs whose “common denominator” are the social, emotional, and behavioral skills that all students need.  The problem is that many of these programs are being “marketed” (some by the federal government or our state departments of education) in mutually exclusive ways.  Moreover, some of these programs have not demonstrated- - empirically and independently- - that they can be successful in different communities with students and staff from different backgrounds and who have different presenting needs, issues, and concerns. 

  Indeed, over the past decade, schools have been encouraged (or mandated) to have programs and/or strategies for:

   * Implementing school teasing and bully prevention programs
   * Decreasing office discipline referrals and disproportionate (minority and student with disabilities) school suspensions and expulsions
   * Facilitating “trauma sensitive” classrooms
   * Improving school climate and preventative mental health services
   * Increasing gender, multi-cultural, racial, LGBT, disability, and other awareness, sensitivity, and interactions.

   Clearly, schools do not have the money, time, personnel, or wherewithal to implement substantially separate initiatives in each of these areas.

   But the reality is:  Districts and schools do not need these substantially different programs or initiatives.  This is because, once again, they all share the same underlying social, emotional, and behavioral goals and skills that will help all students to be successful.  These are the goals and skills that help students to be socially, emotionally, and behaviorally proficient.
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The Most Important Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Goals for Schools

   To expand on the last statement, I would like to suggest the primary goals for a district-wide social, emotional, and behavioral initiative in the context of a Health, Mental Health, and Wellness preschool through high school “curriculum.”  These goals provide a “common denominator”- - whether we are talking about the need to address, for example, teasing, disproportionality, trauma, school climate, or racial insensitivity. 

   NOTE also that the goals below are designed to reflect a multi-tiered prevention-strategic intervention-and-intensive need continuum where services and supports are available to students who (a) are not responding to effective, classroom-based skill instruction; and/or (b) are presenting with persistent or significant social, emotional, or behavioral challenges.

Student Goals:

Student social, emotional, and behavioral competency and self-management as demonstrated by:

   * High levels of effective interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills and behaviors by all students;
   * High levels of critical thinking, reasoning, and social-emotional application skills and behaviors by all students; and
   * High levels of academic engagement and academic achievement for all students.

Staff Goals:

   * High levels of effective social, emotional, and behavioral skill instruction and classroom management across all teachers and instructional support staff; and
   * High levels of teacher knowledge, skill, and confidence relative to analyzing why students are academically and behaviorally underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful, and to implementing strategic or intensive academic or behavioral instruction or intervention to address their needs.

School Goals:

   * High levels of positive school and classroom climate, and low levels of school and classroom discipline problems that disrupt the classroom and/or require office discipline referrals, school suspensions or expulsions, or placements in alternative schools or settings;
   * The availability of a well-designed and field-tested social, emotional, and behavioral classroom-based skill instruction program, along with support staff to facilitate its effective implementation.
   * High levels of the consultative resources and capacity needed to provide functional assessment leading to strategic and intensive instructional and intervention services, supports, strategies, and programs to academically and behaviorally underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful students;
   * High levels of parent and community outreach and involvement in areas and activities that support students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral learning, mastery, and proficiency; and
   * High levels of student success that eventually result in high school graduation and post-secondary academic, interpersonal, and vocational school success.
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Some Important Skill Targets for Schools

   Critically, from a student skill perspective, the student self-management goals exist along a continuum from social-emotional competency (i.e., how students feel) to cognitive-behavioral competency (i.e., what they think and then what they do).   

   Using this cognitive-behavioral perspective, students’ positive feelings, thoughts, beliefs, attributions, and ability to emotionally cope with different situations represent important emotional and cognitive goals.  Students’ positive interpersonal, social problem solving, and conflict prevention and resolution skills represent important behavioral goals.

   More functionally, below are 12 behavioral skill clusters that students should learn and master before high school graduation:

   Listening, Following Directions, Staying On-Task
   Accurately interpreting Non-Verbal Cues and Voice Inflection
   Being Positive, Motivated, and Persistent
   Communicating Clearly, Constructively, and Courteously
   Knowing how to Discuss, Interrupt, Debate, Agree, Compromise, and Disagree
   Cooperating with and Accepting Others’ Opinions
   Respecting Others, Being a Team Player, Taking on Different Group Roles
   Knowing how to Ask for Help, and Accept Frustration or Consequences
   Knowing how to Accept Failure, Losing, and Being Wrong
   Showing Confidence, Dealing with Peer Pressure, Standing up for Self/Others
   Controlling and Expressing Emotions, Responding to Others’ Emotions
   Demonstrating Goal-oriented Planning and Time Management
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   Schools across the country are split between ignoring the social, emotional, and behavioral skills that our students need to be fully successful; and chasing (or being encouraged to chase) another generation of “band-wagons” that are unproven, over-specialized, unrealistic, and unsustainable.  

   In the middle of this dichotomy are a set of common goals and skills that will help all students to learn, master, and apply essential social, emotional, and behavioral skills.

   But if our schools do not systematically teach these skills, we will not fulfill the real promise of education- - to truly prepare our students to be college and career ready- - such that the next generations of adults are personally, professionally, and collectively successful.

   It is time to stop selling solutions, and begin investing in them.   

   It is time to stop trying to corner the market, and to begin investing in super-markets where everyone can choose the corner that works for them.  

   It is time to balance our schools’ investment in “getting smart,” with the need for our students and staff to be “getting along.”

   This will require approaches that are proactive and planned; not reactive and reflexive.

   As Congress again tries to frame our country’s educational policy, I hope they consider these thoughts.   

   As educators across the country begin to re-frame what they want their schools to be in the coming new year, I hope that these thoughts are helpful.
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  If you are “on vacation,” I hope that you are enjoying the break.  As always, if I can help your school(s) or district in any of the areas related to these discussions, please do not hesitate to contact me.