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Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

"I Know We've Never Met, But I Think You're Fat. No Offense."


What does the following have to do with education? Everything from this episode can be applied to the classroom. Just as Jennifer Livingston knows she is overweight, most failing students are aware of their struggles. It doesn't help to criticize them, even if you believe “it's for their own good.” When you have something you think is important to share with your students -like the curriculum you are trying to deliver- remember that your efforts will be most effective when you create a positive relationship. Otherwise, much of what you say will fall on deaf ears. So here's it is....

A story about an overweight news reporter caught my attention. A viewer sent news anchor Jennifer Livingston an email berating her for her weight and suggesting she was a poor role model, particulalarly for young female viewers. In a moment that gained national attention, Livingston addressed the email on air, appearing on national TV shows like The Today Show and Good Morning America on October 3. She characterized the email as "bullying."

I'm not comfortable with that label. It might have been ignorant. It might have been hurtful. But it minimizes the horrendous problem of bullying when this reporter puts herself in the same category as an child victimized by a classmate. Youngsters are often defenseless against the slings and arrows of their peers. They lack experience, wisdom, self-esteem, and strength. Livingston is skilled, competent, and like most reporters, has received her share of ignorant emails. I appreciate her outrage, but there’s a difference between ignorance and bullying.

It doesn't matter whether the email writer’s intent was to be a hurtful, ugly bully or if he was genuinely concerned about Livingston’s health and believed in her ability to influence others. His email drew a strong rebuke from the anchor who stated, “The truth is, I’m overweight. You could call me fat. And, yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart.... Do you think I don’t know that?...You don't know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family.” If the intent of the email was to hurt, it was reprehensible and inexcusable. If the intent was to be helpful, it wins the award for "worst attempt to help a person you've never met."

I had never heard of Jennifer Livingston until the story broke. My guess is that she would rather weigh less. While the email writer talks about “choices” the reporter has made, I've never met a person struggling with weight who identifies their situation as a “choice.” I teach choice theory but would never say a person “chooses” to be fat. That's as cruel and ill-informed as suggesting there are students who “choose to fail” or people who choose to be economically disadvantaged. We are responsible for our behaviors and their consequences, but don't confuse that with conscious choice. Many of our behaviors, including some that impact weight, health, academic standing, and personal relationships are made without conscious awareness.

Let's give the emailer the benefit of the doubt and imagine his intent was positive. He sees a television news anchor he perceives to be influential and a role model. He believes her weight is a detriment to her health. He wants to help. The firestorm his email has created elegantly emphasizes the importance of relationships, especially when you want to provide information that might be perceived as painful. If the emailer seriously thought that he could write what he wrote to a person he never met and expect it would be read as a helpful expression of love and concern, well, suffice it to say he doesn't understand human behavior very well.

Because all of us are doing the best we can to satisfy our needs, we naturally resist information that might be defined as critical. If I don't know you, if we have no relationship, it's easy to dismiss your comments - even if they are right! The only way that I will take in and utilize painful information is when our relationship is strong enough that your love and concern trumps the painful content of your message. It goes back to the phrase, “They need to know that you care before they care what you know.”

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net



Sunday, November 25, 2012

If A Child Doesn't Know How: The Role Of An Educator


“If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to drive, we teach.”

“If a child doesn’t know how to behave, we... teach? …punish?”

Why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as
we do the others?

Tom Herner, 1998.

This quotation was posted my friend and colleague Sylvia Habel, President of The William Glasser Institute, Australia. She got it from one of her master’s students. The author, Tom Herner, is the former president of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDE).

I decided to share it because it so eloquently captures the primary role of an educator: to teach. Whether we’re talking about reading, swimming, multiplying, driving a car, or yes….behaving appropriately, our role is to teach.

Thanks to Tom Herner for these words, and to Slyvia and her student for bringing this to my attention. 
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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Anyone Can Be A Teacher:" A Salute to American Education Week


Today marks the end of “American Education Week.” It’s a time marked by celebration and outward expression of gratitude to those who help educate the next generation. Beneath all the good will and happy talk, however, there remains a belief that teaching isn’t all that big a deal. Let me give an example.

During a conversation with a friend concerning the recent strike by Chicago teachers, he remarked, “Anyone can be a teacher.” As someone who worked as a public school educator for 34 years and has dedicated my professional life to education, I found the comment offensive. (Adide to all my choice theory friends: I know my friend’s comment didn’t make me angry. I chose to be angry. It’s a choice I don’t regret. Sometimes anger is a legitimate choice. Hence the term “righteous indignation.”)

Since then, I have given his comment a lot of thought: “Anyone can be a teacher.” It would be one thing if the comment were made by someone uneducated and insensitive. I could have written it off as an understandable byproduct of ignorance.  But the comment was made by a highly educated, thoughtful, articulate, save-the-planet, unabashed liberal. His stinging rebuke, offered matter-of-factly and without a hint of rancor, got me thinking. Could he be right? Can anyone be a teacher?  Let’s look at what the research says:

  • For the sake of this discussion, I’m assuming a teacher has at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2011, the percentage of people age 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree in the United States was 30.44.  For the math-challenged among you, that’s less than one-third. Hmmm. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest “anyone can be a teacher,” a sentence that rolls easily off the tongues of so many. Seems like nearly 70% of the US population in 2011 lacked the qualifications for a job that apparently “anyone can do.”
  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 52% of teachers in 2007-2008 had a master’s degree or higher. By way of comparison, slightly less than 8% of US citizens had attained a master’s degree in 2011.
“Anyone can be a teacher.” Even though statistics show that statement to be false, it remains a fairly common perception. There are lots of reasons why. Among them is the fact that most people have been to school. In fact, in the USA in 2011, almost 88% had attained a high school diploma, something that apparently qualifies them as self-identified “experts.” While most people pause before second-guessing their doctor, lawyer, car mechanic, or lawn care specialist, many find it their civil duty to identify what ails education and how best to fix it. Call it “expertise by osmosis.” Or maybe “familiarity breeds contempt.”

“Anyone can be a teacher.” I started my educational career as an English teacher. I genuinely enjoy language. Verbs, voice, tone, and tense intrigue me. In thinking about the comment, “Anyone can be a teacher,” I decided it might be more accurate to suggest “anyone can become a teacher.” While it’s still an inaccurate statement, I can live with the notion that obtaining a certificate to teach may be within reach for many. They can become a teacher. By that, I mean they have can secure a job. But to be a teacher…..that’s whole different kettle of fish. I think of the many special educators who I have met over the years, artfully finding ways to help kids who learn differently make connections they couldn’t make in a traditional classroom. I think of those teachers who not only “tolerated” some of the unattractive behavior of adolescents, but positively connected with kids who “didn’t deserve it” during those turbulent years. I think of those who work – successfully – with kids whose parents are unable or unwilling to give them the support that every student deserves. While lots of people can become a teacher, it takes something special to be a teacher.

“Anyone can be a teacher.” Despite statistics that refute the idea that “anyone can be a teacher,” the perception persists. Railing against its inaccuracy does little to change it. The challenge for teachers everywhere is to convince the population at large that teaching is a profession worthy of respect rather than derision.

Teachers need to find a way to earn the respect of my educated, perceptive, reflective, thoughtful friend. Currently, he is comfortable saying, “Anyone can be a teacher,” even as he attempts to soften the blow with the rejoinder, “Some of my best friends are teachers and they are smarter than I’ll ever be.” Individual teachers may be – indeed, many are – respected, but the profession as a whole does not get nearly the same level of respect as other professions, some requiring considerably less education and skill to be effective.

The path to respect will not be easy. Teachers must act professionally and become their own best advocates. For as long as I have been involved in education, teachers have failed miserably in that area, in large part because they have tried to remain above the fray. They have naively clung to a romanticized notion that teachers are universally respected and anything that smacks of self-promotion or PR is somehow unseemly or beneath them. Well, those days are over. And to much of the public, teachers unions seem only interested in their members, not the kids. To sway public perception, unions have to be seen as “standing with students and parents.” 

As American Education Week draws to a close, I salute those teachers who inspire the best in their students. They are the real job creators we desperately need.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bullying: Prevention vs. Intervention


“The best violence prevention program is to build a sense of community.”

There are a number of intervention strategies to deal with the ever-present and increasingly alarming problem of bullying. As I frequently state in my presentations, “intervention is never as effective as prevention.” Intervention is initiated after a problem has begun so you’re scrambling and trying to play catch-up. In the case of bullying, emotions often come into play and can drive the decisions we make. Decisions made under emotion distress are not always the best.

Prevention, on the other hand, is proactive. We don’t start out behind the 8-ball. There is nothing more effective in preventing school violence and bullying than building a sense of community. While there will still be disputes and skirmishes, they are less likely to evolve into full-fledged violence or bullying when a sense of community has been established.

Here are a few questions to help you build a supportive school community. I suggest discussing them with your colleagues in an effort to create effective action plans:

  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most positive, how would you rate your school climate?
  • Are you satisfied with the rating you have given? If so, what do you need to do to maintain your success? If you’re not satisfied, what can you do to create a more positive school climate?
  • What are the qualities/characteristics of a “sense of community” in a school? How will you know if your school has this “sense of community”?
  • What can you (and your colleagues) do to create a sense of community in your school?
  • Will a sense of community help minimize violence and bullying in your school? If so, is it worth your time and effort?

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Monday, October 29, 2012

Reality and Perception: The US Presidential Election


Practitioners of choice theory appreciate that it is our perception of reality that matters. While each of us may claim to know reality, our understanding of reality is modulated by our senses, knowledge, and values.

Many people don’t like to hear that something as basic as reality is so nuanced. “I understand that we may see some things differently,” they say, “but surely there is an objective reality we can all agree upon.” With the US Presidential election only a little more than a week away, let me share an example of how large groups can agree about reality and still cling to very different perceptions.

Here’s an excerpt from the September 7 edition of The Colbert Report 

It’s what they agree on that divides us the most. You see, they agree that he created Obamacare. They agree that he bailed out Detroit. They agree that he passed the stimulus. That’s where the clear choice comes because all the Republicans are saying is, “Our country needed help and look what Obama did,” while the Democrats keep saying, “Our country needed help and look what Obama did.”

The words are identical. Reality is the same. Despite that, as any “informed” partisan will tell you, the all-important perceptions couldn’t be further apart.

When Americans go to the polls next week, the results will tell us much more about perception than reality.

I’m not saying that reality doesn’t matter. But I reject the simplistic mantra that “It is what it is.” More accurately, “It is what we perceive it to be.”

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Beyond Personality: The Importance of a Systemic Approach to Staff Development


As someone who provides staff development, it has been my experience that most professional development is driven by a single personality within a school or district. While there are an increasing number of schools who delegate decision-making to a staff development committee, it remains more common for the course to be charted by one individual, often the building principlal. For example, if a building principal reads one of my books or hears me present at a national conference and develops an interest in internal control psychology/choice theory, they may engage me to work with their staff over a period of time. While “over a period of time” is head and shoulders ahead of the “drive by” staff development I wrote about recently, too much staff development is personality driven as opposed to system driven. Let me give an example to illustrate what I mean.

Several years ago, I was contacted by an elementary school principal who had read Activating the Desire to Learn. Over the next three school years, I provided a series of staff development sessions at her school that included summer workshops, multi-day workshops, and regular visits to the school that included meeting with teachers, visiting classrooms, and modeling lessons. Even though I’m not a big fan of NCLB and AYP, I was pleased that our efforts contributed to the school achieving AYP every year we worked together. (It’s worth mentioning that there are over two dozen schools in the district and this was one of only two to make AYP last year.) My work on internal motivation, student engagement, and choice theory was woven into other staff development initiatives so that teachers received integrated professional development. Because the school provided comprehensive staff development and ongoing coaching to teachers, they had a lot of well-deserved success.

But…. (all to often there’s a “but,” isn’t there?)….the principal left. The incoming principal has her own ideas. I don’t know how closely they align with what we have done the past three years. I do know that principals are granted considerable autonomy, charged with “putting their stamp” on a school. It will not be surprising if this principal charts her own, different course.

Unless practices are formally adopted by a district, schools will continue to repeat the cycle of improvement, change in leadership, and change in direction. It takes a lot of effort and willpower to raise things to the level of district policy. That’s why most schools don’t do it. Years ago I worked with a district in upstate New York. They stood out because they took the choice theory principles we worked on together and wove them into the district mission statement. That ensured that the ideas would continue even after an energetic, passionate principal left the district.

If you want your staff development to be more than a reflection of the personality leading a school or district, consider how you can incorporate key ideas and applications into formal policy. When you start looking at staff development as something that impacts policy, you’ll begin to take it more seriously, carefully consider what it is you want to pursue, and give your school/district tools to effect change extending beyond the personality of an engaging leader.


As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Drive-By Staff Development


While staff development budgets have been slashed in recent years, millions of dollars are still spent on workshops designed to improve teaching and learning. Despite the money spent, things aren’t significantly better in most schools. Sure, there are notable exceptions, but too many schools continue to tread water.

An issue like staff development clearly involves lots of variables. No single factor explains why too many schools aren’t getting a reasonable return on the money they invest. As someone who provides staff development, I have noticed a couple of things that I believe contribute to the problem. Since many of you who read this are instrumental in bringing staff development sessions to your school/district, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts.

One problem is what I call “drive by staff development.” Sadly, this is fairly typical. A consultant is brought in to work with a school or district for a day. Typically, things go well, people are engaged, the consultant gets positive reviews, and ….nothing changes.

I have this experience frequently. I make some money. The staff and I share a pleasant day together. But nothing really changes. I have this reoccurring waking nightmare. It’s several months after one of my sessions and a bunch of teachers I worked with are in the staff lounge at their school. Someone says, “Hey, remember that guy Bob who presented for us? I don’t remember what he said exactly, but he was OK.” Unfortunately, my waking nightmare is probably someone else’s reality!

These “one offs,” as my friends in Australia and New Zealand call them, are not the most effective way to spend scarce dollars. Teachers need (and deserve) follow-up if they hope to move from the awareness level to the application level. And skilled application requires ongoing coaching and support. Unfortunately, most schools erroneously believe they are ready to rock and roll once they have “done it.” (As in, “Internal control psychology. Yeah, we did that last year. Somebody came for a day before school started.”)

My worst experience with this happened many years ago. I was contacted by a district interested in a session for their entire staff. “What would you like me to focus on?” I asked. “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. We have some grant money we need to spend. Do whatever you usually do, I guess.” I took the job and was grateful for the money. But the only thing I got from that experience was pay. I didn’t have a sense that I was engaged in meaningful work.

Compare that to this:  I was recently contacted by someone interested in having me provide training to a group of teachers working across a number of districts. The person coordinating the training approached me with a plan that was well thought out and will give participants the chance to internalize and apply the content I will share. After an initial two-day training, we are planning a series of short, ongoing follow-up sessions. Because cost is always an important consideration and this group is quite a distance from where I live, the follow-up sessions may be conducted using Skype or something similar. While I’m not usually a fan of distance learning, I’m comfortable with it if I’ve already had a chance to spend a couple of days with participants engaged in face-to-face learning and interaction. Because this will save the districts considerable money, it’s an accommodation I am comfortable making. At the conclusion of the school year, I’m confident the participants will have gained knowledge and skills that will enhance their professional lives and lead to increased student achievement and improved student behavior.

A thoughtfully considered, comprehensive approach to staff development is one way to ensure that limited funds are utilized wisely. To those of you who help bring staff development to your school or district, please avoid most “drive by” experiences and put together a comprehensive experience that supports deep learning, application, and student achievement.

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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Responsibility Myth: Asking Kids To “Own” Our Choices


Adults rightfully want children to take responsibility for their actions.  I’m guessing the following scenarios are familiar to you:

  • Cassandra, a second grade student, is doodling rather than completing her work in class. A competent student, Cassandra frequently squanders time and has been spoken to by her teacher on numerous occasions. Today, her teacher says, “Cassandra, I see you’ve chosen not to go out for recess with your classmates today.”

  • DeShawn frequently disrupts class. Today is no exception. His teacher has had enough and announces, “OK DeShawn, I guess you’ve decided you want to spend some time with me after school today. I’ll see you for thirty minutes after dismissal.”

  • Jocelyn has been told repeatedly to clean her bedroom. Her mother believes it’s reasonable to require a 13-year-old to keep her room tidy. After repeated warnings, Jocelyn’s mother tells her, “I can see by looking at your room that you’ve decided not to go to the dance Friday night.”

If you were to question the adults in these examples, they would likely tell you they are trying to teach responsibility. Nothing wrong with that. But the adults have done more than ask kids to take responsibility for their behavior. In each case, they abdicate their responsibility by asking the kids to take ownership for what the adult has chosen to do!

Cassandra has chosen not to complete her work in class. That’s her behavior and she owns it. But to suggest that Cassandra has chosen to miss recess is both inaccurate and unfair! Her teacher has made that choice. The imposition of the consequence belongs to the teacher, not the student.

DeShawn decided to disrupt class. No one “made” him do it. Some unpleasant consequence may be reasonable, but it’s a distortion of enormous proportions to suggest to DeShawn that “you’ve decided you want to spend some time with me after school today.” That’s not DeShawn’s decision. That’s the teacher’s decision. Left to his own devices, DeShawn would disrupt as he pleases and might be the first one out the door at the end of the school day.

And Jocelyn certainly didn’t decide “not to go to the dance Friday night.” Her mother imposed that consequence because Jocelyn chose not to keep her room tidy.

Too often we adults intimate to kids that they have choice (and the accompanying responsibility) but we have no choice (and therefore no responsibility). It’s not uncommon for adults say things like this: “When Gloria turned in her report late, I had no choice but to deduct ten points from her grade,” or “When Tyson spoke out in class for the third time without permission, my only option was to send him to the office.” Put simply, that’s just not true.

It may be Gloria’s choice to turn in her paper late, but the adult (not the child) chooses the ten-point deduction. The “I had no choice” argument is false and disingenuous. It’s appropriate to ask kids to take responsibility for their actions. It’s equally important for us to do the same. Gloria’s teacher had lots of options. She could have discussed the situation with Gloria, ignored the deadline, offered an extension, given Gloria one more chance, deducted twenty points from her grade, called her parents, given her no credit for work turned in late, referred her to the counselor, etc. Some of those possibilities might strike you as foolish. It doesn’t matter. What matters is this: just as the child had choices, so did the adult.

When DeShawn disrupts class, the teacher can assign a detention, speak privately with DeShawn, make a sarcastic comment designed to humiliate DeShawn into compliant behavior. He can ignore the disruption, move DeShawn’s seat, send him out of class, cajole him, call his parents, etc. DeShawn doesn’t choose a detention. The teacher does.

Returning to our original scenarios, let’s consider an alternative way the adult could have handled each situation:

  • Cassandra, a second grade student, is doodling rather than completing her class work. A competent student, Cassandra frequently squanders time in class and has been spoken to by her teacher on numerous occasions. Today, her teacher says, “Cassandra, since you’ve decided not to complete your work in class this morning, I’m going to have you stay here with me during recess to finish it.  Once it’s complete, you can join your classmates outside.”

  • DeShawn frequently disrupts class. Today is no exception. His teacher has had enough and announces, “OK DeShawn, I’ve spoken to you numerous times about your behavior. I’ll see you after school today. Hopefully, we can figure out how to solve this problem.”

  • Jocelyn has been told repeatedly to clean her bedroom. Her mother believes it’s reasonable to require a 13-year-old to keep her room tidy. After repeated warnings, Jocelyn’s mother tells her, “Remember what I said, Jocelyn. You didn’t clean your room so you can’t go to the dance this Friday. I know you’re angry, but I expect you to take care of your room.”

See the difference? In these cases, the adult imposes a consequence but “owns” it instead of unfairly shifting responsibility to the child. Rather than asking the child to be responsible for the behavior of both parties, the adult is accepting responsibility for what they choose to do.

I chose the consequences in these examples only because they are “typical.” I’m not suggesting they are appropriate or inappropriate. The actual consequence is not especially important for this discussion. What is important is communicating with kids in a way that helps they take responsibility for their choices while we continue to take responsibility for ours.

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 As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Monday, September 17, 2012

School Improvement: The Importance of Self-Evaluation and Reflection


Someone who read “Natural Consequences and Responsibility” was kind enough to send me an e-mail that impressed me for two specific reasons: it offered a wonderful example of self-evaluation in action and it incorporated the serious reflection needed to help our schools improve.

Her school attempts to implement many ideas advocated by Dr. Glasser and choice theory, including the use of a “connecting room.” After reading “Natural Consequences and Responsibility,” she decided to evaluate if what they do matches what they want and reflects what a “connecting room” should be. She discovered that many students sent to the connecting room are unable to articulate why they have been sent there. Others seem truly mystified about why they are there at all! Still, following protocol, the students are required to complete a form that identifies what they did, what they wanted, and what better choices they can make in the future. Despite the positive intent of the connecting room, the reader believes many students view it as a punitive place and simply “play the game” by telling teachers what they want to hear. Her e-mail ended with the following words: “There is a better way of doing this, I believe. I have begun to question the value of what we do.”

That’s self-evaluation in action. Self-evaluation isn’t only looking at where you are and developing a plan of action. It’s revisiting the issue after a plan has been implemented and assessing how well it matches what you envisioned. We might not always like what we find out. This reader had the courage to do that.

Her e-mail also represents the kind of considered reflection needed for sustainable school improvement. I work with a number of schools that try to apply the principles of choice theory. Unfortunately, many of them blindly “drink the kool-aid” and fail to deeply evaluate and question their practices. Once they establish a “connecting room,” for example, they naively believe they have effectively transitioned from punishment. Changing labels isn’t the same as changing practices. To make genuine gains, we need to question what we do. That takes courage. Those who question are frequently perceived negatively, seen as “not on board,” accused of not being a “team player,” and suspected of undermining school leadership. All of that may be true. But oftentimes, those who ask difficult questions are our best advocates. They appreciate that quality requires hard work and commitment and is not achieved easily.

Building leaders, be grateful if your staff has some of these deep thinkers, these reasonable skeptics. And if you are one of those staff members who asks the difficult questions that inspires us to reflect, think deeply, and continually assess what we’re doing, I would be delighted to work with you.
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As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Monday, September 10, 2012

Teacher Evaluation: The Impact of Stress on a Veteran Educator


I recently received an e-mail from someone who had read an article I wrote entitled “Teacher Evaluation: Fear and Stress Are a Recipe for Disaster.”  With her permission, her e-mail to me appears below.

Before sharing her e-mail, I want to offer a few comments:

  • I learned in further correspondence with this teacher that she has eleven years experience. So this is solid evidence that even veteran, experienced teachers can be traumatized by draconian evaluation systems that do little to improve instruction and much to inhibit creativity.
  • She revealed that she taught in a public school in the American heartland. Unless her district is very different from almost every other district I have encountered across the USA, a teacher who has eleven years experience is unlikely to be dismissed because of a poor evaluation. (Aside: It’s debatable whether that’s a “sensible, fair, and just” practice, but the dismissal of veteran teachers is exceedingly rare.) If we take dismissal off the table, the purpose of evaluation is to provide teachers with useful feedback and information designed to enhance student learning. Building fear and stress into the process is counterproductive. (Note: The teacher who wrote to me teaches art. If there is any subject that relies on the creativity that is thwarted by stress and fear, it is art.)
  • In a follow-up e-mail to me, the teacher wrote, “Just the other day I spoke to one very fine teacher who I respect very much who told me she thought this new evaluation system is crazy and insane. She said it in such a funny way I had to laugh.” There’s something profoundly disturbing when teachers believe that dismissing, mocking, and generally ignoring administrative initiatives are the best courses of action! But that’s exactly what is happening in countless schools. Experienced, skilled, and caring teachers are deciding that the best way to deal with stressful teacher evaluations is to give them as little of their thought and attention as possible. When teachers believe that ignoring administrative initiatives actually improves their teaching – or at least keeps it from being hampered –  something is fundamentally wrong with the system.

Enough commentary. Here’s the e-mail I received last week:

I came across your article today, “Teacher Evaluation: Fear and Stress Are a Recipe for Disaster.”  It was my lunch hour and I was just searching, searching for anything on this subject. I am an Art Teacher at a Junior High School where we are now being put through this new evaluation system.   I have to tell you for myself, that things at this school have felt more like a communist dictatorship than a place of learning.  I have been on hyper alert while I teach my classes with the constant feeling that at any moment a panel of three men with clip boards could be walking in. I think what has alarmed me the most is this 17-page evaluation booklet that we are supposed to go by.  It was like reading Chinese.  I’d like to meet the people who wrote that and if I did, there is a chance I might find myself diving across the table heading for their necks.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing you is to tell you what a relief it was to come across your article. I thought I was the only one who has felt the way I have. The environment at my school has changed. It’s gotten very tense, and no one is talking about this. It’s almost as if everyone is afraid to say anything, so we find ourselves herded along like lost sheep who have lost their voices.

I’ve had to ask myself several times, “Is it me?”  Why isn’t any body else saying anything about this?  Oh, one teacher did.  She spoke up at a faculty meeting questioning the amount of stress this would be putting on all the teachers.  The principal talked right over her with a lecture about how we all need to “just play the game.”

Thank you for you time. 

***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Monday, September 3, 2012

What Students "Should" Know


As many schools across North America begin a new school year, I found myself looking through some old memos I had shared with the staff I led as a middle school administrator. Here’s an excerpt from one:

Did you know????  …..Healy, Epstein, and other scientists and developmental specialists have found that in the early years, brain growth rates vary from as little as a few months to as many as five years.  And there are definite differences in how the female and male brains develop  (Eric Jensen, Brain-Based Learning & Teaching, 1995, Turning Point Publishing, p.87). 

Too often (for me), I attend meetings where parents are informed that their child has not learned something they “should” know by now.  Each time I hear that, I cringe.  Given the wide variation in normal brain development, it simply doesn’t make sense to say a child “should” know something simply because she or he happens to be in a particular grade. Cognitive growth and development is as varied as physical growth and development. All we have to do is look around our school to see that “typical” kids develop at different rates. (Those of us who are parents can sometimes see the differences in our own children.)

I reject the belief that kids “should” know certain things just because they are in a certain grade, especially in a public school serving the general population. Instead, it’s more accurate to tell parents that “most kids have mastered” certain things at this point or “your child is having more difficulty with this than many of the other students” or “most of the other kids are able to do this by now.” Those statements are true, provide accurate information to parents, and do not distort the truth. 

To say kids “should” know such and such flies in the face of research and invites feelings of inadequacy and guilt on the part of parents. I aspire to simply tell the truth and stop “shoulding” on others.

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dealing With Students Who Bully: Part II


Once I’ve reminded myself of my role and goal, I’m ready to deal with Jon, the student introduced in “Dealing With Students Who Bully: Part I (The Essential First Step)." 

The next few sentences are a challenge. I’d like to write something that my audience will like. And I know what many of you want: a recipe for dealing with kids who bully. The “right” thing to say. Some of you may be wondering, “What’s the choice theory formula when faced with this situation?”

Sorry to disappoint, but there is no magic bullet. Many “experts” will promise you success if you follow their lock-step program. If you’re na├»ve enough to settle for simplistic solutions to complex human issues, there are plenty of purveyors of 21st century snake oil. I’m just not one of them.

If you have conquered your disappointment and continued reading, I can share two things that I always do when dealing with kids like Jon. The first is to build and maintain a positive relationship with him. I have dealt with many teachers over the years who have asked me in politically incorrect language, “How do you connect positively with a jerk?” Apart from the insensitivity of their language, the answer is really quite easy for me: I do everything I can to build a positive relationship with Jon and every other kid, parent, teacher, etc because that’s my job! Whether it’s “natural” is irrelevant. Whether it's 'easy" is irrelevant. As a professional educator, my job includes working with all students, including those who “don’t deserve it” and who are more difficult to like.

Creating and maintaining a positive relationship with Jon is not a one-shot deal. It’s an ongoing series of interactions that begins the first time we meet. And it’s something so fundamentally important that it serves as a backdrop to every interaction we have, including when he has behaved poorly.

The other thing I do with a student like Jon in this situation is to try to create (or explore if we have) a shared quality world picture. Dr. Glasser has identified four primary patterns of interacting, including counseling and managing. This is a situation that calls for managing. As a manager, I have an agenda and my goal is to invite or enlist the other person to embrace that same goal.

I don’t begin by asking Jon, “What do you want?” That question is perfectly appropriate in other contexts, but his answer may take us far from where I want to go and, as a manager, I want to structure the conversation carefully. I begin by asking, “Jon, do you know what it is that I want?” I don’t threaten him. I don’t punish him. Sensing that he is probably emotionally charged up at the moment, I ask him a question that gets him thinking and less focused on himself.

This may sound strange, but it doesn’t especially matter to me what Jon says. I have had situations where the poorly behaving student correctly identified what I wanted. Other times, they have no clue. Sometimes they express indifference. Whatever they say gives me information about their current state of mind and willingness to engage with me. And whether they correctly guess what I want or not, I have structured the conversation so I can tell them.

“What I want is for this to be a safe environment. Does that sound reasonable to you?

I have had countless interactions like this and I have never had a student tell me that my goal is unreasonable.

“OK, so we agree that it’s reasonable to want a safe environment. That’s what I want. Let me ask you, is that something you want as well?”

More often than not, students tell me they want what I want – a safe environment. When they do – and it’s important to me that they overtly express their desire – I say something like, “It sounds like we want the same thing. Since we’re on the same side, this should be easy.” I have taken a student who might have entered my office seeing me as an adversary and we have become allies, working toward a common goal.

There are rare instances when kids have told me that they were not interested in a safe environment. I’m not there to argue. At that moment, I’m not even especially interested in convincing them to change their mind. I’m simply seeking clarity of intent. “Well, it looks as if you and I want different things. You need to know that I’ll do everything I can to ensure that our school is safe. You and I get along well, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to tolerate behavior that interferes with my goal of making this a safe school.”

Interestingly, the few times the conversation has taken this turn, kids typically shift position. Once they see that I am willing and able to both like them and hold them accountable for their actions, they usually decide to cooperate.

Finally, when dealing with a student who bullies others, I make sure I do two things. First, I enforce the rules of the school. It doesn’t make any sense in having rules if they aren’t going to be enforced. Second, I make sure I do everything in my power to teach the student a more responsible way to meet his needs. Imposing consequences without teaching a better way to behave is a waste of time. Punishment doesn’t magically equip kids with new, effective, responsible behaviors. That requires teaching. So while I enforce the rules and impose any consequences the school handbook includes, I also make sure to include a teaching component so the student learns how to get what he wants without taking unfair advantage of other students.

In summation, when dealing with kids who bully others, I suggest:

  • Beginning by remembering your role and goal (Part I) 
  • Building and maintaining a positive relationship with the offending student. (It’s part of our role as professional educators.)
  • Assessing if you have a shared want/goal/quality world picture: a safe environment.
  • Clearly articulating what you want.
  • Enforcing school rules.
  • Teaching the offending student a more responsible way to meet his needs.
 ***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Negative Impact of Praise: Fostering Dependence and a Never-Ending Search for Approval


Those who know me are aware that I sometimes get a bit disheartened by our inability to fundamentally change our schools more quickly. The more I examine the ultimate legacy of the external, reward/punishment model, the more convinced I am of its limitations. As I have said on numerous occasions, the reward/punishment model works in some instances and with some kids. It simply doesn’t work well enough with enough kids. We can do better.

Despite my ongoing frustration, I am heartened by the fact that things are changing. I had a conversation with a friend and colleague last month who told me that businesses increasingly embrace the importance of relationships and other “soft” signs of success. Dan Pink offers many examples of businesses having great success following the principles of internal control psychology. In my consulting, I find more and more educators who are at least somewhat familiar with choice theory/internal control psychology. While they may not be as well versed as they believe they are, they are head and shoulders above educators I met ten or twenty years ago.

And every once in a while I stumble upon a quotation like the following one by Elisa Sobo, a professor of anthropology at San Diego State University, warning of the inherent danger of praising rather than helping kids develop the ability to self-evaluate and internalize important values, beliefs, and behaviors. (The quotation appeared in “School and Self Esteem, or: Thank You for Making Those Socks!”) 

“Children cultivated toward dependence on external praise through constant positive stroking are at risk for growing into poorly-adjusted adults who must always look to others for approval. They never have a chance to develop their own internal resources.”

Like Dr. Sobo, I want kids to develop their own internal resources and grow into responsible, self-directed adults who work to make the world a better place. If that’s what you want as well, I hope you’ll evaluate your use of praise and decide if there is a better way to help your students.
***

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dealing with Students Who Bully: Part I (The Essential First Step)


After reading “Standing Up To Bullying: Refusing To Be A Victim,”  a reader from New Hampshire asked me to discuss how I would handle a student who bullies another. (Note: Just as I warned about the dangers of identifying kids as “victims” in “Standing Up To Bullying,” I try to avoid calling kids “bullies.” So even though it’s faster and easier to label a kid as a “bully,” I prefer to say “a kid who bullied another.” It might seem like a subtle difference, but I think it dramatically changes our perception and behavior.)

The following scene (or something like it) happened to me more than once during my time as a middle school administrator. I return to my office after supervising 200 fifth-grade students at lunch and my secretary informs me that Jon is waiting for me. He has been sent to the office for bullying other students. It’s not the first time. Apparently, Jon and was in the boys’ bathroom when a fifth-grade boy entered. Jon told him the bathroom was off limits unless he paid him. Scared beyond belief - Jon is a rather imposing sixth-grader and the fifth-grade boy is both small for his age and timid – the fifth grade boy left quickly and went to the nurse’s office where he asked to use the facilities.

As I entered my office and saw Jon, chair tipped back and just a trace of a smirk on his face, I immediately felt rage surging inside of me. At that moment, I wanted to berate him. I wanted to humiliate him. I wanted to punish him. A part of me even wanted to smack him. (Yeah, I’m a senior faculty member of The William Glasser Association and consult all over the world, but I haven’t fully eliminated anger from my behavioral repertoire.) As much as I genuinely like Jon, he can be horribly mean and he had gone after a weak target. I was enraged. This isn’t why I got into education.

Fortunately, I am well versed in internal control psychology/choice theory. Even though nearly everybody I know would blindly accept it if I were to say, “Jon makes me so angry!” I knew Jon doesn’t make me anything. Like everyone else, he just behaves. Unfortunately for me (and lots of others), he often behaves in hurtful, inappropriate ways. Today was no exception. But the fact remains: Jon doesn’t make me angry or cause me to lose it. He is responsible for his behavior; I am in control of mine, including how I choose to deal with him at this moment.

So my first rule in dealing with a student who has bullied another is this: remember my role and my goal. Forget the poorly behaving student for a moment. Instead, let me focus on the following:

What’s my role in this situation?
Given my role, what do I want?

It has been my experience that when I remember to ask myself these two questions, my anger dissipates and I can more easily access behaviors that will help the offending child in front of me, allowing me to do my job more effectively.

As a school administrator, my role included helping all kids behave responsibly, even those whose behavior was horribly inappropriate. Berating Jon or humiliating him wouldn’t help him grow, mature, and become more empathetic. Aggressively informing him of my displeasure would only model a version of the bullying behavior I abhor. No, my role required me to deal with Jon differently, even though my anger and frustration with him was perfectly understandable.

And what did I want? Did I really want him to feel humiliated? No. I might have harbored the false belief that humiliation would somehow magically lead Jon to enlightenment, but what I really wanted was to help Jon develop a more appropriate, empathetic repertoire of behaviors.

When I entered my office, my behavior was dominated by angry emotion. In that state, there was literally no way I could do my job well. By taking a moment to ask myself, “What is my role? Given my role, what is my goal?” I gave myself a new way to behave, one that would allow me to deal more effectively with a student who clearly needed adult help.

When we are faced with a child who has bullied another, we understandably want to take immediate, decisive action. Because bullying is so offensive to us, it’s easy to become a slave to our emotions in moments like these. For that reason, I believe the essential first step in dealing with a student who has bullied another is to calm ourselves by focusing on our role and goal. Once we get our own emotions in check, we will be better able to intervene effectively.

In an upcoming piece, I’ll discuss the kinds of things I might specifically say to Jon and identify my two primary goals when working with him.

***
As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo
PO Box 1336
Sandwich, MA 02563

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net