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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, 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. 

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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 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