Effective 21st Century Leadership: Working Yourself out of a Job

During an excellent leadership course I took through Parkland School Division called, Exploring Leadership, we talked a lot about the idea of effective leadership. Many questions came up such as: What attributes does an effective leader have? What outcomes would demonstrate effective leadership? What steps can a person take to become an effective leader? The discussion was rich, and the answers varied, but over many sessions, a common theme formed. The secret to effective leadership is, (drum roll please) working yourself out of a job. Let me explain.


Learning in the 21st century has changed, so it makes sense that the concept of leadership has changed as well. Let’s begin by looking at our learners. Shannon Lake Elementary does a nice job of describing the attributes of a 21st Century Learner:

  • A LEARNER is one who is engaged, resilient and seeks to understand
  • A THINKER is one who analyzes, makes connections, inferences, asks questions and transfers knowledge
  • An INNOVATOR is one who sees possibilities and generates original ideas with value
  • A COLLABORATOR is one who excels at working with others to create new understanding
  • A CONTRIBUTOR is a citizen who participates in the local and global community 

I also found a great visual on a blog created by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

We know that our learners are much more than vessels, in fact, the entire goal of education has changed. Parkland School Division explains that “our purpose is to prepare, engage and inspire our students to be their best in a quickly changing global community.” In order to fulfil this mission, the jobs of educators and leaders in education have had to adapt as well.

An article by Jeff Dunn on the Daily Genius identifies 16 characteristics of the modern teacher.

Like the 21st Century Learner, the 21st Century Educator is a constantly evolving role filled with learning, re-learning, collaboration, innovation and so much more. So how can one become an effective leader in such a complex world? The answer, as I alluded to, is to work yourself out of a job. And by that I mean build capacity. We have probably all heard that effective leaders surround themselves with people that are smarter and more capable than themselves. I would argue that leadership isn’t only about procuring a dream team, but recognizing the dream team you have right in front of you. Effective leaders inspire others around them to be the very best they can be. They do this, not by demanding it, but by modelling the behaviour, forming authentic relationships, practicing collaborative goal setting, and cultivating leadership within their team.

The best analogy I can think of is the job of a parent… specifically parenting a toddler, who is going through the “I can do it myself” phase, trying to put on their shoes, when we are already 10 minutes late. I could just take those shoes and put them on for her, but that’s not my job, not really. My job is to support her in a way that cultivates her inner leader, the voice that says, I can do this, and the imagination that will try 17 different ways to get it done. My job as a parent is help her find her gifts, and let her fail and brush her off, and to fail myself and brush myself off. While some days I wish I could just tell my 2 year old spitfire exactly what she needs to do and when (and have her actually listen), I know that my job is more complicated. I need to support her in a way that allows her to grow up to become a future leader, a leader that puts on her own shoes and helps others to learn to put on their shoes or perhaps even invents new shoes for those that can’t.

Like being a parent, a leaders job is never really done, but the modern picture of leadership looks less like this:

And more like this:

In summary, an effective 21st Century Leader builds people up, helps foster open communication and community, models the attributes he or she wishes to see flourish, cultivates the strength and diversity of the team he or she is lucky enough to be working with, and shares and encourages the opportunity to be a leader. Effective leaders won’t actually work themselves out of a job, but they sure will try.



How Can Parents Support Early Literacy?

benreadingpicMy 2 and a 1/2 year old daughter, Mya, has grown into a veracious reader over this past year, devouring books like they are Goldfish (the cracker not the fish). While I admit that her insatiable appetite for stories may have been born more out of the desire to stay up just 5 more minutes before bedtime, there is no denying the positive effect that reading has had on her vocabulary, imagination, curiosity and focus. My son Benjamin, is almost 6 months old and we are trying to build reading into his daily routine, as we did with his sister. This seems more challenging this time around, as everything is when you double the number of kids you have in one house, but no less important.

I now find myself wondering about the next steps. From birth, instilling a love for reading is pretty straight forward; have lots of books around, read often, engage with the stories and model the behaviour. But what is next? Is it time to start teaching letters/sounds/etc., if so, how do I begin? If not, is there anything that I should be doing instead? Should I focus on phonetic awareness or whole word recognition, neither, both? Also, through the learning process, how do I ensure that reading continues to be an activity that is magical and coveted, rather than one done out of duty as I see in so many kids at the junior high level? My experience with literacy interventions and middle school reading programs, as well as my work as a middle school humanities teacher has given me a lot of insight into the kind of skills that help students become strong readers and learners, but where do those skills begin and what is our role as parents? With so many questions, I started to do a little informal research online and I will share with you what I was able to dig up.

An article titled, Teaching your Toddler to Read from age 2-3, on the website, Teaching Reading Early, explains that reading at this age (2-3) is crucial to healthy development. They state that “child development experts stress the importance of knowing the alphabet”, and suggest singing the alphabet song, connecting beginning letter sounds to familiar words and writing letters in the sand, paint, ect. The website also has an article discussing whole language versus phonetic based Early Reading Methods. They lean towards phonetic based instruction, noting this method focuses on decoding words using letter sounds and blends, versus sight word memorization, allowing kids to figure out unfamiliar words. They suggest however that using the whole language method in cases where English doesn’t follow the regular rules is beneficial. They also offer Tips for Teaching Your Child to Read through Phonics, such as focusing on letter sounds versus letter names, teaching short vowel sounds first, teaching reading and writing at the same time, using all the senses and playing with food!

All the information above sounds interesting and completely doable, but where does developmental readiness come into play? Developmental Phycologist, Judith Hudson, explains in the Baby Center article, When and How Can I teach my Child to Read?, that teaching your child to read is more about gaining reading readiness by showing them that reading is important and exciting. She suggests that most kids won’t start reading until age 5 or 6 because that is when “certain neural connections allow them to decode printed letters and mentally combine them to make words”, and that they pick it up rather than learn to read through direct instruction. She points out that young toddlers will love books with repetition and rhyme and older toddlers like stories with a simple story line. Alphabet books are also good, in that they allow the child to isolate specific letters in a stream of words. She also suggests the importance of noticing print in the world around you. Talk about signs and what they mean and help children recognize their own name.

Supporters of the Unschooling movement would agree with some of Hudson’s assertions. In fact they would likely take it one step further and suggest that children not only pick up reading on their own, but that they will do it when they are ready and for their own reasons, versus at a particular age, according to Peter Gray, Ph. D., in his article, Children Teach Themselves How to Read, posted on the Psychology Today website. The article details various accounts of unschooled children and their experiences learning to read. Gray picks out 7 common themes among the quotes and stories he received from parents of unschooled children, which include ideas such as: there is no critical or best age for learning to read, motivated children can learn to read very quickly, attempts to push can backfire, children learn to read when they find value in it, reading is learned socially, some children learn to read and write at the same time, or become interested in writing first, and there is no predictable course that children take when learning to read. It should be noted that the children mentioned in the article learned to read at very different rates, some as early as 4 and some as old as 14. An overarching message that came through from the article is that learning to read is an individual journey and one that should be supported by adults but not led by adults. It is suggested that making children learn to read when they are not ready will lead to resistance, slower learning and negative associations with reading. Fair enough. So how as adults, can we support children in this individual journey? And, if our children are not going to be unschooled, how can we help them develop these skills on a timeline that will lead to success in school?

Derry Koralek and Ray Collins suggest in their article, How Most Children Learn to Read (housed on the Reading Rockets website), that early literacy skills are learned through play and interaction with the child’s environment and other people. They explain that reading and writing skills emerge at roughly the same time, while children are still gaining listening and speaking skills. For example, children are learning literacy skills when they are playing with letter blocks, acting out stories, “signing” their name to drawings, listening to stories, sorting/sequencing beads, and the list goes on. They also provide an interesting chart that outlines what different activities a child might engage in from preschool to grade 2, which contribute to their early literacy skills.

I should also point out that there were a ton of links that I didn’t click on, with everything from programs that promise to teach your toddler to read in (insert number) easy steps, to articles outlining why young children should not be taught how to read, and everything in between. My research was in no way exhaustive but has more so served as a starting point.

If you feel a little confused by this point, you are not alone. It seems that there isn’t one right way to help children learn to read. However, some points that have struck a cord with me are as follows:

  • As parents, some of the best ways we can support our child on their literacy journey is to provide experiences and opportunities to play and socialize in a text rich world.
  • Reading instruction should not be boring or forced and ultimately, children will be ready, when they are ready.
  • Be interactive when it comes to reading and writing and continue to model your own positive relationship with literacy.
  • Children are unique, so is their literacy journey.
  • In terms of direct instruction at an early age, it looks like the verdict is still out. It is my opinion that it probably depends on the child and their environment.
  • Motivation is a big factor when learning how to read.

Thinking of my two children, I can already guess that their journeys with learning to read will probably look pretty different. But I think I can take a deep breath knowing that so many people have had success in so many different ways. I have gotten a ton of great ideas from the various articles I read (check them out for the specifics), and my plan is to give some of the different suggestions a try and see how my kids respond. Like students, our children are really the best teachers!

Do you have any insights into early literacy? Are there any activities/strategies that your own kids enjoyed when beginning to learn how to read? Any other thoughts or questions?

References/Reading List (listed in the order that they appear in the post above)



Remember when knowledge was important? #TBT

Jef Safi https://flic.kr/p/kVoeN

cc licensed ( BY NC ND) flickr photo by Jef Safi https://flic.kr/p/kVoeN

I recently read an excellent book by Joshua Foer, called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (2011), and it really struck a chord. In a world where we have access to an almost infinite amount of knowledge, what do we know? I mean really know. While I can Google, “How to speak Latin”, that does not mean I know Latin. What we retain, and are able to recall and to apply, constitutes what we know — and I believe the distinction matters. Foer (2011) talks about memory and how it is in essence, who we are. What we know, what we remember, helps make up our identity, so why do we know place so little value on remembering? I am guilty of this no doubt, every phone number I “know” would be lost if my iPhone ever bit the dust (don’t worry, I back it up), my synced calendar allows me to remember where I am going and what I am doing on a day to day basis, and I am pretty sure I would never remember my Dad’s birthday if it wasn’t programmed into my reminders.

James Vaughan https://flic.kr/p/7GMJ12

cc licensed ( BY NC SA) flickr photo by James Vaughan https://flic.kr/p/7GMJ12

Foer talks about the phenomenon of “external memory” (Foer, 2011, p.19), the use of systems outside of our own brain to store information. But if this information is stored outside of ourselves, can we really count it as our knowledge, part of what we know? This is all getting a little philosophical, my real focus is quite practical, specifically, how the concepts of “memory”, “remembering” and “knowledge” apply to education.

It may seem obvious that knowledge is an important part of education, but the subject is more divided than you would think. Much focus has moved toward learning how to learn, developing thinking skills, and navigating the vast amount of information that exists in places such as the internet. In turn, our focus has turned away from the content, or the acquisition of knowledge that was once the primary objective in school. The thinking is that if we teach students how to learn – where to find information and how to process it- then they will be able to learn anything, not just the small amount of content that we present to them in school. In theory, this is right on point. As the old adage goes, why give a man a fish, when you can teach him how to fish? The only problem is, what if we spend all of our time learning how to fish, hunt and farm, but we never actually get around to catching the fish, shooting the deer, or plowing the field. The “fish” is still important. What I am trying to say, is content or knowledge has value, in and of itself. When we learn about a particular topic we start creating this wonderful web of knowledge in our brains, it will stick if  it has other related information to grab onto, and in turn, it will catch and retain more information as well. The more we know about a particular subject, the more we are able to learn (Foer, 2011). While it is true that you can “Google” almost anything if you need to know about it, having information “saved” in these external memory keepers doesn’t build the neural pathways, or the web, that retaining knowledge in your brain does.

The act of remembering or retaining knowledge actually takes some practice. Maryellen Wiemer (2014) explains that studies have shown that merely reading, or going over notes, for example, does very little to help retain the knowledge. In fact it can actually be counter productive because when re-reading or going over notes, we are lulled into a false sense of “knowing” because everything sounds familiar, when in fact, the information has not been learned (Wiemer, 2014). In order to learn something, you must actively process it, this may mean summarizing the content, reflecting on it, talking about it, teaching it to someone else, or using strategies such as mnemonics to really implant the information in your brain in a retrievable format.

While it is still up for debate if our memory is like a muscle, that will grow when exercised, it is safe to say that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Foer (2008) talks about the amazing memories that individuals in certain professions have, for example the memory of a waiter for remembering orders. It turns out that memory is pretty specific because of the pathways we build, so that waiter, likely won’t be able to remember old baseball stats just because he has a keen ability to remember 18 drink and food orders. So this brings me back to education, perhaps it is important to serve up a well rounded meal of content, to act as a net for future learning. While we are teaching the process of learning, we musn’t forget to help our students acquire background knowledge.

How do we go about doing this? As is described in The Outlier (2008) by Malcom Gladwell, experts aren’t born, they are made… through a lot of practice. You have likely heard about the 10 000 hour rule, where it takes 10 000 hours to become great at anything (Gladwell, 2008). Foer (2008) takes this notion one step further and talks about the type of practice that “experts” embark upon. It is not just mindless rote repetition, it is mindful and reflective. In fact, the main reason that people plateau at a certain skill level is because they have gotten “good enough” to perform the task, and autopilot turns on. Any practice from that point on will only maintain the current level of functioning. Instead, experts are constantly analyzing and receiving feedback on the parts of their “game” that they have not yet perfected. This allows them to avoid auto-pilot and continue their progress (Foer, 2008). As teachers we can learn from this. To help our students step up their “game”, we need to help them engage in active reflection and give them timely and accurate feedback so they can continue to take those tiny steps toward their learning goals.

In summary, learning how to learning is crucial but retaining knowledge is also very important. The more we learn, the more we are able to learn by creating a vast and sticky web of background knowledge that allows us to catch and retain new pieces of information. We must teach our students how to remember effectively and give them plenty of time to practice this skill. Lastly, as teachers we must encourage our students to reflect upon their learning and give them timely and accurate feedback so that they can continue to progress through obstacles and learning plateaus. Perhaps this all sounds obvious and simple, but in a world where knowledge is often consumed rather than valued, it is surprising how often these lessons are missed.

–Kathryn Kindrat


Foer, J. (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything. New York: Penguin Press.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

Weimer, M. (May 14, 2014). Is Rereading the Material a Good Study Strategy? In Teacher Professor Blog. Retrieved on July 2, 2014 from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/rereading-material-good-study-strategy/



How does a teacher’s perception of a student with a disability play a role in the student’s success, or lack thereof, in the classroom?

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Dheepak Ra: http://flickr.com/photos/baejaar/8437344/

Imagine if you were labelled (and treated accordingly), by the things you couldn’t do? You shouldn’t swim because you can’t breath under water. You can’t get that item up there because you are not tall enough. You can’t fly because you aren’t trying, but what really frustrates me is that you have a bad attitude because you are too scared to even attempt it. From this perspective, life is filled with obstacles rather than opportunities. Obviously there are many areas in life where each and everyone of us is disabled, but we choose to focus instead on the things we can do and that enables us to take action – to live. We work around our “disabilities” by making use of various strategies and accommodations, “assistive technology” and the support of others. We swim by coming up for air, or using a snorkel; we grab things that are out of our reach by climbing a ladder or asking someone that is taller to help us; we fly using an airplane, a helicopter or our imaginations. More importantly, we are not defined by these negative attributes. “Most people can expect to be considered ‘disabled’ at one time or another in their lives. This in no way detracts from their fundamental worth as human beings” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p. 7).

When we are working with our students, those with disabilities and those without, we should take a strengths based approach. Our perception of our students guides the type of education we offer, the behavior we display, the relationship we build and the expectations that we hold; in turn, students are positively or negatively impacted. An interesting example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, comes from the broadcast of, “ A Class Divided” (Peters et al., 1985). In an exercise to give students a first hand experience dealing with discrimination, Jane Elliot tells her “blue-eyed” students that they are in fact smarter than the other students because of their eye color. Those “blue-eyed” students go on to achieve better test results than the other students, in fact, they achieved better results than they ever had before. Adversely, the other students, who were told repeatedly that they probably couldn’t do it (because of their eye color), yielded lower results than in the past (Peters et al., 1985). This did not occur because the “blue-eyed” students were smarter or more talented than the students without blue eyes. It happened because the teacher’s perception changed (in this case to prove a point), this directly affected her attitude, demeanor, expectations and behaviors towards her students; then, as if by magic, her students’ self-perception adjusted in response to the feedback, and produced the “expected” results. The power of perception is undeniable.

When working with students who have disabilities we can help or hinder the student’s success simply by changing our perceptions. A student should not be described or labelled based on his or her disability, instead he/she should be viewed as a person first, with a unique set of strengths, weaknesses and needs. Even our private and professional dialogue must change to reflect this concept; for example, he is a person with a disability, not a disabled person (Concordia University, n.d.). In practice, this means we teach the whole child. For example, I have a student who needs extra time to process information and has a difficult time retaining it; she often gets frustrated because she feels like it takes her longer to accomplish tasks. On the other hand, this child is an excellent artist. Instead of focusing on her disability or weakness, “We went over this last week, you need to learn to focus more. You aren’t going to have time to finish this now, so I will have to help you finish it at recess”, I try to utilize her strengths, “Remember that poster that you created last week on this topic? Close your eyes and think about the things you included; use your drawing to help you answer these questions”. This way, she is thinking about something that she can do really well, instead of something that she struggles with; and she is using her strength as a strategy to help her complete the task rather than focusing on what is holding her back. Using a strength based approach, this student is more likely to attempt the task, and be successful. We can empower our students by letting them know that we think they can succeed, and helping them find the tools they need to do it.

We must first change our own perceptions, then we can work on improving how each student perceives himself/herself and the world.


Concordia University (n.d.). Week 1 – Introduction to Inclusive Education. In EDCI 528 Foundation Concepts for Inclusive Teaching.  Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/k2arrsa

Mastropieri, M. & Scruggs, T. (2010). The Inclusive Classroom: Strategies for Effective Differentiated Instruction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc..

Peters, W., Cobb, C., Elliott, J., Freidus, L., Hanser, D., Yale University., WGBH (Television station : Boston, Mass.), …  PBS Video.  (1985, March 26).  A class divided.  [Television broadcast].  S.l.: PBS.  Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/etc/view.html 

*I originally wrote this post on February 27, 2013 as a part of EDCI 528 – Concordia University, Portland, Oregon. 

How do we learn best? Ask a baby!

If you are ever wondering how people learn best, just take 15 minutes and watch a baby!

You learn by experiencing things.

Mya eating her bookI show my 4 and a half month old daughter a new book, she eyes it with curiosity, then she quickly grabs it with her hands and stuffs the corner in her mouth. She proceeds to lick and chew on it, with a funny look on her face, as if to say “this doesn’t taste like I thought it would”, but continues to lick, just to make sure. Thank goodness it is made out of that indestructible paper (think new Canadian money sans all the germs!). As she continues to explore with her senses, I start telling a story with the pictures, pointing at the animals as I describe them and imitating their sounds and gestures. You can tell that she is interested in what I am saying and pointing at, even if she doesn’t understand it yet, because every once and a while she will look up from her slobbery chew fest and stare at the picture I am pointing at, then up at me, then back to the picture, then up at me, then back to chewing. After a quick rendition of E-I-E-I-O, she treats me with a big toothless grin and blows some bubbles — she must have liked my version of a cow’s “Mooooooooo”! Then she shoves the book in her eye. Luckily, she quickly decides that she much prefers “reading” using her mouth, even if it is just by licking the book for right now.

Mya chewing her bookMy daughter is learning about books… and reading… and social interaction… and the world. She is learning by experiencing, with every sense, every lick, every smile. Can you imagine I tried to teach her about all of that, by standing up in front of her for an hour and telling her about it.

Mya, this is a book and it is really great because there are all these words and you can read them… no not right now, you are learning right now. Anyway, as I was saying…

I am pretty sure she would turn her attention towards the lamp if that were the case. So why do we expect kids to learn by telling them about things? Yes, a certain amount of background information is helpful, and yes, talking is a part of teaching, but how we talk, and why we talk, needs to be analyzed a little bit. Are we adding to their experience? Or taking away from it?

I think back to a grade 8 Social Studies classes where I was droning on about Edo Japan… watching as the eyes of my students glazed over. Was I really teaching at that moment? Nope. After that class, I decided the students would be better served by experiencing Edo Japan. While I wish I could have loaded them on to a jet plane for an international field trip, I did the next best thing on a budget of $0.oo. I gave them a list of the things they were supposed to “know” or be able to “do” by the end of the unit (“I can” objectives) and I told them they needed to research Edo Japan and find something they found interesting. They needed to find out everything they could about that topic and make it come alive in the classroom, as they would be letting other students experience it. As a teacher, I became a facilitator and supported the students in finding the information and materials they needed to learn and create. I talked, not at them, but with them. At the end of the unit, instead of having a class full of apathetic zombie junior high students and 30 tests to mark, I had a papier mâché panda (almost… it moulded a little in the cupboard, a lesson in and of it self), complete with a bamboo backdrop. I had a group of samurai, wielding their own hand made wooden swords, which I enjoyed watching, after a sushi tasting and a presentation on the Shogun of the time. I had students who spent time at recess, voluntarily (!!!), finishing certain aspects of their projects. But, most importantly, I had a class of students who experienced Edo Japan, and were able to share their experiences with others (they even invited the grade 1/2’s to check out their work). Now this wasn’t perfect, and it was messy, both literally and figuratively, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I am betting that once my daughter reaches junior high (ahhhhh!!!), that she will learn a whole lot more from experiential learning than getting talked at. In fact, she would probably learn more from chewing on her textbook.

As I ponder this, I wonder what we can do as teachers to transform the classroom into a true place of learning, of experiencing, while still supporting and scaffolding students in their learning journey. This is as question I will continue to ask myself as I start planning for next year!

Practical Tips for Improving Classroom Behaviour

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Lovro Rumiha: http://flickr.com/photos/25275646@N05/7948391882/

Positive classroom behaviour and strong social skills are important components of success in the classroom.  Students learn better when they are engaged and on-task, in an environment that is conducive to learning.  For the teacher, promoting positive classroom behaviour comes down to effective classroom management, which can be achieved by “establishing positive, caring relationships with all students in your class, implementing and consistently enforcing effective rules for classroom behaviour, and helping students learn to make positive choices that increase their level of success in school” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  151).  Often, misbehaviour stems from a lack of social skills.  Luckily, social skills — “behaviours we use to work and socialize with other people” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  168), can be taught.  The following essay will describe a number of practical strategies to improve classroom behaviour and social skills.

The first step in improving classroom behaviour is to realize that you are trying to change the problem behaviours, not the child (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  Often, kids get described as “bad seeds” or as having “bad attitudes”, neither of which is helpful in actually correcting the problem.  Furthermore, when a student feels as if the teacher views him or her as a bad person, that is exactly the expectation that he or she will live up to.  Instead, teachers should focus on creating rapport and building relationships with all of the students in the class, especially those students with problem behaviours.  Once the teacher is able to see the child and the behaviour as separate things, then he or she can start to work towards changing the behaviour.  At this stage the teacher must observe and accurately identify both the positive and negative behaviours and record the context of the situation (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  The three items that should be noted are the antecedent events, the behaviours observed and the consequent events (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).

After the behaviours are identified, the teacher can apply strategies to promote the positive behaviours and minimize or correct the negative behaviours.  For example, if a young student starts poking other students every time he is in line for gym class, causing the other students to either poke back or get upset, then the teacher can correct the problem behaviour proactively.  A number of strategies may be useful in this scenario.  Perhaps the student has a skill deficit, and needs to be taught how to stand in line appropriately; or the student may behave more appropriately when placed within close proximity to the teacher; a system of reward and consequence could be put in place to promote appropriate “line-up behaviours”; etc.  In any given situation there are a number of strategies that could work to improve the classroom behaviour; the key is to continue observing the behaviour, to ensure that interventions are having a positive effect.

Below there are a number of specific examples of good classroom management strategies that will improve classroom behaviour:

  • “Establish a positive classroom atmosphere” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  154) by demonstrating a respectful and caring attitude and teaching with enthusiasm and sincerity (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).
  • “Post and discuss classroom rules” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  155).  If possible, have students take part in the rule making process so that they have more ownership over them.  It is important to refer back to the specific rule that has been broken with the student and review why the rule is important.
  • “Praise positive behaviours and ignore inappropriate behaviours” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  156).  For example, if the expectation is that students are seated and reading before bell, thank those students who are doing just that, quickly you will see most students who were previously off-task, grabbing a book and getting seated.
  • “Control behaviour with proximity” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  156).  Circulating throughout the class can help to minimize off-task behaviour, for example if a student is chatting with a friend with you are reading a book aloud, walk over to vicinity of the students, usually that will be enough, but sometimes a hand on the desk or a subtle visual reminder will be necessary.  Be sure that proximity does not become an enforcer of problem behaviour by those students seeking attention (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).
  • “Make direct appeals” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  156) and “validate the student’s feelings” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  157).  Many students will respond when you simply explain the situation and ask them to change a problem behaviour.  This works best when done privately and when you are careful to validate the student’s feelings and perspective.
  • Adjust the level of task difficulty.  In one study the authors “found consistent relationships between behavioural performance (e.g., task completion, task comprehension, on-task behaviours) and level of task difficulty” (Umbreit, Lane & Dejud, 2004, p.  18).  The task should be challenging, but within the child’s range of instructional capability” (Umbreit, Lane & Dejud, 2004).
  • Use systems of reward and consequence.  This can include reinforcing positive behaviours through praise or tangible rewards such as stickers or snacks; or more systematically through token systems where students can earn rewards by demonstrating positive behaviours (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  It can also include using negative consequences to address inappropriate behaviours, such as warnings, timeouts, a loss of privileges or for more serious cases, suspension.  Negative consequences should be used judiciously and should always be followed up by a debriefing, so that the student knows what he or she did wrong and how the behaviour can be improved for next time (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  It should be noted that some believe that systems of reward and consequence may not be effective in the long run.  Alfie Kohn warns, “As with punishments, the offer of rewards can elicit temporary compliance in many cases.  Unfortunately, carrots turn out to be no more effective than sticks at helping children to become caring, responsible people or lifelong, self-directed learners” (Kohn & ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, 1994, p.  2).
  • “Promote self-monitoring” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  162) and “teach students self-instruction strategies” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  162) for problem solving.  Students should be taught how to identify their own triggers and monitor the target behaviours that need to be changed.  They should set goals to improve the frequency of appropriate behaviours and to decrease the frequency of inappropriate behaviours.  Rewards can be integrated into this system if necessary.  In addition, students should be taught explicitly how to guide themselves through the problem solving process; “questions can involve defining the situation, thinking through possible solutions, and choosing the best option” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  162).

These are just a few of the possible strategies for effective classroom management to improve classroom behaviour, there are many more, which is why it is important to find out what works for your specific classroom context, student population and teaching style.

As mentioned, in addition to effective classroom management, the explicit instruction of social skills can positively affect student behaviour and success.  Mastropieri and Scruggs list the following social skill areas: conversation skills, assertiveness skills, “play” interaction skills, problem-solving and coping skills, self-help skills, classroom task-related behaviours, self-related behaviours, and job interview skills (2010).  These skills are valuable for school related success, but more importantly, they are crucial for success in adult life.

Social skill deficits can be easily observed during normal day-to-day activities and interactions if you are paying attention.  Once a skill deficit is observed, there are a number of ways to provide instruction.  Explicit skill training can be provided to the whole class, small groups or individuals as necessary, either as a part of a formal curriculum (ie.  Health), or integrated into other subjects such as Language Arts, Social studies and Physical Education.  The benefit of group instruction is the ability to role play and practice interaction with others.  Teachers should model the appropriate behaviours and be very direct when explaining the components of the desired social skills.

Another strategy is to use teachable moments and “conduct on the spot training” (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010, p.  172).  For example, a student who inappropriately blames another student for “stealing” his pencil; could be taught to instead ask if anyone has seen or found his missing pencil.  The student is able to connect the instruction to a specific situation, so it becomes very memorable.  That being said, it is important that students are also trained for generalization (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2010).  For example, the same student could then be asked to think of other situations where it would be better to ask questions rather than jump to conclusions, the skill could then be practiced in other contexts such as at recess and also reinforced at home.

“Social skills are complex cognitive strategies made up of facts, concepts, and rule relationships and that lack of social competence can result from an incomplete understanding of any of those lower level components” (Snider & Battalio, 2012, p.  17), with this in mind, it makes sense that if social skills are not acquired at home and through normal day to day interactions, then they must be taught to ensure that deficits do not interfere with the student’s ability to be successful.

Both classroom behaviour and social skills can be improved through careful monitoring, the implementation of effective strategies and interventions and honest reflection on progress.  Real change takes time, but this investment could mean all the difference to your students.


Kohn, A., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, U.  L.  (1994).  The Risks of Rewards.  ERIC Digest.

Mastropieri, M.  & Scruggs, T.  (2010).  The Inclusive Classroom: Strategies for Effective Differentiated Instruction (4th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc..

Snider, V.  E., & Battalio, R.  (2012).  Application of Academic Design Principles to Social Skills Instruction.  Beyond Behaviour, 21(1), 10-19.

Umbreit, J., Lane, K.  L., & Dejud, C.  (2004).  Improving Classroom Behaviour by Modifying Task Difficulty: Effects of Increasing the Difficulty of Too-Easy Tasks.  Journal Of Positive Behaviour Interventions, 6(1), 13-20.

*Taken from an reflective essay I wrote on April 7th, 2013 as a part of EDCI 548 – Concordia University, Portland, Oregon. 

Technology, Information and Plagiarism in the Classroom

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Will Lion: http://flickr.com/photos/will-lion/2595497078/

Technology has led to a multitude of changes in the educational setting. A world that once seemed so large is now accessible to anyone with an internet connection. As a result, values are shifting. This shift can be extremely positive when we think about our students’ ability to grasp and internalize global issues such as pollution, poverty and war; where at one time we were isolated and the only way to learn about the events taking place across the globe was through dated history books and biased news reports, now we can learn about the world in real time, from multiple sources. Our students have unparalleled access to information, allowing the student to become the teacher and visa verse. With the world at their finger tips, students have a greater ability to reach out and make connections, in their community, across their country and even around the world. Many of our students really do think they can make a difference, because they have a voice. On the other hand, unbridled access to information, has led student’s to believe less in the value of gaining and retaining information. How many times have you heard, “Well if I want to know about it, I will Google it”? The problem is that we need a certain amount of background knowledge to make connections and use higher order thinking skills, to make information usable is much more than merely, “Googling” and regurgitating. This brings me to the topic of plagiarism.

Many students believe that plagiarism is acceptable, not because they want to steal other people’s work, but because the information is there for the taking. They do not see a reason to “make it their own”. This brings up the debate regarding ownership of information, in an age when more and more information and technology is becoming open source, some argue that no one really “owns” the information that is out there. Though I support open source technology and I truly believe in the sharing of information, if we merely take and borrow from others we are not analyzing and synthesizing, we are not engaging in critical thinking, in essence we are not using the unique skills that make us human. The only way to make information more than just disconnected pieces of data is to think about it in a new way, plagiarism limits our ability to do this. Plagiarism is both easier and harder than ever. You can find information on anything, and cutting and pasting takes seconds, but you are also much more likely to get caught because of modern technology (Bailey, 2009). So as educators what are we to do? Opening the doors to the world, introducing our students to new technologies and showing them the almost limitless amount of information available to them is not enough; we must also teach the value of the information they are accessing and the skills they need in order to process it. Thoughts?


Bailey, J. (2009, March 31). Famous Plagiarists: Could it Happen Today? Retrieved from http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2009/03/31/famous-plagiarists-could-it-happen-today/

*I originally wrote this post on February 15, 2013 as a part of EDGR 602 – Concordia University, Portland, Oregon.