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Checking In Down Under

Posted on June 18, 2015 at 11:25 PM Comments comments (87)
I'm sitting and relaxing in the comfortable and relatively quiet Qantas club in Sydney, after my decidedly uncomfortable and noisy red-eye flight from Darwin. I have a few hours before I leave to visit family in Canberra, so it seemed a good time to catch up on my blog.
 
I arrived in Darwin just two weeks ago, for my third trip to my three schools in the Outback. I was excited to check in; to be honest, I had missed my Australian friends and the children I've grown so fond of. I arrived to a different climate than what I've experienced in my past visits. It's currently the dry season in the Northern Territory, which means that the endless humidity and rain that happens in the wet season has taken a short break. The weather was beautiful - still hot, but hot and dry, with a nice breeze to cool things down just a little.
 
Because it's the dry season, I wasn't traveling via small plain. Instead, I was traveling with my Aussie colleague in a very nice 4WD SUV (or a "ute," as they are called here). We left Darwin very early on Monday morning for our approximately four-hour trip to our first school. The first part of the trip was really good - paved, two-lane road and very little traffic. However, an hour or so into the drive, the road narrowed, and I felt that I was driving through the infamous narrow roads in rural England. We drove along for about an hour on that narrow road, when the pavement ended completely, and we bounced along on dirt, sand, and rocks for the remainder of the journey. Eventually we arrived at our first school, the smallest of my schools, and the one that exhibited the most challenging behavior in the past.
 
We parked the car and climbed the steps to the school, a little puzzled by the silence that greeted us. It turned out that the students had been held over after a weekend festival several hours away, which meant that we were able to work with the teachers and assistant teachers on data collection and lesson delivery. We left later that afternoon and drove to the next community, which was about an hour away. We got to the community and met up with the principal, who gave us the keys to our housing for the week. 
 
We soon discovered that we would be staying in an interesting little house. We each had our own room, which opened onto an outdoor corridor, which led to the common room, which housed the kitchen, living room, and bathroom facilities. It was comfortable, and clean, but somewhat strange in that any trip to the bathroom, or the kitchen, required a short walk outside, along with the need to lock and unlock the doors in between. Needless to say, such an arrangement makes one seriously reconsider the amount of liquid one consumes in the later hours of the day! Furthermore, we learned that we were not the only ones staying in the house. One afternoon I used the bathroom, flushed the toilet, and was quite surprised when something brown jumped out of the toilet at me. I looked down to see this little guy holding on for dear life.

 I'm happy to report that he eventually escaped the toilet and we didn't have any more "surprises" when using the facilities!
 
 
 
The next day we were able to visit classes at the school and I was extremely impressed with the growth the students had made in reading and language. It was so rewarding to see the students working hard and to view the incredible progress they had made. We spent three days at the school, then made the drive back to the first school, to see if we could connect with students there.
 
When we arrived, we were amazed at the sound of students engaged in learning. We could hear students reading and answering together. When we entered the class, I was greeted with cries of, "Miss Sheri!" - but none of the students jumped up or lost focus in the lesson. I was over-joyed to see the students reading so well. Even the students who had struggled a great deal in the beginning were reading and completing their workbook pages with a minimal amount of help. Moreover, their behavior was much improved. We spent time in the two classes that comprise the school, then took off to make the bumpy, dusty, somewhat hair-raising ride back to Darwin.
 
I was able to connect with a couple of Americans who are doing the same work I'm doing, and we spent a wonderful weekend shopping, eating, and taking a sunset cruise on the bay. It was a terrific weekend, but come Tuesday morning, it was back on the road!
 
The ride on Tuesday morning was not too different from the ride the week before, with one exception - we saw kangaroos (well, wallabies, actually - but they're pretty-much just smaller kangaroos)!  

 





We also saw water buffalo, brumbies, and a couple of wild bulls.
 
 
We spent some more time at our biggest school, meeting with teachers and enjoying observing student progress. We then went on to our third school, where we were once again pleasantly surprised by the progress the students had made. The first night we were there, we took a drive out to the flood plain, which was accessible only because the water had dried up in the dry season.
As we drove through the plain, we came upon a disturbing sight - at least a half-dozen dead horses, at least what was left after the scavengers had had a go. It was an extremely creepy sight, and we are not quite sure what the carnage was a result of.


Despite the grisly discovery on our drive, we were treated to a lovely view of the sunset, in a nice quiet spot next to a small pond.



On our last day in the community, we delivered an in-service session to the three schools, at the most centrally located school. Teachers and assistant teachers from the schools came together to learn, and to connect. They all contributed to morning tea, and a BBQ lunch, which were both incredible. Living in the Australian Outback, in a remote community, can be rather lonely, and it seems that everyone appreciated a chance to get together and learn more about each other.
 
We soon had to hit the road again, back to Darwin for the last time (this trip). On the way back, we passed several sections where the bush was being burned, which is what is needed to promote renewed growth in the Outback. It's a little alarming to drive past a section of the land that is burning, but I was assured that it is planned, and that the burning is safely controlled. In any case, it makes for an eery filter through which to view the wild country!
 
All in all, this was a trip that was marked by extremes. The beauty of the sunsets, the eeriness of the dead horses...the lush greenness of the Outback, and the smoky haze of the controlled burnings...the joy of hearing children learning, and the heartbreak of learning more about what they live through, and experiencing first-hand the ways they can be hurt. I have been permanently touched by my experiences so far, and my heart aches for the children, while deeply hoping that Margaret Mead was right when she said, "never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." I'm not out to change the world, but if I can have a part of changing the future for a group of very special young people, then I pray I am up to the task!
Cheers until next time!

Winding Down, Down Under

Posted on February 17, 2015 at 10:46 PM Comments comments (55)

Here it is, the middle of my last week in Australia, and I'm definitely due for some reflection. In some ways this time has gone by so quickly, in other ways I feel like I've been here forever. I'm currently in my third school, which is another small school (around 30 students), with students in grades kindergarten (transition) through 7th grade. The school is beautiful; the path into the school is paved with stones and the school is beautifully decorated with posters and indigenous art.


The morning starts on the covered patio, and the principal (who is incredible) leads the students in morning activities. The students sit in lines by class (there are two teachers, in addition to the principal, who spends most of her time teaching the K-2 students), having eaten a nutritious breakfast at school. To gain the students' attention, Principal Gail (not her real name) sings, "Good morning!" The students respond by singing, "Good morning!" They then switch roles, with the students initiating the second round and Gail responding. The students earn points by being at school on time and wearing their uniforms. Students are reminded about the expectations for working in class and then one student (who has been sitting politely and participating well) gets to choose a song to sing. The first day Gail led the students in "My Highland Goat," sung energetically, complete with hand movements. I was amazed! The following day, the song was "What a Wonderful World." I was immensely touched to hear these children singing this lovely song while signing in ASL. It was a completely surreal moment as I realized how small our world truly is and how we are really more similar than we are different.

As I have spent this week at this school I have, once again, been reminded of how dedicated the teachers who work in this region are. Many of them live here while their spouses maintain a home elsewhere in Australia. Others are here with their spouses, who may or may not be employed at the local school. They spend hours outside the school day working in their classrooms preparing activities for students that can be completed independently or led by a teaching assistant. They are back at the school on the weekend, again working in their classrooms and preparing for the upcoming week. They are provided houses to live in, close to the school, but they are not really able to leave during the school term, at least not during the wet season. It's a big commitment and I'm impressed by their devotion to these children.

Yesterday morning I was getting ready for school when I happened to look outside to see this...

He was literally so close that I could have touched him, if my efforts hadn't been impeded by the window screen separating us. He tried to walk through the fence into the property next door, but decided to stick with a good thing, once he realized he couldn't get through. He chomped on the grass for about ten minutes before deciding it was time to move on. It was incredible!












I was sick on the weekend, but Gail and the other teachers encouraged me to get myself up to go to the "pub" with them on Saturday night. The "pub" is an open area (it reminds me of a baseball field, only smaller) with a concession stand that serves two different kinds of Australian beer and three kinds of soft drinks. Saturday night was a special night at the pub because there was a live band, made up of indigenous musicians. The music was really good and it was interesting to see this slice of local culture. The sunset was also beautiful, as you can see in the following photo.



Evening at the pub - good music, cold Coca-Cola, and a lovely view...what's not to like?

As I prepare to finish off this last week and return to the US, I'm reminded why I'm so proud to be an educator. As principal Gail said to me, "if I can make a difference in the life of just one of these kids, I'll feel like my life has been successful." Whether teaching in inner city Los Angeles, a small town in Minnesota, or a remote indigenous community in the Australian outback, educators dedicate their lives to making a difference in the lives of children. How could there ever be any better career than that?












Going Even Deeper Down Under

Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (54)

Well, I'm in Darwin for the night, after flying on a single engine plane in and out of a very small town in the Australian bush. I've spent two days there in the school, flying back each evening to a larger town (large, as in, over 100 residents). I hardly slept the night before my first flight, but I soon found that I'm not frightened and, in fact, the views are amazing!


My new school is small (around 25 students, K-7th grade) and in a community sheltered by an amazing escarpment, with picturesque waterfalls and rough-hewn walls. The town is made up of one extended family, which causes some problems with the students at school who bring their arguments and disagreements with them.
The students at this school speak English quite well (in fact, they are very adept at producing some very common English swear words), and their literacy skills are a little bit higher than what I experienced last week. However, their behavior is unbelievable. They kick, hit, bite, throw things at each other, scream, yell, and call each other names. They do not hesitate in the least if there is an adult around (a kindergarten student actually hit the substitute teacher this afternoon). Getting them to sit, focus, and work is exhausting!
Luckily, this community has been blessed with an amazing principal, who could be working at Stanford University, but who has, instead, chosen to spend the last years before retirement in making a difference in these children's lives. She has taught in Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, and the US. She is Montessori trained and is open to trying new techniques to help the students learn. She and her husband, a retired chemist, live in a small flat attached to the school. She has only been there six months, but her influence is already being felt. She expects a lot out of the students, and, for the most part, they do what she asks. I'm enjoying working with her immensely; although she has such a wealth of experience, she is still incredibly humble and willing to learn and try new things.

Tomorrow morning I'm back in my charter plan and off to my little town to spend another day supporting the students and educators there. However, tonight I'm enjoying a comfy hotel room, having thoroughly appreciated a nice salad and glass of wine, while waiting for all my clothing to run through the laundry facilities in the hotel. It's amazing how little things take on so much more meaning when one experiences live with so much less!
As the Aussies say, "Cheers and G'day!"

Buffalo and horses on the way out of town














The school and school children on the approach to the airstrip


Things That Go Bump in the Night: Australian Bush Version

Posted on February 9, 2015 at 1:56 AM Comments comments (47)
I'm rounding out my first week at my biggest school (approximately 125 students, preschool through grade 10) and so I thought I'd take a few moments to sum up my experiences here.

New Friends
On Saturday night I had a terrific time at a potluck featuring Australian dishes. Everyone brought something to share and we had some really terrific tucker (aka food). There was chicken parma, Australian lamb, quiche, coleslaw, Australian meatballs, cheesymite rolls (cheese and Vegemite on homemade Australian bread), berry and apple crisp, anzac biscuits, and pavlova (I brought cheesy potatoes - kind of a French/American thing). It was really nice relaxing and getting to know the teachers and their spouses away from school.
On Sunday afternoon I was to one of the teacher's houses for tea (I'll call her Joanie), and Sunday evening I was invited, along with Joanie, to another teacher's house for dinner (I'll call her Martha). Joanie borrowed the "ute" (aka: utility vehicle) from the principal for the short drive to Martha's house. I wondered why we would need the ute when Martha's house is just down the street and around the corner. However, when we almost got run down by a spooked wild horse being chased by dogs, I understood why we might not want to walk outside after dark in the Australian bush. First of all, it's dark! I mean, it's completely black outside - which is, of itself, quite scary. Even more importantly, Joanie shared with me a short list of the kind of creatures you might run into if you decide to take a walk in the Australian bush after dark (even if you walk on the road in the town):

Cane Toad
  • snakes
  • crocodiles 
  • wild horses
  • dogs
  • bats
  • buffalo
  • bulls
  • cane toads
  • pigs
  • emus


Wild Horse

Solid Gold

Here are a few funny stories before I sign off for the day. On Friday I was teaching a lesson which had me demonstrating smiling. At the end of the lesson, one of the girls came to me, pointed to my mouth and said, "What that? Open you mouth." I opened my mouth and her eyes got big, "What that? You have gold in you mouth?" She was mesmerized by my gold and silver fillings. She quickly called the other children over and my dental work was examined very closely. She then asked me if she could touch my fillings, which I explained was unwise because she would get my germs. When she asked how I got the metal in my mouth, I answered by saying I got it because I didn't do a good job of brushing my teeth as a girl. In hindsight, I'm not sure that was the right answer to give. I hope she doesn't stop brushing her teeth in the hope that she'll discover gold one day!

At the end of the day Friday I was walking to the teacher's lounge when a boy around 10 asked me if I was from welfare. He even checked my name tag to check it out. I assured him I was here to help the teachers, which he found acceptable.

In one of the younger groups, students are asked to identify a picture of a shoe. The children, unfamiliar with shoes, have begun to call them "shoots." It appears to be a cross between shoe and boots, which the are familiar with because boots are worn by men who muster the cattle.

Finally, one of the most disturbing things I've learned is how hungry these children are. When I was at Joanie's on Sunday three of the children knocked on her door. They explained that their mother was hungry and wanted meat. They had brought a bucket and had walked through an intense thunder storm to see if they could get something to eat. The government checks had arrived on Thursday, which means that the family had used all the money in under three days, leaving the children with no food until the next check in two weeks. In fact, it's not uncommon to find mothers with their toddlers at the school eating breakfast and lunch because there is nothing to eat at home.

Once again I'm humbled and impressed by the educators who choose to serve this needy population. What amazing work they are doing!


Working in an Australian Remote Community School Wk. 1

Posted on February 7, 2015 at 1:28 AM Comments comments (66)


Well, I've completed the first week of supporting educators in a remote community in the Australian bush. I honestly didn't really know what to expect and I'm not sure I could have ever understood the experience of teaching in a remote indigenous community school unless I had had the opportunity to come here.

Teachers
I have found the teachers who choose to live and teach out here in this remote community to be dedicated and practical. In my experience, they seem to complain very little and, instead of complaining, do what it takes to get things done. We began teaching Direct Instruction before our order of materials arrived because the teachers and the principal were committed to making the implementation work. Teachers copied lessons, studied, and presented their first lessons on the second day of school. When the materials did arrive (on the third day), teachers stayed late to unload the pallets at 5:00 in 100° temperatures (with 80% humidity). When it was discovered that we were short materials, teachers came up with solutions so that the teaching would go on.

Students
In some ways the students are very much the same as American students (see my last post in which I describe students singing, "Let it Go"); in other ways they are very unique. Almost all of the students (probably 98%) are English Language Learners, and most of them have very low English skills. They also have very low literacy skills. One of the main problems is attendance. Many students don't attend school regularly, which certainly contributes to their low skills. When they do come to school, they are often sluggish and some fall asleep at school. From what I understand, it is not common in homes for students to have a regular bedtime. In fact, students are often awake most of the night, coming to school the next day sleepy and unresponsive. They finish school and go home to sleep during the evening, waking up after dark to stay awake for most of the night. This contributes to the instructional challenges for teachers, as they struggle to engage students and teach them academics, despite the sleepy response they receive.

Community
The community consists of the school, a store, a health center, and an airstrip. In some ways the school is a central component of the community. Many parents spend time at the school because it is centrally located and provides shade and a place for little ones to play. Many of the people in the community are related and they all know each other well, having grown up together and lived in rather close quarters for many generations. I had the opportunity to ride with one of the school workers as he drove students home the day the bus was stuck in mud. The state of the homes reminded me of some of the places I've visited in the US; places marked by abject poverty and neglect. There were many dilapidated cars, tires, and other types of trash littering the fronts and sides of houses. It is my understanding that several families may live in one house, with many children and adults sharing the living space. It helped me to understand why the children might come to school tired and unmotivated to learn. On the other hand, it also showed me why both children and adults might want to come to the school, with it's painted doors and brightly colored walls and displays. The school must seem like an incredible place to be, when compared with the realities of the living spaces.


The local school - complete with one of the large puddles that is a constant during the rainy season.






A panoramic of the preschool classroom - beautiful!

Next week I'm off to a new school. Due to the fact that the roads are impassable and that the community is so tiny that there is no place for me to stay there, I'll be commuting from one town to another via a single-engine plane. I'll have a pilot and an aircraft assigned to me and I'll fly in and out of the school in the morning and afternoon. As I'm rather terrified of flying in small planes, this plan does not thrill me! Oh well! It will be an interesting adventure and another opportunity to experience the realities of life in this world.


Brumbies, snakes, cane toads, and "Let it Go"

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 3:07 AM Comments comments (37)
Well, it's back to school time! That is, it's back to school time here in Australia. Today was the first day of school in Nganmarriyanga, and I learned a lot about what it means to be an educator in this remote Australian community.

I walked the short distance to school this morning, artfully dodging huge piles of horse poop that was deposited throughout the night by the Brumbies (feral horses). In fact, I wasn't surprised to see the horse droppings because I had lost quite a bit of sleep last night due to the galloping and whinnying that went on all night. The locals, and the educators who serve them, seem quite undisturbed by the wild horses. I think they're fascinating!

I got to school as children were finishing their breakfasts. Unlike American schools, children were eating their meals out of glass bowls, which were then washed by the canteen workers. I was invited into the transition classroom (equivalent to our kindergarten program, but all day). Children were slowly filing in, many with parents in tow. The first activity of the day was toothbrush distribution and tooth brushing. As each student arrived he or she was given a toothbrush, which was loaded with a dollop of toothpaste. The children went outside to the water fountains to brush their teeth and rinse their mouths. Following tooth-brushing was nose blowing and ear cleaning (using rolled up kleenex). This activity was accompanied by a song, which was sung by many of the children, as well as the teacher. Hygiene dealt with, we moved on to exercise, story reading and activities on the computers and the smart board. Throughout the morning parents came and went, sitting on the floor near their children.

Children spent their recess time running and playing on the playground equipment found in the main part of the school grounds. The playground equipment is relatively new, and has safety ground-cover installed.




After a morning fruit break and recess, I decided to spend some time in the preschool classroom. It's a very full classroom, and several parents were in attendance. The children sang songs and the teacher spoke in both English and the local dialect. She also has an assistant who is fluent in the local dialect and who translated when needed.
After singing, we went to the library to pick out books and I got the opportunity to read with some of the students. We returned to the classroom and lunch (beef stew and bread) was served in glass bowls outside.

During lunch we caught a cane toad, a rather horrid looking beast that is predominant across Australia, despite being a rather recent addition to the ecosystem on the continent. Cane toads are pests and they procreate at an incredible rate. Once caught, they are put in a plastic trash bag and put in the freezer, which is (from what I understand) a very humane way of getting rid of them permanently.

After lunch the children went home and I spent time in a couple of other classrooms. After school I was working with some of the teachers when a group of students came and reported a snake in the preschool toilet. I guess that was the third snake seen on campus today: there was a large one seen in the main school yard, a smaller one seen on a pathway, and the unlucky fellow in the preschool toilet. Oh...and a fourth one...a baby one brought to us by one of the students.

Besides snakes, there are loads of dogs on campus. They are peaceful, quiet, and just hoping for a bite to eat. There were probably a dozen or so dogs wandering around the school grounds, which seemed very odd to me. Another interesting thing I discovered is that none of the students wear shoes to school, and neither do most of their parents. The children run through the playground and splash through the puddles in their bare feet (which was a little alarming to me, given the snake situation).

As I was packing up my things to go, I recognized a familiar tune. I exited the teacher's work room and found a small group of girls singing the song, "Let it Go," from the Disney movie Frozen. In some ways so very different...in other ways so very similar.

Reflections on Working in Australian Schools: Part I

Posted on January 31, 2015 at 7:07 PM Comments comments (31)
I thought I'd take a chance to jot down my thoughts throughout this amazing experience of working in Australian remote community schools. I was given the opportunity to work in these schools through the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). When I first thought about working in Australia, I pictured working in a somewhat populated area, investigating restaurants in the evening, and staying in Australian hotels. As I learned more about what I'd be doing, I soon realized that the experience would be quite different. So...here's a short recap of what has happened so far.

About 90 days ago I received an email with the names of my remote schools - Nganmarriyanga, Peppimenarti, and Nganambala. I couldn't even pronounce the names and I had no idea where they could possibly be. Thank goodness for Google Earth. I was able to find the first two and, with help from my son Adrien, I was finally able to find Nganambala. I could tell from the map that they are, indeed, remote. Shortly after, I discovered that during the rainy season it is impossible to drive from site to site. As a result, I would need to take a charter flight to travel from Darwin to the first school, in between schools, and then back to Darwin. This was not good news for me. I have said many times in my life that I would never fly in a small plane. Well, you know what they say - "never say never."

Just a note about seasons in northern Australia. There aren't four seasons here - just two. There is the rainy season (which is technically summer - it happens around winter in the US) and the dry season (which is during summer in the US). During the rainy season it is incredibly green, and incredibly muddy. The roads get impassable for several months. My first trip was scheduled during the rainy season (the first of seven in 2015).

Preparation for the trip was interesting. There are limitations regarding weight of luggage on charter flights, so I needed to make sure that my luggage met the criteria. Also, there was no surety that I'd have access to a store in the communities in which I was working, so I needed to bring some food to hold me over in case I couldn't purchase anything. To add to the experience, many people who had never visited the Australian outback had lots of advice. I did my best to pack what I thought was necessary.

My flight to Sydney left at 10:20 pm from LAX. I traveled on an A380, which was wonderful. I had a terrific flight and slept about eight hours. Landing in Sydney was interesting. We had to go through border patrol, get our suitcases, go through customs, check our bags, go through security, then take a bus to a different terminal for our domestic flight. The process took over two hours and was slightly exhausting. However, the flight to Darwin was really good - I had an entire row to myself and I was hypnotized by the lovely geography of the Australian continent.

I stayed one night in Darwin. I shopped at a local mall, which seemed like any mall that you could find in America. I did a little shopping in KMart, and found a few things in Woolworths. All in all, I was disappointed that it didn't seem more different - more Australian.

The next morning I was driven to the charter company to catch my flight to Nganmarriyanga. We were shown to a Cessna, with room for six passengers. I was assigned the front seat, right next to the pilot. At first we had a little bit of a problem getting the left propeller to start, but it eventually started...right at the same time that the sky opened up and began a torrential downpour! In fact, it was raining so hard that the pilot had to open his side window and stick his head out in order to see the runway! I prayed a lot as we taxied and then were airborne. Quickly we flew out of the storm and I became completely mesmerized by the scenery. 
We flew along the coastline and then took a turn inland. We were able to see Nganmarriyanga and Peppimenarti from the plane. 


The landing was incredibly smooth and we disembarked and unloaded our stuff. Wow - was it hot!! In fact, it was unbelievably hot and humid. I was covered with sweat in exactly 30 seconds. The principal's aunt was there to meet us and we piled the luggage and ourselves into a classic SUV and hit the road. Or, should I say, hit the mud. The dirt roads were a huge mess of terracotta colored mud. I was shown the school and the store, then shown to my temporary quarters (10 days).

I'm incredibly fortunate in that I'm staying in a house that belongs to a couple who are on maternity leave. It is comfortable and right next to the principal's home, and just down the road from the school and the store. I went to the store yesterday with one of the new teachers and was surprised to find a variety of items for sale, including a drum set and a stereo system (on sale for $1500!!). I purchased a few items and returned "home." 

Last night I had dinner with the principal and his lovely family. He has a wife who works at the school and who is expecting their third child. Her parents are visiting and I had a wonderful dinner with excellent conversation. Their children are lovely and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to meet this special family. They are doing incredible work here and are dedicated to making a difference for the indigenous people in this area.

Today is a quiet day; I'm prepping for the first day of school, which is tomorrow! Thanks to the fact I have internet coverage, I've been able to FaceTime and Skype with my family and I feel like I'm not too far away.

The Top 10 Reasons Why Schools Should Implement PBIS

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 5:03 PM Comments comments (141)
Next week I'm going to be working with the California Technical Assistance Center on PBIS to support a group of PBIS trainers in San Bernardino County. This dynamic and dedicated group of individuals are committed to bringing PBIS training to schools throughout San Bernardino County. I'm excited and honored to work with the group and thrilled to see more schools implementing PBIS. As the 2013-14 school year winds down, I thought I'd share my thoughts on why schools should implement PBIS. So, here are my Top Ten Reasons Why Schools Should Implement PBIS:
10. All kids deserve to attend a school at which they feel accepted and appreciated.
9. Discipline systems based on punishment do not change behavior, they simply make kids more determined not to get caught.
8. Discipline systems that focus on punishment actually reinforce negative behaviors because the students have to engage in the behavior before anything happens to them. Thus, any social reinforcement they will receive for the behavior has already occurred prior to the punishment. It's a classic case of "too little too late."
7. Students who behave appropriately should be recognized for their positive behavior.
6. For some students, the only positive environment in their lives is the school.
5. Relationships are the most powerful weapon we have in the war against bullying, suicide, drop-outs, etc. Children need to feel connected to at least one adult, and often that one adult is someone at the school.
4. A multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) is the most efficient and effective way of preventing problems - behaviorally, socially, and academically.
3. Teachers and other staff members who work at PBIS schools report less stress and more enjoyment in coming to work.
2. It isn't that difficult to make school fun, and the rewards are immeasurable.
AND THE NUMBER 1 REASON IS:
1. It's just the right thing to do! Really!

Exclusionary practices such as suspension and expulsion do not change behavior and serve to further alienate students who already feel as though they are not part of the system. We need to spend our time, energy, and resources developing positive school cultures that encourage pro-social behavior, discourage anti-social behavior, and reduce bullying, truancy, and drop-outs. 

To learn more about PBIS, and find out how you can receive training in PBIS, check out the following websites:

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more information about PBIS, or if you'd like to learn more about how your school can become a PBIS school.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (59)
It's Teacher Appreciation Week, which is a great opportunity to thank those very special individuals who sacrifice so much to ensure the next generation will be capable of supporting all of us in our old age. Being a teacher is more than a job; it's more than a career; being a teacher is a calling. It's an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young person. 
I still remember my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Gammie. He truly believed in me and encouraged me to apply myself. It was in his class that I learned to love learning. He made such an impact in my life that I traveled across Calgary, Alberta on the public bus (a two-hour trip) with my best friend to visit Mr. Gammie and his wife, after the school year ended. They were incredibly gracious to us and treated us to fresh-squeezed lemonade on the front patio of their house. I have since wondered what he thought when we showed up on his doorstep, but I'm so grateful that he, and his wife, were so incredibly gracious and kind to us.
If you are currently a student, make sure you take the time to thank your teacher(s) for what they do. If you're a parent, encourage your children to thank their teachers and make the effort to thank them yourself. Finally, if you know a teacher, thank that person for their commitment to make a difference in the life of a child.
If you're a teacher, take ten minutes to watch the following Ted Talk. It's definitely worth it, and it may give you the little push you need to get through the rest of the school year. Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion
To all the teachers out there - thank you so very much for everything you do! Thank you for making a difference and dedicating your life to the next generation - you're the best!

So What's the Big Debate About the Common Core?

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (20)
A couple of weeks ago a good friend posted a picture of a math problem on Facebook that was originally posted by the Australian Tea Party and reputed to be an example of a Common Core (CCSS) lesson. I was intrigued by the post (I admit that I couldn't make sense of the math problem), partly because I wasn't aware that Australia had adopted the US Common Core State Standards,  and partly because in all my experience with the CCSS I had never experienced or seen anything like the problem that was being shown. 

I decided that I would do some research into the main objections regarding the adoption of the CCSS, with the goal of answering those objections in this blog. What I discovered is that the majority of the objections appear to be political in nature (federal government interfering in education, etc.). I am in no way qualified to speak to any kind of political concern or weigh in on a political debate, so I'm not going to touch that area with the infamous "ten-foot pole." I am, however, fairly knowledgeable about education, so I believe I might humbly weigh in on the debate in that arena. I have a feeling that this will extend into several blog posts, and I'm sincerely hoping that others will comment so that we actually have a dialogue about this content.

My focus today will be on the question of "why." Specifically, I want to discuss why some of us feel that the CCSS are a good idea for the field of education. 

In the late 1990s, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required states to develop content standards and to assess students on their mastery of those standards. As a result of NCLB, states across the country developed their own educational standards and then assessed their students based on their level of proficiency. Schools were then held accountable for bringing 100% of each sub-group of students to proficiency by the year 2014. Sounds good, right? Well, the concept is an interesting one, especially since students in different states were being measured according to different criteria. In California, where standards were reportedly on the more stringent end, schools struggled to bring all students to a level of proficiency. In other states, where content standards were set a lower level, proficiency was not such a big problem.

Throughout this time, institutes of higher education (colleges and universities) and employers were decrying the fact that graduates were not leaving school with the skills necessary to be successful in higher education and/or the world of work. Students were learning isolated skills, but they were not being taught how to think deeply, work with others, and solve problems.

Let me state here, for the record, that I believe that we have made some very good gains under NCLB. The idea of having state-wide standards of achievement and measuring progress towards those standards is, in my opinion, a good one. However, there are few people who would not agree that we still have room for growth. If our young people are going to learn to succeed in the 21st century, they need to master certain skills and learn to be deep thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborative workers. In my opinion, the authors of the CCSS strove to develop standards that push schools to teach in a way that does just that.

Your turn - what do you think about the changes in education since the passage of NCLB? Do you think education has improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse? Do you think education needs to change? If so, in what ways? Take this opportunity to join the conversation!

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