CRAFT a Need-Satisfying Classroom

CRAFT a Need-Satisfying Classroom

Ryan was one of “those” students. He seemed to think he was in charge of the classroom. He was the one who decided when the whole class would laugh, when students should be talking, how long it would take for me to get the class’ attention, and whether or not I would have a good day.

I pulled my hair out in my battle with Ryan for control of the class. I even wondered if teaching was the profession for me. Wasn’t I supposed to be in charge? I liked Ryan and we had great conversations one-on-one. He was smart and funny. He knew the right things to say to make me think that he knew why he needed to change and was going to change. Then, the same behavior continued the next day. This was not a battle I could win.

I shared in a previous post that Ryan had an amazingly funny “granny dance” that he would do every chance he had. It could be during an important lesson, while I was giving directions, during a fire drill, anytime. At the same time I was exasperated with Ryan’s dancing, I was learning about Choice Theory, which was developed by William Glasser. Dr. Glasser said that everyone has five basic needs–freedom, power, belonging, fun and survival. All behavior is our best attempt to meet one or more of our basic needs.

As I was learning this, I was thinking about Ryan. I could see that he was meeting his needs for power and fun through doing things to get his classmates to laugh. I was trying to meet my need for power by punishing him to get him to stop. I started to see that this was an ineffective cycle that needed to be turned in a different direction. As I realized that Ryan has these needs and will always behave to meet them, I started thinking about ways he could meet his needs within the functions of the classroom rather than against our rules and expectations.

We began to have “disco lunches” where we would turn on fun music during lunch and students could get up and dance in the middle of the room. Low and behold, Ryan got up every day and made his peers laugh with his funny dances. What’s more–I was laughing too. There was incredible positive power when Ryan and I would catch each other’s eyes as we were laughing about his silliness. That was the start of a whole new relationships between the two of us.

I got to know Ryan better and we found shared interests and connected through our passions. Actually, I started thinking about all my students and how to make the classroom more need-satisfying for all of them. I wanted them to feel comfortable, to build strong and positive relationships with each other and me, and to meet all of their needs while learning.

Freedom and power are two needs that seem to be the most difficult for students to meet within the functions of the classroom. In a different post, I shared a short list of things to include in your classroom to make it need-satisfying and to avoid power struggles. CRAFT your classroom into a great learning environment for all students. Include:

  • Choice: small or big
  • Relationships: so everyone feels like they belong
  • Ask, don’t tell: they know so much more than we think they know
  • Fun: everyday! Student-prompted and teacher-prompted
  • Turn it around: when you find yourself in a power struggle, back it up

You can read more about CRAFT here

When we punish students for talking in class, for making each other laugh, etc. are we really trying to meet our own need for power? What does is say about us when we punish a class for the behavior of a few–who benefits from that?

I learned that if I was really trying to help my students succeed, I needed to focus on creating a need-satisfying environment, plan empowering and meaningful learning opportunities, and guide them to develop their own character.

What pros and cons have you found with punishments? How have you innovated to create a positive learning environment for students?



Is “build capacity” inadvertently insulting to teachers?

I don’t get it when educational leaders say, “I want to build the capacity of my teachers”.

Maybe it is just my bias against trendy educational phrases. I fear they muddy the waters by putting a fancy bow on old practices. Or they are confusing because we don’t really know what they mean. Or, at worst, they are inadvertently insulting.

I don’t want to “build capacity” as a principal. I want to inspire, learn from, build relationships, collaborate, challenge and grow with the amazing teachers I work alongside. 

If anyone needed capacity-building, I think it would be me. I need to increase my capacity to share leadership and listen carefully to the most important people in the building–our students. I need to increase my capacity to eliminate or minimalize obstacles that get in the way of excellent teaching and learning. I need to increase my capacity to stay focused on our goals, our why, and to help us connect everything we do back to our goals.

According to Merriam-Webster, there are many definitions of the word capacity. One is, “the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating”. I am pretty sure that we are not talking about volume or square inches when we are talking about building teacher capacity. A definition that makes more sense when talking about capacity of educators is, “an individual’s mental or physical ability”. However, do we really want to imply that educators don’t have the the mental or physical ability yet to do the things that are best for student learning? 

What does “build capacity” mean to you? Are there any trendy educational words or phrases that bug you? 

The Principal I Aspire to Be

The Principal I Aspire to Be

I am reading Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess. In the book, Dave includes a fictional reflection from a student that serves as a vision for how he wants students to feel about his classroom. This inspired me to write a fictional reflection from a teacher that describes the principal I aspire to be.

My principal has a contagious smile, and she is so positive and passionate. However, she is also real–we can talk about concerns and I always feel heard and inspired to think of solutions. When I need her, she is there. All there, she really hears me. I know she is busy, but I never feel her busyness.

She is student-focused and everything comes back to what is best for our students and their learning. She helps me think from their perspective, about what they really need as they progress through elementary school. I love that she challenges my thinking in a way that seems doable.

She helps me recognize my strengths and that gets me excited to learn and try new things. She is always learning through reading books, articles, being connected on Twitter and she shares her learning with me when it matches my goals. I have even started getting connected with other educators on Twitter.

The staff has fun together, there is hardly any complaining because we have great relationships and want to positively support each other. I look forward to coming to school everyday. We collaborate and communicate well, and are even visiting each other’s classrooms to learn from each other. We love to get creative together and dream of things that will get the kids excited about learning. We are a team and we are all leaders in our own way.

Once upon a time, technology in the classroom scared me, but not anymore. My baby-steps are okay. We are moving toward using technology to help us empower students, to allow them to discover, and for them to share their work with authentic audiences.

We use assessment data to direct our teaching, especially in our small group work with students during reading, writing and math instruction. We also customize instruction to exactly what our students need during WIN time (WIN stands for What I Need).

I am ready to try new things with our students to engage and empower them in their learning. I know that my principal will be with me through both the failures and successes. We laugh, enjoy our work and each other, and feel great knowing that we are doing what is best for our students. When we fail, we will get up, brush ourselves off, and learn from our failure to improve.

Students have great relationships too, and they treat each other well because we actively teach character education within our curriculum and we have whole school focuses for character development. Most importantly, we have a joyful and need-satisfying environment for students, staff and our volunteers.

I have even found myself daydreaming about becoming a principal. I never thought I would ever even ponder that idea. She makes being a principal look fun!

This work of fiction will serve as a reminder of who I aspire to be for staff, students and parents at our school. I have my share of failures and I’m a work in progress, but as Dave Burgess says in Teach Like a PIRATE, “When embarking on a journey, choosing the destination is a critical first step.” I am a learner and will continually adjust my aim as I work toward my professional goals. 

Why My Blog is Named After John Cusack

Why My Blog is Named After John Cusack

“When love feels like magic, it is called destiny; when destiny has a sense of humor, it is serendipity.” -from Serendipity, a 2001 John Cusack movie

Who doesn’t love John Cusack? Why not name my blog after him? I fell in love with the idea of serendipity after watching his 2001 movie called, ironically, Serendipity. I was in love with John Cusack way before that movie came out (think Say Anything).

I taught a class to 7th and 8th graders called Serendipity, I named my blog Serendipity in Education, and I strive to live life looking for serendipity. Here are five reasons why:

1. Serendipity is looking for the good in all things

Even the things that don’t seem to be very good at all. For example, in one of my first blog posts, I described how during a two hour drive to my hometown to see my mom, who was dying, I found myself feeling very grateful for traveling by car rather than horse and buggy on that rainy day. Sometimes it can be quite a stretch to find the good, but if I look hard enough, I can always find things to be grateful for.

2. Serendipity is good luck disguised as bad luck

The other week I read a book called Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth to a fifth grade class. We loved all three of the short stories with powerful lessons, and one of them resonated with serendipity. The panda describes several situations where people had bad luck, but in the end the “bad luck” kept a young man from being drafted into war.

Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for. Serendipity is finding the good even when it is disguised as bad luck.

3. Serendipity is looking at life from a humorous angle

This one can be drawn right from the way serendipity is described for the movie, “destiny with a sense of humor”. I do believe that things happen for a reason, a bigger purpose than we are sometimes aware of. I love looking for the humor, the irony, the hidden lessons in the things that happen. I do not poke fun at other people (although my sister may contradict that statement), rather I laugh at myself or the situation. Finding the humor helps lighten the mood and then helps us look at solutions with a more positive approach.

4. Serendipity is an approach to life that doesn’t replace hard work

I believe in luck…as in we make or find our own good luck. I think Thomas Jefferson said it best, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” All good things take work. Serendipity is more about how you approach life, with a desire to find the good and smile and laugh while you do.

5. Serendipity is found by immersing ourselves in life

The origin of the word serendipity comes from a Persian tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. In this story, three princes try to impress their father by traveling as everyday people rather than as nobles. During their travels, they saw the hardships that people went through but also saw the good that was in that everyday difficult world. This reminds me to walk the walk, roll up my sleeves and do the work alongside others, and to really listen to understand.

The tag line for my blog is: Stumbling upon the fortunes of learning, laughing and celebrating alongside incredible colleagues, students and parents. 

I believe that the “fortunes” are always right in front of us, and it is our job to find them, to learn from them, and to share them.

Do you believe in serendipity? More importantly, do you love John Cusack as much as I do?


The Value of Being Silly

The Value of Being Silly

The other day I was conducting mock interviews with student teachers at a local college. The last young lady I interviewed said something that surprised me.

Me:  What are the three most important things for me to know about you?

Young lady:  … The second thing for you to know about me is that I am silly. 

I have to admit, I can’t recall much of what the other candidates told me in response to this question, but I do remember her response. She gave me some examples, like she is the leader of her college’s Quidditch organization. I instantly related to her because I too am silly.

We spent Easter with my dad and his wife. During the course of one of our conversations, I showed him my app and a few of the videos I created. He responded with something like, “Why would you ever make something like this? Do you show this to people? Do they know you are a principal?” You would think that I was recreating Miley Cyrus videos.

It is risky to be silly isn’t it? I think that is why some people think I have so much confidence, because I am willing to be silly in front of others. Alas, I suffer from the same self-doubt and imposter syndrome as many do, but I appreciate being silly too much to keep it under wraps. The risk lies in potential judgement–what will people think if I am silly like this? I do care about what people think, I just don’t care enough to let it stop me from doing the things I value. 

I am a teacher to my core, so I always feel the need to share what I value with others so that maybe it could benefit them like it benefits me. I share my silliness through social media like, Instagram and Voxer. I am also silly in real-life as much as I can be, with my sons, husband, friends, and family. I am silly with my students and colleagues at school. To me, a day without silliness is a day wasted. It brings a light-hearted fun and positive energy into life that fuels my creativity and helps me find joy in the simplest of things. A haircut, for example: Haircut video (15 seconds)

I also think that is one of the reasons why my principalship at Quincy Elementary has been such a natural fit. Case in point, from our Staff VS Fifth Graders Bball Game on 3/31/16:


What do we teach our students and our own children through role-modeling silliness? I believe that we teach them to not take life so seriously, to not sweat the small stuff, to invite joy and fun into our lives as much as possible, to be generous with our fun by sharing it with others, and to have fun WITH others rather than AT the expense of others. The list could go on and on.

So please tell me, do you value being silly? How do your share your silliness? Do you let potential judgements by others influence your silliness? Does silliness have a place on Twitter for educators? I follow Dean Shareski @shareski (who is a silliness role-model) and a tweet he sent out a few weeks ago has me thinking–are we too one-dimensional on Twitter?

(See more Quincy fun and silliness, and character building: Something BIG at Quincy 4min)