Sunday, 5 August 2018

Caring and Safe Schools in Ontario

What do you want to know more about to create a caring and safe school?

I am always looking at ways to learn how to identify the range of needs of students in my school and determine how those needs influence student behaviour. 

If, like me you are seeking to understand student behaviour in the learning environment it will be helpful to keep in mind the following facts:
✦ Behaviour occurs in a context.
✦ Behaviour is learned.
✦ Behaviour serves a function for the individual. 

✦ Behaviour can be changed over time.
(Surrey Place Centre, 2008, p. 7) 

The challenge is being able to identify the cause of the behaviour. It is easy to identify what the student is doing (yelling out in class instead of raising his/her hand) but if we focus only on what the student is doing and try to stop that behaviour it is possible the another behaviour will arise. The key is determining the function the behaviour serves for the student. Thinking in context of Ross Greene, kids do well if they can, it is our job to figure out what the student is trying to communicate through the behaviour. Think in terms of gardening we know that in order to eradicate the weed we must pull out the root otherwise the weed will grow back. 

The challenge within a school of numerous educators is defining behaviour. The defining characteristics of challenging behaviour will differ from individual to individual depending on an educators cultural background, childhood experience, relationship with the student, and classroom and school policies. 

Aside from personal schema one must also consider mitigating factors. Below is a diagram from "Safe and Caring School" that suggests different needs and types of conditions affecting student behaviour. 

Some behaviour effectively meets the needs of the student, reflects the student’s interaction with the environment, and is understood and considered appropriate by others. Other behaviour may be ineffective but may occur because it is a student’s best available strategy for interacting with the environment and having his or her needs met.

So know that we know there can be a variety of factors affecting student behaviour how can we become more understanding and gain knowledge to be able to support students.

Student and Parental Voice:

Allow our students to do the the talking and the sharing. Learning from the student can be very effective. We have used student surveys to ask students what they need to be successful and what they feel when they are stressed out.

School Team Meetings:

Observation and data can help to determine the underlying cause of the behaviour. Discussion and having more heads look at the situation can be helpful when reflecting on possible scenarios.

Guest Speakers/Experts:

Bring in an expert in different fields to talk to staff about student needs and conditions that affect student behaviour. Your special education consultant, Mental Health Lead, and Government agencies (CMHA) may be willing to come in and speak about a topic.


There is a plethora of information on the Internet that can be used to share information with staff.

Student Profiles:

Creating student profiles and sharing those profiles amongst staff can help others to reflect on student behaviour and the cause of the behaviour.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Progressive Discipline

Progressive Discipline

Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145 describes progressive discipline as the use of “a continuum of prevention programs, interventions, supports and consequences to address inappropriate student behaviour and to build upon strategies that foster positive behaviours. 

When inappropriate behaviour occurs, disciplinary measures should be applied within a framework that shifts the focus from one that is solely punitive to one that is both corrective and supportive. Schools should utilize a range of interventions, supports, and consequences that are developmentally appropriate and include learning opportunities for reinforcing positive behaviour while helping students to make good choices” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2009g, p. 3).

School leaders and staff have two responsibilities:
  • Assess student behaviour and the effectiveness of existing supports and interventions and
  • Develop a response that takes account of mitigating circumstances and other factors that may have influenced the behaviour.
What are Mitigating Circumstances? 

Factors, identified in Ontario Regulation 472/07, “Suspension and Expulsion of Pupils”, that must be taken into account by a principal when considering whether to suspend or expel a student. The absence of risk to others in the school and/or the student’s inability to control his or her behaviour or understand the consequences of the behaviour are examples of mitigating factors. 

The goal of any school is to have a disciplinary system that maintains a safe and violence-free school, but still protects the human rights of all of our students. The introduction of the Mitigating Factors Regulation protects the rights of our students in need. A principal must consider the following factors when looking at the misbehaviour. 

  • Does the student have the ability to control the behaviour? 
  • Does the student have the ability to understand the foreseeable consequences of the behaviour? 
  • Does the continuing presence of the child in the school create an unacceptable level of risk to the safety of any other person?
Making decisions regarding student discipline is not easy or taken lightly by any administrator. My number one question that I ask myself before making a decision regarding discipline is "What is going to change their behaviour?" Suspension is not my go to for discipline simply because most of the time suspending a student is not going to change the behaviour. Of course there is board policy that must be followed and sometimes you don't have a choice whether to suspend. 

Reducing the number of suspension does not always make you the favourite with staff. My response to that is lack of understanding. If you want someone to be on your side they need to know and understand your decision making. The following activities below will promote discussion, reflection and questions regarding progressive discipline. 

This poster (available at the link below) is a visual representation of students' view of bias-free discipline and would be a great graphic to start a conversation with staff about progressive discipline, mitigating factors and caring and safe schools.

The case study below taken from the ministry guide "Supporting Bias Free Progressive Discipline at School" can be used at a staff meeting to promote reflection, discussion and review of current policies and practices in regards to discipline.

Daniel, a Grade 8 student, has been having difficulty paying attention in class. He has stopped doing his homework on a consistent basis, and his grades have dropped considerably. His homeroom teacher brought Daniel to a meeting of the in-school resource team, and Daniel is now on a waiting list for a formal assessment. Recently, Daniel started to yell out in class. The principal has met with Daniel on several occasions, but the homeroom teacher reports that his classroom behaviour has not improved. The principal is concerned that Daniel’s outbursts may have something to do with an underlying learning disorder. On Friday, Daniel swore at the homeroom teacher and threw his books in his direction. The principal suspended Daniel for two days. Daniel’s parents are not pleased and believe that the principal does not know how to manage teachers who simply do not understand their son. They plan to appeal the suspension and no longer want Daniel to be formally assessed.

 Questions for consideration:
1. What are the issues in this scenario? 
2. What information and what mitigating and other factors, should the principal have considered when Daniel swore at the homeroom teacher? 
3. What information might the principal have considered previously that would have warranted providing early interventions? 
4. What preventive measures could have helped Daniel?
5. What supports and interventions would you consider for Daniel and his family? 
6. How would you respond to the parents? 
7. What action is needed to improve existing practices in order to prevent similar incidents in the future? 

Here are suggestions for school and system leaders to promote progressive discipline. Handout:

Review policies and practices related to progressive discipline to identify and remove, or prevent, bias and discriminatory barriers

Review various types of data for evidence of the effect (positive or adverse) that progressive disciplinary practices are having on students, including students identified in the Code, and determine ways to achieve more positive effects

Collaborate with staff, students, parents, and community members to address perceived biases and stereotypes

Expand knowledge among members of the school community and guide them in the development and implementation of a bias-free approach to progressive discipline

Promote positive peer interaction, healthy relationships, and a positive school climate 

Engage members of the school community in actively supporting positive student behaviour

Establish with staff the practice of taking into account mitigating and other factors when responding to inappropriate student behaviour

Apply policies and practices consistently and equitably, taking into account that equity does not mean treating people the same without regard for individual differences

Below is a four page handout that can be shared with staff. Be aware that some of the links no longer work.

Progressive Discipline: Part of Ontario’s approach to making schools safe places to learn.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Kids can Learn

Key learning from Shared Solutions and Learning for All.

  1. Conflict can be avoided with effective communication and a positive community.
  2. Collective Teacher Efficacy is the number one influence related to student achievement. 
  3. Positive Relationships improves student learning.
What do they all have in common?

The deeply held belief that all students can learn despite their circumstances!

Just to confirm there is a lot of staff that might say superficially that they believe that all students can learn but to truly be of that opinion you have to understand that if the student is not learning it is because the adult has put up barriers.

What? Did I hear that correctly? The teacher has put up barriers causing the student not to learn. Let's dissect what it means for the education system to put up barriers. 

If all kids can learn then why do we end up sitting in meetings to discuss the students who are struggling to learn? If we are a strong believer of the statement, then the meeting will be focused on what the teacher needs to do to adjust the learning environment instead of what the child is doing to stop themselves from learning.

When the conversation shifts to the student's choices and inability to want to learn then the problem lies in the belief of the staff and not in the children. 

Think about a recent team meeting you have sat in. What statements do you hear during those meetings? Do they sound like the following?

He doesn't do his homework.
The parents are not helping her at home.
She doesn't practice reading at night like I suggested.
The parents have asked for homework and it never comes back completed.
He is never paying attention in class.
I'm constantly telling her to stop talking and to listen.
She never puts in effort to complete her work.

The message in these statements are the same - the student is not learning because they are choosing not to participate in their learning. If that is the argument being made then can we justify the belief that all students can learn?

The statements above absolve the teacher of their responsibility for student learning. The message is that the student is choosing not to learn and it's not my fault they are failing.

In contrast, a teacher who truly believes that all children can learn will use the meeting to ask what am I doing to stop the learning and what can I do next. I have done everything I can and I'm here to get more ideas. The focus shifts from the student choosing not to learn to the adult wanting to break down barriers in the learning environment so that the child can learn. 

How can administrators build a positive community whereby the core value "All children can learn" is put into practice?

Provide an engaging and safe space to take risks. A positive community of co-learners is built over time by fostering relationships where educators "feel safe to be vulnerable" and take risks as they learn.

Have high expectations for all learners that includes yourself. Staff need to know you believe in their potential.

Staff need to see themselves as co-learners and be willing to:

  • exchange learning and insights within and between roles
  • engage in focused conversations about learning
  • ask thoughtful questions and reflect on current practice
  • come to common understandings about instructional and collaborative practices


Sunday, 29 July 2018

Learning profiles and how they help with challenging behaviour

Teachers that have the most success with behavioural students are able to establish a relationship with the student. So how to you develop a relationship with a student in your class that is particularly challenging?
  • Find ways to interact with the student one-on-one. I learned really quick to never discipline or call a student out for their behaviour in front of their peers. The same applies to building a relationship with a student. It can be difficult in a group setting to make a connection with a student. Invite the student to play a game of cards, have lunch together, join a club you are running etc. 
  • Find ways to connect to the student through one of their interests. 
  • Be a good listener. Do not judge or point out the negative.
  • Show the student that you believe in them and that you like them despite the behaviours they demonstrate
  • Be consistent 
  • Show interest in their personal life, empathize, listen and offer support
  • Bottom line in order to develop a relationship the student must be able to trust you and they need to know that you have their best interest at heart.

Developing learning profiles for students in your class will be especially helpful in getting to know your students and what they need to succeed. Also, if the student does not know how to advocate for their needs or what they need to succeed then you can support the student in their learning journey.

" The more we understand our students, the more efficient we can ensure their learning successes." McCarthy. When we have in-depth understanding for how our students learn, there is a major impact on diagnosing student needs and planning effective supports. When a student can see that you are advocating for their needs, helping them to succeed and giving them an equitable opportunity to succeed, your relationship with that student will grow. When students are constantly in a learning environment that is above their zone of development the student is going to be frustrated and could present challenging behaviour. Thus in learning about your students' needs and differentiating the learning experiences in your classroom you are in fact killing two birds with one stone: building relationships and diminishing unwanted behaviour.

I came across an excellent site with activities to use with students to create learning profiles. 

The website was referenced in the article "Welcome to Learner Profiles" at

John McCarthy posted strategies for collecting learning profiles on his blog:

Poverty and Education

In education it is important that we help our staff understand culturally relevant pedagogy. 

Ask yourself are marginalized students over-represented in your school's special education program? I have noticed a disparity in our community for families living below the poverty line as well as equity of access to support children with special needs. It is difficult for families to access counselling, psycho-educational reports, occupational therapy and speech therapy without the means to seek private organizations.

At the school board level we have a poverty committee to address helping staff to understand the challenges that marginalized groups face daily. We are hosting a poverty challenge beginning with senior staff and then hopefully reaching all staff that work with children directly or indirectly. The poverty challenge is a chance for staff to walk in the shoes of someone living below the poverty line.

“We can’t sit here and think we know (about poverty) when we don’t,” said Martine Creasor, a caseworker with Lambton County’s social planning and program support department. “We have to educate ourselves about what it is they’re dealing with, and then we become part of the solution.”

The idea is that if there is more understanding about the causes and circumstances around poverty and the hoops people need to jump through just to get to the services meant to help them, there will be more empathy and support to develop strategies to help our students living in poverty.

In Guelph, Circles Guelph Wellington consists of three innovative programs:
- Bridges out of Poverty educates people from the middle or upper classes about what it means to live in poverty;- Getting Ahead is a program that helps people of low income learn about their own strengths and the resources available to them and;- Circles brings people from both programs together, creating relationships across economic boundaries and helping people move from poverty to sustainability.

Bridges offers training and is available to talk to school staff about the social and economic impact that poverty has on individuals and the community. Participants of the training are invited to look at poverty differently. This framework recognizes that individual choices can lead to poverty. Equally important, it recognizes there are other contributing circumstances that individuals have no control over. The Bridges model is built on the proven concepts that everyone in a community has a role to play in poverty reduction.

This would be an excellent resources to bring into the school for a staff meeting.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Anxiety in School

At the school mental health assist website you can find a tutorial series created to support educators in building understanding and knowledge of mental health and wellness in school.

Tutorial #2 focuses on Recognizing and Responding to Anxiety in the Classroom

There is a video, information sheet and PDF slideshow of the information presented.

This is a great resource to use with school staff if you are a school administrator or creating professional development for staff.

There are four sections in the tutorial:

  1. What is Anxiety
  2. Signs and Symptoms
  3. Classroom Strategies
  4. Specific Strategies
Staff could be divided into four groups, assigned a section and prepare a brief presentation of the key findings to staff. Follow-up with a group discussion on what is being done in your school to support student mental health specifically anxiety in each tier. Have each group draw a triangle and record what they feel has the biggest impact in each tier. As the school leader I would collect information, reflect and determine next steps.

Inclusive Change

What does the word Change mean to you? 

Related image

"Change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain." 
Andy Hargreaves

Andy Hargreaves wrote an article on one of the most important areas of leadership theory and practice, educational change and its impact upon teachers. 

It is important to remember - Change and Emotion are inseparable! There is no human change without emotions and there is no emotion that does not embody a momentary process of change.

Change is inevitable in the career of a teacher and can be natural (ending of a school year) or imposed (new leadership).

Andy summarizes educational change as an external change that is unwanted, imposed, repetitious and sometimes repellant, compared with more professionally positive, self directed change (p.294).

Teachers' emotional response to external mandated change vs. self initiated change:

External Mandated Change:

  • Emotional response is negative
  • Associated with government reform or legislation
  • Forced upon teachers
  • Implemented poorly
  • Tight time scale
  • Insufficient resources
  • Teachers that respond positively to mandated change are more likely to be female, younger, do not teach mainstream subjects and in innovative schools.
Self Initiated Change:
  • Emotional response is positive
  • Fulfills teacher's purpose
  • High school teachers more likely to become involved in change that benefits their students outside of the classroom
  • Elementary teachers more likely to become involved when it involves other colleagues and changes on improving teaching and learning within the classroom. 

More often than not self initiated change comes form mandated change so how do leaders elicit a positive emotional response to a mandated change?

Andy concludes that it is less important whether the source of change is external or internal then the way it is implemented. Teachers want to see how it will benefit students, they want change to be flexible and to have proper support.

As a leader if you are trying to implement change in an elementary school:

  1. Ensure that you are allowing staff to work together.
  2. The focus relates to improving teaching and learning for students within the classroom
  3. Invest time and money into the initiative (release time, resources).
  4. Allow for professional flexibility so that teachers professional judgement, passion and purpose can be included in the change process. 
  5. Ensure that you have the commitment of your teachers before moving forward with any agenda.
One problem that I can see arise when trying to implement change is the rotation of leadership. What is the desirable length of time for a leader to be at a school so that staff do not feel that the leadership and change initiatives are a revolving door and they can essentially wait it out until the next leader comes in.

"Improvement is about doing something better; innovation is about doing something new." Andy Hargreaves