Be A Pro-Active Principal With Student Behaviours

Over the years I have come to understand that pure school “discipline” does nothing to support a student in changing undesirable behaviours.  Discipline takes a tedious amount of time, energy and unpleasantness and in many cases does nothing to support the student.  Additionally, discipline is reactionary.  Wait until something goes wrong and everyone is in an uproar, then do something about it.  After my first couple of years as an Assistant Principal dealing with the discipline end of things, I wondered if there was a different way, a better way.


Around the time I was searching for a different and better way there was a grade 3 student in our school that had been diagnosed with a severe emotional/behavioural disability.  Needless to say, he found it difficult to cope in a classroom.  I don’t really know how it started but we decided to have one of our Education Assistants take him out of class for a short while and just talk to him.  See what was up.  To our surprise, he enjoyed it!  So, we did it again the next day and the next day and the next.  I would see them together at times walking around the school, out in the garden having a chat, sitting in the hall just being together.  Before we knew it, the student started to demonstrate a noticeable decrease in behavioural incidences.



After some period of time, I was reading an article and came across some information that went something like this:

The single most important factor in a child’s success is their relationship with a caring adult.

Kyrgyz student

Kyrgyz student (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this case, a caring adult at school provides a sense of worth, belonging, importance, priority, and friendship.  That is why it works.  When children have a strong sense of these traits, their self-esteem, self-image and confidence goes up allowing them to make more positive choices and decisions.  Because the caring adult is part of the school community, behaviours improve at school.

This work is pro-active not re-active.  If we are going to take the time to talk to a student one-on-one each day, why not make it productive, interesting, student selected conversation?


  • The Touchstone (caring adult) cannot be a teacher, principal or other person of authority.  It works best to have someone that does not work in the class with other students.  The key is to find a person just to be with the identified student.
  • The Touchstone just talks; with the child, to the child and about the child.
  • The Touchstone just listens: to the child and about the child.
  • The Touchstone is genuinely caring.
  • The Touchstone sees the student for about 10 minutes each and everyday.
  • The student is a priority, the Touchstone gives the student their full attention.
  • The Touchstone believes in the worth and potential of the student and genuinely conveys that message.
  • The Touchstone carries an attitude and message of hope and great things to come.

We continue to have amazing results with our Touchstone program.  Over the years, without fail, our students with the most severe behaviour and emotional issues are able to effectively operate in the regular classroom.  This is not exclusively because of the Touchstone, however, it is a mandatory component of a successful behaviour support program.

Be a Motivating Principal: Key Tips to Increase TEACHER Engagement

Be A Motivating Principal: Key Tips to Increase TEACHER Engagement is featured on the Canadian Education Association Website


It is certainly no secret that one of the keys to student success is academic engagement.  If we can just hook students into deeply thinking, analyzing, enjoying and applying new information, they will increase their learning.  So, as teachers spend much of their days pondering the idea of student engagement, I too, spend much of my days pondering the same, with one difference.  How do we engage teachers? If engagement is good for students, engagement is good for teachers.  If teachers are engaged, students are engaged.  Teachers need to be engaged, the question is, “How does teacher engagement happen?” To answer this question, let’s take a look at what engagement is.  Dr. George Kuh defines engagement as:

“The engagement premise is straightforward and easily understood: the more students study a subject, the more they know about it, and the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving, the deeper they come to understand what they are learning and the more adept they become at managing complexity, tolerating ambiguity, and working with people from different backgrounds or with different views.1”

One of the challenges we face as educators and administrators is taking the “what” and knowing the “how.”  Dr. Kuh gives us what engagement is, but how do we do that? How do we increase teacher engagement?  In analyzing the definition, possible answers arise:

  1. ” …the more students study a subject, the more they know about it…”
    From my point of view, and in substituting the word “students” for “teachers” this speaks to professional development; increasing the study of the subject of teaching.  To work on this, we get our staff together for weekly professional development.  Often times teachers are asked to read an article or view a video before we get together but with this weekly professional development we have committed to time set aside each week to learn more.   Additionally teachers are encouraged to attend face to face or web-based learning opportunities.  The administrative team currently participates in weekly professional development webinars.

2. ” …the more students practice and get feedback from faculty and staff members on their writing and collaborative problem solving…”
We began this work with our staff in Professional Learning Community discussions.  Each week, teachers would meet to discuss teaching and learning.  The role of their team partners was to provide feedback.  This year we have been able to kick it up a notch.  Teachers observing teachers has become part of our daily practice.  Every day, you will find a teacher in a colleague’s classroom observing for task design and student engagement.  Following these observations we meet together for “feedback.”  Work is analyzed, questions are answered and problems are solved.   The key component of this work is the discussion following the observation.

3.  “… the deeper they come to understand what they are learning and the more adept they become at managing complexity, tolerating ambiguity, and working with people from different backgrounds or with different views…”
In supporting teachers in deepening their understanding we look for demonstration of  their new learning.  When we go from the discussion to the practice or doing stage, we know teachers are managing, tolerating and working with.  More than that, we know teachers are finding success.

Exciting new ways of demonstrating this understanding have become evident.

  • Teachers are advertising and asking for other teachers to come into their classrooms, “Come and observe me when I am doing this, then you will see how I am doing it.”
  • Teachers are blogging.  Sharing, analyzing and drawing connections to their classroom practices.
  • Teachers are video-taping their work with students to use during our professional development sessions.
  • Teachers are connecting during their out-of school time, either face to face or virtual networks to search for answers to their questions.
    As we continue further into this work, more teacher engagement is becoming more evident.  The outcomes of this work are absolutely rewarding!  Student engagement has increased significantly; less office referrals, more project-based learning, and more collaborative learning opportunities.  Energy and involvement from teachers has also increased.  There has become a purpose and a sense of achievement.  As I was talking to our International Teacher who is here for one year on an exchange his words were like music, “This school is different, teachers talk to each other.  This place has a great  atmosphere.”
  1. George D. Kuh, “The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations,” New Directions for Institutional Research, vol. 2009, no. 141 (March 9, 2009), pp. 5–20.


Six Key Principles to Changing Difficult Student Behaviour

Academic learning and behavioural development go hand in hand in schools.  Both areas are attended to and everyone knows that it is very tricky to have one without the other.  Teachers spend much of their own educations and time at school focusing on academic learning.  That is what school is for!  However, behavioural learning is something we cannot ignore.  Navigating the social world and developing skills and understandings about appropriate behavioural choices is often more difficult than learning how to read.  And, although teachers may prefer that students come to school already proficient with social and behavioural skills, many do not.  In this case, we must teach them!

The teaching of social skills and appropriate behaviours can become quite a mystery for many educators.  Just how do we teach them to behave?  For many years we used punishment and rewards and this method still goes on today and can be appropriate in some situations.  However, what about those behaviours that really need to change, that we really want to change.  We often try using consequences for months and years and seem surprised that children have not learned new behaviours.  They have not learned new behaviours, because we have not taught them…. yet!

There are many forms and variations of behaviour modification programs.  Hopefully, each one is tailored for each specific child and each specific target behaviour.  That’s a lot of work!  So if we are going to do the work, if we are going to do the teaching, if we are going to give the problem our attention, why not make sure you incorporate these Six Key Principles to Changing Behaviour?


The simple act of writing down information about old and new behaviours will result in improvement.  It makes the data visible and supports the student in self monitoring.  In most cases, the student is able to write it down themselves.  Keeping track for themselves and recording their own information is most valuable.  A simple tallying chart or check mark system works best as it is quick and easy.  Being quick and easy is the best way to make sure the system is used and maintained.

A student keeps track of his own behaviour.


This is a key component.  When working on changing challenging behaviours, parents especially and any other significant people ie. teacher, relative etc should hold the student accountable.  What is great about “Write It Down” is that it can then be as simple as “take it home”.  Once at home, I find that parents reinforcing the positive behaviour is what is needed.  Sometimes it can be attached to a reward like staying up later, or 15 extra minutes of TV as we all know that being acknowledged for our hard work is always nice.

A student takes this home each day to show his parents the strategies he used.


in most cases inappropriate behaviours occur when a child is attempting to meet one of their basic needs.  A student who is always up wandering around the class talking to friends is demonstrating a need for friendship and belonging.  A child that is constantly interrupting and shouting answers may have a need for approval.  A student who makes silly faces and noises during class often has the need for fun and freedom.  Find out what need the student is trying to meet with their behaviours then find other ways to have the need met.



In most cases of inappropriate behaviour we can scare children into abstaining from the behaviour for awhile but this will not result in truly changing the behaviour.  Stopping the behaviour does not stop the need.  In this case we must find other ways to meet needs.  Students who seek friendship and belonging could have a designated time in the day to work with or talk to a friend, they could join school clubs, they could be given the opportunity to introduce each student to a new member of the class.  The ways of meeting needs are endless, but if we don’t give students a way, they will simply take a way which will most likely be an inappropriate way.


As we grow and come to understand ourselves we develop positive coping skills.  We can support children in also developing these coping skills.  Adults have a broad range of skills such as deep breathing, taking a short walk, self-talk, reading a book, removing themselves from the area, squeezing a stress ball and countless others.  In order to change inappropriate behaviour, we have to recognize the feelings associated with the behaviours (ex: I feel mad, my ears are hot, my neck is stiff).

Seek to Inderstand and Use Coping Strategies

Once these feelings are identified, then we need to cope!  Go for a walk, get a drink of water, read a book – whatever works for us.  If we don’t cope, chances are the feelings will grow until we hit or tantrum or express ourselves in some inappropriate way.  The key here is to work with the student to identify feelings and coping strategies.


It is important that anyone who tries to change their behaviours has a support system.  In school we find it is important that friends and classmates are aware that a child is working hard to learn new things.  It is also helpful when classmates can be supportive of these behaviour changes.  During morning meetings students can express the changes they are making and the goals they have set.  In classrooms where all children have goals; setting, working towards, and being supportive of simply becomes part of the culture.


When looking at changing student behaviours we have definitely found that being able to use ALL of these strategies produces the greatest results.  In the case that all cannot be used, some is better than none.  We have found that these strategies truly constitute teaching children appropriate behaviours and life long awareness of self.  We have found that if we are going to take the time to do this work, why not do it the right way?  The way that gets us the results we are looking for.

Four Ideal Student Assessments

For the past 2 years, the Calgary Board of Education has been working hard to actualize Personalized Learning.  At the Board, we believe Personalized Learning begins with engagement, is active and effortful, is assessment rich, is meta-cognitive and transformative.

As a Principal in the Board, my role is to develop understanding of each of these points, and put them into action.  As such, we have been working at our school to systematically do so.  Previously I posted ideas from our work on student engagement as much of our work this year has been focussed in this area.  It is impossible however to focus on one point, in exclusion of the others.  That is how student engagement has led us to assessment.

On the surface, an assessment rich learning environment seems simple enough.  However, what we are coming to understand about learning and the effects different types of assessment have on student learning are making things more complex.  We are now charged with using multiple forms of assessment, including Formative Assessment, Summative Assessment and Specialized Assessment.  The key we are finding is that one type of assessment cannot give us all we need.

“Assessment that works in the interests of children will enhance their ability to see and understand their learning for themselves, to judge it for themselves, and to act on their judgments.”

 –  Mary Jane Drummond

We must know what we want to assess, and have a tool-bag of assessment tools ready to use.  We must know which assessment tool, is most effective and will give us the information we are seeking.  We must know the ideal method and other possible methods.

Adapted by the Calgary Board of Education















When it comes to assessment there is no one size fits all but there are assessment tools that are better than others.

1.  Teacher Made Tests; ideal method for finding out what item knowledge a student holds.  I prefer to suggest this tool be used as  a pre-lesson or pre-unit.  Before a teacher starts planning or teaching, find out what knowledge the student holds.  Of course, a test of any kind only illicits the information it asks for.  What if the student holds knowledge about a topic but has nowhere to explain or demonstrate on a teacher made test?  That is where the combination of tools becomes critical.  One way gives on piece of information.  Although researchers feel Teacher Made Tests are the ideal method to assess student knowledge, I would counter that all the methods listed in this chart are necessary in order to find out all a student knows.

2.  Performance Tasks; ideal method for assessing understanding.  Understanding is what we are all about.  Not what does the student know, but how can they demonstrate their understanding?  Don’t tell me, show me!  Performance tasks are often under-utilized by teachers because they don’t know how to grade a play or a debate or a demonstration.  This is where knowing your outcomes and  your success indicators are necessary.

3.  Observation; the ideal method for assessing processing skills.  Finally, observation of students us being backed in a strong way.  The key here is for teachers to record what they see, record how students are processing and interacting with knowledge.

4. Self Assessment; ideal for assessing attitudes.  Ideal for asking students what they want to learn, how they want to learn it – what works for them, and how they will know if they have learned.  Self assessment enables students to understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.

A note about Feedback: as you can see, feedback is a strong assessment method in every area we assess.  It makes sense that if you are going to work to improve one area of your assessment practices, feedback would be it as you can use it repeatedly and across all forms of student learning.  What is effective feedback?  Read my previous post Feedback vs Feedforward to find out.

My challenge to teachers:

What I like about this chart is that it clearly lays out 12 assessment tools every teacher needs in their tool bag.  No matter how we do it, whether I test you, observe you, ask you to show me or ask you to self-assess, decide what tools you have, what tools are broken and need to be fixed, and what tools you don’t have at all.  Make it your purpose to know and use each one of these assessment tools.

Related Articles:

Feedback vs FeedForward (

Rethinking High Stakes Exams (


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