Sunday, August 14, 2022

Boost Morale with These Simple Strategies

Morale can best be defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. Thriving cultures that produce results make every effort to keep this on the positive side. However, this is easier said than done. While the pandemic has undoubtedly played a monumental role in decreasing morale, other factors continuously play a role, such as leadership, mandates, lack of time, systems that are in place, a toxic culture, inadequate pay, or trying to maintain a work-life balance. No matter the cause, it’s up to the leader and their team to constantly be proactive to combat low morale.

Below are some simple strategies that you can use immediately and long-term, many of which are research-based.

Pile on the positive feedback

Sometimes there is never enough of a good thing when it comes to building up culture. Research has shown that feedback is vital in establishing good relations as it can enhance relationships, strengthen loyalty and commitment, and increase morale (Smith, 2009). When it comes to feedback, make sure it is timely, specific, practical, facilitated in a positive manner, and is a dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Actively look for opportunities to provide feedback through diverse means such as phone calls, paper notes, technology, and face-to-face conversations.

Actively inquire about how people are feeling

While this might seem like a no-brainer, it is not easy at times to know how people really feel unless diligent efforts are made to find out. Listening is one of the best tools that can be leveraged to gather crucial information on the pulse of a culture. Creating a roundtable for staff to share what is on their mind is another solid option, but digital forms that allow anonymous responses could very well be the best route.

Provide autonomy

Micro-managing never ends well. Using self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008), a study involving 735 workers was conducted to examine autonomy's impact on overall morale. Results revealed that work motivation was significantly related to both intraindividual (global motivation) and contextual factors (organizational support and supervisor autonomy support). It can be concluded that perceived organizational support and work autonomous motivation was positively related to work satisfaction (Gillet et al., 2013). As a principal, I created the Professional Growth Period (PGP) to grant unconditional autonomy to my staff.

Gift appropriate rewards 

The key word above is appropriate. While I am a massive proponent of intrinsic means to improve motivation, that does not mean we cannot leverage extrinsic rewards as a means to boost morale. Examples include release time, professional learning opportunities off-site, a premium parking spot, tickets to school events, books, and school supplies. If you really want to boost morale, try eliminating as many after-school meetings as possible. The bottom line is that people want to be recognized, but morale will be most positively impacted by using authentic rewards that your staff value and do not see as disingenuous (White, 2014).

Celebrate publicly

It is hard to argue the fact that people want to have some semblance of fun and feel appreciated. A study using a large email survey of managers found overwhelming support for having fun in the workplace. Respondents reported that having a fun work environment will increase the levels of enthusiasm, satisfaction, creativity, communications among staff and enhanced feelings of group cohesiveness (Ford et al., 2004). Some schools have large-scale team-building events both on and off-site. If you go this route, elicit feedback from staff on what options they think will be best. You can also share stories across social media as a way to share successes more broadly, something I dive into deeply in Digital Leadership

Sustaining and improving outcomes relies on good morale. It also plays a pivotal role in retaining our most precious people…those who commit themselves to serve kids.

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (1994) Promoting Self‐determined Education, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 38:1, 3-14.

Ford, R.C., Newstrom, J.W. and McLaughlin, F.S. (2004), "Making workplace fun more functional", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 117-120.

Gillet, N., Gagné, M., Sauvagère, S. & Fouquereau, E. (2013) The role of supervisor autonomy support, organizational support, and autonomous and controlled motivation in predicting employees' satisfaction and turnover intentions, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 22:4, 450-460.

Smith, D. C. (2008). Teaching Managers To Relate: Using Feedback To Bolster Commitment And Morale. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 3(3), 7–12.

White, P. (2014), "Improving staff morale through authentic appreciation", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 17-20.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Identifying the Best Supports for Personalization

We know for a fact that everyone learns differently. While a one-size-fits-all approach served its purpose for some of us, it doesn’t meet the diverse needs of kids today. It also doesn’t provide teachers and administrators with valuable insight on how to best support learners no matter where they are in relation to standards and critical competencies. Thus, educators need not only a vision for how to personalize learning effectively but also essential supports that will help to ensure success.  

The most crucial aspect when it comes to personalizing learning is the teacher in the classroom. While mindset and relationship building work to form the foundation for a more personal approach, leveraging sound pedagogical practice to assist all students in getting what they need when and where they need it ensures equity in the classroom. In chapter 5 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I dive deeply into these practices while providing numerous examples. You can read a summary of the most used strategies with a high degree of fidelity HERE

Personalized pedagogy sets the stage for the purposeful use of technology to better assist in meeting students' learning needs while providing educators with timely data. While there are many K-8 tools on the market, many have shortcomings such as no research base, difficulty in pulling useable data, no clear alignment to standardized tests, and students finding the tasks to be boring. Naturally, this can be quite frustrating when large sums of money are spent on purchasing these programs. Don’t fret, though, as a fantastic support option is available to districts and schools in the form of Waggle

Waggle is a tool that K-8 educators can use to support the successful implementation of a more personalized approach.  Below are some specific highlights and features that set it apart from tools such as i-Ready and IXL. 

Differentiated Learning

A hallmark of personalization, Waggle provides:

  • Auto-assigned appropriate practice and instruction, or teachers can play an active role and assign additional content that supports their core instruction.
  • Teacher access to K-8 content. 
  • Adaptive functionality that analyzes beyond proficiency. Based on 13 data points, it continuously adjusts to offer true personalization, including behavior and prerequisite knowledge.
  • Instruction and practice on prerequisite skills within the grade level and from earlier grade levels.

Student Motivation through a Gaming Environment

Students can:

  • Learn in an immersive, game-based environment. 
  • Access a dashboard that allows them to track their own progress toward mastery of skills and learning.
  • Choose age-appropriate worlds to visit.
  • Personalize their avatar.


Waggle leverages research-based techniques to enhance students’ knowledge and accelerate learning. Waggle provides Retrieval, Interleaving and Spaced-Out Practice and Feedback, which yield long-term retention and optimal performance.

  • Retrieval is the act of recalling what has been learned and is essential for creating long-lasting memories. Retrieval best enhances retention when practiced early and often in a low-pressure context. 
  • Interleaving involves switching up the types of problems students solve when practicing. Changing the order or type of activity increases the effort and may create more cues for memory. Waggle Practice is comprised of multiple related skills. A student must have mastery of all these skills and be able to apply them simultaneously to be successful. 
  • Spaced Out Retrieval across multiple shorter sessions, days, or weeks is more effective than one long session for long-term retention because it requires more effortful processing. 

Hints & Feedback 

Feedback is information provided to learners about their current level of knowledge and what they can do to progress to the next level. It is an essential step in making formative assessment as meaningful as it does in Waggle. Feedback only works if it is received and acted on by the learner, so both the content and the delivery of feedback matter. Waggle has robust hints embedded in every practice assignment and immediate feedback for every learning activity. Waggle provides a safe, supportive environment through scaffolded hints, support for English learners, explanatory feedback, and optional instructional lessons. Mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities.

The premise of personalization is all learners getting what they need when and where they need it to learn. When utilizing a pedagogy first, technology second lens, Waggle can become your tool of choice to improve student outcomes aligned with job-embedded and ongoing professional learning facilitated by the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). 

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Learner Paths are Rarely the Same

At times I find myself claiming that I am a visual learner. Hence, I try to have an original image to go along with most blog posts I write. While text adds needed details and depth, the accompanying visuals provide more context. They also do a great job capturing the attention of prospective readers. I am not alone in my affinity for pictures. Researchers at MIT found that the brain can process images as quickly as 13 milliseconds. Now that is fast! 

While my preference as a learner might be through visuals, I know there are other pathways as well. Herein lies the foundational tenant of personalized learning, something I shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

Personalization is ALL kids getting what they need when and where they need it to learn.

I have written extensively on the many ways to personalize learning, but like most things, there are always different lenses and strategies that can be used. During my coaching work with educators, I always try to make the concept as simple as possible by showing the unique pathways to help kids learn. Enter the Rigor Relevance Framework. The premise is as simple as it is powerful. Learning occurs when students are challenged to think and apply their thinking in relevant ways.  

This framework is a tool to examine curriculum, instruction, and assessment along the two dimensions of increasing cognition and student outcomes. It can be used in the development of personalized pedagogical techniques in alignment with virtually any strategy. In addition, teachers can use it to monitor their own progress in adding rigor and relevance while selecting appropriate strategies for differentiation and facilitation of learning goals. In a previous post, I discussed getting kids into the learning pit, which moves them naturally through the various quad but in no specific order. The movement is dictated by where they currently are and how they eventually get to where they need to be, a hallmark of personalization. 

The journey to quad D is never linear. It will also look different for every learner, so don’t get fixated on where I put the dots on the image above. Another critical aspect is that you don’t need technology to personalize. Authenticity, deeper meaning, academy programs, and different ways to show learning are just as powerful in providing kids with what they need to succeed. As students work to answer scaffolded questions while grappling with solving real-world problems, their process will look different. Hence, there will be many learning paths towards and eventually into Quad D. 

Learning is a personal process, not an event.  

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Get Students into the Learning Pit

In life, I would wager that the majority of us prefer the path of least resistance. After all, this is human nature. While we avoid challenges for many reasons, our mindset often keeps us from pushing ourselves if we are comfortable where we are at or we see a more straightforward path forward. Through an inherent fear of failure, mental blocks materialize to keep us in a safe place – free from dealing with potential adversity. Now, this isn’t always the case, but we have all been here at some point. The way we think is often the byproduct resulting from years of conditioning, not being pushed, or a lack of good feedback.

As you process my thoughts above, think about your experience as a student. Were you consistently empowered to think critically and apply what you had learned in authentic ways to solve real-world problems? For me, it was relatively hit or miss. While I can rely on YouTube now to help me solve problems around the house, I still lack the confidence to tackle more significant issues and often rely on friends and family for help. Now think about the conditions where students today learn and live. The world is becoming increasingly disruptive, making it hard to predict with any sense of accuracy what the future holds. Hence the need to create the conditions in all classrooms to prepare our learners with the competencies required for success in a bold new world.

Some people might say this is easier said than done. However, if we take a critical lens to standard practices such as questions, tasks, and assessments, we increase our ability to make some shifts that could have a profound impact. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I included the image below of the learning pit to develop disruptive thinking, which I define as:

The ability to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems.

Take a look at the embedded responses that illustrate the journey a learner takes when empowered to think disruptively. If a student can jump over the pit, then we can deduce that there is little challenge and relevant application. What this ultimately equates to are questions, tasks, and assessments that don’t challenge kids to think and apply what they are learning across multiple disciplines or to solve either real-world predictable to unpredictable problems. When all of these elements are part of a lesson or educational experience, the result is the development of cognitive flexibility in students.  

Life is hard. Living and thriving in a disruptive world can be even more challenging without the ability to think disruptively. There is no better way to teach this life-long lesson than getting kids into the learning pit for productive struggle. Preparing students for this struggle and being explicit about learning expectations in that questions, tasks, and assessments are designed to result in struggle is intentional. Being upfront with kids is vital. Otherwise, they will think the teacher is being hard on them. In the end, it is for their benefit.