Letter From a Compassionate Educator

Letter From a Compassionate Educator

The importance of learning during a pandemic, and what to say to parents, educators, teachers, and students about the struggles of distance learning at home, and teaching from school during the time of COVID.

I’ve been trying to come up with something to say in regards to the school year being finished early.  Over the past two weeks, I have been struggling with what to say to teachers and administrators as they worried about their students.  Not only about their learning, but more importantly about their well-being. 

We are in our second week of providing meals to over 1,000 students each day and will continue until tangible support allows for us to do otherwise.  Our schools have also been asked by the governor to prepare to possibly provide childcare to specific essential staff if needed in the near future. Early stages of that plan are beginning…

Right now, my message to our teachers is that parents are not teachers and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Their main job is to take care of their kids. My only expectation is that we are communicating with our families, offering them suggested material, and to do what they can without frustration.

There are many activities out there being shared online and it’s great to see. Right now it’s all fairly new.  However there will be an increasing number of families who will have to work from home, or have no work at all…and “teaching” their children their grade level curriculum shouldn’t be top of the priority list.

Educators are seeing this and know what will need to happen; we will have to teach more when they come back. And it’s what we will do.  Yes, most likely the gaps will be bigger…but my hope is our students take this time to read, have fun learning when they can, read some more, and spend time with their families.

For families who want to continue learning, reach out to your child’s teacher. Some of our online programs are personalized to be on each child’s level. But expectations should be minimal…because new material has to be taught before learned/mastered. Some students will have the means to get it while others will struggle. Knowing where your child is and what they can handle will help and your teacher can help with that as well.

Like many other communities, many of our families do not even have internet access to allow for online learning. And because of our demographics, the reality is many of our students are not on grade level. This at least gives us time to reteach and have fun doing it.

Most people outside of education, or those with no children in school, do not know the amount of support schools offer to our students and families. Besides educating them, we are their shelter, their meals, and their emotional support. I already have a long list of students/families we need to reach out to…we were doing it before and we will continue to do it now. But it will definitely be more challenging. Our school counselors will be on the frontlines in developing ways to help our students.

I feel awful for our seniors…no words can really take away from the anger and frustration they are currently feeling. This will make them stronger and more resilient.  We learn from the most difficult moments of our lives…and this will surely make our seniors even more extraordinary than they already are. Most schools will be thinking about how to make sure they are celebrated and it will be a special one. Give them time to plan it out…we will get there!

Most of all, we have to use patience. I know, I wish I had all the answers. Everyone is anxious…but we have time.  Don’t try to do it all at once. Less, will certainly be more. 

Take care and be healthy.

Jake Boula | Winchester Public Schools
Director of Elementary and Intermediate Instruction



Who is your 5 Tribe?

Who is your 5 Tribe?

Inner circle influences are important for teachers and educators, as well as everyone.

I was sitting at Chicago Pizza waiting on my to-go order when an older gentleman, much more seasoned in life, leaned over and asked me, “What do you do?”  I smiled and said, “How much time do you have?”

After quickly explaining my mission and purpose we began chatting about life.  He explained how my success and confidence in living my purpose was contagious.  My inner goddess leaped! Winning! That was until he asked his next question that stopped me in my tracks and sent me into a tailspin of reflection and prayer over the next several weeks. 

“Do you have 5 people?”

In the weeks before, the idea of your inner circle having a direct impact on who you are continually popped up in my life somehow.  A gift from a friend, a post on social media, a Proverb at church, two different books I was reading, subscriber emails, and now… this man..this stranger I just happened to sit beside.

We have all heard the famous figure of speech, “If you lay in bed with dogs, you get fleas,” and we know that we should surround ourselves with good people, but all these moments were different.  This learning was not speaking to me about who pulls me down. This learning was asking me who lifts me up. Who is in your community? Your inner circle? If iron sharpens iron, who is your iron?

Your environment supports your goals.  What do I mean by that? In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller explained that the people and places around us will either rob us of energy, effort and resolve OR send us into a “positive spiral of success”.

None of us live in isolation.  We have factors all around us that influence our mood, impact, and effectiveness.  These factors are absolutely out of our control, but will inevitably be a driver or barrier in our lives.  What is not out of our control is who and what we allow to influence us. We must surround ourselves with factors that will lift us higher toward our best selves.

Do you have 5 people?  Whether you are growing into your best spiritual, physical, emotional, or intellectual self you need people around you that will aim you toward your goal.  None of us, no matter how strong, do life alone. Pay attention to who you allow to infiltrate your space. Remember attitude is contagious. The right people and physical surroundings can expedite your energy and actions toward where you want to be.

Here are 5 strategies to reflect on your circle of influence:


  • Take ownership of your influencers.  Just like a ship captain cannot control the weather, you can not control the fact that there are influencers in your life.  This does not mean the captain is powerless. He can make strong decisions that lead both he and his crew through stormy waters, just as you can make a strategic effort in navigating the influencers in your life.  
  • Embrace the chaos.  Anyone who has known me for more than a day or seen me navigate through a storm has heard me say, “So what, now what”.  Spend less time reacting to the chaos and more time embracing and problem-solving. It is what it is. What are we going to do from this point forward?
  • Find iron.  “As iron sharpens iron, so does one friend to another.”  Proverbs 27. Seek out the people who sharpen you. Find someone who encourages your journey, your dreams, your goals, your success.   Otherwise, they will distract you from life and selfishly pull you into their negativity. As a dear friend of mine always says, “You bring joy!”  Don’t be the only joyful energy in your life.
  • Walk away gracefully.  When you recognize your colleagues, friends, or family are your negative influencers, show love and kindness, but walk away.  I love Trent Shelton’s quote, “It’s ok to cut someone out of your space, when they hand you the scissors.” If someone’s deficit mind or heartset, poor work ethic, or just all around negativity is getting to you, step away.  It’s ok. The tricky part here is recognizing the people in your life who seem joyful and supportive but may distract you from your goals. If you find yourself taking back steps in your journey after being around someone seemingly positive, re-evaluate and decide if they are distracting you from who you want to be.  Talk to the person. Share your goals with them. If they continue to distract you, walk away.


  • Live regretless.  Don’t wake up one morning saying man I wish I would have worked toward this dream or purpose of mine.  Pray or meditate over who you are and live in that purpose every single day. Put 5 people around you that send you into your “spiral of success” and push you back into your path when you start stepping off.  Trust me. You will need these guys. Recognize who they are and make sure they know who they are to you. They are your 5 Tribe.  

 Janna Sells | @jannypsells
Right Out of Janna’s Journals




You Can’t Raise Positive People With Negative Feedback

You Can’t Raise Positive People With Negative Feedback

Student behavior in school classrooms can be difficult. The importance of positive feedback by teachers and educators in their classrooms can lead to better student discipline.

5 Ways “Flip the Switch” In Your Classroom:
How to go from Fuss Fest to Less Stress
By: Amie Dean

“You can’t raise positive people with negative feedback.” Boom.

I remember sitting in a conference session as a young teacher with only a few years
experience. I was listening to a very experienced gentleman leading the session about
classroom discipline. I had just moved to Atlanta and was teaching in what was proving to
be a challenging environment for me – and I was failing miserably. I’d always thought of
myself as a very positive person, and I thought I was a positive teacher. I smiled and
laughed with my students, I truly got to know them, and I gave personal, positive feedback
anytime I could. This particular year, I was struggling. I had a very challenging group of 8th
graders, all boys, who hated to read, and I was teaching them reading and language arts for
2 hours at the end of their middle school day. Let’s just say that a good time was NOT had
by all!

Because of the struggles, I asked a supervisor to come in and observe me teaching this
particular class to give feedback and hopefully strategies to help. I thought she was going to
come in and tell me how horrible the behavior was and feel sorry for me for all the
difficulties I faced. At the end of the observation, she asked me if she could be honest with
me. I, of course, said yes, that is why I invited you. She said, “Amie, you didn’t smile one
time in 2 hours.” I looked at her in a very confused way and asked, “Did you see anything to
smile about?” I was immediately defensive and disappointed. Why was she commenting on
my behavior or MY face when I asked her to come in and look at the students’ behavior?
Their behavior had been over the top and very negative almost the entire time she was in
the room. Next she said, “What I mean is you look miserable.”
I said, “I am miserable.”
“Amie, she said, “you look like you hate your job.”
I said, “I think I do.”

It was such an eye-opening and embarrassing moment for me that someone would visit my
classroom and leave thinking I hated my job. I was upset for days and really hard on myself.
Surprisingly, I had an opportunity to sign up for a big education conference a few weeks
later, and I attended a breakout session focused on classroom discipline. The gentleman
teaching it was Dr. Terry Alderman, author of Discipline A Total Approach. I thought it was
perfect – I needed this! When Dr. Alderman opened with, “You can’t raise positive people
with negative feedback,” it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Yes, my students’ behavior was very difficult, but I had only been seeing or addressing the
difficult behaviors. I was not making any attempts to notice when things were going well. I
was so focused on what was wrong that I wasn’t able to see what was right. I walked away
that day with an arsenal of new ideas to turn things around in my classroom.

I immediately began to track positive behaviors and make note of it. My new goal became to
have at least two positive comments for every one corrective statement that I made. It
wasn’t that I was letting negative behaviors go or not addressing them, I just made sure that
I spent the at least the same amount of time and verbal energy on positive behaviors as

I put specific strategies in place to make myself accountable. For example, I moved paper
clips from one pocket to the other to track positive comments. Later, I used an index card
and made small tears on the long side for every positive comment and made tears on the
short side for any corrective statements. I saw a difference in the boys’ behavior within
days. More importantly, I started to feel better about this particular class as I forced myself
to find what was working. There were always some good things going on, but I was so
overwhelmed by how “bad” everything was, that I wasn’t able to see it. I had finally found a
way to “Flip the Switch.”

5 simple ways to Flip the Switch:
[ 1 ] Write down your WHY on an index card. Post it in several places around your
room. Read it every day – every hour if you must! You came into this job with a
passion – with a desire to have an impact on your students’ lives. Hold on to that
passion. It will be your fuel when the tank is empty.
[ 2 ] Make an effort, seriously, a tangible effort, to make at least 2x as many positive
comments in your classroom than you do corrective statements. None of us spent
years in school to get a degree in nagging. Don’t let your day devolve into a fuss
fest. Only YOU can control what comes out of your mouth – own it.
[ 3 ] Take the time to write 2 positive post it notes to 2 different students each day until
every student has received one note. Of all the strategies I’ve tried over the years,
this one gave me the biggest bang for my buck! Examples include:
Dear Richard, You have a great sense of humor. You make people laugh.
Dear Jasmine, You have strong opinions. I admire your confidence.
Sign each note with your name. Remember, NO suggestions or corrections on the
positive post it!
[ 4 ] Ask an administrator, another teacher, the media center specialist to stop in and
share a compliment you gave your students while you were away from them. They
can pop in and say, “I heard you guys have really improved your efforts on being
respectful.” Mrs. Dean was bragging about you. Sit back and enjoy the smiles.
[ 5 ] ONE GOOD THING – Place a jar or container on your desk, and invite students to
write one good thing on a slip of paper anytime. You should do it as well! Randomly
pull 2 or 3 a few times a week and share with the class. Not only are you helping
change your mindset about the day, the week, or the class, but you are also
coaching your students on how to do the same. As mentors, we have the
opportunity to coach our kids through our words, responses, and actions. If we
model how to “Flip the Switch” when things are going poorly or a relationship has
taken a negative turn, they will see that it is possible.

Behind every successful confident student, you will find an adult who believed in them.
What is the impact of the words you are choosing to use with your students? Do you need
to flip the switch? If yes, you can do this. Your students deserve it.

Amie Dean, M.Ed, NBCT has been a teacher and behavior interventionist for 27 years. She
is the founder of Educational Strategies Unlimited Consulting Firm and behaviorqueen.com.
Amie is the author of two children’s books Your Happy Heart; How Helping Others Helps
You, Too and There’s No Dream Too Tall which focus on helping children discover their
gifts, regulate their emotions, and find joy through kindness and helping others.

Connect with Amie at www.behaviorqueen.com
Twitter @behaviorqueen
Insta @amiedeanbehaviorqueen

MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

What is MTSS? – The implantation of raising student achievement in the classroom. How teachers, schools and educators can use leadership, data, communication and collaboration to improve student performance.

By: Janna Sells

Are you sick of feeling the MTSS implementation burnout?  Has MTSS become a four letter word where you serve? Tired of the theory not matching practice?  We were too.  Welcome to our roadshow.  A group of educators who were charged with the job of making MTSS work to close gaps and raise student achievement.  In our journey we’ve uncovered the tools needed to build an effective 3 Tiered Model. Let us start off by first saying, it was not easy.  We made tons of mistakes, but we eventually got it right. We continued and will continue to lean into our own learning and improve what we know to be faithful and true about implementing this highly effective total school improvement model.  

5 Critical Components of MTSS 

There are 5 critical components, or pillars, that have to be carefully and thoughtfully crafted prior to implementation of MTSS.  Without these 5 essential inputs, an MTSS model is simply impossible.

1) It all begins with LEADERSHIP |
Leadership knowledge and reinforcement are the driving force behind a strong implementation model.  What does that mean?  

  • Leaders equip themselves with the knowledge they need to lead teachers through implementation  
  • Leaders LEAD MTSS PLCs – know the data, lead the discussion, and equip teachers 
  • Leaders help align the arrows between the work teachers are doing in PLCs to their School Improvement Plan  
  • Leaders are active problem-solvers and strong advocates who support teachers so they may best serve students

2) Clear and consistent COMMUNICATION & COLLABORATION |
More times than we are excited to admit, we’ve coached and supported sites with the best implementation intentions, but they failed because of the lack of clear communication.  The same factor for the leading cause of divorce in the United States is killing MTSS implementation across our country. Why do we continue to ignore the impact of good communication? Likely, because it is an art.  Knowing when and how to say the right things can make or break the culture around implementation. It’s equally important that you bring teacher leaders in with you as you build your MTSS model. Their boots on the ground feedback is immeasurable and will help you stay ahead of potential threats.

3) Capacity and Infrastructure build sustainability
Invest in your people.  Not programs. Work to build capacity in ALL of your staff to create a model that lasts.

  • Invest and equip all the people in your building to help them see the strong role they play in the MTSS model.  
  • It’s an all hands on deck approach.  Every person in your building should see how their role impacts and aligns the arrows towards total school improvement.

4) Data-based problem-solving | 
We would never expect a doctor to begin writing a treatment plan for an ill patient without data based indicators suggesting the treatment is exactly what the patient needs.  We would also expect that the doctor has a strong line of research to support the treatment plan he or she chooses to help the patient recover. The same is true for educators.  To teach without using a data-based, problem solving protocol is malpractice. 

5) Data Evaluation drives continuous improvement | 
Life is a constant cycle of continuous improvement.  We evaluate success in many different measurements, but nonetheless, we drive towards improvement.  MTSS implementation is no different. 

  • There are many tactical tools to measure whether or not your implementation model is having a positive, negative, or neutral impact on students’ growth and achievement.  
  • It’s important that you triangulate your implementation data to get a true measure of impact.  
  • You must listen to your current indicators and humbly reflect and improve on them until your desired implementation is achieved.  
  • Remember, this a marathon, not a sprint.  Be present. Be strategic. Be consistent. 

A Three-Tiered Approach to Academics, Behavior, and Social Emotional Supports

i-LEADR, Inc. coaches a three-part, three-tiered model (see image above).  We believe in order to truly serve the whole child, educators must systematically measure the effectiveness of tier 1 core supports in all three areas: academics, behavior, and social emotional.  There should be strategic core plans in place that identify grade or school-wide deficits in these major areas with a strategic improvement plan. 

Once the school begins acting on core areas of concern, they should start to identify students outside and perhaps within those areas who need strategic tier 2 and/or intensive tier 3 supports.  Intervention plans should be written to address the needs of these students and document support services provided. Educators should measure the impact of students’ response to instruction by using frequent progress monitoring. 

The life blood of this model – Professional Learning Communities.  None of this work should be done in isolation by a single teacher. These conversations, data-analyses, and service planning should be done inside a strong professional learning community model.  These PLCs should be facilitated by a strong leadership team and should be communicated through School Improvement Team work. A comprehensive model, but not impossible.

Just remember, tradition does not make best practice when it stops being best for kids.  Change is hard. Failure is unavoidable. How you rise from your failed attempts will determine the impact and effectiveness of your leadership.  It’s ok to ask for help when help is needed.

To learn more about how i-LEADR coaches and supports MTSS implementation visit us at: https://ileadr.com/service/

Why is Change a 4 Letter Word?

Why is Change a 4 Letter Word?

Changing Educational Programs and Curriculum – Educators, Teachers, Schools

As educators, we often like to do what we’re comfortable with and what we’ve done in the past. We often moan and groan when the new educational program or new school curriculum comes around or when we’re asked to incorporate new instructional techniques. But why? We expect our doctor to utilize the most current up-to-date medical practices. We wouldn’t go to a doctor to treat us for cancer if they still used the same techniques as they did 20 years ago. We wouldn’t go to a doctor who used the same techniques as they did even 5 years ago. We want the best most up-to-date procedures. Shouldn’t we do the same for our students in the classroom?

Why is change such a four letter word when it comes to education and educators?  I had the privilege of hearing Dan Heath, one of the authors of the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, a few years back. It’s a good read and talks about how to approach change in any situation. Now I’m not going to give his secrets in the book away but his presentation did get me thinking about how differently we look at change in other parts of our lives. And in some cases, we even embrace and invite change into our lives.

He talked about people getting married and guess what. . .they are all smiling. These people are getting ready to undergo one of the biggest changes in their lives and they are happy about it. They are spending thousands of dollars and a whole year planning for it. They invited change into their lives. Now, I have to admit that some people have these same expressions when they get to the other end of marriage and celebrate a divorce, but either way it’s a huge change in how they’ve lived their lives before and they are willfully walking into a whole new world and they’re excited about it.  Granted, these folks getting married generally had at least a little control over the situation. Maybe that was why they were looking so happy.

Could we really be happy and accepting of change if t just kind of happened to us and we really didn’t have control over it? Think about fashion styles and hair styles. They’ve changed numerous times through the years. And, looking at these pictures from the past aren’t we ALL glad they did?  We had no real control over those changes and I guess if you still want the Camaro hair and the high waist polyester bell bottoms you could still find them. Maybe. Somewhere. But, do you really want to go for that look and stand out in that way? Or would you rather be the trendsetter in today’s fashion and today’s world?

As educators, we’ve got to stop thinking of change as a dirty, four letter word. We’ve got to start seeing change as an improvement to what we know and what we’ve done in the past. Otherwise, we’re stuck with that hair and those pants. . . It’s time to let it go


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