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School Culture

December 11, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Creating a Supportive Culture for All Teachers 

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about school culture. As you know, mentoring is just a small piece of an effective induction program. Effective induction involves creating a positive, healthy, supportive climate and culture for all teachers. In doing my thinking, I have read a lot of articles on line about the subject. At the end of my post, I have also included some text resources. Here on the blog I have included excerpts and or links to three of the articles that I found most interesting. The third linked article was especially heartwarming to me as it describes The Circle of Courage Model. Creating a positive climate and culture does often involve courage and standing up for what we know is right and just. Feel free to share comments, resources, and stories of courage by posting on this site.

1. Harvard Education Newsletter

July/August 2001  Retaining the Next Generation of Teachers: The Importance of School-Based SupportClever incentives may attract new teachers, but only improving the culture and working conditions of schools will keep them

By Susan Moore Johnson, Sarah Birkeland, Susan M. Kardos, David Kauffman, Edward Liu, and Heather G. Peske of The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Throughout the
United States, school officials are either anticipating or already experiencing a teacher shortage. The projected need to fill 2.2 million vacancies by 2010 will be intensely felt in high-poverty schools and in certain subjects (math, science, and foreign languages) and programs (bilingual and special education). Recognizing this, policymakers are devising ways to make teaching more attractive, and the competition for high-quality teachers is fierce. Recruiters in various districts can now waive preservice training, offer signing bonuses, forgive student loans, and even provide mortgage subsidies or health club memberships. While such strategies may well increase the supply of new teachers to schools, they provide no assurance of keeping them there, for they are but short-term responses to long-term challenges. . . . “ 



Supportive and Shared LeadershipSchool change and educational leadership literature clearly recognizes the influence of the role of campus administrator on school improvement (Hord, 1992). This leadership provided by individuals within the school is critical in guiding and supporting successful implementation of new policies and/or practice. Within professional learning communities, the traditional role of omnipotent principal has been replaced by a shared leadership structure. In such a model, administrators, along with teachers, question, investigate, and seek solutions for school improvement. All staff grow professionally and learn to work together to reach shared goals. Campus administrators provide the necessary organizational and structural supports for such collaborative work among staff. Administrators display a willingness to participate in collective dialogue without dominating, and they share the responsibilities of decision making with the staff.

Shared Values and VisionA fundamental characteristic of the professional learning community’s vision is its unwavering focus on student learning. The shared values and vision among school staff guide decisions about teaching and student learning, and support norms of behavior. In this community, the vision is what Martel (1993) would define as “a total quality focus” (p. 24). The values, as noted earlier, are embedded in the day-to-day actions of the school staff, wherein the learning community engages and develops the commitment and talents of all individuals in a group effort that pushes for learning of high intellectual quality. These values then create the norms of a self-aware, self-critical, and increasingly effective professional organization, utilizing the commitment of its members to seek ongoing renewal and improvement (Sirotnik, 1999; Little, 1997).

Collective Learning and Application of LearningOriginally “collective creativity” (Hord, 1997), the name of this dimension has been changed to reflect more accurately the learning, and the application of learning that occurs. Professional learning communities engage school staff at all levels in processes that collectively seek new knowledge and ways of applying that knowledge to their work. The collegial relationships that result produce creative and appropriate solutions to problems, strengthening the bond between principal and teachers and increasing their commitment to improvement efforts. Such schools move beyond discussions of revising the schedule or establishing new governance procedures to focus on areas that can contribute to significant school improvement— curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the school’s culture. High standards are adopted in all content areas, and professional staff take the responsibility to ensure high levels of achievement for all students. Teachers use a pedagogy that establishes relevance of the curriculum, and students are engaged in learning activities that respond to their cultures and needs as learners (Reyes, Scribner, & Paredes Scribner, 1999). Educators seek the best strategies and instructional practices to engage their students in learning, and they make the necessary adjustments to respond to the students’ diverse learning needs.

Supportive ConditionsStructures that support the vision of a school and learning community are vital to the effectiveness and innovation of teaching at the classroom level. Creating supportive structures, including a collaborative environment, has been described as “the single most important factor” for successful school improvement and “the first order of business” for those seeking to enhance the effectiveness of their school (Eastwood & Louis, 1992, p. 215). Hord (1997) cited two types of supportive structures found within professional learning communities: structural conditions and collegial relationships. The structural conditions include use of time, communication procedures, size of the school, proximity of teachers, and staff development processes. Collegial relationships include positive educator attitudes, widely shared vision or sense of purpose, norms of continuous critical inquiry and improvement, respect, trust, and positive, caring relationships. Within professional learning communities, it is often necessary to find innovative ways to create the necessary time and resources to allocate to whole-staff learning, problem solving, and decision making. Creating supportive conditions is a key to maintaining the growth and development of a community of professional learners.

Shared Personal PracticeElmore (2000) states that “schools and school systems that are improving directly and explicitly confront the issue of isolation” by creating multiple avenues of interaction among educators and promoting inquiry-oriented practices while working toward high standards of student performance (p. 32). Teacher interaction within a formalized structure for collegial coaching provides the means for confronting the issue of isolation in professional learning communities. Through such interaction, teachers continue to build a culture of mutual respect and trustworthiness for both individual and school improvement, and they also exhibit increased commitment to their work. Shared personal practice is limited, even in highly functioning learning communities, and tends to be the last of the dimensions to develop. Darling-Hammond (1998) cites research reporting that teachers who spend more time collectively studying teaching practices are more effective overall at developing higher-order thinking skills and meeting the needs of diverse learners. Sharing personal practice requires a complete paradigm shift from traditional roles in education. It is, however, the clearest link to the classroom.A professional learning community produces high levels of achievement for all students within an environment of continuous inquiry and improvement if it is focused on student results. It values and respects each of its members and insists that all students achieve to high standards. One factor organizes all contexts within a professional learning community, and that is the shared purpose of improving student learning outcomes. All members of such a community are invested in the learning and changing necessary to address the needs of all students and help them to achieve high standards  

3. What Every Administrator Needs to Know About Creating a Caring School Culture:

The Circle of Courage Model

Text Resources:

Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership (Jossey-Bass Education) by Terrence E. Deal and Kent D. Peterson 

The Shaping School Culture Fieldbook (Jossey Bass Education Series) by Kent D. Peterson and Terrence E. Deal 

Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement by Allison Zmuda, Robert Kuklis, and Everett Kline 

Building an Intentional School Culture: Excellence in Academics and Character by Charles F. Elbot and David Fulton 

Revisiting “the Culture of the School and the Problem of Change” (The Series on School Reform) by
Seymour Bernard Sarason 

Transforming School Culture: Stories, Symbols, Values & the Leader’s Role by Stephen Stolp and Stuart C. Smith 


Ready for Anything Supporting New Teachers for Success by Lynn F. Howard

Mentoring Teachers Toward Excellence: Supporting and Developing Highly Qualified Teachers by Judith H. Shulman and Mistilina Sato 

From Isolation to Conversation: Supporting New Teachers’ Development (Teacher Preparation and Development) by Dwight L. Rogers and Leslie M. Babinski 

Supporting Teachers, Supporting Pupils: The Emotions of Teaching and Learning by D. Fox

Going Against The Grain: Supporting the Student-Centered Teacher by Elizabeth Aaronsohn


October 22, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Here is some basic assessment information that can be used as a conversation starter when mentoring around standard 8. It also can be used as a handout when you are mentor training. It provides a specific example of a mentoring conversation aligned to one of the Maine’s Initial Teacher Certification Standards. Please place this in your mentor trainer “toolbox”.

Why do we assess?

  • Monitor educational systems for public accountability

  • Help provide information to better identify instructional practices

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of instructional practices

  • Measure student achievement

  • Evaluate students’ mastery of skills

Valid and Reliable: An assessment is reliable if it yields results that are accurate and stable.  In order for a performance assessment to be reliable, it should be administered and scored in a consistent way for all the students who take the assessment.An assessment is valid for a particular purpose if it in fact measures what it was intended to measure.  An assessment of a learning outcome is valid to the extent that scores truly measure that outcome and are not affected by anything irrelevant to the outcome. Some important aspects of validity are content coverage, generalizability and fairness.  The assessments for a given outcome should be aligned with the both the outcome and instruction and, when taken together, should cover all important aspects of the outcome.  The assessments should address the higher-order thinking skills specified in the outcome.  The tasks used should have answers or solutions that can’t be memorized, but which, instead, call on the student to apply knowledge and skills to a new situation.  Assessment results are generalizable [to the extent that] if there is evidence that scores on one assessment can predict how well students perform on another assessment of the same outcome. Adapted from Chicago Public Schools Handbook 

Please share any other ideas as to how to work on standard 8 here by posting a comment.

Sample Accomodations for Use When Differentiating

September 17, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Examples of Accommodations

Physical arrangement of the classroom

  • Provide preferential seating, e.g., seated near the front of the room and away from distractions if such a location helps him/her maintain better focus.
  • Stand near him/her when giving instructions.
  • Have the daily routine in writing where it’s easy to see
  • Include opportunities for physical activity in the schedule.


  • Allow tape recording of class discussions and lectures.
  • Provide a written outline of material covered.
  • Use Power Points, Smart Board, overhead projector and other visual media with oral instruction.
  • Incorporate technology, e.g., Smart Boards, computers, calculators, videos.
  • Accept word-processed assignments.
  • Allow oral or audio taped assignments.
  • Individualize assignments, e.g., length, number, due date, topic.
  • Use peer tutoring.
  • Teach specific study skills, e.g., organization, note taking.


  • Provide practice questions for study.
  • Give open book tests.
  • Allow one page of notes to be used during testing.
  • Vary the format of test.
  • Read questions aloud.
  • Allow student to respond to questions orally.
  • Allow use of technology, e.g., calculator, word-processor.
  • Provide extra time to complete test.
  • Give parts of test in more than one sitting.
  • Allow opportunity to take test in another room or at another time of day.
  • Allow student to retake test.
  • Give more frequent short quizzes and fewer long tests.


  • Mark correct answers rather than mistakes.
  • Base grades on modified standards, e.g., IEP objectives, effort, amount of improvement, content rather than spelling.
  • Specify the skills he/she’s mastered rather than give a letter grade.


  • Limit homework to a certain amount of time spent productively, rather than an amount of work to be completed.
  • Give modified assignments.
  • Allow extra credit assignments.
  • Allow him/her to work on homework at school.
  • Provide written explanation of homework assignments.
  • Select a “study buddy” who can copy assignments or clarify by phone.
  • Give reminders about due dates for long-term assignments.
  • Develop reward system for work completed and turned in.

Home-School Communication

  • Develop a daily or weekly home-school communication system, e.g., notes, check list, voice mail, or email.
  • Email or mail assignment sheets directly to home.
  • Hold periodic student-teacher meetings.
  • Schedule regular parent-teacher meetings.

(A printable version is located at:


September 17, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Differentiation Talking Points  

   1. Work Hard to Understand DisabilitiesTake advantage of professional development opportunities :Autism ,  ADD- Attention Deficit Disorder , ADHD- Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder, Fetal Alcohol and Drug Syndrome, ODD- Oppositional
Defiance Disorder,
 Learning Disabilities , MR- Mental Retardation 

2. Build Relationships with Students 

3. Communicate with Parents- Early in the year and consistently throughout the year, make positive communications. When you communicate about “issues” do not act condescending.  

4. Go the extra mile each day. It is worth the investment. Get to know what interests outside of school each child has; make a personal connection with each child, each day. 

5. Greet the children at the door each day. 

6.  Sometimes, go out on the playground with the kids before school. Make personal connections before the school day starts. 

7. Occasionally, eat lunch with your students.  

8.   Start each day with a clean slate. Do not hold grudges. 

9. Partner with Special Education Teachers. It takes a Village!

10.   Always ask yourself, “what is it that I am assessing?” 

11.  Try different strategies.  

12.  Remember that each child is an individual. Do not get frustrated when one strategy does not work for all. 

13.   Plan for alternatives. Be FLEXIBLE! Be open to learn yourself!

14. Plan for your gifted students. Do not make them do extra work; alter assignments, so that they can function at a higher level. 

15. Create opportunities for all students to practice leadership during the daily routine. 

16.  Model all kids being equal and valued. Kids watch your every move, and they are extremely intuitive, many times much more than adults. 

17. Create a sense of fairness. Most kids will not perform at their best if they don’t see all students being treated fairly. Kids are usually extremely protective of each other. 

18.  Create and maintain a classroom environment where kids are protective of each other.  

19.   Do not tolerate any put downs, jokes or language that is demeaning.  

20.  Communicate the attitude that everyone is “smart” is some way. 

21. Use frequent, specific, authentic praise. Single all children out occasionally with specific praise. Single out students for their successes. 

22.    Don’t be afraid to sit with a child- be a partner or a scribe. Take turns doing this with all children. 

23.     Do not make a habit of sitting and working at your desk when the children are present.  

24.    Remember that many student function at home by getting negative attention. Praise can feel foreign and uncomfortable for some students initially.

25.     Set firm boundaries and be consistent! This is missing in many kids’ lives. By setting boundaries and enforcing them fairly, you are showing that you care. Children need and want boundaries. 

26.    Do not base your impressions of parents based on socioeconomic status.  

27.      Do not be judgmental. 

28.     You cannot fully understand a child until you have walked in their shoes. Be empathetic, and model empathy, compassion, and understanding in your classroom.

(A printable version is located at:

Mentoring Around Standard Nine

September 7, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

As the school year gets rolling, your mentors will be busy providing a lot of guidance and support to our beginning educators. One standard from Maine’s Initial Teacher Certification Standards that our mentors ask about frequently is Standard Nine.

When I was facilitating a Mentors Training Mentors workshop in East Millinocket one of our mentor trainers, Deb Berry of Hampden Academy,  shared this sentence starter. “It is really important to me for you to be successful. I’m concerned . . . “     I have to admit I have already used this with my teenager at home! I’m sure that it would be also extremely effective when working with beginning educators. If you have other ways that you begin “challenging” conversations, please post them here or on our mentor trainer listserv. (You may post to the listserv by sending an email to [email protected])

Our First Post . . .

August 23, 2007 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

The intent of Maine’s educator induction model is to provide a systematic structure of support for beginning educators. Educator induction programs can help new educators improve teaching practice, learn professional responsibilities and ultimately positively affect student learning. Mentoring is an essential element in an effective induction program! In addition to providing support for beginning teachers, these programs allow mentor teachers to reflect upon their own teaching practice and to unite the professional community as each individual works toward the same goal– improving the quality of education. Induction programs also have the potential to elevate the teaching profession and foster a collaborative learning community for all educators. These benefits can lead to a much higher rate of retention, as new educators find themselves in an environment that cultivates continual growth and success.

Visit our new Induction Site for more details and resources at

We hope that you will use this site to share mentoring strategies and concerns. As a professional learning community we can help each other become more effective mentors, mentor trainers, and teacher leaders. Please also use this site to share resources and your opinions!