Navigating Between the Professional Rock
and the Personal Hard Place

(a #LearningFIRST Blog Series designed to help educators navigate being a parent, colleague, friend and advocate)

As educators we have likely all found ourselves at one time or another stuck between the proverbial rock (being a professional educator with professional standards) and hard place (being a parent, colleague, and/or friend). Over the past three years as a member of the FIRST Educational Resources team and family, I have had the opportunity to share my “rock vs. hard place” scenarios with and receive advice from some of the greatest educational thinkers of our generation.

Following one such conversation with Rick Wormeli, I commented to my wife, a 17-year veteran elementary school teacher, about the need for an educator’s resource for these types of situations. After several follow-up conversations over the past year, I decided to start this blog series; a scenario-based resource aimed at helping educators effectively navigate how to address instructional, cultural, and procedural concerns with colleagues in a productive and collaborative manner, all while keeping in mind the ever-present concerns of resentment, fractured relationships, or even retribution that impacts us or, more importantly, our children and students.

I have collected a series of scenarios from both face-to-face conversations as well as email and social media submissions that I believe are both timely and relevant to educators at every level. Names and some personal information have been changed to protect individuals who submitted scenarios. For each scenario, I have identified both a few key questions as well as a FIRST Educational Resources consultant to provide insight and advice.

If you are an educator/parent and have ever found yourself to be or currently are Navigating the Professional Rock and the Personal Hard Place and you would like to contribute your scenario to our blog series, please contact me at

Series Entry #1 Featuring Myron Dueck, (February 5, 2019)

Beth is a popular primary teacher in a small town elementary school where she has worked for many years. She is often requested by parents and has seen multiple siblings in her classroom over the years. She is an educational leader not only in her building, but in the district and community. Her ability to create and foster relationships with students, colleagues, administrators, parents, and community members is widely admired. It is not uncommon for students and parents to return to her classroom years after they have left to say hello and thank you.

One such parent, Erin, came to Beth’s classroom one day to discuss a concern she had with another teacher. Erin’s son, Adam, had been in Beth’s classroom three years prior and his younger brother was currently in Beth’s classroom. Erin shared that Adam had come home from school and told her that he had gotten into trouble in class that day. Erin immediately called Adam’s teacher to inquire. The teacher informed Erin that he had intended to speak with her about his concerns with Adam at parent-teacher conferences, which were scheduled for the following week. He then mentioned that he had been witnessing disrespectful and negative behavior from Adam for over a month. Erin was shocked to be hearing this for the first time, but was even more upset when the teacher informed her that he had created a behavior plan for Adam that was posted in the classroom. At no time had Erin been contacted about behavior concerns or a behavior plan and, furious, she was ready to pull Adam from the classroom.

Beth is obviously concerned about the lack of communication by her colleague and the negative experience that both Adam and Erin are having.

I’m abundantly familiar with small town elementary schools – as both my kids attended one – and this scenario is not uncommon. Whether it’s a small town or the ‘big city’, there are a couple of pretty clear boundaries here and important steps that need to be taken. If anything, it’s the nuances of the conversations and timing that will make or break the situation. To be clear, the priority in every conversation and consideration is Adam, the learner, and the goal is to keep that in sharp focus.”

Key Question  #1 : Should Beth coach Erin through her options/next steps as a parent? If so, what would those be?

Erin seems to feel comfortable in approaching Beth, and this familiarity has taken years to develop and nurture. Beth can use her influence to encourage Erin to do what Beth would want if she were Adam’s current teacher. Beth can speak from what she would want, rather than make a lot of comments or assumptions about her colleague, Adam, and what may or may not have happened in that other classroom. In her experience, Beth will know that there’s no way she can get the whole story from just the parent’s point of view. Furthermore, Beth will likely agree that she would want to hear first hand of a parent’s concerns in her own classroom, and these are just two of many reasons why Beth needs to give sound and balanced advice as early in the conversation as possible: Go speak to Adam’s teacher directly. Beth should start with acknowledging the parent’s concern and follow with advice. She could say, ‘I can understand your concerns over Adam. If he were in my class I’d want you to come directly to me to express your concerns. I understand that parent-teacher meetings are coming up shortly, but obviously this is a pressing concern for you now and I think the teacher should know that.’ Whatever comes of this situation, Beth cannot help that a parent approached her with this issue, but she can attest that she gave sound, professional advice.”

Key Question #2 : Should Beth approach her colleague to discuss Erin’s concerns and her own? If so, how can she do that professionally and effectively?

This can be a sensitive situation. An important consideration is the relationship that currently exists between Beth and the other teacher. If there is already an open line of communication in place, or they’ve shared sibling students before, or they have already addressed situations like this in the past, Beth might give the other teacher a ‘heads-up’ along these lines, ‘Hey, I currently have Adam’s younger brother in my class and his mom Erin was in to chat. She starting mentioning some concerns she had about Adam, and though I taught him years ago, I suggested she raise her thoughts with you first.’ Of course the teacher may inquire for details and want to dig deeper, but I would suggest Beth ‘keep to the script’ and simply say she directed the parent to speak to the teacher first hand.

Although this advice may appear to prioritize professionalism, and I believe we are rightfully upholding those principles, this approach is in Adam’s best interests as well. Adam and his current teacher need to develop a healthy relationship and his teacher needs to feel that proper process and the correct communication channels are being exercised. Whatever challenges Adam may have in class, Beth is not one of the key figures in finding solutions – let’s start with the ‘Bermuda triangle’ of Adam, his mom Erin, and the teacher.”

Key Question #3 : Should Beth notify her administrator of Erin’s concerns and her own?

No. To go to an administrator directly is not warranted in this case. The student is not in danger and the conversation is at relatively early stages. Beth needs to adhere to professional codes of conduct between teachers and the healthy and proper next step is for the parent to speak with Adam’s current teacher. In my experiences, most of the time the issue is resolved when the people closest to the situation have a chance to speak and consider strategies. In my many years as a classroom teacher, I always desired to hear from a concerned parent first, not from a fellow teacher, administrator or anyone else. In my experience as an administrator, I encouraged teachers to approach one another with concerns to build trust and a healthy staff culture. It was very rare that I needed to intervene.”

About the Authors:

Brandon Macrafic is a Principal on Special Assignment for Career and College Readiness for the Rochester Public Schools in southeast Minnesota. He also serves as the FIRST Educational Resources Regional Director for the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Brandon started his career as a middle and high school German teacher before serving as a secondary building administrator in both Hayfield and Rochester, MN. His educational passions include school and leadership reform, proficiency based assessment, grading, and reporting, and career pathways. Brandon lives in Kasson, MN with his wife, Katie, who is a kindergarten teacher, and their two children, Henry and Ellie
Twitter: @BKM31

Over the past 22 years, Myron Dueck has gained teaching and administrative experience in both Canada and New Zealand in subjects ranging from grades 4 to 12. Beginning in 2006, Myron developed a number of grading, assessment and reporting systems with his classes in which students have greater opportunity to show what they understand, adapt to the feedback they receive and play a significant role in the reporting of that learning. Myron has been a part of administrative teams, district groups, school committees and governmental bodies that have further broadened his access to innovative ideas.Myron has shared his stories, tools and first-hand experiences with public, charter and international school educators around the world, and recently his presentations have diverged to include global education trends and broader socio-economic realities that impact learning.

Myron has twice been published in EL Magazine. His best-selling book,Grading Smarter, Not Harder– Assessment Strategies that Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn was released by ASCD in July 2014 and in 2015 ASCD released a video project based in his own school district entitled ‘Smarter Assessment in the Secondary Classroom’. In 2019, ASCD released the first of a three-part online streaming series, hosted by Myron, looking at how we include students in assessment. The series includes John Hattie, Lorin Anderson, Celeste Kidd and more.Myron lives in Summerland, BC, CANADA with his wife and two children and is Vice-Principal for Grading, Assessment, Innovation and Reporting Student Learning in his local school district – Okangan-Skaha 67.

Twitter: @myrondueck

The Power of Cross-District Collaboration for Instructional Coaches

December 3, 2018

Submitted by:

Danica Lewis, Fond du Lac School District, Fond du Lac, WI

Mark Flaten, School District of Waupaca, Waupaca, WI

Don Smith, Winneconne Community School District, Winneconne, WI

Greg Wolcott, Woodridge District 68, Woodridge, IL

“I loved being able to connect and build relationships with other instructional coaches. One of the most valuable parts of the conference was when we had the opportunity to research and collaborate on a topic that was applicable and pertinent to our practice.”

–Winneconne Instructional Coach

Districts are increasingly seeing the benefits of instructional coaches in the improvement of student learning and teacher professional practice. While larger districts may employ a cadre of instructional coaches, who can support each other and learn together, smaller districts may have one one or two coaches. The question for smaller districts becomes, how do you feed the learning needs of your instructional coaches so that they can feed the teachers they support?

Our four districts recently engaged in a two-day collaborative session designed to meet the unique professional learning needs of our coaches. On the first day, as the teams entered the room, they trepidatiously sat at tables, largely with the colleagues with whom they regularly work. Upon beginning our time together, we got the coaches up and moving and connecting across districts. The excitement in the room quickly grew as coaches from very different districts began to find the commonalities they shared with so many others in the room.

“The role of coach is unique. Even among the coaches in Fond du Lac, my role is unique. As we came together with coaches from other districts, I noticed how different the roles we each hold are, but recognized that the work we do is similar. We work to support teachers to grow their instructional practices with an eye on increasing student achievement.”

–Fond du Lac Instructional Coach

After a morning of sharing and conversing, largely in cross-district partnerships, coaches returned to their district teams for lunch and discussion. They shared ideas that they had gathered from their new network of instructional coaching colleagues and talked about the plans for the rest of the collaborative time together.

Prior to coming together, we discussed the format of the two days. In considering the purpose of our time together, we all felt that the most value would come from significant periods of time for the coaches to collaborate together. However, the collaboration would need structure to be purposeful. We surveyed our coaches to determine the topics that were most on their minds right now and around which they most need the opportunity to collaborate.

“I was so nervous that everyone here would be competitive and trying to prove that they were the best coach. I am so glad that this hasn’t been the case! Everyone is so nice and collaborative. I can’t wait to keep learning together!”

–Woodridge 68 Instructional Coach

A significant portion of our time together was spent engaged in what we called “Topic Driven Research.” Coaches joined a team based on the topic they most wanted to research. In these teams, the coaches collaboratively developed a research question, visited schools and classrooms to gather information, consulted print and web resources, and talked together about their own experiences. At the end of their research, teams developed a one-pager which included a summary of their research and information on the resources they had consulted in their work. These were shared with the group so that follow-up could occur as interested.

The sense of exhilaration that everyone felt at the end of our two days together was inspiring. The request was made to share emails and Twitter handles so that newly formed partnerships could be maintained. The coaches have requested that these sessions occur twice annually to maintain the collaborative relationships. What started as a simple concept, a multi-district collaboration, turned into something much more significant than we could have imagined. Though not much time has passed since these two days together, we have each seen evidence of the power of this collaboration in our coaches. As leaders, there is no greater feeling than knowing that you have enabled your staff to grow professionally and personally. Through intentional, cross-district collaboration, we all got better, together!

“The time spent with coaches from the other districts was both informative and inspiring. We were able to have great conversations about how coaches are making an impact on students. The collaboration was amazing and new friendships were formed. We can’t wait to attend the next session!”

–Waupaca Instructional Coach

About the Authors:

Mark Flaten began his teaching career in September 2001. Besides being a first year teacher, the events of September 11th truly put his ability to connect with and lead students to the ultimate test. Many thanks to his humble middle class upbringing and collegiate international travels, Mark quickly put to work his two educational principles that continue to guide his work;
Education = Freedom
Tolerance is not an acceptable replacement for teaching students to celebrate our differences.

After teaching for 5 years at suburban Grafton High School, Mark began his Administrative journey in rural Nekoosa, becoming an AP and Activities Director. He then moved to Green Bay East HS for a year before spending the next 7 as the Head Learner of Green Bay West HS. During his time at West HS, West became just the 13th authorized International Baccalaureate Diploma Program school in Wisconsin. This revitalization of West HS yielded a 17% increase in graduation rates, a 55% increase in graduates earning college credit, and a $535,000.00 increase in college scholarships awarded to West graduates. In 2017, Mark and his family moved south to be closer family and friends while becoming the Principal of Waupaca HS. In 2018, Mark agreed to become the Director of Teaching and Learning for the School District of Waupaca.

Danica Lewis is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Pupil Services for the Fond du Lac School District in Wisconsin where she leads curriculum development, instruction, assessment, and special education services for the 7,500 students of the Fond du Lac community. During her 7 years in this role, Danica led the implementation of standards-based grading K-12 and facilitated the strengthening of professional learning communities in the 16 schools of the district. Danica has facilitated impactful professional learning around literacy, data analysis, and PLC leadership for the principals in her district as she knows that a strong instructional leader in a school building is critical to improving student learning.

Don Smith has 16 years of professional experience in public schools. Don is currently the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Winneconne Community School District, in Wisconsin. Prior to his current role, Don was the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School District of Waupaca. Don also served as the Principal at Fond du Lac STEM Academy and Fond du Lac STEM Institute, as well as the the District Assessment Coordinator for the Fond du Lac Area School District (WI). Don continually leads professional development sessions centered on research based practices in instruction and assessment. His primary areas of expertise and support with FIRST include: professional learning communities, assessment and grading, culture, and evidence-based decision making.

Greg Wolcott currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning at Woodridge School District 68 in Woodridge, Illinois, a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago. As an educator in the Chicagoland area for over 20 years, Greg is passionate about developing opportunities for all students to succeed as well as finding ways for all teachers and staff members to utilize their strengths to maximize the learning of each and every child whom they interact with on a daily basis.Greg consults throughout the United States on a variety of subjects including adult learning, developing innovative practices in the classroom to engage all learners, formative assessment to drive instruction, response to instruction/intervention, and data usage for school improvement.

How Educators Can Understand the Power of Collective Efficacy From This Year’s Milwaukee Brewers

October 14, 2018 by Garth Larson, Ed.D

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

OCTOBER…one of the best times of the entire calendar year in the midwest. Although the current temperature is 32 degrees in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, there is so much to be excited about with October. Football is in full swing as high school teams are just beginning their playoff runs, college teams are in the middle of their brutal conference schedules, and professional football is nearing the halfway point of the season. Usually, that is enough to keep me excited about all that October brings. However, as a die-hard fan of all Wisconsin athletics, this October has even more to offer.

Our Milwaukee Brewers are playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Although I was excited the last time the Brewers were in the NLCS (2011), there was a feeling that team was going to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals.

They didn’t have the same swagger this year’s team demonstrates every time they walk on the field. But it’s not just the swagger and confidence that makes this year’s Milwaukee Brewers so interesting to watch, it’s their Collective Efficacy and different way of thinking about winning baseball games.

Professor John’s Hattie’s research in Visible Learning clearly points out that collective teacher efficacy has the highest impact on learning than any other approach to learning that has been studied. According to Hattie’s work, Collective Teacher Efficacy carries an impact of 1.57 (Visible Learning Plus, December 2017), which is almost four times the rate of what would be considered one year’s growth in learning. So if Collective Teacher Efficacy is so influential and we are aware of this statistic, why are schools still struggling to support high levels of learning for all students? The answer is pretty simple, they either don’t know what being efficacious looks like, or they have not established teams that believe they have the impact to do amazing things on behalf of kids and learning.

According to Jenni Donohoo’s blog post for The Learning Exchange on January 9, 2017, “Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged. Educators with high efficacy show greater effort and persistence, a willingness to try new teaching approaches, set more challenging goals, and attend more closely to the needs of students who require extra assistance.”
Dr. Donohoo goes on to include the following:
“Efficacy beliefs are very powerful because they guide educators’ actions. Goddard, Hoy, and Woolfolk Hoy (2004) noted that efficacy beliefs “directly affect the diligence and resolve with which groups choose to pursue their goals” (p. 8).

If educators’ realities are filtered through the belief that there is very little they can do to influence student achievement, then it is very likely these beliefs will be manifested in their practice. However, if a school staff shares a sense of collective efficacy, then they have a greater likelihood of positively impacting student learning, over and above any other influence.”

This is where the 2018 edition of the Milwaukee Brewers can be used to explain the notion of efficacy.The Brewers entered the final month of the season 4 games behind the Chicago Cubs and went 19-7 in September, including winning their last eight regular season games to win the division, and become the first place seed for the National League. That streak concluded at 12 games with their loss on Saturday night, but it still appears this team is poised to look ahead and what they can accomplish collectively as a team.

Why have they experienced this level of success? Because of the belief systems in themselves and each other to achieve success. Every interview I watch with this team revolves around the team and their strengths. Brewers manager Craig Counsell has taken an approach with his bullpen that is much different than most traditional teams. Their focus as a team defensively is to get 27 outs and score more runs than the other team. He doesn’t care how he gets those outs and scores the runs, as long as it happens. As a result of this leadership, his team has fully invested and bought into their collective efforts to achieve greatness. Having a starter intentionally only pitch 2 innings so they can go to the bullpen is unheard of. However, the Milwaukee Brewers have put on an absolute clinic using this approach by continually playing to the strengths of all players.

In 2003, Michael Lewis authored the book Moneyball:

The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. This book and later movie (2011) starring Brad Pitt, has helped educators think differently about supporting student learning. While I was working as the Director of Learning for the Winneconne Community School District (WI), we showed our staff the trailer to the movie Moneyball during our welcome back in-service that August.
Our goal was to help them understand the art of thinking different, using data/evidence to support decision making and to believe in the power of a team.

After watching the trailer and discussing the key ideas and concepts from the book and movie, we came up with three conclusions we could ALL support.

    • We have to think differently:We recognized the model of school we were using was not effective for all students. We were not ensuring ALL students were learning at high levels and we knew that needed to be the focus moving forward.
    • Our Goal Shouldn’t be to Raise Test Scores, Our Goal Should be to Focus on Increasing Learning!:Although the movie doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about test scores, there is a scene where Peter Brandt (Jonah Hill) says to Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), “your goal shouldn’t be the buy players, your goal should be to buy wins, and in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”  We made it very clear at that point in our conversations with our staff that we were not on a mission to raise test scores or increase accountability ratings. Our goal was to focus on increasing LEARNING. We knew if we focused on increasing learning and did it well for all students, test scores and accountability ratings would be the beneficiary of that approach.
    • The Answers are in the Room:We recognized we could not go out and recruit the state teacher of the year from every district because that wasn’t financially feasible. We also recognized that through our thoughts and beliefs, we could create grade level and content level teams of the year! We believed that we had all the talent we needed to help students experience higher levels of success. However, we had to believe  this collectively as a district. We had to believe in our impact and trust each other to do amazing things collectively on behalf of our students.

The end result was amazing, just as we are seeing with the Milwaukee Brewers. In four years, we significantly increased learning for ALL students and moved from accountability ratings showing “Meets Expectations” to now “Significantly Exceeding Expectations” and having the fourth highest rating of all K-12 school districts in the state of Wisconsin (422 school districts total). All of this was the result of amazing group of adults, supporting each other and believing in each other to support our students. That’s the power of collective efficacy!

In terms of this year’s Milwaukee Brewers, Collectively Efficacious is the best way to describe them. They are focused on winning as a group, not as a group of individuals. They trust each other in all scenarios, they have tried new approaches and they are focused on the strengths of each member within the organization. According to the work of John Hattie and Jenni Donohoo, that’s a formula for success. Although the Brewers may not win the NLCS or World Series if they get there, this year’s Milwaukee Brewers have provided additional evidence to support Hattie and Donohoo’s work on the undeniable power of collective efficacy!

About the Author:
Garth Larson is the President of FIRST Educational Resources and also serves Part-Time Director of Educator Effectiveness for the Winneconne Community School District. Garth previously sat on the Board of Directors for ASCD Wisconsin, he serves on the K-12 Advisory Council for Education for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and also serves as an adjunct faculty member for educational courses offered through Dominican University of California as well as the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Garth has previously worked as an elementary principal in two separate Northeast Wisconsin School Districts and started his career in education as a high school speech and English teacher
In 2011, Garth formed Wisconsin Educational Resources (now FIRST) with a focus of improving student achievement across the United States.

Since 2011, over 1500 school districts throughout the country have become partnership districts with his company. Garth currently consults to school districts around the country and provides customized professional development around a variety of topics, mainly Professional Learning Communities, Response to Intervention/Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Learning-Centered Grading Practices, Leadership, and School Improvement. Garth is also the author of Collaborative Systems of Support: Learning for ALL with co-authors Tom Hierck and Chris Weber, Target-Based Grading in Collaborative Teams: 13 Steps to Moving Beyond Standards with co-author Tom Hierck, Grading for Impact: Raising Student Achievement through a Target-Based Assessment and Learning System.

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