Differentiated + Distance Learning during COVID-19


Differentiation is not easy. In fact, it may be the most difficult skill in the teaching business.

And now with nearly all schools in the world dealing with a global pandemic, having moved to virtual learning due to COVID-19, differentiation requires a whole new set of skills.

For a great video on Differentiation + Distance Learning + COVID-19, from the pre-eminent scholar on differentiation: Carol Ann Tomlinson, watch the video below:

Tomlinson recommends that in these new and difficult COVID-19 times teachers should:

  • Lead from their hearts and not from their brains (“Until Maslow’s needs are met, Bloom gets cut off at the pass”).
  • Move away from the micro (getting through content) and towards the macro (big, important ideas, concepts, skills and themes)
  • Provide as much choice as possible to students within the big picture ideas you have chosen.
  • Ask students what they would like to learn in times like this.
  • Meet with kids in clusters using technology centered around interests, skill sets and motivational levels.
  • Provide opportunities for collaboration.
  • Search for what makes teaching meaningful to you and rejuvenate these convictions.

Differentiated learning is important for all students, but perhaps most important for students with Special Needs.

Here is a link to an article entitled 10 Tips for Supporting Students with Special Needs in Remote Learning: 

1. Know you students’ device’s accessibility features (screen magnifier, screen reader, Braille support, Select-to-Speak etc.

2. Know the accessibility features in the platforms and apps that your students use. (Twitter Immersive Reader, Google Docs Speech to Text etc.)

3. Identify reading supports that are available to your students (Helper Bird, Google Read and Write from Text Help etc.)

4. Make Closed Captioning Available (Google Slides, YouTube, Screencastify etc.)

5. Differentiated Group work (Schoology, Microsoft Teams etc.)

6. Provide multiple ways for students to respond and demonstrate comprehension (Choice Boards, Padlet, FlipGrid, Screencasting etc.)

7. Connect with your colleagues who have expertise in supporting these learners

8. Communicate with their parents (office hours for parents with Calendly, Flipgrid etc.)

9. Prioritize the social emotional needs of your students

10. Maintain the connections with your students

These are all good recommendations. Again, differentiation is an extremely different skill and without face-to-face in-person interactions between teacher and student, the skill can be even more difficult, particularly for veteran teachers that have come to rely on a less virtual teaching and learning environment.

As Michael Jordan once said: “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” Teachers are heroes just like MJ and will figure out how to differentiate for all learners, including Special Needs students in a virtual setting during a global pandemic.


Miller, Jake. 10 Tips for Supporting Students with Special Needs in Remote learning. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. Distance Learning with Carol Ann Tomlinson. Retrieved from:


Metacognition: Epistemology in Learning: TOK


It is the ability step out of one’s own mind and examine how we learn.

Metacognition’s mantra is perhaps most succinctly stated by the Modern Philosopher Descartes almost 500 years ago in the year of 1637:

Cogito Ergo Sum: I think therefore I am.

In education we could add one word to Descartes’ seminal statement:

Cogito Ergo Sum Discite: I think therefore I learn

This might seem redundant, of course thinking leads to learning we might say to ourselves.

Yet, in many traditional/didactic/teacher-centered educational settings where pedagogy is rote and based on memorization, thinking is not necessarily considered essential to learning.

One G11/G12 subject that relies heavily on epistemology is an integral piece of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program: TOK (Theory of Knowledge).

Here is a link to an article by IBO entitled: What is TOK?

TOK encourages students to reflect on the nature of knowledge. For many students this course is the first time they may consider such existential questions as: ‘How do I know if I exist?’, ‘How do we prove God exists?’.

TOK strives to interconnect all disciplines via AOKs (Areas of Knowledge) and WOKs (Ways of Knowing) leading to a transfer of skills via student-centered interdisciplinary approach to learning.

Here is a link to a video that further explains TOK:

As stated in the video above: ‘With so many bogus claims and fake news, TOK might be the most important course”

Detractors to TOK might ask:

  • How does this relate to my career path in what I consider to be a non-subjective discipline (Math, Engineering etc.).?

A potential answer could be that no knowledge is objective or factual or a priori, not even mathematical ‘truths’ as they are human constructs which are intrinsically limited to human experience.

This is an example of a question that would lead to a heated, student-led debate in a well- run TOK classroom.

A good resource for managing asynchronous virtual debates in these COVID-19 times where most TOK classes are not meeting in person is: Kialo.

Marketable outcomes for learners in effective TOK classrooms are an increase in critical thinking, adaptability, empathy + creativity: soft skills that are in high demand in today’s job market.


What is TOK? Retrieved from:

What is TOK? Retrieved from:


Social Emotional Learning: Core Competency: Self-Management

As an Assistant Principal at a school with over 500 sixth-twelfth graders, every day is different and brings new and exciting challenges. Part of my role is the point person for disciplinary matters. Often students are referred to me by teachers when a student has an outburst that may not be appropriate or manageable in the classroom setting. Very often these outbursts are connected to emotions. The Social Emotional Learning core competency of self-management teaches students how to appropriately handle these emotions.

CASEL defines self-management as:

“The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.

  • Impulse control
  • Stress management
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-motivation
  • Goal-setting
  • Organizational skills”

Often when a student is referred we will discuss triggers using the Fishbone model to get at the root causes of the student’s emotions. If you are not familiar with the Fishbone model for problem solving here is a diagram:

Image result for fishbone diagram

The Fishbone model was developed in the 1970’s in Japan as a means to improve quality control in industrial/business settings. However, it is also very useful when getting to root causes with students. Recently a student was sent to my office for swearing and throwing their notebook in Math class. I asked the student why they swore and threw their notebook. The student said they felt stress, anger and frustration from receiving a low grade. Digging deeper the student said they were afraid of receiving a consequence from their parents for receiving a low grade. This information helped us when we met with the parents of the same student to discuss setting realistic expectations for their child.

If you are wondering what are some ways that you can teach self-management in your classroom or in your home, here are two suggestions from

  1. Grounding Techniques

“Grounding techniques are a stress management exercise used to orient someone in the present when they’re emotionally overwhelmed. By focusing on their senses instead of their thoughts or feelings, grounding techniques can teach students how to calm down and manage their emotions when they are upset. Teach grounding techniques as a class and help students practice them when they feel stressed.

Here are a few grounding techniques for you to try out with your students:

  • Name five different things you can see around the room
  • Listen to energetic or relaxing music for one minute
  • Hold an object in your hands and focus on the color or texture
  • Take ten deep breaths, counting each one as your chest rises
  • Eat a piece of candy and choose three words that describe its taste

2. SMART Goal Challenge

Self-motivation is an essential component to social-emotional learning. If you’re not sure how to self-motivate your students, try challenging them to reach their potential by setting SMART goals as a class.

At the beginning of the month or quarter, work with each student to set a SMART goal for themselves. SMART goals must be Specific, Measurable, Agreed-Upon, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Check in with your students several times throughout the month to measure their progress and support them if any challenges arise.

If your students meet their goal by the agreed-upon end date, give them a piece of candy or other reward. If they don’t, offer encouragement and work with them to accomplish their goal.”

“Name it, Tame it” created by Dr. Daniel Siegel is another helpful resource for teaching self-management. The idea behind this theory is that you have to name your emotion in order to be able to control it. So for example if you are feeling angry you can simply say, “I am feeling angry” to yourself or out loud and then work on appropriate avenues to deal with the anger (i.e: ask to see a counselor or speak with a trusted adult).

In conclusion, self-management can be learned and taught in school and at home. CASEL, Fishbone, grounding techniques, SMART goals and ‘Name it, Tame it’ are all helpful resources for teachers and parents that can help teach the core social/emotional competency of self-management. It is also possible to learn self-management as an adult. Many adults have not yet learned self-management skills and that is OK. It is never too late to learn to identify and regulate our emotions and get more organized to reach our goals.

Works/Websites/Authors Cited

  3. Siegel, Daniel

Tech Neutrality: Embedded Values: Chromebooks


What is tech neutrality? Is tech neutral. What does it mean for a value to be embedded within a technology? How does value-embedded technology effect our schools? These are questions that are intriguing for school leaders to consider. A good read on the topic of tech neutrality + embedded values is ‘The Uncertain Promise’ by Denis Goulet.

According to Goulet there are four tech-embedded values:

  • Rationality: Tech promotes the breaking down of problems into solvable parts.
  • Efficiency: Tech values outcomes more than process when measuring efficiency.  
  • Problem-Solving: Tech views problem solving as an external approach to get things done.
  • Promethean: Tech views nature as a conduit to attain goals.

Values may be embedded into tech communicated by the flowchart below (Van De Poel, Steinert):

An example of a technology that may have embedded value is the Chromebook which many students use in 1:1 school environments.

One Chromebook slogan that has been used in the past: 

“If you’ve changed the way you do pretty much anything, You Chromebook.”

The value implied by the above slogan is that change is good and that Chromebooks will help a person with change. 

John Cotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change is an excellent resource for leaders of change movements.

As we continue to move into a more and more tech-oriented future, it may be increasingly important for school leaders to become familiar with the embedded values of the tech they may or may not introduce into their educational ecosystems.

Works Cited:

Design For Changing Values:

8-Step Change Process:

Goulet, Denis. The Uncertain Promise


Classroom Observations: Feedback Tips

As an instructional leader, giving feedback to teachers on your instructional caseload is a must. Teachers appreciate receiving feedback that is timely and constructive that can help them improve their instructional practices in order to improve student learning. Here are a few tips for providing quality feedback to teachers:

  1. Utilize a Reliable Framework: Danielson’s Framework provides rubrics and guidance for teachers and supervisors to help facilitate discussions around improving teaching and learning.
  2. Use the Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio: According to research reported by the Harvard Business Review teams improve most via 5:1 positive:negative feedback ratio.
  3. Employ timeliness: An ideal window for e-mail feedback is 24 hours. Verbal feedback can be in the moment. Operant conditioning studies going back to the time of B.F. Skinner maintain the closer the feedback is timed with the behavior, the more the feedback will shape future desirable behavior.
  4. Be Reciprocal: Accept feedback with as much thought and grace as you give feedback. Instructional supervision/coaching partnerships are a two-way street.
  5. Study, Study, Study: The average CEO reads a book a week. Being up to date on current trends and research on pedagogy and best practices will help make your feedback more bonafide.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many other ways to improve the feedback you give to your teachers/team. That being said, hopefully these five tips are a good starting point for the beginning instructional supervisor to keep in mind when giving feedback to their team.

Works Cited

Zenger, Folkman. Harvard Business Review. 2013.

The Danielson Group. 2019.

Classroom Management School Culture

Student Motivation = Better Classroom Management

There are many ways to improve classroom management.  In this article we will look at one way that classroom management can be improved: increasing student motivation.  The implication is that if students are motivated they will be less likely to engage in disruptive classroom behaviors.  The following are ten ways that teachers can increase motivation with their students.  School leaders can use these tips to coach teachers on how to motivate students to improve teaching, learning and classroom management.

  1. Provide students with choice.  Choice leads to feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy which increase motivation according to Daniel Pink’s work in his seminal work ‘Drive’.  Total choice is rarely an option, however teachers can provide students with choice within parameters.  
  2. Be excited.  If the teacher isn’t excited about content, why would the students get excited? When students are excited about learning, motivation goes up. 
  3. Get students intrinsically motivated.  Find ways to help students see the value of the content of your course by relating your course to their lives, their aspirations and their passions.  
  4. Use extrinsic motivators.  Positive reward systems such as earned positive praise can motivate students.  Keep the golden ratio in mind for positive feedback: 3-5 positive interactions for every corrective feedback.  
  5. Set realistic expectations.  Individual learning rates and goals can help keep students motivated to try their personal best and not get discouraged by standardized goals that may not relate to their zone of proximal development.  
  6. Reduce students’ fear of trying and anxiety.  Failure is an option, and a less critical approach can reduce students anxiety. Keep your classroom positive by focusing on a growth mindset.  If students do not succeed the first time, be supportive and understanding and teach resilience.  
  7. Be empathetic.  Attempt to see things from your students’ point of view when possible.  This doesn’t mean you need to be completely relativistic, but putting yourself in your students’ shoes will help your students feel supported and safe which according to Maslow can lead to students realizing their full potential.  
  8. Make things fun.  School should be enjoyable, students should look forward to coming to school and all the exciting activities you have planned.  Not everything has to be fun, however sprinkling enjoyable activities into your routine can keep students motivated. 
  9. Harness student interests.  What are your students interests, do they love sports, dancing, theater?  Find out their interests and work these interests into your content, increasing relevance and student-centeredness. 
  10. Allow students to work together.  Social interaction may increase levels of motivation for some students.  A common group goal can increase levels of accountability. Group norms and roles are recommended to keep students accountable for group work and reduce free-loading. 

While there are many other ways to motivate students, hopefully you now have a working list of ways to keep students interested in your content via motivation.    As educational leaders, we can work to coach teachers on how to motivate students. If students are motivated, you may very likely see classroom management improve and behavioral concerns reduce.

Works Cited: 
21 Simple Ideas to Improve Student Motivation. 2017. 

The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio. Harvard Business Review. 2013.
Motivating Kids in Physical Activity. Weiss, Maureen.  2000.


School Leadership = School Climate + Achievement Gains

A lot has been said about the connection between a strong school climate, school achievement and school leadership.  “School principals influence school achievement primarily through changes in the school climate.” In this article we will take a deeper look at the connection between school leadership, school culture and student learning by summarizing the work of UChicago Consortium on School Research.  According to the Consortium’s research, school leaders improve school climate by fostering strong learning climates and supporting teacher leadership around school wide goals. 

“Strong learning climates are defined as safe, supportive environments with high, consistent and clear expectations for students.”  Other factors that contribute to a strong learning climate are: 

  1. “School staff hold each other accountable for the success of all students in the school, not just in their own classrooms”.  We should all be pulling on the same rope in the same direction. 
  2. “Staff members at multiple levels continually examine student data of various types”.  Data analysis has student success and growth as its focus.  
  3. “Expectations for behavior and academics are high and consistent”.  One behavior framework is used by all so that support is possible.  
  4. “Systems of support are universal”.  All students have access to consistent support as needed across all teachers and disciplines.  

“Principals create a strong learning climate by supporting teacher leadership around school 

wide goals.”

Some of the ways that robust teacher leadership looks like in practice: 

  1. “Teachers work together to find solutions”.  Accountability and collective ownership are key words here, teachers know how their actions lead to school growth due to alignment of systems.  
  2. “Teachers meeting time is used for a planned purpose”.  Meetings are aligned with school wide goals and there is use of agendas, minutes, roles.  
  3. “Principals support teacher teams”.  A collective focus on school wide goals is maintained with timely communication of solutions. 

“Schools with the highest learning gains have principals who support a strong school climate.”  School principals achieve this by: 

  1. “Developing systems to support teachers to support students.”  Making sure that teachers have time to collaborate on school wide goals.  
  2. “Organizing and supporting shared leadership among staff.”  Fostering collective ownership of school vision and goals.  
  3. “Managing shared leadership by guiding, coordinating and monitoring the work of teachers and leaders in the school.”  Keeping the focus on school wide goals while helping determine effectiveness of efforts. 

As we can see from the research, there is a strong connection between school leadership, school climate and school wide gains.  By summarizing the work of the UChicago Consortium hopefully you now have a palatable checklist of ways to improve school climate and achievement as a school leader.  

Work Cited:

Allensworth, E.M., & Hart, H. (2018). How do principals influence student achievement? Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.


Summer Rest & Relaxation: School Leadership

School Leaders work extremely hard during the school year to help keep so many systems running smoothly, often doing many tasks that go unnoticed after hours.  It is important for leaders to take some time to relax over the summer in order to recharge their batteries for a new school year in order to be as sharp and positive as possible for the next school year.  What are some ways that school administrators can relax and recharge over the summer in order to be the leaders our schools ask of us for the upcoming year? 

  1. Technologically get away. This may be a difficult one for school administrators, especially at larger schools and districts with more amounts of responsibility, but turning off your device/s for even a few moments a day can help recharge. 
  2. Physically get away. Go somewhere you like, a favorite lake or country. A getaway can help hit the refresh button for a new year.  
  3. Volunteer.  Give back to the communities that have helped you along your path. 
  4. Get in touch with loved ones.  Take a moment or two to reach out and thank those important people in your lives that helped you get to where you are today.   
  5. Reflect.  Take time to write and reflect on successes and areas for improvement.
  6. Read.  Catch up on the latest educational trends and areas that you may need more professional development.
  7. Get into nature.   

These are just a few recommendations for school leaders to relax and recharge after a busy school year.  Be kind to yourselves, you deserve it, no one knows how hard you have worked to keep your schools functioning at such high levels. But your body and mind do.  And they deserve a break, so that you can come back next year with positivity, strength and joy in order to be the best leader your school needs.


Volunteer teacher training in Honduras : From Data/Research to Practice.

Someone might ask you one day, how have you used data to make a difference in an educational setting?

I would like to share with you a recent example of an answer to this question from my practice.  

I am currently 18.75% finished with my doctorate in education via University of Illinois: Champaign-Urbana. My research for my doctorate so far has looked at high school graduation rates in Honduras and some of the reasons for low (estimated less than 50%) rates in comparison to the USA (estimated 84-85%).  One of the reasons consistently cited in research for low public high school graduation rates in Honduras is a lack of schools and teachers. 

Serendipitously, recently I was asked by Head of Operations & Partnerships at E2E: Ada-Cruz-Torres to get involved with teacher training as a volunteer with Educate2Envision (E2E), a non-profit organization whose goal is to “bring affordable and impactful secondary school education to rural/poor communities across Honduras.” Based on the data from my doctoral research and research of E2E as an award-winning NGO, I decided to say yes and get involved with volunteer training of E2E teachers in bilingual Spanish/English principles of Understanding by Design (UbD).   

We decided on UbD as a valuable training topic to help E2E teachers and learners articulate ‘big picture’ learning outcomes and plan backwards prior to implementing courses in entrepreneurship, leadership, community-building and other game-changing topics for Honduran youth.  Today was the first teacher training. 

I started at 7:45 am and drove 1 hour and 15 minutes from my apartment in Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Catarranas, Honduras a scenic, winding drive through hilly green countryside to deliver the first training on phase one Understanding by Design (UbD) to a group of young leaders.  We worked for 2 hours in a spacious office connected to the public library, where Educate2Envision‘s office is located. 

I gave the entire training in Spanish, which was a challenge but the participants were patient with my Spanish, which is advanced but not 100%.   The training involved 12 bright students.  We started with brief introductions and then discussed what their current classes typically look like and what they are learning.  The participants shared with me that they are learning many subjects including how to become leaders and how to teach other youth to become leaders in their communities. I asked them if they had ever used the UbD format to plan their lessons.   They said they had not. 

Based on this, we used leadership as a topic for designing our first UbD unit: Leadership.  We began with an introduction to key terms translated to Spanish, such as enduring understandings, transfer, topical understandings, essential questions and common misconceptions.   Then we planned a sample unit on leadership.  Working in groups of four, participants developed a 2 week plan for a leadership unit.  Along the way we shared ideas with each other focusing more on the process than the content.  By the end of the two hour session we had 3 first drafts of leadership units at Stage 1.  We took a photo and said thanks to each other, created a group chat on whatsapp for collaboration purposes and plan to meet again in a few weeks to continue planning more units together. 

Overall, this was a great volunteer experience from my point of view, it was nice to share the UbD format with a group of young leaders.  Hopefully the training will help with their curricular planning  and documentation, which in turn will engage more students in Honduras and ideally lead to an increase in high school graduation rates in Honduras.  When I started my doctorate program I did not think the research and data would lead to action so quickly.  Ultimately, a short conclusion can be framed in a brief essential question: Is research/data complete without action?



Collective Teacher Efficacy : Top effect size

According to John Hattie’s research in a 2017/2018 ranking, collective teacher efficacy (CTE) has the biggest positive impact on student learning. And the difference is quite large. CTE scored 1.57, with second place (self-reported grades) scoring 1.33, which represents an 18% increase in effect size. Why is this data important? Because this can shape where an educational administrator or policy maker puts their efforts when it comes time for staff professional development (PD). Ultimately we want to enact changes and policies that positively effect student learning. If we take Hattie’s research to be accurate, that CTE is by far the most effective way to increase student gains in the classroom, then we must ask ourselves, how do we increase CTE?

One way to begin is with education/PD. Not all teachers are aware of what CTE is. Collective teacher efficacy is defined as: “the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students.” Beliefs fall under the intangible core bottom line that at times is difficult to measure. Other bottom lines in education such as fiscal and academic have more quantitative data, money and percentages being much easier to use a traditional barometer. With the intangible core, or the culture of a school it may be much more difficult to put a number on. But now we have a number. 1.57: 18% greater than second place. With that data in mind it may require that we pay more attention to collective teacher efficacy in our schools.

Recently, in our March High School staff meeting at American School in Tegucigalpa we led a short (15 minute) teacher training on CTE that I share with you below in italics:

Objective : Understand the term  ‘collective efficacy’ and share instance/s that you have caused learning since our last faculty meeting.  

Collective Efficacy (4:18-5:07): The collective belief in teachers that they can positively effect student learning.  The believe that “I (the teacher) cause/d learning”.

Collective efficacy currently has highest effect on student learning according to John Hattie.

Group discourse strategy : Mix-Freeze-Pair-Share

  • 1-2 minutes: Write down a time that stands out for you in the last month of an example that you caused student learning.  
  • When signaled, freeze and pair with the nearest person.
  • Share your responses.
  • Mix, freeze and share again
  • * Can be used with music

(Adapted from this source)

Recap: Collective efficacy has the highest effect on student learning. Thank you all for causing learning.

It was rewarding to listen to teachers share successes with each other. Those a-ha moments that teachers live for, when a teacher sees the light go on in a learner’s mind from what they have planned. PD for teachers + sharing successes with one another are two ways to increase CTE. Questions remain regarding how to gauge the level of teacher collective efficacy at your given school. Here is a link to a Collective Efficacy (CE) scale from seminal author Megan Tschannen-Moran’s website that is one way to measure CE at your school.

Given the fact that teacher collective efficacy is the biggest difference maker in student performance it may behoove us as educational leaders to explicitly teach the concept to our staff, give time for our staff to share successes with one another and measure the current state of Teacher Collective Efficacy at our schools.