The Year in Review: What We’ve Learned about Effective Educational Practices to Increase Student, Staff, and School Success

Reflections on Policies, Practices, Pronouncements, and Progress

Dear Colleagues,


As I begin to write this message—at 35,000 feet. . . finally heading home after four weeks of uninterrupted school consultations in Massachusetts, California, Maryland, and Florida—I am reflecting on this past year’s educational events, school encounters, Blog discussions, and lessons learned.

During the past month, for example, I have helped a large school district begin to redesign its multi-tiered systems of support for its many students from poverty, trauma, failure, and frustration.

I helped another district begin to negotiate a radically-different approach to teacher evaluation which will include fewer “dog-and-pony” teacher observations, and more attention to how teachers develop and self-evaluate curriculum and instruction, how they nurture and demonstrate leadership and specialization skills, and how new, untenured teachers receive effective professional development and mentoring.

In yet another district, I led two separate School Leadership Team meetings—with the district’s superintendent and senior administrative leaders in attendance—that focused on healing past staff-principal rifts that were emotionally undermining school collaboration and commitment.  These meetings also included me encouraging the district’s leaders to provide disproportionately more resources to these schools. . . to address their disproportionately greater student needs (relative to other schools in the district).

Finally, to end my four-week journey (which included snow storms, two unintended stays in airport hotels after missing connecting flights, and two “laundry days” as I ran out of clothes)  . . . .

I was fortunate to spend two days with Dr. Doug Reeves and twelve phenomenal colleagues from Creative Leadership Solutions talking about the state of education, and how to work with school and districts to help them attain the student, staff, and system outcomes they need and desire.

Creative Leadership Solutions is Doug’s “next generation organization” that has taken many of the past practices from his Leadership and Learning Center, and refocused them on:

  • Providing personalized services to states, districts, and schools; where
  • We listen to client needs—helping them to identify what they truly need for success and sustainability;
  • Guide them through the planning, capacity-building, and implementation processes needed for change; while
  • Expanding and maximizing their existing resources. . . as ineffective and inefficient practices are phased out and eliminated.

I believe that Creative Leadership Solutions truly lives its name. Its experienced, creative, and nationally-recognized leaders collaborate with district and school leaders to implement evidence-based and customized solutions to address the most challenging student problems faced across our country.

These problems include:

  • Students who are academically at-risk and unprepared, disengaged and unresponsive, struggling and underachieving, and unsuccessful and failing
  • Students who demonstrate social, emotional, and behavioral challenges because of skill and ability, motivation and performance, and/or personal or situational experiences
  • Students who need competent English Language Learning or disability-related instruction and support
  • Students who are teased, taunted, bullied, harassed, or hazed; or who are not receiving strategic or intensive multi-tiered interventions based on psychometrically-sound diagnostic assessments
  • Students who are victimized by policies and practices that are well-intended, but unfounded. . . including those related to poverty, disproportionality, differentiated instruction, and teacher effectiveness

The Year in Review:  Educational Issues and Creative Leadership Solutions

This is the twenty-fourth Blog that I have written during the past year.  To prepare for this review, I have categorized the previous twenty-three Blogs into five clusters:

  1. Leadership and Strategic Planning
  2. Research to Practice
  3. School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management
  4. Multi-Tiered Services at the District/School Levels
  5. Special Education Law and Practice

While briefly reviewing what we’ve learned in these five areas this year through these twenty-three Blogs (and giving you direct links to each one), I will simultaneously “introduce” my Creative Leadership Solutions colleagues—who collectively have real-world expertise in all of these areas.


Leadership and Strategic Planning

Introducing Three Creative Leadership Solutions Partners

An inspirational learner and leader, Dr. Latoya Dixon is the Director of the Office of School Transformation at the South Carolina Department of Education. Latoya's passion is rooted in her story of how education transformed her very own life.

Doris Moore most recently served as an award-winning principal for 12 years at Overland Trail Elementary School just south of Kansas City.  With expertise in school renewal, teacher effectiveness, cultural competence, and instructional leadership, she has been recognized for developing school improvement systems to increase student achievement—especially in low performing urban schools. 

A former Associate Superintendent and Superintendent, Dr. John Van Pelt has extensive experience in increasing student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap through his work with central office staff and school boards.  His professional development expertise includes such areas as data teams and results-oriented decision-making, leadership performance coaching, and classroom walk-through and coaching.

This Year’s Strategic Planning Lessons Learned

   Among the Lessons Learned in this area are that Districts and Schools are best-served when they:

  1. Use the science of strategic planning and organizational development—rather than the School Improvement Plans that are required in many states.
  2. Choose their strategic directions based on an “organizational compass” represented in their mission, vision, and value statements—that are internalized and “lived” by all staff, and that provide a “reality check” for all programmatic decisions.
  3. Make decisions that will support, advance, and institutionalize effective school and schooling practices and outcomes—rather than appease individuals and small groups of special interest groups.
  4. Organize, nurture, and reinforce shared leadership structures and practices across all staff—rather than depended on a small number of staff who either are “bearing the burden” or “controlling the agenda.”
  5. Remember that people—and their interpersonal and inter-professional interactions—drive the process of success, more than the programs and initiatives that are set up to create the success.

This Year’s Blogs in this Area

March 5, 2017   The Revolving Door of the Superintendency:  A Case Study on Resetting the Course of a School District. . . When Mission, Vision, and Values Count More than Resources, Requirements, and Results

March 18, 2017   What Happens When School Leaders Make Decisions Not for the Greater Good, but for the Greater Peace:  “You Can Please Some of the People Some of the Time. . . But You Can’t Please All of the People All of the Time”

August 12, 2017   Back to the Future:  What My High School Reunion Reminded Me about High School Reform. . . The Non-Academic Essentials for High School Students’ Success

August 26, 2017   The Top Ten Ways that Educators Make Bad, Large-Scale Programmatic Decisions:  The Hazards of ESEA/ESSA’s Freedom and Flexibility at the State and Local Levels (Part I of III)

June 17, 2017   School Improvement, Strategic Planning, and Effective School and Schooling Policies and Practices:  A Summer Review of My Previous Blogs in these Areas (Part I of IV)

Research to Practice

Introducing Three Creative Leadership Solutions Partners

Dr. Brandon Doubek is internationally known for his expertise in leadership, instruction, curriculum, and assessment strategies; and for his skills in improving adult learning and group interactions.

Kim Marshall was sixth-grade teacher, central office curriculum director, and elementary principal in the Boston Public Schools for 32 years.  Since 2002, Kim has spent most of his time coaching principals, and providing assistance in the areas of teacher supervision and evaluation, time management, the effective use of student assessments, and curriculum unit design.

Jo Peters is a former principal and senior professional development associate, and a highly-experienced leadership coach who has coached and mentored elementary, middle, and high school principals from across the country. Her other areas of expertise include standards-based assessment, and curriculum design and alignment.

This Year’s Research to Practice Lessons Learned

  • The current (2015) Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/ESSA) has virtually replaced the ESEA/No Child Left Behind term “scientifically-based” with the term “evidence-based,” providing a specific statutory definition.
  • Educators need to recognize that they must independently validate any program, intervention, or strategy that claims it is “research-based”—as the research could be sound, unsound, or non-existent.
  • Even when research validly supports a specific program, intervention, or strategy, educators still need to validate that (a) it is applicable to the students, staff, schools, or situations that they want to change/affect, and (b) it can be realistically implemented “in the real world” (as opposed to a controlled or “laboratory” setting).
  • John Hattie’s research significantly contributes to educational decision-making. . . but educators need to fully understand the decision rules and outcomes inherent in his meta-analytic methods and outcomes.
  • Even when Hattie’s research provides a programmatic, intervention, or strategy-related “recommendation,” educators need to understand that (a) meta-analytic research often pools research focusing on the same approach, but using different methodologies; and (b) it is effective methodology, implemented with fidelity, that ultimately determines student, staff, and/or situational success.

This Year’s Blogs in this Area

September 9, 2017  “Scientifically based” versus “Evidence-based” versus “Research-based”—Oh, my!!!  Making Effective Programmatic Decisions:  Why You Need to Know the History and Questions Behind these Terms (Part II of III)

September 25, 2017   Hattie’s Meta-Analysis Madness:  The Method is Missing !!!   Why Hattie’s Research is a Starting-Point, but NOT the End-Game for Effective Schools  (Part III of III)

School Discipline, Classroom Management, Student Self-Management

Introducing Three Creative Leadership Solutions Partners

Dr. Michelle Edwards is a life-long learner who taught in the Chicago Public Schools, and was an elementary school principal in Washington, D.C.  Her work in preparing school leaders for success in working with students of color and from poverty is unmatched in this country.

Kelvin Oliver is an educational consultant with Texas Educators for Restorative Practices (TEXRP) with ten years of experience as a special education teacher, classroom teacher, campus math specialist, district curriculum specialist, assistant principal, and principal.

During his wide-ranging career, Ronnie E. Phillips has been a teacher, counselor, department head, principal, and superintendent.  He is especially known for his work as a turn-around principal, and expert in improving school organization and performance.

This Year’s School Discipline Lessons Learned

  • ESEA/ESSA (2015) and IDEA (2004) do not cite, mandate, or even recommend the PBIS (upper case, with acronym) framework advocated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), its tax-funded National Technical Assistance Centers, or the state departments of education who have accepted federal funds contingent on implementing these specific frameworks.
  • Instead, these federal laws require—under very specific circumstances—the consideration of “positive behavioral supports and interventions” (lower case) for specific groups of students.
  • Research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education concluded that OSEP’s PBIS framework has significant psychometric and procedural flaws that are preventing their full implementation, and (at times) delaying needed services and supports to students who are demonstrating significant social, emotional, or behavioral challenges.
  • The ultimate goal of a school discipline initiative is the developmentally-appropriate preschool through high school teaching and mastery of students’ social, emotional, and behavioral self-management.  These outcomes are manifested through students’ effective interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills.
  • The scientific foundation of an effective school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management initiative involves:  Positive School and Classroom Climates and Prosocial Teacher-Student Relationships; Behavioral Expectations and Social Skills Instruction; Behavioral Accountability and Student Motivation; Consistency across All of these Components; and Application and Extensions to All School Settings and Peer Groups.
  • This scientific foundation is the same foundation that addresses the social, emotional, and behavioral effects of student poverty, trauma, teasing, bullying, and disproportionality.  This foundation is more defensible than the research-thin character education, mindfulness, restorative justice, and social-emotional learning framework approaches.

This Year’s Blogs in this Area

January 7, 2017   Education Week Series on RtI Highlights Kentucky/Appalachian Mountain Grant Site’s Successful School Discipline Program:  An Overview of the Scientific Components Behind this Success, and a Free Implementation Guide for Those Who Want to Follow

February 19, 2017   Federal and State Policies ARE NOT Eliminating Teasing and Bullying in Our Schools:  Teasing and Bullying is Harming our Students Psychologically and Academically—Here’s How to Change this Epidemic through Behavioral Science and Evidence-based Practices

June 4, 2017   Effective School-wide Discipline Approaches: Avoiding Educational Bandwagons that Promise the Moon, Frustrate Staff, and Potentially Harm Students. . .  Implementation Science and Systematic Practice versus Pseudoscience, Menu-Driven Frameworks, and “Convenience Store” Implementation

November 4, 2017   New Article Again Debunks “Mindfulness” in Schools:  Teaching Emotional and Behavioral Self-Management through Cognitive-Behavioral Science and The Stop & Think Social Skills Program. . . Don’t We Really Just Want Students to “Stop & Think”?   [Part I of III]

November 18, 2017   Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Self-Management Skills to All Students:  The Cognitive-Behavioral Science Underlying the Success of The Stop & Think Social Skills Program. . . Don’t We Really Just Want Students to “Stop & Think”?   [Part II of III]

December 2, 2017   Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Self-Management Skills to All Students:  The Cognitive-Behavioral Science Underlying the Success of The Stop & Think Social Skills Program. . . Don’t We Really Just Want Students to “Stop & Think”?   [Part III of III]

July 15, 2017   Students’ Mental Health Status and Wellness, and School Discipline and Disproportionality:  A Summer Review of My Previous Blogs in these Areas (Part III of IV)

July 29, 2017   School Climate and Safety, and School Discipline and Classroom Management:  A Summer Review of My Previous Blogs in these Areas (Part IV of IV)

Multi-Tiered Services at the District/School Levels

Introducing Three Creative Leadership Solutions Partners

Dr. Philip Hickman is a national award-winning transformational K-12 leader who specializes in educational technology and personalized learning.  Currently a superintendent in Columbus, Mississippi, he was an assistant superintendent with Houston Independent School District, as well as in Kansas City, Missouri.

Lisa Almeida is nationally known consultant who works with leaders and teachers in the areas of standards, assessment, data-driven decision making, and professional learning communities.

Dr. Linda O'Konek was the Executive Director of Education Accountability, and the Executive Director of Elementary Schools for the Norfolk Public Schools (VA) for many years.  Her experience centers on working with teachers, administrators, and school boards in the areas of leadership development and accountability planning, data-driven decision-making, and principal evaluation frameworks.

This Year’s Multi-Tiered Services Lessons Learned

  • The term “response to intervention” does not appear in either ESEA/ESSA (2015) or IDEA (2004), and these laws do not cite, mandate, or even recommend the MTSS (upper case, with acronym) framework advocated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), its tax-funded National Technical Assistance Centers, or state departments of education who have accepted federal funds contingent on implementing these specific frameworks.
  • Instead, ESEA/ESSA (2015) introduces and defines the term “multi-tiered systems of support” (lower case), specifying when it should be implemented, and with what specific groups of students.
  • Research commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education concluded that OSEP’s MTSS framework was not successful in remediating early elementary students’ literacy skills when compared with matched students who continued to receive differentiated instruction in their general education classrooms.
  • ESEA/ESSA (2015) encourages districts and schools to develop their own defensible multi-tiered system of supports that is tailored to their specific students’ needs.
  • There is a research-based and state field-tested multi-tiered system available that focuses on early identification, assessment, and instructional or intervention approaches.  This system uses a “21st Century” functional assessment approach, and its depends on classroom, grade-level (collegial), and building-level (multi-disciplinary) data-driven problem-solving that determines the underlying reasons for students’ academic or behavioral struggles.

This Year’s Blogs in this Area

January 22, 2017   ESEA/ESSA Tells Schools and Districts: Build Your Own Multi-Tier System of Supports for Your Students’ Needs--- Focus on Your Principles, Students, and Staff. . .and Verify the ESEA/ESSA “Guidance” Advocated by Some National Groups

October 7, 2017   Improving Student Outcomes When Your State Department of Education Has Adopted the Failed National MTSS and PBIS Frameworks:  Effective and Defensible Multi-Tiered and Positive Behavioral Support Approaches that State Departments of Education Will Approve and Fund (Part I of II)

October 21, 2017   Improving Student Outcomes When Your State Department of Education Has Adopted the Failed National MTSS and PBIS Frameworks:  Effective Research-to-Practice Multi-Tiered Approaches that Facilitate All Students' Success (Part II of II)

Special Education Law and Practice

Introducing the Last Two Creative Leadership Solutions Partners

As the daughter of immigrant parents and a language learner herself, Alexandra Guilamo is a nationally-recognized expert in effective systems and practices for culturally- and linguistically-diverse students (especially dual language and English language learners), as well as the observation and evaluation of teachers in culturally- and linguistically-diverse classrooms. 

Using innovation in curriculum design and instructional practices, Leslie A. Birdon is a National Board-certified educator who has helped elementary through high school schools with large at-risk student populations in Texas and Louisiana to make significant learning and proficiency gains in literacy, math, and science. 

This Year’s Special Education Lessons Learned

  • In order to accurately understand, track, plan for, and address the needs of students with disabilities, districts and schools need to differentiate these students across the thirteen different disability areas.
  • As an expansion of Rowley, the unanimous Endrew F.Supreme Court decision clarified and expanded schools’ responsibilities relative to the delivery of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities (SWDs):

1. The Supreme Court stated, “The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.  Of course, this describes a general standard, not a for­mula.  But whatever else can be said about it, this stand­ard is markedly more demanding than the “merely more than de minimis” test applied by the Tenth Circuit.”

2. FAPE must be determined in the context of how a student’s disability impacts the services and supports needed in an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

3. SWDs are not guaranteed to make educational progress. 

4. Having considered only two cases, involving only two of the thirteen different disabilities specified in IDEA, the Court refrained from specifying absolute decision rules relative to how districts should provide FAPE to all SWDs.

5. The Court noted its “deference” to the expertise and judgement of the professionals in a school district—albeit in a partnership with the Parents—when writing an IEP, and it “vests these officials with responsibility for decisions of critical importance to the life of a disabled child.”

6. Finally, the Court stated that IDEA’s provision of FAPE did not include “an education that aims to pro­vide a child with a disability opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.”

This Year’s Blogs in this Area

February 4, 2017   ESEA/ESSA, School Improvement, Race/Ethnic Status, and Students with Disabilities:  We Need to Differentiate Disability Just as We Differentiate Race and Ethnicity

April 2, 2017   Special Education Services Just Got Easier. . . and Harder:  The Supreme Court's Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education” for Students with Disabilities (Part I)

April 23, 2017   The Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities:  A Multi-Tiered Academic Instruction-to-Intervention Model to Guide Your FAPE Decisions (Part II)

May 14, 2017   The Endrew F. Decision Re-Defines a “Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities:  A Multi-Tiered School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management Model to Guide Your FAPE (and even Disproportionality) Decisions (Part III)

July 1, 2017   The New Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA), and Multi-Tiered and Special Education Services:  A Summer Review of My Previous Blogs in these Areas (Part II of IV)


It has been my pleasure to make these Blogs available to you over the past year (and more).  I hope that this summary of the implications for this year’s most important “policy, practice, pronouncement, and progress” decisions (reflected in this year’s past Blogs) will motivate you to think about how we can all make the new year in education—nationally, and at the state and local levels—the most successful possible for all of our students.

But as the year slowly fades, I also hope that you will take some time for yourself and your family—to renew, refresh, and reinvigorate.

The holiday season truly gives us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the blessings in our lives, and to share our gratitude with family and friends. 

I am thankful for professionals like you—dedicated to your students, your colleagues, and to the important work that you do. I know how you strive to make every day successful, so that everyone’s tomorrow will be better in turn.

Happy New Year, friends !!!