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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: Teaching Advice to Remember, Part Three

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 31, 2017 18 min read
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(This is the third post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What is a one-to-three sentence passage have you read -- in a book, online, magazine, etc. - OR something that you were told or heard that has had a major impact on your teaching?

In Part One, Rita Platt, Fred Ende, Arpine Ovsepyan, Rachael George and Cindi Rigsbee contributed their thoughts. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Rita, Fred, Arpine and Rachael on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Roxanna Elden, Esther Wu, Timothy D. Walker, Vance Austin, and Kirke Olson shared their suggestions.

Today, Amanda Koonlaba, Amelia Gamel, Jenny Edwards, Paul Barnwell, Jackie Walsh and Beth Sattes are contributors, and I also include many comments from readers.

Response From Amanda Koonlaba

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed.S., NBCT, is a teacher, artist, and writer. She is a member of the 2015 class of ASCD Emerging Leaders. Follow her on Twitter @akoonlaba:

I once had a fourth grader talk to me about an arts-integrated math project he did with his math teacher. I was his art teacher at the time and had actually helped his math teacher plan the project. However, he didn’t know that I’d helped her, and I didn’t tell him. I wanted to hear what he had to say before letting him know. I am glad that I gave him a chance to talk about it before I said anything. What he said to me was very honest and has informed almost every decision I’ve made since then. He said, “I was so glad to do that art project in math. Art helps me forget about all of the bad things. I really need that more than once a week.”

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in teaching standards that we forget we are teaching human beings. When he said “the bad things,” I knew exactly what he meant. I had been teaching him for three years and was well aware of some occurrences in his personal/home life. I believe I cried after school that day thinking about that what that kid said to me. I already knew how much he loved art, but I hadn’t realized that doing an arts-integrated project in another classroom could have the same positive impact on his emotions.

I’d always thought of arts integration as a more engaging way to teach regular curriculum standards. He made me realize that these little human beings we teach need us to consider their emotional and mental states just as much as their mastery of academic skills. If we can teach academic skills in a way that also works positively on their emotions, by providing them with constructive methods for dealing with whatever they are each dealing with, why would we ever choose to do it any other way? If it is possible to teach both self-efficacy and academic skills at the same time, then that is what we, as educators, are obligated to do.

Overtime, I began learning everything I could about arts integration. I became very outspoken about the positive impacts it offers to both students and their communities at large. I have carried the words of that student in my heart for a very long time. I’ve written about his words before, but never about how they have impacted my decision-making. As I said, I think what he told me that day has impacted almost every decision I’ve made as not only a teacher and not only a leader, but maybe even as a human being. It is obvious to me that I’ve become much more outspoken about what my students need. I feel strongly that it is my responsibility to stand up for them. The more I write for and speak at educational outlets and forums, the more I consider his words and their impact on me. I am so thankful he spoke those words. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that I am in the business of teaching human beings, not standards.

Response From Amelia Gamel

Amelia Gamel is a college professor who also presents professional development seminars designed to empower educators to effectively engage with underserved, first generation students. She is the founder of two college initiatives that have gained national recognition, Men of Merit and Sisters of Strength, both of which promote the success and advancement of African American college students. Amelia is the author of Help! My College Students Can’t Read (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). She is currently working on her second book that focuses on cultivating retention and success among first generation, underserved, urban students in the college classroom:

I have worked in education for over fifteen years, first as an elementary teacher, then as a college administrator, and now as a tenured college faculty member. Along the way, many quotes have influenced my teaching, from Theodore Roosevelt’s statement, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” to Harry Wong’s belief that “the number one problem in the classroom is not discipline but the lack of procedures and routines” to Tupac Shakur’s message of poverty, inequity, racism and the need “for us as a people to start making some changes.”

Nothing, however, has impacted my teaching like these words of Haim G. Ginott: “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Ginott’s quote, which can often be found tacked to my corkboard or taped to my office door, captures exactly how I feel about my role as an educator. His words bring perfect clarity to what I’ve known in my heart for years--my success or failure as a teacher is more about my attitudes toward students and the way I treat each one of them personally than nearly anything else. I am the “decisive element” who “creates the climate” in my classrooms. I have “tremendous power” to bring great healing or great harm. This is indeed a “frightening conclusion” that brings with it profound responsibility.

I have made it my passion to live up to this responsibility through intentional, respectful interactions with students, from young children in the elementary school to adult students in college classrooms. I know the tone I set will engage, motivate, and value, or it will alienate, distance, and shame. It will promote success or it will promote failure. No matter who my students are, what their lives have been like, how they struggle academically, or the attitudes and behaviors they bring into the classroom, it is up to me to be “an instrument of inspiration” who helps them grow into the people they are meant to become. My goal is not only to create a climate of compassion and genuine care in my own classrooms but to teach other educators to do the same in theirs. It is what all of our students deserve.

Response From Jenny Edwards

Jenny Edwards teaches doctoral students in the School of Educational Leadership and Change at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. Edwards is the author of the ASCD books Time to Teach: How do I get organized and work smarter? and Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students:

The field of Invitational Education has had a major impact on my teaching through the years. Early in my teaching career, I learned about the philosophy (Purkey & Novak, 1996). The authors encouraged teachers to be intentionally inviting with students by creating environments in which students are excited to be in the classroom, are excited about learning, and know that their teacher cares for them.

Years ago when the son of a friend had just entered first grade, I asked him, “How do you like school?” His eyes lit up, and he broke out into a huge grin. He exclaimed, “My teacher really likes me!” At that point, I determined that I wanted every one of my students to go home every day telling their parents, “My teacher really likes me!”

According to Purkey and Novak (2016), an invitational stance begins with teachers’ beliefs about students--that “people are able, valuable and responsible and should be treated accordingly” (p. 11). Another key belief would be that “people possess relatively boundless potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavor” (p. 11). Inviting teachers communicate that they care about their students in every interaction with them. They demonstrate optimism when interacting with students, and they show respect to them while creating an atmosphere of trust in the classroom.

Purkey and Novak (2016) identified the 5 Ps of Invitational Education and used a starfish as a metaphor. Inviting educators (people) can focus on being invitational in the areas of places, policies, programs, and processes.

Inviting school personnel are first and foremost focused on students (Purkey & Novak, 2016), and they develop a welcoming and inclusive environment. Personnel across the school greet students by name. They are accessible, and they show “warmth and respect” to all who enter the school, as well as to each other (p. 20).

Inviting educators create beautiful places in which students can learn (Purkey & Novak, 2016), and they make sure that the environment is aesthetically pleasing and neat. In addition, inviting school personnel create policies that are inviting. “Policies include official mission statements and the directives, codes, and rules, written and unwritten, used to regulate schools” (p. 21). By creating policies that people perceive “as fair, inclusive, democratic, caring, and respectful” educators are creating an inviting school (p. 21).

Inviting educators also develop intentionally inviting and inclusive programs that benefit and engage students (Purkey & Novak, 2016). Invitational programs “encourage students to see themselves as lifelong learners capable of understanding matters of importance” (p. 22). Purkey and Novak also suggested that inviting educators run the school using inviting processes. Collaborative and democratic processes enable educators to invite all members of the school community to participate.

Educators can use invitational language in every conversation with students, and they can weave invitational language throughout their policies, programs, and processes. The ASCD book, “Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with your Students,” contains ideas for developing an invitational mindset, ideas for using invitational language in a variety of contexts, and words to use to intentionally build students. She is also the co-editor with Sheila Gregory of “Invitational Education and Practice in Higher Education: An international Perspective” (2016, Lexington Books).

What might your school be like when all personnel are focused on creating an inviting school in the areas of people, places, policies, programs, and processes? On which of the 5 Ps might you and your colleagues focus first?

This is the website for the International Alliance for Invitational Education.


Edwards, J. L. (2010). Inviting students to learn: 100 tips for talking effectively with your students. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Purkey, W. W., & Novak, J. M. (1996). Inviting school success: A self-concept approach to teaching, learning and democratic practice (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Purkey, W. W., & Novak, J. M. (with A. T. Schoenlein, Ed.) (2016). Fundamentals of Invitational Education (2nd ed.). Huntington, NY: The International Alliance for Invitational Education.

Response From Paul Barnwell

Paul Barnwell serves as in a hybrid educator role in Louisville, KY, splitting his time between teaching English and Digital Media at Fern Creek High School and working on developing new professional learning systems. When not working on education-related issues, he enjoys writing, gardening, traveling with his wife Rebecca, bow-hunting, and playing bass:

As a young educator, no writer fired me up more than Alfie Kohn. I was drawn to his incessant challenging of conventional wisdom—and still am—and while many of his books and essays influenced me, I’m frequently been pulled back to ideas in his essay “What Does It Mean to Be Well-Educated?”

In the essay, as in much of his work, Kohn challenges educators to grapple with the purpose of schooling. He writes, “In short, perhaps the question “How do we know if education has been successful?” shouldn’t be posed until we have asked what it’s supposed to be successful at.” There is a dearth of critical conversation and healthy debate about this idea of what schools are supposed at so successful at on many levels, from state legislatures, to central offices, to faculty meetings, all the way down to Professional Learning Communities.

For those of us working in public schools--especially ones deemed struggling or failing--then success is measured by graduation rates, ACT scores, and high-stakes testing numbers. This discourse about school success is so ingrained in many school systems that shockingly, when somebody talks about whole-child education, social-emotional learning, developing civic-minded students, or any other goal, it’s almost seen as fringe thinking!

In the midst of my 13th year in a row as at least a part-time teacher, I’m craving bolder discussions about the purpose of school and what changes would look like for both educators and students. In addition to striving for more community discussions on the issues, Kohn’s words challenge me whenever I’m planning a unit of study, or even a given lesson. Why am I trying to facilitate this learning? To what end? Beyond academic gains, what is important for us as a classroom community to focus on?

Response From Jackie Walsh & Beth Sattes

Jackie Walsh and Beth Sattes, co-authors of Questioning for Classroom Discussion: Purposeful Speaking, Engaged Listening, Deep Thinking (2015, ASCD), and Quality Questioning, 2nd edition (Corwin) work with teachers and leaders to engage them in reflecting on the value of research-based questioning practices that engage students in thinking. Walsh can be reached at walshja@aol.com and Sattes at beth@enthusedlearning.com:

“We know what we know when we say it.”

- Virginia O’Keefe (1995), Speaking to Think/Thinking to Speak: The Importance of Talk in the Learning Process, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, p. xiii

Talk is important to meaning-making, one of the definitions of thinking. But in fact, in many classrooms that that we visit, we see students sitting quietly, working at their desks independently or quietly listening to their teacher. Even when teachers pose questions, the questions may be long but the student answers are most commonly a mere 1-3 words in length.

As a student, I thought studying (or “learning”) meant memorizing. I would read--or review notes from a lecture--create an outline of major ideas, and then commit the facts to memory. Rarely did I make personal meaning. I thought the information I was told (or read) was THE truth that I needed to “learn.” My goal was to get a good grade on the upcoming quiz or test! Rarely was I asked to pose questions. Almost never did my teachers pose questions to generate thinking; rather, the goal was to stimulate “right” answers. When I began teaching, I believed that my primary job was to tell students what they needed to know or do. And when I began collaborating with teachers to improve teaching practice, I continued to believe that changing the way teachers structured knowledge was the key to improving learning. O’Keefe’s thinking caused me to reflect on my beliefs about teaching and learning.

Classroom discussion allows students to voice what they think in order to “know what they know” (as O’Keefe says in the opening quote) as well as what they don’t know, resulting in questions that stimulate a desire to learn more. Oh, the joy and interest on the faces of the students in classrooms where their teachers have taken this to heart and engage in discussion! They learn from one another.

Their engagement is visible as they listen intently to classmates. The students own the knowledge; they help create the knowledge and understanding for themselves and their classmates. In the words of a 5th grader, “It’s easier to understand when a kid is explaining it to you because they’re at the same point in learning as you. But a teacher is harder to understand because they already know it all.” They form a true community of learners, engaging those who haven’t spoken, asking for clarification from peers, and respectfully agreeing and disagreeing with one another.

Teachers who transform their classrooms admit it isn’t easy. But unanimously, they declare they could never go back to the traditional ways of teaching. As a 5th grade student said, at the end of a discussion at the end of the school year, “I don’t want this year to end. I’m going to miss you all. I’m going to miss our discussions.”

Responses From Readers

Dr. Brad Huff:

“Do not equate survival with success. Reflect critically after each lesson or day or year and evaluate your success or lack of success based on the evidence.”

- Elizabeth Simendinger, Harvard Graduate School of Education instructor, Summer 1962.


Try something new each year. Maybe with only one class and possibly only for a grading period. This process will keep you moving forward.

Paul D. White:

“The purpose of schools is to educate children, and NOT to employ adults. Every decision regarding school personnel should be made with that in mind.” (Ellen Nims)

“Be an educator who teaches for 30 years, and NOT someone who teaches one year 30 times.” (anon.)

“Love and teach your students as if they were your own children.” (Jesse Wilson)

“There’s no RIGHT way to do the WRONG thing.”

Dawn Gosse:

In 1995, my student teaching supervisor told me to avoid using sarcasm with my students. I vowed to heed her advice and have always treated my students with kindness...no sarcasm. She also told me to wear a blazer every day, but I can’t do everything I’m told!

Zane Dickey:

My aha moment comes from Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart when he describes cultures as the story that is told. Listen to what people say in a school and you can understand the culture and he uses Lev Vygotsky’s quote: “Children grow up into the intellectual life of those around them.” It resonated me as how we shape our school culture.


Be the adult you needed as a kid.

Sanjay Mistry:

This sentence has most impact so far on my teaching :~ YOU ARE EITHER PART OF PROBLEM OR PART OF SOLUTION.


You can’t teach all the knowledge in the world, but you can teach the skills and processes needed to learn that knowledge.

Ric Murry:

“You can never be your true self in someone else’s language.” Rocio Jacobo

An early ELL student of mine, speaking to a more recent class of ELL students. This constantly challenges me on every level of teaching: from getting to know my students, to lesson planning, to the stories and books we read, to the assignments I provide.

Kymberli Mulford:

“Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.” ~Author Unknown

Many have claimed this quote as their own, but none have been able to prove it. My father gave me a marble paperweight with this inscription in 1965. I love it.

Amanda Zullo:

“Get out of the way-they can do it when your faith gives them confidence” unknown/self. Once I got out of the way I found my students to be successful with items far beyond what I could ever imagine. I now employ that philosophy with educators.

Thanks to Amanda, Amelia, Jenny, Paul, Jackie and Beth, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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