Bobby Caples (Education)

Education & Youth Development Consultant

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Listen First (Behavior Management)

This is going to be one of those posts that sounds obvious, and sort of is.

Every so often, it seems I have to re-learn every lesson I’ve ever learned regarding behavior management. Most recently, I had to go back to square one: Listen. I’ve now come to see this lesson as needing to occur periodically in a fairly predictable cycle: I start off listening as a general approach to behavior management, then slowly I start “talking” more and more. Then, I find that I’m talking so much that I’m not listening at all. Then, I realize what I’m doing and go back to the beginning.

By “listening” & “talking,” of course, I don’t mean just the physical act of actually verbalizing vs auditory intake – I mean a general posture toward behavior manage. Listening involves receiving – taking in cues, letting others talk first, trying to first understand before being understood. Talking, on the other hand, involves putting out information into the world.

Both are important, for sure, but I think a lot of us probably get into the habit of talking when you are the one who “owns the goal,” so to speak – when you’re the one who is more motivated for something to happen. Like control in general, though, the more we apply pressure to the world, the less likely it is to change, at least with some things.

So, for now, I think I’m back where I need to be.


Note: This commentary has been cross-published on

Just a quick observation in response to a recent post on another education blog. Over the past few years, there has been continuous focus on “over-test” of students, from curriculum-based type assessments such as DIBELS to, of course, full-blown state tests that “count.” A recent blogger felt that, in her experience, the education system had crossed the line past “over-testing.”

My response is far from novel, but I believe an important one: If “over-testing” has indeed occurred, it’s quite easy to peg the blame on all testing. That is, because too many tests have been given, every single one is welcomed with spite and animosity. Yet another one. The recent emphasis on using data in education has even been under fire because, at times, it’s misused.

If you can’t already see my point, here it is: Data is GOOD. Assessments are GOOD. Sure, too many is bad, and using data in a bad way doesn’t work, but when we’re attacking assessments and data, let’s stay focused on that. Instead, we’re seeing more and more posts condemning it all – tests, assessments, etc.

Question: If we add another test, will you view it as inevitably bad? Is there no chance that it could be effective? If we integrate data in a new way into our educational framework, is it bound to overburden, or does it stand the chance of helping?

It’s easy to get frustrated with “too much” and stand levying the blame on each individual component, rather than remembering that is isn’t every particular assessment measure that’s broken, but a flaw in the overall system in which those individual components are implemented.

A Lesson From Behavior Management

Note: This commentary is cross-published at

One of the first lessons most educators learn about behavior management is to promote replacement behaviors. Don’t just tell kids what you don’t want them to do, but what you want them TO do. It seems that some folks positioning themselves as leaders in education (anti) reform have yet to learn this lesson.

Highlighting what’s wrong with a particular education trend is fine. Focusing on the negatives of that trend, while ignoring underlying problems and offering no real solutions, leads to poor behavior change. In short, if the leaders of the (anti) reform movement want to see change, they may consider finding that old Ed Psych textbook collecting dust in the basement.

All sarcasm aside, there are real problems with the testing movement in this country. They deserve to be pointed out. However, there are also real issues that led to the testing boom. Many children struggle, and continue to struggle, and there is a gap between best practice and implementation in enough classrooms in this country to be considered an issue. I draw from personal experience when making this statement.

So, if we want testing dismantled, the best place to start (or at least continue) is to offer an alternative. What should we do instead of testing to improve the quality of education?

Don’t give up the fight against testing, folks. Just don’t expect to win when that’s the only fight you pick.

Fixing Indicators

Linking to another article I recently published on another site: Do enjoy!

Fixing Indicators

Growth Mindset

Was so happy to come across a recent blog post by another educator about this TED video by Carol Dweck explaining her research on what she calls the “Growth Mindset.” My 20 second summary is essentially summed up in 2 points:

  1. Our brains can grow smarter, and do so primarily by engaging in challenging material.
  2. If we change our perception and expectations about challenging situations to understand that we are getting smarter by engaging in them, we win.

Of course, this makes complete sense, and I’ve been kicking myself for not having thought about these ideas in this way before.

In short, the Growth Mindset is an attitude – a collection of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about something that influences the way we interact with it. The great thing about this attitude is that a slight shift in preconception about learning & challenge can really have a huge impact. In the education world, we often get frustrated that, well, some kids get frustrated. They have a hard time accepting feedback, and shut down at the slightest challenge. The reasons are various, from learned helplessness to conditioned aversion to failure because it happens too much. The solution, fortunately, may be a bit easier:

Dweck encourages a first step of just re-educating kids on how the brain works. Prove to them that brains grow, and that challenge is a signal that it’s doing just that. Then, encourage them to reconsider their perception of challenge – that challenges are fun & interesting, not threatening.

Of course, there are other things that need to happen as well in the classroom if a child’s Growth Mindset is going to really sink it. For example, praise needs to revolve around effort and overcoming challenges, not innate ability or even correctness.

Check out the TED video, and other available online resources, for more information. If you’re in education, it’s worth your time.

Counter-Trends: James Delisle

This post is in response to: Differentiation Doesn’t Work by James Delisle

Note: This post has been cross-published on

One thing is for sure in education: trends. There are actually books written on it. From disciplinary styles to the way we teach reading, we educators love a good one-size-fits-all magic bullet that may fix all of our problems. The unfortunate reality, though, is that education is just darn complicated. If there were one solution that fixed everything, chances are we’d have found it.

What we often don’t think about as much, though, is that just as popular as trends are counter-trends: haters (for lack of a better word) who hate (sometimes very justifiably) on a particular trend, but do so in a way that oversimplifies the issue and dismisses it wholeheartedly. The reasons for this are vast. Most “haters” are actually “lovers” of education, and don’t like how outside influences, especially ones with no soul (e.g., corporate interests poised to make a lot of money), come in with nicely packaged (and profitable) solutions at the expensive of “real” education. However, in the process of (again, sometimes justifiably) hating, these haters sometimes overdo it.

Case in point: James Delisle in his recent post with Education Week entitled “Differentiation Doesn’t Work.” To simplify, in his article he points to several ways in which differentiation is either limited or poorly implemented. He’s right in most of these cases. Where he’s wrong is his conclusion that differentiation can’t ever work. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out. Somehow, if a concept is limited and doesn’t provide the entire solution to education, it must offer nothing.

The immensely ironic aspect of his article is that he’s actually making the same broad point that I am in disagreeing with him – that educational fads hurt. The point of this article isn’t to debate differentiation, but for sake of at least providing some backup to my comments, here’s the gist of what I’m saying with differentiation: Yes, differentiation can be tough to implement, and not all lessons can be differentiated, but differentiation happens successfully and routinely in all classrooms everyday. Case in point: Reading groups. Every time a teacher pulls a subset of students to focus on a lesson that is matched to that group’s skill level, differentiation is happening. Furthermore, differentiation isn’t just routine & successful, it’s critical: differentiation, by definition, means matching instruction to student need, and doing so by providing different instruction to different children in a classroom.

Some teachers are fortunate enough to have classrooms in which all students needs are similar enough that they can always do whole group lessons. However, many teachers have students with very diverse needs. If this is the case, differentiation isn’t just a possibility, but a crucial element of learning. By definition, non-differentiated instruction in these environments isn’t really instruction, or at least good instruction.

The bottom line? Be a critical consumer not only of research and trends, but counter trends. Don’t jump on bandwagons to do things, or to not do things. Think things through. If we (educators) want to be treated professionally, we need to act professionally.

Professionalizing Education

There’s a catch 22 in education today that often seems to come up around scripted programs, or pre-packaged programs more broadly. Namely, great teachers hate to be boxed in to the constraints of being what to do and what to say with kids, whereas less experienced teachers need the structure (much as kids do sometimes) with more technical interventions.

So, what’s a good educational leader to do when it comes to protocol with roaming outside the realm of packaged curricula? The most obvious answer is, of course, building a level of professionalism that is of such quality that teachers are familiar with wondering out into the dark, scary woods of customization.

Phylis Hoffman (via EdWeek) recently wrote a good perspective specifically related to Balanced Literacy. I’m not generally a fan of including everything under the sun just because we value inclusion (inclusion of all kids is different from inclusion of all strategies), but Phylis’ thoughts here work: Don’t just do things to do things, but do things because you’ve thought about them and have given professional consideration to what is included and not included. Research is consulted, evidence collected, success monitored, adjustments made, etc.

Thoughts on scripted vs non-scripted curricula in light of this thought?

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