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Thoughts on Glasser

January 22, 2016

Recently, I read a great article by Melanie Fox Harris and R. Carl Harris about the effect a visit by the educational theorist William Glasser had on a small rural school in Utah.  I’m a huge fan of Glasser’s work and have been since grad school because his ideas of how to improve the quality of teaching within an institution continue ring true to me.  According to Glasser, quality:

    1. is always useful in some way and is never destructive.
    2. is the best that everyone in the organization, working both separately and together, can achieve at any particular time.
    3. can always be improved.
    4. always feels good; it is never destructive.

According to the article, the small local school saw the merit in Glasser’s philosophy and took several steps to improve the quality of their institution within their institution:

  1. The school worked with Glasser and a local college to improve the quality of their instruction.
  2. The staff  devoted time each year to making improvements with the goal of continuing to make progress.
  3. To build relationships and shrink the cracks that students can sometimes fall through, they created “Big Friendly Groups” of sixteen multi-grade students as a way of introducing content, getting buy in, and having the older students play a larger role in the education of the younger students.  They also created Little Focus Groups of six students to build cross-grade friendships.
  4. Teachers reached out to parents at the start of school in September to learn more about their students and how they could help them be more successful.
  5. Administrators established new guidelines for discipline that got students to buy in by making everyone responsible for the behavior of others.  In each classroom, they hung a sign with the question, “All problems will be solved by the staff and students talking with each other without anyone threatening or hurting anyone else.”  They also established a place where students can reflect on their behavior before rejoining their classmates.
  6. The faculty assessed the quality of their instruction not by standardized tests but by asking students if they had produced quality work.


I love a thought provoking article and this one really got me thinking.

Schools should be based on the idea of always seeking to improve.  As Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset asserts, schools can model life-long self improvement by working daily to improve the quality of their own instruction.  By doing so, students can see the value and results in working to better their own work.  For example, if a History teacher can make his class more engaging by tweaking the way he assigns homework and points this proposed change and rationale for it to his or her class, then students can begin to realize and see the value in making small changes.  These baby steps will undoubtedly improve the quality of the work and the depth of understanding.

The article also got me thinking: Why do we wait until six weeks into the school year to have parents-teacher conferences?  For the sake of the students, shouldn’t we begin the year with them?  I always try to call all my students’ parents prior to the start of school but having a face-to-face meeting would not only provide teachers with more information about the students they are going to spend the next year with and give them invaluable insights into the way they learn, but more importantly, these conversations would create and strengthen relationships with parents that will pay dividends throughout the year.

My final thought… Do we spend too much time in faculty meetings talking about students and not enough time conversing about teaching?  Everyone is familiar with the faculty meeting where the entire meeting is spent talking about how students are doing and that is without question a useful and necessary exercise.  Yet, to improve the quality of instruction, teachers would benefit from spending additional time thinking of how they could improve their own teaching with the goal of differentiation and reaching more of their students and discovering ways to better reach, challenge, and support them.

What do you think?

  1. stephanie permalink

    Thought-provoking comments, Dave. I love the idea of conferences earlier in the year. We have ours later than 6 weeks, but it’s then us providing a summary of *our* take on the students’ performance. With so many students and so much to do at the beginning of the year, I have not yet achieved that goal of contacting every parent before school starts, but I’d sure love to do it.

    And regarding your comments about ways to improve as teachers and guiding students to improve their own learning, as a math teacher, I also try to allow the students as much choice as possible in their work – ie, they must show their work, but what that work looks like (and what strategy they use to solve a given problem) is up to them, as much as possible.

    Thanks for making me think this morning!

  2. Thanks for responding to my comment! Its so funny how much math has changed since the days of ‘there is only one way to solve this problem.” I bet that choice enriches the class for everyone.

  3. I like your final thought on how much time teachers spend talking about students vs. effective teaching methods. At my school we talk a lot about students, and that is very valuable. We are a small school, and community / really knowing our students is one of our greatest strengths. But we could all improve the quality of our teaching if we shared and learned from each other more often. One thing I wish we could do is spend time observing in each other’s classrooms. I have many amazing colleagues, and I’d love to learn more from them!

  4. Amy permalink

    Very thought provoking piece, Dave. Let me say, as a parent myself, I loved the idea of reaching out to to parents at the beginning of the school year to gain valuable insight into each students learning style, inerests and personality! Bravo!

  5. Great timing for me to check out this post. As Jon Bergmann just blogged about the “best way to motivate students,” … building relationships! When I flipped 3 years ago, what everyone says became true – I did have more time to talk and get to know my students when I wasn’t in front of the classroom lecturing. Now to move that further to parent-teacher night would be complimentary.

    You also bring up the relevance of faculty meetings. I believe a school needs a clear purpose to those meetings and the school culture will shape them. I think it is a challenge to motivate staff at the end of a long day of teaching. How could faculty meetings be more ongoing and thus more productive?

    • Dan – Thanks! Wouldn’t it be cool if every once in a while faculty meetings were done edcamp style? It would be great if teams of teachers could gather and discuss topics they were interested in or were excited about. Flipped learning would also work for fac. meetings as well. Why not pre tape some of news info sharing sections of the faculty meetings to not only free up time but let people refer back to it when it became more timely.


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