How is Student Behavior Going?
Guest(s): Larry Thompson
Run time: 51:34
Season 5, Episode 7
Series 5 Leaders Coaching Leaders Podcast
[00:00:00.41] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Corwin's Leaders Coaching Leaders
podcast with host Peter DeWitt. This podcast is from education leaders for
education leaders. Every week, Peter and our guests get together to share
ideas, put research into practice, and ensure every student is learning not by
chance, but by design.
[00:00:19.07] TANYA GHANS: Hey, Peter, we are well underway into season 5.
And it is still every time just as good to see you.
[00:00:25.23] PETER DEWITT: It is good to see you too, Tanya. And thank you
for bringing this one to us because he was-- I'll let you introduce Larry, but
he was he was your pick. And what an amazing conversation.
[00:00:39.00] TANYA GHANS: Yeah. Larry is definitely one of a kind. He all
of our guests are memorable. But he will stick in your brains, listeners,
[00:00:48.58] So a little background-- Larry hails from the Midwest. He's
had a wide variety of roles in education. He's been a general ed teacher, a
special education teacher, the principal of a traditional and an alternative
high school. And his niche and his focus his area of expertise is discipline.
And you can see how some of that background would feed into why he's really
carved out, he thinks, some solutions that could help take the issues that so
many schools are having with classroom management and discipline to not just
another level, but to the place where I think all educators dream and wish,
especially when they're thinking about how to support really challenging
students in our classroom.
[00:01:34.30] So a little more about him-- he's a frequent keynote speaker.
He consults with schools all over the country. And his the name of his work
specifically-- he's coined the term, it's responsibility-centered discipline.
[00:01:49.84] And you're going to really find out exactly what that means.
If you think you know, you may or may not know. But you will know as you listen
[00:01:58.43] And what I love so much about Larry and his work is that, one,
he really gets it. He is going to talk directly to you as listeners because he
knows the struggles that you're having in your classroom. You're going to get
some great impersonations. We were laughing a lot along the way, Peter and I.
[00:02:17.74] But he also appreciates that we've got to find some solutions
that can really start to work right away. He cares a lot about educators and
education. And I'm just really excited about what listeners are going to hear
from him around this really tricky, challenging topic of school discipline and
classroom management. Whatever we'd like to call it, I think we all know what
it is that I'm referencing.
[00:02:42.36] PETER DEWITT: Yeah, and it's interesting, because sometimes, I
know that as a host, I don't seem cynical because I'm open to hearing conversations
and I'm hoping to learn. But I mean, I was a teacher for a long time, a
principal. And I've been doing this consulting / author thing for a long time.
And you hear an idea, and you're like, OK, responsibility-centered discipline--
what's it going to be?
[00:03:07.51] I have to say, from the very beginning, he had me drawn in.
The way he talked about it, the examples he used connected with countless
examples that I've seen both as a teacher and a principal. And I want the
listeners to hear right at the beginning that he talks about this whole idea of
think of it as a muscle that you have to strengthen. And one of the things that
I said to him during the interview that people will hear, but I think it's also
an important one to be able to highlight here, is he's really talking about
being more human.
[00:03:46.00] TANYA GHANS: Yeah.
[00:03:46.81] PETER DEWITT: Being more human with kids that might not always
be surrounded with that kind of love and empathy and everything else. So to me,
the conversation was very powerful. And that's always really nice when
[00:04:02.08] TANYA GHANS: Yeah.
[00:04:02.86] PETER DEWITT: So listeners, Larry Thompson-- you will hear us
talk about what responsibility-centered discipline actually means. I ask him
for a common understanding of that right at the beginning. And then he will
just unravel and go into all of the nuances during the show, so I hope you
enjoy it as much as I do.
[00:04:23.77] TANYA GHANS: Yes. Enjoy listeners.
[00:04:24.97] [AUDIO LOGO]
[00:04:27.97] PETER DEWITT: Larry Thompson, welcome to the Leaders Coaching
[00:04:31.06] LARRY THOMPSON: Thank you. It's great to get to be with you
[00:04:33.34] PETER DEWITT: Yeah, it's nice to meet you. In the podcast, we
try to make sure that we're offering a common language and a common
understanding. So your work is around a responsibility-centered discipline. So
could you give me a common understanding of what responsibility-centered
discipline actually means?
[00:04:55.06] LARRY THOMPSON: Well, my experience was working with such
tough kids right out of the gate-- kids that struggled emotionally and special
education and alternative settings. So years ago, Peter, I began to look at are
we trying to control people so we can get a decent day and survive our week? Or
are we really trying to put something into them that builds that internal--
what I always call, the muscle of self control that gets stronger. And so when
we say responsibility-centered discipline, we're always thinking of pushing the
growth into the kid. And I just saw teachers that were wonderful and really
gifted at being able to get kids to do it in their classrooms.
[00:05:38.07] But my shift came quite a while back of it can't be about what
I can get you to do. It's got to be what you can do when I'm not with you, I
can't follow you through your years. And so responsibility-centered discipline
has always been about the way we do discipline to get that internal growth. And
so we're less needed as each year moves along and they're a problem solver for
their own struggles.
[00:06:04.29] PETER DEWITT: Now, your work, though, is it with alternative
education? Or are you working with a lot of schools in general these days,
especially after the pandemic? I mean, what we hear about so often is during
the pandemic kids, forgot how to play with each other, and discipline became--
I mean, I know in the coaching work that I do, discipline comes up quite a bit
in the conversation. So what does your work look like now with the pandemic,
and does it look any different than it did before the pandemic?
[00:06:39.74] LARRY THOMPSON: Yeah, it definitely looks different. But to
back up just for a moment, when I started into this, I was a principal, a
teacher. I did all the roles. And I never knew this would grow the way that it
has to be able to reach more kids. So first schools that wanted help seem to be
those that would come to our mind first struggling places-- juvenile
corrections, where we just assume kids bring a lot of trauma and hardship into
[00:07:08.02] But the reality is, every school's goal, I think, is to build
that internal part. It's just kids that have a lot of self control, sometimes
we miss it because we can get them to do it out of fear or intimidation, but
they're really not strengthening. And I think when we saw what happened with
COVID and our kids were out of school for long periods of time, they came back.
[00:07:31.96] And then we got to remember the stress they came back with.
Some of their parents lost jobs. Some of them lost a parent or a grandma or
grandpa or a neighbor, and there was no one to process with.
[00:07:43.51] I think we forget how much our schools do in counseling and
coaching kids. And none of that was available. So if a family wasn't able to
provide it, then these kids went through all of this.
[00:07:56.03] And then this showed back up like, OK, kids, school is back
on. Get yourself ready. And not only that, if we consider self-control to seem
like a muscle, then if you didn't flex that muscle for six months or a year,
and then we want you to be able to do rigorous work, now, one you're a little
bit behind. So you got to run a little faster to catch up.
[00:08:18.94] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:08:19.82] LARRY THOMPSON: And two, you haven't been doing it. I remember
hearing one of my daughter's friends say, we're going to start having to go to
school every day.
[00:08:28.76] That used to be normal. And that was even hard. But how many
of us, educators, found it hard to get back in that routine of how tired we
were? So I just think our work has just grown exponentially because we've
realized that what I say the gimmicks, the bribes-- all the things we did
around behavior that maybe worked a little for a lot of kids, we're going to
have to retool and regroup and really know how to strengthen our kids. So we're
seeing all kinds of schools saying, we need some new help.
[00:09:05.24] PETER DEWITT: [INAUDIBLE] actually I want to get back to the
gimmicks piece because I'd love to be able to talk more about that. But before
that, were did a lot of this work just start to originate? Because I think as
we get older, I hear people talk about kids need to be tougher these days. And
somebody posted on Facebook the other day something about kids need to be
stronger and all that stuff.
[00:09:28.89] And I have to be honest, I remember my dad passed when I was
in fifth grade. And I missed a week of school because we had the family things
going on. And then my mom pushed me back into school.
[00:09:39.38] But I don't remember anybody pull me to the side to say, are
you doing OK? It was just like back in school, back in class. And everybody
around me acted like nothing happened, which we know was not true. So when do
you think people started to get it, that the social emotional side was also
impacting maybe the behavior that was happening in classrooms, and gee, we need
to do something about it besides zero tolerance policies?
[00:10:10.44] LARRY THOMPSON: Well, I think there were always people that
did. But they were probably the few and far between. And I think if I had a
gift that I just was given, when somebody acted out a lot, my mind always
naturally went to I wonder what's wrong.
[00:10:28.31] Like, why are they mad at me? I didn't do anything that I know
of? And if I did, I'll own it.
[00:10:35.91] That's what I would tell them. If it's me, tell me. If I said
something, tell me.
[00:10:39.30] But I think we always had those leaders in buildings that saw
it different. But most kids were doing OK if we did it our old-fashioned ways.
And then I want it to be so sensitive because I'm such a teacher advocate, but
we can blame it on the tier underneath us if it's failing. So we got away with
saying, well, this kid just doesn't care. The kids from this school don't have
the same motivation as the kids from this school.
[00:11:15.50] But I think we've learned so much instructionally. Like, we
know we can get every kid reading. I'm amazed with elementary people. It's not
as much of my background, but like they don't even know their letters when they
come. And they're reading before we know it. When we know behavior the way we
know instruction, our teachers will no longer think-- well, some they're going
to say, OK, this is where they're starting.
[00:11:42.81] But come back in six months and watch. But I don't think we've
ever gone that deep in how we build that same part. We're not afraid to take it
on academically. And so many of our world and national leaders have given us so
many tools through their research and things that we should do academically.
But I feel like we disconnect behaviorally, and we still in a lot of places say
these kids or that kid, instead of knowing.
[00:12:07.80] And so Peter, an analogy I use that's always helped me is, if
self-control is like a muscle, then we as teachers, coaches, leaders-- whatever
role we are in a kid's life, have to be the perfect spotter while the muscle
gets stronger. And so if we lift too much, then the weight goes up quickly, but
the muscle didn't get stronger inside of the kid. And some of our teachers that
deeply love children and are in it for all the right reasons can accidentally
get in a pattern of over-spotting. And then the kid can only do well in certain
[00:12:44.08] And then we have the reverse kind of teacher that we're having
to coach some. When they get frustrated, they don't want to lift anything. And
that kid's just crushed under the death of their father. They're crushed
under-- you know what I mean? And you probably had a lot of resolve and were a
kid that could handle that.
[00:13:02.89] But we've seen kids that can't. And we've seen kids that have
no one to talk to or know. So I think the struggle, I see it even as our nation
right now is, one side thinks if you spot, maybe you're doing too much, you're
coddling. And another side's like, figure it out.
[00:13:22.84] And I think why RCD has been responsibility-centered
discipline has been so successful is we found how to do the balance in a
school. And some of us have to adjust a little more spotting, and some of us
have to back off of our spotting. And now, you and I as two colleagues can have
a deep discussion.
[00:13:43.47] Instead of me saying, oh, Peter's letting them do everything
they want. He wants to be the kid's friends. Now you and I can come to the
table and go, Peter, let's talk about Joseph that's not doing well. I feel like
you're over-spotting him a little when you're doing this.
[00:13:59.05] But you might be able to say, well, Larry you've lost his
narrative and his story just a little bit. You're going to have to check in
with him more. And now we can talk about it like that, instead of one of us is
right and wrong. So that's been something that's helped so much with
responsibility centered discipline, because we do know everybody would get
stronger if they're spotted appropriately. But if they're over or under-spotted
that person won't make the same gains.
[00:14:26.69] PETER DEWITT: I really love that analogy. I mean, I think
that's a perfect analogy. And when you started to reference elementary, I'm a
former elementary school teacher. So I taught kids how to read.
[00:14:36.87] I taught first grade out of seven out of 11 years. So that analogy
is a really good one. I have a load of questions down.
[00:14:44.70] But when we look at all of this, do we look-- just like I
worry sometimes that universities and colleges don't prepare teachers to
actually teach kids how to read, because literacy is a very nuanced thing. When
professors talk about classroom management, do you think all of this is a part
of that conversation? Or do you think it's lacking, like when teachers are
doing their pre-service teaching programs?
[00:15:15.98] LARRY THOMPSON: I'm not a youngster at it anymore. I'm in that
[00:15:19.73] PETER DEWITT: You and me both.
[00:15:20.42] LARRY THOMPSON: A lot of seasons behind me. And I go back and
I think, so many universities are really teaching classroom management from a look
that, if the curriculum is at the right levels and you're deeply knowledgeable,
and you have a lot of instructional methodologies and you do just some fun
things like fist bumps at the door, it'll go fine.
[00:15:52.46] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:15:53.21] LARRY THOMPSON: And then we say things like, build
relationships, that's important. And even our research says it's important. But
what I always came back to-- very few people get into what I call coaching the
challenging moment. And they keep acting like, if I do it well enough, these
moments shouldn't be showing up in class.
[00:16:12.73] So Peter, I actually think teachers feel extremely discouraged
when they struggle with classroom management, because most of our higher ed
training told us if you're a strong teacher in curriculum and engaging, then
you won't have these. So now they start to doubt themselves. Am I just not a
good teacher? My subconscious is going that's not supposed to be happening
because I prepared my lesson. So we just wanted to dive into the depth of
instructions needed, all of those other boxes.
[00:16:48.15] We call them the three boxes. We got the instructions the
instruction side of it of knowing how to build lessons and lesson design and
all of that work. And we've got understanding curriculum and mapping and all
the things with that. But classroom management's always been a tag-along box
that these two are going well this shouldn't be your-- and we're going to have
to step in and retrain that box because our kids are struggling. And the data's
showing us how burned out our teachers are getting.
[00:17:17.12] But one of my biggest joys was, I was doing a training here
and in my home state. And a guy I met, actually helping out a track tournament,
he goes, I didn't know you had a big training. I go, well, yeah. I go, I wasn't
going to talk about it to you. He goes, I want to come see it.
[00:17:35.81] So he shows up. He's a 20-year veteran middle school
principal. He goes through the first day. And we believe the disconnect is,
it's got to move into application, which means you've got to do repetitions,
just like how intense it feels in a classroom with a kid swearing at you or
something. So we really take them through the paces in training.
[00:17:56.00] And he got through the first day. He goes man, my head is
going so many directions tonight. He goes, I'll be here in the morning, because
this is a two-day training.
[00:18:04.31] He came in the morning. He was the first one there, like at 40
minutes early. And I'm sitting up still. And so finally, I get set up. He goes,
let's have a cup of coffee.
[00:18:11.44] So I sit down with him. He goes, I got to tell you. I sat at
my dinner table, and my daughter is going to be a teacher. And he said, we
started talking about the training.
[00:18:19.73] He said, man, I am nervous tomorrow, and I got 30 years of
teaching behind me. I'm nervous to go try my skills with my team tomorrow. And
she goes, well, what's the training. And he explained it to her.
[00:18:29.99] She goes, Dad, I already can do all that. Do you want to see
my videos of me coaching challenging behaviors? She's at one of the
universities that uses it. He goes, my daughter is more prepared to go talk to
a kid with their misbehavior than I am after 30 years in the classroom.
[00:18:47.90] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:18:48.89] LARRY THOMPSON: He said there's a disconnect of theory. And so
we just want to bridge that and save our teachers from giving up, and to turn
that saves our kids and strengthens them.
[00:19:01.74] PETER DEWITT: I mean, first of all, great story. But it also
makes a lot of sense. There's often a gap between what the research says and
what we will practice in our schools or classrooms, especially as we become
more veteran, because of the fact that we think we know how to do it already,
which goes back to some of your gimmicks that I want to get to.
[00:19:20.95] But I think one of the reasons why I also-- and Tanya, who is
my producer / partner with this podcast. I mean, she's my editor as well. But
one of the reasons why we think it's so important, too, is because often, these
kids are ostracized. And I've seen it at a young age as an elementary school
[00:19:44.22] You can see if a student becomes that, quote unquote,
"behavior issue." They start getting asked to fewer birthday parties.
Or they get asked the fewer events.
[00:19:56.52] And sometimes even-- and I agree. I love my staff. I love the
teachers that I've worked with. And I loved teaching for 11 years. But we also
know that sometimes, these are kids that can exhibit a behavior that the, quote
unquote, "well-behaved kid" right next to them could exhibit, too.
[00:20:15.39] But the one who is viewed as the discipline issue is going to
get caught every time. It's like they've just got an eye on them. So this is
really important for a variety of reasons, because I feel like that reputation
starts to build and follow a kid from year after year.
[00:20:32.10] I mean, I remember when I was a very new teacher. I'd only
been in the school district outside of New York City for a year. I taught first
grade, and I met up with a second grade teacher. And she said, so, how many of
these kids on my class list are from your class last year? And I said, oh,
you've got some-- and I pointed.
[00:20:52.56] And then she asked something that was really amazing to me
that I would not answer. She said, so how many of them were the discipline
issues? And I remember saying, that's not a question that I'm going to answer.
And I was young.
[00:21:05.52] And I said, because if they were a discipline issue for me, it
doesn't necessarily mean they are for you. But I also don't want to unfairly
set them up. Like, if there is a huge issue, then obviously, we would be able
to talk about it. But they wanted to know just in general who is going to be
the troublemaker in the classroom.
[00:21:25.11] And I thought, wow, these kids are in second grade. But that
reputation really does follow them. So the work you're doing is important for
many reasons because you're actually giving kids an opportunity at a fresh
start that also takes the adult. Would you say that's correct?
[00:21:41.37] LARRY THOMPSON: Yeah, again, I want to be an advocate for
teachers. And I don't want this to sound like piling on. But kids all watch how
I treat the behavior incident.
[00:21:51.36] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:21:52.35] LARRY THOMPSON: And they're reading off of my body language is
that kid valuable? Does Mr Thompson like him? I mean, I have so many stories.
[00:22:01.98] One was my daughter coming home and say, in second or third
grade, my teacher doesn't like so-and-so. Like, what? I say, what makes you
think that? We can tell. He's bad.
[00:22:13.83] But her body language and her words, the way they were coming
out, was actually being read by the others. I tell teachers just a subtle thing
you can do, if you did have to ask a kid to leave the classroom. And then you
roll your eyes and you say something to the rest of the students, they all feel
like it's OK to roll their eyes and say stuff to the kid also. And so we just
have to go back and retrain that they're all watching, and that's a chance to
leverage them seeing behavior the way it is, or let them see it the way we used
[00:22:50.09] And so I tell a teacher, any time you have to ask a kid to
leave, the next thing you should do is get your class started. And then say
something like this-- let's just say that it's Peter that left. Peter's
probably having a harder day than we knew, and him and I will work it out. It's
just it was going to take more than the class could do.
[00:23:08.26] But I'm going to put all of his assignments on his desk in a
folder. And when he gets back, let's all rally behind him and help him get
caught up and feel accepted. I mean, what would that say to 26 kids waiting,
versus how it looks now a lot of times. Oh, goodness, well, some people's
children are-- things that come out.
[00:23:29.62] We're molding and shaping how other kids are going to see
behavior as well. And we just believe when we start to see behavior as a skill
deficit, then it changes how we think about it. And so that's really been a
focus of ours, is shaping that class through even hard things.
[00:23:50.59] They didn't hear it, but they know some of it. They saw pieces
or heard little bits of it. So that's such an opportunity for us to mold the
whole school in how they see behavior.
[00:24:01.06] PETER DEWITT: Well, you're also talking about being more
human, which we all need more of, especially these days. You had mentioned
earlier-- I want to get back to the whole idea of gimmicks. What kind of
gimmicks have you seen people use that they think would work, but they don't
work? Is that a fair question.
[00:24:21.84] LARRY THOMPSON: Yeah, and it's hard to not go into the real
depths of [INAUDIBLE] behavior in a short segment. But I learned long ago-- and
then research backed up my belief system, so it wasn't just me thinking it. But
when you start to try to manipulate me to change my behavior-- and there's a
lot of ways to do it. One side goes to a little more of threat, of punishment,
or something like that. So it sounds like this in a classroom.
[00:24:51.40] Well, if you're not going to listen, then maybe I need to make
a phone call. I mean, they subtly let me know I'll put the pressure on you, and
then you'll do what I ask. The other side leaned towards incentives and I'll
reward you into being good for me.
[00:25:11.64] But we know that the research actually tells us the brain
knows when it's being manipulated, even a five-year-old brain. And I'll give
you this if you'll-- a lot of us in our training and college prep, they
actually encourage those systems. And I just got so deep into schools that
struggled with behavior, Peter, that one, the kids weren't scared of anything.
So what were you going to say if it worked at your old school-- well, you want
me to call your parent? Like, yeah, good luck.
[00:25:48.09] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:25:48.78] LARRY THOMPSON: My dad will come down here and tell you what
[00:25:51.15] PETER DEWITT: Yeah, exactly.
[00:25:52.96] LARRY THOMPSON: OK, forget that. That's not an option. And
then I don't want your cupcakes. So what I began to see is that part of the
brain-- and I talk a lot about this to help teachers with training.
[00:26:07.29] That part inside of us that they call the mastery, like I feel
like I accomplished something, is where we have to ignite the brain, versus the
part where you're taking away my autonomy. And I just explain it, lots of
simple ways in training. But so many times, kids are fighting to have some
autonomy. And those are the very kids that aren't going to go into either one of
those systems. Those are the children that are going to say, I didn't want to
go to recess anyway because it's hot outside.
[00:26:37.35] That's the kid in the hallway-- why are you in the hallway?
Because teacher's not fair. I mean, if you think that's getting them to own
their behavior, think about when people used to use clip charts. That was
another system that I never understood why we went to, but I saw them all over
[00:26:53.49] So guess what? It works for all of the kids that already have
the basic skills because they can turn the behavior on and off as desired. But
the kid that can't do it, they just say this. They fight back for their
autonomy and they say, I like being on red. It's my favorite.
[00:27:09.80] I even saw a kid in a tough school. Fourth grader-- she goes,
you can go clip down for that. And it made me just realize she got the wrong
part active. Here's what he said.
[00:27:20.44] Supposed to clip to here. He put it all the way to the bottom.
And she says, I didn't say all the way to the bottom. He just smiled all the
way back to his desk and said, that's where I'm going to end up anyway. Like, I
don't even care where you put me, lady.
[00:27:32.82] So what's happening is we have to understand when behavior
becomes a skill, then the brain wants to be able to do it because none of us
like to show or feel like we can't do something. But none of us don't mind
showing we won't do it. And so we've built it almost backwards in these systems
of school. Any time a child feels strong by not doing what you ask, you'll
never win that fight.
[00:28:02.39] And think about our kids if you ever get to see them an
in-school suspension rooms. Why are you down here? I like being down here.
People help me with my homework.
[00:28:09.59] Like, even a kid, Peter, that goes to the office, you got to
listen to what the brain is saying as they walk to the office because here's
what you'll hear. I don't care if I have to come down here. That teacher is not
even a good teacher. They're not seeing it as a skill deficit.
[00:28:25.33] So the reason we have to retrain our teachers on the front end
is, so if a child leaves, they were spotted in such a good way that it's
obvious they don't have the skill. And I've seen it happen. I've seen kids in
really tough situations, when we coach them better, walk out of the classroom
and go, I don't know why I have such a temper. I'm thrilled by that because we
can help you figure that one out. Like, we're already past all the--
[00:28:52.88] PETER DEWITT: It's self-awareness.
[00:28:54.05] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
[00:28:56.15] PETER DEWITT: So talk to me about how that looks, because I do
think that's great. I'm sorry if I interrupted you.
[00:29:04.93] LARRY THOMPSON: Oh, you're good.
[00:29:06.01] PETER DEWITT: It's great self-awareness, and you're absolutely
right. By the way, your examples and your voices reminded me of somebody kids
that got sent down to my office as a school principal. I started to have
flashbacks there. But how does this work? How do you-- how do the trainings--
actually, let me try to ask you a question in a much more articulate way, which
you probably know what the question is already anyway. How do you work with
teachers and leaders on transforming this, so they can help support?
[00:29:40.30] LARRY THOMPSON: Well, we generally do, like, two days of
pretty intense work. And I always tell teachers up front, I love you. But if
you thought this was going to be the training where you could answer emails and
work on stuff, real quick, you're going to be hands-on. And before we're done,
you're going to be able to coach a kid through many, many layers of struggle.
[00:30:02.72] And so just like a first responder, they come up on a scene.
And that could be fatalities in a car accident. Their brain has a panic moment
where you're like, uh-oh.
[00:30:15.66] And then the training takes over and you start going, check
airway, check pulse. Do we have a pulse? Like, I know what to do.
[00:30:24.12] So the disconnect we've done in schools-- and I tell this up
front to teachers, is we trained you for discipline while you were sitting at a
faculty meeting with a bagel and a cup of coffee with your best friend. Your
brain is going to feel nothing like that when there's 31 staring at you and a
kid decides to take you on in front of them. And so today, we're going to show
you the basics of how behavior works, understanding what parts we need active
in a child. We're going to show you how to structurally build that in a
classroom. And then we're going to take you through the repetitions of when a
kid needs more spotting than you thought the kid was going to need.
[00:31:07.38] And one of the things that I just discovered a long time ago,
Peter, was we've never calibrated an office referral, which means all of us
measure it the same. So what happens is principals are mad when the teachers
don't measure it the way they do. And they say things like, oh, that teacher
sends everybody down here.
[00:31:27.57] What do they think? I have a class running in my office? We
hear it. And then some people won't send a kid that maybe shouldn't be in a
[00:31:38.68] And so one of the things that we do is break the kids into
three levels of skill at being able to be coached through a moment, because
see, the skill you're going to have to build into all your students is the
ability to slow down and let somebody coach you. Let somebody spot you. Some
kids are like, get away. That's scary to them at first. So once we build that,
then we start practicing in those incremental phases.
[00:32:01.33] The first level can everybody handle a level one intensity? A
kid that's got that, but needs a little help. Level two is going to take you
on, and we know where they're going to go and how they're going to come at us.
[00:32:11.88] And then level three is I can coach all the way. Even if I did
have to ask them to leave, I've still done it with incredible skill. And it
would be too much depth probably to try to go into today, Peter, but when we're
coaching kids, we began to learn there's six basic ways that brain wants to
leave responsibility. And we'll teach you to listen for them so you coach
correctly, because if you don't feel heard, you won't work with anybody.
[00:32:39.96] But if you coach the wrong thing, the brain's telling you-- so
real good example, I would be a kid on their cell phone. And I say, hey, Peter,
you got to put your phone away. I'm teaching. And it's really common. One of
the exits the brain takes if it doesn't feel consistent, then they feel like
they're being targeted.
[00:32:54.52] So you might say, well, Mr Thompson, Tina has her phone out,
too. But if a teacher hasn't been trained to know that your brain's caught up
on that, and it won't move with me until I adjust it, they'll say the wrong
things. They'll say things like this-- I'm not talking to Tina, I'm talking to
[00:33:12.55] And then you're just going to keep asking the question because
I won't answer where your brain is struggling. I don't even consider it
disrespect. It just tells me where your brain's processing.
[00:33:21.76] So then I say, you need to worry about yourself. Then you're
going to say, well, who's going to worry about her? And then I say things like,
[00:33:29.56] And then I coach the wrong thing. I coach a different exit,
which is understanding the expectations. So now I say, well, Peter, you signed
the handbook. And you're like, Tina did too. And then I say, you're out.
[00:33:43.12] Well, we teach them basically how you coach that, and we'll
take them through reps. But then we'll teach them to hear the exit the brain's
on it. And I've just learned this. Most all people-- not every time, but most
of the time, when a person's heard and you're coaching what's got them tangled
up, they'll come back.
[00:34:02.92] But if you start coach-- so when I start making it about the
policy, when you're just asking why it's not being done consistently, then
you'll be angry. And you'll even be glad to go to the office and say, that
teacher-- this is where kids say in the office, the teacher doesn't listen to
me. The teacher may think they're listening, but they're not hearing what that
child's trying to communicate. So we will take them all the way through the depth
of that to be really skilled in that moment. And those challenging moments
happen not just at school.
[00:34:33.67] PETER DEWITT: Well, yeah, and I think so much of what you're
saying too is, are we really hearing what the kids are saying, or we just have
the stock answer and those kind of things? So it's really about-- and this is
not just teachers. This is leaders. This is everybody.
[00:34:49.24] So what does the follow-up look like with this work? Because I
just know from coaching in general-- say we're talking about instructional
coaches, we know that it takes a lot to change that kind of behavior. And Tom
Guskey says it starts with professional learning.
[00:35:05.53] And then the teacher tries a strategy, and then it makes a
difference for the student, and then it changes the teacher's beliefs. So what
does your training look like, besides the two days, which sounds pretty
intense, and also pretty amazing? What kind of follow-up do you do from there,
or are they able to engage in from there, so they keep growing in how they're
hearing people and how they're spotting kids?
[00:35:32.30] LARRY THOMPSON: Well, we know all of the things that we did
instructionally. And I compare it to like an instructional coach. After a teacher
has learned an instructional skill that they're going to start to build into a
lesson and try it, well, they need a little help. Best for somebody to watch
[00:35:50.61] And I've been through lots of models as a teacher, and then as
a principal for many years. If I'm going to come in and coach, watch how they
did this lesson-- let's say it's a cooperative learning lesson, where do they
plug in a structure and how did they do that? So with behavior, we want to,
one, assess by putting practice teams together. So you would be on a team of
[00:36:13.20] PETER DEWITT: OK.
[00:36:14.13] LARRY THOMPSON: And you'll get practice scenes. And then one
person is going to lead that group. And I would say, Peter, you let me know
when everybody at your group is pass level one skill. They can all coach the
easy kid with these for this framework.
[00:36:26.43] Now we're going to move to the next phase. And then every time
a referral would come out of a class, we're going to come to the door for three
purposes. Number one, we want to be sure our teachers is OK, because sometimes,
our teacher needs a break.
[00:36:40.74] I mean, they're about in tears. I mean, too many times they
have to email this down. And they're down they're dealing with so much. I just
tell principals, if you really care about your teachers, you can take a minute
and go down there and check on the teacher. Are you all right?
[00:36:54.17] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:36:55.47] LARRY THOMPSON: I want to hold the kid to high accountability.
And if I don't know the whole thing, that's not going to be very accurate. And
I don't want a teacher trying to fill out a referral and do all this stressful
stuff when you just had major chaos happen in your classroom. So I'll get it
from you. I'll come down a little bit and we'll talk through.
[00:37:14.08] But what we're looking for, Peter, when we talk to that
teacher is how much of the framework they got in because we're using that very
framework to what I call close the exits of those places the child wants to go.
And if the teacher coaches correctly, they're not there. And now I can get that
kid to internal growth. So an example might be when a kid says, well, I don't
know what I did wrong.
[00:37:36.21] Well, part of our discussion that we train the teacher to do,
we call it a give them five conversation. One of the five is you have to be
sure they're clear of the failing part or the breaking down of where things
broke down. So you would have heard from the teacher, Peter, your language that
you used to one of the students when she walked by your desk is what I want to
talk to you about. So we would have that.
[00:37:56.97] Now when the kid says I don't even know what I did wrong, I
could say, well. I talked with your teacher. And do you remember when she
identified your language, Peter, that you were using? So we're needing the
framework from the teacher.
[00:38:09.55] So it is a restorative type process. That work we can do
starts to be internalized. So just speaking quickly, what I learned a long time
ago is people want kids to be accountable. I mean, both sides.
[00:38:25.07] PETER DEWITT: Yeah, it comes out all the time for sure.
[00:38:28.23] LARRY THOMPSON: But here's what I began to learn. So my aha
some years back was accountability and consequence are two really different
things. But the way teachers were trained years ago is consequences will bring
accountability. But you and I both know that's not necessarily true. There's
kids that sit in in-school suspension 25 days a year and still say the teacher
doesn't like me.
[00:38:52.09] PETER DEWITT: Right.
[00:38:52.88] LARRY THOMPSON: And so what I began to learn is, because
accountability is an internal decision, what causes the brain to make that
decision? Because if that's what we all want, don't we need to think about what
causes that decision to be made? So I'll take it to an adult example for a
[00:39:09.84] Let's say that you and I have been friends for 20 years, and
you say, let's have a cookout. We had a real rough week at work. We should just
have some fun together. And I come over and we're all hanging out and there's a
bunch of us. And then one of those topics that maybe shouldn't come up at a
get-together, it could definitely cause some tensions.
[00:39:28.88] And you and I get tense with one another. And I'm just making
up a story here. But let's say that I felt like you put down my children. Why
would you say that? One of my daughter's struggling.
[00:39:40.22] And it gets tense enough that I just decide to leave. And I
say you know, I'm going to go home. You guys have a good party. Peter, I'm
[00:39:50.30] And everybody saw my frustration. But if I start driving home,
then the further away I get from you in proximity, and the more time, the more
accurately I'll replay what actually happened. So at first, I'm like, I can't
believe Peter would say that his kids aren't that awesome. Here comes my
[00:40:12.35] PETER DEWITT: Yeah.
[00:40:13.42] LARRY THOMPSON: But the further I get away from your house and
from that threatening feeling, the more I start to be more accurate. I might
get home and say, oh, I can't believe this came up at the party. But each time
I play it-- which we all do, it's starting to get more accurate.
[00:40:29.31] And now let's say, Peter, that twice, while I think back, I
now remember that you said, Larry, I love your kids. I didn't mean it like
that. Now I remember that.
[00:40:40.65] And I also now remember that you said, hey, let's just change
topics. We've already had a hard week. We can fight that one out another day.
Let's get some burgers, whatever. But I wasn't able to take it. It's when I
replay what happened, I will decide to take the ownership of that problem that
happened between the two of us.
[00:41:03.64] And so what I'm telling teachers, we're not saying you've been
wrong. We're showing you the way that you build that front conversation. So
when we can get that brain in an office, or what we call a solution space
instead of a timeout room, where you just sit and pout. And we can replay what
happened. We can start to move many more kids into that ownership role, and now
realizing it was a skill deficit.
[00:41:30.12] But I think the error we're making as a nation is we want that
deep ownership and growth out of our kids. But we don't understand the front
side has to be done in such a specific way in order to get the back side to
work. I mean, that really is what happened for me when realizing that
consequences and accountability are two really different things.
[00:41:53.21] PETER DEWITT: And that's such a great clarification, too,
because you're right. There are people that want to see somebody get punished.
And it is really about hearing.
[00:42:02.88] And I understand now with the idea of setting it up like it's
a muscle because of the fact that as you move on and you get escalated, you may
not get as escalated anymore. You might hear differently, too, which will
always set you up for success certainly when you're an adult as well. And I
think that's just really important work.
[00:42:25.65] As we close-- because we could talk for another hour, I've
been to your website. It's fantastic. So tell people where to go and find you,
because I think you have some great examples of this on your website as well,
which for people that are new to the work and are listening to this saying I
need more of that, where can they find you?
[00:42:51.57] LARRY THOMPSON: Well, Responsibility-Centered Discipline is
the name of the program, and Give 'em Five is one of the tools inside of it.
But it's the most catchy one people remember, so givemfive.com will take you to
our website. And then AccuTrain is who you can go through to get our training.
They do our scheduling and our sales and that because it's North America now.
[00:43:21.77] So it's something I could no longer keep up with from my
office. But we're on a mission. It's become something to me that I have
hundreds of stories I could tell you of kids I've watched the muscle
strengthen. And every teacher wants those stories of, like, look at this kid.
[00:43:44.89] I was just in Tennessee and I was in a building, and they had
a lot of struggles the year before. And they're really doing pretty good at
everything now. And I probably had five teachers stop me and say this. See that
one right there? She's doing so good now.
[00:44:00.19] Like, he's like a model kid for us. And last year, remember,
we had to suspend him? Like, oh, he's doing so-- their-- teachers' reason we do
it is a third part of that brain, which is the purpose of I make a difference.
[00:44:16.97] Like, these teachers, I can't change your pay. But you all
knew we weren't paid great when we started. But why you're burning out is, if
I'm not paid great and I'm not impacting people, I don't know if I can do both
of those. So I really feel like, even though some teachers will be resistant at
first, and worry until they understand it, when they realize it is high
accountability, more than sitting a kid in a room, it's very-- but it's high
accountability for us, too.
[00:44:46.85] And it's high accountability on the principals overseeing it
and doing the right parts. And when all those come together, we change more
kids and our satisfaction goes up tremendously. And we all have those stories
of kids that wouldn't have made it without us. But what if that could go up
[00:45:06.53] PETER DEWITT: I mean, that's definitely putting them as a part
of the success story. So that's important. Larry Thompson, thank you so much.
This has been a great conversation. And thank you for the work you do.
[00:45:18.17] LARRY THOMPSON: Thank you.
[00:45:18.98] PETER DEWITT: Thanks for being a part of the Leaders Coaching
[00:45:21.89] LARRY THOMPSON: Absolutely. I've enjoyed it. Thank you, Peter.
[00:45:24.14] [AUDIO LOGO]
[00:45:27.74] PETER DEWITT: All right, Tanya, I have to admit, I feel like
we're saying this at every episode. And maybe it's just I'm in this annoyingly
really good mood over of the time we've been able to do these podcasts. But I
feel like if I did a Venn digraph of all of our guests, there would be the
topic they're talking about, which are seemingly different the whole entire
time, and on the other side, it's really about just a deeper understanding of
that topic. And then in the middle, it's really about being more human, whether
we're talking about instruction or discipline or whatever.
[00:46:06.90] And I thought Larry Thompson-- I didn't really know a lot
about learning when you had contacted me and said, hey, I'd like to interview
Larry. And I'm really glad you did introduce me to him because there were just
so many things that he talked about besides just the muscle side, but the
[00:46:26.16] Like, when he gave the example of put your phone away-- well,
she's got her phone out, you can see that playing out in a classroom. And it
reminded me of, like, we're just not always so present in a conversation. We
want that kid to do what we told them to do and we don't want to hear anything
[00:46:47.64] And in that, because we don't have time to hear anything else
because we're really busy, we just opened up ourselves to even more, where
we're going to be spending on it too. And just his examples were really
perfect. And I think the background behind when he split it into the three
parts, and he talked about each of the parts, I thought there was a lot of
really good information there for other people who didn't know Larry's work,
like I did, to be able to go into it, and see how it could be helpful for them.
[00:47:23.19] TANYA GHANS: Yeah. He gets so clear because he's been at this
for so long. Like, the distinctions that he makes really does help you parse
out and clarify the pieces that he's talking about for this program. But bigger
picture, I love how he reorients people to thinking about behavior problems as
a skill deficit.
[00:47:46.08] Like, skills can be built. And so it's not that the child is
wrong, which I think a lot of people-- even if we know it, we don't always act
in a way that shows that we know it. You have to practice that.
[00:47:59.46] When he talks about a paramedic, in that moment, when you were
dealing in a really tough situation, your brain is almost on fight or flight.
So when he talks about you've got to really practice under almost similar
circumstances, and I think that's how eventually you get better as an educator
to get that space, like you said, to actually hear what a child is telling you,
because it's rarely the words that are actually coming out of their mouth. It's
something else. So I love that.
[00:48:29.19] I love when he says consequences do not lead necessarily to
accountability. They just don't. He doesn't take anything off the table. What's
great about him is his nuance in understanding everything can have a role.
[00:48:43.62] They might have a place. But generally speaking, if what
you're seeking is accountability-- which is what most educators are. We want
our kids to do better with us, when they're not with us. That means they're
taking ownership in this case of their behavior. You cannot consequence your
way to that, just like you can't incentivize your way to that-- not in the ways
that we've been classically trained.
[00:49:08.79] And I think the last thing that he hits on, which is one of
those like, duh, in school there's a lot of training for instruction. There's a
lot of training for the academic stuff. Why on Earth are we not giving just as
much attention to the discipline classroom management stuff?
[00:49:24.45] Because everybody tells you if you don't have classroom
management or your class is out of control, nothing else is happening. Nothing
else is happening. So I'm glad that we can be a part of spotlighting and
highlighting something that is a need, and frankly a void, I think, in how
we're just preparing educators writ large. So this is just a fantastic
[00:49:47.34] PETER DEWITT: It really was. And I think part of what I
enjoyed is when he talked about the idea that we sometimes tell teachers if the
instruction is there, if [INAUDIBLE] have any issues, and then [INAUDIBLE] we
have an issue, we think that we're terrible, we're not good teachers, and all
that stuff. And he really talked through that. So there are just so many good
[00:50:15.41] TANYA GHANS: So [INAUDIBLE].
[00:50:16.76] PETER DEWITT: So thank you, actually, Tanya, for bringing this
one up. This was totally you. You get full credit for this one. It really was
[00:50:26.13] TANYA GHANS: This is always us because the only way that his
work really comes through well is being with a host and an interviewer like
you. So we say it all the time. It's a joint effort. It really is.
[00:50:39.12] And so I'm just grateful all around. So listeners, we really
hope you enjoyed this episode. Peter, where should they go to tell us about
[00:50:47.89] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
[00:50:49.30] PETER DEWITT: They want to follow the podcast. They want to
look for the Leaders Coaching Leaders podcast. They want to give it 150 stars
or whatever you can do when you're giving feedback.
[00:50:58.99] But we definitely want to be able to hear from you and talk
about what you like about the show, what you would want out of the show. I
mean, we're always looking for feedback. So it'd be great to hear from you.
[00:51:09.96] TANYA GHANS: Always so great learning with you, Peter. I'm
sorry, I feel like the season's maybe coming to a close.
[00:51:17.59] PETER DEWITT: I know.
[00:51:18.31] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
[00:51:19.73] TANYA GHANS: We're not there yet.
[00:51:22.03] PETER DEWITT: We're not. All right. Well, thank you for
listening. And Tanya, always good to see you.
[00:51:27.48] TANYA GHANS: Take care, Peter.
[00:51:28.29] PETER DEWITT: Bye
[00:51:29.50] TANYA GHANS: Bye.
[00:51:30.10] [AUDIO LOGO]
Peter M. DeWitt
Peter DeWitt (Ed.D) is the founder and CEO of the Instructional Leadership Collective. He was a K-5 teacher for 11 years and a principal for 8 years. For the last 10 years, he has been facilitating professional learning nationally, and internationally, based on the content of many of his best-selling educational books.
DeWitt's professional learning relationships are a monthly hybrid approach that includes both coaching and the facilitating workshops on instructional leadership and collective efficacy.
Additionally, in the Summer of 2021, DeWitt created a year long on-demand, asynchronous coaching course through Thinkific where he has created a community of learners that include k-12 educators in leadership positions.
DeWitt's work has been adopted at the state level, university level, and he works with numerous school districts, school boards, regional networks, ministries of education around North America, Australia, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the U.K.
Peter writes the Finding Common Ground column for Education Week, which has been in circulation since 2011. In 2020 DeWitt co-created Education Week's A Seat At the Table where he moderates conversations with experts around the topics of race, gender, sexual orientation, research, trauma and many other educational topics.
Additionally, DeWitt is the Series Editor for the Connected Educator Series (Corwin Press) and the Impact Series (Corwin Press) that include books by Viviane Robinson, Andy Hargreaves, Pasi Sahlberg, Yong Zhao and Michael Fullan.
He is the 2013 School Administrators Association of New York State's (SAANYS) Outstanding Educator of the Year, and the 2015 Education Blogger of the Year (Academy of Education Arts & Sciences), and sits on numerous advisory boards.
Peter is the author, co-author or contributor of numerous books. Click on title to purchase. They include:
Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press. 2012).
Flipping Leadership Doesn't Mean Reinventing the Wheel (Corwin Press. 2014)
Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press/Learning Forward).
School Climate: Leading With Collective Teacher Efficacy (Corwin Press/ Ontario Principals Council. 2017).
Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018).
Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020).
Collective Leader Efficacy: Strengthening the Impact of Instructional Leadership Teams (Corwin Press. Learning Forward. 2021).
De-implementation: Creating the Space to Focus on What Works (Corwin Press. 2022).
Leading with Intention - Developing self-awareness to fostering an unreasonable human interconnectedness to impact the school community (co-authored with Michael Nelson. Corwin Press. 2024).
Peter's articles have appeared in educational research journals at the state, national and international level. His books have been translated into numerous languages.
Some of the organizations Peter has worked with are the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), Learning Forward, National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), University of Oklahoma, Cognition Education (New Zealand), Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL), Victoria Department of Education (Australia), University of Rotterdam (Netherlands), Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), the National Education Association (NEA), New Brunswick Teacher's Association (Canada), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), Education Scotland (Scotland), Glasgow City Council (Scotland), Kuwait Technical College (Kuwait) the National Association of School Psychologists, ASCD, l’Association des directions et directions adjointes des écoles franco-ontariennes (ADFO), the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario (CPCO), and the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), National School Climate Center, GLSEN, PBS, NPR, BAM Radio Network, ABC, and NBC's Education Nation.
Learn more about bringing Peter DeWitt to your school or district at petermdewitt.com
This is a carousel with related book cards. Use the previous and next buttons to navigate.
Other Episodes InN/A
What to do next
Read and engage with us on the latest and best practices in education and professional development.
Let us know what you want to hear about!
Struggling to find a solution to a persistent issue at your school? Would like to hear more about a certain topic? Have some insight to share?