Monthly Archives: June 2012

Can We Help Children Learn Compassion?

By Kayla McCarnes and Nancy W. Sager

In the midst of the rigor of a twenty-first century curriculum, can we squeeze in a few lessons on empathy and compassion? “Touchy-Feely” activities seem like an unwise use of time as we plow through multiplication algorithms, written language activities, and scientific investigations. Yet, we want all of our students to score “well above average” on state standards AND be able to play well with others.

Taking into consideration the time constraints on all educators, there are some strategies that can be embedded into daily lesson plans and the overall school environment. Helping children to care is a foundational piece for success in school and in life.

The capacity for empathy and caring behavior comes early and comes young. As author and beloved kindergarten teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools Vivian Gussin Paley once said, “Children are always on the edge of committing an act of kindness.”

As they grow older, however, this natural tendency for kindness is gradually eroded as children are desensitized by certain cartoons and movies that tend to show that hurting someone is a humorous or legitimate way to gain power.

We can counter these messages by providing students with a safe, respectful, inclusive environment where teachers can teach and students can learn.

Five Strategies to Promote Compassion and Caring in Students

  1. Create a Caring School Climate: Provide students with a physically and psychologically safe, caring environment. You then have numerous opportunities to make a difference daily—while maintaining your standards for discipline and classroom management. The more secure a student feels, the more potential there is to show kindness.
  1. Provide Opportunities That Highlight Others’ Feelings: When teaching students to consider consequences for their actions, we typically identify the various corrective consequences they could receive, both at school and at home.  What we fail to include is the effect on others’ feelings. An example of  a  new response may be: “If you choose to exclude him to make the teams even, how would that make him feel?”

When having a student apologize or when having two students carry out conflict resolution, have them each tell how the action impacted them by using “I” messages. When using “Restorative Justice” approaches, make sure that the impacted child expresses emotions of how he/she was affected.  A pro-social consequence may include having the aggressor walk the injured student to the office, hold the ice pack, etc.—with adult support to ensure the child who was hurt is not re-victimized.

  1. 3.     Create Connections: Create a school and classroom environment that promotes multiple layers of connection. The more a student feels secure, the more fulfilled the student feels, and he/she is then more apt to be kind to others. As an administrator, make every effort to greet students by name.
  2. Use Teachable Moments to Enrich Your Students’ “Feelings Vocabulary”: Use teaching opportunities to add to your students’  “Emotional”  or  “Feelings” vocabulary. Whether you are discussing current events or characters in literature, teach new words that are used less frequently in everyday conversation.  By doing this, words such as distress, uneasy, contemptuous, alarmed, and humiliated can enhance your students’ repertoire of word knowledge and increase their range of feelings … in a context that illustrates the feeling.
  1. Model Kind and Caring Behavior: Lead by example! This is your most powerful tool to make an impact daily with your students. Show with your actions and your words that you respect each and every student and adult you encounter.

Sometimes the easiest interventions can make the most dynamic changes. You can start small; individuals in the classroom can help lead the way. Cultivating compassion and promoting kindness, inclusion, and respectful behavior can become “contagious” and spread throughout the school and community at large.

Kayla McCarnes, MSW, PhD, has worked in the field of school mental health as a school social worker and school psychologist for 33 years. She has co-authored a book, written articles, presented at conferences, and has worked with the staff, parents, and students of schools on creating a caring community, anti-bullying, and managing behavior interventions.

Nancy Sager, M.A., is an educational and behavioral consultant with the Cherry Creek School District in Colorado. She has worked with children who have special needs for more than 30 years. She is a coauthor of the Bully-Proofing Series.

About Nancy Sager

Books by Nancy Sager

Categories: Family, Positive School Climate | Leave a comment

RtI and the Common Core: Seizing the Golden Opportunity—Complementary, Not Competing, Initiatives Part 2

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

In our previous entry, we proposed that RtI and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiatives share a common goal: increased rigor for all students. The next step is to ensure that we seize the golden opportunity to use existing RtI structures and systems to facilitate the implementation of CCSS, the “new initiative on the block.”

Let’s take a look at a couple ways in which we can capitalize on the complementary aspects of these two initiatives.

Analyze and Improve Tier I

We know that without strong Tier I instruction, RtI will become a system of never-ending interventions rather than excellent first instruction. Given the importance of this strong foundation, a necessary component of a successful RtI system is to analyze and improve Tier I instruction. Part of that analysis will be to develop curriculum, instruction, and assessment based on the Common Core State Standards.

With a CCSS-based curriculum in place, assessment data will highlight student strengths and weaknesses. Through analysis of this Tier I data, the need for instructional adjustments will emerge. For example, if many students are referred to Tier II intervention in the primary grades for spelling deficits, then that instructional hole must be filled in Tier I to ensure that as many students as possible become proficient with first instruction. Assessment data based on the skills and concepts in the CCSS will help to identify opportunities to improve Tier I instruction.

For a comprehensive RtI system, the implementation of Common Core State Standards provides the impetus to focus on an effective Tier I to ensure that intervention isn’t a consequence of a weak foundation.  For emerging or fledgling RtI systems, the opportunity arises to integrate the new standards with the development of an RtI system designed to meet the needs of all students

Differentiate for All Students

In addition to using the CCSS as an opportunity to fine-tune Tier I content and instructional practices, we know that RtI requires that we serve all students within and beyond the parameters of the Tier I curriculum. In order to achieve this goal, we need to view the standards as having a range of accessibility and importance, much as students have a range of learning abilities and needs.

How students meet the CCSS expectations varies along a continuum according to a range of needs from concept development for students who also receive Tier II or Tier III intervention (what must they know) to enrichment (what could they know) (Allain and Eberhardt, 2011). As the following graphic illustrates, our response to instruction and intervention must consider the needs of the full range of learners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention

As we begin to implement the CCSS, we have an obligation to remember this full range of student needs. But, how do we do serve all learners with the Common Core? Let’s take a look at an example using a standard from the CCSS. The same standard can be addressed for all students but to different levels.

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.*

Must Know

Students who also receive intervention

Should Know

Students who are proficient or close to proficient

Could Know

Students who are advanced or could be advanced

Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of one complex characterdevelop over the course of a text, interact with another character, and advance the plot or theme.  Use supplementary materials as necessary. Describe how multiple or conflicting motivations of complex characters develop over the course of the text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.  Use grade-level materials. Describe and analyze the relationship of multiple or conflicting motivations of a complex character and other characters in the development of plot and theme. Use grade-level and above-grade-level materials.

*Grade 9-10 Common Core State Standards:  English/Language Arts

Note that at each point along the continuum, the intent of the standard is addressed. We differentiate the variables—product and process, such as the level of analysis and the difficulty level of the reading material—but stay true to the focus of the standard. In this way, students who are receiving instruction to improve reading skills at another time of the day (e.g., during Tier II intervention) are still receiving the benefit of instruction in the CCSS—but with accommodations at their skill level.

What we see in this example is the fact that no matter what defines the goal of instruction—be it the CCSS, a purchased curriculum, or local goals and objectives—the need to differentiate instruction on this continuum from “must” to “could” will always exist. Frankly, it isn’t about having RtI or CCSS. It is about understanding and using the power of the structure of RtI to facilitate the implementation of CCSS.

An Opportunity to Change

If we continue to view each initiative—new or not—as a separate entity, we are playing out the common silo-esque approach to implementing innovation. Our observation is that, rather than integrating a new initiative into the existing structures so that it has a multiplier effect on impact and efficiency, we all too often view new needs or initiatives as a linear process. A linear process works from a “limited capacity” mind-set—as the next initiative comes online, another must be bumped out of line. Tragically, when we do this, we throw the baby out with the bath water. We can and must change this trend. The implementation of RtI and CCSS provides the golden opportunity to have these initiatives complement each other rather than compete for our limited resources.

See our previous blog for a discussion on RtI and CCSS.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., works with states, districts, and schools across the country to develop, implement, and coach customized RtI systems. Her career experience at both the classroom and district level provides the perspective of a practitioner in real schools with real students. She is the author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention: A Planning Guide for Middle and High School and Logistics of Literacy Intervention: An RtI Planning Guide for Elementary Schools as well as coauthor of RtI: The Forgotten Tier.  You can contact Joanne at

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt works with districts and schools to implement RtI systems focusing on literacy instruction and intervention. Her career in education has included roles as a special education teacher, mainstreaming associate, and administrator. She also worked extensively, as editor and coauthor, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2–4). Most recently, she coauthored RtI: The Forgotten Tier with Joanne Allain. Nancy can be contacted at

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 2 Comments

RtI and the Common Core: A golden opportunity, not just one more thing to do! Part 1

By Joanne Allain & Nancy Eberhardt

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is upon us—oh no! I guess we will have to put Response to Intervention (RtI) aside to make room for the focus and resources needed to implement the Common Core. Budgets are tight; something has to go. RtI or MTSS (Multitier System of Supports) will take care of itself. Does this sound familiar?

The reality is that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will replace and/or enhance individual state standards and change grade-level instruction in scope, sequence, and methodology. In order to implement the new standards and the assessments that will accompany them, districts have begun to shift the focus of professional development to Common Core.

CCSS professional development is essential because teachers must be trained on the changes that will be expected of them. What seems to be missing from both the CCSS professional development and implementation planning, however, is seizing the opportunity to address the Common Core State Standards within the framework of RtI. This approach pits these initiatives as competing rather than complementary.

The following quotes from RtI and CCSS experts point out the interconnectedness between the two initiatives.

In the article Response to Intervention—The Promise and the Peril, the Council for Exceptional Children maintains that “It (RtI) has the ability to transform how we educate students—all students. With RtI, students may get the support they need as soon as they show signs that they are having difficulty learning, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.”

Let’s pair the previous statement with the “promise” of the Common Core State Standards from the webinar by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): “These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step. It is time for states to work together to build on lessons learned from two decades of standards-based reforms. It is time to recognize that these standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep.”

Both initiatives urge educators to take the next step. RtI urges educators to meet the needs of all students—including those who are proficient and advanced. The implementation of CCSS urges educators to extend student learning of content and skills in Tier I to an application level. The common goal: increased rigor for all students.

The necessity and value of combining initiatives is further corroborated when we take into account what the CCSS do NOT define, yet the developers feel are important enough to identify as valuable instructional factors. Consider this list, provided by the NGA Center and the CCSSO, of things that the standards do not define:

  • How teachers should teach
  • All that can or should be taught
  • The nature of advanced work beyond the core
  • The interventions needed for students well below grade level
  • The full range of support for English language learners and students with special needs
  • Everything needed to be college and career ready

These instructional factors already exist within an RtI framework. They are, in fact, the heart and soul of RtI. Rather than viewing these initiatives—CCSS and RtI—as separate silos, we should view RtI as the structure within which to implement CCSS. How? The Common Core State Standards define what we should be teaching in Tier I; the other tiers in an RtI system exist to provide intervention when students need additional support.

In The New Meaning of Educational Change (2001), Michael Fullan stated: “Teachers and others know enough now, if they didn’t 20 years ago, not to take change seriously unless the central administrators demonstrate through actions that they should.”

If we push RtI to the side and treat CCSS as unrelated to RtI, educators will take that as a signal that RtI (MTSS) is one more reform that has fallen into the abyss.

Instead, let’s follow the example of those states, districts, and schools that have recognized the value of RtI and the importance of incorporating CCSS into RtI plans.  When citing in Wisconsin Response to Intervention: A Guiding Document the significant changes anticipated by the implementation of CCSS, Tony Evers, Ph.D., the state superintendent of Wisconsin in 2010, stated: “These initiatives are not separate of RtI; they are integrated in my vision of a high-quality RtI system.”

If we are to serve all students and prepare them for a 21st Century future, can we do anything less?

In our next blog, we will expand on how RtI and CCSS are complementary, not competing, initiatives.

Joanne Allain

Joanne Allain, M.A., is a national educational consultant specializing in the effective implementation of literacy intervention at the secondary level. She is author of Logistics of Literacy Intervention and a member of the National Council of LANGUAGE! Trainers.

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt

Nancy Chapel Eberhardt works with districts and schools to implement RtI systems focusing on literacy instruction and intervention. Her career in education has included roles as a special education teacher, mainstreaming associate, and administrator. She also worked extensively, as editor and co-author, on LANGUAGE! (Editions 2 – 4). Most recently, she co-authored RtI: The Forgotten Tier with Joanne Allain.Nancy can be contacted at

About Joanne Allain

Books by Joanne Allain: Logistics Of Literacy Intervention

Categories: Assessment, Literacy | 5 Comments

“Hands-on” vs. “Hands-off” Parenting: Developing a Help Plan With Your Child

By Dr. Steven Richfield

One of the challenges of raising children is determining how much to help, guide, and remind and when to give them room to steer themselves. The differences between a “hands-on” and a “hands-off” approach to parenting have far-reaching implications. Some children can truly benefit from more guidance, while others experience help as intrusive and even suffocating. Conflict may arise when kids receive too much or too little parental involvement, leaving parents frustrated and unsure of what to do.

If these circumstances sound all too familiar, consider the following coaching tips to navigate your way to a mutually comfortable helping role with your child:

  • Choose a calm time to have a frank discussion with them about the issue. Share your observations of the roles each of you play in the too much vs. too little help drama. Gently bring up the times when they have resisted help but later found it could have led to a better outcome. Balance this discussion with examples of how well they did when receiving no help. Ensure that they understand your goal is for them to become self-sufficient and independent adults who can rely upon their own resources. Invite them to offer their honest perspective on you as a “hands-on” vs. “hands-off” parent.
  • Develop a help plan that entails dividing up areas of life where the two of you agree more or less parental help is needed. Where there is agreement, try to detail the ways your child would like to receive help:
  •  Do they want a single reminder?
  • Is it better for you to offer guidance when you find out they have a specific task ahead of them?
  • Should you wait for them to request help no matter how much they appear to be struggling?

Don’t dwell on the areas of disagreement over help. Instead, suggest that the two of you place them in the category of “undecided” until future events clarify what level of help appears to be needed.

As you watch events in the “undecided” column unfold in your child’s life, resist the urge to insert comments as they occur. “This is why I think you need my help” will likely backfire, making your child less agreeable to a help plan.

Keep in mind that the timing of comments and environmental context will have a major impact on how well your child accepts what you offer. Consider and/or acknowledge if another parent does not support your view of how much help is needed. Recognize that your message will have the greatest impact when delivered in a loving tone and with words that focus on your child’s happiness and success in the world.

When you offer the agreed-upon help, do so in a manner that displays your confidence in their abilities. This requires an attitude combining your unemotional guidance with praise for their efforts. Suspending your reactions is often a critical requirement for them to try to manage their own.

Dr. Steven Richfield is an author and child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA. He has developed a child-friendly, self-control/social skills-building program called Parent Coaching Cards. He can be contacted at or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit

About Steven Richfield

Products by Steven Richfield: The Parent Coach

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