A LYS Superintendent shares his notes with his principals after observing multiple classrooms during the first week of school.


I forwarding to you an email I have just sent to my principals. This is my reminder to them after visiting classrooms during this first week of school. After all, you have to model and you have to coach.


Group work and cooperative learning is hard to do right.  First, the amount of time spent using this instructional method should be monitored.  We get excited when we see it because it is potentially a high-yield practice, but that does not mean learning is occurring.

First, groupings should vary.  Purposeful grouping is rare, but necessary.  Groups of 2 to 3 are ideal. Anything larger than that tends to turn into a social gathering. Grouping a high achiever with a low achiever has obvious benefits.  By grouping high and high together, the teacher can take the opportunity to teach the lower achievers in a much smaller setting and in a more intense, directed manner.  Most grouping I have observed have been student selected, which only increases likelihood of purely social groupings, re: ineffective.  Social grouping should be an infrequent occurrence, although I would not use the word “never.” 

What is more ideal than continuous grouping is to stop teaching, have the students turn to a neighbor, and explain the concept to each other.  Better yet, give them a minute to bullet point their thoughts individually, and then share with their neighbor for a couple of minutes.  

The point is that as instructional leaders don’t get too giddy just because you see students in groups.  Observe the grouping and groups very carefully and take that into consideration when determining the effectiveness of learning.  Be wary of classes where the students remain in groups for exceedingly long periods of time. Remember that the effective teacher uses a variety of instructional strategies daily.  Getting into a rut of doing cooperative and collaborative learning all day long is nearly as bad of a practice as lecturing all period long.

Next, look for the lecturer who has put students into groups.  Yes, the students are in groups, but the teacher never stops talking about the lesson.  This is a lecture that is simply being done without the students lined up in rows.  When a teacher first starts using groups, this will naturally happen, but as instructional leaders you need to watch for this and coach the teacher to better practices.  

Lastly, teachers need to understand that students don’t primarily learn by listening to the teacher talk.  The students have to be doing the work.  I have seen math classes where the teacher never stopped talking and the teacher worked all of the problems as the students copied the teacher’s work.  This is extremely ineffective.  No wonder the teacher is tired, she is doing all the work.  Work the kids, not the teacher.

These are some initial thoughts that you should address with your faculty during your first meetings, or in severe cases – one on one.  I am basing this memo on only a few walk-thru’s conducted during the first week of school, so this does not indicate a trend. But these are talking points that are worth continuously reinforcing with your faculty.  

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction.” Individual copies available on Amazon.com!  http://tinyurl.com/Fundamental5 
  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “Look at Me: A Cautionary School Leadership Tale” Individual copies available on Amazon.com!  http://tinyurl.com/lookatmebook 
  • Now at the Apple App Store: Fun 5 Plans (Fundamental 5 Lesson Plan Tool); PW Lite (Basic PowerWalks Tool); PW Pro (Mid-level PowerWalks Tool) 
  • Upcoming Presentations: The Fundamental 5 National Summit (Multiple Presentations); NASSP National Conference 
  • Follow Sean Cain and LYS on www.Twitter.com/LYSNation  and like Lead Your School on Facebook