Coaches' Corner: What if Strategies Aren’t Working?

For Middle Level
Coach Chris says,

Developmental Designs coaches and workshop facilitators are frequently asked the question "What if ____________ (fill in any Developmental Designs strategy here) isn't working?"

Reflecting in a systematic way is a great way to proceed. Solutions are likely to emerge, and there are several tools you can use to guide your thinking:

  • Three rings of the engaged student: supportive community, motivating instruction, social-emotional skills
  • Four adolescent needs: relationship, autonomy, competence, and fun
  • Teacher mindsets: active, objective, and growth

Three rings

Analyze your teaching practices in each of the three rings. Question to self: Which one contains a Developmental Designs strategy that I'm not using, or need to use better to resolve my problem?

For example, in the supportive community ring, you may find that student peer-to-peer relationships are weak and could be bolstered through the practices of Power of Play and acknowledgments.

In the social-emotional skills ring, you may realize that you are using Pathways to Self-control (the reactive toolbox) very well, but have neglected to proactively set your expectations regarding student behavior. Modeling your expectations and holding student endorsement conversations would make the whole behavior management system run better.

Perhaps you are building great relationships and managing behavior very well, but the problem lies in the third ring (motivating instruction). Your timing of the delivery of new information is off, and by applying primacy-recency theory (part of the larger Developmental Designs practice of orchestration), you might solve the problem.

Four adolescent needs

Many times, a handful of students, or even a single student, can make implementing a Developmental Designs practice much more difficult. By looking at student behavior through the lens of the four needs (relationship, autonomy, fun, and competence), a realistic solution can emerge. Question to self: Which of the four needs is this student meeting in ways that are inappropriate, and how can I change the dynamic so s/he gets that same need met in my classroom in a school-appropriate way?

For example, a student may be engaging you and other students in power struggles. She has a valid need for power, but she is trying to fulfill that need in a way that prevents you from managing wholegroup conversations effectively. By figuring out a way to meet her need for power in a positive way during class discussions, you might turn her around. Try allowing her to observe the process and report back to the group at the end, or give her the task of pulling name sticks to call on students.


Educator Matthew Christen writes about how he used ideas from psychologist Carol Dweck's book Mindset to help a student change from using a crippling fixed mindset to a more healthy growth mindset. Teachers can explore their own mindsets when a Developmental Designs practice is not working. Question to self: Which of the three mindsets do I need to tap into in order to solve my problem?

A fixed teacher mindset about a practice can be that practice's doom. If, for example, a teacher thinks, "I'm good at using take a break," or, "take a break works," that teacher is in for trouble. What happens when it starts to break down? What happens if he starts using it without setting it up properly, or overuses it, lost in the false presumption that it will work? (I've been there, and know how painful this can be!) If he adopts the opposite fixed mindset -" Take a break won't work," or, "I can't use take a break effectively"- he may not even try it, may use it without confidence, or may use it inconsistently, and students are sure to pick up on that. If, on the other hand, he works from a growth mindset-"Take a break can work if I set it up properly so my students take advantage of it and if I stay vigilant about maintaining its value in the students' eyes"-and then works on it each day throughout the year, it will work in most cases.

Chris Hagedorn is a Developmental Designs consultant and writer for Origins.


Related Topics: 
Problem Solving