Tag Archives: norms

How to run an in-person morning meeting at home

Parents, how are you doing at home with your new “homeschool classroom”?

I’m with you. I’ve been waking up every day for the past two and half weeks feeling like I am in the movie Groundhog Day.


Despite having been a middle school teacher for nearly 20 years, I feel like nothing has prepared me for the task of working from home and managing the academic lives of three children — two of them adolescent boys. Like many of you, I am the homeroom teacher, food service, custodian, counselor, art teacher, PE teacher, and behavior specialist.

And I am struggling.

For two weeks, nothing has felt normal. My home has felt chaotic, and I have been stressed.

I finally had some time to reflect this week upon our home school system. I thought about what is working (snack break) and what is not (sustained work without whining). Then I thought about what I would do if I was a teacher in the classroom again. And finally, I realized that what my home school needed was a sense of community and some routines.

Enter the Home Morning Meeting

Today was our first day, and I designated myself as the leader of today’s morning meeting. I told my family to arrive fully dressed, at the kitchen table, for 8:30 am. I served everyone a bagel, and announced the purpose and structure of our new morning meeting. We would gather together every morning to connect, have a bit of fun, and set the stage for the day.

Now, I live with real humans. This is not some Pollyanna life that I lead.

My husband stared straight ahead like he was enduring a dentist visit. The 16-year-old may have muttered, “This is insane”… My nine year old daughter suggested we put hands on our heads when we were ready to share. Each of us came to this meeting with varying degrees of acceptance and enthusiasm. I fully expected this outcome, and we did it anyway.

It’s important for our kids to have routine and structure. Adults need it too. We are realizing very quickly during these times that face-to-face connection is critical to our human needs. If you can handle it, please consider trying a morning meeting at your home. It takes about 15-20 minutes, and this has been my happiest morning yet.

Here’s my structure for a Home Morning Meeting:

1. Greeting

Start the meeting by greeting each other. You decide how that works, but the basic requirements are to greet a person by name and with eye contact. This morning, we greeted the person to our right with a “Good Morning, Dad” and a fist bump. (There will be snickering)

2. Daily News

The leader of Morning Meeting gives an update and news brief about the day. I said, “Today is Thursday, April 2. It’s a school day with academic learning from 9-12, lunch at 12. Lunch is hot dogs. If you don’t like hot dogs, you can make yourself a PB & J sandwich. From 12:30 – 2, it’s free choice time for extracurriculars. You can do art, music, PE, foreign language, or other projects. Devices stay off until 2 pm”

Keep it short and direct. If you think it’s helpful, you can use a visual.

3. Sharing

Next, the leader opens up a prompt for people to think about and share.

Ours was, “What’s a place in the world that you would like to visit someday?”

The real world responses:

  • Harry Potter Wizarding World in Orlando
  • Amsterdam
  • Costa Rica
  • Lake Louise in Banff National Park
  • Siberia

Bet you can’t guess which one is the ironic 16 year old response.

4. Game or Activity

Lastly, the leader can choose some sort of short activity or game. You can even get outside for a game or a walk. Today, we played one of my favorite advisory games, Count to Ten.

Then, I closed the meeting and wished everyone a good day. Yes, it felt a little hokey and forced, but it also felt good.

We said good morning to each other. We knew what day it was. And we laughed together.

Plus I learned that my husband wanted to visit Amsterdam. So it was a positive start to the day.

Please share with me if you do your own Home Morning Meeting. What ideas do you have? What’s working? The struggle is real, and I’m with you.

Using protocols for equity

So, maybe you’ve been using protocols at faculty meetings or professional learning community sessions.  Perhaps you’ve found that they make space for all voices in conversations about proficiency-based education.  Or you like how they foster collaboration as you work together to structure personalized learning plans.  Know what else they can do?  Support us as we have the toughest conversations of all: those focused on equity.

In fact, the mission of the School Reform Initiative, whose protocols and structures I use regularly, is all about equity.

First, let’s make sure we have a common meaning of equity.

The National Equity Project defines it this way:

Educational equity means that each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential.

They go on to say that working towards equity means:

Ensuring equally high outcomes for all participants in our educational system; removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor

Interrupting inequitable practices, examining biases, and creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children

Discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests that every human possesses.

Protocols, facilitated well, provide structure to do this crucial work. They are workhorses that help schools identify their shortcomings in creating structures that produce “high outcomes for all” students. A well thought out protocol session makes space for unearthing assumptions, uncovering biases, and exposing inequitable practices and policies. And protocols can help us fine-tune our work so that we are increasingly able to help every learner reach their full potential.

Let’s begin to explore some of the ways we can use protocols to create more equitable schools for all Vermont students. We’ll start by using structures to examine texts about equity.

Time for a disclaimer:

At the bottom of every School Reform Initiative protocol is written the following statement:

Facilitating a protocol is more than executing a series of steps.  Sure, protocols look like recipes, but not everyone is a good cook!  I encourage you to get trained in facilitation or work with a trained facilitator to select and use protocols well.  Poorly facilitated protocol sessions can sour a faculty on protocols for good!  And it is almost never the protocol’s fault, rather it is the result of sloppy or ill-conceived facilitation.

Interested in getting trained as a facilitator? Learn more here.

… and a word about fidelity.

When I train facilitators we often talk about facilitating with fidelity. New facilitators often take that to mean that they have to time each step to the second, be rigid about moving on, and control the entire process with precision.  It often takes a lot of practice before their understanding deepens.

That word, “fidelity”, always takes me back to my days as an undergraduate when I took an art history course. Specifically, I think of the van Eyck painting “Arnolfini Wedding”, with its small dog in the foreground. That little pooch, according to my professor, symbolizes fidelity. When I facilitate I think of my own pup, Charlie!

Charlie ponders protocols for equity

He is loyal beyond a doubt, but he is not awfully obedient. He barks at strangers, would rather run to greet a friend then listen to my command to stay, and finds every opportunity to roll in stinky substances.  And yet, he is my best hiking partner, my most devoted friend. He seems to know that his true purpose isn’t compliance or aesthetics, but love.

I am reminded, each time I facilitate with fidelity, to be like Charlie: to be faithful to the intentions of the protocol session first and foremost. While I follow each step (these structures are designed deliberately!), I sometimes add a little extra time if not everyone has had the opportunity to speak or I build in a little space for thinking.  I remember why we are doing what we are doing and use the protocol to serve that purpose.

One more thing before we get started: NORMS!

Conversations about equity are challenging, and while the structure of a protocol helps, they only work when a group also has agreed on a way of behaving together.  Shared norms or agreements help create a culture that can sustain difficult conversations.  As Elena Aguilar says,

Norms cultivate trust and safety.  They exist to prevent unhealthy conflict from mushrooming, to guide our behavior, and, most important, to help us do whatever it is we’ve decided to do as a team.

I’ve found the Four Agreements for Courageous Conversations to be especially effective at helping teams engage in equity work:

  • Stay engaged
  • Experience discomfort
  • Speak your truth
  • Expect and accept non-closure

This video is a great way to introduce these agreements and explore their deeper meaning. I generally add an additional agreement:

  • Honor confidentiality

Vermont educator Rhiannon Kim has adapted these to create some amazing meeting norms for creating spaces for doing equity work.  Whatever norms you use, take time to review them at the beginning of the meeting and debrief them at the end.

Using protocols to explore texts about equity

Using protocols to explore texts is a good place to start. They provide the structure many groups need to stay focused on a reading and to push us to deeper meaning-making. When paired with an equity-focused text, they can lead to a shared understanding and transform school practices.

The Text Rendering Protocol is a great entry point.  Use it to examine a short piece to prime the pump on what equity even means in schools.  Equity in Education: Where To Begin?, for example, can help a faculty build some common ground on the subject.  At the end of the session you’ll have a list of phrases and words that seem especially important when considering this topic.

Protocols often ask us to slow down in order to learn from a text

The Four A’s Text Protocol is one of my very favorites because it encourages us to be aspirational. You might use it to discuss Equity Literacy for All with a group of colleagues.  The protocol will ask you to identify the assumptions the author holds, find places of agreement, look for places you might argue with the author (or ask a question), and finally find something to aspire to or act upon. It’s a fabulous way to learn more about equity literacy and commit to some action.

Consider using the Making Meaning Protocol as a way to examine Best Practices for Serving LGBTQ Students.  This structure will help you take time to understand the text and its significance before considering its implications for your school.


Perhaps you are ready to discuss racial or class equity

Some Vermont educators have been reading Ali Michael’s What White Children Need to Know About Race.  The Save the Last Word for Me protocol can allow educators to deepen their understanding of this challenging text while listening to other’s perspectives and sharing their own. I guarantee this article will spark new thinking! You can follow it up with a discussion of What is White Privilege, Really?, using the same protocol or trying out another one.


One of our most challenging jobs as educators is to interrogate our own biases. Paul Gorski’s piece Five Stereotypes About Poor Families and Education provides an opportunity to jumpstart that work. Using the Three Levels of Text Protocol can allow participants to explore the implications of his research to their own teaching practice.

Take your PLC to the next level

These same protocols could be used to discuss content focused articles like The Courage to Teach Hard History, Just Science, Seeing Themselves in Books, or Solving Problems Beyond Math Class in a professional learning community.  The possibilities are endless! All you need is some time, attention, and a community to stretch your thinking.

Collaboration is a practice

As we strive to make Vermont schools more equitable places that provide rich opportunities for every learner, we need all of the help we can get.  Protocols are a powerful tool for fostering the conversations that will help us get there.  But, just like anything worth doing, they require practice!  When we engage in facilitated dialogues with purpose and intention, we build our collective capacity to recognize and address inequities in action, one conversation at a time.

#vted Reads: Protocols in the Classroom, with Terra Lynch

#vted Reads logoWelcome back to #vted Reads! Now, I recorded this episode back in September out in San Antonio, at the School Reform Initiative’s Fall 2018 meeting. Author Terra Lynch was kind enough to chat with me about her book for the podcast between sessions. Recording spaces were kind of hard to come by at the conference, so we did our best to find a place without ceilings that were too high, or too echoey, or filled with other participants. We did our best, and hope you enjoy this powerful conversation about protocols, and how you can use them with students in creating democratic classroom situations. Sidenote: Emily Hoyler has written an amazing introduction to protocols, if you’d like a refresher.

Now, on with the show.

Jeanie: I’m Jeanie Phillips and welcome to #vted Reads! We’re here to talk books for educators, by educators, and with educators. Today, I’m in San Antonio for the School Reform Initiative’s Fall Meeting. This annual conference is focused on creating brave spaces to surface inequity and examine our biases and assumptions so that we can ensure our teaching practices help all students learn.  I’m here with Terra Lynch. We’ll be talking about her book, Protocols in the Classroom. She’s written this book with co-authors; David Allen, Tina Blythe and Alan Dichter. Terra is not just an author, she’s also an educator who has a wealth of experience in using protocols with students. 

Thanks for joining me, Terra. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Author Terra Lynch (left) and host Jeanie Phillips (right) hold up a copy of the book Protocols in the Classroom


Terra: Hi. Thanks for having me. My name is Terra Lynch. I am a learning specialist. I’m a teacher and I’m a dyslexic advocate. And I’m also an author now.

Jeanie: Congratulations on your book. It just came out a month or so ago?    

Terra: It came out at the end of the summer, yes.

Jeanie: Excellent. It was perfect timing for me because I teach Collaborative Practices. I teach people how to use protocols.

We often encourage people to use protocols with students. This book is really a roadmap for that.      

Terra: That’s good to hear. Another hat that I wear is working with teachers and coaching, so often what comes up when I’m working with adults is “that sounds like I can use in the classroom.” Over time, during the debrief, I add a step and do uses. What are some uses with adults? What are some uses with children? That led to, why don’t we have a book about using protocols in the classroom?                 

Jeanie: Excellent. I’m really glad that it exists. I’ve pointed a lot of people to it.

I want to start the conversation by just asking why?  Why bother with protocols with students?

Terra: Okay, great question. I was thinking: is it the same answer as using protocols with adults? And to a certain extent it is. It’s a way to focus the conversation. It’s a way to frame ideas to be using time efficiently. To help children with expressive of language. I find that having the ordered steps and the clarity of the formatting even, can help students who might otherwise struggle to know what the expectations are for time, for their role. What’s coming next? How long might this take? I find it sort of provides a scaffold for kids in the classroom. It also builds a lot of habits that they can use in other areas of life. That’s a nice part about using protocols with kids.          

Jeanie: Let’s just back up for a minute. For people who aren’t familiar with protocols, when we say protocol, what do you mean, specifically?     

A snapshot from the School Reform Initiative's website with a link to Protocols.


Terra: Not a straitjacket. *laughs* I think there’s a real misunderstanding that a protocol is a series of steps that you must do for the sake of the protocol. For me, it’s really not so much about the steps as much as the group that you’re working with. How might this particular protocol — or way of talking about an idea, or discussing an idea, or delving into different ideas — how might this series of steps provide support for a class, and for individuals of the class to not only improve their own learning and understanding of something, but be part of the group and push the group’s thinking as well?                  

Jeanie: What I’m hearing is that protocols are structures that support learning, but also that protocols are their own learning.

Terra: Yes.

Protocols and student agency

A snapshot from the School Reform Initiative's website with tools for Protocols for Youth Engagement.

Jeanie: That learning to do the protocol also teaches you these other skills around communication and collaboration that you wouldn’t get at without that structure.      

Terra: Yes. Actually, as you say that, it also makes me think about the importance of the debrief, and ways that protocols are learning structures and they’re flexible. I think that the debrief is a key piece of that. The individual who speaks in the debrief and those who listen to each other are able to then change next time how things went [based on] the particular needs of that group. I think that’s really the beauty of using protocols with kids. It gives them agency to make decisions about how things are going to run in the classroom.             

Jeanie: I love that. We’re going to talk more about the debrief later. I know you teach in Texas (where we are now), but the audience for this podcast is Vermont educators. A lot of Vermont educators are familiar with using protocols for staff meetings or in professional learning communities.

You’re giving us some good reasons to use them with students. One of the connections I see is with Vermont’s transferable skills? Which is our version of 21st century skills. I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about those kinds of skills like communication, clear and effective communication we call it, or collaboration or problem solving. How you think protocols connect with what we used to think of as “soft skills”.         


Building transferable skills using protocols

Terra: Yes, I’d love to. That actually reminds me of some research that I did for a children’s museum and the focus on STEAM. The idea of STEAM being Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math and how important 21st-century skills are to pull them together. You can be a great engineer, but without the ability to be a flexible thinker, to be open to new ideas, to be open to feedback, to give feedback to others, to work within a group to get a process done, you can’t really be a successful engineer. And that’s true of all those different silos within the STEAM term.

What’s great about protocols is that the process itself does allow students to practice all of those different skills.

It can be pretty explicit. In elementary school for sure, but even in middle and high school, I’ve used sentence starters to help students begin to use feedback phrases or to ask for further clarification because that doesn’t always come naturally. Then, you can get stuck if you’re not able to ask for what you need or ask for more information to further understand the problem.               

Jeanie: For me, thinking about the context in which I work, a lot of times we feel really confident in the content areas that we teach. We don’t feel as confident in how do we teach these 21st-century skills or transferable skills.

And this feels like a great toolbox through which you can teach these portable, transportable skills that cross disciplines and cross out into the real world.             


Sometimes framed as “the four C’s” — collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity —  these skills are increasingly recognized as essential for success in school, college, the workplace, and society. Such skills are the stock-in-trade of protocols, which push students to articulate their thinking, listen carefully to the ideas of others, and work collaboratively to address key questions and challenges.

They foster students understanding the key aspects of collaborations such as presenting their work to peers, asking thoughtful questions of others, providing feedback to one another, etcetera.

Yes, that quote is similar to what we are talking about. I really love the quote at the end by Emily Rossi:

Once students are familiar with the protocol, they feel confident about how to run the discussion, what frees them up to be bold in what they choose to contribute.

That idea of students running the classroom, owning the classroom, is so powerful.

It is something that protocols really help with. And the idea of being bold. I just think that’s what I wanted my students to be bold, whether it’s in their content, in their thinking, or in advocacy for themselves or for the people around them.  

Jeanie: I love that. I also think about how the best artists are creative within constraints. Protocols are a really great construction that allow you to do deep thinking because of the constraints.     


Terra: Yes, I agree that having constraints can be liberating because you don’t have to worry, think, or spend energy about what might be coming next. I keep talking about the debrief, but the debrief too can help with equilibrium where sometimes we do need to loosen the constraints a little bit because of the topic or experience with the group or a lot of other reasons.

Choosing a protocol

Jeanie: Yes. The second part of the book, the second section I think, you get into the section called, “Getting Going.” You start with choosing a protocol which is, as somebody who works with adults, a really challenging process. You organize your protocols around these two categories that I found really useful and thoughtful. One is purposes and one is habits. I wonder if you wanted to talk us through your thinking in terms of organizing protocols that way.


Terra: Sure. The idea of purpose is probably something familiar to the people who are listening. Since anything you do in the classroom, the more clear your purpose, the more clearly you articulate to your students the why, the more buy-in I think you tend to get. Then, I know that for me as a planner, I tend to over-plan. I can go in 500 directions, but to have that clear purpose stated helps provide the constraints that I need to stay focused and get what I need done.                    

Jeanie: What are some of the purposes that these protocols address?  

Terra: My favorite one is to build community, which to me is one of the most important pieces of being in the classroom with students. How to be a good listener is another purpose. Not just in a sense of listening and repeating but listening to understand the perspectives of others. Again, to me, to be an individual in this group classroom is sort of an organic family kind of situation. It’s really important to understand the perspectives of others, to know they exist and then to move deeper into appreciation or to move to a point of trust that you can disagree. Or push back. That’s another one of the important purposes.

Then going back to the idea of self-advocacy and agency in students too, protocols, you may choose to help students speak up, use their voice in different ways, develop expressive language. Those are all really important for the classroom and beyond.                        

As a teacher, when I’m thinking about content, I’m also thinking about the group dynamics or the group needs. When I’m thinking about how I’m going to bring some content in and have students process it, I will also have a lens of looking at it in terms of:

“What does this particular class need to practice, or even to show off about? What can they show that they’ve learned in terms of somebody’s habits as well?”          

Jeanie: You’ve addressed purposes. You’ve unpacked that for us. Now, unpack that word habits.  

…and Habits 

Terra: Yes, habits. We went back and forth about whether we should call them habits or skills or what were they? But habits are the idea of something that you practice to get better at. To become less forced and more routine, more natural. Those habits are baked into the protocols not necessarily explicitly. We wanted to pull them out, thinking of teachers in classrooms in mind, just for the very reason that they are transferable. They can be used across classrooms.

I guess in my dreamy world of dreams, students are using protocols in various classrooms so that they can also instinctively see, this works in science and in English.

Maybe they’ll find themselves in another situation during the school day where they might use some of the habits like,

“Could you tell me more about what you mean by that saying?“

Yes, habits are certainly throughout adult life, too, we’re just always using them, so we are always fine-tuning them.

Jeanie: Nice. Could you name some of those habits more specifically?

Terra: Yes, I can. I think I talked earlier for one of the purposes of understanding other’s perspectives. That’s one of the habits that comes up in Compass Points and Fears and Hopes. Let’s see. Listening, we also talked about. There are a couple of protocol-like activities I love for that one, too, involving using names. Even just having kids call on each other when there are multiple answers and calling them by name. I think it’s just such a wonderful way to acknowledge and listen to others. You have to pay attention who said what, who hasn’t. Listening is one.


Making connections

One thing that I think of when planning is, how much is lower order thinking? How much is higher order thinking and how do we get students to move from that factual receive information, give information back? How do we move them up to comparing, contrasting, analyzing? Those are some habits also that are part of protocols and also certainly transferable.

Bloom's Taxonomy diagram.

Moving to complex understandings.

One protocol that didn’t make it in here, that I love, is Atlas Looking at Data, which maybe some of your teachers will be familiar with. It’s one of my personal favorites. What I like about is it helps people move from factual to more complex understanding.

I was able to use it after we have put in the draft with some of my Spanish students. It’s just so cool to see them analyze. They asked each other questions about likes and dislikes of sports in Spanish. Then, to see them do their analysis of those “si’s and no’s” was pretty cool. Hear their various interpretations.                                                  

Jeanie: Yes, that’s really where the learning is, right? When you can take it up to those steps. Just having a tool that helps you do that, right? Because that’s hard work.  

Terra: It is. Yes, I think it’s hard to break down just conceptually for a teacher. To relay that information and help students grasp it can be hard too, so having it laid out sure does help.       

Jeanie: Choosing a protocol is part of the battle, but for a lot for us, especially when we’re new to facilitating protocols, that‘s tricky business.

It can feel really risky as a teacher to step into a space where you’re making space for students.

You have a section in here that I really appreciate for that. It outlines some clear steps and tips for facilitation.

I just want to hear from your own perspective with running protocols with students, some good suggestions for people who are new to facilitating protocols with students.                   

Terra: Sure. I think we have numbers in our favor in classrooms, where we’ve got 180 days with students. When we’re working with teachers, we don’t usually get that much time. So I think in some way, students can be more forgiving because we have more chances to work with them. Keeping in mind that, there’s not usually just one protocol that will fit the situation, but there’s a variety that will give you feedback or information that’s useful.

You may find at the end that something else could have worked better perhaps, but for the most part, I try to stay away from just choosing the one protocol. I know that many of them will work. Going back to that purpose, which one of these fits most with the purpose. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit.

Tips for facilitating protocols

Terra: One mistake that I made with a gallery walk with sixth graders was that I wasn’t specific enough in how I requested they provide feedback. There was a round of very vague and sixth grade-ish terminology on the posters that students had made. That was a learning experience for and me and the students. I need to be more clear which in teaching I can always be more clear. I tried to frame the questions at the end so the students could see the value of giving more specific feedback rather than generic kind of goofy feedback.

The tip is to be really clear. When it doesn’t work, think about the questions that you can ask that might help the students understand why you would do it differently next time.                                  

Jeanie: What I’m hearing is that it’s okay to be transparent in your facilitation and say,

“Oh, I didn’t really do a good job of that. What might I do differently next time?”

Solicit their feedback.  

Soliciting student feedback

Terra: I think that’s great. One that I use a lot, again, because I think giving clear directions is tricky especially at the end a day of teaching. There are a couple of students in particular who are great at clarifying questions. Then I’ll say,

“I think I’m being clear with this, but can you ask me some clarifying questions so I make sure… so that I can make it even clearer.”

Or, if it starts going in a wonky direction, I can say,

“Okay, wait a minute. I don’t think I was clear enough. Who can help me articulate this?”

I love asking the students for help. Yes, and being transparent… I mean, why not?       

"That first time you do a protocol, it's like a brand new pair of hiking boots. It's uncomfortable. You have to really do a protocol a couple of times before you start to see the value."            


Jeanie: That reminds me that, I think this is true for adults, and I know it’s true for students as well, that first time you do a protocol, you hate it. It’s like a brand new pair of hiking boots. It chafes, it’s uncomfortable.

You have to really do a protocol or do protocols a couple of times before you start to see the value.

One of the things that I do when I facilitate with people who are new to protocols, is just to own that at the beginning. This is going to feel uncomfortable. You’re going to notice that it’s uncomfortable sometimes. I want you to notice that and think about how did the discomfort or the structure that felt uncomfortable serve our learning?                     

Terra: Right, I agree. We were keep coming back to the debrief and the importance of the debrief. Setting expectations at the beginning to why we’re doing this and why it might feel uncomfortable, but then coming to the end and seeing how uncomfortable were they or were they not. That process of setting up and finishing is a super important one for sure. And definitely helps with kids adapting to protocols.

Sometimes… I’m trying to think… I think sometimes I get more pushback from adults than from kids using protocols. Sometimes I will use different names to warm them up and then explain what the protocol is. So there’s another little tip or trick. *laughs*                       

Jeanie: Don’t call it a protocol. I really appreciate that you keep coming back to the debrief. I think it’s the easiest part to skip. Yet, it’s really the richest space for learning. For learning how the structures supported you or didn’t support you and how you might do it differently, but also for like, what helps us learn.

It’s a great way to be metacognitive.             

Terra: Yeah. I totally agree. That timing piece is something that I think teachers feel more constrained by in a classroom than in professional development because we really have just that set number of minutes. Sometimes in PD you can go over by five minutes. But yes, I think there’s a certain mathematical quality also to doing protocols in the classroom. Which also comes with practice, where you think about how much time you actually have. Think about changing the timing based on what you have. And then, knowing which parts need to be a little bit longer than the others. Rather than just dividing them equally into three minutes segments, that kind of thing.

Also, in the midst, if being transparent with the students, to say,

“Our time is up for this section, but I hear so much deep conversation that I’d like to extend this and pull back on the next step”

but I really try not to take it from the debrief. However, I do have a couple of tricks for time there. I’ll use the individual whiteboards and have kids write their debrief? Then, I just take a picture of everybody’s on their way out and share it that way, rather than doing a go-round. That can be a quicker way. Or, they can email me. So doing a written debrief can save some time when you’re really squeezed, but you know you can’t sacrifice the debrief. But the beauty of that is then you have the words for the students to look at next time you meet and do some analysis of, or use as a segue-way to the next part.                    

Jeanie: That’s great. I was going to ask you, do you circle back to those the next day or the next time you have kids. It sounds like you do.    

Terra: Yes. The other reason that I use the debrief in sort of circling back and tracking it is that: not every protocol is everyone going to like to the same degree. And that’s okay. The purpose is not everyone is going to love it each time of time.

Everybody brings different strength and weaknesses to it.

Sometimes, it’s going to be easy peasy, you’re going to love it. Other times, it’s going to be harder, but we’re all as a group moving and working together. We do it in different ways.                   

Jeanie: Learning is often uncomfortable.  

Terra: That’s true.

Jeanie: Protocols are places where learning happen.   

Terra: That’s true. I’m going to read a quote from page 30.

Protocols are thought-demanding exercises, requiring habits of behavior and thinking skills that may pose challenges for students. Some of those habits and skills include:

  • Articulating ideas out loud
  • Speaking within time constraints
  • Staying focused and resisting digressions
  • Following a sequence of steps in a disciplined way
  • Formulating questions
  • Listening attentively
  • Understanding others perspectives.

As I read down the list, I think of the role of learning specialist.

That’s one of the things that I do in working with kids with dyslexia, with ADHD, with other brain-based differences. What I was saying earlier, protocols offer a lot for those students. I was thinking of “speaking within time constraints,” “staying focused and resisting digressions,” “following a sequence of steps.” These are some of the habits and skills that everyone benefits from, but I think it especially supports some of those students. I was thinking of some of my English language learners with the first bullet, “articulating ideas aloud.” Not just English language learners, but it can be intimidating to speak to a group.

That’s where some of the protocol like activities come in handy.

Where first you’re speaking to one person or maybe a triad before speaking to a whole group, but through repetition and practice and habit and scaffolding, the kids become comfortable speaking to the whole group.       

Jeanie: Before we move into that, I just want to say that these habits and skills, the way that protocols demand of us these things, these are not just hard for students. These are really hard for adults as well in schools. I just really appreciate how clearly you all unpacked that.

This whole chapter is about developing buy-in. I would really love for you to walk through some of the exercises that help students practice the skills they need in order to participate well in protocols, but that they’re smaller exercises. These are really great differentiation strategies. And I’d just love to hear you unpack a few of them.            

Terra: Absolutely. I’m going to start with Postcards on page 33. What I love about this is, it’s very flexible. It can be used at the start of the class to get kids predicting, it can be used at the end as a sum-up.

"Postcards: Purpose: Generating ideas for and interest in a topic. This activity requires a set of picture postcards; the best ones to use are those that require some interpretation. The facilitator distributes a postcard to each student, asking that students not look until told to do so. The facilitator then poses a prompt designed to get the students talking about some aspect of the upcoming topic; for example, "The card you have has a picture. How does the picture remind you of your favorite book?" "...of a time you were on a school trip?" "...of an experience you had working in groups?" Students are given 30 seconds to think of a response (or more for younger students). Then they share in small groups. The facilitator may then ask a few volunteers to share publicly, or, if the class is small enough and time allows, do a go-round in which everybody shares. The facilitator might also have two students share the same card and talk about what was similar and different about their reactions. (Adapted from Postcards from the Edge from the School Reform Initiative website)."
An excerpt from page 33 of the book describing the Postcards activity. Click or tap to enlarge.

I love having a toolkit that’s flexible.

What I also like about Postcards is the visual element which is such a great way to get buy-in for a response from a student as opposed to text, which sometimes provides buy-in. Postcards can be used with texts as well.           

Jeanie: Can you tell us what it looks like?

Terra: Sure. What it looks like is, you have a set of images. I sometimes have them thematically based, based on what we’re talking about in class. Or sometimes if my purpose is more about figurative language or more about building community, I’ll use this beautiful set of postcards from Magnum Photography. They are large format. There are beautiful colors. They represent people of different ages and different groupings all over the world.

I’ll spread those out on the table or on the desk and have students do a little quiet think time. Which is always helpful, I think, and come up with some kind of, it can be a connection, a question. I actually used them recently for students to practice weather, in my Spanish class.        

An entryway into conversation

They had a chance to think about what they’re going to say. Then they turn to a partner and said, “hace frio” or whatever the particular phrase was. That’s like a really quick and easy use of postcards that gives students something to talk about. Kind of entryway into conversation. It gets them talking to the person next to them, and listening to the person next to them. That’s one way that you can use postcards.      

Jeanie: That’s interesting. I love to use images. I love to use them as metaphors, but I don’t use postcards. I’ve made my own cards from National Geographic magazines. That’s a really cheap way. Rubber cement, National Geographic magazines, and index cards is a really cheap way to make some images that you can use in lots of different contexts.        

Terra: Yes. I’m chuckling because I have a stack of old magazines that my students use for collages, but they’re going a little out of hand, so I went through and pulled out some of the more striking images. And they’re on my desk to cut and put on construction paper to use in the classroom.           

Jeanie: Folks, as a librarian, I will just say, check your libraries. They usually some have some old issues of National Geographic.

Terra: I hope that they’re willing to part with?

Jeanie: They’re often willing to part with. Check your school libraries, your public libraries and look around. See if you can get some of those.       

Terra: Yes. That makes me think of my incredible library in Austin, Texas. My public library, they’ve got a great Spanish language selection of magazines. I will take pictures of them to use in class. I’ve just thought, oh, the next time at postcards, maybe I’ll use something from an advertisement from a magazine. It’s got more text because my students are ready to discuss more text, so… thanks. *laughs*          

Jeanie: Let’s unpack one more exercise that gets people ready for protocols.    

Terra: Okay.

Jeanie: Gets students ready I should say for protocols.  

Terra: I’m debating between Turn and Talk, or Pair Share, and Warm and Cool, but since we’ve already talked about postcards and treated it as a turn and talk. Of course, you can do it as a whole group. It’s super flexible that way, but I think I’m going to go to Warm and Cool.

Warm and Cool

The way that this prepares students for protocols is giving them practice and feedback. In a couple of ways, starting with warm feedback and moving to cool, so that the person is more willing to hear the cool. It as a strategy or a habit that kids can use.                    

Jeanie: Warm feedback meaning things that are positive, things that are good in a piece or in the work. Cool feedback: areas for improvement?      

Terra: Yes, thank you for that, for clarifying. Sometimes I will frame the debrief in terms of warm and cool, the debrief from the class. Not necessarily from a protocol, to have them used to using those terms and framing feedback. Our school does a debrief at the end of every class, across the board. That’s one way to get the students practicing with warm and cool feedback. Sometimes it’s about me and my lesson plans, sometimes it’s about the other students. It can be safer to talk about me versus a peer, but they get to a point where they’re happy to talk about a peer and/or themselves and how well they felt they did in the class.

This is another one of those multi-purpose, short, but meaningful ways to get students used to more complex and more multi-step kinds of protocols.

When giving feedback becomes more part of their day, then we can help them break down some of their questioning about the piece to get to that feedback and have them also use the feedback and then show where their evidence is. Then, that also can become a pre-writing activity. Making a statement using evidence is such an important piece. Just a simple warm and cool feedback, whether it’s to me about the class, to a peer about some of their work, or about their own reflection on work are all great ways to help them get into some of the longer protocols.                         

Protocols and proficiency-based education

Jeanie: This really intrigues me. As we think about transferable skills in Vermont, several of them involve revision and iteration. Self-direction and perseverance ask kids to think about how they might get better over time. Collaboration asks us to give and receive feedback. Thinking about us moving towards a proficiency-based or competency-based system where we’re really asking kids to be able to take feedback from a teacher, for teachers to really think about the feedback for growth that they’re giving to students. As students really think about their learning as a growth process.

Warm and Cool feedback feels like a really great skill for kids as we transform our learning to a proficiency-based system. As we transform our system towards a proficiency or competency-based system.                           

Terra: Yes, absolutely because you have to be specific. You have to point out the specific competencies, so the student knows where they are, where they move from and where they’re heading to. So that there is specific feedback versus, “Hey, great job!”          


Jeanie: If you’re able to give really specific feedback, you might be more able to receive it.    

Terra: Yes. Also, there’s an idea that I don’t know that we mentioned earlier, but of flexible thinking. The importance of flexible thinking.    

Jeanie: Say more about that.

Terra: Some of the students I work with really see the world in black and white binary. The world doesn’t usually work out that way. So, helping students think more broadly about the world around them. Some of that comes in with listening to the perspectives of others.

But, being a flexible thinker, like being open to another’s idea in order to change your idea or change what you’re doing, is an important habit and skill. Certainly for work with other people, but even if you’re working on your own, there are some things that happen that you don’t have control over, so you have to change what you’re doing.

Think about students who struggle with executive function. If they’ve made a plan and it doesn’t go as planned, they might just give up or feel overwhelmed. Having that flexible thinking, it’s like,

“Okay, this is what happened, what am I going to do to continue on to my goal.” 

So, it can be again, coming from someone else, “Hey, you forgot to include the poster in this project.” Like, “Oh, class is next period, what am I going to do? How am I going to think this out?” Or even in a planning stage, thinking about different ways to achieve a goal. I think those are all flexible thinking pieces. If someone gives you feedback, valuable feedback, you’ve got to be able to internalize it and then make a change based on it.                                

Jeanie: Yes. The more we can practice that, the better, right? Because we need students taking feedback from teachers but also from each other.    

Terra: Yes, for sure.

Jeanie: And we do that in the world. That’s another transferable skill. You shared some examples — and I just think your examples are so valuable. I really want you just to tell another story about a protocol in action, in a classroom, maybe in the middle grades. A lot of the protocols in this book are really familiar to me, but one that is new to me is the Fears and Hopes protocol. Could you give me just a snapshot of what that looks like in the classroom?       

Fears and Hopes

Terra: Sure. Last year, I started mid-year in a Spanish class. The first thing I did was Fears and Hopes. Anytime you follow another teacher, it can be a little tricky. I wanted to make the way smoother for myself and for the students by allowing them to articulate their fears about me as a teacher and the change. It’s really about change, I think. To tell me some of their hopes so that I can then help to allay their fears and fulfill their hopes.

What came up really is that the students were worried that I was going to be mean, strict, give too much homework. What they hoped is that I would be fun. That I would allow them to keep the sticker system that they had had. Which I really wasn’t interested in keeping, but in seeing their hopes, seeing the patterns around the sticker system, made me realize, this is really important to them. I’m going to maintain it as part of this transition.

I knew I was going to be mean and strict, but to allow them to surface that fear, I could acknowledge where that might be coming from and I could let them know, I probably won’t be mean and strict. It hasn’t really been part of my teaching persona so far. Then, they are able to see it. That also was a really great way to lead to norms.

Based on their hopes for the class, that it would be fun, that we’d have the sticker system. We’d make food. They created the class norms. One of my favorite ones was my boy named Fin, who said,

“Have fun! But be mature.”  

Which for a sixth grader… it’s a bit of a challenge. Each class had their own norms. They’re a little bit different, though there are similar patterns in the classes that I took over about their fears and hopes. This also, I brought in before end of year assessments too. Like, what are they really worried about? Which one’s going to say, “It’s not even going to be on the test. Don’t worry.” Which ones tell me, “All right, we need to spend time focusing.” That’s it. Those are two examples of using Fears and Hopes recently in the classroom.                 

Jeanie: I love those as ways to really surface the unsaid things in the classroom, to make space for kids to say them and feel heard.

I think that feeling “heard” is such a powerful thing.

I’ll give an example. And this protocol is not in the book, but it’s one of my favorites to use with students: affinity mapping. At a time when my students… maybe it was early spring. They were starting to disengage. Instead of clamping down, we took a whole class and we affinity mapped:

“What does engaged learning look like?”

They had their little sticky notes. And we organized them into groups, into clusters. We could think about what could they do to make our learning more engaging and what could I do? One of the things that came up was field trips. Great! Let’s figure out how we can — in a way that is relevant to the work we’re doing together — organize some trips outside of school that would make it more engaging for them. Some of it was on me and some of it was on them, but they co-constructed it. It really made a huge difference.  

Terra: That’s cool. That actually reminds me just in terms of the inquiry process, I had some students affinity mapping. One particular student really had trouble making the categories. She had really broad categories. I saw patterns coming in underneath them and some of the other kids did. It raised the question for me like, “What’s keeping the student from seeing these smaller categories?” And so that became part of my process as a teacher to understanding the student.            

Jeanie: I love that. That leads right to the next thing I want to really discuss. Which is, you’ve got this whole chapter on getting better with protocols. We have talked about the debrief a lot. Which is one great way to get better at protocols, but I love this section. I haven’t really heard people dealing with this before. I feel like this is new thinking for me about how you document the learning when you’re doing a protocol. How protocols can be used as a way to document learning. I’d love to hear what this looks like in practice.        

Documenting learning

Terra: Yes. This is one that I’m working on as well. There’s an educator whose blog I follow. Angela Stockman, who is just incredible about documenting learning.


She has a Reggio background and pulls that in.

I’m actually really trying to work on this one because I take a lot of photographs.

Luckily, phones allow us to do that pretty easily. And in my particular school, the kids have access to laptops. We can document a lot through typing and sharing via Google Drive.

This is something I’m trying to figure out how to do more long-term. Certainly, we have posters on the walls that we refer to. I mentioned norms as one of them. At the beginning of this past year, I did Compass Points with my students. I hadn’t met them before, so to understand our different class dynamics. Those are still hung and sometimes we refer to those. There’s the idea of leaving a footprint in the classroom environment, so that you can refer to it, reflect on it, and go back to in that way, but I’m really trying to find out more ways document digitally. Have it be useful and not just stored somewhere in your Google Drive. 

That one, I’m still working on. I think blogging might be part of it, having the students blog as well. 

Jeanie: I love a text rendering protocol. It’s a great protocol that ends up with some charted phrases and words that can be really useful to return to that are important say in a text. I also really love charting questions. A lot of protocols ask us to take around and ask questions. Those can be really meaty things to return to again and again. They are sort of essential questions that we can return to and say, “Have we answered this? Do we have new thinking around this question?” Posting those around the classroom too.                

Terra: Absolutely. But then, I think there’s a point where the documentation, the wall can be overwhelming and over-stimulating. Then, I think that’s part of… I share classrooms. That’s also part of the balance, those are some the constraints of sharing classrooms. Only having some part of the wall. Then, also when to retire things and how? Do we do to with a celebration? Do I just put it in the recycling? Does it go into portfolios? Those are some of the questions too, in terms of learning.      

Protocols and Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs)

Jeanie: That raises for me, this idea of whole class documentation and individual documentation. In Vermont, we’re really focused on personalized learning plans or portfolios for students. It seems to me like, some of the debrief material and some of the images that kids might want to take pictures of — either their postcards or the phrases from a text rendering as evidence — and then, reflect on that in the debrief online.   

Terra: Yes, I agree and adding to that, going back to the norms! I think during the debrief, having students reflect on the norms and look at key points over time because they do grow so much over the year. It’s really important to acknowledge that growth and that hard work in the building of habits.              

Jeanie: Or how you’ve become a better listener. Or how you’ve become better at giving warm and cool feedback. Or the ways in which you are more analytical because of your experience with the steps of the protocol.    

Terra: Absolutely. Even volume of response. There are so many ways to look at growth and that digital tools allow us to go back and keep learning.        

Jeanie: That makes me think that doing a protocol multiple times with a group is a really rich place too, to notice, how do we get better at it? Doing that, Save the Last Word for Me, say, with different texts over time. Part of the debrief is,

“How are we better at this than we used to be?”         

Terra: Yes, I love that idea. I do love, Save the Last Word for Me. I just love that idea of building, taking a text and building upon it. And I guess what I appreciate is not just, “I’m reading this and I’m interpreting it and I’m good to go”, but the value add of others reflecting back, the value of others thought about it.

Again, it goes back to that idea of protocols. They help the individual learner but also help the group. Anything about repetition or any multiple ways to look at a text, I always appreciate. Especially for my struggling readers.                             

Jeanie: That leads me to this next section in your book. Where you talk about the relationships between protocols and other structures. In Vermont, we have these wonderful students at Harwood Union High School who teach other students how to engage in Harkness or Socratic seminars, which I just so admire.


I saw them present recently at the Rowland Conference and I was so impressed with their skill at teaching teachers and students to use those structures. I wonder if you wanted to say anything about how protocols are complementary to these other student voice structures that we see in schools.        

Terra: Yes. I think that section came up as part of our ongoing discussion, what is and isn’t a protocol?

Some of the schools that I work with in New York City are using restorative practices. Part of the discussion, while there are some similarities in terms of the group, in terms of voice, in terms of expectations for the purpose of coming together, but that’s part of a much bigger program.

I think that most of my experience is really with protocols themselves. I don’t have that much to add, but I certainly learned with the other authors more about different things kids are doing.                       

Jeanie: These structures, it seems to me are really like… it’s not an either/or. The way we use protocols can completely help kids get better at Harkness discussions or Socratic seminars. Kids who are engaging in Harkness discussions and Socratic seminars are going to find a real affinity with protocols.  

Terra: Yes. I think that question of what is and what isn’t,  that kind of definition… it’s not that one is better than the other, just they’re different ways to approach. The more we can allow the students to reflect on that and see the different ways that they can move a group.  I want to see these students teaching teachers. I love it.               

Students as facilitators

Jeanie: I have deep appreciation in this book for the way that you structure how you can move students to the facilitator role in protocols. We’re not going to talk further about that, but I love that it’s in here. That as you gain experience as a class, moving students to the center of that process. 

Terra: Yes. I’m a big Harry Wong fan, and that whole idea of the students doing the work is where the learning is, and the students should be tired not the teacher. I think that idea of decentralizing the work, the learning, to the students is what it supposed to be about.

What an empowering feeling it is to be a twelve-year-old or an eight-year-old or a sixteen-year-old running a 45-minute class, and hearing in that debrief the growth that you are a part of.

That’s pretty powerful.                

Jeanie: That’s a great way to end. Before we close, I was thinking about other books I might suggest for people besides this wonderful book Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think and Collaborate. Some titles that came to mind is, other places people might turn to for growth are The Facilitator’s Book of Questions which has been a really invaluable tool in my toolbox.    

Terra: I love those concrete suggestions for when time goes, or when someone goes off topic. They’re very useful for children.   

Jeanie: Right, yes.

Terra: That‘s a good one.  

Jeanie: The whole like, “What do I do if somebody won’t follow the structure of a protocol?” Those are very concrete.     

Terra: They go off topic. They run out of time, yes.

Jeanie: Then, The Power of Protocols is also a really powerful text.   

Terra: Absolutely. 

Jeanie: Terra, thank you so much for taking the time in this busy conference to talk to me about this fabulous book. To talk to our listeners about what it looks like to use protocols in the classroom with students. Thank you.            

Terra: Thank you for having me. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about books.  

I’m Jeanie Phillips, and this has been an episode of #vted Reads, talking about what Vermont’s educators and students are reading. Thank you to Terra Lynch for appearing on the show and talking with me about Protocols in the Classroom. If you’re looking for a copy of Protocols in the Classroom, check your local library. To find out more about #vted Reads, including past episodes, upcoming guests and reads, and a whole lot more, you can visit vtedreads.tarrantinstitute.org. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @vtedreads. This podcast is a project of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont.

Please note: neither I nor the Tarrant Institute received compensation monetary or otherwise from the author for her appearance on this show.