Tag Archives: Culture Code

High-purpose environment. Teacher clarity. Touchpoints of praise.

I wait patiently for my turn.

Carrots. Beep. Doritos. Beep. Milk. Beep.

Donned in her green Publix smock, she makes eye contact and small talk with the customer ahead of me as she swipes items across the reader.

Hamburger. Beep. Kale. Beep. Beep. Beep.

She says, “That will be forty-two. twenty-eight” Wincing, she shook her head and said, “No, no wait! It is twenty-eight forty-two.” Smiling sheepishly, she blushes and says “Ugh! I just hate numbers.” The customer, patient and kind, concludes her business at the register and goes on about her way.

I cannot stop myself. Why can’t I stop myself from attempting to put salve on the raw wound that someone else – knowingly or unknowingly – has inflected on this poor young woman? I hear my internal voice say, “You don’t have to fix this. You really can’t fix this. You did not do this.”

I know I should stop myself. I cannot. I softly say, “So I’m a math teacher. It is easy to mix numbers up. Don’t worry.”

And then it happens… again. It breaks my heart a little more every time. Though it is not unexpected, I brace myself for what is coming.

She takes a deep breath. In a painful blurt, she replies, “I did so many posters just so I could pass.  She decided that was never going to ‘do’ math well, so she let me create bulletin boards and cut out letters in order to pass. I just hate it. Math was never my thing. Early, we knew that I could not do it, and we created workarounds so I could pass and graduate.”

So then, as always, I apologize for her terrible experience.

I am so sorry.

I am so sorry that any child is led to believe they cannot be successful at math – the language, art, and communication tool that is my love and passion.

I am so sorry that any child is led to believe they cannot be successful.

I seethe inside that any teacher would “extra credit” a child out of learning.

High-purpose environments are filled with small, vivid signals designed to create a link between the present moment and a future ideal. They provide the two simple locators that every navigation process requires: Here is where we are and Here is where we want to go. The surprising thing, from a scientific point of view, is how responsive we are to this pattern of signaling. (Coyle, 180 pag.)

Teachers need to determine the gap between students’ current level of performance or understanding and the expected level of mastery. (Hattie, 66 pag.)

If someone received just three or more touchpoints, or instances, of praise in a single quarter, their performance score in the next review period significantly increased. If they received four or more touchpoints of praise or recognition in a quarter, the retention rate increased to 96 percent over the next year. (Achor, Kindle Locations 1766-1768.)

How might we create more classrooms that are high-purpose environments where teacher clarity empowers learners to close gaps between what is known and what is needed?  What if we highlight what is going well to create touch points of praise to embolden learners to reach for a next level?

CULTURE: from the Latin cultus, which means care.


Achor, Shawn. Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being (Kindle Locations 1766-1768). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (Kindle Locations 2378-2380). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hattie, John A. (Allan); Fisher, Douglas B.; Frey, Nancy; Gojak, Linda M.; Moore, Sara Delano; Mellman, William L.. Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning (Corwin Mathematics Series). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

I know something!

A motley band of brothers traveling as a pack ambled in at 7:58 for Pre-Cal. Just in time. From a distance they are handsome and well dressed in coats and ties. Up close, they are a little disheveled, like they stepped out of their clothes last night and into them again this morning.  My favorite part is the peacock-ness of their hair.  They slept hard, and it shows. It helps me remember how young they are when they look so grown up. I wonder how many of them brushed their teeth and decided not to go there.

They live together, play together, and learn together. Boarding school builds family and familiarity and deepens connectedness.  Yesterday’s test results require a preface. I prep them by explaining what I learned about them and what we need to do now.  Learning is our focus, and this moment in time tells us that we need to do more, go deeper, and practice harder. This milestone marker says that we need to back up and try again.

I made a 42!” he exclaimed with genuine jubilation. It’s what he said next that confirmed his glee.  “I know something!

“I know something!”

I am in awe of what happens next.  Every man, child, boy learner, in their coats and ties, stands and high-fives him as if he as won a gold medal, sunk the winning shot, made the field goal in the final 30 seconds.

And then, just as quickly as it started, they were all seated as he said “Bring it, Ms. Gough. What do we do now?”

Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we sense when it’s absent or toxic. (Coyle, xvii pag.)

Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do. (Coyle, xx pag.)

Live, learn, work, and serve in a community that highlights what is going well. Focus on learning. Build living relationships. Work toward shared goals.

CULTURE: from the Latin cultus, which means care.


Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Available for learning

I feel it coming.

Have you seen surfers catch big waves? They paddle out, wait and watch.  Some waves pass by. Others crash over them. Sometimes the surfer gets up, punches through and rides it out.  Other times they wipe out. It is fascinating that they get back up and go back out. They persevere. I wonder how I can do that.

I feel it coming, but I cannot predict how I’m going to handle it. It is different every time. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I turn and fight an internal battle to stand my ground to punch through the wave. Sometimes I can ask for help, but not always.

I am afraid it won’t be perfect.

I am afraid I can’t do it.

I am afraid others will laugh at me.

I am afraid I’ll disappoint my parents.

I am afraid I’m not good enough.

I am afraid I won’t be accepted.

I am afraid I don’t belong.

I am afraid I am not enough.

I am afraid.

I am afraid.

Labels make it easy to attribute student disengagement to a lack of ability or motivation, when disengagement often results from a lack of confidence. (Hassan and Lennard, 70 pag.)

The key to creating psychological safety, as Pentland and Edmondson emphasize, is to recognize how deeply obsessed our unconscious brains are with it. A mere hint of belonging is not enough; one or two signals are not enough. We are built to require lots of signaling, over and over. This is why a sense of belonging is easy to destroy and hard to build. (Coyle, 13 pag.)

How might we learn more about our learners? What actions are needed so that learners know they are psychologically safe?

What conditions must be set so that more learners punch through and rides out the wave?

CULTURE: from the Latin cultus, which means care.


Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hasson, Julie, and Missy Lennard. Unmapped Potential: an Educator’s Guide to Lasting Change. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2017.