Sunday, January 31, 2010

Coin Flip Discipline

As an administrator, I am faced with several student disputes in a normal day. My job at that point is to listen to both sides of the story, and try to steer the two sides to a peaceful resolution of the problem. If the dispute persists, I then try to determine who the aggressor is, and discipline that person to discourage him/her from starting trouble again. In most cases, it is easy to determine who the aggressor is...but what happens if both parties are the aggressor?

I was faced with this very situation recently. Two students (whom I'll call "Lucy" and "Ricky") became involved in a nasty give-and-take that lasted for weeks. The two students were involved in a boyfriend/girlfriend scenario that ended they live for nothing else except to bother, irritate, and upset the other. To make matters worse, they had several classes together...and drove their teachers crazy with their antics.

After the same episode played itself out several times, I decided to take a fresh approach to the problem. Instead of spending an hour or so listening to each student give his/her side of the story, then trying to figure out who was at fault this time...I invented a new way of dealing with the ongoing dispute. I called both Lucy's and Ricky's parents, and asked if I could implement "Coin Flip Discipline".

I explained to each set of parents my reasoning, and that this solution is my "last resort". Both sets of parents were also sick and tired of dealing with the problem, so they happily agreed to my solution. Remember, do not try this at home unless you have the blessing of BOTH sets of parents! You will get yourself into big trouble if you don't have the parents' approval.

When the two students are sent to the office, I pull a coin out of my pocket, and flip it. If it lands on "heads", Lucy goes to our In-School Suspension room for the remainder of the day. If the coin lands on "tails", Ricky spends the rest of the day in the In-School Suspension room. I explain this to the students, along with the warning that the coin has no is possible that the coin could land on tails four times in a row, meaning that Ricky would be in ISS four consecutive times, for example.

Coin flip discipline has been a great success! Instead of having to deal with Lucy and Ricky every day (sometimes several times in a day), I have not seen either of them in the office for three weeks! Lucy and Ricky have been overheard by their teachers working together to make sure that they are not sent to the office, where they face a 50/50 chance of spending the rest of the day in ISS. Now, they are not best friends forever by any stretch of the imagination, but they have found the motivation to work out their differences themselves instead of bringing me into the mix. Lucy and Ricky's parents have thanked me for my innovative solution to their problem, and they will be more likely to support me if I have to discipline their child in the future...and that's our goal, right?

Remember, this solution should not be used for ALL disputes, just ones that are ongoing and show no signs of letting up. Also remember that the parents need to be on board before the coin is flipped. But, when the time is right...the coin can be your friend!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Write A Grant

One of the most misunderstood and mysterious processes in the field of education is the writing of grants. Most educators are not taught anything about grant writing while in college, and there are precious few ways to learn grant writing techniques at the national, state, and district level. The reason why no one is going out of their way to teach you how to write grants is one WANTS you to know! The fewer people that know how to write grants...the fewer the districts that can compete for the money. The result of this scarcity of knowledge is that rich districts with large budgets can use their resources to get grant writing teams trained...while small districts remain in the dark. Millions of dollars in grant monies are snapped up by these large districts with their grant writing specialists. Small districts, on the other hand, usually do not have the personnel, time, energy, or knowledge to compete for this money.

Those days are over, thanks to! Dr. Douglas Brooks has agreed to share the secrets of successful grant writing with all of us for FREE! Yes, I said free. Dr. Brooks' grant writing program, called "Grant Success", gives you all the knowledge you need to compete for the millions of dollars available for districts to win. As a bonus, Dr. Brooks has agreed to publish his latest grant, one that he wrote in November of 2009 with a district in Indiana. The grant was successful to the tune of $183,000! At, we do not give you theories about how you may write a successful grant, we make available to you an ACTUAL grant that was successful so that you may read it and learn how to write a successful grant yourself.

Does your district need money? Does your district need expensive educational technology to upgrade the educational experiences of your students? Would your status as an administrator in the district be enhanced if you wrote a grant that won your district $183,000 or more? You and I both know that the answers to all three of these questions is "yes". You really have no excuse to let other districts rake in the dough while your district sits on the sidelines.

As of this writing, the federal government's "Race to the Top" program is structured such that state governments compete for the $4 Billion (with a "B") available. The Governor of each state is in charge of writing the grant proposal to submit to the federal government. There are whispers that the program will receive an additional $1.4 Billion more in funding, and that individual school districts would have the opportunity to write grants to claim a chunk of the money. Wouldn't it be great if you had the knowledge to win some of that money for your district?

You CAN have the knowledge! Just go to and click on the "Grant Writing Made Easy" link. There you will find several articles written by Dr. Brooks about writing grants, as well as the actual grant he wrote for the Indiana district that won $183,000. Go there today, and become the "Grant Writing Guru" for your district!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reduce Tardies in Your School

I have worked in many different secondary schools, and they all have one thing in common...they all at one time or another have had a "Tardy Problem". That is, many students did not feel the importance of showing up for class on time, and wandered to class one, two, or even five minutes late (some students would do this several times per day). Teachers would grumble about having to deal with tardies, and a building with 50 teachers in it would have 50 different opinions of how to solve the tardy problem. Everyone felt that the administration should do something about the situation, but no one was quite sure what that "something" was.

I developed a plan about five years ago called a "Tardy Reduction Plan". Notice I did not call it a "Tardy Elimination Plan" because I am not so naive as to think I could eliminate tardies altogether. If I were THAT gullible, I would also believe that a woman could lose 54 pounds by eating drive-thru fast food! This plan will reduce tardies by a LOT, though. Teachers love the plan because the tracking of tardies and the punishment of the wrongdoers is taken out of their hands. Everything is handled by the's how the plan works:

Once the tardy bell rings, teachers simply shut and lock their doors. Administrators and/or teachers on their conference period "sweep" tardy students to a predetermined area (we use the cafeteria), where they are issued a "Tardy Slip" from the tardy book. The tardy book is made up of two layers of NCR paper, which automatically makes a copy of the writing from the top sheet (we have our tardy books made by a printing company in town). The pages can hold 10 slips, and the slips are perforated for easy removal from the book (like a receipt book). An example of what the pages of our tardy book looks like can be found at

Once the student is issued his tardy slip, he can be admitted to class. An administrator then enters all of the student tardy information into a spreadsheet, like the example posted on the same website as the tardy book documents. The date of each student's tardy can be entered, as well as what period the tardy occurred.

The last Saturday of the month is designated as a "Saturday School" day for chronically tardy students. Students with four or more tardies during the month must stay in Saturday School for fifteen minutes for each tardy earned. For example, a student with four tardies will have to serve an hour, a student with ten tardies will serve two and a half hours, and so on. Students with three or less tardies will not be asked to attend Saturday School. After the last Saturday of the month, all tardies will be reset back to "zero", and the process repeats itself.

I host our Saturday School in the cafeteria, with the start of Saturday School being 7:00 a.m. I like making this experience as inconvenient for students (and parents) as possible. Students wait outside the school until 6:45 a.m., at which time I unlock the front doors of the school. Students then walk to the cafeteria, where I have placed stickers with each student's name assigned to a certain table. I lock the front doors of the school at 7:05 a.m., and students are not admitted if they are late. My rationale is this: Why let a student arrive late for a punishment they earned for being chronically late? That would not make any sense...right?

Students are allowed to read, do homework, or otherwise sit quietly while serving their time. They are not allowed to communicate with each other in any way, nor are they allowed to have cell phones, video games, laptop computers, or other electronic devices. The cafeteria is so quiet, I am able to catch up on any work I have neglected to do during the week!

I know what your next question is...what happens to a student who skips Saturday School? Good question! I tell parents that students who miss Saturday School automatically have an hour added to their time for next month, and they are prohibited from attending any extracurricular activities until they serve their time. You can find the letter I send home to parents with the other documents I described at

Students will cry and beg to be let in to a football game, basketball game, pep rally, or dance...but you cannot let them in if they have not served their time. If you make exceptions, the whole system will break down! In December, we have a "Winter Formal" dance that is the highlight of the year. You can bet your bottom dollar (do we use that expression anymore?) that no students skip the November session of Saturday School!! Another thing that will cause the breakdown of this plan is the teacher who secretly lets students in after the tardy bell because they "almost" made it. Luckily, other teachers will let that teacher know their leniency is unacceptable.

Forrest Gump used to say "That's all I have to say about that" when he got to the end of a story, and that's what I am feeling right now about tardies. Implement the Tardy Reduction Plan in your building, and become a hero to your staff!

Control Your Cafeteria

Ask any administrator which part of their job they dislike the most, and chances are they will say "Lunch Duty". Almost all administrators are expected to do lunch duty, and it usually is a daily hassle for a variety of reasons. Students regularly make messes in the cafeteria and don't clean up after themselves, they also "forget" to take their trays to the garbage can, dump their leftover food in the containers, and place the tray in the dishwasher's area to be cleaned. Then there's the noise issue...which starts out as a murmur as students are eating their food, but builds into a roar when students have nothing else to do with their mouths except talk louder than the people around them. Students who finish eating early think it's O.K. to wander around the cafeteria from table to table bothering each other, or chasing their friend around the room in a worst-case scenario.

As an administrator, your disciplinary options are limited. You could yell at the students to stay quiet during lunch, or try to catch students individually who leave their table messy. I have even seen the "Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light" method of lunchroom discipline. These methods are O.K., but the method I am about to share with you results in a quiet, clean cafeteria 99% of the time. It is a system that I like to call "Alphabet Lunch".

About a week or so into the semester, make lists of all the students in each lunch. At my school, we have three lunches, so my lists are labeled "A Lunch", "B Lunch", and "C Lunch". This part of the plan is the most labor-intensive, as I have to look on our school's computerized scheduling program to identify which student has which lunch. Once I have made my three lists, I then put the kids in alphabetical order. Our lunch tables seat 12 students each, so I then divide my alphabetical lists into sections of 12. Next to each rectangle of student names, I put a number...1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. until I get to 34 (our cafeteria has 34 tables). These lists of students are posted on the cafeteria wall. I make little signs (2 inches x 2 inches) with the numbers of each table, and tape the numbers on both ends of each table using book tape, which is thick, durable, and sticky.

If "B" Lunch leaves a table messy, or is excessively noisy despite my warnings, they are put in "Alphabet Lunch". Their fate is announced on the morning announcements, and arrangements are made by the administrators to be ready to assist students in finding their table after they exit the lunch line with their food. Students are to look on the wall to see at which table they are to sit, or find an administrator who also has a list.

You will notice a few things when one of your lunches is put in "Alphabetical Lunch":
- Students from different "cliques" are forced to sit together, and do not interact with each other...resulting in a quieter cafeteria.
- Students become very conscious of how clean their table is, because they are held accountable by having a seating chart with their name and table number on it.
- Students who try to circumvent the system by sitting at the wrong table are quickly corrected by the other students, who do not want you to find out and have their Alphabet Lunch days extended.
- Students in other lunches will clean up their act, because they don't want to end up like "B" Lunch.
-The Alphabet Lunch technique puts the administrator back in control of what happens during lunch, not the students.

There are a few things to remember when implementing your Alphabet Lunch program:
- Do not put a lunch in Alphabet Lunch for one day...the minimum for a first offense should be a week (to feel the full effects of being in alphabetical order).
- Don't get mad at your students one day and sentence them to "the rest of the year" of Alphabetical Lunch. After a couple of weeks, the students at each table (even those from different cliques) will become friends! At that point, your punishment is no longer effective and you have to move to "Randomly Assigned Seats", which is discussed later in this article.
- Don't put all of your lunches in alphabetical order at the same time. Pick your loudest and messiest lunch to punish first. I can assure you that your other lunches will shape up.
- Once students are all seated, move from table to table to check if students are sitting at the correct table. If you see Zachary Zween sitting at Table 2, you know something is amiss. Warn the first offender, then add a day of Alphabetical Lunch for each person you find sitting at the wrong table. Believe me, students will police themselves, thereby cutting way down on your workload.
- You need to prepare yourself for a few phone calls from parents questioning the "fairness" of punishing everyone at lunch because of the actions of a few. Your reply should tell the parent that you agree wholeheartedly with them, and that putting students in assigned seats will pinpoint who commits the next offense because you know exactly where everyone is sitting. Another excellent feature of Alphabet Lunch is the way that a specific student can be found within seconds by administrators, teachers, or parents in the event of an emergency.

Randomly Assigned Seats (RAS): Sometimes, a lunch spends so much time in Alphabet Lunch that the students at each table become friends. That will do wonders for your clique problem or bullying problem, but not so much for your loud, messy lunch problem. The next step is to put students in randomly assigned seats. Each table keeps its number, but students receive a new table number each day through the use of numbers written on lunch trays in permanent marker. Make sure to put the numbers on the BOTTOM of the trays, or the lunch ladies will not like your idea! What you could also do is write a random number next to each student's name on each of your lunch lists. Just make sure to distribute the random numbers evenly so that one table doesn't have 15 students, and another table has 10.

Once you put one of your lunches in Alphabetical Order, you will see an incredible difference in the weight your words carry with students. Most students' lives are littered with people who make empty promises or empty threats. Your students will see you as someone who "follows through" on what you say. I love it when students leave their lunch tray now, because all I have to say is "Oh, no! Someone left their lunch tray at their table...I guess I am going to have to put this lunch in Alphabetical Order...that's too bad." By the time I get the sentence out of my mouth, three students will be running towards me yelling "No! No! No! Mr. Holden, I'm taking it! Just so you know, it's not mine, but I am taking it!" I reply to the student, "Joey, the other students should be indebted to you for saving them from Alphabet are a Good Samaritan." Students within earshot will hear what's going on and say "Thanks, Joey!"

Put one of your lunches in Alphabet Lunch, and watch the magic happen for your school as well!

My Credentials

What credentials does this guy have? Why should I try anything he says? I would be asking the same questions! Here are some of my accomplishments:


Mayville State University (Mayville, North Dakota)
B.S. in Ed. Degree (May, 1991)
Major: Social Science Education
Minor: Mathematics Education

Sam Houston State University (Huntsville, Texas)
Masters in Education (August, 1999)
Major: Educational Leadership

Lindenwood University (St. Charles, Missouri)
Educational Specialist (August, 2008)
Major: Educational Leadership


Eastwood High School (El Paso, Texas)
Teacher (1991 - 1993)
Taught Consumer Math & Pre-Algebra
Taught World Geography & World History during Summer School

Teague Middle School (Houston, Texas)
Teacher (1993 - 1999)
Taught Texas History 7th & U.S. History 8th
Coached football, basketball, track, and tennis at various times during my tenure

Nimitz 9th Grade School (Houston, Texas)
Assistant Principal (1999 - 2002)

Republic Middle School (Republic, Missouri)
Assistant Principal (2002 - Present)

So, to sum it up...I have three college degrees from three different states. I have no hometown! I have taught gang kids, farm kids, suburban kids, poor kids, rich kids, you name it, I've done it! I have been a cooperating teacher for student teachers from Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas...and been a mentor for new teachers for many years. Let me put my 19 years of experience to work for you!

Welcome To Administrator Alley!

Greetings to my fellow educators!
Thank you for visiting Administrator Alley, your comprehensive guide to all things relevant to school administrators in the United States and Canada. When I built the website in late 2009, I was not prepared for the level of response and interest I received from teachers across North America. I am receiving dozens of emails per day giving me input as to how to make the website better, and address issues facing rookie teachers that I hadn't even thought of when I founded the site.

Another thing that I was not prepared for was the interest of fellow administrators and college professors, who want to contribute to the site. I am excited to announce that the latest contributor to join the team is Dr. Douglas Brooks, Chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Miami University of Ohio. For those of you not familiar with Dr. Brooks' work, he burst onto the national stage in 1985 when he published his groundbreaking research on new teacher induction entitled "The First Day of School". His work was discovered and expanded upon by none other than Dr. Harry Wong in his legendary book "The First Days of School", a book that is the gold standard for new teacher training worldwide! As if that wasn't enough, Dr. Brooks also has put together a system for writing grants that is unbelievably successful, with approximately $10 Million of technology grants earned as of this writing! He will share the secrets of his program, called GrantSuccess, on my site as well. Keep checking back to, as Dr. Brooks has agreed to post a column every two weeks for the foreseeable future.

So what does all this have to do with Administrator Alley, you ask? Good question! I have received tons of emails from teachers who say that their administrator wants a site to help Principals as well! I am going to go with a "blog" format in the beginning to see if it works as well as my other non-blog website. Administrator Alley is going to be packed with tips, tricks, and strategies for new administrators to keep control of their building, and be the instructional leader that they aspire to be! I will keep my first few posts focused on discipline, but eventually branch out into the areas of curriculum and instruction, community relations, legal issues, standardized testing, extracurricular supervision, and other fun stuff! One thing I like about the blog format is that you have the opportunity to provide feedback immediately, and post it right next to the blog post that you are interested in. If you are shy about posting, and just want to provide me with feedback privately, my email inbox is always open for you at

Thank you for coming with me on this journey, where our destination is higher levels of learning for all students!