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Effective Teaching

by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
September 2010

Teaching Greatness:
Alain L. Locke Elementary School, Part 1

There is a man who lives on the top floor of an apartment building on 115th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, New York City.  Every morning, he says, he is awakened by the sound of the students four blocks away at Alain L. Locke Elementary School as they shout:

I was born from Greatness
Therefore that makes me Great.
Today I will spread Love
Not hate
Not lies
Not violence
Just Love.

Today I will do more,
I will learn more,
I will be more
Than anyone ever thought I could.
Today I will strive for GREATNESS and nothing else
Created by Susan M. Green © 2007


One Voice, One Common Language

Each morning at Alain L. Locke Elementary School, a whistle blows on the playground.  Right away, students know to take their backpacks and line up in rows on the blacktop.  The entire student body is lined up neatly, by grade and by class, in a matter of minutes.

Assistant Principal Jackie Colon holds up two fingers.  Within seconds, the students are silent and attentive, and are holding two fingers in the air.  They are ready to start the day.  More than that, they are excited to start the day. 

How is it the teachers and administrators at Locke Elementary make this miracle happen every morning?

It’s no miracle.  It is simply an example of well-executed procedures.  These procedures have been practiced over and over, every day until they have become a routine—a habit in the students’ school day.

While there are many schools that have procedures in place, what sets Locke Elementary School apart is their procedures and routines are consistent school-wide.  The administrators and the teachers at Locke Elementary have created a Culture of Consistency.  The students always know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it no matter where they are on the campus.  Procedures and routines are followed easily.  Students are successful because they are taught and rehearsed in the routines—they know the expectation.

Principal Susan Green and Jackie Colon have a vision for their school:

One voice and one common language.
What happens in one room happens in all.

So at Locke Elementary, procedures and routines are the same from classroom to classroom, even on the playground.  These procedures make school safe and predictable, dependable and consistent.  This is especially important to children who may come from a home or neighborhood environment that does not offer consistency to them.

The Same for All

One of the consistent procedures used at Locke Elementary is the four finger signals.  Each finger held in the air indicates a request.  Posters of the signals and their meanings are posted in classrooms and hallways and used by every teacher and even the administrators. 


Holding a pencil in the air is a request to sharpen a pencil.
One finger up is a request to use the bathroom.
Two fingers up is a request to be quiet.
Three fingers up is a request to get a drink of water.

Jackie says the hand signals began when she was a classroom teacher.  Then in 2009, she and Susan chose to implement the signals school-wide.  They observed that most teachers were implementing some of the finger signals already in their classroom.  To make it easy for the students, they implemented

the finger signals school-wide to have a consistent culture where the expectation is clear and concise in every classroom, the auditorium, the lunchroom, the hallways, and even the playground.  Recall how we started this column sharing how Jackie held up two fingers and everyone on the playground was soon quiet and holding up two fingers. 

The Dynamic Duo

When you walk onto the campus of Locke Elementary School, it is immediately apparent that this is a very special place.  Students are smiling and excited.  They are eager to learn, and actually want to come to school!

More than that, the teachers and staff at Locke Elementary want to come to school, too.  The teachers take pride in their profession and enjoy taking a part in their students’ lives.  There is a genuine atmosphere of care, excitement, and security.

We can say this about the school because we have been there.  We have walked the hallways, been on the playground, in the auditorium, and in the classrooms.  We have interacted with the students and the teachers.  Locke Elementary School is a phenomenal environment for learning.

All of this is because of two very talented and dedicated individuals, the school’s principal, Susan Green, and the assistant principal, Jackie Colon.  They work as a team to make sure Locke Elementary School hums with learning and lives up to its motto of “Greatness and Nothing Less.”  

Susan and Jackie know every student’s name.  As they walk the halls, they stop to greet students by name and ask them how their day is going. 

Jackie says, “Susan and I never remove ourselves.  We are of the ‘roll up our sleeves and let’s do this together’ mentality.”  For everything from training new teachers to a bumped head on the playground, Susan and Jackie are there in it, working to make things better.

When a child is really troubled, Susan is even known to make home visits. “This is the type of principal we have.  She’s all about the kids,” says Mr. Sosa, a first year teacher.

Mr. Sosa started at Locke as a slightly uninspired, single-subject teacher who didn’t really want to be there.  After just one year, he has become one of the most passionate, well-rounded, successful teachers at the school.  He attributes it all to Susan and Jackie.  “They support me all the time,” he says.  “They’re helping me so I can help the kids.”

An investment in the teachers is an investment in the students.

(More about Mr. Sosa’s transformation, and other effective teachers at the school and what they do, will be in next month’s column.)

Validation of Our Visit

We were so excited after our visit to Locke Elementary School we shared our experience with Chelonnda Seroyer, the teacher featured on the DVD in the back of our book and who often shares the day with us at professional meetings.

On her next visit to New York, we arranged a visit to Locke for her.  The first word she spoke to us after her visit was, “WOW!”  In a subsequent email she said,


This administration gets it.  They understand how caring for their teachers is essential to creating a positive culture at the school.  They treat the teachers like professionals and therefore the teachers produce professional results.  They come to school prepared to give the students the best that they have every day!

Susan and Jackie genuinely care about everyone at their school.  When you talk to them about Locke, their eyes light up.  They won’t hesitate to go on and on about this student and that.  They relish every success as if each student were their own son or daughter.  They are like kids in a candy store when they tell you about all the fun things they planned for the students and faculty.  And they will rave for hours about how wonderful the teachers are who work there. 

They love what they do.  It is that simple.  They can’t wait to get involved, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  They are truly passionate about their work, and it shines through every crack of the Alain L. Locke Elementary School.

Starting the Day

Susan and Jackie make it a point to start every single day face to face with the students.  In the morning, students line up on the playground to greet their teachers and hear the daily announcements.  But this is not your typical morning assembly. 

Susan walks onto the blacktop area full of energy and with a huge smile on her face.  She shouts, “Good morning!” and the students reply in unison “Good morning, Ms. Green!”

Susan is constantly using positive reinforcement.  As she walks out, she praises certain classes for how well they are lined up.  She thanks a student for paying attention so well.  She gives another class a “Great job!” for all quietly holding up the two finger signal.

Susan starts the meeting.  She is part principal, part motivational-speaker, and part cheerleader.  All of a sudden, it feels much more like a pep rally than a morning assembly.  Susan’s talks are filled with call and response, jokes, laughter, cheering, and an energizing spirit.

On the day we visited the school, it was the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week.  Susan says, “Let’s give a big cheer for our teachers!”  The students went crazy!  It is a true testament to just how much these students love their teachers. 

But Susan isn’t satisfied.  “Oh, I know you can cheer louder than that!” she yells.  “I see this side over here is cheering really loudly today.  Let’s see who can cheer louder!  Let me hear this side!  Okay, let me here this side!”  Suddenly, a cheering war has started on the blacktop.  Students, smiling and loud, compete over who loves their teachers more.  What a way to start the morning!

Even the teachers get involved.  For this special day, the faculty is allowed to break dress code and wear jeans.  Susan and Jackie have given each teacher a very special T-shirt.  And every single teacher is wearing it. 

Susan asks the teachers what their shirts say.  Proudly, they all shout back, “I teach Greatness and nothing less!”

Then Susan asks the students, “What do we stand for?  Greatness!” they respond, “And nothing less!”  She starts call and response:  “Greatness?”  “And nothing less!”  “Greatness!”  “And nothing less!”

When it is time for the daily announcements, Susan reinforces each one with the students.  Susan announces that graduation rehearsal has been moved to 11:00, and the third grade event has been canceled tomorrow.  She then asks, “So what time will you go to graduation rehearsal?” and the students respond “11:00!”  “And should you come for the event tomorrow?” she questions, and they all say, “No!”

Finally, she tells everyone about the man who lives four blocks away on the top floor of his apartment building and how all of the students wake him up with their mantra.  She says, “So let’s wake up all the lazy people in the neighborhood who are still asleep.  Let’s say our mantra AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE!”

“Where do you come from?” she asks.  And with amazing pride, energy, and heart, every student shouts back the Locke Elementary School mantra.

Then they file class by class into the school.  They are smiling already, full of energy, and ready to learn.

A School with a Purpose

We asked Susan about the Alain L. Locke PS 208 Mantra.  She said it was her way of giving students accountability.  It was her way of explaining right and wrong to the students.  For example, when you do wrong, how is that not greatness?  What does it mean to strive for greatness and nothing less?

In holding students accountable for how they treat others, Susan and Jackie have also created a culture of respect.  During our visit, students in the hallway would stop and say, “Hello, Mr. Wong!  Hello, Mrs. Wong.” and “How are you today, Mr. Wong?”  We would respond and smile and shake their hands.

When dealing with disagreements, children know they will be treated with respect.  They will be given a fair chance to tell their side of the story.  Consequences and rewards are handed out justly.  Everyone is approached with respect at all times, even if they disagree.

The culture of respect and accountability pertains to the faculty as well.  Susan and Jackie expect open and honest communication between the teachers and administration.  They treat their teachers with respect, and expect to be treated the same way in return.  In this way, administration can set clear expectations, and everyone can work together to reach the same goals.


In later correspondence with Jackie she said,


Susan and I believe in accountability.  Yes, we are responsible to the NYC Dept. of Education and the State Education Dept.  Yes, there are accountability reports city and statewide.  There are Annual Yearly Progress reports, School Accountability reports, Quality Reviews, Learning Environment Surveys, etc.

But Susan, the staff at Alain L. Locke Elementary School, and I are most importantly accountable to CHILDREN.

We affect their lives.  We offer a home away from home.  We mold the lives of children. When they walk through the doors of Alain L. Locke Elementary School, they know what our expectation is, from wearing the school uniform to what their classroom academia and behavior should mirror.  Our work together coincides with our school motto:
                                 We strive for greatness and nothing less.


We are not just molding great students and scholars; we mold great teachers as well.

Accountability is a large part of the culture at Locke Elementary School.  Even with something as simple as the dress code.  For example, teachers are not to wear jeans to school.  Susan says it is important for the students to view teachers as role models.  They should take that role seriously and dress accordingly.  But unlike many other schools, where similar rules are set down but never enforced, every single teacher at Locke Elementary adheres to the no jeans policy. 

“They do it because they realize everything we do is for and about the children,” Susan says.  “It is not about them.  It’s about the kids, and these kids need to know we are prepared to give them the best of what we have EVERY DAY.”

Accountability, Respect, and Pride

These three words make Locke Elementary School the special place that it is.  Four walls do not create a school.  People create a school—a safe and nurturing haven for children in the neighborhood.

Children are not just under the watchful eye of the classroom teacher, everyone at the school cares for one another.  Anyone, any age, on campus feels compelled to become part of the helpful environment at the school.

Children are valued the moment they enter the school environment.  They want to be there because they know there will be no put downs, no bullying, no defending their turf.  They are wanted there and are missed when not at school.

Teachers are role models in attitude, fortitude, and dedication for their students.  They strive for Greatness every day, so that their students will strive for Greatness every day.  And ultimately, their success as a teacher will result in their students’ success in life.

The art teacher, Mr. Bailey, puts it best.

“I’m not just a teacher. I’m raising a community.”

A Wake Up for the Profession

The call to Greatness everyone at Locke school recites every, single day is one every child, every teacher, every administrator, every education professional needs to chant each day. 

Greatness does not come with dollars and cents.  Greatness comes with leadership, dedication, and an unwavering perseverance to putting children first–giving them the structure and tools they need for Greatness.

Close your eyes as you start each day this school year and listen to the voices of the children at this Harlem school invite you to settle for nothing less than Greatness.  Click here and join them as you commit to being the most effective teacher you can be–and nothing less.

I was born from Greatness
Therefore that makes me Great.
Today I will spread Love
Not hate
Not lies
Not violence
Just Love.

Today I will do more,
I will learn more,
I will be more
Than anyone ever thought I could.
Today I will strive for GREATNESS and nothing else
Created by Susan M. Green © 2007



For a printable version of this article click here.

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About Effective Teaching...

Harry and Rosemary Wong have been writing columns for Teachers.Net for over 13 years and the columns all have a distinctive style. They write about effective teachers, administrators, schools, and school districts featuring techniques that are immediately replicable and at no cost. More importantly, they work to enhance student learning. An archive of past articles can be found at the end of every column, with an abstract of all articles at the end of the most recent June column.

For over 30 years, helping teachers become effective has been the passion of the Wongs. Writing for Teachers.Net is just one of the many ways they reach out to educators with their ideas on how effective teachers improve student learning.

About Harry & Rosemary Wong...

Harry and Rosemary WongHarry and Rosemary Wong are teachers.  Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science.  Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.

Harry Wong has been awarded the Horace Mann Outstanding Educator Award, the National Teachers Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal.  He was selected as one of the most admired people in education by the readers of Instructor magazine.  Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award.  She was also honored as a Distinguished Alumnus from her alma maters, Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University.

Harry and Rosemary have been awarded the Upton Sinclair Award and were nominated for the Brock International Prize in Education. They have built and sustain a school in the jungles of Cambodia.

The Wongs are the most sought after speakers in education today, booked two years into the future. Their presentations are practical, offering a common sense, user-friendly, and no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success. Over a million teachers worldwide have heard their message. In spite of their heavily booked schedule, Harry and Rosemary have agreed to write this monthly column so that more people can hear their message.

How They Develop Effective Teachers...

Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to developing effective teachers, one teacher at a time.
To do this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO.

THE Classroom Management Book is what everyone has been waiting for. It is an exhaustive extension of Unit C on classroom management in The First Days of School.


  • Turn chaos into student achievement
  • Reduce behavior issues; increase learning
  • Step-by-step plans to a well-managed classroom
  • 50 procedures in detail
  • 40 QR codes with additional resources
  • 320 pages in full color
  • Complete first days of school plans
  • Suitable for all grades, all subjects, all teachers
  • Costs no money to implement

How to Be an Effective and Successful Teacheris an audio CD set that was recorded live before 800 teachers in St. Louis.  Listen as they walk you through classrooms that hum with learning and share how you can replicate the same success in your classroom.  In 2 hours and 40 minutes, Harry and Rosemary can transform you into a very effective and successful teacher at no cost!

This presentation has transformed the lives and teaching success of hundreds of thousands of teachers.
Learn how to


  • Begin the school year with a plan
  • Start class immediately
  • Have a well-organized and structured classroom
  • Reduce discipline problems
  • Have students who are engaged and working
  • Teach procedures and responsibility
  • Maximize classroom instructional time
  • Use lesson objectives so students know what they are to learn
  • Use rubrics to assess for student learning
  • Deal with at-risk students
  • Improve student learning and achievement


The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 3.8 million copies have been sold. It is used in 120 countries, 2,114 colleges, and most every new teacher induction program. The fourth edition has been translated into five foreign languages and includes:

  1. An additional chapter on procedures
  2. A new chapter on assessment with rubrics.
  3. A new chapter on Professional Learning Teams
  4. A new chapter for administrators on implementation 
  5. Additional information in Going Beyond Folders
  6. A new DVD, Using THE FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL, presented by Chelonnda Seroyer
TET The Wongs have also produced the DVD series, The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.

They also have a successful eLearning course, Classroom Management with Harry and Rosemary Wong.  The course can be taken in private at the learner's convenience.  The outcome of the course is a 2 inch binder with a personalized Classroom Management Action Plan.

This Action Plan is similar to the organized and structured plan used by all effective teachers.  Details for the classroom management course can be seen at

You can hear Harry Wong LIVE on a set of CDs, called
How to Improve Student Achievement
, recorded at one
of his many presentations.  He invites you to steal from him the secrets of effective teaching for all grade levels.
Never Cease to Learn has the power to transform your
attitude and your life.  In this DVD, Harry shares his journey on the road to success and tells listeners how to become the educators they were meant to be.

When the books, video series, CD, DVD, and eLearning course are used together, they form the most effective professional development training tool for producing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction:  How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers.  Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at

Helping you produce effective teachers is our passion.

Harry & Rosemary Wong Columns on Teachers.Net...
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