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“I Made My Agreement With Mr. Ferlazzo And Kept It…”


One of my students this year has some major learning disabilities. There was discussion about moving him to a special education class but, for a variety of reasons (including the fact I had developed a solid relationship with him), we decided that keeping him in my class would be the best place for him.

He’s a good kid. One of his challenges is having difficulties focusing, and I’ve been struggling to figure out what I could need to help him do his work without necessarily having to check-in with him constantly. Nothing I had tried worked.

Last week he and I talked about the issue again. I told him that I wanted to try-out something new — every time I gave the class an assignment, I would give him full credit if he completed half of it — but only if he got right to work on it and I didn’t need to remind him to get to work. He seemed pretty excited about the idea, and readily agreed.

Much to my surprise, it worked beautifully. During the entire week, he was very focused. The one or two times he appeared distracted, I only had to say, “remember our agreement,” and he immediately got on task.

Each Friday I have students write a reflection responding to a question. Yesterday, the question was, “What was one thing you did very well this week and why do you think you did it so well?”

This student’s response was:

“I made my agreement with Mr. Ferlazzo and kept it. It was something I knew I could do.”

Assuming this continues to go well, in a few weeks I’ll consider talking with him about gradually moving up the expectations.

Making individual “deals” with students, I’ve found, is a key to a successful classroom (see “I’ll Work If You Give Me Candy”).

Have you had similar experiences?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. The key to this whole post is in the phrase: “(including the fact I had developed a solid relationship with him)” I find it ironic that you consider this parenthetical. It seems that all the real successes I had as a teacher and have know as a teacher trainer stem from forming real relationships with people. It sounds so trite, but is so true that people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

    These kind of ‘deals’ and the individual attention are what make the individuals in our classes successful. So, how do we give merit pay for that?

  2. Wow, dear Larry, this is IT! I agree completely with the way you dealt with the issue. In Spain teachers are told that it is very important to start working from students level and capacities, to set clear and achievable goals, evaluation criteria, and the like. Unfortunately very few do it as a common teaching practice and that’s a shame.
    As for the merit pay issue, it’s been discussed here too. I’m sick of teachers who just comment on their students poor achievements “they won’t study, they don’t pay attention, they misbehave, they don’t focus, etc”.
    I’m not the one to reply (that’s left for the educational authorities) but if I could I would say: “What have you done to change that misbehaviour or lack of attention, or whatever? Have you tried anything different? Have you looked into the students’ personal and academic records? Have you talked to the school counselor? Have you even thought about it?”
    I think that you are doing some really wonderful work with your sts in Sacramento and they know, sure they do.

  3. Larry,

    I totally agree with you! I am an adult education teacher (teaching mostly younger GED students) and each student is unique. I have to develop a relationship with each to find out how to motive them to continue. One student in particular has some challenges to concentrating for long periods – so our agreement 20 minutes of dedicated work and a 5 minute break then repeat. He gets more work accomplished in a day this way.

    Keep up the good work!

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