Image: Kindness & Compassion   Thoughts & Notes ... by Paul Smith Photo of Superintendent Paul Smith

September 24, 2018

Only Read This Article
If You Want To Have A Positive Impact On Children.

Image: 19 Days

Reading the article I included this week, it has become clear that mindset is not developed by a curriculum. Mindset is not encouraged by a program. You don’t teach mindset. What happens during teaching, coaching, parenting, mentoring, and caring of children influences their mindset. As adults who love and cherish the learning process, you “setthe mindset in many different ways.If you’re reading this sentence, I already appreciate your interest in making sure our students fulfill their potential in every academic, artistic, and athletic endeavor.

I pulled four quick quotes from the article below.

The most important factor in children’s early lives, researchers have shown, is the way their parents and other adults interact with them

…spending a few hours each week in close proximity to a certain kind of teacher changed something about students’ behavior. And that was what mattered. Somehow these teachers were able to convey deep messages—perhaps implicitly or even subliminally—about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity. And somehow those messages had a profound impact on students’ psychology, and thus on their behavior.

While some students are more likely to persist in tasks or exhibit self-discipline than others, all students are more likely to demonstrate perseverance if the school or classroom context helps them develop positive mindsets and effective learning strategies.

That mindset is the product of countless environmental forces, but research done by Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, and others has shown that teachers can have an enormous impact on their students’ mindsets, often without knowing it. Messages that teachers convey—large and small, explicit and implicit—affect the way students feel in the classroom, and thus the way they behave there.

Your actions every day determine the mindset of the next generation. What an awesome role teachers play. What an awesome responsibility it is to be a teacher. (If you’re a parent, simply substitute the word “teacher” for “parent.”)

How Kids Learn Resilience by Paul Tough in The Atlantic

In recent years, the idea that educators should be teaching kids qualities like grit and self-control has caught on. Successful strategies, though, are hard to come by.

In recent years, in response to this growing crisis, a new idea (or perhaps a very old one) has arisen in the education world: Character matters. Researchers concerned with academic-achievement gaps have begun to study, with increasing interest and enthusiasm, a set of personal qualities—often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.

My last book, How Children Succeed, explored this research and profiled educators who were attempting to put it into practice in their classrooms. Since the book’s publication, in 2012, the idea that educators should be teaching grit and self-control along with addition and subtraction has caught on across the country. Some school systems are embracing this notion institutionally. In California this spring, for example, a coalition of nine major school districts has been trying out a new school-assessment system that relies in part on measurements of students’ noncognitive abilities, such as self-management and social awareness.

But here’s the problem: For all our talk about noncognitive skills, nobody has yet found a reliable way to teach kids to be grittier or more resilient. And it has become clear, at the same time, that the educators who are best able to engender noncognitive abilities in their students often do so without really “teaching” these capacities the way one might teach math or reading—indeed, they often do so without ever saying a word about them in the classroom. This paradox has raised a pressing question for a new generation of researchers: Is the teaching paradigm the right one to use when it comes to helping young people develop noncognitive capacities?

What is emerging is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of “teaching”; instead, a growing number of researchers now believe, they are shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.

The process begins in early childhood, when the most important force shaping the development of these skills turns out to be a surprising one: stress. Over the past decade, neuroscientists have demonstrated with increasing clarity how severe and chronic stress in childhood—what doctors sometimes call toxic stress—leads to physiological and neurological adaptations in children that affect the way their minds and bodies develop and, significantly, the way they function in school.

Each of us has within us an intricate stress-response network that links together the brain, the immune system, and the endocrine system (the glands that produce and release stress hormones). In childhood, and especially in early childhood, this network is highly sensitive to environmental cues; it is constantly looking for signals from a child’s surroundings that might tell it what to expect in the days and years ahead. When those signals suggest that life is going to be hard, the network reacts by preparing for trouble: raising blood pressure, increasing the production of adrenaline, heightening vigilance. Neuroscientists have shown that children living in poverty experience more toxic stress than middle-class children, and that additional stress expresses itself in higher blood pressure and higher levels of certain stress hormones.

In the short term, these adaptations may have benefits, especially in a dangerous environment. When your threat-detection system—sometimes referred to as your fight-or-flight response—is on high alert, you can react quickly to trouble. But in the longer term, they can cause an array of physiological problems and impede development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls our most complex intellectual functions, as well as our ability to regulate ourselves both emotionally and cognitively.

On an emotional level, toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up, and, more subtly, going through each day perpetually wary of connection with peers or teachers.

On a cognitive level, chronically elevated stress can disrupt the development of what are known as executive functions: higher-order mental abilities that some researchers compare to a team of air-traffic controllers overseeing the workings of the brain. Executive functions, which include working memory, attentional control, and cognitive flexibility, are exceptionally helpful in navigating unfamiliar situations and processing new information, which is exactly what we ask children to do at school every day. When a child’s executive functions aren’t fully developed, school days, with their complicated directions and constant distractions, can become a never-ending exercise in frustration.

Executive functions also serve as the developmental building blocks—the neurological infrastructure—underpinning the noncognitive capacities that educators are now so focused on. What this suggests is that if we want to help children demonstrate these qualities in school, there are two places where we need to change our approach. One is the classroom, where right now many fundamental practices of modern American pedagogy ignore this science of adversity. The second is where children’s neurobiological identity begins to be formed, long before they ever set foot in kindergarten: the home.

The most important environmental factor in children’s early lives, researchers have shown, is the way their parents and other adults interact with them. Beginning in infancy, children rely on responses from their parents to help them make sense of the world. Researchers at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child have labeled these “serve and return” interactions. An infant makes a sound or looks at an object—that’s the serve—and her parents return the serve by responding to her babbles and cries with gestures, facial expressions, and speech. More than any other experiences in infancy, these rudimentary interactions trigger the development and strengthening of connections among the regions of the brain that control emotion, cognition, language, and memory.

A second crucial role that parents play early on is as external regulators of their children’s stress. When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations. By contrast, when a child’s parents respond to her jangled emotions in a sensitive and measured way, she is more likely to learn that she herself has the capacity to cope with her feelings, even intense and unpleasant ones.

But if a home environment can have a positive impact on a child’s development, it can also do the opposite. One of the most influential studies of the long-term effect of a stressful early home life is the ongoing Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which was launched in the 1990s by Robert F. Anda, a physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Vincent J. Felitti, the founder of the preventive-medicine department at Kaiser Permanente. Anda and Felitti identified 10 categories of childhood trauma: three categories of abuse, two of neglect, and five related to growing up in a “seriously dysfunctional household.” They found that the number of these traumas a person experiences in childhood (a number that has come to be known as a person’s ace score) correlates in adulthood with health problems ranging from heart disease to cancer.

More recently, researchers using variations on Anda and Felitti’s ace scale have found that an elevated ace score also has a negative effect on the development of a child’s executive functions and on her ability to learn effectively in school. A study conducted by Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and trauma researcher in San Francisco, found that just 3 percent of children in her clinic with an ace score of zero displayed learning or behavioral problems. But among children who had an ace score of four or more, 51 percent had learning or behavioral problems. A separate national study published in 2014 found that children with two or more aces were eight times as likely as children with none to demonstrate behavioral problems and more than twice as likely to repeat a grade in school. According to this study, slightly more than half of all children have never experienced a serious adverse event—but the other half, the ones with at least one ace, account for 85 percent of the behavioral problems that children exhibit.

For children who grow up without significant experiences of adversity, the skill-development process leading up to kindergarten generally works the way it’s supposed to: Calm, consistent, responsive interactions in infancy with parents and other caregivers create neural connections that lay the foundation for a healthy array of attention and concentration skills. Just as early stress sends signals to the nervous system to maintain constant vigilance and prepare for a lifetime of trouble, early warmth and responsiveness send the opposite signals: You’re safe; life is going to be fine. Let down your guard; the people around you will protect you and provide for you. Be curious about the world; it’s full of fascinating surprises. These messages trigger adaptations in children’s brains that allow them to slow down and consider problems and decisions more carefully, to focus their attention for longer periods, and to more willingly trade immediate gratification for promises of long-term benefits.

We don’t always think of these abilities as academic in nature, but in fact they are enormously beneficial in helping kids achieve academic success in kindergarten and beyond. Without them, the transition from home or day care to kindergarten is likely to be fraught, and the challenge of learning the many things we ask kindergarten students to master can be overwhelming. In the classroom, neurocognitive difficulties can quickly turn into academic difficulties. Students don’t learn to read on time, because it is harder for them to concentrate on the words on the page. They don’t learn the basics of number sense, because they are too distracted by the emotions and anxieties overloading their nervous systems. As academic material becomes more complicated, they fall further behind. The more they fall behind, the worse they feel about themselves and about school. That creates more stress, which tends to feed into behavioral problems, which lead to stigmatization and punishment in the classroom, which keep their stress levels elevated, which makes it still harder to concentrate—and so on, throughout elementary school.

Fast-forward a few years, to the moment when those students arrive in middle or high school, and these executive-function challenges are now typically perceived to be problems of attitude or motivation. When teachers and administrators are confronted with students who find it hard to concentrate, manage their emotions, or deal calmly with provocation, the first instinct often is not to look at them as children who, because of a lifetime of stress, haven’t yet developed a healthy set of self-regulation mechanisms. Instead, the adults see them as kids with behavioral problems who need, more than anything, to be disciplined.

When children and adolescents misbehave, we usually assume that they’re doing so because they have considered the consequences of their actions and calculated that the benefits of misbehavior outweigh the costs. So our natural response is to increase the cost of misbehavior, by ratcheting up punishment. One of the chief insights that recent neurobiological research has provided, however, is that young people, especially those who have experienced significant adversity, are often guided by emotional and psychological and hormonal forces that are far from rational. This doesn’t mean that teachers should excuse or ignore bad behavior. But it does explain why harsh punishments so often prove ineffective in motivating troubled young people to succeed.

Most American schools today operate according to a philosophy of discipline that has its roots in the 1980s and ’90s, when a belief that schools would be safer and more effective if they had “zero tolerance” for violence, drug use, and other types of misbehavior led to a sharp rise in suspensions. In 2010, more than a tenth of all public-high-school students nationwide were suspended at least once. And suspension rates are substantially higher among certain demographic groups. African American students, for example, are suspended three times as often as white students. In Chicago public high schools (which have particularly good and well-analyzed data on suspensions), 27 percent of students who live in the city’s poorest neighborhoods received an out-of-school suspension during the 2013–14 school year, as did 30 percent of students with a reported personal history of abuse or neglect.

Sixty percent of Chicago’s out-of-school suspensions in public high schools are for infractions that don’t involve violence or even a threat of violence: They are for talking back to teachers, violating school rules, and disruptive behavior. With the neurobiological research in mind, it’s easy to see that kind of behavior—refusing to do what adults tell you to do, basically—as an expression not of a bad attitude or a defiant personality but of a poorly regulated stress-response system. Talking back and acting up in class are, at least in part, symptoms of a child’s inability to control impulses, de-escalate confrontations, and manage anger and other strong feelings—the whole stew of self-regulation issues that can usually be traced to impaired executive-function development in early childhood.

The guiding theory behind much of the school discipline practiced in the United States today—and certainly behind the zero-tolerance, suspension-heavy approach that has dominated since the 1990s—is behaviorism, which is grounded in the idea that humans respond to incentives and reinforcement. If we get positive reinforcement for a certain behavior, we’re likely to do it more; if we get negative reinforcement, we’re likely to do it less.

Clearly, on some level, behaviorism works. People, including children, respond well to behavioral cues, at least in the short term. But researchers are coming to understand that there are limits to the effectiveness of rewards and punishments in education, and that for young people whose neurological and psychological development has been shaped by intense stress, straightforward reward systems are often especially ineffective.

Roland g. fryer jr., a celebrated economics professor at Harvard, has spent the past decade testing out a variety of incentive schemes with public-school students in Houston, New York, Chicago, and other American cities that have school systems with high poverty rates. Fryer has paid parents for attending parent-teacher conferences, students for reading books, and teachers for raising test scores. He has given kids cellphones to inspire them to study harder. Altogether, he has handed out millions of dollars in rewards and prizes. As a body of work, Fryer’s incentive studies have marked one of the biggest and most thorough educational experiments in American history.

And yet in almost every case, Fryer’s incentive programs have had no effect. From 2007 to 2009, Fryer distributed a total of $9.4 million in cash incentives to 27,000 students, to promote book reading in Dallas, to raise test scores in New York, and to improve course grades in Chicago —all with no effect. “The impact of financial incentives on student achievement,” Fryer reported, “is statistically 0 in each city.” In the 2010–11 school year, he gave cash incentives to fifth-grade students in 25 low-performing public schools in Houston, and to their parents and teachers, with the intent of increasing the time they spent on math homework and improving their scores on standardized math tests. The students performed the tasks necessary to get paid, but their average math scores at the end of eight months hadn’t changed at all. When Fryer looked at their reading scores, he found that they actually went down.

The stark fact that complicates incentive studies like Fryer’s is that children who grow up in difficult circumstances already have a powerful set of material incentives to get a good education. Adults with a high-school degree fare far better in life than adults without one. They not only earn more, on average, but they also have more-stable families, better health, and less chance of being arrested or incarcerated. Those with college degrees similarly do much better, on average, than those without. Young people know this. And yet when it comes time to make any of the many crucial decisions that affect their likelihood of reaching those educational milestones, kids growing up in adversity often make choices that seem in flagrant opposition to their self-interest, rendering those goals more distant and difficult to attain.

Within the field of psychology, one important body of thought that helps explain this apparent paradox is self-determination theory, which is the life’s work of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, two professors at the University of Rochester. Deci and Ryan came up with the beginnings of their theory in the 1970s, when the field was mostly dominated by behaviorists, who believed that people’s actions are governed solely by their motivation to fulfill basic biological needs and thus are highly responsive to straightforward rewards and punishments.

In early childhood, the most important force shaping the development of qualities such as grit and resilience turns out to be a surprising one: stress.

Deci and Ryan, by contrast, argued that we are mostly motivated not by the material consequences of our actions but by the inherent enjoyment and meaning that those actions bring us, a phenomenon called intrinsic motivation. They identified three key human needs—our need for competence, our need for autonomy, and our need for relatedness, meaning personal connection—and they posited that intrinsic motivation can be sustained only when we feel that those needs are being satisfied.

In their writing on education, Deci and Ryan acknowledge that many of the tasks that teachers ask students to complete each day are not inherently fun or satisfying; learning anything, be it painting or computer programming or algebra, involves a lot of repetitive practice. It is at these moments, they write, that extrinsic motivation becomes important: when tasks must be performed not for the inherent satisfaction of completing them, but for some separate outcome. When teachers are able to create an environment that fosters competence, autonomy, and relatedness, Deci and Ryan say, students are much more likely to feel motivated to do that hard work.

The problem is that when disadvantaged children run into trouble in school, either academically or behaviorally, most schools respond by imposing more control on them, not less. This diminishes their fragile sense of autonomy. As these students fall behind their peers academically, they feel less and less competent. And if their relationships with their teachers are wary or even contentious, they are less likely to experience the kind of relatedness that Deci and Ryan describe as being so powerfully motivating for young people in the classroom. Once students reach that point, no collection of material incentives or punishments is going to motivate them, at least not in a deep or sustained way.

All of which brings me back to the question of how to help children develop those mysterious noncognitive capacities. If we want students to act in ways that will maximize their future opportunities—to persevere through challenges, to delay gratification, to control their impulses—we need to consider what might motivate them to take those difficult steps. What Deci and Ryan’s research suggests is that students will be more likely to display these positive academic habits when they are in an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, independence, and growth—or, to use Deci and Ryan’s language, where they experience relatedness, autonomy, and competence.

So what do those academic environments look like? And how do we help teachers to create them?

A few years ago, a young economist at Northwestern University named C. Kirabo Jackson began investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness. In many school systems these days, teachers are assessed based primarily on one data point: the standardized-test scores of their students. Jackson suspected that the true impact teachers had on their students was more complicated than a single test score could reveal. So he found and analyzed a detailed database in North Carolina that tracked the performance of every single ninth-grade student in the state from 2005 to 2011—a total of 464,502 students. His data followed their progress not only in ninth grade but throughout high school.

Jackson had access to students’ scores on the statewide standardized test, and he used that as a rough measure of their cognitive ability. This is the number that education officials generally look at when trying to assess teachers’ impact. But then Jackson did something new. He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability, using just four pieces of existing administrative data: attendance, suspensions, on-time grade progression, and overall GPA. Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school—whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.

Just as early stress sends signals to the nervous system to prepare for trouble, early warmth and responsiveness send the opposite signals: You’re safe; life is going to be fine.

Jackson’s proxy measure allowed him to do some intriguing analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. He subjected every ninth-grade English and algebra teacher in North Carolina to what economists call a value-added assessment. First he calculated whether and how being a student in a particular teacher’s class affected that student’s standardized-test score. Then, separately, he calculated the effect that teachers had on their students’ noncognitive proxy measure: on their attendance, suspensions, timely progression from one grade to the next, and overall GPA.

Jackson found that some teachers were reliably able to raise their students’ standardized-test scores year after year. These are the teachers, in every teacher-evaluation system in the country, who are the most valued and most rewarded. But he also found that there was another distinct cohort of teachers who were reliably able to raise their students’ performance on his noncognitive measure. If you were assigned to the class of a teacher in this cohort, you were more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.

Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills. But the teachers in the second cohort were not being rewarded for their success with their students—indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful. And yet those teachers, according to Jackson’s calculations, were doing more to get their students to college and raise their future wages than were the much-celebrated teachers who boosted students’ test scores.

Jackson’s study didn’t reveal whether these teachers increased their students’ grit or optimism or conscientiousness and by how many percentage points. Instead, it suggested that that’s probably the wrong question to be asking. Jackson’s data showed that spending a few hours each week in close proximity to a certain kind of teacher changed something about students’ behavior. And that was what mattered. Somehow these teachers were able to convey deep messages—perhaps implicitly or even subliminally—about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity. And somehow those messages had a profound impact on students’ psychology, and thus on their behavior.

The environment those teachers created in the classroom, and the messages that environment conveyed, motivated students to start making better decisions—to show up to class, to persevere longer at difficult tasks, and to deal more resiliently with the countless small-scale setbacks and frustrations that make up the typical student’s school day. And those decisions improved their lives in meaningful ways. Did the students learn new skills that enabled them to behave differently? Maybe. Or maybe what we are choosing to call “skills” in this case are really just new ways of thinking about the world or about themselves—a new set of attitudes or beliefs that somehow unleash a new way of behaving.

So which messages most effectively motivate young people to persevere? And how does a teacher convey them to students? These are particularly lively questions in education right now, and the scholar trying most comprehensively to answer them is Camille A. Farrington, a former inner-city high-school teacher who now works at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. When she was teaching, Farrington sometimes felt mystified by the choices that some of her students made. Why weren’t they more consistently motivated to work hard and thus reap the benefits of a good education? As a researcher, Farrington has carefully investigated this question, and in 2012, she and a team of colleagues published a report titled “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners,” which offered some novel answers.

The report was in many ways a reaction to the recent push among educators to identify, assess, and teach noncognitive skills. While Farrington agreed with the growing consensus that a student’s ability to persevere in school was important, she was skeptical of the idea that perseverance could be taught in the same way that we teach math, reading, or history. “There is little evidence that working directly on changing students’ grit or perseverance would be an effective lever for improving their academic performance,” Farrington and her colleagues wrote. “While some students are more likely to persist in tasks or exhibit self-discipline than others, all students are more likely to demonstrate perseverance if the school or classroom context helps them develop positive mindsets and effective learning strategies.”

They went on to identify a phenomenon they called academic perseverance—the tendency to maintain positive academic behaviors despite setbacks. What distinguishes students with academic perseverance, they wrote, is their resilient attitude toward failure. These students continue to work hard in a class even after failing a few tests; when they are stumped or confused by complex material, they look for new ways to master it rather than simply giving up. Academic perseverance, in Farrington’s formulation, shares certain qualities with noncognitive capacities such as grit and self-control and delay of gratification. But unlike those personality traits, which psychologists have shown to be mostly stable over time, a student’s academic perseverance, according to Farrington, is highly dependent on context. A student might be inclined to persevere in school in 10th grade but not in 11th grade. He might persevere in math class but not in history.

In essence, what Farrington found was this: If you are a teacher, you may never be able to get your students to be gritty, in the sense of developing some essential character trait called grit. But you can probably make them act gritty—to behave in gritty ways in your classroom. And those behaviors will help produce the academic outcomes that you (and your students and society at large) are hoping for.

What makes a student persevere in any given classroom on any given day? Farrington’s answer is that it depends on his academic mind-set: the attitudes and self-perceptions and mental representations that are bouncing around inside his head. That mind-set is the product of countless environmental forces, but research done by Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, and others has shown that teachers can have an enormous impact on their students’ mind-sets, often without knowing it. Messages that teachers convey—large and small, explicit and implicit—affect the way students feel in the classroom, and thus the way they behave there.

Farrington has distilled this voluminous mind-set research into four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:

1. I belong in this academic community.
2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.
3. I can succeed at this.
4. This work has value for me.

If students hold these beliefs in mind as they are sitting in math class, Farrington concludes, they are more likely to persevere through the challenges and failures they encounter there. And if they don’t, they are more likely to give up at the first sign of trouble.

The problem, of course, is that students who grow up in conditions of adversity are primed, in all sorts of ways, not to believe any of Farrington’s four statements when they’re sitting in math class. This is in part due to the neurobiological effects of adversity, beginning in early childhood. Remember that one of the signal results of toxic-stress exposure is a hyperactive fight-or-flight mechanism, which does not encourage in students the soothing belief I belong here. Instead, it conveys opposite warnings, at car-alarm volume: I don’t belong here. This is enemy territory. Everyone in this school is out to get me. Add to this the fact that many children raised in adversity, by the time they get to middle or high school, are significantly behind their peers academically and disproportionately likely to have a history of confrontations with school administrators. These students, as a result, tend to be the ones placed in remedial classes or subjected to repeated suspensions or both—none of which makes them likely to think I belong here or I can succeed at this.

Most american schools don’t do a particularly good job of creating environments that convey to students, especially low-income students, the four beliefs that Farrington identified. What Kirabo Jackson seems to have discovered is that certain educators have been able to create such an environment in their own classroom, regardless of the climate in the school as a whole. Until recently, though, school-wide strategies that encouraged these positive mind-sets in students were rare.

Now, however, some new, more comprehensive approaches are emerging. Many of them draw on the neurobiological research that explains how a childhood full of toxic stress can produce obstacles to school success. They take as their premise that in order to help students overcome those obstacles, it may be necessary to alter some basic practices and assumptions within an entire school. These efforts target students’ beliefs in two separate categories, each one echoing items on Farrington’s list: first, students’ feelings about their place in the school (I belong in this academic community), and then their feelings about the work they are doing in class (my ability and competence grow with my effort; I can succeed at this; this work has value for me).

Article continues.

Click to read: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

September 17, 2018

Talk To Your Students About Winning - Greatness!

Image: Find your Greatness

An important part of the beginning of the year is getting to know your students and setting a tone in the classroom. In last week’s “Thoughts,” I suggested that you Ask Your Students what they wish you knew. The article that I attached included several more questions for you to consider.

This week, talk to your students about “greatness.”

In fact, don’t talk to them, let them to do the talking. Watch these very short videos referenced in the article below and let students tell you about “Greatness:”



Greatness requires a growth mindset. Keep in mind that there aren’t programs that simply increase growth mindset in students. A growth mindset is carefully cultivated. As well, greatness is not developed by a program, it’s the product of a mindset. A mindset you can create in every one of your students.

Finding Your Classroom’s Greatness by Tracey Tinley in Educational Leadership

How a Nike ad campaign helped one teacher change students' beliefs on learning and set the right tone for the school year.

Stuff doesn't last long on the walls of my classroom. Bulletin boards, student work, anchor charts. Nothing stays up much longer than our current classroom conversations. Which made it all the more curious that, at the end of the school year a few springs ago, one spot had managed to elude my busy fingers. Above the door of my 4th grade classroom were three little words that I had posted in September—Find Your Greatness.

I have always found it difficult to subscribe to the belief that there are good classes and bad classes when it comes to behavior management. To think this way reduces our impact as educators and essentially turns the possibility of having a productive year into a roll of the dice. Are some classes more difficult to manage? Absolutely. A classroom community doesn't just show up on the first day of school along with the glue sticks and boxes of Kleenex. But a community of learners isn't a natural phenomenon that we have no control over, either. It requires careful thought and planning. It requires a strategy. I often find myself spending more time thinking about crafting community during the first few weeks of school than anything else. Math and spelling can wait. Community building can't.

Training Wheels for Conversation

Back-to-school acrostic poems and essays on summer vacations have never been my thing. I've always used the first few days of a new school year to focus on where we plan to go, rather than on where we have been. A few years ago, I found inspiration in the Nike campaign "Find Your Greatness." The campaign had initially run during the 2012 Summer Olympics and continues to gather views on YouTube today. The ads consist of several vignettes of athletes, both children and adults, in a variety of sports. They feature very little dialogue. The message of each ad is presented by a voiceover offering a specific belief about "greatness." For example, in one ad, www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaXnH81K9cU a child is pictured standing at the top of a diving tower. It is clear that he is hesitant about making the jump. We watch him shuffle uncertainly for a few moments and then the voiceover states, "Greatness is a scary thing. Until … it isn't." The ad concludes with the child making the leap into the water as the phrase "Find Your Greatness" appears on the screen.

The clips are short and snappy, making them ideal for classroom use. I knew they would be just the thing to catch my students' attention after the long lazy days of summer and provide rich opportunities for discussion and learning.

One of the cornerstones of a classroom community lies in students' ability to share, listen, and respond during group discussions. Like many of the expectations in my classroom, conversation (or "accountable talk") is a skill that requires explicit instruction and authentic opportunities in which to practice. That year, these ads became the training wheels for our first few conversations together, and I couldn't wait to hear what my students' beliefs about "greatness" would be.

Many students come to us with the mindset that learning is a competitive sport. That's really not surprising when the very nature of schooling, with its grades and percentages, seems designed for the sole purpose of ranking and ordering students. Also not surprising is the fact that the older my students are, the more entrenched this competitive mindset appears to be. Maybe this is why this particular ad campaign grabbed my attention. I loved the juxtaposition of building a cooperative community out of an ad campaign airing during the Olympics—the ultimate contest designed to separate winning from losing. Unfortunately, many of our students view learning this same way. Even as early as 4th grade, there are children who have already decided whether they are a "winner" or a "loser" at the game of school. I wanted my students to understand that winning and losing would have very little to do with the way we would be learning that year. We would need to have a shared vision of what our learning would look and sound like—and what it would not.

I remember anticipating what the students would say when asked what greatness meant. Would they, as the voiceover suggested, believe that greatness was only for a chosen few? The superstars? What preconceived ideas would they have around excellence? One particular student comment, made during our initial conversation, still stands out in my memory: "Second place is just the first-place loser." To be sure, I had heard this quote before. But to hear it uttered as fact from the mouth of a 9-year-old while other students nodded in agreement was a defining moment for me as an educator. How did we get here? More importantly, did my students actually believe winning was the only thing that mattered? This moment took place well before I had begun to hear about the power of a growth mindset. But even back then, I knew that learning as a competition was a belief system that simply could not exist if we were to build a community of learners together.

Beyond Bingo

Our exploration of greatness had begun. As a class, we watched the video clips. Then, in pairs and small groups, the students wrote shared personal responses to the messages presented in the ads. Some of the ad messages students selected were:

▪ "Greatness needs a lot of things. But it doesn't need an audience."

▪ "Is it speed or endurance? Does it happen in 2 hours or 4 or 6? Is it finishing strong or barely finishing? Yes."

▪ "Some people are told they were born with greatness. Some people tell themselves."

I listened as students bounced ideas off one another. After they completed their written responses, each pair and small group traveled around the room in a "gallery walk" to read and reflect on their peers' thinking. It was interesting to listen to their comments and watch clusters form around certain student responses. The students discussed, negotiated, clarified, and yes … sometimes respectfully disagreed. We then gathered as a class to summarize our noticings and share our developing understandings. We challenged one another on what we had come to believe about greatness. There were no right or wrong answers. No answer keys to consult. Our discussions were rich, thoughtful, and never long enough, if the groans when we stopped were anything to judge by!

Through these shared conversations, we got to know one another—authentically. We didn't need a game of Bingo to help us learn one another's names. We learned them by listening and responding to what others had to say. The fact that the students had shared their thinking enthusiastically was a good indicator that our community-building journey was off to a strong start.

We viewed several ads over those first few weeks, each time with students responding in pairs and small groups, reflecting on the thoughts of others, and then engaging in a whole-class discussion. Students were paired strategically during this activity so they could work with a variety of classmates—of different genders, perspectives, and so on. From the beginning, I wanted my students to recognize all of the possible positive working relationships that were available to them.

Some of the partner responses were:

▪ "It's your strength and courage that makes you great. Greatness doesn't mean gold medals—it's you."

▪ "Sometimes greatness can feel scary because you might be afraid or embarrassed to make a mistake. You have to do it anyway."

▪ "You don't need an audience to practice what's inside your heart. It's not about the medals and the trophies."

These revised slogans went up on our walls to provide daily inspiration. Several times, I overheard students whisper parts of these phrases to one another. It wasn't uncommon to hear "do it anyway" or "greatness is a scary thing" when a student appeared nervous to share an idea or try something new. Their words also found their way into my classroom management repertoire. On one particular occasion, I had a student doing a little too much celebrating over a soccer goal during gym class. A quiet "greatness doesn't need an audience" was all it took to remind him to stop showboating and get back to work.

Toward the end of our study, we gathered the best parts of our thinking in a "popcorn poem" (a poem built collaboratively, with each line of the poem being offered by a student in a way that connects and builds onto the line shared by the preceding student). It was a piece of writing that left us all stunned by its power—and it belonged to all of us. We decided to share it with parents at our Classroom Showcase that October—not only to show off the rich thinking we had done, but also to give parents a preview of what we were striving to develop that year. My hope was that parents might connect to our shift in defining greatness. Perhaps they might begin to echo these sentiments at the hockey rink or on the soccer field. When report cards eventually did make their way home, they might appreciate the greatness that their child had achieved that term, even if it didn't present itself in the form of straight As.

A Much-Needed Message

That September, those three little words above our door were meant for my students. They were intended to remind them that every day is a new opportunity to become our best selves. I realize now that these words were a much-needed message for me as well. Being a teacher is hard work. Creating the conditions for a healthy classroom community can be that much harder. There were mornings where I'll admit I was tempted to pull these words down and replace them with "Find Your Pencil." As teachers, we need to believe in the greatness within ourselves just as much as we believe in it for our students. Too often we focus on our limitations—the marking we didn't get to, the student conferences we didn't have, the parent phone calls we didn't make. Finding and developing our classroom community takes time and patience. It takes a willingness to keep trying even when things get hard. It takes forgiveness for our students, but also for ourselves.

I learned a lot about greatness and community from my students that year. Greatness was when a group of students were willing to admit they needed extra help and stayed behind with me at the carpet after the lesson. Greatness was a student telling his mother that a poem was the best thing he ever wrote "even though it has some spelling mistakes in it." Greatness was the letter left to me by a substitute teacher telling me how kind and helpful the children were on a particular day. Greatness was an entire class cheering when a student scored a basket … in his team's own net. Greatness meant a lot of things in our classroom that year. But above all, it became a word that described our classroom community.

"Found Our Greatness"

I finally did reach up for those three little words, but I didn't take them down. On the last day of school, I got up on my chair and changed a few letters. It was a small change, but it represented a big shift in our learning that year. I remember thinking the students might not even notice the difference. They noticed. Immediately. The words above our door now read, "Found Our Greatness." As they ran toward me, eager to point out the change, I smiled and assured them that I had known they would find their greatness all along.

Image: 19 Days

Research shows that students with a growth mindset achieve the equivalent of

19 additional days of learning in school – or almost an extra month of learning.

As parents and teachers we need to do everything we can do develop growth mindsets in our children.

What a simple, but powerful gift we give them.

Image: Kindness & Compassion

Paul K. Smith

September 10, 2018

Teachers: Ask your Students...                                                        Image: A S K your students what they wish you knew

At our annual Convocation this year, I asked teachers to “ask your students what they wish you knew.” I feel this question when asked of students helps to establish a completely different relationship than is often typical between teacher and learner right from the start of the school year. What it tells students is that student voices matters to you, student feelings matter to you, and student growth matters to you. It validates students as unique individuals who are known for who they are, what they are experiencing, and who they want to become. It’s also a chance for you, as the teacher to transcend the role of teacher in the classroom to coach and mentor.

In a brief web post below, George Couros offers additional questions to consider. Use the one above or choose one or more of his five.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear directly from the children in your room. Regardless of their age students are yearning to talk directly to you.

5 Questions To Ask Your Students To Start The School Year By George Couros In The Principal Of Change

Schools are about more than learning; they are about experience(s). They help shape us in our present and future and those experiences stick with us long past our time as students. Unfortunately, this can either shape us in a positive or negative manner.

I asked this question of educators recently:

In your time as a student in K-12, what made an impact on you.

Not who, but what? What do you remember that influenced you today?

… in a lot of the responses, what people experienced as a student in the K-12 system, has helped shaped people today, whether it was from a negative or positive experience…

The experiences we have in school are extremely important and shape much of what we do today. Personally, a lot of what I do today was shaped both negatively and positively by my experiences in school, as it was by many others.

Because we all know that this has such an impact on the lives of our students both during and after their time in school, it is important that we think about what we do each day. Your actions this year could be what a student not only remembers for the rest of their life but shapes them long past your time.

In a video I often share in workshops students come back to talk to an educator at the end of their career, and one student shares this thought with their former teacher:

“I will cherish the impact you have had on my life forever.” - Student

It is an extremely important job and that quote from a student is a humbling reminder of what educators do.

But what we need to understand as educators is that a student’s input in their own experience is paramount. The best way to show students that their voice matters is by ensuring you give them the opportunity to be heard.

Because of this, here are five questions to think about asking your students as you start off this school year to help shape their experience with you.

1. What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher?

We are quick to share our expectations of our students to our students, but do we give them the opportunity to share their expectations of us? If students have been in school for a few years, the teachers that they have connected with the most obviously have had some impact. I am not saying that you should change your entire personality to suit each child, but I think that understanding what they have connected with in the past would make a difference.

When students look back at their education career, they should not only be able to name one teacher that had an impact.

2. What are you passionate about?

What I do not want people getting mixed up with here is that I am saying, “Ditch the curriculum and focus on your students’ passions only!” Knowing what a student is passionate about not only helps you bridge connection to their learning, but it also helps you bridge connections to them as human beings.

Years ago, we did a school-wide “Identity Day” (led by our awesome Assistant Principal at the time, Cheryl Johnson), where all students and staff would share one thing that they were passionate about in a display that people would be able to walk around. This process really made a connection for me as I would watch teachers connect much of the curriculum to what piqued the interest of the students, which made it much more relevant to them. For example, if I loved sports, could you bring that into mathematics instruction? It also helped see the empowerment in the students when they were passionate about something they were sharing, which made for much better relationships with our community.

3. What is one BIG question you have for this year?

Jamie Casap states, “Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.” Whether this is tied to your course or not is entirely up to you, but giving students the opportunity to stoke their own problem-finding/problem-solving abilities in your classroom is one that will only empower students while stoking curiosity.

Will Richardson talks about how important curiosity is to future success:

The most “successful” (and you can define that just about any way you want) people moving forward will be the most curious. The ones who are constantly asking questions. The ones who are always wondering “What if?”

Don’t just ask this of your students at the beginning of the year. Ask them throughout. Check their progress, see if their question has changed, or if there are any ways you can support them. Empower students to be the leaders of today, not only tomorrow.

4. What are your strengths and how can we utilize them?

If you are challenging your students (as you should be), at some point you will find their weaknesses. Far too often, we place too much emphasis on that throughout the year. By starting with students asking by what they are strong at, it will let students know you value their gifts, and that you are not there to “fix them” but to help them get better.

According to Psychology Today, there is growing evidence that focusing on strengths leads to more confidence, creativity, and happier lives (amongst other things), but do our students feel that we are there to fix them or to unleash their talents and gifts. This is not to say that weaknesses don’t matter, but when you start with strengths, and tap into them, students (like staff) feel that you are not trying to fix them, but just make them better.

5. What does success at the end of the year look like to you?

The hard thing about this question is that students will often say what they believe the adults want them to hear. Maybe adding something like “outside of your grades” (no student wants to do poorly in your class or curriculum, whether they are interested or not), might help them think about something deeper that will last with them past their time at school. How you define and characterize success, could be different from me, as it could be for your students. Find out what their important measures are for this year and help them get to that point.

My success is not defined by you, nor your success defined by me. Yet helping students clearly identify what it means to them and how they can get there, can help them significantly not only in the school year, but build important habits that go beyond school. Many (including adults) learn to identify successes through the eyes of others and often compare themselves. This practice is not helpful and can lead to feelings of inadequacy. If we decide our own measures of success, feel comfortable learning from the successes of others as well, it puts us on a constant path of growth, while learning to focus with “the end in mind.” This is important skill at any age, but it does not hurt to start this with our students.

These are not THE five questions, but just some ideas that might help you shape the year with your students. Obviously teaching at different levels will give you different opportunities with students, but no matter what you teach, it is important to listen to your students at the beginning of the year and ask for feedback to move forward, not only after they have left your care.

August 27, 2018

Compassion is a cornerstone of an East Hampton education.

If you have taken time to review the East Hampton Profile of the Graduate, you can see across the top line of our document a commitment to Compassion. As the chart indicates, we believe in promoting cultural language in each school that is appropriate to the learners who occupy that building. In our schools, we feel if we stress “caring” in the Memorial School, it will grow to “empathy” in the Center School and “responsibility” in the Middle School. Our goal is to ensure that every one of our graduates master these transferable skills culminating in “compassion.” In order to make sure that our students are “life ready”, we are committed to creating opportunities for them to experience these skills and then share these skills. As these are authentic skills, we must give our students viable and regular opportunities to live each of these skills. As a school and as a community we must embody these traits as adults, parents, role models, and mentors in order for our students to see them and then mirror them.

Poster: Profile of the Graduate

Modeling is essential if we want our students to be compassionate. This community has identified Caring, Empathy, Responsibility, and Compassion as vital for our students. As a school district we will commit this year to compassion and the experiences necessary to promote its growth, PreK-12. We can only do that with a community-at-large that is willing to model it!

In 2017-18 our schools committed to “making kindness and caring common” as a priority. In 2018-19 we are asking you as members of the school community and community-at-large to help our students take that notion of “making kindness and caring common” one large step further as we commit to “sharing kindness and sharing compassion.”

Our world certainly can benefit from over 1800 students in East Hampton who share compassion!

From The Compassionate Instinct by Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh, and Jeremy Adam Smith.

…neuroscience suggests that when we give to others, our brain shows heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region known to have many dopamine receptors and process rewards; in other words, kindness really is its own reward. Moreover, kindness is contagious: research finds that when we offer modest expression of gratitude – the simple “thank you,” smile, or warm gaze – we prompt other people to reciprocate the kindness toward us and toward others.

This research suggests that compassionate behavior not only exemplifies a good, moral way to live, but carries great emotional and physical health benefits for compassionate people, their families, and their communities. More and more, it seems that rather than being irrational and superfluous, behaviors like compassion and kindness are actually conducive to human survival – and essential to human flourishing.

Image: Making Kindness & Caring Common


Image: Sharing Kindness & Compassion


Why Compassion Matters (more than ever) by Christopher Kukk, Ph.D.

Dr. Kukk is Professor of Political Science/Social Science at Western Connecticut State University, a Fulbright Scholar, HarperCollins author of The Compassionate Achiever, founding Director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation, Director of the Kathwari Honors Program, founder of the University’s Debate Team, and member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Boston College and his B.A. in political science from Boston University. He was also an international security fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His research and publications combine neuroscience with the social sciences and focus on education issues, the political economy of natural resources, and the creation and sustainability of civil society. Dr. Kukk was also a counter-intelligence agent for the United States Army, a research associate for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and has provided the Associated Press, National Public Radio, The Economist magazine, NBC-TV, CableVision, and Connecticut media with analysis on a wide range of topics and issues. His forthcoming books are based on the idea of weaving values such as compassion into our learning, civic, and business communities.

Compassion unites rather than divides; it connects people rather than disconnects them. Compassion makes individuals, towns, and countries stronger…not weaker. Reporters and authors are writing, however, about “The Death of Compassion” in the United States and how the world is living in an “Age of Anger.” Politicians are discarding compassion when handling issues ranging from healthcare to immigration ‘for the good’ of our country’s strength and security, as if choosing compassion was forsaking strength.

Compassion is defined as a holistic (360 degrees) understanding of a problem or suffering of another with a commitment to act to solve the problem or alleviate the suffering. Not only do we need to continuously strive for greater understanding of problems—especially in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”—but also act to solve them in ways that don’t create more issues. In short, a compassionate society creates a stronger country in terms of politics, economics, and security.

Politics & Society: Simply turn on any popular cable news channel and you will quickly discover that two important sources of American political and societal vitality are dying: a feeling of unity and a sense of civility. While Gallup reported a “Record-high 77% of Americans” feel as though their country is “greatly divided,” a different survey revealed that 70% of us believe “that incivility in America has risen to crisis levels.” A democracy’s health is dependent upon the strength of its connections as well as level of trust between its citizens. A society in which its people feel divided from and behave uncivilly toward one another is a democratically weakened country; it’s as if the nation is hallowing itself out by undermining its own strength. One way to stop “The Disunited States” from happening is for Americans at both ends of the political spectrum to start following the one “core value” that most agree on: compassion. A Pew Research Center survey found that 58% of Trump and 75% of Clinton supporters agreed with the statement: “Compassion and helping others are my core values.” The byproducts of practicing compassion are the sources of democratic health: increasing civility, high levels of trust, and feelings of unity. Following compassion in our political, professional, and personal lives offers a clear path to a stronger America.

Economics & Health: In the American military, we lived the motto of “Leave no man behind”…no one was ever forgotten. Yet in American society, we not only have “forgotten men” (who President Trump often cites in speeches) but also forgotten women and children in the form of the homeless. Many American politicians and media pundits, however, are either silent about the homeless or argue that they are not worth trying to help because they are “lazy.” In some places, such as Utah and Hawaii, politicians are taking a compassionate approach to helping their homeless while also helping their state’s economy: they are building homes for the homeless. In Utah, for example, their Housing First program has reduced homeless to “a functional zero” while saving the state approximately “$8,000 per homeless person in annual expenses.” The several hundreds of lives they have changed and the millions of dollars that they saved were achieved by the simple, direct idea of providing homes to the homeless. Hawaiian State Senator and emergency room physician Josh Green is trying to create a paradigm shift in how his state addresses the issue by proposing a state bill that would allow medical doctors to prescribe houses to the chronically homeless. By clearly showing that Hawaii can reduce annual state medical costs while also extending the average life expectancy of their homeless citizens (a homeless person in America is likely to die at age 50 but a person living in a house will usually live until 78 years old), Dr./Sen. Green is making a strong economic and health case that homelessness should be treated as a medical condition rather than a social issue. If we take a compassionate approach to growing the economy, there would be no “forgotten” Americans.

Immigration & Security: Discussions, whether at a dining or conference room table, about the security of America tend to include the issue of immigration. Current American political leaders usually end their part of the discussion saying that they will build an “impregnable” wall to stop illegal immigrants and, therefore, make the United States more secure. The problem with such a conclusion is that it’s a $21.6 billion dollars solution that wouldn’t stop another 9–11 event (how many of the 9–11 terrorist illegally crossed the border?) and it doesn’t match the reality of illegal immigration into the United States. Since 2007, for example, the data clearly shows that more undocumented immigrants overextend their “legal” visas than illegally cross the border by at least 600,000 people. (The dual trends of “overextenders” increasing while the number of “border crossers” decreasing are continuing according to our own government’s most recent statistics.) A holistic understanding of illegal immigration would help address the problem more constructively and save a substantial amount of money by not constructing a “2,000 mile wall in search of a purpose.” Should we, for instance, really be hiring 10,000 new border patrol agents as President Trump recommends or find ways to better police our visas? Because we know that people do better professionally and personally when they are part of “intact” families, shouldn’t we be finding ways to keep families united rather than divided? Wouldn’t that also help prevent the rise of anti-American activists who feel as though they have nothing left to lose (once they have lost the most important part of their lives…their families) by lashing out in violent ways?

The health of a society strengthens as the number of people who help each other increases. America is stronger when we emphasize the “united” in the United States and following compassion everyday is one way we can achieve that in real world terms. Compassion is a value, virtue, and verb that unites people as it strengthens a country. Compassion matters to those who seek strength, security, and success…and it matters more than ever.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

~ Dalai Lama

Image: Sharing Kindness & Compassion

Summer 2018

Emotions Matter In The Classroom
(And The Home, Too!)

Image:  Happy to Sad graphic

We are taking the time to focus on the book Mindset this summer and the author’s, Carol Dweck’s premise is that our own perceptions of our abilities impact our learning and performance. Our perceptions that we have of our children as teachers or as parents also impact the way we interact with them and also have a strong impact on their learning and performance. There is evidently a stronger link than originally believed between an attitude toward learning and actual achievement – as the learner or the teacher. A growth mindset is the ideal to strengthen that link.

What has become just as clear is that our students’ emotional states also play into their ability to learn. There is a strong connection to learning centered on the emotional state of our children. While we cannot control their emotional states or responses at all times, we can be cognizant of their emotions and make sure we are working to create an environment for success even when student’s emotional states flucutate.

I believe there is also strong connection in the development of growth and fixed mindsets based on the emotional predilection of students, especially in the early years of learning. If we call attention to and enhance the emotional reflection students develop for themselves, we may just develop more growth mindsets in future students.

Carol Dweck states in her book, “The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process.” That process includes recognizing emotions in students, helping students recognizing their emotions, and mastering the regulation of emotions in the classroom.

How to Support the Emotional Link to Learning by Allison Posey in ASCD

Emotions are central for cognition: "We feel, therefore we learn" (Immordino-Yang, 2008). When there is damage to emotion networks of the brain, even simple decisions such as what to wear in the morning can become impossible (Damasio, 1994). For educators who have dozens of students in their classrooms each day, it can feel overwhelming to support the range of students' emotional needs, in addition to their different learning needs. Educators may not feel equipped with tools to support emotional learning. There is also concern that there is not time to address emotions in addition to the cognitive content that has to be covered; an 8th grade teacher I spoke with noted, "I cannot take time each day to talk about how each student feels."

However, we cannot ignore the central role of emotions for learning. Emotions drive our attention and are essential for cognitive skills such as memory and executive function. Emotions even influence basic perception (Zadra, 2011). If we are not addressing emotions in our classrooms, then we are not addressing how students learn.

There are a few strategies educators can design into their environments and lessons to support emotions for learning. Note that ideally these strategies are proactively integrated into the learning environment so that any student can access them, whether it is a student who is just having a bad day or one who may have greater emotional challenges.

Co-construct a common language to help recognize, discuss, and reflect on emotions, using a tool such as the Mood Meter, part of the RULER approach for integrating social and emotional learning into schools developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (2013). (RULER is an acronym for emotional intelligence skills associated with recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotion.) The Mood Meter has four quadrants to identify to how positive/negative and active/de-active you feel in a moment. The quadrants can be named in various ways, such as with colors, characters, or words:

positive/active ("yellow, Elmo, happy and energized")

positive/de-active ("green, Pooh bear, good and calm")

negative/active ("red, Oscar the Grouch, bad and stressed")

negative/de-active ("blue, Eeyore, bad and depressed")

Deepen the language you use about learning using a resource such as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines. It aligns three learning networks of the brain with instructional strategies.

Recognition networks are involved in how learners perceive, build language, and comprehend. Instructional strategies include providing options in how we present materials (written, verbal, digital), support vocabulary, and highlight key information.

Strategic networks are involved in how learners show what they know. Instructional strategies include providing options for expression, communication, and ways to monitor progress.

Affective networks are involved in how students engage, including how they recruit interest, sustain effort and persistence, and self-regulate. Instructional strategies include providing authentic, relevant examples; choice for collaboration; and frequent formative feedback.

Together, the Mood Meter and the UDL guidelines offer a common language that students of any age and context can develop and use to gain deeper insights into their own emotions and strategies that support learning. For example, a student may note how an option for collaboration on a reading task helped her move from a negative/active ("stress") state to a more positive/de-active ("alert") state that helped her reading.

Highlight and clarify learning goals during a lesson so that students know what they are working to achieve. Goals can include standards, skills, or behaviors and should be manageable within the timeframe available. For example, a goal for a 45-minute class period may be for students to write a comparative essay. Anticipate that there will always be a range of emotions and backgrounds for each goal: some will enjoy writing, have a strong skillset, and feel comfortable in your class. Others may feel anxious about writing or lack fundamental skills, or they may be affected by something unrelated to the classroom task, such as feeling agitated after having a fight with a friend. Before starting work towards the goal, ask students to reflect how they currently feel using the Mood Meter. You can model and share where you currently assess yourself.

Have flexible tools and resources available in the environment for students to choose as they work towards the intended goal. For example, with the goal of writing a comparative essay, there may be a quiet space in the classroom where students can wear headphones and sit comfortably as they write (UDL 7.3). There may be graphic organizers, a model example, and sentence starters available (UDL 5.2 and 5.3). There may be an active area of the room with the option to collaborate with peers or the teacher to generate ideas or proofread using a rubric (UDL 8.3, 8.4, 6.4). Students may type, write, or record their essay (UDL 4.1). In addition, they may choose the topics they want to compare (UDL 7.1).

oThese options are like a "learning buffet" that all students can use as they progress towards the goal. The "buffet" will be unique for each lesson depending on the goal and will be unique for each classroom depending on materials and resources available. Importantly, this "learning buffet" provides options to work towards the goal in ways that align with the emotional needs of that day for each individual. If a student needs quiet space and few supports, those options are available. If they feel they need to be more active or need lots of support, they are empowered to choose those options. This design shifts the ownership of the learning to the students, which deepens engagement, agency, and metacognition.

Offer time for students to reflect on how the various tools and strategies helped their learning. What strategies will they use again? How might they make different learning choices next time? How did the options leverage their emotions for learning?

Neurologically, the affective networks of the brain are interconnected with strategic and perceptual networks. We cannot separate emotion from cognition. To get to high-level learning, we must recognize that emotions matter. Through developing common communication tools for emotions and learning, clarifying the learning goal, providing a flexible "buffet" of options that align with the intended goal, and offering time for reflection, we will value the range of emotions and learning experiences of our learners in our classrooms.

Note: There may be more extreme emotional situations that may require additional interventions.


CAST. (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines, version 2.2. Available at http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Grosset/Putnam.

Immordino-Yang, M. H., & Damasio, A. (2007). We feel, therefore we learn (pp. 183–198). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1751-228X.2007.00004.x

Yale Center on Emotional Intelligence. (2013). Mood meter. Available at http://ei.yale.edu/ruler/the-anchor-tools/

Zadra, J. R., & Clore, G. L. (2011). Emotion and perception: The role of affective information. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews: cognitive science, 2(6), 676–685. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

June 18, 2018

Please join us for the adult summer reading – and then join in on the fall discussions.

One Book Discussion Graphic

Book Disssions at 94 Main Street; Thursday, September, 20 9:00 AM and
Tuesday, September 25 6:00 PM

Plan to join us for our One Book-One School Community Summer Reading!

Pay particular attention to Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 7 – if you don’t read the whole book.

We are hoping that you will join us whether you are teachers, staff, parents, or community members for an exciting opportunity to come together as a learning community and share your thoughts and ideas on Mindset, by Carol Dweck. Plan to read the book this summer (available in paperback at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. In addition, there are copies in the town library.

After reading, come to a couple of opportunities to share your thoughts with other readers of the book on the dates listed above.

Read the primer below from Benefit Mindset: https://medium.com/benefit-mindset/the-nature-of-m...

Read the book!

The nature of mindsets

A primer on how our underlying beliefs, attitudes and assumptions create our everyday lives — and our shared world.

The Nature of Mindsets Graphic

Mindsets shape the lives we lead, the actions we take and the future possibilities of the world we live in.

In this primer, we provide an overview of what mindsets are, why they matter and explore a range of practices you can use to be mindful about how and why you use them.

What is a Mindset?

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Eight principles can be used to describe the underlying nature of mindsets.

1) Mindsets are unique to everyone

No two are the same. They are deeply held beliefs, attitudes and assumptions we create about who we are and how the world works. Once created, a habit of mind becomes set. We establish a mind-set — an ingrained disposition for seeing, making sense of, and acting in, the world.

2) Mindsets are created by experiences

Mindsets are created using the distinctions we are able to make about our lived experiences. We have experiences. From our experiences, we make new distinctions. From these distinctions, we create new mindsets. But we have to be mindful. The creation of new mindsets is a mindful activity.

3) Mindsets create blind spots

Mindsets limit our perception of valid and useful possibilities. They provide us with fragmented ways of looking at the world, never with complete facts of what is. We always see the world through the filter of our mindsets and our mindsets are always incomplete.

4) Mindsets are self-deceptive

Any attempt to shift our mindsets preconceived ways of seeing the world will be met by powerful forces that immunize us from change. An example of these self-deceptive forces is our tenancy for confirmation bias; the searching for, and recalling of, information that reconfirms our pre-existing beliefs.

5) Mindsets shape our everyday lives

We make our mindsets, and thereafter, our mindsets make us. Our thoughts, words and actions radiate out from our mindsets like ripples on the surface of a lake. If there is something we would like to change in our lives, such as be more creative or improve our wellbeing, we must also be open to shifting our mindsets.

6) Mindsets create our shared world

Mindsets are a powerful leverage point for cultural and systemic change. If we want to more consciously create the world we live in, such as act in a way that contributes to the UN global goals, the first-ever global consensus on what must be done to address inequality, climate change and mental health, we must also be open to shifting our mindsets.

7) Mindsets can be developed in complexity

The more developed our mindsets become, the more we unfold towards deeper levels of wisdom and effectiveness in the world. Our mindsets evolve from simple to complex, from static to dynamic, and from ego-centric to socio-centric to world-centric. Our ability to take a perspective improves, as does our capacity to embrace ambiguity and hold paradox.

8) Mindsets can be transcended

Using the power of mindfulness, we can transcend our blind spots and self-deceptive forces, examine how our mindsets manifest to create our lives and our world — and tap our collective capacities for profound personal and societal transformation.

In sum, it can be said that there is no way to avoid these far-reaching effects of our mindsets. Their hidden web of influence permeates everything — all the time. What’s inside us, our beliefs, attitudes and assumptions — manifests outside, shaping our future possibilities on both an individual and a collective level.

Why mindsets matter

“It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us but rather our mindset about our physical limits.” — Ellen Langer

On a personal level, examining mindsets can create subtle yet radical click’s in our minds, when suddenly, new ways of seeing, being — and ultimately acting become available to us. These liberating shifts can go on to meaningfully transform our lives in surprising and fulfilling ways. Cultivating this capacity is particularly important when engaging in creative activities, or when participating in innovative processes such as human centered design and agile.

For some of you, these reasons alone may be enough to inspire an inquiry into the unique nature of your mindset. There is, however, a deeper reason why examining your mindset matters.

“It is not until we see the global problems as symptoms of one fundamental, deeper-rooted crisis — the symptoms of our individual and shared mindset — that we can begin to mount a more profound response” — Monica Sharma

We live in turbulent times. Everyone is facing increasingly urgent and deeply interrelated challenges they haven’t faced before. Collectively, we are facing an ever-growing number of social and ecological crises that continue to intensify and worsen. The ultimate source of our great challenges — the primary root cause that creates all of our crises in the first place — is also our mindsets. All of our great global problems are consequences of blindly reliving unexamined mindsets.

Thus, the deeper reason to examine our mindsets is so we can mount a self-aware response to the great challenges of our day. We simply can’t respond to our global problems in a meaningful way unless we do this deeply human work. It can be suggested that the people, groups and nations best positioned to navigate the years to come will be the ones who develop their mindsets as an integral part of how they live their lives.

The three basic mindsets

“The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?” — Carl Jung

While everyone’s mindset is unique there are some common types that are useful to be aware of.

This includes the Fixed, Growth and Benefit Mindsets which reflect common beliefs people hold about the nature of learning and leadership.

Fixed vs Growth Mindset graphic

A Fixed Mindset is symbolized by the everyday expert.

“In a Fixed Mindset people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.” — Carol Dweck

A Growth Mindset is symbolized by the everyday learner.

“In a Growth Mindset people understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” — Carol Dweck

A Benefit Mindset is symbolized by the everyday leader.

In a Benefit Mindset we not only seek to fulfil our potential, but choose to do it in a way that contributes to the wellbeing of others and society as a whole. We question ‘why’ we do what we do, and believe when we are called, we must serve.

For a more detailed summary of the research behind each of these mindsets please refer to our academic paper.

The basic mindsets in practice

Let’s say you went shopping to buy some food for dinner.

If you did your shopping on autopilot, drawing on your habitual patterns of behavior and bought what you normally would, that’s an example of a Fixed Mindset.

If instead, you went shopping and considered making something new and different, and bought ingredients in a mindful fashion, that’s an example of a Growth Mindset.

However, if you went shopping, considered making something new and you also considered the wellbeing of your community and the planet — choosing socially and environmentally innovative options, that’s an example of a Benefit Mindset.

This is a simple example of how the mindset we adopt shapes our everyday actions and the future possibilities of our world.

More consciously choosing your mindset

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” — R. Buckminster Fuller

How can we become more conscious of the mindsets we are living? There are a wide range of practices for making more conscious choices, here are a few worth noting;

 On a personal level, a practice of mindfulness helps us become more aware of how our mindsets are manifesting in our lives and our world.

 In a community setting, Walk Out Walk On by Margret Wheatley & Deborah Frieze provides a rich variety of practices communities are using to live the future now. Communities who come together to walk out of their limiting beliefs, attitudes and assumptions — and walk on to healthy and resilient futures.

 In an organizational setting, Robert Kegan’s and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s concept of a Deliberately Developmental Organization is valuable for promoting whole organization mindset development.

 Otto Scharmer has developed a mindset transcending practice called Presencing (also called Theory U). Presencing can be understood in three primary ways: first as a framework; second, as a method for leading profound change; and third, as a way of being — connecting to the more authentic aspects of our self and the world.

 David Gray’s book Liminal Thinking provides a range of nine practices for minimizing reality distortion, envisioning new possibilities and creating positive change. These practices can be summarized as three simple precepts: 1. Get in touch with your ignorance. 2. Seek understanding. 3. Do something different.

Who do you want to be and what kind of world do you want to create?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

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Thank you e a s t h a m p t o n teachers and staff for a great year!

Paul K. Smith

East Hampton Acrostic Poem

June 11, 2018

What did students discover on their own in your classroom today?

“In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life.”

Did you see a spark of curiosity in your children today as a teacher or parent? The article below speaks to an underappreciation of curiosity and its role in education and life.
As we finish the school year, teachers are encouraged to use the time to create at least one more experience that will spark a sense of curiosity that gives our students a possible direction for reading and learning over the summer. And, as we finish the school year, parents are urged to fan that spark and help ignite full blown curiosity over the summer. It’s a great idea for students to begin the summer vacation weeks with passionate curiosity.

Einstein quote

Schools Are Missing What Matters About Learning by SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN 

Curiosity is underemphasized in the classroom, but research shows that it is one of the strongest markers of academic success. 

When Orville Wright, of the Wright brothers fame, was told by a friend that he and his brother would always be an example of how far someone can go in life with no special advantages, he emphatically responded, “to say we had no special advantages … the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.” 

The power of curiosity to contribute not only to high achievement, but also to a fulfilling existence, cannot be emphasized enough. Curiosity can be defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and intense desire to explore, novel, challenging, and uncertain events.” In recent years, curiosity has been linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ. 

Yet in actual schools, curiosity is drastically underappreciated. As Susan Engel has documented in her book, The Hungry Mind, amidst the country’s standardized testing mania, schools are missing what really matters about learning: The desire to learn in the first place. As she notes, teachers rarely encourage curiosity in the classroom—even though we are all born with an abundance of curiosity, and this innate drive for exploration could be built upon in all students. 

Curiously (pun intended), curiosity is also virtually absent from the field of gifted-and-talented education. A recent survey of required identification methods across all states found that only three considered motivation a part of giftedness. IQ, on the other hand, is required by 45 states, while 39 require standardized tests of achievement. 

A recent feature story in Scientific American further punctuates this point. Misleadingly titled “How to Raise a Genius,” the article summarized the results of a 45-year study of children who at age 12 scored in the top 1 percent on the SATs and were subsequently tracked and then supported. At least 95 percent of the participants experienced some type of educational acceleration as a result of their identification, and most participated in enrichment programs such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY). The CTY program—which counts Mark Zuckerberg and Lady Gagaas alumni—was initiated to “find the kids with the highest potential for excellence in what we now call STEM,” and to figure out how to support them to increase the chances of them reaching this expected potential.

Much to the researchers’ delight, the results confirmed their expectations. Their “profoundly gifted children” indeed grew up to be an impressive group. The majority completed doctoral degrees from some of the best universities in the world (which require high test scores as a gating mechanism), and many boasted impressive literary and scientific-technical achievements, including patents and published books. 

These findings suggest that early advanced test scores are an indication of one’s readiness for more enhanced resources, and this should certainly be supported. But what other conclusions can be drawn from these findings? That if you’re a parent and you want to “raise a genius” but your child isn’t precocious on academic tests at an early age, you’re out of luck? Or worse, that these are the kids, and only these kids, who the country should bank on? One of the lead authors of the study, David Lubinsky, was quoted as saying: “When you look at the issues facing society now—whether it’s health care, climate change, terrorism, energy—these are the kids who have the most potential to solve these problems. These are the kids we'd do well to bet on.”

But is this really true? The researchers selected students based on a single criterion—advanced test scores—and supported these precocious youth throughout their schooling, failing to select for some other variable and thus disregarding all the other children. 

The Fullerton Longitudinal Study (FLS), a 30-plus year study of the development of giftedness across various points in time conducted by Adele and Allen Gottfried of California State University, takes a different approach. Instead of relying on teacher nominations—recent research suggests that nominations miss at least 60 percent of gifted students—the researchers started by assessing a group of 1-year-olds, long before any of them had a chance to be officially labeled as gifted. The only criteria for inclusion in the study were that the infants had to be full term, of normal weight, and free of visual and neurological abnormalities.

“Motivation should not be considered simply a catalyst for the development of other forms of giftedness, but should be nurtured in its own right.”

They initiated their study in 1979, and have been assessing the participants based on a wide range of variables (e.g., school performance, IQ, leadership, happiness) across multiple contexts (laboratory and home) since. During infancy and the preschool years, the participants were assessed every six months, and then they were assessed annually from the ages of 5 to 17.

One of their findings supports the work of Lubinsky and colleagues: Cognitive giftedness matters. Using the standard cutoff of 130 IQ resulted in 19 percent of the 107 children identified as “intellectually gifted” at the age of 8. While intellectually gifted children were not different than the comparison group with respect to their temperament, behavioral, social, or emotional functioning, they did differ in regards to their advanced sensory and motor functioning starting at age 1.5, their ability to understand the meaning of words starting at age 1, and their ability to both understand and communicate information thereafter. They were also more goal-oriented and displayed a greater attention span. By the time they began kindergarten, they performed at a higher level across diverse subject areas. Teachers rated intellectually gifted children as more competent in the classroom. 

Parents of intellectually gifted children reported similar observations and were more likely than those of average children to say that their kids actively elicited stimulation by, for example, requesting intellectual extracurricular activities. (Intellectually gifted students tended to come from families that valued intellectual and cultural pursuits.) Children who become intellectually gifted, the Gottfrieds concluded, “are more environmentally engaged and may benefit more from their environment.” 

These results provide a window into the development of intellectual giftedness in relation to cognition. But they only demonstrate part of the picture. The researchers also measured what they described as academic intrinsic motivation and identified the top 19 percent of the 111 adolescent participants as “motivationally gifted,” displaying extreme enjoyment of school and of learning of challenging, difficult, and novel tasks and an orientation toward mastery, curiosity, and persistence. 

Interestingly, they found very little correspondence between intellectual giftedness and motivational giftedness. While the intellectually gifted students tended to show greater intellectual curiosity from infancy through adolescence, only eight children were both intellectually gifted and motivationally gifted. Also, the overwhelming majority of the differences on the academic intrinsic-motivation test could not be explained by differences in IQ scores, and academic intrinsic motivation predicted high-school GPA independently of IQ. The takeaway: Those with gifted curiosity are gifted in their own right. 

Students with gifted curiosity outperformed their peers on a wide range of educational outcomes, including math and reading, SAT scores, and college attainment. According to ratings from teachers, the motivationally gifted students worked harder and learned more. 

These findings have deep implications for gifted-and-talented education, as well as for education more generally. For one, they suggest that gifted curiosity is a distinct characteristic that contributes uniquely to academic success. As the Gottfrieds put it, “motivation should be considered as a criterion in and of itself to augment the selection of students into programs for the gifted and talented.” For another, they’re evidence of the benefits of programs that engage all students in the learning process—not as a means to developing other forms of giftedness (e.g., IQ, standardized test scores), but as an important characteristic all on its own. “Motivation should not be considered simply a catalyst for the development of other forms of giftedness, but should be nurtured in its own right,” note the Gottfrieds. 

Stimulating classroom activities are those that offer novelty, surprise, and complexity, allowing greater autonomy and student choice; they also encourage students to ask questions, question assumptions, and achieve mastery through revision rather than judgment-day-style testing. 

But these experiences happen outside of the classroom as well. The Gottfrieds investigated the role parents play in fostering in their children an affinity for science by exposing them to new experiences that make them curious, for example, like taking them to museums. They found that such activities helped children develop an intrinsic motivation for science (e.g., “I enjoy learning new things in science; I like to find answers to questions in science”) and teacher ratings of student academic performance. In turn, both of those factors predicted the number of advanced courses taken and interest in a science career, among other outcomes. This finding has strong implications for the development of STEM considering that curiosity is a fundamental predictor of the aspiration to become a scientist.

All in all, the Fullerton study is proof that giftedness is not something an individual is either born with or without—giftedness is clearly a developmental process. It’s also proof that giftedness can be caused by various factors. As the Gottfrieds write in their book Gifted IQ: Early Developmental Aspects, “giftedness is not a chance event … giftedness will blossom when children’s cognitive ability, motivation and enriched environments coexist and meld together to foster its growth.”


What can people do to get better at learning?

June 4, 2018                                                                                    Image: Never Stop Learning

 A little bit of Graduation advice is good for all of us! 

This is the time of year when we get together to honor students at awards ceremonies, end-of-year events, and the highly anticipated commencement exercises at high school graduations. Those events always contain a speech or two with erudite words of wisdom and a few sage comments. I love hearing all of the speeches, whether by students or by adults. And, if you are a good listener, you realize that the advice to our students actually applies to many of us on our own journeys of self-discovery. Given that, the brief article below is an offering to graduates, teachers, parents, and community members from SUCCESS (https://www.success.com/). Check out the website for other tidbits of wisdom. It’s good for all teachers and parents to take a moment during this very busy season and take a moment to care for yourself!

20 Life Lessons I Wish I Knew 10 Years Ago by Rhys Jack in SUCCESS https://www.success.com/

Ten years ago, I’d just finished school, I was training almost every single day to become a professional rugby player, and I was just about to begin my first year of study at university. Since then, so much has changed in almost every aspect of my life.

Just recently, I looked back at some of those major changes and on some of the life lessons that have helped me along the way—things I wish I’d been able to tell my 10-years-younger self. Many of these lessons were learned the hard way, by my own mistakes; some of them I was lucky to have a friend or mentor to show me the way; but all of them were important in some way because they helped shape who I am now.

1. Learn something new every day.

I try to learn and apply something new every day that can bring me closer to at least one of my goals. I figure if you can learn one small thing each day, and then take one action to apply what you’ve learned, then over the course of a year, you will be 365 small steps closer to your vision. Learning never stops. You should be prepared to add and apply new knowledge every single day.

2. Things can and do change very quickly. Be ready.

Sometimes it can feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same, which can leave us feeling like our ability to influence the outcome of a situation is beyond our control. But what I’ve realized is that things can and do change very quickly, and when they do, you just need to be there—and be ready—to make the most of it. Think of all the things that have changed in the past 10 years, and all the opportunities that have come out of them for the people who were prepared. Keep an eye on what’s happening around you and don’t lose sight of what you are looking to achieve.

3. Enjoy time spent with your family.

Time often reveals the people who truly matter. For me, two moments in particular reinforced this for me in the past few years. The first was trekking the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea with my parents; the experience brought us closer together than ever before as we retraced the battlegrounds where my great-grandfather had served during World War II. The second has been spending time with my grandmother looking at old photo albums; she is slowly losing touch with the most precious memories, and it is so important to be there for those moments.

4. Get a clear plan in place for your mental health.

When I stopped playing rugby, I was only in my early 20s. I was mentally exhausted, depressed and unsure of what to do with myself. I was lucky to have people in my life who recognized this and helped me get back on my feet slowly over time. But I also learned how important it was to see a doctor, talk about my mental health and educate myself on as many strategies as possible to improve this part of my life. When you’ve been in a dark place, you realize how important a good plan and a solid support system are.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Learn and move on.

I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and done some pretty stupid things, but being overly critical of yourself is a downward spiral. Knowing when to forgive yourself and how to learn from your mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again is a much less damaging path.

6. Be honest.

It seems like a no-brainer, but being honest with yourself and the people you love has huge benefits for everyone involved. When you are truly honest, the level of trust goes up and your relationships improve.

7. There is more to life than this.

Growing up, I lived and breathed sports every single day of my life. I didn’t even realize there were so many other things out there to enjoy—whole other industries and hobbies that were equally as interesting. When I finally invested my time outside of my normal, I started to really understand who I was and where I wanted to go in life.

8. Get your morning routine sorted.

One of the most important parts of my day is my morning routine. When I get up early and take steps toward my goals—by writing, reading, running or hitting the gym—I’ve put myself on the right track and in the right mindset to continue to be productive and make progress for the remainder of the day.

9. Start writing things down.

When I discovered the benefits that physically writing down my thoughts and ideas in a notebook had on my mental clarity and creativity, I made it a fundamental part of my life. I always carry around my notebook wherever I am.

10. Travel as often and as far as you can.

The best way I know to expand your mind and give yourself a new viewpoint on the world is to take a trip. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life I can trace directly to a moment or an experience I had while traveling.

11. Give without expecting to receive anything in return.

One of my mentors told me this a while ago when we were standing in a room filled with people who had come to celebrate his life and career. His secret? Help people make connections that will give them the value they need, and don’t expect anything in return.

12. Find what you are grateful for.

Almost every morning while I’m on the way to work or the gym, I’ll sit and think of three things I'm thankful for, little or big. It can be something as simple as the weather or the transport I’m taking, or as important to me as my family or my friends. This is a great habit to get into in the quiet moments throughout your day.

13. Don’t waste time with jerks.

We’ve all come across them, and sometimes it feels like they’re surrounding us. I’ve certainly spent a fair share of my life trying to impress or be liked by them. But the sooner you recognize when you and your time aren’t being valued in a way that shows at least a basic level of respect and decency, you know you’re dealing with one. Right then is when you should quit wasting your time and move on.

14. Take responsibility for everything.

Everything that happens in your life is the direct result of what you have or have not done to get there. So take ownership and start to put the building blocks in place now to make the changes you want to see later. No more excuses.

15. Take action beyond your comfort zone.

Failing to learn this lesson comes with a big dose of something none of us like to feel: regret. Pushing your boundaries is the only way to grow and being open to new ways of doing things is a skill that can deliver enormous results. One of the most defining moments in my life when I took this advice was also the night I met my fiancée. I was at a random midweek salsa night when I saw a beautiful girl and decided to ignore my nerves and go talk to her. The rest, as they say, is history. And I still have absolutely no idea how to salsa.

16. Be patient.

As much as things change quickly, they also need a great degree of patience and a long-term mentality. You can’t become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in six months or even six years. It takes a long time, a lot of discipline and a great deal of consistency no matter how dedicated or talented you are.

17. Enjoy the small moments along the way.

Things will more than likely take a while to materialize fully, so take moments every now and then to celebrate what you’ve achieved so far. Life can’t be all work and no play. It’s important to know what or who it is that recharges you and keeps you from burning out.

18. Speak up, or others will speak up for you.

Communicating how I’m feeling about something is a skill I’m continually looking to improve because I know how important it is to have a voice. If you don’t speak your mind and put your thoughts out there, don’t be upset when someone else does and you have to deal with the results.

19. Back yourself.

Before you speak up, you have to back yourself. None of these lessons mean anything if, at the end of the day, you aren’t confident in yourself and your abilities. You can do this.

20. Don’t be afraid to begin something new.

In the past 10 years, the best moments I’ve had and the things I’m most proud of sprung from the decision to try something different. No one ever achieved anything worthwhile without having the courage to step out and walk a new path. Your playing small does absolutely nothing to serve the world. So begin, and keep going. 

Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary. ~ Margaret Cousins

May 29, 2018                                             Image: colored brain

Let’s embrace adolescence – instead of trying to get our students through it. 

Image Book Cover - Inventing Ourselves
We shouldn’t demonize adolescence – it is fundamental to who we are. The adolescent brain isn’t a dysfunctional or a defective adult brain. Adolescence is a formative period of life, when neural pathways are malleable, and passion and creativity run high. The changes that take place during this period offer us a lens through which we can begin to see ourselves anew.
From Inventing Ourselves – The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, Blakemore

Honoring our earliest teens and elevating the important events during adolescence is a concept we should embrace. We look at adolescence as a time period that is endured, rather than celebrated.
Let’s help our children enjoy who they are and who they become during this formative time period. The brain is so active during this time period and the potential of each adolescent is often completely misunderstood!

Why Teens Should Understand Their Own Brains (And Why Their Teachers Should, Too!) in MindShift

A teenage brain is a fascinating, still-changing place. There's a lot going on: social awareness, risk-taking, peer pressure; all are heightened during this period. Until relatively recently, it was thought that the brain was only actively developing during childhood, but in the last two decades, researchers have confirmed that the brain continues to develop during adolescence — a period of time that can stretch from the middle school years into early adulthood.

"We were always under the assumption that the brain doesn't change very much after childhood," explains Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London.

But that's simply not the case, she says, and educators — and teens themselves — can learn a lot from this. Blakemore has a new book, Inventing Ourselves, The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain — where she dives into the research and the science — and offers insights into how young adults are thinking, problem-solving and learning. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Understanding the teenage brain can be really useful in an educational context. What are some things you've learned that educators should know? 

Sleep. The fact that the circadian rhythm matters. That the body clock changes at puberty. There's a kind of shift in the body clock by about two hours during the teenage years, meaning that teenagers feel sleepy a couple of hours later at night than adults. They, therefore, feel very tired in the morning, much more than they did as children or than they will feel as adults.

That has implications for school start times, because school starts very early in the morning. Schools normally start about 8:30 a.m. or earlier — and that, for a teenager, is arguably in the middle of their night. From a biological point of view, they should still be asleep.

Of course, this is really tricky because the whole of society revolves around young people being at school during the working day and parents are reluctant to leave their children at home while they go to work. So it's very difficult from a societal/policy point of view to implement this change. But a few schools are playing with start times and trying to monitor the results to see if later school start times improve educational outcomes and social-emotional outcomes.

You also suggest that teenagers themselves should be learning about the science happening in their brains. 

I think that understanding the teen brain should be part of the education curriculum for teenagers. They should learn about their own brains and how they're changing because I think it's empowering for young people to know and understand more about why they might be feeling a certain way.

They should understand why they might be particularly self-conscious or susceptible to peer-influence, or more likely to take risks. The teenage years are a really important time in terms of vulnerability to mental illnesses. We know that most mental illnesses first appear during adolescence; at some point before the age of 24. It's important for teens to understand the biological reasons and the social reasons why that might be, in terms of trying to cope with different feelings and possibly mental health problems.

So brains are continuing to develop into the mid-20s. Does that mean that learning is easier during this period than adulthood? What's the relationship between development and plasticity?

So the brain is undergoing huge amounts of change in adolescence, both in terms of its structure — the composition, the amount of grey and white matter — and also in terms of how it functions: How it activates when you do different things.

Now the interesting thing about that is, what does it mean for brain plasticity and learning? And there's a general assumption based on a lot of research that this development that we see during the adolescent years, means that the brain is particularly plastic — at least in some brain regions. The brain is particularly influenced by the environment during the teenage years and might be particularly amenable to learning certain skills. It's a sensitive period for social information, meaning that the brain is set up during adolescence to understand other people and to find out about other people's minds, their emotions. Brains at this time are good at understanding social hierarchies.

So peers and friends are really important during this time. 

Friends take on an extra step in terms of their importance and the role they play in adolescents' lives. Adolescents do have an increased propensity to be influenced by their friends, particularly in areas like risk-taking. Things like smoking or drinking or experimenting with drugs, those are risks that they tend not to take when they're on their own. I think particularly the fear of being excluded by the peer group is a big driver of adolescent typical behavior.

Can schools use those social motivators to help students learn or to stop bullying, or increase awareness about health issues? 

There's a model in public health. There's been research showing [that], if you educate the well-connected young people in the class about the negative effects of bullying and social exclusion and then you motivate them and incentivize them to run a kind of anti-bullying campaign, that leads to hugely reduced incidents of bullying and social exclusion. It also leads to changes in attitudes towards bullying and social exclusion across the whole group over the following year.

That's exactly what young people care about. They care about what their friends think and the social norms. So trying to change attitudes and behaviors around people maybe around risk-taking or bullying should focus on judging. And teachers can use that model, too.

How does social media influence all this? 

It really matters to teenagers to be included by their social group, by their friends, and so they're more likely to go along with what their friends think. Social media like Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook or whatever it might be, allows teenagers to exercise their desire to make social contact all the time. They never get away from it, even in the middle of the night.

There's not very much research on how social media affects the developing brain, but one area that I'm pretty convinced by is the effect on sleep. A lot of young people who I work with, they will have their phones on all night. They won't turn them off. They won't put them on silent and they even respond to messages that come in throughout the night. That surely affects sleep and we all know that sleep is so critical for mental health and learning.

What's the next thing you want to investigate?  

I'm really interested in individual differences. Everyone's brains during the teenage years develop slightly differently. And the question is, why? Why do some people's brains develop a little bit more quickly than other people's? Is it something to do with their genetics or their environment, or their socio-economic group or their culture? Maybe even things like their nutrition levels and how much exercise they do. "How do all these environmental factors influence brain development?" is a question that I'm really interested in, as are many other labs around the world.

To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. ~ Albert Schweitzer

May 21, 2018                                                                                                   Image: tight dollars

How does Education Cost Share (ECS) play into the budget configuration at this point?

The question of ECS dollars and their usage seems to be a common question that has been asked since the General Assembly passed the state budget just prior to our referendum. ECS grants are given to towns specifically for education. East Hampton will benefit from approximately $7.1 M from the state toward the $30 M approved education budget. Initially, during the time when budgets were being approved by both the Town Council and Board of Finance, a figure of $1.2 M less in ECS funds were anticipated. At that time, $670,000 in cuts were made to the Board of Education and that budget has now been approved by the voters. However, the actual reduction in ECS by the state was $700,000 less than anticipated. Instead of a reduction of $1.2 M in ECS, the reality is that there will be a reduction closer to $500,000 as a result of the General Assembly affording East Hampton $700,000 more than the Governor had allotted. As a result, the Town of East Hampton will get $700,000 more than was anticipated from the State of Connecticut during the budget discussion.

Click below to see ECS dollars for all CT communities finalized by the General Assembly. http://ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/FY-2019-ECS-Grants-Compared-to-FY-2018.xlsx.

It is clear that all $7.1 M in ECS funds will be used for the Town toward the school budget and the minimum budget requirement (MBR) for education will be met by the town. However, there is debate over how to use the funds. The $670,000 cut to education was made under the assumption of a loss of $1.2 million. The question becomes: 

How is the $700,000 best used by the Town of East Hampton?

The Town Manager has outlined the various ways it can be used in a communication below:

Image: Town Manager communication

This should not be a contentious discussion, nor should there be winners and losers. I have pledged that if all or any of the $700,000 is used to replace the cuts of $670,000 that I will use it directly to restore as many of the anticipated cuts that are proposed under the approved budget (which assumes a cut of $670,000). Those cuts are listed below:

High School Math Teacher
5 less math sections/courses at EHHS Teacher has been non-renewed due to cut in positions
High School
Science Teacher
5 less science sections/courses
Teacher retiring –
no replacement
High School English Teacher  5 less English sections/courses at EHHSTeacher is being moved to Middle School to fill retirement
High School/Middle School
Health Teacher
Loss of PE/health courses
at EHHS and Middle School
Teacher is being moved to alternate assignment
Middle School Library covered by paraeducator for checkout only – no research or library class opportunities Librarian Teacher retiring – no replacement
Middle School
World Language Teacher
Spanish eliminated in Grade 6 – students will have alternate class as budget allows or study hallTeacher has been non-renewed due to cut in positions
Memorial School Grade 3  Instead of 7 sections for approximately 157 students, there will be 6 sectionsTeacher has been non-renewed due to cut in positions
Center School
Grade 5
Instead of 7 sections for
approximately 150 students, there will be 6 sections
Teacher is being moved to
Middle School to fill retirement
Computer Team Leaders (4) Health/PE Coordinator Language Arts Chairperson 6-12 Math Chairperson 6-12 Science Chairperson 6-12 Math Team Leaders (2) Science Team Leaders (2) Social Studies Team Leaders (3) Special Areas Team Leaders (4) Middle School Grade Level Team Leaders (5)Stipends for leadership positions eliminated Loss of certain leadership positions that are stipends, but no additional loss of teaching positions
PT Secretary 
FT CustodianTBD

I certainly appreciate the desire of many citizens to lower the mill rate for the members of our community and I am suggesting that the $700,000 be divided to offer an opportunity to achieve both a reduction of the mill rate and a restoration of some of the teaching positions. I want to make it very clear that any appropriation made to the Board of education budget would be used solely to reinstate as many teaching positions as possible.

These are difficult cuts and we will survive this year; however, cuts like this in the future will certainly dismantle the education in the East Hampton Public Schools.

I am grateful that our budget is in place for next year and we will move forward as a “no excuses” organization providing the students of East Hampton a great education. The Board of Education will confirm all of the reductions at their next meeting on Monday, May 21 at 6:30 PM in the High School T-Bell.

A budget should reflect the values and priorities of our nation and its people. ~ Mary Landrieu

May 14, 2018

“Care about every single student” (from Mindset, by Carol Dweck)         Image: Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

I am hoping that everyone will take the opportunity this summer to join our “One Book, One School Community” summer reading effort and read Mindset, by Carol Dweck. The conversations we have this coming fall around this title will be fascinating whether you read it from the perspective of teacher, parent, or both! 

Carol Dweck speaks to the need of setting high standards for all students, not just the ones who are already achieving (p.200). She also speaks to promoting high standards in a “nurturing atmosphere:”

When Benjamin Bloom studied his 120 world-class concert pianists, sculptors, swimmers, tennis players, mathematicians, and research neurologists, he found something fascinating. For most of the, their first teachers were incredibly warm and accepting. Not that they set low standards. Not at all, but they created an atmosphere of trust, not judgement. It was, “I’m going to teach you,” not “I’m going to judge your talent.” 

Dweck addresses the role of a nurturing atmosphere: 

Do teachers have to love all of their students? No, but they have to care about every single student. 

Remember, it’s not just important for our students to have a growth mindset. We need every parent and every teacher to have a growth mindset as well.

Teachers Need a Growth Mindset Too By Christina Gil in Edutopia

Pushing our students to adopt a growth mindset is an easy call. Adopting one ourselves is harder.

For a teacher, it’s pretty easy to focus on improving students—that’s our job, right? So when I learned about Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset, my first thought was about how I could get my students onboard with this idea. 

And then I realized that if I were to better my own craft, I would have to take on the challenge for myself as well. 

I think that I succeed as a teacher because I’m willing to mess up often and mess up big. And yet, I also take any excuse to avoid pushing myself to grow. Having a growth mindset doesn’t just mean learning about the theory and leaving it at that. It’s a constant process. Sometimes it’s difficult, often it’s a little painful, but it’s always worth the effort. 


1. Focus on the hard stuff. I remember early on in my teaching career realizing that while I was doing a pretty good job getting students to read and discuss literature, I was not really teaching them writing. So I decided to schedule the block day in our week as a writing day. Ten years and thousands of pages of creative writing later, I still had not successfully taught my students to write a research paper, so I blocked out three full weeks in our schedule to work through the process from beginning to end. Rather than focus on what I know is humming along fine, I look for the weaknesses. Usually, these are the areas that don’t come naturally, or that I don’t like very much myself. (And I still sort of despise research papers.) But when I focus on the hard stuff, I am a providing a much better learning experience for my students. 

2. Try innovative solutions, and if they don’t work, try some more. I have tried some crazy things as a teacher. Some I realized were flops immediately, while some I pushed through for months before admitting that they weren’t working out. But some of those innovations have saved my sanity, and I would never have tried them if I had been afraid to fail. Again, I think the key here is to focus on the weaknesses, on the stuff that is not going well. It’s fun to tweak assignments that are already a hit, but when I focus on my most nagging problems, I make my biggest breakthroughs. 

3. Seek feedback wherever you can. Evaluations don’t have to come from administrators— they can come from fellow teachers or even the students. When I switched schools about 12 years ago, I was having an especially hard time dealing with some of my new students. So a colleague came in one day and wrote down everything that was said or done during an entire class. No comments, no suggestions, and no filter. It was brutal to be confronted with that reality, but it also gave me a lot of insight into what I was missing from the front of the room. Two years ago, when a group play project went really badly for some of my classes, I took a whole day to get student feedback on the event. Through reflection questions and some writing, I figured out what was going on behind that disastrous cooperative project.

4. Know that you are always developing your skills. I often say that I consider myself to be a B+ teacher. Maybe I’ll be an A- teacher one day. Giving myself permission to be good now means that I don’t wait until I’m perfect to try something new. 

5. Reflect at the end of every day, especially the bad ones. I have learned a lot from my toughest students and my biggest lesson plan flops—but only because I reflect on what went wrong. If I were to write those students and lesson plans off as not my fault, I would never learn from experience. Sometimes one kid has a bad day, but the truth is that when the lesson goes badly for the entire class, it’s probably something that I did wrong. 

6. Notice the areas where you have a fixed mindset. It’s easy to think that there are some areas of teaching that I’m just not good at, but I know that’s an excuse I use when things get hard. Reflecting on my attitude and how it affects my willingness to grow is always useful. I can’t have a growth mindset about everything all the time, but I can notice when I’m talking myself out of trying something because I’m afraid. 

There’s a catch to learning a lot about growth mindset. Once we learn just how much of our lack of growth is a product of our attitude, it’s not so easy to write things off as impossible anymore.

Change your own mindset; change everyone’s world

May 7, 2018

"When you are not getting the results you want, stop and evaluate your thinking...” 

When most of us do not get the results we want as teachers, leaders, coaches, mentors, or parents we thrust the blame onto our students, our children, or anybody but ourselves. Pushing blame onto the external forces or onto others is common. But until we look deep inside and evaluate our own thinking, we risk getting the same results over and over. 

“Mindset” has certainly become a word used by many. But so often, we think of it in terms of other people’s mindset without truly reflecting on our own. We are hopeful that our students and our children will have a positive mindset about school, baseball, and life. But perhaps as teachers and parents – both key roles in the lives of students and children – we must stop and examine our own mindset.

Is our own mindset actually to blame for not getting the results we want? Read the very brief article below and as a leader of your classroom, your team, your family - take the time to re-examine your own mindset! 

Image: Growth mindset keywords

5 mindsets that contribute to poor results by John R. Stoker in ASCD SmartBrief 

Whether you are a new leader or manager who is starting a new business, your mindset and those of your people are integral to the success of your endeavors. Why? Because your mindset influences your people’s performance. 

Mindsets grow out of life’s experiences and the assumptions that you make over a period of time. Coupled with your expectations in any given situation, your mindset influences how you treat and deal with others. Your mindset can either help or hinder the situation, especially in strenuous or challenging circumstances. 

The following five specific mindsets may cause you and others to behave in unproductive ways that diminish results and stifle your ability to work well with others: 

 To be right, not wrong

 To be respected, not disrespected 

 To be in control, not out of control 

 To be appreciated, not unappreciated 

 To be safe, not unsafe

Because what you think determines what you do and say, it is important to understand how your thinking affects your results. These mindsets, taken to the extreme, usually result in the exclusion of others and can have disastrous effects on your ability to learn, inspire, lead, and collaborate with others. 

1. To be right, not wrong 

All of us have known someone who believes they are never wrong. Being “right” instead of “wrong” is a prestigious and powerful position. This mindset is an expression of one’s feelings about their competence or capability. Because some people define their self-worth according to their performance, such individuals have a difficult time accepting any other viewpoint but their own. 

Impact: Someone who always has to be right may engage in demeaning or belittling behavior, such as using putdowns to discredit others. They may refuse to consider other viewpoints, collaborate or cooperate with others. The challenge in thinking you are right is that you may not see the complete view of the situation and make decisions based on your partial perceptions alone.

What to do: Are you doing all the talking? Start asking more than telling. Invite others to offer a contrary option, to share their ideas and experience. Listen, and then listen some more. Realize that others may know more or understand something that you cannot afford to miss. 

2. To be respected, not disrespected 

People expect to be treated with dignity and respect both in word and in deed. Once someone has been disrespected, they usually continue to interpret the other person’s words and actions in the worst possible way. They tend to take everything personally. 

Impact: People who feel disrespected are not motivated, so they do the bare minimum to get by. Using demeaning language or references is threating. It’s also important to note that people who observe disrespectful behavior will be affected just as much as if they had been the one who was disrespected. Disrespectful behavior usually ends up creating a lot of negativity in the workplace such as distrust, gossip, uncertainty and suspicion. This becomes a huge emotional distraction to everyone and can seriously impact the morale of your team. You can ill-afford to be disrespectful. 

What to do: One of the easiest ways to create respect is to ask questions. However, the key is listening to people’s answers and responding to their questions and concerns. Being inclusive of everyone is also a great way to demonstrate respect for one another. 

3. To be in control, not out of control 

Being in control is an illusion. The only person you are really in control of is yourself, and even that’s questionable. This mindset is an expression of power and authority. Unfortunately, some leaders believe that the only way to get others to meet their expectations is to control, micromanage, or manipulate their actions.

Impact: Leaders who are controlling are interested in getting things done, but it has to look the way they think it should look. They want what they want when they want it. They are not interested in contribution, collaboration, learning or discovery to improve results. This behavior turns their people into “good soldiers.” Such behavior leads to people not taking initiative, but waiting to be told what to do so they “get it right.” Controlling behavior leads to employee frustration and contempt which results in a negative culture.

What to do: Set clear expectations for performance. Determine project milestones and specific measures that you want people to meet, then allow them the autonomy to work and be accountable for their success. If priorities change, clearly and quickly communicate the new direction and set parameters for performance success. 

4. To be appreciated, not unappreciated 

Everyone wants to know that they are valued for the contribution they make to their enterprise. This mindset may cause people to constantly second-guess what they are doing if they never are acknowledged or appreciated. Over time, they tend to stop trying for excellence and do just enough to get by.

Impact: When I have studied the effects of appreciation in organizations, I have often heard people say, “No news is good news.” When I hear this, I cringe because it tells me two things: first, that people rarely, if ever, receive appreciation for a job well done, and second, the only time people hear anything is generally when they have messed up or not met expectations. The lack of appreciation may lead those who are insecure to constantly fish for compliments in order to validate themselves and their work. Such behavior may end up creating a lot of drama and feelings of resentment in others. 

What to do: Look for people who are doing the right things, and then express appreciation for what they do. Praise people in private or in public as is appropriate. Say “thank you” when such appreciation is sincerely warranted. 

5. To be safe, not unsafe This mindset pertains to physical, emotional and financial safety. In the workplace, people want to know that there is a degree of predictability that they will have a job tomorrow. If there is general speculation about the organization’s success or the lack thereof, then people’s imaginations run wild as everyone makes negative assumptions. 

Impact: In the absence of safety, people spend time and emotional energy wondering what the lack of information means to them. Almost always, they assume the worst. If not corrected, this mindset will lead to a decline in productivity and a decrease in morale. 

What to do: Communicate clearly and often. Remember that people don’t understand an issue until they have heard the message seven times. Focus on communication quality and frequency to be successful. Explore with individuals what they know and what they don’t know, and then formulate a communication plan accordingly. And, when good or great things happen, share those events and stories frequently with the masses. 

All of us at some time or another operate out of these particular mindsets, either as a leader or a follower. When you are not getting the results you want, stop and evaluate your thinking and the behavior generating the results you are getting. Reflect upon the types of conversations you are holding and identify how you are involving others in the day-to-day process of accomplishing your goals. Taking some time to watch for and identify mindsets will set you on a deliberate path to success.

Change your mindset; change the world.

April 30, 2018

Image: drawing of boy      What are the best ages to learn?                                                                               

Common thought for years has been that the most crucial time of learning occurs during the elementary grades. In fact, common myth indicates that there are so many changes that adolescents undergo that the early teens are “lost” years for learning. The reality is that our early teenagers may have neurobiological advantages that result in great years for learning - if not the best years for learning.

Don’t sell Middle School students short; it may be one of the most crucial times for learning and for setting good learning habits in place!

Why Identity and Emotion are Central To Motivating the Teen Brain By Emmeline Zhao in MindShift

For years, common experience and studies have prescribed that humans learn best in their earliest years of life – when the brain is developing at its fastest. Recently, though, research has suggested that the period of optimal learning extends well into adolescence.

The flurry of new findings may force a total rethinking of how educators and parents nurture this vulnerable age group, turning moments of frustration into previously unseen opportunities for learning and academic excitement.

New evidence shows that the window for formative brain development continues into the onset of puberty, between ages 9 and 13, and likely through the teenage years, according to Ronald Dahl, professor of community health and human development at the University of California, Berkeley. Dahl spoke at a recent Education Writers Association seminar on motivation and engagement.

Adolescence is a tornado of change: Not only is it the period of fastest physical change in life – aside from infancy – but also newfound drives, motivations, and feelings of sexuality are amplified. There are profound shifts to metabolisms and sleeping cycles, as well as social roles – especially in the context of schools. During these years, motivation is propelled not by a tangible goal to work toward, but by a feeling of wanting and thirst. Within the tumult of pre-teens or teens is an opportunity to enhance their desire and interest to learn.

“This is a flexible period for goal engagement, and the main part of what’s underneath what we think about setting goals in conscious ways – the bottom-up-based pull to feel motivated toward things”

Ronald Dahl, Community Health and Human Development Professor at UC Berkelee

In the past decade, neuroscientists have been able to identify what makes the adolescent brain so geared for the kind of inquiry that can pay dividends in the classroom. As children enter adolescence, some developing neural systems have already stabilized, Dahl said. But puberty creates a whole new set of elastic neural systems that, when interacting with the already stabilized systems, offers unique windows of opportunity for engagement and experiencing the world around them in multiple ways.

“Adolescence is a perfect storm of opportunities to align these changes in positive ways,” Dahl said. “Learning, exploration, acquiring skills and habits, intrinsic motivations, attitudes, setting goals and priorities: There’s compelling need for transdisciplinary research to understand unique opportunities for social and emotional learning. But few people do it in fear of these challenges.”

These new scientific insights have large implications for how schools teach adolescents, which have traditionally viewed this age group as troublesome.

'One way to think about puberty is to think of it as a learning spurt for heartfelt goals. It’s a particularly opportune time to fall in love with learning itself.'

The feelings of acceptance, rejection, admiration, among others, are all the story of adolescence. Children in this age group also seek physical sensations and thrills. There’s heightened awareness of social status, especially as they realize that acts of courage can earn them higher social status among peers. Their wildly swinging neurological systems also mean that adolescents can readjust quickly – making those years critical for educators to engage students in “the right ways,” when the brain is learning to calibrate complex social and emotional value systems that use feelings as fast signals, Dahl said.

Contrary to common belief, children in this age range don’t actually have “broken brains.” Rather, these children are undergoing a profound update to how they process the world around them. Adolescents are often considered bad decision-makers who are thrill-seekers. These myths, however, stem from young people’s desire to display courage, which is valued across cultures — and adolescents constantly seek the emotional satisfaction of being admired. In fact, Dahl said that adolescents take risks to overcome their fears, not seek them out.

“[Adolescents] are learning about the complex social world they must navigate, including the hierarchies, social rules for gaining acceptance and status, and the mystifying discovery of a sexual self,” Dahl said. “This is a flexible period for goal engagement, and the main part of what’s underneath what we think about setting goals in conscious ways – the bottom-up-based pull to feel motivated toward things.”

Adding to the confusion over how best to respond to adolescents is a wave of research showing children around the world are entering puberty at younger ages. One report found that in the 1860s, puberty for girls began at age 16. In the 1950s, it occurred at 13. Today it’s closer to eight years old. The transition for boys is similar, according to the report. The earlier onset of these pronounced biological changes puts pressure on educators and parents to update their expectations for what it means to be young, and how youth plays into adulthood.

“This is an interesting potential opportunity, with the longer time to learn activated motivational systems, longer time to increase skills and develop patterns of developing knowledge,” Dahl said. “If kids grow up in opportune settings, they can take advantage of the scaffolding and freedom to go on to take adult roles. But the risks are probably more amplified than opportunities for kids in disadvantaged settings.”

It’s still unclear how the earlier development happening in children might create other sets of challenges, Dahl noted, but it’s evident that it’s a key development window of motivational learning, a time when the brain more intensely senses motivational feelings, strengthening the patterns of connections to heartfelt goals, and creates potential for deep, sustained learning.

This period of learning is exemplified by even the forbidden love of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The young couple is brought together by a single brief encounter, after which all mental processes of planning, goals, motivations, longing, and desire are transformed. They begin to obsess over reuniting, and would sacrifice anything – including comfort, safety, family, and friends – to be together again.

Without the context that adolescents’ motives can explode entirely by the spark of a single passion, Romeo and Juliet’s story would be one of utter insanity, Dahl said. But adolescents’ abilities to rapidly reshape motivations and goals both supports their emotional volatility as well as presents a key period to find love – not necessarily romantically for others, but for academic activities and goals.

“With the feelings that pull you to persevere, maybe [adolescence is] a particularly opportune time to fall in love with learning itself, to love that feeling of exploring,” Dahl said. “There’s a new window to create that ‘Yes!’ feeling.”

Visit Education Writers Association for more information.

April 23, 2018                                                                                                              Image: target with pencil arrow

Do you have your own personal goals?         

It is very common to have goals in our schools and goals in our workplaces. We also have means for evaluating the achievement of those goals in our schools and our workplaces. We know it’s important to set ambitious goals and we take time throughout the year to evaluate our teacher goals, school goals, and district-wide goals. This is certainly similar to most workplaces and business. It’s an important process because ultimately a strong focus on well thought-out goals is what drives an organization forward.

But, how many of us take the time to be so thoughtful and ambitious with our own personal goals - not goals related to work, but goals related to our own personal growth? While the answer is that not many of us think of personal goals with the same high priority of our workplace goals, we often criticize our youth for not having goals for their future.

My recommendation is to take some time this week and focus on your own personal growth goals – and then share the process with one important child or student in your life. Help them focus – and then commit to a personal re-focus!


Goal setting is a subject that altered my life forever.

It is a fantastic skill to develop, how to design your own future. A life best lived is a life by design. Not by accident, and not by just walking through the day careening from wall to wall and managing to survive. That’s okay. But if you can start giving your life dimensions and design and color and objectives and purpose, the results can be absolutely staggering.


Goal setting gives you the chance to experience the power of your imagination. Think about it. Imagination builds cities. Imagination conquers disease. Imagination develops careers. Imagination sets up relationships. Imagination is where all tangible values and intangible values begin. So what you’ve got to learn to do is use this powerful resource. Tapping this resource of imagination for goal setting involves thinking about your future, thinking about tomorrow or the rest of the day, thinking about the rest of the year or five years or 10. You can use your imagination to start prospecting for the future, for what could be possible for you.


Before we really get into goal setting, I want to outline five primary things that affect all of us.|

1.  The Environment - It doesn’t hurt to make a simple contribution to the environment. Pick up a piece of trash and throw it in the receptacle. If everybody did that, what a better world it would be. A little contribution costs nothing. If everybody contributed, what a difference it would make!
2.  Events- Events affect us-some small, some big, some personal, some national, some global. Think of any big event of local, national or global significance. Those kinds of events affect us all. There are small events and daily events and family events and community events. We’re all affected by events.3.  Knowledge - We’re affected by whatever we know or don’t know. Here’s a good phrase to jot down: Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is tragedy. Ignorance is devastation. Ignorance creates lack. Ignorance creates disease. Ignorance will shorten your life. Ignorance will empty your life and leave you with the husks, nothing to account for. No, ignorance is not bliss. Here’s another note to make: What you don’t know will hurt you. What you don’t know will tragically affect your life. What you don’t know will leave your life empty. What you don’t know will leave you without a relationship. We’re all affected by knowledge, whether we know or whether we don’t know. That’s why you’ve got to read the books. Remember, the book you don’t read won’t help.
4.  Results - We’re affected by results. Whether it’s financial results or personal results or social results, we’re all affected by results. Disciplines undone in the future give us poor results. Disciplines managed well give us good results.
5.  Our Dreams - We’re affected by our dreams, our vision of the future.


You want to make sure that the greatest pull on your life is the pull of the future. Some people live in the past and let their life be continually pulled and influenced by the past. Yes, we must remember the past and review the past to make it useful to invest in the future.

But here’s the key: Make sure that the greatest pull on your life is the pull of the future. Now, if you’re skimpy on your dreams or if you’re skimpy on your objectives and your purposes, if all of that isn’t very well planned, then that doesn’t pull very hard. You might have more of a tendency to be pulled by the past or to be pulled apart by events or circumstances or to be pulled apart by distractions. So in order to save yourself from being pulled apart by distractions or pulled back to the past, you want to start, right now, really designing the future so that the greatest part of your attention and focus pulls you forward into the future to accomplish your goals.


Goals are like a magnet—they pull. And the stronger they are, the more purposeful they are, the bigger they are, the more unique they are, the stronger they pull. Excellent goals and high dreams pull you through all kinds of down days, down seasons. They pull you through a winter of discontent. They pull you through distraction on every side. Strong, powerful dreams, like a magnet, pull you through. Strong dreams and goals pull you through a disaster. Some people get swallowed by the disaster because they have nothing on the other side of the disaster to pull them through. A bad day can almost overwhelm you if you don’t have something really purposeful to go for on the other side of that day, on the other side of the difficult time, on the other side of the down time. If you’ve got plenty out there to attract and pull, it’ll pull you through all these things and very little of it will attach itself to you. You’ll be able to get through some of the most difficult times if you have this spectacular vision ahead of you of where you’re going and what you’re going to accomplish. Getting through will be easier.


Once I learned to set goals, it transformed my life forever. It’s an incredible experience. When I travel around the world and sit on an airplane, I say I dreamed about this one day. I used to go to the airport and watch the planes fly away, and I said, “One of these days I’ll be on one of those planes.” I dreamed about it. I dreamed about the other side of the world. I’d never been to Italy, but I dreamed about it. I’d never been to Israel, but I dreamed about it. I’d never been to South Africa, but I dreamed about it. I’d never been to Australia, but I dreamed about it. And sure enough, step by step, and country by country, and flight by flight, I started checking them off my list. It was the most exhilarating feeling. Powerful to set those goals, reach out there into the future, design something to the best of your ability, refine it as you go, tear it up periodically if you want to, set a whole new list. It’s your life. It’s your future.


I’ve often said that the major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes you do to accomplish it. This will always be a far greater value than what you get. That is why goals are so powerful. They are part of the fabric that makes up our lives. Goal setting provides focus, shapes our dreams and gives us the ability to home in on the exact actions we need to take in order to get everything in life we desire. Goals are exciting because they provide focus and aim for our lives. Goals cause us to stretch and grow in ways we never have before. In order to reach our goals, we must become better. We must change and grow. Powerful goals have three components:

They must be inspiring.

They must be believable.

They must be goals you can act on.

When your goals inspire you, when you believe and act on them, you will accomplish them!


Goals also provide long-term vision in our lives. We all need lots of powerful, long-range goals to help us get past short-term obstacles. Life is designed in such a way that we look long term and live short term. We dream for the future and live in the present. Unfortunately, the present can produce many hard obstacles. Fortunately, the more powerful our goals (because they are inspiring and believable), the more we will be able to act on them in the short term and guarantee that they will actually come to pass.


So, let’s take a closer look at the topic of goal setting and see how we can make it forceful yet practical. What key aspects should we learn and remember when studying and writing our goals? I believe there are four main areas of emphasis:

1.  Evaluation and Reflection - The only way we can reasonably decide what we want in the future and how we will get there is to first know where we are right now and what our level of satisfaction is for where we are in life. With our focus on goal setting, the first order of business is for each of us to set aside some serious time for evaluation and reflection.
2.  Dreams and Goals - What are your dreams and goals? Not related to the past or what you think you can get, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down, thought through your life values and decided what you really want? This isn’t what someone else says you should have or what culture tells us successful people do or have. These are the dreams and goals born out of your own heart and mind, goals unique to you and that come from who you were created to be and gifted to become.
3.  SMART Goals - SMART means: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive.

a.  Specific: Don’t be vague. Exactly what do you want?
b.  Measurable: Quantify your goal. How will you know if you’ve achieved it or not?
c.  Attainable: Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish at this point in your life while taking into consideration your current responsibilities.
d.  Realistic: It’s got to be doable, real and practical.
e.  Time: Associate a time frame with each goal. When should you complete the goal?

4.  Accountability - Think of the word accountable. It means to give an account. When someone knows what your goals are, they help hold you accountable. Whether it is someone else trying to reach the same goal with you or just someone you can give the basic idea to, having a person who can hold you accountable— an accountability partner—will give you another added boost to accomplishing your goals. So, evaluate and reflect. Decide what you want. Be SMART. Have accountability. When you put these four key pieces together, you put yourself in a position of power to catapult toward achieving your goals and the kind of life you desire.


The basis for knowing where we want to go is knowing where we came from and where we are. It is also knowing how well we have done achieving things we have previously set our eyes on. This is the essence of evaluation and reflection. We need to understand how to look at what we have done and then use that as a platform for what we want to do next. The process of evaluation is relatively simple but can be varied a bit. The important point is having a process. Here is the basic process for evaluation and reflection:

1.  Find a Quiet Place - Reflection is best done away from distraction. It gives your mind space to think.
2.  Take a Regular Time - Whether it is once a week, every other week, once a month or quarter, be sure to set aside a regular time at regular intervals to evaluate and reflect.
3.  Look Back - Look at what you have accomplished and where you are. Be specific. Be truthful. Be ruthlessly honest.
4. Write It Down - Keep a record. This gives you the chance at the next stage of evaluation to see exactly where you were last time and keeps it as objective as possible.
5.  Look Forward - Set your next goal. Stretch yourself according to what works for you. That is the basic process of evaluation and reflection. If you have not done this before, then this will get you going. Be sure to follow the general idea and set aside time for your evaluation and reflection.


Now, the purpose of evaluation is twofold. First, it gives you an objective way to look at your accomplishments and your pursuit of the vision you have for your life. Second, it shows you where you are so you can determine where you need to go. In other words, it gives you a baseline from which to work. We have all heard the quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To evaluate and reflect brings us face to face with who we are and what we have become. More important, it allows us the time to dream and create a vision for what we want to become. Only when we take time out of our busy schedules can we get into the state of mind and quietness of heart we need in order to find that inner place where we see what we are and what we can become. Those who never take time to evaluate and reflect will blow to and fro through this life, living by the forces of culture, circumstances, societal pressures and, unfortunately, personal weaknesses.

In contrast, those who take the time to evaluate will find they are like an oak tree in a storm: They have a firm foundation, they know where they are going, they know how to get there, and, ultimately, they will get there no matter what comes their way! I strongly encourage you to take a couple of hours this week to evaluate and reflect. See where you are and note it in your journal so that as the months progress and you continue a regular time of evaluation and reflection, you’ll see just how much ground you have gained—and that will be exciting!


One of the amazing things we have been given as humans is the unquenchable desire to have dreams of a better life. Even better, we also have the ability to establish goals to live out those dreams.

Think of it: We can look deep within our hearts and dream of a better situation for ourselves and our families, of a secure financial future and healthy emotional or physical states, and certainly of deeper spiritual lives. But what makes this even more powerful is that we have also been given the ability to take action and pursue those dreams. Not only can we pursue them, but we possess the cognitive ability to actually lay out a plan and strategies—to set goals—to achieve those dreams. Powerful!


Now let me clarify something here about your dreams and goals: This isn’t about what you already have or what you have done. This is about what you want. Have you ever taken the time to truly reflect, to listen quietly to your heart, to see what dreams live within you? Your dreams are there, everyone has them. They may live right on the surface or be buried deep from years of others telling you they were foolish, but they are there. Back when I met Mr. Shoaff, he put me to work by asking the hard questions that got me excited about my dreams, and he helped me translate that excitement into strategic action to pursue all that I wanted. Now I’m going to walk you through the same disciplines that will help unleash the power of the dreams inside each of you.


So how do we know what our dreams are? This is an interesting process and relates primarily to the art of listening. This is not listening to others; it is listening to yourself. If we listen to others, we hear their plans and dreams, and, at times, others will try to put their plans and dreams on us. If we listen to others, we can never be fulfilled. We will only chase elusive dreams that are not rooted deep within us. Instead, we must listen to our own hearts to hear the dreams born out of the passions and desires we each uniquely possess. Quiet yourself and listen. Just like when you are quiet enough to hear your own heart beating within your chest, your dreams have their own rhythm beating within you. All you have to do is get quiet enough to hear the beat. Now let’s take a look at some practical steps and thoughts on listening to our hearts and connecting to our dreams.


Taking the time to be quiet is something we don’t do enough in this busy world. We rush, rush, rush and are constantly listening to noise all around us. We must not get faked out by just being busy. Instead, we must constantly ask ourselves the question, “Busy doing what?” In other words, are the activities you are participating in moving you toward your goals? If not, then work to eliminate those things and replace some of that time with quiet. The human heart was meant to have times of quiet reflection, allowing us to peer deep within ourselves. It is when we do this that our hearts are set free to soar and take flight on the wings of our own dreams. Schedule some quiet “dream time” this week. No other people. No cellphone. No computer. Just you, a pad, a pen and your thoughts. Think about what really thrills you. When you are quiet, think about those things that really get your blood moving. What would you love to do, either for fun or for a living? What would you love to accomplish? What would you try if you were guaranteed to succeed? What big thoughts move your heart into a state of excitement and joy? When you answer these questions, you’ll feel terrific because you’re in the “dream zone.” It is only when we get to this point that we can truly realize and begin to experience what our dreams are.


Write down all of your dreams as you have them. Don’t think of any as too outlandish or foolish— remember, you’re dreaming! Let your thoughts and pen fly as you take careful record. Now look at your list and prioritize those dreams. Which are most important? Which are most feasible? Which would you love to do the most? Put them in the order you will actually try to attain them. Remember, we are always moving toward action, not just dreaming. Why am I asking you to take part in this exercise? It’s because life is too short not to pursue your dreams. At the end of your life, all you will be able to do is look backward. You can reflect with joy or regret. And we all know that joy from discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons. Those who dream, who set goals and act on them, are those who live lives of joy and have a sense of peace when they near the end of their lives. They will have finished well and possess a sense of pride and accomplishment, not only for themselves but also for their families. That feeling is priceless! Remember: These are the dreams and goals born out of your heart and mind, goals unique to you, and they come from who you were created to be and gifted to become. Your specific goals are what you want to achieve because they will make your life joyful and bring fulfillment for both you and your family.


I really like the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time sensitive), one of the key aspects of goal setting I mentioned earlier, because we want to be smart when we set our goals. We want to intelligently decide what our goals will be so that we can actually accomplish them. We want to set the goals that our heart conceives, that our mind believes and that our bodies will carry out. Let’s take an even closer look at each of the components of SMART goals.

SPECIFIC - Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures. When we are specific, we harness the power of our dreams and set forces into action that empower us to achieve our goals. We then know exactly what it is we are shooting for—there is no question. As we establish our priorities and manage our time, we do it for a specific goal, to achieve the results we expect. There is no wondering or guessing. The future is locked into our minds, and we see it—specifically—and that is powerful! Never underestimate just how important it is to have very specific, concrete goals. They act as magnets that draw you toward them. A SMART goal is specific.

MEASURABLE - Always set goals that are measurable—I would say “specifically measurable” to take into account our principle of being specific as well. Our goals should be such that we know when we are advancing and by how much. Whether it is by hours, pounds, dollars or some other scale, we should be able to see exactly how we are measuring up as we journey through life using our goals. Imagine if you didn’t measure your goals. You would never know which way you were going, or even if you were going anywhere. A SMART goal is measurable.

ATTAINABLE - One of the detrimental things many people do—and they do it with good intentions—is to set goals that are unattainable. While it’s very important to set big goals that cause your heart to soar with excitement, it is also imperative to make sure they are attainable. So what does it mean to be attainable? An attainable goal is one that is both realistic and doable in a shorter period of time than what you have to work with. Now, when I say “attainable,” I don’t mean easy. Our goals should be set so that they are just out of our reach, so that they challenge us to grow as we reach forward to achieve them. A SMART goal is attainable.

REALISTIC - The root word of realistic is real. A goal has to be something that we can reasonably make “real” or a “reality” in our lives. There are some goals that are simply not realistic. You have to be able to say, even if it is a tremendously stretched goal, that it is entirely realistic—that you could make it. You may have to say that it will take X, Y and Z to do it, but if those happen, then it can be done. I’m in no way saying you shouldn’t have a big goal, but that goal must be realistic. This is, to a great degree, up to the individual. For one person, a goal may be realistic, but for another, unrealistic. I would encourage you to be very honest with yourself as you do your planning and evaluation. It might be good to get a friend to help you, as long as that friend is by nature an optimist and not a pessimist. This can go a long way toward helping you know what is realistic. 38 Knowing that perhaps you could use a bit of help differentiating between attainable and realistic, here is an example: Let’s say you are overweight and need to lose 150 pounds to get to your ideal weight. Is that goal attainable? Yes, if you also make it realistic. For example, it isn’t realistic to think you can do it in five months. Eighteen to 24 months would be more realistic (with hard work). Thus, losing 150 pounds in two years is both attainable and realistic, while losing 150 pounds in five months is neither attainable nor realistic. A SMART goal is realistic.

TIME - Every goal should have a time frame attached to it. Life is much more productive for us as humans because there is a time frame connected to it. Could you imagine how much more procrastination would happen if people never died? We’d just never “get around to it.” We could always put it off. One of the powerful aspects of a great goal is that it has an end, a time in which you are shooting to accomplish it. You start working because you know there is an end, and as time goes by, you work because you don’t want to get behind. As the deadline approaches, you work diligently because you want to meet that deadline. It’s a good idea to break a big goal down into measured time frames. Set smaller goals and work them out in their own time. A SMART goal has a timeline.


Now let’s look at how to apply the SMART test to your goals and ensure they are powerful. As a contract with yourself or someone else, accountability is a vital key in the goal-setting process. In those early days, Mr. Shoaff held me accountable for my progress on the goals I had set. He asked those hard questions that helped motivate me to continuously work on achieving my dreams. Accountability puts some teeth into the process. If a goal is set and only one person knows it, does it really have any power? Many times it doesn’t. At the very least, it isn’t as powerful as if you had one or more people who will hold you accountable to your goal. Accountable means to give an account of your actions to yourself or another person. Accountability is a very broad word, yet accountability is essentially follow-up. When someone knows what your goals are, they follow up and hold you accountable by asking you to “give an account” of where you are in the process. Human nature is such that when we know someone else is going to ask us about it, we are much more motivated to get it done—if for no other reason than we don’t want to look lazy and uncommitted to those we are accountable to. This is why having an accountability partner is so important. In the basic sense, there are two kinds of accountability: internal and external.


Internal accountability is essentially the level of integrity you maintain not only throughout the evaluation process but also in life. It means that when you look at yourself, you judge yourself with honesty. This is where you hold yourself accountable to doing what you said you would do. If you’ve messed up, say, “I’ve messed up,” but if you’ve done well, then you can celebrate your progress. Let the internal accountability prod you and spur you on to greater action in pursuit of your achievements. So, first and foremost, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We answer to ourselves. We take charge of ourselves. How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:

1. Write down your goals so they become “objective.” You can’t go back and say, “That wasn’t really my goal.”
2.  Be ruthlessly honest with yourself when you assess whether or not you have met the goal. Of course, if you were specific in setting your SMART goals, you won’t have much wiggle room here anyway.
3.   If you fall short of your goal, or if you are falling short while on the way, knuckle down and hold yourself accountable to do what it takes to make up the ground so that you can hit that goal! 
4.  Set a time frame in which you will evaluate your progress and hold yourself accountable.


The second aspect of accountability is that it is external. Find someone else or a group of others to hold you accountable. When we commit to giving an account to someone else for our actions and goals, we take it to the next level. Now let me say that the external part of accountability will not work without the internal aspect. If you are not honest with yourself, then you will probably not be honest with others. Asking someone to hold you accountable and then knowing you won’t be completely honest with them will never work.

Having an accountability partner or an outside source of accountability is a powerful force if done right. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set up an accountability partner:

1.  Choose someone who cares about you but can be tough and honest with you. They need to care about you—and you have to know and feel that care—because you become vulnerable by making yourself accountable to them. They need to be tough and honest, though, because you don’t want to have them shy away from telling you to get on the ball when you’re slacking, getting behind or not doing the job. I think the expression “tough love” would fit appropriately here. In essence, they love us enough to be honest with us about our progress.
2.  Tell them specifically what your goals are.
3.  Commit to being honest with them.
4.  Give them permission to speak words of encouragement, as well as words of challenge when the situation calls for it.
5.  Agree on a reasonable time frame in which you will allow them to evaluate your progress and hold you accountable.
6.  Follow up on their words when they challenge you or call you to action. Accountability can be a tremendous thing. There is an old proverb that says one can put a thousand to flight, but two can put 10,000 to flight. When we have someone holding us accountable, we bring others onto our team who will make us stronger, who will make us soar higher and who will cause our lives to be much richer because of their involvement. Take a moment and really consider who you will make yourself accountable to in the pursuit of your goals. Now, go back through the words above and begin to work this process out in your own life. You will be extraordinarily glad you did.


Let your goals challenge you to become a unique person of incredible dimensions, not necessarily in anyone else’s eyes, but in your own eyes. It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks I’m short or tall, but it matters if I stand tall in my own eyes—because I know my disciplines, I know what I’m doing, I know whether I’m doing it or not doing it. It doesn’t have to be published in some local paper, as long as I know that I’m paying the price and that I deserve the applause and I deserve the prize. That’s what’s exciting. That’s why this goal setting is so important. It challenges you to grow. It challenges you to become more than you are, to move up to the next level. And that’s key.

Image: key to success

April 9, 2018

Resiliency is a key attribute for our children - and ourselves!

As a teacher, a parent, a coach, or a mentor our goal is to foster resiliency in our children. In order to that, you must be resilient yourself according to the article below and the numerous sources from the article that I have listed below with links to their sources.

By working on our own resiliency in all settings, we naturally as role models pass that skill set on to those we work to inspire.

Also, we cannot mistake emotional reactions to situations as a lack of resiliency. The article addresses the need for a full range of emotional responses to situations, along with a recognition of why we respond in certain ways. That too, is a great skill set to pass on to our children

Read the article below. Where it says “parent,” substitute your role whether it be teacher, coach, mentor – or read as a “parent.” There are some great further resources included. All are worthy of a read over coffee (and maybe someday soon, sitting outside and relaxing).

Resources mentioned in the article:

Dr. Dan SiegelThe Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child Katherine Reynolds Lewis The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined And What to do About It
Carla NaumburgReady, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness With Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family
Susan Newman The Book of No: 365 Ways To Say It and Mean It
Julie Lythcott-HaimsHow to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
Dr. Laura Markham ahaParenting.com
Dr. Dan Siegel MindsightInstitute.com 

To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent by Emily Popek in the New York Times

As parents, we want our children to be emotionally resilient — able to handle life’s ups and downs. But parents’ ability to foster resilience in our children hinges a great deal on our own emotional resilience.

“A parent’s resilience serves as a template for a child to see how to deal with challenges, how to understand their own emotions,” said Dr. Dan Siegel, author of “The Yes Brain,” which focuses on cultivating children’s resilience.

Yet for many parents, taking the temper tantrums and meltdowns in stride presents a challenge — especially if we have unrealistic expectations of what childhood is really all about.

“Part of it is this idea that we have that parenthood should be this amazing, blissful, perfect culmination of our hopes and dreams,” said Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of the forthcoming book “The Good News About Bad Behavior.”

Ms. Lewis said that anger, tears and other outbursts are a natural part of any child’s development — what she calls “the messiness of childhood.”

But parents who are unable or unwilling to confront that messiness may view their child’s outbursts as a problem that urgently needs to be solved.

When that happens, Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and editor of the site AhaParenting.com, said: “We ridicule kids, we blame them, we tell them it’s their own fault; we isolate them by sending them to their rooms.”

The nature of the parent’s response may vary, Dr. Markham said, but the message is the same — that anger, sadness or frustration are unacceptable.

This, Dr. Markham noted, is the opposite of resilience; instead, it’s a fragile rigidity that leaves both parent and child fearful that outsized emotions could shatter them.

In contrast to this fragility, parents who don’t flinch from the power of emotions like anger have a greater capacity to absorb challenging interactions with their children, said Dr. Siegel, who is executive director of the Mindsight Institute. And don’t worry if this kind of resilience doesn’t come naturally, he said — with practice, it gets easier.

Here are some tips for making those difficult interactions easier to absorb:

Take a Breath

To respond thoughtfully to our child’s outbursts, we have to first silence the alarm bells going off inside our head. Dr. Markham coaches parents to “hit the pause button” before taking any action, even in the face of a screaming child. In her research, Ms. Lewis learned that parents and children often synchronize their heart rates, breathing and other physiological functions, so calming ourselves down can have a measurable, physical effect on our child — not to mention on our own ability to face a situation calmly.

Let Emotions Happen

Resilience depends on an understanding that emotions — even those considered “negative,” like sadness, grief or anger — aren’t a problem to be fixed, but a natural consequence of being human. “The thing about emotions is that they don’t last forever; there’s a beginning, middle and end to all of them,” said Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness With Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.” More than that, allowing ourselves — and our children — to experience and express a full range of emotions is vital to our well-being. Dr. Markham noted that it is actually when we don’t express our emotions that we lose control of them — not the other way around.

Get Curious

So often as parents, we ask “why” questions about unwanted behavior (“Why can’t he remember to put his socks in the hamper?”). But Dr. Naumburg said that asking ourselves “Why am I responding this way?” may be a more useful question, especially when our buttons are getting pushed. “Notice what’s happening with you, and start to take responsibility for it,” Dr. Markham suggested.

Set Boundaries With Compassion

Establishing and holding the line on boundaries can lead to some of the most unpleasant moments in the parent-child relationship — but approaching those moments with compassion and kindness goes a long way toward keeping your blood pressure down. Dr. Markham and Dr. Naumburg suggested verbally acknowledging your child’s feelings and comforting him or her doesn’t have to mean giving in to their demands. “There are times when I will sit with my daughter in my lap, as she’s crying, and snuggle her as I’m saying ‘no’ to her,” Dr. Naumburg said. “She’s still crying, but we’re still connected.”

Examine Your Yeses and Nos

Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of “The Book of No: 365 Ways To Say It and Mean It,” said parents should be especially mindful of the times you’re most likely to give in to your child’s outburst. “If you can recognize what triggers you to an automatic ‘yes,’ it’s time to step back and say, ‘Hold it a minute, why am I doing this?’” Dr. Newman suggested. “We’re living in this culture of ‘yes’ parenting,” Dr. Newman said, “and it’s easier to say yes than to deal with a child’s meltdown.” But parents can consider, “How will a ‘no’ help?” as a way to explore the reason for a particular boundary so that you and your child can better understand it.

Get Some Distance

When we identify closely with our children, or rely on them as a barometer of our own self-worth, we set ourselves up for disappointment (or worse) when things don’t go exactly as we planned. “Our egos are very tied up in our parenting,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult.” Dr. Naumburg noted that this is partially informed by a cultural narrative that suggests that “If the kids are not O.K., then it’s because we parents have done something wrong.” As Ms. Lythcott-Haims put it, “If we can get a life, maybe our kids can have one too.”

Image: Be Strong App
Visit the Be Strong website at https://bestrong.global/

Encourage your students, your children to download the Be Strong app at the Apple App Store or Google Play.

The Be Strong app unites power with choice that saves & changes lives. You’ll find resources, support, and intervention for those who are affected by bullying, depression, or suicide, and best practices on combating many adversities. We know this generation is facing issues and disadvantages that result in bullying and we want to help. If you have friends who are struggling with hunger, housing, escaping violence and much more, sit down with them and put your zip code in the local support section of the app – Help is at your fingertips, including one-touch resources, such as suicide lifeline, text help line, and trusted friend alert.

How would you rate your own resiliency as teacher, coach, parent, and mentor? 

April 2, 2018

Is your classroom student-centered?

Most teachers when asked if their classroom is student-centered would naturally say, “Yes!” All day long, teachers focus on the needs of students and plan dynamic instruction and meaningful experiences. But, if we truly want to meet the definition of “student-centered,” there are certain criteria that should be present. The five criteria identified by Mark Barnes not only provide the opportunity to create worthy student-centered experiences, they have the potential to transform the classroom. This spring, take one week to create a “progressive student-centered” experience that meet the characteristics identified by Barnes. You’ll change your students’ perspective on learning – and you will change your own attitude of how students learn best.

Image: Five steps to Create a Progressive, Student-Centered Classroom

Five Steps to a Create a Progressive, Student-Centered Classroom By Mark Barnes in ASCD.org

A student-centered classroom is built on autonomy and the elimination of traditional teaching practices. The student-centered classroom operates on collaboration, project-based learning, technology integration, and plenty of conversation between students and teachers about learning. Here are five steps to building a remarkable student-centered classroom. 

1. Create ongoing projects. The ongoing project plays an essential role in promoting mastery. The key to ongoing projects is to provide plenty of project choices that enable students to demonstrate what they are learning. Many objectives or standards can be met in one well-crafted project that allows students to decide what the final product looks like. The ongoing project stimulates the workshop environment that is the foundation upon which the student-centered classroom is built.

2. Integrate technology. In today’s digital world, it doesn’t matter if your classroom is filled with computers; students have them in the palms of their hands. Mobile learning is no longer the wave of the future; it’s the present. Learners will be more engaged in any activity or project if they can choose from the hundreds of amazing, free web tools that provide excellent platforms for presenting, curating, and sharing information. When students have an array of exciting web tools at their disposal, they become eager to participate in almost any class activity.

3. Replace homework with engaging in-class activities. The research on the effectiveness of homework ends up on both the pro and con sides. Most studies that support assigning homework suggest that it increases grades in class or on tests. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. Measuring achievement with grades and test scores is a false barometer of learning because all the control in these areas is in the hands of the teacher, and there is no place for control in a student-centered classroom. With engaging, ongoing projects that are driven by interactive web tools, students produce more in class, making homework obsolete. Best of all, when not faced with “do-this-and-do-it-my-way” assignments, students become eager to complete the projects that they have created and choose to do schoolwork outside of class. This autonomy breeds learning for the sake of learning—one of the best parts of the student-centered classroom.

4. Eliminate rules and consequences. The workshop environment of a bustling student-centered classroom encourages a pursuit of learning that allows little time for disruption. Set the tone from the first day of the school year by eliminating all discussion of rules and consequences. Explain that your learning environment is built on mutual respect and a quest for knowledge, so there won’t be time for any behavior issues. Keep activities engaging, and behavior will never be an issue.

5. Involve students in evaluation. Numbers, percentages, and letters on activities, projects, and report cards say little about learning. A student-centered environment thrives through the use of narrative feedback that follows a specific formula and encourages students to resubmit assignments that do not demonstrate mastery. This approach relies on reciprocal feedback between the student and the teacher. Involving students in conversations about their learning not only builds trust, but also helps them become critics of their own work, which is a remarkable part of the amazing student-centered classroom.

If you teach in a student-centered classroom, how does it differ from traditional learning? If your classroom is a traditional one, what fears do you have about converting to a student-centered learning environment? 

Take a week to plan and execute a lesson that transforms your classroom!

March 26, 2018


One of the important budget requests for next year is an addition of $30,000 for supplies K-12, that will allow us to introduce our students to the Next Generation Science Standards which are now in effect. Testing begins this year on the new standards in Science and our district must make headway into these standards – not just for the testing! We must make headway to change the perception of our female students that only males are scientists. This dynamic field is a future growth area for exciting and meaningful careers – and we need to empower our females to pursue the science fields!

Image: Drawing of female scientist

The National Science Teachers Association has a very informative website on the Next Generation Science Standards: http://ngss.nsta.org/.

With a natural focus on reading, writing, and mathematics, our attention to Science in the elementary school years (K-5) has been waning. This is not unique to our schools. As we begin the next school year, we will still be very dedicated to advancing literacy and mathematics, but we will begin a very conscious effort to carve out time for Science at all grade levels, K-5.

Only 3 in 10 children asked to draw a scientist drew a woman. But that’s more than ever.

By Ben Guarino in the Washington Post

In 1983, a social scientist named David Chambers published a landmark study on children's drawings. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, teachers asked nearly 5,000 children to draw a scientist. Features of those doodles included lab coats, eureka exclamations and, Chambers noted, “abnormally long sideburns.” A singular theme emerged: The scientists were men.

“Not a single boy in that study drew a female scientist,” said David Miller, a graduate psychology student at Northwestern University. Not very many girls did, either. Only 28 students drew female scientists — less than 1 percent of the students in the study, of whom 49 percent were girls.

The portrait of a scientist in a young person's mind, however, appears to be changing. In the past five years, Miller and his Northwestern colleagues reviewed 78 draw-a-scientist studies completed after Chamber's report. After 1980, 3 in 10 students drew women as scientists. Younger children, young girls in particular, were the most likely to sketch female scientists, according to the report published Tuesday in the journal Child Development. 

The study “is important because it shows that children’s gender stereotypes of scientists have decreased over the past five decades in the United States,” said Western Michigan University communications professor Jocelyn Steinke, who studies media representation of scientists and was not a part of the new research.

The results come at a time when scientists such as ecologist Jane Zelikova are pushing back against the Bill Nye stereotype — or “stale, pale and male,” as she put it. Zelikova, a University of Wyoming research scientist, is the co-founder of 500 Women Scientists, a grass-roots organization based on an open letter, published after the 2016 election, that advocated for women and equality in science. The organization quickly grew beyond its first 500 signatories. Today, Zelikova said, 500 Women Scientists has about 400 local chapters, called “pods,” of 10 to 200 members each.

Given that there are now more women in the scientific workforce, Miller and his colleagues predicted that the tendency to draw men would weaken over time. “That’s what we found,” he said, with the proportion of female scientists drawn increasing from 1985 onward. 

Pooling pictures by nearly 21,000 students, from kindergarten to grade 12, the authors of the new study also found a change in perception around age 8. Before middle school, most girls drew female scientists and most boys drew male scientists. But as students grew older, the proportion of male scientists in their drawings increased. So, too, did the prevalence of laboratory coats and eyeglasses in their drawings.

“We think this reflects that children are learning multiple stereotypes about scientists as they age,” Miller said. Put another way: Young children might draw more female scientists because they haven't learned the cultural perceptions yet. (Drawings can be barometers for children's opinions about other occupations; in one companion study, students drew 40 percent of veterinarians and 25 percent of teachers as men.)

“If they think that others are expecting them to draw male scientists,” he said, “maybe science isn't perceived as a typical path for girls.” 

Female representation in science varies widely by field. In 2013, 49 percent of biologists and 35 percent of chemists were women, but 11 percent of astronomers and physicists. Women earn the majority of bachelor's degrees in biological, social sciences and psychology, according to National Science Foundation statistics, whereas men earn more degrees in engineering, physics and computer sciences.

“The percentage of women has gone up over the decades, but it’s still not at parity,” said social psychologist Sapna Cheryan, who studies gender and STEM at the University of Washington and was not involved with the study. Cheryan said that she would like to see what would happen if children were asked to draw scientists from specific fields, like a biologist or a computer scientist.

Some of the most popular shows on television reinforce computer science and physics as the realms of men, Cheryan said, pointing to “Silicon Valley” and “The Big Bang Theory.” When “The Big Bang Theory” cast women as scientists later in the show, it added female biologists, another example of the idea “men are the engineers and the physicists, and women do biology,” Cheryan said.

Children's media, Miller said, has made improvements. Highlights, the long-running kids' magazine, featured women in 13 percent of their science stories in the 1960s. In the 2000s, Miller said, citing a study of the magazine's content, the proportion of female scientists increased to 44 percent.

“We see television programs like 'SciGirls' and 'Project Mc2' and films like 'Gravity' and 'Hidden Figures' that seek to inspire girls by featuring positive female STEM role models,” Steinke said. The biggest blockbuster so far this year, the movie “Black Panther,” features a character named Shuri: a young, tech-savvy scientist who runs her own lab. She's “a badass,” said Zelikova (who saw the movie three times).

Away from the silver screen, expectations about a scientist's appearance persist. Half of the students in the meta-analysis drew scientists wearing lab coats. Eight in 10 of the drawings were interpreted to be white people.

“I dress in a way that a nerdy scientist might not dress,” said Maryam Zaringhalam, an Iranian American molecular biologist and member of 500 Women Scientists. When hanging out at a bar, if Zaringhalam reveals she is a scientist, she gets strange reactions: “There’s this weird thing where people fetishize you for being a scientist,” and in particular, she said, “a woman of color and a scientist.”

When asked if she found the results of this study promising, Zelikova invoked Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Supreme Court justice once said she would be satisfied when nine women sat on the bench. “Twenty-eight percent is not good enough, not even close. One hundred percent of children should be able to draw a woman scientist,” Zelikova said. 

So how does the perception of a scientist change? “If we really want the public to see themselves in science, we have to show them scientists who look like them and talk like them,” Zaringhalam said. To that end, 500 Women Scientists created a Request a Woman Scientist database of more than 5,000 women, experts ready to speak to the public, at conferences or to journalists.

Zaringhalam gave an example on the local level, too. The New York City pod of 500 Women Scientists partnered with a program called BioBus. The bus is like a “real-life Magic School Bus,” she said, a traveling laboratory filled with equipment that allows students to learn about the “weird creatures that they dig up in the East River.” 

Meeting actual scientists, it turns out, can dismantle the Bill Nye stereotype. In a twist on the draw-a-scientist test, students have made sketches before and after meeting working scientists. The BBC radio science journalist Quentin Cooper recounted the results of one such study to New Scientist in 2011: A girl's first drawing was a man with a shock of hair and a lab coat. But her second was a woman holding a test tube, with a single word as a caption, “Me.”

March 19th, 2018

“A one-size-fits-all model of education is doomed to fail…”

If you didn’t get to read last week’s Update, don’t forget to include the “Thoughts” section in your reading. One of the most profound statements from last week was based on the research of Cozolino who studies the social neuroscience of schooling. It truly left with me a profound sense of how important teachers are!

A teacher functions much like a parent in building a young person's brain. A caring teacher who shows positive regard for a learner, demonstrates optimism, is encouraging, and minimizes classroom conflict positively impacts student achievement (Cozolino, 2013). In addition, Carol Dweck's work (2006) makes a compelling case for the importance of teachers working from a growth mindset about their students so those students can develop a growth mindset about themselves and others.

Every teacher is a “parent” to every student with whom they come in contact! That article led me to do a little research on Louis Cozolino’s studies – and while it is heavy reading, an essay he wrote based on the book is very accessible. It should make you stop and think for just a moment on the magnitude of the role you play in the lives of children. A second article is also included based on Cozolino’s ideas.

Stop for 5 minutes and read about the nine things you should know about the brain!

Nine Things Educators Need to Know About the Brain

The Social Neuroscience of Education Book Cover In an excerpt from his new book, psychologist Louis Cozolino applies the lessons of social neuroscience to the classroom.


This essay is excerpted from The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom

The human brain wasn’t designed for industrial education.

It was shaped over millions of years of sequential adaptation in response to ever-changing environmental demands. Over time, brains grew in size and complexity; old structures were conserved and new structures emerged. As we evolved into social beings, our brains became incredibly sensitive to our social worlds.

This mixture of conservation, adaptation, and innovation has resulted in an amazingly complex brain, capable of everything from monitoring respiration to creating culture. This added complexity came with a cost. Not only do all of these systems have to develop and interconnect, but they also have to stay balanced and properly integrated for optimal performance.

This evolutionary history poses a challenge for educators. While findings from social neuroscience can provide some welcome guideposts for teachers, they cannot substitute for the flexibility needed in the classroom to accommodate a range of students. Students and teachers are not uniform raw materials or assembly-line workers, but a diverse collection of living, breathing human beings with complex evolutionary histories, cultural backgrounds, and life stories.

If we are going to move forward, we will have to admit that a one-size-fits-all model of education is doomed to fail the majority of students and teachers.

And through understanding how students’ brains actually work and using that knowledge to benefit classroom learning, we may be able to positively influence classroom education and prepare students to better face unknowable futures. Here are nine scientific insights that educators might want to keep in mind.

1. The brain is a social organ.

Our brains require stimulation and connection to survive and thrive. A brain without connection to other brains and without sufficient challenge will shrink and eventually die—moreover, the modern human brain’s primary environment is our matrix of social relationships. As a result, close supportive relationships stimulate positive emotions, neuroplasticity, and learning.

That’s why it pays for teachers to create positive social experiences in the classroom. From a neurobiological perspective, the position of the teacher is very similar to that of the parent in building the child’s brain. Optimism, encouragement, and giving someone the benefit of the doubt have been shown to positively impact performance—and so does a caring and positive regard for students. Promoting social-emotional learning programs that decrease student conflict and create positive social climates in the classroom are invaluable to learning.

2. We have two brains.

The cerebral hemispheres have differentiated from one another and developed specialized functions and skills. In general, the left hemisphere has taken the lead on language processing, linear thinking, and pro-social functioning while the right hemisphere specializes in visual-spatial processing, strong emotions, and private experience.

Most tasks, though, involve contributions from both hemispheres. So, it is important to understand how to engage both in the classroom context.

Good teachers intuitively grasp this in their students, and they will seek to balance the expression of emotion and cognition, encouraging overly rational students to be aware of and explore their feelings while helping anxious students develop the cognitive capabilities of their left hemispheres to regulate their emotions.

Storytelling can help here, as stories can serve as powerful organizing tools for neural network integration. A story that is well told, containing conflicts and resolutions and thoughts flavored with emotions, will shape brains and connect people.

3. Early learning is powerful.

Much of our most important emotional and interpersonal learning occurs during our first few years of life, when our more primitive neural networks are in control. Early experiences shape structures in ways that have a lifelong impact on three of our most vital areas of learning: attachment, emotional regulation, and self-esteem. These three spheres of learning establish our abilities to connect with others, cope with stress, and feel that we have value.

Every time children behave in a way they (or we) don’t understand, a teacher has the opportunity to engage in an exploration of their inner world. When painful experiences can be consciously thought about, named, and placed into a coherent narrative, children gain the ability to reintegrate dissociated neural networks of affect, cognition, and bodily awareness.

Encouraging students to write about their experiences in diaries and journals can help, as it lets students become the masters of their experience and reducing anxiety and stress. Research has shown that writing about your experiences can increase well-being and help with emotional regulation, which may have been impaired through early traumatic experiences.

4. Conscious awareness and unconscious processing occur at different speeds, often simultaneously.

Conscious awareness and explicit memory are but a small fraction of the vast amount of neural processing that occurs each millisecond.

Think of how many things you do without having to think about them: breathing, walking, balancing, even constructing the syntax of a sentence, is handled automatically. The brain is able to process incoming information, analyze it based on a lifetime of experience, and present it to us in half a second. The brain then creates the illusion that what we are experiencing is happening right now and that we are making decisions based on our conscious thought processes.

Because of this, it is especially important to teach students to question their assumptions and the possible influences of past experiences and unconscious biases on their feelings and beliefs.

This is especially true when thinking about prejudice. Because fear conditioning does not require conscious awareness, the brain’s knee-jerk reaction to individuals of other races is unrelated to our conscious attitudes. Open discussion and increased interracial exposure can work against prejudice being turned into conscious beliefs and negative behaviors.

5. The mind, brain, and body are interwoven.

Physical activity exerts a stimulating influence on the entire brain that keeps it functioning at an optimal level. Exercise has been shown to stimulate the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus and to pump more oxygen through the brain, stimulating capillary growth and frontal-lobe plasticity.

Proper nutrition and adequate sleep are also essential to learning. Although the brain is only a fraction of our body’s weight, it consumes approximately 20 percent of our energy, which makes good nutrition a critical component of learning. Sleep boosts cognitive performance and augments learning while sleep deprivation limits our ability to sustain vigilance and attention. Sleep deprivation has also been shown to impair flexible thinking and decision-making.

An awareness of these biological realities can lead to changes in school start times, lunch programs, and recess schedules. Teachers can teach students about the importance of sleep and make suggestions for better sleep habits, such as how to create a good sleep environment and promote relaxation. Good nutrition and regular exercise can be incorporated into the school environment. Teaching about the interconnections among the brain, the body, and how we learn will provide students with important scientific knowledge, which could improve their academic performance and physical health.

In addition, learning can be enhanced by certain environmental conditions and hampered by others. Inadequate school facilities, poor acoustics, outside noise, and inadequate classroom lighting all correlate with poorer academic performance. Chairs with poor support hamper blood supply to the brain and impede cognition while temperatures above 74–77 degrees Fahrenheit have been shown to correlate with lower reading comprehension and math scores. A more hospitable climate for learning can help performance by providing for the physical needs of the body.

6. The brain has a short attention span and needs repetition and multiple-channel processing for deeper learning to occur.

Curiosity, the urge to explore and the impulse to seek novelty, plays an important role in survival. We are rewarded for curiosity by dopamine and opioids (feel-good chemicals in the brain), which are stimulated in the face of something new. Because our brains evolved to remain vigilant to a constantly changing environment, we learn better in brief intervals.

This is likely one reason why variation in materials, breaks, and even intermittent naps facilitate learning. It is probably important for teachers to reestablish attention in their students every five to 10 minutes and continue to shift the focus of attention to new topics.

Learning also involves the strengthening of connections between neurons. “What fires together wires together,” say neuroscientists, which is why repetition supports learning while the absence of repetition and exposure results in its decay. Teachers would do well to make sure they repeat important points in their lessons to deepen learning.

Given that visual, semantic, sensory, motor, and emotional neural networks all contain their own memory systems, multichannel learning engaging each of these networks increases the likelihood of both storage and recall. We have an amazing capacity for visual memory, and written or spoken information paired with visual information results in better recall. There is a greater likelihood that learning will generalize outside the classroom if it is organized across sensory, physical, emotional and cognitive networks.

7. Fear and stress impair learning.

Evolution has shaped our brains to err on the side of caution and to trigger fear whenever it might be remotely useful. Fear makes us less intelligent because amygdala activation—which occurs as part of the fear response—interferes with prefrontal functioning. Fear also shuts down exploration, makes our thinking more rigid, and drives “neophobia,” the fear of anything new.

Stressful situations trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which interferes with neural growth. Prolonged stress impairs our ability to learn and maintain physical health.

Success in school depends upon a student’s ability to somehow decrease their stress. The inclusion of stress-management techniques into the curriculum is an obvious application of neuroscience to education that can improve learning, emotional well-being, and physical health. Teachers can use their warmth, empathic caring, and positive regard to create a state of mind that decreases fear and increases neuroplasticity and learning.

8. We analyze others but not ourselves: the primacy of projection.

Our brains have evolved to pay attention to the behaviors and emotions of other people. Not only is this processing complex, but it is lightning fast, shaping our experience of others milliseconds before we even become consciously aware of their presence. We automatically generate a theory of what is on their mind—our ideas about what they know, what their motivations may be, and what they might do next. As a result, we are as quick to think we know others as we are slow to become aware of our own motives and faults.

Taking our thoughts about others and trying them on for size has the potential to teach us about ourselves and increase our empathic abilities. Simple exercises that guide students to examine what and how what they think and feel about others may be true for themselves can open a window of self-awareness, empathy, and insight. Teachers can ask students to examine the lives of historical figures and characters from books and movies to help them gain a third-eye perspective on their own strengths, motivations, and flaws.

9. Learning is enhanced by emphasizing the big picture—and then allowing students to discover the details for themselves.

When problems are represented at higher levels of abstraction, learning can be integrated into larger schemas that enhance memory, learning, and cognitive flexibility. Starting with major concepts and repeatedly returning to them during a lecture enhances understanding and memory, a phenomenon that increases when students create their own categories and strategies of organizing information. Chunking material into meaningful segments makes it easier to remember, and improves test performance while increasing prefrontal activity during encoding.

When it comes to discovering the details, bear in mind that our brains evolved to learn is through trial-and-error exploration. This is true of learning and adapting to both our social and physical environments. Therefore, using what we learn to attempt to solve real-world problems and adjusting our behaviors or ideas based on the results augments the retention of skills and information. We are born to explore, and teachers who make use of that will probably find more success in the classroom.

YES, IT’S IMPORTANT THAT YOUR STUDENTS LIKE YOU From https://www.learningandthebrain.com/

It’s an age old debate. Does it matter if your students like you? Ask any teacher, anywhere, and you will most likely get answers split down the middle. In Aaron Podolner’s book, “How Would You Handle It: Hundreds of Answers for Classroom Teachers”, this very question was asked. One teacher responded with the following:

“Do you want your students to like you? The answer is yes, but with a qualifier. It matters why you want your students to like you… If they like you because you genuinely like them and show a real interest in their growth, then they will also respect you and work hard for you. Students do not learn because of teachers, they learn for teachers.”1

While it’s been viewed as mostly a personal choice, research seems to suggest that it is important that students like their teachers. The teacher in Mr. Podolner’s book may have been onto something with her statement that students don’t learn because of teachers, but rather for them. Improving students’ relationships with their teachers have not only academic implications, but social implications as well.

Why it Matters that Your Students Like You: The Research

The brain is a social organ and close relationships, such as a positive student-teacher relationship, encourage learning, in part, because they promote a positive learning environment2. From birth, we learn from our interactions with other people; this includes, family, friends and yes, teachers. Positive teacher-student relationships in the school setting have positive implications not only for students, but for teachers and the school climate as a whole.7

For this reason, students who are in classrooms with teachers that they like and have a close relationship with may learn more. For teachers, teaching students who like you makes their job easier. Teachers who experience close relationships with students report that their students have better attendance, cooperate more, are more engaged and are more self-directed3.

These little things can make a big difference.

In a recent study done in Germany4, kindergartners were shown a picture of different teachers before solving a problem. Students performed faster when they were shown a picture of a teacher they had a close relationship with before solving the problem versus a teacher they didn’t have a relationship with. While this study shows the direct effect of students thinking about teachers that they are close to prior to solving a problem, it also gets at a deeper message.

When students have positive relationships with their teachers, it affects how they view school and how engaged they are. Students who have these kind of relationships have more positive feelings about school, are more engaged, and in turn, are often higher achievers5. Think for a minute about any high achieving student you know. More than likely, this student enjoys school, or at least likes it. Now, think about that students’ relationship with his/her teachers. I’m sure at least one teacher that student has a positive relationship with will come to mind. While positive student teacher relationships can result in more engagement, and higher grades among students, negative relationships can have the opposite effect6.

Positive student-teacher relationships also have the power to positively improve school climate, something that can affect everyone involved in a school. School is, in a very general way, student and staff perception of their school. We can think of it this way: Students who have positive relationships with their teachers tend to be more engaged. Students who are more engaged typically are more likely to succeed. Being successful in school leads to positive educational experiences which in turn, creates a positive perception of school. Of course there are exceptions and limitations to this logic and not all students, teachers, and schools are the same – but the research suggests it’s worth paying attention to. Teachers play a huge role because they can very well shift the climate of their school by building stronger relationships with their students.

What Do Positive Student-Teacher Relationships Look Like? And How Can You Build Them?

Positive student-teacher relationships are characterized by low-conflict, feelings of closeness and support and independence2. Positive student teacher relationships benefit both the students and the teachers. Students feel safe, supported and cared for, while teachers feel competent and important. Here are a few more examples of what positive student teacher relationships look like:

“A high school student chooses to share the news that he recently got a part in a community play with his teacher because he knows that his teacher will show genuine interest in his success.

A fourth grade boy who is struggling in math shows comfort in admitting to his teacher that he needs help with multiplying and dividing fractions even if most of the students in the class have moved beyond this work.

A middle school girl experiences bullying from other students and approaches her social studies teacher to discuss it because she trusts that the teacher will listen and help without making her feel socially inept.”3

While the importance of student teacher relationships seems rather straight forward, building relationships with students isn’t always so easy. In most cases, our students who could benefit from these relationships the most are the hardest students to deal with. Below you’ll find a few tips I’ve found helpful in building relationships with my students.

Note: These tips are rooted in my personal experiences, not peer-reviewed research.

1. Sincerity

When building a relationship with your students it’s important to be sincere. Ask yourself why you want to have a better relationship with the student. If your reason is simply because you have him/her in your class and you don’t want it to be a miserable experience for both of you all year, be honest about that. In my experience, students have an amazing ability to detect when someone is not genuine. Keep in mind that even if you are approaching a student with sincerity, he/she may have his/her defenses up, especially if he/she has not had many positive relationships with adults. Keeping your intentions pure and being honest with the student about why you want to get to know him/her and conveying that you truly care are important first steps.

2. Consistency

This may be the most important factor. In any relationship, consistency is key. Showing your students that you are going to show up and be there for them every day by actually doing it says a lot. Conveying the message that you care over and over again may eventually reach even the most stubborn students.

3. High Expectations

A hard lesson I learned in my early years of teaching is the importance of having and keeping high expectations. If you truly care about your students, you hold them to a high standard because anything less would be a disservice to them. I used to think that taking it easy on my students by accepting excuses when they didn’t do their homework, or turning a blind eye when they occasionally misbehaved, was showing that I cared. I’ve learned that in holding high expectations of my students I’m conveying the message that I believe you are capable of doing something great and so, I’m not going to accept anything less than greatness from you.

Where to Go from Here

While there are great implications for having a positive relationship with your students, the fact of the matter is that it’s not possible to have a great relationship with every student. As teachers, what’s most important is that we hold every student to high expectations and put forth an honest effort to show support and genuine interest in as many of our students as we can. While we may not have amazing relationships with every student, the ones we really take the time to nurture can make all the difference in the world.

References & Further Reading

1. Podolner, A. S., Matuch, J. B., Nemeth , M. M., Royston, L. S., …Shah, N. (2014). How We Handle It: Hundreds of Answers from Classroom Teachers. [Book]
2. Cozolino, L. (2013). Nine Things Educators Need to Know About the Brain. [Book Excerpt]
3. Riff-Kaufman, S. & Sandilos, L. (n.d.). Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning. [Guide]
4. Ahnert L,Milatz A, Kappler G, Schneiderwind J, and Fischer R. (2013). The impact of teacher-child relationships on child cognitive performance as explored by a priming paradigm. Dev Psychol. 49(3):554-67. (Paper)
5. Van Maele, D., & Van Houtte, M. (2011). The quality of school life: Teacher-student trust relationships and the organizational school context.Social Indicators Research, 100, 85–100. (Paper)
6. Pianta, R., Hamre, B., & Allen, J. (2012). Teacher-student relationships and engagement: Conceptualizing, measuring, and improving the capacity of classroom interactions. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.),Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 365–386). New York: Springer. (Book Chapter)
7. Larson, A. (2014). How Student-Teacher Relationships Influence School Climate: A Literature Review. (Review)

March 12, 2018

Empathy "A Teacher functions much like a parent in building a young person's brain.”

I love the article included below from the March 2018 edition of Educational Leadership. As we look closely at ways to make our new Profile of the Graduate come alive, this article is a great place to start. Looking at our matrix of development in the Profile, we hope that our students grow in their ability to demonstrate “Caring” at the youngest grades, followed by “Empathy,” then “Responsibility,” and finally, “Compassion.” Our ongoing conversations will be about how we measure these traits in our students over their K-12 years.

Our challenge will be knowing that our students cannot grow as learners who display empathy unless they are truly in an environment where empathy exists. They must experience empathy when needed in order to share it when appropriate. The article below speaks to the necessity of creating environments of empathy for students as a prerequisite for them to be able to demonstrate empathy and compassion in school and in life.

Even though this article refers to developing “empathetic schools” or “compassionate schools” – (both terms that I love), if we want our students to demonstrate compassion and empathy, we must create homes, schools, and a community where empathy and compassion are so apparent that our students learn directly from us as we model that behavior.

Kindness and Caring Bell

There has never been a more important time 
and there has never been a more important cause than our efforts to make kindness and caring common in the East Hampton Public Schools.

From The Empathetic School by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Michael Murphy in Educational Leadership

When we set our compass "due north" to empathy, we humanize our work in schools.

Schools, not unlike hospital emergency rooms, are incessantly busy places. Those in charge must make complex decisions at wearying speed, knowing that those decisions bear strongly on the welfare of others, and yet finding sparse opportunity to reflect on their actions in the press of the day. The question of what internal or external compass guides educators' decision making is complex as well, and in many instances, there is no evident answer.

School leaders seek to do well for the adults whose work they guide. Teachers seek to do well for the young people they teach. And yet, there are few sustained conversations in many schools about a compass we agree to use that points us to "due north"—to the direction most likely to lead us to a good place.


So, here's a question worthy of our consideration: What if our compass—our "due north" for decision making—was creating an "empathetic school"? What if we set our sights on creating an environment where our central and shared goal, as we teach and lead, is to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who share our space and to make decisions based on what would serve them best? What promise might accrue in a school where leaders, faculty, and staff aspire to practice empathy and to support students in doing that as well? There's reason to conclude that such an approach would result in a school that extends the potential of both the adults who work there and the students who attend—energizing a community in far-reaching ways.

Defining Empathy

At its core, the term empathy suggests an ability to understand and share another person's feelings and emotions—to see things from the perspective of another and understand another's point of view. Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran (2010) describe empathy as a "respectful, no-fault understanding and appreciation of someone's experience; as such, it is an orientation and practice that fosters radically new change possibilities" (p. 21).

Language is tricky, however, and subtle distinctions can be important. Some experts worry that empathy can lead people to feel so deeply with others that they themselves literally share the fear, pain, anxiety, or self-doubt of the person or group with whom they are empathetic. As a result, empathy can become exhausting and disabling rather than energizing. These experts (such as Bloom & Davidson, 2015) prefer compassion to empathy. Although there is overlap in the terms, there is an important distinction. Compassion suggests we understand and care about what another person feels, but do not attempt to feel it ourselves. In that way, compassion, these experts say, is more likely to lead to action on behalf of another because it calls on us to be kind and to see the need for action rather than simply to experience the feelings of another.

On the other hand, the term compassion may be more deeply associated with the suffering of another person, while the term empathy may suggest being attuned to positive feelings as well. It seems wise to seek to recognize and act on feelings like joy, satisfaction, success, and engagement, as well as feelings like distress, fear, isolation, anger, loneliness, and hopelessness.

With these semantics in mind, we offer the idea of an "empathetic school." We choose to define empathy as seeking to both understand a person's condition from their perspective and understand the needs of others, with the aim of acting to make a difference in responding to those needs or building on the positives. If you prefer the idea of a "compassionate school," that phrase works, too. In either case, the goal is to humanize the work we do by understanding and learning from one another in ways that lift our work.

The Merits

Grounding our work in empathy (or compassion) is a theme in numerous, enduring bodies of work in education, psychology, and neuroscience. Maslow's hierarchy of human needs (1943) indicates that learning follows satisfaction of more fundamental needs, such as those related to physiology, safety and security, belonging, and love—suggesting that teachers' attention to the status of those needs in students is central in grasping a young person's readiness to learn. In addition, self-actualization, the pinnacle of Maslow's hierarchy, implies a sense of purpose, morality, and fulfillment to which a person's work should certainly contribute.

Similarly, key theories of moral development (such as Gilligan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1969) suggest a progression from focus on self and personal preference through a series of stages that increasingly value relationships and the perspectives of others, and ultimately employ universal and comprehensive principles of morality, such as mutual respect, justice, and kindness, as guiding principles for one's life.

Finally, emerging insights from neuroscience tell us that:

Stress and negative classroom associations impair learning.

Emotion surpasses cognition, so that when a learner feels threatened, it is unlikely that the part of the brain in which cognition occurs will function as it should.

The brain is quick to tune in to threat and slow to forget it (see the work of Sousa, 2011; Sousa & Tomlinson, 2017; Willis, 2007).

The brain is a social organ and so close, supportive relationships enhance learning (Cozolino, 2013).

A teacher functions much like a parent in building a young person's brain. A caring teacher who shows positive regard for a learner, demonstrates optimism, is encouraging, and minimizes classroom conflict positively impacts student achievement (Cozolino, 2013). In addition, Carol Dweck's work (2006) makes a compelling case for the importance of teachers working from a growth mindset about their students so those students can develop a growth mindset about themselves and others.

Findings from all these disciplines call on a teacher to understand students' classroom experiences and to orchestrate positive classroom experiences—to see school through the students' eyes and to respond in ways that minimize negative experiences and maximize positive ones. It is not a great leap to translate the conclusions to adults in the school as well, so that decision making seeks to foster positive working conditions for and build supportive relationships among adults in the building as well as students. Paul Zak's recent work (2017) suggests that a more intentional investment in people and their growth encourages "whole people development." This investment has the potential to lead to "a culture of trust and purpose, [which] resonates with the social nature of human beings and creates engagement, joy, and profits" (p. 208). Therefore, an empathetic school would place the highest value on not only caring about those who spend much of their lives in schools, but also caring for them. In other words, making decisions that go beyond an interest in students and teachers to doing whatever is necessary to promote their growth and welfare (Gay, 2010).

What an Empathetic School Asks

An empathetic school asks everyone in it—teachers, leaders, staff, and students—to diminish some of their self-focus and respond in a fuller and more informed way to those around them. It guides us to develop an inclusive place where the highest aspirations of democracy are consistently at work, where community functions as it should, and where the best of human behavior is evident every day. It asks us to invest both our cognitive and affective energies toward those ends.

With that focus, we would seek to know those around us beyond the surface. We would pause often to listen. We would frame teaching and leadership around significant issues and ideas that can infuse lives with meaning and purpose. We would create classrooms, meetings, and informal spaces characterized by dialogue rather than monologue. In those places, we would express gratitude when that is called for, generosity always, and forgiveness when it is needed.

Teachers in such places would consistently give students voice in what they learn, how they learn, and how they might best show what they know. They would look for the problem behind misbehavior rather than seeing the child as a problem—and find solutions to the problem rather than punishments. Principals in these contexts would join with teachers to craft spaces and schedules that invite learning, account for human variance, and anticipate the need for flexibility. Teachers and principals alike would focus on assets rather than deficits, helping others identify their strengths and use those strengths as launching pads for further growth.

These things are often neither intuitive nor easy to achieve. They are aspirational. Nonetheless, pursuing the aspiration makes us more attuned to one another, to the world around us, and to ourselves. It makes us better people and better educators.

Leading the Empathetic School

In the empathetic school as we envision it, the principal would play a crucial role. The principal would have to work with others to envision and institute a critical vision of mutual support. He or she would do this by seeking to understand and respond more effectively to the needs of all members of the school community and to expand the reach of that community by learning from its diverse perspectives. It is the principal who must develop, observe, and share "purpose narratives"—examples, illustrations, and stories that reinforce the reason for and meaning of the work of empathy (Zak 2017, p. 177). It is also the principal who must guide the school community's recognition of the power of what Fullan (2007) calls a purposeful school—a place where people understand and reach for a moral calling. This provides a reason for their work that extends beyond and strengthens each person in the community and the community itself.

The principal would strive to ensure that faculty and staff learn to trust him or her, trust the work they are doing, and trust one another to be allies in that work. To that end, the principal would seek alignment between the way the school functions and what teachers seek to implement in their classrooms. The principal would also aim to be a model of empathy in all its aspects, including in what it means to translate growing understanding and insight into action. Further, the principal must help sustain the energy and productivity of faculty and staff over time, including helping colleagues derive satisfaction and joy from working with others whom they trust and with whom they share a purpose (Zak, 2017).

Central to the leadership role of the principal in the empathetic school would be working to clear the way through the incessant external demands so teachers can find time to focus and act on empathy. Leaders must resist pressures to standardize young humans and to measure the effectiveness of students, teachers, and schools with instruments that are too often shallow, restrictive, and draining. Further, the principal would play a key role in seeking out and providing, over the long term, the kind of support teachers must have to understand and develop comfort in working from a point of empathy.

In all these arenas, the principal would take care to seek the counsel of colleagues, empower other leaders to contribute to decision making that facilitates empathetic practice, and ensure consistent examination of ways in which emergent practices affect the development and achievement of students, the lives and work of teachers, and the functioning of the school as a whole.

The Payoff

There is no paint-by-number approach to developing and practicing empathy as a basis for living, working, and decision making in our varied schools. Still, there are outcomes that we might expect as focus shifts. Among other expectations, it is reasonable to assume that understanding, appreciating, and addressing people's feelings, needs, and perspectives could lead to more opportunities for teachers to share successes and concerns with colleagues and leaders; more collaborative relationships between teachers and parents; greater student voice; fewer incidences of bullying; and a curriculum and instructional style that foster a love for learning.

In a high-empathy middle school we visited, students ran a multifaceted anti-bullying initiative, which provided safe spaces where students who were bullied could find support. Students also participated in challenging conversations that examined the dynamics of bullying, specified negative outcomes, and encouraged peers to step up to the challenge of being a positive force in the lives of others.

In a high-empathy, high-poverty K–8 school we visited, there were greeters at the entrance to the school every day to speak with each student personally. In that school, older students served as "Way Finders," mentoring younger students in the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for success. The halls were canopied with banners that pointed the way to productive thoughts and actions.

Both schools held high expectations for students and faculty alike and provided support for both. The schools offered lively and engaging classes that connected students with the world outside of school and made learning feel like a worthy investment.

Learning through Understanding

Human beings are born with the capacity for kindness and compassion; however, that capacity has to be nurtured to be fully realized. People in whom it is nurtured are better equipped to live meaningful and productive lives. Empathy is a link between self and others—a channel for experiencing and expressing kindness and compassion. Working together as teachers, leaders, and students to build an environment that embodies compassion and empathy stretches all of us. It extends our possibilities. It satisfies a profoundly fundamental need.

In a recent (2012) essay, Art Costa, Robert Garmston, and Diane Zimmerman reflected on "the deeply flawed belief"—often exhibited in the way we do school—"that teachers and students are interchangeable parts, rather than thoughtful, unique, caring, experienced, and often passionate human beings" (para. 12). The essay counseled that "we should be supporting systems that develop the essence of teachers who inspire a love of learning" in contrast to those whose aim is predominately "to get students to demonstrate mastery on achievement tests."

In a democracy, education should be "precisely concerned with equity, access, and recognition of the full humanity of everyone" (Ayres, 2010, p. 152). An empathetic school would focus on the full humanity of each member of the community. It would be energizing to work there, and it would enable educators to teach, learn, and make choices as acts of caring. It would nurture in students the desire to understand and the capacity to reach out to others with acceptance and trust.

In the end, that's much of what a life in school should do for us, individually and collectively.


Ayres, W. (2010). To teach: The journey of a teacher (3rd ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.

Bloom, P., & Davidson, R. (2015). Empathy: Is it all it's cracked up to be. A dialogue from the Aspen Ideas Festival. Retrieved from www.aspenideas.org/session/empathy-it-all-its-cracked-be

Costa, A., Garmston, R., & Zimmerman, D. (2012, November 13). Teacher quality: Investing in what matters. Education Week. Retrieved from www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/11/14/12zimmerman_ep.h32.html

Cozolino, L. (2013, March 19). Nine things educators need to know about the brain. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_things_educators_need_to_know_about_the_brain

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

Fullan, M. (2007). Leading in a culture of change (revised edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stage and sequence: The cognitive development approach to socialization. In D. A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and research, pp. 347–480. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Maslow, A. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370–396.

Sousa, D. (2011). How the brain learns (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sousa, D., & Tomlinson, C. (2017). Differentiation and the brain: How neuroscience supports a learner-friendly classroom (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Tschannen-Moran, B., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2010). Evocative coaching: Transforming schools one conversation at a time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain-friendly strategies for the inclusion classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Zak, P. (2017). Trust factor: The science of creating high-performance companies. New York: American Management Association.

March 5, 2018

The Power of Calm    Helping our students Deal with stress.

“Stress is the single most potent risk factor for mental health problems in children and adolescents, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, eating disorders and substance use,”

As a team of teachers, parents, mentors, coaches, and administrators, we must find a way to help our children deal with stress.

While we cannot make the stress in our students’ lives (and our own!) go away, we must help them find effective ways to manage their stress.

There are many things that are adding to the stress our children feel – and make no mistake, they are feeling stress whether they show it or not.

An event such as Parkland, Florida can bring stress to the forefront. A school shooting may not be the sole cause of stress, but it may be the trigger that releases feelings that even a student can’t quite understand.

I encourage all teachers to speak to our students. I encourage all parents to speak to your children.

And for our teachers and parents, seek advice from our very capable school counselors for any help you may need!

New research identifies best coping strategies for kids by Joan Brasher in Early Childhood Ideas in Action

Parents (and teachers) can play an important role in helping children and teens dealing with stress.

From acting out to reaching out, children and teens cope with stress in a variety of ways with varying results. A comprehensive Vanderbilt University study published in the high-impact journal Psychological Bulletin outlines which coping strategies work best.

Bruce Compas is lead author of the landmark research, a meta-analysis of more than 200 coping and emotion regulation studies that included more than 80,000 young people. He says learning effective ways to manage stress is especially important for children. Compas is a Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development.

“Chronic stress is bad for adults, but it is particularly troublesome for children, because among many other effects, it can disrupt still-developing white matter in the brain, causing long-term problems with complex thinking and memory skills, attention, learning and behavior,” Compas said. “We found that the ways children cope are highly personal, and the strategies they choose do not always lead to ameliorating the negative affects of stress.”

For the purposes of the study, common coping strategies were divided into five categories: problem solving; emotional suppression; cognitive reappraisal; distraction, and avoidance. Compas and his team measured the affect of these strategies on the subjects’ internalized symptoms like depression, anxiety and loneliness, and external manifestations of stress like antisocial behavior and aggression.

“In this new work, we found that when the subjects used adaptive strategies, like looking at a problem in a different way, engaging in problem solving or pursuing constructive communication, they were better able to manage the adverse effects of stress,” Compas said. “Those who used maladaptive strategies like suppressing, avoiding or denying their feelings, had higher levels of problems associated with stress.”

“We have found the most effective strategies … are ones that involve adapting to the stressors rather than trying to change the stressors.” (Quote by Bruce Compas)

These findings echo what Compas has learned through his longitudinal studies of children coping with cancer and other chronic pediatric conditions.

“Most or all of the stressful aspects of cancer are uncontrollable, from the diagnosis itself, to the treatments, to the side effects of treatments, and the uncertainty about the future,” he said. “We have found time and again that the most effective strategies for coping with these types of uncontrollable stress are ones that involve adapting to the stressors rather than trying to change the stressors.”

Whether a child or teen’s stress is triggered by anxiety about a new school or something far more serious, Compas says parents can play a key role in helping them manage their stress successfully.

He offers these tips:

  • Make time to listen to your child and let them share with you the stresses and challenges they are facing. No need to give any advice at first, just listen and let them share what they are struggling with.
  • Remind yourself and your child of the first rule of coping with stress: “Try to change the things you can change, and accept the things you cannot change.”
  • Think out loud with your child about how you have coped with similar situations in the past or how you might cope with the situation if you haven’t faced a similar stressor in the past.
  • Encourage your child to make a plan and then follow up in a day or two. If the first plan doesn’t seem to help, think it through together and try another plan until either the problem has changed or your child has been able to accept the problem and adapt to it.

“Stress is the single most potent risk factor for mental health problems in children and adolescents, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, eating disorders and substance use,” Compas said. “But the good news is the brain is malleable. Once positive coping skills are learned and put into practice, especially as a family, they can be used to manage stress for a lifetime.”

You can purchase a PDF of the research by Bruce Compas. “Coping, Emotion Regulation and Psychopathology in Childhood and Adolescence: A Meta-Analysis and Narrative Review,” in Psychological Bulletin. The research is supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

February 26, 2018

  • NEASC LogoNext week is a big week for East Hampton High School

From Sunday, March 4 through Wednesday, March 7 East Hampton High School will be visited by 12 Administrators and Teachers from several New England states as part of the school’s decennial accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). According to NEASC, accreditation and the accreditation process is a system of accountability that is ongoing and comprehensive in scope:

“Accreditation respects differences in institutional populations, missions, and cultures, and fosters institutional change grounded in the expertise of practicing educators. It is based on standards which are developed and regularly reviewed by the members and which define the characteristics of good schools and colleges.”

NEASC accreditation is structured in a ten-year cycle that includes the following:

  • Self-study prepared by the school’s staff, which engages the entire educational community in structured analysis, self-reflection, and planning in response to the standards of accreditation.
  • Peer review which brings multiple perspective to the process through the observations and judgments of a visiting committee of peers from other schools and colleges, informed by the school’s self-study and based on adherence to the standards of accreditation.
  • Follow-up which is monitored by a commission of elected peers and overseen by a professional staff to ensure that planned and prescribed recommendations and changes are accomplished as a follow up to the accreditation visit.

The High School looks forward to welcoming the NEASC Visiting Team to share the work of our teachers, staff, and students. We continue to focus on Safety!

Security Update

We continue to focus on Safety!

Update on Interior Locking Mechanisms: The East Hampton Capital Committee took no action on approving $150,000 for the purchase of the interior locking mechanisms for Memorial School, Center School, and Middle School requested by the Superintendent of Schools at last week’s Capital meeting. They will continue to consider the request as part of the 2018-19 Budget Process. We will continue to keep the school community informed as to this important security upgrade.

Do you have questions about school security: Instead of trying to figure out if information on Facebook is accurate, why not go right to the source? You are always welcome to contact the Superintendent of Schools, Paul K. Smith @ 860-365-4000. Or better yet, come for a cup of coffee with Mr. Smith and join the discussion. The last two Friday coffees have focused on the security of our schools! Next chance for coffee is Friday, March 9 from 7:30-9:00 AM at 94 Main Street.

Thank you East Hampton Police Department: You will begin to notice an increased presence of police officers in our school parking lots and in our buildings. Thank you to the East Hampton Police Department for your commitment to the safety of the children, teachers, and staff members of the East Hampton Public Schools! Please thank our Police Officers for all they do!

Thank you to East Hampton PD

February 19, 2018

It’s possible – and crucial – to measure the most important skills we have defined for our graduates.

In the near future as we discuss ways to have our students master the matrix of skills outlined on as essential to the East Hampton Graduate, it is crucial for us to identify experiences that will act as indicators of development or success along the developmental levels of the Profile. These skills are not attained or measured as by-products of experiences in the classroom, they are worthy of their own assessments across multiple disciplines. While it is entirely possible that they are embedded in assessments in subject area content, they must have their own performance standard and an ability to be measured. Ultimately, this may be accomplished with an included “rubric line” or other measurable criteria of their own in a project-based experience, but we must be sure as we consider the best ways to identify mastery, that we target experiences in the classroom that promote and archive our students’ achievement of these survival skills.

Figure A: Profile of the GraduateRecent advice in Edutopia encourages schools to add “assessment vehicles such as student portfolios and presentations as additional measures of student understanding. These rigorous, multiple forms of assessment require students to apply what they're learning to real world tasks. These include standards based projects and assignments that require students to apply their knowledge and skills; clearly defined rubrics (or criteria) to facilitate a fair and consistent evaluation of student work; and opportunities for students to benefit from the feedback of teachers, peers, and outside experts.”

Edutopia goes on and identifies the advantage of such assessments. “With these formative and summative types of assessment come the ability to give students immediate feedback. They also allow a teacher to immediately intervene, to change course when assessments show that a particular lesson or strategy isn't working for a student, or to offer new challenges for students who've mastered a concept or skill.”

It’s not just having a Profile of the Graduate that is important. It’s assessing the skills of the Profile of the Graduate that will be of value.

As we begin to transition to the 2020 New England Association of Schools and Colleges Standards, NEASC clearly supports the work we have begun. One of their foundations is based on the development of a Profile of the Graduate.

The school has a vision of the graduate that includes the attainment of transferable skills, disciplinary/interdisciplinary knowledge, understandings, and dispositions necessary to prepare learners for their future. Students are assured consistent learning outcomes through a defined curricular experience and have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a variety of creative ways. Students actively participate in authentic learning experiences while practicing the skills and habits of mind to regularly reflect upon, and take ownership of their learning.

Our work will be to develop common and authentic experiences in which students have the opportunity to practice these skills. But, another challenge is how we report out the results of these experiences.

It’s not just assessing the skills of the Profile of the Graduate that is important. It’s providing feedback to learners and their families on each student’s progress in achieving this vision for them that will be of value.

I am always drawn to the thoughts of Elliot Eisner at crossroads like this. He acknowledges that many skills in education are not easy to assess, but just because it is difficult does not mean that we should not try.

With that said, we have many authentic assessments in our schools that already exist – and with tweaking could be used to demonstrate mastery of a portion of the matrix of skills that we have adopted.

The article below indicates how the city of Virginia Beach with 10,000 students is tackling this challenge. They have adopted a Profile of the Graduate for the entire city and are now working to develop common assessments for every child. The state of Virginia now requires all cities and towns to develop a diploma standards in line with the state’s Profile of a Virginia Graduate.

We only have to worry about East Hampton children – a task I know we can handle.

Mission Possible: Measuring Critical Thinking and Problem Solving by Doug Wren and Amy Cashwell in Educational Leadership

To gauge complex skills, a Virginia district has worked to hone a series of performance assessments.

In 2009—the same year articles in an Educational Leadership issue on "Teaching for the 21st Century" recommended that schools assess key 21st century skills—our school district in southeastern Virginia began creating a large-scale performance assessment to gauge students' critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. The following year, nearly 10,000 students in Virginia Beach City Public Schools took the Integrated Performance Task we developed, and hundreds of teachers throughout the district began scoring students' open-ended responses. This was the beginning of a long-running "performance" of our district's performance assessment system—one that continues to this day.

Why did our school system boldly go where few districts had gone before? Because our strategic plan focused on "teaching and assessing those skills our students need to thrive as 21st century learners, workers, and citizens" (Virginia Beach City Public Schools, 2008). And, although we'd created instructional opportunities for students to acquire 21st century skills, we had no way to measure students' performance on these skills districtwide.

We discovered that, although educators have taught critical thinking and problem solving for centuries, assessing these skills en masse was more difficult than we anticipated. But we also discovered that developing instruments to measure such skills is possible—and can inform instruction in ways that enhance our ability to teach these skills.

Setting the Stage

While we were developing our new strategic plan in Virginia Beach in 2008, Harvard scholar Tony Wagner told us about an innovative performance assessment for high school students called the College and Work Readiness Assessment (Council for Aid to Education, 2007). After field-testing this assessment, we adopted it as an annual measure of our high school students' critical-thinking, problem-solving, and writing skills. We also decided to create similar performance tasks to administer to all Virginia Beach students in grades 4 and 7. These became our Integrated Performance Task (IPT). Our district was determined to move away from multiple-choice testing and the "deliver and recall" teaching methods it tends to foster.

Act I: Developing Rubrics

To define what critical-thinking, problem-solving, and written communication skills would look like, we developed a rubric spelling out what these skills should involve at the 4th and 7th grade levels. Our rubric employed a 4-point scale (novice, emerging, proficient, and advanced), with 3 defined as meeting the standard and 4 as exceeding the standard (Arter & McTighe, 2001).

We reviewed literature and other rubrics aligned with each skill, and then sat down to operationally define critical thinking (CT), problem solving (PS), and written communication (WC). We learned from our mistakes in this process. On an early draft, each skill was subdivided into two or three components—for example, critical thinking was made up of CT1, CT2, and CT3. We soon realized that with this arrangement, test responses would have to be scored seven times! The simpler one-page rubric we ended up with included only CT, PS, and WC.

Figure 1 shows the general operational definition we identified for each skill. As we created specific performance tasks for the Integrated Performance Task, we further defined what the performance of each skill at different levels of this rubric would look like for each task. For instance, Figure 2 spells out what students should be able to do at different levels of critical thinking for one of the 4th grade performance tasks, which involved evaluating an advertisement.

Figure 1 Sample Rubric

Figure 2 sample rubric

Act II: Creating Engaging Tasks

One reason we chose the College and Work Readiness Assessment as the basis for our performance tasks for elementary and middle learners is that it's an engaging test. Students have said they like the scenarios involving challenging, real-life problems that this assessment includes (Wagner, 2008). For each task, the assessment provides students with documents—like news stories, editorials, research briefs, and email threads—that give them context for each scenario. Students have authentic-feeling information to consider before they develop a solution to the problem within the task. We emulated these features in our Integrated Performance Task.

We generated age-appropriate scenarios to use as performance tasks, using the GRASPS framework developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). GRASPS stands for goal, role, audience, situation, product, and standards for success. Figure 3 shows how we defined each element on the GRASPS framework for a grade 4 performance task.

Figure 3  Sample Rubric

Students executing this performance task first see this passage outlining the situation:

You are a 4th grade student at Smith Elementary School. A local business wants to give your school money to help improve health for all of the students. The money will be used to pay for only one of these projects: An outdoor fitness course at the school or a fruit and salad bar for the lunchroom. Some students want a fitness course and some want a fruit and salad bar. … The school cannot have both. Your principal, Mr. Beach, wants you to help him make a choice.

With this task, test takers receive a fact sheet outlining children's playground injuries, a news story on the benefits of fruit and salad bars, and an advertisement exalting outdoor fitness courses. They receive these prompts:

1. Look at the advertisement on page 5. Find all the information that is incorrect, unbelievable, or misleading. Explain why you think the information is incorrect, unbelievable, or misleading. … Give reasons why the information is incorrect, unbelievable, or misleading.

2. Write a persuasive letter to Mr. Beach explaining your choice for improving health for all students at Smith Elementary School … Use information from this booklet to help you write your letter. [The prompt goes on to list specific elements to include in the letter.]

Again, we learned as we went. Early drafts of our performance tasks were long and wordy and included five open-ended prompts. Realizing that a test's content validity can be compromised if extraneous variables such as excessive length and readability are added to the mix (Benson, 1981), we reduced the number of prompts along with the length and reading level of material accompanying each task. We further reduced the possibility that reading ability would affect the results by instructing 4th grade teachers to read the directions, scenario, documents, and prompts aloud at the start of the testing period while students followed along in their booklets.

The Virginia Beach district has administered the IPT to our 4th and 7th graders twice a year for more than seven years. Every different performance task has undergone numerous revisions based on reviews and feedback from students, teachers, and assessment experts (including Marc Chun, formerly of the Council for Aid to Education, creators of the CWRA). For instance, when we piloted the Improving Health performance task, a few students said they didn't pick the salad bar because they hated salad. We changed "salad bar" to "fruit and salad bar" and added a photo to show the many food choices a fruit and salad bar offers.

Act III: Finding the Right Scoring System

Two concerns that many districts may have about performance assessments are the potential cost (Picus et al., 2010) and fears that the scoring process might be so subjective that the results will be neither reliable nor valid (Lane & Iwatani, 2016). Our district shared these concerns. As we developed our scoring process, we paid attention to these questions:

What will the scoring system cost us—in terms of time and money? How can we make it cost less? How can we make the scores we assign student responses as accurate as possible—including ensuring that different scorers give the same student response a similar score (interrater reliability) and that any scorer would give the same student response the same score on a different day (intrarater reliability)?

Until recently, we used one method to score student responses on the IPT administered in fall and another to score the spring assessment. Teachers at each individual school scored the fall responses (after some minimal training) and spring responses were scored centrally by a more thoroughly trained cadre of teachers. Employing different methods was appropriate because each assessment served a different purpose: The fall IPT is meant to introduce students to a lowstakes performance task and give teachers formative data they can use to shape instruction. The spring assessment is used more summatively; students and parents see their individual scores, and the district uses the aggregate results to measure its progress on strategic goals.

As with developing the performance tasks, we improved our scoring methods as we went. We realized quickly that, because there wasn't much time during the fall to conduct training sessions at schools, inconsistent scoring between teachers was inevitable. We believed using a centralized scoring plan for the spring IPT would increase interrater reliability on that assessment. But our first effort at centralized scoring showed we had a lot to learn.

One good decision we made was to have each response scored independently by two teachers, with a third teacher breaking the tie if the scores didn't match. Other parts of our initial attempt failed miserably. Our first scoring cadre met in summer 2011 to score the IPT assessment given that spring, and nearly 200 teacher-scorers came and went for four weeks. Bringing in a different group every week and training each scorer to evaluate all three IPT skills was a mistake.

The next summer, we conducted training on the first day of a three-week session. Teachers were required to come on that first day and attend for at least two weeks. Although these requirements reduced the number of scorers, they improved interrater agreement. It also helped that we began training each scorer to focus on only one skill for a single grade level. Scorers never had to shift their mindsets from critical thinking to problem solving to writing skills while scoring a response.

Data and personnel management were also problematic during our first centralized scoring adventure. The following year, we promoted key individuals to manage the training and the data, and assigned one teacher as a supervisor to guide a group of teachers in each of six scoring rooms. Training became more consistent, data was entered accurately, and teacher scorers preferred being supervised by responsible peers. Except for the first summer scoring cadre, interrater agreement between our teacher scorers has ranged from 66 to 82 percent across the three skills at different grade levels.

Recently, after six years of using trained teachers to score responses, we began using computerized scoring for the fall and spring IPT through a vendor. The Turnitin Scoring Engine uses multiple algorithms to replicate the scoring patterns of our most experienced teacher scorers after the engine has been "trained" by having 500 scored student responses fed through the system. This process now makes possible computerized scoring for each performance task scenario. When we develop new scenarios (as we did with one grade 7 task in fall 2017), our teacher scorers start from scratch to "retrain" the system, resulting in new scoring algorithms.

Computerized scoring has demonstrated reliability comparable to what we achieved using human scorers (and above the minimum acceptable value for low-stakes tests) and has cut costs for our spring scoring sessions. Releasing teachers from fall IPT scoring obligations has given them more time to look at their students' responses on the assessment and use what they learn to modify their instruction. However, we realize that scores from any one test seldom tell the whole story. As teachers review their students' IPT results and responses, we suggest they take the advice of Guskey and Jung (2016) and "trust your mind instead of your machine" (p. 54).

Encore: One More "C"

In 2016, Virginia enacted legislation calling for diploma standards aligned with the Profile of a Virginia Graduate.1 The legislation directed the state board of education to give "due consideration to critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship in the profile" (Virginia General Assembly, 2016). Our IPT was already measuring critical thinking and communication, and we began planning to assess citizenship skills as well. To provide an indicator of these skills, we created new scenarios involving ethical dilemmas that elementary and middle school students commonly face (such as bullying and cheating). We're administering these new performance tasks over the next eight months.

Driving Better Instruction

When we introduced our stakeholders to the idea of the IPT in 2010, it was interesting to see how different individuals and groups perceived it. Some students, parents, and educators saw it as just another test, but others recognized the value of this new type of assessment. After the initial rollout of the IPT, its value became clearer as we noticed that this performance assessment helped our teachers improve teaching and learning—bearing out what education researchers have found for decades. Many teachers started—or put stronger emphasis on—teaching students to process information, solve real-life problems, and express their thoughts in writing. For example, during the past seven years, social studies teachers have made the shift toward teaching analysis and interpretation of information in document-based performance tasks instead of teaching facts in isolation.

As educators at Virginia Beach schools try to live out the district's mission to prepare all students for college and careers, they now embed authentic tasks and performance-based assessments within every area of the curriculum. While classroom teachers use these smaller assessments to gauge students' acquisition of content as well as 21st century skills, the IPT offers a common, district-level view of our progress at teaching skills deemed essential by our strategic plan. Our teachers continue to use the IPT to gain a better understanding of how their students think and write. There are probably other good ways to assess hard-to-measure skills like problem solving on a large scale. But we think the IPT is a hard act to follow.


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