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

Creating Classrooms That Purposefully Challenge And Excite Students To Learn

Image: Calvin & Hobbs Cartoon

Daniel Willingham has devoted his energy to finding a link between thinking and learning in the classroom. His books and articles are great reads for teachers and parents. As a neuroscientist, he admires teachers because he knows that the human brain is a remarkable thing. And, as remarkable as it is, thinking is not what it does best. His advice helps you maximize the brain for learning!

  • Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education.
  • He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, and is the author of Why Don't Students Like School?, When Can You Trust the Experts?, Raising Kids Who Read, and The Reading Mind. His writing on education has appeared in sixteen languages.

Visit his website http://www.danielwillingham.com/ and you’ll find articles and writings that range from very technical to much less technical, all offering great advice for teachers of every grade level.

Book Cover: Why Don't Students Like School?

Why Don’t Students Like School? 
began as a list of nine principles that are so fundamental to the mind’s operation that they are as true in the classroom as they are in the laboratory, and therefore can reliably be applied to classroom situations. Many of these principles likely won’t surprise you:factual knowledge is important,practice is necessary, and so on. What may surprise you are the implications for teaching that follow. You’ll discover that authors routinely write only a fraction of what they mean, which I’ll argue implies very little for reading instruction, but a great deal for the factual knowledge that your students must gain. You’ll explore why you remember the plot of Star Wars without even trying, and you’ll learn how to harness that ease of learning for your classroom. You’ll follow the brilliant mind of the television doctor Gregory House as he solves a case, and you’ll discover why you should not try to get your students to think like real scientists.

Cognitive scientists do know more about the mind than these nine principles. These nine were selected because they meet the following four criteria.

  1. Each principle is true all the time, whether the person is in the laboratory or the classroom, alone or in a group.
  2. Each principle is supported by an enormous amount of data, not just a few studies.
  3. Using the principle can have a big impact on student learning.
  4. Each principle suggests classroom applications that teachers might not already know.

Education is similar to other fields of study in that scientific findings are useful, but not decisive. Cognitive principles do not prescribe how to teach, but they can help you predict how much your students are likely to learn. If you follow them, you maximize the chances that your students will flourish. Education makes better minds, and knowledge of the mind can make better education.

Please email me (psmith@easthamptonct.org) if you would like a copy of the book!

Selections from the article, “Why Don’t Student Like School? – Because the Mind Is Not Designed for Thinking”

By Daniel T. Willingham in American Educator

(For a PDF of the entire article, CLICK HERE.)

Your brain serves many purposes, and thinking is not the one it does best. Your brain also supports the ability to see and to move, for example, and these functions operate much more efficiently and reliably than our ability to think. It’s no accident that most of your brain’s real estate is devoted to them. The extra brain power is needed because seeing is actually more difficult than playing chess or solving calculus problems.

Compared with your ability to see and move, thinking is slow, effortful, and uncertain. To get a feel for why I say that, try this problem:

In an empty room are a candle, some matches, and a box
of tacks. The goal is to have the lit candle about five feet off
the ground. You’ve tried melting some of the wax on the
bottom of the candle and sticking it to the wall, but that
wasn’t effective. How can you get the lit candle to be five
feet off the ground without your having to hold it there?


Even though our brains are not set up for very efficient thinking, people actually enjoy mental activity, at least in some circumstances. They have hobbies like solving crossword puzzles or scrutinizing maps. They watch information-packed documentaries. They pursue careers—such as teaching—that offer greater mental challenge than competing careers, even if the pay is lower. Not only are they willing to think, they intentionally seek out situations that demand thought.

Solving problems brings pleasure. When I say “problem solving” here, I mean any cognitive work that succeeds; it might be understanding a difficult passage of prose, planning a garden, or sizing up an investment opportunity. There is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking. In the last 10 years, neuroscientists have discovered that there is overlap in the brain areas and chemicals that are important in learning and those that are important in the brain’s natural reward system. Many neuroscientists suspect that the two systems are related, even though they haven’t worked out the explicit tie between them yet.

It’s notable too that the pleasure is in the solving of the problem. Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable. In fact, it’s frustrating. And there’s not great pleasure in simply knowing the answer either… Even if someone doesn’t tell you the answer to a problem, once you’ve had too many hints you lose the sense that you’ve solved the problem and getting the answer doesn’t bring the same mental snap of satisfaction.

Mental work appeals to us because it offers the opportunity for that pleasant feeling when it succeeds. But not all types of thinking are equally attractive. People choose to work crossword puzzles, but not algebra problems. A biography of the vocalist Bono is more likely to sell well than a biography of the poet Keats. What characterizes the mental activity that people enjoy?


So if content is not enough to keep your attention, when does curiosity have staying power? The answer may lie in the difficulty of the problem. If we get a little burst of pleasure from solving a problem, then there’s no point in working on a problem that is too easy—there’ll be no pleasure when it’s solved because it didn’t feel like much of a problem in the first place. Then too, when you size up a problem as very difficult, you are judging that you’re unlikely to solve it, and therefore unlikely to get the satisfaction that would come with the solution. So there is no inconsistency in claiming that people avoid thought and in claiming that people are naturally curious—curiosity prompts people to explore new ideas and problems, but when they do, they quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem. If it’s too much or too little, people stop working on the problem if they can.


What Does This Mean for the Classroom?
Let’s begin with the question that opened this article: what can teachers do to make school enjoyable for students? From a cognitive perspective, an important factor is whether a student consistently experiences the pleasurable rush of solving a problem. So, what can teachers do to ensure that each student gets that pleasure?

Be Sure That There Are Problems to Be Solved
By “problem,” I don’t necessarily mean a question posed to the class by the teacher, or a mathematical puzzle. I mean cognitive work that presents a moderate challenge, including things like understanding a poem or thinking of novel uses for recyclable materials. This sort of cognitive work is, of course, the main stuff of teaching—we want our students to think. But without some attention, a lesson plan can become a long string of teacher explanations, with little opportunity for students to solve problems. So scan each lesson plan with an eye toward the cognitive work that students will be doing. How often does such work occur? Is it intermixed with cognitive breaks? When you have identified the challenges, consider whether they are open to negative outcomes like the students failing to understand what they are to do, or students being unlikely to solve the problem, or students simply trying to guess what you would like them to say or do.

Respect Students’ Limited Knowledge and Space in Working Memory
When trying to develop effective mental challenges for your students, bear in mind the cognitive limitations discussed here. For example, suppose you began a history lesson with a question: “You’ve all heard of the Boston Tea Party; why do you suppose the colonists dressed as Indians and dumped tea in the Boston harbor?” Do your students have the necessary background knowledge in memory to consider this question? What do they know about the relationship of the colonies and the British crown in 1773? Do they know about the social and economic significance of tea? Could they generate reasonable alternative courses of action? If they lack the appropriate background knowledge, the question you pose will quickly be judged as “boring.” If students lack the background knowledge to engage with a problem, save it for another time when they have the knowledge they need.

Equally important is the limit on working memory. Remember that people can only keep so much information in mind at once. Overloads to working memory are caused by things like multistep instructions, lists of unconnected facts, chains of logic more than two or three steps long, and the application of a just learned concept to new material (unless the concept is quite simple). The solution to working memory overloads is straightforward: slow the pace and use memory aids, such as writing on the blackboard, that save students from keeping as much information in working memory.

Identify Key Questions and Ensure That Problems Are Solvable
How can you make the problem interesting? A common strategy is to try to make the material “relevant” to students. This strategy sometimes works well, but it’s hard to use for some material. I remember my daughter’s math teacher telling me that he liked to use “real world” problems to capture his students’ interest, and gave an example from geometry that entailed a ladder propped against a house. I didn’t think that would do much for my 14-year-old. Another difficulty is that a teacher’s class may include two football fans, a doll collector, a NASCAR enthusiast, a horseback riding competitor—you get the idea. Our curiosity is provoked when we perceive a problem that we believe we can solve. What is the question that will engage students and make them want to know the answer?

One way to view schoolwork is as a series of answers. We want students to know Boyle’s law, or three causes of the U.S. Civil War, or why Poe’s raven kept saying “Nevermore.” Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question. But it’s the question that piques people’s interest. Being told an answer doesn’t do anything for you. When you plan a lesson, you start with the information you want students to know by its end. As a next step, consider what the key question for that lesson might be, and how you can frame that question so that it will be of the right level of difficulty to engage your students, and will respect your students’ cognitive limitations.

Reconsider When to Puzzle Students
Teachers often seek to draw students in to a lesson by presenting a problem that they believe interests students, or by conducting a demonstration or presenting a fact that they think students will find surprising. In either case, the goal is to puzzle students, to make them curious. This is a useful technique, but it’s worth considering whether these strategies might also be used not at the beginning of a lesson, but after the basic concepts have been learned. For example, a classic science demonstration is to put a burning piece of paper in a milk bottle and then put a boiled egg over the bottle opening. After the paper burns, the egg is sucked into the bottle. Students will no doubt be astonished, but if they don’t know the principle behind it, the demonstration is like a magic trick—it’s a momentary thrill, but one’s curiosity to understand may not be long lasting. Another strategy would be to conduct the demonstration after students know that warm air expands and that cooling air contracts, potentially forming a vacuum. That way they can use their new knowledge to think about the demonstration, which is no longer just a magic trick.

Act on Variations in Student Preparation
I don’t accept that some students are “just not very bright.” But it’s naïve to pretend that all students come to your class equally prepared to excel; they have had different preparation, as well as different levels of support at home, and they will, therefore, differ in their current abilities. If that’s true, and if what I’ve said in this article is true, it is self-defeating to give all of your students the same work or to offer all of them the same level of support. To the extent that you can, I think it’s smart to assign work to individuals or groups of students that is appropriate to their current level of competence, and/or to offer more (or less) support to students depending on how challenging you think they will find the assignment. Naturally, one wants to do this in a sensitive way, minimizing the extent to which these students will perceive themselves as behind the others. But the fact is that they are behind the others; giving them work that is beyond them is unlikely to help them catch up, and is likely to make them fall still further behind.

Change the Pace
Change grabs attention, as you no doubt know. When you change topics, start a new activity, or in some other way show

that you are shifting gears, virtually every student’s attention comes back to you. So plan these shifts and monitor your class’s attention to see whether you need to make them more often or less frequently.

Keep a Diary
The core idea presented in this article is that solving a problem gives people pleasure, but the problem must be easy enough to be solved yet difficult enough that it takes some mental effort. Finding this sweet spot of difficulty is not easy. Your experience in the classroom is your best guide. But don’t expect that you will remember how well a lesson plan worked a year later. When a lesson goes brilliantly well or down in flames, it feels at the time that we’ll never forget what happened; but the ravages of memory can surprise us, so write it down. Even if it’s just a quick scratch on a sticky note, try to make a habit of recording your success in gauging the level of difficulty in the problems you pose for your students.

(For a PDF of the entire article, CLICK HERE.)

March 11, 2019

Making sure the children in our classrooms (and homes) are “self-regulated.” 

One of the best features of the article below and the book described within is making sure that parents and teachers understand the difference between “self-control” and “self-regulation.” 

Who doesn’t want children like the ones described below:
…children with good self-regulation are aware, flexible, and creative—and, importantly, they are empowered to reason for themselves. “Selfregulation is a much bigger deal than simple self-control. It’s not just the ability to pause behavior, but it’s having the flexibility to pivot behavior…the ability to blaze a trail toward a goal, while still preserving trust and reciprocity in those around you.” With greater self-regulation, not only will children be more psychologically healthy, but they’ll also be more altruistic, kind, and connected with their community. 

And, yet the alarm bell rings when the case is made that the “qualities that support self-regulation are on the decline in American children.” 

Self-control in young children has regressed by two years since the 1940s. Empathy has declined among college students over 30 years, and creativity and critical thinking have declined over 20 years, especially among children in kindergarten through third grade. 

We’re headed in the wrong direction if we create good scholars and don’t create good people.

How Neuroscience Can Help Your Kid Make Good Choices BY DIANA DIVECHA | GREATER GOOD MAGAZINE 

Imagine the following scenario: Your eight-year-old son is repeatedly poked with a pencil by his classmate at school. How does he respond?

He might endure the pokes without complaint by using willpower, or he might stay silent, succumbing to feelings of fear or powerlessness. He could lose his self-control and act out, attacking his classmate verbally or poking him back. Or does your son “self-regulate” by considering his options and resources, taking stock of his feelings and strengths, reflecting on past experience, and responding deliberately? 

Self-regulation may sound like a tall order—but it’s also the best choice, according to Erin Clabough, a neuroscientist, mother of four, and author of the book Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control. Self-regulation is a skill that we need whenever we want to make a good choice or work toward a goal, especially when strong feelings are involved—in ourselves or others. 

Unfortunately, the qualities that support self-regulation are on the decline among American children. Self-control in young children has regressed by two years since the 1940s. (On the same task—standing still while not moving—today’s seven year olds perform the way five year olds did earlier, and today’s five year olds perform like the earlier three year olds.) Empathy has declined among college students over 30 years, and creativity and critical thinking have declined over 20 years, especially among children in kindergarten through third grade.

If we want to live in a civil, peaceful, and productive society, interrupting those trends is imperative. In her book, Clabough weaves developmental neuroscience with anecdotes from her family life to explain how parents can help children cultivate empathy, creativity, and self-control, and more importantly why they should. Together these qualities support a child’s ability to self-regulate in a balanced way, leading to greater personal fulfillment, better relationships, and enhanced success in life. 

Self-regulation vs. self-control 

Over the course of the book, Clabough draws a distinction between the multi-faceted self-regulation and self-control. 

Self-control has received a great deal of attention following the famous “marshmallow test,” which has been cited for decades. In this classic 1970 study, 1,000 four to six year olds were given a small reward (one marshmallow, pretzel, or cookie) but could choose not to eat it and wait for a larger reward later (more treats). Longitudinal studies showed that the children who could delay gratification had higher SAT scores in adolescence and better health, higher income, and lower crime rates 40 years later. The ability to delay gratification in early childhood was a better predictor of later success than intelligence or social class. 

But the marshmallow experiment may not mean what we think it means. As Clabough writes, it might actually have tested children’s obedience, how they felt about authority figures, or whether they trusted adults. Or it might have tested how much a child liked marshmallows, whether they wanted to wait, or whether they even had developed the capacity to (e.g., older children were better delayers than younger children).

In addition, Clabough argues, self-control is an incomplete goal, because it’s ultimately about not acting—something parents and teachers might find desirable in children, but not the only key to success in life. Self-regulation, on the other hand, is about taking action, she says, and teaching it should be a parenting goal. 

Someone with good self-regulation does have self-control and can, for example, stifle an initial gut reaction when necessary. But they also use creativity and empathy to consider alternative avenues that can help them accomplish their goals. They consider rules, but they also might creatively reframe them or invent new ones. In order to decide on an action, they take into account their own feelings and concerns, but they’re also empathic and consider other people’s perspectives in complex social situations. 

For example, your son who is being poked might first read the other child’s motivations—is the poking in fun and a continuation of recess play, is it a distressed call for help, or is it taunting and part of a bullying pattern? What are your son’s goals—does he want to continue the fun, is he trying to concentrate, or does he need help? Creativity allows him the freedom and flexibility to respond with a joke, or assert a boundary, or involve an adult; self-control allows him to thoughtfully make this choice rather than instinctively react. 

In other words, children with good self-regulation are aware, flexible, and creative—and, importantly, they are empowered to reason for themselves. “Self-regulation is a much bigger deal than simple self-control,” writes Clabough. “It’s not just the ability to pause behavior, but it’s having the flexibility to pivot behavior…the ability to blaze a trail toward a goal, while still preserving trust and reciprocity in those around you.”

With greater self-regulation, not only will children be more psychologically healthy, but they’ll also be more altruistic, kind, and connected with their community. And, Clabough writes, they can also expect greater academic success, a “career boost,” and “greater competitiveness in a global economy.” 

Image: second nature book cover

Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control (Sounds True, 2019, 288 pages)
Click here for link to Amazon

Self-regulation in the brain
Second Nature is probably the first, most applicable primer on brain development for non-scientists that neither overwhelms nor oversimplifies. Clabough describes stages of brain development to help parents have more appropriate expectations: What are children capable of, neurologically, at different ages? Which limitations can be gently stretched, and where do children need extra support? For example, she reports that while play in early childhood is important for creativity, today’s kids have fewer opportunities to play in early childhood classrooms, a trend that should be reversed.

Clabough offers a simple, friendly, but thorough description of the fundamental neurological processes of synaptogenesis (the formation of synaptic connections), pruning (the elimination of synaptic connections), and myelination (the insulation of connections to speed up transmission). It’s helpful for parents to know that they are actually reinforcing synaptic connections and shaping and remodeling neural circuits via the experiences, habits, and routines they offer to children. And what parents don’t do is as important as what they do. 

Clabough describes parenting approaches grounded in developmental science, including scaffolding (providing a framework or template for children to learn and practice new skills) and modeling (demonstrating self-regulation as a parent), along with supporting children’s autonomy and helping them reflect on their experiences. My favorite chapters in Second Nature are the how-to’s, in which she offers specific parenting guidance, hacks, and shortcuts. For example, she points out that brain cells that are working hard to maintain self-control use glucose at a faster rate, so one tip is to “feed your tantrum-thrower ASAP.”

She even points out how power structures affect self-regulation: Long-held privilege can erode empathy, making it harder to consider someone else’s point of view, while chronic disadvantage can be harmful to children. In her own family, she finds ways to switch up and equalize the power dynamics among the siblings—for example, by letting the youngest dole out treats or speak first, asking an older sibling to teach a younger one, exposing her children to different cultures, and encouraging friendships across ages and groups. This kind of sensitivity makes the book feel especially thoughtful and expansive.

Room for debate

Once in a while, Clabough strays into territory where scientific opinion varies or isn’t available yet. For example, she suggests that children who are bullied should “find a grownup,” but the current research doesn’t support such a simple approach. (We know that some grownups aren’t sympathetic or skilled and that most teenagers don’t want to turn to a grownup.) Instead, today’s research points to two key solutions to bullying: developing social and emotional skills in children and adults, and creating a positive school climate. 

Additionally, Clabough advises parents to confront other people’s children, or intrude in children’s social networks, to help set ground rules for their interactions—but a larger, more nuanced discussion is needed there. She also champions one or two social and emotional learning (SEL) programs that cultivate mindfulness without exploring the benefits of other SEL programs that have been proven to enhance self-understanding and social skills along with self-regulation. (Full disclosure: I have an affiliation with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.) I am heartened, though, by Clabough’s suggestion that children and adults alike should learn how brains grow and develop. Adults can only teach what they understand and embody, and the field of developmental neuroscience is rapidly advancing.

Empathy, creativity, and self-control are strengths that can be learned. And when they’re taught with respect for a child’s autonomy and decision-making capacity, they can support lifelong well-being. By nurturing these traits in our children, Clabough writes, “we will raise creative thinkers who get things done in a way that benefits others as well as themselves.”

Additional Information: 

Image: self-regulation vs self-control

There is a profound difference between self-regulation and self-control. Self-control is about inhibiting strong impulses; self-regulation, reducing the frequency and intensity of strong impulses by managing stress-load and recovery. In fact, self-regulation is what makes selfcontrol possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary. The reason lies deep inside the brain. – Dr. Stuart Shanker 

Dr. Shanker’s website.

March 4, 2019

Issues of anxiety/depression top of our teens’ biggest concerns – and that may be a good thing.

A recent report released by the Pew Research Center finds that issues surrounding anxiety and depression in our teens top all other concerns including bullying, drug addition, alcohol consumption, poverty, teen pregnancy, and gang involvement. 

The article included below (summarizing the research), highlights the apparent causes of anxiety/depression as a greater exposure to terror and acts of violence as well as an addiction to social media posting in which a teen measures his or her worth based on the posts of others and the “likes” of their own posts. It’s a trying time for our teens – where all news, all photos, all events have wide exposure and go viral very easily. 

But, I also believe that bringing issues of anxiety and depression to the forefront is a good thing. This generation is much more comfortable talking about depression than previous ones. I fully credit parents, teachers, and counselors who have worked to remove the stigma from issues of mental health, encouraging students to voice their concerns. In fact, the article indicates, that “increased rates of mental health issues could also be tied to better screening practices.” We’re doing a better job identifying issues and we’re better at addressing those issues as a society. Making sure our students can self-advocate for their needs is a sign of a healthy approach to mental health.

We need to be better at supporting out teens’ mental health because according to Pew, “Anxiety and depression are on the rise among America’s youth and, whether they personally suffer from these conditions or not, seven-in-ten teens today see them as major problems among their peers. Concern about mental health cuts across gender, racial and socioeconomic lines, with roughly equal shares of teens across demographic groups saying it is a significant issue in their community.” 

Image: Anxiety Chart

Click here for the website of the Pew research.

Click here for a PDF of the Pew research.
(If you have trouble accessing, email psmith@easthamptonct.org and I will send the PDF to you.) 

Please talk to our teens. Seven out of ten students asked, see anxiety and depression as the top problem facing teens.
Ask them how we as a school can help them. Ask them how you as a teacher, mentor, or parent can help them.
Just ask!

Image: Mental Health and Well-being

 Teenagers Say Depression and Anxiety Are Major Issues Among Their Peers By Karen Zraick in the New York Times 

Most American teenagers — across demographic groups — see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found. 

The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue. Fewer teenagers cited bullying, drug addiction or gangs as major problems; those from low-income households were more likely to do so. 

The consistency of the responses about mental health issues across gender, race and income lines was striking, said Juliana Horowitz, an associate director of research at the center. 

The survey also asked respondents if they considered alcohol consumption or teen pregnancy to be major problems among their peers. Half of the teenagers from households earning less than $30,000 said alcohol was a major problem; that number decreased to 43 percent among teenagers in households earning more than $75,000. 

Teenagers diverged most drastically across income lines on the issue of teen pregnancy. Fifty-five percent of teenagers in lower-income households said it was a major problem among their peers. Just 22 percent of teenagers in wealthier households agreed. 

The survey of 920 teenagers ages 13 to 17 in the United States was conducted online and by phone in the fall. In their report, the researchers broke down results by income level and gender but not race or ethnicity, citing the small sample size. 

Some psychologists have tied a growth in mental health issues among teenagers to increased social media use, academic pressure and frightening events like terror attacks and school shootings. 

Teenagers who grew up in the post-9/11 era, and amid many school shootings, may have anxiety tied to an environment filled with dire warnings about safety, said Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia. 

His center often helps children distinguish between the possible and the probable, to help put anxiety about frightening but rare events in proper context. 

Another major stressor is constant surveillance by peers on social media, and the “fear of missing out” it can generate, he added. Again, he said, guidance about how to understand social media — for example, a person taking 50 photos to get one perfect image — can help to dispel anxiety. 

Increased rates of mental health issues could also be tied to better screening practices, noted Lynn Bufka, an associate executive director at the American Psychological Association. 

But it is still cause for concern, she said. Teenagers are dealing with rapid changes to their bodies, hormones and lives in an era of nonstop information overload, and they need help developing coping strategies. 

“It becomes really important for the adults around teens to be stable influences in their lives, to give them space for them to talk,” she said. 

A study released in 2017 found that the number of children and adolescents admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of self-harm or suicide had more than doubled from 2008 to 2015, echoing trends in federal data.

Dr. Bufka said her top advice for adults worried about teenagers in their lives was simple: Listen, without “pouring on advice” or judging too much, and give them the opportunity to talk to a counselor or psychologist if needed. 

“Let them know that you’ve got their back,” she said.

February 25, 2019

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important foundation for life-ready learning and academic learning. 

How do you define success? Take a few moments to think about the definition of success you hold for your children. We know that we want our students to be academically successful. We know we want them to be prepared for college and/or careers. We know that we want our children to experience life-ready learning as they get ready for life’s biggest challenges. And, of course, we want our children to be happy, well-adjusted people. 

That’s a pretty big set of expectations – but certainly not an unrealistic list of expectations for any of us to have for our children. 

In several of the past Updates, I have taken time to include articles on Social and Emotional Learning, which I believe is a foundation for academic learning and life-ready development in our children.

Below are basic SEL Skills:

Basic Social & Emotional Learning Competencies

We need to focus on SEL skills to provide a foundation on which we will build (1) the acquisition of the transferable skills of the Profile of the Graduate for future success, (2) the achievement of academic skills for success in college and careers, and (3) the foundation of positive mental health & well-being. 

Poster: EHPS Profile of the Graduate

Social emotional Learning = +11 % academic growth

The Mental Health and Well-Being of our students are foundational elements of a robust educational experience.

Transferable Skills rely on SEL! 

If you look at the transferable skills that we are promoting in the East Hampton Profile of the Graduate, the SEL skills on the previous page serve as basic foundations that must be in place in order to promote the type of skills and life ready learning experiences we want our children to have in schools. Review the skills at each grade level of the Profile of the Graduate and realize that without a strong foundation based on the skills listed on the SEL chart, a student cannot achieve the transferable skills of the Profile of the Graduate considered to be important by our own school community in propelling our students into future success. 

Academic Skills rely on SEL! 
A recent McKinsey report (shared in an earlier Update) included support for SEL to promote academic achievement. “Studies show social and emotional competencies can increase cognitive skills, measured by academic achievement tests, by up to 11 percent. In fact, student mindsets are twice as predictive of a student’s academic achievement than their home environment or demographic, according to a McKinsey analysis.” The research cited is by Durlak et al. The Impact of Enhancing Students Social and Emotional Learning. If you would like a copy of the research email: psmith@easthamptonct.org. 

Mental Health & Well-Being rely on SEL Skills! 
There is as much of a need to address and support the mental health development and well-being of our students as their acquisition of transferable skills and academic skills for the sake of their future success.
 From E-News 
Life for most of us in today’s world takes a toll on our emotional, psychological, and physical well being. Research demonstrates that people are not emerging from our educational system with the mental framework and associated mental capacities to adequately meet the overwhelming demands of modern life. This inadequacy leaves most people with growing levels of anxiety and depression; disconnection from their experiences of joy, love, happiness, and inner peace; and a lack of sense of purpose in life with related personal and professional meaning.

Parents play a role, too! 

I urge every parent and teacher to take a moment to read the article below (if not the whole book on which the article/interview is based!) and become your child’s(or your student’s) “consultant.” It doesn’t mean you’re not a parent; it just prevents you from playing the role of “boss.” Make your home a “safe haven” for children, based on the description of home in the book as a place to “rest and recover.” 

Take a peek at the article below. If we can give our students a sense of “agency,” a feeling that they “control their own destiny,” we give them a great gift. 

Book Cover: The Self-Driven Child

From 1960 until 2002, high school and college students have steadily reported lower and lower levels of internal locus of control (the belief that they can control their own destiny) and high levels of external locus of control (the belief that their destiny is determined by external forces). This change has been associated with an increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. In fact, adolescents and young adults today are five to eight times more likely to experience the symptoms of an anxiety disorder than young people were at earlier times, including during the Great Depression, World War II and the cold war.
Teachers can teach, coaches can coach, guidance counselors can outline graduation requirements, but there’s one thing only parents can do: love their kids unconditionally and provide them with a safe base at home. For children who are stressed at school or in other parts of their lives, home should be a safe haven, a place to rest and recover. When kids feel that they are deeply loved even when they’re struggling, it builds resilience.” ― William Stixrud, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

The Key To Raising A Happy Child by Chris Kindred, NPR (An interview with Stixrud and Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child.

For much of the past half-century, children, adolescents and young adults in the U.S. have been saying they feel as though their lives are increasingly out of their control. At the same time, rates of anxiety and depression have risen steadily. 

What's the fix? Feeling in control of your own destiny. Let's call it "agency." 

"Agency may be the one most important factor in human happiness and well-being."

So write William Stixrud and Ned Johnson in their new book, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. Feeling out of control can cause debilitating stress and destroy self-motivation. 

Building agency begins with parents, because it has to be cultivated and nurtured in childhood, write Stixrud and Johnson. But many parents find that difficult, since giving kids more control requires parents to give up some of their own. 

Instead of trusting kids with choices — small at first, but bigger as adolescence progresses — many parents insist on micromanaging everything from homework to friendships. For these parents, Stixrud and Johnson have a simple message:

Stop. Instead of thinking of yourself as your child's boss or manager, try consultant. 

To discuss the book's big ideas, I spoke with Bill Stixrud, a neuropsychologist who has spent the past 30 years helping parents and kids navigate life's challenges. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Let's start with a basic definition from the book's title. What does it mean for a child to be self-driven?
When I used to do psychotherapy, I was struck by how many young adults I saw who said, "I feel like I've spent my whole life trying to live up to other people's expectations. I want to try to figure out what's really important to me."

I think that the self-driven child is driven by internal motivation as opposed to other people's expectations, rewards, insecurity or fear. To be self-driven, kids need to have a sense of control over their lives and are energetic about directing their lives in the direction they want to go. 

Consultants, not managers? I can imagine some parents feeling really uncomfortable giving up that much control over their children's lives. 

When I used to do therapy — I'm going back 30 years now — I'd see family after family that said, "I hate the time after dinner at our house because it's World War III." And I was struck by how many of these meaningless fights would happen over homework — completely unproductive fights, hugely stressful, pitting the kid against his parents.

I just came up with this phrase: "I love you too much to fight with you about your homework." 

What I said to parents is that, if you decide you're not going to fight about this anymore, you say instead, "How can I help?" You think about yourself as a consultant and acknowledge respectfully that it's the kid's homework. You can't make your child do it. What you can do is offer to help. 

You can set up what I call consulting hours between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., and just say, "I'm not going to fight with you. I just love you too much. I don't want all this friction. This is your work, and I respect that you can figure this out and I'll help you." A family just told me that the temperature went down in their house by 20 degrees. 

Letting go can be especially hard for anxious parents, who worry a lot about their kids getting good grades, getting into a good college, landing a good job, etc. How do you help them let go?
All of us have what I call a shared delusion: that the path to becoming successful is extremely narrow and, if you fall off it, you're sunk. And it just doesn't take very long to look around and realize how untrue that is. 

Research suggests that it doesn't make that much difference where you go to college in terms of how successful you are financially or professionally or how satisfied you are or how happy you are. The idea that, somehow, getting into the most elite college at any cost is the right focus of a kid's development is completely wrong. It's wrong-headed. And many parents with enough support can come to see that and make peace with it. But it's a big project because so much of the world that we live in gives the opposite message.

Also, we need to make peace with reality. And the reality is, you can't make a kid do his work. And that means it can't be the parent's responsibility to ensure that the kid always does his homework and does it well. 

In some ways, it's also disrespectful to the kid. You know, I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That's why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, "You can't do this on your own." 

One of my favorite moments in the book is when you reveal how you, as a parent, approached homework and report cards with your kids. What was the message you were trying to convey to them? 

When my kids were little, I had just been reading some research that suggested there's a very low correlation between grades and success in life. And so, when my kids were in elementary school, I said, "I'm happy to look at your report card, but I don't care that much. I care much more that you work hard to develop yourself, and part of that is developing yourself as a student. But also it means developing yourself as a person. If you want to be an athlete or musician or whatever is important to you, I care much more about that because that's the stuff — that self-development — that helps you be successful. It's not the grades."

When my daughter was in high school, she came to a lecture I gave on the adolescent brain, in which I mentioned this low correlation between grades and success and how research on valedictorians suggests that they don't do better than other college graduates once they're in their mid-20s. Driving home, she said, "You know, I liked the lecture, but I don't really believe that you believe that stuff about the grades." 

I told her, "I absolutely believe it." In fact, I believed it enough that I offered her a hundred bucks to get a C on her next report card. 

I assume she was an A student at the time?
Yeah, she's now got a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. She's a brilliant girl and a really good student. But I offered her a hundred dollars for a C, so she could understand and have the experience that, you know, one bad thing or one thing that seems like a disaster is just not that big a deal.

She didn't take you up on it? 

She never did. But I think it helped her to know that there's many ways people become successful. And I think that message was really helpful to my son, who did not learn easily and needed help to get through school. He was a later bloomer but ultimately got a Ph.D. in psychology and is an incredible person.

I walked this walk with him — in the sense that I never oversaw his homework. If I happened to notice that he hadn't done a very good job on something, I'd offer some suggestions, and often he'd take me up on it. Other times, he wouldn't. And I'd say, "This is your education. I'll help wherever I can." 

On the subject of homework, you say: Inspire but don't require. 
I wrote a couple papers on homework in 1986, and I reviewed what we know about the effects of homework on learning. And I was dumbfounded to learn at that time that there's virtually no correlation between the amount of time spent on homework and what you learn in elementary school. And that's partly why I concluded that it doesn't make sense to fight with kids and have all this stress about something that doesn't seem to contribute to learning.
Thirty-some years later, it's still the case that there's no compelling evidence that homework contributes to learning in elementary school and even in middle school — or in high school beyond two, 2 1/2 hours. It just doesn't do much.

I think the wisest thing is to try to inspire kids to learn at home. I don't want kids going home and being on social media or video games all night. I want them to be working on developing themselves, and I want teachers to inspire kids to learn. Tell them, "Here's what you're going to get out of this assignment. I think it will help you. Or find a different way to learn this material." But don't require homework and grade it because, in my opinion, it confuses the means for the end. 

You say the best way to motivate a child for the things you think he should focus on is to let him spend time on the things he wants to focus on. Why?
There's a scientist by the name of Reed Larson who studies adolescent development with a strong focus on motivation. And he concluded some years ago that the best way to develop a self-motivated, older-adolescent adult is to encourage their participation in their pastimes — in the stuff they love. 

The point he's made is that, if a kid is deeply involved in something that he loves to do, he's going to create a brain-state that combines high focus, high energy, high effort and low stress. Ideally, at least in our professional lives, that's where we want to be most of the time. We want to be interested, engaged, active, alert, and focused but not highly stressed. 

In my own experience, I was a C+ student in high school, but I spent at least two or three hours a night working on rock 'n' roll music. I was in a band and learned to play instruments and learning chord structure and practicing harmony parts. Oftentimes, I'd tell myself, "Well, I'll go into my music room for half an hour, and then I'll do some homework." But commonly, two-and-a-half hours later, I'd come out and have no idea where all the time went. 

I feel that I really sculpted a brain that, once I found something professionally that really speaks to me, I could go pedal to the metal.

February 18, 2019

The kids are alright!

Everyone has their own opinion on how much screen time is good for children. And, while I agree it should be limited, it doesn’t mean that time on screen is bad for them. Jordan Shapiro’s book is for you if you want to navigate through the world as it relates to our children and how they are learning. His claim is that our children are growing up in an age that is very different that the age in which most of us grew up. As a result, they are experiencing youth in a way that is preparing them for their own world, their own future.

The book is a phenomenal guide offering advice for nervous parents! It’s also a great read for teachers as the children in your classroom are learning for a future that most of us cannot imagine!

Book Cover: The New Childhood

From The New Childhood – Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World by Jordan Shapiro

I’ve listened to concerned parents, teachers, and caregivers… Sounding exactly like the worried technophobes of centuries past, they are vexed about how digital play is defiling childhood, causing neurological damage, ruining eyesight, creating an obesity epidemic, triggering depression, and keeping our kids indoors. Are our kids losing the ability to reflect and be introspective? Does the speed and ease of digital communication prevent them from learning how to be good conversationalists? Are they learning to log off rather than resolving everyday conflicts? Will emotions and 280-character tweets corrode literacy? Will easy, ready-at-hand access to constant interactive stimulation hinder the next generation’s ability to cultivate critical thinking skills?

The simple answer to all these questions is no.

…The shift away from skateboards and scooters toward keyboards and touchscreens provokes anxiety. But for my children’s sake, I need to set aside my own knee-jerk fear of change and disruption. I need to recognize that most of us parents, teachers, caregivers – even politicians – are thinking about it all wrong. Despite being perfectly aware that every generation can and should play in unique ways, grownups are easily seduced by the nostalgic fantasy of a childhood that mirrors the one we remember. From our kids, we had hoped to see our own youth reflected back…

Are you ready for the hard-to-swallow truth? The new toys are more engaging because they involve a different way of interacting with the world, a different way of thinking, a different way of living, learning, and loving. They are preparing kids for a connected world…

I know parenting is hard. Especially when you don’t really understand the game. There is no rule book describing what it is supposed to look like in the twenty-first century because digital play-like all the other transformative technological shifts that came before – is changing the very nature of childrearing.

Parents, teachers, and caregivers all need to think critically and intentionally about how they can and should adjust their habits, expectations, and customs accordingly.

Jordan Shapiro is a strong proponent of the “macro-minded” citizen, defined as one who has the “habits of mind that are associated with a world-wide outlook.” He feels that digital tools are key in creating macro-minded learners. In fact, he feels it is our responsibility as teachers and parents to nurture a generation of macro-minded citizens. Email me and I will send you a 37-page PDF guide for global education by Shapiro titled “Digital Play for Global Citizens.”

From the introduction to Digital Play for Global Citizens

(37 pages)by Jordan Shapriro

Book Cover: Digital Play for Global Citizen

The future is already here. We are now living, learning, and teaching in a connected world. And it’s not just the technology. Yes, digital tools bring us together: they allow us to communicate in spectacular ways. But they represent only one example of the “networked” phenomenon. There’s also globalization, worldwide economic interdependence, faster transportation, migration, urbanization, and more.
 We have all become global citizens of a connected world. Now, everyone needs to cultivate a capacity for connected thinking. To live and thrive in the 21st century, today’s children require more than just the ability to operate the tools of the times. They also need to develop the dispositions, knowledge, and skills required to understand the world, to make sense of how a globalized economy shapes their lives, and to consider how they can contribute to a worldwide community. 
This guide can help grownups prepare children for tomorrow. Adults can leverage connected tools to create opportunities for meaningful digital play. Using the platforms and technologies that kids already love, teachers, parents, and caregivers can introduce young people to some of the most complex geopolitical, economic, and environmental issues that shape our world. We can nurture macro-minded citizens who are ready to live productive, engaged, and fulfilled lives in a globalized world.

Digital Play for Serious Learning An interview with Jordan Shapiro, author of The New Childhood, on roles of parents and schools in teaching children to use technology through play by Matthew Farber - from Mind/Shift

For the past several years, Jordan Shapiro has been busy writing and speaking about games and digital play. He’s a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a think tank dedicated to researching how children interact with media, and a nonresident fellow at the Center for Universal Education, which is part of the Brookings Institution. He teaches at Temple University, in Philadelphia, where he lives.

I caught up with Shapiro recently to discuss his new book, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, which examines the importance of digital play, as well as ideas for teaching and parenting kids.

FARBER: In your book, you often use the phrase digital play to describe ways children can learn today. How do you define digital play?

SHAPIRO: I switched my language from being games-specific to digital play a few years ago. Part of the reason was that I saw a lot of resistance [from schools] to games. But there isn’t as much resistance to digital play. I also changed my language because of what I observed watching kids use Scratch—or a lot of what I see in Minecraft. These are not really what you would call games. Scratch and Minecraft don’t have the same kind of rules as games, but kids are still playing, and they are still doing something digital. In my mind, digital play became a broad catchall that added playful learning and creativity to gaming.

FARBER: Where do you see digital play fitting in today’s classrooms?

SHAPIRO: Kids need the chance to play with each other and to play by themselves in digital playgrounds. The only way kids are going to learn to have the necessary social-emotional skills in a way that makes sense and that is applicable to that tool set is to play with that tool set.

When you look at the benefits of digital play, the resistance schools have doesn’t really make any sense. While schools have very little resistance to coding, there is resistance to game-based learning. There is also very little resistance to 3D printing or maker labs, which are digital play. That doesn’t make sense to me—if you think it’s great for kids to develop skills in a digital world, then that is true for games and for digital creation.

FARBER: How can teachers encourage students to perceive these technologies as tools for self-expression?

SHAPIRO: All self-expression is technological. All self-expression is done with tools, whether that is written words or spoken words or numbers or blocks or gears. Most of our human creations allow us to express a vision of the world, the things we care about.

Ask how students can use the tools to make other things. For instance, students can build a game that tells a story that makes a point. If you look at the games on the Games for Change website, many of them are basically essays that use games to make an argument: Papers, Please is an essay on how to think about bureaucracy. Why not encourage kids to make those types of games as well as writing essays?

FARBER: I grew up with Sesame Street, and PBS has championed the notion of co-viewing, which encouraged parents to help kids make connections from TV to the real world. Where do you see co-viewing today?

SHAPIRO: Yes, the co-viewing language came out of Sesame Workshop. Now the phrase is joint media engagement, which also includes interactive media. [Co-viewing] is key. The more that you sit with your kids and help them make sense of the media they’re exposed to, the more that becomes a meaningful engagement with media. When parents and children sit together and discuss what they see, there is learning happening. Kids are learning about how we think about the world.

So when people ask me if my kids play violent video games, I tell them that they can play whatever they want. I’m OK with that because for the first 10 years of their lives, I had a constant conversation going on about real violence and screen violence. When they first played Fortnite, we had a long conversation about it at the dinner table. Because they had that conversation, I know they can make sense of it, and how to integrate that into an ethical view of the world. That’s what parenting is, but for some reason we don’t seem to know what we are doing when it comes to the screen.

FARBER: Why do you think there’s so much talk lately about screen time?

SHAPIRO: My kids get their homework on Google Classroom, but then they also get a lot of anti-screen rhetoric. Kids get confused messages at school and at home. Parents say it’s a terrible thing to use your device, and then we are all using our devices just as often.

Teachers should think about how we can redesign schools so we can have a healthy relationship with these devices—teach students to think and build the world using these devices, and how to interact with the world in intelligent, responsible, ethical ways.

That’s what schools do, that’s what we teach students to do with books, and with words and numbers. We teach how to live in a life with other people. If schools were doing that, we might see less vilifying of devices at home. If schools got more serious about integrating devices into the routine of the school day, then you’d start to see kids integrate them better into their own social routines.


Graphic: the Joan Ganz Cooney Center


Learn about the best ways to educate students in our digital world – their ever-evolving home!

February 11, 2019

We can better promote academics and wellness by promoting “self-compassion.”     Image:  Book Cover: May I be Kind by Kirsten Neff

If you recall the movement that promoted “self-esteem,” you may have a very wrong impression when you hear the term, “self-compassion.” The goal in self-compassion is about being kind to oneself. Knowing that we are often more kind to others than ourselves, all of us can benefit from the practice of self-compassion, not just students. 

This article is a nice follow up to last week’s article on being a “warm demander.” Can you help your students or your own children increase their own self-compassion? Read below to see the resulting benefits of self-compassion on academic motivation and growth mindset.

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness 

Many of today’s parents and teachers came of age in the 1980s and 1990s — a time when the self-esteem movement was in its zenith. Self-esteem was supposed to be a panacea for a variety of social challenges, from substance abuse to violent crime. The research, however, did not support such broad claims. 

If teachers and parents want children to develop resilience and strength, a better approach is to teach them selfcompassion, said Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. “Self-esteem is a judgment about how valuable I am: very valuable, not so good, not valuable at all.” 

In contrast, “self-compassion isn’t about self-evaluation at all,” said Neff. “It’s about being kind to oneself. Selfcompassion is a healthy source of self-worth because it’s not contingent and it's unconditional. It’s much more stable over time because it is not dependent on external markers of success such as grades.” 

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation

Most of us have a habitual way of talking to ourselves when we make a mistake or struggle with something. For many people, said Neff, self-criticism is the “number one way we motivate ourselves.” It’s the voice in our head that reminds us of all the consequences that will befall us if we fail that quiz or eat that tub of ice cream. But self-criticism brings with it “lots of unintended consequences such as anxiety and fear of failure,” said Neff. Students may become more susceptible to perfectionism and procrastination “because the fear of not measuring up looms large.” 

When a student develops self-compassion, the seat of motivation shifts. Since internal value doesn’t depend on external achievement, it frees students up to experiment, take risks and try new paths. “Self-compassion leads to learning goals instead of performance goals — such as trying again after messing up,” said Neff. “It’s a better academic motivator than self-criticism. It’s a motivation of care instead of a motivation of fear.”

Neff said that there is an empirical link between self-compassion and growth mindset (the belief that intelligence is malleable and responsive to effort). Research shows that students who adopt a growth mindset thrive on challenges, show resilience in the face of obstacles and view failure as part of the learning process. Both self-compassion and growth mindset are robust responses to the inevitable ups and downs of life. “When we are self-compassionate, we remind ourselves ‘I am a human and the human condition is imperfect for all of us,’ ” said Neff. 

How Adults Can Teach Children Self-Compassion 

The good news is that parents and educators “can teach students to be self-compassionate,” said Neff. “It is a learnable skill. Our culture discourages it — you have to go against the grain a little bit — but it’s a common-sense idea.” Selfcompassion isn’t self-pity (poor me!) and it isn’t arrogance (I’m the best). Instead, it’s about treating yourself and your shortcomings with kindness, reminding yourself that you are human and -- like all humans -- you are a work in progress. Neff says, “Most of us have learned how to be supportive of others. We have to give ourselves permission to treat ourselves the same way.” 

Trade Criticism for Supportive Feedback

Parents can model self-compassion in the language they use with their children. For example, said Neff, if your child comes home with a less-than-stellar grade, help them view it as data — as an indicator of things what they need to work on — instead of as a judgment of their intelligence. Instead of harsh criticism, give them feedback that is “designed to help, support, encourage.” 

Model Compassionate Self-Talk 

Adults can also model how they process challenges. “When you fail or make a mistake, talk it through out loud with your kids. Use language that communicates, ‘It’s OK to make mistakes. Now what can I learn from this?’ ” Compassionate selftalk reminds us of our common humanity, the inevitability of mistakes, and our ability to bounce back and keep going. It shifts the self-talk from “I am a failure — I am so ashamed of myself” to “Everyone messes up sometimes — let’s see what I can learn from this situation so I can try again.” In this way, self-compassion helps us move on to problem-solving faster, said Neff. Instead of getting stuck in a loop of negative thoughts and feelings, we can take a deep breath and move on to what to do next.

Be a Good Friend to Yourself 

To make self-compassion a concrete idea for children, ask them to compare how they treat themselves to how they treat a friend. When we treat ourselves with the same kindness and care that we offer a good friend, we are practicing selfcompassion. “By age 7, children have learned about the concept of friendship. A lot of their developmental energy is spent on learning how to be a good friend,” said Neff. So when students are feeling frustrated or upset, ask them, “What would you say to a friend in this situation?” This simple question can help students reflect on the situation and reframe their response.

Calm the Nervous System 

When something goes wrong, students’ bodies may experience a spike of adrenaline. The heart starts to race, breathing gets more shallow — and this can make it harder to feel calm. Neff said that in these moments, we can teach kids to practice self-compassion by taking deep breaths while putting their hand on their heart. Gentle, caring touch releases oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel safe and connected. Neff said, “Touch is one of the most powerful symbols of care. So if you are feeling upset, put your hand on your heart. Hold your own hand. Hug yourself. Even if your brain at the moment is full of the storyline of how bad you are, you can put your hand on your heart and calm your physiology down.” 

Self-Compassion and Trauma

Teaching self-compassion to children who have a history of trauma is particularly important — and particularly challenging. Dr. Patricia Jennings, associate professor at the University of Virginia and author of the new book, The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, said that these children “often feel very bad about themselves, and their ability to feel compassion for themselves may be impaired. They don’t even know how to accept compassion from other people yet.” In these situations, caring teachers can literally rewire some of the neural pathways associated with attachment. 

Jennings said one of the most transformational messages these children can learn from teachers is, “I know there are people in the world who care about me.” This isn’t always easy: Children who have experienced trauma may exhibit challenging behaviors in the classroom. But with time and consistency, these children can begin to internalize the message, “I really care about you. I care about how you are doing. And I care about how hard you are trying,” said Jennings. Helping children feel and accept compassion from someone else is a “good first step to helping them develop self-compassion.”

For parents and teachers who are not used to offering themselves kindness, teaching and modeling self-compassion for children is a gift we can give ourselves. “Self-compassion is a way of reparenting yourself,” said Neff. “If you grew up with really critical parents, it’s a chance to treat yourself like an unconditionally loving, supportive parent.” 

If you would like a brief introduction to the writing of Dr. Kristen Neff, email me at (psmith@easthamptonct.org) and I will send you a PDF copy of “The Science of Self Compassion.” The PDF is a brief introduction to her thoughts on self-compassion which were later expanded into the book form below.

 Further reading:

Image: Book cover Self Compassion by Kristin Neff

Be kinder to
And then let your

kindness flood

the world.

Pema Chödrön

February 4, 2020

Are you a “warm demander? Image: All learning is Social and Emotional book cover

According to the excerpt that I have included from the book, All Learning is Social and Emotional:

Warm demanders expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment. 

Student success is based on the relationship between the Teacher and the Student. It’s a relationship that serves as a basic and foundational element in our calling to be teachers. Those who have mastered teaching have mastered the art of building relationships with students. There is no learning on the part of students without an emotional connection to that learning – and the teacher who cannot create an environment in which the student’s social-emotional needs are met is doomed to fail. 

Social-emotional skills in our students are essential life-ready skills and we must develop those skills in order to ensure success in careers and life. 

Let me re-share my favorite quotes from last week’s article, “Sharpening the focus on social Emotional Skills:”

Studies show social and emotional competencies can increase cognitive skills, measured by academic achievement tests, by up to 11 percent. In fact, student mindsets are twice as predictive of a student’s academic achievement than their home environment or demographic, according to a McKinsey analysis. 

Social-emotional skills provide students with the perspective and flexibility necessary to function at a high level even when faced with uncertainty, change, pressure, stress, and other work and life challenges. This is critical, because change and uncertainty are going to be increasingly pervasive for the class of 2030. Trends indicate the class of 2030 will change jobs more frequently than any previous generation, as across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf life of employees’ existing skill sets.

This week I have included two short highlights from the book, All Learning is Social and Emotional. The sections included refer to “Relationship Building” and “Empathy.” 

The author speaks to the skilled practitioner in the classroom as a “Warm Demander.” Do you match the definition? 

From All Learning is Social and Emotional by Frey, Fisher, and Smith - ASCD 

Relationship Building 

Relationships are critical in the learning lives of students. The relationship between teacher and student exerts a strong influence on achievement, reported by Hattie (2009) as having an effect size of .52. As well, when we strive to build relationships with students, we model how it is that they can do so with others, including peers. Therefore, before discussing ways to foster peer relationships, it is crucial that we attend to how we ourselves model by example the kinds of healthy relationships we want in our classrooms. 

Student–Teacher Relationships 

All relationships, regardless of the age of the people involved, are predicated on a foundation of respect and regard. We can't demand that students form healthy relationships with peers if we don't ourselves demonstrate the value of respect and regard we hold for our own students. Students look to us for guidance in how in-school relationships should be formed. To lay the foundation for healthy, growth-producing relationships with students, educators need to do the following:

  • Know students' names and know how to pronounce those names correctly.
  • Be mindful of the attitude we communicate through verbal and nonverbal language, including facial
  • expressions, and how this can make students feel welcomed (or not).
  • Know students' interests and find things for them to learn and read that honor and help them explore
  • and expand those interests.
  • Make positive connections with students' families through home visits, phone calls, or e-mail.
  • Provide quality instruction that is relevant for students.

There is an adage in education that students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Caring is an important part of a relationship. When we use people's names correctly, speak to them about their interests, and seek to make connections to their lives, we are drawing a blueprint for how relationships are built. We exhibit caring behaviors so that in turn students can use them with each other. 

Image: Red starEffective student-teacher relationships are trusting and supportive, but they are also characterized by high expectations. In other words, "caring" is not just about "being nice." Students expect to be challenged and supported; what they need are teachers who are "warm demanders" (Vasquez, 1989). Delpit (2012) notes that warm demanders "expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment" (p. 77). That's the type of relationship that accelerates learning.

When it comes to practical things you can do to position yourself to be a warm demander, we direct you to the work of Mark Finnis (2018) of Independent Thinking, who has developed a list of 33 ways to build better relationships with students (see Figure 5.1).

Figure 5.1. 33 Ways to Build Better Relationships with Students 

1. Be who you needed when you were at school.
2. Connect before content.
3. Make regular deposits into the "social capital" bank.
4. Small ripples create big waves; do the simple things well.
5. Don't worry about doing things 100 percent better; rather, do 100 things 1 percent better.
6. Know your children well and allow them to know you well.
7. Don't be afraid of the "L word" … Love. Spread it thick.
8. Some children come to school to learn, others to be loved.
9. Every child (and adult) needs a champion.
10. Engagement has three forms: physical, emotional, and mental.
11. The language we use creates the reality we experience.
12. "Difficult child" or "child with difficulties"? "Troubled family" or a "family with troubles"?
13. Get involved earlier in the life of the child, earlier in the life of the problem.
14. Separate the deed from the doer.
15. Healthy relationships are built on high challenge and high support.
16. Punishment creates resentment rather than reflection.
17. There are always three truths: my truth, your truth, and the truth.
18. The best apology is changed behavior.
19. The "small stuff" is the big stuff.
20. Create a sense of belonging.
21. Catch them getting it right more than you catch them getting it wrong.
22. Magnify strengths rather than weaknesses, and focus on gifts rather than deficits. 23. The language we use to describe an experience often becomes the experience.
24. Difficult conversations—do they have to be? Remember, there is no easy way to poke people in the eye. However we do it, it's going to sting a little.
25. Strike when the iron's cold.
26. We learn to care by being cared for.
27. If you're not modeling what you're teaching, you're teaching something different.
28. Listening is what you do to understand, not time spent simply waiting to reply.
29. Silence isn't a gap in the conversation; it is part of the conversation.
30. Culture exists in every organization, but is yours by design or by default?
31. Everything looks better when you put it in a circle.
32. Smile at children; it's good for you both.
33. There is always another way. 
Source: Adapted with permission from "33 Ways to Build Better Relationships," by M. Finnis. Copyright 2018 by Independent Thinking.

Peer Relationships

When students experience healthy, growth-producing relationships with their teachers, they are more likely to mirror those actions and behaviors with their peers. By teaching students to engage with peers and develop respect for one another, we provide them with avenues for dealing more productively with problems. Students with healthy relationships tend to work through issues rather than express their anger on a social media platform or with their fists. Although peer relationships require more than modeling from adults, the examples adults provide students set the expectations for their interactions with others. 

Feeling a sense of belonging to a group is essential for our well-being as social animals. Adolescence is a particularly challenging time, and teenagers are especially vulnerable to feeling alienated and marginalized. At this developmental stage, relationships with peers grow in importance, and feeling disliked is associated with loss of learning, with a –.19 effect size (Hattie, 2009), equivalent to roughly a half a year of lost learning. A measure of relationships is the extent to which one feels a sense of relatedness to others—in other words, connected to others. Relatedness is defined as one's perception that peers care about you, respect you, and see you as a valued member of a group or team. A study of nearly 1,100 middle and high school students in 65 schools found that peer relatedness was stronger in classrooms where helping behaviors were valued, and where students had opportunities to interact academically with one another (Mikami, Ruzeck, Hafen, Gregory, & Allen, 2017). Although teachers are not able to make friendships materialize out of thin air, we can set the stage for relationships to strengthen among our students. 

Ninth grade history teacher Aja Buchanan structures her classroom so that students get to know one another from the first day. They introduce themselves by writing a short biography, then convert the text into a word cloud graphic of their own design. "They love seeing their work displayed," she smiled. "Never too old for that." She makes a point of making sure that she and everyone else in the room learns each other's names by the end of the first week, reinforcing that a sign of respect is using one another's names correctly. She designs her instruction to emphasize collaborative learning ("I tell them my goal is that about half of the instructional minutes during the week are going to be in small groups, so they should get used to it"), then proceeds to teach the communication skills needed to function well as a member of a team. "These are life skills, not just history skills. I tell them, 'If you're able to establish a relationship with other people quickly, it makes work and life just a little bit easier,'" said Ms. Buchanan. 

Another reason relationships with others are important is they help us develop our identity and agency. Mike Holmes's 5th grade class hosts a short "gratitude circle" once a week, during which students share their appreciation for each other. "This brief activity provides students a healthy transition back to the learning environment and some practice with oral language skills, not to mention relationship building," he said. At the start of the year, it's often hard for students to accept the compliments, Mr. Holmes told us. "They get better at it, though," he added. "I love to watch their confidence and pride in themselves grow." 

On one particular afternoon, the students shared the following compliments:

  •  "Andrew, thank you for helping me today with my math problems. You didn't tell me the answers, but you helped me a lot."
  •  "Dulce, it made me happy when you invited me to play at lunch. I probably would have just sat at the table."
  • "Najeed, you sing really good. Someday, you should sing for our class."
  • "Taylor, you are so brave. I don't think you are afraid of anything."

Relationship with the School 

Finally, students who have a good relationship with their school and believe they are valued members of the school community will be likely to exhibit the desire to repair harm when it occurs. 

Our goal is for students to develop the habit of thinking before they act, reflecting on the actions they do take, and learning from the experience. Relationships students have with adults in the school can be highly influential in this process. Students who respect these adults don't often engage in problematic behavior. When they do, they have to face the adults they care about and make amends for what they have done. We also hope that our students reach the point when they care about the school as a whole, and decide not to take certain actions because they don't want the school to be affected in a negative way. This is a long-term goal that requires a significant amount of investment, but when students reach that pinnacle in their thinking, great changes occur. 

At the school where we work, students' relationships with the school are at the center of what we do. We describe the process in more detail in How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom (Fisher et al., 2012), using five pillars intended to build affiliation between the organization and the students who learn there. Briefly:

  • Welcome is our investment in policies for how students and their families feel a sense of belonging.
  •  Do No Harm is our investment in restorative practices.
  • Choice Words is our investment in using language that supports students' sense of identity and agency.
  • Never Too Late to Learn is our investment in policies related to academic and behavioral interventions.
  • Best School in the Universe is our investment in ourselves as we engage in continuous improvement.

We are reminded of Miguel, an 11th grader who was identified as credit deficient. He had been expelled at the end of the 9th grade and never attended 10th grade. He showed up at a school on the first day of what would have been his junior year only because his probation officer wanted evidence of his enrollment. He was defiant and disengaged (but at least he was in school). Miguel made several mistakes and had poor attendance. Yet there was an English teacher who made a connection with him. She would advocate for him every time something went wrong. She started brokering relationships between him and other teachers, and Miguel's behavior started to change. At one point he said his behavior changed because "these people here are trying and they really care. When I do something wrong it makes them all look bad. I don't want it to reflect on this school, so I keep my *$%# together now." Yes, one bad word but Miguel graduated and is working as a mechanic. That wouldn't have happened without a trusting relationship and the eventual development of respect for the school.


Empathy, being able to understand the feelings of others, is an important component of relationship development. Although there is limited evidence that empathy can be directly taught, it can be developed by giving students opportunities to engage in empathetic responses. Some guidelines for fostering empathy advise educators to be aware of their own actions, integrate literature that allows students to explore empathy for historical and contemporary characters, and mirror empathetic responses to their students (e.g., Gerdes, Segal, Jackson, & Mullins, 2011; Gordon, 2009).

There are also specific actions that teachers can take that are likely to result in students' empathy development. Here are some to try: 

  • Label the feeling. … students need to understand their emotional responses to various situations. An extension of that skill is being able to accurately identify the emotions of others. For example, a teacher might say, "I noticed that you went over to talk with Paul when he was sitting by himself. He might have felt lonely, or he might have wanted some time to think."
  •  Encourage students to talk about their feelings. … talking about feelings is an important part of SEL. For students to develop empathy, they need to learn to talk about the feelings of others, not just their own—and this includes the feelings of teachers and the characters students encounter in literature… This is easier for students to do when they are able to understand and label their own feelings. For instance, a teacher might say, "Listen to the dialogue in this scene once again. How would you describe how this character is feeling right now? What would you say to him?"
  • Praise empathetic behavior. When students demonstrate empathy, it should be noted and appreciated. A challenge with empathy is that it's not always about positive feelings. When someone is hurt or sad, being empathetic means the student understands what it means to feel hurt and sad. A teacher might say, "You noticed that the game wasn't fair. You know what it feels like when something is not fair, and you talked with other students to make it more fair. I appreciate your efforts and I hope you are feeling proud of yourself."
  • Teach nonverbal cues. With care, students can learn to notice nonverbal cues that indicate the emotional status of others. We say "with care" because it would be insensitive to stop a class and prompt everyone look at an angry or happy student and then talk about how that student is communicating emotion without words. It's easier to do this with videos and picture books, pausing at moments to identify the nonverbal cues for students. A teacher might say, "I'm really moved by the expression on this character's face in this picture. When you see someone with that expression, what do you do and say?"
  • Don't use anger to control students. When teachers (and parents) use anger to control children, the children may comply—but it often comes at the cost of learning. When an adult says, "I'm very angry with you," or demonstrates anger non-verbally, students shut down and withdraw. Teachers can express disappointment and reset expectations, but when anger enters the interaction, learning is compromised. For example, rather than say, "I'm angry with you and you owe me five minutes of lunch," a teacher might say, "When you left the room without telling me, I was worried about your safety and that I was not doing my job. Can you tell me what was going on? What commitments can you make and what consequences seem reasonable?"
  • Give students jobs that require empathy. Taking care of living things promotes empathy. Watering the plants in the classroom, monitoring the butterfly garden, or taking care of a classroom pet are just some ways to give students experience with empathetic responses. There is some evidence that students learn altruism and caring as they learn responsibility (e.g., Mattis et al., 2009). Being responsible for distributing and collecting materials also can help students develop an ethic of care and altruistic thinking. A teacher might ask a student, "Can you make sure that Madeline the rabbit has enough water? It's our  responsibility to make sure she has what she needs."

There is evidence that empathy develops as students explore literature and discuss the actions of characters. For example, the students in Jose Herrera's 5th grade class were reading The One and Only Ivan (Applegate, 2015), the story of a gorilla who lives in a cage in a shopping mall. Told from Ivan the gorilla's point of view, readers learn that he seems satisfied until he reevaluates his life from the perspective of a baby elephant taken from her family. The students in Mr. Herrera's class discussed the story, acknowledging not only the anthropomorphism but also the feelings that the author assigned to the gorilla. One of the students said, "It's not just about Ivan. This is how people would feel if they lost a family member." Another student noted, "You can't always fix things, but you can be a friend." 

We'd like to share an additional strategy drawn from restorative practices that can foster empathy with students and equip them with another communication technique. Affective statements allow teachers (and eventually students) to express their feelings and emotions by using "I" statements. This shifts the dynamic of the conversation away from accusatory "you" statements that can leave the other person feeling defensive. This simple change can develop empathy because the technique shifts the discussion from talking to students to talking with them. Adding an "I" statement, then, is a way for you to voice your feelings and allow students an opportunity to respond. 

When teachers use "I" statements and provide background, students are better able to grasp what the teacher wants. These interactions are private and do not rely on public humiliation to control behavior. For example, placing your hand on a shoulder and quietly stating, "Taylor, it's hard for me to give good directions when you're talking at the same time," is likely going to be enough to redirect the behavior as an empathetic response, rather than temporary compliance. When the goal is behavioral compliance, demanding attention may work, at least temporarily. But students do not develop empathy when they are just told to obey. Conversations like this can change the narrative as student and teacher consider the other person's perspective.

Image: Examples of statements

January 28, 2019

Will we make Sure The Class Of 2030 Is Ready? - (Our Current Grade 1 Students!) Image: year 2030

If you enjoy reading about the future – or near-future, 2030 is being spoken of as a beacon of change in the world of technology and careers.

A report by McKinsey and Company predicts a true paradigm shift for the Class of 2030 who will enter a world that is “vastly different from anything previous generations have experienced.”

By the time today’s kindergartners enter the workforce, activities will substantially change across most occupations and will increasingly require the application of expertise and creative problem solving, as well as collaboration, management, and the development of people.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates that, globally, about half the work people are paid to do today could be automated by existing technology by 2030, and up to 375 million people may need to switch occupational categories between now and then.

Yet MGI also predicts that new jobs created by technology, rising incomes, and consumption as well as by investments in infrastructure and renewable energy will fuel strong growth in global employment. So, there will be plenty of jobs.

Our commitment is to introduce STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programming throughout the district at a rate that has been unprecedented for East Hampton.

But, along with STEM, we cannot ignore the skills needed for the future of life-ready learning. We have made a commitment to the skills identified in our East Hampton Profile of the Graduate. Whether you call them “soft skills” or, as I prefer, “survival skills” (Tony Wagner), social-emotional skills are now playing an ever-increasing role in education, in careers, in life – and are considered an equal partner to cognitive skills and content knowledge.

Sharpening the focus on social-emotional skills from The Class of 203 and Life-Ready Learning (Microsoft & McKinsey)

The strongest signal from our study was the need for teachers, schools, and school leaders to help students develop stronger social-emotional skills. While not new in education, these skills are newly important and are taking center stage alongside cognitive skills and content knowledge in the classroom and in the workforce.

Image: Red Star Studies show social and emotional competencies can increase cognitive skills, measured by academic achievement tests, by up to 11 percent. In fact, student mindsets are twice as predictive of a student’s academic achievement than their home environment or demographic, according to a McKinsey analysis.

Social-emotional skills provide students with the perspective and flexibility necessary to function at a high level even when faced with uncertainty, change, pressure, stress, and other work and life challenges. This is critical, because change and uncertainty are going to be increasingly pervasive for the class of 2030. Trends indicate the class of 2030 will change jobs more frequently than any previous generation, as across nearly all industries, the impact of technological and other changes is shortening the shelf life of employees’ existing skill sets.

For example, the rise of the gig economy, with its emphasis on short-term project work, is expected to further amplify the need for flexibility from students entering the workforce. In 2014, 91 million people worked in the gig economy in the U.S., according to tax forms filed with the IRS, or nearly 30 percent of the American population.

Image: red Star In addition to the numerical rise in expected lifetime jobs among this generation, “on average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.” These social competency-based hiring criteria are very familiar to large technology companies, where hiring for the ability to collaborate effectively or earn trust have long been part of both recruiting ethos and criteria for advancement.

This chart shows the percentage point difference between teachers and students on the skills they prioritize most, based on the average priorities for each group across the four countries in the study.Social-emotional skills highlighted in yellow.

Literacy - 15%
Critical Thinking - 12%
Numeracy -7%
Social awareness - 5%
Communication - 4%
Self-awareness - 2%
Collaboration – 1%

Image: Teacher Priorities Bar graph form

Responsible decision-making - 1%
Problem Solving - 1%  
Civic Literacy - 1%
Agency - 2%
Self-management - 2%
Ethical understanding - 2%
Intercultural understanding - 4%
Relationship skills - 5%
Creativity - 13%
Digital Skills - 20%

Image: Student Priorities Bar graph form

Helping students develop greater social-emotional skills will not only help them in their professional lives but also will help them pursue happier and healthier personal lives. Research has found that high-level social-emotional skills developed during childhood are correlated with a number of beneficial long-term health and well-being outcomes as adults, including lower rates of obesity, substance abuse, and criminal activity, and greater satisfaction in relationships and positive contributions to society. 

Given the mounting evidence of the importance of social-emotional skills, their development should not be left behind. While most students will develop some amount of social-emotional skills incidentally— through influences in their environment, interactions with parents, teachers, and friends, and their own self-reflection—more needs to be done to proactively develop and apply these skills at the scale and depth the class of 2030 will need. Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), believes we should be teaching and rewarding collaboration as well as individual academic achievement, enabling students to think for themselves and to act for, and with, others.

While the need for social-emotional skills is clear, our research highlighted differences between the social-emotional skills students and teachers prioritize and how well-equipped teachers feel to teach these skills. This variation was mirrored in how both groups described their experiences of social-emotional skills as part of the learning program. One critical area is feedback. We know feedback is one of the most effective ways to improve learning, yet only 33 percent of students across our four sample countries agreed or strongly agreed they receive feedback on social and emotional outcomes.

We discovered differences in perception, too. Roughly 60 percent of teachers reported that they provide students with feedback on a range of skills, including social-emotional skills. But when we asked students a similar question, only 30 to 40 percent agreed that they receive feedback on their social-emotional skills.

Among the teachers we surveyed, 63 percent said they intentionally integrated social-emotional skill-building into lessons and other learning experiences while the remaining 37 percent taught it opportunistically, if at all. While 63 percent of teachers embracing social-emotional learning is encouraging, the growing mismatch between job requirements and available talent suggests that more needs to be done.

Using principles from learning science, schools and school systems can design programs and curricula to intentionally teach and scale social-emotional learning. A 2011 meta-analysis of school-based social-emotional interventions found that programs that employ best practices—such as using sequenced activities, applying active learning strategies, allocating specific time for skill development, and using clear learning objectives— have a positive, statistically significant effect. There is a path for schools and teachers to develop skills that are critical to work and life outcomes for the class of 2030.

We studied several existing approaches and found two with especially strong promise to support both social-emotional and cognitive skill development at scale: employing curricula that explicitly promotes social-emotional skills and personalizing learning to the needs of each student. Both strategies require giving teachers greater flexibility in their curriculum choices and more time for direct interactions with students.

Many schools and school systems are already tackling the challenge of preparing the next generation for life, learning, and living by explicitly prioritizing social-emotional skills.

Singapore’s Ministry of Education established a framework of social and emotional outcomes that is integrated into the national curriculum, including suggested pedagogy and assessment strategies. Social and emotional skills are taught explicitly during a guidance period, and all teachers are expected to integrate and model social-emotional skills in their classrooms.

In Australia, the Australian National Curriculum identifies “general capabilities,” including the personal and social capability, which addresses self-management, self-awareness, social management, and social awareness. These capabilities are intended to be addressed in all learning areas and at every stage of a student’s schooling. Curriculum areas with the highest proportion of content descriptions tagged with personal and social capability are provided to teachers through the online curriculum portal.

And in the U.K., a 2015 review of social-emotional programs found several with significant positive impact on students’ social-emotional skills including coping skills, self-esteem, resilience, problem-solving skills, and empathy.

All of these are encouraging signs that educators around the world are sharpening their focus on developing their students’ social-emotional skills. Our survey suggests that an especially promising way to accelerate social-emotional skill development will be for teachers and schools to take greater advantage of personalized learning approaches, which are increasingly leveraging technology to give teachers new and broader ways to measure students’ progress on key competencies and to help customize instruction to meet individual needs.

50% of students rank social and emotional skills in their top 5 priorities
but only

30% of teachers rank social and emotional skills in their top 5 priorities

60% of teachers feel they provide feed back on social and emotional skills

but only

30-40% of students feel they get feedback on social and emotional skills

Core elements of social-emotional learning
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) explains social and emotional learning (SEL) as students obtaining skills that “enhance [their] capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.” CASEL’s SEL framework encompasses five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Social skill deficits also create major obstacles for a significantly large subgroup of learning-disabled students and adults.For more, visit: https://casel.org/core-competencies/

Cognitive skills that drive learning
While definitions of cognitive skills vary, many agree that these skills consist of core academic knowledge as well as higher-order skills that apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems. In a study of more than 150 countries, The Brookings Institution found that more than 70 percent of education systems prioritize the following six cognitive skills: literacy, numeracy, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.For more, visit: https://www.brookings.edu/research/skills-for-a-changing-world-2/

January 21, 2019

Who do we want our children to be? 

Recent studies have shown that society places a greater value on personal success over caring for others. The results are the same for parents speaking of their children and children speaking of themselves. However, I think one of the strongest commitments of our East Hampton Schools over the last several years have been their emphasis on caring, kindness, and compassion. I would like to think that our own children would respond to any survey regarding success and caring in a way that reflects the actions we see in our various community service projects throughout the district.

It doesn’t mean that we stop being relentless in our goal to raise compassionate children. Ensuring success requires that we constantly address concerns during students’ travels through our schools and during their own development as caring adults.

If we plan to raise children who value caring for others, we must collectively as teachers, parents, community members look at our own behavior and model the type of dialogue, support, and caring we hope to see in our children. Let’s raise the bar on compassion for our children to model (see article 1 below). Students who define their own success as inclusive of others’ success will typically be strong “upstanders” in our society (see article 2 below).

The Children We Mean to Raise By Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones in Huffington Post 

We recently released a report entitled “The Children We Mean to Raise“ which suggests that a large majority of youth value personal success (achievement and happiness) over caring for others. We asked youth to rank what was most important to them: achieving at a high level, happiness (feeling good most of the time) or caring for others. Almost 80% of youth picked high achievement or happiness as their top choice, while roughly 20% selected caring for others. A root of this troubling finding may be the messages that parents are unintentionally sending. According to various surveys, parents say they want children to be caring and respectful and value their children being caring more than their achievements. But according to the youth we surveyed, their parents appear to put achievement above caring. 

The problem, based on our observations of and conversations with parents, seems to be that the volume and power of messages that prioritize achievement and happiness are drowning out whatever messages we send about the importance of caring and responsibility for others. 

The good news about all this is that our findings seem to have struck a chord with a wide variety of audiences and people are talking about our findings. But while awareness is good, we need to act. 

So what should we do? It starts with “me” and ends with “we.” 

As we point out in our report, it starts with adults’ behavior. 

Here’s what we can do:

1. Make caring for others a priority. While it’s clearly important for parents to promote children’s achievement and happiness, it’s also important for parents to help children learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate, helping a friend with homework or deciding to stand up for a friend who is being bullied. One simple way to do this is, instead of saying “the most important thing is that you’re happy,” saying the “most important thing is that you’re kind and happy.”

2. Provide ongoing opportunities for children and youth to practice caring and helpfulness, sometimes with guidance from adults. Children are not simply born good or bad and we should never give up on them. A good person is something one can always become, and throughout life we can develop our ethical capacities. Learning to be caring and to lead an ethical life is like learning to play an instrument or hone a craft. Daily repetition — whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, having a classroom job, or working on a project to reduce homelessness — and increasing challenges make caring second nature and develop and hone children’s care-giving capacities. With guidance from adults and with practice, children can also develop the skills and courage to know when and how to intervene in situations when they and others are imperiled. They can become effective upstanders or first responders.

3. Children and youth need to learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering multiple perspectives. It is by zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language or the school custodian) that young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society. 

4. Be a strong moral role model. Being a role model doesn’t mean that we need to be perfect or have all the answers. It means grappling with our flaws, acknowledging our mistakes, listening to our children and students and connecting our values to their ways of understanding the world. It means that we, too, need to continually practice and zoom in and out, cultivating our capacities for care, widening our circles of concern and deepening our understanding of fairness and justice.

That’s the “me” part. 

The “we” part comes next, when we realize that as much as we do as individuals, we need to work together to change the messages our children hear about the definition of success and what it means to be an ethical member of a community. 

To begin, we’ll have to stop passing the buck. While Americans worry a great deal about children’s moral state, no one seems to think that they’re part of the problem. Parents often blame other parents. Our research suggests that teachers tend to blame parents and sometimes other teachers. It is clear that we all need to take a hard look at the messages we send to children daily and reflect together on what different messages we might work to collectively send. 

Finally, when putting these four principles listed above into practice, some values — especially achievement — play out quite differently across class, race and culture. For many teens, achievement is, for example, about concern for others: it’s a means to provide for their family, contribute to their communities and honor their parents’ sacrifices for them. It’s important for all of us who work with children to be mindful of these differences. 

Being a role model for your kids and talking with other adults — and with kids — about making caring common seems obvious and easy, but in fact it’s hard. It requires awareness of your actions; it requires setting aside time to talk about ethics and justice. It can take us out of our comfort zones. But that’s what we expect of our children, and so that’s what we have to model as adults. With the help of many like-minded organizations and individuals, we think we’ve helped start the conversation about making caring common online, in our schools, at dinner tables around the country, and we hope you’ll join us with your ideas, your strategies and your passion.

Upstander Resources and Lesson Plans from ASCD 

What makes a student more likely to intervene when they see someone being bullied or harassed? Skills, according to "Raising Upstanders" in the April 2017 issue of Education Update. Read the article for expert advice, then check out the following collection of free upstander lesson plans, resources, tip sheets, and programs.

  •  "5-Minute Film Festival: Turning Bystanders Into Upstanders Against Bullying," Edutopia Links to tons of videos and resources that support kindness and inclusion in the classroom. 
  •  "6 Reasons Why Bystanders Choose Not to Intervene to Stop Bullying," Huffington Post This list tackles some of the more common myths and barriers to intervention. 
  •  "10 Ways to Be an Upstander," BullyBust, National School Climate Center Helpful tips for students on how to prevent bullying and how to support peers who are being bullied.
  •  "Becoming an Upstander," Random Acts of Kindness Foundation Lesson plan (grade 6), aligned to the Common Core State Standards, with activities and worksheets. 
  •  "Dealing with Dilemmas: Upstanders, Bystanders and Whistle-Blowers," Teaching Tolerance A series of lessons and activities (grades 3–5 or grades 6–8), aligned to the Common Core standards, that empower students to stand up for others and fight injustice.
  •  "Speak Up at School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias and Stereotypes," Teaching Tolerance This guide for teachers offers concrete ways to respond to everyday prejudice, bias, and stereotypes in school. Includes strategies, examples, scenarios, and age-appropriate responses to students. 
  •  Upstander Alliances, BullyBust, National School Climate Center Join more than 5,000 middle and high schools across the United States by starting an Upstander Alliance in your school. These student teams, in collaboration with adult moderators, come together to take a pledge, practice skills, and share information with the school community. They create targeted community-wide engagement projects focused on preventing bullying and raising awareness.
  • Upstander Lesson Plan, Operation Respect Lesson plan (that can be adapted from kindergarten to high school), aligned to the Common Core standards, with multiple classroom activities and handouts: Teaches students how to respond to unkind behavior, practice assertiveness skills and "I" messages, decide when or if to intervene, and commit to being an upstander.
  •  "Upstander Schools: What's "Othering" Got to Do With It?," Edutopia Mishy Lesser, learning director at The Upstander Project, shares seven ways to promote an upstander culture among high school students

January 14, 2019

Why does ‘Grit’ matter?   

Image:  Book Cover of Grit by Angela Duckworth
Grit” matters right now whether you are a teacher, parent, or a student. In fact, when you read the book, read it as a guide for yourself and your children/students.

It’s clear to all of us that talent takes people only so far and that an effort beyond just natural abilities is required for success in any endeavor.

In this world, where technology changes rapidly, new skills are needed throughout the tenure of one’s career, and dramatic national and world events impact us overnight, are we giving our students the skills to be the leaders of tomorrow?

Are you as a teacher or parent modeling “grit” for our students? Our students are impacted by the adults in their lives. We can talk about perseverance with them, but our own actions speak volumes to our youth!

Read the article below and see if you have the characteristics of GRIT!

5 Characteristics Of Grit -- How Many Do You Have? By Margaret M Perlis in Forbes

Recently some close friends visited, both of whom have worked in education with adolescents for over 40 years. We were talking about students in general and when I asked what has changed with regards to the character of kids, in unison they said "grit” – or more specifically, lack thereof. There seems to be growing concern among teachers that kids these days are growing soft.

When I took a deeper dive, I found that what my friends have been observing in-the-field, researchers have been measuring in the lab. The role grit plays in success has become a topic du jour, spearheaded by Angela Duckworth, who was catapulted to the forefront of the field after delivering a TED talk which has since been viewed well over a million times. Additionally, in the last month, Duckworth received a $650,000 MacArthur fellowship, otherwise known as the “Genius Grant,” to continue her work. And, while Duckworth has made tremendous leaps in the field, she stands on the shoulders of giants including William James, K.E Ericson, and Aristotle, who believed tenacity was one of the most valued virtues.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit in the context of behavior is defined as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Duckworth, based on her studies, tweaked this definition to be “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” While I recognize that she is the expert, I questioned her modification…in particular the “long-term goals” part. Some of the grittiest people I’ve known lack the luxury to consider the big picture and instead must react to immediate needs. This doesn’t diminish the value of their fortitude, but rather underscores that grit perhaps is more about attitude than an end game.

But Duckworth’s research is conducted in the context of exceptional performance and success in the traditional sense, so requires it be measured by test scores, degrees, and medals over an extended period of time. Specifically, she explores this question, talent and intelligence/ IQ being equal: why do some individuals accomplish more than others? It is that distinction which allows her the liberty to evolve the definition, but underscores the importance of defining her context.

The characteristics of grit outlined below include Duckworth’s findings as well as some that defy measurement. Duckworth herself is the first to say that the essence of grit remains elusive. It has hundreds of correlates, with nuances and anomalies, and your level depends on the expression of their interaction at any given point. Sometimes it is stronger, sometimes weaker, but the constancy of your tenacity is based on the degree to which you can access, ignite, and control it. So here are a few of the more salient characteristics to see how you measure up.


While courage is hard to measure, it is directly proportional to your level of grit. More specifically, your ability to manage fear of failure is imperative and a predicator of success. The supremely gritty are not afraid to tank, but rather embrace it as part of a process. They understand that there are valuable lessons in defeat and that the vulnerability of perseverance is requisite for high achievement. Teddy Roosevelt, a Grand Sire of Grit, spoke about the importance of overcoming fear and managing vulnerability in an address he made at the Sorbonne in 1907. He stated:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strived valiantly; who errs, who comes again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Fear of failure, or atychiphobia as the medical-set calls it, can be a debilitating disorder, and is characterized by an unhealthy aversion to risk (or a strong resistance to embracing vulnerability). Some symptoms include anxiety, mental blocks, and perfectionism and scientists ascribe it to genetics, brain chemistry, and life experiences. However, don’t be alarmed…the problem is not insurmountable. On Amazon, a “fear of failure” search yields 28,879 results. And while there are millions of different manifestations and degrees of the affliction, a baseline antidote starts with listening to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “do something that scares you every day.” As I noted in a recent post, courage is like a muscle; it has to be exercised daily. If you do, it will grow; ignored, it will atrophy. Courage helps fuel grit; the two are symbiotic, feeding into and off of each other…and you need to manage each and how they are functioning together.

As a side note, some educators believe that the current trend of coddling our youth, by removing competition in sports for example, is preventing some kids from actually learning how to fail and to embrace it as an inevitable part of life. In our effort to protect our kids from disappointment are we inadvertently harming them? Coddling and cultivating courage may indeed turn out to be irreconcilable bedfellows. As with everything, perhaps the answer lies in the balance…more to come.

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

As you probably know, it is generally agreed that there are five core character traits from which all human personalities stem called… get this…The Big Five. They are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neurotic. Each exists on a continuum with its opposite on the other end, and our personality is the expression of the dynamic interaction of each and all at any given time. One minute you may feel more agreeable, the next more neurotic, but fortunately, day-to-day, they collectively remain fairly stable for most of us.

According to Duckworth, of the five personality traits, conscientiousness is the most closely associated with grit. However, it seems that there are two types, and how successful you will be depends on what type you are. Conscientiousness in this context means, careful and painstaking; meticulous. But in a 1992 study, the educator L.M. Hough found the definition to be far more nuanced when applied to tenacity. Hough’s study distinguished achievement from the dependability aspects of conscientiousness.

The achievement-oriented individual is one who works tirelessly, tries to do a good job, and completes the task at hand, whereas the dependable person is more notably self-controlled and conventional. Not surprisingly, Hough discovered that achievement orientated traits predicted job proficiency and educational success far better than dependability. So a self-controlled person who may never step out of line may fail to reach the same heights as their more mercurial friends. In other words, in the context of conscientious, grit, and success, it is important to commit to go for the gold rather than just show up for practice. Or, to put it less delicately, it’s better to be a racehorse than an ass.

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

As I wrote in the introduction, I had some reservations about accepting the difference between Webster’s definition of grit and Duckworth’s interpretation. Both have to do with perseverance, but the latter exists in the arena of extraordinary success and therefore requires a long-term time commitment. Well, since you are Forbes readers and destined for the pantheon of extraordinary success, it is important to concede that for you…long-term goals play an important role. Duckworth writes:

“… achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions towards a long-term goal.”

Malcolm Gladwell agrees. In his 2007 best-selling book Outliers, he examines the seminal conditions required for optimal success. We’re talking about the best of the best… Beatles, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. How did they build such impossibly powerful spheres of influence? Unfortunately, some of Gladwell’ s findings point to dumb luck. Still, the area where Gladwell and Duckworth intersect (and what we can actually control), is on the importance of goals and lots, and lots and lots of practice…10,000 hours to be precise.

Turns out the baseline time commitment required to become a contender, even if predisposed with seemingly prodigious talent, is at least 20 hours a week over 10 years. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory and Duckworth's findings align to the hour. However, one of the distinctions between someone who succeeds and someone who is just spending a lot of time doing something is this: practice must have purpose. That’s where long-term goals come in. They provide the context and framework in which to find the meaning and value of your long-term efforts, which helps cultivate drive, sustainability, passion, courage, stamina…grit.

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

Of course, on your long haul to greatness you’re going to stumble, and you will need to get back up on the proverbial horse. But what is it that gives you the strength to get up, wipe the dust off, and remount? Futurist and author Andrew Zolli says it’s resilience. I’d have to agree with that one.

In Zolli’s book, Resilience, Why Things Bounce Back, he defines resilience as “the ability of people, communities, and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity among unforeseen shocks and surprises.”

For Zolli, resilience is a dynamic combination of optimism, creativity, and confidence, which together empower one to reappraise situations and regulate emotion – a behavior many social scientists refer to as “hardiness” or “grit.” Zolli takes it even further and explains that “hardiness” is comprised of three tenets: “ (1) the belief one can find meaningful purpose in life, (2) the belief that one can influence one’s surroundings and the outcome of events, and (3) the belief that positive and negative experiences will lead to learning and growth.”

Wait, what? Seems that there is a lot going on here, but this is my take on the situation in an elemental equation. Optimism + Confidence + Creativity = Resilience = Hardiness = (+/- )Grit. So, while a key component of grit is resilience, resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way. In other words, gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”

Excellence vs. Perfection

In general, gritty people don’t seek perfection, but instead strive for excellence. It may seem that these two have only subtle semantic distinctions; but in fact they are quite at odds. Perfection is excellence’s somewhat pernicious cousin. It is pedantic, binary, unforgiving and inflexible. Certainly there are times when “perfection” is necessary to establish standards, like in performance athletics such as diving and gymnastics. But in general, perfection is someone else’s perception of an ideal, and pursuing it is like chasing a hallucination. Anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and clinical depression are only a few of the conditions ascribed to “perfectionism.” To be clear, those are ominous barriers to success.

Excellence is an attitude, not an endgame. The word ‘excellence’ is derived from the Greek word Arête which is bound with the notion of fulfillment of purpose or function and is closely associated with virtue. It is far more forgiving, allowing and embracing failure and vulnerability on the ongoing quest for improvement. It allows for disappointment, and prioritizes progress over perfection. Like excellence, grit is an attitude about, to paraphrase Tennyson…seeking, striving, finding, and never yielding.

Are there any others you'd add? By definition, passion is critical, but what role do you think it plays? I am sure that Duckworth will continue to explore and share the distinctions in the years to come, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Read GRIT by Angela Duckworth and then join us for book discussions at the Superintendent’s Advisory Council meetings on the following dates:

  • Thursday, February 21 at 94 Main Street, 9:00 AM
  • Thursday, March 21 at 94 Main Street, 9:00 AM

Come to either or both of the meetings and share your ideas on the importance of instilling a sense of GRIT in our children (and ourselves).

Coming next week: A look at the current tenet that children value personal success over caring for others and why teaching them to be an “Upstander” in our society may change that trend.

  • “The Children We Mean to Raise” By Richard Weissbourd and Stephanie Jones in the Huffington Post
  • “Upstander” Resources and Lesson Plans from ASCD

January 7, 2019

Help our teens (and younger students) see the potential damage of vaping.

Image: Stop vaping

Stopping our teens from vaping requires an effort at home and at school. The amount of teens experimenting with vaping is increasing at an alarming rate – and there is no reason to believe that the statistics are any different for the teens of East Hampton. 

Communicating the dangers of vaping is essential so that all parents understand that vaping is not just a harmless alternative to cigarette smoking.

It is urgent that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health; the development of the teen brain; and the potential for addiction. 

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA

This is not just a middle school and high school problem. Recently, students in an elementary school in Stratford were vaping on the playground during recess.
From the CT Patch - STRATFORD, CT — Some students were recently found "vaping" during recess at Second Hill Lane Elementary School in Stratford, according to a notice sent to families. In the letter, Assistant Principal Amy Pinto wrote that they were "saddened to report that students were vaping in our upper grades during recess."

"Several students were interviewed and families of students directly involved were contacted," Pinto wrote in the letter. "Your child may have witnessed this or heard about it from students talking. We hope this notice will serve as a way of starting a conversation about vaping.
 "As you may already know, vaping devices can come in many forms that are easily concealable, they can resemble pens or USB flash drives. The visible 'smoke' does not linger or leave a strong scent."

Pinto said that staff members have been alerted and officials are "adding some education about the dangers of vaping to grade five." 

Teens Using Vaping Devices in Record Numbers (excerpt from The National Institute on Drug Abuse)
America’s teens report a dramatic increase in their use of vaping devices in just a single year, with 37.3 percent of 12th graders reporting “any vaping” in the past 12 months, compared to just 27.8 percent in 2017. These findings come from the 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of a nationally representative sample of eighth, 10th and 12th graders in schools nationwide, funded by a government grant to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The annual results were announced today by the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, along with the scientists who lead the research team. 

Reported use of vaping nicotine specifically in the 30 days prior to the survey nearly doubled among high school seniors from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018. (Note: see chart on front page of this Update.) More than 1 in 10 eighth graders (10.9 percent) say they vaped nicotine in the past year, and use is up significantly in virtually all vaping measures among eighth, 10th and 12th graders. Reports of past year marijuana vaping also increased this year, at 13.1 percent for 12th graders, up from 9.5 percent last year. 

“Teens are clearly attracted to the marketable technology and flavorings seen in vaping devices; however, it is urgent that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health; the development of the teen brain; and the potential for addiction,” said Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA. “Research tells us that teens who vape may be at risk for transitioning to regular cigarettes, so while we have celebrated our success in lowering their rates of tobacco use in recent years, we must continue aggressive educational efforts on all products containing nicotine.” 

The percent of 12th graders who say they vaped “just flavoring” in the past year also increased to 25.7 percent in 2018 from 20.6 percent in 2017. However, it is unclear if teens know what is in the vaping devices they are using, since the most popular devices do not have nicotine-free options, and some labeling has been shown to be inaccurate. There was also a significant jump in perceived availability of vaping devices and liquids in eighth and 10th graders, with 45.7 percent and 66.6 percent, respectively, saying the devices are “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get. There is more information on the survey’s vaping findings in this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. In a letter to the editor written by Dr. Richard Miech, the MTF study team lead. Dr. Miech points out that the one-year increases in the prevalence of nicotine vaping translate into approximately 1.3 million additional adolescents who vaped in 2018, as compared with 2017. The increase in vaping rates between 2017-2018 also aligns with the recently released CDC/FDA government funded National Youth Tobacco Survey. 

Image: Tobacco 21 campaign

Schools Respond to the Rise of Student Vaping By Holly Korbey in Edutopia
Liz Burrows’s official job title is tobacco control coordinator at the health department in Oldham County, Kentucky, but these days she doesn’t spend much time worrying about tobacco: It’s all about vaping. 

“A high school girl told me recently that it’s ‘really easy’ to vape in class, and that it doesn’t belong to any one clique— kids in every group are doing it,” said Burrows of the schools she visits in the Louisville suburbs to give talks. “We worked so hard to reduce the smoking rate, and now it’s going back up.” 

Marketed as an alternative to help adults quit smoking tobacco, vaping—or inhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette— has skyrocketed among teens and tweens across the nation. 

From 2013 to 2014 alone, e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reports that 50 percent more kids vape than smoke traditional tobacco cigarettes. A 2017 National Institutes of Health study found that more than one in four high school seniors reported vaping in the previous year, while 16.6 percent said they had vaped in the previous month. More than 6 percent of eighth graders also reported vaping in the previous month. 

Lured by glamorized images of vaping on social media with hashtags like #VapeLife and #DoIt4Juul—Instagram contains 13.4 million #VapeLife posts—many kids seem unaware of the risks involved. A recent survey by the Truth Initiative found that 63 percent of 15- to 24-year-old previous 30-day users surveyed didn’t know that vapor pods, which come in hundreds of kid-friendly flavors like gummy worms, cotton candy, and unicorn puke, contain highly addictive nicotine—a single pod containing 200 puffs can have just as much as a pack of Marlboros or Camels. 

As vaping devices are increasingly showing up in school parking lots, bathrooms, and even classrooms, teachers and administrators are scrambling to address the problem. But it isn’t easy. Unlike their traditional counterparts, e-cigarettes are easy to buy online and conceal, and they don’t carry a strong smell. The popular brand Juul, which represents the majority of e-cigarette sales, looks like a USB drive and is small enough to hide in a shirtsleeve. 

In response, here are some of the promising ways that schools and districts are trying to curb what Jonathan Winickoff, doctor and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium, has called a “public health disaster.” 


Since e-cigarettes are still relatively new—and one of the great lessons of the anti-tobacco campaigns was that punitive approaches don’t work well—school administrators and health department officials say that giving teens and parents health information about vaping is critical to prevention. According to the National Institutes of Health, when high school seniors were asked what they thought they had consumed the last time they vaped, more half said “just flavoring.”

“The perception adults and media give that e-cigarettes are harmless is a big part of our problem,” said Valerie Phillips, a physical education teacher in Round Rock, Texas, with 19 years of experience. “Kids don’t understand what’s in it; they think it’s just flavored water vapor.” 

To counter the misconceptions, the nonprofit CATCH My Breath provides schools with a free curriculum for middle and high schoolers that teaches students what chemicals are in vaping pods and how they can be harmful to their health. Early studies indicate that some of the chemicals in vaping pods could be carcinogenic and cause a scarring of the lungs called popcorn lung. Students are also made aware of clever vaping marketing techniques and armed with strategies for avoiding the social media hype. 

With talk of vaping on the rise in her district, Phillips incorporated the four CATCH My Breath vaping lessons directly into PE activities at her middle school. In one, sixth graders learned about the health impact of vaping chemicals like acetaldehyde, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and nicotine, and then participated in a relay where they had to “name that chemical” while racing the clock. CATCH My Breath lessons are available online.


In hopes of curbing the widespread use of e-cigarettes in Orange County, California, educators are using a social and emotional learning (SEL) approach. 

Run through the Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) program, California’s anti-smoking education program, the lessons help students continue to develop SEL skills like self-regulation, problem solving, and communication that they can apply in situations where they might be inclined or feel pressure to vape. 

These SEL lessons are part of TUPE’s four-part approach, which also includes information on vaping, a cessation hotline number, and student-led anti-smoking projects in their schools or communities.

Image: Examples of Juul vaping devices  and statistic 63% of Juul users don't know that the product always contains nicotine

“They’re learning how to deal with social pressure, how to respond to family dynamics and stress,” said Ryan Crowdis, the TUPE program manager for Orange County, which is currently running the program in eight area districts. “Any young person can learn from that kind of information.” 

And when a student is caught vaping at school, a TUPE-trained school staff member talks the student through their decision-making process, examining what led them to vape to help put them on track to make better choices in the future.

Other districts are turning to their students for help. 

After trying costly vaping detectors in bathrooms and strict consequences like suspensions with little success, Gregg Wieczorek, principal of Arrowhead High School in Milwaukee, decided to take a different tack. This fall he’s sending students to the seven feeder middle schools in greater Milwaukee to talk to the younger students about the dangers of vaping before they start. 

“I’m hoping that when the middle schoolers see this kid they looked up to on the basketball team saying, ‘Vaping is bad for you and here’s why you shouldn’t do this,’ it might have more impact on them than the teachers or parents saying it,” Wieczorek said. 

Other communities are having students craft anti-vaping campaigns aimed at their peers. In Charles County, Maryland, students in the after-school program called the Young Researchers Community Project researched the health effects of vaping and then created a series of public service announcements that were used in televised morning announcements at area middle and high schools. 

Evolving technology and new products like the smaller, less conspicuous Suorin Drop may make the vaping problem even more difficult to manage in the future. Public health officials in some states are advocating for stronger FDA regulation of vaping devices, such as raising the buying age to 21 or cracking down on online sales. Juul has promised to spend $30 million on youth prevention, including a school curriculum, but most tobacco and vaping preventionists are skeptical. 

At a number of schools, staff are seeing a need to break down barriers between school and home life and partner with parents instead. 

“First thing in the morning, I had to Juul; that’s all I could think about.” 

Back in Oldham, students caught vaping are recommended to take a four-week class that parents also attend. And TUPE’s parent trainings in Orange County saw a big uptick last school year as more parents became aware of vaping. 

At one school, a parent training that only had nine parents last year packed the room with more than 50 this year. TUPE’s Crowdis said that parents need to be warned that the nicotine addiction from vaping is a serious addiction. A student who spoke to parents at a session told them, “First thing in the morning, I had to Juul; that’s all I could think about.” 

“There’s this whole culture. Kids are getting addicted to it, and it’s scary for young people,” Crowdis said. “They don’t realize it starts a long road to addiction.” 

Click for an additional article in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/health/vaping-nicotine-teenagers.html

Information on “Popcorn lung,” a condition that results from vaping flavorings:

Information on vaping by companies that produce vaping products that is very misleading to our children:



December 31, 2018

Image: New Mindset New Results chalk drawing

Make (and keep) New Year’s resolutions

With the New Year here, it’s time to consider your resolutions. The very brief articles below from a variety of sources offer advice on choosing and keeping resolutions this year. Don’t miss the opportunity to set a goal and then work steadily over the course of the year to achieve it.

Model for our children what mindset, grit, and perseverance look like through your actions this upcoming year! 

From the American Psychological Association 

Start small 

Make resolutions that you think you can keep. If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven. If you would like to eat healthier, try replacing dessert with something else you enjoy, like fruit or yogurt, instead of seeing your diet as a form of punishment. 

Change one behavior at a time 

Unhealthy behaviors develop over the course of time. Thus, replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones requires time. Don’t get overwhelmed and think that you have to reassess everything in your life. Instead, work toward changing one thing at a time.

Talk about it 

Share your experiences with family and friends. Consider joining a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers quitting smoking. Having someone to share your struggles and successes with makes your journey to a healthier lifestyle that much easier and less intimidating. 

Don’t beat yourself up

Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.

Ask for support

Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and ability to manage stress caused by your resolution. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to meet your goals on your own, consider seeking professional help. Psychologists are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how to adjust your goals so that they are attainable, as well as help you change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.

From Forbes 

Let go of discipline and will power:

Wait, what? Isn't keeping resolutions all about discipline and will power? As it turns out - no. Even though we tend to think that those who keep their self-commitments are enormously disciplined people who are better able than the rest of us to wrestle their unhealthy impulses to the ground, it turns out that those folks don't see themselves that way at all. They report being moved toward keeping their self-commitments by strong positive motivations: passion, hope, compassion, excitement, curiosity. A recent article in the NYT reinforces these findings - showing that, for instance, compassion and gratitude are strong motivators to change. In other words, people who consistently keep commitments are motivated by believing that it will give them something they really want — not because they're good at denying what they really want. A little example from my own life: People have often asked me, over the past decade, how I've found the "discipline" to write books. My response is always, "I love to write, and I love the feeling that I'm putting something out in the world that will be useful to people." Not willpower or discipline but rather enjoyment and hope have been my motivators. So, if you want to keep your resolutions, stop thinking in terms of giving something up — which is what we generally mean when we use the words "discipline" and "willpower" — and think about what you'll get from keeping your resolution. 

Find benefits that resonate for you: 

Which leads me to the second step. If you review your life honestly, you'll probably find that the things you end up doing are the things you most want to do. Not the things you say you want to do — but the things you actually want to do. In fact, I'm convinced that any time we say we want to do something over and over again and don't — it's because we don't really want to. I just had a conversation with a colleague of mine the other day; she was talking about a coaching client who she said really wanted to leave his job. "How long has he been saying that?" I asked. "For about 18 months," she replied. "OK, then he doesn't really want to do it," I said. "Oh no," my colleague responded, "He definitely does -It's just that there are lots of thing in the way." I asked, "Has he been making any effort in that direction— updating his resume, networking, finding out what other jobs might be available in his field?" "Well...no," she answered. "OK," I said, "Then he doesn't really want to leave his job." After that we had a great conversation about how she could help him decide whether he actually wanted to leave his job -so that he could either commit fully to his current job, or start making effort to leave.

Here's how this relates to New Year's Resolutions: Unless you want to do the thing you've resolved to do more than the thing you're currently doing — you won't do it. Let's say, for instance, that you've decided you want to lose weight or eat healthier (statistics show that's by far the most common New Year's Resolution). Take out a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In the left-hand column, write down all the difficulties you'll encounter when trying to lose weight or eat healthier. Be honest with yourself! Now, in the right-hand column, write down all the benefits you'll get from losing weight or eating healthier. Look at the two lists: if the right-hand one doesn't feel more compelling to you than the left hand one, you almost certainly won't change your habits. All is not lost, though. I suggest you keep reflecting and adding benefits to the right-hand list until you find a few that are truly meaningful to you. (That is, when you focus on those benefits you start to feel a spark of interest, excitement, or hope about keeping your resolution vs. boredom or dread.) Once you've found those benefits that move you, decide how to move toward them every day... 

Focus on small, daily effort: 

One of the problems we create for ourselves in trying to change the way we behave is that we often don't give ourselves good guidance. We're vague and general: "I'm going to eat healthy" or "I'm going to learn Spanish." Even if we have strong positive motivations — we see real benefits that inspire us — toward doing these things, a loose statement of intention like that is likely to leave us floundering when it comes to everyday choices. A couple of years ago, I decided that I wanted to become fluent in Spanish. I was strongly motivated by the idea of being able to converse with colleagues, and even get to the point where I could do business in Spanish in Latin America and Spain, but I wasn't sure what I could do regularly to keep me moving forward. Fortunately, shortly after I made my resolution, someone introduced me to Duolingo (an amazing app, if you're not familiar with it), and I clarified my resolution to "I'm going to do 10 minutes on Duolingo every day." It worked (I'm very proud of my 600+ day streak on Duolingo), because it was specific, doable and reasonably enjoyable. And as I improved, I was able to add other simple daily habits (I now watch Spanish-language TV or videos at least 15 minutes a day, too). If you can create simple daily habits like these to deliver on your resolutions, you'll be far more likely to keep them. 


And finally, take advantage of the fact that we humans are tribal creatures. This can take a variety of forms. For some people, working on a resolution together with a friend or colleague makes the whole enterprise more fun and interesting (and therefore more likely to succeed). For others, injecting an element of friendly competition can be motivating. And for some of us, just letting others know that we've committed makes it more likely that we'll follow through — we're less likely to slide if somebody else knows what we've said we'll do. Whatever reason works for you, there's a lot of research that shows gutting it out by yourself when trying to change your behaviors is much less effective than involving others. 

From PsychCentral 

1. Keep your resolutions simple. 

Sometimes people find themselves aiming for an overhaul of their entire lifestyle, and this is simply a recipe for disappointment and guilt. It may be understandable at this time of year, when self-improvement is on your mind, but experience shows these things can’t all be achieved at once. The best approach is to focus clearly on one or two of your most important goals. 

2. Choose carefully.

But which to choose? Well, you might like to concentrate on those that will have the greatest impact on your happiness, health and fulfillment. For example, giving up smoking will obviously improve your health, but it will also give you a sense of pride and will make you happy (but perhaps not immediately!)

3. Be realistic. 

Don’t aim too high and ignore reality – consider your previous experience with resolutions. What led to failure then? It may be that you resolved to lose too much weight or save an unrealistic amount of money. Remember, there will always be more opportunities to start on the next phase, so set realistic goals. Or if you don’t want to hold back, set clear short term goals on your way to a big achievement. Which leads to tip number four.

4. Create bite-sized portions.

Break goals down to manageable chunks. This is perhaps the most essential ingredient for success, as the more planning you do now, the more likely you are to get there in the end. The planning process is when you build up that all-important willpower which you will undoubtedly need to fall back on along the way. Set clear, realistic goals such as losing 5 pounds, saving $30 a month, or going for a run once a week. Decide exactly how you will make this happen. 

5. Plan a time-frame.

In fact, the time-frame is vital for motivation. It is your barometer for success, the way you assess your short-term progress towards the ultimate long-term goal. Buy a calendar or diary so you can plan your actions for the coming weeks or months, and decide when and how often to evaluate. 

6. Make notes. 

Having made a note of your time-frame, you will have a physical reminder of what you’re aiming for. Now go further and write down the details of your resolutions in a notebook, remembering to add your motivations. You could keep a scrapbook for this purpose, and fill it with photos of your slimmer self, pictures of sporting or hobby equipment you are saving for, or even a shocking credit card statement to spur you into action! If your resolution will directly benefit your partner, children, colleagues or friends then add their photos too – anything to remind you of your initial motivation. 

7. Treat yourself. 

When making your plan, a vital feature should be the rewards and treats you will give yourself at those all-important milestones. But be warned, don’t fall into the trap of putting your goal in danger – it’s too easy for a dieter to say “I’ve been so good, I deserve a few candy bars”, or a saver to throw caution to the wind with a new purchase. One slip, and it could all be over.

8. Receive support. 

It is at such times, when you’ve temporarily fallen off the wagon, that your support network is crucial. Carefully choose those people around you who have shown themselves to be trustworthy, supportive friends and explain your plans. Let them know of ways they can help when the going gets tough, and if they’re truly caring they’ll know the right things to say during the hard times. 

9. Don’t give up! 

Do bear in mind that a slip-up is almost inevitable at some point, and you must not let this become an excuse to give up. When it happens, you will need to draw on your reserves of self-belief and strength, so build these qualities as often as you can. Really feel proud of your past achievements and don’t become critical of yourself. People with higher self-esteem and confidence are in a much better position to succeed, so immediately forgive yourself and say “I’m starting again now!” 

10. Put yourself in charge. 

These achievements are under your control – other people can advise and support you but it’s your actions which need to change to see the results you want. Having a strong sense of control over your life is necessary to stick with your plans. Those who blame everyone and everything apart from themselves will not have the resources needed to change. Yes, it’s scary to take responsibility for your future, but surely it’s better than the alternative? 

From Gaiam 


The surest way to fall short of your goal is to make your goal unattainable. For instance, resolving to NEVER eat your favorite food again is setting you up to fail. Instead, strive for a goal that is attainable, such as avoiding it more often than you do now. 


Don’t make your resolution on New Year’s Eve. If you wait until the last minute, it will be based on your mindset that particular day. Instead, it should be planned well before December 31st arrives.


Decide how you will deal with the temptation to skip that exercise class or have that piece of cake. This could include calling on a friend for help, practicing positive thinking and self-talk, or reminding yourself how your “bad” will affect your goal. 


It may help to see a list of items on paper to keep your motivation strong. Develop this list over time, and ask others to contribute to it. Keep your list with you and refer to it when you need help keeping your resolve.


Don’t keep your resolution a secret. Tell friends and family members who will be there to support your resolve to change yourself for the better or improve your health. The best-case scenario is to find a buddy who shares your New Year’s resolution and motivate each other.


This doesn’t mean that you can eat an entire box of chocolates if your resolution is to eat a better diet. Instead, celebrate your success by treating yourself to something you enjoy that doesn’t contradict your resolution. If you have been sticking to your promise to eat better, for example, reward yourself with new fitness clothing or by going to a movie with a friend. 


Keep track of each small success. Short-term goals are easier to keep, and each small accomplishment will help keep you motivated. Instead of focusing on losing 30 pounds, focus on losing the first five. Keep a food journal to help you stay on track, and reward yourself for each five pounds lost. 


Obsessing over the occasional slip won’t help you achieve your goal. Do the best you can each day, and take one day at a time. 


Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. It won’t happen overnight, so be persistent and patient! 


If you have totally run out of steam when it comes to keeping your resolution by mid-February, don’t despair. Start over again! Recommit yourself for 24 hours. You can do anything for 24 hours. The 24-hour increments will soon build on each other and, before you know it, you will be back on track. 

December 17, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

Ideas for a New Year’s Resolution

A book that I have shared in the past offers the some great potential resolutions for the upcoming year. The book, The Four Agreements, is a short book that I have often given as a gift. Very simple in nature and based on Toltec Wisdom, the author Don Miguel Ruiz highlights four simple “agreements” that lead to a better life.

Image: Book Cover of The Four Agreements

The Four Agreements are:
  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

Read the short brief of the book below and even if you chose just one of the Agreements as a New Year’s resolution, you would certainly be on the right track.

Or get a copy of the short book (138 pages) by clicking here (Amazon).

After you read it, you’ll see why it makes a great gift!

From: The Four Agreements

Be impeccable with your word

THE FIRST AGREEMENT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE and also the most difficult one to honor. It is so important that with just this first agreement you will be able to transcend to the level of existence I call heaven on earth.

The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. It sounds very simple, but it is very, very powerful.

Why your word? …Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word.

The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life. You can speak. What other animal on the planet can speak? The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword with two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. One edge is the misuse of the word, which creates a living hell. The other edge is the impeccability of the word, which will only create beauty, love, and heaven on earth. Depending upon how it is used, the word can set you free, or it can enslave you even more than you know. All the magic you possess is based on your word…


Don’t take anything personally

THE NEXT THREE AGREEMENTS ARE REALLY BORN from the first agreement. The second agreement is don’t take anything personally.

Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Using an earlier example, if I see you on the street and I say, “Hey, you are so stupid,” without knowing you, it’s not about you; it’s about me. If you take it personally, then perhaps you believe you are stupid. Maybe you think to yourself, “How does he know? Is he clairvoyant, or can everybody see how stupid I am?”

You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell. What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about “me.” During the period of our education… we learn to take everything personally. We think we are responsible for everything. Me, me, me, always me!

Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.

Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…

If someone gives you an opinion and says, “Hey, you look so fat,” don’t take it personally, because the truth is that this person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs, and opinions. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours. Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up…


Don’t make assumptions

We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking — we take it personally — then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word. That is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.

All the sadness and drama you have lived in your life was rooted in making assumptions and taking things personally. Take a moment to consider the truth of this statement. The whole war of control between humans is about making assumptions and taking things personally. Our whole dream of hell is based on that. We create a lot of emotional poison just by making assumptions and taking it personally, because usually we start gossiping about our assumptions.

Remember, gossiping is the way we communicate to each other in the dream of hell and transfer poison to one another. Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and believe we are right about the assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. It is always better to ask questions than to make an assumption, because assumptions set us up for suffering…

We only see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are. We have the habit of dreaming with no basis in reality. We literally dream things up in our imaginations. Because we don’t understand something, we make an assumption about the meaning, and when the truth comes out, the bubble of our dream pops and we find out it was not what we thought it was at all.


Always do your best

THERE IS JUST ONE MORE AGREEMENT, BUT IT’S THE one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. The fourth agreement is about the action of the first three: Always do your best.

Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick, or sober as opposed to drunk. Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.

In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. Your best will also change over time. As you build the habit of the four new agreements, your best will become better than it used to be.

Regardless of the quality, keep doing your best — no more and no less than your best. If you try too hard to do more than your best, you will spend more energy than is needed and in the end your best will not be enough. When you overdo, you deplete your body and go against yourself, and it will take you longer to accomplish your goal. But if you do less than your best, you subject yourself to frustrations, self-judgment, guilt, and regrets.

Just do your best — in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.

From: An Introduction to the Four Agreements


We store information through agreement. When we believe something is true, it becomes an agreement between us and the world. As soon as we agree, we believe it. This cycle leads us to develop rules or “laws” that govern what we see as true. We come to base our judgments and decisions on these agreements and laws. When we, ourselves or others, break our “laws” we experience the negative aspects of conflict or drama.


  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

Agreement One: Be impeccable with your word

To be impeccable with your word means to:

  • Speak with integrity
  • Say only what you mean
  • Avoid using words to speak against yourself
  • Avoid using words to speak against others
  • Use the power of your word for truth and encouragement

Our ability to use words sets us apart as humans, but this ability is also a two-edged sword. Words can create and words can destroy. When we misuse our words, we can create major problems, but using our words impeccably heals and empowers others.

Not only does gossip destroy others, but it is also produces conflict and creates drama. Gossip works like a computer virus. Once it is introduced, your thoughts become mixed up and you stop producing good results. With gossip, one little piece of information can break down other communication. Gossip infects everyone it touches. With a computer virus, we have safety precautions that tell us “Don’t open this file” because once you do, it’s too late. When we gossip, we act like hackers who intentionally spread a virus to destroy how others think and to cause drama. The Four Agreements can provide us with guidelines to determine what is gossip. Three questions you can ask yourself when you hear or consider giving information about another person or situation are;

1. Is it my story to tell? How do I know the information?

2. Do I have the right to speak the information?

3. What is my intention in speaking the information?

Keep in mind that your opinion is just your point of view and not necessarily true. Remember, your opinion comes from your own perspective and experience, your own beliefs and “rules.” When you speak well of people and yourself, and when you stop yourself from demanding everyone live by your rules, you feel good and at peace with yourself. Use your words to speak truth and to encourage yourself and others.

Agreement Two: Don’t take anything personally

Nothing other people do or say is because of you. What people do or say is a result of their own dream world. When we take things personally, we feel offended and react by defending ourselves, creating drama.

It is important to understand that people may give compliments or criticism, but what they say is about them and how they feel at that moment and about their own needs. What they say is not just about you.

When we avoid taking words personally, we take away the power other people try to have over us. We become immune to manipulation. If you refuse to take things personally, even if someone is trying to draw you into their dream world and is being critical, you can remain peaceful.

When someone asks you to do something, listen intently and repeat what the person is asking. Don’t take the request personally even if it is presented with criticism or with a compliment. You can simply ask, “You would like to…” or “You want me to…” to clarify the person’s request. Be sure to clarify if you correctly understand what someone is communicating to you.

Set limits by being impeccable with your word. Use your words to speak truth and to encourage yourself and others. There are several techniques that can help:

  • Use “I” statements.
  • Don’t put yourself down.
  • Don’t use excuses or blame others.
  • Offer any possible alternatives.

Agreement Three: Don’t make assumptions

The ABC’s of emotion tell us about how and why we make internal assumptions. First, there is an Activating event that helps us set up an assumption. Then, we establish a Belief system. This belief may be either rational (based upon observable, factual data) or irrational (not based upon facts). Finally, we develop a Consequential emotion that is triggered by our belief. It is important to recognize when an irrational belief could be beneficially changed to a rational one.

We create drama by making assumptions, by taking it personally, and by gossiping about our assumptions. We perpetuate this by not asking for clarification, defending our assumptions, and trying to make someone else wrong based on our assumptions.

To avoid making assumptions, it is important to gather more facts about the situation and about our own beliefs. It is also important to gain knowledge about the facts, about how others perceive the situation, and about your own beliefs.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Agreement Four: Always do your best

Your best is never going to be the same from one moment to another. Regardless of the quality, keep doing no less than your best. Accept your best and recognize that it feels good to give your best because doing your best feels productive and is not based on expecting a reward.

Do your best to live up to the other three agreements: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personal; Don’t make assumptions.

  • Work for “Win/Win” instead of “Win/Lose” results. Since dissatisfaction drives people to change, you should do your best to uncover the dissatisfactions of others. Remember to avoid focusing on the problem, but rather to work toward a solution. Focusing on a problem reduces energy, results in blaming, and leads others to see their resources as limited.
  • Develop a “preferred future.” Ask what it would look like “If I got it right…” Set rules for brainstorming. Good rules for brainstorming include:
    • Don’t judge ideas
    • Don’t discuss ideas
    • The more ideas the better
    • Build on others’ ideas
  • Bring new resources to the table.
  • Set your first steps to explore other’s opinions or implement an agreement.

Image: Santa sleigh in Sky

Enjoy the magic!

December 10, 2018                                                                              Image: STEM Graphic

STEM opportunities are not just “extras” for the few; they are crucial for the many!

STEM activities and the type of experimentation and creativity they foster are essential experiences for neurological growth according to the article and summary below by Conn McQuinn. Schools have been so focused on math and literacy (as we should), but in our efforts to excel, we cannot forget that hands-on learning and the type of activities that are promoted in well-designed science experiments, makerspaces, and coding (to just name a few STEM activities) are important brain enhancers.

We need a strong commitment to STEM in each of our buildings – because it matters to all children!

You’re going to see a budget proposal in early January for the school year 2019-20 that addresses the Next Generation Science Standards and the addition of makerspaces, coding, robotics teams, AP Physics, and AP Computer Science. In the last several weeks, I have included articles that speak to the need of graduates in STEM jobs, but what we know is that whether or not students pursue STEM as a career, they still need STEM as part of their development.

A Neurological Argument for Makerspaces and Hands-On Learning

From “The Neuroscience of Making” by Conn McQuinn in School Library Journal, November 2018

Six “brain facts” that educators might use to support makerspaces in libraries and classrooms, or any type of engaging hands-on activity:

  • The brain thinks hands are the most important part of the body. The amount of cerebral real estate devoted to the sensory and motor functions of the hands is enormous (seethis diagram https://bit.ly/2PAbVXS), which is why students find working with their hands so engaging.
  • Learning causes physical changes in the brain. Billions of neurons communicate through chemical and electrical signals, and when students learn something new, new connections are added to the networks, says McQuinn: “Every new fact, idea, experience, and skill is a physical rewiring of the brain.” The more new networks are used, the stronger and faster the signals become and the easier they are to trigger; the less they are used, the weaker they become, and eventually they’re pruned. In other words, use them or lose them.
  • Unstructured play, experimentation, and tinkering develop executive function skills. When children engage in these activities, they grow their brains’ ability to make decisions, experiment, and evaluate results. “If we over-structure children’s lives (and school experiences),” says McQuinn, “we shouldn’t be surprised that when we finally give them the opportunity to self-direct, they don’t know how.”
  • When students focus on an activity for a while, attention skills develop. “In this distracted world,” says McQuinn, “we invest attention in short, tiny snippets on a variety of surface messages such as tweets, texts, and Facebook posts. That is what we are wiring our brains to do, and we may be degrading our ability to pay attention over an extended period of time.”
  • It’s neurologically impossible to learn well when we don’t care. Learning and memory are wired through the limbic system – the emotional part of the brain – which is why students learn best when they are doing something they enjoy, as is often the case with hands-on activities. “Giving students the chance to explore provides the chance to practice and strengthen curiosity,” says McQuinn, “which can lead to better, deeper learning.”
  • Stress and fear impede learning. Subjected to these emotions, the brain literally acts without thinking, and the loss of executive function impedes higher-order thinking and memory formation. Students who have a fixed mindset about a particular subject get stressed when they make mistakes or encounter new challenges, which impedes learning. Students with a growth mindset have a different reaction: curiosity, mild concern, asking themselves, “How can I make this better?” That’s why it’s good to put students in situations where they must use their hands and executive skills to figure out new challenges.
  • The Brain Science of Making by Conn McQuinn in School Library Journal

    Making and makerspaces have been moving into libraries in a big way over the last few years. As it turns out, neuroscience gives us some pretty good reasons for supporting these efforts, and can help guide us as we provide these exciting opportunities for our students.

    Brain Fact #1: Your brain thinks your hands are the most important part of your body.

    Image: homunculus representation

    This little critter is called the homunculus. It is a physical representation of how many motor neurons you have in your brain for different body parts. When you see how gigantic the hands are, it tells us that as far as our brain is concerned they are by far the most important part of our body. It shouldn’t be surprising that allowing students the opportunity to work with their hands is so engaging.

    Brain Fact #2: Learning is a physical change in the brain that is enhanced by practice and repetition.

    Image: Neuron Network

    Our brain consists of vast networks of neurons, numbering in the billions. They communicate through a mixture of chemical and electrical signals. When we learn something new, we add new connections to these networks. Every new fact, new idea, new experience, new skill is a physical rewiring of our brain.

    These networks are strengthened by repeated use. There’s a neuroscience concept called Hebb’s Rule: The neurons that fire together, wire together. Every time a connection is activated, there are a number of physical changes that happen in the neurons that make the signals stronger, faster, and easier to trigger. Think about a skill you’ve learned, how hard it was to master at first, and how through practice it eventually became effortless. That’s Hebb’s Rule in action.

    The flip side is that the less you use these connections, the weaker they get. If you ignore them long enough, they can eventually be eliminated entirely. It’s truly a “use-it-or-lose-it” situation. It’s something all of us have experienced when cramming for a final; we study, study, study and shortly thereafter are completely unable to remember most of what we studied.

    Adolescence is a critical period for this pruning of unused pathways. Teenagers have twice as many connections in their brain as adults, and their brains are actively eliminating the ones that aren’t being regularly used. This is why adolescence is the second most critical period for brain development, and why experiences of teenagers can have such powerful impact for the rest of their lives.

    So how does this relate to making? That has to do with Brain Fact #3.

    Brain Fact #3: Children involved in unstructured play, experimentation, and tinkering are practicing executive function skills.

    Image #3 Brain

    This is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive function. It’s the last part of the brain to finish developing, extending into the early 20s for most people, or even early 30s for some men. (Yes, we all know That Guy.) Like any set of neural networks, it improves its functioning through repeated use and practice. Playing for children is practice making decisions, trying things out and evaluating results, making plans, and other important forms of executive function. If we overstructure children’s lives (and school experiences), we shouldn’t be surprised that when we finally give them the opportunity to self-direct, they don’t know how. This is reflected in research, where studies indicate that the amount of time children spend in unstructured play as preschoolers correlates with higher levels of executive function as older children.

    This is a critical aspect of why making is important. Picture the daily life of one of your students and think about how much his or her time is scheduled. Time spent in a makerspace is a chance for them to experience self-directed exploration and tinkering, something that is an increasingly rare option. These in turn are important opportunities for students to practice and develop executive function. As Maria Montessori put it, “Play is the work of a child.” It’s an essential, irreplaceable developmental need, and is true for all learners of all ages.

    Another issue of concern is attention. In our distracted world we invest our attention in short, tiny snippets on a variety of surface messages such as tweets, texts, and Facebook posts. That is what we are wiring our brains to do, and we may be degrading our ability to pay attention deeply over an extended period of time. In looking at how we structure the school day, when do students get to practice the deep focus for a period of time? Making is an opportunity for them to have that exact kind of experience and to build that capacity. Our students’ attention is their most valuable resource—how are we enabling them to develop it?

    Brain Fact #4: It is literally neurologically impossible to learn deeply about something you don’t care about. Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

    Image #4 of Brain

    The labeled structure in this diagram is the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that directs the formation of long-term memories. It is part of a larger set of structures known together as the limbic system—the emotional system. This is a critical point, because it underscores that learning and memory formation are emotional events. A speaker I heard many years ago (whose name I have unfortunately been unable to locate) said, “In an atmosphere of ecstasy, learning is not only enhanced, it is inevitable.” When you are having a good time, you are learning. Making is first and foremost fun, and students learn while they are engaged in it, whether they intend to be or not!

    The self-direction that is integral to a makerspace also encourages curiosity. We are born curious, but all too often the school experience discourages students from asking questions and that natural skill is lost. Giving students the chance to explore gives them the opportunity to practice and strengthen their curiosity, which in turn can lead to better, deeper learning.

    Brain Fact #5: Stress and fear impede learning

    Image # 5 of Brain

    This is your amygdala. It’s the part of the brain that deals with fear and other intense negative emotions. At low to moderate levels of activity, it enhances your focus and attention and helps you perform better. At high levels of activity, it reroutes the connections in your brain and pretty much tunes out the prefrontal cortex. You lose executive function and go into straight-up reactive mode, literally acting without thinking. This process also impedes making the new memory connections in your brain that are part of learning.

    This is the underlying mechanism of the growth mindset. If you have a fixed mindset, when you make a mistake or get challenged by something you can’t do, you have a strong threat response. This ramps up your amygdala, and your thinking ability is shut down. In this defensive, reactive frame of mind, you can’t learn—or what you “learn” is to avoid those situations in the future.

    If you have a growth mindset, however, you don’t go into the threat response. Instead, you move into the optimal level of mild concern and curiosity, and can ask yourself or others “How can I make this better?”

    One of the key moments that all makers experience is “Well, that didn’t work like I expected it to!” Experimentation and mistakes are part of the process, and students learn to anticipate (and tolerate) failures and learn from them in their quest to meet their goals. It’s a natural environment for students to develop a growth mindset, resiliency, and persistence.

    Making and makerspaces are popular for very good reasons. They align powerfully with what neuroscience tells us about how the brain works! In summary:

    • Making reflects the neurological primacy of our hands
    • Making provides opportunities for students to develop executive function abilities, such as self-direction, decision making, focus, planning, and reflection
    • Making provides opportunities to for deeper learning through focused, extended work and tapping into intrinsic interests and curiosity
    • Making provides opportunities for developing growth mindset and persistence in an environment of design, test, feedback, and revision

    Image:  STEM Science, Technology, Engineering & Match graphic

    We will make sure that every one of our graduates is competitive and prepared for the best careers.

    Be part of the exciting vision that this year’s budget proposes for our students!

    Details to come in January 2019.

    December 3, 2018

    STEM opportunities along with the skills identified in our Profile of the Graduate will produce the most competitive graduates.

    Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.
    —President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012)

    The statement above was made in 2012. By 2014, the statement had changed slightly in that there were abundant STEM graduates, but they lacked the skills necessary for the jobs that were being created.

    What are those skills that STEM graduates are lacking?

    They are the exact skills that we are promoting as part of the East Hampton Profile of the Graduate.

    Graphic: Profile of the Graduate

    The article that I have included speaks to concern over the non-technical skills required of STEM graduates.

    In other words, it’s not so much that STEM graduates don’t know how to solve technical problems, because, in fact, they do, but that these graduates lack the non-technical skills needed for the job.
    “The problem is universal… Students aren’t learning how to network, manage their time, or to work together…”
    “Consider what happens in a science lab. Students develop a lesson plan, they study fun projects, and they learn how to critically analyze the problem in front of them. To do this, they have to work with their classmates, manage their time, and develop the so-called ‘soft skills’ that employers are seeking…”

    The STEM paradoxes: Graduates’ lack of non-technical skills, and not enough women By Joann Weiner in The Washington Post

    There’s a paradox in the scientific world, but it may not be the one you’re thinking about.

    Here’s why.

    On Monday (2014), the New York Academy of Sciences announced that even though the global economy is generating a record number of scientists, it still faces a shortage in science professionals.

    This is one of the “STEM paradoxes,” that the NYAS identified in a paper called “The Global Stem Paradox” that it released before an audience of about 500 U.N. delegates, scientists, high school students, heads of foundations and corporate philanthropists, many of whom were in New York for the United Nation’s General Assembly.

    That paper, which was prepared by the FSG research group, didn’t bemoan the fact that there aren’t enough people studying science, technology, engineering and math. In fact, the report notes that we have sufficient STEM graduates. Nor did it say that there aren’t enough women studying those subjects.

    No, instead, the report said that “While there are greater numbers of STEM graduates worldwide than ever before, STEM jobs continue to go unfilled.” 

    Specifically, there will be more than 1.2 million STEM jobs in the United States by 2018, but they won’t all be filled, because there won’t be enough qualified workers.

    That’s the paradox — there’s a perception that not enough students are studying STEM, but the reality is that there are enough STEM graduates. 

    But these jobs go unfilled because there’s a gap between what graduates in STEM fields can do and the skills that STEM employers are seeking.

    Image: Red ArrowIn other words, it’s not so much that STEM graduates don’t know how to solve technical problems, because, in fact, they do, but that these graduates lack the non-technical skills needed for the job.

    That’s one of the points that Meghan Groome, the executive director of education and public programs at the New York Academy of Sciences, emphasized when we talked about the message delivered by the Academy’s 20-page white paper. 

    Image: Red Arrow“The problem is universal,” Groome explained. “Students aren’t learning how to network, manage their time, or to work together.” These skills, Groome insisted, are those that students can learn if they take the right courses.

    Image: Red Arrow“Consider what happens in a science lab. Students develop a lesson plan, they study fun projects, and they learn how to critically analyze the problem in front of them. To do this, they have to work with their classmates, manage their time, and develop the so-called ‘soft skills’ that employers are seeking,” she said.

    But, those ‘people skills’ are the skills that today’s students aren’t learning. Too often, students learn STEM subjects through rote memorization, rather than through creative thinking, according to Groome. Moreover, there’s been a sharp decline in the amount of hours spent teaching science in U.S. schools — the number of hours that elementary students spend on science is at its lowest point since 1988. These figures come from a 2012 paper prepared for the Noyce Foundation, an organization created to honor the founder of the Intel Corporation, Robert N. Noyce.

    This decline is due, Groome believes, to the rise of standardized testing that focuses on math and English. “Standardized tests don’t even ask students about their science knowledge,” Groome said.

    To remedy that, the NYAS suggests that schools create what it calls a strong “ecosystem” that will encourage schools, employers, nonprofits, and governments to work together to create an environment that acts as an incubator for developing these critical-thinking skills.

    Creating this ecosystem is essential, Groome explained, because “everyone in the ecosystem needs STEM skills, from the head of the lab to the PhD student who is conducting the research to the lab technician who is setting up the equipment and even to the janitor who has to know how to create the clean lab that is essential for creating a dust-free lab environment.”

    Moreover, Groome continued, the mentorship program is important because it shows kids that a scientist may not be who they think he or she is.

    “Kids describe the typical scientist as like Albert Einstein — a crazy-looking, old white man doing something dangerous in a lab,” she said.

    Needless to say, most kids can’t imagine that they’ll be the next Einstein.

    However, Groome said, “after going to visit a lab, kids see that scientists look like they do — young, casually dressed, Puerto Rican, doing cool experiments.”

    Changing the image of who is a scientist is one of the New York Academy of Sciences’s major aims.

    This leads to the other, somewhat better known, STEM paradox. 

    Although women make up half of the U.S. workforce, they account for only one-fourth of STEM workers, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. 

    Even within the STEM occupations, women gravitate toward the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, where they account for 70 and 47 percent, respectively, of the workforce, and away from engineering and software development, where women account for just 13 and 22 percent of the workforce, respectively.

    This skewed occupation profile for women isn’t surprising given their academic choices.

    Women are studying STEM subjects in record numbers — nearly 300,000 bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering were awarded to women in 2012 according to the National Science Foundation — yet almost half of the women who earned a bachelor’s degree in science didn’t major in computer science or engineering but instead majored in psychology or biological sciences. Just 18 percent of computer sciences degrees and 19 percent of engineering degrees were awarded to women in 2012.

    Furthermore, many of these female scientists follow a distressing pattern. They drop out of the labor force or move out of the science field.

    A 2013 Census Bureau report found, for example, that nearly one in five female science and engineering graduates has dropped out of the labor force, while only one in 10 male science and engineering graduates has made that same choice. Among the women with a science or engineering degree who have continued to work, only 15 percent are employed in a STEM occupation, compared with 31 percent of their male counterparts.

    This paradox arises because “women face a ‘chilling’ learning environment,” according to Groome.

    “Women find that their teachers perceive that they’re not good at math, they aren’t encouraged to continue studying math, and they feel an explicit or implicit bias that they’re not as good as the men.” Almost all of the factors that drive women out of the STEM jobs are cultural, Groome said. These issues were identified in a 2011 study from the Department of Commerce.

    Groome has a solution for this paradox.

    “Let’s create a mentorship program that will allow women scientists to guide younger women into the field and help keep them there,” she suggested. “Let’s also collaborate on a global basis.”

    That’s what the New York Academy of Sciences is doing through the Global STEM Alliance, which works with companies, such as Cisco and ARM, and countries, such as South Korea, Malaysia, Rwanda and the United States, to solve the Global STEM paradox.

    These programs may not be enough to close the skills-based STEM gap and keep women scientists in the STEM workforce, but they can’t hurt.

    East Hampton’s Commitment to STEM 2020 

    Planning for Innovation

    The East Hampton Public Schools will design a budget for 2019-20 that supports strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as it continues to be increasingly recognized as a key driver of opportunity for our graduates in college programs and cutting-edge careers, and data show the need for STEM knowledge and skills will grow and continue into the future.

    Image: East Hampton Forward arrow

    In alignment with the Office of Innovation and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education, the East Hampton Public Schools will participate in the United States’ Stem 2026 Vision

    Innovative Measures of Learnings

    Active Learning*

    Academic improvement over time

    Facility with core knowledge


    Learning by trial and error and individual exploration

    Modeling authentic problems


    Hard work and tenacity

    Developing critical thinking skills

    Collaboration* & Compassion*

    Collaboration and building necessary social skills

    *Transferable skills of the East Hampton Profile of the Graduate

    Flexible Learning Opportunities




    TED Talks

    Independent studies


    Solving Relevant Grand Challenges

    Additional AP courses:

    Physics & Computer Science

    Capstone Projects

    Engaged Communities of Practice



    Community organizations

    Community Colleges




    Image: STEM Science Technology Engineering Math

    We will make sure that every one of our graduates is competitive and prepared for the best careers.
    Be part of the exciting vision that this year’s budget proposes for our students!

    Details to come in January 2019.

    November 26, 2018

    If we want students to pursue the brightest careers of the future, teach them about STEM! 

    “…students who lacked access to STEM professionals and encouragement in STEM classes were less likely to report an interest in STEM careers than their peers”

    As the budget is prepared for 2019-20, we are going to make a push to ensure that our students are receiving a proper introduction to STEM experiences: Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math. This means a commitment at all grade levels to introduce more hands-on science experiences (based on the Next Generation Science Standards); more opportunities in technology including coding, robotics, and computer science; engineering exposure that introduces students to future careers; and experiences that connect real world application of skills to the classroom. At our budget forum in late October, courses at the High School were requested including AP Physics and AP Computer Science. Parents asked for more coding and robotics, which we hope to address with expanded Makerspace opportunities at the Center School, Middle School, and High School. We would also like to begin a competitive robotics teams. Even at the earliest grades in Memorial, we want students to feel like scientists and engineers with authentic learning experiences. We hope that people will jump on board and work to ensure that our East Hampton children are prepared for the most exciting careers that are available right now in Connecticut. See the articles below – and join us in the budget process.

    Image: East Hampton Forward Arrow

    We will make sure that every one of our graduates is competitive and prepared for the best careers. Be part of the exciting vision that this year’s budget proposes for our students!
    Details to come in January 2019.

    From: Where Stem Context and Careers Meet by Jonathan Chapman www.usnews.com

    STEM JOBS REPRESENT ONE of the fastest-growing opportunities in our economy, leaping past other careers. These jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields often pay better than other jobs for workers with the same level of education, and there is a shortage of young people pursuing these paths, in the public and private sectors. Despite all of these reasons to pursue a STEM degree, a recent Pew Research Center survey found, "only a third of workers (33%) ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree have an undergraduate degree in a STEM field."


    STEM jobs' rapid growth is why it's so vital that young people have a strong grasp of the STEM skills needed to fill these jobs and thrive in their adult lives. It is this disconnect between professional opportunities and students' pursuit of these jobs that compels Washington, D.C.-based education technology company EVERFI to invest in developing STEM career exploration resources.

    Image: Graph Projected % increase in Stem Jobs 2010-20

    (Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2015)

    EVERFI's recent insight report, "STEM Connections," explored a trend among students who report a low level of interest in these high-growth STEM careers. We surveyed more than 13,000 middle school students across 45 states through our Endeavor course, an interactive STEM skill and career exploration program, and found that students who lacked access to STEM professionals and encouragement in STEM classes were less likely to report an interest in STEM careers than their peers. If access and encouragement are not present, a student's interest in STEM tends to be much lower than if they are present. 

    Additionally, we know that some of the states with the lowest college-degree attainment are also some of the regions with the greatest STEM career growth. There are hundreds of STEM careers that require a wide range of education, from IT support professionals who need a high school degree with some vocational training to biomedical engineers that require Ph.D.s.

     From: With Thousands Of Manufacturing Jobs Approaching, Connecticut Trains Hundreds (Bullet points from an article in the Hartford Courant) 

    • Thousands of manufacturing jobs are becoming available in Connecticut, but schools and businesses are straining as they find and train just hundreds of new workers ready to be hired.
    • Connecticut may have to turn to recruiting out-of-state workers, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said.
    • A ramp-up in military work and commercial aviation and waves of retiring baby boomers — those between the ages of 53 and 71 — are putting pressure on Connecticut’s manufacturers to find qualified workers.
    • At the state’s advanced manufacturing technology centers, 500 students this year received certificates for a range of manufacturing skills such as reading blueprints, milling and metrology, the study of measurement. That’s double the number in the 2016 school year and signals the challenge manufacturing companies and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system face as they try to fill an expected 25,000 or so manufacturing jobs in the next 20 years, said Michael W. Kozlowski, director of strategic initiatives at CSCU.
    • Electric Boat needs to hire 14,000 workers over the next decade as the General Dynamics Corp. subsidiary builds two submarines a year, with a third now being designed.
    • Pratt & Whitney, the jet engine unit of United Technologies Corp., expects to fill 8,000 jobs in Connecticut in the next decade, much of it to fill a backlog of its next-generation engine, but also to keep up with rising demand from airlines.
    • And Sikorsky has committed to making 200 U.S. Navy helicopters in Connecticut until at least 2032. An agreement with the state requires the Lockheed Martin Corp. subsidiary to keep employment in the state to more than 8,000 by the end of a 14-year agreement and boost spending on Connecticut suppliers. 
    • More than 4,000 smaller manufacturers in the state that make parts for Sikorsky, Pratt & Whitney and Electric Boat also will need to hire thousands of workers in the next decade. 
    • The Connecticut Department of Labor projects a nearly 3 percent increase, or about 4,400 more manufacturing jobs, for a total of 164,000 in 2024.
    • Platt Brothers, which makes parts for the medical equipment, aerospace, automotive and other industries, relies on the advanced manufacturing technology center at Naugatuck Valley Community College to supply workers and certify current employees who upgrade their skills, he said. Other advanced manufacturing technology centers operate at Housatonic, Manchester, Middlesex, Quinebaug Valley and Three Rivers community colleges. 
    • Nationally, manufacturing is expected to expand as workers retire and the economy expands, said Cristina Crawford, program coordinator at the Manufacturing Institute, a Washington, D.C., research organization. About 3.5 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are likely going unfilled, with 2 million of those jobs vacant because of skills gaps, she said.

    November 19, 2018

    Enjoy Thanksgiving – It’s Good For You! 

    Image:  Happy Thanksgiving with Pumpkin

     It may not be the food associated with Thanksgiving that is necessarily what’s best for you, but it’s definitely the giving of thanks that is good for you.

    It’s not a huge stretch to assume that people who are happy are more gracious and even healthier, but during the holidays we often forget to focus on the benefits of slowing down and enjoying a few moments to reflect on what is best about our lives.

    Two quick reads for the holiday season may be just the recipe for some renewal. Dr. Robert Emmons has written two short books: Thanks! How the life science of gratitude can make you happier and Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. A brief overview of his books are included below. Emmons is also mentioned in the article below. Emmons calls the concept of gratitude the “forgotten factor in the science of well-being.” He believes that you can actually get through the holidays as a happier and healthier person.

    When Thanksgiving is over, continue to be grateful. Don’t lose sight of “gratitude” in your everyday life. The health benefits alone are worth reflection time on those things for which we should give thanks.

    Five reasons why giving thanks is good for you (From ABBOTT: Life To The Fullest) https://www.lifetothefullest.abbott/en/index.html

    On the fourth Thursday of November each year, millions of people in the United States sit down to overflowing tables – a golden stuffed turkey and traditional side dishes at the center of most of them – as they celebrate Thanksgiving. Often held at harvest time, celebrations like these have been part of most cultures throughout history. The ancient Romans celebrated Cerelia, a harvest festival that honored Ceres, the goddess of corn, while ancient Greek women held one known as Thesmosphoria, honoring Demeter, the goddess of grain. 

    Chuseok is the autumn festival in Korea, a national celebration where people return to their hometowns to remember their ancestors, give thanks for the year’s blessings, and dine on traditional foods. One they enjoy is songpyeon, a steamed rice cake, symbolizing good wishes and dreams. 

    The human need to express gratitude seems to be a powerful and almost universal phenomenon. But why? 

    That’s exactly what Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and author of Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, set out to discover.

    “For too long, the concept of gratitude had been ignored,” said Emmons, director of the university’s Emmons Lab, which creates and shares scientific data on gratitude, its causes, and its potential effects on human health and well-being. He calls it “the forgotten factor in the science of well-being." 

    The Mid-Autumn Festival – sometimes called the Moon Festival or the Day of Reunion – is a 3,000-year-old holiday that’s one of the most important in China and Vietnam. Elaborate lantern displays and “moon cakes” are all part of the celebration, which takes place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month each year.

    Emmons is one of the pioneers of research into the ways that gratitude affects our lives. To assess people’s levels of thankfulness, Emmons and his colleague Michael E. McCullough created a questionnaire that allowed them to compare “grateful people” to those who were less so. They also found ways to cultivate gratitude in test subjects — keeping a “gratitude journal,” counting one’s blessings, writing letters of thanks — then studied the changes that occurred as a result. 

    The results of his studies and others — both psychological and physiological — are fascinating. Here, five reasons why giving thanks is actually good for you. 

    • Counting blessings boosts your health. Emmons’ and McCullough’s research showed that grateful people had less depression and stress, lower blood pressure, more energy, and greater optimism.
    • Slow down the aging clock. In older adults, Emmons and McCullough found, a daily practice of gratitude even slowed down some of the effects of neurodegeneration that often occurs as we age. 
    • Put the brakes on stress. Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone,” and when our bodies produce too much, it can deplete the immune system and raise blood sugar levels. A study conducted at the Institute of HeartMath Research Center in California found that positive emotions like appreciation significantly lowered levels of cortisol. 
    • Being thankful helps you bond. Research by U.S. psychologists Sara Algoe and Baldwin Way indicates that gratitude also can lead to better relationships. The explanation may be connected to increased production of oxytocin, sometimes called the “bonding hormone” because it fosters calm and security in relationships.
    • Gratefulness = good for the heart and waistline? According to research Emmons cites in his book Gratitude Works!, people with high blood pressure who actively express thankfulness “can achieve up to a 10 percent reduction in systolic blood pressure and decrease their dietary fat intake by up to 20 percent.” With Thanksgiving and other food-centered holidays coming up next month, that’s a potential benefit to be grateful for all year long. 

    With benefits like these, maybe we should practice being thankful more than once a year. What else can people do to cultivate more gratitude in their lives? 

    “Make a commitment to write down at least three things you’re grateful for each day for 30 days. Make each one as specific as possible — there’s value in the details,” Emmons said. “It will shift your reality.

    Image: Gratitude Works Book Cover

    Image: Thanks!  Book cover

    From Amazon: Recent dramatic advances in our understanding of gratitude have changed the question from "does gratitude work?" to "how do we get more of it?" This book explores evidence-based practices in a compelling and accessible way and provides a step-by-step guide to cultivating gratitude in their lives. Gratitude Works! also shows how religious, philosophical, and spiritual traditions validate the greatest insights of science about gratitude.From Amazon: A proponent of the field of positive psychology offers a close-up study of the positive influence on people's lives of the systematic cultivation of gratitude, explaining how the practice of grateful thinking can increase one's chances for happiness and help one cope more effectively with stress, recover more quickly from illness, enjoy better physical health, improve relationships, and other benefits

    From Thanks! How the science of gratitude can make you happier by Dr. Robert A. Emmons

    Gratitude is Recognizing and Acknowledging

    In my own thinking about gratitude, I’ve found it very helpful to conceive of it in terms of two states. First, gratitude is the acknowledgement of goodness in one’s life. In gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living. The acknowledgement that we have received something gratifies us, either by its present or by the effort the giver went into choosing it. Second, gratitude is recognizing that the sources(s) of this goodness lie at least partially outside the self. The object of gratitude is other-directed; one can be grateful to other people, to God, to animals, but never to oneself. This is one significant way in which gratitude differs from other emotional dispositions. A person can be angry at himself, pleased with herself, proud of himself, or feel guilty about doing wrong, but it would be bizarre to say that a person felt grateful to herself. Even if you bought yourself a lavish dinner, as I am inclined to do when I order room service, it would be peculiar if I were to give thanks to myself. Thanks are directed outward to the giver of gifts.

    From this angle, gratitude is more than a feeling. It requires a willingness to recognize (a) that one has been the beneficiary of someone’s kindness, (b) that the benefactor has intentionally provided a benefit, often including some personal cost, and (c) that the benefit has value in the eyes of the beneficiary. Gratitude implies humility – a recognition that we could not be who we are or where we are in life without the contributions of others. Gratitude also implies a recognition that it is possible for other forces to act toward us with beneficial, selfless motives. In a world that was nothing but injustice and cruelty, there would indeed be no possibility of gratitude. Being grateful is an acknowledgement that there are good and enjoyable things in the world.

    November 12, 2018

    It’s The Season To Give Thanks And To Share Joy – So, Join In!

    Thank you collage

    As Thanksgiving gets closer, it’s just a natural time to reflect and give thanks. But, why do we wait until Thanksgiving to honor that for which we should be grateful?If you take time to read the article below, you’ll get a good sense of the importance of “thanks” as a strong cultural influence. The author cites research that claims that we actually say “thank you” much less often than we imagine. At the same time “expressing gratitude regularly helps create a more welcoming school environment, one that fosters a sense of belonging for students.”It’s worth it to call our students’ attention to the importance of gratitude for their own sake and the sake of other children.

    If you don’t feel like you belong, it’s awfully hard

    to feel good and succeed academically,

    establish relationships and build positive self-perception.

    During these couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, saying “thank you!” requires little effort, has no cost, and requires no advance planning.

    Calling our students’ attention to showing gratitude does require a little effort, but it helps them grow and it has the potential to be a high impact move.

    During the week of November 19, participate in our Share The Joy initiative. Please share with me any pictures of your students as they get involved in sharing the joy or giving thanks. We’ll post pictures on our various Facebook pages.


    Image: Sharing the joy

    A Tiny Thanks Goes A Long Way — In Helping Students Forge Social-Emotional Connections By Tony Wan In EDSURGE 

    When was the last time you said thanks?

    Expressing gratitude with that one word may seem commonplace, perhaps even an afterthought. But research suggests that we say “thanks” much less often that we presume. The Australian researcher who led the study found that those who helped others were thanked in just one of 20 instances.

    That’s not the case at Leadership Public Schools, a network of urban charter high schools in California, where gratitude is woven into the schoolwide culture. In classrooms, auditoriums and parent conferences, students and teachers publicly give shoutouts and thank one another for kindness and support.

    Mike Fauteux, Leadership’s innovator-in-residence, says that expressing gratitude regularly helps create a more welcoming school environment, one that fosters a sense of belonging for students. “I fundamentally believe that building belonging in school is critical for wellbeing and achievement,” he tells EdSurge in an interview. “If you don’t feel like you belong, it’s awfully hard to feel good and succeed academically, establish relationships and build positive self-perception.”

    But certain groups, he’s noticed, sometimes feel left out.

    During class or at school-wide events, he says, “it was particularly challenging for ESL students, young men and shy students” to express gratitude towards others. In particular, young men he worked with “felt reluctant to open up because of issues of masculinity and assumptions around what it means to be a man.”

    It’s important for students to recognize they have a relationship with their teachers beyond the subject area, especially if they don’t have anyone else outside of home to relate to.

    Fauteux, who started at Leadership in 2008 as a math teacher, found he was spending just as much time teaching social-emotional competencies as he was teaching math. In order for students to grow, he says, they need to “open up, be vulnerable, make mistakes and know they can reach out to others for help.”

    Saying thanks may seem like a tiny piece of the larger puzzle for schools to provide emotional supports. But because it’s a quick, simple act, Fauteux believes gratitude can be easily woven as a daily habit in any classroom, regardless of the subject matter.

    So he built an online tool, GiveThx, that provides a structured way for teachers and students to practice expressing gratitude through peer feedback and reflection. The mobile and web platform is straightforward: students log in and write a short thank-you note for one of their classmates.

    GiveThx offers teachers guidelines Arrow: Guidelines included at end of articlefor running gratitude exercises, all of which are designed to take less than 5 minutes, 3 times per week. Students can pick an individual classmate to thank. Or, if they’re working in a group, they can write a thank-you note to their teammates at the end of the activity. There’s also the “gratitude wave,” where teachers can select one student (either deliberately or at random), to whom everyone else in the class will write a thank-you note. And teachers can designate a theme for students to organize their notes around like empathy, patience or understanding.

    Educators can view a dashboard that shows the distribution and frequency of thank-you notes that have been sent. Students can also see all the notes they’ve received, which “helps build a positive sense of self, particularly for those who have behavioral issues or low academic achievement,” says Fauteux. “Instead of focusing on all the things they’re doing wrong, we hope that they can also get evidence from their peers of their positive behaviors.”

    At the end of each week, teachers set aside a short block of time for students to write weekly reflections. The point of GiveThx isn’t to accrue the most thank-you notes, says Fauteux, but for students to become more self-aware of their relationships with one another. In these journals, they can reflect on one specific message, or review all the notes and think about their strengths and growth areas, and how they made an impact on their classmates.

    Giacomo Bono, an associate psychology professor at Cal State University at Dominguez Hills and an advisor to GiveThx, tells EdSurge he believes “gratitude is the gateway behavior to social-emotional competence.” He’s co-authored a report that even suggests that gratitude can be correlated with higher grades, life satisfaction and social integration, and lower envy and depression.

    Bono, who also leads the Youth Gratitude Project, is wrapping up a study on the use of GiveThx in schools, which will be published in a forthcoming issue in “The Journal of Positive Psychology.” Preliminary findings, he says, “suggest that mental health, wellbeing and gratitude are all connected and reinforced by one another.”

    Jennifer Saarinen, a seventh-grade teacher at Kickemuit Middle School in Rhode Island, learned about Fauteux’s work at an education technology conference in Rhode Island earlier this spring, and piloted GiveThx to the 85 seventh-grade students across her classes. She says that the exercises help students connect with peers who they normally don’t interact much with. “It also helped me see that there were connections between students that I didn’t know existed.”

    Last fall, Rhode Island adopted statewide standards Arrow:  PDF of Ct K-3 Standards available for social-emotional learning, and schools like Saarinen’s have begun a push to implement mindfulness activities and other SEL-support tools. She also uses GiveThx sends positive reinforcement messages to her students, and they reciprocate. “It’s important for students to recognize they have a relationship with their teachers beyond the subject area, especially if they don’t have anyone else outside of home to relate to.”

    GiveThx was initially designed for middle- and high-school students. But the tool has also found a receptive audience at the younger levels. Suzanne Short, a second-grade teacher at All Souls Catholic School in South San Francisco, piloted the tool with 32 students this April. She had her students use the platform to give thanks to their peers every day, after their daily 1pm prayer. “It’s connecting technology, curriculum and religion,” she says, “which is probably not what it was built for.”

    For young children, Short believes these gratitude exercises are important in building empathy and self-awareness. Second-graders, she says, “are still pretty egocentric and think mostly about themselves. But being aware of how you make others feel is very important. It helps them realize their impact on others, and connect with the community.” For the current academic year, Short says GiveThx will be rolled out across all students in grades two to eight.

    Saarinen wants to take it another step further: having the teaching staff use the tool to thank one another. “It’s hard to preach something if you’re not practicing it yourself,” she says.

    Tony Wan (@tonywan) is Managing Editor at EdSurge. Reach him at tony [at] edsurge [dot] com.

    www.givethx.orgIndividual Practices Quick. Done 3 times per week. Can be repeated and mixed to keep things fresh.
    Peer Gratitude-Students select one or two peers to give gratitude to (often ones they know well). This can include their teacher or students outside of the classroom (if available).3 min
    New Gratitude-Students use their data to give to one or two peers in their class they have not given to yet (often peers they don't know well).3 min
    Write & Shout Gratitude-Students pick an individual and write them a message of gratitude. The teacher picks a few students to publicly share what they wrote in a "shout out."5 min
    Collective Practices
    Good for Making Sure Everyone Receives Gratitude
    Group Gratitude-Students give to each member of a group they are in. Good for post group work to highlight specific behaviors and actions that made the group work well and for making sure everyone receives gratitude.5 min
    Partner Gratitude-Students give thanks to a reading partner, proof reading partner, listening partner, etc. after an activity.3 min
    Gratitude Wave-Students all send gratitude to a single person in a big wave3 min
    L/R/Pick Gratitude-Students send gratitude messages to the person on their left, their right, and a 3rd person of their choosing in the room. Often starts by getting in a circle to identify the recipients and going back to write the thanks.5 min
    Done once a week. Important for student meaning-making. Can be repeated.
    Gratitude Journal-Students do the gratitude journal practice using the GiveThx reflection feature to write about something general they are thankful for (i.e. their health)5 min
    3 Good Things-Students write down three things that went well for them that day, and provide an explanation for why they went well. They are specific about the things (i.e. what happened) and record how they made them feel.5 min
    Mental Subtraction of Positive Events-Students think of a positive event in their life, when it happened, and what circumstances made it possible. They imagine how it could have gone differently and what their life would be like now if they hadn’t enjoyed this positive event. They remind themselves that this event actually did happen and reflect upon the benefits it has brought them.5 min
    Mental Subtraction of Relationships-Students think about an important relationship in their life, such as a close friendship, and where and how they met the person. They imagine what their life would be like now if events had unfolded differently and they had never met this person. They shift their focus to remind themselves that they did actually meet this person and reflect upon the benefits this relationship has brought them.5 min
    Message Received-Students pick a message the received and reflect on it. Why is this message received so meaningful to you? What behavior of yours led to this impact?5 min
    Message Given-Students pick a message they gave and write a reflection about it. What is it about this message you gave that is meaningful to you?5 min
    Received Stats-Students use their stats to reflect on their strengths (and/or growth areas). What are some of your strengths? What behaviors did you do to have this impact?5 min
    Given Stats-Students look at their stats to reflect on the top reasons they have been grateful to others and think about why.5 min
    Class Trends-Teacher projects class trends and students reflect on what the class is valuing that week. What is the class most grateful for? Why do you think that is?5 min
    One-Time Individual Tasks - Optional
    Helpful for Measuring Gratitude Practice
    Gratitude Strengths-Students use data to identify character strengths based on gratitude received.20 min
    Gratitude Explanation-Students explain gratitude, its effects, and its core practices. They explain their own gratitude practice using data.20 min
    Gratitude Letter-Students create a handwritten letter to someone they are thankful to. Giving the letter is optional but highly recommended.20 min
    Gratitude Face-to-Face-Student reflects on an experience giving and an experience receiving gratitude face-to-face.10 min
    Student-Led Conference-Student shares the behaviors their class is most grateful to them for with their parents/guardians, referring to their data and specific messages as evidence. Student also shares what they've been grateful for and why using similar evidence.10 min

    If you are interested in more information on Social Emotional Learning, visit www.sel4ct.org.

    Image: SEL4CT

    Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

    November 5, 2018

    Image: Sharing Kindness & CompassionMaybe A Little Empathy Would Help.

    I realize that it’s sometimes easier for teachers and parents to shield our students from what is going on in the world. Whether it’s the political rhetoric around the midterm election, the senseless murder of individuals in their house of worship, or the sending of explosive devices in the mail as a statement to those on one side of the aisle, it might be an easy way out to hope that our students are oblivious to the world around them. It also makes sense as a teacher or parent to honestly answer the questions our children have and help them navigate their feelings.

    Regardless of your beliefs on the matter, I am certain that a little more empathy in the world is a good start. I hope you believe that helping our students be more empathetic individuals is a powerful way to change the world – one child at a time. Take a moment to review the article below from this month’s Education Leadership magazine and help give our children the tools they need to plant the seeds of kindness and compassion, as well as safety and understanding.

    Image: Social-Emotional Learning Nine Competencies For Teaching Empathy By Michele Borba In Educational Leadership

    Empathy is at the core of everything that makes a school caring, a teacher responsive, and a society civilized. When empathy wanes, narcissism, distrust, aggression, bullying, and hate rise—and schools suffer. We are currently in the midst of an educational crisis. American teens are now 40 percent less empathetic than they were three decades ago (Konrath, 2010). While we are producing a smart and self-assured generation, today's students are also the most self-centered, competitive, individualistic, sad, and stressed on record.

    Recognizing that students need more than academic rigor and test preparation to succeed, a growing number of schools are turning their focus to social-emotional qualities like empathy. But which practices enhance empathy and how will principals know if teachers are implementing them effectively? I've spent the past decade combing for answers to questions like these and am convinced that we can solve the empathy crisis. But to begin making headway, school leaders must create the right culture, vision, guidance, and professional training so teachers can succeed. The first step is helping teachers understand why empathy must be an integral part of any classroom and school.


    In today's interconnected world, empathy gives students the edge they need to lead meaningful, productive lives, providing what I call the "empathy advantage." Once seen as a "soft" skill, empathy helps us understand and feel with others. That's why Forbes urges companies to adopt empathy and perspective-taking principles, and the Harvard Business Review named empathy as one of the "essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance" (Goleman, 2014).

    Empathy—or the ability to understand others' feelings and needs—is also the foundation of a safe, caring, and inclusive learning climate. Students with high levels of empathy display more classroom engagement, higher academic achievement, and better communication skills (Jones et al., 2014). Empathy reduces aggression, boosts prosocial behaviors (Eisenberg, Eggum, & DiGiunta, 2010) and may be our best antidote to bullying and racism (Santos et al., 2011).


    Rather than a one-dimensional trait, empathy comprises nine teachable competencies that I identified while writing UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World (2016). Each competency is suitable for students from kindergarten through high school (as well as adults) and can be taught. Together, they can serve as a principal's guide for empathy education.

    Educating for empathy is not about using a toolkit or a one-off program; it requires ongoing, embedded work guided by strong school leaders who are empathetic themselves (see "Principles of Effective Empathy Education"). This work must be based on an understanding of the nine competencies, strategies and practices that cultivate them, and students' needs. Gauging success won't come from a grade or score, but from a student's response. Look for smiles, engagement, joy, and even tears: lessons in empathy can be life-altering.

    So what are optimum ways to help teachers understand and embed these competencies into their daily practice? Let's look at how empathetic schools are approaching this work.


    Before students can empathize, they must be able to read emotions. Students who can recognize feelings are better adjusted emotionally and are more popular, outgoing, and sensitive (Goleman, 1995). They also score higher academically and are more resilient (Gottman & DeClaire, 1997). But researchers warn that today's digitally focused world is reducing students' abilities to recognize human emotions and jeopardizing their empathetic capacities (Uhls et al., 2014).

    Empathy thrives in environments that prioritize face-to-face connections, so a key step for school leaders is to help teachers create classrooms that nurture meaningful interaction and engagement. Look to see if furniture is arranged to encourage communication, with desks positioned in a semi-circle to allow each student to see every peer, or in small clusters, enabling students to work closely with one another. Notice also if students have opportunities to share ideas and discuss lessons. Watch to see if teachers are with students and building caring relationships, or if they're sitting behind a desk disengaged.

    Then note if students are learning to read and identify emotions. First graders in some classrooms I've observed have a morning ritual of pointing to how they feel on a chart of facial expressions reflecting various emotions. A music teacher has students identify their feelings before and after each recital. A science teacher regularly assigns students to spend 30 minutes alone in nature without their smartphones, log their feelings, and even reflect on how briefly unplugging increases their emotional awareness.

    Also, look for practices that teachers can use to help students identify how others feel. Middle school students can do daily "emotion check-ins" by observing a partner, asking how they are feeling ("Are you frustrated?"), and offering support if needed ("I'm here for you"). Paired sharing, discussions, and class meetings are other ways to increase students' sensitivity to emotional cues, nurture caring connections, and learn emotional literacy.


    A child's inner value system, or moral identity, can inspire empathy, shape character, and motivate compassion. A key step is helping students define themselves as people who value others. Kids are more likely to learn moral identity when adults model, instruct, and expect them to care about others (Oliner, 1992). That poses a problem in our culture, with its increasing void in moral role models, but educators can play a central role in helping students develop strong ethical compasses.

    I've seen this being done in countless ways. Teachers have students create class mantras such as "We help each other." High schools require seniors to write graduation essays on who they are and what they stand for. Third graders memorize weekly kindness quotes, and then choose one for their personal mantra. "Finding your mantra helps you discover what you stand for," a teen once told me.

    For a quick assessment to see how you and your staff are modeling moral identity, ask: "What do we stand for? How are we expected to behave?" It is important to watch your behavior in front of students. As one group of 6th graders reminded me, a teacher's actions, not a motivational poster on a wall, matter most.


    Perspective taking is the cognitive side of empathy and is crucial for today's students. Whether it's connecting students across the globe through technology, debating an issue from various sides, or seeing the American Revolution from the British point of view, perspective taking can stretch students' horizons and lead them to question assumptions. Research also shows that the most memorable lessons are often based on this third empathy competency (Heath & Heath, 2008).

    Stepping into another's shoes (literally or cognitively) helps kids understand others. I once visited the classroom of an English teacher whose test for Romeo and Juliet uses paper shoe cutouts depicting each character. Students step onto each cutout and explain the plot through the character's views and feelings.

    We tend to empathize with those who are "like us" in social-economic terms. Teens in a North Carolina school told me their science teacher widens their awareness by encouraging them to participate in a 24-hour hunger strike (with parental approval) to understand poverty. Many of these students now volunteer at a food bank because they know what hunger feels like.

    Restorative discipline practices help students who've hurt or upset their peers develop empathy for their victims. In a Kansas middle school, I observed two boys who'd been suspended from class for a heated debate in which each accused the other of "messing with my stuff." They were individually required to complete a "think sheet" that had them describe the conflict from the other boy's view. Asking kids: "How would you feel if that happened to you?" can do wonders to stretch perspectives.


    Educators intuitively know that books can transport students to other worlds, but now science proves it. Reading literary fiction like Wonder or The Grapes of Wrath can enhance empathy and help us to feel with the characters (Mar, Oatley, & Peterson, 2009). Emotionally charged films and images can also prompt empathetic feelings and even encourage charitable giving (Barraza et al., 2015).

    Kindergarteners might watch Dumbo, use puppets to depict the elephants and crows making fun of him, then talk about how they'd feel if they were Dumbo. An art teacher might use riveting paintings to help students grasp different artists' perspectives.

    Books can also help kids explore lives and beliefs different from their own. "A Long Walk to Water moved me," one middle schooler told me, referring to Linda Sue Park's novel. "I learned Sudanese kids are like me, but lack opportunities. I talked my class into raising money to get them a well."


    Self-regulation allows kids to keep their emotions in check and recognize others' feelings, empathize, and then calmly think of how to help. It also boosts academic performance: Managing emotions is a better predictor of academic achievement than IQ (Lehrer, 2009).

    If they are too distressed, kids shut down their empathetic instincts because they can't think clearly enough to help. Regulating feelings starts by teaching children how to recognize their stress triggers and signs before they're in overload. That's why calm-down corners, mood rooms, and stress boxes (which contain sensory objects like stress balls or fidget spinners) are popping up in schools from coast to coast.

    I've watched 1st graders practice belly breathing and high schoolers do yoga to stay cool. Many educators embrace mindfulness meditation because it is proven to reduce stress and nurture empathy. Visitacion Valley School in San Francisco introduced a twice-daily, 15-minute ritual in which students choose to sit quietly or meditate. As a result of this practice, suspensions decreased by 79 percent, while attendance rates and test scores have improved (McFadden, Sandler, & Fieldstadt, 2015). Quiet time has been an effective strategy in this middle school because each student chooses what works for him or her and practices the self-regulation technique until it becomes a habit.

    An unprecedented rise in youth depression and anxiety make teaching this fifth competency all the more urgent.


    Being kind is what helps children tune in to other people's feelings and needs, trust more, and become more "we" oriented and less "me" oriented. Each kind act nudges kids to notice others ("I see how you feel"), care ("I'm concerned about you"), empathize ("I feel with you"), and help and comfort them ("Let me ease your pain"). Practicing kindness can also change children's self-image and behavior. If a child sees herself as kind, she is more likely to act kindly.

    Kindness is strengthened by seeing, hearing, and practicing kindness. I've seen kindergarteners give one another morning greetings with smiles, handshakes, and eye contact. In Bremerton, Washington, "Kindness Ambassadors" meet their peers at the school entrance with friendly greetings. Students at Pleasant Prairie Elementary in Wisconsin give each other high fives during passing periods. Encourage simple kindness routines like these with your students.

    Kindness also jump-starts a cascade of beneficial effects not only for the receiver, but for the giver. One Minnesota educator encouraged students to do two kind things each day and discovered the kids actually seemed to become kinder. A psychology teacher had students chart their kind acts for six weeks. The kids realized they were happier, probably because they noticed how much recipients appreciated their caring deeds. Aesop said it best: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." A leader's job is to ensure that students take those words to heart, especially in today's increasingly uncivil environment.


    Empathy is never a solitary act: It's only when we let go of our self-centeredness and feel with others that our hearts open. Working together on common goals can help students make that crucial shift from "me" to "we." These cooperative experiences sensitize students to those who may be different or have conflicting interests. This competency also broadens students' social spheres, preparing them for a diverse world.

    Teamwork projects can strengthen students' abilities to encourage others, resolve conflicts, and disagree respectfully—important aspects of empathy.

    Many collaborative practices support empathy education and academic growth. Cooperative learning enhances achievement and boosts empathy skills like listening for feelings and perspective taking (Dean et al., 2012). Conflict resolution helps students work together to solve problems. Jigsaw-type learning activities can reduce racial conflict, help kids learn to care about each other, and improve test performance (Walker & Crogan, 1998).


    Moral courage is the inner strength that motivates children to act on their empathetic urges and help others despite the potential consequences. Demonstrating moral courage is not always easy, but children who do so stick their necks out for justice and compassion. They are upstanders—the empathetic elite—who stand up for others because they know deep down it's the right thing to do. Acting courageously increases students' resilience, creativity, confidence, willpower, and school engagement—and is teachable.

    Mobilizing moral courage may be our best hope to stop cruelty and violence in schools. When kids intervene, it stops bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds (Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001). Train your staff to teach upstander strategies so students learn how to safely assist bullied peers or those treated unfairly. Then create opportunities for kids to practice those strategies so they become habits. I've watched students role-play upstander skills, teach them to younger kids, and present them to peers in assemblies. Strategies like debate, engaging class discussions, Socratic dialogue, and civic discourse also help students find their voice and practice speaking out.

    Lessons that help kids recognize that even ordinary people like themselves can do extraordinary things are invaluable. They can be found in history, through the stories of figures like Gandhi or Nelson Mandela; in fiction, through characters like Dorothy Gale or Harry Potter; or in real life, through examples of heroism from veterans, first responders, or whistle blowers. Keep a box of news articles about heroes and encourage students to find more, then lead discussions about how courage helps us do extraordinary things. Kids need heroes to inspire their courage.


    Encouraging students to help others can activate empathy and help them see themselves as changemakers: individuals who make positive changes and inspire others to follow. Giving—not receiving—is what makes kids happier, healthier, less stressed, and feel better about themselves (Luks & Payne, 2001). Every student, regardless of zip code, has the potential to make the world a better place, if we provide the right experiences.

    School service projects, whether bringing toys to a community shelter or delivering books to a senior home, can help children see the world through others' eyes. And they can be valuable learning experiences. A Seattle 2nd grade teacher's yearly science, math, and service project is to assign each student one square foot in the school's garden. They graph their plot, plant their vegetable of choice, and tend it; but the peak moment is when they hand-deliver their harvest to a local soup kitchen. "The look on their faces makes it all worthwhile," she said. "They realize they can make a difference."

    This ninth competency helps children understand they can improve their world by taking action. And they do so not for trophies or to look good on résumés, but because they are driven by the passion of their hearts. These are the graduates we need, and it starts with empathy.


    Above all the benefits described, empathy makes our students better people. It is what will help them live one essential truth: We are all humans who share the same fears and concerns, and we deserve to be treated with dignity. School leaders have important work to do. What will be your next step in making empathy education a reality for your students?


    Effective empathy education requires seven core principles guided by strong, empathetic school leaders. 1. Ongoing: Educating for empathy is not a one-time lesson, but a continual focus.2. Woven-In: Empathy competencies are integrated into content and interactions, not tacked on.3. Meaningful: Instruction is authentic, touches the heart and mind, and stretches "me" to "we."4. Internalized: The goal is for students to adopt empathy competencies as lifelong habits.

    5. Student-Centered: Students' needs, not curriculum, drive the lessons and experiences.

    6. Respectful Relationships: Empathy breeds in a culture of respect and caring.

    7. Empathic Leadership: Empathy is modeled, expected, and core to a principal's vision, purpose, style, and interactions.


    Barraza, J. A., Alexander, V., Beavin, L. E., Terris, E. T., & Zak, P. J. (2015). The heart of the story: Peripheral physiology during narrative exposure predicts charitable giving. Biological Psychology,105, 138–143.

    Borba, M. (2016). UnSelfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our all-about-me world. New York: Touchstone.

    Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement, 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

    Eisenberg, N., Eggum, N. D., & Di Giunta, L. (2010). Empathy-related responding: Associations with prosocial behavior, aggression, and intergroup relations. Social Issues and Policy Review, 4(1), 143–180.

    Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. NY: Bantam Books.

    Goleman, D. (Summer 2014). What makes a leader? Harvard Business Review OnPoint, 24–33.

    Gottman, J., & DeClaire, J. (1997). The heart of parenting: How to raise an emotionally intelligent child.NY: Simon & Schuster.

    Hawkins, D. L., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. M. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development, 10(4), 512–527.

    Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2008). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. NY: Random House.

    Jones, S. M., Weissbourd, R., Bouffard, S., Kahn, J., & Ross, T. (2014). How to build empathy and strengthen your school community. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.

    Konrath, S. (2010, May 29). Empathy: College students don't have as much as they used to, study finds. Personality and Social Psychology Review. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100528081434.htm

    Lehrer, J. (2009, May 18). Don't! The secret of self-control. The New Yorker. Retrieved from www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/18/dont-2

    Luks, A., & Payne, P. (2001). The healing power of doing good. NY: iUniverse.

    Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Peterson, J. B. (2009). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications, 34(4), 407–428.

    McFadden, C., Sandler, T., & Fieldstadt, E. (2015, January 1). San Francisco schools transformed by the power of meditation. NBC News. Retrieved from www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/san-francisco-schools-transformed-power-meditation-n276301

    Oliner, S. (1992). The altruistic personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. New York: Touchstone.

    Santos, R. G., Chartier, M. G., Whalen, J. C., Chateau, D., & Boyd, L. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: Cluster randomized field trial of the Roots of Empathy program with replication and three-year follow up. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80–91.

    Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., Greenfield, P. M. (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387–392.

    Walker, I., & Crogan, M. (1998). Academic performance, prejudice, and the jigsaw classroom: New pieces to the puzzle. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 8(6), 381–393.

    October 29, 2018

    Take time this week for a period of self-reflection.

    As we approach the end of the first quarter of the school year, please take the time to reflect on your year to date. There are so many awesome responsibilities and tasks that teachers face each day and it is easy to get caught up in the minutia of the moment and lose sight of the big picture of how important our role is in the life of a child.

    I offer you two quick reads this week.

    The first is one a quote by Haim Ginott who was a school teacher and child psychologist. He led the way on effective means of communicating with children regardless of whether you are a teacher or a parent. His list of books written for teachers and those books written for parents in the early 1970’s are still great reads for anyone who believes that the best way to raise our children is through mutual respect and maintaining the dignity of each child.

    You can find a list of his books at: https://www.amazon.com/Teacher-Child-Book-Parents-Teachers/dp/0020139748.

    The quote from Ginott is from his book, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers. As my own children were growing up, my wife (who is also a teacher) and I had this quote posted on our refrigerator to remind us what was most important about being a teacher and a parent. If I had to select the most influential quote in my career, it would be Ginott’s quote below.

    Image of Haim Ginott Quote

    If you would like a JPEG or PDF of this quote, email me!

    The second quick article is a role-reversal article. Typically, I forward articles that help you focus on how you can help children grow. This particular article address how teachers can grow.

    Thank you for reflecting this week. Thanks for thinking of just one way to improve your craft.

    8 Things Every Teacher Needs In Order To Growby Terry Heick at www.teachthought.com

    What do teachers need to grow?

    Training, books, words of encouragement, degrees and certifications, PD, meetings, assistants, rules, policies, laptops–these are the traditional fare of teacher improvement.

    But to truly improve teacher capacity over time in a sustainable way, it’s more about mindset, curiosity, and a sense of progress and belonging. Below are eight things I’ve noticed that every teacher needs in order to grow.

    Graphic of 8 Things Teachers need to grow

    1. Humility

    You’re probably very good at what you do–at least parts of it. You’re also probably very bright, compassionate, and driven or you wouldn’t have made it to whatever place you’re currently in as an educator.

    But change requires self-awareness and a humble approach to your craft. Instructional strategies are great, but the ability to see yourself and the need for change–within or around you–is the most critical step in any process of growth and change.

    Be honest with yourself–your strengths and weaknesses. Your needs versus student needs. Content that’s fun versus content that has a chance to have a lasting impact on the way you lead learning. Honesty–coupled with humility–leads to growth.

    2. Vision

    Teachers who grow have the ability to see the ‘big picture’–what’s most important, the value of an idea or strategy, the drains on their own creative energy, etc. They ‘see’ what’s happening around them and learning and make adjustments and grow.

    As often as possible, strive for a balance of thinking, tools, strategies, and related resources. The most popular, clicked, shared, and curated content on the internet is probably lists. Top 10 Strategies For _____, 25 Apps _____ , 8 Tips For _____, etc. This is probably because they’re easy to skim, extract takeaways, save, and move on with your life.

    But to really see a change in your teaching, strive to have a balance of content—of thought leadership, tools, strategies, frameworks, and other resources that, in fragments, combine to make a fuller, clearer picture of the complexity of teaching and learning. Depending on your own expertise, experience, and comfort level, you may need more of one area and less of another but resist the temptation to skip anything longer than a few paragraphs.

    Your time is valuable, but because it is valuable, all the more reason to seek out the strategy to use with the app in the learning model that followed up on the thinking in the inspiring piece you read last week.

    And a crucial part of vision is what you see. A teacher that grows in capacity over time has the vision to see what’s working and what’s not–to separate what is and is not important (see #5) and have a clear sense of improvement and progress around the former while being able to navigate around the latter.

    3. Meaningful Collaboration

    It’s all well and good that you’ve found a great literacy framework or strategy, edtech tool, or framework for collaboration, but you’re only one person. Share the knowledge—and with a diverse audience of folks you think will read it, value it, and share it themselves. Start a ripple.

    Share it in diverse ways. Print a copy and leave it on a colleague’s chair. Send it through email. Share it on your own blog. Use Pinterest, twitter, or some other method of socializing the thinking.

    And share it with folks higher up, and ‘below.’ There is less hierarchy in education than there often seems to be, but don’t just share with new teachers and friends, but your superintendent, state commissioner, neighboring principals, and perhaps most critically, parents—not just online, but people in your local community that you know and understand.

    4. A Sense of Belonging

    Consistently look to integrate the content you read—with committees, PD plans, professional learning communities, parents, curriculum, student work, etc. Don’t just seek to “use” things, but rather to fuse them with other important pieces of the teaching and learning process.

    If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

    5. A Sense of Priority

    Be selective in what you read. A lot of titles and headlines promise thinking and utility that just isn’t delivered in the content itself, whether it’s a book, blog post, video, or other media. And some of it may be from reputable sources.

    Be selective. There is only so much information you can consistently use. Pare down the sources—anywhere from 5 to 10 blogs or social channels should be more than enough to support your growth as an educator, and allow for change.

    6. Diverse Ideas & Perspectives

    You may tend towards content that justifies your own opinion—confirmation bias being what it is. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The bulk of your content should likely reflect the tone and philosophy of your teaching and learning worldviews.

    But don’t be afraid to challenge yourself by diversifying—confronting new possibilities with a critical eye and an open mind.

    And as mentioned in item #1 (Balance), diversify in terms of types of content as well. Curricula, curricula, frameworks, dialogic content and conversations, and so on.

    7. Pedagogical Knowledge

    Knowledge is everything–it spawns creativity, potential, and purpose.

    Knowledge about how your content area obviously is crucial, as is knowledge about how to actually teach (pedagogical knowledge). But also core to this is knowledge about how people learn–neurology, psychology, etc.

    8. Reflection

    And a big part of this is time–having the time (chronological) and mental space (psychological) to make it happen in an authentic and organic way.

    Take a moment and look at the work students complete, and the strategies you use to bring them to and prepare them for that work. Take a close look at how you interact with students, colleagues, and parents.

    Scrutinize your curriculum, assessments, and assessment results; student engagement, and the tone of the conversations they have that you don’t lead. Look closely, think carefully, and see if you can trace back anything, from macro perspective to a very micro strategy, to something you read, watched, or observed. The vast majority of the time you may not be successful here, but try.

    Where did this lesson come from?

    The perspective that led me to trash this unit and rethink it completely?

    What helped me see this way of looking at mobile learning? And the potential in this assessment form?

    Where did all this change come from, and where can I get more?

    October 22, 2018

    If you enjoyed the “Mindset” book club, you’ll enjoy our next title, “Grit.”

    Cover of Book; Grit

    From the New York Times review of Grit:

    Angela Duckworth, the psychologist who has made “grit” the reigning buzzword in education-policy circles, would surely recoil at any association between it and Wayne’s outmoded machismo.

    Duckworth is a scholar you have to take seriously. She has been featured in two best-­selling books (“How Children Succeed,” by Paul Tough, and “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg), consulted by the White House and awarded the MacArthur “genius” fellowship for her work on this obviously desirable trait.

    At the University of Pennsylvania’s Duckworth Lab, grit is gender-neutral. It’s self-control and stick-to-it-iveness. The two big ideas about grit that have made Duckworth famous are first, that itpredicts success more reliably than talent or I.Q.; and second, that anyone, man or woman, adult or child, can learn to be gritty.

    Plan to join us on Thursday, February 21 at the monthly Superintendent’s Advisory Council
    for a book discussion on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

    Start reading now! Plan to join us in February for a discussion on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. The book is available at Amazon in hard copy, paperback, and Kindle versions. A perfect partner to Carol Dweck’s Mindset, Duckworth believes that achievement is a combination of passion and perseverance, a term she identifies as “grit!”

    Grit and the Greater Good: A Conversation with Angela Duckworth by Sarah McKibben in Educational Leadership

    The nation's foremost expert on grit says being a "good" person is more imperative than being "great" at something.

    University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth's research on the importance of "grit" to academic success sparked a new area of focus in K–12 education—as well as its fair share of criticism. But Duckworth, founder and CEO of the Character Lab, believes that the concept is often misunderstood, and that character strengths that drive achievement shouldn't overshadow those that make us good.

    You literally wrote the book on grit. Yet lately you've been careful to emphasize that "grit isn't everything"—that in fact, "character is plural."

    I'll first begin by saying that different communities use different terms; but when I say character, I really mean social-emotional learning. There are three families of character strengths that we see in our data: one is interpersonal character strengths. We like to call them strengths of heart. They include gratitude, empathy, honesty, and social and emotional intelligence—all the things that help you get along and contribute to the lives of other people. I think those are probably the most important aspects of character, and they're not grit. It's important for me to say that as a mother, as a former teacher, and as a scientist.

    The second family of strengths, which are the ones I study as a scientist, are intrapersonal character strengths, or strengths of will. These include academic self-control, delay of gratification, grit, and related ways of thinking about the world, like optimism or growth mindset. Without strengths of will, a kid isn't getting their work done or moving toward their own personal goals.

    The third category is deeply important and kind of obvious, but I think schools can do a lot better job developing them. These are strengths of mind, or intellectual character strengths, like curiosity, open-mindedness, intellectual humility, imagination, and creativity.

    These strengths of heart, mind, and will collectively are what I refer to as character. But I respect other schools, communities, and individuals who prefer different terms: life skills, soft skills, 21st century skills, social-emotional learning skills, and so on.

    You mentioned that interpersonal skills are the most important aspects of character. Are they also the most important to success in school?

    No, and that's a great question. In fact, these interpersonal character strengths—strengths of heart—are not as correlated with grades as are the strengths of will. When I say most important, I mean most imperative in a moral or social way. I am horrified at the idea that my daughters would grow up to be unkind and unempathetic people. It's important for my kids to be good before it's important for me that they are great. As a human, I think it's most important that we treat other people with respect first and foremost.

    Your work with the Character Lab has shown promising developments for measuring SEL skills. What can you share with us?

    We have had success in three different ways (and some disappointments): First, we have questionnaires designed for research and self-reflection that were kid-created. We went into schools and asked kids to tell us what self-control or gratitude or curiosity look like in their daily lives. And then we had teachers rate these items on a simple scale to determine which were most common among their students, like "forgetting my homework because I wasn't paying attention." We did years of statistical analysis and looked to see which items predicted actual outcomes like GPA or the number of friends you have. And that's how we developed the Character Growth Card and came up with the strengths of heart, mind, and will.

    The second thing we did was create performance measures of character, including a frustration task and an academic-diligence task. These are less fakable because they are behavioral tasks, not self-report questionnaires. But performance tasks, like the Marshmallow Test or any of the ones we developed, have a lot of error in them. It's effectively a single observation, and there are all kinds of reasons why you might not do well—you don't have very good hand-eye coordination or you were hungry that day or the cafeteria smelled like bologna. The latter actually happened to us once. Literally, the cafeteria smelled like bologna and all the kids were talking about was bologna and they were distracted and didn't do very well.

    The third thing, which I think is the future, involves big data. More and more information is going online, like school records and homework completion. In fact, kids are learning more online, through Kahn Academy and other kinds of platforms. So what are the implications for measurement? Maybe we can see a future, at least for certain SEL competencies or character strengths—like persistence, challenge-seeking, and openness to feedback—where you won't have to ask a single question or ask kids to do any extra thing. Instead, you can analyze the data that's there. For example, we've been looking at the extracurricular activities that kids list in the Common App, and we're finding that the data is a good proxy for grit. When we see continuity and persistence in these extracurriculars, it's predicting all the same outcomes that a questionnaire measure of grit would.

    Carol Dweck recently came out to say growth mindset was being misinterpreted and misapplied in schools. Are there cases where schools are also getting grit wrong?

    I think Carol Dweck and I might both worry that our message is not being heard as we intend. Grit is not about blaming the student. I think it's an easy misinterpretation. To say that grit is important doesn't mean that when kids are not performing well, it's their fault, instead of needing more support, better instruction, and more opportunities. I remember when the New York Times reviewed my book two years ago, my feelings were hurt a little bit. The review suggested I'm tone-deaf to the need for structural change and that I didn't understand the plight of poor kids. And I thought to myself, "My own father wouldn't speak to me for six months when I went into education to teach disadvantaged kids in cities like New York." I sure as heck am not out for ignoring the problems that I confronted as a teacher on a daily basis.

    So I think the misunderstanding is an easy one, which is that growth mindset and grit are about the individual, and therefore not about society and culture and structural change. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, what does give a kid the hope that they can change and learn, what does give a kid resilience and passion, are their experiences. There's a responsibility for society, classroom teachers, superintendents, headmasters to create the circumstances under which growth mindset and grit and other aspects of character can grow.

    When it comes down to the tactical things that go wrong, a teacher who hears about growth mindset and grit may say to a struggling kid, "Oh well, at least you tried hard." That's not what Carol and I want. At the tactical level, we would advise saying something like, "Well, let's get out that last test and let's go through every problem together and figure out what went wrong. And then let's practice what needs to go better next time."

    So developing grit is not just on the student, but also on the community and systems?

    Yes. It's a combination of both. When I talk to my own kids, I talk to them about taking responsibility. I want kids to feel like they have agency, which they do. So I'm not saying it's only the responsibility of the schools, the teachers, and society. I'm certainly not saying it's only the responsibility of the kids. I really think of it as joint work, but we have to set kids up for growth and success. I've been in classrooms where I have thought to myself, "I can't see how a gritty kid would even survive here. It is so poorly managed, it is so hostile in its culture." I wouldn't want to go into that classroom and say, "Well, it's on you kids." But I also wouldn't want to go into that classroom and say, "It's 100 percent your teacher's responsibility, and you are all passive receptacles." I want kids to have agency, but I also want society to take responsibility.

    A lot of people say poor kids already have large reserves of grit that they don't get credit for. Are there certain types of grit that are being overlooked in schools, like the grit it takes to hold down a job after school, raise a sibling, and still make it to class every day?

    That's a really excellent point. If I look at a kid's record and they spent four years on the tennis team and they ended up the captain and they overcame an injury … it's obvious that kid has grit. But what about the kid who is holding things together at home and taking care of a sibling or making dinner or helping to pay the bills?

    We had support from the Gates Foundation to look at high school seniors and ways of measuring and thinking about predictors of college persistence. And when we looked at their activities, we were very intentional in asking, not just what sports have you done, but also what are you doing as part of a religious tradition or household responsibilities or paid work? Kids don't think that's what colleges want to see on applications, so it doesn't occur to them to write down that they were working at Domino's 20 hours a week.

    That said, I think that when kids can demonstrate or be gritty in an area like that, they—not because they're poor, but just because they're human—sometimes need help in transferring that asset into a different domain of life. So just to use an example that has no class lines: Say kids are on a soccer or basketball team, and they're very gritty and resilient and they can take feedback and they're coachable on the playing field. But then they're in math class and all of a sudden they're shut down, and the teacher says, "Let's try that problem again" and they're like, "No, I can't do it." I've taught kids like that—I'm like, wait a second, where does all your grit, your resilience, your growth mindset, your terrific coachable attitude go? They sometimes need help in understanding that it is the same situation. They need to be able to say to themselves, "I'm being challenged, I'm being asked to do something I can't yet do. But I can do it with some support and some practice and effort."

    Grit, as you describe it, is one part passion and one part perseverance. What practices support each area of grit in the classroom?

    We have an "Expert Practice Playbook" on our website to help students build mastery toward a specific skill with ongoing practice and teacher feedback. It was codeveloped by Anders Ericsson, who's the world expert on world experts, and a team of teachers. What expert practice is not, is rote, drill-and-kill kind of practice. For example, homework could in many cases be better designed. Is it really focusing on a particular skill? Is it a skill that the kid really needs to improve upon, as opposed to, "Oh, I'm going to fill up a half an hour of time?" And are they getting feedback? With a lot of work that kids do in class or at home, the feedback is not the way it's supposed to be, which is immediate and formative. If you're giving out an essay in English class with one comment on it four months later—which happens—there's no incentive for the kid to take the feedback and improve. What I'd like to see is that the essay comes back in as quick a time turnaround as possible with really helpful comments.

    Another thing teachers could do is provide a structure where kids can improve. I really like schools that are trying to innovate in that way, making it mastery-oriented, where you can take the same test over and over again—or different versions of tests—and your grade reflects that improvement.

    What about kids who haven't found a passion? Can they be gritty?

    Grit really starts with passion. People always focus on the work ethic part of it, but I actually think that the passion comes first developmentally. Usually it starts as interest, curiosity. In a fully grown mature adult, you usually find that there's also purpose and meaning and the feeling that you're in service of something greater than yourself. But when you're 9 or 10, you're usually not that other-oriented, and you're not quite able to think of that bigger picture. What you are doing is discovering, "I like rocks" or "That was fun. Turns out I like being outside a lot." I think this idea of curiosity being central to grit is so important. If you look at graphs of curiosity or engagement in school, the graphs are downward ski slopes from 5th grade on. Wouldn't it be great if those graphs went up? That for every year a kid was in school they were more intellectually curious about something?

    In a grittier world, we really wouldn't be forcing kids to do tons of practice on hard things that they don't care about; we would find ways to have them be playful and enjoy things.

    What does a grit-informed school look like?

    I would say that it is a school where kids are probably doing more project-based learning. Oftentimes schools, for example, assign a senior thesis or a senior project, something where the kids take ownership and have choice, so they're able to do something which is of personal interest to them.

    It would look like teachers being demanding, yet supportive, like the greatest teachers always are. I was recently interviewing a paragon of grit, Toby Cosgrove, who is dyslexic and only diagnosed in his early 30s. But despite his struggles academically, he had become the head of the Cleveland Clinic and arguably the best heart surgeon in the world. We were talking about teaching, and he asked me, "You've probably had over 100 teachers. Who do you remember?" I immediately remembered my English teacher Mr. Carr. He was just about the hardest teacher I ever had, but he loved and cared so much for us. He was that combination. And I think that's what a gritty school and a gritty classroom looks like. It's really demanding. It asks for things that you don't think you can do, but then you have this person who has so much unconditional support, that you surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.

    Your family lives by the Hard Thing Rule. Tell us about it.

    The Hard Thing Rule is that everyone in the family has to do one hard thing like yoga, running, or the viola that requires daily deliberate practice. My kids have to complete what they start: So they're not allowed to quit sports in the middle of the season or quit instruments before the tuition payment is up. They can quit at the end of a commitment, but they have to then pick the next hard thing. Part of the rule is that they pick their own activity; I don't want to choose what my kids do with their time. I don't think that's where passion comes from.

    What if schools had a Hard Thing Rule, where everybody in the school is doing something hard? They would have to finish their commitments. For younger kids, it might be a commitment of two weeks. For older kids, it might be as long as a year. And they would have some autonomy in saying, I want to do violin or gymnastics or community service. I think those are good rules for any school.

    On a final note, you often reference MLK's quote, "Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education." How far have schools come, and how far do we have to go, in achieving Dr. King's vision?

    We're now in kind of a renaissance of understanding what we probably just forgot for a while, which is that kids are people; they're not just test scores, and they have responsibilities to themselves and to others. They need our help in developing. I would say that what we're on the cusp of is doing what schools have long been understood to do, which is educate the whole child. What I'm really excited about is the possibility that science—which has advanced a lot since Martin Luther King Jr. and since Aristotle and Benjamin Franklin and John Dewey—will help us go farther than we have before.

    October 15, 2018

    Image: Child with crown

    Image: 19 Days Growth Mindset week

    It’s growth mindset week. The best thing to do is check your own mindset!

    Everyone learns more, everyone achieves more, everyone believes in themselves more with a growth mindset. As a teacher or parent, we want you to have a growth mindset not only for your own development, but for the development and growth of our children. A person with a fixed mindset around their own achievement views the achievement of others in the same way.

    Start this week with a check on your own mindset! Take the mindset assessment included below. Just click on the link highlighted in yellow.

    What’s the best way to get started with your growth mindset revolution?

    One way is to identify where you may have fixed mindset tendencies

    so that you can work to become more growth minded.

    We all live upon a continuum, and consistent self-assessment

    helps us become the person we want to be.

    Take the Mindset Assessment

    Image: Fixed Mixed Growth arrow

    From Mindset Works: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/

    Review the chart below:

    Student  - Teacher Mindset graphic

    Quadrants 2 and 4 represent a growth mindset in the teacher vs a fixed mindset in 1 and 3, while quadrant 1 and 2 represent a growth mindset in the student vs a fixed mindset in 3 and 4.

    • Consider the unlimited potential in quadrant 2 in which the student and the teacher both have a well-defined growth mindset in terms of learning.
    • Consider how frustrating it must be for the student in quadrant 1 who benefits from a growth mindset, but is in a classroom with a teacher who has a fixed mindset about learning.
    • Imagine the low level of progress in quadrant 3, where both the teacher and the student have a fixed mindset.

    Substitute the word “parent” or “coach” where it says teacher above, and the ideas are the same.


    In 1988, Dr. Dweck first presented a research-based model to show the impact of mindsets. She showed how a person’s mindset sets the stage for either performance goals or learning goals. A student with a performance goal might be worried about looking smart all the time, and avoid challenging work. On the other hand, a student with a learning goal will pursue interesting and challenging tasks in order to learn more. In subsequent studies, Dr. Dweck found that people’s theories about their own intelligence had a significant impact on their motivation, effort, and approach to challenges. Those who believe their abilities are malleable are more likely to embrace challenges and persist despite failure. This model of the fixed vs. growth mindset shows how cognitive, affective, and behavioral features are linked to one’s beliefs about the malleability of their intelligence.

    Dweck, C.S. & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A Social-Cognitive Approach to Motivation and Personality

    If you enjoyed Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, click on the link in yellow to learn about her early research on mindset.

    Chart: Fixed vs Growth Mindset

    From Mindset Works: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/Impact

    Why Mindset MattersBy Marina Krakovsky in Stanford Magazine

    According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, you’ll reach new heights if you learn to embrace the occasional tumble.

    One day last November, psychology professor Carol Dweck welcomed a pair of visitors from the Blackburn Rovers, a soccer team in the United Kingdom’s Premier League. The Rovers’ training academy is ranked in England’s top three, yet performance director Tony Faulkner had long suspected that many promising players weren’t reaching their potential. Ignoring the team’s century-old motto — arte et labore, or “skill and hard work” — the most talented individuals disdained serious training.

    On some level, Faulkner knew the source of the trouble: British soccer culture held that star players are born, not made. If you buy into that view, and are told you’ve got immense talent, what’s the point of practice? If anything, training hard would tell you and others that you’re merely good, not great. Faulkner had identified the problem; but to fix it, he needed Dweck’s help.

    A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise — and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t — why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

    What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development.

    Asa graduate student at Yale, Dweck started off studying animal motivation. In the late 1960s, a hot topic in animal research was “learned helplessness”: lab animals sometimes didn’t do what they were capable of because they’d given up from repeat failures. Dweck wondered how humans coped with that. “I asked, ‘What makes a really capable child give up in the face of failure, where other children may be motivated by the failure?’” she recalls.

    At the time, the suggested cure for learned helplessness was a long string of successes. Dweck posited that the difference between the helpless response and its opposite — the determination to master new things and surmount challenges — lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed. People who attributed their failures to lack of ability, Dweck thought, would become discouraged even in areas where they were capable. Those who thought they simply hadn’t tried hard enough, on the other hand, would be fueled by setbacks. This became the topic of her PhD dissertation.

    Dweck and her assistants ran an experiment on elementary school children whom school personnel had identified as helpless. These kids fit the definition perfectly: if they came across a few math problems they couldn’t solve, for example, they no longer could do problems they had solved before — and some didn’t recover that ability for days.

    Through a series of exercises, the experimenters trained half the students to chalk up their errors to insufficient effort, and encouraged them to keep going. Those children learned to persist in the face of failure — and to succeed. The control group showed no improvement at all, continuing to fall apart quickly and to recover slowly. These findings, says Dweck, “really supported the idea that the attributions were a key ingredient driving the helpless and mastery-oriented patterns.” Her 1975 article on the topic has become one of the most widely cited in contemporary psychology.

    Attribution theory, concerned with people’s judgments about the causes of events and behavior, already was an active area of psychological research. But the focus at the time was on how we make attributions, explains Stanford psychology professor Lee Ross, who coined the term “fundamental attribution error” for our tendency to explain other people’s actions by their character traits, overlooking the power of circumstances. Dweck, he says, helped “shift the emphasis from attributional errors and biases to the consequences of attributions — why it matters what attributions people make.” Dweck had put attribution theory to practical use.

    She continued to do so as an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, collaborating with then-graduate student Carol Diener to have children “think out loud” as they faced problem-solving tasks, some too difficult for them. The big surprise: some of the children who put forth lots of effort didn’t make attributions at all. These children didn’t think they were failing. Diener puts it this way: “Failure is information — we label it failure, but it’s more like, ‘This didn’t work, I’m a problem solver, and I’ll try something else.’” During one unforgettable moment, one boy — something of a poster child for the mastery-oriented type — faced his first stumper by pulling up his chair, rubbing his hands together, smacking his lips and announcing, “I love a challenge.”

    Such zest for challenge helped explain why other capable students thought they lacked ability just because they’d hit a setback. Common sense suggests that ability inspires self-confidence. And it does for a while — so long as the going is easy. But setbacks change everything. Dweck realized — and, with colleague Elaine Elliott soon demonstrated — that the difference lay in the kids’ goals. “The mastery-oriented children are really hell-bent on learning something,” Dweck says, and “learning goals” inspire a different chain of thoughts and behaviors than “performance goals.”

    Students for whom performance is paramount want to look smart even if it means not learning a thing in the process. For them, each task is a challenge to their self-image, and each setback becomes a personal threat. So they pursue only activities at which they’re sure to shine — and avoid the sorts of experiences necessary to grow and flourish in any endeavor. Students with learning goals, on the other hand, take necessary risks and don’t worry about failure because each mistake becomes a chance to learn. Dweck’s insight launched a new field of educational psychology — achievement goal theory.

    Dweck’s next question: what makes students focus on different goals in the first place? During a sabbatical at Harvard, she was discussing this with doctoral student Mary Bandura (daughter of legendary Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura), and the answer hit them: if some students want to show off their ability, while others want to increase their ability, “ability” means different things to the two groups. “If you want to demonstrate something over and over, it feels like something static that lives inside of you — whereas if you want to increase your ability, it feels dynamic and malleable,” Dweck explains. People with performance goals, she reasoned, think intelligence is fixed from birth. People with learning goals have a growth mindset about intelligence, believing it can be developed. (Among themselves, psychologists call the growth mindset an “incremental theory,” and use the term “entity theory” for the fixed mindset.) The model was nearly complete (see diagram).

    Chart: Fixed vs Growth Mindset

    Growing up in Brooklyn in the ’50s, Dweck did well in elementary school, earning a spot in a sixth-grade class of other high achievers. Not just any spot, it turned out. Their teacher, Mrs. Wilson, seated the students in IQ order and even used IQ scores to dole out classroom responsibilities. Whether Mrs. Wilson meant to or not, she was conveying her belief in fixed intelligence. Dweck, who was in row 1, seat 1, believes Mrs. Wilson’s intentions were good. The experience didn’t scar her — Dweck says she already had some of the growth mindset — but she has shown that many students pegged as bright, especially girls, don’t fare as well.

    Tests, Dweck notes, are notoriously poor at measuring potential. Take a group of adults and ask them to draw a self-portrait. Most Americans think of drawing as a gift they don’t have, and their portraits look no better than a child’s scribbles. But put them in a well-designed class — as Betty Edwards, the author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, has — and the resulting portraits look so skilled it’s hard to believe they’re the work of the same “talentless” individuals. The belief that you can’t improve stunts achievement.

    Culture can play a large role in shaping our beliefs, Dweck says. A college physics teacher recently wrote to Dweck that in India, where she was educated, there was no notion that you had to be a genius or even particularly smart to learn physics. “The assumption was that everyone could do it, and, for the most part, they did.” But what if you’re raised with a fixed mindset about physics — or foreign languages or music? Not to worry: Dweck has shown that you can change the mindset itself.

    The most dramatic proof comes from a recent study by Dweck and Lisa Sorich Blackwell of low-achieving seventh graders. All students participated in sessions on study skills, the brain and the like; in addition, one group attended a neutral session on memory while the other learned that intelligence, like a muscle, grows stronger through exercise. Training students to adopt a growth mindset about intelligence had a catalytic effect on motivation and math grades; students in the control group showed no improvement despite all the other interventions.

    “Study skills and learning skills are inert until they’re powered by an active ingredient,” Dweck explains. Students may know how to study, but won’t want to if they believe their efforts are futile. “If you target that belief, you can see more benefit than you have any reason to hope for.”

    The classroom workshop isn’t feasible on a large scale; for one thing, it’s too costly. So Dweck and Blackwell have designed a computer-based training module to simulate the live intervention. Their hip multimedia software, called Brainology, is still in development, but thanks to early buzz from a Time magazine article and Dweck’s recent book, teachers have begun clamoring for it, one even asking to become a distributor.

    Unlike much that passes for wisdom about education and performance, Dweck’s conclusions are grounded in solid research. She’s no rah-rah motivational coach proclaiming the sky’s the limit and attitude is everything; that’s too facile. But the evidence shows that if we hold a fixed mindset, we’re bound not to reach as high as we might.

    Although much of Dweck’s research on mindsets has taken place in school settings, it’s applicable to sports, business, interpersonal relationships and so on. “Lots and lots of people are interested in her work; it touches on so many different areas of psychology and areas outside of psychology,” says Stanford psychology professor Mark Lepper, ’66, who as department chair in 2004 lured Dweck away from Columbia, where she’d been for 15 years. “The social psychologists like to say she’s a social psychologist; the personality psychologists say she’s a personality psychologist; and the developmental psychologists say she’s a developmental psychologist,” Lepper adds.

    By all rights, her appeal should transcend academia, says New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, who is well known for making psychological research accessible to the general public. “One of the most popular pieces I ever did relied very heavily on work done by Carol Dweck,” he said in a December interview in the Journal of Management Inquiry. “Carol Dweck deserves a big audience. It is criminal if she does not get that audience.” Perhaps Mindset will help; it was written for lay readers.

    It certainly cemented Tony Faulkner’s belief that Dweck could help the Blackburn Rovers soccer team. Unlike the disadvantaged kids in Dweck’s middle-school study, the Rovers didn’t think they lacked what it took to succeed. Quite the opposite: they thought their talent should take them all the way. Yet both groups’ fixed mindset about ability explains their aversion to effort.

    But aren’t there plenty of people who believe in innate ability and in the notion that nothing comes without effort? Logically, the two ideas are compatible. But psychologically, explains Dweck, many people who believe in fixed intelligence also think you shouldn’t need hard work to do well. This belief isn’t entirely irrational, she says. A student who finishes a problem set in 10 minutes is indeed better at math than someone who takes four hours to solve the problems. And a soccer player who scores effortlessly probably is more talented than someone who’s always practicing. “The fallacy comes when people generalize it to the belief that effort on any task, even very hard ones, implies low ability,” Dweck says.

    Her advice for the Rovers rings true for anyone stuck in a fixed mindset. “Changing mindsets is not like surgery,” she says. “You can’t simply remove the fixed mindset and replace it with the growth mindset.” The Rovers are starting their workshops with recent recruits — their youngest, most malleable players. (Faulkner realizes that players who’ve already earned millions from being “naturals” have little incentive to reshape their brains.) The team’s talent scouts will be asking about new players’ views on talent and training — not to screen out those with a fixed mindset, but to target them for special training.

    In his 2002 essay that relied on Dweck’s work, Gladwell cited one of her best-known experiments to argue that Enron may have collapsed precisely because of the company’s talent-obsessed culture, not despite it. Dweck’s study showed that praising children for intelligence, rather than for effort, sapped their motivation (see sidebar). But more disturbingly, 40 percent of those whose intelligence was praised overstated their scores to peers. “We took ordinary children and made them into liars,” Dweck says. Similarly, Enron executives who’d been celebrated for their innate talent would sooner lie than fess up to problems and work to fix them.

    Business School professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says Dweck’s research has implications for the more workaday problem of performance management. He faults businesses for spending too much time in rank-and-yank mode, grading and evaluating people instead of developing their skills. “It’s like the Santa Claus theory of management: who’s naughty and who’s nice.”

    Leaders, too, can benefit from Dweck’s work, says Robert Sternberg, PhD ’75, Tufts University’s dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Sternberg, a past president of the American Psychological Association, says that excessive concern with looking smart keeps you from making bold, visionary moves. “If you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll never learn on the job, and your whole approach becomes defensive: ‘I have to make sure I don’t screw up.’”

    Social psychologist Peter Salovey, ’80, MA ’80, dean of Yale College and a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence, says Dweck’s ideas have helped him think through a controversy in his field. Echoing an older debate about the malleability of general intelligence, some scholars say emotional intelligence is largely inborn, while others, like Salovey, see it as a set of skills that can be taught and learned. “People say to me all the time, ‘I’m not a people person,’ or ‘I’m not good at managing my emotions,’” unaware that they’re expressing a fixed mindset, Salovey says.

    Stanford psychology professor James Gross has begun extending Dweck’s work to emotions. In a recent study, Gross and his colleagues followed a group of Stanford undergrads as they made the transition to college life. Those with a fixed mindset about emotions were less able to manage theirs, and by the end of freshman year, they’d shown poorer social and emotional adjustment than their growth-minded counterparts.

    As she approaches the end of her third year at Stanford, Dweck has embraced the challenge of cross-country culture shock in a manner consistent with the growth mindset. Nearby San Francisco provides her with the benefits of a great city, she says, including a dining scene that rivals New York’s; and the University supplies a more cozy sense of community. She’s also brought a bit of the New York theater scene with her in the form of her husband, critic and director David Goldman. He founded and directs the National Center for New Plays at Stanford.

    At the Association for Psychological Science convention in May, Dweck will give the keynote address. The topic: “Can Personality Be Changed?” Her short answer, of course, is yes. Moreover, holding a growth mindset bodes well for one’s relationships. In a recent study, Dweck found that people who believe personality can change were more likely than others to bring up concerns and deal with problems in a constructive way. Dweck thinks a fixed mindset fosters a categorical, all-or-nothing view of people’s qualities; this view tends to make you ignore festering problems or, at the other extreme, give up on a relationship at the first sign of trouble. (The growth mindset, though, can be taken too far if someone stays in an abusive relationship hoping her partner will change; as always, the person has to want to change.)

    These days, Dweck is applying her model to kids’ moral development. Young children may not always have beliefs about ability, but they do have ideas about goodness. Many kids believe they’re invariably good or bad; other kids think they can get better at being good. Dweck has already found that preschoolers with this growth mindset feel okay about themselves after they’ve messed up and are less judgmental of others; they’re also more likely than kids with a fixed view of goodness to try to set things right and to learn from their mistakes. They understand that spilling juice or throwing toys, for example, doesn’t damn a kid as bad, so long as the child cleans up and resolves to do better next time. Now Dweck and graduate student Allison Master are running experiments at Bing Nursery School to see if teaching kids the growth mindset improves their coping skills. They’ve designed a storybook with the message that preschoolers can go from “bad” one year to better the next. Can hearing such stories help a 4-year-old handle a sandbox setback?

    Dweck’s students from over the years describe her as a generous, nurturing mentor. She’d surely attribute these traits not to an innate gift, but to a highly developed mindset. “Just being aware of the growth mindset, and studying it and writing about it, I feel compelled to live it and to benefit from it,” says Dweck, who took up piano as an adult and learned to speak Italian in her 50s. “These are things that adults are not supposed to be good at learning.”

    What Do We Tell the Kids?

    You have a bright child, and you want her to succeed. You should tell her how smart she is, right?

    That’s what 85 percent of the parents Dweck surveyed said. Her research on fifth graders shows otherwise. Labels, even though positive, can be harmful. They may instill a fixed mindset and all the baggage that goes with it, from performance anxiety to a tendency to give up quickly. Well-meaning words can sap children’s motivation and enjoyment of learning and undermine their performance. While Dweck’s study focused on intelligence praise, she says her conclusions hold true for all talents and abilities.

    Here are Dweck’s tips from Mindset:

    Listen to what you say to your kids, with an ear toward the messages you’re sending about mindset.

    Instead of praising children’s intelligence or talent, focus on the processes they used.
    Example: “That homework was so long and involved. I really admire the way you concentrated and finished it.”
    Example: “That picture has so many beautiful colors. Tell me about them.”
    Example: “You put so much thought into that essay. It really makes me think about Shakespeare in a new way.”

    When your child messes up, give constructive criticism — feedback that helps the child understand how to fix the problem, rather than labeling or excusing the child.

    Pay attention to the goals you set for your children; having innate talent is not a goal, but expanding skills and knowledge is.

    Don’t worry about praising your children for their inherent goodness, though. It’s important for children to learn they’re basically good and that their parents love them unconditionally, Dweck says. “The problem arises when parents praise children in a way that makes them feel that they’re good and love-worthy only when they behave in particular ways that please the parents.” 

    October 8, 2018

    Create a Growth Mindset - not by talking about it, but changing what you do in the classroom.

    There is a very strong connection between growth mindset and the type of classroom work and assessments that we assign to our students. I am strongly advocating that we do not rely on classroom chats about growth mindset. Instead, I am hoping that based on the nature of our classroom instruction and assessments, our students naturally develop a growth mindset.

    John Spencer (whose writings I have shared in the past), explains that “Student engagement is a very personal, internal thing. It starts with the student. You cannot force your students to be engaged in the learning. They have to own it… the highest place of student engagement isn’t really engagement. It’s empowerment.”

    A student with growth mindset is an empowered learner. An empowered learner is given choices in a number of classroom activities that support personalized learning opportunities – and a growth mindset.

    This year, our first district goal for 2018-19 and first building goal for 2018-19 supports growth mindset by promoting the notion of personalized learning in all four schools:

    Image: learning personalized

    East Hampton Public Schools District Goal #1 Design instructional practices that promote active learners who have opportunities to lead their own personalized learning and who are engaged in inquiry, problem solving, and higher order thinking.

    Image:  Book Title Project Based Teaching

         Boss and Larmer have written a new book on Project Based Teaching. Whether you are creating opportunities for Genius Hours, passion projects, student voice, or mini-capstone experiences, this book addresses creating the classroom culture, designing & planning, managing the projects, and assessing the work.

    It is a quick must-read and I am happy to provide any teacher a copy of the book who wishes one – just contact me!

    A growth mindset is cultivated and developed by your classroom. Help us make it happen for every student!


    (Brief Sections From) Chapter 1. Build The Culture

    A positive classroom culture creates an inclusive community of learners for PBL.


    Classroom culture is multifaceted and challenging to define, but it is essential to get right if you want all students to thrive with PBL. Across an entire school, culture encompasses the shared values, beliefs, perceptions, rules (both written and unwritten), and relationships that govern how the institution functions (Çakirog˘ lu, Akkan, & Güven, 2012; Kane et al., 2016). School culture is also reinforced by norms, expectations, and traditions, including everything from dress codes to discipline systems to celebrations of achievement. Researchers know that students learn best when they feel safe (Scott & Marzano, 2014), and a strong culture encourages effort, supports collaboration, amplifies motivation, and focuses attention on what matters for learning (Deal & Peterson, 2009). A culture that fosters high achievement ensures that the conditions for learning are ever-present and conveys "a shared belief that we are part of something special and great" (Fisher, Frey, & Pumpian, 2012, pp. 6–7).

    Indeed, culture is so intertwined with learning that it has been called the hidden curriculum (Jerald, 2006). Sean Slade (2014), an expert on serving the needs of the whole child, argues that culture is shaped by everything that students see, hear, feel, and interact with at school. He elaborates:

    Within a couple of minutes of walking into a school or a classroom, you can tell, define, almost taste the culture that permeates that space. Is it an open, sharing environment? Or is it a rigid, discipline-defined playing field? Is it safe and welcoming, or intimidating and confronting? Does it welcome all voices, or does it make you want to shrink? Is it waiting for instruction and leadership, or is it self-directed with common purpose? (para. 2)

    Classroom culture takes on particular significance in PBL. When the goal is to foster inquiry, risk taking, persistence, and self-directed learning, culture is too important to leave to chance. Building the right culture for PBL requires ongoing effort and attention by both teachers and students. Instead of being hidden, a PBL culture needs to be openly constructed, reinforced, and celebrated.

    Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Indicators: Build the Culture

    When a positive culture for learning is established, you should see evidence in how students interact with you and one another. Indicators for building the culture include the following:
    • Norms to guide the classroom are cocrafted with and self-monitored by students.
    • Student voice and choice is regularly leveraged and ongoing, including identification of real-world issues and problems students want to address in projects.
    • Students usually know what they need to do with minimal direction from the teacher.
    • Students work collaboratively in healthy, high-functioning teams, much like an authentic work environment; the teacher rarely needs to be involved in managing teams.
    • Students understand there is no single "right answer" or preferred way to do the project and that it is OK to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.
    • The values of critique and revision, persistence, rigorous thinking, and pride in doing high-quality work are shared, and students hold one another accountable to them.

    How Teachers (and Students) Shape Culture

    The teacher's role in building a positive culture is akin to "developing the sorts of attitudes, beliefs, and practices that would characterize a really good neighborhood," according to educational expert Carol Ann Tomlinson (2017, p. 43). Signposts of this kind of classroom "neighborhood" include mutual respect, a sense of safety, an expectation of growth, and a sense that "everyone feels welcomed and contributes to everyone else feeling welcomed" (p. 43).

    To find evidence of culture in the classroom, PBL veteran Feroze Munshi suggests looking at your learning environment as if you were an anthropologist. He encourages teachers to consider, "What are the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices [in your classroom]? What language is used? What are the practices and routines? What artifacts do you see?" All of these components contribute to the culture of learning.

    Four Strategies for Building PBL Culture

    Let's take a closer look at four culture builders that are especially important for PBL. They involve focusing deliberately on beliefs and values, shared norms, the physical environment, and protocols and routines. For each, a wide range of strategies and classroom traditions will help you and your students build and reinforce a positive PBL culture.

    Remember, too, that the right culture for PBL is likely to feel unfamiliar for some students, especially if they have only experienced traditional instruction or top-down discipline in the past. As you introduce more democratic strategies, such as cocreating class norms, talk with students about the purpose and benefits of these activities. Reinforce the message that everyone in the learning community plays an important role in creating and maintaining culture.

    Although you will likely put more energy into building culture early in the school year, this needs to be an ongoing effort. Culture building isn't something that happens with just one project, slogan, or team-building activity. Throughout the year, from one project to the next, you'll want to continue reinforcing the values, habits, and routines that contribute to a learning environment in which all students can succeed with PBL.

    Ray Ahmed, a high school chemistry teacher at a culturally diverse school in Brooklyn, New York, acknowledges that it takes effort to build and reinforce the right classroom culture for students to succeed with PBL: "We're trying to teach students to be respectful, listen to each other, work together, and have an academic mindset. It's harder in September but so much easier in February when kids are holding each other accountable to the norms."

    Beliefs and Values: Sharing What Matters

    ... Another belief shared by most Project Based Teachers is that students deserve to know the purpose for what they are learning. PBL makes that "why" obvious by connecting academic concepts to real-world contexts. Well-designed projects naturally answer the perennial student question "When will we ever need to know this?" Making sure students have an authentic audience for their efforts is another way that teachers bring meaning to learning experiences

    Shared Norms: Creating a Community of Project Based Learners

    Visit a PBL classroom and you are likely to see banners, posters, or slogans that convey class norms. These typically sound different from rules, which tend to be teacher-generated and are often heavy on "dos and don'ts" (e.g., "Get to class on time"; "Don't use profanity"). Rules are about enforcement and control. Norms, on the other hand, are shared agreements about how classmates and teachers treat one another and what they value as a community of learners. In PBL, shared norms support a learning culture that is inclusive, respectful, and fair (see Figure 1.1).

    Figure 1.1. Culture Builders

    Photo: Classroom Bulletin Board

    Shared norms and positive slogans are prominently featured in Ray Ahmed's classroom. (Photo used with permission from John Larmer.)

    Coming to a consensus about norms builds a strong foundation for PBL. Taking part in norm setting tells students that they have a voice in how the classroom operates. When they work to uphold those norms, they hold everyone accountable, including themselves, their peers, and the teacher. This process shifts the traditional power dynamic and fosters a more democratic classroom.

    Students bring a wide range of cultural norms, expectations, and practices from their home environments. Educators, too, bring their own assumptions and biases. The goal of creating shared norms is to promote a classroom culture that values what each person brings while establishing common expectations for the group

    Figure 1.2. Shared Norms

    Teacher and Student Norms
    Below are the norms for the teacher(s) and students. Norms are what we agree to do as a class to make this a fair and engaging learning environment. We will check in on the norms each week.
    Teacher Norms Student Norms
    1. Teach in different ways.
    2. Call students by their names.
    3. Care about students' feelings.

    o Understand their situation

    4. Have a good attitude.

    o  Stay calm.
    o   Use kind words.
    o  Have patience.
    o  Greet students and say good-bye.

    5. Help students understand.

    o  Work at a reasonable pace.
    o  Explain clearly.
    o  Support different learning styles.
    o  Expect the best.
    o  Re-explain if necessary.

    6. Attend school the majority of the time.

    7. Be respectful.

    o  Give everyone what they need.
    o  Use proper language.
    o  Allow space if needed.
    o  Use supportive words when explaining.
    o  Call by your name.

    8. Have a growth mindset.

    1. Have a growth mindset.
       o  Believe you can improve.
       o  Fail forward.
       o  Keep trying. 
       o  Speak positively about your abilities to learn.

    2. Call classmates by their names.

    3. Be responsible for your work.

    o  Have materials ready.
    o  Advocate for yourself.
    o  Be a professional.
    o Meet deadlines.
    o  Participate.
    o  Be on time to class.

    4. Listen …

    o  to the teacher.
    o  to your classmates.
    o  to guests.
    o  to the directions.

    5. Attend school the majority of the time.

    6. Be a good team player.

    o  Provide good, helpful feedback.
    o  Stay calm.
    o  Encourage others.
    o  Stay on topic.
    o  Be considerate.
    o  Use proper language.
    o  Communicate clearly to students and teacher(s).

    Teacher and students commit to these agreements in Telannia Norfar's math classes.
    Teachers go about establishing norms in different ways, depending on students' age and developmental level, their previous experience with norms, and the broader school culture. Practical considerations also come into play

    Try This: "T" Up Class Norms

    Here's how Todd Finley (2014), education blogger and professor of English education at East Carolina University, breaks down his process for engaging students in norming:

    1. Start by explaining why norms are important for learning (share the "why").

    2. Then have students work in small groups to generate T-charts. The left column asks them to describe a specific example of something that has interfered with their learning. (For example: When students laugh at kids who make a mistake, we are reluctant to participate in a class discussion.) In the right column, teams suggest a norm to prevent that problem from happening. (For example: We learn from mistakes.)

    3. As a whole-class activity, list everyone's proposed norms and facilitate a discussion. Which ones help build trust and respect, encourage inquiry, and promote effort to produce good results? What's missing?

    4. Finally, have students vote on which norms to adopt. Share their final list as a classroom artifact, perhaps as a student-made poster that everyone signs.

    5. Continue to refer to these norms throughout the year, and encourage students to reinforce them with their peers.

    Physical Environment: The Right Stuff Matters

    The physical environment for PBL sends clues and signals about the classroom culture. Some clues are as obvious as wheels on chairs to encourage flexible seating. (If your school hasn't invested in flexible furnishings, you can "hack" your way to a low-cost version by putting tennis balls on chair legs to make them slide quietly and easily.) Other clues send more subtle messages about who "owns" the space. Are there writable surfaces—such as poster paper, whiteboards, or even windows—for capturing student brainstorming? Are students empowered to use technology as needed during projects, or do tech tools stay primarily under teacher control? Putting tools into students' hands promotes student voice and choice, and it reinforces the partnership between teacher and learners.

    While flexible furnishings such as this can be an advantage, they aren't essential for PBL. More important is the message about how the space supports student-driven learning.

    Project wall: By dedicating a bulletin board or other prominent display space to the project currently underway, you create a central location to manage information, highlight upcoming deadlines and milestones, remind students of the driving question, capture need-to-knows, and point to resources (see Figure 1.3). Although a project wall might sound like an ideal tool for focusing the attention of young learners, it's equally effective with older students. Instructional coach Ian Stevenson uses a project wall as a teaching tool with high school students. Rather than a static display, their wall is a dynamic space where students post new research questions, use rubrics to assess their learning, and manage their team and individual progress. A digital space can serve the same purpose if all students have ready access to technology.

    Figure 1.3. Project Wall

    Photo: Elementary Bulletin Board

    In an elementary classroom, questions and resources guide student learning in a language arts project. (Photo used with permission from John Larmer.)

    Sentence starters: Student voice and choice are essential elements for high-quality PBL, but not every student may be comfortable sharing his or her thoughts aloud. For a variety of reasons, some students will need more processing time or support to take part in active discussions. Sentence starters can help get discussions flowing. For example, these sentence starters encourage argumentation and critical thinking: "I see it another way because …" or "Have you thought about …?" or "Here's the evidence that supports my conclusion …" For English language learners, sentence starters reinforce a culture of safety and trust; students know how to engage with one another productively and appropriately.

    Evidence of the "messy middle": PBL is often described—lovingly—as messy learning. Don't hide the productive mess that comes with making prototypes and rough drafts. Instead, keep it visible. Use students' works-in-process as opportunities to ask questions, make observations, and provide formative feedback. There will be plenty of time later to showcase their final, polished products.

    Try This: Classroom Audit

    Take a classroom audit of your physical environment to look for evidence of a positive culture for learning. What do you notice when you take stock of the following?
    What students see: How well do photos, posters, and other pieces of artwork reflect students' cultures and diverse backgrounds? Are you building a culture that's welcoming to all? Do students have a choice about what's on display? Were the artifacts purchased by the teacher or school, or were they made or contributed by students?

    What students are thinking and saying: Are students' ideas captured in their own words on whiteboards or displays of shared norms? Is there any evidence of student work in progress or only final, polished products on display? Do you see sentence frames or word walls to support language learning and scaffold academic conversations?
    Seating arrangements: How flexible is your classroom setup? Can students easily change seating arrangements for different learning activities (i.e., individual, pairs, small groups)? Does furniture accommodate special needs, such as "wobble" stools that allow for fidgeting?
    Who "owns" the stuff: How accessible are the tools, books, and other resources students need for learning (including technology)?
    Learning in process: Can you tell at a glance what sort of project this community of learners is working on? Are there signals that the shared goal is high-quality work? For example, do you see rubrics or other criteria for excellence? Are there exemplars of high-quality work available for students to use as models for their own work?
    Based on your audit, consider changes in the physical environment you want to make to improve the classroom culture. To promote inclusivity, how might you involve students or their families in the process?

    Protocols and Routines: Habits for a Student-Centered Classroom

    Protocols and routines are commonplace in education—and for good reason. Familiar procedures increase efficiency and improve classroom management, preserving time and attention for the business of learning. Through repetition, routines become automatic, requiring little instruction or oversight from the teacher (Lemov, 2015). For example, teachers often have routines for how students turn in homework or how they pass out materials.

    Protocols are structured processes that encourage active listening and reflection while keeping a conversation focused on a specific topic or problem. Used effectively, protocols ensure that all voices in a group are heard and valued (Mattoon, 2015). That makes them useful for building a collaborative culture.

    In PBL, it's important to adopt routines that reinforce the culture of student-centered learning. If you don't want the teacher to be the class expert in all things, then encourage students to turn to one another as information sources with the routine "Ask three before me."

    When students are new to PBL, they may question why school "feels different." That's a fair question that goes to the heart of classroom culture, and it deserves a thoughtful response. One PBL veteran makes a point of helping each new class of 4th graders unlearn routines that emphasize compliance and passivity (e.g., raising hands and sitting quietly until called upon). He encourages a more conversational classroom where students talk and learn together as they engage in projects. That doesn't mean he invites chaos. With simple hand signals, he helps students recognize when they need to moderate the noise level or transition from teamwork to a whole-class activity.

    Like routines, protocols matter in PBL. By using protocols such as gallery walks to focus their feedback, students learn how to give and receive criticism and how to use feedback to make their own work better in subsequent drafts.

    Try This: Hold a Gallery Walk

    A gallery walk is a critique protocol in which students get feedback from their peers on how to improve their work. Schedule a gallery walk at one or more points during a project as part of your formative assessment plan. (A word of caution: In advance of doing any critique protocol, make sure that students understand how to give and receive critical feedback. Consider modeling the process or using role-plays, sentence starters, and other activities to build and reinforce a positive critique culture.) Here are the basic steps for a gallery walk:
    •  1. Post work to be assessed on classroom walls (or display it digitally). This may be text, storyboards, prototypes of products, or other artifacts.
    • 2. Decide on the process for giving feedback. Students can write on sticky notes to be placed next to the work displayed, write on a feedback form posted next to the work, or use a digital tool to write comments and questions.
    • 3. Be sure students know what to look for. Explain the criteria to be applied, or have them use a rubric or checklist for guidance. Suggest sentence starters to frame their feedback (e.g., "I like," "I wish," "I wonder").
    • 4. Have students move around the room (or go through a digital display) silently to give feedback, allowing enough time to assess each piece of work displayed.
    • 5. After the gallery walk, ask the person or team that created the work to read and reflect on the feedback they got. Then plan next steps/revisions.

    Time Needed: Approximately 20–30 minutes, depending on how much work is displayed, how complex the assessment is, and how much time is allotted for Step 5.


    If the work requires an explanation before other students can offer feedback, have one member of the team that created it stay with the work instead of moving around the room.

    The students who created the work to be assessed may post a question or two about which they would especially like feedback. For example, "Does our product sound like it would appeal to our target audience?" or "Did we include convincing evidence?"

    Information about other critique protocols, such as the Charrette and the Tuning Protocol, can be found at www.bie.org.

    In addition to gallery walks, PBL veterans leverage a variety of protocols and routines that build and reinforce a positive classroom culture. Try your hand at these ideas (many of which you will hear more about in coming chapters).

    Morning meetings: These are regularly scheduled, low-risk opportunities to check in with students at the start of class. Morning meetings (sometimes called circles) are helpful for building community, strengthening relationships, amplifying student voice, and supporting students' social and emotional learning. (Learn more about structures for morning meetings from Responsive Classroom.)

    Thinking routines: Thinking routines, such as "think, pair, share" or "see, think, wonder," develop habits of mind important in PBL, such as curiosity, along with content understanding. (Find more examples at Harvard's Project Zero: www.visiblethinkingpz.org.)

    Fishbowl: A fishbowl is a discussion protocol that can be used for modeling, discussions, or peer feedback. A small group inside the fishbowl actively participates while a larger group listens and observes from an outer circle. Students can then swap positions so that everyone eventually has a role as both participant and observer. (Learn more from Facing History and Ourselves.)

    Closers: End-of-class routines provide opportunities to bring everyone together to focus on the accomplishments and challenges of the day and reinforce shared norms. During projects, students are often working on different learning activities or with small teams for most of class. Closing routines bring everyone back together, even if briefly, to reconnect as a learning community and anticipate what will happen next in the project. Teacher Erin Brandvold closes each class period by saying, "You're brilliant. Hardworking. Perseverant."

    Reflections: Reflection prompts and protocols invite students to think about their own learning. When used consistently, reflection becomes a habit of mind. Not surprisingly, reflection is an essential element of Gold Standard PBL.

    Celebrations: Celebrations of learning shouldn't wait until the end of projects. High-fives, shout-outs, fist bumps, and other simple routines celebrate the small but important accomplishments that unfold along the way.

    When introducing protocols that are new to students, take time to explain their purpose. For example, a gallery walk gives students a chance to see other students' works-in-progress and offer constructive feedback to inform the next draft. Consider using a role-play or fishbowl to model how a protocol works. Introduce sentence stems to keep the protocol focused. Encourage students to compare and contrast effective responses with responses that are not so helpful.

    To emphasize the authenticity of PBL, help students see that the skills they are developing through the use of protocols—such as being able to give and receive critical feedback or understand others' perspectives—are important not only in school but also in contexts outside the classroom.

    Start Small to Start Strong

    Starting a new semester or school year with a mini-project is a smart move that helps students get accustomed to the processes and flow of PBL. Instead of starting the school year with reading assignments or labs, high school science teacher Brandon Cohen begins with a mini-project in which students create their own infographic résumés. This starter project makes sense for several reasons. It helps the teacher build strong relationships with students by having them identify their skills, strengths, and interests. Then "later in the semester, when we get into the hard science and more rigorous projects," Cohen says, "we've already developed that trust."

    Here are two more ideas for mini-projects to help you and your students get off to a fast start:

    Cracking the Case: When Julia Cagle and Tom Lee were teaching in a freshmen academy at Morris Innovative High School in Dalton, Georgia, they started the school year with high drama. Students arrived on campus the first week of school to find a mystery that needed to be solved. To crack the case, students had to generate questions, consider evidence, and team up with classmates to compare conclusions. There was no point in sitting and waiting for instructions—they had to get active if they were going to figure out whodunit. Meanwhile, teachers had the opportunity to get acquainted with students and watch their interactions with one another. "This was a cool way to get calibrated to Project Based Learning," says Eric White, who was previously an instructional coach at the school. "An induction project like this starts things off with a bang and builds a culture of teamwork. It's worth the time up front to introduce students to PBL processes."

    Lip Dub: At Applied Technology Center, a PBL high school in Montebello, California, students spent their first two days of the school year working on a "lip dub" music video production to celebrate their school. Teacher Krystal Diaz credits the school's student leaders with planning and organizing the event. Students embraced the lip dub as a way to build school pride while giving incoming 9th graders a crash course in PBL processes. The mini-project was intentionally light on academic content but heavy on culture. Within two days, students had to go from team building and brainstorming to filming and editing. Mistakes offered opportunities for do-overs, reinforcing a culture of risk taking and learning from failures. To help adults facilitate this collaborative experience, student leaders produced a time line and facilitation guide. The mini-project was structured so that every student had an assigned role, which played to his or her strengths. Although students and teachers took the work seriously, they didn't forget the fun factor. Says Diaz, "Our lip dub gave us the chance to become closer as a school, a chance to make something together, and a chance to build a culture—a PBL culture."

    Try This: Build Team Spirit

    Team-building activities are shorter than starter projects but offer big benefits when it comes to building a collaborative culture for PBL. Elementary teacher Jim Bentley likes to use team builders like rope challenges or the popular Marshmallow Challenge outside academic content so that collaboration skills are the main focus. Coming up with a team name or logo can also be an effective team-building activity. Middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron kicked off a new school year by having student teams solve clues to open a "breakout box" she left on each table. "Each lock can only be opened by working together to solve a clue," she explained. Along with cracking clues, student teams had to work together to solve puzzles that related to content. (Learn more about breakout boxes for education. For more team-building activities, see the creative practice problems at Odyssey of the Mind or the quick games to get groups working well together at Gamestorming.)

    After any team builder, take time to have students debrief: What helped or hindered their team's effort? Did everyone on the team have a voice and chance to contribute their talents? If they could do the challenge again, what would they want to do differently?

    Coaches' Notebook: Culture Builders

    To help teachers build a classroom culture that fosters student thinking and supports PBL, instructional coach Myla Lee uses informal observations, structured protocols, and evidence to encourage productive coaching conversations. Among the tools in her coaching toolkit are the following techniques.

    Ghost walk: This protocol is among those recommended by Ron Ritchhart, Harvard professor and author of Creating Cultures of Thinking (2015). It starts with the teacher generating a list of what he or she would expect to see as evidence of a culture of thinking. With that list in hand, Lee walks through the classroom when there are no students present. She takes photos and makes notes. Then she debriefs with the teacher about the evidence she has gathered. For example, how much of the "stuff" on the walls was made by students? Does it tell the story of learning in progress, or is it only the final, polished product? How well do the artifacts reflect students' home cultures? Are there mixed or confusing messages?

    Data collection: In response to teacher request, Lee will do a brief data collection during class time. "Teachers may want to know more about student questioning, so I will spend 30 minutes in class tallying what I hear. Who's asking the questions? What kinds of questions do students ask? Then I'll have a coaching conversation with the teacher. I'll share the data and ask, "What do you notice?' That often gets them to an aha. They'll say, "Wow, I did all the talking! I asked all the questions!'"

    Informal observations: Informal classroom visits give Lee more information to bring into coaching conversations with teachers. The more specific her observations can be, the better. For example, are students using protocols and thinking routines during traditional lessons that could also be useful in PBL? Does the teacher make scaffolds readily available to support language learners and reinforce academic vocabulary? Are students working well in groups, or do they need to learn new routines to support collaboration before teaming up on a project?

    When it comes to classroom culture, Lee adds, it's worth remembering that PBL is not just what happens in one unit. "It's a culture that takes shape long before the project begins. When that culture is in place, you see it and feel it."

    Strategies to Build the Culture: Key Takeaways

    In this chapter, you have read about a number of strategies to help you build a positive classroom culture that will support all learners in PBL. Which of these strategies are already part of your practice? Which strategies are you ready to introduce next?

    Beliefs and values: What do you do and say to encourage

    • High expectations for all? How do you let students know you think they can succeed (and will support them through challenges)?
    • A culture of excellence? How do you encourage students to aim for high-quality work and not simply check off assignments?
    • A growth mindset? How do you communicate and model the need to put in effort to get results?
    • A welcoming and safe community? How do you help every student feel included and valued?

    Shared norms: Do students have a voice in establishing and reinforcing norms for learning together? How do you use shared norms not only to kick off the year but also to sustain a positive culture for the long term?

    Physical environment: How might you increase the flexibility of your physical space to allow students to work independently, in small groups, or as a whole class? Do students have ready access to the tools and resources they need during PBL? What's on their wish list?

    Routines and protocols: Which of the many routines and protocols mentioned in this chapter are already part of your teaching practice? How are you incorporating them into PBL?

    A companion video about building the culture for PBL can be found at www.bie.org.

    Image: 19 Days Week Oct. 15-19

    October 1, 2018

    How Our Children Learn             Image: puzzle head

    Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset, reinforces that “the great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.”

    I’d like to take that statement one step further: the great teachers promote the growth of the intellect and talent, and they enhance the process of learning.

    In either case one must understand what learning is and how to ensure that it is taking place.

    One of the classics on learning (mentioned in the article below is How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. The author, believes that learning takes place when teachers (1) design cognitively demanding assessments, problems, and tasks, (2) give students feedback that is meaningful and timely, and (3) create authentic opportunities that have realworld application.

    Think of what you did in your classroom last week. Then use the highlighted definition above and ask how much of your class time was dedicated to those criteria.

    The article below points out that learning must be active, must be collaborative, and meaningful. That’s also a great lens with which to view your own classroom experiences.

    Image: How people learn

    I will be glad to forward anyone who wishes a PDF copy of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Just email me and I’ll email you back the PDF.

    Arriving at a Definition of Learning by Beth Holland in Edutopia

    Personalized and blended learning and differentiated instruction should be viewed as interrelated supports for deep learning.

    Recently, I was asked to explain the difference between blended learning, personalized learning, and differentiated instruction. Initially, I imagined a Venn diagram—instead of focusing on the differences, I argued that it’s more important to find the commonalities.

    However, I also realized there was another challenge: the need to define learning. Rather than focus on what term to use, or the merits of a particular strategy, the real effort should go into creating an actionable definition that an entire community can embrace.

    Consider the thinking of educational theorists such as Jean Piaget (learning is the active construction of a new sense of reality), Lev Vygotsky (learning occurs through language and social interaction), and Albert Bandura (learning results from active and vicarious experience). The book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School argues that learning occurs when students participate in cognitively demanding tasks, get meaningful feedback, and have the opportunity for real-world application.

    In other words, learning must be active, social, and meaningful. And instead of viewing personalized and blended learning and differentiated instruction as separate approaches, we should consider them interdependent components of great learning experiences that meet those three criteria.


    Too often, teachers limit their definition of differentiated instruction to leveled content, the use of different mediums (e.g., text, audio, or video), and student choice of assessment. Dr. Carol Tomlinson defines differentiation more broadly, as the need for teachers to consider students’ language, background, experience, interests, aptitudes, skills, and culture so that they can then provide content and activities that value each student’s strengths and identity. To really differentiate, teachers must design experiences that maximize individual student growth.

    In a blended environment, students take advantage of the different modalities afforded by both the online and in-person contexts. I have argued in the past that neither digital workflow nor the dissemination of digitized, teacher-driven content constitutes blended learning. As Michael Horn and Heather Staker write in Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, the proper role of digital technologies in true blended learning is giving students control over the time, path (e.g., type of content), place (online or in person), and pace of their learning. The online environment affords students with choice and control over their learning, and teachers gain opportunities for meaningful interactions with their students.

    Technology is a critical component of blended learning. But according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, technology is neither a catalyst nor a change agent within the context of personalized learning. Unfortunately, as with blended learning, a lot of the talk around personalized learning has focused on using technology to deliver selfpaced, customized content instead of on inspiring student agency. Beyond using assessment data to determine a student’s proficiency in a particular subject area, personalized learning taps into students’ curiosity and passion such that they feel intrinsically motivated to deeply learn a topic.


    In 2008, when I was working as the director of academic technology at an elementary school, a sixth grade social studies teacher asked me to collaborate. She wanted her students to understand the concept of empire and to take ownership of their learning, teach the rest of the class about their topic, and create a way to share their learning with the school community.

    First, we created a content library that included books, websites, and videos so that the students could choose to learn in the classroom or the computer lab depending on their needs. Though the teacher allowed each student to choose the empire they wanted to study, she created subtopics along a continuum from concrete to abstract and assigned them to each student based on their individual strengths and interests. For example, students who needed the most support researched the geography of their empire (concrete) and those who could tackle the biggest challenge explored their empire’s legacy (abstract). Finally, she allowed the students to choose how they would teach their peers and classmates.

    The teacher not only differentiated the content but also factored in students’ interests, aptitudes, skills, and cultures. Because she incorporated the computer lab, students could learn in a blended model. The teacher could focus her instruction on smaller groups in the classroom while the other students gained content knowledge via the digital materials in the computer lab. By providing choice and flexibility based on prior assessment of their knowledge and skills, the teacher personalized the experience for each student.

    When we designed this experience over a decade ago, we had neither access to much technology nor an understanding of blended or personalized learning. We wanted the students to take an active role, collaborate and share with their peers, and feel as though they were engaged in a meaningful experience—and in focusing on those goals, we arrived at blended and personalized learning and differentiated instruction.


    Professor Stephen Heppel has said that the modern era may signify the end of education but the beginning of learning. In our rapidly changing world, students will need to learn how to learn so that they can adapt to whatever their future may bring. Therefore, instead of debating the merits of blended or personalized learning or differentiated instruction, every teacher, administrator, student, parent, and community member needs to first understand what learning looks like within their school or district. Without this shared understanding, none of the other terms carry actionable meaning.

    We know what great learning can look like. Students must be active participants. The experience should support social interaction, and the process needs to be meaningful. Blended learning, personalized learning, and differentiated instruction represent interrelated components that can support the achievement of those ideals.

    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

    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

    Visit benefitmindset.com

    Benefit Mindset on Facebook

    Subscribe to our newsletter

    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
    at EHHS
    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.


    Atkinson, D. (2017). Virginia rethinks high school in its profile of a graduate. State Education Standard, 17(2), 28–33. Retrieved from www.nasbe.org/wpcontent/uploads/Virginia-Rethinks-...
    Arter, J., & McTighe, J. (2001). Scoring rubrics in the classroom: Using performance criteria for assessing and improving student performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
    Benson, J. (1981). A redefinition of content validity. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 41(3), 793–802.
    Council for Aid to Education. (2007). College and Work Readiness Assessment [Measurement instrument].
    Guskey, T. R., & Jung, L. A. (2016). Grading: Why you should trust your judgment. Educational Leadership, 73(7), 50–54.
    Lane, S., & Iwatani, E. (2016). Design of performance assessments in education. In S. Lane, M.R. Raymond, & T.M. Haladyna (Eds.), Handbook of Test Development (2nd ed., pp. 274–293). New York: Routledge.
    Picus, L. O., Adamson, F., Montague, W., & Owens, M. (2010). A new conceptual framework for analyzing the costs of performance assessment.
    Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Retrieved from https://scale.stanford.edu/system/files/new-concep...
    Virginia Beach City Public Schools. (2008). Compass to 2015: A Strategic Plan for Student Success. Retrieved from www.vbschools.com/compass/2015
    Virginia General Assembly. (2016). Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13:4. Retrieved from http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/22.1-253.13:4
    Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don't teach the new survival skills our children need—and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.
    Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD. End note 1 This student profile is the foundation of the Virginia Board of Education's redesign efforts to better prepare our students to participate in the global economy (Atkinson, 2017).