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Figure: Kindness and Caring Bell  Thoughts & Notes ... by Paul Smith Photo of Superintendent Paul Smith

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:

ReductionImpact
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 
TBD
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. 

SIX TIPS FOR INSTILLING A GROWTH MINDSET IN YOURSELF

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!

(from) THE JIM ROHN GUIDE TO GOAL SETTING

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.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

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.

FIVE THINGS THAT AFFECT US

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.

THE PULL 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.

STRONG DREAMS

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.

LEARNING TO SET GOALS

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.

THREE COMPONENTS OF POWERFUL GOALS

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!

LONG-TERM VISION

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.

KEY ASPECTS OF GOAL SETTING

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.

EVALUATION AND REFLECTION

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.

WHY EVALUATE?

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!

ESTABLISHING DREAMS AND GOALS

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!

WHAT ARE YOUR DREAMS AND GOALS?

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.

LISTEN TO YOURSELF

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.

TAKE TIME TO BE QUIET

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.

MAKE A LIST AND PRIORITIZE

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.

SET SMART GOALS

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.

ACCOUNTABILITY

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

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.

EXTERNAL ACCOUNTABILITY

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.

THE CHALLENGE

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

OUR EAST HAMPTON GIRLS AND YOUNG WOMEN WILL BE SCIENTISTS!

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
A SCIENTIST AS DRAWN BY A GIRL BETWEEN THE AGE OF 10 & 11.

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.


BY LOUIS COZOLINO


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.

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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.

REFERENCES

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.

References 

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).