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

June 17, 2019

Summer ChairA salute to parents especially during the summer months)!

I realize that many of the articles in the “Thoughts” section offer teacher advice and parenting advice. I know it can get tedious turning to this section and being hit with another thing on which teachers and parents should improve upon. So, with the last Update of the school year, I offer you respite from advice and let you know as parents (and teachers) - you’re doing fine!

Chill Out, Millennial Parents. You’re Doing Fine. By Jim Sollisch in the Washington Post

Part of the human condition is to believe in a more perfect place called the past. We are nostalgic creatures, convinced America was a safer place in the 1960s even though the statistics argue otherwise. We’re sure people were more civil, despite all the assassinations, riots and cities literally burning. And in this mythic past, parenting was much easier than it is today.

Not distracted by all their devices and social media feeds, parents in the past could focus on their children. In the analog land of yore, there were wholesome family dinners and game nights, fathers and mothers spending tons of quality time with their kids.

Today’s parents are a stressed bunch — not surprising since they’re part of the “Anxious Generation.” A recent American Psychological Association study found that millennials report more stress and anxiety than any other generation. If you’re already anxious, wait till you add the duties of caring for a completely helpless little human. New parents are either worried that they are over-documenting their kids’ lives or that they haven’t downloaded the Baby Tracker app yet and so don’t know how many ounces of formula their child consumed yesterday. They are pretty sure they’re not living in the moment, even as they capture thousands of Instagram-worthy moments.

Dear parents of young children, I offer you this: You are way better parents than those mythical past parents, even on your worst days. You spend more quality time with your children. You feed them much better food. (And you don’t blow cigarette smoke in their faces while they eat.) You keep them way safer. You read to them more. You stimulate their curiosity more. You rarely say, “Because I said so.” You spank them less. And you don’t wash their mouths out with actual bars of soap.

The reason you don’t realize how much better you are is that you live in an age where you can never be a good enough parent. You are the collateral damage of a parenting arms race. We had Dr. Spock. You have everybody: an army of friends on social media offering advice, a thousand apps and bloggers and websites, all devoted to making you the perfect parent. In fact, 58 percent of millennial parents report being overwhelmed by all the parenting information out there, according to a Time magazine poll. The result: Every fear, no matter how tiny, gets amplified until it’s all you can hear. It’s so easy to be convinced that you’re a bad parent because you check your work email too much on your phone while you’re with your kids. And you’re pretty sure parents in the past didn’t have this problem because they didn’t have cellphones.

Well, my mother didn’t have one phone — she had seven, mounted to walls and sitting atop counters and desks and nightstands. I know one cellphone is a lot more powerful than seven rotary phones. Today’s phones can distract you from being present for your children at the park or playground. But at least you take your kids to the park. My mother didn’t take us. She stayed home, tethered to those phones. My mother was what Malcolm Gladwell calls a connector: president of a large, national Jewish women’s nonprofit called ORT, committee chair of you-name-it, thrower of dinner parties, organizer of surprise birthday celebrations and manager of a large advertising sales staff at a local paper.

She was simply always on the phone. When we needed something, my brother and I learned to pull the cord, yanking her back to the here and now.

My mother always lived in the moment, just not necessarily the same moment I was in. She had a life. Tons of friends. Endless distractions. And she never thought she wasn’t a great parent. And she was.

But not as good a parent as you are. So please, stop apologizing for living your lives. Almost half of you, according to a Pew Research Center report, believe that you’re not spending enough time with your school-age kids. Relax. Remember, your child needs you to be more than a parent. She needs to see you as a worker, a friend, a volunteer, a person with hobbies and interests. And to be all that, you’ll have to ignore her sometimes. You’ll have to send that text, check that email and post that post. While you’re doing that, your kid will just have to entertain herself for a while. And that may be the best thing you can teach her.

June 10, 2019

Graphic I Belong

Getting Students Involved On A “Team” Whether It Is A Sport, Theater, Club, Etc. Is A “Win For Those With Childhood Trauma.” It’s Actually A Win For All Students!

We are learning more about trauma or “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) and the obvious impact they have on learning – and classroom behaviors. What is also becoming apparent is the impact they have later in life in terms of anxiety and depression. The good news is that we have the power to mitigate some of those impacts during a child’s schooling and as an adult.

If you ever doubted that schools play an important role in the lives of children, remind yourself that schools also play a role in adult lives as well. The power of a sports team to prevent future depression in a child prone to depression brought on as a result of adverse childhood experiences is verified in a recent study (below). And, by “team” we should extend that to include: club, band, choir, theater group – any group or team with which a child identifies.

How sad but that for few desperately needed dollars from our budget, we are cutting existing clubs and coaches, as well as newly hoped for clubs and activities. There is scientific proof that these groups are so crucial to our students!

If you haven’t read up on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in my past updates jump to the end and assess your own ACE score.

Article 1 - Sports a Win for Those With Childhood Trauma

by Elizabeth Hlavinka, MedPage Today

Playing in youth team sports tied to lower rates of depression, anxiety, particularly in boys

Adolescents who experienced adverse events in childhood had better mental health in adulthood if they played sports in their youth, researchers found.

Among individuals with adverse childhood experiences (ACE), those who played team sports in middle school and high school had a significantly lower chance of receiving a diagnosis of depression (propensity score-weighted adjusted odds ratio 0.76, 95% CI 0.59-0.97) or anxiety (PSW aOR 0.70, 95% CI, 0.56-0.89) as adults compared to those who did not play sports, reported Molly Easterlin, MD, of the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues.

However, there was no significant association between team sport participation in adolescence and current depressive symptoms in adulthood in this population (PSW aOR 0.85, 95% CI 0.71-1.01), the authors wrote in JAMA Pediatrics.

Moreover, for boys with adverse childhood experiences, participation in team sports was linked with lower odds of depression, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in adulthood, while among girls, team sports was only linked to lower odds of anxiety, they noted.

"There has been this recognition in pediatrics that these types of traumatic events and social determinants of health contribute very significantly to children's health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pediatricians screen for these events," Easterlin told MedPage Today.

"The problem is, when we're in the clinical setting and we do find a positive screen, we often don't know what to do or what to recommend," she said. "This actually gives a potential recommendation to participate in team sports."

Easterlin and colleagues also noted that other community-based programs that target resilience-building or improved social support could be another option to improve mental health outcomes for this population if team sports are not feasible.

Researchers collected data on adverse childhood experiences and sports participation data from wave 1 of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) survey in the 1994-1995 school year when respondents were in grades 7-12. Data for mental health outcomes was collected in wave 4 of the survey in 2008 when respondents were ages 24-32. ACEs included sexual and physical abuse, emotional neglect, parental alcohol misuse or incarceration, and living in a single-parent household.

In wave 1 of the questionnaire, students were asked if they participated or planned to participate in baseball/softball, basketball, cheerleading/dance, field hockey, football, ice hockey, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, volleyball, wrestling, or other sports. Wave 4 included three self-reported mental health outcomes (a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or screening positive for depressive symptoms based on the 10-item subscale of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale).

Of the 9,668 individuals (50% boys, mean age 15.2) included, 4,888 (49.3%) reported at least one ACE. The most common adverse childhood experience was living with a single parent (27.2%), followed by parental incarceration (16.7%) and parental alcohol misuse (13.5%). Compared to kids without adverse childhood experiences, a higher proportion of adolescents who had experienced childhood trauma were black, with lower parental education and higher rates of health insurance gaps.

Because children with adverse childhood experiences are more likely to live in single-parent homes or have parents with less educational attainment, which are measures of lower income, this may suggest that this population is at risk for socioeconomic disparities, wrote Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues, in an accompanying editorial.

This is particularly relevant in the youth sports industry, which is economically driven by higher-income families spending thousands of dollars each year to "give their child a performance edge," which though unintentional, can "leave behind" socioeconomically disadvantaged children, the editorialists wrote.

"The wins and losses of sports teach the emotional dexterity required for success in life, including resilience," they added."These beneficial characteristics of sport participation may lead to better mental and social health and academic success and may lower the likelihood of participating in risky behaviors, such as illicit drug use."

"Team sports also give children a safe, healthy place with adult supervision outside school," they wrote, noting that coaches often play a central role in children's lives.

Indeed, Easterlin and colleagues found that the link between team sport participation and mental health outcomes seemed to be mediated by adolescents feeling connected to school, feeling socially accepted, and by improved self-esteem, which together mediated 15.8% to 35.8% of the association, they said.

Easterlin said the self-reported answers to the Add Health survey may be subject to recall and social desirability bias, and that mental health estimates at baseline may be conservative. Some individuals were lost to follow-up and the authors had incomplete data on some variables as well, though this accounted for just 1% of data in the primary analysis, they added. Lastly, it's possible that individuals who participated in sports and those who did not differed in ways that were not accounted for in the analysis, they concluded.

Article 2 - How to Build a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom Where All Learners Feel Safe Deborah Farmer Kris in Mindshift

In the United States, 34 million children have had at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) -- ranging from abuse or neglect to parental incarceration or addiction. Children living in poverty are more likely to have multiple ACEs, compounding the effects of economic insecurity. In addition, the current opioid epidemic is devastating families and overwhelming the foster care system, and many school populations include refugee children who have fled dangerous conditions. Many classrooms in America are touched by trauma.

Patricia Jennings, associate professor at the University of Virginia and author of the new book The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, says that childhood trauma can have severe immediate and long-term consequences for students’ cognitive, social and emotional development.

Trauma and chronic stress change the way our bodies and brains react to the world. Part of that is protective, said Jennings. “Humans tend to adapt to chronic stress in order to be able to survive and thrive in challenging contexts. But these adaptive behaviors can impede success in the classroom context.” In school, children with trauma are more likely to have trouble regulating their emotions, focusing, and interacting with peers and adults in a positive way.

The Power of a Trauma-Sensitive Teacher

There is some hopeful news in the sobering research about kids and trauma. “We know enough about the science to know that teachers can make a huge difference,” said Jennings. “The school environment is one of the places where students who are exposed to real challenges at home can find safety and stability.”

When infants and very young children experience chronic stress, it affects their sense of security, and this has a ripple effect on future relationships. As Jennings explained, “When we are infants, we are attached to our caregivers – our survival depends on them. Whatever attachment patterns we have with our caregivers, we project onto others. It’s our template.” If the parent-child relationship is inconsistent, unhealthy or interrupted, “it’s hard for kids to know if they can trust other adults.” A caring teacher can create a new template about adults, said Jennings, one that says, “Teachers are caring, kind people who want to help me.”

In this way, teachers are uniquely positioned to ameliorate some of the effects of early trauma. “The adults in the school environment may be the most stable and mentally well people [some children] have contact with,” said Jennings. “Their teachers can become role models for them for what a healthy adult is like. School can become a sanctuary for kids like this.”

Preschool and kindergarten teachers play an especially important role because children's early classroom experiences influence their perception of school for years to come. Jennings said that a caring kindergarten teacher can help these children “learn that adults, generally, are people who can provide support to them, even if their parent cannot.” That’s one reason the preschool suspension and expulsion rates are troubling. They disrupt yet another adult-child relationship and reinforce feelings of instability. As early childhood expert Suzanne Bouffard noted, “Young children who are suspended are often the ones who need the most social and academic support — and they end up missing opportunities to get it.”

Building a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom Environment

Let Go of Zero Tolerance: Zero tolerance policies and harsh classroom discipline models can “trigger reactions that amplify feelings of trauma,” said Jennings. Punitive measures can retraumatize children and “reinforce in their mind that the world is a dangerous place, that people don’t like them, and that they are no good.”

Teachers need the flexibility to de-escalate a situation rather than administer a prescriptive consequence. Ultimately, these students need to learn how to de-escalate situations themselves and regulate their emotions, said Jennings, “and the only way they can learn that is in a place that feels safe.”

Reframe Student Behavior: It’s easy for teachers to take students’ behavior personally or to misinterpret a child’s actions as willful defiance. Jennings said that teachers should “remember that behaviors that are disruptive or unhelpful in the classroom might be self-protective responses to chronic stress.” This perspective can help teachers make a small but powerful mental shift: instead of asking “what’s wrong with him?” ask “what happened to him, and how did he learn to adapt to it?”

For example, “Hypervigilance can really help when you are in a dangerous situation. A child who is hypervigilant may be adept at noticing small changes and reacting quickly.” But this same hypervigilance will “make it really hard to focus and dive deeply into the reading material.”

Children who experience food scarcity may have a tendency “to quickly grab or hoard things.” These kids might fail the famous marshmallow experiment simply because “they don’t trust that the second marshmallow is really coming,” said Jennings. “In the context of their lives, this is an adaptive response that makes sense.”

Cultivating this kind of empathy takes practice, says Jennings. It means developing “the ability to stop yourself from reacting with your habitual tendencies, take a breath and reflect” on the child in front of you. When teachers take the perspective of a student, “things really shift.”

Generate and Savor Positive Emotions: Because teachers don’t always know which students are coming to school with traumatic backgrounds – and because they have an obligation to teach all learners – educators “have to consider universal approaches that help everybody and embrace those kids who need it most.” Developing a strong classroom community is foundational to this work.

When children suffer from trauma exposure, they are on high alert for potential threats. Teachers can intentionally help students “recognize and savor” small, special moments in the classroom, said Jennings. “Help the class pay attention to what it feels like to feel good. Enjoy positive emotions together as a community. Not only do you get to help kids who don’t get to feel those positive emotions as much, but you also create bonds between students in your classroom – and that is exactly what they need.”

This can be as simple as celebrating acts of kindness, pausing after a good moment to soak up the feeling in the room, and using tools such as morning meetings to foster a respectful classroom culture. “When teachers cultivate community, students who have experienced trauma come to believe, ‘I am part of this community. They accept me, they care about me, and they want to help me. I belong here.’ That’s something all kids can benefit from,” said Jennings.

Draw on the Power of Story: Children with trauma backgrounds need plenty of opportunities to learn about, experience and practice compassion and resilience. Literature is a powerful vehicle to support this endeavor, said Jennings. Stories and books can broaden students’ perspectives, giving them a window into how other people feel, bounce back from challenges and develop healthy relationships.

“As you read a story to a group of children, ask ‘How do you think this person is feeling in this story? Can you imagine if you were a person in this story? How would that feel to you?’” said Jennings. Reading aloud isn’t just for elementary school classrooms. According to one study, even teenagers benefit from hearing about how scientists approached failure and setbacks. (For two curated lists of books related to kindness and compassion, click here and here.)

Put On Your Oxygen Mask First: In Jennings’ work, she focuses first on helping teachers develop resilience, self- awareness, and self-regulation -- and then on how they can teach these tools to children.

She said that teachers need to learn how to manage their own stress that comes with navigating students’ trauma-related behavior. Jennings devotes a chunk of her book to teacher self-care and includes this resilience self-reflection survey that helps teachers think about their own ability to “navigate and recover from adversity.”

How do we best teach children about compassion and resilience? First and foremost, adults must remember that “kids learn these skills through imitating us,” said Jennings. “If we don’t embody them, our instruction won’t work. It will come off as phony. If we are not behaving the way we want them to behave, we are being hypocritical -- and they know it.”

When teachers consistently model compassion in the classroom, the effect can be transformative. Ultimately, one of the most important, brain-altering messages that trauma survivors can glean from school is simply this, said Jennings: “I know there are people in the world who care about me."


ACEs are common and pervasive in our society. In the original ACE study of adults, 64% of adults reported at least one ACE. More than one in five reported three or more ACEs and 12.5% reported four or more ACEs.

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study.

Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

 Abuse

o Physical abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home pushed, grabbed, slapped, threw something at you, or hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured.

o Emotional abuse: A parent, stepparent, or adult living in your home swore at you, insulted you, put you down, or acted in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt.

o Sexual abuse: An adult, relative, family friend, or stranger who was at least 5 years older than you ever touched or fondled your body in a sexual way, made you touch his/her body in a sexual way, attempted to have any type of sexual intercourse with you.

 Neglect

o Physical neglect: There was someone to take care of you, protect you, and take you to the doctor if you needed it, you didn’t have enough to eat, your parents were too drunk or too high to take care of you, and you had to wear dirty clothes.

o Emotional neglect: Someone in your family helped you feel important or special, you felt loved, people in your family looked out for each other and felt close to each other, and your family was a source of strength and support.

 Household Challenges

o Mental illness in household: A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.

o Mother treated violently: Your mother or stepmother was pushed, grabbed, slapped, had something thrown at her, kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, hit with something hard, repeatedly hit for over at least a few minutes, or ever threatened or hurt by a knife or gun by your father (or stepfather) or mother’s boyfriend.

o Parental separation or divorce: Your parents were ever separated or divorced.

o Criminal household member: A household member went to prison.

o Household substance abuse: A household member was a problem drinker or alcoholic or a household member used street drugs. 

June 3, 2019 

“Mastery” Is Our Ultimate Goal! Simply Start With “Retakes.”      Image: Test Answer Sheet

Ask yourself: Is your grading policy about compliance or mastery? Do we want students to master material and gain the knowledge and skills over time or is it more important that they show a knowledge of content on an arbitrary timeline?

Large scale assessments that can be revised and improved upon that ultimately demonstrate what students know and can do should be our goal from the outset. Don’t just question how you grade. Start questioning your assessments.

Make sure you are assessing for mastery – knowing that it takes time. It also happens on different timelines for different students.

If an assessment doesn’t encourage mastery, but only looks for the memorization of surface material, how important is it to the development of the child?

There is a lot to digest when committing to student mastery over student grading. Just starting with “retakes” is a simple way to jump in to allow students to demonstrate what they really can achieve.

Article 1: Tips for Allowing Test Retakes by David Cutler in Edutopia

Giving students a chance to redo tests and assignments can help them keep striving for mastery, if the process is well managed.

As a young teacher, I would tell my students that hard work doesn’t always equate with success. Instead, I encouraged them to work smarter, not necessarily harder, for the next big test or writing assignment. I urged them to avoid cramming and instead to plan ahead, visit a writing tutor, or find time to chat with me about potential difficulties.

For the most part, this advice remains solid—but if I could go back in time, I would tell myself to do more to forestall student disappointment over grades, which often fuels a feeling of futility, as students see little point in ever trying to succeed in a subject.

To prevent this, I now allow retakes on most assessments. For similar reasons, I also allow some leeway for students who fail to meet deadlines. After all, the goal in any discipline is mastery, and I’m not as concerned as I used to be about when an individual masters a concept—just that it is in fact mastered.


During the first week of school, I spell out my retake policy to my high school history and government students:

  •  Aim to perform well the first time around on all assignments and assessments. Otherwise, you create more work and stress for yourself by having to keep up with new work in this and other courses while you prepare for the retake.
  •  A retake must be completed within one week of my returning the original; schedule it with me during a shared free period, or come in before or after school. You may also ask a proctor who is willing to sit with you, as long as you inform me in advance. I will check in with that adult.
  • Keep in mind that while the retake will cover the same content, I may ask you to respond to different questions.
  • I will record the higher of the two scores in the online gradebook.
  • No matter what grade you initially earned on an assignment or assessment, if you did not perform to the best of your ability, I encourage you to take advantage of a retake.
  • Retake policies are not applicable for small quizzes or midterm and final exams.


Retakes let students know that I acknowledge their humanity, that we all have bad days. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve come to school with a headache or a personal matter that impacted the quality of my instruction. In each instance, my students forgave my oversights, and I feel it’s only fair that I return the favor. This certainly involves more work on my end, but it’s worth it given how often students achieve more success on retakes.

Recently, my history students wrote about a slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, exploring whether empathy helps or hinders a more complete understanding of the antebellum South. A handful of students performed exceedingly well, but many others struggled to craft an analytical approach. After anonymously sharing in class common missteps and how to avoid them, along with several exemplary papers, I encouraged those who didn’t find similar success to return to the drawing board. The vast majority of the revisions blew me away, with students taking to heart my comments to compose more scholarly work.

“Mr. Cutler, your retake policy lets us know that you want us to improve, and you give us the opportunity to do so, which is greatly appreciated,” one student told me, after submitting a phenomenal revision. “Your retake policy pushes me and others to take a closer look at your comments and suggestions.”


My thinking on late work was profoundly shaped by a conversation I had with Rick Wormeli, a National Board–certified teacher and author of one of my favorite education books, Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom.

He told me something I’ve never forgotten: “A kid doesn’t do an assignment, no matter how large, and I just give him a zero? He doesn’t get competent. He remains incompetent. Is that really the legacy I want to carry forward? Incompetence, but be able to tell all my colleagues in the larger society, ‘Oh, I caught him. He couldn’t get past me with missing a deadline, let me tell you.’ Or is it, ‘Hey, you screwed up, child. Let me walk side by side with you and develop the  competence and the wisdom that come from doing something a second and third time around, where you’ll get your act together.’ Both of those are greater gifts in the long run than simply labeling a child for a failed deadline.”

I couldn’t agree more, even though I still sometimes struggle with whether to dock students points for late submissions. I want students, especially upperclassmen, to be responsible learners. At the same time, I don’t want to let their occasional irresponsibility get in the way of their learning.

The key, I think, is treating each situation as unique. When it comes to being fair, one size does not fit all.

Article 2: Allowing Test Retakes—Without Getting Gamed By Stephen Merrill in Edutopia

Hundreds of teachers discussed the best ways to guide students toward mastery—without being taken advantage of.

Debates about exam grades and retaking tests tend to coalesce, eventually, around the same arguments. One faction prioritizes subject mastery, the idea that it’s more important to continue to move students toward knowledge than to punish them with a bad grade. The other side emphasizes personal responsibility, insisting that there are very few second chances in life, and that regular opportunities to retake tests simply teach kids that consequences are negotiable.

But in a recent Facebook and Twitter poll about whether our teachers allow makeup tests, the discussion took a more practical turn. Most teachers agreed that retesting was sometimes appropriate, but expressed concerned about setting clear limits around the practice. A widespread problem: When given the option of retests, students often gamed the system, failing the initial exam to see what it looked like—and then simply regurgitating the correct answers later. Under those circumstances, it’s a net-zero game: Neither subject mastery nor personal responsibility is achieved.

Teachers, do you offer students the opportunity to retake tests?
82% Yes

18% No

5,269 votes

“This has backfired on me so many times,” lamented teacher Misty McClaskey in a comment that drew hundreds of sympathetic reactions from our audience. “Students don’t study more. They do just as bad or worse on the retake. That’s a waste of my time and theirs. And I have found if they know a retake is available, they actually study and prepare less.”

Still, teachers weren’t giving up on mastery or on makeup tests, and clear solutions emerged in the course of the back-and-forth. A consensus emerged around some key guidelines for retesting:

  • Consider partial credit: It remains controversial, but most teachers withheld full credit for retakes—though a wide range of standards for partial credit emerged. Some averaged the two grades, while others established a maximum possible score. An interesting wrinkle: a few teachers replaced the initial grade with the newly earned grade, even if it went down.
  • Make parents aware of the retake: Dozens of educators suggested looping in parents when retakes were requested by students. In some cases, teachers asked students and parents to cosign contracts setting out the terms of the retesting.
  •  Keep the rest of the class on track: Don’t slow the march of progress in your classroom to accommodate students who need to retest—unless the exam reveals a broad lack of mastery. Instead, most teachers conduct reteaching and retesting during study halls or before or after school.
  •  Don’t give the same test: Yes, it imposes more work on the teacher, but our educators agreed that if you’re going to allow retesting, the second test should be different from the original—and just as challenging.
  •  Require students to relearn: Students often fail tests because they haven’t put in the work to master the material. Retakes should not be another spin of the roulette wheel—students who want another shot should demonstrate that they’ve made a genuine effort to study.
  •  Don’t assume all subjects are the same: In subjects like foreign languages and math, which rely heavily on sequential skill building, the need for retakes is crucial. Prohibiting retesting can strand students at a critical juncture with no good way to recover. Allow retakes and use the guidelines above.

Finally, a few of our teachers suggested more comprehensive approaches to retesting that seemed to work—and garnered lots of follow-up questions from experienced teachers looking for tried-and-true methods to use in their classrooms.


It takes some extra teacher time—most of these retesting alternatives do—but math teacher Laura Kirschenbaum offers what she calls “mastery quizzes,” which are tailored specifically to “what the students failed to master on the original exam.” These quizzes are short, often consisting of only two to four questions, and can help students earn back up to half the points they lost on the original test.

 An advantage of this strategy? Students are retested only on what they didn’t know. As Kirschenbaum explains, “It seems silly to retest them on topics they already understand.”


In Christina Gregory’s eighth-grade math class, students are required to reflect on, and write about, the questions they miss on tests. Marked exams are returned with the correct answers, and students then “explain the process they went through” to arrive at their incorrect answers, identify their mistakes and show how they affected the outcome, and share how they intend to “correct this misconception or mistake on future questions.”

According to Gregory—who received dozens of enthusiastic responses and questions from interested teachers—these “reflective responses” are about one paragraph long and have several clear benefits: They show students that so-called bad answers are often just a simple, correctable glitch in their processing; they reduce math anxiety by demonstrating that even hard-to-master problems can be solved with more effort; and they get kids to verbalize their thinking and thereby scaffold tough mathematical concepts with language skills.


There’s a lot of research that suggests that teaching a topic to someone else is one of the best ways to learn it. Preparing to impart knowledge, it turns out, forces teachers to identify holes and weaknesses in their own knowledge, creating a mutually beneficial process of learning for both teachers and students.

Spanish teacher Karen Vargo is on to something, then, when she asks students who did well on a test—usually it’s just for the larger, end-of-unit exams—to create a lesson and teach it to those who didn’t perform as well. If students who retake the test pass, both the peer student and the peer teacher receive extra points. Vargo credits Sal Khan of Khan Academy for the idea, and says that her students have embraced the approach, which she loves because she sees that “both students are improving.”


In Ohio, high school teacher Theresa Grossheim Mengerink allows retakes, but only after a student has submitted a form that asks them to reflect on the past, present, and future of their testing efforts. Kids are asked to reflect on “why they failed and what they are going to do to improve” on the retake, and “how to prevent failure in the future.” Questions might prompt students to look at how many hours they actually studied, what strategies they used to master the material,and where and under what conditions the studying occurred.

Research suggests that this kind of metacognition is important for high school students, who are still developing long-term planning skills and benefit from opportunities to practice. According to Laurence Steinberg, one of the world’s leading researchers on adolescence, one metacognitive strategy that’s remarkably similar to Mengerink’s shows great promise: High school–aged students who are taught to plan for a long-term goal, imagine obstacles, and consider strategies for overcoming them show improvements in grades, attendance, and conduct.

Image; how to be a teacher in 2019 from @fun_Fresh_ideas

May 28, 2019

Image: Summer Reading     Join us for some summer reading!

Summer is the perfect time to curl up with a book on the beach and do some reading that is enjoyable and meaningful. The perfect book for both parents and teachers is How Children Succeed. Paul Tough’s book was written around the same time as Mindset and Grit. And while he references the work of Carol Dweck (Mindset) and Duckworth (Grit), the book is written from the point of view of how both apply to children, particularly in terms of how children learn best.

If you enjoyed Mindset and Grit, you will truly enjoy How Children Succeed.

Read the book and then join the book club discussion on Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 9:00 AM at 94 Main Street. Or just read it and share your thoughts with the Superintendent over coffee some morning.

How Children Succeed

Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
by Paul Tough

Book Cover: How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed
introduces us to a new generation of researchers and
educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the
mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood.

Excerpt from the Introduction (page XV)
What matters most in a child’s development, they say, is not ow much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as non-cognitive skills, psychologists call the personality traits, and the rest of us sometimes think of them as character.

This excerpt below is drawn from Chapter Three of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. The chapter followsthe chessteam from I.S. 318, a public middle school in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as they compete in the National Junior High Championships in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2011. Much of the chapter’s focus is on the teaching techniques of Elizabeth Spiegel, the school’s chess teacher. This excerpt connects Spiegel’s teaching to the work of some other educators and scholars discussed in Tough’s book, including David Levin and Dominic Randolph, the leaders of KIPP New York and the Riverdale Country School, respectively, whose schools are working together to create a character report card.

Excerpt from How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

In her chess classes at IS 318, Elizabeth Spiegel often conveyed specific chess knowledge: how to spot the difference between the exchange Slav opening and the semi-Slav; how to weigh the comparative value of your light-square bishop and your dark-square bishop. But most of the time, it struck me whenever I watched her at work, what she was really doing was far simpler, and also far more complicated: she was teaching her students a new way to think.

“Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking,” Spiegel explained to me one morning when I visited her classroom. “Like how to understand your mistakes and how to be more aware of your thought processes.”

Before she was a full-time chess teacher at IS 318, Spiegel taught an eighth-grade honors English class at the school, and as an English teacher she was, she says, a bit of a disaster. She taught composition the way she analyzed chess games: When students turned in writing assignments, she went through each assignment sentence by sentence with each student, asking, Well, are you sure that’s the best way to say what you want to say? “They looked at me like I was insane,” she told me. “I would write them these long letters about what they’d written. It would take me the whole evening to do six or seven of them.”

Although Spiegel’s teaching style might not have been the right fit with an English class, her experience teaching English did help her understand better what she wanted to do in chess class. Rather than follow a set chess curriculum over the course of the year, she decided she would construct her academic calendar as she went, planning lessons based entirely on what her students knew and, more important, on what they didn’t know. For instance, she would take her students to a weekend tournament and notice that many of them were hanging pieces, meaning they were leaving pieces undefended, which made them easy targets. The following Monday, she would organize the whole class around how not to hang pieces, reconstructing the students’ flawed games on the green felt practice boards hung on hooks at the front of her classroom. Again and again, she would go over her students’ games, both individually and as a class, analyzing exactly where a player had gone wrong, what he could have done differently, what might have happened if he had made the better move, and playing out these counterfactual scenarios for several moves before returning to the moment of error.

Sensible though this process might sound, it’s actually a pretty unusual way to teach chess, or to learn it. “It’s uncomfortable to focus so intensely on what you’re bad at,” Spiegel told me. “So the way people usually study chess is they read a book about chess, which can be fun and often intellectually amusing, but it doesn’t actually translate into skill. If you really want to get better at chess, you have to look at your games and figure out what you’re doing wrong.”

It’s a little like what people ideally get out of psychotherapy, Spiegel says. You go over the mistakes you made — or the mistakes you keep making — and you try to get to the bottom of why you made them. And just like the best therapists, Spiegel tries to lead her students down a narrow and difficult path: to have them take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them without obsessing over them or beating themselves up for them. “Very rarely do kids have an experience in life of losing when it was entirely in their control,” she told me. “But when they lose a chess game, they know that they have no one to blame but themselves. They had everything they needed to win, and they lost. If that happens to you once, you can usually find some excuse, or just never think about it again. When it’s part of your life, when it happens to you every single weekend, you have to find a way to separate yourself from your mistakes or your losses. I try to teach my students that losing is something you do, not something you are.”

At the heart of Spiegel’s job was a complex balancing act. She wanted to build up her students’ confidence, to make them believe in their own ability to overcome stronger rivals and master an impossibly complicated game. But the exigencies of her job — and the particularities of her personality — meant that she spent most of her time telling her students how they were messing up. It’s the basic narrative of all postgame chess analysis, in fact: You thought you had a good idea here, but you were wrong.

“I struggle with it all the time,” she told me one day when I visited her class. “Every day. It’s very high on my list of anxieties as a teacher. I feel like I’m very mean to the kids. It kills me sometimes, like I go home and I play through everything I said to every kid and I’m like, ‘What am I doing? I’m damaging the children.’ ”

After the 2010 girls’ national tournament (which IS 318 won), Spiegel wrote on her blog:

The first day and a half was pretty bad. I was on a complete rampage, going over every game and being a huge bitch all the time: saying things like “THAT IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!!!” to 11-year-olds for hanging pieces or not having a reason for a move. I said some amazing things to kids, including “You can count to two, right? Then you should have seen that!!” and “If you are not going to pay more attention, you should quit chess, because you are wasting everyone’s time.”

By the end of round three I was starting to feel like an abusive jerk and was about to give up and be fake nice instead. But then in round four everyone took more than an hour and started playing well. And I really believe that’s why we seem to win girls’ nationals sections pretty easily every year: most people won’t tell teenage girls (especially the together, articulate ones) that they are lazy and the quality of their work is unacceptable. And sometimes kids need to hear that, or they have no reason to step up.

Spiegel often defied my stereotype of how a good teacher, especially a good inner-city teacher, should interact with her students. I confess that before meeting her, I had a vision of the ideal inner-city chess teacher that bore a close resemblance to the character played by Ted Danson in Knights of the South Bronx, an inspirational 2005 A&E original movie in which Danson leads a ragtag band of kids from the ghetto to victory over a bunch of stuck-up private-school students, handing out hugs and motivational speeches and life lessons along the way. Spiegel is not like this. She does not hug. She clearly is devoted to her students and cares about them deeply, but when a student gets upset after a loss, Spiegel is rarely the one to go over and offer comfort. John Galvin, the vice principal at IS 318, who often came to tournaments as Spiegel’s co-coach, was better at that sort of thing, she said; he had more “emotional intelligence.”

“I definitely have a warm relationship with a lot of the kids,” Spiegel told me at one tournament. “But I think my job as a teacher is to be more like a mirror, to talk about what they did on the chessboard and help them think about it. It’s a big thing to offer a kid. They put a lot of work into something, and you really look at it with them on a non-condescending level. That’s something that kids don’t often get, and in my experience, they really want it. But it’s not like I love them and mother them. I’m not that kind of person.”

Researchers in neuroscience and developmental psychology have demonstrated that for infants to develop qualities like perseverance and focus, they need a high level of warmth and nurturance from their caregivers. What Spiegel’s success suggests, though, is that when children reach early adolescence, what motivates them most effectively isn’t nurturing care but a very different kind of attention. Perhaps what pushes middle-school students to concentrate and practice as maniacally as Spiegel’s chess players do is the unexpected experience of someone taking them seriously, believing in their abilities, and challenging them to improve themselves.

During the months when I was most actively reporting at IS 318, watching the team prepare for the tournament in Columbus, I was also spending a lot of time at KIPP Infinity, tracking the development of the character report card. And as I shuttled back and forth on the subway between West Harlem and South Williamsburg, I had plenty of time to contemplate the parallels between Spiegel’s methods of training her students in chess and the way that teachers and administrators at KIPP talked to their students about day-to-day emotional crises or behavioral lapses. At one point, KIPP Infinity’s dean, Tom Brunzell, said he considered his approach to be a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy. When his students were flailing, lost in moments of stress and emotional turmoil, he would encourage them to do the kind of big-picture thinking — the metacognition, as many psychologists call it — that takes place in the prefrontal cortex: slowing down, examining their impulses, and considering more productive solutions to their problems than, say, yelling at a teacher or shoving another kid on the playground. In her postgame chess analyses, Spiegel had simply developed a more formalized way to do this. Like students at KIPP, IS 318 students were being challenged to look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently. And whether you call that approach cognitive therapy or just plain good teaching, it seemed remarkably effective in producing change in middle-school students.

This technique, though, is actually quite rare in contemporary American schools. If you believe that your school’s mission or your job as a teacher is simply to convey information, then it probably doesn’t seem necessary to subject your students to that kind of rigorous self-analysis. But if you’re trying to help them change their character, then conveying information isn’t enough. And while Spiegel didn’t use the word character to describe what she was teaching, there was a remarkable amount of overlap between the strengths emphasized by David Levin and Dominic Randolph and the skills that Spiegel tried to inculcate in her students. Every day, in the classroom and at tournaments, I saw Spiegel trying to teach her students grit, curiosity, self-control, and optimism.

Book Summary: How Children Succeed Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough


In this book, Paul Tough challenges the commonly held belief that a child’s success is primarily dependent on cognitive skills – what he calls the “Cognitive Hypothesis.” In this context, cognitive skills are those that get measured on tests – things like the ability to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns. The cognitive hypothesis continues with the belief that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, as early as possible.

Tough suggests that this conventional wisdom about child development has been misguided. In short, he purports that “we have been focusing on the wrong skills and abilities in our children, and using the wrong strategies to help nurture and teach those skills.” (xv)

The book is filled with both science-based research and analysis, as well as true-life example after example of children that succeeded (or not), showing that behavior and social skills are truly what make the difference for a child. It’s not that cognitive factors are unimportant, but that noncognitive factors account for much more of the benefit that a child receives.

What are noncognitive factors? Tough pulls from several different experts and sources to define them. Probably most familiar is James Heckman, Nobel Prize winner in economics and an economist at the University of Chicago. Heckman includes curiosity, self-control, and social fluidity in his description of noncognitive factors. (xx)

David Levin, Yale graduate and teacher at KIPP Academy, a middle school in the South Bronx, calls these noncognitive factors “character strengths.” His real life experience led to his belief that the kids who succeeded in college were those with character strengths, such as grit (a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission), self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, curiosity (52, 74 and 76).

In How Children Succeed, Tough concludes that “If we want to improve the odds for children in general, and for poor children in particular, we need to approach childhood anew, to start over with some fundamental questions about how parents affect their children; how human skills develop; how character is formed.” (xxiv)

Chapter 1: How to Fail (And How Not To)

This chapter documents how adverse childhood experiences have a significant effect on everything including a child’s health and ability to learn. Whether you call it social, economic, or neurochemical – childhood stress and trauma may cause long-term damage to a child.

According to Tough, the antidote is parents. ”Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment. This message can sound a bit warm and fuzzy, but it is rooted in cold, hard science. The effect of good parenting is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; it is biochemical.” (28)

“... one of the most promising facts about programs that target emotional and psychological and neurological pathways is that they can be quite effective later on in childhood too – much more so than cognitive interventions.” (48)

Chapter 2: How to Build Character

This chapter uses multiple examples to show that the students who succeeded in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically in lower grades, but rather those who possessed certain other skills like optimism and resilience and social agility. (52)

A key point that Tough makes is that these character skills are not something that are innate and unchanging, but rather “a set of abilities or strengths that are very much changeable – entirely malleable, in fact. They are skills you can learn; they are skills you can practice; and they are skills you can teach.” (59)

“Here’s one way of looking at character: It can function as a substitute for the social safety net that students at Riverdale enjoy – the support from their families and schools and culture that protects them from the consequences of occasional detours and mistakes and bad decisions. If you don’t have that kind of safety net – and children in low-income families almost by definition do not – you need to compensate in another way. To succeed, you need more grit, more social intelligence, more self-control than wealthier kids.” (104)

Chapter 3: How to Think

This chapter focuses on the way that students learn to pay attention, resist distraction, and overcome mistakes. It offers examples of students who were challenged to look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently. “And whether you call that approach cognitive therapy or just plan good teaching, it seemed remarkably effective in producing change in middle school students.” (121)

Chapter 4: How to Succeed

This chapter moves to the college end of the education continuum, looking at what it takes for children to become successful college students. “... In each case, a teacher or mentor found a way to help a student achieve a rapid and unexpected transformation by using what James Heckman would call noncognitive skills and David Levin would call character strengths. What if we could do that for large numbers of teenagers – not to help them attain chess mastery or persuade them to quit fighting in school but to help them develop precisely those mental skills and character strengths they would need to graduate from college?” (134) One expert and practitioner identified nonacademic skills he believed would lead most directly to and offset disparities in college success. They include: resourcefulness, resilience, ambition, professionalism and integrity.” (162)

Chapter 5: A Better Path

Tough summarizes how science suggests a very different reality than the current focus on cognitive skills. He states that science shows, “that the character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up.... We now know a great deal about what kind of interventions will help children develop those strengths and skills, starting at birth and going all the way through college.” (196)

May 20, 2019

Image: WowWhat makes you say “Wow!” What makes the students in your classroom say “Wow!” 

Have you heard students say, “Wow” at the end of one your lessons, or as a result of doing classroom research, or upon learning something interesting? I think “Wow” is a powerful expression to hear out of the mouths of our children.

Consider what makes you say, “Wow” these days. Are you providing that same experience of awe, wonder, and joy in your classroom?

What was your best “Wow” moment of the week? If students aren’t saying, “Wow” in your classroom, it’s time to reflection ways to creating a moment of “Wow” each day, in each lesson.

One of the most delightful expressions of “Wow” recently came at the end of a concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall upon the conclusion of Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music performed by the Handel and Haydn Society. Click the link and scroll down to where it says
LISTEN: https://www.classicalwcrb.org/post/priceless-wow-moment-concert-hall#stream/0

Photo: Conductor and Orchestra

A nine-year-old child, in a moment of silence at the end of the Mozart selection, sincerely expresses a joyful, “Wow!”

I actually got choked up the first time I heard it and the reaction of the crowd was delightful. The executive director of the orchestra was so taken with the expression that he worked to find out exactly who had

made the statement at the end by posting on the orchestra’s Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/i/status/1126123284255399942) and on their social media sites:

Image:  Letter to find "wow" child

It turns out they did find the child, who turned out to be a child with autism and typically non-verbal. What a powerful moment for that child, for the audience, and the orchestra. I hope as teachers you have moments like that on a regular basis!

UPDATE: the child has been found! Read more from WGBH News.


From: WGBH News

Seconds after the orchestra stopped playing Mozart's "Masonic Funeral Music" at the Boston Symphony Hall on Sunday, 9-year-old Ronan Mattin was so swept away by the music that he loudly exclaimed — for the whole auditorium to hear — "Wow!"

After a beat, as Ronan's awe-filled "Wow!" echoed throughout the hall, the audience burst into laughter and cheers. So charmed were the Handel and Haydn Society by the child's exclamation that they asked the public to help find him, hoping to reward the sweet sentiment with a trip to meet the artistic director. Audio of the concert was recorded by WCRB, Boston's classical radio station (and part of the WGBH Foundation).

Ronan didn't mean to be disruptive, said his grandfather, Stephen Mattin, who took Ronan to the concert. His grandson, Mattin explained, is on the autism spectrum, and often expresses himself differently than other people.

"I can count on one hand the number of times that [he's] spontaneously ever come out with some expression of how he's feeling," Mattin said.

Mattin said that his sister-in-law saw on television that the Handel and Haydn Society was searching for the "wow kid," and the family, who lives in Kensington, New Hampshire, reached out soon after. The Society has invited them to meet the artistic director, and they are figuring out a date.

Ronan is a huge music fan, his grandfather said. He took the 9-year-old to another concert in Boston a few months ago, and he "talked about nothing else for weeks," he said. Ronan loves taking trips to visit the Museum of Science and the Mattin said he certainly wasn't expecting his grandson's exclamation, but was glad the Society were tickled by it and wanted to connect.

"I had told several people because I thought it was a funny story," Mattin said with a laugh. "About how he was expressing his admiration for the performance and put everybody in stitches."

David Snead, the president and CEO of the Handel and Haydn Society, wrote in a Facebook post that it was "one of the most wonderful moments [he's] experienced in the concert hall."

Ronan's parents, who live about a mile down the road from Mattin, got a kick out of the story, too.

"They weren't too surprised that he should do something to crack everybody up because he's a pretty funny guy," Mattin said.

Mattin said he was touched by the kindness of the other audience members and performers after the "wow" moment, and that the Society reached out.

"You know, everybody's different. Everybody has different ways of expressing themselves," Mattin said. "I think people in general, society's becoming more tolerant or understanding of the differences between people."

Listen to a radio interview on CBC with the executive director of the orchestra who describes the event and the effort to find the child: 


What’s in your manifesto?

You may have great ideas on how to change schools for the better, but Seth Godin has actually shared them with anyone who will listen. His free “manifesto,” Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?) is a free publication and/or podcast with some truly thought provoking ideas. 

I like Seth Godin’s books (most of which deal with organizations, business, teams, and efficiency), particularly the Purple Cow. Written with business and corporations in mind, he encourages them to identify their “purple cow” – that which makes them unique. His premise of the book is “how to add distinction – and avoid extinction.” I think it’s a great idea for every one of us to identify exactly what for which we should be known. His “manifesto” may be a bit more radical, but no less interesting! 

According to Amazon.com:
Seth Godin is the author of nineteen international bestsellers that have been translated into over 35 languages, and have changed the way people think about marketing and work. For a long time, Unleashing the Ideavirus was the most popular ebook ever published, and Purple Cow is the bestselling marketing book of the decade. 

He's a recent inductee to the Marketing Hall of Fame, and also a member of the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and (go figure), the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame. 

His book, Tribes, was a nationwide bestseller, appearing on the Amazon, New York Times, BusinessWeek and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. It's about the most powerful form of marketing--leadership--and how anyone can now become a leader, creating movements that matter. 

His book Linchpin came out in 2008 and was the fastest selling book of his career. Linchpin challenges you to stand up, do work that matters and race to the top instead of the bottom. More than that, though, the book outlines a massive change in our economy, a fundamental shift in what it means to have a job. 

Since Linchpin, Godin has published two more books, Poke the Box and We Are All Weird, through his Domino Project. He followed these with The Icarus Deception via Kickstarter, which reached its goal in less than three hours. Joined by Watcha Gonna Do With That Duck and V is for Vulnerable, those books are now widely available. In late 2014, he announced his latest, What To Do When It's Your Turn, sold directly from his website. 

 In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth was founder and CEO of Squidoo.com,. His blog (find it by typing "seth" into Google) is the most popular marketing blog in the world. Before his work as a writer and blogger, Godin was Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne. You can find every single possible detail that anyone could ever want to know at sethgodin.com.

Image: Book Title Stop stealing dreams

An audio version of Stop Stealing Dreamshttps://stopstealingdreams.bandcamp.com/album/stop-stealing-dreams 
A (free download) PDF of Stop Stealing Dreams: https://sethgodin.typepad.com/files/stop-stealing-dreams6print.pdf (Don’t hit PRINT; it’s 98 pages!)
A brief TED TALK on Stop Stealing Dreams:
A blog by Seth Godin:

While many of his books focus on effective organizations, Stop Stealing Dreams is his (somewhat drastic) tribute to changing schools. The entire 98-page version is available as a free PDF. Below are some highlights: 

From Section 2

… This isn’t a prescription. It’s not a manual. It’s a series of provocations, ones that might resonate and that I hope will provoke conversation… 

None of this writing is worth the effort if the ideas aren’t shared. Feel free to email or reprint this manifesto, but please don’t change it or charge for it… You can find a page for comments at http://www.stopstealingdreams.com. Most of all, go do something. Write your own manifesto… Start your own school. Post a video lecture or two. But don’t settle… 

Section 5: Column A and Column B


or                         Obedient

Which column do you pick? Whom do you want to work for or work next to? Whom do you want to hire? Which doctor do you want to treat you? Whom do you want to live with? Last question: If you were organizing a trillion-dollar, sixteenyear indoctrination program to turn out the next generation of our society, which column would you build it around? 

Section 14: The wishing and dreaming problem

If you had a wish, what would it be? If a genie arrived and granted you a wish, would it be a worthwhile one?

I think our wishes change based on how we grow up, what we’re taught, whom we hang out with, and what our parents do. 

Our culture has a dreaming problem. It was largely created by the current regime in schooling, and it’s getting worse. 

Dreamers in school are dangerous. Dreamers can be impatient, unwilling to become well-rounded, and most of all, hard to fit into existing systems. 

One more question to ask at the school board meeting: “What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?” 

Section 15: “When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut assistant”

Jake Halpern did a rigorous study of high school students. The most disturbing result was this: “When you grow up, which of the following jobs would you most like to have?”

  • The chief of a major company like General Motors 
  •  A Navy SEAL 
  • A United States Senator 
  • The president of a great university like Harvard or Yale
  • The personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star

The results: Among girls, the results were as follows: 9.5 percent chose “the chief of a major company like General Motors”; 9.8 percent chose “a Navy SEAL”; 13.6 percent chose “a United States Senator”; 23.7 percent chose “the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale”; and 43.4 percent chose “the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star.”

Notice that these kids were okay with not actually being famous—they were happy to be the assistant of someone who lived that fairy tale lifestyle.

Is this the best we can do? Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? 

The century of dream-snuffing has to end. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.

Section 17: Reinventing school

If the new goal of school is to create something different from what we have now, and if new technologies and new connections are changing the way school can deliver its lessons, it’s time for a change.

Here are a dozen ways school can be rethought:

  • Homework during the day, lectures at night 
  • Open book, open note, all the time 
  • Access to any course, anywhere in the world 
  • Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction 
  • The end of multiple-choice exams 
  • Experience instead of test scores as a measure of achievement 
  • The end of compliance as an outcome 
  • Cooperation instead of isolation 
  • Amplification of outlying students, teachers, and ideas 
  • Transformation of the role of the teacher 
  • Lifelong learning, earlier work 
  • Death of the nearly famous college

It’s easier than ever to open a school, to bring new technology into school, and to change how we teach. But if all we do with these tools is teach compliance and consumption, that’s all we’re going to get. School can and must do more than train the factory workers of tomorrow. 

Section 39: Where did the good jobs go?

Hint: The old ones, the ones we imagine when we think about the placement office and the pension—the ones that school prepared us for—they’re gone.

In 1960, the top ten employers in the U.S. were: GM, AT&T, Ford, GE, U.S. Steel, Sears, A&P, Esso, Bethlehem Steel, and IT&T. Eight of these (not so much Sears and A&P) offered substantial pay and a long-term career to hard-working people who actually made something. It was easy to see how the promises of advancement and a social contract could be kept, particularly for the “good student” who had demonstrated an ability and willingness to be part of the system.

Today, the top ten employers are: Walmart, Kelly Services, IBM, UPS, McDonald’s, Yum (Taco Bell, KFC, et al), Target, Kroger, HP, and The Home Depot. Of these, only two (two!) offer a path similar to the one that the vast majority of major companies offered fifty years ago. 

Burger flippers of the world, unite. 

Here’s the alternative: what happens when there are fifty companies like Apple? What happens when there is an explosion in the number of new power technologies, new connection mechanisms, new medical approaches? The good jobs of the future aren’t going to involve working for giant companies on an assembly line. They all require individuals willing to chart their own path, whether or not they work for someone else. 

The jobs of the future are in two categories: the downtrodden assemblers of cheap mass goods and the respected creators of the unexpected. 

The increasing gap between those racing to the bottom and those working toward the top is going to make the 99 percent divide seem like nostalgia.

Virtually every company that isn’t forced to be local is shifting gears so it doesn’t have to be local. Which means that the call center and the packing center and the data center and the assembly line are quickly moving to places where there are cheaper workers. And more compliant workers. 

Is that going to be you or your kids or the students in your town? 

The other route—the road to the top—is for the few who figure out how to be linchpins and artists. People who are hired because they’re totally worth it, because they offer insight and creativity and innovation that just can’t be found easily. Scarce skills combined with even scarcer attitudes almost always lead to low unemployment and high wages.

An artist is someone who brings new thinking and generosity to his work, who does human work that changes another for the better. An artist invents a new kind of insurance policy, diagnoses a disease that someone else might have missed, or envisions a future that’s not here yet. 

And a linchpin is the worker we can’t live without, the one we’d miss if she was gone. The linchpin brings enough gravity, energy, and forward motion to work that she makes things happen. 

Sadly, most artists and most linchpins learn their skills and attitudes despite school, not because of it. 

The future of our economy lies with the impatient. The linchpins and the artists and the scientists who will refuse to wait to be hired and will take things into their own hands, building their own value, producing outputs others will gladly pay for. Either they’ll do that on their own or someone will hire them and give them a platform to do it. 

The only way out is going to be mapped by those able to dream. 

Section 44: Defining the role of a teacher

It used to be simple: the teacher was the cop, the lecturer, the source of answers, and the gatekeeper to resources. All rolled into one. 

A teacher might be the person who is capable of delivering information. A teacher can be your best source of finding out how to do something or why something works. 

A teacher can also serve to create a social contract or environment where people will change their posture, do their best work, and stretch in new directions. We’ve all been in environments where competition, social status, or the direct connection with another human being has changed us. 

The Internet is making the role of content gatekeeper unimportant. Redundant. Even wasteful.

If there’s information that can be written down, widespread digital access now means that just about anyone can look it up. We don’t need a human being standing next to us to lecture us on how to find the square root of a number or sharpen an axe. 

(Worth stopping for a second and reconsidering the revolutionary nature of that last sentence.)

What we do need is someone to persuade us that we want to learn those things, and someone to push us or encourage us or create a space where we want to learn to do them better. 

If all the teacher is going to do is read her pre-written notes from a PowerPoint slide to a lecture hall of thirty or three hundred, perhaps she should stay home. Not only is this a horrible disrespect to the student, it’s a complete waste of the heart and soul of the talented teacher. 

Teaching is no longer about delivering facts that are unavailable in any other format. 

Section 45: Shouldn’t parents do the motivating?

Of course they should. They should have the freedom to not have to work two jobs, they should be aware enough of the changes in society to be focused on a new form of education, and they should have the skills and the confidence and the time to teach each child what he needs to know to succeed in a new age.

But they’re not and they don’t. And as a citizen, I’m not sure I want to trust a hundred million amateur teachers to do a world-class job of designing our future. Some parents (like mine) were just stunningly great at this task, serious and focused and generous while they relentlessly taught my sisters and me about what we could accomplish and how to go about it.

I can’t think of anything more cynical and selfish, though, than telling kids who didn’t win the parent lottery that they’ve lost the entire game. Society has the resources and the skill (and thus the obligation) to reset cultural norms and to amplify them through schooling. I don’t think we maximize our benefit when we turn every child’s education into a first-time home-based project. 

We can amplify each kid’s natural inclination to dream, we can inculcate passion in a new generation, and we can give kids the tools to learn more, and faster, in a way that’s never been seen before.

And if parents want to lead (or even to help, or merely get out of the way), that’s even better. 

Section 51: How they saved LEGO

Dr. Derek Cabrera noticed something really disturbing. The secret to LEGO’s success was the switch from all-purpose LEGO sets, with blocks of different sizes and colors, to predefined kits, models that must be assembled precisely one way, or they’re wrong. Why would these sell so many more copies? 

Because they match what parents expect and what kids have been trained to do. 

There’s a right answer! The mom and the kid can both take pride in the kit, assembled. It’s done. Instructions were followed and results were attained.

LEGO isn’t the problem, but it is a symptom of something seriously amiss. We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead. 

Section 61: Is it possible to teach willpower?

After all, willpower is the foundation of every realized dream. 

Dreams fade away because we can’t tolerate the short-term pain necessary to get to our longterm goal. We find something easier, juicier, sexier, and more now, so we take it, leaving our dreams abandoned on the side of the road. 

But is willpower an innate, genetic trait, something we have no say over? It turns out that (good news) willpower can be taught. It can be taught by parents and by schools. Stanford researcher Kelly McGonigal has written about this, as has noted researcher Roy Baumeister.

If willpower can be taught, why don’t we teach it? Simple: because industrialists don’t need employees with willpower, and marketers loathe consumers who have it. 

Instead of teaching willpower, we expect kids to develop it on their own. Colleges and others have to sniff around guessing about who has developed this skill—generally, it’s the students who have managed to accomplish something in high school, not just go along to get along. In other words, the ones who haven’t merely followed instructions. 

? Section 82: “Someone before me wrecked them”

It doesn’t take very much time in the teacher’s lounge before you hear the whining of the teacher with the imperfect students. They came to him damaged, apparently, lacking in interest, excitement, or smarts. 

Perhaps it was the uncaring parent who doesn’t speak in full sentences or serve a good breakfast. The one with an accent. Or the teacher from the year before or the year before that who didn’t adequately prepare the student with the basics that she needs now.

And the boss feels the same way about those employees who came in with inadequate training. We sell teaching and coaching short when we insist that the person in front of us doesn’t have the talent or the background or the genes to excel.

In a crowded market, it’s no surprise that people will choose someone who appears to offer more in return for our time and money. So admissions officers look for the talented, as do the people who do the hiring for corporations. Spotting the elite, the charismatic, and the obviously gifted might be a smart short-term strategy, but it punishes the rest of us, and society as a whole. 

The opportunity for widespread education and skills improvement is far bigger than it has ever been before. When we can deliver lectures and lessons digitally, at scale, for virtually free, the only thing holding us back is the status quo (and our belief in the permanence of status).

School serves a real function when it activates a passion for lifelong learning, not when it establishes permanent boundaries for an elite class. 

Section 104: The situation

Real learning happens in bursts, and often those bursts occur in places or situations that are out of the ordinary. Textbooks rarely teach us lessons we long remember. We learn about self-reliance when we get lost in the mall, we learn about public speaking when we have to stand up and give a speech. 

In Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel prize–winner Daniel Kahneman, we discover that we have two brains—the primordial, hot-wired, instinctive brain and the more nuanced, mature, and rational brain. When we celebrate someone who is cerebral or thoughtful or just plain smart, what we’re really doing is marveling over how much he’s managed to use his rational brain. 

This is the person who doesn’t take the bait and get into a bar fight, the one who chooses the long-term productive path instead of the shortcut. 

It turns out, though, that none of this happens if we haven’t also trained our instinctive brain to stand down. When we practice putting ourselves into situations, we give the rational brain a better chance to triumph. That’s why you’d like the doctor who sees you in the emergency room to have years of experience. Why performance in debates improves over time. And why a mom with three kids is surprisingly more calm than one with merely one. 

Practice works because practice gives us a chance to relax enough to make smart choices.

A primary output of school should be to produce citizens who often choose the rational path. 

And that’s going to happen only if we’ve created enough situations for them to practice in.

 Section 116: Higher ed is going to change as much in the next decade as newspapers did in the last one

Ten years ago, I was speaking to newspaper executives about the digital future. They were blithely ignorant of how Craigslist would wipe out the vast majority of their profits. They were disdainful of digital delivery. They were in love with the magic of paper.

In just ten years, it all changed. No interested observer is sanguine about the future of the newspaper, and the way news is delivered has fundamentally changed—after a hundred years of stability, the core business model of the newspaper is gone. 

College is in that very same spot today. 

Schools are facing the giant crash of education loans and the inability of the typical student to justify a full-fare education.

It will be just a few years after most courses are available digitally— maybe not from the school itself, but calculus is calculus. At that point, either schools will be labels, brand names that connote something to a hiring manager, or they will be tribal organizers, institutions that create teams, connections, and guilds. Just as being part of the Harvard Crimson or Lampoon is a connection you will carry around for life, some schools will deliver this on a larger scale. 

I guess it’s fair to say that the business of higher education is going to change as much in the next decade as newspapers did in the prior one. 

I Section 117: This Is Your Brain on the Internet: The power of a great professor

Cathy Davidson teaches at Duke and her courses almost always have a waiting list. Interesting to note that in the first week, about 25 percent of the students in the class drop out. Why? Because the course doesn’t match the industrial paradigm, can’t guarantee them an easy path to law school, and represents a threat to established modes of thinking. 


In her words, “Sometimes the line outside my office was as long as those at a crowded bakery on a Saturday morning, winding down the hall. Students wanted to squeeze every ounce of interaction from me because they believed—really believed—that what they were learning in my classes could make a difference in their life.” 

The astonishing thing about this quote is that only one professor in a hundred could truly claim this sort of impact.

Davidson doesn’t use term papers in her class—instead, she has created a series of blog assignments as well as a rotating cast of student leaders who interact with each and every post. 

Her students write more, write more often, and write better than the ones down the hall in the traditional “churn it out” writing class.

She is teaching her students how to learn, not how to be perfect. 

Section 130: Whose dream? 

There’s a generational problem here, a paralyzing one. 

Parents were raised to have a dream for their kids—we want our kids to be happy, adjusted, successful. We want them to live meaningful lives, to contribute and to find stability as they avoid pain. 

Our dream for our kids, the dream of 1960 and 1970 and even 1980, is for the successful student, the famous college, and the good job. Our dream for our kids is the nice house and the happy family and the steady career. And the ticket for all that is good grades, excellent comportment, and a famous college. 

And now that dream is gone. Our dream. But it’s not clear that our dream really matters. 

There’s a different dream available, one that’s actually closer to who we are as humans, that’s more exciting and significantly more likely to affect the world in a positive way. 

When we let our kids dream, encourage them to contribute, and push them to do work that matters, we open doors for them that will lead to places that are difficult for us to imagine.

When we turn school into more than just a finishing school for a factory job, we enable a new generation to achieve things that we were ill-prepared for. Our job is obvious: we need to get out of the way, shine a light, and empower a new generation to teach itself and to go further and faster than any generation ever has. Either our economy gets cleaner, faster, and more fair, or it dies. 

If school is worth the effort (and I think it is), then we must put the effort into developing attributes that matter and stop burning our resources in a futile attempt to create or reinforce mass compliance.

Section 131: How to fix school in twenty-four hours 

Don’t wait for it. Pick yourself. Teach yourself. Motivate your kids. Push them to dream, against all odds. 

Access to information is not the issue. And you don’t need permission from bureaucrats. The common school is going to take a generation to fix, and we mustn’t let up the pressure until it is fixed. 

But in the meantime, go. Learn and lead and teach. If enough of us do this, school will have no choice but to listen, emulate, and rush to catch up. 

A list of Godin’s books and short descriptions can be found at:


A quick and valuable lesson in “attachment theory.”

Relationships MATTER

“Relationships matter” is an old and sometimes overused statement. Read the research on attachment theory – and it will sound fresh again.

Relationships that our children have with adults REALLY MATTER

Neufeld and Maté define attachment in their book, Hold On To Your Kids:

... attachment is at the heart of relationships and of social functioning. In the human domain, attachment is the pursuit and preservation of proximity, of closeness and connection: physically, behaviorally, emotionally, and psychologically. As in the material world, it is invisible and yet fundamental to our existence. A family cannot be a family without it. When we ignore its inexorable laws we court trouble.

The premise of their book is “... that the disorder affecting the generations of young children and adolescents now heading toward adulthood is rooted in the lost orientation of children toward nurturing adults in their lives”

From (NHERI):

The authors, before publishing their book, concluded that a major problem in modern western (and other) societies is that a seismic unnatural shift has taken place; “... young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers.” That is, children and youth are peer-oriented rather than parent- and adult-oriented. This, they explain, is having devastating effects on individual children and youth, family relationships, and society in general, worldwide.

Neufeld and Maté provide full detail about why what may seem “normal” – that which has become most common or conforms to the norm – to today’s adults is not natural or good for children. Today’s adults or parents think it is normal for children to be peer-oriented and often antagonistic toward their parents. They explain, however, that this is not natural, historical, or good for children. “Peer orientation masquerades as natural or goes undetected because we [adults] have become divorced from our intuitions and because we have unwittingly become peer-oriented ourselves” (p. 9). For millennia, always until recently, culture was handed down vertically from generation to generation (p. 9). Now, however, children are generating their own culture and transmitting it “... horizontally within the younger generation” (p. 10).

Some of the negative effects of peer-orientation, rather than parent-orientation (or adult-orientation), are unnatural attachment voids; rudeness to parents, a preference for being with peers over parents, secretiveness around parents, undermined parenting, and family breakdown; frustration, anger, aggression, bullying, and violence among children; precocious sexual activity and the debasement of sexuality among children; and unteachable students. Using both cited research and clinical experiences, the authors are lucid and convincing in their presentation of the aforementioned negative impacts on individuals, families, and society.

This is certainly a complicated issue with working parents required to be out of the house all hours of the day including nights and weekends. Children have access to learning tools on the computer at home, but the screen cannot offer the human touch so crucial for development. We must address the need for human attachment and adult connections in schools. And, those connections, relationships, and mentorships REALLY MATTER.

The Key to Student Success? Relationships! By Keren Sofer at http://drkerensofer.com/

A psychologist and former teacher on the benefits of “attachment theory” in schools. Hint: It’s about better learning.

As a first-year 5th grade teacher 15 years ago, I was told by my superiors and mentors to drill in the classroom rules and not to smile until the 2nd month of school. I recall allusions being made to the broken windows theory of crime—that I must respond quickly and decisively to even the most minor infractions in order to prevent utter chaos in my classroom.

I took all the advice I could get, utilized the red, yellow green stoplight behavior management system, and reviewed the rules constantly for weeks. It went okay. The students made modest gains. I was exhausted and did not feel I connected to my students or that I pushed them to their full ability.

The following year, I took a risk. I still had the stoplight system—it was required for all classrooms at my school—but I decided to introduce a different kind of system, one which leveraged the social and relationship needs of children. I adopted an approach from a book called Reaching All By Creating Tribes Learning Communities by Jeanne Gibbs.

Shifting a paradigm like this will take years and effort. But there aren’t any workarounds. We need a greater focus on teacher-student relationships if we want our children to develop into self-aware, curious, connected and confident adults.

Students were seated in groups, and the groups were charged with working together to help each member work to their potential. Recognition of pro-social behavior, such as being kind, offering help, or sharing, was given through tally points to each group that would accumulate to a certain number, at which time the reward would be a special activity with me.

To my amazement, the approach worked beautifully. The students got on board almost immediately, experiencing relief that they could help each other in addition to being responsible for themselves. The incentives were aligned to encourage them to think of the class as a community, rather than as each child for him or herself, as the stoplight system promotes.

I did not realize at the time that by leaning in to the natural relationship needs of my students, I had more time and space to get curious about those disruptive behaviors that inevitably come up. I did not have to feel like a warden, monitoring and shaping behaviors for compliance. Instead, I could trust my students and myself to be validating and caring.

I feel lucky that I happened across that book and that I had the wherewithal to take a chance with this different approach. But I do not believe this needs to be left to luck.

Had I been introduced to attachment theory and the skills embedded in creating secure attachment relationships, I would have had the tools and understanding to approach my first year of teaching with a relationships-based mindset. I often think back to missed opportunities to leverage the power of connection in order to understand, reach and motivate my students. I feel frustration that this humanistic and research-based paradigm regarding human relationships, learning, and behavior, was never introduced to me in teacher training.

This remains true 15 years later, as I have now seen through my own eyes as a parent of a Philadelphia public school kindergartener and from what I hear from friends across the region. Common features in public schools are: traffic light discipline that move clothesline clips to from green to yellow to red; star charts that offers prizes and privileges for accumulated “good” behavior; and “bad choice” chairs that are the modern version of shaming dunce caps of the past.

Even with the advent of trauma-informed approaches, classroom management still rests on a foundation of punishments and rewards in response to student behaviors. This is a standard behavioral approach that reflects what I learned from reading studies about pigeons and mice in my undergraduate behavioral psychology course. Only thing is, students are not pigeons or mice. They are humans with complex social needs.

As Lou Corzolino addresses in Attachment-Based Teaching: Creating a Tribal Classroom, the neuroplasticity in our brains—which facilitates learning—is enhanced by feeling safe, understood, and seen by important others in order to explore and take risks.

The good news is that nearly a century of research tells us how children (and all humans) learn best, and—spoiler—it’s not by dangling carrots or by shaming. As Lou Corzolino addresses in his excellent book Attachment-Based Teaching: Creating a Tribal Classroom, the neuroplasticity in our brains—which facilitates learning—is enhanced by feeling safe, understood, and seen by important others in order to explore and take risks. When those needs are not met, we freeze and hunker down to keep ourselves safe, and lack the capacity to expand our minds.

Attachment theory, which was developed by a psychiatrist named John Bowlby in the 1950’s and 60’s, is the foundation of what we know about how humans connect, learn and thrive. According to attachment theory, it is evolutionarily advantageous to seek closeness to caregivers, as it increases our chances of survival. We continue to need such proximity throughout our childhood. When our emotional needs do get met, because we have a responsive caregiver who is curious about our distress and seeks to make us feel valued and understood, we develop what is called a secure attachment style.

When our emotional needs do not get met—due to a host of reasons including abuse, neglect or traumatized caregivers— we develop strategies to emotionally survive, which may be confusing to others in the absence of information about our history. For example, a child who has been separated from her biological parents due to abuse, may present as detached and apathetic. Those are behavioral responses she learned in order to keep her safe from parents who would be easily angered.

Educators spend a great deal of time with students, and become proxy caregivers that children look to for safety and affirmation. When those teacher-student relationships are intact and healthy, students thrive. The research bears this out: Warm relationships between teachers and students lead to increased academic achievement, improved social development, reductions in conflict, and less teacher burn-out.

One can point to the many amazing teachers whose students achieve as a result of the strong relationships they developed with them. However, there remains a faulty belief in our society that relationship skills are an unteachable talent. Those amazing teachers probably were themselves nurtured from an early age, learning from their own lived experiences about how to connect with others, and, thus developed a secure attachment style. Not every educator starts from that same place, but they can learn how to develop secure connections; it’s not a matter of talent.

The faulty belief that relationship skills are intuitive or instinctual extends to teacher training. According to many teachers and professors of education there is little if any direct instruction for teachers around relationship skills and the science of how humans connect and learn. Instead, models of how to monitor and control student behavior is what many teachers are taught. That’s what I often experienced as a student and what I was instructed to utilize when I began teaching.

At Oxford University, which recently launched a $1 million research initiative on the subject, researchers have found that teachers and aides are more effective and satisfied after training in attachment-awareness, and students showed both social and academic improvements.

Meaningful investment can and should be made in training teachers and school personnel in relationship skills and attachment theory. I know these skills can be taught and applied, and I know they work to enhance learning and achievement. I know because I learned these skills myself, during my graduate training in clinical psychology and I apply them through my work as a psychologist.

A focus on student-teacher relationships in schools has taken hold in other parts of the world where a deep well of research and knowledge regarding how humans connect and thrive is being applied in educational settings. In England, some schools have adopted programs in what is called “attachment-awareness.” At these schools, teachers and teacher aides learn the basic building blocks of relationships, how to identify children who have lacked safe, secure early caregiving or have experienced loss and trauma, and how to effectively respond to their behaviors. Rather than take an exclusively trauma-focused approach, which can inadvertently pathologize students, these educators are trained to recognize all behaviors as attempts to get relationship needs met. With the ability to understand attachment, they are taught interventions and tools to help them respond most effectively.

Research results on the impact of incorporating attachment-awareness at the school level are promising. At Oxford University, which recently launched a $1 million research initiative on the subject, researchers have found that teachers and aides are more effective and satisfied after training in attachment-awareness, and students showed both social and academic improvements. An attachment-aware approach could provide a desperately needed guide for educators seeking a better way to connect and teach.

While school systems invest in technology and curriculum, the greatest returns just might come in developing educators’ relationship skills, through an approach like attachment-awareness. Rather than being passive receptacles for academic facts, students are social beings that need to feel emotionally safe, validated, and worthy in order to learn.

The research exists—we know that secure attachment relationships between educators and students facilitate learning. It is not a quick-fix; shifting a paradigm like this will take years and effort. But there aren’t any workarounds. We need a greater focus on teacher-student relationships if we want our children to develop into self-aware, curious, connected and confident adults.

Keren Sofer is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Philadelphia, who has taught at the elementary, middle school, undergraduate and graduate level.

April 29, 2019

Try Happiness – open a new door

Image: Helen Keller Happiness quote

I have a 25-minute ride to and from work each day. As a subscriber to XM radio, I never listen to the multitude of music stations. I spend 50 minutes each day listening to the various news channels catching up on current events, politics, and breaking news stories. I love knowing what

is going on in our country and the world.

I offer this information, because the news is enough to make one depressed. There is often little good news – and most of what is heard must be consciously screened for bias at the source.

However, I remain an optimistic, upbeat, and positive person because I make sure to “work” on my own happiness. I never really thought that I was actually working on happiness, but as I read the article below from Business Insider that describes the Yale course, “The Science of Well-being,” I realized that happiness requires your individual attention.  Happiness is not a by-product of life. Happiness demands training as if you were preparing for a marathon.

I urge you to invest some hours of your life and take the course described below offered by the Yale Professor, Laurie Santos online (FREE!) at Coursera:

Open a door to happiness!

I'm taking Yale's class on happiness — and halfway through, these 4 tricks are already working

By Justin Maiman, Contributor BUSINESS INSIDER

  • Yale's most popular class ever, The Science of Well-Being, was designed by professor Laurie Santos.
  • She collected all the psychological science related to happiness and came up with a step-by-step process for boosting your own.
  •  After five weeks in the class, Justin Maiman says that the principles — such as taking time to savor experiences and focusing on your strengths — are already working.
  • Also see: 24 easy habits that psychologists have linked to health and happiness.

Happiness can be learned.

That's the central idea behind Yale's most popular class ever. Professor Laurie Santos has collected all the psychological science out there and come up with a step-by-step process for boosting your own happiness.

I took the 10-week course online through Coursera free. It's officially called The Science of Well-Being, and it has already been taken by more than 225,000 students online. One in four students at Yale has taken it since it was first offered.

Santos told me she designed the course for three reasons: to synthesize what psychologists have learned about making our lives better, to help undergrads overcome stress and unhappiness on campus, and "to live a better life myself."

Five weeks in, I'm a convert.
Here's why: The seminars are great, but you also get a lot of homework centered on daily exercises geared toward changing your habits — recognizing and then dropping bad ones while developing new good habits.

Here are just four exercises I picked out from a slew of new tips and tricks I've learned so far. Again, the point here is that these positive habits have been tested and proven to work, based on psychological science.

1. Focus on your strengths

This first homework was all about identifying your signature strengths and refocusing on them each day. I took the "VIA Survey" online (anyone can take this test free here), which revealed my 24 greatest strengths. My top four: love of learning, appreciation of beauty and excellence, leadership, and fairness.

If you're pretty self-aware, the results won't be a big surprise. The key, though, is to identify them and find situations to use your strengths every day. That'll lead you down the path to flourishing. Studies show happiness increases and depression decreases when a person uses his or her signature strengths regularly. In my case, I looked for simple ways to use fairness, humor, and love of learning throughout my day.

Tip: Additional research shows that if you're able to bundle four of your top strengths while at work, you'll likely flourish and have more positive experiences, and you are more likely to think of your work as a calling.

2. Invest in experiences

I spend money on experiences such as live music, trips, and meals instead of new toys. It's always made me happier. Now I know that research backs this up, regardless of income levels: Going for a walk or traveling to a new place are much better investments in terms of happiness than buying material things.

Turns out your stuff loses "happiness value" almost as soon as you've purchased it. Paying for experiences, however, has multiple benefits for happiness. One, the anticipation of the experience leads to more happiness and joy. Two, talking about the experience afterward with friends reignites your own happy memories and, incredibly enough, sharing these tales with friends tends to boost their happiness, too.

Finally, we don't tend to get used to experiences the way we do with new stuff. There's no time to get used to a trip to Mexico City, but science shows the joy you get from buying some awesome new thing, such as a phone, begins to diminish immediately. It's just how your brain works.

3. Learn to savor more

Savoring is the act of stepping outside of an experience to review and really appreciate it — a way of helping you to stay present in the moment. And savoring often forces you to enjoy an experience for longer.

My homework was to pinpoint a moment to savor each day. One of mine stuck out: I was running around the park when a strong gust of wind at my back almost lifted me off the ground. It was a strange and wonderful moment, and I made sure to tell my wife when I got home. Looking for these moments has boosted my sense of awe at the world around me. Research shows reliving these happy memories can make your positive emotions last up to a month.

4. Express gratitude and spread kindness

This one is fun. If you're generally thankful and show appreciation for what you have, your happiness levels soar. Sounds too easy, but it works. One exercise we did was make a list of five things we were grateful for each day. Staring at your list simply makes you thankful and reflective. Even doing this once a week has been shown to boost happiness and reduce ill-health symptoms.

Meanwhile, doing random acts of kindness is another way to find happiness. One study showed that spending money on others makes you happier than spending it on yourself, even across different cultures and income levels. For example, small changes, such as spending $5 to buy a friend, colleague, or stranger a coffee, boosted happiness levels. So I've been buying a lot of coffees.

Santos adds: "It kind of seems like our brains are wired to see other people's rewards as our own rewards. And so it's kind of like getting a little click of cocaine every single time you do a nice thing for another person. It's kind of an accident of the way our social brain is wired up."

The road to happiness

Remember to also do the things you probably already know are proven to boost your well-being, such as exercising daily and getting as much sleep as possible.

But the key here is to pick up a new habit that will lead you to feeling happier. So find one above that works for you and try it. It's been well worth it already for me.

Justin Maiman writes a weekly newsletter called Ginger, which is devoted to moments of inspiration. You can read Ginger and subscribe free here. He's a journalist with more than 20 years of experience in digital media and television, including working at media titans like Business Insider, Yahoo, Bloomberg, Fox News, and PBS affiliates in St. Paul and Boston. He's the president and managing director of Cochrane Media, a boutique media shop in New York.

April 22, 2019                                 Image: Confucius Print

Learning from an ancient voice 

I have been fascinated with Confucius (551 BC to 479 BC) since having the opportunity to visit his family estate in Qufu in the Shandong Province of China. The Shandong Province and the State of Connecticut currently have an education and business partnership. In Hartford, just outside the Bushnell Theater is a statue of Confucius as a gift from the Shandong Province to celebrate this relationship. In turn, the State of Connecticut has placed a statue of Mark Twain in the capital city of the Shandong Province, Jinan.

Sometimes seen as a “religion,” Confucianism is more a way of life. Throughout the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao made efforts to silence the Confucius philosophy, along with all religion. As a philosophy, Mao feared that Confucianism was stronger than a religion. And, while China is considered an atheistic country (less than 20% are Buddhists), the philosophy of Confucius is still credited with shaping Chinese culture. One of the concerns in a modernized China is that the country is losing its connection to its traditions and history. In a lecture I attended at the University of Beijing in 2008,one of the professors was concerned that there was very little study of Confucius in Chinese schools. As a tourist in China, it is still very easy to see his influence and an appreciation around the country for his teachings. It would be a loss if that influence is diminished in the future.

For us, as teachers, Confucius is a model. Confucius was best known as a teacher and credited with having over 3000 students. He loved teaching and, in his cryptic way, gave students much to ponder. He was wise, but never aloof. He eagerly took time for those who wanted to learn. He loved when his students asked questions and used those questions as the basis for his teaching. His Analects, written by his students, are still studied today around the world and are easy to find online. There are many translations and all typically come with an explanation and background that bring to life the brief paragraphs.

There is a long standing tradition in East Hampton designed to make sure that our graduates have a substance-free and safe graduation extravaganza the evening of High School Graduation.

What they offer us as teachers is a glimpse into what may be a style of teaching to emulate. The Analects actually open

with a powerful statement of teaching:

1.1 The Master said, “To learn and then have the occasion to practice what you have learned – is this not satisfying?

Confucius believed that education should be an active process for the learner. He opposed memorization (a key element of Chinese learning even today, unfortunately) and instead promoted the notion that joyous learning resulted when one was active in their own education and then active in using what one had been taught in a meaningful way. For an ancient voice, his philosophy rings true today.

Confucius also promoted education for anyone who wished to access it. In the Analects it states:

7.7 The Master said, "I have never denied instruction to anyone who, of their own accord, offered up as little as a bundle of silk or bit of cured meat."

Just as powerful as his first statement on what learning should be, Confucius welcomed all learners without regard as to what they brought to the classroom.

Two powerful thoughts for us over two thousand years later is to remember that we owe it to our students to provide them the type of learning that is most crucial. To me, it clearly states that our students need to experience education and they need to be welcomed through our classroom doors every day regardless of their ability or struggles.

I love the notion that Confucius considered learning to be a powerful joint effort between teacher and student, and though he had high standards and only wanted students who wanted to be there, he never sent any student away. The author of the article below feels that this is why Confucius was known as “China’s greatest teacher and his messages are still a topic of discussion.”

The Pedagogy of Confucius


From the Lecture Series Books That Matter: The Analects of Confucius 
Taught by Professor Robert Andre Lafleur, Ph.D.

Image: Confucius Statue

Confucius’ teaching career, although shaped by a lifetime of travel, frustration, despair, and hope, lasted for only five years, an exceptionally brief period in which to make a name that would shine as China’s greatest teacher for 2,500 years, so it’s worth our while to consider his method.

Confucius as a Teacher

The structure and organization of his school can only be gleaned from scattered items in the Analects. Let’s take a look at some of them.

One fascinating glimpse into the give-and-take between the teacher and his students can be found in a dynamic exchange with several students (Analects 11.22):

  •  Zilu asked, “When learning something, should I put it right into practice?”
    The Master replied, “Your father and elder brothers are still alive; how would you dare to act immediately after learning something? Ran Qiu then asked the same question. The Master replied, “Yes. Upon learning something, put it right into action.”

Here Confucius is in his full teacherly mode. Two different students with different characters and personalities ask the sage the same question. What they get is not one, but two different answers. How can we make sense of this? Let’s examine Confucius’s answer when a third student asked for clarification (Analects 11.22, continued).

  •  Gongxi Hua inquired, “When Zilu asked, you told him to hesitate—to defer to his family’s elders. Yet when Ran Qiu asked the very same question, you told him to proceed with alacrity. This befuddles me; dare I ask what you meant?” The Master replied, “Ran Qiu is timid and reserved, so I exhorted him to go forward; Zilu possesses the intensity of two people, so I wanted to restrain him.”

Here we see the full force of the teaching dynamic in the Analects. Confucius is in his element as he tailors his message to the specific needs of each of his students. There are few cookie cutter templates in Confucius’s teachings. He seems to understand that the world is made up of many different kinds of people and circumstances. While there are common principles going back to the Duke of Zhou whom Confucius idolized, and even beyond, action must be crafted.

Confucius tailors his message to the specific needs of each of his students.

A brief passage a few chapters earlier shows another dimension of Confucius as a teacher (Analects 7.7):

  •  The Master said, “Never have I failed to teach anyone who, drawing upon his own initiative, offered even the modest greeting gift of a small bundle of dried meat. “

Confucius is referring here to the gift that students were expected to present to their teachers as partial compensation for the instruction they were to receive. The passage indicates that everyone who wished to learn from Confucius was welcome, and such willingness to take on learners was unusual in his era. One of the gems in the Analects, Confucius’s willingness to teach, can speak even to life and school all over the world today. Confucius taught all comers.

The very next passage qualifies the foregoing one, however. It conveys Confucius’s willingness to educate everyone who made an effort to study with him. No matter their backgrounds, his standards were high, and he expected his students to work with diligence and enthusiasm toward any problem that Confucius set before them (Analects 7.8):

  •  The Master said, “If students are not driven to learn, I will not open the way to further knowledge. If learners are not continually seeking the language to express new, complex ideas, I will not supply them with ready-made concepts. And if, when I show one corner of a problem, the students do not come back to me with the other three corners, I will not teach it a second time.”

For Confucius, learning was a powerful joint effort between teacher and student, and he wanted students who, in today’s terms, wanted to be there. He had no interest at all in passive learning, and set a high bar for interaction and reflection for each of his students.

And there we have at least a glimpse of a school, in the midst of a village, in the midst of a feudal court, that was in the midst of profound social and political change. If Confucius himself could not hit the mark and make a difference at the highest levels, he wanted his students to be ready when opportunities came for them.

For Confucius, learning was a powerful joint effort between teacher and student.

The Analects reflects both Confucius’s despair and hope that his work would achieve positive change in his world. It was perhaps those warring emotions that produced his insistence on rituals, music, and rules. In his view, attention to these matters would strengthen the social order, but he always tailored his teachings to meet the specific needs of his students.

Confucius as a Person

Late in the text there appears a phrase that many people today would recognize and admire. A visitor inquired about Confucius’s travels and teaching—moving from ruler to ruler and subject to subject—in rather negative terms. Confucius’s response is intriguing (Analects 14.32):

  •  In Weisheng Mou asked Confucius, “Why do you seemingly dart from perch to perch? Is it that you wish to become a glib rhetorician?”
    Confucius replied, “It is not that I aspire to great rhetorical skills. It is just that I despise stubborn inflexibility.”

The statement is problematic on several levels. Put ungenerously, some have characterized him as finicky and more than occasionally an annoying know-it-all who tells others precisely what they should be doing. We have all been in the presence of that kind of person, too. Let’s examine several of these passages from chapter 10 to get a better sense of Confucius, where he may be seen as flexible and inflexible.

  • Analects 10.10: “While in the process of eating, Confucius would not engage in conversation. Once he retired for the evening, he did not speak.”
  • Analects 10.11: “Even with simple fare consisting of coarse grains and vegetable broth, Confucius always made a solemn offering.”
  • Analects 10.12: “If the mats were not positioned correctly, according to custom, Confucius would not sit.”
  • Analects 10.13: “When drinking at a local village gathering, Confucius stayed seated until the elderly people with walking sticks departed. Only then did he take his leave.”
  • Analects 10.14: “When other villagers engaged in the nuo ritual to exorcise spirits of disease and pestilence, Confucius mounted the eastern stairs and, wearing court regalia, stood in the position of host.”
  • Analects 10.15: “When asking about someone living in another state, Confucius would bow low twice before seeing him off.”
  • Analects 10.16: “Ji Kangzi sent a gift of medicinal herbs. Confucius bowed deeply as he accepted it from the messenger, noting, ‘Since I know nothing of this medicine, I do not dare taste it.’”
  • Analects 10.17: “The stables caught fire. The Master, upon returning from court, inquired ‘Was anyone hurt?’ He did not ask about the horses.”

Here, we are trying to get a sense of Confucius as a person. He is someone who wants to hit the bull’s-eye, to be sure, but he wants to hit it just so—both accurately and with the right amount of force. He speaks amiably about hating inflexibility, but we can see at least a few places here where Confucius seems quite set in his ways. So which is it? Read the text carefully and make up your own mind.

Readers throughout the ages have disagreed about what these passages mean with respect to flexibility or inflexibility. Many thinkers of his own era mocked him relentlessly. Even his admirers more than occasionally winced at what seemed to be Confucius’s rulemaking for its own sake.

When discussing these passages, my own students mention the horses first, and it is not only because they appear at the end of the sequence. The horse passage sticks in the craw of 21st-century readers. While acknowledging that we should not assume automatically that there is only one correct reading, I ask them how they would feel if the passage read, “He did not inquire further after the agricultural equipment.” Some see the possible point that Confucius—as was not uncommon in his age—saw horses as agricultural technology and that our feelings about such matters have changed markedly over the ages. Others do not.

But what of the other passages? Do they show a person who is flexible or not? Accepting medicine, but admitting that he wouldn’t be taking any of it? Is that flexible? If you’re not planning to take it, why accept it at all? And how about sitting only on a straight mat? Making an offering at every meal? How about solemnly observing a somewhat superstitious village ritual of which he did not entirely approve? By mounting the eastern stairs—the place of the person serving as host—Confucius seems to support his fellow villagers, even if his own feelings about ghosts and exorcisms did not match those of his neighbors.

Imagine someone who is ever so punctual and extremely orderly in everything she does, someone who is occasionally a killjoy, but also someone who might just surprise, and even delight, occasionally. Think of someone who loves rules, and operating within and even occasionally beyond their structures. Perhaps the word we really should be seeking for Confucius is not flexibility, but rather complexity.

When Confucius died in 479 B.C.E. he was not a person of great influence. And yet the man who would reign above all teachers in Chinese history answered, at least after a fashion, the very questions about personal character, flexibility, and complexity that we have been asking. Let’s conclude with a glimpse at Confucius’s own account of his teaching philosophy (Analects 15.3):

  • The Master said, “Zigong, do you see me as someone who has studied a great deal and has internalized it?”
    Zigong replied, “Yes, indeed I do think that. Is it not correct?”
    The Master replied, “No, it is not correct. Rather, I possess it as a single strand.”

Over time, that continuous strand, and the threads contained in that strand, grew in stature and influence.

Image: Confucius

Using the Teachings of Confucius for 21st Century Learning (Highlights)
By William Anderson in EDWEEK

Cheng Shude, a 20th century philosopher and author, devoted much of his life to trying to understand the ancient teachings of Confucius.

He wrote: "People today think of 'learning' as the pursuit of knowledge, whereas the ancients thought of 'learning' as cultivating the self."

In an effort to prepare students for "jobs that may not exist yet," have we forgotten to teach students about themselves?

Global citizens will engage in some of the most complex interpersonal interactions in history, from navigating global water crises and internet laws to advocating for our world's most vulnerable populations. As we plan our lessons teachers have a responsibility to make sure our students know who they are and what they stand for. Students will need a strong understanding of who they are as individuals in order to not get lost in the collective. Through knowledge of self, students can begin to understand what they bring to this rapidly connecting world.

April 8, 2019

Words are powerful motivation. 

Image: What we say Matters Book cover

We are entering the last quarter of the school year. It’s always a challenging time just after the April vacation right through to the end of the year. The last months include extra field trips, big school events, great outdoor weather – all of which take the focus off the motivation of our students. To ensure that students stay engaged, try using language of engagement and focusing on intrinsic motivation in the classroom. The chapter below is from a new book by Mike Anderson, What We Say and How We Say It Matter – Teacher Talk That Improves Student Learning and Behavior. There’s some great advice for those who are willing to pay close to attention to their own language and habits in the classroom.
Give it a quick read. You’ll enjoy the chapter – and the end of the school year.

 What We Say and How We Say It 

Matter by Mike Anderson (ASCD) 

Chapter 11. Boost Intrinsic Motivation 

"Kids these days just aren't motivated!" we might hear an elementary school teacher say. "They just want to fool around or play video games."

"My students just don't care. They just want to do the least amount possible and finish as fast as they can so they can talk with their friends," we might hear a middle school colleague complain.

Perhaps you've heard a high school teacher worry about his or her students: "All my students care about is grades. I want them to be passionate about learning, but they just want me to give them a rubric and tell them what to do." 

Don't we all want our students to be motivated to learn? More specifically, don't we want our students to be motivated from within—to have a hunger and drive for learning that compels them to work hard and engage in robust challenges? Yet so often, students seem so passive. They either resist learning or slide by with minimal effort, doing the least amount possible. This entire book connects with motivation in some ways, but in this chapter we'll address the topic head-on. We'll explore ways to boost intrinsic motivation (motivation that comes from within) in our students. Before we get to this though, we must first understand what we're up against, so we will explore extrinsic motivation—the primary form of motivation offered to students in school. 

Extrinsic motivators (prizes, treats, monetary rewards, food, etc.) compel us to do things we might not otherwise want to do with the promise of prospective gain. Students get stickers for bringing in their homework, shallow praise ("Good job!") for walking quietly in the hall, student-of-the-week awards for being responsible, pizza for reading a certain number of books, and good grades for compliant work. 

When my daughter, Carly, was in elementary school, she had a teacher who was working hard to motivate kids to do well. She used a reward system where the class collected warm-fuzzies (mini pom-pom balls) in a jar by following rules and getting compliments from other teachers. When the jar was full, they got their reward: a goof-off day. The teacher explained that kids could wear pajamas to school and didn't have to do any work all day long. When explaining this to parents, she winked and said, "But actually, we're playing math and literacy games all day long. They have so much fun, they don't even know they're learning!"

Although this teacher would say that she believes that learning is and should be fun, by rewarding students with a goof-off day, she actually sent the reverse message. If the reward is to not do work, work must be something inherently distasteful—something to avoid if you can. Similarly, when she explains that kids are having so much fun they don't even know they're learning, she's revealing her belief that learning isn't fun. If students somehow knew they were learning, the logic goes, it would decrease the pleasure of the moment.

There are many problems with relying on extrinsic motivators in school. Study after study after study reveals that the use of extrinsic motivators decreases intrinsic motivation. Here's one: A group of preschoolers were gathered. All of these children already loved to draw. Then, some of them were offered rewards for drawing, some were surprised with unexpected rewards, and others were given no reward at all. Students who were offered the reward ahead of time (meaning their behavior was incentivized) showed a dramatic decrease in their desire to draw after the study was done (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973). 

In a meta-analysis of 128 studies on the effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation, researchers concluded that rewards, whether they are offered for engagement, completion of a task, or performance, all significantly undermined intrinsic motivation (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999). So, when we offer pizza for kids who read over the summer, we may increase the number of books that kids read that summer, but we likely decrease their intrinsic drive to read in general. When we give preschoolers a sticker for singing a song, we dampen their joy of singing. When we give a class a "goof-off day" for working hard and being kind, we make them less likely to want to work hard or be kind on their own. When we offer kids As for learning, we diminish their intrinsic motivation to learn. 

Extrinsic motivators also decrease achievement. In a series of fascinating studies, Edward Deci, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, and his colleagues found time and time again that when both elementary school children and college students were asked to learn information to take a test, they learned less than students who simply read the content (without the knowledge of an upcoming test) or those who learned content to teach others (Deci et al., 1999, pp. 47–48). Remember those preschoolers who lost their interest in drawing after being incentivized? Judges also rated their pictures as less aesthetically pleasing than the drawings of the non-incentivized students.

As noted in Chapter 7, another problem with incentives and rewards is that these extrinsic motivators may encourage students to view work as optional because it's now transactional. Just think—if students are told, "Do this assignment and you'll get a sticker," they may now start weighing their options: "Is doing that work worth a sticker?" They may conclude that it isn't and choose not to do the work. I've heard teachers exclaim in exasperation about a student who won't turn in work, "They're getting Fs and they don't even care!" Right! Working for grades isn't sufficiently motivational, and they've decided that their time and effort isn't worth the grade. Mark Twain deftly pointed out this phenomenon in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), at the end of the glorious whitewasher scene: "There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign." 

We've all had students who seem to not care about their work. Some students show this by disconnecting entirely—not doing work and failing classes. Others show it by complying and doing the bare minimum. "Just give me the rubric so I know what I have to do to get a B," they say. What's sad is that kids don't come to school like this. Have you ever seen an unmotivated 4-year-old? Remember those fired up learners in Kathy Bresciano's and Suzanne Ryan's classrooms, described at the beginning of Chapter 8? They show up for preschool ready to go! They want to paint, build, act, look at books, experiment in the sand table, and sing. I think it's pretty clear that the system of rewards and incentives that is so pervasive in schools is a leading contributor to students' diminished intrinsic motivation as they move through school. Stickers, candy, prizes, grades, and even hollow praise slowly undermine students' passion for learning. 

Eliminating all such devices from our schools, especially structures like grades and schoolwide awards, takes a massive amount of time and effort and goes way beyond the scope of this book (though it would be a worthy cause!). What we can do is change the way we talk about learning, work, and behavior. So, let's focus on language. How can we, while still navigating (and helping our students navigate) the structures of our schools, emphasize intrinsic motivation through our language? 

What Are Intrinsic Motivators? 

First, we need to know what intrinsic motivation is all about. Extrinsic motivation is so common in schools that we may, at first, struggle to figure out what intrinsic motivation should look like. If kids aren't working for grades, treats, or prizes, what should motivate them? This may be especially hard to answer for those who grew up being motivated with extrinsic motivators. If praise, grades, and stickers are all we've experienced as ways to motivate our learning, the idea that motivation can come from within might be hard to grasp at first. 

Intrinsic motivators are ones that compel us from within—they're qualities that make something worthy of action on its own. For example, you might knit in the evening because it helps you relax and you enjoy the accomplishment of completing a new project. You might sing in a choir for the joy of music and the comradery of the group. You might volunteer at a local charity or civic organization for a sense of purpose: It feels good to help your neighbors and community. There are many different intrinsic motivators, but most of them fit into one of a few broad categories. The following list is drawn from multiple sources including Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Glasser's choice theory, the work of Edward Deci in Why We Do What We Do (1995), and essential elements of self-motivation outlined by Daniel Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009).

  • Belonging: We long for social connection. It feels good to be part of a group and have friends. 
  • Autonomy: We want to be self-directed—to have some power and control over what we do and how we do it. 
  • Mastery: It feels good to grow and learn—to gain a sense of mastery. We relish challenges when we perceive they are within our reach. 
  • Significance: We want our work to matter—to have some greater purpose beyond the moment or ourselves. 
  • Fun: We all crave a sense of fun and enjoyment. We want to be positively engaged. 
A Few Strategies That Tap into Intrinsic Motivation (In Addition to Language) 
  • Working with partners or in small groups 
  • Having authentic choices about learning 
  • Playing (and creating!) games to deepen learning 
  • Having authentic choices about learning 
  • Playing (and creating!) games to deepen learning 
  •  Employing student goal-setting and self-assessment strategies 
  • Doing real work: writing books, giving presentations to a real audience, publishing a website, community service learning

 The good news is, if the work we're doing with students is valuable and interesting, it's going to have some of these qualities inherently built into it. For example, it's exciting for students to see themselves getting better as readers and writers (mastery/esteem). When we give students choices about their work, we are sharing autonomy and power with them. When students know they will be sharing their writing or their research findings with others, or if they will perform in front of an audience, we can tap into their desire for purpose, belonging, and significance. In the following sections, notice these and other themes that run through many of the examples. They may help you consider how to talk about student work and learning in ways that align with what is (or should be!) intrinsically motivating about work. 

Assume and Emphasize Intrinsic Motivation 
As I talk with students and ask them about language habits and patterns of their teachers, I'm surprised at how many share experiences with teachers who talk about work being unpleasant or boring. "I know some of you don't love history," a teacher might say while introducing the next social studies unit. "This next worksheet is kind of boring, but it has some important ideas," explains a Spanish teacher as he introduces the next skill students will be practicing. One student told me that his Algebra teacher actually began a math lesson by saying, "I don't want to do this any more than you do, but it's on the state test, so we have to." Just think of the tone this sets in a classroom! If we wanted to create apathetic unmotivated students, these statements would be a great place to start.

Instead, let's use language that assumes that students are already motivated and emphasizes characteristics of the work that are intrinsically motivating. See Figure 11.1. 

Figure 11.1 

Instead of … Try This …
"In this next activity, find a problem to work on. For those of you who get nervous about pushing yourself, don't worry, there should be one there that won't be too hard."  "In this next activity, find a puzzle or problem that will be exciting to work on—one that will get your wheels turning."
 "I know you guys just want to get to your books, but first I have to teach a quick mini-lesson." "We're going to be talking about a new reading strategy today—one that will help you understand important ideas in your reading."
 "I know some of you don't love singing, but this next song is actually kind of good."  "This next song is fascinating. You're going to be amazed at the story it tells!"

Use Appropriately Challenging Vocabulary
A way to tap into students' need for mastery is to use (and encourage students to use) challenging and technical terminology. Gaining mastery of new words gives students a sense of power and strength. This might be vocabulary related to a content area. For example, students learning music can enjoy gaining mastery of words such as forte, pianissimo, and andantino. Or, we might introduce students to words related to the process of learning. Young students love trying out terms like metacognition and character analysis. When I introduced 5th graders to the idea of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 2011) as a way to generate ideas for projects they might create to share their research with classmates, many of them delighted in using terms such as interpersonal, linguistic, and intrapersonal

In their book, Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind (2008), Art Costa and Bena Kallick encourage teachers to use "mindful" language with students as a way to "enhance students' awareness and performance of these intelligent behaviors" (p. 124). In fact, they point out that students are more likely to adopt these habits of mind when teachers use specific, cognitive terminology. For example, they suggest that instead of saying, "Let's look at these two pictures," we might try, "Let's compare these two pictures." Using words like hypothesize, evaluate, apply, and speculate will not only boost students' excitement for learning but will also help them internalize the words and use the skills (pp. 124–125).

Emphasize Immediate Motivators (and Avoid "You'll Need This Someday")

A common fallback we might use, especially when we can't identify other intrinsic motivators in work students are doing, is to say some version of, "This is important because you'll need it later." Emphasizing the importance of math fact fluency, we might say, "Next year in 5th grade, teachers are going to expect you to multiply quickly." Or, if a student asks us, "When am I going to need to know how to write up a science report?" we might respond with, "If you end up going into science, you'll need to know how to do this." Of course, there are a couple of problems with relying on "someday" as students' primary motivation. First, people are notoriously bad at doing hard things now for possible gains later on. It's hard for us to save for retirement, force ourselves to exercise, or eat well. I'm not saying it's not a worthy cause to help kids get better at delaying gratification—quite the contrary. I just don't think it's a good way to build positive energy for practicing math facts in the moment. Second, because "someday" is fictional (we don't really know what tomorrow holds, let alone what may happen 10 years from now), it's easy to dismiss and argue away: "I don't plan on being a scientist, so I guess I don't care about writing a lab report" or "I can multiply on my phone, so I don't need to practice multiplication." 

A teacher I worked with in Todd County High School in Mission, South Dakota, warns of another version of "You'll need it someday." He cautions us to stop using the phrase "in the real world," and I couldn't agree more. You know what he means: "In the real world, people are going to expect you to be able to work well with others, so you'd better figure this out now." This language habit is problematic for a couple of reasons. Like "you'll need this someday," it can be a weak substitute for better, more immediate intrinsic motivators. It's also dismissive of students' current lives and situations. It's almost like we're saying that where they are right now—both in school and at home—isn't real life. Instead, we should work at connecting with more immediate intrinsic motivators. Writing a lab report that will be shared with another class or published online (instead of just being turned in for a grade) builds a sense of purpose. Playing a game to practice math fact fluency is fun in the moment. We should always look for ways to connect with intrinsic motivators so that we don't need to incentivize learning.

Reduce Teacher-Pleasing Language 

One of the most common forms of extrinsic language used in schools is teacher-pleasing language—the same kind we discussed in Chapter 7 when exploring how language influences moral reasoning. This habit of talk emphasizes that the reason for doing work is to make a teacher happy or comply with the wishes of a teacher. You might be thinking, isn't belonging an intrinsic motivator? Don't we want students to have strong connections with and please teachers? Yes, but there's a difference between building connections with students and having them dependent on us for approval. 

First, let's remember that students are already yearning for positive connections with teachers—even the students who seem sullen and disconnected. (These students have learned that it's safer to be angry than vulnerable.) When we smile and nod as we listen to a student during a writing conference, when we ask a follow-up question after a student has asked for help, when we build connections with students by sharing about ourselves and learning about them, we are helping them meet their needs for belonging and connection. 

It's when we use that connection as a reason for doing something else that the language shifts to a form of extrinsic motivation. In Chapter 8, we considered how this affects behavior. Now, let's consider academic engagement and motivation. "I like the way you got so many sources for your research project!" indicates that the reason students should get lots of resources is because we like it. Our approval is now the incentive or reward for doing good work. We can shift this language to emphasize purpose and mastery: "You have quite a few sources for your research project. That lends a lot of credibility to your work—showing that you thought deeply about the topic. It also helps give multiple perspectives to some of your research questions!" See Figure 11.2 for a few more examples.

Figure 11.2 

Instead of Emphasizing Approval … Try Tapping into Intrinsic Motivators …
 "Jayson, I love the way you're working so hard on your clay model!""Jayson, your hard work is really paying off. Your model has realistic detail!" 
 "I'm so happy with how that last artistwriters workshop went!" "Did you see how great that last work period was? We got a lot of writing and artwork prepared for our upcoming exhibit!"
 "Wow! I like how you wrote such a long story, Hannah!" "Hannah, that might be the longest story you've written yet. Congratulations!" 

This doesn't mean that we should completely remove ourselves from the equation, however. In Chapter 9, I suggest shifting from first person to second person language as one way to emphasize student ownership of language. You may have noticed this trend in the previous chart. This is a good habit to consider, but there are certainly times when it might be appropriate to use the first person. Perhaps the class is having a discussion, and you want to share your opinion as a member of the class. "Here's a thought I have," you might begin. Or, perhaps you're responding to a student's writing and want to speak from the perspective of a reader: "As a reader, I was struck by the imagery you used in this opening paragraph." In each of these instances, you are placing yourself on a level playing field with students. You are a class member offering an idea, or you are a reader responding as a reader. By reducing the hierarchy of positions, we are able to use the first-person voice in a way that's less likely to be interpreted by students as a voice of power. 

Shift the Way We Talk About Tests and Grade

Surprise! It's time for a pop quiz. 

1. Which of the following statements best reflects the role that tests and quizzes should play in student learning?

A. Students should learn so they can do well on tests and quizzes.

B. Tests and quizzes are one way we can understand student learning. 

2. Which of the following statements best reflects the role that grades should play in student learning? .

A. Grades are a reward for learning. 

B. Grades should reflect student learning. 

If you answered "b" to each of these pop quiz questions, then you likely don't see tests and quizzes or grades as the primary motivator for learning. In my experience, most educators want to respond "b." We want learning, not tests and grades, to be the goal, yet we may find ourselves accidentally communicating the reverse to students through our language. "To get an A, you should study" implies that the reason for studying is to get a good grade. The tail wags the dog. Instead, tap into an intrinsic motivator by connecting with students' need for mastery and competence: "To master this material, you should study." Does this mean that making this shift will suddenly cause all students to study? Of course not. But think about the message it sends. The goal of studying is learning and mastery. Even if it doesn't shift behavior immediately, it better reflects the kind of intrinsic motivation that we want to help foster in our students (see Figure 11.3).

Figure 11.3 

Instead of … Try This …
 "If you want to do well on tomorrow's quiz, you'd better study!" "Studying will help you master the concepts we've been working on. Tomorrow's quiz will help us check in to see how things are going."
 "This rubric will help make sure you know how to get an A." "This rubric will help you push yourself to do great work."
 "I know some of you are trying to get your grades up right now, so make sure you work really hard on this next unit.""I know some of you have been working hard to understand the content in the last two units. Make sure to work hard in this next unit. "
 "If you're not happy with your grade, you can make some revisions and submit your essay again next Tuesday." "If you want to continue to improve your essay, you can make some revisions and submit it again next Tuesday."


One challenge for us as teachers, as we consider ways to tap into intrinsic motivation in daily learning, is that we ourselves likely grew up in a school environment that emphasized compliance. "Why do I have to show my work, if I know the answer?" we might have asked in math class. We likely heard the reply, "Because that's what you're supposed to do. You have to show your work." For many of us, school has always been about compliance, and now that we find ourselves at the front of the room, we may end up in the same system. For example, if we're struggling to implement curricula that others have developed, and we ask the curriculum coordinator, "Why do I need to teach that lesson if my kids didn't get the last one?" we may hear a response that's eerily familiar: "Because that's what you're supposed to do. It's about fidelity to the program." 

If we can't even determine what should be intrinsically motivating about students' (or our) work, how can we use language habits that emphasize intrinsic motivation? 

We'll get into many specific strategies for shifting language habits in Chapter 14, but here's an idea to try right away. Look at some of the lessons and units that you teach through the lens of the five intrinsic motivators listed in this chapter: belonging, autonomy, mastery, significance, and fun. As you think about the work, what intrinsic motivators are already present? For example, will students share their work on a bulletin board, through an online forum, or in a presentation? If so, that connects with a sense of significance. Will students have some choice about what they're learning or how they're learning it? If so, that may boost their sense of autonomy. Do students get to work with a partner (belonging) or play a game (fun) or chart their progress toward a goal (mastery)? Once you have identified the intrinsic motivators, you can now start to think about how to emphasize those as you talk with students about the work. And what if you can't find any intrinsic motivators? Then you can think about how you can shift the work so that it connects with at least one. Find ways of connecting whatever work students do with at least one intrinsic motivator, and your students will have a chance to move from being compliant to being more truly engaged in their learning.

There's an important benefit here that at least needs to be mentioned. When students are truly motivated about their school work, when it taps into their intrinsic drives, there will be fewer mis-behaviors in your class. Too often, schools tackle discipline challenges without looking to the qualities of the academic work students are doing, and this is a huge mistake. It's almost impossible for many students to display positive behavior in the midst of work that's not motivating.

April 1, 2019

Blue hands handshake

Relationships matter 

Last week I shared an article from the Hartford Courant, in which a local college professor bemoaned the fact that students don’t seem to ever mention “school” as one of their favorite places. I pointed out the fault of the question and suggested that if students were to be asked about the most influential people in their lives, most or many would include a teacher in the list. I feel that students prize the relationships they have with the adults they work with at school. 

If it is indeed about relationships, what are we doing as a school to make sure that all of our students benefit from positive relationships?

Why Schools Should Be Organized To Prioritize Relationships by Katrina Schwartz in Edutopia 

Over many years researchers in the learning sciences, psychology, anthropology and neuroscience have learned a lot about how humans learn. One of the key properties is malleability. The brain changes in response to relationships and experiences, continuing to develop through young adulthood. And while the children in any class will develop differently based on their experiences, the brain will grow and change with the right inputs. 

"What's most interesting is a child can become a productive and engaged learner from any starting point, as long as we intentionally build those skills," said Dr. Pamela Cantor, founder and senior science adviser of Turnaround for Children, in an Edutopia video on bring learning sciences into the classroom.

Strong relationships can prime a person to learn. And for those who have adverse childhood experiences, strong relationships can mitigate the negative effects of trauma. Schools organized with relationships as a priority can benefit children in many ways. In this Edutopia video, teachers share how they make time and mental space to connect with students. 

YouTube Logo

The Power of Relationships in Schools

"I prioritize relationship building, because getting to know them is the best part of the job," said English language arts teacher Catherine Paul. 

But it isn't always easy to show up in the vulnerable, open ways that lead to authentic connections with kids. 

"It starts from so much honesty and transparency with kids. It's really easy to strive to be this like idealized, always ready to go, elementary school teacher. And that's not real, and that's not human," said teacher Lindsey Minder. "My students connect most with me when they see that I also struggle, and I also have challenges. It takes a lot of vulnerability on my part." 

One easy way to start the day with connection is to greet students at the door.

You Tube Logo

Making Connections With Greetings at the Door

"During that time I'm just trying to connect with them, help them with their transition from home to school, and just kinda take a pulse check on where they are," said Falon Turner, a kindergarten teacher at Van Ness Elementary School.

It's an intentional way to look each child in the eyes every morning and let them know that who they are, how they feel and what they bring to the classroom matters.

March 25, 2019                                                                                  Image: You missed the point

 Oh boy, Professor Reynolds, you missed what school is really all about! 

Usually I make comments up front and then feature a related article. This week, I am placing the article first followed by my comments. 

On list of special places, one is always forgotten by Luke W. Reynolds in The Hartford Courant 

Every semester, in my junior-level college class of soon-to-be teachers, I run an experiment that consistently yields fascinating but tragic results. On one day of class, usually mid-semester, I instruct the students to leave our classroom in order to conduct a spontaneous research project. 

The mission? Find five people anywhere on campus, and ask each a simple question: What is a place from your past that has special significance for you? 

After about 25 minutes, students arrive back to class, and I ask them to list all of the places that were named by their research participants on the white board at the front of the class.

The result is a sprawling list of somewhere in the vicinity of 100 places — including a number of repeats. The most common: the house I grew up in, a mountain/beach/other nature-oriented spot, a state (such as Iowa or California), or a room in the house they grew up in (e.g. my kitchen, my basement). 

After running this experiment with six separate classes, which includes “special places” from approximately 600 different research participants, what is most shocking is what never makes the list. 


The word “school,” any classroom, or any education-related response, is never on the list. None of the spontaneous research participants lists any school-oriented place as having special significance for them.

When my teachers-in-training first become aware of what’s missing, their mouths drop open. After all, they know as well as anyone that we spend the majority of our days growing up in school. At eight hours a day, from kindergarten through 12th grade, we spend more time at school than we do with parents or guardians, playing sports, being in the kitchen, visiting Iowa or California (unless, of course, we live there!), hiking in the mountains, or going to the beach. 

So the tragic question is this: Why does school never make the list as a special place? Why don’t we remember our fifth grade classroom as fondly as we remember our kitchen, or any other place we have spent a lot of our time? 

After their shock wears off, my soon-to-be-teachers are ready with an array of ideas: school made us feel less curious; school made us feel scared; school made us feel judged; we didn’t get to show who we really were; we had to be quiet all the time; we had to sit all the time; we had to deal with immense pressure to get as many points as we could to get the highest grades we could. In other words, for many students growing up through our American school system, obedience was crucial. Creativity and experience? Not so much. 

How can we change this? What can we do to help K-12 students everywhere learn to love their schools? 

Here are a few practical possibilities for us to honestly consider implementing: 

* Smaller class sizes. Key question: Is it easier to have a close, meaningful and knowledgeable relationship with more people or fewer people? If we want to create classrooms focused on making meaning for and with students, we need to allow teachers fewer students per class so they can build those deep, meaningful relationships. To pay for such a momentous change, we could spend less money assessing our kids continuously and more money knowing and growing our kids consistently. 

* More experiences; more relationships. Key question: What has profoundly impacted me in my own life? The answer usually has to do with significant experiences we have had. We tend to remember things we have done, and when we have done interesting things in the company of people we care about, those memories become profoundly life-altering for us. So, our students in K-12 schools should be having far more experiences, and far less seat work. This means more field trips, more projects, more games outside, more challenges, more physical movement during the school day, more performing their own stories and plays, and more interaction. 

* More joy, less conformity. As many highly creative people know, the tangents are where the good stuff lies. We need to encourage our teachers to take tangents with students, have fun, find joy, and enjoy their time in schools. Obedience and efficiency create a prepackaged product; they don’t create long-lasting learning. 

These three possibilities can help us reframe what it means to sit inside classrooms for 13 years of life. They represent the highest of all stakes. And maybe they will yield a surprise, down the road, when one of my soon-to-be-teachers comes back from engaging in my impromptu experiment and writes that beautiful, hopeful word on the whiteboard: school.

Luke Reynolds is an assistant professor of education at Endicott College. He taught in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts for many years and is a Windsor native. 

My comments: I read this and then I thought “ugh.” 

Then I reflected more on the question asked of the students. If I was asked to list places of special significance, I would list places like Cape Cod National Seashore, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and every Starbucks I have ever been to. The point is that they are “places.”

School is not about the place. School is about relationships. If this professor asked his classes to list the people in his life of special significance, I am positive that the vast majority would include at least one or more teachers on that list. 

While schools have their flaws, the professor’s question is truly flawed. 

The reality is that we do indeed want students to learn in well-constructed classrooms, labs, and libraries. But what we really want is for the building to assist in any way it can in helping to create meaningful relationships with an adult in the school whether it be teacher, staff member, coach, or mentor. 

Schooling is much more than the physical place. Schools today and in the future will always be about relationships. 

I will do everything I can every day to make sure that we foster the best relationships with our students!

I think our teachers always focus on the relationships they have with their students. But, I hope every teacher and staff members will renew that pledge. 

Caring Teachers, Students, Schools

Paul K. Smith

March 18, 2019

Creating Classrooms That Purposefully Challenge And Excite Students To Learn

Image: Calvin & Hobbs Cartoon

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

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

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

Book Cover: Why Don't Students Like School?

Why Don’t Students Like School?
began as a list of nine principles that are so fundamental to the mind’s operation that they are as true in the classroom as they are in the laboratory, and therefore can reliably be applied to classroom situations. Many of these principles likely won’t surprise you:factual knowledge is important,practice is necessary, and so on. What may surprise you are the implications for teaching that follow. You’ll discover that authors routinely write only a fraction of what they mean, which I’ll argue implies very little for reading instruction, but a great deal for the factual knowledge that your students must gain. You’ll explore why you remember the plot of Star Wars without even trying, and you’ll learn how to harness that ease of learning for your classroom. You’ll follow the brilliant mind of the television doctor Gregory House as he solves a case, and you’ll discover why you should not try to get your students to think like real scientists.
Cognitive scientists do know more about the mind than these nine principles. These nine were selected because they meet the following four criteria.
  1. Each principle is true all the time, whether the person is in the laboratory or the classroom, alone or in a group.
  2. Each principle is supported by an enormous amount of data, not just a few studies.
  3. Using the principle can have a big impact on student learning.
  4. Each principle suggests classroom applications that teachers might not already know.

Education is similar to other fields of study in that scientific findings are useful, but not decisive. Cognitive principles do not prescribe how to teach, but they can help you predict how much your students are likely to learn. If you follow them, you maximize the chances that your students will flourish. Education makes better minds, and knowledge of the mind can make better education.Please email me (psmith@easthamptonct.org) if you would like a copy of the book!

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

By Daniel T. Willingham in American Educator

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Self-regulation vs. self-control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: second nature book cover

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

Self-regulation in the brain
Second Nature is probably the first, most applicable primer on brain development for non-scientists that neither overwhelms nor oversimplifies. Clabough describes stages of brain development to help parents have more appropriate expectations: What are children capable of, neurologically, at different ages? Which limitations can be gently stretched, and where do children need extra support? For example, she reports that while play in early childhood is important for creativity, today’s kids have fewer opportunities to play in early childhood classrooms, a trend that should be reversed.
Clabough offers a simple, friendly, but thorough description of the fundamental neurological processes of synaptogenesis (the formation of synaptic connections), pruning (the elimination of synaptic connections), and myelination (the insulation of connections to speed up transmission). It’s helpful for parents to know that they are actually reinforcing synaptic connections and shaping and remodeling neural circuits via the experiences, habits, and routines they offer to children. And what parents don’t do is as important as what they do. Clabough describes parenting approaches grounded in developmental science, including scaffolding (providing a framework or template for children to learn and practice new skills) and modeling (demonstrating self-regulation as a parent), along with supporting children’s autonomy and helping them reflect on their experiences. My favorite chapters in Second Nature are the how-to’s, in which she offers specific parenting guidance, hacks, and shortcuts. For example, she points out that brain cells that are working hard to maintain self-control use glucose at a faster rate, so one tip is to “feed your tantrum-thrower ASAP.”She even points out how power structures affect self-regulation: Long-held privilege can erode empathy, making it harder to consider someone else’s point of view, while chronic disadvantage can be harmful to children. In her own family, she finds ways to switch up and equalize the power dynamics among the siblings—for example, by letting the youngest dole out treats or speak first, asking an older sibling to teach a younger one, exposing her children to different cultures, and encouraging friendships across ages and groups. This kind of sensitivity makes the book feel especially thoughtful and expansive.

Room for debate

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

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

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

Additional Information:

Image: self-regulation vs self-control

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

March 4, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Anxiety Chart

Click here for the website of the Pew research.

Click here for a PDF of the Pew research.
(If you have trouble accessing, email psmith@easthamptonct.org and I will send the PDF to you.) Please talk to our teens. Seven out of ten students asked, see anxiety and depression as the top problem facing teens.
Ask them how we as a school can help them. Ask them how you as a teacher, mentor, or parent can help them.
Just ask!

Image: Mental Health and Well-being
Teenagers Say Depression and Anxiety Are Major Issues Among Their Peers By Karen Zraick in the New York TimesMost American teenagers — across demographic groups — see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

Below are basic SEL Skills:

Basic Social & Emotional Learning Competencies

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

Poster: EHPS Profile of the Graduate

Social emotional Learning = +11 % academic growth

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

Transferable Skills rely on SEL!If you look at the transferable skills that we are promoting in the East Hampton Profile of the Graduate, the SEL skills on the previous page serve as basic foundations that must be in place in order to promote the type of skills and life ready learning experiences we want our children to have in schools. Review the skills at each grade level of the Profile of the Graduate and realize that without a strong foundation based on the skills listed on the SEL chart, a student cannot achieve the transferable skills of the Profile of the Graduate considered to be important by our own school community in propelling our students into future success. Academic Skills rely on SEL! A recent McKinsey report (shared in an earlier Update) included support for SEL to promote academic achievement. “Studies show social and emotional competencies can increase cognitive skills, measured by academic achievement tests, by up to 11 percent. In fact, student mindsets are twice as predictive of a student’s academic achievement than their home environment or demographic, according to a McKinsey analysis.” The research cited is by Durlak et al. The Impact of Enhancing Students Social and Emotional Learning. If you would like a copy of the research email: psmith@easthamptonct.org. Mental Health & Well-Being rely on SEL Skills! There is as much of a need to address and support the mental health development and well-being of our students as their acquisition of transferable skills and academic skills for the sake of their future success.
From E-News
Life for most of us in today’s world takes a toll on our emotional, psychological, and physical well being. Research demonstrates that people are not emerging from our educational system with the mental framework and associated mental capacities to adequately meet the overwhelming demands of modern life. This inadequacy leaves most people with growing levels of anxiety and depression; disconnection from their experiences of joy, love, happiness, and inner peace; and a lack of sense of purpose in life with related personal and professional meaning.

Parents play a role, too!

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

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

Book Cover: The Self-Driven Child
From 1960 until 2002, high school and college students have steadily reported lower and lower levels of internal locus of control (the belief that they can control their own destiny) and high levels of external locus of control (the belief that their destiny is determined by external forces). This change has been associated with an increased vulnerability to anxiety and depression. In fact, adolescents and young adults today are five to eight times more likely to experience the symptoms of an anxiety disorder than young people were at earlier times, including during the Great Depression, World War II and the cold war.
Teachers can teach, coaches can coach, guidance counselors can outline graduation requirements, but there’s one thing only parents can do: love their kids unconditionally and provide them with a safe base at home. For children who are stressed at school or in other parts of their lives, home should be a safe haven, a place to rest and recover. When kids feel that they are deeply loved even when they’re struggling, it builds resilience.” ― William Stixrud, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives
The Key To Raising A Happy Child by Chris Kindred, NPR (An interview with Stixrud and Johnson, authors of The Self-Driven Child.For much of the past half-century, children, adolescents and young adults in the U.S. have been saying they feel as though their lives are increasingly out of their control. At the same time, rates of anxiety and depression have risen steadily. What's the fix? Feeling in control of your own destiny. Let's call it "agency."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She didn't take you up on it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 18, 2019

The kids are alright!

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

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

Book Cover: The New Childhood

From The New Childhood – Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World by Jordan ShapiroI’ve listened to concerned parents, teachers, and caregivers… Sounding exactly like the worried technophobes of centuries past, they are vexed about how digital play is defiling childhood, causing neurological damage, ruining eyesight, creating an obesity epidemic, triggering depression, and keeping our kids indoors. Are our kids losing the ability to reflect and be introspective? Does the speed and ease of digital communication prevent them from learning how to be good conversationalists? Are they learning to log off rather than resolving everyday conflicts? Will emotions and 280-character tweets corrode literacy? Will easy, ready-at-hand access to constant interactive stimulation hinder the next generation’s ability to cultivate critical thinking skills?The simple answer to all these questions is no.
…The shift away from skateboards and scooters toward keyboards and touchscreens provokes anxiety. But for my children’s sake, I need to set aside my own knee-jerk fear of change and disruption. I need to recognize that most of us parents, teachers, caregivers – even politicians – are thinking about it all wrong. Despite being perfectly aware that every generation can and should play in unique ways, grownups are easily seduced by the nostalgic fantasy of a childhood that mirrors the one we remember. From our kids, we had hoped to see our own youth reflected back…

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

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

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

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

From the introduction to Digital Play for Global Citizens(37 pages)by Jordan Shapriro
Book Cover: Digital Play for Global CitizenThe future is already here. We are now living, learning, and teaching in a connected world. And it’s not just the technology. Yes, digital tools bring us together: they allow us to communicate in spectacular ways. But they represent only one example of the “networked” phenomenon. There’s also globalization, worldwide economic interdependence, faster transportation, migration, urbanization, and more.
We have all become global citizens of a connected world. Now, everyone needs to cultivate a capacity for connected thinking. To live and thrive in the 21st century, today’s children require more than just the ability to operate the tools of the times. They also need to develop the dispositions, knowledge, and skills required to understand the world, to make sense of how a globalized economy shapes their lives, and to consider how they can contribute to a worldwide community.
This guide can help grownups prepare children for tomorrow. Adults can leverage connected tools to create opportunities for meaningful digital play. Using the platforms and technologies that kids already love, teachers, parents, and caregivers can introduce young people to some of the most complex geopolitical, economic, and environmental issues that shape our world. We can nurture macro-minded citizens who are ready to live productive, engaged, and fulfilled lives in a globalized world.
Digital Play for Serious Learning An interview with Jordan Shapiro, author of The New Childhood, on roles of parents and schools in teaching children to use technology through play by Matthew Farber - from Mind/Shift

For the past several years, Jordan Shapiro has been busy writing and speaking about games and digital play. He’s a senior fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a think tank dedicated to researching how children interact with media, and a nonresident fellow at the Center for Universal Education, which is part of the Brookings Institution. He teaches at Temple University, in Philadelphia, where he lives.I caught up with Shapiro recently to discuss his new book, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, which examines the importance of digital play, as well as ideas for teaching and parenting kids.FARBER: In your book, you often use the phrase digital play to describe ways children can learn today. How do you define digital play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Graphic: the Joan Ganz Cooney Center


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

February 11, 2019

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

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

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

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation and Emotional Wellness

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

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

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

How Self-Compassion Supports Academic Motivation

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

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

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

How Adults Can Teach Children Self-Compassion

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

Trade Criticism for Supportive Feedback

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

Model Compassionate Self-Talk

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

Be a Good Friend to Yourself

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

Calm the Nervous System

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

Self-Compassion and Trauma

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

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

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

If you would like a brief introduction to the writing of Dr. Kristen Neff, email me at (psmith@easthamptonct.org) and I will send you a PDF copy of “The Science of Self Compassion.” The PDF is a brief introduction to her thoughts on self-compassion which were later expanded into the book form below.
Further reading:
Image: Book cover Self Compassion by Kristin NeffBe kinder to
And then let your
kindness flood

the world.

Pema Chödrön

February 4, 2020

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

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

Warm demanders expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment.
Student success is based on the relationship between the Teacher and the Student. It’s a relationship that serves as a basic and foundational element in our calling to be teachers. Those who have mastered teaching have mastered the art of building relationships with students. There is no learning on the part of students without an emotional connection to that learning – and the teacher who cannot create an environment in which the student’s social-emotional needs are met is doomed to fail. Social-emotional skills in our students are essential life-ready skills and we must develop those skills in order to ensure success in careers and life. Let me re-share my favorite quotes from last week’s article, “Sharpening the focus on social Emotional Skills:”

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship Building

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

Student–Teacher Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 5.1. 33 Ways to Build Better Relationships with Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationship with the School

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Examples of statements

January 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Teacher Priorities Bar graph form
Responsible decision-making - 1%Problem Solving - 1% Civic Literacy - 1%Agency - 2%Self-management - 2%Ethical understanding - 2%Intercultural understanding - 4%Relationship skills - 5%Creativity - 13%Digital Skills - 20%Image: Student Priorities Bar graph form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50% of students rank social and emotional skills in their top 5 priorities
but only30% of teachers rank social and emotional skills in their top 5 priorities

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

but only

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

Core elements of social-emotional learningThe Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) explains social and emotional learning (SEL) as students obtaining skills that “enhance [their] capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges.” CASEL’s SEL framework encompasses five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Social skill deficits also create major obstacles for a significantly large subgroup of learning-disabled students and adults.For more, visit: https://casel.org/core-competencies/
Cognitive skills that drive learningWhile definitions of cognitive skills vary, many agree that these skills consist of core academic knowledge as well as higher-order skills that apply this knowledge to answer questions and solve problems. In a study of more than 150 countries, The Brookings Institution found that more than 70 percent of education systems prioritize the following six cognitive skills: literacy, numeracy, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.For more, visit: https://www.brookings.edu/research/skills-for-a-changing-world-2/

January 21, 2019

Who do we want our children to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what we can do:

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

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

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

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

That’s the “me” part.

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

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

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

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

Upstander Resources and Lesson Plans from ASCD

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

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

January 14, 2019

Why does ‘Grit’ matter?

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

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

In this world, where technology changes rapidly, new skills are needed throughout the tenure of one’s career, and dramatic national and world events impact us overnight, are we giving our students the skills to be the leaders of tomorrow?Are you as a teacher or parent modeling “grit” for our students? Our students are impacted by the adults in their lives. We can talk about perseverance with them, but our own actions speak volumes to our youth!Read the article below and see if you have the characteristics of GRIT!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable

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

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

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

Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through

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

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

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

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

Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity

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

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

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

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

Excellence vs. Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2019

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

Image: Stop vaping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Tobacco 21 campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Other districts are turning to their students for help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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