Saturday, November 30, 2013

UPENN Grit Workshop Visit #2 Laurence Steinberg

UPENN: Philadelphia
November 24th, 2013
Take Away Point: Building perseverance and grit for students requires building self-control. Building self-control takes practice and strategies and is not simply a matter of willpower. How can we practice? What are the strategies?

Last weekend I returned to UPENN to participate in the Grit Workshops hosted by Angela Ducksworth. The November workshop participants welcomed Dr. Laurence Steinberg from Temple University. Laurence Steinberg is a highly respected professor of psychology at Temple University. He is the author of more than 250 articles on growth and development during the teenage years, and the author or editor of 13 books. For all intents in purposes, Dr. Steinberg is one of the foremost researchers on adolescent development in the world. For some excellent clips of Dr. Steinberg click here to view his big-think series:

Dr. Steinberg spent about an hour explaining his upcoming book and latest research. We then spent a second hour in a question and answer session. Because his upcoming book is not published yet, I won't give away too many details, but I will say that I found his lecture very helpful. His major themes are the growing length of adolescence for our youth, more explanation of the adolescent brain which goes beyond just an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex, and the opportunity that increased brain plasticity provides during adolescence. He also provided the participants a sneak-preview at one of his chapters that explores how we might change the status quo in our high schools. Dr. Steinberg is increasingly interested in building self-control in adolescence as a primary intervention. Amongst other strategies he is exploring mind-body connections such as deliberate practice with a physical activity, controlled risk taking opportunities for students, mindfulness, and more. I am looking forward to the book's release and recommend looking through his big think videos

Quote: “The most important scientific discovery about self control is that it can be taught.”
-Walter Mischel (Original Researcher of the Marshmallow Test).

The second half of the session was led by Angela Duckworth. She spent an hour or so discussing her latest work with self-control. Angela began the conversation by saying she understands that the idea of self-control being important is an obvious one. What she emphasized as different about her research is just HOW important self-control is in determining success. She also expressed her generalized concern that young people were not being challenged enough, that expectations were too low, and that more young people could show grit if given the chance to understand confusion, boredom and frustration are important aspects of learning. Then she highlighted the importance of teaching strategies to students over simply advising them to avoid self defeating behaviors. She used the "Just Say No" campaign as an example of why simply telling adolescents what to do is not an effective method. Instead she recommended teaching students strategies to utilize when they are faced with situations of needed self-control. A few of the strategies she recommended were:


1) Pre-Commit: Think of Odysseus and his strategies to face the temptation of the Sirens. He planned ahead to modify his situation by tying himself to the mast, plugging his ears, and covering his eyes. For students this could mean making the decision to sit at the front of the class everyday, before ever walking into class. It could mean a plan to commit to healthy peers or productive school groups before transitioning from middle school to high school. She also cautioned that forcing students to modify their situation is unlikely to prove useful. Instead, the students must have the strategy explained and then make the choice to pre-commit on their own.

2) Situation Selection: Much as it sounds, this intervention suggests that we should not put ourselves in tempting situations. For example, alcoholics shouldn't go to bars, students shouldn't sit in front of the TV to do their homework. It might require physically moving your cell phone out of sight, or rearranging your workspace to be more conducive to accomplishment. It is a simply intervention, but perhaps often overlooked because of its simplicity.

Angela Explains Some Related Strategies on The Today Show:

COGNITIVE STRATEGIES (Require self-control in the moment)

3) Selective Attention: Kids in the marshmallow test provide a perfect example of selective attention. When faced with the tempting marshmallow, some students cover their eyes, or turn around completely. These are examples of in the moment selective attention strategies. In the classroom it means where students look matters. Which makes a strong case for student/teacher techniques such as SLANT (Sit up, Lean forward, Ask Questions, Nod your Head, Track the Speaker with your Eyes).

Cookie Monster Learns The Look Away Strategy:

4) Cognitive Reappraisal: This strategy refers to thinking of the moment in the third person. "What is happening for me in this moment?" This is a difficult strategy to invoke, and thus it is 4th on the list.

5) Response Modulation: This is the strategy we most often teach. In the moment we want to turn on the TV, turn in an unfinished paper, punch back, eat another piece of cake, lash out, or any of the things that cause us to make decisions that provide quick satisfaction but long-term harm, we have long suggested strategies such as, take a deep breath, just calm down, control yourself. This is good advice in calming down one's fight or flight or impulsive responses to conflict or temptation, but it often requires too much willpower in moments when willpower is scarce. Thus, the most often taught practices should really only serve as a last resort.

Professor Duckworth said that willpower isn't as much about strength as it is about being clever. Using your own versions of the above strategies to bolster your willpower can improve your self-control habits, and those improved habits will increase your chances for success in whatever you might wish to accomplish. She concluded with the following quote:

“Our virtues are habits as much as or vices…our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folder, tends to fall forever afterward into the same identical folds."
William James 1899

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photo Slideshow from KIPP High School Visit NYC

View all

KIPP Prep Academy High School: Bronx
Grades 9-12
One Sentence Take Away: In a modern, effective, responsive high school, strong investment in counselors and deans is money well spent.

KIPP Prep Academy High School is KIPP’s was started five years ago as KIPP’s first high school. It was created in response to requests from KIPP middle school parents who wished their students could continue within the KIPP experience through high school. 2013 marks the first year the High School is in its new location in its brand new  building in the Bronx. The building is beautiful! You can read more about the history of getting this state of the art high school built by clicking this link to robin hood foundation. Many of the lessons I learned while visiting this high school are within the photo slideshow, but I would add that the KIPP high school has two things I was very interested in. 

1) The administrative structure was very supportive of students and teachers. Aside from the principal, there is one vice principal that concentrates on instructional leadership and another that leads the dean team. Each grade has two deans! Plus each grade has two guidance counselors! That's ratio of about 100 students per counselor. In addition to these counselors there are two more college counselors and a crisis counselor that works with students with more extreme problems. What a dream!

2) The KIPP Academy High School has multiple different levels of diplomas that it awards. Based on Regent scores, graduates earn different variations of diplomas. This seems like it could create a lot of freedom for student choice as well as more reflective diplomas based on the given student's interest and effort. 

Notes from KIPP Middle School Visit

KIPP Academy: Bronx
Grades 5-8
One Sentence Take Away: “Do YOU remain calm even when criticized or bothered?”

Set amongst rows of apartment high rises in the Bronx, KIPP Academy is the original New York City KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school. There are now 10 KIPP schools in NYC and 141 nationwide. This middle school currently serves about 270 students in grades 5-8. In educational circles, KIPP is frequently admired, discussed, debated and sometimes criticized as a model for education. Overall, co-founders David Levin and Mike Feinberg, and the dedicated staff have been extremely successful in helping underprivileged youth in urban poverty achieve academic success at a impressive rate. KIPP is also one of the most well known models for character education. Their system of schools emphasize character enough to have created the KIPP character report card. Here is a short video from 2011 explaining a little bit about KIPP in general:

My visit to KIPP reminded me of my time at Polaris in West Chicago. Both of these charter middle schools have extremely high expectations for their students and teachers. Both schools work with populations from generational poverty in urban settings. In each of the schools I saw high levels of instruction from energetic teachers. And, in my opinion, both schools have a very strong adult administrative presence. Students are required to be silent in the hallway, walk in lines in the hallway, wear uniforms (or dress clothes), and follow many other fairly strict rules, enforced diligently. In both schools, teachers are in the hallway to walk their students to the next class, and students are expected to wait silently until their next teacher welcomes them into the room. Indirectly, compliance is of very high value. Whether or not that is a worthwhile goal for students can be debated, but there is no denying the positive academic testing track record these schools have, and the corresponding success of getting their students to college. Perhaps with so many students lacking structure outside of school, a highly structured environment is necessary in order to develop effective work habits inside of school.

In any event, the adults were very welcoming, the students were conscientious, and I enjoyed my time there. While I was there, I saw self-control emphasized by a number of administrators and teachers. In one class I visited, test taking strategies were explained in great detail. The teacher strongly encouraged all students to set a minimum of a 5% growth increase for themselves, with an excused homework as a reward for achieving that minimum growth level and 3 excused homework assignments for anyone in the 90th percentile. KIPP's hallmark phrases, "BE NICE. WORK HARD." & "ALL OF US WILL ACHIEVE" were painted in rooms throughout the school. Additional phrases on the walls included, "Do YOU get to work right away?" & "Do YOU show thanks and appreciation?"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cookie Monster Weighs in on Self-Control

Cookie Monster is famous for devouring cookies as soon as he sees them. He has not been much of a role model for self control. The folks at Sesame Street must have recognized the opportunity that the Cookie Monster has to change this lesson. In this video he sings about self-regulation and taking a deep breath as a part of a larger executive functioning curriculum push from Sesame Street this season.

On their Youtube channel they wrote:

"'Sesame Street' launches its 44th season on September 16th, 2013 with a new self-regulation and executive function curriculum. Cookie Monster, the poster-child for someone needing to master self-regulation skills, attempts to explain these concepts while devising personal strategies on waiting to eat a cookie."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Notes From School of the Future Brooklyn Visit

School of the Future Brooklyn

One Sentence Take-Away: Giving students the opportunity to reflect upon their progress with their teacher in a "coaching" setting on a regular basis will improve engagement and hence student learning.  

View out of the school window in East NY/Brownsville-Brooklyn  
My second school visit in New York City was in some ways the opposite of my first visit. Today, I visited one of New York's newest public schools. This Brooklyn location of School of the Future is based on the more established Manhattan School of the Future. 100% of the 75 sixth graders in this school qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch. The school will be adding new sixth grade students each of the next two years to become a 6-8 middle school. The goal is to keep class sizes at 25 and under.
They are working on the fourth floor of a very old school building that lacks some of the resources other schools take for granted. The school is located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York. It is filled with housing projects and neighbors Brownsville, a neighborhood notorious for crime and high murder rates. The schools face a great deal of challenges. For example, a local high school, Thomas Jefferson High School was close in 2007 after having a 29% graduation rate and 2% of their students entering at grade level reading and math. Despite these historic challenges, the caring staff and friendly students welcomed me just the same.

 Student list of things they want to improve in their community.
I enjoyed my time meeting with these students and talking perseverance strategies with new principal, Sarah Kaufmann. Sarah is also a member of the grit discussion group being held at UPENN. She is dedicated to working with this challenging population, in a challenging setting. One of the pillars of their school is building resilience. The new school takes the time to help students think through their impulsive reactions and practice new strategies for self-control on a regular basis. I'm grateful to have had a chance to visit and look forward to hearing about their progress in the coming years.

**This is a five minute video of principal Sarah Kaufmann from when she was working as an ELA teacher at the Manhattan School of the Future location.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Notes from Riverdale School Visit: NYC

Riverdale Country School, Bronx NYC
November 12th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: A character based school culture is oftentimes less about direct instruction and more about teachable moments and adult priorities that are emphasized in varied approaches over time. 

Riverdale is an independent (private) school in an affluent New York community. I visited the middle and upper schools. As a visitor, I was welcomed warmly by everyone I met. Both students and adults were friendly, thoughtful, and curious about my work. Classes were filled with focused, academically curious students. I was really impressed with some of the 7th graders' abilities to discuss some complex taxation concepts in early America and their annotate complex readings. I spent the day visiting three different classrooms (grades 7, 8, 11), speaking with three different deans, meeting with the director of learning, the school counselor, and attending a school-wide assembly that honored UNICEF child protection agent, Pernille Ironside. I had heard about Riverdale because it is featured in Paul Tough's book, How Children Succeed. Around six years ago, leaders from Riverdale collaborated with David Levin of KIPP (a graduate of Riverdale!), Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman to determine which character skills to champion in the their respective schools. The picture of their red poster illustrates those characteristics.

I had a great day and learned a lot from the folks at Riverdale, including the incredible opportunity to hear Pernille Ironside speak. She is currently heading UNICEF's gaza strip office and was heading to the Philapines today to help with the typhoon recovery efforts. A couple areas of learning for me included:

Report Cards: Riverdale has a concentrated effort to provide a substantial narrative report card to each student during 1st and 3rd quarters. Teachers are encouraged to keep notes on each student so that writing a personalized and meaningful progress report will be possible. After the reports have gone home, middle schoolers spent time during their advisory time (meets as a whole school for three 20 minute sessions per week in addition to home-room times each day) going through their report cards and highlighted strengths and areas of opportunity for growth. The opportunities for growth are then linked to one of the character strengths the school emphasizes. Once the area of growth is articulated, students are to write a detailed and measurable goal for the upcoming quarter. Report cards are released on a staggered schedule to give teachers more time for thoughtful remarks, and the deans (much like a guidance counselor) reviews the report cards and remarks before they are shared with the student and family.

Avoid Being Too Heavy Handed: Almost to the person, the educators I spoke with at Riverdale talked about how much they valued the momentum that is building in their community around character education. But they also spoke about the importance of a varied, and in many cases, subtle approach to conveying the message to students. They reported, and I agree, that as students get older their eye rolling for direct lessons on how to be gets too frequent for that kind of lesson to be consistently effective. They spoke about direct instruction having more success at the early middle level while action projects and micro-moments proving to be more valuable at the upper school. In either case, building a culture of character takes time, and Riverdale seems to be well on their way.

Riverdale middle schoolers chose someone famous or in their life that exemplified one the characteristics. Here you can see see a painting of Carmelo Anthony and a write up explaining why "Melo" exemplifies grit.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Check out what is on the walls at BURR and BURTON ACADEMY

Picture Taken By: Fellow, 2013 Rowland Fellow, Colin McKaig. Colin is an English Teacher at Black River High School. Colin's work this year is on how we can harness the power of cell phones and other one to one digital devices in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Notes from Visit to UPENN

UPENN: Philadelphia
Grit Workshop: Oct. 27th, 2013
Take Away Point: Early adolescence provides a powerful opportunity for individuals to grow their social, achievement, and emotional skills.

Recommended Reading: Can Perseverance be Taught? by Angela Duckworth

This past weekend I met with a small group of educational leaders and researchers at UPENN in Philadelphia. It was the first of eight meetings. I am happy to report that the group was friendly, caring, and focused on improving education for our youth. And our leader, researcher Angela Duckworth is a kind, humble, and a thoughtful guide as we work through important educational approaches, curriculum, and policy questions. Here are a few highlights of what I learned over the weekend:

1) Flood the Transitions: Our group's conversation highlighted new brain research that keys on the unique opportunity that is early adolescence. While brain researchers have long known that the ages 0-3 are crucial in brain and disposition development, it seems that early adolescence provides a second major window of opportunity for development. In other words, it may be true that much of our trust in others, self-regulation ability, impulse control, and abilities to handle stress are determined in those first three years of life, but researchers are finding that adolescence is also a time when major growth can take place with these skills. That is why have a school culture and school expectations that encourage this growth are so important in middle and early high school. My suggestion is for us to Flood the Transitions. By that I mean we should really highlight 6th and 9th grade as crucial times in students' lives. Perhaps for the first few weeks of school, all adults and older students should rally around these age groups to help set up positive thinking habits, (i.e. growth mindset), goal setting, quality work habits (turning off cell phone during home work), and help build that self control. Core curriculum could be tailored to support the effort, (i.e. book selections) staff could be temporarily moved to increase focus, and direct instruction could take place in freshman academies and teacher advisory programs in addition to the invaluable micro-moments of authentic learning.  

2) Scaffolding Versus Coddling: One of the themes that has come up frequently for me over the past few years is the concern over enabling students and creating an entitled generation of youth. The issue came up again this weekend at UPENN. It seems that while "no excuse" charter schools have proven to be very effective in improving test scores and getting their students to college...they have not proved effective in keeping students in college. Their concern, is the same concern I have heard while sitting at the teacher's lunch table at Enosburg Falls High School, or around the dinner table during the holidays with my family. That is, are we raising a generation of coddled students? Although well intentioned, are hard-working teachers and parents doing TOO much for students and making them dependent in the process? Its a tricky balance, but an important one to consider as a staff and as a community.

Ms. Duckworth in her discussion with KIPP founder Dave Levin offered that the answer to those questions regarding enabling his students might be, "No." It seems that the gap their students are not bridging is learning to ask for support while away from KIPP and transfer their skills to new environments and new problems. In other words, achieving students of all demographics need ongoing support, just some know how to seek it, and others do not. It seems that for some reason, his students are not developing the skill set needed to seek out the support they need in new environments for new challenges.

*You know Rocky has grit! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Visit to Consult with Researcher Angela Duckworth

This last weekend in October will be the first of 8 visits I will make to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The monthly Sunday discussions are being hosted by researcher Angela Duckworth to answer the question of how to implement grit curriculum into schools and school culture. I will be meeting with a group of about 20 participants that include researchers, community leaders, teachers, and principals from around the northeast and beyond. The group includes but is not limited to folks from Kipp Philadelphia, School of the Future, and the Yes Prep Public Schools. I've posted Ms. Duckworth's most well known TED talk that explains her work.

She also was recently (Autumn 2013) chosen as a fellow for the MacArthur Genius Award in support of her work. In the following video she explains a bit more about the direction that she believes her latest research is headed. I am honored and excited to be apart of the learning process in the coming months.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Notes from Paul Tough's Keynote Speech

Paul Tough: Author of How Children Succeed
Keynote Speech: Oct. 17th, 2013
Take Away Points: Adversity Gap & The Need for Adults to Model, "Bouncing Back"

The 2013 Minnesota School Teacher's conference featured Paul Tough as one of their keynote speakers. The speech was held in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul Minnesota. Mr. Tough did a great job as a keynote speaker. He reviewed some of the important research points in his book which were emphasized by personal stories. One area that Mr. Tough added to his speech since writing his book was a concept he calls the "adversity gap". 

In reading his book, parents and teachers alike couldn't help but surmise that one of the conclusions was that students/children need adversity in their lives to succeed. He joked that parents had been approaching him to ask what kind of adversity they could manufacture for their kids! He explained that there is no need to manufacture adversity, but rather allow our children to work their own problems more often. And he emphasized that low income students, or students that have suffered trauma, certainly DO NOT need MORE adversity in their lives. This distance between our privileged students versus our students living in extreme poverty or dangerous situations is what he calls the "adversity gap" and just like our achievement gap, it needs to be closed in order for student learning to be optimized. 
One thing that teachers and parents can do in order to help our youth develop more grit, and perseverance is to model it ourselves. Too often adults believe that they must appear perfect for students. Teachers fear making mistakes at the board, parents work towards seeming all-knowing for their children. Changing this thinking, and modeling "bouncing back" from mistakes or failure for our youth is one of the most simple and fundamental steps we can take to improve those skills for the next generation. 

A Couple of Ideas from Delong Middle School

Delong Middle School: Eau Claire, WI
October 15th, 2013

Delong Middle School is large, high-functioning middle school in Eau Claire, WI. While stopping in to watch my nephew's football game, I saw a few gems posted on their walls. I took a few photos to capture the idea of using our own middle school students to create posters to represent character. I also liked their PBIS card rewards. Both are quick usable ideas at EFMHS.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Notes from Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School

Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School Grades 7-12
October 16th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: Vested interest equals engagement, engagement equals motivation.

Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School (BBHCS) is a rural Wisconsin charter school that serves nearly 30 students in grades 7-12. Founding teachers Jenny Landes and Todd Brunclik, along with Susan Leeper guide students through self-directed education, uniquely tailored to each student. Frequently students combine their independent work with a few traditional classes from the nearby traditional high school for math or foreign language. BBHCS is a member of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network (WISN).

My first half hour was spent sitting in on advisory time with the students. I was impressed with their kindness and welcoming nature. They asked relevant questions and then each shared a story of a time when they showed perseverance in their own lives. After our introductions students went to work! I was a bit awestruck to see each student jump to work on their own projects with genuine energy and focus. The cross-section of grades and types of students became a very comfortable work setting in which students paced themselves, sought out resources, reviewed their progress, stopped for breaks as needed (going to kitchen to make microwave popcorn!) and produced excellent work. I was impressed by the amount trust between students and teachers. One 10th grade student was working on a project about how the sailboats in the American Cup could find the fastest route. She was considering wind changes, the technology of the sailboats, the tide pools and more. Thanks Taisia for explaining your project to me! Here is a photo of what she was working out on the whiteboard:

For some other examples of student work, click: Samples of BBHCS student work.

Students work towards a 32 credit graduation requirement despite the traditional area high school only requiring 28. Students' transcripts reflect credits earned within the given standard the work falls within. Credits are determined by the number of hours logged and the quality of the work. Rubrics and conferences between the student and teachers determine the amount of assigned credit. When a student proposes a project they must seek out the corresponding state and/or common-core standards that the project will meet. Founding teacher Todd Brunclik explained that any credit earned on a transcript was really reflective of mastery level work, or work that would normally be considered A or B quality. The students and teachers utilize an online platform called Project Foundry to help support this flexible pathway, proficiency based grading, and project based learning model. 

Notes from Badger Rock Middle School

Badger Rock Middle School grades 6-8
Oct. 14th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: "The impoverished have no choice but to persevere."

Badger Rock Middle School is charter school in Madison, WI that currently serves about 100 students in grades 6th through 8th. The student demographic is largely minority students, a high number of ELL students, and mostly students of free and reduced lunch status. Badger Rock is unique in that it is a project based learning environment. Each day students have significant time built into their schedule to pursue a project of their choosing. They also spend each Wednesday out in the community or working in their own large garden. Badger Rock Middle School is apart of the Wisconsin Innovative Schools Network (WISN).

In the morning, I spent some time with their English teacher, Mr. Stephen Perez who demonstrated what a 21st century ELA middle school classroom can look like. Mr. Perez emphasized what he called reciprocal accountability to ensure respect in his classroom. During my visit he had 7th graders working on their writing skills by reviewing a Langston Hughes short story (Thank You Ma'am) as if they were writing a news article on the piece. He provided what a "2" paper would look like, as well as a what "3" paper would look like. Students worked on their mac-books in google-docs and edmodo to review the provided documents, rubric, and begin their own writing for submission. Students were required to seek instruction out by reading his directions and examples carefully and then raise their hands for more individualized instruction if necessary. When discussing resiliency and perseverance, Mr. Perez suggested that his students HAD to show perseverance because the impoverished have no other choice. Students also reported feeling more motivated to persist because they were able to be more self-directed on their timelines to complete work and chose their work more often than in traditional settings.  

In the afternoon, I spent some time watching 8th graders present on their most recently finished self-directed projects. The students had been working on their projects for about two weeks. On this occasion their projects had to have an improving the community's environmental practices theme. Students presented on projects that included refurbishing old desktop computers, appropriate disposal of E-waste, reusing old clothing to make pillows and dolls, and one group had successfully brought new recycling bins to the playground/park area. I was impressed by how many students had practiced the skills of communicating with adults over the phone to have expert consultation. Thank you to Principal Tim Bubon and Sarah Hackett from WISN for hosting my visit!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Notes from visit to Polaris Academy in Chicago

Polaris Academy K-8
Oct. 11th, 2013
One Sentence Take Away: Your school culture is largely determined by what you celebrate.

This week I visited Polaris Academy in Chicago. Polaris is a K-8 charter school on the west side of Chicago with over 400 students. Polaris is an expeditionary learning school, which means that its philosophy is built upon student led learning with authentic hands on learning throughout the wider community. For example, last year, the 7th graders at Polaris wrote and published a book honoring members of their community that work to "keep the peace" and stop gun violence in the Chicago area. Here is link to a news story about their project: WGN news clip.

I was welcomed by a caring staff including (but not limited to!) head of school, Michelle Navarre, director of academics Roel Vivit, and director of operations and finance Carol Clavadetscher. A number of kind, polite, and helpful students gave me a tour of the school and served as a student panel to answer some of my questions.

My primary question for Polaris was how do you teach character? Here are a few key points I took away that help answer that question:

Polaris developed five key characteristics to value which are: Compassion, Integrity, Critical Thinking, Active Citizenship, and Exploration. Explanations and examples of the five characteristics are posted throughout the school, for example:

Polaris taught those characteristics directly by discussing them, explaining them, adding them into curriculum in a multitude of ways, including text choices and using a teacher advisory model which they call, "crew".

Polaris celebrates those characteristics consistently. Using methods such as "who was an all-star today in class" and other student nomination structures, students are celebrated at every turn for exemplify the five points. In fact, on every Friday the school gathers in the gym to honor students who will become "light leaders". "Light leaders are students who embody one of the five traits so well that they are honored as an example for their classmates to always represent that characteristic. In my time there it was clear to me that this was a very big honor which the staff and students took seriously. Nominations come from students that are then discussed in staff meetings to determine final say. Here is a picture of the board of all the light leaders in the school...only a few students have been honored for more than one characteristic.

Students can also give each other "points" of recognition for smaller helpful moments by filling out a little cut out hand. The pictures below provide an examples:

Overall, I was very impressed with Polaris. They clearly have very dedicated staff and the students were helpful, positive, and friendly. By emphasizing and celebrating the characteristics that the staff themselves decided were the most valuable students have a high level of "buy in." The school has a safe learning environment for students to explore and grow in a healthy way without worrying the pressure to never make mistakes or not be good at something right away. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Visit to Polaris Academy K-8 in Chicago

I'm looking forward to spending the day tomorrow with Polaris Academy! Polaris is an expeditionary learning school and is experiencing positive gains for the students by all measures. Here is a short video from their website, explaining the school:

Friday, September 27, 2013

University of PENN added to Travel Plans

Chicago/St. Paul Trip: Oct. 9th-19th                           

Polaris Academy: Chicago, IL
Badger Rock Middle School: Madison, WI
Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School, Birchwood, WI
Keynote Speaker: Paul Tough: St. Paul, MN

Philadelphia/University of Penn: Oct. 27th

To join teacher/researcher Sunday Conversation with Angela Duckworth

New York City Trip: Nov. 9th to Nov 17
KIPP Prep High School: Harlem, NY
KIPP Middle School: Bronx, NY
Riverdale Country School: Bronx, NY

San Diego Trip: Jan. 5th to Jan. 12th
High Tech Schools (Middle and High): San Diego, CA

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NBC's Brian Williams Reports on Grit in the Classroom

NBC's Brian Williams on Rock Center: Features a report on grit in the classroom, including KIPP NYC, and Riverdale Academy, each of which are schools on my visitation schedule in November. 
Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, September 23, 2013

Perseverance Quickly Gaining Popularity Around the Country!

Click Here to View EL website

The non-cognitive skills research is hitting the mark for educational leaders around the country. It seems perseverance is the "word of the year" in education. And why not? A few of the recent media references I've come across in support of this kind of movement for schools include ASCD's September issue of Educational Leadership. The entire issue is dedicated to articles and research related to the topic.

Click Here to View "The Story"

A second reference I recently came across was a dedicated radio program to American's dropout rate. American Public Media's "The Story" featured a show entitled, "From the Classroom to the Graduation Stage" on September 23rd. Researcher Russ Rumberger, director of the California Research Project, discusses how non-cognitive skills need to be taught in order to give students what they need to meet graduation requirements and be prepared for life after the walk across the stage.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rowland Advisory Board Dinner: Oct. 4th

This week around 40 educational and community leaders were invited for a dinner and discussion. This group will serve as the fellowship advisory board. The advisory board is meant to help with "big picture" questions and ideas. The advisory board will meet only twice this year. The board is cross-cut of members from around our community which will help inform the project and create a broader awareness of the Rowland Foundation and my fellowship. To see the invitation click on this link: October 4th Advisory Board Dinner Invite

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dept. of Education's 5 Strategies for Implementation of Perseverance Programming

According to the February 2013 Department of Education's Report on the Importance of Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance, there are five major clusters of implementation occurring in about 50 programs around the country promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance. I've listed the five major clusters into my own words here:

Cluster #1: Early childhood programs that emphasize improving executive functioning such as mindful practices, martial arts, and self-control games.

Cluster #2: Direct Instruction through advisories, guidance, and classroom teachers to build understanding amongst students about key vocabulary and concepts such as growth mindset, and effortful control

Cluster #3: School-wide programs that take on "character education" and utilize more project based learning models that require long-term planning and thinking for students.

Cluster #4: Utilizing supporting educational programs such as STEM to provide direct instruction and support of these perseverance related skills. 

Cluster #5: Utilizing the expanding capacity of digital learning environments. For example there are many new and developing programs that can provide data based results for teachers and move at student's optimal learning pace. This increases engagement and encourages students to pursue mastery. 

The implementation process is still in its early stages and longitudinal studies are lacking but the following initiatives have shown early signs of impacting growth in student learning. As the report writes, "together, these findings provide a source of optimism that grit, tenacity, and perseverance can be teachable and transferable" (US Dept. of Education: 2013, p. xi).

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 School Visitation Schedule: (Additional Dates TBA)

Chicago/St. Paul Trip: Oct. 9th-19th                           

Polaris Academy: Chicago, IL
Badger Rock Middle School: Madison, WI
Birchwood Blue Hills Charter School, Birchwood, WI
Keynote Speaker: Paul Tough: St. Paul, MN

New York City Trip: Nov. 9th to Nov 17

KIPP Prep High School: Harlem, NY
KIPP Middle School: Bronx, NY
Riverdale Country School: Bronx, NY

San Diego Trip: Jan. 5th to Jan. 12th
High Tech Schools (Middle and High): San Diego, CA

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Necessary Learning Environment

August 16th, 2013

"Students will be more likely to persevere when the learning environment has a fair and respectful climate, conveys high expectations, emphasizes effort over ability, and provides necessary tangible resources--materials, human, and time."

Quote is taken from the U.S. Department of Education report titled, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century (2013, p. vii).