Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My thoughts on educating our students

I put the following blog information in my parent/community newsletter called the Bailey Bear News.  It is my thoughts on educating our students and what I think really works!

Thank you for entrusting your students with us every day! We love our job and our hope is that we will be and do exactly what each student needs to be successful in life! Teaching is not an easy profession! Over the years I have watched the changes in education both good and bad. I started my teaching career in Houston, Texas in 1983...yes, I said 1983 which is before most of you reading this were born! I taught 8th grade advanced Earth Science and 7th-grade math and went on to teach 7th Grade Life Science as well as ESL Life Science. I student taught in first grade and then was placed in the middle school to teach math and science. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least, and a scary one too! Every day there were fights and disagreements, disrespectful behavior to adults and students and I learned pretty quickly that these students were acting out in order to hide the fact that they could not do the work...many of them were reading on a first grade level in middle school! Getting control of a class of 35 middle school 8th graders to teach Earth Science and 10 of them reading on a first-grade level was pretty daunting. This is when I knew that our education system was failing our kids.

Over the years people have tried new programs, new teaching methods, scripted lessons, new administrators with new ideas, etc. The problem is there is not a program, a teaching method, or a scripted lesson that is going to make a student learn better it is the TEACHER and what she/he does each day that will make or break the learning for a student. It is teaching children how to have a growth mindset and model it every day as a teacher. Every child comes to school wanting to learn and somehow as parents and teachers we tend to squash that love of learning because we get too fixed on grades, how they measure up to other students, their state test scores, etc. We forget that every child does not learn in the same way or at the same speed as other children. Children are unique little individuals and learn best when given a teacher who makes a relationship with them and finds new ways to help them learn when they are not "getting it" and at the same time reassures them that learning is a process and they will succeed. This is where the job gets even harder! This is where teachers stay up at night trying to find ways to help a student so they can be successful and feel good about themselves, they reflect and look at what they are doing and change if needed, they throw out scripted lessons and teach to the needs of their class which means a lot of work on their part because it is not all packaged and pretty. Teachers deal with parents who want their child to be an A student and who have no idea that an A really means nothing in the big scheme of things! Teachers want parents to focus more on how their child is progressing because growth is much more important than a grade. During my teaching career, some of my highest students in the classroom were afraid to step out and try something that was hard for them because they were afraid of not knowing something and did not want to expose themselves to that type of struggle. They came into the grade level pretty much able to do all the work and they made great grades but as a teacher I wanted to push them to take on the next level of learning and sadly they choose to not move forward but wanted to stay were they were because I believe they were conditioned to focus on grades and not on growing themselves and learning new things.

I think as parents and teachers we want to help our students WANT to be a part of their learning and to spread the message that it is okay to struggle or grapple with learning, that through hard work and perseverance you will get better and succeed! This is the best life lesson we can give them. Those students with a growth mindset will many times surpass their straight A peers because they have learned to love the process of learning which involves struggling and not always knowing the answers! Our job force of the future will be looking for people who are able to think, be creative, are tech-savvy, and are open to a lifelong approach to learning! NOTHING is off limits if you have embraced learning and have a growth mindset! It is the secret that at some point everyone who has a say in education will figure out and will begin looking at kids as individuals and not as statistics on a test.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What's in your suitcase?

I just finished watching a TED Talk on celebrating introverts and what they bring to the table both in our personal life but also in our school life.  It was refreshing to hear that introverts should be celebrated because I have for 58 years tried to push myself to not be as introverted as I am.  I will be honest, I don't particularly care for social gatherings that require me to talk to everyone and be happy and full of great information to share....So, you may be wondering why are you a principal?  Lord only knows why I have been put in this position, but I do the best I can!  I will also be honest and say that I have grown to love being a principal and pushing myself in ways that I would have never done if I stayed in the classroom.  I feel as a principal I can offer teachers something that an extroverted leader may not be able to offer.  I listen and I listen well!  I have found that most extroverted people listen but they do not listen well.  Now, they will say they are listening, but if you are an introvert you can tell they are not!  I notice all body language, cadence in the voice, changes in speech patterns to denote that you are thinking about something else while you are trying to listen to me!  As a leader listening without putting your "spin" on what someone is saying is how you can grow people to want to step out and take a chance...that their idea is worthwhile and it is their idea and NOT the extroverts spin on their idea!  Does that make sense?  I love extroverts, don't get me wrong!  They are some of my best friends and my husband is one and I love him dearly.  But, in saying that, I think as a society we tend to push those that are quiet and introverted to be like their extroverted friends and when we do this we miss out on some of the most talented and creative souls that have so much to offer but may not step out and do so when always pushed to be someone they are not.

At school last year,  we talked about storytelling...telling our own stories which are so important as we build relationships with our students.  In looking for something on this subject, I ran across a TED talk about introverts and it fit so well into why we need to tell our stories that I thought I would share.  At the beginning of the TED Talk, Susan Cain talked about what was in her suitcase as she was going to camp for the summer.  Her suitcase was full of books which are her passion.  At the end of her talk, she asked that we take a moment to examine what we have in our suitcase and take it out every once in a while and share with others because we all have so much to share.  So I started thinking about what would be in my suitcase?  My suitcase would be filled with fabric, quilting magazines, sewing instruments, books on creating things, mystery books, magazines like PEOPLE  (I do love gossip stories), my kindle, stationary, lots of pens, markers, pencils, my calendar (knockoff Erin Condren) with all the trappings for marking up my calendar, essential oils, pictures of my kids and family, and my dogs if they would fit in the suitcase!  My husband said he would bring the following in his suitcase; me, kindle, his favorite pair of shoes, guitar to play, firewood and essentials to make a fire, bourbon, and cigars!  Oh,  how we are different!  In fact, he looked at me like I had two heads when I asked him what he would put in his suitcase which is exactly what I expected.  The funny thing is that my husband who is an extrovert freely shares and talks about what is in his suitcase and all of what he said fits him and what he shows the world.  On the other hand, many people know I love quilting, sewing, and reading but I do not share my work but on rare occasions and it is something that I love doing but never really have the time to devote to on a regular basis!

It was refreshing to hear what Susan Cain felt was important about those of us who function as introverts and that in the school we are always pushing our kids to work in groups, which is fine, but we should also celebrate working alone and thinking deeply which cannot be done when you have five or six kids all talking at once! I think balance is the key to helping our introverted children.  They need to be pushed, but at the same time, they need to have quiet time as do our extroverted kids so that they can learn to think through things, build up their perseverance, and learn to follow through with everything that is asked of them in the classroom.

Her TED talk is excellent if you would like to take a moment to watch it!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Can teachers change the culture of a school using storytelling?

I have been thinking about storytelling lately, not the Beauty and the Beast type of storytelling, but the kind of storytelling that comes from teachers which reveal who we are and about WHY we do this thing called teaching every day!   I don’t think that all teachers really think they have a story to tell.  They feel that they are just regular, ordinary people, who do their best everyday and then go home.  I used to think that too when I was a teacher, but because I was encouraged to step out of my box and be a leader, I am now in a position as a principal to encourage and help others find their “why” and then to move forward and do this most awesome work that we call, teaching.  I have talked with teachers about being leaders, and what I am finding is that many do not think they have what it takes to be a leader.  They do not feel that others would find anything that they are doing to be noteworthy.  I disagree!

I just watched a TED-ED talk by Drew Dudley on, “the power of storytelling”.  In his talk he says that there are “lollipop moments” where you did something that inspired or changed someone else and you did not even know that you did something extraordinary until someone comes back to let you know what you did for them. I think teachers have given many “lollipop moments” and they are just not aware of the power that they have been given to inspire and help children be better people by just having that small word of encouragement or providing that listening ear that says to a child that they are going to make it.

I want my teachers to find their story and know that they are at the center of the greatest work on earth and that is educating our children in all areas not just academics.  I want my teachers to know that as they cultivate their story they help to make the culture of our school better and even change areas of our culture that need to be changed! 

Christopher Bronke wrote a blog piece that I found on the Teaching Channel entitled, “Leading Out Loud:  Teacher as Storyteller”.  Mr. Bronke says, “At their core, teachers are leaders.  And when the “leaders” of a school realize this fact and empower teachers to help enact change, welcoming them into the STORY of their school, the impossible becomes the reality, the unimaginable becomes the routine.”   He goes on to say, “teachers are leaders because they’re at the center of the humanity within the work; living in and yet simultaneously crafting the story of the school, the narrative of the culture, and this is absolutely essential because the reality is this:  a story entertains, it engages; it endears us to others; it enrages; but most importantly, it EMPOWERS.  Without the story, we’re left with blank slates.” 

He states that there are five ways a teacher leader can use storytelling that has the power to change a culture and to also ensure that the work we do everyday as educators is not only valued but treasured by all those that have a part in it.  Here are the five ways:

·      to inspire
·      to share
·      to engage
·      to comfort
·      to affect change

This all leads me back to why I started this journey looking at how storytelling can make us better people which in turn will make us a better school for our children.  Our theme word for this year is ENGAGEMENT.  If our children are not engaged in the learning then what is the point?  One way to engage our kids is by using stories that help set the foundation to get them involved in the instruction by inspiring their curiosity and love of learning.  The ultimate goal would be to have a teacher be able to connect and inspire through storytelling and sharing of themselves in the lessons they teach.  My goal then is help/inspire/influence my teachers to find their own story and know the WHY that supports what they do.   I think that before I can ask them to find their story, I will need to find my own.  Drew Dudley in an interview I read said the following that really resonated with me, “so again story telling is the basic unit to human understanding; so, be sure that you know what your story is about.  Make sure you figured it out, “What the lessons that you’ve learned from that story are? and eventually be willing to share it because we will never understand ourselves, and we will never understand each other if we do not share out stories.” 

To storytelling…..stay tuned!

Links to some of the blogs and TED-ED talk that I just recently used to help start this journey called storytelling.

The Power of Story Telling - TED-ED talk by Drew Dudley:  

Interview with Drew Dudley:

Christopher Bronke - Blog on Teaching Channel:

Lisa Hollenbach - Blog on Teaching Channel:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Our Growth Mindset Journey......Part I

Our Growth Mindset Journey - Part I

I decided to go back in time to document our mindset journey at BSE.  We are starting Part II of our journey this next school year using Mary Cay Ricci's book, "Mindsets in the Classroom - Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools".  

We started discussing Carol Dweck's book, "Mindset - The New Psychology of Success" in August of 2015 as a faculty.  I started out by giving my teachers a survey to complete and bring to one of our first faculty meetings.

Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

Answer these questions about your intelligence mindset.  Read each statement and decide whether you mostly agree (A) with it or disagree (D) with it and write your answer in the space provided.

_____1.  Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
_____2.  You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
_____3.  No matter how much intelligence you have, you an always change it quite a bit.
_____4.  You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

Now, look at these statements about personality mindset and decide whether you mostly agree (A) or mostly disagree (D) with each one and write your answer in the space provided.

_____1.  You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
_____2.  No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
_____3.  You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.

_____4.  You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

We started our meeting with the following quote from Carol Dweck:

It is not just our abilities and talent that bring us success, but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.  Praising our children’s intelligence and ability doesn’t always foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishments but may actually jeopardize success.  With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to improve in school, as well as reach our own goals, personal and professional.  Great parents, teachers, CEO’s, and athletes already know about how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and resilience that is the basis of great accomplishments in every area.    Carol Dweck

The first obstacle that was obvious to all of us is that we had a fixed mindset in how we dealt with those students who were not able to learn as quickly as other students.  These were the students that we felt we spent hours of time working with and getting nowhere.....teachers would say, "They don't want to learn"....."Their parents never help them"......"They are doing the best that they can"......and on the other end of the spectrum we were "praising" our high level students all the time for their great intelligence and their ease at learning what we were teaching in a quick manner.  We were fixed at both ends of the spectrum and did not even realize it!

Every week I send out a faculty newsletter called The Bailey Times with news and information for teachers and staff.  In August of 2015, I sent out the following information about Growth Mindset.  

     Picture Thomas Edison and what kind of person you think he was based on your present knowledge? Many people think that Thomas Edison was a loner and had a brilliant idea one day to make the light bulb!  That is not exactly how it happened.  Edison in fact had about thirty assistants, including well-trained scientists who often worked around the clock in a corporate-funded state-of-the-art laboratory!  The light bulb did not just happen, but was in fact a whole network of time-consuming inventions that came together giving us the light bulb. Edison was a savvy entrepreneur who knew how to publicize himself to get people to buy his inventions.  We think of Edison as a genius but in reality he was not always a genius. He was really just a regular boy who was taken with experiments and mechanical things.  What eventually set him apart from the others was his mindset and drive.  He never stopped being the curious, tinkering boy looking for new challenges.  So what are the real ingredients in achievement?   From Carol Dweck’s book Mindset – The New Psychology of Success. 

Teachers and Staff,

     Each week I have been putting information in the Bailey Times that comes from the Mindset book by Carol Dweck.  What I hope to accomplish in giving little pieces of information to you about the fixed vs. growth mindset is that you will start looking at what you are doing in the classroom.  We do not want to LIMIT our students based upon what we think about them, their grades, their behavior, etc.  Changing the mindset of our students by changing our own mindset could create an atmosphere in our school that could change the world!  One of these kids who we think is just an ordinary student might invent the cure for cancer IF we teach and model a growth mindset that spurs this child to greatness.  Same thing for those that are the brightest students who are praised day in and day out about how smart they are, how great they are and then they leave college and they never live up to their potential because they are afraid of failure! 

To a great year,

What started out as just reading and discussing growth mindset turned into a life changing thought process for our faculty.   We were not reaching our lowest kids because they challenged our abilities to teach them and we were not preparing our highest kids for the perseverance they would need to do well in the real world because we were too busy praising them for every move they made in the room.  What were we going to do to help start a change in ourselves in how we see learning in the classroom?

In October of 2015 I wrote the following in our faculty newsletter:

One day Thomas Edison came home and gave a paper to his mother.  He told her, “My teacher gave this paper to me and told me to only give it to my mother.” 

His mother’s eyes were tearful as she read the letter out loud to her child:  Your son is a genius.  This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him.  Please teach him yourself. 

Many, many years after Edison’s mother died and he was now one of the greatest inventors of the century, one day he was looking through old family things.  Suddenly he saw a folded paper in the corner of a drawer in a desk.  He took it and opened it up.  On the paper was written:  Your son is addled (mentally ill).  We won’t let him come to school any more. 

Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary:  “Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.” 

Teachers and Staff,

We need to remember to enjoy each day even with all the craziness that is part of our business.  In the end we have the best job in the world because we get to make an impact on the lives of children everyday and we get to enjoy the hugs and laughter of having children in the building!  I hope you have created a classroom climate in which there is fun and laughter along with quiet and learning!  The key is to create a balance in your room, but at the forefront it is always about engaging students in the learning that is presented in the classroom.  Students learn best when they are respected for who they are, they are given as many opportunities to show their learning as possible, they feel that they can learn if they try really hard, and they do not give up because the challenges seem too hard!  You as the teacher are the foundation for how they feel about themselves and about school.  Please do not take how important you are in the classroom lightly!  You as the teacher in all honesty will make or break a student and determine how they see their future.  I hope you take this to heart as you think about the students that cause you the most stress!  Those are the ones that need you to set the foundation and accept them for who they are!  I also hope that you will believe in the children that pass through your classroom as Thomas Edison mother believed in him!

To children,

The journey continued as we talked and discussed Growth Mindset throughout the year at BSE.

October 19, 2015

Mindset and School Achievement in Middle School
     The transition to junior high is a time of great challenge for many students.  The work gets much harder, the grading policies toughen up, the teaching becomes less personalized.  And all this happens while students are coping with their new adolescent bodies and roles.  Grades suffer, but NOT everyone’s grades suffer equally. 
     In our study, only the students with the fixed mindset showed the decline.  They showed an immediate drop-off in grades, and slowly but surely did worse and worse over the two years.  The students with the growth mindset showed an INCREASE in their grades over the two years.  When the two groups had entered junior high, their past records were indistinguishable.  Only when they hit the challenge of junior high did they begin to pull apart.  Here’s how students with the fixed mindset explained their poor grades.  “I am the stupidest” or “I suck in math.”  Many covered these feelings by blaming someone else:  “The math teacher is a fat male…and the English teacher is a slob.”  “The teacher is on crack.”  These interesting analyses of the problem hardly provide a road map to future success.  With the threat of failure looming, students with the growth mindset instead mobilized their resources for learning.  They told us that they, too, sometimes felt overwhelmed, but their response was to dig in and do what it takes. 
     Our students with the fixed mindset who were facing the hard transition saw it as a threat.  It threatened to unmask their flaws and turn them from winners into losers.  So they mobilize their resources, not for learning, but to protect their egos.  And one of the main ways they do this is by not trying.  This low-effort syndrome is often seen as a way that adolescents assert their independence from adults, but it is also a way that students with the fixed mindset protect themselves.  For the students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying.  Adolescence is seen as a time of opportunity:  a time to learn new subjects, a time to find out what they like and what they want to become in the future. 
                                                                               Carol Dweck

Teachers and Staff,

If you read the information above, hopefully it has helped you to think about the students in your class and how your students that have a fixed mindset try to protect themselves.  Seeing through this is one way to start having a conversation about their mindset and to help them to move to the other side so that they can stop the blaming and start learning. 


This was the beginning of our journey with mindset.  The discussions caused us to have to evaluate our thinking about children and it helped us look at our own though process both in and out of school.  Growth mindset was not just about school related matters it also affected our parenting behaviors and our relationships with others.  We had just started this process and we were just getting underneath the surface of the iceberg!