Archive for School Climate

Fostering Grit

fostering gritI recently finished reading the book Fostering Grit, which is an ASCD Arias book (it is short enough to read in a 1 hour sitting) written by Thomas R. Hoerr.

Every great educator knows that we can not only teach students content; that we must also teach character traits such as respect, responsibility, kindness, etc.  Hoerr wrote this short guide under the premise that we must also teach the virtue of grit, which he defines as tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to never give up.  The author points out that teaching grit can be difficult for educators, because “it runs counter to the caring school environments that we all esteem.”  The author shares that we need to teach our students to respond positively to setbacks and to respond appropriately when things go wrong; as he writes, “turn a failure into a good failure, one from which we learn.”

As I read Hoerr’s book on how grit helps us to be resilient and to persevere when we fail, I made many connections to what I learned when reading Mindset by Carol Dweck.  The concept of having grit goes hand in hand with the teaching students the concept of having a growth mindset.

Hoerr writes that as educators we can help teach our students to develop grit by introducing them to levels of complexity that are out of their comfort zone, to cause frustration and then help students to understand the frustration and how to respond to it.  Students will benefit from us sharing our personal stories with them of how we have overcome obstacles and talking about the importance of grit.  We can also share examples of others we know or famous people such as professional athletes, actors or even former presidents that our students may be surprised (and interested) in learning about the obstacles they overcame and how having grit helped them to be successful.

The author of Fostering Grit shares Six Steps of Teaching for Grit that each have great strategies to foster grit in your students:

1. Establish the environment

2. Set the expectations

3. Teach the vocabulary

4. Create the frustration

5. Monitor the experience

6. Reflect and learn

During Daily 5, students come back to the carpet in between “rounds” for a check-in which often serves as an opportunity for students to reflect on the reading/writing work they did.  Many of our teachers have added other opportunities for reflection throughout the day. As I read Step 6, “Reflect and learn” I realized what a great opportunity reflection can be for students to stop and think about how easy/challenging a task is for them and think about how they felt when they didn’t give up on a frustrating task.

What other ways can you foster grit in students?

fostering grit quote

Freeman Hrabowski at #ASCD13

I knew while hearing Freeman Hrabowski speak at #ASCD13 that his speech would be the one I include in my next Monday Musings post for my staff.  He had such a powerful message that I had to share with them. Here is a cross-posting from my staff memo blog:

This weekend I got to attend the national ASCD conference in Chicago. I was fortunate to have the chance to attend it with a Press Pass, which got me in for free, but I just had to tweet/blog a lot about that (definitely something I am good at!)  I already have several posts up with more to come. If you’re interested you can find them on my professional blog at

One of the great speakers I heard at this conference was Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  Hrabowski’s story began as a young boy when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he has continued his passion to change the story for children and minorities.  He has led his University to change the story for minorities in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

 Hrabowski spoke about  matching high expectations along with the importance of building community among students, helping faculty retool teaching to start where students are and emphasizing collaboration among students, and building trust so that students are comfortable asking for help.  The one skill he wants every student going to college with is the ability to ask good questions.

Some other “nuggets” of wisdom I quickly typed during his presentation include:

  • We must empower children to speak for themselves.
  • Excellence is never an accident, it is a result of sincere effort.
  • Choice, not chance determines your destiny.
  • Many students that would be the first generation to pursue college need to see others do it first. We need to share our stories with them of our struggles and how we got to where we are. We need to share stories of others so they can believe it is possible.
  • It is not cheating when people work together (talked about cooperative learning).
  • We want our children to be passionate about learning.
  • Even when a child loses parents, if there is a teacher who cares, that child will rise to the occasion.
  • Some of our students go through hell. Give them structure and let them know you care about them.
Hrabowksi ended with the powerful quote from Mahatma Gahndi:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.”
While our school population isn’t as diverse as the schools he spoke of, I couldn’t help but listen to him, thinking of many of our students’ needs and the backgrounds they come from.  Each of you play such an important role in the lives of our students; many of you providing the only structure, kindness, understanding and expectations that they have each day (several of you also providing clothes and snacks). Then you for all that you do for our students each and every day! 

Do my teachers know how amazing they are?

Our school is fortunate to have so many amazing educators, but I recently shared with one of my teachers that I wanted to nominate her for a teaching award in our state.  To complete this nomination process, a teacher must be nominated, but then needs to turn in recommendation letters and write an essay.  Because there would be work on her part, I asked her if she would let me nominate her and gave her time to think about it (I did say I could easily get those recommendation letters).  She was honored at my thought to recognize her, but didn’t feel she was a viable candidate for the award.

At first I was amazed at her humility, but as I thought more about it I became more reflective of myself.  How can an amazing teacher not realize how amazing she is and why haven’t I let her know she’s award-worthy before? I have many teachers that I could say the same about…would they be thinking the same thing if I asked each of them?  How can I do a better job as the principal and lead-learner to let my teachers know how amazing they are?

I have written in several posts how I strive to give coaching feedback to my teachers as often as possible, which is a struggle with everything a principal has to do on a daily basis. I try to highlight the positive things that I see each and every day, but what else can I do to fill my teachers’ buckets? (“bucket filling” is our school theme this year). How can I do a better job of letting my teachers know that they matter?  I’m going to make a new personal goal to start out each day by writing a positive note to a staff member. I would love to hear what other principals do?

What a better way to end this thought than with Angela Maier’s You Matter Manifesto?


Ready for the First Day of Bucket Filling!

I’m ready for the first day of school tomorrow and excited to kick off our Bucket Fillers theme for the year.  Here’s my blog post in pictures for you (because I’m short on time)…

As students come to the doors they will see…

Our main hallway bulletin board:

This explains the bulletin board:

Here’s another Bucket Filler’s bulletin board (put together by our wonderful Counselor!):

My bag is packed and ready to go into classrooms to introduce Bucket Filling:

What’s in my bag, you ask?  I’ve got the Bucket Filler’s Pledge:

The book I’m reading to the classes:

A variety of books to give to the classrooms (depends on the grade level):

“Drops” to explain how students can fill buckets on our main bulletin board. I will have them write out something to someone in their home to fill their buckets at the end of the day.

I also have this letter for students to take home, explaining Bucket Filling to their parents.

And I also have a bucket full of bracelets for students to choose from. Each one says, “Have you filled a bucket today?”

I can’t forget about staff.  I have finally put some of my Pinterest pins to use in the staff lounge:


The No Complaining Rule

I’ve read a number of books by Jon Gordon and have never been disappointed.  His books are quick reads, but always inspirational with powerful, positive messages.  I recently read The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work.  Who doesn’t encounter issues of complaining, whether it’s your spouse, a colleague or even yourself?
Complaining is very prevalent, however, the negativity it spreads is like cancer.  In Gordon’s book, he shares the cost of negativity:

  • Negativity costs the U.S. economy between $250 to $300 billion every year in lost productivity according to the Gallup Organization.
  • 90% of doctor visits are stress related, according to the CDC, and the #1 cause of office stress is coworkers and their complaining, according to
  • A study found that negative employees can scare off every customer they speak with–for good (How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath).
  • Too many negative interactions compared to positive interactions at work can decrease the productivity of a team, according to Barbara Frederickson’s research at the University of michigan.
  • One negative person can create a miserable office environment for everyone else.
This list could go on, but I’m sure you get the point: Complaining breeds negativity, and negativity makes it difficult to accomplish anything. So, how do you handle the Complainers?  One could imagine handling complaining this way…

Gordon’s book is all about putting The No Complaining Rule into effect with suggestions to do instead of complaining (replacing a bad habit with a better practice):
1. Practice Gratitude
2. Praise Others
3. Focus on Success
4. Let Go
5. Pray and Meditate
(The list with descriptions can be found here).

The most memorable part of the book for me was an explanation from the “yard guy” on how he eliminates weeds. Instead of attacking the weeds with chemicals he uses an organic mixture that “creates an environment where the good grass can grow healthy and strong.”  This allows the grass to grow and spread to the point that the weeds get crowded out and can no longer grow.

What does this “organic mixture” look like in schools?  For the adults, I see this as building on teachers’ strengths, creating an environment in which teachers are constantly learning together and from each other.  Teachers share new ideas, or read some of the same books together, and even observe each other’s classrooms to help improve the teaching and learning in their own classrooms.  For students this is also building on strengths and positives, versus focusing on wrongdoings and consequences.  For many schools this is being done through PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) or character development programs.  This year our school is going to use the “Bucket Fillers” theme, which I thought of the entire time I read The No complaining Book.  We already have a positive culture in our building, but I am excited to see what this theme will add to it as we focus on praising others and celebrating our success.

I would highly recommend anyone read this book.  You can find additional resources here whether you have read the book or not.  And I challenge you to take a Complaining Fast. Start with just a day and then try a week of No Complaining!  Focus on the things you “get to do” instead of “have to do” and turn your complaints into solutions.

Books for the first week…

In my last post I shared some tips to get started with informal walkthroughs. After posting it, I received this question on twitter:

So, here are the books I read in classrooms during the first week of school…

During my first year as Principal, I read:

This was my favorite First Day book as a teacher and when I shared this with classes during my first week as a principal, I talked about how I was nervous too!  I don’t usually read this book anymore, but I keep it with me for a back-up, just in case I need another book.
I read this to our 4 year-old kindergarten:
I read this to our 5 year-old kindergarten:
I read The Kissing Hand to the 4 year-olds my first year and one of them began crying hysterically, which is why they have a different book now!  After I read The Kissing Hand, I give each student a little heart sticker on their hand to remember the story of the book and use that time to practice each of their names.
I read this to our 1st grade classrooms:
I read this to our 2-5th grade classrooms:
By the time they’re in 5th grade, they’ve all heard it several times, but I always tell them when you find a good book, it’s fun to read it over and over again. I also use this book for discussion/review on our Code of Conduct and why they’re so lucky to have a teacher that is not like Miss Viola Swamp.
And just in case I have extra time to spare, I have this one with me:
This year our school is going with the Bucket Fillers theme, so I’ll be reading different ages versions of :
Principals–what do you read to your classrooms? I’d love to add to my list of books!

Relationships and the Number 96

*This is blog post #3 in the 2012 Summer Blog Challenge*

In my last post, I shared what I learned from Willard Daggett speaking about Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Readers’ comments on that post pointed out that I didn’t speak to the 3rd R, however, Relationships are essential in schools in order to get to the Rigor and Relevance.

On relationships, Daggett refers to the necessity for teachers to build relationships with students in the classroom. Daggett’s point about relationships was that learning is personal. When teachers have strong, trusting relationships with their students, they work harder and achieve more. The same is true with leaders. We may have many ideas about what needs to be done; but without trusting relationships with those we wish to lead, we will find ourselves alone on the journey, It is so easy to get excited about the Rigor (this could be technology, new classroom pedagogy, etc.) that we forget to build strong foundational relationships before setting off on our journey.

When I think about Relationships, I think about the number 96. What is the significance of 96? On the last day of school this year, a student in our school told her teacher that she doesn’t get to go to summer school (we have a large summer school program with many enrichment classes) and she is counting down the days until she gets to come back to school…96 days until she gets to be back to her favorite place. I know that it is the relationships this student has had with her teachers throughout the years that have made our school her favorite place to be.

Why our school recognizes honor roll in school pride assemblies

Over the past 6 months I have read numerous tweets and blog posts from other principals and teachers regarding doing away with Honor Roll and school assemblies recognizing students for Honor Roll. I appreciated how this discussion challenged my thinking, but I never joined in the discussion, because I am the one that started the Honor Roll assembly at our school and decided it is time for me to explain why our school started this.

During my first year as principal in my current school I quickly learned that there was a common culture amongst students in our district that learning is “not cool”. We are a unique school made up of students from surrounding small, rural communities and even though we have separate elementary, middle and high schools we are all in one large building. I heard many stories from teachers in upper grades describing examples in class in which students were embarrassed about the high grades they received. I heard about a school assembly recognizing older students for their achievements that didn’t go well, because many students were laughing and teasing each other. The saddest story to me was of a senior receiving a National Merit Scholarship but she didn’t want to be recognized publicly for it out of fear of peers finding out. When I heard this, I knew that we had to do something at the elementary level to change this culture in our building.

Our 4th/5th grade teachers had already begun the tradition years ago of recognizing students that made Honor Roll status of either having all A’s, A’s/B’s or all B’s on their report cards. Students names were written on Trojan Head cut-outs (our school mascot is the trojan) and displayed on the hallway. There were a few years that parents donated money for these students to receive special t-shirts at the end of the year.

At the beginning of my 2nd year as principal, I met with a committee of teachers to build on this current practice started by our 4/5th grade teachers. We decided to have quarterly Pride assemblies to recognize our students for their academic achievements and invite parents to these assemblies as well. We added 3rd graders to the list of students to be recognized for Honor Roll since they also received letter grades on their report cards. In addition, we allowed every teacher in the school (including special area teachers) to nominate one student to be recognized for being “On a Roll.” This could be a student in any grade working hard to improve in any area.

This is now our 3rd year of having a quarterly pride assembly. Yesterday was our 1st Pride assembly for the year and here’s how it went:
*I thanked parents for coming to show their support for their children. I then talked about how hard all of our students are working in every grade to become great readers/writers during Daily 5 time and had student participation to tell what Stamina is, why they need to read so much and how it helps them become great learners.
*I reviewed Pride Assembly behavior:
Used student volunteers to demonstrate the “wrong” way to receive an award (they exaggerated bragging to others, saying “haha you didn’t get one”, etc) and then students to demonstrate the “right” way to receive an award.
Also talked about what students should do if they don’t receive an award (give a thumbs up or congratulate their peers; not pout)
*Presented certificates/pencils to the students for “On a Roll” reading the reason for each recognition (ex: “Johnny is On a Roll for working hard at building his stamina during Daily 5 and increasing his reading level.” and “Suzie has been practicing her math facts and keeps moving up in Rocket Math”).
*Presented certificates/pencils to students for:
3rd grade A/B’s
3rd grade A’s
4th grade A/B’s
4th grade A’s
5th grade A/B’s
5th grade A’s
*I closed the assembly by thanking our students for their outstanding behavior during the assembly and read to them 2 quotes from our guest teachers about why they love to be called to be guest teachers in our school, because our students are always so well behaved.

Each time we have this assembly I am amazed by our students’ behavior of congratulating each other and being proud of their accomplishments. Our parent feedback has always been thankful for recognizing their children and that they are invited to attend these assemblies.

Despite this, I know that this practice may change in the future. Through implementing Daily5/Cafe and focusing on conferring with each student on their current level and their goals to focus on, we are building intrinsic motivation in all of our students. Even in the upper grades we are seeing students continue to love learning and enjoy sharing with each other what they have recently read or learned about during reflection time. We are beginning discussions on changing our grading process and I’ve even heard of some schools eliminating grades. I have no idea where this will take us, but for now, we continue to recognize students for honor roll.

Keeping the theme alive all year

Day 5 of blogging each day in June for the “Spilling Ink” Challenge

Last year was the first year that my staff voted on a school-wide theme for this year. We started out the year with the theme and decorations around the building, but that’s really as far as it went. This year I took the time to visit another school that has kept their theme alive all year to build unity and learning. From the ideas gathered there, our staff met to come up with ideas to keep our theme alive all year and build unity throughout the school.

Here’s what we came up with for next school year:
2010-2011 School-Wide Theme
“Around the World in 180 Days”

•First week of school we will send information home with students about our theme and a contest for students/families to design the logo for our theme that will be on our school t-shirts. The logo must include a hot air balloon in the picture.

•Each grade level has a designated continent for the year. The classrooms/grade level hallways can be decorated for this theme from the start of the school year. Each grade level will research their continent and create a simple newsletter that will go home with all students to share what they’ve learned about their continent. We could also figure out a way to include facts about the continent on the morning announcements during that grade level’s month for sharing (maybe just for a week on the announcements).
4K Antarctica
5K Africa
1st South America
2nd North America
3rd Europe
4th Asia
5th Australia

•Once we have received student pictures, each student will be given a cut-out of a hot air balloon with their picture on it to send out to a relative/friend as their personal version of a “Flat Stanley” to receive information back about that place to post in the hallways of the school to learn about that location.

•Post Card project: At the beginning of the year we will include an article in the Dodgeland Connection asking parents/community members to help us with this project. We will be seeking post cards for locations outside of the United States…they can be sent to Dodgeland from themselves if on a vacation or ask family/friends that live out of the US to send them to us. We will have them on display with a world map on one of the main hallway bulletin boards.

•We will plan a Cultural Fair as our culminating end of school activity.

•Music concerts could incorporate songs within each grade level from the continents they are learning about.

•We will go back to having a Character Trait for each month and have students nominated by teachers each month for displaying this Character Trait instead of the generic Student of the Month.

I’d love to hear what other schools do to keep their school-wide theme alive all year.

Singing "Kumbaya" to build unity as a school?

Day 4 of blogging each day in June for the “Spilling Ink” Challenge

I remember working in a previous district where my principal joked about us all getting to gether to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” to build unity. I thought he was nuts. Well, now I’m starting to reconsider…just not with singing “Kumbaya.” Before you laugh at me and click the x to close this page, please hear me out. This past week we have had two staff parties. The first one was to celebrate with two of our retiring teachers. One of our very talented teachers had written a personalized song for both of them that we all sang together. They were both touched to tears by the song and us singing it together. Today we had a luncheon to say goodbye to one of our secretaries that is leaving us. Again, that talented teacher wrote a song for her that we all sang together. It was during today’s song when I realized we were all singing together with smiles and tears in our eyes, how it really felt like we were one united team together celebrating the good times we’ve had together. I can’t think of any other time in the past two years in this school that I’ve felt that.
So, would getting together to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” build unity in our staff? I don’t know, but I’m not going to suggest it because they will all think that I’ve lost my marbles!! But, I did ask that talented teacher to make a school song to go along with our school-wide theme for next year so we can sing it together as a school at each of our assemblies to build unity.