Perseverance Pays

This past week we saw an amazing performance of Peter Pan here at Academia Cotopaxi.  This play was put on by a mixed cast of Middle School students, Elementary School students, and staff members of both AC and the One Institute (we even had a local home-schooled student participate.)  One of the most amazing parts about this show was not the success it achieved but how they (the cast, directors, and everyone who helped) got there.  It was a long and winding road but by persevering through countless obstacles the cast and crew of Peter Pan were able to stand tall and rejoice after their successful performances.  

Perseverance:  steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.

Our cast and crew of Peter Pan demonstrated some amazing perseverance from the first day of tryouts until show time.  Cast members dropping out, main characters being replaced with only weeks to go, cast members missing rehearsals, forgotten lines and scene changes – the struggles continued right up until show time.  However, if you attended the full dress rehearsal on Thursday like I did, you wouldn’t have known that any of these issues had existed.  It was a brilliant performance, the energy in the auditorium was at an all time high, and the cast and crew nailed it!

When faced with obstacles many people tend to shy away and often times they give up completely.  Following through, overcoming obstacles, and achieving the final goal in the face of adversity are not feelings that many people experience.  Why do we give up though?  Why is perseverance so difficult?  I wish the answer was simple enough for me to understand, I could make a lot of money!  However, what it comes down to is practice and patience.  There is no switch or magic pill, perseverance isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.  We do know, however, that those who practice perseverance become stronger in the long run.

Grit:  Passion plus perseverance over the very long term.

As we grow and practice perseverance we begin to build our gritiness.  We become better at handling short term struggles for the long term gain.  It’s a skill/character strength that has been studied in recent years by Angela Duckworth.  Her work is more than fascinating and has tremendous amounts of application for educational settings.  

Whether you persevere, show grit, or just work really hard to achieve your goals, the successful result and feelings of pride that come with it are enough to keep you driving forward toward your next goal.  Commit, work hard, fight through the obstacles and succeed.

If you’ve never heard of Nick Vujicic…watch this!

Once you’ve watched that, you’ll want to see this one…his TED talk. He is inspiring!

And, finally, a few famous people who persevered to reach great heights.

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Any Given School Day

Inside my sports analogy-prone mind I was thinking recently about how our profession is like a sports season.  The thing about school is that every school day is game day, we come to play five days a week all ‘season’ long.  But what is our role in this ‘game’?  As I’ve suggested in the past I see us as the coaches, managers, and motivational speakers.  We’re the ones that help determine the outcome of the game through our planning, leadership, and support of our ‘players’, the students.  Former commissioner of the NFL, Bert Bell, once said that “On any given Sunday, and team in the NFL can beat any other team.”  The phrase “any given Sunday” has come to be a rallying call for coaches in all sports – essentially saying, we can do this if we put our minds to it.  I’ve been thinking about “any given Sunday” and what implications this has for education if we consider it as “any given school day” instead.

Any Given School Day  

Working with people of any age is sure to lead to the unexpected and often times the unusual.  Working with kids leads to even more unplanned events, emotions, and behaviors.  Those things all come into play each and every day.  Very often it is how we (as the adults) respond that dictates the success (or not) of the learning opportunity presented.  This is how we have to look at the unexpected, as learning  opportunities (or teaching opportunities).

Any given school day a student may arrive tired, sad, giddy, angry, excited, hungry, nervous, or any of a very wide range of mindsets.  Now, multiply that times as many students as you encounter on a daily basis and you’re facing a daunting task indeed!  However, we manage it, don’t we?  Our students feel comfortable and safe when they are here at school.  Our teachers, counselors, staff, and admin do an awesome job of welcoming students to share and seek guidance when needed.  The environment at school is safe and welcoming, our students want to be here and enjoy coming to school.  The smiles, laughter, and overall positive behaviors of our students prove that fact.  Any given school day our students know they can count on the positivity and support that comes with a great school environment, a definite win for them!

Pay it On

Our students face so many variables in their life that they don’t even realize how much they are up against.  As adults we face just as much, if not more than our students.  However, as adults we’ve learned mechanisms to cope with all of these different things that impact our life.  These are skills we’ve learned over the years and serve us well as we negotiate all of the potential land mines that life has to offer.  Our students on the other hand, well they just haven’t had the experiences needed to develop all of these tools.  Surely many of the lessons we’ve learned came from the important adults in our life…it’s been paid forward, now it’s our time to pay it on for our students.

Understanding the challenges our students face as they grow and journey through life is as important a skill as any.  There will certainly be times when a situation arises that we aren’t prepared to deal with – that is when we have to remember that this is a team game.  As responsible adults we know that we can’t do everything alone, after all it takes a village to raise a child.  We have tremendous resources here at school and even outside of our walls.  If you encounter a difficult situation, you can be sure that there is a strong team available to support in any way necessary.  Just as our students come to school every day knowing that they have a safe and caring team ready to support them, we should all know that the same it true for us.

It’s Game Day

As I mentioned at the beginning, every day is game day at school.  We come prepared to meet our students wherever they may be.  Sometimes that means we differentiate academically but many times it means that we are experiencing a different version of the same student we saw yesterday.  It can be a frustrating process to deal with all the different ups and downs that our students go through.  It is most certainly exhausting riding the tidal waves of emotions that can be experienced by teenagers.  And it most certainly takes patience and skill to navigate the turbulent waters of middle and high school.  Thankfully, for our students’ sake, we have expert educators with vast amounts of experience and skill to help them confront life’s challenges as they work to become the successful students we all believe they can be.  

Any given school day, any student can overcome any challenge they face!

JV Volleyball – A Model of Excellence

This past week I spent all day Thursday watching CAISSA volleyball in the newly improved Athletic Center as the “site coordinator” and it couldn’t have been a more enjoyable experience.  Before I start, I just want to say that we received a lot of positive comments about our facilities and the experience we were able to offer for this tournament due to having access to three nice courts.  Our Athletic Center truly is a celebration for this school and we are lucky to have such a fine space available to us!

As you may or may not know our Junior Varsity teams were asked to play in this Varsity-level tournament to add one more game experience to the mix for those teams who’ve traveled from afar.  As I watched the opening ceremonies and introductions I started to grow concerned, not only for our JV teams’ egos but also for their safety!  Some of the players from these other schools are very physically gifted and were quite intimidating to watch play (this coming from a former volleyball player!)  However, none of that seemed to matter to our young JV players (mostly middle schoolers and freshmen) as they stepped on the court and matched up against juniors and seniors.  Perhaps their inexperience created an air of blissful ignorance but I think it was something deeper inside of our kids that allowed them to face such stiff competition with grace.

The challenge our young JV students faced was certainly steep and in all reality it was a next to impossible task for them to win any matches against such strong and experienced competition.  However, that being said, our JV students came to play every single game!!  I don’t just mean they showed up and went through the motions, that would’ve almost been understandable considering their position, but they played their hearts out every point of every game!  Our JV girls team pulled out two one-game victories throughout their matches, they were gut-wrenching wins that will most certainly last in these girls’ hearts and minds for a long time to come.  Shortly after the girls’ first motivating win our JV boys made a run at an upset of their own, taking the ECA boys all the way to a 31-29 finish (a normal game ends at 25 but you must win by two).  The grit and determination demonstrated by these young student-athletes was inspiring to say the least; they never gave up, they never hung their heads 🙂

The smiles, the determination, and the hard work that our JV student-athletes exhibited during this tournament should be praised and celebrated.  This tournament was never going to be easy for these kids but they pressed on and worked through even the most difficult situations with a grace and energy that reflects a culture that we’ve established here at AC.  From their coaches who led them and worked with them continuously throughout the season, to Ms. Darson and her leadership in the athletic department, to the varsity teams’ great examples, to their parents and other supporters along the way, these kids have learned an attitude and work ethic that will help to make them successful in whatever they choose to do in the future.  This is the model and example of our school that I know stands as the rule instead of merely an exception!

Our staff and students come to school every day to work hard and achieve more than just academic success.  Both groups face challenges on a regular basis and despite those hurdles we continue to watch as our students learn and our staff grows professionally.  What we’ve become as a community was demonstrated on a microcosmic level this weekend by our young JV volleyball teams, they represented our community better than anyone could’ve asked.  We’re a determined and hard working community, we strive for success always, and never turn our backs on a challenge.  This is a wonderful community and one that we should all be proud to represent.

Grit and Growth Mindset…Necessities!

The other day a teacher walked into my office with some questions about student learning goals.  He wanted to teach his students “grit” and find a way to measure their growth.  I have to be honest, this was one of the most exciting educational conversations I’ve had this year.  When he left my office I was off and running on an uncontrollable urge to re-read all of the grit articles I had bookmarked and re-watch all of the related videos…it’s just too inspiring!

If you’re unfamiliar with the character strength called “grit”, then I strongly urge you to stop right now and watch this TED talk by Angela Duckworth, it is only 6:09 long and not shockingly has only 7.3 Million views…more people need to see this!!

For those of you who are in that 7 million plus viewer group, you’re already a convert…I’m sure of it!  The idea of “grit” and the data coming out of the research is just too impactful to ignore.  However, as Duckworth points out, there’s a problem…we (humans) still aren’t 100% sure of how to teach grit.  In her TED Talk, Duckworth points out that Carol Dweck’s concept of the growth-mindset is likely the best available theory for approaching the teaching/learning of grit.  If you’re not familiar with Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset then…stop and watch this now!  

Growth Mindset is something that is so crucial to success that it just can’t be ignored.  There are, of course, very successful people who’ve never learned a Growth Mindset but there is just too much evidence that shows how having a Growth Mindset and believing in “the power of yet” can change someone’s life.  

The implications for “grit” and Growth Mindset for educators (and parents) are astronomical.  It may require slowing down a bit in class, taking time to help students “relearn” material, or adjusting our practice as educators.  Rick Wormeli, a former Disney Teacher of the year and one of the first Nationally Certified Teachers in the USA, speaks about the implications of the Growth Mindset for our classrooms.  This video is an absolute must watch for all educators, no question about it!  No matter if you’ve seen this video before or not, please watch it and contemplate the implications for your classroom.  

Our role as educators is extremely important.  The tasks we are charged with are many but the most important of all is the future success of our students.  “Grit” and Growth Mindset are two of the factors that research has shown to dictate success in life; how do these two things fit into your classroom?

The Importance of Celebration in the Classroom

During our Learning Walks a few weeks ago we focused on the idea of celebration and kept a specific eye out for all the amazing things happening in classrooms.  In quick visits to the classroom it’s not realistic for us to see all of the ways that people are celebrating their students and the learning that is happening.  However, we are able to see so many wonderful things happening that we decided we wanted to celebrate you and all of your hard work!  

The importance of celebration in the classroom is something that is often overlooked in the planning process.  With so many other pieces to coordinate and account for, there is a lot to do to get ready for a successful class.  However, celebration can not and should not be overlooked if you want to create a truly positive culture and community in your classroom.  Take the Marzano Teacher Toolkit as an example of the importance of celebration.  There is no doubt about the amount of research that Robert Marzano has put into his work and he includes the reflective question “What do I typically do to celebrate success?” as Element 3.  So, today I challenge you to ask that question of yourself…

As the first quarter has come to a close and reports have just gone home, we have a lot to celebrate (starting with a much deserved 4 day weekend!)  Our students have made it through the start of another school year and they’ve done it (for the most part) with grace.  Some of our students have learned the importance of grit and how to fail.  Others still need to perfect the art of failing and the resilience that goes along with it.  If you’re not one of the 7 million plus people who has watched Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk about the importance of Grit I urge you to do so soon, it’s fantastic!  However, I digress…celebration is the agenda item today – Our students are worth a lot of celebrations and so are you!

In the High School meeting on Wednesday we started out with the “Shout-Outs” protocol and it went very well, so well that I’m worried there were still more celebrations to share…we’ll continue this practice next time we meet and MS teachers we’ll implement it soon 🙂  This is a powerful tool for celebrating in your classes as well, teach your students and get them celebrating each other (especially after group work or other situations where their classmates were involved in their learning.)  Another great tool is one that I came across while searching for student support resources but it totally applies to everyone, it’s called “The Fridge”.  A great way for students to be recognized and recognize their own hard work at the same time, the best part is that it’s voluntary!  

I love the idea of student self-reflection and even more so when it focuses on the positive.  Have a look at this video (it’s only 1 minute 20 seconds!) to see another great way of recognizing students’ “shining moments”.  How could you implement something like this in your classroom?  At the bottom of a rubric like this teacher?  As an exit ticket at the end of class?  As a blog post?  Maybe a comment on Edmodo.  Self-reflection is an incredibly powerful tool and a discussion for another time; today focus on how you can implement more celebration into your classroom.

Here’s to all of you and the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing 4 day weekend!!

Inspiration from Harvard Graduate School of Education

This week I had a whole other topic written out and then I came across some great stuff.  I was reading through a few of my older Marshall Memos when I stumbled upon some awesome videos.  If you follow this link you can see Eight 8-minute talks about education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education:  http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/14/09/8×8-hgse-faculty-share-their-bold-ideas-improve-education

I highly recommend any of the eight videos but these specific few may be more relevant to our context than the others.  Here are the relevant titles along with Kim Marshall’s brief summaries of each.  Do your students a favor and take 8 minutes to watch one of these (or more) videos.

Karen Brennan: Getting Unstuck – Helping students and teachers move beyond using social media and use computers more powerfully. Brennan describes using ScratchEd, a platform for creating projects, and students’ problem-solving strategies when they’re stuck.

Todd Rose: The End of Average (Bret’s personal favorite) – What neuroscientists have found about how differently people remember and process information, leading to the conclusion that we can’t understand individual brains by using group averages. The same goes for how we deal with students; we must treat them as individuals, which we now can do better with recent advances in classroom technology.

Karen Mapp: Linking Family Engagement to Learning – Relationships between schools and families have to be relational, interactive, collaborative, developmental, and linked to what students are learning, says Mapp, so that families can be more effective supporting learning at home. In particular, Mapp is critical of traditional open-house meetings in schools.

Howard Gardner: Beyond Wit and Grit  – Our understanding of “wit” has been expanded to include multiple intelligences, says Gardner, and we now realize the importance of “grit” – the cluster of non-cognitive skills. But these are not enough. Gardner believes we also need a moral dimension. “You can have plenty of grit, and multiple wits,” he says, “but they need to be directed towards becoming a good person, a good worker, and a good citizen… There’s a ‘triple helix’ of good work and good citizenship: excellence, ethics, and engagement.”