Closing the Attitude Gap – Week 21

Closing the Attitude Gap – Week 21
This week, we will finish up chapter 2, “Attitude Toward Students” Do I Believe in Them? As I was sitting in a classroom this week observing student play a math game noticed she was not marking her game board as the teacher read questions. The game board she created had the correct answers, so after watching for a few minutes I asked her what her answer would be. She thought for a moment and provided the correct answer and I encouraged her to mark it on her board. We talked through the next several questions and she had each of them correct and then marked her game board. I asked why she wasn’t marking her answers before and she simply said, I second guess myself and don’t think I’m right. This particular student has been at Sigler since KN and I know we have poured our hearts into her, but the world outside of Sigler has taught her to doubt herself and the work we have done has not overcome the “outside world”. This conversation reminded me of this book and the importance of our students knowing we believe in them. Be sure to let your students know that this week. 
As you recall, the reflective questions for chapter 2 are:

Do I believe in them? 
Do I have a passion for teaching them? 
Do I have a purpose for teaching them? 
Do I treat teaching them as a mission? 
Do I have a vision for what I expect of them? 
Do I set incremental and long-range goals for them to achieve? 
Do I plan each day thoroughly toward their success?
Do I see myself as a role model for them and always conduct myself as a professional? 
Do I see myself as the number-one determinant of their success or failure? 
Do I conduct daily self-reflections and self-assessments of my practice of teaching them? 

Treating Teaching as a Mission 

Principal Kafele suggests treating teaching as one’s mission and would take a mission-oriented teacher over a career-oriented teacher any day. The teacher with a mission orientation is going to get the job done; nothing is going to stop her from achieving the goal of student success. Although teaching is her career, she believes there’s more to it. He believes his approach to teaching tells your students, “Your success in my room is my mission. Your future is my mission. Your life is my mission. And my mission will be accomplished.” A teacher who is mission driven is bound to have higher expectations for her students than a career-oriented teacher. 

Which one are you? 

Principal Kafele continues with teachers needing to understand their role. Teachers are just not a math or science teacher. Rather, the mindset must be, “I teach children who are faced with enormous challenges that adversely affect their attitudes toward school, but I will make sure that nothing inhibits my students from experiencing success in my classroom. 

A school’s mission should reflect its teachers’ mission orientation. In his trainings he asks teachers to stand and recite their school’s mission and in most cases they do not know it. 

Do you know ours? 

He also asks if teachers have written a mission statement for their classroom, usually they have not. 

Have you? 

He feels both are critically important. 

Imagine a teacher whose mission is to close the attitude gap in her classroom. She has it written and posted and students recite this mission everyday and expects them to learn it by heart. This is a recipe for serious learning. We will learn more about mission statements later in this book. 

Developing a Vision of What to Expect from Students 

At the beginning of each year, teachers must ask themselves, “What will my students have achieved by the end of each marking period? What effect will my instruction and interactions have on them over he course of the entire year? How successful will my students be in the long term as a result of having me as their teacher?” The answer to these questions supply the vision of what you expect for your students. Having a sense of your vision allows you to see the students’ success before you utter the first word of the first lesson or they complete their first assignment. 

Vision is seeing, anticipating, and expecting an intended outcome. Coming to work each day with a day-to-day mindset is not good enough. You must visualize your students achieving at the highest levels because you are their teacher. During his travels he encounters many teachers who have no vision but have lots of excuses. He reminds them that excuses for their students’ failure are unacceptable. THERE ARE NO EXCUSES. 

Too many children do not have the ability to see their future, to have a vision to dream big. They see their day to day lives and don’t realize they can have more. That is where we come in. Dare your students to see themselves 10, 20, 30 years from now, achieving their dreams. This is one thing I wish for our kids during our Future’s Day guest speakers.  

Folks, chapter 2 is heavy. I shared that last week as well. Before moving forward and finishing the chapter, I want you to chew in this. 

What is the mission of Sigler Elementary?
What is the mission in your classroom? 
Do our students know either one? 
What is the vision we have at Sigler for our students? 
What is the vision you have in your classroom? 
Do our students know either one? 
Answering those questions may not be easy, but we must be able to, to set the table for our students success. 
Next week we will conclude chapter 2, discussing; goal setting, planning, being a role model, being the primary determinant of student success or failure and self assessment. 

Closing the Attitude Gap – Week 20

As I continue to unpack the book, Closing the Attitude Gap, by Baruti Kafele I hope you took some time last week or will this week to review Chapter 1. The chapter reviews “How Climate and Culture Shape Attitude” and lays the foundation for the chapters to follow. I hope you will make this study important to your personal/professional growth, but more importantly, coming even closer together as a whole staff. 

Chapter 2: Attitude Towards Students – Do I Believe in Them? 

The power in this book comes from time spent reflecting. Before reading any further, please take a moment, find a mirror and answer the following questions about your students. 

Do I believe in them? 
Do I have a passion for teaching them? 
Do I have a purpose for teaching them? 
Do I treat teaching them as a mission? 
Do I have a vision for what I expect of them? 
Do I set incremental and long-range goals for them to achieve? 
Do I plan each day thoroughly toward their success?
Do I see myself as a role model for them and always conduct myself as a professional? 
Do I see myself as the number-one determinant of their success or failure? 
Do I conduct daily self-reflections and self-assessments of my practice of teaching them? 

Personally, it is easy to answer these questions with a quick “yes” or “sure I do” and move onto the next thing. I believe doing so is a disservice to myself. Answer these questions will take a few minutes and you must dig deep into your heart and challenge yourself when you ask these questions. Honestly, it is ok if you are not yet doing them, because the goal is to start if you are not. I would by lying if I did not answer questions with a “yes” or “sure I do” in the past. However, when I read the next three questions, my thinking change completly. 

1. YOUR NAME HERE, who are you? 
2. YOUR NAME HERE, what are you about? 
3. YOUR NAME HERE, what is your most recent evidence? 

Number three is a stumbling block. You can continue to answer with a “yes” or “sure I do” or give a detailed answer of who you are and what you are about, but it does not mean a thing if you cannot answer question number three; What is your most recent evidence? To make the answers really hit home, ask yourself those questions while looking into a mirror. Do not allow you to answer them, rather allow the person you are staring at in the mirror to provide the answers. What would that person say? 

Believing in Your Students

To develop a climate and culture conducive to closing the attitude gap, it is absolutely crucial that you believe in your studetns and demonstrate your belief in them regularly (Ladson-Billings, 1994). You must believe in ALL your students, regardless of their circumstances or any “baggage” they may bring with them to school. When you look into their eyes, you must see brilliance, a reflection of yourself, and a student who is destined for greatness as a direct result of the unwavering belief you have in him/her. Our belief in students, increases the probability they will believe in themselves! If we are going to successfully close the attitude gap, we must believe in our students, but we must also ensure they believe in themselves and their own ability to achieve excellence. 

Demonstrating Belief in Your Students

It is vital that your students know you believe in them. It’s one thing to say you do, but it’s something different and far more powerful to convince your students that yes, you really do believe in them. You must find excuses to articulate this to them. You cannot assume they know. 

Do you recall these statistics: 

Children being raised by college educated parents hear statements of encouragement for every  1 reprimand.
Children being raised by working class parents hear 2 statements of encouragement for every 1 reprimand.
Children being raised in poverty hear 1 statement of encouragement for every 2reprimands. 

A Passion for Teaching

Having passion for teaching is a game-changer. it implies you want success deeply; that you want it badly; that you will do anything for it’ that you will not settle for anything less’ that anything less that your absolute best is simply unacceptable. Take a look into your mirror. Is the individual looking back at you passionate about teaching? About children? About growing professionally? 

Principal Kafele goes on to introduce us to a story of a young teacher who, due to no other job being available, became a teacher. He went through an alt. cert. program and the job he accepted is in a school with a demographic we are familiar with. Regardless of his background, the same questions apply. 

This is not just a job – it’s a mission. What he is about to embark upon will affect the life of every child he teaches. Despite the fact he has never taught a day in his life, and the school’s immense challenges, he is expected to perform. The question, then, becomes, “Is he passionate about teaching?” Specifically, is he passionate about teaching children in poverty, children of color? Additionally, does he want success for his student badly? Does he truly want his children to soar? Is he willing to give them his all? Is he willing to do all he has to do in order to ensure that his students are successful? Does he have a burning desire to get the job done? Is he passionate about ensuring that high-quality instruction will occur in his classroom everyday? if so, as a new teacher, how will he make that happen? 


At the end of the day, he must acquire all the pedagogical skills as a first year teacher, but over all, he must develop a passion for the work – a passion that is more than evident to his students. 

A Passion for Children

Yes, you must be passionate about what you are teaching, but you must also be passionate about children. Whether it is the example teacher above or us, we teach children first, subjects second. 

Are you passionate about the students you teach? Do you genuinely like children? Do you want deeply for them to be successful? Are you willing to invest in them the same level of energy and commitment you would invest in your own children? Your children require your best, your unwavering and uncompromising commitment, despite the odds and despite the challenges they are faced with daily. When they get the best “you,” their chances for success increase exponentially. 

A Passion for Professional Growth 

For things to change I must change and we all know how quickly what we teach changes. We must evolve pedagogically. In order to do so, we must develop a passion about our own professional growth and development. We must welcome it with enthusiasm. (Wow! Welcome it with enthusiasm)  

We must grow professionally, but we must seek professional development opportunities that meet individual needs of our students. Inherent in seeking help must be the passion to get it done. You must have a passion to learn as much as you can and to successfully implement that which you learn. 

Principal Kafele reminds us that passion cannot be taught and does not offer suggestions for developing passion. In his work he speaks often about the will and passion to teach, but these are qualities that one must simply possess; they can be either tapped into or unleashed, but they can’t be taught. These two qualities distinguish those who truly want to be in the classroom and those who do not. If you have the passion and the will to close the attitude gap of your students, that gap will be closed. You must therefore return to the mirror and ask yourself if you have the will and the passion to make it happen for your students. 

With the last request I am going to end there. Chapter 2 is heavy. It asks a lot of questions and requires a lot of time in front of a mirror. Find the time to take the time and I know the results will be the relentless effort you are able to give to our students and their newly discovered success! 

Closing the Attitude Gap – Week 19

As I mentioned last week, we will return to our weekly rewinds following spring break. Until then, I will be sharing a deep, reflective book by Principal Kafele or Baruti Kafele titled, “Closing the Attitude Gap”. Over the next seven weeks, you will do one of two things; Embrace the words shared and take a deep look inward as you reflect and as a whole, we begin to craft our beliefs as a united Sigler Elementary or you will not give yourself the time to reflect which will leave you exactly where you are now. 

I am dedicated to bringing us all closer together than we are today and expect the same from you. I know we can do it! 

One thing you will recognize throughout our study is that each chapter begins with a series of reflective questions. I encourage you to answer these questions. Write down your answer. Keep them and refer to them as a part of your professional growth. 

Chapter 1 – How Climate and Culture Shape Attitude

1. What do my students see in my classroom?
2. What do my students hear in my classroom?
3. What do my students feel in my classroom?
4. What do my students experience in my classroom? 
5. Do I provide a learning environment that fosters the proper attitude for my students’ success?

What exactly do we mean by climate and culture. Principal Kafele shares one specific example of walking into a teacher’s classroom and immediately noticing a major problem with her classroom climate and culture. The room was chaotic and lacked organization, the walls were practically bare and there was no clear evidence that the teacher was in charge. Names were written on the board for after school detention; several had a string of check marks after their names. He diagnosed this problem as a teacher who focused to much on discipline and not enough on climate and culture. 

After studying many different definitions of the word climate, it can be defined as with one word: mood. When measuring the climate within your room we are gauging how the overall feeling and tone of the environment affects the teachers’ ability to teach and the students’ ability to learn. 

After studying many different definitions for the word culture, it can be reduced to a single word: lifestyle. When measuring the culture within your room, we are gauging how the overall way of life in the environment affects students and teachers. 

When assessing the combined climate and culture of a classroom/school we want to gauge what the students see, hear, feel, and experience and whether the learning environment fosters the proper attitude and decision making necessary for student success. Even one room that does not meet this assessment jeopardizes student/teacher success. 

How Climate and Culture Affect Bullying

The climate and culture can boldly state either that bullying is not allowed or that it is acceptable. C & C can speak even to the most subtle forms of bullying. Students that do not want to eat in the cafeteria, not wanting to play at recess, or work in small groups, but from the appearance we see, he/she gets along with everyone. 

Teachers and staff must make it a priority to ensure a welcoming climate and culture for the safe of our students’ academic success. The mood of your classroom affects whether students or not your students can learn at optimal levels- what your students see, hear, feel, and experiences in your room will determine academic outcomes. Great instruction alone will not yield the results you desire for your students. You must pay close attention to the overall learning environment. 

The Importance of What Students See, Hear, Feel and Experience in the Classroom

Think about what your students see when they walk into your room each day. 

  • The seating arrangement
  • The walls
  • The bulletin boards
  • The overall use of classroom space
  • The teacher
  • The other students
What states did each of these observations makes to students. 

Next, think about what students hear in your classrooms. What kind of initial interactions occur between teachers and students. 

  • What kinds of greetings take place?
  • How does the teacher typically speak to the students and in what tone? 
  • What kinds of interactions occur among students?
    • Were they cordial, orderly and productive
    • Evidence of caring and compassion
  • What kind of language is used?
  • What is considered acceptable and unacceptable speech? 

Now examine what students may feel when they enter the classroom. 
  • What emotions do they experience?
  • Is the classroom a relaxed environment?
  • Was it conducive to learning? 
  • Do students appear comfortable?
  • Is there a possibility that bullying exists in the classroom that the teacher may not be aware of? 
  • Do students feel valued, appreciated, and respected? 
  • Do students feel safe and free from harassment? 
  • Do students feel good about themselves? 

Finally, examine the overall experience in the classroom. What is it like to be a student in the classroom? Is it an environment that students look forward to being in everyday? 
  • Is instruction student-centered?
  • Is it rigorous?
  • Is learning occurring? 
  • What kind of impression does the experience have on students? 
  • Are students able to learn without peer pressure to conform to counterproductive expectations? 

In some classrooms (generally speaking in the text) there is an unspoken notion in too many, that students must act a certain way to “be smart”. A classroom experience must encourage students to display their intelligence without risking repercussions for their classmates. 

Getting Students to Drop Their Masks

We should be reminded that some students arrive at school wearing an invisible mask. Some teachers spend entire careers teaching to masks instead of children, either because they are not aware of the mask or do not know how to get students to take them off. The masks are due to peer pressure, pretending something they are not. The only way to get the mask off is to create positive classroom climate and culture. Ask yourself, do students in my class wear a mask? Do they act a certain way because of the mask they wear? To acknowledge discipline or classroom management issues without seeing the bigger picture of C & C is detrimental to a school. 

Students must be able to check their mask at the door. Wearing the mask in the neighborhood, on the bus or the walk to school is understandable. It may not be right, but knowing the realities of our students’ lives it is understandable. 

Poverty and the Attitude Gap

In his workshops, Principal Kafele frequently asks the audience to tell him the main reason why so many urban schools under perform. The answer is always the same: Poverty. 

As a staff member at Sigler, we have zero control over poverty. We cannot change the conditions that students go home to every day. At best, we strive to inspire students on day to rise above their situation, but we cannot change it, so why dwell on it or use it as an excuse? 

Because poverty is a variable we can do nothing about, our energy must be devoted to areas we have absolute control – C & C of the classrooms. Classroom teachers are in a position to create an oasis for students. Whatever is going on in their lives outside of school can be left outside, and students look forward to entering our doors each morning for a productive day of learning. 

If poverty is allowed to be made an excuse for underachievement, students do not stand a chance. YOU are the number one determinant of your students’ success! YOU are the difference maker! YOU are the game changer! 

The upcoming weeks or chapters in this book examine a framework comprised of five strands that will systematically create a climate and culture conducive to closing the attitude gap. 

1. Attitude toward students (do I believe in them?) – Strand focuses on the teacher’s attitude toward his/her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire if you do not believe. 

2. Relationship with students (do I know them?) – Strand focuses on teacher’s relationship with his/her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire if you do not know them. 

3. Compassion for students (do I care about them?) – Strand focuses on teacher’s care, concern, and compassion his/her students. You cannot effectively teach and inspire if you do not care about them. 

4. Environment for learning (do I provide my students with an environment of excellence?) – Strand focuses on the classroom environment you have created. You cannot effectively teach and inspire if the classroom environment is not conducive to learning. 

5. Relevance in instruction (do I realize who my students are?) – Strand focuses on culturally responsive teaching and learning. You cannot effectively teach and inspire if you do not take into account who they are historically and culturally. 

Here is to teaching and inspiring, strengthening strengths, and building non-strengths!

Make is a TRRFCC week! 

#NoOfficeDay – 2nd Grade

You all know how much I look forward to these #NoOfficeDays! The dedicated time each month, set aside to spend time with y’all and our students is hands down, one of the most enjoyable things I do all year. The humbling reminder of how hard our teacher work, the time spent engaging with students in their turf and seeing the learning first hand are all reason I continue to schedule these days and highly encourage every principal out there to do the same. My day in 2nd grade did not disappoint and without further adieu, here is how 2nd grade put me to work. 

The first hour of my day was spent something I had never done in my three years of #noofficedays. Second grade students spend the first hour of the day rotating through the library for book checkout. Each 15 minutes a class comes in, handles their business (very efficiently I might add) and returns to their grade level for the next rotation. I was able to assist with the checkout process for each of the classes making sure students entered their number and scanned the barcode accurately. By no means a hard job, but it put a large spotlight on the passion our 2nd graders have for reading. It gave me great pleasure to help them with their books, knowing they would continue to build their excitement for reading. I hope that passion continues to grow and never subsides! 

Following the grade level check out I was able to join Mrs. Valentin’s classroom where stud nets are always so eager to welcome me. It doesn’t matter the time of day, they always stop what they are doing and great me with a “Good Morning/Afternoon, Mr. Arend”. Mrs. Valentin demands their best and it includes academics and manners. We got settled in and I was able to give three small groups of students their spelling test while at he teacher table. It was clear which students had studied as we worked our way through the list. Especially when one young man had completed all 15 words while I had only read through 10 of them. Mrs. Valentin even had me administer the test starting with #15 and working backwards. After everyone finished their test, the students showcased their talents in a classroom spelling bee using the spelling list as well as other words they may have been introduced to throughout the year. They loved it! The students in Luz’s class have so much fun learning! 

My next stop in 2nd grade was across the hall in Ms. Smith’s classroom. Her students were transitioning into math and had been waiting for me to arrive. Upon my arrival Ms. Smith introduced the math stations to the students and I was able to use the teacher table for an old fashioned game of “Go Fish”. Only this game of Go Fish focused on finding two numbers that when added together equals 100. Students knew all of their facts using base ten numbers that would equal 100 and worked tirelessly to best Mr. Arend. I’m surprised I was able to even make a pair with all of the students who would ask me for a card. It was great to play a game like this with each of the students and see them think through there decision making and their a excitement when they found a match. 

After the humbling experience of getting beat in Go Fish by a bunch of second graders it was time for recess. I felt like a student who came to school dressed inappropriately as all I had was a light sweater and the wind was ridiculously cold! After getting special permission for the recess teachers we moved our play area to the grass where students could run races. I’m not sure what it is about running until they are so tired they fall over, but students love to run when I visit their recess. They simply race against each other with the fastest moving on to the next round and the other getting back in line to challenge someone again. Students will stand in line for several minutes while waiting their turn, but they look forward to it. So much so, that the teachers were aware of what we may do and remind the students (and me) that racing had to happen in the grass. 🙂

Lunch is lunch and the cafeteria seems to get a little bit louder when I am in there as each of the students wants me to sit a their table. There is no way to make them all happy, so I simply walk around and make sure I am keeping the peace…best I can. 

After lunch I was able to enter Ms. Romero’s room where students were writing for me to join them in some math rotations. In order to work with all of the students who were working on specific tasks related to what they needed to improve on (place value or adding/subtracting) I rotated back and forth between a couple of groups. Students worked hard in each of the groups. We completed a crossword puzzle in one group that had clues related to successfully answering questions by forming the correct number based on the clue and the other was a fun alien strategy game where we tried to move our pieces just the right number of spaces to land on an alien. We determined how many spaces we would move based on rolling three dices and generating a number sentence where we could add or subtract using all three numbers.  I faired a little better at this game then Go Fish, but the students still gave me a run for my money. 

We headed to specials which is always so inspiring for me to observe the talents of our specials teachers. Ms. Newsome had students completing a winter silhouette which was simply amazing. I do not have much of an artistic ability so seeing her works and the works of our students makes me very proud. Mrs. Caldwell was leading the students through some “do” and “re” exercises and of course I had to help the students. Upon my help, someone was quick to point out someone was singing to low. Wonder who that was? Once the students nailed the exercise the next activity included some Xylophone work. In partners students played the notes they had just finished singing. Let me tell you, the patience Mrs. Caldwell exhibited was phenomenal as you give stud nets instruments and mallets to play them. My last stop was in the gym as the students were being led through a series of exercises and Star Jacks as they prepare for 3rd grade. The students showed immense school spirit as they shouted out S…I…G…L…E…R…and the Stars, Stars, Stars. We concluded with a little challenge as students had been showcasing their dribbling skills. A couple of students are always able to rise above he rest with their talents and they get to challenge me. One of the students actually made me lose my dribble and the ball. I let him…right? 

As the students headed back to class I ended the day in Mrs. Mogollon’s classroom for IC. She was in an ARD meeting, so with the help of Mrs. Griffin we had a great conversation about weather, activities, transportation and clothing and how each of those topics can change depending on which season you are in. Students had a fabulous understanding if the difference between each season and had no problem sharing what their favorite season was and why. Can you believe, out of the class of 19 and the two adults in the room, only one students shared my love for fall? Of course most of the students loved winter and it was because of the snow! I guess they had recent memories of December and the ice that impacted their decision. Regardless, they loved sharing their thoughts with me as they filled out their very own anchor chart for each of the seasons indicating differences through each one. As the lesson progressed, we would have started talking about why seasons change, but as you know, we just didn’t get to it, there wasn’t enough time, and it’s ok. I know they will discuss it next week and I can’t exist to follow up with them to see how it goes. 

It was a great day spent in 2nd grade. I appreciate all of the ladies in he office holding down the fort and especially Mrs. Hempstead as she filled in for me at a couple of meetings so I could remain in 2nd grade as planned. It takes a village folks. 

Thank you 2nd grade students and teachers for allowing be to be your guest! I am already looking forward to my next #noofficeday! 

Matt Arend
Sigler Elementary