Testing, Tears and…GRIT??

Over the last four years at Sigler Elementary, the students and staff have been introduced to online sensations such as Kid President, respected authors, including Principal Kafele and Carol Dweck and TED Talks from Carol Dweck, Rita F. Pierson, & Angela Duckworth.

Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing that You Can Improve – The Power of Yet

What do all of these folks have in common?

Whether you refer to it as determination, perseverance, attitude or grit, ultimately it’s the understanding or mindset that regardless of your situation, you can overcome, you can achieve and you can be successful.

The last Tuesday of each month, over the last two years at Sigler, we have introduced the idea of Future’s Day where boys and girls in 3rd-5th grades spend the last thirty minutes of their day listening to a local community member share their story. Girls break out with female speakers and boys break out with male speakers. The stories that have been shared, aim to give students examples of successful adults who were exactly where our students are today. The stories inspire, motivate and prove to our students, what they do now at the ages of 8, 9 or 10 does matter and can impact them for the rest of their lives. The idea of Future’s Day comes directly from Principal Kafele and his Young Men Empowerment Program or Power Monday’s he held with young men as the principal at Newark Tech High School in New Jersey.

I share all of that so you better understand the questions I have…

Is it working? Have we seen a difference in our students? How do we know?

December marks the half way point for the school year and it brings a fair share of mid-year assessments along with it. As a staff, we try very hard not to beat our students over the head with “do better, you must improve, your scores must go up” but I believe it’s important for our students to understand that the time they invest in mid-year assessments can be valuable for them to get a snapshot of how they have progressed towards goals set at the beginning of the school year.

Last week I was in the hallway as our fifth graders were transitioning to lunch. I love being able to interact in the hallways with the students, but as I worked my way through the line of students, I heard the faint sound of tears coming from the grade level. As I approached the grade level doors, I encountered a young man who was in tears.  Before I could ask him what was wrong, he wrapped his arms around me just needing a hug. After getting him settled down, we were able to talk and he shared his sorrow was coming from his latest mid-year assessment in which he did not meet his goal and his score actually had gone down since he last took this assessment as a fourth grader.

My initial reaction was rage. I was furious with the high stakes testing we expose students to. I was furious that we place this pressure on kids ages 5-11. I was furious that a student could be so heart broken over not meeting his goal. So heartbroken that he was brought to tears. This is not what I want school, especially elementary school to be about!

As the days went on, I could not get the image of this young man out of my head. Seeing this young man so upset, so disappointed and frustrated that he had not met his goal. I started to share my experience with some of the leaders in the building and one conversation I had, started to change the way I was feeling and even started to answer the questions shared above.

Through this specific conversation, the teacher reminded me of where we started. The teacher reminded me of the students in fifth grade before we started having conversations about grit and having an growth mindset. The teacher reminded me that for the most part, we never used to have students upset about their lack of progress on an assessment. Four years ago, we simply wanted some of the students to actually care. The teacher expressed wanting a class full of students who grew teary eyed when they didn’t meet their goal over a group that struggled to show signs that they cared. The teacher reminded me about the power of these moments with students; students who are devastated about not meeting their goals and how their devastation can be used as a teachable moment, which serve as real life opportunities that can make them stronger.

This teacher’s outlook made me reflect and upon my reflection, I believe we have made significant progress with our students in creating grit, perseverance and a growth mind set within them.

So, is it working…YES!

Have we seen a difference…YES! Students want to do their best! Students get disappointed when they do not and they desire to do better!

How do we know…the success of our students is not measured on a test. The success of our students is measured in the daily interactions we have with them where they prove they are developing skills that will allow for a greater success in life. Small obstacles that force students to stumble in elementary school support the development of their grit and with the appropriate supports in place, relationships and connections made with students and the continued exposure to examples and speakers/presentations our students will continue to persevere, become “grittier” and ultimately turn their tears into fuel that feeds the fire burning within them.

We are not finished. I would like to say all of our students exhibit the same passion this specific student did, but not all of them do…YET. As a staff, we will keep grinding, we will keep sharing, we will persevere and our students will overcome.

Do you have stories of how you develop grit, perseverance or a growth mindset in your students? I would love to connect and share our stories.

December #NoOfficeDay – 3rd Grade

Each month I look forward to my scheduled #NoOfficeDay. It is my time to get out of the office, step away from (most of) my principal duties and return to the classroom as a teacher. This past Friday, my #NoOfficeDay experience was spent with the students and teachers in our 3rd grade at Sigler Elementary. Before I share how I spent my day, I want to thank the students and teachers in 3rd grade for their flexibility as the day posed one or two hiccups that called me away briefly and caused me to show up just a smidgen late. However, as they say…better late than never!

As you read, please take a minute to use the links to follow our staff members our Twitter! We have been working hard to become connected educators and we would love to connect with you!

My day started with @sdas2100 and a game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire! Ms. Das allowed me to be the game show host and I was able to lead the students through the variety of questions, which they answered individually then agreed as a class with the most popular response. The ultimate game of collaboration!

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

After making millionaires out of this class of 3rd graders, we broke the students into groups as they rotated through stations. Students at my station played a fun game practicing the skill of Inferring. I would read a clue and students had to determine whether they had the answer to clue I was reading. Students performed beautifully getting many of them correct and of course, loved playing with the principal. (As you can see below)

A panoramic view of The Inference Game

After time in Ms. Das’ room, it was time to rotate to the next 3rd grade classroom. For those new to the #NoOfficeDay experience, the grade level prepares a schedule for me, which allows me to spend time in each room throughout the day. My next rotation led into another collaborative effort between @MKRomeo10 and Mr. Mateos’ class. Students in 3rd grade have been studying the solar system and today, Mr. Mateos prepared an interactive lesson that led students on a journey through the solar system that would make Buzz Aldrin jealous. Mr. Mateos shared numerous online, interactive tools with the students so they could see first hand, all of the beauty of outer space and some of the important details of each planet.

Journey through the Solar System

After a very detailed review of each of the planets, including the Dwarf planet, Pluto, students had a brain break. In other words, it was time for lunch and recess. I love recess time and seeing how our students interact with one another on the pitch. I say pitch, because our 3rd graders moonlight as a professional soccer team. (If they don’t, they should) They are really good.

I do my best to tweet some photos during my #NoOfficeDay and was honored to have @kristinransom from the @ChristieCubs share a fun +YouTube clip about space. I immediately shared it with the teachers and they loved it. We were able to share it with the students upon our return to the classroom after lunch. Check it out: 
The lunch room can be a busy place as multiple grade levels eat at once. For some reason, I feel my presence in the cafeteria always increases the noise level, but I promise I do not do it on purpose. 
3rd graders enjoying lunch

After lunch we, launched back into outer space to continue our exploration of the solar system. After a brief review of what we discovered prior to recess and lunch, we set course for Pluto, trying to stop at each of the planets along the way, starting at the sun. (Or as close as we could get to it)

Each student had their own personalized rocket and for each question they answered correctly, they journeyed to the next planet and if they answered the question incorrectly, they had to go back to the previous planet or be stranded at the sun. (Or as close as we could get to it, because we know it is waaaaay to hot to get that close) 
Student are designing their own personalized rocket for our journey through the solar system

The planets have aligned for our journey to begin

You will be happy to know I survived the journey through the solar system and landed safely back on planet Earth, just in time to rotate to Mrs. Davis’ room for some math. She and her students were working hard to create some of their very own Input and Output Machines. 

Students were given Input and Output examples and had to determine the relationship between the given numbers
As students accurately discovered the relationship of their Input/Output Machine, they were able to draw their next one

Mrs. Davis and I were staying busy, making sure students were answering some of the most difficult Input/Output problems that ranged from using addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. As students were successful, they were able to spend some time on the computers playing a game titled, “Lanza la Oveja” or so I was told. It was like playing Angry Birds, but students were given and Input/Output answer and had to find the right answer.

Lanza la Oveja 

This is about the time of day where I get totally off schedule because it is so hard for me to just walk away when my time is up. I feel like I need to give each student the same amount of time, but in doing so I am tardy to the next classroom.

My final stop was back with Mrs. Romeo’s class for some math. Again, the students were ready for me and Mrs. Romeo had prepared a station for me to oversee, helping students practice their multiplication. I was blown away by the students in Mrs. Romeo’s class as they solved the multiplication problems, without error, over and over again. Did I mention the students were working in partners? Just another example of collaboration in the 3rd grade! Each classroom I was in, collaboration was taking place! 
Students solved multiplication problems to cover up 4 squares

First one to cover up 4 wins

3rd grade has a full day of learning before their specials rotation at the end of the day. For those interested in preparing for a #NoOfficeDay, the specials rotation is the most difficult part for me. I try to decide how to best split my time between three different classes, but 15-20 minutes per class (Music, Art & PE) is just not enough, so lately I have been spending the entire period in one class. In November I spent the time in the Art Studio with @TNewsome1 so this time I spent the day in PE with @TRoberts3233 and @SolowBob. I mentioned the students in this grade level played professional soccer right? So guess what we played during PE?

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL

It was another successful #NoOfficeDay! I have said it before and I will say it again…each #NoOfficeDay provides a vivid reminder of just how hard our teachers work, just how much our students want to learn and how great it is to be the principal of a school where teachers love the students and students love the teachers!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2015!