Love and Loss in an Elementary School – Why Relationships Matter.

Peggy Marston: Veteran teacher, special educator, long time district employee, friend, free spirit.  Marie Twitchell: Veteran teacher, mother, special educator, supporter, friend, and believer.
Gail St. Germain: Office aid, mother, grandmother, multi-tasker, caregiver, friend.

Shared via Linkedin
Shared via Linkedin

This week, I learned that a former staff member of mine, Gail St. Germain, passed away unexpectedly.  Gail was a constant in the Greene Central School office for many, many years.  She was known by the entire school community and she was a remarkable person.  There wasn’t a tear she couldn’t dry when scraped knees and hurt feelings made their way to the office, there wasn’t a job too big or too small that Gail couldn’t do, willingly I might add, and there wasn’t a day that she didn’t have a joke, or story to tell, or that she would take a minute to listen to a colleague, or a principal like me, that needed a good sounding board.  If there was s student in need, Gail would find them.  Boots, hats, mittens, you name it.  Large copying job, or supplies needed for a project, Gail was the go to person.  Somehow, at one point, she got the nickname “Hank”, which I probably laughed with her about a million times.  Gail was always there, for everyone, every minute of her day.

Peggy Marston was doubtful about my work initially.  She told me so in my office one day after I first started. It was hard for her to believe that we could hold a thoughtful IEP meeting that would only last an hour.  Peggy spent countless hours working to support special education students at Greene Central School, putting endless time into scouring over reports, calling parents, explaining test results, for the benefit of children.  Peggy felt that it was her job to not inadvertently label a child that wasn’t disabled, and she also felt that it was her job to support students and parents through the IEP process and beyond. Peggy also loved laughter. She was the loudest person in the room, and quite often, the funnest. This was evidenced through my interactions with her in building construction meetings, staff meetings, and when she came to my office after I worked in the school for a period of time and let me know I had proved her wrong, and that she liked how things were working out at the school.  She was a devoted colleague and often times, would provide much needed listening for friends and coworkers. It was a shock to me and her colleagues, getting a call at school letting us know that Peggy had passed away unexpectedly in her sleep.  A 26 year teacher, friend, and presence gone.

And then there was Marie Twitchell.  Marie worked with me when I got my first administrative job just outside of Augusta, Maine.  She worked with special education students, and many I may add, that sometimes not only had learning difficulties, but challenges in regulating behaviors as well.  Marie treated those students with the utmost dignity, especially after extremely disruptive and dangerous behaviors.  She held them in high regard, working to get them the help that they needed.  Afterwards, sharing a sigh of relief with me in my office, sometimes brainstorming another way to support, or just getting some much needed release after a tense situation.  Marie was the type of person that would send you a funny post card while on a trip, or would get you a quirky Christmas ornament for your tree.  I remember laughing out loud when she sent me a funny post card from her trip to San Francisco and had a clever closing in the note.  Marie’s colleagues appreciated her, as she was active in the school community, professionally, and personally.

When I left my job in Hall Dale, I did not realize the impact that my leadership had on Marie.  We worked together for four years, and my departure from the district, along with other changes, left her with a diminished feeling about her work.  After the passing of Peggy Marston, I called Marie to talk and I let her know that I had an opening, and shared the circumstances around the job.  Marie wanted to come back and work for me, and I was excited to have her join me again, supporting students and creating a school culture where students were valued, as much as the joy of teaching and helping others.

It wasn’t long after Marie joined me for a second time, that she began to not feel well, and after a series of medical appointments, doctor visits, and absences, Marie received bad news.  She had lung cancer, and the disease had progressed in such a way that it was not able to be treated and save her.  In late October of 2005, I sat down and wrote a letter to Marie, sharing with her my thoughts about our working relationship, and the friendship we had developed.  I had planned a visit to her home, and my intent was to give her the letter, asking her to wait and open it after I left.  I knew going into that visit that I could not be there when she read my letter.

Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator
Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator

In November of 2005, Marie Twitchell passed away, leaving behind a family, and history of helping students and colleagues.  Marie read my letter after I left from my visit that fall day, I got a call from her family asking that I be a pall bearer at her funeral and if I would be willing to read the letter during a gathering after the funeral.  I was touched, and realized that I had not known the impact I had on Marie, her work, and the lives of children.

I looked for that letter this morning and found it on my computer.  I’m sharing a link to the letter with you in this blog post. Although deeply personal, it only begins to underscore what I believe to be the importance of relationships in education and in life.  I had an impact on someone so great, that they wanted to work for me, even in the very last stages of their life.  You can read the letter HERE.

Because of these relationships, and the impact they had on me and students, there isn’t a moment during any given day, that I do not underscore the importance of relationships by being a good colleague, listening, and most importantly, rallying around the needs of students, our common cause.

Peggy, Marie and Gail you will continue to serve as inspiration to me. You were generous with your time, your kindness, and dedication to students and colleagues and you helped me, and still help me realize why relationships matter most.

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What Stories Will You Make Possible This School Year?

It’s that time of year again when I am thinking about school a lot. Not that I don’t reflect on my work and the work of my school each day throughout the year, but particularly, at this time of the year, we’re getting ready to launch into what will soon be the opening of school.  I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t excited.  If you asked anyone that has been to school recently, they’d also tell you I’m excited!  Personally, and professionally, I am always excited for summer to end and to get back into routines and be with students and educators.

Shared via radair.com
Shared via radair.com

As we all know, schools are intended to be institutions of learning.  However, I got to thinking; Wouldn’t you want your school to also be known as generous, big hearted, and hopeful?  It then made me think- What stories do we want to make and what stories do we want to be possible for our school communities?While I was out walking my dog a couple of days ago, I noticed in my newsfeed a heading about President Obama speaking at the recent DNC.  I scrolled through the abbreviated transcript, and while I’m not interested in bringing politics into my professional life, I was struck by his speech and something he shared about his experience in the United States.  I read it over at least three times, thinking about what he had said, thinking about my work at school and thinking about all of our collective work as school principals and leaders.  The president talked about the United States as being a “generous, big hearted, hopeful country”. He then went on to share that because of that, the U.S. “made my story; that made all of our stories possible.”

There are two questions that arise from thinking this way as a principal:

  1. What conditions will you help create to have the best possible stories made?
  2. What stories will be made and TOLD by your students, educators, and parents?

As a principal, I know how important it is for me to not only create conditions for great stories to be told, but for me to share great stories as well.  As I am heading into the new school year, I am thinking of the following:

  1. Work hard to build positive relationships every day.  Do this with students, educators and parents, colleagues, my PLN, and everyone I come into contact with.
  2. Listen, listen, listen. Talk a little, listen some more.
  3. Be present, both physically and emotionally.
  4. Hold everyone, including myself, to reasonably high standards.
  5. Promote creativity, innovation, risk taking.
  6. Celebrate successes, and be forgiving when mistakes are made.
  7. Promote positivity, gratitude, and curiosity.
  8. Communicate a lot, in multiple ways, and be clear about the work of the schol.
  9. Share stories outside of the school to showcase all the great work students and educators are doing: Do this as much as possible.
  10. Most importantly, never waiver or lose focus on the needs of students.

For my students, educators, and parents,  I also recognize the importance of the school experience for them.  I know that they will come to school each day, and at the end of the day, will leave the school house with their own “stories” to share. Here’s what stories I hope we’ll help make for them:

  1. I was listened to and cared for by my school.
  2. In the school community, I was known and appreciated.
  3. I had the opportunity to ask questions, lots of questions, and I got to talk about learning with others.
  4. When I had a need or a problem, someone was available to me to help and support me.
  5. If I made a mistake, I knew that I would be respected and use the opportunity to learn.
  6. School was a safe place for me to be each day.
  7. Our school promoted and gave me opportunities to be creative and think.
  8. Every person in my school community was valued for their individual differences, and our collective strength as a group.
  9. Learning and teaching were fun, and I enjoyed being at school.
  10. Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself, and others, along with learning content.
Shared via kut.org
Shared via kut.org

While you’re getting ready to launch your school year, what conditions will you work to create that will influence the “stories” being told about your school?  What stories will you tell? One can’t help but think, and shouldn’t stop thinking of this while creating the best schools possible for our communities in the upcoming school year. My hope is that we all help create stories that reflect hope, generosity, kindness, and most importantly, learning.As I work through the last days of summer to help prepare for 500 students, 115 staff members, and our extended school community, I know that the words of the President will continue to run through my head. As I’m finalizing schedules, talking to new families, and supporting staff as they come into school and prepare for a new year.  I truly want them to leave OUR school each day and at the end of the year with stories that reflect kindness, hope, generosity, and most of all, a love for learning.

Why I Create…The Principal as Educational “Artist”

My professional career for the past 23 years has been as an educator.  I was an elementary school teacher and for the past 18 years, I’ve been a principal. For all intents and purposes, I generally tell people I am an administrator.  That is, until I thought about it tonight.  Tonight, I decided that actually, I create art.  

No, I don’t teach elementary art, and no, I’m not a school administrator moonlighting as an artist.  But I get to create art every day.  You see, I’m an administrator that is always thinking about work; my work, teachers’ work, students’ work, and I’m always reflecting upon the experiences I have and the experiences of those around me.  My goal is to always push myself to improve, most importantly, for students and teachers, and then of course, for myself.

Tonight as I was at my computer working on a number of different things both personally and professionally, I thought about Erik Wahl’s presentation last year at the NAESP 2015 Annual Conference.  Erik provided us with a highly engaging presentation related to creativity, as he encouraged principals and administrators to foster creativity as a means to improve the student and teacher experience.  As I thought about the presentation and my upcoming school year, I did a search on YouTube for Erik Wahl.  I particularly liked the following video:

The caption that accompanied the video noted:

“Erik encourages us to push our talents beyond what we think we are capable of in an effort to achieve something that we didn’t think we were capable of doing. Watch his collaborative project featuring an incredibly unique installation of the Mona Lisa portrait.”

So if I’m an elementary school principal, you’re probably wondering how I am creating art while leading a school of 500 students and 115 staff. Well, on some level, it is easy. You see, I love coming to work each day and serving students, educators and parents. When I tell you that I love it, I mean, I race to school each day eager to not only do my job well, but to do it better than I have the day before.  As Erik Wahl noted, I’m looking to “push my talents beyond what I’ve been capable of doing before”.  How do I do that?  I do it through reflecting on my work, asking myself what I could do differently or better, through networking with other administrators, by learning from educators that have skills that I don’t.  I’m honest with myself and the work I do, and I’m sure to celebrate my successes and admit my mistakes. It is often through my mistakes that I have some of my best learning.

Yet, where does the art come in?  What am I creating? Well, as I am reflecting on my work each day and pushing myself to continue to learn and do better, I’m also doing the following:

  • Promoting and creating positive relationships with students, educators, and parents, and being thoughtful about how I interact with them every single time.

  • Cultivating the climate and culture of my school, so that there is a positive experience for all members of the school community as they interact with each other.

  • Developing opportunities for educators, students, parents, and other staff across the district to collaborate and share ideas that are good for students.

  • Taking safe risks and supporting students, staff and parents as they work to create and innovate in an atmosphere that welcomes trying new things and is supportive when new ideas don’t work as we would have hoped.

  • Expecting high levels of work and effort from myself, educators, students and parents. Everyone is expected to give their best effort and everyone’s contribution to our school is valued.

  • Building relationships. They’re the cornerstone of everything we do in education.  As Dr. James P. Comer noted, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship”  My work each day is to connect, engage, empathize and support.

I could develop a longer list, however, I’m hoping that you see my point.  You see, I do create and I am an artist of sorts.  I’m an educational “artist”, working to create the very best conditions for students to learn and educators to teach, and for everyone to find joy in what they do, each and every day.  And if you’re a fellow school administrator, you’re also an artist.  You’re working to do the same things, and to provide the same joy for your students and teachers every single day.

Erik Wahl Twitter Photo
Shared via Twitter @ErikWahl Jul 11 #successisnonearerthanwheniwasyoung

You see, Erik Wahl has it right in thinking that we need to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of doing, or creating. He understands that the human experience benefits from art, and creating, and creativity.   It is in that place where we will do our best work for students.  It is in that place where we will learn, and make mistakes, and build relationships, and we will create. Why? Because we are all artists, and we should all be working to create the very best experience for our students.  

I”m excited about the possibilities of what I can help create for my school in the upcoming year. How will you create in your school? What artistry will you perform?

A GLN Before My PLN…The Power of Networking

I had a interesting epiphany yesterday while home on vacation, which really reinforced for me the importance of PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) and why they are so valuable.  Indulge me for just a moment as I build some context about my own early experiences with networks and their value in supporting learning.

Thomas Martellone and PrinceLike most kids, I was no different in that I loved learning.  I was a voracious reader, searching out information on Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and many other subjects that provided my sense of curiosity something to “dig into”.  When I was about 12 years old, I met my extended family in Louisiana for the very first time.  How was it I had gone for 12 years and never knew I had four cousins, and an aunt and uncle that were as excited to meet me as I was to meet them?  It was on that first trip that I was unknowingly launched into one of the most fascinating hobbies and a journey of a lifetime that would build my early PLN (GLN) back in the late 80’s.  

My aunt was an avid genealogist when we met, and eager to share with me her research about our family. I can’t say that I jumped on board immediately, seeing that I was only 12 years old, but as I mentioned previously, I was always curious and an eager learner, so I listened to what she shared with me about genealogy research and I listened closely to the stories she told me about our family.  Within a few years, my interest in genealogy and family history grew, and before I knew it, I was totally hooked.

Martellono Family Arizona 1911As I write this, it is hard to believe that I’ve been working on my family history for 33 years now!  It seems like just yesterday, I was listening to the stories, dabbling here and there, just trying to figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit.  Over the years, my research has brought me into contact with many, many people, some who have been related in some form, and many that were helpers along the way.  I’ve had people that I’ve been distantly related to and we’ve stayed in contact for over 20 years, sharing findings, pictures, documents, and stories.  Some folks have been helpers, giving phone numbers, looking up quick documents, and some even as kind as going to a cemetery in Texas and photographing a gravestone for me since I live so far away (Boston).

Two days ago, I connected with a gentleman through Ancestry DNA and he was able to share information with me that connected me to another line of my family and helped me get back two more generations!  Our sharing took place via Ancestry messaging and then E-mail.  It was amazing.  It was in that moment that I realized I had been working with an early PLN/GLN (Genealogy Learning Network) for the past 33 years!  Right along, I had been part a learning network, much like the PLN I belong to now professionally!  My GLN provided me the following:

  • Networking with like minded individuals that had similar beliefs, successes and challenges
  • Opportunities for discussion, research, problem solving and inquiry
  • New and available resources and sharing of resources
  • New learning and research techniques
Shared from hacklibraryschool.com
Shared from hacklibraryschool.com

I don’t think I ever realized this was an early PLN due to my immersion in the research and work.  My participation in a great Twitter chat yesterday alongside my working on my genealogy made me realize that my PLN affords me the same opportunities as my GLN.  The interactions I’ve had with my genealogy network have shown me the importance of being networked and have proven that the collective power of networking professionally can provide some of the most limitless learning that can take place!  

Of course I’ll continue to work on my genealogy and family history as I’ve done for the past 33 years, and I’ll also continue to network with those people that I can support and that can help support my research as well.  It is always about sharing resources and ideas.  As I continue that work, I’ll also continue to capitalize on the power of my PLN in regards to my professional life as a school administrator.  After reflecting on the amazing discoveries I’ve made with my GLN, I know that my PLN can help me do anything I set my mind to, and that I too, can help support other administrators and educators as well.  

John Edwin Courtney & Mary Elizabeth Harper Courtney Circa 1873
John Edwin Courtney & Mary Elizabeth Harper Courtney Circa 1873

If you aren’t a part of a PLN, I welcome you to join me and the people in my network.  They’re great educators, thinkers, innovators, and people that are working to make a difference for students.  I know from my GLN the power of collective thinking, so don’t wait, and be sure to be building your PLN today!  If you’re also a genealogy buff, let’s connect!  I’m always interested in learning and sharing!  I can be reached at tommartellone@gmail.com

 

Give More than What is Expected

shared via http://teganmg.com/wp/category/the-real-me/
shared via http://teganmg.com/wp/category/the-real-me/

For the past week and a half, I’ve thought a lot about my last school year.  It seems odd that students have been finished for about a week and a half, yet, I almost feel as though we just started.  In the short time I’ve been done, I have attended ISTE 2016, been home for a few days, and now I am getting ready for NAESP 2016.  I laughed this morning, while getting things ready for my upcoming trip, as I wondered why I had pushed myself into doing so much in such a short period of time, when I could have taken the time to just be at home, get some projects done, and relax after a busy school year.  

I know why I didn’t…and it isn’t martyrdom or poor “work-life balance”. In my early adulthood, I spent some time floundering with what I would do professionally, and after some marginal work experiences, I decided to enter the education profession.  For the past 23 years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working in a profession that I absolutely love, feeling like I have made a difference in the life of children every day I have gone to work.  My previous work experiences not only shaped my thoughts about how important it is to love what you do for work, but they also informed me about the importance of work being meaningful, in the greater sense of the word.

I’m also “wired” to love working.  For me personally, working a lot is actually the balance I need.  I’ve never been one to sit still for long, so even when I’ve not been working, I’ve had multiple projects going on at home, including gardening, painting projects, genealogy research, etc.  There has never been a lot of “down time” for me, however, I am not the type of person that needs that.  Keep in mind, I am not criticizing people who do need more down time, I’m just recognizing my own personal needs, which do not necessitate that. I also keep this in mind when working with colleagues and with educators in my school.

In my busy dasunsetys since school has ended (for students and staff, not so much for me), I’ve thought a lot about my work over the past year, where education is in general, how I can improve my work in service of students and teachers, and what I can do for the upcoming school year that will continue to add value to the field of education. I’ve also thought of the saying, “Give more than what is expected” and I’ve thought about how that may apply to my work.

As I reflect on my last school year, and then think about the upcoming year, there are some things I know I will do in the spirit of “giving more than what is expected”.  Here’s my “short list” of items:

  • Push myself to grow professionally in ways that I haven’t in the past, expanding my thinking and being open to new experiences, opportunities and learning.  This includes doing things that I think will be successful AND trying things that may not be successful.
  • Collaborate with educators to develop a climate and culture within my school and district where high levels of trust are built through professional working relationships, so that educators truly enjoy coming to work every day and are able to do their very best work.
  • Support principal colleagues to carry out the complex work of school leadership in ways that meets their needs as administrators and learners as a result of being my “best self”.
  • Continue to hold steady to my focus of placing students at the forefront of every decision I make.  All work must be related to providing the best experience for students, both academically and socially/emotionally.
  • Develop greater levels of trust and support with the greater school community around the work my school does to support students through multiple modes of communication which will meet the needs of many of our stakeholders.

While I am sure that many school administrators may have similar goals, I continue to think about the degree to which I will do these things as part of my “short list”, and how I can take each of these items to the “next level” and give more than what may be expected of me, as always, in the service of students.

And yes, I should be packing for my trip to NAESP 2016 tomorrow, and yes, I have a lot of other projects lined up, however, I can’t stop thinking about giving more than what is expected and how that will enrich the lives of my students and create better educational opportunities for everyone I work with in both my immediate school community and the greater educational community.

shared via beingsuperwoman.com
shared via beingsuperwoman.com

So if you are like me, and you are still working, or if your personal needs are different and you are taking a short break, I am wondering how will

you give more than what is expected for the upcoming school year.  What will it look like?  Will you rely on immediate colleagues, a PLN, classes?  No matter what you do, there’s no doubt that giving more than what is expected will result in a better experience for you and others, whether learning through successes or through situations where you’ve failed.

Be sure to reach out to me via e-mail (tommartellone@gmail.com) or via Twitter (@tommartellone) if you’re thinking about giving more, trying something new, or wanting another thought partner in education. I’m definitely interested in creativity and risk taking!

 

Why Educate “Whole Children”?

I was recently a finalist for a superintendency in a nearby district, and while responding to questions that were posed to me by the middle school staff during my site visit, I shared a story with them about some students at my current school.

During the meeting with these educators, I told them that I was not an “MCAS driven” principal.  MCAS is the state test for Massachusetts, and like many other states that have mandated,  standardized tests, it’s primarily used for accountability purposes.  My staff and I also use it to try and inform ourselves on where we can celebrate successes with students and where we can make improvements.  Over the course of six years that I have been a principal in Lexington, very little has come from my office related to MCAS, other than the minimal reminders for parents and students to get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast, along with our annual report card that I am required to share with the public.  

Shared via azcommunitypress.org
Shared via azcommunitypress.org

Aside from MCAS, I’ve been especially proud of the work my staff has done around RtI, providing intervention for many children in our school in the areas of reading, math and writing.  They have worked diligently and collaborated with one another across grade levels and with departments to create and deliver Tier II interventions for students, and that has resulted in students being more successful and our school having fewer special education referrals. On some level, that has also helped our MCAS scores, although, I’ve not placed an emphasis on intervention helping with a state test, but rather, helping students be more successful with school.

Additionally, I have continued to be impressed with the work staff have been doing to address the social-emotional needs of children.  As a school, we’ve committed to Responsive Classroom as the “umbrella” for our work in building classroom communities, along with PBIS, which we’ve used to help students be clear about our expectations.  But those two things alone can not be the mainstay of our work.  Teachers are using mindfulness activities with children, yoga, breathing techniques, and using opportunities where mistakes lead to greater learning.  We’ve also done work with students around civic mindedness, having students help others in and around the school community.  

Classroom instruction with our school counselor has also been a part of our work related to social-emotional learning, providing students with lessons, discussion, and opportunities to learn how to navigate friendships, solve problems, react to situations, and how to be upstanding school and community citizens.  

Shared via www.tes.com
Shared via http://www.tes.com

So, by now you are asking, what does this all have to do with educating “whole children”?

As part of my interview process and after sharing that I was not an MCAS driven principal, I went on to share a story about two students who came to have lunch one day in my office.  One of the students had her name drawn as part of our bi-weekly drawing where students get to have lunch with me and my assistant principal.  On this one particular day, the fifth grade student brought a classmate who happened to be a student attending our school as a student in our ILP (Intensive Learning Program), a district wide program that serves children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. It also just so happened that this student had more limited communication than some other students in the program, and definitely more limited communication than the young girl’s non-disabled peers.  

That was one of the best lunches I’ve had with students.  She interacted with that student and treated him no differently than any of her other peers.  She could have easily chosen to bring another classmate that had more ability to communicate with her, however, she chose to bring someone that may not otherwise have had the opportunity to be picked.  She also genuinely chose someone that she would enjoy having lunch with.  

As I shared this story with the middle school teachers, I explained to them that no test out there would publicly measure the levels of empathy and compassion this young lady showed by inviting her friend to lunch with her that day. MCAS, while showing what some children know academically, does not provide a picture of “the whole child”, which is where our moral responsibilities rest as we work to educate ALL children.  

Do we want to create a society where people place a value on their relationships and interactions with others? Or do we want a society where our children grow into adults that are devoid of the ability to connect with others, show empathy, build relationships, and care for one another?

Our students deserve every opportunity to learn academics AND social skills that will prepare them for their future. So policy makers, yes, we will administer your tests, and non-educators, yes, we teach more than math, and writing and reading.  And yes, we will  partner with parents and families to create an atmosphere where students feel safe and feel that they can make mistakes and learn.

Shared via wholechild4awholeworld.wordpress.com
Shared via wholechild4awholeworld.wordpress.com

As we all should do, the next time you are reviewing data for your students and you are asking yourself how you will teach everything that needs to be taught, ask yourself the question, “What would our world be like if we did not educate whole children?”

 

Growth Mindset: It’s Not the Only Mindset!

The term growth mindset has become wildly popular in educational circles over the last couple of years.  So much so, I’d say it has reached “buzzword” status.  That being said, I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset and firmly believe in the underlying theory around her work, which espouses that students who believe they can grow their basic abilities have greater motivation and higher achievement than do students who believe their abilities are fixed, and that teachers can influence students’ mindsets.

This year, my staff and I have participated in building based professional learning led by our math specialist and a group of teachers around math and mindset, working to share with everyone that, yes, they can do math and so can our students.  The PD has been meaningful and relevant to not only having educators think differently about math, but also how they view mindset and learning.  As a staff, on other occasions, we’ve also shared and talked about the power of praise and how praising effort appropriately supports a growth mindset, whereas using it differently, while well intentioned, may have the opposite effect.

One of my favorite math sessions during our time together focused on the Common Core math practice standard related to perseverance.  The session really resonated with me based on my own personal and professional experiences across a number of years.  As an educator, I have faced situations where I have lost my job due to budget cuts, I’ve worked to find ways to reach students that struggled, and I’ve had to face difficult situations in leadership roles.  Many of those situations, if not all, required a level of perseverance that enabled me to either push through the situation or to “stick with it” until it was solved or got better.  Personally, I’ve been an avid genealogist since my mid to late teens, and my research has spanned 30 years of digging, discoveries and roadblocks.  One particular document that came to me in 1992 provided a clue with a name that I continued to revisit during almost every school vacation for the past 20 years.  It wasn’t until about 2 years ago, after having searched far and wide, that I finally made a discovery related to that document which gave me much new information about my family.

First and foremost, I wondered what we needed to do for students that would not only promote a growth mindset, but would also help build their perseverance.  Can perseverance be taught?  Additionally, I also thought about what would have happened to me had I not persevered through my own professional and personal situations. Would I have solved that 20 year family history puzzle?  Could I have solved problems related to leadership that helped me support teaching and learning? I also wondered why some people have perseverance and some don’t, seeing that most schools do not “teach” perseverance.

In their blog post from November 17, 2014 “Perseverance and Grit Can Be Taught”, Sean Slade and Tom Hoerr ascertain that both perseverance and grit can be taught.  The authors also share that while they believe it can be taught, it is not easy to do.  I agree that “trial and error” can help develop perseverance, but what about students whose parents don’t encourage that or promote perseverance.  I think about my own circumstances and the fact that my parents did not promote perseverance.  Of course, they didn’t do this intentionally, but obviously times have changed and as a society, we’ve learned more about what helps children grow into successful adults. So how is it that I developed a set of skills around perseverance whereas, other people may not have those skills?

Edutopia shared the work of Amy Lyon in its March 22, 2014 post and video titled Teaching Grit Cultivates Resilience and Perseverance (Research Made Relevant Series).

I was amazed as I watched this video and saw the young boy being “gritty” collecting sap and turning it into maple syrup.  Did he develop this grit and perseverance as a result of his teachers, as a result of upbringing, or is he just naturally “wired” to be someone who will persevere throughout his life?

After all this thinking, I’ve come to realize that you can have a growth mindset and think you can improve and grow your brain, but without grit, and most importantly, perseverance, you cannot truly realize the potential of that mindset.  I’ve also been thinking that we cannot leave it to chance that some kids will just “get it” and some will not.  Our job, through good teaching as shared in the Edutopia video, is to provide teaching experiences for our students that will help develop those abilities.  We do not need to find more time in the day or the schedule, and we do not need additional budget monies to help our students learn how to persevere.

Shared via choiceschools.com and created by Sylvia Duckworth
Shared via @choiceschools.com and created by Sylvia Duckworth

The students in our classrooms may grow up to be principals that will need to solve leadership problems, or they may be genealogists that want to solve family mysteries.  More importantly, they may grow into adults that will work to find cures for cancer, solve problems related to social justice, develop technologies that improve the quality of human lives, or help explore new worlds. Without the skill of perseverance, they may well not succeed. We can not be complacent around building their capacity to persevere, and we can not think so narrowly that growth mindset is the only mindset in which we need to develop.