Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thank You for a Great 2016-17 School Year!

This is the final article summary of the 2016-17 school year: 10 Fundamental Truths That Will Change Your Life

Thank you all for another wonderful and magical year!

And special thanks and best wishes to those who will be leaving us in a few days—I wish you continued success and happiness!

For me, the hectic frenzy of the final weeks of school starkly contrasts with the more mellow tempo of summer which begins Memorial Day weekend. Even Atlanta’s horrendous traffic greatly lightens in June, July, and early August.

Yes, there is still school work to do, yet during this slower time, I always reserve time for personal reflection. Time to think about who I am as a person, educator, spouse, father, son, brother, and so on. I’m not overly harsh or lax on myself. It’s just that I’ve found for me the best personal and professional growth and improvement result from self-evaluation/assessment rather than someone telling me what I did right and wrong. 

I think about my hopes, plans, what I like about myself, what I need to improve on, situations that went right this year and those that got sideways.

I hope that the article below is a springboard for personal reflection and self-evaluation and that some of the ‘fundamental truths’ resonate with you as they do for me.

Enjoy the summer and thank you for making the 2016-17 school year so fulfilling and memorable for our students!


It’s surprising how easy it is to lose sight of the important things in life. Busy schedules and regular routines have a tendency to put the brain on autopilot.

When things aren’t going quite the way you’d like them to, it’s often because you’ve lost focus on what really matters.

Both your personal and professional life run on questions, not answers. You should be asking yourself regularly if you’re headed in the right direction.

Many of life’s essential truths need repeating. We need reminders that help us to stay focused on them. Keep these truths handy and they’re sure to give you a much-needed boost.

Great Success is Often Preceded by Failure: You will never experience true success until you learn to embrace failure. The biggest breakthroughs typically come when you’re feeling the most frustrated and the most stuck. It’s this frustration that forces you to think differently, to look outside the box and see the solution that you’ve been missing. Success takes patience and the ability to maintain a good attitude even while suffering for what you believe in.

Being Busy Does not Equal Being Productive: Look at everyone around you. They all seem so busy -- running from meeting to meeting and firing off emails. Yet how many of them are really producing, really succeeding at a high level? Success doesn’t come from movement and activity. It comes from focus -- from ensuring that your time is used efficiently and productively.

You’re Only as Good as Those You Associate With: You should strive to surround yourself with people who inspire you, people who make you want to be better. But what about the people who drag you down? Anyone who makes you feel worthless, anxious, or uninspired is wasting your time and, quite possibly, making you more like them. Life is too short to associate with people like this. Cut them loose.

You’re Living the Life You’ve Created: You are not a victim of circumstance. No one can force you to make decisions and take actions that run contrary to your values and aspirations. Likewise, your future is entirely up to you. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s probably because you’re afraid to take the risks necessary to achieve your goals and live your dreams. When it’s time to take action, remember that it’s always better to be at the bottom of the ladder you want to climb than at the top of one you don’t.

Fear is the Number One Source of Regret: When it’s all said and done, you will lament the chances you didn’t take far more than you will your failures. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

You Don’t Have to Wait for an Apology to Forgive:  Life goes a lot smoother once you let go of grudges and forgive even those who never said they were sorry. Grudges let negative events from your past ruin today’s happiness. Hate and anger are emotional parasites that destroy your joy in life. When you forgive someone, it doesn’t condone their actions; it simply frees you from being their eternal victim.

Live in the Moment: You can’t reach your full potential until you learn to live your life in the present. No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future. It’s impossible to be happy if you’re constantly somewhere else, unable to fully embrace the reality (good or bad) of this very moment. To help yourself live in the moment, you must do two things: 1) Accept your past. If you don’t make peace with your past, it will never leave you and, in doing so, it will create your future. 2)Accept the uncertainty of the future. Worry has no place in the here and now.

Your Self-Worth Must Come from Within: When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own destiny. When you feel good about something that you’ve done, don’t allow anyone’s opinions or accomplishments to take that away from you. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain -- you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

Life is Short: None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. Yet, when someone dies unexpectedly it causes us to take stock of our own life: what’s really important, how we spend our time, and how we treat other people. Remind yourself every morning when you wake up that each day is a gift and you’re bound to make the most of the what you’ve been given. After all, a great day begins with a great mindset.

Change is Inevitable -- Embrace It: Only when you embrace change can you find the good in it. You need to have an open mind and open arms if you’re going to recognize and capitalize on, the opportunities that change creates. You’re bound to fail when you keep doing the same things you always have in the hope that ignoring change will make it go away. Life doesn’t stop for anyone. When things are going well, appreciate them and enjoy them, as they are bound to change. If you are always searching for something more, something better, that you think is going to make you happy, you’ll never be present enough to enjoy the great moments before they’re gone.

Introverts and School

This week’s article summary from the Harvard Magazine is Quiet, Please: Susan Cain Foments the Quiet Revolution.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet was published in 2013 and it remains popular and influential. In fact, NAIS recently used it for its national book club.

If you’re an introvert like me, Cain’s work has helped explain the habits and preferences of introverts and has provided teachers ideas to support quiet students in the classroom (see the list of suggestions for teachers below).

Particularly if you are an extrovert, look over the list below of common characteristics of introverts.

My mom is an extreme extrovert—if she’s not around people, she gets antsy. My dad is an extreme introvert—alone on a desert island with only a few books for company is his ideal.

They’ve been married for 60 years and over that time they have adapted to each other’s needs and preferences. 

Daily my parents’ house is an revolving door of visitors—neighbors for coffee in the morning and Happy Hour in the late afternoon, kids for cookies or a swim in the pool, dogs for biscuits and treats. And through it all, my mom holds court. 

My dad, however, is typically upstairs in the spare bedroom with the door closed, reading, reading, reading. (Now that he’s retired, he is finally able to get to all the books that piled up through the years.)

Despite their differences, I've never heard them complain about each other or how one is cramping the style of the other. 

Sure, sometimes I see my mom quietly reading a book or my dad regaling a neighbor with a story or a recap of a ball game, yet they are an example of how introversion and extroversion can complement each other.

I’m glad this has trickled down to the clasroom too—where we support the needs of our quiet kids—who like (and need) to be alone sometimes (including lunch and recess), who need to internally process before speaking, and who are fine working independently.

Heres also a 3-minute YouTube clip from Cain on educating introverts


Susan Cain is the “fairy godmother of introverts” and author of the best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

According to Cain, between one-third and one-half of people are introverts, yet classrooms and workplaces tend to favor extroverts.

“Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles,” she says. “We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts – which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.”

Cain’s working definition of the introverted temperament draws on the work of Carl Jung, Jerome Kagan, and other psychologists: 
  • Introverts look inward to a world of thoughts and feelings
  • Need solitude to recharge their batteries
  • Are empathetic and reflective
  • Prefer listening to talking
  • Think before they speak
  • Tend to make peace and offer counsel
  • Have strong powers of concentration
  • Are mostly immune to the lures of wealth and fame
  • Tend to be artistic and creative, especially when they work alone.

Some notable introverts: Charles Darwin, Dr. Seuss, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling.

Cain has set up a for-profit organization titled Quiet Revolution that trains students, teachers, and others to understand the extrovert-introvert spectrum and make changes that allow everyone to contribute.

Some of the areas her organization is working on:
  • Fostering clarity, communication, and understanding among classmates and co-workers along the introvert-extrovert spectrum
  • Encouraging individual as well as team projects
  • Giving team members advance notice of meeting agendas
  • Creating “corners for solitude and silence” including places in schools for a quiet lunch
  • Not basing class participation grades on the quantity of words uttered
  • Giving quiet but attentive students a way of signaling to the teacher that they’re with it
  • At the same time, giving quiet students a “gentle push” to speak up (one precept: if you have something to say, say it early in the class so you can then relax and listen)
  • Subtle techniques like saying toward the end of a class or meeting, “In a minute, I will say, ‘Does anyone have any other thoughts or questions or ideas?’ – I will say that in a minute.” This gives the introverts time to reflect and get ready to participate.
In a classroom or workplace that’s sensitive to extrovert-introvert characteristics, Cain believes there’s a sense of self-awareness, trust, and safety from which everyone benefits: “Oh, that’s who I am; I make decisions more quickly” or “I multitask more easily” or “That’s why I’m quiet” or “I’m not less than the kid next to me who’s raising his hand all the time.”

Classroom discussions are where teachers need to be particularly aware of the tendency for extroverts to dominate and get more value from the class than others. “They’re raising their hands first, and the teacher is calling on them,” says Cain. “That’s the root of the problem. The extroverts are used to being called on – for years teachers have called on them, and they expect it. But research shows that as soon as a hand goes up, the other brains in the room shut down.” 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Benefits of Handwriting

As our dependence on technology increases, many ask the logical question about whether or not elementary schools should continue devoting classtime to the formal teaching of handwriting and cursive.

The article below shares research that connects the importance of handwriting practice with brain development.

Some of you may have read articles over the past year or so of college students benefitting (in terms of their final grades) from handwriting notes in class rather than typing them on their laptops (also confirmed in the article below) or of emerging readers benefitting from reading hard copy books versus digital ones.

Despite our increasing dependence on technology, the need remains to learn handwriting and to develop fine-motor finger skills and coordination.

Who knows, maybe someday old-fashioned letter writing will become vogue again!


Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting?

There is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

Executive function and language development: A 2016 article in the Journal of Learning Disabilities found that for grade 4-9 students writing letters and words is helpful to brain development. Handwriting – forming letters – engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.

Better grades in school: In an article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Laura Dinehart (Florida International University) said there could be two reasons for this: first, neatly written student work is more pleasant for teachers to read, and second, children who struggle with writing may be devoting so much attention to the mechanics of writing that content suffers.

The link between cognitive and motor brain processes: Handwriting is a complex task coordinating cognitive, motor, and neuromuscular processes. We use motor parts of the brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words. Children have to see letters in their “mind’s eye” to produce them on the page, and brain imaging reveals that learning to write letters activates this area of the brain.

Messy is okay: Karin James (Indiana University) says of primary-grade beginners, “The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things. That seems to be one big benefit of handwriting.”

Cursive: One study suggests that teaching cursive writing starting around grade 4 improves spelling and composing, perhaps because the connecting strokes help students make connections between letters and words.

Classroom note-taking: Dinehart says that studies comparing keyboarding to hand-written notes in college classrooms show that “students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand.”

Touch-typing: Learning the keyboard and being able to type without looking takes advantage of cross-communicating fibers in the brain. There’s the additional brain-stimulation advantage of using both hands, whereas handwriting uses only one.

This may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways. To develop “hybrid writers,” these are the best steps:
  • Teach manuscript writing in the primary grades for its links to reading and word recognition
  • Introduce cursive around grade 3 for spelling and composing
  • Teach touch-typing in the late elementary grades for speedy and brain-efficient writing

Friday, May 5, 2017

Fake It Til You Make It

This week’s article summary from the Harvard Business Review is How to Fake It If You're Not Feeling Confident.

If you’re like most other people in their professional career, you have periodic feelings of self-doubt.

This especially true when you get a promotion either in a new place or in the same company/school.

For me a huge jump in job responsibilities was the transition from classroom teacher to division director.

I got to my new school in early July when only a few administrators and no teachers were around. The only guidance I received was from the unfriendly Business Manager whose only comment to me was that the summer work day ended at 4:00 and that I shouldn’t try sneak out early because she was watching—quite a welcome to my new school!

I sat at my new desk in the middle school wing far away from the few staff members working in July and asked myself: “OK, I got this job but what do I do now?  Am I even up to the task of doing this job?” 

When we all begin new jobs with different responsibilities, we inevitably question our ability to be successful. Most of us, however, through hard work, reflection, and experience (which includes making mistakes and errors) gain confidence and competence.

While the term fake it til you make it refers more to how you present yourself to others, the article below focuses on how to maintain personal self-confidence as you learn and adjust to your new job and new responsibilities—in essence, embracing a growth mindset a la Carol Dweck.

There are connections for our students here too.


Sometimes you feel like you’re in over your head. Perhaps you got a big promotion or are leading a new, high-profile initiative but you worry that you don’t have the right skills or experience to succeed.

How do you “fake it ‘til you make it”? And are there risks to that approach? 

Feeling anxious about a new professional challenge is natural. In fact, imposter syndrome — the creeping fear that others will discover you aren’t as smart, capable, or creative as they think you are — is a lot more common than you might guess. Most people feel like a fraud from time to time.

The key is to trick yourself out of the state of self-doubt. Faking it ‘til you make it is not about pretending to have skills you don’t; it’s about pretending to yourself that you’re confident so you can work hard and get the job done.

Here are some ways to go about it.

Frame it as an opportunity: The more you focus on what’s scary about the new team you’re leading or the project you’re steering, the more intimidated you’ll feel. Instead, frame the challenge not as a threat but as an opportunity to do something new and different.

Think incrementally: If you approach a new position or responsibility with the goal of killing it right off the bat, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Rather than setting a grandiose objective, make small, incremental improvements in your performance. Think of these steps as the opposite of a New Year’s resolution. For instance, you might say to yourself, “In today’s meeting, I’m going to make sure everyone on the team feels heard.”

Watch and learn: When you’re developing your personal management style, you should observe how others lead. One role model will not suffice. It’s helpful to be exposed to many different styles. Watch how these people influence others, use humor, and come across as charismatic and self-assured. Also take note of their verbal tactics — when they use silence, how they pose questions, and how they intervene.

Be bold in your body language: One surefire way to come across as self-confident when you’re feeling insecure is to use body language that makes you feel bold and victorious. Your aim is to make yourself feel more powerful psychologically. Take long strides. Sit up straight. Walk with your chest held high. And don’t slouch. When you “carry yourself in a way that conveys power, poise, and healthy pride, you feel more self-assured and others perceive you that way. You feel less guarded, more optimistic, more focused on goals, and more likely to take a stand.

Heed red flags: If you’re so overwhelmed that every day nearly brings on a panic attack, faking it may be inadvisable. The goal is to step outside of your comfort zone, not to set yourself up for failure or a breakdown. When you are in serious fight-or-flight mode, it’s very hard to get yourself out of it. So if you have deep-seated concerns that the challenge you’re being presented with is too much too soon, or is unrealistic given the time frame and resources at your disposal, it’s important to speak up.