8th graders, You “Made” It – A “Graduation Speech”

The theme for this year’s 8th grade Farewell Celebration is “We Have Perfect Vision for the Future.” Our vision at BCS is to “inspire students to lead in the global community through a passion for learning, innovating, and inquiry & design.” To help you live into that “perfect vision o the future,” we want you to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, inquire and design, and create solutions for the problems/opportunities you end up “finding”.  In short, we have wanted you to “make” things, tangible or intangible.  Well, in three short words…

  • You made it!
  • You “made” the transition to BCS to a very different school than your previous one.
  • You “made” great friends at BCS.
  • You “made” efforts to work hard and to do your best.
  • You “made” it to the end of your 8th grade year.

Many of you in Engage have ended this year with your “Make Project”. You’ve spent time submitting a proposal to your teacher to “make” something.  With that theme of “Make” in mind, as well as the three short words “You Made It”, as you move forward into high school…

  • “Make” the transition to high school a great one!
  • “Make” more great friends!
  • “Make” even greater efforts in high school to do your best!
  • “Make” each day, week, year count!
  • “Make” it to your senior year proud of what you’ve experienced and accomplished!

And most importantly thinking beyond high school, my sincere hope for each of you is to “make” a successful life…

  • “Make” happiness and a positive attitude part of your everyday life…
  • “Make” honesty & integrity, respect & kindness, and responsibility & accountability the lifeskills by which you live …
  • “Make” a powerfully positive difference in the lives of others…
  • “Make” your goals and dreams a reality…
  • “Make” more of your life than you ever imagined…
  • “Make” your life a great one!

To sum it up, let me leave you with the words of American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, as my ultimate hope for you in having a “perfect vision” and making a successful live…

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, 
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.


A World without Teachers? Yikes! #BCSLearns

“We spend our lives trying to beat the current…
to tough it out, put our heads down, and keep swimming.”

My brother and sister-in-law are “knee-deep” (maybe neck deep) in the world of swimming.  My brother recently shared this swimming video with me (second video below).  As I viewed it, it became an immediate metaphor for me for us as educators, and for the students we serve, particularly this time of year as we all try “to beat the current…to tough it out, put our heads down, and keep swimming,” learning, celebrating, supporting.  Our students will do the same thing, and without learning and celebrating, like with us, stress, even despair, can set in.  Thank you for promoting positivity with your students even when the negative shines brightly in our face.  You are “the lifeguards who do look for people drowning……………….on the inside”! What would the world be without teachers?  Celebrate the last week of school with your students and each other and realize what the world would be like without you!  In the first video below, see what you inspire…


Students Are Totally Motivated, Indeed! #BCSLearns

Every student, in fact every person, is motivated!  They’re just not always motivated to do what we may want them to do at the time we want, and then we say with deep frustration, “They have not motivation.” What is the motivation for doing what we do each minute of every day?  According to Daniel Pink’s examination of motivation, rewards are not as effective as many of us would think. He shares stories in a pretty captivating TedTalk (embedded below).  Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, begins by posing the question, “If you want people to perform better, you reward them, right? Bonuses, commissions…incentivize them.” We use rewards and incentives thinking they will “sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity,” but it has been proven that they do the opposite and, in fact, rewards/incentives “dull thinking and block creativity.” In his talk, Pink shares how for simple tasks rewards can work, but NOT for the complex tasks in which we want each other and our modern learners to engage.  Makes me wonder why our federal and state governments think this carrot and stick approach to improving schools would work.  Do our legislators heed the research? Guess not! Let’s get back to Pink. He outlines his keys to intrinsic motivation (detailed in his book Drive linked above):

  • Autonomy – “the urge to direct our own lives”
  • Mastery – “the desire to get better and better at something that matters”
  • Purpose – “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves”

Let’s compare some other thinkers on this concept of motivation by checking out the links to articles below (videos for you and students too), and here’s to finishing the year and leaping into next by working to

  • allow students to direct their own school lives,
  • provide them learning opportunities that help them get better and better at something that matters, and
  • build their yearning to do what they do in the service of something larger than themselves.

The following links come solely from Edutopia:

Or how about some short motivational videos to share with your students these last few weeks of school to inspire them (or you) to finish strong:

What’s at the Core of a Great Teacher? #BCSLearns

Much is written and researched about what makes a great teacher, and, quite simply, the organic and dynamic and complexity of human beings (teachers and students alike) as it relates to master teachers, cannot be reduced to a short list of key characteristic. Allow me to share two different lists from two different sources about what makes teachers great, and let’s compare.  In an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “What Makes a Good Teacher?”, the author, A.C. Growling outlines the key ingredients he believes great teachers evoke.

  • Enthusiasm – Students often catch this in their classrooms.
  • Charisma – Teachers can be Pied Pipers for their subject.
  • A capacity to clarify and make sense – This quality illuminates any subject.
  • Humor – It lightens the hard work students need to do.
  • Kindness – A teacher’s power is enhanced when there’s a human connection.
  • A genuine interest in students’ progress – This involves constantly checking for understanding and responding accordingly.

In the article The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to Be a Great Teacher from Edutopia, the author shares a different list of characteristics of great teachers.

  • You are kind
  • You are compassionate
  • You are empathetic
  • You are positive
  • You are a builder
  • You inspire

What do you notice?  Kind is listed in both lists, and while there are slight similarities among the other characteristics, the lists are quite different.  We could find another list that would add on to these two lists of importance characteristics.  That’s my point!  Teacher is far to organic and dynamic and complex to be reduced to just a few key ingredients that teacher must evoke.  Perhaps great teachers are more like chameleons who have to change and adjust through a modicum of flexibility based on the context of the instructional situation and what the student(s) need.

Want to check out a few videos about great teachers?  Check out an ABCNews story – “What Makes Great Teachers” (3:22) and then and incredibly inspirational TEDx talk by Lisa Lee called “Getting at the heart of teaching” (11:12).

  • make sure every student’s keeping up
  • flexible
  • set high goals
  • great artist
  • see students as unique, valuable individuals
  • learn from their students
  • praise matters – How to Nurture Persistence with (the Right Kind of) Praise
  • love what they’re doing
  • find the inner core in themselves and their students, not the Common Core

So, with all these lists, please comment by adding on characteristics from these lists proving the complexity of great teaching!

Questioning: Powerful for Inquiry, Discovery & Curiosity-for learning! #BCSLearns

In the 5D+ Teacher Evaluation Rubric in the dimension of Student Engagement, Intellectual Work: Quality of Questioning is a key indicator that helps us consider if “students question one another to probe for deeper thinking.”  Our students (whether they’re on the 3/4 team, 5/6 team or 7/8 team) can be developmentally egocentric when it comes to their learning.  Said differently, they may not consider asking their peers authentically deep questions to probe their thinking because they’re more concerned about their own thinking.  Below, from TeachThought, are 8 strategies you may find helpful in supporting students’ development in asking deep questions of each other.

8 Strategies to Help Students Ask Great Questions

  1. TeachThought Learning Taxonomy
  2. Socratic Discussion
  3. Paideia Seminar
  4. The Question Game
  5. Bloom’s Taxonomy
  6. Question Formation Technique
  7. Universal Question Stems
  8. Basic Question Stems

In an age where answering many questions today results in a response in a person saying, “Just Google it,” the article How to Bring ‘More Beautiful’ Questions Back to School ” suggests that “Companies are looking for people who can ask deep questions that will solve real problems and lead to profitable solutions.” The article offers thought-provoking suggestions on how we can support students in making sure that their interest in questioning the world around them doesn’t drop off as they get older.  To do this, Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question, describes five ways to help students become better questioners:  make it safe, make it cool, make it fun, make it rewarding, and make it stick. Read the article, and then view the video below on What Kills Questioning!

Want more? Check out this tutorial on “The Power of Questioning: An Important Part of the Inquiry Process”

Let’s Learn to Become Resilient and Model it for our Children #BCSLearns

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure
than you ever will from something you never finished
-Neil Gaiman, writer

I finally got the chance to read an article from the February 11, 2016 issue of The New Yorker entitled How People Learn to Become Resilient. The article references the work of Norman Garmezy (1918-2009) who “is widely credited with being the first to study the concept in an experimental setting.”  Garmezy research suggests that “it’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?” Further studies, referenced in the article, completed by another research psychologist, Emmy Werner, concluded that “the resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.” Building off the work of Garmezy and Werner, George Bonanno has found that “one of the central elements of resilience is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?”  When thinking about resilience, I can’t help but think about growth mindset. I’ve shared in previous posts about nurturing a growth mindset and I’ve mentioned the importance of fostering grit in ourselves and others.  What about resilience?  Resilience aligns with these notions to be sure.  All three, growth mindset, grit and resilience reference a level of comfort in, if not celebration of, failure as an integral part of the learning process (see the Gaiman quote at the top).  The article from The New Yorker concluded by suggesting a hopeful notion: “This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught.”  A few years ago as part of my typical “summer learning tour”, I was in a session, led by Dr. Debbie McFalone, which focused on resilience.  She shared her Seven Steps to Resilience and the importance of honing those steps in ourselves, the children we raise and the students we serve.  We can learn them; we can teach them!

  1. Be smart enough to ask for help
  2. Be aware of your self talk
  3. Cultivate a sense of humor and seek it out in others.
  4. Keep a perspective on time; know that your current state is not forever
  5. Replenish your spirit
  6. Remain hopeful
  7. Practice intentional self-care

When you have the time, take the time to listen to Grading Schools on Student Resilience and Self-control a 50-minute podcast with Diane Rehms on NPR which covers how a few large districts in California are going about formally assessing skills like grit, self-control and other social-emotional.  I’m proud to say that we do some of this right here at BCS where in 3-8 Engage and 5-8 Thinkering Studio we are Assessing Skills that Matter using a variety of rubrics available at BalancED Tech!

You don’t have a lot of time?  Watch (again if you’ve seen it already) Angela Lee Duckworth’s TedTalk called “The key to success? Grit”.

Want more reading?  Click below…
7 Steps to Build Resilient Children Who Aren’t Afraid to Fail
The 7 Steps to Greater Resilience
The 7 Cs: The Essential Building Blocks of Resilience
7 Steps to Build Leadership Resilience
Can Growth Mindset Theory Reshape the Classroom?

What Animal Would you Be? #BCSLearns

If you were an animal, what animal would you be?  You may wonder why this question came to mind.  The Cat or Dog video below (came to me through my MEMSPA network)made me think about how we pick up the pace here at BCS in May.  While just about every month at BCS is a bit fast-paced, there is no month quite like May – and it was felt this week to be sure! The video, which suggests the notion that, “Sometimes you just have to be a bit more dog” particularly as we race into May.  Our “Covington Kickers” staff team was ferocious yesterday in the district tournament resulting in a Championship.  Check out the pictures on Birmingham Covington School Facebook. So, should we be a bit more dog or a bit more cat?  Check out the short video, then take one of the quizzes (there’s a online quiz or a video-based quiz).  What kind of animal matches your personality?  And finally, if you up for a potential chuckle or two and want a different take on cats and dogs, search for George Carlin’s sketch on the difference between cats and dogs (warning: there will be explicit content).

Take the Quiz: http://www.quizony.com/animalPersonality/index.html

Are You a Bit More Cat or a Bit More Dog?

What Animal Are You? – Take the Video Quiz