Wednesday, February 8, 2017

If Something Isn’t Working, Do We Try Harder - Or Do Something Different?

A thoughtful colleague once posed that question at a staff meeting where tensions and emotions were running high about an issue we were grappling with.  The reaction was immediate...stunned silence.  I remember sitting there wondering, “What’s the right answer?”  I went over the thoughts and actions that had led to that meeting and realized that we had been trying to solve a problem by doing the same things repeatedly with...unsurprisingly...the same result.  At that point, the discussion took a turn for the better as we started brainstorming new ideas and strategies to solve our problem. 

After 16 years of teaching grades 1-5, I became a Tier 3, middle school math teacher.  That first week I looked out at my new students and saw them slouched down in their seats avoiding eye contact with me or looking back at me with boredom, challenge and even fear.  I was going to have to do something different to grow their intelligence to understand the concepts and skills necessary to exit the class and change their fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.  I guided my students to write mission statements like this:  Use a math growth mindset to grow our math knowledge and skills so that we can exit this class and be successful in a regular math class, college, career and everyday life.  I also significantly changed what I had my students learn and do in the first 2 weeks of school. The following are a few of the growth mindset learning activities I guided them through in the first few weeks:

      Learning the difference between a growth and fixed mindset
      Discussing how a growth mindset can foster success in math class and beyond
      Learning how the brain is like a muscle because it grows when it is exercised/challenged
      Connecting goal setting to practice and perseverance
      Defining/learning/strategizing about grit and overcoming obstacles
      Discussing what it means to be a “math person”
      Learning about the benefits of asking for help

Throughout the year, my students reflected on their mindset over the last unit of study and set growth mindset goals for the next.  I posted growth mindset messages out in the hallway for them to see as they entered my classroom.  Messages like: “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence.  The only consequence is WHAT WE DO”.  I taught my paraeducators how to use growth mindset language with the students.  I invited students to share their success “stories” so that others could learn from them. 

Then our math department made the brilliant decision to read Mathematical Mindsets:  Unleashing Students’ POTENTIAL through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and INNOVATIVE TEACHING by Jo Boaler as a book study...and I realized that there was so much more to fostering a math growth mindset!  I know many of you are familiar with this research-based book that gives educators a proven, practical roadmap to mathematics success...but the question is will we now have the creativity and courage to do something different?  Maybe a more important question would be, “Do we truly believe that ALL students can learn to high levels.?” And if we do, what are we willing to do differently to make that happen?  Will we find a way to:

      Give ALL students access to the highest levels in math at school...stop ability grouping?
      Take the time to give students open/low floor-high ceiling math tasks that encourage the opportunity for important learning and making important connections so that students believe that math is a learning subject and NOT a performance subject? 
      Teach math so that students appreciate the beauty of mathematics, explore how maths are connected and learn how to apply the subject?
      Teach in a way that shows students that math performance is NOT associated with they understand that the best mathematicians are slow at math because they are deep thinkers and want to make connections, think logically and apply the depth/breadth of mathematics to a variety of students understand that math is a creative, visual, connected and living subject to do great and everyday things?
      Not give up on one student...even if they have given up on themselves?  Act like we know we are the dream-keepers?

I now pose that all-important question to my students every year on the first day of school.  I give them a 3 X 5 index card and ask them to write the question on one side and their answer on the other.  I guide a brief discussion about their thoughts and answers to the question, but when they ask me to tell them the right answer I reply not today.  I give them a big, welcoming smile and tell them that we will find the answer together as a class.  And we do.  I purposefully look for every opportunity to ask that question again as individual students, collaborative groups and the whole class try to persist in solving a problem with an ineffective or inefficient strategy.  I foster independence by posing that question initially instead of giving immediate scaffolding or support.  They begin to understand that I am encouraging creativity and the courage to try something different.  They begin to understand that there are many ways to solve grow.    I believe that we can change and grow as educators too.  Currently three fifths of U.S. students fail mathematics.  My question to you is, “Do we try harder or do something different?”

Amy Sperline
Instructional Coach/Mentor
Jefferson Elementary
Richland School District

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Is it time for us to change the way we respond to discipline?

When it comes to managing discipline in our schools, punitive consequences have been the primary instrument in the toolbox of educators for decades (Swain, & Noblit, 2011). As Abraham Maslow once said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail” (1966). As we know, there is no single tool that can fix every problem. However, because of our over-reliance on punitive measures, especially suspensions, we have ended up causing more harm than good for those that we have committed to serve.

At its core, suspensions remove students from the classroom and ultimately from their opportunities to learn. Students who are routinely suspended end up missing out on crucial instruction time which often leads them struggling to get through the remainder of their course. Research has indicated that there is a direct correlation between students who are chronically suspended and high school dropout rates (Barr & Gibson, 2013). When these students begin to fall behind, they become more likely to act out in the classroom, which then creates a vicious cycle within the discipline system.

To further compound the issue, national data has revealed that our current punitive practices have created a discipline disproportionality among various groups of students. Minorities as well as students in special education programs are suspended two to three times more often than their white counterparts (Skiba et al., 2011). Also, these same students are three times more likely to be introduced into the school-to-prison pipeline (Wilson, 2014).

It is easy for us to forget that schools also serve as a protective factor for our students. For many of them, it may be the only protective factor they have. Today's students have experienced a variety of adverse childhood experiences, and in many cases, the home may not be the safest place for them to be. Also, more and more schools are becoming the primary source of nutrition for our students. When they miss school, they miss out on meals.
When students return from a suspension, the relationships that may have been harmed by their initial behavior have not been repaired by their consequence. This, in turn, creates tension not only for the student but for the teachers as well as the student’s peers. Due to the lack of a proper reintegration back into the classroom, the student may lose the sense of belonging they once had and may find themselves struggling to succeed and once again acting out as a result (Barr & Gibson, 2013).

With all the adverse effects of punitive discipline, we need to find a way to create equitable opportunities for our students to succeed so that our already disadvantaged children don’t become even more disadvantaged. One method that has been studied and shown to be successful is transitioning away from punitive practices in favor of restorative ones (Gonz├ílez, 2012).  Restorative Practices focus on the idea that school is a community and when harm has been done to that community it has a significant impact on its members. To repair the harm that has been done, a variety of practices are recommended including formal conferencing, community service (which directly benefits those harmed), and other alternatives to suspension.                      

The Restorative Practices philosophy focuses on the idea of “building social capital and achieving social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making” (Wachtel, 2012). It stresses the importance of building and maintaining relationships while at the same time holding students accountable for their actions and repairing the harm that they have caused not only to individuals but also their community. The fundamental philosophy of Restorative Practices is that,

Human beings are happier, more cooperative and productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them. This hypothesis maintains that the punitive and authoritarian to mode and the permissive and paternalistic for mode are not as effective as the restorative, participatory, engaging with mode. (Wachtel, 2012).

Restorative Practices can be broken down in to two main components; the proactive social emotional learning aspects and then the reactive Restorative Justice element. The proactive elements include using circles to build and maintain community, using affective statements (statements that express how you feel), and using affective/restorative questioning.

The Restorative Justice element helps to open dialogue between those that have been harmed and those that have done the harm by giving everyone a voice and letting them reflect on the incident. Formal conferencing works with all parties involved through a method of mediation. This process helps to peel the onion and highlighting underlying issues while at the same time facilitates a conversation on what needs to be done to make things right so that everyone’s needs get met, relationships can began to repair, and the students can be reintegrated back into their community.

Barr, R. D., & Gibson, E.L. (2013). Building a culture of hope: Enriching schools with optimism and opportunity. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

González, T. (2012). Keeping kids in schools: Restorative justice, punitive discipline, and the school to prison pipeline. Journal of Law and Education, 41(2), 281-335.

Maslow, A. H. (1966). The psychology of science; A reconnaissance. New York: Harper &

Skiba, R. J., Horner, R. H., Chung, C., Rausch, M. K., May, S. L., & Tobin, T. (2011). Race is not neutral: A national investigation of african american and latino disproportionality in school discipline. School Psychology Review, 40(1), 85-107.

Swain, A. E., & Noblit, G. W. (2011). Education in a punitive society: An introduction. The Urban Review, 43(4), 465-475.

Wachtel, T. (2012). Defining restorative. International Institute for Restorative Practices: IIRP Graduate School.

Wilson, H. (2014). Turning off the school-to-prison pipeline. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 23(1), 49-53

Alden M Clark
Counselor/Admin Intern
Covington and Pacific Middle Schools/Evergreen Public Schools

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Should We Rethink How We Prepare Students to be College and Career Ready?

Changing mindsets
From my past 25 years in K-12 public education it has been my experience that preparing students for college and career readiness across our nation has been more or less a single minded approach. When we currently think of college and career readiness in most minds it means preparing students to enter college, namely four year colleges and all of the specific requirements that go into that particular process.  Thus, when the term of college and career readiness comes up in most circles of K-12 conversation, it typically means that a student transitioning out of high school that is college and career ready has met each of the requirements to be accepted into a four year college institution.
It is there that we assume that by students being ready to enter college, we have set students on a stage for being equipped with the knowledge and appropriate career preparation tools to excel in college and thus a career of choice for their futures. We have been under the notion that the best way to a solid career path was to earn a four year degree which in some areas of perspective employment is very necessary. However, not all gainful career paths require a four year college degree to set students on a successful journey towards their employment future.

Rethinking the approach to career preparation:
In recent years, it has been noted by industry that the K-12 approach of “college for all” has eroded the workforce that has been largely responsible for the industrial and technology advances we have enjoyed as a nation transitioning from an education system that supported an agriculture based economy in our schools, to supporting an industrial based economy and workforce needs. Over the last three decades we have moved very quickly into a very technology driven economy in the 20th century where college and career preparation meant a four year college degree needed to be attained by all who sought gainful living wage employment in the 20th century.
As we have moved into the 21st century, the workforce needs and the way we prepare K-12 students for those workforce needs through high school and post high school planning has taken a slightly different approach or so it would appear as the need to do so.  According to an article published in the Seattle times by Claudia Rowe, The old image of college as four years on an ivy-covered campus is increasingly giving way to programs that offer hit-the-ground-running career skills, often developed outside of libraries and lecture halls. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3.
The trouble is, Washington State has beefed-up the amount of core academic requirements a student must meet in order to attain a high-school diploma. Washington State’s newly adopted 24 credit graduation requirement appears to focus primarily on more rigorous core academics  requirements and therefore seem to be at odds with the need of some 600,000 jobs forecasted in the next four years that will require specialized training or certification, but not necessarily a four year college degree. Meanwhile, state officials say the number of students enrolling in career and technical education courses (known as CTE) has grown, from 18.5 percent of all ninth-through-12th graders in the 2006-07 school year to 20 percent this year. Those numbers represent an overall average, of course. The reality between districts varies widely, with rural areas tending to offer more career-training programs than urban districts.
“There are a lot of young people who went out to college like we asked them to and had no idea why,” says Ken Emmil, Assistant Superintendent for Career and College Readiness at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “We have a significant population of kids who graduate high school and go into college with no end in mind. (Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for college entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1-A3
Preparing students for 21st Century Careers
Over the course of time since the industrial revolution, post-secondary education has been viewed as an escalator mechanism of sorts, where within individuals who attain higher levels of education have increased incomes over time, an improved quality of life and greater access to educational and medical service (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2013).
What remains clear to me in the second half of the 21st century is that we must change our counseling and guidance system in K-12 schools from a reactive guidance model that focuses on serving students who are under duress, at risk for failure or drop out, focus on those students who plan to attend a four year college and used in most all school sites as state assessment coordinators. In a comprehensive guidance model, counselors would engage with students on some of the afore mentioned focuses, however, the difference is that counselors would focus on all aspects of a student’s social, emotional wellbeing as well as their college and career planning that would allow for more thorough college and career planning tool use and activities that support college and career preparation.
Washington State has a graduation requirement that states all students will be prepared for college and or a career upon graduation but has not clearly defined a specific protocol that would measure a student’s readiness for college and career success upon graduation from high schools. Therefore, the vague description from the Washington State School Board Directors of what college and career ready means has left individual districts to determine what college and career preparation for students mean for their individual district.
If school districts in Washington State are left to interpret what college and career readiness means for all students, it will be the same way districts addressed the former graduation requirement of students needing to complete a senior project prior to graduation. The intended outcomes will look different with different expectations from school district to school district. There must be a more defined requirement for districts to adhere to, therefore making the college and career graduation requirement expectations uniform to all districts with the same set of expected outcomes for student planning for college and career readiness and success upon graduating from high school.
Over the past three decades or so our student focus has been to graduate students and prepare them for success in completing a four year college degree which will lead to gainful employment and a larger lifetime earnings has left our nation ill prepared to fill the soon to be vacated careers by a skilled labor force with a nation of liberal arts degrees that do not apply to the skills and training needed to access many blue color careers. Preparing students for all post high school pathways seems to be the need of our state and our nation. We tend to forget that two year and technical degrees, apprenticeships, industry certifications, technical training, the military and four year college degrees are all viable pathways for students to be college and career ready upon graduating from high school. We need to make a paradigm shift in our approach to this work going forward in the 21st century or risk further eroding our workforce with less qualified workers prepared to enter these careers. We should prepare students during high school to access some type of higher education training post high school that will specifically prepare students for the expectations of their chosen career path.
Integrate career explorations into the curriculum in the elementary grades:
The popular preparation moniker currently is that college and career explorations exposure should begin as early as elementary school with planning to continue to be more definitively focused as students advance in grade levels. Starting the exploration process in high school has been deemed by many as too long to wait to begin having students focus and prepare for their futures.
Rethinking College Access and Readiness:
Preparing students for college in the mindset of many educators and parents has been thought of as preparing high school students to enter a four year college. That has long been the measurement of a high schools success profile, how many students they send to college each year. Moreover, how many they send to a four year college is the milestone of success when speaking in terms of college entrance. Little thought is put into the rationale for attempting to push all students through the four year college tube, except for the fact it is good to seek higher education at the bachelors level. However beneficial a college degree might be, as many Bachelor degree earners have found, it is good to seek higher education but with a rationale and purpose for doing so with a well thought out plan or course of what level of degree, certificate or technical training might be needed for the career a student seeks. Otherwise, students can find themselves with a degree that has left them deep in debt to attain with little gainful employment outlook for the degree they have earned.
Community and technical college student average age of attendance in Washington State is 28 years old. The community and technical colleges in Washington State tend to focus on recruiting the retrained worker rather than the high school senior. Thus, the data pointing to the average age of a community college student being students who are retraining for another career, need additional training after attaining a Bachelor degree or decided to delay their entrance into higher education for whatever reason. The data indicates again, most high school students are being prepared to largely attend a university after their high school completion.  Programs such as Upward Bound, Gear Up, VIP Scholars are all programs that help facilitate student planning and preparation for college but these programs only exist mostly in urban or rural high schools.
They are not normally programs utilized by most school districts as a planning program preparing students for college, two or four year (Howard, Tyrone C., Tunstall, J. Flennaugh, T. K., 2016).
Upward Bound: Upward Bound provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. The program provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits. Upward Bound serves: high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor's degree. The goal of Upward Bound is to increase the rate at which participants complete secondary education and enroll in and graduate from institutions of postsecondary education.
Gear Up: This discretionary grant program is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education. GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.
Earning college credit while in high school:
Most students are encouraged to take a heavy load of college prep courses offered while attending public, private comprehensive high schools and some skills centers, especially private high schools. Advanced placement and International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses are the courses students are most commonly encourage to take to prepare them for college entrance. Data tells us that many high school students do not take or pass the subsequent culminating assessment affiliated with each of those courses that would allow students to earn the college credit for the course while in high school. This would therefore seemingly cut down on a student’s time and cost of paying for college. There are several other ways high school students can earn college credits while in high school. Tech Prep, College in the High School, and Running Start are all dual enrollment programs that high school student have access to and earn more college credits in but are seldom looked at with the same college prep esteem as AP or IB courses. The cost of taking some of these courses can be prohibitive for some students to take the final AP or IB exams to earn the college credit. Generally the culminating assessment is around $85 for a student to take. College in the High School costs vary from college to college but there is generally a cost associated with each credit earned. Tech Prep and Running Start are generally cost free for earning credit. There may be some minimal administrative cost associated with these two models. Here is a list of the most commonly used programs that offer students the ability to earn college credit while in high school, therefore aiding their ability to adequately prepare for college by starting to earn credit while in high school and demonstrating to colleges that they are taking a load of rigorous course work that will prepare them to be successful with the remainder of their college program.

Dual Enrollment: Concurrent enrollment provides high school students the opportunity to take college-credit bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers. It is a low-cost, scalable model for bringing accelerated courses to students in urban, suburban, and rural high schools. Students gain exposure to the academic challenges of college while in their high school environment, earning transcribed college credit at the time they successfully pass the course. Concurrent enrollment also facilitates close collaboration between high school teachers and college faculty that fosters alignment of secondary and postsecondary curriculum. Sometimes called “dual credit,” “dual enrollment,” or “college in the high school,” concurrent enrollment partnerships differ from other models of dual enrollment because high school instructors teach the college courses.
College in the High School: High school students can complete University or college level courses and earn credit while in their own classrooms at their respective high schools with their own teachers. Students and teachers use the college’s curriculum the school or program has an articulation agreement with. Students earn a final grade over time; a grade does not depend on one exam. The credits that students earn are transferrable to most public and many private colleges and universities, depending on the course.
Tech Prep/Dual Enrollment   : Tech Prep is an industry and education partnership committed to providing a highly-trained and motivated workforce, prepared to pursue lifelong learning in a changing technological society. Tech Prep provides occupational pathways for students by preparing them for technologically advanced careers and postsecondary education by emphasizing strong academic, technical, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. Tech Prep prepares students for the world of work and helps maintain a quality life in a changing society. Tech Prep is a national educational initiative. It includes a rigorous and focused course of study that provides students with essential academic and technical foundations that prepare students with necessary workplace skills
Running Start: Running Start is intended to provide students a program option consisting of attendance at certain institutions of higher education and the simultaneous earning of high school and college/university credit. Running Start was initiated by the Legislature as a component of the 1990 parent and student Students in grades 11 and 12 are allowed to take college courses at Washington’s community and technical colleges, and at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, and Northwest Indian College. Running Start Students and their families do not pay tuition, but they do pay college fees and buy their own books, as well as provide their own transportation. Students receive both high school and college credit for these classes and therefore accelerate their progress through the education system. The exercise of that right is subject only to minimal eligibility and procedural requirements, which are spelled out, in state administrative rules for more information.

Credit by proficiency exam: Are programs created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities often grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.

Advanced Placement(AP): Advanced Placement (AP) is a program of college-level courses offered at many high schools.  Courses are available in many subject areas, including English, history, humanities, languages, math, psychology and science. The focus is not on memorizing facts and figures. It's on engaging discussions, approaching and solving problems together and learning to write well. You'll get to study fascinating topics and ideas. Who knows? One (or more!) might just become the foundation of your future college major or career.

International Baccalaureate (IB): What is the International Baccalaureate? The IB is a high school program that doubles as a highly respected college prep curriculum. The IB program encourages students to think broadly, beyond the boundaries of their communities, and to see themselves as members of a global society. It has gained recognition and respect from most U.S. colleges.
Cambridge: The Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma is an international curriculum and examination system that emphasizes the value of broad and balanced study. Alongside in-depth understanding of a variety of subjects, students also need to master a broader range of skills critical for success in university study and employment.  The Cambridge AICE Diploma was first awarded in 1997 and has since become popular with a range of schools in different parts of the world. It encompasses the ‘gold standard’ Cambridge International AS and A Level qualifications, and offers students the opportunity to tailor their studies to their individual interests, abilities and future plans within an international curriculum framework.
The bottom line is, Washington State graduation requirements mimic the state college entrance requirements. Data tells us that not all of our high school graduates will attend a four year college. Current workforce trends indicate that our education system does not need to prepare all students for a four year college for post high school career training. Thus, the need to not do so has been reflected in current and national workforce data. Again, it is time to rethink how students are prepared for college and career readiness.

Baum, S., Ma, J. & Payea, K. (2013). Education Pays 2013; The benefits of higher                              education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: College Board. Available at       full report.pdf
Howard, T. C., Tunstall,  Flennaugh, T.K.). Expanding College Access for Urban Youth.
             New York, NY: Teachers College Press(2016).
Rowe, C. (2016, November 6). Should we prepare all students for four year college                            entrance requirements only? Seattle Times, pp. A1&A3

Dr. Thomas Mosby
Executive Director for Career pathways and Partnerships
HIghline School District

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Why Stem?

I am the kind of person who jumps in with both feet, without checking the depth of the water. When a few of my colleagues here at South Colby Elementary in Port Orchard, WA, approached our staff with the idea of becoming a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) school, I was all in. After a year or so of dabbling, I quickly learned that STEM is not stacking cups to build the tallest tower. STEM is a philosophy that supports and integrates all disciplines.

The purpose of STEM education is to guide students toward becoming innovators, to think outside of the box. According to the article What is STEM Education, “Technology helps us communicate; Math is the language; Science and Engineering are the processes for thinking; all this leads to Innovation.” ( This was one of those times where jumping in paid off. It has changed the way I teach and the way my students learn.

Last year, my 5th grade students found a problem at our school. They did not like how our upper recess field closed on rainy days because the field was too soggy to use. After countless observations and interviews with peers and staff, they decided that in order for the field to be opened we needed to plant more grass seeds. Our patchy field became too muddy to access on a rainy day.

The only problem was we didn’t know what kind of grass seeds to plant; we needed to test multiple samples and find the best for our climate and the most durable for our busy field. The students decided that our school needed a greenhouse so experiments, such as this one, could be done. We found a local grant and the students applied. I submitted their grant request. To my surprise, they received the grant!

We purchased a greenhouse kit. As it was en route to our school, the students had to find a location, measure the perimeter, calculate the area of needed gravel, price out the gravel, request additional funds, and receive approval from building and district administration. The best part about the whole process… it wasn’t me! In fact, they thought of things that I had yet to process. All I could think was, “Wow! Is this that magical phenomenon I’ve heard so much about when students take over their own learning?”

By the time our greenhouse kit arrived, the students had completely prepared the site and were ready to begin building. On a cold, blustery day in February our greenhouse was built with the help of some adult volunteers. The students had to follow directions, problem solve, work as a team, design, redesign and most importantly, get their hands dirty. The finished product was amazing. Proud is not a strong enough word to describe how the students felt, let alone how I felt.

To begin to test grass seeds we needed quite a few supplies. We needed tools, trays, shelving, seeds, soil and more. The students decided that they needed to raise additional money for the supplies. They voted to create a Donors Choose project requesting the items we needed. After only one day live on Donors Choose, we had been fully funded and our items were shipped to our school. We were able to answer our initial question which was, “How can we improve the upper field during the rainy season?” The students submitted a proposal to our administrator detailing their work and findings, and strongly suggested a brand of grass seed based on their tests and collected data.

The components of STEM were woven through every piece of this large project the students took on. It wasn’t until about mid-year when I realized that STEM is so much more than building the tallest spaghetti noodle and marshmallow tower. Our STEM project started science-based and quickly included technology, engineering, mathematics, informational texts, research skills, speaking and listening, persuasive writing… the list goes on. 

According to research from The Journal of Pre-College Engineering, “STEM integration offers students one of the best opportunities to experience learning in a real world situation, rather than to learn bits and pieces and then to have to assimilate them at a later time.” (Hui-Hui et al) Teaching and applying these skills in a real world situation made the learning relevant and engaged all the learners in my classroom.

I consider myself a STEM teacher. Did I get there overnight? No. Did I do it justice my first two years? No. Was the time, effort and additional learning on my part worth it? Yes, a million times over! It has changed my approach to teaching and has made cross-discipline, real-world, relevant instruction possible.


Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research
STEM Integration: Teacher Perceptions and Practice
Hui-Hui Wang, Tamara J. Moore, Gillian H. Roehrig, and Mi Sun Park

Courtney Vetter
5th Grade Teacher
South Kitsap School District – South Colby Elementary

Friday, October 14, 2016

How Does Social Emotional Learning Intersect with School Mental Health?

Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” SEL provides us a wonderful lens to examine the intricacies of daily life in school settings, as well as cumulative benefit, when students are supported to achieve both socially and academically. The definition for mental health is one’s ability to achieve well-being and contribute meaningfully, realize abilities, be productive, and cope with adversities. Here we begin to see the confluence of mental health and SEL.
Specifically relating to mental health in schools, the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) is a structure and process for blending education and mental health systems through a multi-tiered structure approach. ISF promotes a continuum of mental health supports embedded in all three tiers of multi-tiered systems of behavioral support in schools. ISF supports schools and providers in collaborating for student well-being, mental health promotion, and academic success in a cohesive and integrated way.
Much like the public health model, universal behavior supports are intended to prevent new cases of problem behavior. These supports are delivered to every student, everywhere, by every staff member. In the tiered framework, supplemental layers of supports are available when a student is in need. The universal supports are always there, working as a foundation.

Here we see the most obvious intersections with mental health and Social Emotional Learning; the emphasis on foundational supports that help our students thrive. We also see that school mental health and SEL cannot be represented by any singular, isolated service or activity. School mental health is an integrated process that asks staff, providers, and school communities to deeply explore avenues for improved student well-being. SEL also requires a growth mindset that asks us to frame interpersonal and academic exchanges with warm reception, curiosity, and a commitment to supportive relationships. When schools promote mental health, integrate treatment, or refine referral services, it is a demonstration of comprehensive social emotional learning. CASEL’s 5 Core Competencies include self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Although school mental health is only one school-wide practice driven by SEL, it is one that can save lives.

We know that SEL and school mental health initiatives can contribute to improved academic and health outcomes. Working together within a tiered system, SEL can be the universal approach that allows for students to gain the skills and resources necessary to thrive. SEL is not a universal screening process; which is why it is important to integrate school behavioral health services into a tiered system. SEL offers students resources and skills to bolster their ability to persevere in school, control their impulses, have a sense of belonging, and practice appropriate judgement and decision making. Through a tiered school mental health system, students can connect with behavioral health providers who can deliver acute care. Many districts have success with this effort, what successes can you share?  What big impacts have you seen?

2014 Healthy Youth Survey Data shows that over 50% of youth in grades 10 and 12 reported not being able to stop or control worrying in the past 2 weeks. Over 60% of youth in grades 10 and 12 reported feeling nervous or anxious. Our students are affected by mental distress caused by environmental stressors (i.e., family crisis, end of a significant relationship, or death of a loved one). This impacts their daily experience in school and at home. However, we still struggle with the stigma of mental health in schools and society. How can we continue to improve mental health and SEL awareness?  SEL contributes to student success in school through relationship building and problem solving in interpersonal interactions with peers and staff. This allows for the learning of competencies necessary for managing emotions and resolving conflict. Students who may be suffering from environmental stressors will benefit from the positive effects of the SEL environment. Adding mental health supports into the tiered system offers services to those students who may need more intensive supports.  What shifts are you seeing as SEL and school mental health continue to take shape in Washington state?

Interconnected Systems Framework: Integrating School Mental Health and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports by Kelly Perales 

Mandy Paradise
Project AWARE Program Supervisor
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Camille Goldy
Suicide Prevention Program Supervisor
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Monday, August 8, 2016

TPEP 2.0: Is a Growth Mindset Just for Students?

What is making the difference in districts, schools and classrooms experiencing success with the new evaluation model in Washington State and those that are struggling?  Is it new and better evaluation forms? Student growth goal-setting? Binders and binders of evidence? Or is it a difference that is parallel to one we see in the classrooms of effective teachers in our schools: a belief that people can grow and have the potential to learn under the right conditions? Conditions that include systems of support, a fearless press to strive for excellence, and trust between evaluator and educational professional. With the right mindset and these conditions, evaluation can move beyond pre-judgment, judgment and a punitive system, to the actual growth that we intend for all in our system: students and staff alike.

One of the six Core Principles that underpin the TPEP philosophy states: “Professional learning is a key component of an effective evaluation system.”  Let us consider how this principle supports evaluators bringing a growth mindset to the TPEP table.  The words “professional learning,” imply that teachers/educational professionals should not be considered a finished product.  We should continually seek new learning to improve our practice. This principle calls us to continue to learn, i.e. grow.  If we are expected to grow, then those who are helping us reflect on and monitor our growth, and ultimately judge that growth against a rubric, should believe that we have the potential to improve. Evaluators in a successful growth-centered culture, must initially view the people they are evaluating as having the capacity to grow and learn, or the evaluation could be completed after an initial observation in the early part of the school year. If we are setting goals and monitoring progress, then we should give time and opportunity for practice, and, yes, possibly a failed attempt, followed by another try to improve. How many of us view our own evaluation process as an opportunity to say, with learning and effort I can become better at this practice or that piece of the framework?  How many of us have already decided, “I am not good at that instructional strategy, so I’m not going to try it”?

We should have high expectations for growth for ourselves, and press each other to improve.  But do evaluators come to the evaluation process with a growth mindset for us? Desire for growth needs to occur to keep us from becoming complacent, or to move us to the uncomfortable space of recognizing blind spots or areas for growth.  In order for us to grow as professionals through the evaluation process, systems of support must be in place. Just as we would not expect a student to grow without support, we cannot set a non-negotiable for teachers to grow without providing supports including time, resources, and the ability to risk. The ability to risk costs nothing, but risk can be personally costly.  Time and resources have the potential to be a financial drain.  But does it cost much to have a conversation a couple of times a week to check on someone’s progress, or listen to questions about the risk that has been taken and give a bit of feedback?  The act of paying attention and listening to someone reflect on the risks he is taking, including progress and setbacks, can have a positive impact on the relationship between the evaluator and evaluee, and may provide more insight than a binder of evidence presented at the culmination of the school year, when no adjustments can be made. Trust, challenge and support are the ingredients that undergird a growth mindset that can powerfully affect the evaluation process in a productive way.

As we start the new school year, and another round of TPEP begins, we should try bringing the same growth mindset to the evaluation process that we grant our students.
Evaluators, do you arrive at the pre-observation conference with a fixed or a growth mindset? Do you have ways to support teachers as they risk and take chances that will lead to their growth?  Do you spend the time necessary to build trust that enhances your ability to push them to the next level of performance? Evaluees, do you believe you can and should grow, learn and improve? 

Instead of revamping the evaluation forms again, or creating a new list of evidence to be collected this year, what if we focused on setting high expectations and creating a growth mindset for adults that the evaluation process could be used to facilitate and affirm that growth? At the end of the day, what could a little optimism and belief in potential hurt?

Submitted by:
Heidi Hellner-Gomez
Executive Director of Instructional Leadership
Sunnyside School District