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The influence of positive emotions on our ability to flourish!

September 20, 2014

This is an interesting video series from Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, on the importance of tapping into our positive emotions.  She reflects on a variety of techniques we can use to align with our positive emotional side.  Getting aligned with our positive emotions can influence our body-mind balance.

These are two universal influences of tapping into our positive emotional side:

  • “They open us.  Change the boundaries of our minds and hearts, and change our outlook on our environments.”
  • They help change our perspective on our surroundings by allowing us to take in more information..”see the big picture.”

She reflects on people being more open, creative, and resilient when they are experiencing positive emotional images.

She references a beautiful poem by Rumi:

There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted.

Then there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you

all the way to infinity.

Not sure I buy into her “bag of candy” inducer of positive emotional energy.  But there are clearly other prompts that induce positive energy in people.  She refers to the power of meditation to bring out the positive emotional energy in our beings.  I think we know the enormous benefits of meditation, yoga, and exercise in creating a balance between positive and negative energy.  These techniques re-center us in important ways.

I think the ideas she presents in these series of videos is very powerful and could be used by students, teachers, and leaders to improve the culture within a school or classroom. What do you think?  Do you see the value of this work in your world as a teacher and administrator?  Share your thoughts, comments and questions.



Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

September 14, 2014

This is  an excellent interview with Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, on the importance of emotional intelligence as one of the THREE critical attributes for successful leadership.  Coleman speaks about his five characteristics of strong emotional intelligence.

  • self-awareness
  • managing one’s emotions
  • motivation to persevere
  • empathy for others
  • strong social skills

I recommend viewing the video if you are unfamiliar with Coleman’s work.

Using Pacific Institute principles to impact school climate and culture!

September 3, 2014

Over the last few years, Drew Charter School has undergone many changes and transitions. We’ve added a Senior Academy, now grades 9 and 10. We’ve nearly doubled in size. We’ve become a project-based learning, STEAM school. With all of these changes, we felt it was time to evaluate our school climate and culture to create one that positively supports these initiatives and allows all of us to achieve our potential. To help with this effort, we partnered with The Pacific Institute, an organization that helps the business, government, and education sectors do just that.

This wasn’t a swift process. Two years ago we began working with key teacher-leaders to begin rethinking classroom communities, evaluating the benefits and challenges of changing the status quo in classrooms. Building on their work, last year a pilot group, including teachers across grade levels, were fully trained by The Pacific Institute and implemented the curriculum for both themselves and their students. We spent the year meeting monthly to share experiences, receive continued training and support from The Pacific Institute, and collaborate on implications for the school. Finally, this year, as we opened a new campus, it was time to rollout The Pacific Institute to our entire staff, ready to make a positive impact on our culture.

But what is “it”? It’s hard to explain. The Pacific Institute is not a classroom management system that tells you exactly what to do and how to run your class. Rather, it’s a set of principals firmly rooted in social cognitive theory that can inform our classroom and school practices to help each student achieve their full potential. Through this course, which will be continued throughout the year, we learned that we mistakenly focus on behaviors, rather than focusing on the habits, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations that drive behaviors. These beliefs are what determine our level of self-efficacy, or our belief in our own ability to cause the outcomes we want. These beliefs also determine what we attend to, how we perceive the world, what we determine as possible for us, and as a result, what we subconsciously move toward. The Pacific Institute helped answer some of the questions we’ve had about why some students exhibit the same behavior, year after year, no matter how many systems of extrinsic motivation we employ. This training also helped us see blind spots we were operating with, hindering us from finding solutions to the problems we experienced as individual educators and as a school. It gave us practical tools for changing these habits, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations to make the transitions we need to make.

As a result, we’ve seen how some of our practices contribute to negative beliefs and have failed to help students develop the real skills they’ll need to be successful in life: resilience, the ability to set goals and the belief in their ability to reach them, determination, and the ability to think critically and solve problems. We’ve begun to make changes, not only in how we manage classrooms, but how we collectively take ownership for the culture in our school. For example, we are rethinking traditions like “Student of the Month,” that celebrate the accomplishments of a small few, usually the same students each year. Instead, we’ve instituted monthly celebrations of the achievement of goals students set for themselves. They have the opportunity to talk through their goals, how they’ve achieved them, and new goals they’ve set. We’re also revamping traditional Awards Day celebrations to not only celebrate academic achievement, but also celebrate a year of setting and achieving goals, giving the students ownership over what they’ve achieved and what they will celebrate and share.

While not required, many teachers have progressed from those pesky point and color systems that have plagued us all for years. While good at crowd control, many of us have begun to question their necessity and validity, asking:

  • How can token systems (points, dollars, colors, etc) be truly objective? Is it possible to remove bias from their implementation? If we’re honest, we would have to admit this is difficult, if not impossible.
  • Are students becoming self-motivated thinkers or are they simply working to please the teacher? What happens when they leave our classrooms and enter the “real world”? Will they have the determination, self-reliance, and intrinsic motivation to work hard and take risks when no one is giving them points or reporting their daily color?
  • Should our role be to control students or give them the tools they need to exhibit self-control? Does our implementation of these systems help us achieve that goal?

This program isn’t a “magic pill” that will solve every class and school culture issue and every behavior problem in the blink of an eye. However, it has been exciting to see changes throughout our school already happening and to imagine the future that lies ahead for our students and staff. Interviewing students has been a particularly enlightening process to see just how strong and immediate the impact has been for those who are implementing the program with fidelity. Here is a portion of an interview with a 3rd grade student who consistently struggled with behavior problems last year.

  • Interviewer: How do you know if you’re doing the right thing in class?
  • Student A: Someone won’t have to tell you to “Watch your habits.”
  • Interviewer: What happens then? Does your teacher tell you what to do?
  • Student A: Someone at your table whispers to you to “Watch your habits.”
  • Interviewer: Do you ever have a bad day?
  • Student A: Yes.
  • Interviewer: What happens when you have a bad day, because everyone has bad days?
  • Student A: She might tell you to reflect at recess, because it’s fair that you get sent to another class to reflect if you don’t do what the teacher says.
  • Interviewer: What do you do when you’re in the other class?
  • Student A: We write down what your goals are, what you did, and how would you fix it.
  • Interviewer: Do you have colors in your class? Like, you’re on red, yellow, or green?
  • Student A: No, but if we get a compliment we get scoops in the jar.
  • Interviewer: Do you feel that you need to have those colors in class?
  • Student A: No,
  • Interviewer: Do you like not having the colors, or do you want to have them?
  • Student A: I like not having the colors because we’re old enough not to have colors. We’re not in kindergarten!
  • Student A: I like what we do this year.
  • Interviewer: Do you use points?
  • Student A: No
  • Interviewer: Then how do you know if you’re doing a good job
  • Student A: Your reflection sheet will be blank.
  • Interviewer: How do you feel when your write your goals down?
  • Student A: If do bad, I wouldn’t be mad. I would be fair. If I was good my reflection will be blank.
  • Interviewer: Do you set your own goals
  • Student A: Yes
  • Interviewer: How does it feel when you reach a goal
  • Student A: Happy, because she puts scoops in the jar and we get to scream
  • Interviewer: Did you use points in your classes before this year
  • Student A: Yes
  • Interviewer: And how did you feel about using those?
  • Student A: I didn’t like losing points. I got kind of mad.
  • Interviewer: Why did you lose points?
  • Student A: Cause I was talking half the time and I got sent to Coach Holloway and I got mad.
  • Interviewer: Do you feel like points helped you do better or does what you do this year help you do better?
  • Student A: What I do this year helps me do better
  • Interviewer: Why do you think it helps you more?
  • Student A: Because if you have points, if you got high points she would let us eat in the class and have a party and if you have negative points you would have to go to another class and do math. I would get mad because if she took more points you would get mad and say something mean and take it out on another person.
  • Interviewer: So if you do something wrong now, do you get mad about it?
  • Student A: No.
  • Interviewer: What do you do?
  • Student A: I fix it.

If you want to learn more about our work integrating Pacific Institute “habits of mind” in our classrooms, contact me at


Guest Post by: Donya Kemp, Director of Project-based learning at Drew Charter School, Atlanta, GA

Project-based Learning Reflection and Revision: What’s the point?

September 1, 2014

The goal for the first run of The Westminster Schools’ Fifth-Grade Science PBL, That’s So Bad For You!, was for students to become activists and educators by researching and presenting their findings about water pollution in the Atlanta area.

The projects Driving Question (writing effective driving questions for PBL) was:

How can we create awareness about the effects of water pollution in the Atlanta area?

Since most pollutants are spread via water — which directly connects to the 5th grade ecosystems curriculum — their study focused on storm water run-off, erosion and dissolved oxygen levels. Students first built and then observed eco-columns.

During their studies, students visited the Lake Lanier to analyze and explore Georgia’s most important lake. They conducted experiments from the deck of a floating classroom (Chota Princess II), then visited the Lakeside Water Treatment facility in nearby Gainsville, GA. As they dug deeper into this work, students become much more aware of how little water there is in the world, and how important it is to conserve it!

To share their understanding and make a difference, students chose a final product in which to participate, including:  Public Service Announcements, iMovies, PowerPoints, Logos (to promote conservation), a Water Lesson for fifth grade students to teach to second graders, and more.

During PBLs, we ask students to revise and reflect as part of their formal learning. If we ask this of them, shouldn’t we, as educators, follow the same process to provide high quality learning for our students?  Shelly Linkon, Lower School science teacher, was pleased with her students’ efforts and results from their PBL last year. However, as Linkon and students pursued their work in this PBL, she noted several areas that could be improved upon in the future.

  • Formalize the process for feedback and revision.  Since most first attempts don’t result in high quality results, revision is a frequent feature of real-world work.  During and after a project, a standard process for feedback and revision would make the learning meaningful by emphasizing the importance of purpose and the role of high-quality products in the endeavor.

Linkon saw the need to improve revision and reflection while working with students on final projects. In this ambitious PBL plan, the number and variety of individualized final products exceeded the time allotted, or exceeded the management available for six different classes. This resulted in over-focus on details of the product, rather than the desired full engagement in researching, learning and developing 21st century skills.

  • Provide an authentic audience.  Linkon found that allowing too many options on the element of Voice and Choice derailed the connection to the students’ sharing of their information with authentic audiences. Also, she was aware that students needed an authentic audience — one who required students to show what they know as well as one who would provide true and helpful feedback. As our Buck Institute faculty instructor, Erin Sanchez, continues to remind us, “An audience who loves you is not an authentic audience!”

Revision and Reflection Steps:

Linkon decided to make the following changes.

  1. Students will use a new digital portfolio to record: journal entries, research notes, and daily observations of eco-columns, water data sample collections, and lab reports.
  2. Students will share their scientific data throughout the school year, using the digital Schoology, with scientist Lucy Taylor Mejia, a graduate student in geosciences at Georgia State University.   Mejia has a BS in Geology and currently interns at the City of Atlanta Watershed Department.  Additionally, as a “Visiting Expert,” Mejia will provide students with an authentic understanding of how a scientist works, from the start of their research throughout the development of pollution experiments in the classroom.
  3. Students will embark on a year-long study of Atlanta area waterways by collecting and testing water samples in their own communities and sharing this information with scientists, via their digital notebooks through Schoology.

While most of the work will take place during the first trimester, students will continue to collect data throughout the second and third trimesters. The final event will culminate with a field trip back to Lake Lanier, where students will practice and demonstrate their expertise, stretch, and apply their learning.

This revision and reflection process provides both the personal connection and authentic audience. While there is no end product or presentation, students’ connection with a real scientist and sharing the results of their science experiments provides a real world experience. The students’ focus will be on the essential and driving questions and the skills they will develop through the process of the PBL. They will engage in true scientific inquiry.


Guest Post by: Cynthia Montgomery, Instructional Coach at The Westminster Schools

#Stress: A positive or negative experience depending on the species & the circumstance!

August 31, 2014

This is a very interesting video, Stress Response: Savior or Killer, Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University. Sapolsky gives an interesting peek into the challenges of living a stressful life, but juxtaposes it with the challenges of stress when you fear for your life in the animal kingdom. Knowing what we know about the neurobiology of stress on other organ systems, including the immune system, should we be more proactive in schools to minimize, as well as support our students learning how to manage their stress? What do you do at your school that helps students live in this world such that they feel confident that control mechanisms are at their disposal? Feel free to share ideas or ask questions.


How easy is it to #change? The question seems simple, the answer is hard!

August 25, 2014

Change - Speedometer Races to Revolution

I have loved reading the books written by Margaret J. Wheatley.  Her book, Leadership and the New Science was one of my favorite pieces on leadership.  She carefully and thoughtfully makes connections between the science of systems (ecosystems, anatomical systems, immune systems, etc.) and the processes people use for becoming and being effective leaders.  It is a compelling and engaging piece on leadership.

Recently, I started reading Wheatley’s book, A Simpler Way, which she co-authored with Myron Kellner-Rogers.  A quote from the book on the subject of change has caused me to think about how I respond to changes in my professional and personal life.  She writes:

Every change is fostered by a change in self-perception.  We will change ourself if we believe that the change will preserve our self.  We are unable to change if we cannot find ourselves in a new version of the world.  We must be able to see that who we are will be available in this new situation.

I think she’s challenging the reader to reflect on the idea that change is often thought of as threatening.  In my work as an educator, I regularly hear people talk about being “afraid of change.”  Wheatley goes on to write:

We encourage others to change only if we honor who they are now.  We ourselves engage in change only as we discover that we might be more of who we are by becoming something different.

I believe she has us on the right trajectory when she asks us to engage in two tasks: (1) honor people for where they are now; and (2) look at our reflection in the mirror to see if we will enjoy the person who emerges on the other side of the change.

It is my hope that I will become more introspective with regard to change and consider  the question, how am I responding to what is asked of the community of which I am a member?



@NatlHeadStart, early learning programs making a difference!

August 13, 2014

I published a recent post, Investing in birth-to-age-3 #education programs is a great bet!, that referenced an article published in Education Week making the case that investing in early learning programs was a good bet.  In the Ed Week article, there was a reference to a study out of the MIT Workplace Center that also substantiated the correlation between investing in early learning programs for young children and gains later in life.

In my post, I wrote:

Let’s invest now and not be faced with what Schippers suggest might be too little too late.  Every day we wait, more and more children are being left unprepared for school and unprepared for becoming a productive member of society.

In another post, Added value from effective #pre-k programs, reform requires courage, I tried to make the case for continuing to invest in Head Start, a federal program that supports young children and their families so that they are ready for school.  Head Start’s support addresses a variety of needs that poorer families have, which if unmet result in their children being unprepared for their future schooling.  I wrote:

The other program that provides support for early learning is Head Start (click here for Head Start of Georgia). Since 1965 Head Start (click here for national office of Head Start) has provided support to families that otherwise could not afford early learning programs. As indicated, research does point to the value of providing young children with high-quality early learning programs as a way to close the achievement gap that we see in their later school years. Head Start’s approach in promoting school readiness has been to provide wrap-around services to address a child’s cognitive, social-emotional, health and safety needs while supporting a family and the parents’ participation in their child’s education.

In a recent Education Week article, Focus on Youngest, Neediest Endures, written by Christina Samules, she makes a compelling case for why we need to invest in Head Start and the thousands of programs it supports.  Head Start currently costs US taxpayers about $8 billion dollars a year.  The resources reach upwards of 1 million children and their families.  At a cost of $8,000 per child and family that seems like a bargain if the resources are invested in helping the child and family become school-ready.  It seems like a no-brainer.  While there are some problems that Head Start faces, they can be resolved through the efforts of committed and creative educators.

Put Head Start spending into context with regard to spending taxpayer dollars on other “big-ticket items.”  We have little trouble spending money on building and maintaining a nuclear submarine.  We spend about $30 billion dollars over the life of a sub to build and maintain it.  That’s ONE submarine! reports the following statistics.

Buying and operating a dozen new nuclear ballistic missile submarines will cost the Defense Department $347 billion over the life of the boats, according to a memo signed this month by the Pentagon’s acquisition chief.

How many of us actually benefit from the dozen submarines circulating the globe.  Politicians would say that they are part of our national defense.  A vital investment!  I would argue that if we don’t spend the $8 billion dollars on Head Start, resulting in many of the 1 million children getting left behind and becoming disenfranchised from society, there is a greater cost to our national security.

Say we only had 8 nuclear submarines navigating the globe.  We would say about $120 billion dollars which could go towards funding Head Start for 15 years and helping 15 million children and their families potentially break the cycle of poverty.  Not a bad tradeoff!




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