Sunday, April 13, 2014

What determines a successful school year?

This past week I went to a county educator meeting and I listened to back and forth chatter about Standardized Test scores, Smarter Balance and student achievement.  I listened.  I grew more and more agitated under the surface.  I began to think about some of our students that in all likelihood won't excel at "the test".  I began to think, "Is this why I got into education?"  I truly wish standardized tests didn't exist.  I don't believe they are the solution.  I drove back to Warner after that meeting with mixed feelings.  One thought I couldn't get out of my head is, "If a student is not proficient does that mean the student is a failure?"  Does it?

This now brings me to this week's focus story.  Back in August I was wrapping up class lists and we had a move-in student to the district.  This student was a 5th grader and he also came with a very thick file.  As I looked at his file I became a bit nervous for our staff, but I also became very sad for this student.  The cards had been stacked against him for years.  He had been shuffled here and there and everywhere.  

My nerves were worn thin because the two previous years we had students with EI labels in Gen. Ed and things were volatile.  I was skeptical that this might be a repeat.  

From the beginning I found the young man very likable.  He had a grunge look about him, and I watched him with his younger sister and her friends and I saw a kindness that was underneath the rough exterior.  I began to wonder if the exterior was a facade.  Is this young man broken underneath and is he simply trying to cover things up with his appearance?

Before the year actually began I sat down with several staff members and ISD personnel to put together an action plan to be proactive.  The plan had the student taking breaks and receiving multiple check-ins from several adults throughout the day.  On paper we had something to start with and most everyone seemed good with it.

The first few months went well.  The young man was off to a good start, he thrived at 5th grade camp and he was experiencing small gains.  I made the comment to @DelorSara that if this student fails we as adults failed him.  I truly believed this.  Now please understand, he was getting out of class multiple times during the day and academically he was showing minimal growth.  BUT, I was looking at his history and I kept thinking that this is a damaged young man...we need to help him heal socially and emotionally before we can expect academic strides.

Then December arrived and things began to go down hill.  I had to adjust his transportation, we needed to revisit our plan for him and I met with parents on multiple occasions.  Things were headed south.  I began to reflect and think that part of this students struggles were not new to us.  I imagine many of you have students that have difficulty at school before extended school breaks.  The kids don't realize it, but they miss school, they miss the structure, security and the consistent care.  I had a hunch that was what we were seeing with him.

We were able to weather the December storm, but little did we know more storms were on the horizon. During the months of February and March we had a plethora of meetings on this young man.  We had Intervention Meetings, TEAM meetings, Parent Meetings and his IEP yearly meeting.  We also met with the 6th grade TEAM for more than an hour.  I was to the point that I felt like we were "talking" the situation to death!  The situation was not improving and to boot everyone involved was trying to take the student off of my plate (side note: I didn't ask for him to be taken off my plate).  

Then in early to mid-March we devised a plan that we are still holding strong to.  Now let's think about this:  First, the student moves in to the district with an abundance of needs.  Second, a plan is put in place, but only seems to do the trick for the first nine weeks (or as some call it, the "honeymoon" period). Third, as adults we begin to brainstorm what is best (this lasts for months as we try new strategies and interventions).  Fourth, it is now the final nine weeks that this student is in our building, the plan is somewhat successful, but nothing is a magic wand.  Finally, we have 7 1/2 weeks of school remaining, we now know the student.  How do we make this end on a positive note and set the student up for success moving forward?

I imagine as you read this you have experienced something similar.  As educators we sometimes look for the magic wand, the ultimate fix.  The truth is some of our students are very complex and it may take years to completely turn things in the right direction.  You must trust and believe that what you do as an educator makes a difference.  You must also believe that academics is not always the most important thing in a student's life.  How dare I, as an administrator, say such a thing?  But it's the truth! This young man is not going to show a lot of growth academically, until he experiences sustained, long term social and emotional growth. He is participating in Boy Quest (he is one of 16 boys training for a Spring 5K).  He helped lay tile in our gym over Spring Break.  He has learned to blog.  He has learned to look forward to school...not for academic reasons, he looks forward to being with people that take time during their busy day to check on him and help him. School is not all about academic and emotional growth are critical to a child's overall development.

So I end with this:  Is academic growth the end all say all?  If a student doesn't show growth has their year been a failure or a loss?  Think back to a student you have or have had in years' past.  How did you make their life better?  Did you make the effort to walk in their shoes?  Do you understand why they act out and put up defenses?  I, for one, can't always walk in their shoes, but I can give them the support, love and patience that they truly need.

This Week's Big Question:  What determines a successful school year?  


Monday, April 14th:  Arnold Elementary Teachers visit Warner
Monday, April 14th:  1:1 Tech meeting at 1pm
Monday, April 14th:  Minecraft 4-5pm
Tuesday, April 15th:  Keicher Elementary Teachers visit Warner in the PM
Tuesday, April 15th:  Baby Shower for Amber 4-5pm
Tuesday, April 15th:  Minecraft 4-5pm
Wednesday, April 16th:  Grades 3-5 assembly at 8:45am
Wednesday, April 16th:  Minecraft 3-4pm
Wednesday, April 16th:  String Team 3-4pm
Thursday, April 17th:  Fire Drill in the AM
Thursday, April 17th 8am Staff Meeting
Thursday, April 17th:  Farewell to Emily Ke at SAU 1pm
Thursday, April 17th:  Andy Griffith's author visit 2-3pm for grades 3 and 4
Friday, April 18th:  Good Friday

Articles Worth Reading:

Why I'm Giving the Bammy's a 2nd Chance and You Should Too +Joe Mazza @Joe_Mazza

What is a Great Teacher? +Amanda Dykes @amandacdykes

How Many? +Joan Young @flourishingkids

Technology will replace Face 2 Face Interaction... +George Couros @gcouros

Embrace Your Vulnerability +Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

Matters of Creativity: 10 Things To Inspire +Krissy Venosdale @venspired

The Power of Storytelling +Joe Sanfelippo @Joesanfelippofc

They Don't Judge Him @jonharper70bd

You May Say I'm a Dreamer... +Brad Wilson @dreambition

4 Good Reminders When You've Had a Bad Day +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Google Glass...I'm going to try and get a pair! (2 min)

How to start a Youtube Channel...entertaining and filled with great tips. (8 min) @veritasium 

Kelvin Doe shares more of his story during a Ted Talk! (10 min)

Let it Goat? Sure to make you smile : )  (1 min) @TheEllenShow 


  1. I really enjoyed how you told this child's story Ben. I have many similar students in my school and I too have racked my brain trying to think of ways to help them be successful. But how do we measure success? I constantly reassure teachers that social and emotional progress is as important, if not more important, than academic progress. I do not allow teachers do beat themselves up over this or believe that I expect every child to be perfect when I walk in their room. I let them know this because I know that they are trying everything possible and that oftentimes the growth of certain children doesn't register as a number. Thanks again for the reminder.

  2. Appreciate the feedback Jon. I assumed several people would picture a student they know is going through similar struggles. The work you are doing with your teachers shows how much you care about the "whole child".