Saturday, October 31, 2015

What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more,
learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader."
- John Quincy Adams

Some moments are ingrained in our minds forever.  They can be moments of great happiness, tragedy or misfortune.  But we all have these moments that forever sit with us.  

For me the moment happened years ago.  The girls name was Abby.  She was very soft spoken and a young girl that would seek me out for a hug or a high five.  Each day I would notice Abby in class and I would watch her participate and listen to her share her answers.  Abby was a pleaser.  She worked hard in school.  Anytime we did a positive behavior challenge she would always be one of the first to the pinnacle.

THE MOMENT  - I remember sitting down with her parents at Fall Conferences and sharing her successes.  We talked about her positive attitude, her friendliness towards others, and her drive to learn.  But I also had to share with her parents that her learning was a struggle.  She was for all intensive purposes right on grade level or just slightly below. Her parents didn't appear overly concerned.  In fact they shared one of her favorite out of school activities with me.  I smiled and had a strong sense of pride when they talked about her "playing school," at home with her dog and stuffed animals.  I could just see her doing that!  I wrapped up the conference with a plan for her academics and lots of praise for their fabulous little girl.  

Then her parents said something I won't forget.  The looked at me and said, she loves it here.  She wakes up early and always has a smile on her face.  We know you'll get her where she needs to be. 

As time has passed I have seen my share of students that resemble Abby.  Great kids that love school, work hard and stay right on grade level.

But I've also witnessed many students that do not love school.  They don't care to try and thus they often struggle.

Abby taught me many things.  Abby taught me that kids that love school will keep growing, keep trying and keep dreaming.  I also learned that the student that doesn't want to be here or doesn't care, isn't going to maximize effort.  

So what comes first, the chicken or the egg?  I'd like to re frame the question in educational terms.

What comes first?

A student that loves to learn.


A student with good results in school.

Something to ponder:

If you have a student that doesn't enjoy school.  I would assume they are not meeting their potential, their effort is lacking? Correct?

How do we first build a love of learning?

  • Have you found your student's passion?
  • Have you invested your time to get to know your student(s)?
    • Have you formed a meaningful relationship?
  • Have you shared celebrations with parents?
    • Or just negatives?
  • Have you worked one-on-one with the student?
    • Did that have a positive impact?
  • Do you know how your students perceive school?
    • If you found out your students didn't like your class, how would you feel?
    • Would you change?
  • Would you want to be a student in your classroom/school?
This Week's Big question?  As a classroom or school leader, do you inspire others to learn more, do more, dream more?


Monday, November 2nd:  4th Grade Jackson Tour
Monday, November 2nd:  Book Fair (first day)
Tuesday, November 3rd:  Admin Meeting 9:15am
Tuesday, November 3rd:  String Team 3:30
Wednesday, November 4th:  Adrian Administration Visit
Wednesday, November 4th:  Assembly for grades 3-5 at 8:45am
Wednesday, November 4th:  Early Release 
Thursday, November 5th:  Book Fair (last day)
Friday, November 6th:  No Students, PD begins with breakfast at 8:30am in Mrs. Oliver's classroom
Saturday, November 7th:  Glow Run Jackson 5K (encourage your kids to sign up)

Articles Worth Reading:

Homework: An unnecessary evil? Surprising findings from new research...  by Valerie Strauss

U.S. Public Schools Could Benefit From Less Test Taking... by John Rosales

Students have only gotten better, not worse - we should stop blaming them @mwniehoff

Stop Trying To Be Perfect @kara_welty

Trust at the Starting Gate: Our call to tune in and listen @NKrayenvenger

Youtube: Informational Text Hotbed? @TonySinanis

5 Ways To Uncomplicate Your Thoughts (love #3 on this list) @marcandangel

Ban Halloween in schools? Parents FUME over this! @iveydejesus

Videos Worth Watching:

@TheEllenShow with hilarious Halloween Fun! (4 min)

Around the World in 7 Days! Tremendous story... (12 min)

Nike's New Ad for Snow Days (2 min)

Stephen Colbert tells the Donald... (3 min)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Game of School

"If we teach today's students
as we taught yesterday's,
we rob them of tomorrow."
- John Dewey

This past week I went to the Michigan Theatre to watch the screening of, Most Likely to Succeed.

The video is a trailer and I highly encourage you to check it out.

It's Sunday and I still can't stop thinking of a few things that occurred last week.  The following will be an account of what happened and my process.

First, it all started as I walked up the slight incline at the Michigan Theatre.  I was thinking of the laundry list of things I had to do and if I truly had time to take in this film.  Ultimately, I decided that if I missed it...I would likely regret it.  So, with laptop in tow, I positioned myself in the back third of the theatre and decided to give the film a go.  

To my delight, I was sucked in immediately.  The first three minutes are powerful, and sure to make you think.  In a nutshell, I quickly began thinking, how can I encourage more people to see this?  

The film challenges the way we've done school for the past 100+ years.  Admittedly, I'm a vision person and this spoke loud and clear to me.  

Second, during the film I watched as a couple adults sat down and talked with a group of high school students.  I'll paraphrase the question that they asked, "Would you rather be taught how to get a good grade on a test?"  


"Would you rather be best prepared for the world after school?"

The answers surprised me.  Almost all the high school students in the room wanted to be taught how to ace the test.  

Here is my take on this exchange.  The Game of School can be defined as this.  I go to school for roughly thirteen years.  It begins with understanding routines and procedures.  Most students typically enjoy school from kindergarten to second grade.  Then somewhere during the latter part of elementary or middle school things change.  School becomes task driven and monotonous.  Students begin to lose their joy.  During this process some students learn that school is a game.  They learn to play the game.  They realize if they listen, take notes, turn in homework, study for the test, get good grades on the test and show compliance, they will get into a good college.  If they play the game well, in college they earn a degree, which may assist in getting a good job (or so they believe).

Our current system of school is designed for students that play the game best.  I challenge the status quo and say, "Not all students learn the same way."  It is past the time to revolutionize our schools. Our traditional system works for some...but not all.  So, why don't we adjust?  I believe there is still a need for foundational skills and some traditional methods.  I would hope that we could create a new way of school.  Lets find the balance between foundational skills and passion based.  Lets accentuate our students soft skills and stop the mile wide, inch deep approach.  We should focus on the whole child instead of spending 80% of our time on drill and kill methods.

Third, I read the blog by @alfiekohn titled, To Change What We Do, Consider What We Believe.  In this post  (which I absolutely loved!) Alfie shared the research on rewards in the classroom.  Here is an excerpt from the post...
"The study, conducted by Mark Lepper and his colleagues, asked preschoolers to draw pictures with Magic Markers. Some were promised a reward for drawing; some weren’t. The question was what effect, if any, that reward would have on the children’s interest in drawing a week or two later. Overwhelmingly, Hom reported, students predicted that the kids who had been rewarded would be more enthusiastic about drawing later on. But just the opposite is what actually happened, a result that scores of studies subsequently confirmed with subjects of different ages across many cultures engaged in a variety of activities. The more that people are rewarded for doing something — drawing, reading, sharing, you name it — the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward."
Fascinating!  This third piece of information that I learned basically was telling me, THE WAY YOU'VE ALWAYS DONE IT...DOESN'T WORK!  Now sure, you may see short term results, but over the course of time, those results will taper off.

As I reflect on my week I'm once again challenged to continuously learn, reflect and grow.

This Week's Big Question:  Are you still learning?  If so, how?  Do you read?  Do you write?  Do you attend conferences that push you?  

As a person, have you settled?  Have you decided that you're good enough or, are you striving to improve every day?


Monday, October 26th:  Happy Halloween Week!
Wednesday, October 28th:  All-School Assembly 8:45 in Gym (CP Fed. Credit Union Kick-off!)
Wednesday, October 28th:  PLC Wednesday (I need everyone to meet in Mrs. Kline's room at 3:10.
Thursday, October 29th:  9am TEAM Meeting
Friday, October 30th:  Halloween Parties (Y5/KDG in the AM) Parade at 2pm on the track

Articles Worth Reading:

I would never want your job... @casas_jimmy

We've Sung Every Hymn in the Hymnal @Jeff_Zoul

Stop Googling. Let's Talk @nytimes

How one student becomes a reader. @DebraRosenquist

How to have Courageous Conversations with your child's teacher @pernilleripp

9 Things All Healthy Couples Do @marcandangel

5 "Be's" for Connected and Curious Educators @edutopia

Videos Worth Watching:

A Daughter's Touching Serenade to her sick mom. (5 min) @TheEllenShow

How to fix a broken school (17 min)

Jimmy Fallon and Tom Hanks in Kid Theatre (7 min)

Jimmy uses the Dubsmash App (4 min)

Secret Life of Dogs (3 min)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

High Stakes to a Whole New Level

"Sometimes, the most brilliant and intelligent minds
do not shine in standardized tests,
because they do not have standardized minds."
- Diane Ravitch

Roughly ten months ago I heard rumors that our Michigan Governor and the Legislature were looking to pass a law that would potentially hold back 3rd graders that were not reading at grade level.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment and doubt.  I thought, there is no way that could pass, what a ridiculous idea.  With that as my thought process I admittedly did not take my thoughts any further.  I truly believed it would die in the process.

Fast forward to the present.  The other morning I woke up at my usual early hour.  I let the dogs out, grabbed a blanket and my laptop and sat down to watch the news.  To my complete surprise I saw that the Michigan House of Representatives passed the 3rd grade Reading bill and now it is headed to the Michigan Senate.  The best way to sum up my reaction is to imagine that I'm a die hard Michigan Wolverine fan and I just watched our punter fumble away the game.  Hands on head, with mouth wide open, I would be saying, "What just happened?"  That is what I was thinking as I watched the news.  Did that just happen?

What is the bill that is now headed for the Michigan Senate?  We will call it "The Michigan 3rd Grade Reading Bill".  The bill is highlighted by these statements:
  • would prohibit schools from promoting students to fourth grade if they are at least a full grade-level behind in reading
  • reading proficiency would be determined by scores on a state standardized test
  • calls for a series of early screening and intervention strategies
  • requires that schools begin assessing students in kindergarten
  • hire literacy coaches to train staff

Let me state that I do believe the most critical component to student success is a strong ability to read.  Essentially, if you cannot read you will always be playing from behind.  

Here are my problems with the 3rd grade reading bill: 
  1. The determining factor will be a student's score on a standardized test.  Really?  Have we not learned anything? Standardized tests are are not a valid representation of a student's ability. The tests are too long, biased, often dependent on prior experiences, and extremely stressful to our students.
  2. Where will the funding come from for these so-called interventions?  School after school around the country has implemented some sort of intervention program, but most have paid for these programs out of the general fund.  If our Michigan Legislature passes this bill they should be ready to pony up additional funding for such programs.
  3. Retention is not the answer.  I saw one quote from Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. "But for those concerned with retention, my response is this: I'd rather hold a child back for one grade than hold a child back for life."  That is your stance?  I ask you Lee Chatfield, have you looked at the research on retention?  Have you looked at the data and correlation of data on retention and drop out rate?  If you have not, here is an article to help you get started: What research says about grade retention...
  4. Michigan is not the first state to attempt to make this a law.  In all, sixteen states have some form of law about 3rd grade reading levels.  I would call this a sample set to learn from.  I ask our legislature, have you contacted other states?  Have you learned from their missteps?  Here are three examples worth researching more:
        1. Multiple studies and meta-analyses have found that students held back in a grade show academic and social problems later on, including being at higher risk for ultimately dropping out of school.
        2. "There isn't this magic age that, if you don't catch a kid by that age, you lose them forever," said Timothy Shanahan, a distinguished professor emeritus specializing in literacy research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a lead writer of the common-core language arts standards.
        3. A separate analysis by the Education Commission of the States calculated that nationally, it costs an average of more than $10,000 to retain one student. If, for example, districts held back all the roughly 10,000 3rd graders who failed the reading portion of the Florida state tests in 2014, taxpayers would be on the hook for another $100 million.
Information and statistics gained from the following web articles: Should 3rd Grade be the Pivot Point for Reading?

Up to this point I have been staunchly against the 3rd grade reading bill.  I will now offer a better solution than the one being sent to the Michigan Senate.  As I stated earlier, literacy is essential.  It is a determining factor in student success.  I've read books by +Donalyn Miller and had several conversations with leading literacy educators from around the country.  Getting kids to love reading is by far and away the number one goal.

Instead of punishing a student for being behind, let's do this:
  1. Change the age date for students.  Currently students are not mandated to attend school until age 6.  I believe this should be adjusted to age 5.
  2. Put more funding into early childhood programs.  Many parents are forced to pay for preschool which then deters them from sending their child.  Creating programs that ALL families can afford is the best form of intervention.
  3. We should be screening students in kindergarten (at the end of kindergarten).  Students that do not have essential skills will be targeted for interventions in 1st grade.
  4. The Michigan Legislature needs to trust in local districts and county ISD's to assess reading skills.  The time has come to stop making Standardized Tests the end all, say all in education.
  5. If a child is not reading by the time they complete third grade there needs to be a summer program that involves both educators and families.  A child's success does not solely fall on a teacher's shoulders and it does not solely fall on a parent. This should be a shared responsibility to help the child.  A summer program will create a partnership where both educators and families invest their time.
My final thoughts are this:  For many years educators have been told about the detrimental effects of a student being held back, but now our own Michigan Legislature is proposing just that.  It feels very contradictory.  I hope that the Michigan Senate will shoot down this bill and then go back to the drawing board with different and viable solutions.  I urge you to contact your Michigan Senators and let them know how you feel.

How would you help struggling readers?  What would you suggest to lawmakers?


Monday, October 19th:  ISD training on 5D+ evaluation tool
Monday, October 19th:  Grades 1, 2 and 4 Curriculum Night (5:45 - 7:15pm)
Tuesday, October 20th:  Admin Meeting 9:15am
Tuesday, October 20th:  Fire Drill in the PM
Tuesday, October 20th:  String Team 3:30pm
Tuesday, October 20th:  Nutrition Meeting at 3:45 
Wednesday, October 21st:  8:45am Assembly with grades 3-5
Wednesday, October 21st:  Visit from Adrian Public Schools Admin Team AM only
Wednesday, October 21st:  PLC early release, grade level meetings on new Pivot tool
Thursday, October 22nd:  4th grade to Indian Brook Farms
Friday, October 23rd:  8am Staff Meeting in Mrs. Brugger's classroom

Articles Worth Reading:

Teachers Who Bully @SimplyKinder

The night before tomorrow @JonHarper70bd

Pedagogy First @GustafsonBrad

Videos Worth Watching:

Hilarious!  I must up my game on the morning announcements. (4 min) @jimmyfallon

Fantastic Ted Talk by @MrsDelz (13 min)

#30SecondTake (5 min) @GustafsonBrad

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Message We Send

"Life is all about perception.
Positive versus negative.
Whichever you choose will
affect and more than likely reflect
your outcomes."
- Sonya Teclai

I've heard a lot of comments over the years from educators when they describe their classes.  For example, some of the beginning statements often sound like this -

"They're a chatty group..."
"This group has some real challenges..."
"By the end of the day, I'm exhausted..."
"This group has potential, but they lack leaders..."
"Well, today was rough."
"I have so many students I don't know how I'm going to do it."

At times I can completely understand these statements.  As educators we all have days where we feel challenged.  If you've got a colleague or friend that you can vent to, but then they help problem solve, I say, no problem.  

But, if you do one or both of the following, you're simply asking for long term trouble.

1 - Day in and day out you visually appear defeated and you always share the negative first.

2 - As your day concludes parents are much more visible.  If you are heard hollering at students, if you appear exhausted, or if you happen to tell parents the day was really're involuntarily sending a message.

When I first began as Principal at Warner Elementary I noticed patterns and tendencies from students, staff and parents.  In those early years I was really impressed with the calm, loving demeanor of Mrs. Valentine.  It was a rare occasion to see her without a smile.  During my second year when life as a principal was really tough, I remember stopping in her room after school.  We talked about faith and life.  I was grateful to have Mrs. Valentine teaching at Warner.  She was a phenomenal teacher and an even better friend.

I say all that because the day came when she decided to retire.

I was happy for her, but sad for Warner Elementary.  As the next year rolled around I received several emails, phone calls and even a few people stopped to see me.  The topic was Mrs. Valentine. Parents that had students in her classroom over the years wanted me to know how amazing she was. I listened and I felt a strong sense of pride for my friend.  She had made a lasting impact and was going to be immensely missed.  

But then I received a letter from a parent that did not have a child in her class.  The parent told me that she wished her kindergarten child would have had Mrs. Valentine.  I then read her heart warming story.

"Mr. Gilpin, as a parent here at Warner Elementary I've noticed your staff on a daily basis.  One person really impressed me last year.  It was a very cold day last winter and a few students were helping kindergarten kids on the bus.  Two third graders didn't have jackets, when Mrs. Valentine saw this she motioned them over, gave them hugs and told them to go get their jackets.  She'd get the kindergarten kids to the bus.  It was this simple act of caring that I as a parent grew to cherish. Everyday she brought her kids to the door with smiles and hugs.  I could tell she genuinely loved teaching." 
-Warner Parent

We can all learn a lot from this letter.  This parent only had a small snapshot of Mrs. Valentine, but that snapshot spoke volumes.  

What snapshot do you give others?


Monday, October 12th:  Columbus Day
Monday, October 12th:  Spirit Week (Crazy Hair/Socks)
Tuesday, October 13th:  PTO Meeting 7pm in the Library
Tuesday, October 13th:  String Team
Tuesday, October 13th:  Spirit Week (Hat Day)
Wednesday, October 14th: K-2 Assembly at 8:45am
Wednesday, October 14th: Spirit Week (Pajama Day)
Thursday, October 15th:  1:15pm Crisis Response Meeting
Thursday, October 15th:  String Team
Thursday, October 15th:  Spirit Week (Twin Day)
Friday, October 16th:  Spirit Week (Western Gear)
Sunday, October 18th:  Red Egg Farm Family Day & Fundraiser (10am - 5pm)

Articles Worth Reading:

On Becoming a School Leader @curriculumblog

Cardboard Can Save Education @Joesanfelippofc

We Are All Models @thenerdyteacher

Videos Worth Watching:

Silent Night Lights (14 min)

Ellen plays "Heads Up" with the audience (2 min)

Teaching Teachers To Create Magic! ( 7 min)

True Confessions with Jimmy Fallon (8 min)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rolling Up Your Sleeves

This past week our 5th graders went on their annual trip to Mystic Lake in the heart of central Michigan.  This is typically the highlight of elementary school for many of our students.

In my six years of visiting Mystic Lake I have learned three things make or break our trip.

1)  The Weather - enough said

2)  Our High School Counselors - we've had some fantastic high school students over the years and the relationships they form with 5th graders make a huge difference.

3)  The Mystic Lake YMCA Counselors -  relationships, relationships, relationships!  This group leads nearly all activities and their energy, expertise and personality impact how each session goes.

As the second night came to a close I chatted with Ricky Wright the executive director at Mystic Lake.  I shared these three thoughts.  He chuckled and said, "We can greatly impact two of those."  I nodded in agreement.

Over the years I have met many Mystic Lake Counselors.  Some I deem as veterans and others can be seen as green or new.  This year's group was full of new faces.  I quickly found myself reminiscing about the days of Mundo, Ezra, JeMarcus, Grant and others.  But then I caught myself.  Was that fair?  At one time weren't those people new?  In the beginning were they polished?

I started thinking of our new counselors like they were beginning educators.  How would I support a new teacher?  What would I do to help someone that appears a bit unsure of themselves?  Should I be critical or walk along side in support?

The first few rotations I watched and chimed in very little.  The goal was to support, be visible and watch the kids problem solve.  Then as the week progressed I assisted a bit more.  It started with a pep talk to the kids at the Giant Swing and then led to the lake. 

The waterfront is picturesque at Mystic Lake.  I decided to head for the kayaks.  It was a brisk morning but the sun was shining.  I couldn't wait to get out onto the water.  Our Mystic Counselor was teaching a few essentials and helping with life jackets.  I grabbed my stuff and headed for a kayak.  A few minutes later I was joined on the lake by over a dozen 5th graders.  The first few minutes the students were getting used to paddling, steering and staying balanced.  Then I pulled the group to the other side of the lake to check out the giant lily pads.  After we explored the shoreline and looked all the way to the bottom of the lake we had a race from buoy to buoy.  After the race it was time for more exploring, so we headed around Pike's Point.  This group was fabulous!  I had heard other groups got bored on the water and I decided it was time to expand their activities on the lake. As the kids came in many were damp from splashing themselves, but all had a smile!

Our Mystic Lake Counselor was in charge on the water.  But I also appreciated that she was open to ideas and trying new things.  The entire goal was to give the kids a fun and engaging experience.  In the end, I hope our counselor also got a few new ideas for her own toolbox.

At one point we were all green and inexperienced.  What if someone constantly compared us to the expert that came before?  Would we be where we are today?

My guess is no.  We all have to start somewhere and we have to be allowed to learn, fail and grow. The next time you encounter someone that is new, I challenge you to support them, walk along side them and help them grow into the position.

I hope to see some of those same faces next year at camp.  I believe with time and support they can one day be the rock stars that people will refer to.


Tuesday, October 6th:  RTI Professional Development at the JCISD
Wednesday, October 7th:  Walk-to-School Day in the AM
Wednesday, October 7th:  Count Day
Wednesday, October 7th:  Grades 3-5 Assembly at 8:45am
Wednesday, October 7th:  RTI Professional Development at the JCISD
Friday, October 9th:  Staff Meeting 8am in Mrs. Archer's room

Articles Worth Reading:

Great Teachers are Boring @Jeff_Zoul

Take As Much As You Want @DrSpikeCook

If only I could say yes @casas_jimmy

Don't Worry, Be Happy @TonySinanis

A Guide, Not a Gospel @MrsMeganMorgan

A Story of a Young Life, Turned Around by Great Teachers @coolcatteacher

60 Ways To Help Students Think For Themselves @TeachThought

Curious About Classroom Makerspaces? Here's how to get started. @Angela_Watson

Da Vinci didn't make just one Mona Lisa @Jonharper70bd

5 Things to Remember When Someone You Love is Depressed @marcandangel

Videos Worth Watching:

Musical Impressions with Ariana Grande & @JimmyFallon  (5 min)

Ellen's Kindness Corner (2 min)

Remarkable Friendship (4 min)

Don't Eat The Marshmallow (7 min)