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April Memo

Next Meeting – Wednesday May 10 7:10ish in the  morning

“Engagement and motivation are the emotional/psychological states that result from ownership.”

“Any kind of change can feel daring and quite vulnerable.  When we are vulnerable, we learn to trust, and when we trust people, we are connected and able to show up ready to share all we have to offer.”

Gravity Goldberg – Mindsets and Moves

     Writing has always been a part of our Community of Teachers Learning meetings – back at King’s Highway 25 years ago, at various schools across town, and here at SES for since we opened in 2002.  It is from the quiet writing that the voices of the teachers and the students are born.  The stories are discovered as we write.  In Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Joy Write: Cultivating High Impact, and Low Stakes Writing, he sums this up – “Writing helps us discover what we know.  Writing is different from talking.  When we jot something down, we distill its essence, it becomes part of us; we own it in a new way.  Writing has an uncanny way of getting our mental juices flowing.”

     The mental juices were flowing after about quiet writing.  These are the stories that were discovered

     Angie, a child who, when presented with a new book said with a scowly face “I can’t read this.  I can’t do this.” But, with the gentle words from her kind, insightful teacher who sat down beside her and said “Let’s try.”  Diane got her started and then Angie did it.  Diane responded to Angie’s reading with, “This is what I saw. I saw that you are a reader.” Angie’s scowl turned to a smile and she puffed up with pride.  Diane shared, “Angie is on the verge of taking ownership of her reading.  I plan to support her developing that ownership as we continue on.” She ended her share with some wise words,  “We all, adults and children – we all have fear until we take ownership.”

     It’s April, but Lauren has changed her seating.  Her kindergarten room is now a flexible seating room.  She has also worked to incorporate more ideas and components from the  Purposeful Play book by Kristine Mraz.  “It was hard to let go of my room , it’s a mess.  But there are 17 of them and one of me and it’s their space.”   Lauren is coaching into their play time and guiding them in how to play and collaborate.  Lauren has also found herself observing and listening in more.  Harry, has been a quiet and tentative kindergartener thus far this year.  Since implementing the flexible seating and coaching into her kids play, Lauren has noticed that Harry’s verbal skills have increased she finds evidence in his reading and writing.  The communication skills across the class have grown.  

     Leigh Ann reflected back to the beginning of the year when, after a Responsive Classroom workshop, she set a goal to use more reinforcing language.  She noticed right away that kids responded to her deliberate reinforcing language.  As exhausting as it was, she stuck with it.  As the year went on, she thought that eventually she would be able to let go a bit.  But now that later in the year has come, she can see that her first graders still need that reinforcing language.  Tired of talking all the time, she has adjusted the ownership of the language.  “I have begun to transfer the language to the kids,  I was always the one talking, so now when I see a small group of kids who are “on”, I am giving them the ownership to pass on to the others.  In this way, I can now sit and watch.” She watches her 1st graders own of the language and the community grows stronger.

     Jess shared about conventions.  This year in K and 1, teachers  have raised and clarified their expectations in conventions.  They have been careful and purposeful in how they have relayed this expectation to children.  Many teachers honestly shared that they thought it was unrealistic to expect such conventions (capital letters at the beginning of sentences, periods, mostly lowercase letters) – yet they took on the work of seeing what happens when we expect these conventions from our youngest writers.  Throughout the year, during push in, during coaching cycles, at grade level meetings, in small groups – conventions kept coming up.  They were taking it on – sprinkling (not drilling) the expectation in all that they did.  Now that it’s April, Jess shared “we can see the fruits of our labor in the actual writing.” (see samples from KA)

     It occurred to me as I was listening to Jess talk and share her writing, that the reason that our k and 1 teachers were able to take on the work of raising the bar is because –

  • we work in a community that values a question (what happens when we raise our expectation of conventions?) 
  • we work with colleagues who work to look for answers (which usually result in more questions) 
  • and we work in school that values the whole child

     In another school, I can only imagine that  raising the expectation for conventions with our youngest writers might turn off writers all together.  But, based on the writing that I have seen (see  above and below) coming from our k classes and the writing I’ve seen first hand in small groups, we have raised the expectation and the writers have responded with success and ease.

     The open ended invitations that are part of each COTL meeting call each teacher to be teacher as writer.  In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher calls for the more time using writing to “puzzle things out”, to think, learn, and solve problems.  After each meeting, I am energized and inspired by the discoveries and stories that I hear.  I think that it is these stories that help each of us see the good, the joy, in the work that we do each day. And when we listen to others, our story becomes connected to those we hear.  This, I believe, creates a culture of not just teaching, but teaching and learning.

*featuring the writers and artists from KA

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Date for Next meeting April 19 7:00 amish


“pausing and trying to be present, recognizing quiet moments of triumph in the classroom.  This is mindfulnesscultivating moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts feelings, and surroundings.”

The Science of a Meaningful Life, How to Nurture Empathic Joy in Your Classroom

“I’m challenging us to view readers differently-with promise, expectation, and admiration.”  “If we look at what students are doing, we are admiring who the reader is.  We can look at students’ process and their approximations as signs of growth, worth of our wonder and curiosity.

p 40 Mindsets and Moves Gravity Goldberg


“COTL this morning.  COTL this morning”  It was my inner voice repeatedly reminding me to leave early and get to school!  It had been over a month since we had a meeting.  As I drove to school, I was in a state of wonder.  Would anyone show up?  What state would people be in after conferences?  I wondered as I made my way to the library.  There 4 people sat chatting and then 2 more joined in.  There we were, six colleagues gathered around a table in the library.  It took us a while to get started as there was much chatting.  Chatting that allowed us to reconnect – personally.

After we wrote quietly about joyful moments and made lists of what we admire about the readers and writers in our rooms.  Teachers began to share their stories.

Joyce shared that it was a cool experience to be writing about each kid from a positive perspective. “I have a tendency to think about what they need to work on versus the positive”.  This positive perspective can be challenging to take on when you have the rich curriculum that we have here in Westport.  However, if we take the positive perspective, we can see our students in a fresh light and we can admire how they are taking on that rich curriculum.

Jess shared her thinking on Peter Reynolds blog post on the Nerdy Book Club about his new book Happy Dreamer .  She shared his perspective on what makes kids different or disabled is a gift.  Challenges kids bring to their learning and life are gifts – not problems we need to fix. Such an important idea for each of us who spends our days in the company of children to really think about.

Diane talked about her recently set goal to use more positive and reinforcing language.  She shared the story of a boy in her class who started the year as a bit of curmudgeon with a bit of a negative outlook on learning, his peers.  Diane has made a more conscious effort to address him in a new way and has noticed  a more kind and compassionate side to him.  She notices his interactions with his peers are more kind and compassionate.  “We can forget the impact we can have on kids.  Now I am not sure how much of it was me and how much of it was he just needed time to grow.” I believe that we each impact kids in ways we never know, so we best use Diane’s story as inspiration to continually strive for the positive language.

Lauren shared on about a joyful moment when she and Michelle came together to co-teach and celebrate the end of their informational unit.  Kids were paired up, chose an informational book, picked out a “wow fact” and then wrote that fact with the purpose of “wowing” other readers!  Lauren reflected on the time: “not one child asked us what to do”  “S worked so well with E.  She was totally engaged the entire time.”  “There were more kids but less disruptions and more engagement!”

Leigh Ann took the time to celebrate a moment with a developing learner.  Leigh Ann shared P’s strength as an artist and her natural ability to read for the deeper meaning in pictures and art.  After reading the book You’ll Soon Grow Into them Titch by Pat Hutchins.P said “DId you know how the artist had the grass growing just like the kid is growing and the baby in the mom’s belly is growing.”  Leigh Ann took pause at what P had shared and, took in the moment, to admire this child’s ability to articulate her deep thinking about

 the text. As we ended our meeting, Another child’s story emerged.  E, a quiet demure first grader who rarely shares or seeks attention, raised her hand to be the cheerleader of the trick words!  Inside, Leigh Ann herself was cheering – here was E, putting herself out there, taking a risk.  Clearly a sign that the community in Leigh Ann’s class was secure and supportive.
I found the meeting energizing.  I think I was craving the conversations that COTL meetings create.  I love hearing the stories that emerge from the teachers. I love seeing teachers who typically do not even see each other – connect, personally, and professionally. .  All it took was 35 minutes – that’s it- to write, hear 5 stories and start my day knowing each of my colleagues a little bit better than I did yesterday.  Just as much as I strive to know the children I teach, their parents, their families – I also believe that it is part of our job to strive to get to know our colleagues.  We are incredibly fortunate to work in a district, school that gives us time with our grade level teams and it is those that we tend to know best.  But we also must be mindful in cultivating relationships with our colleagues throughout the building.  That is what happened at COTL for me today and it started my day with an extra dose of promise.

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Energy and Language


“We do have the power to break out of energy-depleting situations.  We have the power to change our interpretations of events and make a difference to ourselves and the children we teach.”

Donald Graves, The Energy to Teach 

Next Meetings – Wednesday December 21

7:00ish am and 3:00 ish pm

all are welcome

Energy and Language

In the spirit of reflection, we began our morning meeting with a share of learning gone well – Diane pulled out a math journal with the numbers 1-9 written on two pages.  At first glance one would think wow this kid can write his numbers. But then Diane began the story –

“We were working on putting together a number line as a whole class.  The children were quite invested in trying to solve the problem of “How do I put these numbers in order?”  Once we had successfully pooled our efforts, and the number line was complete, I sent the children off to make their own number line in their journals.  Adam went to his seat, img_4093whipped out his blue crayon and wrote the numbers 1-9, came up to me and said, “I’m done.”  I paused and looked at his work, and said “Adam, look at our class number line and then look at yours – what do you notice?”  Adam paused, looked at his work and said, “I made my numbers too bimg_4092ig.”  I responded, “Can you try it again?’  He went off with determination to correctly record his number line.  I was so proud of his perseverance, problem solving and flexibility.”


In this opening story, Diane modeled responsive teaching when she invited Adam to reflect and then revise his number line to show order.  Teacher language can be empowering.  “We have to teach toward children who, individually and collaboratively, make meaning and do meaningful things.”  Peter Johnston writes in Opening Minds. Diane’s story from learning gone well spotlights Peter Johnston’s words.

Joyce shared learning gone well with CJ.  He wrote about a dog he saved and during a conference, Joyce asked “Why was this important for you to write about?”  He told her briefly but what he went back and wrote blew Joyce away – her simple question gave CJ the invitation to write that “he and the dog both needed someone – the dog was lost and alone and CJ had just lost his grandfather.”

At the responsive classroom PD last week, Leigh-Ann was reminded of the fact that we all have basic needs of belonging, significance, and fun. Between the Responsive Classroom PD and the Language of language_of_learningLearning book that she is reading, LeighAnn translated her learning into a personal and professional goal – to use more reinforcing language. “It’s been a week and I have been very mindful of my words, Icapture find myself saying, “Wow, I am noticing you are being good listeners and you are ready for Reader’s Workshop.”  The outliers want to be belong and be significant so they are in turn reengaging in the listening and learning.”  Leigh-Ann shared that this work has been exhausting because it is new.  It can be challenging to break into a new habit, however, determination and perseverance will keep her looking forward.  She will continue to research what happens when her first graders are fed more reinforcing language and less redirecting and reminding language.  

The energy that was at the meetings, both morning and afternoon was high.  SES teachers were excited to share the stories behind the learning gone well.  It can be challenging to stop and take the time to share the story behind the work.  As a classroom teacher for 12 years, I always enjoyed conferences.  I loved taking the time to share the stories behind the work with a captive audience – a parent.  How can we be that captive audience for each other?  During our TC days this fall, Lucy Calkins and Liz Dunford Franco both imparted on us that planning needs to be fun – that teaching can be an isolating profession but it doesn’t have to be.

 If we find a moment of learning gone well we should be shouting it through the halls and we need to ask to take the time to ask,  “How did you get that?”  “What did you say?”  “What did you do to get that thinking, that writing, that revision?”  These stories of teaching and learning gone well can re-frame how we see our work as teachers and energize us to continue on our journey as teachers. In The Energy to Teach, Donald Graves advises, “When things go well, ask people how they do it.”

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balance and time

Date for next meeting

Wednesday November 16 7:00ish am and 3:00ish pm

unnamedAll are welcome for snacks and conversation!!

Balance and time.  “It’s all about balance.”  “Try balancing it out more.”  “I need balance in my life.”  “If just had more time I’d….”  “Ugh.  I ran out time.”  How many times have you heard yourself, or a colleague, or a friend, or a spouse utter any or all of those phrases?  In our profession, it is a constant balancing act and we have a finite amount of time each week with the students we are responsible for teaching.  Threaded through our conversations and writing at COTL last month were the ideas of balance and time.

As Leighann put pen to paper during quiet writing, she was thinking about all the professional development that we are so fortunate to receive here in Westport.  She came from a school where there was no PD.  She shared the struggle of having so much it can sometimes feel like overload.  “I want to try it all, but, I don’t know where to start.  However, I know I am lucky to have this problem.” Lauren also spent time reflecting on the professional development and wondered,  “Am I executing my intentions or do I fall back into my old ways and forget the PD?”

Kathie followed by sharing that kids, too, have this problem of sorting through it all.  In her new role as Science Coach, she is trying to show and convey to all children that the work as a scientist is someone who struggles every day.  “I want children to walk out of class not knowing, it’s OK not to get it, working towards understanding is what science is all about.”

These questions are honorable questions.  When we have these questions it creates a curiousity.  We need to follow our questions just as a scientist, so that we too, are striving towards understanding.  This is a growth mindset approach to our work as teachers and learners.

“Take what you can from the PD and translate it.” Carolyn said.  She shared how she digests and manages the constant flow of ideas and information that is part of teaching and learning in her fourth grade classroom.  “I put it (the PD) in sequence for my class and am always thinking about the whole child.”   We must see the possibilities in the PD.

I’ve have read some of Katie Cunnigham’s book, Story: Still at the Heart of Literacy Learning and I have to say that one of the many reasons that I come to COTL is to hear your stories and the stories of your children in your voices.  I believe wholeheartedly that is story that connects us.  In sharing our stories this week, it was apparent that our stories have struggles.  That’s OK.  The seventh guiding principle of responsive classroom reminds us that “Lasting change begins with the adult community.”  It becomes our job, as a community of teachers and learners, to collectively take our struggles and turn them into stories of discovery and growth.

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Cornbread, Conversation, and Reflection

Date for next meeting Monday June 13, 2016 3-4 ish Library SNACKS!!

all are welcome

Cornbread, Conversation and Reflection

“For reflection to be a true complement to risk and failure there must be some element of learning as an outcome. There must be some aha moment that can lead us down a different path when we take that risk again.”

Mraz and Hertz – A Mindset for Learning

My husband, Billy, makes some serious ribs.  Last Sunday, as the ribs were cooking and the aroma was filling our home, I got the idea to make some cornbread to accompany the ribs.  I pulled down the cornmeal and read the recipe.  I followed the directions (important when baking – it’s a science – not so much when cooking – you get to play with flavor and what not.)  And, after all the ingredients were well mixed and ready for the pan – I veered from the recipe and grabbed some pure VT maple syrup and began to pour it into the mix- no measuring cup. Eyeballing the addition of my little secret ingredient.

I haven’t always added maple syrup to my cornbread.  I used to always follow the recipe.  The cornbread out just fine.  I ate it, my family ate it – it was good cornbread.  Then, one Thanksgiving, my cousin brought homemade maple cornbread to the table.  His cornbread blew mine away in flavor and texture.   Boy, were they delicious.  So the next time I made cornbread, I had an idea thanks to Marc, I tried adding some syrup. From then on, my cornbread would always have that little extra sweet kick.

So, where do ideas come from?  Where do cooks and bakers get their next great idea? Where do writers get ideas for books, poems, stories? Where do you get ideas for teaching? What gives any of us the energy to seek ideas and then carry them out?

Ideas and reflection were the threads that wove through our meeting last week.

Leigh Ann has been reflecting on Ban Har since the first grade PD on April 7. Listening to him and watching him teach has impacted her teaching across her day.  “I’ve applied it to all my work.” she shared.  Leigh Ann then told the story of an Interactive Read Aloud with the book I’m Trying to Love Spiders by Bethany Barton.  The conversations, both whole class and turn and talks, were about facing your fears.   The question of how to face your fears sparked a heated debate which led the first graders to use their mindset language to discuss author’s purpose.  Was Bethany Barton telling us to persevere, to be resilient, to face your fears with optimism?   Leigh Ann commented on her observations on that moment in her classroom,  “I watched their natural ability to know when to jump in and when to back off to stop and listen.”  She went on to say, “I have to let go in order to let discover on their own where it is I want them to go.”  If Leigh Ann did it her way, it would be a nice straight path to the outcome.  When she backed off, and let go, she watched them make their own path and arrive at the same outcome on their own.

They had discovered the author’s message AND how conversation, debating, compromise work because Leigh Ann let go for ten minutes as a result of Ban Har.

“We always worry about losing control but they are more engaged when we let them have control to talk.” Carolyn shared.  She went on to talk about the mindset work she has done with her fourth graders throughout the year.   The meditations and the reflections have all positively impacted the community in her classroom over the course of the year.  Her students journals are evidence of Carolyn letting go and allowing them the valuable experience of reflection.  

IMG_2828                                    IMG_2829

IMG_2831                                   IMG_2832


Our meeting ended with Carolyn sharing the tension and struggle she is having right now.  She said, “I began the year slowly with the first six week – time was on our side – now it’s the last six weeks the question is how can we hold onto the pace that encourages reflection and community?”

I don’t know where every idea comes from.  I do know that I always have to be on the ready for an idea – an idea for cooking, running, or teaching.  I never know where it is going to come from or when.  I think as teachers, we feel pressure, from outside sources and from ourselves to follow the recipe.  But we have to ask ourselves, what happens when I add my own secret ingredient to a lesson, to a day to a week. Then, take the time to stop, think, reflect – how’d it go, what happened?   Is your secret ingredient letting go, using reflection journals – find your ingredient, add it, step back and watch what happens.

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“To closely read children requires mindfulness.”  

Katie Egan Cunningham, Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning

“I am working hard and I’m learning.”

student K Poppe

Next Meeting Dates

Tuesday May 10 7:00am Library

Monday June 13 3-4ish Library



I am reading a new book by Katie Egan Cunningham, Story:  Still the Heart of Literacy Learning.  I considerimages (1) myself lucky to have heard  the author speak at a literacy conference at Sacred Heart a few weeks ago.  She believes strongly that “stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.”  COTL has become a place to share our stories.  As researchers, at our last meeting, Leigh Ann shared a story about a child and Diane shared a story from her classroom.  In sharing their stories, we we found evidence that our mindset work is alive and growing here at SES.

Leigh-ann has been reading, Unstoppable Me by Dr. Wayne Dyer during her afternoon meeting.   At a recent afternoon meeting, Leigh-ann read from the book, “have you ever had to make a changimagese in life and it was for the better?”  She called on a few friends to share and the room was buzzing with conversation.  Then she heard Owen talking.  His interest was high, he was invested in this conversation.  Owen was new to SES this year.  At the beginning of the year, she observed that he marched to his own beat and tended to only hear the negative comments from his peers.  Recently, Leigh-ann had noticed a shift in his attitude towards his peers.  Instead of being upset that no one would play his game, he was demonstrating flexibility and risk taking by joining into games that others had started.  The cause for celebration came, when, at that afternoon meeting, he was asked, “have you ever had to make a change in life and it was for the better?” she heard Owen share,  “I had to move from the city to here and I’ve  made so many friends and I’m  glad I’m  here.”   Over time, with support, Owen was able to not only develop and grow, but articulate that to his peers!

Diane told a story from her classroom.  It was a day that she had to do opinion on demand writing.  There would be no new instruction.  After she got her class of kindergarteners writing, she walked around and watched.  “I was thoroughly ecstatic by the engagement. I heard optimism in their comments.”  She shared that kids were saying “I can try.”  “I was hearing sound bites from mindset lessons we had done before vacation.”  Diane happily shared.

We have to always be on the lookout for stories – like the writer or artist  in search of the next idea- stories that can connect our work, connect our children, and connect us to one another.  The open minds of Leigh Ann and Diane allowed them to each see and hear evidence that our mindset work is alive and growing in our classrooms.  Thanks to their keen observations and their purposefully  listening,  they found stories.  The power of observation and listening allows us to harness our stories and the stories of the children we teach.

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Next Meetings  

PM – Thursday April 7 – 3-4ish

AM – Tuesday, April 12 7ish-7:40ish



“we must make time to discover the unique inner world of every child”

mraz and hertz p27


The start of a new school year automatically brings us into “get to know you mode”  – we plan our days, our first 6 weeks focusing on forming community with our children, playing games, planning lessons for children to get to know each other.  But getting to know someone is a process – a process that happens over time.  Christine and I have been roommates for about 8 years.  In sharing a space and working together as interventionists, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. But is was in early December that we uncovered a hidden connection.  As I was preparing for my Westport Learns workshop, I was running ideas and my outline by Christine.  I had included a quote from Maxine Greene.  Maxine’s book, Releasing the Imagination, had been a touchstone book back when I first started teaching.  In the middle of my babbling, Christine shared, “That’s her!!  I took a class with her at Columbia.  Everyone had told me that I HAD to take a class with her and I did.  She was a great teacher.”  Accidentally, a layer was peeled and a new connection formed.  We had both been influenced, early in our teaching, by Maxine Greene.  

The writing invitations at both our morning meeting and our afternoon meeting focused on knowing your kids and changes we have made in service of our work with kids.  The conversations after writing and reflecting centered on how well we knew the children we teach.  This seemed a bit scarey as it is March – shouldn’t we know our kids, our classes, by now?  But the truth is, there are many layers to each and every one of us.  Carolyn shared, “there are layers to kids, hidden layers and peeling the layers involves connecting with them on different levels.”  Megan shared that changing up her math routine (after listening in on a conversation between Lynn and Leigh-All) allowed her to uncover some flexible thinking in her class.  

In thinking about their shares, I began connecting our mindset work to our work with Jennifer Serravallo as well as work Jess has done with teachers and children around assessment conferences.  At the heart of this work is peeling back the layers in order to know and understand not only kids strengths and weaknesses but also to “discover their unique inner world”.  When we sit and have an assessment conference, when we watch kids work through an anchor task, we learn their processes through questioning, we begin the process of peeling back a layer to make that teacher student connection even stronger.

How do you peel back the layers – in March??  Is it changing up a routine?  Is it using assessment conferences?  Is it an engagement inventory?  What is it that you can do so suspend judgement and use observation and conversation to peel back one, just one layer.

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goals, research, and mistakes

“What we choose to focus our attention on – the good, the bad, the ugly, or the beautiful- can dramatically change our behavior and interactions with the world. For our students, what we guide their awareness to can have a powerful effect on their lives.”

Mraz and Hertz, A Mindset for Learning


COTL – A Mindset Study Group

Next Meetings

AM – Tuesday February 9, 2016 7:00ish-7:40

PM – Thursday February 25, 2016 3:00-4:00ish



goals, research, and mistakes


One invitation for writing during our January meetings was to think about how you would research mindset in your classroom, in your work with children.  

Diane shared, “I want to take 5 minutes each day to observe my kids.  I think I will take 5 minutes to observe my kids during choice each day, write down their conversations, my observations and use this to start choice the next day.  At the start of choice the next day, I  will incorporate the mindset language and maybe even some of the lessons suggested in the book.  If I put all of the mindset work into this small capsule of time then maybe it won’t be so overwhelming and I can learn from my children, grow their optimism, resilience and empathy.”

Leigh-Ann shared that she wants to be more open to looking for mindset in the conversations of her first graders.  “I want to take the time to listen and record conversations that don’t just have to do with academics.  They have to do with mindset.”  As she shared, I was reminded of a conversation I heard in her room during Reader’s Workshop.  Two boys were sharing their post-its from independent reading.  Johnny shared with Joe “I never knew that before,” when he came to the post it with a exclamation mark on it.  As I listened in, I initially thought, “Great! Johnny really got the mini lesson, he was reading, he was thinking while reading, and he was sharing it all this with his partner.”  Assessing his reading, I had found data through conversation that Johnny “got” the mini-lesson.  But as quickly as that thought entered my mind, I realized that I had also found evidence of growth mindset.  According to Mraz and Hertz you have the growth mindset when you see yourself and the world as growing and changing. You are constantly in progress. (Mraz and Hertz) In that moment, Johnny saw himself as changing – growing.  

Kathie had Wendy, Carolyn and I really thinking about how to not only teach optimism but to grow it.  Carolyn shared the ratings she has used with her 4th graders and Kathie began to create a rating for her 2nd graders to rate their optimism on accomplishing certain tasks.  Kathie shared how she was not sure it was going to work but was willing to give it a try and learn from her idea and her kids response to it!  That is growth mindset – optimism and risk taking on the part of the teacher.  

It is so important that we take risks and share them with our students and each other.  “Students who do not develop their resilience can instead develop an aversion to taking risks.” Mraz writes in her Mindset for Learning book.  This is true of ourselves as well  the children in our classrooms, our school.

There is a song by Frankie Ballard called Young and Crazy (yes, I am country music girl) and the lyrics are a reminder that being brave and  making mistakes can lead to discovery.

“I’ve gotta do a little wrong so I know what’s right.”

“Don’t learn nothing ’til you make a lot of mistakes.”

What risks, research are you taking on?   Is it implementing something you learned at Westport Learns from a colleague, trying out a new read aloud that you connected with and it fits with a particular unit of study, is it centers at the end of math unit?

Stop, think and ask yourself, “What happened when I ……?”



Frankie Ballard, Young and Crazy


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“There is no curriculum more powerful than a close and a careful study of your kids.”

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Next Meeting Dates – Tuesday, January 12th 7:00-7:40ish AM

Thursday January 21st 3ish-4ish PM


Our first meetings of our Community of Teachers Learning started with a question…”why are you here?”

Leigh Ann shared that she decided to come simply because of the email invite.  The idea of the growth mindset struck her personally. She shared, “If I have this mindset then I’m the model for the kids.  I focus on being patient and allowing kids to “get good” at something, I allow time for growth. I know that growth takes time.”

“I was struck by Kristine Mraz.”  Peter said.  It was the PD that pushed his thinking forward.  He believes that this is important work to be thinking about now.  “By 5th grade so many kids many kids have fixed views on what they are good at, they say ‘Joey is a good athlete or Shannon is a good artist.’ We are all a work in progress, we are not static.” he said.

After a some quiet writing to reflect on the intersection of the book and our work here at SES, we shared some more.  Wendy shared her vision for a group of first graders.  Through her writing she explored the questions, “How can I build a community of support and encouragement?  How can they support each other?  How can they grow to like themselves, feel proud of their accomplishments and see the smart wonderful boys they are?’

Kathie shared about this one little boy in her class who tends to slump when things get hard or are too long.  She began to wonder about self esteem, persistence, optimism, and resiliency in the context of this child.  

In both the morning and afternoon meetings, our visions and beliefs were heard loud and clear – develop whole child, model the growth mindset in our classrooms, in our interactions both inside of school and outside of school – “growth mindset is not just social skills lessons – it’s in everything we say and do.”  Carolyn Santella shared. But I was left with the question – how do we record and study mindset?

When I started teaching 24 years ago, I did not carry a journal.  I thought journals were for artists and writers –  introspective, smart people- I was a teacher.  It wasn’t until I was in my second year of teaching that I started working with a veteran teacher who did carry a journal.  I was curious about that journal.  She was the art teacher that was why she carried a journal – an artist.  I learned that year that not only was she an artist, but she came from the middle school where she was a middle school English teacher – an artist AND a writer – yup she had permission to carry that journal.  I was a teacher. 

Later that year, Karen coordinated meetings after school where teachers would meet and share and write about their practice.  I was a newbie, but my innocent curiosity led me to attend.  It was at that meeting where I started to write – not because a teacher had told me to but because I was invited to write and reflect on my own work. My first journal was a plastic covered lined, MEAD notebook. IMG_2164 I wrote neatly and chose my words carefully.  Thanks to that first meeting, I began to pull out my journal during the day in my 2nd grade classroom, I used it then to write beside kids during workshop and eventually, I began to record what they were saying.

All the while, I watched Karen, we developed a collegial relationship, and I discovered that she didn’t just use her journal because she was an artist and a writer, she used that journal because she was a teacher!  I told myself, I’m not an artist or a writer, but I am a teacher and I guess teachers use journals, too.  So, I went out and bought my very own journal.

Over time, that second year of teaching, I was led to the research question,  “What happens when I carry a journal?”  It was this question that led me to discover through the years that my journal helps me to be a better listener – when I write down what kids say, I know I am validating the words, the ideas that the child is sharing with me –  IMG_2165 my journal slows me down. I slow down and observe, take notice in pictures and words – my journal helps me freeze moments in time both at school and at home, when I write down a teacher’s words, I can feed them back to him or her offer specific feedback – if they ask, and finally, my journal is a place where, when the time is right, I can go back and relive moments, see where I’ve been, take details and synthesize them into bigger ideas.

I think the shared experience of reading A Mindset for Learning is the common ground that has brought us together.  I think our research group – A Community of Teachers Learning will regularly bring us together to talk, write, and reflect. But I wonder how we can each weave the role of researcher into our daily practice.  Do you pick a group of kids to observe each day?  Do you choose one child to observe each day.  Do you dedicate 10 minutes each day to observe and record those observation in your own journal.  I don’t know the answers, but I know that we can live the questions together (Brenda Power).

“As teachers, if we take on this same stance of intentional observation, we can learn what moves will make our interactions with a child especially meaningful and our teaching especially effective.  It can seem overwhelming to take on this role as a researcher, so we suggest that you start small.”  Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz – A Mindset for Learning

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Welcome to COTL Mindset Blog

Below is a great article from this past weekend in the New York Times, Teaching Peace in Elementary School, by Julie Scelfo.  It reinforces what we value and already do at SES…and what we are researching to do even better!  I’m looking forward to our work together!

Thank you, Eric Lawrence, for getting us started by setting up this blog site!


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