Change is Scary…

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” 

As most of you know, I am geeky.  Many people tell me that my geeky is good, but I feel others look at me as an outlier.  I haven’t always been this geeky.  It has developed over time.  It all began when I was struggling to get my kids to meet their growth targets.  It turned out that the systemic way we were teaching wasn’t working, but this conversation began a fire within me that although scary at times has spurred me into a direction I never considered.  My geek is not about a need to consume information, but about a need to be better at my craft, to better meet the kids of those in my care and to stay on the cutting edge of what research or other experts in the field are saying is working.  My geek is about being innovative and that is where this series of posts begins.

My co-worker, Nancy, shared a book with me that I have been staring at for a couple of months.  It is one of those books you carry around for the summer, with the best of intentions to read.  The author, George Curous, has started a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to process the chapters and I have decided to participate in the MOOC, along with stretching both my technology skills and comfort zone by joining a Voxer group with other professionals around the country and working towards my professional goal of blogging more regularly.  The next few posts will be focused on the book The Innovator’s Mindset and what I am learning, thinking about and considering for my own practice.

Up until now, I have not thought of myself as a change agent.  I have thought of myself as possibly a perfectionist.  Although in other areas of my life, that would not ring true.  Just ask my honey.  When I think of change it scares me a little, but when I think of innovation I am invigorated.  I guess changing my mindset shifts the purpose of the change.  I’ll get on to reading the next section and will share what I am learning.

How do you feel about change?  Do you see it as scary?  An opportunity to do something amazing?  Just another thing we do?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!



What does mindset have to do with it?

Mindset is something we have talked about for years.  Many of us have read Carol Dweck’s work and have also heard about Jo Boaler’s work around Mindset in Mathematics.  Given this work, and the fact that we tend to put others before ourselves, it’s not unlikely that thinking about our own mindset and approach to our learning hasn’t been the top of our priority list.  baby-boomer-entreprenturial-mindset


Check out this great post from Teach Boost about teacher mindset and some considerations to use with each other to ensure that we maintain a Growth Mindset about our own practice, rather than getting stuck when change paralyzes us.


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The team at PERTS—Stanford University’s Project for Education Research That Scales—has been researching growth mindset for quite some time, and their findings on student and educator learning capacity are fascinating.

Recently we sat down with PERTS’s senior program manager Jacquie Beaubien to talk about growth mindset. Because we at TeachBoost are proponents of continuous professional learning, we were excited to talk through the research that supports taking a growth mindset approach to teacher development.

Here’s what we learned.

What is growth mindset?

“Growth mindset is the belief that abilities—specifically intelligence—are malleable,” says Beaubien. “It’s the belief that anyone can improve their intelligence.”

Why is growth mindset in educators so important?

“It’s a great benefit to anyone to develop a growth mindset,” says Beaubien. “Evidence shows it’s a positive perspective to have on someone’s abilities.”

We agree. In order to improve practice, students, teachers, and leadership teams need to believe that anyone can improve, including themselves and their peers.

Finally, says Beaubien, “it’s important for students to see that their teachers fully embrace the belief that everyone can learn.”

How can instructional leaders promote and support growth mindset in their teachers?

Beaubien offers 5 helpful tips for principals, coaches, and educator teams:

1. Deliver frequent, formative feedback.

“There’s a lack of consistent formative feedback in the teaching profession,” says Beaubien. “Teachers get trained and given the content, but they’re not given many opportunities to improve their teaching. Most models for evaluating teachers are like old model of evaluating students—summative. It can feel very threatening.”

Just like students need formative assessments and personalized learning plans, it is also critical that educators get frequent feedback on their performance, know where they need to focus their efforts, and understand the steps to take to improve their practice. “One thing I really love about TeachBoost,” says Beaubien, “is that it’s a platform for giving formative feedback, making mentor matches, and planning goals and next steps.”

2. Be deliberate about offering growth mindset praise that supports growth mindset.

Phrases like “you’re a natural” or “you’re really smart” are complimentary, however they suggest that a person’s abilities are innate, or inherent; fixed. Growth mindset praise is more nuanced. “You need to praise the process: the steps someone took to get to the desired end result. Effort is a part of that, but not the whole.”

3. Embrace the idea that learning occurs when one is stretched beyond their comfort zone.

In other words, make room for you and your teachers to make mistakes. “One thing educators work on is helping students get comfortable making mistakes,” says Beaubien, “but the same must be true for teachers. Teachers are facing challenges like adopting the Common Core, integrating technology tools— these introduce significant changes to most classrooms.”

Speaking from an edtech perspective, we must embrace the belief that all educators can leverage technology in powerful ways in the classroom. A tool like TeachBoost helps leaders consider everyone in the school as a learner, which means everyone has to be comfortable making mistakes.

4. Take advantage of the Growth Mindset for Teachers kit.

To help educators foster a growth mindset in their students, PERTS created a free set of courses, lessons, and best practices for use in the classroom. The kit walks teachers through the fundamentals of a growth mindset, and has activities teachers can try out in their classroom.

5. Leverage the Growth Mindset for Educator Teams course.

In addition to the classroom-oriented mindset kit, the free Educator Teams course covers setting up PLCs and PD around growth mindset, offers suggestions on how to introduce this to the whole school, and includes stories from teacher teams who’ve done this work.

PERTS encourages teachers to conduct peer visits to observe others working through the kits, and they provide a framework and downloadable worksheets for delivering teacher feedback. We really like this for two reasons:

  1. Teacher evaluation forms aren’t always great fits for peer visits, so it’s great to have a new resource for intervisitations.
  2. Because mindset work is new and nuanced, it’s helpful that PERTS put together these guiding documents.

Beaubien suggests starting with a small group of self-motivated teachers as well as a principal or school leader.

Visit the Mindset Kit website to learn more and sign up for their fantastic newsletter.

Visible Learning for Literacy


I am extremely intrigued by this new book by Fischer, Frey and Hattie.  Having spent the last year studying Visible Learning, I thought this would be a logical next step in better understanding the links to literacy.  Only being a short way in, I am struck by the importance of relationships and credibility.  How can we create a system where rigorous academics can co-exist with relationship and teacher credibility?  So often, these ideas are in direct contrast to each other.  It seems, at least to me that with strong relationships, the academics will follow close behind.  However, without relationships, academics will struggle.  Teachers are often put in a place where academics are the focus and what’s measured.  The pressure of the expectations often shifts a person’s focus from the relationship to a checklist of getting things completed.

As a coach, I encounter this struggle regularly and struggle myself with how to shift one’s perspective.

Fischer and Frey offer some suggestions on building the relationship with students.  Many of them are quite simple.

  1. Display student work
  2. Share class achievements
  3. Speak to the accomplishments of all students
  4. Be sincere in their pride in their students and make sure that pride is based on evidence of student work, not generalized comments
  5. Look for opportunities for students to be proud of themselves and of other students or groups of students.
  6. Develop parental pride in student accomplishments
  7. Develop pride in improvement in addition to the pride in excellence.

I’ll keep reading and update as I learn more.  What questions do you still have about this topic?  What struggles do you have in your own classroom?

Helpful Resource to Make Sense of Readers Workshop

ask-question-2-ce96e3e01c85a38a0d39c61cfae6d42cJennifer Serravallo, author of The Reading Strategies Book and Conferring with Readers (coauthored with Gravity Goldberg); and The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook, Grades K–2 and Grades 3–6 has a wonderful podcast.  I know many people may be thinking “What in the world is a podcast?”, or “I don’t have time for that!”

Capture(Definition from Google)

I think of Podcasts like radio shows.  Because of the amazing technology we have at our fingertips, we can choose what we want to listen to, rather than be at the mercy of what is on the radio.

I know that Jen understands the intensity of the classroom because each podcast is 5 minutes or less.  I plug them into my car and listen to a couple on the way to work.  She tells what question she is answering in the episode notes, so you can search for specific things that are on your mind and relisten to episodes as the need arises.  I appreciate the realistic nature of her answers.  She knows how busy teachers are and gives the nuts and bolts to an issue.  I have honed my knowledge and taken away some great snippets.

You can search for her in the iTunes store, or on the Podcast app if you are an iOS user.  The Podcast is called “Teachers Ask Jen Serravalo”.  You can read more at The Teacher Learning Sessions website.  She begins a new season soon, so if you have a burning question, you should submit it here.  Maybe your question will highlight the next episode!

Welcome Back to School!

Where has the time gone?  Honestly, I am not sure but we’re back, the kids are back and there is energy in the building again.  Thank goodness!  Even though we’re able to get so much done when the kids aren’t here, it is a quiet and lonely place without them.  I am grateful for the time to recharge, but am excited to begin another year.

As we shift our assessment practices within the district, I found this article from Jennifer Serravallo (The Reading Strategies Book) about beginning the year in the Reading Workshop.  She shares some easy and excellent strategies to get to know your kids as readers and better understand their needs, without a lot of formal assessment.  I love the idea of sitting with our readers, rather than drowning them (and us) in assessments.

Sobbing over the end

     Emmett enjoys being read to more than the average child.  Watch this video to see his reaction to “The End!”  The Saddest Bookworm
     Below is a blog post from Tim Shanahan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of urban education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He was Founding Director of the Center for Literacy and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.  Tim’s information is timely and important as we launch our school year and communicate our expectations to parents in supporting their kids’ reading.
     From Tim’s Blog:
Parents often ask how they can help their children learn to read; and it’s no wonder that they’re interested in this essential skill.  Reading plays an important role in later school success. One study even demonstrates that how well 7-year-olds read predicts their income 35 years later! This article provides 11 practical recommendations for helping preschoolers and school-age students learn to read.

1. Teaching reading will only help.

Sometimes, parents are told early teaching is harmful, but it isn’t true. You simply can’t introduce literacy too early. I started reading to my own children on the days they were each born! The “dangers of early teaching” has been a topic of study for more than 100 years, and no one has ever found any convincing evidence of harm. Moreover, there are hundreds of studies showing the benefits of reading to your children when they are young.

2. Teaching literacy isn’t different than teaching other skills.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to raise a happy, healthy, smart child. Parents have been doing it for thousands of years. Mothers and fathers successfully teach their kids to eat with a spoon, use a potty, keep their fingers out of their noses, and say “please.” These things can be taught pleasantly, or they can be made into a painful chore. Being unpleasant (e.g. yelling, punishing, pressuring) doesn’t work, and it can be frustrating for everyone.
This notion applies to teaching literacy, too. If you show your 18-month-old a book and she shows no interest, then put it away and come back to it later. If your child tries to write her name and ends up with a backwards “D,” no problem. No pressure. No hassle. You should enjoy the journey, and so should your child.

3. Talk to your kids (a lot).

Last year, I spent lots of time with our brand new granddaughter, Emily. I drowned her in language. Although “just a baby,” I talked — and sang — to her about everything. I talked about her eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and fingers. I told her all about her family — her mom, dad, and older brother. I talked to her about whatever she did (yawning, sleeping, eating, burping). I talked to her so much that her parents thought I was nuts; she couldn’t possibly understand me yet. But reading is a language activity, and if you want to learn language, you’d better hear it, and eventually, speak it. Too many moms and dads feel a bit dopey talking to a baby or young child, but studies have shown that exposing your child to a variety of words helps in her development of literacy skills.

4. Read to your kids.

I know everyone says this, but it really is a good idea — at least with preschoolers. One of my colleagues refers to this advice as the “chicken soup” of reading education. We prescribe it for everything. (Does it help? It couldn’t hurt.) If a parent or caregiver can’t read or can’t read English, there are alternatives, such as using audiobooks; but for those who can, reading a book or story to a child is a great, easy way to advance literacy skills. Research shows benefits for kids as young as 9-months-old, and it could be effective even earlier than that. Reading to kids exposes them to richer vocabulary than they usually hear from the adults who speak to them, and can have positive impacts on their language, intelligence, and later literacy achievement.
What should you read to them? There are so many wonderful children’s books. Visit your local library, and you can get an armful of adventure. You can find recommendations from kids at the Children’s Book Council website or at the International Literacy Association Children’s Choices site, as well as free books online at other websites like Search Lit or Unite for Literacy.

5. Have them tell you a “story.”

One great way to introduce kids to literacy is to take their dictation. Have them recount an experience or make up a story. We’re not talking “Moby Dick” here. A typical first story may be something like, “I like fish. I like my sister. I like grandpa.” Write it as it is being told, and then read it aloud. Point at the words when you read them, or point at them when your child is trying to read the story. Over time, with lots of rereading, don’t be surprised if your child starts to recognize words such as “I” or “like.” (As children learn some of the words, you can write them on cards and keep them in a “word bank” for your child, using them to review later.)

6. Teach phonemic awareness.

Young children don’t hear the sounds within words. Thus, they hear “dog,” but not the “duh”-“aw”- “guh.” To become readers, they have to learn to hear these sounds (or phonemes). Play language games with your child. For instance, say a word, perhaps her name, and then change it by one phoneme: Jen-Pen, Jen-Hen, Jen-Men. Or, just break a word apart: chair… ch-ch-ch-air.
Follow this link to learn more about language development milestones in children.

7. Teach phonics (letter names and their sounds).

You can’t sound out words or write them without knowing the letter sounds. Most kindergartens teach the letters, and parents can teach them, too. I just checked a toy store website and found 282 products based on letter names and another 88 on letter sounds, including ABC books, charts, cards, blocks, magnet letters, floor mats, puzzles, lampshades, bed sheets, and programs for tablets and computers. You don’t need all of that (a pencil and paper are sufficient), but there is lots of support out there for parents to help kids learn these skills. Keep the lessons brief and fun, no more than 5–10 minutes for young’uns.
Understanding the different developmental stages of reading and writing skills will help to guide your lessons and expectations.

8. Listen to your child read.

When your child starts bringing books home from school, have her read to you. If it doesn’t sound good (mistakes, choppy reading), have her read it again. Or read it to her, and then have her try to read it herself. Studies show that this kind of repeated oral reading makes students better readers, even when it is done at home.

9. Promote writing.

Literacy involves reading and writing. Having books and magazines available for your child is a good idea, but it’s also helpful to have pencils, crayons, markers, and paper. Encourage your child to write. One way to do this is to write notes or short letters to her. It won’t be long before she is trying to write back to you.

10. Ask questions.

When your child reads, get her to retell the story or information. If it’s a story, ask who it was about and what happened. If it’s an informational text, have your child explain what it was about and how it worked, or what its parts were. Reading involves not just sounding out words, but thinking about and remembering ideas and events. Improving reading comprehension skills early will prepare her for subsequent success in more difficult texts.

11. Make reading a regular activity in your home.

Make reading a part of your daily life, and kids will learn to love it. When I was nine years old, my mom made me stay in for a half-hour after lunch to read. She took me to the library to get books to kick off this new part of my life. It made me a lifelong reader. Set aside some time when everyone turns off the TV and the web and does nothing but read. Make it fun, too. When my children finished reading a book that had been made into a film, we’d make popcorn and watch the movie together. The point is to make reading a regular enjoyable part of your family routine.
Happy reading.
Ritchie, S.J., & Bates, T.C. (2013). Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status.Psychological Science, 24, 1301-1308.
Karass J., & Braungart-Rieker J. (2005). Effects of shared parent-infant reading on early language acquisition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 133-148.

How our decisions can crowd out the reading for kids.

Donalyn Miller has been an inspiration to me for years.  She is the author of a column, blog and 2 books: The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.  She advocates for us to create an environment where kids are reading like real readers, rather than reading looking differently at school than it does at home.  This is an interview with her telling how she got started.  She is still teaching and inspiring kids, which inspires me as well.  She has a great Twitter handle (@donalynbooks) and is involved in Title Talk (@Titletalk) with Colby Sharp.  Another great resource for book titles and book discussions.  If you’ve read either of her books, was there anything that changed your practice?