Finding the School Groove


In the itty-bitty world on virtual life, three internet readers wrote to me this week about the same post.   As Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Neither do I in this case.  They wrote to me about an oldie but a goodie.

We’re all in the back to school frenzy, riding the wave of a long weekend and feeling like the next weekend is a long time a-coming.  But at my school, we’re  on day six. That’s less than fifty hours of school. No wonder the new routines and schedule feel new.

It takes time to settle in to a routine.

And practice.

And patience.

And stamina.

And a sense of humor.

And good fuel in the form of food and water.

And ice cream.

And rest.

And exercise.

And rest.

I don’t see it as coincidence that three readers stumbled upon my post Stretching into the First Six Weeks of School   (originally published on a sixth day of school – coincidence again?) We’re all feeling it right about now and we’ll continue feeling it for a few more weeks. Routines will settle, connections will be forged and a community of learners will take shape.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor six.  Believe me, it takes about 30 school days to really find that groove in your own little Rome.

That groovy path to a classroom community takes a lot of energy and compassion, even from those who are not directly marching on that road. It’s not smooth nor can any of us clear all the rough patches for each other, especially our little folks.  Hopefully, school is fun and engaging, but it should also be challenging.  It’s in the difficult  places that we grow.  Our kids will grow if and when we allow them the space to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Then they’ll develop the skills to work themselves out of the bumps so they sail through the smooth patches and have skills for the next bump.  Besides, who wants to be a snowplow parent anyway?

Help your child face the minor bumps of the first days with a sense of purpose and determination.  Remind them it takes time and that it gets easier. Be the coach and cheerleader.  Help them find home routines for school work and relaxation.  Point out what is working and where you see growth. And make time to just have some fun. Oh, and be sure to follow an age-appropriate bedtime routine so their brains can consolidate learning and be prepared for more learning and growth.

Next thing you know, it’ll be Halloween and the start of school will seem like ages ago. We’ll get our groove, you’ll see.  Enjoy the ride – bumps and joys all the same!


perseverance. effort. grit.

per·se·ver·ance [pur-suh-veer-uhns]  noun

steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

Like most aspects of human development, the development of this trait is a fluid process that will grow over time. It will mature with the child  – and wax and wane throughout life as circumstances and outlooks shift.  As an adult, you’ve experienced this countless times, whether you’re a glass half-empty or glass half-full kind of soul.

But children innately possess an ability to persist. It’s how they learn to make sense of their world.  Just as a 9 month old will knock a cup off a high chair, only to delight in repeating it once the adult places it back on the tray, children try and try again to learn the cause and effect of their world.   Over time, that propensity to persist can either remain steadfast or diminish. It can thrive with a growth mindset (in a Carol Dweck-ian-kinda way) and supportive and loving relationships.  It can whither away unintentionally by adults who fix everything,  praise innate talents relentlessly, or don’t expect effort from a child. Continue reading “Perseverance”

6 Steps to Build Perseverance


Perseverance. Determination. Stick-to-itiveness.

The first two bring to mind motivational posters seen in the cubicles of the NBC comedy, The Office. The third is one of those pesky-words from a basal text-book I read in fifth grade.  Neither of which call to mind young children. But I know (because I see it every day) that children are persistent and determined, especially with the careful guidance of adults.

It’s the middle of the year, and while I don’t know if or when winter will arrive, I do know in our school and elsewhere,  children  exhibit the kind of perseverance that manifests itself in later life on the playing field, in the board room and in personal relationships. I bet you know kids like this, too.

Preschoolers and Prek children have left the comfortable and safe nest called home all year to take those first steps towards independence at school and beyond.  By now, they’ve acquired the skills and courage to hop out of the car, mosey onto the playground and care for belongings with very little assistance from adults. They are articulating their wishes and needs and have the neophyte skills for basic conflict resolution.  The feed themselves snack and clean up. They’re learning  hopscotch, one-to-one correspondence, to predict what might happen in a book and to try new things with music and art.  Life might be easier to hanging out at home, but they are showing up at school,  ready to take on new challenges and gain new skills. They’ve tried and tried again. They’ve made dozens of baby steps for which the sum total is a magnificent step in their growth and development.  The same sort of recap could be made for most children at any grade level.

How to foster and develop persistence in young children?  Six basic step that could be followed in a myriad of action plans effective adults use for themselves.  Tailor the specific language and steps to the developmental age of your child and take into account the individual nature, strengths and needs of the child.

1. Name it.
Perseverance  As Jamie Lee Curtis says in Big Words for Little People, “PERSEVERANCE is to try and to try, even though you might want to give up and cry. When doing a puzzle that puzzles your mind, you persevere till the right piece you find.”  When you notice your child sticking to a task, point it out. “Hey, I see you turned that puzzle piece around and around until it fit. That’s perseverance!” Or with older children, “I notice that you made some changes to your essay that really support your topic sentence.” Clear, specific, honest.

2. Teach self-talk
What does perseverance sound like or feel like inside? It’s often hard to recognize and even harder to develop without coaching.  What phrases resonate for you? For your child? How about:

  • “I think I can, I think I can.”
  • “Don’t give up the ship!”
  • “Try, try again!”

With older kids (9-10) surf the net together to find quotes or biographies of folks your child admires – politicians, athletes, philanthropist. There is much written about such persevering people like Michael Jordan, Helen Keller, Gary Paulson, Amelia Earhart and dozens of others.

3. Help Set a Goal
This is a learned skill many adults still struggle with.  Sit down and talk about goals, your child’s own goals and those which you have in common.

  • Establish baby steps so that by starting small, they are attainable.
  • Build autonomy by having your child put for the effort, record progress, or solve new problems which arise.
  • Be open to possibilities or to see things differently; let your child take the lead and don’t be wedded to an outcome you are seeking.
  • Be the reality check for your child. Children are notorious for seeing things larger than they are and need help keeping things in perspective. If they want to raise $1,000 for the Red Cross, lay some ground work to explain what a large undertaking that is and help pare down the project and goals to a more attainable scale.
  • Applaud effort – not perfection. ‘Nuf said.

4. Positive Spin – “Believe and  you can achieve”
If a child is to believe they have the capacity, skills and the confidence to meet goal, they need to see, hear and feel that you believe that they can accomplish that goal – especially when their confidence is wavering. Be watchful. Listen. Notice. Share clear, specific and positive ways that you observe them putting forth effort and accomplishing small steps toward the larger goal.  This will likely fuel them into taking the next step, too.

5. Provide Reminders

It’s no news that children have short memories. And if they’re tweens/teens, remember their brain is rewiring itself for adult life and at times, they are neurologically younger than they appear.   What seems like a fabulous and extensive project one day, could easy be cast aside or forgotten about in a day or a week. By breaking big projects into small steps, they can work little by little and day by day. Provide reminders about the big goal and prompts to ignite their interest in the small steps. And it’s okay to take a breather from a bigger project; in fact, scheduled breaks help children learn to sustain the energy to engage in long-term projects and learning.

6. Set Up Supports
Rome wasn’t built in a day. We all have set backs.  Remind your child that once a task has begun, it’s important to see it through completion (there are always exceptions, but be sure to make abandoning a goal the exception and not the habit or rule). Use tips 1-5 to talk about the smaller steps that lead to a larger goal. Use examples from your own life where you’ve felt like giving up but persevered. Or call on those characters from the good books you’ve found.  There’s an old Chinese proverb, repeated often by Lance Armstrong, that says, “fall down 7 times to get up 8.”

All kids have passions. Determining what that passion is and how to authentically support it can be the rub for parents. Ask, talk, listen to what your child is passionate about and find out what has deep meaning for them. Find a project for them to pursue  and practice these steps to fostering perseverance.  Summer perfect time to tap their passions, scaffold learning of new skill and let kids show their ability to persevere.

5 Things You Can Do to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Kids

Words of Encouragement

The debate of praise versus encouragement continues. A quick google search will toss-up over 7,000,000 hits. No doubt, the seminal research by Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck and others have taught us that by offering primarily praise, we create kids who crave approval and validation by adults, rather than developing the confidence and persistence requisite to self assessment, self-regulation, and learning.

Instead of offering empty, vague or cursory praise such as “good job!” or “I like that!”, specific feedback shows kids the value of their effort and persistence. Kohn begged us to Stop Saying Good Job! years ago. We’re still learning what else to say. Then he told us We (were) Punished By Rewards. But why should we offer honest encouragement to children? For a more up to date discussion on the value of encouragement, listen to Rae Pica’s BAM! Body, Mind and Child podcast on the topic “Creating Praise Junkies: Are You Giving Children Too Much ‘Positive’ Reinforcement?

By leading children to discover the problem solving process or understand the rules, we are enabling children prosocial skills and information they can use in other settings. This often allows them to uncover new information or solve a problem or to build skills they can transfer to other situations. If children hear specific feedback about their effort, their skills and their ability to work well with others, they are armed with the skills to forge ahead with new learning, without looking to adults for approval. In Tips for New Teachers Goodbye to “Good Job!”—The Power of Specific Feedback, Margaret Wilson offers concrete steps teachers can take to identify the behaviors in neutral and constructive ways. This type of language is rooted in honest and authentic relationships and observations. It’s an essential tool for teachers, if our goal is for kids are to have a growth mindset and develop greater self-control.

What’s equally important is the encouragement and questions we pose to children that allows them figure things out – part of developing a growth mindset (Flashback: Read how Carol Dweck’s research helps guide how I interact with both my own kids and students here.) By teaching kids that they can try new things, learn new things, and that their brains are wired to change and grow, we arm them with the tools for life-long learning. It’s powerful stuff that increases productivity, happiness, and resilience. Dweck’s research shows that it’s not how smart you are, but rather how whether or not you have a mastery-mindset. Teachers and parents can read more about tapping a growth mindset affects kids. This is very different from praising them for simply being “smart.” The University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development conducted research study which examines the effect of a growth mindset in early childhood suggests that process-focused feedback is a more constructive approach than simply praising a child for an accomplishment. Engaging a child in the process can re­inforce the value of effort and persistence and help a child understand that mistakes are part of learning.

Five Quick things you can do to help develop a growth mindset in kids:

  1. Ask open-ended questions to solve a problem or achieve a goal. “What do you think will happen if…” or “Why do you suppose…” These questions build logical thinking skills and often lead to rich discovery.
  2. Use specific feedback that identifies what the child accomplished. What small steps led to a larger outcome? 

Be supportive when your child attempts something new. It might not be the way you’d try to solve a problem, but if it works, acknowledge it honestly and without judgement. Pick your battles. Hair done by a three-year old might not be ready for the runway, but it brings a child great satisfaction to say, “I did it myself!” Skills that build persistence simultaneously allow children to feel confidence and independence. WHen frustration rears it’s head, offer an encouraging word about what steps worked well.
  3. Encourage kids to take a risk. Watch and listen to your child so you can take cues about what else they are ready to tackle. Vygotsky calls this the “zone of proximal development – when we gently nudge kids to use what they know to try something just a bit out of their reach, but yet developmentally appropriate. By offering small but achievable challenges, confidence and persistence emerge
  4. Be persistent and growth-orientated yourself. Narrate your thoughts as you try something new or frustrating (with a G-rating, of course!). Your child may even be able to offer some helpful tips. This allows children to see we all have to work hard to solve problems and we all continue to learn new things.
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Accidents, and mistakes happen. Show your child that there’s something to be learned when we don’t achieve what we set out to accomplish. Maybe someone else lends a hand. Maybe you return to the task at another time. Maybe it’s best to abandon things for a while or break things down into smaller steps. Be specific about what worked, identify the emotions involved, and offer encouragement for the next time.

Hopes and the Mirage of Rules

I  begin to feel uneasy for a few days as we approach day 10 of school. It’s a thirst for something that will sustain us through the joys and challenges of the year and that will be part of the glue that holds our community together.

I’m not uneasy because of anything anybody has done. Or who they are. It’s arises out of that gray area we hover in for a couple of days. It’s the space between having articulated our hopes for the year and the existence of our class guidelines.  These class rules and the logical consequences of forgetting the rules will bubble up, quite deliberately,  like a mirage in the desert.

I can see them. I can taste them. I need them. But we’re not there yet.

My job in the last few days was to guide my children to collaborate to form a draft of our rules.  Now, as a community, we need to focus on:

  1. seeing them (literally and as we begin to internalize)
  2. practicing them
  3. doing them
  4. forgetting them
  5. repeating as necessary (all year-long)

Oh yes, and then there’s the requisite day-to-day activities, introduction of content area, assessments, getting to know parents, making time for colleagues and family and friends. It’s a lot. But keeping eye on that shimmering water ahead reassured me that soon we’ll be refreshing ourselves with guidelines we’ve compiled together.

Getting to the rules is not a neat and tidy process. It requires numerous conversations in whole and small groups and individually.  In years past, conversations about rules included such observations from third graders as:

  • rules are bad
  • you feel bad
  • ya gotta do ’em

This year, they included:

  • you learn them
  • you feel proud when you do them
  • you feel bad when you forget, but you get over it and move on
  • they teach you moderation

Why such a striking change? There are undoubtedly many reasons, but it’s clear that the consistency of an approach to teaching, learning and living has contributed to a shift in thinking among these third graders.  The strong influence in this progressive, proactive view of classroom rules is the consistent approach to community and learning our school has in place, rooted firmly in the Responsive Classroom approach, the school’s mission and the commitment of the teachers to keep the social curriculum on par with the academic.

It’s evident these children themselves as decision makers in their learning, owners and operators of our classroom and human beings who have an obligation to care for others. Will they forget? Move quickly? Speak impulsively?  Of course.

That’s where responsive adults come in.  That’s where we refer back to the process of defining our rules and applying them in ways which further a child’s understanding of abstract concepts such as respect, responsibility, kindness, fairness and honesty.

When we truly value children as constructors of their own learning and listen to what they tell and show us, they begin to feel a connection and trust that lets them show both their strengths and vulnerabilities.  In revealing  hopes, children show their  individual interests and some very typical hallmark behaviors of their age.

Eight-year-olds are learning to master the “tools of their trade,” and love to dig into projects alongside a few peers.  Many of our hopes this year focus on researching topics.  Others reflect eight year olds inherent need to move and be physical often.

When we connect these hopes (and the rest) to how we will live and work, children begin to see their role as an individual impacts the community. We’ve spent time getting to know each other and are learning to care for each other.  There is empathy for, and interest in, helping each other attain these hopes. Everyone contributed an idea for a rule. Many were the same. We worked carefully to pare down the rules to a manageable number and to zoom in on what it was we wanted to say in a positive and proactive way.

We agreed on a set of rules and let them sit for a day or so to see how they feel. Soon we’ll finalize and celebrate this very challenging, but critical work which is the foundation on which the rest of the year will be constructed.

And then we’ll be refreshed to persevere into the real fun and work of the year ahead.