Work Hard Play Hard – SAMS Style

Here at SAMS we take working hard seriously and we take playing hard seriously too! Today we had an unsledding day (no snow in Minnesota, amazing) so we built mini-golf courses and played the links. At the end of the day we all gathered in the auditorium and talked about how we care at SAMS — by being respectful, working hard, and showing that all belong. Please enjoy the show below (just click on the slides) – there are some awesome, student produced videos embedded too. Unfortunately, the only thing missing is the live music performed by our 8th grade band and choir. One more thing, all the music you hear in the background of the videos were created by students in Music Appreciation class – using Garage Band.

I’m not sure how to express how proud I am as the Principal of SAMS. The teachers, the staff, and all the students had so much fun today. Working hard and playing hard, it really is the SAMS Way!

“No Way for Robots”

At SAMS, we like to use the story of the Lamborghini car company as a metaphor for building a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment.  Watch this short video clip from 60 minutes, it is Scott Pelley (reporter) asking the Industrial Director of Lamborghini about how Lamborghini cars are made.

I love technology, I love using technology to connect and build relationships, I even blogged about this a few months ago. But like this video shows, I have also learned how the work we do at SAMS is some what “old-fashioned”– there’s no room for robots in this work. It is important to meet people where they are at and build meaningful connections. We cannot make decisions about kids, families, staff, each other if we aren’t talking with one another, being in each other’s company, and learning and growing together.  Just like doctors cannot make health decisions about people who are ill by only looking at their charts, we cannot do this work without one another.  There’s just no way for robots just like on the floor of the Lamborghini factory where only 11 cars are made each day.  – “each piece of glass is eyed and each bolt is tightened by feel”.

The fractions quote gets a lot of play time here at SAMS.  I read it before most staff meetings, parent meetings, and community meetings. We want to emulate the fractions quote by becoming a school… “where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, and take delight in each other’s company”. We feel that by caring deliberately and passionately for the students and the adults at SAMS, we will be reaching our goal of becoming a school dedicated to authentic learning in a caring environment.


Dare to Care


“At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally. It is obvious that children will work harder and do things–even odd things like adding fractions–for people they love and trust.” – Nel Nodding

“Take delight in each other’s company”

On Friday Jan. 29th, during our staff development day we did just that, we took delight in each other’s company. As a staff, we took the advice of Ms. Gerard (6th grade Language Arts teacher) and wrote each other “love notes”. Why…the better question is why not? We work in a middle school, and it is the middle of the year, and middle schools are not always fun places, plus, it is cold, snowy, and grades are due. So sometimes as the adults in the building we can dare to care. We can care deeply for each other as we work toward making SAMS a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. Thank you SAMS staff for being vulnerable and awesome. We really are building something great.

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Who you are and what you know…

During my teacher preparation program, a professor told the class, “as a teacher, you can only teach who you are and what you know” – for some reason that small statement stuck with me. Maybe due to my need to understand the context of things (I was a history teacher), or maybe, the statement started me thinking about how crucial it is to be authentic.

For the past two weeks I have attended two funerals. One for an amazing 102 year old woman named Mary Fuller. Grandma Mary was my husband Mike’s grandma and my children’s “Grandma the Great”. Her ability to live her life to the fullest for her entire 102 years is not only an inspiration, but also… just super fun. And fun, is what Grandma Mary was, she was always quick to laugh and always quick to say yes to an outing or adventure.


This past weekend I attended the funeral of my Great Aunt Angela (aka Auntie A). For the past four years my aunt has been rather sick and not totally with-it, but her passing marked an end to a generation of people. The first generation Iafigliola family who in 1911 emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio from Gildone, Italy. The picture posted above is of Angelo Nicola and Maria Teresa, my great grandparents, who gave birth to eight children, the last being my Auntie A.

Being from the United States, many of us have stories of immigration. Stories of grandparents who for many reasons, moved from their native home to the promise of America. The story of the Iafigliolas is not much different, but one thing to note is the Iafigliolas did not measure the American Dream in units of money, housing, or work, but rather, in family.

My Aunt Phil (Philomena Marie, born 1915) would tell us “I am a millionaire…my family, my sisters, my brothers, are worth more than jewels”. If you knew Aunt Phil, you would know she did not say this with sweetness, but rather with strong conviction, it was her truth.

So, what is the value of family? What is the value in knowing who you are and knowing who came before you?  For me, it means everything.

For to know me, is to know my Uncle Mike, Patrick, John and Joe and to know my Aunt Phil, Theresa and Angela, and to know my Grandma Jean. Because it is due to them –  I understand what love is and what family means.FullSizeRender

We often talk at SAMS about the concept that there is “no such thing as other people’s children,” and, now that I think about it, I learned that concept from my family. When I learned about Auntie A’s death, Amy K asked me if Auntie A had any kids.  I replied, “No, she did not.  But she put a few through college.” Yep, it’s definitely something that’s been passed down; there’s no such thing as other people’s children.

I’m not sure why I needed to write this blog, but maybe it is because it goes back to what my professor stated, “you can only teach who you are and what you know” – I am Iafigliola and I know how to love.

I also think I needed to write this blog because, I don’t think knowing who you are and what you know is reserved just for teachers. It is crucial for all of us, in all aspects of our life…right?

At SAMS We Give

“The only love we keep is the love we give away” Mother Teresa

As many of you know our Dean of Students Amy Kujawski was on maternity leave for the first quarter of the school year. And while on maternity leave she had the opportunity (many actually) to listen to podcasts like On Being, with Kirsta Tippett. During one of these listens, she heard professor of psychology Adam Grant discuss the concept of Givers. Immediately Amy emailed me and said, “listen to this, it is SAMS, it is what and who we are at SAMS, givers”. So, I listened and I agreed. SAMS is a place full of givers.

So what is a giver? A giver, defined by Professor Grant is someone who “looks for ways to improve the lives of others, they want to help others, and enjoy helping without expecting anything in return”. The research shows, over and over again, that givers, do not have to compromise their own professional success by being committed to improving the lives of others. This concept of giving is directly aligned with the underlying belief and vision of SAMS. At SAMS we believe it is our responsibility, as adults in care of children, to show children we care. To give them our love, unconditionally. We are givers!

Dr. Grant shares in this podcast, how the concept of giving is too often a contradiction in the workplace. That the work place is the last place generosity is discussed. But, when you ask people, what do they value, generosity is high on the list.  So why would we have to remove a core value upon entering our workplace? By being a giver, we don’t have to compromise who we are, but we can rather incorporate our giving in genuine ways.  The recipients of our generosity gain, but so do we.

Who are the givers in your life? When given the opportunity to reflect I know so many givers. First and foremost, my mother is the most giving person I know. Her unconditional love still grounds me. In addition, I am allowed to work in a profession that gives me the opportunity to give authentically and to love without embarrassment.

Please take a few minutes this Thanksgiving to think about the givers in your life (listen to the podcast too) and thank them. Thank you to the givers at SAMS.


What is the Caring Response?

I know many families at SAMS might be a little annoyed about receiving yet another email from someone at St. Anthony Middle School. There is a fine line between providing communication and over communicating 🙂 So please read this at your leisure. There is no requirement of response.

The title of this blog is “what is the caring response” – this has become a guiding question here at SAMS. Sometimes the caring side of education is neglected or assumed, but at SAMS we are making caring essential, something we teach, assess, and, when needed, retaught.

The staff at SAMS started the school year learning about the current research in the area of care. For example, The Making Caring Common Project at Harvard, research reports that 96% of parents report that developing moral character in their children is essential. In addition, this finding crosses all racial and socio-economic classes. Parents overwhelming desire caring over achievement for their children. Furthermore, 68% of teachers rank building caring students above building high-achievement students. Based on this research, adults (in the lives of children) value creating benevolent children over academic achievement. If this is the case, do children know this? Do they know adults value caring over academic achievement and even over personal happiness?

Unfortunately, no. When students were surveyed, they ranked achievement (48%) and personal happiness (30%) over caring (22%). In addition, when children were asked to indicate what their parents value, they indicate parents value achievement (54%) and happiness (27%) over caring (19%). And, when children were asked about their teachers, they indicate, teachers value achievement (62%) and happiness (23%) over caring (15%). This means, as adults who are vested in children, we are giving them mixed messages. We tell them we value caring, but we are showing them that academic achievement is most important. To sum it up, we are not walking the talk!

Armed with this information, SAMS will be deliberate and overt in their language and actions regarding creating a caring environment. The staff at SAMS have built standards or expectations for caring. Below are the standards we have created, these standards are essential and will be taught with the same effort as our academic standards.

At SAMS a Caring Environment looks like …

Hard Work

At SAMS we will demonstrate hard work by:

  • taking responsibility for our own learning
  • using feedback and self reflection to guide our learning
  • being engaged in our learning by being attentive, participating, and managing our time
  • demonstrating perseverance (grit)

All Belong

At SAMS we demonstrate acceptance by

  • welcoming all who are in our school.
  • celebrating differences and uniqueness.
  • showing kindness through words and actions

At SAMS we will seek out opportunities to act with courage by:   

  • standing up for each other.
  • being open minded to others lifestyles and beliefs.


At SAMS we will show respect:

  • for each other by being polite and showing good manners, being considerate of the feelings of others, peacefully handling disagreements, and practicing positive digital citizenship.
  • for the building by taking care of all property (your’s, others’, and the school’s) picking up your area, practicing proper bathroom etiquette, keeping the hallway free of trash.
  • for others by actively listening, being thoughtful about receiving feedback, responding to feedback in an appropriate manner, following instructions the first time, and using a polite tone of voice,
  • by modeling expected behavior, speaking positively about students, individualizing instructions, and working together to help every student reach their full potentials

At SAMS, we believe that all will learn and contribute in a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. This will be our first year directly teaching and assessing our caring environment  standards. If you want more information regarding the vision at SAMS please click on the following link. This is the presentation from the first SAMSA/Parent Council meeting September 28th.

As the adults in the lives of children, I encourage all of us to not only tell our kids we value caring, but show them and teach them how to care. We can all ask ourselves “what is the caring response”!

Defeating a bully culture with courage and empathy

How do we get kids to do crazy things…like add fractions? Almost every meeting at SAMS starts with the “fractions quote” –

At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must become places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally. It is obvious that children will work harder and do things–even odd things like adding fractions–for people they love and trust.” Nel Nodding, 1998

I love how this quote ties directly to our vision. SAMS is a school committed to authentic learning (adding fractions) in a caring environment (for people they love and trust). This quote and our vision at SAMS prompted a conversation at our parent meeting Monday night, so we spent some time addressing the concept of bullying. This issue can be scary, and it is also scary that we don’t always know the definition of bullying, how prevalent it is in our schools, and how to help children navigate a world with bullying and meanness.

Minnesota law defines bullying:

  • when an actual or perceived imbalance of power is in place
  • the behavior is repetitious and/or forms a pattern
  • materially or substantially interferes with student’s educational opportunities or performance or ability to participate in school functions or activities or receive school benefits, services, or privileges.

The hard part about defining bullying, in the ways mentioned above, is that it does not address overall mean or unkind behavior. Unfortunately, students, like adults, can be mean to each other sometimes. Being mean does not necessarily indicate a bullying situation. This information can be super difficult to distinguish and it takes a lot of conversation and investigation to decipher.

Once we’ve determined the nature and the extent of what is going on, we know we have an urgent responsibility to serve the needs of all students involved in the situation or bullying experience.  As educators, who believe there is no such thing as other people’s children, it is as important to educate, provide empathy, and a caring environment to both the victims of bullying as well as the one perpetrating the bullying.

Both Amy and I are comfortable sharing the ways in which we respond to bullying or unkind behavior here at SAMS.  Though we are learning all the time about best practices, we are confident in our abilities to both lead anti-bullying efforts here at SAMS and support kids who are victims or perpetrators of these bullying experiences.  Reach out to us, set up a meeting with Traci, find us on Twitter…just know that we are always open to conversations with you all about relevant issues like this one.

So the question becomes, how do we, as adults, who care about all kids, engage in meaningful conversations with our children and students about things like bullying, meanness, or unkind behavior? Empathy, upstanding, and positive culture? I was listening to a radio program where Dr. Robert A. Saul was sharing his insights regarding how to raise young citizens in the age after Columbine. He said that for any community to be healthy, everyone must believe in the following three statements for every problem that occurs: I am the problem, I am the solution, and I am the resource. I am challenging every St. Anthony community member to see not just bullying, but all issues we face in our community as our issue. I also challenge us to see ourselves as the solution and the resource to solve the problem.  To get us started, I’m proud to announce that we are starting a advocacy group to defeat bullying culture and cultivate empathy and character.  Stay tuned for more information and let us know if you want to be a part of this work.

For more information regarding bullying click on this link.

Playing is learning!

I was in the gym early this morning watching the 8th grade students build their sleds together, with duct tape and cardboard. They were laughing, working, and trying to push the limits of naughtiness. It was wonderful!

Our head engineer approached me and said “When do they stop playing?” I responded with, “I don’t think they do,i think we just stop giving them the opportunity”.

Here at SAMS we want students to work hard, but we also want them to play hard. It is just the kid version of our vision to create a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment.

But…sometimes it is hard to let kids, who look like mini adults, play. It is especially hard to do this the cold months before spring break.

Starting the end of January all the way to spring break is a tough time in a middle school. It is cold, kids don’t get outside, and they are grumpy. The same holds true for the adults in the building. We are cold, short fused, and somewhat annoyed at the grumpiness of the puberty driven middle school students! And this is exactly why, here at SAMS, we engage in our “Sledding Day” activities.

Here at SAMS we have “Work Hard Play Hard” days, like Sledding Day because:

1. If you don’t work hard, we still care about you, without lowing our expectations. We give you a “work hard room” to finish your work or to learn the essential material.

2. If you want to push the boundaries, we understand, we know you are trying to find your way in the world, and we are here to help guide you.

3. If you want to sing and dance, we give you a stage to perform.

4. If you want to work with friends, and even new friends, we give you some cardboard, duct tape, and a sledding hill to have fun.

5. Bottom line, we know kids want to have fun and to play. We also know, they want to work hard, so why not let them do both and name it.

Thanks to our staff who worked so hard to make sledding day successful.  And, for letting themselves see that it is also OK to play as an adult.

Saving for the Future can be EPIC

I had the pleasure to emcee an event recently – completely dedicated to raising funds for our school district. More specifically, for teachers and students in the areas of arts and innovation.

The night included a fancy dinner at a classic steak restaurant with drinks and a silent auction – fun was inevitable. But what made the night extraordinary – actually EPIC – was the generosity and commitment of the community to support student learning.

At SAMS, Amy and I always base our thinking and leadership on the simple concept that there is no such thing as other people’s children. We believe when a community of teachers, parents, and administrators who, in their hearts, want for every child, what they would want for their own child – we will have an EPIC school.

At the SAVfortheFuture event, when I witnessed extraordinary amounts of money raised so that every child can be Educated, Prepared, and Inspired, I saw a Community of life-long learners in a small caring environment. A small caring environment dedicated to providing every child an EPIC experience at St. Anthony New Brighton Schools.

We love to see students!

We love to see our SAMS students. As cheesy as it sounds, they are the heart of our school. Middle school kids are full of energy and eye rolls, enthusiasm and mood swings- and they are also the reason we work hard to build a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment at SAMS. So, fittingly, our expectation for attendance is simple- we want students here all day, every day unless of illness, religious holiday, funeral, or other family emergency. We know that sometimes medical/dental appointments can only be scheduled during school hours, and we understand. We just prefer families work to get students back to school as quickly as possibly.

We are trusted to work closely with Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to ensure that all students are attending school. It is our responsibility to report accurate attendance records to the county truancy offices- this job falls mostly to Traci Adams and me. The counties tell us the average student misses less than 7 days in the span of a school year. Using their suggested protocols, we put into place some basic attendance practices.

As with all of our practices and policies, every action we take regarding student attendance at SAMS is rooted in support and concern. Too often our efforts to support students and families with attendance concerns comes across like the authorities pursuing suspects. We want to eliminate that feeling as best we can and focus on the real reason we want kids in school- because without them our vision, our work, our school is nothing. ALL will learn and contribute here, and if they cannot, we want to help. We help families deal with a variety of issues that can lead to excessive absences like transportation, peer conflicts, school avoidance, emotional health concerns, physical well-being. Our intention is always to make sure that school and home are working together.

Many of you know that Traci Adams is the staff member at SAMS who works with the daily attendance. She needs to be notified by phone or email when a student is going to be absent. If she has not heard from a parent/guardian, she will try to get a hold of a parent/guardian once or twice throughout the day. But at some point, absences that are not reported by parents are unexcused because of management. Once a day has passed and we have not heard, we move the reason for absence from “waiting to hear from parent” to “unexcused” on Infinite Campus.

At this mid-point in the year, if a student is missing 8-10 days of school, I usually send an email letting the family know that their child’s absences are becoming a concern. The main purpose of the letter is to find out if there is any support the child or family needs from the school. Sometimes families are pro-active to let us know if there is a medical or family emergency. This is very helpful.

When a student reaches more than 10 absences, I usually sends a second letter requesting that any further absence be documented by a doctor for illness or reported to me directly. No longer is the parent asked to call the attendance line once that letter is received. These absences are recorded by me at that point. This allows for more in-depth conversations so we can work with families to help provide a support system or attendance plan.

If a student has unexcused absences, there are consequences at school. Warnings are given the first time, and further offenses lead up to SAMS-style in-school suspension (kids are isolated when possible but necessary access to learning is still provided). Once a student has more than 3 unexcused absences, the county is contacted. If a student is a Hennepin County resident, it is six unexcused absences before the student is reported to the county. Once a report to a county is made (in either Hennepin, Ramsey or Anoka), there are different protocols followed. We will always support families if they are brought into county truancy systems; however, we work diligently with families to avoid this from happening.

This is never a fun topic, and I just really want parents to know that we work with middle-schoolers all day, every day. There isn’t a situation or a problem we aren’t willing to roll our sleeves with and try to help solve- and that is especially true with attendance. We love working with all families to make sure that students feel safe, welcome and able to be at school; this ensures us the chance to make our vision- a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment- a reality. See you at school!

Guest Blogger Amy Kujawski