What do you expect…from others?

This entire week I have planned to blog on the concept of mindset as defined by Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford. And why not, because, I’m pretty confident there are thousands of websites, youtube videos, blogs, already committed to sharing this powerful research finding. I could go on and on explaining how having a fixed mindset can prevent you from learning, stretching, and daring. But I think if you watch this video, it can explain the concept way better than I could do, plus this blog is not even going to be about mindset…

It is going to be about expectations and here is why. While driving one night I was listening to the latest broadcast of This American Life (I’m still in Serial withdrawal). The episode called Batman began with a few reporters asking NPR employees “do you think the thoughts you have in your head, your private thoughts, could influence the way a rat moves through space” – I know, I know a crazy question, but stay with me, because the episode drew me in and had me thinking about schools.

The podcast went on to share the story of Daniel Kish who has been blind since being a toddler, but can basically “see” by using echolocation. Daniel rides bikes, climbs trees, hikes, and does everything we would expect of a person who can see.  Here is the crazy part; Daniel does not think he is amazing or even special. Basically, he is not very impressed with himself, but the world is amazed. And why? Why is the public so enthralled, but Daniel is not?

It comes down to expectations. Unfortunately, people don’t expect the same from a blind person and, according to Daniel, these low expectations keep blind people from “seeing”. This theory is often referred to as the Pygmalion effect or Rosenthal effect.

Former President Bush coined the term “the soft bigotry of low expectations” – how within schools and in society we often have low expectations for certain students or people. Inevitably, these low expectations have a self-fulfilling effect, because people usually live up (or down) to people’s expectations. If you don’t believe me, listen to this podcast and be impressed, seriously impressed!

Bottomline: as educators and parents…don’t let your thoughts be a child’s barrier.


Kindness is defined here, and felt today, thanks to a stranger named Ted.

An envelope was mailed to me today at school, and its content was a simple letter and a wallet that belonged to an 8th grader at SAMS. A few months ago, this 8th grader, Ben, lost his wallet at a Vikings game. A stranger picked it up, found a SAMS school ID card, and mailed it to the principal (me) so I could get it back to Ben. The wallet’s content was intact — with money, giftcards, and even coins.

I wish I could meet Ted and get to know him because I’m just so honored to know people like him. His actions, his willingness to take the time and effort to do the right thing, and his simple approach to good character are inspiring. Like me, other grown-ups around SAMS appreciate this small gesture because we know how rare they can seem.  It will be great to see Ben’s reaction when he sees his wallet and reads the note, and I’m intrigued to hear what his friends and classmates think.  I want them to feel the kindness in the moment and in Ted’s gesture.  We could talk to these kids for hours and hours about the power of kindness, but it’s measures like these, taken by strangers like Ted, who remind us why the work we do in schools together is powerful and important.

Enjoy the story.  Enjoy your Friday.  Wishing you kindness to be found in your mailbox too.

Surgery and Teaching

I spent some time over break thinking about SAMS as well as the vision we have to provide authentic learning in a caring environment. I also thought about how I know for parents and our community this vision can seem vague or even laden with educational jargon…but for us at SAMS it is our work; it is our guide.

Although schools are not hospitals, we can make some connections between what surgeons have to do to save lives (I assume this is any hospital’s vision) and what teachers have to do to enrich lives (vision for many schools). The show Grey’s Anatomy has been on TV way too long and is way too dramatic, but it somehow takes horrible content (how to perform surgery) and make it entertaining. In this clip Meredith needs to perform her first solo brain surgery – she has to pull up a ton of knowledge and skills to make this happen effectively, similar to how a teacher has to pull together a ton of knowledge and skills to make an effective lesson. In the show, and in medicine, success is seen in retaining life.  In teaching it is seen in learning. Now, teachers do not have cameras and make-up to capture these moments, but we do have systematic approaches to how to teach, similar to how medicine has protocols and practices for conducting surgery. Although most people have been through K-12 schooling, it cannot be assumed they understand the inner workings of teaching and learning. Similarly, just because I watch Grey’s Anatomy, I cannot assume I know how to take out a person’s appendix!

I want to spend time discussing the industry of teaching, the way we teach, and why we teach this way. Without a clear learning targets and instruction that matches, learning is not guaranteed.  Without scaffolding and effective feedback students will not be motivated, nor will they have the grit to learn.

Providing a clear learning target is similar to GPS – everyone in the classroom needs to know where they are headed and how they will know they have reached the destination. For teachers these often resemble “I can statements” like: “I can calculate for the radius of a circle” or “I can analyze the historical significance of two causes of the American Civil War”

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Instruction that matches the learning target is like running a race (and running in the right direction) – this means when teachers ask students to define, the instruction looks different then it would if the students had been asked to analyze. Both verbs require different and hard thinking. To ensure students are prepared to meet the learning targets, teachers need to provide instruction and practice that matches the thinking required.

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Teachers provide scaffolding in the form of additional time and resources or other differentiation tools to support students reaching the learning targets. For example, when the learning target is for the players to learn the fundamentals of swinging a bat, the coach often has them use a tee for practice.  This is scaffolding.

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Effective feedback means providing students with feedback about their learning that is specific and timely, and provides direction. Although this seems easy, it is often the toughest strategy to do well. It is similar to being a border collie- someone needs to herd the learning in the classroom!

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By providing instruction that is clear in its target, provides appropriate scaffolding, with specific and timely feedback, students become active participants in their learning. They become engaged and motivated to learn.

SAMS is dedicated to creating a school committed to having authentic learning in a caring environment. As parents and community members, be committed to this vision with us. Trust that we know your child can learn and contribute.

What are you thankful for…

I sent this message to the families and teachers of St. Anthony Middle School:

It has been a crazy, fun, and quick start to the school year. I have enjoyed meeting our new 6th graders and building even stronger connections with our 7th and 8th grade students and their families. As many of you know SAMS is a school where all are expected to learn and contribute in a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment. We take this work very seriously, but we often do not take ourselves very seriously! 

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We are driven to work really hard, but also work hard at having fun and connecting with each other in a really human way. I often (well somewhat often) email everyone to report out information, share important dates or events, but today I want to email you and say thank you,

I want to say thanks for being committed to raising and teaching all the students of SAMS as if each child was your own. 

I want to thank you for wearing really ugly sweaters — here is the proof.

I want to thank you for dropping your kid off in the inside loop in front of the school and having to read about this request over and over again 🙂

I want to thank you for letting the principal refer to herself as the princiPAL way too much and way too often.


I want to thank Traci for being at the center of everything and everyone and doing it with such grace and with a smile.

I want to thank the students for letting us give them feedback on their learning in ways that make it meaningful.

I want to thank the parents for trusting us with their children, their babies, the things they love the most.

I want to thank the teachers for working hard on how to build instruction that equates to authentic learning, but for never forgetting to love kids first.

I want to thank everyone for showing that we value every subject and every content, not just those that are “tested”. 

I want to thank the community for showing with actions and words — that they value education.

I want to thank the incredible teachers (Patty, Sue, Margie) from All Day Preschool at the St. Anthony Community Center who trudged over with 30 preschool students to do science experiments with the high school chemistry students. Plus, touring them around both the MS and HS so their parents could see them. 

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Hope is more than just a strategy

Alan Blankstein states in his book Failure is Not an Option, “Hope may not be a strategy, but a strategy without hope is going nowhere fast”. SAMS has a yearlong hope to have 100% of teachers have 100% of their students achieve mastery of at least one essential standard. This is our hope and we are in the midst of figuring out our strategy to get there.

Although I know the principal is important to a school dedicated to ensuring learning for all students and the actions and beliefs of the principal matter. I also know it is only second to the role teachers play in student learning. By knowing this, it is clear to me that here at SAMS what matters the most is not the leader, but the leadership that is most crucial.

My essential standard for SAMS is simple in statement, but difficult in practice. If we have a vision to create a school committed to authentic learning in a caring environment, then my two objectives are to provide an environment at SAMS where every staff member can 1. Identify the vision and 2. Apply the vision. It looks a little like this:

Essential Standard: SAMS is a school committed to authentic learning and caring environment.
Benchmarks (outcomes):
1. SAMS staff can identify and define the vision – authentic learning in a caring environment.
2. SAMS staff can apply the vision in practice and decisions.

My role at SAMS is to be the keeper and the promoter of the vision and belief. I must provide the resources, time, and motivation to move this vision into reality. But I’m not alone, everyone at SAMS is responsible for leading this charge, because it is not about the leader – it is all about leadership.

I continue to appreciate the efforts made by designated teacher leaders on both the Authentic Learning and Caring Environment teams. Their staff development work allows for all staff to learn and contribute as the adult learners at SAMS. This growth mindset, by the adult learners, will model for students the type of thinking and courage it takes to be a learner.