ALL Will Learn and Contribute

The following letter was read to our students today at SAMS.

Dear Students,

As we go into our three-day MLK weekend, Dr. Corneille and I have a quick message for you.  We hope you join us in celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We hope you take time to celebrate and reflect on the extraordinary life of service he led, and we hope it inspires you- as it has us.

As teachers, our lives have been enriched by the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of students.  All of them, and all of you, deserve to live the dream Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about in his influential speech.  We like to say around here that ALL will learn and contribute.  And when we say “all”, we mean ALL. Every one of you- regardless of your race, culture, background, religion, ability, gender, sexuality- deserves a bright and promising future, and as the leaders of your school, we are committed to giving you the education you need to get you on your way.

Together, with your teachers, we are deeply committed to building a school where all students feel as if they really do belong, they can contribute, and they will learn.  This commitment requires of us a laser-like focus on racial justice.  We owe it to all of you to not just celebrate the strength the diversity of our school offers our community, but we must also disrupt outdated thinking. Some examples of this outdated thinking are talking about race is controversial or white people can opt out of the work to dismantle racism because it does not affect them. Talking about race and racism is important, and dismantling racism benefits all of us in significant ways.

Together, with your teachers, we have been working all year to better understand the role race and racism plays in our school.  We welcome you to ask us about what we are learning, what keeps us curious, and what questions we are asking.

Together, with your teachers, we pledge to stay inspired by the life of a great American hero like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We vow to stay inspired by all the promise you show us, too.

We will wrap up with a powerful quote of Dr. King’s- “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Enjoy the MLK weekend, SAMS students.

Ms. Kujawski and Dr. Corneille

My New Year’s Wish

Hi all.  It’s Amy K, from Renee’s office at SAMS.  It’s also me in that picture baking with my daughter on my back.  When my husband showed me this picture he took of my youngest and I baking over winter break, it reminded me of parenting advice my minister offered when I was pregnant with our middle child.  She told me the only parenting advice I’d ever need was to “be the person you want your kids to grow up to be”.  Simple enough, yet what a challenge.  I couldn’t help but see this picture as a metaphor and wonder how differently or similarly would I behave if Callie was always on my back, looking over my shoulder, hearing every word I said.

This wasn’t just good parenting advice, it was also good teacher advice.  

Be the learner you want your students to be.

Be the musician you want your students to be.

Be the champion for justice as you want your students to be.  

As the new year gets under way, my wish for the grown-ups in our SAMS community is to have the courage, commitment, and awareness to be the people we want our kids to grow up to be.  We’ll need to rely on each other, as well as our senses of humor, to pull this off.   Our kids will continue to do things like wait until the night before a project is due to get started on it.  Some of them might cry hard over a B+ even though you’ve never expected all As.  They are going to say things they do not mean and try on attitudes that are anything but appealing.  But they are also going to create beautiful artwork in art class, make connections between their current world and the past in Social Studies, and solve complicated algebra problems in math class.  In fact, they are going to shine in all sorts of classrooms.  And while they are stretching their minds with all this learning, we must stretch ourselves to be vigilant in our learning too.  May 2017 be our best yet.  Our kids deserve it.

Before I sign off, let me share why I’m here on Renee’s blog today.  She and I are both committed to updating this blog more consistently. While sometimes Renee and I joke about sharing a brain, you can tell from this post, we do not share writing styles.  But we’ll both be here more often trying to share pieces of our world here at SAMS.  We invite you to share questions and prompts to help us follow through on this goal.  Go ahead- we’d love to see some comments, thoughts, and questions.


Amy Kujawski



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”!

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.