Friday, April 22, 2016

Kids show us that Sometimes being Pragmatic is BAD

Pragmatic Defineddealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations

Adults often view children as naive because their solutions to difficult problems are deemed too idealistic and impractical. Hunger? Feed the world!  War?  Make everyone obey peace!  Global Warming?  Take care of the planet!

To a middle schooler the answers to difficult questions are easy.  There are no practical or logistical considerations and while we adults regard this as naive or unfeasible, I often find middle schoolers' perspectives to be refreshing.  

Today, April 22nd, is Earth Day.  For those who do not know, Earth Day began informally in 1969 and more formally in 1970 but much of the push for it happened 20 to 30 years earlier with the work of Rachel Carson, author, scientist, and environmentalist who wrote the book Silent Spring.  In her book, published first in 1962, Carson followed up on nearly 20 years of research into the uses of pesticides in the United States.  She was also motivated to publish as a result of public perceptions that many of the era's Politicians were naively and unscrupulously believing propaganda being disseminated by chemical companies.  As a result of her book, attention was brought to bare on DDT, a pesticide linked to the declining Bald Eagle population (among many other birds of prey in addition).

Today, some 50 years later, (actually in August of 2007) the Bald Eagle has been removed from the Endangered Species list because of its population rebound.  The Bald Eagle, our national symbol, is a glaring reminder of how one person really can change the world and in recognition of Carson's work, Earth Day, or Earth WEEK as we like to call it around BCMS, is an annual reminder to all of us adults that there are times when it's not good to be practical!  

I hope you'll join me in being just a little more naive, innocent, and engaged in working toward making our planet a little bit greener and environmentally healthier over these next few weeks (or year round if you feel like I do). 

Our middle school students are a big reason why BCMS was awarded the first ever Green Ribbon School Award (only 1 of 3 schools in NYS to earn this distinction in the first year the award was offered in 2012) and while the students who were here in 2012 are now High Schoolers, our current students continue to broaden and build upon all that we did 4 years ago.

A tough reality for adolescents is learning about being practical.  There are times when being practical butts heads with being idealistic and one reason why I LOVE working with middle school aged students is that they remind me all the time that practical doesn't always have to win out against idealistic.  There are times that we adults should be forced to pause, to reflect, and to consider if by practical, what we are really being is inflexible, to expediting, or simply complacent.

And so, ...

... here's to EARTH WEEK,

... here's to being idealistic,
... and here's to recognizing that sometimes... A LOT of times, middle schoolers demonstrate a genius that makes the world a better place!

Happy Earth Day, and have a Great Spring Vacation!

May Events
May 2 (Monday) All students return to School
May 4     BOE Meeting 
May 6 (Friday)  BCMS' Staged Creations Play Production Opening Night
May 7      Staged Creations continues
May 8      Mother's Day
May 9 (Monday) BCMS Open PTO Meeting for Parents (7:00 PM)
May 12 (Thursday) Grade 5 to 6 Parent Transition and Orientation Meeting 7:00 PM
May 13 (Friday) 6th Graders have a 1/2 day due to 5th grade Moving Up Day.  More information will be sent to parents after our break

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Replacing Fear with Curiosity... The Cultural Value of teaching children to be Curious and how it

A few weeks ago I promised a piece about how we measure ourselves as a school and hold ourselves accountable.  It's really long-winded and to be honest probably boring to those who don't get jazzed by reading about school accountability.  For those who do however you can read the piece here, (or scroll down the page) and for those who don't a much more compelling piece is below.

We conducted an assembly with our 8th graders on Wednesday, March 30, and because of the emotional depth that surrounds the Holocaust, we only exposed our 8th grade students to our guest speaker, Ms. Kati Preston, but we certainly hope to bring Ms. Preston back for our current 6th and 7th graders in the future.

To: All BCMS 8th Grade Parents;

On Wednesday, March 30, we were extraordinarily fortunate to have students attend a presentation by Kati Preston who was a “hidden child” of the Holocaust.  Author of the book Closing the Circle: From Holocaust to Healing, Kati’s message was met by our students with overwhelming engagement, respect, and admiration.  Seldom have we seen students hug a presenter out of their resonance and gratitude.

Among some of the poignant topics and points Kati spoke about:
  • Kati described what it was like to have to hide indefinitely in a straw barn to avoid being sent to the concentration camp Auschwitz, where many of her family and friends were sent
  • Kati talked about what a wonderful opportunity it was to come to the United States and raise her children
  • She created an appreciation for the value of being educated and that only through education can people come together and learn tolerance
  • Kati described overcoming hatred in being able to move forward in life and to eventually forgive the crimes committed during the era
I often speak to close out presentations done in our assemblies only to highlight how the presenters’ messages resonate with our educational and character ideals but with Kati this wasn’t necessary.  It is however why I and Mr. Nick Petraccione, our K-12 Social Studies supervisor, are sending this note out to you.
We hope you’ll take a moment to ask your 8th grader how they felt about the presentation.  We would enjoy receiving any reflections that students care to forward to us and we will send these to Kati.  Feel invited to forward to either or both of us at; (, or

The Urgent Call to Replace Fear with Curiosity

On March 22, 2016, Education Week published an article by this title and in it, the authors, Maya Soetoro-Ng and Alison Milofsky, put out a global call to teach this generation of children to see through political and cultural messages that control populaces through the use of fear.

“In the name of cultural or physical survival, it [fear] can be manipulated to fuel tensions that can spiral into cycles of violence. Taken to extremes, the results are evident—from sectarian divisions in Iraq and Syria, to religious divides in Nigeria or Myanmar. Tensions still threaten in Bosnia Herzegovina more than 20 years after the end of that crushing war. Fear also contributes heat to the political debates about terrorism and refugees in the U.S. presidential campaign.” 

Among the more poignant responses of the students to Kati Preston’s presentation was a standing ovation to Kati’s very similar challenge to our students to educate themselves to the point where truth, ethics and conscience cannot be diffused by any leadership that uses fear to do so.

“By helping children practice from an early age how to critically examine their own needs and identities and understand those of others, we could better ensure that, as adults, they have the ability to engage in disputes without turning to violence.”

With gratitude we thank Ms. Kati Preston for her outstanding presentation grounded in peace, love and the value of education!

Mike Klugman                                                                                   Nick Petraccione
MS Principal                                                                                      K-12 Social Studies Supervisor

End of Week Notes

Well done! A Phenomenal 8th Grade Concert!
  • To all of our 8th grade choral, band, and orchestra students for a great concert this past Thursday night (April 7) and thank you to our music teachers, Ms. Daly, Ms. Taylor, and Ms. Van Voris for their leadership!  
    • Our music festivals make my top 5 'BC favorite events' each year and I shared the following with ALL of our middle school last week:
      • I related a story about how a student from another school, when he showed up to a state-level honors band, asked his mother why every other kid in his section was from Bethlehem!  YES, the program is that good!  
      • If you haven't been to one of our festivals and you have little kids who you're interested in inspiring to music, get them to the festival each year!
Impressed by our students
  • This past week I was continually impressed by our students throughout our ELA testing
  • They demonstrated resilience, grit, patience and an amazing amount of impulse control in being respectful to /of their peers concentration.  Even students whose parents made the choice to opt them out of assessments demonstrated tremendous respect for the testing environment by not being disruptive, by following directions and we are grateful to both them and you, their parents!  ALL of our students demonstrated a maturity and resolve to act in their best interest that was inspiring!
Reminder - NYS Math Assessments begin Wednesday

The Pavilion Project is well under way
  • The BCMS Pavilion promises to be a great addition as a teaching space and as a recreation space for our community.  WE NEED YOUR HELP!
  • Please visit our PTO fundraising page to read more about the project and make a donation

The Week Ahead
Monday, April 11

  • Last week of the third quarter
Tuesday, April 12
  • Late Buses
Wednesday, April 13
  • Day 1, NYS Math assessments grades 6, 7, 8
  • Late Buses
Thursday, April 14
  • Day 2, NYS Math assessments
  • Late Buses
Friday, April 15
  • Day 3, NYS Math Assessments
  • Friday After School Support (3:00 - 5:00)

Friday, April 8, 2016

How should a school measure itself?

When asked what I think the most important responsibilities of being a Principal are there are some that immediately dominate my thinking:
  • Hiring the best teachers
  • Supporting current teachers to be the best they can be
Those two things are probably at the forefront of any Principal's short list.  The following  should be as well:
  • Being visible and approachable for students (and developing relationships with students)
  • Being the primary agent for curricular accountability in the school... unless you have a whole team that does this collaboratively!
Being the person, or part of a team that effectively asks 'are we doing all that we should for students' is an enormous challenge and I think it is certainly one domain that distinguishes schools from each other.

Our team includes the rest of our building administration, our department supervisors, and our central administration.  We each play a different role based upon our perspective and these are described here (note that the following description is similar in other school districts but often not identical because of any number of variables):
  • Superintendent
    • Very different district to district
    • some have no impact on curriculum b/c they manage budget, legal issues, and personnel issues
    • some have a huge imprint on curriculum b/c they see it as a necessity of their responsibility
    • In BC we have a dedicated Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction because of how demanding both roles are at all times
  • Assistant Superintendent
    • Coordinates a consistent curriculum between grade levels (for example, from 5th to 6th grade) by working closely with Principals and Department Supervisors
      • BC also uses TEACHER LEADERS in various roles to assist in this process
    • Coordinates a consistent understanding of all state mandated assessment and mandated curriculum that will be implemented in each school
  • Director for Special Education
    • Leads the instructional programming and service provisions necessary for not just students with identified needs but for all students indirectly
  • Department Supervisors
    • They specialize in their area of expertise to understand
      • The best methods of instruction
      • The best methods of assessment
      • Coordinate smooth transitions between grade levels 
      • Coordinate developmentally appropriate expectations at each grade level
      • Coordinate consistency in teaching within each grade level
      • Lead the professional development efforts for teachers
      • Lead the hiring process of new teachers in partnership with Principals
  • Building Administration
    • Review data from grading and assessments and share with Teachers, and supervisors
    • Conduct observations and evaluations of teachers
    • Support teacher growth (with content supervisors) by focusing on consistent, developmentally appropriate teaching tactics
    • Support the developmental needs of students at the grade levels in their buildings
    • Support teachers in creating an environment that values engagement, rigor and focus for all students
These are the people who support our TEACHERS, but there are processes that drive what I would call an ethically responsive school philosophy.  Some of these are listed here:
  • Use of Data 
    • Too much of education is driven by "what feels right" (intuition)
    • Unfortunately, great teachers are aware that there is a domain of learning that is "counterintuitive,"  In other words, if you only do what feels right, you miss this entire domain.
    • Data helps us ask and conclude if our students are learning... period!
    • It doesn't necessarily direct us toward better instruction but it will tell us if our current instruction is working.
  • Types of data
    • State assessments - help us gauge how we are doing both internally and externally (compared to other schools)
    • Internal Assessments - allow us to align specific assessments to specific standards we have just taught to assess how our instruction is doing
    • Grading data - allows us to have deep discussion about whether the way we grade influences students learning, if we are grading what we in fact want to measure and ensures that we have greater consistency between teams in the building
    • Qualitative data - qualitative data are observations that are often hard to quantify.  
      • How many students raised their hands to questions in class?
      • How many students are guessing to get the right answer?
      • How many students are really engaged at any moment of a class?
The cycle of data used by schools also (often) determines how effective a school is.  Schools who want to be average look at some data but it's often either too broad, to narrow, or not done more than just a few times in the year.  Effective cycling of data analysis occurs with the following:
  • Frequency - with unit tests, quarter tests, mid-terms and after final exams
  • At the broad levels of both state-wide and school-wide
  • At the narrow levels of the individual student and even the individual question
    • This is an area where our Department Supervisors excel!
  • AND at the observational level.  Teachers get observed about every 10 weeks at a minimum and as a requirement the evaluators provide feedback in three domains:
    • The instructional domain - how the actual flow and progression of the lesson is carried out
    • The planning domain - how the plan did or could have made the instructional delivery better
    • The affective (or student rapport) domain - how the teacher engaged and related to students during instruction (an often over-looked domain)
In short, it takes a team of people with very defined processes and protocols that facilitate working together toward a common goal.  AND, the work is never done.  We learn from every test and measure we engage with where those areas are that we do well in, but also where we need to do better!

So who are all of these people?  You know your child's teachers, or we at least hope you do.  If you don't you should always feel welcome to reach out and ask questions.  As to our other leaders please also feel welcome to reach out to any of the individuals below at any time.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about how we hold ourselves accountable!
  • Superintendent (Interim) - Jody Monroe -
  • Assistant Superintendent (Interim) - Dave Hurst -
  • Director of Special Education, Kathy Johnston,
  • Building Admin
    • Principal, Mike Klugman,
    • Assistant Principal, Mark Warford,
    • Hall Principal, Ken Rizzo,
  • Our Department Supervisors
    • Mathematics - David Hurst (also our interim Assistant Superintendent)
    • English Language Arts - Andy Baker,
    • Social Students & Business - Nick Petraccione,
    • Science & Technology - Jen Gonyea,
    • Health, FACS, & PE - Fred Powers,
    • Art - Melanie Painter,
    • Music - David Norman,
    • World Languages - Sarah Cioffi (interim),
    • Committee for Special Education Middle School Chairperson,
      • Meg Wyanski,

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Growth takes time!

Growth takes time!

At our faculty meeting this week our staff experienced the next in a series of workshops on defining, identifying and growing students grit.  Despite it becoming a buzzword over the last 12 months, schools have always tried to develop the elements of grit.  Key words that define the attribute are 'perseverance,' and 'passion' and 'the ability to set and stick with long-term goals.'  When we think about people who lack this, we think about people who are often impulsive (who don't think about the long-term consequences of their decisions), and who often won't stick with a task or goal that becomes challenging.  In short, we parents sometimes think of our own kids!

What's important to realize as parents is that this is okay.  One doesn't become 'gritty' simply by thinking about it or because a new challenge comes along that is so engrossing that a switch is flipped.  I think one of the hardest parts of parenting is trying to sort out those things that are obvious to us now and trying to remember how we learned them.  I don't, for example, remember when it was that I was finally able to translate the focus I could easily employ when playing a sport to reading a difficult text.  And so, when I teach my kids I find I'm trying to learn as much about the way I learned and asking myself if I'm trying to accelerate them too quickly by asking them to be masterful at a skill at an age when this expectation is not developmentally appropriate.

An important lesson for children is one we have to learn with them; that gaining a new skill or strength is best done in a lengthy, consistent, and incremental growth curve that allows for a partnered growth of passion for whatever it is that is being practiced.  What we (parents and children) fail to understand sometimes is that when this curve is rushed the result is often unpredictable.  In situations where students really excel there is as much love and passion for that thing they are excelling at as there is discipline and regimented practice.  In environments where there is no passion or time dedicated to enjoyment, it's fairly easy to predict that any child will grow his skill.  It is also likely, however, that while the child becomes skillful, the child will also lose interest.  I love it when one of my children comes home from a "lesson" and immediately wants to practice (on their own) what they learned in the lesson.  I see their excitement and their passion.

As a middle school staff much of our intentional professional development is therefore directed into two realms; we want to develop the specific tactics that help students learn our various subjects (math, science, art, etc.) but we also spend an equal amount of time learning how to inspire students in our subjects as well.

Importantly, and contrary to what some or even many parents might perceive, we do not consider ourselves judge and jury over what the right pace of learning is.  We constantly survey the world outside of Bethlehem to assess if there are methods, expectations, and mechanisms that get students along their growth curve faster.

As conscientious educators we realize that this disposition is not consistent from school to school and this is why there has been so much discomfort with the Common Core Standards.  We support these and we recognize that they are a push for us because they raise expectations but while others cry foul stating that they are too rigorous and do not allow students to exercise their passion, we recognize that we, the adults charged with growing our expertise, have to get students to these expectations in an intentional manner that allows for them to still exercise their love for math or English.

In next week's post I will describe both how we assess our progress using internal data but I'll also describe how we gauge our progress using external 'data.'  It will be my pleasure, while describing both of these domains, to give parents a deeper introduction to our Department Supervisors, our Central Administration, and to describe their role in leading these processes.

Until then have a great weekend!

End of Week Notes

Beginning of the 3rd Quarter
  • At the start of the 3rd quarter we encourage students to remember that they are NOT the grades they have earned thus far this year!!!!
  • For students who have done really well this means that they have to remain consistent with things like organization and effort and participation in class.
  • For students who have struggled it means realizing that things like organization, study skills, and work ethic are often more the reason for struggle than any cognitive issues.  We always remind students that there is no reason why someone who has struggled cannot immediately experience growth!

Thank You's
  • We are grateful to the local chapter of the Kiwanis Club for their support of our Character Breakfast!
  • To Mr. Rizzo and Team Teachers for your work to bring off our Character Breakfast!
  • To our 6th grade teachers and students who had a great time at our 6th grade social last night!
  • To all the parents who participated in our Tuesday Night PTO meeting.  I will be posting the presentation from our Guest Speaker, Mary Lawyer, at some point soon.  Mary did a great presentation about how parents of middle school aged students can begin now to prepare (financially) for college
    "Public Science is Broken"
    • A headline this powerful demands to be read!
    • It was stated by the lead investigator of the water contamination issues in Flint, Michigan and when I read his comments I immediately thought of how politics is contributing to the discredit of science!

    Calling All Spellers!  BOU Annual Spelling Bee - February 25th!  (It will be at the High School)

    One of the most beautiful Winter Storm PhotosEVER!

    Quote(s) of the Week
    "I never lose!  I either win, or I learn!"
    A great growth mindset quote from Cori Difabbio

    "If anyone worked as hard as I did, they would get the same result!"
    J. S. Bach (forwarded by Pat Pisanello)

    "In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem." (see above for more)
    Calendar of Events... 
    Monday, February 8
    • Teacher Dept Meetings
    • Spring Sports Signups this Week!!
    Tuesday, Feb 9
    • Teacher Dept Meetings
    • Late Buses
    Wednesday, Feb 10
    • Late buses
    Thursday, Feb 11
    • Late buses
    Friday, Feb 12
    • FASS (3:00 to 5:00) (Friday After School Support)
    Saturday, Feb 13 - February Break begins - School resumes on Monday, February 22nd

    Have a great weekend!

    Friday, January 15, 2016

    Sneak Preview of our next Character Focus

    Grit has become a buzzword around education this last year or so.  Unfortunately for those who only chase trends rather than thinking long and hard about whether they are worth chasing, GRIT is a difficult and elusive attribute without a few foundational skills that precede it.

    Grit Defined: (by Angela Duckworth, the lead researcher whose work has advanced the public's awareness these last few years)
    Perseverance and passion for long-term goals

    Our work at BCMS these last 5 years has focused on character strengths and within these are the following:

    • Perseverance
    • Love of Learning
    • Persistence
    • Self-Regulation
    The work we have done these last five years has focused on building the foundation of and for Grit. In short our work has developed students to have a healthier self-concept that is defined by Carol Dweck.

    Throughout the last two years our staff has studied the work of Dweck and we've been reading and discussing the importance of having a GROWTH MINDSET rather than a fixed mindset.  (See Dweck's book Mindset; the new psychology of success)

    Dweck defines each of these:

    In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

    In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success (without effort).

    Where this contrast becomes starkly apparent is not in success but rather in failure.  People either shrink from failure or learn from it and Dweck's research (and our intuitive and observational evidence) suggests that rising from failure requires a GROWTH MINDSET.  Individuals with a fixed mindset avoid taking risks because failure is a judgment rather than a learning opportunity.  When a fixed mindset individual fails it simply confirms what they already believe, that they do not have the skill to be successful at a task and never will.  When a growth mindset individual fails at a task it simply confirms that they either didn't work hard enough or didn't prepare adequately.  These individuals use failure as a blueprint toward later success and they make their failure a learning experience rather than a judgment.

    Throughout the month of February, as we begin the 2nd semester of the year, we will be reinforcing for students when they exhibit a Fixed Mindset and helping them realize that any fixed mindset can be adjusted to a growth mindset.

    We have a very special student assembly in the planning and we will announce details about this shortly ... and parents will be invited!  Much more to come.

    Thank you and have a great (3 DAY) weekend!

    End of Week Notes

    A big week for 8th Graders!
    This week and last kicked the beginning of our 8th graders transition to high school.  'Why so early?' one might ask and the answer is simply to provide families time to process course selections as they make this transition.  We are genuinely proud of this group.  They represent themselves impressively in all they do and they continue to be great models!

    Building Safety
    NY schools are required to have a safety structure at both the district and building level.  Our bldg team met earlier this week and we routinely debrief after all of our drills.  We conducted one drill (a lockdown) earlier this week, and as per usual, our students and staff were responsive and universally supportive of our need for general preparedness.  

    Martin Luther King Jr, Annual Recognition
    • Mr. Warford went on our morning announcements this morning with a poignant message about how we try to keep visible at ALL times the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement... lessons that our country still works to improve upon to this day.  Tolerance, acceptance, equity and equality all are underscored in our character program and we are grateful to our students for their resonance in trying to model these.
    • We also want to recognize 9 students who are winners of the 20th Annual Black History Month Creative Expressions Contest.  These students will have additional opportunity to create PSA announcements that will air on local radio stations and we are enormously proud of their achievement!
    8th Grade Snowflake Dance 
    Tonight (Friday Night) the snowflake dance, initiated last year by students request, is back!  We hope your 8th grader can make it.  Students can pay at the door.

    Reminder - BCMS Musical "High School Musical Junior" is less than 1 week away!
    • For those unaware, the "Junior" in the title indicates that the play is condensed to be appropriate both in time and content to a middle level audience.  Our Middle School musicals have enormous production polish and sophistication while remaining a fun event for family members of ALL ages.  We hope you can join us.
    The Week Ahead...

    Monday, January 18
    • No School - MLK day observance
    Tuesday, January 19
    • Late buses
    • Chicken Parm Pick Up 
    Wednesday, January 20
    • Late Buses
    • Grade 8 Special Education Parent Transition Night (6:30 PM)
    • BOE 7:00 PM
    Thursday, January 21
    • Late Buses
    • MS Musical Opening Night
    Friday, January 22
    • Friday After School Support
    • MS Musical continues
    Saturday, January 23
    • MS Musical Continues
    • Ski club to Bromley

    Monday, December 28, 2015

    What do champions have in common?

    This post is a follow up to the previous three that I wrote about Daniel Coyle's the Talent Code.

    In this post a synthesis of Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code and Carol Dweck's Mindset; The New Psychology of Success gives deep insights into what it takes to be the best, to be a champion, to be a virtuoso!

    What do you think of when you think of those who are head and shoulders THE  BEST in their line of work?  Competitive? Driven? Strong? Smart? etc?  Some excel simply to chase the prize at the summit of the mountain but for those who find greater reward in the effort of making the climb far greater skill is usually the reward.

    When we think about those who have achieved unprecedented levels of success in fields that require a tremendous amount of skill and discipline simply to be good, we often falsely believe that it is the result, the win, the ending (...the perfect performance) that these rare individuals were after.  When we study these individuals however, we find that this is not the norm.

    Whether it's cellist Yo Yo Ma, basketball player LeBron James, or skate-boarder Tony Hawk, the most common attribute that these 'bests' share in common is NOT a love for the result, but rather a love of the EFFORT.  These individuals enjoy practice as much, if not more than the real event. They lose themselves in their art, time slows down, and they each shun accolades because they do NOT do what they do for attention, or trophies.  They do what they do because they've found something that they love to practice.

    Throughout the past few years (see each of the letters I send out that accompany report cards) I've called attention to Carol Dweck's book about Mindsets (Growth vs Fixed Mindsets).  Dweck describes people as having either a mindset that is more a growth mindset (meaning that these people regard success as a byproduct of the effort they put into something) or more a fixed mindset (meaning these people regard success as a byproduct of a finite and unchangeable amount of talent that allows them to be successful).

    Examples of a fixed mindset:
    • students who believe that it's 'smarts' and not hard-work and effort that determine academic success. 
    • athletes who only participate in their sport when they are with their coaches (for every hour great athletes / musicians spend with a coach they spend many more times this amount practicing by themselves).
    • students who only remember information long enough for the test (through memorization) only to allow it to erode and diminish in permanence after the test.  Similar to this is the student who asks "is this going to be on the test?"
    Examples of a growth mindset:
    • The student who continually asks questions seeking to understand, regardless of a grade or if something will eventually be tested.
    • The student who yearns for feedback about why she didn't perform well so that she might make her work better (fixed mindset individuals classically avoid feedback out of fear of judgment).
    • The athlete / musician who learns to love practice because they realize their own growth through it and simply because they LOVE to PRACTICE.
    The nexus between Coyle's Talent Code and Dweck's Mindset is that both have researched and observed that genius comes only from students who dedicate themselves to a practice ethic that yearns for mistakes.  Furthermore, genius recognizes mistakes not as judgments that damage self-esteem but as opportunities that help accelerate us toward mastery.  

    Implications for Adults, Teachers, Parents, Coaches...
    The results of a survey I gave at a little league clinic this summer to approximately 50 boys between the ages of 6 and 12 demonstrated that every single boy leaned more toward having a fixed mindset, and not a growth mindset about their baseball skill.  These boys spent almost all of their time practicing with an adult reliant upon the adult for their growth.  They saw their prior success (and failures) as a measure of who they were and what their level of skill was rather than a measure of how much they practiced and prepared.  Most of the boys indicated that failure was something that was upsetting and that continued failure would likely make them want to play less.  

    What's wrong with this?  It's all fixed mindset thinking!

    What chance do students have in a professional field where failure, while not expected, is as much a possibility as success?  If they have a Fixed Mindset, the answer is not much (of a chance at success). 

    One of my favorite Sports Illustrated articles documents the story of Chris Jackson (who later changed his name to Mahmud Abdul Rauf).  Born with Tourette's syndrome, his obsessive desire for perfection often caused him dysfunction (read more here), but it also translated into an extraordinary success.  Rauf, who once missed a date with a girl in high school because he was distracted trying to make his refrigerator door make the perfect sound as it closed, turned this obsession to the basketball court.  He would go to the gym and not leave until he made 10 shots in a row, but these shots not only had to go through the hoop, they had to make the same sound going through the hoop.  He'd make 9 in a row but if the 10th, as it was going through the hoop, nicked the rim, he'd start all over.  I watched a game of his (in the NBA) after I read the article linked above and was amazed that every shot he made sounded the same as it went through the hoop!!  Did I mention that Jackson, who stands a little over 5'9" tall, once averaged more than 40 points per game while at LSU in college.  Shaquille O'Neal, who played with Jackson, called him one of the most dominant players he ever played with.

    What's the teachable moment for teachers / parents / coaches here?  One of my take-aways is that kids come to us with self-discipline skills that are all over the map (good and bad).  Some are ready to love practice and some are not.  Great coaches and great teachers know how to make learning fun in addition to knowing the mechanics of what they are teaching.

    I worry though that as parents read this, they'll think it's a teacher's or coach's responsibility to MAKE a child love math, or science, basketball or the violin.  This is NOT the case because great teachers and coaches also help children in another important way.  They call them out on the level of responsibility they (children) have to bring to learning.  They also point out that their coaching cannot be great if the child isn't committed equally to practicing.

    So what do all GREATS HAVE IN COMMON?
    It's not that they are more talented than others.  It's simply that their developed love of practice allowed them to expose and hone a talent that was developed out of perseverance, determination, passion.

    If you have not read Dweck's book yet I compel you to.  Would you be surprised if you discovered that you, the parent who wants what amounts to a growth mindset in your children, were subverting your own message?  Take it from one who's made this mistake!  I am enormously vigilant about scrutinizing the language I use with children because it not only reveals how I think, but it models for them the ideals we want for them... and I catch myself all the time since I read Dweck's book!

    On behalf of our Middle School staff, we hope you are enjoying your time with family!

    End of Week Notes

    BC's Chess Club is quietly becoming a Regional Draw
    • Bethlehem's Chess club has finished in the top three schools in regional competition in the last two years and once again finds itself at or near the top of the regional rankings this year.  The club's philosophy is that anyone can play chess and we take all comers in grades 3 through 12 ... experience not necessary.
    • For more info...
    • Chess often suffers from geeky stereotypes and many aren't aware of the growing number of college and professional athletes who play (the best known example is men's basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, who has his players play to develop their awareness of offensive and defensive philosophy)
    Congratulations to our 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Band, Chorus and Orchestras
    • I am continually amazed at the skill of even our youngest musicians.  Their clarity, cooperation (in the way they listen to each other and blend) and their self-discipline are extraordinary.  
    • Kudos to all of our musicians for an outstanding set of concerts these last few weeks!
    Congratulations to BCMS' Character Lunch Students
    BCMS Technology Classes Celebrate Hour of Code to highlight computer science 

    Next Week's special Events - Please check the Calendar Below for Fireworks, the Annual 5K race, and our school schedule


    Monday, December 28
    • Offices open
    • No School - holiday break
    Tuesday, December 29
    • Offices open
    • No School - Holiday Break
    Wednesday, December 30
    • Offices Open
    • No School - Holiday Break
    Thursday, December 31
    • No School
    • Offices CLOSED
    Friday, January 1
    • No School - Offices closed - welcome to 2016
    Monday, January 4
    • Classes resume
    Have a Happy and Safe Holidays!

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    The Talent Code Part 3 of 3

    This is the last post of a three part series about Daniel Coyle's book The Talent Code

    A challenge for any coach, teacher, and certainly parent is how to inspire motivation in children.  How do you motivate a child to know why things like practice, discipline, determination, etc. are important?  The answer to this can be elusive and different depending on the child.

    We might be surprised however by what Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code informs about this.

    Imagine the following: every action you undertake repetitively and with concentration gets reinforced in your brain in a way that makes it more likely to happen the exact same way at any later time we need to do it again.  That’s good right!  Maybe not.  The expression “perfect practice makes perfect” reminds us that if we practice something poorly then we are likely to reproduce it poorly, but Coyle offers another premise that, on first glance, is confusing.

    In order to achieve Coyle’s “deep practice” (the condition where accelerated learning occurs) one has to make mistakes!  This does not seem to jive with “perfect practice makes perfect” unless you consider how these two things go hand in hand, and it’s in this detail where greatness in coaching and teaching are found. 

    Imagine the athlete or musician by himself, practicing one of his sport- or instrument-specific skills.  Let’s say chords for the musician, or free throw shooting for a basketball player.  Next, let's say both simply go through practice for the sake of repetition.  They each go through their routines 200 times without being deeply engaged in their process.  Some might call this "going through the motions" which means that their focus is not nearly as intense as it could be to scrutinize their actions.

    Next imagine the athlete or musician whose intensity to examine the minutia of every movement through each portion of his practice is maximal.  Imagine also that this student has so much self-awareness that when asked what any part of his body was doing during the motion of practice he is able to describe with exacting specificity and in sequence what his body movements were AND what his thought process was.

    The more intense student might make more mistakes than the less intense and his result might even look worse, but as Coyle explores the learning curve of students who are deeply intense about their practice, the ones who are deeply engaged, who have a vision of a perfect repetition, and who recognize how their practice diverges from that exemplar reinforce greater accuracy in learning with each repetition than the students who 'go through the motions.'

    To be clear, what Coyle observed is that these students learn more from making mistakes and that IT IS THE MISTAKES that reinforce getting closer to the exemplar.  The moral; learning to attack mistakes, by understanding why we make them, helps us grow past them so they aren't repeated.

    I know what you, the adult, is thinking.  This isn't rocket science, but in the mind of an 11 year old, mistakes are things to be avoided at all costs.  They don't talk about them, they don't examine them, and they don't even want to think about them.  And where does this come from?  It can come from their internal stigma, it can come from teachers and parents, and it can come from peers.  That's why culture is so important.  The culture of an educational setting recognizes that all have to be consistent in creating a safe environment for risk taking and that fosters a "LOVE OF LEARNING."

    One of my favorite examples of this genius is from the old television sit-com "WKRP in Cincinnati." The episode is titled "Venus and the man."  In the episode, one of the show's characters teaches a young man about the atom.  He makes a bet with the young man that he can teach him the basics of the atom in 2 minutes and convinces him to stay in school rather than drop out.  What's special about the teaching in this video is that it not only backs up its claim of teaching the atom, it reinforces for the students the importance of "LOVE OF LEARNING."  It connects what is (for the student) something that is unimportant with the WHY of why it's important to know it.  Great teaching recognizes this need for fertile ground.

    The teacher, DJ Venus Flytrap, importantly knows the content of teaching the atom, but equally, and perhaps more importantly, he knows how to CONNECT the student to the importance of learning.

    Of course, the student is also an important part of this equation.  Any parent recognizes how frustrating it can be to want desperately to teach something to a child who has little interest to learn. This is why we speak so often about LOVE OF LEARNING as one of our character strengths.  

    'Deep practice' is a condition achieved when:

    • the student has a vision of what is the exemplar,
    • the student has a model of how the exemplar can be achieved,
    • the student acts with determination, focus, and intensity that allows her to use mistakes as stepping stones toward getting closer to the exemplar,
    • the student has an intrinsic love of learning that opens up a deep appreciation of self-scrutiny
    In next week's post I'll connect this to Carol Dweck's Mindset and I think you'll see why Dweck makes the case that aiming for the exemplary effort is more important than achieving the exemplary result!

    End of Week Notes

    American Education Week - Wow - Thank you!
    • Thank you to all of our parents who participated in our American Education Week celebration.  We take pride in two things; critically reflecting on how we teach to continually improve and being transparent in showing our community how we do this!
    • We appreciate your support in so many ways and we are so humbled to be able to work as education professionals in such a supportive community!
    Congratulations to Fran Vincent - NYS Health Teacher of the Year
    • BCMS' very own Fran Vincent, 8th grade Health teacher, was named NYS Health Teacher of the Year.  Congratulations Ms. Vincent!
    Congratulations to our NYSSMA All-State Musicians
    • They will be performing this weekend in Saratoga - Congrats and good luck!  BC Proud!
    Congratulations to the BCMS History Bowl Team

    • The history bowl BCMS team, competing against a group of High School teams in Princeton, NJ, came in 3rd place overall and qualified for the national competition.  Outstanding effort by the team!
    Turkey Trot Thank You
    Thank you to our PE staff for organizing another successful Turkey Trot and to our 6th, 7th, 8th grade students who participated.  Congratulations to all on a great effort!

    Picture Re-Takes are Tuesday, November 24th!

    Next Week's special Events - Please check the Calendar Below for Fireworks, the Annual 5K race, and our school schedule


    Monday, November 23

    • No Late Buses
    Tuesday, November 24

    • Picture Re-Takes on Auditorium Stage
    • Late Buses
    Wednesday, November 25
    • School Closed - Offices Open
    • Fireworks at MS (7:00 PM) (after Turkey Trot registration)
    Thursday, November 26
    • Thanksgiving - no school, buildings closed
    • Turkey Trot (5K) BCMS
    Friday, November 27
    • Vacation Day - Offices Closed
    Have a Happy Thanksgiving!