• I believe that we will win!

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/30/2017 1:00:00 PM

    One of my favorite stand cheers at high school football games, complete with the shouting leader and echoed by the rest of the students, goes something like this:

    I

    I believe

    I believe that

    I believe that we

    I believe that we will

    I believe that we will win

    I believe that we will win…

     

    It includes all sorts of cheering, shouting and jumping up and down.

    Now that you have the visual, let me take the same cheer and apply it to our school reform efforts.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that, in short time, we will see improvements in student achievement in all levels and in all areas.  I am this confident, because, for the past two years, I have seen our teachers working feverishly on these improvement efforts:

    • Writing clear and detailed curriculum maps, which we will align to PA Core Standards to ensure a rigorous, standards-based curriculum is well-planned from Kindergarten to graduation.
    • Employing more and more engaging technologies and winning instructional strategies to better capture the attention and interest of today’s learner, thereby increasing his/her chances for understanding.
    • Making extinct the famous “packets” of worksheets / activities, which keep a student quiet and occupied, but do not engage the brain in any true learning.
    • Diving deeply into our professional development, including our menu-driven choice days, to pick-up all sorts of useful strategies to immediately apply to their classrooms. Some are also stepping-up to share what they know well as a host of one of these menu choices.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that, at the same time, we will infuse our curriculum and instruction with all the necessary 21st Century skills and competencies.  I am confident because I see:

    • Our “Maker spaces” well-used to challenge students with problem-solving and creative, critical thinking challenges.
    • Some of teachers have re-designed their learning spaces to foster more collaboration and student interactions.
    • A few teachers have obtained generous grant funding to implement new tools and techniques in their classrooms, like “break-out boxes” or flexible seating to create communication and problem-solving experiences.
    • We now have a science club for girls at the elementary school and a tech ed. club at the high school. We are starting a chess club, too.
    • We have a computer science course in the high school, and we are seeking to add more process-thinking curriculum at the middle and elementary schools.

    I believe that we will win.

    I believe that we will see a marked decrease in student apathy in the next few years.  It is as easy as 1+1=2.  When all of the aforementioned efforts happen, then students will be more intrigued by and immersed in learning.  When they are more engaged, their efforts increase and achievement increases.  With the timely death of the “packet”, the infusion of 21st Century tools, the engaging lessons and student choice scattered throughout the day, our students will find school an exciting, relevant and necessary place to be every day.  1+1=2.  A great experience = a great education = a wide-open future.

    Join me in this.  Stand and cheer.  I believe that we all win when we all stand together and cheer for each other’s success.

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  • Thankfulness

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/21/2017 10:00:00 AM

    Today we wrap-up our week early and head into the Thanksgiving holiday break.  This is the perfect time to reflect on the successes of the school year and celebrate with gratitude the contributions of entire Burgettstown faculty and staff.  We are indeed thankful for…

     

    • Our custodians for an intense summer of cleaning and restoration, and for keeping our schools looking so new despite all of the “messiness” of education.
    • Our bus drivers for the 1,200 mile of safe travel per day brining our most prized possessions, our students, to and from school. You are the first and last welcoming, encouraging face they see each and every day.
    • Our school office staff and secretaries for the welcoming environment you create in the schools and for the impeccable efficiencies you maintain each and every day.
    • Our cafeteria staff for preparing such delicious and nutritious meals each day, keeping us ready for the hard work we have to do.
    • Our paraprofessionals for the attentive and supportive energies you expend on behalf of students.
    • Our teachers for creating educational “experiences” each day to educate, motivate and inspire our students for a lifetime of achievement.
    • Our counselors for the thoughtful, caring way you meet each student’s needs, removing barriers, opening doors, lifting heavy hearts and keeping everyone on the narrow path of success.
    • Our administrators for tirelessly and inspiringly attending to every detail of the school operation, so the rest of us can work productively and unremittingly.
    • Our parents for the trust and support of what we love to do.
    • Our Board of School Directors for the volunteer service to the students of the Burgettstown Area School District. We can’t do this without you.
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  • Change is in the air!

    Posted by James Walsh on 11/9/2017 11:00:00 AM

    Change is in the air.  As the leaves fall and the thermometer drops, we notice the obvious signs the season is changing around us.  Like it or not, the forces of nature take hold and we must respond.  We bundle-up; we fire-up the furnace.  We prepare ourselves to respond to the situation around us.  There is a change in the air around the Burgettstown schools, too.   The change I am talking about is much more than leaves falling.  We are changing some of foundational ways we operate, which make us hopeful and proud to be educators in this school district.

    Professional development is one area of critical change, because we believe with absolute clarity in the importance of great teachers.  We have invested significant resources (more time, Title II monies, and dedicated an administrative position) in the growth of our teachers.  Whether it has been district-wide initiatives like developing a growth mindset, or individual teacher initiatives such as “choice day” in-services, we want to be sure our teachers are getting all the tools and ideas they need to provide the best possible education to every student.  There is nothing more important to our educational success than ensuring we have excellent teachers in every room.

    We also have expanded the important role the department chairs play in our successful operations.  We are relying steadily on their ability to organize their department, focus time toward their needs, and bring more clarity to the best ideas.  To play on an old adage, we believe there is strength in small, concentrated numbers. 

    We also believe there are leadership opportunities all around us, just waiting for a teacher-leader to pick-up and carry to fruition for all of us.  As much as I admire and appreciate the administrative team, we know we cannot solve all the problems ourselves.  We are relying on teacher leaders to seize the day.

    One of the nice consequences of these changes has been a refreshing change in attitudes.  I have heard more teachers say, “I’ve got an idea” this year than ever before.  I have been engaged in more substantive and honest discussions with colleagues about important problems we are facing.  I see more signs, decorations and embellishments in classrooms and hallways promoting school spirit and belief in our students’ potential.  Clearly, change is in the air and everyone’s breathing it in.  From bus driver to custodian to teacher to paraprofessional to secretary to administrator, we are on the same team trying to accomplish the same mission: education for a lifetime of achievement.

    There are great changes taking place in Burgettstown, large and small; each one takes us a positive growth step forward.  Join the movement!

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  • A Check for Understanding

    Posted by James Walsh on 10/26/2017 4:00:00 PM

    We have reached the end of our first grading period, which is a quarter of the way through the school year.  At this point, we have successfully transitioned the district into a new grading scale, where 90% and above = A, 80% to 80% = B, etc...  At the same time, we have established uniform grading practices in all grades and departments, including weighted grades.  Weighting grades means assigning a percentage to each category of grades relative to their overall importance in the course.  For instance,  homework is worth only 10% of the overall grade or quizzes are worth 25% of the overall grade. All categories together will amount to 100%.  Also, similar courses in a department will carry the same grading system.

    Our overall goal with both changes is to ensure grades accurately communicate a students overall achievement in a course.  That means the grade should reflect the level of mastery of course curriculum the student has achieved.  We do not allow a student's grades to be clouded by points awarded for behaviors or compliance.  Gone are the days when you can dutifully complete the homework, fail the tests and still get a C.  If homework only counts for 10% of the grade, you need to do well on the tests and quizzes to get a good grade in the course.  

    We expect some "growing pains" from the students as they adjust to a more direct correlation between their grade and their hard work and preparation.  In the end, grades should communicate a story to you: a story about how much curriculum the student has mastered.

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  • S.T.E.A.M. Showcase

    Posted by James Walsh on 10/25/2017 4:00:00 PM

    Photo of students displaying their work at STEAM Showcase

    Burgettstown stood proudly with many of our Washington County neighbors and Allegheny County schools at the S.T.E.A.M. Showcase sponsored by Allegheny Intermediate Unit and the Grable Foundation.  Students from Mrs. Wells' class hosted a table with our partners at Inventionland to demonstrate the problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills necessary for success in our S.T.E.A.M. class.  It was a great day!  Our students were really inspiring and inspired by what they saw around them.  Many thanks to Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Figlioli for your leadership.

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  • Finally!

    Posted by James Walsh on 9/28/2017 2:00:00 PM

    student artwork

    We are on day #22 of the new school year, and our hallways are finally filling with great student work.  Through the summer, as the schools are cleaned and scrubbed, I really miss seeing student work on the walls and in the display cases.  In my walk-through today, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing our talented student work back on display.  Pictured above are samples of pop art from the Studio Art classes and below are 4th grade depictions of a growth mindset, a must for any successful student.  Many thanks for Mr. Roth and Ms. Fulgenzio for the productivity.

    Student work on display

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  • Most Likely to Succeed

    Posted by James Walsh on 9/5/2017 8:00:00 AM

    The district has been privileged to host a screening of the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed.”  We showed some of our faculty the film and now welcome the community to a screening on September 6 at 6:30 pm in the M/HS L.G.I.  Will you join us for the film and a follow-up discussion?

    “Most Likely to Succeed” is a thought-provoking documentary feature film that reveals the growing shortcomings of conventional education methods in today's innovative world.  The film explores compelling new approaches that aim to revolutionize education as we know it, inspiring school communities to re-imagine what students and teachers are capable of doing (MLTS.org).

    As Superintendent, I take seriously our mission to provide “education for a lifetime of achievement.”  As the film suggests from the on-set, the students of Burgettstown are facing a lifetime of innovation and change.  How we travel, work, shop, play and compete is advancing every day.  On top of that, some of the once-safe jobs are now replaced by sophisticated automation.  In order for our students to be prepared for these complexities, I have encouraged (and celebrated) teachers to break the traditional mold of learning, to provide thought-provoking challenges, to encourage academic struggles.  Our new Strategic Plan has an entire goal dedicated to this.  We will strive to facilitate learning so our students will be challenged to be creative, collaborative, communicative, critical thinkers and problem-solvers.  The film celebrates those kinds of teachers and that kind of thinking. 

    Some may find fault with the film.  It celebrates charter schools, which live by a different set of rules than we do.  It devalues a rich core curriculum.  It requires a self-motivation and self-discipline in students unseen in most schools.  All are true.  To be clear, we are not seeking to be “High Tech High,” as featured in the film, but we cannot ignore the first stark fifteen minutes of the film.  All of those statistics are true, too.  So, the question becomes, what will Burgettstown do about it?

    We invite the conversation.  We invite the ideas and innovation.  Will you join us?

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  • Research to back me up

    Posted by James Walsh on 8/7/2017 7:30:00 AM

    I am in the midst of a series of blog posts about the power of a growth mindset.  My series continues with this entry.

    There is some solid reasearch to back-up the claims about the power of a growth mindset.  Consider these.  

    In a study of seventh graders…

    ...all of the students in the study had very similar records in elementary school;

    ...Carol Dweck measured student mindsets to identify who had a growth mindset and who had a fixed mindset;

    ...followed them for two years, the middle school years: the more challenging years of life;

    ...students with the fixed mindset showed a decline in performance - worse and worse over two years;

    ...students with a growth mindset showed an increase in performance over the same period;

    …fixed mindset students developed phrases such as: ”I suck at math” and “My teacher hates me” as a way to justify their performance.

    ...growth mindset students saw school as a time of opportunity, a time to learn new subjects, a time to find out what they like and what they want to be in the future.

    In another study, Benjamin Bloom (famous for Bloom's Taxonomy) studied 120 high achievers…

    …concert pianists, world class tennis players, Olympic swimmers, research neurologists and mathematicians.

    ...most were found to be unremarkable as children;

    ...did not show clear talent until their training began in earnest;

    ...even by early adolescence, you still could not predict their future accomplishments from their current abilities.

    He asserts, "After 40 years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.”

    In another examination of growth mindsets, Blackwell & Dweck (2007)...

    ...hosted a workshop for adolescents on the brain and study skills;

    ...half of them (the control group) were taught about the stages of memory;

    ...the other half received training on growth mindset - how the brain grows with learning - and how to apply this to their schoolwork.

    ...three times as many students in the growth group increased in effort and engagement as compared with the control group;

    ...after the training, the control group continued to show declining grades, but the growth-mindset group showed a clear rebound in their grades.

    It is interesting to note, the girls who received the growth mindset training narrowed the gender gap in math.

    Growth mindset has been receiving scientific confirmation from cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists like Ramsen, et al (2011)...

    ...they have tracked students during teenage years...

    ...using neuroimaging, they found corresponding changes in the density of neurons in relevant areas of the brain for these students…

    ...when I.Q. test performance has increased, the number of neuron connections had increased...  

    ...meaning, the brain can get smarter!

    So... Here are the impactful conclusions from all these mindset studies:

    • Students perform better in school when they and their teachers believe that intelligence is not fixed, but can be developed.
    • Teaching students that intelligence can be “grown” is especially powerful for students who belong to typically stereotyped groups.
    • Growth mindsets focus on effort and motivate students to overcome challenging work.

     

     

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  • What are the hallmarks of a growth mindset?

    Posted by James Walsh on 7/31/2017 7:30:00 AM

    My past few blog entries have focused on the power of a positive, growth mindset.  I continue the series with answers to the question, What are the hallmarks of a growth mindset? Consider how you would rate yourself against these:

    • I believe my basic qualities are things I can cultivate through my efforts.
    • I am willing to stretching syself & take risks in my academic journey.
    • I will stick with something despite setbacks.
    • I would choose a competitive challenge over an easy win.
    • I often ask myself, “what did I learn from that experience, and how can I use it as a basis for growth?”
    • To me, education is about learning “how to” and “why.”
    • I crave constructive criticism. I appreciate teachers' helpful feedback, so I can learn from it.

    Even if you can't answer these affirmitively, you can still develop yourself and transform your thinking into a growth mindset.  Make this the year for you to transform!

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  • What does it mean to have a growth mindset?

    Posted by James Walsh on 7/24/2017 7:30:00 AM

    It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.” 

    This quote comes from Alfred Binet in 1910.  You might recognize his name from the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, better known as the I.Q. test.

    Isn't it fascinating that the guy who, way back in 1910, developed a system to measure your I.Q. also believed your intelligence is not actually fixed, that you can actually grow your intelligence.  He says, "Maintain a belief that with practice, persistence and patience, we can increase our attention, our memory, our judgment, and literally become more intelligent than we were before.”

    Is it surprising to you to know the growth mindset has been a long-standing fact of science?  Anyone can get better, smarter at something if you try. It is also important to point out that growth does not happen accidentally.  Binet says you must practice and persist at something to get better at it.

    As we approach the new school year, commit yourself to a growth mindset.  Believe in your capacity to grow your brain and commit to the practice and persistence necessary to make that growth. In school, just like life, success does not come easily; you will have to work for it.

     

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