• In Appreciation of a Teacher

    Posted by James Walsh on 5/6/2019 8:00:00 AM


    This first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week.  May 8, 2019 is National Teacher Appreciation Day. In a special way this week, we honor the dedication and hard work of our teachers.

    In our classrooms today we have the future of our community. Burgettstown students are our future; they will steer the course of tomorrow and make possible things we have not yet imagined. For this, we look to the teachers standing in our classrooms to instill our students with the knowledge and skills they will need to put their dreams within reach and to inspire them to dream even bigger.

    During National Teacher Appreciation Week, I want our educators know how much I value their expertise and service in the classroom, how much we appreciate all they do for our students and families, and how thankful we are for their contributions to our progress as a School District.

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  • It's time for our annual "physical."

    Posted by James Walsh on 4/16/2019 3:00:00 PM

    It's testing season again.  P.S.S.A., Keystone, and A.P. tests are administered over the next few weeks.

    The P.S.S.A. exams are criterion-referenced tests administered this time every year in Pennsylvania to students in 3rd through 8th grade.  The purpose is much like your annual trip to the doctor's office for a physical.  The doctor checks your height, weight, eyes, reflexes and all sorts of other body systems to assess how well you have grown since your last appointment.  The state assessments measure how much a student has "grown," cognitively speaking, in comparison to a pre-determined set of criteria over the last year.  With regular attendance, conscious and consistent effort, robust, standards-aligned curriculum as well as engaging instruction, students should be achieve as much success as last year, considering the assessment covers new material.

    Keystone exams are end-of-course tests for students in Algebra, Literature and Biology.  These are not P.S.S.A.s, these are more like final, end-of-course exams.  The state requires a passing score in order to graduate.  Without a passing score, students have to demonstrate proficiency in the course through other means, which ought to be the topic of my next blog post.

    A.P. tests are exams to measure the achievement of students who are completing an A.P. course.  Designed by the College Board, Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses and exams are designed to be college-level material for students still in high school.  Many colleges will award a student credit for earning a qualifying score on the A.P. test.

    We are proud of our students' performance on these assessments.  We appreciate all of the hard work, commitment and energy paid by our teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators to prepare our students over the year to demonstrate adequate or proficient levels of cognitive growth.

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  • Impressive

    Posted by James Walsh on 4/1/2019 8:00:00 AM

    Masonry shop at Western Area CTC

    I took advantage of the invitation from Western Area, our Career and Technical Center, to participate in the "take your adsministrator to school" day last Friday.  After a delicious lunch prepared by the culinary students, I attended the collision repair class and masonry class.  The students were doing some impressive work, building skills toward valuable employment opportunities.  One of the teachers described the high demand for our students, who, at their young ages, are being sought-after by employers ready to hire.  What more could we ask for?  Trying the work myself, I realize how difficult it really is to do well, and how skilled our students are who are doing this every day.

    I am impressed by the programs we have to offer our students at Western Area, and even more impressed with the students' successes.

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  • More on S.E.L.

    Posted by James Walsh on 3/11/2019 8:00:00 AM

    Here are some more thoughts about social and emotional learning.

    In my previous blog, I made the argument for making schools more social and emotional nurturing places because of the chronic stress in which many children live.  I described the attitudes and dispositions needed from the adults to create the ideal environment.  With that said, here are some specific ways for teachers to be responsive to the social and emotional needs of students:

    1. “2 x 10s” – Spend 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days with a hard-to-reach student or low achiever talking about anything except school.
    2.  “Hallways TLC” – In lieu of hall duty, set-up two chairs in the hall with a sign that reads, “How can I help you?  I have the time.”
    3. Students and the teacher develop and post the “learning intention” for the unit and the “success criteria.” Learning intentions are written positively, for example: “Good writers can use the semi-colon.”  Success criteria start with the phrase, “I can…” such as “I can use semi-colons.”
    4. “Self Rank” – Students rank the criteria for success (See #5) at the beginning of a unit according to the perceived difficulty.
    5. “Teacher Goals” – Teachers model the idea of self-development by publically displaying their own learning or teaching goals: “I am working on…” or “I am trying to…”
    6. “Sorting Bins” – Students place their “exit slips” or classwork to be assessed into bins according to their perception of how much they understand the learning goal(s). The bins are labeled: “I’m just learning,” “I almost got it,” “I own it,” and “I’m a pro.”  Teachers can use this feedback to approach the next day’s lesson.
    7. One of the more influential strategies for teachers to build-on student social and emotional learning is through feedback. Personal and helpful feedback on student work is powerfully important to communicate hope and opportunity to a student.
    8. Allow students to reflect on their performance by answering questions such as, “Did I ask for help? Did I offer help to anyone? Did I politely decline help, so I could try it myself?  Did I accept help?” 
    9. The use of “I” statements trigger the empathetic listening network in others. We listen differently when we hear “I” statements.  Encourage students to use openers such as: “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe” or “I would like” and similar variations.

    In his giant meta-analysis of educational programs, John Hattie finds a strong positive effect for social and emotional programs in schools, an effect size a high 0.62.  This means students will achieve more because of a quality social and emotional program in place than students in schools without any program.  Make these strategies and more like them your own learning goal.  Best wishes for success!

    Take care of yourself; take care of each other, and take care of this place.

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  • Social & Emotional Learning

    Posted by James Walsh on 3/8/2019 9:00:00 AM

    I have been reading a lot lately about social and emotional learning.  There is more and more evidence of the need for and the value of attending to the social and emotional needs of young people.  Our own data from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey points to a distressing number of students who are dealing with significant pressures in their lives.  Pressures come in many forms, such as poverty, abuse, anxiety, addiction, depression, violence, and neglect.  Even the smallest versions of these problems can have a big effect.  In fact, there is evidence now that growing up in such adversity increases the likelihood of life-long chronic stress, and chronic stress affects the very fabric of our DNA.  The effects on DNA can last for three generations.  Further, on brain scans, a brain in chronic stress looks the same as a brain with ADHD.  That’s a really important fact, since we already do so much to accommodate children with ADHD. 

    Social and emotional learning in schools means we care as much about a child’s well-being as we do about their achievement.  Students need…

    …to know their teachers like them;

    …to know peers accept them;

    …have a sense of belonging in the school;

    …to sense the work they are doing is relevant and useful;

    …to feel their voice and culture is respected;

    …to recognize it is safe to try and to fail in this school;

    …to know they can do this.

    We must, therefore, work thoughtfully and purposefully to ensure students’ needs can be met in this school. 

    And so, I offer these recommendations from the work of Erik Jensen for our teachers and support staff.

    • Start with listening, learning about our students. Show them there are caring, empathetic adults here.  Ask more than you assume. 
    • Relationships matter! Teachers who listen and take time to know students have students who perform better.  Be a “go-to” adult for encouragement.
    • Seek to know our students’ world better. Students too often feel alone in this world.  Good relationships defuse stress and make life bearable.
    • Maintain high expectations for all students while, at the same time, provide services to facilitate those aspirations. And remember, when students know you care about them, they will work to please you, meeting or exceeding your expectations.
    • “Ramp-up” engagement. Help students make relevant connections to your curriculum. 
    • Teach “how to” skills (thinking, behavior, kindness, collaboration, empathy.)
    • Make your classroom safe for learning, safe to ask for help, safe to not know something, safe to make a mistake. Reframe failure as temporary, necessary  for long-term success.

    United in this mission, we will take care of ourselves, take care of each other, and take care of this place.


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  • Re-Posting Some Thoughts of my Favorite Innovation Thinker

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/22/2019 8:00:00 AM

    (With this reflection, I am borrowing heavily from George Couros’ work on the subject.  His thoughts are completely worth repeating.)

    In Scott McLeod and Dean Shareski’s book, Different Schools for a Different World, they discuss four shifts upon which we should place our focus in order to stay relevant in this 21st Century world. 

    The first necessary shift is from an emphasis on lower-level-thinking tasks, such as factual recall and procedural tasks, to tasks of greater cognitive complexity, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving.  This also requires and effective communication and collaboration skills.  Evidence suggests a shift away from lower-level thinking helps foster graduates’ citizenship skills, as well as economic and college success. 

    McLeod and Shareski  note that these higher-order skills are not only beneficial to our students but necessary.  Today, higher-order-thinking skills are necessary not just for college but for nearly all citizenship and career demands (Wagner, 2008). Or, as Lauren B. Resnick (1987) of the U.S. National Research Council puts it: Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population…. It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers (p. 7).

    Next is a shift in control.  We want to move from classrooms in which teachers overwhelmingly control the time and conversation to classroom that empowers student agency (control) over what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.  Student agency builds ownership and enables differentiation of the learning process.  As a result, student disengagement diminishes, because students are more connected and invested.

    The third shift is a shift from isolated academic work (packets?!) to environments that provide students opportunities to engage with and contribute to a learning community.  This could be their classroom, or more broad interdisciplinary learning communities.  This shift supports students’ motivation by helping them see direct connections between their learning and the world around them.  It also connects students’ learning activities to the innovation that surrounds them.  This is more “real world,” or I’ll call it “right now world.”

    The fourth shift is a transformation in local classrooms from pens and pencils, notebooks and textbooks to connected learning spaces that are deeply and richly technology driven.  Mobile computing devices and online environments allow the first three shifts mentioned here to move into high gear. Robust technology integration efforts also combat equity concerns.

    Most would agree on the importance of these skills, but we struggle in how these skills should be assessed.  We ask for students to think “critically and creatively,” yet move our learners to all think the same on the test.  This is where we need to go next: rethinking assessment or measurement of learning in general.

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  • A Break from Mother Nature?

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/21/2019 12:00:00 PM

    Slid riding clip art

    Mother Nature has had her way with us lately, hasn’t she?  We are looking at a long way to the end of the year.  We can only hope spring is, in fact, right around the corner. 

    The last day of school is now June 13th

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  • Thought for the Day

    Posted by James Walsh on 2/7/2019 11:00:00 AM

    Thought for the day:

    Some change will come your way, and you need to see solutions where most will see obstacles. You can “go” through it or “grow” through it.  

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  • Mid-Year Examination

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2019 1:00:00 PM

    We have reached the mid-point in our school year.  You might say we have a semester yet to go on the academic journey.  Or, you might look at it as surviving a semester and are now on the downhill side of the mountain.  However you see it, it is time for some reflection.

    First, we know that reflection is a necessary process for learning.  Our brains work best when we have time to process and "file" things we have learned and experienced.  With that in mind, allow yourself some time to reflect on your successes and struggles from the first half of the year.  What are you proud of?  Where can you improve?  Who is there for you?  How are you feeling about yesterday, today and tomorrow?

    Next, set some goals for yourself.  The goals will come from your aforementioned reflection time.  Knowing what you did well and what you struggled with will be your source of direction for the second half of this year's academic journey.  Break your goals down into little action steps.  That is, how will you start?  What else has to happen? etc...  Make everything achieveable and realistic.  Decide a reasonable timeframe, too.

    Finally, share what you are thinking and feeling.  If you keep your goals and plans to yourself, you will not experience the value of a support network - the people around you who want to help you succeed.  Plus, when others know what you are working on, you are more apt to commit to it.  Sadly, if nobody knows what you are working on, know one will know when you gave up.  Less stigmatizing, but also no achievement.  Open up!  Welcome the challenge and the encouragement from others.

    Good luck!  Make yourself and the rest of us proud.


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  • Safe2Say

    Posted by James Walsh on 1/25/2019 11:00:00 AM

    The Burgettstown Area School District is committed to creating and sustaining a comprehensive effort to improve the overall safety and well-being of our students and staff members. The cornerstone of an effective safety and wellness program is the coordination and collaboration of all stakeholders including students, families, teachers, administrators, local law enforcement and mental health/wellness professionals.

    Recently, Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General launched the Safe2Say Something (S2SS) anonymous reporting system in all 500 school districts in the Commonwealth. The program, mandated under Pennsylvania state law/Act 44, teaches students in grades 5-12, teachers and administrators how to recognize warning signs and signals, especially within social media, of individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others and Say Something to a trusted adult OR use its anonymous reporting system. Specifically, the program educates participants to:

    • Recognize the signs and signals of at-risk behaviors – especially within social media
    • Take every sign and signal seriously; act quickly to get help by talking to a trusted adult
    • Report it anonymously through the S2SS program:
      • Call the tip line:  1-844-SAF2SAY (1-844-723-2729)
      • Use the website:  safe2saypa.org
      • Use the mobile appavailable for Apple and Android devices
    • Utilize teams of trained staff members respond to/manage the submitted tips at each school

    Our students often are aware of the problems their peers are facing, so we must empower them to know the danger signs and give them the tools to help each other with the assistance of trained and caring adults. As you know, an abundance of information is shared via social media; therefore, it is critical that we teach our students to look out for one another as these digital conversations are taking place. S2SS teaches them what to look for in text, video and photos while empowering them to act quickly to help a friend and/or fellow student.

    We are confident that the implementation of the Safe2Say Something reporting system will help keep all Pennsylvania’s students safe by reducing safety incidents and providing support for students who may be struggling with sensitive issues. 

    Please be aware, the law and the Safe2Say system also provides guidance for our administrators to follow when a tip is found to be a hoax or illegitimate, which includes using a subpoena for the name of the tipster.  Those misusing this system will be subject to disciplinary and/or legal action.  If we want the system to be useful and taken seriously, then the tips submitted must be the same.

    Thank you for your ongoing support of our safety efforts.

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