• Research to back me up

    Posted by James Walsh at 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 at 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 at 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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  • The Power of a Growth Mindset

    Posted by James Walsh at 7/19/2017 9:00:00 AM

    “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” -Anatole France, writer and journalist

    As we open another school year, our optimism and enthusiasm are at an all-time high.  With a new strategic plan to follow, and several years of technological and programmatic improvements behind us, we are in the best possible position to take our students to new and impressive heights.  All we need is everyone to return to school strongly believing in their ability to succeed.  There will be nothing to stop us!

    The theme to which we have tuned our work for this year is “harness the power of a growth mindset.” There is significant and compelling research to say human potential for growth is limitless.  This means we maintain a strong 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.”  In other words, intelligence is something you have to work for; it isn’t just given to you. 

    Come to school everyday ready to focus, work hard, ask good questions and know your efforts will pay off.  One of the leading scholars on this topic of a growth mindset, Carol Dweck says, "Effort is about being your best self, not about being better than others; failure is an opportunity, not a condemnation; effort is the key to success."

    You can be absolutely sure of our best efforts to build ambitions students daily, and provide education for a lifetime of achievement.

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  • Notice of Opportunity Scholarships

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/19/2017 7:00:00 AM

    The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTCP) was created pursuant to Act 85 of 2012 and amended by Act 86 of 2016.  This program enables eligible students residing within the boundaries of low-achieving schools to apply for a scholarship to attend another public or nonpublic school. A low achieving school is defined as a public elementary or secondary school ranking in the bottom 15% of their designation as elementary or secondary school based on the combined math and reading scores on the previous school year PSSA.  Burgettstown Middle/High School is on the list of the bottom 15% for performance on the combined Math and Reading tests on the 2015-2016 PSSA and/or Keystone exams.

    Under the OSTCP program, Burgettstown Middle/High School must offer students the choice to transfer to another school district or nonpublic school. Please know that the staff at Burgettstown has a relationship with your child and wants to continue serving your child. However, if you feel your child will be better served in another school, you may request a transfer for your child to one of the schools participating in the OSTCP.

    This news is extremely disappointing for our students and staff, but it is also incredibly frustrating to suggest to others that our school is failing.  All of us who know our students do not believe that for a minute.  We see the history of success for our graduates.  We certainly know we have areas for improvement, but this is not a failing school.  Nonetheless, for 2015-16, our scores were low.  We know we can do better, and we will.

    If you wish to take advantage of this opportunity for your child to attend another school, you must go to the Department of Community and Economic Development website to review the list of scholarship organizations for the school districts and nonpublic schools that are participating in this program.  Additional information is available on the PA Dept of Ed Website, including the list of schools participating in this program.

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  • Sharing Her Thoughts on Leadership

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/15/2017 12:00:00 PM

    How to Recognize a Leader by

    How do you recognize who’s a leader? Is it the person telling everyone what to do? Not necessarily. If he is being ignored, he is only talking to himself.

    Is it the person giving directions? Telling people where to go? Not necessarily.

    An usher in the theater, who tells you which entrance to use, is not a leader. He is not influencing your course of action. He is just giving you information.

    A police officer directing traffic is not a leader. You might go where you’re told, but he has notinfluenced your point of viewA police officer, an usher, a dictator, a jailor . . . these are not leaders.

    How do you recognize a leader?

    It’s not by their location. A leader can be out in front, in the middle of the action, or pushing from behind.  

    You recognize a leader by the response of their followers.

    A leader is someone who influences others to follow a course of action when they have a choice.

    A leader is the person who says to others, “follow me!” And they do.

    A leader is the person who suggests, “I think this is the way to go.” And people go there.

    A leader is the person who takes action. And others join in.

    A leader is the person on the ball court who signals to throw the ball to them, and they do.

    A leader is the person who does something new and others begin to do it also.

    A leader has genuine followers, people who follow of their own volition.

    If a leader shouts in the woods and no one hears them, are they a leader? No.

    If you think you’re a leader and no one is following, you’re simply taking a walk. (Afghan Proverb)

    What if you have a few followers? Are you a leader?

    You leadership impact is measured by the percentage of followers within your sphere of influence.

    If you are leader of a ten-person team and only two of them follow you, you are not leading. To be a team leader, your sphere of influence must include your entire team.

    To lead an organization, your sphere of influence must encompass a “critical mass” –  a large enough percentage of the organization to tilt the balance.

    Leadership impact depends on your ability to influence people, not your ability to command, coerce or manipulate.

    Your leadership is measured, not by what people do when you’re there, but by what they do when you’re not present – when no one is watching and they have the freedom to make personal choices.

    Who do people follow when they have a choice?

    People follow leaders they trust.

    Leaders who articulate a vision they believe in.

    Leaders who seem to be competent and know what they are doing.

    Leaders whose character they respect.

    A person could have the title of president and not be a leader. But if you look closely, you can recognize who the real leaders are.  WE VALUE THE GREAT LEADERS AMONG US!


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  • Commencement

    Posted by James Walsh at 6/8/2017 9:00:00 AM

    Graduates 2017

    To the Class of 2017, I offer my most sincere congratulations.  

    Your educational journey has been challenging, but you have won in the end. Whatever academic, physical or mental challenge we could throw at you, you have accepted and conquered. Some of you even conquered some difficult personal challenges over the years.  You have learned by your hard work and perseverance there is no easy elevator to success, you had to take the stairs to get this far.  

    Thank you Class of 2017 for your service to the school and community.  Through your your blood drives, your charity fundraisers and your service, you have made Burgettstown a little bit better, and we thank you.  You made a difference to us, as it can again and again wherever you go.

    I wish you all the best for the future; continue to make us proud.  I thank you making for your mark in our history, and I wish you sincere congratulations on your graduation!

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  • The Magic Wand: The Mythology in the Administrator’s Role in Discipline and Accountability

    Posted by James Walsh at 5/26/2017 12:00:00 PM

    Modern teacher mythology holds a belief that school administrators are awarded a magic wand upon graduation from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  When wielded properly, the wand can be used effectively to make kids behave, be nice, be on time, be respectful, be remorseful and a whole bunch of other dreamy characteristics.  All one needs to do is send a referral to the administrator’s attention, and the power of the wand is at the ready.  A rhyming incantation, a snapping wave of the wand, and poof! Johnny Rotten is now Johnny Valedictorian.

    You laugh?  Not true, you say?  From where does the myth come, then, because in all my travels over two and a half decades in the business, I am convinced most teachers wholeheartedly believe the school administrator is capable of all of those things? 

    Sarcasm aside, the ugly truth is, administrators do not have any magic wand, or any degree from Hogwarts.  Quite simply, they have an authority granted by Commonwealth and the local Board of Education to uphold the state and local policies governing our students and programs.  The authority is positional, meaning, the power comes with the job.  To that end, the administrator does not have to be a brute squad or a ninja to succeed in the position.  All new administrators, regardless of physique and intimidating scowl, walk into their position with an authority and responsibility waiting for them, and maybe a warm glow of pride having earned a coveted position.  They also have a heaping, steaming pile of expectations waiting, too.  It does not take long for the glow to wear-off and the steaming pile to start to stink.  Here’s why.

    Because it is generally believed the administrator has magic powers to transform kids, teachers send all sorts of problems to the office looking for transformations.  The kid who is lazy is referred to the office because he forgot his materials four days in a row.  The child who is lackadaisical is referred to the office because her attendance is poor.  The mouthy child, the rambunctious child, the mischievous child are all sent to be transformed.  By transformed, I mean the child is sent away with the expectation he/she will be disciplined or consequence appropriately and returned somehow changed by the experience, so the problem(s) will not recur.  The expectation is a heavy burden for the administrator to carry, and it does not take long for the weight to bring him or her down.  This is because, generally speaking, school discipline does not transform a person.  It typically only makes the offended teacher feel better for having been challenged or wronged.  I need only offer as evidence the current rates recidivism.

    Here’s another truth.  The administrator truly desires the ability to transform kids.  All educators do; that’s why we got into this business.  We all want to change student lives for the better through powerful, life-changing experiences.  Yet, when the discipline does not change behavior, the teacher and the administrator are surprised and frustrated – usually with each other, over and over again.  The charm has worn off and both teacher and administrator feel defeated on a regular basis.  Even worse, in most schools, the administrator is viewed as the sole disciplinarian with powers vested by virtue of the position, and teachers do not own student discipline.  It is also true most educators think the disciplinarian has to be “tough,” invoking fear into the hearts and minds of the students in order for the school to be safe and orderly.  In today’s school culture, all of these beliefs and practices are fundamentally flawed, and everyone’s frustration levels soar because of it.  Maybe in the old days when the administrator carried a paddle, fear was an effective management tool.  “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was Roosevelt’s belief.  We can’t say that anymore, can we?

    So what works to truly reduce discipline problems?  How can an administrator maintain a well-disciplined but productive student body and satisfy the teachers’ appetite for meaningful, transformative consequences?  These are very basic questions, but the answers have been so far out of reach.  Let’s look around the school to see if the answer is staring us in our exasperated face. 

    Ever hear a few teachers quietly admit, “He doesn’t act like that for me” or “She’s not like that at all in my class”?  He or She seems to say that year after year.  That same teacher sends precious few students to the office.  He / She seems to have kids flock to his or her room, and former students are back often to visit.  Take an honest and close look.  Have they got this whole classroom management quagmire figured out?   Yes, they do!  The rest of us have much to learn from these teachers.  Their success has nothing to do with the caliber of students.  It has everything to do with the caliber of the teacher.  The teacher we are thinking about has two important qualities organic to their classroom, and, as a result, has well-managed and productive students.  Here is a close look at the mysterious formula for classroom management success in hopes more can replicate it.

    The primary quality of the successful teacher is his or her ability to build productive relationships with the students.  The successful teacher understands how students need to feel in a classroom in order to be well-managed and productive.  Students cannot feel fear or ambiguity and still be in a good mindset to learn.  They need to feel safe and connected.  Students need to trust they will not be embarrassed, made to feel or look stupid, be ashamed of themselves in some way or another.  Moreover, having the right climate also means getting to know each kid personally in order to understand his or her motivations, preferences, inhibitions and their learning profiles.  Kids respond better to the teacher when they feel a connection and a sense of respect from the teacher.  When those connections are strong, the kid will move mountains to please the teacher.  Someday, kids will forget the stuff you taught them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

    There is no ambiguity, either, in the successful teacher’s classroom.  Everyone who comes into the room will know what to expect from the teacher and understand what he / she expects from the students each and every day.  To that end, the successful teacher will work hard to develop the right climate in the room.  It takes valuable class time to develop and mountains of patient consistency to maintain.  It is more than just posting a set of rules on the wall, too.  Classroom management means the teacher is patiently practicing and enforcing the rules.  This is evident every day, even days when nobody feels like it. 

    The successful teacher has clear and consistent consequences for misbehavior, too.  When students stray from the path, the teacher acts quickly to straighten them back on the path.  Nothing gets by the teacher without some immediate and commensurate response from the repertoire of techniques.  On top of this, the successful teacher does not rely on the school administration to be the “heavy.” In fact, the school administrator will only see or hear discipline referrals from this teacher when a major school rule has been broken, or an insubordinate student is chronically detrimental the classroom culture. 

    Because the successful teacher talks to parents often, particularly when a student is showing early signs of academic or behavioral troubles, the parents become a useful ally to the successful teacher.  Couple this alliance with the child’s adoration of the teacher, and there is a powerful force for good.  Too often, the opposite is true and we wonder why the parents are defensive or overly reactive when challenging calls are made about their kid after things have gotten too bad.

    Consider the opposite example to make the point clearly.  In this fictional example, the teacher does not have any clear or consistent discipline or consequences.  The kids learn quickly the teacher has no authority and will simply threaten or holler as a means to maintain a thread of control.  Typically, the room functions in a transactional way: “you do this worksheet quietly, I will leave you alone.  Otherwise, I become angry and use all of my angry faces and voices to let you know how I am feeling.”  When someone is really bad, or the teacher tires of the yelling game, the offenders are sent to the office to be transformed.  The kids soon realize the administrator will issue the consequences, so fear and dread is found in the experience.  Alas!  The problems return when the fear subsides.  The student now understands he or she does not have to be good for the teacher; the teacher is not the disciplinarian.  While fictional, there are kernels of truth we all recognize in this example.

    The other critical quality the successful teacher fully understands is the relevance the curriculum should have in the students’ lives.   Students can easily recognize individual lessons as building blocks in the “castles” of achievement being constructed, and how living in the castle will make a difference in life.  In the construction process, the successful teacher makes every instructional minute count; there is no busy work or learning packet to keep the class quiet while the teacher gets caught up at his or her desk.  Moreover, the lessons and assignments are customized to match the students’ academic needs and personal interests.  Kids in this room recognize the work as challenging and firmly believe they can meet it.  At the same time, the lessons and assignments are also fun.  That is to say, the same motivation which brings the avid fan to the New York Times Sunday Crossword brings the kids to rise up to meet the challenges a successful teacher can devise.  The bottom line is this: when a student recognizes value in the learning and believes she can do it, she will be invested and will work tirelessly to achieve.  Even better, misbehavior is rare.

    Consider another opposite example.  This teacher has strict rules; students are scared into compliance.  The rare offender is caught violating a rule and sent to the office for immediate execution.  It is highly unlikely the students are really learning anything in the classroom.  It is probably quiet.  Students are compliant, but without emotional connections, nothing is being retained in long term memory.  They are not learning anything.

    The successful teacher works thoughtfully and consistently to make the curriculum relevant and activities meaningful while building productive relationships with the students and families.  Therein lies one more truth.  The successful teacher has to work harder and plan really well to ensure the relationships and relevance are there.  Successful teachers look at the work as an investment paying a variety of dividends.  Still, too many are unwilling to make the investment and cry loudly when their classrooms are not idealistic.  Yet somehow, they still cling to the idealistic, quick fix of the administrator’s mythical magic wand.

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  • Honoring and Honorable

    Posted by James Walsh at 5/22/2017 3:00:00 PM

    Last week, we hosted two important events in the school year: the Senior Awards Ceremony and the National Honor Society Induction.  As Superintendent, I find these two events some of my favorite days of the year, because we celebrate everything that is great about our students. Feats have been reached, challenges have been conquered, and now we focus soley on their individual and collective achievements in a most celebratory, honored and traditional way.

    The Senior Awards Ceremony is an impressive event.  Thousands of dollars in scholarship money is awarded to deserving students during this event. I lost count at $95,000, but be assured, there as more than that amount presented to our students.  Some of the awards were not financial; honors, commendations and recognitions were presented, too, by members of our community, the military, government and service organizations. After 13 years of formal schooling, the Seniors are celebrated and honored in a special way by a great many people.  These students, who have willingly accepted the academic, athletic and activity challenges laid-out before them over the years, can now stand proudly and profess "I earned this." Indeed they have, and we are so proud!

    At the National Honor Society Induction, many students who met the strict criteria are invited to submit an application for membership. Four main purposes have guided the NHS from the beginning: to create enthusiasm for scholarship; to stimulate a desire to render service; to promote leadership; and to develop character in the students of secondary schools. These purposes also translate into the criteria used for membership selection in each local chapter.  Students in schools today realize the awesome challenge to maintain high academic scholarship, while at the same time, render service, demonstrate leadership skills and maintain good character.  None of this is easy to do for a student, particularly in our fast-paced, immediately gratified culture.  So, to have so many inductees in our ceremony was immensely gratifying, but also speaks to the calibre of students we have in our community.  I will add a note of gratitude and respect for the parents of these students, knowing the awesome challenge a parent has in raising chidlren to be completely worthy of this immense honor.  Worthy they are, and we are so proud!

    Again, all in the same week, to see students honored in this way is a very special experience, knowing the journey they have followed to deserve the laurels.  What more could a Superintendent ask for? How about more next year? I therefore put out the challenge to our underclass men and women to accept every challenge you face academically, athletically and actively with courage and serious commitment, so you can accept the spoils for the victors.  From my view, it is completely worth it.

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  • Teacher Appreciation Musings

    Posted by James Walsh at 5/3/2017 12:00:00 PM

    Teacher and an apple

    We are most grateful for the great teachers in Burgettstown, but during this first week of May, we salute our teachers in a special way.  Through this blog post, I join the many students and parents in honoring our teachers for everything they do to improve the lives of Burgettstown students.  We are so thankful to have so many excellent teachers.

    Teachers are much more than a fountain of wisdom.  Teachers have to have a mastery level of skill in presenting the wisdom in meaningful and unforgettable ways.  Increasingly so, teachers have to dig-deep into the bag of teacher tricks to capture and open minds of the students.  On top of that, they have a litany of kid-related issues to plow through, just to get to the lesson of the day, and that’s on a good day.  There is little doubt, I think, that teachers are vital to our country’s future.

    It is an amazing experience to be a teacher, something for which I have many fond memories.  Walking the halls of our elementary and middle / high schools on a regular basis, I am often reminded of those memories.  I hear and see great things happening, and that makes me remember the days in my own classroom.  Watching our kids’ reactions and interactions today bring an energy back to me that I lived on for years.  You see, teachers draw energy and ideas from the students to make us better, and yes, sometimes those same students can drain the energy back out again.  But still we plug-in again and again.  We need those interactions as much as we need oxygen.  We need the enthusiasm and energy in our diet like it is a daily vitamin.  This symbiotic relationship in the classroom is the lifeblood of great teaching and learning. 

    And so, this week in particular, I salute teachers for their life-enriching contributions to studentsl and for making the magic happen.  Thank you for making me miss my own classroom on a regular basis.

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