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Portrait of a Lakota Graduate graphic“Describe the ideal Lakota Graduate.” It started with that simple request. If everything WE do is designed to create a future-ready, student centered learning experience, then we should start with the end in mind. We had to know the skills, characteristics and attributes we want to develop in EVERY Lakota graduate so they can successfully explore one of our 4 Es - Employment, Enrollment, Enlistment, or Entrepreneurship. This was the genesis of the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate. 

Over the past 18 months, we have met with hundreds of stakeholders to get their input on that very important question. We held sessions with students, teachers, administrators, business owners, parents, Chamber of Commerce members, elected officials, and even college admissions officers to clarify exactly what would be included in our Portrait. Board member Lynda O’Connor reiterated the importance of community engagement along the way. “I believe it is part of being accountable to our community to seek their input and provide a clear standard of expectations and skills our students will walk out the door with.” 

We borrowed resources from Portrait of a Graduate, curated with ideas from a growing number of school districts who know that a high school transcript and standardized test scores are not the full measure of student success. We narrowed down the list of desirable skills from 22 to 13 to 8 and then to 6, wordsmithing and graphic designing along the way.

We have designed what we hope to be a “north star” for our school district - a guide that can help inform our instructional and programming decisions in the future. The Portrait of a Lakota Graduate is a two-sided document that keeps our students at the center and describes the skills, attributes and characteristics that lead our students to success in one of the 4 Es. 

As Kara Yates, Assistant Principal at Union Elementary said, “For so long now, we’ve asked kids, “What do you want to be (when you grow up)?”. I believe it’s just as important to ask, “Who do you want to be?” The Portrait of a Lakota Graduate helps to bridge the two questions. It allows our students to go from knowing themselves as letter grades to knowing themselves as well-rounded individuals. At the elementary level, we plan to use the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate competencies as a part of our day-to-day conversations and self-reflections in order to empower our students to think critically, overcome adversity, show empathy & compassion, and ultimately, be good citizens.”

When we talked about implementing the Portrait of a Graduate we were cautious to not have it seen as “one more thing,” but rather a lens through which to view the daily work our teachers do with students. This year, we have designed professional learning activities for principals and teachers to understand the Portrait and find natural connections between what they currently do and the skills highlighted in the Portrait. According to Michelle Day, English teacher at West, “The Portrait of a Lakota graduate is a vital roadmap for, if not the chief purpose of, education in Lakota Local Schools.”  She and other teachers see the Portrait as a great model for connecting real world learning to the everyday activities in class.  

In order to meet the #WEarePersonalized and #WEareFutureReady pillars of our Strategic Plan, every student needs to understand how they can demonstrate skills in all of the areas on the Portrait. While classroom instruction will evolve to better reflect these critical skills, some of the greatest opportunity for change can be in the assessment of learning.  

We believe strongly in real world learning, where the mastery of critical content standards is demonstrated in ways that more closely resemble work in the real world. Project based learning is a model for teams of students to solve real problems for authentic audiences. Student-led conferences give students an opportunity to talk about their strengths, challenges, and future aspirations - while practicing many of the Portrait skills. 

Students can work toward presenting personalized capstone portfolios tied to the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate. As Meghan Roddy, a special education teacher said, “In all of my classes, I am always connecting their ability to take information in and produce the best outcome from it - whether that be academically, personally, or both. We also discussed the importance of failure in the learning process and how this can be used to in turn to build self confidence in our students.”  

All of these practices take time and have to be implemented well and with proper resources, but the feedback from so many of the people we have shared the Portrait with is that this is exactly the kind of work that we want our students to be doing. 

We are excited to share the Portrait of a Lakota Graduate and use this “north star” to inform instruction, personalize learning, and prepare students for their future success in one of the four Es. We believe this can be a real differentiator for our Lakota students as they graduate and make their way into an ever-changing, and highly competitive world.  

Keith Koehne is Lakota's Executive Director of Curriculum & Instruction. His experience as both an administrator and teacher spans 24 years. You can connect with him on Twitter @Lakota_Learning or at

Posted by  On Nov 15, 2019 at 4:07 PM

To support understanding of social and emotional learning, Student Services is hosting a three-part series, including the former “Trauma Informed Care”  blog post and this post on “Stress and Anxiety in our Children." The district screening of Angst on October 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Lakota West High School is the culminating event.  

Anxiety can be sweaty palms before giving a presentation, the elephant sitting on your chest as you look over the list of things to do, or it can be a crippling sense of inability to move forward. Our bodies are designed to feel the emotion dubbed “anxiety,” so we understand physically and emotionally how important something is to us. However, for many people, the body sends mixed signals of emotion/anxiety, making it difficult to navigate daily tasks. The most common forms of anxiety, especially in children, are: 

  1. General Anxiety Disorder – General Anxiety Disorder  (GAD) is the diagnosis when a child experiences anxiety, but the cause cannot be determined. General Anxiety Disorder can last a few months or several years.

  2. Phobias – Children sometimes suffer from a specific phobia. These children greatly fear a particular object, animal or certain situation. When a child encounters his or her phobia, they often exhibit symptoms such as shaking, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, or an upset stomach.

  3. Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are sometimes also referred to as agoraphobia. (Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person fears and avoids places or situations that might cause them to panic and feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.) Children suffering from panic attacks have repeated episodes of shaking, dizziness, chest pains, and intense feelings of fear. They often avoid certain situations for fear of having a panic attack.

  4. Social Anxiety – Children with social anxiety only have symptoms when in social settings. They fear unwanted attention from anyone, including friends.

  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Children with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are consumed by a specific obsession. They perform repetitive rituals as a coping mechanism.

  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – When a child experiences a traumatic event, he or she may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The child cannot stop thinking about the stressful event. Certain people or situations that remind the child of the traumatic event will make the child feel very anxious.

List Courtesy of Mommy Edition 

Our gifted learners often experience high levels of anxiety. This can be attributed to the courses they are taking, or perfectionist tendencies, but the more accurate understanding is that their brains work differently. Their synapses fire faster, which is what allows them to excel in school, but also creates oversensitivity or overexcitability, as identified by psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski.  This “fast firing” allows them to learn more quickly than their peers, but makes them more susceptible to experiencing anxiety. 

“Typical Teen Behavior” vs.  “Potential Warning Signs”?

Courtesy of Alyssa Louagie, Lakota parent, gifted advocate and Associate Director of NAMI,  Butler County 

How can a parent tell the difference between typical teen behavior and behavior that warrants help?  A few questions to consider to help determine when it’s time to seek help include: “Are the child’s emotions impacting and/or interfering with his/her day-to-day ability to live life in the way that he/she wants?” or “Does the child feel like his/her life would be better if he/she wasn’t dealing with these emotions all the time?”  

If the answer to those or similar questions is yes, it’s often a clue that it’s time to seek help.  A pediatrician can be a great first step towards getting help. They may have counselors to recommend, or may feel prescribing medication to begin treatment is appropriate.   Lakota’s school-based therapists are also a great place to start.

I just took my second child to the doctor this morning to start medication for anxiety and depression, so this subject is near and dear to my heart. I work in the mental health field, and still struggle with figuring out what is “normal teen behavior” and what is a mental health issue. 

Also, my pediatrician (who I feel is very knowledgeable on issues with gifted/high performing kids – he was a gifted kid himself and is raising gifted kids) recommended the following books  for perfectionism – What to do When Good is Not Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism – A Guide for Kids by Thomas Greenspon, and What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kids Guide to Accepting Imperfection by Clair Freeland.  They teach common language for the family to use to discuss the problem and coping techniques for control. He recommends all major caregivers read it alone and to (with) the child (depending on the child’s age and whether they can read alone).

Strategies to Cope with Anxiety at Home and the Classroom: 

Courtesy of Tina Pratt, Lakota parent and Lakota’s  Behavioral Specialist

  • Teach your kids how to do deep breathing. Deep breathing will help calm the child and teach them a great tool to self-regulate. My favorite for young kids is “Smell the flowers, count to 3, and blow out the candles.” I like this example as kids can visually imagine it. Teaching them when they are calm is important, so when they become stressed, they can implement it easier. Older kids can do 4 corner breathing.

  • Another thing that I really like is “rose and thorns” or the “good things/bad things” of the day.  Lots of times kids with anxiety will dwell on the things that didn’t go their way or the things that stressed them out. At dinner have the conversation about what didn’t go well for the day. Discuss how they could have problem solved or “fixed” the problem/issue. Then follow up with what was great (rose) about the day. Praise your child for sharing the positive things. Make the roses the last thing you talk about so they focus on the good.

  • I also really like check lists. Kids (and adults) with anxiety are often over-achievers…which then feeds into the cycle of anxiety. Writing a checklist and crossing off things as they finish them, can reduce anxiety.

Some of my personal favorites: 

  • Another favorite that works for all ages: write or draw the worry on a piece of paper (sticky notes are great for this) and share aloud with someone. Then rip the paper up and throw away! It allows the mind to let go of the concern. 

  • Coloring-any kind of coloring really works to release the stress and anxiety and provide the mind peace. It is also a great family activity! 

Discussing mental health in a safe place is the most important step in having happy, healthy kids. One opportunity  to learn more is to attend Angst, a film that promotes discussion around mental health. The film is offered on October 16 at 6 p.m. at Lakota West High School  After the film, there will be a unique panel comprised of mental health professionals, parents, and students to help us continue the conversation. 

Lori Brown headshotAs the Director of Student Services at Lakota Local Schools, Lori Brown oversees the district’s programs and services supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Connect with Lori via email at

Posted by  On Oct 16, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Take a moment to think about what comes to mind when I say the words “student trauma.”  What images or thoughts immediately come to your head? If I had to guess, I would say most people typically think of war, a terrible car crash, loss of a family member, abuse, etc. Unfortunately, those are all examples of trauma-inducing events that our students experience and carry with them to school each day, whether they realize it or not. 

But as I have expanded my own learning about trauma, I have learned that it can also come from some not-so-obvious places - and that educators can have a tremendous impact on how students grapple with all the emotions and reactions that come with it. Some of these approaches might be construed as non-traditional, so I challenge you to read on to understand the logic behind our teachers’ actions to help curb the impact of trauma on learning. 

What Research Tells Us

Students who experience what is called “toxic” or “chronic” stress can have some of the same responses to different triggers as students who have experienced what you might traditionally define as a tragic event. A student who stresses endlessly about grades or a student who comes into a classroom worried every day about being embarrassed, for example, can also experience the adverse symptoms of trauma.  

“Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope.” (Rice & Groves, 2005, p.3). We are learning that the impact of an event or series of events is more important in regard to trauma than the actual nature of the event. Depending on how much support a student has and on his/her capacity for resiliency, trauma can impact a student daily

Furthermore, it used to be thought that trauma was experienced in the brain and that the person was thinking actively about the adverse event when experiencing the symptoms of trauma. What we now understand is that the effects of trauma are physical. That is because, when we sense danger, we go into fight or flight mode. 

A student who goes into fight or flight may not even know when it happens or what the trigger is. When this occurs, we are  encouraging teachers to describe these times as going “offline.” Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute.  His research and work has resulted in an understanding of what he calls the “hand brain.” In this video, Sarah Buffie, a consultant and trainer we have utilized in Lakota, explains the hand brain.

Sarah talks about “felt safety” in the video. As I travel around the district and observe in classrooms, I think understanding this idea can be one of the most important ways we can transform Lakota into a trauma-responsive organization. 

What It Looks Like to be Trauma-Responsive

We, as educators, are very used to the idea of building relationships with our students. Our teachers go above and beyond every day to connect with their students. They invest in learning about their students’ backgrounds, interests, and extracurriculars. They give positive reinforcement and support them every day. Felt safety adds the element of consistency and an environment that allows students to come “online” and engage in learning. Opposite of “offline,” going “online” means that students are regulated and ready to deal with cognitive tasks (logic, reasoning, etc.). There are so many ways our teachers increase felt safety in their classrooms:

  •  Mental health check ins: Having students evaluate how they are feeling as they enter the room helps them take a moment to self-check and think about what they need to be successful in the classroom.  It also allows teachers to adjust plans and check in with students who might be struggling.
  • Yoga/mindfulness: Taking a few minutes each day to do a yoga pose or a breathing exercise helps tour students (and the teacher) bring their bodies to a calm state to be sure their thinking brains are online. The idea here is to teach these techniques to students and to use them regularly so that the students know it is OK to check in and use a strategy to get their minds online, if needed. There are countless free apps and websites our teachers use, like The Calm app and this example of a belly breathing video for young students.  
  • Calming corners & flexible seating: More and more teachers are incorporating calming corners in their rooms to allow students a space to go if they need a moment to come back to being online. Flexible seating can also provide a comfortable space for students to get what they need physically, while engaging in the learning environment.  
  • Morning meetings: Starting class with a group discussion can be a great way to build community and give students a safe space to address or share what they bring into the classroom, address the needs they bring to the table and prepare to engage in their education. Morning meetings also allow classrooms to create a shared vision of the learning environment.                                                                    
  • Time-In: This is the idea that, when a student is offline or needs redirection, the teacher provides more time with the student, instead of time away from the student. Counter to this is asking an administrator or counselor to deal with an offline student. It may de-escalate the situation, but it takes away from the relationship between the student and the teacher. Often, the de-escalation and trust building ends up happening between the counselor or administrator and the student. Therefore, the teacher and student may still have a strained relationship. Instead, a counselor or administrator is utilized to support the rest of the class, while allowing the teacher to work directly with the offline student requiring more attention.


In addition to the things we can add to our classrooms to increase felt safety, we have learned that there are some practices we can decrease because they can trigger trauma reactions and decrease felt safety: 

  • Arguments or power struggles: Many times, students who are argumentative or challenging to authority are functioning with an offline brain at that moment. That means that the student is using packaged or go-to responses or behaviors, rather than using logic and reasoning. If the teacher engages in that interaction or becomes offline also, the student will most likely increase the fight or flight response while  the offline brain is in control. It is best to stay calm and help guide the student to felt safety and body regulation before trying to reason. That doesn’t mean that the student doesn’t receive a consequence for his/her actions. Rather, it just means that addressing consequences while the student is offline will not yield the intended results and could wait until they are mentally prepared to engage in reflection and rational discussion. 

  • Public behavior charts: These can cause humiliation for a student especially if the student experiences offline behaviors due to trauma or stress.  

  • Time-out: As discussed in the time-in section, it is best for offline students and other students in the classroom to see the teacher calmly, competently, and confidently address offline behaviors. That allows the other students to see that body regulation is something that all students are learning, and we address it just as we would an academic struggle. The only caveat here is that time-outs, or leaving the room, may be what a student needs to come back online and regroup. That is different than using removal from the classroom in a disciplinary or punitive way.

Trauma Training a Priority for Lakota

Just as I have personally engaged in a learning journey around trauma, Lakota, as a district, is on a similar journey. This year, all Lakota teachers will receive four training sessions about trauma provided by Lakota school counselors and based on the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers. Our administrators received trauma training from Sarah Buffie over the past summer, and Sarah will return to train our counselors, school psychologists, and community liaisons this fall.  We have 15 employees who have been trained and are trauma-certified practitioners, and we are looking to increase that number throughout the year. We are currently working to build our next layer of professional development for teachers to focus on building resilience in students and teachers. Resiliency is what allows a person to overcome the effects of a traumatic situation.  

In my 17 years in education, no topic has captivated my interest like trauma has. It has caused me to question my long-held beliefs around student behavior and how to interact with a struggling student. Most importantly, when teachers sometimes feel unprepared to deal with the myriad of experiences and needs that our students present, learning how to help students deal with trauma has provided me with tangible, simple, and teacher-friendly ways to support our students. It has reinforced my belief that, no matter the challenges, we can make a difference in the lives of our students.

Social & Emotional Learning a Community Issue

Trauma-informed care is a critical part of Lakota’s commitment to our students’ social and emotional well-being. Lakota is extremely proud of our teachers who were involved in writing Ohio’s new Social Emotional Learning Standards that passed this summer. 

To support learning and understanding around social emotional learning, Student Services is hosting a three-part series with “Trauma Informed Care” being the first installment of the series. The second installment will focus on understanding anxiety and will look at strategies to help students manage their anxiety. To close out the series, Lakota will offer a free viewing of Angst, a film that promotes discussion around mental health, to all staff and community members. After the film, there will be a unique panel comprised of mental health professionals, parents, and students. 

Lori Brown headshotAs the Director of Student Services at Lakota Local Schools, Lori Brown oversees the district’s programs and services supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Connect with Lori via email at

Posted by  On Oct 16, 2019 at 12:15 PM

At Lakota, personalized learning is tailoring the instructional environment to address the individual needs, skills, and interests of the whole child, while developing a deep, personal connection to maximize student ownership of learning.

This is how we have defined "Personalized Learning" for Lakota in our strategic plan.  While we are thrilled about starting this school year with a clear direction, it is hard to always understand what that looks like in my classroom, or my child’s classroom, and how it may look different in kindergarten or band or chemistry.  

As we re-launch the Lakota Learning Blog, we want to share some examples of what Personalized Learning looks like across the #WEareLakota community. Keep sharing your own experiences with personalized learning by using #WEarePersonalized on social media.

Early Childhood Schools

First-graders in Mrs. Ruiz’s class at Hopewell ECS are working on creating the classroom environment and tools together. This will increase the students’ feelings of ownership and representation in the space, which sets the stage for personalized learning.

Student writing on an easel

Kindergarten students in Christa MacFarlane’s room at Liberty ECS are already doing station rotations as a way to give students choice while getting the opportunity to meet with the teacher in small groups.  

At Shawnee ECS, Mrs. Streit met with small groups of students to provide instruction and support as they practiced creating patterns with blocks. 

Mrs. Hickey’s first-graders at Hopewell ECS are given the opportunity to choose a place in the room and the type of seating where they can learn best. Students also have the opportunity to work in partnerships. allowing them to get feedback and support from one another. 

Elementary Schools

Diane Meyers' fifth-graders at Adena are already utilizing an in-class flipped model!

Students participating in flipped classroom

Kelly Scarbrough’s third-graders reviewed place value using station rotations.  They used task cards and iPads in their rotations and worked with different students to continue building classroom community while they learned.  

Kelly Scarbrough’s third graders reviewed place value using station rotations.

Fifth-graders at Endeavor kicked off the school year with Project-Based Learning bootcamp. Their teachers led the way with a different focus each day. Here are some examples of the way their newest “recruits” practiced collaboration and innovation.  

Junior Schools

Seventh grade science students at Ridge Junior are researching science-based careers. They are hosting a career fair next week with the career of their choice, and they can use any medium to present or display for the career fair. 

Teachers at Ridge Junior are personalizing Curriculum Night for parents. They are using a free flow/choice model along with digital tools (QR codes, videos, etc.) to allow parents to get the information they need in a variety of ways.  

Students at Ridge are using RISE time to explore who they are and how they fit into the community. Students will be spending the first quarter exploring who they are and preparing for a building-wide showcase titled, “Who WE Are.”  RISE time activities this year are focused on these core ideals: Realize, Innovate, Serve, and Empower. This is a personalized approach to allowing choice learning in these areas. 

Mrs. Parks, Mr. Schlensker, Mr. Dollard, and Mr. Bauer at Hopewell Junior are trying out Mastery Paths in Canvas to personalize learning.  They are building and testing to see what is the best format for learning. 

students huddled around table with laptopsRachel Howard (eighth grade science) and Jocelyn Ford (eighth grade language arts) at Liberty Junior began the school year working with their team of students to build and improve their community. They spent the first week diving deep into empathy, communication, collaboration and risk-taking and now the students are self-evaluating to determine how they can use their strengths to contribute to their community, ensuring the team has a successful school year. They are working individually or in small groups to create a product of their choice (podcast, commercial, service project, TED talk, etc.) that demonstrates how to help move their community forward.

Teacher Aaron Nunley displayed as a bitmojiMath teacher and gifted intervention specialist Aaron Nunley at Plains Junior has created his own YouTube Channel. He shares, “Students who are in class, but lack clarity on the concepts are able to go back and review the lesson a second time at home.  Parents can also view the lesson and develop a better understanding of how to help their student. Personalized learning has also had a benefit in terms of student relationships. They love to give me tips on how to improve my videos and keep me up-to-date on the latest trends and norms. I even had a handful of students do a special series on functions called “students teach” where they created their own videos explaining how to work with a particular type of function.” Mr. Nunley hopes to create professional development for teachers in the same way in the future.

High Schools

East honors chemistry teacher, Mrs. Gosky, Mr. Severns, and Mr. Mason, will begin their year-long murder mystery, The Case of Mrs. Gosky. They will be applying the skills and content learned throughout each unit to gather evidence and eventually convict who is responsible for the demise of Mrs. Gosky. 

East Sophomores began their year with a flexible playlist at the Sophomore Experience night.  Families selected from a menu of options. Some took a guided tour of the building with our Hawk Ambassadors, while others meandered through the halls at their own pace. Families could listen to a live presentation from our student panel and principal or later watch the recorded version when convenient. Students traveled down Main Street to learn about the many club offerings and scanned QR codes to connect to digital resources.

For the college Common App Essay, Mrs. Wilkerson’s students picked from the choices if their college is on the Common App. If their college is not, then they write the essay for that school. If students are interested in the military, they research the branch, requirements for each branch, ASVAB, and jobs. If students want to work or own a business, they research that employment outlook, training needed, expectancy , etc. In the end, they are still writing an essay about themselves that will prepare them for life after Lakota East.

Mr. Ian Brown’s Biology students at West have started off the year creating blogs and podcasts. The students are learning the technology to help connect the content with their everyday lives. The podcasts and blogs will also serve as tools to review content and start discussions among their peers.  We look forward to seeing the collaboration and learning these tools will provide as the year proceeds.  

West Freshman has begun a new Humanities Lab, which combines English 9 and World History classes meeting in a double block.  Mrs. Cathy Bella and Mrs. Jen Parrett are combining the concepts and skills of both disciplines and seeking connections across curriculum.  World history concepts are being taught in reverse order to gain perspective on how we came to be in our current geopolitical alignment.

Several teachers at West are using flexible playlists to enhance student ownership of their learning and to provide instruction that meets the needs of each student. Mrs. Jenny Circello, geometry teacher, is creating 10-minute instructional videos that allow her students to work at their own pace through videos, lessons, and activities, taking assessments when they are ready. Chemistry teacher Mr. Jon Corum and Spanish teacher Mrs. Tricia Becker report that similar models are allowing them more time during class to engage students more actively into the application and higher level thinking of the content. Teachers have shared that students are doing well and that they have received a lot of positive feedback from both students and parents.  


Authored by Lakota's assistant directors of instruction: Emily Hermann, Regina Kirchner, Deana Moss, Lauren Webb and Justin Wilson. 

Posted by  On Sep 03, 2019 at 3:44 PM

Caitlin Huxel's classroom with students all spread out working in small groupsWhen something is upside down, it is most likely hard to read, hard to understand, and ultimately just looks awkward. We may turn our head a little to try to see it clearly. Perhaps we even turn it around so it is right side up and looking “normal” again. We all have an idea of how things in the world should look. We get used to seeing things a certain way and gain a sense of comfort from the things that are constantly “right side up”.  

Take, for example, education - specifically the acts of teaching and learning. For most of us, we would probably agree that our “right side up” image of teaching and learning is one where the teacher teaches the content to the students during the school day and then students practice the content independently at home.  For years and years, this has been an educational norm...until now.  

On the flip side, recently there has been a shift toward various models of teaching that emphasize a more personalized, student-centered, and differentiated environment. Currently in Lakota, these models of teaching are being explored, developed, and embraced by many teachers in various grade levels across the district.

More specifically, I have found my passion in one model that literally flips the traditional teaching and learning image upside-down. It’s literally called “The Flipped Classroom”. The students receive the content at home (thank you, technology!) and then practice the content the next day in class with the teacher.  Over the past six months, I have discovered that the flipped classroom provides an environment for learning that is incredibly personalized, differentiated, and effective.  Here’s how it happened for me…

I am in my 14th year of teaching and am currently a sixth grade math teacher at Endeavor Elementary. Last summer, I made the decision to go “all-in” and flip my classroom for the 2018-2019 school year. I knew that flipping was not going to be an easy task.  Not only would it be a huge undertaking on my part to put it into action, but philosophically, I felt it was going to be a challenge to get students and parents to believe in its purpose and trust me.

Student works independently on math assignmentRemember that when things are upside-down, we usually first turn our head and give it it a funny look.  I was preparing myself for the funny looks.

A few weeks into the school year, we held our annual curriculum night for parents. This was the night that I was going to share my plan. I had 3-5 minutes to convince these parents to trust me on this journey. The main thing that they needed to hear was that their child would not be bringing home “traditional” math homework this year. Instead, I would simply be expecting students to watch a video for homework, follow and complete my notes, and come prepared the next day with any questions. I explained that in class the next day, we would quickly discuss the big idea from the video. Then, students would be required to complete an independent task related to the skill, at which time I would be available for help and questions.

This used to be the “traditional” homework….you know, the one that many parents ended up helping with, or hunting down a YouTube video to first re-learn the content themselves before helping their child? But I needed them to hear that I was flipping it, turning this on its head, completely upside-down. I was so nervous.

And then, wait for it...they applauded. On Curriculum Night, just a few weeks into the school year, these parents applauded. They were going to trust me on this journey with their children. I exhaled a sigh of relief and I haven’t looked back since that night.  

The hours that I spend outside of the classroom recording the videos for my students is time that I get back with them each day in the classroom. My mantra this year has been that I want my students to try, struggle, get frustrated, and grow each day with me in class. Their job at home each night is to simply prepare for the next day.

And on that “next day,” I get 45-50 solid minutes to talk one-on-one to students who are a bit confused, to provide enrichment opportunities to students who are ready to move on, and most importantly, I get to know my students as learners. They ask questions, answer questions, struggle with new concepts, have “ah-ha” moments, and take ownership in their learning each and every day.  I am so happy that I took the leap and attempted this flip. But I am even more thankful for the students and their parents who have supported this from day one. It may have felt upside-down at first, but it sure is starting to feel like this is, in fact, “right-side up” for all of us.

Here are some parents’ thoughts on how this model of teaching has made an impact:

Young boy works on a scaled drawing in math class.“I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for all of your hard work. #### came home today and was so excited at the improvement in her math MAP scores. Her accelerated progress is due in large part to your tremendous effort and care. ##### enjoys the flipped classroom lessons, and for once, enjoys her math homework. I have also enjoyed helping her with homework (she has never wanted me involved until now!). I know first-hand how much work goes into creating these lessons and engaging students in mathematics, and we appreciate you!”

“Thanks for all your support at school and home (through our laptop)😉. I absolutely LOVE the video lessons for homework. It makes homework much more pleasant. I never thought I’d be dividing fractions in my 40’s but you’ve helped me learn it all over again as I listen to your lesson while I make dinner. Lol. Honestly, it’s great. I have spent  many nights the last few years searching YouTube for videos on how to do his homework so I could learn it and then try to teach it to him when he returned home from his hockey practice. This is soooo much better!!!!”

Mrs. Huxel - I just wanted to say "thank you" for all that you have done to engage #### in math this quarter. The videos that you have spent time creating nightly in order to free up time to provide more individualized learning in the classroom has been extremely well received and has engaged her learning. In addition, you have tapped into ####'s love of "teaching" in the class by allowing her to help other kids. It has helped her learn the material and (hopefully) to also help other kids as well. I wish you could hear how she talks about it at home, as she LOVES taking on this leadership role...and she feels really successful at math right now.

You started the school year with a girl who LOATHED math (and ALWAYS has). You now have a student who says math is her FAVORITE subject. That is quite a turnaround and I never expected to see this day.

Thank you for your investment in your students!”

“Hi Mrs. Huxel, I just wanted to let you know how much #### likes your nightly math videos. He happily does them each night (he has never happily done homework before). Thank you for all that you do for your students.” 

Caitlin HuxelCaitlin Huxel is a sixth grade math teacher at Endeavor Elementary. You can connect with her on Twitter @MrsCaitHux or through email at

Posted by  On Jun 12, 2019 at 10:39 AM

Will you do me a favor before we begin?  


Close your eyes and picture your favorite, most influential teacher. Try to imagine a specific memory you have with this teacher. Now, indulge me a bit further and think about why you chose him or her 


My guess is that you are not currently thinking about pedagogy, organizational techniques, lesson plans, or what specific learning standards you mastered under this teacher’s care. 


This August marks the beginning of my 13th year at Lakota West High School. Much has changed since I first walked into room 106 in 2005, and not just that I now walk into room 140 daily. When I began teaching, I believed I had to prove myself in those first days of August—prove that I was in charge; prove that I was smart; prove that I was organized and ready; prove that I knew all the answers; prove that MY class would be challenging and meaningful.  


I’m assuming you are shaking your head at me by this point. While organization, classroom management, and preparedness are key characteristics of a good teacher, those are certainly not the qualities my students list first when asked about their ideal teachers. And they certainly aren’t the only qualities I’m looking for as a parent.  


Now that I’m older, perhaps wiser - but really because I’m a parent who has two children in Lakota schools this fall - I have new priorities for those first days. What are my priorities now?  

Mrs. Dunn loves you.  

Mrs. Dunn loves her job.  

Mrs. Dunn’s room is safe.  

You are valued.  

You are capable of learning.  

I believe in you.  

This is not MY room; this is our room.   

We are a community.  

We will learn from one another.  

I don’t know all of the answers, but I can’t wait to find them out with you.  


I realize these goals may sound unrelated to my English Language Arts learning standards, and I am certainly aware of the intense pressure on teachers and students alike these days to cover too much curriculum and to pass too many standardized tests. However, I have learned in the past decade that I can cover curriculum more efficiently and effectively when my students and I have first worked to build a genuine relationship 


I should not have had to learn this. Everyone who has ever been a part of a team knows: Good teammates know one another well. Consequently, they can communicate well. They anticipate moves; they cover for one another; they highlight one another’s strengths; they know what each other is thinking or worried about. And teams that work to build this type of foundational relationship are generally far more successful than those who don’t.  


Earlier, when I closed my eyes, I pictured Mrs. Karen Frailie, and, no matter what you say, I can guarantee she was the best teacher pictured in that exercise. I had the honor of being her student for two years as she was my 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I can still see her bright eyes and her perfectly lipsticked smile, and I can still hear her gentle voice in my head. 


I can also still list the short stories, novels, and plays she taught me, and, if you’d like, I could still diagram sentences in the same format she modeled for me. Please understand: I cannot do this because I absolutely loved the literature or grammar she was teaching at the time. Instead, I remember because of Mrs. Frailie.  


She noticed I loved books and slipped me ones she thought I would like to read in my spare time. They had nothing to do with her required learning standards, but they fueled a fire that has never gone out.  


She made me feel like I was a good writer—I was 12; there’s no way I was actually writing enjoyable content. She made me believe otherwise.  


She spoke gently, graciously, and kindly to all of her students at all times—except for that one time she yelled “STOP!” at the top of her voice in order to demonstrate how an imperative sentence worked grammatically. 


She made me feel valued and as though what I said mattered. Again, I was 12 and likely not delivering profundity in conversation. Yet, she made me feel otherwise.     


She intentionally built a personal relationship with me. Thus, I learned from her, and I believed her when she told me I could conquer whatever challenge she put in front of me. 


Mrs. Frailie passed away when I was a freshman in college, and through a series of humbling and fortunate events, I was gifted a box of her teaching materials. There is one item that has a special home in my desk, and I occasionally pull it out to remind myself of something crucial to a successful classroom.  


Lesson bookYou see, I have the lesson plan book for one of the classes she taught me. Each square is filled to the brim with her scrawling cursive—day after day is packed with meticulous plans for what the class would learn. Well, every day except one. The first day of school has two words written on it: Welcome Students. I know Mrs. Frailie well enough to know this was not from a lack of preparedness or inability to put together a proper syllabus. Instead, she knew what was important on that first day—love her students, learn about them, teach them about her, and build community. 


That first day was not wasted. I remember her and what she taught me because she chose to invest in me—from day 1.   


Bethany Dunn's kindergarten sonAs a parent, I wish for nothing more than my children’s teachers to get to know them as quickly as possible. Admittedly, now that my son is beginning kindergarten in the fall, I’m a bit terrified he will be expected to fit into his older sister’s mold. But he won’t fit. His mold has more energy, more confidence, more noise, more fun, more random dancing, and less rule-following. The parent in me wants to send a note on his back on the first day of school that reads, “I’m not my sister. Please get to know me and love me for me. Please see my potential. Thankfully, the Lakota teacher in me who has the privilege of knowing several kindergarten teachers across the district knows this is unnecessary.  


As a teacher, I’ve learned to reframe my thinking about those first days of school. Am I losing precious time to teach? Nope. I teach several lessons those first days: Humans over data. Relationships over rules. Students first. Your teacher is human too. Learning requires community.  


I’m excited for another year with students, and I’m committed to remembering and employing one of the great lessons of Dr. Maya Angelou. She taught me several—to be an unapologetically fierce woman and a reverent keeper of words to name a few—but this one is particularly prudent for our purposes here: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  


I want my students to feel welcomed, known, and empowered—from day 1. 

This August marks the beginning of Bethany Dunn's 13th year as a language arts teacher at Lakota West High School. You can connect with her on Twitter @BethanyDunn19 or through email at

Posted by  On Jun 12, 2019 at 10:37 AM 135 Comments

As we prepare to roll out Chromebook devices to all of our ninth through eleventh grade students, it is so important to focus on why we are doing this in Lakota and how it supports our new Strategic Plan. We could not be more excited to support this work and help all of our students succeed.

Being Future-Ready - To prepare our students for their future careers, many of which don’t yet exist, we are committed to providing the technology skills they will need to support their endeavors. Current studies identify that companies seek employees who can communicate effectively, think critically, work collaboratively and leverage technology successfully. At Lakota, we are empowering our students by putting the right tools in their hands so they may develop the skills critical to future success.  

But, is that really why technology is important to us?  Not entirely.

A Personalized Learning Culture - The driving “why” behind our integration is that we are dedicated to creating a personalized learning culture, meeting all students where they are in their learning journey while encouraging student voice and choice throughout the process. Teachers are continuously pursuing ways to boost student engagement. In education, student engagement is defined as “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught.”  Across the district, we are working to place students at the center of the learning as a means of improving learning. Technology is part of the lesson design experience that is a catalyst to meet this challenge.

And while our teachers are committed to student learning, we also know that our students need the opportunity to create, to show their learning progress, and to have their ideas validated and celebrated. In support of the 1:1 initiative, junior high and high school media centers have been transformed into Innovation Hubs for this exact reason. These collaborative learning spaces allow students to explore varied forms of media, demonstrate and share their learning with authentic audiences in innovative ways and create new, deeper learning for themselves. This is again why giving our students technology opportunities is so important to us.

Ultimately, we are leading with learning and the learning is driving our use of technology for the teachers who are designing learning experiences, for the students who need to innovate and for better equipping all students for a future that has yet to be imagined.

Heidi Adams Innovation Specialist Michelle Miranda Innovation SpecialistHeidi Adams (left) and Michelle Miranda (right) are innovations specialists at Hopewell Junior and Lakota East Freshman schools, respectively, helping empower staff and students to use technology as a tool for more personalized and engaged learning experiences. 

Posted by  On Jan 04, 2019 at 2:29 PM

As a child, I distinctly remember going to the grocery store with my mom on a typical Saturday morning. As I gazed down the aisles, thinking about what new snack I wanted for my lunch, I suddenly came back to reality as I saw my teacher browsing the baked goods.

I immediately wanted to run over and hug her, but then a twinge of fear overtook me. Would she be as happy to see me, as I was to see her? What was she doing out of school? Should I just leave her alone to shop and enjoy her Saturday? Suddenly, I questioned something I had never questioned before. Did my relationship with my teacher, whom I adored and spent day in and day out with, change outside of school?

This year, as I sat with my senior in high school and heard her say that this year was different - better than every other year - I contemplated how that could be. Upon asking her, I realized it had less to do with the logistics of going back - schedules, seeing friends, senior parking spots and routine - and everything to do with relationships.

“I actually felt like my teachers ‘wanted’ to get to know me,” she said. “They talked to me about my interests, told me about themselves and even laughed, danced and had fun with us.” I was so proud to hear these words and it refreshed my outlook on that day in the grocery store. My teacher and all other teachers are real people, who have chosen a profession where they can grow their family by hundreds.

As we begin this new school year in Lakota, there is a fresh buzz about learning and collaborating that has become contagious. From day one, we have spent time getting to know our students, understanding their passions and contemplating how we use this knowledge to motivate them to unleash their creative potential.

But before we can accomplish this, we must get to know our students on a deeper level, make them our family, love them so much that they can fail and learn from their mistakes, share in a celebration of success and safely step outside of their comfort zone with arms wrapped tightly in support.

This looks different for every child. Some are overcoming language barriers and feel trapped in silence or misunderstanding. Some have a brilliant idea they want to embark on, but time is holding them back because they care for siblings. Some want to follow a passion, but have no time to do it because they are bogged down by homework.

If we, as educators, made time for these things in our classroom, we could change our students’ lives and instill in them a singular motivator to launch them into their adult career path. But first, we must know them deeply. What motivates them, what makes them work harder, what frustrates them and how do they best receive feedback? Our classrooms must be a safe place where embarking on new ideas, projects and teamwork is vital and necessary.

We have to empower our students to pursue their passions while they are IN school. We have to shift our role to one that is focused on preparing students for anything while making their learning meaningful and relevant so that they covet the experience. As educators, parents and administrators, we must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every child and finding whatever way possible to do that.  

We cannot accomplish any of these things without a partnership with our families. You are the backbone of their early learning and the foundation that holds them together. You have known for years what we strive to know every day. What makes your child tick? What motivates them and what are they passionate about? We also have to turn to you for the tough questions to try to understand their background, past experiences that affect them today and what frustrates them about school.

In order for children to strive academically and socially, they must see school and home as a partnership. This goes deeper than sharing about their behavior for the day or following through with intrinsic rewards, but also dives into structure and routine. We must empower our children in all settings of their life.

I often find that my best learning takes place while I am in the midst of creation I also see the most determination on my students’ faces when they are in the midst of creation. In a setting where relationships are at the forefront and children are in control of their learning, they will set goals for themselves and accomplish them, rewarding themselves with new and interesting learning.  What you will see is students designing their path to learning an objective, deciding on their learning target, how long it will take them to get there and how their success will be measured. As adults, we sit back and guide, open up doors to resources to support them, ask them hard and thoughtful questions and connect them with people and opportunities in the community to sustain their work.

Along the way, we must teach them life skills to support their learning, such as time management, organization, and self-efficiency. We must encourage them to be self-starters. In the book “Empower”, John Spencer suggests that we do the following to help launch our learners, at home and at school, for we are ALL their teachers.

Inspire them.

Create opportunities for self-starting.

Provide the tools.

Encourage creative risk-taking.

Model the thinking process.

Affirm it.

Help them find a community.

We must be partners in building capacity within our children. They have to be able to expect the same outcomes and the same structure across their world. They must be able to take their learning at school and carry over the inquiry, passion, and lust for more into their home setting where you can continue that discovery with them. By doing this, we can build strong relationships with our children, create learning that is real-life and meaningful to them.

I never want my children to question their relationship with their teacher when they see them in the grocery store. I want them to run with open arms to them and wrap their arms around their waist and I want parents to know exactly who that person is because they also have a meaningful relationship with them - no awkward introductions necessary.  WE must be relentless in understanding, reaching and growing every single child and learn together for OUR kids.

Christina FrenchChristina French is new in her role as the Director of Curriculum K-6 after leaving her post as principal of Hopewell Elementary School. You can connect with her on Twitter @LakotaElemLearn or through email at

Posted by  On Sep 26, 2018 at 2:26 PM

There truly is nothing like the excitement and joy the first day of summer brings. Students, teachers, and parents, alike, relish in the fact that summer is here and a simpler life is on the horizon for the next few months. We all crave and look forward to a slower pace, a shorter to-do list, and more time on our hands to do the things that we enjoy. It allows us time to recharge and reconnect with the people we love.

But, just when you start to relax into your summer routine, you recall your child’s teacher sharing the importance of summer learning. “Oh, wait. So, what is that going to look like?”

For me, it is a major reality check every year when I realize that I have three children at home with and that it’s my responsibility to make sure they continue to learn. Through much trial and error, we have found some summer routines that not only keep my children engaged, but also make sure that they have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

Although I will share my experience of being home with my children in the summer, I realize that not all families are able to be with their children during the day. So, these ideas can absolutely be done on weekends/days off or can even be a resource that you share with caregivers. So, here are some of our favorites and a few new things we hope to try this year so that we have a summer filled with joy and learning.

1. Invite Children to Play

"Play is the highest form of research."

-Albert Einstein

Play is an important part of every child’s growth and development. All children (and even adults) have a fundamental right to play. Through play, children learn about their world. They learn to problem solve, communicate, and use their imagination. In a dream world, our children would play peacefully and independently all day long. In reality, children in the summer are trying to adapt to life that may be a little less structured than what they are used to. In our house, things quickly turn from “Yay, it’s summer!” to “I’m bored, where’s my iPad?” A while back, I discovered that one way I could encourage my children to play more is by setting up play invitations. I choose something that my children already own and set it up in an inviting way that will encourage them to play. This looks different for each of my children because of their interests and what they happen to already own. Here are a few images of what a play invitation might look like for each of my children.

Invitation to play space examples

I have found that setting up invitations like these hands-down gets my kids playing more. They enjoy the element of surprise of what I’m going to set up for them and they get to rediscover things that may have been shoved into the back of their closet and forgotten about. For the summer, my goal is to set up invitations like these after my kids are in bed for the night. Then, I can look forward to a slow morning sipping my coffee while all three of my kiddos are engaged in play. Sounds like a win-win to me!

2. Encourage Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
 - Maya Angelou 

Similar to play invitations, we also love art invitations. The purpose of an art invitation is simply to get children to explore in a creative way. An art invitation, for us, is almost always about the process and not the end product that is created. This type of process takes the pressure off children to make something look “right” and allows them to just enjoy the moment. It’s giving your child the opportunity to work with different art materials, experiment, and make choices as an artist. An art invitation doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few invitations that we have done; however, if you need more ideas I highly suggest that you follow @100daysofartbar on Instagram. It is literally 100 days of different art invitations that are super inspiring. 

Examples of creative play stations

3. Get Out and Explore! 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” 
- Rachel Carson

Outdoor exploration photo

There is only so much time we can spend inside playing. The biggest perk of summer is being able to explore the great outdoors. So much learning happens when children explore the world around them. In years past, we have created summer bucket lists of places we hope to visit throughout the summer. This year, we are setting a goal to visit a new park each week. There are so many places literally right around the corner from us just waiting to be explored. I also hope to teach my children the importance of slowing down and observing the world around them. To encourage observation, we’ll take along notebooks/sketchbooks and different supplies like crayons and maybe even watercolor paint. That way, we can sketch or write down what we are noticing and wondering. Who knows? This may even lead to an interest that your child will want to research and learn more about. Here are some links to some wonderful parks that we hope to check out this summer: 


4. Cultivate an Interest 

“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” 
- William B. Yeats   
Whether at home or at school, the most powerful learning occurs when children have the opportunity to choose what they want to learn. Summer is a great time for students to engage in some self-selected learning. One way to help cultivate this kind of learning is by creating an interest basket. If I notice one of my children has a particular interest in something, I’ll throw some things together in a basket like books, photographs, and other objects that relate to that interest. If my child continues to be engaged and passionate about that topic, I might even allow them to deepen their learning through a project. For example, an interest in plants might begin with a basket of real seeds to observe, a diagram that shows the parts of a plant, paper to sketch or draw a plant, and some nonfiction books. This could eventually lead to a project of creating a home garden. Often times, these projects could engage the whole family and will most likely include practice with many academic skills, such as, reading, writing, math, etc. It is also extremely beneficial for our children to see us learn something new, so consider a project that would allow you to learn alongside your child. 

5. Build a Writing Habit 

“You can make anything by writing.” 
- C.S. Lewis 

Writing space photo

Writing is an important skill that all students need to learn but it is also one that requires lots and lots of practice. Encouraging your child to write, anything and everything, over the summer will reap many benefits. Writing is so closely connected to reading that often a child’s reading will improve with consistent writing practice. It also helps develop fine motor skills, gives children a voice, and often provides an outlet when dealing with strong emotions. To encourage writing with my kiddos, I have a writing area set up in our home stocked with blank paper, list paper, blank cards, and stapled booklets. They are able to make different choices depending at what they want to write. They learn that writing can serve different purposes. When my children aren’t sure what to write, I encourage notes of kindness to friends and family members, making a to-do list, or simply writing down a personal experience that they have had. Here are some favorite writing activities that I have explored with students and my own children:

6. Family Read Aloud

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” 
- Emilie Buckwald 

I couldn’t write a post about summer learning that didn’t include reading! We want children reading all of the time. I, personally, don’t like quantifying it with a number like 20 minutes per day. What I want is for my children to view themselves as readers - for reading to be something they do because they want to, because they love learning about new things, traveling to far away places, or connecting with a character. This can be easier said than done, but one of the best ways to begin is to get children to fall in love with books! And, I have found that all children (ages 0 - 100) love to hear a book being read aloud. The past couple of summers, I have chosen a chapter book to read aloud to my kids. We read a chapter or two a day and have a quick discussion afterward about what we notice, what we wonder, and what we predict will happen next. The best thing is the way that we connect as a family through that story. It is a part of the day that we all look forward to. Your local libraries (see links below) also have excellent programs that encourage children to read over the summer. The goal with reading is always about making it engaging for your child. Motivation is key!

These are just a few ways that can give your child a summer filled with fun and learning. The possibilities are endless.  Always remember, parents, that you have as much an impact on your child’s learning as teachers. You know them best and can help guide their interests and passions in a way that we can’t replicate at school. Learning happens when children feel safe, inspired, and encouraged. So, be creative and have fun with it. I hope you have a wonderful and playful summer!

Blog author Elizabeth Farris photoElizabeth Farris currently serves as the creative specialist at Wyandot Early Childhood School. Next school year, she will be teaching kindergarten at Hopewell ECS. She looks forward to a summer of learning alongside her husband, Aaron, and her three kids, Audrey, Will, and Nora. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @wykidscreate or through email at

Posted by  On May 15, 2018 at 9:09 AM 258 Comments

Son wesley on monkey barsLast summer, I was reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, and I found myself completely taken aback when I read this quote:

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” - Carol Dweck

Not too long after that, I was at the park with my family and for the first time, my son Wesley finally got all the way across the bars. I immediately jumped up with excitement and shouted, “Good job! You’re awesome!” After the words came out of my mouth, I stopped to think about how I’d reacted. I thought through the messages that my praise sent. Did I give him a temporary boost and a smile? Yes. But, what if he didn't get across next time? What would he assume? What about the next challenge he comes across? Will he not take a risk because he will be afraid that he might fail and not be awesome?

Psychologist Carol Dweck says that praising brains and talent has the opposite effect of giving children confidence. Instead, it makes them doubt themselves as soon as anything is hard or goes wrong. Being purposeful with process feedback on the other hand helps send the message that our intelligence and abilities are changeable, with effort and the right strategies. Do our words say, “You are a developing person” or do they say, “You have fixed-abilities and I’m judging them”?

Some students enter college and have serious anxiety when they get their first B or C. Or they don’t know how to cope when they’ve made a big mistake or a bad decision. Have we given them too much person-oriented praise and focused on their “intelligence” or “abilities” too much? Kids who have received praise for their process are more likely to ask questions, ask for help, focus on strategies for improvement, and not see failure as paralyzing.

I decided I wanted to work on my own language and try to make my feedback more specific. I wanted to give Wesley productive feedback and somehow emphasize the process, the ingredients for success, so that he could learn HOW he was able to accomplish something he wanted to accomplish. So, I asked Wesley, “How did you do that? How did you finally get across?” This made him think through and internalize his process. He paused for a second, then said, “I’ve been practicing every time we come to the park. I’ve also been watching other kids and they were swinging their legs more, so I tried that.” To remind him that working hard at something helps us improve, I added, “I’ve also noticed you worked so hard and you didn’t give up.” 

Person praise is non-productive and it creates “fixed thinking.” It says our talents and abilities are unchangeable. Have you seen your children give up? In that moment, they may have fixed thinking: “Why try if think I can’t change the result?”  When we say, “You are so smart,” children think, “If there are smart kids, then there are dumb kids, and I better not do anything that would show I was born dumb.” Whenever we mark one end of the conversation (smart, talented, athletic), kids can fill in the opposite if they are not successful. On the other hand, productive praise focuses on cause and effect: When you did this, this happened.

Turn Children’s Thinking Towards Process with Productive Praise


(emphasizes a person’s intelligence andabilities and sends the message that these traits are permanent)


(emphasizes persistence, focus, strategies and sends the message that we can always grow and develop)

“Ryan you are so smart. You got an A!”

“I notice when you study really hard, it pays off.”

“Great job! You are such a good boy.”

“Did you notice that when you clean up your toys, your sister doesn’t step or trip on them? Thank you.”

“You are a great reader.”

“When you read your book really smoothly, you understood what you read.”

“You got a 100%. You were born a writer. You are a natural!”

“I noticed when you added dialogue to your piece, I understood how your character felt.”

“Sam- You are a talented soccer player!”

“How did you make that pass? It looked like you thought about about where your partner was headed.”

 “Growth Mindset,” is the idea that says there is no telling where hard work and passion can take us in life. When children have a growth mindset, they will love challenges and enjoy effort.


How can we work on Growth Mindset principles at home?

  1. For your children, model and name your own fixed and growth mindset thinking. “I am having fixed thinking. I’m terrible at this and I want to give up! I’m having trouble hanging this artwork, but I know with help, hard work, and the right strategies, I can do it. I just haven’t figured it out YET.”

  2. Don’t sweep your mistakes under the rug!  Show your children mistakes aren't something they need to be ashamed of. When you accidentally spill your drink, say, “HEY, I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW! I won’t be putting my drink near the edge of the counter again.” Talk about what can be learned from mistakes.

  3. Celebrate challenges when things are hard. “Building this bird house is a challenge, but that means our brains are growing. We are learning something new!”

  4. Notice the messages your words send. Are you saying that some people are born a certain way and that won’t change?  “Mom is just not a math person.” Or “Aunt Sarah is a genius.”

  5. Learn something new or take on a new challenge!  When we have fixed thinking, we can find ourselves trying to prove to others we are smart/perfect, rather than seeking a new challenge at the risk of failing or not being “right.” This limits our growth!

  6. Talk about how the brain grows! Scientists are sharing that people have more capacity for life-long learning and brain development than ever thought before. Read books and watch videos about it as a family!

  7. Give productive, process-oriented praise. Give children the ingredients so that they can produce success again.

Let’s help each other create homes that believe in change, where adults and children are focused on process and effort and see mistakes as opportunities for learning.


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston

Lessons for Parents

Video of A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Read Alouds, Videos, and More

Danielle Creamer headshotDanielle Creamer is a Teaching and Learning Consultant for the Curriculum & Instruction Department at Lakota Local Schools. Follow her on Twitter @danicreamer23 or email her at

Posted by  On Apr 11, 2018 at 5:12 PM 181 Comments
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