Nānākuli-Wai’anae Complex Area

Project HI Aware and School Climate Transformation

Now is the Time...

Children are the Priority, 

Change is the Reality, 

Collaboration is the Strategy

Promoting Mental Health...

Improving Academics! http://tinyurl.com/MHacademicsVideo



Recent Posts

Making Empathy Books

Empathy books are great tools for helping children process big feelings and situations. In this video you will learn what they are and how to make them. Empathy books (along with other tools) are a core part of Echo Parenting and Education empathy-based, nonviolent parenting philosophy. Learn more at echoparenting.org. Thanks to Patricia & Mechi Lakatos for production of this video.

A boy told his teacher she can't understand him because she's white. Her response is on point.

'Be the teacher America's children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.'

Fifth-grade teacher Emily E. Smith is not your ordinary teacher.

She founded The Hive Society — a classroom that's all about inspiring children to learn more about their world ... and themselves — by interacting with literature and current events. Students watch TED talks, read Rolling Stone, and analyze infographics. She even has a long-distance running club to encourage students to take care of their minds and bodies.

Smith is such an awesome teacher, in fact, that she recently received the 2015 Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.

It had always been her dream to work with children in urban areas, so when Smith started teaching, she hit the ground running. She had her students making podcasts, and they had in-depth discussions about their readings on a cozy carpet. 

But in her acceptance speech for her award, she made it clear that it took a turning point in her career before she really got it:

"Things changed for me the day when, during a classroom discussion, one of my kids bluntly told me I "couldn't understand because I was a white lady." I had to agree with him. I sat there and tried to speak openly about how I could never fully understand and went home and cried, because my children knew about white privilege before I did. The closest I could ever come was empathy."

Smith knew that just acknowledging her white privilege wasn't enough.

She wanted to move beyond just empathy and find a way to take some real action that would make a difference for her students.

She kept the same innovative and engaging teaching methods, but she totally revamped her curriculum to include works by people who looked like her students. She also carved out more time to discuss issues that her students were facing, such as xenophobia and racism.

And that effort? Absolutely worth it.

As she said in her acceptance speech:

"We studied the works of Sandra Cisneros, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Gary Soto, with the intertwined Spanish language and Latino culture — so fluent and deep in the memories of my kids that I saw light in their eyes I had never seen before.

The changes Smith made in her classroom make a whole lot of sense. And they're easy enough for teachers everywhere to make:

— They studied the work of historical Latino figures, with some of the original Spanish language included. Many children of color are growing up in bilingual households. In 2007, 55.4 million Americans 5 years of age and older spoke a language other than English at home.

They analyzed the vision of America that great writers of color sought to create. And her students realized that our country still isn't quite living up to its ideals. Despite progress toward racial equality with the end of laws that enforced slavery or segregation, we still have a long way to go. Black people still fare worse than white people when it comes to things like wealth, unfair arrests, and health.

— They read excepts from contemporary writers of color, like Ta-Nehisi Coates who writes about race. Her students are reading and learning from a diverse group of writers. No small thing when they live in a society that overwhelmingly gives more attention to white male writers (and where the number of employees of color in the newspaper industry stagnates at a paltry 12%).

They read about the Syrian crisis, and many students wrote about journeys across the border in their family history for class. The opportunity particularly struck one student; the assignment touched him so much that he cried. He never had a teacher honor the journey his family made. And he was proud of his heritage for the first time ever. "One child cried," Smith shared, "and told me he never had a teacher who honored the journey his family took to the United States. He told me he was not ashamed anymore, but instead proud of the sacrifice his parents made for him.

Opportunities like this will only increase as the number of children from immigrant families is steadily increasing. As of 2013, almost 17.4 million children under 18 have at least one immigrant parent.

Smith now identifies not just as an English teacher, but as a social justice teacher.

Smith's successful shift in her teaching is an example for teachers everywhere, especially as our schools become increasingly ethnically and racially diverse. About 80% of American teachers are white. But as of last year, the majority of K-12 students in public schools are now children of color.

As America's demographics change, we need to work on creating work that reflects the experiences that our students relate to. And a more diverse curriculum isn't just important for students of color. It's vital for everyone.

As Smith put it, "We, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country."


Teachers Weave Social-Emotional Learning Into Academics

By Evie Blad 

In Susannah Young’s 2nd grade classroom, the first step in a student’s writing process isn’t a rough draft; it’s a conversation with a peer.

Students explain their ideas to a partner, respond to questions, and push each other to more fully explore their thoughts before they put them down on paper.

Young, who teaches at Oakland’s Lincoln Elementary School, developed the approach through a unusual professional development experience designed to help a cohort of Oakland teachers integrate social-emotional learning strategies into their teaching of traditional academic subjects, like reading and math. In sessions led by faculty from Mills College, a liberal arts school in Oakland, the Mills teacher scholars each select one instructional practice as a focus area, spending at least a year improving it through guided inquiry work.

Inquiry is basically a structured, reflective conversation through which listeners help guide their peers and challenge their thinking. Teachers in the cohort meet weekly with their school peers and monthly as a large group for open-ended, reflective conversations and to review student work and videos of children interacting in their classrooms.

They pay close attention to how students’ emotions and peer interactions affect their learning. For example, one teacher focused on helping students have productive conversations about math problems, developing strategies to help them talk through disagreements about how to find a solution, and how to explain their reasoning.

“I really feel like the most powerful part of it is that it’s starting with what’s happening in your classroom,” Young said. “Not what’s supposed to be happening, not what the curriculum thinks should be happening. What’s actually happening.”

Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning involves nurturing students’ interpersonal and behavioral skills through a variety of educational strategies. Around the country, more schools are experimenting with social-emotional learning, buoyed by research that correlates it with positive outcomes, like academic gains and reduced disciplinary incidents. Employers have also pointed to so-called “soft skills” as desirable traits for future employees.

Young’s inquiry work, which focused on classroom writing workshops, led her to bring more peer interactions into the writing process as a way of separating the act of conceptualizing an essay from the work of writing it out. She got the idea after she interviewed students about the purpose of the workshops and got answers revealing some students’ misunderstanding of why writing matters. “We do writing workshops to help improve our handwriting,” one boy told her.

“The purpose of writing was not clear to him,” Young said. “That really changed my thinking in a dramatic way.”

Zolboo Bayarnyam talks with a fellow student about the effects that words and acts can have during morning circle time in teacher Susannah Young’s 2nd grade class.
—Ramin Rahimian for Education Week

The process she devised improves students’ academic work, she said, and it leverages skills they’ve learned through the Oakland district’s social-emotional learning strategy, skills like how to listen, how to relate to the experiences of their peers, and how to provide feedback.

Schools that promote comprehensive social-emotional learning focus on three strategies: changing school climate through areas like discipline and family engagement, direct instruction of research-based social-emotional learning curriculum, and incorporating a social-emotional learning approach into traditional classroom work.

Districts that have committed to the strategy, including Oakland, say weaving social-emotional learning strategies into everyday classroom practices can be the most challenging. Strategies are still developing, and when the work feels like a fad, or a new, top-down mandate, teachers are less likely to “buy into it,” school leaders say.

Most teachers are also coming to classrooms from schools of education and other pre-service programs that did little to address social-emotional learning, forcing them to learn on the job, according to a recent survey of U.S. teacher-preparation programs by researchers at the University of British Columbia.

While social-emotional learning advocates emphasize concepts like prioritizing student discussions over teacher lectures, strategic thinking over a narrow focus on the correct answer, and giving students a chance to learn from their mistakes through productive failure; many teachers have never had such classroom experiences in their own K-12 educations, said Carrie Wilson, the executive director of Mills teacher scholars.

'Adult SEL'

That’s why many refer to the program’s inquiry process as “adult SEL,” the shorthand for social-emotional learning. Before teachers in the program commit to the vulnerable experience of sharing their work with their peers, they have discussions about what they need to learn and how they can help each other meet their goals, Wilson said.

“Our theory of action is that in order for adults, teachers, and principals to be able to provide certain types of learning experiences for students, they have to be able to have those experiences themselves,” she said. “When you look at the opportunities for adults in schools to really engage in that type of experience, what we hear from teachers is that they are really few and far between.”

The Mills teacher scholars program partners with Oakland and five other districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, leading cohorts of teachers who are focused on a range of academic subjects and teaching areas.

Oakland’s cohort, which focuses specifically on social-emotional learning implementation, is made up of about three K-12 teachers from each of five “learning hub schools,” including Lincoln, where district leaders are trying new strategies to improve their social-emotional learning approach.

District leaders hope those teachers, who have now participated in the Mills cohort for three years and serve as instructional leaders, will eventually be able to lead the teachers at their own schools in similar inquiry work on-site. It’s part of a larger strategy to expand a deeper understanding of social-emotional learning districtwide.

Teacher Susannah Young leads the morning circle time with her 2nd grade students at Lincoln Elementary School.
—Ramin Rahimian for Education Week

Oakland is one of 10 largely urban school districts that have partnered with the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, to implement comprehensive social-emotional learning strategies and to allow researchers to study their results. Each of those districts—which also include Atlanta, Cleveland, and Anchorage, Alaska—has taken its own approach.

Oakland created social-emotional learning standards that outline age-appropriate strategies for developing relational and cognitive skills at each grade level, from pre-K to high school. In an unusual move, those standards also apply to the adults working in its schools.

The standards focus on the five competencies that CASEL emphasizes in its definition of social-emotional learning: self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decisionmaking. Every school in the district is required to adopt a research-supported social-emotional learning curriculum that teaches students about skills such as how to recognize and respond to a peer’s emotions and how to resolve conflicts.

The challenge for teachers is helping students recognize how they are using those strategies throughout the day, including in their academic work, said Sonny Kim, a program manager in the Oakland district’s office of social-emotional learning.

“We wanted to give teachers space to work this out,” he said. “In the classroom, you can think of the teacher as the unit of change. How do we support teachers in really understanding how to teach social-emotional learning? Also, how does it become part of what they do?”

Peer conversations can be a valuable tool for teachers, helping them evaluate their approach and identify successes, Kim said. And teachers can also help each other recognize their own biases and identify the learning needs of specific students, he said.

'Focal Students'

That’s especially helpful in Oakland, where a mostly white teaching staff teaches racially and ethnically diverse students, Kim said.

For example, at Lincoln Elementary School, which is located in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood, students are largely from Asian immigrant families. Traditional cultural motifs like dragons hang in the hallways, and school leaders send notes home in both English and Chinese.

Every teacher in the Mills program watches how changes in strategy affect a small group of “focal students,” to look for success. Those students may be of varying skill levels or students with particular needs, such as English-language learners.

Malia Tayabas-Kim, a Mills participant who teaches 2nd grade at Oakland’s Garfield Elementary School, chose two English-language learners and two higher-level native speakers for her focal students when she completed her first inquiry, which focused on academic discussions of books.

“I would observe them on the playground and see how can they have these conversations that go on forever about Pokémon or basketball … And I thought, how can I get them to use that in an academic setting?”

After observing their classroom discussions on video with her Mills peers, she realized she needed to help students understand what an academic conversation actually looks like, and how to ask good questions and provide feedback. She had students complete “fishbowls,” sitting in a circle around two peers to observe their discussion. And she provided “scaffolding,” posters with conversational prompts and questions.

“They could see it, hear it, practice it constantly, and internalize it,” Tayabas-Kim said.

This year, her inquiry focuses on teaching her students to ask their classmates for evidence to support their opinions. That work hones students’ academic skills of analytical thinking and reading, and it relies on social skills like how to handle disagreements and how to have constructive conversations, Tayabas-Kim said.

After students mastered asking one another for evidence, she extended the lesson further, helping them identify what makes good evidence and why they should ask for it.


She saw the effects of her work when she witnessed two students discussing a book called "Why Do Puddles Go Away?" The girl who read the book responded to her partner’s prompts for evidence by referring back to diagrams as she carefully explained how condensation works.

The inquiry work helped Tayabas-Kim recognize things she might not have noticed in those peer interactions, she said.

“Being able to share my inquiry, having people listen and ask questions,” she said, “has moved my thinking forward.”

Coverage of social and emotional learning is supported in part by a grant from the NoVo Foundation, at www.novofoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Dear Teacher: Heartfelt Advice for Teachers from Students

Kids with a formal diagnosis, such as autism, Asperger's, ADHD, learning disabilities, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Central Auditory Processing Disorder -- along with those who just need to move while learning--often find it challenging to shine in a traditional classroom. The kids who collaborated to write and star in this "Dear Teacher" video represent such students. So, they wanted to share with educators how their brain works and offer simple ways teachers can help.

13 Reasons Why - Information, Prevention and Response Resources


  • This 13 episode television series was released on Netflix on 3/31/17.  It is based on a book published in 2007 and is rated TV-MA.
  • “Schools have an important role in preventing youth suicide, and being aware of potential risk factors in students’ lives is vital to this responsibility. The trending Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on a young adult novel of the same name, is raising such concerns. The series revolves around 17-year old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she says in some way were part of why she killed herself. Each tape recounts painful events in which one or more the 13 individuals played a role.

Producers for the show say they hope the series can help those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. However, the series, which many teenagers are binge watching without adult guidance and support, is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. The series graphically depicts a suicide death and addresses in wrenching detail a number of difficult topics, such a bullying, rape, drunk driving, and slut shaming. The series also highlights the consequences of teenagers witnessing assaults and bullying (i.e., bystanders) and not taking action to address the situation (e.g., not speaking out against the incident, not telling an adult about the incident).”

From NASP: 13 Reasons Why Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators

Why is this important?

  • As media coverage of this series increases, more viewers may be drawn to the show, a simple web search will bring up news stories from across the county regarding this television show and its impact.
  • This series is not the first example of media (books, plays, poems, art, music, tv, movies) depicting death by suicide; however, it is important we are able to provide accurate information and support to any viewers who may become distressed, confused or be drawn to emulate certain aspects of this show.


Additional Information/Platforms from Netflix

Rude Vs. Mean Vs. Bullying: Defining The Differences


A few weeks ago, I had the terrific fortune of getting to present some of the bullying prevention work that I do to a group of children at a local bookstore. As if interacting with smiling, exuberant young people was not gift enough, a reporter also attended the event a wrote a lovely article about my book and the work I do with kids, parents, educators and youth care professionals. All in all, it was dream publicity and since then, has sparked many conversations with people in my town who saw my photo in the newspaper and immediately related to the examples of bullying that were discussed.

I have been brought to tears more than once since the article ran while listening to parents share their feelings of outrage and helplessness over their kids’ experiences with bullying in school. One gifted but socially awkward middle school student blew me away with his articulate, poised, yet searingly painful accounts of relentless physical and verbal bullying on his school bus. An elementary school-aged girl described how she had to learn to shed her Australian accent within a month of entering U.S. schools because of how she was shunned by her classmates. The commonness of it all routinely astounds me with every new account; the pervasive cruelty makes my jaw drop every time.

It is important for me to begin this article by establishing that without doubt, many of the stories of bullying that are shared with me are horrifying and some are unspeakably cruel. But now, I also want to be honest and share that some of the stories are... well... really not so bad.

Take this story recently shared with me by an acquaintance who read about my professional work:

Signe, I saw your picture in the paper last week. Congratulations! I didn’t know you worked with bullied students. It’s so important that you do — things have gotten so bad! Last week, my daughter was bullied really badly after school! She was getting off of her bus when this kid from our neighborhood threw a fistful of leaves right in her face! When she got home, she still had leaves in the hood of her coat. It’s just awful! I don’t know what to do about these bullies.

“Was she very upset when she got home?” I empathized.

“No. She just brushed the leaves off and told me they were having fun together,” she said.

“Oh,” I answered knowingly, aware that oftentimes kids try to downplay victimization by bullies from their parents, due to the embarrassment and shame they feel. “Did you get the sense she was covering for the boy?”

“No, no. She really seemed to think it was fun. She said that she threw leaves back at him, which I told her NEVER to do again! The nerve of those kids.”

“Those ‘kids,’ I clarified. “Was it just the one boy throwing leaves or were there a bunch of kids all ganging up on her?”

“No, it was just this one boy that lives about a block from us,” she assured me.

“Is he usually mean to her? Has he bothered her after school before?” I asked, eager at this point to figure out what the bullying issue was.

No. I don’t think so at least. That was the first time she ever said anything about him. It was definitely the first time that I noticed the leaves all over her coat. But it better be the last time! I won’t stand for her being bullied by that kid. Next time, I am going to make sure the principal knows what is going on after school lets out!

While I always want to be careful not to minimize anyone’s experience (it’s the social worker in me!) and a part of me suspects that the sharing of this particular story may have been simply this parent’s spontaneous way of making conversation with me in a store aisle, I hear these “alarming” (read: benign) stories often enough to conclude that there is a real need to draw a distinction between behavior that is rude, behavior that is mean and behavior that is characteristic of bullying. I first heard bestselling children’s author, Trudy Ludwig, talk about these distinguishing terms and, finding them so helpful, have gone on to use them as follows:

Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else.

A particular relative of mine (whose name it would be rude of me to mention) often looks my curly red hair up and down before inquiring in a sweet tone, “Have you ever thought about coloring your hair?” or “I think you look so much more sophisticated when you straighten your hair, Signe.” This doting family member thinks she is helping me. The rest of the people in the room cringe at her boldness and I am left to wonder if being a brunette would suit me. Her comments can sting, but remembering that they come from a place of love — in her mind — helps me to remember what to do with the advice...

From kids, rudeness might look more like burping in someone’s face, jumping ahead in line, bragging about achieving the highest grade or even throwing a crushed up pile of leaves in someone’s face. On their own, any of these behaviors could appear as elements of bullying, but when looked at in context, incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.

Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).

The main distinction between “rude” and “mean” behavior has to do with intention; while rudeness is often unintentional, mean behavior very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone. Kids are mean to each other when they criticize clothing, appearance, intelligence, coolness or just about anything else they can find to denigrate. Meanness also sounds like words spoken in anger — impulsive cruelty that is often regretted in short order. Very often, mean behavior in kids is motivated by angry feelings and/or the misguided goal of propping themselves up in comparison to the person they are putting down. Commonly, meanness in kids sounds an awful lot like:

• “Are you seriously wearing that sweater again? Didn’t you just wear it, like, last week? Get a life.”
• “You are so fat/ugly/stupid/gay.”
• “I hate you!”

Make no mistake; mean behaviors can wound deeply and adults can make a huge difference in the lives of young people when they hold kids accountable for being mean. Yet, meanness is different from bullying in important ways that should be understood and differentiated when it comes to intervention.

Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.

Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Kids who bully say or do something intentionally hurtful to others and they keep doing it, with no sense of regret or remorse — even when targets of bullying show or express their hurt or tell the aggressors to stop.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational or carried out via technology:

Physical aggression was once the gold standard of bullying— the “sticks and stones” that made adults in charge stand up and take notice. This kind of bullying includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, tripping, hair pulling, slamming a child into a locker and a range of other behaviors that involve physical aggression.

Verbal aggression is what our parents used to advise us to “just ignore.” We now know that despite the old adage, words and threats can, indeed, hurt and can even cause profound, lasting harm.

Relational aggression is a form of bullying in which kids use their friendship—or the threat of taking their friendship away—to hurt someone. Social exclusion, shunning, hazing, and rumor spreading are all forms of this pervasive type of bullying that can be especially beguiling and crushing to kids.

Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology. According to Hinduja and Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center, it is the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Notably, the likelihood of repeated harm is especially high with cyberbullying because electronic messages can be accessed by multiple parties, resulting in repeated exposure and repeated harm.

So, why is it so important to make the distinction between rude, mean and bullying? Can’t I just let parents share with me stories about their kids?

Here’s the thing; in our culture of 24/7 news cycles and social media sound bytes, we have a better opportunity than ever before to bring attention to important issues. In the last few years, Americans have collectively paid attention to the issue of bullying like never before; millions of school children have been given a voice, 49 states in the U.S. have passed anti-bullying legislation, and thousands of adults have been trained in important strategies to keep kids safe and dignified in schools and communities. These are significant achievements.

At the same time, however, I have already begun to see that gratuitous references to bullying are creating a bit of a “little boy who cried wolf” phenomena. In other words, if kids and parents improperly classify rudeness and mean behavior as bullying — whether to simply make conversation or to bring attention to their short-term discomfort — we all run the risk of becoming so sick and tired of hearing the word that this actual life-and-death issue among young people loses its urgency as quickly as it rose to prominence.

It is important to distinguish between rude, mean and bullying so that teachers, school administrators, police, youth workers, parents and kids all know what to pay attention to and when to intervene. As we have heard too often in the news, a child’s future may depend on a non-jaded adult’s ability to discern between rudeness at the bus stop and life-altering bullying.

Signe Whitson is a licensed therapist, national educator on bullying, and author of three books including Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying. For more information or workshop inquiries, please visit www.signewhitson.com


Your Guide to Running a School Like Disney World

Every year, millions of people flock to Disney World, the self-proclaimed “happiest place on Earth.” Many return year after year to spend their hard-earned money despite the long lines and unpredictable weather. Why? Because of the magical feeling that exists there, and the way people who run the park make them feel. No matter where you come from, what language you speak, or your disability, Disney offers magic for all.

At  Mary Williams Elementary, we strive to create a similarly magical feeling. We put our guests—students and parents—first, and work hard to keep those behind the scenes feeling inspired and supported. We also invest in digital technology that we believe can engage students, as well as make the teacher’s job more enjoyable. After all, who wants an autograph from a grumpy Mickey Mouse?

Of course, some people may argue that a school shouldn’t be likened to a theme park, or that entertainment and education don’t fix. We disagree. It’s this student-first way of thinking that’s helped our school go from a School of Improvement to a  School of Excellence in just two years. With over 1,000 students, it’s not always easy, but we take pride in the fact that although the lines are long, students come every single day looking forward to the magical moments our classrooms offer.

A focus on customer service

At Disney World, staff are hired for attitude, not aptitude. Whether cast members or third-party employees, the organization unites everyone in a common goal: to help the guest.

You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.
—Walt Disney

At Mary Williams, the magic starts with a similar vision: that students come first. That means hiring with kids n mind. After all, some people may be great educators, but may not be the right fit for our students. Can they relate to English Language Learners? Are they sensitive to students with Special Needs? These questions matter because part of the magic is creating inclusive experiences for all.

Teachers also need to be included, especially when it comes to decision-making. As principal, I truly believe my role is to create conditions that allow everyone else to be successful. Sometimes that means simply stepping back and listening; other times, it means sharing curriculum knowledge or running to Walmart to get oreos for a ‘Phases of the Moon’ project. I want teachers to know we are part of the same team, with a common purpose.

This was the rationale for starting teacher-centered Edcamps during professional development. During these sessions, we don't go in with a plan. Instead, teachers decide what they want to learn, and what they'd like to help others learn, instead of being force-fed one-size-fits-all PD. Once the session is over, staff members know who to reach out and collaborate with. It’s this teacher-led model that’s the key to our next secret to success: using innovative technology to transform our classrooms.

Creating magic through tech and relationships

Students enjoy a celebratory pizza party

When I started at Mary Williams, two things were clear: students weren’t fully engaged, and it wasn’t teachers’ faults. So we took a look at our competition—video games, iPads, smartphones—and realized while students were happily spending time on their devices, we were giving them old fashioned paper-and-pencil activities. The solution? Infusing some excitement into our lessons, Walt Disney-style.

Since then, we've experimented with dozens of different apps and online programs to boost learning and interest: 3-D printing, spheros, Osmos, virtual reality, coding, cyber security modules, drones, Robotics, multiple devices. But we never expect teachers to all use the same tools, and we never use tech for tech’s sake. Yes, we want our school to feel like Tomorrowland, but only because we know technology has the power to both differentiate and engage. As a result, the school has become a learning lab for both students and adults: a place of true innovation. 

We also know technology cannot replace strong relationships. As Walt Disney said, "you can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality." At Mary Williams, we believe in second chances. We understand that exclusionary practices hurt students and destroy the culture we try to foster. Instead we lead meetings by letting kids know we believe in them. We also host lunches, book clubs, and play minecraft and coding games with students. I do not like to miss an opportunity to ask them about the things we have implemented and ways we can improve as a school.

Parents: both guests and stakeholders

Although students come first, we also view parents as guests whose experience is just as valued. From the minute a parent walks onto our campus, they are welcomed, whether with the music playing in the office, the colorful murals that adorn the walls, or staff intentionally asking, “How can I serve you today?” We take time to foster relationships and go the extra mile to exceed expectations.

Parents and teachers as partners

We’ve also found technology useful in serving our guests' needs. Our parents have access to me at any time of the day through Remind, which lets them text me if they need anything. We also use DoJo, Smore, Facebook, and Twitter to communicate, along with the occasional flyer for the refrigerator.

Parents are also regarded as stakeholders who deserve to know how we use our resources and time. Anytime I need an expert, I reach out to our parents first. During school-wide events, I make it a point to ask them for feedback and how we can improve: I call them quarterly to ask for input. At PTO meetings, I reveal market trends and student data to them. As a result, changes are not a surprise because they are part of everything we do.

The success of Mary Williams is the result of hard work, dedication, and inviting everyone to sit at what I call “the dinner table”. Magic happens as a result of crafting an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes, feel loved, are allowed to think outside the box, and are excited about coming back every single day. Is it easy? No. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. And like Walt Disney said: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

Lynn Colón is the proud principal of Mary Williams Elementary. She is passionate about transforming education through digital learning and was recently recognized as a National School Board Association's "20 to Watch."


The Warm Demander: An Equity Approach

Recently, I was talking with a high school student about his frustrations with a first-year teacher. The student said, "I like [the teacher] because he's understanding, but he doesn't require enough discipline. He tells us to stop talking, but he doesn't really do anything to stop it. If I say, 'I forgot my homework,' he extends the deadline, and he keeps extending it, so I don't bother doing it. He needs to be more strict!"

He didn't know it, but this student was asking for his teacher to be more of a warm demander -- a key strategy for creating equity in the classroom. Warm demanders are teachers who, in the words of author Lisa Delpit, "expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment." In my two decades of working in public schools, the idea of the warm demander is the most important conceptual framework that I've learned, and it guides my interactions with students on a daily basis.

The staff at June Jordan School for Equity in San Francisco, where I am co-director, developed a four-part framework for how to become a warm demander:

1. Believe in the Impossible

Do you really believe that all children can learn? If you are not sure, read David Shenk's The Genius in All of Us to help you understand that brain science is clear: "Limitations in achievement are not due to inadequate genetic assets, but to our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have." You also need to understand the cultural strengths and role models of your students' communities. For example, can you imagine your Latina students being the next Dolores Huerta, Sandra Cisneros, or Ellen Ochoa? If not, you won't be able to remind your students of their unlimited potential.

2. Build Trust

Warm demanders understand that learning starts with trust. To build trust, you must listen to your students, and learn about who they are and what matters to them. You must be vulnerable, and share your true self -- including smiling and having fun. As Pamela Druckerman recommends in her book Bringing Up Bebe, you should follow the example of French parents and be strict about things that matter, but within those firm boundaries (which Druckerman calls a cadre or frame), trust children with the autonomy to make mistakes and learn from them.

3. Teach Self-Discipline

My student who complained about the repeated extensions on homework deadlines felt disrespected by the teacher's actions because he knew that he ought to have been getting his homework done on time. Warm demanders demand that students demonstrate self-discipline -- not because they seek compliance, but because high standards communicate respect. This does not mean micromanaging students, nor does it mean punishing students who don't meet your expectations. It means teaching discipline and normalizing the hard work and effort that lead to success.

4. Embrace Failure

Warm demanders teach their students to have a growth mindset and understand that real learning comes through failure. Since most of us hate to fail, Jo Boaler suggests three strategies to celebrate mistakes in the classroom:

  • Create the norm that you love and want mistakes.
  • Don't just praise mistakes -- explain why they are important.
  • Give work that encourages mistakes.

It's important to note that for failure to result in learning, it must happen in a safe environment, with guidance from someone like a warm demander teacher.

Through these approaches, warm demanders hold their students to high standards and provide the support that students need to get there, thus creating an equitable classroom.  https://www.edutopia.org/blog/warm-demander-equity-approach-matt-alexander


Anatomy of School Bullying

Understanding the hot spots within schools is essential to putting a stop to student bullying.

Hallways and stairwells are bullying hot spots, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In the 2014–15 academic year, students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported nearly twice as many bullying incidents in transitional areas between classes—where they spend a fraction of their time—as in other school areas like cafeterias or playgrounds.

About 5 percent of students faced overtly physical forms of bullying, reporting that they had been “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on.” Students reported higher levels of verbal and relational bullying, disclosing that they have been “made fun of, called names, or insulted” (13 percent) or were the “subject of rumors” (12 percent). The numbers suggest that digital bullying, which seemed to herald a dangerous new era of harassment when it first appeared, has not developed as predicted. While bullied girls reported online harassment (15.9 percent) at more than twice the rate boys did, they still encountered far more harassment in school environments than digital ones. Only 6.1 percent of bullied boys reported online incidents.

But it’s the location data that jumps off the page of the report. While the playground is typically considered the epicenter of bullying, it’s the more transitional spaces—the fast-moving, highly social hallways and stairwells—that dominate the landscape of student harassment. Almost 42 percent of students who were bullied reported incidents in hallways or stairwells, a number that was similar for both boys (41.8 percent) and girls (41.6 percent). A much smaller percentage of bullied students reported incidents outside on school grounds (19.3 percent), in a bathroom or locker room (9.4 percent), in the school cafeteria (22.2 percent), or on a school bus (10 percent).

Discouragingly, almost 34 percent of bullied students reported incidents in the classroom, a fact that deserves deeper consideration. As a former teacher, I think back to the transitional moments within a class, as students arrived, settled in, transitioned between activities, and then exited. Those situations are chaotic and difficult to manage well—and feel like a possible explanation for this unexpected finding.

Modern thinking on bullying acknowledges the complexity of the problem, and has shifted responsibility away from teachers and administrators, emphasizing instead the positive effects of broader networks and school-wide cultural transformations. According to Edutopia contributor Anne O’Brien, it’s critical to develop a clear code of conduct, to empower “teachers and especially students to help enforce it,” and to socialize the message through activities like all-school assemblies and “art contests highlighting school values.” And a broader look at what Edutopia contributors have written on the topic over the course of years reveals a clear theme: the importance of establishing a web of allies, including administrators, students, teachers, parents, and even unaffiliated citizens. This more holistic, school-and-environs approach is best summed up in our recent blog post “Successful Community Efforts to Prevent Bullying.” It takes a village.

Whatever model of bullying prevention a school adopts—however diverse the coalition summoned to take a stand against bullying—it makes sense to be mindful that hallways and stairwells, taken together, are nearly twice as likely to be the source of the problem as the cafeteria, playground, or buses and bathrooms. Supervision and vigilance in those fluid spaces between classes is likely to benefit vulnerable students disproportionately.

The full report—which, I should warn you, begins with a very detailed description of the statistical models and assumptions used—can be found here. To see critical resources on bullying prevention, take a look at our Bullying Prevention topic page or visit our resource roundup.

Stephen Merrill


Changing Minds: Science of Childhood Trauma

A brief overview of what happens to the brain of a child who experiences trauma and the impact a person can make by doing 5 things that will support a child!  

The Science of Adversity

Children living in poverty often endure stress from adverse experiences, such as exposure to violence, loss of a loved one or homelessness. Unfortunately, most schools aren’t designed to address the impact of stress on learning. Pamela Cantor, M.D., President and CEO of Turnaround for Children explains the science of adversity and how we can use this information to design better learning environments to help all children reach their full potential.

Building Blocks for Learning

Turnaround for Children’s Building Blocks for Learning is a framework for the development of skills children need for success in school and beyond. Each element represents a set of evidence-based skills and mindsets that have been proven by research to strongly correlate to, and even predict, academic achievement. The framework draws from research in multiple fields to suggest movement from lower-order to higher-order skills. Overall, it provides a rigorous perspective on what it means to intentionally teach the whole child – to develop the social, emotional, motivational and cognitive skills in every learner. Turnaround offers the building blocks framework as a contribution to a vital collaborative endeavor to deepen and transform K-12 education.