Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
21st Century Learning:
Visions, STEM, & School Culture
October 2017
In This Issue

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Dear Educators,

During these opening months of the 2017 school year, how are you feeling about where your school is headed? Do you and your teachers feel energized by the plans for the months that lie ahead?  If you have a preschool program at your school, are you using that as prime time for our youngest students?  When you look at your school culture, are "kindness" and caring integral to your values?  Have you considered visions for the future of your school? Have teachers been engaged in visioning?  This month, a school principal in Pennsylvania, a CEI Intern, and a doc student/CEI Instructor provide some insights into what they have done and what we could do.
"The Seven Essentials" to Leading a Purposeful Heart Centered Culture
By Melissa D Patschke, Ed. D., Principal, Upper Providence Elementary, Royersford, PA 
Leadership is key. To start, there's no golden path to leading from the heart. You must reflect, react and respond to the human capacity in your school community. It's the difference between a job and a passion. It's opportunity not obligation. It's the feeling of empowerment verses conformity. It's a pointed belief in unconditional caring, authentic trust, and inspirational practices. Leading a heart centered system is taking care of people. It's seeing each individual as a valuable human being. It's finding strengths and building capacity in each person. Leading with the heart is a game changer. It's not only possible, it's imperative. 

How do I fit one more thing into my schedule? On any given day, we are instructional leaders, system managers, caretakers, advisors, disciplinarians, supervisors, consultants, safety specialists, and general motivators. Daily decisions are made frequently and quickly. Time is the single resource that we never have enough of and rarely know if we are truly using it well. We act and move forward, forever hoping that our support, advice, judgements, and directions are made with informed integrity, and always centered on what's best for kids. Heart centered leadership is the foundation by which trust, respect, quality, acceptance, and ownership are spread in a school. Embedding these beliefs is not another thing to do, it's the lubricant that will make all things work at higher levels of speed and efficiency. The time dedicated to this work gets paid forward in experiential gains. 

Ok, I'm in. Where do I start? Where do you pull your confidence, your support, and how do you build your team? This set of seven proven expectations are the answer. Start here and eventually adjust the list to make them your own. Establish these seven beliefs as ground rules for everyone you influence. 
The Significant Seven Non-Negotiable Beliefs:
  1. Acknowledgement. All human beings deserved to be acknowledged. This is one of our basic human needs, to be included. A heart centered leader must consistently send the message to all people that they are valuable, wanted, and have something to contribute to the school. This applies to the 5 or 15 year old walking down the hallway, and it applies to the parent visiting a classroom and to the technician servicing the copy machine. It means that staff members talk to each other, smile, nod, shake hands, and high five. This is done as a genuine gesture that silently says to those involved and those watching, "you are worthy of my time, you are a valuable human being."
  2. A School Significant Other.
    Everyone in a school must find a person that they can trust, talk to, and that is able to listen to them vent. This significant someone is a person that will listen, advise, offer a shoulder, and not take your conversation anywhere beyond the walls where it happened. We all have bad days, difficult interactions, frustrating situations that come up and it is very healthy to blow off steam in an appropriate "closed door" setting. Establish it as a requirement that staff find their person and also be that person for another staff member. Some people will have several of these "go to" friends, but everyone MUST have one person to fill this role. Ultimately, the permission to rant and rave with confidentiality solves concerns, and provides just enough support that the issue doesn't need to travel further. If it does, it is more often handled with appropriate and intentional professional filters.
  3. Touch. We all have a need for supportive feedback, positive or corrective. The expectation of touch is one of outreach. It's the basic caring of each other. It's the requirement that you reach out and send a note, write an e-mail, have a conversation, express that you care about each other. Share messages of gratitude, of pride, of support. This can be through voice, writing, or actions. Buy a cup of coffee for someone going through a hard time. Give a needed pat on the back or high five. Prioritize the time to touch a heart and build relationships. 
  4. Assume Positive Intentions. 99% of people wake up each day and want to do the right thing. The majority of people we meet, work with, teach or lead are truly trying to make good choices. Step into every situation assuming that the person on the other side of the conversation has a positive intention. Try hard to reframe your own thinking to listen and hear the other person's perspective. It may not change your mind but you will be better prepared to compromise, empathize, and/or find a common place of agreement where you can rebuild and create a new outcome. 
  5. Actions (attitude) of Gratitude. Gratitude is the most powerful emotion in the toolkit of human emotion. It is the single feeling by which can stamp out all other negative feelings. Try to place yourself in a pure state of appreciation and remain angry, mad or upset. It's impossible. The general expectation you need to set is to express gratitude purposely, openly and freely. There are never too many genuine actions of appreciation taking place. When you express gratitude, receive gratitude, witness gratitude or even tell the story of an act of gratitude, you benefit emotionally as a human being and you impact heart centered culture immediately. 
  6. Permission to be Human. Everyone has 'off" days. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone feels down sometimes. This is human. This is normal. The expectation you need to establish here is forgiveness. It must be "ok" in the culture to mess up. We must learn to accept life's challenges and be able to share our feelings about them. Forgiveness can be very difficult to manage, especially when it is ourselves that we must give grace. It is critical to move past wounds and not harbor on the negative. Everyone needs help, support, and time to heal. Everyone needs to be heard. We all deserve "permission to be human." We all deserve to be forgiven. 
  7. Celebrate Success & Share Joy. Since the beginning of time, people have used diverse methods of celebration to reward, unite, and express joy. It is play, it is gratitude, and it is togetherness. As emotionally functional beings, we connect to each other through the memories of our joys. We hold on to the treasure of traditions and find comfort in the smiles generated through sharing of happiness. Take photos, eat cake, host events, make announcements, break bread, deliver balloons, blow bubbles, wear hats, dress in common t-shirts, hold ceremonies, attend weddings, hold baby showers, high five, hug, smile, laugh, and most importantly, have FUN! Create the expectation in your school to announce, rejoice and enjoy positive achievements, spontaneous happenings, and long term milestones. These times will not be forgotten and in turn, the smallest of joys will become the fabric of happy memories for years to come. 
There you have it, the seven essential expectations needed to create an amazing school atmosphere were kids, parents, and teacher are excited to learn, work, and grow!
Let them see you in action! Lead through your example of following these beliefs. Get out from behind your desk and let your school see you in action. You'll need to take the lead, hold the line, and praise their priority on people. In doing so, you will provide the foundation for a supportive, caring heart centered school culture, where anything is possible, and innovation is not only safe, but expected and celebrated. This work is an exciting part of your personal leadership journey. It is a gift to everyone on the adventure with you. Open it. Enjoy it.
Creating a Brighter Future: The Use of Visioning to Create Better Schools
By Tess Renirie, CEI Intern
Imagine walking into a classroom where instead of desks and chairs, you see children working at stores and restaurants, organizing their own government, or working at a radio station. The scene, in fact, looks like a small town. Would you wonder what the children were learning? Or ask yourself if these children are simply playing? At Grange Primary School in the United Kingdom, the little town functions as a way for children to learn in context and apply that knowledge in real-life situations.

The Lack of Visioning and Planning for the Future

Over the past 15 years, with the national emphasis on improving test scores, schools have not been encouraged to plan for ways to address concerns and ideas that are unique to their schools. In the rush to improve academic achievement, thousands of schools with differing socioeconomic statuses, locations, and student populations have been squeezed into the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core molds. Many administrators and teachers tell us that with NCLB driving school agendas, there is hardly time left for creative problem solving.
The Outliers 

However, there are a few schools that are thinking outside the box and winning awards for their work. Grange Primary School in the United Kingdom is one of the most dramatic examples of a school that envisioned another way of getting to excellence.

Grange Primary School. Grange Primary School's former principal, Richard Gerver, created the unique program called "Grangetow n ." Gerver, author of Simple Thinking and Change: Learn to Love It, Learn to Lead It , entered as the primary school was near being closed completely and turned it into one of the highest scoring schools in the UK. Gerver envisioned an afterschool program where the children felt like what they were learning mattered. Creating a small functioning town allowed the children to invest in their school community and apply principles learned in classrooms. The program became so popular that the entire school transitioned into the program full-time within a year.

Boston Arts Academy. A school in the United States that is using visions to create a better school is the Boston Arts Academy. An impressive 94% of students go onto college after graduating, despite 35% entering high school below reading level and 62% coming from economically disadvantaged families ("Our Story,"). Students pick one of the five art programs to focus on (dance, visual art, fashion technology, music and theater) along with taking a full academic load of core classes. The school emphasizes that the art is the cornerstone of the curriculum and can be integrated into all the academic subjects.

The school created a new way of operating through focusing on both the arts and college prep equally. Most of Boston Arts Academy graduates go into college as design or engineering majors. After completing the curriculum at Boston Arts Academy, employers and college professors say that the curriculum creates kids that are "willing to take risks, imagine, work hard, and work collaboratively" (Robinson & Aronica, 2015). Boston Arts Academy attributes their success to creating students that think in an interdisciplinary way.

Both Grange Primary School and Boston Arts Academy represent schools that implemented visions that strayed from the norm. However, the schools transformed themselves through taking the time in the beginning to address their individual needs and envision a plan.

How to Implement Visions

Creating Community. Robinson and Aronica (2015) state that principals need to help schools adapt to changes more quickly and make the schools more efficient.

Throughout their time of researching schools, they found that successful schools encouraged the following: 
  • Community: Children need to be a part of a bigger community that has a sense of purpose.
  • Individuality: Making sure children are each recognized as individuals with unique needs, talents, and interests.
  • Possibility: The school should provide opportunities for children and foster an environment of hope for the future.
As the school year starts, take a look around your own school and ask yourself if the environment is helping children succeed and is preparing them for the future. If not, it might be time to take a step back and start to envision changes.


Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2015). Creative schools: The grassroots revolution that's transforming education. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Teachers TV: Grangetown Town [Video file]. (2013, August 13). 

STEM in the Early Childhood Classroom: An Educator's Guide to Ensuring Rich STEM Experiences for ALL Students
By Orinthia Harris, CEI STEM Instructor

Researchers and educators agree: Children demonstrate a clear readiness to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning early in life. And, just as with language and literacy, STEM education should start early in order to maximize its benefits and effectiveness. The National Science and Technology Council, along with the Committee on STEM Education, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Next Generation Science Standards concur the exposure to STEM during early childhood is critical to establishing an optimal educational trajectory. So, why is STEM not woven more seamlessly into early childhood education? And what can educators do, to ensure that all young children have access to high-quality STEM learning early in life?

The Center for Educational Improvement recommends two steps that can be taken both sequentially and simultaneously, to advance greater STEM learning in early childhood. Early childhood educators should seek to develop a growth mindset when it comes to
  • Incorporating STEM into their curricula, and
  • Investing in high-quality teacher preparation and professional development for ECE educators in STEM methodologies.
The Growth Mindset & STEM in ECE

Based on the work of Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck (2000), the idea of mindset is related to our understanding of where ability comes from. In a fixed mindset the belief is that basic abilities, intelligence, and talents, are just fixed traits. There is a certain amount and that's that. In a growth mindset the belief is that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence (Morehead 2012).

Susan Bales of the Frameworks Institute described how this fixed mindset is seen in ECE in her talk at the White House Early STEM Learning Symposium in 2016. She stated that many people think STEM is for older kids, particularly for those who display a propensity for STEM, and that it is in direct opposition to playful learning: it's not for everyone, and certainly not for preschoolers. The adaptation of this mindset is a barrier in ensuring young children gain exposure to STEM education, especially among low income students.

Research shows income-related disparities in STEM (particularly science) abilities are present already in kindergarten. Young children-especially those who are low-income, of racial minorities, or are girls-are not getting the rich STEM experiences they need early in life.

If we want to reduce income inequalities and seed fruitful STEM trajectories for America's children, educators must believe that start an early start is both necessary and beneficial. Joshua Sparrow, MD,  the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in the Division of Developmental Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, stated that children are born scientists:
  • Babies, just hours after birth, experiment with cause and effect as they realize that putting their own thumbs in their mouths makes them feel better.
  • Toddlers push their sippy cups off the edge of their high chairs over and over and over again to test the limits of gravity.
  • Preschoolers are eager to understand why their clothes no longer fit (life sciences) and are obsessed with the fair distribution of communal snacks (math).
The research is clear: very young children are prepared and eager to participate in early STEM activities, and their natural curiosity can be encouraged in developmentally appropriate, playful ways. Early Childhood educators need to adopt this mindset in order to place both the energy and effort needed for creating rich STEM experiences for all students.

High Quality Teacher Preparation & Professional Development in ECE STEM

Overwhelmingly, ECE educators are not prepared, equipped, or supported to integrate these experiences into their classrooms. High-quality teacher preparation and professional development in STEM methodologies is not yet a universal requirement for all ECE educators. However, by 2018, STEM-related jobs are projected to increase to nearly 50,000, a 25 percent increase from 2008 levels.

Preparing students for this job market, where many of the jobs do not yet exist, is clearly going to be a challenge, and it has implications for the pedagogical approaches we take in ECE. Educators must learn more than traditional degree content. They must be trained in fundamental competencies and skills that will relevant no matter what kind of job students aspire to. Educators must be taught how to train their young students to develop critical thinking skills, and the ability to solve complex problems. Developing this cognitive flexibility is absolutely key to adapting to the next gen job market. ECE educators should seek professional development programs that train more than the cognitive aspects of STEM, knowing that content expertise might quickly become outdated in this ever-changing technological world.

High quality professional development STEM programs incorporate the importance of developing students' intrapersonal and interpersonal skills - such as self-awareness, mindfulness, communication and teamwork. Fortunately for ECE professional development for STEM and STEAM is becoming increasingly available. The quality of this programming varies widely. Identifying which professional development offerings are likely to provide the greatest return on investment will be of critical importance for teachers and their schools. At its best, STEM professional development programming will help schools build the capacity needed to implement high-quality STEM education initiatives.

Early Childhood: A Prime Time for STEM

Early Childhood, a time of rapid learning, is a golden opportunity to strengthen reasoning skills, encourage informal experimentation and observation, and help children develop lasting interest in STEM. Children need guidance to turn their natural curiosity into something more scientific and to engage in the rich scientific inquiry. The importance of integrating STEM in early childhood is imperative and educators need to understand that the most effective way to inspire young children to become interested in learning is to become interested themselves. This may take a mindset shift in how they view the cognitive abilities of young children, and also high-quality preparation and professional development. Early childhood educators are our best STEM champions, and the investment they make is essential to challenging young minds and maximizing STEM's benefits and effectiveness.

CEI's commitment to high quality educational training and development dates to its inception and remains the highest priority. Here's more information about the variety of teacher professional development offered by CEI or contact
Traveling through the Months Ahead

Life is a journey. Schools are important way stations along our paths: for students, staff, and leaders. Each day presents an opportunity for growth, learning, and caring.

How could you make the journey more interesting, more exciting, or more comfortable for your fellow travelers? Is there something you could do to expedite the passage over the rough spots, to ease their aches and pains along the way?

Christine Mason 
Center for Educational Improvement