Climate of Trust

I think we often educate students to be afraid of failure. Growth mindset is becoming more predominant in education, but we still talk about pass/fail in standardized testing. In the book, it emphasized that a classroom culture should be safe and supportive with peers and teachers. The ability to tolerate and accept failure is critical. Students who are afraid of failure can be tempted to avoid or quit reaching for their goals.  A climate of trust is critical for students from ALL backgrounds- regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or even academic abilities. The student with the highest and lowest grades in the class are both at risk of being paralyzed by a fear of failure. Without a climate where failure is accepted and even encouraged (when difficult concepts may require trial and error), ability and knowledge are rendered insufficient.

Life-fit — being a better teacher

Chapter 3- Carry the Banner (p.110-113)

I really reflected over these pages because the topic, balance, was something I have really been working on, and will continue this upcoming year.  I like the term “life-fit” that Casas uses; “creating an ebb and flow that works for us” {as teachers}.

About “life-fit”

  • creating an ebb and flow that works for each individual teacher
  • what we can actually do
  • different for everyone

To Do: (p.113)

1. Be purposeful in scheduling down time.
2. Drop activities that zap your time and energy.
3. Set aside time weekly to do something you truly enjoy doing and honor it.
4. Consider what can you delegate to someone else.
5. Trust that others will follow through on  your expectations.
6. Take care of your body by exercising and making healthy food choices.

Creating Experiences as Opportunities for Kindness.

p. 166 “How do you/can we create experiences for students, teachers, and families that focus on supporting one another and kindness?”

In Chapter Five of Culturize, Jimmy Casas discusses the merchant of hope. This is a teacher or administrator who supports, inspires, and believes in all students (especially those who are struggling to see the hope themselves). Casas used disciplinary responses as opportunities to keep students focused on positivity (“picking up the pieces” p. 137). In each anecdote in this chapter, he writes about students who were close to giving up, or had given up, and identifies the merchants of hope as the people who acknowledged these individuals, stayed positive with these individuals, and appreciated the gifts of these individuals.

So how will I create experiences in my classroom that allow students to support each other? Casas writes about intentionally setting aside time to communicate with one student and one staff member each day, and focusing on those who need to be seen (p. 146). This is actually something that I could build into a lesson plan. I can provide students with an opportunity to become their own merchants of hope. Students can play their peers’ “BIGGEST FAN”s following presentations and performances, and I can give students time to write or speak kind words to individual peers.

The author also quotes Irving Berlin on p. 148, “Life is ten percent of what you make it. The other ninety percent is how you take it.” I need to model positive, celebration, and growth mindset thought patterns when reflecting on a project or performance. If I provide the language for students to appreciate their work, then they can begin to use it on their own to appreciate themselves in other instances.

On p. 159, Casas indicates that we should not only believe that all students can be successful, but also follow up with, “a genuine smile, a sincere hello, or an intentional conversation to ask how their day is going.” Music is inherently an empathetic art form because the product is an expression of the composer’s human experience. Providing more opportunities to create is one of my goals for this year. I would like to scaffold those projects, so that students are given language to consider their genuine feelings, and explore how those feelings might be expressed in sound. Long-term, after exploring their own experience, students will be sharing their compositions with each other. While they won’t be asked to share the feeling that inspired the composition, each student will know that their peers’ work came from a real place. This will lead to a discussion about how we can use music to understand others better and practice empathy.

Connection, Capability, & Confidence

p. 55 “We know that many students struggle in school due to the 3 Cs: They don’t feel connected, they don’t feel capable, and they lack confidence. How can we effectively engage students so they don’t feel this way?

While reading Culturize by Jimmy Casas, I set a goal to use the ideas he presents to brainstorm possible practical applications for my classroom this year. My question is, ‘how can I use the 3 C’s as a focus when I am planning lessons to ensure that I am creating opportunities for relationship-building and encouragement so that I can build students up from day one.’


How can I plan to create more personal connections with students during the first few weeks of school, so that I have a strong foundation to build from in building relationships during the rest of the year?

  1. Learn Names, and Use Names: I created a flipchart that shows the music room carpet, so that I can create assigned seats from Day One. (The seats can change in order to create the best learning environment for all, but each time it changes, I am going to update it in the flipchart.) This will make it easier for me to learn names of kindergarteners and students who are new to Sully, but only if I USE the names! I am pulling songs from a book that I purchased last year to incorporate more name songs into the first few lessons. After we move into regular music content, I need to reinforce the names by continuing to update the seating charts, and using circle name songs as initiating activities throughout the year at any point when I am finding that my name knowledge is lacking.
  2. Ask About Interests and Opinions: Last year, when I became familiar with a student’s interests, it was by accident. (What a coincidence, you like Pokemon too?) This year, I would like to build in an opportunity at the beginning of the year for students to share their interests with myself and the class. I’m still looking for a music experience that would accommodate this. The other biggie that will be so easy to incorporate once I get into the habit, is giving the students opportunities to share their opinion about music. These have to be scaffolded carefully, and giving direction, because the fastest way to derail a music lesson is to say, “What do you think about this piece?” and have the students reply, “This is very boring.” Normally when students feel that music is boring, it’s because they don’t understand the nuance or interesting aspects to the music. So, my to-do list of built-ins for future lesson plans:
    1. Identify and highlight everything about a song or piece of music that makes it exciting.
    2. Direct student attention to one small aspect of the song or piece. (What do you think of this part of the melody? How else could it sound?)
    3. Explore their ideas, with time for creation, sharing, and reflection.
    4. Bring it back to the original composition, with a new point of view that was built by our students.
  3. Make Opportunities to Create: In music education, there is a balance between listening, performing, and creating music that must be found. This year, my goal is that even on days when we are mostly listening and performing, I will build moments of creativity into that experience. When students are creating their own music in their own way, they give you a piece of themselves. Having opportunities to share a little bit of themselves every day will give me more chances to get to know them musically and praise them for their contributions.

Feeling Capable: 

How can I plan to create opportunities for students to see music challenges that they can envision themselves completing successfully?

  1. Give Detailed Step-by-Step Instructions: I am going to include more and smaller steps into day-to-day instruction, with more time available for completing each small step. I can even take assignments and stretch them out over multiple days or weeks, and focus on only one step per meeting, then going on to other activities. This way, students would be asked only to look at one small bite-sized piece of the assignment at a time, building from that in the next meeting. My hope is to show them pieces that look possible.
  2. Provide Many Realistic/Achievable Examples at Each Step: I also want to include more examples with each step of the process. I’ll also speak to students about their own work, helping them imagine their own work in the example.
  3. Ask Students How They Feel: I want to use a thumb-o-meter during the creative process so that I can get a general sense for how the students are feeling. I also want to devote more class time to individual/group work so that I have the opportunity to speak with students about what they are working on, and get a sense for if they are feeling capable or incapable.

Building Confidence: Celebration Mindset

How can I plan to create opportunities for the feeling of capability to evolve into self-confidence?

  1. Acknowledge Success at Each Step: By breaking the step-by-step part of a project down into smaller pieces and only focusing on one piece per lesson, I have the opportunity to praise the work done on each small piece of an assignment. We can have show and tell of works-in-progress as well as completed works.
  2. Show Gratitude for Contributions: Not only can students share their process leading up to the final product, but this also gives us an opportunity to applaud for peers at every step of the journey.
  3. Use Self-Positive Language to Reflect After Completing A Project: After completing a project, my musical training has led me always to ask, “what was bad? How can I improve?” Now that I am reflecting on my first year of teaching, I wonder if it would be better to initially focus ONLY on celebrating the successes of the project. We can come back to constructive reflection on another day, but what is the point of that reflection if it isn’t directed towards the next project? I have found that immediately asking students to reflect in this way, “What went well, and what would you change if you could do it again?” actually gives them an opportunity to entertain self-deprecating thought patterns (even though that’s not directly what I’m asking them to do.) This year, immediately after a project or performance is complete, we will focus on the positives, celebrate the successes, and enjoy our experiences together. THEN when we are approaching a similar project/performance, I will bring out their last project/performance evidence, and ask them to reflect forward (‘how can we improve on what we did the last time?’). This way, I am giving them an immediate opportunity to say YES, I will do it even better this time and HERE’S HOW.

Have a great summer all!


tips for a successful year

Ch. 1- Just Talk to Me

reminders for self:
p. 2- talking and listening to students (relationships!) is the most important
p. 10- “To be an excellent educator is a gift- a gift to our students, out families, and our communities.  Being an excellent educator is, in fact, a gift to our humanity.”
– p.82-84- tips for good communication

thoughts for Sully:
p. 3- “Are we willing to do whatever it takes to culturize our schools to a level that defines excellence?” — everyone needs to be involved at all levels
p. 4- question to think about as problems arise: “Once we’ve identified the source of the problem, the question we should ask is this: What are we going to do about it?  Until we take action, nothing changes.” (p. 11, questions to consider about school culture)
p. 17- “Our goal should be to create schools and communities that equip young people in developing skills, habits, and competencies that product an educated citizenry rooted in healthy, personalized, and productive relationships.”
p. 89- “All successful schools share one key thing in common: a core groups of leaders (teachers and administrators) who believe 1) they can change the world, and 2) the success of their students and staff starts with the expectation of excellence.”

4 core principles of positive school culture

–champion for all students–

– everyone is a team for all students
– build relationships
– be clear in expectations
– you don’t have to solve all the problems but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try
– students learn from adults: connection, capability, confidence
– fair means treating students differently
– even if parents are unwilling/unable to help, maintain communication
– help students come up with their own solutions
– p.43-44, how to have tough conversations (ARM)
– be efficient with your time (where are you not? what can you change? students first!)
– if you want to improve student behavior you must change how adults interact with students and with each other

–expect excellence–

– we are all leaders and model teachers
– pause, think, act
– leaders aren’t afraid to say no
– change is not scary; the fear is not having the time necessary to change, and the support or resources to help
– p.80- “leadership… is best seen in the actions we take when we don’t know what to do.”
– p.87-88, how to be a strong team

Each chapter ends with some culture building activity thoughts/ideas and discussion questions.