Thursday, March 31, 2016

Helping Students Achieve Through Intrinsic Motivation

by Kathy Mahoney


I recently finished a graduate course in student motivation, and one of the biggest take-aways that I gained is the importance of building intrinsic motivation in young people. Many times as parents and teachers, we provide incentives in order to motivate our kids to learn. In the short term this may produce the desired goal, but in the long run, it builds extrinsic motivation, or motivation that stems from some type of tangible reward. The problem is that when students are solely motivated by extrinsic means, they can become less driven when the promise of a reward is gone.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within; it is a desire to work hard for personal satisfaction and growth. This is a much more powerful way to drive achievement and learning. Teachers can help to build intrinsic motivation by celebrating learning, rather than offering a reward. Another way to engage students is to make the lesson meaningful to the child. Both teachers and parents can build intrinsic motivation in kids by welcoming their questions, encouraging exploration, and providing a supportive environment that promotes independence and self-worth.

As humans, we have a natural desire to learn about the world around us. If we can foster that desire, we can help students reach higher and achieve more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

“I don’t want to go to school today”

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by Russ Becker

“I don’t want to go to school today”. I’m sure that statement rings true with just about everyone. Whether your child has had an “off day” or if you remember a specific instance that you simply did not want to spend your day in a classroom, the sentiment is shared by most. Many individuals are able to get past that feeling and spend their day furthering their education, but what happens to those who can’t? Discourse such as “Can’t these students see the importance of going to school?” Or “If they say they want to get to school then why are they sitting in bed all day?” are all too common when discussing the topic of school avoidance which often negates the fact that this is a legitimate problem facing a number of students.

This past Thursday I was able to go to a conference lead by Dr. George Haarman with the aim of uncovering more information about the topic of school refusal. Dr. Haarman is one of the foremost leaders in not only studying school refusal, but actively combating many of the factors that keep our students from accessing their education. The information was vast, and highlighted the mountain of factors that could contribute to why a child cannot or will not come to school. Hardly ever does a student simply make up his or her mind that they never want to come to school again. Instead there is usually an underlying factor or factors that act as barriers towards the student’s education. Whether that barrier is mental illness, instability in some facet of the student’s life, or another mitigating issue often times these problems become too much for a student to overcome in order to properly access a curriculum. Dr. Haarman not only outlined the many causes for this issue, but properly demonstrated techniques on how to treat these difficult cases. Going forward I certainly aim to employ many of these techniques while being cognizant of some warning signs in order to help these students before symptoms of school refusal even manifest. Please contact me if you’re searching for more information on the topic or about the conference in general.

Monday, March 28, 2016

7th Grade SOS

by Jen Dondero

On March 7th, the 7th grade students participated in the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program (SOS). We believe it is important to focus on the whole child and assess any social-emotional needs he/she may have and address them. The teen years can be tumultuous emotionally and we believe it is important to be proactive in supporting students. SOS is the only school-based suicide prevention program selected by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for its National Registry of Evidence­Based Programs and Practices. This is the only school­based suicide prevention program that addresses suicide risk and depression, while reducing suicide attempts. It was a joint effort by the Medfield High School and the Blake Middle School guidance department. Students were exposed to the ACT acronym, which stands for Acknowledge the problem Care for yourself/friend Tell a trusted adult.In groups, of approximately 20-25 students, students viewed a video regarding suicide and depression; they were shown a powerpoint of describing signs of depression and suicidality. They were then asked to fill out a survey to assess whether or not they were at risk for depression or suicide. They were also asked if they needed to speak to a guidance counselor about their needs or the needs of a friend. Students were provided with guidelines for getting further support if needed. After going through the questionnaires, we determined which students needed to be seen by the guidance counselor and also did outreach to parents to ensure the student was safe and going to be supported at home.

The following data breaks down the information for our SOS program at Blake

Participated - 180
Opted Out - 20
Absent – 5

Brief Screen for Adolescent Depression

# of Students
Unlikely you have depression
Possible you have depression
Likely you have depression

Question 4 and 5 are about suicidal thoughts and behaviors
No Response
Do you think seriously about killing yourself?
Have you tried to kill yourself in the past year?

5 - Students indicated that they wanted to talk

Monday, March 14, 2016

Behind the Admissions Curtain

What three hours in Holy Cross’s admissions decision room taught me

by Erik Ormberg

On Friday, March 4th I had the privilege, along with two of my colleagues, to spend a few hours with Drew Carter, a senior admissions representative, during committee decision meetings at Holy Cross. Without question this was one of the most impressive professional developments I have attended as a high school guidance counselor.

After a quick tour we met with Drew in his office so he could explain what we would be seeing. In the room there are two large screens projecting vital information on each applicant. The screen on the left was a program that compiled the following items:
  • GPA
  • Number of AP courses taken and offered by the school
  • Number of honors courses taken and offered by the school
  • Quotes from admissions representative regarding interview or essay
  • Quotes from counselor recommendation
  • Quotes from teacher recommendation
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • A numerical grade, 1-9, judging the student ACADEMICALLY.
On the screen on the right information was brought up for a closer look. In the time we were in the room and about 30 or 40 decisions were made the following items were brought up on the screen:
  • The essay written by the student.
  • The number of pieces of information the student had submitted.
  • Whether or not the student visited the school or contacted via email or phone.
  • The counselor recommendation letter.
  • A hand-written note by a 92 year-old woman supporting a student’s application to HC.
  • Student transcripts
  • Updated term one or semester one grades.
  • A google map to locate where the high school was located.
  • A school profile.
  • A school’s website.
The committee flew through these decisions. Kids were put into the following categories:
  • DENY
  • BIN (a holding place where they will look at the students again).
Since each student’s application is read by two people the meat of the work has been done and now the committee is reviewing. The room was part air-traffic control room and part of an episode of Celebrity Apprentice. The biggest takeaway was the room was not all about statistics. There was humanity present among these nine people making a decision. And this is only the first step, kids still need to apply for aid, be assigned rooms, make the decision to attend. This is only one step in the process.

The stories and statistics were amazing. Each student brought something to the table that each counselor fought for or against. We saw examples of poor writing, we saw a kid who had huge issues at home overcome his poor academics as a sophomore to the point he was getting A’s in all high end courses senior year.

Statistically speaking Holy Cross shared with us that they get:
  • Over 7000 applications (All read twice by two different counselors).
  • They admit 2200.
  • Their freshmen class is in the neighborhood of 740.
  • They balance male and female.
  • They actually invite around 780 on campus for August knowing forty or so will go elsewhere due to trickling waitlist decisions. (At the time we attended Holy Cross they had 650 students on their waitlist.)
It was a dizzying three hours, but an extremely educational time as well. I think it is safe to say that most kids at Holy Cross have done A and B work in a large number of honors and AP courses. It is clear to me that good writing speaks volumes about a student’s chances. It is also clear that when the STUDENT contacts the school it is noted and held in a positive light. Senior year grades were paramount in some of the decisions being made which proves to me that the myth that says, “junior year is the only year that counts” is exactly that...a myth.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


by Kathy Bockhorst


The Mindset book club Steve Grenham is running for Dale St. staff has been a great opportunity for me to keep the importance of presenting challenges as growth opportunities, top of mind. Donna Olson is running a similar book club at Wheelock. Carol Dweck wrote Mindset following years of research on how people cope with challenges and failures. Through her research she noticed people fell into two major groupings “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”. Those with fixed mindsets perceive their abilities to be unchanging. Those with growth mindsets perceive their abilities to be malleable. Dweck’s research provides compelling evidence for the importance of a growth mindset for managing setbacks in a resilient manner.

The book club has provided a great opportunity to problem solve with colleagues about ways of further promoting a growth mindset in our students. For instance, one of the hallmarks Dweck identifies of a fixed mindset, is the belief that the truly intelligent/talented succeed with little effort. Effort therefore is something to hide or avoid. Clearly this is a perilous road to go down. Given the developmental trajectory towards abstract thought that takes place with fourth and fifth graders, it is a crucial time to support students’ understanding of ways in which they can impact their own success rather than fall prey to detrimental ego-protective behaviors. I recommend Mindset for educators and parents alike, as a resource to promote such an outcome.