Thursday, August 21, 2014

You Still Matter (A Gentle Reminder)

Over the last three years, we have come a long way in developing an intentional culture of kindness and appreciation at EGHS. From a humble experiment in having teachers share messages of appreciation among themselves to the development of #EGHSMatters and bringing the Choose2Matter movement to our high school, we have come a long way.

But, as always, there is still much to do.

As we enter a new school year, let's reflect a bit on some important ideas:

  • Never underestimate your power to change someone's life for the better.  
  • Never underestimate the significance of saying the right words at the right time.
  • If you start to do this frequently, it begins a wave that makes it easier for others to do so as well.  
  • Giving someone a sincere compliment only takes a few seconds and can make someone's day, or week, or it could literally transforms their life, and it costs nothing.  
So why don't we do it?

Because we are busy, stressed and often absorbed and distracted by the things we need to deal with every day.

So, how can we make every day better for ourselves and others?

How about taking one minute out of the 1440 that we have every day and telling someone that you notice what they do?  That they matter to you?  That they make a difference?

Take ONE minute every day to tell someone:

  • I appreciate you.  
  • I understand you.
  • It was great to talk to you today. 
  • You made my day.
  • I couldn't have done that without you.
  • I believe in you.
  • I love how you do that.
  • I admire you.
  • Celebrate someone else's exciting moments:
    • Birthdays
    • Achievements
    • Great Performances
    • Making strides in some new area of study or work
    • Accomplishments, or a job well done
    • Noticing the good deeds or qualities that they have
Isn't it easy to imagine how receiving that would feel?  Or how it could make someone's day?

Do you think that an entire school full of kids and adults who take one minute a day to do that for someone else could produce enough positive ripples outward to change the world?

I do.  

So I am going to try to keep that momentum going and make much bigger waves this year.

I am challenging everyone at EGHS to find someone to recognize everyday.  

It could be something big and obvious, or something small and personal... but let them know you notice.  

Use the #EGHSMatters hashtag.  
Send a YouMatter message through the teacher form.  
Leave a note on someone's desk.  
Send a text.  
Or simply say it face to face.

Just find a way.

People matter to one another.

Let them know.  

It could change everything.

To keep our momentum strong, I will send out a message every day to our school community to "remind" everyone to let people know that they matter this year, and to offer helpful , creative and entertaining suggestions and challenges to help them do just that.

Today, I am launching the newest facet of the #EGHSMatters community using an app called Remind.

While Remind is typically used by teachers to connect with students and parents, anyone in the EGHS community that follows and/or participates in #EGHSMatters is invited to join the EGHSMatters "class" on Remind to receive broadcast messages and reminders to help them continue to provide a culture of kindness and appreciation in our school and community.

Remind is a free, safe and simple product that helps teachers connect instantly with students and parents. By making communication simpler and more efficient through mobile, Remind seeks to improve how teachers, students and parents all connect with one another.

  • Remind is free: You can sign up in 15 seconds and start connecting for free.
  • Remind is safe: Personal phone numbers are always kept private.
  • Remind is simple: You can use Remind to send or schedule reminders, documents or motivational messages directly to students’ and parents’ phones, with no reply-back.

To join the EGHSMatters "class" on Remind, follow these simple instructions:

Download the Remind app for iPhone or Android as a student or a parent or scan the QR code below:
Search for the EGHSMatters class by tapping the “+” next to “My classes" 
Enter @egmatters and sign up

Don’t have a smartphone? 
Text @egmatters to (401) 566-3679 or send an e-mail to: and sign up. 

You can also visit and enter your phone number to sign up.
Note: Even though you are entering your phone number, Matter will never see your personal contact information and it will be kept secure.

When you sign up, you will receive messages and suggestions on how you can let people know that they matter every day.  Sometimes a gentle and positive reminder is all people need to keep the momentum moving forward and to change the world for the better.

Now, let's get to work...
Avengers Assemble!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Grades Matter?

Funny how things come together sometimes.  An interesting convergence happened yesterday...

Coming on the heels of my reading Justin Tarte's great blog post: 10 questions to start the 'grading' conversation at your school, I began considering those points:

1). Do you include student behaviors (effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc...) in student grades?
2). Do you believe in grade reduction for work that is turned in late?
3). Do you believe extra credit and bonus points should be a part of a student's grade?
4). Should academic dishonesty result in a reduced grade?
5). Should group work be graded on a group basis or on an individual basis?
6). Do you include pop quizzes and timed assessments in your overall assessment structure?
7). Do you believe every activity or assignment that is completed should be graded and recorded in the gradebook?
8). Do you average all of a student's scores throughout the course of the semester?
9). Do you believe all students should be doing the same assessments for it to be fair?
10). Do you believe there is a place for zeros in grade reporting?

When you read them, do you feel there are "right" or "wrong" answers to those questions? While I am personally diametrically opposed to some of those practices, and I do have a position on all of them, I also understand both sides of the arguments after 20 years as an educator, and I find almost all of them to be significantly worthy of discussion and debate.  And that discussion and debate is incredibly important and worthy of our time.  But I have business to attend to throughout the school day... so I went about my typically atypical day as an Assistant Principal at a very high achieving public high school...

I ended the day with a big highlight of every year for me, when Marc.Brocato invites me in to see his freshman English class do a "Poetry Slam."  I love this experience every year for so many reasons.  One is that I enjoy seeing the brilliance of our kids evidenced through writing that is deeply personal to them and I always enjoy the performance that comes along with their presentation as well. There's something special about how sharing a little piece of yourself with an audience can help create a memory that makes it become a piece of them as well going forward.  Something that they might carry forever in their hearts and their minds.

No adult has ever said to a friend from high school, "Hey, remember that awesome worksheet that Mr. Jones gave us in 9th grade?" Or upon reflection of their high school career, "the thing I remember best about Mrs. Peterson's class was that awesome biology test, I will never forget it."

But, just try and walk away from a group of earnest 9th grade students pouring their hearts and souls out for you and not have something stick with you forever.


This afternoon, students took turns presenting their poems about personal topics ranging from the power of parental advice, to faith and love for God, to fairy tales meeting with the reality of teenage angst, to breaking down racism, to the grip of mental illness and societal expectations, to how being an individual is cooler and more valuable than trying to fit in and be cool or having valuable things.

And then came... Jacob....and everything came together for me.

"I feel a little funny presenting this with the Assistant Principal here, he may not like this, but..." was his opening salvo, which met with giggles from the audience.

But no one was laughing by the end.

Here are the thoughts of a 14-year old student, who is only beginning to get on the grading treadmill at our school:

"Grades Matter"  by Jacob Manchester

Grades matter, grades matter, grades matter.
Over and over again, this thought has been contrived into the ignorant minds of your generation,
our generation.
Yet when spoken, the sounds echo through the corridors, reverberating, changing,
Suddenly Grades are the only thing that matter, grades are the one only thing that matters,
grades are the only thing that matter!
But you see, grades are but a number,
a number attempting to place itself upon something it cannot,
something priceless.
Knowledge is priceless.
Yet we continue to listen.
and I am no different.
I too am ignorant, and with my peers will struggle in the future as consequence.
and how can I blame those placed before me for this inconvenience,
they have only listened to those “wiser”.
They are not at fault,
but those who take that oh so justificating grade and stamp it upon the foreheads of those too ignorant to stand against it,
Those who take the blood red ink and spill it upon a paper of innocence,
my soul splattered across it,
Those who take the dreams of a child and shatter it upon their mighty pen,
Those who treat knowledge as a letter,
those People, are the ones at fault.
They are simply imprinting random letters upon our laborious work,
our hopes crushed beneath.
Like a game they assign this work, only to shatter our dreams upon oaken desks,
their demonic desires contented.
you would be lead to believe these “standards” mean something,
Yet in reality are of mere imagination, imposed by each teacher individually,
holding no justification beneath them.
The letters used, are absent of meaning.
The grade, merely ink on a page, no sense supporting them,
labeling kids freely and openly as they so desire.
They're attempting to supply knowledge, yet all they bring is anxiety.
Grades are but a number and shouldn't define you, They can't define you.
For if grades are the only thing that matter,
than knowledge cannot,
and the true purpose of them, is erased.

As I said to Jacob in my feedback, if you thought I would be offended... clearly you aren't following me on Twitter...

As he is featured front and center in this blog, let me take a moment to explain my thoughts and concerns about grading to him:

Dear Jacob:

Typically, the reason for grading students is to be able to label them on the basis of their academic performance and then sort them into various categories in order to, theoretically, better educate them.

Grades, however, in general, are a relic of 19th century schools designed to sort the factory workers from those who will fill the various levels of white collar jobs at those same factories. The inherent problem with this practice is that the process of sorting and grading is often incompatible with the goal of having students learn as you have already discovered and stated so eloquently.

The fact is, that in the 21st century, most people learn best while doing so cooperatively and in groups, whether these groups are meeting in a conference room or meeting virtually, as they do in video conferences, "chats" on Twitter or groups on Google+. Individual knowledge, experiences and viewpoints invariably benefit others in the conversation, as does explaining things to one another to help everyone understand topics. The smartest person in the room IS the room as "they" say. However, traditionally, teachers have concerns over how to give individuals credit and appropriate grades for their individual contributions and that can get in the way of truly collaborative efforts. And, of course, learning.

In today's global marketplace, people work cooperatively, sometimes in different parts of the world, to solve problems. But grades force individuals to compete with one another rather than cooperate. Schools are virtually the only place on earth where people are forced to learn and work competitively rather than cooperatively with others.  How exactly does that make anyone "college and career ready" in this century?  And while we are on that topic, how does standardized testing of individual students support that readiness for the real-world workforce that doesn't have anyone working individually, but, in fact, needs them working collaboratively to share and combine strengths, interests, expertise and knowledge?

Learning in order to take a test in order to earn a grade is not learning, it's compliance and competitive memorization. And what if you aren't one of the students who happen to be good at that? What if self confidence or competition isn't your strong suit? Or what if it's the start of the 3rd quarter and your grade has already mathematically eliminated you from passing for the year? What's the point then, if you are here for a grade rather than for learning?  And what's the likelihood that you will extend yourself to learn for the next three months?

But competition is good, you say.  Doesn't competition better prepare our kids for that global marketplace? A marketplace where, we are often told by education "reformers," that we are falling behind?  Tell me about one other workplace environment that exists where people work and get performance evaluations that say you are an 83 to the company, or a B for the year. What does that even mean? Let's not even get into the fact that a number or letter grade has been shown to be so ridiculously subjective, arbitrary and lacking in inter-rater reliability that in most schools, most grades are pretty much worthless (see the 10 questions above). I could (and may) write another whole post about how grades often get subterfuged by add ons like homework, compliance points, keeping a neat notebook, class participation and other factors that have nothing to do with progress or learning.

So why do we continue to do this when we know it's wrong?

Why do we still believe that grades actually prepare kids for anything? Wouldn't individual, authentic narrative feedback on a student's progress be more effective and support their learning every day of the year? If we took the competition out of schools and allowed students to work together and learn together and help one another, focusing their energy on improving themselves every day- based on real feedback of progress towards a learning goal- wouldn't that create many new opportunities for engaging work? Wouldn't it reduce student's stress? Wouldn't kids actually learn?

Would you hire a contractor who was great at taking tests or would you prefer one with an extensive portfolio and references?

Why would you want less for your child's education?

Ask a 14-year old.  He can tell you what really matters.  Why can't the adults seem to figure it out?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We Will Choose2Matter Next Week



300 Avenger Drive
East Greenwich, RI 02818

February 12-14, 2014

Choose2Matter is a movement that challenges and inspires students to work collaboratively to develop empathetic and innovative solutions to social problems.

Students tackle real world problems and learn the skills needed in today’s world.

Please review this background on Choose2Matter LIVE, in particular the three videos under “Choose2Matter in Action.”

The EGHS Community is committed to providing a rigorous curriculum driven by high standards, cultivating personal excellence and integrity, and encouraging civic responsibility within a safe, supportive environment.

The Core Values of East Greenwich High School

Respect: Be considerate of others' ideas and opinions while maintaining personal integrity and self- confidence.
Creativity and Innovation: Embrace flexibility and individuality when explaining and demonstrating knowledge and skills.
Relevance: Link concepts across subjects and make connections to today's global society.
Enthusiasm: Generate excitement and curiosity about learning.
Achievement: Work vigorously to obtain knowledge and skills measured against the highest standards.

Choose2Matter Live Participants


East Greenwich High School

Confirmed Mentors as of 02/06/14 @ 9:00AM

Thursday, February 13
Friday, February 14
Multiple Groups
  1. Congressman Jim Langevin
  2. Ann Little (with Langevin)
  3. Heather Hudson (8-11am) RI Treasurer’s Office
  4. Raina Smith (9-11am) RI Sec of State’s Office
  5. Kirtley Fisher & Staff - Business Innovation Factory
  6. State Senator Dawson Hodgson

Human Rights/Social Justice
  1. Martha Waitkun - URI Professor
  2. Elizabeth Atalay - Social Good Blogger at and Editor at
  3. Dounia Bredes- Youth Outreach Coordinator at Plan International USA
  4. Jane Boynton - Rotary and Plan USA
  5. Karen Davis - Vice President of Community Relations at Hasbro, Inc.  Co-founder of generationOn, the global youth service organization under the Points of Light

Laws and Politics
  1. Carolyn Mark - National Org of Women/EG SC
  2. Justice Brian Stern - Associate Justice, RI Superior Court/Chief of Staff, Governor Donald Carcieri/Executive Director, RI Dept of Administration.
  3. Jonathan Whaley- Lawyer.
  4. Elizabeth Burke Bryant - Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT

The Environment/Animals/Ecosystem
  1. Kevin Essington - MA/RI State Director for The Trust for Public Land.

Economics & Business
  1. Michael Walker - Senior Project Manager--State Commerce Corporation
  2. Scott Andrews - ING Investment Partners

Medical & Scientific Issues
  1. Steven Lamothe - 30 Years Aerospace Engineer
  2. Dr. Judith Pratt - Dentist
  3. Laura Keating - Nutritionist, Educator
  4. Susan Vogl - Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, employed by Phoenix House as the Director of the Juvenile Drug Court Program. Vice Chairman for the North Kingstown Drug Prevention Coalition.
  5. Karen Davis -- Vice President of Community Relations at Hasbro, Inc. Co-founder of generationOn, the global youth service organization under the Points of Light
  6. Michael C. Cerullo, Jr, LMHC - Psychotherapist in private practice with two decades of experience working with Adolescent Males

  1. Commissioner Deborah Gist
  2. Thom Guertin - Chief Digital Officer for the state of Rhode Island. (Bringing 3 others for coding team)
  3. Gerry Foley- Principal for 24 years at NKHS and JHS, teacher for 19 before that.
  4. Charlie Myers - 30+ years of experience as a teacher, principal, director of curriculum and superintendent. (Video conference)
  5. Jill Marie Napert - Secondary English teacher, reading specialist, Experience in literacy intervention projects and urban districts
  6. Dr. Victor Mercurio- Superintendent East Greenwich Public School
Multiple Groups
  1. Senator Jack Reed
  2. Heather Hudson (8-11am) RI Treasurer’s Office
  3. Kirtley Fisher & Staff - Business Innovation Factory
  4. State Senator Dawson Hodgson

Human Rights/Social Justice

Laws and Politics
  1. Carolyn Mark - National Org of Women/EG SC

The Environment/Animals/Ecosystem
  1. Kevin Essington - MA/RI State Director for The Trust for Public Land.

Economics & Business
  1. Scott Andrews - ING Investment Partners
  2. Rob Gessman - Tax accountant; CPA; 28 years.
  3. Matthew D'Agenais - AVP/Business Banking- Pawtucket Credit Union

Medical & Scientific Issues
  1. Steven Lamothe - 30 Years Aerospace Engineer
  2. Dr. Thomas Miner - Chief of Surgical Oncology, Rhode Island Hospital - Assistant Program Director, Brown University/ Rhode Island Hospital Surgical Residency Program- Fellow, Surgical Oncology, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NYC - Surgical Resident, Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  3. Marie Moore - Director, Phoenix House- 20 years in the behavioral health field, 8 years as a cancer survivor.
  4. Neta Taylor-Post - Director of Healthcare Initiatives at the YMCA of Greater Providence

  1. Gerry Foley- Principal for 24 years at NKHS and JHS, teacher for 19 before that.
  2. Thom Guertin - Chief Digital Officer for the state of Rhode Island. (Bringing 3 others for coding team)
  3. Jill Marie Napert - Secondary English teacher, reading specialist, Experience in literacy intervention projects and urban districts
  4. Dr. Victor Mercurio- Superintendent East Greenwich Public Schools

Roll Out Meetings
Meeting with Teacher & Students Leaders
East Greenwich High School Auditorium
2:00 - 4:00 pm

Parents and Community Meeting
East Greenwich High School Auditorium
6:30 pm to 7:45 pm

Choose2Matter Schedule


All students report to advisory for attendance and are released to the to Lower Gym and will sit in the bleachers

8:05 - 9:00

Michael Podraza, Greeting, VIP Recognition, Thank You’s
Timothy Chace introduces Angela Maiers and Mark Moran
Angela and Mark introduce Choose2Matter
Special guests via videoconference?
9:00 - 11:45

Students go to designated areas to engage in “heartbreak mapping.”
  • What do you care about?
  • What breaks your heart about it?
  • What are WE going to do about it?
  • Students record ideas on butcher paper.
  • Finished papers hung on walls around the school
  • Choose2Matter team, faculty and staff, community members circulate among groups of students to facilitate.
Students proceed in groups to small gym and large gym
12:00 - 1:00

Each group of students accesses UStream and records their declaration of how they are going to change the world.
Students from upper gym go to lower gym and rejoin as a school in the bleachers.
1:15 - 1:45
Lower Gym
Day 1 closing with all students
Debrief with admin, teacher & student leaders, Choose2Matter team

7:33- 7:50

 All students report to advisory for attendance and are released to the to Lower Gym and will sit in the bleachers
8:05 - 9:00
Angela and Mark introduce Day 2 of Choose2Matter
Special guests via videoconference.
9:00 - 12:45

Action Plan Development / Lunch

  • Students sit in area designated for their cause
  • Students begin to develop their action plan
  • Students ask “genius questions”
  • Members of Choose2Matter team, faculty and staff, community members circulate among groups of students in their area of expertise to facilitate.
Students from upper gym go to lower gym and rejoin as a school in the bleachers.
1:00 - 1:45
Big Gym
Closing ceremonies with all students

Displaying C2M_tshirt_front-01.jpg
Debrief with admin, teacher & student leaders, Choose2Matter team

What is #Choose2Matter?
In this June 2011 speech, Angela Maiers spoke of how two words - You Matter - can change lives and change our world, if we understand them and we leverage them in the right way. People everywhere reacted powerfully to this call to action, undertaking awe-inspiring quests to address problems in our world. Choose2Matter was created in response to this breathtaking reaction.

What is Choose2Matter LIVE?
This post, written for potential sponsors, thoroughly explains Choose2Matter LIVE.

What is the Research For/Behind #Choose2Matter?

Is it Appropriate for My Child to Participate?
We have conducted four events thus far, with a high school, then a middle school, then an elementary school, and finally a whole district of 5,200 students. Students of all ages, from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, with a wide range of challenges have participated successfully.

What Happens After the Event?
The world is changing so quickly that no school can keep up. Every second that a child is “being educated” without the insight, experience, and real-life support from accomplished adults is a wasted opportunity to maximize their education, and their contribution to the world.

Students have boundless energy and enthusiasm for taking action. What they lack is real world savvy and the ability to find authoritative and comprehensive information on how to tackle a problem. They don’t want adults to take over their work; they want adults to notice their efforts and provide the guidance and resources to support them.

Our young people are future world-changers who can and will do incredible things. Professional mentors can greatly enhance the students’ contribution by serving as mentors to these amazing young people.

The mere knowledge by students that accomplished professionals take their ideas seriously will profoundly impact the seriousness with which they approach their contribution.

We are putting into place is a mechanism by which students can ask for help from professionals. We’ll be using a Twitter hashtag and a Quora page to match up students with mentors.

How Do We Support Teachers/Leaders?
Before each event, we seek to hold a two-hour introduction and “training session” for teacher leader and student leaders, whose knowledge will enable them to answer questions from other teachers and students during the event.

The primary goal of a Choose2Matter event is for students to fully realize that they have a genius that the world needs; that they can and must do something about the matters that break their heart. Students must come to this conclusion largely by themselves. 

Ironically, the better a student is at “the game of school,” the more difficult they find it to declare what they are passionate about, and what breaks their heart about that. Adult facilitators should encourage students to be introspective, and not lead them to “answers.”

How is Social Media Used? 
At all Choose2Matter LIVE events, we use social media to bring the world into the school, and to project the school out into the world. The Choose2Matter team, school staff and students  take photos and videos and send them out via Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. This brings a lot of positive attention to the school and also invites feedback and support from the community. This post shows the media typically captured and shared.

What is "HeartBreak Mapping"?
Read this blog post and this blog post as well for more information.