Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: It's a Choice

Every year when the kids walk through the front door on that first day of school,  I am once again reminded of the awesome responsibility we have as educators as we touch the lives of our learners every single day.

As a young educator I used to pray, "Lord, let me make a difference today. Let the words I say and the actions I take have a lasting impact on the lives of my students."

More recently I realized that my prayer had been answered. In fact, my prayer is answered every day for every teacher in every classroom around the nation...even around the world. For, whether we like it or not, impacting the lives of children is what we do.  It's who we are.  Every move we make...every decision...every lesson...every kind word...or not so kind word...has an impact on the children in our care. Whoa!

Okay, so making an impact on the lives of children is not a choice.  It's a given.  It's a natural result of the life we have chosen to live.  But what kind of impact will we make?  Now that is choice!

And so, every day these children walk into our classrooms.

They come with hopes, dreams, joys, fears, strengths, and deficits.  And we have a choice.

They come with behaviors, attitudes, quirks, and misconceptions.  And we have a choice.

They come with passions, interests, talents, and dreams.  And we have a choice.

My choice...our choice at Austin the Schoolwide Enrichment Model.

Why?  Because the Schoolwide Enrichment Model inspires children to pursue their dreams and overcome their fears.

Why?  Because the Schoolwide Enrichment Model allows us to see children through the lens of their strengths and talents, and to leverage those strengths to help children move beyond their deficits.

Why?  Because the Schoolwide Enrichment Model provides opportunities for children to discover their passion and find ways to use what they love to make a difference in our world.

"At Austin Elementary, we are driven to unlock the passion and cultivate the uniquness inherent in every learner."

The choice is clear!  The results are immeasurable!

To learn more about the Schoolwide Enrichment Model @AustinElememtary, Check out our SEM Update.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

What Does a Hero Look Like?

For several years now, I have been using this blog as well as our SEM SMORE to share the story of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at Austin Elementary.  And well, every good story needs a hero...right?  So I recently went on a quest to find some heroes, and to answer the question, "What does a hero look like?"

Here's what I found...

A hero finds joy in bringing joy to others.  

All Stitched Up Cluster Shares Care Packages with the Homeless

A hero doesn't let fear prevent her from pursuing a dream. 

Social Media Moguls Spread a Message of Hope and Encouragement thru Social Media

A hero knows that even the youngest can do something great!

Kindergarten Learners Explore their Passions thru Mini Clusters

A hero shares his passion with others.

Parent Volunteer Spends Countless Hours Mentoring the Robotics Team

A hero uses her story to inspire others to write their own.

Our namesake, Barbara S. Austin, Shares her Memories of Early Coppell at a Brown Bag Lunch

A hero looks for ways to make someone's day brighter.

Baubles2Benefit Cluster Creates Journals for Children in Foster Care

A hero doesn't let adversity stop the pursuit of the dream.

Robotics Team Rebuilds Broken Robot Just Minutes Before Competition Begins

A hero knows that we are all part of the same world, looking beyond the differences to the joy that is found in the common ground.

Unconventional Painting Cluster Creates Artwork for People of the United Arab Emirates

A hero sees beauty where others do not, then shares what they have found 
with those around them.

Beauty in Mathematics Cluster Uses Tessalations to Decorate Cards for Cancer Patients.

A hero knows that everyone needs a friend.

Creative Construction Crew Creates a Buddy Bench for Austin Elementary

A hero looks for opportunities to make a difference.

Intramurals for Learners at Austin Elementary

A hero doesn't wait to be asked.

Marimba...Robotics...Intramurals...Announcements...Thank You Mr. B!  

A hero passes the torch.

Coppell High School KCBY Learners Share their Expertise with Austin Elementary

A hero keeps showing up.

Thank You to ALL Our Parent Volunteers

I could go on and on!  I am surrounded by heroes!  More than I could possibly include in one blog post.   They come in all shapes and sizes...and ages...and together, they make Austin Elementary a special place to be.  Indeed, a place like no other!

Several years ago I watched a group of fifth grade learners sing "Hero" by Mariah Carey as their farewell song to Austin Elementary.  One of my favorite lines from that song goes like this...

 "Look inside you and be strong,
And you'll finally see the truth,
That a hero lies in you!"

The children did a beautiful job that day!  There were tears in many eyes...including my own...but looking back,  I can't help but wonder how many of those 10 year old kids truly understood...and believed what they were singing.  

Fast forward nine years to 2016.  The Schoolwide Enrichment Model has been at work at Austin Elementary for several years.  We are in our 4th year of enrichment clusters.  Our learners have more voice and choice in their learning than ever before.  They are engaged and excited and eager to learn. But when I recently asked them what it was that made enrichment clusters so special, I didn't hear, "They are fun," though they are.  I didn't hear, "I get to do what I want," though they do.  I didn't hear, "The time goes by so fast, " though it does.  I heard things like...
  • "I loved that we were able to make a difference in the community."
  • "I would do this cluster again so that I could help more people."
  • "I learned that I can give hope to kids in the hospital."
  • "We donated our work to the elderly to make them feel special.  It made me feel good inside."
  • "Homeless people need hope, and I can give it to them."
  • "I realized I was making people feel happy, and that made me happy!"
  • "Our cluster changed lives!"
I love the Schoolwide Enrichment Model!  I love everything about it!  I believe in my heart of hearts that Enrichment Clusters are powerfully good for kids.  But what I am most excited about right now is that the Schoolwide Enrichment Model is helping our learners see that truly, a hero lies inside each one of them!

What does a hero look like?  A hero looks like YOU!  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Enrichment Cluster Showcase: A Celebration of Learning and Serving

"Amazing kids!  Big hearts!"  This was the caption attached to some pictures I recently received from a parent who was helping with one of  the enrichment clusters here at Austin Elementary.  I must say, she got it right...I couldn't have said it better myself!

Over the last nine weeks, our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade learners have been doing amazing things as they explored their interests, developed skills and talents within those interests, and found ways to use what they were learning to make a difference in our world.  Each group of 11-12 learners came together nine weeks ago with only a common interest and a vague idea of what they were going to do with it.  Through hard work, perseverance, and lots of creative problem solving that vague idea began to grow.

It was an incredible process to watch.  Each week, the learners became more excited about, not only what they were doing, but also why they were doing it.  They couldn't wait to tell me about the service animals they were making chew toys for, the foster children they were creating and filling stockings for, or the women and children who would be receiving the clothes, hats, and head bands they were designing.  I learned about live video announcements from the "Broadcasting" cluster, the needs of foster animals from "Cause for Paws," and the ins and outs of auction planning from the young artists in "We're in an Uproar."  These kids were beyond excited!  They were passionate, focused, and intent on making things happen!  Were they having fun?  Absolutely!  But more importantly, they were finding out what it means to be passionate about a cause and to give everything you have to accomplish a goal.  I am so proud of the learners, educators, and parents who made this happen. Please take a few minutes to watch the video below.  I know you will be proud of them too!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Authentic Audiences: Empowering Learners to Make a Difference

I work with some of the most courageous, inspiring educators in the world.

Bold statement...I know.  But truly, I do.  Allow me to explain...

When I was a fifth grade teacher, I always ended the year by sharing several books with my learners. Books like Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss, I Knew You Could by Craig Dorfman, and I'd Choose You by John Trent. If I were still a fifth grade teacher, I would now include The Dot by Peter Reynolds! My goal, of course, was to share some bit of "wisdom" with my learners before they headed off to middle school. Well, since then I have discovered that my learners have far more wisdom to share with me than I could ever hope to share with them.   Looking back, I don't even know if those timeless stories ever had the impact I was hoping for, but I do know that they led to some great conversations and precious memories during the last week of school each year.

Of all the books I shared with my learners during those last bittersweet days of their fifth grade year, my favorite by far was Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Based on the true story of Alice Rumphius, this precious book is the story of the real "Lupine Lady" who had three wishes in her travel the world, to live in a house beside the sea, and to make the world a more beautiful place. She worked hard to make all of her wishes come true and, in the end, made the world more beautiful by spreading lupine seeds wherever she went. These seeds eventually blossomed into beautiful patches of "blue and purple and rose colored flowers" that carpeted the town where she lived.  

I absolutely loved this story of giving back and living a life that made an impact on those around you...a legacy of sorts...but sometimes I felt frustrated because my learners...well, they often didn't seem to "get it." Oh, they said all the "right things" and definitely knew the "right answers."  

Ms. Malone: "What's this story about?"

Learner: "A lady who was a librarian and who travelled around the world, but then got hurt and went to live by the sea."   


Ms. Malone: "What else did she do?"

Learner: "She spread seeds everywhere and flowers grew all around the town."


Ms. Malone: "Why did she do that?"

Learner: "To make the world more beautiful."


Ms. Malone: "Why did I choose to read this book to you today?"

Learner: "Because you want us to do something to make the world more beautiful too."


So what's the problem, you might ask?  Well, they were saying the right things...but still, they didn't get it.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say they didn't believe it. Despite my best efforts, many of my kids were leaving me not believing that they would ever really make a difference.  Many of them left not believing that they should...or could...or would...ever do anything to make the world a more beautiful place.  What a sad indictment on my teaching!  What a sad indictment on me!

Here's the good news...I am no longer the teacher I once was...and the learners in my classroom...they are different as well.  They are more confident, more self directed, and more globally minded than those who came before them.  They are more willing to take risks, step into the unknown, and face challenges than ever before.  And most exciting to me, they believe that they have what it takes to make a difference in their world!  And they believe that they can make that difference this this time and place...and they are...well...RIGHT!

So why the change?  What is the impetus behind this shift in the way our learners think, act, and believe about their place in this world of ours?   Well, there are a lot of answers to that question.  
  • Our world is changing...true.
  • We live in a global society...true again.
  • Technology is changing how kids learn...ummm...yes!
All of that...and true.  But at Austin Elementary, I, I know...that SEM is also a huge part of the impetus to change.   Our kids are different...because we allow them to be different!  Our kids are making an impact because we tell them that they can...and then give them the tools to do just that!
"What kind of tools?" you may ask.  I could go on for days answering that question, but for now, let's keep it simple.  Two words...Authentic Audience. These two words have been part of my vocabulary for several years now.  I first heard them from Marcia Gentry, Professor of Educational Studies at Purdue University, while she was leading a session on Enrichment Clusters that I was attending at Confratute  during the summer of 2010.  Dr. Gentry talked about the power of an authentic audience to bring purpose, meaning, and real world significance to the work kids do...and I believed her...and I've shared my belief with those around me...a lot.  But finding...and a real world authentic audience is not as easy as it may sound.  It's tricky...and scary...and well, hard!  And so for a long time these two words remained just that...words.


But not anymore!  Here at Austin Elementary, the inclusion of "authentic audiences" into the learning design in our classrooms is becoming more the norm and less the exception than ever before.  Recently, I stepped into an enrichment cluster where the children were learning to sew.  On the surface, it might have seemed to the untrained eye to be simply a sewing class. Enjoyable? Yes...but really worth giving up an hour of instruction every week? Well, if "enjoyable" was where it stopped, my answer would have to be no.  But learning to sew, while interesting and exciting for these young learners, was not the ultimate goal.  For you see, the conversation in this room went far beyond how to thread a needle or bind a seam. The most prominent conversation in the room was not about the what or the how of sewing, but rather, about the why behind their work.   Who would benefit from these new found skills?  How could they use what they were learning to help those around them? In short, how could they use this experience to make the world a more beautiful place?  

Cool conversation...yes?  But here's what's even cooler.  It is a conversation that is happening in enrichment clusters and E-Time groups all over the building!  
  • Trendy Styles is creating hats, hairbands and clothing for orphans and needy children around the world.
  • Seeing Through a Dog's Eyes is making pull toys for service animals.
  • Stop Motion Films, Inc. is creating videos to raise awareness about global warming, pollution, and hunger.
  • Cause for Paws is making blankets for homeless animals.
  • Sew Fashionable is making stockings for children in need.
  • Broadcasting is exploring tools to make visual announcements possible on our campus.
  • Calling All Carpenters and EVENTful Planning are working alongside the PTO to plan, design, and build games that will be used in the Spring Carnival.
  • second grade E-Time group is creating cards/posters for nursing home residents.
  • The list goes on and on!! 

And even cooler than that?  It's not just happening on Fridays!  This idea of authentic audience is catching on, not only throughout the building, but throughout the week as well!  Daily, our learners are having conversations...with each other...with educators...maybe even with you...about how they can make an impact on the world around them!  How cool is that?!

Now I realize that some of you may be wondering why this is such a big deal.  After all, you may not have sent your child to school so he or she can change the world.  All that can come later...right?  Maybe...but here's the deal.  The payoffs for children immersed in this kind of learning environment go far beyond the obvious social emotional benefits that come from the realization that they have valuable contributions to make to our world.  Let's just look at a few...
  • Learners develop skills that will allow them to be competitive in a global workplace. These skills include communication, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, self awareness, and many more.
  • Learners identify areas of strength and talent and are given opportunities to develop those areas in a supportive, risk free environment.
  • Learners understand their identity as global citizens and begin to take ownership of the privileges and responsibility that identity requires.
  • Learners are immersed in real world experiences that give value and purpose to their efforts.
  • Learners construct new understandings of their role as both learner and educator in a world where the value of each is absolutely immeasurable.
  • Learners develop perseverance in the face of challenges and obstacles as they work to accomplish tasks and goals that are globally relevant and personally meaningful.
  • Learners dive deep into academic content in the context
    of real world problems that provide relevance and purpose to the learning that is taking place.
  • Learners demonstrate a higher level of motivation, task commitment, and willingness to take risks with academic skills that are embedded naturally into the tasks they are striving to complete.  These skills include concepts related to measurement, numeracy, data collection, fine arts, reading comprehension, written expression, scientific understanding, and many more. 
This list could go on and on!  The benefits are truly endless!  

So, back to my original statement...

I work with some of the most courageous, inspiring educators in the world. 

Still don't get it?  Stay with me...
  • For the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) to truly take hold in a school, the educators must be willing to let go of the reins and give the learners control of their learning...scary.  
  • In order for the Schoolwide Enrichment Model to continue to grow and begin to change the culture in a school, the educators must be willing to demonstrate flexibility and resourcefulness like never before...demanding
  • If the Schoolwide Enrichment Model is going to truly define who you are as a school and impact the way every learner and every educator thinks and behaves
    on a daily basis, educators must be able to take a deep honest look about what they believe and then take steps daily to truly live out those beliefs...bold.  
Helping our learners identify and reach out to authentic audiences is just one example of how the educators at Austin Elementary have made these things happen.  

It's scary.  It's demanding.  It's bold.  It would be easier to give decide its not worth go back to the comforts of "the way things used to be."  After all, will it really make a difference if there's one less fashion group in the world?  Will one small group of learners working together to make make a difference in the lives of orphans halfway around the world really change anything?  Well, I can tell you, if you ask the learners in those cluster groups, their answer to that question would be a passionate and heartfelt YES.  
So, on this eve of my most favorite American holiday, let me just say THANK YOU to the educators and administrators at Austin Elementary who day in and day out say YES to the sometimes scary, often demanding, and many times bold choices that bring innovation, opportunity, and empowerment to our learners! 

 Inspire. Digital image. N.p., Mar. 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Is a Square a Rectangle and Other Questions to Ponder

Is a square a rectangle?  Is a rectangle a square?  This is such a fun conversation to have with learners!  For you see, a square is most definitely a rectangle.  Don't believe me?   Neither do the kids!  Let's take a look at the conversation that ensues.

What is a Rectangle:   a closed figure with...                                    
  • four vertices                                    
  • four right angles
  • 2 pair of parallel lines
  • four sides  

Does a Square Have...
  • four vertices...yes!
  • four right angles...yes!
  • 2 pair of parallel lines...yes!
  • four sides...yes!            

Does a square meet all the criteria for being classified as a rectangle?  Yes!


All squares are also rectangles.

This is where the fun starts, for now that I have the learners fully convinced that a square is indeed a rectangle, it's time for the next phase of the conversation.  I begin with another question.  This time I want to know, "Is a rectangle a square?"  Now, fifteen minutes earlier, every child in the room would have absolutely sworn that no, a rectangle is definitely not a's a rectangle!  A rectangle is a rectangle and a square is a square, and by the way Ms. Malone, what's wrong with you today!?!?!? 

But remember, I just spent fifteen minutes convincing every one of them that a square is, in fact, a rectangle, so for these learners, it naturally follows that a rectangle is also a square.   Unfortunately, they couldn't be more wrong.  (Are you beginning to see why I have so much fun with this conversation?) 

Let's take another look at the criteria.

Square: a closed figure with...

  • four vertices
  • four right angles
  • 2 pair of parallel lines
  • four congruent sides

Rectangle: a closed figure with...
  • four vertices
  • four right angles
  • 2 pair of parallel lines
  • four sides
but... those sides are not necessarily congruent!



All squares are indeed rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Okay, fun conversation...but what's the point?  

Well, some might say the point is to help kids to understand the difference between a rectangle and a square...nope!  

Maybe it's to give kids a chance to talk to each other using mathematical language?  Important, but... nope!

Learn more about squares?  Nope!

Learn more about rectangles?  Nope!

Show them the teacher is always right?  Ha..tempting, but most definitely...NOPE!

Here's the point.  Through this conversation...and others like learn to evaluate ideas, concepts, decisions, etc...through the lens of the criteria that define them.!  But as we say in the classroom...So what?  Now what?

Well, this same line of questioning can be applied to any number of topics in any number of ways. For example...
  • in a family...a dad is always a father...but not all fathers are "dads."
  • at the grocery carrot is always a vegetable...but not all vegetables are carrots.
  • in your neighorhood...a home is always (or usually) in a house...but not every house is a home.
  • in the world of construction...all buildings have a foundation...but not everything with a foundation is a building.
  • in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model...all enrichment experiences are enjoyable for the participants...but not every experience that a learner enjoys is enrichment.

Whoa...what?  I thought the Schoolwide Enrichment Model was all about student interest...passion based teaching...learner driven instruction?   


And that it involved providing enrichment experiences for all learners based on those interests?


And if learners are interested in something, they will enjoy experiences centered around that interest?


So therefore enjoyment = enrichment?!

Let's go back to the criteria.  

What is Enrichment?  
  • learner driven
  • no pre-determined lesson plans
  • interest based
  • authentic tools / methods
  • advanced content
  • real world problem solving

What is Enjoyment?
  • learner driven
  • no pre-determined lesson plans
  • interest based
  • fun!
  • may...or may not...include authentic tools / methods
  • may...or may not...include advanced content
  • may...or may not...include real world problem solving


All enrichment is enjoyable...but not all that is enjoyable is enrichment!  

Click on the link below for more information about how the Schoolwide Enrichment Model is changing the face of learning @Austin Elementary!