Focus on Big Rock 3: Personalized Learning

Focus on Big Rock 3: Personalized Learning
Posted on 11/26/2018
the Comet KidIn early 2017, a small group of Mason Early Childhood Center teachers discovered a new book by favorite authors, Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz, titled A Mindset for Learning.

The book inspired this group to dive into the need for building the skills and mindsets that students need to be successful. This group of teachers, along with instructional coach Robyn Thomas, formed a pilot team in the second half of the 16-17 school year.

These pioneers were some of the scouts for the district's Big Rock 3: Personalized Learning work.

As part of Mason City Schools' focus on making learning more personalized, educators recognize that we must empower students to learn about themselves so that they can take more ownership over the learning path they choose. Our teaching of social and emotional learning skills is not separate from academic learning, but rather is a critical part of every interaction we have with every student. Our aim is to make learning meaningful, with an ultimate goal of growing a community where students see themselves impacting positive change in their classroom, their school, neighborhood and beyond.

"This team of MECC staff studied the book and created a plan to take this information school wide," shared MECC Innovative Learning Coach Krissy Hufnagel. "They created the definitions for the stances (habits), making sure that we would have a common language for all students."

During this time, the pilot group felt there needed to be a common symbol for the work that could be used throughout the building, and the Comet Kid was born!

"The team knew they wanted Comet Kid to be a symbol all students would identify with, so they reached out to the amazing students in our Digital Image Design Studio at the high school to solve the problem," added Hufnagel. "The Design students helped design a mascot that would symbolically encompass all children, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity."

During the 17-18 school year, the pilot team led small group learning circles with the entire staff once each month. The staff studied the book and discussed ways in which teaching the mindset stances of flexibility, empathy, resilience, persistence, and optimism could be incorporated into the work they did on a daily basis. This model allowed teachers time to truly understand the importance of Social Emotional learning in the classroom, before being asked to implement it.

"The pilot team began testing and implementing the lessons in their classrooms by teaching the stances explicitly and having a Comet Kid poster and stances to refer to as a common vocabulary builder," explained Hufnagel. "In addition, an optional online parent book study was offered building wide to families at MECC.

Thomas and Hufnagel met in the summer of 2018 to create pathways for teachers to follow on how to implement mindset work with children from grades PreK-2. The pathways that were developed contain an enormous amount of resources for teachers. To support this work, each pod in the MECC building received a Mindset Library that consists of 35 books demonstrating the stances, and are inclusive in nature, ensuring that diversity is a part of the work.

The Comet Kid and mindset work was launched school-wide in the fall of 2018. Every grade level, led by teacher leader teams, has continued to meet each Tuesday in their Team of 8 to share how the mindset work has grown in their classrooms.

Kindergarten teachers created chants for each mindset, students in first grade received wristbands as they learned about each stance, and in second grad,e students learned about each stance as they solved problems and opened a Breakout Kit, like an escape room.

"The work was so powerful, that teachers felt Comet Kid needed to be brought to life. Our students have identified with the Comet Kid, and see themselves living out the 5 mindset stances," said Hufnagel. "Currently, a true Comet Kid mascot is in the works, and will make a debut later this school year.

The Work Continues
Tina Darling, an MECC Kindergarten teacher and pilot team member received a grant from the Mason Schools Foundation for teachers to Skype with author, Kristi Mraz, of Mindset for Learning. The grant allowed for two 1.5 hour sessions with Kristi, and during this time, teachers will be discussing strategies to improve on the current work and continue to grow the Social Emotional Learning toolbox.

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