September 22, 2014



We want to thank you very much for your help with our new dismissal system. Every day has gotten better & we give you a lot of credit for helping us work out the kinks & getting our parents used to the change. You have all been troopers about it, & the comments I’ve heard indicate that even some parents who initially opposed it are “coming around!”

I’m happy to report that our Wi-Fi is up & running. Now that we have Wi-Fi, we have no excuse for not using more technology with our kids! With our push for 21st Century Technology & Instruction, we are going to throw out a challenge to our teachers.

I had the opportunity last Thursday to visit Parkview Elementary & Highland Middle school to observe teachers using the Rigor & Relevance framework. We were specifically looking for evidence of higher amounts of Rigor by examining the WORK that students were asked to do. This was enlightening, & I will be sharing more about this with you at our faculty meeting on Wednesday.

Please be thinking about what RIGOR means to you & about what you can do individually, & what we can do COLLECTIVELY to raise the rigor at EME. How can we utilize our PLC’s to ensure that RIGOR is a primary focus this year? I’m sharing with you two articles that help delineate what RIGOR means & the importance of intentionally increasing our Rigor. In the second one, pay close attention to the 4 quadrants as that is very similar to the 4 quadrants you’ll learn about in the Rigor & Relevance framework. This week as you teach, be conscious about the QUESTIONS you ask & be aware of how many higher level questions you integrate into your instruction. The other piece is the WORK that we assign students.


The term rigor is widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences, and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences, for example, help students understand knowledge and concepts that are complex, ambiguous, or contentious, and they help students acquire skills that can can applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.

While dictionaries define the term as rigid, inflexible, or unyielding, educators frequently apply rigor or rigorous to assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly. Likewise, they may use the term rigorous to describe learning environments that are not intended to be harsh, rigid, or overly prescriptive, but that are stimulating, engaging, and supportive.

In education, rigor is commonly applied to lessons that encourage students to question their assumptions and think deeply, rather than to lessons that merely demand memorization and information recall. For example, a fill-in-the-blank worksheet or multiple-choice test would not be considered rigorous by many educators. Although courses such as AP United States History are widely seen as rigorous because of the comparatively demanding workload or because the course culminates in a difficult test, a more expansive view of rigor would also encompass academic relevance and critical-thinking skills such as interpreting and analyzing historical data, making connections between historical periods and current events, using both primary and secondary sources to support an argument or position, and arriving at a novel interpretation of a historical event after conducting extensive research on the topic.

While some educators may equate rigor with difficultly, many educators would argue that academically rigorous learning experiences should be sufficiently and appropriately challenging for individual students or groups of students, not simply difficult. Advocates contend that appropriately rigorous learning experiences motivate students to learn more and learn it more deeply, while also giving them a sense of personal accomplishment when they overcome a learning challenge—whereas lessons that are simply “hard” will more likely lead to disengagement, frustration, and discouragement.

One common way in which educators do use rigor to mean unyielding or rigid is when they are referring to “rigorous” learning standards and high expectations—i.e., when they are calling for all students to be held to the same challenging academic standards and expectations. In this sense, rigor may be applied to educational situations in which students are not allowed to “coast” or “slide by” because standards, requirements, or expectations are low. In these cases, rigor is connected to the concept of educational equity, the belief that all students—regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, or disability—should pursue a challenging course of study that will prepare them for success in later life. For example, students of color, on average, tend to be disproportionately represented in lower-level classes with lower academic expectations (and possibly lower-quality teaching), which can give rise to achievement gaps or “cycles of low expectation” in which stereotypes about the academic performance of minorities are reinforced and perpetuated because minority students are held to lower academic standards or taught less than their peers (for a related discussion, see stereotype threat). Enrolling students of color in “rigorous” academic programs that hold them to high academic standards is one way that educators may attempt to close achievement gaps and disrupt the self-perpetuating nature of low expectations.

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Check out his website below.

Recognizing Rigor in Classrooms: Four Tools for School Leaders

By Ronald Williamson and Barbara Blackburn

Few people question the need for America’s schools and classrooms to be more rigorous. But there is little agreement about what rigor is and what it looks like.

In Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, Barbara Blackburn defined rigor as creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so that he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008). This three-part approach assures that rigor doesn’t consist of just adding curriculum requirements or raising grading standards. Integral to the model is providing every student with high levels of support so that they can thrive and be successful in their classrooms.

Rigor is more than a specific lesson or instructional strategy. It is deeper than what a student says or does in response to a lesson. Real rigor is the result of weaving together all elements of schooling to improve the achievement and learning of every student.


We’ll start with the first part: rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels. Having high expectations starts with the decision that every student possesses the potential to be his or her best, no matter what.

Almost everyone we talk with says that they have high expectations for their students. Sometimes that is evidenced by the behaviors in the school; at at other times, actions don’t match the words. When you visit classrooms and work with your teachers, use the following tools to assess the level of rigor you see.

As you work with teachers to design lessons that incorporate more rigorous opportunities for learning, you will want to consider the questions that are embedded in the instruction. Higher-level questioning is an integral part of a rigorous classroom. Look for open-ended questions that are at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analysis and synthesis).

It is also important to look at how teachers respond to student questions. When we visit schools, it is not uncommon for teachers who ask higher-level questions to accept low-level responses from students. In rigorous classrooms, however, teachers push students to respond at high levels. They ask extending questions. If a student does not know the answer, the teacher continues to probe and guide the student to an appropriate answer rather than moving on to the next student.

Tool 1: Questions and Responses

You can use this tally tool to chart your observations about questioning techniques and talk with teachers about questions in class.

Questions asked by teacher

Low-level/rote questions

High-level/application questions

Teacher response to student answers

Low-level student responses accepted

High-level responses accepted or probing/extended questions asked


High expectations are important, but the most rigorous schools also ensure that each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, the second part of our definition. It is essential that teachers design lessons that move students to more challenging work while simultaneously providing ongoing scaffolding to support students learning as they those higher levels.

Providing additional scaffolding throughout lessons is one of the most important ways to support students. This can occur in a variety of ways, but it requires that teachers ask themselves during every step of their lesson, “What extra support might my students need?”

Tool 2: Scaffolding in Lessons

Examples of scaffolding strategies include:

· Asking guiding questions

· Chunking information

· Color-coding the steps of a project

· Writing standards as questions for students to answer

· Using visuals and graphic organizers

· Providing such tools as interactive reading guides, study guide.


The third component of a rigorous classroom provides each student with opportunities to demonstrate learning at high levels. We often hear that if teachers provide more challenging lessons that include extra support, then learning will happen. We’ve learned that if we want students to show us that they understand what they learned at a high level, we also need to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate that they have truly mastered that learning. One way to accomplish that is through increased student engagement.

Student engagement is a key aspect of rigor. In too many classrooms, most of the instruction consists of the teacher-centered large group instruction, perhaps in an interactive lecture or discussion format. The general practice during these lessons is for the teacher to ask a question, and then call on a student to respond. Although this provides an opportunity for one student to demonstrate their understanding, the remaining students don’t have the opportunity to do so. Another option would be for the teacher to allow all students to respond either through pair-share, thumbs up or down, writing answers on small whiteboards and sharing their responses, or responding on a handheld computer that tallies responses. Such activities hold each student accountable for demonstrating his or her understanding.

Tool 3: Student Engagement

Negative Indicators

· One student responds

· Two or three students discuss content

· Teacher asks students if they understand, and they answer with a simple yes or no; there is no probing.

Positive Indicators

· All students respond

· All students discuss content in small groups

· All students write a response in a journal or exit slip

When you talk with your teachers about their instructional practices, you can also ask them about engagement and how they design lessons to promote positive student engagement and high levels of student accountability for demonstrating learning.

Tool 4: Talking with Teachers

· Talk with me about how you make your lessons engaging. What information do you use to guide your decisions?

· As you design your lessons, what are some of the strategies you use to make sure the lesson is engaging to students?

· While teaching a lesson, how do you monitor the engagement of your students?

· As you continue to work on student engagement, what would you identify as the most appropriate next steps?

· What may I do to support you in your work to improve student engagement?

Final Thoughts and Action Planning

Recognizing rigor in classrooms is all about recognizing good instruction. It is important to look for instructional practices that expect students to learn at very high levels and that also give students the support to achieve at high levels. It is also essential that teachers expect all students to demonstrate their learning at high levels.


· Blackburn, B. (2008). Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Ronald Williamson (rwmson214@aol.com) is a professor of leadership and counseling at Eastern Michigan University.

Barbara R. Blackburn (bcgroup@gmail.com) is the president of Blackburn Consulting Group.

They are the coauthors of The Principalship From A to Z and Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way, both published by Eye on Education (www.eyeoneducation.com)

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Fact #6 – Bullying is serious, even at a young age! From the youngest ages, children need to be taught to be kind to each other. This is the best protection against bullying. Research supports that children establish their attitudes toward school in the first nine years of life. It is important that children’s first years are nurturing & provide a sense of belonging in their school. The educational setting should foster their self-esteem, cater to their sense of curiosity, & motivate them to learn.

Fact #7 – Bullying is violence & a humans-right issue. (Kirman, 2004) Every child has the right to attend school, have a sense of belonging, & feel safe. When children miss school for fear of being bullied, they miss opportunities to learn.

Fact #8 – Even friends can be bullies. (Kevorkian, 2006) Bullying behavior is not confined to the “class” bully. It can occur within a child’s circle of friends. What happens between classmates & peers determines how they feel about school & themselves. How their peers see them is often how they see themselves.

Fact #9 – The average episode of bullying lasts only thirty-seven seconds. Teachers notice or intervene in only one in twenty-five incidents. Teach bystanders to recognize & respond to bullying incidents. Bullying does not have to be prolonged or elaborate. A few moments may have a profound impact on a child or young adult’s self-esteem. Sometimes children don’t tell adults because they don’t think the adults can actually help or may even make it worse.

Fact #10 – Bullying does not build character; it is not just a part of growing up. It is important to move beyond conception & consider the research that shows that children who are continually victimized by bullying become socially withdrawn.

Important Information for the week:

· This week’s Eagle Mountain 25 skill/rule is #4: Surprise others by

performing random acts of kindness.

· We have an important faculty meeting on Wednesday. We have a team of teachers who attended Formative Assessment training last summer & will be sharing some great information with us. I will also be sharing with you a presentation on Rigor & Relevance as we begin learning about the framework that we will be using this year.

· I will be teaching a vocabulary lesson to all third grade students this week during their Library block time & to fourth graders on Friday.

· Please remember to pay Sandra your Social Fund dues as soon as you can.

· If you have items for placement on our October calendar, please get them to me this week.

· We hope you’ll join the PTA! Our goal is 100% staff participation.

· Thanks for remembering to pass out A.C.T. tickets when you see a child going

above & beyond. The kids our responding very well to this!

· Remember the District’s Because We Care campaign, the EMS-ISD Education Foundation Giving Campaign runs from Sept. 15th through October 30th. For every $5.00 donated you will receive a jeans pass. Thanks to Pam for coordinating this effort!

· I am looking into starting an afterschool Drama Club for EME. It would be held on Monday afternoons for those kids whose parents were interested. Donna Park is the director of it – we offered it in Coppell, & the parents loved it. More information will be sent home soon to see if there is enough interest to start one.


Monday – Eagle Mountain 25 Rule #4 – Surprise others by performing random acts of kindness, Fire Drill, PBIS Committee meeting – 3PM

Tuesday – Kelli & Regina to I-Station training, 3rd grade Vocab lesson, Tremendous Taco luncheon in honor of my birthday!

Wednesday – No Worksheet Wed., 3rd grade Vocab lesson, Faculty meeting – 3PM

Thursday – Kelli & Regina to Ali training, 3rd grade Vocab lesson, Happy Birthday to Gretchen!

Friday – 4th grade Vocab lesson


“Let us read together, learn together, eat together, lead together, & create success together!” -Jon Gordon


What are our TOP 5 Priorities at EME? If someone approached you & asked you to list the top 5 things we were working on as a school, what would you say?

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  • Thanks to LaRae & Steve for hosting teachers from Comanche Springs last week! The visitors were extremely complimentary of what they observed. As a result of their visit, they have decided to form a math PLC which will give them opportunities to collaborate. & share ideas across campuses. I appreciate you both sharing your expertise & the positive impression you made on these teachers!

  • Suzanne, Becky, & Dedra are to be commended for stepping up & taking a lead role with our dismissal system. All of them have offered suggestions which have improved the system significantly.
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