Caring and Curriculum Can Prompt School-Wide Change

Student Success

Caring and Curriculum Can Prompt School-Wide Change

from Mentoring Minds

By Wendy McMahon     Jun 17, 2019

Caring and Curriculum Can Prompt School-Wide Change

This article is part of the guide: Conference Spotlight: ISTE Happenings.

Caring is Christal Calhoun’s superpower. Whether she’s searching for standards-aligned curriculum or playing dress-up, the Tool Elementary School principal does whatever it takes to lift her students from struggling to successful.

When she became principal in 2011, the Title I school had a 40 percent mobility rate, attendance rates were low and less than a third of students were meeting state standards. Calhoun had her work cut out for her.

These days, Tool is teeming with success. Attendance is now soaring, and two-thirds of students are meeting standards in reading and math. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education named Tool Elementary a National Blue Ribbon School. And, recently, Tool was named a 2018 National ESEA Distinguished School. Calhoun was also just named the Texas National Distinguished Principal.

Here, Calhoun shares how the right blend of caring and curriculum transformed her Texas elementary school.

EdSurge: What was one of the first things you did to create change in your school?

Christal Calhoun: Our campus is pre-K through fifth grade. So in 2012, we needed a resource that teachers could use to better prepare students in third, fourth and fifth grades for state assessments. Mentoring Minds’ curriculum has been that resource for seven years, and there's not a teacher in this building who doesn’t see this content as part of our success.

This curriculum is 100 percent aligned to the standards and offers teachers the flexibility in a lesson to give students exactly what they need. Each unit has formative assessments that teachers can use to plan interventions. There are extension activities for kids who excel; there are tools to build critical thinking skills. It just offers so much support.

Over the years with this approach, kids are more confident about state testing. When we ask ‘So how was the test?’ they say ‘Oh my gosh, it was easy!’ They’re so well-prepared. It builds their confidence.

Mentoring Minds Presents ThinkUp! (Video Source: Mentoring Minds)

Which specific skills are students developing?

A big one is critical thinking. The content helps teachers model multiple ways students can develop critical thinking. After each lesson, there are journal prompts, follow-up questions that encourage deeper thinking, group work, problem-solving—all building their critical-thinking skills.

Once the content was introduced, we saw our students move from dependent students lacking confidence to critical thinkers that have the tools to achieve success.

Your students face socio-economic challenges; how can supplemental curriculum help there?

We have a high mobility rate, which means we're constantly getting students from other schools. With that, you deal with a pretty large gap in learning. Teachers need something that allows students to practice a skill and then touch on it again throughout the year. Because this content has spiral review embedded, we can close that gap for our students.

And that spiral review also helps with vocabulary. Our campus has a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students, around 80 percent. When students lack experiences in their own lives, that often contributes to low vocabulary. And so Mentoring Minds—in their reading curriculum and in their math, science and writing—they have vocabulary that teachers can introduce to students. And because of that spiral approach, students see it again and again.

One last question, who is Granny Calhoun, and how did she boost attendance?

Oh my gosh, the kids love Granny Calhoun! We were struggling with attendance—I sent letters, called parents... Finally, I said, ‘I'm going to dress up as Granny, and any student who has no more than two tardies and two early checkouts per six weeks gets to have a Granny Calhoun birthday party.’ My kids live in a social and economic setting where most don't have birthday parties.

Granny Calhoun photo
Granny Calhoun at Tool Elementary School (Image Source: Christal Calhoun)

I got the kids’ attention, and the dynamics changed. For the past several years, attendance has been at 97 percent or above. For an 80 percent economically disadvantaged school, that's pretty cool. I knew if they'd just come to school, I had a chance of them being successful.

Need a little leadership inspiration? Read these Granny Calhoun-approved books.

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