How to Give Students More of What They Want So They Can Get What They Need

Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO, All Kinds of Minds

The start of a school year is clean slate. For a period of time, both teachers and students focus on the possibilities for success. We know that schools and teachers are feeling enormous pressure to show achievement gains for their students, particularly in reading and mathematics and other state assessments. “At grade or above grade” is the new mantra and can quickly become the only measure of teacher effectiveness and student success. We need to be vigilant that our focus this year on school success is inclusive of this critical benchmark, but includes more of what students and parents define as teaching success.

Students and teachers share hopes and fears for a new school year. Teachers hope all their students will find success and fear that they won’t be able ensure those results, particularly if it’s narrowly defined only as test results. Students hope that they will get a “great teacher” and fear that they won’t. Students have told us what they look for in a teacher. They want a teacher who exhibits the traits they identified in the book Simply the Best: 29 Things Students Say the Best Teachers Do around Relationships, by Kelly Middleton and Elizabeth Petitt. These teachers “know us personally, our strengths and interests,” “smile at us,” “tell us why,” “give descriptive feedback on assignments,” and “are energetic, enthusiastic and enjoy their job.”

Here’s some great news: Being the teacher that students want also enables teachers to be more effective in helping them make those achievement gains. A terrific story on NPR’s This American Life – “Lewis Time”* – makes this point. In this feature, a New York City middle school teacher makes predictions about the goals she’s setting at the beginning of the year for her students. She’s got a modest writing goal for Lewis, who she initially sees as a struggling student with many weaknesses and incapable of reaching grade level. He’s got difficulty with written production and oral language during class assignments and his attention is not focused on the task at hand.

But she’s a kid watcher, and she clearly has many of those attributes students say make a great teacher. She picks up on a request Lewis makes and cleverly turns it into an effective strategy that helps him focus, learn, and achieve. She creates a student learning partnership with Lewis and describes what she learns from him about his challenges in class. Most importantly, Lewis succeeds on multiple levels. He exceeds his teacher’s academic predictions and he transforms from class agitator to class leader.

The story illustrates how the work of observing students and knowing them as individuals can unleash creative pedagogical choices that can enable achievement gains. The All Kinds of Minds approach is not separate from the “double down” efforts we need to make to teach common core standards and assess mastery. Rather, the approach is the hook and the invitation for authentic student engagement, motivation, and ownership of their learning.

Teachers need to spend time making predictions and setting academic achievement goals. But they need to spend equal time getting to know their students. In your school or classroom, use some of the strategies and activities suggested in this newsletter, on our Facebook page, or in our blog. Do a little kid watching. And as the year unfolds, share your “Lewis Time” strategies with us via Facebook or e-mail.

* To hear the “Lewis Time” story, click on the play button below and drag the audio bar to 23:10.

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Learning Leaders Explore the AKOM Approach in Oklahoma and North Carolina

In June, All Kinds of Minds facilitated two courses that explored how learning leaders can create a school for all kinds of minds by promoting a focus on learning and learning variation – including school policies, procedures, culture, and climate. In each course, participants exchanged views on what it means to be a “learning leader”; discussed parts of our book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds; explored resources for sustaining a focus on learning in their schools; and created an action plan for cultivating a focus on learning and learners in their own school. Each participant received a copy of our book.


On June 17th, 20 All Kinds of Minds program “alumni” met in Owasso, Oklahoma, to deepen their knowledge about the All Kinds of Minds approach and explore how to incorporate the approach into existing school practices in order to enhance student success. Owasso Public Schools had a representative from each of its school sites, and the remaining participants came from Tulsa and McAlester. Ongoing support and networking will be provided through regular follow-up conference calls and e-mail correspondence.

Sandra Reese-Keck, the course facilitator and All Kinds of Minds program coordinator in Oklahoma, reflected, “This group of people is dedicated to the work they began when they initially attended an All Kinds of Minds course – some as far back as eight years. They see the value of building a total school environment based on student-centered learning and are excited about leading the way. We in Oklahoma hope to see this exciting work spread to all corners of the state.”

North Carolina

The following week, 25 educators from around the world – including Kuwait and Brazil! – participated in the Teaching All Kinds of Minds for Learning Leaders course at the All Kinds of Minds office in Durham, North Carolina. The participants represented a range of roles in education, including teacher leaders, mentors, coaches and educational consultants. Throughout the course, which built upon the three-day Teaching All Kinds of Minds course, the group explored the All Kinds of Minds approach and its implications for teaching and learning in individual classrooms and throughout the school.

Michael Taranto, a third grade teacher in Raleigh, NC, and an All Kinds of Minds facilitator, spoke to the group about his experience using the All Kinds of Minds approach to develop and facilitate a culture of learning in his school.


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The course was well-received by participants. Click on the video to hear one participant’s reflections on the training.

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CEO Brings All Kinds of Minds Approach to 100+ Detroit Area Educators


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In early August, All Kinds of Minds kicked off the first week of a summer academy in Detroit geared toward helping educators turn around Wayne County’s high priority schools. More than 100 classroom teachers and instructional coaches, primarily from the Detroit Public Schools, learned how to use the All Kinds of Minds approach to help students find greater success with learning. Designed by Wayne RESA, the academy is part of the regional educational service agency’s commitment to supporting local school improvement efforts in order to help all students find success with the state’s standards and assessments.

All Kinds of Minds CEO Mary-Dean Barringer – a Detroit native and former Michigan special education teacher – facilitated the course along with staff member Michele Robinson and facilitators Michael Taranto from North Carolina and Marcia Seawright from South Carolina.


“We selected All Kinds of Mind for their research-based approach focusing on the neurological development of the whole child, how children learn, and how they vary in their learning,” said Wayne RESA Associate Superintendent Kevin Magin. “We believe that this approach will help educators tailor their strategies to help all students, including struggling learners, be successful.”


Mary-Dean commented, “These educators know schools are asked to do more with less, so they are thinking out of the box about how the new science of learning can help them reach more students. They are learning how to supplement traditional student data with equally critical information about students’ individual learning strengths and weaknesses gained from observations, parents and the students themselves. Ultimately, these teachers will show how they can successfully meet the needs of more students, specifically those who face complex learning challenges.”

Mary-Dean was particularly struck by the dedication of these educators, who embraced the training wholeheartedly despite recent professional hardships and setbacks. The overwhelming majority of participants were Detroit Public School teachers from schools in turnaround status; many of their principals had been fired, many of their schools had been closed, and many of the participants had been terminated and told to reapply for their jobs once new principals were assigned. With new principal announcements having just been made, many of the participants were scrambling to get interviews during course breaks and lunch periods – but not while the course was in session. Despite all of these challenges, the teachers were completely focused on acquiring new strategies so that students in the area’s lowest performing schools would find success at learning. Mary-Dean remarked, “These are some of the most talented and wise practitioners we’ve worked with, and we’ve trained educators all over the world.”

Judging by the course evaluations, the experience was, in fact, powerful and productive for participants. Here’s a sampling of their comments:


“I already knew about recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of my students, but what I learned is how to better diagnose my students’ attributes and address their individual needs. I also learned not be focus on just a students’ weakness, but to be sure that the students remember what they are good at.”


“… the AKOM course has taken my perspective of my work to a new and exciting level. I’m excited to implement this with teachers to support them in their work with students. I will definitely use the ‘conversation roadmap’ with the teachers.”


“Loved the focus of removing labels to redefine student needs.”


“I shall empower students to find success.”


We hope these educators will stay in touch with All Kinds of Minds so we can follow their efforts to use our approach in some of the most challenging classrooms and schools in America. We have all have much to learn from these remarkable educators.

To see more photos of this event, visit our Facebook page.

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AKOM Facilitator is Honored by National Council for the Social Studies

Sally Hunter, an All Kinds of Minds facilitator based in Austin, Texas, was recently named the 2010 Elementary Teacher of the Year by the National Council for the Social Studies.

Sally is a fourth grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in the Austin Independent School District (AISD). She also serves as the Social Studies Chair for her campus and Secretary for the Capital Area Council for the Social Studies.

The AISD Social Studies Department nominated Sally for the NCSS award after she received the Gilder Lehrman Preserve America History Teacher of the Year awardfor Texas and the 2009 Texas Council for the Social Studies Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Congratulations, Sally, for your extraordinary achievements in teaching, and for making the All Kinds of Minds approach integral to your educational practice!


New Faces… New Opportunities to Know Your Students

The start of a new school year is a time of excitement, optimism, and anticipation for both teachers and students. Teachers may find many things feel familiar, such as your classroom, the staff, the curriculum you’ll teach, and common school procedures. At the same time, a new school year represents unknowns and new opportunities. What will this class of students be like? How will they respond to the activities I have planned? What will they teach me? How does each student learn best?

As an educator, stepping into a new school year starts with getting to know your students – their names, personalities, likes and dislikes, and each one’s unique strengths and affinities. Over time, you come to understand how each student’s kind of mind learns best and what that means for how you teach them. This investment in getting to know your students as learners and appreciating their differences builds trusting relationships and opens the door for taking risks and learning … even when it’s difficult.

Students also need to learn about each other’s unique strengths and affinities. Each classroom begins as a collection of individual students. But imagine the possibilities if that collection of individuals were to become a community of learners actively supporting each other. If you can build a thriving community that respects learning variation and learns together, students will not only acquire knowledge and skills, they’ll also learn the highly valued skill of collaboration.

Some ideas to get started:

  • Begin conversations with your students about strengths and affinities – what they do well and what they enjoy doing and/or learning about. Within the first month of the school year, help each student identify at least one affinity or passion. (It’s okay if they change their mind throughout the year!)
  • Intentionally look for the unique qualities a student brings to the school and/or class (e.g., an older student with strengths in social cognition and spatial ordering may be asked to walk younger students to class the first few weeks of the school year)
  • Leverage students’ strengths and affinities to accomplish goals (e.g., allow students’ first book report of the year to be on a book that represents an area of strong interest)
  • Ask students to create an “advertisement” for their unique strengths and affinities. For example, a student may highlight his strengths in spelling, his memory for multiplication facts, and his love of soccer. Display students’ personal advertisements in the classroom and encourage students to leverage each others’ strengths and affinities when they need help with an assignment or task.
  • Keep a journal of your observations of students, noting specific examples of strengths and weaknesses. Share your observations with students as you work with them throughout the year. (Be sure to share more strengths than weaknesses!)

For more ideas on getting to know your students, visit our blog.

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Free Online Modules Offer Extended through December

Due to popular demand, we are continuing to offer our three free online modules – Attention, Language, and Memory – through December 2010. These interactive modules, accessed so far by more than 1,700 people, include rich content designed to help you build or refresh your understanding of these three important aspects of learning.

Each self-paced module includes information to deepen knowledge of these topics, in-depth case studies that demonstrate how to identify specific learning strengths and weaknesses, and strategies for working with students struggling in these areas. The modules feature a mix of audio, video, text, diagrams, and animation.

By making some of this knowledge more readily available, we hope a greater number of educators will realize how it can help them address their students’ diverse learning needs.

To learn more or to access one of the modules, click here.

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All Kinds of Minds Blog Traffic Soars

This summer, All Kinds of Minds paid a lot of attention to our blog, and so did many of you! Back in June, we updated the look and feel of the blog and added a subscription feature that enables you, our readers, to receive blog posts right in your e-mail inbox. We also launched an 8-week series around understanding common learning challenges, in which we highlighted various constructs, noted signs of strengths and weaknesses, and suggested related strategies. Over the summer, the blog saw unprecedented traffic, peaking at 18,000 views in July, as well as a steady rise in subscriptions, bringing our subscriber total to over 450 users. We were also impressed with the thoughtful comments our readers contributed in response to many of the blog entries.

We are excited about our growing readership and plan to continue the momentum through the fall. We’ve got some great ideas for the upcoming months, including a new series based on our book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds, guest bloggers, and periodic installments of more of the “understanding common learning challenges” posts that were so well-received this summer. We hope you’ll visit – and subscribe to – our blog soon!

Making a Promise for the New School Year

By Michael Taranto
3rd Grade Teacher, Brooks Museums Magnet Elementary School, Raleigh, NC, and All Kinds of Minds facilitator

As teachers, we know that the first day of school brings feelings of excitement and possibility around all of the great things that we hope will happen over the next 9 months. Starting out the school year on the right foot is an important step to achieving those lofty goals we’ve set, and one of the first things teachers do to get the ball rolling is set up some classroom rules with their students. Those classroom rules set the tone for learning for the rest of the school year.

Walk into most classrooms and the rules are pretty much the same. “Raise your hand before speaking, Work quietly, Keep your hands to yourself, etc., etc.” They’re all well and good, but do they really set the tone we want? What if we thought differently and made a set of promises using All Kinds of Minds’ Five Beliefs as a starting point? Imagine a set of classroom promises like this:

  1. Don’t make fun of others because they are different or can’t do something
  2. Find out what others are good at or what they are interested in
  3. Respect others
  4. Do your best
  5. Do your homework every night
  6. Ask questions

These promises were created by my third grade students on the first day of the 2009-2010 school year, and they set a positive learning environment that carried us through the ups and downs of a typical school day. We created our Classroom Promises based on the following themes, which were in turn based on the Five Beliefs about Teaching All Kinds of Minds:

Know everyone can Inspire optimism in the face of learning challenges
Differences are okay Discover and treasure unique learning profiles
Don’t embarrass others Eliminate humiliation, blaming, and labeling of students
Know strengths and weaknesses Leverage strengths and affinities
Take charge of learning Empower students to find success

I put each theme on a piece of chart paper and had my students brainstorm what they thought each statement meant. We then consolidated each list into the set of five promises noted above, which I put on another piece of chart paper for the children to sign as their promise to do their best. The promises were posted at the front of the room for all to see and served as a positive reminder of how our behaviors would help us have a successful school year. This was a great way to start the school year and I could really see my students living out these promises each and every day. I can’t wait to see what my new group of third graders will come up with this year!

All Kinds of Minds is a mark of All Kinds of Minds. 1999-2010 All Kinds of Minds