Lilja Modular & Playground Update


A lot has been happening at Lilja over the last few weeks!  We are busy getting the building prepared for the expansion.  So far, all building expansion projects (including the replacement of hallways, the modular classrooms, the new roof, and the new playground) are well under way!

Although I will be leaving Lilja for a new position in July, I will be responsible for getting the entire project started before I go — in other words, there’s no need to worry!

Update on the New Playground(s)

We are finalizing the plans for the new playground and will send out an update once we have the final drawings from the company with whom we are working.  After collecting feedback from parents, teachers, community members, and our students, we decided to reconsider which equipment would be installed on the new Lilja playground for the 2017-2018 school year.  And, yes, you heard right.  We actually collected feedback from our entire fourth grade who just completed a playground physics project-based learning unit!  Students presented their projects to me just before vacation.  We also invited Mr. Mark Gallagher (the project manager) to come in and speak with Grade 4 students as an expert.  We feel quite confident that the new playground will address everyone’s needs.

Installation of the new playground will happen after the end of the school year and will be ready for the opening of the 2017-2018 school year.

When we started this project, we considered building two separate playground areas: one for students ages 5-12 and one for preschoolers.  In the first stages of exploration, we explored equipment from a company called Themed Concepts. After reviewing the cost of the equipment, however, we determined that the amount of equipment that we could purchase (and stay within our budget) was not enough. In addition, because of the limited equipment that we could purchase, we determined that going with a Themed Concepts playground would require us to build only one playground.

As a result, we decided to explore equipment made by Play & Park Structures.  Play & Park Structures sells equipment that will help us stay within our budget, address stakeholder needs, and possibly return back to the idea of building two distinct playground areas.

We are in the final stage of selecting equipment and I will post an update on this blog as soon as it becomes available.

Modular Update

The modular project is on track to open for the start of next school year. Although we expected that the Kindergarten playground would be removed over April vacation, its removal was delayed but that will not interfere with the project.

The Kindergarten playground will be removed on May 13th.  This means that our Kindergarten students will head out to the “big” playground during the week of May 15th.  We will continue to provide updates in the coming weeks.

Dr. Smith


Incoming Kindergarten Night & Orientation


Two weeks ago, we invited incoming Kindergarten families to visit Lilja for a Kindergarten Information Night. If you were unable to attend the event, you can find a copy of the presentation here:

Incoming Kindergarten Night – LINK PROVIDED

Incoming Kindergarten families will be invited back to Lilja School for orientation on Friday, May 12th.  You can take a look at the schedule here:

Lilja Incoming Kindergarten Orientation – LINK PROVIDED


Lilja School Expansion



On Wednesday, March 8th, Dr. Sanchioni, Ms. Kinkead (Preschool Principal), and I met with families to discuss some of the upcoming projects that will take place at Lilja School.

We have enclosed a copy of the presentation for your review here:

Lilja School Expansion 2017-2018 (link)

During this meeting, we discussed the addition of six classrooms, the reasons for the expansion, and impacts on the existing site. We also discussed the decision to redistrict some of the Bennett-Hemenway students to Lilja due to overcrowding. Next school year, this only impacts Lilja School by 12 students who will attend Lilja Kindergarten. The expansion of our school is a very exciting opportunity since it includes myriad building updates! In subsequent years, we will continue to add one grade each year in order to accommodate our students. This will “roll up” so that in 2017-2018 we will add one Kindergarten, and then in 2018-2019, we will add a First Grade, and so on. The modular classrooms will be placed over the area where the existing Kindergarten playground is and there will be a seamless transition into this area – students do not need to walk “outside” in order to access their classrooms.

Satellite Preschool

Along with the addition of the modular classrooms, Lilja will open a satellite Preschool. This means that two of the modular classrooms will be occupied by the Natick Preschool. While the preschoolers will be “housed” at Lilja School, the preschool classrooms will still be managed by Natick Preschool. If families have questions about the management and operations, they should contact Principal Mary Beth Kinkead. She can be reached at:

Classrooms of the Future

The remaining four modular classrooms will host students in Grades 3 as well as one Kindergarten classroom. These classrooms will be designed as “classrooms of the future.” Families who are interested in seeing what these look like, should look at photos on the slides in our presentation (these are photos of the modular classrooms at Brown School). Our purpose is not to replicate the modular at Brown but, rather, to learn from educators at Brown and improve upon the design in order to meet the needs of diverse learners in this setting. The sky is the limit in these classrooms and teachers will experiment with different technologies, as well as space, levels, and furniture. These classrooms will run as “pilot” classrooms that will be used to inform future classroom configurations at Lilja School.


In addition to these improvements, all of Lilja’s hallways will be replaced over the summer. We are using Lesley University’s “Sidewalk Math” in order to design configurations on the floors that build students’ understanding of number sense. We’ve included a slide in the presentation that has a link for families who want to learn more.

Zen Meditation Garden

We are also converting our courtyard into a Zen Meditation garden which will become a beautiful space where students can read or take a break. This space will be filled with pea stone, the cement “s-curve” bench will be painted blue to appear like water, and we will install two bridges along with plantings and Japanese lanterns. This project will start in April of 2017.


We are thrilled to announce that Lilja School will also have two new playgrounds next school year! We will build two structures; an early childhood playground for preschoolers and kindergarteners and another structure for students in Grades 1-4. Families can view the preliminary renderings in the PTO presentation. Because we would like input into this process, we are inviting families and teachers to participate in a playground meeting on Monday, March 20th at 4:15 PM. This meeting will take place in the Lilja Learning Commons and will last for about an hour.

The project manager of New England Recreation will visit Lilja School’s Fourth Graders on April 5th as part of their Playground Physics Project-Based Learning Unit. This is such a great opportunity for our Lilja Lions to be engaged in an authentic learning experience.

Families who would like to see references, can view them here:

New England Recreation Group (LINK)

In order to ensure that the modular classrooms are ready for the start of the 2017-2018 school year, the existing Kindergarten playground will be removed over April vacation. In order to accommodate our Kindergarten students, the PTO is purchasing Imagination Playground blocks and Mr. DeMayo will put together “recess kits” for Kindergarten students to use. Kindergarten students will also have access to the fields for free play and recess.


Roof Completion

Finally, the rest of the roof will be completed over the summer of 2017. The solar panel project is done and families can view all of Lilja’s solar panels by visiting the presentation. We are so very proud of this project and our ability to reduce Lilja’s carbon footprint!

Other Changes

In addition to these changes, we will convert some of our older classrooms into new office spaces for English Language Learner services, Literacy intervention services, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and ASAP.  Over the summer, we will also remove the office spaces in the cafeteria so that we can fit more students in our lunchroom.

We are really quite excited about all of these updates and our school will look even more beautiful than it already is.  Our Lilja Lions will take even greater pride in their school once it’s complete!

Yours in Education,

Dr. Heather Smith


Dr. Sanchioni Visits the Lilja PTO


Last night, Dr. Sanchioni visited the Lilja PTO to address questions from families about the increase in enrollment across the district, a strategic plan for increasing the amount of technology offered in elementary classrooms, and Let’s Talk!

For families that wish to access the presentation, the link can be found here:

Lilja PTO Presentation from Dr. Sanchioni

Many questions came up from families about a possible expansion at Lilja School that would involve the installation of modulars, like the ones at Brown School.  If School Committee approves this in January, Dr. Sanchioni will hold a community forum at some point in January or February to further discuss the plans.  

In the meantime, Dr. Sanchioni explained that if Lilja does expand into modular classrooms, six classrooms would be added for the 2017-2018 school year.  Though six classrooms may sound like a lot, we do not anticipate that all six classrooms would be occupied by students within the first year. Most likely, two of the six classrooms will be occupied and Lilja would continue to increase its number of classrooms each year, thereafter.

Questions came up about Art, Music, PE, and Library and whether or not the facility can handle the additional classrooms.  The short answer to this question is yes — in fact, our Art, Music, and Library rooms aren’t maxed out and our gymnasium can easily be divided into two distinct instructional areas.  

Between now and January, the Town Engineer will assess the site and the feasibility of whether or not modulars can be successfully installed at our school.  One possibility that was discussed was a demolition of the existing Kindergarten playground (which was built for the preschool that no longer exists at Lilja) in order to install the modulars and an expansion and/or update of the larger playground on the other side of the building.  We will continue to share more information about possibilities being explored once we have more information from the engineers and the facilities department.  

Lilja Roof & Solar Updates


The Lilja roof and solar project is well under way!

As of today, all sections of the Lilja roof which will get solar panels have been replaced!

The next phase of the project is to install the solar panels.  Ameresco has been very cooperative and organized in assisting with this process.

On October 29th, the materials for installation will arrive at Lilja School. They will arrive outside the dismissal area and outside of the gymnasium.

Check out the layout plans here: lilja-site-utilization-plan-rev-1-1

During this time, we ask that families keep students away from the materials sites. They will be marked off with a fence, provided by Ameresco.

During this time, there will be a few restrictions at recess which teachers are aware of. For example, students will have to change the wall where they play “wall  ball.”  We will continue to provide updates throughout this process.

The project is estimated to be complete by winter and our First Graders plan to host a solar party in conjunction with our Sustainability Coordinator and School Council Community Representative Jillian Wilson-Martin.  The First Graders will be studying solar energy as part of a project-based learning unit.

More updates to come!

Welcome Back to Lilja!

Welcome back to Lilja!

This week, we re-opened our doors. Our Lilja Lions could not have been happier and it could not have been a smoother opening to the school year!

We have so much to be grateful for at Lilja this year.  For starters, the roof on our building is in the process of being replaced.  Many families might be curious to know about what’s happening up there!  About half of the roof was replaced just before school opened. Over the next few weeks, the contractors will be completing a few “finishing touches” on the trim work after school hours.  Next, the sections of the roof that were replaced will get solar panels.  This is very exciting since we are looking forward to becoming a “greener” school.  The other half of the Lilja roof will be replaced next year.

Our teachers are engaged in meaningful conversations about deeper learning by planning project-based units of study for students.  On Tuesday, teachers collaborated with their teams to open the conversation about what deeper learning looks like. Here are a few pictures:

Throughout the school year, I will continue to write blogposts about this framework and about this work at Lilja School.

Curriculum Night is coming on September 14 and 15.  Teachers will communicate more about what curriculum night will look in their classroom over the next week.  Families are welcome to attend the Principal’s Welcome but should only come to one of the addresses (they will be the same each night).  If you can not attend the Principal’s Welcome, please know that I will post the presentation on this blog so that families can access it.  I know that may of you are busy people!  Below, you will find the schedule for the evening:

Wednesday 9/14

6:30-6:40 Grade 4 Classroom Tours

6:40-7:10 Grade 4 Teachers & Multiage Teachers (3-4s)

7:10-7:30 Principal’s Welcome to Grade 3 & 4 Families

7:35-7:45 Classroom Tours Grade 3

7:45-8:15 Grade 3 Teachers


Thursday 9/15

6:30-6:40 Kindergarten Classroom Tour (optional)

                   3N Curriculum Night Classroom Tour**

6:40-7:10  Kindergarten Teachers

                  3N Curriculum Night Presentations**

7:10-7:30 Principal’s Welcome to K-2 Families

7:35-7:45 Classroom Tours

7:45-8:15 Multiage Teachers (1-2) & Grades 1 and 2



Missed the Kindergarten Parent Information Night?

Last week, we welcome our incoming Lilja families for Kindergarten Parent Information Night!  If you missed the presentation, here are the slides.

Kindergarten_Orientation_2016.pptx (1)

On Wednesday, April 6th, we held our first round of incoming Kindergarten screenings. The next round will be on April 12th. If your child does not have an appointment, please contact the Main Office and we will help you schedule an appointment for your child. We are so excited for our new pride of Lilja Lions!

The Great Outdoors!

“Outdoor Learning” has been called “Education’s Next Revolution.” (see HERE and articles at below left). Please join us for a program TODAY, Wed. 3/30 from 3:30 to 5 at Wilson Middle School, Natick, with expert Dr. Cheryl Charles, PhD. Dr. Charles is co-founder of the Children & Nature Network (with over 3.8 million members). She will review exciting ways to promote outdoor learning in the classroom to support calm, engaged and happy kids! (Dr. Charles will also be speaking this evening at 7pm to parents)
  • Dr. Charles will discuss the multiple benefits of bringing children into direct contact with nature in a school setting.
  • She will also give practical tips for educators to engage outdoor learning.This contact, she explains, improves creativity, academic performance, and self-esteem while at the same time fostering a greater respect for the Earth.
  • Current outdoor learning opportunities in the Natick Public Schools will be featured and discussed.
  • Hope to see you there. REGISTER here and please watch the amazing 2 minute video below that will inspire you!

Check out this amazing video (which features a few of our Lilja Lions)!

Natick: The Great Outdoors

For families who do not know, Lilja is home to an outdoor classroom and a garden space. Our students (and their teachers) are responsible for its maintenance and care.  Please consider attending this great opportunity from SPARK!


Maker Fair on Tuesday!

A HUGE thank you goes out to all of people who made Tuesday’s maker fair a success! Thank you to Linsey Evans, Becky Moss, and Grace Magley for assisting with the coordination of the morning, and to our PTA for organizing the afternoon!

For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’re attaching some photos.  On Tuesday morning, families came in to check out the maker fair for adults. The event was held in the Learning Commons and families came in throughout the morning to tinker in the space.  The tables were stocked with high tech and low tech design challenges, aimed at providing families with an understanding of the types of activities that can occur inside of a makerspace.  Some Lions (and their younger siblings) visited with moms and dads in the morning while others dropped in throughout the day.

In the afternoon, about 100 Lilja Lions stuck around through the early release day to have pizza, and tinker!  Students rotated in shifts between the Learning Commons where they took on design challenges and the gymnasium where they used  3-D printers.  Our students were fascinated by the 3-D printers and had tons of fun designing their creations.


Students Learn about their Brains at Lilja School!



We are incredibly excited to announce that all Grade 4 classes will be piloting the Mindset Works Brainology curriculum beginning this winter! We are so grateful for the generosity of the Natick Education Foundation, as they approved our grant: Teaching the Brain to Grow: Teaching Students About Motivation, Effort, Perseverance, and Achievement Through Brainology. Our project’s acceptance includes a license for every fourth grader at Lilja School and Chromebrooks to support our implementation of the Brainology blended learning curriculum. We cannot wait to launch this program in the coming weeks!

Brainology is a curriculum that explicitly teaches students about how their brain works, and how they are in control of their learning and actions. The program includes 2.5 hours of instruction broken up into four units that teach about the brain, mindsets, and how to effectively apply the skills taught in each module to become better learners. Brainology’s also comes with access of up to 10 hours of additional classroom activities and its unique curricular design provides the Grade 4 teachers with flexibility to use the program to best match the needs of the students in their classrooms.

The Brainology lessons emphasize the importance of adopting a growth mindset, which is the belief that effective effort and perseverance lead to success. Research has shown that the growth mindset has an incredibly powerful impact on a child’s learning both in and out of the classroom as it results in higher levels of focus, achievement, and resilience ( By showing students how their brains grow and change as new concepts are learned, they will learn that they are capable of achieving anything they put their minds to!

The goal of Teaching the Brain to Grow is to provide students with opportunities to develop 21st century skills such as grit, curiosity, resilience, and self-regulation of metacognition. Our hope is that this program will not only heighten academic achievement levels, but that it will also boost each child’s confidence, strengthen their problem-solving skills and perseverance levels, increase their independence, and prepare them for their future years of schooling and beyond. We feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to pilot Brainology at Lilja School and cannot wait for our students to get started! Stay tuned for an update on student impact in the coming months. Thank you for reading!



Heather Kozin: Grade 4 Teacher

Heather Smith: Lilja School Principal

Standing Desks @ Lilja School




Thanks to a generous PTA donation, a district grant, and strategic planning in our school budget, Lilja is piloting a new initiative that includes one standing desk for every classroom in our school!  Not sure what a standing desk looks like?  Watch a quick 2- minute video about standing desks featured on the Today Show.

Why standing desks?

Recent developments in brain research tell us that students need to move throughout the day in order to stay engaged in learning.  The standing desk provides students with the opportunity to move freely and students report that they can “focus better.”  We are thrilled that we can provide students with this opportunity!


Take a Break Baskets (Practicing Mindfulness at Lilja School)


Last year, Lilja counselors, Elise Molloy and Laura Loftus, and school psychologist Shelby Marscher, piloted classroom lessons to support mindfulness and relaxation techniques in the classroom.  The outcomes from that pilot were very positive and, as a result, the lessons will be extended to all classrooms this year.

Over the course of November and December, Elise, Laura or Shelby will be visiting each classroom at Lilja. They will conduct lessons by reading the book Moody Cow Meditates and by discussing positive strategies for handling the feelings that all students and adults have, such as  anger, sadness, worry, stress and frustration.

The lesson involves giving students tools they can use to take a break (calm down, reduce stress, anger and worries).  These tools are placed in a “Take a Break Basket.”  Each classroom will receive a basket to keep for the year and classroom teachers are designating a section of their classroom to be used as a designated “Take A Break” station.


Some of the tools in the basket consist of stress balls (to squeeze when students are feeling a little angry or stressed), pinwheels (for students to use for deep breathing), and a stuffed animal (in case a student might need to hug a soft friend).  The basket also includes a written reminder of how the items in the basket can be used by students.

Another tool in the basket that students are excited about trying is the Mindfulness Jar.  The jar is referenced in the story and students are taught the basic principles of meditation, in order to support them with calming their bodies and relaxing.


During the lesson students are taught other strategies for calming down and relaxing such as cupcake breathing, counting to 10 on the palm of one hand, and using their hands to squeeze stress/anger out.

We are very excited to bring this lesson and baskets to the Lilja students. Pictured below is an example of what the tools look like in the basket, all of the mindfulness jars that were created, and the book we referenced for the lesson.


Please feel free to contact the counseling office with any questions about these lessons.  

Lilja Lion Pride (a.k.a. PBIS)!

Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS)

What is Positive Behavior Intervention and Support?

PBIS is a well researched and evidence based process for enriching school culture and the learning environment. It focuses on the recognition and reward for desired, positive behaviors in all students. It requires a common vision shared at the individual, classroom, grade, and school wide levels. The mission of Lilja School is to create a supportive, inclusive community that inspires everyone to be learners, reach their full potential, and become respectful, empowered citizens.  Our Core Values create a community of Responsible, Respectful, Kind, and Engaged Learners.

  • PBIS is not a curriculum – it is a framework to identify needs, develop strategies, and evaluate practice toward success.
  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports is a process for teaching children appropriate behavior and providing the supports necessary to sustain that behavior.

What does PBIS look like at our school?

The PBIS process is a method of teaching and reinforcing rules and expectations for our students. Any student, classroom, or grade that is “caught” being Respectful, Responsible, Kind, and/or showing Engaged Learning is awarded a Pride paw. At Lilja, PBIS is developed by a PBIS leadership team made up of a classroom teacher from each grade level, the school psychologist, a guidance counselor, a learning center teacher, specialist, a paraprofessional, and the school principal. The practices themselves are used by everyone at Lilja, including lunch monitors, office staff, etc.  

Within classrooms teachers are recognizing these positive behaviors and thereby promoting positive, active learning throughout the day. Additionally, students help to explain/understand the core values and practice expectations with their teachers in the specific area (hallway, recess, cafeteria, etc). These core values are also reinforced with visuals throughout the school and verbally by all staff.  The core values are also directly taught by classroom teachers in the settings where the expectation should be shown.  An example of part of a lesson is below:

Example: RECESS

How can we show kindness at recess:

  • Asking a classmate if they would like to play

How can we show respect at recess:

  • Lining up when the whistle is blown

How can we be responsible at recess:

  • Reporting DD behavior to a teacher

Tell me more about Pride Paws!

  • Paws are awarded by everyone to anyone! A child does NOT have to be in a teacher’s class to be recognized by them!
  • Paws can be awarded to individual students, to the classroom as a whole, or even to the grade level.
  • Paws are collected by the child’s classroom teacher and tallied on a weekly basis.
  • The school works together towards a goal to earn a Positive Reward examples could be extra recess, popsicle day, talent show, etc.

If you have questions about Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, please feel free to contact your child’s teacher. We look forward to a wonderful year of teaching our students and helping them to become a community of Responsible, Respectful, Kind, and Engaged Learners.

Co-Teaching at Lilja School: What is it and how does it look?


At Lilja School, we’ve been working hard to ensure that we can offer as many co-taught classrooms as possible. However, we only have so many special educators to go around!  This year, we have two co-taught classrooms – one in Grade 3 (3SH) and one in Grade 4 (4KD).  We are also working on fostering a co-teaching collaboration between Mrs. Cronin and Ms. Gilgore in Grade 2.   

Co-teaching is a model for inclusion.  Inclusion is not new to Lilja and, in fact, most of the classrooms at Lilja School are considered “inclusive” classrooms.  The inclusive classroom offers students the “least restrictive environment” and is described by Yell (2010) as such:

“The terms least restrictive environment, inclusion, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably. They are not, however, synonymous concepts. Least restrictive environment refers to the IDEA’s mandate that students with disabilities should be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with peers without disabilities. The LRE mandate ensures that schools educate students with disabilities in integrated settings, alongside students with and without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate. Least restrictive environment is not a particular setting.”

It is considered one of the most effective practices in Special Education and students in General Education also benefit from the co-taught classroom.  Co-teaching dramatically minimizes the student-to-teacher ratio in the classroom, allowing teachers to devote more time to differentiating instruction for all students.  

Co-teaching is also not new to Lilja. In fact, this is the third year of co-teaching at Lilja School!  What some families may have noticed this year, however, is that we’ve been able to implement co-teaching in Grades 3 and 4 and have changed the names of these classrooms to “3SH” and “4KD.”  4KD, for example, stands for Kozin and Dermody.  We changed these names as a symbolic gesture so that it does not appear that there is one teacher who is “more important” than another.  
Families who want to read more about the co-teaching model can visit the website:  

Curriculum Night at Lilja 2015

curriculum night

Curriculum Night is a wonderful opportunity to visit your child’s classroom, to observe your child’s learning environment, and to meet your child’s teacher.  Teachers spend a great deal of time preparing for the evening to ensure that they can give you the most comprehensive overview of your child’s day that they can.  Often times, teachers discuss key aspects of the curriculum that will be taught, what a typical day looks like for your child(ren), how to best communicate, and what to do in the event of a concern.

Given that Curriculum Night provides families with an overview of the year, we ask that parents reserve specific comments or questions about their child(ren) to another time.  For example, if you are concerned about your child’s reading rate, you will want to reach out to your child’s teacher directly to discuss.  

We will hold Curriculum Night on September 16th and September 17th but the evening has been restructured slightly in order to accommodate a Principal’s welcome.  Your child’s teacher will reach out to you in order to give you a more detailed schedule for the evening.

The Principal’s Welcome will be the same each night so there is no need to worry about attending each one.  In fact, we ask that families only attend one, as space is limited.   You are welcome to attend whichever “welcome” best fits into your schedule.  If you are a Kindergarten parent but prefer to attend the September 17th Principal’s Welcome, for example, that is absolutely okay!

Due to space challenges, we ask that children do not attend this event.  The PTA has generously offered to provide babysitting on both nights.  Babysitting will take place in the Cafeteria.  Please feel free to take advantage of this generous service.  

We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday 9/16

6:20-6:30  Kindergarten Classroom Tour

6:30-7:00   Kindergarten Teachers

7:05 – 7:35  Principal’s Welcome to K-2 Families in the Library

7:35-8:05   Multiage Teachers (1-2s)

7:40-8:10   Grades 1 and 2 Teachers

Thursday 9/17

6:20-6:30  Classroom Tours (Grades 3 and 4)

6:30-7:00  Grade 3 Teachers & Multiage Teachers (3-4)

7:05-7:35  Principal’s Welcome to Grades 3 & 4 Families in the Library

7:35-7:45 Classroom Tours Grade 4

7:45-8:15 Grade 4 Teachers

Welcome Back Lilja!


Welcome back to an exciting year of school at Lilja!  We are so thrilled to see everyone come back and welcome all of our new families!

Our teachers have been busy designing ways to encourage our Lions to think creatively, to work collaboratively, to communicate effectively, and to be critical thinkers who are curious about the world in which they live.  Together, we will continue to live and breathe our mission to create a supportive, inclusive community that inspires everyone to be learners, reach their full potential, and become respectful, empowered citizens.

We will continue to partner with families by inviting parents in for events throughout the year. Be sure to read the e-blast and check our PTA calendar for upcoming events.  Curriculum Nights will be held on September 16th and September 17th this year.  A detailed schedule will be published within the week.  

As you enter the grounds, you will notice that our campus has been beautified with a new landscape! We would like to sincerely thank our generous PTA and the Hammel Brothers for doing such a wonderful job.  And we would like to THANK YOU, families, for supporting this effort through the PTA!
I look forward to partnering you to ensure that Lilja students have the best education possible.

Looking for Some Helping Hands in Our Beautiful Gardens


We are looking for families to come by and visit the burgeoning Lilja Gardens!

We are looking for folks who can come by to water both the vegetable and the butterfly gardens and refill bird baths. The garden areas are behind the school, adjacent to the Math Works field.   Please garden both the upper garden (near the 1/2s) and the lower garden (near the playground).

Please water all plants in the ground, giving some extra attention to the plants in pots.   Families should plan to bring their own watering cans and use the water in the rain barrels.  If there is no water in the rain barrels, please ask Mr. Tim for a water key, and he can turn the hose on and/or refill the barrels if he’s available.

Families who water are welcome to enjoy food that is ripe and ready to eat. We encourage visitors to identify and pluck weeds, which can go over the silver fence. Please bring friends and neighbors to enjoy the garden over the summer; please refrain from stepping on plants or picking not-yet-ripe produce.

Families who can assist can sign up here on SignUpGenius!  Families should plan to visit the building between 8:00-3:30 if they will use the water key.

Thanks so much!

Literacy Night at Lilja

K-buddy reading

Thank you to our families for coming out on Literacy Night on Wednesday night!  Families that missed the PTA meeting can visit some of the presentation links by going here:

Overview of Literacy Model

Meaningful Reading with Your Child

Reading at Home

Finding Just Right Books

A BIG thank you goes out to Ms. MaryLynne Gyster (Literacy Specialist) and Ms. Jennifer Hirsch (Kindergarten Teacher) for setting up literacy tables, speaking with families about how to support reading instruction, and for preparing materials.

Announcing: Move to Learn at Lilja School!


Recently, our school embarked upon the “Lilja Move to Learn Program.”  Physical activity cards have been obtained from and printed to create activity ‘stations’.  These physical activity stations have been positioned around the school for students and staff to use when doing a movement/brain/body break, throughout the day!

Exercise and movement have been shown to support learning.  In his book Spark:  The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Ratey describes how exercise can improve learning: First it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cell in the hippocampus.(Ratey & Haggerman, 2008, p.53).  The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is primarily involved in memory and learning.

At Lilja, we want to support learning by providing students with productive, exciting ways to include more movement into their days.  In order to demonstrate the physical activities on each card, we asked for volunteers from our 4th grade classes.  Many students volunteered and we had a drawing to see who would create a video.  The students did a wonderful job showing the staff and students our “Lilja Move to Learn Program.”  We hope you enjoy watching them and perhaps might want to create a Lilja Move to Learn Program at your home, as well!

Thank you again to our wonderful 4th grade volunteers: Rachel, Michael, Luke, Ryan, Maddie, James, Chloe, and Natalie–they did a fantastic job!

And a huge thank you to Ms. Molloy, Ms. Marscher, Ms. Loftus, and Ms. McKenna (our Counseling Intern) for bringing this program to Lijla School!


  1. John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman,  Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Little Brown, New York, 2008, page 53

School Attendance

happy kids

Public education in the commonwealth of Massachusetts has always been and continues to be a top priority of the state and its residents. State leaders recognized the importance of education in 1780 when they drafted the constitution and they continue to recognize it today in their ongoing efforts to provide a world class education for our children. While there are many things people don’t agree on, most folks get behind the idea that going to school and engaging in a great education is one of the fundamental building blocks of long term success.  While a healthy school culture and great teaching are critical, a child must attend school to enjoy the benefits of public education.


To that end, the Massachusetts legislature mandates school attendance and sets very clear parameters for how schools maintain attendance and how they must respond when students do not attend school. Based upon those parameters, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education specifies regulations for local school districts and from there school committees and districts set policies that will implement the laws and regulations set forth by the state. Natick’s policies can be found using this link. The policies lay out how we manage attendance at the district and building level. The following paragraphs summarize and spell out some of the information contained within that policy.


What is an excused absence?


The Natick Public Schools recognizes that unforeseen illnesses and extraordinary circumstances necessitate absences. The Natick School Committee has designated the following circumstances as excused absences:

  1.     Illness or quarantine (Absences of 5 or more consecutive days require a physician’s certificate for readmission to school)
  2. Bereavement or serious illness in family
  3. Weather so inclement as to endanger the health of any child
  4. Observations of major religious holidays
  5. Other exceptional reasons with the approval of the school principal

In the event of a planned absence or tardiness, the parent must provide advanced written notice to the school.  In the event of unforeseen absences or tardiness, the parent must call the school as soon as it is determined a child will be absent or tardy.

What if I’m taking my child out of the country or on a long vacation?


There is no replacement for loss of instruction.Should a parent choose to keep a student out of school for reasons other than illness or excused situations, the school will not assume responsibility for either preparing lessons in advance for the student or providing individual tutoring or extensive individual help for the student when he or she returns.  It will be the responsibility of the student and the parent to identify work that may be missed.  While teachers will provide the normal range of assistance, it is the student’s responsibility for making up work.


What can families expect?


Families should expect to be notified if their child has reached or exceeded the number of absences commensurate with Chapter 76, section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws.

Recurring, unexcused absences compromise the learning and well-being of children. When a child accrues extensive, unexcused absences, parents may expect any or all of the following action to be taken:

  1. Phone call or letter home informing families of excessive absences
  2. Meeting with the principal to discuss absences
  3. Home visit by school resource officer
  4. Court involvement for truancy
  5. Referral for home assessment


The policy can be found on the Natick Public Schools website by clicking here.

Natick is Ready For PARCC


On Thursday evening, the Elementary Principals and Dr. Anna Nolin (Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation) met with Natick families to talk about shifts in the Common Core State Standards, upcoming changes to the ROSP (Report of Student Progress) and the PARCC assessment.   One of our primary goals during this presentation was to help families better understand how Natick continues to prepare students for college and career readiness.

Families can access the presentation which includes links to resources:  Elementary PARCC-CCSS Presentation January 8, 2015.  If you have difficulty accessing the links, you can also find the links here:

Office of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Website (new!)

PARCC website (roam and explore)

TenMarks website (check with your child or your child’s teacher if you need help logging in)

Parent Toolkit


As many parents are aware by now, Natick students will take the PARCC assessment this spring.  Principals and faculty are engaged in an intensive planning process to ensure that students are equipped with the requisite skills in order to take the assessment with ease.  Our primary goal in preparing students is to give them the confidence they need in order to take the assessment on our school iPads.  We can do this by equipping students with the technological skills that will prepare all students for learning in the 21st century.

With that being said, we also want families to be aware that this is a learning process for all of us. This year, schools that are taking the PARCC are “held harmless” which means that our students’ scores will not effect our “Level 1” status classified by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In late February, students at Lilja School will take a practice assessment during the school day.  By simulating the testing conditions, this will give students exposure to the assessment, will give teachers the experience of proctoring the assessment, and administrators the opportunity to “troubleshoot” with the technology so that we can ensure things run seamlessly on test day.   Families can expect to learn more about this through their child(ren)’s teacher(s).  There are two testing windows for the PARCC (more information can be found in the presentation slides).  In scheduling the PARCC, we will do all that we can to ensure that the schedule minimally impacts time on learning for students throughout the school.  Below, you will find the dates for each of the assessments:


Performance Based Assessments

Grade 3 Performance Based Assessment Dates

March 17th – Literary Analysis: 75 min.

March 18th – Research Simulation: 75 min.

March 19th – Narrative Writing: 60 min.

March 24th – Math Session 1: 75 min.

March 25th – Math Session 2: 75 min.

Grade 4 Performance Based Assessment Dates

March 31st – Literary Analysis: 75 min.

April 1st – Research Simulation: 90 min.

April 2nd – Narrative Writing: 60 min.

April 8th – Math Session 1: 80 min.

April 9th – Math Session 2: 70 min.

End of Year Assessments

Grade 3 End of Year Assessment Dates

May 12th – ELA Unit 1: 75 min

May 13th – Math Unit 1: 75 min

May 14th – Math Unit 2: 75 min

Grade 4 End of Year Assessment Dates

May 4th – ELA Unit 1: 75 min

May 6th – Math Unit 1: 75 min

May 7th – Math Unit 2: 75 min

Students scheduled to take the MCAS alternative assessment will still do so this year.  If families have questions about this assessment, they may contact their child’s teacher, the Principal, or our Assistant Director of Pupil Services Paul Tagliapietra (

Principal’s Student Advisory Council



This week, students on the Principal’s Advisory Council met together (with their gracious Principal who was so impressed with their advocacy skills) to talk about hopes and dreams for Lilja School and give some advice about the playground, the halls, and the Cafeteria.  We had a great conversation and students had great suggestions. Towards the end of our meeting, we decided that we wanted to start a student corner on the Principals’ Blog to share thoughts and ideas so….welcome to the Lions’ Den!

Stay tuned for our student bloggers posts!  You can visit the Lions’ Den page here.




November Coffee Hour



Thank you to all of our families who came out for our first coffee hour with the Principal!  A special thank you goes out to Kyla P’an for hosting the first one and for bringing the bagels, fruit and coffee!

“Coffee hours with the Principal” give us an opportunity to chat in a relaxed and informal setting.  There is no scheduled agenda — just an opportunity to get to know one another, ask questions, share thoughts and enjoy one another’s company.  This week, we talked about everything from our Thanksgiving Day plans, to Paw Prints, to the cafeteria and more.  Having a chance to sit down and talk gives me an opportunity to hear directly from families as well as answer any burning questions that people have.  Here are a few points that came up during this week’s coffee hour:

Lilja Lion Paw Prints

A question arose about how we use the Paw Prints at Lilja School and whether or not they can be taken away.  Students earn Paw Prints for their class by demonstrating our core values: respect, responsibility, kindness, and engaged learning.  Once a student earns a Paw Print, it is theirs to cherish and keep.  We will celebrate meeting our first school wide goal of 3,000 Paw Prints by having a Wacky Hat Day on December 2nd (so don’t put those Halloween chests away just yet)!  As we continue to meet our school-wide goals, we will continue to celebrate in a number of ways.  We will announce these celebrations to families through teacher newsletters and our e-blast, as well as communicate them to students during our All-School Assemblies which we hold monthly.

Giving out Paw Prints is about building relationships with students, about catching kids doing things right (rather than focusing on correcting behaviors), and about supporting our school-wide positive behavior supports plan.  To date, we have offered two presentations for parents on school-wide behavior supports.  Families who could not attend may view the presentations on the Principal’s blog. Families who are interested in learning more about the PBIS model can visit


The Cafeteria

A couple of questions came up regarding the volume levels of the cafeteria and assigned table seating.  This presented a great opportunity to clarify what we expect of students at that time.  Students look forward to spending time socializing with their friends during lunch. This time presents great opportunities for students to build relationships and blow off some steam.  Our cafeteria is a lively place where students spend 30 minutes of their day. Included here are the expectations that our PBIS Lilja Lion Pride Leadership Team came up with in collaboration with Lilja teachers:


Value Cafeteria
Respect Eat your lunch

Stay Seated

Raise your hand if you need help

Leave a clean table

Responsibility Use a partner voice

Be silent when an adult is speaking

Throw away your trash when you are all done

Kindness Include others in conversation

Use “Please” and “Thank you”

The Lilja Cafeteria has assigned tables, though students do not have assigned seats. While this has been a practice for a number of years, a parent raised a concern about where students are sitting in the lunchroom and inquired if we might open up seating for students in the upper grades.  I informed that group that I will bring this to our Faculty Advisory Council and to the PBIS Leadership Team to open it up for discussion.

Thanks again to our families for being there!  We look forward to seeing some of you at the next Coffee Hour on December 16th at 4:15 PM at Lilja School. I look forward to seeing you there!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family and friends.

School Improvement Plans

Natick N

Natick Elementary School Improvement Plan 2014-2015

School Improvement Plans

One of the primary responsibilities of the school council is to support the principal in developing an annual School Improvement Plan (SIP). The SIP is a document that captures the current performance of the school, identifies the needs of the school, and sets goals to address those needs.

In Natick, principals work as a team to develop goals and programming that provide Natick students with equitable access to learning opportunities.  In coordinating these efforts, elementary principals develop an annual school improvement plan that takes into account district needs as well as needs at the building level.  As such,


What We’re Working on This Year

The Elementary School Improvement Plan reflects our efforts towards educating the “whole” child.  We recognize that developing social, emotional, and behavioral competency is equally as important as developing academic skills.  Students who attend schools that support universal instruction in these areas experience higher achievement.


District Goal: Student Growth

This year will mark the first time that all of the Natick Elementary Schools will take the PARCC assessment.  The PARCC is aligned to the Common Core State Standards and will measure whether students are on track towards being college and career ready.  The PARCC assessment presents many new challenges in both content and administration. Across the district, our work will focus on ensuring that our curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices are aligned to these new assessments and support student growth and success.


District Goal: Technology Implementation

Over the past few years, Natick elementary schools have piloted mobile technologies to assess and understand their place in the elementary learning environment. These pilots have demonstrated great success and we are prepared to build on these successes during the 2014-2015 school year.  Each elementary classroom (K-4) has been equipped with 5 mobile devices to support student engagement and learning.  Through the pilot programs, Natick has developed teacher leaders who are prepared to lead and support their colleagues in bringing these technologies into their practice.


District Goal: Wellness

Academics is only one part of a child’s education. It is important that out teachers focus on social, physical, and emotional development as well. This is sometimes referred to as educating the “whole child.” This year elementary faculty and staff will research mindfulness awareness practices (or MAPs) in classrooms. The goal of this research is to better understand how we can support the intrapersonal skill development that supports effective learning and development.  MAPs have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression as well as help children develop critical executive functioning skills such as emotional regulation, behavioral regulation, attentional control and mental flexibility.

Lilja School: PBIS

Lilja School is in its first year of School-wide Positive Behavior Supports planning.  As such, we are focused on delivering tier-one systems of behavior support for students. This means that we are focused on articulating common expectations for students, a system for recognizing positive pro-social behaviors, developing common protocols for handling behavior supports for students.  Research has shown that schools with PBIS practices promote higher levels of student achievement, develop positive relationships between students and staff, and elevate school culture by working towards common goals.  Our PBIS lessons, expectations, and reinforcement plans are led by a team of teachers from each grade level, the learning center, paraprofessionals, specialists, counselors, the school psychologist and the building principal.


Lilja School: Family Engagement

At Lilja School, we are committed to promoting positive relationships by working together.  School and home partnerships are the key to student success. As such, we will work towards increasing opportunities for family engagement and the Lilja School Council will work towards monitoring our progress in reaching this goal.  Throughout the school year, we will work towards improving communication with families, increasing opportunities to engage in dialogue about our collective hopes and dreams for our Lilja Lions, and coming together as a community around a common purpose: giving our students access to high quality instruction and connecting them to one another and to their community.

Bright Bytes Survey


This year the Natick Public Schools have engaged Bright Bytes to provide ongoing, comprehensive evaluation of technology implementation K-12. This evaluation will encompass the perceptions of students, faculty, and parents. Data collected through these surveys will provide the district with feedback across four important domains reflecting best practices in technology implementation.



The 4Cs

Digital Citizenship


Assistive Technology


Teachers at Home

Teachers at School

Students at Home

Students at School






The 3Ps (Policies, Practices, Procedures)


Professional Learning


To conduct the evaluation Bright Bytes utilizes a series of brief surveys. Students in grades 3 and 4 will be surveyed in the first week of October during the school day. Student surveys will take approximately 15 minutes. The surveys are anonymous and do not collect any personal information from your children. Surveys for families can be completed anytime after September 29th using the following link. 

Dragon Dictation


Posted By: Ms. Smith & Mr. Kelly (Principal, Bennett-Hemenway)

Dragon Dictation is a free application that allows students to dictate directly into the iPad.  It turns speech into text allowing users to copy and paste text into just about any document!  Students can use this to dictate their writing, experiment with syntax, and build oral fluency.  Parents also might be interested Dragon’s text messaging features for smartphones!  The application is free.  You can learn more about it here:

Take a look at the video here:

And download the app here:

Technology in the Natick Elementary Schools


Posted By: Ms. Heather L. B. Smith, M.Ed. & Mr. Ian Kelly, M.Ed. (Principal, Bennett-Hemenway)

This year the Natick elementary schools are scaling up the classroom deployment of mobile devices. Over the past five years schools have implemented these devices to explore how they might enhance learning opportunities for students. Through these small scale classroom applications our faculty and staff have learned a great deal about how to successfully use mobile technologies in the classroom. As a results, every classroom will be equipped with five iPads to enhance and supplement the learning environment. Over the summer these iPads were outfitted with a common set of applications that really work for kids. This series of posts will highlight different applications that are in use in Natick classrooms and provide parents with useful information about how they can use these applications at home.

This week we are going to start with a basic but powerful application called ScreenChomp. ScreenChomp turns the iPad into a tool that students and teachers can use to show what they know and support one another through the learning process. Check out the following videos to get an overview and a how to:

The First Weeks of School

Post By: Ms. Smith & Mr. Kelly

School is back in session and all of our students are here and having a great time with their teachers and all of our support staff. Classrooms are getting up and running and this is a subject that parents often ask a lot of questions about. What happens during the first few weeks of school? It would be easy to just say “Magic!” But that is surely an oversimplification of what is an incredibly complex process.

Community Building

Community building is arguably one of the most critical tasks that teachers undertake during the first six weeks of school. The extent to which students engage in teaching and learning is a function of the healthy learning environment that teachers and students create together in the first few days and weeks of the school year.

Effective learning communities are founded on a few basic principles. These include:

Shared Vision: A common and shared vision of why we are here, what we are here to do and how the classroom will operate in order to achieve those ends.

Rules and Routines: A common and shared understanding of the rules and routines that will govern classroom operation. These rules and routines are developed collaboratively. Teachers lead the process and students participate in their development.

Strong Relationships: Teachers and students develop strong individual relationships founded on mutual understanding and respect.

Ownership: In coming to respect the classroom environment and understand the people they share the classroom with, children develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for the learning environment.

It is important for parents and families to understand that this is an incredibly important time of year and the focus is on building a classroom climate that is highly conducive to learning and growth. To do so teachers focus the majority of their time during the first few weeks on community building, routine setting, and expectations. Over time this creates a situation in which teachers spend less and less time on management of the classroom and more and more time on teaching and learning.

Expectations and routines are the tools that teachers use to operationalize the community described above.Behavioral expectations are what we think of as rules. These positive statements govern how we interact with the other members of our classroom and school community.

Behavioral expectations in classrooms are meant to provide students with general operating procedures that give guidance in the many settings and interactions students encounter throughout the day. This is why many classroom behavioral expectations include some formulation of the golden rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” These types of open ended behavioral expectations are most beneficial to children because they require consideration, choice, and reflection on the part of the child.

Consideration, choice, and reflection operate in the cycle of developing and refining human behavior. The open ended behavioral expectations that we described above provide the opportunities that children need to continue the process of internalizing this orientation to their behavior.

When making choices, the child must consider how they would want to be treated before acting (most of our youngsters are just in the beginning stages of developing this skill). The consideration of self in thinking about others is key to developing empathy and a sense of responsibility. As we have all seen with young children, the ability to control impulses is a skill that takes thousands of hours of practice (and an ocean of parent’s patience) to develop. Consideration is one of the underlying skills that supports the child’s ability to inhibit their impulses and make positive choices.

The notion of choice is key. Children (and adults) make thousands of choices every day and they are responsible for those choices. The concept of choice is often a difficult one for children to begin to grasp early on in their lives. You will often hear pre-school and primary age students say things like, “She made me do it.” Obviously this is not the case and supporting children in developing internal responsibility for the choices they make is an exercise that takes many years. Broad, open ended behavioral expectations provide opportunities for practice and learning.

Reflection is an integral element of the behavioral development and learning process. Helping children to reflect upon and consider the impact rather than the behavior is where the real learning lives. Asking a child to reflect on a poor choice is so important. Instead of demanding that a child share a toy, ask them “How would you feel if ______ chose not to share with you? How do you think you are making ______ feel when you choose not to share with them?” Few children will intentionally choose to continue a behavior that is hurting another person. Having these discussions on the good side of the behavioral continuum is equally important as this builds confidence and engenders future success. “You chose to share your toy today! How does that make you feel? How do you think ________ feels because you shared?”


Establishing routines takes time, practice, and skill. For children to feel safe and secure, it is important that they experience a certain level of “order” and structure in their routine. It is equally important that these routines are consistent so that children know what to expect. Many of our children already have some routines established at home; from brushing their teeth before bed or going to sleep at a set time, routines help our children develop important executive functioning skills that foster independence.

Developing independence builds confidence in children, and when
children are confident in themselves, they are highly motivated to learn. Teachers often involve children in the development of these routines and spend a significant portion of the early school days, helping children learn the routines for these reasons.

From learning how to enter school, going from their classroom to Specials, entering the cafeteria, exiting the cafeteria, going out to recess, discovering how to ask for the nurse or the bathroom, to learning silent signals and how to participate in class, or how to exit the building, children have so many routines to learn during the first few weeks of school! Just think of how difficult it was to adjust to the new morning routine, to waking up early, getting ready and having breakfast. Now they have more adjustments and more routines to learn!

During these first few weeks of school, these adjustments can be tiring for children. The good news, however, is that when practiced over time, they benefit our children immensely.

Keep Those Summer Skills Sharp!

District-Wide Summer Reading Expectations and Elementary Math/Science Enrichment Resources
Dear Families:
Ample research exists to show that students benefit from continuing to build reading and math skills by practicing throughout the summer, combating summer regression or backsliding of skills.  Natick educators have assembled key academic experiences that will keep students thinking and growing but respect the freedom and importance of summer play!  Summer reading is required and students will be expected to write and discuss the books and texts in their ELA classes in August. Copies of the texts are available at the Morse Library and many title are also available digitally.
Elementary School
Click the below link to enjoy a variety of resources in math, reading, science and social studies.
A letter will be sent to home via your child’s actual backpack with Scholastic Reading program logins for your child.  This letter will arrive in the coming weeks.  If you have not received it by June 15th, please contact the school’s front office.
Middle School
This year, middle school literacy staff have chosen a fiction and non-fiction read in order to address the Common Core State Standard’s expectations for greater amounts of informational non-fiction to be present in students’ worlds.  Wisely, the group chose to focus on study/executive functioning skills as a means to combating stress and anxiety in these informational texts.These texts help to grow your child’s mind and mindfulness (and nourish the soul)!
Reading and writing expectations are in your school’s virtual backpack.
Keep those math skills sharp!
High School Summer Reading–click here!


Lilja Lion Pride!


Have your Lilja Lions mentioned anything about Lilja Lion pride?  Have you been to school and noticed quieter lines?  Or maybe you’ve noticed some of the new visuals in the halls?

Our Lions have been learning about what respect, responsibility, kindness, and engagement look like as they’re walking through the halls with their classmates.  As teachers work with students, they are looking to reinforce positive behavior by acknowledging when Lions are demonstrating our core values and by “tallying” opportunities when they’ve demonstrated them in the halls.

Together, we’re working towards the goal of earning a “Backwards Day.”  If Lions earn enough “tally marks” we’ll have Backwards Day before the year ends.  You can view an overview of the presentation to School Council here:


This is part of our school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention Supports plan and is our first “roll-out” intended to provide students, faculty, and staff with an overview of what it may look like in the fall.  Next year, we plan to implement a more comprehensive system of tiered behavior supports for all students and the PBIS team will provide an overview for parents at Curriculum Night in the fall!  For those who want to learn more about PBIS, you can visit the national website by clicking here.

Classroom Placement


Throughout the month of May, the faculty and staff at Lilja School engage in the rigorous process of constructing classes for the 2014-2015 school year. Classroom composition plays an important role in the success of every child and we invest a great deal of time and energy into this process. While the highest priority is ensuring the success of each unique child, balancing classrooms is critical to ensuring success for all of our . To ensure that classrooms are balanced, we look at a number of variables when creating classes. The following list provides an overview of some of those key variables:


  • Previous Classroom Placements
  • Study Habits
  • Independence
  • Leadership Skills
  • Attention, Focus, and Executive Functioning Skills
  • Family Needs/Variables
  • Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competency
  • Individual Education Plans
  • Intervention Plans
  • 504 Plans
  • Speech and Language needs
  • Occupational Therapy needs
  • Physical Therapy needs
  • Health concerns
  • Literacy needs (i.e. decoding, fluency, comprehension, etc)
  • Numeracy needs (i.e. computation skills, concepts and applications, etc)
  • Intervention Plans
  • Learner “Styles” and other needs, as determined by teacher(s)


These needs are not in order of priority. We take each of them into account and look at the needs of learners holistically.

When determining placements, there are a number of faculty and staff who participate in the process. Classroom placement teams consist of grade-level teachers, school counselors, the Literacy Specialist, the Principal, specialists and special education providers. We also take into consideration input and concerns brought to the attention of the Principal.

Our number one priority is to set up every child for success. As such, we value the input of grade-level teachers as they can “speak to” the needs of individual learners. During the last week of May, the placement teams begin generating these class lists. The teams continue to refine them throughout early June and classroom placements are finalized and announced on the last day of school. On the last day of school, students will participate in “Sneak Preview Day” where they will have the opportunity to meet their next teacher and “step up” to the next grade. Families will find the name of next year’s teacher on the ROSP (Report of Student Progress).

(Incoming) Kindergarten Orientation


Kindergarten Orientation

Friday, May 16, 2014

The process of introducing your child to Lilja and the Kindergarten experience is one of the most enjoyable projects we work on all year! We have been looking forward to this for quite some time!

On Friday, May 16th, you and your child will visit Lilja School and meet with the Kindergarten teachers. Please plan on the visit lasting for 45 minutes. We ask that you meet us in the front lobby of the school. At the appointed time, the Kindergarten teachers will greet you in the lobby and lead the children to one of our Kindergarten classrooms. The children will spend time together in the classroom where the teachers have planned a number of activities.

Be sure to prepare your child for this separation so s/he is not taken by surprise. Even with preparation, some children may have difficulty separating from their parents. Please know that the teachers, counselor and other staff members will be in the room to support your child.

The purpose of the orientation is to provide your child with a brief introduction to the school – a positive experience as part of our overall transition to Kindergarten. Teachers will have a chance to observe your child while s/he interacts with others.

Parents will convene in the cafeteria/library while they wait for their child and will have a chance to learn a little more about the school. The School Counselor, Elise Molloy will talk about our Open Circle Program that helps children develop social competency. Nurse Rahn will be on hand to update you about medication policies and necessary physical examinations and immunization documents required for public school enrollment. At the conclusion of the orientation activity, the children will join their parents/guardians in the cafeteria/library for dismissal.

Each family received a flyer indicating your child’s assigned visitation time on May 16th. If you need to adjust your child’s visit, please call Betty Aucoin at (508) 647-6570 or email her at

We are so excited to welcome your child to Lilja School!



Heather L. B. Smith



New Arrival/Dismissal Plan at Lilja


Effective on April 28th, Lilja will have a new arrival and dismissal plan!  Families will no longer exit through Sargent Field.  Instead, the traffic pattern will be reversed. Parents will enter through the Sargent Field lot and exit via Oak Street.

Families will still have access to a passing lane after they drop off their children.

The change is long overdue, according to many Lilja families.  The new plan attempts to resolve the congestion out on Oak Street, move cars in and out of the lot more efficiently and minimize the number of cars that wait in the road while keeping out Lilja Lions safe!

The PTA has graciously volunteered to send volunteers over to help families become acquainted with the new system.

Revised Parent Pick Up Map

Lilja Auction


Did you know that the Lilja Auction only happens once every two years?

The Lilja Silent/Live Auction is coming up!  This year’s auction will be held at the Wellesley College Club on Friday, April 11th at 7:00 P.M.  Please make every to attempt to join us!  We’re hoping for a GREAT turn-out!

Tickets will ONLY be sold through Eventbrite and CANNOT be purchased at the door. Please click on the ticket link below. Ticket sales will end on Thursday, April 10th. If you do not want to use a credit card you still need to purchase tickets on Eventbrite. Please select check instead of credit card on the drop down box and submit your check to the Lilja PTA by Wednesday, April 9th. For any questions on ticket sales please contact Christine Kingdon.

Working Well in Groups

Posted By: Heather L. B. Smith, M.Ed. & Ian Kelly, M.Ed.

In our last post, we focused on independent work skills and provided guidance as to how families can support the development of those skills. In this post, we continue to focus on skills identified by the ROSP and turn our attention to working well in groups.

The ability to work well in a group is a life skill that takes time for children to master but is one that will take them beyond the walls of the classroom.  As with learning any new skill, “failure” is an important part of this process.  Children have to take social risks in order to learn from their mistakes.  No matter how well we try to prepare our children, there are things that they have to learn for themselves.  Navigating social relationships and working with others towards a common goal is simply one of those things.

Embedded Skills

Social negotiation:  Social negotiation is the ability to try to understand another person’s perspective and compromise, when appropriate.

Self-regulation: Children learn how to regulate and manage their emotions by learning strategies to deal with them.


Social negotiation: The art of negotiation is a skill that we want all children to develop.  Depending on whether or not your child has siblings, you are likely observing social negotiations every day at home (and maybe sometimes you act as the arbitrator)!  When your child is at school working collaboratively in a group, she is learning how to work with others towards a common goal and work through conflicts along the way.  In school, we try to teach children about the roles they can play in the process by assigning them “roles” to perform within a group.  For example, we might tell students that one student is responsible for keeping the group on task while another might be the “peacekeeper” etc.  One of the reasons that young children take time to learn these skills is due to their cognitive development.  According to Piaget, children remain in an egocentric (or preoperational) stage of development until about age 7 (one in which they focus on themselves and have difficulty taking on someone else’s perspective).  This doesn’t mean that they are incapable of understanding how another person feels but does mean that they need a good deal of coaching from caring adults who can ask good questions and help them try to identify another person’s perspective.  Asking questions such as: “How do you think your friend feels about this?”  or “How would you feel if you were in this situation?” can help.  If they are playing with another peer and encounter conflict, you might try to help them find a “common ground” where both parties can make a compromise.  You can also try to help your child with this by encouraging him/her to take turns with a peer (or sibling) or offer a peer help whenever possible.

Self-regulation: It hurts to see our children upset.  Our instincts drive us to make the situation better for our children and, after all, we want them to be happy!  But dealing with frustration is part of growing up.  Instead of removing your child from an undesirable situation, coach them through it.  If your child is upset because everyone in her group is using the crayon she needs (we’re sure you’ve never had to deal with that one before), ask her: “How are you feeling about that and what can you do about it?”  Children could try a number of strategies in this situation: try taking a deep breath, ask a friend when they will done with the crayon, move on to something else that she can accomplish, etc.

Learning to Work Independently

Posted By: Heather L. B. Smith, M.Ed. & Ian P. Kelly, M.Ed.

In our last post we broke down each of the work habits articulated on the Report on Student Progress (ROSP). In that post, we focused on the skills embedded in following directions and provided guidance as to how families can support the development of those skills. In this post we focus on working independently.

The ability to initiate and sustain goal oriented work is a skill that is developed slowly over time. This learning process requires a great deal of time and patience on the part of adults. With the right structures and supports any child can find success.

Works Well Independently

Embedded Skills

Clear criteria for success: The child understands what it is they need to do in order to be successful in his or her work.

Self-monitoring: The child is able to measure his or her progress towards clearly established criteria for success

Adaptability/perseverance/tenacity: The child can make adjustments when he or she realizes that the criteria for success has not yet been attained.

Focused, sustained attention: The child can maintain focus on a task until she meets the criteria for success and/or the desired goal.


Clear criteria for success: Setting criteria for success requires adults to strike a balance between developing independence and enabling dependence. As children learn to do new things, it is important that adults provide the criteria for success. For example, if the independent work is to clean up the bedroom, adults should let the child know what that looks like (i.e. Bed made, toys away, book shelf organized). Over time though, it is critical that adults begin to engage children in the process of identifying the criteria for success. If the onus is never the child’s they will not develop independence with the task. Fortunately, this is easily done by asking, “It’s time to clean your room. What does a clean room look like?” Over time, children will come to rely on themselves to identify the criteria for success.

Self-monitoring: With clear criteria for success in place, a child can begin to monitor progress towards attaining his or her goals.  Again, there is a balance to strike here. Children are not born pre-programmed with this skill. Like most other behaviors, it is learned over time. There are so many effective tools for teaching children to self monitor but, perhaps, one of the most powerful tools is modeling how you self-monitor.  You may not always be aware of it, but you are constantly engaged in the process of self-monitoring.  Part of the reason you may be unaware is because the skill has become internalized and nearly automatic. It takes time and practice for adults to slow down and articulate this. Adults can begin to teach self-monitoring by giving your child the opportunity to listen to your self-talk.  If you want to walk your child through picking up the bedroom, you might ask him or her to join you as you model.  While cleaning, you can model by saying what you’re thinking: “Let’s see. The first thing I need to do is make the bed.  In order to do that, I need to take the pillows off so that I can straighten up the sheets. Now that the sheets are straightened out I can put the pillows back in their place…” By thinking aloud, you give your child the opportunity to follow a train of thought and to hear how you tackle a task.

Adaptability/perseverance/tenacity: We all make mistakes.  What is most important, however, is our ability to learn from those mistakes and persevere even when things become difficult for us.  Children who demonstrate adaptability know how to change their behaviors or their chain of thinking when things aren’t going as planned.  They do this by persisting. Again, modeling is a great tool for helping children see how you adapt when you have to solve a problem.  But you can also teach children by coaching them. A great question to ask your child is: “What are some other strategies you can use to solve this problem?”  Likewise, take advantage of the opportunities when you can acknowledge your child when she does so and reinforce her ability to persevere when she makes an effort to overcome an obstacle.  For some of our children, taking their snow boots on and off is a challenge.  When your child develops automaticity with this task, take a moment to discuss how she became independent with it. Chances are that she had to do it many times before she became good at it and that she had trouble the first time she tried.  As children develop self-awareness, it’s important to celebrate their efforts and acknowledge how they achieved success (and keep in mind that there was a time when you had trouble putting on your boots, too)!

Focused, sustained attention: Sustaining attention to a task is no easy feat.  We all struggle with it from time to time and, depending on the age level(s) of our children, there is a wide variance in how long our children can attend.  Five-year-olds, for example, tend to have less stamina than ten-year-olds.  But age isn’t the only factor that affects our ability to maintain attention. Sometimes, the more challenging the task, the harder it becomes to stay focused. Similarly, the more interested we are in something, the easier it becomes to stick with it.  This is why it is critical that we talk with our children about how they sustain attention and what they can do when they’re struggling with it.  Asking your child: “I notice that you’re having trouble paying attention.  Why is that hard for you right now?”  You might be surprised by what he or she has to share (and you might also find that your assumptions may/not be true).  There are countless strategies for increasing attention but before you can implement a strategy, there needs to be a match between the strategy and the cause for inattention.  If your child is easily distracted, ask her what distracts her and coach her by asking: “How might you eliminate that distraction?”  If your child is struggling with motivation, help her find a way to connect the task to something that interests her.

Building Strong Work Habits, Part I

Posted By: Heather L. B. Smith, M.Ed. & Ian P. Kelly, M.Ed.


In our last post we talked at length about reading and interpreting the Report on Student Progress (ROSP). In this week’s post we turn our attention to look at tools and strategies that families can use to develop strong work habits in their children. Our goal is to support families in their efforts to teach and support these skills proactively throughout their child’s life.

The ROSP relies on an observation based rating scale when it comes to rating a child’s development of articulated work habits. The rating system focuses on the frequency with which the teacher observes a given behavior. These observations are captured in  the ratings: Rarely (R), Sometimes (S), and Usually (U). No matter the rating, it is critical that parents reach out to teachers and educational professionals if they have concerns about the development of these skills.

One of the  complexities in supporting and learning effective work habits is that they each represent a series of embedded and related skills. Because of this, it can be hard to know how best to support children in practicing and developing those skills. To support families in this endeavor we are going to take the next few posts and explore the prerequisite skills  for each work habit and easy to use strategies that families can employ to support them. This week we are going to focus on following written and oral directions.

Follows directions accurately (written and oral)

  1. Embedded Skills

    1. Focused, sustained attention: Child attends to the source of directions until directions have been communicated.

    2. Language: Child is able to read and/or hear the directions.

    3. Comprehension: Child fully understands the given directions.

    4. Self-Monitoring: Child monitors comprehension for understanding.

    5. Self-advocacy: Child has strategies to ensure that they understand the given direction.  This includes, but is not limited to, asking for help when needed.

  2. Strategies

    1. Focused, sustained attention: Always be sure that you have your child’s attention before giving directions. Their bodies should be facing you and you should require eye contact before giving directions. If the child breaks eye contact or turns away while the direction is being given, discontinue the direction until they provide you with full attention.

    2. Language/Comprehension: Have the child restate the direction in their own words. Family members can simply ask, “What did I just ask you to do?” or “What is the homework assignment asking you to do?” Asking this simple question is a sure fire way to tell if the child understands the given directive.

    3. Self-Monitoring: Presuming that the child misunderstood your direction or the homework assignment, it is most important not to do the clarifying for them. Instead, ask guiding questions. “That’s not what I asked you to do. Think about it for a minute and see if you can remember.” or “When you don’t remember a direction, what could you to make sure you know what to do?” Doing so puts the child in the position of having to do the “heavy lifting” and develop the self-monitoring and self-help skills that they truly need.

    4. Self-Advocacy: In the off chance that you give a direction and the child does not follow through in the way that you intended (sarcasm), use this as an opportunity for learning and growth. “Hmmm. I see that you put your plate on the counter which is really helpful. What I asked you to do was place it in the dishwasher. It seems like you may not have understood my directions, what could you do in the future to make sure you understand me?” If the child truly can’t come up with an idea you might suggest that they ask what they were supposed to do again or think about what the situation and what action is appropriate to that situation.

Making Sense of the ROSP


One of the advantages of having a standards-based report of student progress is that it takes some of the ambiguity out of understanding your child’s progress.  The ROSP is structured to provide families with a snapshot of the whole child. The report goes goes beyond academic standards and provides information on work habits, study skills, and social skills.

It is no secret that every parent wants their child to excel. It is this natural desire and drive that can muddy the waters when reading and interpreting a report like the ROSP. Our natural inclination is to look for ratings of 4 (exceeding grade level standards) throughout the report. The challenge in this mindset is that it does not account for the intended purpose of the ROSP and the natural developmental patterns of children. When reading the ROSP, it is important to remember that all of the standards on the report are end of year standards (things we would expect kids to know and be able to do by June). As such, a rating of 2 (progressing towards grade level standard) is perfectly normal at the January reporting period and a rating of 3 (meeting grade level standards) is perfectly normal by the June reporting period.

So how do we define performance levels?  The ROSP contains a range of proficiency levels:

1 – Not progressing towards grade level standard

Students who receive a proficiency rating of 1 in an area are struggling to meet the standard and there may be a range of reasons why the child is not demonstrating progress in such an area.  Teachers in the NPS are committed to the academic progress of every child and there are a number of supports available to help children work towards proficiency.  If your child is not progressing towards the grade level standards in multiple areas, is not receiving support, or you do not understand why your child is not making progress towards the grade level standards, reach out to your child’s teacher and open a dialogue.

2 – Progressing towards grade level standard

Students who demonstrate a rating of 2 are progressing towards the grade level standard which means that they are making progress but have not yet met the standard. As students work towards achieving proficiency, teachers are there to provide support as a guide on the side helping children set, monitor and work towards achieving their goals.  When a child achieves a rating of a 2, It’s important to acknowledge that this is an area of growth not necessarily a deficiency.

3 – Meets grade level standard

Students meeting grade level standards demonstrated a proficient level of understanding of the standard.

4 – Exceeds grade level standard

Students who earn a rating of a 4 have exceeded the grade level standard consistently over time.

It is also important to note that not all of the standards will be assessed on the mid-year report. This reflects the pacing of curriculum in the Natick Public Schools. While there is a high degree of continuity across our classrooms, we expect our teachers to differentiate content to meet learners at their individual levels. As a result of this expectation, it is not uncommon for classrooms to reach different points in the curriculum by the January reporting period and for the standards reported to vary slightly (i.e. one second grade classroom has covered 2D geometry and another second grade class has not yet reached that point).

While you may be tempted to look primarily at your child’s ratings in academic areas such as English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science, careful consideration of a child’s habits of mind are critical to understanding a child’s growth as ratings in these areas can provide families with insights into how and why a child may/may not be demonstrating proficiency in an academic area. These skill sets are the foundations of learning and weaknesses in these areas often translate to academic challenges.  For example, a child who “rarely” takes academic risks and rarely displays a positive attitude towards school and learning may be struggling to achieve proficiency in specific areas of his or her academic skills. In these cases, it is important to talk with your child’s teacher and the child to come to an understanding of what can be done to turn things around.

In our next few posts we will discuss specific ideas to support families in establishing and developing solid work habits and study skills in their children.

Report of Student Progress

The importance of ongoing and effective teamwork between parents and educators cannot be understated. Children thrive in an environment where the adults in their lives understand them and work in concert to support their growth and development. While there are many ways for parents and teachers to establish and maintain effective lines of communication, the Natick Public Schools also formalizes basic communication structures to ensure that parents and families understand the progress their children are making in school. One of our major mechanisms is the Report on Student Progress (referred to as the ROSP).

The ROSP is basically what you and I know as a report card. It is issued twice annually; it is released at the end of January and on the last day of school. Some families find that the ROSP appears very different from traditional report cards that most adults received as children. When we were in school, many of us grew accustomed to receiving a subject-by-subject report with a letter grade attached.  Some report cards included narrative comments from the teachers while others contained subjective ratings of behavior and study skills.

Standards based report cards were developed and structured as a way to provide parents and families with more comprehensive information about a student’s progress.  Like traditional report cards, the ROSP attempts to provide families with feedback about a student’s academic performance.  What separates the ROSP from traditional report cards, however, is the level of specificity with which it provides families with information about a student’s progress towards attaining and mastering key grade level learning standards.  The standards represented on the reports reflect Massachusetts State learning standards. There are two major differences between standards based reports and traditional report cards. The first is the overall structure of the report and the second is the way in which the student’s progress is rated and reported to families.

Standards reflect what students should know and be able to do.  Standards-based report cards break learning down into key concepts and skills that students are expected to master in their respective grade levels.  Whereas you might have received one cumulative letter grade to reflect all of your learning in a subject such as “Math,” your child’s ROSP will provide you with feedback that specifies how well your student “Knows and uses addition and subtraction facts to 10” or how well s/he “identifies 2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional Shapes.”

For each standard, students receive a proficiency rating.  Natick’s ROSP uses a numerical rating system on a 1-4 scale. The scale follows:

1 – Not progressing towards grade level standard

2 – Progressing towards grade level standard

3 – Meets grade level standard

4 – Exceeds grade level standard

These ratings differ from traditional report cards which presented a student’s progress in terms of letter grades, reflecting a student’s overall performance on tests, quizzes, class assignments, homework assignments, etc. While letter grades certainly gave parents and families an idea about the extent to which the child was succeeding in the class, they failed to provide specific information about performance in content areas and ways in which support could be provided at home.

Standards-based ratings make it easier for parents and families to understand their child’s strengths and to see where their child could use more support. The specificity of this feedback allows parents and families to clearly identify standards in which students have achieved mastery and target areas for growth. Thus a child who “meets grade level expectations” demonstrating a proficiency score of 3 on the following standard:

identifying 2D and 3D shapes

has a solid understanding of the concept. The same child may be “progressing towards grade level standards” demonstrating a proficiency score of 2 on the following standard:

knowing and applying addition and subtraction facts to 10

should continue to work towards achieving this grave level standard.   Some variability in performance ratings is typical, as children grow and develop.  But knowing your child’s areas for growth is just as important as knowing your child’s strengths.  In the weeks to come, we will provide parents and families with more information about how to interpret the ROSP and suggest ideas for engaging your child in a meaningful conversation about his/her growth.  Stay tuned!

Executive Function & Socialization

by Ian Kelly, M.Ed. and Heather Smith, M.Ed.

In our last post we gave a basic description of executive function and the ways in which families can generally support its development at home and in life. Children who experience challenges with executive functioning skills often have difficulties that cross all parts of their lives. In this post we will dive into the social/interpersonal implications of executive function deficits and discuss how families can support their children in these specific situations.

There are two primary areas of executive function that impact socialization and interpersonal skills, self-regulation and cognitive flexibility. Self-regulation is the ability to control emotion, behavior, and desire in an effort to achieve a goal. Cognitive flexibility supports people in thinking about two or more concepts or tasks simultaneously as well as a person’s ability to go back and forth between tasks easily. In the realm of social interactions and relationships there are many goals that rely on these skills. Self-regulation and cognitive flexibility both take time and energy to develop. Making friends, participating as a member of a team, playing games, solving problems, compromising, etc. These are all great examples of learned skill sets that have a lasting impact on successful socialization. The trick is understanding that the ability to make friends actually relies on a broad range of skills that are all governed by executive function.

Let’s take a quick look at the basic (not exhaustive) set of skills that one needs to make friends and how self-regulation and cognitive flexibility can impact them.


Impact of Self-Regulation and Cognitive Flexibility

Engage in conversation

Distractibility (Self-Regulation): Sounds, objects, and other environmental stimuli grab my attention and I can’t focus on and sustain conversations effectively.

Remember important details about people

Distractibility (Self-Regulation): Moving too quickly and missing details means that I don’t remember things about people.

Reading and interpreting non-verbal cues

Distractibility (Self-Regulation): I miss important clues about how people are feeling (facial expressions, body language) because I often get distracted by noises or other things around me.


Finding a Middle Ground (Cognitive Flexibility): Finding a middle ground with a friend can be hard because I have a hard time letting go of my expectations.

Problem Solving

Empathy (Cognitive Flexibility): Understanding the perspective of others can be challenging because it is hard to go back and forth between my perspective and their perspective.


Sticking with it (Self-Regulation): When I encounter a problem with a friend, I have a hard time working it out because I want to move on to the next thing.

This table represents just a few of the many skills that go into establishing and maintaining peer relationships. The development of effective executive functioning skills is critical in ensuring the long term social well being of children. The question that we hear from many families is, “What can we do to support our kids in developing these skills?” The simple answer is, “Lots.”

The most effective strategies that we recommend are well articulated by Bonnie Goldsmith who wrote a piece for The National Center for Learning Disabilities titled Social Skills Tips: Help with Executive Dysfunction. In this piece Goldsmith lays out a simple problem solving process to support children in developing the executive skills they will need to be successful.

  1. Get to the root of the problem.

    • Watch the child carefully in many different social situations. This will help you to get a sense of what kinds of struggles exist, in what situations they exist, and how complicated they are.

  2. Develop a good sense of strengths and struggles.

    • When observing, note both. Where are the child’s strengths and where are their struggles. It is important that caregivers be able to refer to and leverage each child’s strengths as they work to improve areas that are challenging.

  3. Engage the child in a conversation.

    • Don’t do the heavy lifting for them. Engage them in a conversation about the problematic behaviors. Ask questions that will guide them in developing strategies and possible solutions.

  4. Partner with the child to develop alternatives.

    • Work together to develop alternative strategies and plans for using those strategies in real social situations.

  5. Practice alternative behaviors with the child.

    • Take time to provide safe, structured opportunities to practice the alternative skills or strategies. Set up role plays and scenarios to work through before expecting the child to apply the skill independently.

  6. Follow up with the child.

    • After the child has an opportunity to practice the alternative skill or strategy on their own, debrief with them. Ask them how it went? What worked? What didn’t work? How can we adjust for next time? How can you support them?

Beyond problem solving, Goldsmith emphasizes the importance of refraining from judgement and being there for your child. Kids look to their caretakers for guidance and support. Judgement can be detrimental especially when a child is struggling with a specific skill or set of skills. Doing our best to refrain from the inclination to value or evaluate a child’s behavior is challenging. We have been taught to say things like, “Good job”, “Way to go”, or “That was not right.” The problem with these statements is that they are value judgements that are vague and often leave the child wondering what they could have done differently and that perhaps there is something wrong with them. Engaging them in a positive, problem solving conversation will help them develop important social skills while fostering a caring and supportive relationship with parents and caregivers.

In our next post we will focus on the topic of feedback before returning to executive function and their place in academic skill development and performance.

Executive Function: What on Earth Are These Educators Talking About?

Post by: Ian Kelly and Heather Smith

Executive function is getting a lot of attention in the education community lately. As this terminology and the science behind it seeps into the vernacular of teachers and educational professionals, families may feel left out of the party. While we always strive to keep the edu-babble (professional jargon) out of our conversations and communications with families, we sometimes can’t help ourselves. In this post, we define executive function and provide the foundation for a series of posts on this topic. Our hope is to provide adults with a working knowledge of the concept and strategies that will enable them to best support the child’s development of critical executive and metacognitive skills at home and in life.

Although there is debate amongst psychologists, neuroscientists and educators about how executive function should be defined exactly, there is consensus that executive function refers to a person’s ability to plan, execute, and monitor goal-oriented behavior.  Lynn Meltzer (2007) defines it as: “goal setting, planning, organizing, prioritizing, memorizing, initiating, shifting, and self-monitoring” (p.xi) while Moran & Gardner (2007) define it as an intrapersonal combination of “hill, skill, and will” arguing that it is a combination of “metacognition, inhibiting habitual responses, delay of gratification, adjusting to changing rules, and making decisions under uncertain conditions” (p.19). And there we go again, edubabble. So what does all of this mean?

Both you and your child engage in executive planning all day, every day. As an adult, you are not always aware of the fact that you are planning and there are times when you are acutely aware that you are not planning effectively (like when you forgot to pick up milk at the store). For most adults, these executive processes become so ingrained that they are second nature, almost reflexive. If you drive the same route to and from work every day you may have had the experience of being on “autopilot.” Your cognitive system is so tuned to the route and the routine that you sometimes forget parts of the drive or you take that route even when you don’t mean to. This simple example illustrates the highly tuned and powerful executive skills of adults.

Unfortunately for kids, their auto-pliot days are a long way off. Fortunately, they can get there with your support. So, let’s get back to clarifying all of that edubabble we laid out earlier. Simply put, executive function is a network of cognitive skills and strategies that allows us to sustain goal oriented behavior. The process of sustaining that goal oriented behavior requires planning, doing, and assessing. Simple right? Wrong. It’s incredibly complex and it’s the place where most children spend the bulk of their physical, emotional and cognitive resources in learning.

The challenge for the adults trying to support children in developing executive skills lies in trying to remember the challenges of their own learning experiences. The automaticity of mature executive function skills make it easy to forget just how complex the world can be and how long it took to learn and become experts with certain skills. The first step in supporting kids in their development of executive skills is to appreciate the complexity and challenge that children face in learning things that, to us, seem routine (in edubabble this is called cognitive empathy).

The second step that adults can take to support the development of effective executive skills is to embrace, to the extent your sanity or their safety will bear, those questions as opportunities to support the acquisition of these skills. Children ask a million different questions about a million different topics. These questions can become frustrating as, over time, they can begin to feel mundane or unbelievably repetitive. Just try to breathe and remember that they are asking you these questions for a real reason that is meaningful to them.

And herein lies the third thing adults can do to support the general development of executive skills in the home and life settings. Barring any immediate safety concern (or that this question might put you over the edge for the day), answer their question with a question. Do this as often as possible. By answering their questions with questions, you force them to think, plan, act, and reflect. Too often we default to providing the answer. The real learning (and acquisition of executive skills) is in the process leading up to the answer. Take the following example of a typical interaction over homework and a modified interaction over homework.

Typical Adult Response:

Child: Mom, I don’t know what to do for my homework. What should I do?

Adult: Well, get out your homework packet and let’s go over it together.

Child: OK. Here it is.

Adult: (Reads over the packet) OK. The packet says that you need to read for 20 minutes. Why don’t you start there?

Modified Adult Response:

Child: Mom, I don’t know what to do for my homework. What should I do?

Adult: Hmmm. That’s a good question. Let’s think about that. What do you think we should do about this?

Child: I don’t know. What am I supposed to do?

Adult: Well, I am not sure either. Where should we start to begin solving this problem?

Child: My homework is in my backpack.

Adult: OK. I am glad to know that it is in your backpack. How will that information help us solve this problem?

While the modified scenario could go on and on, it is meaty enough to substantiate an important difference in the two conversations. In the first conversation the adult provided the answer. They did all of the thinking and all of the planning. In this first scenario, the child was a passive participant in the problem solving process. The second conversation treats the child as an active agent in resolving the day to day challenges they face. Asking the child to consider what they might do to solve the problem forces them to reflect on the problem, process the challenge, and develop potential courses of action to overcome the barrier. Every child can put forward a hypothesis to solve the homework problem. Their approximation of a solution may be way off base and it is our job, through guiding questions, to help them come to a solution that works. In doing so adults are well on their way to developing the executive skills that, as adults, these children will rely on to find success in life, relationships, and careers.

Our next post will focus on the social and interpersonal dimensions of executive function.

Failure: An Old Adage for Success

Post By: Ian P. Kelly (Principal, Bennett-Hemenway) & Heather L. Brennan Smith

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”              — J.K. Rowling
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”        — Winston Churchill

Chances are that when you grew up, someone in your life encouraged you to find your own success.  It is also very likely that someone encouraged you to persist.  Think back to your childhood and ponder for a moment the very first time when someone told you, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  Yet, somewhere along the way, we form our own beliefs about success and failure.  In theory, many of us believe that failure is a fundamental driver in the process of learning and growth so why is it so hard to accept, especially when it comes to our children?

Our well-intentioned friends and family give us mixed messages when it comes to failure.  Avoid failure.  Focus on success.  We avoid it at all costs.

Even more unfortunate than our associations with failure are those we draw for our children. Beyond teaching them that failure is to be avoided, we do all that we can to protect them from it. These tendencies are perfectly natural and they go far beyond the realm of parenting. In Seth Godin’s (2010) piece Redefining Failure he captures our current concept of and stance towards failure, “We think that failure is the opposite of success, and we optimize our organizations to avoid it. We install layers and layers of management to eliminate risk and prevent catastrophes.”

In spite of our altruistic tendencies to protect our children from failure, we deprive them of critical “learning” experiences when we don’t accept the missteps that children take along the way.  Children need opportunities to fail. Their growth and development rely on these rich contexts for learning. Our job, as parents and as educators, is to provide structured, developmentally appropriate opportunities to fail or, in other words, to learn. When we consider this notion, there are two important questions: what do children learn when we allow them to fail and how do we structure opportunities that are appropriate and productive?

Before we consider these questions though, let’s re-imagine our own paradigms for failure. This is a critical first step because consciously and unconsciously we communicate important and influential messages to children that form their perceptions of failure.

First, consider failure first as a positive thing. Failure is great! Without it we would be perfect and there would be nothing to learn. Secondarily, think of  failure not as a shortcoming but as an opportunity, a guidepost on the path towards learning. Failure both presents us with and leads is toward opportunities for success. If we are patient and learn to embrace failure as a positive and integral part of the learning process, then we are well on our way to supporting our children.

What do children learn from failure?

Angela Lee Duckworth calls it “grit.” Grit is what children learn from failure. They learn to persevere and persist in the face of challenge and novel tasks that force them to apply known information to solve new problems. Children come to understand the limits of their current knowledge and ability and how to grow and stretch to tackle the next challenge they face. They learn to identify their strengths and their weaknesses. Students come to understand how to leverage strengths and improve weaknesses. Most importantly, they learn that challenge is to be expected in life and that it is their effort and their hard work that determine the outcome of that challenge. Carol Dweck at Stanford University calls this mentality the “growth mindset.”

How do we structure appropriate and productive opportunities for failure?

Providing children with opportunities to fail, struggle, and learn cannot happen in a vacuum. We can’t just toss them to the wolves and expect them to figure things out. We must remember that children develop perseverance and persistence over time. If we put them into situations in which they are unable to find success we hinder their development. So, what is the context in which kids can really benefit from failure? When do we let them struggle? When do we intervene? These questions rely heavily upon a social context for learning, an understanding of our children and an evolving understanding of ourselves.

A child’s social context for learning, or failure, is critical.  Young children are keen observers, especially of adults.  They watch and listen, taking cues from us as they attempt to make sense of their world.  If a child is supported in an environment where adults behave and speak in way that communicates positive messages about failure and embrace it as a learning opportunity then we are well on our way to creating a context that is ripe for learning.

The second part of this  context is our ability as parents and educators to take a step back from the situation and make  rational, balanced decisions about when to intervene and when to let them figure it out. This can be challenging because it is in our nature to protect and support.

A few years back Mr. Kelly was spending time with a good friend and they were playing with their young children. As always they liked (and continue to like) to do, they were analyzing the play of their children and the situations that arose as they interacted.  Sawyer (Mr. Kelly’s son) was about two years old at the time and was moving backwards without looking where he was going. There was a block on the carpet that he would obviously trip on and fall. As is usually the case, there were a few seconds available to consider options and make a decision about how to manage the situation.

The first analysis was safety. Is he going to really hurt himself if he is allowed to fall. At the time, he was on the carpet so he had a soft spot to land and there were no other objects  around that he would hit on the way down and hurt himself. Safety, wasn’t an issue. The second analysis was the potential for learning and the importance of the lesson. In that split second Ian decided that this was an important lesson. Walking backward without checking your surrounding is inherently dangerous. This is a concept that a two year old could begin to grasp. So as it turns out, Sawyer tripped on the block and landed on his bum. He looked confused and then  fussed for a minute. When asked what happened and he said, “Fell.” When asked why  he replied, “Block.”  After a little clarification and a simple, “Walking backwards is dangerous.” He moved on and was right back to playing with his pals. We are not suggesting for a second that this incident ended the walking backward phenomenon but we will suggest that it is the accumulation of these experiences that eventually teaches him (and therefore ceases the behavior) that walking backwards is dangerous. The learning is in the cumulative experience not in the words we use in warning or response.

Learning to watch where you are going and, in all possible circumstances, walk forward is a product of cumulative experience. It is not a function of  the words we use in warning of or response to the “failures” that children encounter. If we don’t take the time to step back, analyze the situation, and ensure that there are those structured opportunities for failure, our children will only have our words. Unfortunately our words are not enough. Experience is the true teacher.

Acknowledging our own anxieties about failure is not easy.  What’s more is that we sometimes hold our children to a different standard than we do ourselves.  After all, they represent our hopes, our dreams.  We don’t want them to make the same mistakes that we did and we sometimes doubt their ability to see how their actions just might affect their future.  But success is about risk-taking and risk-taking is. . . risky!  Conventional wisdom in the world of business tells us that the greater the risk, the greater the reward.  In the United States, the biggest risk-takers are also some of our greatest entrepreneurs.    But children aren’t going to succeed with every risk they take, nor do we.  When we take a risk, the threat of failure becomes palpable.  What’s important is that we capitalize on these opportunities by carving out time for personal reflection and self-monitoring.  When we make mistakes, we ask:  What is it that I was trying to achieve?  What stood in the way of achieving my goals?  What could I have done differently to achieve a different outcome and what action steps must I take in order to achieve my goal?  Once we can answer these questions, we begin the process of building a brighter vision for ourselves, of self-acceptance, and even more importantly, self-reliance.  After all, “Success is not built on success.  It’s built on failure.  It’s built on frustration.  Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe” (Summer Redstone).