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In my experience in elementary classrooms over the years, (including in our City Neighbors early grades classrooms and now in a mentoring capacity) I find that about this time of year, the question tends to come up:  “What part should effort and hard work play in children’s schooling?”

Teachers in the classroom are readily able to see that there are two parts to the process of learning something new:  whether the child has the skills needed and whether the child has the independent work habits to apply those skills.  For young readers, there is no substitute for their own independent practice at reading.  Skills are introduced at certain times; there is also plenty of time for practice to apply those skills. Or consider middle schoolers, working to systematically research their year-long project.  A certain amount of industrious trying will lead them to be successful.

At times this can be a bit confusing for families.   Sometimes parents’ reasoning can be:  “We chose City Neighbors so that our child would enjoy school and not find it tiresome, as our own schooling sometimes was.” So when the first rush of back to school excitement is naturally lessened, when some reluctance for working at skills asked of children can come up, parents may become concerned.  “But I want my child to love to come to school…”

Yes, but:  Even if adults love their profession, will they love every minute and aspect of it?  (paperwork or repetitive parts of even a well-loved job?)  For kids’ job as students, there will be some practice and “repetition for mastery” at school, necessary to grow skills.

Research in the past few years about learning shows that those who feel industrious mental effort actually makes a person smarter are more likely to take on difficult tasks, doing well at them.  It is apparent to teachers that how successful children are with mastering skills is in large part related to how well and how long they are able to persevere  working independently—even when it becomes difficult or “hits a snag.”  Children’s  ability to stick with it does not appear to be necessarily related to how “bright” the children are but rather to how much they see themselves as independent people who can work at something until the job is done.

So as parents it helps to praise our kids’ work not with a “You’re so smart” as often as with a “Look how hard you worked at that.” This message is that their effort matters, and will bring a result which is in their control. (And we can encourage “sticking-with-it” skills at home too, with even simple chores like making the bed neatly or organizing or doing a load of laundry.)

My impression from City Neighbors classrooms is this: they do love to come to school! There is a lot of the pure joy of discovery in those City Neighbors classrooms, but also satisfaction of a tough job, tried and completed well!

~Monica O’Gara, Early Childhood Specialist, City Neighbors Charter School~

Sean TeachingWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? In a series of detailed drawings and simple language, Scarry illustrates a variety of jobs around Busytown.  He invites readers to be workers and reveals how different people are connected through the work they do.

I still think of that book often. Some of it may be outdated, but that essential question sticks in my mind. “What do people do all day?”

As a high school teacher, I engage with students continually, managing and monitoring learning for around 100 young people with unique interests and individual needs.  Then, in the single hour I have without students, I rush to plan lessons, create resources, evaluate students’ work, reflect on our progress and needs, design individualized accommodations and modifications, check emails, make copies, contact families, consult case managers, attend meetings, go to the bathroom, and, if I’m lucky, catch my breath. Because that hour is never enough, I work through lunch, stay late, and come in early.

Asking myself, “What do I do all day?” helps me stay efficient and motivated. What do I do all day? I work with young people and facilitate learning. What a great way to spend my time!

Now, let’s ask, “What do students do all day?” When I was a new teacher, I had a mentor who would comment on my lesson plans, “I can see what you’re doing, but what are students doing?” To find success in the classroom, I had to stop thinking only in terms of what I would do, what instructions I would give, or what questions I would ask. I had to start thinking in terms of what my students would do, what instructions they would need, and what questions they would ask. In short, I had to start asking, “What should students do all day?”

At City Neighbors High School, a typical student attends five different classes on five different subjects, takes a lunch break, and then joins her pod (an extended advisory) for an hour. Asking myself to consider what students do helps me empathize with teenagers who spend the day watching their “to-do” lists grow with limited time to organize, prioritize, or catch their breath.

Imagine working hard all day, always being told what to do, and never getting a break. At City Neighbors, we’re fortunate to have time to address as many needs as we can in our extended advisory pods. In our efforts to make every minute count, we need to remember the big picture, to consider what people do–and what they need to do–all day.

“What do people do all day?” It’s not just a question for Busytown. It’s a question for all of us. It’s a question that, while deceptively simple, is absolutely essential. At least, it always has been for me.

~Sean Martin, Teacher, City Neighbors High School~


kuanaWhat is Inclusion? By definition, it is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

What does inclusion look like at City Neighbors? Inclusion is essential to who we are. It’s woven into the very fabric of our schools. Our model has a pure inclusion form where every child, no matter of ability, is in the classroom learning with their peers as much as possible. There is no division between abilities, no “special” classroom.

Why is this important? One of the best predictors of a child’s success as a student is how they feel about themselves and their capabilities. When a child feels included on all levels they strive to excel. It allows students to learn that not all people learn in the same way or at the same rate, but everyone’s thoughts and ideas are meaningful and necessary to make the classroom the best learning environment it can be.

Inclusion Testimony: I have a child with a learning difference who attends City Neighbors Charter School.  He was diagnosed with this difference in first grade, and he has no idea that, in some schools, he would have been taken away from his peers to learn in a “special” classroom. When he sees his friends striving to make educational goals, it motivates him to reach those same goals. He understands that it may take him longer to reach the goal or he may have to achieve it in a different way, but he wants to continue to grow and push his intellect and ability. This is all possible because of intentional inclusion at City Neighbors.

~Kuana Holley-Burris, Board President, City Neighbors Charter School~


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