Ask Muriel: How Do You Finish the Year Strong?
March 2, 2020

This week Muriel Summers, Principal of A.B. Combs Elementary, shares some key ways they keep everyone energized through the full and busy days of spring.

Leader in Me Weekly: Muriel, could you share some of the ways you keep learning exciting for your students this time of year?

Muriel: Sure. First, mapping out the year and acknowledging how important March and April are to our overall success for the year is critical. March and April are when you either gear up for the finish line or you run out of steam. We are very strategic about celebrating what the children have learned in March and April, and that carries us into the home stretch. It primes the pump, if you will, for the children to really do well on their state testing in May because they’ve had a variety of academic competitions in March and April. 

Can you tell us more about the academic competitions?


Our academic competitions excite and motivate the children because they’re something different. We have systems in place that help us to focus on more hands-on, fun competition types of events. For example:

  • “Battle of the Books.” The children are given a list of books to read throughout the year and then they compete on county, district, and state levels around their knowledge of the content of the books. 
  • Science Olympiad. The children are presented with science and engineering challenges. 
  • LEGO Robotics League. Children participate in this throughout the year, and the final one is typically in March or April. 
  • Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Children dress up as their favorite storybook characters and we invite readers to come in. 
  • Spelling Bee. Children compete locally and nationally.
  • Parent Engagement. Family game night is our focus for March. 

Another thing we do is a Community Book Read. We advertise a book we are reading in the community. We invite everyone to participate and then we invite them into the school. We all come together to discuss the book, how it relates to the 7 Habits, and how it relates to kindness. We offer coffee and breakfast. It is a really wonderful event.

Can you tell us how your Wildly Important Goals fit into your strategy? 


Today I heard a teacher say, “Our goal is to go from 80 to 85 percent proficient, and 100 percent growth for all children.” She asked, “If we continue to do what we’ve been doing, and we’re not really making the headway we need to make, what do we need to do?” The children said, “We need to do something different, or we’re going to get the same results.” 

The teacher then asked the children if they thought they should change their lead measures. The children decided that each night they would increase the number of reading minutes and increase the number of comprehension questions. So, the children were the ones who identified how they were going to reach their goal. Keeping the WIG a daily focal point is really important, and the mile markers and check-ins allow them to course correct. 

Is there one thing that comes to mind for individual teachers? 

I think, especially this time of year, what typically happens is that teachers get so focused on the end-of-grade test that they give children things they’re going to see on a test. Instead of drills, academic competitions give children an opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout the year, and that builds their confidence and leadership. In my opinion, that’s a better way to help them be prepared for the test.

There are so many life lessons learned through these activities, such as, “You’re not going to always win, but let’s celebrate what you’ve learned. Celebrate the fact that you stood up there and did it. Celebrate the fact that you know more than you did before you competed.”

Keeping the momentum going is about being very strategic. March is the time to change your pace to something that keeps students more engaged in applying what they’ve learned. For us, it absolutely helps to keep our momentum and excitement for school strong.

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