Building Positive Culture
from Classroom to Community
On Friday, November 10, 2017, LANL Foundation hosted its 18th Conference on Education focused on the topic of “Building Positive Culture from Classroom to Community”. Nearly 300 K–12 education professionals attended this free, all-day event at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder. LANL Foundation is dedicated to the improvement of education in Northern New Mexico and offers conferences to answer the need for professional development that translates current best practices into learning tools for local teachers, schools, and nonprofits.
Foundation CEO Jenny Parks, Early Childhood Director Anna Marie Garcia, and K-12 Program Director Gwen Perea Warniment welcomed the crowd and thanked them for their tireless work with children.
“We know that our education professionals, especially K–12 teachers and administrators, are the backbone of strong teaching and learning in New Mexico,” said Jenny Parks. “I hope that this day of engaging speakers will leave you with a renewed sense of inspiration and strategies to build positive culture in and out of your classrooms.
The morning keynote session featured Dennis D. Embry, PhD, President and Senior Scientist of PAXIS Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Paxis is an organization that identifies and connects science with wisdom to maximize the peace, productivity, health, and happiness of individuals, families, organizations, and communities across the world.
Dr. Embry shared trends in childhood development and increasing challenges to learning both in and out of the classroom. He also presented some best practices in socio-emotional support and strategies for cultivating positive classroom culture that extends to whole schools and communities.
“We are here to save kids and uplift them into the future,” he expressed to the crowd. “We can create a safe environment that nurtures children’s behavior in context.”
Dr. Embry discussed his work with the PAX Good Behavior Game. This set of strategies helps students learn important self-management skills while collaborating to make the classroom a peaceful and productive learning environment.
The loud hum of a harmonica got the audience’s attention. That sound signals the start of the PAX game and focuses the children on the teacher to help reduce the length of time spent on classroom transitions in between tasks when disorder and disruption most likely to occur.
The children lead the game by agreeing upon rules of good behavior during a defined time period. Rewards for good behavior, which Dr. Embry calls “Granny’s Wacky Prizes,” may be arm farts, fake burps, extra recess time, desk drumming, or fidgeting. Encouraging physical movement helps burn off excitement. Students acknowledge and count undesired behaviors, called Spleems, without naming their peers, that stand in the way of earning prizes.
PAX relies on students to praise one another in addition to holding each other accountable. Toodles, the opposite of tattles, are positive reinforcements that are written down, read out loud, and posted in the classroom.
Children develop a deeper understanding of the cause and effect of their behavior through this system of accountability, consequences, and rewards. Over time, what Dr. Embry calls “the nurture effect” increases psychological flexibility, reduces toxic influences, and enforces pro-social behavior. Teachers learn to be strategic and less reactive, which creates more time for meaningful instruction and reduces stress.
The PAX Good Behavior Game is current being used in several Northern New Mexico elementary and middle schools.
(Speaker presentations may be viewed through our online Learning Center: lanlfoundation.org/2017conference-presentations)
Afternoon “EdTalk” breakout sessions, grouped by elementary and secondary school tracks, highlighted local educators who discussed their own successes in the classroom and effective socio-emotional support strategies. Three of the speakers are members of the ISEC Teacher Leader Cadre.
“Presenting to my colleagues was a great experience to reflect on community in the classroom and share some ideas that have worked for my school's second grade team,” said Zelda Trujillo, 2nd grade teacher at Wood Gormley Elementary School. “I enjoyed hearing the other presentations as well. Students are the winners if we are open to share with each other and grow together.”
In her presentation, Zelda reflected the cultivation process of building positive culture in her classroom and school by incorporating a charter of rights and responsibilities, project-based learning, and various activities for students and teachers. She is also trained in the PAX method and uses those techniques.
Delara Sharma, 5th grade teacher at Piñon Elementary School, presented on the importance of equity and opportunity for all students, not just for a privileged few, and how she and her colleagues provide students with multiple avenues to explore, identify, and reach their potential through creativity and STEAM clubs.
“Be the person you needed as a child to create that safe environment, support risk taking in education, and making mistakes,” encouraged April Grant-Torrez, 4th grade teacher at Pojoaque Valley Intermediate School during her talk.
April highlighted the correlation between risk taking and a positive learning environment for both the educator and student and discussed how to create learning experiences where students can engage, enrich, and explore their own learning styles and meet individual needs. She also advocates for using sarcasm to get through to students.
Jenn Jevertson, School Prevention Coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, drew upon her current work and prior experience with the Santa Fe Mountain Center to display experiential learning as an impactful method for students to maximize growth, learning, and connection and for educators to build a positive community. She incorporated several fun, interactive activities on group bonding, problem solving, and communication that create a caring classroom.
John Morrison and Sean O’Neil, Santa Fe High School teachers and leaders of the Innovate Academy, showed examples of student work and testimonials to illustrate how they build relationships and trust, facilitate independent and dependent learners, manage groups, and build student confidence.
Empathy was the core message of two Capital High School teachers’ presentation. Meredith Tilp and Kay Vinson discussed the importance of empathy and accessing how it feels to recognize and foster it in others.
Creating positive learning environments through storytelling, inquiry, and discussion to build supportive, culturally responsive spaces for Native American students is the focus of Santa Fe Indian School, which was highlighted by teachers Bridget Love and Christie Abeyta.
In response to students’ need for college preparation and support of long-term success, Donelle Hogarth and Claire Casey, trainers from LifeBound Inc, discussed elements of successful academic coaching that promote student reflection, small commitments, and accountability. A coaching demonstration with a student provided ideas of how educators can assist students in cultivating skills such as critical thinking, self-management, and resilience.
LANL Foundation program assistant Evelyn Juarez & Lifebound intern Elshaddai Mulugeta shared their vocal talents with the group during lunch, singing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
Thank You to Our 2017 Education Conference Sponsors:
– $5,000 Santa Fe Baldy –
John Gulas (above), CEO of Los Alamos National Bank, accepts sponsor recognition during LANL Foundation Education Conference from CEO Jenny Parks.
Carole Rutten (above, center) of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Community Partnerships Office also accepts Education Conference sponsor recognition from K-12 Program Director Gwen Perea Warniment & CEO Jenny Parks.
– $2,500 Pajarito Mountain –
– $1,000 Black Mesa –
– Additional Sponsors & In-kind Raffle Donors –
Buffalo Thunder Resort | Chavez Fine Jewelers | Cowgirl BBQ | Coyote Café | Fire & Hops | Floral Expressions & Hallmark | Geronimo | Local Flavor | Nambé | Naranjo's Trading | Rancho de Chimayó | Sunrise Springs Spa Resort | Sopaipilla Factory | Than Povi Fine Art Gallery | Patricia & Leonard Valerio | Vivác Winery