Student Reflections on Finding Joy in the Journey at Greensboro Elementary School

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By Kara Bentley

Some images courtesy of Greensboro Elementary School Assistant Principal Todd Nichols. Follow him on Twitter here.

Update: In December, 2018, Caroline County Schools and IE hosted a summit to allow other school and district leaders to observe the rigorous classroom environments and speak with administrators, teachers and students.

Earlier this year, I shared with you teacher reflections about the journey that began at Greensboro Elementary School in August, 2017 as Caroline County MD Schools embraced a new instructional initiative, Essentials for Learning instructional strategies, and the changes necessary to ensure that children are prepared…

  • Prepared to be strong critical thinkers and decision makers
  • Prepared to collaborate with one another to solve complex problems
  • Prepared to participate in learning activities that promote creativity, communication skills, and strong character

My question today is…who are the biggest winners? The answer: STUDENTS

Join me as I share reflections of students at Greensboro Elementary; reflections that are a true testimonial to the value and importance of putting the learning in the hands of students. Because, if you think about it…students LEARNING and DEMONSTRATING their learning is what drives the success of our schools, what drives the success of our future work-force, and what drives the success of our future leaders.


  • “Learning is fun this year. Last year, I didn’t want to do the work because I didn’t know what to do. Now I know what my job is. It’s like a game! I can’t wait to do it again.” (first grader)
  • “My teacher is so smart. She finally figured out that she needs to let us talk more. School is so much more fun now that we get to talk about what we are doing and help each other. I’m learning a lot more because me and my friends are really smart, too.” (fourth grader)
  • “I love having jobs in my team because everyone has a part.” (fifth grader)

Students are rising to the challenge

“When we had to do a read-draw-write problem with fractions, it was a struggle for me, and my team helped me out and I felt better with it,” recalls one fourth-grade student.

“We had to work together to identify text structures,” says another. “We didn’t all agree, and then we had to go talk to another team to get their point of view. After talking with other teams, we were able to answer the questions. It didn’t seem hard at first, but because we didn’t all get the same answer, we had to prove our thinking to each other. That was HARD.”

Changes in how students work together 

  • “I actually help my teammates out when they need help; last year, not so much.” (second grader)
  • “I used to not talk so much because I didn’t know the words to use. Now my friends help me with the words and I’m not afraid to talk. Sometimes I’m right all by myself! Then I am so happy to be at school.” (third grader – ELL)
  • “Teamwork helps me communicate better with people without being shy, and helps me become a better leader.” (fifth grader)
  • “Having a job brings communication and reasoning skills to our group.” (fifth grader)
  • “Being in a team has positively impacted my learning because now I understand better.” (fifth grader)


Students are learning how to learn from each other

“Last year, my team did not let me talk or share my idea. This year, we all have to talk and learn from each other.” (fourth grader)
“In my old school, we didn’t have cubes, but I think it’s so awesome to have them so not everybody is just yelling out the answer. (fourth grader).” **Students have to use cubes to show that they have shared their thinking.

“Last year, everybody tried to do this or that and did not have things assigned. This year, it’s more organized and we learn better.” (fourth grader)


Teachers are helping students monitor their own learning using success criteria

“She tells us about it, reads it and then we always go over it again before we start working.” (second grader)

“She watches us when we’re working and listens to us talk. She reads the learning target. We talk about the success criteria so we will know what to do.” (first grader)

“By reading the learning target lots and practicing so we reach our goal.” (kindergartner)

“We ask questions and answer each other. Last year, we needed to think on our own.” (fourth grader)

Success criteria drives student independence

“We use it to get smarter. We can use it when we get stuck because it tells us something we need to do.” (Kindergarten)

“It helps me so I understand the lesson better.” (fourth grader)


the struggle is real – but students are rising to the challenge

“When we get stuck, we just check the success criteria. Then we can get back to work.” (first grader)

“You can fix it if you help your team out!” Karlee (Kindergarten)

“I ask my team for help, or get my letter sounds on the ABC line (use a resource).” Yanilenm (Kindergarten)

“If I get stuck, I like to look at the posters on the wall. They help me know what to do.” (first grader)

“My team helps me when I am confused, and in return I help them.” (fifth grader)

“I stop and ask three people if they could help. If that doesn’t work I will go to the teacher.” (fourth grader)

“When I struggle, I ask someone on my team for help.” (fourth grader)

to sum it all up

Bit by bit…the students and teachers at Greensboro Elementary School are putting it together. Students are owning the learning; students are driving instruction; STUDENTS are reaping the benefits of teachers trusting that learning needs to be handed over to the students and that they [teachers] need to take a step back.

I hope you’ll continue to follow Greensboro Elementary School as they continue their journey with the Essentials for Learning and Ignite Series of Instruction. There’s so much to celebrate. And yes, there IS joy in the journey!