Retention Story

During the summer vacation between my 7th and 8th grade school years, I developed a friendship with a classmate named Mark.  Mark was a year ahead of me in school and that summer, both of our dads had become very sick (mine with kidney disease). We spent most of our vacation in hospitals and both of our dads ended up going to the Mayo Clinic.  In the fall, my dad came home, but Mark’s didn’t.  Shortly after his dad passed away, his oldest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Mark missed a lot of school that year.  He also was retained for failing grades.  Mark and I graduated together and have remained lifelong friends.  When I think about retention, I usually picture Mark and how upset and embarrassed he was after his retention. We never talk about it, but I know it’s still a source of embarrassment for him today.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of articles on retention and discussing with my peers what the research says about retention. Nearly every article shows that retention increases the chance of school drop out, decreases attendance, and if there is an academic gain it is usually gone at the end of two years, leaving the student at the bottom of the class again. Knowing all this, there have still been times (especially with kindergarten students) where I have opted for retention hoping that the child will benefit from the “gift of time”. It’s frustrating when there are no obvious solutions for how to assist students who aren’t ready for “the next level”.

Looking at the research, the best options for these students include early identification of areas of struggle, research-based interventions, and ongoing progress monitoring.  The research also shows that these students simply need more time on task…there’s the rub.  How do we create opportunities for them to “catch up”?  Is it a summer camp, before or after school clubs, or some other innovative use of instructional time? I’m not sure of the answer, but the research seems clear on what does not work.  I think nationwide, we as educators need to get creative and try to figure out what could work and maybe experiment with innovative schedules and methods.  As glad as I am that Mark and I became friends, I still wish he would have been given the opportunity to stay with his peers and perhaps had one less setback in his life that terrible year.

Mark and I


“Be a student as long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.” – Henry L. Doherty
“Learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to drop back.” – Chinese Proverb
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein
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New Adventures


This summer, I am beginning a new adventure and a new chapter in my career as I start at Buchanan Elementary. It’s ironic that for someone who values consistency and continuity like I do, I’ve had a lot of changes in my career. From different buildings and communities, each change has pushed me to grow as an educator and forced me out of my comfort zone. I’ve learned so many things from each staff that I’ve worked with, but the number one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t know anything, until you know your staff. Techniques that worked with one group may be completely ineffective with another. The things that motivate one teacher may be irrelevant to another teacher. One community may be vocal and visible and another may be silent and more elusive. The knowledge and experience gained from so many moves helps me to realize how little I know until I know them. As I shared in an early post, “Relationships aren’t transferable“. I’ve learned this the hard way by resting on my laurels from one building and thinking they would magically transfer to my new building and not putting in the necessary time. We build relationships by listening, being present, and most importantly, truly caring about others.

As I prepare for new adventures with a new building and school community, I thought it was the right time to start a new blog as well. I’m hoping the new format will make it easy for people to find and read the blog posts, help connect educators through the Compelled Tribe page of ed bloggers, and also provide links to podcasts and presentations that I have been privileged to participate in or facilitate. My goal is to have all the things I believe about education in one location for my staff, colleagues, or any educator to easily find. Educators grow when we connect with one another, I’m hopeful this new site will help me connect with other educators to help push my learning and expand my professional learning network. Together we are better!

Like all new adventures, this one if filled with excitement and unknowns. It’s natural to want to look back at the shore we are leaving and remember the good times and memories made there. However, I need to keep my focus forward and my eye on the horizon as I sail onward with a new crew and to new destinations. This blog will serve as my log of reflections, growth, successes and yes, failures too. I hope my reflections will help others as well and maybe provide the encouragement to try something new. After all, adventures are more fun when they are shared!


A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.” – Eckhart Tolle

One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it.” – Gaston Bachelard


Tuesday, August 22: Bounce Back to School Event at Riley 5:00-8:00 pm                       Wednesday, August 23: Building Tours 5:30 pm                                                                   Thursday, August 24: Building Tours 10:00 am

Tuesday, August 28: District/Building PD                                                                       Wednesday, August 30: District/Building PD                                                                     Thursday, August 31: Teacher Work Day