Cognitive empathy.  I believe it 's the most valuable asset a teacher can possess to truly connect with her students. The reason I landed my first teaching job was because I could answer the question, "What is cognitive empathy?" Twenty years later I vividly remember the six teacher panel looking at me as the wheels were turning in my head.  "Cognitive is thinking. Empathy is relating to ones emotions." I confidently responded, " Putting yourself in the students' shoes.  Understanding what they are thinking so you can teach to their strengths and understanding." They paused, looked at each other and said, "You were our first candidate to answer that question."  I didn't realize at that time how important and meaningful that question was for me. Unknowingly, upon reflection, I have practiced it everyday of my teaching career. It does not come easily, I must be mindful and practice it every day.  

When I plan a lesson or activity, there are many factors to consider beyond the content and curriculum. I think of the high expectations I want my students to attain, but I also think of the learning styles and difficulties that sit before me daily.  
I design reading, writing, and content assignments that are user friendly and can easily be broken into smaller chunks of information to be accessible. I think of  engaging and motivating questions so students will connect and find relevant meaning to the information. I come up with mnemonic devices to help learn information.  I sit next to students. I talk to them and observe them so I can best understand them. Everyday I put myself in the shoes of 23 different students and think what approach would help them understand and succeed.

The brain is the most fascinating organ.  I love trying to figure out the puzzle of each child's unique brain.  It's always changing, challenging, but also rewarding to see a student succeed.  Because isn't that really what all kids want?

When we raise the bar, kids reach for it.  They push themselves and excel. And when they do reach it, it gives them great reason to celebrate!  Reason for celebrating the hard work, and
perseverance. In turn kids gain a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence and reason to believe in themselves.

Recently on the playground when my daughter faced two bars. She easily reached the lower of the two, hung upside down, jumped off and was done. It was easy for her and there was no sense of accomplishment. No reason to celebrate. Then she stood before the high bar and reached.  It was too high to get a hold of.  I could sense the wheels turning, "How can I get up there?"  She began to stand on her tip toes and wiggle her fingers. She still couldn't reach.   Attempt after attempt she thought, she tried and she failed, but did not give up.  She reassessed and she watched others. With encouraging words, determination, the belief that she could succeed and days of visiting the playground she proudly ran over to me, "Mommy, watch me.  I can do it!" The hard work paid off.   

Watching the process of kids working through tasks that are hard for them and then
succeed is exactly why I raise the bar in my classroom.  I want to see my students  ponder,  work hard, reach high and not settle for the easy way out. I expect them to fail sometimes because when we accomplish tasks with hard work we have reason to celebrate, to give high-fives, smile and feel good about ourselves.  We must 
believe in our children, and they will believe in themselves.

During science students were to read a non-fiction selection on the stem of plants and answer questions.  As it had been modeled in class, they were expected to record answers in complete sentences using content vocabulary. Every single student needed to reexamine their work. I could have thought, "This is too hard for them" and move on since all students struggled with the expectations.  But it was not out of their
reach. Yes, they had to work harder, reread, rethink and rewrite, but it was an attainable goal. Some students fixed their errors in one attempt, for others it took a number of times. Yet, students were not discouraged because they knew I believed they could do it.  I gave support, encouragement and strategy to help them succeed.  All the kids persevered to complete the assignment as expected and were proud of their accomplishments.  We gave high fives, we cheered, and they definitely had reason to celebrate.

I believe all learners need to be held to a high standard. We must raise the bar, and help them until they reach it.  As a result we will begin to see students believe in
themselves  and expect more from themselves.