by Claire Wernecke
Second Grade Teacher

I have seen some amazing growth from my students in the first half of the year.  Students just finished their third round of assessments before winter break.  Many students grew ten to twenty percent on their benchmarks and several students also grew 1-2 STEP levels (in reading). I know that the weeks of reviewing reading comprehension questions, playing vocabulary games, and nit-picking during punctuation and capitalization lessons, paired with practicing test-taking strategies like reading the questions twice and taking breaks to stay focused has paid off.

But like every other Rocketship teacher, I am always looking ahead and pushing toward higher goals. I keep asking myself, “What’s next? How can I make sure we maintain our success into the new year?” I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of momentum and the best way to keep myself and my students motivated beyond winter break and into the new year.   A combination of celebration, goal setting, and habits of success will keep me and my students charging forward.


First, we need to take time to celebrate. In order to keep our momentum going, my students need to understand their amazing accomplishments. We have celebrated students’ individual STEP and benchmark growth as we wrap up each testing period, but the week before break, we celebrated the class as a whole with a pizza party so that each student could realize his or her role in our overall achievement.

Our parents and families were also part of the celebration. Last week, I started texting and e-mailing parents whose students had significant growth. I couldn’t wait to tell them the results of their child’s hard work. At our first community meeting in January, the second grade teachers will be reviewing benchmark results and helping parents understand the role they play in their student’s growth. It will be awesome to show families how their children are nearly ready to take the CST.

Setting the next round of specific goals is the next step in maintaining momentum.  For my students, that means coloring in their progress trackers and creating new percentage and STEP level goals for the next cycle. For me, it means crafting my instructional game plan—narrowing down the exact areas to reteach and introduce in the next few weeks.

This year, I’ve found that when I have a specific goal in mind, I communicate it to my students without even realizing it. Earlier this year, when one of our focus areas was identifying cause and effect relationships, I began pointing out real-life examples of cause and effect whenever I noticed them in class or books that we read, along with the lessons I’d planned. Soon, my students were coming up to me in the middle of class with their own examples and bringing up cause and effect in class discussions. When we are all focused on the same set of goals, we will continue to achieve.

Finally, my students, families, and I need to practice regular habits that will help us keep growing and learning. This past instructional cycle, we practiced reviewing benchmark goals and test-taking strategies every day. Naming goals and steps towards them has become a school-wide focus area and students were eager to share them with school leaders, visitors, and each other. In the upcoming months, I want my students to know what reading strategies they’ll use and to practice telling me how they used them in their daily reading. I also need to reinvest parents in reading and fluency homework. I hope that by focusing on a few key behaviors and engaging in them daily, we will maintain our success.

I’ve heard that the winter can be a “teacher slump” where energy levels are low and demands on our time start to bog us down.  In six years of teaching, I’ve found that momentum is what gets me through this slump each year.  It’s time to leverage celebration, goal setting, and habits of success as we move into 2014.

We’ve already made it through five months of hard work—six more amazing months with my students are on the horizon. Let’s all celebrate our accomplishments and start 2014 with even greater success!


Claire Wernecke is a second grade teacher at Mateo Sheedy Elementary and is in her sixth year of teaching and living in San Jose. She received a BA in American Studies from Stanford University. Claire enjoys tailgating and following Stanford football, dancing, and hiking all over the Bay Area.

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