Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What are You Doing to Change the Situation?

Post by Mike Gower: Mike is currently the Superintendent of Schools in USD #325 Phillipsburg and USD #326 Logan, KS. You can follow Mike on Twitter @Supt325326gower

Talk to retired teachers, veteran teachers, first year teachers or student teachers and you get the same response; they got into teaching because they want to help kids or they love kids or they love a certain content area and want to share that passion with kids.  No mention of money or personal gain or even a hint of selfishness, rather they simply have a desire to serve students.  How have Kansas teachers been rewarded for their service?  Their pay ranks in the bottom 20% nationally.  Tenure rights have been stripped.  Their ability to negotiate items has been restricted.  The latest scheme to “divide and conquer” is merit pay.  Teachers can only control when kids are at school.  Sure, they can try to influence kids to make the right choices but cannot control their environment 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  It seems unfair to me that teachers should be judged and pitted against one another for pay raises on student performance when they do not control student choices 24/7.

Schools have been labeled “inefficient, if not immoral” by our governor for the budget choices we have made because we have failed to get 65% of our overall budget into the classroom.  Of course, items such as operations and maintenance, transportation, food service and the ever-wasteful administration do not count as money to the classroom but try operating a school without any of those functions.  At least the question of 65% is directed at administration and not teachers.

If the governor and certain legislative members want to accuse a superintendent of being inefficient and immoral and criticize them for not getting 65% into the classroom per their definition, so be it, but leave our teachers alone!  All our teachers are guilty of is choosing a profession that makes the biggest impact on our society for very low pay with a very high rate of criticism.  Somewhere we lost our way and when someone disagrees with us, it seems to be popular to attack them and try to discredit them.  Teachers should be held in the highest regard, not attacked for simply trying to help kids.  True leaders do not blame others when things go awry.  They accept responsibility and try to correct their mistakes.  

So, in true Jimmy Casas form, what are we doing to correct the situation?  First of all, thank an educator for what they do each day to inspire kids.  Many thanks to the USD #325 teachers and staff for not only inspiring my two daughters to follow in your footsteps but for all you do each day to make our students successful.  Lord knows we need more teachers to overlook the negative and focus on the positive joys of being an educator.  Thanks USD #326 for your daily efforts to make our students the best they can be.  Second, take to Twitter to proclaim the positive things happening in our districts each day.  We must use the tools available to us to focus on the positives and let the public know that we are doing our best to prepare our students for the future.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Finally, exercise your right to vote.  Don’t sit back and complain after the elections especially if you did not even vote.  That is just noise and not being a part of the solution. As Jimmy Casas said, “find a way to correct the situation.”

"Our reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Post by Amy Harksen: Amy is in her 9th year as a school counselor at Bettendorf High School and currently serves in the role of Team Leader. You can follow her on Twitter @AharksenAmy

The news has generally been pretty bad lately. Shootings, terrorism, increasing poverty, and the list goes on. In education, our student population has gotten more challenging and the pressure and burden on teachers and school staff has gotten much larger.

Take, for instance, the case of 16 year old Ann (fictional name to protect confidentiality). She is behind in credits, has poor attendance, and was recently dropped from a class to give her a better chance to pass the others. Frequently, her head is down on the desk and she appears disengaged. She has been given resources from teachers, counselors, and administrators. She reports there are days she sits in the parking lot but can’t bring herself to walk through the door. Kind of looks like another disheartening fail, right?  I see it as a story of heart and hope.

I guess that’s a matter of perspective...

You see, in the past two years, Ann has lived in somewhere around five different homes—sometimes with Mom in a trailer, then Dad and a girlfriend, then Grandma, and occasionally a friend. She has worked some jobs until after 1:00 am and then gone to school the next morning. Out of all these places, she doesn’t feel there is anyone who truly cares. She bought herself a used car, and picked up another job. She has periods of stability and periods where her world falls apart. Consider this 24 hour period of time.

A teacher (the one whose class she was pulled from) stops me to ask about Ann, expressing her sadness over the situation and belief that Ann is intelligent and resilient. We both get emotional discussing her situation. Later that day, I have a note to talk to one of our Associate Principals about Ann. Before I have time to do that, a student reports a girl sobbing in the hall. Without hesitation, a counselor rushes to assist. She returns with a sobbing Ann, and I take her to my office, comforting her as she sobs. She was present when a friend’s Mom (and Mom figure to her) was taken off life support the day before. Her car is dead in the lot, as it has been every day, because it only starts when someone “jumps” it. She needs a new battery but can’t afford it. She is ready to give up. We talk about why she shouldn’t give up, about her value, her strengths, her plans, her resilience and her goals. I enlist our social worker to help with resources, as she is in need of not only a battery, but medical care, and community mental health in addition to what we can offer her in school. He reached out to our “Angel Network,” a community resource of caring people who offer assistance. The Associate Principal who helped her the prior day set up a para-educator to help her not only with schoolwork, but time to seek a job closer to home. Our security officer jumped her car that day. We found assistance in both medical and mental health. That night, a parent of a former student and graduate called me to see if she could drop money off for “a student who needed a car battery.” She had no idea this was my student, yet this single Mom who struggles to make her own ends meet, dropped $25 off to me for this anonymous student. Along with other donations, we had the money for the battery.

How can this not be a story of heart and hope? In 24 hours, a teacher, counselor, social worker, para-educator, administrator, school security officer, outreach worker, and several community members teamed up to help this girl. Ultimately, the goal is to help her graduate and transition to college.

No doubt, this can be viewed as part of the challenge to teach and reach so many students who face hardship. It would be great to have a classroom full of intelligent, engaged, alert, and mentally and physically healthy students, but we can’t measure our success by that. Our success as educators is meeting our students where they’re at and helping them raise a level and leave our school better than when they started. So we continue to develop interventions, enrichments, MTSS, to work in PLC’s, etc. and we need to feel good at what we are endeavoring to do.

This news is positive, hopeful, and validating. And this is just one story of many where our staff goes above and beyond to help our students connect, learn, and excel. I feel lucky to work with a team that cares sincerely about educating our students, with an administration that works beside us, in a school of excellence, in a community that supports.

But that’s just my perspective.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Designing and Delivering Large Group Profesional Development

Post by BHS Instructional Coaches Kim Rojas, Pete Bruecken & Jennifer Wikan. This is their 6th post in a series of articles about their first year of TLC in Iowa. You can follow them on Twitter @krojas711 @PeterBruecken @j_wikan

Everything we have learned about instructional coaching includes a heavy emphasis on working one-on-one or with small groups of teachers.  This is natural since the main purpose of a coach is to provide ongoing, personalized classroom-based support.  However, we quickly found out that we could have a large impact by taking a primary role in the design and delivery of whole faculty professional development in our building.  All-staff Professional Development gave us the visibility to begin enrolling over 90 teachers into the coaching process.  The periodic access and exposure to our entire teaching staff provided us the opportunity to utilize the professional development workshop as a springboard to extend a personal invitation for teachers to collaborate with an instructional coach.
Of course, this could never have happened without full support and encouragement from our administrative team.  They provided us the time during the early-release days to be able to take 30, 60, or even 90 minutes working with the faculty. The following table outlines the months and topics of the professional development workshops we facilitated with our faculty during the 2014-2015 school year:

Topic of Early-Release Faculty Workshop
Time (min)
August 2014
Introduction to Instructional Coaching
October 2014
Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture
December 2014
Reflecting on Positive Classroom Culture Strategies
February 2015
Effective and Purposeful Technology Integration
April 2015
Best Practices in Monitoring Student Learning
May 2015
Reflecting on 2014-2015 Year of Coaching & Identifying Next Steps

To keep our professional development workshops teacher-driven and teacher-focused, we utilized various needs assessments throughout the school year.  The very first needs assessment administered during the August workshop focused on general needs of teachers, asking them about their hopes and fears of collaborating with an instructional coach and in what areas of their teaching they might want or need to work with a coach at some point during the school year.  This general needs assessment gave us important information to set our own personal goals for the year, to work on establishing an environment that would fulfill our teachers’ hopes and calm their fears, and to focus our initial work with teachers on their highest identified area of need.  
After August, the needs assessments changed to give us more specific information about our future work with teachers.  At the end of each early-release workshop, the teachers responded to an online survey to let us know in which areas they would like more training.  With this information, we carefully designed the next training session, aligning the building goals of our administrative team with the data we collected from teacher needs assessments.  For example, as you can see in the sample needs assessment below, our administrators wanted the February professional development to be about effective technology integration, which directly ties to one of our district goals.  We took that topic and designed a needs assessment that we administered at the end of our December workshop.  The feedback from that survey allowed us to customize a training session that met our teachers’ needs and interests, increasing the effectiveness of the workshop and the actual implementation of the new knowledge and skills back in the classroom with their students.

Sample needs assessment:

During our professional development sessions, we shared various types of data to help drive our discussions and let teachers know that we, as their coaches, look at the data we collect and use it to make instructional decisions.  (This idea of data-driven instruction is something we are just starting to work on with our teachers, so we decided to model it in our professional development time with them.) The type of data that was included in the workshop depended on the topic for that particular day.  For example, during the October early-release workshop on Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture, we shared data collected regarding classroom culture/management during our work with teachers (with their permission) and how that data helped teachers make instructional decisions. During the February workshop on Technology, we shared the data from the needs assessment and showed our the training had been designed to meet their specific requests.  During the May reflection in-service, we shared the initial teacher needs assessment data from August along with the monthly breakdown of instructional coach activity data so they could see what in areas they had originally requested collaboration time with a coach, and how those areas of focused changed throughout the course of the year. This served as a springboard for reflective conversations, celebrations of our growth and successes this year, and goal-setting for the next school year.
One of the most important aspects of our professional development design and delivery is how we got the teachers involved. These were not your typical  “sit and get” in-services, but rather a powerful opportunity to encourage teacher leadership, collaboration, and buy-in. Since we have 12 model teachers as part of our new teacher leadership framework, we often utilized them to help present information, lead small groups, facilitate discussions, and share out their experiences of working with an instructional coach. However, we didn’t limit the opportunity to just model teachers. Both new and veteran teachers were invited to take a leadership role in either presenting information, modeling, or facilitating discussions during the workshops. This approach cultivates an environment that encourages teachers to learn from their colleagues and to challenge each other to grow professionally. It has also allowed us to stir our teachers’ passion and excitement in a very organic way that is sustainable and relevant to our school community.  
Below is an excerpt from the slideshow for our October workshop on Cultivating a Positive Classroom Culture, featuring 5 of our model teachers who had worked with an instructional coach on specific areas of classroom management (noted in parentheses).  These teachers shared the data that had been collected by the coach during classroom observations, the strategies that the teachers decided to implement during the post-observation reflection conversation with the coach, and how those strategies impacted the classroom culture.

As we mentioned before, the main purpose for us delivering professional development was to gain exposure in front of the faculty and enroll teachers into working with a coach.  Because of this, we always offered a personal invitation to coaching after each faculty workshop through the use of an online survey.  Each time we did this, we had at least 30 teachers request to work with a coach, specifying their focus area either by checking the box next to one of the areas we offered on the survey or by writing in their own area of focus in the “other” option. This personal invitation to work with a coach was included on the same survey as the needs assessment.

Sample coaching invitation:

One thing we learned about these surveys is that it was frustrating when teachers requested to work with a coach, but they didn’t put their name on the survey.  We specifically made the survey anonymous so we could collect honest data on the needs assessment piece of the tool, but this did not work well with the personal invitation to work with a coach since it is quite difficult to contact anonymous responders!  This is something we will need to restructure for our coaching invitations next year.
We feel incredibly fortunate to have an administrative team that provides us with the opportunity to design and deliver large-scale professional development workshops with our teachers.  Although this is not the main objective of our position as instructional coaches, it has definitely opened the door for us and has allowed our teachers to become more comfortable in entering into a conventional coaching cycle.  As we quickly found out, “enrolling” teachers can be one of the most difficult aspects of coaching at the high school level, where many teachers are used to working in isolation or collaborating only with content-alike colleagues. While taking an active role in designing and delivering professional development is not the only way to reach teachers and enroll them into working with a coach, it can definitely help you get a foot (or even a whole leg!) in the door.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Success Isn't Easy

Post by Brad Bannerman: Brad is in his 2nd year as Academic Interventionist at Bettendorf High School. You can follow Brad @bradbannerman

The other day I was talking to one of my students about success. He has been working very hard to turn his school career and personal life around, and had been having a lot of frustration and depression about what he sees as a lack of progress. I told him that none of us start out as experts in anything we do, and to take heart in the progress he has made so far; his grades were better in the last quarter than they had been before, and he was consistently making better decisions in his personal life.

He responded by telling me that he had made a mistake in his personal choices and it was apparent that he was beating himself up over it. I told him that he needs to understand that he is human; mistakes happen. Instead of beating himself up over it, he should reflect upon what led up to the mistake and role-play, mentally, how he could have reacted differently so that he knows what to do the next time this happens.

I reiterated that success is difficult, and we often fail many times or make many mistakes before we can find consistent success. I suggested he write out his feelings and concerns when he is feeling down so that he can get past the self-criticism and move on to the self-reflection. He agreed to try it and seemed to move on.

But what I said seemed to stick with me; all too often I beat myself up over the mistakes I make, or the failures I perceive as my fault. Instead, I need to reflect upon the changes I can make to avoid these mistakes again. I need to be proactive and reflective rather than reactive and overly critical. This is a key point to finding success in the field of teaching as well as in more focused job of academic interventionist--I already view students who succeed with me as their success, I just help bring it out; likewise I can't view students who fail to find success as my fault, could I do things better or differently to help them find success? Likely so, but I can't take their lack of success personally. Instead I should reflect on the small successes they had and focus on different ways to help them.

I don't think I can ever be a true expert Academic Interventionist, because every student is different--there is no cure-all. Instead, I can become an expert at reflection and adaptation so that I can do everything in my power to give students the chance to find success in their own way.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Impact of Positive Communication

Post by Rachel Cuppy & Beth Thompson: Rachel and Beth both teach special education at Bettendorf High School. You can follow them on Twitter @rcuppy1 @betheku

What is the measure of impact when reaching out to a struggling student’s parent?  Think about it…. Parents get inundated with information just like their kids do.  How often do you contact parents with a positive message revolving around their child?  Parents who have struggling students are all too often struggling themselves.    So often times they see the school’s phone number or a staff’s email address and cringe before they answer or open their email.  Put yourself in their shoes… Would you struggle with having meaningful interactions with teachers when the only messages about your child you receive focus on negative aspects of behavior or lack of academic progress they display? Research indicates when a positive relationship is established between home and school students find greater success in the academic setting (Gelfer, 2006; Ramirez, 2009).

The most common type of communication between teachers and parents has been one-way communication (Thompson, 2008).  Common forms of one-way communication include newsletters, journals, websites, praise notes, and emails. Thompson (2008) researched emails that teachers sent home and concluded that a majority of them were academic in nature.  Emails sent from school were most commonly used to inform parents and guardians of academic progress, missing work, and attendance (Stafford, 1987).  Even though email was limited by being emotionless in nature, teachers and parents still utilized it regularly due to the ease of sending and receiving messages instantly while not consuming an abundance of time (Ramirez, 2001).  The majority of emails sent by teachers do not receive a reply from parents (Jensen, 2007).

Parents should be contacted and encouraged to praise their students at home for positive academic achievements and behaviors displayed with the academic setting.  By encouraging parents to deliver praise too, the parents gain the ability to understand and reinforce behaviors and skills that are desirable at home and school.  Positive communications from teachers to parents should include information regarding successes both behaviorally and academic that students have experienced in school.  Ramirez (2001) suggested that students placed an increased value on their education when their parents were involved in the process. 

In today’s technology infused society delivering positive messages to parents regarding their child is more convenient than ever. Multiple avenues exist to streamline the communication process.  Teachers can use apps on their cell phones to send positive pictures and short statements to parents in order for them to see or hear about success their child has found at school.  Positive phone calls home can be a wonderful surprise for both parents and students.  The positive message or phone call could set the stage for meaningful conversation between parents and their child.

In addition to using technology to contact parents, never underestimate the power of a hand written note sent home via the postal service.  Imagine going to the mailbox expecting more bills or junk mail and instead finding a notecard from the school celebrating something your child did well.  The note will send a clear message to parents that their child is working with someone who values and cares about them.

When students and their parents feel positive connections with the school and teachers they are working with good things happen.  Student attendance is increased; the number of missing assignments is decreased.  These changes can have a ripple effect on students helping them develop more confidence at home and school and ultimately helping them find success as they transition into the next phase of their education or lives.

Last spring we conducted an action research project at the elementary and high school levels testing the theory of positive communications from teachers to parents would have a significant impact on the desired behaviors of students in the academic setting.  The data gathered during our research supported our theory and desired behaviors displayed by students were increased at both levels in the academic setting.  If you would like to know more about our research methods or data you can contact us at or .

Gelfer, J.I. (2006). Teacher-parent partnerships enhancing communications.
            Childhood Education, 67(3), 164-167.
Jensen, D.A. (2007). Using classroom newsletters as a vehicle for examining
            home-school connections. Teaching Education, 18(3), 167-178.
Ramirez, A.Y. (2009). Survey on teachers’ attitudes regarding parents and parental
            Involvement. The School Community Journal, 9(2), 21-39.
Ramirez, F. (2001). Technology and parental involvement. A Journal of
Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 75(1), 30-31.
Stafford, L. (1987). Parent-teacher communication. Communication Education,
            36(2), 182-187.
Thompson, B (2008). Characteristics of parent-teacher email communication.
            Communication Education, 57(2), 210-223

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Process Has To Start Somewhere

Post by Clint Heitz:  Clint has been teaching English for 10 years and is currently in his 2nd year at Bettendorf High School.  You can follow Clint on Twitter at @CRHeitz

This year I have been a part of something called a Professional Learning Community (PLC). According to Richard DuFour, PLCs are based on three big ideas:
  1. Ensuring that students learn
  2. A culture of collaboration
  3. A focus on results
My particular PLC group is made up of the three 9th grade English teachers, a special education teacher, an academic interventionist, an administrator, three representatives from a state organization called an Area Education Agency, and the frequent participation of our building principal. This group of highly dedicated educators is tackling the idea of a standards-based curriculum, which involves identifying priority standards, "unwrapping" those standards, developing quality common formative assessments, and re-evaluating/remodeling our curriculum. Of course, this was going to affect my practice in the classroom, and it already has, so I have decided to delve into my blogging world again to provide a place for reflection and sharing of ideas / observations.

This process we are engaging in, as teachers and in PLCs, allows us to implement principles of instructional design that I've repeatedly found myself going back to time and again. On the most basic level, ADDIE is the foundation of such practices, but really the process is much more fluid and will require steps to be repeated, enhanced, reworked, and recycled. Perhaps this reflective practice of blogging will help me navigate that. Perhaps, if I'm lucky, readers will pitch in to help me navigate through with ideas, directions, observations, and such.

So, here's to the first step!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Collaborative Coaching

Instructional Coach Collaboration with Building Administrators, District Administrators,and other Teacher Leaders
(This is the fifth in a series of articles about our first year of TLC in Iowa)

Collaborating with Building Administrators
From the very beginning, our building administrators made a conscious and strategic effort to integrate us into our school’s leadership team.  As soon as we were hired as instructional coaches, they involved us right away in the interview process of model teachers and team leaders. Once the school year started, we met with our building administrators for 30 minutes every Monday to discuss strategies, goals, professional development needs, concerns,  trainings, etc. It was also during these meetings when administrators asked if we needed anything or if there were additional ways they could support us.

Our building administrators welcomed our position as an additional resource for our teachers as well as for themselves.  In our Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) model, instructional coaches have the opportunity to work with teachers in a non-evaluative capacity, which is one of the key distinctions between coaches and administrators.  

Since utilizing an instructional coach is completely voluntary and confidential at our district, we are not allowed to share specific information with administrators about our work with teachers.  We feel incredibly fortunate because our building principals have been very supportive and rarely ask anything about our specific work with teachers.  However, there have been a few times when we have had to kindly remind them that we can’t respond to the question they are asking.  What we can do is respond with general statements about the work we are doing and give an overall impression about building-wide successes, challenges, and needs our teachers are facing.  
  As full release instructional coaches, our time is 100% dedicated to assisting teachers in maximizing their effect on student learning. While this is also most likely the ultimate goal of building principals, they often wear many hats in a day and find themselves in high demand by parents, students, community members, and district administrators, which can easily impede their ability to be in the classroom and engage teachers in ongoing, personalized professional development.  For this reason, we have found that it is essential to maintain a good administrator-coach relationship so we can work together to meet the professional learning goals and needs of all of our teachers so they can, in turn, provide the best learning experience for our students.

Also, even though we formally meet with our administrators every Monday morning, we often find ourselves collaborating with them throughout the day as the need arises.  This ease of access is due to the fact that our instructional coach office is located within a wing of our main office, so we are in close proximity to all 5 of our building administrators’ offices and can easily “pop in” if we see they have a free minute and need to run something by them.  They can also easily catch us if they have a quick question or idea to throw our way.  While we sometimes feel that it would be better for us to be located somewhere out among the classrooms, we do enjoy being able to easily collaborate with our principals.  

Collaborating with Other Teacher Leaders and District Administrators
During our first year as instructional coaches, we also had the opportunity to collaborate with our 17 building team leaders representing all of the academic content departments and student services team.  On occasion, our principal would ask us to participate in discussions, present an idea, share data, or ask for feedback at one of the bi-weekly team leader meetings on Mondays at 3:30pm.  This served as yet another chance to get to know our fellow teacher leaders, be a part of collaborative decision-making processes, and brainstorm ideas with representatives from all areas of the school.  
In addition to our collaboration with building principals and team leaders, we also meet monthly with 2 of our district administrators, the 3 Curriculum and Professional Development leaders (CPDs) representing Math, Literacy, and STEAM, and all 15 of the district’s instructional and literacy coaches.  This 2-hour block of time has been set up as a safe place for instructional coaches and CPDs to have discussions about celebrations as well as concerns.  During these meetings, we discuss current successes, challenges, and frustrations, next steps moving forward, district information involving the TLC, and any additional updates, (while always working within the boundaries of our confidentiality agreement).  Here are some of the specific topics we discussed at these meetings during our first year of the TLC:
  • what our day to day activities involved
  • how we were documenting our work with teachers and tracking growth
  • coaching strategies that were successful in enrolling teachers into working with a coach
  • strategies for developing building-wide PD
  • strategies for working with teacher teams
  • ways to help teachers implement best practices in reading, math, and science
  • how project tunings connect with instructional coaching at our project-based middle school
  • reflections on practicing with the coaching tools (unit planning, lesson planning, analyzing student work, selective scripting, seating chart, etc.) that we received from our instructional coach training
  • how we were going to measure our impact as coaches at the end of Year 1 and get feedback from our teachers
We also paired up with an instructional coach from a different level and shadowed them for a half day to see what the role of coach was like in their building.  This gave us many insights into the similarities and differences in our role as instructional coach at the various grade levels and helped us better understand the unique needs and areas of focus for instructional coaching in each of our buildings.  

Now that we are in Year 2 of our TLC implementation, we have continued our weekly meetings with our building administration, our occasional collaboration with team leaders, and our monthly meetings with all of the district’s instructional coaches and CPDs.  We look forward to building upon the strong collaboration that was started during our first year as coaches to become even more effective in impacting our district’s and building’s student learning goals.