Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Adventures Embracing the Jungle Tiger

I spent my first eight years teaching and learning in a fourth grade classroom at Benton Community.  As a classroom teacher, I was challenged by my teammates and colleagues within my building to think differently and continue to be a learner.  I got a taste of teacher leadership having been on our building and district leadership teams.  I also had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, administrators, and community members to write our district's grant for teacher leadership.  As we went through that process, I didn't think I would be able to step outside of my zone of comfort and leave my classroom for one of the full time teacher leadership positions.  When the opportunity of teachers leadership came to Benton Community and we were awarded the grant, I made a difficult decision of trying something new, putting myself out there for failure, something completely outside of my zone of comfort.  I had never been an instructional coach, I had never been coached as as teacher.  What would this look like at Benton Community?  Would it be embraced by our teachers?  What would happen if I failed?

I have been extremely blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to support students and teachers at Keystone Elementary and in the Benton Community School District as a teacher leader.  Now looking back, I am so thankful I took that leap of faith three years ago.  I was unsure of what it would look like, how I would like it, and how much people would embrace working with a teacher leader.  Our team and district built teacher leadership from the ground up.  We often speak of the analogy of building a plane as we were flying it.  This is because we had teachers willing to learn on the edge, try new things with us, fail together, modify our goals, and try again.  Still today, my colleagues continue to amaze me by being willing to collaborate and learn together and take risks with me -- learning in the wild.
Back in October, this learning theory was solidified when I heard a message about finding your inner Jungle Tiger from Trevor Ragan on an #IAedChat LIVE show. I encourage you to take a look at his videos on learning and growth.  His message challenged me to dance with my fears and live beyond my comfort zone.  I challenge each of you taking the time to read this post to dance with your fears, for you never know what kind of opportunities will unfold when you take a risk.  I have absolutely no doubt that the staff at Benton Community will continue to amaze me with their willingness to be learners and dance with their fears.  

This summer I will start a new journey at Grant Wood AEA as a School Improvement Consultant. Benton Community will always be our home, a place to raise our family, with an opportunity be a part of an amazing community.  It is the place I was able to start my journey... because of people who believed in me.  I had great mentors my first several years of teaching and continue to have mentors in my leadership roles.  These people are my tribe.  They push me to want to be better, do better, and know better.  They are my coaches whether or not they have the title. To the people who have believed in me along the way, thank you for pushing me to step outside of my zone of comfort, to continue to grow as a learner, and find my inner jungle tiger.

Visit the Train Ugly website at or find Train Ugly on Twitter @Train_Ugly

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Student-Centered Coaching Focus at Benton Community

Benton Community is in its third year of implementation of Iowa's Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant.  In those three years, we have learned a lot about teacher leadership and its impact on teaching and learning in our district.  

Our first year, we honestly felt that we were building a plane as we were flying it.  None of the five instructional coaches that were hired had ever been an instructional coach.  Only one of them had ever had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach.  We learned a lot from our colleagues at Grant Wood AEA and from the other first year implementation schools.  We have also learned in the past three years that we aren't finished learning.  

Throughout year one we learned with Grant Wood AEA and the New Teacher Center.  Our learning centered around coaching language and ways to look for entry points to build relationships with teachers.  We also did a book study on a book by Elena Aguilar called The Art of Coaching and a book study on the book Student Centered Coaching by Diane Sweeney.  

The spring of our first year, we started planning a summer #BCedCamp focused on Teacher Leadership.  This was an opportunity for teacher leaders from around the state to get together and learn together about the new TLC grant and initiative in Iowa.  We are in planning stages of our Third Annual #BCedCamp, planned for June 15, 2017, so mark your calendars!

Our second year we learned with Grant Wood AEA and Jim Knight.  His sessions focused on high impact instruction and taking advantage of videoing teaching in the classroom to make connections for teacher improvement.  We also read a Pete Hall book, Building Teachers' Capacity for Success, and attended trainings with Pete Hall and Elena Aguilar to strengthen our coaching knowledge. 

This year we are learning from our neighbors at AEA 267 and Diane Sweeney around Student Centered Coaching.  Our team and our administration feel this is the best way to make the greatest impact on student achievement in our district.  To support this shift to a more student-centered approach, we created a visual to outline the supports we can provide.

The continuum below shows the progression from relationship building to coaching cycles.  All levels of the continuum are important in any coaching relationship.  This visual simply outlines that the goal is to provide teachers support as they move toward the right side of the continuum; a deeper coaching relationship which is more student-centered.   Below the continuum, the instructional supports we can provide are also outlined.  

Next, we felt it was beneficial to show that there are a few options for coaching cycles.  One option is an individual or group data team cycle focused on data from the classroom.  We will outline a focus for support, provide observation and co-teaching support, learn together about improvements which will positively effect student achievement, and support analysis of classroom data to gauge proficiency toward our goal.  This process closely aligns with our district data team goals, it is simply focused on a classroom goal rather than a district goal.  Another option is with support with implementing new instructional practices such as small-groups or differentiated levels of support for students.  Also included in this support is planning, feedback, and reflection on the process.  
Overall, our mission is to get into coaching relationships with as many teachers as possible to support teachers as they strive to get better.  With all of the learning we have done over the past three years with such impactful instructional coaching models, we feel we are more prepared than ever to help teachers accomplish their goals.  We are always learning to find ways to best fit our teachers' and students' needs.  This quote by Dylan Wiliam highlights our mission: "Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better."  BCTLT does not want to 'fix' teachers.  We want to empower teachers as they yearn to get better for the good of our students.  

If you'd like to talk more about our TLC journey at Benton Community, please contact me or one of my teammates!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Soctober Success at #KeyRocks!

We had SO much success with our Socktober project this year!  Our presentation to give our donated socks to Olivet Neighborhood MIssion from Cedar Rapids was scheduled for later in November, but because of a family emergency, their representative had to cancel.  Instead, we shared our students' projects with our students here at Keystone Elementary, and now, we're sharing them with you!  

We are so very fortunate to have such a supportive community and friends of our school to help us out with our mission project!  We have had many family and friends who supported our Socktober project ask for an update and I kept forgetting to get it out, so here goes!

Grand total - 1,305 pairs of socks for cold feet! 

Socks delivered to Olivet Neighborhood Mission in Cedar Rapids!

Look at all those socks!

Socks from Washington! 

Socks collection from a family! 

Student posters!

Socks from Des Moines!

Socks from Colorado!

Socks from Nevada!
Socks from Illinois! 

Socks from Arizona!
Socks from California!

Socks from Arizona!

Socks from California! 

Socks from Arizona and North Carolina!

3rd Grade Projects:

2nd Grade Projects

1st Grade Projects

Yellow guy with black curly hair at the end is my favorite! ;)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Five Favorite Ted Talks

Do you have a few minutes to spare?  Here is a short list of five of my current favorite TED-Talks.  

Rita Pierson - Every Child Needs a Champion

This video gives a call for educators to ensure that all students have a "person" with which to connect.  

DIana Laufenberg - How to Learn? From Mistakes

This short ten minute video discusses the process where learning happens.  Students (and adults) learn from mistakes and by others encouraging them through embracing resilience.  

Ramsey Musallam - Three Rules to Spark Learning
I heard Ramsey speak at a conference last year.  He is truly inspirational.  Ramsey Musallam is a chemistry teacher from California.  In this short talk, he encourages teachers to cultivate curiosity by lighting a spark with imagination and learning. 

Sir Ken Robinson - Do Schools Kill Creativity?

This is one of the first TED-Talks I had ever watched, and it is still a favorite.  In this video, Sir Ken Robinson encourages teachers to cultivate curiosity by thinking radically in order to change the way we teach to embrace the way students learn. 

Angela Duckworth - The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Angela talks about how IQ is not the best predictor of success in this short, six-minute video.  The power of perseverance and passion are true predictors of success.  "Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."  

Monday, October 10, 2016

Community Data Wall at Keystone Elementary

Benton Community School District is a Year 3 Iowa TLC school and has recently transitioned from utilizing Model Teachers to now having a Data Team Leader at almost all grade levels/departments PK-12.  Our team has made data the center of most of our conversations, and with the support and guidance of our administration, the Instructional Coaches in our district have made it a goal to bring this data to a community place at all of our buildings.   Many classrooms currently have data walls, much like this one in a kindergarten classroom at Keystone Elementary.   This blog will focus on the community data wall located in the office at Keystone Elementary.

What is a data wall, you might ask?  A data wall is a space dedicated to displaying results over a period of time.  It is also a space to show whole school data, as well as grade-level or classroom data.  Data walls are also an opportunity for self-reflection and an opportunity to identify gaps.  If the data wall is in a community space, the names of students are preserved, and often, numbers take their place or general data is used.

Included on our data wall:

  • Preschool IGDIs - Picture Names
  • Kinder - Letter Sound Fluency
  • 1st Grade - Sentence Reading / CBM Fluency
  • 2nd Grade - CBM Fluency
  • 3rd Grade - CBM Fluency
  • PK-3rd grade - PBIS Office Referrals
  • Percentage of students "Progress Monitored" the week prior
  • Percentages of students who had "Intervention Time" entered into the Tier system the week prior
  • Weekly results over time

Keystone Elementary chose to get down to grade-level specific data from our fall, winter, and spring FAST assessments, as well as building-wide PBIS office referrals and weekly Progress Monitoring and Intervention data.  Our data wall will give us a chance to look at trends and take ownership of what is happening in our classrooms.

The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.
-- Carly Fiorina

Data is recorded and tracked over time.

We found that last year, sometimes our Progress Monitoring inadvertently was missed or incomplete.  This type of result was especially heightened during shortened weeks due to holidays or inclement weather.  According to the new Differentiated Accountability process in Iowa, 90% of the Progress Monitoring and Interventions must happen 90% of the time.  Our district has made it a focus to ensure that our Differentiated Accountability numbers continue to rise, and ensuring our Progress Monitoring and Intervention Time is being entered will help with this goal.   

Teachers make these two integral pieces a part of their classroom routine.  On Wednesdays, reports are run for the previous week and the data wall is updated.  Teachers are working hard to remember to make this a part of the routine, and as a result, Progress Monitoring happens every week and Interventions times are being entered with fidelity.  As the quote says, it's all about the kids.  This data wall is not about pointing fingers or calling each other out.  Instead, it is about embracing the "us" mentality.  These are our kids and we can work together to ensure their success. 

For more information on data walls at Benton CSD, don't hesitate to reach out!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Eulogy for My Papa Cookie

A Eulogy for Louis Junior Kaiser
Louis Junior Kaiser, Louie, Son, Brother, Uncle, Nephew, Husband, Pa, Pawd, Dad, Grandpa Kaiser, Great-Grandpa, Lou, Papa, Private First Class, King Louie, Junior, Papa Cookie, Neighbor, Friend.  The man we are here to celebrate today was known by many and had many different titles in his 91 glorious years.

So what do you say about a man who had it all?  He was the oldest son of nine children, he had an older sister and three younger, and he had three younger brothers.  He attended a one room schoolhouse ⅓ of a mile from the family farm before attending high school in Garrison and a semester at Iowa State.  Grandpa fought for his country in World War II as a paratrooper in the Army and loved his country with all of his heart and soul. He raised his children to love and respect God and their country.  He started playing golf at the ripe young age of 70 with the company of his brothers.  He was a man of simple words, but had wit that would sneak up on you.  Grandpa was never a man to put off work until tomorrow that could get done today.   He did the best he could to always keep his word and be there for his family.

He was married to a woman with a beautiful soul for over 60 years, whom he loved and respected deeply.  We always thought Grandma was the mushy one, but he’s shown his softer side with lots of hugs and kisses the past several years.   He and Grandma raised six children, resulting in 15 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.  He loved the land and was especially fond of Oliver tractors, and the beautiful science of the planting and harvest seasons.  This love was built on a solid foundation of farming, for he started when he was 14 years old with a horse-drawn two-row planter, stepping in for his dad who was down for almost year with Malta Fever.  He once said that his most important crop he ever tended, however, was his beloved family.

The name Kaiser goes back a long way.  Grandpa Kaiser stands for a lot of things.  It stands for a man who was so well-loved by his family and friends that he was asked to be Best Man in five weddings.  What do you think of when you hear his name?  It reminds me of freedom, courage, strength, family, faith, and love.  We will certainly not do him any sort of justice in this short message, but I can tell you one thing.  We’re proud.  We’re proud of the man he was, and we are proud of the legacy he has left behind with all of us.  

It’s been almost six years since we lost Grandma, but their love, strength, encouragement, and support lives on in all of us, as we are frequently told from people who knew them.  There are 49 people on this Earth who are direct descendants of the 62 years of marriage and the beautiful life he and Grandma shared together.  Through marriage, we now total 66 people altogether.  He always joked about the fact that his large family was all his fault!  He saw her at a basketball game in a barn and couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He was smitten, she could outrun him, but he didn’t give up.

There are several stories us grandchildren, his children, and his siblings have shared over the last week.  Some of them are not appropriate enough to share with you here, but many of them are, so here are a few.  His sister Barb remembers her big brother allowing her to ride the pony, as long as she stayed behind the barn, away from the house, since Mother said no.  Grandpa’s children were talking about their time with their dad growing up.  He gave them a run for their money when the boys thought he didn’t know how to spin donuts in their farm driveway.  They also told stories of lining up in the kitchen for an ear spitshine with a washcloth on the end of his stubbed finger, laughing about their beet-red, clean ears when he was done.  

When asking the grandchildren what they remembered most, there were so many stories that brought back so many memories.  Hearing WMT radio has us thinking of sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, with the smell of bacon frying and the song of the farm report on the radio when we woke up.  We will remember his championship horsey rides as we held onto the straps of his bibbed overalls and then him bucking us off as giggles filled the room.  We’ll vividly remember him stealing our nose and throwing it out to the pigs, tractor rides, and playing in the buildings, outhouse, and bins at the farm.  We will reminisce often of the many UNO games he let us win, knowing darn well we were looking at his cards in the reflection of his glasses.  We will always wonder how we were so gullible as to believe his “fingers” got stuck in his ears.  We will cling tightly to the smell of their home, filled with the scent of freshly baked cookies, Grandma’s tradition he so graciously carried on.  We will cherish the, “Whaddaya know, Kid” and the big hugs while hiding his toothpick for a kiss goodbye after a visit and a quick “love you, too”.

Some grandpas tell fishing stories; our grandpa told stories of the war and the Westerns he loved, but he also gave countless explanations to the reason he had two missing fingers.  After talking to his sister Barb this weekend, we think we have the “True Story of the Missing Fingers” figured out.  The grandkids remember a toad named Herman living in the basement and Grandpa bringing up the baby piggies for the grandkids to play with.  We’ll never forget the sound of the tick of his pocket watch, the click of the wind, and the sensation of running our hands over the buttons of his bib overalls as we sat in his lap. I’m not sure if we have ever met a person so crazy about gooseberry pie or Planter's peanuts.  When opening them as gifts, Grandpa always said he’d never be able to eat it all, but somehow, he always did the job with the help of a few sons.  The grandchildren also remember some intense games of Battleship, Crap on your Neighbor, and hide-and-seek, won right there in the basement of their home.  We’re sure you will also have no problem remembering his hat always being tipped to the side, and his crooked, beautiful smile.  

Our grandparents were always patient with us as we stopped by to invade their house before or after practice, waiting for that next event at the school.  It was a beautiful thing to see him watching with such humbleness as he enjoyed sporting events of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He even waited patiently for 40 years for a Kaiser to finally win a medal at the state wrestling tournament.  We also reminisce about more recent favorites like watching him take part in ravenous pillow fights with the great-grands, still using the bucking-bronco voice we remember hearing as children to rile up our kids.  Feeding our dogs table scraps is usually a no-no, but when King Louie did it, we let it slide.  Even with all of the ways he was able to show us how strong he was, he still wasn’t afraid to show his emotion.  We can remember talking with him about Grandma several times and he’d say, “My eyes are leaking, again!”  His tight grip holding our hands the last few days is also something we will hold very dearly, a treasure so simple, but worth so much.   We also hold a special place in our heart for the survivor in him.  He was always so proud to take part in the survivors’ lap at the Benton County Relay for Life. Even though he didn’t think he could make it last year, he enjoyed that lap and was proud of his accomplishment with his youngest grandson by his side.  

We can also tell you a little bit about that reunion we know happened on Sunday evening in heaven.  We joked that we knew grandma baked a fresh batch of cookies or a gooseberry pie, had freshly painted nails, the brightest red lipstick, blushed cheeks, donned her most beautiful smile, and tackled him to give him the biggest bear-hug imaginable.  He’s probably now holding hands with Grandma, playing cards with his family and hers, and catching them up with the great things happening on Earth with those family members missing him so deeply right now.  

We hope that when you think of Grandpa, you see his crooked hat and his beautiful smile, and that your heart is happy.  We are so blessed that we have had so many wonderful years with this special, special man.  We only hope to live up to the kind of life he instilled in us.  A life filled with freedom, courage, strength, family, faith, and love.  Thank you for helping us celebrate his beautiful life.  

Until we meet again, “Love ya, Kid.”