Friday, October 30, 2015

Connected with the Community -- Socktober Update!

Thanks to everyone who sent socks to Keystone Elementary!  So far, first graders collected over 1,200 pairs of socks to deliver to Olivet Neighborhood Mission in Cedar Rapids!  Thanks for showcasing your caring spirit, first graders, students, and staff at Keystone Elementary and everyone else who contributed to this success!


Monday, October 19, 2015

Connecting -- What Works For You?

We are fortunate at Benton Community and especially at Keystone Elementary that so many teachers are willing to share the different ways in which our students are learning each day.  There are several ways to share our students' awesomeness ranging from the newest fads in technology to good ol' fashioned face-to-face.  What works for you and our stakeholders?

At Keystone Elementary, and a growing number of teachers across our district, Twitter is a place to share with our community, families, and other educators what is happening inside and around our schools.  Oftentimes schools will choose a hashtag to attach to their posts.  This places the tweet into a file folder on Twitter / Instagram with this certain tag that is easily searchable.  For instance:  Benton Community (@BentonCSD) has a few hash tags.  The most popular ones are #BentonCSD (general Benton awesomeness), #beaboBCat (sports and activities), and #BCTLT (Teacher Leadership Team).  To be more specific to our school, many Keystone Elementary teachers have started posting with another hash tag:  #KeyRocks.  In addition to this tag, we also have a hashtag for our Makerspace (#BCMakers), our Outdoor Learning Space (#BCKeyGarden), and a few classrooms have their own hashtag (#KFKinders, #HappelFirsties) for parents to get a direct feed of posts.  If you get a chance, check some of them out.  You won't be disappointed!

Check out our #KeyRocks hashtag on Twitter and Instagram! 


Several classrooms at Keystone Elementary have also chosen to share their classroom happenings via classroom or grade-level blogs.  A complete listing of these blogs can be found HERE.  Blog posts can be about a variety of topics from classroom newsletters to upcoming field trip reminders.  They can also be photos of events or learning going on each day or videos to help parents understand a topic we are learning about.  The posts don't have to be exhaustive narratives, in fact, they should be short and to the point.  Get the message out there short and sweet! Some examples of the classroom blogs are below.
Mrs. Benton - Preschool

Mrs. Bridgewater - 2nd Grade

Mrs. Embray - 2nd Grade

Mrs. Bonewitz & Mrs. Kimm - 3rd Grade 

Our school recently adopted an Instagram page (@KeystoneElementary) and we have a teacher, Ms. Upah, who uses classroom leadership roles so a classroom photographer share snapshots via Instagram (@BCFirst).  This is a chance to give a quick snapshot inside the walls of our classrooms where students are accomplishing wondrous things!

Nothing beats a good ol' fashioned face-to-face conversation or a handwritten note.  This is an imperative in how we continue to build trusting relationships with families in which we serve.  Our teachers continue fostering these forms of communication while also reaching out to parents on digital platforms.  Our face-to-face communication with parents and teachers is not limited to conferences twice per year.  Each fall we schedule a Parent Partnership Night for families to come in and ask questions of the school and teachers and find out how they can stay connected to their students' learning.  This year we had this communication opportunity differentiated for different parent needs through a parent edCamp.  It was a hit and we hope to continue growing our audience next time!

All of our teachers are also extremely active in student and community activities whether it is working concessions at soccer games or attending Benton Community fine arts and athletic events.  We also have a very active PTO which allows parents to visit for breakfast dates and sponsoring activities for students and their families to participate.

Whichever way you choose to share your classroom awesomeness, consider trying something new.  Step outside of your comfort zone and see if there is another way to share your message.  By sharing our message, we no longer give kids the option of saying, "nothing" when a parent asks what happened at school.  A parent can see a blog post or a Twitter or Instagram photo and say, "Tell me about this learning!" or "I see you did ______ today.  Tell me about it!"   Help us continue the learning from our day into your dinner table conversations!  I'd love to hear about how you are sharing with your stakeholders!  Tweet me at @TownsleyAJ or tweet to our Teacher Leadership hashtag, #BCTLT.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Connecting with the Community

Every October for the last three years, first graders at Keystone/Van Horne Elementary Centers have chosen to turn the month into "Socktober"!  This mission was inspired by Kid President's "Socktober" video back in 2013 which promoted kids "taking back the internet and doing something awesome".  Anna Upah (@AnnaUpah) and Samantha Happel (@SamanthaHappel) thought this was a great mission, so they provided an opportunity and their students took the lead!

It all started with this Socktober call to action by Kid President in 2013.

KCRG, our local news station, came out and did an interview about the awesome things students were doing in Mrs. Happel and Ms. Upah's first grade classrooms.   CLICK HERE for the story and video!  Kid President even heard about the impact these first graders were making and gave them a shoutout on his Facebook page!  

News clip from Van Horne's Socktober in 2013!

In 2013, first graders at Van Horne Elementary collected over 900 pairs of socks!

Last year, students collected almost 1,100 pairs of socks

Another favorite Kid President video is a pep talk to teachers and students!

So, here's our latest call to action!  Happy Socktober, 2015!

Please send us some new socks and we'll donate them to our local homeless shelter at the end of the month!  If you want to skip the post office, head over to and they'll ship them directly to us; just make sure you attach a note with where your socks are being shipped from.  We'd love to get socks from all 50 states!  

You can send your new socks to:
1st Grade #Socktober at Keystone Elementary
PO Box 306
Keystone, IA 52249

If you'd like to know more about #Socktober, click HERE.  Thanks for your support!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Connecting with Other Educators

The last year has included many firsts for me as a professional.  The most exciting and impactful have been the opportunities given to me to share my learning in and outside of the district as a part of Iowa's Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) grant.

This spring I participated in a Teacher Leadership Panel with Iowa School Librarians at #iasl15 with one of my teachers who was a Teacher Librarian in our district.  We spoke about Teacher Leadership in our district and how we make it fit best into how we learn and grow as educators.  Our panel was moderated by Sarah Brown-Wessling, so that was exciting in itself!

I have also gotten the opportunity to share our journey several times with our Benton Community Teacher Leadership team.  One of these times was at Iowa ASCD this spring at the Standards-Based Grading conference.  The Keynote speaker was Mr. Ken O'Connor.  We shared our SBG journey so far and gained some powerful take-aways to bring back to our district.

Another great opportunity we have had this fall is the chance to speak with Maddie Fennell with the United States Department of Education about our Teacher Leadership program in place at Benton Community Schools.  We shared all aspects of our Teacher Leadership journey including struggles and successes.  We were empowered by the encouragement we received after her visit to continue with our district vision of teacher leadership! 

We also had a great opportunity to share our TLC journey with other educators in Iowa and learn from others at the same time.  We fashioned our own #BCedCamp experience for Teacher Leaders in our school district, and then a few weeks later, we shared again at Mt. Mercy University's Teacher Leadership Symposium.  The great thing about opportunities like this is that we share our journey, but at the same time, we are getting great ideas from other districts who are just as willing to share tips and tricks of what works for them in their districts.  This allows us to work smarter, not harder, and it gives us more time to focus on making impactful decisions in our district to move students forward.

This summer and this fall were by far my most favorite sharing opportunities.  A few co-workers continued to push me outside of my comfort zone.  We presented at two technology conferences! At #iPadU and #ITECia, I was blessed with the opportunity to share about our social media story at Benton Community.  By far most exciting, however, was when we brought students to share in their digital learning with us.  We had students travel to both Cedar Rapids and Des Moines to come and teach other teachers how to use iPad apps they are fluently using every day in their primary classrooms!

These powerful learning opportunities could not have been possible without my amazing coworkers who I am blessed to work with every day. They push me to be better, work harder, and learn more than I ever have before.  I am grateful for these experiences, and I'm eager to continue learning with these inspirational coworkers at my side!