Monday, October 31, 2016

Data Team Leaders with #BCTLT

TLC Plan Change
  • Based on conversations and feedback with staff and administration, we have asked the state to change our TLC plan from having Model Teachers (MT) to having Data Team Leaders as part of our #BCTLT.  Our district's focus on using data to inform instruction and instructional practices is the main driver for this change.  
  • Currently, we have 17 MT's and want increase this number to 24 to be able to serve and support grade/content level teams in a more systematic way.  Our plan is to train the staff members who will occupy these positions in the "Data Team Process" starting this summer.  This training will be organized by our GWAEA support staff and District personnel.
  • As we worked through this change process, we involved the following in determining this proposed change:
    • Conversations and surveys with current staff and administration to review if the current job description and direction of the MT position was meeting our district needs -- consensus was that is was not.
    • We contacted surrounding districts on their current practices and job description.
    • We coordinated our efforts with GWAEA to facilitate proposed changes and develop a potential training plan.
    • We shared our concerns and solutions with our Benton Teacher Leadership Team and staff.  
    • We shared our concerns and solutions with our Benton Communications Team (our district advisory committee which is made up of staff, parents, students, board and community members). 
    • We shared our concerns and solutions with our Benton Board of Directors.  
  • Here is the link to the job description that was approved by the state.  
*This blog post was originally posted on this site in Feb. 18 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Using survey data as the driver

Sometimes we know exactly what we are doing and other times we stumble into things that turn out to be really beneficial.

One of these really good things we stumbled into at Benton Community within our Teacher Leadership is surveying our staff every 30 days, asking for their feedback, and using this data as a driver for our district work.  

Below are screenshots for our beginning of the year and 30 day survey results.   Reviewing this information and then being able to use it with intention with our staff has been shown to have impact as to how we are making a difference in our student learning experience at Benton Community.   

We've asked this question to gauge how receptive people are to our Instructional Coaches visiting teachers during instruction and planning time.

We've asked this question to gauge how receptive teachers are to this type of support within our District.

We use this information to approach our coaching conversations.

We moved from Model Teachers to Data Team Leaders this year.  We use this data to help determine where we are in learning the data team process.

We use this information to help partner with our supports (including our AEA partners) to determine our next steps. 

Tuesday, October 11, 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!

This blog post was originally posted at

Thursday, August 11, 2016

TLC Year 1 and 2 - What's Worked For Us?

Benton Community - BCTLT is closing out our second year of participation in Iowa's Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant to garner teacher leaders from within Iowa's schools.  Having been one of the first 39 districts in the state of Iowa to implement, we had to build our plane while we were flying.  We now have the opportunity to learn with the many other Iowa districts who are a part of this teacher leadership movement.  Benton Community has had the pleasure of having several districts ask us what has worked for us.  Here is a snapshot of a few foundational pieces of our system.  If you would like more information on any of these tools, please don't hesitate to let me know. 

1. Coach Check-In

This coach check-in is a modification from an interaction scale created by Susan Woodruff which can be found here.  We have found that a 5-point interaction scale works best for our district.  Knowing that relationship building is the foundation of great coaching, many of our interactions started off as 1s and 2s for the first few months.  As our coaching interactions increased and our coaching conversations deepened, we experienced more 3s, 4s, and 5s.  Our team utilizes this check-in to ensure we aren't accidentally leaving out any staff members and it helps us be intentional about our interactions with staff.  We also use the comment feature to log what types of interactions we are having and to keep track of the conversation focus taking place.

NA -- Attempt at contact but rejected
--Absent or sick   --Change in schedule    --Did not respond
1. Relationship building 
--Informal conversation    --No relationship with classroom
2.  Focused conversation / observation initiated by instructional coach
--How are things in the classroom?   --Are you having a good year?
--How is a certain initiative going?
3. Focused dialogue / observation redirected or initiated by the teacher
--Could you come and watch this?   --Could you help me with this?
--Modeling / Co-teaching  --Could you find this for me?
4. Reflective conversation regarding instructional practices / observations
--What went well?    --What would you change?    --What steps in the future?  
--Will you plan with me?
5.  Coaching cycle
--Goal setting   --Instructional implementation    --Setting instructional focus  
--Modeling / Co-teaching    --Fill out coaching log

2. Staff Surveys - Every 30 Days (Days 1, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, and 180)
By happy accident, we started sending out surveys to staff at the beginning of our first year.  About 30 days into the school year we sent out another.  This practice has continued through our two years of implementation.  This not only gives us a great pulse on our district, it also gives us a gauge of interactions with staff and a chance for us to garner feedback from our teachers.  Below are a few of our staple questions each time we survey.

--Are you willing to work with an Instructional Coach?  This question gives us some baseline data on whether or not our staff is open to working with our coaches.  The percentage of staff willing varies depending on the busyness of the school year.  Our trends show an increase in participation in October that lessens around December.  Then, willingness picks up around January and levels off in April.

--If we visit your room, would you like us to drop in or make an appointment?  This question helps us form a plan for observation and drop-ins for classrooms.  Instructional Coaching at Benton Community is optional.  We want teachers to feel comfortable with our presence and know that we are welcome in classrooms, so this question helps us know which classrooms,we can drop by and which ones we need to set up a convenient time to visit.

--How would you rate your interactions with an Instructional Coach?  This question helps us decide whether our coach check-in interactions match our teachers' perspectives of our support.  The response on the survey asks teachers to rate the interactions by the following classifications:
     -No interaction
     -Mostly relationship building
     -Interactions initiated by the Instructional Coach
     -Interactions initiated by the teacher
     -Reflective conversations
     -Meet regularly with an Instructional Coach

--Where will you see your team needing the most support in the near future? This question helps us decide where our staff is as a whole.  Do we need to focus our learning on Priority Standards, Proficiency Scales, Common Formative Assessments, or MTSS planning and support?  Each team's response differs and we can tailor our support to meet each team's needs.

--What additional feedback do you have for #BCTLT?  This open-ended question gives our teachers an opportunity to give us feedback on the successes and challenges of implementing a new system. Our surveys are not anonymous because we need to be able to follow up with teachers.  This can be one of the most impactful questions you ask to get teachers to exercise their voice in utilizing the teacher leadership platform.  We are fortunate that our teachers utilize this question to give us honest, thought-provoking, and growth-minded feedback to help our system benefit to the fullest.

3. Role Definitions

This is a resource that came out of our Model Teacher training before we started implementation of year one back in August of 2014. Something that we thought would take an hour or so took more than a day of discussions and modifications.  We brought this resource to teachers at our first staff in-service and they were able to take more ownership in our system because the role definitions were created by teachers to help them understand our system in its various capacities.

Your stakeholders need to know what is happening in your district.  Your teachers need to see what great things are happening down the hall.  Two ways we were able to share are by participating in Learning Walks and hosting #BCedCamp.  We have shared our journey with teachers in and outside of our district.  By doing so, we have opened the doors to learn from each other and we have had the pleasure of learning with other districts who are leading the way in their teacher leadership journey.  Our Middle School/High School got their feet wet with Learning Walks and they quickly spread throughout our three elementary centers.  This gives teachers an opportunity to visit other classrooms and reflect together during a scheduled time once every one-two months.  This has helped increase the amount of time teachers spend learning from and reflecting with one another.  They've also spent more time opening up their classrooms to share the great things their students are accomplishing.  In addition, on a whim last April, we decided to invite teacher leaders from across Iowa to Benton Community to learn together about the successes and challenges of this system.  We are hosting year of #BCedCamp 2 in June and would love to have you!

Whichever tools or resources you choose on your teacher leadership journey, please know that you must utilize what works best in your district.  What works for us may not especially work for you, and "trial and error" and "risk, fail, and repeat" are your best bets for finding success.  There is no exact fit for any district. You must modify what is working for one district until you find the right fit to meet the needs of your teachers.  Best of luck on implementing teacher leadership! Let me know if I can be of any service to you on this journey.

Find me on Twitter -- @TownsleyAJ

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Do You Learn Best?

How do you learn best? 

When you have questions or learn something new -- how do you make sense and share your new insights?  

These are questions we ask as learners at Benton Community and we know EdCamps are a great way to tackle both of these questions.

According to the official EdCamp website:  

With the focus on teaching and learning and the premise of an unconference designed specifically for and by educators based on their needs, the #BCTLT and Benton Community School District planned and hosted a #BCedcamp focused on Teacher Leadership on 6/18/15.  

A huge thank you to a few people:

  • @ryanmwise for kicking off our day with a great message of "I use to think, but now I think!" and becoming an honorary "Bobcat" and @GZittergruen for being an active advocate of TL.
  • @BentonCSD for supporting our learning and event -- including our custodial staff who went above and beyond to insure we had space for the event that was cleaned and supplied:) 

We also want to thank the organizations that donated prizes for our #BCedcamp
We also want to thank the over 150 people from 25 school districts, 3 AEA's and the DE for participating in this day of learning.  Our #BCedcamp was a success and we are hoping to make this an annual event across the state -- stay tuned to for details on future events:) 

 Below are some pics from the day compliments of our Superintendent @GZittergruen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#BCTLT Model Teachers Study Differentiated Instruction Misconceptions!

Contributors:  Laurie Donald, Samantha Happel, Jennifer Hasenmiller, Cynda Mehlert, Emily O’Connell, Michelle Smith, Dawn Stokes, Jeremy Suiter, Andrea Townsley

Members of the #BCTLT have been studying differentiation since the start of this school year.  We have compiled our research to share with stakeholders.  This post will help you answer the following questions:  

What is differentiation? Why is it beneficial to my students? How do I get started?

Misconception #1:  If traditional schooling worked for me, it should work for my students.
Our students are continually changing and the society they need to be able to contribute to is ever evolving, so we cannot continue to teach the same way that we’ve always taught in the past.
  • Did Traditional Schooling really work for us? - We were able to be successful, but was that a quality of the school system, or was that a personality trait? What could our school experience have been for us if it had been differentiated?  
  • Technology - Exponential growth is occurring in technology and our students don’t need teachers to be the expert in the room anymore.  Today’s students need to be able to decide what information is relevant and determine how to use it.  They need to be able to make decisions in and contribute to a global economy.
  • Personalized Learning - When students can take information and apply it to their life, they can create lifelong meaning.  Through differentiation, personalization allows students to find the content, the process, or the product that works for them.  

Misconception #2:  Differentiation equals individualization.
Differentiation does not mean that all instruction has to be individualized.  This would be unrealistic to expect teachers to individualize every lesson for every student.  Instead, teachers can differentiate their instruction in four different ways based on readiness, interests, or learning profiles:
Content—What the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
Process—Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of/or master the content;
Products—Culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, or extend what he or she has learned in a unit;
Learning Environment—The way the classroom looks and feels.

There are ways to differentiate that do not include individualization

To get started teachers can use formative assessment data or learning styles to group students.

Misconception #3:  Differentiation is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time.  

When we think about differentiating for our students, it can become overwhelming. You know you want to make changes to the way you structure your classroom to meet your students’ needs.  You have an idea in your head, but then there is the dilemma of time.  Here is a hint:  you are probably already differentiating and you aren’t even aware of it!

Our advice for getting started:
  • Stop and reflect on current practices
  • Start small - offer choices to students
  • Know your resources (outlined below)
  • Observe other teachers who are differentiating
  • Invite colleagues proficient in differentiation into your classroom for feedback
  • Avoid the misconceptions outlined in this post

Don’t attempt to make changes to your entire day right off the bat.  Start small and offer some choice to your students.  Focus on differentiating content, process, or product of one lesson or unit.  There are many resources available to support you in this process.  The teacher leaders at Benton Community have been studying this approach to student learning and we would be happy to help out.

Many resources are available to help you get a start! 
  • #BCTLT - start up a coaching cycle with an Instructional Coach on ways to incorporate more differentiation strategies into your day.  Seek out a Model Teacher for additional ideas and support.
  • Visit the #BCTLT Differentiated Instruction Symbaloo!
  • Follow an edChat on Twitter and look for ways other teachers are differentiating to meet students’ needs.  Examples include - #differentiation #iaedchat 
  • Members of #BCTLT presented a breakout session in our November PD.  Visit this link for resources they shared.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Model Teachers share technology learning

Technology Blog
Our group consisted of Erika Hass, Kim Lynch, Miranda Sonka, Mike Embretson, Carolyn Spading, Jen Bange, Julie Lindke, and Kim Fisher.  Members joined this team for different reasons.  Some felt very confident with technology implementation, some felt very uncomfortable with technology, some just wanted to lurk and find more resources.  With these different motivations, we tried to hit all angles and domains when looking at technology.  There are a multitude of apps/websites that were shared that we will not be addressing within this blog, so please reference Mike Embretson’s Google Doc HERE!
One take-away that we had this year during our conversations at Model Teacher meetings was to show others the importance and ease of blogging. Blogging can be open to so many different needs.  You can send messages, share pictures and videos of your classroom to parents digitally instead of paper copies. This gives an opportunity to reflect on your teaching, or you can brand your school by sharing your blog via different social media outlets. Blogging can be as complex or simple as you see fit.  Decide your audience, your purpose, and your commitment. Make it work for you!
Different blog sites that you could sign up for would be (but not limited to)
  • Blogger (this can be used mostly for teachers)
  • Edublogs (this can be used for teachers and/or students)
  • Kidblog (this can be used with student blogs)
We challenge you to set up your blog and make two entries by the end of the school year. (See the screencast below for directions on setting up a Blogger site.) This can be as simple as a few sentences to your parents about a specific lesson, upcoming dates, pictures/videos of what is going on in your class, or a reflection for yourself. If you would like to see how other people within @BentonCSD are blogging, check out this link! Feel free to see how they are using blogs and even ask them for help. If you are on Twitter, make sure and share your blog and attach the #BCBlogChallenge so we can follow and celebrate our progress.

Link to the screencast (please embed video on the blog)
IMG_1270.JPGModel Teachers Technology learning