Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sharing -- it's a mindset and a habit.

Being from a family of 10 children, our parents provided us with the opportunity to share almost everything, almost all the time.  (At least that is how I remember it!)

This is a picture of me during kindergarten.  I'm in an outfit made for me by our mom.  She sewed often for us and I loved those outfits made especially for me.  But, having two older sisters meant I wore an outfit just like this for 5 more years.  Mom also made the exact same outfit (a few sizes bigger)  especially for my sisters, just like she had for me.  Hand-me-downs Sharing was & is just a way of life in our family.   

Other things shared in our family:   support to one another, clothes, food, beds, cars, books, and places to sit.  We are still a family that shares -- below are some examples:
Cousins turning their human chair into a human recliner:)
My dad, helping his older brother Earl (retired administrator from Des Moines) with his hearing aid.
Sharing space and conversation.
Sharing our cookie skills with one another.
Sharing involves giving a portion of something to others.  I feel blessed that those I work with @BentonCSD are willing to share.  Today during CL/DT, Van Horne Elementary staff were sharing ideas of what they had learned at Benchmark Universe training and then how they have adapted and created materials to fit the needs of their current students.  A huge thank you to Beth Anderson & Gina Embray for being willing to share their work with their co-workers.
Learning in student friendly language
Jeopardy vocabulary game for 2nd grade.

Also at Van Horne & Elementary today the entire school participated in  .  Everyone shared positive notes to one another across the schools and even wrote notes for the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight.  It was great to be a part of this and see how excited the students were to post their notes -- even more excited than reading their own received notes.  You can find more pictures on today's happenings in Van Horne and Keystone Elementary at these twitter links:  @BentonCSD, @townsleyaj, @Mrs_KFisher@annaupah, @SamanthaHappel

 at VH Elementary

Sharing.  It's a mindset and a habit.  
Are you sharing with the people in your life, your own family, co-workers and students?  
Make an effort to share.  Everyday.

And just in case you are wondering, do my dad and brother still share?  The answer is yes...and so does my brother with his hot air balloon!  

Dad & Earl flying above Des Moines.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What's the Big Deal About 20 Minutes?!

Do you want you or your child to be a better reader?  The answer is simple: READ!

I came across this visual last winter, and I think it is one of the most inspiring and shocking pieces of information a parent can see. I am certain there are several research studies on the importance of reading and how it relates to impacting a child's vocabulary.

In 1987, William Nagy, Patricia Herman, and Richard Anderson published the article, "Learning Words From Context" in Reading Research Quarterly.  Their research concluded that, along with some direct vocabulary instruction, students also must be able to be independent word learners by studying the context of words in text.  This happens with independent reading.  This visual puts it into perspective for me as a teacher and as a parent.  I hope this poster allows for some reflection and conversation about the importance of reading in your daily activities.  I will certainly think twice when my child asks me to skip our 20 minutes of reading!

Here is a link to a printable version of this poster.
Original research - Learning Words From Context

Monday, March 23, 2015

What is Instructional Coaching @BentonCSD?

Benton Community School District is in our first year utilizing full time teacher leaders as Instructional Coaches through Iowa's new Teacher Leadership & Compensation grant. 

    • The vision for teacher leadership at Benton Community includes:
      • A culture of collaboration, shared accountability, and continuous improvement among adults
      • Greater capacity and commitment to differentiate instruction to meet students’ needs
      • New ways of organizing and delivering instruction that increase the number of students highly effective teachers reach.

Instructional Coaches are utilized in a variety of ways, and it is important that teachers know that there is no one-size-fits-all relationship with teachers and coaches.  Teachers need to decide how coaching can best support them and the students in their classrooms.  

We want to take some time to outline the different ways teachers may interact with coaches on a daily basis at Benton Community.  Coaching does not happen overnight.  It sometimes takes a progression through a series of steps to form a coaching relationship in order to get to the goal-setting portion of a coaching relationship.  Outlined below are some of these steps. Take some time to reflect on where you are in your teacher/coach relationship.  Do you want to take that relationship deeper?  

Building Relationships - Any relationship takes time to build a strong foundation of trust, confidentiality, and openness.  Our coaches spent a lot of time fostering these collaborative relationships at the beginning of the year, and we continue to try to build these relationships as the year progresses and more teachers are open to utilizing our system.

Coaches Seeking Teachers - Our coaches have attended workshops and conferences and we have experimented with and researched what works in classrooms. We are also willing to try new things in order to share experience with our teachers. It is at this level of interactions that we listen for opportunities to share out our learning with teachers in our district.

Teachers seek Coaches - As we move along the spectrum of the coaching relationship, teachers start to seek out coaches.  When teachers start to see the benefit of a coaching relationship, teachers may seek out opportunities for the coach to support them.  We created a menu (link) of coaching to help teachers find ways to best utilize us and our resources.  

Reflective Conversations
Many discussions between teachers and coaches can easily turn into a reflective conversation about practice.  These conversations can happen spur-of-the-moment or in a planned meeting between teacher and coach.  A coach's goal is to help solicit reflection from a teacher/coach conversation about instructional practice or district goals.  This could look differently for many teachers, and this is one of the most powerful interactions a teacher and a coach could have.  

Coaching Cycle with Goal Setting - 
The difference between a reflective conversation and a full-out coaching cycle is when the teacher decides he or she wants to set a goal and collaborate to reach that goal.  This is when a teacher and a coach have agreed on times to meet to set a goal, learn together, collect data, and reflect on the progress toward the goal.  This type of relationship is another very powerful way to move forward together as a district.  This would mean teachers and coaches are working toward a goal to deepen a classroom practice to improve student achievement in a measurable way.  A coaching cycle is a job-embedded professional development opportunity that is tailored to the specific needs of a teacher. It is teacher-driven relationship, and the goal comes out of a teacher's choices to improve upon or change a specific practice.   

Below is a short 1:30 video outlining coaching cycles at Benton Community Schools. We look forward to hearing from you, especially if you're ready to take a leap into a coaching cycle.  Thank you for taking a risk with us to collectively move our district forward.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Educator Blogs @BentonCSD

Welcome to the World of Blogging at Benton Community Schools!  We have some very lucky community members who are given a glimpse of what goes on every day in classrooms across Benton Community.  Take a walk with me as I highlight eleven blogs of Benton Community educators.  

Jodie Wood {Preschool Happenings} is a 3-4 year old preschool teacher at Van Horne Elementary.  On her blog, she shares happenings every few days with parents and members of the community.  For several days {was it weeks!?} in a row this winter, our elementary students experienced inside recess!  She shared her students who were improvising with exercises in her blog post, "So Ambitious!" Jodie stated, "I always have parents thank me for doing the blog. They love the pictures and when they ask their preschooler what they did at school, the answer is always, "nothing."  It doesn't take that much time at all and it doesn't have to be fancy. It's also very easy to share with parents."   Thanks for sharing with us, Miss Wood!

Kim Fisher {The Kraziness of KF Kinderland} is a kindergarten teacher at Van Horne Elementary.  Mrs. Fisher shares tips for struggling readers, important announcements, upcoming dates, and family activities on her blog.   On our last snow day, Kim shared an idea for families to make snow ice cream in her blog, "Snow Day = Family Day".  Kim shared, "Blogging has really allowed me to share some awesome achievements I get to witness in the classroom.  I want, so badly, for my families to experience those achievements as well!  Blogging is one way I can make that possible!"  Thank you, Mrs. Fisher, for sharing!

Anna Upah {Teaching in the 21st} teaches first grade at Van Horne Elementary.  Ms. Upah shares some awesome things on her blogs with her followers.  One of my favorites includes her weekly posts about "I Can Statements" where she has the students record and talk about these statements and she publishes them out for parents to see.  Another way Anna communicates through her blog is about upcoming dates.  Below the video is a snapshot of her reminder blog post about Parent/Teacher Conferences.  Thank you for sharing, Ms. Upah!

Samantha Happel {Crayons and Keyboards} also teaches first grade at Van Horne Elementary.  While she has been on maternity leave since Christmas break, she has posted some updates of their family's newest addition, Meet Baby Quinn.  Mrs. Happel also took her blog as a platform to introduce her long-term sub to the parents in her classroom as part of her January Newsletter.  Thank you for sharing, Mrs. Happel!

Gina Embray {Second Grade Shenanegans} is also a second grade teacher at Van Horne Elementary.  Mrs. Embray uses her blogging platform to communicate with parents about upcoming events, assignments, and classroom happenings.  "Inside Recess Activities" was a topic of one of Mrs. Embray's recent posts.  Thank you for sharing with us, Mrs. Embray!    

Dena Bridgewater {Second Grade Scribbles} is a second grade teacher at Van Horne Elementary Center.  In her most recent blog post, she shared about her students' latest project, Reader's Theater - The Tricky Garden.  She was also able to share some Valentine's Day announcements and a few pictures of her students' Valentine's Day box projects.  While Mrs. Bridgewater is just starting her blogging journey, we look forward to following along.  Thank you for sharing, Mrs. Bridgewater!

Jen Bange {View from the Library} is a technology, TAG, and library teacher at Benton Community's four elementary centers.  Jen has recently started blogging again, but she has also used blogging as a platform for her students.  She says, "Blogging gives students an authentic audience for their writing, and it also allows for collaboration and peer review.  As a teacher, blogging is an excellent tool for reflection and communication. Teachers can share what they are doing with learners in the classroom. This provides communication not only between the teacher and the parent, but also between the parent and their child." Mrs. Bange has recently used her blogging platform for a space to reflect as an educator.  We attended a workshop with George Couros, and Jen reflected on her learning that day in her post, "Leading Innovative Change."  Mrs. Bange has recently entered into a blog-a-week challenge with me to keep us both motivated and accountable.  Thanks for the push to blog, Mrs. Bange, and thank you for sharing!

Mike Embretson teaches physical education and technology classes at Keystone and Van Horne Elementary Centers. Mr. Embretson highlights happenings in his physical education classes, and he also has a space to share what students are learning about in technology.  Mike uses his blogging platform to share what students are completing such as his "Star Wars" activity from earlier this fall.  Thanks for sharing, Mr. Embretson!

Kelsey Kearns {Ms. Kearns' Korner} teaches special education at Benton Community Middle School.  She is brand new to the blogging world. Her blog is very informational in the fact that it has tabs telling about the classroom, about her, upcoming dates, and information on websites students can use in and outside of the classroom.  Thanks for being a front runner in the secondary teacher blogging world at Benton, Kelsey! 

Kory Winsor {MrWinsorBCHistory} teaches World History at Benton Community High School.  He utilizes his daily blogging platform to publish his lesson plans to parents and students.  He sets the stage for each lesson with an overview, lists activities, and also communicates lesson objectives.  Followers can easily sign up for email updates and search through his lesson plan archive. Thank you for helping pave the way, Mr. Winsor, to share what is happening in your classroom with the rest of the district and community! 

Mr. Zittergruen {MrZsBobcatUpdate} shares updates with staff and community members on a daily basis.  Mr. Zittergruen takes to his blogging platform to share happenings in our district and upcoming important events or dates to remember.  Mr. Zittergruen recently highlighted the new members being inducted in his post, "National Honor Society Inducts 36 New Members."  Thank you for keeping us up-to-date on district happenings and your continued sharing on your blog, Mr. Zittergruen.  

BCTLT Blog is a sharing platform for our Benton Community Teacher Leadership Team.  In a recent post, we highlighted the growing network of professionals using Twitter to grow in our profession in a post called, "What is a PLN and Why Should You Have One?"  This post has an in-depth list of BC Twitter users to follow and BC Hashtags to follow for updates on specific teams and organizations.  We also recently tried our hand in using www.smore.com to create a brochure on our Teacher Leadership program. Another post last fall highlited the Iowa Department of Education's visit to interview our team in a post called, "Iowa Department of Ed Spotlights Benton Community."  A early post which we frequently revisit is our snapshot of the Collaborative Learning / Data Teams {CL/DT} we have at Benton Community.  The Cycle is outlined in the blog post found here.  We welcome your feedback; if you would like us to blog on a certain topic, please let us know.  Continue to check back for more updates and information from #BCTLT!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What is a PLN and Why Should YOU Have One?

The past several months have been a whirlwind for me as I have taken an active leap into the world of Twitter.  I have had an account for several years, but I mostly used it to document and share during conferences I attended.  Over Christmas break, I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone and start being an active participant in the Twitter world on a regular basis.  My husband,  @EricTownsley, has used Twitter as an educational learning and sharing platform for several years.  He continues to shake his head at my new obsession, but he has yet to utter the phrase, "I told you so!"

A PLN is a Professional Learning Network.  My PLN includes people in education from all over the world.  I already work next door to some of the most forward-thinking and progressive teachers I have ever encountered.  The PLN I have via Twitter allows me to connect with teachers in and outside of @BentonCSD.  My most favorite way to connect is through Education chats.  Ed Chat is just that... chatting about everything in education.  It's a form of professional development for teachers; there are even some states who give re-certification credit for Ed Chat participation.  I call it PD in my PJs because I really do feel like I am growing as a professional by actively participating. There are several chats which happen weekly and have a variety of topics.  I have several of these scheduled into my calendar, and if it works out, I can tune into Twitter and follow along and participate.  

I know jumping into Twitter can seem overwhelming, and I will admit when I first took the plunge, I was quite reluctant.  Now, looking back, I know I didn't take enough initiative to make it work for me. With a few hints, I hope to help your plunge be much less overwhelming than mine was, and I hope you find value in the potential of a PLN much quicker than I did.

1.) If you haven't already, sign up for Twitter.  Search your current contacts and follow, follow, follow.  If this is an educational PLN, you may want to consider keeping a separate Twitter account for personal tweets. Find some people who are already in your network of colleagues and search their followers.  This is how you will expand your PLN.  The hardest part about Twitter is the character limit.  You have to get your thought across in 140 characters or less!

2.) Visit tweetdeck.com, sign in with your Twitter credentials, and add it as a favorite or bookmark.  Tweetdeck is a way to organize a hashtag (#) you would like to follow.  It makes following along with an #edchat much easier and more organized.

3.) Pick one Ed Chat to follow along with during one specific evening for the hour.  A comprehensive and updated list can be found at this Education Chat link.  Might I recommend #iaedchat (Iowa Ed Chat) on Sunday nights at 8:00 CST, #arkedchat (Arkansas Ed Chat) on Thursday nights at 8:00 CST, #moedchat (Missouri Ed Chat) on Thurdsay nights at 9:00 CST, #sblchat (Standards Based Learning Chat) on Wednesdays at 8:00 PM CST, or #g2great (Good to Great Teaching) on Thursdays at 7:30 PM CST.  From this Google Site, you can also add the #edchat to your calendar to learn more about the chat and to set reminders.  **One thing to remember when you're participating in an Ed Chat, put the hashtag (#iaedchat, #moedchat) into your tweet so it shows up to all of the other followers of the chat.**

4.) The second week, stop back at the Ed chat from the week before, and choose one additional chat to follow for a night.  You will continue to build your network and find people who you feel are helping contribute to your professional growth.

5.) Don't be afraid to scroll up, skip, or favorite!  I often get caught up and feel overwhelmed when I can't look at all of the tweets I have missed during an Ed Chat.  One way I have found to manage this is to use the "favorite" button.  This is a place where I can go back to tweets I have favorited at a later time.  That way I can breeze over tweets without feeling like I am missing something.  The profound tweets always get a re-tweet (RT) or are modified and then re-tweeted (MT).  It will come back around from someone else, so you will probably see it again if you skipped it!

I am fortunate that several of my core Twitter connections are teachers who keep me going every day. @AnnaUpah@Mrs_KFisher, and @JenBange remind me when there is a great Ed Chat going on, they inspire me with positive support at the exact moment when I'm in need.  They press my thinking and help me continue to recognize not only the great things that are currently happening around me every day, but also help me recognize where we could be as our district continues to move forward.  Good enough is never good enough for these ladies, and I am fortunate to have such a supportive, forward-thinking group of colleagues to help me be a better educator and move me forward every day.

I hope you are able to find value in this type of professional development.  I am constantly seeking out opportunities to learn and grow through powerful PLN connections.  I look forward to connecting with you and adding you to my professional network.  Happy tweeting!  - @TownsleyAJ

Here's a list for our BC Connections so far.  We will continue to add to the list.  Please contact me if you have one to add.

#BCTLT - Teacher Leader Hashtag

Benton Community School District - Official BCSD Twitter
Gary Zittergruen