Friday, June 2, 2017

It's All about Family

The last blog of this school year comes from a teacher—appropriately.  Kristen Carwile is more than a teacher, however.  She is also a parent of a graduating senior.  Her daughter walked across the stage and receive her diploma on June 3.

It is natural for a parent to look back on her child’s educational experiences at graduation.  By doing so, Kristen provides an important message by reminding us of an important truth.  Each of our students is someone’s child.
There is no better place to change the world
than in a classroom, one child at
a time.

From Kristen: It’s All about Family

In the summer of 2011, my family moved from the Atlanta, Georgia area to the city of Fishers.  We did our homework in finding schools as we had two “school-aged” daughters.  We explored other options, but decided our older daughter, a volleyball player, would be better served (no pun intended) in Hamilton Southeastern Schools, so I ended up living and working in district.

When your kids are students in a building where you teach, you might find that they avoid you like the plague, or, as was my situation, scream “Mom!” during passing periods.  They also come and ask you for money in the middle of Smart period.  And in the middle of “C” lunch.  And in the middle of the media center....

Their school experiences are different from other students because they can see their parents during the day.  Even so, they still need to have their school families: My daughter Kendall (HSE Class of 2015) found her school family as a volleyball player and playing cello in the orchestra.  Braelyn, my younger daughter (HSE Class of 2017), would have had a completely different high school experience if she did not have her marching band family.
Kristen is Mom and a Teacher.  For
her the lines are blurred.

Teacher and Parent

For those of us with children in our schools, it is hard to separate our parent-self from our teacher-self, but in many respects, being a mother helps me be a better teacher.  I enjoy meeting incoming students on August registration days, and I make my sophomores promise me that on the first day of school they will get up against a wall when the seniors do their “senior run” so that no one gets hurt. 

That’s the mom in me.  But the teacher comes out as well.  When that tradition happens, I am screaming to the seniors, “Get those knees up!” 

At the first Open House, I tell parents that I can post a resume if they would like, but what they really want to know is how I interact with their children. I model this on how I dealt with and deal with my own. I know what it is like to have a a child with a busy schedule of extracurriculars while taking rigorous courses.  So go ahead and turn in that assignment one day late because practice went until 10 p.m.  I also know what it is like to have a child who has attention issues and needs help with organization.  So let’s keep an assignment journal together. 

In reality, regardless of where you teach, you really are a part of this larger school family for our students.  I think that’s what we have enjoyed most about being here at Hamilton Southeastern High School.  Different things happen: babies are born, people pass on, and those affected say how nice it is to belong to the Southeastern family.  “Take pride in yourself, and in the Royals” is not just a cliche.  It brings to heart and mind the qualities and loyalties students have in themselves and their families.  I have no doubt, your schools also have similar sayings and similar feelings.

The End of the Year and Graduation

We are nearing the end of the school year, the graduation season, where the families that we serve will have had their child finish his or her kindergarten year, senior year, or any grade between.  Some will be contemplating moving school buildings in the fall.  And some, like the Carwiles, will lose their baby girl to higher learning, leaving the house to the parents alone. 

I have always felt that the staff and students here at HSE are my extended family.  I have had the true blessing of watching my children grow up in our school district, and I am proud of them and the foundation for a solid adulthood that all HSE Schools provide.   

Several years ago, I thought I would like to have a picture of the graduating seniors in the building who have family members who serve on staff. I think this ought to be a thing, so I made it a thing.  Below is our third iteration of our new tradition.  This is a picture of some of the students of the class of 2017 and their parents who work in our building.
Students are "family," sometimes literally
but always metaphorically
The end of the year is a time to look back and look forward.  It is time to remember that our students are also our own children, sometimes literally and always metaphorically.  The work we do is not always easy, but it does make a difference for our students and their families.  

When all is said and done, our work is about family.

Respond to Kristen at

We hope you and your family have a great summer, HSE.  Rest and relax.  Take time to breathe and prepare to come back next fall to continue the good work, the vital work, of helping students learn and grow.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, May 19, 2017

Being Muslim in HSE Schools

"Muslim communities are targeted because of their faith, a fact
that is often compounded by ethnicity, gender, or immigration
status," said Cristina Finch, head of Tolerance and Non-
Discrimination Department at the OSCE Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights.  "Notably, Muslim women are
often targets of hostility on multiple grounds, such as gender,
ethnicity and religion."
Wafa’ Safi-Hassan is science teacher at Hamilton Southeastern High School.  She is also the sponsor of the HSE Muslim Student Association.  This week’s entry was organized and edited by the MSA students.  It was written in conversation with Muslim students across the district, so it is representative of more than just the Muslim students in our high schools.

From Wafa’ and the MSA: We Need Your Support

Recently, the MSA sat down with Muslim students from across the district and asked them these two questions: “What are your experiences in HSE Schools, and what do you want your teachers to know?"
HSE Muslim students face
 this reality.

Muslim in HSE

Our world today has become more and more polarized.  Politics and the media separate and sensationalize, creating tension and even violence.  One result is that this unfortunate trend has led to an increasingly negative attitude toward Muslims.

Muslim students in Hamilton Southeastern Schools are acutely aware that violence and hate crimes against Muslims have increased dramatically in the past few years.  For example, in 2015, the FBI reported a 67% increase in hate crimes against the Muslim community.

Sadly, this attitude and even hatred is sometimes seen in our own schools.  As a result, Muslim students face challenges that may not be visible to others; however, they greatly affect our day-to-day experience.

"I always strive to be my best self because that
is what I was raised as a Muslim to do.  By
giving the best of myself, I give the world the
best impression of Muslims and who we really
are."  --Fatima Hassan
In order to build better understanding, we would like to share our experiences.   Our hope is to create a clearer understanding about our struggles and to let teachers and administrators know that their actions help Muslim students feel safe and feel as if we are an important part of what makes HSE Schools a truly special school district.

The Tension between Free Speech and a Safe Classroom

After talking with Muslim students all across the district, we discovered that all of us have faced a situation at one time or another where peers make racist or offensive comments during a class discussion or debate.  Real-life examples reported to us by students in our district include negative comments such as, “All Muslims hate Christians,” “All Muslims belong to ISIS,” and “Muslims do not know how to assimilate to ‘our’ culture.”  This last statement, of course, insinuates that Muslims are not part of American culture as well.

"We are no different from anyone
else.  It's as simple as that.  Just
treat us equally." --Sarah Ali
In our experience, these kind of statements are often followed by a silence that is painful and awkward.  At times, our non-Muslim peers defend us and rebut the negative comments, but our experience has been that teachers rarely do so.

To be clear, we do not want to inhibit freedom of speech or thought.  In Hamilton Southeastern Schools, open discussion and independence are important. Students, especially in higher level classes, should be and are encouraged to speak their minds and debate.  Healthy debates are essential for student growth, because it allows one to see another's perspective. 

It is important, however, to teach students that they must remain respectful while sharing those opinions.  We recognize this is not easily regulated, but when opinions and comments become disrespectful and offensive, we need teachers to step in and help.

The situation is even more difficult with younger students. We have heard stories from our siblings regarding political views that are shared in class. These young students are too young to be able to express how they feel to a teacher or even to have fully developed their own points of view.  They are not likely to be able to express concern or help others take into consideration what Muslim students or their families are facing outside of school.  These young students, especially, need the support of teachers.

What is Said and What is Not Said

Teachers, we need your help. 

It is essential for teachers to understand that what they say and what they do not say in front of their students can have a major impact. 

"I am proud to be a Muslim.  I love my hijab.  It
embodies who I am as a person." --Noor Abdullah
We know that teachers are trained and that they believe that no student should experience a teacher making politically charged comments or openly expressing negative views about Muslims. We are thankful for teachers who fully support this commitment to self-monitoring of their speech.  We hope that they will continue to consider the importance of what they say in our classrooms about religion. 

As important as what is said, or perhaps even more important, is what is not said.  We need our teachers to speak up for all students, including Muslim students. If negative comments or inaccurate comments are made, we need teachers to engage and educate. 

We know that our teachers went in to education to help students—all students.  So our hope is that teachers will take time to consider how frightening the world can be right now for Muslim students and recognize the necessity of making our schools a safe place for everyone, including their Muslim students.  We hope that they will continue to improve their effectiveness at intervening and redirecting conversations when necessary, and that they will help all students to understand the harmful effects of negative comments against any religion.

Thank you, teachers, for taking the time to learn more about us, about our individual talents and gifts, and about those things that can get in the way of our education. The world can feel like a frightening place, but your understanding and support makes a real difference.

Respond to the students in the Muslim Student Association through Wafa' Safi-Hassan at

As we come to the end of our school year, the HSE Teaching and Learning Team would also like to thank all of you for a year of learning and growth.  Thanks for all you do to make HSE a great place for all students. 

Have a wonderful week.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, May 12, 2017

Skyward, Security, and Spiderman

This week’s entry comes from Jeff Harrison.  It is about summer.  It is about Skyward, and it is about Security.  But mostly it is about Jeff sharing about the difficulty of breaking old patterns of thinking, and that is hard work!

From Jeff: Spidey-Sense

Part of the HSE21 Best-Practice model is reflection. I took a few minutes to reflect about this past year and some of the changes we have made in our approach to technology.
Most districts use this approach when
it comes to distributing computers....

Last year at this time we were going through the process of deciding what device to issue staff members. As you know, most districts simply assign a computer—mostly because there is only one choice.  The prevailing wisdom is that it is best if everyone has the same device. HSE, however, spent a great deal of time reflecting and debating whether or not we could offer up a choice to teachers. The result was that all of you were able to choose whether you wanted a Dell, a Surface Pro, or a Mac Air.

Our approach may not be easier, but our belief is that providing this choice has your work easier and more productive.  We think this unusual approach was successful.

The next issue we dealt with was about rights to install software on these new computers.  Again, we spent a great deal of time talking about and reflecting on whether teachers should have the rights to install their own software. The phrase we kept hearing was, “Trust us.  We are professionals.” 

That’s a convincing argument!

We landed on the decision to give “Admin Rights” to all teachers.  As a result, we have had a great year, and we hope you agree that this makes your jobs easier.

Break the Mental Chains

I have come to recognize that the restrictions I put on myself and my thinking are real.  I need discussion and reflection to break the mental chains. It brings to mind the following picture I have seen on social media. 

Even when I recognize the truth of this picture, changing beliefs takes effort.  The results, however, are worth the effort as the two examples above indicate.

Skyward is Next!

Over the last couple of weeks, as I looked through our end-of-year processes, I began thinking about how we remove all access to gradebooks and rosters over the summer. This decision may well extend from my own fear that allowing teachers access to the next year’s courses and rosters may cause problems. 

Drones hover even closer!
The administrators and counselors creating master schedules and class rosters make many, many last minute changes.  What if teachers look too soon and get shook by information that may or may not be accurate?  I worry that teachers will get concerned over the number of preps in the schedule, where the prep periods land, which students appear or don’t appear in rosters, or the number of students on the rosters—all before any of this is finalized. 

And my biggest fear is that class information may get leaked to families before being finished.  What a mess that could cause in this era of helicopter (and now even drone) parents.

On the other hand, if teachers have access to Skyward all summer, there are some advantages for teachers. They are able to answer parent questions about grades or refigure grades if work comes in during summer.  They can access student and parent information if they need to make contact.  They can access historical data if they are asked to write letters of recommendation, and new teachers can get in over the summer to learn how gradebooks work.

Wisdom from Uncle Ben

In my mind I hear the refrain from teachers, “Treat us as professionals.”   Again, that is a convincing argument.

As I have reflected over the last two weeks, I keep thinking about that horse chained to the chair. I’ve decided to break my mental chains and heed your reminder that “we are professionals.”  Therefore, after the rollover process that will take place the week of June 12, we are going to open your access to the gradebooks in Skyward.

Words of wisdom, whether they are from Voltaire or Uncle Ben.
In the Spiderman movie, Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  (Actually, there is debate about this quote.  Some attribute it to Voltaire, which would make it much more impressive but actually a little less fun.)

Okay, so having access to Skyward is not really that great of a superpower, but having access to the gradebooks over the summer, still requires responsibility.

Please remember that our office staff and administrators are continuously making changes to the master schedule, moving classes around, balancing rosters, and adding sections and teachers throughout the summer. What you see is not necessarily final until the students show up on Day One—and even then, it may be subject to change.

Thus, the high need to keep the information confidential.

Enjoy your summer time off with your friends and family, and if you happen to go into Skyward, do so responsibly.

Respond to Jeff at

Have a great week, HSE.  If your Spidey-sense is tingling, it may indicate summer break is near!

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Friday, May 5, 2017

From the Heart

Kennedi Barnett: Schools should not
ignore race as though it doesn't exist.
This week’s blog comes to us from members of the Black Student Union.  It is in response to a simple question: If you had the opportunity, what would you want the adults  to know about your experiences as a student in all of your schools?

Below is their list:

From the Black Student Union: Soul Food for Thought

The Black Student Union would like to present to you a few topics straight from the hearts of some black students who have gone to various schools, both inside and outside of Hamilton Southeastern Schools.  We hope you will take a quick look and then decide to continue reading more deeply.

Soul Food for Thought
Jaylen Booth: I have experienced
negative interactions with adults in school.
  • We want you to understand that black students appreciate faculty members who take a genuine interest in us.  We thrive with individuals who truly want to learn more about our views of the world and want to know where we are coming from. If you want to get to know us, ask more questions.  Ask for our opinions, and show a genuine interest. Each student has unique needs, and when you begin taking a genuine interest in us, you will see us react to your interest. 
  • We want you to understand that not every black student comes from a broken home or struggling background.  Certainly, there are poor students of every color, including black students, but poverty isn’t exclusive to black people. Please don’t act surprised to see me with a MacBook or an Apple Watch, and please don’t ask me how my parents could afford these things. Questions like these are hurtful.
    Tailynn Downing: A tignon is part
    of my cultural heritage.
  • We want you to understand that the use of tignons or dhukus (also known as head wraps or head scarves) to adorn black hair is a part of our culture and is deeply rooted in our history.  At one point in America's history, it was the only way we were allowed to wear our hair. If there are rules against wearing hats, please remember that tignons and dhukus are not the same as a hat. 
  • We want you to understand that, unfortunately, all black students we know have had at least one negative experiences with adults in school. These experiences can make us wary and distrustful.  Understanding that we have had these experiences may help you understand us.
    De'Auni Gipson: I've known students
    who like a teacher so much they want
    to fail classes to stay with that teacher.
  • We want you to understand that black students want faculty members who are on our side, rooting for us, wanting the best for us, and actively trying to help us. Black students excel in environments with teachers and faculty who want us to succeed and want more from us than we may even want for ourselves. Black students (or any student, for that matter) who are in these types of environments will exceed all expectations. 
  • We want you to understand that when more is expected from your black students, more will be received. Many of us operate at the level expected of us. If we are constantly made to feel that we are not capable, we not only begin to believe that this is what is expected from us, but we also believe that is what we are. We would like counselors and teachers to make sure they talk to us about the more challenging academic courses and encourage us to take them.
    Farida Dauda: I want adults to
     see past my color.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want the adults in HSE Schools to understand that black students often feel uncomfortable in their classes when the opportunity to discuss race arises, especially when the opportunity is not taken.  We wish HSE teachers would discuss race and race relations with their students, not just with other faculty members.  Ignoring race only worsens problems because it does not allow for positive change.

We understand that talking about race is difficult.  We understand that you may not talk about race out of fear. Perhaps you fear that your views or ideas may offend us, or you may fear saying the wrong thing.  You may even fear having difficult discussions of any kind.

If this fear leads to silence, then fear wins and little will change.  Silence allows prejudices and stereotypes to live on. Nothing will change if the topic is not openly and skillfully discussed. 

For us, not talking about race makes a loud statement.

Respond to the author/editor of this week's entry, Tailynn Dowing, and to the other members of the Black Student Union through their sponsor, Jagga Rent, at

If you want to know more about the BSU, about having the difficult discussions about race, or any other equity issue, we have people and resources in our district to help.  Contact any of us on the Teaching and Learning Team, and we can make connections to the people with resources and expertise to help.

Thanks for reading this week’s entry and for taking the time to listen to our students speaking from the heart.  Thanks for taking to heart the words of these students, and thanks for all you do to help all students learn at high levels.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

Sunday, April 30, 2017

For the Love of Sensory

As you read this, you may be feeling completely overwhelmed by all that is coming at you this time of year.  There is no question that ending a school year well is stressful for you and for your students.  All of us, at times, have experienced sensory overload.

These feelings you have may help you relate to this week's topic.  Leslie Brown, our HSE Autism Specialist, shares what life is like for students who have trouble filtering the world around them.  
We all know the Five Senses.  Are there more?

From Leslie: Driving in the Rain

When we hear the word sensory, what are the first thoughts that pop in your mind? It is likely the traditional five senses we all learned in early elementary.

We now know there are more: Our body’s ability to know its position in space, the ability to use touch to find an item without our vision, the balance receptors in our ears that loved roller coasters as teens but now they might make us queasy. Our brain filters millions of sensory messages each day, and those of us with mature systems can attend and respond to relevant sensory messages, and we ignore those that are not important! 

When you are on sensory overload, what do you need most?
Imagine your daily life if you could not filter all the sensory messages coming to you throughout the day.  Sand, finger painting, different textures, loud noises, fire alarms…. We are surrounded by sensory input all day long.  Most of us filter these away.  But what if you can’t?

We Know the Feeling

Have you ever felt as if you were experiencing sensory overload?  Think of times when you had too much coming at you.  There may have been too much sound, too little space, or overwhelming combinations of sights, smells, and emotions.

As an adult, we know how to cope. We might take a deep, cleansing breath: inhale, exhale, repeat.  Maybe we get up and walk away for a bit in order to reset our feelings.  We may even pour ourselves into our favorite clothes, sink into our favorite chair, cover up with our cozy blanket, and forget the world for a few minutes. 

Most of us, when we encounter these sensory overloads have gained knowledge of how to meet our needs in these situations.  We have learned to COPE.
Driving in the rain at high speeds....
And no wipers!

What if You Can't Cope?

Our students, our kiddos in our care daily, are still gaining this knowledge.  We hold the key to help them start learning to use their coping skills to meet their own sensory needs, and function in the world around them.  Helping them become the collaborators, imaginers, creators, and learners of the future.  

A great website to learn more about helping ALL children foster coping skills, not just those on the autism spectrum, A Sensory Life.  They use this metaphor:

Imagine driving along the freeway and it starts to drizzle.  You are able to maintain safety and ignore the few rain drops.  Your brain at this point sees the sensory input as irrelevant or not important. Then it starts to rain just a bit harder.  You really start to notice the drops on the windshield now, but you keep driving.  When it begins to pour you HAVE to use your windshield wipers. You cannot keep driving safely without them.

Use this scenario to imagine how a child who over-registers sensory input must feel with ANY type of sensory message. How would you feel if you were driving at high speeds in pouring rain and the wipers stopped working?

Educators know the truth of this statement!
This is the feeling some of our children have regularly.  Sometimes the wipers work, but sometimes they do not: they may not turn on at all or they may un too slowly or inconsistently. They don’t “wipe it away.”

We Make the Difference

It is vital to remember that we cannot withhold sensory interventions for our students.  These interventions are as important to them as windshield wipers are to us while driving in a downpour. 

Sensory needs are neurologically based and need to be added throughout a student’s day, not earned by the student. If you are not sure how to empower a student with sensory needs who is in your classroom, your Exceptional Learners Department can help. Each building has an occupational therapist who, along with resource staff and our intervention specialists can help you identify strategies to help students with sensory needs.

Please contact us and use us.  We are here to help.

Respond to Leslie at

Have a great week, HSE.  At this time of year, it is certainly important to find ways to cope with sensory overload, both for your students and for yourselves.

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team

  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education