Friday, February 17, 2017

In Praise of American Educators

Several weeks ago, we lost one of the giants in education.  Rick DuFour came to prominence as the leader of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, which is still widely recognized as a model for school reform based on the Professional Learning Communities framework.  He became a prolific writer and speaker and has influenced a generation of teachers and administrators.
DuFour always placed emphasis squarely on student learning.

It would be easy to continue to fill this entry with information about his life, his books, and his impact as a champion of public schools.  Instead, most of what I have included below are Rick’s own words.  

This book was written and
published after his diagnosis.
Those of us who have read his books or heard him speak will likely recognize some of these quotes.  If you haven’t had the chance to read or hear Rick, you will immediately recognize his wisdom—and you will quickly see that the heart of his message is about student learning.

In the months before his death, Rick DuFour published his last book, In Praise of American Educators: And How They Can Become Even Better.” In the first words of the introduction, Rick shares the experience of being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and states simple, “there is no stage 5.”  A few pages later, come these words:

The best way to improve student learning:
Have educators work together!
As I assessed my career at this crossroads of my life, I felt more frustration than satisfaction.  Through history, Americans have criticized their schools—it is more of an American pastime than baseball.  I am frustrated, however, that politicians and the media seem to be waging an increasingly aggressive war not just on the public school system but also on the educators within it. Their unfair characterization of teachers and principals as lazy incompetents who are unconcerned about the well-being of their students is nothing like the amazing educators with whom I have worked both directly and indirectly.  I am frustrated that members of the profession I love are receiving none of the recognition they deserved for what they are accomplishing in the face of incredibly challenging conditions.

The remainder of the book is both a defense of educators and a call to action.  Educators must look both at what we are doing well and at what we can do better.  He states, “Our profession will not benefit from either unloving critics or uncritical lovers.”  The challenge for us, says DuFour by quoting Martin Luther King Jr., is to be confronted by the “urgency of now” because “at no point in American history have the stakes for our students been greater.”

According to Rick DuFour, the way forward is by working together toward a common purpose.  He lists "Three Big Ideas" that capture the essence of professional learning communities.  See if these Big Ideas resonate with you: 
Teachers as leaders is at the heart of PLCs.

  1. The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels.
  2. Helping all students learn requires a collaborative and collective effort.
  3. To assess our effectiveness in helping all students learn, we must focus on results--evidence of student learning--and use the results to improve our professional practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.

In the coming months and years, you will hear more about Rick DuFour and his work.  There is no question that he will be missed, but there is also no question that we can continue to learn from this master teacher.
This is pure Rick DuFour: putting our beliefs into action.

Rick DuFour worked up to his final days.  If you have sixteen minutes, listen to Rick talk about his most recent book: 

Don't have sixteen minutes? Try a shorter clip.  He just sits and talks, but he knows his stuff!

Have a great week, HSE.  We hope that you find joy this week in working together to improve student learning.

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, February 10, 2017

Diversity is Our Strength

This week's entry comes from Crystal Thorpe, principal of Fishers Junior High School.  She shares about a FJH tradition that has grown into a major school and community event.

From Crystal: FJH International Fair

Fishers Junior High School believes in the notion that our diversity is our greatest strength.  Cultural diversity has helped make America a more robust country; and therefore, a more interesting place to live.  Our International Fair not only acknowledges our differences but also help our students celebrate and embrace our differences.

Many years ago, what started out as basic information on tri-folds being shared in the large group instruction room has, with hard work, transformed into an amazing night of food, festivities, and fun that brings together our students, our staff, and our community.

This year we celebrated more than 50 countries with food, crafts, and performances.  All 7th graders are expected to participate, and they select the country of their choice.  Students are include fundamental information in their projects, with many going above and beyond expectation.  Some students presented videos using their iPads, while others proudly wore their traditional native garb.

Along with informational tri-folds, students were encouraged to bring food from their countries, such as baklava, empanadas, rice dishes, banana bread, biscotti, lemon cookies, and spring rolls.  Our Spanish teacher also contacted high school students who were former Chargers who painted our student's faces in honor of the Mexican holiday, "The Day of the Dead."  One art teacher, as well as other volunteers, sketched henna tattoos (a form of decorative art from Northern Africa, South Asia, and India) on our students’ hands.  Student artwork was displayed, and the science department had students create displays of scientists from around the world acknowledging their contributions to society. 

The band and orchestra students displayed their talents in the fair as students performed musical selections.  The FJH Dance Company performed as well as the African International Dance Company of Indianapolis.  We had Bollywood student dancers, Samurai sword demonstrations, and a parent from India played the Sitar.  We’ve even had French mimes entertain our guests.  This year, we included story-telling in our library with students reading about cultures from around the world.

Our PTO participated in the fair by creating passports, along with official stamps, for countries such as the United States, India, Kenya, Mexico, China, Australia, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy.  Craft stations were in each of the rooms where students created maracas, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Kenyan masks, coat of arms, and more.  Videos and music played in the background of those rooms and offered more information on those countries.  For the first time this year, students submitted recipes for the FJH International Fair, and our Triangle Club created a cookbook so others could recreate some of their favorite International foods from the fair.
Our fair is a community event and everyone is welcome.  More importantly, it is very comforting and encouraging to immigrant families and those new to the Fishers community to see themselves represented in our schools. Every year we get parents from all around the world with tears in their eyes, expressing their gratitude and how much they appreciate this event.

Our goal at FJH is to let ALL of our students know they are welcomed, they are appreciated, and they are valued.  We look forward to next year as our International Fair just keeps getting better and better!

Respond to Crystal at

As Crystal says, diversity is our strength.  Celebrate it today!  Have a great week, HSE.

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, February 3, 2017

Worksheets, Fire, and Text

From Stephanie: The Challenge

Looking for a challenge?  Please join me for an “In Text” Challenge.

In Text Challenge: Find it. Burn it. Proceed.

  1. Find one worksheet assignment or task per day that could be done in text.
  2. When you find that worksheet task, set it on fire, and proceed with the lesson in text. J
In a Foreword to Jennifer Serravallo’s book, The Literacy Teacher’s Playbook, Ellin Oliver Keene askes us to evaluate how our assigned tasks give us information about what readers and writers need.
Guide them wisely....

What are we to make of all of these things and these piles of work? We pour through work samples and assignments to realize that too often we’re not sure what the data or information shows. Is good old-fashioned kid-watching and careful analysis of children’s behavior in text enough for us as we guide them wisely and help them find their intellectual power?

What if we expected our students to use a blank piece of paper, note card, marker-board, post-it, or digital representation to record their thinking or their response to an assigned task as a commitment to a more rigorous expectation?
The best worksheet?
A blank piece of paper

The simple of act of providing a blank sheet of paper or more open-ended task asks students to organize their thinking and generate a plan for communicating their understanding of an assignment or task.

Too often our worksheets offer spoon fed plans for information retrieval. Overly arranged, simple formats hinder the heavy lifting required in rigorous and thoughtful work. Giving them the tool to get organized requires the executive functioning to develop a plan for communication.
How do you help your readers and writers find the right "lens"?

Readers and writers are expected to communicate their understanding of the content or task but more importantly know for themselves that they’re ready for our next reading or writing conference.  They begin to act like photographers, adjusting their lenses and finding just the right “scene” to capture, so they can communicate their understanding. Their lens becomes refined and they develop a sense of how craft and skills work in text. Readers make discoveries that begin to jump off the page.
Maybe we need to develop
a healthy fear of the copier!

Seravallo asks readers and writers to communicate a sense of focus, structure, elaboration and convention work.

Below are some examples of skill or task work in text…along with a great clip from Teacher’s College at Columbia University.

Let me know how your work in text is going….And if you’re spending less time at the copier and more time enjoying conferring! 

A Chair for My Mother, Vera B. Williams…
Great page for small moments, developing setting, and use of commas.

Crow Call, Lois Lowry…
Great page for making small moments big, setting, and character development.

Brown Bear,  Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle...
Predictable text, pattern work, high frequency words, one-to-one correspondence, and sing-song language work.

Click this link for a video from Teacher's College
Reading and Writing Project
Whole Class Instruction--Rereading Texts

Respond to Stephanie at

Have a great week, HSE.  We hope you take Stephanie's challenge: Find it.  Burn it. Proceed!

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, January 27, 2017

Rules from Heroes

I recently ran across an article written by Katrina Fried, author of American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom, in which she quotes teachers from all over the nation.

Here are few of my favorites:
Think back.  Which teacher is still your hero?
  • Rules are made to be broken: “Really good education is all about risk-taking and making a mess; learning is chaotic, right?”  Michael Goodwin, English teacher at Concord Carlisle Regional High School in Concord, MA.
  • Never teach to the test: “Exceptional test scores, brilliant job applicants, and competitive colleges should simply be by-products of great education, not the sole purpose of it.”  Josh Anderson, debate coach at Olathe Northwest High School, Olathe, KS.
  • There is no such thing as an un-teachable child: “My students are kids just like any other kids.  Of course they can learn.  Of course they can love school.  Of course they can build good relationships.  Of course they have a voice.  They just need to learn how to use it.”  Julia King, math and reading at DC Prep Edgewood Middle Campus in Washington, DC.
  • The future is now: Technology has changed my teaching and directly affected my students’ learning.  It is not that I consciously try to plan a lesson that has technology in it.  It’s just that it’s woven in.  It’s almost invisible.”  Jo-Ann Fox, 4th grade teacher at Reidy Creek Elementary School in Escondido, CA.
  • You can’t do it alone: “Success does not occur in isolation.  It’s only because of the teacher next door, the teacher down the hall.  It’s because of the secretaries.  It’s because of the administration.  It’s because of a whole staff working together to try and make good things happen.  The magic formula in education is not hiring the right person.  It’s hiring the right group of people who all want to achieve the same goals.”  Jeffrey Charbonneau, science teacher at Zillah High School, Zillah WA.

I’m going to give the final word on good teaching to Jay Hoffman, a middle school teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, VT:

Be a student of your students: “Teaching reflects you.  If you look at that reflection, you will really learn about yourself.  That humbles me and brings me to tears when I talk about it.  Because in the beginning, I was scared of what I saw.  Kids find the cracks in your armor.  It is not that they set out to, they just do.  But if you are willing to step back and reflect, you can grow so much.  It is a wonderful, unexpected caveat.  You think you are going to teach, but boy, do you learn.  I have come to understand that, truly, I am my students’ student.”  

We would love to hear teacher “rules” you live by.  If you have one (or more) send them our way.  We can find ways to share these with others.  After all, we can’t do it alone.

Respond to Phil at

Have a great week, HSE.  When you get a chance, send us the rules you live by, the rules you break, and the rules that inspire you and your students.

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, January 20, 2017

One Caring Adult

This week’s entry comes from Brooke Lawson, Mental Health Coordinator for Hamilton Southeastern Schools.  It serves as both an introduction to her and her work in our district and as reminder that we all have roles in helping students succeed.  Our work is about educating the whole child.

From Brooke: Take Every Opportunity

HSE is one of the few districts
in the state that has a
Mental Health Coordinator.
When Phil asked me to share something with you in the Teaching and Learning blog I wasn’t sure what I should write.  As a newbie to the district—I’ve been here about three months—I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of this opportunity.

First, an introduction might be in order.  I am the Mental Health Coordinator for the district, a position that most districts are lacking.  I’m a licensed clinical social worker, and most of my experience is in school-based mental health. 

As the title implies, my role in the district is to help coordinate mental health services for all of our students.  For example, you’ll be hearing more about a new partnership with Community Health Network in the coming months. 

Even though I spend my time thinking about mental health, the goal for everyone in the district is help students learn to the best of their abilities.  I have no doubt that mental health has a major impact on a student’s ability to learn and on a teacher’s ability to teach students.  As are result, every adult employed by HSE Schools can influence the lives of the children we teach.

The children in our classrooms do face many challenges.  They live in a busy, fast-paced world and can feel overwhelmed and overlooked.  Fortunately, each and every one of us can make a positive impact on the lives of students in our schools.  If you want to see what this might look like, click on the link below and take a few minutes to watch “Every Opportunity.”

I first saw this video in a training, and it left a lasting impression.  It provides a strong reminder of our influence as educators.  Research supports what is shown in the video and what we know in our hearts to be true.  In March 2015, Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child released a study which stated:

Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.” 

I know that students who are struggling emotionally can be some of the hardest to teach and reach, but how exciting to know that each one of us has the ability to help a child flourish and become a responsible and productive adult just by being very intentional about the interactions we have with him or her each day. 

These interactions don’t have to be huge.  Simple things go a long way toward creating a caring and supportive relationship with students:
  • Greet your students by name each morning.
  • Get to know your students personally.
  • When behavior needs correcting, do it quietly, not in front of the whole class.
  • Catch students making the right choice and praise them for it!
  • Listen to what your students have to say, and find time for individual conversations.

Everyone is busy, and it is so easy to forget how important our daily interactions with students are.  It is good to be reminded of all of the opportunities we are given each day to have a positive impact on the lives of the students in our buildings. 

Respond to Brooke at

Have a great week, HSE.  Feel free to contact Brooke directly if you have questions or could use her input.  She is here to help you help your students.

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, January 13, 2017

Yes, They Can

This week's entry comes to us from Diane Behrman, a kindergarten teacher at Thorpe Creek Elementary.  One day she heard herself saying, "My students aren't ready for that." Upon further consideration, she wondered who was the one not ready.

Below is her story:

From Diane: Student Choice

As a first year teacher, pretty much everything has been a learning experience for me since I stepped foot in my kindergarten classroom at Thorpe Creek Elementary last August.  Education is going through some pretty big changes as we move towards HSE21 and Reggio-inspired classrooms, so I’m learning all of these new practices right along with my co-workers. One of those areas that I think many teachers (first year or not) struggle with is shifting toward allowing student choice throughout the day. 
There are no desks in Diane's classroom. Students can do
their work at low tables, traditional-height tables, a large picnic table,
or just have a seat on pillows or on the floor.

When the year started, I was all about having assigned seats when my kindergartners came into the room on the first day of school.  I knew that letting 21 kiddos with little school experience come in and wander aimlessly around the room without having an assigned spot would quickly become a disaster.  So, like many teachers, I placed name tags at each seat in my classroom.  Each student knew where to sit. 

This worked seamlessly the first day and the second day and each day after.  In fact, having assigned seats was working so well that I didn’t even think about getting rid of them. 

Then I had a friendly visitor from the district office stop by and ask me how I liked the flexible seating in my room.  I mentioned how my students enjoyed the seating options, but that I was assigning the seats. 

Then I said, “My students can't handle choosing their own seats.”  They were kindergartners after all! I couldn’t trust these little people with a big decision like picking their seats, could I? 
These are just kindergartners.  They can't handle choice!
Or can they?

The more I thought about this question, the more I realized I really should reconsider my answer.  

What was the point of having all of these options for students when I wasn’t letting them choose?  So, I took the plunge and decided that the next day I would let the students come in and choose their seats. 

I was a little nervous about this plan, but also very excited.  When I told the students that they could pick their seats, they were all smiles.  They loved having the freedom to choose.  They appreciated that I gave them a choice to make, and for the most part, they made good choices on their own about where to sit and who to sit by (and who not to sit by). 

In that moment, I realized that I had been afraid of something that I had no reason to fear.  I had underestimated my students, thinking they could not handle making that decision, but they proved me wrong pretty quickly.  
"I realized I had been afraid of something
I had no reason to fear!"

I needed to let go of the idea that all students need an assigned spot.  Instead, I needed to trust in my students to make good choices.  I had been trying to control a part of the classroom that didn’t need to be controlled. 

So, I let it go!  My students picked a spot that worked best for them, which is the whole point of flexible seating, and I didn’t have to worry about assigning seats.  It was so freeing! 
Let it go!
Good-bye, name

In fact, that experiment went so well that I started to evaluate other areas of the day where I could let my students have more choice in the classroom.

This was a great experience for me as a first year teacher and one that has pushed me to be better.  Yes, I needed a little push, but I learned that I need to be brave and take some risks to make good even better.

Are there times you think you could allow more student choice, but like me, you are too afraid or you think your students can’t handle it?  I’m here to tell you that it’s not as scary as you may think.  Take a risk and you may just be rewarded with a better classroom and happier students.  If kindergartners can do it, so can you!

Diane with her students.

Respond to Diane at

We hope you choose to have a great week, HSE.  

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, January 6, 2017

Purple Circle of Reflection

We tend to pause and reflect at
this time of year. Is that enough?
The end of the year and the advent of the New Year always lends itself to a time of reflection.  It’s a time to look at where we’ve been and to look forward to what comes next.  This year in particular found newscasts filled with opinions about the year gone by and great speculation about what would be coming after the ball dropped at midnight on New Year’s Eve. 

How do we ensure that reflection occurs more regularly, and not just during the few days prior to the New Year?  I, too, suffer from the “I don’t have time to reflect” syndrome.  Life does keep us busy running from one thing to the next.  What I have learned over time is that I don’t have time NOT to reflect.  It is through reflection that I am led to deeper places and greater action—it is what keeps me from just doing the same thing over and over because it is what I’ve always done.

Reflecting on HSE21

Recently several of us began looking with fresh eyes at the HSE21 best-practice model.  It is important that this is a living and breathing document that stays relevant, so we reviewed it asking the question, “How can we make this more clearly understandable?” 

Reflection is in the purple circle.
Have you noticed it before?

 Take a close look, and you will see the word “Reflection” is in the purple circle that connects the four components of the HSE21 Best Instructional Practices graphic.   We wondered how many people have even noticed that it is there.

Determining Right or Wrong Is Not the Purpose

I know teachers are struggling with feeling like they are doing it “wrong” as we look at shifting our instructional practices.  Instead of focusing on right or wrong, how do we shift the conversation to a reflective conversation?  How do we become a professional learning community focused on conversations about important questions: Why are we doing what we do?  How well are current practices working?  What are other ways of doing things that might improve student learning?

As this New Year begins, let’s continue to challenge ourselves to find time to reflect, to collaborate, to question.  Let’s work together to build a collaborative culture of reflection focused on growth and not on judgment.    

Happy New Year, HSE.  Here’s to a great 2017! 

Respond to Jan at

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