Friday, October 30, 2015

Image of the Teacher: A Champion

Last week, Fatima Rich asked us to think about our beliefs about good teaching.  She made the argument that we are all learners together, and that professional growth is absolutely essential.  This week I offer another “image of the teacher.”

This supports Fatima's argument!
This entry was organized by Jagga Rent, one of the deans at Hamilton Southeastern High School.  He shares a few stories about their Reaching Out to Another Royal (ROAR) program, which creates intentional relationships between students and teachers. 

Yale Professor and educator, James Comer, made the statement illustrated below in the red box.

The educators at Hamilton Southeastern took this concept seriously and decided to do more than simply leave relationships to chance.  Below are four vignettes about ROAR champions and students.


ROAR is giving teachers a greater opportunity to do what they got into this profession change lives. This program has the support of our principal, Matt Kegley, and his support is much of the reason the success rate is so high and fast. The conversation in our building is changing from being about “those kids” to being about “our kids.”

ROAR is making an impact one student at a time.
                        --Jagga Rent

From Kristen Carwile: Engagement Brings Success

Brianna is my ROAR student and was last year, but she was also a student of mine in English 11.  She had struggled all year, as she had in her other classes, and much of it was due to her sporadic attendance.  When we started our Genius Hour projects, Brianna began a transformation.  She started coming to school every day and really got into making that project her own (which, coincidentally, is exactly what the project is all about).  I think she finally felt that she was good at something and had a voice to share some of her struggles, and then she learned that she was not alone in her struggles.  She finished the year passing English 11 and most of her other classes.

Kristen and her ROAR Student 

From Aaron Vest: Do Your Research

My mentee and I were able to make great progress. He was in my Spanish class last year, so I had one natural connection.  I also had one of his siblings before and was hoping that I could use those connections as well.  After calling and talking at length with his mom, I found out about many of the personal challenges he was facing at home and found out about some of his interests outside of school.

I meet with him several times and asked him what it was that he needed from me in order to get his grades up.  After talking, we decided on an assignment notebook that he would come by and show me every day, in addition to coming to my class a little early each day.  We also talked about our common interests, and this helped.  

He has showed great improvement in all of his classes.  He was missing assignments regularly at the beginning of the year but gave more effort in all classes to get things turned in.  
I continue to talk to him regularly and am excited about the coming school year.

To see a short movie about last spring's End-of-Year Celebration for ROAR Mentors and Students, Click the link.

About Cliff Bailey: Encourage Connections

Cliff Bailey, one of our original Royals Intervention Team Advisors, recently shared a story with us.  If you don’t know it, Cliff is the HSE Rugby Team Sponsor.  After having selected his ROAR student, Cliff began talking about the Rugby team in conversation.  One thing led to another, and his student eventually decided to go out for the team and get involved in something—for the first time in his life.  As a result, the young man was recognized at Rugby Senior Night, something that would never have happened without Cliff having built that relationship with his student. 

About Angela Fritz: A Small Act of Kindness

Angela Fritz took a young man under her wing who was quite reluctant to meet or talk at first.  Over the course of time, she discovered he liked drawing, even though he was not an art student.  This student eventually became comfortable enough to share his drawings with Angela, but they were on lined school paper.  Realizing he didn’t have a sketchbook at school, Angela gave him one.  Needless to say, he was shocked and delighted.  Relationships are built just like this—one small interaction at a time.

 Respond to Jagga Rent at

Bonus Video: Rita Pierson says every child deserves a champion.  This concept and Pierson's TedTalk were important in the development of Hamilton Southeastern High School's ROAR initiative.  
To see the video, click this link:

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, October 23, 2015

Image of the Teacher: When You Love Deeply

When you love something deeply, you study it closely.  You know what it does and how it works.  The things you care about most, you pay attention to.  You study the details of it.
                                                                                                --Chris Lehman

For the past few weeks, this blog has focused on “The Image of Child.”  We will likely return to this topic in the coming weeks and months, because as Jan says, “Our beliefs about children determine what we do.”

This week’s blog, however, asks a slightly different question: What is your image of the teacher?  

Fatima Rich is one of our Teacher Development Specialists.  Below, she gives one answer to that intriguing question and writes about what energizes her when she is watching teachers at work in the classroom.

Fatima makes the argument that teachers who love their work, study the details of their profession, and reflect on what helps students learn.  As you read Fatima's words, please consider what it is that you love about teaching and learning--and consider sharing your thoughts.


From Fatima: When You Love Deeply....

I want to start with a story about my child, partly because I’m a proud mother and partly because I want to make a point about great teaching in Hamilton Southeastern Schools.  First the story about Layla, our three-year-old.

Silly Me

Last weekend I attempted a visit to the library and it was closed. I told Layla that we would come back after I picked her up Monday. When I arrived to get the girls the next evening, Layla said, "Mommy, we get to go to the library now!"

Surprised that she remembered, I looked at the clock and sighed.  It was dinner time, and I was exhausted. Then, I looked at her face, and knew I needed to head to the library. Otherwise I was going to have one disappointed little reader. She loves books. I love that she loves books, so off to the library we went. She pulled her M&M bag behind her, anxious to pick out new books to take home and read to her little sister.

Later that night, when I came upstairs to read books and say goodnight, I found her reading a library book upside down. Immediately, I questioned why she was reading the book that way. She smiled at me and replied, "So Clifford can see the words and the pictures, silly!"

Clifford gets a bedtime story from Layla.  Who is to say
which way is "right" when reading to someone you love? 
That's right, my little reader, read on and keep doing what you love. Silly me.

The Love of Learning

A Teacher Development Specialist is an unusual job, so I’m often asked questions such as, “What do you do?” and “Do you like your job?” 

I respond by saying, "I have the best job in the world.  I enter as many classrooms as I can, looking for intentional teachers and captivated students."

The next question is often, “What are you looking for when you come into a classroom?”

I’ve thought a lot about this answer, and after careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I am most excited by entering classrooms which I do not want to leave.  I try to find every reason to stay. 

In these classrooms…

  • Teachers and students are passionate and experiencing learning together.
  • Teachers and students are listening, discussing, and asking questions.
  • Teachers and students are taking information and linking it to new learning
I want to stay in those rooms because teachers and students are smiling, engaged, having fun, and most of all exploring and being curious about this awesome world we are fortunate enough to live in. These classrooms are not about textbooks.  They are not about programs, and they are not about whole group instruction versus small groups or stations. They are all about the love of learning.
I was recently inspired by listening to Chris Lehman, a literacy expert.  He said something like this:

When you love something deeply, you study it closely.  You know what it does and how it works.  The things you care about most, you pay attention to.  You study the details of it.

When I go into classrooms, I look for teachers who love what they do, care deeply, and pay attention to the details of teaching and learning.  These teachers enjoy walking into their classrooms each day because it's another day to learn something new themselves and something new about their students.

I look for teachers who love enhancing their practice with new knowledge gained from collaborating with their peers, who allow students opportunities to take different roads to one destination, who use technology as a tool, who incorporate arts and movement and rhythm, who have students investigate with touch, or who plan without knowing exactly where the students will take them.

I look for teachers who want to grow and stretch their minds and deepen their understanding. I look for teachers who study their own craft and make subtle shifts to enhance what is already being done well.

There is no question that our work is hard, but it is also important work.  So I look for teachers who have fallen in love with their work, who can’t get enough, and want to continue to get better and better.  In short, I look for teachers who, like Chris Lehman says, are deeply in love with learning as much as Layla is in love with reading.

Happily, it’s being done in Hamilton Southeastern.  In my job, I see it every single day. Some might call it PBL, Reggio, or Inquiry.  Sometimes it goes by the name of Workshop or Best-Practice or HSE21.

As for me, I call it Love.

Respond to Fatima at

Enjoy your Fall Break, and have a great week, HSE!

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Image of the Child: The Reader

Whether you teach kindergarten or seniors in high school, we are all teachers of readers!

That is the message from Leslie Hopper and Chris Edwards.  Leslie is the Library Media Specialist at Thorpe Creek Elementary, and Chris is a history teacher at Fishers High School.  They eloquently argue for us to use in the classroom what we know and believe about children.  Enjoy!

From Leslie Hopper: Voice and Choice

How many quotes like the ones above have you seen circulating around social media? How many of these are proudly posted in our classrooms? Not a single educator can rightfully deny words like these. These are beliefs that we hold true as teachers and readers.

Now consider this: How many of our instructional practices reflect these undeniable beliefs? How do our learning environments encourage and support lifelong readers?

Student voice and student choice! 

Previous blog posts have explored how learning is about the whole child. So is reading! Our students want and need ownership of their reading.

Think of your own habits as a reader. What do you love to read? What if someone told you that you could not read a book that you chose? How does it feel to finally read that book that YOU have been wanting to read because YOU chose it?

Kate loves nonfiction.
"Mom, thanks, but I do not care for Elephant and Piggie."
This year my daughter, Kate, is an eager first grader! She loves nonfiction. Craves it. She wants to learn about everything: animals, maps, cooking, and the list goes on and on. We read a lot of these books together, and she often claims that the book is too hard for her to read on her own. In an effort to boost her independent reading confidence, I shared some of Mo Willems’s easier-to-read Elephant and Piggie books with her. I knew that she could read these! And personally, I love fiction, adore Mo Willems, and secretly hoped she would love these books as much as I do.

She did not!

She stated, “Mom, thanks, but I do not care for Elephant and Piggie.” While my heart was slightly broken, I knew that this wasn’t about me at all. It was all about her. So we continue reading nonfiction together. One recent evening, she excitedly announced that she would be reading to us from her very large animal encyclopedia. And she read two pages all on her own! There were challenging parts that we helped her with, but to see her pride and confidence as she read was powerful! She took ownership of her reading.

Of course, we should introduce our students to a variety of genres and reading experiences with purpose and intention. But if we inherently believe in developing lifelong, excited readers, let us find every possible way to support our students’ choices, interests, and passions through our reading instruction.

Let a sixth grader read 20 picture books and a kindergartener explore an enormous atlas! What if the book is too easy? Too challenging? We, as passionate educators with strong beliefs about creating lifelong readers, will be there to support them on their reading journey, no matter what they choose.

It's all about the reader, not the book!

Follow her on Twitter: @librarytce

From Chris Edwards: Connecting the Dots

Right now, a lot of teachers feel as if we are juggling many balls at once. There is the Project Based Learning (PBL) Ball, the Literacy Standards Ball, the new SAT ball, and, for some of us, the Advanced Placement test ball. (With the school year in full swing, this feels like juggling while standing on top of a speeding train.) The first step forward, however, is to realize that those are not balls in the air. They are dots.

Let’s pluck them from the air and connect them into a larger picture. The common factor among all of the dots mentioned above is that they require students to master certain elements of literacy.

Chris argues for using what we know about our brains
to engage students and increase learning.
Neuroscientists have known for a long time that people learn best from reading when:

  • Information is presented in a narrative form;
  • Information is connected to other forms of information (neurons that fire together wire together); and
  • Information is explained using analogies that connect the narrative to something that students already are familiar with.

One of the more perplexing things about American education is that the textbook and workbook companies that supply educational materials incorporate exactly none of these findings.

Since we know how students learn from reading, and since textbooks seldom reflect this knowledge, a crucial component of being an effective teacher is helping our students discover readings that are engaging. Once the readings have been chosen, the following steps help lead to mastery:
  1. Students should be supported, using clear questions, to pull out the relevant evidence from the readings. The use of “textual evidence” is a major component of the new state literacy standards.
  2. Students should be required to create a thesis, use evidence, develop a narrative, and use analogies in essays or presentations.
To use a short example, I use a wonderful excerpt from a book about the “Little Ice Age” of the medieval era written by the historian Brian Fagan. The selection explains how heavy rains and cold weather in the 14th century destroyed crops. After students have read this text and pulled out textual evidence, they read another selection about the impact that starvation has on the human immune system, and then they connect this new information to the outbreak of the Black Plague. Finally, students read a paragraph from a Scientific American article that explains how modern global warming has allowed for certain warm weather viruses to move into northern territories.

Students then grapple with questions like these:

  • How similar and different is the modern era to the 14th century?
  • Did global cooling once facilitate the spread of the Black Plague?
  • If so, do people in the 21stcentury need to fear the spread of disease as the world gets warmer?

For the teacher, one question is about how the students will express their learning. It’s a long school year, and I can see no reason why my students and I cannot learn how to write traditional essays and create projects. The variety itself likely benefits both processes; preparation for one is preparation for the other.

Take a look again.  Those are not balls in the air. They are dots, and teachers can connect them by understanding that all forms of learning stem from a mastery of literacy, the development of a thesis, the creation of a narrative using analogy, and an eventual application either through writing or presentation.

The picture that emerges by connecting the dots will be of students who are engaged and learning. 

Respond to Chris by email at

Have a great week, HSE.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team

Friday, October 9, 2015

Image of the Child Part III

From Greg Eaken: Kids Do Well if They Can

I am the product of Catholic schools in “da Region” in northwest Indiana.  During my elementary years, I was often surprised by the discipline techniques employed by the nuns who taught us.  These quiet and prayerful ladies of the cloth would transform into the Monsters of the Midway when students were misbehaving.  

According to Greg, Sister Carmen had an impressive right arm.
In the fifth grade, Sister Carmen had an arm on her not unlike Fergie Jenkins. (Those of you who followed the Chicago Cubs in the 1970s know who I’m referring to.)  If someone was talking out or otherwise disrupting her classroom, she would pirouette 180 degrees from the chalkboard and hurl the eraser at the offending student.  Her accuracy rate was well over 80%!  

I recall that “Billy J.” was a frequent flyer to the office during that year and one of Sister Carmen’s favorite targets.  He was sent to the principal’s office for any one of a variety of offenses on any given day.  On one occasion, Sister Paulita directed Billy to stand in the front of the room with his nose in a circle drawn on the chalkboard because he refused to work.  On another occasion, “Billy J” was threatened with a spanking due to his disrespectful behavior.  He chose to climb out the window and leave the premises rather than meet the wrath of Mr. Leonard and his paddle. 

“Billy J.” never returned….  I assumed he enrolled in public school. 

This is Greg, but Billy J. was no alter boy.
Even a fifth grader with no background in behavioral theory could surmise that Billy really wasn’t responding very well to the strategies that were in place.  Sisters Carmen and Paulita were using what they were familiar with in terms of disciplining students who exhibited challenging behaviors. 

Clearly there is a need to react or respond when students exhibit disruptions in the classroom.  However, our primary response, until recently, was usually to wait for misbehavior to occur and then resort to punitive responses in hopes that the interfering behaviors would go away (or in Billy's case, climb out the window).  One problem with this approach (and there are others) is that we don’t really teach the student anything about what it is we want them to do. 

What discipline practices lead to students
feeling "lost at school"?
Noted author, Ross Greene, describes a theory of behavior that I find most useful.  He states in his book Lost at School that “kids behave well if they can.”  Dr. Greene asks the question “Why would [a child] choose not to do well if he has the skills to do well?”  

He encourages us to consider our “philosophy of kids.”  If we believe our students “do well when they want to,” our approach is dramatically different.  Viewing negative student behavior as willful, intentional, and manipulative results in increased frustration on the part of caregivers and teachers.  If we consider misbehavior to be a learning error, our approach often changes. 

I doubt “Billy J” started out his school career with a bad attitude.   

Take a moment and consider your philosophy.  Think about any discipline practices you currently use that may result in students feeling lost at school.  
  • Do we engage in any practices that might be the equivalent of Sister Carmen throwing an eraser?  That is, do we do anything that might embarrass or demean our students?  
  • Do we actively reflect upon our classroom management practices (clip charts, flipping cards) to ensure we are getting the results we want? 
  • What outcomes do we think are reasonable for our tough students?   
  • Finally, how are we embedding social skills instruction within the curriculum to teach our most challenging students the skills they need to function more effectively in ALL environments?  

Kids really do behave well if they can.  

Respond to Greg at

From Brian Behrman: Intentional Modeling of Curiosity

When I think of the image of a child, the first thing that comes to mind are my own two children.  At home I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son.  While they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, one thing that is consistent with both of them is their curious nature.  For my son in particular, his favorite word is “why,” and his favorite phrase is “What does that mean?”  I love his inquisitive nature and his desire to figure out how the world works.

This word is heard often in the Behrman home.
When I think about all the fifth and sixth graders that I work with on a daily basis, I can still see that inquisitive nature in many of them.  In classrooms I hear great questions being asked, both by teachers and by students, but it also seems that as our students get older, the level of curiosity does not seem to be as high.  For some reason, our older students seem hesitant to ask deep questions about the world around them.

It is my belief that it is much more important for our students to know how to ask the right questions and find the answers for themselves, than simply answer the questions we ask.  It is also my belief that students will naturally be more curious and inquisitive when we integrate student-centered approaches into our teaching.  When students are investigating things that are high interest to them, they find passion and purpose in their learning.  I think we would all agree that it is easier to be curious and excited about things for which we find passion.

So the question for us: How do we help out students maintain the level of curiosity that most kids have in their earliest years? 

In the classrooms that develop curiosity, teachers are intentional in their modeling of deep-thinking questions, and they take the time to challenge their students to ask deep questions as well.  Instead of simply asking and answering questions, these teachers spend time talking about the questions that students have asked and guiding the discussion to allow the students to find their own answers. 

Through this modeling and discussion, each student’s curiosity is encouraged, and they find that it is possible to figure things out on their own, rather than relying on their teachers to be the gatekeepers of information.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Image of the Child Part II

From Jan: Curious, Capable, and Social

Children are Naturally Curious.  When I spent time with my young grandchildren I found them to be curious about so many things—always a million questions and exploring in every direction.  Yet, I see as they are getting older their sense of curiosity seems to be waning and I wonder….  Where did it go?  How do we encourage that sense of wonder in them in school?

Children are Capable.  They can do so much more than we give them credit for.  In talking with Matt and Jason at the highs schools, they shared some of the many concerns the planning teams worried about while designing the College and Career Academies.
  • If we sell coffee and drinks and let students purchase them throughout the day, will they get spilled and we’ll have messes everywhere?
  • If we design a flex schedule that allows students to come and go based on their schedule, will there be chaos?
  • Can we really trust our students to control their own time and schedules responsibly?

Hamilton Southeastern High School's College and Career Academy.
Build it, and they will come.  And they will rise to our expectations.
The College and Career Academies were structured with the belief that the students would respond appropriately—and they have.  Students will rise (and sink) to the level of what we expect. When you hear, “They’re not ready for that yet!” (whether the students are in pre-school or high school), this statement should sound an alarm.  

The key question:  Is it the students who aren’t ready—or is it us?

Fishers High School's CCA.  Children--and high
school students are children--are social!
Children are Social.  In fact, learning is social.  We grow and learn through the exchange of ideas.  Purposeful noise is a natural and integral part of learning.  How do we provide environments that allow for the exchange of ideas in natural ways, and how do we encourage the dispositions of learning through teamwork, collaboration and problem-solving?  If we believe that learning is a social activity, do our practices reflect our beliefs?

From Phil: When you've met one, you've met only one....

When I started my journey as a teacher in the fall of 1979, I was idealistic, more than a little naïve, a bit overconfident, optimistic about the profession, and hoping I could make a difference in the lives of my students.  As Lisa and I walked the few blocks from our first apartment to the tiny school on the outskirts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was incredibly nervous, but my goal was quite ambitious: to make the world a better place.

It looked different in 1979, but it's still there on the outskirts
of San Juan...
Some of you may not know that Lisa and I have a total of nine children and one grandchild.  Three of our children are “home grown,” and the other six were adopted from around the world.  I do not have space, and you likely do not have the inclination, to read a full description of each child.  Suffice it to say that our nine children are a diverse group and have taught us a lot.

A key learning for us occurred when one of our daughters was first identified as being on the autism spectrum.  An expert on autism told us, “When you’ve met one child on the spectrum, you’ve met one child on the spectrum.”  He had to repeat this line several times before I began to understand that he was indicating that we could look for common patterns, but our daughter’s abilities and needs would be different than other children on the spectrum.

 My experience as a teacher and as a father has been that his point about autism and the vast range of differences in children with autism could be applied to all children. 

From our wide variety of children, we have learned the importance of music and art, the need for special services support, how sports can add to academics, and how communication differs between the hearing and deaf worlds.  Each of our kids has different abilities and needs, and each one has had to find different paths, different connections, and different supports to successfully navigate school.  (And we still have a few to go….)

In over 20 years in the classroom and more than three decades after taking that walk to school in San Juan, I am a bit less nervous, but I don’t have much to change in the list I gave at the beginning paragraph.  Feel free to call me naïve and optimistic, but I still believe educators change the world. 

We do so one-by-one, meeting the needs of each student—each uniquely individual child—one at a time.

Have a great week HSE.  Our hope is that we all keep believing that children are strong, wonderful, curious, and capable, and that classrooms in HSE reflect this image of the child.

HSE Teaching and Learning Team