Friday, August 26, 2016

Invasive Species

Brent took this picture standing
in the Eel River.
Standing in middle of the Eel River in northern California, I felt extremely blessed to be surrounded by the some of the most dramatic scenery our country has to offer.  The river zig-zags alongside.  The Highway of the Giants, a 32-mile stretch of enormous redwoods, picturesque mountains, and the famous Pacific coastline. 

Fly-fishing is my favorite hobby, and I could not be in a better spot.

As time passed, however, I wasn’t catching any fish. I tried various dry-flies and nymphs throughout the morning, but things didn’t get better.  Maybe this wasn’t my day. Maybe I was going to be “skunked.”
While wading back to my entry point, I kept casting, and finally my line went taut!  Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I landed a beautiful but unusual fish—a species that I had never caught before. 
What a great catch--or is it?

Being a proponent of “catch-and-release” fishing, I quickly snapped a picture and let my new friend go back to his environment.  I was absolutely certain that this unusual fish had a very important role to play in the ecosystem and that I was doing the right thing by letting it go.

Shortly after leaving the river and driving down the highway, I found a nature center with wildlife models to help with plant and animal identification.  When I went inside, to my great surprise, I found a figure that looked identical to the fish that I had just caught. The sign under the model labeled it a “Sacramento Pikeminnow.”  The sign went on to describe how this fish is actually an invasive species relocated by humans several decades ago. 

As it turned out, this beautiful fish species is almost single-handedly destroying the Eel River ecosystem. In fact, the DNR pleads with fisherman to keep the Sacramento Pikeminnow and not release it back into the waterway.  My discovery completely changed the way I looked my catch.

Invasive Species in the Classroom

What does my disappointing fishing story have to do with instruction?  Like the “beautiful” fish that did not belong in the Eel River, could there be good-looking lessons, activities, and/or teaching practices that do not belong in our classrooms? 
Highway of the Giants

If we are going to make the HSE21 shift, we will need to make changes from some former teaching patterns because of their invasive nature.  These are practices which tend to kill off innovative learning and can actually destroy the classroom environment for our young people.

An Example from Kylene and Bob
Monologic questions check understanding.
Dialogic questions create understanding?
Is using too many monologic questions
 an invasive species in our classrooms?
Kylene Beers and Bob Probst ask us hypothetical questions on page 61 of Reading Nonfiction: “Do we really have time to let students create meaning? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply tell them what they need to know?” Going on from there, they contend that creating meaning is the essence of learning—even though it’s messy and slow.  Rigor is not found in controlling the input of all knowledge. It’s actually found in the struggle, the energy, and the attention students bring to the task at hand. 

If Kylene and Bob are right—and there is no doubt they are—one invasive classroom practice might be the overreliance on telling, rather than having students create meaning.  A classroom built on telling limits innovation and squelches student voice, choice, and learning.

A Key Question: What are Invasive Species in HSE?

A German proverb says, “To change and to improve are two different things.”  The change process is purposeful and involves removing invasive classroom practices.  The shift to HSE21 will require careful discernment and reflection; however, it is critically important to preserve classroom environments that foster engagement and inquiry and result in greater student learning.
When should we catch and release
an instructional strategy, and
when should it not be returned
to the classroom?

Perhaps one invasive species is fostering an overly-controlled school environment.  Maybe, it is using single-perspective text which prevents students from wrestling with deeper issues. Could another invasive species be focusing more on numbers in school data, rather than identifying the reasons for the achievement (or lack thereof)? Another might be that we have become afraid of and avoid courageous professional conversations. 

When we do identify the equivalent of Sacramento Pikeminnows in our classrooms and schools, we need to remove them as soon as possible in order to preserve an environment that fosters engagement, inquiry, and improved student growth.

When it comes to invasive species—in the Eel River or in our classrooms—don’t catch-and-release!

Brent giving a demonstration of
his hobby to students.

Respond to Brent at

We hope your week is a great one!

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, August 19, 2016

Let It Go!

From Jan

I was visiting a kindergarten classroom last spring when the teacher came up to me with a little one who really wanted to sing a song for me.  This cute little girl stepped forward with her karaoke microphone and confidently and powerfully sang every word of “Let it Go” from the movie Frozen.

Idina Menzel in the making....
My first thought was, “Out of the mouths of babes!”  How many times do we hold on tight to something when we should “let it go”?  It is part of human nature to cling to what we know, to what is familiar.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools has committed to a very different path.  The School Board set a vision several years ago that makes clear a commitment to a vision for what we want students to experience in our classrooms.  In order to have HSE21 classrooms we are going to have to let go of practices that no longer fit. 

As educators it is imperative that we model:

  • An openness to a new way of doing things
  • Deeper conversations about why we do what we do
  • A willingness to look at the worthiness of the work we are asking students to do every minute of every day.  
  • A commitment to one another to engage in pedagogical conversations that will take us to new places as educators
  • A willingness to experience cognitive dissonance—real change leads to a sense of disequilibrium and dissonance
  • A willingness to be a risk-taker

When I was in college (far away from home and homesick) I was in the bookstore and saw a poster that said, “You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

It’s time, HSE family, to “let it go!”  Let go of those things that keep us mired in practices that do not lead to engaged students involved in authentic and rigorous work.  Let go of the shoreline that keeps us from discovering new oceans. 

 Thanks for your commitment to move this district forward in the transformation to HSE21 instructional practices and rich learning environments for our 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

Respond to Jan at

Friday, August 12, 2016

What Matters Most

Last Monday, Julie Alano and Dr. Bourff rang in the school, Janet Chandler had us laughing and choking back tears, and we heard from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  Many of you are familiar with their most recent book, Reading Nonfiction.

Stances, Signposts, and Strategies.  They are all in here!

In this definition there is no reference to making work
harder or accelerating the pace.
The title they chose is both descriptive and misleading.  They definitely write about best-practice instruction and how to improve student learning through the use of nonfiction text, but this book includes much much more.  It gives concrete ways to improve classroom conversations, to promote inquiry, and to increase student engagement.  It is about redefining what rigor in the classroom is all about.  It encourages us to give students voice and ownership in their learning.  In short, it is about schools and classrooms becoming intellectual communities.

These intellectual communities include students, as well as all of the adults in the district!
Ask your students for their definition of "nonfiction."
Most will answer, "Not false," "true," or a variation on this theme.
Why should these answers trouble us?
Questions Worth Asking

What are your answers to these questions Kylene Beers and Bob Probst use to generate discussions in schools?
  • Do you think of your school as an intellectual community?
  • Do you think of your classroom that way?
  • Do your students see their classrooms as intellectual communities?
  • What happens if the answer to these questions are yes?  More importantly, what happens if the answer is no?
In an article called “What Matters Most: Considering the Issues and the Conversations We Need to Have," Kylene Beers makes this comment about these questions:

Whether using these prompts or creating your own, the conversations you have in the coming months about intellectual community, about rigor, about close reading, about what it means to inspire, about reclaiming the grand purpose of education, about recognizing all the bad things that happen when the profit motive and the purpose motive become unhinged are well worth your time.  These conversations might lead us to understand what matters most.

The full article can be read at this link: What Matters Most

So welcome back, HSE.  We hope your year is a great one, one in which all HSE students, teachers, and administrators learn and grow together.  

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
An easy way to start: Use the first question.
Try it right now.
What surprised you when you read this blog entry?