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