Thursday, February 23, 2017

Keep Living!

This week's entry comes from Bev Redmond, our Director of School and Community Relations.  As she prepares to move on to the next stage of her life, Bev takes time to reflect on her time here at HSE and to challenge us to continue the journey we are on.

From Bev: My Corner-Man

Keep Living! My dad, Willie A. Smith, Sr., taught me this powerful statement as a child. He has always been my corner-man in the ring of life, one of my chief strategists. Every once and a while, I would challenge his wisdom. Like a master teacher, he never chided me for asserting myself and interjecting my own voice. Instead, he would give me that “Smith” half smile, cock his head, and say, “Keep living.”

He let me find my way and come to my own conclusions. He was, and often still is, my guide on the side.
Bev  was walked through life and down the aisle by her dad,
Willie A. Smith, Sr.

This mantra not only gives me insurance against the things that I have yet to learn, but it also gives me reassurance that great experiences are ahead if I keep moving forward. I cannot tell you how many times his words have courageously supported me to maximize my moments and embrace with gusto the opportunities set before me.

In October 2014, I walked through the doors of Hamilton Southeastern Schools ready to serve as your Director of School and Community Relations. The largest school corporation of my career to date, HSE is 21 buildings and 21,000+ plus students strong and growing. The weight and responsibility of being part of the team that cares for the wonderful staff and families of the fourth largest school corporation in the state has been an incredible honor.

Collectively and individually, you have taught me, in your own way, to keep living. The joy and pleasure has been all mine. Through each phone call, project, plan, meeting, Tweet, post, and Skylert, I have had the fortune to work with incredible parents, dedicated leaders, and brilliant visionaries, who dare to dream big and challenge the status quo in order to create a boundless future for all students. You have reinforced my unwavering belief in the power of public education to transform and shape a community.

On March 31, 2017, I will walk through the doors of my office for the last time. I am moving to the Chicago area to pursue new opportunities, both professionally and as a new wife and stepmom. Know that I will miss you but have taken every experience to heart. Once again, my inner ear is open and listening for my dad’s familiar refrain as a fresh journey unfolds.

As I take my leave, allow me to encourage you to do the same.

Keep living HSE! Always keep living!

Respond to Bev at

Thanks for all you've done for HSE Schools, Bev.  You will be missed, but we wish you all the best in the Windy City.

And thanks to you HSE, for all you have done and will continue to do make sure you continue to transform our community and world.

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 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