Friday, October 23, 2015

Iowa -- we'd like your feedback

Dr. Wise Requests Feedback for the Council on Educator Development - Teacher and Principal Evaluations 

A group of Iowans who make up the Council on Educator Development have spent the past two years studying teacher and administrator evaluation practices and professional development.  Their document represents their preliminary recommendations.  The council now needs feedback on these recommendations from Iowa's education community, including superintendents, principals, teachers, and school board members.

The following link will take you to an online survey, which includes instructions for submitting feedback:https//  The survey will be open through November 30, 2015.  All survey feedback will remain anonymous.

Dr. Wise reminds us that gathering input is critical not only to this process, it is required by law.  The council was formed in the fall of 2013 in response to an education reform package adopted by Iowa lawmakers that year.  The legislation, House File 215, calls for a period of feedback beginning October 1, 2015.  Once the feedback is collected and analyzed, the council will use it to develop a final report.

Your feedback is important and appreciated.  Dr. Wise noted, "Your feedback is important and appreciated.  Thank you for taking the time to support this work and for all you do for Iowa's learners."

Are you a self thinker or a system thinker?

I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who care very deeply about what they do -- whether in their personal or professional lives.

Last week, during one of the many meetings I get to be a part of, one of our Instructional Coaches Sherrie Collins asked the question "Are you a self-thinker or a system-thinker?"

I've really been pondering that question.  The answers to this question have deep implications -- no matter which way we answer.  

On Oct. 29, 2015, our entire Benton Community School District certified staff participated in learning with Monticello Community School District, supported by Grant Wood AEA.  The purpose of this learning day was focusing on student learning within our classrooms, utilizing formative assessment, specifically common formative assessments (CFA).   This process requires collaborating on number two of the four critical questions:

  1. What is it we want all students to know?
  2. How do we know if they know it?
  3. What do we do if they don't?
  4. What do we do if they do?

Our superintendent, Gary Zittergruen, captured the pictures below of staff's working together.

We continually work on all four questions, but our CFA work helps us focus on question two.  How are we sure our students can demonstrate their learning of our districts priority standards and learning targets?  The work that happened on Monday reflects a "system thinker" mentality.  Our staff know our student learning experiences are better when we work together to create and plan for these student learning experiences.

The picture below represents both being a "self-thinker" and a "system-thinker".  The overall image portrayed in this picture connects my mind and emotions to how thankful I am I have people supporting me and guiding me to be better tomorrow than I am today.  I am thankful I have "system thinkers" around me on a daily basis -- but I also appreciate when I can have some time to myself and be a "self-thinker" -- just like the bird that decided to photobomb my picture -- he's there -- see if you can find him!

This statue is located in front of Veterans Memorial Auditorium, Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines. It is entitled, "A Veterans Prayer for Eternal Peace".

Friday, October 9, 2015

Iowa Entertainment & "Grease" Benton Community Style

What a beautiful fall it has been here in rural Iowa.  

I captured the picture below on a recent drive within our district.   To me this picture represents some of what I love about living here -- open spaces, beautiful skies and incredibly abundant nature.

People often ask me, "What do we do for entertainment in rural Iowa?"  I often answer, "We support the UNI Panthers, Iowa State Cyclones, and the Iowa Hawks, along with a host of other great schools and entertainment venues we are fortunate to have within our state."  

But, what I think we do most often in rural Iowa is support our local schools.  Our school community is phenomenal in its backing and loyalty of and to the Benton Community Bobcats.  From athletics to fine arts -- our patrons show up, support and represent!  

Below is a picture of our crowd at a state basketball game -- look at that "sea of blue".  This was our crowd with over 8 minutes to go before the start of the game -- the arena became even "bluer" (is that even a word?) after the game started!   Thanks to Nancy McGrew for this picture!

One annual event that always draws large crowds is our Fall Musical.  This year our school is showcasing "Grease"  
If you are don't have anything to do on November 5, 6 or 7 -- consider this an invitation to be part of our Bobcat Family and experience one of the tremendous benefits of living in rural Iowa -- great kids showcasing their talents!  You can order tickets directly from this link.

And if your curiosity is taking you farther and you are wondering what it might be like to live in our community -- please contact me!   I'd love to give you a tour of our facilities, community and share with you the many benefits of living in rural Iowa.  We are blessed to have a school district that offers so many opportunities and a community that supports -- no matter the event.   
Is this it's Benton Community!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Data Teams at Benton Community

Benton Community Data Teams in Action,

Ensuring the effective use of inquiry and data based decision making district-wide involves many types of expertise. One of the most critical skill sets needed at Benton Community in our data team work is the ability to collaboratively develop and carry-out our vision for data use within our district.  

  • The goal of data teams at Benton Community is to develop a data-driven culture among all educators that seeks to improve teaching and learning for all students.

One of the research base we tapped into for our thought process behind data teams is from Steve Ventura and his work around collaborative data teams.  Steve states that one of the critical components of data teams is having defined protocols and using those protocols consistently.  He also shares change and instructional improvements comes from building new knowledge based on new learnings, not solely on old practices or existing knowledge.  

Another research base for our thought process is the theory of action depicted in Figure 1 Data Use Theory of Action developed by Public Consulting Group.  This theory describes three foundational conditions which support data informed decisions: usefulness of data, capacity of stakeholders to use data collected, and a system culture that supports and has the expectation of using data to make informed decisions.  All of these components, when focused on by the entire school system, will ultimately impact student outcomes

According to this theory of action, if the necessary conditions for data use (data usefulness, data capacity, and data culture) are in place, and data are being used to formulate policy, evaluate and design programs, guide practice, and place students in appropriate instructional settings, then increased student achievement will result. 

Research also suggests that for data use to impact positively student achievement, it must be sustained over time, be part of a systemic process with all levels of the school, and most importantly be student centered.  Our Instructional Coaches and Administrators help tremendously with the data team process at Benton Community.  They integrate themselves into the fabric of our schools and help teachers reflect on their practice based on data. 

When we started working in data teams our district created a template that looked like this:  

and after we saw Linn Mar's example of putting a face on the data some elementary buildings have morphed into the data team process depicted below: 

and our MS/HS have been using data to determine what skill development is needed during Bobcat Time and here are some of our results to date:

No matter what the outcome looks like -- focusing on students and their strengths and areas needed for improvement is vital to our core values and ultimately our student success.