Sunday, November 29, 2015

Something to think about

The message below is being shared (with permission) from one of our MS/HS Counselors, Natalie Nesbitt, to the staff at Benton Community.  I think in these few words she has much to offer for us to reflect upon.

I have been thinking about the upcoming holidays lately, as I am sure  a lot of you have, and I wanted to remind us all that the holidays are not always filled with lots of love, joy, and family for our students. Some of our students do not look forward to the holidays for a variety of reasons. This can result in negative behavior, whether it is acting up in class or just not turning in assignments. 

I have attached a quote that I have been repeating a lot this year. I encourage you to find a way to build a relationship with some of the students who are acting out in your class, knowing in the back of your head that they might be dealing with something outside of school that is completely out of their control.

Thanks to all of you for all that you do for our students. I would only guess that some of you are more than excited about the upcoming break, but know that what you do for our students each day does not go without notice. You all have a great opportunity to make a positive difference in each of our students lives.

Thanks again! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Strategically Compliant or Authentically Engaged

Strategically Compliant or Authentically Engaged.

Strategically Compliant or Authentically Engaged.

Strategically Compliant or Authentically Engaged.

Since hearing this statement -- I've spent moments reflecting on the words and what they mean to me in my professional and personal life.

Last week I had the opportunity to learn with our #BCTLT and @jimknight99,  Jim Knight is a guru on instructional coaching and he shared these comments in reference to students within our schools.

 Are students strategically compliant 
are they authentically engaged 
in our educational environments?  

I think this is a great question to ponder and reflect upon.

Today, I made a sign to hang on my desk to keep this statement as a reminder to continue to reflect and learn.

The picture I chose to put with these words is of our oldest daughter, Katie.  In this picture she was running at a high school cross country meet at Rogers Park and it was a nasty, cold, windy and rainy day.  

If you've ever been to a cross country meet, you are aware that some courses are more challenging than others and some meets we are blessed with having fantastic weather and other times the weather stinks!  Rogers Park is a challenging course and when those added unpleasant weather elements are part of the equation, we have to be super fans and courageous runners to give our best on the course. 

Yes, you read that correctly, fans need to give their best on the course for the runners and for me that meant running the course to find as many places as possible to cheer on the runners.  For those of you that don't know this, being a cross country parent is a great way to double dip -- cheer for your kids and get in a work-out!)

The week before the race at Rogers Park, when this picture was taken, Katie had a race that was not one of her best.  It wasn't because she wasn't physically prepared.  Her coach, Marty Thomae, knows his stuff and has been recognized as one of the top cross country coaches in the nation.  For some reason her head wasn't in the race that night and she did not perform at the level she was capable of.  She was strategically being compliant by being a participant -- she didn't fake being hurt to get out of the race.  For some reason, on this particular night, she was not able to give her best or be authentically engaged during that race.

So, fast forward a week to the Rogers Park meet.   +Jim Magdefrau snapped this picture; when Katie crossed the finish line in first place on this nasty, cold, windy and rainy night.  I think Jim captured perfectly Katie being authentically engaged in this race.  

If you can't tell, I am a proud parent and am also someone who happens to of earned a degree in persistence (Ph.D.), which I found in my research is one of the factors that helps move people to being authentically engaged.  When I got to the point of determining a dissertation topic I chose "student engagement".  I had many people tell me we learn to hate our dissertation topics because we spend so much time "wrestling" with the dissertation -- but three plus years after finishing my Ph.D., I am still a student of the topic and fascinated by the concepts of student engagement.  I persevere to learn more and here's a great @edutopia  site with great engagement ideas and resources. 

Professionally, I wrestle with how we help create learning environments for students and staff that help facilitate being authentically engaged.  Voice, choice, persistence, authentic applications of learning, fostering autonomy with support and relationships are some of the factors which promote being authentically engaged.  But, I believe that relationships are the key to making all other aspects of engagement ascertain maximum levels of achievement.  I also believe this is why Marty Thomae is part of so many state championships -- he "gets" how important building relationships with his athletes is to their own and the team's success.  

Personally, I find as I have become older, and hopefully wiser, I am much more aware of when I am being strategically compliant or authentically engaged.  Being present in the moment is a skill that I continue to practice.  My grandmother, bless her heart, told me, "The older we get the faster time goes."  I use to think she was crazy, now I know she knew what she was talking about:)  I need to continue to work on being present in the moments, because moments fly by so quickly.

So, a thought I'd like to leave you with a question to ponder when you are planning for instruction, learning something new or spending time with your significant others:  

Are you being strategically compliant or authentically engaged?

P.S.  Katie doesn't really doesn't like the picture of her winning this race -- but I absolutely love it.  She thinks it looks boastful and 'braggy".  I think it looks like the champion she was and is.  She was then, and is now, so capable of success and I love seeing her authentically engaged in whatever life has in store for her, whether that be riding a moped or being a mom:) 

Early Literacy Implementation in the State of Iowa

Early Literacy Implementation (ELI) -- this blog post is my attempt at providing "cliff notes" for what ELI means to us in Iowa schools.  And to families of Iowa students based on what we know today (11/20/2015).  
But, before I go into detail on ELI -- I think it is imperative to think about what we CAN be doing now to help students become better readers.  
  • The Iowa Reading Research Center website has some fantastic resources for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, etc. in helping students be better readers.  One of their resources is a blog which gives quick and easy ideas to implement for reading as families (or neighbors, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc.).  
  • Our Benton Community teachers do a fantastic job sharing on their blogs and other communication tools ways to help students.  (If you don't know the link to your Benton Community teacher's blog, let me know, I may be able to help.)
  • Have students read or be read to -- almost anything.  Recipe cards, books, directions for the remote, books, magazines, books, directions for board games, books.  If you don't have books in your home -- our local libraries are a great resource for high quality books (as well as our school libraries).  
  • Reading 20 minutes a night is recommended and any minutes above this is icing on the cake.  
(I borrowed this picture from Andrea Townsley, Instructional Coach for BC.)

So, as we think about where we can have a direct impact on learning to read and reading to learn, the important thing is to note that we CAN make a difference by supporting our students as readers.  And, below I share a few reasons, based on Iowa Law, of why we must support our students as readers.  
Iowa Code section 279.68 and 281--Iowa Administrative Code 62 promote effective evidence-based programming, instruction and assessment practices across schools to support all students to become proficient readers by the end of the third grade. General requirements of Iowa Code section 279.68 and 281--Iowa Administrative Code 62 are listed below. All requirements go into effect immediately and are expected to be implemented no later than August 1, 2014 unless otherwise indicated.
  • Provision of universal screening in reading for students in kindergarten through third grade
  • Progress monitoring for students who exhibit a substantial deficiency in reading
  • Provision of intensive instruction – including 90 minutes daily of scientific, research-based reading instruction - for students who exhibit a substantial deficiency in reading
  • Notice to parents that a student exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading, including strategies the parents can use at home to help the child succeed
  • Notice to parents of such a student’s subsequent progress
  • Provision of an evidence-based summer reading program for students who exhibit a substantial deficiency in reading (Effective May 1, 2017)
  • Retention of any student who is not proficient in reading by the end of the third grade, did not attend the summer reading program, and does not qualify for a good cause exemption from the retention requirement (Effective May 1, 2017)

The purpose of this law is to ensure that all Iowa students are proficient readers and can read at high levels. This law impacts all K-3 grade students in schools within Iowa. At Benton Community, we are using the state funded FAST assessment system as our universal screener for grades K-3 and even though it is not required, we have expanded this assessment system with our grades 4-6th. This way we are able to see progress over times with students using the same assessment. Benton Community K-6 students receive 90 minutes of reading instruction via our Benchmark Literacy curriculum, which meets the state requirement of having research-based reading instruction.

The State of Iowa has determined benchmarks on each of the different assessments within the FAST assessment system. We use aReading and CBM in different grade levels to determine if students meet benchmarks and are then considered proficient or are at-risk of having a substantial deficiency in reading.  

Schools across Iowa, using the FAST assessment, give the assessment 3 times/year to students. If students across the state don't meet the identified benchmark two times in a row, they are identified as being substantially deficient in reading. If they don't meet the benchmark once, they are at-risk of having a substantial deficiency in reading. If a student is deemed at-risk or substantially deficient, we at Benton Community progress monitor these students weekly with the Fast Assessment progress monitoring resources. Other schools may be using a different system other than Fast Assessment, but the requirements remain the same.

Where I think this gets interesting is as of May 1, 2017 the law states students may be retained in 3rd grade if they are not meeting the 3rd grade level benchmarks to show they are proficient.  

By this date (May 1, 2017) if students are deemed to be substantially deficient then the following requirements may be put into place for students:
  • Students may be retained (repeat 3rd grade) or (with other qualifications described here)
  • Students must enroll in and attends an intensive summer reading program for 75 hours of instruction.
    • Students must be in attendance for 90% of the instructional time of the summer reading program.
There are requirements for notification to parents, parent/school contracts and alternative assessment or portfolio reviews. I'll cover those in a later post. For now, if you'd like more detailed information, please see this link:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sharing -- it's a mindset and a habit.

Since I wrote this initial blog post last school year -- I am in awe at the number of ways our staff are sharing with one another.  Here's just a few examples from the first trimester of the 2015-16 school year:

We are fortunate our staff utilize each other as resources and we have incredibly support from our GrantWood AEA team.  We do believe at Benton Community that sharing is a mindset and a habit and we put this into practice on a daily basis.  

Original post from 3/21/2015 below:

Being from a family of 10 children, our parents provided us with the opportunity to share almost everything, almost all the time.  (At least that is how I remember it!)

This is a picture of me during kindergarten.  I'm in an outfit made for me by our mom.  She sewed often for us and I loved those outfits made especially for me.  But, having two older sisters meant I wore an outfit just like this for 5 more years.  Mom also made the exact same outfit (a few sizes bigger)  especially for my sisters, just like she had for me.  Hand-me-downs Sharing was & is just a way of life in our family.   

Other things shared in our family:   support to one another, clothes, food, beds, cars, books, and places to sit.  We are still a family that shares -- below are some examples:
Cousins turning their human chair into a human recliner:)
My dad, helping his older brother Earl (retired administrator from Des Moines) with his hearing aid.
Sharing space and conversation.
Sharing our cookie skills with one another.
Sharing involves giving a portion of something to others.  I feel blessed that those I work with @BentonCSD are willing to share.  Today during CL/DT, Van Horne Elementary staff were sharing ideas of what they had learned at Benchmark Universe training and then how they have adapted and created materials to fit the needs of their current students.  A huge thank you to Beth Anderson & Gina Embray for being willing to share their work with their co-workers.
Learning in student friendly language
Jeopardy vocabulary game for 2nd grade.

Also at Van Horne & Elementary today the entire school participated in  .  Everyone shared positive notes to one another across the schools and even wrote notes for the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight.  It was great to be a part of this and see how excited the students were to post their notes -- even more excited than reading their own received notes.  You can find more pictures on today's happenings in Van Horne and Keystone Elementary at these twitter links:  @BentonCSD@townsleyaj@Mrs_KFisher@annaupah@SamanthaHappel

 at VH Elementary

Sharing.  It's a mindset and a habit.  
Are you sharing with the people in your life, your own family, co-workers and students?  
Make an effort to share.  Everyday.

And just in case you are wondering, do my dad and brother still share?  The answer is yes...and so does my brother with his hot air balloon!  

Dad & Earl flying above Des Moines.

This post was originally posted by Jo to our Teacher Leadership Blog - 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Take Advantage

I love how our school and community come together for many events -- but one near and dear to my heart is Veteran's Day.  Tim Sanderson, a long time BC Administrator now basking in retirement, still orchestrates this event.  Each of our local Legion and Legion Auxiliary participates and the school attends this community event.  

On Veteran's Day this year, I saw one of our local citizens walking up past my office to attend the Veteran's Day program.  I quickly put on my coat and dashed up the sidewalk.  I slowed my pace the closer I got and quietly said, "Hello Darwin".  He put his arm around me and said, "Hello Jo, you probably want to walk faster than me."  I replied, "No, I was walking fast to catch up to you, so I could walk with you."

We chatted the rest of the way to the building and then I left him as we came into the hallway outside of the gymnasium.  I thought my time with Darwin was over for the day.  The program started, speeches were given, songs were sang and played, flags were waved, tears were shed and pride was evident for those 56 minutes.  

Typically, at the end of the program, I try to get to as many veteran's as possible to personally thank them for their service.  After ten minutes Darwin found me and grabbed by elbow and said, "There she is.  Are you ready to leave?"  I said, "Sure, I'll walk you back."  But, Darwin had different ideas to where "back" was.  How could I refuse?  I didn't know at the beginning of my day I'd have such an awesome opportunity to spend some extended time with a veteran, but I was blessed with Darwin walking by my office, I'm so thankful I jumped on the chance to spend more time with him.  

My dad is a veteran of the Korean War.  He had a stoke several years ago, has a hard time hearing and doesn't like to speak in front of people because the words don't always come easily.  But, he still drives their motor home to Florida -- so he is doing better than he professes!  My father-in-law is also a veteran and has been able to attend the Honor Flight and I have tried like crazy to talk my dad into this -- but as of now he is staunchly saying no.  

Our oldest daughter wrote on her blog several years ago when her Great Uncle Ralph passed away: 

The legion men. Yesterday at Ralph's funeral, the legion men were there to honor Ralph for serving our country during WWII. Aside from the legion members, there were also two active duty soldiers there to present the flag to my great aunt Macy. I love that our country does this. The astute presence these men have is full of so much dignity and pride, how can it not make you proud to be an American and tear up as taps is played from afar. I only know a few of the legion men, but all of their faces are familiar. They were in every homecoming parade, marched at every Veteran's Day assembly, presented the flags at the homecoming game, and various other community events. These men serve this community all the time, and I love that I don't know all their names, but know all their faces. I love how they look in their uniform, and how those uniforms somehow make them timeless.

I so agree with her -- these people are everywhere making an impact within our communities!  The picture below is of my great nephew with his aunt's boyfriend -- an Afghanistan War vet at our Veteran's Day program.  

So, now back to Darwin.  Darwin and I left the MS/HS building together.  Not sure if I mentioned this or not -- but Darwin is 90 years old, lives here in Van Horne and still walks to the post office every day, stops at the pharmacy (where they promptly turn polka music on for him) and then Beth checks his blood sugar levels (even if she needs to leave a meeting to do so).  As he heads back home he drops off mail for others on his path.  I got to experience all of this on Wednesday with Darwin -- even got to attend the Van Horne Legion & Auxiliary Soup Dinner with Darwin and many others who were at the Veteran's Day Program.  Darwin told people that day that I was "his girlfriend" for the day.  What an honor for me. 

Darwin in the man in the blue shirt in this picture.
Photo from:

During our time together he spent a lot of time talking about what school was like for him and life now at 90 years old.  He was pumped about attending the Iowa vs. Oklahoma State wrestling meet at Kinnick Stadium and being able to spend some time with other wrestling fans, including some of my extended family.  Now that Iowa won -- I bet he is really on cloud 9 -- at 90 he was part of a record breaking crowd! 

He also talked about how important teachers were to him in his lifetime.  He has a slight speech impediment and he said all the teachers he ever had did a wonderful job of helping him learn -- even though it wasn't always easy for him to express himself.  He wanted me to share this message "You do make a difference!" and he still remembers those "difference makers" in his life at 90. 

We don't always know the impact we have on others -- but know we do have the choice to make those impacts positive for year's to come!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Great Partnership for Workplace Learning

We are so fortunate to have fantastic partnerships which help facilitate learning opportunities for our students and staff.

One great partner we have is the Workplace Learning Connection(wlc).  WLC was founded in 1998 as a not-for-profit partnership of Kirkwood Community College and Grant Wood Area Education Agency serving K-12 students in seven counties. 

In July 2011, WLC became a department of Kirkwood Community College.  WLC coordinates career speakers, career fairs, work site tours, job shadows, internships, and teacher professional development to help districts and area students become better informed in their post-secondary education and career decisions.

This year to date we have 37 students participating in job shadows and had three students participate in internships this past summer.  We'd like to see those numbers increase -- so if you are a parent reading this -- please encourage your students to talk to MS/HS Counseling Department to find out more information about application procedures.

Below is the most recent update we received regarding WLC.  If you'd like more information about how you may be able to partner with the WLC, please contact our Counseling Office (319-228-8701 ext. 356) or the WLC directly (319 398-1040).

Connecting Today's Students To Tomorrow's Careers 
In This Issue
WORK - Introducing WLC's Cheryl, Susan and Kimberly
LEARN - College & Post-Secondary Prep Options
CONNECT - Celebrating Young Women in STEM
Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List
Workplace Learning Connection

Why we do what we do
We believe in a vibrant community with a workforce ready for a changing world, and we support the next generation as they navigate and connect to our shared future.

What we do
We are connecting today's students to tomorrow's careers through high quality, age-appropriate work-based learning opportunities.
Meet WLC's Newest Employees         
Cheryl Valenta - Linn County
Susan Gallo - Johnson County
Kimberly Klocke - Cedar & Washington County

 Cheryl Valenta is WLC's Event Coordinator, working on multi-school, off-campus events such as the STEM Institute for Young Scientists at the University of Iowa and the Financial Literacy Fairs held in the Spring.  Cheryl is also working as a Business Liaison in Linn County, partnering with companies in the Agriscience and Natural Resources pathway.
 Susan Gallo is the WLC Johnson County School Liaison, partnering with administration, guidance, and teachers at the Iowa City Community School District, Lone Tree Community, Regina Catholic Education, and Solon Community to provide quality, age-relevant programming to their students and teachers.
 Kimberly Klocke is the WLC Cedar & Washington County Liaison, ensuring that students and educators in those counties receive quality career exploration experiences through collaboration with local and Corridor-area businesses.  Kimberly will be developing business partners to be involved with creating the future workforce in Cedar and Washington Counties.
If you work for a company that values preparing the next generation and would like to connect with them, 
go to the WLC website and complete a  Volunteer Registration Form, or contact a WLC representative -North or South office.
College and Post-Secondary
Prep Options
Hear Why 3 Area High School Students Choose to Learn Through Academy Classes      
Josiah and Davin, CR Washington HS 
Josiah Lydon and Davin Knapp are Juniors at CR Washington High School.  Seth Fuller is a Marion Home School Association student.
All three students are preparing themselves for their future by taking advantage of traditional and non-traditional educational experiences.  

Seth, Josiah, and Davin are taking ACE Academy classes at the Kirkwood's Linn Regional Center.  ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering and is part of the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program for area high school students.   Josiah and Davin have taken several AP classes, and Seth is enrolled in an AP class next semester.  When we asked them what factors played into the decision-making for taking an Academy class, Seth replied, "I'd rather be taught by an actual engineer for an engineering class than a non-trained engineer!" Davin echoed Seth's perspective.  "Architecture is really interesting and I'm getting more out of this class than I've gotten out of some of my other classes."  Davin explained that he took a PLTW class at his high school, which whetted his appetite to learn more about the field of Engineering.  All 3 of the students commented that the ACE Academy offered them a different experience than a typical high school setting and they were excited to try it out.
Seth, Marion Home School Association

Seth's post-high school goals include going to Iowa State University to get a degree in Architecture. Josiah is interested in pursuing a career in Filmmaking, and Davin wants to get a Masters in Engineering. 

We asked about fitting Academy classes into his schedule, Seth responded, "It's a 10-minute drive, so it's not particularly a problem."  Josiah and Davin are in a more traditional school environment, but scheduling was not a challenge.  Josiah said, "My counselor helped me make the Academy classes work in my schedule.  But, I had to defer some of my electives to another time."

Some might think that high school students are not thinking about careers.  Seth said, "I admit that I hadn't been thinking about careers until last summer when I worked as a referee at a paint ball park.  That got me thinking about what I wanted to do in my future! I think my Academy experience is definitely worth it."   Davin added,"I think that these Academy classes are more important than AP but they're not as encouraged as much as they should be."  Josiah agrees, "Teachers should push students more into these choices, it helps narrow down all of the options after school for those who don't really know what they want."

Seth has some advice for his fellow teens, "You should definitely take Academy classes before you get to college because they are free!  You don't want to waste money in college on classes you decide you don't like, and end up dropping!"  Josiah couldn't agree more!  "College costs a ton and you can waste thousands of dollars trying things out.  Why not do it when it's free?"

You can find out more about the ACE Academy by going  Opportunities include an Ace Mentor Program. For other high school career learning opportunities, check out Kirkwood's  College Credit In High School page to see all of the Academy programs. 
Celebrating Young Women in STEM      
Engaging Young Women
through Hands-On Activities

Getting young women involved and interested in Science,Technology, Engineering andMath careers is essential to our future. Celebrating their already existing interest is as equally important.

Kasey Keeling, Kirkwood Regional Coordinator for Project Lead the Way, is holding an event on December 15th at the Linn County Regional Center in Hiawatha to engage and excite 7th -12th grade young women who have already show an interest in STEM fields and careers.

The day will involve break out sessions held by local area women involved in engineering and technology that will include learning more about careers as well as hands-on learning where students will be interacting and creating. The day will also highlight Project Lead the Way, an engineering academy that is available to high school students.
Want to be involved?  Go to
Be part of the ripple!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Who do we learn from and with?

Who do we learn from and with?

As a child, my mom always told me if she gave me a cow and a library I'd be happy for life.  She's right, again:)

  • My favorite drink was milk (paired with chocolate).
  • I loved reading and learning (my favorite spot to do this growing up was our bay window with the curtain closed creating solace from my 10 siblings)!

For those of you who knew me then and now -- I have not changed in my love of milk, chocolate, reading and learning.  And our family is now 66 strong according to the Christmas letter my mom wrote this year.

"Dick and Jane" is the series I remember learning with when I was in early elementary.  I don't read "Dick and Jane" anymore -- but I do A LOT of reading -- both on-line and print.  Our local librarian, Patrice Strellner, can attest to the books I ask her to find for me utilizing inner-library loan.  This is an awesome resource we have as citizens and I definitely take advantage of this service!   Two of my reads for break are: 
One of my favorite people to read and learn from on-line is Sarah Brown WesslingSarah is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa.  She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.  Her most recent blog post on Teaching Channel is about stress relievers for teachers.  As we move closer to our holiday break -- I hope you all find some time to "feed your soul and stomachs".  I'll be reading and finding myself some milk and chocolate!

This post was originally posted by Jo to our Teacher Leadership Blog -