Thursday, March 31, 2016

Benton Community 50 years - Wilson Impact

What's love got to do with it?  That's the title to a song performed by Tina Turner.  But, if you ask Bonita Wilson that question, she'll answer with "everything".  Love has to do with everything.

Mrs. Wilson was my 3rd grade teacher and made an imprint on my life more than she realizes.  Recently, I met with her in my office and asked her to reflect on her time teaching and living in the Benton Community School District.

As she approached my office, I noticed she held some artifacts in her arms.  She told me we might spend time together for no reason what-so-ever and there would be no pictures or quoting her.   As I remember from being in her 3rd grade classroom, she always was very clear in her objectives and intended outcomes.

Not much has changed in the forty-three years since I heard the word "Freeze" from her mouth.  This was a teaching technique she used with her students.  She'd say "Freeze", and we all did -- no matter what we were doing!  Mrs. Wilson would then give us directions, and then say "Thaw" and we'd be onto our next steps in our 3rd grade learning journey.  There was no downtime in that 3rd grade classroom.  Every moment had purpose.    

As we continued our conversation, I learned the artifacts she held in her arms were:
  • The Blairstown 3rd grade class composite from the 1972-73 school year
  • A Benton Community Elementary Yearbook from the 1973-74 school year
  • Copies of a few school board articles from the Star Press Union   
Bonita went to UNI to get a degree in business and a coaching endorsement.  Her parents encouraged her to pursue her college education.  Bonita's dad always told her the college education she would gain was her inheritance.  After being at UNI for a short time, she changed her degree to education, after a man told her she would never get a coaching job, due to her being a woman.  She'd spent her life up to that point being involved (4-H, Sunday school) and in some cases responsible for children (younger siblings) and had always loved being with kids.  So, a teacher she became and was for over 30 years, loving every minute of it. 

She taught for 20 years in the elementary school I attended in Blairstown.  She remembers fondly the people of Blairstown were great to work with.  When conferences were held the parents always asked, "What can I do to help my child?" 
Blairstown School 1951 photo
Blairstown School 1959 photo
Bonita shared her thoughts on the Blairstown Elementary staff.  They were great people to work with and became like family.   She worked closely with my aunt who was an associate in the district at that time.  My Aunt Macy always made sure we were all behaving in school and would call home to let mom know what we had done in school before we got off the bus -- so we best behave because, if we didn't, mom knew before we had a chance to share our "side of the story".   Mrs. Wilson reminded me that Aunt Macy did this because she loves us so much! 

I found it very evident, in our time together, Bonita is very proud of Benton and the education students earn -- in our extra-curricular activities and our classrooms.  She has fond memories of the "big" productions Mrs. Offt would orchestrate and how all hands were on deck to make these productions run without a hitch for the audiences in Blairstown. 

When Blairstown Elementary closed, Bonita and other Blairstown staff members began teaching at Keystone Elementary, where she taught for 10 years.  Other staff members from Blairstown went and taught at Atkins Elementary.  Part of this transition involved staff being able to change, communicate and compromise.  She thinks these things are very important in all aspects of life because the one constant we have is change.  
Keystone Elementary
Some of the other constants in her life are: 
  • Love is the thing that gets us through life and it doesn't cost us a dime and never runs out.  We've got to share and show it with one another.
  • Parents need to read with their children and be models of reading themselves. 
  • Find out the "why" of the behavior by creating relationships with our students, families and community.  
  • Build feelings of self-worth and a sense of hope for the future in students by letting them know you care and love them.  
  • Continue to build the skill levels of the people we work and live with because those people are the backbone of our community.  
We hugged each other as our time came to a close.  She reminded me of the little girl that just "kind of took over" when she was in the 1972-73 3rd grade class of 31 students and to "behave yourself". 
3rd grade
After 43 years, she still knows me well.  I marvel at how Mrs. Wilson continues to love and live her life.  She inspires me to be the best I can be, every day in every way.  I hope I am blessed in my life-time with having the opportunity to share some time with a former student forty-three or more years later.  

As I plant seeds to trees I may never sit under, I hope life provides for all a Mrs. Wilson who makes a difference for others by sharing their love.  

P.S.  Coaching may have been a dream for Mrs. Wilson, but she still analyzes basketball games when she watches them today.  Based on her ability to organize and make decisions, I'm sure basketball coaches and teams could learn a thing or two from her! 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Learning, recording and sharing

As we continue to learn and reflect on having Instructional Coaches within our district, one tool to make our learning deeper is recording one another in coaching cycles.  

GrantWood AEA has conducted Instructional Coaching training for schools involved in teacher leadership and this year, we have been fortunate enough to participate in training based on Jim Knight's work.  During these training days we learned from @jimknight99 and Ann Hoffman.  Both of them were outstanding in their knowledge and ability to share tools with us on making Instructional Coaching be impactful within a school system.

Our last training session @GrantWoodAEA was on the use of recording during Instructional Coaching.  

Ann shared with us that recording one another has the incredible potential to:
  • improve instruction
  • be a game changer 
  • and help us set a goal for student learning after watching video
Other benefits of recording are:
  • it's very easy to do
  • it's an effective tool
  • and we don’t know what it looks like when we do what we do

Ann says, "We do not have a choice on getting better -- we all need to get better as students and educators, but we do have a choice on how we get better!" Recording during coaching is like opening a door for teachers to observe their own classrooms to get better.  

Ann taught us that when reviewing recordings of yourself, or with someone you have helped record, the list of reflective questions below may help increase the amount of take-a-ways from this experience. One other important tip is remembering psychological safety of the participants in the video. Sharing video for some is a scary thing. This is partially important because our identity may be interwoven with our professional practice.  Ann also told us to remember, the teacher always has the final say over the recording and how and when to use the recording.

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how close is the lesson to your ideal
    What would have to change to make it closer to a 10?
  2. What would you see your students doing differently?
  3. Describe what that would look like.
  4. How could we measure that?
  5. Do you want that to be your goal?
  6. If you could reach that goal would it really matter to you?
  7. What teaching strategy would you like to try to achieve your goals? Or collaborate with teacher to identify strategies
  8. What do you notice about….. voice level, tone, clarity
  9. Anything surprise you?
  10. What do you want to take forward to other lessons?

One teacher I marvel at in her transparency and sharing of her practice is Sarah Brown Wessling.  Sarah shared in a video on the Teaching Channel on how she records herself to improve her practice.  

Sarah Brown Wessling Teaching Channel Video

This brings us to our latest #BCTLT recording to share. Alex Olson, one of our MS/HS Instructional Coaches recorded himself during an instructional coaching cycle (with permission of the teacher) and shared it with the rest of the #BCTLT to learn with.  After watching and processing the recording, we decided it fit really well with one of our goals of sharing what Instructional Coaching is at BC with our school board.  

We turned Alex's recording (with permission from the teacher & Alex) into a presentation for our school board and want to share it with others to demonstrate the focus on data in coaching cycles and in making instructional decisions.

Monday, March 21, 2016

50 years of BC -- Gibney Impact

What are thoughts that come to mind when you think of your high school principal?

I hope some of them are similar to mine -- high expectations, consistency, forward-thinking and challenging.

Don Gibney (Gib) was my 10-12 grade principal, but I've had the opportunity to work with him as a peer for the past 23 years.  When I came back to work for Benton Community, Gib was the Assistant Superintendent/Business Manager and his favorite word was "no" -- unless you could demonstrate to him the "why".  He's great at listening, asking questions and getting people to think.

1982 BC Yearbook Photo
Early in my career here at Benton, I was a "technology rep" for two of our elementary buildings.  This position afforded me the opportunity to learn and be on the cutting edge of how technology would become a game changer in education.  When Gib and I met to discuss this blog post, we chuckled about how times and technology have changed in a relatively brief time period.  I have kept many of the former emails from our "technology team" and know a potential book, about the evolution of technology, is hidden in those messages.  Here's part of one of those emails from Oct. of 1997:

 4.  New business:
  • Most staff in the district now have e-mail accounts.  E-mail issues are: sending long messages from Netscape mail and e-mail security.  Solutions to these are being considered.
  • E-mail accounts can be set up for classes to use for class projects.  The information needs to be sent to Linda Wolfgram to set these up.
  • Don Gibney shared the article "In Bed with Apple, Intel, and Microsoft" (PC Magazine, 11/4/97, p87) as information about where computer technology may be headed in the future.
  • Building reps should obtain feedback from their staff on what student information system should include as we begin to look at systems.

Gib's time here at BC started when he was a student attending Newhall Consolidated School District.  As a sophomore in high school he was one of the students (along with others from Van Horne, Keystone and Blairstown attendance centers) who were given the charge to help decide on the new Benton Community mascot and school colors.  Gib was in the first class of juniors of the newly defined Benton Community School District and graduated from Benton in 1967.  That makes Gib's timeline for being a student or staff member at Benton Community a total forty-four years.

Gib graduated from UNI and at age twenty-one and started teaching Science and coaching at Iowa Valley High School.  He did this for three years before his Dad and then board member Don Werning, were discussing Don's desire to return to Benton, while they playing cards in Newhall.  Several weeks later Don had a phone call from Phil England, Benton Superintendent, concerning a Keystone building for a science teacher, along with some coaching opportunities in the fall.  Following an interview with Don Andrews (Keystone principal), Don accepted the job with some coaching, which included football, girls's basketball and track!  

Gib told me he got some good advice from Ruth Arhrens, a long-time Physical Education instructor at Iowa Valley,  when he made the decision to return to Benton.  His Iowa Valley girls basketball team had made it to state and things were going well in Marengo, but Ruth told him, "Base your decisions on who will be here, not who is here now."  This statement helped Gib confirm his decision, "I always wanted to end up back here and this was my opportunity to do so."

After his first year of teaching at Benton, Don Andrews and Phil England met with Gib again in Andrews office in Keystone.  They told him they wanted him to do become an administrator in the district, serving as the 9th grade principal for the following school year.  His assignment would be teaching science classes at the high school and being a building administrator for the 9th grade.  That summer he went back to UNI to complete his M.A. in Administration.   When Don Andrews was killed in a tragic traffic accident during that school year, Don Black (Blairstown principal) and Gib then shared the shared administrative responsibilities for the K-6 and 9th grade Keystone building.  His first class graduated in the spring of 1979.  The following year he was asked to become the HS principal.  After thirteen votes (a state record) the bond issue for a new Junior/Senior High School passed in 1979.  

1982 BC Yearbook Photo

There was a lot of stability within the district and relationships and trust with the community was huge.  During his first five years as high school principal he did not hire one teacher.  During that time there were many problem solving and educational changing conversations, with all levels of administration and staff, both in and outside of the school walls.  Seventy percent of the High School staff had a master's degree in their field and these people, according to Gib, were "long time/committed educators who were great at creating partnerships with higher education institutions for curriculum development."  

One example of this commitment was a story he shared about long time math instructor, Carl Harder.  Carl was most senior math instructor and taught on a cart 6/7 periods when they moved into the new MS/HS building.  Under Gib's leadership, people accepted change and were flexible and didn't question decisions because they knew it was best for the students and system.  He remembers how staff based decisions on their students.  These students were different from class period to class period and staff made adjustments to their instruction to meet students needs.  During this time Benton also had a class with four National Merit Scholarship winners.  (This was 1982 - my graduating class.)

Don has many memories of his time at BC.  One that sticks out is the bond issue passing and the building of the MS/HS.  Don was the project manager for the construction of the MS/HS and HS principal during this time.  He is proud of his ability to make decisions and stated, "It was my job and people expected decisions.  You could give direction,  but being visionary, planting the seeds and watching people succeed is important.  I tried to help support people in keeping those high expectations of themselves and their students." 

MS/HS Building
In thinking of his past forty-four years at Benton, he has enjoyed the ability to be involved in all aspects of the district, and this variety has kept him here.  He has been a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal, business manager, technology director, assistant superintendent, a member of the maintenance staff and now is back helping with technology support.  This variety has been a positive for him in his tenure.  He says this diversity helped keep him fresh and he was fortunate to have these opportunities in this size district.

Gib is concerned about making sure we are meeting the needs of current and potential families of Benton County.  He has seen a change in population and many of our youth moving out of our district.  He still values high expectations, "If you don't expect it you don't get it -- we have to fight on our end as educators to keep that up if we expect to get it back from the kids."

As I reflect on the impact Gib has had on me as a person, it has been tremendous.  I was fortunate to have Gib as a high school principal who encouraged me to be a leader.  I have been fortunate to have Gib as a peer who challenges me to think and has been a sounding board for me to process with.  Gib's knowledge base is broad and I feel very fortunate to have been a recipient of his wisdom and the time he has chosen to invest in me. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

50th Anniversary of Benton Community -- Wiebke Impact

What's it like to work with people who were your teacher and/or coach when you were young?

My answer -- Awesome!  I get the opportunity to have those people see their impact on me on a daily basis.

Two of these people are Larry and Evelyn Wiebke.  Larry was my softball coach, activities director and biology teacher in high school.  I've known Evelyn as a substitute teacher in the district and a piano instructor for all three of our daughters.  They are both very active within the school system and our communities.

One of my favorite things to do growing up was playing softball.  In junior high and high school, I was fortunate enough to be able to play in the summer and fall (this was pre-volleyball era in Iowa!)  I would have played softball in the winter and spring, but Iowa winters didn't see eye to eye with me on that one!

I distinctly remember the day Coach Wiebke called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be part of the varsity team.  He told me he had a place for me on the team to be a base-runner.  At the time, I was a freshman and my older sister, Barb, was a member of the team.  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.  We even ended up with the same # jersey!

I knew I could run and I was thinking I should probably go out for cross county like my older sister Cathy, but I REALLY loved softball.   The cross-country coach had been hinting at me being part of the cross country team, but I tried very hard not to hear it.  Coach Wiebke didn't know it at the time, but he made my day and helped contribute to my high school experience being such a positive one.

Coach Wiebke was superstitious when it came to softball (at least how I remember it):
  1. In the dug-out, the bats could not be crossed. 
  2. We needed to wear the same socks & underwear every game.
We didn't have the fancy organizers for the bats and helmets like they do today.  In fact, we didn't even have helmets.  Maybe that explains a few things to those of you who know me well:)  Coach Wiebke could run faster than most of his players.  I remember him challenging us to races and we always thought "he's old -- we can beat him" and we never did!  His long legs and swinging arms would get us every time.  He always told us "we win and lose as a team".    

For eight seasons I was blessed to have Coach Wiebke mold me into a softball player who loved the game more when I left than when I started.  I was fortunate enough to be able to coach our own girls in t-ball, little and pony league.  I don't think they love the game as much as me.  I do hope what they learned from me, much like what I learned from Coach Wiebke, was the tremendous value of being part of a team.

Recently, I sat down with Evelyn and Larry for a few minutes to reflect on their thoughts of being Bobcats for the past 50+ years.

Evelyn & Larry Wiebke
Photo from:

Our conversation started with Evelyn sharing the story of her dad, Herman Brehm, being the 1st Board President of Benton Community and that it took 12 different elections for the bond issue to build the current MS/HS building.  Larry and Evelyn were integral pieces to the "poll watching" when the voting took place and encouraged many to vote "YES".  Our district has been blessed as a school community due to the progressive thinking and extra efforts of those that came before us.  

Evelyn grew up on a farm outside of Van Horne and was a former student and athlete for Larry.  Over the years she has been just as involved in Larry's "job" as he has.  When they tell stories of what BC has meant to them, they both add details to make the story come to life.  Some of their best memories revolve around coaching and teaching all of the great "kids" they have had the chance to interact with over the years.  Evelyn has loved teaching all ages of people to play the piano and loves to support her students in all of their activities.  Recently, one of her former students was able to share with the Van Horne Lions Club his and his teammates passion of robotics.  Evelyn lights up when she talks about the passion and potential she sees in people! 

Larry shared with me that he wanted to teach since he was in 7th grade.  He remembers telling his dad, "I'm not doing this farming thing!"  As a senior at Upper Iowa, he learned of a job opening at Van Horne and made contact with the district.  Ray Manship, the superintendent of Van Horne at the time, had a student at a golf meet in Waterloo and asked Larry to meet him at the golf course and they'd discuss the opening.  Larry found Ray sitting on a bench at the golf course, interviewed on that bench and as they say, "the rest is history!"  

I could spend all day listening to the Wiebke's talk about their former students and co-workers.  The Wiebke's have such a rich history to share about the Benton Community story.  But, one that really sticks out for them is the great comradery they had with other staff members, which started early in their careers and continues today. 
Larry and his wife, Evelyn, married in 1965; five years after Larry took his first teaching and coaching job in Van Horne.  They have one daughter, Melissa, who is married and lives in the area with her family.  They are the epitome of what it means to be a "Bobcat" and I am blessed to have them in my life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Redefining Ready for College, Career and Life & BC Students Success

Today, I saw three separate stories on three of our @BentonCSD graduates.  I am so proud to know each of these people and even prouder knowing what an impact they are having on others within their lives.  

Here are links to those stories:

There is a movement across the US to help redefine what College, Career and Life ready means.  According to the National College and Career Readiness Standards 
  • "Our students are MORE than a SCORE.
    • Our nation’s high schools provide students with rigorous academic programs, personalized and career-specific learning experiences, along with social and emotional skills that prepare them to be global citizens in an ever-changing world.
    • Students learn in a variety of ways. They should be able to demonstrate readiness in a variety of ways. 
    • The new readiness indicators, developed from research by world-class organizations, more accurately reflect the educational landscape of the 21st century. Multiple metrics include Advanced Placement courses, Algebra II, early college credits, industry credentials, attendance, community service, among others."
The #RedefiningReady national campaign is expanding the definition of being college, career and life ready to something other than just a test score.  Their definition includes:

One of the AASA indicators of college ready is dual credit success.  Benton Community has a unique partnership with Kirkwood Community College, which offers many opportunities for our students to prepare them for college and career readiness in the Arts/Science and CTE areas.  The graphic below, containing information on our class of 2015, was recently shared with our district:

We are very proud of our students and would love to share stories of other graduates and 
how they are making an impact in our world.  Please email me story ideas: