Celebrating, Reflecting, and Sharing the Story of Riverside Elementary

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


This past school year, our Building Leadership Team, as a book study, read Finding Your Leadership Focus by Doug Reeves (@DouglasReeves of @LeadAndLearn). A real short and simple synopsis of this book is that schools try to do too many things. And when schools try do a lot of things, they usually end up doing them no better than adequately. Schools need to "weed their gardens." They need to eliminate some of the things that they are trying to do, but not doing with fidelity due to a lack of time and resources. Schools should focus on no more than six areas to really implement well.

After on-going discussions throughout the year, last month, I created a Google Form to see what common areas needed to have our focus at Riverside Elementary School. Of all the responses, there were four that rose to the top:
  1. Flex teams/Flex time, which is what we call our Response to Intervention (RtI) block of time. This is something that I've talked about in two previous blog posts ('Things that I am proud of and are worth celebrating' and 'Flex'). After hearing RtI guru, Mike Mattos (@mikemattos65) of Solution Tree (@SolutionTree), in Cedar Rapids at an event put-on by the Grant Wood Area Education Agency (@GrantWoodAEA) this past September for two days, we created this Flex system that we implemented while hitting the ground running. Overall, it seems to be beneficial. However, there is a desire to focus on how to improve the initial system that we have put in place.
  2. Student data binders - To some degree we have used student data binders for at least a couple of years now. However, they are still more of a teacher resource and they have yet to really become a tool that students are using to monitor their own learning. This is our task - to increase our students' ownership of their own learning. We think that we can help ourselves in this area based off of some ideas that we have for how to use our student data binders more effectively.
  3. Data meetings - Again, this is something that we already do. School staff is having regularly scheduled meetings where we are spending time talking about what is working well with our instruction for students and what needs improving. The system is in place, but how can we enhance our system so that we are maximizing the impact that this can have on student learning?
  4. Data walls - These have started to pop-up in various classrooms, the data room that we've created as a place for teachers to meet and center our discussions around data, and in the front entryway of our school. We want to be transparent with our data (the good, and even the not so good). There are two mains reasons that we see this as beneficial - 1) when it is visible for students, it helps increase their ownership of their learning, and 2) for school staff it is about our accountability and our sense of urgency in regards to student learning.
We'll keep you posted as we focus our improvements on these areas, next year, in an effort to enhance student learning at Riverside Elementary School. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Things that I am proud of and are worth celebrating

The March/April 2014 issue of Principal magazine highlights three practices for schools to implement in-order to overcome difficulties - 
  1. Compile electronic data binders for each classroom that are updated on an ongoing basis with new scores. These can help principals keep track of their students’ and teachers’ progress.
  2. Give students their own data binders to track their own achievement data. This gives students greater autonomy and a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Create a "data room" for teachers to help them visualize and better track key measures of student success.
This was especially exciting to me because all three of these things were implemented this year, at Riverside Elementary School. Now I'm not naive enough to think that we have mastered any of these three, but we have created the framework and we are committed to improvement. Nonetheless, these are three accomplishments that I'm proud of and that I think are worth celebrating from this school year.

Recently, I asked that question, "What are three things that you are proud of/worth celebrating from this school year?" at the end of a staff meeting, via a Google Form. As you can tell from the following responses (below), a lot of our teachers are very proud of our flex. (Flex is our systematic Response to Intervention (RtI) block of time. I posted about our Flex implementation on this blog on October 28, 2013.) This is relevant because our "data room" and our electronic data are both tools that we use to help us monitor our implementation of flex.
  • Starting flex teams and experiencing success with the flex teams.
  • I think my students made tremendous growth in reading - whether it was fluency, accuracy, retell, or just an increased interest in reading. I feel like that was a result of our flex team work, our classroom work, and also in making good connections with my students and showing an interest in not only how they were reading, but what they were reading as well.
  • Flex groups and data teams affected student growth tremendously with open and honest conversations about what the data showed and what students needed.
  • The implementation of our flex teams. This has been very beneficial for the students. It has also helped bring our culture to an "our student" focus.
  • I am excited about our flex groups. It was a learning process, and I think next year will be even better!
  • I feel like we really came together as a staff this year. The whole staff seemed willing to do whatever they could for every single student in the building. I also think people were more willing to try new things and keep an open mind. It really felt like I was working on a team.
  • Flex Groups - Not only did my students enjoy working with multiple teachers, I enjoyed having the chance to collaborate with others to improve student learning.
  • I feel like flex teams have really helped us focus on what our students need and provide that to them.
  • All staff working together and being willing to try new things. We implemented many new things this year such as flex teams, safety procedures, a new lunch schedule, etc.
  • The kids are taking more responsibility in their learning. 
That last bullet is an area that we really want to commit to as being an area of focus for next year. One of the ways that we are planning to do this is through some enhancements that we are planning to make to our student data binders. We've used student data binders in the past, but it is a definite area for us to upgrade in-order to support students' learning at Riverside Elementary School.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We're Going to Have a 5K/1-mile Color Run/Walk!

This past Monday, shortly after 11am (central time), Meb Keflezighi won the 118th annual Boston Marathon. Several hours later, almost 1200 miles to the west of the Boylston Street finish line in Boston, a group of individuals met in Riverside, Iowa to work on organizing and planning a run associated with our elementary school.

Along with the Washington County YMCA (a special thanks to Marcus Hall and Becky Harkema for helping us plan and host this event) we will be putting-on a 5K and a one-mile color walk/run in Riverside on Sunday, June 22nd. A note with more specific sign-up information should be coming home via Friday folders this Friday, April 25th. If you are from outside the Highland CSD and are interested in learning more about this race, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Hosting a run through the school is very exciting for me because running is a personal passion of mine. That wasn't always the case, however. I ran in high school (track and field) for two reasons - 1) to stay in shape for the other sports that I was more invested in, and 2) to spend time with my friends who at the time were more serious about running than me. After high school I would run occasionally, but it was not my preferred method of exercise. Once I became fully employed and time started to stretch thin, I started to choose running as a form of exercise that could be accomplished relatively quickly. One thing led to another and several years later I now thoroughly enjoying the training for and the running of half-marathons. It's funny how things change.

Anyways, this run that we are producing will be a great opportunity for our school to promote fitness and good health through an activity that can be done throughout one's life. Furthermore, it is a nice extension of the walk-a-thon that or Elementary Support Organization (ESO) has put-on for our students each of the past two falls. It also connects very nicely to the laps that Mr. Jaspering has his PE students run as a warm-up at the beginning of each class period. The students keep track of their laps, turn the laps into miles, and monitor their progress as the year progresses. As of April 23rd, the leading student at Riverside Elementary is just shy of having tallied 25 miles this school year!

All 3rd - 5th grade students received a shoe to decorate after they ran/walked one-mile. They also sign a poster documenting that they've ran/walked one, five, ten, fifteen, and twenty miles. This is posted in the gym. All 3rd - 5th grade students have recorded at least 10 miles this school year during PE.

Proceeds raised from this event will be split between the Washington Co. YMCA and our ESO. Our ESO uses their funds on things that will benefit our school. This year, we were fortunate to receive iPads and accessories for all of our teachers from our ESO. We are extremely thankful for the influx in technology that you have provided us with, as well as all of the things that you provide for our teachers, our students, and our school. Nonetheless, this event is not about raising funds; we are planning this event because it will be a fun, nice thing to do this summer with your family and the school community. We hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This Email Made Me Smile

This seems like a fitting time to post this as we just sent home our students' Iowa Assessment scores, last week.

The italicized text below was sent to me via email a few weeks ago. In following-up on the email that I received, I was pointed to the blog of the the principal at Amana Elementary of the Clear Creek Amana Community School District's blog (http://benmacumber.blogspot.com). Amana Elementary's principal, Mr. Ben Macumber, does not appear to have authored these thoughts, but he does share the same note in his entry titled, 'I didn't think of this, but I sure wish I had...'

My daughter's new elementary school principal sent this to all the students as they received their state standardized testing scores this week:

"We are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you-- the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do...They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have traveled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends. They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best... the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything. There are many ways of being smart."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Shifting Lunch and Recess Schedules

We are excited to make some changes (starting Monday, 3/31) to our lunch/recess schedule!

The kindergarten and first grade lunch/recess times were able to remain, for the most part, unaltered. Second through fifth grades had to rearrange some of the things that they teach so that everything still fit into their day. We believe that these changes will have a positive impact on our students. As a result, some of the highlights are:
  • Providing increased adult supervision during transitions (to and from lunch and recess)
  • Providing increased consistency and supervision at recess
    • Four adults instead of three adults on the playground
    • No longer taking away staff to bring-in classes while other students remain at recess
  • Benefit of recess before lunch for the upper grades
  • A longer gap between lunch recess and afternoon recess for the upper grades
  • No longer a need for lunch helpers from the upper grades to be pulled away from the classroom during instructional time
  • It will reduce the amount of student traffic flow in and out of our locked front entry way over the lunch hour

We are going to try this for the last two months of the school year. We are open to making adjustments as we go.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Our School is Worth a Pot of Gold

One of the things that I love about Riverside Elementary School is how so many different people possess different leadership traits that allow us to thrive. On any given day, any given person will take the initiative to get something accomplished. Each staff member is a leader.

Maybe you have noticed the visually appealing rainbow, the four leaf clover border, or the pot of gold that contains staff and students reasoning as to why our school is worth a pot of gold written on the posted gold coins. That is the product that a group of teachers took charge to organize and create. They have displayed a platform that shares the positive things and success stories of our school for everyone entering our building to see. What resulted is described and pictured below.

Our school is worth a pot of gold because...
...of our pride in what we do and the respect, responsibility, and caring of our people
...we all work hard
...our teachers are understanding
...we all show the Huskie way
...we are Huskies that like to learn
...we are respectful, responsible, and caring
...we have really good teachers and students
...everybody is caring to each other
...the teachers are making school fun for the students
...we are all kind and proud to be a Huskie
...data is showing growth
...we have teachers and students who are always learning
...there is a lot of good people
...we have teachers who help everyone
...everybody is so nice to each other
...everyday the teachers are teaching us a lot and we learn everyday
...it is safe for children
...everyone is friendly
...we do fun things
...we have good friends and good teachers

Take a look at the bulletin board the next time that you are in our school. It should make you smile.
In fact, I encourage you to take a gold coin (look for blank coins to be clipped (and labeled) on the bulletin board later this week) or comment at the end of this blog to share your thoughts as to why you think our school is worth a pot of gold.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Grateful for Gifts and Grants

The new technologies that we have acquired this year at Riverside Elementary School is like waking up to a room full of presents on Christmas morning!

This year we have been fortunate to add 20 iPads and 25 MacBooks to our technology arsenal. Our ESO was kind enough to buy all of our teachers an iPad this past fall. The Riverside Casino and Golf Resort's Washington County Riverboat Foundation, through a grant this winter, allowed us to purchase the MacBooks and the resulting mobile lab for our students. I (we) want to thank everyone who played a part in allowing us to receive these gifts and this grant.  

I am a firm believer that putting new technology in the hands of students leads to increased student engagement, and increased student engagement leads to increased student achievement. It is evident that the students really look forward to using the devices and they enjoy having them in their hands as a learning tool. As a result, seeing our students use these devices is fun. Watching the students exhibit a high level of respect for these devices while using them is neat to see, too. 

However, using the iPads and MacBooks are a new experience so there is a learning curve that goes along with that. After we received the iPads, we were able to send two teachers to a three-day course at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency (AEA). Throughout this course, our two teachers learned about iPad basics, as well as incorporating QR codes, screen casting and story telling applications, and student blogging. These two teachers, along with our Grant Wood AEA technology consultant and myself, have been responsible for passing along this learning to the rest of our teaching staff throughout three professional development sessions. Additionally, we have created a forum for sharing educational apps amongst staff on a regular basis. The MacBooks are still pretty brand new, and the learning for these devices has been fairly informal up to this point.

It is common knowledge that a picture is worth a thousand words. Because of this shared understanding, I have included, below, some of my favorite pictures that I have been able to capture, this year, that shows our students and teachers with some of our new technology.