Celebrating, Reflecting, and Sharing the Story of Riverside Elementary

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thank You and Goodbye

Three years ago, the Highland CSD took a chance on me (and for that I will be forever grateful). I'd never been a principal, I'd never worked in an elementary school, and I wasn't even 30 years old. Multiple times, I'd been told that despite a solid interview I just didn't have the experience that school districts were seeking for their vacant principalships. Highland offered me a job, and I was getting an opportunity to be the principal at Riverside!

Fast forward three years...and by now I am assuming that most of you have been made aware that I am no longer the principal at Riverside Elementary School. Earlier this summer I was offered a principal position in the Marion Independent School District; and despite the thorough enjoyment that I've felt as Riverside's principal, I accepted the position that Marion had offered.

An unfortunate consequence due to the timing of my move, is the missed opportunity to personally say goodbye to so many of the people that have made my tenure in Riverside a positive one. As a result, I'd like to use this platform, my last blog as principal of Riverside Elementary School, to say goodbye and thank you.
  • Parents - You have been great to work with. It is not uncommon for you to help-out and pitch-in in a variety of ways for the betterment of your child's educational experience at Riverside Elementary School. You want what is best for your children, and I admire your willingness to advocate for your children.
  • Administration - Like I mentioned earlier, you gave me my first opportunity to become a principal; for that alone I will be forever grateful. Furthermore, you had enough trust in me as an educator to give me the freedom needed to do my job effectively. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the autonomy that you allowed me.
  • Staff - You all made my job easy and a pleasure. Your willingness to try new things if you thought that it had the chance to benefit our students, your motivation to improve your practice for the benefit of our students are two of the things about you all as a group that stand out to me. One of the most telling reference questions when asking about potential teacher candidates, is would you feel comfortable with this person being responsible for the education of your children/grandchildren/etc.? Without hesitation, I can say that I would feel comfortable with my children receiving their education at Riverside Elementary School.
  • Students - Due to the timing, this is the hardest. I wish that I could see all of the students one last time and have a chance to tell them all goodbye, good luck, and that I will miss them. It is a great group of kids at Riverside Elementary School, and it is because of them - above all else - that makes the school a great place to be.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An Opportunity to Share Our Celebrations

On April 26th Ben Gilpin, principal at Warner Elementary School (in Michigan), published 'Visible Growth' to his blog The Colorful Principal. I was especially inspired by the following paragraph from the blog:
“Nine months ago you welcomed students into your room.  Some were probably shy, timid or even unsure of what to expect.  But what many of you saw was opportunity and potential.  We're now entering the final stretch of school and if you think back to what students looked like in September and what they have become I bet you are very proud.  Think about what was difficult in the beginning, maybe your kindergarten students couldn't write their name.  Maybe your third graders could only add & subtract.  Maybe your students had never read a chapter book.  When we step back and look at the growth that takes place over the whole year it is substantial."
Too often we get bogged down by what hasn't gone well, what isn't working, what is causing us headaches. Too often we forget to think about all of the good things that happen around us and to us each and every day, we forget to celebrate all of the positive contributions that we've made with our students. We need to relax, slow down, and celebrate the positives.

At a recent staff "meeting," I asked everyone to share one celebration from the year that they were proud of in regards to our school, our students, and/or their teaching. The list below is a compilation of the responses that we heard:
  • Really proud of our 2nd and 3rd grade flex teams; the planning that we (teachers) did and the work that the students accomplished.
  • The growth of two individual students. A non-walker to start the year is now walking! And a second student did an amazing job during his kindergarten round-up visit!
  • Having a discussion about college with a student and helping that student set a goal of going to college.
  • It’s become second nature for everyone in the building to see all of the students as “our” kids in relation to their learning. Everyone is willing to contribute to that learning.
  • Starting the year with 10 students in the red (not proficient) as a result of their reading accuracy score via FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers) and ending the year with zero students in that category.
  • Our mindset initiative and all of the best practices that we are implementing to coincide with the coursework/learning that I'm doing in my master's degree program.
  • Watching the students embrace their learning and making it fun and motivating.
  • Our staff is more positive, and that is spreading.
  • We've had a lot of fun teaching writing with the rubric that we created. Students are writing a lot.
  • Student advisory teams have made a positive impact on the students.
  • A particular student who was anti-writing at the beginning of the year, and now he can't write enough and he is so proud of that accomplishment.
  • How excited our kids are to write in kindergarten.  They are confident and love that others can read their message.
  • Students growing as readers, and the excitement that they have to read and write.
  • Teachers did an awesome job of implementing the new procedures for our student-involved conferences.
  • Staff and students embracing the ideas and learning that we've done in the area of mindset.
  • An initial look at building's unscrubbed reading data from our Iowa Assessments has improved enough for us to believe that our SINA (School in Need of Assistance) label will be moved back to 'delay' status for next year.
  • Seeing how excited our students were about 1) meeting a goal that they'd set, and/or 2) the growth that they've made throughout the school year. One student, in particular, after meeting his reading goal, responded by saying," I'm so glad that I go to this school. It is amazing."
And I was able to share the following information with staff...

FAST is the universal screener that we use to benchmark all of our students in the area of reading. Students are benchmark tested in the fall, winter, and spring; certain students are progress monitored using this test in-between those testing periods.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Feedback and Analysis from Our Second Round of Conferences

At Riverside Elementary School, we are continuously looking for ways to assist our students so that they can increase the amount of ownership they take for their learning. As a result, this year, we restructured our parent-teacher conferences. No longer were we going to to keep our students out of the loop on conference night. We weren't going to continue leaving our students to wonder (or even worse, to worry) about what was being talked about with their teacher while he/she waited for mom and/or dad to return home.

So we made a shift to involve our students in their conferences. We invited all of our students to attend their conferences to give them an actual place at the table when talking about their education. Our parent-teacher conferences became student-involved conferences.

I solicited feedback after our first round of conferences (in September), which I shared with everyone via this blog on October 18, 2014. After conferences in February, I, again, solicited feedback on the structure of our conferences to see what (if anything) had changed after our second implementation.

Feedback comparison - data (link) from our student-involved conferences in the fall vs. in the winter

The preference for student-involved conferences increased slightly in the winter However, more students attended their conference in the fall vs. the winter. This led us to begin to brainstorm what we (at the school) could do to further encourage our students to attend their conferences. Some of our initial ideas include:

  • Move the conferences back to Tuesday and Thursday evening - this is planned for Highland CSD's '15/'16 school calendar
  • Offer child care service
    This was unsuccessfully attempted this year. Options to explore in the future would be to seek-out high school students in need of volunteer hours, and/or pay an associate for their time
  • Do something with our students to build their excitement
    ie. Have students write and send an email or letter to their parents inviting them to their conference
There were two other issues that stood out from our feedback that will need to be addressed going forward:
  • We have to communicate clearly with parents that if they are wanting to speak privately with the teacher then we are more than willing to set-up an additional separate meeting for that conversation to take place.
  • We need to be more aware of scheduling conferences for families that have multiple students within our building. It is nearly impossible to schedule back-to-back(-to-back, etc.) conferences without everyone getting off schedule
And finally...
Above are a sampling of some of the comments that parents left re. our second attempt at student-involved conferences

Friday, April 3, 2015

Celebrating and Reflecting

As educators, too often, we fail to take the time to celebrate and reflect on what we've accomplished.

Recently, I was in Cedar Rapids for some professional development at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency with our building leadership team. We were attending our third session of their Leadership for Continuous Improvement series focused on Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS, also/formerly known as RtI or Response to Intervention). Our entire team walked away from this professional development feeling good after we were given the opportunity to look through some our student data and reflect on our progress.

As a result, I'd like to use this space to share a major celebration!

Accuracy scores are: 55, 67, 70, 83, 95
Fluency scores are: 48, 62, 58, 54, 67
A couple of things to note:
  • Fluency refers to how many correct words students can read when given one-minute to read a passage
  • Accuracy refers to how many errors students make when reading their one-minute passage
  • Kindergarten and first grade scores are not included in the above data. The reason for that is because neither grade takes this test during all of the above listed testing periods.
  • We had previously used DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) as our universal screening assessment to obtain this information; this year we switched and began to use FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers). There are subtle differences between the two assessments, but overall they are both very similar.

The successes that we've been able to achieve (shown above) have not been an accident. While attending our third session of the Leadership for Continuous Improvement MTSS series, we were able to reflect on some of the specific things that we've done, building-wide, that have led to these accomplishments.

Key Components of MTSS - highlighting some of what we've been able to implement:

Universal Screening

  • For at least the past three years, we have used a universal screener with all of our students (K-5) in the area of reading. Each student is tested three times each year (fall, winter, and spring). Previously we used DIBELS and now this year we are using FAST to screen and collect data.

Evidence-based Curriculum & Instruction at Universal Level

  • These are all of the different examples of instruction that our teachers are using with all of our students. This is their core or tier one instruction. Examples - guided reading groups, read alouds, shared readings, close readings, independent reading opportunities, think alouds, word study, vocabulary instruction, PALS (Peer Assisted Learning Strategies) instruction, teaching by following the gradual release of responsibility model (I do, we do, you do together, you do alone)

Evidence-based, Instructional Interventions at Targeted and Intensive Levels

  • This is tier two instruction. These are things that not all of our students need to receive. This includes students working in small groups and/or one-on-one with a teacher. It includes our Flex teams where all of our students are shuffled and shared to get the extra support that they need. We have had a lot of success in this area, throughout our building, with using some of Sharon Walpole's materials. Currently, we have a small group of teachers learning about 95% Group (in hopes to share this information with all of our teachers so that any of our students that would benefit from this instruction would be able to receive it).

Progress Monitoring - are the interventions working?

  • We progress monitor all students who are not proficient on their FAST universal screening assessment, weekly. The remainder of our students are progress monitored at least once a month. Personally, I think that one of the biggest reasons for our students' growth has been how we have had our students taking ownership for their progress monitoring. Each of our students has a data binder that they use to set goals and then chart their progress against those goals. I think that our student involved conferences (as well as the more informal and regular instructional conversations that our teachers have with our students) also help contribute to this sense of ownership that we are trying to ingrain into our students for setting and achieving their own personalized goals.

Data-based Decision Making

  • This is something that our individual teachers do on a continual basis. As structured teams, we do this within our weekly grade-level Professional Learning Communities (that meet during our Wednesday professional development time) and during our monthly data team meetings. Furthermore, this is the grouping and regrouping of our Flex teams and providing teachers additional time to collaborate and plan within their Flex teams.  We have data walls displayed throughout our building, and we use data to help us decide whether to continue interventions, change interventions, or add interventions. It is also how we determine who qualifies for tier three instruction.

Poster showing all five of the MTSS components fitting together like a puzzle

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Continuing our Learning about Mindset

This past November, I blogged about Mindset and how we, both staff and students, are learning about the ideas and implications associated with mindset. I also announced that we are attempting to establish a growth mindset throughout Riverside Elementary School. In her book, Mindsets in the Classroom, Mary Cay Ricci defines growth mindset as a belief system that suggests that one's intelligence can be grown or developed with persistence, effort, and a focus on learning.

In our efforts to establish a growth mindset, certain staff have volunteered to participate in a book study. Beginning in 2015, teachers (including myself) have been reading and reflecting about Mary Cay Ricci's book. Our book study is set-up to allow our reflections to take place via a blog that I've created. 

A screenshot from my computer of our blog to give you a better idea of how we use it and what it looks like

Worth mentioning is that once I set-up our book study blog, I reached-out to Mary Cay Ricci via Twitter to tell her about what we are doing. She has been very kind in connecting with some of our teachers, and contributing by commenting on our blog. In fact, Riverside Elementary School and our book study blog is going to be featured in chapter five of her follow-up book Ready-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom: Everything Teachers Need for Classroom Success scheduled to be released July 2015.

I could not be more pleased with the learning that has and continues to take place through our book study blog.

As a result, we have continued this learning for all teachers and students. Last week, Ms. DeLacy, our school counselor, and myself delivered additional mindset professional development for our teachers. At the end of our session, we solicited feedback from teachers regarding their input for next steps of our mindset learning. Some of the really great ideas that we will now plan include:

  • creating and sharing a common mindset vocabulary and definitions for staff, students, and parents to use
  • creating and sharing a shared mindset resources page containing titles and links to books, articles, video clips, websites, etc.
  • and gauging interest in the possibility of a setting-up a book study of Carol Dweck's Mindset via blog for parents, and/or hosting a mindset night for families at Riverside Elementary School

If you looked closely at my screenshot, above, you'll notice that it referenced Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player that's ever lived. He wasn't perfect, however. In fact, like he says, he's failed over and over again. But Michael Jordan uses his failures to his advantage. He learns from his failures and is motivated by his failures to succeed the next time. That is why Michael Jordan is symbolic of the growth mindset.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Wacky Wednesday Penny Drive on March 11th

Recently, our school community lost a friend. At the start of the school year, Steve Harland, our former custodian, discovered that he had terminal cancer. This tragic news resulted in Steve taking a leave of absence from his duties at Riverside Elementary School. Last month, Steve passed away...

When the make-up of our K-2 Student Advisory Team was reconfigured to start the third quarter, I asked them the same question that I ask every student advisory team during our first meeting. I asked them if they were able to change something about our school, what change would they make. After spending some time brainstorming two ideas began surfacing to the top. The K-2 Student Advisory Team wanted to 1) upgrade our playground and 2) do some sort of a fundraiser.

Through conversation facilitated by our school counselor, Ms. DeLacy, and myself, we discussed multiple things. We discussed how our Elementary Support Organization wrote (thank you!) and was awarded a $45K grant from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation (thank you!) to upgrade a majority our playground this upcoming spring. We discussed fundraisers, and how if that was the avenue that we went down we would need to be raising money specifically for someone or something. One of the students in our group, knowing that Steve had been gone from work for an extended amount of time and that he was really sick, recommended that our fundraiser benefit Steve.

Along the way our thinking shifted from doing a fundraiser for Steve, to doing a fundraiser to add a buddy bench to our playground. A buddy bench is a bench that will promote friendship on our playground at our school. We also decided that we could inscribe the back of our buddy bench with some sort of tribute to Steve that would help us remember him.

...I was fortunate enough to speak with Steve just days before he passed away. I was able to inform him of our idea for how we planned to remember him at school; he was honored to be a part of the work that we are planning.

Parents of students at Riverside Elementary School - look for a note to come home this Friday, March 6th via Friday folders that will outline our Wacky Wednesday penny drive that we are planning for March 11th to raise money for a buddy bench that will help us to remember our lost friend.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Every Mile is an Accomplishment

At Riverside Elementary School students have completed Math, Reading, and Writing universal screeners in the fall (end-of-August) and winter (early-to-mid-January). We will have one final round of universal screening in these three areas towards the end-of-April/beginning-of-May. The following slides are visual representations of how many of our students are scoring proficient on the fall tests, compared to how many of our students are scoring proficient on the winter tests.

This information helps us in determining how students are responding to instruction so that we can make necessary changes. Our students use their individualized information to set goals based off of these results, and then monitor the progress towards those goals by graphing their progress monitoring scores. 

What follows is a lot to be proud of and celebrate for and with our students, as well as the staff and family members that have assisted in these accomplishments!

The FAST (Formative Assessment System for Teachers) is our universal screener in the area of reading. This kindergarten composite score takes into account all four FAST scores that kindergarten students receive from the four different tests that they take during each testing period.

Correct words refers to how many correct words students can read in the one-minute FAST passages.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph increases from fall to winter.
Correct words, again, refers to how many correct words students can read in the one-minute FAST passages.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant from fall to winter to spring.

Accuracy refers to the amount of errors that students make when reading the one-minute FAST passages.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant (95%) for all grades and all testing periods.

The math computation probe consists of 25 problems representing year-long, grade-level math computation curriculum. Depending on the grade-level, students get three to four minutes to answer as many of the problems as they are able.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant from fall to winter to spring.

The math application probe consists of 18 to 25 problems representing the year-long, grade-level math concepts and applications curriculum. Each test is three pages long. Depending on the grade-level, students get six to eight minutes to answer as many of the problems as they are able.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant from fall to winter to spring.

Students are given a writing probe; they have one-minute to think of a response, and then three-minutes to write a response. Total words written is a count of how many words students were able to write within the three-minutes.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant from fall to winter to spring.

The same writing probe that was used to score total words written is used to score correct word sequence. To receive credit for correct word sequence, writing must be spelled correct and grammatically correct.
The score needed for students to meet proficiency on this graph remains constant from fall to winter to spring.
Runner's World magazine's Twitter account, +Runner's World Magazine, recently tweeted the following advice - 'Stop running comparathons. Every mile is an accomplishment.'

I love this statement. And I think that it definitely has implications for us as educators, as well as our students. Yes, we are pushing our students towards setting goals and then charting their progress towards those goals. However, we need to remember that all learning that takes place for our students is an achievement worth celebrating. It is my hope that our students won’t feel pressure to compare and/or compete ‘head-to-head’ with their classmates when tracking their progress compared to their goals. Instead, our students will be competing against themselves while pursuing their academic goals, they will come to the realization that progress and success are not linear achievements, and that all growth is an accomplishment. Each piece of learning that takes place is an accomplishment.

This same data is posted on display inside the glass case across the hall from the office at Riverside Elementary School. Also, be aware that individual child/student fall and winter data, as well as grade-level expectations for throughout the year, was sent home via Friday folders prior to conferences. If you did not receive these scores, please contact your child's classroom teacher.