Celebrating, Reflecting, and Sharing the Story of Riverside Elementary

Friday, January 30, 2015

Student Involved Conferences - Rd. 2 (February '15)

Last fall, we tried something new with how we conducted conferences at Riverside Elementary School by inviting our students to play a part in them. After collecting feedback from parents and teachers regarding our first round of conferences, overall, it seemed to be very positive experience for all involved. As a result, we are very excited about our second round of conferences taking place Monday, February 9th and Wednesday, February 11th.

While we are continually working for our students to have more ownership of their learning, we believe it is essential that they have a place at the table when conferences take place. We are, again, encouraging you to bring your child with you to his/her conference so that we can continue conducting student involved conferences. The teacher will remain as the facilitator of the conversation, while actively involving both the parent(s) and the student.

"Students - when given the chance - can prove remarkably insightful about the quality of their work and what they need to do to improve it."
‘Student Involved Conferences’ ASCD Education Update

"The conferences are about the children and their learning. They are about where the children have come from and where they are going. They are about how their parents and I can support their learning journey. It only makes sense for them to be there, too."

- Kathy Cassidy, ‘Student-Led Parent Conferences: How They Work in My Primary Classroom”

The process for each conference will remain as follows:
  1. The teacher will ask parents if they have any questions/comments.
  2. The teacher will review the process of the conference.
  3. The student, then the parent, then the teacher share three strengths the student has demonstrated as a learner.
  4. The student, then the parent, then the teacher share two areas the student needs to work on as a learner.
  5. The student articulates goals (no more than two or three) for future work (with assistance, as needed, from the parents and the teacher). Each party pledges specific kinds of support for the goals.
  6. The teacher answers questions, recaps, and concludes the conference.

Please begin to give thought to the strengths and areas for growth that you feel your child has as a learner, as well as how you can contribute to their academic improvement (document link). Benchmark testing in the areas of math, reading, and writing, has concluded and you can expect to receive those those results today (via Friday folders), Friday, January 30th. This will be information that may help you when thinking about your child’s strengths and areas for growth.

This process for conferences is still new, and like anything that is new it will not be perfect. Nonetheless, we are confident that with practice implementing this process in the fall that it will be improved this time around. We appreciate your patience as we continue to implement this change, as we truly believe that it will benefit our students.

Conferences will still run 15 minutes, and in an effort to respect everyone's time we will be vigilant of our time restrictions. If there are other "issues" that you would like to have addressed, we definitely want to offer you the opportunity for a traditional meeting with the teacher. Please let your child's teacher know if this is the case.

One of the things that we are changing for this round of conferences, based on the feedback that we received last fall, is that we are moving conferences up one-hour. This February, our conferences will be held from 3 to 7pm. We are making this change to accommodate our younger students that would have difficulty attending a later conference on a school night. Of course, we will work with you to best accommodate your schedule if you need to have a conference that is outside of these time frames.

At the conclusion of this upcoming round of conferences, we will, again, allow you the opportunity to give us feedback regarding your conference experience so that we can continue to make improvements to our process.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student Leaders pt.4 - 2nd Quarter SAT

I've talked at length, this year, about our Student Advisory Teams at Riverside Elementary School. How we've created two teams (one made-up of kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students, and another made-up of third, fourth, and fifth grade students) of student leaders who are given the opportunity to advocate for changes that they'd like to see at Riverside Elementary. As we approach the conclusion of the second quarter, I wanted to share some of the major contributions that this team has been responsible for implementing.


  • Expressed a desire to have a pajama day. They drafted the note that was sent home communicating this.
  • As a result of the positive feedback that we received from our pajama day, we are having a red and green color day on the last day of school before winter break. They, also, drafted the note that will be sent home communicating this.
  • Planned and announced a chunk of 15-20 minutes where everyone in our school was to stop, drop, and read.
  • Requested opportunities to work with the older students in our building. This led to the younger students being paired with older students to assist them in drafting their letters that they were writing to Santa Claus for our local newspaper(s)
  • Our goal is to pair all of our classrooms within our school to consistently and regularly allow opportunities for our younger and older students to read and write with each other (much like our kindergarten and fifth grade classes have already been doing)

3-5 SAT

  • Creating and planning a YouTube channel. This is definitely a work in progress. (The members of this team will have the option to continue to regularly meet to plan how and what we share to YouTube.) So far, we have added videos of our students competing in an ice cube challenge that took place during our mindset assemblies for students grades two through five and birthday announcements. Going forward we've talked about how we can use this as a platform to enhance how we make our announcements. We've also had initial discussion about how we could use YouTube to provide students the space to share about the books that they are reading.
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    • Riverside Elementary - Highland CSD

I think that the most satisfying thing about the work that these Student Advisory Teams have accomplished during our second quarter has been their originality. Going into working with these teams, I was a little worried that they might simply want to duplicate the work of our first teams - plan and run an assembly and/or make some sort of a video. That did not happen. These teams had their own ideas. They had their own very good ideas.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Minion Reasons To Be Thankful

The other day, there was student work in the hallway that caught my eye. I asked to participate in their creation. And then I asked about allowing the students the opportunity to publish their work via my blog in-order to enhance student voice and increase the reach of their audience. What follows is the work of our students in Mrs. Sulhoff's second grade classroom.

I am thankful for the teachers that keep us safe. Taylor

I am thankful for good food.

I am thankful for teachers.

I am  thankful for lots of reading. Bri

I am thankful for the support at school.

I am thankful for the people that provide us lunch.

I am thankful for art. Cayden

I am thankful for learning. Aliscea

I am thankful for people who help me. Olivia

I am thankful the teachers.  Carsen

I am thankful for teachers. Pearl

I am thankful for the kids. Payton

I am thankful for a clean school. Brixton

I am thankful for...
  1. Teachers
  2. Learning
  3. Safety
  4. Art
  5. Math

I'm thankful for the healthy food. Ayden

I am thankful for learning. Quincy

I am thankful for teachers because they help us learn! Hailey Netser

I am thankful for being safe. Graci

I'm thankful for P.E. because we get exercise. Wade

Thanks, Mrs. Sulhoff's class, for your awesome thinking and writing!

Friday, November 14, 2014


"I can't do that."

"I give up."

"I'm not a good writer."

How many of you have children and/or students that have said these things? How many of you have said these things yourself? 

These are statements that come from a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that intelligence is something that is determined at birth.  A fixed mindset causes us to give up easily and become frustrated with challenges. Having a fixed mindset can be an obstacle for learning. 

Contrary to a fixed mindset is a growth mindset. A growth mindset causes us to embrace mistakes and challenges as learning opportunities. A growth mindset is ideal for learning because of the belief that intelligence is something that is developed through hard work and effort. As a result, we are attempting to establish a growth mindset throughout Riverside Elementary School.

Several years ago, I read Dr. Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. As an educator, as a parent, and as a person I loved what this book had to say. My biggest takeaway after reading the book (for the first time) was to make every effort to no longer tell any child/student how smart he/she is.

I have started to re-read Mindset for a book study that I'm involved in with my Highland CSD administrative team, this fall.

Also this year, during guidance lessons, our students have been learning about mindset with our guidance counselor, Ms. DeLacy. She has been incorporating picture books such as The Dot and The Most Magnificent Thing into her teaching about mindset. It is neat to see the impact that these lessons are having on our students! Just earlier today, while playing some online math games with our third grade students, I made the mistake of stating how a task that was presented to me was impossible. I regretted my words after I was called out by one of the students who told me, "Mr. Ewald, that's a fixed mindset." 

And this week, Ms. DeLacy and myself planned and delivered some mindset professional development for the teachers at Riverside Elementary School. Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to our professional development, we are excited to be going forward with a mindset book study at our school. 

The following links are some of the resources that were shared to support the understanding of mindset and the implications that it can have on learning and teaching for our teachers: 

There are almost an infinite amount of hits that return from a simple Google search re. Mindset. My (current) favorite is a blog posted to the Huffington Post written by the founder of the Khan Academy, Salman Khan Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart

There is great news shared, in Salman Khan's Huffington Post blog (linked, above), about how, "The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself for example knowing that brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right can begin to change a person's mindset."

I'd like to conclude with something for you to reflect upon. Think about something that you used to be poor at, and are now good at. Think about what happened in-order to shift from being poor at something to being good at that same something. Chances are it was hard work and/or practice. That is an example of the growth mindset.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Leaders pt.3 - SAT Accomplishments

Our inaugural Student Advisory Teams have concluded their assignments. Prior to the formation of these teams, my only hopes were that we would 1) begin to develop students to take-on leadership roles within our school, and 2) begin to give students a voice in regards to the decisions that we make that impact our school. Unfortunately, I did not have a clear, detailed plan as to how we would accomplish either of those two things. Nonetheless, throughout the past two months, it has been an absolute pleasure to watch these teams of students brainstorm ideas and plan actions that could improve our school.

The Student Advisory Team comprised of kindergarten, first, and second grade students decided early-on that they wanted to find a way to minimize the distractions that occur in the classroom while students are on the playground at recess. What follows is the skit/video - A Recess Rules Reminder - that the K-2 Student Advisory Team created to share with each of the classrooms in our school.

Our third through fifth grade Student Advisory Team had a larger laundry list of upgrades that they wanted to see take place. Amongst the things that we were able to accomplish:

  • Announcing student birthdays, weekly, over the intercom
  • Allowing fifth grade students to get the first opportunity for seconds at lunch
  • No longer prohibiting students from talking with their peers at lunch (we even incorporated music playing in the background for our students during lunch)
  • Having more assemblies, which they planned and then led an assembly regarding caring for all of our K-5 students
  • (They wanted to raise money for new recess equipment, but I informed them that our Elementary Support Organization was writing a grant as well as planning to use some of the money raised from our walk-a-thon for that purpose)

My hope is that these students will continue to take-on leadership roles within our school despite no longer being a part of our Student Advisory Teams.

I am excited about the two new Student Advisory Teams that will form within the next week.

Like last time, the plan will be to start by asking the new members of our student advisory teams to begin thinking about what they would change about our school if they had a magic wand with such powers. From there we will see what kinds of ideas they formulate that we can explore implementing.

Because after all, this school belongs to our students. It should be our obligation to make every effort to make our school the place that our students envision.
The Caring is Contagious poster that was designed to have every student in the school sign as their pledge to be caring.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Student Involved Conferences - Feedback

As most of you know, this fall, we upgraded the format of our conferences to a student-involved parent-teacher conference. Allowing our students a seat at the table - giving them a voice and then allowing them to hear the expectations, feedback, etc. of his/her teacher and parent(s) is a big shift. This change came with some negative feedback, but overall the response that I received was very positive. Personally, I feel as though our conferences were a huge success.

What follows is the data that was compiled from the feedback that we received after our conferences.

At the time of conferences, our K-5 student population was 198 students
The teachers at Riverside Elementary School conducted 194 conferences this fall

  • 98% of our students had a conference

Of the 194 conferences, our students were involved in 183 conferences

  • 94% of our conferences involved the student

12 teachers provided me with feedback after our fall student-involved parent-teacher conferences.
Of those teachers that provided feedback...

  • 92% felt that having students at the conference was better
  • 100% felt that the process for the new conference format was both clear and effective
  • 50% felt that 15-minutes was an adequate amount of time for each conference
  • 50% felt that more than 15-minutes was needed for each conference

62 parents provided me with feedback after our fall student-involved parent-teacher conferences.
Of those parents that provided feedback...
  • 98% had their child attend his/her student-involved parent-teacher conference

  • 60% felt that having students at the conference was better
  • 25% felt that having students at the conference was no different
  • 15% felt that having students at the conference was no worse
  • 100% felt that the process for the new conference format was clear
  • 89% felt that the process for the new conference format was effective
  • 56% felt that 15-minutes was an adequate amount of time for each conference
  • 44% felt that more than 15-minutes was needed for each conference
This process was new, and like anything that is new it was not perfect. Some of the things that we plan to take into consideration as we plan conferences for the future (based off of feedback received as well as personal reflection) include:

  • Extending the length of the conference
  • Holding conferences at an earlier time of night, especially for our younger students
  • Increasing vigilance regarding the conference schedule
  • Increasing vigilance regarding the length of the conference
  • Including a transition time before and after each conference
  • Clarifying the strengths, areas to improve upon, goals document that was sent home prior to conferences
  • Giving parents more of a voice in regards to scheduling their conferences
  • Providing some form of childcare during conference times

Each conference was an opportunity for everyone to practice this new format. Over time, practice leads to improvement. We are confident that this process will continue to improve as teachers, students, and parents continue to gain experience being involved in these conferences. Your patience through the growing pains is appreciated. This is something that we truly believe will benefit our students.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Student Leaders pt.2 - A Place at the Table

Our newly established Student Advisory Teams have met twice. (A reminder that we have one team comprised of kindergarten through second grade students, and another team that is third-fifth grade students - see 'Student Leaders,' which I originally blogged about on September 1st.) While we haven't accomplished much, yet, we have had some really good discussion and the students have generated some great ideas. These teams are literally giving our students a place at the table.

When I first informed the students that they had been selected for these teams, I gave them the assignment of beginning to think about what they would change about our school if they had a magic wand with such powers. At our first official meeting, we brainstormed ideas of the things that they wanted to see changed. We didn't rule anything out. All of their ideas were left on the table.

After two meetings, the first one spent brainstorming and the second one dedicated to narrowing down their list, the 3rd-5th grade team's list includes:

  • Reducing  the restrictions that students have re. conversing with their peers during lunch
  • Improving their lunch procedures/schedule
  • Raising money for new playground equipment and more technology 
  • Announcing birthdays, as well as other important events/reminders at the end of the day
  • Desire for more assemblies that their Student Advisory Team will help plan/lead

It was so neat to listen to their ideas, as almost all of them were things that were already in the works!

Now I would be lying if I said that the Kindergarten-2nd grade team was being as productive as our 3rd-5th grade team. Nonetheless, I believe that the process is valuable for these students that are involved. It is beneficial for them to know that they have a voice when it comes to improving our school. It is beneficial for them to think about the things that they can do to improve our school. And it is beneficial for them to see how change is a process that takes time and work.

With all of that being said, this group of kindergarteners, first, and second graders has decided to focus on limiting the amount of distractions that occur inside our classrooms from outside (the major distraction being other kids playing at recess near classroom windows). I'm fairly impressed.

I realize that this is, unfortunately, a small percentage of our students that we are enabling with student voice. However, it is a starting point; a starting point that I hope to build upon. After all, Rome was not built in one day. Nonetheless, the excitement that I see from the involved students leads to my growing belief that this may, in fact, be an optimal method for beginning to increase our students' sense of ownership for what happens within the walls of their school.