When the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant was first introduced to schools, it was clear that teacher leader roles were not intended to be career-long positions. The intent is that teachers would serve in leadership roles and then, in time, take what they learned from that role back to the classroom to further impact students. This year, Sherrie Collins, one of our coaches decided it was time to take what she learned about planning and implementing research-based strategies, best-practices in caring for the whole child, and making data informed decisions to the sixth grade classroom. Sherrie's impact on students and teachers will continue in her next role.
The Class of 2019 at Benton Community had an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishment of high school graduation. As a community, our school district worked together to coordinate an experience for both our seniors, our younger students, and our staff to celebrate together.
Our senior Bobcats had a chance to walk the halls of all our buildings in the district one more time as a class. During this experience we visited 4 elementary buildings and finished the experience at the middle/high school where they currently attend. We hope this experience allowed our seniors to know how proud we are of this accomplishment in their life. We also hope that this experience allowed our youth to see the final goal of education in action!
Graduation is the beginning of new opportunities for our students. As educators in the system, we are so proud to have played a small role in helping these students accomplish the life they have chosen for themselves. Good luck Class of 2019! It's a great day to be a Bobcat!
*This post is intended to accompany podcast episode #6 "The Bobcat Experience: A Student Perspective". This can be found on the "Podcast" tab at the top of this page.
This winter was a rough one, I think we can all collectively agree on that! Missing 12 days changed more than just our instructional scope and sequence, it pushed our system to go deeper through May and into June with students. This intensifies the age-old challenge of how to combat the “May Slide”. There is no denying that May is a tricky time to keep your foot on the accelerator to optimize student opportunities for learning, but our kids deserve that...as Bobcats we believe this. One way instructional coaches can provide support is to take a page out of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and “keep first things first” (please see the linked video below). As I think through this lens, I think about how I intentionally plan my week to be responsive to my big rocks (teacher and district needs).
So...here are my big rocks for May!
These are my big rocks that I will continue to push myself to honor and prioritize through the end of the year. Feel free to share with me what your big rocks are and how you push yourself while supporting others through the end of the year.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrinsically motivated to learn. When I was young, I remember spending a countless number of hours learning as much as I could about the Titanic, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the branches of government. As a mother, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, friend, and community volunteer, I’m constantly trying to learn how I “add value” or can learn and contribute to overall well-being of others in each role.
As a lead learner in a school district, learning occurs on the daily. Some days, the topics I’m learning about are big and heavy. I’d include ESSA, system cultures, and second-order change in this category. I’m also learning about people, who my colleagues are personally and professionally, and how I can bring my best for all Bobcats. I also learn things that are “quick wins” but vital to serving successfully in my role. ISASP sticker labels, PO account codes, and the bell schedule seem to be ideas I’ve put in this category as of late.
I believe everyone should be learning on the daily. However, I believe this is especially true for those leading learners. We should all be prepared to answer that question at any time. As I think and reflect on this idea, I have been considering what I’ve learned most recently.
Last weekend, I finished a book focused on the gifts introverts have to offer the world. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a text that analyzes and synthesizes research done on personality tendencies and how those tendencies impact society, relationships, and even the educational experience a person has.
What I’ve learned and what I’m thinking about as a result of the learning…
Nature and nurture both play a role in whether a person is more introverted or extroverted. As I think about this as a parent and as a teacher, I wonder about the experience introverted children have at school, on the ball diamond, basketball court, lunch table, or even at recess. What can I do as a parent to support healthy risk taking and personal growth in my child while honoring the gifts he is able to share with the world from his introverted lens?
People are naturally more likely to follow the most dominant in the room, regardless of the quality of their ideas. Society favors people with extroverted tendencies consciously and unconsciously. What does this look like in my life personally and professionally? What did this look like in my classroom? How did I support students who would identify as introverts or extroverts? How are other teachers supporting the needs of both types of learners and how can I help highlight those practices?
Cain wrote another book on introversion geared towards adolescents. I’m excited to read this with Carson this summer.
The Power of Introverts TED Talk
Once I finished Quiet, I started Culturize by Jimmy Casas. I’ll share key takeaways when I’m finished!
“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Our district has been on a journey the last 3 years learning how to function in Data Teams. One thing I have found to better the health of any system I’ve ever been part of is to revisit why you ever started. In this post I hope you gain clarity around your “why” in order to push forward to the next level along your Data Team journey.
There were two main “why’s” for the district when we chose Data Teams.
So let’s take this next step together. Each building has a designated time reserved for Data Team Leaders. That is OUR protected and prioritized time to collaborate and build our knowledge and facilitation skills to take our Data Team meetings to the next level. Reach out to your Instructional Coaches and let them know your specific needs. This input really helps us plan purposefully to maximize our time together.
One piece I challenge each of you to bring to your next Data Team Leader meeting is a simple status report. Tell the group where your team is currently within the Data Team process and what your next steps are. By just sharing this status report it allows you to mentally prepare for your next CLDT time with the help of your peers. Using collaboration to prepare to facilitate a collaborative group...GENIUS!
So let’s take this plunge together. Our kids deserve us to take our Data Teams deeper, but we deserve it as educators too!
As an Instructional Coach, one of the skills (or practices) I have refined and strengthened over the course of the last 4 years is my sense of reflection and its importance. The benefits include but, are not limited to; growth, confidence, more defined goal setting, an increase in vulnerability, and a stronger sense of team and collaboration.
Reflection is something I know many of us do throughout our day, maybe without even knowing it but, when you have a reflective partner, the quality (or depth) at which you can reflect is very different.
One of the ways an Instructional Coach can support teachers is through being a reflective partner.
If you look up any kind of inquiry cycle, data team process, or decision scale...you will find reflection as part of those processes. Only through reflecting can you gain a true understanding of where you need to go.
Because reflection allows us to see the steps and actions that have gotten us to the present in order to know what must be done (or redone or changed) in order to move us forward.
Having an Instructional Coach as a reflective partner can give teachers new insight, ask themselves different questions, and may allow for teachers to see things in a different way. Through the training received in various types of coaching (especially Cognitive Coaching) we have learned so many different forms of questioning that leads to deeper understanding and deeper reflection.
As a reflective partner your coach can have many roles: Listener, collaborator, co-planner, processing partner, motivator, role player, brainstormer, empathizer, and supporter. What this partnership looks like is based on the goals and/or needs of the teacher. The main goal in a reflective coaching cycle is that the teacher is able to learn, grow, and refine their practice, acknowledge all the aspects of their actions and progress, in order to move forward and be successful in what they have chosen to identify as their goals for themselves and their students.
“One of the most important benefits of reaching out to others is learning that the experiences that make us feel the most alone are actually universal” - Brené Brown
In the book Dare to Lead, author Brené Brown talks about the importance of resisting the shame so many leaders carry on their shoulders. As leaders we often feel the shame of not doing enough or being enough for the people we are attempting to lead. Being a leader is sometimes a very lonely job. One way that Brown encourages leaders to resist the shame of not being “enough” is by reaching out to others. By connecting with other leaders and colleagues we start to realize that we are not alone.
Many other people feel like they are struggling through their days and just doing everything they can to stay a float. As teachers, we often find ourselves drowning in lesson plans, homework, quizzes, tests, the list goes on and on. We are doing everything we can to just be ready for the next lesson, the next day. We feel less than, not enough, alone. By connecting with other teachers, other leaders, we can start to see this feeling of not enough is really universal. We all feel this way! We all know that we are imperfect leaders, imperfect teachers who are just doing the best we can. Brown said it best when she said, “Either we are all normal or we are all weird. Either way, it’s not just you.”
Isolation cultivates shame. As leaders, we need to resist isolation and seek comfort in the imperfection of our lives. Get out of your classroom, get out of your office and go talk with other colleagues to help you realize you are not alone! Find your tribe! Those people who are willing to admit their imperfection are the people you need to be a part of your inner circle or as Brown calls them, your “square squad”. These are the people you are the most vulnerable with and the people that help you realize you are not alone. As a leader and a teacher you are more than enough for your colleagues and your students.
Benton Community School District will be hosting the 5th annual BCEdCamp on Tuesday, June 25 at the Benton Community High School. BCEdCamp was created by the Teacher Leadership Team as an opportunity to network with other leaders and to learn together. Over the years, the vision of this day has changed each year as the attendees develop the topics for discussion. The event has grown each year, and we hope to have a large group again this year.
An EdCamp is a free learning opportunity that is open to all educators. EdCamps are participant-driven events; the schedule for the day’s topics is determined on that day by the participants. Participants can post a question for discussion or suggest a topic that they want to share about or learn about. EdCamps are not about planned presentations, but each center will have conversations about the topic. Teachers share information and experiences with each other. There is not necessarily an “expert” in the room; educators collaborate and solve problems together. Participants are free to choose the sessions that best fit their needs and can walk in and out of sessions as needed.
Attending BCEdCamp is a great way to reflect on the past school year and to get energized for the upcoming year. BCEdCamp is open to all educators but does tend to have a focus on educational leadership. This is an opportunity for Principals, Teacher Leaders, and Instructional Coaches, and other leaders to learn from one another. Some topics that could be discussed are instructional frameworks, coaching models, ISASP, ESSA, classroom-level leaders, professional learning structures, personal development, blended learning, and collaboration structures.
Remember, the schedule of topics is set that day, so if you have a burning question or something you are eager to share with others, this is a great opportunity. Whether you are a new Instructional Coach or a seasoned leader, BCEdCamp will be a chance to network and learn from each other. The Benton Teacher Leadership Team works hard to make this a fun day of learning. Snacks and lunch will be available on site.
This is a free event! For more information or to register, go to https://tinyurl.com/bcedcamp19
This blog post is intended to accompany a podcast episode. Check out the "Remember Why You Started" podcast episode at the page linked above.
There are so many names that come to mind when I think about the people that helped guide me to be the leader I am today. I have been so fortunate in life to have a great tribe around me. I come from an amazing community that has always struck the perfect balance of finding ways to challenge me while always providing the necessary support. I went to a college that invested in me as a person and a future educator. I have the best friends that anyone could ask for. But above all, I come from an extraordinary family. The people that I am blessed enough to call family have influenced my every decision in life. In this entry I want to single out my mom and dad, these two individuals are hands-down the most influential people in helping me become the best version of myself.
My dad is the hardest working person I have ever met. He commits 100% to whatever project he starts, whether it is his or someone else’s. He never operates from the mindset of just simply “getting things done”. When he commits, he gives you his best. Growing up he had one piece of advice on replay for my sisters and I, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”. That has stuck with me through life. As a leader, this mindset has helped me build trusting relationships with others. When I give you my word or join you on a journey, I am with you 100%. I will forever be grateful for my dad for instilling this mindset in me at a very young age.
My mom is the one who encouraged me to chase my passions in life. She wore so many hats for me growing up, but the one she was most proud of was being my number 1 cheerleader. She never missed a game while I was in high school. She knew that I loved the sport of basketball and told me that I was going to coach it someday because I was fueled by working with kids. So, low and behold, when I started coaching for Benton, my mom was, again, my loud and proud cheerleader in the bleachers for all home games! This summer she told me she was so proud of me because I was doing exactly what I always wanted to do in life...teach at Benton Community, create opportunities for other kids like my teachers did for me, and raise my boys to be involved in the community. If you are passionate about what you do, you are charged by something more powerful than money. Your jolt comes from the heart. My mom was passionate about finding what makes me tick and supporting that. I hope that I can find and support whatever makes others tick and support them through their journey.
In the first year of teacher leadership, instructional coaching was a job that I knew very little about as a classroom teacher. I had never been coached instructionally and I wasn’t exactly sure what this could or should look like. When I started to research and read about the vision for instructional coaching, I soon realized that I did, indeed, have an instructional coach. Her name was Sandi Gibney.
Sandi was my teaching partner for 17 years and was one of the great educators that have influenced me as a teacher. Although our personalities were very different, our common belief in what good teaching and learning should be was the thread that always brought us together. As I think back to the many coaching sessions that Sandi and I had, it often happened over a bag of popcorn, a morning chat, or a hallway discussion between classes. During these times, I remember Sandi being one of the best listeners I have ever experienced. Sandi was so intentional about listening that she never multi-tasked. She would always stop whatever she was doing when I would come in the room and give me her full attention. She would ask questions to clarify her understanding and give me time to reflect on what I just said. It was through this listening that she often guided me to my next steps without once telling me what she thought I should do. She was a master instructional coach.
When I moved into the role of instructional coach, I found myself channeling my inner Sandi. Listening without multi-tasking was so difficult. Asking and not telling was a challenge for me. Although these are still things I work at during conversations, I remember the way it felt to be coached this way. Sandi nurtured the young educator that I was and helped mold me into the teacher I wanted to become. She was my teaching partner, my role model, and my friend. I feel so lucky to have had her in my life and I can only hope that I can be half this person for someone else.
I have had so many influences in my life, that have contributed to the type of leader, strengthened my leadership qualities, and enabled me to set goals as a leader...that it’s hard to narrow this to just one person. It helps me to think of the qualities I feel a leader should have and look at who contributed most to the qualities I have, am growing, or hope to have as a leader.
A few of the qualities that come to mind are; confidence in my abilities, reflective, work effort, problem solving, forward thinking, flexible, ability to work in a team, perspective, and independent. I feel like a leader should be a go getter who can manage many things (organized) and be a solution finder. I also feel like a leader should think first to find answers rather than always look for others to “help” them.
When I look over this list the first person that comes to mind is my father. While we did not always see eye-to-eye as I grew up (I will be honest, he was/is a very stubborn and sometimes scary man) I respected him, his opinion, and did what I needed to do...even when I didn’t like it. My father taught me about the value of hard work, figuring things out myself, BEING myself, and to “stop and think”. My father also taught me how to speak my truth...and how NOT to speak my truth.
When I look over the characteristics I listed and the things others have done to build me as a leader (things my father did not) do for me, the words reflective, forward thinking, working as a team, and perspective stand out. My father was VERY independent and I am not sure I ever even heard him say the word “team”. One of the most important qualities a leader can have (in my opinion) is a reflective nature and that can sometimes mean looking at yourself for all that your are...even when it’s something that needs “refining”.
After my father, there are so many various people who have instilled other leadership qualities in me. From students to friends, to teachers and principals, and ultimately the leadership team I have a part of for the last 4 years.
When I think about how these people, and what they gave me, influences my coaching practice...the better question is, “How do they not?” I set goals based on the qualities I feel I need to work on, look to my peers for guidance on what I may not see and when I need a partner in reflection (a different perspective). Their influence impacts the effort I put into my work because I would want them to be proud and many of them have left their voice in my head...which means I carry what I hear them say with me as I make decisions, have other conversations, or with what I do in my practice.
My hope is that the time I have spent in this leadership position has allowed me to pass this influence onto others and impact them as leaders in their lives.
In October, the Iowa Department of Education released the Iowa Digital Learning Plan. This plan focuses on digital learning as it relates to five key components: Leadership, Teaching, Learning, Assessment, and Infrastructure. At Benton Community, we gathered a team of teachers o focus on this work.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers, students, and families took a survey around digital learning. The BC Digital Learning Team came together and spent most of their first meeting and part of their second meeting really digging into the survey results. The survey data helped the team see where Benton Community needed to celebrate and where Benton Community needed to grow. Access to devices and high speed internet were definite areas of celebration. When looking at the results for places to grow, the survey pointed the team in the direction of work on the 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The team had continued conversation about technology and its purpose. No one wanted to use technology for the sake of using technology. This led the group to more discussion around what “digital learning” really means.
Digital learning is learning supported by digital tools and resources. Examples of digital learning include online learning, blended learning, adaptive assessment solutions, and open educational resources. The focus of digital learning begins and ends with the learning experience of the student. That experience starts with the instructional practices a teacher uses in the classroom. Digital tools and resources should be a part of the tools available to teachers to support their instructional practice. As Michael Fullan (2017) eloquently stated, “Pedagogy is the driver and technology is the accelerator.” A teacher’s instructional practices are enhanced and learning is transformed when digital learning is used to support, or accelerate, those practices. (Iowa Digital Learning Plan)
The state has developed an Iowa Digital Learning Plan that was rolled out this fall. In this video, Dr. Wise, shares information about the development of the plan including the stakeholders involved in creating the plan. He also makes connections to Iowa’s Future Ready Iowa goals. The Benton Community Digital Learning Plan is modeled after the state plan. All of the key components of the state plan have been included and connected to the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel.
The Benton Community Digital Learning Plan is broken down by the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel. Again, the BC Digital Learning Team did not want to talk about using technology only to use more technology. The conversation really centered around the idea that technology needs to leverage or support what is happening in classrooms, not replace it. Also, the work of the team did not focus on devices, types of devices, etc. Instead of getting into a device conversation, the team really focused on how technology fits into what teaching and learning needs to look like across Benton Community.
Each spoke of the Bobcat Wheel is featured in the plan, including a definition that describes each spoke’s focus area and additional information on how students and teachers can use digital tools to grow in the skill area. Working from a common definition helped guide how students and teachers can use digital tools to support the spoke or skill being addressed.
Both the Iowa Digital Learning Plan and Benton Community Digital Learning Plan contain examples of digital learning. Benton Community is included in the Iowa Digital Learning Plan under the Leadership section. The story in the Iowa DLP focuses on the #BCEdCamp hosted each summer. The Benton Digital Learning Plan includes local stories of how our teachers are promoting the skills addressed in the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel using digital learning tools. There are a variety of stories included in the plan. Each Bobcat Story has a link to additional information as well as additional resources. The BC Digital Learning Team recognizes that these are just a few examples, and more stories will be added over time.
After hearing about the Benton Community Digital Learning Plan, teachers engaged in a morning full of opportunities and choice tied to digital learning and the spokes of the Bobcat Wheel. Session information and resources can be found below.
BC Digital Learning Plan (Also accessible from the district website)
BC Digital Learning Presentation