Our Creating Cultures of Thinking book study has been a great opportunity for staff from all four buildings to learn and grow together! Over the course of the 17-18 school year, 34 district employees have met monthly for a culminating 306 hours of professional development. That is over two work weeks of time the group has devoted to professional learning and that doesn’t include the time spent actually reading the text or sharing with staff at building meetings. In addition, many staff members across the district have gone out of their comfort zone to try new thinking strategies. For each one of you who helped and participated, thank you!
The last topic we are studying during the month of May is the environments of our buildings and classrooms. George Couros asks:
The displays on the walls, materials utilized during lessons, and even the arrangement of desks send a powerful message to students about learning and classroom expectations. As we finish the 17-18 school year, imagine that you are a student in your own classroom. Would you want to spend your day there? As we clear out our spaces and prepare to leave for summer break, what might you be able to change for the 18-19 school year? How can you rearrange your space? How can you display student work? Several of our own district teachers have scraped their teacher desk and more and more classrooms aren’t even using traditional seating. We spend a lot of time here…make it an exciting space!
Finally, as we celebrate teacher appreciation week, thank you for your time, talent, effort, and always going above and beyond (even when you don’t feel like it!) to do what’s best for kids. I feel fortunate that I received a Tusky Valley education and several people reading this are responsible for shaping who I am today. The days may be long and you may be excited to start your summer, but don’t ever forget the important role you play and the difference you are making in countless lives.
Best wishes for a strong finish to the 2017-2018 school year! Enjoy your summer!
Last night was our monthly book study for Cultures of Thinking. We spent the afternoon talking about relationships and interactions both with peers and with our students (See attached file). The middle school team did an excellent job presenting great strategies and activities that foster relationship building, and members of the book study had a great time getting to better know each other. I wanted to share one of the lines from the reading that struck me and that our middle school staff emphasized:
"Do not think that because a child cannot read a text, he cannot read you. Children can tell right off those people who believe in them and those who patronize them. They can tell once they come into the room" (Ritchhart, 2015, p. 202).
Mrs. Knowles went on to challenge us to think about our most challenging student, and over the course of the next week, spend 2 minutes daily talking and getting to know that student. I'd like to pass that challenge on to you. Think of one (or more) student(s) and spend two minutes each day being present in their life and getting to know who they are. Then, share this experience at your next building meeting and discuss how behavior, attitudes, and actions changed. John Hattie's work emphasizes that expectations and relationships are powerful influential factors in a child's academic achievement and growth.
Thank you for continuing to "show up" each day for our students and your continued work in doing what's best for the kids we serve!
Happy Friday, and Go Trojans!
Ritchart (2015), citing Ravitch (2009), states, “The single biggest problem in education is that no one agrees on why we educate. Faced with this lack of consensus, policymakers define good education as higher test scores" (p. 15). April kicks off a slew of state tests to measure how well our students are performing. Although they are something we are required to do, they are not our focus, and they do not tell our story. They don’t tell the hours of lesson planning, out of the box thinking, or the creativity that you pour into your classroom each day. Students won’t remember the assignments in your class, but they will remember the relationship you built with them. They will remember how you challenged their thinking, made them apply their learning, and if it was an environment where they wanted to be.
We don’t need to focus on test scores, but we do need to ensure our practice, “...changes learners in deep, profound, and lasting ways” (Weimer 2013, p. 25). George Couros states, “If students leave school less curious than when they started we have failed them” (p. 6). When we focus on doing the right thing for our students, not on test scores, everything else will fall into line as students grow, achievement rises, and we have graduates prepared for the world in which we live.
What are students curious about in your class?
Read through the following scenarios:
When we talk about “teaching to the test,” the initial focus is on the “score.” Serve the learner by helping them do well on the test. But what if the student did well on the test, but none of the content was remembered or understood a week later? The “score” trumped the learner, and ultimately, the learner didn’t benefit.
The test still lingers there. But you understand the learner in front of you, start personalizing some aspects of the learning to what they are interested in, and they started to dive deep into the content that they are “tested” on. The learner can do well on the test AND understand the learning on a deeper level.
Which scenario describes your classroom? We are in the last nine weeks of the 17/18 school year. What is one thing you can do differently? What new strategy are you willing to try? How can you change the next assignment or assessment to take student learning to the next level?
Take a risk. Try something new. Make students curious. Tell your story.
Last week I ran across the TED talk by Rita Pierson called called "Every Kid Needs a Champion." It had been years since I initially watched the video, and it inspired me to reshare it with you. It all boils down to relationships. Relationships with our students, our peers, and our community. Nobody here signed up to be an educator to worry about testing, school safety, education reform, or the countless other happenings that break our hearts. But we did sign up to make a difference in the lives of the students who we would encounter. Every child needs a champion.
Thank you for the countless hours, unnoticed work, and perseverance in creating the very best learning environments for our students. Thank you for building a culture of thinking where students are valued, relationships are built, and high expectations prepare students for incredible opportunities. Testing season is almost here, and although it's a stressful time for students and teachers alike, let us remember our focus: Students...all that they are, all that they can become! "This job is tough but we can do it. We're educators and we were born to make a difference."
2018 Mathematics Model Curriculum
In the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, Principal Jacobs famously tells Mr. Holland, “A teacher is two jobs. Fill young minds with knowledge, yes. But more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn't go to waste. Now, I don't know what you're doing with the knowledge, Mr. Holland, but as a compass, you're stuck. While Mr. Holland is offended at the audacity of her comment, somewhere over the next few years he comes to realize how true her words are. The movie spans the rest of his career which leads to a culminating scene in which hundreds of former students come to pay tribute to him and the difference he made in their lives.
All of us are Mr. Holland at some point in his life. Maybe you feel as he did in his early career and view our jobs as just getting through material. Or perhaps you have found your groove and have seen first hand how building relationships and connecting curriculum to students’ lives plays a vital role in student success. Some of you may find yourself at the end of his career and thinking like he did, “You work for 30 years because you think that what you do makes a difference, you think it matters to people, but then you wake up one morning and find out, well no, you've made a little error there, you're expendable.” Rest assured he finds the last quote to be incorrect when a successful graduate stands and says:
Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I
have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. Rumor had
it he was always working on this symphony of his. And this was going to make
him famous, rich, probably both. But Mr. Holland isn't rich and he isn't famous, at
least not outside of our little town. So it might be easy for him to think himself a
failure. But he would be wrong, because I think that he's achieved a success far
beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that
you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are
your symphony Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We
are the music of your life.
Where is your compass? Educational Research (2003) states, “Research shows that effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement.” Hattie (2015) has research that shows that the educators role in a student’s life and and teacher efficacy are the top indicators of student achievement. The lessons you design, the interactions that occur with your students, the strategies you use, and the feedback you provide matter. YOU matter! Tusky Valley is where it’s at because of the people that show up, not just in the physical sense, but those that “show up” in our students lives and set goals to continue to evolve as an educator. At the beginning of this year we started off by asking what we wanted graduates of Tusky Valley to look like. Many of those qualities don’t come from state standards or textbooks but by modeling and intentionality. Don’t be afraid to change the way we’ve always done something or think that we have to wait until next school year to try something new. Look for opportunities for growth, take a risk, and change a life! We must not allow our compass to get stuck by laying blame on things we can’t control or making excuses. Build the environment and culture you know is necessary to continue doing what’s best for kids- we’re here to help. Our book study continues to thrive as we discuss and learn from each other on how we can make small changes that make big impacts. I’m grateful to those of you who consistently take time to meet and then help lead in each of our buildings. Conversations and activities are happening throughout the district on a daily basis that promote student learning and growth, and it it is inspiring as I visit classrooms and hear all that is taking place.
As we continue to review mid-year data and plan for the rest of the school year, the impact you are making is very noticeable.. Keep fighting the good fight! I am humbled and honored to work with the great people of TVLS!
It’s hard to believe we are closing in on the end of the first half of the school year! Throughout the next month we will be completing mid-year diagnostic assessments, exams, and culminating semester projects. Teachers will meticulously review student data to ensure proper intervention and enrichments, counselors will begin the scheduling process for 18/19, and we’ll begin checking off all the things that need completed by the end of the year.
But before we move too fast, I encourage you to reflect on all of the great things YOU have accomplished thus far. A quick glance at the website, social media pages, or Times Reporter will highlight TONS of accomplishments and recognitions of both students and staff. A few months ago I used a quote to ask you, “Are you aware of the power and control you have over students’ lives?” I think the answer is a resounding yes evidenced by walking in our classrooms, riding on our buses, and attending athletic and fine art programs. High expectations, rigor and relevance, and accountability are all factors seen throughout the district. And we continue to improve by having over 30 staff members volunteering to serve on our book study and then sharing with colleagues in each building.
“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual. People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society. Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” -Vince Lombardi
I think this quote sums up what we try to do every day, and it’s what separates TV schools from the pack. Any maybe by this time of the year you are tired, exhausted, worn out...hold on! You are the greatest gift our students will receive this year, even the tough ones that push your buttons, and the role you play in their lives does not go unnoticed. What you do matters and you are making a difference.
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season! I hope it’s a great time with family and friends and a chance to recharge.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
It has been said that if you want to figure out what any organization, group, family, or individual values, you only have to look at two things: how they spend their money and how they spend their time (Taylor, 2005). Credit cards, calendars, as it were. It can be easily argued that time is the more valuable as well as the more telling resource, as it is limited, no one gets to create more of it, and it is equitably distributed to us all. What does your allocation of time say about what you value in the classroom? How about the way time is spent and allocated across your school? If someone were to follow you throughout the day, what would your allocation of time say about your priorities and values? (Excerpt from Creating Cultures of Thinking, page 96)
Something we probably could all agree on is that we need more time! There never seems to be enough time in the day, the week, or the nine weeks to accomplish the long list of standards, assessments, projects, and reports. The days begin to fly by, and before long, we are rushing to finish tasks and finding ourselves stressed and worn out. Visiting classes throughout the district, I’m always amazed at what you and your students accomplish on a daily basis! But what if we started to relook at the way our time is spent? What if we took time to analyze and align our values to the way our time is spent? Throughout the month of November, our book study and buildings will be discussing time- learning to be its master rather than its victim. How can the paces of our classrooms and offices, strategies used, and the time slots of our calendar be edited to create a culture where thinking is valued, learning is meaningful, and time is well spent? I’m not saying what we do is wrong, in fact, I would argue that what we do is often found to be a model for other districts. However, this is a great opportunity to challenge ourselves to reflect on what we are doing and to always ask ourselves if what we are doing is the best way it could be completed. This message is as much of a challenge to me as it is to you.
“But wait,” you say. “I have the curriculum to get through. I have to prepare students for
the tests they will take. I have thirty-five students in my class. My class periods aren’t
nearly as long as I would like them to be. I want to give time to discussion and questions
and exploration, and developing relationships, but, well, there is no time!” The key
takeaway here is that our choices, even if we aren’t happy with them, are sending
messages to our students about what is deemed important and worthwhile in the
classroom. Breaking through this contradiction between what we would like to be doing
and what we are in fact doing takes us back to values, while pushing us a step further to
identify priorities. To do so, we need to explore our deeply held perceptions of teaching
and learning, its mechanisms and purposes, to see what is truly guiding us. If we
believe that teaching is presenting information and that learning is largely memorizing
information, we will give time to these things. If we believe that getting through the
curriculum or keeping the class quiet are high priorities, then we will put more time and
energy toward such things. (Ritchart 2015)
The Thanksgiving season is an opportunity to reflect and be thankful for what we have in our lives. Our time: another day to be alive, doing what we love, and having the opportunity to make an impact on our students are items we can all be thankful for. I look forward to great building meetings happening throughout the month as our book study participants help lead meaningful conversations.
Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving! I hope it finds you with well-deserved time off with family and friends!
None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful. ~ Mother Theresa
We are now into the heart of the school year! Classrooms throughout the district are engaged in meaningful, relevant learning experiences. Student diagnostic data has been completed, and we are diligently designing days to answer the question, "What's best for kids?" It is amazing to have the opportunity to see "big picture" all of the small things happening that will create a wonderful year, and future, for the staff and students who call TVLS home.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend several days in Columbus. One of the keynote speakers of the conference continued to repeat the question, "Are you aware of the power and control you have over students' lives?" The speaker went on to share a story of a 12th grade girl whom many would have classified as hopeless, lost, and not going to measure up to much. Though the girl had been written off by many, a single teacher chose to see the possibility of potential in the student...not her academic failure, her poor behavior, or the stereotypes given to her by society. By the end of the keynote, the speaker, Kimberly Brazwell, went on to share that the hopeless student was in fact the speaker standing in front of us. She continued to share how her life had been transformed by educators who showed up, not just to pass on content, but to change lives. What about us? "Are you aware of the power and control you have over students' lives?" Are we taking the extra time to know our students? Are we nurturing relationships? Are we providing engaging learning experiences?
Our theme for October throughout the district will center around language~appreciating its subtle yet profound power. Ron Ritchart defines language in chapter three of Creating Cultures of Thinking as helping us to direct attention and action. "The words and structures that make up language not only convey an explicit surface meaning but also import a set of deeper associations and connections that implicitly shape thought and influence behavior. The is the hidden power of language: its ability to subtly convey messages that shape our thinking, sense of self, and group affinity." I look forward to seeing all of our book study participants (it's not too late to sign up!) on October 5 as we discuss the idea of language and what we can do to strengthen what we do every day at Tusky Valley. I trust great conversations will continue throughout October as our book participants share their learning with everyone at the October building meetings.
As always, if there is anything the Office of Student Services can do to assist you or your students, don't hesitate to let us know!
Together in Education!
Every Student Succeeds Act
Stay in the loop about ESSA! Visit the official ODE ESSA page to see Ohio's draft plan!
As a district, we encourage you to provide feedback about the state plan.
Mr. Derek Varansky is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Federal Programs for Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools. He can be reached by calling 330-859-8801 or email@example.com