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A Tribute To Our Seniors

Click to Listen to Episode 15 of EPSD PD Podcast

Listen as 4 Seniors, Sage, Nathan, Noel, and Jen share how the current pandemic has impacted their senior year and how they are staying positive. These 4 seniors represent their classmates and showcase the resiliency of this graduating class of 2020 at EPHS. Entering middle school is scary already, but to add to it these students experienced the flood of 2013 and a school school shut down just weeks into their 6th grade year. These students united together with their community, persevered, and continued to thrive. And they are doing the same now during this pandemic and have an optimistic view on this abrupt end to their senior year. I hope you enjoy listening to all the great insights they have to share.

In addition, I dug through my own archives and was able to find a few old pictures of some of the moments these students share in the podcast including this picture of most of the senior class when they were in 8th grade. Enjoy!

Career Day 2016

Sage shares that her fondest memory is working together to restore Fish Creek after the flood. Sage so eloquently and beautifully encompassed so many of the Global Outcomes in her fondest memory.  Collaborating, communicating, and working together with stakeholders in the community to solve a problem and come up with solutions to make our environment a better place. She also highlights the perseverance and resiliency of this class.  She identified so many of the Global Outcomes that are important to us when it comes to what we desire for our prepared graduates.

Noel and Jen highlight how the extra curricular activities that we offer at EPSD played a huge role in their positive school experience. They share about the extended community and family that students gain from participating in all of these programs at EPSD.  This is important for the social emotional and physical wellness of our students which is an important Global Outcome for our students. 

Nathan shares how EPSD has taught him kindness and compassion and he shares his fondest memory of the entire school coming together as a family pledging to share their compassion for others. Global awareness and compassion are two Global Outcome we want every graduate to walk away with, and Nathan’s fondest memory is a great testimony to that.

I learned a lot from these students in our conversation. I cried. I laughed. And after our Zoom meeting I sat in silence reflecting on their thoughts and my own memories of this class. These 4 senior leaders represented this class well.

These are the words that came to me that describe this group of students:
Kindness. Compassion. Friendship. Perseverance. Resiliency. Collaboration. Hope. Love.

These seniors will have a graduation that they will remember for a lifetime that will be unique and different from any other graduating class before them. They inspired me and filled me with hope and optimism.

This class of 2020 is prepared to take on the World. They are equipped with the Global Outcomes needed to succeed in anything they choose. We will miss this incredible group of students and they have given us the gift of memories that we will cherish forever. Smiles will cross our faces when we think of them. Best wishes to the class of 2020!

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New Podcast: Cloud School

Episode 14 Cloud School

Click to Listen to Episode 14: Cloud School

In this episode, I attempt to give you peek at what remote home learning is like for students across the globe right now as schools close in-person learning. I interview my nieces, a 2nd grader, 6th grader, and sophomore about what they are experiencing.

I share sounds between administrators, teachers, and students from Cloud School. This provides listeners with a sneak peek into how teachers in Estes Park School District have continued to provide rich learning opportunities for students.

Remote learning from home has been difficult for parents, students, and teachers.  In our teacher preparation programs we didn’t receive any formal training on how to be online teachers, so this is all new and we are learning as we go.  There have been a lot of great blog posts and educational articles published with tips for teachers on what to do and what not to do. Based on feedback I have received from administrators, teachers, instructional coaches, and parents about their experiences so far, I offer the following tips. They all start with the letter ‘L’ and there are 5.

Pictures from Podcast interview with Elsa, Evie, and Cecilia

The 5 L’s

Tip 1: Let Go

Let go of content and curriculum. Assign way less than you think you should.  We already struggle to teach all the standards we need to, and now we are facing a Global Pandemic. You won’t teach everything and students won’t learn everything you were planning between now and May 22, we have to reach a level of acceptance with this.  

Students are going to take much longer to complete any task due to tech issues, added time for reading everything, toggling back and forth between resources, and stress. Not to mention the challenge of having to learn mostly on their own, which they haven’t had to do before.  They’re going to be learning how to schedule and manage their time, and they’ll be overwhelmed. We have to take into account that a lot of kids have other responsibilities when they’re at home like other classwork, cooking meals, helping with siblings, taking care of the pets, etc.  It’s not the same as having them in our classrooms for an allotted amount of time. 

Let go of grading too.  How can we find equity in grading when every student’s access to online learning, adequate learning space, adult help, and many other variables are vastly different.  We strive for equitable grades that are a result of students’ understanding rather than a result of the environment students live in. Our current reality is that the environment students live in and the situation in which they find themselves has a profound impact on their ability to access learning right now.  We just have to reach a level of acceptance that we can do our best, but we cannot provide equity for our students right now.  

I’m not saying don’t give the students and their parents feedback on their participation, engagement, and learning. Absolutely do that!  The more feedback the better! I’m just talking about letting go of typical grading practices for ranking, rating, and sorting students. 

So take a deep breath, and let it all go.

Tip 2: Learning Target 

Tip two is Learning Targets. Pick just a few of them and make them really clear. We have been focusing on refining our learning targets all year, so now is a great time to work on this.  You are going to have to let go of many of your learning targets, and that is OK.  

Use two things to determine what your learning targets would be. 

First, what standards are the most important for preparing students for the next grade level and the rest of their lives?  We really have to be selective here, so what is the most important? Second, what standards will be best taught online? This should help you narrow it down.  Don’t try to teach more learning targets than you can count on 5 fingers between now and May 22.

I’ll make a suggestion here to really focus on teaching students to acquire Global Outcomes for the remainder of the school year.  These are 7 skills that our entire community believes are the most essential in preparing students for a successful future no matter what the path it is that they choose.  Take this time to focus on teaching communication and collaboration skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, how to take care of your social, emotional, and physical wellness. Focus on teaching about the World and having compassion for others, provide them with opportunities to be creative and express themselves.

Once you have established that learning target make sure it is clear to students.  I like the advice from teacher Larry Ferlazzo in the video 7 Tips for remote learning.   He suggests that if the instructions take more than 15-20 seconds to explain or more than 2 to 3 sentences to write, then it is too much. Pair it down. You can’t catch misconceptions immediately or give them immediate feedback on the spot, so clarity is important. 

Less is more right now.  Instead of teaching a lot of content, minimize the content and go deeper.


Tip 3: Lots of Choice and Flexibility

Do your best effort to provide lots of choice and flexibility to students.   Many of our PLC leaders participated in some professional learning this year about creating blended learning playlists and choice boards.  Jon Anderson and Sonja Greenway, two or our exceptional instructional coaches, have created some for you to help you through this time.  You can find them linked here: Sonja’s Playlist & Jon’s Playlist.   

Providing this kind of choice and flexibility keeps students engaged and motivated. You can add humor through videos and other media to make them laugh and make learning fun, and you can provide them with resources vetted by you. Keep in mind that the brain only stays engaged for about 10 minutes before it naturally cycles down anyway.  Lecture isn’t going to work here. Give them choices and options.

Tip 4: Love 

Give double the love and compassion to students right now.

 “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  A quote by Teddy Roosevelt that is one of my favorites. Take some extra time to check in personally with your students.  Smile, laugh, and have some fun with them. There is a lot of added stress right now and no learning will happen anyway with an overload of stress.  Students can’t access executive functioning until they are safe, comfortable, and belong. Be understanding, supportive, compassionate, empathetic, and patient.

Families are carrying the burden of financial stress and anxiety of the unknown.  There is stress that comes along with everyone in the household working and going to school at home, and finding a quiet place without interruption will be very difficult.  There are endless reasons for why families are feeling a heightened state of depression, anxiety, and stress right now. We know that has a profound negative impact on the limbic brain, which will block learning and recall. Put care and compassion before the curriculum. 

Tip 5:  Let yourself make mistakes 

The most important tip of all.  Allow yourself to make mistakes. Actually, plan on making mistakes. There is no learning without mistakes, and this is the first time for all of us, so plan on making a lot of them because we have a lot to learn. Check out this great link for managing your own stress during this time.

Reply to the blog post and share your tips for Cloud School!

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Two-Step Feedback

At our most recent book talk, we discussed the effectiveness of providing students with feedback to boost learning. It reminded me of the tremendous impact that feedback has in the teaching-learning cycle, and by providing effective feedback to students we can accelerate learning.

John Hattie’s Know Thy Impact article is a great one to highlight how teachers can have the greatest impact through the feedback they give to students. There are some essential elements in feedback that make it much more effective, but I often hear teachers say, “I know how to give effective feedback, but when I am in the moment I forget.” If you keep 2 steps in mind when providing feedback, you can boost the effect size from 0.11 to 1.42! Here’s how.

STEP 1: Use SEA

I like to use the acronym SEA that I learned at an Eric Jensen training years ago. SEA stands for Strategy, Effort, and Attitude. Just saying “good job” to someone has an effect size of 0.11, which is very minor. When you link the feedback you provide to someone to the strategy they used, the effort they put forth, or the attitude they had to tackle the learning, it increases the effect size to 0.74, and that is big! With an effect size like that, a student can make 1.5 to 2 years of growth.

For example, “John, I like the strategy you used to keep track of your notes today by sorting them into two sides, I haven’t seen you use that strategy before.”

STEP 2: Attribution Theory

When you can attribute the strategy, effort, or achievement to a behavior you observed in the past or a probably behavior in the future, you can increase the effect size to 1.42. Wow! That is really Big!

For example, “John, I like the strategy you used to keep track of you notes today by sorting them into two sides, I have never seen you use that strategy before and that is going to help you study and retain what you are learning for the next quiz.”

What would this sound like if you want to give corrective feedback?

STEP 1:

“John, I noticed that you have been distracted in class today and your effort has declined because you have only written two ideas on your paper.”

STEP 2:

“John, I noticed that you have been distracted in class today and your effort has declined because you have only written two ideas on your paper. On your last essay you stayed focused and put forth great effort. Because of that, it was the best work you have produced.”

Another example:

STEP 1:

“John, I appreciate the attitude you brought to class today. You came into class today smiling, prepared, and ready to learn!”

STEP 2:

“John, I appreciate the attitude you brought to class today. You came into class today smiling, prepared, and ready to learn! Because of that, you are going to learn so much more to prepare for Friday’s quiz!”

Try using SEA and attribution and see what happens to the learning in your classroom.

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A Conversation With The Coaching Team

Click to Listen to Episode 13 of EPSD PD Podcast A Conversation with the EPSD Coaching Team

Refresh connection with LinkedIn

Why Coaching?

One of our major improvement strategies at EPSD is to personalize professional learning for teachers. One of the major actions for this strategy has been the formation of a team of instructional coaches at EPSD. Instructional coaching is a shift in professional learning from a perspective of external training that is infrequent, to a job-embedded expectation that learning is ongoing and is part of our routine teaching practice. In this podcast I sit down for an interview with our instructional coaching team as well as a few teachers about how instructional coaching has improved student learning. Here are 7 highlights about coaching in EPSD.

1. Provides Outside Perspective

We all have blind spots. There are things we will never be able to see for ourselves or become aware of ourselves. A coach provides an outside perspective on things we are unable to see, and can bring us to a level of awareness we couldn’t otherwise reach on our own.

“Everyone deserves a coach and everyone deserves to be a lifelong learner,” states director and coach, Erin Miller, in the podcast interview.

2. Provides Personalized Learning

We have all attended a professional learning conference or session that inspired us to do something innovative in our classroom. Often, we return to our practice with the intention to make a change in our instruction, but when reality sets in and we have so much work to do, these ideas go to the wayside.

“It has flipped us from doing a one-size-fits-all PD that teachers may or may not implement in their classrooms to a responsiveness to teachers,” says Erin Miller, “and in a job-embedded way where it is done at the right time and at the right pace for the teacher.”

Coach Sonja Greenway shares, “There is autonomy because you’re choosing what you want to work on, but you are within the district’s vision and mission and goals as well.”

“Teachers see themselves as learners again,” says coach Anne Dewey.

“It’s about what is going on in the classroom already which is why it is so personalized,” states coach Jon Anderson.

3. Connects Colleagues to One Another

Anne Dewey says one of her favorite things about coaching is connecting teachers with each other. When she is working with multiple teachers across the district, she is able to connect teachers together that share similar goals.

Coaches build relationships with principals and teachers to create conversations that lead to behavioral, pedagogical, and content knowledge change within a school. Coaches create a culture that we are all learning together.

4. Collective Efficacy

“Sometimes as a teacher you get caught up in the day to day and can lose sight of what the bigger goal of the district is or what the bigger goal is for you as a teacher, so sitting down with [a coach] we have the ability to bring that focus back,” quotes Anne Dewey.

This is particularly important because John Hattie’s meta analysis of over 50,000 research studies in education puts collective efficacy as one of the top two highest impacts on learning.

5. Focus on High Impact Instruction

Erin Miller states that “a big part of our role is to be able to keep up with the latest research in educational journals and be able to turn around and share it with other teachers in a way that is applicable and meaningful.”

There are some best practices for instruction that years of education research continue to point out as having the largest impact on student learning. Teachers are busy people and they need help gathering and processing this research and how it applies to them and their students. Coaches can help teachers find the research and resources they need.

6. Teacher Wellness Support

Coaching can also provide wellness support for teachers dealing with stress, frustration, or the secondary traumatic stress that teachers experience.

Jon Anderson says in the interview, “I think the emotional support for teachers is overlooked sometimes.” He further states that he feels this is one of the many strengths of the coaching team we have at EPSD.

Coaching can be very emotional because it gets personal. When we break instruction down into the little pieces it hits on the behaviors, beliefs, values, and feelings of a teacher. That is why it is so important for coaches to be good listeners and establish positive relationships with the teachers they are coaching.

7. Safe Place to Take Risks

Coaching is not evaluative, which makes it a safe space for teachers to take risks, try new ideas, and be innovative. Sometimes this results in failure, and that is OK!

Sonja Greenway speaks in the interview about how coaches use the zone of proximal development with teachers just as teachers do with students in the classroom. Coaches challenge teachers, but don’t allow them to go into the panic zone. She further states how coaches provide the support that teachers need to take a risk. Failing on your own is much scarier than failing together. How do we learn without making mistakes? Coaching promotes a growth mindset for teaching, not perfection.

Coaches don’t have all the answers. “I feel like whenever I sit down with a teacher it is mutual coaching. Every time I sit with a teacher, I learn. Every time I sit with my team, I learn. Every time I sit with my principal, I learn.” says Sonja Greenway. We are all teachers and we are all learners, and lifelong learning is embraced by Estes Park School District.

What Do Teachers Have To Say About Coaching?

“She has given me a lot of really good ideas. She has come in and taught lessons with me and modeled lessons…That has probably been the most helpful thing is just having her in the classroom and giving me feedback…” -Erica Bareuther

“I have really appreciated the feedback and guiding questions he has offered to me…I have always felt not only comfortable but encouraged by him.” -Andrew Virdin

“He has co-taught with me and supported me during PLC presentations that I could run by him before going to meet with teachers.” – Marcie Kiser

“My experience with coaching has been very very positive.” -Jason Bradley

“At first I was really nervous…but she was a great encourager for me and she helped me to plan new projects and was a wealth of information…” -Steve Johnson

“She just has so many resources, and she has gathered tons of resources that are very helpful.” – Marcie Kiser

“Every time I go and ask any questions they are always helpful, digging deeper, and asking me meaningful questions to challenge myself and challenge the students more.” – Shawna Carosello

“She is always coming up with new ideas and when I wanted to try something totally new that neither one of us knew about, she took it head on to learn all about it.” – Lauren Shafer

“She helped [my teacher] by showing her how to do it and then [my teacher] could show us how to do it and it worked out really good.” “Now we could do it all by ourselves.” -Gayla Sullivan and 1st Grade Student.

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It’s a Bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Super-Teacher!

Feeling like a Superhero?

If not, you should after reading this compilation of everything we have accomplished in our district from August to January! Hats off to all our hard working educators! It seems super-human to have accomplished so many marvelous feats in such a small amount of time. You are all superhero’s in my book!

Here is what we have accomplished toward our collective focus in 5 short months!

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culture and Language Diversity Team (CLD Team) tripled in size this year and is working on 4 action plans to improve the educational experience for our Hispanic/Latino families

Surveyed and gathered feedback from our Hispanic/Latino families on how we can improve communication

Hosted our first ever information night all in Spanish – Noche Latina

Professional learning focused on English Language Development (ELD) in staff meetings

Professional learning focused on Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in staff meetings

Continued to have more teachers in CRT book study (59% of our staff so far)

Formation of an English Language Development (ELD) PLC

Increased staffing for ELD program at the ES to 1.5

ELD teacher attended TESOL conference

40 staff members studying Grading for Equity to identify our inequitable grading practices that diverse students may face.

Planning phases of a partnership with CSU and former EPHS graduate to build a student-led community outreach program for immigrant families

Took a team of 6 from the CLD team to Equity & Excellence Conference in Denver

HS teacher selected for a fellowship through Colorado Education Association (CEA) and is doing his project on Culturally Responsive Teaching – sharing his learning with staff

Restorative Practices and Social Emotional Learning

Trauma-informed response training for certified and classified staff

De-escalation and non-violent response training for certified and classified staff

Collaborative Classroom literacy implementation ties SEL standards within the curriculum

Rudy is a new member of our staff

Monthly SEL lessons at the ES tied to Global Outcomes

Connections class added at the MS teaching the CASEL SEL standards

Restorative attendance meeting for families of chronically absent students and formation of attendance plans

SEL PLC drafted k-12 continuum for Social Emotional Learning standards for students

Continued professional learning with on 3rd year of Restorative Practices implementation

Global Outcomes and High Expectations

Collaborative Classroom literacy curriculum implementation at ES: teachers aligning the rigor and expectations for student literacy

Bridges math curriculum at the ES: data protocols in PLC meetings to align rigor and expectations for student math performance

October professional development work led by our coaching team to identify success criteria for each Global Outcomes

Continued to have more teachers in project-based teaching and learning book studies (54% of our staff so far)

Team of 5 attended WSHS site visit to see Expeditionary Learning (EL) in action

School Board planning community conversations around Global Outcome success criteria for students

Continuing to have a GO Sandbox goal and share artifacts with each other.Teacher Spotlights highlighting GO exemplars

Professional Learning

Coaching team formed. Coaching team provides in the moment, personalized professional learning for teachers

Self-paced book study choice options for teachers to continue professional learning geared toward our collective commitments

Six staff members participating in St. Vrain professional learning offerings through our partnership

Staff meetings intentionally focused on professional learning

Formation of a principal PLC

Teachers seek out PD outside the district: Elementary teachers attend the state literacy conference, HS teachers attend site visit to WSHS, an expeditionary learning school, District team to Excellence and Equity Conference

Leadership

Summer Leadership Academy for the professional learning of our district leadership team and professional learning together each semester

ES teacher selected to present to the Colorado State Board of Education

MS and HS district leaders continue professional learning toward our vision of personalized learning for students through TeachUNITED

TeachUNITED global partners from Tanzania and Costa Rica spend the day with our teachers and students and visit classrooms to see personalized learning in action

Each building has a strategic planning team working with D&G Associates to develop action plans

We have so much to celebrate!

And that isn’t even taking into consideration all the other marvelous accomplishments happening in your individual classrooms! If you have been feeling tired, this could be why.

There are probably more accomplishments that I didn’t even think of. Contact me and let me know about it.

And just for fun…one of my favorite pep talks from Kid President. Unleash your Hero!

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12 Days of Podcasts

I started EPSD PD Podcasts with the intention to create a culture of lifelong learning in our school district. My wish is to bring conversations about teaching and learning to our school community that can be enjoyed whenever and wherever you want. My hope is to inspire teachers and spark conversations about teaching and learning. Not only is it intended to create a culture of learning in our school district, but also to celebrate the wonderful learning that is happening everywhere in our schools. Since starting this project last fall, I have published 12 podcasts. If you have some time over the holidays, you can listen to the podcast series while you decorate the house, bake goodies, travel, or workout. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. It’s the holiday season and my gift to you is 12 days of podcasts.

Episode 1: Learning and the Brain

Listen to elementary, middle, and high school students describe what it feels like when they have learned something. Hear interview with Ivy Anderson, sleep neurologist, about how sleep, exercise, and healthy eating have huge impacts on the brain’s capacity to learn and process information.

Episode 2: The Science of Gratitude

Learn about what research says about routinely expressing gratitude. Students in 2nd Grade, 6th grade, and 12th grade express what they are grateful for at school. Teachers express gratitude toward students.

Episode 3: Inside the Brain of English Learners

Students acquiring English as a second language share the struggles they have had in school where from kindergarten through 12th grade. Learn from your own students how you can help them be more successful at school.

Episode 4: Global Outcomes in BAM Company

The high school business and marketing class, aka BAM Company, shares the new way of learning that their teachers, Bob Regan, has orchestrated for them and how valuable it is to them as learners and as future adults. Students share why this class teaches them the Global Outcomes that will prepare them for success in today’s knowledge economy.

Episode 5: Intercultural Summit 2019

Teachers at Estes Park High School partner with teachers at Eagle Rock High School to provide students with the opportunity to tackle difficult issues that teenagers are struggling with today regarding race and gender identity. These student build relationships together and find solutions to problems at their schools.

Episode 6: What’s Happening in the Classroom?

A reflection of the great teaching and learning that is happening in all the schools across Estes Park School District.

Episode 7: 2019 Mountain Festival

Listen to the sounds of the Mountain Festival, a celebration of learning in the Estes Park community. Teachers implement Global Outcomes through project-based learning and students share the projects they have brought to share at the Mountain Festival.

Episode 8: Passionate Goal Writing

At the beginning of the school year teachers get together to look at data, evaluate strengths and weaknesses, set goals for the school year. Discuss tips for making goal writing more passionate work that inspires us and propels us into action.

Episode 9: Zero Waste Interns

Listen to an interview with Alex, Sarah, and teacher Alex Harris as they tell the story about how the zero waste project was born and hope for the future of the project. Sarah and Alex share the Global Outcomes they have learned through their experience as Zero Waste Interns.

Episode 10: Instructional Technology with Anne Dewey

Anne Dewey shares her insight on how technology can be used to put students at the center of instruction, and make students owners of their own learning and creators in the classroom. She makes great app recommendations for teachers in this episode.

Episode 11: Celebrating Diversity Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos has become a tradition in our community and in this episode you get to listen to the music and laughter as the community comes together to celebrate diversity in our schools and in our community.

Episode 12: The Science of Gratitude Part 2

This is a follow up of episode 2 about the science of gratitude and how it has a positive impact on health and wellness as well as learning. Listen to students from every grade level in the district express their gratitude for school and their teachers.
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The Science Behind Being Grateful

Click to listen to Episode 12 of EPSD PD Podcast

We just wrapped up the Thanksgiving holiday and just around the corner in a few more weeks will have our winter holiday break.  This provides a great time in our lives to refocus and reflect on what we are grateful for. 

In this episode of EPSD PD Podcast you will hear the voices of students throughout the district.  You will hear what students from Kindergarten through 12th grade are grateful for and what research supports about how expressing gratitude improves health and wellness.  One of the Global Outcome competencies for students is social emotional and physical wellness.  For that reason, it is important that we teach our students about the importance of gratitude for their own wellness.  

Research published by Psychology Today describes the top 7 health and wellness benefits of expressing gratitude:

  1. It increases mental strength and cognitive processing. 
  2. Improves self-esteem.
  3. Improves Sleep.
  4. Increases empathy and reduces aggression.
  5. Improves overall psychological health.
  6. Increases physical wellness.
  7. Improves relationships and increases positive relationships with others.

That is why I made my way to each of our schools to provide opportunities for students to express their gratitude about school.  I set up my microphone in the lunch room and let students come up and express what they are grateful for at school.

There is no doubt about it that expressing our gratitude makes us feel good.  I enjoyed watching the smiles get bigger and bigger on the faces of these students as they shared their gratitude toward each other. Sharing our gratitude with each other can build relationships between students and teachers and help us understand one another and with understanding one another comes compassion which is a Global Outcome of ours and when conflict does arise the likelihood of building empathy increases.

The Negativity Bias

As humans, we are all negative thinkers.  Don’t beat yourself up about it. It is part of your evolutionary past and it is the way that all of our brains work.  It is supported by loads of evidence and research and is just the way we humans are.   It is called Negativity Bias.

Our brains have what neuroscientists call Negativity Bias.  This means our brains are built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news, information, and experiences.  Zaretta Hammond writes about negativity bias and its implications on learning in a book many of us have read called Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain.   Our brain remembers and responds to negative experiences up to 3 times more than positive experiences. This originates from our limbic system (our reptilian brain) designed to be on the lookout for threats to our safety and psychological well-being.  That is why in our teacher preparation programs we were taught for every corrective or negative feedback we give a student, we should also give 3 pieces of positive feedback. That didn’t come out of nowhere, there is research behind why to do that.

One of the things our brain does when we get stressed, anxious, or feel a threat to our limbic brain is produce large amounts of cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone in the brain that puts a stop to learning and information processing for at least 20 minutes and can stay in the body up to 3 hours.  Keep this in mind in the classroom when your students are upset, they can’t really access their brain for the next 20 minutes. This is why an inclusive environment and positive relationships is so important!

We have a tendency to lean toward the negative in every aspect of our lives.  But once we are aware of this and can identify it in our thinking, we can change it. Be aware of your negativity bias, and one of the best ways to counteract this in your brain is by routinely expressing gratitude. In Alex Korb’s article The Grateful Brain and in an article by Jessica Stillman called Gratitude physically Changes Your Brain they both cite research studies that suggest by practicing gratitude you can train your prefrontal cortex to appreciate and retain the positive and happy thoughts and deflect the negative ones.

Tips for the Classroom

  • Teach students the difference between grateful and thankful.
  • Take some time for students to verbally share what they are grateful for and listen to each other.  You could add it to a restorative circle conversation. 
  • Pick a student each day and share with them why you are grateful for them.  Follow up with a phone call or email to their parents expressing why you are so grateful for their child.
  • Tell a coworker why you are grateful for them. This will go along way in building the culture of your workplace.
  • Create a grateful wall in your classroom where students post pictures and stories of what they are grateful for.  You could do this on Schoology or SeeSaw or they could make a Clips video to share.
  • Keep a grateful journal or have your students keep a grateful journal.  Write down every day something or someone or an experience you are grateful for.
  • Volunteer somewhere and do some service learning with your students.
  •  Be conscious of your thinking and your students thinking and recognize negativity bias.  Being aware of your brain’s negativity bias allows you to counter it every chance you get. 

Elena Aguilar blog on how Gratitude Can Fuel School Transformation she suggests many different tips for how to routinely express gratitude and the impact it can have on changing the culture and climate of schools.

If you have other tips for the classroom, please share them by commenting on this blog post!

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Celebrating Diversity at Dia de los Muertos


In Episode 12 of EPSD Podcast you will hear some of the sounds from the Dia de los Muertos celebration in our community on Tuesday, November 5th.

Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout most of Mexico, mostly in central and southern Mexico.   It is a day to celebrate the life and death of our loved ones. Many of the Mexican families in our community celebrate Dia de los Muertos, and the significance of sharing in this celebration of culture for our entire community promotes unity and belonging.  Celebrating cultural heritage is important in uniting communities and developing a sense of belonging and appreciation for culture in our community. 

A Tradition Created

The event has grown in size every year over the past 5 years because more and more community members come each year to celebrate the diversity within our community.  Over 500 community members attended the event this year!

This event is not just important for our community but also for our school district, because over the last decade the number of Hispanic and Latino students at our schools has grown.  It is now about 30% which is about ⅓ of our population. We look for opportunities to celebrate our growing diversity in our schools and bring diverse cultures together because it is important to us to build belonging in our district. Dia de los Muertos is one event that allows for this. The festivities are held in our high school commons, which is important because our school district is the hub of our community. It is a place where members of our community gather and where people can come together and feel a sense of belonging within our community.  It is important to us that the school district act as a catalyst that unites people and brings them together in celebration. 

Culturally Responsive Teaching

The largest challenge facing our district today is closing the achievement gap for our Hispanic and Latino students. We are working hard as a staff to close this gap because we believe in Excellent Educational Experiences for Every Student in Every Classroom Every day. This is our vision, and while this achievement gap between our students remains, we are falling short of this vision. That is why this year we have identified 5 major improvement strategies to improve this including becoming culturally responsive teachers. What does being culturally responsive mean?

I appreciate the quote from Zaretta Hammond in her book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain that states, “All teaching is culturally responsive, it is just a question of whose culture is is responding to.”  Culturally responsive teaching is recognizing students’ ways of meaning making which is formed from cultural knowledge and their personal Worldview. The culturally responsive teacher understands the importance of being in a learning alliance, which is much more than just building a positive relationship, and responds positively and constructively with teaching moves that build independent learning. Check out these great videos on an Edutopia post to learn more!

Thank You!

In large part the success of the Dia de los Muertos event was due to the Organizing Committee of dedicated Latino parents and staff members José Almeida, Sue Strom, Alicia Rochambeau, and Adriana Hoschtetler. This is a community event organized by some of our very hard working and dedicated families within our community.  Families for which we are very grateful! They meet months ahead of time to plan the decorations, food, and music for the event.  

It also could not happen without the monetary support of many sponsors. The Village Thrift Shop, Town of Estes Park, Estes Park Elementary PTO, Estes Park Education Foundation, The Mex-Kal Family Mexican Restaurant, Chelito Mexican Restaurant, Poppys Pizza and Grill, McDonalds, and Sweet Basilico.

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Teacher Self-Care

The teaching profession is recognized repetitively as one of the most stressful and most demanding professions that exist. And why shouldn’t it be when teaching is the profession that creates all other professions. In my opinion, being a teacher is the most important and most valuable profession in the World. We grow brains, and care for and nurture humans. More than any profession we make a profound influence on the type of World we live in. That is also why the teaching profession attracts the most kind, empathetic, compassionate, and loving people on the planet.

What we know about kind, empathetic, compassionate, and loving people is that it is hard for them to say “no” to things they care about. For that reason, they have a tendency to meet the needs of everyone else before meeting their own needs. Sometimes educators don’t realize they need to take care of themselves until it is too late and they are already experiencing physical or emotional symptoms of stress. That is why maintaining self-care regularly becomes especially important in our profession.

My husband is a paramedic/firefighter first responder and to be a better support for him, I attended a class on post-traumatic stress. What shocked me was that I learned way more about myself through the class. I was a principal at the time and dealing with a lot of very emotionally charged situations. Through the class I learned about empathic distress which is like secondary post-traumatic stress. Empathic distress is being exposed repeatedly to the trauma of others. It has profound impact on those of us that experience it. If you are a teacher, take some time to read this very valuable article from Edutopia that validates what you are going through When Teachers Experience Empathetic Distress.

A meta-analysis out of the University of Zurich provides a basis for why this happens. It turns out that brain imaging shows similar activation patterns in the brain for the person experiencing the pain and the person who is empathizing with the person experiencing the pain. Your brain is in some ways experiences the same pain, which builds up and causes stress.

There are a lot of resources out there for teachers to turn to for advice on how to practice self-care. There are twitter feeds and Facebook pages galore. Many offer some great advice. One I recently became a follower of is Self-Care for Educators. Many tips include prioritizing, eliminating, saying no, and making choices to save time and make your work place more efficient. For this reason, self-care is a personal journey for each of us. The only person that can make those difficult choices is you. Check out Angela Watson’s advise for saving time in your day at this Cult of Pedagogy Blog Post 5 Powerful Ways to Save Time As a Teacher. She offers some great advice surrounding prioritizing, scheduling, and eliminating.

3 Self-Care Non-Negotiables

There are 3 things I recommend moving to the top of the list when it comes to practicing self-care. When things get busy and your task-list is full, these are the 3 non-negotiables that should not be sacrificed. They are Exercise, Sleep, and Self-awareness.

Exercise

Make exercise a priority for your physical, emotional, & mental health. There is loads of research out there that support the impact on cardiovascular exercise and brain function. If you are feeling busy and time constrained, don’t sacrifice your daily exercise routine. Even if it is for just 10 minutes it can make a huge impact on your brain function and help regulate your mood. Exercise releases hormones such as endorphins which enhance your mood, and it decreases cortisol which causes stress and anxiety. In addition, it produces brain-derived neurotrophic factors (hormones) which aid in neuroplasticity and help grow your brain by making new neural connections. If you want to learn more about it dig into this great read by John Ratey called Spark, or if your short on time, take a peak at this Scientific American article. Make it a priority to add at least 10 minutes of walking, running, biking, swimming, dancing, aerobics, jump-roping, etc to your daily routine.

Sleep

Putting sleep as a priority is so important and most teachers are not getting the sleep they need. Sleep is important for brain function. If you missed my podcast with Dr. Ivy Andersen, Sleep Neurologist at the Colorado Sleep Institute, check it out below. Dr. Anderson discusses why sleep is so important for brain function. During sleep the brain cleans out waste products which is important for memory recall and processing information. If sleep deprivation continues it can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, chronic memory loss, and other disorders. The average adult needs 8 hours of sleep. Are you getting 8 hours? If not, stop what you are doing and go to bed. Nothing is more important than your own brain function.

Self-Awareness

Check in with yourself throughout the day. You will be more able to respond positively to someone experiencing pain without changing your own emotional state if you take time for yourself. Find a space alone. Take a deep breath and check in with yourself about how you are really feeling. Raise your level of awareness about yourself and put yourself first. All day long teacher put everyone else’s needs before their own. Find times in your day to put yourself first and check in with yourself about how you are feeling and what you need now. Take care of your needs first before you attend to compassion for others.

In Episode 71 of Cult of Pedagogy Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Angela Watson who runs a 40 hour work week teacher club to help teachers work less and practice more self-care. She suggests finding something that can become part of your regular routine that you can maintain permanently (not going to the spa once a year) that will have a positive effect on your daily routine. That could include a daily ritual such as journaling, reading, exercising, listening to music or a podcast, mindfulness practice, meditating, etc. The list could be endless.

She also talks about pairing a new self-care routine with an already established routine. I recently had success with this. Two things I was not doing for my own well-being was drinking enough water and taking my daily vitamin. One thing I never forget is drinking my coffee in the morning, so two weeks ago after listening to her podcast I began putting an empty glass holding my vitamin container in front of my coffee machine. This reminds me to drink a whole glass of water with my daily vitamin. When I’m done I put the glass with vitamin container back in the same place. I can proudly say I have taken my vitamin for 14 straight days at this point. Try pairing a reminder for yourself with a daily routine you have already established.

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New Podcast: Interview with Instructional Technology Coach Anne Dewey

Meet Instructional Technology Coach Anne Dewey

Anne has worn many hats throughout our district over the years. She first came into our district as a 6th grade language arts teacher, but that is not where she started. She started teaching 9th grade English, journalism, and yearbook in Kansas and Missouri. She became an early adopter of technology and digital resources through her experience teaching journalism and yearbook. In this podcast she talks about how her teaching has transformed as technology has changed, and how she went from teacher, to librarian, to media and iPad support, to instructional technology coach.

Apple Education’s Marriage with Global Outcomes

Creations, teamwork & communication, personalization of learning, critical thinking and real world engagement are the foundations that Apple Education believes in. Independently we as a community in Estes Park believe the Global Outcomes competencies of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, global awareness & compassion, perseverance, and social, emotional & physical wellness are what will prepare our students for a successful future. Anne talks about how these are a perfect marriage.

Hot Digital Apps & Resources

Creation

Keynote gives you the most bang for you buck in the eyes of Anne Dewey. It is an incredibly versatile app that allows for drawings, animations, sounds, music, video, presentations, layered voiceover or music. It is scalable and each slide can be an independent creation or all slides together can be a product, and you can export it to other apps such as iMovie.

Collaboration/Teamwork

You can’t do much better than Google according to Anne Dewey. Teachers are using Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Sites, Google Drawing, and Google Forms to have students collaborate on creating products with each other and share their knowledge. One we haven’t explored much is Google Jamboard which acts as a virtual whiteboard that everyone can draw on or add to at the same time.

Personalizing Learning

You can customize iPads with accessibility features to meet the needs of various learnings such as font size, screen readers, color adaptations, translations, etc. The other great ways that teachers can personalize learning for students are through Schoology to provide individualized assignments and resources for students of various unique needs. Teachers are able to personalize the learning for students without making the student feel different from peers. Google Translate is a great tool in Google Docs to translate documents into other languages for non-English speaking students. Watch this Video to see how.

Real-World Engagement

Websites such as empatico.org and ePals provide students and teachers the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with teachers and students all over the World. This can really increase Global Awareness and Compassion competencies for students.

SeeSaw and Schoology allows students to publish work in a moderated social media type environment.

Podcasting is a great way for students to create products for an authentic audience of listeners. Garage Band is an app on all student iPads and Soundcloud is one of many sites that allows for publishing free open source podcasting.

Critical Thinking

Using applications to provide students the opportunity to be curators of the information they are consuming is a great way to demonstrate critical thinking. Students can showcase what they are learning on a particular topic by using Wakelet. Teachers can also use Wakelet to curate resources for students.

We Our Us

One thing that holds teachers back from using digital tools for learning is fear. Instruction is evolving with the evolving resources in the digital world allowing information to be consumed and shared increasingly rapid rates. We are in this together. Anne is here to walk with you side-by-side as you explore and take risks in your classroom. You do not have to do it alone.

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Learning Targets

A clear focus for a lesson with high expectations for student learning is a promising teaching strategy that both John Hattie and Robert Marzano agree has high impact on student learning. Stop, take a deep breath, and look at the learning target in your classroom right now. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have a learning target? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  2. Is my learning target a complete sentence? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  3. Is my learning target what all my students shout be able to do by the end of today’s class? If the answer is “no” keep reading.
  4. Would my students know what this learning target means and be able to reflect on their progress toward this learning target? If the answer is “no” keep reading.

What is a learning target?

Do you have an instructional objective or a learning target? What is the difference? Both objectives and learning targets are goals for what the student should know and be able to do that are derived from our standards. Standards or evidence statements are broad statements describe how the students will demonstrate understanding. Both objectives and learning targets are more specific measurable student learning outcomes of what a student should know and be able to do. Both guide teaching and learning in the classroom. So what makes them different?

Objectives

An instructional objective measure the student learning outcome for what a student should be able to do at the end of an instructional sequence, such as a unit. Objectives guide instruction and are written from the teachers point of view of what students need to know and be able to do.

Learning Targets

By contrast, learning targets measure the student learning outcome for what a student should be able to do at the end of today’s class. Learning targets are written to guide the learning and use language that students can understand and use to guide their own learning.

In a nutshell, instructional objectives are broad and measure what a student should be able to do at the end of an instructional sequence, and learning targets are specific and measure the learning within the class period. Objectives guide instructional moves while learning targets guide the learning moves.

Here are some tips for evaluating the clarity and rigor of your learning targets.

Tip #1: Make it a Complete Sentence

Let’s face it, teachers are busy. We are often rushed and sometimes that includes being rushed to write our learning targets. We have all written learning targets that are phrases such as “multiply fractions” or “physical and chemical changes” on the board and not complete sentences. We know what that means, but do the students? Writing a clear learning target is important and research supports that it does have high impact on learning especially when the students can use it to reflect on their own learning. Slow down and prioritize the time to write your learning target in a complete sentence that contains a learning action. Turn “multiply fractions” into “I can explain how to multiply two fractions and how it is different from addition.” Turn “physical and chemical changes” into “I can explain evidence for why a change is physical or chemical.”

Tip 2 Involve Students in Learning Targets

Students become more motivated when they understand the task, know it is within their reach, and can experience success within a short term. Read through your learning target and make sure it is in language your students understand. Ask the students to explain what it means or how it would look if they could demonstrate understanding. Students are motivated when they have a sense of purpose. In the book Leaders of Their Own Learning by Berger, Rugen and Woodfin the authors provide many examples of ways to involve students and use learning targets with students throughout lessons. Check out this video of how one teacher uses learning targets throughout the lesson. Have students reflect on the progress they have toward a learning target, or the strategy, attitude or effort they use to reach it. Assess each students progress toward the learning target today with a quick ticket out the door so you can plan your next instructional moves for tomorrow.

“Students who can identify what they are learning significantly outscore those who cannot.” – Robert J. Marzano

Tip 3 Small, Manageable Chunks

Our state standards are not written to be individual learning targets. One standard itself contains many different skills and learning outcomes. Learning targets break down abstract content standards into many smaller learning tasks. Consider the standard from math: Determine the unknown whole number in a multiplication or division equation relating three whole numbers. This one standard could be broken into many different learning targets in small chunks throughout many days of instruction. Learning targets along the way might include:

  • I can explain how repeated addition and multiplication are related.
  • I can explain how repeated subtraction and division are related.
  • I can show how to solve a problem with repeated addition.
  • I can show how to solve a problem with multiplication.
  • I can explain how multiplication and division are related.
  • I can prove my answer to a multiplication problem is correct by using division.
  • I can solve a division problem by using a related multiplication problem.
  • I can prove my answer to a division problem is correct by using multiplication
  • I can write multiplication and division number sentences relating 3 numbers.
  • I can determine the missing parts (quantities or symbols) in number sentences.
  • I can find the missing number in a multiplication or division problem relating 3 numbers.

There are likely a number of other learning targets that you could break down further into smaller learning chunks to meet the needs of your learners or limited class time.

Tip #4 Add Language to your Learning Target

Keep your English learners in mind and add language acquisition to your learning target. How will students read, write, listen, or speak about what they are learning. English language learners in the classroom are acquiring language skills at the same time as content skills. SIOP or Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol provides research supporting the importance of developing your objectives into language objectives to help your English Learners. What does this mean? It means being transparent right from the start of how student will demonstrate their mastery of the standard through language. You are clear about whether students will read or listen (receptive language skills) or speak or write (productive language skills). This sets your English Learners up for success when they know what the end goal is, and how they will be asked to demonstrate their knowledge through language. For example, a learning target of “I can understand the events that led to the Civil War.” can be changed to “I can write about the reasons different events led to the Civil War.” It makes it clear that by the end of the period they will need to write about these events, not just explain them. This changes how students may engage or record notes throughout the period with that end target in mind.

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New Podcast: Zero Waste Interns

Episode 10: Zero Waste Interns. Listen to an interview with Mr. Harris and his students and the vision they have for making EPHS a zero waste school.

The Vision

Mr. Harris, EPHS science teacher, had a vision to provide an experience for students beyond the classroom walls that would allow students to apply Global Outcome competencies, get real work experience, and apply their knowledge of environmental science. Visionary teachers like Mr. Harris in our school district are changing the way that we think about education and preparing students for job opportunities in our knowledge economy. His creative approach to project-based learning has inspired students to take something they are passionate about and create a program for the school.

Zero Waste Interns

Sarah and Alex, Zero Waste Interns at EPHS, talk about the goals they have for moving their school toward zero waste. They have worked with their peers in the Environmental Club to build “The Clean Machine” to separate compostables, food waste, and landfill items. They have spend their first 20 days educating teachers and students in their school about composting and the actions they can take to reduce waste. They have big goals to expand the program to the elementary and middle school, as well as apply our school to be an Eco-School designation.

Zero Waste Interns, Alex and Sarah next to the Clean Machine in the school cafeteria.

Global Outcomes

Communication and perseverance are the two global outcomes that they feel they have most acquired in the first 20 days on the job. As you listen to the podcast you will hear them identify other global outcomes such as critical thinking & problem solving, social emotional wellness, collaboration, as well as global awareness and compassion.

What do Alex and Sarah want everyone to know?

  1. You create more waste than you think you do.
  2. Your choices make a bigger impact than you think you do
  3. By changing small habits, you can have a positive Global impact
  4. Your habits can cause a chain reaction
  5. Together we can make a huge difference!
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A Culture of Learning

Commitment to Lifelong Learning

Continued learning has always been important in our profession, and in every profession, but progressively more in education recently. The rapid growth of the information technology industry as well as the change from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy has caused rapid change and transformation from what we understood as traditional public education practices to very innovative practices. This means teachers, counselors, and school administrators have to learn at a rapid rate. At EPSD our staff has wholly embraced the belief that we are all lifelong learners, teachers, and leaders. Over the last year, 70% of our staff members have participated in our in-house professional learning book studies courses and classes, and 59% participated in more than one class.

I’m blogging to share the impressive amount of learning our staff has been doing in just the first 20 days of school.

Middle School Team Uses a Protocol to Find Evidence for Student Learning in Math Reasoning

Professional Learning Communities

This year, one of our major improvement strategies is to improve the impact of our professional learning communities (PLC’s) through developing leadership capacity in our district. We have a team of district leaders that came in for a leadership retreat to learn together about promising leadership practices and how to increase the impact of the PLC team they lead. We adopted PLC’s as a promising practice in our district a decade ago, so what does that word impact mean?

In the busy life of an educator when there are so many decisions to be made, problems to solve, and emotions to support, the day can fill up quickly. It is easy to lose focus. High impact PLC’s establish the purpose of the team is to maximize impact on student learning and believe in the collective efficacy of the team. They use evidence to make impactful decisions using formative evaluation of student work. Our district leaders are studying together, learning from each other, and keeping the focus on evidence for student learning. Paul Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford offer great a great model for high impact PLC teams combining formative assessment and collective inquiry in the book Leading Impact Teams.

Professional Learning with TeachUnited

Building Leadership Capacity

A team of middle and high school teachers are participating in professional learning through TeachUnited to increase their own knowledge and capacity in providing personalized and blended learning opportunities for students. Our vision for the future is to provide personalized learning for students. This group of teachers developing their own personal knowledge and skills will enable them to lead and support other teachers in their PLC and school.

Instructional Coaching Personalizes Professional Learning at the Elementary School

Instructional Coaching Personalizes Professional Learning

A second of our major improvement strategies is to personalize professional learning for teachers based on talent and need and make professional learning job-embedded. We have made a commitment in our district to increase instructional coaching opportunities. It brings me so much pleasure to write that we have 4 instructional coaches in our small district bringing personalized learning to our staff every day. They bring support to teachers for what is needed now to improve student learning in the classroom.