Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Student Teachers at NHS

The first day of school is daunting for even the most veteran of teacher… we, however, were nothing but newbies - student teachers soon to be thrown to the anticipating mobs of students.  Wait, it wasn't that bad.  We survived and are here to tell the tale: a tale of hardships and successes, of fun and distress.  Together, Jamie Hoffmann and Will Verkamp, will tell our stories from North High School.

Jamie:  Not wanting to be too overwhelmed on the first day of school, I decided to come before the start of school to the first faculty meeting.  I was told to text Mrs. McCutchan when I entered the school and she would come and meet me.  I stood nervously at the office knowing my relationship with my co-teacher could make or break my student teaching experience.  After standing there for a minute or two, a perky tall brunette lady came walking up asking if there was anything she could help me with.  I replied, “No thank you, I am just waiting on someone.” She smiled and walked into the office.  As I watched her leave I noticed the back of her shirt, “McCutchan”.  She was the teacher I was waiting for!  I awkwardly chased after her into the office and the ice was broken from the laughter of the realization of who I was.

Soon after my student teaching began it was clear to both students and faculty that Mrs. McCutchan and I got along very well.  Before long we were finishing each other sentences while co-teaching and enjoying our lunches with Mrs. Carraro.  With these two powerful women by my side throughout my entire experience, my confidence level was high and my goals were set even higher.

Will: To say that I was more than a little apprehensive about student teaching would be the understatement of the century.  Before my placement at North, I had mainly worked with younger grades and never for longer than a few hours at a time over the span of one semester.  To think that I would soon be "in charge" of over 100 students seemed more than daunting.  However, I decided to face my fears head-on and get comfortable as soon as possible.  I too attended the faculty meeting prior to school starting where I learned that my co-teacher raised and bred snakes.  Uneasiness level: unchanged.  

As the semester progressed, though, my reptile-loving fellow educator did much to raise my confidence level and guide me along my journey.  With a mixture of firmness and understanding, Mrs. Bartley led me through the myriad of both challenging and rewarding experiences that are inherently associated with co-teaching.  She helped me when I struggled, and she never failed to make the experience at least a little more fun.  Looking back, I find it hard to imagine that I was so worried that first day.  I learned so much and look forward to one day passing on my newly gained knowledge.

Perhaps the most important part of student teaching was the relationship between student teacher and co-teacher.  Working day in and day out with the same person  would have been hard to do with clashing personalities.  Every teacher at NHS treated us with respect valuing our input and ideas.  We were both treated as teachers at NHS rather than student teachers though we both received the obligatory ribbing at certain events.

We were expected to attend SLC’s, PLC’s, open house, faculty meetings, and many other events that were expected of the staff at NHS.  Through the SLC’s and PLC’s we developed the skills necessary to successfully collaborate with students' best interests in mind.  The open house provided us with a chance to meet the parents of our students (and give our own parents a tour).  Faculty meetings gave us an inside look at how the faculty is addressed in a school and the small aspects that we never realized before (like what procedures to take  if Santa Switch is cancelled).

We both plan to continue our career path of education; thank goodness for that!  Perhaps someday we’ll end up teaching back in the halls of North.  Who knows?  Maybe those poor co-teachers of ours will one day become our co-workers!

And now, here we are; over 16 weeks have passed since that first nerve-wracking day as student teachers.  We may have our individual goals for the future, but we are both armed with the tricks and tools of the trade that we learned while at NHS.  No matter where we end up, we will always carry Our Husky Pride.

- Jamie Hoffmann (Beth McCutchan’s student teacher)
- Will Verkamp (Christina Bartley’s student teacher)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Not Assigning Homework = Lazy?

In a few, recent, unrelated conversations, the topic of "homework" has come up.  I've talked to a few parents who hate it, a few students who hate it (no surprise there), a few teachers who hate it, and many more teachers who hate grading it! 

These conversations reminded me of something I overheard last year.   A group of educators (not at North, of course) were referring to another teacher as lazy because she was advocate against homework.  What? Not assigning homework = lazy?

I felt the need to say something - I was too wimpy then, but I can totally say it in a blog that I know they will never read!   I love the variety of teaching styles among educators and think we all have things to learn from each other. #1) Let's not put labels such as "lazy" on one another.  #2) Since the reasoning behind homework has been well-articulated since...forever,  I'd like to explain why some do not assign homework.

My Four [Main] Arguments Against Homework:

1)  Students need immediate feedback so they do not waste their time doing things the wrong way. 
Example: A student writes twenty sentences in Spanish with incorrect verb conjugations every time. The student does not find out this mistake until 36 hours later (if the teacher isn't too busy to grade it the day it is turned in).
The harms: (1) The student has practiced incorrectly and perhaps has developed a bad habit.  (2) The student has been in class for an entire 90 minutes since turning in the assignment and probably cannot understand the new material because no one has fixed his misunderstandings on the foundation material.  (3) The student spent 30 minutes away from his family or anything that actually interested him the night before because he was doing an assignment incorrectly.

2)  Students time at home is important and should be preserved, if at all possible.
Example: A student needs to complete a formal lab report at home.  The student understood the lab perfectly and is not in need of immediate feedback.  The teacher will grade it ASAP.
The harms: (1) This student is involved in many activities and didn't get home until 8pm.  He had to eat his dinner while doing his homework from each class and did not see any of his family. (2) Doing the lab report did not teach this student anything - he already understood the lab perfectly.  It was just a time-consuming way to prove to the teacher that he understood it.  (3) Now you have to grade a lab report instead of spending time with your family or other students - especially sad if the actual completion of the lab report did not teach this student anything.

3)  If students get busy and/or do not understand, they are tempted to cheat. There is no way you can police that if they are not in your classroom.
Example: A student has to turn in a chapter of math problems on test day.  The student did not make the time.  He can take a zero, or can copy off a friend.  In this case, he chooses to copy off a friend.
The harms: (1) You grade this student's paper without knowing he cheated, give him points, and so have accidentally rewarded him for cheating.  He is more likely to do it again...and so are others.  (2) You wasted your time that could have been spent with family, friends, or other students grading a student's paper who did not learn anything from that assignment.

4)  Not everyone has adults at home who can help them.  They go home and are all alone.
Example: A simple math assignment is sent home.  Julie's parents help her.   Tim "google"s for help.  Sally's parents work in the evenings and she doesn't have Internet access.

Here is a video that also helps explain why some educators choose not to give homework:

Because of the four points above, my goals relating to assignments are (1) only give students assignments if I can give them immediate feedback and  (2) only give students the bare minimum assignment required to teach them the standard.   As for the cheating, I think we'll have some cheating no matter what.  However, I'm better at cheating prevention if the work is happening within my classroom walls.

I realize there must be many different schools of thought on this issue.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to share any thoughts you have in the comments section!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Digital Handprints

Stop and think for a second about the piece of technology you are using to read this blog article on right now. Think of all of the individual pieces of the device that work together as a whole. If you’re sitting at a computer you have a screen, a keyboard, a mouse or trackpad, plus all of the internal parts like processors and memory that go into making the entire thing work.
Now think even further than that… think to the hands of the people who made each of those components, and assembled them into a whole. Think of the hands of the people who mined the gold and silicon to used to create the most crucial parts of the computer. Think of the truck drivers that transported parts and then assembled machines and delivered them to the store where you purchased it. Think of the team of people that created ads that helped drive your decision to purchase that particular computer.
I could go on but the moral of the story is that one simple device, that we take for granted in today’s society, requires the work of hundreds if not thousands of people, worldwide, in order to go from raw materials to finished product. The moral is that we are all interconnected. We rely on each other in order to enjoy the things we enjoy in life. We rely on our fellow human beings to provide so much for us when you really break things down.
So what does this have to do with Digital Citizenship? It's the idea that we are all interconnected. What you share with a friend could be spread all over the Internet within a matter of moments. The mean things you say to what appears to be a simple avatar are being said to a real-life human being, with real life feelings. And those comments are forever connected with your personal Internet record. Everywhere you go on the Internet, everything you post, leaves a digital handprint on the Internet. And just like we can break down a computer into ever smaller parts, we can break the Internet down into ever smaller parts until we arrive at the handprint of the person who made any specific posting.
Just as every person leaves their mark on the physical world, every interaction online leaves a mark in the virtual world. What do your interactions, your handprints, say about you? Do they show a hard-working, dedicated individual with a giving heart and a great attitude. Or do they show that you have an attitude, in the not so great meaning of the word. These handprints that you leave behind each and every day are never going away, there is no delete function on the Internet. And so I ask you to examine your digital handprints and see what they say about you. The worn and battered hands of a miner who has toiled for years bringing ore from the ground that we need to build parts to make our devices run show the hard work and dedication in every callus and scar on them.
What do the marks on your digital hands say about you? Take a look at your digital profiles with a fresh eye, and see what they really say. To someone who doesn’t know you, what do they really say? Is it positive? Is it what you would want a potential employer to see about you? Is it what you want a scholarship committee to see about you? Is it what you want a college admissions officer to see about you? How do your digital hands reflect who you are? What story do they tell. And what can you start doing now to make those digital hands tell a new story? For it is never too late to change the story those hands tell, and there is never a better time to start than now.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Husky Nation

If you didn't know, the North Teacher Softball team, Husky Nation, has had at least four practices now.  I attended my first practice last night - and it was surprisingly fun.  We are really looking forward to our first double header: September 4th at 6pm and 7pm @ Iglehart Field.  We would love for you to come!!  It should be fun to watch - I was really impressed at our players performance during practice!  So who is on this team?!

After intense tryouts, I would like to introduce you to your very own North softball team... ::drumroll::

Christina Bartley! Sarah Braun!  Tina Carraro! Adam Cooper! Andrea Gilham! Mechelle Gilles! Karen Halle! Joe Hancock!  Chris Herron! Errick Lickey!  Shawn McGeorge!  Michelle Roach!  Amanda Salomon! Leslie Wilhelmus!

Now, I've only attended one practice ..but let me just say,

Bartley was throwing underhanded from the outfield and the ball would go right where it was supposed to go!  Tina was pitching so well that she was technically striking people out! I asked Adam Cooper to hit the ball directly to me in the outfield...and he did!  Errick Lickey is such a wise batting coach, he changed my batting life!  Karen is an amazing, A-League-Of-Their-Own-quality first basewoman!   Chris Herron had an amazing backpack - I think it was even made for baseball players!  I've only attended two-thirds of one practice, so I haven't seen everyone's stuff.  If the rest of the team is anything like yesterday's bunch, we are in good shape.  Plus, I hear McGeorge knows what he's doing.

Here's to a great season!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

End of Year Reflections from North Teachers


When I tell everything we're doing in PLCs and SLCs to my teacher friends at other schools - they often comment, "Wow. That is a LOT".  It does feels like a lot. But, a few months ago, it felt like a WHOLE lot.  A year ago, it felt impossible.  I think that means I've made it through the toughest part - and that's exciting!

Cannot believe summer is already here - and that's a great thing -  but I think I'm actually going to miss you all.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Practice What I Preach…

To begin, I consider it a privilege to be invited as a guest blogger for NHS.  You see, in my role as an “academic/lead/literacy coach,” we don’t always know where to hang our hat.  I didn’t realize how important this was as a teacher.  

From South Marshall Middle School in little Benton, KY…
to Wea Ridge Middle in lovely Lafayette, IN…
to Fairview Middle School in beloved Fairview, TN…
(with a little bit of USI in good ole’ Evansville, IN)

I have always been surrounded by colleagues that I considered friends…and even some family. 
With this role as a coach and my charge to serve 8 different schools, it has taken my relationship building to a new level.  I have had to learn to be intentional with my time, always looking for connections and similarities that can forge relationships quickly.  In seeking these bright spots, I thank so many of you who have reached out and invited me in.  Including this opportunity to blog.

And since many of you have asked, I want to take this blogging opportunity to share with you about the next step in my journey.

I’ll start with professionally…
Beginning this summer, I will be stepping into the new world of the River Bend Writing Project.(  I will be going through the Institute this summer and then move into my new role of “Summer Institute Coordinator”  the following summer.  Already, I have learned  through my work with the RBWP that I have a lot to learn about teaching writing.  And that is ok.  (If the sound of RBWP calls to you and you have a desire to connect with a network of K-12 educators in the tri-state area who are passionate about learning from each other and desire to grow as writers and get paid while doing it, you should seriously check River Bend out for next summerJ)  

Also, beginning in the fall, I will go back to teaching in the English Department at USI.  For Fall 2013 , I am slated to teach three ENG 100 classes and one ENG 101 class.
 I can honestly say that I am forever changed as an educator due to my 2.5 years coaching in EVSC and I am excited to once again practice what I preach.  To start, those lovely MAX Strategies that you all have grown to hopefully love along with me will deepen as a part of my instruction.  And this newly discovered concept that I have learned from my work with Harrison High School’s Center for Family and Community Outreach/CFCO( will overhaul the way I approach writing…bringing my students to true purpose in writing and true authenticity in their audience.  All while impacting our community.  What is there not to love about that?  

I could go on here with all of my dreaming, but I tend to have a problem in life with biting off more than I can chew, so I’ll let the accountability factor that comes with this post fall here.

And finally, on a personal note…
My husband, Mike Allen(who is transitioning into working for Evansville Christian Schools), and I are about a year and a half in the process of adopting a little girl from Ethiopia.  We are told that our little 1-2 year old will join our family in about a year and a half.  That’s still a long time.  But I take heart in knowing that though it will probably be a year and a half…it could be tomorrowJ  Until then, I am trying to focus my energy into my present 3 & 5 year old boys, Isaac & Ezra.  From broken collar bones …to lost legos…to bedtime snuggles, there is plenty to give my attention to while we pray and wait.

So, for those of you who have asked me why I am choosing to make this transition, these words above are my answer.

I look forward to crossing paths with my North High School friends in the future.  Whether it be at Granola Jar or EVSC’s eRevolution or Walmart, I hope that when those paths do cross that you will stop and say hi and even better, share a bit about your world with me.  

Nothing but blessings to you, North High School.

2012-2013 North Attendance District Lead Coach,
Kim Allen

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Freshmen and Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet has been a part of the freshman English curriculum since... well, forever. I remember studying it when I was a freshman 15 years ago. Wow. I was a freshman in high school when my current freshmen were born.  I remember wondering why we were reading this super old play that took forever to translate into a language that we could understand. The answer I gave over the last few years is the same answer I was given when I sat in my literature teacher's class: It's a classic, and it lends itself to the standards that we must teach. 

I'm not sure why I thought that was an okay answer to give my students. It definitely wasn't a good response for me when I entered high school and was trying to figure out who I was. This year, my English 09A professional learning community (PLC) took on the task of giving the students a better answer. A real answer.

The first part of our mission was to re-read the play.  The first night I began to re-read, my husband couldn't figure out why I was reading it again.  I should know the play cover to cover since I have taught it so many times. My response was that this time, I am reading for a different purpose. I'm looking for the relevance for today's teens.  I had a pretty good idea what I was going to find and a roundabout idea where to find it, but I needed the textual evidence to back it up.  The second night, he came up with ideas that he remembered that would help me out.

Here are some of the issues/topics that we came up with: anger management, teen violence, instigators, concern for/worrying about others, young love, wanting what you can't have, literacy, vanity, depression, tolerance, revenge, bullying, overbearing parents, forbidden friends, teen suicide, and teen sex.

Do teens deal with any of these issues? Yep! Did we find the relevance in Romeo and Juliet? Yep!

The last month has been kind of eye opening.  As we read this text that is over 400 years old, we stopped periodically to talk about the issues that the characters deal with. Almost every student contributed to the discussion.  Almost every student volunteered to read.

At the end of the play, I had a young woman livid because of the ending! Never mind the prologue gave away the ending and there was foreshadowing all over the place.

The students are now building websites about a topic of their choosing from the play. The students are using textual evidence and research to help other teens see that the issues they are facing today aren't new issue. Teens have been dealing with these same things fro hundreds of years and they've all made it through.

Our students get it. Don't get me wrong, they're complaining about the amount of work they are putting in to this project.  However, they understand WHY we read the play.  They enjoyed reading it. They get it.

Mind: blown.

When the sites are published I will share them in the comments section.

Your mission: find the relevance!

Christina Bartley

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Learning from Twitter...and a funny video

I'm a big fan of twitter.  It is more than learning the latest Kardashian drama, getting accidental spoilers on your favorite tv shows, and learning about T'eo's relationship with his fake girlfriend.

Through twitter, you can learn about instructional strategies, tech tools, and the various current "initiatives" in public education.  You can take part in professional chats with other educators around the world.  (And the state, try searching for "INeLearn" on a Thursday night.). Basically, you get to choose your own professional development and the possibilities are endless.

I've found that if an educator does not like twitter, they probably don't know how to use it to discover their personal and professional interests.  If anyone would like to learn how to get started and use it professionally, let me know.

You can use twitter with your students, too.  Last week, my fourth period class joined other high school students in talking to physicists, astrophysicists, and college professors about the asteroid and meteor events.  @timwilhelmus recently tweeted this website Lots of ideas on how to use twitter there.  If you already are on twitter, could you comment below with your username? We can make sure that we're all connected :)

Anyway, I've had a very hard couple of weeks.  @kevinhoneycutt (who spoke at a past elearning revolution event) retweeted this video.  It made me laugh because I definitely related to it this past week.  The script is the result of a girl trying to teach a younger girl how to subtract.  Not a great example of how amazing twitter can be as choose-your-own PD, but hey, it made me laugh.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Metaphor

I spend a lot of time hanging out on 14,000 foot mountains.  I bagged my first 14er, Mt. Elbert, when I was a sophomore.  I climbed in jeans and Nike tennis shoes and compared the experience to child birth, even though I had no idea at that time what that experience was likeJ  After I married Chad, it wasn't very long until he fell in love with the mountains, so we started climbing as a team.  On our first time climbing together, we tried Mount Princeton—in the Collegiate Peaks.  Right above tree line, we came face to face with a boulder field, covered in snow.  Even though I feel like I’m a pretty adventurous person, the minute my safety comes into question I’m out!  It didn't take long on the boulder field to realize that Mt. Princeton had thwarted me, and I had to turn tail and hike back down (we were at the 8 hour mark when we turned around).              
Over the last 11 years, my husband and I have tried to summit Mt. Princeton 4 times.  The second attempt, we made it 500 feet below the summit.  Chad was hiking with my 5 iron—he wanted to hit a golf ball from the summit (in retrospect we realize how crazy dangerous that idea was).  He attached the club to the outside meshing of a day pack, so the face of the club was sticking straight up.  One thing that I've learned from the mountains is that they mean business when the weather shifts.  There are plaques all over Colorado honoring people who died due to lightening.  This time we made it past the boulder field and could almost taste victory, when the clouds rolled in with a vengeance.  One crack of thunder, and immediately the sky lit up.  We frantically turned around and started scrabbling back across the now slippery boulder field.  Chad was in front of me, and I realized that with my 5 iron, he had become a human lightening rod.  I yelled at him over the din of hail bouncing off of the rocks—he yanked the club out of the backpack and hurled it down the mountain—never to be found again (and my set is still missing the 5 iron)! 
The third attempt at Mt. Princeton was just by Chad and a group of hiking buddies.  On the way up, they saw a mountain lion on the trail below them, so they decided not to take the same path down.  They missed the window of time to summit before the storms rolled in, and began bush-whacking their own path, only to “cliff out” and get stuck at a precarious angle.  Luckily they had a tracking device with them, called The Spot, so they pressed the button, which alerted search and rescue to their GPS location, and settled in for a really uncomfortable night.  In the morning, Chad climbed down 1500 vertical feet to meet search and rescue, and then turned around to take the rescuers back up to where the guys were so they could assist them in repelling down.  They survived the night with one Nalgene of water between them, a few rationed granola bars, and one emergency blanket (and the fear of a mountain lion looming in the dark). 
Last summer, Chad and I invited a couple to Colorado with us.  We decided one last time to attempt Mt. Princeton.  Because I’m not the biggest, I don’t always get the say, so when the guys determined that we would try to avoid the boulder field by walking the ridgeline, my fit throwing fell on deaf ears.  Even the best laid plans….so, at hour 6 as I found myself clinging to vegetation at a 45 degree angle, knowing that my window of opportunity was quickly closing, I had to make a decision—either kill my husband, or just give in to the journey and give up the destination. 
I still haven’t bagged Mt. Princeton.  I plan on making another attempt this summer in late July—the Aspens are the greenest then, and the marmots’ barking remind travelers that we are not alone on the mountain.  If I don’t make it to the summit, I’ll still be reminded of the air in my lungs and the beauty of the hard-fought journey.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Reflections On Being a High School Counselor, by Karen Halle

“So, like, I didn’t know if you were the kind of counselor I can talk to, or one who only does your schedule.”  This is the comment a student made to me this week, after coming in upset and talking with me about serious stressors in her life.  This statement exemplifies the many hats school counselors wear and the resulting confusion from sometimes conflicting roles.

Yes, I am that kind of counselor, as we all are.  I have a master’s degree in counseling, which is awarded based on knowledge of counseling theories and practice.  But, yes, I am the kind of counselor who does schedule planning and adjustments, and more adjustments, and more adjustments.  A great deal of our time is spent with these adjustments, based on need and desire.  Today, in the 5th week of the semester, a student requested changing one elective to another.  And I got to be the kind of counselor who says, “No!”  So sometimes I’m the good guy, sometimes the bad.  Sometimes this is with the same student, very confusing.  Ultimately I am an advocate for my 370+ students.  Which many times equals being like their mommy at school.  And sometimes mommies have to say “No.”  We have to keep the bigger picture in mind, which is not always easy for teenagers, and many adults, to comprehend.  We have to be fair.  We try to protect the integrity of the classroom, so that teachers can teach, the main reason we are all here. 

Being a school counselor is a rewarding career.  We share in the extreme highs and lows that our students experience during their teen years.  I appreciate being a part of several innovative movements at North that have directly affected my role.  Our counselor alignment with students has been adjusted twice since I began 19 years ago.  First I was responsible for half of the juniors and half of the seniors, divided by alphabet.  After a few years, we decided to expand that division and each have one fourth of all grades, allowing us to stay with the same students for four years.  Recently North has moved into our Smaller Learning Community structure.  The counselors have been realigned to match with the students in an SLC.  So I have all students in the Arts and Humanities SLC.  I wanted this assignment very much, since I am passionate about music.  However, I was, as we all were, sad about relinquishing responsibility for my current students who did not move to my SLC.  But I know they are in excellent hands with the other counselors.  And best of all, I have met some really great students that I would not have had the privilege to know!


Karen Halle

Friday, February 1, 2013

Something to Smile About :-)

"No matter how tired or frustrated I may be, spending a couple of hours with my favorite teenagers, aka North TeenPower, always makes me smile." This is what I posted on Facebook last night after a TeenPower performance at the Dream Center. And I seriously meant it! Regardless of what stress this job may conjure up, I am always rewarded in the most astonishing ways--thanks to my involvement with TeenPower.

TeenPower is a club that encourages positive decision-making skills. As a group of students committed to abstaining from drugs and alcohol, we also work to develop leadership skill among our members. Last night we had the privilege of performing a series of skits that demonstrate the the power of positive choices to a group of underprivileged middle schoolers at the Dream Center. This was our fourth such performance this year, and it was entirely student-led.

In addition to the these performances, last week TeenPower hosted the 4th Annual Taste of North. For those of you who may not know, the purpose of the event is threefold: to raise money for the counselors’ Compassion Fund, to provide fundraising opportunities for student groups and clubs, and to increase school spirit. The first year was a huge success in meeting all three goals, and the event has continued to grow each year. Each of the participating groups rents a booth for $20. This fee is donated to the Compassion Fund. Beyond that, any money the groups make is their profit to keep. This year we were able to donate $440 to the counselor’s Compassion Fund, our largest donation yet! In addition, approximately $2000 was raised collectively by the participating student groups. The Taste of North has quickly become one of North’s most anticipated traditions.

I apologize if I sound like I'm bragging. It's just that I am so proud of these students for all that they have accomplished and all that they stand for. It was a beautiful moment last night witnessing our kids standing strong in their convictions and making a difference in the lives of others. Seeing these students give up their precious time and energy for the benefit of others is a constant reminder that our future is bright. And that, my friends, is definitely something to smile about! :-)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Heart of Our HOUSSE

(from Courier and Press)
     I throw like a girl, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a ball, and am not known as being what one would call athletic. I was the kid who came in next to last during that awful mile run that seemed like three. Today in the news I heard a story blare from the flatscreen: "Indiana Department of Education Orders Sports Access for the Disabled." My first thought was, Yeah? So what? How does that change anything? I then realized that maybe all schools don't think alike.

     So many hours of our days are spent making sure that teachers are highly qualified and students are not left behind in the classroom. Indiana law also mandates that students with disabilities are given the same opportunities of their nondisabled peers - in other words, making sure they have a level playing field. What many don't realize is that many of these disabled students consistently level their opponents on the playing field! You may not even realize they are there at first because they are part of the team. It's not a big deal, they're just "one of us". Another player. Our homie. Except that it is a big deal. It's huge. Why else would the state feel the need to mandate these rules? Maybe North excels in more than just academics. Maybe we excel in ways that can't be judged by how many college credits teachers have under their belt.  Maybe, just maybe, our staff has a heart for kids.

   Being part of North alumni and staff is a tradition I hope to pass to my children. Some traditions, such as the days where students and staff gathered on Wedeking Avenue to grab an in-between class smoke,  are thankfully defunct. Others live on and I'm proud to call myself a Husky. The dedication of our coaches and support staff amazes me. These folks quietly make everyday efforts to  include all children, such as taking a disabled student home because he was slow and awkward in motor gross skills and missed the bus. These folks patiently practice drill and skill to students who are slower to process the game rules. They make sure disabled students are able to participate, even if it means not coming in first in the meet. To me, that is a winning team.

   So I respectfully thank each one who has made our house a place where all students are included. Who's in the house? The Huskies. The mighty, mighty Huskies.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Learning by Doing--A Moment of Reflection

Photo Credit

"I feel like a first year teacher again," is a statement that often comes out of my mouth this year when colleagues and family members ask how things are going. At first I thought it might be because I stepped out of the classroom for a year, and then I thought maybe it had to do with the two new courses I am teaching this year. And while I'm sure these are part of the reason, the more I reflect, the more I come to realize that I feel like a first teacher because I AM a first year teacher again and it is because of the work we are doing in PLCs. 

The work of a Professional Learning Community asks us to imagine the outcome of a unit of study before we actually even consider the daily lesson planning. This concept is not that foreign to me as I often imagine a project or essay that I want my students to create at the end of some exciting unit I plan, but the outcome of a unit planned PLC-style is a bit different. The outcome of a PLC unit is no longer the project or essay, but the proficiency, if not mastery, of a set of standards. In order to prepare for this, I went to the Learning by Doing Conference; I read the DuFour book; I even helped teach the process to teachers at North's feeder schools. But nothing prepared me for this work like actually doing the work--interesting "aha" moment when I consider the title of the DuFours' book is Learning by Doing

This year I've been doing what DuFour suggests--I've been learning by doing--and it's not been an easy process. On an individual level, I've struggled. My first semester lesson planning was mediocre. I was lucky to be one day ahead of my students in reading, I was making last minute copies and uploading documents to My Big Campus the planning period before I needed them, and my creativity flew out the window. There were days that even I didn't enjoy being in my class. On a team level, I've struggled. I was working with three teachers I had never planned with before. We knew each other and got along as friends and colleagues, but not as planners--and we are each very different planners. Issues came up--we didn't know how to talk to each other when we didn't see eye to eye or when we each thought that our way of doing something was the right way. And it's harder to be calm, cool, and collected when you aren't exactly sure if you are doing the work the right way to begin with! Near the end of first semester, I kept thinking, "the old way of doing this work is so much easier", but I knew this wasn't positive thinking and I know that success has never come easily, so over break, I spent some time reflecting.

In my reflections, I discovered the successes among the struggles. On an individual level, I am beginning to truly understand my standards--what they mean, the target skills my students need to be proficient, and what it takes to teach them. My lesson plans throughout a unit are becoming more focused on a central idea that supports the development of that unit's standards. On a team level, we are writing better, more efficient assessments than anything I have ever written on my own. We are talking about learning in our classrooms in ways that I never have before. We're discussing real data that is useful to what occurs in our classrooms every day. And when I reflect on all of this learning that I have done and that my team has done, I AM PROUD! We are working hard, and we are stumbling along the way, but we are still moving forward, and, to me, that is a sign of success!

Do I still feel like a first year teacher? Sometimes. I think it's more like a second or third year teacher who has learned a thing or two from her struggles. I am further ahead in my planning and I have discovered how to marry the creativity in my old way of planning with the PLC process. I have a better grasp on how my teammates function and how we can best work together to build upon our strengths. And I feel like I am becoming a better teacher for my students, and, in the end, that is what matters most.

Friday, January 18, 2013

North High School- leading the way in the EVSC!

Did you know that North High School is offering 16 Advanced Placement Class to our students for next year?  Did you know that NHS will be giving 175+ AP exams in May?  Did you know that NHS offered more AP classes than any other EVSC high school, Evansville parochial school, Warrick County, Gibson County, and Posey County school? Advanced Placement at NHS is growing with incredible force each year- so what is AP?

Advanced Placement Classes (aka AP) are classes which were created by the Collegeboard.  There are currently 34 approved classes.  Teachers who take on AP classes do not have to obtain any special degree or extreme qualifications, other than to be a master of content in the subject and follow the AP guidelines.  AP classes are national recognized and national standardized, and due to this sophistication almost all four year college institutions recognize the AP designation and accept passing exam scores.  As college acceptance gets more and more competitive, Advanced Placement becomes even more important to our students and their parents.  They will be at a tremendous advantage in the college recruitment, scholarship, and admittance processes. 

Here is additional information from the Collegeboard’s website about AP:
·         AP provides students with an opportunity for learning that goes beyond just facts and figures. The rich course material, classroom discussions and demanding assignments typical of AP courses will help students develop the content mastery and critical thinking skills expected of college students.  AP students also have the opportunity to earn college credit and to stand out in the college admission process.

·         Passing the exam requires that students be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills:
o   Problem Solving
o   Making Inferences
o   Making Connections
o   Presenting Thoughts Cogently
o   Interpreting Various Types of Information

·         Research confirms that a rigorous K-12 curriculum is the most reliable predictor of college success.

·         Research also confirms that passing a College Board Advanced Placement exam is a reliable predictor of college graduation - a significantly greater predictor than both socioeconomic status and G.P.A.

·         The most reliable researched-backed vehicle for preparing students for college success is an effective secondary school AP experience.

·         More than 90 percent of four-year colleges in the United States and colleges in more than 60 other countries give students credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of AP Exam scores. By entering college with AP credits, you'll have the time to move into upper level courses, pursue a double-major or study abroad.

·         The CollegeBoard finds that AP helps negate the cost of college in 3 major ways:
1.       Students who take AP courses and exams are much more likely to graduate in four years.
2.       Students who take longer to graduate from a public college or university typically pay between $8,000 and $19,000 for each additional year.
3.       Taking AP increases eligibility for scholarships and makes candidates more attractive to colleges.

Be sure to check out the NHS AP website!  Click Here for AP Website

If you would like additional information on offering an AP class, North’s AP program, or just general questions, talk to your department chair or Courtney Browder.